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Duke it out

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    It’s not the first time, since Little Homeschool came about, that Steven found his feet wandering to the woods.

   And it’s not too soon after - not the first time entering the woods - but after the first time brawling with Jasper, that he returns.

    Jasper doesn’t ask, doesn’t give quarter. Merely grunts when he shows up and cracks her knuckles.

   “Ready to go again, punk?”

    And in turn, Steven doesn’t ask or push her towards joining society. Merely braces himself, his stance even.

   She grins, and then lunges.

   Steven is still cautious, careful of this new power, but he lets go a little too. Jasper wants this, he’s realizing. Something to fight, a goal to conquer. She doesn’t want him to go easy either.

   And if he gets launched into a tree a little too roughly, he merely wipes the blood from his already healing nose onto his sleeve, and grins back.


    Steven won’t admit it, but he’s angry.

   Angry at himself for being angry, angry at the mess his mom left behind, angry that he can’t even be angry because then people will ask and question what’s wrong can we help are you okay?

   That’s probably why he finds himself back at Jasper’s metaphorical doorstep. Because she won’t pry, just glare, and goad him, and laugh when he lets that pent-up agression spill out, pink and furious.

   It’s. . .probably not the best coping mechanism, if he’s being honest. But he doesn’t know what else to do, and he does feel better after.

   “That the best you got?!” She roars out the challenge, the earth rumbling beneath her.

   He tightens his fist. “How about this!”

    There’s raw strength thrown behind the punch, which Jasper manages to block. She’s grinning wildly, all teeth and glinting eyes. “Not bad kid!” She exclaims as she tosses him, charging in the next instance.

   And Steven is up, weightlessness aiding him, throwing up a shield that causes her to rebound. With a wild yell, he hurtles forwards.

    It’s feral and angry and if they were both fully human, there would be spilled blood.

   But they’re not trying to maim each other; on the contrary, as much as Jasper loathes Steven and all that he represents, she respects him - his strength, his passion. And as much as Steven hates that she just won’t give up and learn to be happy again, he respects that same determination.

   They’re not friends, not in any sense, but they aren’t exactly enemies anymore. Both of their animosity will always tie to Rose, Pink Diamond. It’s inexplicable and yet plain as anything.

    Steven shoves down his feelings, swallows them, refuses to show anything beyond wariness at the mention of his mother. Until he is in the woods, and Jasper sends barbs questioning him, targeting him, and while he no longer needs reminder that he is himself, it’s refreshing to not be tied down with a long-dead name.

   Jasper’s problems, though stemming from Rose, are with Steven and Steven alone. And she takes any opportunity to remind he, especially when he trudged up the hill amongst the trees, sullen and choking on emotions he dare not name.

 

    Steven does not hate his mother, not truly. But sometimes he can’t stand the thought of hearing her name uttered.

Where do her problems end? They’ve been with him since he began, and he’s so, so sick of it.

He’s angry. He’s mad. He’s hurt and he can’t take this anymore, can’t take this tearing between if she was good or bad because she just was.


He knows she wasn’t perfect. He understands that things aren’t just black and white.

But he’s so, so tired of anything to do with her right now.

   


   A well-aimed punch sends him flying into one of the trees, and he tastes blood between his teeth. The stabs of pain, though quickly fading, brings him to here and now. There’s no Rose, no Pink; just him and Jasper and all the ugly, unnamed things inside him that he keeps at bay.

    Jasper laughs mockingly, which turns to something gleeful, as he runs into her, pink and growling, knocking her to the floor. They tumble in the dirt as they change to some sort of wrestling, trying to hold the other down.

   


 

    It’s hours later, when they’re finally done, both laying down battered and scuffed up. Jasper lay beside him, upside down though her head is next to him, hair fanned out. Steven has stopped panting, finally, and feels calmer than before.

    “So. Who won this time?”

    Jasper just snorts.

     Steven huffs. He knows when he goes back into town he’ll feel all mixed up again - hiding his feelings from the Crystal Gems, hiding his outings (they’ve so far accepted that he just wants to wander sometimes.) But for now, there is just him and Jasper, his body aching and throbbing after being thrown around, but his mind is quiet, at peace.

    He’ll have to get up soon, heal the trees, head home. But for now, he just lets himself breathe.

    And just be.

 

Chapter Text

    It takes a while before she really notices. Embarrassingly too long.

    But it’s specifically when it cuts into her class time - because she and Steven get lunch together most days, and this has been happening a lot less frequently.

    So, naturally, Amethyst becomes worried.

   Pearl and Garnet aren’t as overly concerned, surprisingly. Pearl just gets misty eyed, stating that ‘her baby is growing up’, since he doesn’t want to always hang around his parent figures. Garnet merely shrugs, and says, “He said he likes to go clear his head.”

   Concerningly vague enough statement, Amethyst hums to herself.

    Greg of course has been out of the loop for years (although he’s quick to chalk it up to ‘teenage-ness’ when asked), and Connie is busy most days. Lapis and Peridot are likewise occupied.

   Surprisingly, it’s Bismuth who seems to know the most.

   “Yeah I saw ‘im. He’s been slinking by the woods lately.” She grunts as her hammer-hand falls onto the anvil.

    Amethyst furrows her brow, which immediately flys up in realization. And then falls back down into a scrunch of irritation.

    It’s an impressive display of emotions.

    She stalks off, muttering to herself. “Darn it Steven, really? Trying to go after Jasper again?”

   She shouldn’t be surprised - Steven had this, well, drive to help people (though she’d almost call it an obsession). Didn’t take no for an answer unless he actually saw himself messing up the situation.

    Not that he was a mess-up, of course; Amethyst made sure to correct herself, so that she didn’t bleed over any negativity into Smoky next time they fused.

    (That day - in the Kindergarten - and days after, she and Steven would occasionally talk about, well, almost anything. Including feeling like failures or mess-ups or whatever. It was hard not being taken seriously, or expected to be a certain way all the time. Out of anyone, the two of them understood one another the most.

    That’s sorta why Amethyst is so insistant on knowing what’s going on. Is he okay? Why didn’t he want to talk about it? She noticed that he got real tense these days when his mom was mentioned, although she didn’t pry.

   That didn’t mean she wasn’t worried for him, of course.)

    Internal thoughts thrown aside, she resolved to just. . .follow Steven next time. She won’t interfere or make herself known, but this secrecy is absolutely killing her.


    It’s not hard to trail him, mostly because he isn’t really hiding what he’s doing.    
    
   He’s just whistling, jauntily, perking up once he’s amongst the shade of the trees. He had greeted people in town as he passed through (although she would almost say it seemed somewhat strained), and seemed normal enough.

   Amethyst passed through dappled shadows, amongst the trees, watching him intently. ‘Whatchya up to, Steve-o?

    She felt her gem tingle and squeeze - the Gem equivalent of a human’s heart dropping to their stomach. She felt unease creep in her.

    Suddenly, he changed from casual, to something firmer. His stance was. . .dare she say haughty? Like a wolf at the head of the pack. 
    
    She ducked down amongst the bushes as he yelled out, “C’mon Jasper! Too afraid to get your butt kicked again?!”

    Amethyst watched wide eyed as orange hurtled out of the underbrush, straight towards Steven. There was no time for warning as he’d already raised a shield and deflected the attack, both he and Jasper sent backwards from the shock.

    “Heh, you beat me? Think again, hybrid.”

    It was almost too much to follow, as Jasper relentlessly went after Steven, who fought back without a word
  
    Well, there were several words, backed by fury that set deep into her joints, but none of the pacifistic pleas to ‘talk things out’.

    He wasn’t trying to stop the fight.

    He was goading her.

    Just what the hell was going on?

   Amethyst ducked down further and winced as Jasper managed to uppercut Steven, sending him sky-high, only for him to hurtle back down straight for Jasper, who managed to roll to the side. She brought up an arm which he met with his shield.

    Sometimes there were snarls, and wordless yells from both of them, battle cries that spoke of barely-held back emotional turmoil. 
   
    It was destructive and messy and awful, and Amethyst had no idea what to do.

    Because she had never seen Steven like this, burning from the inside out with something so. . .so destructive
   
    There was a moment where Jasper had him pinned to a tree, and Amethyst was ready to jump out, except he started to turn pink.

    And there, that was when she felt like hiding in the ground and retreating into her Gem.

    Because this was a power that spoke of the Diamonds, and Authority, even if she didn’t know;  this was all the makings of one who held power over shattering or not, and all her gem-coding was screaming at her.

    She didn’t know how Jasper could even keep fighting against him like that.

    But then again, this was Steven. Gentle (although not right now), generally kind, good-hearted Steven. He didn’t push this power to the limit, just used it to gain an edge.

   Jasper chuckled gleefully when he managed to slug her in the side of the face.

    “That all you got?!”

    “How about this?

    He kicked her in the midsection, flipping and landing on his feet as Jasper righted herself.

    Amethyst felt numb as she watched it continue.

    She probably should have stepped in but what the hell was she gonna do?

    By the time they were done (mutually just collapsing where they stood, not far from one another), it had been well over an hour.

    “Hff. . .we broke. . .so many. . .hff. . .trees. . .”

    A grunt. “Then don’t heal ‘em.”

    Steven pushed aside his breathlessness. “But we hurt ‘em!” He whined, not bothering to look at her.

    Jasper shrugs, staring straight up. “Do what you want.”

    “Meh, you’re mean.” Amethyst can see Steven sticking his tongue out, although Jasper doesn’t even turn to look.

    She perks up. Huh, weren’t they just. . .beating the crap out of each other?? Why were they suddenly being sorta friendly??

    It was quiet for awhile; Amethyst considered slinking back home so that she could decide what to do, when Steven spoke up again.

    “Apparently mom, er, Rose, I mean, Pink had these destructive powers.”

    “And?” There’s a tense edge to Jasper’s voice.

    A sigh. “Apparently I have them now. And, like, this wouldn’t be an issue except that she hurt Vollyball.” His voice goes low.

   “Who?” Jasper’s quick to ask, turning slightly towards him.

    “Pink Pearl, who was her Pearl before Pearl. But that’s not even the worst part; it was an accident!” He sits up suddenly, throwing his hands in the air. “She  got moody and hurt her old Pearl bad enough that she has psychological trauma over it!” His voice drops and he puts his face in his hands. “I could end up doing that.”

    Amethyst startles. It suddenly makes sense. Was that why he had been avoiding them? Coming out here to fight Jasper? She knows he has baggage - by the stars does she know - and sure, he’s been moody, but. . .

    He could have talked to someone. He could have talked to me.

    Jasper’s voice cuts through her thoughts. “So? Then get control,” she’s sitting up now, face twisted in a snarl though it isn’t directed at Steven, “you take that power and pound it into the dust until you know it can’t act out without your say so!” She suddenly grins maniacally, laughing.

    Steven seems to relax at that, laughing as well. “You know what, you’re right! If I practice it enough-!”

    Jasper hauls herself up, picking Steven up by the hood of his jacket. “Well, no time to waste! Show me what you’ve got!”

    Amethyst decides to sneak away when round two starts.


     She doesn’t see Steven until hours later; he’s fresh and clean, so he probably showered not too long after. He also seems relaxed, that happy twinkle back in his eye.

   Amethyst just leans against the counter while Steven opens the fridge.

    She decides to be direct; she never was one for betting around the bush.

   “I followed you earlier.”

    His grip on the fridge tightens a little.

    “Look,” Amethyst sighs, “I won’t tell Pearl or Garnet or anyone else, but like, be careful okay? You guys were a little . . .rough.”

    After all, it’s not her place to tell him how to deal. The best she can do is guide him as best as she can.
   
    “-uff!

    Steven has wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, nuzzling a little like he used to when he was younger. “. . .thanks for understanding.” His voice is muffled, low, she has to strain to hear it.

    She returns the hug, squeezes a little tighter. “Of course, man. And . . .I’m always here, if you want to talk.”

Chapter Text

    Steven and the Crystal Gems were in Little Homeworld, towards the outskirts, discussing some of the newer developments.

    They didn’t even notice until Jasper hefted Steven up onto her shoulder like a sack of flour.

    “C’mon kid.”

    While the other’s were quick to get ready for a fight (they all had their weapons drawn in record time), they held back as Steven merely rolled his eyes. “Really Jasper, now?”

    “It’s been a while! Let’s go!”

     Steven didn’t try to fight or get out of her grip, merely gave a quick finger-salute. “Be back in a few hours guys, don’t worry!”

      They watched slack-jawed as Steven and Jasper faded into the woods.

    Only Amethyst was unfazed, snorting.

    “So, my bets on Jasper getting her butt kicked.”