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I'm Not Good At All

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Steven stared numbly at Jasper, as she knelt before him. He was still shaking - he didn't think he'd stopped since he saw the gem's shards lying in the crater he had created, broken and scattered apart with the force of the attack he had sent her way. He was shaking, and he didn't think he was going to stop anytime soon. If anything, it only seemed to worsen as he gazed at her, confusion and horror and pain flickering through his eyes. The tears couldn't seem to stop flowing; he tasted them as he opened his mouth to speak, but he did nothing to rub them away or stifle them. He had much more concerns, bigger concerns, than crying right then - like the gem in his bathroom, and the three just outside it, worried voices overlapping, overwhelming.

Jasper simply continued to kneel, head bowed, eyes closed. This wasn't what he'd wanted; he'd thought, finally, he was on equal ground with somebody. Not lesser, but not more. With the Crystal Gems, he'd always been several steps below them, too young to really know what he was doing and too much of a kid in their eyes for them to think anything else of him. It was the same with the Diamonds. But with some of the Homeworld gems, he was their Diamond. And if he wasn't that, he was still someone they needed; all of them. Someone they relied on. Someone they expected something from, whatever it might be. With Greg, he was his… half-gem, half-alien son. With Connie… he was her best friend. Her partner. Her Jam Bud. If they didn't set the expectations for him, then he ended up setting them for himself.

But there was a big difference between them and Jasper, and that was the fact that Jasper didn't let him set any expectations for himself. She didn't need anything from him - but she wanted. She wanted… well, she had wanted a fight. And, ultimately, she'd made it clear that Steven was the one who would decide whether she got it or not. But not only did she want something, but she was also willing to give something in return; to help him. Steven wasn't expected to help her, because she didn't need it. He was the one that needed help in this situation, and she was the one that had obliged - with one condition he was glad to accept. And he had been her equal. Not lesser. Not more. She wasn't going to coddle him - and she wasn't going to treat him like he was some grand intergalactic savior. Like he was… her Diamond.

But he'd gone and screwed that up. In one of the… no, in the absolute worst way possible. Steven blinked, furiously, letting the tears trapped in his eyes flow free once again without any effort to clear them away or force them back. "Jasper-" He started, voice trembling.

"Steven? Are you alright in there?" Pearl's voice made him wince, and a pink glow lit the dark, dreary looking bathroom as he turned his head toward the door. Answering that was not an option at that moment. There was no way she could find out what he'd done. No way any of them would be able to look him in the eyes again, after he told them he had shattered a gem. He didn't know how else to explain why Jasper was in his bathroom, but it wasn't like they currently had any idea that Jasper was in his bathroom - he was sure Amethyst would be barging in if that was the case - but if he could just somehow make them go away first, that would be great. Just get them out of the house somehow, and get Jasper out, too.

"I'm fine," Steven called back, knowing full well that his shaking, cracking voice wasn't doing anything to aid him at that moment, and silently cursing himself for even opening his mouth.

"Hey, dude?" Amethyst's voice cut in, and Steven glanced back at Jasper when her head raised, rather sharply at that; but she caught him looking and ducked it again, somewhat begrudgingly, and Steven swallowed hard in an attempt to rid himself of the lump that had risen in his throat. Curling his hands into fists at his sides, he backed away from Jasper. "I think you should, uh, come on out now. We're really worried about you, man. Plus, I'm getting Peridot flashbacks." Would've been funny, and Steven would've laughed any other time. Now, he only stared at Jasper, who was seemingly refusing to even look at him at this point; whether it was out of fear, or respect, or whatever it was, it made his chest hurt. "Seriously, Steven… talk to us, man…" Her voice, soft and concerned, only sounded patronizing to the hybrid's ears.

"God, shut up! I'm fine," Steven hissed, putting a little more venom into the words than he would have liked. He paused and glanced down at his hands, glowing a bright pink, still trembling unsteadily from shock, and fear, and probably now anger. He remembered what it looked like - what it felt like, holding Jasper's broken shards in the palm of his hand. Like he was holding a dead body. It was something akin to when he'd held Lars in his arms that day on Homeworld, only with a much more crushing weight on his chest, the kind that came with the realization that not only was this his fault - but it was also his doing entirely. He had done it. Himself. Firsthand.

He imagined what it would feel like, a bigger gem, bigger shards, purple instead of orange. Because if he didn't somehow manage to calm himself down right then and there, then he might as well be setting himself up for that. Because- heh- obviously there wasn't anything he wouldn't do, right? Obviously there was no way to stop himself once he got going. Obviously, this rage - this power, could control him. Obviously he wasn't as 'better than this' as they had thought.

Not helping. Steven closed his eyes, just for a moment, struggling to think. Finally, he rubbed his sleeve over his eyes, but the damp fabric only made it worse, just serving to wet his face even further, now with rainwater as well as tears. He dropped his arm with a sigh, blinking his eyes open and letting out a quiet groan of relief upon seeing that the pink had faded. He spared Jasper nothing more than a glance, unable to look at her just as much as he was unable to look in the freaking mirror, before shakily turning and heading over to the door, resting the palm of his hand against it and glancing down at the doorknob cautiously. "I'm sorry, I… I didn't mean…"

Silence followed, then a soft, gentle thud as someone's hand rested against the other side of the door. It seemed to be Amethyst, as her voice was much closer when she spoke up again. "It's fine, dude. Don't worry about it." A soft, somewhat stifled sigh came from the other side, and Steven, despite everything, felt a rush of guilt. Well, he was already feeling guilty as it was - but now he felt guilty for more than just… what had just happened. "Can you let us in?"

Steven closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing down a dry laugh. He knew she had meant it literally, but it wasn't like he could do that any more than he could let them in figuratively.

It was almost funny. He could feel himself drowning in the hollow amusement.

"I just need you guys to leave," he gasped out through his tears, feeling more trickle down his face. A few more landed on his tongue, making him finally cringe at the salty taste. But he only shook his head and leaned forward, resting his forehead against the door. Ironically, he thought back to when he was younger, begging them not to leave him to go on missions, always wanting them to stick around with him. Funny, now that he wasn't asking for them, they were there. And now they wouldn't leave, demanding to know what was going on, demanding to finally be in his life after so long of missing their chances of doing just that. And Steven didn't know how to accept them now, he didn't know how to let them in anymore, and he didn't even want to try. Especially not now, especially after he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.

And to think, they had been pissed and disappointed about him crashing the van with Greg inside, even though Greg hadn't even been hurt; imagine their disappointment, their fury, their horror and confusion and oh, god, their fucking fear, when they learn he killed somebody.

Steven choked on his own tears at the thought, throat restricting violently. His eyes stung, vision blurring as he curled himself against the door and finally let out a low, soft sob. It was finally just starting to hit him, the realization was finally just settling in, and Steven was grasping at straws at this point trying to process it in the first place. He didn't ever think he'd truly get there, because the thought was so horrifying, so- so incomprehensible, that every time he tried to remind himself of it, he just couldn't believe it. Then he remembered the shards in his hand. Remembered sending down the attack that had broken them apart into the pieces they were. The smile on his face and the laughter that had bubbled to his lips as it-

"Steven?" Amethyst sounded a little more frantic now, but Steven was more or less snapped to attention when the door started to open. Immediately, he pressed his weight forward against it, ignoring the sharp 'hey!' as he did, and turning the lock just as quickly with a shaking hand. "Steven, dude, come on!" Amethyst called out, and Steven flinched away from the door when she pounded on it, more concerned than angry, but still unwelcome all the same.

"Steven!" Pearl sounded more stressed than ever; he could picture her pacing just behind Amethyst, with the way her voice faded in and out. "... can't believe… control… worrying…"

"We're just trying to help you, Steven," Garnet's voice called out for the first time, and Steven clenched his teeth as he rubbed his arm over his eyes. Help him? Help him? How the hell were they supposed to help him now? He was far past help at this point. If he wasn't… him… he would wanna shatter him. That's how bad it was. He was nothing but a stupid, filthy murderer now; something, he thought bitterly, that even Pink Diamond wasn't. Even his own mother had been so against shattering, against killing, that she had gone to such lengths to lock Bismuth up in a bubble so that she couldn't use the Breaking Point. His mother, who Steven had grown to think of as the worst person in all of history… suddenly didn't look so bad compared to him.

This time, when he turned pink, he didn't bother to control the rage he felt. Hell, he probably couldn't have if he'd tried. "Well, you're not helping!" He screamed, raising both arms and pounding his fists into the door, just hard enough to make it rattle. A surprised yelp from Amethyst, which sounded a little further away, indicated that the gems had probably jumped back - good, he seethed blindly, as he continued sharply, "you're just making everything worse! Don't you get it?! I don't need your help! I just need you to leave me alone for once!"

There was no response, but Steven could practically feel the shocked, tense silence from the other side of the door. More tears flooded his eyes, tears of despair, and anger, and guilt, as he pressed his hands flat against the door once again and crumbled forward against it, releasing a low sob. "I don't know what's so hard to understand about that," he choked out, still seething, still fuming, but alternating between anger and pain at this point. So much of it he felt like he was going to drown, choking in it and flailing desperately for a grip on something, to pull himself back to the surface. "You didn't have an issue leaving me alone to deal with my problems before. When it was all about your problems, about your feelings!" He pounded his fist against the door again, rattling it once more. "And now you think, well, you're all fixed! Now let's see if Steven's actually traumatized from us dumping everything on him from the very beginning! And let's not really offer him any comfort or moral support, but pretend we are! He's dangerous now! We gotta be careful or he could hurt someone because now he's all fucked up because of us!"

He shuddered slightly, finally releasing a scream. But this one wasn't of anger; rather, one of pure anguish, and while it rattled the entire room and knocked a few bottles out of the opened cabinet, there was minimal destruction. For once. "Well guess what, guys?! It's too late now! You were right, Pearl! Someone's gonna get hurt! Someone got hurt! Really, really badly hurt-" Another sob broke through his lips, and he sank forward against the door again, shaking.

"Steven," Pearl's voice was nothing more than a horrified whisper, but Steven caught it anyway; he covered his mouth with one hand, screwing his eyes shut. "Steven, what happened?"

Steven didn't respond, twisting around and sinking back against the door, as if turning his back on them would just make them leave. He knew it wouldn't, but it was worth a try. His gaze slid toward Jasper, and he couldn't help but feel a little relieved to see she was no longer kneeling; rather, she had seated herself on the edge of the tub, eyebrows raised slightly as she looked down at him, no longer averting her gaze. She was silent, which he was grateful for, too. Studying her for a moment, he felt his heart sink straight to his stomach. Her horn… and her eye… well, the stripe over her eye… and the torn pants… he had done that. He had damaged her gem so badly that even when healed, her physical form still took the toll of it. It was a reminder, forever, for both of them, of what he had done; of her being shattered at his hand.

His hand muffled a gag at the thought. Sure, he had fixed it… no… he had… he had brought her back, but he hadn't fixed a damn thing. It didn't erase what he'd just done. He couldn't erase what he'd done, and her new appearance, her new attitude, her new behavior…

She was just a constant reminder of that.

Steven leaned his head back against the door, the pinkness finally dulling down again. He couldn't stay in here forever; one way or another, the gems would find a way to get inside the bathroom, even if they had to break the door down to do it. Then there was no hiding from them anymore, no pretending this hadn't happened, none of that. Because if they were going to leave it alone before, which he wasn't holding his breath over, they most certainly weren't going to now. Not after Steven had already outright admitted he had hurt someone. Because even in an 'outburst', even in a rage, he couldn't even force himself to say that he had killed somebody-

- he gagged again, choking on his own saliva-

Because he was just a coward. A selfish, stupid, worse-than-Pink-Diamond coward and he knew it, and Jasper knew it, and everybody else was going to know it.

Steven bit his lip and turned his head away slightly. He couldn't even look at Jasper now, and he was surprised he could still feel her gaze burning into the side of his head, because he didn't know how the hell she was able to look back at him in the first place. After what he'd done, he wouldn't have blamed her for attacking him right off the bat. Hell, he would have let her. He'd have stood there and taken it gladly, accepting punch after punch and if, in the end, she had decided she wanted to shatter him- then he would've let that happen, too. He deserved it. He had hurt her in the worst way imaginable and he was lucky she had even been able to reform in the first place, but it didn't change what had happened, and it didn't change what happened after. He wasn't going to get the beatdown he'd been expecting. Not from her.

So then what did it matter, anyway? He was a criminal. A killer. A murderer. A shatterer. They hated shatterers; Garnet despised Blue Diamond for the longest time for being one. Pearl certainly couldn't hold it in high esteem - she had been traumatized from only pretending to shatter Pink. And Amethyst… god, Amethyst. He knew her. She would never have shattered anybody. She forgave Jasper for all of the horrible shit she had done, and said to her before. Or, at the very least, she had moved on from it, she had tried to forgive her. She'd be horrified. They'd all be horrified. If they were scared of his powers before, it would be much worse now.

But, again, he was a criminal. With a crime even greater than that of his mother's, something he couldn't even believe. At least she had never shattered anybody. At least she wasn't a killer. Steven couldn't say the same for himself. He'd always wanted to be better than her, always wanted to leave his own legacy, leave his own mark; and he had, and that mark was currently embedded on Jasper's face, in the form of a broken horn and a scar across the eye.

No, he wasn't his mother.

He was worse.

Finally, he couldn't stifle it anymore; with a choked gasp, Steven threw himself forward, toward the toilet. He reached it just on time as he threw up, gasping for air as he doubled over. This was too much, he couldn't even think about what he'd done without something like this happening, without the guilt getting so intense that it made him do this. That he drowned in it, choked on it, he couldn't even keep his own body functioning - like it was turning against him, too, like it was somehow just as disappointed in him as he was and it was hurting him in response. A low sob broke through his lips, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment.

"This is what I meant, you know." Jasper's voice was quiet - tired, if Steven dared to say. Still, he was so happy to just hear her talking to him, to hear her saying anything but 'my Diamond', that he wouldn't have cared even if she was yelling for the gems to hear. He rubbed his arm over his eyes and leaned away from the toilet, breathing in shakily and looking over at her, only to tear his gaze away almost immediately with a low, choked gasp. He couldn't even look at her. "You're afraid. They're afraid. They want you to feel bad, and you're letting them make you."

Steven didn't respond immediately. He sank sideways against the toilet and fixed his gaze on the ground, blinking back tears. It was a while before he did speak, his voice softer than Jasper's, barely anything more than a whisper. "I deserve to feel bad. I should be scared." The hybrid shook his head, wanting to look up at her, but not being able to bring himself to do so. "And you should be, too."

Jasper snorted. "But I'm not. I may respect your power, but don't mistake that for fear."

Biting his lip, Steven just shook his head. Yeah, he could see that now. But he still didn't know whether that was any better or not. She had still bowed down to him, submitted to him, whether out of respect or fear or something else. It didn't matter, because she had still done it, because he had… he had made an irreversible mistake. He couldn't fix it, whether she was back or not. Regardless, he forced himself to stop thinking about that for the time being; he couldn't just keep Jasper locked up in here. The last person she deserved to have to be locked in with was him. And while he still didn't like the idea of sending her out there with them, he knew he had to. It didn't matter what she told them - at this rate, her telling them was better, since he couldn't even think the words without his stomach knotting up. The teenager groaned, standing up.

"I think…" He rubbed the back of his hand over his mouth and steadied himself against the sink, turning to face Jasper again somewhat reluctantly, and rooted his gaze to hers, trying to avoid looking at the scarred stripe on her face. "I think I need you to… to leave, Jasper."

For a moment, Jasper's expression twisted into something a little more volatile, like she was about to argue. But her gaze met his, and her opened mouth slowly clamped shut again, arching an eyebrow briefly as she pushed herself to stand. Steven would have preferred it if she had argued with him, heart sinking at the distinct lack of protest, but even more so as she stepped toward him and bowed her head in response, humming. "Of course, my Diamond."

Steven flinched, and choked back another wave of nausea. "Don't… don't call me that," he nearly snapped, more out of despair than anything. That was the last thing he needed. Then again, maybe it was what he deserved… he didn't know anymore. Turning away, and taking his gaze off of her in the process - thankfully - he cautiously stepped over to the door, pressing his ear against it with a frown. He couldn't hear the gems, but that didn't necessarily mean they had left. He would've been surprised if they had - not that he was willing to check for himself. So he simply beckoned Jasper over and unlocked it, his hand still shaking against the doorknob.

"I'm sorry," he muttered one last time as he opened the door just enough to let her out, stepping back with it and keeping himself out of direct sight. Jasper glanced at him, catching his gaze, but she didn't offer a reply - and Steven didn't expect nor want one - before she simply turned and squeezed herself through the doorway, leaving the room in silence. Steven shut the door quickly behind her, just in time to muffle the surprised, confused yelps from the other side.

Finally, left alone, Steven retreated. He ignored everyone outside, simply tuning them out, and distanced himself from the door, sinking into the corner of the room across from the tub. Ah, shit, the water was still running… starting to spill out over the edge now, onto the floor. Steven only watched tiredly, not able to bring himself to get up to turn the water off. Hell, maybe if the room filled up enough, he'd drown in it. The thought simultaneously made him wince and want to laugh at the same time. 'Cause that was what he deserved, wasn't it? Well, look at that. He'd made a life-shattering - don't - mistake, he was running and hiding from it, and now he was contemplating killing himself. Three for three, Steven! Way to not be like your fucking mom!

Steven shook his head a little at himself and turned away, turning his back completely on the rest of the room and facing the corner, which he curled himself into as much as was possible.

Now that he was thinking about Pink, though, he couldn't seem to stop. His thoughts spun, dizzying, nauseating, but he could only sit there in silence with his eyes shut as he drowned in them. No… not like her. Spent all this time trying not to be like her, and ended up somehow being worse. What would she think of this? What would she think of me now? Her own son. Somehow, I managed to… do something so awful, something even she had never, ever done. And something she ended up bubbling one of her closest friends to prevent from happening! Mom would have never shattered someone. Especially not someone who was trying to help her.

He gagged again, curling in on himself further and pressing his face into his arm. And now, look at me. I was so angry at her for everything, so desperate to not be like her, that I hurt people. That I- that I did something even she probably couldn't even comprehend! All because I just wanted to let go of what everyone expected me to be. The healer, the pacifist. Now I'm even worse than she was, because I let all these emotions get the best of me. These emotions that I didn't ask for, and that I didn't want, from all this trauma that I didn't even deserve! From all these things that I've been through! From this life that I had never even wanted in the first place! I didn't ask for it to be this way! I didn't ask to be-

Shit, shit, he had really worked himself up. He was sobbing, impossibly hard - much worse than he had ever cried before in his entire life, and he couldn't stop it. Even as he pressed his face into both arms, trying and failing to muffle the sounds with his jacket, his entire body shook, wracked with the sobs he couldn't control. There was so much he couldn't control now. Couldn't control himself, his own power. Couldn't control his friends moving on. Couldn't control all the change that was going on in his life. But then for the first time, while he was fighting Jasper, he finally felt like he had some kind of control. Like he was doing what he was supposed to do. He didn't feel weak or useless or pathetic or any of the things she had called him; he felt strong.

If he had just stopped… Right there…

Shaking his head, Steven rubbed his eyes and sighed. The sobs subsided, thankfully enough, but he found himself suddenly concerned by the silence from outside. Looking toward the door, the teenager breathed out shakily and heaved himself up to his feet, staggering slightly. But instead of heading to the door, he simply stumbled over to the tub and reached out to turn the water off. It had already begun spilling out over the floor, sloshing out over the side of the tub. He looked down at it for a moment, but he only ended up shaking his head before heading over to the door instead, pressing his ear against it hesitantly and listening carefully for the gems.

They were quiet now - probably having retreated to the living room - but he could make out Pearl's voice, demanding to know what Jasper was doing there in the first place. There was nothing but small grunts from the gem in question as she responded, and while Steven knew he should've been glad for that, he only felt more guilty. The gem had just been shattered, she didn't deserve to be interrogated like this above everything… stifling a soft groan, Steven reached down and unlocked the door again, his hands still shaking - rather violently at that - as he opened the door. Every part of him screamed to just turn around and retreat back into the bathroom, hide himself away and not deal with what he'd just done. But he walked forward, one step at a time, one foot after the other, and practically yanked the door shut behind him once he had finally managed to completely exit the bathroom, breathing out a quiet, shaky sigh.

Steeling himself as much as possible, he turned the corner to the living room, clenching his hands into fists at his sides. Jasper was simply leaning against the couch, and while Amethyst seemed rather content - curled up on one of the cushions with a bored expression - Garnet stood on Jasper's other side with a noticeable scowl, and Pearl herself already had her spear out and at the ready. Steven twitched slightly when he saw it, fighting back another wave of nausea. Yeah, that was the last thing Jasper needed to see. More sharp objects… he stared at the blade, numbly thinking back to the spikes he had created on the wall, completely intending to do as much damage as was physically possible. "... leave her alone."

Pearl's head whirled around at once, and Amethyst practically shot up from her place on the couch. Garnet's head turned slightly. Jasper was the only one who didn't react, having already been staring at him since he had entered the room anyway. "Steven!" Pearl sighed, relieved.

Ignoring her, Steven looked up at Jasper, offering the orange gem a tired, apologetic look. "Sorry, Jasper… I…" The hybrid stifled a sigh and dropped his gaze, unable to hold eye contact any longer. He still couldn't look at her. Why was she still looking? Steven gritted his teeth, finally blinking back the tears that had rushed to his eyes as he shook his head. "I told you you can- I need you t- can you just-" Steven hissed out a sigh through his teeth, flicking his gaze toward the door for a moment before looking back toward Jasper, just barely able to catch a glimpse of her raising an eyebrow before he looked down again. "You can go. Just- go."

"Steven," Garnet cut in before Jasper had a chance to reply, and both Steven and the orange gem shot the fusion equally irritated looks in response at the interruption. Garnet visibly paused, adjusting her visor and managing to look surprised for a second before the expression vanished again, turning her head toward Steven with a frown. "Please, talk to us. Tell us what's going on."

"Leave him alone," Jasper grunted, though she seemed more or less indifferent as she crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Steven winced, not even managing to feel grateful, just completely consumed in guilt over the fact that Jasper was standing here defending him after… He shook his head and shook the thought away, knowing it was just going to make him feel sick again, and tried to swallow down the lump in his throat. "Can't you see he doesn't want to talk? Maybe if you guys weren't so pushy, he wouldn't have felt the need to run away to begin with."

"Jasper." Steven shot the gem a desperate look. She was right, of course, but she shouldn't feel the need to defend him of all things. She should be screaming at him, berating him, telling him off for losing control and making him feel like even more of a piece of shit than he already did. The fact that she was telling the gems off - which, Steven would never admit, was incredibly satisfying to watch - wasn't going to help anything. "You're gonna start another fight- just-"

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Jasper remarked, but she backed down under Steven's pleading look, finally averting her gaze with a careless shrug. "Fine. Whatever you say."

Steven stifled a pang of regret with relief and forced himself to move on, turning his attention back to the gems. Pearl seemed to have taken the most offense at Jasper's words - unsurprisingly - but Amethyst and Garnet didn't look too pleased now, either. Steven noticed Amethyst's gaze flitting between him and Jasper, confusion evident in her expression. Most likely at how quickly Steven had managed to silence the orange gem, which made Steven flinch a little himself. He wasn't looking forward to having to explain it. To having to say the words. To having to admit to them what he had done - because then, that was it. He really had done it.

"You were with Jasper?" Amethyst sat up completely now, looking at Steven in complete disbelief as the realization finally seemed to set in, and Steven couldn't fight back a wince on time. "This whole time?! For three days?!" Steven nodded. "What were you doing?"

Jasper managed to look amused, while Steven bit his lip. "... training."

At this, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl all paused. Pearl turned toward him, carefully diminishing her spear, but Steven couldn't bring himself to look at any of them now. He fixed his gaze on the floor, blinking past the tears once again and trying to focus on steadying his breathing. He wasn't sure how to continue, and he didn't expect Jasper to step in and help him either. She shouldn't have to. This was all Steven's doing, all his fault, and he needed to face it. His heart hammered in his chest, blood roaring in his ears, as he struggled to think the words to himself. I shattered her. I shattered Jasper. We were training, and I shattered her, and I brought her here. And I healed her in the bathtub and she's back but I still did it and I'm sorry.

He felt sick again, but he forced his mouth shut and breathed.

"... I can't do this," he blurted out when he opened his mouth to speak, every part of him shaking violently now as each effort to control himself only served to make the trembling that much worse. He couldn't think it without feeling sick, he didn't even know if he could say the words out loud, what was he even trying to do here? "I- I can't- Jasper and I were training and we- I- I-"

"Steven-" Garnet interrupted, and Steven stopped speaking, realizing he was gripping the sides of his head now, fingers tangled into his hair as he doubled over. In a panic, he had summoned a wall with the same pattern as the one he had summoned during his last attack on Jasper, only surrounding himself now protectively, not for an attack. He lifted his gaze, breathing heavily, as Garnet carefully stepped past a worried-looking Pearl and made her way forward. "Calm down." She rested a hand against the wall, and Steven tensed slightly, pupils shrinking for a moment.

"Take a moment to think of just," Garnet began, and the tears that blurred Steven's vision halted just for a second. Blinking furiously, he looked back up at her, trying to ignore the fact that her being so close to the wall just made him even more uncomfortable to begin with. She was singing - why was she singing? Did she really think it would help? The melody was familiar, and it brought back memories of… of Connie and… seriously, did she think it would help, of all things? "Flexibility, love and trust. Take a moment to think of just, flexibility, love and trust."

Steven breathed in shakily, opening his mouth, but the words died on his lips as Garnet continued. "Here comes a thought," the fusion looked down at him. "That might alarm you."

I shattered Jasper, he wanted to scream. The wall shrunk around him, and Garnet's hand moved back slightly in surprise; Steven, however, only looked up for a second. Honestly, he kind of wished it would close in on him at that point. Crush him under its weight, make him pay for the things he had done. His breathing quickened slightly, but the wall didn't move any further.

"What someone said," Garnet sounded cautious now. He wondered if she was afraid. Afraid of him, or the wall. He wouldn't have blamed her if she was, though. "And how it harmed you."

"Are you pathetic? Are you weak?"

Steven screwed his eyes shut, not noticing this time as he turned pink. Jasper's taunts rang in his ears, louder even than Garnet's singing. Meant to be comforting, but failing miserably. Only serving as yet another horrible reminder of what he had done. He couldn't focus, he couldn't think, and he couldn't control himself. He wanted her to just. Stop. Singing. He wanted her to stop so that he could think, and breathe, and try to figure out how to tell her that he had-

"Something you did that failed to be charming."

-that he had shattered Jasper. He had shattered her. Watched her form destabilize, watched her gem crack and split apart right before his own eyes. And he had kept laughing even long after that, too shocked to even realize what had happened at first. The smile hadn't been wiped off of his face until long after the deed had been done, when he crashed to the ground, inches away from the crater. When he finally realized Jasper wasn't reforming, because she couldn't reform. Because her gem wasn't just lying there on the ground where she had been standing. He'd been staring at her shards for at least ten minutes, laughing, before he realized what he'd done.

"Things that you said…" Garnet's voice was getting more and more faded, but Steven didn't even care at this point. He opened his eyes and looked at his hands, remembering scooping the shards up carefully, trembling, afraid of breaking them even more than they already had been. Hell, he could even feel them burning into his flesh even now, dull and lifeless. "Are suddenly-"

"Stop," Steven finally choked out, nothing more than a whisper, but it was effective enough. Garnet froze as Steven lifted his gaze, and then she seemed to almost recoil, as if seeing something that had shocked her. He failed to catch a glimpse of his reflection in the wall before it vanished, but if he had, he would have seen pink, Diamond-shaped eyes staring back at him. Pearl gasped, covering her mouth with one hand, and even Amethyst seemed to visibly tense. The only one, again, who failed to react, was Jasper, who stood as calmly as ever, watching. "Just…" He curled his lips back, suddenly livid. Hell, beyond that, he was… he was pissed off. "Just shut up! You can't make everything better by singing some stupid song!"

A sharp crack almost drew him out of his rage, but when he looked only to see that it was the window, he returned his gaze back to the gems, seething. "You wanna know what happened?! I shattered her!" He yelled, pointing at Jasper, and he could have sworn she tensed. Garnet recoiled even further, and Pearl and Amethyst's eyes widened as he continued furiously, "I shattered Jasper during training and I brought her here to heal her! That's what happened! Because I can't control myself, and all she was trying to do was help me do that, and I-" Finally, he managed to cut himself off, but only with a low, muffled sob as he covered his mouth again.

Everything was dead silent for a while. The gems just stared. Jasper just stared. Steven was, honestly, considering just turning and heading back to the bathroom - but before he could entertain the thought any further, Amethyst slowly pushed herself up off of the couch to stand beside Pearl, who had both hands over her mouth now, staring at Steven in shock. "Steven…"

"I was used to being- to being just- not- good enough-" Steven interrupted before Amethyst could continue, mostly just in a desperate attempt to block out whatever she was going to say. He didn't want to hear it; to hear the disappointment and fear in her voice. He didn't even want to be having this conversation at all, but while they were there, he might as well be putting everything out on the table. No stone unturned. If he didn't come out and say it now, he might not ever get the chance to. Hell, this could be the last time he saw the gems anyway. He wouldn't blame them for not wanting him around - and even if they did, he couldn't just… he couldn't just stay there and pretend like this hadn't happened. "Just not good enough for you-! But now… Now…!"

Oddly enough, he thought back to Spinel. An anguished scream broke through his lips at the thought - well, more of a wail, really. Once again, the floor shook underneath them, the room rumbling in response to his emotions as he yelled, "I'm not good at all!"

"Oh, Steven…" Pearl stepped forward, reaching out, but Steven recoiled just as quickly. Not out of fear, but out of anger. Even now, when he'd just admitted to shattering someone, they were trying to comfort him. As if that was what he needed. But it wasn't! He didn't need comfort. He didn't need help. What he needed, now more than ever, was to be stopped. "Steven, please-"

"Let us help you, man," Amethyst's voice cracked, something Steven was surprised to hear, and it made tears rise to his own eyes somewhat out of instinct. But even then, it was overshadowed by a cold, hollow feeling twisting in his chest, as he flicked his gaze back and forth between all of them in pure disgust. Not for them, but for himself. He was hurting them. Just by being here, he was hurting all of them. He should have come out before; he should've said something before all of this had happened, and then maybe it wouldn't have been too late.

The hybrid forced himself to shake his head again, as much as it pained him, only able to feel relieved when the pink glow finally faded. He faltered, almost stumbling for a moment, but he managed to freeze and compose himself again with a sharp, shaky inhale. "You can't. I don't…" He swallowed, fighting back a sob. "I don't need help, Amethyst…! It's too late for that!"

"No, it's not-" Garnet sounded shocked, but Steven didn't give her any time to continue, whirling his head around to fix her with a glare that seemed to startle her even further.

"I shattered a gem, guys! I- I shattered- I killed someone! I killed Jasper!" Steven gestured toward the gem in question, who frowned slightly, arms still crossed over her chest as she gazed back at him in complete silence. "Don't you get it? Don't- don't you understand? I can't- I can't deal with that- I can't fix that!" He shook his head, mortified. "Th- That's the one thing I never- the one thing I thought I could count on myself to never- the one line I-" He stopped, unable to continue, and buried his face into his hands for a moment, just trying to breathe.

"Hey…" Pearl's voice was soft, hesitant. "Steven… it's okay… it'll be okay…"

"No it won't," Steven mumbled, keeping his head in his hands for a few moments longer before finally daring to look up again. "No it won't. Not this time, guys." He rubbed his arm over his eyes and looked toward Jasper again, staring at the scar for a moment. No, it would never be okay. Shattering someone, killing someone, would never be okay. Not for him. Maybe they could forgive him for it, but Steven knew he definitely couldn't. Because that was a line he had promised himself he would never cross, from the moment he had heard that 'Rose Quartz' had shattered 'Pink Diamond'. And even finding out that it had been a lie didn't sway him from it.

"I don't need help. And you can't help me anymore," Steven continued, ripping his gaze away from Jasper again and focusing on the floor. "It's too late for that. I- I need to be… I don't know. I need to be stopped. I need to be… contained. I need to be contro-" He stopped, and blinked.

The silence lasted a whole ten seconds before Pearl went rigid in front of him. "... Steven-"

"Controlled," Steven whispered, blinking rapidly as he looked up again, wide eyes focusing on Pearl for a moment. She looked absolutely horrified, and the concern on Amethyst and Garnet's faces only intensified further as both of them started to somewhat understand what Steven was getting at, but still not as much as Pearl. "Th- That's it-"

"Don't you dare," Pearl warned, and for the first time, she sounded more stern than Steven had ever heard her before in his life. He stared back at her, somewhat dubious, as she took another step toward him. "Steven, no. That's not- you can't-"

"What else am I supposed to do?" Steven hissed back in response. "Stick around here and wait 'til I lose control again? Maybe the next one I shatter will be you." He hadn't meant it as a threat - more of a warning, really. But it still hurt to see Pearl recoil from him as if she'd just been struck, and even more when Amethyst visibly tensed, taking a step forward somewhat defensively. Great. He told himself not to be surprised; of course they would be wary of him, he'd just admitted to shattering a gem. But he wasn't going to lie. It hurt. It hurt a lot.

"See what I mean?" He mumbled, shaking his head. "I can't be here anymore." He didn't wait for a response this time, pushing past Pearl and Amethyst and rushing upstairs. Ignoring the surprised shouts, the desperate cries as they called his name. He thought he even heard Jasper calling after him, but he didn't look back, didn't stop until he reached his garden, pressing his hand to the panel to open the door and slipping inside silently. The footsteps behind him got louder as the gems caught up, and he fixed his gaze on the warp pad ahead of him, frowning.

"Steven-!"

He turned his head slightly, bringing up another wall. This time intentionally; the gems barely avoided skidding into it, gasping in surprise, and Steven continued forward with a little more determination this time, rubbing his eyes. "I just need to stop, guys. They can stop me."

"Don't!" Amethyst screamed, pounding her fist against the wall.

"Steven, get back here!" Garnet yelled.

He heard Pearl sob, almost inaudibly. "Steven, please!"

Jasper was the only one silent. Steven didn't need to look back to know her eyes were fixed on him; for a moment, he almost felt like he was turning himself in again. Way back when he had willingly put himself on that Homeworld ship to pay for his mother's actions. But this was his own crime this time. And maybe it wasn't as bad as shattering a Diamond, but he still needed to face the consequences for it. Breathing in, he pressed his face into his hands and swallowed, stepping up onto the warp pad. The pink faded, receding to his cheeks and lingering for a few seconds before finally vanishing once again. "The Diamonds are family," he mumbled. "They know what it's like. They're powerful, like me. If anybody can stop me, it's gotta be them."

With that, he activated the warp pad, and tried to pretend he didn't hear Garnet's quiet, choked, 'we'll always be your family' as it whisked him away to Homeworld, and to whatever lied ahead.

Chapter Text

Steven stumbled across Homeworld, past gems and buildings and statues. Ignored smiling faces and cheerfully waving hands, and enthusiastic greetings and Diamond salutes. Fought back waves of nausea and anger as they boiled deep in his gut, churning and twisting in ways that pained him and scared him all at once. He could feel it burning inside him like a flame, spreading through every part of his body directly from the stomach. It made his hands clench reflexively, rapidly flickering between his pink state and his normal state as he hopped up the stairs three at a time to get to the palace, every part of his body trembling. He hadn't stopped.

He didn't know why, but he really couldn't stop. You'd think the shock would've worn off by now. Or maybe it wasn't shock - maybe it was just the anger that was eating him alive.

Continuing to struggle with himself, internally, Steven hopped up three more stairs, tilting his head back to look up at the palace. White Diamond's ship loomed - somewhat threateningly - over him. Hell, over all of Homeworld; Steven couldn't stop the ominous feeling brewing in the pit of his stomach, nor could he prevent yet another brief but intense flare of anger. It wasn't even particularly directed toward anything, or anyone… or maybe it was. There was something, lingering in the back of his mind. Quiet, brutal thoughts whispering in his head, intoxicating and terrifying all at once. It made him shrink in on himself, though not quite literally - especially considering, as soon as these emotions had flared up, Steven had ended up growing quite a bit, head swelling briefly, before he managed to calm himself enough to return to his normal size. Still, he remained pink, as he began a slower ascent up the stairs, no longer as eager to arrive.

It didn't take him as long as he would have liked to get to the top, but he paused outside the door all the same. Lifting a hand, shining pink, he looked up again and swallowed. He should be used to this by now, but he wasn't. He hadn't been back to Homeworld since… jeez, since Spinel. The Diamonds kept in contact with him through calling, of course, but Steven preferred to keep even that to a minimum. Two years with them hadn't exactly been… well, Steven wouldn't say it had been particularly unpleasant, but it certainly hadn't been the best two years of his life. He remembered being so homesick, having little contact with the gems as they worked on building Little Homeworld back on Earth, while Steven worked to help the Diamonds.

You chose this, he chided himself sharply, pursing his lips as he finally pushed the door open, with little effort, to walk inside. His eyes widened slightly as he looked up, straight ahead, across the palace. There were a few gems scattered around here and there, but the first thing Steven noticed was that the Diamonds certainly weren't - and he didn't know whether to be relieved or not. The door shut loudly behind him, snapping him from his thoughts, and the hybrid shook his head furiously at his own behavior as he continued forward with a frown. Well, he'd have to ask someone where the Diamonds were. Shouldn't be too hard. Steven fixed his gaze on the crowd gathered just in front of the thrones, breathing in through his teeth. That was as good a place to start as any, he supposed, so he approached somewhat cautiously, listening as they spoke.

"-you can see, this truly was the center of power in the Gem Empire throughout the second Era," the purple Pearl was speaking calmly, raising a hand toward the stairs, and Steven looked up.

The looming thrones ahead of him, an array of familiar colors that, admittedly, made his stomach twist nervously, was a sight he certainly hadn't missed. After so long of pretty much living on Homeworld, he had found himself pretty sick of the planet by the time he'd been able to leave. Sick of the planet, sick of the Diamonds, and sick of being labeled as one of them. His gaze flickered from one throne to the other, from white, to yellow, to blue; and then down to the smallest one, centered below the others. The pink one. The one he'd spent a lot of his time sitting in, younger than he was now; swinging his legs back and forth, listening to the Diamonds talk about how they were going to dismantle their colonies. He'd gotten a lot less fidgety the more time he spent with them, sitting a lot straighter, trying to act a little more focused.

Even now, he felt his spine straighten reflexively, despite the tingling sensation of wrongness that it brought. It came from watching the other Diamonds, their calm and collected manners during meetings, their tense and regal postures that he ended up trying to mirror instinctively - if not somewhat self-consciously - as two years passed by in the most agonizingly slow way. It wasn't that he didn't want to be one of them - even though he didn't - but it was more or less his way of trying to make himself seem a little less out of place among these gems…

"... it's easy to feel as if you, too, have the power of a Diamond!"

Steven flinched, dropping his gaze quickly. He was genuinely surprised he hadn't turned pink just from that, but it didn't stop him from lifting both hands to his face just to make sure his cheeks weren't tinging pink, either. When he was satisfied, seeing none reflected on his hands, he dropped both of his arms to his sides again and lifted his chin, taking a long, deep breath in and turning toward the gems, only to realize they were being led away again. The hybrid opened his mouth and stepped forward, but before he could call them back, his gaze flicked to the side, focusing on a familiar, pink, pig-tailed gem, who seemed to turn to see him at the same time. Steven felt his eyes widen at the same time that he saw hers do the same.

But he didn't have any time to react, other than freezing, when she turned to face him completely. "Steven!" Her arms stretched toward him, too fast for him to flinch away but still enough to make him panic as her hands wrapped around him, pulling herself toward him with a giggle that almost reminded him of her when she'd first reformed after being rejuvenated. He couldn't help but grimace when she reached him, wrapping him in a giant, warm hug. The thing that really freaked him out, though, was when she pressed her lips to his face with a long, squeaky, over-exaggerated, "Mwwwwah!", before pulling away with a grin.

Steven hissed a little under his breath, but said nothing, simply screwed his eyes shut as tight as possible and willed the pinkness to go away, not even having to check this time to know it had happened. "Spinel…" He began, only to shake his head furiously and blink his eyes open, looking up at her. She simply continued to beam at him, in a way that made him wonder if he had turned pink, and why she wasn't questioning it - but he decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, simply taking in a breath to calm himself, and sighed. "What's wrong with you?"

Spinel snickered at that, offering him a sweet, if not dramatic smile, as she clasped her hands together in front of her and batted her eyelashes. "Oh, you know," she giggled, "the usual!" Steven didn't reply immediately, frowning a little to himself, but at least managing to be glad that she hadn't taken offense. He hadn't meant it offensively, of course, but he still couldn't stifle the flare of frustration that wormed its way through him, only able to distract himself from it by rubbing his sleeve over his face and shaking his head at himself again, with a slight scowl now. He needed to get his head back in the game. Stop getting so angry. That was what led to…

Steven exhaled, sharply, and brought his arm away from his face to peer uncertainly at Spinel, who was studying him somewhat curiously at this point, having turned back to him completely and clasping her arms behind her back as she cocked her head at him, and stared. It took the hybrid a moment to put a smile on his face, somewhat shaky despite his best efforts, but there was nothing he could do about that. "So…" He trailed off for a moment, letting his hand linger in the air for a good few seconds before lowering it back to his side, gripping the bottom of his jacket tensely and giving her a long, weary look. "Uh… How have you been? Since…"

His words trailed, as did his eyes, as he managed to cut that sentence off short. Suddenly unable to look at her, and not really knowing why, he fixed his gaze on the ground, and stared.

"Since I tried to kill you?" Spinel's voice was somewhat understanding, if not slightly guilty. With a laugh, she shifted forward, taking a half-step closer but seeming to respect his personal space otherwise as she lifted a hand, rubbing the back of her neck. "Yeah… that was so embarrassing, right?" Managing a giggle, she looked up at him, and Steven forced another smile as he let his eyes bounce around the room for a moment. "I'm doing better, I think. The Diamonds are great!"

Steven huffed out a sigh and shut his eyes, managing to find a bit of relief in the whirlwind of anger and resentment and guilt swirling through him. She was doing better. The Diamonds were great. He repeated the thoughts to himself, painfully aware of how bitter it sounded even to his own ears, but he blinked his eyes open and looked back up at her all the same, smile fading. Just for a moment, he wondered what he was even doing here - what he was even trying to do. They were no different from everyone back home; here he was, intruding on their lives, on their progress. But it's different, he reminded himself sternly, you're not coming to them for help. You're coming to them to… help them! Yeah! This… technically could help them. I'm dangerous!

"So, what are ya doin' here?" Spinel snapped him from his thoughts with the same cheerful smile, planting her hands on her hips and looking at him expectantly. Steven paused, lifting his gaze back to her again, almost confused for a moment, before his eyes widened slightly.

"Oh." Steven hesitated, just for a moment, before taking a deep breath and swallowing. This was for the best, he reminded himself. He was there to do the right thing, right? This was the right thing, right? Putting an end to all the danger he was subjecting everyone to just by simply… existing. In the best way he could think of, short of… "I need to see White Diamond."

"No kidding," Spinel snorted, her smile turning somewhat mischievous as she stretched her arms up over her head, looping them around each other a few times. "Ya never call, ya never write…" She continued on, looking up for a moment, before fixing her gaze back on Steven and offering him a lopsided grin, letting her arms spring back to her sides with a hum. The hybrid watched on, silent and lost in thought, as Spinel went on, "like ya don't want anything to do with us, Universe! I mean, not that I'd blame ya, for sure. We're a rough bunch! But-"

"That's not it," Steven interrupted hastily, a little sharply even for his own liking, but Spinel's grin didn't fade as she arched an eyebrow at him, like she could see through the lie just as easily. Honestly, he kind of hated himself for the fact that it was a lie. It wasn't like he wanted to not want anything to do with them. Truth be told, he wished he did want something to do with them, because then it might be a little bit easier to be around them. But he didn't say any of that, swallowing down the words before they could escape, and shaking his head slightly as he struggled to put his thoughts back in order. "I'm just… I'm kinda going through something right now…?" Gripping the bottom of his jacket a little tighter, he flicked his gaze away again.

"Sounds serious." Spinel's smile finally faltered, and Steven blinked a little in surprise as her excited exterior seemed to deteriorate, or at least take the back-burner, as she tilted her head. "Yeah, I wasn't gonna mention it, but ya don't seem too hot either. What's the deal, sunshine? Trouble with your lady human friend, or somethin'?"

Steven flinched at that. "No- well-" He stumbled a little over his response, finally losing his patience, and gritted his teeth slightly as he flicked his gaze back toward her. "That's not it, okay? It's way more serious than that. Now, at least. I… I've been… glowing pink, and…" He gestured toward himself, not really sure he even needed to explain that, considering the second Spinel had mentioned his… 'lady human friend', he had turned pink anyways. "Swelling up. And- and now it's gotten so out of hand that I- I accidentally-" He stopped himself, not that he could have continued anyways, and twisted his jacket a little bit. He couldn't spit the words out now, but at least he didn't feel nauseous at the thought of it anymore. At least, not as much as before. Spinel only blinked back at him, a frown on her face now, as she studied him intently.

"Well, alright, don't be gettin' worked up about gettin' worked up, y'know?" Spinel held her hands up, a gesture clearly meant to be placating or comforting or something of the sort, but Steven still couldn't keep himself from flinching on time. If Spinel noticed, she didn't say anything about it, just beamed back at him and dropped one hand, offering the other one to him. "That's not gonna help anybody. I don't know if White's back yet, but I know who ya could talk to 'til she is! Blue's kind of a whole expert on this sorta thing. I'm sure she could cheer ya up!"

Steven looked down at her outstretched hand, then back up at her face, not really knowing what to say. Before he could open his mouth, though, she was speaking again. "Steven, seriously. You need to relax, and Blue's just the Diamond to help get that tension outta your shoulders."

"I- I don't think that's what I-" Steven clenched his fists and looked down for a moment. He was still pink, and he could feel it pulsing, eating at him. It usually didn't hurt, but this time it just made his body ache, already-strained muscles burning. It felt like flames were licking at his bones on the inside, creeping across his body at an agonizingly slow pace, and the flicker of fury brewing in his gut sure hadn't fizzled out quite yet. She wasn't listening to him - nobody listened to him. And yes, a part of him chided that he wasn't really trying to make himself be heard as much as he should, but he still couldn't stifle the anger. It was irrational - it felt irrational and even he was acutely aware of that, but he still couldn't bring himself to shut his mouth. "That's not what I need, Spinel, I need to see White!" He snapped, flicking his gaze back up.

Spinel, to her credit, didn't flinch. But she did pause, pulling her hand back and blinking back at him with a look of mild surprise; Steven only took a second to try and calm himself, recoiling and covering his face with his arm as he struggled to pull himself together, struggled to control the fury raging through him. But before he could work himself up to a proper apology, Spinel spoke up again, rubbing the back of her neck again with an almost puzzled expression. "Well, alright. Sorry, Steven." Flashing him an apologetic smile, she crossed her arms behind her back again. "I got'cha, though! We'll just go see if she's back, then, yeah? My bad, really. No pressure."

Steven froze at that, lowering his arm and staring at her incredulously. The apology took him by surprise, especially since it didn't quite feel deserved in that moment, but all he could manage was a shaky nod as he swallowed past the lump that had risen back to his throat. God, he was such a wreck. It was like he couldn't decide whether to be angry or sad or guilty, alternating between the three so rapidly it left him reeling - as well as whoever was unfortunate enough to be in front of him when it happened. Steven exhaled, rubbing his face as if he could rub the rest of the pinkness away, but it retreated on its own easily enough as he began to relax. "... yeah."

"Great! C'mon then," Spinel cheered, bouncing off - quite literally - and Steven lowered his hand from his face. He stared after her, then spared a hesitant glance over his shoulder, back toward the doors of the palace. He wasn't sure whether to be happy that the anger had… at least somewhat fizzled out, at least for the time being… or upset that it had been immediately replaced with guilt. He supposed that was better, though - feeling guilty was undoubtedly better than getting angry and doing something else worth feeling guilty over, but he had a sinking feeling he didn't have much control over what he did at this point. It wasn't like it was his powers doing this to him, and he knew better than to think that; this was all him, one-hundred percent. He was letting his emotions get the better of him, and his powers were just coming along for the ride, as they so often did. But Steven didn't know how to control them any more than he knew how to control the new abilities that came with them - so, he comforted himself, this was right.

He was doing the right thing.

Steven sighed, rubbing his face again and finally turning to head after Spinel, who had stopped to look back at him, waiting for him to catch up. She flashed him a smile as he approached, and he struggled to offer her a somewhat half-hearted one in response, even as his heart ached.

"If White's anywhere, she's probably in her room," Spinel informed him, seeming to forget about personal space as the hybrid caught up to her again; he winced when she looped her arm with his, and bit back his protests. He usually wouldn't have minded the contact, but right then, he seemed to be minding a lot of things that he'd usually just allow to slip past him in the past. This was one of them. Still, he only nodded, breathing in through his nose and looking ahead again as Spinel continued to lead him forward. "She's been real busy these days. All the Diamonds have! Yellow with her experiments, and Blue with those pretty little clouds of hers-"

"Wait," Steven interrupted, and Spinel paused, looking over at him. "What experiments?" His tone was accusatory, even to his own ears, and he couldn't keep himself from flinching on time. Way to jump to conclusions, but he couldn't help it. The fury and guilt had twisted into something a little more wary, and he could only assume it had to do with his surroundings. He'd never felt completely… okay with Homeworld, though it had been easier to ignore when he was younger and more focused on helping the Diamonds than he was about what he was feeling. Steven bit down on his lower lip, hard enough to taste blood, but the wound healed itself almost immediately - much to his chagrin, because the split-second of pain had been rather… grounding, oddly enough. He found himself missing it as soon as it was gone, but the sentiment didn't last too long, as he realized Spinel was speaking to him again, answering his question.

"-so she's just focused on fixing 'em now," the pink gem was saying cheerfully as she led Steven along, and the hybrid blinked a few times, opening his mouth to ask her to repeat that but deciding better of it and snapping it shut again almost immediately as she continued on, "she's been real focused on it. And she's been talking about fixing the Cluster, whatever the heck that is! But she's just workin' on fixin' the gems that have been bubbled, s'all."

"Oh." Steven relaxed slightly, able to deduce that it wasn't anything particularly bad, at least, from the little bit he had caught from that. He still felt a little bad for not listening at first, but he shook it off quickly enough. She couldn't have known he had zoned out, it was perfectly fine. He had heard enough to be satisfied that nothing bad was going on, which was all he had wanted. But he wasn't here to fix it if it was, he reminded himself sternly, because he had bigger problems. Hell, he was the bigger problem. And he felt a little bad for thinking that way, but… well, it was the truth, wasn't it? How was he supposed to help anybody when he was like this? So it didn't matter anyway. He really needed to stop thinking like this… it was over…

"So, whaddya need to see White for anyway?"

Steven stiffened slightly at that, staring ahead for a moment. He thought back to Pearl, trying to talk him out of going to Homeworld, knowing what he had intended to do. Sure, he didn't know if Spinel would outright disagree with him - for all he knew, she might even agree once he told her the whole story. But at the same time, he also wanted to hold off on an explanation, because he… he didn't think he'd be able to offer it twice. "I…" The hybrid twisted his mouth, sighing. "Just… I need to ask her to do something. You'll see," he offered, and Spinel seemed satisfied.

"Okie dokie, Universe." Humming, Spinel stretched her hand up to press it to the panel of a door, and Steven faltered to a stop, shifting back and forth on his feet and offering the door a nervous, long stare. Tried to pretend he didn't know why he was so nervous, why his heart was racing faster and faster with each passing second. At the very least, keeping the thoughts at bay was keeping his pinkness at bay, which was good. The hybrid breathed out through his teeth, rubbing his hand over his face again - this time purely out of stress, rather than irritation. Better to just get this over with, get it done with, and it would all be over soon enough. He just needed to get through his one little interaction, this one little thing. Talking to White Diamond. Because she was the only one from Earth to here who could do what needed to be done. Stop him.

Steven straightened up, muscle memory holding him tense and tall as he entered the room beside Spinel. He was still shaking, and he could feel the tremors in his hands as he curled them together behind his back, rolling his aching shoulders back and trying to calm the stiff muscles as they continued to burn in response to his instinctive reaction. He didn't bother actively attempting to fight it himself, knowing there was nothing he could do, his brain and body seemingly already hardwired to react this way when he was in the presence of the Diamonds.

Especially White Diamond herself, he nagged endlessly, and swallowed down a hiss of annoyance at himself as he stepped forward, letting his gaze trail up, up and up…

And, finally, there she was. She was a lot more relaxed than she had been the last time Steven had seen her, and he had to blink a few times to make sure what he was seeing was real. White Diamond sat criss-cross on the floor, hands in front of her, in some sort of meditation-pose, and leaning back calmly against the wall with her eyes shut and a smile on her face. One eye cracked open when Spinel and Steven drew closer, and she seemed surprised - pleasantly surprised - when her gaze landed on him. "Spinel… and Steven, what a surprise. And such perfect timing, as well." She beamed, both eyes open now, as she looked down at him. "I've just gotten back from my latest charitable escapade! I've been going from planet to planet giving-"

"White- White, I- uh-" Steven interrupted, hands clenching into fists behind his back. He tried not to feel annoyed, knowing he should be glad - right? - at the way the Diamonds had changed, especially White herself. But he couldn't help the flare of irritation that rose in his chest, nor could he stifle his anger at how she only seemed to be bragging at how much good she was doing now. And while he knew, rationally, she didn't mean it in that way - or at least, he knew he should give her the benefit of the doubt and immediately assume she didn't - rationality hadn't exactly been his strong suit the past few days, and stifling these emotions usually ended up making them far more explosive in the end. So he did what he'd done earlier, clenching his teeth over his bottom lip until he drew blood, the sharp jolt of pain and the metallic taste managing to ground him to the present once again. Much better… He sighed, running his tongue over his lip. The wound healed as easily as it had before, and with a - slightly - clearer head, he turned his gaze back to the Diamond in front of him, who looked more concerned than annoyed, thankfully.

"Well, I can tell this is rather serious," White began, shifting slightly and dropping her hands. She didn't stand up yet, though she did move briefly so that she could kneel in front of them, calmly clasping her hands together in front of her. Watching her, Steven couldn't help but tense again reflexively, not knowing if it was because she was moving or if it was because of those… instincts he apparently still had, the odd need to mirror the regal posture in order to fit in.

"Oh, it totally is," Spinel cut in, and Steven almost jumped, having forgotten she was beside him. "That's his serious face. See?"

"I-" Steven spared the pink gem an irritated, exasperated look, but Spinel didn't seem to notice. Not knowing whether to be glad about that or not, he shifted his focus back to White, moving on and taking a deep, unsteady breath. "I just… I need to talk to you. It is serious- really serious, and I don't… I don't know who else to turn to." Guilt, anger and sadness finally dissolved into something akin to shame, realizing that for the first time. Because there was nobody else to turn to, nobody else who could do what needed to be done, and for some reason, the thought gnawed at him from the inside, eating him alive just like the ever-present fury, which made him realize exactly how much he didn't want to rely on White Diamond of all people for something like this. Could he even trust her in this situation? What if doing what he asked made her…?

Stop it! He bit down on his lip again, a little harder this time. It was still effective, enough to, at least, force his spiraling thoughts to a standstill once again. Looking up and licking his lips to heal the wound and clear the blood away, he turned his attention back to White. "I've been… really out of control lately? I- my powers… no, not my powers. It's not…" The hybrid faltered, if only for a moment, before forcing himself to continue. "It's me and I know that. I'm the problem! And I've been getting really angry and spiraling out of control and- and my powers have a direct connection to my emotions, so when I get mad I get… I get so mad and then I lose control and then I panic and I make it even worse and-" He winced, feeling a rush of sudden, blinding heat flush across his cheeks, that aching feeling that suddenly accompanied the pinkness now.

"Oh, it's just your powers?" White actually had the nerve to laugh at him, and Steven went rigid, shoulders tensing slightly. The pink spread completely, engulfing him once again, and his eyes sharpened slightly as he opened his mouth slightly to respond- only for White to continue, waving a hand as if to dismiss his concerns. "Well, now I understand. Steven, dear, you're a Diamond," she told him. "Your powers are going to spiral, of course! As for your emotions, well, we all know how funny those can be. I'm sure we can fix this before anything gets out of hand-"

"Would you just listen?!" Steven yelled, raising his voice. A sharp crack came from directly below him, the floor shifting beneath his feet, but he didn't spare a glance downwards, afraid of what he might see if he did. Beside him, Spinel let out a surprised yelp and staggered a few steps away, but Steven didn't turn his attention to her, either, keeping a firm glare focused on White - who looked somewhat surprised, though not by much, much to Steven's… well, fury. "That's what I'm trying to tell you! It's already gotten out of hand! I wouldn't be here if it hadn't! I thought I could control it myself, but I couldn't and now I've gone and shattered somebody!"

He expected White to recoil like the gems had, but she only furrowed her eyebrows back down at him. Spinel, on the other hand, let out an audible gasp at Steven's words, sounding a little closer, which made it safe to assume she had deemed it safe enough to step toward him again even after his little outburst. "Aw, gee, Steven… that's awful-"

Pupils shrinking, Steven whirled on her, fists clenched at his sides now. "Yeah, I know it's awful, Spinel," he hissed back, and watched the pink gem's hands raise slightly, a less defensive and more placating gesture, but surprised all the same, as Steven glared at her. He didn't even know why he had gotten so angry over that - that was what he had wanted, for someone to tell him off for what he'd done, for god's sake! And now that she had, all he could feel was his ever-rising irritation, pulsing and burning through him like flames. It was worse this time, stifling and unsteady, making it harder to breathe. "You don't need to- I know, okay? I was there."

"I didn't mean it like that, Universe," Spinel insisted, wide-eyed. "I-"

"Spinel, Steven," White called, and Steven's narrowed glare flicked back to the Diamond in front of them. He was vaguely aware that he was shaking now, trembling more out of anger than anything, but he could still feel his eyes burning as tears fought their way forward. It only served to piss him off further, swallowing down the lump in his throat and trying to focus. Whoever had thought up the phrase blind with anger had been frighteningly accurate, because the hybrid could feel his vision getting blurrier and blurrier by the second, but he didn't know if it was from his fury or if it was from the tears at this point. But he was going to go ahead and assume it was the former, because the last thing he needed was an emotional breakdown in front of White and Spinel at this point. "Let's just try and take a moment to calm down, shall we? And talk this out?" After a moment of hesitation, she added, "Spinel, sweetheart, why don't you step out for a moment? I believe Steven and I should talk this out ourselves for the time being. We don't want him to feel overwhelmed, now, do we?" She smiled down at the little pink gem, who blinked.

Steven clenched his teeth hard enough to make them ache, sparing another glance back toward Spinel. Still high on his fury, he didn't have it in him to spit out an apology at the moment, but a slightly apologetic glance from her still sent him reeling. "Yeah, 'course." Spinel managed a tiny, half-hearted looking smile back at White. "I'll just leave you two to it, then. See ya later?" She offered to Steven, but the hybrid still couldn't force himself to open his mouth and respond, only managing a stiff nod in response and watching as she turned and headed toward the door.

"You didn't have to send her away," Steven spat as he watched the door slide shut behind the pink gem, looking down and stepping out of the small hole in the floor he had created with his anger. "I wasn't going to…" He pressed his lips together, not knowing how to continue, because he didn't even know if it was the truth. Hell, if White hadn't stopped him, maybe he would've done something. Maybe it would've escalated just like it had with Jasper. Maybe he would've gone batshit just like he had in the woods, driven purely by anger and a frightening, desperate need for control. He couldn't say he wouldn't have hurt Spinel - because it might not be true.

White only shook her head, tilting her head slightly and peering down at him with a frown. "Steven, you seem very overwhelmed right now. I'm simply trying to make sure you're comfortable so we can talk about this without any distractions and any triggers." Once again, she shifted positions, carefully folding her legs next to her and propping herself up with her elbow, seemingly trying to get down to his level so that he didn't have to tilt his head so far back to look up at her - which he was still too irritated to appreciate. "Now, you say you shattered somebody… obviously it was an accident, yes? You should have brought the shards with you. Recently Yellow's been working on-"

"No, I- I fixed her," Steven interrupted, anger dissolving slightly, but still not quite fizzling out. He rubbed his pink hands against his face once again, knowing full well that it wouldn't do anything to make the glowing stop but also needing to do something with his hands at this point, because he could just feel himself growing more and more restless by the second. "That's not the problem. I fixed her. I brought her back with- with the bottles, the essence you guys gave me for the corrupted gems. She's fine now, I… I just…" He exhaled, clenching his teeth and swallowing hard, before turning back completely to face White. "I'm worried I might hurt someone else. Because I've already- I've already-" He paused, finding himself unable to say it again a second time, but with the reminder that White was already aware of what he meant, he moved on with a shake of his head. "And I know if I don't find some way to control this, it'll just… happen again."

"Well, that certainly might be a problem," White noted, blinking. "But being scared of your own power certainly won't help matters. Starshine, you can't just stifle them and pretend they don't exist. That's just going to make the problem worse in the long run, isn't it?"

"Agh…" Steven growled, rolling his eyes to the side for a moment. She wasn't getting it. Of course she wasn't, though, and what had he expected to begin with? It was White Diamond he was talking to, and he kept forgetting that fact. He should've just come right out and explained what he wanted from the get-go, then he wouldn't be here trying to explain why he had every right to be scared of his own power in the first place, and why exactly that wasn't even his biggest issue either. "That's not… that's not it. It's not my powers I can't control, it's my-"

"The same can be said for emotions."

"You-" Steven stiffened at that, snapping his gaze back up to White's face in an instant. She blinked back at him, clearly surprised by the furious reaction, but Steven hardly gave her time to open her mouth in response. "And what do you know?" He snapped, clenching his fists again. "You didn't even know what emotions were until I showed up! Wasn't forcing people to stifle their own feelings kinda your thing before all of this anyway?! If I needed emotional advice, I wouldn't have come to you for it!" He seethed, spinning around and taking a few steps away from her. He raised his hands to his head, running his fingers through his curls and gripping tightly. His heart was pounding, his head was reeling, blood boiling and churning. Once again, everything else seemed to spiral away from him, out of reach, out of control, blinded by rage and resentment.

"Very well," White spoke somewhat cautiously now, clearly caught off-guard by Steven's furious spiel, but the hybrid only buried his face into his hands and tried to calm his shaking a little, before he said or did anything else he might end up regretting later on. He tried biting his lip again, but he supposed it didn't work as easily in his pink state, because he only felt numb even when he tasted blood. Breathing in shakily, he just stood there, head in his hands, trying to breathe. "Tell me what you came here for, then, Steven. I can't help you unless you talk to me."

"I don't need help," Steven hissed, staying still for a moment as he tried to calm himself down. The reminder of why he had come there in the first place helped ease some of the anger brewing in his gut, focusing on his task once again as he breathed in deeply and let it out. Here goes nothing - and everything, he chided himself quietly, as he turned around again to face the Diamond before him. She simply stared down at him, eyebrows furrowed in obvious concern, a sickening amount that made Steven's stomach churn. Nausea rolled through him, and he forced himself to keep talking before he had the chance to throw up again, knowing that was the last thing either of them needed right then. Just get it over with. "I can't control myself. I can't. I tried. But you…" He stopped, breathing in shakily, and swallowed hard. "You can."

He watched White stiffen, concern melting into surprise at once, as she stared down at him.

"You can," Steven repeated, his breaths becoming shakier, heavier, as he struggled even harder to compose himself, to not seem as frantic as he felt in that moment. Because even before he knew, he knew, just from the expression on her face, that it wasn't going to be that easy to convince her to do what needed to be done. But he could only hope he was wrong, because if he wasn't, then everybody was doomed. And judging by how he took her refusal, if it came, even Steven knew very well that the conversation could take a turn for the worst, and he wasn't sure exactly how ready he was to have to deal with the aftermath. "You can control me."

Then again, part of him screamed, maybe she could use the persuasion.

Chapter Text

"... Steven, I can't possibly… that won't fix anything…"

To be honest, Steven had stopped listening since she started speaking. He felt almost numb, staring back at her in silence as her lips moved, speaking to him. He should hear something, he knew that, but there was only static. He felt like he was underwater, everything muffled and distorted beyond recognition. If that wasn't bad enough, a high-pitched ringing accompanied the sudden sense of deafness, effectively plugging his ears and leaving everything around him muted. He didn't have to hear to know she was refusing him, though - didn't have to know what she was seeing to recognize the pity in her eyes as she looked down at him, hands raising tentatively, gesturing along with the words she was saying as she rambled her concerns to him. He didn't have to understand to recognize in her what he saw in everybody else. False worry, pitying words, smiles meant to be sympathetic that only came across condescending and cold.

She wasn't going to do it. She wanted to help him. He couldn't fathom why - maybe it would make her feel good about herself. Whatever the reason, it still made his trembling hands clench further, fingernails digging sharply into the palms of his hands. His mouth was dry, a bitter taste lingering on his tongue. Internally, he burned - he burned more than he ever had before in his life. The fire ripped him apart piece by piece from the inside, the heat making his stomach churn violently. Hell, for a moment, the blurriness that had been slowly creeping across his vision suddenly took over with a frightening abruptness; it sent him spiraling, unable to see anything. Even White Diamond steadily disappeared from his sight. Her voice finally broke through, but it was more akin to the crashing and roaring of thunder than anything. He still couldn't hear her.

The pressure building inside spread to his chest as he breathed in, as if something was trying to escape. He couldn't find it in him to want to force it down again. Hell, in a way, it was almost welcome. There was confusion, there was disbelief, there was fury - so, so much fury. This time he was sure it was the reason he was shaking, too much for his body to contain, too strong. It was blinding, overwhelming, a sharp, sickening sense of how dare she, how dare she?

How dare she refuse him? After everything she had done to him. The one thing he asked of her, she couldn't - wouldn't - grant. Because of her newfound morals, the ones Steven had to fight and beg and plead and get his gem ripped out for her to obtain. Because she was good now, because she didn't do that anymore, because she didn't mind control other gems when they wanted her to - because that was immoral and wrong and oh, White Diamond would never do anything immoral and wrong, would she? Because she was absolute perfection. Because she made everything better and he made everything worse - that's what you do - because she was all high and mighty and she knew better than everybody else because of course she did-

Steven felt something inside of him erupt, the constantly-building pressure against his chest finally seeming to explode. And he screamed. He screamed, with no words to accompany the sound. And suddenly he could hear again; he could hear his own voice, trembling with the weight of his fury as he just yelled, a desperate attempt to release the overwhelming pressure that was building inside of him, and a furious demand to be heard for the first time.

He could hear the ground cracking beneath his feet, he could hear pillars crumbling under the force of his fury, he could hear White Diamond calling out to him, frantic and confused.

"Steven-!" She sounded scared, he could vaguely note, but he couldn't even bring himself to feel anything. Not satisfaction, not even guilt. Nothing but the fury that was churning inside of him. He felt like it was trying to break him apart from the inside, like it was trying to actually make him explode. Once again, he couldn't see - so he just screwed his eyes shut and threw his head back as he sucked in a breath and screamed again, every part of him aching as he struggled to release every pent-up emotion that had built inside of him for who knows how long. It felt good, it felt so good to get it out like this, to just stand there and yell. He didn't say anything, and he didn't have to; every bit of fury and sorrow and pain he felt echoed through his voice as it shook the walls and floor and ceiling of the room around him. It felt good.

Honestly, he couldn't remember the last time he had screamed just for the sake of screaming. Hell, he didn't even know if he ever had just screamed for the sake of screaming. And, with that in mind, suddenly no longer desperate to be heard, and more so just wanting to get everything out as much as was physically possible, he breathed in shakily once again, and screamed.

He screamed his pain, his confusion, his terror. He screamed his fury and resentment and hatred and inadequacy and guilt. He screamed his shame, his doubts, his fears. He screamed the absolute loathing that was worming its way up his chest, pounding against his ribcage with more force than he was sure he could give back. The loathing that wasn't even particularly directed to anybody else, the loathing that he held only for himself, the loathing he'd locked away for so long when he was just a thirteen-year-old child silently begging to be heard and acknowledged and loved and not left behind for once. He screamed because he'd never had the chance to before, to release all of these emotions, he screamed because this was the only way he could figure out how to do so, because it hurt far too much to keep in even a second more.

Steven screamed, really feeling like a child for the first time in his life. A child without any weight on his shoulders, a child without a magical destiny or purpose, a child who was just tired, tired and scared and angry and desperate to release it all. Didn't matter that a small part of him insisted that this was just a tantrum, an outburst. Didn't matter that maybe it was a tantrum. Didn't matter, because he didn't care anymore, because after so, so long of not being able to do so and not feeling like he was able to do so, he just wanted to let it overpower him. Wanted to slip and lose control and let himself feel like a child, and let himself act like a child.

So he screamed until he couldn't anymore, until his voice gave up on him, his throat aching and restricting and closing up on him. Until the pinkness faded, less because he had calmed down, and more because he didn't have the energy for it anymore. He screamed until he faltered, finally, genuinely exhausted, as he collapsed to his knees inside the new, larger crater that he had created, dropping his head and sucking in as much air as he could, filling his lungs back up again. Not with the intention of screaming, but just with the intention of breathing again.

Kneeling there, he gasped. In and out, panting and huffing as he fought to fill his lungs with all the air he had just let out. He didn't want to look up and survey the damage he'd done - and a part of him honestly didn't particularly care, still somewhat dizzy with the adrenaline coursing through his veins, and the complete, utter relief that came with getting some - if not most - of his anger out for the time being. It had felt good, losing himself in all of the pain he'd been bottling up. Better than he ever thought it would be. Even if it left him reeling and breathless, it was much better than when he had started out. He had worn himself out, though, left himself blind - not with anger, but now with exhaustion. But he felt good. Tired, but good.

Curling his fist against the ground, still shaking - but now more so with the effort it took to hold himself up after all of that - the teenager finally managed to lift his head, tired eyes finally taking in the room around him. It was a little worse than he had expected; most of the pillars had simply crumbled to dust - and the ones that had survived it for the most part were still cracked and looked about two seconds away from crumbling - and the crater he had made beneath him had caused several cracks to spread across the floor in different directions, broken stones and debris scattered across the room. The walls were cracked, windows simply shattered, and just ahead of him, White Diamond was slowly, shakily picking herself up off of the ground, gasping. Steven just watched her, too tired to feel satisfied, but too numb to feel guilty by what he'd done.

Holding a hand to her head, she looked down at him, eyes widening as she took in the damage - but seeming more or less focused on him when she finally spotted him, taking a few steps forward and leaning down slightly. "Oh, Steven… are you alright? That was…" She stopped, her own words seeming to choke her for a moment, and Steven only closed his eyes and sighed.

"Why," the hybrid managed to choke out after a few seconds, voice hoarse and trembling harder than he had expected it to. He sounded about as tired as he felt, fighting to keep his voice loud enough for her to hear, despite how much his throat hurt, protesting against the abuse he was putting it through. Even then, the pain was oddly satisfying. Mostly because it continued to linger, something he couldn't heal in himself for once. "Why won't you do it? Why won't you-" He cut off, gasping for air again as he reached out and gripped the edge of the crater, struggling to heave himself to his feet. "D- Do you get it now? How- how uncontrollable this- am?"

"This…" White sounded a little closer, and Steven forced himself to open his eyes to look up at her. She had knelt down in front of him, only a few feet away now, her hands pressed to the floor. Steven said nothing, simply continuing to push himself upwards, managing to get one leg out of the crater and sucking in a sharp, shaky breath as he stopped again. He felt weak - physically weak - but he wasn't too surprised. He had overworked himself. But even then, he couldn't ignore the sentiment that it felt so, so worth it, because the exhaustion was way better than every other overwhelming feeling that he'd been fighting against from the get go. "Steven, this isn't… uncontrollable." White lifted a hand toward him, as if to try and help, but she at least had the common sense and courtesy to keep her distance. "And you're not…"

"I'm a monster," Steven's voice sounded small, even to himself. The truth those words held didn't even make him flinch, even though the realization only truly hit when he'd said it aloud. He definitely felt like a monster, like a twisted, hollow being only capable of causing destruction. This certainly hadn't helped with those feelings, but he was too tired to genuinely reflect on them for the time being. Pulling himself out of the crater completely, finally, he settled himself on his knees again and pushed away a broken, cracked slab of stone from one of the pillars, exhaling.

"No!" White exclaimed, and Steven let his eyes roll back up to her, eyebrows furrowing somewhat challengingly in response. "No, you're not. You're just… you're a Diamond-"

"What's the difference?" Steven interrupted, forcing himself to raise his voice back at her, despite the pain that it brought. Pausing, he swallowed and forced another breath in, watching White seem to flinch at his words, but she didn't pull back or retreat, simply stayed steady and kept a sorrowful, somewhat desperate gaze fixed on him. The hybrid rolled his shoulders back, trembling hands lifting from the ground in front of him, as he settled himself back on his knees once again and shook his head back and forth. "Diamond, monster. I didn't ask to be either, but I still ended up both. And I'm still hurting people. Doing things I know I shouldn't be, but I can't…" He closed his eyes and sighed, ducking his head again. "... I… I kinda don't want to stop…"

"Starshine…" White's voice faltered quite a bit, sounding genuinely pained, and Steven bit down on his tongue and shook his head. The pain was more than welcome, but he was slightly disappointed at the lack of blood. Oddly enough. Speaking of blood, though, as he let his gaze trail downwards, he realized there was some trickling down his arms from where his fingernails had cut into his hands, piercing the skin; instead of healing the wound immediately, though, he tentatively pressed both hands down against the ground again, the cuts flesh against the floor, bringing up a peculiar, odd, stinging sensation. And despite wanting to pull away, he held it there, somewhat relieved from it despite himself - because at least he was feeling something.

Looking back up at White, he vaguely realized she was still speaking, struggling to tune back in as he turned his attention back to her in silence. "... it's hard to control, I know. You have all this power, and it only scares you. It's overwhelming, but it makes you feel powerful, doesn't it?"

Steven didn't say anything, and he didn't need to. It did make him feel powerful. He thought back to Jasper, landing punch after punch and laughing to himself as he did, because all of that power was suddenly, finally free. He remembered feeling giddy at being able to release it all, being able to throw himself forward, all in, without hesitation or fear. Remembered how… how he wanted to hurt her. How he had trapped her, deliberately, aware of what he was doing but too high on his power kick to care. How he had carefully summoned that final attack, wanting to… needing to hurt her, needing to satisfy the adrenaline pumping through his veins.

"You fight so hard to push down so much of yourself, Steven," White sighed, placing her hands on the floor again, a little closer to him now. "Your emotions, and your power. And the part of you most connected to it - your gem, your Diamond. You push it down, and you bottle it up…"

Steven screwed his eyes shut, every protest that rose to his tongue dying off just as easily. Too tired to get worked up, too devoid of energy to get angry. He didn't even turn pink - which he supposed was a blessing, because it made it somewhat easier to control himself, without the panic of losing his mind again. So he just stayed still, looking down at his hands in silence. What was he going to say, anyway? That she was right? That she was wrong? He didn't want to admit that she was right, but he also knew he couldn't say she was wrong, either. He didn't want her to be right, and he didn't even want to be having this conversation with her in the first place.

"But it's who you are," White continued to insist. "Why do you fight so much of it, Steven…? What good has that gotten you so far?"

"What good has being a Diamond done for me?" Steven snapped back, unable to put as much energy and bite into the words as he would have liked. He lifted his gaze back to hers, tired eyes roaming for a moment before he just shook his head and looked away, lips curling back into a somewhat half-hearted sneer as he took in the damage around him. "All of this… I never even wanted it. I was perfectly fine until all these new revelations started popping up. Finding out that Mom was a Diamond, and coming back here and trying to be her- but I never even knew her," he added, that bitter taste returning, feelings of inadequacy and resentment brewing in the pit of his stomach once again. "At least when she was Rose Quartz, I could hold onto the stories the Gems told me. I could even count on the bad things I knew about her. And maybe I didn't really know who she was, but at least back then she wasn't just one- one big lie."

Rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes, he sat back on his knees again, shoulders shuddering slightly before he froze again. "Even back then, even with all the questions I had, I never struggled this much to understand. I had a good grip on my powers, I knew what I was, even if I didn't know who I was. But then I found out she was Pink Diamond. The gem she lied about shattering just like she lied about everything else. And suddenly she wasn't even the Mom I 'knew' back then. She never was." He fell silent for a moment, blinking furiously against the tears rising to his eyes. "She was a Diamond. And she never even told her friendsMy friends. Pearl knew, and she couldn't even tell me at first. Or… or maybe she could. I mean, she found a way around it anyway-" Huffing out a laugh, he lifted his gaze back to White. "But that's not the point. They don't understand- none of them know what it's like. They don't know what to do with me, don't know what to do with me, and everything I've ever known turned out to be a lie and just when I thought I'd come to terms with it, all these new powers start coming up. I'm- I'm turning pink, I'm swelling up because my body can't handle the pressure of everything I've been through anymore- everything I can't stop thinking about now. I just wish that I…"

He cut off, ducking his head, and bit down on his lip again. Not to calm himself, or really to ground himself, but this time simply to distract himself from the dull, aching pain in his chest. In a way, it was almost worse than the anger, because he didn't think he'd be able to release it by screaming. Even the tears that forced their way to his eyes, he couldn't allow them to spill, far too exhausted to deal with the emotional pain on top of everything else. "... wasn't a Diamond."

White was silent for a while, just gazing at him. There was something… unreadable, in her eyes, some emotion Steven couldn't identify. He wasn't even sure he wanted to. Breathing in, somewhat unsteadily, the Diamond leaned forward. "That's like saying you don't want to be a human, Steven. It's a part of you. A very, very big, important part of you. Even if you don't understand it… and even if you're not ready to even accept it, it's still a part of who you are. And maybe…" She paused, just for a second, "maybe it's your… unwillingness to accept that part of you that's causing your powers to spiral. Maybe it's all that negativity you hold deep down, for your mother and for yourself." She finally reached out, and Steven went still, looking down as her finger pressed lightly against his gem. He couldn't help but shudder at the contact. "Starshine… why do you hate yourself so much?"

"That's not…" Mouth going dry, Steven reached a shaking hand up and pushed her finger away, uncomfortable with her hand being so close to him. The image of his gem being pulled out was still fresh in his mind, as it so often was in her presence, and having her so close to him wasn't helping matters. A rush of heat flushed across his cheeks, gone as soon as it appeared. "I don't…" Unable to even feel angry at her words, at the suggestion, all he could do was stare.

"You call yourself a monster," White murmured, pulling her hand back. "For something you can't control, something you never even wanted. That's not very fair of you, though, is it? You're quick to forgive everyone else's mistakes. Even those who have wronged you. Even me." Her gaze flicked down to her hand, then back up to him, and Steven winced slightly despite himself, not knowing what to say. "You know the things I've done. The things Blue and Yellow and Spinel have done. But you still called us your family, still tried to help us. What makes you think you don't deserve the same kind of redemption? The same kindness? The fact that you're a Diamond?" She gestured to her own gem, and Steven's gaze lifted slightly, shaking harder. "The fact that you shattered a gem? That you're losing control now, lashing out, finally getting angry over everything you've been through, everyone that hurt you? You're angry at me, aren't you?"

Steven flinched again, taking a shaky breath in even as his throat restricted. "I…"

"But why hold yourself at fault for that?" White pressed. "It doesn't make you a monster. Hating me for what I did to you doesn't make you a monster, Steven, or even a Diamond, it makes you- it makes you," she raised her voice, drowning out the hybrid's protests as he opened his mouth, choking on his own words as he struggled to spit them out, to just beg her to stop speaking. "Human. It makes you human."

Steven went still, sucking in a breath and holding it. White continued, a little bit softer, but firm. "You're not just pushing down the gem part of you, Steven. You're bottling up everything that makes you human. Your emotions. Your anger, and your fear, and your hatred. You're pushing away everything that makes you who you are, and you truly expect to be stable after doing so? You're not just hurting others, you're hurting yourself. You're bitter, you're angry, and lashing out. And who can blame you? But it's not going to help you, Steven. It won't make you feel better."

"I don't want to feel better," Steven's voice broke, shaking harder now as tears brewed in his eyes again. His stomach twisted, more so with nausea than anger now, as he shook his head and swallowed past the lump in his throat, breathing in shakily as he struggled to continue, "I just want to be better. I'm supposed to be better. I'm supposed to…" Trailing off, he faltered once again, suddenly hit with a rush of nostalgia, and a heart-shattering realization. White, at least, didn't say anything - but a brief look of recognition flickered across her face, as well as something akin to sympathy, but a little more sorrowful. The Diamond shut her eyes, leaning back with a sigh, and Steven simply rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands again, a little more desperate in his attempt to clear away the tears that still refused to stop brewing.

After a long moment, just sitting in silence, the hybrid finally heaved himself to his feet. He had gotten… way more emotionally intense with the Diamond than he had ever intended to, and he found himself internally berating himself over it, despite his exhaustion. He hadn't come here to talk, to release all of this pent-up anger, to tell her exactly how much he hated her - which, that last part, he hadn't done. But he figured this was as good a time to stop talking as any, before he ended up saying something he wouldn't be able to take back. It wasn't anything she didn't already know, clearly enough, and her own self-awareness was surprising to an extent, but regardless, Steven still couldn't bring himself to want to stick around her any longer than necessary. If she wasn't going to stop him… then there was no reason for him to be there.

"I think I should go," he sighed, balancing himself carefully, and straightening up as he looked back up at White Diamond. She frowned down at him, eyes open once again, cautiously studying the hybrid's tired expression. It was almost funny, how he'd ended up venting to her the way he had, especially since she was the cause for quite a lot of his… anger as it was. At least, she was one of the biggest triggers for it. It was a twisted, cruel sense of irony - he'd have laughed if he wasn't so tired, in every sense of the word. "I… I shouldn't… be here anymore."

"But do you really want to go back?" White pressed gently, looking down at him.

Steven didn't respond immediately, another rush of heat flushing across his face. Like she knew him, what he wanted, and what he didn't. Like she knew anything about him. But the worst part of it all was that most of the things she said… actually weren't too far off. But maybe that was what really irked him, the faint, tingling sense in the far corner of his mind that reminded him that she had a fair point. And maybe that's what he hated the most out of this situation. Regardless, twisting his mouth, the hybrid stuffed his hands into his pockets and turned his head away, willing the pinkness away from his cheeks with the reminder of how tired he was. He didn't think he could deal with another outburst. "I don't have a choice, do I? I can't stay here."

"You're always welcome to stay here, Steven." White pushed herself up slowly, and the hybrid only blinked back at her, unsurprised and yet unable to help the faint stir of confusion that brewed in his chest. "I know it's not a… pleasurable place for you, but you are family, and you'll always have a home here as long as you want one. That's one thing that will never change."

God, he didn't know whether to be irritated or guilty or numb at this point. Maybe it was the overload of emotions making him numb, actually, the conflicted feelings that were raging inside of him, the aftermath of a hurricane, a tornado, as the clouds continued to roll, as the lightning continued to crackle, the rain continued to drizzle. It was still storming, just without such intensely raging winds, without the harsh effects and destruction, internal and external, that came with the worst of it. It hadn't passed, he was aware, but for the moment, it had faltered.

"There's always a room waiting for you, Starshine," White continued on, rubbing her hands together. Steven stepped back as her palms began to glow, pulsing with a bright, white light, as she turned and gently pressed a hand against one of the cracked pillars. Steven briefly considered assisting her, but he thought better of it after a moment. It was still somewhat satisfying to look around at the damage he'd caused, and he still couldn't bring himself to feel guilty. And, beyond that, he was too tired anyway - he could barely hold himself up at this point, so he didn't think he'd be able to go around fixing things right then. And, for once… he just didn't want to have to worry about doing so. So he just turned away, stumbling slightly as he headed for the door, just desperate and wanting to get the hell out of there and not look back.

Somehow, the walk back was slower than Steven remembered. Even stumbling and staggering and nearly tripping over his feet, the hybrid still made an effort to walk a little faster, occasionally reaching up to steady himself against a wall but refusing to break stride even so. He passed Spinel as he staggered through the throne room, his initial relief at being so close to the exit immediately overshadowed by despair when she hopped off of the stairs and rushed after him. "Steven! Hey, was White able to help you out?" The pink gem slowed beside him, concerned.

"No." The hybrid stared ahead, his stomach twisting slightly. The anxiety boosted his energy a little, thankfully enough - a kind of split-second reaction, a surge of adrenaline, accompanying the desperate need to just get out of there as soon as he could. He quickened his pace, still a little unsteady on his feet as he finally reached the exit and reached up to pull the door open. Spinel kept pace easily, and, when Steven proved unable to make the door budge even the slightest bit, stretched her arms up to open it for him; the hybrid huffed out a low sigh, slipping through carefully and finally risking a glance over his shoulder to watch as Spinel followed after him, the door swinging shut behind her as she offered him a sympathetic smile. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Spinel replied, flicking her gaze to the side and turning her head to look over her shoulder. Steven followed her gaze briefly before turning away again, looking down the… admittedly very long, very daunting-looking staircase. "Guess it didn't go too well in there, huh?"

"About as well as could be expected," Steven admitted, hissing out a sigh through his teeth and shuffling forward reluctantly to begin his descent down the stairs. He winced a little, feeling Spinel's arm wrap around his - and he half expected to be pulled back, but the pink gem merely stepped forward, keeping one arm tight around Steven's and reaching out to grip the rail with the other, helping him down one of the steps. He spared her a grateful, guilty glance, silent.

"You know, if you wanted to stay…"

"I know. White already gave me the speech." Steven pressed his lips together into a thin line, surprised to not feel another rush of heat on his face. He supposed he was just way too tired at this point to access his pink state, even as irritated as he was… which was a good thing, he tried to remind himself, but he couldn't help but be somewhat concerned. Had that one little outburst really worn him out so bad? Or maybe it was everything that had happened the past few days, the strain he'd put on himself finally catching up to him? Regardless, he reminded himself to be grateful, because at least this meant - for the time being - he couldn't hurt anyone. "She said I could stay as long as I want to, but…" He trailed off. "I don't think I should. I kinda… I kinda went off on her a little bit in there? And… yeah. I don't wanna hurt anyone, or…"

"Yeah, I get it, pal," Spinel assured him, frowning slightly as she helped him down a few more steps. "But, I mean… you do look pretty tired. Don't you human types need rest and whatnot?" Steven didn't answer, so the pink gem continued to press, "you came here for a reason."

"Yeah," Steven sighed, "but it doesn't matter. It didn't work out anyway."

Spinel didn't answer immediately, a slightly thoughtful look flitting across her face, and Steven took a moment to study the warp pad ahead of him. He was kind of surprised they hadn't followed him straight through the second he had warped away - unless the wall was still there? He wasn't sure if he could keep it up without being there, though, so he didn't think that was the case. Whatever it was, though, he wasn't looking forward to the conversation - interrogation? - that would surely follow, nor was he looking forward to having to deal with Jasper again, on the off chance she hadn't left the house yet. He didn't want to answer their questions, and he didn't want to risk snapping at them any further than he already had. He was just so… tired

Ah, the pink flush- so he wasn't too tired for that, then. Steven frowned, raising a hand to rub his face again, and Spinel spared him another glance, eyebrows raising slightly. She stopped, and finally pulled Steven to a halt, as well, ignoring the teenager's mumbled protests. "Universe, be real with me for a second here. You don't wanna go back, do you?"

Steven peered up at her, whatever half-hearted defense he'd been about to spew dying on his lips before it even began. Staring down at him, Spinel looked more serious than Steven would have expected - he hadn't seen her frown that much since… since she was trying to kill him. Hell, at that moment, she almost looked somewhat challenging, as if daring him to object, and the hybrid could only stare back for a moment. Well, if she was gonna be like that about it… "No, I don't," he muttered, a faint note of irritation lacing his tone. "But it doesn't matter-"

"Would you stop saying it doesn't matter, Universe?" Spinel snapped, and Steven went rigid, but he didn't quite flinch, staring back at her. "It's bothering you, isn't it? So it obviously does matter. Listen-" She held up a hand, halting his protests once again. "Just, come back inside and rest."

Steven opened his mouth again to protest, but ended up faltering. His gaze flicked back toward the warp pad, mouth twisting slightly. Somehow, for some reason… dealing with Spinel and even the Diamonds seemed better than dealing with everything back home. At the very least, he could lock himself in his room - formerly his mother's, he reminded himself exasperatedly - and just not deal with anything at all. That… didn't sound like such a bad plan. He could just curl up and not think about anything, take a moment to relax and rest and… get some energy back. Something told him he was going to need it. Closing his eyes, the hybrid ducked his head and bit down on his lower lip again, his resolve cracking. "I just," his voice wavered, a little more than he would have liked, but he only shook his head at himself. "I wanna… go to my room…" The words felt weird on his tongue - wrong, in so many ways, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Well, alright then," Spinel's voice softened slightly, looping her arm around his a few more times and stretching it out slightly to wrap around him, squeezing his shoulder on the other side. "Let's go on and get'cha settled then, Universe. Ya certainly look like you could use some you time." She turned, leading him off without waiting for a response, but Steven didn't need to give one; after only a second of hesitation, he stumbled after her, finally giving up on trying to keep himself steady and sinking his weight sideways against her. He felt a little bad for doing so, but she didn't seem to mind - and she didn't seem to have any trouble holding him up, either, leading him down the long, familiar… cold hallways of the palace he'd lived in for two years.

He'd honestly almost fallen asleep by the time they arrived, gently prodded back into half-consciousness by Spinel as she pushed the doors open to lead him into the room. It was exactly how he had remembered it; the Pebbles had worked dutifully for so long to make it look like the beach house, and he could recall looking around at the furniture they had built, growing homesick with each passing second. He felt nothing, nothing but exhaustion and guilt now, as he took a good, long look around, finally pulling away from Spinel with a soft, shaky sigh. A few of the Pebbles popped out of their holes, gasping and squealing at the sight of him, and he looked down as a few of them scuttled over to him, tugging on his pants. He winced a little, cheeks flushing pink, but allowed them to lead him over to the bed they had made for him.

"Heh," Spinel giggled slightly from behind him as the Pebbles pushed him into the bed, a few of them jumping up to pull the blankets up over him. Steven simply let his head fall back, toeing his shoes off and reluctantly letting one of the Pebbles assist him when he proved somewhat incapable of doing so on his own in his exhausted state. One of them climbed up onto his shoulder, tugging on his jacket, and he let out a groan but pushed himself to sit up so that he could oblige, shrugging it off with a sigh. "Looks like they're worried for ya, too."

Steven didn't answer, folding his jacket and simply letting it drop back down beside the bed before sinking back into it once more. The Pebbles continued to fuss around the bed for a moment, clambering onto his chest to adjust the blanket over him once more, before finally scuttling off and disappearing into the walls once again. Spinel headed over to him then, clasping her hands together behind her back and offering him a sweet little smile.

"You don't need anything else, d'ya?" The pink gem moved over to the window, stretching up to close the curtains. "Like a song, a bedtime story? I've gotten pretty good at tellin' stories."

"No," Steven muttered, staring up at her. God, he felt so bad. So tired, so guilty, so… negative. Exhaling through his teeth, the hybrid fixed his gaze on the ceiling, blinking up at it for a moment. "... no, I'm okay. Thanks." After a moment of hesitation, he added somewhat quieter, "I just need… I just need to be left alone for a bit. Just to… to rest and think and…" He winced, half-expecting some form of disagreement or protest, to have to defend himself and justify his reasons for just needing a while to himself, but Spinel only let out a slight hum of agreement and raised her hands, backing away and shooting him a comforting smile in response.

"Yeah, no, I got'cha. Just makin' sure. You get some rest, then, okay? I'll check up on ya in a bit. Later, Universe." She raised a hand, saluting him with somewhat of a 'peace out' motion, before turning and bouncing back to the door. Steven opened his mouth, but said nothing, blinking after her as he watched her disappear, as the door swung shut behind her- and she was gone. No fight, no objections. Steven, somehow, almost felt guiltier just because of that - just because he expected something like that, because it's… what the gems would do. Thinking on it further, he definitely didn't regret his decision to stay, though. At least they had the sense to leave him alone - Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl would pester him to no end for answers, and Jasper… heaving out another sigh, the hybrid screwed his eyes shut and rolled his shoulders back, attempting to ease some of the tension that had built inside of him.

After a moment, he pulled the blanket up over him completely and rolled over, curling up and finally letting the exhaustion catch up to him, pulling him under into the dizzying darkness.

It was more than welcome at this point.

Chapter Text

With a smile on his face, Steven watched the spiked, glowing pink wall smash straight into where he had Jasper completely trapped, struggling against his attack, panic in her eyes. Success and satisfaction coursed through him, watching her pupils shrink just before it hit; the student had surpassed the teacher, and his victory hit him the moment her form destabilized, the walls and spikes exploding along with her and sending up a cloud of dust, gem cracking, splitting, falling. She had pushed him, and he had won. He was sure he had finally gained her respect, her admiration! Finally, someone he could just be himself around. He didn't have to hold back anymore, or be scared of hurting her, because that was what she wanted him to do!

With an almost childlike excitement, Steven touched down a few feet away from where Jasper had been, surveying the damage with wide eyes. He couldn't help but snort out a giggle, seeing the crater he had created with his attack as the smoke and dust finally cleared away. He really had gone all out - all on his own, all on purpose. No Crystal Gems to hold him back, to tell him that he was dangerous. No more of Pearl's worrying, no 'these pink outbursts are getting out of hand!' No more of Garnet's 'you're better than this. Don't let this power control you.' No more of Amethyst's 'you gotta tell us what's going on!' Because he didn't have to justify or explain himself to anybody anymore. Jasper didn't want an explanation; she wanted a fight, and Steven was more than happy to oblige, to lash out and explode and let all of this anger out without a care in the world. He wanted to take it all out on her, she  wanted  him to take it all out on her.

And it wasn't wrong. It couldn't be wrong. It felt so right- it felt so good.

This was what he'd needed all along. Beaming, Steven headed forward, cracking his knuckles and preparing himself for when Jasper would reform. He had won this time, and he couldn't wait to hear her sing her praises - as much as she would, at least, coming from Jasper - for her to say 'now that's more like it, Steven! No holding back, no hesitation!' To see the pride and excitement in her eyes, to be challenged again, because he needed that. He loved it. He loved being challenged and pushed to his limit, and she seemed to know exactly what buttons to press to make him react the way she wanted him to. To get him steaming, and raging, and mad.

"Hey, Jasper, are you coming back now, or what?" Steven laughed, reaching the edge of the crater. "Come on, I thought you could 'handle' it! Gone and got poofed…" He tsked. After a moment, the hybrid jumped down into the hole, letting himself float down and glancing along the bottom, eyebrows raising slightly. "Come on, Jasper, you can't hide in your gem forever, now. What, you're not scared to fight me again now, are you?" He chuckled at the thought, rolling his eyes and moving his shoulders back as he reached the bottom of the crater, and paused. An orange glitter caught his attention, out of the corner of his eye, and he turned to look at once. "There you are…"

His head tilted, smile unwavering, as he stared at the gem for a moment. It looked… smaller. Much smaller. Her gem was usually bigger than that. Taking a few more steps forward, Steven caught a glimpse of another glimmer, and then another, just a few inches apart from the last. His gaze flicked over each of them, not quite processing it yet, only managing to huff out a laugh.

"... Nah, that's not right. I'm not buying it," he declared, kneeling down and turning his attention to the biggest shard. "You said you could handle it. Thought you were strong? Get your ass back here and fight me, Jasper. Seriously. This isn't funny anymore…" Even so, he continued to laugh, not really knowing why anymore, as he reached out to grab one of the shards. His hand shook slightly, picking up one of the smaller pieces and dropping it into his palm, and then reaching out to grab another, which had stuck itself in the dirt. "Come on… I'm not joking…" He mumbled, mostly to himself now, as another, slightly hysterical laugh broke through his lips.

He had  seen  it happen. He had  seen  her shatter on impact. Watched the cracks in her gem form, watched them fall apart from each other. It still hadn't quite hit him yet what had happened, still hadn't quite dawned on him, and the only thing he could do was keep laughing. Because it was crazy, right? He couldn't have actually shattered Jasper. There was just no way. Hell, it was  Jasper ! She was  way  too stubborn to die! The hybrid let out a snort as he finally picked up the last piece, looking down at the shards in his hand and sitting back on his knees. Yeah, there was no way… no way that had actually happened… he couldn't be seeing right. She was going to reform any second now, demand another rematch and fight for her honor. He'd oblige, of course, happy to kick her ass a million times over again. He didn't think he'd ever felt so great, so strong, so in control. And he wanted to feel like that again. So, he would wait.

And he waited.

… and waited.

Truthfully, he wasn't sure how long he just sat there on his knees, grinning ear to ear as he looked down at the shards in his hands, waiting patiently. It was only when a drop of water hit the top of his head, did he dare to look up, eyebrows raising slightly in surprise. It was even darker than before, he realized, as dark clouds rolled across the sky. A rumble of thunder and a crack of lightning made him flinch, just for a second, as the smile finally faltered. It was storming. The sky had just been clear, hadn't it? Everything had just been fine. Looking back down at Jasper, he paused again, blinking, as the smile finally wavered and vanished.

"... Jasper…?"

A few more droplets fell from the sky, one of them falling straight into his hand. As soon as it made contact, the pinkness steadily began to fade; he gripped the ground beneath him with his free hand as he felt himself shrink, ever so slightly, the other hand shaking a little harder now as he continued to stare down at the shards. Shards. Those  were  shards. Jasper's shards. When had he even had Jasper's shards? She was just fine, just a minute ago. She couldn't be like this - and yet she was, she was broken and cracked and in pieces in the palm of his hand. This was all wrong, though. That wasn't supposed to happen. He had meant to poof her, at least - hell, even cracking her would have been fine, because he could've just gone ahead and healed that and then they would've gone back to fighting and everything would've been perfectly okay…

Wait! Of course! Healing!  That's  what he had forgotten!

He shifted the shards with his thumb, no longer laughing, but too numb to completely grasp the reality of the situation, as he pieced them together to the best of his ability. Then, raising his hand, he pressed a kiss to the shards and leaned back again, looking down expectantly. But nothing happened; the shards simply lay there, dull and broken as ever, and another rather violent tremble from his hand caused the pieces to fall apart again. He felt his throat close up before anything, like someone had wrapped their hand around his neck and was squeezing for everything they were worth. The pressure on his chest came next, crushing him from both the inside and the outside, as the numbness and mild confusion finally gave way to horror.

Steven's pupils shrunk. On cue, the rain finally started to pour, but he couldn't force himself to move just yet. Just stayed frozen, trembling, staring down at the shards - Jasper's shards - as the realization finally kicked in. She wasn't reforming. She couldn't reform. She was dead.

He had killed her.

"... Jasper?!"


Steven awoke with a gasp, sitting up straight and clutching his chest. He shook, every part of him, as he doubled over in the bed, gulping in as much air as he could. Tears welled up in his eyes, like a million tiny needles were being jabbed into his eyeballs from the inside, and a tight sob rose in his chest; swallowing down the building pressure as much as possible, he curled himself up a little more, ducking his head and bringing his arms up over himself, fingernails digging into the back of his neck. He couldn't escape it, even in his dreams - not that it was a surprise to him, but he just wished for once he could get some kind of break. It was stupid, it was selfish and he knew that but just for the time being, he needed everything to just stop. At this point, it was just suffocating him now - if he went on like this, he might just end up drowning himself in his own guilt. He could already feel it happening anyway, so close to pulling him under. And, hell, a part of him was even ready to just give in and accept it- what else could he do? Defend himself to him? He might just be the only one who knows how fucked up he is.

Something pressed against his leg - a gentle pressure that made him flinch, reeling back sharply as his head snapped up to look. He didn't know whether to be relieved or not to see it was just one of the Pebbles, clambering up onto his lap and looking up at him with wide-eyed concern; a few other ones scrambled up onto the bed, peering up at him from behind the rumpled blanket, while the one on his lap - it was Chesto, he recognized after a moment - scuttled closer to him and rested a tiny hand against his elbow, letting out a soft, concerned squeak of, "Steven okay?" Looking down at her, Steven had to blink a few times to clear away another rush of tears, shaking his head slightly and biting back another choked sob.

"You're back home!" Nosey clambered up onto his lap along with Chesto, and Steven hesitantly lowered his hand down to them. He surprised even himself with his lack of protest to the statement, biting the inside of his cheek and managing a shaky, weary smile back at them in response. He wasn't sure what to say to them now, how to tell them he didn't intend on staying forever, how to tell them he really did have to go back eventually… even if he didn't want to yet. Hell, he didn't know if he ever would want to, but he knew at the moment, he definitely didn't. But it was… it was whatever. He wasn't going to try and explain something to them that he didn't even quite understand himself. "Why are you sad?" Nosey pressed, tugging on his finger.

Steven didn't say anything at first, lifting his hand up and watching Nosey dangle from it. The little Pebble squealed out a giggle, climbing onto his hand completely, while Steven just stared. Sad. Sad, confused, angry, scared, guilty. All of the emotions swirling inside of him, every single one digging themselves into the already-loose cracks of his mind, breaking down every single barrier and carefully built wall he'd put up to keep them contained for god knows how long. He didn't know how to tell them why, how to look these innocent little creatures in the eyes and tell them what he'd done, what he was and how fucked up he'd been for so, so long now.

Letting out a shuddering sigh, Steven put Nosey back down on the bed, scooping Chesto up off of his lap and putting her down as well before turning away, letting his legs swing over the side of the bed. "I'm okay," he muttered numbly, hating how easily the words came even when he knew for a fact that it wasn't the truth - but it didn't matter either way, not anymore. Not that it ever… not that it ever had, not really, but now… "I just need… I need some space, okay? Just… just a little time to…" He trailed off, rubbing a hand down his face as he realized they probably weren't going to leave him alone - they had less of a concept of personal space than the gems did. And, god, he wasn't looking forward to their prodding and their questions either, as adorable as they were, because he knew at this point it was just going to set him off again. And he didn't need another thing to feel guilty over, after everything he had already done in the first place.

Wringing his hands together, he glanced back, and blinked. The Pebbles were already climbing down off of the bed, hopping off and skipping across the floor to get back to their holes. Chesto and Nosey turned to look back at him, and smiled and waved, but disappeared back into the walls all the same, the soft, squeaky voices fading as the walls closed up behind them. They had actually left him alone. Steven exhaled, relieved despite the slightly achy feeling that pressed against his chest, longing mixed with despair. He wanted to be alone.

So why did it still feel so damn bad?

Pull it together, he hissed at himself, vicious and cold in a way he was far too used to being toward himself at this point, as he put his head in his hands and dug his elbows into his knees. He pressed down as hard as he could, tangling his fingers into his hair and digging his nails into his skull. He did so until it began to hurt, aching and pounding with the pressure he was providing. Until his fingernails cut skin, blood welling up under his fingertips, sinking into skin.

And the pain, oh, the pain.

For just a moment, he drowned in it; his head practically roared in protest as he squeezed his hands against his skull, pressing as hard as he was capable of. A rush of heat flushed through his fingers, through his hands, up his wrist - but it didn't go any further than his elbow, and even with his eyes shut, he could recognize the faint tint of pink that had coated his hands. The pain intensified, and he had to bite down hard on his tongue - drawing blood in the process - to keep back a cry when he felt something crack, directly down the center of his skull; the sound made him freeze, as well as the split-second rush of pure agony, and then it was over. The teenager gasped, fighting to suck air into his lungs again as he lifted his head, letting his hands fall back into his lap and staring down at them with wide eyes. They continued to pulse, glowing pink, fingers stained with the blood he had drawn from his scalp. His head still ached slightly, but it was practically nothing now compared to the horrible, excruciating pain he'd just been in.

And it was pretty much nonexistent compared to the emotions that had been raging inside of him just moments before, which had been effectively stifled and locked away once again, pushed back down in favor of focusing on the physical pain. Sucking in another gasp in an attempt to make his chest and lungs stop aching, Steven shook his head, almost disbelieving. He'd just cracked his skull and healed his skull in the same second, and he had managed to distract himself from a slight panic attack with the physical pain in the process.

Wonder if that's how Jasper felt when she was shattered, his mind hissed at him, his own voice screaming the words with enough force to make his head throb again. Just a split second of complete, excruciating, agonizing pain before it's over in a flash. Has you just aching for the numbness again, yet it's so abrupt that you end up missing the feeling, don't you? The only thing is, Jasper couldn't heal herself. When it went numb for her, it's because she was dead.

Steven stared down at his hands, pupils shrinking slightly. They were still shaking, but not as constant as it had been before; now it was just brief, little bursts of tremors, more like shudders, really; clenching his hands into fists in an attempt to stop them from trembling, the hybrid breathed in again, trying to calm himself down. In and out, slow and steady - begrudgingly, he found himself taking Garnet's advice from earlier, quietly chanting to himself as the pinkness faded from his fingertips, wringing his hands together briefly before settling them into the position she had taught him and Connie so long ago. Take a moment to think of just… flexibility, love and trust… take a moment to think of just… flexibility, love and trust…

But you know you deserve it more than she did, his mind continued to pester, and Steven's slow, controlled - or at least, an attempt at controlled - breathing faltered and hitched to a stop, eyes widening slightly as he gazed down at his hands, which simply continued to tremble. All of that pain. You deserve to feel it, what she did in the moments before she died. The moments before she fell apart because of you, because you killed her. And that's why you're hurting yourself, isn't it? Because you know you deserve it. Because you know you're bad.

"I- I don't-" Steven's whispered, choked protests cut off before he could even really begin, feeling the familiar rush of heat flush across his cheeks. "No… no, bad thoughts. Really, really bad thoughts. O- Okay- okay, it- it's alright. T- Take a- take- take a moment to- to…" He swallowed hard, lowering one hand to grip the bed when a sudden rush of dizziness threatened to tip him over. He couldn't breathe again, but this time it wasn't accompanied by the pressure against his chest. This time it came from deep, deep within; he could breathe, gasping in gulps of air and leaning back slightly as he struggled to breathe in deep, but it never reached where it needed to go, never quite feeling like it was filling his lungs up the right way. And struggling for it only served to make it worse. He knew what it was, he wasn't stupid, he'd panicked before-

But, god, this was bad. This was really, really bad. He'd never had thoughts like this before, either. Sure, he… he didn't like himself, but he'd never thought of hurting himself like this. Earlier it had been more of a calming mechanism than anything, a way to ground himself. The thought of hurting himself just… just for the sake of causing himself pain, it… it was…

Far-fetched? His mind supplied, somewhat dubious. But I do deserve it, don't I? I hurt Jasper. All because of something stupid! All because I couldn't stop myself even when I knew I should've stopped! All because I just wanted to be the one in control for once, just because wanted to be the one causing all of the pain! I do deserve it. I deserve to hurt just as bad as she did, if not more. Hell, after this, maybe I even deserve to be shattered on the spot!

He flinched at the thought, finally turning completely pink as the thought caught up to him. He wouldn't deny, though - that wasn't a thought he was unfamiliar with. But it had never been accompanied by thoughts of hurting himself - when the thought came, it was usually split-second, fleeting, gone in an instant before he could think on it further. But this time it lasted, with images of watching cracks spread, slow and deliberate, feeling it rip him into pieces. With thoughts of pain, excruciating, agonizing, unbelievable. And it should have scared him even further, it should've made him turn away from the thoughts almost immediately. But it did just the opposite; his stomach twisted, not with nausea, but with longing.

I don't just deserve to hurt like she did. Steven sucked in a gasp, shaking. want to.

He put a hand over his stomach and just tried to remember how to breathe again. The thoughts shocked him far too much for him to even begin defending himself from them, and he wasn't sure what to do about it. It was dangerous, it was dark and… if left unchecked it could be bad but at the same time, a part of him wanted to do it more than ever. He wanted to be in control, cause pain for once? Fine, he could be in control of his own damn pain. Pain he deserved to drown in, wanted to drown in. The hybrid tightened his grip, fingers digging into his shirt. He felt sick, but at this point, it had less to do with his newfound revelation, and more to do with guilt. Guilt that only served to remind him of what, exactly, he deserved all this pain for. He was already torturing himself emotionally for what he'd done - why not take the extra step? Hell, why not just fucking jump off of the fucking edge and keep torturing himself, in every way he could?

Steven stared down for a moment, rubbing his thumb over his shirt. He pressed down a little, feeling the gem through the fabric. The gem he didn't ask for, the gem he didn't want. He still remembered trailing Garnet, and Amethyst, and Pearl around all the time, begging to go on missions, insisting that he was a Crystal Gem, too. Eager to learn how to use his powers, happy to do whatever was asked of him if it just meant he could do something useful for once, if it just meant he wouldn't be left alone in the cold, dark, empty house all alone. Sure, he could go see Sadie and Lars at the Big Donut. He could go see his father. He could go around Beach City and be a kid, but all he had wanted back then was to be one of them. To be treated like one of them. To be more than just a burden that had been placed on their shoulders.

To be more than the kid they just had to look after until he learned how to use the powers he had, so that he could finally contribute to something. Otherwise, they'd wanted nothing to do with him. At least, that's how it had felt back then. Another pulse of heat rushed through him, the pink glow brightening for a second as he pressed down a little harder, keeping his thumb directly over the center of his gem. They'd never wanted him around just to spend time with him, did they? From what he remembered, he had to beg and pester them to stay around most of the time. And half the time, it didn't even work; they still left him all alone. To go save the world, he knew… and he'd always felt selfish for wanting more than they gave him, but now…

He clenched his fist around his gem, then pulled back sharply with a gasp. Not because it had hurt, but because the sensation - the feeling of something gripping his gem like that, it only caused his mind to flip right back to White Diamond, the feeling of his gem slowly being pulled from his stomach as he struggled against her hold, powerless to do anything to stop her. The pain that had followed, the agony, just before the world had gone completely dark around him. Unconsciousness had been more than welcome after that, and he'd let himself slip away with little hesitation. Staring down at his own hand now, glowing pink, he had to force himself to focus on the present, willing away thoughts of long, black nails, sharp as knives. The memory of feeling them dig into the edges of his gem, surprised it hadn't cracked at the pressure. He blinked back a rush of tears, lower lip trembling for a moment, before bringing his arm up and rubbing it across his face sharply. For the time being, it was enough to turn him off of messing with his gem, but he wasn't sure how long that sentiment was going to last right then.

I really am pitiful, he scoffed as he leaned down, clenching a shaking hand around his jacket to pick it up off of the floor. I can't even give myself what I deserve, but I can shatter an innocent gem. If that isn't the most pathetic thing… Steven breathed in again, slow and unsteady, and pushed himself to his feet, unfolding his jacket and slipping it on. But I can do it… I will do it.

Sticking his thumb into his mouth, he reached up to press it to the top of his head and heal the small cuts his nails had made - only to pause, looking up at his hand and tilting his head back a little. There was no point in doing that, was there? It wasn't like it even hurt that bad anyway. Twisting his mouth slightly, Steven dropped his hand again, wiping it on his jacket and turning away to head toward the door. He hesitated slightly, walking forward slowly. What would he even do? It wasn't like he could just go back to the gems now. Or… or maybe he could. Maybe he should, but… but what was the point? Even if they wanted him there, he didn't want to be there and he wasn't going to deny that. But he didn't want to be here, either. Stuck on Homeworld with the Diamonds and Spinel and… just surrounded by constant reminders of the things he had endured during his time there. The hybrid hesitated near the door, shifting side to side on his feet and glancing back at the room. The Pebbles were gone, hidden deep in their wall tunnels, leaving the room empty and hollow. Steven pressed his lips into a thin line, bringing one hand up to rub his arm as he let his gaze flick around. He had the room to himself. His mother's old room, now his own. Yet another reminder - the reminder of the last person he wanted to think about right then. Somehow, it was even harder to be here than before.

Like I'm any better than she was, he reminded himself.

Steven let his shoulders sag, blinking back the tears brewing in his eyes, and shook his head furiously at himself. He didn't want to stay in here any more than he wanted to be out there. God, he didn't want to be anywhere, did he? Not Homeworld, not Earth. He didn't want to be alone, but he didn't want to be near anybody else either. He wanted to stop running, but he also just wanted to get away. But there was nowhere to go, nobody to turn to, nothing to do. The only person he was running from was himself, and it wasn't like he could escape that. Wherever he went, he'd be there, constantly, unsatisfied, and painfully unwanted wherever he went. Unwanted by him and only him, because between himself, the gems, Jasper, the Diamonds, and Spinel, the only one who didn't want him around was… himself. Wasn't that just… sad?

He didn't think he'd ever felt this lost. Turning away, and noting numbly that the pinkness had faded, Steven continued forward and pushed the door open, stepping out and letting it slide shut behind him. Running his fingers through his hair, he sank back against it, just for a moment, and lifted his gaze to the ceiling. He needed to figure out what he was gonna do now. He'd stayed as requested, and he wasn't sure how long it had been, but he'd gotten a nap in and everything, but he certainly hadn't been planning on just sticking around forever. He couldn't do that.

"Steven, good! You're awake!"

The hybrid winced, cheeks flushing pink, and silently cursed himself for leaving the room - and then feeling horrible about it - as he turned to look. Spinel approached with a smile, the same concerned one that had been etched across her face earlier, and Steven bit his tongue to keep back a hiss of irritation. He didn't deserve that concern, and he reminded himself of that as bitterly as ever as Spinel reached him, crossing her arms over her chest and looking up at him expectantly. "I was jus' about to come and check on ya, Universe. You've been sleepin' for a while. Yellow says it's been about a full Earth day, somethin' like that…"

Yellow. Great, the other Diamonds knew he was here. Steven brushed off the comment about it being a full Earth day, not caring either way how long it had been - it had been long enough. "Oh," was all he mumbled, taking a deep breath. "So Yellow and Blue, uh… know I'm…"

"Yeah… White filled 'em in." Spinel finally paused, and her smile wavered, just for a second. Steven looked away for a moment, trying not to feel satisfied. On one hand, the concerned looks and pitying smiles were getting on his nerves, but on the other, he pretty much felt like he was bringing the room down wherever the hell he went - which wasn't helping his case at all, wasn't helping him stifle the ever-brewing self-loathing that was twisting his stomach apart. Not that he was trying too hard to do that in any case, but it was only making it stronger, and it was definitely making those thoughts of his press a little harder, too. "They're all pretty worried. But, um… there's another thing…" Steven turned his attention back to the pink gem as she hesitated, her gaze no longer meeting his and instead bouncing anxiously around the hall.

Steven stared at her for a moment, his mind going blank even as his heart sank straight down to his stomach. Because he knew, her hesitance, her uncertainty, he knew exactly what had happened. And it didn't really surprise him, especially if it had been as long as Yellow thought, but it didn't make the situation any better, and he couldn't keep himself from turning pink on time - nor could he stop the groan that broke through his lips. "They're here, aren't they…?"

Spinel offered him a slightly guilty look, rushing to explain. "They kinda got here a little while after you went down. White tried to persuade 'em to leave, but you know how they are…" Rubbing the back of her neck, the pink gem let out a tiny giggle, but when Steven made it clear that he found nothing humorous about the situation, she continued awkwardly, "but when we told 'em you were restin', they just decided to stick around 'til you woke up. They're really worried too. But if you don't wanna see 'em, I can go and tell 'em you're not ready to-" She cut off as Steven simply turned around, heading back to the room and pushing the door open to walk back inside. After a few seconds of silence, he heard it open again as she followed, but he didn't say anything, simply put his head in his hands. "... yeah… so… not ready, huh? I get it."

"I-" Steven huffed, breath hitching slightly as he pressed his fingers against his skull, feeling his arms trembling as he curled in on himself. "I don't even- know what to say to them. They- they know what I did- they know that I- I killed somebody and it's only getting worse…" Steven screwed his eyes shut, squeezing a little tighter, feeling the same building pressure in his head that he had earlier. But his focus was more or less on the gems, and what the hell he was going to say to them at this point, because he had no idea. He hadn't been prepared for this. To have to talk to them now, to have to talk to them here, of all the places. And he didn't even know if Jasper was with them or not, which would probably make his ultimate undoing come much faster. "Why are they even here?" He hissed. "Why won't they leave me alone?!"

The ground cracked under his feet, and Steven wavered, just for a second, before regaining his balance. He wanted to scream again, feeling the pressure continuing to build in his chest, fighting with the pressure surrounding his aching skull. Physical against emotional.

"Nobody deserves to be alone…" Spinel's voice was soft, concerned.

Steven didn't turn to look at her, sucking in a sharp breath and letting out a low, guttural growl - a dangerously inhuman sound that bordered on animalistic - as he turned his head slightly to the side, continuing to squeeze it between both of his trembling hands as he sneered, "that's easy for you to say, isn't it?" Even though he wasn't particularly looking at her, he still saw her recoil out of the corner of his eye, and swallowed down a rush of guilt as he forced himself to continue on bitterly, "you didn't deserve what my Mom did to you. You did everything that was asked of you - what you were made for. But I- oh, I-" He choked out a laugh. "I failed. I failed."

"No you didn't," Spinel insisted, stepping forward again, and Steven couldn't help but roll his eyes in response, digging his fingers further into his hair. "You didn't fail, Steven, you- you… you made a mistake, okay? Everybody makes mistakes! I make mistakes, the gems, your Mom-"

Steven curled his lips back at that. "At least my Mom never shattered anybody!"

The responding silence only lasted for a few seconds. Spinel's hands curled into fists, her voice sharp, yet trembling, when she spoke again. "No. No, she didn't. But you know what? She made a lot of gems wish she had. Including me," the pink gem's voice cracked on the last word, and Steven went still, pupils shrinking slightly, as he turned his head completely to look back at her. "Do you know how much I still think of her? I can't stop. I can't just go and forget what happened and pretend she never existed because she did and everything she did made me wish didn't. Still does sometimes." She fell silent, shoulders tense as her gaze darted back to the floor, tears flooding her eyes that didn't spill over. And suddenly Steven was somewhere else, staring back at a different face, in a different setting, a different time, a younger body, another mindset.

"You should've shattered me back then… At least if I were in pieces, I wouldn't have to know how little I mattered to you," a familiar voice hissed in his ears, and he froze.

Steven slowly lowered his hands from his head, the pinkness receding to his cheeks again. He breathed in, somewhat shakily, as he fought to steady himself again, rid himself of the memory that was far too vivid now for his liking. He shook his head, blinking rapidly to clear his eyes of the tears that had forced their way up. "But you… you're okay. I- I mean- not- not okay-" He corrected himself quickly, watching her eyebrows raise. "But you're getting there, right?"

"Yeah, I guess," Spinel muttered, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked up. "I'm still working on it, Steven, but it's hard. Some days it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere at all. Because- because it still hurts and I still think about her and I'm still angry. I never stopped. It never stopped hurting." Her voice lowered slightly. "Sometimes it feels like I'll never move on from it. Like I'm not strong enough to, or like I'm not good enough to. I can't stop being mad, I can't stop… thinking about hurting people sometimes, even. It gets better, it gets worse… but it never really stops. But- but this isn't about me," she added quickly, holding her hands up. "I know how I'm feeling. And I'm working on it, I am. But this is about you. You're not okay."

Steven cringed slightly, as if he'd been struck - hell, it almost felt like he had been, but he would've preferred a physical blow over the amount of emotional pain those simple three words had caused him. Curling his hands into fists, he turned to face her as the pinkness engulfed him again, trembling as he took several steps back as if distancing himself from her could end the conversation entirely. "I'm fine," he snapped, feeling the warmth of the pinkness spread once again. His hands clenched further in response, nails raking against the glowing skin. "Who are you to tell me if I'm okay anyway? You have no idea how I feel!" Another crack formed underneath his feet, and Spinel's pupils shrunk slightly - not because of the cracks, but because of his words, evidently, because she took a few steps closer to him as she responded.

"You think I don't recognize what you're going through, Universe?! I've been there!"

"That's not what I meant!" Steven raised his voice, unclenching one hand reluctantly to jab a finger in her direction without quite touching her, luckily too far to come into contact with her. "You, and the gems and my dad and the Diamonds, all you wanna do is tell me how feel! But none of you have any idea what it really is! To the gems, I'm just having these little outbursts, temper tantrums, like I'm just some- some stupid kid! And to my dad, oh-" Huffing out a laugh, Steven retreated, turning away from Spinel and running his fingers through his hair. "To my dad, I'm just having an identity crisis. You know, the usual! I gotta go out and find myself, like it's gonna be so easy to do just by listening to some outdated song he ripped our name off of. Oh, and the Diamonds? Well, I'm just one of them, just having trouble with my powers, is all, and of course it's not a big deal because, well, we've all been through it, haven't we?" Glaring down at his hands, the hybrid continued to tremble, breathing in shakily as he shook his head.

"Well, you're not exactly talking to anybody," Spinel insisted. "All they can do is play the guessing game when you don't just tell them what's going on with you! Steven, I get it. I can see it in your eyes, in- in your behavior! I know what it is because I felt it all the time…" She groaned, taking a few steps closer to him. "I still do! You're angry, you're sad, you wanna hurt people even when you know they don't really deserve it, but you still wanna cause some pain because it helps relieve some of your own every so often. Then you feel like shit for it, and it only makes you angrier and you keep lashing out and it's just an endless cycle of misery."

Steven just ran his fingers through his hair again, a little harsher than last time. "Stop…"

"It feels good to lash out, doesn't it?" Spinel questioned him, pausing a little closer behind him now. "I know it does. I traveled all the way across the galaxy just to take my anger out on someone I didn't even know, even when the target of all that anger was long gone. And I knew she was, y'know? I understood that part. She was gone forever, and it was just you, Steven Universe, no more Pink Diamond. Just her son and her new friends." A moment of silence passed, and Spinel heaved out a soft, somewhat silent sigh. "But I still came here to hurt you. Not 'cause I blamed you, not 'cause it was your fault she was gone, but because I just wanted to. It just hurt so bad that I wanted someone else to feel half the pain I was feeling. Misery loves company, you know?" The pink gem let out a quiet, rueful laugh. "But Steven, we can fix this."

"It's not broken," Steven snarled, whirling on her again. Spinel didn't move back, but she did flinch, seemingly reflexively, as the hybrid stepped forward and leaned in a little closer. "Don't you get it?! It's not brokenI'm broken! And you can't fix me, Spinel! can't fix me! And I'm supposed to be the only one who can! The only one who can take all of my Mom's broken little pieces and put them back together again because that's the only reason I exist, to fix her mistakes! And I can't even fix the biggest one of all, because-" He cut off, choking on his own words, and he watched Spinel's eyes widen in horror as his words registered to both of them. Swallowing down a scream of frustration, the hybrid reeled back again and stumbled a few steps away from her, pressing a hand against his face and shaking his head furiously.

"You think-" Spinel stared at him for a moment. "You- you are not one of her mistakes."

"Aren't I?" Steven whispered harshly, not even having the energy to yell at her again in that moment. He shook his head again, breathing in shakily. "I'm just… god, look at me. I'm supposed to be the healer, the leader, the perfect little angel Steven freaking Universe. I help people, I don't… hurt them. And look." He looked up at her, spreading his arms out slightly before allowing them to collapse back to his sides. "I can't even do that anymore. There's nothing left to fix but me, and I don't even know where to start. I don't even want to now, really. After everything that happened, I don't even care… I'm just tired." He closed his eyes for a moment. "I am just… so tired. And it's over, and it's done and everybody else had moved on and they were happy and I went and ruined it, and I can't fix it this time and I don't even wanna try. 'Cause I figured it out- the whole happily-ever-after thing was never meant for me. It was always meant for them and I was just the one who was supposed to make it happen. And I did that. So there was no other reason for me to even exist, and now everything's spiraled because of it."

Spinel flinched at that, stepping a little closer to him now. A look of panicked desperation had replaced the concern and frustration that had been written there moments before, and he found himself backing away from her as she approached, curling his lips back warningly in response. "Steven… you shouldn't be thinking like that. It's not your job to fix everything-"

"Oh, shut up!" Steven finally let out a scream, and the pink gem finally jumped back as the ground cracked even further, this time spreading toward her. "Don't you give me that shit! It's always been my job! It's been my job since day fucking one! I'm the one that's always had to be there for the gems! Mom left them broken, just like she left you, and my dad, and the Diamonds and everybody else she hurt along the way! And whether it was her intention or not, she still left me to pick up the pieces! I've had that on my shoulders since the moment she decided she could just abandon everything and everybody because she wanted to play human! But I didn't ask for this! I didn't ask to exist in the first place, and to be honest, I'd rather I didn't!"

Spinel went still, staring back at him. She didn't even look genuinely shocked at this point; her expression was more sorrowful than anything, like a grieving kind of surprise. When she did speak, her voice trembled, ever so slightly, wracked with pain. "Well, that's another person-"

"Steven…"

The hybrid froze, pupils shrinking slightly as he stared at Spinel. The pink gem almost seemed to stiffen as well, turning her head to look behind her, but it took Steven a good thirty seconds to finally manage to lift his own gaze toward the doorway, even with every instinct screaming at him not to. His gaze met Pearl's first, her own eyes filled with such an indescribable agony that he had to rip his gaze away completely for a few seconds to recover before he looked back at them all again, looking toward Amethyst and Garnet hesitantly. The fusion lifted a hand, removing her visor, all three eyes wide and filled with tears, and Amethyst seemed to be in shock more than anything, but if the trembling of her lower lip was any indication, she was close to tears herself. Steven reeled back, and sucked in a breath that didn't come back out.

He didn't know how much they'd heard, but it didn't matter, because it would still be way more than he would have liked.

Chapter Text

Stunned silence.

The tension in the room was palpable, at best. Suffocating, really - which is why Steven found himself practically gasping, fighting to gulp in as much air as possible as he stared at the gems. They just looked back at him, just staring, even as the tears in Garnet's eyes finally spilled over, and Amethyst slowly followed suit. Pearl, of course, was already a wreck - but he was somewhat surprised to see her putting more effort than any of them into controlling herself, fists clenched at her sides as she blinked furiously to clear away the tears. Spinel, on the other hand, was the only one who didn't seem to be freaking out in some way about the situation, simply letting out a slow sigh and backing away from him as she shook her head. "Well… I should…" The pink gem cleared her throat, and Steven, glad for the distraction, ripped his gaze away from the gems to stare back at her somewhat numbly. "I should probably be headin' out now."

If Steven had been a little younger, if he had been the same person he had been when he was younger, he probably would've insisted that she didn't need to leave, it was fine, she was fine. But he only watched her, completely numb inside, as she turned and headed for the door; the Crystal Gems parted to let her through, stepping into the room one by one and allowing the door to slide shut behind them silently. Steven clenched his fists somewhat instinctively, trying to fight down the anger brewing in his gut. He was shaking again, but this time purely from fury. He hadn't wanted this - he hadn't been ready for this. Not today, not now. Not ever, to be honest. And he certainly hadn't been prepared for them to have heard as much as they probably had.

He watched Amethyst's gaze flick toward Pearl, Pearl's gaze flick toward Garnet, Garnet's gaze remaining firmly fixated on him like he was the most important thing in the room, and Steven had to physically bite back a scream of anguish, pain, grief, guilt and fury all rolled into one as his gaze flicked back and forth between each of her eyes, each one filled with tears, tracking down her face silently. He did that- he made Garnet cry. Garnet didn't cry- this was wrong, why was he doing everything wrong lately? Why couldn't he, for once, just do something right? Why couldn't he not hurt somebody for once in his fucking life?! The hybrid screwed his eyes shut, clamping his teeth down over his lower lip and biting down for all he was worth, not stopping until he tasted blood on the tip of his tongue, and felt the sharp pain rip him out of his misery.

Better, he thought as he remembered how to breathe again, as the sobs that had been building in his chest steadily dispersed into nothing. His lip throbbed again, and his tense shoulders dropped, happy to take the physical pain over the emotional any day of the week. Much better.

Finally, Garnet broke the silence, breathing in shakily but speaking steadily, "Steven-"

"You heard that. I know," Steven interrupted, keeping his eyes shut tight, knowing that looking up at them again would be his undoing once more. So he stood there, running his tongue over his lip to heal it, and breathed in sharply once more as he struggled to figure out what to say. What was he even supposed to say? Was he supposed to take it all back? Pretend he hadn't meant every goddamn word? Was he supposed to keep lying about his feelings, for their sake? Honestly, he was somewhat tempted. Not like any good could come out of telling them the truth in the first place - but another part of him reminded him that it didn't matter either way, because they had heard what he'd said and no matter what he did or said after that to try to take it back, it was already out there in the open, vulnerable and waiting to be picked apart by the vultures. There was nothing he could do, nothing he could say, to take those words out of the air again. He just had to suck it up and accept that they knew now. Accept the fact that they knew one of the worst sides of himself, and one of many sides of himself that he'd never wanted to show. "It doesn't matter…" He began instead, swallowing hard and clearing his throat as his voice faltered, giving up on him for a split second before he managed to force himself to speak again. "It doesn't matter. I'm fine-" The ground shifted beneath his feet, "-I just need you to leave."

"Leave?" Pearl sounded almost hysterical; Steven cringed back despite himself, bringing his hands up to his face for a moment. He couldn't keep his mind from flashing back in time; watching her break down over and over and over again. Familiar feelings of helplessness and regret and guilt and inadequacy, knowing he'd never be good enough for her, never be what she needed, never be enough to really fill the hole his mother had left inside of her. Knowing she was ripping herself apart day by day and there wasn't a thing he could do to make it better, nothing he could do but try and pick up the pieces and try and be good enough, to measure up to something he knew he'd never be able to compare to in a million years. "We can't leave, not-" Pearl choked off, breathing in sharply, and continued shakily, "not now. Steven, you- you need-"

"Don't tell me what I need," Steven interrupted, the words clipped, stiff, bordering on absolute fury. His cheeks flushed pink, but he kept it back by biting down on his lip again, taking in another shuddering breath and shaking his head at himself. Easy, Steven… take it easy…

"Pearl," he heard Amethyst whisper, hissing as if the shorter gem was reprimanding the gem in question, but he didn't open his eyes to look - he wasn't curious enough to risk losing it again. He just needed to keep his head down, eyes shut, hands close to him, and try to speak as little as possible. Hell, for that matter, he needed to try and ignore them as much as possible, knowing full well that anything they said would be liable to set him off at any given moment. And even as angry as he was, the last thing he wanted was to hurt them. So he needed to keep himself in check this time, he needed to control himself, he needed to not lose his temper.

"Steven." Garnet's voice was quiet, still strained with the effort it was taking to hold herself steady, and Steven bit back another rush of guilt as he buried his face further into his hands. He wanted to cry - hell, fuck that, he felt about five seconds away from just breaking down right then and there, which was one of the many things he'd been trying to avoid in the first place. Sucking in a sharp breath, he had to bite his tongue when Garnet spoke next, keeping back both a sob and a furious scream at her words, "how long have you been feeling this way?"

He didn't want to answer. He didn't even think he had an answer, to be completely honest. He breathed in shakily, fighting back the loose sob that pushed its way up to his throat, and shook his head furiously at himself in an attempt to make himself focus on something else.

The hybrid rubbed his arm over his eyes, finally blinking them open for a moment - only to release the tears that had been trapped. He made an effort not to look up at the gems, but he couldn't help but flick his gaze back up to Garnet when she moved forward suddenly, unable to keep himself from flinching on time. He felt far too small, having to tilt his head back to look up at her, struggling to really see her and not one of the Diamonds. His breathing hitched, though, faltering, as she knelt down slightly in front of him to come face to face once more, reaching up and pressing a cautious hand down against his shoulder; he winced, more out of surprise than anything, tensing slightly under her grip. He wanted to pull back, to get as far away from her as he possibly could, just run and never look back - but he couldn't move. He didn't know why, he didn't know what, but something kept him there, right there, on the edge of fury and helplessness, as Garnet spoke to him again, a little softer, "how long, Steven?"

"Garnet, please," Steven breathed, a rush of heat flushing across his cheeks, but it was gone before it could consume him. He bit down on his tongue, then the inside of his cheek, fighting against the pressure that was still building in his chest. He was reaching it - his breaking point. He could feel it, ready to explode at any given moment. He wanted to scream again, honestly. Hell, a part of him was tempted to do just that. "Just please… please go. I can't do this…" Finally, he managed to shrug her hand off, taking a few steps back and pressing his hand against his face again. He wasn't ready, he couldn't do this, they weren't gonna leave and he didn't know what else he could possibly do to keep this situation from spiraling. He was reaching his peak, he could feel it, and it was the last thing he wanted to do in front of any of them.

Silence followed as he fought to pull himself together again, pressing his face into his hand and trying to breathe. His efforts were shaky, strained; he couldn't get in as much air as he needed, which just sent him spiraling into even more of a panicked state. God, he really was losing it.

"You have to talk to us," Garnet insisted, her voice finally wavering, and Steven couldn't help but flinch slightly despite himself. At least, at first - it was so weird hearing Garnet so close to losing it herself, bringing back memories of the Cluster gems and… the hybrid shook his head desperately, breathing in shakily and trying to force himself to focus. Swallowing down an instinctive rush of fury - indignation? - at Garnet's words, he rubbed his face sharply, lifting his hand a bit to rub his eyes just to make sure he wasn't tearing up as much as he felt like he was.

"Garnet, we can't push him like this-" Amethyst's voice was quiet, more tired than Steven had expected, and his gaze flicked up only slightly before he reminded himself to look away again.

"We have to know what's going on, Amethyst!" Pearl insisted, less hysterical now, but still desperate enough to make Steven cringe slightly. He buried his face into his hands again, fingernails digging sharply into his skin as he tried to remind himself to just breathe, to not focus too hard on what they were saying, to just let it go. He couldn't lose his cool, not on them. He wasn't supposed to be this way around them. He was supposed to be better than this. He was supposed to make everything better… "Him not talking to us is what led to this in the first place!"

Steven froze, his pounding heart abruptly screeching to a halt, and a strangled gasp broke through his lips at the sudden sensation. He felt cold, just because of that, every little bit of his self-restraint immediately slipping. Heat flushed across his face, burning and searing into his skin as it spread, like flames creeping apart every part of his body; and he looked up, mouth opened to snarl back a response, to scream and shout and release all of the anger that was boiling inside of him - because if she was going to be like that, then to hell with restraint - even if a part of him insisted that she wasn't quite wrong- but he didn't get the chance to, because the very second he lifted his head, he watched Amethyst whirl on Pearl instead. "Don't you get it? Us pressing him to talk to us is what led to this! He doesn't want us to be here!"

Pearl jerked back slightly, staring down at the shorter gem with a look of pure offense and indignance, and Steven just about lost it right then and there. Remembering back when all Pearl and Amethyst could ever seem to do was argue, back when it was his job to make them get along, back when he had to beg them just to spend time with him so that they'd spend time with each other, back when he had to fix their mistakes because they couldn't stop arguing like fucking children long enough to see what they were doing. His head pounded as he dug his fingernails a little further into his skull, breathing heavily and shaking his head back and forth. He couldn't go through that again - he couldn't help them fix their arguments this time.

"We can't just leave him alone like this!" Pearl exclaimed, and Steven screwed his eyes shut tightly and ducked his head, as if blocking them from his sight would make them disappear.

"Pearl, us being here is making it worse!"

"You two are making it worse," Garnet hissed, "the last thing Steven needs is-"

"Stop telling me what I need!" Steven screamed, lifting his head from his hands. He didn't really realize what he'd done until long after Garnet had crashed back into the wall, cracking it in the process; Pearl and Amethyst were lucky enough to be far away from him to avoid being thrown back, only going skidding a few steps, but managing to keep their balance for the most part, as they all stared back at him in complete shock. "I'm trying to tell you what I need, okay?!" The hybrid dropped his hands, clenching them into fists at his sides. "I need you all to just leave! It doesn't matter how long I've been feeling like this! It doesn't even matter that I am feeling like this! Since when has that ever mattered to you?! Since when have I-?!"

He cut himself off, choking on his words with a sharp, strangled gasp as he watched their expressions shift; Garnet's eyes widened, Pearl's hands came up to cover her mouth in shock, and Amethyst flinched slightly, though she seemed less surprised than the other two, and more guilty than anything. The hybrid breathed out sharply, doubling over and putting his head in his hands again. "I know what you want me to do, okay?" He choked out, digging his fingers into his hair. "You want me to go back home and pretend that none of this ever happened. But I can't do that this time. I'm sorry- I'm sorry," a low, muffled sob finally broke through his lips, "I just can't-"

"What?" Amethyst was the first one to speak, with Garnet and Pearl still seeming too stunned to open their mouths at this point. "Whoa, wait a minute-! That's not what any of us want- we never expected-!" She cut off as Steven raised his head, a little too quickly - and while she did flinch slightly, she continued on a little more carefully, "Steven, we're just worried about you, man. None of us expect you to just come back and be okay immediately, I- I mean, definitely don't!" She took a step toward him, carefully stepping over one of the cracks he had created, and Steven tensed slightly, but managed to keep himself from recoiling as she approached him. "We just wanna know what's going on with you," she told him. "We're worried about you. Especially now. And you do matter to us!" Shaking her head, she added, "to me, more than anything."

"Well, that's nice," Steven choked out, still unable to stifle the fury brewing in his gut, nor the desperation, as he gasped in another gulp of air and shook his head, finally taking a step away from her and running his fingers through his hair. "Where were you when I needed to hear it? You wanna know how long I've been feeling like- like this? Like I'd rather be dead? My entire life, guys! I've never felt like I was supposed to exist. I've never felt like I mattered enough to…" He trailed off, biting his tongue again to keep back another sob, as he shook his head.

Shut up, shut up, he hissed at himself, you idiot, shut up!

"Why didn't you talk to us?" Pearl breathed, stepping toward him now along with Amethyst, who looked about ready to break down into tears again at any given second. "We could have-"

"How would I have talked to you about it, Pearl?!" Steven yelled, more out of desperation than anything, as he tugged on his hair and looked up at her. "Anything that was wrong with me, you brushed off! All of you did! Every time I tried to talk to you about- about what was bothering me, you made it seem like it was no big deal! So yeah, I- I stopped talking to you about it! Because I- because I stopped thinking it was important enough to talk about!" The hybrid paused, only to suck in another sharp, shaky breath as he closed his eyes and ducked his head again. "And- and half the time, you weren't even there anyway… and when you were, had to help you!" Rubbing his eyes, he huffed out a quiet, shaky laugh. "I don't know if you remember, but you did need me once upon a time, guys! And- and I know you don't anymore, but it's not as easy for me to just move on from it, and a lot of it still hurts, and I'm still terrified that if I break down, then you guys are gonna break down too and I'll have to fix it all over again just like I always have!"

Each one of them froze, wide eyes focused on Steven, and the hybrid stiffened slightly. One hand flew down to his mouth, covering it with a choked gasp as he realized what he'd just said, and the rush of heat that had engulfed him immediately ended up dissipating, the pinkness vanishing almost as quickly as it had overtaken him. He wanted to scream, and shout, and cry - but more than anything, he just wanted to curl up and hurt, to make himself hurt for all the pain he must have just caused them. A part of him was silently hoping they would start screaming back at him, reprimanding him for his behavior, telling him exactly what a shitty person he was - because he felt so, so much worse now than he ever had, and he didn't know what to do.

"Oh, man…" Amethyst's voice was strained now, shaking. Her eyes had widened, not with horror or anger or anything, but with… realization. The same expression was written across both Pearl and Garnet's faces, mouths open, eyes wide. "Oh, Steven…"

Pity. Concern. Steven swallowed down a wail of despair, because that hadn't been what he wanted at all. He didn't want them to feel bad, he wanted to make them see that he was bad! He wanted them to call him selfish and stupid and tell him how childish he was acting, he wanted them to hate him as much as he hated himself at that moment, because oh, god, he hated himself so much. No, he hadn't meant to make them feel bad. He had spiraled, lost control, but even after he did that, they couldn't bring themselves to scold him. Now that he wanted it. This was all so fucked up… the hybrid shuddered, pressing his face into his hands again as a low, choked sob broke through his lips again. "I don't- I don't get it," he admitted, voice muffled by his hands, but he couldn't bring himself to lift his head. "I don't understand why you're still here! I just- I just shattered Jasper-" He choked on his words a bit, stumbling over them as he tried to continue, "-and just admitted I'd rather die than have to face anyone else's problems- even my own- and you're still here!" The teenager rubbed a hand down his face, a little too roughly. "I…"

"Of course we're still here," Garnet told him softly, and Steven settled his hand over his mouth again as he looked back up at her, using what little self-restraint he had left to keep himself from interrupting her as she continued on, "Steven, we're your family. Whatever you do, we'll always be here for you." She stepped toward him, alongside Pearl and Amethyst. "... I'm sorry."

Steven blinked at that, moving his hand away from his mouth to respond, but he couldn't find the words. She was apologizing… why was she apologizing? God, no, this felt all wrong… "What?" He finally managed to choke out, sucking in a sharp, shaky breath. "You-"

"You said it yourself. We made you feel like we didn't care- like you didn't matter to us." Garnet's hands briefly curled into fists, looking visibly pained, and Steven swallowed down another rush of guilt, as well as the urge to run forward and comfort her. "And that couldn't be more wrong. You mean everything to us- to me, and to Ruby, and to Sapphire." The fusion stepped forward, once again kneeling down in front of him, though still managing to keep her distance as she held her hands out, palms up; Steven flicked his gaze down to the gems, still speechless. "We're so, so sorry, Steven. We never meant to hurt you like this."

"But this isn't about me…" Steven's mumbled protests were cut short as Pearl moved forward, head swimming violently. The rage was gone, leaving behind a hollow, painful sense of confusion. Everything Garnet had said hurt, it cut deep, it made him want to cry until he couldn't anymore, but he only swallowed past the lump in his throat and struggled to breathe, because that hadn't been the point at all. This hadn't been what he wanted- what he intended…

"And I'm sorry I made you feel like you couldn't talk to me about this- about any of this," Pearl's voice snapped him out of his thoughts, wide brown eyes flicking back up to the pale gem, as she rubbed her eyes. "You shouldn't feel like you have to hide anything from me…! Not this, not… not your feelings, and…" Pearl shook her head, dropping her hands back to her sides and curling them into fists, a slightly bitter expression crossing her face for a moment before it was shadowed over in pure, raw grief, all the guilt Steven felt raging inside of him written clearly across her face as she looked down at him. "I'm supposed to protect you…" The gem swallowed hard, letting out a shuddering sigh. "Oh, Steven, I… I'm so sorry…"

The pain brewing in Steven's chest intensified tenfold, throat restricting as soon as he opened his mouth to attempt to respond. His mouth went dry, but his eyes stung as tears began to brew. Even the guilt was, for the time being, stifled underneath a burning, aching agony, his stomach twisting sharply as he gazed back at Pearl, blinking furiously past the tears in his eyes.

"Man, I knew dumping all our problems on you would…" Amethyst trailed off, pressing her face into her hands, and Steven hesitantly turned his gaze back to her. "But I didn't think it was this bad… I should have- dammit, Steven, I'm sorry." The purple gem dropped her hands and took a few steps forward, leaving Garnet and Pearl to approach him, and while Steven recoiled slightly - more so at the apology than anything, she didn't quite stop. "But I get it, you know…? I mean, I can at least understand…" She sighed, breathing in slowly. "It's just, you've always seen the worst of us. And you've always been there for us." Glancing back at Garnet and Pearl, who nodded, Amethyst lifted her chin and looked back up at Steven. "We know you didn't mean to hurt anyone, Steven… you never would. That's just who you are. But it's not who you have to be, you know? It's okay to- to lose control and show us the worst parts of you. We're not going anywhere because of it, and… and if you let us, we want to help. I want to help."

"I couldn't have said it better myself," Garnet murmured, while Pearl reached over and put a hand on Amethyst's shoulder, rubbing her eyes furiously and seemingly fighting back tears.

For a moment, Steven could only stare. He could feel himself finally reaching his breaking point, but it wasn't the same as it had been yesterday; it couldn't be fixed with screaming, couldn't be released with anger. It wasn't even anger, it was just pain. Pure, raw pain. Slowly but surely bubbling up, spreading through every part of him, leaving him numb and tingly and breathless and cold inside, and his breathing quickened, growing heavier and heavier, as his throat restricted further, nostrils stuffing up, closing off. He fought it back, of course, sniffling furiously as he fought to breathe in through his nose, opening his mouth and gasping for air - but that was his undoing, ultimately. As soon as his lips parted, as soon as he sucked in a breath, it came out in a soft, choked, strained sob- and then, finally, the dam broke, and so did he.

He didn't even know why their words hurt him so much. It was everything he needed to hear, and yet somehow, it just made him feel worse.

But it was still his limit; finally, unable to take it anymore, he burst into tears. It was loud, and wet, and messy. It was tears, and snot, and gasping for air in between sobs as his body shook, wracked with agony and guilt and everything he'd been trying to hold back, and, god, it hurt.

He hurt, down to his very core.

The second he started breaking, a pair of arms wrapped around him, followed quickly by two more. No words were spoken, no soft, mumbled reassurances, no shushing, no comfort. They just held him close, and he let them, too far gone to fight at this point; he just sobbed, letting himself sink into them, turning and burying his face into the closest one's shoulder - he thought it was Garnet, but he wasn't even sure at this point, he couldn't see through the tears in his eyes - and holding onto them for dear life as they all wrapped themselves around him. They were shaking, too, presumably with soft, stifled sobs of their own, but they only held him, and he couldn't pull himself together enough to see if they were crying, too. For once, just not wanting to have to worry about that, he simply let his own pain consume him, and let himself break, in the ugliest of ways. It didn't make him feel better; it wasn't like the screaming, it didn't make him feel good and strong and it wasn't exactly a release. But it was still spilling out either way.

It hurt. But he deserved it. So for the first time, he just let himself break - genuinely break - to shatter into pieces he wasn't sure he'd be able to glue back together again, but he didn't care. He didn't want to have to worry about putting the pieces back together again. He didn't want to have to worry about what the gems might think, watching him cry in a way they had never seen before, in a way he had never allowed them to see. He didn't want to worry about anything.

So he didn't. He didn't worry. He didn't care. He just cried. And sobbed. And gasped. And let the last little bit of all that pain break free, let it consume him completely, and he just let it hurt.

Chapter Text

Steven didn't know how long he just sat there, sobbing, curled up in Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl's arms. He knew it felt… weird, being this vulnerable around them. They had seen him angry, and they had seen him desperate, and they had seen him crying, yes - like after they had rescued him from space, when he'd just been floating and trapped in his bubble, fighting for every breath - but even those tears and sobs had been of pure relief and gratitude, happy to just be back in their arms again, safe and sound without a worry in the world. But these tears were nothing but anguish, his sobs wracked with pain, grief and guilt. He was at an absolute low, quite possibly the lowest he'd ever been. Honestly, he didn't even think he'd ever cried this hard for this long in his life. Usually, when he cried, it was on his own, silent enough to not be heard. Now he couldn't seem to silence himself, couldn't even make himself slightly quieter; there was no sense of control here, which might have been why it wasn't as comforting, as releasing as screaming was. Regardless, there was nothing he could do but cry, until he couldn't anymore.

When he did reach that point - and it took a long time to do so - the sobs slowly subsided into hiccups, then sniffles, then sharp, heavy breaths. He felt the gems shift slightly as he clung to them, a warm, gentle hand rubbing circles in his back. It was meant to be comforting, he knew, but he didn't really feel anything at the contact. The breakdown had left him drained - not physically, like he had been after his little fit yesterday, but more or less emotionally exhausted. He breathed in again, sharp and shaky, through his mouth, before slowly snapping it shut and forcing in a breath through his nose, struggling to clear both of his airways as he calmed down. It wasn't particularly effective, but at least he could say he had tried, anyways.

He loosened his grip on the gem he'd been holding onto - Garnet, he realized as he opened his eyes again, blinking rapidly to clear the tears as he leaned away from her - and brought his hands up instead to rub his face, using his sleeves to rub some of the tears that had clung to his cheeks. He was still trembling, not as bad as before, but still more than he would have liked. None of the gems said anything, either; Amethyst leaned back on her heels, and Garnet settled back on her knees, watching him silently. They were both crying, as well - silent tears tracking down their faces. Pearl was in the process of rubbing her own away, shuffling a little closer and raising a hand to her gem, which glowed slightly before dimming again, summoning a box of tissues. She pulled one out for herself, and offered the rest to Steven, who took them silently.

The hybrid wanted to apologize, but he didn't even know where to begin.

So he just blew his nose into the tissue, nudging the tissue box over to Amethyst and Garnet. The former snorted slightly, but chuckled tiredly as she pulled a few out for herself, but the fusion merely rubbed her own tears away by running her thumb under each of her eyes. Steven finally managed to clear some of the snot from his nose, and, not knowing what to do with the tissue, reluctantly stuffed it into his pocket to throw away later before rubbing his sleeve over his eyes once again. He looked back up at the gems as they all composed themselves as well - while Amethyst bubbled her tissue and just sent it off, presumably back to the temple (which made Steven snort this time), and Pearl simply sent her own back to her gem before kneeling down in front of him again, reaching up slowly to rub her thumb across his cheek.

There were no words, not then, but her eyes said it all; they spoke of guilt, and grief, but also an odd sense of determination, a strength that Steven had - admittedly - forgotten she possessed now. Which immediately caused him to berate himself internally, mostly for expecting her to crumble under the pressure. She had come so far, and he knew that, and honestly, it just made him feel like absolute shit for thinking she couldn't handle this… but then again, he really hadn't known what to think. He hadn't known what dumping all of this on them would have done. He hadn't known whether Pearl could withstand the awful emotions raging inside of him, and he, honestly, as fucked up as it was, hadn't expected such a level of support from any of them.

And while he still didn't feel like he deserved it, a small part of him could somewhat relax. Even at his worst, they were there. And it made him feel worse more than it made him feel better, but the information was out there in the open regardless, the realization that they did care. Even when he was lashing out, hurting people - killing people - they still cared. He didn't deserve it. He really, truly, didn't deserve it, and in the long run, it only made him hate himself more.

"Listen, Steven…" Pearl sighed, pulling her hand back, and Steven reluctantly ripped his gaze back up to her face, pushing himself up to his feet a little unsteadily. "If you want to stay here… for a while longer… then we understand." She looked back toward Amethyst and Garnet, who both nodded quickly in agreement. Steven didn't say anything, slightly uncertain. He could feel the anxiety churning already - the only reason he'd really been avoiding going back home was the gems and Jasper at this point, but even then, he still wasn't entirely sure about returning. What would he even do? He didn't want to just go back and pretend this never happened. He didn't want to just go back and pretend that everything was fine - he was so, so sick of that.

"Yeah, dude," Amethyst cut in, interrupting the hybrid's thoughts, and he let out a slightly defeated sigh as he turned his gaze toward her. "We can go back and bring you food, too. You're still into that whole vegetarian thing, aren't'cha?"

Steven stared at her for a moment. He thought back to the days he spent in the woods with Jasper, catching fish for food, and tried not to wince. Yeah, so much for 'that whole vegetarian thing', he didn't really think he counted as a vegetarian anymore after that. But it wasn't like it mattered, he wasn't even hungry right then anyway, and to be completely honest, he doubted he'd have any kind of appetite for a long, long time. The teenager stared down for a moment, wringing his hands together silently, then breathed in slowly and shook his head, adjusting his sleeves and reaching up to fix the collar of his jacket. "No… no, I'm fine. I'm not even hungry," he mumbled. "And I can't stay here forever, I guess I should…" He trailed off, hesitating slightly.

Amethyst frowned, standing up, and Garnet slowly pushed herself to her feet, lifting a hand to summon her visor before speaking, "Steven, if you're still not ready-"

"I'm not," Steven interrupted, wrapping his arms around himself for a moment. "But I can't- I- … I don't want… to stay here." He thought back to his encounter with White, and the fact that Yellow and Blue already knew he was on Homeworld, and how much they knew, and how much White would've told them - and he flinched slightly, digging his fingers into the folds of his jacket and shaking his head furiously. Yeah, there was no way he could stick around. At least the gems, right then, were a little more bearable than the Diamonds. And since White had refused to do the only thing Steven had come here for in the first place, there was no reason to stick around.

"Alright… if you're certain." Pearl didn't sound very sure, herself, and Steven tried to pretend not to see the looks she sent Garnet and Amethyst, reflexively clenching his hands into fists for a second before letting them uncurl again, forcing himself to relax to the best of his ability. They were just worried, he tried to assure himself, but it only made him angrier. Not even particularly at them, not really, but angry at himself. For so many different reasons even he couldn't even begin to decipher, but he was too tired - emotionally - to try. He lifted a hand, rubbing it sharply across his face and grimacing as Pearl went on, "well, we still need to go back and get- oh…" The pale gem inhaled sharply, going still, and Steven froze for a second, lowering his hand.

Pearl looked down at him, then spared a quick glance back to the other two, wide-eyed.

Steven gazed at her, then turned his head slightly to study Amethyst and Garnet's expressions. Neither of them looked particularly pleased either; Garnet was rubbing her thumbs over her gems, a nervous habit Steven had long taken note of, and while Amethyst didn't quite fidget, she looked visibly uncomfortable, eyes dancing back and forth between Pearl and Garnet before resting on Steven again, a slightly apologetic look crossing her face as she stared at him. The hybrid didn't have to ask - he knew who they were talking about, it was written across their faces. He had to force himself not to react, hands curling into fists again and a rush of heat flushing across his face as his cheeks turned pink, but otherwise fought to keep himself calm. "Jasper," he mumbled. It wasn't a question, and nobody offered an answer. Steven stared down, nails picking the skin on his palms for a moment, then breathed in deep and nodded. He should've known he wouldn't get off that easy anyway. It was only a matter of time before he had to interact with her again, especially since he was just going to be heading back to Earth. It was just the universe's way of saying 'fuck you, you can't avoid your problems forever' again.

"Hey, man," Amethyst spoke up, furrowing her eyebrows. "You can just head back home with Garnet and Pearl. I'll go get her or something." She tilted her head, offering a smile, but Steven simply stared back numbly for a moment. He appreciated the offer, he really did, but he still couldn't stifle the slight pang of guilt that came with it. She's only offering because I'm a mess, he scolded himself, biting down on the inside of his cheek. Which I shouldn't be… come on… pull it together already…

"No, it's…" Steven trailed off somewhat sourly, the word leaving a bitter taste on his tongue before he had even spit it out, "... fine. I'll have to see her again eventually anyway." He reached up, rubbing his face sharply, as he'd taken to doing as if to relieve some of the heat on his face. Luckily, the pink didn't last too long, dissolving easily enough, and he let his shoulders droop slightly for a moment before just shaking his head and looking back toward the door. He wasn't looking forward to seeing the Diamonds, or even really Spinel again. He knew her heart was in the right place, but he just couldn't deal with any of them right then. He couldn't deal with the gems, he couldn't even deal with himself. And after that breakdown… he just needed to collect his thoughts again, to just curl up somewhere by himself and just sit there in silence. Which… really seemed like all he ever wanted to do lately, but to be completely honest, he didn't care. A part of him also longed to test out those thoughts, see how far he could push himself before he actually started to scare himself with them. See how far he would go before he called it off. Because, of course, he would call it off, right? It wasn't like he actually wanted to shatter himself… but, he'd just have to wait and see and test it out on his own.

His stomach twisted slightly at the thought - not out of fear, but out of guilt. Shame. Like it was wrong to think like that, like he was doing something wrong. It made him feel sick, but there was nothing quite as exhilarating. It was such an odd, twisted combination of emotions, and he almost marveled at the complexity of it before finally managing to tear himself out of his thoughts for the time being, shaking his head and reminding himself firmly that they were leaving. He had to go back home and… do whatever the hell it was he was going to do. But until then, he had to confront the Diamonds and Spinel and Jasper and… yeah, this was… not gonna be good for him.

But he would suck it up, and that was what he did.

Ignoring the concerned looks shared by the other three, Steven pushed himself forward, walking past them and heading toward the door. Unconsciously, he brought his hand up to rub his thumb over both of his eyes, heaving out a shaky sigh. He could do this - he didn't want to, but he could. He was going to. Just rip the band-aid off, get it over with. He had to talk with the Diamonds and Spinel, to make sure Spinel didn't try to follow him back to Earth or something, and while he wasn't particularly looking forward to another encounter with White - nor Yellow or Blue for that matter - he had a feeling it wasn't going to be easy to avoid them. He hesitated outside his - the - room for a moment, glancing back as the gems exited after him. "Where…?"

"Oh, we kinda ditched her with Blue," Amethyst piped up, somewhat awkwardly, and Pearl let out a nervous laugh and rubbed the back of her neck. "Figured you wouldn't want…"

To see her any more than I wanted to see you? Steven bit his tongue and turned, heading off again without a word. His mind was a little clearer than yesterday, at least enough to somewhat remember his way around the palace. He had avoided White's room specifically, but he knew, at least, the way to Blue and Yellow's rooms from his own- his mother's. He gazed at the murals engraved on the walls as he passed, a pang of familiarity and an odd, twisted sense of homesickness churning in his gut. He didn't actually miss the damn place, and he knew it. He couldn't miss somewhere he'd hated for so long, a place he harbored such secret loathing for. And yet, in some weird way, he almost did miss it. He somewhat compared it to the things Lapis had told him about Jasper, and Malachite. It was horrible, it was… bad, but he was there for so long. That awfulness had become… normal. And while he didn't really end up hating it any less, he had just gotten so used to it that everything else had just kind of felt… odd. Off. Weird. He had struggled for so long, after everything he'd been through on Homeworld, to readjust. Maybe in a way, he still was…

The teenager sighed through his teeth, reaching out to brush his fingers over one of the murals. It was one of the 'newer' ones, that had been added a little while after he'd moved into the palace. He remembered watching them design it, feeling amazed and excited by what it would turn into, and completely left in awe when it was finished. It was him, the new 'Pink Diamond', stuck in the same pose as the old one. It was weird to look at now, a grimace settling across his face as he let his hand fall away from it again, fixing his gaze ahead firmly. It didn't matter.

"It's always so weird walking around here…" He heard Pearl sigh softly from behind him, an odd sense of longing lacing her tone. Steven hummed slightly under his breath, at least able to understand that sentiment, but he still didn't say anything. He wasn't sure how much of it he was willing to admit - because if he said it out loud, it was just admitting another thing that was fucked up about him, and he didn't want to do that. They already thought way less of him now as it was, the last thing he needed was for them to know he 'missed' the damn place in one of the worst, twisted, screwed-up ways possible. The hybrid rubbed his arm, tuning them out as they finally reached Blue's room, and stretched a hand up - eventually ending up shapeshifting his arm to make it a little bit longer - to press his palm to the panel to open the door. There was no point in knocking, it most likely wouldn't be heard anyway - and besides that, his first week in the palace, Blue had insisted that he could come and go whenever he felt like it, so he figured that still stood even though he didn't quite live there anymore. And, either way…

Well, he'd be lying if he said he cared right then…

Taking a deep breath to steel himself, the teenager clenched and unclenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms for a moment. He was fine. This was fine. He hadn't seen Blue in a while, and he didn't have nearly as much against her as he did White. Sure, she made him cry a few times, kept him locked in a room, kidnapped his dad and held him prisoner in a human zoo, tried to have Ruby shattered… Steven shook his head a few times, slightly frustrated with himself. But that wasn't the point now. He didn't have to forgive Blue for those things, but he also didn't have to hold a grudge against her for them either. He could remain neutral, and as long as he just didn't think about it, then everything would run smoothly. Rolling his shoulders back, Steven stepped inside, letting his gaze slowly flicker around the room.

Okay, so this was what Spinel had meant by 'clouds'. There were so many of them, ranging in size, fluffy blue clouds drifting across the room. The gems slowed beside him, looking up, and Steven leaned back slightly in surprise to avoid one that drifted a little too close to him, waiting until it passed before inching forward again. Weird, but not his job to worry about right then. While a part of him was curious, the rest of him just wanted to get this over with and get out.

"Steven!" Blue's voice reached his ears, and Steven winced slightly as he turned to look. Luckily, it didn't seem like she'd seen; she was stretched out on one of the clouds, beaming down at him as she drifted a little closer to the ground, and the hybrid scrunched his face up slightly to watch, tilting his head back to gaze up at her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Garnet shift uncomfortably, certainly not blaming her for it either - how could he? He understood not being too fond of Blue just as well as she did, and he was grateful that she was putting up with the Diamonds as much as she was right then anyway. She knew neither Ruby nor Sapphire was ready to forgive Blue, especially, and Steven, once again, could understand and agree.

Regardless, he put a civil expression on his face, knowing any smile he tried to offer would most likely come off as a grimace. "Uh… hi, Blue." He paused, moving back a little bit and rolling his shoulders back, straightening up slightly. Amethyst glanced at him, then turned her head to look toward Pearl, but Steven kept his eyes firmly on Blue, not seeing the purple Quartz's slightly perplexed look. Or at least, trying to pretend that he hadn't. "It's… It's good to see you again."

"And you, as well! It's been ever so long," Blue sighed, leaning her chin on her hand and smiling down at him, radiating warmth and an odd sense of joy that caught Steven somewhat off guard. "White had told me you were here, but Spinel said you were resting. We didn't want to disturb you." The Diamond finally pushed herself to sit up, remaining on the cloud as she did so. Steven paused, if only for a second, and leaned back on his feet with a frown when another small cloud breezed past him. His lips curled back slightly, not quite hostile, but somewhat irritated, but he shook his head and readjusted his focus, reminding himself of his priorities as he turned his gaze back up to Blue - only to lift his gaze a little higher when a familiar flash of orange caught his attention from above.

Jasper.

She was on one of the clouds - which was an odd sight as it was - but even weirder, he noted, was the huge grin written across her face. The buff gem was stretched out on her stomach with her arms crossed under her chest, head lifted to watch a few of the clouds above her; but her gaze snapped down quickly enough, meeting his not long after he had shifted his focus to her, and the hybrid couldn't help but stiffen slightly. Jasper's expression didn't change, seeming to brighten even more, if anything, and the cloud she was stretched out on immediately began drifting toward where he and the other gems stood. "Hello, my Diamond."

Steven flinched, clenching his fists slightly as a rush of heat flushed across his face, spreading across his cheeks, and then simply engulfing him completely as he turned pink. Amethyst let out a low growl from beside him, and Jasper's gaze flicked toward her, a small smirk settling across her face briefly before the orange gem turned her focus back to Steven, who was simply taking a few seconds to compose himself - and make sure he didn't snap - before he spoke, "Don't- I told you, you don't hav- just, don't…" Forcing himself to breathe in, the hybrid held his breath. A part of him was kind of wishing he had taken Amethyst's offer, which he internally scolded himself for, with a stern, sharp reminder that you did this to yourself, Steven, deal with it.

"You're making Steven uncomfortable," Garnet told Jasper bluntly, and Steven tried not to wince again, rubbing a hand over his face. Keep it together. Garnet meant well. And, yes, it irritated him to no end when she spoke for him, but it always had, ever since he was younger. If he could deal with it then, he could deal with it now. She didn't mean anything by it anyway. And she wasn't wrong. The hybrid paused, rubbing at his cheeks again as some of the warmth faded.

"I'm just messing with him, chill out," Jasper grunted, shifting to sit up on the cloud. Steven paused at that, sparing a glance up at her again, more so out of confusion than anything. She did seem oddly relaxed - and… 'messing with him'? Well, it was Jasper, so he supposed he shouldn't be too surprised, but something still felt weird about all of this. Luckily, the distraction took away from the pinkness, allowing the rest of it to diminish, and he let out a low sigh in relief as he faded back to his normal hue, rubbing his face again just for good measure before dropping his hands back to his sides and straightening up again.

"Well, maybe-"

Steven cut Amethyst off quickly, somewhat tiredly, definitely not in the mood for a fight between her and Jasper right then. "It's fine… it's fine. I just…" He hissed out a sigh through his teeth, and shook his head, dismissing the subject entirely. "We're, uh, we're heading back to Earth, so…" He trailed off, not needing to say anything else, because Jasper was already in the process of jumping off of the cloud; Steven stepped back quickly to give her more room, even though, in reality, she was still several feet away from him when she even hit the ground, and watched with growing curiosity as the smile on her face immediately vanished the second she had landed, her usual frown appearing and her defensive, guarded posture returning as she crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her shoulders back sharply. "... yeah…"

"You're leaving?" Blue's voice made Steven tense slightly, silently cursing himself for no real reason at all - because, honestly, he had expected this. Or, at least, he should have expected it. Protest, disappointment, disagreement, which he wasn't in the mood for by any means at all. Covering his face with a hand, just in time as his cheeks flushed pink, he let his mumbled responses trail off for a moment, muffled by his hand and buried under despair, while Blue continued, "so soon, as well… we all thought for sure you'd be sticking around for a while. Spinel told us you, ah… weren't doing so well back on Earth…"

"That's not…" Steven trailed off, left feeling cold as the pinkness faded. He couldn't outright deny that statement, but he certainly didn't like it. Nor did he like the fact that they were talking about him to each other, that Spinel was talking about him to the Diamonds, like…

"Well," he was slightly surprised - and mildly panicked - to hear Pearl speak up, lifting his head sharply and opening his mouth, but she was speaking again before he could stop her, "that's not entirely inaccurate, but, Steven said he just wanted to go back, so I think we should all respect that. If Steven wants to go back to Earth, then we're going to take him back to Earth. Whatever makes him more comfortable is perfectly fine." Her gaze fixed on Blue, and despite the smile on her face, her eyes spoke warnings. Steven stared at her, mildly surprised, and cracked his mouth open again slightly. This time, though, he simply couldn't find the words, couldn't find a better explanation, or anything else to really say after that. He swallowed and glanced at Blue, still expecting some kind of protest, or objection, or disappointment from the Diamond.

But she only smiled back at Pearl, pleasant and calm and relaxed as ever - what the hell? - before looking back at Steven. "Well, of course. Whatever you think is best for you, Steven."

Still not knowing what to say, the hybrid managed to force a shaky, bewildered nod, surprised by how easy that had been. And, to be honest, he was kind of glad for it - and silently praying he wouldn't have to deal with the other Diamonds, or Spinel, on the way out… "Yeah…" He trailed off, sucking in a deep breath and letting out slowly, before asking somewhat reluctantly, "could you… could you tell Yellow and White and Spinel? We were just gonna go ahead and go, and… I know White and Spinel are kind of worried," he mumbled, chewing on the inside of his cheek and swallowing down a flare of irritation. It shouldn't be a bad thing, and he knew that, but for some reason, it only served to irk him more than he thought it should. Regardless, he managed to brush the thought aside, taking a few steps back as Jasper finally ended up heading over to them. He could've sworn the orange gem rolled her eyes, but he didn't have much time to ponder it before he had to return his gaze back to Blue when she spoke up again, chuckling.

"Of course. I'll let them know," the Diamond promised, smiling down at him. "I hope you feel better. Oh! Wait, speaking of- before you go-" She sat up completely now, looking excited, and closed her hand around part of the cloud she was sitting on, pulling off a handful and blowing it down toward them, while Steven watched in mild confusion and slight curiosity. "I've been wanting to show you my new power. Go on, touch it," Blue insisted, grinning.

Steven hesitated for a moment, staring at the cloud as it rested in front of him, then glanced at the other gems. Jasper was just watching, eyebrows quirked slightly and the tiniest smirk on her face, while Amethyst and Pearl rolled their eyes, as if they already knew what was going to happen. Garnet, of course, simply stood leaning back with her arms crossed, unamused.

Finally, with a sigh, Steven shuffled forward and reached out, resting a hand over the cloud cautiously. He inhaled sharply, at first, eyes widening slightly despite himself and a slight shudder running through him, his entire body going tense again, this time completely on its own. He felt something shift, laughter bubbling in his chest without his consent, but it felt all wrong. Like it was trying to push down all of the negativity he was feeling, burying guilt and pain and anger and grief under joy, but even then, as forceful as it seemed to be, he still managed to push it right back down after a few seconds, frowning down at the cloud for a moment before lifting his hand again and looking back up. Blue's smile had faltered, just a bit, now simply looking perplexed as she gazed down at him, then at the cloud, like something was wrong with it. "I don't really understand," Steven confessed after a moment, shifting slightly on his feet and sparing a glance back toward the gems. Amethyst was frowning now, and even Pearl looked mildly bewildered. Jasper and Garnet, well, their expressions hadn't changed much - except Garnet's eyebrows had furrowed slightly, almost puzzled. The teenager took a deep breath, stomach churning slightly with that horrible sense of wrongness again, the guilt and terror that came with wondering if he'd done something wrong, like the cloud seemingly not working for him was his own fault. Which, it probably was, he somehow managed to fuck everything up…

"Eh…" Amethyst shook her head and stepped forward, lightly nudging her shoulder against Steven's and offering him a comforting smile, despite the concern that was flickering through her eyes, which had only seemed to intensify tenfold. "Don't worry about it, man. They're just supposed to make you feel good or whatever, something like that. But maybe it just doesn't work on you like it does on us 'cause you're half human," she suggested.

"Yes, that must be it," Blue cut in, smiling once again. "That's too bad. It's quite an experience."

Steven glanced at the clouds, deciding not to mention that it shouldn't matter that he was half human or not, since Blue's crying powers had worked on him just fine since he was half gem. But he only nodded, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away again, back toward the door. Before he could say anything else, though, Jasper had spoken up, letting out a low groan and simply turning and heading away from them to leave the room herself. "Are we going, or what?"

Pearl sighed, and Amethyst spared a very, very annoyed look after the orange gem, while Steven nodded quickly - somewhat relieved and grateful for the interruption - and spared another quick glance up at Blue, raising a hand to wave a quick goodbye as he backed away after Jasper. "Yeah, we should probably get going. Uh, bye, Blue. Tell the others I'll try and call later or something," he added quickly, mostly just in an attempt to make sure nobody tried to follow him back to Earth, which he had a feeling Spinel might end up doing if she was worried enough. And, honestly, that was pretty much the last thing he wanted.

Blue waved back at him, relaxing on the cloud once again. "Yes, of course. Do keep us updated, Steven, we're all quite worried. I really do hope you feel better." Pausing, she glanced down at the others. "And goodbye to you all, as well!"

Garnet, without responding, turned and followed Steven. Amethyst waved a half-hearted goodbye before following, while Pearl offered a few seconds to give a much more formal farewell to the Diamond before she headed after them. The hybrid left the room just after Jasper, hesitating slightly and glancing over at her, then relaxing when Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl finally exited after them. Steven huffed out a soft, relieved sigh, honestly just more than glad to have finally gotten out of there, and with very little problems, too. Hell, he hadn't even really turned pink the entire time, which was definitely a good thing. Now, if he could just get from Homeworld to Earth without any issues, that would be just swell.

"Well, that was very… er, tense," Pearl chuckled, falling into step with Steven as they started walking again, and, once more, he offered a quiet hum of agreement, exhaling sharply.

He heard Amethyst mumble something to Garnet about the clouds not working behind him, but they were both interrupted by Jasper, who let out a low but audible growl of, "just shut up about it," and that was pretty much the end of that conversation. Steven would have been grateful, to be honest, if it didn't make him feel guiltier than he already did. He really hoped - and felt fucking awful for it - that Jasper would end up going back to her place in the forest, because he wasn't sure how long he would be able to keep his cool around her. Every minute with the orange gem in his presence felt like pure agony, and he was honestly wondering if it was the same for her. He couldn't tell, but then again, if she wanted to keep it a secret, he was sure she'd be able to. It still didn't settle well with him that she was defending him, either. Especially considering that he was still pretty certain it would end in some kind of fight eventually.

Besides that, though, he was happy to reach the warp pad without any complications, stepping up onto it along with the others. Jasper and Amethyst were talking now, a surprisingly civil conversation about a few of the statues outside the palace, while Pearl was unusually silent. And Garnet was also silent, which wasn't unusual. Steven finally let his shoulders droop, looking down at the warp pad for a moment before simply shutting his eyes, feeling the familiar hum as it activated. Glad to get away from Homeworld, but disappointed to be heading back to Earth.

Wish that I could say that there's no better place than home, a familiar voice sang in his ears, wrapping him in nostalgia and sorrow all at once. But home's a place that I have never known…

Chapter Text

Of all the mixed emotions swirling through Steven's chest, he managed to find a tiny bit of relief among guilt, anger, resentment and dread by the time the warp was over. It had never been so tense, watching the stream from his place with the Crystal Gems (and Jasper), and he vaguely thought back to a time when he would have been bouncing excitedly, with Pearl's hand on his shoulder reminding him to take it easy, before he fell out. Which reminded him of the time he actually had fallen out of the stream, with one of Peridot's little robot thingies. Clutching it to his chest, shivering and gasping for every little breath he took. He had genuinely thought he was going to die that day, and had surprised himself by not completely breaking down when Garnet had pulled him safely back inside. He remembered how it had felt, trying to suck air into his lungs and failing, freezing and devoid of any kind of gravity, any kind of safety. He remembered the bone-crushing terror that had consumed him, and the nightmares that had followed for so long after that.

Looking back on it now, he was almost amused; it was relatively tame compared to everything else he'd been through. It felt somewhat silly, looking back on how scared he'd been. Especially gazing at the warp stream now and knowing, at this point, that burning pain in his lungs would've been more than welcome. Hell, the only thing stopping him from jumping out himself right then was the fact that the gems were there, and while they already knew at this point that he was having some suicidal thoughts, he didn't really think they thought he was too serious about it. And he didn't want them to know that he was, because that conversation wasn't…

But, finally, the warp ended, and he found himself back in his greenhouse. It took a moment to force himself to move, his own body somewhat disobeying his own commands as he stumbled and staggered, but righted himself quickly enough - and just in time to avoid Garnet's outstretched hand - as he headed for the door. He didn't want to stay in here any longer than he had to, anyways. Damn place still gave him chills from time to time. And he didn't think he'd ever stop thinking about Cactus Steven… stifling a sigh, the teenager opened the door, watching it swish open with a familiar hiss, as it finally hit him that he was back on Earth. Back… home, if he could even call it that anymore. It didn't really feel like home. He also noticed, glancing back to make sure the gems were following, that the sun was going down. Spinel and Yellow hadn't been kidding - he'd definitely been gone for a full Earth day, since the last he saw of the planet, it had been nighttime and storming. The sky was relatively clear now, thankfully.

He let the gems exit before him, though they seemed hesitant to do so, as if he was going to turn and get right back on the warp pad. The only one who didn't pass him was Jasper, who paused and arched an eyebrow at him with her arms crossed over her chest, managing to look passive and challenging at the same time. Steven only held her gaze for a second before giving in, too exhausted to fight with her on this and honestly somewhat glad that she wasn't acting like some kind of mindless drone that existed only to do what he wanted, anyway.

So he slipped out after the gems, heading along the balcony back to his room. Jasper, to his surprise, ended up falling into step with him, eyeing Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl from behind. "So I guess this is the end of our training, huh?" The orange gem grunted.

Steven blinked, mildly surprised that she even felt like that was even a question, and offered her a slightly hesitant glance before rooting his gaze ahead. You'd think it'd be a little easier to look at her now, but no, it still made his stomach twist in ways he couldn't even begin getting used to. "That's probably for the best, yeah…" He sighed, not really making an effort to keep his voice low, but if the gems heard them talking, they didn't express it. Steven stared ahead for a moment, twisting his mouth sharply, and stuck his hands in his pockets, closing one around the tissue, which had long dried and shriveled up. "Guess you're gonna be heading back to your cave?" He questioned after a moment, struggling not to sound as desperate as he felt.

Jasper didn't respond immediately. When she did speak up, however, it wasn't quite what Steven was expecting. "I was thinking about checking out that stupid little school." The hybrid spared her a glance, tensing up slightly in surprise, and Jasper huffed and turned her head away slightly with a scowl as she went on, "don't get excited, I'm just bored. And out of rocks."

Steven hesitated slightly, wondering if he'd ever managed to tell Jasper he wasn't even working at the school anymore. He figured he must have, but he didn't want to think that far back anyway. But, opening his mouth to tell her, he hesitated again - because he didn't want to do anything that might make her change her mind. After all, getting her to go to Little Homeschool was something he'd been working at since it had been built. She deserved the chance to be able to move on and grow like everyone else had. He didn't want to push the subject, didn't want to talk about it and make her feel like he was pressuring her - it wasn't his job to do that anyways. She needed to make the decision on her own, and… Steven, for one, was just tired. So if she decided to go, then, good for her. But if she decided not to, then… it was her call. Honestly, thinking like that, about anything, just felt weird - but it was Jasper, he reminded himself, and even with all her 'my Diamond' crap, she probably wouldn't take shit from him. And he didn't want her to. He wanted that, at least, to remain somewhat normal.

He didn't want her to feel like she needed to do anything for him. If she did this, or not, he wanted her to be the one calling the shots. And immediately felt kind of bad for that - feeling like he should offer some kind of encouragement. What if she wanted encouragement? What if that was why she'd even said anything in the first place? Maybe she wanted him to react. The hybrid breathed in sharply, holding his breath for a moment and twisting his hands in his pockets. Oh, great, what if he was making it worse? What if him not saying anything made her not go?

"W- Well-" The teenager was speaking without his own permission, having worked himself up into near hysterics, yet coming off a little calmer than he felt at that moment. "That's… good." After a moment, he added quickly, "does… that mean you're moving into Little Homeworld?"

"No," Jasper scoffed, and Steven decided that was a good place to end the conversation, knowing her well enough to know, for certain, anything else at this point would irritate her. So he simply fell silent, slipping into his room with a frown and looking around for only a second before heading to his door to follow the Crystal Gems downstairs, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He was a little surprised to see Pearl on the phone when he reached the bottom of the stairs, while Amethyst had simply curled herself up on the couch. Garnet was standing near the door, leaning against the wall, and turned her head toward Steven and Jasper when they finally stepped into the living room. Jasper ended up heading over to join Amethyst on the couch, sitting down and moving the smaller gem to the other side with her foot - much to the purple Quartz's protests, but Steven turned his gaze back to Pearl, somewhat reluctantly, when she hesitantly turned around to offer the phone to him.

"It's Greg," she told him, eyebrows furrowed. If gems could get tired, he could've sworn she looked it - hell, if he studied her close enough, he could almost see bags under her eyes. But the hybrid's gaze focused on the phone rather quickly, heart sinking slightly as her words set in. He hadn't spoken to Greg since he crashed the van.

Hell, he hadn't even thought of Greg since… Steven ran his fingers through his hair, shakily reaching out to take the phone from Pearl, with the numb reminder that he couldn't just not answer and talk to his father. He was probably worried sick - especially considering the fact that Steven had gone off the grid for three days - four, technically, to Greg, he supposed - immediately after his supposed 'outburst' which had nearly resulted in him injuring his own father. His cheeks flushed, hot and pink, as he brought the phone to his ear again, breathing in shakily and trying to make himself sound at least a little happy to talk to him. "Hey, Dad."

"Schtu-ball!" Greg sounded almost hysterical, frantic, really, and the hybrid cringed slightly, turning completely pink and jerking the phone away from his ear for a second, just enough to compose himself and still somewhat be able to hear what his father was saying. "Thank god you're alright, I was worried sick! The gems called earlier and said you'd just gotten back, but that you were on your way to Homeworld, but they wouldn't tell me what was going on or why-" He paused to suck in a breath, and Steven trembled slightly, somewhat surprised by the tears that rose to his eyes, somewhat instinctive due to the way his throat closed up, painfully restricting and leaving hardly any room to breathe. Guilt and despair churned in his stomach, pulsing against his chest, surprisingly lacking any of the anger he would have felt for anyone else. The night of their 'argument' was still fresh in his mind, the wound still just deep enough to sting, the night he'd realized he couldn't even really count on his own father to be there for him. The night he realized Greg Universe and Pink Diamond weren't so different after all.

But he felt no anger for him now, unlike the absolute fury he'd felt then, only a hollow, aching feeling that had less to do with Greg, and more to do with him. His guilt, his pain, all these feelings bottled up inside of him that, once upon a time, he would've expressed to Greg with little hesitation. But he didn't feel like he could anymore- like Greg just wouldn't understand. And, yeah, he felt awful for feeling like that- but… at the same time, he didn't even feel like he deserved to be able to talk to anybody about this anymore. After what he'd done…

"Steven? Are you there?" Greg's voice interrupted his thoughts, and the teenager sucked in a sharp gasp, pulling the phone back to his ear upon realizing he'd simply zoned out completely.

"Y- Yeah, sorry, Dad, I- I'm here." Steven paused, swallowing hard and turning to look around. Pearl had retreated over to where Garnet was, presumably to give the hybrid some privacy, but he still didn't feel all too comfortable with their gazes on him anyway. So, after a few seconds of hesitation, he turned and headed for the bathroom, clutching the phone tightly with one hand and reaching out to open the door with the other. It was only then did he really realize he had turned pink, and he had to swallow back a cry of despair, pushing the door open and rushing inside, nearly slamming it behind him in his haste to just get away from everything else. He could handle turning pink because of the gems, and Jasper, and the Diamonds and Spinel. But when he started turning pink just because of his own father, something was very, very wrong, and he wasn't okay with it. With how much had changed just because of that night. "Sorry…" The teenager swallowed, sinking back against the door. "God, I'm so sorry I just disappeared, everything was just getting so- I couldn't-"

"Whoa, whoa, slow down!" Greg exclaimed, and Steven flinched again. "Steven, I'm not mad, I'm just really worried, that's all! I'm glad you're okay, though- are you okay?" He stressed, "Bismuth isn't done with the van, but I can get a ride or something, or walk- you're back at the beach house, right? I'll be there soon-" At this, Steven's pupils shrunk, every muscle in his body pulling taut with complete, absolute horror. He knew he couldn't just not explain anything to Greg, and he knew sooner or later it was going to come out, whether the gems told him, or Steven let it slip in another outrage, but that didn't make it any easier.

But his mouth went dry, unable to speak as Greg continued, "don't worry, okay? I'm on my way. Does Connie know you're back yet? She's been really worried the past few days, too."

Steven stared ahead, eyes rooted to the toilet, heart sinking slightly at the mention of Connie. The phone almost slipped from his hand, burning and sweaty, fingers going numb from holding it so hard, but his grip only tightened further when he realized he'd have to explain everything to Connie, too. So not only would he have to tell his own father that his only son was a murderer, but he'd have to look his best friend in the eyes and tell her the same thing. That he killed somebody. Not in a fit of rage, not without total control of his own abilities, but knowing full well what he was doing and intending to do as much damage as possible. He hadn't meant to kill Jasper, no, but he had meant to hurt her. And that was just as bad. "I…" He stopped, breathless, "no… no, I haven't-" He paused, his words almost choking him at this point, throat closing up like his body was even telling him to just shut up. "I just got back, I- I didn't have the chance to."

There was silence for a moment, and Steven took the chance to slide down into a sitting position, adjusting himself slightly to sit cross-legged. And he breathed, just breathed, in through his nose and out through his mouth, a relaxation technique he and Connie began practicing a little while after Garnet had helped them as Stevonnie. It was still hard to focus, but he still made a concentrated effort to steady himself, if only slightly, before he continued the conversation.

"Just relax, kiddo, I'll be there soon," Greg told him after a moment, his voice soft, gentle in a way that should have been soothing, but only served in sending his anxiety skyrocketing once again. He didn't reply, pulling the phone away from his ear and pressing his hand to his face, stretching his fingers up and digging his nails into his forehead. He dragged them down slowly, curling them against the bridge of his nose and letting them peel at the skin, digging in a few layers deep and eventually drawing blood. He rubbed it away when that happened, wincing slightly at the sting that accompanied it, but he had never been more grateful for a physical distraction. At the very least, it allowed him enough time in which his attention wasn't focused on Greg to be able to suck in the air his lungs were craving, and he melted against the door, nearly sobbing in relief when the burning feeling finally faded.

He looked down at the phone tiredly after a few seconds. It felt heavy in his hand, like it was weighing his arm down. He didn't even know where his own phone was - he vaguely recalled ditching it somewhere in the woods during his training, since Jasper had gotten rather annoyed by the ringing. It was probably broken now, thanks to the storm, but he didn't really care. Well, sure, he felt a little guilty for dodging the phone calls in the first place, but… but there wasn't anything else he could've done. He couldn't be around anyone else then, and to be completely honest, he shouldn't have even been around Jasper of all people anyway.

Steven rubbed his thumb over the side of the phone, then stretched it over to slide his finger across the screen, ending the call. Shame and guilt churned in his stomach, like a synchronized dance designed purely to make him lose his shit completely, and he once again found himself practically starving for air as he tried to breathe in, shaky and unsteady despite his best efforts. Greg was on his way anyway, so what did it matter? No point in just staying on the phone with him the entire time while he walked up to the beach house. Steven didn't know how long it would take him, but he did know that it wasn't a far walk from the car wash, which he assumed was where his father was. The teenager licked his hand, rubbed it over his face - and bit back a rush of disappointment upon feeling the scars heal - and stood up, abandoning the phone on the floor and stumbling over to the sink. He turned the cold water on, sinking forward against the edge of the sink and ducking his head, cupping his hands under the water and gathering up as much as he could - slightly irritated by the way it just slipped through his fingers - before bringing his hands up to his face, careful not to make too much of a mess but still trying to get as much water onto his skin as possible. He repeated the process a few times, relaxing only slightly at the feeling of the freezing liquid against his skin - only really realizing for the first time how hot he felt - and finally reached to turn the water off when he was somewhat satisfied, running his fingers through his now soaked hair and sparing a glance up at the mirror.

He didn't recognize who he saw there, not at first glance. The boy staring back at him was weak, tired. He had bags under his eyes, and his expression was little more than a scowl - that Steven hadn't even noticed he was making at all - as he gazed back at him. And his eyes, raging with fire and yet dull with defeat at the same time, speaking of exhaustion, pain and anger all at once. For a moment, Steven pitied the boy in the mirror, managed to feel an ounce of concern - before abruptly remembering that it was him he was looking at. Just him.

And whatever concern, whatever pity or sympathy he had felt, dissolved into contempt.

For a while, he just stood there, gazing at his reflection. His grip tightened slightly on the faucet handle, eyes narrowing slightly at himself. He wasn't pink anymore, at least, but it still wasn't easy to hold his own gaze. God, he really was pitiful, wasn't he? He certainly looked the part. But who was he to break down from this? Who was he to be the one suffering here? He had killed somebody. He had shattered a gem. A gem that was only trying to help him. In a fight that, above everything else, was meant to be friendly, at best. He had done that to himself. What gave him the right to sit here all down in the dumps, depressed because of his own actions? What gave him the right to feel like this? It was stupid, it was selfish, and if he really felt guilty, he'd be trying to fix it instead of just moping about like some stupid kid. He was being childish.

The hybrid glared down into the sink, pure anger twisting and churning in his gut. He had gone and shattered Jasper, and now he was hiding away from everyone, trying to escape, because he couldn't handle it. Who did that? Who made mistake after mistake, hurt person after person, and just kept running, hurting people along the way in nothing but a pure, desperate, selfish attempt to just escape all of the guilt and pain that came with it? What kind of person-

… no, he knew what kind of person. The exact person he'd been trying to avoid becoming. The person who would rather run, hide away, who would rather not exist just to stop her mistakes from catching up to her. He wondered if she'd ever felt this low, though- if she'd ever been drowning in guilt the way he was, if she was even capable of that. He wondered if she felt the same absolute loathing for herself that Steven could feel rising up inside of him, directed at him and only at him. He wondered if she looked in the mirror and hated what she saw there. He wondered if she ever contemplated the things he was, envisioning cracking her own gem just for the hell of it, shattering herself just so she could experience at least some of the pain she had caused others. He wondered if that's why she had given up her existence in the first place.

To kill herself.

He wondered if it hurt.

He wondered if it was a bad thing that he hoped it had.

Steven sighed, ducking his head and peering up at the mirror through his eyelashes. With how similar they were - in so… so many ways, more ways than Steven cared to admit - he wouldn't be surprised if she felt the way he did now. If she really had hated herself for all the things she had done. He wondered, for a second, how anyone could do the things she had done without at least feeling some guilt - and he wondered if even a sliver of it was enough to drown her this way. He wondered if she ever felt bad for the things she did. If she thought the world would be a better place without her in it. If she thought the world would be better with him instead. He wondered if she scared herself as much as he scared himself. Gems didn't sleep - did she? Did she sit awake at night, watching Greg sleep, thinking about the future? Did she think of every little horrible thing she'd done, from Bismuth, to Spinel? Did she relive it all, every second of every day, feeling the guilt stack up until she just couldn't take it anymore? Wishing she could go back and change it, but knowing it was too late? He found himself with more questions than before, ones he knew he'd never get the answer to, because he knew she was the only one who could possibly know. Because she was enough like him - or he was enough like her - for her to have kept these feelings close to her, bottled up and stifled, until she disappeared.

Something inside of him ached to sympathize with her, with the one being in the world who might have even a chance at knowing what he was going through, but it was far too late now. She was gone. Gone because, for whatever reason, she had decided that he deserved to exist more than she did. And Steven could spend his life debating on whether or not he really did - hell, for the most part, he'd grown up doing just that - but he wasn't sure he wanted the answer.

"What am I doing…" He whispered, dropping his gaze from the mirror again. He didn't deserve to feel this way. He didn't deserve to be able to run and hide from his problems the way she had. He was the one that was supposed to fix all of this. Why was he just making everything worse? Why was everything just getting worse? "Why can't I make it better? I'm supposed to make everything better-" His voice rose, just a little, just enough; he heard a crack, sharp and abrupt, just in front of him, flicking his gaze up to study the spiderweb-cracks that had formed on the mirror, which looked about five seconds away from shattering completely. He stared at his reflection, distorted, cracked, angry and pink once again, glowing with the force of his rage. His hatred, every bit of it solely fixated on him. He hated himself, he hated himself more than he'd ever hated anybody in his life. He hated himself more than he hated the Diamonds, more than he'd hated Spinel when she'd first shown up, more than he hated his own fucking mother.

He hated himself, and for the first time, he was finally willing to admit it - at least to himself, to his own ears - because god, if he hadn't been someone worthy of that hatred then, he was now.

Steven breathed in shakily, swallowed, and flinched, hearing the phone ringing from behind him. The pinkness faded, receding to his cheeks and lingering for a second, but he didn't stick around to see if it was going to diminish completely. Turning, he headed over to the door again, reluctantly reaching down and picking up the phone to see who was calling. The call ended just as soon as he closed his fingers around it, though, and he couldn't stifle a rush of relief as he swiped down to see who it had been, reaching out to open the door. It was Pearl's phone after all, anyway, so who was he to answer it himself in the first place? There, now he had an excuse.

Really going for Pink Diamond of the Year, aren't you?

His heart sank slightly, hand on the doorknob, when he saw who it was. Connie. His heart stopped, plummeting completely to his stomach, throat closing up all at once as he threw the door open and rushed out, desperate to get the phone back in Pearl's hands before she could call again. He couldn't talk to her, not now, he couldn't even think of her without-

"Steven?" Pearl sounded alarmed, stepping forward as he entered the room, and the hybrid reached out to hand her the phone, practically dropping it in his haste to just get it away from him. Amethyst pushed herself to sit up again, concerned, and Garnet leaned forward from her place beside the door. Jasper was the only one who didn't react, other than a quick glance up before she looked away again, seemingly focused on Amethyst's phone - which, for a second, Steven was kind of curious as to how she'd even acquired it, but he guessed Amethyst must have just given it to her to either shut her up or distract her - but the teenager looked back up at Pearl when she finally took the phone again, stumbling a few steps away from her and exhaling sharply in relief, folding his hands close to his chest and shaking his head desperately.

"What happened?" Amethyst questioned, glancing back and forth from Steven to Pearl. The teenager shook his head a little, hardly able to open his mouth to reply, so Amethyst turned her gaze back to Pearl. The pale gem offered a helpless look, then looked back down at the phone when it started ringing again, and the confused, worried expression on her face immediately dissolved into one of understanding, while Amethyst's bewilderment intensified. "Who is it?"

"It's Connie," Pearl murmured, somewhat reluctantly, and Amethyst leaned back slightly, inhaling sharply through her teeth while Garnet frowned, adjusting her visor.

For a moment, Steven felt thirteen again, asking the gems to help him avoid Connie. But that, back then, had been more for her sake than his own, and remembering what it had done to her only served to make his own guilt that much worse. He pressed his face into his hands, shaking slightly and trying to force himself to breathe. She was his best friend. She was supposed to be his best friend, and he was here, trying to avoid talking to her so he didn't have to explain that he had gone off and killed somebody. Yeah, he definitely hated himself, and he was going to give himself absolute hell for it later on, but he still couldn't bring himself to take the phone back. He didn't know how to talk to her, how to tell her what was going on. Especially not after what had happened between them, which had left him feeling more distanced from her than ever. Hell, at the moment, he felt more distanced from everyone than he'd ever felt in his life.

He stifled a sob at the thought, cheeks flushing with warmth again, but he only shook his head at himself and lifted his head again. "Pearl," his voice shook slightly, and he swallowed, annoyed, and waited a moment before he spoke again, "Pearl, I don't- I can't-"

Pearl put a hand on his head, making him feel even more like a child, the touch that was meant to be comforting only feeling cold, silencing. But he stopped, swallowing again, and she lifted her hand with a smile. "You don't have to, Steven." She turned away without another word, heading for the door and answering the phone as she did. The teenager watched, feeling that much worse as she left, the door swinging shut behind her as her voice trailed, "hello, Connie…"

Steven exhaled sharply, pressing his face into his hands again. He would've felt somewhat relieved - and even guiliter at that - if it weren't for the reminder that Greg was on his way, too.

"Hey," Amethyst's voice was softer, closer now, and it wasn't long before Steven felt her arm wrap around his shoulders. He tensed a little at the contact, shoulders twitching faintly as an instinctual reaction, wanting to pull away, but he reminded himself not to at the last second. That would just be rude. And, yeah, he didn't really want to be touched and he didn't even trust himself around them at the moment enough to be touched, but he didn't want to risk hurting her feelings any more than he probably already had today. So, breathing in shakily and ignoring the way he flushed pink completely, like his body was even protesting the contact, he shifted to lean further into her arms, numb despite what was supposed to be comforting. "It's okay."

Steven waited a moment to see if the anxiety and guilt churning in his chest would at least diminish a little, but Amethyst's words offered no relief. Which only made him feel worse, to be honest. She was trying to help him, and he couldn't even manage to feel a little better. Or even remotely thankful for the reassurance. He just felt empty, hollow, numb, and frustrated, and eventually, it simply led him to shrug her off anyway, leaning back on his feet and shoving his hands into his pockets, hunching over slightly and fixing his gaze on the floor. He didn't want to see her expression, didn't wanna see how she might have reacted to him pushing away from her, didn't wanna know how much it had probably hurt her. He just wanted everything to stop. But he knew he wasn't gonna get that too easily.

After about a minute or so, the hybrid breathed in through his teeth and looked up again. "Dad's on his way," he murmured, fixing his gaze on Garnet. The fusion said nothing, just offered a nod and adjusted her visor - allowing Steven to assume that she had likely already known anyway - so he finally turned his gaze to Amethyst. She didn't seem surprised, or even upset. If anything, she looked somewhat sympathetic, trading a grim look with Garnet and twisting her head around to glance back toward Jasper, who was still mostly distracted by the phone.

"So, uh, what do we do about…" Amethyst cocked her head toward Jasper and turned. Steven braced himself, breathing in, mind already racing for a thousand explanations - but the purple gem turned to Garnet, turning her back on him completely, and the hybrid held his breath.

"She shouldn't be a problem." Garnet crossed her arms over her chest.

Jasper looked up, giving the fusion a look, but she didn't say anything. Her gaze flicked back toward Steven, who reluctantly returned her stare, feeling like his heart was wringing itself out like a wet cloth. After a moment, though, the orange gem simply shrugged, as if agreeing with Garnet's statement, much to both Steven's surprise and relief, and turned her gaze back to the phone with a mildly frustrated expression, poking it with her index finger. "It keeps falling."

"You gotta keep tapping the screen," Amethyst sighed, heading over to her once again, and Steven watched them for a moment. He was a little surprised to see them being even remotely civil toward one another, but he certainly wasn't going to complain about it. He did wish he could feel a little more excited about it, though, but all he felt right then was a dull sense of relief.

He eyed the stairs for a moment, wondering if he could get away with just hiding in his room until Greg got there, but decided against it after a moment. Might as well get this over with, and then he could properly be alone, but until then, he just needed to brave through it. He wondered if he could get away with just not telling him what had happened, but it was highly unlikely. Either he would have to spill, or the gems would, or the gems would make him. Whatever happened, though, Steven knew one thing for certain - he'd be drastically unprepared for it. Story of his life, as always, and he was ready… well, as ready as he could be.

The teenager retreated to the kitchen, finally throwing away the tissue and pulling himself up onto one of the stools at the counter, pressing his hands down against it firmly as if to try and brace himself. And he fixed his eyes on the door, tense and waiting. He let Amethyst and Jasper's voices trail off, fading into the background, allowed everything else to disappear slowly and steadily from around him, curling his hands into fists and digging his nails into his palms.

How do you tell your own father that you killed somebody? Steven knew Greg didn't have much knowledge about gem stuff, but he was sure his mother must have at least explained the concept of shattering. He had taken a life, and it didn't matter whether it was a human or gem, he had done that, he had murdered somebody, and he could bring her back, but he couldn't fix it, he couldn't take away what he'd done. How was he supposed to tell his father that? He hardly knew how he'd been able to spit it out to Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl. But unless he worked himself up into a fit of rage like he'd done with them, he didn't know if he'd be able to look at him and explain what he'd done, didn't know if he'd be able to keep his cool while he told him. More than that, he was dreading Greg's reaction. Because, yes, Greg let him off the hook for a lot of shit - hell, he'd told Steven he was proud of him right after he'd crashed the damn van - but this was different. This was murder. Steven was a murderer. How was he supposed to explain that?

Steven breathed in shakily, definitely ready now to retreat to his room, but he didn't even get the chance to genuinely consider doing so before the door opened again. He almost relaxed upon seeing it was just Pearl, but tensed up all over again when Greg followed her through.

He braced himself at once, nothing but miserable the moment his father's eyes landed on him. Thankfully, he was already pink - he didn't want Greg to see him turning pink because of him specifically, knowing it would likely only hurt his feelings since Greg knew why it was happening in the first place, thanks to his hospital visit - but he was still left uneasy, guilty, ashamed and mildly irritated when Greg rushed over to him, barely hearing him exclaim his name through the blood roaring in his ears and the frantic pounding of his own heart. Still, he offered little protest, and no struggle, when he was pulled into his father's arms, simply collapsing against him without lifting his arms to hug back and just letting Greg do whatever he wanted for the moment.

"I'm so glad you're okay, Schtu-ball," Greg breathed, fingers digging into Steven's hair as he gently gripped the back of his head and the fabric of his jacket, holding him close for a few seconds more before finally pulling away, allowing Steven to regain his footing. "I was-"

"Worried, I know," Steven interrupted, luckily managing to sound more exhausted than annoyed, and struggling to put somewhat of a smile on his face. He wasn't sure whether he succeeded or not, but Greg was too busy fussing over him at the moment to notice, so Steven simply let it drop again, taking the chance to compose himself as much as possible before he tried again. Reaching up and grabbing his father's hands, he pried them off of the collar of his jacket firmly but gently, glancing down at his own warily upon realizing they were still pink, and making sure to loosen his grip slightly in response before flicking his gaze back up to Greg. "I'm okay, Dad."

A relieved smile broke across Greg's face, either not noticing the strained expression on his son's face or simply not wanting to, Steven didn't really know anymore. For a moment, his gaze trailed past him, focusing on Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, who all wore worried frowns as they focused completely on him. And, finding it much easier, somehow, to meet Greg's gaze, he quickly looked back up at his father, releasing his hands and letting him reach up to fix his hair instead. "Where did you go?" Greg asked after a moment, his smile vanishing, and turning into a surprisingly serious expression that genuinely left Steven reeling for a good few seconds.

His heart skipped a beat, almost hopeful, almost expecting some kind of scolding.

"I… went into the forest… with Jasper." Steven looked toward the gem in question at that, but she still seemed far too occupied with the phone to care about what else was going on.

"The f-" Greg did a double take toward Jasper, then looked back down at Steven, wide-eyed with a mixture of confusion and slight horror. Steven stared back at him, then dropped his gaze back to the floor, shifting slightly on his feet with a frown. "With… oh, Steven- why were you…?"

Steven shrugged slightly, blinking a few times and studying the floor with a frown, swallowing hard past the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. Now came the really hard part, explaining to his father exactly what had gone down during his time away. To his credit, Greg didn't say anything at first, just stared at him for a few seconds in silence before turning his head to look back toward the gems, pausing for a moment before turning back to him and speaking again. His hand trailed down, resting on Steven's shoulder instead. "Hey, let's get outta here."

"What?" Steven glanced up at him, tensing up again in surprise.

"Let's take a walk," Greg suggested, standing up and keeping his hand on Steven's shoulder, offering a light squeeze. "Just you and me. Not to call you out or anything, buddy, but you seem pretty overwhelmed right now. So…" He tilted his head back toward the door, his gaze focused intently on Steven, and the hybrid tensed up further as he slid his gaze back toward the others. Alone with Greg. Not exactly a comforting thought, remembering exactly what had gone down the last time they had been alone together, but he'd be lying if he said the thought didn't relieve him somewhat. Because, yeah, Greg wasn't too wrong right then - he was overwhelmed. And maybe it would be easier to explain everything if it was just the two of them, anyway…

So he nodded, unable to speak, knowing better than to try to put those feelings and thoughts into words. And he let Greg lead him over to the door, no longer looking at the gems, but Pearl shuffled aside to let them leave, offering him a reassuring smile that he didn't catch. At this point, it was dark, the sun having completely disappeared, leaving the beach lit only by the gentle glow of the moon and the glittering stars; he found himself almost transfixed by the ocean, reflecting the light from above, finally managing to take a little comfort in the familiar sight as he followed Greg down the stairs, lifting his hands to adjust his jacket and taking a deep breath to steady himself again, shoulders drooping as the pinkness finally faded.

Okay, Pink 2.0, his mind chuckled, don't fuck this up.

Chapter Text

"Really is a perfect night for a walk, huh, Schtu-ball?"

Steven didn't respond immediately, tired eyes roaming across the sand as he walked. He had fallen into step with Greg somewhat numbly, just letting him lead the way for the most part. He was surprised they hadn't stopped yet, and could safely assume his father was just trying to get him away from the beach house, but if they went any further, they would end up reaching the place where… where Steven had proposed… and he wasn't sure he wanted to dive into that fresh wound just yet, either. For a moment, the hybrid's steps faltered, and the brief hesitation was, thankfully, enough to pull Greg to a stop. He turned toward the teenager with a frown, concerned but understanding, but it still took Steven a good few seconds to be able to lift his gaze back to Greg, trying and failing to lift his expression into a smile that he didn't feel. It was forced, and he could feel it straining at his muscles, every little effort it took to pull himself together. Every little wasted effort, lost on both himself and his dad, he noted, heart sinking, as Greg's own smile finally vanished, shoulders drooping slightly for a second, as he sighed.

"Listen… Steven." Greg knelt down in front of him slightly, just enough to come face to face with the teenager, and he found himself grimacing back at his father in response for a second before realizing what he was doing, and attempting once again to force a smile back onto his face. This time, the strained expression didn't go unnoticed, because Greg offered him a slight frown in response and reached up, resting a hand over his shoulder. "Hey, it's okay. Bud, I'm not mad."

"Wha- no… I know, Dad…" Steven hissed out a sigh through his teeth and flicked his gaze away for a second, guilt and disappointment pounding in his chest. He had almost hoped maybe Greg understood, at least somewhat, but it seemed like he was still just as clueless as to how Steven felt as he always had been. Always making assumptions, always guessing what was wrong. And yeah, he knew it was his fault, because he didn't say anything… but still, sometimes, he wished that he didn't have to. But that just made him feel even worse than anything else. For a moment, the hybrid stared down, opening and closing his mouth, eyebrows furrowing together sharply, as he struggled to figure out how to begin, how to tell Greg what had happened. His own dread kept his thoughts from pushing too far on that, much to his own chagrin. He didn't want to, but he had to tell him. He had to just get it over with, get it out there, and let it happen.

"Look, kiddo," Greg interrupted his thoughts, and Steven reluctantly flicked his gaze back up to his father, staring somewhat blankly as the man's smile lifted into what should have been an encouraging smile, but once again, he only felt numb to the reassurance. "Whatever's going on, you know you can still talk to me about it. What happened the other night, it doesn't change anything. I'm still your old man, and you're still my son, and I still care about you. And… gosh, Steven, I'm… really worried here." The smile faltered again, and Steven breathed in shakily, blinking back tears without even really knowing why they had risen in the first place. He wasn't even really upset, himself, more numb than anything, but for some reason, seeing Greg so upset was hitting a nerve he hadn't even realized still existed. "So… you can tell me anything. Whatever's going on with you, we'll figure it out, but… we can't do that if you don't talk to me about it, y'know?" Greg tilted his head slightly. "Come on, kiddo, talk to me. What's the matter?"

Well, Steven had to hand it to him. Even now, Greg knew how to hit the right chords - the small part of him that still had a sense of humor noted that he always could - but even then, he still couldn't bring himself to speak up yet. So he just stared, hollow but aching, before turning his head away again and fixing his gaze on the ocean instead. This time, the glittering, lapping waves did nothing to reassure him, to calm the internal turmoil raging through him right then, but he was hardly looking for comfort - more or less something of a distraction, something to look at besides Greg, to give him the chance to pull his thoughts together before he tried to speak. Everything his father had said, it was just things he had said before. Things Steven already knew. He knew Greg cared about him, and he knew he was worried. Granted, he was wrong about that night 'not changing anything', but Steven decided to just let that one go for now. He didn't have the strength to argue with his father again, not about something that seemed so trivial compared to everything else that had happened. Steven exhaled, settling a hand over his stomach and lightly pressing his fingers down against his gem, shivering slightly for a second.

The waves crashed against the sand, the harsh movement accompanied by a surprisingly gentle sound. It did it again, and again, reaching further each time, and he watched the wet sand roll under the water before it pulled back again. His thumb rubbed against his gem, somewhat unconsciously, almost beginning to relax - if only a little - before another wave rose up and crashed down against the beach with a little more force than the others. This time the sound was louder, a little more akin to a rumbling roll of thunder than anything, and he flinched.

Thunder roared, clouds clashing together above his head as the rain fell, pouring down into his cupped hand. He had to bring the other one up to keep the shards from spilling out with it as he frantically scrambled to his feet, not knowing whether the horrible, excruciatingly loud sound was really the thunder overhead, or if it was the harsh, erratic pounding of his own heart.

Steven's hand flew up to his chest, fingers digging into his shirt tightly as he gasped. For a second, he almost expected to be right back there, feeling the rain pounding down against his head as he fought to shield the shards from the water, holding them close to his chest as he ran, and ran, and ran, managing to grab his jacket from where he'd hung it near the campsite to put the shards in and keep them safe. Tears rushed to his eyes, much like they had then, mixing with raindrops, salty on his tongue as he gasped and shook and took off through the forest. He couldn't move now, though, even though he wanted to. Every instinct screamed at him to run, but he didn't even know why. Every muscle in his body was pulled taut, coiled like a spring, wanting to move but completely rooted to where he stood. His heart pounded, frantic and irregular, making his chest and ribs ache as it slammed against them repeatedly.

He wanted to scream, but he couldn't open his mouth.

Then a hand clasped down over his shoulder, and the imagery of thunder and lightning and rain was stamped out, replaced with violent visions of orange hands slamming into him, punching, pushing, pain exploding through every part of his body as he went skidding back-

He recoiled, struggling away, wriggling out from under the touch. His breathing hitched, more and more stifled with each passing second, as the blur of orange gave way and crumbled to reveal his father, concerned and confused, hands outstretched toward him, just out of reach. For a moment, Steven could only stare in confusion, trembling and continuing to clutch his hand to his chest as he struggled to regulate his breathing, heart pounding so fast he was sure it would simply break free. But it remained trapped, and while it was a good thing, it did very little to assist in helping him breathe, each shaking inhale interrupted by erratic, frantic beats, feeling like his heart was just trying to jump its way up to his throat and make home there.

Steven blinked back tears, face screwing up slightly, expression crumbling into despair, as he fought to pull himself together, tightening his grip on his shirt. He still wanted to run, but now he just wanted to get away; from Greg, from the ocean, from the roaring waves and horrible reminders of that night. The hybrid choked out a sob, just allowing himself one before he sucked in another breath, ignoring the way his heart shuddered in protest, and held it, trying to force himself into a slightly more relaxed state. It wasn't an easy thing to do, especially not as Greg reached out for him again; this time when Steven felt his hands, he didn't pull away, though he still wasn't quite comfortable with it. He simply let Greg pull him into his arms, let his father wrap himself around him, movements uncertain but gentle. And he felt nothing. Nothing at all.

"What's going on…?" Greg whispered, and this time the question didn't seem to be directed at him, or anyone in particular. His father's voice shook in a way he'd never heard before, a tone of pure despair, confusion, anxiety and absolute terror, and Steven finally felt something. Not guilt, but not comfort, but something a little closer to sympathy, something inside of him aching to be the one offering the comfort, like some instinctual, internal reaction. His arms twitched upwards without his permission, wrapping around Greg carefully, hands clutching the back of his shirt.

He didn't know what to do, what to say, how to react. Not at first. But eventually, opening his mouth, he forced himself to speak with a shaking voice, small and childish to his own ears, not knowing how to do anything else except offer his father the answer to the question he'd asked. "I shattered Jasper."

It took a second for Greg to go rigid against him, cold and tense like a marble statue instead of a human. It was only then did Steven manage to push himself away from his father, breathing in shakily and pulling his arms close to himself. Not wanting to meet his gaze, he flicked his eyes toward the beach house instead, blinking back another rush of tears and silently cursing himself as his eyes continued to sting, knowing that at this point, he wouldn't be able to control himself. His hands felt cold, clenched into fists against his own shirt, feeling them clam up as sweat formed in his palms, an uncomfortable feeling that eventually led to him dropping his arms entirely to push them into his pockets instead, rubbing them against the fabric in a half-hearted attempt to dry them. After a while, though, the silence became nearly unbearable; Greg hadn't spoken yet, and Steven didn't want to offer any further explanations until he did, but now he was just uncomfortable, waiting for the reaction. He spared a glance upwards, hesitant and tense.

There was an unreadable emotion in Greg's eyes as he stared down at him. Not quite disappointment, not quite - something more akin to a mixture of confusion, horror, shock and concern. He was open-mouthed, like he was trying to say something but just couldn't find the words - a sentiment Steven related to all too well - and, eventually, the teenager found himself backing away from his father, his entire body wracked with tremors as his stomach twisted violently with nausea, feeling his throat restrict in response as bile rose up, bubbling briefly against his lips. He gagged, swallowing it back down before he could throw up, and shivered.

But he vomited in another way, with words now, which just started spilling out in a desperate attempt to fill the horrified, shocked silence that had followed. "I- I- I shattered Jasper," he repeated himself, as if Greg hadn't heard the first time, but his father's expression didn't change by much, even while his mouth opened again to speak. Steven still couldn't stop, continuing frantically, "I shattered her during training. We were training in the forest and we were fighting and- and she was just trying to help me control my powers better and she said I was holding back so I stopped- I stopped holding back and I just attacked and- and I just let it all go and then I tr- trapped her with my shields and I made this wall with spikes and I-!"

"St- Steven-" Greg finally choked out, wide-eyed, pupils shrunk.

"I didn't mean to- but I- I did-" Steven rambled, abruptly yanking his hands up, and his jacket along with them, which he pulled up over his head like a hood, tugging it down hard against his skull and forcing his head down along with it, just for a second. "I wanted to hurt her but I didn't want to shatter her but I did and then I brought her back and healed her in the tub but Dad she-"

"Steven…"

"-she called me her Diamond-" Steven almost gagged again, crossing his arms now and wrapping his head in the jacket for a second, covering his face briefly. "And I- fuck-"

"Steven Quartz Universe!" Greg's voice rose, and the hybrid couldn't keep himself from tensing, recoiling slightly in surprise. His arms dropped again, the jacket along with them, as he lifted his head to stare at his father in shock. Greg had never yelled at him like that before - hell, as far as Steven could remember, he'd really never raised his voice like that at him either. And he'd sure as hell never used Steven's full name to address him like that. Above it all, though, while he definitely was stunned in so many different ways because of it, a tiny part of him finally felt a rush of relief, enough to allow him to gulp in a gasp of air as he stared back at Greg. It was grounding, snapping his mind back to the present, to the conversation, and leaving him just stunned enough to allow his father to continue. The only thing was that the second he realized what he'd done, Greg's eyes widened, looking positively horrified, and he reached out slightly. "Oh, gosh, Schtu-ball, I didn't mean- I'm so sorry, I didn't-"

Steven stared for a moment, relief steadily fizzling out, and leaned away.

Greg faltered, recoiling a little himself, and the teenager was slightly surprised to see tears steadily brewing in his eyes. He could only stare as Greg wiped them away, seemingly trying to compose himself, but he managed to find his voice after only a few seconds, slightly strained. "Wh- Why are you apologizing?"

"For yelling at you." Greg dropped his hand, looking down at him miserably, and Steven almost felt another stab of sympathy - before, abruptly, it turned into anger. It was too fast for him to even react, like a switch had been flipped in only half a second. His cheeks flushed, hot, burning and pink, and his hands curled into fists at his sides now as he stared back at his father in disbelief. Greg blinked, a surprised, concerned look flickering across his face, but it only served to make the fury churning in his stomach just a little bit worse, blood suddenly boiling as he turned completely pink, recoiling again and backing away from his father with a snarl, yet another inhuman, animalistic sound that didn't quite succeed in snapping him out of it.

"So what? I just told you that I murdered somebody! You should yell at me!" He snapped, knuckles almost turning white as he clenched his fists harder, nails digging into his skin. This time, he felt nothing as they broke the skin, hardly even feeling the tickle as the blood rose up and began to drip. Greg's gaze darted downwards, and his eyes widened slightly in alarm, but Steven continued again fiercely, demanding his father's attention once again. "You should be yelling and telling me that what I did was really, really wrong and that I'm a horrible person!"

"But you're not a horrible person!" Greg exclaimed, gaze darting back down to his hands again for a second. "Steven, you're hurting yourself-!"

The teenager blinked, caught off guard in a split second of how'd he know? before following his father's gaze to his hands, finally realizing that he was, indeed, bleeding. He loosened his grip immediately, the pinkness fading from his hands and receding back to his cheeks, but it continued to linger even then - to a slightly distressing degree, honestly - as he turned his hands over, staring down at the blood on his hands. Looking at them a little more closely, he also saw the other marks he had left the previous times on one of them, while the other was mostly unscarred, presumably from where he'd licked it earlier to heal his head. Greg's somewhat shaky, sharp inhale indicated that he saw, too, but Steven didn't give him a chance to inspect them further, raising first one hand to kiss the wounds away, and then the other, reluctantly.

"It was an accident," Steven mumbled, dropping his hands again, ignoring the coppery taste of blood on his tongue and his father's stare, not wanting to look up and see the horror in his eyes. The hybrid swallowed, shoulders sagging with relief as he finally managed to force himself to calm down enough for the rest of the pinkness to fade away, the lingering warmth steadily dissolving from his cheeks and leaving him just as cold as before as he frowned, mouth twisting.

"I- was it-?" Greg stammered, and Steven's shoulders tensed slightly, managing to spare a slightly surprised glance up at his father. Greg winced, misreading the shock, and shook his head slightly in response, as if to shrug away his own concern - which, truthfully enough, didn't seem to quite work - before walking forward slowly, lifting a hand faintly before lowering it again, seeming more or less uncertain on whether to approach now that Steven had actively rejected his contact and earlier attempts to get physically close to him. Even now, the teenager couldn't keep himself from reeling back on time, guilt seizing and clawing at his chest mercilessly. He was already nearly at the end of his rope, he didn't want to risk snapping with his father… close.

"Yes, it was," Steven finally managed to speak, and his strained, clipped tone didn't seem to do anything to reassure his father. If anything, the slightly horrified, concerned expression returned, some kind of realization Steven didn't want to dive too deep into yet, not wanting it to be one that his father was experiencing at all, so the hybrid pushed forward before Greg could react. "S- Seriously, Dad, I- I'm- I'm fine, okay? I'm-" He stopped, shoulders jerking slightly as he shook his head, suddenly unable to spit the word out. It fell away from his tongue before he could reach for it again, shoulders drooping slightly for a second, not even really wanting to say it anyway, so he changed course and continued quietly, "I'm tired."

Greg softened slightly, still looking concerned, and braved another step forward. "It is pretty late…" He murmured. "Maybe you should go inside and rest, Schtu-ball…"

Steven bit his lip for a second, careful not to draw blood this time now that it seemed like Greg was already catching wind of what he was doing in the first place, but he still longed to feel the sharp pain again anyway - it had gone all too soon from his hands, before he had time to take comfort in it, and now that he was steadily slipping back into the guilt and shame, he needed it now more than ever. The hybrid inhaled sharply, letting it out slowly, but eventually simply ended up shaking his head slightly at his father. "Not that kind of tired," he mumbled, surprising even himself with the somewhat bitter but honest remark, and he turned away before he could see his father's expression, looking back toward the waves. They swept forward over the sand, surprisingly gentle now, but it didn't make it any easier to watch them, knowing now that at any second, it could become loud, startling, and send him right back to the night of the storm.

The teenager sighed, flicking his gaze to the sky for a second. He rubbed his thumbs over his palms, curling his hands up slightly for a second and just trying to breathe. This had gone about as well as could be expected, but at least it was a little more tame than Steven thought it would be. But, evidently, it wasn't quite over yet, and he cursed under his breath as Greg finally started walking toward him again, seeming to gain a little more confidence as he approached now. Steven simply pretended not to notice, adamantly keeping his eyes fixed on the stars as his father settled down beside him, leaning back on his hands with a low, strained sigh of his own.

After a while, he spoke. It was quiet, but nearly impossible for Steven not to hear, even over the crashing of the waves against the beach. "Steven… you really think you're a horrible person?" Steven didn't reply, but the answer more or less hung in the silence, tense and wary, and Greg exhaled sharply, falling silent for a moment before speaking again. "Gosh, kiddo. I can't imagine what you're going through right now, but… jeez, you're… the best person I know. I'm so prou-"

"Oh, shut up."

Steven's sharp, snarled words were accompanied by another loud crash just ahead of them, a particularly large wave slamming down against the sand, water spraying up and spreading out toward them. It reached a little further this time, lapping at the edges of his sandals, and the teenager shifted back a few steps, distancing himself from both the water and his father in the process. The water retreated. His father did not. Instead, Greg only stared at him, wide-eyed with surprise, and Steven realized numbly that he hadn't ever spoken such venom toward his father before in his life. Even in the van, his words were desperate at best, angry and hurt, but never just angry. His tone now was simply one of pure rage, quivering under the force of the fury he was feeling, and the absolute loathing he felt toward both himself and his father and the words he knew had only been half a second away from escaping the man's lips.

But he felt no guilt now, only rage and pure, unadulterated hatred for the both of them. He was so sick of hearing those words, and he was only realizing for the first time how meaningless they really were. If Greg ever really meant them in the first place, or if he only said them to calm him down, shut him up. Because he couldn't fathom how anybody in their right mind would be proud of him at this point, how Greg could stand there and look him in the eyes and tell him he was proud of him after Steven had just confessed to shattering a gem, to murdering somebody.

It was really the first time he'd ever felt something close to contempt to his father, and despite his words to Greg in the van - "I can't believe I never realized… you're just like mom!" - it was the first time he'd ever felt anything remotely close to the amount of disgust and hatred that he felt for her directed solely toward his father, one of the few people he'd ever idolized in his life. Hell, even if they weren't as alike as Steven was starting to believe, there were still so many new revelations rising up, as he was realizing things about his father he never knew before, things he thought he'd be better off knowing. And that alone, well… that was enough of a comparison for Steven at this point. Every new thing he was realizing about his father was suddenly making him want to scream, to pull his own hair out, and it was making every bit of respect he held for him fizzle out more and more until finally, there would be nothing left.

And that was exactly what had happened when it came to Pink. Every new revelation, every secret revealed, he'd lost a little more respect, a little more willingness to love - hell, some days he didn't think he held any love for his mother at all, and that hit the hardest sometimes - until finally the only really prominent emotion he felt at the thought of her was contempt and rage.

Feeling these things toward Greg now, it pissed him off to the highest degree.

Steven clenched and unclenched his fists and spoke again, voice still shaking with the anger he was feeling, surprising himself by not turning pink right then and there. "You… you have no right to sit there and- and say that to me. To- to tell me that you're proud of me. That I'm a good person. I- god, Dad, do you even listen to me when I speak to you? Do you even care-?"

"Of course I care," Greg insisted, wide-eyed, but Steven held a finger up before he could continue, and he was pretty sure it had stunned both of them when Greg flinched back. His expression was one of surprise, not fear, but the reaction itself was enough to make Steven recoil, going completely blank for a good few seconds. At that point, there was barely any emotion left. No anger, but nothing else. Not even an ounce of guilt. Just numbness. Just done, for the very first time in his life, he was just completely, absolutely done.

"I…" The teenager huffed, dropping his arm after a moment, before simply turning on his heel to head back to the house. He didn't have anything else to say to Greg at this point, no longer wanting to continue the conversation. He had said what needed to be said, he had told Greg he killed someone, and obviously he wasn't going to get any kind of reaction out of it other than reassurance, which he wasn't even looking for. So, at this point, the rest of the conversation was left pretty much useless, and Steven decided it was best to just end it right then and there. Wouldn't be such an easy thing to do, he thought bitterly, hearing his father's footsteps behind him as Greg followed, calling after him in concern. "Just go, Dad, it doesn't matter anymore."

"It does matter!" Greg told him, speeding up a little, but Steven didn't slow nor quicken his pace, even as his father grew closer to him. "Come on, Schtu-ball, talk to me-!"

"Talk to you?!" Steven whirled around, so fast Greg skidded and stumbled in an effort not to run into him, gasping slightly and reeling back sharply as Steven continued with a sneer, "talk to you? I tried to talk to you! I told you what happened, like you wanted me to, okay?! Now, look, I- I'm sorry if you're not satisfied with that, or that there's no- no happy ending to the fucking story or whatever you want, or some lesson to be learned from the mistake, but that's just not what's happening here! I killed somebody, Dad! Just because I could! Just because for the first time in my life I felt so, completely, totally in control and powerful and wanted to be the one dishing out pain and taking my anger out on someone who didn't deserve it for once! Now if you can't accept that your 'amazing little boy' is a murderer, then that's on you, but stop pushing your expectations onto me for once and telling me you're proud of me for being someone I'm not!" Steven paused, gasping in as much air as he could, and continuing just as fiercely as before, "I'm a murderer, Dad."

"You-" Greg flinched slightly again, but didn't move back. Steven would have felt bad, should have felt bad, but he felt absolutely nothing, watching his father stumble and stutter over his words. Nothing but a numb sense of rage, blood boiling and freezing at the same time. Like everything was just at a standstill, nothing else mattered enough to move. "Y- You are- a child-"

Steven blinked once, then stared at him for a few seconds. "Fuck you."

Greg recoiled as if Steven had struck him, and, honestly, Steven might as well have. But he continued anyway, his tone no longer one of burning, boiling fury, but completely icily cold. "I stopped being a child the minute I had to play space therapist for a bunch of thousand-year-old aliens for the sake of Earth and the entire galaxy!" For a moment, he paused, the reality of those words genuinely sinking in, and he hissed out a sigh through his teeth as he shook his head, a mirthless chuckle bubbling to his lips but never quite escaping as he ground out through clenched teeth, "so basically I guess I never was child, huh?" He flicked his gaze toward the house for a second, feeling nothing but bitterness and resentment, directed toward everyone all at once for so many different reasons he couldn't even begin sorting through, but he didn't care. At the moment, he was just angry at the whole world, and he didn't care anymore.

"I could have been," he muttered. "You should've never let me move in with the gems."

"Oh, Steven…" Greg's voice shook slightly, a mixture of surprised, confused and horrified, and Steven rolled his eyes back toward his father, fixing him with a contemptuous glare that seemed to almost make him recoil again. "You don't mean that-"

"Are you kidding me?" Steven spat, his tone now equal measures cold and blazing with pure, absolute fire as he stared back at his father. "Don't tell me what I mean, Dad, because, trust me, I can tell you with complete certainty that I definitely do mean you should've never let me move in with the gems, because all this gem stuff is what led to this, right here, right now, in the first place. God, do you know how much I've started wishing I wasn't even a gem? How much I wish I wasn't even ali-" He stopped himself before he could say the word, still completely drowning in rage, but having just enough clarity at the moment to stop himself from finishing the sentence.

He ran his tongue over his lips and sank back a bit, watching Greg's expression change once again, but he held up a hand before his father could start talking, watching his mouth open and close in absolute horror as he fought to form words. "Just- don't. I'm done, okay? I'm just done. Just go back to the car wash." He turned to leave again, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"St-"

"Go, Dad," Steven growled, continuing his retreat back toward the house, absolutely seething at this point in a way he never had before. "I'm serious, I don't want you here." He hopped up the stairs two at a time, not looking back to see if his father was following, or if he was still there, simply pushing the door open and walking back inside. He didn't even stop to look at the gems, making a direct beeline for the stairs to head up to his room, seeking absolutely no interaction.

"Steven?" Pearl sounded concerned, confused, "what-?"

"I'm going to bed." Steven whirled around, balancing on one of the steps in the center of the stairs. "I'm going to my room, I'm locking my door, and I'm going to bed. Is that a problem?"

Pearl blinked, startled - hell, fuck that, she looked downright shocked, and so did Amethyst. Garnet's expression was more or less unreadable, but he thought he saw Jasper smirk to herself as she ducked her head, keeping her gaze rooted to the phone in her hand.

"I- of course that's- not a problem-" Pearl finally stammered, and Steven nodded once, spinning back around and continuing up the stairs without another word. Upon finally reaching his room, he did just as he said, shoving the door shut behind him and locking it, then turning and heading over to his bed, shrugging his jacket off and tossing it down onto the floor carelessly. With no real intentions of falling asleep at that moment, though, he simply let himself fall forward onto the bed, letting it sink under his weight, letting himself finally turn pink. When it came, it came in a pure rush, like it had been holding itself back, dormant, while he had yelled at his father. Which was kind of funny, really, all of that anger had been his own, not related to his powers. Hell, it was almost pretty satisfying, and he would have been satisfied if he wasn't so pissed off.

He rolled over onto his back, settling his hands over his stomach, directly over his gem. He didn't do anything, though, despite the knowledge that he could - it would be as perfect a time as any to just do it, to see if he really could push himself to that extent. His thumb rubbed over his gem, once, twice, a third time, before he shuddered and had to pull away, the rest of his anger evaporating. He waited for the guilt, but none came. No satisfaction either, though.

Just numbness. Numbness he could deal with.

He closed his eyes and breathed, just breathed. He wasn't going to be falling asleep, and he knew that, so he would just lay there. Awake. Feeling nothing, thinking about everything, and he'd decide what to do when the morning came, but until then, too emotionally exhausted to follow through on the thoughts of cracking his own gem but too physically wound up to fall asleep, he just forced himself completely still, completely silent, and just listened to the sound of his own breathing, and let everything he was angry at fade away, including himself.

Chapter Text

The crack of dawn and the familiar sound of happy, carefree birds singing their tune from outside his window was completely unwelcome for the first time, as Steven lay stretched out on his bed, one arm curled over his face and the other over his stomach, fingers digging into the area around his gem. He found himself wracked with thoughts of how he wanted to shut them up, more violent than even he would have expected in that moment, but any guilt he would have - should have - felt was overshadowed immediately by the pulsing, raw anger he was feeling. It was the first sound he'd heard in a while other than his own breathing; the gems had long gone silent from downstairs, and he was able to convince, and somewhat console himself with the idea that they had given up and left. Hours passed just like that, silent and uncomfortable.

Numb.

But that numbness began fading as the sun came up, the chitter-chatter of birds outside succeeding in breaking him away from his emotionless, thoughtless state. Truthfully, he was barely conscious at this point, simply slipping into exhaustion from merely laying there doing absolutely nothing. His eyes felt heavy as he opened them, moving his arm from his face and letting it fall onto the bed beside him with a soft, strained groan. Every movement felt wrong, muscles stiff and aching as he shifted and tried to push himself into a sitting position. Not that he had any intention of leaving the room, or even leaving his bed for that matter, but knowing he might as well move into a slightly more comfortable position now that he was somewhat conscious. Or at least enough to make himself actively move enough to make sure he didn't just end up completely frozen there, and unable to do so otherwise when the need arose.

He moved his hand away from his gem somewhat begrudgingly, lifting his other arm up to hold his stomach instead. He leaned back like that, somewhat propped up against the pillows now, and let himself sink back into the bed once more as he crossed his arm behind his head. The other hand simply curled against his gem again, fingers finding the edges where skin met Diamond and digging in as much as was possible without triggering some horrific flashback. Even now, the pressure was treading into dangerous territory, but the complete, empty numbness had kept his mind from venturing too far, and he struggled to keep it that way.

Steven frowned, just for a second, as his gaze flicked down to his hand. He hated that it was so sensitive to the lightest touch - it hadn't been like that before… before White had…

The teenager stared, slowly using his fingers to peel his shirt up, lifting it up until it revealed his gem. It glittered slightly, reflecting the dim sunlight that was now streaming through the window. He remembered sitting alone that night, looking at it and thinking how perfectly it fit him, how glad he was to have it back in his body again and trying to forget how it had even been out of his body in the first place at the same time. He had just been so happy that it was over, that everything could start getting better again, that he just didn't think about all the trauma he had endured to get to that point. Now, gazing at his gem, he felt nothing but disgust and hatred for it. He didn't want it. He didn't want these powers. He didn't want to deal with what it brought, what it caused, what it was doing to him, he didn't want any part of his mother- he wanted it out.

Steven blinked, tensed, and stared. He wanted… it out. He wanted it gone. He remembered the pain he had felt without it; thinking back now, he realized, of course he had felt so much pain. Like every bone in his body was about to shatter right then and there; he couldn't even get up and walk, because the moment he was up on his feet, his legs literally crumbled under his weight. But it made sense, knowing what he knew now. He hadn't been dying without his gem. He just hadn't had the support and strength that usually came from it anymore. He was feeling all that pain - all that human pain for once - without anything to marr or numb it.

Which made him wonder if he even would have died that day. If he'd ever needed it back.

He pushed himself up one-handed, digging his fingers into his skin now and looking down at his gem. He wondered what would happen to him now, if he didn't have it. Would he be in as much pain as he was then? Would he die? Would that… pink clone of him reappear? He wondered, a lot, about what would happen - but the thing he was mostly interested in was how much it might hurt him. Hell, fuck just cracking his gem; he didn't know if anything could hurt more than the feeling of having his gem ripped from his body, trying to force nearly-shattered bones to move. As he contemplated this, he circled his fingers around the gem again, breathing in shakily and trying to ignore the building pressure as much as was possible. At the moment, all that anger was flooding back in. Angry at the world, angry at his dad, angry at the gems and himself. And he wanted to hurt more than ever, to feel all of that pain in a big, blinding rush. And he couldn't risk changing his mind over what had definitely been a traumatic experience.

So he comforted himself with the thought that he needed this, more than he needed his gem, more than he'd ever needed anything in his life. He needed this, to hurt, to feel something other than the fury and emotional pain churning through him at that moment. And he deserved it. God, he deserved it, more than he could ever begin to describe. Steven breathed in, bracing himself.

And tugged.

Nothing happened, aside from him yanking his hand away from his gem with an audible, choked gasp, and a soft cry of alarm. The feeling had startled him more than he cared to admit, his skin restricting and tightening around the gemstone as he pulled on it, as if it was trying to suck it back into his body on instinct. But it was less the feeling and more the panic that came with it. Not really a flashback, even, he didn't even think back to White Diamond; he just remembered how it had felt, small and helpless in her hand as she pulled his gem out of his body, agonizingly slow, feeling it detach from his skin, the panic and the terror and the pure, utter, hopelessness.

He sobbed, covering his mouth, the sudden flow of emotions finally managing to unravel him. He was shaking now, his hand trembling against his face as he pushed himself forward and wrapped the other one around himself. Nausea rolled in his gut, but he forced it back as much as he could, swallowing hard and breathing in through his nose. Tears rushed to his eyes, stinging, blurring his vision, as he blinked them back and ducked his head with a sigh.

"Stop it-" He snarled at himself, screwing his face up slightly as another sob bubbled to his lips. He swallowed it back down immediately, searching for the anger through the pain - because, in a way, at least it was easier to deal with than anything else. The fury was blinding and… exhilarating and it didn't make Steven want to curl into a ball and hide for the rest of his life. It just made him want to scream his throat raw, made him want to yell and punch the walls and smash things into pieces and watch everything around him crumble. The thoughts scared him for sure, and the visions of what he wanted to do, but right then it was more than welcome. "Stop it, Steven, fucking hell why am I such a little bitch?!" He screamed at himself, and the room rumbled in response, the bed shaking and nearly collapsing underneath him.

He stopped, holding his breath and waiting, but when a few moments passed without any interruption from the gems, he allowed himself to assume that they had left, and slipped right back into his state of fury. "It should be so easy now! I know what I want, I know I deserve it and I need it so why can't I do it?!" He screamed again, this time just letting himself scream, letting the emotions pour out with the sound, before lapsing into silence again, breathing heavily. "It should be so easy," he whispered harshly, "it should be nothing compared to what I've already been through, and I want it this time. So why am I so… afraid…?"

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes again, but this time, the sob that left his lips bordered on a laugh. And then he was laughing, even as more tears welled up, threatening to escape. He just sat there and laughed, the sound bordering on hysterical - hell, it was hysterical - as he rubbed his arm against his face roughly and lifted his head, gasping for air. "Poor pathetic me, right?" He growled, dropping his arms and staring at them for a moment. "Little baby Steven, just a poor scared kid. What a joke…" He narrowed his eyes down at his arms, then slowly lowered his gaze to his stomach, pupils shrinking slightly as he lifted his shirt up again to stare at his gem. His other hand moved up, pressing over it once more, but he didn't make an attempt to do anything again, knowing it would just send him into another fit. He couldn't do it that way.

Not yet.

"Okay then," he muttered. "Let's just get used to the pain then, shall we?" He breathed in and stared for a moment, dropping his shirt, and turned his gaze back to his arms. He turned them over, curling his hands into fists and clenching them silently, letting his nails dig into his palms. He turned pink with very little concentration, managing to direct it to his hands - it was funny, really, he seemed to have better control over his powers when he just let himself be angry… but that wasn't the point now, and he reminded himself as he managed to push the pinkness to his fingertips instead, the nails sinking into soft, pale flesh, cutting through with complete ease.

They went a little deeper than the previous times, and he found himself gasping shakily in response. They stung, they burned, and the pain made tears well up instinctively, stammering and stumbling over nothing in particular - but more or less needing to spit some kind of sound out at the moment - as he struggled, clenching his fists further despite his body's protests.

But, finally, he had to stop - he didn't even know why, the pain was bearable at best compared to everything else he'd been through, but for some reason he just couldn't keep himself going. He loosened his grip and uncurled his fists completely, trembling - and violently so - as he stared down at his hands. Blood trickled down his palms, tickling the skin and making him grimace slightly as he watched. The sting didn't fade, but it was accompanied by an aching feeling, fingers throbbing slightly and his palm just beginning to feel warm as the blood flowed, dripping down the sides of his hands and onto the bed beneath him. For a moment, he couldn't move; he felt numb, he felt cold, he felt like his thoughts were a million miles away and had simply left him behind and he was just sitting there, completely blank, just drowning in nothing.

The loathing returned, the stomach-churning guilt, the feeling of wrongness.

Steven stared down, blinking a few times as he watched the blood, before slowly bringing his hands together. He almost felt numb, would've felt numb, if it wasn't for the anger and guilt clawing through his stomach now. Internally, he felt like a pure, frenzied wreck at this point, a mess of emotions he didn't even know how to begin sorting out. But on the outside, his movements were calm, collected, nearly coordinated as he dug the thumb nail of one hand into the palm of the other, watching but not feeling as it sank into the skin, blood rising up instantly. He couldn't hear anything now, either; the birds had seemingly stopped chirping, the universe had just stopped as if to sit and watch what he was doing, watch in disgust and shame-

He ripped the nail down to the center of his palm, a quick, jagged slice, much deeper than he would have been able to go if his fingers weren't pink. Almost unconsciously, he grew his nails out a bit as well, hardly even thinking about it as they shifted and curved, pulling into a sharp point. This time, pressing them into the skin, he felt the pain immediately rather than a dull, delayed reaction, and somewhat surprised himself by not immediately jerking away.

But he did waver at the sight of the nails, just for a second, a fleeting reminder of White Diamond and one of the things that scared him most about her. Which was even more pathetic, he reminded himself, scolding himself- was he really going to let that get in the way now? Was he really going to let White Diamond pull him away from what he deserved? No. This was pain, pure, unadulterated pain, pain that he was causing himself, in control of for the first time ever. And he was going to step up and give himself what he deserved because nobody else was going to now, now when he needed it, wanted it, craved it more than he ever had, and- and-

Steven finally cried out again, biting his lip, as a rush of white-hot burning pain flushed through his entire left arm, leaving it numb and tingly for a good few seconds before the pain returned. He didn't have to look to know what he'd done, his thoughts finally catching up with him, heart nearly beating out of his chest, as he shrank his nails back to normal and ripped his hand away from his arm, breathing heavily as he looked down. Sure enough, three long, deep scratches - more closely resembling cuts, honestly - ran from his palm, up his forearm, to the inside of his elbow. And they hurt, more than he expected, throbbing and aching and burning.

He hadn't even meant to do that.

He hadn't even known he was doing it.

His thoughts had slipped, spiraled, and for a moment, the surprise almost allowed it to happen again - but he steadied himself quickly enough, sucking in a gasp and holding his breath. He just needed a second, just a second to gather his thoughts again before he continued further. He felt like he was losing his mind, sitting there - hell, he felt like for a little while there, he had.

Finally, he managed to pull himself together enough physically to the point where he felt somewhat comfortable with continuing, despite the pain in his arm not quite letting up - if anything, that in particular was more than welcome. It was nearly blissful, to be honest, and it would have been if it weren't for the sudden guilt churning in the pit of his stomach. Every bit of willingness to continue was simply sucked away with little explanation, except for the stomach-twisting, heart-stopping ache that had overtaken him at that moment. He felt wrong again, like he was doing something wrong. Like the scum of the Earth, like a disgusting brat. The guilt was, if nothing more, enough to make him stop, no longer having the will to go on. But even he didn't know how long that would last, considering that if it was that easy for the rage to snap him into that, then it would definitely happen again. It was only a matter of when.

It was only a matter of if Steven could handle it again, but he didn't know the answer to that. The teenager sank back, exhausted on two different levels, letting the pinkness fade from his fingertips and simply studying the damage he'd done. He felt no real satisfaction just looking at the wounds he had created - the satisfaction more or less came from the realization that he was getting the pain he deserved (not even really the pain itself, just the idea of what it meant) - but even then, that satisfaction just made him feel any worse. It was an endless fucking cycle.

He just didn't know if he could continue doing it to himself any longer, honestly. He wanted to, he really, really wanted to, but he wasn't sure if he had the emotional strength to do so. At least in that moment, he didn't feel like it. But if not me, he mused softly, biting the inside of his cheek, then who? It was a good question. He didn't have the answer to it now.

His arm throbbed again, demanding his attention, so he shut his eyes and just let himself feel the pain of the wounds he had created. His hands felt numb in comparison to his arm - he wasn't even sure how to describe the feeling. It was like hot and cold clashing, but other than that, it just… hurt. In more than one way; it stung, it burned, it ached, it throbbed. It was every type of pain Steven had ever experienced physically rolled into one, lasting longer with each passing second than the hybrid had ever experienced in the first place. It was a welcome distraction, even as the ringing in his ears, the muffled sounds of silence was replaced by the chirping of the birds again, as the universe continued what it had been doing. Steven let himself relax, relieved of the pressure he didn't know was there, giving in to the exhaustion. It didn't yank him under like it had before; rather, it coaxed and tugged, until finally, it took over.


He found himself surrounded in darkness, nothing around him, nothing above him.

The only thing beneath him was glittering, dull pink tiles - cracked pink tiles, he noted blankly as he stared down, eyebrows raising slightly. The sight of them made him tense - it resembled the wall he had created to shatter Jasper far too closely for his liking, and the thought was enough to make him bite down on the inside of his cheek harshly. It hurt, but he was slightly disappointed, and a little surprised, to taste no blood - but he brushed it off quickly, simply assuming he couldn't hurt himself… here. Wherever 'here' was. It was a dream, obviously…

Something stirred in the back of his mind, something  familiar , he'd seen something like this before, but he just couldn't place it. The hybrid frowned, twisting his mouth slightly as he turned his head to look around again. Just darkness, as far as the eye could see, aside from the tiles. But, he noted, curiously, they seemed to glitter more and more the further away they were, glowing slightly, almost reflecting a light from ahead; Steven was moving without his own permission, turning and walking forward to follow the glow with a frown. He might as well investigate, right? Maybe he could figure out why it felt so familiar then.

As he walked, he allowed his gaze to flick down to his arm. It didn't hurt, not here, but the sight was enough to relieve him, somewhat; so he wasn't  healed , and obviously he could be scarred here. Or, at least, the scars carried over - which was good. He reached up, rubbing his thumb over one of the marks and wincing slightly as he did. It wasn't as bad as it had been when he was awake, but he could still feel it somewhat, aching and throbbing at the touch.

And you deserve it,  he reminded himself sharply, but he dropped his hand again and looked up. Getting closer now, he could definitely see something glowing up ahead; something  pink . And, as he got even closer, he realized it was a person - more than that, it looked like him.

Steven stumbled and slowed to a stop, pupils shrinking slightly at the realization. His mind flashed back to White Diamond's ship, Connie holding him close as he just stared ahead at the pink clone that had formed from his gem, and the blank, cold stare he'd received in response. He remembered the fury that had flickered through his chest - not quite his, not really, but the… pink version of him...s? Whatever. Either way, he had been  furious , furious with everyone around them; White Diamond, especially. Hell, he'd looked about ten seconds away from shattering her on the spot, her and everyone else, anyone else who got in his way.

Just because he wanted to.

Just because he could.

Steven grimaced, staring for a moment. The pink clone hadn't noticed him; looking more closely, he realized he seemed to be struggling with something, scowling and grunting as he struggled to lift his arms up above his head. It was more emotion than Steven expected to see from him, honestly. The only time that… blank, emotionless expression on his face had vanished at all back then was when they were spinning around, laughing, happy and carefree and…

The teenager faltered, lowering his hand to his stomach, and grimaced. Back then, he'd just wanted his gem back. Now he wanted it gone. Now he wanted  him  gone.

The pink clone tensed suddenly, and Steven tried not to flinch when it turned its head. The second it saw him, it whirled around, pupils shrinking slightly in surprise as it reeled back. It couldn't get too far, though - and Steven realized why rather quickly, as well as what it had been struggling with this whole time. It was chained, both of it's wrists locked in cuffs. Cuffs that looked more like bubbles… spiked, jagged bubbles, but still bubbles. The chains were wound together, and Steven let his gaze trail down and down along with them to where they vanished into the floor beneath them. The tiles were cracked, worse than they were anywhere else; they looked damn near close to shattering, in all honesty, and he couldn't say he was surprised.

But  now  he recognized it.

He remembered standing face to face with Lapis, confused and concerned as she struggled with chains of her own. He remembered her being yanked under a puddle of water, Jasper appearing, ready to attack him; he remembered them battling, long and hard, for control over the fusion they created together, both of them trapped, both of them miserable.

He lifted his gaze back to the pink clone's, and blinked. It was just staring at him, staring in shock, wide-eyed, open-mouthed; but it seemed to pull itself together quickly enough, only wavering for a second before its expression settled into… not quite blankness, but something more akin to a mild sense of curiosity, rather than the shock that had been written across its face moments before. Steven grimaced a little bit himself, not knowing whether to turn away or walk forward. On one hand, something inside of him ached to sympathize; the rest of him felt oddly cold, oddly satisfied, seeing his gem half so… trapped. Pushed down as far as possible. Just like he wanted it to be.

The curiosity on his pink clone's face fizzled out rather quickly then, a briefly exhausted look replacing it instead. "Good to see you too, Steven…" It muttered, and turned away once again, yanking sharply at the chains and lifting its arms above its head once again.

Sympathy and hatred still battling for control in his chest, Steven could only stare for a moment, just watching it struggle, before finally braving a half-step forward. It paused to look back at him for a second, seeming almost… uneasy with his presence, but it merely quirked an eyebrow at him before turning back to what it was doing, so Steven continued forward carefully, studying the cracks in the tiles for a moment before looking back down at the chains.

He swallowed, fighting to push down the guilt, and shook his head. He looked back up at the pink clone, staring for a moment. It - he - didn't look… completely identical to Steven, upon closer inspection. The hair, for one, was definitely different; it more so resembled the hairstyle he'd adopted during his time with Jasper, just a little less… poofy. Otherwise, though, they certainly looked similar aside from the fact that his pink clone was glowing pink, but even that, Steven mused, could most certainly be remedied if he got angry enough. He pushed down the amusement he felt at the thought, simply directing his attention back to the… other him, and continued to study him even long after he finally dropped his hands, giving in, and turned back to Steven silently, eyebrows raising slightly as if to say 'what?'.

"... hi," Steven greeted after a moment, and the pink clone's eyebrows raised even further. His lips twitched, though, not quite forming a smile, but something close to it regardless. That, above everything, surprised Steven a little more. He just seemed tired, not even angry or blank like Steven remembered seeing him; it was kind of hard to believe it was the same being.

"Salutations," his pink clone drawled after a moment. "I apologize if I'm a bit distracted right now, I'm a little… tied up, currently." Emphasizing his words, he offered a light tug to one of the chains, and Steven's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise, and a little bit of disbelief.

He didn't quite understand - here was this pink clone of him, his gem half in all of its glory, chained up and trapped within a part of Steven where he assumed he must have just been… unconsciously pushing him down into, cracking jokes for… no real reason at all. Steven didn't really get it; angry as he was, a lot of that rage was beginning to fizzle out to some odd sense of intrigue, a weird longing to know more, to start to understand. Of course, the rest of him simply felt more or less indifferent to it; so what? It was his gem half. The part of him he didn't ask for, and that he didn't want. He shouldn't even be here with him anyway, right? Steven had never asked for this, he'd never wanted this, and it didn't matter if this part of him was trapped.

He  wanted  this part of him to stay as far away from him as possible.

Still, even as he told himself this, he continued to stare. Trying to connect the dots, put the pieces together, as much as possible anyway. It wasn't an easy thing to do, especially when a part of him didn't even want to in the first place. He was so…  so  deeply conflicted right then, and in all honesty, it was starting to piss him off more than he wanted to admit.

"Tough crowd," the pink clone mumbled.

Steven offered an unamused snort and redirected his gaze to the chains again, pursing his lips and twisting them into a frown once again. It was getting harder and harder to look at the other him, the Diamond he could be if all that power consumed him; at least, that's what he saw this… pepto bismol clone as anyway. He had from the minute he'd appeared, the minute he'd screamed at White with all his rage, all his fury, all his power. He was a Diamond.

"You really know how to flatter someone," the pink Steven was still muttering, despite Steven's best efforts to tune him out. "I like to think I'm a bit better than them, though. At least I'm not some oversized space Hitler - but we all have our flaws, I suppose." After a pause, he began tugging at the chains again, bracing himself on the ground beneath them and leaning back as he pulled and grunted, teeth clenching together. "I don't like them."

Thoroughly snapped out of his thoughts now, Steven turned an intrigued stare to his gem half, eyebrows raising slightly at his words. Not that he was too surprised, of course. He wasn't too fond of the Diamonds himself, not that he'd admit it aloud, but he guessed that this pink clone of his wasn't as willing to lie about it and pretend that he did. In response to these thoughts, his gem half snorted out a chuckle, which seemed to surprise him almost as much as it did Steven. "We're not exactly the same, you know," his pink clone told him, twisting and tugging again. "I find there's many more differences between the two of us than you acknowledge."

"Really?" Steven crossed his arms, remembering the wounds a little too late, and cringed slightly as he immediately pulled them apart, breathing in shakily. At this, his gem half froze completely, stopping what he was doing and turning his head to look at Steven, then at his arm.

"... many more differences," he repeated himself, eyes narrowing down at the scars, which Steven turned his arm over to hide almost at once, cheeks flushing - not with embarrassment, but more so with anger, cheeks turning pink and lingering for a moment before he managed to push it back down. His gem half sighed, stepping toward him, but Steven reeled back and stepped away quickly before he could reach him, eyes narrowing warningly. "I don't approve of this," he told him, gesturing toward the hybrid's arm, and Steven narrowed his eyes further.

"Good for you," he sneered, "I don't give a fuck."

"There's another difference," his gem half responded simply, and Steven narrowed his eyes furiously in response, opening his mouth to respond. His face screwed up, lips curling back in a briefly volatile expression, ready to spit as much hatred toward… well, basically himself, as he had toward everyone else so far. But the pink clone turned away before he could spit out another word, his mouth having long settled into a deep, concentrated frown as he began tugging again, slowly and steadily building up pressure once more and straining at the chains.

"So what are you doing?" Steven asked after a moment, hostility slowly fizzling out to intrigue once again as he stared at the chains, watching as they pulled taut under the pressure his gem half was applying as he pulled. To be honest, he was somewhat surprised they hadn't given. And he also felt a little stupid for asking, since it was quite obvious exactly what he was doing.

Patient as ever, his pink clone paused and looked up at him, momentarily stopping his tugging again before continuing, shifting one foot forward and digging it slightly into the floor beneath him as he rolled his shoulders back and yanked. "Trying to get free."

"And…" Steven flicked his gaze to where the chains disappeared into the floor, raising his eyebrows slightly. The cracks were spreading, but the chains held as steady as ever, even as his pink clone began grunting again with the effort it was taking him to continue pulling them. "How's that working out for you so far?" At this, his gem half laughed - if only slightly, and somewhat breathlessly - as he stopped tugging at the chains, giving them a long, thoughtful look before he turned back to Steven, lips twitching slightly, eyebrows raising.

"Not too well, I'll admit."

Steven folded his arms again, this time being careful to mind the scratches, and frowned back at his pink clone skeptically. "So, what, you're trying to take control, or whatever?" After a second, his pupils shrank slightly at a sudden realization, and his gem half - who already seemed to know what he was thinking before he spoke anyway - simply sighed and rolled his eyes to the side before Steven had managed to spit out, "wait a second, is that why my powers are-?"

"No, no, no." His pink clone shook his head, curls bouncing with the movement, and jerked his head back sharply to move his hair out of his face again as he sighed. "Believe me, Steven, I have absolutely no control over you, nor your powers. And that's not what I'm intending either," he added before Steven could open his mouth to protest, and the teenager narrowed his eyes slightly in response, equal measures distrusting and confused. "All I want is to simply be free of the chains. I was content just sitting down here before…" He trailed off, his eyes steadily lowering toward the chains, and then flicking back up to Steven - but they didn't rest on his face, instead silently focusing on his arm for a good few seconds before he looked away again.

Steven could have sworn he looked worried, but it did nothing to stifle the slight fury that was brewing in his chest. If anything, it only made it worse; yet another person that was worried about him, and this one happened to be himself. How pathetic…

"I'm not you, Steven," his gem half muttered, and Steven paused.

"Well, that's for sure," he replied thoughtfully after a moment, tilting his head toward the chains. His pink clone glanced back up, quirking an eyebrow slightly at him, as Steven continued, "I would've definitely broken out of those by now." He wasn't sure what drew him to taunt his pink… 'twin' would be a better word now, he supposed, since he apparently 'wasn't him', but either way, there was just… something. Something about him that put Steven on edge. Something about him that he hated; and, looking him in the eyes, deep down, he knew what it was. So maybe this pink, glowing gem wasn't exactly him per se.

But it was still a part of him. The part of him he hated the most. Maybe that was why it was so easy to lose himself in the loathing brewing in his gut, and the anger clawing through his chest. To his credit, though, his pink look-alike only offered a thoughtful expression for a moment before shrugging, lips twitching once again, tugging upwards into a half-smile. "Perhaps."

Steven opened his mouth to reply, slightly annoyed now despite himself, but the words died on his tongue before they'd even begun. It was short, and fast, and barely even noticeable, but his pink twin's eyes had suddenly shifted, pinprick pupils morphing into diamond shapes. It was startling enough to make him stagger back in surprise, and a little bit of horror too, as he stared back at him. His gem half blinked, the diamond pupils disappearing as quickly as they had appeared, and for only a second, he managed to look confused before the realization set in.

The hybrid curled his hands into fists, not even knowing what to say at this point, but that hatred brewing in his chest had completely imploded at that point, shifting into a burning, boiling fury even he couldn't begin to describe. He itched to react, to  attack , even, every instinct screaming at him to do just that. His cheeks flushed pink again, this time consuming him completely, and his pink look-alike nearly flinched as he watched, screwing his eyes shut and looking for all the world like he was kicking himself, muttering something under his breath that Steven didn't catch.

He did speak up, though, the words not quite what Steven was expecting, but still not enough to snap him out of his rage. "Way to make a good first impression… jeez…"

Steven didn't say anything for a moment, just clenched his fists a little tighter and tried to remember how to breathe. It had startled him, it had pissed him off for reasons he couldn't even begin to understand. At this point, everything was pissing him off - every little, tiny thing, and it was kinda starting to scare him. Even then, though, he managed to force himself to take a few more steps back - knowing that, otherwise, he probably would end up attacking - and rolled his shoulders back slightly, lowering his arms and forcing his fists to uncurl as much as possible.

"I apologize for that," his pink twin told him simply, raising his arms above his head once more and offering another sharp tug to the chains. "I can't quite control it." After a pause, he added, "most of the time, at least."

The teenager shook his head again, finally managing to take a deep breath, and he held it for a moment before letting it out in a huff. The anger faded, as did the pinkness, leaving him relieved but confused at the same time, and still somewhat irritated above it all. "... what even are y-"

"Steven?"


Steven practically sprung upwards, almost falling out of his bed in the process. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light, cringing and shielding them out of instinct, having still expected to only see the faint, somewhat dull glow of pink in a world of darkness. But instead, of course, he saw sunlight - a blinding amount, making him curse himself for not drawing the shades before he had laid down anyway - and… his room. He had back in his room. It had been a dream- one he would have questioned the reality of if he hadn't known of his pink twin's existence prior. Then again, it had been a fairly odd dream anyway… and considering that his gem half was suddenly more capable of feeling than Steven remembered him to be, he couldn't help but question if it had been real at all. But he saved those thoughts for later - mostly because, before he could delve too deep into them, someone was knocking on his door.

"Steven…?" He sucked in a gasp that didn't come back out as the voice registered, every part of him turning to ice, heart dropping straight to his stomach. He felt nauseous almost at once, clasping one hand over his mouth only to yank it back sharply again at the taste of blood, spitting slightly and shaking his head a little as he struggled to compose himself. "Steven, come on, I know you're awake. I can hear you. And also it's eight o' clock and I also know that your body is practically hardwired to wake itself up at at least seven thirty in the morning anyway."

Fuck, fuck, fuck, Steven scrambled to his feet, looking back down at the bed for a moment. His mind was racing, his heart was racing, and he really shouldn't have stood up so fast holy hell he felt about ten seconds away from passing out on the spot. And, oh, how amazing it would be to just curl up right then and there, on the floor, and just somehow make himself disappear. At this point, he wanted nothing more than for some black hole to just open up and suck him in, because even that would be more pleasurable than having to deal with who was outside his bedroom door at that current moment - as well as what she might think upon entering, seeing the blood that was still staining the blanket, and the blood that had long dried on his palms and his arms. Sure, the wounds could be easily taken care of - reluctantly, but easily - but it wasn't like he could kiss the blood away even then, and he certainly couldn't get it off of the blanket.

Even then, though, those concerns felt further away than the biggest one, the one screaming right in his ears, the name repeating in his head over and over and over again until he felt just about ready to rip them off himself just to stop hearing it. Connie, Connie, Connie.

"Connie?" He echoed the thoughts weakly, putting his head in his hands for a second and just struggling to get his thoughts in order again.

"Yeah, it's me! Are you gonna open up or what?" Her voice was playful at best, but still marred with concern, and he screwed his eyes shut and silently cursed everyone else - his father, the gems, whoever had told Connie whatever they must have told her, and whoever had let her up here in the first place, because holy shit, if there was anything he wasn't ready to deal with…

"Uh…" The teenager swallowed, still holding his head, and stared down at the bed for a moment. "... just- just- … just a second…"

It was this.

Chapter Text

It took longer than Steven wanted to admit for him to be able to spring to action.

He was still panicked, frozen like a deer in headlights for quite some time before he managed to move, heading for his bed first and foremost. Greg had freaked out, seeing something that Steven had managed to pass off as accidental. He couldn't imagine Connie's reaction now to seeing something that most certainly was not an accident by any means, and it was all too obvious. The scars on his palms were jagged and unsteady, for sure, but they were still definitely deliberate, as were the ones on his arms - despite having not completely realizing he'd been doing it by the time it had been over with anyway. And he knew, if she saw blood, she'd demand to see a wound and know how it had happened anyway, and he did not have the mental capacity at that moment to come up with an excuse that Connie fucking Maheswaran was going to believe, so yes, he needed to make sure no questions were asked, nothing was seen, and Connie remained completely satisfied and content as long as she was there.

He balled the blanket up, shifting it and folding it in hopes that the blood wouldn't show, but it had seeped through to the other side anyway - and more than that, it had seeped into the sheet as well, and most likely the mattress, since he had really thin sheets… panicking again, he ended up dropping the blanket back onto his bed, almost running his fingers through his hair before remembering the blood on his hands and managing to pull back just in time. Okay, he couldn't get rid of his entire fucking bed - not in the amount of time he should be opening the door, at least - without Connie getting suspicious, so… so… maybe if he just didn't let her in the room! He didn't know how to explain why he didn't want her in the room, of course, but he'd figure that out. Maybe say he was hungry, lead her down to the kitchen. Dammit, that meant he'd actually have to eat something, though, and he wasn't hungry, but… ugh, sacrifices.

That still left the scars and the blood on his arms, though. Steven stared down at his hands for a moment, reluctantly bringing them up to kiss both of them in turn, and trying to rub the blood away to the best of his ability. But, of course, it had long dried, crusted against his hands, and while he managed to pick off a few flakes, there was very little he could do otherwise. He turned his attention to his arm, and hesitated for a moment, faltering slightly. He didn't want to…

His gaze flicked down to his jacket, then back to his arm, then back to his jacket again. The scars still ran all the way to his palm, but maybe he could heal only… part of them? He hesitated, licking his thumb - and grimacing at the taste of the blood - and carefully reaching down to run it over one of the scars, cursing slightly as it ended up closing the wound entirely. There were still two more, though, so he pulled his hand away and just forced himself to think, think as much as he could. Maybe he could say he got hurt on Homeworld. Or he could heal the wounds, but he didn't know if he'd be able to do anything else to himself later on, with how shaken it had made him earlier. Neither of these were pleasurable options; he still ran the risk of Connie simply not believing him, or the gems arriving again or already being there and insisting that he hadn't been hurt at all when he'd gotten back. He really didn't want to heal himself, to get rid of the pain so soon, but at this point, he didn't think he had much of a choice in the matter. It was either that or deal with Connie's questions - and possibly snap at her - so…

So he sucked it up and raised his arm, kissing the other two scars away and watching as they closed up, as the pain faded into nothing. There. Of course, the blood was still an issue, but if he managed to keep her distracted until they got downstairs, he could excuse himself to the bathroom and wash it off before she knew. He bit his lip, turning on his heel to face the door. But he knelt down to pick up his jacket before anything - simply because it would make it easier to hide the blood anyway. He shrugged it on slowly, careful not to rub any of the blood off onto the fabric, despite it having already dried - he didn't want to take his chances with it. He adjusted the sleeves over his hands, pocketing the messier one and studying the other one carefully before finally bracing himself, braving himself enough to approach the door hesitantly.

He didn't want to do this.

Too bad.

He drew in a shuddery sigh, going over his plan again silently as he reached to open the door, making sure to keep his hand out of sight as much as possible as he pulled it open. Connie looked up at once, her previously anxious expression fizzling out to relief, but even that abruptly vanished when she got a good look at his face. It took everything Steven had not to turn away and close the door again, and even some strength he didn't have to be able to lift his expression into a smile in hopes of consoling her somewhat, to the best of his ability. "Hey, Connie…"

His breath hitched on her name this time, his voice trying to fail him for a good few seconds before he managed to drag it back, before his throat could close up and leave him speechless. Through all the numbness and defeat and exhaustion, he felt somewhat determined not to end this interaction in the way the others had gone; he wasn't going to cry on her shoulder, but he wasn't going to yell and snap at her and basically tell her to fuck off either. Yes, it was hard to look at her - so, so much harder than he thought it would be, really, and he felt positively stupid for it even being a problem in the first place, considering everything else that was going on - and being able to continue talking was going to be a problem if the way this was going now was any indication, but he was just hoping he could summon the rest of what little strength and control he had left to be able to get through this interaction with as few hitches as possible.

"You've been gone for four days and all I get is a hey?" Connie asked lightly, worried brown eyes flicking across his face carefully before her gaze met his once again. The frown that tugged at her lips was masked with a smile, nearly as forced as his was, and he found his own faltering just because of that. Because now he was forcing her to put up a front, too. Still, a part of him, a part he despised, was glad for it, because as long as she was pretending, then it made it all the more easier for him to do the same. So much for 'not pretending everything was fine'. But then again, at this point, he didn't see an alternative choice.

Regardless, he knew what she was implying - but he didn't feel comfortable enough to oblige, especially not with the blood on his hands, so he only offered a sheepish smile. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize," Connie insisted, and the smile melted from her face at once, brows pinching together across her forehead - she kind of looked like Priyanka when she made that expression at him, he mused - as she tilted her head at him, taking a slight step forward. Steven tensed, hand tightening around the doorknob, holding his breath and praying to a God he didn't believe in that he wouldn't turn pink. He just didn't want to turn pink. Please don't let me turn pink. It's just that I haven't spoken to you since the hospital and… I wanted to check in. I've been calling you for days, I sent so many text messages…" Her frown deepened, those usually sparkling brown eyes of hers devoid of any of their usual excitement or spark, just filled with pure, absolute concern as she gazed up at him. "Steven, are you okay?"

… it took about thirty seconds for him to remind himself not to break.

It was getting harder and harder to hold himself together around her. She was chipping away at every already-fragile defense he had up, most likely without even knowing it. It wasn't easy to keep his composure around somebody he had usually been the most open with. Even Greg, he had stopped confiding in about gem stuff - but from the very beginning, Connie had been the one he could talk to about most of the things in his life. Yes, some things he found were better unsaid, but Connie still seemed to find a way to weasel it out of him one way or another. But it always just made him feel worse later on, for dumping everything on her in the first place. He didn't know if he could take any more guilt at this point; the amount already ripping him apart from the inside out was already driving him crazier and crazier by the second.

Gentle flames flickered behind his eyes, stinging and burning and making him ache, every part of him, every bone, vein, muscle. But he fought it back, breathed in, and smiled again.

"I'm just tired," he dismissed quickly - which, yes, wasn't a total lie, and he hadn't outright said that he was okay, so he wasn't lying at all! So he continued, a little more confident now. "It's been… it's been a rough few days, I guess, that's all. Did my Dad call you?" Ah, there it was. The bitterness he'd tried a little too hard not to show, it was hard to miss. It tainted his voice, laced his words like poison the moment his lips had formed the word 'Dad', spitting hatred like venom. It was enough to render Connie speechless for a second, as his best friend just stared back at him in complete surprise for quite some time before she managed to open her mouth.

"No, I… I was talking to Pearl last night. She said you'd just gotten back from Homeworld, but you weren't feeling well." Connie was peering at him again, searching for something under the smile he had put up, something that Steven feared wasn't hidden enough at all. He shifted slightly, twisting the doorknob sharply. "So I rode Lion over this morning, but the gems weren't here so I thought I'd come up here to check on you anyway to see if…"

Steven closed his eyes and breathed out shakily in relief upon hearing that the gems weren't there, his facade cracking and crumbling at once. He just couldn't deal with them today. He was also glad that Greg hadn't spoken to Connie either. He didn't need him spilling everything…

"Okay, well, I'm-" Steven stumbled over his words a little, blinking his eyes open. "I'm here. And… I'm kind of hungry, why don't we head downstairs?" He shuffled forward finally, offering Connie another smile in an effort to redirect her attention as he quickly pulled the door shut behind him and shoved his hand into his pocket, holding his breath for a moment. She didn't seem to notice anything other than his obviously strained smile, but that, he could deal with. But he still hesitated, somewhat reluctant to even put himself in her line of sight in the first place - any more than was necessary, at least - but eventually he braced himself and walked past her, reminding himself to breathe as he headed down the stairs. She followed, of course, with only a split second of hesitation, still seeming unsure, and now a little bit startled by his apparent display of… hostility toward his father, something he most certainly had never expressed.

"Did something happen between you and Greg?"

Steven tensed slightly at that, exhaling shakily in relief as he reached the bottom of the stairs, and making a direct route to the bathroom. Jasper wasn't in the house either - well, he was sure Connie would have mentioned her if she had been - but he still couldn't help the tingle of relief. All he needed to do was get to the bathroom now. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. He clenched his fists in his pockets, vaguely aware his cheeks were turning pink now, and he had never been more grateful to have his back turned to Connie than he was then. "Uh, just give me a sec, I gotta use the bathroom," he called over his shoulder, twisting one hand a little before reluctantly pulling it out of his pocket to open the door making sure to keep it angled away from her so that she wouldn't see the blood. He managed to get it open without smearing any onto the doorknob, too, so that was good. He didn't look back to see her expression, nor to acknowledge her slight, bewildered protests, accompanied by the worry that had only intensified tenfold when he proved incapable of answering her question at the moment. Well- not quite incapable, but incapable of doing so without either snapping or cursing Greg out again, neither of which he wanted to do specifically toward Connie. So… yeah, basically incapable?

He shut the door behind him and breathed for a second, hardly daring to believe for a second that that had even worked. He had gotten through the first part of the interaction - now if he could only keep things running as smoothly as they had been thus far, maybe Connie would be the only one he'd spoken to recently that didn't end in a big blowout argument or him sobbing.

… granted, he doubted any interactions with Jasper after their fight would end in either of these things (he was not going to even allow himself to be around her enough to snap at her - not that his guilt would allow him to do such anyway - and Jasper wasn't the type of person to just stand there and let him cry in the first place) but regardless, the orange gem didn't really count on that aspect anyway, because Steven was doing his best to avoid her as much as possible. Not that he wasn't trying to avoid Connie, but he was definitely making a more active effort to not have to be around Jasper specifically above everyone else, for both of their sakes.

"God, I'm a mess," he whispered, crossing the bathroom in a few quick strides to reach the sink.

He didn't look at his reflection this time, despite knowing the mirror was still cracked. He simply turned the water on, cringing slightly at how loud it was and taking the chance to lean over and flush the toilet while he could, an attempt to muffle the noise from the faucet so he could draw as little suspicion as possible. With that done, he wasted no time in slathering soap onto his hands and scrubbing them as hard as he could under the water, practically melting against the sink in relief as he watched the rest of the flakes peel off, swirling down the drain and disappearing completely. Once he was satisfied - checking his hands over several times just to make sure he had gotten the blood off - he slowly shrugged his jacket off and set to work on his arm. It was hard to do, especially without using a towel or rag, but he knew better than to risk leaving any extra evidence. He already had his bed to take care of later as it was.

Regardless, he finished that up as quickly as possible before finally grabbing a towel to dry his hands and arms off with, once he was satisfied there was no blood to be left behind on the fabric. Then he checked the sink over, making sure it was still clean, before finally turning the water off and grabbing his jacket again, pulling it back on one arm at a time and sighing softly.

Was he ready? No, not really, but at least now he could avoid any confrontation about his… what would he even call it? A habit? A… problem? 'Problem' seemed more accurate, but it also implied something was wrong with him - which, of course it was, he was hurting himself here, something had to be wrong - but he still wasn't quite ready to admit it to that extent, even to himself, so for the time being, he decided it might be best to go with 'habit' instead. He did take the time to double check, looking his hands over carefully and then rolling his sleeve up to inspect his arm, but he pulled it back down once he was satisfied with his inspection, adjusting himself accordingly before finally moving forward to open the door again, stepping out and breathing in slowly as he tried to steady himself, and the anxiety rolling through him like thunder.

Connie was sitting at the counter, phone in hand, frowning down at it as she typed away, and Steven couldn't help but falter for a second. His first thought, of course, was that maybe she was texting Greg. But, not wanting to think of his father right then - lest he turned pink from his fury just from the thought of the man - he turned his thoughts in another direction. Staring at her phone, his thoughts suddenly turned in the direction of her study break alarm. Her school stuff. She was here with him, when she should be at home studying. Steven breathed in shakily, fighting back against the guilt only briefly before just letting it consume him, staring at her miserably for a good few seconds. She didn't deserve to have to worry about him. Not now.

But her gaze flicked up, fixing on him as he slowly shut the door behind him, and he willed his sorrowful expression away. Blinking a few times, he managed to plaster a slightly shaky smile onto his face, having very little time to prepare himself as he inched forward, walking around the counter to get to the fridge and taking in a deep breath. Her gaze followed him, offering a smile of her own, though it didn't reach her eyes like it used to. Usually when she smiled at him, he could see it light up her entire face like a switch had been flipped; her eyes seemed to sparkle, brighter than any star Steven had ever seen. And she still had childlike dimples sometimes, too.

Now it was strained, no sparkle in her eyes, just a quiet sense of serenity, a worry Steven wished would just disappear already. He longed to turn the clock back to when everything was simple, back when all they had to be was Jam Buds and nothing more. Back before they saved the galaxy together, before they started drifting apart as Steven was shipped off to Homeworld, and Connie started her school stuff. It seemed like the universe was just turning the tides for both of them, sending Connie floating in one direction and Steven in the other, and he was still reaching out to try and get back to her while she was letting it carry her along effortlessly, excited for the path it would take her down. As for Steven, he was fighting against the current with all his might - but his will to fight slipped sometimes, and every so often he'd let it take him a little further each time, gaining distance from the ones that were flowing in the opposite direction, and being sucked further and further down the path of his own. Inescapable.

Steven opened the fridge and tried to ignore her stare burning into the back of his head, breathing in shakily and giving everything inside a quick once-over. "Are you hungry?"

"No, I'm fine," Connie replied quickly, putting the phone down and turning the screen over so that she couldn't see it. Steven hummed, glancing back at her hesitantly before turning away again and looking through the fridge once more. He didn't even know what he wanted to eat; he wasn't hungry, he had absolutely no appetite, and to be honest, the idea of eating anything just made him sick, as opposed to the indifference he had felt toward it the day before. But he had trapped himself in the lie already by telling Connie he was hungry, so he might as well… "Steven, are you sure you're okay…? You just seem really…"

The fridge rattled as Steven tightened his grip, and Connie's words only trailed for a second.

"... tense."

The teenager didn't answer for a moment, not really having an answer to that. A big part of him wanted to tell her that of course he was tense after what had happened between them, but that… wasn't really something he wanted to bring up right then. So he simply reached into the fridge, getting some things out to make a salad; he didn't want to make anything else, and he figured he'd have a better chance at keeping down a salad than anything else at the moment, so that was his best bet anyway. He paused, pulling the dressing out and studying the bottle for a moment before turning away to grab a bowl out of the cabinet. "Like I said, I'm just tired."

"Well, yeah, but…" Connie continued to stare at him, still trying to figure it out, put the pieces together, to understand what was going on inside his head. And he knew, he could tell; that was the look she got on her face when she was trying to figure out a puzzle. He had sat down and watched her for hours, putting pieces together, admiring how concentrated and serious she could get when she worked. "You haven't outright said you're okay. I don't expect you to be, obviously, but I'm just…" She studied him again, finally meeting his gaze again as he turned back to the counter. "Have you still been having trouble with glowing pink and swelling up?"

Steven put the bowl down, along with the lettuce and salad dressing, and turned back to the fridge to see if they had any tomatoes. He found it a little easier to answer when his back was turned to her, so she couldn't see the look on his face, couldn't see the way he faltered, the plastic smile dropping to a tired frown as he rummaged through the fridge. "No… well, not swelling up, anyway…" He trailed off, trying to think, but so far he could only remember swelling up briefly at Homeworld, but even that hadn't been too extreme. Actually, that kind of surprised him - he was more stressed out than ever these days. But, deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, he simply turned his attention back to the conversation. "I guess I've still kinda been turning pink, but it's… it's nothing serious now," he added hastily, wincing slightly. Well, the pinkness wasn't a problem at least. If yesterday was any indication, anyways; after all, he had gone completely off on his father without the pinkness even being in effect.

Then, at the same time, he couldn't help but think that even in all his rage yesterday, his anger had been much easier to… control? Because, unlike other times, he had just let himself feel the fury. But he had managed to walk away from the conversation in the end, still just letting himself seethe, mind clouded with anger but clearer than it had been in a long time. And now it made him wonder, for a second, if the whole turning pink thing could be related to him trying to stifle his fury. Like his body wanted a release of all the tension it had built up all his life.

He pulled the tomatoes out of the fridge and frowned, putting them down on the counter and turning back to grab the cutting board and a knife to slice them with. A lot of effort for a salad he didn't even want, for sure, and if anyone else but Connie was there with him, he would've just eaten lettuce and salad dressing - but he knew she'd end up saying something, because he knew she knew he loved tomatoes with his salad. Today was probably the only day in his life he had cursed himself over a thousand times for the fact that Connie knew him so fucking well, sometimes a little better than he even knew himself. He pulled one of the tomatoes out of the bag and set it down on the board, holding it carefully with one hand and making a quick, clean slice, chopping off part of the outside and sliding the skin out of the way before cutting out another slice from the part he'd just chopped off. It was almost satisfying…

Steven stared at the knife, cutting off another slice. The motion was almost mesmerizing, and he found himself staring a little more than he would have liked. It reminded him of the sight of his nails digging into his flesh, the red blood rising up around his finger as it cut through skin.

He stared, more than he wanted to.

"Do you think you need to go back to the hospital?" Connie's voice forced him out of his own thoughts, but it was startling enough to make him jump - not because she had spoken, but because of her words. The knife jerked sharply as it came down for another slice, just barely cutting part of his finger, and he immediately dropped it and the tomato to jerk his hands back. It took a second for the pain to register; it was just a simple, small slice across his index finger, but it had gone about as deep as his nails had dug into his arms earlier, just in one quick slash.

And it hurt.

But it didn't hurt any more than his arm had, and the pain was a very, very welcome distraction. All good things had to come to an end, though, evidently, because it wasn't too long before Connie was up and on her feet, rushing over to him in alarm and horror. She had reached his side before he could manage to open his mouth and assure her that he was okay, throat restricting before the words could turn into anything but mumbled, stammering reassurances. "Oh my god, Steven, are you okay?"

Finally finding his voice, he pulled his hand closer to him in an attempt to shield the wound from her, not wanting to freak her out any further. "I'm okay- I'm fine," he told her, sticking his finger in his mouth - and cringing a little at the taste of blood, which at this point, he was more used to than he felt like he should have been. But the cut healed just as quickly as the other ones had, and he quickly dropped his hand and offered her a smile, more frantic and desperate than he'd ever been for her to fall into it and believe that he was okay, because at this point, he needed her to believe it. He needed her to ask no questions; it had been a genuine accident and he knew, of course, she would believe that if nothing else from how quickly it had happened, and how startled he had been by it. He just didn't want them to stay on the topic any more than necessary, because he didn't know how long he'd be able to keep his 'habit' to himself. Steven had never been good at keeping secrets - especially not when it came to Connie.

He turned away as she reached for him, turning toward the sink and turning the faucet on, putting his hand under the water and letting it wash away the blood. He was quicker to dry it off this time, making sure his hand was clean before turning back and showing her, offering another shaky, tight smile, less frantic, but still desperate. "There, see? I'm all good. Just a little cut." He huffed out a laugh, not knowing whether to be surprised by how genuine it sounded, or just glad. "I should really be more careful with knives, I guess. And pay attention more- it was my fault. But I'm all good now. Sorry." He stepped back over to the counter, ignoring her puzzled look.

"Well, I'm glad you're- you're okay, but… you don't have to apologize." Connie turned and stepped up beside him, watching him carefully as he picked the knife back up. He continued slicing with a little more caution this time, but it didn't seem to make Connie feel any better. He could still feel her stare fixed on his hands, just watching in concern, which only put him on edge. Well, more than he already was at least - it wasn't like he'd been able to relax anyway. "But, seriously," she spoke up before he could start slicing again, and he paused, somewhat wondering if it was wise to have a knife in his hand anymore with the way the conversation seemed to be heading, despite his efforts to have dodged the question. "Do you think you need to go back to the hospital? You just- you don't look so well. And if you're still glowing pink…"

"Connie, I'm fine," Steven insisted, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath. He turned the knife over, rubbing the blood off of the blade with his thumb. "Like I said, it's not serious. And I don't wanna bother your Mom- besides, we… we already established that she can't help, so…"

Connie hesitated at this, folding her arms over the counter, and stared down for a few moments before she spoke again. "Steven, you really don't think it was because-?"

"No," Steven nearly snapped, more or less in an attempt to get the word out before she could continue. Connie didn't flinch, but she grimaced as she looked up at him; after a moment, letting loose a slow, surprisingly steady sigh, the teenager carefully put the knife back down and turned his attention back to the lettuce and the bowl, deciding it was safer to work on that part before he did anything else. Or maybe he was just stalling so he didn't have to eat. Even he didn't know at this point, if he was being completely honest here. "I told you, it was everything that happened before. Your Mom said it was because my body can't handle stress now or something like that, so now I turn pink and swell up over minor inconveniences. I've got it mostly under control, though," he added quickly before she could say anything else, exhaling sharply.

Connie didn't seem entirely convinced, but, despite her doubtful gaze, she simply nodded. "... if you say so," she said quietly, returning her gaze to watch him work on the salad, ripping pieces of lettuce leaves and dropping them into the bowl with a frown. "Well, either way… what about you and your Dad? You just seemed pretty upset when you mentioned him earlier, and I-"

"I don't-" Steven froze, clenching his hands around the lettuce leaves. They crumbled against his palms, practically grinding into dust as he glared down into the bowl through narrowed eyes, not even bothering to disguise his complete and utter disdain for the subject - and his father for that matter - since Connie had already seen how 'upset' (god, it was such an understatement, and he hated that she felt like she had to soften the punches at all) he was at the mere mention of Greg in the first place. "I don't want to talk about my- I don't wanna talk about him, Connie." He managed to force his fists to uncurl, dropping the crushed pieces of lettuce into the bowl. "I don't even want to think about him right now." He hissed out a sigh through his teeth.

"Is it that bad?" Connie sounded about as shocked as she had looked earlier, which didn't really help, but Steven didn't say anything else for a moment, just trying to calm himself down. Again, he surprised himself by not turning pink - he really was warming up to the idea that maybe the whole pink thing really did have to do with him trying to stifle the anger, though, because at this point - when it came to Greg - Steven wasn't even going to bother trying. "What happened?"

Steven glanced at her. It was meant to be a warning look, in all honesty - well, pleading and warning at the same time, just an attempt at silently asking her not to press him on this - but she still didn't waver under his stare. Just stared back at him with nothing but complete, unfaltering concern, eyebrows furrowed together as she waited for an answer Steven didn't know he could give. The teenager fell silent, brushing his hands free of the bits of lettuce that had stuck to his palms, and tore off another piece. "We just- we had a little disagreement, that's all," he mumbled, finally feeling his cheeks flush pink, as if his body was protesting to the lie itself. A 'little disagreement' - talk about an understatement, honestly. Steven had practically told him 'go fuck yourself'. Might as well have… should have, actually… "It wasn't a big deal."

"Seems like a big deal," Connie replied pointedly, and Steven slammed his hands down onto the edge of the counter, rattling everything on it briefly as he sucked in a breath and held it for a moment, just trying to calm down. To her credit, his best friend hadn't moved away, though she had jumped slightly out of reflex at the sudden movement, staring at him in surprise. "Steven?"

"I told you I didn't want to talk about it," Steven spat through his teeth, screwing his eyes shut and ducking his head slightly. He breathed in again, fighting to control himself. But, just like he'd figured, it only made the anger worse, only caused the pinkness on his cheeks to spread until it had consumed him completely, much to his dismay. And it only made the anger worse; he could feel what self-restraint he had left slipping away from him bit by bit, little by little. A part of him wanted to blame his powers, but the rest of him forced those thoughts back. Don't you dare, he seethed at himself, growing more and more furious. Don't you dare start excusing yourself now.

"Steven-" Connie shifted a little closer, and Steven shuddered. It ripped through him without any warning, fingers digging loosely against the countertop as a low, rumbling growl began to build in his chest, hoping it was enough to scare her away. But it wasn't; if anything, it only seemed to concern her even further, as she reached out to place a hand on his arm. The touch made him want to jerk away almost at once; instead, he simply tensed, another shudder wracking his body as every muscle in his body tensed, ready to recoil but not quite able to force himself to do so. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to press," Connie told him softly, squeezing his arm slightly. "You just seem really down about it. And, you know… it's your Dad. I don't think you've ever been angry with him like this. But if you don't wanna talk about it, I understand. We don't have to."

Steven didn't reply immediately, but he did feel the rest of his fury evaporate. He almost wanted to hate it, how easy it was for her to diminish his anger just with a few words and a gentle voice. She still knew what buttons to press, even now, after all this time. She still knew him, even when he was at a point where he didn't know himself. But along with the little bit of comfort that her words brought, he also felt a rush of guilt wrap around him in response. She had no idea what was going on, but she deserved to know. To know what he'd done. Why he was angry at Greg. Hell, she deserved to know where he'd been the past few days. She deserved all the details.

He stayed where he was for a moment before finally allowing his shoulders to droop, arms crumbling beneath him and folding on top of the counter. His head followed, burying his face into his arms and staying in that position for a good few seconds, even as Connie's hand moved to his shoulder instead, her grip gentle but firm, as if she was trying to hold him steady.

But he wasn't going to get what he needed from her. He wasn't going to get the anger he deserved. The disappointment. Or… or maybe he would. Connie always had a way of surprising him somehow, though the thought of her hating him after finding out he was a murderer hit a little harder than it had with the others. Yet, he knew it would be better to just get on with it, come out and say it, rip the band-aid off and deal with the aftermath. Then maybe you can curl up in your room like a wuss and make yourself bleed a little more, his mind snickered.

That actually sounded nice. Steven ignored it.

The hybrid breathed in, lifting his head a little and blinking past the tears that were steadily brewing in his eyes. A part of him didn't want to tell her, to ruin their relationship more than he already had. He loved her, truly, deeply, in a way he'd never loved anybody before. But now, more than ever, he didn't deserve her. He didn't deserve her love - he didn't even deserve her friendship, and if she decided to cut him off after this, how was he supposed to blame her? Steven was already wishing he could cut himself off, for god's sake. Considering it, honestly. But either way, whether he wanted it or not, this was how it was and he just had to deal with it. So suck it up and deal with it, coward, he snapped at himself, get over yourself already.

He swallowed past the lump in his throat and pushed himself away from the counter, shrugging Connie's hand off in the process. He looked at her - just looked for a moment, just stared. And she gazed back, eyebrows furrowing slightly in confusion and concern as she watched him struggle against himself, continuing to blink back tears as he fought to rationalize the conflict raging in his mind right then. Okay, he could do this. He'd done it with everyone else so far. He was just praying it didn't end the way it had with Greg, or the gems, or even White Diamond. Hell, if anything, he hoped she would be the one doing the screaming - and yet a strong part of him immediately recoiled at the idea, stomach twisting with anxiety at the thought. He didn't know where to start; she had asked about Greg, though, so he supposed, reluctantly, he could start there. So he fought to think of what to say, how to start, how to explain what happened.

The only thing he could spit out when he opened his mouth was, "I hate him," and he watched Connie's eyes widen slightly in response. Steven tensed a little himself, waiting for the guilt that should have accompanied those words, but surprisingly, it was rather lacking in that department. In fact, it was almost satisfying to say. Of course, he wasn't… he wasn't sure if he meant it. He knew he was angry at him in a way he couldn't even begin describing, a way he had never been. But hate was a strong word- watch the four-letter, Schtu-ball.

Steven's eyes hardened slightly, shaking his head and dismissing the thought, and his father's voice, with ease. Connie finally spoke, not asking why, not chiding him, not insisting he couldn't possibly mean that, he couldn't possibly hate his father - she only said, slowly, "okay."

And the teenager stared at her, just stared, before he realized that she must be waiting for an explanation anyway. So, after a few moments, he spoke up again, slightly strained this time. "Connie, I- I did a really, really bad thing. A really bad, really stupid thing and I can't…" He stopped, swallowing, and took a second to breathe before he attempted to continue again. "After- After the hospital, my Dad took me out on a road trip, and we went to his old house and…" He faltered, remembering how he had felt, realizing that had been where his father grew up. In a house, with two parents, with no crazy gem monsters or galactic dictators or magical destinies. "... I… I think I got kinda jealous but- th- that's not the point. I- we got into an argument and he said I was better off than he was, and- and I got mad and crashed the van."

He grimaced slightly at the memory of yanking the steering wheel right out of the car. It had been an accident, and not, at the same time. On one hand, he knew what he was doing. He had wanted to do it, it had been his intention. But at the same time, he hadn't realized that he could. That he had the strength to do that. He had just been so angry, wanting to hit something, to rip something apart, to destroy something. So he had done so, without quite considering the consequences of his actions - it was much like what had happened in the forest with Jasper, actually. Steven exhaled through his teeth and looked back at Connie, studying her expression. She looked more contemplative than anything, though there were still flickers of worry and sympathy in her eyes as she gazed back at him. When he didn't continue, she seemed to realize that he was waiting for her to react, or say something, because she nodded slowly. "Well…" She began, "it's easy to get angry and lose control a little bit, Steven-"

"No, it's not- not for me," Steven insisted, and shook his head, holding his hands up when she opened her mouth to object. "Look, that's not the point- that's not even the bad part."

Connie still seemed like she wanted to continue, but she snapped her mouth shut and narrowed her eyes at him, crossing her arms over her chest now with a somewhat skeptical expression. Well, he wasn't surprised - she didn't like being interrupted, he had pretty much asked for that look to be thrown at him when he decided to open his mouth in the first place. But he continued, a little hesitantly now, and pressed on. "We managed to get to a hotel and stayed there for the night. Then we called Bismuth the next morning, and… and got to the house and… the gems were…" He trailed off, looking down for a moment, hands curling into fists for a second. "They were freaking out and everything, but I- jeez, I don't know. I couldn't stand it. I didn't want to be here, so I-" He gestured a hand at nothing in particular. "I left- I ran off into the forest."

"The forest?" Connie echoed, eyebrows furrowing further now, and Steven exhaled.

"Yeah… I ended up finding… Jasper," he began hesitantly, and Connie's eyebrows shot up almost immediately. "And I stayed there for a while and just… told her what happened and…" Finally, unable to meet her gaze any longer, Steven fixed his eyes on the floor and sighed. "We got to talking and she said that my problem was the gems, and that they were afraid of me and that I was afraid of myself and that letting out my anger was the only way to control it. So she started teaching me how to use my powers better so that we could fight, I guess, and I…"

Now, this is where it got harder; Steven's throat closed up the minute he tried to form the words. Connie already looked pissed off when he glanced up, which took him by surprise for a second. Did she already see where the story was headed? But, then, she spoke up, and he realized that her anger wasn't directed at him at all. "She what?" His best friend demanded, nearly seething.

Steven stared at her, stunned, uncomprehending. "She- she was teaching me how to use my powers," he repeated, "to let out my anger- she was just trying to help-"

"Steven, that's not helping!" Connie exclaimed, and Steven expressed his surprise with barely a blink as she went on. "That's- she was taking advantage. I mean, yes, you do keep a lot bottled up and you probably do have a lot of anger you need to let out, but that can't be solved just by fighting all the time. You've been fighting your whole life," she pressed, and Steven's eyebrows furrowed slightly, staring back at her. "Anger like that- it needs to be worked through properly. And it's not your fault," she added quickly, "Jasper knew what she was doing."

"But all she knew was fighting," Steven protested. "I think that's the only way she knows how to express herself at all. I know she was just trying to help me- it wasn't her fault. I shouldn't have-"

"No, Steven," Connie interrupted him this time, and he fought back a flare of irritation, staring back at her now as he snapped his mouth shut and frowned. "Listen, okay- maybe she was trying to help, but that still doesn't excuse it. Maybe that's how she expresses herself, but you're not her. You're not some thousand year old Quartz soldier that fought in a gem war."

"Well, it's my fault for agreeing to fight her!"

"It's her fault for suggesting the fight," Connie argued, but after a moment, she sighed and added, "I mean, yes, you know how Jasper is as well as I do - better, even! And you know how she is about fighting. But you were still in a really vulnerable place right then, and I'm sure she recognized that as well as the next person. Good intentions or otherwise, you can't tell me with complete certainty that you didn't think for a second that she was just baiting you, even at first." She stared at him, and Steven finally faltered under the stare, under the challenge, under the words he didn't know how to refute without lying straight to her face once again. "Exactly."

Silence passed between them for a while, as both of them just stood there, thinking. Steven hated to admit it, but a big part of him knew that Connie was right. Jasper was smarter than she'd like people to believe, and he knew from experience that she knew exactly how to push her opponent's buttons in just the right way to make them snap, to bend to her will with either a thinly-veiled taunt or an outright insult. The thing about her was that, the second she had her target in sight, she seemed to know exactly how to get them rolling. And she knew exactly how to get him rolling; she'd known what to say to get him pissed enough to fight her the first time - "no one is as pitiful as you" - and she'd known what to say to get him to punch the tree - "they want you to feel bad for being yourself" - and she'd known what to say, at the very end, to get him back up on his feet and back into fighting mode. His breaking point.

"Are you afraid to be strong?! Are you pathetic?! Are you weak?!"

Connie was right. Of course she was right; his best friend was pretty much always right. And he had always known it, deep down - but it didn't make it any easier to accept, to excuse any part of his actions. But he couldn't excuse his actions; because, vulnerable or not, he had still taken the bait. He had still risen to the challenges, each and every one of them. He hadn't had to, Jasper hadn't forced him to do anything, but he had still fought her regardless. He had still…

"I shattered Jasper," Steven whispered, feeling surprisingly numb now as he said the words.

Unlike with Greg, Connie's reaction was pretty much instant. Her eyes widened, her pupils shrunk, and her mouth fell open as she stared at him. Then it closed, then opened again, seemingly struggling to form any sound. Steven finally managed to turn away again, shaking hands reaching for the lettuce so he could continue ripping it apart to put into the bowl, just needing something to keep himself busy while he waited for whatever reaction he was about to receive, whenever his best friend managed to pull herself together. Unfortunately, though, it was Connie; she never stayed stunned for too long, and Steven found from experience that it took quite a lot to keep her quiet anyway. "You- you're joking, right? Steven?"

Steven shook his head wordlessly, knowing that no answer was really needed anyways; Connie knew him well enough to know he didn't joke about stuff like this. And if that wasn't enough, he was sure the expression on his face was a dead giveaway; he couldn't keep the frown away, he couldn't keep his eyes from stinging - burning, really. Couldn't mask the guilt, didn't want to. After a moment, when Connie once again proved incapable of speaking - this time seemingly just not knowing what to say now - Steven hesitantly spoke up again, quietly explaining, "we were fighting and… I just- I couldn't stop myself. I mean, I didn't want to. It felt so good, and I- I guess I thought she could handle it…" He trailed off. "... I wanted to hurt her, Connie. I liked taking my anger out on her. I- I liked hurting her." His voice finally cracked, breath hitching. "That's- that's pretty awful, right?"

"No!" Connie exclaimed quickly, then rushed to correct herself, "I mean- yes, it's awful, but- you're not awful. I'm sorry, I'm just processing, I don't-" She stopped, taking a deep breath. Steven didn't reply, grabbing the salad dressing and popping the cap open, turning it over to pour it into the bowl silently. "I- Is that why you went to Homeworld? Were you trying to fix her?"

"Huh?" Steven glanced up at that, turning the bottle over. Not the question he was expecting, but he answered anyway, slightly confused. "N- No, I'd already- I brought the shards back and I managed to heal her in the bathtub with the Diamond essence. She's probably with the gems now." The teenager hesitated for a second, twisting his mouth and biting down on his lower lip. "I went to Homeworld to see if White could control me, so- so that I couldn't hurt anyone else." At this, Connie's expression had changed drastically; not just because of the 'control' part, but the second Steven mentioned White Diamond. And he didn't blame her; she had been there, she'd been conscious when everything had gone down on Homeworld. She'd had to carry Steven to his gem half after watching White rip his gem out of his body. He was sure, after everything, Connie had to be just as traumatized as he was after that, and he didn't blame her. He also didn't blame her for the obvious loathing she displayed toward the gem, because in all honesty, he found it hard not to share that sentiment as well. "It… it didn't work out, though."

"Oh, Steven…" Connie rubbed a hand over her face, and Steven stared at her for a moment, hesitating, unable to read her expression at this point. "Do the gems know? Does your Dad-?"

"The gems know," Steven interrupted hastily, and then added begrudgingly, "and so does my Dad. I told him last night- which is kind of why I'm- why we're-" He didn't know what to call it, so he just ended up moving on. "He just kept saying he was proud of me, and that I was a good person. Like he wasn't even listening," he said desperately, putting the bottle down to run his fingers through his hair. "And I just- I lost it. Because no matter what I do, no matter how much I mess up or how many mistakes I make, he still thinks I'm just that innocent little kid that can do no wrong. He still thinks I'm his little Schtu-ball, and nothing else matters, I guess. It's- he's-" Steven gritted his teeth and swallowed. "Frustrating. He wants to look for the good in this, and I- I can't."

"You don't have to," Connie told him, frowning. "This is a really messed up situation- for everybody. You don't have to look for the bright side here, Steven."

"There is no bright side," Steven replied bitterly, chest tightening slightly at the reassurance. Whatever comfort he had felt from her before had diminished entirely, replaced with a familiar sense of despair when he realized she was just going to coddle him like everyone else did, paint him as the victim here. What was so hard to understand about the fact that he wasn't? "I- I killed somebody. I shattered a gem! I'm a murderer- god, I'm a monster. I just…" He gritted his teeth.

"Whoa, whoa, hold up," Connie's tone had changed in an instant, going from soft to firm before Steven could react. "You are not monster, Steven. Yes, okay, what you did was- well, it definitely wasn't good and I'm not gonna tell you it was, but it doesn't make you a bad person. You're not the only one at fault here! Jasper wanted to fight you." At this, Steven twitched slightly, opening his mouth to immediately rush to the orange gem's defense, and to explain why exactly it was, indeed, completely his fault, but Connie raised a hand before he could even spit a word out. "I'm not done! Listen to me for a second," his best friend insisted, glaring at him.

It was enough to make Steven snap his mouth shut again.

"Look." Connie took a deep breath. "You were already unstable when you went to Jasper; you'd just had an argument with your dad, you crashed the van, the gems had been freaking out - and you left because you couldn't handle how hectic it was. But you threw yourself from one bad situation into another; the only difference was that this situation allowed you to let out all your pent up frustrations and anger and all those bottled up emotions out for the first time - not in a constructive way, mind you, but in the only way I guess… you felt like you could." For a moment, she faltered, then shook her head and continued quickly, "I'm not saying you were right, I'm not saying Jasper was right- I'm not even saying your dad was right. I'm just saying you were hurting, Steven, and hurt people… hurt people. And that doesn't make you a monster, either."

Steven stared at her for a moment, breathing in shakily once again.

This time, the pressure building behind his eyes didn't let up, even as he blinked rapidly in an attempt to clear away the tears that were brewing there. He heard what she was saying, he understood, and he ached to believe it - but he couldn't. He didn't know why, it just felt a million miles away from him, too much to even begin comprehending. He still felt like he was drowning in guilt, he still felt like he was the worst person on the face of the Earth at that moment and he had no idea how to even begin to remedy these feelings, because it wasn't like anything he had ever felt before. Yes, deep down, he'd never liked himself; but he had never hated himself this much, with such a fiery, burning passion. And never to the point where he wanted to hurt himself like he did now - right then, more than ever, he wanted to hurt, if it would make this pain stop.

He rubbed his sleeve over his face, over his eyes, and exhaled shakily. Connie stepped forward, as if to move in for a hug, but Steven reeled back before she could. He wasn't ready for that. He knew if she hugged him now, it would really be his breaking point, and he couldn't do that now. He couldn't break down on her like he'd broken down on the gems, he couldn't collapse into her arms and sob, he couldn't rely on her to pick his pieces back up for him. Maybe once upon a time, he would have been able to, but right then, he couldn't. Even with all her reassurances, all her kind words, he couldn't bring himself to feel comforted, and he knew he wouldn't be able to feel any comfort even with her holding him close. Not after what had happened between them, not after what he'd already screwed up, not after everything that had followed, and everything that had been said and done. It felt stupid, it felt a million miles away now and too insignificant to even be worried about anymore, but it still hurt. It still hurt, and he couldn't help that.

But he could spare himself the extra unnecessary emotional pain and keep her at a distance, and that's what he planned to do now. She seemed to understand, if nothing else. And of course she did. Of course she did, she was Connie, one of the best people he'd ever known. She was perfect and she always would be, in his eyes, no matter what happened between them.

"You should probably go," Steven said softly after a moment, unable to meet her gaze now and instead fixing his eyes on the salad bowl. "You have studying to do, don't you?"

"Steven, studying doesn't-"

"Connie, please," Steven practically begged, pausing and covering his mouth for a moment before he could continue, before he could end up on his knees in front of her again, only begging her to leave instead of trying to get her to stay. He closed his eyes tightly, tears brewing at the corners, and swallowed hard as he fought to continue, "I'll be okay, I promise, I will. I just can't-" Be around you right now. "-talk about this anymore. I can't talk about anything anymore. Not- not with…" He trailed off before he could finish, before he could say with you.

Connie gazed at him for a moment, silent even when Steven opened his eyes to look back up at her. It took a while after that, as she simply held his stare, before she finally seemed to crumble under his desperate gaze, letting out a slightly pained sigh and furrowing her eyebrows in defeat. But she still smiled, and despite everything, it managed to reach her eyes this time.

"Okay," she replied quietly, letting out a sigh. "Just- call me, okay? If you need anything. I mean it, Steven, I'm- I'm worried about you. Now more than ever." She huffed out a laugh, but there was no humor to the sound, nor the situation, as she gazed at him. "So just let me know…"

"I don't have my phone," Steven admitted, throat restricting for a second. He swallowed past it, exhaling sharply, and cleared his throat before he spoke again. "But I'll find a way to contact you if I need to. But I'm fine. The gems'll be back soon, probably- they're probably at Little Homeschool," he mumbled, closing his eyes again, this time out of sheer exhaustion. "I'll be fine until they get back. I just- I just need to be alone right now." In reality, he wasn't sure if being alone would be good for him physically - considering everything - but he knew it would be good for him emotionally, and that was the only thing that mattered to him at that moment.

Connie nodded. She hesitated, almost looking like she wanted to go in for a hug again, but to Steven's relief, she only reached over to grab her phone off of the counter. "Okay. I'll talk to you later, then?" She checked, meeting his gaze again firmly, and he forced a smile and managed a nod in response, which seemed to soothe her somewhat as she pocketed her phone and walked past him. Steven turned to watch her, leaning his weight against the counter and resting his head on his hand with a soft, tired sigh. She turned to wave at him before she left, and he managed a half-hearted wave in response - before she disappeared through the doorway, the door swinging shut behind her, and the familiar roar from outside indicated that she had left.

He stared at the door for a moment, not knowing what to think or how to feel. On one hand, he was glad it had ended… mostly okay. It hadn't been a big blowout, it hadn't been sobbing, or anger, or anything like that. He had told her everything, said what needed to be said. But on the other hand, it still left him feeling guilty, and yet… oddly numb at the same time, in a way he couldn't quite place. Her words kept buzzing around his head, like annoying little gnats trying to get his attention, ones that he couldn't swat away - but ones he couldn't see clearly, either. Or maybe he just didn't want to. Whatever the case, he couldn't find it in him to believe her. The teenager let out a sigh and looked around, no longer interested in the salad now that there was no reason to force himself to eat it. His gaze fixed on the knife for a second, still abandoned on the chopping board with the slices of tomato. Which made him think back to how he'd accidentally cut himself - which then made him think back to the blood upstairs on his bed.

So he could go ahead and fix that mess.

… or you could find another use for that knife.

Chapter Text

Steven stood there for a while before he finally managed to make himself move. The first thing he did - somewhat numbly, at that - was pick up the salad bowl. Part of him wanted to put it in the fridge in case he did get hungry, but after a moment, he simply dumped the lettuce leaves into the trash. He hated wasting, but he didn't feel like he'd be hungry any time soon anyway. Besides, even making a simple salad was proving to be a chore at this point, so he thought it best to just call it quits. He threw away the slices of tomato he'd cut, put the bowl in the sink, putting the lettuce, tomatoes and the salad dressing back in the fridge, and turned slowly to face the counter again, fixing his eyes on the knife and rolling his shoulders back sharply. He thought back to how badly he had spiraled earlier, hardly in control of himself as he ripped his nails across his skin, trying to draw as much blood, cause as much pain as he possibly could.

Then he thought back to how grounding that pain had been, and how reluctant he had been to heal his wounds in the first place because of it, needing something physical to hold onto. One way or another, it had been bound to happen again from the moment he started this, whether it was now or later. But, considering the fact that the knife worked much better than his nails did - and could possibly leave behind… less of a mess, he did wonder if that was the better option.

But, speaking of messes…

After a moment, he did walk forward to pick the knife up, tucking it into his pocket with a frown. Hell, for all he knew, he might not even be able to go through with it anyway. It was like thinking about pulling his own gem out, getting close to doing so but never able to do it at the last minute. So maybe he wouldn't even need the knife - but despite that, a strong part of him was insisting that he took it with him, that he caused as much damage as possible. Because you deserve it. Whether you can go through with it or not, you deserve it, his mind hissed at him, darkness flickering around the edges of his vision as he veered around the counter and stumbled toward the stairs, taking in a shaky breath. Fine, he wasn't even going to argue with the thoughts at this point, wasn't even going to try and stop or stifle them. But he was going to take care of the mess upstairs first, especially if he was going to go and make another one.

Entering his room, he shut the door behind him and strode over to his bed, not giving himself time to stop and think. He lifted the blanket up with one hand, and reached down to pull the sheets off with the other, careful to keep the pillows on the bed in the process. Sure enough, blood had seeped through onto the mattress, too - but they were just little, faded spots in comparison to the sheets and blanket, something that would evidently be easy to cover up. So he simply pulled one of his pillows over to cover the bloodstains - grimacing at the odd placement, but knowing it was for the best just in case one of the gems got back before he did, before balling up the blanket and sheets to hold them better and walking over to slide his window open, inching out onto the balcony and heading along toward his greenhouse.

So far, so good. There we go, just get rid of these and get back in there to make another mess to clean up, Pinkie, his mind cooed, making him flinch slightly at the last word, almost stumbling and dropping the blanket and sheets. Okay, those thoughts still hit hard. Harder than the others.

He managed to open the door and get inside without much trouble, heading over to get onto the warp pad without giving himself time to look around. He stayed tense as he activated it, watching the warp stream shoot up around him, lifting him off of his feet and carrying him away to his destination; he wound up on the hand warp not too long later, secured safely in the palm of the Temple Gem, where the washer and dryer were. He wasted no time in pulling the washer open and stuffing the sheets and blanket inside, burying them underneath the other clothes as much as possible and trying to hide the bloodstains. The washer and dryer didn't work without Garnet's power, so he could only hope when she came up to do laundry, she didn't look inside until they were done washing. For a moment, he hesitated, wondering if it was even possible to get bloodstains out of fabric like this, but he tried not to think about it too much as he shut the washer and hurried back to the warp pad, sending himself back to the house with a shaky sigh.

He decided to just warp himself into the living room, since it was easier than having to walk all the way back through his room to get downstairs. Stepping down, he rubbed his arm over his forehead and closed his eyes, simply trying to think. Okay, he had gotten that over with for the most part - not like he could do anything else with the sheets and blanket, honestly. He wasn't sure what he would do if the bloodstains didn't come out, nor what would happen if Garnet ended up seeing them if they didn't. But, maybe he'd have time to come up with some kind of excuse, something believable. If he could practice his story before he had to tell it, at least, that would gain him some extra points - as long as whatever it was wasn't improvised.

He was bad at that, evidently enough.

Steven sighed, dropping his arms, and he felt the knife in his pocket shift as he moved his jacket back a bit on accident. It made him tense at first, feeling it dig loosely into his side before settling again, the split second of pain oddly reassuring. It was comforting, honestly, and it made him long for more of it - but he had absolutely no idea how to go about it without leaving a mess like he had last time, and he wasn't sure how he'd be able to clean it up. He had hardly gotten away with the sheets and blanket - and he wasn't entirely out of the woods there, either. Steeling himself, he tried to remind himself to just breathe, and think. There had to be something, something he could do, a way to go about this that didn't risk him getting caught. Somewhere he could go, alone - just himself, and his thoughts, and his pain. Somewhere the gems couldn't walk in on him and see the mess he was making, the mess that he was.

As if in response to his thoughts, or perhaps, more likely, his feelings, the temple door behind him dinged, and he turned to see the gemstone located on the top of the star glowing a bright pink. He blinked, remembering the first time he'd seen it do that, aching to be alone, but for a completely different reason now. He'd been hurt, and frustrated with the gems for only wanting to spend time with him when it was convenient for them, and had lashed out by doing his own thing, trying to insist to both them and himself that he didn't want nor require their company. But now his need to be alone was genuine, and the reason was much darker than that. Still, he had to hand it to the damn room - it definitely knew how to tempt him in the worst ways.

He turned, stepping forward, but hesitated. Blood was still an issue, scars were still an issue. He didn't want to have to heal the wounds anymore - he hated it so much, like it was erasing all his progress, like it was making a clean slate, like he was taking back the scars and the pain what they meant to him, like he was rescinding the punishment on himself before he'd had time to properly be punished. But those thoughts were quelled just as easily, with a soft, but sharp, then don't fucking do it in a place they'll see, dumbass. The less they see, the less you have to heal. Oddly, it made sense - and with no more excuses, no more stalling, he forced himself to continue moving, somewhat numbly, toward his mother's room. It was hard to think of this one as his own; he'd never really liked it, and he'd never really spent much time inside. It had terrified him as a child, and he couldn't really remember why he'd ever wanted to go back. He did remember wanting to show it to Connie - but that had ended badly. And then…

Talking to his mom. Which had also ended badly. Yeah, he was noticing a distinct pattern here. It wasn't like Homeworld, somewhere he was being forced to stay and adapt to. He didn't have to go in here unless he wanted to; and that was the point of the room, to want it. And once he was inside, he could have anything he wanted. But maybe that was why it never appealed to him; because Steven had learned, early on, that it was easier to just push down his own wants. Looking back now, obviously, he realized maybe that hadn't been such a good thing; hell, maybe it was the reason he felt like he had to push down all this anger, all this pain. But even then, he couldn't bring himself to stop - or to want to stop - because at this point…

It was all that he deserved, wasn't it? After what he'd done, what he'd become, he didn't feel like he mattered anymore. Beyond that, he didn't want to. He just wanted everything to stop. And to make it stop, he decided, he had to hurt. In a different way, a better way, he insisted to himself.

For the first time, in a long time, he went for what he wanted.

It took him a few moments to compose himself enough to enter, to be able to force his feet to move where he wanted to go. But, finally, somehow, he managed to open the door, watching it give way to the familiar swirls of pinks and whites that lay ahead. He had to hand it to his mother, at least just once; it was a beautiful room. And he would have enjoyed it even more if the color pink didn't make him completely nauseous at this point. He clenched his hands into fists as he managed to step through the door, and forced himself not to look back as it shut.

Left alone in Rose's room for the first time in forever, Steven almost wanted to cry. He swallowed it back, however, only allowing a little bit of fury to escape. He hated her, he hated everything about her, especially this stupid, horrible place. He hated that it was yet another one of her things, left behind for him to use- and he hated that it was the only thing she had left behind that he didn't have to fix. It was the only thing she hadn't left broken; because it was the only thing that had done exactly what she'd wanted when she was alive. He sucked in air through his teeth and tried to remember how to breathe steadily, hands clenching and unclenching as tears slowly found their way to his eyes. Tears of anger, of resentment.

He hated her.

He hated her, and he hated himself.

And, suddenly, he had another idea. A split-second thought, fleeting, crossing his mind in only a split second - but he managed to grab onto it before it could leave, and it nearly knocked him straight off of his feet when he finally managed to register it completely, choking on air. It was suffocating, shocking, and he almost wished there was something to hold onto as his knees nearly buckled under his weight. But he kept himself upright, despite the tingling, numb feeling that was slowly spreading up his legs, breath hitching and more tears rising as he swallowed.

He gulped in as much air as he could, nearly suffocating under the weight of his own despair, as he lifted his gaze to look around the room. The clouds had darkened considerably, the bubblegum pink color having turned to an almost purple-like hue, and he almost laughed at the sheer irony. The realization hit not too long after; it was simply mimicking his emotions, like everything else related to him and his mother did. Shifting as if to accommodate his mood; which, right then, wasn't exactly the brightest. He remembered the last time it had done that, the storm that had occurred, the blowing winds and the thunder and lightning all around them. His breath hitched at the thought, and he swallowed, trying to calm himself down before that could happen again. He wouldn't have minded it before, but he didn't think he could deal with it now.

Steven's throat closed, choking him before he could react. The clouds continued to darken, purple abruptly shifting into crimson. Shades of red painted the sky like blood, so different - and yet achingly close - to the pink that had filled it just moments before. Despite himself, he found comfort in the sight, tense shoulders slowly relaxing as he lifted his head to stare upwards.

Reminded, once again, of what he wanted, he swallowed, breathed, and closed his eyes. Truthfully, he wasn't too sure about this now. It would make things easier, in a way, but… he didn't know what it would do to him emotionally, and if it would possibly outweigh the physical aspects of it. Still, with a vague idea of what he wanted - and the idea that it could and would hurt him in more ways than one (even if, of course, the emotional pain was wanted much less than the physical), he couldn't shake the thoughts this time, and a part of him didn't want to.

"Okay…" Steven closed his eyes tighter, taking in another breath and struggling to rationalize through the anger clouding his mind. He felt like he was on fire from the inside, tense and ready to explode at any given moment, and while a part of him wanted to fight it, the rest of him couldn't, because at this point, in this situation, it just wasn't any use. There was no point. It was going to end in an explosion one way or the other, Steven just had to suck it up this time and deal with it when it came. And, honestly, this explosion was more than welcome. "Okay," he began again, quietly, keeping his eyes shut. "Uh… hey, room… it's been a while…" He swallowed again, ducking his head. "And this isn't as easy for me to ask as it was when I was younger, jeez… but…" Finally blinking his eyes open, he narrowed them, looking up.

"... time to come out, Mom." His hands curled slowly, clenching into fists. "I wanna fight."

His heart pounded wildly against his chest, frantic and loud, roaring in his ears. The crimson clouds immediately shifted at his request, and he held his breath, chest tight with anticipation, as they began to swirl and shift, forming the familiar shape of Rose Quartz. But the moment she touched down in front of him, Steven's mouth twisted into a frown, knuckles turning white as his hands clenched further, nails digging lightly into his palms as he focused a cold, resentful glare on the gem he had grown up knowing as his mother. Even now, he thought bitterly, it was still hard to see her as the Diamond she apparently had been. Even now, even subconsciously, his mind still saw Rose Quartz as his mother, not Pink Diamond. Well, it was time to change that.

"Nuh uh." Steven raised a finger toward the illusion in front of him, watching as Rose Quartz merely blinked down at him, eyebrows furrowed and her expression one of mild, motherly worry. Truth be told, it pissed Steven off even further. "You, are not my mother. I want my mother." He didn't want the image of perfection he'd grown up with. He wanted Pink Diamond, the imperfect, childish, selfish Diamond that his mother truly was, and he wouldn't accept anything else.

Rose Quartz's eyes darkened at the request, and her hands seemed to clench, as well, briefly curling into fists. "I am your mother, Steven," she told him, and he visibly shook at the sound of her voice. It was something he hadn't heard in a while, but it was still achingly familiar, with how many times he had replayed the tape she had left him. Something deep down inside of him, through the rage boiling in his gut, ached to feel something, ached to feel her arms around him, like he'd always wanted. But he forced himself steady again, breathed in deep, and scowled.

"No, you're not," he spoke with all the bitterness he'd felt toward her, all the hatred and anger, and watched as she merely stared at him, unfazed. "You're a fake. A stupid disguise my mom wore so she could hide from all the other mistakes she made before you." Curling his lips into a sneer now, once again reminded of how much he hated her, he hissed, "I want Pink Diamond."

Rose almost seemed to flinch at the name - or, honestly, maybe it was just Steven's imagination - before her form dissipated, clouds briefly reverting back to their original form before they began to twist and turn to make up the new shape that Steven had asked for. He grimaced and shifted on his feet, no longer trying to remind himself to breathe as he held his breath once again, keeping his body tense and coiled and ready to launch the moment his mother appeared. She stood taller than Rose Quartz, and he had to tilt his head back so he could look up at her completely even once she had dropped to the ground, landing clumsily on her feet in stark contrast to the way Rose had gracefully floated down to meet him. Pink Diamond stumbled, regaining her footing quickly and looking down at him through narrowed eyes.

There was nothing motherly about the Diamond in front of him; her cold stare reminded him of how the others had been, and he almost laughed right then as he looked back at her in silence. How was this supposed to be the absolute vision of kindness everyone thought Rose had been?

"Well?" Pink Diamond spread her arms out when Steven proved incapable of doing anything beyond staring back at her, looking down at him with a rather childish sense of impatience. "This is what you wanted, isn't it? Here I am." Folding her arms across her chest, she frowned back at him, and Steven blinked a few times as he stared at her. It was hard, so hard to see her as his mother. She was nothing like the picture of calm, and grace, and elegance that Rose Quartz was. And it only served as yet another reminder of how much of his mother had been a lie.

He didn't know what to say at this point; there was hardly anything to say, honestly. All he could do was stare, stare back at his mother, Pink Diamond, the one who had hurt so many people and then left him behind to deal with it. There was nothing to do but let that rage consume him - until, finally, unable to take it anymore, he pushed himself forward and lunged, lifting himself up into the air and winding back to punch her with little hesitation; and he felt nothing as he watched her fly back across the room, wind roaring and blowing his hair back as Pink Diamond crashed to the floor, and Steven landed not too long after, breathing heavily.

There was no satisfaction, no thrill like it had been with Jasper. But there was rage, boiling and bubbling through him as he glared at the Diamond in front of him, and the urge to destroy her. To make her hurt like she had hurt everybody else.

Pink Diamond pushed herself up, fury glinting through her diamond-shaped pupils as she glared down at him, and for a moment, he almost thought back to the pink clone trapped within his mind. Those were the same eyes, just a completely different expression; his pink twin had worn a smile, while his mother wore a scowl, something that looked… oddly out of place on her.

Steven shook his head, ultimately dismissing the thoughts, and curled his lips back into a snarl as he straightened up, shifting one foot back and lifting his fists. "I told you what I wanted."

"What, a fight?" Pink Diamond snipped, sneering back at him. Steven glared back silently, something inside of him twisting sharply at the expression on her face, at the mocking words and the cold glitter flickering through her angry gaze. He wasn't sure why it hurt, why it took his breath away and made him want to scream his throat raw. But it just pissed him off even further, the realization that she still had such an effect on him, that she still made all these confusing, conflicted emotions rise up inside of him. "Well, I am happy to oblige!" His mother abruptly kicked herself up off of the ground, and Steven barely had time to react as she launched toward him, grabbing the front of his jacket and lifting him up off of his feet in only a second.

He managed to snap back to his senses in time to move his head to the side, effectively dodging a punch. Adrenaline pumping, battle senses in full gear, he thrust his legs up and shoved them hard against her stomach, sending her stumbling and managing to twist mid-air to land back on his feet before he could crash to his stomach. He staggered, but caught himself.

"Not bad," Pink Diamond hissed, regaining her balance.

"Shut up." Steven lunged, aiming a punch to the gut. His mother leapt up before he could land it, and he stumbled a bit as he tried to turn with her, unintentionally following his fist as it lashed through the air, hitting nothing. Before he could turn completely, a foot slammed into his chest, and he went flying backwards, his feet finally slipping and sending him crashing onto his back before he could completely register what had happened. His chest ached as he sat up, hurting with every gasping, shaky breath, and Pink Diamond dropped back to the ground with a smirk.

"What?" His mother grinned, dangerously cocky. "Can't handle it?"

Steven blinked a few times, forcing past the instinctive tears that had welled in his eyes from the pain, and bared his teeth as he jumped back to his feet. She reminded him of Jasper, in a way - just a little more cold, a little less angry. It was childish, honestly, and that was the only major difference the hybrid needed to see for him to genuinely want to hurt Pink Diamond, beyond every other reason he had for wanting to do so. He hadn't wanted to hurt Jasper - well, he had, but it wasn't personal. With Pink, though, yeah, you're damn right it was personal.

He raised his hands, a sneer curling at his lips as he summoned a shield in front of him. Not his mother's old shield - he hadn't used that in a long time, and he didn't plan to - but the shields he had been using against Jasper in the forest, the hexagon-shaped ones. It glittered pink, a little darker than normal as it reflected the blood colored clouds drifting over his head. He wasted no time in sending it crashing toward his mother, bringing up another one and flicking his wrist to send it toward her along with the first one. Pink Diamond managed to dodge the first one, but the second one hit her dead on, and Steven finally felt a rush of satisfaction as she yelped.

She skidded back without anything to crash into, almost losing her balance and falling to the floor, but she managed to grab onto the edge of the shield just before it could diminish; raising it up over her head, she spun and threw it at Steven like a frisbee, sending it spiraling toward him.

He jumped up just in time to avoid getting hit, landing on it as he came back down. Almost falling, he managed to screech it to a stop midair, keeping it hovering with his floating powers for a second before managing to send it right back toward Pink Diamond, this time with him on top. He leaned himself forward, speeding up slightly, and leaped up off of the shield at the last second, twisting and kicking his foot out toward her. The blow didn't land.

A hand closed around his ankle, and Steven sucked in a sharp breath, only managing to huff out a sharp gasp before Pink Diamond abruptly spun him around and threw him, sending him crashing into the ground and skidding back across the floor on his stomach. He bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood, his gem aching in protest, skin burning, as he managed to dig his fingers into the floor to stop himself from going any further. The shield landed inches away from him, having crashed to the floor along with him, and disappeared in a shimmer of light.

He winced, managing to get his knees under him to heave himself up a little, and snarled.

His eyes focused a little too late, only managing to utter a surprised yelp when he finally registered that his mother was right there in front of him now. He had no time to react as her hand suddenly gripped his hair, yanking him to his feet - and then up off of his feet - with a wild grin on her face and an amused glint in her eyes. But Steven didn't have any time to react to that, either, before she abruptly pulled back and slammed her fist forward into his face.

The force was enough to rip him out of her grip once again, crashing back to the floor. One hand scrambled back, frantically feeling along the ground for something to grip into, fingers digging as far into the floor as he could get them as he tried to keep himself from completely falling back. It took a moment for him to register the pain; it exploded through his face, his jaw, his nose, his teeth. He tasted blood, he could feel his skin swelling up immediately, he had heard the crunch his nose had given the moment she had made contact. His eyes stung, hot with tears as he brought his hands up to cup his face, a few drops of blood falling and landing on his fingers.

Holy shit.

Holy shit.

Holy shit, he gasped, strangled, suffocating, as he coughed and spat out a glob of blood onto the floor, shaking slightly - not with fear, or even anger at this point. His body was still wound up, pumping with the leftover adrenaline still coursing through his veins, coiled like a spring to launch. But he wasn't going to, not right then, at least, because he was still struggling with the pleasure that had flushed through him, heart soaring with every sharp, aching throb of pain. Excitement pulsed through him, leaving him breathless. There was nothing pleasurable about the pain itself, but he still found himself aching for more of it immediately. This, this was better than even hurting himself. He didn't have to rely on himself to do anything; he could just take it. Just sit there and let the punches fly, and accept all of the pain that he deserved.

Anger effectively diminished now, he shrugged his jacket off and rubbed his arm over his mouth, carefully avoiding getting any blood onto his shirt and pants. He cringed as his arm brushed against his nose, pain immediately rushing through his face again, but he forced himself to continue, running his fingers along it carefully and hissing softly at the feeling. Yep. Broken. Which actually almost surprised him - why wasn't he healing himself? Hadn't Dr. Maheswaran said that the bones mended themselves the moment the injury occurred? Why wasn't it healing?

Just be glad for it, he diminished his own concerns. It's pain, isn't it? Fucking take it already. Despite himself, he huffed out a laugh - more or less to release the tension pent up inside of him, and because if it wasn't a laugh, it would have been something else, and he wasn't ready for that right then. He rubbed his thumb under his nose, clearing the blood away, then reached down to feel his jaw. It was definitely swollen, but it didn't feel out of place or anything. He sighed, stifling a grin, then flicked his gaze up when a flash of pink caught his attention, realizing quickly that Pink Diamond was heading toward him again, ready to attack once again.

Steven held his hands up at once. "Wait- wait, stop," he said quickly, and his mother skidded to a stop at once. He didn't want to fight anymore - but with that said, he still wanted something.

"What?" Pink Diamond hissed, curling her hands into fists. "What now? I thought you wanted this!" Steven blinked, almost taken aback by the fury she was displaying, but he brushed it off quickly enough. It didn't matter, either way; she was just a child throwing a temper tantrum, which was pretty much her entire existence. He breathed in deeply, clenching his fists and standing up and trying to calm himself down enough to state a new request, before the anger could consume him again, before he changed his mind. This was good; this was perfect.

"Forget that," Steven began, wiping another streak of blood off of his face. "I have a better idea."

Chapter Text

With his new request in mind, Steven turned away and knelt to pick up his jacket by one of the sleeves, lifting it up slightly. He reached into the pocket, unable to keep the grin off of his face, and wrapped his fingers around the handle of the knife, pulling it out carefully.

Pink Diamond watched him, somewhat quizzically; her irritation had evaporated into confusion, and the darkness that loomed over them had lightened along with Steven's mood, his newfound excitement - while unquestionably misplaced - brightening the clouds up, as crimson and dark red began to fade to the pale and bubblegum pink colors that usually painted the room. Still, he was far too focused on his new plan to worry about the colors, even as hated as they were. While he would have much rather preferred the dark reds, he had a feeling he'd be seeing a lot of that in just a moment - just, not from the clouds. He studied the knife for a second, settling it in both of his hands, with the handle lying in one palm and the blade in the other. It was a wonder it hadn't fallen out during the fight, but he wasn't going to worry about that now. Rubbing his thumb along the blade lightly, he pushed himself back to his feet, and turned to face her.

"Oh, Mo-om…" The teenager crooned, like a little child, his tone soft, devoid of any of the bubbling, boiling fury he had felt just moments before. He was almost breathless with his own excitement, with the new revelation of what, really, he could do here. The unimaginable power he held with only a few choice words, and how much easier it made doing what he'd wanted to do since they got back. Almost on cue, his nose throbbed; he winced, and laughed at the sensation, almost hysterical. It hurt, it hurt but god, there was nothing more grounding, nothing better to take his mind off of all the emotions swirling within him right then. "Wanna help me?"

His mother almost looked unsettled, looking down at the knife before flicking her gaze back up to him. And then, abruptly, her form shifted; instead of disappearing into clouds like she had before, it was more or less a pulsing, gentle kind of glow this time. She shrunk before his eyes, and he wasn't sure how to feel when the glow died down, finding himself face to face with Rose. "Help you with what, Steven?"

He could only stare for a moment, excitement fizzling out to despair, anger and hurt all at once. But his hand tightened around the knife, blade sinking into skin, reminding him what he wanted. "Even better," he spat through clenched teeth, even though he would have much preferred her earlier form. But, then again, this version of his mother actually managed to look concerned for him, a startling amount of dread flitting across her face as if she knew what he was going to ask. And good, he thought, good, maybe this can hurt her a little bit, too. It was petty, it was… mean, and he hated himself for it - but he hated her almost as much, just enough that doing this…

… was something he'd have to truly regret later.

For now, though, he managed to turn the knife around, holding it by the blade and letting his grip tighten as much as possible, squeezing until he felt the blood on his hands. He knew he was just going to have to heal himself there later, of course, but he also had to heal his face before he left, too. He might as well enjoy it while he could. "I want you to hurt me," he said, simply.

Rose looked down at the knife, looking conflicted; but, ultimately, there was no genuine choice in the matter. She walked forward, slow and graceful, her dress flowing and flouncing around her with the gentle movements. It was nothing like the quick, clumsy, excited pace Pink Diamond had when she lunged at him, and the uncertainty and uneasiness written across her face was nothing like the excitement his mother had displayed while she was attacking him. Steven breathed in shakily, trying to diminish the thoughts as he watched her hand wrap around the handle of the knife, slowly pulling it from his grip, and he narrowed his eyes as he pulled his hand back, letting it drop back to his side. The jacket crumpled to the ground on his other side, useless once again until he was ready to leave the room, and he silently kicked it across the floor, wanting to keep it as far away from the inevitable mess as he possibly could.

"Steven-" Rose began, but Steven raised a hand to cut her off. He couldn't listen to her speak, knowing it would just unravel him. The sound of her voice affected him in ways he couldn't even begin to describe, and he wanted her as silent as possible while they were doing this, because the whole point was to stop feeling emotions for as long as he could get by without them. His mother fell silent, biting her tongue, and Steven paused for a moment, looking down at his arms. He already had so much to heal. And he had been determined when he came in here to at least leave with a few scars, to leave with some pain, no matter where it had to hurt for him to be able to hide the wounds effectively from the gems. So now, he had to think - and think fast.

Steven looked back up, studying his mother through his eyelashes, before speaking slowly. "I- I… I don't want the gems to see anything," he told her, resolving to take back his earlier confidence, despite the brief second of uncertainty that had flared in his chest. "I don't care what you do or where you do it as long as it's not the face… or the arms," he added hastily. "Or- or really anywhere they can see, for that matter. I just want it to hurt." He looked down for a moment, contemplating his next move, and Rose simply nodded, her expression strained.

Finally, after a moment, he brought his hand up to kiss it, healing the scars the knife had left behind. And, then, reluctantly, he finally brought himself to press his hand to his nose, healing that along with his jaw and rubbing the rest of the blood away with his hand, sighing. Well, that would be fine - he was about to get some new wounds anyway, so it wasn't like it mattered.

With that, though, he now had a pretty good idea of what he wanted. So, he spared another glance up at his mother before lifting his shirt up, pulling it over his head and tossing it to the side along with his jacket. Rose only watched him, tightening her grip around the knife, as he brushed away as much discomfort as he could and reminded himself that this wasn't weird, this wasn't even really his mom anyway, this was a cloud. It was the first time the thought had crossed his mind (and, honestly, it only made him more uncomfortable) so he brushed the sentiment away completely and forced himself to focus, lifting his head to stare at her and holding his arms out slightly, extending them at his sides and gesturing toward his chest and his stomach. Anything below the neck was fair game. Anything he could cover up with his shirt.

After a moment, Rose finally moved, and Steven shut his eyes, breathed in, and steadied himself for the pain that would follow, the pain he wanted, needed, craved, and deserved.


It wasn't too long before Steven had to call it off.

When he did, he was on his knees. Rose was behind him, dragging the knife across his back. He had warned her to stop hesitating after the first few slices, so her movements were faster, uncertain but direct, as she slashed another cut from his shoulder blades to the middle of his back, right in the center of his spine, and he couldn't bite back the cry of pain in time. At this point, he could feel the blood trickling down his back, sticking to his skin; he already figured it had probably soaked into his pants, as well, and he bit his tongue at the thought, breathing heavily. It hurt - and, after a second, he raised a hand to wave Rose off; she backed away gladly, the knife clattering to the floor as she simply vanished in a puff of smoke, the clouds dispersing into the air as if even the room couldn't stand to be around him anymore.

Ever so slowly, he lowered himself down onto his stomach, cringing with the movements. His back… stung. It took a few seconds for the pain to really set in, though, and he wasn't sure why. With his nails, it had been almost instant; this, it almost… faded in, starting small but slowly, steadily beginning to really, really hurt the more he just laid there and thought about it.

He buried his face into his arms, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes - less from the pain and more from the realization of what had just happened, as everything hit him all at once. He felt guilty - with no real knowledge of why he felt guilty, he just knew that his stomach was twisting, violently, nausea rolling through his gut like thunder. Every breath felt like poison, acid sinking into his tongue and the inside of his throat and burning him raw. He wanted to cry, but he didn't even have the strength for that; even as the tears brewed, they didn't spill over.

How was it possible to feel numb and yet ache, to his very core, at the exact same time?

Steven breathed out a quiet, shuddering sigh into his arms, swallowing past the lump building in his throat. He just stayed there for a moment, just wanting to lay there and let the silence surround him. Vaguely, he noted the clouds darkening around him again, the bubbly pink and happy hues fading, once again, into the dangerous, dark blood-like crimson they had been before. The wind picked up, if only slightly, breezing across the cuts on his back and making them sting even worse than they had before, but he could still only manage a numb sense of satisfaction at the pain, breathing in through his nose and turning his head to the side, still nestled in his trembling arms as he fought to calm the raging emotions pounding in his chest.

It takes a while for him to want to heave himself to his feet. For the most part, he's content to just lie there and forget everything as much as he can - but he knows he can't, not logically. He knew the gems were going to be back soon, if they weren't already, and coming back to find him gone - again - would freak them out. Especially now, with everything that's already been put out on the table, out in the open for the world to see, for the gems to stare at and analyze and judge - even if they weren't particularly judging. But still, regardless of all that, he knew the only thing left to do was go out there and face them again. If they weren't already back, they would be soon; and if they came back to find him not there, he didn't want to have to deal with what would happen when he finally came out of the room. The worry, the yelling, the you can't just disappear without telling us! that would definitely ensue. Even though they left him on his own all the time when he was little, disappeared on missions, sometimes without telling him where they were going or when they might be back. Role reversal wasn't how it worked with the gems. And he knew it well enough by now to know him suddenly just vanishing wouldn't go over well. Especially with what had happened the last time he had suddenly just vanished.

He swallowed down the bitter taste in his mouth and pulled his knees up under him, heaving himself up. He almost cried out with the movement, jarring his scarred shoulders and back, skin restricting as he tried to move as his entire body protested to what should have been a simple action. He'd most certainly been hurt worse than this before; but the split second of forgetting he was hurt was all it took to catch him off guard when the pain hit him. It didn't take him long to swallow it down and heave himself to his feet, trembling with the effort it took to do just that.

For a moment - just a miserable, fleeting moment - he wondered how he was going to get around like this. The gems weren't exactly the most observant people - well, actually Pearl was when she wanted to be, and Garnet… they would definitely be able to tell he was hurt if he didn't go about hiding it correctly. Covering it up wouldn't mean shit if he winced and moaned every time he moved, now, would it? He frowned, reaching a hand back to brush it across his lower back. There weren't any cuts he could reach there, and he couldn't lift his hand any further to touch the already existing ones - but he could feel the blood that had trickled down and dried against his skin, and cursed under his breath upon remembering he still needed to get from the room to the bathroom to clean himself up. That, and get there without making more of a mess of himself. And his shirt, and his jacket, both of which were needed to cover the wounds.

Okay, so he really hadn't thought this through, had he?

The teenager took a deep breath, looking around for a moment. The room… well, it wasn't real, but at the same time, the things that appeared on command were tangible at best. He had an idea, but he wasn't sure how well it would work, or if he could pull it off. "Uh, room?" He mumbled, the words hanging in the air for a moment, before he remembered that wasn't going to be getting an actual response; cheeks flushing hot with embarrassment, feeling like a kid again, he hissed and continued quietly, "I need a… um… I don't know, a- a wet rag, or-?"

He flinched in surprise when the room reacted before he could even completely finish his request; with an audible poof, one of the clouds had transformed into a rag, soaked and dripping with water. It dropped from the sky, and he hastily snapped his arms up to catch it, ignoring the thrill of pain that shot through his shoulders and back at the sudden, shaky movements.

Well, the rag definitely felt real; the water soaked into his hands, and he breathed out a quiet sigh of relief before pulling his arms behind him again, cringing and biting his tongue hard as he rubbed the rag along his lower back, mostly just to see if it would be able to clean the blood off. Sure enough, he felt it peeling from his skin, pulling it back in front of him to see that it was stained with the crimson liquid. This definitely made cleaning himself up easier, then. He bit his lip, staring for a moment, wondering how he was going to reach around completely to be able to clean his back - and for that matter, how he was supposed to know when he was clean. Then again, all he needed to do was get the blood off, pull his shirt and jacket on, and leave the room. Though he wasn't entirely sure he had stopped bleeding; all he could feel now was the pain.

It took him a while, eventually ending up extending his arms, shapeshifting and stretching them out to be able to reach. He felt along the scars, occasionally yelping and hissing when he hit a sensitive area, but he didn't stop, simply continuing to scrub himself clean of the blood crusting his skin. He did have to ask for a few more rags as he continued this task, which definitely said something. He didn't think he'd ever bled this much in his entire life, truthfully enough. A part of him wondered if it was normal - but then, he dismissed those thoughts entirely, because what he was doing, at this point, was not even close to normal, anyway.

Regardless, while it was certainly a hassle, he finally managed to clean himself up to the best of his ability, letting the room poof the last few rags away and asking for a mirror to check himself in, having to twist his head around to see his back. He flinched at the sight of the scars, initially, and quickly asked the room to take the mirror away once he had satisfied himself with the knowledge that he wasn't bleeding as badly anymore - still welling up, mind you, but not bad.

He couldn't look at his own reflection - go figure.

The teenager grabbed his shirt again, pulling it on - and keeping himself from screaming, feeling like his entire back was simply peeling off, skin being cut off strip by strip - and shrugging into his jacket a little more carefully. The pain… numbed almost everything else, to be honest. He couldn't even focus on his own emotions for more than five seconds without accidentally jarring his shoulder with some sudden, unconscious movement, or a sudden throb of pain jolting him out of his thoughts before they could even begin. And, compared to the constant torrent of guilt and anger and emotional pain and all those horrid, twisted thoughts that had consumed him - yeah, it was a fucking blessing to him at this point. He'd rather be in physical pain than… that.

"I wanna leave," he told the room loudly, stepping forward and looking up at the door as it poofed to life in front of him, sliding open automatically to allow him to exit. And, while initially hesitating, he eventually managed to simply suck it up and force himself through, shoving his hands into his pockets. It only occurred to him that he had left the knife behind too late; by the time the thought crossed his mind, the door had long slid shut behind him, closing the room off.

To his surprise - and relief - the house was still empty; he must not have been in there long.

He glanced back toward the room for a moment, before ultimately deciding it was better off just leaving the knife where it was. At least then he didn't have to worry about taking it to and from the room whenever he entered and left - and the fact that he even considered that almost surprised him, because up until that moment, he hadn't really thought about revisiting the room in the first place. Still, it wasn't an entirely unpleasant idea; he didn't know if he could handle seeing his mother again in particular, but then, it didn't have to be his mother. Maybe you could man up and actually do it yourself next time, he taunted himself, biting the inside of his cheek and reminding himself to breathe as he slowly walked forward, eyes feeling heavy, not really knowing where he was going but just needing to distance himself from everything and nothing. He almost wanted to take a shower and clean himself up, but he didn't have the energy. He could always sleep - but, then, he risked having a nightmare. Or seeing his pink clone again. Neither of which sounded like entirely pleasant scenarios - so he decided to stay awake.

He was tired, but - then, these days, when was he not? He almost chuckled at the thought, rubbing his hand down his face and eventually heading to the door, pulling it open and stepping out onto the porch. He didn't bother looking around at anything; truthfully, it was pretty nice out. But, in his opinion, the sun beat down a little too hard and there wasn't enough wind to counter it; the birds flying and chirping overhead were just annoying; and the waves crashing onto the sand was less welcome than it had ever been in his entire life. With all of this in mind, he sank his weight forward against the railing and dropped his chin onto it, closing his eyes. His shoulders ached, but, already, he was building up a tolerance to the unfamiliar pain, leaving him wondering exactly how long he'd be able to gain any kind of satisfaction from it before it became a nuisance, just like everything else in his life had seemingly turned into at this point.

Ouch, his mind laughed at him. Sounds like someone's bored. Need a new 'habit', Universe? Despite himself, he only huffed at the last word, blinking his eyes open and narrowing them slightly against the sun as he shook his head, crossing his arms over the rail and looking out across the beach. He skimmed his gaze over it silently, looking from the sand, to the mountainside, to his car. Every fiber of his being ached to just get away, but, remembering what had happened the last time he had done so was enough to pull him away from the idea. Running away from his problems - literally, anyway - didn't seem like a good idea anymore.

Jeez, what was he doing…? He really was bored, wasn't he? Couldn't find anything to do, anywhere to go. He felt confined to the house, wanting to run but at the same time knowing better than to do that. He wanted to get out, just go, but he wouldn't even know where to go even if he did. He'd probably just drive or walk or run aimlessly, no direction. Wasn't like he could run to Jasper again - wasn't like he would if he could have anyway, not now. Still, a part of him longed to just be out there, just nothing but himself and the open road. No gems, no Jasper, no Dad, no Connie. No expectations. Just him, free to do what he wanted, when he wanted, where he wanted, how he wanted. No tiptoeing around anybody, no worrying about having an explosive argument or an emotional breakdown, no feeling guilty every time he looked at someone in particular. Nobody to hide from out there, because he would be all alone.

Sounds nice, he thought numbly, so why don't I just do that? Why don't I just, get in the car and drive away? Maybe crash into a tree or drive off a cliff while I'm at it, do everyone a favor. Or maybe finally quit being a fucking wuss and park somewhere on the side of the road and rip this god-forsaken gem out of my stomach and do what I should've done a long time ago and break myself. The thoughts, for once, weren't ones that echoed through the back of his mind, weren't ones he felt somehow disconnected from, like all the others were, despite them still being his own. These, these were definitely his own; not some taunting, distorted voice in the back of his mind, but his own real thoughts, right in front, angry and hurt and desperate but still his.

… break myself. He tested the thoughts out again, not sure how he felt by them. They didn't really scare him anymore, but they definitely made him feel… something. Not longing, or dread, but something clawing at his stomach, twisting his gut to shreds. "Yeah. Yeah, why don't I do that? I mean, hell, I want to, don't I?" He rambled aloud, wrapping his hands around the rail for a moment and screwing his face up into a bitter frown. "Clearly, if I can't stop thinking about it. Everybody would be better off, too, right? The gems wouldn't have to worry about me. Jasper wouldn't have to see me anymore. Connie doesn't have to worry about me clinging to her. Dad wouldn't have to think about what a disappointment his son is. Everybody can just, move on with their lives. Like they haven't already," he seethed, closing his eyes for a moment. "I mean, fuck, if they can move on from mom, I'm sure they can move on from me. It's not like I'm half the amazing goddess they thought she was, and everybody knows it now. Besides, I've lived out basically my entire fucking purpose, right? I fixed every broken piece she left behind, anyway. Except for me, but, hell, what if that was the point? Maybe I wasn't even supposed to be fixed."

A moment of silence passed as he stopped speaking to catch his breath. He felt oddly calm though, even as he spoke - not only that, but his tone was soft, a bittersweet feeling to it as he continued further, a little quieter, "I mean… there's no other reason for me to exist, is there? I did everything I was supposed to do. Maybe that was just supposed to be the end. And maybe that's why I've been feeling so directionless; because there is no direction! I've done what I was supposed to do and now it's over, and now I'm not… supposed to be here anymore."

The realization settled in so easily he wasn't sure how he hadn't come to it sooner. There was no fighting it, no internal protests or debate; it was like the last piece of the puzzle had clicked into place, like it had been staring him right in the face the whole time just waiting to be put down with the others, creating the bigger picture he should've seen from the beginning.

"Well, isn't that lovely?" Steven sneered, blinking furiously as he gazed out across the beach. It was hard not to feel somewhat bitter at such a realization, but even then, a part of him still wasn't sure he deserved anything more, anyways. "Well, I hope you're happy, Mom. And Dad. And Garnet, and Amethyst, and Pearl, too. I did exactly what you wanted, exactly what I was supposed to do. Now I guess it's time to just roll over and die, right? Just like she did. Just, accept my fate, no questions, no arguments, no return policy, huh? I mean, hell, if that's all I was created for, then there's no fucking reason for me to wear out my welcome, am I right?"

He crossed his arms further over the rail and bent down again to put his head in his arms, burying his face into the fabric of his jacket and grunting slightly at the searing pain that flushed across his shoulders and back at the movement, waiting for it to pass before he continued to grumble quietly to himself, "maybe if I wasn't such a little coward I could do what needs to be done, but, no. Wasn't like I was prepared for this. Wasn't like I took classes on how to fucking shatter myself. I'd google it, too, but I don't exactly have my phone. And wouldn't that just be an interesting thing to have in my search history, anyway? Or better yet, hey Siri, how do I fucking commit suicide after completing my admittedly fucked up magical purpose in the world?" Despite himself, he actually huffed out a laugh at the thought, shaking slightly now. He felt… wrong. Something was really wrong here. He wasn't sure what he was feeling; but that clawing sensation was only getting worse, and the bitter taste in his mouth was steadily turning sour. He felt only seconds away from exploding, and at the same time, he'd never felt calmer.

"Oh, maybe I'm just coming to my senses," he muttered bitterly into his arms, "I mean, it's not every day you realize you're not supposed to fucking be alive anymore."

He'd thought fresh air would do him some good. Turns out, he was wrong.

Regardless, he didn't get too far in his quiet ramblings, because the familiar sound of the warp pad activating from inside caught his attention before he could continue ranting to himself. It felt… oddly nice, to just hear himself speak, to vent every bitter thought and emotion raging inside of him. But he knew he couldn't do that, anyway. Still, he allowed himself one last - admittedly passive-aggressively dread-filled - comment as he lifted his head to look back over his shoulder, allowed his lips to curl back into a brief sneer before it settled, just before the warp stream could completely disappear.

"Oh, goodie, the gems are back…" The words he'd used to scream with excitement as a child felt cold and angry to his own ears, but that was all he allowed himself before he forced himself to straighten up, figuratively and literally, breathing in and closing his eyes and reminding himself to control himself once again. This should be fun.

Chapter Text

Steven practically stormed into the house, closing the door behind him with a little more force than he meant to - though, admittedly, a force that offered a tiny bit of satisfaction for his sudden burst of fury - and stared at the warp stream until the glow died down, narrowing his eyes slightly for a moment. He was faintly surprised to only see Garnet, Amethyst and… Jasper, of all gems. Not quite the gem he was expecting to see again - he'd thought (and, selfishly, hoped) that she would be staying behind at Little Homeworld, or wherever the hell the gems had gone. He took a deep breath, swallowing down the lump in his throat to the best of his ability. His back tingled and stung, and he shifted a bit on his feet just enough to make it ache again.

He almost hated how much he liked the pain. How much he relied on it.

Amethyst practically lit up the second she saw him - as did Jasper, though the latter made more of an effort to hide the expression as soon as she could, allowing an indifferent expression to cross over her face instead. Steven inhaled through his teeth, hardly allowing himself to focus on her anyway, and simply rooted his gaze to Amethyst as she stepped down from the warp pad, heading over to him with a small smile. "Hey, look who's finally up! Sorry for disappearing this morning, but Pearl had classes-" The purple gem rolled her eyes and added, practically snickering, "and Jasper practically rushed us out of the house, anyway."

"I did not," Jasper protested, glaring down at the smaller gem. Steven narrowed his eyes further, having to physically restrain himself from rolling them. He was… irritated. Very much so. And, honestly, he didn't like the fact that Amethyst was approaching him; every muscle in his body was tense, rigid and alert, and for a moment - just a moment - he wanted to summon his shield and throw her back as far as he could get her, just to get some distance between them again.

Whoa there, he chided himself, panic flaring in his chest for a second at the thought. Now, that was something he didn't want to think about; he'd never thought of hurting the gems before. At least, he'd never thought… about hurting them on purpose, while he was consciously aware and in control of himself. The thoughts weren't welcome by any means, more terrifying than Steven wanted to admit, and he found himself taking a few steps away from all of them. Amethyst paused, looking back over at him as he moved, and her mouth tugged into a small frown. Regardless, she said nothing - thankfully - and simply offered him a smile.

Steven stared back at her, not even trying to force a smile of his own, knowing it wouldn't be anything more than a grimace or a scowl. Hell, for all he knew, he was already scowling. And to be completely honest, he… he didn't really care anymore. He wasn't about to be all sunshine and rainbows for them like he used to be; if he wasn't even supposed to be alive anymore, then he certainly wasn't needed as the sweet, positive little angel they used to know. They didn't need him to protect their feelings anymore. He'd done what he was supposed to do, it was over. "It's okay," he finally mumbled. Doesn't matter anyway. "Where's Pearl?"

"She stayed behind," Garnet informed him, and he slowly trailed his gaze up to the fusion, watching as she crossed her arms over her chest. "She's overseeing after-school activities."

"Yeah, but we wanted to come back to- ooo…" Amethyst bit her lip.

Steven couldn't keep himself from sneering in time, fingers twitching and curling slightly. God, his blood was practically boiling; the anger he felt now wasn't even entirely rage. It was… it was bitterness, and hatred and inadequacy and contempt. And it wasn't even completely directed at them; it was directed at everybody, and everything. And the idea of the gems feeling like they needed to stick around and watch over him like a hawk didn't settle well with him, either; hell, he wouldn't have had the time to go into Rose's room as long as he had unless they had been gone, and if all they did was stick around to check on him, he wouldn't have time to do so.

"Well, I appreciate the gesture," he finally spoke, sarcasm dripping from each word like acid, a bitter sense of amusement accompanying the anger bubbling through him. "But I don't need to be watched over like a baby. I'm not gonna fall apart without you," he added, somewhat mockingly despite himself, as a mirthless chuckle broke through his lips. His chest ached slightly, heart pounding a little bit faster - but even the anxiety churning in his stomach wasn't enough to completely stifle the rage he was feeling, the bitterness, the hatred. Amethyst stared at him for a moment, a look of mild surprise flickering across her face. Steven raised an eyebrow at her, then looked back at Garnet and Jasper. Neither of them looked particularly surprised; Jasper had quirked an eyebrow, seeming more interested than anything, while Garnet, adjusting her visor, only frowned slightly down at the hybrid, simply looking concerned.

Great, he'd upset two of them, at least. Steven hissed through his teeth, rolling his eyes to the side for a moment. He couldn't even bring himself to feel guilty now, he just felt… cold. Cold and bitter, and bored. Because, really, did it matter, anymore? They were only upset about him. Because he couldn't fix him. He'd fixed everything else that he could, his work here was done. Everything else just… wasn't his problem. And that… was an odd thought…

The hybrid furrowed his eyebrows, staring down for a moment, then pulled his lips back in a snarl and spun around, heading for the door. He couldn't be here; he needed to think. Disappearing into Rose's room would seem too suspicious to the gems, he hadn't been in there in years and at this point they knew how much he hated the damn place anyway. But taking a ride to get some fresh air, he could certainly get by with, and it sounded like a damn good plan. He pulled the door open and walked out, rolling his eyes again when he didn't hear it close behind him, and he didn't have to look back to know one - or all - of them was following him. Still, he didn't turn around, and had only just begun his descent down the stairs when he heard them speak up from behind him; honestly, the sound of Jasper's voice startled him.

"Not going back to the forest, are you?"

Steven stopped cold, turning slightly to look back at her. His eyes hardened slightly, just for a second, but he softened slightly after a moment when he allowed his gaze to really focus on her. He felt less angry, and more… numb. No guilt, surprisingly enough, but there was nothing else.

"No," he told her simply. "I'm just going for a drive. I can't be here." He turned his head to look toward the door for a second, watching the gems shuffle about through the window, but luckily, it seemed they had enough sense to leave him alone. Maybe they thought Jasper would be able to coax him back inside on her own or something, but Steven doubted that would be the case. "Yeah… I just need to get outta here for a bit. They're just too much for me right now."

The look that crossed Jasper's face implied that she understood; a strange mixture of sympathy and amusement, which was more emotion than he expected to see from her any day. "Can't say I blame you." The orange gem stretched, looking back toward the door before turning to look back toward Steven, and the hybrid clenched his teeth slightly, half expecting her to want to come with him. He took a slight step back, bracing himself against the rail as he almost slipped down the stairs, and glanced back with a sigh as he steadied himself on the step again. Luckily, though, Jasper seemed to pick up on his unease - or, likely, she simply didn't intend to tag along regardless - because she turned away to head back inside with a shrug. "Whatever, have fun."

Steven watched her go, not even bothering to stifle his sigh of relief. With that done and over with, and no clear response in mind - because, seriously, he wasn't going out to 'have fun' - he turned to continue down the stairs the rest of the way, making a direct beeline to the Dondai. It only occurred to him when he had actually reached it that he didn't have his keys with him; in all honesty, he didn't even know where the keys were. He almost wanted to say they were wherever the hell he'd ended up ditching his phone in the forest- but, that was fine, because he always kept a spare. Only problem was that it was inside the car, and the car was locked.

Because he was Steven fucking Universe, and this was his fucking life.

The life he wasn't even supposed to be living anymore.

After trying each of the doors, Steven circled around the car a few times, his mouth set in a firm scowl. There weren't many options; he could walk, but he'd already told Jasper he was going for a drive, and he didn't know whether or not she had relayed that information to the gems. Sure, leaving his keys behind in the forest was a valid excuse - but then, there was also the fact that he just didn't feel like walking. He had to pass the car wash, and he didn't want to risk Greg seeing him and trying to catch up with him and talk again. He just wanted to go, get in the car and drive as fast as he could, as far as he could, until he either crashed or ran out of gas. The former, of course, was the intended option… Steven chuckled dryly at the thought, and sighed.

Well, there was another option. He paused on the passenger side of the car, flicking his gaze toward the house. There wasn't really an excuse for what he was going to do next, but after a moment, he simply shrugged the thought off. He was tired of making excuses. It wasn't like it mattered anymore, not to him, so why should it matter to them? The teenager rolled his sleeve up, jerking his shoulders back, and wincing slightly at the pain that flushed across his back as he did so - before reeling back and slamming his fist through the passenger side window.

Pain seared through his hand almost immediately, a sharp crunch accompanying the sound glass shattering, and he winced sharply at both sounds. Regardless, satisfied with what he'd done for the most part, he simply reached in to unlock the car and hurried around to the other side to get in, wanting to avoid being questioned as much as possible and simply wanting to go.

He shut the door - and locked it - once he had settled himself inside the car, reaching over to open the glove compartment. He vaguely noticed that his hand was bleeding; a few small pieces of glass that had chipped off had embedded themselves into his skin, blood oozing out over his knuckles, which were throbbing frantically, protesting to each movement. Still, he managed to grab his key and stick it in the ignition before resigning himself to heal the wound, despite not quite wanting to - he still had the cuts on his back anyway, and driving with his hand like this would just frustrate him further. So, he pressed his lips to his bloodied knuckles.

… and nothing happened.

Steven paused, pressing another kiss to his hand - but it continued to throb, aching with every little touch, and he jerked his head back sharply to stare down at his knuckles in confusion. They were still cut, still bleeding. He brushed the sleeve of his other arm over his hand, rubbing away some of the glass and wincing slightly as the touch made his hand hurt further. He wasn't healing - which was… concerning, to say the least. If he couldn't heal it, he'd have to explain it to the gems. And while, yes, it wasn't as deliberate as every other wound had been yet, it was still something he'd have to talk to them about, which he wasn't looking forward to.

Well, for now, his mind chided, just drive. They're not here, are they? The teenager hesitated, glancing up toward the beach house for a moment. Well, they weren't. It didn't matter whether he was hurt now or not, because he didn't have to explain shit to them - hell, he didn't have to explain shit to them anyway! He was seventeen years old, it wasn't their fucking business. If they were so worried about him getting hurt, they wouldn't have led him into battle after battle against corrupted gem monsters, wouldn't have taken him on dangerous missions, wouldn't have let him move in with them, wouldn't have made him a Crystal Gem, wouldn't have almost gotten him killed over and over and over again.

Absolutely seething now, he twisted the key in the ignition, gripping the wheel with shaking hands. The radio turned on the moment the car burst to life, the music drowning out the familiar rumbling of the engine. He turned it up immediately, and ended up switching stations for the first time since he'd gotten the damn thing. He ended up settling on a station that was playing some sort of heavy metal, the car rattling with each strum of a guitar and the pounding of the drums, and whoever was singing was practically screeching the lyrics, too loud and too fast for Steven to understand. Regardless, it was more than welcome, and it was just the adrenaline rush he needed for him to fucking floor it; slamming his foot down onto the gas pedal and putting the car in reverse, he backed out of where he had parked and jerked the wheel, spinning the car around. Then he put it back in forward and took off, tires screeching as he did so.

He tightened his grip on the wheel, turning sharply once he reached the road and pulling out in front of another car - which earned him an earful of honks - but he didn't stop. He sped down the road, past buildings, past the car wash, past everything in Beach City that he'd grown up with. Everything he'd ever known just went by in a blur, barely seen from the corners of his eyes as he stared ahead. The song from the radio finally ended up tuning out every other sound; the other cars, his own engine, his tires squealing with every sharp turn. Until all he could hear was the music, and the singer that was screeching his heart out into the song. Despite himself - despite everything - Steven had to admit it was actually a pretty nice song. Would've been better if he could understand what was being said, but to be honest, he probably wouldn't have been able to focus on it anyway. So for the time being, he simply let himself tune out and drive.

It was actually nice, letting go of everything for a second. No worries; not a single fucking one. He just focused on driving - and he barely did that. Only enough to swerve around cars and just barely avoid crashing into another one, riding up on sidewalks and veering around lamp posts. It almost reminded him of that night with Pearl and Amethyst - but that only made him drive faster, because they were the last people he wanted to think about now. He pushed down on the gas until the little needle inside the speed meter had tilted all the way to the right, trembling slightly and pulling his mouth into a sharp grimace. His eyes narrowed, swerving up onto the sidewalk for a second to pass a few more cars before pulling himself back onto the road.

The song ended, and changed; the next one, sadly, wasn't as loud - but it was definitely still as adrenaline inducing, especially when Steven ended up tuning back in to listen to it.

-ust confess that I feel like a monster

I hate what I've become, the nightmare's just begun

I must confess that I feel like a monster…!

A rush of heat flushed across his cheeks, gone almost as soon as it had happened. Gritting his teeth, he let out a low, strained scream from the back of his throat, glaring ahead. Even now, he couldn't escape his own self-hatred. He had managed to escape everything else for a second; just for the moment, the adrenaline had been enough to snap him out of his rage and loathing toward them. But it seemed like no matter what he did, he wouldn't ever be rid of the anger he felt for himself - he wouldn't ever be able to feel anything but hatred toward himself, and he honestly didn't think he deserved anything less. But now he knew why, now he understood why. He wasn't even supposed to exist anymore. And that was why he was spiraling. That was why this was just getting harder and harder and harder to control; because it wasn't supposed to be controlled. It was just supposed to end.

He kept driving, kept pushing himself forward. He sped right past the 'Welcome to Beach City' sign, hardly noticing until everything familiar slowly and steadily began to fade away, the scenery around him changing. Sure, he somewhat, vaguely recognized where he was headed, but not enough now to put a name to it through the fury clouding his mind right then.

Regardless, with nothing else to do, he just kept driving.

He honestly surprised himself by not managing to crash; even though he wasn't actively trying not to, he also wasn't outright smashing the car into buildings and shit as he drove. The only thing keeping him from pulling out in front of another car was the idea of hurting somebody else - which, despite his current numbness, he knew would tear him to pieces. Shattering Jasper had already taken a toll on him guilt-wise; hurting a human because of his own stupidity and self-destructive attitude would just be the fucking icing on the cake, wouldn't it? It wasn't something Steven was willing to have on his conscience right then, so he simply avoided crashing into anybody and continued pressing forward, finally allowing himself to slow down just a little bit once he was satisfied he was far enough away from Beach City to do so.

It was almost funny, how he was the only thing he couldn't escape right then. Even now, with all this distance between him and the gems, and his father, and Connie, he still felt that itching feeling. Still felt those chains wrapped around his neck, pulling him backwards even as he drove forward. And, god, there was nothing he wanted more than to finally snap them; to genuinely leave behind every small worry and doubt and fear, and just let himself get completely drunk on his anger, to lose himself in the terrifying but intoxicating hatred slowly and steadily building in his chest. If he could just do that - just snap the chains and every little responsibility and expectation along with it - then maybe he'd finally be able to pull his gem out and break it.

Or maybe he'd be able to turn his car and smash straight into that tree. Or that pole. Maybe he'd shatter on impact; or maybe he'd break every damn bone in his body for the hundredth time. He couldn't heal himself, currently, so what would even happen if he did that? The gems weren't around to fuss over him, Connie wasn't there to rush him to the hospital again. Though he would admit that he was already pretty much overloaded with pain right then; his back, and his hand… every cut and wound was aching, pounding, throbbing. His head was starting to hurt from the radio, too. And now that he was focusing on the pain, it was only getting worse; his hand, in particular, as he squeezed it around the steering wheel, was proving to be the worst one yet. He almost wondered if he had broken it - was it even possible to break your hand just by punching a window? The glass had crumbled instantly under the force of his punch, and he was sure - even without his healing abilities - that he was much stronger than that physically. Then again, with how much he'd probably broken his hand anyway, maybe he had re-fractured something…

… he wondered what it would feel like to have each of his bones shatter. He wondered, without his healing abilities, if it was possible. Maybe he was already so fragile physically because of everything he'd already been through, it would only take so much pressure…

Steven frowned, focusing on the road again - and inhaled sharply, realizing a little too late that he'd accidentally drifted off into the other lane. He veered sharply to the side, barely managing to avoid crashing sideways into another car as he pulled the Dondai back into the right lane, just in time as another car flew past him, having been seconds away from hitting him head on.

His heart stuttered against his chest as he slowed again, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath. He hadn't even been scared, not really - not for him, anyway. Hell, if there hadn't been another person in that car, he'd have just let himself crash, and that knowledge alone made his chest twist and tingle violently, nausea rolling through his stomach. He couldn't tell if what he was feeling was excitement or not at this point; all he knew was that it suddenly hurt, and he was… dizzy and hot and his vision was getting blurry and everything was getting… dark…

He could only remember one other time he'd felt like this; so close to the edge, not being pulled down - but rather, being pulled forward, like a roller coaster going too fast in one direction, straight ahead. It was when he and Peridot had been on their way to the Cluster. He still remembered all those overwhelming feelings, his mind clouded by emotions and thoughts that didn't quite feel like his own. He remembered the panic that had gripped him and the way everything had just suddenly blacked out. It was almost the same now; except these emotions were his own, and coupled with the physical pain, it was completely unbearable. It didn't make any sense; the physical pain should be canceling it out. It had been canceling it out.

Screwing his eyes shut in a desperate attempt to stop everything from spinning, he pulled the wheel to the side, driving the car up off of the road without really having time to think about it. His hands trembled, head hurt, everything was spinning, he felt like he was going to pass out.

He opened his eyes and slammed on brakes almost instantly; it took a minute for the car to actually stop, and just in time, right at the edge of another road, just as a car sped by.

He… he couldn't breathe.

The hybrid swallowed, opening his mouth and trying to suck in as much air as he could, but he felt like he was suffocating. The song on the radio was too loud, the car still pounding and vibrating as the music blared - before, abruptly, it went completely static. He pulled his legs up, away from the pedals, so that he could put his feet on the edges of the seat instead, sitting with his knees as close to his chest as possible and letting his head fall back with a gasp.

What was he doing? He didn't want to be out here. He wanted to be back at the beach house, locked away in his room. Or Rose's room. But out here, where he could hurt somebody else? He was just asking for another disaster, just asking for more guilt, more problems to fix - created solely by him, and those problems weren't even fixable in the first place. He wasn't fixable. Steven grimaced, trying and failing to breathe in again. He felt like his lungs were shrinking, closing off, only allowing him to breathe air in as far as the bottom of his throat, but refusing to let it go any further. It came out in a huff every time, leaving him more air-deprived than the last.

The weird thing was; not having air was making him want to scream his head off. He wasn't even angry at this point, just… confused and desperate. He stared ahead, across the road, to the cluster of trees on the other side. He still felt ten seconds away from passing out.

But… but maybe he could go out with a bang. He wondered if, since he couldn't heal himself, the impact would be enough to kill him. He wondered if his gem would keep him alive - and, god, he hoped it wouldn't… Steven swallowed, managing to breathe in slowly. It wasn't enough to fill his lungs enough to make them stop hurting, but at this point, everything was hurting him. Physically and emotionally. And he wanted nothing more than to just slam the car forward, everything and everyone and himself be damned and just smash straight into the trees. Still, all he could do was stare, all he could do was envision what would happen. The idea of the car exploding, of him being caught in the blast, of the pain and the rush and the adrenaline.

Slowly, the teenager lowered one leg, and then the other. It would either kill him or it would hurt like hell, and… that's what I deserve, anyway. Either one. Not even as a distraction, anymore - it wasn't like the physical pain was doing its job in drowning out the emotions, or the thoughts. But even then, he still wanted to hurt. Hell, he didn't even think of it as a punishment now, anymore; more like an addiction, something he wanted, needed, and craved. The only thing he could feel anything for that wasn't either resentment, anger or indifference. And he'd rather feel this than…

The static from the radio abruptly silenced, like it had simply cut off altogether.

He watched another car breeze past, and the road went still again, silent, almost as if the universe itself was giving him the invitation to drive forward. Like it was just screaming, well, go ahead and do what you're gonna do, kid. It's now or never, isn't it?

Steven breathed in, settling one hand on the steering wheel, and pressed his foot down on the gas pedal, pushing it all the way down. It took a moment for the car to move; but, once it did, it practically shot forward, nearly soaring across the road to the other side. And he watched the trees get closer and closer, heart pounding faster and faster with each passing second, feeling like all of his blood had rushed straight to his head. He felt hot again, everything was dizzy, blurry, spinning. His breath had left him again from the second he got going.

He pulled the wheel to the side just before he crashed, the car riding up on two wheels for only half a second before he slammed forward into one of the trees. He had to hold onto the steering wheel to keep himself from flying straight out of the car - but even then, the impact was still enough to lift him out of his seat and send him forward into the windshield. He didn't have the chance to go through - but god, he could feel glass cutting through his clothes, slicing through his flesh as pure agony seared through every part of his body - before the Dondai crashed sideways. The top of the car ended up smashing into a tree, keeping the car tilted sideways; he ended up landing back in the seat from the force of the impact, too stunned to do anything.

Everything hurt.

His head hurt, most of all; he almost blamed the headache, until he felt a trickle of blood run down the side of his face, tickling his skin as if a bug were crawling on him.

He pushed away the airbags that had inflated, raising a hand to touch the blood. He felt dizzy again, but it was a little less violent this time; the darkness that began to cloud his vision wasn't entirely panic induced, and he knew this because he could breathe just fine. Granted, it hurt like hell to do so; his sides ached, his ribs protesting to every little inhale, but he could still breathe. He couldn't see, though, and he realized this a little too late. He couldn't see, he couldn't hear - he could smell. He smelled… blood, and grass, and smoke.

That last thing didn't have time to completely register before he couldn't smell anything, either.

Chapter Text

Steven curled up in the darkness, chest tight with every inhale, every exhale. Each breath hurt, like the air was made of knives, shredding him from the inside out every time he tried to breathe it in. But he continued to do so, regardless of how ridiculously difficult it became with each passing second, regardless of how his throat ended up constricting. His nose burned even after he'd ended up closing his mouth, still trying to breathe but still somehow falling short. For a moment, he almost wondered if he was dead - but then, he wouldn't be conscious, would he? Hell, if that was the case, then what the fuck had been the point?!

"You're not dead…" The voice was familiar, but it wasn't one Steven wanted to hear - and the words, he simply wasn't sure how to feel about. Still, whatever emotion he felt was immediately overshadowed as he tried to get up; almost screaming out in pain, he lowered himself back down when his entire body gave a sharp throb of protest, his right leg nearly crumbling underneath him before he had properly had a chance to push himself up in the first place. His chest hurt, his head hurt, every muscle burned and ached as if his entire body was screaming at him for what he'd done, telling him off and reprimanding and mocking him. Everything hit him all at once; the pain and the memories of what had happened, and he bit his tongue to keep back another cry - this one of despair, and anger, rather than pain.

He shuddered, moving his arms up under his chest to try and heave himself up again. Most of the pain, he adjusted to and accounted for - but, somehow, he simply couldn't get his leg to move the way he needed it to. It wasn't that the pain was preventing him from doing such; the pain, he could have easily dealt with, it wasn't even that bad. But his leg just wouldn't move. The other one twisted and turned just fine, scrambling for a grip against the floor as he attempted to push himself up, but the right one continued to buckle and collapse under his weight, with no support to hold him up. It was a very…  unpleasant  experience, and honestly, it was terrifying.

"Try not to move too much," the voice murmured from behind him. Steven cracked his eyes open, and, flinching slightly at first, he managed to heave himself up onto one knee, keeping one hand pressed firmly to the floor to hold himself up. He recognized his surroundings, though; it was the place he'd visited in his dreams, with the pink tiles and endless darkness. He stared at the cracks in the floor, pupils shrinking slightly when he realized where he was - and who he was with. He took a deep, shuddering breath and held it for a moment, listening in silence. "I don't think you can hurt yourself further, but moving will only cause unnecessary pain."

Steven twisted his mouth into a faint sneer in response, turning his head slightly and taking in a deep, shaky breath. He couldn't turn enough, in the position he was currently in, to be able to see his pink twin - but he could still see the faint glow out of the corner of his eye if he turned his head just enough, but even that simple movement still hurt like a motherfucker. He pressed his knee against the ground and cringed, biting his tongue to keep himself from screaming out. The pain, while not quite getting worse, was still strong enough with each throb to take him by surprise, and that was enough to catch him off guard to the point where he felt like he was going to explode in pure, raw agony at any given second. It wasn't even the satisfying, distracting pain he was used to; it just… hurt. It was an overload, without a doubt, and one he could do without.

"The hell-" He hissed through clenched teeth, needing to get some kind of sound out, some kind of release of the pain he was feeling. It hurt to talk; his sides ached in protest with every breath he let out, and his chest felt far too tight to let anything back in. His voice was low to his own ears, muffled and almost silent, and he had to strain to raise it a little more to be heard. "The hell do I kee- do I keep ending u- up here for?" He screwed his face up and squeezed his eyes shut, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes as he tried to remind himself to focus, and breathe.

"Well, right now, you're unconscious," his pink clone told him, slowly as if talking to a child. His voice was strained - Steven didn't know why, but he guessed it was because he was probably still struggling with those goddamn chains. "You've been unconscious since the car crash."

Steven didn't respond immediately, heart sinking slightly at the mention - and the reminder - of what had happened. Well, then, it made sense why he was in so much pain… but what  didn't  make sense was the fact that he couldn't seem to heal himself of his injuries now. And a really big part of him wished he could, despite how much he had longed for the pain beforehand. This was just… it was too much. It wasn't what he had wanted;  none  of this was what he'd wanted. His arms trembled with the effort it took to hold himself upright, now honestly considering just giving in and letting himself fall to the floor again and curl up against the cracked tiles.

The hybrid grimaced and swallowed, shifting his weight onto the knee that was actually somehow succeeding in keeping him somewhat steady, while the other remained mostly limp, proving completely unable to function at the moment. He hoped it was a temporary thing - god, imagine never being able to  walk  again. Imagine explaining  that  to the gems.

"You need help."

Steven narrowed his eyes slightly, glaring over his shoulder to the best of his ability as he continued to struggle to push himself up. "Really?" He whispered, grinding his teeth together. "I- I wasn't aware. Thanks- thanks for the news flash, Captain Obvious." He pushed his hands against the floor in a half-hearted attempt to heave himself up onto his foot, but he settled back down not too long after, realizing rather quickly that getting himself up onto one foot in this position wasn't going to be an easy task, and he had no idea how to continue with that.

"That's not what I meant," his pink twin grunted behind him, a little more strained now. Jeez, he was really working at those chains, wasn't he? "You need help, Steven."

Steven furrowed his eyebrows slightly, not quite understanding, but he turned his attention back to his task quickly enough, far too fed up to care about whatever the hell he meant in the first place. His pink clone sighed, but said nothing else as Steven shifted again, managing to pull his left foot under him just enough to heave himself up, wavering and stumbling slightly for a moment before he managed to steady himself again. Still, he only managed to bask in his success for a good five seconds before he began teetering again, unsteady on only one foot.

"Jesus…" The teenager huffed, summoning his shield and grabbing onto it to hold himself steady again. He stayed like that for a moment, simply trying to regain some balance, before slowly twisting himself around to face his pink twin again. He wasn't expecting to see him sitting down; his tone prior, strained and slightly unsteady, had given the impression that he was still struggling with the chains. But, instead, his pink clone sat cross-legged on the tiles, the chains piled in his lap - still connected to the floor, but abandoned for the time being. Tiny pink pinprick pupils were focused on the cracked tiles in front of him, lips curled back to show his teeth, which were clenched tightly. His expression was unreadable - Steven wanted to say it was something akin to pain… but he didn't seem to be injured. Maybe some anger mixed in, too…

Steven stared for a moment, mouth twisting into a frown. But he didn't say anything, and neither did his gem half. The silence that fell over them was less than comfortable; not quite  awkward , per se, but it was definitely tense. The hybrid narrowed his eyes, looking down at the chains.

He still wasn't anywhere close to breaking free.

"Steven," his pink twin began suddenly, quietly - if the room hadn't been so silent just before, he probably wouldn't have heard him. "I…" He paused, just for a second. "... I need to heal you." At this, Steven raised his eyebrows slightly, looking down at his gem half with a frown. His pink clone said nothing; hell, he didn't even look up at Steven, practically refusing to lift his gaze from the tiled floor beneath them. His jaw twitched, seemingly clenching his teeth harder.

"Are you hurt, too?" Steven blurted out before he could stop himself, breathing in shakily through his teeth. His pink clone jerked a little in surprise, as if that wasn't quite what he was expecting, and finally spared a faintly bewildered glance upwards. Steven jumped a little in surprise, cursing himself almost immediately for doing so and hugging his arms around the shield to keep himself from falling. His pink twin's pupils had changed again - but rather than diamonds, they had shifted into tiny question marks, which was… nothing Steven had ever seen before. It was weird - more preferable than the alternative, but still weird.

"No," his gem half finally managed to speak, pupils shifting back into their normal pinpricks as he stared at Steven. "I'm not hurt. This isn't about me, Steven, you're the one that's injured."

Steven narrowed his eyes slightly at that, twisting his mouth sharply in response as he glared at his pink twin. "Well, no. Thanks, but n- no thank-" The hybrid stopped for a second, breathing in sharply and doubling over slightly as he tried to catch his breath again, ribs throbbing with pain as his body seemed to protest to him even being remotely functional - including talking, it seemed, which he couldn't seem to do for more than five seconds without it hurting like hell.

His pink clone stared at him, eyebrows twitching faintly and pinching together, but otherwise, he hardly reacted physically. "Right, yes, I can see you're doing… perfectly fine on your own…"

"Go-" Steven gasped, wrapping an arm around himself and looking up again, staring his gem half down. To his credit, the pink lookalike hardly faltered under his stare, gazing back calmly. His usually blank gaze had long been replaced with concern, though; despite how small his pupils were, there was a definite, noticeable frown written across his face, and his eyebrows were furrowed together as far as they could go, nearly touching. "To hell-"

His pink twin opened his mouth, but he seemed to think better of whatever he was going to say, biting his tongue and snapping his mouth shut again with a grimace. "I'm not trying to stress yo-"

"Well, you are," Steven snarled, cutting him off. His gem half gritted his teeth again, but said nothing, closing his mouth again with a silent sigh as Steven continued sharply, to the best of his ability, "so just- just shut your mouth and fuck off, would you? I-" He stopped, breathing in sharply, and squeezed his eyes shut as he forced himself to continue through the pain. "I don't want o- or need anything from you." He tightened his grip on the shield, still struggling to keep himself upright, despite the shield still having yet to falter under his weight. More or less, his leg was simply starting to ache a little bit as it was, standing only on one foot with the other held up as much as he could manage to avoid putting as much pressure on it as he could.

"But you can't do it," his pink clone countered quietly, as calm as possible, despite the ever-growing worry - and faint frustration - that was spreading across his face. "Your powers aren't working, and you're injured." His expression softened, if only slightly, staring at him. "Please, just let me-"

"No," Steven insisted, breath hitching slightly - less from the pain, now, but he wasn't quite ready to admit that yet. "I don't wan- I don't want your help, okay? I don't n- need you to heal me, or- or help me or any of that. I- I did this, s- so- so I- so I deserve it, don't I? I'm the reason I- I'm in pain so I have to deal with it myself." He stopped, breathing in sharply and letting it out as slow as he could to avoid injuring himself even further, despite the fact that his ribs and chest were already aching from his little rant as it was anyway. "It's my fault," he mumbled, swallowing.

"That wouldn't be your thought process if it were anybody else," his gem half muttered.

"But I'm not!" Steven screamed, forgetting a little too late that he was still hurt; his chest throbbed at once, protesting the abuse he seemed to just be putting his body through relentlessly, time after time again with no thought about the consequences. The shield cracked and diminished before he had time to react, legs buckling again and sending him crashing back to his knees. Thankfully, he managed to keep himself from collapsing completely, pressing his hands against the tiles to hold himself up as much as possible. "I-" He paused, breathing heavily as he tried to recover - more or less giving up on trying to stand up at that point. "I'm not…"

"You still deserve assistance, Steven," his pink twin told him softly, frustration diminishing at once. Steven shook his head a little in response, too tired and frustrated with himself to even begin arguing, but his gem half was continuing anyway, "you don't deserve to hurt like this."

"Stop talking," Steven mumbled, and his pink clone obliged, falling silent and simply watching as Steven struggled to compose himself. The hybrid sank back, blinking back tears and letting himself fall backwards just enough to settle somewhat cross-legged instead, with his right leg left somewhat limply on the floor and the left one still somewhat curled under him. His arms stayed at his sides, trembling as they held him up, while he leaned back against them as much as possible without letting himself fall backwards with the force of his own weight.

This wasn't what he'd intended. He wasn't supposed to end up here, with this pink version of him who apparently wasn't really "him" at all - which he wasn't too convinced about, but regardless, he let it slide for the time being because he wasn't quite willing to let himself think about it for too long. But he wasn't supposed to  be  here; he wasn't supposed to "be" anywhere. He didn't even know where he was, reality-wise; sure, he was unconscious, but did that mean he was still just practically half-dead in the Dondai? Still just trapped within the wreck, the aftermath of a split-second decision brought on by a rush of pure, impulsive self-loathing?

God, he really was pathetic, wasn't he? He couldn't even kill himself right. He couldn't even do that one thing that should've been so simple, couldn't see it through, couldn't just end it himself. Honestly, he should have known better than to even attempt it; he'd been through way worse than a car crash, and he was still alive now. Even without the use of his healing abilities, why had he even assumed to begin with that it would be enough to kill him? If everything else he'd been through hadn't, why would something as stupid, as simple, as  human  as a car crash…

He couldn't believe he had just botched that - but then again, at the same time, he was still having trouble processing the fact that he had attempted it in the first place.

The hybrid swallowed and screwed his eyes shut, ducking his head slightly. Honestly, he didn't even know what he was doing, anyway. The car crash, while intentional, wasn't exactly a well thought-out plan. Steven didn't think he would do well with a thought-out plan, actually. He'd probably change his mind at the last second, like when he tried to pull his gem out; he'd get too freaked out, he'd start second-guessing himself, he'd let all his doubts plague him until finally he just gave up on it entirely. And then he'd be right back to square one - but then, it didn't really matter, because it felt like - whatever he did - he'd  always  end up back at square one.

Back and trapped in the endless loop of his own self-loathing, running in circles like a dog chasing his tail until he finally collapsed from exhaustion - and he felt just about there, now. Ready to crumble under everything, just lay down and give up. No big blowout, no temper tantrums, no outbursts or suicide attempts - just… just done. Quit. Just completely over it.

His arms gave way, allowing him to crash back onto the floor, but he didn't care. He didn't have the strength to hold himself up anymore, he didn't have the strength to push himself back up.

Steven was stuck, in every sense of the word.

"Hey, you…"

The words were soft and breathless, barely a whisper, but Steven caught them easily - it would've been impossible not to. Still, he did nothing, just stared blankly up into the darkness.

"Show me a solvable problem…
We can get through this…"

He heard chains rattling, the pink glow ahead of him growing a little closer, and finally turned his head slightly to look. His pink clone had shuffled a little closer to him - not quite looking at Steven, he seemed more focused on the cracks in the floor, reaching down and pressing his bubbles hands to the tiles with a deep, concentrated frown. But that wasn't what captured Steven's attention; nor the singing, if he was being honest. More or less, it was the tears brewing in his gem half's eyes, slowly but steadily building and rising to the surface, never quite spilling, but still lingering on the edge of doing just that. And he felt…  pain . Not his own pain - the emotions he was feeling was coming solely from the pink being in front of him. There was sorrow, and confusion, and concern and… sympathy. And longing.

Still not looking at him, his pink twin continued softly, eyebrows furrowing.

"I'll do… the… hardest…"
Part… with… you…"

He didn't know what to say - or even what to do, for that matter. He just watched, gazing silently as his pink twin lifted one of his hands slightly from the cracks, a familiar, little white butterfly squeezing through. It rose up, as both of them watched, circling slowly around his gem half's head before fluttering over to Steven, hovering over his face and landing on his nose. He sneezed - because of course he did - and the butterfly rose back up, up into the air with…

… with hundreds, thousands more just like it; the darkness was gone, replaced by the familiar blue that Steven remembered seeing all those years ago as Stevonnie. The butterflies circled around with no clear destination, seemingly just flying for the sake of it, having nowhere to go. He watched, blinking tears of his own back as they dove back down toward him, and his gem half, never quite reaching them but never quite leaving at the same time. More and more continued to squeeze through the cracks in the tiles, adding to the mix by the second…

After a moment, the teenager raised a hand and pressed it against his face, over his nose and mouth. The tears finally escaped, rolling down his cheeks; they glowed white before they hit the ground, morphing into butterflies - which flew back up and circled around with the others.

He was tired.

He was tired, and confused, and angry and sad and… and he'd never felt more alone. He'd never felt so lost; with no clear direction ahead of him, stuck and forced to move forward without even knowing where he was being taken. He didn't know what to do, where to go, how to continue - all he knew at this point was that he wasn't even entirely certain that he wanted to keep going in the first place, and that he just… didn't want to feel like this anymore. He didn't want to feel angry and sad and lost. He didn't want to feel alone. He didn't want to  be  alone.

"I'm here," his gem half murmured. "I always have been-" A pause, "-and I always will be."

Steven lifted his hand slightly to look over at him this time. His pink twin had stretched out on his back, as much as the chains would allow, with both of his arms over his face. He finally seemed somewhat relaxed; not struggling with the chains, and not as tense as he had been before.

The hybrid hesitated, and opened his mouth to respond.


"Sir? Are you awake?"

Steven sat up - or at least, he tried to - with a short, strangled gasp. Everything felt wrong; something was covering his face, something was in his nose, in his throat - he couldn't see for a second, too, everything was blurry and distorted beyond recognition. He couldn't even make out colors, just motions. Something was moving, but he couldn't see what it was - he assumed it was whoever had spoken, and they were still speaking, he heard words, jumbled and faint and hard to make out now, but he didn't really care about that anymore; too busy focusing on whatever was on his face right then, he simply shut everything else out, reaching up to try and pull it off - only for his hands to be stopped before he could get a good grip, feeling a firm but surprisingly gentle pressure around his wrists as his arms were moved back to his sides.

Someone was talking again - a different voice, lower and deeper than the other, but Steven still couldn't focus. If anything, everything seemed to get much more distorted and confusing after his arms had been moved, heart pounding harder and faster. Something was beeping - where the hell was he? His first instinct was to consider that he was being kidnapped, he was in some spaceship or some gem hideout - oh, god, had Aquamarine and Eyeball come back for him? How had they even found him? He had been a long way away from Beach City, right?!

Once again, he struggled to heave himself back up, only for two hands to grasp his shoulders - not pushing, not pulling, just holding, keeping him from moving any further than he already had. Which was a good thing, he noted quickly, because his back hurt like all hell just trying to heave himself up - something was wrong, more than just wherever the hell he was or the people he was with. Something felt wrong, with him, with his body. It hurt all the way down from the center of his spine, and seemed to shift to one side the lower it went. Moving obviously wasn't an option, but every instinct screamed at him to fight back and get away as fast as he could.

"Sir, you have to calm down," the voice was clearer now, but the words took a little longer to register. Steven stopped, blinking rapidly in an attempt to clear his vision, as whoever was speaking continued quickly, "my name is Dr. Powell, you're at Empire City General Hospital." Steven froze - and 'Dr. Powell' must have felt it, because they went on, "it's alright, you're okay. We're going to take good care of you here. I just need you to stop moving and sit back so we can prevent you injuring yourself any further, alright? Slow and steady."

Steven hesitated, staying still for a moment before slowly leaning back, breathing in shakily - and feeling whatever the hell was in his throat shift slightly as he did so. He winced, raising a hand slightly to try and pull it out again, but his arm was tugged back down before he could.

"I'm going to remove this in a moment, but I have to ask- are you having any trouble breathing?"

The hybrid shook his head, a little irritated, and the doctor mumbled something that sounded like, "don't move", shuffling a little closer. Steven blinked a few times, still trying to force himself to focus, and breathing in sharply when he felt whatever was on his face being lifted; slowly, whatever was in his throat was pulled out; he gagged and coughed almost as soon as it was out, gasping for air and trying not to move too much, seeing as doing so only made his back hurt even further. Hell, everything hurt - but his back was the more prominent issue, along with the tingling feeling that ran down his spine, accompanying the pain. And- hospital?

He opened his mouth and breathed in shakily. It was just as hard to breathe as it had been in his dream, but he wasn't about to tell the doctor that, for fear of having whatever the fuck that had been stuck down his throat again. He wasn't so keen on that - and he wanted to take a moment to let his eyes clear before he did anything else, just to be sure he really was where he was being told he was; he'd never been to Empire City General Hospital before, but he at least knew what a hospital looked like. The only problem was that he still couldn't see.

"Are you able to speak?" A hand rested on his shoulder again, less restraining his time and most likely meant to be comforting, but it still did very little to console him. If anything, he shied away from the touch, grimacing slightly, and the doctor lifted their hand immediately. "Take your time, don't strain yourself."

"I-" Steven paused, breathing in again and trying to focus. Everything was still so jumbled - his thoughts were racing, unable to fixate on one long enough for it to actually become coherent. He was still struggling to adjust to his surroundings without being able to see, to recognize something familiar in an unfamiliar environment. "I'm f- I don't- how- how did I get here-?"

"You were in a car crash," the doctor told him slowly. "Do you remember that?" At this, Steven only managed to force a nod, too exhausted - physically - to work up the nerve to try to speak again. His throat hurt with the effort it had taken to get his question out, and he wanted to save what little breath he had for the important things. "That's good. Can you tell me your name?"

"Steven," the teenager mumbled, still struggling to focus his thoughts on something specific, but everything seemed to slip away from him so fast he hardly had any time to react accordingly. He blinked once, then another time, but it didn't do anything to clear his vision. "Steven Quartz… Universe," he added hastily, remembering how formal doctors were - hell, Priyanka still made him fill out his name - his full name - on the information sheet at the hospital, even though she already knew pretty much everything there was to know about him. Steven didn't have the time or patience to relay his full name to this doctor, however, so for the time being, he was content just letting them think that was it. He was already hesitant to say 'Universe', if he reached the 'Diamond' part of his name, he might just fucking explode anyway. Even Quartz felt wrong…

"Okay." There was a brief pause - Steven thought he heard a pen clicking, so he assumed this information was being written down, unsurprisingly. He busied himself with lifting a hand to rub his eyes, hoping that would be enough to clear his vision a little. "And… how old are you?"

"S- ohh…" Steven winced slightly, realizing a little too late what was happening here. They were gonna ask for his age, then they were gonna ask if he had his parents' contact information. At least, that's what he had gathered from the hospital shows he used to watch when he was younger - and he wasn't looking forward to having to call up the gems or - worse - his fucking father to have to say oh hey, dad, I crashed the Dondai - on purpose - can you come get me from Empire City? Because oh, gee, wouldn't that go down swell?

He pressed the hell of his hand into his eye, trying to think - and think fast. The gems were out of the question. Pearl would flip her shit if she found out what he'd done; she had already gotten after him for crashing the van, and that hadn't even been on purpose - not entirely, anyways. Garnet… oh, who was he kidding? Garnet probably already knew, anyway. Amethyst… unpredictable. She'd either freak out like Pearl or she'd just try to laugh it off - but, given everything the gems had found out about him lately, he doubted she'd just let this one slide. Greg, obviously, was out of the question; Steven didn't even want to think about him, much less call him out of the blue - after everything that had happened between them - to explain this train wreck. Or car wreck. Whatever. Okay, so, clearly, he was screwed.

"Seventeen…" He finally muttered, the word feeling like acid on his tongue, bitter and painful and knowing exactly what was about to follow.

"Okay…" More writing… it was coming… here we go… "Steven, I'm required to ask-" Yep, here it comes, "-given the circumstances… are you self-harming?"

Steven froze, heart stopping for a good two seconds before taking off like a rocket, pounding so hard against his chest he genuinely thought it was going to fly straight out of his body. He pulled his hand away from his face, barely catching the faint blur of pink that had sparked to life, the familiar heat consuming his body completely with no warning whatsoever. The sharp intake of breath from the doctor was all he needed, though, to know he had turned pink.

Ohhh god, oh fuck, oh god. He couldn't breathe- well, he couldn't breathe before that, but now he genuinely couldn't get a breath in. Funny thing, though, he felt fine; no burning lungs, no aching for air. That was the least of his worries. He felt about ten seconds away from having a heart attack; it was still pounding harder and faster by the second, erratic and uncontrollable. He needed to get the hell out of the hospital; out of Empire City; hell, he needed to get off of the fucking planet, but it wasn't like he had anywhere to go even if he did that. Homeworld wasn't a fucking option anymore. And logically, yes, he knew there were tons of planets he could, hypothetically, go to in order to just hide away, but most of those planets didn't exactly have breathable air - though, there was the moon base, he could go pull a Lapis and hide there, and just watch everybody from the globe projection thing she had shown him - but, no.

Because that would require Lion- which would require Connie- which… no.

Oookay. The hybrid breathed in, slow and unsteady, pushing himself forward a little in an attempt to hop off of the hospital bed. He didn't get far, of course; the pain in his back, along with his right leg's outright refusal to function at this point left him pretty much stranded where he was, but he really did make an effort to get down before he ended up giving up. And, of course, that just brought up a whole new set of problems; how was he even supposed to get anywhere? He had no idea if the Dondai was in any condition to drive, and he certainly wasn't.

… yeah, that's it, he was fucked.

"Ah- Steven, don't move," the doctor warned, seemingly having recovered - Steven assumed the pinkness wasn't as shocking as it should have been to a human, and therefore assumed they must have already seen his gem along with the scars… dammit. "Just take it easy-"

"N- No- Nope, no, gotta go," Steven interrupted, gritting his teeth and trying to push himself forward a little more, extending his good leg down toward the floor. Well, he could hop to the doorway - or break the window and float to the ground… wait, actually, that wasn't such a bad idea. And it might actually work, if his floating powers didn't require positivity… he wasn't floating anytime soon. Hopping it was. "You've been nice and all, but- uh- I-" He stopped, finally managing to press his toes to the floor, and slowly pulled himself down onto one foot, turning sharply to push himself off of the bed and grabbing onto the edge of it to balance himself. "Can't be here anymore, so…"

"Okay, that's fine," the doctor told him cautiously, and Steven flicked his gaze up slightly. He still couldn't see too well; it was blurry, unfocused, but better than it was, and he could at least make out the doctor's shape - as well as a few other things in the room. "But you need to sit back down. If you'd like, you could contact your parents, or-"

"No," Steven insisted, gripping the edge of the bed a little harder now. The pink had faded, at least, but the lack of warmth just left him… cold. Freezing, in fact. "Th- That- That's worse."

"Son-"

"Don't call me son."

The doctor paused, and Steven winced, sharply reminding himself not to be so snappy toward someone he didn't even know; it was bad enough that he was going off on the gems, and everybody else who didn't quite deserve it - but he couldn't be like this toward someone who was genuinely just trying to help him. Someone who had gotten stuck with cleaning up his stupid mess, because he couldn't do one simple thing right. The hybrid grimaced, flicking his gaze around the room as his vision finally cleared a little bit more, able to make out the counter and the cabinets and… ah, the doorway. Freedom was right there, so close, and so far.

"Alright, then, it doesn't have to be your parents," the doctor said suddenly, and Steven grimaced, slowly turning his gaze back to them. Now he could at least distinguish some features; blonde hair, blue eyes, and the look of worry that everybody he came across seemed to have plastered across their face. "It can be another family member, a close friend… but you can't just get out of here like this." Their gaze flicked down to his leg, and Steven set his jaw slightly, but said nothing. Can't? Oh, he could - it would suck, and it would be painful and slow and he'd probably give up about halfway through, but he definitely could. He fucking established peace across the entire goddamn universe, this should be nothing.

Should be, he taunted himself, clenching his teeth slightly. Should be, but it's not nothing, is it, Pinkie? 'Cause if it was nothing, then you'd be outta here already.

The hybrid shook his head furiously, forcing himself to focus. "I don't… have anybody to…" He trailed off, biting the inside of his cheek and trying to think. The gems, no, Connie, no, his dad, no… he needed… someone who wouldn't freak out. Someone who wouldn't ask questions.

God, if only Jasper had a phone.

Steven grimaced, furrowing his eyebrows and narrowing his eyes slightly as he dropped his gaze. Bismuth… no, she'd freak out, too. She'd probably also call Pearl right away - or force him to, knowing her. Peridot… honestly, Steven didn't know what she'd do. She probably wouldn't freak out, but, knowing her, she'd ask a lot of questions, and Steven couldn't think of any excuses right then. Lapis? No, she was chill, but she wasn't that chill. If she found out he was hurt, she'd demand to know what had happened so that she could beat someone up - and then finding out that he was the reason for his own pain would probably result in a good punch.

I'm gonna have to explain everything to the gems sooner or later, his mind nagged. It's not like I can come home injured and be like "oh hey guys, everything's fine, nothing happened, g'night". And it's not like I can just… not come home, we saw how that worked out. I can't hide this from them. I can't keep making excuses and running away and avoiding this shit…

Jeez, he really was turning into her… the teenager closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing hard and shaking his head. But, still, it was true; it didn't matter what he did now to avoid it, because it was going to come up eventually and there wasn't anything he could do about that. But he could soften the blow - just a little - by at least waiting until he was back in Beach City…

Steven faltered, twisting his mouth sharply, then blinked his eyes open and looked back up at the doctor. He leaned forward, sinking some of his weight against the bed - not even bothering trying to climb back up onto it on his own, getting down had already proved to be enough of a challenge… "Okay- okay, fine… I…" He hesitated, thinking a little bit more, then shook his head. "Do you have- have a phone I could borrow, then?"

The doctor seemed to visibly relax, relieved, wasting no time in digging in their pocket to pull out a cellphone, which they held out to him at once. He took it wordlessly, grimacing slightly to himself as he opened the calling app, fingers hovering over the keys for a moment before he reluctantly began tapping out a number, taking as much time as he could to delay the inevitable. This wasn't exactly a normal, everyday situation - and he supposed, from anybody, he was going to get some kind of questioning. But he needed someone who would at least keep somewhat of a level head, someone who had a logical outlook for pretty much everything…

… somebody who already knew, somewhat, just a little bit of what he was going through.

He put the phone to his ear, closed his eyes, and waited. The other line picked up only two rings in - not too surprising. "Hello? Who's this? How'd you-"

"Hey, Peridot-" Steven stopped, reminding himself to breathe, and forced a smile even though she wasn't actually there to see it. It was instinct, at that point - but he did also force a slightly more chipper tone as he spoke up again, despite the nausea twisting in his gut, and the pain pounding away at his chest. "It's Steven…"

"Steven…" Peridot paused, only for a second. "Did you get a new communication device? I didn't recognize the number. Wait- where are you? The gems said you've been gone for- … no, Lapis, I don't know- hold on- anyway, the gems said you've been gone for a couple days now-"

"What?" Steven inhaled sharply, holding his breath for a moment. A couple days. A couple days. God, he made the right choice, not calling one of the other gems, then - they must be freaking the hell out. But- no- seriously? Had he been gone that long? Had he been unconscious for that long? "Oh, god- okay- I- no, I didn't get a new- I probably should- but- no- I- Peridot, I need help…" He rubbed his head and screwed his eyes shut, mind racing again. There was too much to focus on, he just needed everything to just- stop.

"... where are you?"

Chapter Text

It took an hour and a half for Peridot to get to the hospital.

And in that hour and a half, Steven realized rather quickly that he did not like doctors. Nothing against them personally, of course; he was sure they were great people, but at this moment they happened to be people that were getting far, far too close to him and far too into his business for him to even begin being remotely comfortable with them. Dr. Powell, specifically, was slowly beginning to grate at his nerves. They kept pushing, kept prodding, pressing the subject of him self-harming and asking if the car crash was a suicide attempt and recommending therapy and professional help and oh, god, Steven couldn't tell how many times in one fucking day he wanted to bash a human's head in. It was horrible, he was horrible, but he couldn't take the questions, the digging, the interrogations; they were like all three of the gems rolled into one. They were questions he wasn't prepared to answer, so he… didn't.

Dodging subjects wasn't particularly his strong suit, but he found he was rather good at it once he got going. He managed to deflect the doctor's attention - barely succeeding each time, but succeeding nonetheless. He assumed they simply gave up to continue pressing later, as if they thought maybe if they asked enough, he would finally just crack under the pressure. Well, sorry, Dr. Powell - but, Steven was a Diamond, like it or not. He could take that pressure.

… okay, that's a lie; Steven could feel his resolve crumbling every time Dr. Powell so much as looked at him funny, but that wasn't the point. The point was that this wasn't something he wanted to talk about; not with a stranger, not with the gems, not even with himself. And he'd be damned if he let someone he didn't even know weasel all this out of him.

Now, with that, there were… other things to focus on.

The most important thing being his leg; he had realized, after attempting to walk on it yet again in order to escape the room so he could wait outside (which, obviously, didn't work out as planned), that it was broken. Honestly, he was still having trouble processing that - along with the other injuries he had gained from the car crash. His blurry vision? Side effect of having his head slammed through the goddamn windshield. Back pain? 'Spine injury'. Which, the doctor informed him later, was also connected to the numbness in his leg - which might also be yet another reason he couldn't seem to walk on it. He wasn't used to being injured like this; wasn't used to suddenly having these pains, these limits that felt all too human, all too normal for somebody like him. And it really was normal, wasn't it? Compared to everything else he'd been through, compared to every other injury he'd ever had that had been fixed far too easily… he'd be lying if he said it didn't make him feel a little more human, if it didn't remind him of the side of himself he thought had long been buried under all the gem shit that had consumed his existence. But those were just the physical things; because beyond that, he realized something else. He didn't feel like a human anymore.

He'd watch the doctors, the nurses, the other patients. And he'd think. He'd think about all these humans just living their lives, doing their own thing just because they… could.

He thought about how much he'd missed out on, human-wise. How little he really knew about such- such simple things. Like hospitals. He should know these things - not just from television, or movies, or from his best friend's mother. He should just know. He should've been to a doctor before this; before Priyanka; before he started glowing pink and swelling up. He was a human, too, right? Half human, at least. If all this gem shit could come from his gem half - the Diamonds, his mother, the Crystal Gems - then where was the human stuff? Did that part of him just not matter? Maybe he did have some magical destiny - maybe he really had only been created just to fix things, to clean up his mother's mistakes. But that was only his gem side…

… and if all these humans were making their own destinies, then why the hell had he missed out on all this? He hated it - how far away he felt from all of it, how weird and unnatural it all seemed to be to him. It shouldn't be like that. He shouldn't know more about some- some aliens than he did about the creatures on the planet he actually lived on.

He was supposed to be one of them.

Why wasn't he one of them?

The hybrid rubbed a hand over his face and sighed, looking up at the clock hanging above the door. He was back in the hospital room, back on the bed - this time with rails pulled up on either side of him, thanks, doc - and just waiting for the inevitable. Peridot would be there soon, he kept telling himself… along with Lapis, who, after very, very much reluctance, he had agreed could tag along with Peridot - mostly because said gem was giving Peridot absolute hell in the background, demanding to know where Steven was and what had happened. And, despite the green gem's insistence that she could come and get the hybrid just fine on her own, Steven eventually just gave in to avoid an argument or worse. Besides, the last thing he needed was for Lapis to go to the Crystal Gems anyway, so if her coming along with Peridot was what it took to keep her away from them, then he'd deal with it. Not like they could be worse than the doctors. Hopefully.

Steven shook his head, sinking back slightly and flicking his gaze away from the clock when the door opened. He was unsurprised - disappointed, but unsurprised - to see Dr. Powell, grimacing and bracing himself for another round of questions as they stepped inside and shut the door, offering him a warm, but worried smile. "Hey, kiddo-" Steven tried not to scowl at the word, the word that reminded him far too much of his father for his liking, "-how're you feeling?"

The hybrid stared at them for a moment, twisting his mouth slightly in response. Tired, anxious, scared, angry, depressed- nothing new, that's good… He almost rolled his eyes at himself, catching himself just in time to reply with a low mumble of, "m'fine." The words left a bitter taste on his tongue, as they so often did these days, the lie just getting harder and harder to spit out. He wasn't even trying to make it convincing; at this point, he just said it just to say it. They asked how he was, he said he was fine, they didn't believe him, but they didn't say anything…

"Was that a genuine 'fine' or are you just saying that to avoid answering honestly?" The doctor sat down at the foot of the bed and smiled patiently at him, and Steven… blanked.

Honestly, he wasn't sure what to make of humans anymore. He still couldn't help but marvel at how different all of them were from the gems. The gems, he knew, would just take the answer because they were scared of pressing - and why wouldn't they be? Steven hardly tolerated any of that anyway, he either snapped at them or shut himself off completely - even Connie allowed his defenses to rise after only a little bit of prodding, and his dad would rather take the 'I'm fine' as instantly as possible to avoid having to have any kind of 'real' conversation with him…

Steven clenched his teeth at the thought, briefly forgetting to respond - but the doctor seemed to assume he simply wasn't going to, anyway, and moved on after a few seconds. "I've prescribed you some painkillers- for your back, and your leg. Are you alright with swallowing pills?"

The teenager offered them a confused glance, eyebrows furrowing slightly, and the doctor paused for a moment, breathing out through their teeth. "... have you never swallowed pills?"

"I've never had painkillers," Steven muttered, furrowing his eyebrows a little more. The doctor fell silent, running their tongue over their lips and nodding slightly, and Steven hesitated for a moment before he continued carefully, "I don't think I need them, anyway. I'll be okay." Truthfully, he wasn't too sure of the validity of that statement, considering he'd never been hurt like this anyway. But he knew he definitely didn't need 'painkillers' - medicine, he assumed…

"Steven…" The doctor sighed, shaking their head, "you might be okay now, physically, but the only reason you're not crippled over in pain right now is because you already have painkillers in your system-" At this, Steven shot them a quizzical look, and they clarified slowly, "administered through your IV, while you were unconscious. It's going to get worse than it is now, understand?"

Steven stared for a moment, not really sure how to respond. Worse? Worse? Yeah, he wasn't too sure about that. Obviously, if he was still in pain, then the medicine wasn't even doing its job in the first place, right? So then, it likely wouldn't help him regardless even if he did accept the painkillers. He almost wondered if that was partially due to his gem side - which wasn't surprising - but he brushed the sentiment off completely and shook his head, twisting his mouth sharply and making a face as he glanced back up at the doctor. "They're not helping anyway."

The doctor frowned. "They're not going to take the pain away completely, kiddo-"

"Steven?!"

Steven jumped, wincing slightly as the movement jarred his back, spine throbbing in protest. Even his leg ached, and he hadn't even moved that. It took a moment for the dread to really settle in, even through the relief that his conversation with the doctor had been interrupted before they'd even gotten the chance to ask him about the 'self-harming' and 'suicide attempt'. Regardless, even while he found very little comfort in the fact that Peridot and Lapis had finally arrived, he still managed to find some. At the very least, it meant he could get the hell out of this god-forsaken hospital - but it did also mean he'd have to go home to the gems, and explain to all of them what exactly had happened. Which meant he'd finally have to think of an excuse.

The doctor glanced at him, briefly looking concerned as they stood up, walking around the bed to put the rails down. "Don't get out of bed yet, I'm going to bring you a wheelchair. Since, ah… well, crutches aren't exactly an option…" They chuckled, and Steven grimaced slightly at the reminder. Right, a lot had happened in an hour and a half, including him trying to use crutches to walk and failing miserably. A wheelchair was probably a good idea - and one of few things he knew about from television, so hopefully he'd be able to function with that until they left the hospital. After that, though, he wasn't going to bother - he just didn't want to have to deal with the doctor any more than he had to right then. So he only nodded, eyes tracking the doctor as they slipped out of the room, leaving the door open behind them.

And, of course, Peridot poked her head in only a moment later, along with Lapis; both of them looked relieved the moment they saw him, though he noticed Lapis looked particularly irritated - given that she wasn't exactly a fan of humans, he wasn't surprised, but it still made that stomach-churning nausea just bad enough to the point where he felt ten seconds away from throwing up right then and there; still, he managed to swallow it down, offering a shaky smile. "Hey, g-"

"What, the, hell?" Lapis seethed, and Steven flinched slightly in surprise, bracing himself at once as her mouth opened again to continue - only for Peridot to cut in.

"What did you do?" The green gem demanded, leaving Lapis's side to venture further into the room. He watched her, opening his mouth slightly, but he didn't get a chance to reply. "And do not- do not- give me any excuses, Steven," she warned, looking up at him through narrowed eyes. Lapis, just behind Peridot once again, shot him an equally stern look, then turned away to study his leg with a faint, confused frown, seeming disturbed by the cast it was wrapped up in.

"I…" Steven shook his head a little, struggling to recover. He wasn't expecting a scolding - now, he'd expect that from Pearl, but Peridot? And Lapis? 'Shocked' was an understatement, he was genuinely at a loss here. "I, um- it was a car crash, I didn't-"

"No, no, no, we saw the car," Lapis interrupted, gaze snapping back up to him so fast that he almost flinched again, this time out of pure surprise. "Obviously, it was a car crash, but-"

"But you know how to drive!" Peridot cut in, shaking her head furiously. "Not only that, but- stars, as bad as that looked…" She stared at him for a moment, glancing back at Lapis - who returned the skeptical glance almost instantly - before finally turning back to him. "You crashed it on purpose, didn't you, Steven?"

Steven expressed his surprise with little more than a blink; truthfully, he shouldn't even be surprised at all. This was Peridot; the smartest gem he knew. Of course she would be able to piece it together. Of course she would know- because, after everything, she knew him. She knew he didn't just go around crashing cars, even with everything going on. She knew how careful he usually was, how much he usually thought things through, she knew he wasn't just reckless and careless behind the wheel and she knew, if he crashed, then there was a reason. His reason, for the van, had been Greg - but this time, he'd been all alone. All alone with his thoughts, which she also knew, after everything, weren't exactly… good thoughts, right now.

He snapped his mouth shut and swallowed, not even trying to deny the question, not even trying to think of an excuse. He didn't even want to; nothing would work, anyway. He'd already hesitated too long. So, like with the doctor, he simply fell silent, not offering any confirmation but not outright telling them no. Peridot's expression shifted slightly, still holding his gaze.

Lapis glanced between them for a moment, opening her mouth to speak again - but, thankfully, she didn't get the chance, and Steven found himself grateful for the doctor's presence for once as they pushed the wheelchair into the room. They did offer a brief doubletake in Peridot and Lapis's direction, but otherwise offered no reaction as they came to a stop beside the bed. "Here you go, Steven. Do you need help getting- down…" They sighed, trailing off, as Steven was already moving on his own, barely managing to twist himself enough to push off of the bed again, but still managing to get into a position where he could simply fall back into the chair. Of course, that only served to make his back hurt a little worse, but it was worth it, as long as he didn't have to accept any more help than he already had. He already felt like what he'd gotten was much, much more than he deserved. "Suppose that works, but you should be more careful." The doctor paused, glancing up at Peridot and Lapis. "Are you his legal guardians?"

"What-"

"We're the ones he called, aren't we?" Peridot interrupted Lapis before she could continue, and the blue gem offered a slightly frustrated expression, but leaned back slightly regardless.

"Fair enough," the doctor replied slowly, "if that's the case, I'd like to speak to you… privately," they added, tentatively, with a glance in Steven's direction - and the hybrid couldn't help but tense, pupils shrinking slightly at the realization of what, exactly, that meant. He hadn't exactly told the doctor that, yes, he was 'self-harming' and, yes, the car crash had been a 'suicide attempt' but he figured that was already easy enough to figure out anyway, and he hadn't denied it regardless. It was bad enough that they knew he'd crashed the Dondai on purpose.

"Well, that's fine," Peridot was saying, though she seemed somewhat reluctant as she turned to Lapis, crossing her arms over her chest. "Lapis, why don't you take Steven outside?"

The blue gem opened her mouth slightly, as if to argue, but she seemed to think better of it after a moment. Steven glanced at the doctor, then back down at Peridot, breathing in shakily as Lapis walked over to him. Oh, god, they were gonna tell the gems. They were gonna tell Garnet, and Amethyst, and Pearl, and they'd tell Greg, and then Connie, and- and everybody was gonna know exactly how fucked up he was. Everybody was gonna know exactly how fucked up Steven Universe really was now, how much he had spiraled and broken and fallen.

Still, he couldn't say anything, as much as he wanted to protest, as Lapis finally figured out how the wheelchair worked, pushing him out of the room somewhat reluctantly. He just sat there, tense, knuckles turning white as he gripped the arms of the chair and tried to breathe. This was bad, worse than anything else so far. A part of him wanted to hope that maybe the subject wouldn't come up, maybe the doctor would keep their mouth shut, but given how worried they had seemed about the idea of Steven self-harming, he doubted it was something they were going to keep private. But still, maybe, maybe they'd realize it wasn't their place- it wasn't their problem- it wasn't theirs to worry about. He wasn't anything to worry about. He was fine.

He was fine.

I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm  fine.

The hybrid gritted his teeth, closing his eyes for a moment. Even he didn't believe himself - fuck, why would they? One look at him and they knew. One look at his car, and they knew. Peridot hadn't even needed to see him to know he had crashed the Dondai on purpose. He was an open fucking book, and it didn't matter now, whatever he tried to hide- it was already out there. The doctor knew. Peridot was about to know. Lapis was about to know. The gems were about to know. His dad. Connie. Everybody.

See, see, if that car crash had just taken you out, you'd be fine, he hissed at himself, screwing his eyes shut a little tighter. But you had to be stupid and reckless and spontaneous and go and fuck everything up, and land yourself in a hospital of all places. And now they're all gonna know what a little fake you are. They're all gonna know it was all an act, and that their little 'angel' Steven Universe isn't just a sweet innocent baby anymore.

Steven turned his head slightly, curling up slightly in the chair and pressing the side of his face into his arm as his cheeks flushed, feeling the familiar rush of heat spread across for only a second before it diminished, anger and self-loathing abruptly replaced with indifference. So? So? They need to know I'm not that kid anymore. It's not like I can go around hiding all of this with a smile now. I've already killed somebody because I'm so fucked up I can't control myself anymore. So what difference does this make? All this will do is show them I can't be trusted to be left alone. And that's what I wanted, right? To not be left alone?

Yeah, so they can coddle me like a baby.
So they can keep pestering me with all their worry and concern.
So they can break down, now that their only support system finally fucking  crashed .

The teenager breathed in sharply, finally torn from his thoughts as he was hit with a rush of cold air, the familiar feeling of wind and sunlight against his skin succeeding in distracting him for the most part. He flinched slightly from the light, having grown a little too used to the pale lights of the hospital, but he managed to adjust to it again rather quickly. At least he was finally getting out of the damn place, finally getting away from all the doctors - but he wasn't sure that the alternative was any better, because now he was stuck with two apparently pissed-off gems that already knew he'd pretty much tried to kill himself. And… he didn't have an excuse for that.

He rubbed his hand over his face and looked up at Lapis; the blue gem hadn't said anything - or at least, Steven assumed she hadn't. He hadn't heard anything, but then again, he had also been somewhat lost in his own thoughts, destructive as they were. Even now, though, she was silent, looking rather thoughtful as she pulled the chair to a stop on the sidewalk and spared a glance down at him. He managed to flick his eyes away before their gazes could meet, tensing slightly and swallowing hard as he struggled to compose himself. Not that that matters now.

She still didn't say anything for a while, but he could still feel her gaze fixed on him. Like she wanted to say something, but maybe she didn't know how. But, good, because the less she said, the less he had to hear, and the less guilty he could feel about not responding. Which he was rather adamant about now - he couldn't do anything about what they already knew, but maybe he could soften the blow a little by at least not granting them any more information.

Which meant he needed to keep his mouth shut.

Thankfully, though, Lapis also kept her mouth shut; she finally seemed to give up on whatever she wanted to say, turning her gaze to the sky instead, and Steven relaxed into the chair after a moment with a low, shaky sigh, leaning his head back and glancing up at the sky. He figured it was going to be a little more difficult with Peridot, but hopefully, he could handle that when it came. And if not, then, well… he wasn't really sure it mattered anymore. It was all out there…

The silence didn't last long enough for him to gather his thoughts - but he wasn't even sure that was possible anyway - before Peridot finally left the hospital after them. She didn't say anything to him immediately, but she did offer him a long, silent stare before she turned to Lapis and gestured toward the wheelchair. It was the silence, though, more than anything, that worried him. But, determined not to be the first one to break it, he simply kept his mouth shut and dropped his gaze as Lapis lifted the wheelchair up, holding it carefully as she flew up into the air. Not exactly what Steven had been intending, but he wasn't about to protest.

Peridot followed them not too long after, flying alongside them and balancing on a trash can lid. Steven simply bit his lip and gripped the arms of the chair a little tighter, grateful for the silence but absolutely terrified by what would follow regardless.

Maybe she doesn't know, he tried to console himself. Maybe the doctor didn't tell her. She would have said something, right? Of course she would have, it's Peridot. Peridot's always super honest and blunt and she always says what she's thinking- if she knew, she'd say something… Still, despite his best attempts, he couldn't comfort himself this time. His chest felt tight, his stomach was twisting, his heart was pounding so hard and fast and loud he was sure they could hear it. They knew. He knew. She knew. There was no way she didn't know. But, even then, he still hoped - desperately, selfishly - that it wasn't going to come up. Maybe she wouldn't say anything. Maybe she didn't know what to say this time. Maybe he could get out of this.

Peridot dove down suddenly, and Steven's heart dropped just as fast.

Lapis followed, though she did seem slightly confused as they landed; Peridot hopped off of the trash can lid, letting it simply fall to the ground, and Lapis put the wheelchair down and veered around sharply to land beside the green gem, folding her wings. "What is it?"

Peridot shook her head slightly, opening her mouth only to snap it shut again, and Steven tensed slightly despite himself as he realized exactly why she hadn't said anything yet. In all the years he'd known her, he'd never seen Peridot actually, genuinely speechless; but now, watching her struggle as she turned to face him, he realized that was exactly the case. She had so much to say, and he could see it; he could see the gears turning in her head, working double time to form words, but the only problem was that she couldn't seem to spit them out.

The hybrid breathed in shakily, holding his breath for a moment. The guilt hit him a little harder this time, having more or less been lacking in that particular department for a while. Forget not speaking; he needed to do something, he needed to say something, something to fix this, something to fix her before she broke down on him like everyone else had. "Peridot…"

The look she gave him then, it was nothing he'd ever seen from her before, and this time it was him who was left speechless, shaken to his very core at the pure anger he saw there.

"Don't." The green gem paused, taking a step forward, then abruptly turned on her heel and started pacing. Back and forth, back and forth in front of him. At this point, Lapis had long gone silent, concerned and confused but seemingly knowing better than to try to speak up now. "Don't- not another word. I can feel the self-loathing from here and I am not going to entertain that." At that, Steven couldn't help but flinch, both guilty and surprised.

After a moment, continuing to pace, Peridot finally spoke up again, lifting a hand to pull her visor off as she did. "I had to literally drag it out of the gems just to find out what was going on. They show up at Little Homeworld with Jasper, saying you came back- and then, that same day, they say you're gone again." She paused, still not turning to face him. "And then they- they tell us you shattered Jasper and ran off to Homeworld of all places, then came back and left again and- you know what? Nothing- nothing that's been happening is okay!"

Steven opened his mouth slightly, not really intending to speak, and stiffened slightly as her words sunk in. He wasn't really sure what to think at first, whether to be scared or relieved. But even then, he couldn't help the relief that did come, nearly slamming into him and crushing him completely in the process. It was the first time he'd heard it from somebody else; the first time anybody had even acknowledged how fucked up this entire situation was.

She turned to face him again, pointing the visor at him this time. "It's not okay that you shattered Jasper-" Hearing that aloud from somebody else was like a breath of fresh air, feeling like he'd been underwater for too long and had just now resurfaced, "it's not okay that you're hurting yourself-"

"What?" Lapis finally cut in, but neither Peridot nor Steven responded; Steven's gaze was glued to Peridot, his attention completely focused on her as he waited for her to continue.

And she did, hardly breaking stride, "it's not okay that you keep avoiding this!"

Steven breathed in, slow and surprisingly steady for the first time in what felt like far too long. His eyes stung, aching with tears he refused to let build; he blinked them back furiously, swallowing down the lump that had formed in his throat. She was right - of course she was right, she was Peridot, she was always right. None of this was okay. None of this was normal. And the realization that he wasn't the only one who was acknowledging this, the only one bothering to realize just how much had changed, it was… the closest thing to comfort he had felt in a while.

"And it's not okay," Peridot continued after a moment, sounding absolutely furious, "that I, out of everyone, am the first one that's telling you this…" She continued pacing, clenching her fists.

Steven watched her, opening his mouth slightly and struggling to figure out what to say, how to respond. He wanted her to keep going, but she had fallen silent, lost in her own thoughts now. "They just want everything to- to go back to how it was…" He trailed off for a moment, relief fizzling out slightly, replaced by guilt once again. They wanted their happily ever after back - and, god, if he didn't know how that felt… "God, I messed everything up-"

"Ohhh no," Peridot sent him another glare, a little less shocking than the first, but she seemed somewhat able to continue after that, too angry to say anything else.

"Don't you start with that," Lapis finally caught his attention; the hybrid glanced up, blinking slightly in surprise as she took a few steps forward. "We're not gonna coddle you, Steven-"

I'm not gonna coddle you, Steven, Jasper's voice sneered, and the hybrid blanked for a second, jerking back slightly. Do you want to go home to your gems?

Steven paused, grip tightening on the chair, then abruptly loosening.

No, he didn't want to go home. He didn't want to go home to Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, so they could see his injuries and start fussing over him and telling him that everything was going to be okay. He didn't want to deal with them, or the guilt he would, inevitably, feel as they worried over him, concerned and scared for his well-being and only getting more and more frightened as he closed himself off with each passing second, wanting to open up but knowing better than to try. He didn't want to go back, back to the people he felt like he had to hide from in the first place. That was his whole problem; that had been his problem since the very beginning.

The teenager furrowed his eyebrows, slowly tuning back in just in time to hear Peridot was speaking now, still angry, but calm enough to talk, "-bottling everything up, and-"

"What?" Steven shook his head a little, struggling to focus. Okay, he didn't really like the sound of that, in particular, but maybe it wasn't what he thought.

"I said," Peridot huffed, "the only thing you're at fault for is bottling everything up, and not talking to anybody. And running off, like into the forest, with Jasper, or to Homeworld, or out here! None of that is going to help, Steven, nothing is going to help until you tell us what's going on!"

Steven recoiled slightly at that, staring at her. Whatever relief he had felt finally fizzled out completely, replaced by something akin to disbelief. What did she expect? For him to talk to Garnet, and Amethyst, and Pearl? What, so they could brush it aside like it was nothing? Like he was nothing? Talking to them never did anything in the past - why was he supposed to assume that they would magically just start listening all of a sudden? And, beyond that - beyond everything else, the more pressing matter was why should they have to help him?

"That's not…" Steven trailed off for a moment, breath hitching again. "You don't get it…"

"No, you're right, I don't," Peridot retorted, "because you don't tell me shit!"

Steven flinched in surprise, and even Lapis jumped slightly at that last word, offering the green gem a dubious look. The hybrid slowly snapped his mouth shut, blinking furiously as he struggled to compose himself after that; Peridot scolding him was one thing, but swearing at him was something else entirely. He hadn't even been aware she knew what 'shit' even meant.

Regardless, Peridot pressed on, taking the opening while she could. "All you do is push everything down and hide it behind a grin, or say 'I'm fine' and everybody just believes you because as long as you say you're fine and put on a smile and pretend everything's okay, then nobody has to deal with what's right in front of them!" The gem threw her hands up into the air, pointing the visor at Steven again. "You, and everyone else just want to avoid what's going on. And maybe they don't try hard enough to get it out of you, maybe you don't know any better than to just shovel it all down- but the point is that you do, and they just let you do it!"

Speechless once more, Steven only stared at her as she went on, "but I'm not doing that anymore. I know something's wrong, you know something's wrong, and we all know nothing is going to change until you stop trying to run from it and hide it like you don't matter."

Steven faltered at that, visibly, and Peridot paused this time as the hybrid flicked his gaze away. It was a while before he could respond, still trying to focus on regulating his breathing again, trying to swallow past the lump in his throat so he could speak again. He wasn't even sure what he wanted to say at this point; how to respond to all of this. "I…" He furrowed his eyebrows slightly, breathing in shakily through his teeth. "I- … do I?"

"You matter to me," Peridot insisted, somewhat desperately now, almost sounding frustrated. "Doesn't that matter?"

Once again, Steven found himself without a response. He could feel the tears rising again, but he didn't make any attempt to push them back this time, saving his strength now to figure out how to reply, how to continue now. Because, for the first time, he found himself wanting to. This wasn't like with everybody else; like the gems, and his father, and Connie. He didn't want to just rush through this conversation and end it as soon as he could; painful as it was, it was still everything he'd wanted to hear and more. It was still better than having everything just be brushed under the rug, or feeling guilty for wanting to talk about it in the first place. Or feeling scared that whatever he said would be taken the wrong way, would initiate some kind of breakdown, would leave him picking up the pieces and pushing his own right back down.

But did he deserve anything less?

He shattered Jasper- … he shattered Jasper because he bottled everything up until it exploded. Because he kept everything so pushed down and locked away that the moment he finally got some sort of release for any of it, he completely lost himself in it. Even if it wasn't a healthy coping mechanism. Even if it wasn't the best way to let it all out; it was still a release. Still letting go of all that tension and anger and bitterness he had built up over the years. And- god, if he could shatter a gem just with that, with the little bit of pressure he had let up, then what the hell would happen if he just kept pushing everything else down?

He couldn't do it anymore. He was already cracking, crumbling under the pressure as it was. It was already getting harder and harder to suppress, to control. And Peridot was right - that was all he did. He just kept pushing it down. But that was the only thing he knew how to do.

Can't shatter someone just by talking to them, can you? His mind insisted. The hybrid frowned, twisting his mouth sharply. You're being given a chance here. Deserve it or not…

Steven let his shoulders droop, dropping his hands from the arms of the chair completely. Yeah, he could sit here and talk to Peridot and Lapis - but how much good would it do, really? If he really had so much bottled up, could it really be fixed just by talking about it?

You got a better idea?

… yeah, he really didn't.

Well, rock and a hard place - but there was another up side. The longer they stayed here, the longer it would take for him to get back to the gems. That was a conversation he wasn't looking forward to - but this? This, he could handle. Peridot wanted to talk? Fine, he'd talk.

He rubbed his arm over his face, breathing in again and shaking his head slightly as he finally flicked his gaze back up, glancing from Peridot to Lapis and back again. Peridot was just watching him, cautious, still waiting for a response; Lapis had taken to pacing, seemingly having nothing better to do while they waited. They had come all this way out here to get him - found out all this shit about him that they weren't supposed to know. He owed them this, right? Right. That, at least, took away from some of the guilt - some, but not all - of what he was about to do. He could only hope they could handle this, because if they couldn't- well, it was just another mess to clean up, wasn't it?

He bit his lip, closing his eyes for a moment, and finally forced himself to speak. "I hate myself."

The silence only lasted a few seconds before Peridot spoke up, a little quieter now. "I know."

"A lot," Steven insisted, blinking his eyes open after a moment. "And I- I thought maybe it was just gonna go away, y'know? But then- everything with Jasper, and- and it's just getting worse. And then I started thinking- I mean- I guess I deserve to hurt, right, and…" He choked out a laugh, screwing his eyes shut again, this time in a futile attempt to push back the tears that were finally beginning to break free. "And it went from that, to just… to this. And I don't even care whether I deserve it or not, now, it- it's just- I just wanted everything to stop hurting."

He paused to rub away some of the tears, catching his breath before he continued, a little slower, "but it just keeps getting worse. I couldn't even do it," he added bitterly, "I couldn't even do that one thing, so I- I'm still here. And now- now I gotta explain all this to the gems, and…" He huffed out another laugh, burying his face into his arms. "God, this is so fucked up. I'm so fucked up."

"Meetings are on Tuesdays," Lapis muttered.

Steven laughed again, mostly just to release some of the tension this time. He could still feel it, all the guilt and the pain and the anger. If anything, it was stronger now that he was actually acknowledging it. And, despite the fact that it scared the living hell out of him, he finally just allowed it all to consume him completely. It was easier than fighting it, right? Better than pushing it down? It had to be, even though it didn't make him feel any better. But then, if he was trying to feel better, he wouldn't be pushing it all down - since that only served to make it worse.

He dropped his hand and opened his eyes again, thoroughly disgusted with himself now. After all this, everything he did to try and hide it, none of it had even worked. It all just blew right back up in his face in the long run. And whether it was tomorrow, or a few years from now, it was just going to happen again. Over and over and over again. And he could run and hide as much as he wanted to, but he'd still end up right back where he started. Still running in circles. Still trapped, and scared, and angry, and alone. And maybe he could talk to Peridot and Lapis, because they already knew all this shit, and obviously they weren't going to break down on him over it - yet - but the gems? He couldn't be around them, not if it meant bottling everything up. Not if it meant pushing everything down and down and down again for their sakes. Not if it meant being scared of talking to them because he didn't want to be the reason they unraveled.

It was completely fucked up, how he seemed to matter enough to Peridot and Lapis for them to press him like this - how they didn't give him the chance to make any excuses, to tell them he was fine and just let everything slide again. They didn't just offer him the shovel to dig up everything he buried down; they took the shovels and started digging on their own, knowing he wasn't about to pick it up and do it himself. They wanted him to talk; they wanted to listen.

Well, the gems kept offering to listen. Maybe they didn't really want to; or maybe Steven just didn't want to, too scared that when he broke, they would, too, and then he wouldn't be able to fix it. But- hell, he was already broken, right? He already couldn't hold them up anymore, right? They wanted to talk? They wanted to know what was going on? They wanted to understand?

Steven gritted his teeth, staring down for a moment, then narrowed his eyes and flicked his gaze back up to Peridot and Lapis. They were gonna figure it all out anyway. At this point, it was only a matter of who came out and said it first; whether it was him, or Peridot, or Lapis. Someone was going to tell them; they were going to find out; it was going to explode. He was going to explode.

Might as well self destruct.

"I-" The hybrid curled his lips back slightly, breathing in sharply. "... I wanna go home."

Chapter Text

It didn't take much, luckily, for Peridot and Lapis to agree to take him back to the beach house. Something had shifted, and it wasn't hard to tell; Steven was silent most of the way back, clenching and unclenching his fists around the arms of the wheelchair as Lapis carried it. Peridot was flying ahead of them, telling them when to go higher or lower to avoid certain things like telephone lines or treetops, since Lapis was having a hard time seeing as she held the wheelchair and flew at the same time. Steven would have offered to just let her drop the wheelchair and just carry him, but he doubted that would go over well with them anyway.

So for the most part, he stayed silent, watching Peridot up ahead with a frown and thinking about what the hell he was going to say to the gems. He just wanted to get it over with; to get everything out there, laid out on the table without hesitation, out in the open. However they responded to it… well, that was their problem, wasn't it? But he couldn't do it anymore. He couldn't keep up the excuses and the lies and the masks and the 'I'm fine''s. Besides that, there just wasn't an option of keeping everything… to himself, because Peridot and Lapis knew. And it went without saying that they weren't going to entertain his secret, not this time. Not about this. With how they had reacted to him earlier anyway, he was somewhat surprised the information hadn't been taken straight to the gems the moment Peridot found out, herself…

He bit his lip, trying to imagine how Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl would react to him revealing what he'd done. What he'd been doing since he got back from Homeworld. Hell, he was almost certain Garnet probably already knew; she must have already seen it in the future, right?

Steven exhaled sharply, and Lapis paused to look down at him, flying a little slower while Peridot continued on up ahead. The teenager grimaced, glancing back up at the blue gem for a moment, meeting her gaze for only a second before looking away. Somehow, it was almost as hard to look at her as it was to look at Jasper. Only because he wasn't sure how she must have reacted to the news; or how she must have reacted to Steven bringing Jasper back. And now with her hanging out at Little Homeworld- god, the hybrid couldn't even begin to imagine…

"I know that look," Lapis sighed, rolling her eyes. "What's the guilt-o-meter saying this time?"

Steven frowned, twisting his mouth sharply and staying silent for a moment, but he did eventually give in. Hell, after everything Lapis knew already, this wasn't exactly worth keeping to himself, was it? It didn't really matter anymore, in his opinion. "I just…" He paused, biting his lip. "Did you- did you… see Jasper?"

Lapis didn't respond immediately; her expression had shifted, though not by much, as she flew on, tightening her grip on the wheelchair and tilting it up a little to fly them over a particularly large tree in their way. It was a long while before she responded - so long, in fact, Steven had already assumed that she wasn't going to answer at all. "Yeah, I saw her. I was with Peridot when she showed up." The blue gem narrowed her eyes slightly, staring at the green gem ahead of them. "A little warning would have been nice, but it wasn't like anything happened. I saw her, she saw me, she walked the other way and Peridot and I went after Pearl."

Steven fell silent, just listening, as Lapis shrugged and continued, "it's not like I never expected to see her again. Maybe not so soon, obviously, but… yeah." After a pause, the blue gem began again, a little slower. "But Pearl told us what happened. After some pressing, I mean, but- about what happened with you and Jasper. Then Amethyst called Pearl and apparently you'd been gone for a good few hours, we didn't really have much time to talk about everything that happened. I got the gist of it and all, but other than that-" She shrugged again.

The hybrid glanced ahead, staying silent for a moment. He wasn't sure whether Lapis was just playing it off, whether she was more affected by seeing Jasper again than she was admitting, or whether she really was okay with it. At this point, he found it harder and harder to tell, even though he should just know when somebody was putting up a front, from his own experience. Still, whether or not Lapis was cool with it, he still found himself wracked with guilt. He should have just left Jasper alone - so many things could have been avoided if he had just stayed put. Jasper would be content with her rocks, and Lapis could live without having to think about her. "... Lapis," he began, squeezing the arms of the wheelchair. "I'm-"

"If you say you're sorry, I swear, I will smack you," Lapis told him simply, giving the wheelchair a light shake as if to emphasize her words. Steven winced, and the blue gem went still almost immediately, letting him recover before she started flying again. "Sorry, sorry. I… forgot. Not really used to seeing you hurt and all." She fell silent for a moment, as the hybrid grimaced. "Are you like, not healing yourself on purpose, too, or…?" Lapis blurted out suddenly.

Steven exhaled through his teeth, shaking his head a little. "I- no. I wanted to-" He stopped, biting the inside of his cheek, and continued a little quieter. "This wasn't what I wanted. I tried to heal myself - multiple times in the hospital, but…" He trailed off for a second, remembering his pink clone, still trapped and chained within his mind. He had offered to heal him, and Steven had refused, insisting he didn't need it - didn't deserve it, for that matter. A part of him almost wished he had taken the offer, but the rest of him was still… wary? Uncertain? … stubborn? Shaking his head, he forced himself to focus. "I can't. Don't know why."

Lapis hummed slightly in acknowledgement, though she was frowning slightly now, looking contemplative. Steven cleared his throat, wanting to get off the subject, but Lapis was already speaking again before he could figure out what topic to change to - not that the topic didn't change by the time Lapis had finished speaking, but it wasn't any more favorable than the last. "So I did get to hear about you and Jasper having this whole mentor-apprentice thing going on."

"It's not really-" Steven winced, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. "It's- it wasn't really like that. It was more like- I- I had a lot of anger built up and Jasper was teaching me how to…" He trailed off for a moment. At the time, he'd wanted to believe he was controlling it, but he wasn't even sure that was the case. More or less, his anger had somewhat slipped by him at the end. He wasn't angry when he shattered Jasper; just high on his own power, the endless possibilities of what he was capable of, the control he had over himself and everything around him.

Still, the words felt too weird now, considering how he had gone off and did what he did. "Don't really think apprentices are supposed to kill their mentors anyway," he muttered, a shudder running down his spine at the thought - and, of course, it hurt as his body shook with the movement, forcing him to bite his lip and choke back a whimper at the sudden throb of pain.

"So the student surpassed the master," Lapis snorted. Steven didn't respond, both because he was still recovering, and because he didn't really find that funny - and Lapis must have realized that, because she sighed and shook her head a little, almost as herself. "Okay, sorry, insensitive, I know. Kinda hard to feel bad for her, though, just saying. What happened, I can't really say she didn't have it coming. If anything, I'm a little surprised it didn't happen sooner."

He wasn't really sure what to say to that. He knew Lapis and Jasper didn't exactly have the best history, so it wasn't like he could blame the blue gem for that sentiment by any means. Still, it felt wrong even listening to her say that, even thinking about Jasper that way after what he'd done. No matter what she had done, nobody deserved that, right? "I don't…" He winced, biting his tongue and shaking his head a little before he could outright disagree with the blue gem. He didn't want to hurt her feelings, didn't want to defend Jasper to someone Jasper had probably hurt the most out of anybody. In this case, it was probably best to just keep his mouth shut.

"... too harsh?" Lapis questioned, looking down at him for a moment, then glancing up and swooping downwards under a telephone line when Peridot called back to warn them. She was silent for a moment, and Steven almost allowed himself to relax until she spoke up again. "Alright, fine. It's not all black and white, y'know. Is shattering bad? Yeah, it is. You did a bad thing. Jasper did bad things, too. I've done bad things- everybody's done bad things."

"Not 'shattering' bad," Steven mumbled.

"You don't know what I've done, Steven," Lapis retorted. Steven paused at that, glancing up slightly. "Or what Jasper's done, for that matter. She fought in the gem war, didn't she? Maybe the rebels didn't shatter, but you know as well as I do that Homeworld didn't have that mercy."

"That doesn't make it right!" Steven protested before he could stop himself this time, chest tightening slightly with a mixture of guilt and fury. "So, what, killing a killer makes me a good person? You know that if you kill a murderer, the number of murderers in the world stays the same, right? And- Jasper's not exactly the same gem she used to be anymore. She changed." He fell silent for a moment, more or less trying to calm himself now, before he spoke up again. "At least, she's not out there hurting people or trying to destroy the world. She was just- she was just living her own life, doing her own thing far, far away from everyone else. And I ruined it. I went and bothered her and got her stuck in all my crap and then she got shattered for it. It…" The hybrid exhaled, squeezing his eyes shut. "... it wasn't fair. It's not fair."

"Life's not fair," Lapis sighed. "But… yeah, I get where you're coming from. It sucks. You did a sucky thing and you feel like a sucky person- and nothing I say is gonna fix that or make it better, I know that. I can't change the way you feel about what you did, Steven. Just like you couldn't change the way I felt about myself. I had to figure that out on my own." After a short pause, she added, "but I still had you there to teach me how to begin. And you've got me, too. Maybe it doesn't feel like you deserve it right now, and maybe it never will, but I'm still here."

Steven didn't respond immediately, not really knowing what to say to that. He wished he could say it brought him some kind of comfort - but, while it didn't quite console him, it also didn't really make him feel any worse. Lapis, he knew, could relate far too well to the self-loathing he was experiencing. It was a sad thought, but oddly enough, it made it a little easier knowing that she at least understood. Which, he realized, was one thing he was scared of about telling the gems everything. That they just wouldn't get it; that they thought this would just be a brief thing he'd get over eventually and that would be that, and it'd go back to normal. He closed his eyes again, breathing in slowly, and sighed. "Well," he began half-heartedly, "I hope so, 'cause I'm gonna need somewhere else to go after this is over with. I'm probably gonna be kicked out."

"It's your house," Lapis told him, though she did huff out a laugh. "But, I mean, I guess you can come crash with me and Peridot if it makes you feel better." After a pause, she snickered, "I'm not sure we'll be the best roommates, though. We'll keep you up at night. We don't sleep."

"That's okay," Steven replied faintly, "I apparently just got out of a coma, I'm kinda taking a break from sleeping for a while." Lapis snorted out a giggle at that, and, despite himself, Steven couldn't help the slight smile that tugged at his lips. It was gone before he could really take a chance to acknowledge it, and a big part of him felt guilty over the fact that he was still able to take any kind of pleasure in anything - though, another part of him was somewhat relieved. It meant, at the very least, that he wasn't… completely numb. Which, he supposed, was good.

The silence after that was somewhat content, at least on Lapis's end. Steven, himself, couldn't quite bring himself to feel particularly comfortable; his stomach was in knots the entire time as they soared through the sky, and it had absolutely nothing to do with their current distance from the ground. The twisting in his gut was centered completely around the city up ahead. It didn't take long for it to appear in the distance, the familiar lights and towering buildings. Little Homeworld, he realized for the first time, stuck out like a sore thumb; he'd always thought that it fit in perfectly, one of the pieces of the incomplete puzzle that was his life. But looking at it from a distance made him realize exactly how odd it was compared to the little town it rested in - how alien it looked, despite his best effort to push it into their society. His attempt to mash together two completely different worlds, two completely different species, and pretend it was normal. The Crystal Gems had lived along humans for so long… Beach City had always been a home to more than just the humans that resided there. But something about it just felt off. Maybe it wasn't the city. Maybe it was Homeworld. He'd wanted it to look somewhat like the planet, structurally anyway - to make some of the more hesitant gems feel a little more at home in this strange new place they had just been thrown into without any warning.

But he'd also tried to sprinkle a little bit of Earth's uniqueness into it, too - so maybe that was the problem. Maybe it was just that Earth and Homeworld were never really meant to live alongside one another. Maybe that was why it felt so weird to look at now, why it felt so alien to him.

Maybe gems and humans were never meant to coexist.

Steven trailed a hand down to his gem, burying his fingers into his shirt and looking down. Well, it wasn't quite his shirt - it was a little baggy on him, as were the shorts the doctor had given him. His own clothes, he was told, they'd had to cut off of him in order to tend to his injuries. His jacket had managed to survive that - but it hadn't survived the car crash, and had been thrown out. It was the least of his worries, though. He couldn't bring himself to be upset about it.

The hybrid blinked a few times, looking back up as they slowed again, and he couldn't keep himself from grimacing in time as he saw the beach house just ahead. Peridot glanced back at them, catching his gaze for only a second before swooping down to land on the porch, and Lapis followed carefully, lowering the wheelchair down beside the green gem, and Steven spared her a hesitant glance. She didn't seem as pissed off as she had earlier - at least, a lot of her fury seemed directed toward the house for some reason, staring daggers at the door as if she, herself, was somewhat dreading the interaction that would follow. Lapis had gone considerably tense, herself, but Steven figured it might have less to do with what was about to happen, and more with who might be inside when they opened the door and went in. He opened his mouth, breathing in shakily before he tried to force himself to speak, to assure them that neither of them needed to be there and they were welcome to go back to Little Homeworld.

Peridot pulled the door open before he could get a word out, and Lapis was wheeling him inside before he could even think about protesting. He froze, swallowing hard and holding his breath.

He thought he'd be more ready, more prepared. But he found himself wanting to turn away and curl up, ready to change his mind faster than he could blink. He didn't understand himself at this point; one minute he was ready to go off on the gems, and the next, he was just… terrified. Of what, he didn't know. Maybe not them, not really - how they would react, what they might do… what they might say to him, think of him, how they might look at him afterwards. He was about to shatter their view of him in a single conversation. He was about to break everything.

The hybrid clenched his hands over the arms of the wheelchair, paying absolutely no mind when they both simply bent and collapsed under his vice-like grip, crumbling against his hands like they were made of paper instead of metal. He hated to admit it, but it was a satisfying feeling.

"Well, I don't think anybody's home," Lapis began, as Peridot reached over to flip the light on. The first thing they saw was Pearl, wide-eyed, one foot raised to step down from the warp pad. Behind her stood Garnet, who was about as still as a stone statue; Amethyst and Jasper, on either side of her, were practically openly gaping at the three, looking positively shocked.

Steven found himself sinking down into the wheelchair without quite realizing what he was doing, ignoring the pain in his back to the best of his ability and trying to simply vanish.

"I spoke to soon," Lapis muttered, "fuck me…"

Fuck you? Fuck meSteven wanted to scream - both those words, and simply just scream for the hell of it, just to release the tension that had wound up in his body tenfold. Every muscle was shaking, trembling, if only slightly; and the slight quiver was just enough to make his body ache again, the pain he thought he'd gone numb to suddenly leaving him breathless and cold. It only made him want to scream even more, the complete, pure agony that consumed him at that moment, and suddenly, ironically, he would have given just about anything to trade the physical pain for the emotional pain again, something he never thought he'd consider, in a million years.

And through that pain he managed to shoot a glare - filled with fury and complete, unadulterated loathing - in Pearl's direction, when she suddenly stepped down from the warp pad to rush over to them, with a sharp exclamation of "Steven!" that made his head throb in addition to his back.

The glare stopped her short, however, several feet away; she went reeling back as if he had struck her, and to be honest, a second later, he honestly felt like he just might.

"What-" Pearl's shock only lasted a few seconds before it fizzled out into confusion once again, looking him over frantically. She continued to venture further after a moment, despite the low, animalistic snarl slowly building in Steven's chest. He didn't know where it was coming from, but at this point, the sounds weren't as shocking to him as the mental image of flinging Pearl back, of trapping her with his shields and spiking them, slowly crushing her between them and hearing the crack of her gem as she poofed and fell apart. His fingers twitched, curling around the now broken arms of the wheelchair at the mere thought, chest twisting sharply with anticipation.

"What happened to you?" Pearl breathed, covering her mouth with one hand and stopping in front of him. Amethyst took a few stumbling steps forward, staring at him like he was some…

… alien.

"Where did you go?"

And he stared back at her with the exact same expression written across his face, picturing holding her gem in his hands and squeezing until he felt it crumble like the arms of the chair had just done, until he had effectively grinded it into nothing but dull purple dust. The only thing that shocked him more than the image in his mind was the fact that he found himself really, really wanting to follow through with it. He wanted to hurt them, until his own pain seemed like nothing.

It was Garnet who spoke next, quiet and cautious. "Are you alright?" And that was what did it for Steven. The anger he felt then was nothing like the hot fury he had felt, or the cold bitterness. No, the anger now wasn't even close to anything he'd ever experienced before. Not even toward Greg. It wasn't even accompanied by hatred, or loathing, or contempt. It was just blind anger, the kind that just made him want to lash out at everything and everyone in sight, regardless of who they were, or what reason he had. He wanted to do it just because he didn't have a reason. Wanted to do it just because he knew he could, because he wanted to.

He spared Garnet an equally livid glare, practically boiling in his own fury now. He felt hot, but he wasn't pink. Besides, the heat wasn't on the surface of his skin like it usually was; it was deep down inside, past every vein, lapping at his bones and searing through them completely. "Do I look alright, Garnet?" He sneered at her, curling his lips back slightly. "Hey, actually, wait- you tell me, future vision. Am I alright? Am I gonna be alright? Could you tell me when?"

Garnet stared at him, visor poofing without even needing to lift her hand, and Steven continued with a snarl, eyes darting from one eye to the next. "What, you don't have the answer this time?"

"Whoa, dude," Amethyst started carefully, and Steven rounded on her before she could continue, shooting her a half-warning, half-mocking glare in response. Her expression shifted at once, not even looking surprised, but still somehow managing to look somewhat caught off guard. Like maybe she had known this was going to happen, but not this soon, not like this.

"What? What? What'd you want me to say? 'I'm fine'?" The hybrid seethed, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. Every part of him ached from the inside out, both from physical and emotional pain, so overwhelming and complex that he felt about to explode. His stomach twisted, his chest tightened, his heart pounded, skipping beats and jumping to his throat one second, only to sink back to his stomach the next. He wished he could pick one emotion and just focus on it, but each one seemed to fly by so fast that he couldn't grasp it long enough.

"No, that-" Pearl's voice was choked, strained; Steven screwed his eyes shut a little harder, wondering what he was going to do if she broke down now. Again, he imagined breaking her, snapping her gem in half, and then snapping the halves in half, repeatedly, until there was nothing more but tiny shards in the palm of his hand. He imagined how light they would feel - probably heavier than Jasper's, since Pearl's gem was bigger. "What happened?"

Steven cracked an eye open to look at her, only pausing for a moment. That burning feeling was still there, but at this point, he was beginning to wonder if it was even anger at this point. Something else was nagging at him - or… maybe there wasn't. Maybe that was what was bothering him; the voices in his head had suddenly gone quiet, the doubts and fears and uncertainties stifled for once, like he couldn't even bring himself to care anymore even subconsciously. Which made it somewhat easier - yet still impossibly difficult - to look back at her and tell her what, exactly, had happened. He couldn't quite meet her eyes yet; mostly afraid that if he did, he would back down. "I crashed the Dondai." He paused. "On purpose."

Peridot shifted slightly from beside him, while Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl each tensed up in turn. He watched Garnet's eyes widen, all three of them; a strangled sound escaped Pearl's lips, muffled by the hand covering her mouth, but audible enough nonetheless for Steven to hear. It was a strange noise, something between a shriek, gasp and whimper, quiet and loud at the same time. Amethyst leaned back on her feet, not quite stepping away from him; her expression, unreadable at first, steadily morphed into a mixture of sorrow and understanding. There was something about the way she looked at him, then; something she'd been lacking for a while, even back on Homeworld. Something had clicked; a realization, an epiphany.

He stared back at her until Jasper spoke; his gaze shifted toward the orange gem, momentarily surprised by her presence, as she had been lingering somewhat quietly behind the others; now she moved forward, slowly, to stand beside Amethyst, seeming hesitant to approach; her swift glances in Lapis's direction told him why, but he wasn't really surprised. "What's a Dondai?"

"Shut-" Lapis began sourly, not quite scowling, but frowning toward the other gem.

Steven interrupted, more or less irritated with both of them at this point; something in the back of his mind insisted he shouldn't be, but even that was quieted rather quickly. "Human transportation," he practically snapped toward Jasper, but the orange gem only glanced down at him, not seeming at all fazed. Her eyebrows furrowed, however, as she considered this, so Steven droned on, "like a ship, but it doesn't fly. It stays on the ground. My car."

"Oh." Jasper fell silent for a moment; her own expression rapidly began to change. She didn't look surprised, or worried, or concerned, like the others; rather, she had a more understanding expression on her face, something akin to Amethyst's without the shock of a realization accompanying it, like it was something she'd already known, and expected. "... oh."

Steven flicked his gaze away, focusing past them for a moment, instead fixing his eyes on the temple doors and forcing himself to breathe steadily again. Despite the… apathy? Indifference? He suddenly held toward the situation, he still felt like, the moment he finally registered what he had just done - what he'd just admitted, right to their faces - he was going to give himself absolute hell for it. Even if maybe, they needed to hear it. Even if maybe it would be enough to make them finally realize things really were different now, and it wasn't going to go back to normal, and he couldn't keep pretending he was okay. Even if, maybe, this was for the best.

Even then, deep down, something inside of him was soaring. He wasn't sure what it was, or why; like some internal celebration that didn't quite feel like his own. Like… encouragement.

"Why?" Garnet whispered, and Steven looked back up at her, eyebrows raising slightly. She was shaking, arms wrapped around herself; at first glance, it almost looked like she was simply crossing her arms. But the more he stared, the more he realized she really looked like she was trying to physically hold herself together. The hybrid blinked, not responding for a moment.

So she asked again, quiet, shaky, looking like she already knew the answer, but for some reason, seemingly wanting him to outright say it, to confirm it. "Steven, why?"

It was a split-second decision; he could look her in the eyes and tell her the truth, and risk what he knew was about to happen. He could risk her falling apart - literally - over this, if he didn't keep his mouth shut. Or he could clam up again, close his mouth and look away and apologize, and do whatever he could to make sure she stayed together, stayed complete. But the thought of that, comforting as it should have been - as it would have been, not too long ago - felt cold now. Hell, his stomach twisted at the idea of turning away from this, as if his body were protesting to it, too. He shifted and leaned forward a little, wincing slightly as his back throbbed again at the movement. It was a split-second decision. Fix it or break it even further.

He did look away from her, because he found it hard to look at her knowing what would happen as he opened his mouth to respond, slow and simple. "Because I was trying to kill myself." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her tense, the vice-like grip she had on her arms tightening even further. But, to his surprise, she stayed somewhat stable. "Because I…" For a moment, he almost choked up; apathy crumbled to despair, confusion, pain, before blending back into the familiar anger he had grown far too used to at this point. "I am- so- so goddamn tired."

The hybrid glanced back over, catching the expressions on Amethyst and Pearl's faces. Pearl just looked more horrified with each passing second; she was on the verge of tears now, her hands cupped around her mouth, seemingly struggling to speak if the quiet, whimpering sounds escaping her were any indication. Amethyst had her head ducked now, eyes screwed shut and fists clenched tightly, seeming like she was trying as hard as Garnet to keep herself together - emotionally, not physically, but it was still somewhat the same kind of struggle.

Garnet glowed and destabilized, and Steven could just barely see the forms of Ruby and Sapphire poking through the light. But they didn't stay long enough, as the fusion didn't quite split; she stabilized again after a moment, breathing in shakily and holding it, mumbling something under her breath. A familiar tune, he caught with ease, and he wanted to laugh.

Instead, he spoke up again, raising his voice over her mumbling and catching her attention once again, as long as the others. "I can't take it anymore," he informed them, surprisingly steady, surprisingly certain of what he was saying now, despite knowing, deep down, he was going to end up regretting it all later on. "I can't take the guilt- and the pain- and the anger and I can't just keep bottling it up and saying I'm fine when I'm not and trying to pretend I am so I can just explode later in another suicidal rage and then fail all over again because that's what I do. I can't not talk about it," his breath finally hitched, anger and pain battling for control in his chest. "I have to talk about it. I can't do it. I can't do it anymore. I can't."

Whatever he might have done - to Jasper, or otherwise, he couldn't help but wonder if he had always deserved this pain. If he had always deserved to hurt like this. If it was inevitable.

No, he decided to insist after a moment, finally attempting to swallow past some of the self-loathing, the inadequacy brewing in his gut. "No," he continued aloud, shakily this time. "No, I- whatever I deserve now- I deserved better then… right? I- I listened to you. I helped you. That- that's what I do- what I did. I helped people, I was- I was supposed to help people…" Screwing his face up, the hybrid fell silent for a moment, just letting himself think.

He'd already known it hadn't been fair; how much this gem stuff had taken over his life, how much he'd had to do, and fix, when he was so young. He was a child. He had been a child. He saved the galaxy at fourteen- he'd had his gem ripped out of his body, almost died because of it, at fourteen years old. He wasn't some intergalactic hero. He wasn't some half-alien with a magical destiny. He had been a kid, pushed into all of this. By the gems, by his mother. Forced into existence, to bridge the gap between Homeworld and Earth; forced into a life he didn't want, a purpose he didn't ask for, a destiny he didn't choose. Maybe he wasn't a good person now - but he had been, once. He had saved the galaxy. He'd freed innocent gems from Homeworld. He had helped people; not because he had to, because he wanted to.

When had it started feeling more like his job? When had helping people become a chore? Did he do it that often - over and over and over and over and over - that he just became numb to it?

They had put so much on him.

He had put so much on himself. He'd taken it all in stride without pause, glad to be of assistance. Happy to listen, happy to be whatever the gems needed him to be as long as he was useful. Because he'd realized, early on, that he needed to be useful to be needed at all. Somewhere along the line, that had become his lifeline; he'd clung to it, used it to his advantage. Done everything in his power to succeed in whatever was asked of him, and then some, so that maybe one day he'd finally be good enough for them. Maybe one day he'd finally step out of his mother's shadow and they would see him for who he really, truly was.

But that was never going to happen, because it wasn't who he was. It was just who he was trying to be, for them. He hadn't left his mother's shadow; he'd pushed himself right back into it and just kept burrowing further and further, with all his thoughts about how he wasn't supposed to exist anymore, because she had only created him to do a specific thing. Who was she to decide what he did with his life? Who were they to decide what he did with his life. Rose- Pink- whatever, she had been the one to give up her own to create him. They had been the one that needed him to hold their hands and guide them through the grief of losing someone he'd never even known, when he'd still been struggling with that himself. And he had done it. Aiming to please, he had done it all, trying to prove something in the most futile way possible.

"Steven-" Pearl stepped forward, and crashed straight into his shield; he flicked his gaze up, clenching his fist and slamming the shield forward before she had the time to step and avoid it; Jasper managed to leap to the side just in time to avoid getting hit.

Pearl wasn't lucky enough to do so; she slammed back into the closed temple door with a surprised gasp, the shield pinning her where she stood for a good few seconds before promptly vanishing completely, letting her fall forward. She caught herself on her hands and knees and looked up at him, wide-eyed with horror, surprise and hurt - and he stared back, feeling nothing. Even as Garnet moved forward, and Amethyst finally backed away from him - well, less from him and more toward Pearl, but it didn't matter. He raised a hand toward Garnet, and she froze mid-step, inching backwards just a little and fixing her eyes on him somewhat warily.

"Steven, you have to calm down-"

"I don't have to do anything," Steven retorted sharply, only pausing to compose himself for a second before he spoke again. He wasn't even angry anymore, not really; the rage had, once again, fizzled out. Once again, he found himself completely consumed in indifference, so much that he could, possibly, drown in it. It was cold, it was empty, it was numb. "And I am calm."

"No… you're not," Garnet told him carefully, as the gem in question struggled to her feet, with Amethyst's help; he looked over, staring at them silently for a moment, then looked up at Jasper. She was just watching him, silent, intrigued. No judgement, no encouragement - which, honestly, he had somewhat expected, given how much she seemed to hate the gems, how much she loved fighting. He almost expected her to be cheering him on, telling him to beat them into a pulp. But she was just silent. Calculating. Observing his every mood, just… waiting.

He looked toward Peridot and Lapis; both had gone silent, neither had moved from his sides. Lapis had her arms crossed, not really looking at any of them, while Peridot was somewhat focused on Pearl, sparing glances back and forth between her and Steven with a frown.

"Please," Pearl's voice was quieter now, her gaze pleading as Steven turned back to her. "We can just talk about this, Steven-"

"I don't wanna talk to you," Steven snapped, dropping his hand back to the arm of the wheelchair. "I don't- I can't. I can't. It's too much…" He gritted his teeth, screwing his eyes shut once again, less trying to control himself, and more simply trying to figure out how to put what he was feeling into words now. "I- I'm- … I'm angry. I'm angry. I hate- I hate everything right now and I can't- I can't fix that. I can fix everything else, I can fix- I can- I can fix everybody else but me. And I can't do it anymore, I can't do it. I don't- I don't even want to- I'm tired. I'm tired."

Stunned silence met him; it was the most he had said, in regards to his current emotional state, to anybody. Even admitting he hated himself, to Peridot and Lapis, hadn't quite been like this; he hadn't told them how angry he was, how much he hated everything else as well as himself. How tired and broken and just completely, utterly done he was with everything around him. How much he didn't even want to keep going, how much he was really, genuinely starting to not care. Hell, at this point, it was the most he had even admitted to himself; how tired he really was.

He let his shoulders droop, adrenaline draining almost as fast as it had come, leaving him numb and exhausted once again. "M'tired," he muttered again, mostly for his sake now. "I can't do it anymore… I can't." He wished he knew how much he was going to repeat that; he had lost count, to be completely honest. "And now you know. You know I hate myself, I- I tried to kill myself…" He sighed through his teeth. "And this is gonna make everything worse, 'cause now I've gone and told you all this and now I'm gonna hate myself more for making you feel bad."

"Steven- buddy- you-" Amethyst finally spoke up again, somehow with more of a struggle than Steven was having at this point. "You can't- you can't blame yourself for how we feel, that's-"

"Stupid?" Steven finished dryly, looking up at her. "Yeah, I know. I know you don't need me to make you feel better about yourselves now. You don't need me to hold your hand and walk you through the complete wreck your lives used to be. You don't need me." He fell silent for a moment, finally taking his hands off of the crushed arms of the wheelchair and instead wrapping his arms around himself, wondering if he'd be able to crush his own bones the way he had done the metal if he tried hard enough. But, considering he was in enough pain and couldn't even heal himself, he decided against it after a moment. "Maybe you never have," he mumbled after a moment. "Maybe you never needed me to pick you guys up every time you fell."

He furrowed his eyebrows, staring down, then slowly lifted his gaze back to the gems again. "But what was I supposed to do, huh? What did you want from me? Did you- did- did you just want- expect me to ignore your problems? Or did you want me to-" He stopped for a second, breathing in shakily, and collapsed into the chair again. "... to coddle you," he muttered. "You didn't need me to hold your hand. But you wanted me to, right?" He huffed out a tired laugh. "'Cause that's what Mom did, isn't it…?"

Each one of them flinched at the exact same time, reeling back sharply.

Glancing from one to the other, he let his shoulders sag completely, giving in to the exhaustion weighing him down, finally just taking it as it came, no more fighting, no more protest. He let every emotion consume him; painful, bitter, angry, he just let it wrap around him, buzz through him until there was nothing left, once again, except for exhaustion and bitterness. No hatred, no anger, no contempt. Just somehow both giving up, and desperate to finally open their eyes. He closed his eyes for a moment, and kept them shut as he spoke again, shakily, "I was a child."

Silence; he expected nothing less, but it helped him to gather his thoughts this time before he spoke, finally managing to think before he opened his mouth. His raging thoughts had calmed, suddenly and quickly, and he wasn't sure when they would start speeding again. So he took the chance to sort through them as much as he could, gasping in great big gulps of air to fill his lungs so he could speak without having to pause too much. "Maybe I don't deserve anything now- after- after everything I've done. And- and maybe you didn't mean to push everything onto me like that- but you did." He swallowed, opening his eyes. "I was fourteenYounger, even."

Finally, he watched Garnet, and then Pearl, falter, ever so slowly. The same realization that had crossed Amethyst's face flickered across theirs for the first time, dawning on them, faces falling like a shadow had been cast over the room, a blanket of darkness falling across all of them.

Steven, oddly enough- shockingly enough- managed to take some pleasure in it.

They were listening to him.

He rubbed a hand over his face, somewhat content with what he'd told them now, ready to end the conversation there - but something prodded at the back of his mind, repeatedly and insistently. And he heaved out a sigh, but, knowing it would come out eventually, hesitantly forced himself to speak up again. "I…" He trailed off, breathing out shakily. "One more thing… I didn't- I didn't only crash the car on purpose, I- I hurt myself, too. A lot. And I can't heal it. I can't heal anything right now," he added, a little quieter. "... I don't really think that I deserve to."

At this, he was surprised to see Jasper grimace; not a scowl, or a frown, but a grimace. A mixture of grim and understanding as she stared daggers at him; he finally let himself focus on her for a moment, simply letting his gaze linger until it trailed on its own, back toward the gems. They were all silent, still struggling, still not knowing what to say; and so, he decided, that was as good a time as any to end the conversation. They all had a lot of thinking to do now.

"I'm tired," he told them - everyone in the room, now, not just Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, so that they all knew the conversation was over. He had said enough - genuinely - for the first time. His gaze flicked toward the stairs, then trailed past them, toward the temple doors. At least he had a valid excuse to go in there now; he wasn't about to get Lapis to carry the wheelchair up the stairs, because he'd just need help getting it back down later on. Rose's room was probably the only place he could go at this point to get some much-needed alone and quiet time - but even then, with that in mind, he didn't think he was in any place - physically or emotionally - to be using that knife again any time soon. He really was tired. Tired of more than just this.

"Well, obviously," Jasper surprised him by speaking up, finally, gruff as ever; Lapis twitched from beside him, and he spared her a glance before focusing on Jasper again, eyelids drooping slightly. Those two had a lot to work out - or maybe they didn't, or wouldn't, but Steven couldn't bring himself to worry about that right then. "So go be tired somewhere else." Jasper turned her head, eyeing Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl. "I'll keep them busy."

Steven followed her gaze, flicking his eyes over one offended look to the next, and mumbled half-heartedly, without thinking, "I think they should learn how to keep themselves busy."

He didn't get much of a response; a few surprised glances, mostly from Amethyst and Pearl, and Jasper almost looked somewhat proud - as did Lapis, who was clearly trying not to laugh. Steven didn't say anything else, leaning over to grip the wheels of the chair so he could roll himself forward. It took him a moment to get used to it - he'd seen people do it on TV, and he'd practiced with the wheelchair a little bit in the hospital, but he still wasn't used to moving around with it. Still, he managed to get himself past the gems without bumping into anyone or anything (though he did have trouble maneuvering around the warp pad at first). Nobody moved to help him, nobody said anything. They simply shuffled aside, knowing any assistance would be unwelcome, and let him move on his own until he reached the temple door.

His gem glowed, as did the one atop the star, before the door slid open, revealing the familiar pink room. It darkened the moment he rolled himself through; not the same crimson red it had been the last time he'd entered, but not the bubblegum pink that it usually was.

The hybrid let himself collapse back into the chair as the door shut behind him, letting his head fall back and shutting his eyes with a long, slow, shuddery sigh.

He'd done it.

Chapter Text

Once again, Steven found himself surrounded by the familiar, glimmering blue above, and pink tiles below that had become his dreams. It had been entirely unintentional, but then- when wasn't it? It wasn't like he ever asked to show up here. But this time, it was surprisingly welcome; he didn't feel the same sense of dread that he had, the earlier times. The irritation, the annoyance, the confusion and fear that came with confronting his gem half again. Instead, somehow, he felt almost at peace as he looked up to see his pink twin, right where he'd left him. He was still seated, cross-legged against the tiles, hands in his lap as the chains pooled around him. He didn't look frustrated or upset, as he had the last time Steven had seen him.

He looked oddly comfortable, relaxed, content - for somebody who was trapped.

"Welcome back," he told Steven quietly as the hybrid struggled to sit up, cringing slightly. He managed to pull his good leg under him to sit somewhat cross-legged, the other somewhat limp against the floor. He still didn't have any feeling in it, aside from the way the cast weighed against it, pressing into his kneecap and the inside of his leg. Regardless, even that feeling wasn't as bad as the pain that came with trying to move it, so he simply left it alone.

He looked up at his gem half and furrowed his eyebrows, just staring for a moment. He hadn't meant to fall asleep - he had been serious when he'd told Lapis that he planned on taking a break from doing so for a while - but, he supposed, everything with the gems had left him exhausted in more ways than just emotionally. But even then, with that in mind, he still found himself stuck with the fact that even being here, face to face with the part of himself that wasn't really 'himself', the part of him he'd pushed so far down both intentionally and unintentionally, was somehow better than sitting in that room and staring at the knife, wondering when he would pick it up again - or when he would make his cloud 'mother' do it herself. In the end, yes, the hybrid reluctantly had to resign himself to the fact that this was the best alternative.

He regarded his pink clone for a while, letting himself think while he could. Everything still seemed to be moving slow for him; it was such a change, from how his thoughts and emotions had been raging high and beyond, faster than he could adjust. Now, the gears in his mind were churning at a steadier pace, giving him the clarity he needed to just… just genuinely think for a second. Think about what to do, what to say, now that they were hopefully uninterrupted. There was no Connie, no doctors here or back in the 'waking world' to snap him out of this now.

It was kind of funny, it seemed that every time he had somewhat let his defenses down to talk to this glittering, pink lookalike of his, he always ended up ripped away just before he could.

His pink twin's lips twitched, and Steven let his thoughts trail to focus on him again, eyebrows raising slightly as he spoke up carefully. "Despite myself, I do have to agree. The interruptions were necessary," he admitted, "inevitable, but certainly quite an inconvenience." He shifted slightly where he sat, cocking his head at the human hybrid, who simply narrowed his eyes. "But if you want to talk, I'm certainly not opposed. I've wanted to speak to you for a while now."

Steven didn't respond for a moment, lightly running his tongue over his lips and frowning slightly. His mouth felt dry - in a way that usually only happened when he was scared - but he realized, along with that, that there was a price to pay for how slow and steady everything currently seemed. He wasn't overwhelmed or panicky because he wasn't feeling anything; there was nothing pounding in his chest, nothing clouding his mind. But there was nothing at all. He wasn't simply lacking discontent, or anxiety, or pain; he was lacking everything else, too. And you would think it would make it harder to think, but it was the clearest he'd felt in a while. "About what?" He finally asked, simple and quiet, as he looked back up at his gem half.

"Anything," his pink clone replied, leaning forward on his arms, which were still folded carefully in his lap, as he looked up at Steven. "Everything. You, or me. Whatever you want."

Steven glanced at him, then looked up. The butterflies were still there, from the last time; circling the pale blue sky, they seemed almost as at ease as the two below them. But then, he thought numbly, why were they even there, if they were at ease? The hybrid sighed and shut his eyes for a moment, thinking. He knew what they represented. For fusions, they were 'problems', basically, doubts and… fears, and uncertainties, and everything that could rip them apart.

He frowned, propping his elbow up on his good leg and slouching over to let his head rest in his hand, cringing slightly as the movement hurt his back, but otherwise not doing anything to shift into a more comfortable position. Truthfully, he felt like he'd be uncomfortable - physically - regardless of whatever he did, so there wasn't any point in trying. He thought his pink twin's words over, and then thought of something he had said before -  we're not exactly the same, you know.  - he thought of the things he'd wanted to ask, things he'd been more or less far too distracted, preoccupied, or simply far too irritated to do so. But now- well… now…

For a second, he wondered if it was really something he wanted to know - but he was going to be in here with this pink clone of his for who knows how long, and sitting in silence just wasn't going to work for Steven. It never had. For all he knew, it would spark some emotion, some anxiety, some panic, and he'd be right back at square one, with his mind racing as fast as it had been the past few days. He frowned, rubbing his hand against his face lightly and looking back up at his gem half, who was simply watching him intently, with a patient expression on his face. "What did you mean?" He asked, finally, "when you said we weren't the same. I thought you were me." His heart stuttered a little, a faint flare of an emotion sparking in his chest, remembering how it had felt watching  himself  form from the gem. Remembering the confusion - and the complete, heartbreaking relief - that had come with realizing that she really  was  gone.

Well, at the time, it had been less about that and more about the fact that he wasn't her, but at this point, he wasn't about to spark that train of thought back up. As for his gem half, he had gone somewhat silent, more so thoughtful now as he twisted his mouth and tipped his head to one side. His curls bounced along with the movement; Steven glanced from his face to his hair, somewhat distracted by it, before his pink twin was suddenly speaking again. "You and I are… well, I suppose, together, we  make  one," he finally responded. "But apart, we are different."

"We're not technically apart," Steven pointed out.

"We're not technically together," his pink clone replied, lifting a hand slightly, still bubbled and trapped in the chains holding him down. Steven twisted his mouth sharply, and his gem half dropped his hand with a sigh, offering another patient look before tilting his head back to look upwards. "You have been… you for quite a while now. Like I told you before, I've always been content to simply sit and allow you to do as you please. I've never had a reason to disagree with anything you've done until-" He stopped, and started again. "But I, am not you. We are different; we share different thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears. We were created together - but that doesn't make us the same. We've never quite been the same, even when we were together."

"So then what are you?" Steven pressed, furrowing his eyebrows slightly as he struggled to piece this information together. It really was like a puzzle he couldn't quite figure out, and he both ached to and dreaded what might become the bigger picture if he did. "I mean, you're still the gem part of me, right? You're still the one that has all the power, and everything."

"Not… quite," his gem half responded carefully, furrowing his eyebrows. "You are the carrier of the gem - I simply reside inside, in a sense. That's the way it's always been." He fell silent for a moment, and Steven did, as well, narrowing his eyes slightly as he thought that over. "I suppose, in a way, I am your 'gem half', as you put it. Without the Diamond, you are human, and I am simply a gem. But it's less… me being the source of your powers, and more so simply being the one connected to that source. We're connected to the gemstone in different ways, and each require it to exist. It's like a fusion - just, the two of us, and only one gem."

"... ah." Steven blinked, lifting his head from his hand as it finally clicked, the realization finally settling in. Maybe a little too late, but he did understand, now, what the gem meant. "So we… we're two different people." He fell silent, less confused on that, now, and more so confused as to how he felt about that. It was a weird thought; all this time, he'd thought he and this pink clone really were just different versions of him. But they really were completely different, as he had said before. But if that was true, then this 'fusion' was… just like Malachite. Just like the one that had haunted his dreams for months on end. The one that had kept Jasper and Lapis trapped at the bottom of the ocean, wrapped in their chains and the hatred that built their relationship. Focusing on the chains holding his pink lookalike down, he numbly noted that this was basically the same. But Steven hadn't done this intentionally; he hadn't even known his gem half was down here, locked and sealed away because of his own self-loathing, until… a few days ago?

And if he really was a different person, then he was innocent. Just another person caught in the middle of his war with himself. Just another person he ended up hurting in the long run.

He grimaced, simply letting the guilt come when it finally did crash back, like the seal on whatever had been keeping his emotions at bay had been lifted. The pink gem in front of him said nothing, simply furrowed his eyebrows as Steven ducked his head and shut his eyes.

"If I may," his pink twin began quietly, "you truly didn't know until the first time you saw me after-" A pause, ever so brief, followed his words. Steven cracked an eye open and looked at him, surprised by the sudden twist in his chest that didn't quite feel like his own emotions at all. This was- not quite guilt, but a sense of regret, somewhat akin to dread. More or less, it didn't feel like it was his. It felt like it was the pink gem's, as the being in front of him lowered his head and shut his eyes with a sigh, looking briefly like he was scolding himself. But then- then he continued, surprising Steven more than anything, "after White separated us."

Steven stared, trying to figure out if the pause had been for his benefit - or if it had been for his gem half's. He frowned, twisting his mouth sharply and fighting back another rush of guilt - without really knowing what he was feeling guilty about this time. "Still…" He finally mumbled, aching to get off of the subject of White Diamond entirely. "You still said… and I didn't…" He lifted his hand and pressed it to his face, wishing he could simply curl up into a ball and hide. "I'm sorry."

The silence lasted a few seconds before his gem half spoke up again. "I forgive you, Steven." And truthfully, he didn't think that three words could have such an impact; he didn't think something that wasn't 'it's okay' could actually bring an odd sense of comfort; he didn't think hearing that would - while it didn't quite relieve him of the guilt - loosen some of the tightness in his chest. But it did. After a moment, the hybrid let his shoulders droop, dropping his hand into his lap and heaving out a low, shaky sigh as he looked back up at his gem half. Then he looked back down at the chains, thinking for a moment.

"... so how do we get you out of here?"

"I'm not entirely sure, myself," his gem half confessed, giving the chains a halfhearted tug. "But with your acceptance, now, it might be easier to do so. Regardless, I'm going to be alright," he added simply, somewhat firmly, as he lifted his gaze back to Steven. "It's you, I worry for." Steven fell silent again at that, glancing away and looking upwards once more. He didn't want to say he was fine. He knew he wasn't. He knew something was wrong with him. He knew when he wasn't… numb, he was hurting. Or he was angry. And he wanted to make other people hurt as much as he was - mainly the gems and his father, but he couldn't help but wonder if even that would end up spreading to others… and he knew it wasn't normal; he knew he wasn't fine. He didn't know if he deserved to be fine, after everything he'd done. But he wanted to be fine. At the very least, he wanted to… he wanted to stop hurting. He wanted to stop being so angry.

"If you need to talk, Steven," his pink twin began suddenly, and Steven flicked his gaze back down to him quickly. "I'll be right here. I'm not going to get angry, I'm not going to break down. I'm going to listen." His voice softened, as did his expression; his pinprick pupils seemed to widen, just a little bit, eyebrows lowering and furrowing slightly. "If that's what you want."

Steven only hesitated for a second, wrapping his arms around himself and closing his eyes. Honestly, he wasn't sure what could be worse than talking to the gems; even talking to Peridot and Lapis had been easier than that. And… he didn't know if it was going to get easier. Even as angry, as numb as he had been back there with the gems, it had still taken a lot out of him. It had still exhausted him in every sense of the term. And he didn't know if that was going to change so easily. He didn't know if it would get better, or if it would get worse. But he did know that he couldn't keep it bottled up anymore; he had meant that, when he'd said it to the gems. He was too tired. Too hurt. Too angry to keep pushing it down without literally exploding.

Talking somehow seemed like the least of his worries (and yet, it was his biggest one).

He shook his head and sighed; the breath left him slowly and steadily, and as he breathed back in, he finally felt somewhat relaxed. Somewhat content - just a little, just enough. Not quite as numb as he had been before, but not overrun with emotions and thoughts he didn't understand. It was enough, at the very least, to give him some time to finally just-  think . "... yeah," he finally replied, softly, his voice barely more than a breathless whisper. "I think… I think it is."

"Well then," his pink twin murmured, "I'm here."

Steven fell silent for a while, shifting positions as much as he could and leaning back on his hands now with a sigh. He managed to stretch his good one out, since it had been starting to grow somewhat numb from its curled-up position; the right one still hurt, aching worse and worse every so often, but there wasn't anything he could do about that, was there? At this, his gem half glanced up, raising an eyebrow at him slightly, and glanced down at his leg. "I could-"

"No," Steven told him, quietly, tiredly. He shut his eyes, breathing out slowly through his teeth. "It's my fault. I'm the one that did it so I'm the one that needs to figure out how to fix it."

The pink gem sighed through his teeth as well, but even the brief flicker of frustration that crossed his face vanished into an oddly resigned look of understanding, and he nodded slightly back at Steven in response as the hybrid reluctantly cracked an eye open to look at him. "Okay." He fell silent, briefly, then sighed again. "But the offer is still on the table when you need it."

"If," Steven corrected, raising an eyebrow tiredly toward… his…

… man, he needed to figure out what to call him now. He wasn't technically his 'clone' or his 'gem half' apparently, was he? 'Twin' was still… somewhat accurate, in a sibling kind of sense. But that thought also brought on another realization- like with the other Rose Quartzes, the two of them, him and this pink gem in front of him, they were related. Created by the same gem; by all technicalities, Pink was just as much his mother as she was Steven's. They had been created at the same time, by the same person… so then, technically, they were… brothers.

"Brothers," the gem echoed slowly, and a faint smile began to tug at his lips. Steven looked up at him, breathing in sharply - because his eyes had shifted, too. Just like the first time he'd seen him in his dreams. They were small, but still noticeable; two shining, glittering diamond shapes stared back at him. And, unlike then, he didn't recoil in horror and disgust; he just furrowed his eyebrows and stared. Two times now, that had happened. And he had a feeling it wasn't going to stop. And maybe it was still the fact that a big part of him still felt… numb, or maybe it was because he finally had a chance, however brief, to genuinely think for the first time, but even with the faint uncertainty brewing under the surface, the rest of him felt oddly calm about it. At the very least, it was something he might as well get used to now - it wasn't the first time, and he doubted it was going to be the last. "I like the sound of that," his twin continued quietly.

Steven wasn't able to return the sentiment - in that moment, he didn't really 'like' much of anything. But he figured, someone who seemed to already know what he was feeling and thinking before he opened his mouth would already know this; and he seemed to understand.

Hell, if he focused enough, he could feel it - he could feel the warmth from his… his brother. At least, that's where he assumed it was coming from; he knew for a fact that it wasn't his own. He knew it because it was warm, and gentle and protective and understanding and concerned and patient, and all of the things Steven found himself lacking lately. He knew because it didn't feel like his; and the more he focused on it, the stronger it became, like it was finally surfacing for the first time. And he wasn't surprised - just how  much  of his twin had he pushed down? And just how long had he been doing it, even before he thought it was only himself he'd been doing it to?

He heaved out a defeated sigh and closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head slightly at himself. Regardless, there wasn't anything he could do about it now, was there? Yes, he hated it - but he hated just about everything at this point. And he was too tired now to beat himself up over it properly, which he assumed he was going to go ahead and do later on anyway - but for now, he couldn't even bring himself to do that. He wasn't really sure why, but it didn't matter.

"Do you like flowers?" His brother asked suddenly, laying back and raising his arms over his head. The chains moved with him naturally, and he hardly missed a beat as he adjusted them behind his head, out of the way, to rest his bubbled hands over his forehead instead. Steven gazed at him for a moment, trying not to think too hard about how natural it seemed to him, about how long he must have been down here, alone, fighting with the chains - or, considering what he'd said before, simply sitting there with them, accepting his fate with little protest. The fact that he was finally fighting back now, while it had been initially irritating, was somewhat… relieving, in a way - but he still didn't like the reason why. Still, he pushed that back for the time being, lifting his gaze up to the butterflies that were still fluttering over their heads, up above.

He managed to keep roses out of his thoughts, miraculously, as he thought those words over. Despite his bad experiences in his garden, he couldn't particularly say he hated flowers. A lot of them, he had taken a particular interest in; they were pretty, and unique, and before everything Cactus Steven, they had actually been rather calming for him, too. "... yeah."

His brother hummed, and Steven twisted his mouth slightly, closing his eyes for a moment. He wasn't sure how to feel about the small talk, but at the same time, the change of subject - and how easy it was to redirect his thoughts onto something else, if only for the time being - was actually somewhat relieving. Probably because it didn't require a lot of thought; it didn't force him too deep, didn't give him the chance to spiral, didn't give his feelings time to resurface. The hybrid exhaled, slowly lowering himself onto his back, and wincing slightly. "What about you?"

"I do," his brother replied, and Steven put his arms over his face, just listening. "I'm quite fond of them, actually. I enjoyed learning about them when you were gardening."

Steven furrowed his eyebrows slightly, thinking back to the research he had done on all the different kinds of flowers he was growing. "Yeah…" He heaved out a sigh. "I was looking up what they represented and stuff so I could name them right." Despite himself, he let out a low snort, grimacing slightly as he thought back. He'd been so desperate, feeling like everybody was drifting away from him, leaving him behind. And he'd turned to flowers to fill that gap.

It seemed stupid, thinking back on it now.

"I don't think it was stupid," his twin murmured, sounding thoughtful. "It was a coping mechanism. You were feeling alone, and conflicted - which, considering your circumstances, was completely valid. Truthfully, comparing it to your current coping mechanisms, that was actually a rather healthy way to deal with those feelings. I'm not saying it was the healthiest method, but it certainly wasn't stupid, either. And besides that, you did genuinely enjoy it."

Steven bit his lip, keeping his arms pressed over his eyes. It took him a moment to muster up the energy to respond this time. "I know… I just- it feels like- like just another way to ignore what I was feeling," he whispered, taking a deep breath. "And… just pretend that I was fine."

"Maybe," his brother agreed quietly. "And maybe it was. But that's how you were coping with everything, Steven, because it's the only way you knew how to. Just like how Jasper copes with her anger by fighting; it's what she knows. It's what she's always done. And you've always put everybody else's feelings before your own. That's what you know. And it's as you said before - it's not as easy for you to simply flip the switch and change what you've always known."

"Yeah," Steven mumbled, clenching his teeth and swallowing. The lack of anger was surprising; the emotion that twisted in his chest was nothing but raw pain, not as overwhelming as it had been recently - maybe he was just too tired now to feel it to that extent - but it was still strong. "Yeah, it's not." He paused, bringing one hand down to rub his face. "It- It's just- It's so hard. I don't- I don't think I know how to exist without fixing something, and- and helping people. And to do that, I've just- I've always had to- …" He trailed off and swallowed, covering his face again. "... I just don't- I don't know if it's my fault or if it's… I don't know."

"You don't have to know right away, Steven."

"I know…" Steven breathed out, a little more shakily this time. He didn't even feel on the verge of another breakdown, or an outburst, or panic. It just hurt. And he just let it. "I want to, though."

"There's still time," his brother murmured. "... would you like my thoughts on the matter?" Steven hesitated, at this - but, eventually, he just heaved out a sigh and nodded slightly. Because- why not, right? He might as well hear whatever his pink twin had to say now. "I know it's something you have to figure out on your own," his brother told him. "Nobody can change how you feel. Emotions aren't a choice. They're not optional. They can feel petty, irrational, out of control. Your feelings are shaped by your experiences. And you are shaped by your feelings. I don't, personally, believe that it's your fault. Helping people is something you grew up with. I will admit that a lot of the time, it was your own choice - but I will also admit that, as a young child, you shouldn't have been placed in a position where you had to make that choice to begin with."

Steven didn't respond for a moment, simply letting those words sink in while he had the chance. Despite the way they made his heart sink, and his stomach twist uncomfortably - he knew, logically, it was the truth. Helping people, helping the gems, picking them up time and time again, that had been his choice. He could have turned away; nobody had forced him to stay with them and put them back together when they fell apart. They hadn't had to; he was more than happy to do so back then, naive and desperate to be whatever they needed him to. But he shouldn't have been in that position. He shouldn't have had to make that choice, as a child.

He moved his arms under his head, wincing slightly as doing so required him to shift into a position that made his back ache in response, but he managed to relax again after a moment. "I'm…" He stopped, swallowing, and forced himself to continue. It wasn't like it was new information; his brother could likely feel the anger that had been churning in his chest before. He'd probably  heard  him outright tell the gems that he  was  angry. He clenched his teeth, thinking his words over carefully before he spoke, "... I'm angry. At them. And at dad-" Anger flared in his chest again, pulsing surprisingly steadily. "Because he- he just let me move in with them. He let me do all this gem stuff and he just- he just… turned the other way," he whispered harshly, staring up at the butterflies. "He was there, but he wasn't- he wasn't there when I- …"

"Needed him to be," his brother finished knowingly, when Steven proved unable to spit the words out himself. The hybrid managed to nod, twisting his mouth into a grimace. "None of them were there when you needed them to be. But you were always there when they needed you."

Steven swallowed, finally feeling tears prick at his eyes. "... was that fair?"

The response was instant this time. "No." And Steven fell silent after that, not knowing what else to say, while his brother spoke up again after a few more seconds, sighing.

"... I don't believe any of them meant to hurt you. Despite their… flaws-" He huffed, and Steven couldn't keep himself from doing the same after a moment. "They do care about you. But they still hurt you, whether intentional or not - and I'm not saying hold a grudge. I'm not saying plot revenge. But the things you went through under what was supposed to be their 'protection' doesn't deserve to simply be brushed aside. The trauma you went through is important. It matters. And whether or not they meant it, they still either caused this trauma, or they didn't do as much as they should have done to prevent it. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. They hurt you. And they need to know that they hurt you, Steven. Maybe it won't make you feel better. Maybe it won't make them feel good at all - but this isn't a 'feel good' situation. And being honest about how you feel, and how much it hurts, and why it hurts, that's the only way you're going to start to heal from it. That's the only way all this anger is going to stop feeling so uncontrollable."

Steven turned his head to look over at him for a moment, staying silent. His brother flicked his gaze over to him briefly; his pupils had shifted, no longer the diamonds they had been, but still just a little bigger than they had been before. His expression was soft, but still firm, still intent.

"You're allowed to be angry," his twin murmured. "I'd be more worried if you weren't. You're allowed to be upset. Even if it means you hate them sometimes. It's not black and white. There's no 'better' or 'right' way to feel about all of this - only how you do feel. That's what matters."

"Well," Steven mumbled after a moment, "the gems know."

"Yes, they do." His brother looked back up for a moment, a small smile appearing on his face for only a second as he nodded. "You told them. And it was your choice, your decision. Because they needed to hear it, and you needed to say it. And that, Steven, is a very, very good thing. Make no mistake about that."

"I hope so," Steven whispered, closing his eyes for a moment. He didn't feel… well, he didn't feel any more 'okay' than he had when he'd fallen asleep. He didn't feel any less pained, or any less angry and scared. But he did feel a little bit less confused. Not by much, but - for the time being, the little bit of clarity he had now, the little bit of relief, it was enough to allow him to relax, somewhat, as he pulled his arms back over his face and closed his eyes again with a sigh.

He didn't feel better.

But he didn't feel any worse.

Chapter Text

Waking up was, surprisingly, not as dreaded as usual; sure, by the time he did, eventually, have to leave his brother, he was actually somewhat upset about it. Not just because he'd finally have to face everybody else, but because a small part of him was actually growing used to the pink gem locked away in the corner of his mind, and a lot of his focus had shifted to getting him free as soon as he could. Of course, his twin insisted he didn't need to worry about that; he could handle this himself, and now that Steven knew about him, it would be easier to do so. The hybrid wasn't convinced, not entirely - but, fine, if his pink twin thought he could do this himself, then Steven would let him. His brother wasn't pressing him about the healing, so Steven wasn't going to press him about the chains yet. If he brought it up again - well, that was another story.

But he was relieved, at least, that he didn't wake up startled this time. In fact, he woke rather slowly, shifting where he sat and grimacing slightly. At first, he only felt sore, which wasn't completely shocking. He had fallen asleep in the wheelchair, in a position that wasn't exactly the best one to sleep in. But, the clearer his sleep-fogged mind became, the more he realized that - no, he wasn't just sore, he was downright aching, hurting, throbbing from the base of his spine to his right ankle, and the pain only got worse when he eventually forced himself upright.

"H- Hooooly…" The hybrid sucked in a gasp through his teeth, shaking hands twisting back as far as they would go to touch his back. The touch itself didn't do anything to help the pain; if anything, it almost seemed to make it worse, but that could have also been the fact that he had to shift slightly to reach his back in the first place, and even the slightest movements made him ache. But even so, he kept his hands where they were, trying to focus on breathing through the pain as much as possible. And he had thought it was bad before - it was damn near unbearable now. "Oh f- fuc- fucking hell-" He cursed under his breath, steadily raising his voice as he continued on, letting out a steady stream of swear words. It didn't help the pain, either, but somehow, it actually did a hell of a lot of good for some of the tension wound up inside of him.

He only stopped for a second when he realized he'd accidentally slipped into Gem Glyph - he wasn't sure when, or how, or even why for that matter. He had picked up a lot of the ancient language from the gems back on Homeworld, and even Garnet and Pearl had taught him a few things. Learning the gem equivalent of cuss words was one of his favorite things, but he hadn't admitted that back then. He found it easier to slip into the language when he was angry more than anything; he remembered one time, he had been around Greg, and he'd stubbed his toe and - oh, boy, if only Greg knew the things he had said that day, he would be horrified… hah…

"Fuck, fuck, stupid car, stupid me, stupid everything, stupid, fuck, oh my stars," he hissed, covering his mouth for a moment and finally managing to force himself to stop speaking.

It took awhile for him to be able to bring up the courage to move again; he didn't want to risk hurting himself even further and ending up lapsing into yet another cursing fit, but he also didn't want to stay in this room any longer than necessary. There wasn't anything to do; he wasn't about to fight with his 'mother' in this state, he wasn't about to pick up the knife and cause himself more pain on top of what he was already experiencing, so he might as well leave.

On cue, his stomach growled, seeming to constrict in on itself before settling again, and Steven hissed out a sigh through his teeth and carefully leaned himself back. He wasn't really in the mood to eat anything at that moment - which reminded him, when the fuck was the last time he had eaten anyway? - and he hadn't starved to death yet, so maybe he just didn't need to yet. Still, he reminded himself to at least try to eat something a little later, more or less so that he could keep any physical pain to a minimum as much as possible and maybe get through this.

He leaned forward - and gasped a little when his back practically throbbed with pain in response - and forced his shaking hands to grip the wheels of the chair, gritting his teeth. "R- Room, door," he hissed, swallowing and gasping another sharp breath in as the room responded at once, the door poofing into existence in front of him without a single second's hesitation. He rolled himself forward carefully, and it slid open as he approached, allowing him to roll the wheelchair through. Of course, it took him a little while to actually manage to reach the other room, and he sank back again in relief when he finally managed to pull himself inside just enough for the door to seal shut again from behind him, his gem pulsing weakly before dimming back to normal again.

There had to be an easier way to do this.

On another note, as he collapsed back into the wheelchair and finally took a look around, he realized that the house was almost empty; almost, because Jasper was still there. She had seated herself on the couch with Amethyst's phone - seriously, why did she even still have that in the first place? Especially when said gem wasn't even there, supposedly - but she looked up after a few seconds, raising an eyebrow toward him slightly. "Oh, you're back." Her tone was passive, but her expression did flicker for a second, looking briefly relieved, then suspicious, then cold again in a matter of seconds. "Your gems aren't here."

"I can see that," Steven muttered, closing his eyes and biting his lip for a moment the second the words had left his mouth. He didn't want to be snappy toward Jasper, give himself anything else to feel guilty over - but he also couldn't really feel much of anything toward her or anyone else at that current moment, and with his focus more or less having fixated completely on the pain in his back and his leg, it was just getting harder to think before he actually opened his mouth. He couldn't decide if it was better or worse than how it had been, but at least he could still somewhat think after the fact - not that it was doing any good. He wondered what was better, not being able to think, or thinking way too much. "... where did they go?"

Jasper grunted, looking back down at the phone. "I don't know, they're not my problem. All I know is that Lapis started yelling at them, then Peridot started yelling at them, and then I told them all they needed to get lost and find somewhere else to have their little death match because I wasn't gonna deal with them and you weren't gonna deal with them either. So then Lapis told me to-" She paused, narrowing her eyes down at the phone and tapping the screen with a scowl, "'fuck off', so I told her to 'fuck off', and then Peridot yelled at her not to attack me, and then they all left to fight some more and I stayed here. So, yeah. I don't know."

Despite himself, Steven couldn't help but huff out a laugh at the thought of Lapis and Jasper telling each other to fuck off - but other than that, he was somewhat uneasy. And a little surprised that Jasper had passed up an opportunity to join in their little 'fight' in the first place. Well, wherever they were, he could only bring himself to hope they wouldn't be back soon. The gems, at least - but he didn't know if Peridot and Lapis would be returning, considering they were probably spending their time now cussing out the gems right then anyway…

… but he'd feel guilty about causing that later. No point in trying to summon up the feelings now, while he was still somewhat content with his numbness, right? He leaned over to roll himself forward, beginning the tedious, painful process of maneuvering himself around the warp pad to enter the main part of the house. "I-" He hissed through his teeth, "-thought you liked fighting."

Jasper flicked her gaze up off of the phone for only a second, not quite looking at him - but toward him - before letting out a non-committal grunt and looking back down with a scowl. Steven alternated glances between her, the warp pad and the chair as he continued his task. "Well," the orange gem finally grumbled, eyebrows furrowing together, so close that they were almost touching now, as she tapped her finger against the phone again. "I'm not interested in their kind of fighting, and I'll bet you didn't want to wake up to their little childish spat anyway."

"S-" Steven stopped for a second, briefly holding his breath as he ended up leaning a little too far to the right; his ribs dug into the broken arm of the wheelchair, causing him to jerk sideways a little more abruptly than he would have liked; it only took a second for the pain to set in, and he had to physically restrain himself from screaming, biting down on his tongue and arching his back slightly as he tightened his hands around the wheels. "Oh- oh, fuck. Fuck. Oh god."

Jasper was staring at him now, though it took a moment for him to actually notice. And he didn't even remember she was in the room until she spoke up again, slow and confused. "You good?"

"Yeah, great," Steven hissed, collapsing back into the chair again and forcing his hands to relax before he ended up breaking the wheels of the chair, too. Talk about having a hard time getting around - walking was not an option by any means, not even something he was going to let himself consider at this point. Maybe he would have tried earlier, but with as much pain as he was in now, and as much self-restraint as it was taking not to just start screaming because of it, trying to walk, at this point, would just be yet another stupid decision. "Fuck- why did I do that?"

He took a minute to recover - well, a little longer than that. It felt like forever before the pain finally began to fade, just a little bit, just enough to be somewhat tolerable again, and to be honest, he could almost cry out in relief when it finally did. He took a deep breath, sucking in as much air as his body would physically allow him to, and fumbled for the wheels once again without quite moving his body forward. He briefly considered shapeshifting, but, not knowing what that would do, if it would make it hurt even worse, he decided against it. "Okay. Okay…" He swallowed, breathing in through his teeth. "A- Anyways, since when do you- do you care?"

The gem looked somewhat startled by the question now, just looking at him with her mouth half-opened before it snapped shut again. And then, that was that; she didn't say anything, she didn't offer any confirmation, nor any denial, she didn't even hold his gaze for too long, looking away after only a few seconds and leaning back into the couch. Steven rolled himself forward with a frown, ever-so careful not to hurt himself again, and furrowed his eyebrows thoughtfully. Really thinking about it now, the question bugged him more than he wanted to admit. Since when did Jasper care? She was all about fighting. Besides, you'd think she, of all gems, would take the chance to rip into the Crystal Gems, to tear them a new one simply for the hell of it. She didn't like them (and Steven wished he could say he blamed her). And above all that, even, he was also somewhat surprised she had decided to stick around here of all places, too. Did it have something to do with Lapis? Or did she actually somehow care about what he 'wanted'? Especially after what he'd done, it didn't make any sen-

Ah.

He paused, removing his hands from the wheels again and lifting his gaze back to Jasper, who managed to look somewhat uncomfortable as she glared down at the phone in her hands, tapping the screen a little more violently now. He was surprised she hadn't cracked the screen - or, hell, maybe she had. "... is it about the 'Diamond' thing?" Steven blurted out, causing her to lift her gaze back to him in an instant, blinking. "'Cause seriously, I don't need or want-"

"I know," Jasper interrupted quickly, cheeks flushing a slightly darker shade of orange - which, honestly, caused Steven to fall silent for a good few seconds in surprise - before she looked away again with a huff, pulling her lips into a scowl and crossing her arms - with the phone still held firmly in one hand. "Whatever, it's not about that. I just figured since it's basically my fault you're like this in the first place I might as well-" And that's when she stopped again, pupils shrinking slightly, staring at absolutely nothing in particular. And Steven stared, stunned, as the giant, tough, occasionally scary Quartz sank back into the couch, suddenly looking very small.

"You…" Steven could practically feel every single thought screeching to a halt, the gears in his mind simply stopping churning altogether as he stared back at Jasper, completely blanking out. For a moment, he wondered, wondered what the gems must have said to her, wondered if they had outright blamed her for getting shattered, blamed her for him suddenly spiraling into this endless abyss of self-loathing and anger he couldn't seem to shake. Because one, Jasper just didn't seem like the kind of gem that would come to this conclusion on her own. "Your fault?"

Jasper only grunted, so quiet Steven almost didn't hear it over his heart pounding.

"Oh…" The hybrid ground his teeth together, the numbness steadily evaporating into anger, which seemed to be his go-to at this point. "Oh, I'm gonna kill them," he seethed, without quite really thinking about what he had said. Of course, he didn't mean it - at least, he figured he didn't, but to be honest, given those thoughts earlier, he wasn't too sure. "What'd they tell you?"

"What?" Jasper squinted at him, eyebrows furrowing slightly in confusion, before the realization settled in once again. She practically snorted, dropping the phone beside her on the cushion and stretching her arms out over the back of the couch with a huff. "Nothing. They were too busy panicking and blaming themselves over you being gone to blame me, so don't lose your gem." She rolled her eyes to the side, looking uncomfortable once again, and her voice seemed to lower a little bit as she muttered, "I could have stopped you from leaving, but I didn't."

Steven didn't know whether to feel relieved or not; the anger did deteriorate, thankfully, but he couldn't help but feel somewhat irritated even so. He realized what she had meant, though - 'the reason you're like this', she didn't mean mentally. She meant physically. He narrowed his eyes, remembering when she had followed him out of the house, when he'd thought she was going to request to come along with him. It was kind of funny, her saying she could have stopped him from leaving; at that point, he was already spiraling into the anger, the bitterness, the despair. Everything was just too much at that moment - the only way she could have stopped him from getting the hell out of there and away from the gems was if she had shattered him on sight. "Couldn't have stopped me, Jasper," he muttered half-heartedly. "I left because I wanted to."

Jasper glared off to the side, once again toward what seemed like nothing. Steven didn't bother trying to turn around and look, eventually reluctantly continuing to wheel himself forward. He was close to actually reaching the other side of the warp pad now, though, which was good. "Well, then, I should have gone with you," Jasper finally argued.

"I didn't want you to come with me."

"What am I supposed to think?" Jasper shot him a glare, and Steven only stared back at her for a moment, pushing himself forward a little more. "You tried to kill yourself. I-"

"What the hell are you, Jasper? Garnet? Do you have future vision I don't know about?" Steven finally snapped, and Jasper paused with her mouth opened, eyebrows shooting up slightly. "Did you know I was gonna try and- and do that when I left? didn't even know I was gonna try and do that until I actually did it! I was the one at the wheel, I'm the one that crashed into the tree. It wasn't your fault and I didn't try to kill myself because of you either, so don't flatter yourself."

Jasper frowned, narrowing her eyes back at him for a moment, but he ripped his gaze away and continued what he was doing. He did finally manage to pull himself onto the other side, finally reaching the main part of the house, and letting out a low sigh of relief. And, with that done, he finally allowed himself to collapse backwards into the chair again - well, somewhat collapse; mostly, he just kind of slowly sank back into it as much as he could without hurting himself. Or, he tried to; it still hurt, but not as much as it probably could have, so he was just grateful for that.

"You crashed into a tree?" Jasper finally asked, somewhat begrudgingly, and Steven managed a tired nod. The corners of the orange gem's lips quirked up slightly. "And you didn't heal it?"

"That-" Steven, despite himself, couldn't help a mostly bewildered laugh. "That's what you're picking up from this?" He almost managed to feel somewhat amused, and once again found a little bit of confusion - and shock - in the fact that he was able to muster up any positivity in all the negativity and numbness he'd been feeling lately. The hybrid exhaled slowly, forcing himself to curl his lips downwards from the smile that his face had formed without his permission. "I didn't have the chance to heal it, I passed out. But I probably couldn't have anyway," he added, offering a one-shouldered shrug and wincing slightly as he did. "Healing powers aren't working."

The faint smile on Jasper's face had vanished as well now, her eyes darting from his face to his stomach, and he had to suppress a sigh even before she spoke. "Are you cracked?"

"No." Steven frowned, trailing his hand down to his stomach somewhat unconsciously. Actually, he hadn't checked since the car crash - but then, his healing powers had been on the fritz long before the crash anyway. So he highly doubted that was the case anyways. "It's not that, I… my powers don't work when I don't- when I'm-" He gestured slightly, at nothing in particular, for no reason in particular, then dropped his hand again with a frown. "Well, you know, I- I told you. When I'm- when I'm not sure of myself or whatever. And I'm not sure I… deserve to heal."

The same look that had flashed across her face when he had said this the first time reappeared, only to vanish again, turning into a frown briefly before simply shifting back into a somewhat neutral look. She shrugged back at him, seemingly having nothing else to say on the matter, and picked the phone back up, turning it around and tapping it a few times to turn it on. Steven decided it was a good time to change the subject anyway, nodding toward the phone as he reached back toward the wheels again. "So did Amethyst just give you her phone or…?"

"She hasn't asked for it back," Jasper replied, swiping her finger over the screen. "It's stupid. You have to actually touch it, and it doesn't project anything." She held the phone flat for a moment, facing upwards, before letting out a huff and facing it toward herself once more.

"Earth technology is pretty different," Steven mumbled. "There's screens at Little Homeworld, though. Mostly for the gems that have a really hard time figuring out Earth stuff. You seem to have a pretty good handle on that, though," he added quietly, turning the wheelchair to head toward the kitchen. Right, he needed to eat, that was still an actual thing he had to do.

Jasper grunted again. He decided to take it as a 'thanks'. "Tech's not really my thing."

"You seem to like the phone." Steven maneuvered the chair around the counter, frowning slightly upon realizing he didn't know how to turn it enough to be able to open the fridge. He twisted the wheels a little, rolling backwards, and then forwards again, somewhat frustrated.

"It's something to do." Jasper fell silent for a moment; he heard her fingers clicking against the phone again, continuing to tap. "... haven't felt like fighting."

Steven paused at that, closing his eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath. He waited for the guilt, for it to be as overwhelming and self-destructive as usual, but when it came, it washed over him for only a second before it settled again. He wasn't sure what to make of this numbness anymore, wasn't sure whether it was a blessing or a curse, wasn't sure whether he wanted to feel bad or whether he wanted to feel good. Just a while ago he would've given anything to take all the pain and guilt away, but now he was slightly concerned by how much he was suddenly lacking in that department. The hybrid breathed out a sigh through his teeth, opening his eyes again and trying once again to turn the chair around. "'Cause of…?"

"No," Jasper snapped back quickly, somewhat defensively. Steven fell silent until she spoke again, shoulders drooping slightly as he finally managed to turn the chair enough to face the fridge so that he could open the door and reach inside easily. "Maybe. I don't know."

"D'you wanna talk about it?" The hybrid asked, rubbing his face tiredly with one hand and reaching forward to open the fridge with the other, realizing with a sickening jolt that he'd have to lean forward in order to do so. He shifted a little, wincing slightly at the pain that flared up just from that slight, simple movement, and preparing himself to either give up or give in.

"Isn't that your problem?" Jasper snorted, and Steven dropped his hand, glancing toward her over the counter. She had stood up, abandoning the phone on the couch to make her way over to him somewhat reluctantly; he moved the wheelchair back before she had even reached him, more so for her own benefit than his. The numbness left him, miraculously, somewhat freed from the crushing weight of his guilt for the time being, but he wasn't sure if that was a good thing. He didn't want to risk snapping at her again. He didn't want to risk anything with her.

It was the first time he realized that he was alone, in the house, with Jasper - and that didn't settle well with him by any means, numbness or not.

Regardless, he said nothing as Jasper pried the fridge door open - somewhat surprised that she had managed to not rip it right off in the process, and also surprised that she was helping him at all - before moving back to let him do his thing, crossing her arms over the top of the door and looking down at him with a scowl. "I don't need to 'talk' about my 'feelings'. I'm not like that."

"I know you're not," Steven sighed, hesitantly moving the wheelchair forward again and glancing into the fridge with a frown. He did briefly consider making himself a salad, but he wasn't about to put himself through any more pain to re-gather ingredients. So, instead, he simply decided on a half-eaten sandwich someone had wrapped up and put inside. He didn't know whose it was, but he assumed, since it was wrapped, it had been his - he didn't remember making it, nor did he remember how long ago it had been, but it was the best option in there, so he might as well. Once again, he shifted and prepared himself to lean forward, gritting his teeth slightly.

Thankfully, it wasn't too much of a hassle since the sandwich was on the middle shelf, and in the front (which is what led him to believe it wasn't too old, so that was good); Jasper frowned at him in obvious disapproval, but she didn't offer any more assistance than she already had, probably because she didn't know what he was trying to do this time anyway. By the time he had managed to grab it and sit back again, though, he was in too much pain to even curse.

"So what's wrong with you, anyway?" Jasper asked suddenly, shutting the fridge door - he heard the glass bottles inside rattling, and he had to fight back a grimace at the sound, but he said nothing - and looked down at him. Her expression was unreadable, though, honestly, he wasn't trying as hard as he usually would to read it. "If you're not cracked, why are you like- this?"

Steven sighed through his teeth, swallowing hard and breaking in shakily through his nose. He busied himself with unwrapping the sandwich, hands shaking slightly as he did so, as the pain steadily began to dull again. "It's hard to explain… humans have bones, which pretty much… hold us together on the inside. When a bone gets broken, it's hard to use and it hurts a lot. And I broke my leg and apparently my spine too, so I can't walk. At all."

He looked up, watching Jasper's eyebrows furrow as she processed this information. Then she grunted, folding her arms across her chest with a frown. "So bones are like gems, but inside."

"I- … not technically, but…" Steven couldn't really think of a way to explain it that would make sense to her. "They're more fragile and don't really come with any powers or-"

"That's not what I meant," Jasper interrupted, rolling her eyes and turning to head back to the living room. "Some gems are more fragile than others. Peridots don't have powers, either. Our bodies rely on the shape of our gemstones. If we crack, we destabilize. We can't move a certain limb or shapeshift. And it hurts," she told him simply, sitting down on the couch. "A lot."

Steven fell silent for a moment, crumbling up the plastic that the sandwich had been wrapped in and dropping it in his lap. "Well… I guess… it's kind of the same concept," he finally muttered, biting down on the sandwich - but not taking a bite, and simply intending to just hold it like that as he rolled the wheelchair forward, managing to drop the plastic into the trash can and carefully turning the chair again so that he could follow her into the living room. "I've always thought of gems as the 'heart', not the bones," he finally added once he had stopped to take the sandwich out of his mouth, licking his lips and frowning slightly at the cold feeling that continued to linger.

"Gems are everything," Jasper muttered, picking the phone back up. Steven watched her for a moment, falling silent. She was right, by all technicalities. It only served to remind him how smart she really was; for someone who always put physical strength above mental and emotional, and someone who usually seemed so clueless about anything that wasn't fighting, it still surprised him from time to time when she actually made sense about anything else. Hell, beyond that, he was surprised he actually managed to keep up a civil conversation with her, too.

He didn't say that, though, simply let out a quiet mumble of agreement and lifted the sandwich back up to take a bite. It was still cold, and somewhat bland, but he pushed through it with the reminder that this wasn't supposed to be enjoyable anyway. Eating was nothing more than a necessity at this point, so he was gonna finish this half of a sandwich and that was it. He did have to admit, it felt weird for more reasons than it just being cold; the process of chewing and swallowing just felt completely wrong in general, being something he hadn't done in a while. You'd think something he'd done his whole life wouldn't feel so wrong-

-but then, wasn't that his problem? The fact that everything he'd ever done, everything he'd ever known, everything he'd ever been, suddenly felt wrong? Seemed to be a running theme these days, and he couldn't bring himself to be particularly surprised about it now.

Steven rubbed his fist over his mouth and leaned back, sighing.

It was silent for a while after that; Jasper seemed more than content to continue tapping away at Amethyst's phone, and Steven wasn't curious enough to strike up another conversation. Sure, everything had been rather calm, considering everything, but he didn't want to risk that. Being alone with Jasper still wasn't something he was entirely comfortable with after what had happened, and maybe if she wasn't so difficult to read, he'd be able to see if she felt the same. Trying to figure out how other people were feeling had never been this hard.

But he'd be lying if he said it wasn't a breath of fresh air to focus on his own emotions for once. At least while he could, while they weren't buzzing at an all-time high, faster than he could blink.

Taking another bite of the sandwich, he allowed his thoughts to drift off for a moment. What was he even supposed to do now? Sit here with Jasper until the gems got back? Then what? He imagined he'd still be pretty pissed off at them, even though he felt kind of numb right then. So he didn't think this relief was going to last as long as he'd like it to. And then there were other things to worry about - his dad and Connie. The gems weren't going to let him keep this to himself, and he knew this. They were gonna want him to tell both of them what he'd done. Or they were gonna tell them, themselves. And sure, that would theoretically solve his problems for a little while, but it wasn't going to stop them from reacting regardless. One way or another, he'd have to deal with them. He'd have to talk to them. He'd have to spill. He'd have to talk.

He weighed his options, twisting his mouth slightly. Even thinking about Greg made his skin crawl, something inside of him sparking with rage, even though it wasn't quite as powerful as before. He was still mad at his father. He was still furious beyond belief, more than he'd ever been. But with that said, he also had more to say to him than he did Connie. At least- he had more that he wanted to say to him than he wanted to say to Connie. Sure, not having to talk to either of them was the preferred option, but if he had to, he'd rather start with the one he was pissed off at. Get everything out in the air. Though, he wasn't sure he hadn't already… Was there even anything else to say to Greg at this point, aside from the obvious?

Regardless, there was also still the question of 'how'. He doubted Greg would be keen on coming by the beach house after their last interaction, not to mention, he also probably thought Steven was still gone, if the gems had bothered to fill him in on the situation at all - and Steven didn't exactly have a way to get to the car wash. The hybrid glanced at the phone in Jasper's hands for a moment, but ultimately brushed the idea off before it even came. It was probably best to do this in person, despite wanting to crush his father's skull in his hands personally.

He was still debating his options when the warp pad activated; he glanced over silently, more or less completely uninterested. Jasper lifted her gaze from the phone, letting out a strained sigh and looking right back down after a moment, and Steven only stared until the warp stream vanished. The gems froze where they stood - Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, that is - when they saw Steven, trading surprised looks and slightly nervous, hesitant glances in his direction. But his attention quickly turned to Lapis and Peridot, who, he was relieved to see, were with them. And, thus, another option arose. He just hoped he wasn't asking for too much.

"Steven… good, you're awake." Pearl cleared her throat, stepping down from the warp pad. Steven grunted slightly in response, finishing off the rest of the sandwich. "And eating! How are you feeling?" The pale gem asked hopefully, taking a few more steps toward him. She seemed hesitant to approach - but, given how Steven had dealt with that earlier, he wasn't surprised.

The hybrid only thought for a moment, brushing his hands off. Well - honesty, right? He'd said he was sick of saying he was fine, and doing so now would likely undo everything he had done yesterday. He couldn't just leave it at that. He couldn't just pretend the conversation hadn't happened, and he wasn't about to let them do the same, either. Setting his jaw, the teenager looked back up at Pearl, offering a half-hearted, one-shouldered shrug. "Like shit." He rubbed his hand over his mouth, ignoring the startled expression on her face, and looked over at Lapis and Peridot when they hopped down from the warp pad, heading over to him.

"Sorry we were gone, Steven." Lapis shot a glare toward Jasper over his head, one that was returned only briefly before the orange gem looked down again. Steven knew what she was trying to say - sorry we left you alone with Jasper - but he didn't respond immediately. Not like it had been all bad, and according to Jasper, anyway, she had been the one to pretty much kick them out of the house, so it didn't really matter either way. "Did she do anything?"

"No," Steven sighed, sparing a glance back toward Jasper, who looked up once again to give Lapis a slightly offended, unamused stare. "She was nice." The offended stare was immediately turned in Steven's direction. He almost laughed, and he probably would have if he wasn't already turning back to Lapis by the time he had caught it. "Can you take me to my dad?"

Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl each shot him confused and slightly surprised looks, while Lapis and Peridot simply exchanged a glance. The smaller of the two turned to him after a moment, crossing her arms over her chest with a frown. "You know you don't have to do this whole 'talking' thing all at once. You're just going to wear yourself out again."

"I'd rather get it over with," Steven said flatly, closing his eyes for a moment. Of course, he knew he was going to wear himself out again. He didn't expect this interaction to go any smoother than it had with the gems - if anything, a part of him almost expected it to go a little worse. But it had to be done and Steven needed to do it now if he was going to do it at all, while he still felt somewhat numb and could say what needed to be said without either losing himself in either guilt or anger or both. Peridot let out a sigh, but she didn't disagree any further.

"Well, if that's what you want," Lapis finally responded, and Steven blinked his eyes open with a nod as she shifted around to stand behind him, reaching forward and grabbing the wheels of the chair with a hum. Pearl stepped forward slightly, looking a little more uncertain.

"Steven, are you sure?"

"Yeah, I mean- what happened last time…" Amethyst trailed off, giving him a long, concerned stare. Steven raised an eyebrow at them silently, not responding for a moment. Honestly, the nerve - to think they had any say in what he did at this point. He almost wanted to say that, but he refrained this time - just this once - and bit his tongue. Mostly for his own sake, knowing that if he got into it with them, he wasn't going to have the strength to confront Greg again.

"I'll be back soon," he told them instead, and forced himself not to jolt slightly in surprise when Lapis lifted up the wheelchair, spreading her wings out. He held onto the crushed arms as she turned, biting down hard on his tongue and screwing his eyes shut. Okay, maybe this wasn't such a good idea - but they were already outside and up in the air before Steven could pull himself together enough to tell her to forget it, so he just kept his mouth shut.

And savored the numbness while he could, while it lasted, because he didn't know whether it was only going to get worse, or whether it was going to vanish completely after this.

Chapter Text

"Are you really sure about this, Steven?"

Steven didn't respond immediately; clenching and unclenching his fists, he stared down toward the car wash as they drew closer. It wasn't a long flight by any means, and he wasn't sure whether to be grateful for it or not; at least he didn't have the time to spiral into self-doubt and confusion and end up changing his mind. No, everything was still blissfully blank, currently at a standstill until the next wave of emotion knocked him off his feet. The hybrid breathed in, not to steel himself, but simply for the sake of breathing while he could. He didn't know when it was going to become difficult again, when he'd feel trapped and cornered and suffocated again. And while he was hoping it wouldn't be anytime soon, it wasn't likely that this numbness would stick. "I'm sure," he told Lapis quietly, locking his eyes on the van as they swooped down to land.

It was looking better; Bismuth must have finished up the more pressing repairs. Granted, it still needed some work - the door, for instance. But everything else looked almost as good as new. The teenager curled his lips back slightly, glaring at it for a moment. He could remember growing up, practically idolizing the van just like he had his father, and even his mother. Now he wanted to crush it until it was nothing but grinded metal powder in his fists. That stupid van was the reason his father hadn't grown a pair and gotten a good job and bought an actual house. Even now, with all his money, he'd rather live in this than have anything stable or normal.

He interrupted Lapis mid-sentence, not listening nor really caring about whatever she had been saying, certain it had just been another attempt to talk him out of this. "You can go now. This is between me and him." He didn't wait for a reply, reaching over to roll himself forward.

"And who's gonna take you home?" Lapis retorted, though not quite unkindly, and Steven paused for a second. "Like I was saying, I'll be around. Call when you want me to take you back, okay?" The blue gem offered him an understanding smile before spreading her wings and taking off into the sky again, and Steven tilted his head back a little to watch her as she spiraled upwards and disappeared through the clouds. It took him a moment to remember what he was here for, to ground himself back to reality and focus on moving forward. His thoughts sped up slightly, racing through endless possibilities, endless scenarios, things he wanted to say. But, since it wasn't anything compared to how it had been before, he simply let his mind wander.

"Dad," he called, pausing the wheelchair and fixing his gaze on the van, then looking toward the car wash. "Dad!" He was genuinely starting to wonder if his father really was staying in the broken van - and honestly, he wouldn't have been surprised - until the side door of the car wash opened and Greg came running out, almost tripping over his own feet in his haste to get to him, while also pulling a shirt over his head. Steven grimaced, rolling his eyes to the side.

"Steven! Thank god, the gems said you w-" Greg cut off with a choked gasp, and it was safe to say he had managed to pull the shirt on. Steven narrowed his eyes slightly, lightly picking at one of the crushed arms of the wheelchair, before simply giving up and ripping the entire thing off. Greg only watched, wide-eyed, open-mouthed, as he tossed it aside. "Steven…?"

"Yeah. That's my name." Steven scowled, ripping the other arm off and throwing it toward the other one. He finally risked a glance up at his father, expecting to see every bit of the confusion and horror flickering through his eyes - but not expecting to see the fear that was accompanying it. Regardless, the teenager sneered, resting his hands on the wheels of the chair now instead, and forced himself to meet Greg's gaze. "I was hoping to talk, not be stared at like a freak."

"What-" Greg swallowed, finally managing to pull himself together enough to take a few steps forward. Steven only let him get so close before he wheeled himself backwards, lifting his chin and shooting his father a glare. He wasn't about to let Greg think he had forgotten their argument; he wasn't about to let Greg think he had completely dismissed everything that had happened between them, just because he was hurt now. No, Steven was still pissed. And for this, he was steadily beginning to let himself come to the acceptance that he had every right to be pissed. And he was going to make sure Greg knew it, too. "What- happened to- are you…?"

"Okay?" Steven quipped, letting a bitter smile tug at his lips for a moment before it vanished, melting, once again, back into the angry frown he so often wore these days. "No. I'm not okay. I'm actually currently in a hell of a lot of pain right now, and extremely cranky because of it. But I know you have a hard time accepting any part of, uh, reality, so I guess to you, I'm 'okay'."

"Schtu-ball…" Greg stepped forward again. Steven wheeled back.

"Don't call me that," the hybrid seethed, white-knuckling the wheels. "Don't- don't give me your wide-eyed pity look, Dad, I don't need that. This is what you want, right? Me to be okay?"

"That's-"

"Shut up." Steven curled his lips back and snarled. This time, along with the sound, there was a distinct crack underneath him; the pavement split, the cracks spreading in Greg's direction, and both of them spared a glance downwards at the same time, acknowledging what had just happened and simultaneously ignoring it at the same time. "I crashed my car," the hybrid spoke up again eventually, not looking up for a moment. "Into a tree. A lot of trees. On purpose. It's- it's kind of funny, actually, at the time, I kinda actually thought maybe it might be enough to kill me." He finally glanced up at Greg, thinking he'd find a little pleasure in the way his face had gone pale, the way his pupils had shrunk so much they were hardly visible anymore. But he didn't. There was no pleasure, there was no satisfaction. If anything, it hurt. It hurt like a motherfucker. "... but I'm a gem. I'm not like other kids. Am I, Dad?"

"I…" Greg stared down at him, lifting a hand slightly, only to drop it again. It took Steven a second to realize his father was shaking; trembling, in fact, almost unnoticeably, but it was steadily getting worse and worse. Steven just stared, no longer knowing what to say, and honestly no longer wanting to continue anyway. He didn't know what he'd been expecting - whether it had been an explosive reaction or horrified silence - but he wasn't expecting… this.

This wasn't explosive, but it wasn't silent. Even though Greg was having trouble forming words, Steven felt like he was screaming. Like he wanted to scream. His expression was growing more and more strained, rapidly flitting through emotions Steven couldn't identify, switching faster than channels on TV, and Steven couldn't hit pause to figure out what was what in time. All he could do was stare, watching what he could only assume was his father finally unraveling. And he didn't know how to feel about it. He didn't know what to think. He didn't know where to begin. He was starting to wonder if the gems realized how big it was, how bad it was that Steven had actually tried to kill himself. He wondered if it was something only a human could fully grasp.

He wondered if maybe that was why he felt numb to it, because he didn't feel like a human.

"You- wh- what-?" Greg finally choked out, and Steven hardly had time to do anything more than blink before his father was suddenly walking forward. The hybrid rolled himself back a little, mostly on instinct now, just staring back at Greg as the man forced himself to speak. "Why-? Why would you- I- I know you're- you're in a bad place right now but you- you really want to-? You'd really rather-?" He stopped, sucking in a breath, almost gasping for air.

Steven realized what it was a little too late; this was panic. His father was panicking. He had only seen his father panic once in his entire life, after Steven had told him he'd almost died on the ship after Jasper and Peridot had kidnapped him. And it had pretty much the same effect on him now as it had then; even through his anger, he managed to feel a spark of surprise, and then confusion, and then fear, and then dread. The numbness finally crumbled, as he had figured it would, and the steady churning of the gears shot right back up to supersonic speed. He hadn't expected Greg to react like this. He hadn't expected him to… to react.

He faltered for a moment as his father continued forward, too shaken by the rush of emotion to move himself back again. Greg didn't come too close, though, stopping only a few feet away. He was gripping his chest with one hand now, the other one tangled in his hair as he fought for air. "Why…? I don't- Steven, I d- I don't- don't understand. I- Is it- Is it th- that bad?"

Steven felt his throat close up for a second, like he was going to cry, but no tears came. He didn't know how to respond, so he just kept silent; Greg gave his own hair a harsh tug when he seemed to realize Steven wasn't going to say anything, and the hybrid almost flinched in surprise, his shock rapidly increasing the more the conversation went on. "No, kiddo, y- you- you have to talk to me- you have to tell me what's going on so I- so I can fix it, I-"

He didn't even have the strength to tell Greg that he couldn't fix it. If he couldn't fix it himself, there was no way in hell his father could. Still, all he could do was swallow. Greg stared at him for a moment. Then he took another step forward, and Steven's hands tightened around the wheels, but he didn't move back. He just watched his father, as he finally crossed the distance between them before abruptly sinking to the ground; Steven did flinch this time, more out of surprise than anything. "What- what can I do?" His father's voice cracked. "How can I- is it because of me? Is- is it because of what happened the other night? Steven, I didn't- I didn't mean to upset you-"

"That wasn't it," Steven finally managed to whisper, voice shaking almost as badly as his father was. Greg stared up at him, not even managing to look relieved when he finally spoke, but only somehow looking more and more panicked, more and more upset. Almost grief-stricken. And that, Steven didn't understand - because Steven was right there. He was right there, he was… he was alive, at least, right? Why wasn't Greg looking at the bright side? Why wasn't he brushing this off? Somehow, he wasn't sure what he preferred at this point. "I don't- I'm not- … how come you're freaking out? The gems didn't even freak out."

"You tried to- … you tried to…" Greg's words were nearly inaudible, barely anything more than a whisper. Steven furrowed his eyebrows, then narrowed his eyes slightly.

"You didn't freak out when I told you that I shattered Jasper," he pointed out quietly, his anger finally returning. Greg only blinked back at him, opening and closing his mouth. "That I actually killed somebody, Dad! Even then, you were all like 'oh it's not your fault it's okay I'm proud of you for becoming a murderer'," he mocked, finally managing to push the wheelchair back. "Y'know, at least then, I actually did something worth getting this upset over! At least then, I actually did something bad, and actually hurt someone! This is just me-!"

The horror flickering through Greg's eyes shifted all too quickly then, from realization, to confusion, and then anger. "Just- you- just you?!" His father heaved himself to his feet, and Steven pushed himself back a little more, mostly out of instinct now. He stared, gritting his teeth, as Greg gripped his hair with both hands now. "You think this isn't worth getting upset over?! The fact that you want to die? The fact that you tried to die?! Steven, that- that is bad!"

"Not as bad as actually murdering a person-!"

"YOU'RE A PERSON!"

Steven flinched again, though the anger didn't quite fade; if anything, it only seemed to get stronger. Stronger, but clearer, at the same time; it wasn't the same blind rage he was used to, it wasn't the fury that consumed him, the fire that licked at his bones and seared through his veins, it wasn't the blood-boiling rage. It was just anger. Anger he let himself feel - and, finally, let himself express. No holding back, no fear; but no over-the-top rage, no explosion, no screaming and destroying anything. Just anger. "But it's different. I'm different! Why can't you just- just understand I'm not the kid I was anymore? Why can't you just accept that th-"

"No!" Greg interrupted, ripping one hand away from his hair to point at Steven, and, while definitely irritated and pissed at the interruption, he was too startled to speak up again as his father continued - much more fiercely than Steven expected - "I know you're not a kid anymore, Steven, you're seventeen years old! You're growing up, and everything's changing. Everything's different! But you're still my kid! Maybe you're not the same! Maybe you've made a few more mistakes! Maybe you've done things you're not proud of! But why should I suddenly stop caring about what happens to you because of that, huh?! Why should I stop loving my son? Why should I stop worrying about you and hoping you'll be okay trying to be there for you?"

"When were you ever there for me?" Steven choked out, finally feeling the sting as tears steadily began brewing in his eyes. He blinked them back furiously. "You were never there when I actually needed you. You weren't there when I had to deal with the Rose Quartzes from the zoo, or- or before that! When- every time I almost got killed by a corrupted gem monster, or when I got kidnapped by Homeworld gems, or when I had to pretend to be Pink, or when I got locked in a tower or when I almost died because White ripped my gem out!"

Greg froze at that, but Steven couldn't even bring himself to berate himself for letting that slip, couldn't even be mad at himself for spitting it out. Telling Connie's friends what had happened to him was different; they didn't understand gem stuff. And neither did Greg, to a certain degree. But at least Greg would know what he meant when he said he had his gem ripped out, at least Greg might be able to understand how awful it must have been, how much it had hurt, how bad it was. And as terrifying as it was to say it out loud, as horrified as Greg looked, he finally managed to feel relieved. Not because of Greg's reaction, but because he had finally said it.

He pressed his hand into his face, biting his tongue and trying to push down the pressure building in his chest. "I just want to stop- to stop feeling like this," he said desperately, shoulders drooping as his anger finally fizzled out. "That's- that's why. That's why I did it, okay? That's why I tried to kill myself, okay? That's why I crashed the car. That's why I've been thinking about hurting people and hurting myself and- and just ending it. I just wanna stop feeling this way."

"Steven…"

"I wanna stop hating myself," the hybrid finally let out a sob, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes. "And stop hating you and the gems and the Diamonds and being so- so angry."

His father breathed out slowly, shakily, taking a few steps toward him. Steven fell silent, struggling to rub his tears away, fighting a futile battle against the pain pounding against his chest. He thought he'd be more ready for this. The numbness hadn't taken the pain away; it had only delayed the inevitable, and now it was kicking his ass ten times harder than before.

"I'm sorry," he whispered when Greg finally reached him - and then, that was it. He didn't have the strength to hold himself together anymore, he didn't have the will to keep fighting it back. While he didn't quite break, or dissolve into tears like he had on Homeworld, he didn't fight back the few sobs that tore themselves from his throat, ripping through him like knives as he wrapped his arms around himself. "G- God, I- I'm- I'm sorry-"

"You don't have to be," Greg breathed, kneeling down in front of him again. He didn't feel it at first when his father wrapped his arms around him, as much as the wheelchair would allow, until Greg had simply pulled him completely from the chair into his arms; the hybrid couldn't keep back a pained whimper in time, but he managed to bite down on the inside of his cheek before any other sounds could escape, breathing in shakily. Greg had managed to lift him up a little bit, so it didn't hurt as much as it probably would have, but it still hurt enough to leave him unable to speak for a good few seconds. "You don't have to be sorry, Steven, not for this… not for this."

This hadn't gone at all how he'd imagined it, and he wasn't sure what to think.

The hybrid didn't say anything for a moment. He didn't hug his father back, he didn't lean into the embrace. But he didn't try to pull away. He let his father wrap his arms around him, rubbing his shoulder slowly as his head rested on top of Steven's. He couldn't even tell if he was still angry at Greg at this point or not - all he knew was that everything hurt too much for it to matter.

"I'm sorry," his father said suddenly, his voice shaking. Steven didn't respond immediately, staring ahead at nothing as Greg continued, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for not being there."

Steven breathed in shakily, still not saying anything. He didn't want to say it was okay. It wasn't okay. Greg knew it, and he knew it, and neither of them were going to get through this if they kept pretending that it was okay. Greg buried his face into his hair, shaking a little harder now, voice breaking slightly as he spoke again, "I should've been there. You're my son. I didn't protect you like I should have- I- I didn't protect you at all. You have every right to hate me-"

"I don't hate you," Steven muttered, blinking back another rush of tears and shaking his head. That much was true, at least; he found it hard to hate the man when he was like this, found it hard to hold every bad thing he'd done over his head like this. Yes, he was still angry, but hate… well, what could he say? It really was a strong word. "I don't hate you…" He repeated quietly, lifting a hand to rub his eyes. "I- I just- I'm tired, Dad, I- I'm tired of pretending that I'm okay… m'tired of pretending I'm not angry a- and- and upset. I'm still upset I didn't- I didn't have a normal life, and- and I never got to go to school and that I never went to the doctor and that I almost got killed fighting aliens almost every day when I was growing up. It- It just- it sucked." He choked out a laugh, pressing the heel of his hand into one eye. "My life… my life sucked."

"You're allowed to be upset," Greg replied quietly, lifting his head slightly. "I should've tried harder to… to let you grow up like that." He ran his fingers through Steven's hair; the hybrid shut both of his eyes for a moment, dropping his hand again and finally leaning into the touch. "I was- I was scared, Steven. I was scared of losing you. I didn't know how anyone else would react to a- a half-alien kid at the doctor, or at school. I didn't know what else to do. And then the gems offered to take you in and teach you and… I guess at first I thought they meant teach you…" He pulled Steven a little closer, and the hybrid winced slightly, hissing out a wordless warning, and his father loosened his grip immediately. "Sorry… I should've known better," he muttered.

"Well, it's not like my leg's broken or anything," Steven replied half-heartedly, letting his head fall back onto his father's shoulder and blinking his eyes open again with a frown.

"Not that," Greg sighed, brushing his hair back. "I should've known the gems didn't know how to take care of a kid any more than I did. You were just- so excited to move in with them, and I guess I thought after everything, maybe they knew a little better than they did, and they'd actually be able to protect you better than I could. It's not like I could keep you safe from gem monsters, or teach you how to control your powers. But I never… I never thought- or wanted…"

Steven didn't say anything, just swallowed and closed his eyes as he turned his head to the side, burying half of his face into Greg's shoulder. He let out a low, shaky sigh, and shrugged. "But they didn't keep me safe," he breathed. "Maybe at first they wouldn't let me go on missions, but that's only because I slowed them down and messed stuff up all the time. I just wanted to show them that I- that I could help. That I could- I could still be important even though I wasn't…" The pain in his chest tightened, but he barely managed to release anything more than a quiet, shaky whimper, turning his head to bury his face completely into Greg's shoulder now. "... I just wanted to be useful. To help. And- And now I don't know how to exist without helping. It's awful. I'm awful."

"You're not awful," Greg murmured, running his fingers through his hair again and managing to untangle some of the unruly curls in the process. He winced slightly, but didn't move away.

"I feel awful."

Greg didn't say anything for a moment, simply pressing his face into Steven's hair, kissing the top of his head and letting out a low, shaky sounding sigh; the hybrid could feel him shudder, still wracked with tremors as he held the teenager close. He couldn't help but wonder how his father was keeping it together now, when he had just been on the verge of a full-blown panic attack. "Well," his father finally began, lifting his head. "I can't tell you how to feel… I can't change all the things and the pain and the trauma you've been through…" He breathed in shakily, and Steven screwed his eyes shut a little tighter, swallowing past the lump rising in his throat. "But I…can be here for you now. We- We'll get you help, and you're gonna get through this."

Steven lifted his head slightly at that, leaning back a little too abruptly. Greg held him firmly enough, at least, so he didn't manage to hurt himself too badly, but it still took a second for him to regain enough composure to catch his breath and speak. "... what… what do you mean-"

Greg didn't respond immediately, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes for a moment. Steven stared at him, unable to help but think back to the doctor at the hospital. How they had recommended therapy and professional help, insisting that he needed to at least consider the options and talk it out with someone. And maybe he did need to talk - but to some stranger he didn't even know? How was that supposed to fix anything? Fix him? "Dad, I- I don't want-"

"I know you don't want to," Greg interrupted, albeit hesitantly, as he blinked his eyes open again and looked down at him. "But you- … you need to, Steven. When- When I got to the hospital, before we left, Connie's mom told me we needed to consider putting you in therapy and I- I didn't want to-" He stopped, breathing in shakily, "I didn't want to believe that you needed it. Because I just- I just wanted you to be okay. And I thought the whole road trip thing might help clear your head and mine but it only ended up making things worse for the both of us. Especially on you. And I- you're not okay. This isn't okay. You need… you need help, Steven."

"But I-"

"Steven Universe, listen to me," Greg insisted, gripping his shoulders tightly and leaning back to look the hybrid in the eyes. Steven grimaced and leaned back a little himself, but Greg tightened his grip a little bit so that he couldn't move away too much. "Everything I've done, I've done to make you happy. I let you move in with the gems despite how- how worried I was and how much it killed me to watch you grow up fighting these- these things and these gems. I did it because I thought since you were happy, you'd be okay. But I didn't protect you. I couldn't keep you safe- I didn't keep you safe." He gritted his teeth, blinking furiously; Steven could only stare, faltering slightly as he watched the tears brewing in the corners of his father's eyes. "But I didn't lose you to that. And I'm not going to lose you to this. I'm your father and I have to do what's best for you, even if you don't like it. You will get help, you're going to therapy, and that's final."

Steven stared at him for a moment, too stunned to protest, despite every part of him aching to do so. Greg didn't give him the chance to, rubbing his arm over his eyes roughly as he continued, "you said you didn't want to feel like this. You have to let someone help you. You have to let us help you. Please, son, just- just let someone else do the helping for a change."

The hybrid screwed his eyes shut for a moment, shaking slightly now as a shiver ran down his spine, wracking every muscle in his body. Greg pulled him closer at once, and Steven simply let himself collapse into his arms once again, burying his face into his father's shoulder silently. The anger and pain was steadily fizzling out, but he wasn't sure whether it was because of the numbness or if it was from something else. But he did know one thing - Greg was right, as much as he hated to admit it. He was tired. He was hurt. And he did want to stop feeling like this.

"What if it doesn't help?" Steven's voice shook slightly, despite his best efforts to hold it steady. Greg sighed, burying his face into the teenager's hair again.

"What if it does?" His father replied lightly, giving his shoulders a light squeeze and rubbing his arm gently with a quiet hum. "Just give it a try, Steven… maybe it won't fix everything, but if there's a chance it can help, even a little bit, then you need to take it. I'm here for you, but there's only so much I can do. And I know there's only so much anyone will understand…" Greg exhaled slowly, running his fingers through Steven's hair again. "But there's only so much can do. There's only so much the gems can do. I'm going to try, I'm going to learn as much as I can about it so I can help you, too, but you need someone who already knows what to do now."

Steven breathed out through his teeth, letting his shoulders sag again after a moment. He didn't say anything for a moment, just keeping his face pressed into Greg's shoulder as tightly as he could. Once again, his father was right, as hard as it was to admit. He wasn't sure why it was so hard to accept; he knew he needed help. He knew what he was doing, what he'd done, it wasn't good. It wasn't okay. He wasn't okay. But somehow, he still doubted anyone else's ability to help him through any of this. If he couldn't fix himself, how was anybody else supposed to?

Still, isn't it worth a try…? It can't make things any worse, can it? It can't make  me  any worse…

"Okay," he managed to mumble after a moment. Greg heaved out a long, shaky sigh, his composure finally seeming to waver as he wrapped his arms a little tighter around him. Steven ended up finally returning the hug, somewhat reluctantly, wrapping his arms around his father.

"Okay," Greg echoed, voice shaking a little more violently now, as if he no longer had the strength to keep it under control. "Okay…" He buried his face further into Steven's hair, breathing shakily, chest heaving slightly. Steven only listened quietly as he fought to compose himself, until the shaky, ragged breathing finally slowed, steadying out once again. He rolled his shoulders back, an attempt to rid himself of some of the tension holding him taut, and sighed.

He still couldn't stifle the dread brewing in his gut, the sense of wrongness, the thought that something bad was going to happen. That something bad was happening.

Still, he ended up just letting it linger, letting out a quiet sigh and pulling away from his father. He winced slightly as he did so, but Greg once again stopped him from going too far; he did seem to recognize that Steven wanted to get back into the wheelchair, because he shifted in order to push himself up to his feet, picking the hybrid up. He let out a shaky gasp as he was lifted back into the chair, gritting his teeth and biting back a scream at the pain that flushed through his leg.

"You're not healing," Greg mumbled, eyebrows furrowing slightly. Steven offered a shrug, honestly tired of explaining why, exactly, he couldn't seem to heal himself. "... you're not… not healing yourself on purpose, right?" His father asked cautiously. "I mean, this isn't…"

"No," Steven mumbled, rubbing his hand over his face and glaring down at the cast on his leg with a frown. "It's not on purpose. But I did…" He faltered a little, reaching around slightly toward his back, but he let his hand drop back into his lap after a moment, knowing better than to twist around to try and feel the cuts on his back now. He wasn't ready to unleash that much pain.

Greg hesitated, looking down at him for a moment. "... if you have anything else to talk about, Steven… I'll listen," he told him cautiously, a little quieter than before. Steven looked up at the sky for a second. Lapis was completely out of sight - she probably had been for a while now, probably soaring way up beyond the clouds by now. He didn't really want to go back to the beach house yet. He'd wanted to get this over with and get out as fast as he could, but now…

Steven grimaced, looking toward the van for a moment, then simply shifted slightly and leaned over to grip the wheels of the chair again, rolling himself past his father slowly.

"Cmon, then," he mumbled, breathing out through his teeth. He couldn't even tell if he was angry anymore. Maybe, again, not so blindly outraged. Maybe his brother had been right; maybe being honest about how bad it was, and how much it hurt, and how angry he was, was the only way it would stop feeling so uncontrollable, so unbearable and terrifying. "... let's talk."

Chapter Text

"-and I thought maybe, physical pain was better than being angry and- and upset all the time so I… I made myself hurt. And… well, it was also because I felt like I deserved it, but I…"

Steven pressed his mouth into his hand, elbow propped up against the bottom of the van. Greg had opened the doors up so that he could sit inside, while Steven remained seated in the wheelchair, not about to hurt himself further by attempting to climb up with him. He curled his fingers into a fist against his mouth, breathing in shakily through his nose. "... I still do," he mumbled, closing his eyes for a moment. "But it's not like I just- just woke up one day and decided I wanted to kill myself, it- it's always been this way. Deep down. It really, really has. And… wanting to hurt myself was new," he added, somewhat hesitantly, "that did kinda come out of nowhere. At first it was just- just to calm myself down, but then it turned into… doing it just because I deserved it. And then- after everything it's like now I didn't even want to do it, but I needed to do it."

Greg was silent for a while, and Steven took the chance to gather his thoughts again. He breathed in and exhaled slowly, lightly stretching his fingers out again so that he could run them through his hair, brushing the curls back with a frown. Talking about it calmly was a little better than yelling, which he'd honestly intended to do more than anything, but even then, he couldn't even bring himself to want to scream now. At least, now, his father was actually listening to him. "Do you still… need to?" He asked suddenly, looking down at Steven.

Steven glanced up at him, then looked away again. Honestly, he didn't even know the answer to that anymore. On one hand, he was already in so much pain that he couldn't even fathom causing himself any more. But even then, at the same time, the stinging cuts on his back were nothing compared to what he was feeling. And he'd be lying if he hadn't thought of drowning the pain in his leg out with that, if he hadn't thought of carving himself to pieces for the hell of it. Even now, it was still there, in the back of his mind - but he didn't have the physical or emotional strength to follow through with the thoughts. That, and the numbness had left him lacking in guilt just enough so that he didn't feel like he had to. That there was nothing else to do. "I don't know," he finally mumbled, pressing his hand back over his mouth again and flicking his gaze around the parking lot with a frown. "I don't… feel like it anymore, but I- I also haven't been feeling as… as…" He gestured at nothing in particular with his free hand. "Guilty as I should. I haven't been feeling much of anything as I should." He closed his eyes again, shaking his head. "I've been thinking about it but I haven't… wanted to do anything."

"Gosh… kiddo…" Greg breathed out slowly, and Steven cracked an eye open to glance at him, watching as his father bent over and put his head in his hands. He almost felt bad for stressing him out like this - and he probably would have, if he wasn't so relieved that Greg was actually finally listening to him for the first time, finally realizing something was wrong here, finally focusing on what was going on now instead of the fact that things would get better eventually. He finally realized Steven didn't need corny jokes or weird advice or a road trip for self-discovery. He needed actual, genuine help - even if he didn't quite want the kind of help Greg was suggesting. It was still a start. It was still better than any other alternative.

"Yeah, I know," the teenager mumbled, turning his head a little to press his mouth a little harder into his hand with a sigh. "I'm really, really screwed up right now in a lotta different ways."

Greg didn't agree, but he didn't quite deny it either, only heaving out another quiet sigh.

Steven fell silent, finally moving his fist away from his mouth and looking up toward the sky. He could finally see Lapis again; she had perched on top of the car wash, on the other side, looking out over the city and toward Little Homeworld. He followed her gaze only for a second; the giant, towering buildings were hard to miss, once again sticking out where everything else fit so perfectly. Regret churned in his gut, settling heavy in the pit of his stomach. He made no attempt to console himself, to lie and say that Little Homeworld and Beach City fit together. The truth was that they just didn't. It didn't feel the same. Nothing felt the same anymore. But he also wasn't sure if it was just him, or if they really weren't meant to be mashed together.

The hybrid muttered a quiet curse under his breath, slipping into Gem Glyph once again. Greg spared him an odd glance, but he didn't say anything, only shifted slightly where he sat and let his legs hang down over the side of the van, swinging them back and forth. Steven watched for a moment before looking away once again, tilting his head to look back up at the sky.

"... Steven?" Greg spoke suddenly, his voice a little quieter than before, soft, as if he was afraid anyone else might be around to hear. Steven flicked his gaze in Lapis's direction somewhat instinctively, unable to help but tense up slightly; the hushed tone, the caution, it was still enough to kick his reflexes into action, even though it had been a while - Bluebird was the last one, right? That had been long enough - since he had been put into any life-threatening danger, since he'd had to fight for either himself, his planet, or his family. As he surveyed the area, consoling himself with the reminder that they were okay, Greg continued on, still cautiously, "what you said… about White… and your gem…"

Oh. Steven's hand twitched down to his stomach, body registering the words before his mind had time to. His gaze snapped back up to his father, watching Greg's eyes follow the protective movement, an instinctive reaction to shield his gem that he couldn't seem to shake, even now. He watched the pain, grief and guilt swallow his father whole and spit him right back out, face spasming slightly with every little realization, every little puzzle piece he was clicking together.

"What happened-?" His father swallowed, and Steven couldn't suppress a shudder in time, the feeling of knives made of ice ripping down his back. His grip tightened, fingers circling around his gem through the fabric of the shirt he was wearing, as he reminded himself to just breathe. He wasn't expecting to be outright asked about it; he thought, at the very least, Greg wouldn't say anything else, because he must not have known what to say. He hadn't said anything then, when Steven had mentioned it. He hadn't been expecting it to come up. "The gems didn't tell…"

"The gems don't know," Steven said quietly, not looking at Greg now at all. "White was controlling them when it happened. They don't remember…" His mouth went dry for a second, remembering the moment he'd realized they didn't know what had happened. A part of him had almost hoped that they might have - but later, when they asked him what happened between him and White after they had been zapped, he realized they had no idea (which, looking back now, made him realize he probably should have known Volleyball didn't remember being under White's control, either). But Connie had been there. They hadn't talked about the incident. Maybe it had been because too much was going on at the time; maybe Connie knew he hadn't wanted to talk about it; maybe she didn't want to talk about it, either. But once he had realized the gems didn't remember, he had decided, then and there, they didn't need to know. It would only complicate things; it would only undo all of the progress he had made with the Diamonds.

"You didn't tell them?" Greg whispered, and Steven shook his head a little, rubbing his other hand against the side of his face. "Steven, that's-"

"I know," Steven interrupted, still not looking up. "I know." He ran his tongue over his lips, mouth still dry, heart pounding a little faster, stomach twisting with the familiar, nauseous sense of dread and terror that he had long gotten used to when he thought of her, and that. He was used to feeling this kind of fear when it came to White. Used to feeling this helplessness, this confusion, this pain, this anger, this resentment. "It's just… after it happened…" He sucked in a breath through his teeth, shaking his head slightly. "Wh- When they told me they didn't remember, I thought maybe it was a good thing. They didn't need to worry about it, then. It was already hard enough trying to help the Diamonds as it was, and the gems probably wouldn't have let me stay on Homeworld to help them. I just… wanted to be able to help." He lowered his voice a little, rubbing the side of his face again. "So maybe they wouldn't hurt anybody else."

"But you were hurt." Greg's voice was shaking again; Steven grimaced, pulling his shoulders up to his ears and turning his head away, covering his entire face with his hand now as his father continued, "badly hurt- Steven- your gem… that's not something you should…"

"What was I supposed to do, Dad?" Steven pulled his hand away from his face, finally looking up at his father. His eyes felt hot, stinging with tears, and he blinked rapidly despite the fact that despite the pain, they were completely dry regardless, no tears accompanying the feeling at all. "It's always been me, me up against gems that wanna destroy Earth, and destroy my friends and my family and everything I've ever known and everyone I've ever loved for something that has nothing to do with me and that I never even did-" His voice broke slightly, but he swallowed and forced himself to continue. "I didn't have time to deal with what happened back then. I didn't have time to sit down with the gems and tell them that White-" The teenager stopped, turning his head to press his face into his hand again. "... and I was scared. I didn't want her to hurt anyone else, but I also- I also didn't want her to hurt me again either. I didn't know what else to do so I- I just didn't do anything." He sucked in a shaky breath, closing his eyes. "So I just- I just- just sucked it up and dealt with it until I could come back home. I thought once I did, it would finally be over and everyone would be happy…" He trailed off. "... but it was different."

Greg was silent again, just listening; Steven lifted his hand, rubbing his fist into his eyes, since a few tears finally had gathered to the surface. "I couldn't do anything." He covered one of his eyes, finally cracking the other one open, despite the way it throbbed in protest from how hard he had just rubbed it. "I couldn't even speak. She grabbed me, and picked me up and I- I couldn't even- I couldn't- I couldn't get away. I couldn't stop her or- or talk to her or anything." His lower jaw trembled slightly, despite his best efforts to hold himself steady. Thinking about that day would always have the same effect on him, he noted somewhat numbly. He'd never forget how horrible it was. How helpless he had felt. "I think it was the first time I've ever really been scared of anybody," he whispered, curling his hand into a fist against his mouth again. "I've faced gems that wanted to kill me before, but sh- she… she wasn't even trying to kill me. She was trying to get Mom to come out. She thought that I- I was still her but trapped…"

He gripped his stomach a little tighter, once again thinking back to his brother, his pink twin, bound by chains. But he managed to shake the thought off for the time being as his father breathed in a little too sharply, holding his breath. Steven glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, struggling to keep his voice from trembling as he continued, "she wouldn't even listen to me. She didn't even stop. Even the other gems I've faced, I've either managed to subdue or- or distract or at least make them stop and think for even a second. I've even had to fight," he added somewhat desperately, looking up at the sky for a moment. "Even if I didn't want to. But I couldn't fight then- I- I couldn't talk, I couldn't fight, I couldn't do anything. She was too big, and- and too strong and I was literally… literally nothing. She could have crushed me if she wanted to. She could've killed me." He screwed his eyes shut, ducking his head. "She almost did. And she was just- just smiling when she did it. And it hurt-" A choked sob broke through his lips.

The sound surprised him, not realizing he'd worked himself up so much. He pressed his fist a little harder into his mouth, a half-hearted attempt to silence himself, feeling the van shift from where his elbow was still pressed against it as his father scooted toward him. He managed to steel himself enough to not jerk away or flinch back by the time he felt a hand on his shoulder, but he still couldn't stifle a shiver. He shook his head a little at Greg, covering his face again with another quiet, hitching sob. "I- I- I don't- I c- I don't wanna ta- talk a- about this anymore."

"Steven," Greg mumbled, rubbing his shoulder gently. "I know… it's okay. I'm glad you're talking to me about this, buddy." His voice shook again, but he seemed to be having an easier time keeping himself together than Steven was. The hybrid swallowed, but it did nothing against the lump forming in his throat. If anything, it only managed to push more tears to his eyes. "I'm glad you're talking about it at all… have you told anybody?"

It took a moment for Steven to calm himself down enough to speak, at least comforted by the fact that they weren't directly discussing what had happened now. "I… I acc- accidentally let it sl- slip to some of Connie's friends when we were out skating," he breathed out shakily, pulling his hand away from his face for a second. "But- But they didn't really react to it much. I- I guess they di- didn't know much about gem stuff or anything, they- they just seemed confused."

"Did you tell Connie?" Greg asked cautiously, looking down at him. Steven didn't respond immediately, taking the chance to rub his eyes again to clear away the tears that still hadn't quite spilled. His father didn't lift his hand from his shoulder, and Steven didn't move away. The touch wasn't quite comforting, but at the very least, it didn't make him feel any worse, either.

"She was there," he finally replied, dropping his hand to his stomach and pressing it over the other one. "When it happened… she was there. She- she was the one that helped me get my gem back after. But we haven't talked about it." His voice quieted a little, watching Greg's expression shift to one of grim understanding, concern practically raging through his eyes. "It… it was bad, Dad. I- I didn't want to talk about it and- and I'm sure she didn't, either. So we both kinda just- just acted like it didn't happen and moved on." He glanced away, remembering how helpless he had felt, even in her arms, how shaken he had still been, how wrong it felt to be held after he had just been pinned, trapped, held down against his will, no control over his movements. And it had continued to feel like that, until he had finally gotten back to…

His vice-like grip on his gem loosened a little, closing his eyes for a moment. He had felt so relieved, so happy to be back with his gem half. He hadn't known then that they had been two separate people, that they were different, that they were brothers. All he had known that he had only finally felt safe once he had been in his pink twin's arms again. He'd known then that he had kind of been a 'fusion' - but he hadn't quite realized the two halves that made him whole weren't exactly the same yet. Still, thinking about it now, lost in the memories of the emotions and the thoughts that had gone through his head that day, it was still so… vivid, so fresh.

He wondered if he'd ever feel that way again.

The hybrid heaved out a quiet sigh, blinking his eyes open and looking down. His hands were still pressed over his stomach, right where his gem was; if he concentrated enough, he could feel the pressure he was applying. His gem almost ached slightly in protest to it, somehow still as sensitive as it had been since that day, and it was enough to allow him to let up on the pressure for a moment, breathing out another shaky sigh through his teeth and looking back up. Greg had long fallen silent now, staring at Steven's hands silently, looking lost in his thoughts.

He clenched his fist around his gem again, unsurprised by the anxiety and panic that flared up in his chest as he did so, remembering how he had considered just ripping the damn thing out himself and being done with it forever. He hadn't been able to do it then, and he knew he wasn't going to be able to do it now, and he wasn't even going to think about whether or not he still wanted to - because of course he knew the answer. Of course he knew he was still exhausted, and that he'd take any way out of the pain at this point, whether it was death or otherwise. But he'd already tried the first option, and it hadn't exactly worked out for him - so, Plan B.

And if it doesn't work…? His thoughts pressed, stirring the gentle flow of the tides his mind had slowed to. Will I be ready to do what needs to be done then? Will I be able to?

"I'm sorry you had to go through all that, Steven," his father said suddenly, effectively snapping the teenager out of his thoughts. He looked back up at Greg, tightening his grip on his gem somewhat subconsciously, but Greg's gaze had flicked back up to him. He looked somewhat exhausted, his expression a mixture of guilt and pain. And he had to admit, it was refreshing.

He fell silent for a moment, not really knowing what to say. He didn't want to talk about the subject of White Diamond, and what happened in her head. He didn't want to talk about his gem being pulled out. He didn't want to talk about how it had felt, how it hurt, and how scared he was; he'd already said enough, he thought numbly, to give him nightmares the next time he slept - as long as he didn't dream of his pink brother again, but he wasn't even sure how that worked, anyway, or if either of them could really control it. But that brought up another train of thought entirely; his focus shifted completely from White, fixating on his pink twin instead.

Steven lifted his hands, clasping one of them over the wrist of the other. They both still ached; his knuckles were still cut, scabbed over and no longer bleeding, but definitely wounded. The other one simply throbbed at the lightest touch, faint but not faint enough for him to ignore it now that he was focusing on it. He wondered if his brother's hands hurt, too - he wondered if the bubbles encasing his hands cut him, if he was even capable of scarring like a human at all. If he was even capable of feeling physical pain. And, like he had then, in his dreams, he felt the guilt hit him head on. Maybe he didn't know then, but he knew now - so why couldn't he fix it now? Why was he still trapped in there?

"Hey." Greg's hand squeezed his shoulder, once again tearing him out of his thoughts, but he only acknowledged his father with a quiet hum, not looking up. "What're you thinking about?"

Steven didn't respond for a moment, stifling a sigh. He rubbed his wrist, trailing his fingers up to his knuckles and pressing them down over the scars slightly. It hurt, not enough to take away from the pain still tingling in his lower back, or the numb but somehow painful sensation in his leg, but that wasn't the intention anyway. He stopped before he could pick the scabs, before he could make the injury worse than it was. The pain didn't do anything to benefit him. It was just there. And somehow it made him want to press down even harder - but he didn't. "My brother." The word still felt weird on his tongue, yet… unnaturally natural to say.

He felt Greg's stare, felt the confusion and surprise radiating from him, but either his father was speechless, or he was simply waiting for Steven to continue, because he didn't say anything. So, managing to tear his hands away from each other, the hybrid once again rested his elbow on the bottom of the inside of the van, leaning his head against his hand and letting the other one settle back over his stomach, covering his gem. "After… it happened… someone formed from my gem. It wasn't me- I thought it was, but like… a weird pink gem version of me. But apparently we're not really the same and we're kind of a fusion," he muttered. "Just, not really because we're sharing the same gem. But we were made together. So we're… brothers, sorta."

"... well that's…" Greg trailed off, and Steven spared a glance up at him, more or less just to study the confusion written across his face. It was somewhat amusing, watching his father's mouth open and close, words forming but failing him at the last second. Despite himself, the teenager couldn't help but crack a tired smile, lips tugging upwards for only a split second.

"Weird? I know," he mumbled his agreement, rubbing his hand over his face briefly before settling his chin in the palm of his hand, blowing his curls away from his forehead. They fell back against his face almost immediately - and he grimaced slightly - but he didn't do anything else to brush them back himself. Greg shifted slightly where he sat, finally lifting his hand from the hybrid's shoulder and leaning back with a sigh, moving his arms behind him to prop himself up.

"I was gonna say different," his father corrected, pursing his lips. Steven just let out a quiet hum, supposing that also worked, but it wasn't like he was entirely wrong, either. It was weird. And, different, obviously, but both words worked especially well for this situation, so neither of them were completely off here. He curled his fingers against his mouth, jerking his head up to throw his hair back out of his face, but, once again, the curls bounced right back into their place. "Sorry, kiddo. It's just not every day you find something like this out," Greg chuckled, then furrowed his eyebrows slightly, looking down at Steven. "How'd you even figure this out?"

"I keep seeing him in my dreams." Steven flicked his gaze away, grimacing slightly. A part of him didn't even want to tell Greg about the chains, and how his brother was locked away and Steven couldn't figure out how to get him out. It was just more gem stuff, stuff he didn't think Greg would be able to completely understand. But, then again, he knew Garnet longer than Steven knew either of them - maybe she had explained some things about fusion. "He's kind of… trapped. Kinda like when Jasper and Lapis were Malachite." He lowered his voice, flicking his gaze back toward the car wash, where the blue gem was still sitting, staring out at Little Homeworld as calmly as ever. He shifted a little, wincing slightly as he did so, and pressed his mouth into a firm line as he looked away again. "Except, I'm not really trying to keep him trapped- not anymore. Not that I- not that I was trying to, not really, before, it's just- I thought he was me, and I don't exactly have a great relationship with me at the moment-" He managed to huff out a laugh, despite knowing the situation wasn't anywhere close to being remotely funny. "And… yeah."

Greg fell silent for a moment, seemingly just letting himself process that, and Steven leaned back a little with a sigh. He rubbed his hand over his face, not saying anything, himself, for a while, before finally looking back up with a shrug. "But, it's… he's figuring it out. And he won't let me help-" He allowed a faintly irritated look to flit across his face, because this, this, he wouldn't exactly mind helping with. This was his mistake, he needed to fix it. "But if he says he can do it then I guess I'm just gonna have to see," he muttered after a moment, narrowing his eyes.

"Yeah…" Greg paused, twisting his mouth slightly. "... what's he like?"

Steven spared him a glance, then looked away again, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. "I don't know. We've only met a few times. Back on Homeworld, he…" He trailed off, furrowing his eyebrows thoughtfully. "He was… he didn't seem 'like' anything. He screamed at White, and- he almost hurt the gems, and at first I thought maybe it was just because he could, but now I think it might be a more protective kind of thing. He's a lot calmer now," he added quietly, closing his eyes for a moment. "But I still can't really figure him out. He seems nice enough. And just talking to him, it's like- it's not like it is with anyone else. It's calmer, and it's… clearer? And it's different, but- it's kinda nice, too. I just don't know what to think. Or how to feel, for that matter."

"You don't have to know right away."

Steven couldn't help but snort at that, rolling his eyes despite himself. "You know what, that's exactly what he said," he muttered, not knowing whether to feel amused by that or not.

"Sounds like he gives good advice," Greg teased lightly, and Steven only shrugged. It wasn't entirely wrong, his pink brother did give good advice. Everything about him was just so calm, so quiet. It gave Steven the chance to stop and think about what he was doing, what he was saying, what he was feeling. It gave him the clarity he needed, even though it didn't last as long as he would have liked. Maybe it didn't give him the time to figure everything out, but it was relaxing regardless, and honestly, he needed that just as much.

"I'll tell you this," the hybrid sighed after a moment, "he's gonna be really happy that you're making me go to therapy, because I'm pretty sure he suggested it once." He wrinkled his nose slightly, narrowing his eyes at the memory of his brother telling him he needed help. At first, he had just assumed that he had meant because he was injured, but now he wasn't entirely sure that was the case. And, of course, there were the doctors after that, suggesting therapy…

Yeah, his pink clone oughta be jumping for joy right now.

Despite himself, Steven couldn't help but roll his eyes, but even so, he still knew it was his best option regardless. "So how does the whole therapy thing work?" He asked after a moment.

"Well, first we need a therapist… so I'm gonna have to call Dr. Maheswaran," Greg replied thoughtfully, leaning slightly to the side to pull his phone out of his pocket. Steven watched him, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. "She said she had a few recommendations." The hybrid didn't respond, just stared at the phone. He wondered if Priyanka would say anything to Connie; Steven hadn't had the chance to explain anything to her. And honestly, he was dreading that conversation more than he had dreaded it with the gems, or even with Greg. He covered his mouth with his fist, gritting his teeth slightly as he stared. He wasn't ready… he wasn't ready.

"Hey…" Steven began quietly, his voice muffled slightly by his hand; he pulled it down a little, not completely removing it from his mouth, as Greg looked back over at him. "I don't… Maybe- Maybe we don't actually have to do this. I can be better-"

"Steven," Greg insisted, somehow firm and yet gentle in a way that once again reminded him of his brother. The hybrid grimaced, looking up at his father as he continued, "this isn't a punishment. It's not because of you- I mean, it is, but it isn't. This is something you need. Something that might be able to help you get better. So, yes, we do have to do this. You had to do this, and you're doing it, okay?" He reached out to ruffle Steven's hair, but the teenager ducked away before he could do too much damage. Not out of spite, or hostility, just because the touch made his spine tingle, cold spreading through his veins and making him shiver. His father sighed, pulling his hand back. "... it's gonna be okay, kiddo. But this is happening."

Steven didn't reply for a moment, pressing his hand over his mouth again and watching Greg as he put the phone to his ear, leaning back with a sigh. And he continued to stare, anxiety and dread swirling in his chest, circling each other in their endless dance. His heart dropped, more than once; sinking, then rising, only to sink once again, like it couldn't decide whether to drown or float. Every part of him hurt from the inside out, and he couldn't do anything about it.

He bit the tip of his tongue lightly, speaking up again in a whisper, "do I have to do it today?"

Greg opened his mouth to respond, but Priyanka must have answered the phone, because he only shook his head quickly at Steven before he turned away. "Dr. Maheswaran, this is Greg," he greeted, nervous but cheerful regardless. Steven wasn't sure whether to take his wordless answer as a confirmation or a 'hold on', so he only continued to stare anxiously as his father rubbed the back of his neck. "How are you? … ah, sorry, I- I didn't mean to interrupt anything-"

Well, at least Steven knew where he got his social awkwardness from. It was kind of comforting, this, along with the knowledge that Greg actually had practice with other humans. Maybe it was a normal thing. He shifted slightly, growing more and more uncomfortable with pretty much everything; the situation, the phone call (and he wasn't even the one talking), and his current position. Not that he could do much about that, but his back was currently killing him right then and he wanted absolutely nothing more than to lay down somewhere and curl up into a ball.

He mumbled a quiet curse in Gem Glyph at the same time Greg continued, "look, but it's about Steven… I was just wondering… that whole therapy thing you mentioned before…" His father bit his lower lip, before the anxious look on his face abruptly smoothed out, dissolving into relief. Steven put his head in his hand again and grimaced, watching silently. "Well, he's-" Greg spared him a glance, the relief fizzling out slightly. "He's… home. We just finished talking… okay. Yeah, that's great- I'll wait." His father pulled the phone away from his ear, letting out a long, unsteady sigh, then turned back to Steven. "No, you won't have to do it today. As soon as possible, but…"

Steven relaxed, covering his face with one hand and heaving out a sigh. "Okay. Okay. Then I'm gonna get Lapis to take me back to the house," he breathed, rubbing his hand over his face.

"What- well, hold on, don't you wanna talk to the therapist? Priyanka's about to-"

"We'll have plenty of time to get to know each other, won't we?" Steven muttered, shaking his head a little. "I'll have plenty of time to talk to them, that's kinda the point." He reached down to grab the wheels of the chair again, while Greg just watched, eyebrows furrowing faintly. Steven spared another half-hearted glance up, faintly surprised to see suspicion and skepticism, of all things, written across his face. "... what? I'm not gonna do anything. The gems are there," he insisted, rubbing his eyes. They itched, and they only itched more in protest at the contact. "Nobody's gonna wanna leave me alone, I'm sure, and I can't exactly go anywhere like this. It's not like I can ask Lapis 'hey, wanna carry me across the city so I can run from my problems?'."

Greg opened his mouth slightly, as if to object, but the only thing that came out was a low, strained sigh. But he smiled anyway; the corners of his mouth lifted, even though it didn't quite reach his eyes, as he reached out to clasp a hand over Steven's shoulder. The hybrid let him, this time, more so for Greg's sake than his own. "If you say so. But I'm coming by later."

"Do what you want." Steven rolled the wheelchair back, craning his head toward the car wash and opening his mouth to call out for Lapis.

"I'm glad you talked to me, Steven."

The hybrid glanced over at his father, holding his gaze for a moment before looking away again. He cleared his throat and breathed in, raising his voice as much as possible - well, as much as possible without possibly shattering the windows of the car wash in the process - as he called out to the blue gem. "Lapis-!"

Lapis reacted instantly enough, spreading her wings and swooping down to them immediately. Greg waved at her as she landed, but he turned back to the phone quickly enough, pushing himself a little further into the van as he started talking again. Steven stared for a moment, then turned his gaze back to Lapis, only offering a shrug at the bewildered look on her face. "Can you take me back home?" He rubbed his eyes again, slightly irritated by the itch now.

"Sure." Lapis walked over, frowning down at the chair for a moment. "What… happened to the arms?" She questioned, leaning down after a few seconds and wrapping her hands around the wheels instead. Steven grimaced slightly, looking over to where he had discarded the broken arms of the chair, and offered another half-sheepish, half-indifferent shrug in response.

"They were broken anyway." He looked down at the van as Lapis lifted them up, calling and waving a quick goodbye to his father as the blue gem carried him off.

He leaned back in the seat, wincing slightly as he did so. Now it wasn't just his lower back that was hurting; he wasn't entirely sure why, but the cuts were stinging now, the tingling pain almost managing to override the pain at the base of his spine, and the numb sensation running down his right leg. He frowned down at the cast, narrowing his eyes slightly in confusion, but looked back up quickly enough when Lapis spoke up. "Sooo… how did it go with your dad?"

Steven didn't respond immediately, glancing back down. The car wash was long behind them by now, and he wasn't about to hurt himself by turning around to look, so he simply fixed his gaze on the ground beneath them as it sped by. All things considered, it had gone pretty well.

"Better than I expected," he finally responded, closing his eyes briefly. "I'm getting a therapist."

Chapter Text

"You're what?"

Steven was silent, arms crossed, leaning back in the wheelchair and facing the gems. Even Lapis had reacted better to the news - well, after asking him what, exactly, a 'therapist' did, and he answered to the best of his ability (specifically stating it was basically what he was to the gems, but for humans). Amethyst and Pearl seemed more surprised, if not relieved. Garnet was quiet - truthfully, the way she stood by, leaning back against the wall with her head tilted downwards, reminded Steven of how she was when he was younger. How silent and mysterious she had been. He allowed his lips to quirk up at the corners before rooting his attention back to the others, blowing his hair out of his face and fixing his gaze on Pearl as she walked forward.

"Steven, that's wonderful," the pale gem practically gushed, and Steven resisted the urge to roll his eyes, finally fighting against the irritation rising in his chest. That alone was enough to make his cheeks warm up, tinging pink ever so slightly, but he uncrossed his arms and rubbed his hand over his face, trying to will the pinkness away. "So… when are you going?"

"I don't know. Dad was just about to call when I left," Steven replied with an, admittedly, half-hearted shrug, rubbing his face a little harder before finally dropping his hand, once he was satisfied that the pinkness had faded as much as it would. He spared a glance toward Jasper, despite himself, recalling how she had berated him at first for trying not to turn pink during their training. She only stared now, turning Amethyst's phone over and over in her hands. The hybrid sighed, flicking his gaze back to Pearl. "But he wants me to go soon, so… soon, I guess."

"Well I, for one, am happy that you're going to get professional help," Peridot hummed, now perched on the arm of the couch, on the opposite side that Jasper was sitting on.

Steven only grunted, not really knowing how to respond to that. He watched Jasper's gaze flick toward him, a slight smirk tugging at the corners of her lips, but she had looked away by the time he actually lifted his gaze back to her. He furrowed his eyebrows, silent, then looked away again and offered yet another shrug to the gems, shooting a warning glare toward Pearl as she took another few steps forward - just to make it known that she still wasn't welcome to venture any closer to him than Steven felt was absolutely necessary - and making a point of rolling himself backwards as he did. "Are you two heading back to Little Homeworld soon?" He directed his attention to Peridot and Lapis, as Pearl took a few steps back, visibly deflating.

Lapis looked toward Peridot questioningly, and the green gem spared the others a slightly distrustful glance, looking somewhat skeptical as she sized them up. Steven leaned back a little bit, pursing his lips silently, and - honestly - waiting for more screaming. But Peridot only heaved out a sigh, continuing to eye the others for a moment, before she spoke. "Well, I suppose…"

"But," Lapis chimed in, and Steven turned his head toward her, keeping his gaze fixed on Peridot for a moment before he turned his attention back to the blue gem completely. "My offer still stands, Steven! You're welcome to come stay with us anytime you want to."

"Tempting," Steven mumbled, ignoring a sharp exclamation of "what?!" from Amethyst and Pearl. Garnet shushed them quickly, and the hybrid lifted his gaze to the fusion for a second, wondering what, exactly, she knew - or if maybe she had actually pulled her head out of her ass long enough to realize that he didn't want her or their input anymore. He stared, narrowing his eyes; he couldn't see her own, he couldn't even see if she was looking in his direction, but he still could've sworn he felt her gaze on him, her eyes practically burning into his, simply waiting. The teenager grimaced, looking away again. "But I can't. Dad's coming by later, and I've gotta be here or he'll probably think I've run away again, or something. Besides, I don't wanna go to Little Homeworld." Another grunt rose in his throat, a disgusted sound; he choked it back.

"You sure?" Lapis leaned against the back of the chair, while Peridot heaved herself up off of the couch, dropping down to land on the floor and walking toward them. Steven glanced at her as she approached, but he didn't make any attempt to stop her, like he had with Pearl. Honestly, between Lapis and Peridot, and Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl, Steven would take Lapis and Peridot any day. "We could just tell your Dad where we're taking you."

"Personally, I think we'd be better suited to supervise you," Peridot added.

"I don't need supervision," Steven retorted, sparing her a slightly irritated glance now. She met his stare evenly, raising her eyebrows slightly, skeptically, expressing her disagreement with little more than a look. The hybrid twisted his mouth slightly, screwing his face up, scrunching his nose up and curling his lips back slightly as he braced himself to snap at her again, to tear her a new one. He was feeling more and more like some kind of rabid animal by the day - and the growl slowly rising in his chest sounded like it was more fittingly coming from Lion, rather than him. "Look, it's not like I can crash a car in this state. I don't even have a car to cr-"

"That doesn't mean you can't and won't find another way to hurt yourself," Peridot replied simply, crossing her arms with a frown. Steven opened his mouth again, but he faltered a little at that, mostly because he knew Peridot was right. Maybe he didn't want to hurt himself now, but he knew exactly how spontaneous those thoughts could be. It wasn't like his suicide attempt had been a carefully laid out plan, or facing his mother in the Room. Even now, he was still getting urges every now and again, far back into the darkest corners of his mind, calling for him to succumb to the torture he wanted to put himself through. He was doing his best to ignore it, but how long would that last? How long until he decided he wanted to die again? How long until he decided he wanted to hurt? How long until he wouldn't want to be stopped? Did he even want to be stopped now?

The hybrid shook his head and shut his eyes, squeezing them shut as tightly as possible. Regardless, going to Little Homeworld wasn't an option right now. Even if he'd rather be with Lapis and Peridot, he didn't want to go and open up all the fresh wounds that came with the small city. He didn't want to drive himself crazy with thoughts about how it didn't fit in anymore, how much he hated it now, how stupid it felt. "I'm not going," he said simply.

The gems were silent for a moment, before Peridot let out a defeated sigh, and Lapis gently put a hand on Steven's shoulder; the hybrid blinked his eyes open to glance over at her, and the blue gem spared him a firm look, eyes narrowing slightly. "Fine, but we're gonna be checking in. A lot. I don't trust them- no offense-" She added, turning her head briefly toward Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl; the fusion shrugged, while the other two exchanged slightly offended looks regardless, before they melted away into sheepish, uncertain expressions. "Or Jasper." There was no 'no offense' added, only a glare in Jasper's direction, which the orange gem returned.

"Fuck off."

"You fuck off!"

"Shut up, both of you," Peridot groaned, rubbing her eyes underneath her visor with a scowl. Lapis obeyed the command dutifully, though she did throw another glare in Jasper's direction, and the orange gem looked about five seconds away from speaking up again - quite possibly just for the sake of irritating Peridot now - until Steven shot her the most warning look he could muster without trying to look hostile. The Quartz hissed under her breath, through her teeth, and clenched her fist tightly around the phone in her hand as she sank back into the couch.

"I trust Jasper more than the gems," Steven eventually spoke up after a moment, seeing as nobody else was going to say anything. Truthfully, he hadn't been expecting that to be the first thing out of his mouth, and he couldn't help but wince slightly despite himself after he had said it. Not because he regretted saying it - honestly, at the moment? It was kinda true - but because he regretted not, at least, having the self-control to have said it with complete consciousness. This had slipped, before he'd had the chance to really decide whether or not he wanted to spit it out, and it was something he definitely had to work on again. His filter seemed to have vanished along with his positive attitude and happiness altogether, and he wasn't sure how to fix that. Even so, the amount of bewildered and shocked looks he got was almost worth it; while Lapis looked somewhat amused, as if she didn't quite believe him, Amethyst and Pearl seemed to flinch slightly at the words, and Garnet's shoulders gave a slight jerk, lips pressing into a thin line. Peridot only looked shocked for a few seconds before a slightly understanding expression replaced it - but Jasper, oh, Jasper was practically openly gaping at him now.

Steven grimaced, steadily growing uncomfortable with the staring. He met Jasper's gaze briefly, struggling to see anything other than the ever-growing surprise rapidly shadowing her face, but there was no other emotion he could place. He expected her to scoff, to cross her arms and roll her eyes and look away, but she just stared at him, her lower jaw wobbling as if she was about to speak, only to snap shut before she could; she blinked once, then twice, and then again.

"I think you broke her," Amethyst finally spoke up, somewhat uncertainly; the words were slightly strained, voice quivering. Steven glanced over at her, chest aching with an instinctive pang of concern before it quickly diminished again, with the reminder that he was still pissed at them.

Once her words registered, the hybrid couldn't help but wince at the use of the word 'broke'. Even Jasper managed to look uncomfortable; but that was when she let out a huff, and rolled her eyes, and crossed her arms over her chest and turned her head away from them completely. Steven spared Amethyst a glare, a silent nice job, and the gem flinched again. "Well, I didn't mean it like that-" She mumbled, backtracking quickly.

"It doesn't matter," Jasper growled, at the same time Steven managed to grumble out the exact same words. Neither of them reacted, other than sharing a brief glance before finally managing to shift their focus onto other things; for Jasper, it was Amethyst's phone. The orange gem sank back again, pulling the phone back up to her face and falling silent. And Steven turned his attention back to Peridot and Lapis, assuming they were about to leave sometime soon now. Sure enough, as he turned back to them, the green gem shuffled forward to give him a quick hug, stretching up on her toes as much as possible to wrap her arms around his neck. He sighed, but lifted his arm around her to return it silently, closing his eyes. Lapis joined in quickly, wrapping her arms around him and offering a light squeeze around the shoulders.

"Stay safe," Peridot insisted, leaning back to look him in the eyes.

"Seriously," Lapis agreed. Steven blinked his eyes open, looking down at Peridot, and then back up at Lapis as she continued, "we're coming to check in later. A lot." She paused, suddenly, looking toward Peridot. "Bismuth's probably gonna come once she hears what happened…"

Steven grimaced, swallowing back every protest rising to the tip of his tongue. He knew word was gonna spread anyway, and he didn't expect it not to reach Bismuth, but it still didn't make it any more favorable. Regardless, he pushed through it, managing to find some relief in the fact that he might not have to tell her himself. Of course, he'd still have to talk to her - but with any luck, he wouldn't have to see her reaction. Not that it could or would be as bad as Greg's…

The hybrid sighed, peering at the blue and green gems for a moment, before flicking his gaze past them, to where Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl and Jasper were. "See you later, then," he finally responded, pulling his arms back and crossing them over his chest with a small frown. He fell silent as the gems exchanged goodbyes - and as Lapis offered Jasper her middle finger as a farewell, to which Jasper dutifully responded by attempting to mimic the gesture (and somewhat failed, but at least she had tried) - and then they left, as Peridot hopped up onto her trash can lid and Lapis spread her wings and they took off into the sky. He turned the chair around to watch them through the window, still silent, as they faded into the distance, and promptly vanished.

"Well…" Pearl cleared her throat, and Steven sighed, narrowing his eyes slightly. He continued to stare out the window for a moment, just gazing toward the sky, before reluctantly turning the wheelchair back around to face them. Pearl offered him a small, if not hesitant smile, at least having the sense not to approach him again. "Are you hungry? I know you were eating earlier, but it didn't seem like much. And I'm sure it's been a while since you've eaten anything else…"

"I could go catch some of those tiny… slippery water organics," Jasper piped up, and Steven - despite everything - actually managed to huff out a laugh. Breathless and bewildered, but still somehow genuine. Jasper looked down at him, and the corners of her lips quirked upwards briefly before a slightly irritated expression crossed her face. "Oh, what are they called…"

"Fish?" Steven offered, unable to help a flare of amusement despite himself. Here she was, back to being clueless; nothing like the gem that had scared him as a child, one of few who hadn't accepted his help at all. Sometimes, she felt more innocent than Steven knew - logically - she really was, and as rare as those moments were, they still managed to surprise him every so often when they came. Hell, a lot about Jasper surprised him every so often; there was so much about her he still didn't know, so much she kept bottled up and locked away, hidden behind the walls she built up day by day. Steven wasn't sure whether he had broken through or not, but considering that he was seeing more and more of Jasper now than ever, he had to wonder…

"Yeah. Fish," Jasper grunted, narrowing her eyes slightly, in a somewhat thoughtful expression. "Mm, they're hard to catch. Worthy opponents," she sniffed, "clever, for Earth creatures…" Another laugh escaped Steven, more startled than anything, and Jasper's mouth tugged into a brief smirk before it vanished once again, a slightly smug expression replacing it for a second.

"Right. Well, I'm not hungry," Steven finally responded, shaking his head slightly and finally raising his hand to run his fingers through his hair, brushing the curls back. "So don't go engaging in combat with the fish for my sake. It's not worth the loss, they're way too sneaky for you." At this, Jasper let out a huff that sounded dangerously close to a laugh - so much so that Steven had to stare at her for a moment just to figure out if it actually might had been - but the orange gem's expression hadn't changed, so he wasn't entirely sure whether it was or not.

"Good, I'm not looking for a fight anyway."

At this, Amethyst and Pearl spared the orange gem slightly surprised looks, exchanging a glance and frowning at each other briefly. Steven let out a quiet hum, remembering what Jasper had told him earlier - honestly, it made sense that she didn't want to fight. After what had happened, Steven couldn't blame her. But it still didn't make it easier to think about, the fact that he had done that to her, he had hurt her, shattered her, traumatized her to the point where she didn't even want to fight anymore. Something she'd done all her life. Something she enjoyed.

The amusement faded, replaced with bitterness and guilt once again, as every careful defense and wall came shooting right back up. He couldn't afford to get close to her again, to joke around and tease her like they had done in the forest. It wasn't like that anymore; they couldn't be like that anymore, because he had messed it up, and he had to pay the price. They both did.

The hybrid sighed through his teeth and cleared his throat, shaking his head a little. Well, he didn't want to stick around with the gems any longer than was necessary. And he couldn't get upstairs to hide away in his room, so… Steven grimaced, looking toward the temple door.

As long as he didn't fall asleep, it'd be fine; as much as he wanted to visit his brother right then, he knew Greg was on his way over, and he probably wouldn't take kindly to Steven sleeping the day away, being locked away on his own without anyone to 'supervise' him. But he needed to be alone right then more than ever, to gather his thoughts again and think about what he was going to do, how this might turn out and what his alternative options were if this whole therapy thing didn't work out the way they were hoping it would. The teenager hummed, decision set, and reached down for the wheels to roll himself forward, heading for the temple door.

"Uh, Steven- uh-" Amethyst stepped forward slightly, but Steven didn't stop. He only halted when Garnet finally pushed herself away from the wall to stand in front of him, raising her hands slightly; the hybrid jerked the wheels back, bringing himself to a sharp halt, and winced slightly as the movement jarred his leg. His eyes narrowed, lips curling back slightly, and growled.

"I don't think you should be alone right now," Garnet told him cautiously, hands still raised in a half-defensive manner. Steven narrowed his eyes further. "You should stay where we can-"

"Supervise me?" Steven cut in mockingly, not waiting for the fusion to respond. "Wow, Lapis and Peri really got to you, didn't they? Or do you know something I don't?" He allowed a bitter smile to curl at his lips, flicking his gaze toward Sapphire's gem for a moment before flicking his gaze back up to her face, a sneer replacing the snarl that had previously been written across his face. "Well, I don't need a babysitter. What I need is to be alone."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Well think you'd do well to get out of my way, Garnet."

Garnet's jaw twitched, visor flashing briefly. She didn't move, but both Amethyst and Pearl slowly made their way forward, glancing at the hybrid worriedly as they paused beside the fusion. Pearl, herself, looked a little more reluctant to do so, while Amethyst simply looked concerned. But it was clear, the way they looked at him then, they weren't letting him go. And this was proven when Amethyst spoke up, holding her hands up slightly to somewhat mirror Garnet's position. "C'mon, little man, you know after what happened- it's not safe to…"

"Oh my stars," Steven hissed, slipping into Gem Glyph briefly. A bewildered expression crossed Amethyst's face for a second, while Garnet and Pearl only grimaced. "I don't exactly have anything to kill myself wi-" He stopped, thinking back to the knife he had left in the Room.

"I… I think it's best for you to stay in here, Steven," Pearl spoke up, and Steven flicked his gaze back up, eyes narrowing slightly once again. "We're just worried about yo-"

"Don't put that on me," Steven snapped, curling his lips back into a brief snarl. "I cannot stay in here with you while you try to fuss over me and- and watch me like a hawk like I'm a little kid. Hell, I will not. You don't get to just suddenly start giving a shit - you don't get to just suddenly be worried about where I go and what I do. So you're sorry, and you feel guilty, whatever- you should. But don't start thinking I suddenly need you to look after me, because I don't." He flicked his gaze back to Garnet, numb and yet cold with rage. "Now get out of my way."

Silence. Amethyst looked at Pearl. Pearl looked at Garnet. Garnet took a deep breath, looking briefly like she was trying to steady herself, compose herself, and Steven narrowed his eyes, already knowing what the answer would be before she had even opened her mouth to speak. "Yes, you do. We just don't want you hurting yourself, Steven."

Steven closed his eyes for a moment, teeth clenched. He could feel his own blood boiling, fury churning through his veins like icy fire; the pounding in his skull synced with his heartbeat, hard, and loud, and fast. But his mind was surprisingly clear, with only one thought, only one emotion. He breathed in, slowly, though his teeth, and slowly opened his eyes again, lifting his chin. "Well, then maybe I should hurt you instead." He lifted a hand, summoning one of his shields the second he did, and slammed it toward her without a moment's hesitation, lips curling back.

Garnet summoned her gauntlets quickly enough; they appeared before Steven could blink, with little more than a quiet poof, colliding with the shield before it could hit her. She hardly wavered under the impact, but the shield cracked and diminished, falling apart and vanishing in a flash.

"Hey, this is what you wanted, right?" Steven sneered, summoning another shield. "Surely, you saw this coming." He punched the shield forward, wincing slightly as the movement jarred his back again, sending a thrill of pain from the base of his spine to his right ankle, but he didn't stop. "But that's alright. That's perfect. I'm not the only guilty one in this situation, am I, guys?" He summoned another shield, just as Garnet, once again, broke the previous one. The hybrid narrowed his eyes, sending the next one toward Amethyst. "Maybe we all deserve a little pain!"

Amethyst managed to sidestep the shield, wincing slightly as it crashed into the wall beside the temple door. Steven simply summoned another one, scowling now. "Steven, calm down-"

The hybrid plucked at the air, like he was flicking a bug; the shield crashed right into Amethyst mid-sentence, sending her flying back along with it and slamming into the wall right where the other one had crashed into, trapping her between them. "Don't tell me to calm down."

"We're just trying to keep you safe!"

"Well it's a little fucking late, isn't it?!" Steven yelled back, rounding on Pearl next; the gem hardly had time to summon her spear before Steven had pelted a shield at her, but Garnet managed to reach her just in time to smack it to the side, sending it crashing into the wall.

"Steven, that's enough," the fusion ordered, straightening up again. Amethyst managed to shove one of the shields off of her, poofing it. "We don't want to fight you."

"Oh, oh, I know," Steven hissed, "wouldn't want to fight me either." He raised a hand, summoning two shields back to back this time, but not sending them off yet. "But, you know what? I don't care! You don't get to just finally start telling me what to do, and- and where to go!" He slammed the shields forward, and Garnet raised her fists; the first shield cracked, but the second one managed to catch the fusion off guard, sending her skidding across the floor. "You didn't give a damn about me when we got back from Homeworld! You just left, like nothing was wrong! Like I hadn't just literally admitted I wanted to die! What kind of bullshit is that?!"

"But we didn't think-" Amethyst stepped forward, but Steven brought up a wall in front of her; the purple gem smashed straight into it, mid-step and fell back with a gasp, covering her face.

"That I was serious?" He growled, not taking his eyes off of Garnet. "Yeah. You never do. You never listen, you never pay attention, you never fucking care. All any of you ever cared about was yourselves, and-" He barked out a laugh, summoning another shield and slamming it forward. "And my stupid fucking mother!"

Garnet sucked in a breath, caught off guard, and the shield hit her dead on, slamming her right back into the temple door. Steven summoned a wall between her and Pearl, as the pale gem let out a sharp exclamation of "Garnet!" and tried to rush forward to help her.

"Well, it's over, isn't it?" Steven narrowed his eyes, summoning a spiked shield this time. "I've had enough of your pity parties. I'm done!" He raised his hand, ready to slam the shield forward and be done with it - only to feel a hand close around his wrist before he could. It caught him off guard just enough for the shield to drop before it could even start moving forward, along with the walls holding Amethyst and Pearl back. The hybrid stared for a moment, pupils shrinking slightly, then slowly tilted his head back to look up and who had stopped him. He shouldn't have been surprised to see Jasper, considering she had been the only other one there, but he was.

"Enough. You won." The orange gem stared down at him, and Steven just blinked back at her, still lost in the fury boiling in his blood. "They're not worth it. You're better than them."

Steven clenched his fist a little tighter, squeezing his eyes shut and taking in a deep, unsteady breath in a half-hearted attempt to calm himself down, and Jasper slowly released his wrist. "Besides, I hate to admit it, but they're right. You said it yourself-" She interrupted when Steven snapped his eyes open and opened his mouth to respond. "-you weren't planning it before, and you're not planning it now. But that doesn't mean anything, does it?"

She was right, and he knew it. Still, he spared the gems a furious look as Amethyst picked herself up off of the floor, and Pearl and Garnet just stared at them in silent surprise.

"You won," Jasper told him simply, redirecting his attention back to her once more as she repeated the words, and then added, "don't taint your victory." Turning to the gems, she narrowed her eyes slightly. "You three need to fuck off. You're just making it worse."

"We're not leaving Steven," Pearl insisted. Steven curled his lips back slightly, fully prepared to either snarl back or attack again, but Jasper put an - admittedly large - hand in front of him, blocking the gems from his sight completely. The hybrid leaned back as much as possible without hurting his back too much, wincing slightly, somewhat shocked out of his rage now.

"Then don't leave. Go outside or something," the Quartz hissed. Pearl let out a slightly offended noise, seeming like she was about to respond, but she stopped quickly when Garnet spoke.

"She's right. Let's go."

"What?!"

"Outside."

Steven sank back completely, breathing in shakily through his teeth as his back flared up with pain again, but he didn't say a word. He kept his eyes fixed on Jasper's hand, still hovering in front of him, even as the gems passed him to head to the door, refusing to look at them at all. It was only when he heard the door open and close a moment later did he finally rip his gaze away from Jasper's hand, just as the orange gem dropped it and turned to face him once again.

"What was that?" Once again, they spoke at the same time; Steven's tone was more accusatory, less blinded by rage but still angry and disbelieving regardless, while Jasper just sounded downright bewildered. Regardless, they both paused after they had spoken, and Jasper huffed, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Steven retorted, leveling his stare to meet her gaze again, and she reluctantly returned the eye contact, eyes narrowing slightly as she did so. "Stopping me from fighting the gems- seriously, what the hell? A week ago you would've probably shattered them yourself if you had the chance, and now you're stopping me from-?"

"That's different," Jasper huffed, "I wouldn't have felt guilty. You tried to kill yourself over sh- over what happened back there in the forest. You shatter one of them, you're as good as dead. And you know it," she added sharply, watching his expression harden, only to crumble again. The hybrid faltered, clenching his fists and rubbing his nails against his palms for a moment. Honestly, though, he had started to wonder if he would feel guilty about hurting them - or even killing them. He didn't feel any guilt right then; and he had been five seconds away from shattering Garnet on the spot, furious and numb and just downright over it all. "Alright, your turn," Jasper interrupted his thoughts, crossing her arms. "I thought you didn't like fighting."

"Well, they wouldn't let me go!" Steven protested.

"For good reason," Jasper countered with a roll of her eyes, and Steven stopped for a moment, eyes narrowing slightly, mouth opening as he prepared to spit out a response. "Okay, continue."

Steven grunted, digging his nails a little harder into his palms. "It doesn't matter what reason they had for it, they don't get to just suddenly be concerned, and suddenly start caring about leaving me alone. They didn't have any problems with it when I was younger, and they- jeez, they didn't even have a problem with leaving me here with you this morning, either! And yeah, okay, I know, I wasn't technically alone," he snapped, as Jasper opened her mouth slightly, "but, and no offense here, do you really think it was smart of them to leave me with you regardless?"

Jasper made a face at him, only briefly looking offended, before offering a simple shrug as if to say yeah, that's fair. "Okay, that was kind of stupid. Whatever. Thing is, they're still not wrong now. Answer honestly, do you really trust yourself enough right now not to try again?" Steven grimaced, but said nothing, and that alone was Jasper's answer. "Exactly. Your gems are dumb, but this is the first time I think they've actually said anything that made any sense. You and 'alone time' aren't exactly a great combination at the moment, and you know if I'm telling you this, then something is very, very wrong." The Quartz huffed through her nose.

Steven let out a quiet grumble of agreement, reluctantly reaching down to roll the wheelchair back. He wasn't about to fight Jasper again - he wasn't pissed at her, he was pissed at the gems, and if she wasn't gonna let him through then there wasn't much he could do about that. "Whatever. I still hate them."

"Fine, hate them. Good for you," Jasper scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You should hate them. That's what I've been trying to tell you anyway." Steven quirked an eyebrow skeptically at her, and Jasper sneered slightly in response as she marched past him, heading back over to the couch. "But, just because you hate them and want them dead right now or whatever doesn't mean you're not gonna feel differently later. And if I know you, you're going to feel differently later."

"Why do you even care about how I feel?" Steven mumbled. Jasper didn't respond, so the hybrid only heaved out a sigh, eventually turning the wheelchair around to face her again. "Okay. Fine. You're probably right. But for the moment? I hate them."

"Then hate them," Jasper muttered, crossing her arms. "Be angry. Scream at them. Make them listen. It's about time you stopped being such a pushover anyway. They deserved that little beatdown. But what's killing them going to do? Make you feel even worse? Yeah, real smart." She rolled her eyes again, and Steven made a face. "If you're that angry with them, then don't be around them. Go to Little Homeworld with Lapis and Peridot or something. I'll take you right now," she added with a huff. "But even I'll tell you that isolating yourself is a stupid option now."

"I just wanna be alone…" Steven hissed through his teeth, leaning his head back against the back of the wheelchair and squeezing his eyes shut.

"Well, they're gone and I'm not gonna bother you, so if it makes you feel any better, congratulations, you're technically alone," Jasper grunted, and Steven couldn't help but snort slightly despite himself, squeezing his eyes shut a little tighter. "But stop being stupid about it. You're just asking for them to be overbearing." Steven didn't respond, stifling a sigh and keeping his eyes shut. He was tired, but not tired enough to fall asleep yet - his brother would just have to wait. Besides, he wasn't sure when his father would be showing up now, so it was probably best to stay awake until he got there so that he didn't get interrupted or something later on. There wasn't anything else to do; he didn't wanna talk to Jasper. He didn't want to talk at all.

So he just let himself lapse into a strangely comfortable silence with the orange gem, still calming down from his fury, slowly but surely. Maybe she was right. Maybe he should take Lapis and Peridot's offer and head on back to Little Homeworld. It seemed like a better option than staying here, and just waiting to snap again. But he still wasn't sure about how he'd cope there. Would it be any better than it was now? Hell, could he even keep running from the gems?

And, fuck, with Jasper of all people there to talk some sense into him when even they couldn't, maybe he really was better off far away from them. Until he could actually think, decide for himself whether he wanted to be around them at this point, or whether it really was too late.

It felt too late.

The thought alone hurt, stung like an open wound, but he couldn't deny it. It felt too late.

Chapter Text

The peace wasn't too short-lived. Despite everything between them, Jasper proved to be rather decent company. She seemed to be getting bored with the phone, instead directing her attention to him every so often when she decided that whatever she actually did on there wasn't as entertaining or distracting as it must have been before. Every so often, she'd initiate a conversation, and Steven found himself responding with a surprising lack of irritation when she did. He was certain, if it had been anyone else, he probably would have been annoyed, at best - but somehow, Jasper managed to pique his curiosity more often than not when she opened her mouth. Maybe because, somehow, she always managed to surprise him when she spoke up.

At the moment, they were talking about the other Quartzes back at Little Homeworld, the ones that had fought with Jasper during the war, and hadn't escaped the corruption blast from the Diamonds. "-it was weird, seeing them so different," the orange Quartz was grumbling. "They used to be like me, always fighting. Now they're doing 'meep morps' and 'meditation'."

Steven let out a low hum, keeping his head tilted back against the back of the wheelchair. He no longer had his eyes shut, staring up at the ceiling now. "I mean, everything's different now. There's no war, nobody for them to fight. Now they're just learning how to do their own thing, live their lives the way they want to instead of following the Diamonds' orders. If art and meditation is how they can do that, then good for them. They're learning to move on." Despite himself, the words he was saying came out a little more bitterly than he would have liked.

"You make it sound easy," Jasper mumbled, somewhat scornfully; Steven flicked his gaze toward her silently, just listening as she spoke. "So everything's different now, everybody's nice and friendly and there's no big war. It's still not that easy to ignore what we were made for."

"I know," Steven muttered, huffing out a dry laugh and looking back up. "Trust me, I know."

"It has to be harder than it seems, right?" Jasper groaned, letting her head fall back against the back of the couch and glaring at the wall for a moment. Steven looked back toward her for a moment, breathing out in a sharp huff through his nose. "It's not like I was the only soldier that fought in the war. It's not like I was the only one made for that exact purpose. It used to feel like I was the only one that still understood what we're supposed to be, but now it feels like I'm just holding onto nothing." The orange gem sighed through her teeth. "And it's just…"

"Frustrating," Steven finished for her, looking back up at the ceiling. "Feels like you're the only one not really getting it. Like everyone else seems to be moving forward so effortlessly, and the only thing you can do is stand and watch them. You wanna go forward, but you don't, because it can't possibly be that easy and you're not ready to see if it is or if it's not. So you don't move." They fell silent for a moment, merely contemplating on this, before Steven spoke up again, "sometimes it feels like I was only made to help people. To fix the mistakes my Mom made, with the Diamonds, and the war, and the gems. I don't know what to do if I'm not doing that. And it's like you, with the fighting - I don't want to do it anymore, but what am I if I don't? It's like there's nothing else for me, and everybody else is moving on and doing their own thing, but I can't."

"Now it makes sense," Jasper mumbled. She sounded more understanding for the first time, a slightly knowing tone accompanying the bitterness as she huffed, "if you can't do the thing that you were literally created to do, then what other reason do you have for existing?"

"What are you," Steven agreed quietly, closing his eyes for a moment, "if you're not what you were created, intended to be?" He grunted slightly, as did Jasper, the orange gem managing to sound a little grumpier than usual now. "And now I don't even care. If I have to be what she made me into, then I don't want to be anything at all. Hell, I don't even know where to begin being anything else, so sometimes it feels like it'd just be easier to-" He stopped, and sighed.

Jasper didn't say anything for a moment, sighing through her nose. Well- at least, that's what it had sounded like. She didn't have a nose, he finally marveled, as he let his gaze linger on her gem for a moment before ripping it away once more. But she hadn't exactly opened her mouth. "I still want to exist," the Quartz finally rumbled, crossing her arms over her chest. "I know that much. Sure, it doesn't feel like there's a point to it anymore, but it's still… ugh, I don't know. There's still something." She fell silent for a moment, before adding, a little quieter this time, "this is just stupid. I don't want this to be all there is."

Steven fell silent for a moment, closing his eyes again. It felt weird, just sitting and talking with Jasper calmly about this. Jasper, who usually didn't talk about her emotions. Jasper, who had told him she didn't want to talk about it to begin with. And it had gotten a lot deeper, a lot more intense than Steven had expected, opening up many new revelations from both sides. He was still surprised, the more he learned about Jasper, and yet he was steadily getting used to the fact that there were things he didn't know, things she was only now beginning to express. Even so, the conversation was treading dangerous territory, and he couldn't help but feel responsible for the sudden shift in Jasper's attitude. Even though he had wanted her to get out more, to express herself more beyond just fighting, he hadn't wanted to be the reason she did so - at least, not like this. The hybrid grimaced, shoulders sagging slightly as he lifted his head. It took him a moment to work up the nerve to speak again, to change the subject as much as possible. "Wonder if the fish have it any easier," he mumbled.

Somehow, he managed to shock a laugh out of Jasper. The orange gem's scowl had vanished, a grin briefly tugging at the corners of her lips before she forced it away again. But her eyes still shone with amusement as she looked toward him and quirked an eyebrow questioningly. "What's a fish's purpose?" She wondered, making a face.

"... I don't know," Steven admitted, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. "I don't think they have one. They swim, they get eaten… they eat each other, I think."

Jasper fell silent for a moment, staring at him for a long time with nothing but confusion, horror and disgust in her eyes. "... do all species of organics on Earth consume each other?" She finally asked, managing to look more than a little terrified. "Do humans-?"

"Uh, no- I mean I- it's frowned upon?"

The unsettled expression on Jasper's face intensified tenfold, and Steven couldn't help but laugh a little despite himself. "I mean, look- I'm pretty sure most humans don't make a habit out of eating each other. A lot of them eat fish and other animals on Earth to survive, but they don't… tend to… eat their own species. And the ones that do are called cannibals and, like I said, it's frowned upon. Actually, I think it's illegal." He ran his fingers through his hair, brushing the curls back, and sighed a little at the slightly confused look he was given. "Humans have strict laws, one of which is 'no murdering each other', and by eating a human you'd technically be killing them, so it's pretty much illegal."

Once again, Jasper fell silent, looking thoughtful now. Then she spoke, redirecting her attention back to him and narrowing her eyes. "What if a human eats another one that's already dead?"

Steven opened his mouth slightly to reply, but he couldn't think of anything to refute that with. After all, that was a pretty good point - and now that he was thinking about it, probably wasn't illegal. Then again, he didn't know much about human laws aside from the basics, so he wasn't entirely sure if that was a loophole or another set of offenses entirely. "... I don't… know…" He finally managed to respond, frowning. "I feel like… that'd be really… really gross."

"Why are we even talking about this?" Jasper muttered, shaking her head slightly and blowing her hair out of her face with a huff. "I just wanted to suggest living as fish in the ocean and not having to deal with the crushing weight of our own existences. Now I know more about humans than I wanted to know and I'm ninety-nine percent sure I despise them even more now."

"You want to live in the ocean?" Steven snorted slightly despite himself, unable to help but think of Malachite now. He wondered if maybe some of Lapis's influence could have rubbed off on Jasper while they were fused - but then, even the blue gem hadn't wanted to be near the ocean after they had split, and for good reason. You'd think being trapped in a fusion at the bottom of the ocean would have more of an impact, but Jasper didn't seem particularly fazed by the idea. "I guess you could shapeshift into one of them. As long as you're careful and don't get caught."

"Imagine a human trying to eat me," Jasper sighed. "Or cook me."

"You'd poof the second they took a bite," Steven couldn't help but let out another laugh. "Provided they live long enough to do so after you get caught anyway."

"They take a bite and their food disappears," Jasper mused, biting the inside of her cheek and quirking an eyebrow toward Steven. "Or suddenly turns into a giant orange monster and attacks them. I'll bet those humans wouldn't be catching any more fish for a long time after that."

"If you did that, you could put it on TubeTube. 'Fishing Prank Gone Wrong'. You'd be famous." At this, Jasper finally cracked up; somehow, the hybrid couldn't help but feel somewhat accomplished, watching her as her face broke into a wide grin and she finally started snickering, covering her face with one hand in an attempt to muffle the sounds. It was so different, so strange compared to what he was used to from her, but he couldn't say he was complaining. "Then your purpose would be terrorizing humans across the Earth."

"Doesn't sound half bad," Jasper commented, still snickering under her breath. Steven chuckled, and sighed, letting the amusement linger for a moment. It was still surprising to realize he had any room left for laughter, that he could feel anything other than the anger and guilt and numbness that consumed him so often, but right then, he was almost somewhat content. And it was even stranger that Jasper, of all people, was the gem that was managing to get him to feel this way. For a moment, it almost felt like things were somewhat… normal. Like they were back in the forest, sitting around a fire while Jasper ranted about the war and Steven cooked fish. The few nights they spent just talking had been surprisingly comfortable, and to feel that level of contentment now, after everything that had happened between them, was strange, but welcome regardless. He almost felt like her equal again, but he still couldn't get the fight out of his mind. He couldn't help but wonder if it was haunting her, too, in more than just her not wanting to fight. He wondered how she could even bear to be near him, much less… enjoy his company.

"You could do it too," Jasper spoke up again suddenly, and Steven shook himself out of his thoughts quickly to turn his attention back to her, blinking. "Terrorize humans."

"Yeah-" Steven huffed out a laugh, a little less humorless now. "But I can't shapeshift."

Jasper stared at him for a moment, so intensely, and so bewildered, that Steven almost felt stupid, like he was missing something. "I've seen you shapeshift, though." The hybrid furrowed his eyebrows, opening his mouth slightly - he couldn't recall ever showing her the 'cat fingers' thing - but she was speaking again before he could spit the question out anyway. "In the forest. When you were pink, and-" She gestured vaguely with her hand, lifting it up slightly to indicate how tall he had been before. "That's still shapeshifting. Altering your physical appearance from what it usually is. Obviously, being half organic, there's limitations - but you're still capable."

Steven furrowed his eyebrows a little more, scrunching his face up in deep concentration as he thought those words over. He hadn't really considered the fact that he had been 'shapeshifting'; considering the fact that gems could shift into anything they wanted, and Steven didn't have much control over what his body did when it reflected his mental state and maturity, but then again, what Jasper was saying also made sense. And, along with the cat fingers…

Well, maybe he was more capable than he thought. But, at the same time, with his healing powers on the fritz and a broken leg, it was probably best not to strain his body that way regardless. For all he knew, his powers would break completely, and he didn't want to risk it. "Maybe," he finally responded, shaking his head and looking back up. He opened his mouth once again to continue, but he didn't have the chance; the sound of the door opening made him flinch a little harder than he would have liked, and the expression on Jasper's face turned cold in barely half a second, whirling her head around to look at who had walked in. The hybrid reluctantly followed her gaze after a moment, curling his lips back into a brief snarl. He had been fully prepared to see the gems - but he hadn't been prepared to see Sapphire and Ruby trailing along after Amethyst and Pearl. Ruby was rubbing her eyes furiously, lower lip poking out and wobbling as if she had been crying, while Sapphire was attempting to comfort her.

Garnet had split.

Given how she had destabilized before, he knew he shouldn't have been surprised, but he could only stare at the two in shock for a good few seconds before finally managing to rip his gaze away, only when someone else ended up following them through the door. His heart sank slightly upon seeing Greg; nothing personal, but he knew the subject of therapy was bound to come up again now that his father was there, and he wasn't looking forward to it at all.

Steven closed his eyes for a moment, breathing out slowly as Greg headed over to him. "Hey, kiddo," his father mumbled, resting a hand on his shoulder as he reached the hybrid, and the teenager reluctantly cracked an eye open to glance up at him. "So, Priyanka gave me the therapist's number, and we talked for a little. Her name's Maria Roberts, and she's a really nice lady. Apparently she's been seeing some of the gems from Little Homeworld-" At this, Steven's eyebrows shot up in surprise, staring at Greg with wide eyes. "-so she knows a little bit about gem stuff, too. She's not far, kinda between here and Empire City, and… well, I guess you need to fill out paperwork to make everything official and stuff, but she wants to meet you tomorrow."

The hybrid didn't say anything, still somewhat recovering from the news that this therapist had apparently been seeing some of the gems from Little Homeworld. When had that started? He hadn't even known they knew what therapy was to begin with, much less that they were getting sessions. And- a human, counseling gems? Full gems, not hybrids. He wondered if she could keep up with all of it - wondered how she managed it. Even he found it hard to juggle all of the gems from Little Homeworld, and evidently, he had failed on that end, if a human had had to…

Somehow, the thought left a bitter taste on the tip of his tongue, and he swallowed it down to the best of his ability. It wasn't even guilt, or shame. Regret, maybe? Confusion? Jealousy…? But that didn't make sense. Granted, nothing made much sense these days, but this, even more so than usual, he failed to understand. And besides that, he didn't even know what he was jealous of. So the gems were getting help - good for them, right? And of course, their new therapist, who had apparently just popped up out of the blue. One he'd never heard about, ever…

"There's something else, bud," Greg murmured, capturing his attention before he could spiral too far. He made a face, deciding to put the subject of the newly appointed gem therapist on the back burner, and lifted his gaze back to his father with a frown. "Priyanka wants to see you at the hospital. Something about a psychological assessment to determine whether or not you need to be kept under professional watch and care for the next few days…" A slightly pained expression crossed his father's face, while Steven nearly blanked completely at the words. Oh, great, now even Priyanka wanted to supervise him. He couldn't catch a fucking break, could he? He couldn't get one goddamn second to himself, could he? He didn't want to go back to the hospital; he didn't want to have to face Priyanka, for god's sake. It was hard enough with a doctor he didn't know asking the questions. But he knew her. She was his best friend's mother.

"Today?" Was all he mumbled, knowing there was hardly any way out of this. It was Priyanka, after all, and Connie inherited her stubbornness from the doctor, if nothing else. And the last thing he needed was either of them coming here; he already felt trapped in the beach house as it was. And while he knew he wouldn't fare any better in a hospital, at least he could make the choice to get away from the gems and put himself in this position… at least, somewhat.

"As soon as possible," Greg replied with a grimace, and Steven let his head fall forward with a low sigh. "But the van's not ready yet, so we'll need to figure out another way to get there."

Silence followed; Steven's expression smoothed out slightly, realizing that that could be his way out, but the relief faded when Pearl spoke up from behind Greg, venturing a few steps closer - brave, considering how Steven had attacked earlier, and how he still wasn't exactly at his calmest point right then, either. "Well, maybe we could take Steven to th-"

"No."

Steven blinked, tearing his gaze away from Pearl to focus on Greg again. He was surprised to see his father's expression had hardened, his gaze considerably colder than it had been before. While his tone wasn't quite harsh as he spoke again, it certainly didn't leave much room for any arguments, either - and it was enough, surprisingly, to make even Pearl take a few steps back. "I appreciate it, Pearl, but I think it's time start taking care of my son." Under his breath, he added low enough for Steven to hear, "because apparently trusting you to was a mistake."

Steven wasn't sure whether to feel proud or surprised, but even he couldn't deny that Greg had gained just a little bit of his respect back right then. He studied his father, lips tugging upwards at the corners, and Greg cleared his throat and sighed as he turned back to the gems. "In fact, I actually need to talk to you guys about something later. For now, I'm calling a cab and getting Steven to the hospital." He pulled his phone out and paused, glancing back at Steven. The hybrid didn't say anything - but he didn't protest, either, so Greg headed past the gems and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. Steven continued to stare long after it had shut.

"... hey, Steven…?"

The hybrid narrowed his eyes slightly, looking down at Ruby. The little gem took a few steps forward, despite a few warning, concerned looks from Amethyst and Pearl; her lower lip was still quivering, on the verge of tears - and really, he'd be lying if he said it didn't make his heart ache somewhat for a moment, even through the anger - as she spoke, softly, "I'm sorry."

Steven felt himself falter before the words had even really registered, and it made him grimace. It wasn't okay and they knew that; Ruby knew that, and he knew that, but goddamn, if the gems didn't know how to press all the right buttons. He debated on responding for a while, just sitting there and working his jaw as he tried to figure out what he could even say to that. He didn't want to snap again - especially not with Greg outside, give him more reason to think Steven needed help. He was already about to have a 'psychological assessment', and he was more than willing to bet that attempted murder wasn't going to be good for that. But he wasn't sure if there was anything to say; the gems had already apologized, and he was still furious; maybe irrationally… but still furious regardless, and he wasn't about to continue suppressing it for their sakes.

He sighed through his teeth, throwing a glance in Jasper's direction. She glanced back at him, offering nothing more than a half-hearted shrug. Well, she had told him he could hate them. That he could be angry. He was still having a hard time deciding whether it was justified or not; of course, they obviously felt guilty, and he knew, logically, they hadn't meant to hurt him- so why was it so hard to set everything aside and forgive them? When did it get hard to forgive?

He looked back down at Ruby as she retreated to Sapphire's side, and the blue gem wrapped her arms around her silently, allowing her to tuck her head under Sapphire's chin.

"What's a psychological assessment?" Jasper finally spoke up, stretching her arms out over the back of the couch and crossing one leg over the other. Steven looked up at her, thinking, then opened his mouth to respond. "And for that matter, what's a 'hospital'?"

"A hospital is where humans go when they're injured," Steven explained, blowing his hair out of his face. He frowned, considering the first question once again. "And a psychological assessment is… I don't know, where they assess your… psychological state- I don't really know, I've only ever been to a hospital myself like, twice in my entire life, and I've never had a psychological assessment before anyway." He rubbed his hand over his face, grimacing.

"Wait, twice?" Amethyst cut in, and Steven heaved out a sigh, sparing her a slightly irritated glance - before abruptly remembering that she didn't know about his first hospital visit. Of course, the fact that he'd ended up in a hospital after the car crash was no surprise, but… damn, he really, really needed to start working on his filter again. "When did you-?"

"Look, it really doesn't matter, okay?" Steven interrupted sharply, gritting his teeth slightly with a scowl. "Yeah, I went to the hospital a while ago, before any of this started. It wasn't a big deal."

"But- why?" Pearl questioned, wide-eyed. "Were you injured?"

"Emotionally, apparently," Steven mumbled, rolling his eyes. Pearl opened her mouth slightly, looking prepared to ask even more questions, which Steven was not prepared for - nor was he asking for regardless. "Okay, like I said, no big deal. Doesn't matter. It happened, it's over, it was a brief thing that didn't really mean anything and was, to be honest, a complete waste of time. Literally nothing at all." He let his head fall back against the back of the wheelchair, grimacing. "Stop worrying about me already. How many times do I gotta slam you into a wall to make you realize I don't want you hovering over me like some helicopter parent? You're not my-" He choked on his own words, breath hitching slightly despite himself, managing to stop just before he could finish the sentence. Grateful that he had caught himself, and somewhat disgusted that he had even been about to say that to begin with, he covered his face with both hands. "... just let it go, okay? This is- it's too stressful to deal with this right now."

"... I understand," Pearl's voice was strained, and for good reason. Steven scolded himself silently, grinding his teeth together. He wasn't even guilty that he had hurt her feelings - more so that he had been about to say something he knew was a low blow for the both of them. Pearl might not have been his mother, but she was the closest thing he had to one for a long time. Maybe not the best one, and now, thinking back, maybe not a good one by any means, but she had still been there regardless. Maybe not when he needed her, like Greg - but she was there. That was more than he could say for his actual mother.

Once again disgusted - now that he was defending Pearl to himself at all - he simply fell silent and sank back into the wheelchair, finally dropping his hand from his face with a low grunt. He didn't even understand himself at this point. He didn't know whether he wanted to hurt her or not. Hell, he was starting to wonder if he only wanted to hurt her physically - if he only wanted to hurt any of them physically, because so far that had seemed more satisfying than causing them emotional pain. At least he could stop himself from doing that - at least he wanted to.

He stayed silent until Greg came back in, a moment later. His father seemed to falter slightly as he entered, as if he had caught on to the tension in the room, but he continued over to Steven after a moment. He grabbed the handles of the wheelchair to start pushing it, only to stop after a moment, hissing out a sigh through his teeth. "Oh, dang it. The stairs."

"That's a predicament," Steven muttered, once again slightly hopeful for some kind of loophole, but it seemed like the entire universe was against him today - because they ended up finding yet another way out of it, as Jasper finally pushed herself up off of the couch and headed toward them. Greg tensed up as she approached; Steven could practically feel his father reeling back, and could feel him tugging the wheelchair along with him. But the orange gem didn't stop, simply grabbed one of the wheels and wrenched the chair out of Greg's grip completely - causing Steven to wince and let out a sharp hiss of "watch it" - and Jasper only grunted slightly in what was either an apology or a 'shut up' before she lifted the chair over her head.

And then she turned and marched past the gems, lowering the chair to get Steven through the doorway and stepping out onto the porch. Greg followed quickly, mumbling under his breath. Steven only caught snippets of "bad idea" and "don't like this", but it wasn't enough to halt Jasper, who, once she had gotten outside, headed down the stairs two steps at a time.

Steven shuddered, more so from the movement than anything. If he could turn around to glare at Jasper, he would have, but, knowing it would only serve to hurt him even worse, he kept still. "I don't know whether to thank you or not but I will tell you this hurts like a bitch," he hissed the last word in Gem Glyph, more or less for his father's sake - poor man was already having a heart attack anyway, by the sound of it - and Jasper snickered slightly under her breath as she finally reached the bottom, depositing the wheelchair on the ground. "Never, ever again."

"You're welcome," Jasper retorted, tone practically dripping with sarcasm, and Steven resisted the urge to flip her off. He glanced up at Greg as he made his way back to the hybrid's side, occasionally sparing uncertain glances back at Jasper every now and again.

"Uh, thanks," his father finally offered to the orange gem, and he didn't get a response - not even a grunt, which, admittedly, did surprise Steven initially - but Greg turned back to him quickly enough, glancing him over with a frown. "The cab's on its way here, it shouldn't be too long. Getting you in and out won't be too easy… but we'll just take it slow," he added hastily, seeing Steven's expression shift. The hybrid definitely didn't want to hurt his back any further - it was already aching from being carried. Nice as it was, and as good as Jasper's intentions were, she still lacked the gentleness that even Lapis had managed to possess while carrying him.

But then, gentleness wasn't really Jasper's style.

He didn't say anything to Greg, simply sank back into the wheelchair and shut his eyes with a sigh. Bouncing around from place to place was getting old. Going back to the hospital? Not fun. But, weighing his options… well, it was probably the best one he had right then.

Maybe if you hadn't been stupid and reckless you wouldn't be in this mess, he sneered at himself. Or maybe if you'd actually succeeded, you wouldn't have to do any of this at all.

He shoved the thoughts back - something he was realizing was getting harder to do, despite how rare the thoughts themselves were getting. Maybe he just didn't have the strength to internally berate himself anymore, who knew? Either way, they were hardly welcome; he wanted as much peace as he could get until he had to deal with whatever the hell was going to happen at the hospital, and he'd be damned if he let his own self-loathing get in the way this time. He could hate himself all he wanted later, but for now? Fuck no, he was getting some quiet.

Chapter Text

"So how are we supposed to get the wheelchair… into the cab?"

Steven stared at the car as it drove up, narrowing his eyes slightly. Jasper was standing beside him, with her arms crossed over her chest, while Greg paced back and forth in front of them, biting his knuckles silently. His father turned, however, at Steven's question, a slightly confused look flitting across his face before the realization finally seemed to set in. "Ah…" Rubbing his face, Greg looked the wheelchair over, taking a few steps closer to them with a frown. "Well, it- it's supposed to fold, right? Once we get you into the car, we can put the wheelchair in next."

"Okay," Steven mumbled, narrowing his eyes. "And how are we supposed to get me out of the wheelchair? I can hardly move anything below the neck without it hurting like a m- like…" He hissed through his teeth, shooting a glare toward Jasper when she started snickering under her breath. He almost considered telling her off in Gem Glyph, but he decided against it by the time the cab had stopped moving. Greg frowned slightly, but he said nothing, looking more thoughtful than anything as he circled around the wheelchair to push it toward the cab. Steven leaned back, narrowing his eyes at the car once again and twisting his mouth into a sharp frown. "You know, I feel like you should have thought this through a little more first…"

"I didn't really have much time," Greg replied uncertainly, opening one of the back doors. Steven grunted, eyeing the inside of the cab for a moment as Greg stepped around and reached out to help him up; the hybrid leaned away quickly, waving his father away. "Steven, you have to-"

"I know. Just give me a second, alright?" Steven snapped, and Greg grimaced, but he leaned back, giving Steven a moment to compose himself. It took him a while to muster up the will to start heaving himself up out of the wheelchair, reaching out to grab onto the door to pull himself up in the process. He almost gave up a few times, completely willing to just sit back in the wheelchair and not do a single fucking thing at all; the pain was bordering on unbearable, and he had to bite down on his tongue to keep himself from screaming out all the curse words he knew in Gem Glyph, and then some. But, right when he was about to sit back down, he felt two hands wrap around his torso, lifting him up out of the chair - and he couldn't keep himself from yelling out in time, more so from surprise than anything. "What the fu- I said give me a sec-"

A glance downwards was enough to halt his protest, but at this point, he was hardly surprised to see that the hands that had gripped him were orange, belonging to Jasper rather than his dad. She moved surprisingly slowly, lifting him out of the wheelchair and lowering him down just beside the door, and he gripped the top of the cab quickly to keep himself somewhat balanced, keeping his right leg as far from the ground as possible - which wasn't too easy, considering he hardly had enough control over it to move it at all. But he did finally manage to twist around and push himself into the car, pulling his good leg in with him and reluctantly letting Greg move the other one in, himself, when Steven proved completely incapable of moving it.

He bit his tongue again, covering his face. It took him a second to remind himself not to bite down too hard, not wanting to risk making himself bleed with his healing powers not working.

"Thanks for the help…" He heard Greg murmuring to Jasper, accompanied by a faint rattling. It sounded like the wheelchair, so it was safe to assume his father was trying to fold it to put it in the car. The hybrid blinked his eyes open again, rubbing his hand over his face briefly before dropping it again and turning to glance back out at them. Jasper just huffed, looking down at Greg and making a face before turning her gaze back to Steven, who simply offered a shrug.

"Hopefully we'll be back soon," the hybrid sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. He wasn't happy about any of this, and he wasn't going to bother pretending that he was. Jasper actually managed to look somewhat amused by his grumpiness, which only added to it more; he twisted his mouth into a frown and wrinkled his nose back at the orange Quartz, but that only served to further increase her own amusement, her lips turning upwards at the corners as she smirked. Steven finally managed to flip her off while Greg's back was turned, as his father lifted the now-folded wheelchair and carried it around to the other side of the cab. Jasper, once again, clumsily attempted to mimic the gesture, looking a little frustrated when she failed to do so.

"Yeah, hopefully," Greg sighed, getting in and closing the door. Steven reached over slightly to close his, thankfully not having to reach too far - but he did jerk back quickly, with a slightly furious look in Jasper's direction, when she simply shut it for him, a little harder than necessary.

He pulled his lips back slightly as she grinned down at him, eyes sparkling mischievously. He had a few choice words, things he'd like to say to wipe that smug smile off of her face, but he knew better than to do so with Greg around. So he only wrinkled his nose at her through the window again while his father leaned forward to speak to the cab driver. "Sorry for the holdup," his father chuckled nervously. "Uh, we need to get to Beach City Hospital, please." Steven grimaced slightly to himself, finally tearing his gaze away from Jasper to look at the driver.

"No problem," the driver hummed, starting the cab back up with a smile. "Buckle up."

Steven narrowed his eyes slightly, glancing back toward the seatbelt, then crossed his arms. He wasn't going to strain himself with something as trivial as that, especially when he was in enough pain to begin with. Wasn't like he hadn't already been in a car crash before anyway, right? Hadn't killed him the first time, so he doubted it would the second time. Unfortunately, Greg didn't seem to share the sentiment; after realizing Steven wasn't going to attempt to do so himself, his father sighed and reached over to buckle the teenager in, stretching the seatbelt over the hybrid - despite his mumbled protests - and clicking it into place before turning around and doing the same for himself. Steven stared down at the seatbelt, reluctantly uncrossing his arms briefly to cross them over it instead, cheeks flushing hot with embarrassment.

He was silent as they started driving, though he'd be lying if he said he didn't wince on occasion. The rumbling of the car around him left him surprisingly uneasy, a steady mixture of dread and nausea brewing in his gut. He swallowed and fought it down to the best of his ability, pressing his eyes shut and breathing out slowly through his teeth as the car sped up.

"Hey-" Steven sighed through his teeth and cracked an eye open to look toward his father as Greg spoke, watching the man shift the wheelchair a little bit to move closer to the middle, though the seatbelt restricted him from getting too close now. "You alright, kiddo?"

Honestly, Steven didn't even know what the point of asking him that was anymore. At this rate, he was considering just going back to saying 'I'm fine'. It was a pretty instinctual response anyway - he had to think twice before he spoke, just to make sure he didn't say it regardless. The hybrid huffed and shook his head a little at Greg, then turned away again and screwed his eyes shut once more. He wished he could lift his leg up a little so that it wasn't pressing so hard against the floor of the car; every little bump was just pure agony. And it didn't make it any better, knowing he'd have to endure it on the way back, as well. This was just way too much. Somehow, he was both dreading reaching the hospital, and wishing this cab would go faster. He was about five seconds away from completely losing his shit for the second time that day.

Thankfully, Greg had the sense to leave him alone for the rest of the ride.


Yep, Steven still hated hospitals.

This one was familiar, of course, but he wasn't sure that it was helping. He still remembered walking through it at night, fighting the gem mutants alongside Connie… it hadn't been the scariest thing he'd ever experienced, but it had still been enough to give him nightmares. During the day, though, it was much better - but it wasn't like he had good experiences with the hospital during the day either. Remembering what had happened the last time he was there was enough to make his cheeks flush pink, and enough to make the pinkness remain there for a good, long while as they checked in and ended up being pulled straight back into a room, because apparently Priyanka had listed them as an 'important appointment'. Steven wasn't sure whether to be flattered, concerned or annoyed, but at least he didn't have to sit in the waiting room.

He reluctantly allowed Greg to help him out of the wheelchair and into the hospital bed, mostly because the nurses were offering to do so if Greg didn't, and Steven was already far too uncomfortable with the strangers surrounding him as it was. Once he was in the bed, though, he finally managed to relax a little; sinking back, he rested his head against the pillow and eyed the nurses silently as they worked around him, pulling out various medical tools to check him over. They checked his ears, his temperature, heartbeat - and then, of course, blood pressure. He went still as they wrapped the cuff around his arm, holding his breath as it got tighter, and tighter, and tighter. The pinkness spread just a little bit, covering his entire face now, but luckily, this time, he managed to control himself just enough so that he didn't swell up and break it.

It wasn't too long until Priyanka finally entered.

The nurses were hooking him up to a machine that 'monitored his heart rate and oxygen levels' by the time she walked in, fidgeting with a clipboard. She had a deep frown written across her face, eyebrows furrowed so close they were almost touching, and Steven knew right then and there that he was completely in for it - at least, until she actually spotted him. And he watched, confused and surprised, as the frown on her face vanished, the frustrated expression softening to something more akin to concern, before she seemed to snap back into 'professional mode'. "Hello, Steven." Her gaze darted down to his leg, and her mouth twisted into a frown again.

"Hi, Dr. Maheswaran. It's… nice to see you?" Steven managed to force a half-assed smile in her direction, but he let it drop once he realized she wasn't really paying attention. He shot a glance toward Greg; his father was seated in a chair on the other side of the room, out of the nurse's way. He was rubbing his hands together, cracking his knuckles and flitting his eyes around the room anxiously every so often, looking between him, the monitors, the nurses and Priyanka. It was almost comforting - at least Steven wasn't the only one that was well out of his comfort zone right then. Greg seemed to be having as hard a time with the situation as he was. But, he thought bitterly, looking away again, it shouldn't even be a 'situation'. This should be normal.

"Have you taken any medicine for the pain today?" Priyanka asked suddenly, rooting her gaze to the monitor. Steven paused, twisting his head around slightly to look despite himself, wondering what the hell was so interesting - or if maybe she was avoiding looking at him for a reason. Despite himself, his chest twisted at the thought, indifference quickly morphing into fear. He wondered if Connie had told her about the proposal. Or, even, if she had told her about Jasper. He wondered if she was upset with him. Hell, he was upset with himself. Or maybe she was upset about the suicide attempt. Honestly, with Priyanka Maheswaran, he couldn't really tell - but he didn't want to care as much as he did right then, either.

"Um…" He trailed off, hissing under his breath. Right, the painkillers that the doctor in Empire City had prescribed him, that he'd insisted he didn't need. Honestly, he was starting to wonder if he actually might; the pain just seemed to be getting worse and worse by the second. "No…"

"Do you have any?"

Now it was his turn to avoid eye contact; Steven twisted his mouth into a grimace, rooting his gaze to his hands and trying to force back the nausea churning in his gut. "No."

He could practically hear the disapproval in the pen click - and that alone was enough to make him hold his protests when she spoke again. "I'm going to prescribe you some. And judging by your heart rate and blood pressure levels, I'm also going to assume you're in pain-" Steven opened his mouth, finally almost daring to protest, but he reminded himself not to and simply offered a hesitant nod at the last second. "So I'm going to give you two pills to take now." Priyanka sighed, walking over to him. After a moment, he reluctantly lifted his gaze back to her, grimacing slightly as he watched her pull the top paper off of the clipboard. "For now, there's a few questions on this form I'd like you to answer - and honestly, please," she added.

Steven only huffed, taking the clipboard and pen as they were offered to him, and narrowing his eyes down at the paper silently for a moment before looking back up. "This is the psychological assessment?" He was honestly somewhat relieved - he wouldn't have to actually look her in the eyes while he answered. The doctor back at Empire City had asked him the questions flat-out.

"It's part of it," Priyanka replied, adjusting her coat. Steven faltered slightly, relief fading almost at once. Part of it. Great. So there was probably more to it. "But, provided you do answer the questions honestly-" Wow, she was really stressing that part, wasn't she? "-it shouldn't take too long at all. Just let me know when you're finished, I'll be right back with the painkillers." She turned, gesturing for the other nurses to leave the room, as well; Steven kept his gaze on Priyanka until she had left, grimacing slightly, and even then, continued to stare through the doorway until the last nurse finally stepped out and shut the door behind them.

The hybrid huffed and clicked the pen a few times, looking down at the clipboard. Well, so far it wasn't asking for too much; his name, easy, the date… okay, actually, not too easy. He ended up asking Greg for help on that one, somewhat reluctantly, before moving on. Age, easy. Date of birth, easy. Then it moved on to… "Family or Social History". Ohhh boy. Here we go.

The first few questions were easy enough, until it gave him a list of words to describe himself with. He skimmed them all briefly, grimacing slightly at a few - 'full of regrets', 'crazy', 'suicidal', 'worthless', 'a nobody' - man, it really wasn't holding back its punches on that one. Still, neither would he; honesty had gotten him into this mess, and while he wasn't entirely sure it would get him out of it, he also knew, at this point, no good came out of lying, either. So, he checked off all of those and then some. His favorite one, near the end, was 'evil'; he checked it off with a scowl.

After that, it got a little easier; asking about family, alright. 'Siblings' was first up; for a moment, he hesitated over 'brothers', not really knowing what to put. Well, it wasn't asking for a name, just how many and what age; he could answer that simply enough. They were the same age, so… he went ahead and put his pink twin on the list, simply putting 'N/A' in the 'sisters' column and moving on to the next. Father. Age, occupation, health, was he dead…

What was their relationship like…

Steven inhaled through his teeth, clicking the pen once, and then again with a grimace. Well, the 'as a child' part was easy enough to answer, and it didn't offer much room for big explanations, so he decided to be as vague as possible with that. 'As an adult'... well, he wasn't quite an adult yet - one more year, right? - so he just decided to put 'still figuring it out' and moved on to the next one - and then immediately wished that he hadn't. Next up; Mother.

"Oh, shatter me now…" The hybrid growled, remembering a little too late that Greg was still in the room, but regardless, he didn't look up, even though he felt his father's gaze fixed on him.

'If deceased, age at death'. What? What the fuck? It wasn't like he had ever gotten an exact number. He didn't know how old his mother was. Several thousand years, for sure, but for that, he'd have to either ask the Diamonds or the gems and- yeah, no, he wasn't doing that. So, he simply put down 'N/A', figuring Priyanka would at least understand that, because she knew about gem stuff and he was sure Connie had told her about Pink Diamond, if nothing else.

'Cause of death'. 'Me'. Next.

'How old were you at the time of her death?'. '0'.

'What is/was your relationship like?' Jesus fuck… 'Complicated'.

Thankfully, after that, the other questions seemed far too easy; he found himself beyond relieved by the time he finished the 'mother' section, quickly speeding through the rest. Some of the questions were… odd, but at least it was better than having to answer any about his mom. And, to his relief, he was briefly interrupted when Priyanka returned with the medicine. He lowered the clipboard, clicking the pen and putting it down as she headed over to him and offered him two small cups; he took them both, frowning, and peered inside. One was filled with water, and the other contained two little round white pills. He made a face, staring.

"Have you ever swallowed pills before?" Steven shook his head, glancing up just in time to see the glare Priyanka shot Greg over her shoulder, and the apologetic wince his father gave in response. "Alright," the doctor sighed, turning back to the hybrid, who just barely managed to wipe the grimace off of his face in time. "Take a sip of the water, but don't swallow just yet," she added quickly, as Steven reluctantly raised the cup to do as instructed. He couldn't help but flinch slightly as the liquid hit his tongue - reminded, rather abruptly, that he hadn't drank anything in quite some time either - but he simply swished it around in his mouth and looked back up, nodding to let her know he was ready for her next instruction. "Then put one of the pills in your mouth and swallow it with the water," Priyanka ordered, turning to hand Greg a paper.

Steven wrinkled his nose, looking down. He settled the cup with the pills in his lap, reaching in to pinch one of the little round tablets between two fingers and lifting it up with a frown. Honestly, it took him a while to muster the energy to push the pill into his mouth, squeezing it through his lips and trying to avoid spilling any of the water, before swallowing it all down fast. "Ugh…"

"I know, it's unpleasant," Priyanka almost managed to sound amused, looking back up at him. "But it's necessary. Now just do the same with the other one and that's it." Steven sighed under his breath, but reluctantly obliged, swallowing the last pill along with a mouthful of the water. "Now- I am sorry, but I'm going to have to borrow your father for a moment." Priyanka shot another glance at Greg, and Steven raised an eyebrow silently, watching the beads of sweat already forming on his father's forehead. He bit back a snicker, returning his gaze to Priyanka quickly when she spoke again. "We'll be just outside." The look she gave him as she spoke genuinely made him wonder whether it was meant as a reassurance or as a warning.

But he merely forced a smile at Priyanka, picking the clipboard and pen back up with his free hand and reaching over to put the water on the stand beside the bed, just grateful it was within his reach. "Oookay," he mumbled, clicking the pen and returning his gaze to the papers.

Greg sighed, heaving himself out of the chair. "I'll be right back, kiddo."

"Okay," Steven said again, slightly irritated, but somewhat struggling to force it back now. He wasn't sure whether it was simply being in Priyanka's presence or not, but he suddenly felt far too uncomfortable, far too unwilling to express any of the bitterness and anger churning in his chest. Honestly, he was just relieved when they finally stepped out of the room, leaving the door cracked; the moment they had left, he felt the rest of the tension in his shoulders drain, deflating like a balloon in only a second. He let his shoulders droop, ducking his head for a moment and hissing out a sigh through his teeth before forcing himself to focus on the clipboard once again.

More than once, as he worked, he flipped back to the second page to reread the questions about his family members. Briefly, he debated on listing Pearl or Garnet as 'step mothers', but… well, he wasn't entirely sure that was what they were. And, of course, he wondered if White filled the 'grandmother' role - she created Pink Diamond, right? So she was technically Pink's mother, meaning she would technically be his grandmother. But, then, if he put her on the list, he'd have to explain their relationship and all, and he wasn't too sure he was ready to do so just yet. At least, not with Priyanka. So, he simply flipped forward again and continued answering the other questions, somewhat relieved now that he was just about finished with the assessment.

Then, of course, he reached one question in particular that was enough to make him falter. 'Has any relative ever attempted or committed suicide?'. He wasn't sure how to answer at first; technically, willingly giving up her life to give birth to him could definitely count as suicide, so he could very well list his mother… The hybrid grimaced, chewing on the end of the pen and glaring down at the paper with a frown. And here he thought he'd gotten past the worst of it.

Finally, he sucked it up and managed to write down 'yes, my mother, technically' before moving on. The rest was rather easy; halfway through, just before he finished, Greg and Priyanka returned. His father was folding up the piece of paper, tucking it into his pocket silently, while the doctor shut the door behind her. Steven glanced up for only a second before returning his gaze to the clipboard, narrowing his eyes slightly as he answered the last few questions, and feeling immense relief once he had finally reached the end of the form. He clicked the pen one last time and held the clipboard up to Priyanka, and she moved forward to take it from him at once.

Priyanka was silent as she skimmed the first few pages, a slight grimace tugging at her lips every so often. Steven was silent, clenching and unclenching his fists somewhat anxiously as he watched her - until, finally, the doctor breathed out through her teeth and looked back up, eyebrows furrowing slightly in confusion. "You have a brother?"

"Technically…" Steven shrugged, rubbing his hand over his face and sinking back against the pillow again. He winced slightly, back aching in protest, but he was slightly relieved to note that the pain had dulled considerably. Who knew, maybe those painkillers actually were working. "It's really hard to explain. We're kind of a fusion like Garnet, but also not really… I don't know, he's better at explaining it than I am, so." He offered Priyanka a half-hearted shrug, and the doctor frowned, but offered nothing more than a simple nod before rooting her gaze back to the paper.

She skimmed a few more pages, then finally went back to the first one, setting the clipboard aside and pressing her hands together in front of her for a moment. "Steven," she began carefully, "I have a few questions I'd like to ask you personally that weren't included on the form. If you'd like your father to leave while you answer, I understand," she added, glancing back at Greg. For a moment, his father almost looked like he was about to protest; but, with a swift glance toward Steven, he shut his mouth quickly enough. As for the hybrid, he was honestly just about to lose it right then and there. He'd known the assessment would be more than just answering questions on a clipboard, but he still wished he didn't have to actually talk to her.

Regardless, after a moment, he decided rather easily that it didn't matter whether Greg was in the room or not, because Greg already knew pretty much everything regarding his mental state. "He can stay," he muttered, watching his father's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. "I don't care."

"Alright." Priyanka walked over to the sink on the other side of the room, pulling a stool out from under it and sitting down. Steven closed his eyes for a moment, breathing in slowly through his teeth and holding his breath for a good few seconds before finally letting it back out again. "Prior to the car crash, have you ever contemplated or attempted to commit suicide?"

Straight to the point, wow. Steven couldn't keep his cheeks from flushing pink in time, but it didn't last long. He opened his mouth to deny the question, only to falter. Well, technically… trying to rip his own gem out counted as a suicide attempt, right? He had failed, obviously, but that was what an 'attempt' was regardless. His stomach twisted slightly at the thought, grinding his teeth together slowly, before finally forcing himself to answer in a low mutter, "yeah." Before she could continue, already knowing she would ask how, he added, "I tried to pull my gem out."

Priyanka inhaled slowly, and he could feel Greg's gaze fixed on him, already able to sense the surprise. Because, of course, that was something he had left out while they were talking. But… right, Steven wasn't interested in the whole 'pretending' thing anymore, and it was going to come out sooner or later, so he might as well put it out there. Hell, he knew about White, anyway, so why not tell him that he'd tried to do it himself? "Have you self-harmed before?"

"Yeah," Steven quieted slightly on that answer. Greg already knew, obviously, but more or less, he was just uncomfortable with the thought of his mother standing over him, dragging a knife over his back. It did count as self-harm, right? God, just thinking about it made the cuts sting.

"Recently?"

"Recently, as in…?" Steven sighed through his teeth, falling silent for a moment before speaking again. "I don't know… Just before I crashed the Dondai. Pretty recently." He huffed out a laugh.

Priyanka was silent for a moment; he heard the familiar sound of pen against paper, assuming she was writing this down. And, of course she was, it was Priyanka. "How likely do you think your chances are of relapsing?" When Steven didn't answer after a moment, the doctor added slowly, "Steven, I need you to answer this honestly. How likely do you think your chances are o-"

"Likely, okay?" Steven finally snapped, covering his face with one hand and digging his nails into his skin with a low, rumbling growl. "It's not like I know. I know I'm still thinking about it, more and more, and I know I wasn't exactly planning on crashing my car on purpose, but I still ended up doing it anyway. So, yeah, I- I don't know. I don't know if I'm gonna try again or not. I don't even know if I wanna try again. But it's not like I-" He huffed out another mirthless laugh, "it's not exactly like I haven't considered the option since I got out of the hospital."

"Oh, Steven…" Greg mumbled.

Steven shook his head with a scowl, falling silent, but he did finally drop his hand and look up when Priyanka cleared her throat to catch his attention; once again, she put the clipboard and pen aside, leaning forward and clasping her hands together with her arms over her knees. The stare she gave him was enough to make him tense, even before she had spoken up. "Steven, this is a very, very serious situation. You're not in a good mental headspace at the moment. And if even you believe there's a chance you might try to hurt yourself, or take your own life, again, then what you need right now is immediate attention and proper care. I'm glad you were honest with me today." She paused, and Steven furrowed his eyebrows slightly, still tense, knowing that that couldn't possibly be it - the way she was looking, the way Greg was slowly sitting up and leaning forward, with an increasingly anxious expression, he knew there was something else.

And, of course, there was. "I think the best place for you right now is a mental health facility. You'll receive proper treatment, and supervision-" Steven was really starting to hate that word. "And your therapist can visit you, to start your sessions there. It's a safe, stable environment."

It really did just keep getting worse, didn't it?

Chapter Text

Steven remained silent even after Priyanka had left, after saying something about calling the mental health facility to inform them that he was being admitted. He hadn't quite disagreed - mostly because, after explaining exactly what a mental health facility (or 'mental hospital') was, Priyanka had also explained - albeit gently - that given his recent suicide attempt and the fact that he couldn't say for certain whether or not he was going to try again regardless, he didn't quite have much room for disagreement. He had to be monitored for the next few days. The hybrid didn't really get what the big deal was; he doubted it was going to get better in just a few days of being supervised and watched over like an infant. But he didn't say that, because he didn't want to have to be there any longer than he'd already have to. As much as he wanted to argue, Priyanka hadn't given him a chance to; he was still struggling to wrap his mind around it.

Greg didn't seem to be faring any better; after Priyanka had left, his father ended up putting his head in his hands, breathing in shakily as if he was trying to calm himself down. Steven, honestly, felt more or less numb than anything. He was… confused. Of course, Greg had already told him that Priyanka wanted to see whether or not he needed to be kept under supervision for a while, but he hadn't been expecting to be moved somewhere else, too. A place where, apparently, other patients with 'mental illnesses' were cared for. And that was, possibly, one of the harder things to grasp. The fact that he had a 'mental illness'. The fact that there was something wrong with him. Well, she hadn't said that - but… what was he supposed to think?

The hybrid grimaced, lowering his head slightly and glaring down at his hands. The silence remained for a good minute or so, while Greg struggled to piece himself back together. Not too long ago, Steven might be trying to reassure him, comfort him, help him compose himself - but he didn't feel like doing that, not right then. He felt like losing himself in the whirlwind of his own thoughts, the rapid spinning and churning his brain was doing in a futile attempt to genuinely register the information he had been given. He felt like sitting back and letting himself drown until the thoughts turned self-destructive, like they always seemed to; until every bad thought that had been holding itself back finally came forward with the hurricane of emotions, until the numbness finally diminished completely, lost in the storm for eternity. It was a nice plan.

Unfortunately, he didn't get very far; Greg finally pushed himself up and walked over to sit on the bed with him, and Steven slowly flicked his gaze up to his father, narrowing his eyes slightly. Honestly, a large part of him wanted to blame Greg for this, since he was the one who had called Priyanka in the first place - but he'd be lying if he said that a little bit of his anger didn't diminish when he caught a glimpse of his father's expression. He wasn't crying, exactly, but he looked close enough; his eyes were dry, but his lower lip and jaw trembled slightly as he reached out and rested his hands over Steven's, giving them both a light squeeze. The hybrid glanced down for a second, then looked back up at his father when he spoke. "Everything's… everything's gonna be okay, kiddo. This- this is gonna be good… good for you…" Greg shook his head a little, grimacing, as if even he didn't believe his own words, and Steven sighed.

Every part of him ached to reassure him, to comfort him; even through his anger, even through his numbness, it was like some kind of instinctual reaction, one he hardly registered at all.

But he fought it regardless.

Steeling himself, the teenager pulled one hand away, and then the other, shaking his head slightly at his father and leaning back with a frown. "A mental health facility, Dad," he reminded Greg, and the expression on his father's face - a mixture of panic and dread - was enough of a sign that he hadn't really needed to be reminded at all. "She's sending me to the crazy house. It's that bad. And it's not even going to help-" He stopped, hissing out a sigh through his teeth, and twisted his mouth into a scowl as he looked away, toward the door. "What's a few days under 'supervision' going to do? It's not gonna change how I feel anyway, so what…"

"That's not the-" Greg shook his head a little, pulling his own hand back to rub it over his face instead. Steven rolled his eyes, sinking his head back into the pillow, and glared up at the ceiling. "That's not the point, exactly, Steven… it's just to make sure you don't…"

"And what," Steven growled, gritting his teeth together and narrowing his eyes toward the ceiling, "is going to stop me from doing so when I get out of the mental hospital."

Greg fell silent, but he didn't need to say anything for Steven to recognize exactly how hard those words hit; he leaned back a little, breathing in shakily through his teeth as he stared down at the hybrid, and Steven screwed his eyes shut, taking a moment to recompose himself. Right, he didn't want to end up in the mental health facility any longer than he had to be, so he couldn't say these things. Honestly, he was regretting even saying anything to begin with. But it was too late to turn back now - but it wasn't too late to watch his mouth before he said anything else that could land him in a worse situation. "Look, I just…" The hybrid ran his tongue over his lips slowly, grimacing, and blinked his eyes open again. But he didn't look at his father, instead choosing to root his gaze to the wall instead. "I- I hate this. I hate needing to go to a-" He huffed out a laugh, cold and mirthless, "freakin'... looney bin… I'm not even…" He fell silent for a moment, the dry smile on his face fading back into a scowl. "... or maybe I am. I don't…"

"It's not a looney bin," Greg mumbled, furrowing his eyebrows. "And you're not crazy. You're just…" His father trailed off, and Steven finally glanced over at him, quirking an eyebrow.

"I'm sorry, would you prefer 'psychotic'?"

"Steven-"

"Or, uh," Steven continued, ignoring him now, "insane? Deranged? Demented? Unhinged?" He huffed out another laugh, spitting out the sound through gritted teeth. "Because that's- those are the kind of people that end up in those places, right? The mentally ill ones that can't be trusted not to hurt themselves or other people, right? You can say it, Dad, I know I'm-" He clenched his teeth, closing his eyes for a moment and finally taking a deep, shuddery breath. "God…"

He let his head drop against the pillow again, lifting a hand to rub his eyes. Greg had long fallen silent, flicking his gaze around desperately as he struggled to think of something to say, but they both knew there was hardly a point to that. This whole situation was fucked; Steven knew it, Greg knew it, and his father was wasting precious time trying to figure out how to make it look less fucked. He did wonder, though - because, while he knew this whole 'mental health facility' wasn't going to help him regardless - whether it was going to make it worse. Right then, it definitely felt worse; his mind was racing in a way that it hadn't been for a while, the numb anger accompanied by something a little more frantic now, something threatening to eat him alive.

I mean, jeez, I already know I hate myself… The hybrid narrowed his eyes, staring at the door for a moment. The hell is sending me to a place where a bunch of other people hate themselves going to do for me? Kickstart my 'help everyone' thing? Oh, great, I'm gonna walk outta there worse than I walked in, aren't I? He almost wanted to laugh at the thought; honestly, if this had happened a while ago, he probably would want to go - just so he could help all the other crazies in the mental hospital. But… no, he didn't do that anymore. He was going against the whole 'doing what he was made to do' thing, right? Not that I'm not tempted… he mused, biting the inside of his cheek. Hell, maybe I could avoid this whole thing if I just go back to normal. Sickly Sweet Steven Universe, savior of the galaxy…! I helped a whole bunch of aliens, maybe I should start helping humans too. Then I might actually have something to live for…

He clasped a hand over his face and shook his head a little, sighing through his teeth. As much as he wanted to believe all his problems would magically disappear if he went back to that, he knew better now. Alright, bright sides, his mind nagged - such a change from the whole 'you're an awful person and deserve to die' thing that he was used to thinking that he actually wondered what the fuck was going on in his brain now, and if, somehow, the 'mental hospital' thing had broken him even further - but his mind kept spinning regardless, and Steven couldn't exactly ignore it, at least I don't gotta be around the gems for a while now, right?

Right! I just gotta be around a bunch of other people that wanna baby me, and think I'm a lunatic, he mused right back in response, rolling his eyes to the side.

Ah, his mind had nothing to refute that with.

He was sure his pink twin might be able to think of something - and, speaking of which, he was actually somewhat tempted to just let himself pass out right then and there so he could retreat back to where his brother was instead. He had to say, he was much more tolerable. But then he also ran the risk of his gem half somehow convincing him that the whole mental hospital thing was a good thing - which Steven, honestly, wouldn't put past him at this point - and he wasn't going to stand for that. Oh, no. He was going to hate this. He was going to hate this with every fiber of his being, with a passion, and nothing was going to make it better, because he hated it.

You hate everything… His mind scoffed, and, this time, Steven actually didn't have anything to argue back with that, because… yeah, it was pretty much true, he hated everything.

He puffed his cheeks out and sighed, finally lifting his head again to look at Greg, who had ended up just fixing his gaze on the monitor. "You know what? You take me out of here, right now, and I'll stay in the van with you and you can watch me for a few days."

Greg glanced down at him, frowning slightly now. For a moment, though, it did almost look like his father was considering it - and Steven bit back a smirk despite himself, he always had been good at getting his father to change his mind - but then the man shook his head, and the smile faded slightly as he spoke, "no, kiddo. If… if Priyanka says this is the right thing to do, then…"

"Oh, come-" Steven shook his head a little, not knowing whether to be irritated or impressed that Greg was actually standing by this decision in the first place. "Look- It's the right thing to do for humans, right? The whole mental hospital thing- it's a human thing. And you said it yourself-! I'm not like other kids. I'm barely even human, right? So this whole thing is a waste of time." He raised an eyebrow at his father, tilting his head slightly. "Do you really think it's gonna help?"

"Okay, first of all." Greg raised a hand, looking somewhat uncertain now, but a slightly stern expression had flickered across his face. "You are not 'barely' human, you are half human. Second of all, I don't know if this is gonna help, Steven, but we've still gotta try. And third, maybe this is a human thing, but what you're going through right now- that's also a human thing." At this, Steven twisted his mouth sharply into a grimace, narrowing his eyes and looking away again, and Greg sighed. "Kiddo, I just want what's best for you. I want you to be safe."

"From me. I get it. But I'm going to be wherever I go, Dad," Steven hissed, staring at the door again. "Whether I'm with you or whether I'm here or in the crazy house, it's not gonna change what I feel or what I think or whatever I do when I'm not under supervision- basically, at this point, it's just- it's just delaying the inevitable, right?" His lower jaw trembled slightly as he clenched his teeth, fighting back the pressure building in his chest. "I mean… what, are they gonna keep me locked up forever? Is that…" He paused, pupils shrinking slightly, and snapped his head back around to look up at his father. "Wait- is that something they can-"

"No- no, Steven," Greg interrupted, raising both of his hands now. "Don't think like that, that's not what's gonna happen-" Okay, that wasn't particularly reassuring, because he wasn't exactly saying that it wasn't an option, "-it's going to be fine, everything's gonna be fine, it's okay."

"What about this situation possibly leads you to believe that this is okay?" Steven snapped, shaking his head slightly. Greg opened his mouth and faltered, seemingly not knowing what to say to that, and Steven took the chance to compose himself again - as much as possible, anyways - before he spoke up again, somewhat strained, "okay, I really, really don't wanna go." Just thinking about it, at this point, was stressing him out; his stomach had already been in knots, but now it felt ten times worse than it had been. And it was only pissing him off.

"I know you don't…" Greg began, and stopped, rubbing his hand over his face with a sigh.

Steven fell silent for a while after that, gritting his teeth slightly. Now, now, of all times, his father decides to actually be firm with him, actually go through with these things. Sure, Steven could be glad that he was actually stepping up and being a father, but right then, more than ever, he would have preferred the old Greg. Hell, he knew his father would have taken him out of the hospital the moment he asked, mostly because, honestly, he knew Greg couldn't possibly be comfortable with any of this either. But, no, he had to go and run his mouth and tell Greg that he'd never been there for him and he didn't want a father that just let him do whatever he wanted to do and put him in danger and… jeez, talk about 'be careful what you wish for'...

Right, well… The teenager huffed, letting his head fall back. Who asked for this? Who wanted this? Oh, right, Steven. Deal with it already, get over it, this is life for you now…

… endless suffering…

He narrowed his eyes, fully prepared to launch himself into the endless, taunting abyss of his self-destructive thoughts for yet another round of 'hating himself for an indefinite amount of time', but, unfortunately, once again, he was interrupted. His heart sank straight to his stomach when the door opened, breath hitching as his gaze snapped up to stare at it. It was one of - unfortunately - many times he could say he dreaded seeing Priyanka walking in, but judging by the look on her face, she seemed to be dreading this interaction almost as much as he was.

"The mental health facility is ready for you," she informed them, but she stared at Steven as she spoke, eyeing him somewhat warily, as if she could tell how completely against this entire situation he really was. Which, of course she could - he wasn't exactly making an active effort to hide it from anybody. "You'll have to check in, of course, but I've briefed them on the situation."

Steven stared at her for a moment, then flicked his gaze toward Greg. "Dad?" He prompted, sitting up a little bit, a last-ditch effort to change his father's mind and call the whole thing off.

Greg shook his head at him silently, then turned back to Priyanka, pushing himself up slightly. "Thanks, Dr. Maheswaran…" He sighed, glancing back at Steven when the hybrid let loose a quiet grunt from the back of his throat, a mixture of disappointment and fury. "Come on, Schtu-ball, don't be like that. You know this is for the best," he chided, and Steven only narrowed his eyes slightly, not knowing whether to focus his attention on disagreeing with that statement, or tell his father off for calling him 'Schtu-ball' again. "I'm gonna call a cab, and-"

"Wait, a cab?" Priyanka interrupted, and both father and son flicked their gazes toward her. Greg paused with his mouth open, looking briefly like he expected to be scolded like a child - which, honestly, amused Steven for a moment, but he couldn't say he blamed him - as Priyanka glanced between them. "You took a- alright, hang on, what happened to the van?"

"Hi." Steven raised a hand slightly, then dropped it again. "Yeah, I crashed that too. Not a suicide attempt, but kind of a fit of rage. Half accidental, half on purpose. You know-" He looked back over at Greg, quirking an eyebrow at his father, "I'll be fine if you just don't let me near c-"

"Ah." Greg raised a finger to silence him, and Steven wavered slightly, snapping his mouth shut and glaring up at the man silently. "Steven, you're going, end of conversation." Turning back to Priyanka, then, while Steven was too half-stunned to continue arguing with him, he added, "yeah, the van's still under some repairs. So until it's ready, transportation is limited." Priyanka didn't respond for a moment, continuing to glance back and forth between them, before heaving out a sigh and rubbing her hand over her face with a frown.

"I'll drive you," she offered after a moment, and Steven's eyebrows raised slightly in surprise. Greg looked a little confused, but not particularly shocked. "I have to stop by anyway. Forms…" The doctor rolled her eyes, adjusting her coat. "Just give me a moment, I'll send in a few nurses to help you back into your wheelchair, and we can go-"

"Ohhh, no," Steven interrupted, raising both hands this time. Priyanka looked down at him - and Steven was suddenly reminded of why, exactly, he didn't talk back to her, ever - but he shook his head and forced himself to continue, "nope, I don't need help with that, I'm good, no nurses. Seriously, I think I'm already being humiliated enough at this point, I definitely don't need that." Both Priyanka and his father frowned when he said that, and Priyanka looked about ready to argue, but Steven was already twisting to pull himself up off of the bed - and Greg quickly moved over to help him, much to the hybrid's chagrin. "No nurses needed. All good."

Priyanka watched for a moment, then sighed, obviously disapproving, but thankfully not arguing. "Very well." She opened the door again and headed out, leaving it open this time, and Steven let out a slightly victorious grunt as he managed to push himself off of the bed and onto his good foot, while Greg pushed the wheelchair up to the bed with a slightly worried frown.

"Guess the medicine helped a little, huh?"

"Guess so," Steven muttered, reaching forward slightly to grab onto the back of the wheelchair, and turning himself around so he could sit back into it. Greg moved over to grab his shoulder, easing him back into it carefully. "I didn't think it would," he admitted, "since I'm not human."

"You're half human," Greg reminded him again, and Steven rolled his eyes. "So maybe it half works." He reached out slightly, hand hovering over the hybrid's head - most likely to ruffle his hair - and, though he did grimace slightly, Steven was willing to allow him one - but his father pulled away after a moment, seemingly thinking better of it. "You ready for this, bud?"

"No," Steven mumbled, twisting his mouth slightly. Greg heaved out a quiet sigh - which Steven was easily able to deduce, likely meant his father wasn't ready, either - but he said nothing else as he walked around to stand behind the wheelchair, rolling him out of the room.

Steven narrowed his eyes slightly, glancing toward nurses and doctors as they waved at him while they passed, and lifted his hand slightly to offer half-hearted waves back at them before turning his attention back to his father. "So, what are you gonna do?" He leaned back a little, using his good leg to shift the other one over a little, and wincing slightly as he did so. "Gonna… like… stay in the crazy house, too? Help 'supervise' me?" He rolled his eyes again.

"I don't know if I'm allowed to," Greg responded slowly, furrowing his eyebrows as Steven tilted his head to look back up at him after a moment. "But I know there's visiting hours, so…" He glanced down at the hybrid, offering a small smile. "I'll be there as often as I can."

"Great," Steven sighed, and even he couldn't tell whether he was being genuine or sarcastic at that point. Honestly, he figured, it was probably a little bit of both at this point. Caught in the middle. He fell silent for a moment, thinking that over. Visiting hours… so he wouldn't be stuck with strangers all the time, then? At the very least, Greg could come by, and then Steven might have a valid excuse not to interact with anybody else there. Hell, maybe Jasper could… ah, no, no, he couldn't - shouldn't - think like that, he couldn't rely on Jasper for company, not after everything that had happened. She'd be busy with Little Homeschool, anyway. And the gems… "... are you gonna tell the gems?" He asked slowly, glancing back up at Greg.

"Ah…" Greg grimaced slightly, narrowing his eyes as he stared ahead now. It was kind of funny, seeing his expression shift like that at the mere mention of the gems. He couldn't recall a time his father had ever been upset at any of them. At least, not like this. But it was definitely somewhat… comforting, if he was being honest, to know that he wasn't the only one that was. "I mean… yeah, I'm gonna tell them. They deserve to know, at least, and I've gotta talk to them anyway." His father paused, frowning. "But if you don't want them visiting, that's totally fair."

"Good, I don't," Steven replied pleasantly, allowing a brief smile to appear on his face before he let it drop again, twisting his mouth back into the seemingly permanent scowl he usually wore. "Might as well make the best out of this and take the chance to get away from them for a while."

"You'll be getting away from them for a while anyway," Greg grumbled, and Steven glanced back up again, furrowing his eyebrows. "I don't trust them to take care of you. Especially not now," his father sighed, shaking his head slightly. "I don't know what I'm gonna do, but, I'll figure something out. But I think it's best for you to stay with me for a while anyway, once you get out of the facility." He glanced down at Steven, then looked ahead again. "Just… in case…"

"Mm." Steven studied him for a moment, then looked away. Well, he had to say, he was somewhat impressed, definitely - at least Greg really was taking this seriously, after all. Taking him seriously - for what was, quite possibly, the first time in his entire life. Now if only he could somehow convince him to let up juuuust enough to not have to go to the mental hospital.

Priyanka met them by the door, spinning her keys. She paused when she saw them, stepping back and pulling the door open for Greg to roll the wheelchair through. "Got everything?"

"Everything important," Greg replied, glancing down at Steven, and the hybrid rolled his eyes once again. He was silent as Greg pushed the wheelchair through the door, and Priyanka took up the lead after a moment to take them to her car, pressing a button to unlock it and opening one of the back doors. This time, Steven reluctantly accepted the help when Greg moved forward to help him up out of the wheelchair, since Jasper wasn't there to pick him up and move him around herself; he hissed a few times as his leg bumped against the bottom of the car, but it wasn't too hard to pull himself in once he had managed to get up and onto his feet. "Buckle," Greg told him sternly, and Steven made a face, but reached up to do as he was told anyway.

It wasn't long before they got the wheelchair folded and packed into the car, and Priyanka slid into the driver's seat while Greg eventually got in the passenger's seat up front, after Steven insisted he didn't need his father to sit with him because he was just injured, not an infant.

Steven looked out the window as they started driving, staring out for a moment, then furrowed his eyebrows and glanced ahead. "How long until we get there?"

Priyanka glanced at him through the mirror. "It's about an hour long drive, give or take."

Steven twisted his mouth slightly, thinking about that, then closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest of the seat, letting his shoulders droop. Maybe not the ideal sleeping position, but he had definitely slept in worse positions regardless. "Perfect," he mumbled. "Just wake me up when we get there, then." It was time to give himself a little break, some relief from the outside world, take a moment to unwind, and… see what his pink twin had to say about this.

He was both curious and apprehensive - but, then, when was he ever not?

Chapter Text

Steven shivered, leaning forward slightly and looking around with a frown.

He didn't recognize where he was, not at first; the hybrid pinched his eyebrows together, silently pushing himself to his feet. His movements felt… off, but he ignored the discomfort in order to focus on his surroundings first, sweeping his gaze around wordlessly. It took him a moment to recognize the beach - and he only did because of the temple gem, the giant statue looming over him. But something else was wrong; something was missing. It took a good minute or so of looking around for him to realize that the beach house was gone, leaving behind only the wide mouth of the cave that was the temple, the statue's hands cupped in front of it. Steven rubbed his eyes, genuinely baffled now, and ventured forward to check it out.

Something was wrong here, but he couldn't quite place it. Every second that passed brought more and more confusion, and nostalgia; he recognized the place, obviously, but he hadn't seen the temple like this since he was a kid. He'd sit in the back of Greg's van and watch the gems as they built the beach house… the hybrid shook his head furiously, pushing the thoughts back and slowing slightly as he finally reached the cave, and grimacing slightly as he stared inside.

"Guys?" He called, wincing at the way his voice echoed around the hollow temple, heart sinking slightly at the realization that it was empty. He gripped one of the fingers of the temple gem's hand, turning away completely to scan the beach instead. He wasn't exactly on good terms with the gems, but right then, as confused as he was, he'd rather have them there to help him figure this out, because he was completely at a loss here… "Oh, no, no, no," he chided himself, rubbing his face furiously, "you don't need them, you don't need their help, Steven. Come on." He took a few steps away from the temple, taking another quick look around. The temple was different - would the rest of the town be? Maybe he could go find Lapis and Peridot. They'd probably know what was going on- and accepting their help would be much easier than…

"Come live with us in the temple…"

Steven paused, turning his head slightly to the side. The voices were so faint, so distant, that the hybrid could have easily passed it off as his imagination - but curiosity and confusion hit harder than the disdain he felt for the gems in any case. He knew their voices, he knew what they sounded like when they sang - it was them, without a doubt. The words they were saying, though, left him more than bewildered; it was familiar, something he'd heard before, but maybe not from them, exactly. The hybrid steeled himself, curling his lips back slightly as he turned.

Sure enough, Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl stood on the warp pad, far enough away that Steven managed to force himself to relax just a little. But, before he could bask in the relief, the gems were stepping down and walking towards him - and something else struck him just as fast, the fact that they looked much more different than Steven had expected them to. He furrowed his eyebrows and stared at them for a moment, too confused to care about their approach, but he did finally return his attention back to them when they started singing once again. "There's a room waiting for you…" Amethyst stepped forward, extending a hand.

"Come on…"

Pearl was next, stepping forward with Amethyst and holding her hand out. "Come on…"

Garnet stepped forward, between them, and offered her hand along with the other two; Steven stared down at the gem, somewhat blankly. Sapphire. "Come on…"

"Just let us adore you," the gems crooned, hands curling into fists briefly before they started walking forward again. This time, their approach was faster; it startled Steven enough for him to stumble back a few steps, eyebrows furrowing slightly as he glanced between them. This was definitely all wrong; he wasn't sure why, but he felt… unsettled. Uneasy. Scared. The hybrid blinked a few times, struggling to focus, and took a few good steps back as the gems continued toward him. "Come live with us in the temple! There's a room waiting for you…~!"

"Come on!"
"Come on!"
"Come on!"

"Just let us adore you!" They were approaching faster now; Steven almost tripped over his own feet in his haste to get away from them, lifting his hands. "Yes, we know that you're not her…" Sour looks flickered across their faces for a second; Pearl looked away from him, scowling.

Steven froze. The realization hit him hard enough to leave him breathless, mouth going dry as he recognized exactly why this felt familiar, and why he felt much more afraid than he had expected to be. He recoiled, but didn't move back this time, as the gems walked toward him. "But you were her." Amethyst raised her hands toward him, beaming, while Pearl reluctantly flicked her gaze back toward him and offered a smile. "We know what it meant to love her…"

"Don't…" Steven warned, but his voice was drowned out by theirs just as easily, as if he hadn't even spoken to begin with. It was like he was there, but he wasn't - he was right in front of them, they were there, he was there, but they weren't really seeing him. And, honestly? He should be used to that by now. The fact that, when they looked at him, they saw someone else.

So why wasn't he? "And you remind us so much of her~!"

Steven gritted his teeth, positively furious now. "You sorry sons of bitches…" He seethed, cheeks flushing, burning warm and pink. This time, the heat seared through him like fire, burning him straight to the core. He felt like it was ripping him apart from the inside out, flames ready to consume him the moment he allowed it. But, no, not yet - he couldn't self-destruct yet. But he was going to make the gems regret the day they ever asked him to move into the temple with them; he was going to make them regret every bad thing they'd ever done, and said, and every time they'd ever compared him to his mother. The hybrid raised a hand, scowling.

"This…" He clenched his fist, gem pulsing, "is for everything you put me through-!"

"Today…"

Steven flinched slightly despite himself, startled. Not because of the interruption, but because of the voice. He recognized it quicker than he had recognized the gems' - and, of course he did. It was his own voice. He recoiled, watching the gems for a moment longer before finally dropping his hand and turning to look behind him. He wasn't surprised to see… well, himself. But it didn't stop him from tensing up instinctively; because the Steven staring back at him was smaller, chubbier, and much…  much  more innocent than he was now. The heat consuming him faded almost at once, the pinkness receding and vanishing completely as he stared in shock. That was him. Smaller, and sweeter, and everything Steven used to be. Before… before…

"Oh, no…" He turned, looking toward Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl for a moment, before spinning around to face his younger counterpart. The younger Steven was making his way forward with a smile, innocent and trusting as he'd always been - honestly, everything inside of him ached, and stung with the reminder that this wasn't who he was anymore, the innocent, loving child - but he didn't have time to dwell on that, not for long. "Hey- hey, don't go to them, they don't-"

"Right here." Steven's protests fell short, leaving a bitter taste on his tongue as his younger self moved past him, ignoring his outstretched hands, and his warnings, and his pleas, and continuing toward the gems with the same soft, happy smile on his face. "Right now…"

"Wait- stop-!" Steven raised his voice slightly, stumbling forward now and reaching out for the younger version of himself, struggling to catch his attention and make him stop. He reached for his shoulder, but his hand passed right through - which, truthfully, was a rather scarring experience - but he didn't give himself the chance to think about it too much yet. He was panicking; every part of him was trembling, every muscle in his body pulled taut with terror. Terror that felt so, achingly irrational and yet, somehow, completely justified at the same time. "What're you doing? They're gonna- they're going to-"

"They'll love again," the younger Steven interrupted softly, as the gems stepped forward to meet him, stretching their hands out for him. "They've already found someone…"

"Just let us adore you!"

"Today…" No.
"Come live with us in the temple!" No…
"Right here!" No…!
"There's a room waiting for you…!" No!
"Right now!" NO!
"They'll love again…!" STOP IT!

"Stop it…" Steven clenched his teeth, stumbling forward and reaching out for his younger self once again. They just kept singing, all of them; it was disorienting, it was- it was terrifying, it was surreal. His mind was spinning, heart racing, desperately trying to come up with some kind of explanation as to why, why this was happening, how this was happening, and what the hell was going on. But he couldn't think; their voices, the song, the desperation, it drowned everything out, every clear thought, every sense of clarity he had left was slowly, but surely, melting away. "Stop it!" He finally raised his voice, screaming loud enough to shake the temple; the gems didn't react, but he was somewhat relieved to see his younger self flinch and freeze - because, thank god, someone was acknowledging him. "They're just- using you! You're not Mom!"

The younger Steven tilted his head to look up at the gems, and Steven held his breath, waiting. Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl had stopped, crouching down, arms outstretched for the child; but the hybrid couldn't fight back the overwhelming relief that slammed right into him when his younger self finally turned to face him, the smile gone, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Steven stepped forward, offering his own hand now. "You don't have to go with them," he breathed, swallowing hard, struggling to push down the lump in his throat. "You don't have to be like…"

His younger self's expression softened, a smile replacing the concerned frown that had previously been etched across his face, as he turned his head to glance over his shoulder, toward where the gems were standing. "Yes… I know that I'm not her…" The younger Steven paused and looked down for a moment, and Steven felt every bit of relief immediately fizzle out. "But I was her…"

"That doesn't-" Steven's throat closed up, briefly unable to speak, "that's not-"

"They know what it meant to love her." His younger self glanced up at him and smiled again, warm as ever. There was no pain, no bitterness in his eyes; every bit of the exhaustion and hatred that Steven felt so often now these days just didn't exist. Somehow, he was happy. Somehow, by some miracle, he had been happy. He wondered when that had changed. He wondered when it had stopped being genuine, and started being an act. But then, he wondered, if maybe it had always been an act - and if maybe he'd been a better actor than he'd realized. "And I'll remind them so much of her." The younger Steven lifted a hand, smiling softly at him, then turned and crossed the distance between him and the gems before Steven could speak.

"Today…"
"Right here…"
"Right now…"

"No…" Steven finally managed to stumble forward a few steps, staring at them in confusion now, rather than desperation. As Garnet crouched down and wrapped her arms around his younger self, lifting him up with a smile; he threw his arms around her neck and giggled as the other two joined in, burying his face into Garnet's shoulder with a soft, content sigh. "But…" The hybrid faltered with one hand raised, stretched toward them, and slowly lowered it again.

"We'll love again…" The gems turned away from him completely, and Steven recoiled, silent now, as he watched them walk away, toward the warp pad. There was nothing left to say.

His younger self lifted his head after a moment, looking up at Garnet, before turning his head to stare past her. His gaze met Steven's; the smile on his face only faltered briefly, but the warmth in his eyes didn't fade. If anything, it seemed to get stronger, as he crossed his arms over Garnet's shoulders and lifted a hand to wave at Steven. "They've finally found someone…"

Steven opened his mouth, but he still couldn't find anything to say. They were gone before his brain could conjure up any words to spit back out, anything that might make this younger version of himself turn away from the gems. But, he quickly realized, that might be the least of his worries; because, one moment, they were there - and then he blinked, and they were gone. The warp pad hadn't activated. They hadn't even been close enough to it  for  it to activate. The hybrid stumbled back a few steps, and just stared at where they had been, stunned into silence. Even the feeling of something crawling up his spine, sending shivers up and down the back of his neck, wasn't enough to snap him out of his shocked daze, just staring ahead numbly. Something had just happened- something weird, and unexplainable, and of all the weird things he had seen in his life, this, quite possibly, was the weirdest thing yet. He didn't understand. He didn't understand where the gems had gone, why there had been a younger version of him, or why his heart was still pounding hard enough that Steven could feel it up to his throat, or why the terror twisting in his gut was only churning faster, gradually accompanied by nausea.

He held his breath, only half conscious of what he was doing, and deciding after a moment that he simply didn't care about it regardless. For a moment, he felt about ready to pass out; he was lightheaded, dizzy, and more than willing to let himself crumble to the ground and let go entirely. His heart thudded, chest aching at the thought, and he blinked a few times as he tried to focus. Wondering why the fear was getting stronger, and more intense, like he was in danger…

After a moment, the hybrid lifted a hand to rub at his eyes - only to jerk it back slightly before he'd had the chance to completely shut them, stretching them open as wide as he could just to make sure that what he was seeing was real. He held his other hand up, keeping them level with his face for a moment, and took a few steps away as if - miraculously - he might be able to escape what he was seeing. But, of course, he couldn't put distance between himself and his own hands, and he couldn't put distance between himself and the gloves that he was wearing. The hot pink gloves that stretched all the way up to his elbows. Ones he recognized instantly.

Steven looked himself over quickly, no longer holding his breath- but breathing so heavily, now, he still felt on the verge of passing out. Thankfully, he was still him - still shorter than Pink Diamond, still fleshy and half-human. Unfortunately, though, it didn't end with the gloves; seeing the dress - her dress - on him was like a blast from the past, a rush of nostalgia that hit him so hard he physically stumbled and staggered back again, still holding his hands up as if he were afraid to touch himself at this point. "Oh, no… no, no, no," he mumbled, turning his hands over.

"Oh, Piiiink!"

Despite himself, Steven reacted; he flinched and turned, staggering back instinctively and lifting his gaze high to stare at who had called out to him - and, honestly, who else would it have been but White fucking Diamond? She looked taller than the hybrid remembered; he swallowed, hard, as he backed away from her a little more. He half expected the familiar rush of anger, the blind hatred and fury that had engulfed him when he had faced her on Homeworld. Now, he only felt complete, utter terror; the terror he had felt when he was just a kid, pinned and struggling against her grip and trying to plead with her to listen to him, to let him go and talk things out. It was enough to leave him breathless for a second; it wasn't a sentiment he wasn't used to, obviously. That kind of fear never really went away. But he'd managed to bury a lot of that, regardless - managed to find other things to focus on and think about while he was with her.

It didn't feel possible now; staring at her, he could only think back to when she had wrapped her hand around him and held him effortlessly, pinching her fingers around his gem and ignoring when he finally started screaming, the white-hot pain becoming more and more unbearable by the second, until, finally, when it was over, it was just numb, and dark, and completely nothing. His head throbbed as his heart did, leaving him dizzy once again.

White grinned down at him, her arms stretched out beside her the way they had been when he'd first met her; that alone was enough to make him recoil, grimacing slightly as he stepped back. "What's the matter, Starlight?" She crouched down, moving one of her hands to the ground in front of him; the hybrid flinched slightly despite himself, shoulders tensing, pupils shrinking. He couldn't move… why couldn't he move? He couldn't run, he couldn't back away any further, he couldn't do anything - it was just like it had been then, only, somehow worse - because she hadn't gotten to him yet, he still had a chance to get away,  why wasn't he fucking moving-

She reached for him, and everything-

Everything stopped.


Steven was gasping for air as he sat up, clasping one hand over his chest and one over his mouth. His back throbbed and stung - and for a moment, he was almost confused, until he remembered his injuries. The realization set in instantly; god, of course, he should have known right off the bat that it had just been a nightmare… he rubbed his hand over his face, still shaking slightly, still in shock, and still struggling to compose himself. Honestly, he shouldn't have gotten so scared; he shouldn't have froze up like that. He'd had nightmares before. Especially nightmares about White! Nothing could possibly be worse than the reality - or even, for that matter, the nightmares he had afterwards. The hybrid rubbed his arms over his face, hunching over slightly and ignoring the pain searing through his back, and his right leg.

"Steven?" He flinched at first, then raised his head quickly, recognizing the voice instantly. Well, it was hard not to, considering him and his brother sounded pretty similar - of course, there was a difference in tone, and his twin's pitch, even, was a little lower regardless, somewhat deeper than Steven's, but it was still basically the same. He breathed in shakily, settling one hand over his mouth for a moment before dropping his arms entirely and looking up at his brother. His gem half leaned forward a little, as far as the chains would allow, and reached a bubbled hand out toward him slightly. Steven only exhaled, shoulders drooping. "It's alright, you're safe."

"Yeah…" Steven shook his head, then nodded, taking in another breath. Okay, right, he was safe. White Diamond wasn't there, the gems weren't there… his younger self wasn't there. It was just him and his brother - and, honestly, he'd never been more relieved to see him. He glanced up at his twin, catching his gaze once again; this time, calming down, he was able to see the concern flickering through his eyes, eyebrows pinched so close together that they were nearly touching, and a deep frown was written across his face. He didn't drop his arm, and, after a moment, the hybrid reluctantly lifted his own hand and held it out, letting it hover over the bubble for a moment before slowly lowering it. "I'm safe… I'm okay," he mumbled, more so to reassure himself than his twin, but he watched his gem half relax slightly regardless. "... kinda."

"Kinda," his twin echoed, a small smile tugging at his lips briefly, before it melted into a concerned look once again. But he turned his gaze to Steven's hand, instead, as the hybrid lightly rubbed his thumb over one of the jagged edges of the bubble. Once again, the teenager found himself wondering if the bubbles… hurt him. Physically. Honestly, it looked like it might… "It doesn't hurt," his brother murmured, and Steven glanced up for a second, then looked down at the bubbles again. "Don't worry. I'm alright. Besides-" He lifted his other hand slightly, tugging at the chains a bit as he did so, and offered Steven a slight grin. "I think they're wearing down."

"Really?" Steven flicked his gaze to the other bubble, and then to the chains. Sure enough, they looked a little more strained than before; the cracks in the tiles below them had grown and spread, and the chains themselves looked close to snapping. It was an… oddly comforting sight, if Steven was being completely honest. It meant, maybe, his brother was close to being free - which was another weight off of Steven's shoulders, a load off of his mind. The hybrid swallowed, rubbing his arm over his face, the nightmare - thankfully - forgotten for the time being. "That's good… guess you really don't need my help, huh?"

His brother chuckled. "I do appreciate the offer, though."

"Mm." Steven reluctantly pulled his hand away from the bubble after a moment, and his twin finally lowered his own hand back to the floor, seeming content now that Steven had relaxed for the most part. The hybrid sank back, using his good leg to shift the other one over a little so that he could stretch it out as much as possible. He winced slightly as he did so, but relaxed quickly enough. They were silent for a while; his twin eventually heaved himself to his feet and lifted his arms over his head, pulling on the chains, and Steven resigned himself to merely watching.

It was a while before either of them spoke; with his brother just working on the chains, and Steven just watching, there wasn't too much to talk about yet - at least, until Steven remembered, exactly, what he had wanted to talk to his twin about. He had a feeling the pink gem already knew regardless, but he was likely waiting for Steven to bring it up. Which, honestly, the hybrid respected, and was rather grateful for, but he wasn't exactly sure how to. He puffed his cheeks out, looking down for a moment, and furrowed his eyebrows when the chains suddenly stopped rattling. "I assume you want my thoughts on the mental hospital situation," his brother began, turning his head slightly to look down at him, and Steven sighed.

"Well, you're the rational one," he muttered, leaning back and propping himself up on his hands. It seemed to be the most comfortable position at this point, while he was here. Honestly, he was just happy to be out of that goddamn wheelchair… "How am I supposed to… feel about this?"

"You know exactly what I'm going to say to that."

Steven thought for a moment, then snorted. "'Nobody can tell you how to feel, blah blah blah, emotions aren't a choice, blah blah blah'..." He trailed off as his brother huffed out a laugh, this time watching as his pupils shifted into the familiar diamond shapes, and - even surprising himself - he couldn't keep back a smile of his own as he shook his head at his pink twin. "What? I think I nailed it," he mumbled, and his brother only chuckled. "I mean… ugh, I know… but…" He rolled his shoulders back, letting his head fall back after a moment, and frowned. "I'm so… I don't- I don't want to have to- stay somewhere for- who knows how long and be 'supervised'."

His brother was silent for a moment, looking thoughtful, then turned and continued tugging on the chains, offering a quiet hum before he spoke. "Well… I wouldn't expect you to be comfortable with the situation, Steven. It's… different. It's change- and it's a scary one. You've never been in a situation like this before." The hybrid only sighed, closing his eyes for a moment, and his gem twin, once again, fell silent for a few seconds before continuing quietly, "but… if you really want my thoughts on the matter, I believe it might be good for you. Not because I think you need to be supervised, but because it is an entirely new experience." Lifting his arms over his head, the pink gem paused and glanced over at him. "The way it was before wasn't working, Steven. I'm sorry, but it wasn't. Maybe you don't need to be watched twenty-four seven, of course, I understand it's only going to tear your nerves up - but a little bit of supervision won't hurt. Somebody to be there when, or if, you do think about hurting yourself. Besides," he added, tugging on the chains again. "They said your therapist will see you there. So it won't just be you being watched by a bunch of strangers - you'll get to know… Maria, yes?"

"That's her name… I think," Steven sighed, blowing his curls out of his face and looking up at the butterflies swirling around above them. They seemed a little further away, somehow, but Steven only tilted his head slightly at them before he turned his attention back to his brother. "I mean, yeah, but I-" He stopped for a second, struggling to figure out what he was feeling into words. Agitation, he knew, yes. Anger. Confusion. Fear? Seemed about right, as well.

"It's so stupid…" The hybrid squeezed his eyes shut. "I have to go to a… a place where there's a bunch of other crazy people, who are like me but also not like me, and I've never- I've never had to go to a mental hospital before. I've never had a- a 'mental illness', I've always been- I've always tried to be fine and now it's like- like- like everything's just suddenly gonna be out there in the open. Not only does my own family know how fucked up I am, but the entire world's gonna know it. Humans, and- and doctors, and my goddamn therapist- they're all gonna know how fucked up I am and how fucked up this is and how much I want to-" He stopped again, forcing himself to breathe in shakily, and his twin stopped and turned back to him to listen. "And there's nothing- nothing I can do about it. I can't just suddenly say 'oh hey, y'know what? I'm fine', and I can't go back to the gems and I can't stay with my dad and-" He gritted his teeth and blinked his eyes open, looking up at his gem half. "I- I mean, am I really that bad?"

"You're not bad at all, Steven." His twin lowered himself onto his knees, shifting the chains a little so that he could keep his hands in front of him. "You're hurting. And I understand. Dad understands. Dr. Maheswaran understands. Even Jasper, I think." He managed a faint smile in Steven's direction, and the hybrid managed to huff out a tired laugh in response. "There's nothing easy about admitting that you're not really okay. Especially when you've been trying to pretend that you are for as long as you have. It's a hard thing to admit, and an even harder thing to really understand and accept. You're not going to be okay with this right away, and you don't have to be. The point of this isn't to lock you up somewhere because you're a danger or a threat - it's placing you somewhere where people with proper training and knowledge can understand and help treat you better. It's about getting the care and the attention that you need right now."

Steven didn't say anything for a moment, eventually giving up and just letting himself lay flat on his back. He hissed through his teeth - the cuts were oddly sensitive right then - but he simply reminded himself to be glad that it wasn't his leg, and moved on. "See? Good at advice," he muttered, grimacing slightly. "And… yeah, I know all this, rationally, but I still can't help but think they're just moving me to the crazy house because I'm… crazy," he grunted, closing his eyes. "Maybe I am crazy… I just… I don't know what I want anymore. It's like, I want to be okay, but with everything it's taking to… to get there, it's like… I don't know if it's worth it, or not…"

"It is," his brother replied. "You are."

"Yeah, right." Steven huffed out a sigh, crossing one arm over his face and laying the other one flat out beside him. The chains rattled again, but he didn't move, even when he heard his brother straining at the chains once more. "... I don't know. Maybe," he mumbled after a moment, somewhat hesitantly. "Doesn't feel like I'm worth much these days. Or… anything." He let his arm slide down a little, covering his face with his hand now instead. "I'm just tired."

"I know you are." His twin fell silent for a moment. "But it can get better, my brother. Maybe it won't go away completely. Maybe it won't ever really be okay- but that is okay. If… eventually, you get to a place where you are genuinely happy, or at least content, it will be better."

"Yeah." Steven breathed in slowly, and let his breath out in another sigh, this one a little quieter than the last. He hated to admit it, but it sounded nice. Getting to a place where he was actually somewhat content. Where he didn't feel so conflicted all the time, so angry, and hurt, and confused, and bitter. It didn't feel possible right then, but maybe his brother was right - maybe, one day, it would be possible. He just wasn't sure if he was patient enough to last that long. "Maybe it'll be worth it," he muttered. "If I can last that long, anyways."

"You lasted this long," his brother reminded him. "And now Dad knows. Now people know - people who can help you through this. And, you do have me," he added, and Steven peeked through his fingers to look up at him, raising an eyebrow as he watched his gem half tug on the chains. He stopped for a second to smile down at him, then continued what he was doing. "I'll be here for you regardless, but giving up… is one thing, I'm sorry to say, I'll never let you do. Believe it or not, Steven, I care about you far too much." After a moment, he added, "You've always believed in everybody else. That everyone can change, and get better, and be happy. And if you can't believe that for yourself, then I, for one, am happy to do so."

"That was pretty sappy," Steven muttered, rolling his eyes, but even he couldn't ignore the slight pressure building behind his eyes, the pricking of needle-like tears steadily brewing. He blinked them back, offering a halfhearted shrug and covering his face again. "S'at what I sounded like?"

"Haha." His gem half chuckled. "I'm being genuine, Steven."

"I know you are," Steven echoed his words from earlier, rubbing his arm over his face before eventually letting it drop to his side, and stretching it out across the tiled floor with a small frown. "I'm still skeptical. But I guess I don't have much of a choice here, do I?" He sighed, screwing his face up slightly and glaring up at the butterflies for a moment, before letting his gaze flick back over to his pink twin and raising an eyebrow. "I mean, I can't exactly leave…"

"Suppose not," his brother commented, tugging at the chains again and throwing him a wry smile in response, and Steven rolled his eyes again. "Accepting help might be your best bet."

"Where's the fun in that?" Steven retorted, earning another slight chuckle out of his pink twin, as he lifted his arms over his head again. Steven fell silent for a moment, crossing his arms under his head, and frowned. Well, he had gotten the desired advice - and, of course, reassured himself in the fact that his gem twin was still definitely the logical one, and could actually somewhat convince him in giving the place a chance (though, if Steven was being honest, it would be rather half-assed on his part - he didn't actually believe the mental hospital would help him, and he was still rather skeptical on the therapy thing, too) - he just wasn't sure how to feel. Hell, he wasn't sure how to feel about any of this anymore. Aside from, obviously, dread.

He sighed and turned back to watching his brother, furrowing his eyebrows slightly as the pink gem continued straining with the chains. He wanted to help, but… he was pretty useless.

"On the contrary," his brother hummed, leaning back on his feet and pulling. "You being here is actually quite the motivator, if I'm honest." Almost as if to emphasize his point, Steven heard a small snap as one of the links in the chains gave way, and his brother inhaled sharply as he jerked his arm back; the chain had broken, snapping off where it had been stuck through the floor; Steven watched, wide-eyed and slowly pushing himself to sit up, as it steadily began to dissolve from the bottom, disappearing in small particles of light all the way up, until the bubble on his gem half's left hand vanished with a sharp, audible pop. His brother just stared.

"Well, shit…" Steven furrowed his eyebrows, unable to help a small smile despite himself. Well, it was certainly something to celebrate, mental hospital or not. "Look at that." His gem half managed a grin, still looking somewhat stunned for a moment, and Steven huffed out a laugh. "Hey, you're getting there… we need to think of something to call you…"

"There's plenty of time," his brother murmured, turning his hand over a few times to inspect it carefully, and clenching and unclenching his fist as he did so. He spread his fingers out, the surprise steadily fizzling away to relief, his circular pupils once again shifting into diamonds. This time, they stayed that way - and, now knowing what it meant when that happened, Steven, surprisingly, couldn't really bring himself to feel upset. His gem half threw him a smile, warm and genuine, and the hybrid found the corners of his lips tugging upwards before he even realized it. Funny, he'd started out hating this pink clone of his with a passion, and how he seemed to be one of few people that Steven could actually tolerate at this point. Regardless, he did find himself somewhat glad that the chains were finally giving way. His pink brother was… well, he was actually a pretty nice guy. And Steven had to admit, he was growing somewhat attached. Which was equal measures surprising and relieving - the fact that he could still be attached.

"Your pain may outweigh everything else right now, Steven," his gem half reminded him, "but that doesn't mean you're incapable of feeling some good things, too. Which-" His brother threw him another grin, and Steven rolled his eyes - albeit good naturedly this time - as he continued, "just means there's still hope left, right?"

Steven studied him for a moment, then huffed out a sigh, eventually relenting. "Maybe." Maybe there was. Maybe there wasn't. Maybe sometimes he would be too tired, or too frustrated to care - but, right then, maybe he could… try to accept that his brother was right. Just…

… maybe.

Chapter Text

Steven spent most of their time just watching his brother tug on the remaining chain, struggling to break it like he had done with the other one. Toward the end, though, his pink twin seemed to give up for a little while, seemingly taking a break - which, Steven couldn't really blame him for, he'd already broken one of the chains anyway, so he certainly deserved a rest - and settling himself back down on the floor, crossing his legs over the tiles and turning his attention to his free hand. Once again, Steven watched him clench and unclench his fist, spreading his fingers out silently before curling them inwards again. He wondered how disorienting it was - to suddenly be free, to have some control. He wondered how much control his brother had now. The way he was looking at his own hand, moving it around the way he was - once again, he found himself nearly consumed in guilt. How long had it been since he'd been able to do so?

His brother looked up at him, but he didn't say anything. Only offered a small, calm smile before extending his hand to Steven wordlessly; the hybrid blinked down at his hand, sparing a glance toward his face every now and again - before, finally, realizing what his brother wanted him to do. He quirked an eyebrow toward the pink gem for a moment, but eventually lifted his hand to his brother's in return, lightly pressing his palm against his gem half's. For a moment, the other just stared; Steven watched his diamond-shaped pupils shrink, and widen once again, looking down at their hands with a briefly startled expression, before curling his fingers with Steven's.

Steven decided right then and there that it didn't matter whether or not his brother let him help, but he certainly wasn't going to let him go through any of this alone any longer. His gem half was there for him, despite all of this - Steven only found it appropriate to return the favor. It seemed like they could both use a little extra support; even through all the pain, and guilt, and bitterness that Steven was feeling, he found himself steadily growing attached, slowly wanting to learn more about his brother, slowly learning to accept his help - or, at least, his advice, anyway - even if only in small amounts. Even if he didn't quite feel like he deserved it. Even if it was, quite possibly, one of the hardest things he had to do - but he could still say with certainty that whether he wanted to or not, he was already growing fond of his pink twin, and that was that.

"I'll always be here." His brother looked up at him and smiled, while Steven only gave his hand a slight squeeze in response, closing his eyes. Well, he didn't need to be reminded of that; as it was, his brother couldn't exactly leave, anyway. Regardless - he knew what his gem half meant, and he was grateful. He really was. He just wished he knew why it wasn't as hard for him to let his pink twin in as it was for him to let anyone else in - and he wondered whether he'd ever be able to open up to anyone else. "You will," the pink gem hummed. "You'll figure it out, Steven."

"Yeah." Steven stared down at their hands for a moment before looking back up at his brother, offering a simple one-shouldered shrug in response. "Just hope it isn't too late."

His pink twin's lips twitched slightly, looking up at him. He didn't say anything for a moment, moving closer as much as the chains would allow him to. And, after a bit of hesitation, Steven shifted to scoot himself forward, wincing slightly as the movement jarred his leg; his brother let go of his hand to grab his arm instead, keeping a careful hold as the hybrid moved forward.

"You need to be more careful," his brother chided, and Steven only let out a low huff in response, offering him a slightly mocking look. He twisted, forcing his leg to move along with him and finally managing to get close enough to sink back beside him, finally within arm's reach. His twin seemed to hesitate, lifting his arm toward him now, then slowly lowered his hand to press it over Steven's shoulder; the hybrid only shut his eyes and leaned his head back, moving one hand behind him to prop himself up slightly. He was oddly content to just sit there with his brother for as long as he could - but, he had a feeling it wasn't going to last too long. He didn't know how time worked in here, but he was sure it must have been close to an hour out there. His brother paused, glancing over at him for a moment, and furrowed his eyebrows slightly.

Steven already knew what was coming - he could feel it, the concern, the longing - and it was somewhat akin to what he imagined his brother went through regularly, being able to feel what he was feeling, to read him like an open book. Steven was slowly learning how to do that, himself, when it came to his pink twin - and now, more than ever, it was as strong as could be. Odd thing was, though, this time, Steven didn't quite have a reason to protest to what his brother was thinking right then, because honestly, at this point, it was better than nothing. His twin wanted to heal him, and even though the hybrid would rather him worry about getting free than worry about fixing his stupid mistake, he had to admit, it would make things a lot easier… "I don't know," he mumbled, closing his eyes and leaning his head back. "God, I don't know. I hate being like this, but- I-" He huffed out a tired laugh, blinking his eyes open again with a frown. "... I think- I think it's the only thing keeping me from…" He trailed off, shaking his head.

It wasn't a lie; right then, if he was honest, the fact that he was already in a shitton amount of pain was probably the only thing keeping him from hurting himself further. He already wanted to; he was already having dangerous urges, and thoughts. He was already thinking about it, more and more - and honestly, he felt somewhat obsessed with the idea of causing himself pain purely for the hell of it. Not even just because he deserved it. Or because he wanted to. It felt irrational, it felt reckless, and it felt like the same kind of adrenaline he had felt while he was fighting his mother, or when he'd held the knife in his hand, holding it out to her, preparing himself for the worst - or,  or , when he had sat there in his car, driving as fast as he could, just to escape, to get away. And then when he had crashed, and the split-second rush of excitement…

He needed it. He needed it bad. And the fact that he was already in so much pain as it was, that was the only thing keeping him from jumping off the deep end again, and giving himself hell.

His brother didn't say anything, but he didn't need to - Steven could feel the conflicted emotions radiating from him, the painful twisting in his own chest that he knew belonged solely to the pink clone next to him. Because Steven didn't feel afraid, or upset, or uneasy when he thought about hurting himself - but his brother did, and even if Steven couldn't feel it from him, he could still see it written all over his pink twin's face regardless. He could see the uncertainty, the indecisiveness, the split second of panic - it was a (somewhat reassuring) reminder that he didn't have all the answers, either. He was lost, too. Maybe not as much as Steven was, but…

… but, he didn't have to have all the answers. Steven wasn't going to rely on him to be the 'therapist' here, he wasn't going to do the same thing the gems used to do to him and use him to dump all his problems on - no. That wasn't how it was going to work between them. For once, just once, he wanted a stable fucking relationship with somebody; he… he wanted to start over with somebody. Clean slate, fresh start, and his pink twin was the closest thing he'd get to that. He didn't know what having a brother was like, but he did know that he wanted it to be different from the other relationships he had. But how would it be different if he did what the gems did?

"You're not doing what the gems did," his brother told him firmly, and Steven breathed in shakily as he felt a steady arm wrap around him. He tensed slightly at first - not because he didn't want to be touched, but more so because he was afraid of hurting himself even further - but his pink twin went still after that to let him adjust, keeping his arm where it was and being careful not to apply too much pressure. And, after a moment, Steven slowly relaxed, breathing out slowly. "You're allowed to tell me how you feel, Steven. I'm not going to get upset at you." And- god- that alone was enough to make the hybrid's throat close up, restricting violently as he tried to swallow, pushing tears to his eyes; he sank sideways, more of an effort to make himself smaller than anything, but his brother caught him just as easily, letting him lean against him. "It's okay."

"It doesn't feel okay," Steven muttered, and the air felt cold between his teeth, stinging at his throat as he finally managed to breathe in again. He frowned a little, tilting his head upwards for a moment. He could feel a breeze, faint but there, brushing against his skin - he must be close to waking up. And, god, that alone was enough to make him shuffle a little closer to his pink twin, wanting to hold on, and stay for as long as he could possibly manage. He wasn't ready to wake up, to face his father and Priyanka again, and go… there. His brother only sighed, raising his hand to smooth the hybrid's hair down lightly, and Steven leaned his head back with a frown.

"It's going to be okay." His brother looked down at him and smiled, pupils shifting again, taking on the familiar diamond shapes. "I'm here, remember?" He nodded toward the teenager's stomach, and Steven looked down at it for a second, resting one hand over it and rubbing his thumb over his gem, lightly tracing it in silence. "Besides, you can come back anytime, right?"

"Yeah." Steven exhaled slowly, closing his eyes. "Maybe I can spend the entire visit here-"

"Mm, maybe not the entire visit," his brother corrected lightly, but he sounded somewhat amused as he pulled his arm away from the hybrid with a chuckle. "Some of it, though, sure."

Steven didn't respond immediately; he offered a soft sigh and nodded, sitting up straight again and finally releasing his grip on whatever control he had over this place. He could feel himself slipping almost immediately, the breeze on his skin turning into the feeling of full-out wind smacking against his face, and he flinched slightly, curling in on himself and raising a hand against it in a half-hearted attempt to shield both his face and his hair from the assault.


And he found himself awake with both hands raised, arms shielding his face. The wind was worse now; coming directly from Priyanka's window as she drove. She had been speaking, but cut off abruptly by the time Steven had actually managed to tune in to whatever she might have been saying; regardless, the hybrid only blinked rapidly a few times, shifting as much as his back would allow before slowly lowering his hands again and turning his gaze to the two adults up front. Greg was grimacing; a swift glance was enough to tell Steven that the conversation he'd unintentionally interrupted had certainly not been pleasant for his father, so it was safe to say that they had either been talking about him, or Priyanka was lecturing him again. And, speaking of Priyanka, she was now glancing back at him through the mirror as she drove. "Woke up just in time, Steven," the doctor informed him. "We're almost at the facility."

Still half-asleep and too tired to respond coherently, Steven only let out a groan, silently clasping his hand over his face. He did notice, however, unlike the last time he had fallen asleep and woken up, he felt somewhat better than when he had been awake. The numbness in his leg was just that; numb, with hardly any pain accompanying it. Hell, at the moment, the only pain had been directed to his back. Not just his lower back, at the base of his spine, but the cuts. And that kind of pain was refreshing, but still jarring nonetheless - because it made his entire body ache with longing, the sting of the wounds almost seeming to call out for him, asking for more.

His spine tingled at the thought, a pure rush of excitement all the way up, and he swallowed it down, reminding himself that these thoughts weren't supposed to be exciting. They weren't supposed to induce the kind of adrenaline that Steven felt when they came, the thrill and relief. But even then, it didn't make him want it any less - but he did manage to redirect his attention. He rubbed his hand over his face lightly, scrubbing hard at the skin as if trying to relieve an itch - but the only itch was the exhaustion still lingering, clouding up his brain and leaving him somewhat unable to think straight. So, what he did end up thinking about was the fact that he was completely unprepared to go to the mental hospital, only expecting a short visit to the doctor, and hadn't even brought anything with him that would be necessary for the crazy house. What would be necessary for the crazy house, even? "Hey," he mumbled, lowering his hand, and Greg turned to look at him as Priyanka glanced up through the mirror once again, blinking. "I didn't bring any other clothes."

"Your father will be going back and bringing you what you need," Priyanka replied, focusing on the road again. "Until then, the facility will provide you with necessary clothing if needed." Steven didn't say anything, genuinely wondering how thought-through this really was after all, as Priyanka sighed and continued, "it's much safer. Typically family members or others are more preferred to pack essentials for the patients, seeing as some use the opportunity to sneak in harmful material or objects, such as drugs or knives. Oh- you will likely be searched, so they'll probably want you to change while you're there so they can check your clothes, considering…"

"I'm a suicidal maniac," Steven finished dryly, feeling a rush of anxiety almost immediately after the words had left him upon realizing that he had said that to Priyanka, when he had been trying so hard prior not to slip up around her as much; the doctor didn't seem too surprised, though, nor did she look particularly upset at him - despite the sour expression that crossed her face for a moment, but he guessed that had left to do with him in particular and more with his wording.

"Suicidal, yes. Maniac, no. Regardless, they like to take precautions."

Not like I need a knife to hurt myself anyway, his mind hissed, the reminder serving to be more comforting to the hybrid than it probably should have been. What are they gonna do? Clip my nails? Remembering how he could seemingly grow them out at will, it didn't seem like that would work how they wanted it to. But that was only considering he got a moment alone enough to be able to do that, and didn't get caught; but that, again, relied on whether or not he actually wanted to go through with it once he actually had the means and opportunity to do so. Sure, right then, it was a nice thought. But pulling his gem out had also been a nice thought, and he ended up not being able to do it. That and the fact that, again, he was already in enough pain - not necessarily right then, but he had a feeling it wasn't gonna last - was enough to halt him.

He stared out the window for a moment, slightly surprised when his stomach twisted - not with excitement, but with dread. For a moment, it almost felt like his own; sickeningly nauseating, anxiety and panic and pain welling up before he abruptly managed to push it back down again. It took him a moment to realize that the emotions weren't his own at all; everything around him seemed to blur for a second, feeling far away and surreal like he was dreaming. His head spun, racing with thoughts that didn't feel like his - but they were his? - no, they weren't hisNot Steven… His mind screamed and whispered at the same time, an eerie sense of calmness accompanied by the familiar feeling of anxiety. The conflict was enough to somewhat derail him; he blanked, almost completely, all at once, every thought draining slowly until finally the only thing left were the emotions, clashing together as if they were fighting in his chest, a battle of will to see which gave in first. For a moment, it almost stopped, and he half expected the emotions to settle; something felt oddly familiar about it. The emotions that weren't his own, the way his own thoughts slipped and vanished - replaced with new ones, ones that weren't his, but ones he still felt too strongly on a personal level to possibly be his brother's, too. It was familiar. And not only that; despite the brief panic that it brought, something about it felt right. Complete. Whole.

"Steven?" Greg called back to him, and the emotions were gone again; he sat rigid for a second, trying to recover from what had just happened. It felt like he had been slipping, like he wasn't in control of himself. Like every movement, every thought and action and emotion had steadily been ripped away from him one after the other, leaving him there but not quite… there. Readjusting wasn't easy; he found his hands trembling, his body already reacting to the familiar sensations that he had long gotten used to living without. Now he felt cold and somewhat numb - physically, that is - every part of him (his gem, especially) aching with no real reason for it. Regardless, still most definitely shaken, he finally did manage to react to the sound of his name; his gaze flicked up to his father after a moment, clasping his quivering hands over his stomach.

"You okay?" Greg frowned, twisting slightly in his seat to look back at him. Steven blinked a few times, still struggling to recover, but he managed a quick - somewhat instinctive, admittedly - nod in response to his father. Mostly because he didn't feel like explaining exactly what had just happened to him. Because he wasn't quite sure he knew how to explain it, in any case. Surprisingly, however, his father only frowned, wrapping his arm around the back of his seat and reaching out toward Steven slightly, despite the fact that he couldn't reach him. "Are you sure?"

Steven didn't respond this time; not a nod nor a shake of his head, and certainly not a verbal confirmation of denial. Still, his silence said it all regardless; Greg sighed, studying him for a moment, before quickly turning around and sitting back in his seat the right way when Priyanka took a turn and glared at him until he settled down again. "Here we are," the doctor spoke up after a moment, lifting her hand briefly from the steering wheel in order to point just ahead, and Steven reluctantly flicked his gaze up to look. It took him a moment to adjust to what he was seeing; there were several buildings around them, but they seemed to just be convenient stores and some houses. But, just ahead, in the distance, he noticed a bigger structure. It was about as big as the hospital - if not bigger, honestly - and it only seemed to get bigger as they drove. Big, bold letters were printed across the front of the building; Empire City Health Services.

"We're in Empire City?" Steven rubbed his face and looked around again, genuinely taken aback. He didn't recognize where they were at all. But now it made sense - the drive from Beach City to Empire City was about an hour or so (but if you were Steven and insisted on speeding, it was a half hour). Actually, now that he thought about it, where had he expected them to go? Ocean Town? Jersey? Certainly not Empire City, that was for sure. Now, though, he felt stupid - he should've known. Then again, he didn't recognize this part of the city…

"Mhm." Priyanka glanced up at the mirror, peering at him. Steven frowned, staring ahead. "It's the best mental health facility in Delmarva. That, and it's the closest one to Beach City. And it's not too far from Dr. Roberts, either." It took Steven a moment to remember who 'Dr. Roberts' was - and, admittedly, he couldn't keep himself from grimacing on time. Priyanka fell silent after that; Steven took the chance to spare a glance toward his father, noting that he was visibly tense now, rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles again. Steven only felt more apprehensive - if Greg was anxious about this, something was definitely wrong - oh, but, then again, Dad does get anxious over a lot of things - but this is supposed to be a good thing - but even good things can be difficult - but he doesn't want to do this, why should I - he doesn't-

"Shut up," Steven growled, pressing his face into his hands. Once again, he could feel himself slipping, steadily spiraling into something - something that felt familiar and didn't all at once. Something he hadn't been for a long, long time. The emotions, emotions that weren't his own, weren't even his brother's… he couldn't figure out the source, he couldn't understand why it felt like he was slowly fading away, why it felt like he was vanishing from existence completely - but at that moment, he didn't care to find out. He just wanted to silence the voices in his head, the overwhelmingly forced optimism. He'd much rather have the viciousness of his own thoughts.

"Steven?" Priyanka's voice was a little softer now, cautious; Steven shook his head at her, still struggling against whatever was trying to push him back down. Honestly, for a moment, he almost did consider the fact that it could be his brother - but he knew what his brother's emotions felt like by now, right? It wasn't him. It couldn't have been him. Steven would recognize it. This… while he did recognize it, it wasn't something he had felt firsthand for a long time. It wasn't something he was immediately familiar with, or comfortable with, for that matter. It felt right, but it didn't… it didn't feel like him. And he didn't like that. Not at all. "Steven," Priyanka called again, and Steven silently curled his fingers against his face, rubbing his nails against the skin sharply before finally raising his head to look up at her. "Deep breaths. Calm down, relax."

Despite himself, he found himself following her instructions; breathing in as deep as he could manage, he leaned back in the seat, ignoring the way his back ached as it pressed up against the back of the seat; it was his last concern right then and - if he was being honest - the split second of pain allowed him a brief moment of clarity regardless. Still, for the moment, he forced himself to focus on his breathing; slow, steady breaths, pacing himself as G- ahhh he wasn't going to think about her right then, he'd just get angry, he couldn't think about her, or them, just breathe, Steven, deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, you've got this. He didn't believe his own internal encouragement, but it was still something else to focus on.

He continued his slow, controlled breathing until the car stopped moving; the realization that they were there was enough to kick him right back into the endless pit of anxiety he had long gotten used to, and at this point, even telling himself to breathe wasn't going to help him come back from this. The hybrid pressed his hand against his face again, shuddering slightly as he let his nails dig as deep into his skin as he could manage without drawing blood, desperate for something to focus on instead of the fact that they were there, at the crazy house, ready to drop him off with a bunch of other crazy, suicidal maniacs just like him. He felt a little bad, initially, for thinking like that - but even his guilt didn't last long before it steadily dissolved into panic again. Panic he hadn't quite been expecting to feel; he knew he was scared, for sure, but he hadn't quite realized that had been enough to send him into a flat-out panic attack like this, so… great. Great, this was just perfect. This situation, this awful situation he put himself into, was perfect.

The hybrid couldn't bring himself to move even as Greg and Priyanka got out of the car - not that he could do much on his own, right - but he didn't react, either, when Greg opened his door, while Priyanka headed around to get the wheelchair out. "Hey. Hey, Steven- Steven, it's okay." His father's hand clasped around his shoulder, clenching down firmly but gently; still, he didn't move his head, didn't lift his hands from his face just yet. It was getting harder and harder to breathe, and he wasn't too sure even Greg could console him at the moment, short of taking him the hell away from this place and not looking back. But that wasn't happening, was it? No, no, but this was still happening. This was really happening. This was bad. Really, really bad.

"Steven," Greg murmured, rubbing his shoulder now; the touch was enough, briefly, to redirect his attention to his father - if only for a few seconds alone. "Can you look at me, bud? Please?"

Steven shook his head, but Greg spoke again, more insistently, "Steven, look at me."

It took a moment for the hybrid to comply; not because he didn't want to, now, but because he felt physically incapable of moving. It took a great amount of effort to lower his hands from his face, gasping in as much air as he could as he finally looked up at his father. His chest was tightening with every passing second, crushing in on itself and allowing no room to breathe; he was suffocating, slowly but surely, he was sure of it. Maybe it would kill him; maybe he'd end up passing out and dying from lack of oxygen or something and then he wouldn't have to go to the mental hospital after all. Honestly, it didn't seem like such a bad idea - sure, it hurt like all hell, his lungs burning and screaming for even the smallest drop of air they could get, but he was certain that the air itself was slowly turning solid, because god damn he could not breathe.

"Look at me," his father repeated, and Steven's straying eyes quickly snapped back up to Greg's face, heeding the order with little hesitation, still too out of it to realize what was happening. "I need you to breathe, son. Listen to me and focus. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Come on." His hand clenched over Steven's shoulder again, the pressure once again succeeding in somewhat redirecting his attention, but he found it hard to do as his father requested, because when he tried to breathe in, the air stuttered and stalled between his teeth, failing to get through to his lungs; he swallowed and tried again, every limb shaking with the effort that it was taking.

"Listen." Greg crouched beside the car and reached his other hand inside, lifting the one from Steven's shoulder in order to cup the teenager's face with both; the hybrid looked up at him, far too shaken to protest to the contact and - beyond that - somewhat relying on the touch, since it was practically the only thing grounding him at this point, keeping him from spiraling completely. "I'm here, little man. I'm right here." He brushed his thumbs over the sides of Steven's face, pushing his hair back carefully, and Steven finally managed to breathe in somewhat shakily. "That's it, there you go," his father encouraged, searching his gaze; the hybrid stared back, trembling slightly under his grip as he struggled to take in another breath. "Deep breaths."

It took a little while, but he did finally manage to get to a point where he didn't feel like he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen. It took even longer for him to be able to focus again, and to get his breathing steady enough to a point where Greg felt comfortable enough to help him out of the car; this time, he accepted the assistance gladly, wrapping his arms around his father as tight as he could manage and letting himself sink into the man's arms until he was finally lowered back into the wheelchair; even then, he held on for as long as he could before releasing. Whatever he may think of his father, whatever fucked up relationship they may have now, it didn't matter at that moment. The realization that he wanted to be held was more jarring than any jolt of anxiety his brain could muster - because it was enough to bring tears to his eyes, tears that were entirely his own, entirely connected to his own stupid emotions, and not an instinctual product of pain or his body's way of reacting to the lump forming in his throat.

He wanted to be held. He wanted his father. He wanted somebody.

Still, he said nothing; he bit his lip and shifted uncomfortably, he tugged at his sleeves and the bottom of his shirt and basically anything he could get his hands on at the moment was fair game. At one point, he ended up grabbing a fistful of his own hair, twisting on it until Priyanka gently laid a hand on his shoulder to stop him. And then they were moving; his father pushed the wheelchair while Priyanka led them toward the facility. It took just about everything Steven had - every breathing technique, every reminder to calm down that he could think of - not to spiral back into the panic that had gripped him just moments before; and even then, everything he had almost wasn't enough. His breathing hitched more than once, threatening to stutter to a complete stop every now and again - and even Greg and Priyanka couldn't reach him this time, because the rest of the world seemed to have slowed to a near halt. Not literally, no - numbly, he noted that everything was moving just normally, just as fast as always. But he couldn't hear a thing, like the world was a television and someone had pressed the mute button on it.

He wrapped his arms around himself and breathed, lower lip quivering as he looked up at the facility, getting closer and closer - until they were there, and Priyanka was opening the door, and Greg was pushing the wheelchair in, and there was a rush of cold air and… there they were. And then he could hear again; he could hear people talking up ahead, pens clicking and doors opening and closing. He heard laughter - which was, honestly, the last thing he expected to hear in this place at all - he heard… music? Was that music? He swore he was hearing music.

"I'll let the receptionist know you're here," Priyanka began, glancing down at Steven. A sympathetic look crossed her face briefly by the time he had managed to meet her gaze again. He wasn't sure what was written across his face right then, but it couldn't have been good. "Don't worry. The staff here is actually quite friendly - I already know they'll be fond of you." She offered him a rare smile, one that he wished he could return, but his mouth remained half-open in order to breathe as much as possible. His nose felt too stuffy for some reason - likely due to the tears that had made their way to his eyes earlier. Priyanka exhaled, and turned, walking away without another word - and Steven felt a shiver rush down his spine, making him tremble.

"Hey." Greg pushed him over to a group of empty chairs, turning the wheelchair around to face one of them and moving over to take a seat; he reached out to grab Steven's hands, and the hybrid met him halfway almost immediately, genuinely desperate for any physical contact he could get in order to ground himself at this point. Greg looked a little taken aback, but he certainly didn't seem like he was about to complain - though he did look a little worried at the sudden flip, the abrupt shift Steven's mood had taken since they'd arrived. "You okay?"

Steven shook his head furiously, and didn't bother to hide the tears this time as they pushed their way back to his eyes, looking up at his father desperately. "I don't wanna be here."

Greg squeezed his hands gently, rubbing his thumb over the scarred knuckles; they didn't hurt, not right then - they usually did, but, Steven guessed his father was keeping the touch light enough so not to irritate the cuts. "I know. I know." His father swallowed, shaking his head.

Steven fell silent, still trembling; his father simply continued to rub his knuckles carefully, turning his gaze to the teenager's hand to inspect them instead. It was a while before either of them spoke again - what felt like hours, honestly, but what must have been only a few short minutes in reality - as Greg lifted his head and took a deep breath, offering his hands another squeeze. "But you're not gonna be in here forever, kiddo. It's just a few days, at most. You can do that." Steven shook his head again. "Yeah, you can. Come on, I'll be here as much as I can."

More tears rushed to the hybrid's eyes; this time, he did blink, but only to clear his vision. He started to pull his hand away from Greg when a few of the tears escaped, rolling down his cheeks faster than he could rub them - but he still rubbed the side of his face against his shoulder to rub away the little bit of liquid that continued to linger on his face, breathing shakily. You'd think this wouldn't be so bad - you'd think, after everything, going to stay on Homeworld for two years would've been worse than having to be here for a few days at most. But, at least he knew what to expect on Homeworld. This was new. New people. New experiences. New situation. He didn't know what to do or how to react - he wasn't here to help anybody. He was here to get help. Hell, maybe that was what was so terrifying about it; getting help.

He breathed in sharply, snapping back to attention when he felt his father's hand run over his head, fingers carefully untangling the curls; despite himself, he found himself leaning into the touch, closing his eyes for a moment and letting his shoulders sag forward with a shuddery sigh. "It's gonna be okay," his father said quietly. "You're gonna be okay."

Steven couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to comfort him or himself.

He looked up at his father tiredly, eyebrows furrowing together, mouth opening to respond, but he didn't get the chance to say anything. His father's gaze flicked up, focusing on something past him, and he inhaled sharply and straightened up, leaning back slightly - and Steven knew, of course, Priyanka was back. And, judging by his father's reaction, she was probably with someone else. He turned his head slightly, but he couldn't get a good look until Greg finally forced himself to stand up and turn the chair around, offering an apologetic look over Steven's head before he finally managed to move it enough to twist it so that the hybrid could see.

Well, he was right; Priyanka was with another woman - a woman with long black hair and dark skin the color of milk chocolate - who was shuffling some papers in one hand. Priyanka was holding a white bundle of something that looked like it might have been clothes, but he didn't have much time to inspect them before the other woman suddenly lifted her head, offering Steven a kind smile; her eyes sparkled warmly as her gaze met his - and, honestly, he felt a little bit of the tension drain from him, just a little - and she extended a hand, dropping her arm to her side and clutching the papers. "Hi, I'm Vexy. It's a pleasure to meet you. Steven, right?"

Well, so far so good - she wasn't really treating him like he was crazy, so maybe this wouldn't be too bad. Still, he hesitated before he reached out to take her hand, somewhat cautious. "Yeah."

"I'm going to be helping you get settled in," the woman - Vexy - informed him cheerfully, and Steven studied her silently as she turned her gaze to his father, offering her hand to him next. "And you must be Steven's father- Greg, right?" She questioned, and his father let out a low mumble of confirmation as he accepted the handshake, seeming more concerned about the papers that she was holding; Steven followed his gaze after a moment, studying them silently. She seemed to notice, because after she had pulled her hand back, she held them up again. "Don't look so nervous, they're not divorce papers-" She chuckled a little at her own joke, and Steven would have laughed a little, himself, if he wasn't so anxious. "The forms for your medicine prescriptions, your psychological evaluation, and something here for your father to fill out-" Vexy held one of the papers out to Greg, who took it wordlessly, "-and that's about it."

Well, she seemed nice enough. Not pushy like Dr. Powell, that was for sure. Then again, he guessed she wasn't technically a doctor. He studied her again as she smiled back at him, before turning away to grab the bundle from Priyanka - which, upon further inspection, was definitely clothes, god dammit. "Now, I understand your injury makes bathing and changing a little harder. Luckily, we have easily accessible showers for patients who are in wheelchairs, and these clothes aren't too hard to change into. If you want, one of the nurses can help you, or your father could. And once you do that, I'll go ahead and show you to the room you'll be staying in." She flashed another smile - seriously, for fuck's sake, how was she doing that? "Sound good?"

"I guess," Steven responded slowly, glancing up at his father. He wasn't sure how he felt about Greg helping him - his father hadn't seen the scars on his back. Steven had told him about them, but he hadn't seen them himself, and considering his reaction to learning Steven had tried to kill himself and was self-harming, he wasn't sure how well it would go over.

"Well, I need to be going," Priyanka piped up, turning and offering a handshake to Vexy. "It's getting late, and my daughter's asking about dinner. It was wonderful seeing you again, Ms. Prime…" Steven tuned the rest out, unable to keep his mind from straying to Connie now. God, what was she going to say when she found out about this? Would Priyanka tell her? Was she even allowed to tell her? Doctor-patient confidentiality, right? Connie didn't necessarily need to know, but - god, no, Steven couldn't just keep something like this from her anyway. It was bound to come out sooner or later. With that in mind, though, he really needed to figure out how to get his hands on a phone so that he could talk to her… the hybrid shook his head, frowning slightly, and looked back up when Priyanka turned back to him. "I'll be checking in on you, Steven." The doctor softened slightly, reaching out to rest her hand on his head; the teenager exhaled, leaning slightly into the touch with a small nod in response. "And I'll be seeing you, Greg."

"Yeah, see you," Greg responded faintly, still scanning the paper he was given.

"You don't need to fill that out right away," Vexy piped up, waving goodbye to Priyanka as she left, and Steven leaned slightly to the side - wincing in the process - to offer a wave, as well. "If you want, you can go ahead and help Steven get cleaned up and changed before you do."

"Sounds good to me," Greg huffed out a laugh, handing the paper back over happily when Vexy offered her hand to take it. He exchanged it for the bundle of clothes she had taken from Priyanka, while Vexy shuffled the papers back in order and gestured for them to follow her down the hall. Steven rubbed his hands together - absentmindedly mimicking his father's nervous tick - and tried to ignore the nausea brewing in his gut, the dread and anxiety slowly building up. This had to be one of the easier things, right? His father knew most of it. Him seeing the scars wasn't going to be such a big deal. It shouldn't be a big deal. He wouldn't make it a big deal. Greg already knew Steven was self-harming, already knew he was suicidal, so… everything was pretty much out in the open anyway. The scars were proof, confirmation of what Greg already knew, sure, but in the end, in the long run, it wasn't going to change that much at all.

The hybrid shut his eyes and sighed, pressing his hand against his face. It was just getting harder and harder to keep himself steady here. He wasn't sure how long he'd be able to hold it together; he could already feel himself ripping apart at the seams anyway.

Chapter Text

Steven had never felt more anxious in his life as he was rolled down the hall, fidgeting anxiously with his sleeves and struggling to keep himself calm. Greg kept mumbling for him to breathe, but the hybrid wasn't having too much luck with that either. The only thing keeping him somewhat sane was glancing into rooms every now and again as they passed; some doors were open, letting him see inside. Some were empty, and some weren't; he saw people in beds, people pacing while another nurse stood by and watched. He did catch a glimpse of someone who looked… oddly familiar, but he didn't get a good enough look before they had passed.

"Alright." Vexy paused at one of the doors, pulling it open and stepping aside to let Greg push the wheelchair through. "Once you shower and get changed into your pajamas, there's an emergency button beside the shower you can press to buzz me so I can bring you back to your room. After that… Greg can stay long enough to help you get settled in and fill out those forms, but it is getting late, so visiting hours are almost over," she added quickly, and Steven only grimaced slightly as he glanced back at her, eyebrows furrowing slightly. He didn't want his father to leave; he thought he'd be okay with it, but, ultimately, the idea of his father leaving him here alone was worse than being here at all. At least he had Greg here with him now; he wasn't going to have anybody soon, and that thought alone was hard to wrap his head around.

"Thanks, uh- Ms. Prime," Greg sighed, pushing Steven into the room, and the hybrid mumbled a quiet 'thanks' under his breath as well. Vexy only offered them a smile as she shut the door behind them, and Steven let himself sink back after a moment, lifting his hands to his face. Greg was silent, surveying the room if his, "well this isn't too bad." was any indication. Steven honestly didn't agree - although, he hadn't gotten a good enough look around yet, but he doubted he'd be too impressed regardless. It took him a while to lower his hands again anyway.

Well, it wasn't awful. Toilet, sink - no mirror, he noted, wrinkling his nose slightly. Probably for the best, glass was sharp. The shower was separated from the rest of the room by only one small wall and a curtain to close it off - seemed easily accessible enough, but he still wasn't looking forward to this. Sure, a shower actually… sounded kind of nice, considering he hadn't actually showered in quite some time now, but the idea of undressing and revealing the scars on his back in front of his father was just anxiety-inducing. He stayed silent, tense and anxious as Greg left his side to walk over to the shower, pulling the curtain open and reaching inside to turn the water on. He already knows. Didn't make it any easier. It doesn't have to be easy. Didn't make him wish that it wasn't. The hybrid shook his head furiously, breathing out sharply and letting his shoulders droop after a moment, fighting back against the thoughts and emotions rising in his chest. Once again, it felt like he was starting to blank out, like he was drifting out completely, being pushed down, like something was trying to suppress him; and once again, he fought back until it stopped, shaking his head again and looking up at his father as Greg turned back to him.

"All set." His father offered a small smile, tilting his head toward the shower. "You ready, kiddo?" Steven didn't respond immediately, rubbing his arm and flicking his gaze past Greg, toward the shower. He watched the water fall for a moment, listening as it hit the floor of the shower, completely lost in his own thoughts for a long time - until his father spoke up again. "Steven?"

"I…" Steven stared at the water for a moment longer before finally turning back to his father, blinking furiously and forcing himself to focus again. For a moment, he hesitated; sure, his father was going to see the scars, but he figured… maybe it might be a little easier on him if he had some kind of warning beforehand. He wasn't entirely sure Greg knew what to expect here. He'd told him he was self-harming, yes, but he hadn't gone as far as to explain the extent of his injuries - mostly because he didn't know how bad they really were, he only knew how much they hurt. And they hurt pretty badly, so they had to look just as bad… especially considering Dr. Powell had taken one look and immediately knew it was completely intentional. "Dad, I, uh…" He flicked his gaze back toward the shower, then looked up at his father again. "My back's… really… really bad. That's where I-" He stopped for a second, breathing in slowly, genuinely wondering why this was suddenly so hard for him to say. "That's where I hurt myself."

Where I got Mom to hurt me, his brain corrected, but Greg didn't need to know all of that.

Greg didn't say anything at first, but the expression on his face made Steven's stomach twist more than he cared to admit. Once again, he was… genuinely taken aback by how hard this suddenly was, and why he eventually had to lower his gaze, unable to look his father in the eye again. Maybe it was just easier talking about it, and not outright showing his father the proof of what he'd done, showing him exactly how fucked up he really was in the head right then. But whatever it was, Steven only knew that this situation was anxiety-inducing, and he hated it. He hated being here, sitting here, in front of Greg, about to show off his scars; it was probably the first time he actually didn't feel proud of what he'd done to himself, or satisfied by his actions. No, right then, there was nothing twisting in his gut but disgust for himself, and what he'd done. That was probably the most alarming thing; the fact that for the first time, he hated himself for it.

For the first time, he hated himself for hurting himself. He hated himself for just about everything else, but this had been the only thing he could rely on himself to actually enjoy. But this? This wasn't anywhere close to being enjoyable. The pain itself was great- amazing- but… but the process? And the aftermath? Steven was almost starting to wonder if it was really worth it.

"Okay," Greg interrupted his thoughts, cautious as he approached. He breathed in, and Steven mimicked the action somewhat absently, breathing in as deeply as he could and bracing himself silently as he lifted his gaze back to the man in front of him. "Okay. Let's see the damage, huh?" There was no humor, no effort to lighten the situation; his father's gaze was direct, intent, serious. Which just served as another stark reminder of how serious this really was. Up until then, he hadn't had a goddamn problem with hurting himself. Aside from not being able to do it while he was injured, and worrying about getting caught - but now it wasn't even about that. Now he wasn't sure he could do it again and be able to feel any of the satisfaction anymore. He felt sick. Nauseous. About ready to vomit right then and there. All because of his own actions.

Finally, he could pinpoint what he was feeling; along with the disgust, a warmer emotion. Burning hot in his stomach, ripping him apart slowly, almost gently. It was shame.

And so he fell silent, feeling his cheeks warm up slightly at the realization. But he said nothing, turning his head downwards, unable to meet his father's gaze - or even look in his direction at all - as he finally lifted his arms to tug his own shirt off. Greg moved forward, hands hovering over him slightly, but he seemed uncertain as to whether or not he should step in to help. Steven honestly tried his hardest to pull the shirt off without assistance, managing to get one arm out, but he couldn't lift his arms any higher than that to be able to pull it off completely without his back hurting. So, he stopped moving with his arms stretched up as much as he could, turning his head toward Greg without quite looking at him, and the man obliged silently.

A shaky inhale reached his ears before the shirt had even been pulled over his head; tears finally brewed in the hybrid's eyes as it briefly covered his face, allowing his already unsteady expression to crumble completely in the split second where his father couldn't see it. He didn't understand why it suddenly hurt so much, why this was making him feel more guilt and shame and sorrow in the span of a minute than he'd been able to feel at all in at least a whole week. Thankfully, his father didn't say anything just yet; the shirt was pulled off completely and cast aside after a moment, and Steven blinked the tears back and forced himself to straighten up.

The silence lasted about twenty seconds; his father sighed, rubbing his arm over his face wordlessly, and slowly moved around to stand in front of him again. Steven finally risked a hesitant glance in his direction; there were tears in his eyes, prickling at the corners, but, admittedly, he wasn't even worried about that anymore. He wasn't worried about what his father thought about the scars, about the fact that Steven had hurt himself and was still thinking about hurting himself. What he was worried about, however, were his own feelings on the subject. The newfound disgust and shame he felt toward the wounds on his back, the anger he felt toward himself for passing the knife to his 'mother' and telling her to carve into him like a Jack-o-Lantern. And, oh, how he hated himself for it. How he wanted to scream at himself, and - ironically - how he wanted to hurt himself even further- for hurting himself. God, he really was fucked up in the head. Funny, even he was just now beginning to realize that completely.

"Come on," Greg urged after a moment, holding his hands out to Steven. "Pants next." And, while it did take him a moment to muster the energy and just the will to move in general, he did finally manage to reach out and take Greg's hands, finally just giving in completely. He let his father pull him up onto his good leg, let his father support him as he was led over to the shower. He let him over, he let him help him strip down and let him sit him on the little chair inside the shower. He was too tired to fight the help at this point - physically and emotionally - and just… didn't even want to anymore. He didn't want to fight. He didn't want to pull away anymore.

"I'm sorry," he managed to whisper after a while, covering his eyes as Greg massaged shampoo into his hair; his father's hands paused briefly, still hovering over the curls. Steven almost laughed, to be honest - it had been a long, long time since he'd needed his father's help with showering of all things, and he felt like a child more than ever, sitting there in front of him like this. Needing his help to bathe. It was stupid - he felt stupid, and weak, and useless, and…

"Don't," Greg's voice was surprisingly steady, firm; Steven managed to peek one eye open at him, blinking rapidly and tilting his head back slightly - trying not to let any of the soap drip into his eyes - as he looked up at his father. "Don't… don't apologize to me for this, Steven." The hybrid didn't respond; he just stared, eventually ducking his head and squeezing his eyes shut again when his father set to work again on his hair. "I- I just- … I don't even know what to say," his father confessed, his voice finally wavering; Steven bit the inside of his cheek, silent. "I don't even know how to feel, I just-" A slight crack, and then a pause; Greg's hands continued to move through his hair, but the movements felt stiff now. "... I just wanna be here for you now."

And, honestly? Steven managed to find a little bit of relief, through sorrow, fear, shame and confusion. Relief, and a strange sense of contentment - or something akin to it, anyway, as close as he could get right then. And he wasn't lying at all when he spoke again, his voice nothing more than a slightly shaky whisper, trembling despite his best efforts. "I want that too."

Greg fell silent after that. But the silence then, if nothing else, was more or less content, the rest of the tension having finally been somewhat drained. Steven spent most of the time idly picking at the plastic Vexy had left behind for them to wrap around his cast so it didn't get wet, but eventually took over in bathing himself after his father had finished helping him with the areas he couldn't reach. Thankfully, it was over quickly enough; Greg helped him dry off and change into the pajamas they had given him - and despite everything, he had to admit they were actually somewhat comfortable (not that he'd admit it out loud). And, by the time Steven was back in the wheelchair, he was actually trying not to laugh, because Greg had ended up accidentally rubbing his eyes while he still had soap on his hands, forgetting to wash them off.

"Your eye's still red, Dad." Steven brushed his hair back as much as he could, trying not to let the still somewhat damp curls stick to his face. "Maybe you should flush it out again."

"Nope, no, I'm fine," Greg chuckled, rubbing his eye - this time with a soap free hand, thankfully - and reached out to ruffle his hair with the other. Steven ducked his head a little, sparing him a slightly irritated glance, mostly because he had just managed to get his hair somewhat decent, and now it was back in his face and sticking to his skin again, and his father only offered an apologetic smile as he stepped back to look the hybrid over carefully. "Well, you do look better."

"Really?" Steven mumbled, smoothing his hair out of his face again. "'Cause I feel like sh- crap."

"'Least you're honest," Greg commented with a sigh, his smile turning somewhat sad for a second as he stared down at the teenager, and Steven only shrugged. As much as being 'honest' had done for him so far - such as getting him stuck in a fucking mental hospital - it was certainly better than trying to pretend that he was fine all the time. Truthfully, he kinda liked being able to be honest, to say what he was really feeling and not have to feel guilty over it. Greg eventually left his side, moving over to press the button Vexy had told them about, while Steven leaned back a little and watched. "Also… I don't… mind if you swear around me, kiddo."

"... no kidding?" Steven rubbed his hand over his face, eventually simply pressing it to the top of his head to hold his hair in place after a moment, since the curls continued to fall. He was almost half convinced this was some kind of trap, but his father seemed genuine enough about it. He was actually kind of surprised - mostly because Greg, while he'd never been a particularly strict father, had always had a policy about cursing. Hell, Steven wasn't even allowed to say 'hate' until he was about twelve years old, and even then, his father continuously reminded him that it was a 'strong word' and not to 'use it too freely'- which, he could understand, but still. So, yes, the idea of Greg actually being okay with him cursing in front of him was pretty surprising.

"You're seventeen," Greg murmured, pressing the button and turning back to him with a slight frown now. "Whether I like it or not, you're… getting older. I mean, is it weird to hear you swear? Yes, yes it is. Very weird. It's something I actually never thought I'd hear in my entire life, but…" The man grimaced, rubbing the back of his neck. "I never actually thought we'd be… here, either, like… like this, so… things are… different. They're changing - you're changing, and I've gotta figure out how to accept that. You're almost an adult, I can't… tell you what to say- now that doesn't mean excessive swearing," he added quickly, eyeing the teenager, and Steven let out a slight snort despite himself. "But… you don't gotta censor yourself around me, that's all." Greg shook his head a little, walking back over to him. "I just want you to be completely honest with me from now on. Even if that means using swear words when you need to, you know?"

After a moment, thinking about that, Steven allowed a brief smile to tug at his lips, mouth tugging upwards at the corners for only a second. Then he shook his head, sighed, and crossed his arms over his chest, eyebrows furrowing slightly. "In that case, yeah, I feel like shit."

"Maybe you'll feel better once you get some much-needed shut-eye," Greg suggested, reaching out to ruffle his hair again, but Steven reacted quicker that time, managing to bat his hand away and lean his head back before his curls could be messed with again. His father pouted slightly, but he gave in and leaned back again after a moment, offering a one-shouldered shrug instead. "And you can see… uh…" For a moment, his father only looked somewhat bewildered, before it shifted into worry, and then confusion again, looking like he was trying to remember something. "Does the… uh… 'pink twin' of yours have a name, or…?"

"We're working on it," Steven replied slowly, making a face. Greg nodded carefully, eyebrows furrowing slightly at that, and the hybrid studied him for a moment. But he fell silent after that, eventually turning his head when the door opened. He couldn't see who had entered until they got close enough for him to catch a glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but he was able to assume it was Vexy, anyway, considering she had already said she would be returning.

"All finished up?" The woman checked, smiling down at Steven again. "You look better!"

"That's what I said," Greg agreed, briefly managing to look proud; Steven rolled his eyes a little, opening his mouth slightly - but he thought better of what he wanted to say, biting his tongue.

"Well," Vexy began cheerfully, "I'll go ahead and take you back to your room then! We've still got about fifteen minutes left on visiting hours, so your dad can stay with you for a little while until then. And if you're hungry… well, dinner was over about an hour ago, but I'm sure nobody would mind if I brought you a snack," she added quickly, turning her attention back to Steven. "We've usually got a pretty strict schedule on food, but since you missed dinner…"

"Oh- uh- no thanks," Steven declined quickly, grimacing slightly. The sandwich earlier had left him oddly disgusted with the idea of eating anything, and he had quickly deduced that he'd rather avoid it for as long as he could. Vexy pursed her lips, but she nodded regardless, moving back over to open the door for them while Greg turned the wheelchair around and pushed him out of the room. The hybrid didn't say anything, bringing his hand up to his face to bite down on his thumb, nibbling at the skin idly as he stared ahead. Fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes and his dad would be gone, an hour away from him, back in Beach City while Steven remained stuck in a mental hospital with a bunch of crazy people - people who were probably crazier than him. Sure, he was suicidal and had some homicidal tendencies, but… okay, they probably weren't crazier than he was, but it didn't make him feel any better about the situation regardless.

"Oh," Vexy said suddenly as she led them down the hall, briefly turning her head to glance back at them; Steven lifted his head slightly, eyebrows furrowing. "You'll be sharing a room with someone. He's in a one-to-one- which means he's under supervision to ensure he doesn't try to harm himself," she explained, "and you'll also be given one, Steven- if only for the first few days at most," she added, watching his expression shift slightly, "We're hoping maybe putting you two together might be a good experience for you, as well. That, and, I won't lie, it'll be a little easier for us to keep an eye on you if you're in the same room," she added with a wink, chuckling.

Steven was very, very unamused. "So I'm sharing a room with another suicidal maniac?" He finally asked, unable to restrain himself any longer. "That's just- that's just great."

Vexy's voice was gentle as she spoke next, a little softer, "I'm sorry. Maybe after a few days, we'll put you in your own room, but given what Dr. Maheswaran has told us, we all figured it might be best for you to have some company for the first few days here. That way you might not feel so anxious about all of this. And you might actually make some friends here."

"I'm not here to make friends," Steven mumbled. It was the first time he had ever said something like that, but he couldn't even bring himself to be surprised anymore. He wasn't here to make friends; he was here to be supervised so that he didn't try to kill himself, and then he was going to be sent back home, hopefully soon, maybe a little worse than when he came in. But, whatever ended up happening, he was just reminding himself to be prepared for the worst. And not to let his guard down. And keep his temper in check - the last thing he needed was to explode at a bunch of humans - and stars forbid he actually ended up hurting somebody, too.

"Well," Vexy spoke lightly, pausing and opening the door to one of the rooms. "Here we are."

Thankfully, the room was empty - well, in the sense that there wasn't anybody else inside. There were two beds; one neatly made, and one that was actually kind of a mess, with the blanket crumpled up and the pillows out of order. Steven made a face despite himself, but he didn't say anything. Well, at least he knew his roommate didn't care about keeping the room clean - but, then again, Steven honestly didn't care either, so they were on the same boat there, anyway. "So is my roommate invisible or something?" He mumbled as Greg pushed the wheelchair into the room, unable to keep himself from snickering slightly when he heard his father chuckle.

"No," Vexy laughed, equally amused, as she leaned against the doorway, shaking her head. "He's probably just changing into his pajamas now. He's typically a little late with the routines. Oh, I still have those papers, Mr. Universe," she added, checking the watch on her wrist. "I'll bring them to you before you have to leave. You can fill them out and bring them back tomorrow - visiting hours are one-thirty PM to two-thirty PM tomorrow, since it's Sunday. Unfortunately, you won't be allowed in here," she added, gesturing toward the room. "Visitors usually aren't allowed inside the patient's rooms, but since it's late and you've only got a few minutes left, there's no point in taking you all the way back to the common area." She chuckled a little.

"Thank you," Greg told her with a sigh, moving over to help Steven when the hybrid started trying to push himself up onto the bed. He was definitely sick of being in the wheelchair, and, once again, complied without protest, allowing his father to help him up and immediately sinking down as much as he could once he was actually settled in the bed, covering his face silently.

"Of course," Vexy responded warmly. "I'll be back in a bit. Leave the door open." Steven didn't move his arms from his face, but he did relax slightly when he heard her footsteps fading away.

"A roommate," he groaned, not even caring, at this point, that he both looked and sounded as dramatic as he felt right then. He ignored the clenching of his chest, the twisting in his gut, ignored each and every reminder and thought of who he could possibly remind himself of right then, and forced himself to continue, "she- they're- I- they're putting me with a roommate, Dad. Not only do I have to exist around these people for a few days, I have to bunk with one." He sighed through his teeth and finally moved his arms from his face, crossing them over his chest instead, and flicked his gaze over to his father with a scowl. "Tell me, how is this supposed to make me not want to kill myself? Because I'm telling you, if that's the point, it's already failed."

"Steven," Greg scolded, but he didn't really sound too upset, just somewhat bewildered. Steven heaved out a sigh and watched as he pushed the wheelchair into place beside the bed, where Steven could get to it if he needed to without it actually being in the way. "Come on, kiddo. It's not gonna be that bad. Maybe it's like, uh- Ms. Prime said, and you'll make a friend."

"Well, like I said, I'm not here to make friends," Steven retorted, narrowing his eyes slightly. "I don't even want to be here- … not that I've never been able to make a friend somewhere I didn't want to be either," he muttered after a moment. "... wouldn't call the Diamonds 'friends', though."

"I don't blame you," Greg mumbled, a slightly sour expression crossing his face; honestly, it was somewhat amusing to see him visibly detest someone like he seemed to detest the Diamonds, amusing and comforting on so many different levels that it almost wasn't hilarious to see Greg despise anybody at all. He'd only ever really seen his father mildly angry with Marty, and even then, the man had seemed to make an effort not to express as much hatred for the man as he must have really felt. And, of course, there was the subject of Greg's parents - but, honestly? He seemed to hold just as much disdain for the Diamonds as he had for them, oddly enough. The man sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "But… this isn't Homeworld. You're not with the Diamonds, or the gems-" Another sour expression, a little more surprising now, "this will actually be good for you," he added, and Steven snorted out a laugh despite himself, startled.

"Ouch, Dad. Tell 'em how you really feel." If there was anything more satisfying than seeing Greg express this much disdain for the Diamonds, it was seeing him express this much disdain for the gems, too. "While I don't doubt that this'll be better than living with the gems, though - and the Diamonds, that just goes without saying," he added, sighing. Despite whatever he might think, now or later, he knew being on Homeworld would be worse than this. At least here he was still on Earth, and not surrounded by gems he detested and feared. "But, 'good' for me? Eh…"

"Hopefully this will be good for you," Greg corrected himself. Steven puffed his cheeks out and shrugged. "And while you're here, I'm gonna work on getting a house for the two of us."

Steven hummed, flicking his gaze toward the ceiling - then blinked, startled, when what his father had just said actually registered. He turned his gaze back to Greg, genuinely caught off guard by that, unable to even speak for a good few seconds before he managed to muster up the strength. "What?" He pushed his arms back, positioning them beside him carefully in order to push himself up as much as he could, but he gave up on that quickly enough. "A house?"

"Well, we can't live in the van." Greg reached out, hands hovering, and Steven only stared. "I need to be able to take care of you, and I'm certainly not sending you back to the gems. So, yeah, I figured… maybe it's time to actually bunker down and get a house." He clasped one hand over Steven's shoulder, helping the teenager pull himself up into a sitting position, and Steven breathed in slowly when he finally managed to sit up completely - honestly, the pain wasn't even his biggest concern. He was still trying to wrap his head around the house thing. "Whattya think, huh?"

"I think it's about time," Steven blurted out, eyes widening slightly. "You're really serious about this, aren't you?" This- this was a big deal, his father actually willing to give up his 'freedom' and chain himself down to an actual house. He was still having trouble believing it. "You- a house-"

"Us a house, Steven," Greg reminded him, a slight smile tugging at his lips for a second, but it vanished into a serious expression quickly enough. "And, yes, I'm serious about this."

"Us a house," Steven echoed, narrowing his eyes slightly as he thought about that. It had been a long time since he'd actually lived with his father - he moved in with the gems when he was… what? Eight? Somewhere around that age, anyway. Since then, it had been, pretty much, just sleepovers in the van every so often when the gems were off on missions - though, as he got older, Steven ended up just staying at the house so that he could wait for them to come back. And he'd certainly never lived in a house with his father, unless you count the time Greg had faked a leg injury to stay with them, but even that hadn't really lasted that long, either. For a moment, he felt an almost… childlike excitement, an emotion he honestly thought he had long outgrown, and one he certainly didn't think he'd ever feel again now. But… wow. A house.

And, hell, if it meant getting away from the gems? He would take it. It was actually kind of funny, how not that long ago at all, Steven would have blanched at the idea of going to stay with his father, detested the very thought and completely, utterly disagree with it completely. But now, maybe they still had some things to work out, and Steven still wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to see his father the way he used to - but even so, he was really starting to get used to his whole 'serious Greg' thing. The man was starting to earn some of his respect back, though maybe in a different way. And, besides that, he really did want to stay with his father anyway; he wasn't going to admit it, not even to himself, but having him there- really there- was kind of nice.

"Yeah, buddy." Greg offered him a small, sad smile, and looked like he was about to say more, but Vexy appeared in the doorway before he had the chance to start speaking again. Steven glanced up, narrowing his eyes slightly, while Greg paused and turned his head. "Oh, hi…"

"Hi." Vexy offered a slightly apologetic smile, and Steven's heart nearly stopped beating. "I'm sorry, but visiting hours are over." She walked over, holding the papers out to Greg again, and his father took them reluctantly with a grimace. "You can come back tomorrow anytime, though. Two adult visitors are allowed, per patient," she added, glancing down at Steven. "So if you have anyone else you'd like him to bring, that'll be fine until we set up a system for you." Steven didn't respond immediately, still struggling to process the fact that his father was leaving now; he was about to be completely and utterly alone here, and he wasn't ready for it by any means. Still, he managed to distract himself with the visitor's thing; he definitely didn't want the gems there, Connie wasn't an adult (was she even allowed to visit? He'd have to ask, after he found a way to speak to her), there was Lapis and Peridot and… once again, Jasper was an option.

After a moment, thinking carefully, he looked up at his father. "Jasper?" He suggested, ignoring the surprised look that was thrown his way. He shrugged, "she's… cool. Besides, she can't just stay with the gems all the time, she'd either self-destruct or end up destroying them, and since she stopped me from doing so earlier, I'm not going to let her have the satisfaction…"

"Jasper might be a little, uh…" Greg hesitated. "Much for these people, don't you think?"

Steven arched an eyebrow at that. "Oh, I'll keep her in line." He wasn't entirely sure he'd be able to, but on the off chance she did decide to come, maybe he'd be able to distract her.

"Oh, boy," his father mumbled, pushing himself up and shaking his head. "Yeah, if you say so, kiddo." He glanced down at the papers for a moment, frowning, then flicked his gaze up to Steven, then Vexy. It was clear; he didn't want to go any more than Steven wanted to stay. The hybrid faltered again, watching his father for a moment - then, finally, forced himself to pull himself together somewhat, just enough to reach his arms up slightly toward the man; Greg blinked, surprised, but accepted the invitation quickly once he realized what Steven wanted, immediately moving forward to wrap his arms around the hybrid in a careful hug. "Bye, kiddo," he whispered, pressing his mouth to Steven's head. Steven closed his eyes, breathing in.

"Bye, Dad." Greg started to pull away, but Steven held on for a moment longer, briefly tightening his grip, and his father leaned back into the embrace quickly, seeming surprised but definitely not complaining. The hybrid fell silent for a while, simply pressing his face into his father's shoulder; it was the first time being hugged or held had actually felt somewhat good to him since all this had started, and it was the first time he'd wished the contact didn't have to end so soon. The teenager swallowed, exhaling, and finally pulled back a little bit to look at him. "... love you."

Greg's expression softened at that, tears pricking at the corners of his eyes - Steven arched an eyebrow slightly, but he didn't comment, because he'd be lying if he said he wasn't tearing up a little himself - but the man offered a smile, warm and somewhat relieved. "I love you too, Steven." He reached out, and Steven grimaced, fully prepared for a hair-ruffle (and, honestly, just giving in to let his father do it anyway), but Greg merely rested his hand on his head briefly, only offering a slight, gentle rub before he pulled away again, careful not to mess his hair up. "I'll be back tomorrow," he promised, stepping back, and Steven offered a somewhat hesitant nod.

He fell silent, then, just watching as Greg and Vexy exchanged goodbyes, and his father spared one last glance back at him before reluctantly exiting the room, leaving Steven with the nurse. The hybrid only stared at the doorway for a moment, fighting back a rush of nausea at the realization that he really was completely alone, surrounded by nothing but strangers in here.

"So," Vexy began, gentle and slow, but Steven couldn't keep himself from flinching in surprise as he flicked his gaze back over to the human, jaw tensing slightly. "I know you've just gotten comfortable, but there's a few last things to do before lights out. It's just a little routine we put all the new patients through," she added, and Steven furrowed his eyebrows slightly, listening. "I understand you're injured, and we have a process of documenting things like scars, or tattoos."

"I don't have any tattoos," Steven sighed, and frowned. Greg seeing his back as bad enough- now this stranger wanted to see his scars, too? "And the only scars I've got are on my back."

Vexy nodded slightly, understanding. "Still, we like to have an official process," she told him, and Steven twisted his mouth, not replying for a moment. "It's called a body map, and it only takes a few minutes. I just have to check you over, and mark your scars down on these." She held up another sheet of paper briefly, with a picture of a body; Steven eyed it, frowning. "That's all."

"I…" Steven clenched his teeth, and grimaced. "... okay."

Thankfully, the process really wasn't that long; he did need help stripping out of his shirt and pants, and eventually had to stand up and use the bed to hold himself up so that Vexy could check him over thoroughly. The nurse was mostly silent as she marked the papers off, but he still didn't miss the sympathetic glances she threw his way every now and again after she had seen the condition his back was in. Honestly, a part of him wanted to know just how bad it was - but then, at the same time, the rest of him didn't. He already felt disgusted enough by it as it was, and he didn't think seeing his own injuries was going to make that any easier on him. He was surprised when she didn't comment on his gem - not that he was going to complain about that regardless.

Regardless, once it was over, he was able to put his pants back on and climb back into bed to wrestle the pajama shirt back on. Vexy was helping him tug it over his head when the door was pushed open a little further; Steven yanked on the shirt quickly, definitely not keen on his injuries being seen by anybody else, and the nurse let go to let him as she turned to see who had entered. "Oh, welcome back! We were just finishing up in here," she informed them, and Steven reluctantly lifted his gaze to look. There were two people; one had frozen in the doorway, and the other had ventured a little further into the room. The man that had entered paused, offering Steven a curious look and a smile, but by the time Steven had completely registered the other person, he wasn't paying attention to either of the nurses anymore. "Steven, this is-"

"Kevin?" Steven uttered, unable to keep himself from interrupting.

Vexy paused, exchanging a glance with the other nurse, while the man in the doorway just stared at Steven, looking more surprised than anything. He definitely looked different, not at all like he had the last time the hybrid had seen him; his hair was cut shorter, and he seemed to be sporting the beginnings of a mustache. But other than that, there was absolutely no doubt in Steven's mind; this was Kevin, he'd know the guy anywhere. The guy he'd detested, so goddamn much, for the longest time. Of course, after their last interaction, he couldn't say he hated Kevin anymore - but they hadn't exactly parted as friends, regardless. Steven wasn't even entirely sure that the guy knew what a 'friend' was, if he was being completely honest…

"Steven," Kevin finally mumbled, eyes flickering at the realization as he studied the hybrid carefully, and Steven opened his mouth slightly, genuinely at a loss for words. The man finally inched a little further into the room, somewhat reluctantly, to walk over to the other bed - speaking of the other bed, the condition of it actually made a hell of a lot more sense now - but he seemed to be having trouble keeping his eyes from lingering on Steven, and vice versa.

"You two know each other, huh?" Vexy piped up after a moment, while the other nurse leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and offering the two a curious look.

"You could say that," Steven replied, still staring at Kevin. "Why are you here?" He finally addressed him, and Kevin paused, sitting back on the bed and eyeing him carefully.

"Why are you here?"

"I tried to kill myself," Steven responded bluntly, genuinely somewhat tired of having to explain that - and he certainly wasn't about to go into detail about the car crash, not with Kevin. He watched the man's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, a startled expression replacing the (admittedly, forced) look of indifference that had previously been written across his face, and he shot a quick glance toward Vexy and the other nurse before rooting his gaze back to Steven. The hybrid arched an eyebrow at him, slowly lowering himself back to lay down again, wincing. "And now I'm being supervised to make sure I don't try it again. Hooray."

"Hey, same," Kevin huffed out a laugh, jerking his chin toward the other nurse, and Steven reluctantly flicked his gaze over to him and narrowed his eyes. "That's my stalker, right there." The nurse in question actually stuck his tongue out at Kevin in response, while Steven couldn't keep back a snort - not because of the nurse, but because of Kevin's choice of words there.

"Yeah, I'm sure he's obsessed with you," the hybrid mocked, and he was somewhat surprised when he actually got a laugh out of Kevin from that, not really expecting him to find that funny. Honestly, he wasn't sure how to feel about this; on one hand, it was Kevin, and while he might not completely hate the guy's guts, he certainly didn't like him. He had flirted with Stevonnie - a lot - and he was just, in general, a complete asshole as far as people went. Steven had fought gems that wanted to kill him, and even most of them hadn't been as insufferable as Kevin. But, then, at the same time - even with everything that Kevin had done, the fact that he had actually tried to kill himself stuck out right then, and as much as he disliked the guy, he certainly hadn't wished him dead. And he wouldn't wish what he was feeling now on Kevin, either, so…

Yeah, the hybrid was very, very torn right then.

"So who's on watch duty?" The other nurse - Kevin's 'stalker' - suddenly questioned, turning his head toward Vexy, and the woman offered a slight snort in response and shook her head.

"Both of us, right now. It's called a one-on-one, not a one-on-two. You can go once they fall asleep," she replied simply. "Besides, I have to take these to the office, so I'll be right back." She turned, offering Steven and Kevin a small smile, then grinned over at Steven. "But, hey, what'd I tell you? You've made a friend already."

"He's not my friend." Steven wasted no time in correcting her - and neither did Kevin, who added his own mumbled protests to the mix as he pressed his face into his pillow with a groan. Vexy paused at that, then glanced back at the other nurse, exchanging another quick glance with him before she turned and slipped out of the room; Steven watched her go, furrowing his eyebrows slightly, then flicked his gaze toward the other nurse before leaning his head back. "Why are we still being watched, anyway? I thought it was bedtime or whatever."

"Yeah, they watch us sleep, dude," Kevin muttered into the pillow.

"Oh." Steven fell silent for a second, eyeing the nurse now. "That's creepy." At this, he offered a mildly indignant look, but it dissolved into amusement quickly enough; he then proceeded to stick his tongue out at Steven, and the hybrid didn't know whether to laugh or try to attack. Honestly, he was considering doing a little bit of both. "I'm not gonna kill myself in my sleep." The hybrid heaved out a sigh, crossing his arms over his face. "But whatever, it's not like I've never had anybody watch me sleep before. Not that it's not a little creeper, but… yeah…"

The nurse huffed out a laugh. "It's just a safety precaution," he informed the teenager. "You're Steven, right? My name's Aaron, it's nice to meet you. I'm apparently Kevin's stalker now."

"Don't worry, you excel at your job," Kevin huffed. Steven lifted his arm slightly to glance over at them, watching as Kevin ended up turning over so that he could stretch out on his back instead. Aaron just looked amused, shaking his head slightly at the two, while Kevin covered his face with his hands and groaned again. "Now can you guys shut up? I'm trying to get to sleep here." Steven snorted a little bit at that, but he happily obliged in falling silent, not wanting to talk anyways. Aaron, on the other hand, mumbled something under his breath before going quiet. Honestly, Steven wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep with someone watching him while he tried to get to sleep, but even then, he wasn't even that tired, considering he'd had a nap anyway.

Still, he let his eyes slip shut regardless, sighing as he covered his face with his arms again. First he got himself stuck in a mental hospital, and then, somehow, he ended up stuck in the same room as Kevin - and he was still conflicted over that. This just kept getting weirder.

He just couldn't wait to get the hell out of there.

Chapter Text

Well, Steven didn't get to sleep that night.

He ended up just laying there, gazing at the ceiling, lost in thought. Wondering what would happen tomorrow, when he had to meet his therapist - wondering how he'd be able to contact Connie, if he could even do that here. He might just have to get Greg to explain everything to her, but that didn't seem like such a bad idea. He did try to get to sleep a few times, but he found himself cracking his eyes open every so often anyway, sparing un