Steven hadn’t noticed the scars there, at first.
He had been preoccupied, of course, by everything else that had been going on, everything else that had happened immediately following his colossal meltdown. His mind had been buzzing constantly, a sort of high-strung panic occurring simultaneously with a sort of hollow acceptance - because there really wasn’t a point to freaking out about it now, anyways, wasn’t a point to getting upset when his upset had been on such a formidable display for everyone to see, to know, to experience along with him -
So, he had just gone along with everything everyone was trying to do for him, because - what else was he going to do, fight them? He had fought them, and lost, and this was the best way to bow out of it all, graciously and accepting. They meant well, of course, meant nothing but the best, and it comforted him in a way, but at the same time - it echoed in his mind, whispered quietly by a demon stories tall: that he didn’t deserve their help. That he didn’t deserve to feel better.
And then, someone had pointed them out to him - noted them running up and down his arms, his legs, and especially along his spine. They were a sort of jagged circular pattern, differing and alternating rings of shades of pink, much like his skin but yet raised slightly, and just saturated enough to not be. They looked a bit like scabs, really, a little like small burns decorating his body now, but he had not been burned, had not been cut - he knew what these scars were from.
Everyone had, he knew - because as soon as they were pointed out, there was a collective blanket of anguish draped across the room. These were scars common to Gems, especially the Gems of Earth, of Little Homeworld, and they had all seen them, but not - not quite like this. Because their forms were a projection of light, so it made sense that the distortion would be in mere color alone.
And besides - his corruption had been different. Been self-inflicted. Of course his body would react differently to the scarring.
So, he had the scars. Big deal. They would fade over time, he was sure (though he had never seen the marks fade from any of the Gems he knew). They weren’t that noticeable (though they were inhuman, like branded tattoos along his skin that ached when he moved). Really, they weren’t anything at all (though they were also everything, so much, and so heavy on him that he could barely stand it) and he could handle them (though they seemed to scream when he looked at them, loudly in his head, a ringing reminiscent of what he had been through before, chanting remember, remember Steven, you’re a monster and never forget it).
And then -
It had been an accident, really. As much as Steven’s mindset lately had been off kilter, he hadn’t been thinking of the scars at all; he had been having a rough night, his anxiety running high (though not as off-the-charts as it had been trending lately), feeling jittery and overwhelmed and - and his thumb had just idly caught the corner of one of the round disks on his arm. Had dug in a little to the groove he had felt.
And then he had hissed, looked down - and saw that it had flaked off, thick like a scab. Was oozing the smallest bit of blood from the wound it had left.
They came off?
It was almost as if he fell into a trance, then - because he didn’t know they could come off. Didn’t know they weren’t completely and irrevocably permanent, didn’t know that they, while being part of his skin - the scars weren’t quite his skin? At least, this one wasn’t - and he blinked, and his hand went for the wound that was open, the rest of the scar perfectly intact, and carefully tried to - dig in, and remove the rest -
And oh, did it sting. The skin there screamed at him to stop, a horrible jolt of stinging pain shooting up and down his arm, and he winced, shook his head. He leaned down, gave his arm a kiss to heal up the damage. The wound magically closed before his eyes, the pink corruption scarring reforming immediately where it had been. And that was that.
Except, that wasn’t it - because Steven looked at it closer, later on, studied it with fascination, and - he wasn’t sure if he was imagining it or not, but the scar had healed a little, where he had scabbed it earlier. There was a slight chink missing out of the circle, right there, where he had caught it.
And so began Steven’s mission of sorts.
It was only when he was alone, completely, couldn’t be interrupted - he was hyper-vigilant of the fact that the Gems, no one would really understand what he was doing; he knew it looked bad on paper, looked bad in person.
(It was stupid, really, he knew it was bad, but - he couldn’t stop it. Now that he knew he could erase it all -)
He found himself locking himself inside the bathroom for long stretches of time, would sit there by the bathtub and just - dig in to the edges of his scars, would carefully, slowly try to remove them. The pull on his skin stung, the tearing - it was imprecise, clumsy, and hurt like hell , but it also gave him a sort of numb satisfaction? He tried his best to be careful, too, made sure he was washing his hands as he acted, made sure the little bits of blood that would well up under the scars wouldn’t get anywhere - and most importantly, he was healing them, as soon as his back became stiff from sitting on the floor, or after someone would knock on the door, inquire if he were ok. He would quickly kiss his arms, his legs, his side (as best he could, sometimes he just - wiped his spit on it), and would walk out, his trance broken but his ritual complete.
But then he noticed that - sometimes? He was, mindlessly, going over the old scars, too.
“It’s just to make sure they’re healed,” he thought to himself, staring down at the bloodied welts he had dug up, ignoring the rising sense of horror in the back of his mind as he took in the depths of his - what? Self-mutilation? He shook his head hard at the thought - no, no. This wasn’t anything as dark as that! He wasn’t doing this to hurt himself, he wasn’t - he didn’t want to die or anything. He didn’t like the pain and stinging at all, he wished it didn’t - this was just. A necessary thing he had to do.
A necessary thing he had to do, to really remove the evidence of his melt-down. By doing this, he was helping everyone, even - because once the scars were gone, they wouldn’t be reminded of his mistake. They would finally, finally have their Steven back, the old Steven who - who didn’t cry so much, or spend so much time in bed, or have to be handled with white gloves practically to make sure he didn’t shatter.
This was a - a return to normalcy.
And then, he noticed - that he couldn’t stop it.
His sessions were becoming longer, covering more areas of his ( messed up ) body. He kept getting interrupted and forced to stop, instead of coming to stop them himself; and he was getting the sinking suspicion that the Gems thought something was up, too, because they kept giving him a look when he’d come out, kept looking him up and down to make sure he was okay.
(Which he was.)
And, to his horror, he noticed that - it was becoming somewhat - uncontrollable? Because he wasn’t just picking the scars when he was planning to, now - it was becoming more so when he was anxious and high-strung, or when he had any sort of moment by himself, when no one was watching him. He’d just be sitting there, and then his arms would begin to sting, and he’d look down and - the welts would be there, glinting red, and he’d quickly kiss them away. The dull roar of - something ( horror ) - he felt when he was removing the scars was permeating into his everyday life, was raising his base-level of anxiety higher and higher, because -
- he was losing control -
- and that just made it worse , because now he was in a race, and he - he had to finish it, finish going over the corruption scars before they got worse, before anyone got the wrong ( wrong ) idea and stopped him -
(Please, please, a voice echoed in the back of his mind - please, let someone stop him.)
So, with all that escalation, the way it seemed that the ritual was taking over his life - of course he wasn’t able to keep it to himself.
They were sitting up in Steven’s room, watching a movie idly together - Connie had come over after completing her studying for the day (but he knew she would’ve probably liked to do more, she usually spent way more time, but she had been coming over ever since that had happened and he couldn’t help but feel guilty), and they were just. Laying there, relaxing (or that’s what he was supposed to be doing, but of course he couldn’t, of course he couldn’t just be a good friend and enjoy a movie with her).
And then - “oh, Steven - you’re bleeding!”
He blinked, looked down at his arm - she was right, he was. A large part of one of his scars was gone, and there was a thick droplet of blood oozing down his forearm, slowly leaving a red trail in its wake. And he -
- stared -
- and then shook his head, hard.
“Oh, whoops,” he laughed (a little too loudly), sitting up quickly to avoid dripping anything onto the bedspread, “I, uh, must’ve caught my arm on something? Hold on -” and he made a big show of kissing it, healing it, holding the arm out as it sparkled briefly, and he went over, grabbed a tissue from his nightstand and - blotted up the red, tossing it into the trash, and he turned around, a smile on his face, because it was fine , he was okay, everything was great -
Connie was staring at him, her confusion clear as day on her face.
“Steven,” she said carefully, slowly after a moment, her shoulders trembling slightly as she sat up on the bed from where she had been laying. “Where… what happened to your scars?”
Steven - looked down at them, at the half-carved out circles along his arms (and legs, and thighs, and back, and). “What?” he said, with a smile (a grin because he was fine). “Oh, I think they’re getting better? They’re just, disappearing, I guess-”
And Connie grabbed his arm, then, looked at it closely. Stared, and he could see it, see her thinking it over, looking at the previously marked skin and how it was now smooth (but not too smooth, a little taunt in places from where he couldn’t stop, and) - she flipped his arm over, looking at the sides, looking at how the bright pink had been edged, chewed away, the odd shapings of the edges, the chinks missing in them, and - she ran a thumb over them, over the surface of the scars, old and new-
And there was, then, a brief moment that seemed to stretch out for an eternity, a great pause, a breath - where it was all still ok.
Where no one knew.
Then he saw it click in her eyes, and the look she gave him then - he would not soon forget the horror that dawned on her face then.
She, of course, told the Gems.
And what had followed had been - horrible. Because he had to explain it to them - that it was fine, that he wasn’t - hurting himself (though it did hurt), he was just - fixing things, the imperfections. He showed them, then, the scars and their changing shapes, on his arms, and on his stomach, and on his legs.
“It’s, it’s not like I’m - cutting them off, you know” he said, with a laugh that sounded like it was a million miles away, in someone else’s life - “I’m not doing it to, to - they just, kind of fall off? Like a scab -”
The Gems, who had never experienced a scab in their life, did not understand.
“Steven,” Garnet said after a moment, removing her visor with a touch - and all three of her eyes were staring straight at him, watering slightly. “You’re removing your scars yourself.”
It wasn’t a question, he knew - had never heard a question from the taller Gem as far as he could remember. But he nodded, excitedly, because yes - she got it! “Yeah,” he said, encouraged. “I found a way to remove them!”
But then, she shook her head, looking down at his arms.
“You need to stop,” she said. “This - this isn’t healthy - this isn’t good for you, Steven.”
He laughed. “What?”
“You’re ripping your skin off!” Amethyst yelled at him, finally breaking her own sort of silent trance with an immediate turn into - anger, it seemed. “Dude, that’s -” and she floundered for a moment, eyes darting between his eyes and his arms (which he noticed, and quietly put them behind himself, behind his back, because suddenly his excitement was gone, replaced by - shame ), and her own eyes started to tear up as well. “That’s not good ,” she finished lamely, deflated just as quick as she had lit up. “That’s not good , Steven.”
“How long has this been going on?” Pearl said, her hands covering her mouth.
He stared at them, before looking back at Connie for help - but her gaze was down on the floor, silently, solemnly.
And he stuttered - “w-what does it matter,” he found himself saying. “It’s fine, I’m - I’m fine, guys. I’m not - this isn’t - I’m fine , I promise!”
Turns out? He wasn’t fine.
With a stern amount of encouragement, he brought up his - his picking (which was not necessarily his favorite term for it, no, but what everyone seemed to be calling it), to his new therapist the very next session.
She had seemed cautiously concerned for him as he had explained it all to her (because it was - important , that she didn’t think it was something he was doing to hurt, this was just - something he did , now), had taken a look at his arms - and had been silent for a moment. Had mulled it over, before getting out a thick book from her shelf, flipping through it for reference.
“What you’re doing, Steven,” she said softly, “it’s not - uncommon, really. Skin picking, dermatillomania - many people have it as its own separate thing, while others have it as a symptom of something - larger. Regardless, though - I think we need to talk about it.”
And - they did.
“I just,” Steven said, minutes later, once the dam had been broken - thick rivulets of tears ran down his face, and he wiped them away uselessly. “I want to erase it all. I want to go back to - to who I was, who everyone thought I was, before - before I got so permanently messed up. ”
“Steven, you’re not ‘permanently messed up’,” she replied, firmly. “But that sort of thinking is what led to your breakdown before, what’s obviously led to a lot of turmoil for you now - what’s exacerbating your condition. You were hiding it better before, maybe, but you were in pain then, and you’re in pain now -”
And she leaned forwards then, her hands firmly clasped together. “But you have the chance to work on healing , now, as well. Really healing, working through your problems, getting to the root of things - that’ll help you stop feeling so bad. That’ll help you really work on recovering from all this, not just covering it up, not just - replacing your old scars with new ones.”
He sighed, a heavy sigh, and nodded. Wiped more tears from his face, sniffling loudly. “I,” he started, “ I’d like that.”
And so they started to work on it. On his problems, on getting to the root of things.
And to be honest? He felt almost worse for a while, because - it was at the forefront of his mind, now, he was thinking back on so many things ( Jasper White Diamond Eyeball and pain pain pain ) and the urge to pick at himself was even higher than ever, but the Gems were - on high alert now, so any time he went to the bathroom he knew they were outside, would rap on the door after a minute to check on him, and they consistently had an eye on him, watching him.
(His therapist mentioned that it was out of concern, out of love for him - that they were making sure he was okay, that he had stopped. But it was embarrassing and made his neck prickle whenever he caught their eyes on him, like there was something wrong with him, that he was - diseased , in a way.
He mentioned this to her, and she nodded, because - it was an honest critique, a real thing he was feeling. He just needed to reframe it.)
After a while, though, the urge to pick… started to decrease. Because his anxiety was going down, once some of those larger demons of his were tackled - and so things weren’t setting him off as much, then. He was making it more and more days without feeling like he wanted to shrivel up and vanish, he was laughing more, he was - feeling kind of good , to be honest. It was almost foreign, after so long of dealing with so much of a heavy weight on his shoulders, on his chest, in his gem - he was starting to feel like he was finally strong enough to carry it.
And his scars? Over time, they would fade, he was certain. They would be just a distant memory of what he had gone through, an echo of a reminder of the pain and struggle he had experienced for so long -
But he would leave them alone, for now.