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The Best Mother and Doctor I can be

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After making notes regarding Steven’s dissociation, Dr. Maheswaran heard footsteps slowly trudging up the stairs, signaling his return. She turned to face him as he reached the top of the steps.

“Did you want me to wait before we continue?” She asked.

“I can keep going.” Steven answered, sitting back down on the bed. He sat on top of the covers, about a third of the way back, knees bent, legs crossed at the ankles at the foot of the bed. His eyes were tired, but he was sitting up more than before, hands resting in his lap and was meeting her gaze again. He no longer looked guarded, his smile was still missing, but he wasn’t frowning either.

“Alright. I wanted to ask you about the few days between the car accident and your meltdown.” His expression sank from neutral to dejected. “I understand there was a confrontation between you and the gems regarding the accident.”

“I should have seen this coming,” he replied glumly. The doctor looked to him to continue. He sighed and said, “I was feeling defensive because they called the pink mode an outburst. I was still dealing with the swelling and their point in the argument seemed more about making sure dad or someone else didn’t get hurt. Which I was worried about, but I was trying to deal with it. I went to step away, because it was happening again, and if they were right, I didn’t want them to be caught up in it. They didn’t want me to leave, I felt pressured, and I shouted at them to ‘leave me alone’ which shook the house and cracked the windows. After that, time felt like it was slowing down.” Dr. Maheswaran’s brows shot up. “That had happened before when I turned pink, it’s a short term super speed burst. So when I saw what I had done and that they were all still trying to keep me there, I took off. I ran a few miles before time went back to normal, and I went to go hide out in the woods. I thought it was the last place anyone would look for me.”

“Steven, why were you afraid of being found?”

“I was afraid of hurting someone. I didn’t want to be around the people I loved because I thought I was dangerous. I wanted to alone, but a part of me didn’t want that, because I was hoping to get help controlling myself.”

“That’s why you went to see Jasper?” Dr. Maheswaran asked gently. Steven fidgeted and looked away.

“I was hoping she could train me. It was a mistake.” He stopped, apprehension written on his face.

“I understand you were gone for three days. Did you get enough to eat while in the wilderness? And did you sleep at all?”

“I broke my vegetarian streak, I cooked a few fish for protein. There wasn’t a lot of edible vegetation where I was and I didn’t bring my phone to look up what was safe to eat. I was sleeping on the ground, but I did get some sleep, at least.”

“Have you been sleeping better since? Any nightmares?” Steven shivered slightly, and Dr. Maheswaran frowned.

“I slept more last night, but I woke up twice in the night. I don’t wanna talk about my nightmares.”

“If you don’t want to discuss the contents of your nightmares, that’s alright. Would you say that you get them more than once a week?” Steven pulled his knees closer to his chest and wrapped his arms around them again before nodding. “Would you say hey happen on more days during the week than not?” He nodded again. “That’s a cause for concern. I understand not wanting to talk about this right now; we’ve been dealing with difficult subjects here, but you should be talking with someone about it if they’re happening with this high a frequency. Has this been happening for several weeks? Months or longer?”

“They’ve been happening more often in the past month or so, but they used to be not as much of a problem. I’ve had them basically since my powers started getting stronger before the diamonds showed up.”

“If it’s been that long, you would be helping your recovery to talk with someone about it.”

“Connie’s helped me sometimes in the past, but we’ve both been so busy lately I didn’t want to bother her with it.” Dr. Maheswaran let out a quiet huff and Steven looked back at her.

“Why not ask the gems or your father?”

“Dad wouldn’t have understood the gem power stuff and I didn’t want the gems to think I couldn’t handle some dreams that weren’t actually important. Anytime I thought it had to do with a mission we were working on I brought it up, but there were plenty of times I knew it was a memory or my head just playing out ‘what if’ fears. I didn’t want to give them a reason to stop me from helping, especially when I was getting a handle on my powers.”

“Right now we want you to focus your goals on helping yourself. You’ve been under a lot of strain, and your support network is ready to help. All you have to do is reach out.”

“Why…” Steven said trailing off. Dr. Maheswaran waited, looking at Steven with concern. “Why are you doing all this?” He finished, avoiding her eyes.

“Steven, you’re my patient. Even if I don’t have the expertise necessary to give you a full diagnosis it’s my job to get you the help you need-“

“Why aren’t you angry at me?” He interjected, voice thick with emotion.

“Why would I be angry at you?” She asked, her tone surprised.

“For proposing to Connie!” He bit back, eyes shut and tears finally spilling out. Dr. Maheswaran stood, shoving Steven’s chart into the chair and moved to approach him.

“Steven, I-“ her words were cut off by a thundering roar from outside. She turned to see Lion canter from a portal to a stop in front of the door. He let out a deep whine, looking at Steven with what seemed to be understanding. Steven’s tears didn’t slow, but he blinked them away enough to see the big cat at the door.

“C-C- Can you-” Steven stuttered through his sobs, “l-let him-m in?” She nodded and went to the sliding door, stepping aside to let Lion rush forward. The big cat shoved his head in between Steven’s neck and chest and his hands caressed through the pale pink mane. “L-Lion…” he said through a sniffle. The teenager stretched his legs out and Lion pushed his big face into Steven’s chest, stepping onto the bed and curling into the spot Connie was sitting in earlier, save for his hind legs spilling over the bed’s edge onto the floor. Dr. Maheswaran quietly walked back to the chair in front of the pair. She picked up the paperwork and sat, looking on at Steven worriedly as his pet let out comforting huffs and nuzzled into the young man.

Steven’s tears slowed as he stroked Lion’s mane. After a moment, Steven scrubbed at his face and his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “S-sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t- you shouldn’t have to have sat through that.” Lion bumped Steven lightly with his head again.

“You needing to get your feelings out is something that you are working on,” she replied. “It’s not something you need to apologize for, Steven. It will take some time to get used to being more open about vulnerable topics, but I didn’t notice any swelling, or turning pink, so that seems like progress.” Steven sniffed.

“I… it wasn’t fair to Connie asking her to marry me and live as Stevonnie. I told her that today, but I don’t know if she told you.”

“She hadn’t. And you’re right, that wasn’t fair.” Dr. Maheswaran replied and Steven ducked his head, hiding in Lion’s mane. “However, I understand you were not in the best mindset when you made that decision. So as long as she isn’t looking to change her answer to getting married now, I have no intention of holding it against you.” He glanced back up at her, blush fading from his face.

“You aren’t mad? At all?”

“Steven, I believe I understand why you wanted to escape the emotions you were struggling with by throwing yourself into the deep end of a relationship. Despite how misguided it was, it was a way of trying to reach out. It’s not uncommon, and although it certainly wasn’t the best way to cope, I assure you there are worse methods to seeking attention when struggling with your feelings.” Dr. Maheswaran paused. “If you don’t want to answer this, I understand, but did Connie have anything to add when you spoke with her about the proposal today?” He took a deep breath and fidgeted slightly.

“She said it would be something we should talk about later. Next week maybe. She doesn’t want to make things more difficult.” He paused. “I was glad to hear that she still considers me her best friend, even after all this.” Dr. Maheswaran quietly sighed with a relieved smile on her face.

“I wouldn’t have doubted it for a moment. She and I almost had an argument over her staying over, but because her and your father both assuring me it would be best if she spent the night, I conceded. She doesn’t argue with me over spending time with her other friends. I can’t let her stay over again, she needs to go to school tomorrow, but I honestly don’t think I could stop her coming after class if I tried. She values your friendship very much.” Steven managed a weak smile.

“Thank you for letting her stay... And I don’t want to hold her back from her classes. I know how important they are to her.” He shifted timidly. “She never wants to do anything halfway: her sword training, classes, friendship… She makes it clear what matters to her, and maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention before that I made it on that list.”

“Schedule conflicts were the primary reason the two of you weren’t seeing much of each other. Your value is not tied only to how much time you can put into spending together. I hope that you two being together today makes that clear.” Steven nodded, looking down at Lion, who licked the teenager’s cheek. Steven stroked the big cat’s mane. “Now, I have a few more questions regarding your time away from home.” His smile slipped from his face, expression becoming neutral. He nodded. “During your training with Jasper, were you hurt at all?” Guilt colored his face.

“Yeah. I wasn’t being careful.”

“Where exactly were you hurt?”

“When we started training, I punched a tree and that hurt my hand. My right hand.”

“Bare-handed?” Dr. Maheswaran exclaimed.

“I usually bubble my fists to avoid that but… Jasper was talking to me about channeling my powers and I was trying to impress because I wanted her help. It was stupid.” Dr. Maheswaran gave a quiet sigh.

“Has it been hurting since then?” She asked. He shook his head. “I’ll want to examine it to ensure nothing’s misaligned. But, was there anywhere else you were hurt in that time?” Steven chewed his lip before answering.

“Well, when we started training, she kicked me-” he rested his hand above his gem on his abdomen “–here and I hit the ground kinda hard.” Dr. Maheswaran’s brows drew up in alarm. “She also head-butted me.” He paused, curling his hands back through Lion’s mane. “And when we really got into fighting a-at the end she did it again, with her helmet.”

“Her gem weapon? She used it on you?” The doctor asked fearfully.

“Y-yeah, she said ‘I’m not gonna coddle you,’ and she meant it. I got knocked into some rubble and-“ his hand went to his left side along his ribs “when I hit the ground it felt like a sharp pinch in this area.”

“It’s possible you broke a few ribs when you landed. Did you have any trouble breathing after that?” He nodded.

“It wasn’t for long, but yeah, I was coughing a bit and it hurt for maybe about 15 or 20 seconds?”

Dr. Maheswaran swallowed. “I’m sorry that that happened to you, Steven. I’m going to want to examine those areas, and we should get you in for additional X-ray and MRI this week. If there’s any lasting damage, it’s better that we know about it sooner rather than later.”

“I have to go back to the hospital?” he asked nervously, meeting her eyes again, but his shoulders drew up to his ears. She took a deep breath before replying.

“I’ve been speaking to your father and the gems about getting you into seeing a trauma specialist. It’s at a different facility than where you were seen last time. Based on what your family told me, they think you would prefer to not have to stay overnight, which would mean that my hospital’s location would not be the best choice. Was their assumption correct?” He nodded rapidly. “The next closest location that offers outpatient care for an acute case such as this is the East Shore Trauma Center. It’s about an hour away. I’m in contact with one of the doctors there and I think it’s best if you go in tomorrow. I’m going to be sending over this paperwork tonight so you don’t have as much to fill out. They’ll ask you some questions and run a few tests. Between this discussion we’re having now and your first appointment, whether tomorrow or in the next few days, we should be able to give you a diagnosis and have you set up with a treatment plan. They will assess your needs and may suggest staying a night or two, but I will state on your chart that you prefer not to be away from home. Getting treatment there will help you prevent future adverse events like the meltdown and give you coping skills to move forward in a healthier way. It will take time, but you can get to a place where you are happier with yourself.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Steven replied softly. “I thought that... Connie had said talking with you would help, but this is a lot. I don’t know if anyone will really understand- I’m a gem, and gems don’t have doctors for this kind of stuff so how can they really help me?”

“There are many things we discussed today that doctors help people your age with. Trouble sleeping, dissociation, stress, feeling unsure about your future or relationships are struggles my patients have had. I gave them advice and helped get them on a path to tackling these problems.” She reached a hand out onto his shoulder and he relaxed it. “That’s what I want for you too. I know this can feel intimidating but you have a support system to lean on when it gets hard. You’ve been through a lot, and you deserve to get the care you need.”

“So, what do I have to do?” He replied anxiously.

“If after I leave, you feel like you’re struggling with your feelings or memories, reach out to anyone around you. They all want to help.” He tentatively nodded. “Make sure you have some dinner tonight, considering you hadn’t had proper meals for a few days. As for tomorrow, your father will be driving you to ESTC as long as you feel well enough to do so. I don’t recommend you driving, considering you’ve had head injuries that could be serious, for at least a week.” He opened his mouth as if to protest but she continued. “If you have any sort of adverse effects from the injuries, it’s best that you’re not behind the wheel. It would be irresponsible to let you drive.” Steven closed his mouth and ducked his head again. “For your safety and the safety of others, Greg will take you. I also suggest keeping screen time to a minimum for a few days, especially if you find yourself getting headaches from them. If you keep the brightness down on your phone and laptop, well as keeping screen sessions to a maximum of half an hour, it shouldn’t cause you further strain. After going to ESTC, keep your activity light. There’s no pressure to overdo it.”

“Wow. You really think that this will help?”

“I know it will take time, but healing from trauma is possible. You just need to take a few steps in the right direction.” She released his shoulder.

“I- uh, I’m glad you’re helping with this. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Steven.” Dr. Maheswaran said. She set his chart down on the floor beneath her chair. “I’d like to examine those injury sites now, if you don’t mind.” He nodded. “That means Lion will need to move over.”

“Oh, right.” Steven replied, shifting and keeping one hand to Lion’s head as he moved to prevent the big cat from following him to the edge of the bed. Lion let out a quiet grumble and curled himself into a ball at the foot of the bed closest to the door. He kept his gaze on Dr. Maheswaran, making her uneasy. Despite the fact that the big cat had slept inside her house when Steven had given himself to Homeworld years ago, the look on his face depicted a silent warning regarding the doctor’s standing in regards to Steven.

“Let me see your right hand first.” Dr. Maheswaran instructed, and Steven extended his arm, palm face down. She gently held it in her outstretched hand, examining the back first before manipulating his wrist to have him turn his hand over. “Nothing appears bruised, swollen or dislodged,” she noted quietly. Steven simply watched and moved his hand along with her inspection. “Curl your fingers for me.” He did as instructed. “Any pain or resistance when you move?” He shook his head. “Can you touch each finger to your palm?” He did, and nothing stuck you to her as being out of the ordinary with the alignment of his hand. “I don’t see anything wrong. Your miraculous recovery streak seems to continue.” She released his hand and he set it in his lap. She grabbed her bag from beside her and pulled out her stethoscope. “I’d like to make sure that fall you had that may have caused damage to your ribs didn’t affect your lung function. Can you roll up your shirt?” He grabbed the hem of the shirt, but hesitated.

“Before I do,” he replied quietly, “I wanted to warn you. When I had my meltdown, turning into the… you know… it left marks on my back. They look like big scabs, but they’re not from falling or landing badly. It’s from the corruption.” He paused and she eyed him worriedly. “The other uncorrupted gems have it too, but mostly they’re in the form of spots or horns. Mine look like four-pointed stars or irregular diamonds.”

“Are they causing you any pain?”

“They’re not sorer than the rest of me,” he answered. She nodded and Steven rolled up his shirt as she put the stethoscope on. Dr. Maheswaran observed him and warmed the end of the tool with her palm before gently resting it on the area of his ribs where he gestured the injury had been.

“Just breathe normally for a moment.” She moved the instrument along his chest and side before switching sides to compare the sound of his breathing. Glancing to his back, the corruption marks were noticeably pink, but didn’t look like raw wounds as she had expected, more like injuries that had been healing for a week or more. He had described them as diamond-shaped, but they resembled more of an X or cross shape from her perspective. She moved the end of the tool back to the injury site. “Now take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds.” He inhaled quietly through his nose and held it. “Let your breath out slowly,” she instructed. He complied, letting the exhale out through his mouth. “I shouldn’t be so surprised you have excellent breath control, given how much you sing.” She joked with a slight smirk. Steven managed a lopsided smile. Her expression faltered slightly. “Give me anther few deep breaths, okay?” He did as she asked, and her thoughts swirled as she listened.

I would have thought I could get a chuckle out of him, or even a little quip in reply. She thought. His distress from all of this is causing him to act significantly subdued; it’s worrying. I’ve never seen him act so unlike himself. All I can hope is that he’s not concealing his issues, and this isn’t just another mask to hide how he’s feeling.

“I don’t hear anything out of the ordinary in your lungs.” She said. He tugged his shirt down as she leaned back in her chair, pulling the stethoscope away. “Still, I’ll recommend you for an X-ray to be certain everything healed correctly. Now I have one more question regarding your time with Jasper.” She hesitated, seeing him tense. “I understand if you don’t feel comfortable answering right now, but this will have to be addressed eventually. When the two of you fought, before you came home, I understand she was-” his jaw clenched and began to tremble, so she held a moment before continuing. “Critically injured. Was what happened-“

“Don’t. Don’t say it.” He said softly, voice shaky.

“Was that your intention?” she concluded, trying her best to avoid the word he probably didn’t want to hear. His eyes were unfocused on a point over her shoulder. His hands shuddered in his lap curling into his sweatpants. She regarded him gingerly as she waited for his answer.

“No, I thought we were-” he answered, tone quick and quiet, punctuated by hiccupping breaths. His cheeks were flushed, but it was a coral pink, not the bright neon pink she had seen at the hospital. Her face fell. “We just- She told me, not to hold back and I never-“ Lion was swiftly pressing into his side. Steven’s hands went up, and Lion pushed his mane to the closer hand. “I- I didn’t think I could do that-“ His other hand fisted in his curls and gave a tug. She reached out for it and he flinched.

“Steven, you aren’t still there. You are safe here.” She moved her hand closer but didn’t touch him. “Can you still hear me okay or does it sound like I’m far away or muffled again?”

“M- muffled,” he faltered. Lion pushed his head to Steven’s neck and the teen let out a low sob.

“Can you set your feet on the ground and take a few deep breaths for me?”

Unsteadily, Steven stretched his legs over the edge of the bed and set them on the floor. His eyes were still unfocused and his breathing was still fast and a bit shallow, but it was a start. Gently, Dr. Maheswaran reached for Steven’s wrist and found his skin running hot. She slid her hand from wrist to palm until she touched his fingers, carefully untangling them from his hair as his breaths calmed slightly. Once his hand was away from his scalp, she guided it into Lion’s mane, noting his pulse coming in fast, but it was gradually slowing. “If you can hear me alright, describe how Lion’s mane feels.”

“Fluffy. Warm.” Steven answered, pausing slightly between each descriptor. His hands reached further down approaching the large cat’s shoulders. “Solid. Soft. Straight. Not knotted, or curly.” He blinked a few tears from his eyes, and the far off look faded as he breathed more deeply. His eyes flicked to Lion’ face and the pink beast licked at his chin with a gentle grunt. “Comforting. Like a blanket.”

“Do you still feel like sound around you is muffled?” Dr. Maheswaran asked. Steven shook his head. Lion gave a sound that resembled a sigh and rested his head on Steven’s lap. Steven continued carding his hands through Lion’s fur as he slowly calmed himself. “Steven, what I instructed you to do just a moment ago is a grounding exercise. When struggling to experience the moment, grounding exercises help to keep a focus on reality. From what I observed, you looked like you were dissociating.” Steven looked up at her, but kept petting Lion’s mane. “If you find yourself caught in a memory, feeling disconnected from the present or like things aren’t real, focusing on things you can feel, taste or smell are helpful tactics to ground you.” She paused. “If there’s strong flavored gum or mints you like, keeping them in reach can be very beneficial. A nice smelling hand cream or body spray would also work.”

“I definitely have some skincare products downstairs that might work.” He replied, voice rough. “I uh- didn’t turn pink, did I? During that?”

“No pink,” she confirmed.

“No pink,” he repeated before looking back at Lion. “I’m sor-“

“There’s no need to apologize. You did nothing wrong.”

“I freaked out a little.” He stopped. “Did I- did I answer your question from before? I don’t feel like I did.”

“It’s okay.” She replied. “What I’ll ask is a yes or no question, and if you feel like you’re having trouble getting the words out, focus on Lion and just nod or shake your head.” He took a deep breath before nodding. “Was what happened to Jasper an accident?”

“… Yeah.” He answered quietly.

“Okay. You don’t have to say anything else about it if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to think about it right now.”

“That’s alright.” She said, smiling amiably. “Do you feel like you can answer questions about other things? Or did you want to stop for now?”

“Lion’s helping.” He said softly, looking back to the big cat, who gave a gentle head-butt to Steven’s chest. “I can answer some more.”

“When you were dissociating, I noticed you were gripping your hair.”

“Oh.”

“Is that something you do often?”

“N- no. The last time, I was dreaming, and I had a horrible headache before I did that. I think… I was trying to distract myself… from the headache.” Dr. Maheswaran shifted in her seat as she looked at him. “I don’t feel like talking about the nightmare.”

“How recent was this?”

“Maybe a week before the hospital visit? I think...?” He replied, trailing off.

“There wasn’t any more recent incidents of this? Before the meltdown?” Steven’s eyes went wide and his head snapped up.

“I forgot. I did that, right before I became…” He trailed off, looking down. “And when Jasper and I fought,” his voice quickened, “right after I saw what I did, I was so freaked out-“

“Deep breaths, Steven.” Dr. Maheswaran interrupted. He stopped, giving a few gulps of air.

“I- I- it wasn’t something I wanted to do, but I felt sick to my stomach and then I was on the ground with my hands in my hair…” He paused. “I can’t think about that anymore, I’m sorry.”

“You needing to set your boundaries is not something you need to apologize for.” She replied. “You are allowed to tell me, your other doctors, your father, the gems or your friends you don’t feel comfortable talking about something at any time. Some of these things will need to be addressed eventually in order to get treatment for them, but if it causes you discomfort, you can tell them you need to move to a different topic.”

“Okay,” he said, nodding.

“I’d like to ask you a general question about the hair pulling, if that’s alright.” Steven nodded again. “Would you say it’s a reflexive behavior, one you don’t think about doing before you find yourself doing it?”

“… Yeah.”

“Do you find that you pull hair out when you do this or is it more of an urge to feel that sensation?”

“The second thing.” He paused. “I’ve never really pulled enough to have clumps of hair come out.”

“That’s good to know, thank you.” Dr. Maheswaran pulled Steven’s chart from the floor and set it in your lap before continuing. ”Do find yourself doing other reflexive behaviors to distract yourself, like scratching yourself or picking at imperfections on your skin?” Steven hesitated for a moment, curling his fingers through Lion’s mane.

“…No.”

“Have you ever knowingly and intentionally hurt yourself?”

“No.” Dr. Maheswaran watched his face carefully. He wasn’t showing any tells, but she wasn’t sure he was being honest.

Now is not the time to push him. She thought. He’ll talk about it when he’s ready.

“Do you drink alcohol or smoke at all?” He looked baffled at the question.

“No smoking, and I had a sip of champagne at the New Year’s party this year, but you and my dad said it was okay…” he trailed off.

“Doug told me you weren’t a fan.” She remarked dryly. He shook his head, his face on the edge of disgust. “Anything more than just a sip with your father’s permission?” Steven chewed his lip.

“Will I be in trouble?”

“No, I will want to know who gave it to you, so I can make sure they won’t do it again during your treatment. Alcohol can be dangerous for young people, especially if you are trying to better moderate your emotions. It also can stunt brain growth if you have too much before you fully mature.” He hesitated a moment more before blurting out his answer in a single breath.

“Sadie gave me half of a Rum and Coke with dad’s permission at a Suspects concert.”

“How long ago was this?”

“I was 15, I had my growth spurt about a month before that. Dad kept an eye on my after that but I didn’t really notice any difference.”

“And that was the only time you had more than a sip of alcohol?” He nodded. “No other instances of mixed drinks or Bello Shots?”

“I’m not really interested, to be honest.” He replied with a shrug. She nodded approvingly.

“Now Steven,” she remarked, “I have a worksheet here that goes over some of the things we discussed already, however, there are a few things that could be helpful for your doctors to know if you have experienced to help with your treatment. It shouldn’t take too long, but if you want to stop, I’ll fill out what I can and the doctors at ESTC can go over it with you.”

“Okay, I can try.” He replied, looking up.

“Now, if you don’t want to go into any detail, that’s alright. These questions have one of five answers, so as long as you can tell me one through five, we can move on or stop at any time. The five options are: Happened to me, Witnessed it, Heard about it, Doesn’t Apply, or Not Sure. Are you alright with moving forward with this?” He nodded. “These are all things that can cause trauma, that you have some memory of, whether it’s recent or when you were young. Have you experienced a fire or explosion?”

“Yeah, the green hand ship. I was on it when it crashed, but I had my bubble, so I wasn’t hurt. Oh, but there was also the time I fought an era 1 gem droid that shot fire and lightning at me and got burned. So I guess both happened to me and witnessed it.” She gave a sharp breath.

“How about natural disasters, like earthquakes or flood?”

“Uh,” he said, pausing thoughtfully, tapping his chin. “Yeah. When the cluster was first emerging, that caused earthquakes. And when Lapis took the ocean, letting it come back caused a flood. So happened to me, again.”

“Have you ever been sexually assaulted?”

“No, doesn’t apply.” His face remained neutral.

“Have you ever experienced any unwanted sexual advances or similar inappropriate behaviors?” His lips quirked uneasily.

“Yeah, I was at a dance. Not one of Connie’s school dances, it was one of Sour Creams raves. A guy was trying to get us to dance with him.” Dr. Maheswaran’s brows shot up. “He was an older teenager, but we were Stevonnie, so we looked like we fit in there…” Steven clamped a hand over his mouth when he realized what he had just said. Dr. Maheswaran froze. Immediately his tone became more frantic, and he waved his hands out in front of him in an attempt at a placating motion. “I haven’t seen Kevin in years- and- and we both talked to my dad about it. I know you might be mad, and I get it, but she did talk to somebody about it at least, right? It’s not like we have to deal with him anymore. He thought we were just a normal older teen or twenty something, got kind of too close to us, we told him off and unfused… I know it’s my fault that we got put in that situation, if I hadn’t fused with her-“

“Steven, stop.” She instructed firmly. He set his hands back in his lap and nodded. Lion licked his fingers. “How old were you when this happened?” she asked, voice uneasy.

“I was almost 13. Like my birthday was about a week later. Connie was 11. I had no idea fusing could put us into that kind of position. I wanted to go to that rave. I wanted her to understand that it was okay to dance in front of other people…”

“Steven, some older teenager coming up to you because of how you looked is not your fault. I don’t blame you or Connie. I wish I had known about it, but I understand it took you two a long time to be comfortable discussing fusion with Doug and I.” she stopped, noticing he was fidgeting with his hands. “I’m guessing he didn’t immediately leave when you told him you weren’t interested.”

“Yeah. He made us pretty anxious and uncomfortable, even though he didn’t touch us, so we kind of danced at him aggressively and that’s when we unfused. After that, he left us alone. I’ve only seen him twice since then. The last time was at the party Connie and I made up at after I gave myself up to Homeworld. I barely think about him these days.” Lion pushed his head into the young man’s hands, and Steven threaded his fingers through Lion’s mane. “I’d like to move to the next question, please.”

“Okay. Have you ever experienced Combat or Exposure to a warzone?”

“I definitely have a lot of things I heard about the gem war, but the few sort of battles I’ve been in usually only had 2 or 3 enemy gems we were fighting. So I don’t think that qualifies as a warzone.”

“Have you had any life threatening injuries?”

“There’s been lots of times I was scared I was going to get killed or really hurt, but only twice did I get that badly hurt where I felt like it was actually going to happen. The gems came a lot closer to actually dying much more often.” He paused. “They tried to protect me the best they could. Both of those times it happened, I was facing the threat alone.” He hesitated again, shifting on the bed. “Can we move on, please?” Dr. Maheswaran nodded.

“Have you ever witnessed violent acts against others, including death?”

“The gems don’t die the way humans do, but I’ve seen them get poofed and even cracked more times than I’d like to. And Lars… that’s why he’s pink. Did Connie ever tell you?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not following. What happened to him?”

“It was when I gave myself to Homeworld.” He spoke softly, but the tone was nearly devoid of inflection. “He was still on the ship. After a couple days, we met up and made our escape, but there were these gem droids that were trying to shatter some new friends. He jumped on one of them and hit it with a chunk of rock, but when it exploded he got thrown off.” Dr. Maheswaran held her breath as he continued. “It was floating about 30 feet up and he hit his head. He was dead for less than a minute, I went over to him and I didn’t feel a pulse.” She felt her stomach drop. “I started crying, and I found out I had healing tears when he came back to life. It was only because of me bringing him back that I made it home when I did. His hair started acting like a wormhole so I could travel through Lion’s mane back home. Otherwise it would have been weeks, over a month, actually, before we would have made it back. He didn’t come home until after the school year was over.”

“Have you told anyone else about this?” She asked, voice hushed.

“I had to. I had to explain how I got home and why Lars wasn’t with me. But I skimmed over details on how he died. I tried to give more specifics about the other gems that were helping him, so they wouldn’t worry he wasn’t safe. I mean, neither of us were, really, but it wasn’t going to help to make his family and friends more worried.” He paused, a hand absently moving into his hair, but not pulling, before setting it down onto Lion’s back. ”I never told anyone how awful it was to listen for a heartbeat… and not find one. I felt so guilty- it was my fault he was on the ship in the first place, and I couldn’t convince him to take the escape pod without me when he had the chance to get away-“

“Take the escape pod without you?” Dr. Maheswaran murmured in disbelief. She put a hand to her mouth. “Why? Why would you have wanted that?”

“I told Homeworld I was my mom. If I kept them busy dealing with me, they wouldn’t have been snatching people up to put in the human zoo. I didn’t want my friends to have to suffer for me and mom’s mistakes. So I wanted to go either way, to keep them safe.” Dr. Maheswaran took a deep breath and wrung her hands before speaking.

“Steven, I hope you understand that is an unhealthy mindset to have. You were, 14, right?” He nodded, interlacing his fingers in front of his abdomen. “The gems, and the adults in your life were and still are responsible for your safety. You are not responsible for your friends’ safety. You should not have been put in the position you had to make that decision.”

“Connie was almost taken.” He croaked, voice rising in pitch. “I couldn’t do nothing! I- we wouldn’t have been able to get to her. We didn’t have a working ship and I would never have forgiven myself-“

“But you believe it was better for you to be taken.” She interjected. They looked at each other silently. Dr. Maheswaran’s face was stern. “I understand that your care for your friends’ safety comes from a good place, but to disregard your own well-being so much is incredibly harmful. Not just in the immediate aftermath when it happened, but from what I’m understanding, that feeling of self-sacrifice has warped your ability to form healthy relationships and hold onto a solid sense of self.”

“I was able to come home because of my powers. None of the humans,” he pulled his arms to the side and balled his fists, “who had nothing to do with this conflict, could have made it back the way I did. And my escape was because of a detour to Homeworld itself, and being lucky enough to have a gem lawyer who needed the palanquin to make her case. Connie’s resourceful and smart, but she can’t access gem tech. She’s not built the way I am.”

“She and I spoke when you were taken. She was very upset, not only that she was being left behind, but your lack of resistance to fight off these Homeworld Gems. She believed that together you would have stood a greater chance. I’m not sure which of you was better equipped for the situation, but your gems should have protected you and her. You did not deserve to have to choose whose life had more value!”

“They tried!” Steven bit back, voice cracking. “They were losing, and I didn’t see another way out. I could have made a better call, and I accepted Connie was angry with me when I came back, but at the time, I thought it was the only option. I couldn’t stand the thought of her and my other friends taken away because of what mom did! And that I gave Homeworld the list of humans that I knew back when I didn’t know better. They shouldn’t be punished for that. It was my fault!”

“This should not have been your burden to bear. You were a child.”

“But I was the only one who could fix it. I had to. The Diamonds had a grudge, and I was the only one going to put the pieces together. I fixed my family, and then I fixed Homeworld.”

“At 14, you took on far more responsibility than you should have had to. The harm that was done still affecting you now.” Steven looked away, fists uncurling and arms rested at his sides. “From what I can see, you are carrying a lot of guilt for making decisions that should not have been your obligation. The onus is on your caregivers. You need to understand that these things we’ve been discussing, the adverse events that happened, are not your fault.” She paused, and he swiped a palm across his eye, in an attempt to cover his tears. “That is the first step toward making this better. The second is having an expert guide you through these difficult events so they don’t continue to affect you in the same way. You didn’t deserve to go through these struggles, and you don’t need to face these things alone anymore.” He gave a few shuddering breaths.

“You really think,” he said, voice watery, “after everything I told you, the doctors at that hospital can help me?”

“If they don’t have the answers, they will get you to someone who can help. You’ll have to put in the time, and it may feel overwhelming at first, but you don’t need to justify needing treatment.”

“I think I’m spent, Dr. Maheswaran,” he said through quiet tears. Lion perked up and nuzzled into him again. “I don’t think I’m up for answering anymore questions.” She stood, grabbing the chart in her hand and slipping her bag over her shoulder. She gently rested her other hand on his shoulder.

“I understand. I’ll send your father some resources for more grounding techniques, though I recommend printing them out as limiting screen time is important if you have any concussion symptoms. I have one request, regarding tomorrow.”

“Oh?” he mumbled, looking up.

“Be honest with them.” She advised. He looked slightly taken aback. “If there’s anything you couldn’t tell me, or had to fabricate or omit details regarding your history, correct that if the topic comes up. Don’t allow them to move forward with wrong assumptions.” He gave a slight nod and she smiled at him. “I’ll speak with you soon. We’ll want to get you set up with a new general practitioner at some point in the near future.” She started to walk away when she heard him speak up.

“Why do I need to get somebody else?”

“There are a few questions I’m fairly certain you don’t want me to ask you that are part of a standard physical exam.” He paused for a moment.

“Like what?”

“Like ‘are you sexually active?’”

“What!?” He shouted, face beat red. Lion grumbled in protest of Steven’s yelling, and rolled into him, pushing him down onto the bed with a quiet “oof.”

“Call me if you need medical advice, and don’t forget to set boundaries if you need to,” she called over her shoulder as she made her way downstairs with a smirk.

Dr. Maheswaran got the stairs’ first landing and spotted Connie with a novel with a crow and crown in her hands on the couch. She had one earphone in, covering the ear closest to the stairs, and her phone next to her with a music application on. I bet it’s either low-fi or chill-hop. Dr. Maheswaran thought. I can’t tell the difference between the two.

“I hope you’ve finished your homework,” Dr. Maheswaran said, speaking up to ensure her daughter heard her. Connie’s head snapped up and she pressed the pause on her music. Dr. Maheswaran stopped at the base of the stairs.

“I did everything I can here,” Connie replied, taking out her earphone and putting the chord and her phone in her pocket. “I’m meeting Daniel after dinner to get my worksheet I need for tomorrow. The only other thing I have is an online Latin quiz that’s too janky to do on my phone.” She put her novel into her backpack and met her mother at the stairs. “How did it go?” she asked quietly. Dr. Maheswaran gave a slight smile.

“I think we can get through to him, but it will take time.” Dr. Maheswaran answered. “I’ll need to speak to Greg and the gems one more time before we leave so you’ll have a bit of time to say goodbye.” Connie smiled and stepped past her mother to rush up the stairs. “You better get Lapis, I still don’t want you alone in his room!”

“Mom!” Came Connie’s exasperated sigh from Steven’s bedroom. Dr. Maheswaran heard the glass door open before Connie shouted, “Lapis, you can come back in now.” With the exception of footsteps and faint voices from upstairs, the room was quiet.

Peridot and Bismuth were no longer in the interior of the Beach House. Dr. Maheswaran looked around. All of the groceries that Peridot was sorting through before were put away. Bismuth’s door closure was absent from the kitchen table. The only noticeable evidence that the gems had been inside were the canvas bags folded on the kitchen counter.

Dr. Maheswaran walked to the empty kitchen table and set Steven’s chart on its surface before sitting on the chair. From her seat she could see Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl quietly arguing on the porch. Greg was no longer in view, and the gems were speaking in hushed tones. She only spared them a glace before opening the chart and pulling out the PTSD checklist she had started before. Two more of the five questions she marked as yes: Have you had nightmares about the events or thought about the events when you did not want to, and Felt guilty or unable to stop blaming yourself or others for the events or any problems the events may have caused. Only one question remained unanswered; Have you felt constantly on guard, watchful, or easily startled? Perhaps Greg can ask him and text me so I can send it to Dr. Wilkins. It would prevent any redundancy in needing to fill out extra forms.

She opened to clean page of the chart and made notes about his dissociative episode, the trichotillomania discussion, what he was hesitant to talk about, the signs associated with the Atlas personality, and the potential risk factors she observed. After a few minutes, she was satisfied with her records and reordered the paperwork. She picked up the folder, stood and walked toward the beach house’s entrance, slipping the file into her bag as she went.

As she approached the front porch, the gems didn’t immediately take notice. Garnet’s arms were folded, her lips in a tight frown. Pearl was swiping a tear away from her face and tugging on her jacket sleeve with her other hand. Amethyst was a short distance away from the pair, glaring up at them and spoke in a low, agitated tone.

“I told you. I told you that we weren’t good at this. Yeah, we tried to do some nice things for him sometimes, but that doesn’t change the facts. We didn’t know how bad we fu-“ Amethyst’s eyes widened as she saw the doctor reach the former doorway of the house. “Hey Dr. M. How’s it shakin’?”

“Did you want me to step away for a few minutes while you finish your conversation?” she asked flatly.

“No,” Garnet answered, stepping forward. “You have questions for us and you want to get home for dinner. Our discussion can wait.”

She didn’t ask if I had questions, she just knew. How did she know that? Dr. Maheswaran thought.

“I appreciate you being respectful of my time. This shouldn’t take long.” She replied.

“How is he?” Pearl asked warily. “What else can we do except be there for him?”

“That’s the most of it, right now. There are a few areas of concern that I wish to address but making sure he’s eating enough, sleeping enough, making his appointments and being there to listen when he’s ready to talk is primarily what he needs.” Garnet and Pearl nodded solemnly and Amethyst shifted in place.

“So what can we help you with?” Amethyst asked. “So you can help him?”

“You were his caregivers for about the last 8 or 9 years correct?”

“Yes.” Pearl answered. “He moved in with us a few months before his 8th birthday.”

“Have you noticed any changes in his behavior lately before the proposal? Let’s say in the past few months. Change in sleep habits or diet?”

“He stopped eating breakfast during the time running Little Homeschool,” Amethyst replied. Dr. Maheswaran furrowed her brow.

“He’d been doing a protein shake in the morning.” Pearl interjected. “He said he was saving a lot of time drinking his meal instead. But since he stopped teaching, he went back to a normal breakfast.”

“Define what you mean by a normal breakfast.” Dr. Maheswaran said.

“Eggs and Toast, or Cereal, or Bagels. Usually things that weren’ high in sugar.” Garnet answered. “He was trying to avoid that by the time he had come back from Homeworld and often stuck with it.”

“It’s a good thing that he’s no longer eating liquid meals regularly.” Dr. Maheswaran advised. “Unless he is struggling to keep food down, it should be discouraged for teenagers who are still growing to have meal replacement shakes on a regular basis. That can quickly spiral and become a level of calorie control that borders on or becomes malnutrition.” She paused. “What about his sleep habits?”

“There were definitely some days working at Little Homeschool that he wasn’t getting enough sleep.” Amethyst replied. “But as far as I know he hadn’t mentioned not sleeping great recently to any of us until Peridot said something about it happening a few weeks back.”

“She mentioned it to me as well before I went to speak with him.” Dr. Maheswaran said. “There was nothing recent to indicate he hadn’t been sleeping well before? What about sleeping exceptionally late or being up at odd hours of the night?”

“We weren’t aware of it, even if it was happening,” Garnet answered sullenly.

“When we’re here in the later evenings, we’re often in the temple proper,” Pearl added. “Unless someone is at the temple door we can’t hear much going on in the house.”

“If I’m up for a snack or one of us has a mission or late night meeting,” Amethyst said, “we might notice Steven being up late in the past. He only had a wall put up in his room back after the Diamonds wrecked the place. But if he’s been awake at weird hours lately, he’s been sticking to his room and being quiet.”

Dr. Maheswaran frowned and instructed the Gems firmly. “While his immediate recovery is going on, someone should be in the house whenever he’s home. If he’s having trouble sleeping, you’ll need to make his doctors aware. It’s probably best if you track his meals as well. Having someone around will make him feel supported, and he’ll likely be reassured that he can come to one of you or Greg if he’s struggling with his emotions.” She paused. “His symptoms are for the most part typical for a trauma patient, and they need a lot of care until they are able to use the coping skills mental health providers give him reliably. It will take some time, but you’re going to have to make yourselves available until instructed otherwise.”

“For Steven,” Garnet affirmed, “we are committed to do whatever it takes to help.”

”For Steven,” Pearl and Amethyst chorused.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Dr. Maheswaran replied, her face relieved. “Now I have a few questions regarding his mother’s history for you.” The trio nodded, Pearl straightening and giving a melancholy smile as she did. “Was there anything in your time with her that indicated any sort of gem disease?”

“We don’t get sick, with the exception of the corruption.” Garnet answered. “And she was protected from the Diamond blast by her shield.”

“And Steven’s the only gem that sort of corrupted without being hit with the diamond blast or fusion with a corrupted gem.” Pearl added. “We’re still not sure if it was truly corruption, or simply a malfunction of his shapeshifting abilities. His powers are so unique, and with the corrupted gems all being healed, it’s not like we could have analyzed the composition of a corrupted gem and done a comparison. This was unprecedented.”

“Steven’s middle name shouldn’t be Quartz or Cutie-Pie, it should be unprecedented,” Amethyst said sarcastically.

“Now is not the time for that, Amethyst.” Garnet admonished. She turned to the doctor before speaking again. “Before Era 3, most gems either emerged as they were designed, or came out off-color. That’s the term used by Homeworld for gems that didn’t fit the mold. Cross-gem fusion was considered a defect, as was workin' on things that weren’t a part of your intended purpose.” She paused. “In that respect, all of the Crystal Gems, Rose Quartz included, are off-color. That is the closest thing that could be related to a human illness that gems have, save for corruption.”

“In Era 3, however, flaws are not seen the same way.” Pearl added. “We’ve worked hard to have gems see them as only a piece of themselves, and being able to make your own choices about how to spend their time. ‘Intended purpose’ doesn’t hold much weight anymore as personal choice and working towards collective benefit.”

“But if that collective benefit is harmful to the individual,” Dr. Maheswaran added, “what then?”

“I’m not sure I’m following,” Pearl replied.

“She’s talking about Steven,” Garnet answered. Dr. Maheswaran nodded.

“This transitionary period has been very hard on him.” She warned. “The pressure that was placed on him has led us to this point. The responsibilities he had with the Diamonds, Little Homeschool, and everything else has been weighing on him. As he tries to navigate a new normal, he’ll need to have guidance so he isn’t simply trying to take on too much for the sake of others, or he might end up having another harmful meltdown. It will be up to you three and Greg to keep him from taking on too much and preventing self-neglect.” She paused, voice taking on a cold tone. “I do not want to be having this same kind of conversation again.” The gems nodded. “There are potential risk factors here, but if we have enough information, we likely can mitigate them. So, can gems be affected in the same way by certain earth substances that are unhealthy for humans? Like alcohol?”

“You’re asking if we can get drunk? Yeah. We gotta shapeshift a liver and stuff, but we can if we want.” Amethyst replied. “It’s not super potent though. We need more than humans do to feel the difference.”

“It only affects gem bodies, not the gem itself.” Garnet added. “Bismuth enjoyed drinking with humans during the rebellion. The only risk was if we were attacked while inebriated.”

“Did Steven’s mother drink on a regular basis?” The doctor asked.

“Only socially with humans, to my knowledge,” Pearl replied. “Though there were times she was unaccounted for when not with her human companions. I can’t say for certain if all of that alone time was looking for corrupted gems or spending time in the desert with the pride of Lions Lion is from. She kept many secrets, even from us.”

“So there is a possibility she could have had a substance abuse problem.” Dr. Maheswaran commented.

“This is beyond our knowledge,” Garnet replied. “I’m sorry.”

“The reason this is important is because addictive behaviors can be inherited.” Dr. Maheswaran said. “Have you ever seen Steven with alcohol or other things he shouldn’t have?”

“Like what? A bong? Porn? What are we talking about here?” Amethyst asked.

“Any drug paraphernalia, vapes, cigarettes, liquor, or things of that nature.” Dr. Maheswaran answered.

“Steven’s never shown any interest in that kind of unruly behavior,” Pearl remarked, sounding insulted.

“You really think Steven would get into that? Him?” Amethyst said sarcastically.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat this: Traumatized children often turn to dangerous coping mechanisms. If you think there’s any chance he may be hiding an addiction, his doctors need to be informed. Treatment is different for underage addicts than trauma alone. The same can be said for trauma patients who self-harm.” The gems looked each other worriedly before turning back to Dr. Maheswaran. She gave a sigh. “He mentioned a wormhole through Lion’s mane. If there’s a chance that space could be used to store unhealthy substances or things he might be using to hurt himself, that will need to be addressed before treatment starts.”

“I’ve been in Lion’s mane before,” Garnet replied. “The majority of the items in there are mementos from his mother. He previously stored his bike there, but he outgrew that.”

“I recommend one of you can going there just to ensure he isn’t hiding anything dangerous.” Dr. Maheswaran advised.

“It can only be traveled to with his access.” Pearl replied. “He has a connection with Lion that none of us have, so without him we can’t travel there.”

“Encourage him to allow you to go there. You are responsible for his safety and this is a part of that.” The doctor pressed.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Garnet replied.

“If you have trouble convincing him, call me. Hopefully if Connie or I support this, he’ll allow it.” Dr. Maheswaran remarked, nodding. “Now where is Greg? I have some questions for him too.”

“He’s by the van,” Pearl answered.

“If Connie’s ready I’ll tell her to wait in the car,” Garnet added. “I know you don’t want any interruptions.” Dr. Maheswaran nodded and began to walk away.

“We’ll speak again soon,” she replied. “Good luck.”

“Goodbye,” Garnet said, waving. The other gems waved and said their goodbyes as well.

As Dr. Maheswaran walked toward Greg’s van, she overheard from Amethyst just before she was out of earshot, “I could have been drinking with Bis since she’s been out? Why didn’t you tell me?!”