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The Best Mother and Doctor I can be

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It had been 6 days since Dr. Maheswaran had seen Steven Universe in the hospital. It was surprising to not have heard anything from Greg or the Gems, especially since the doctor had given Greg an earful regarding Steven’s healthcare, but Connie texted her mother that day with cause for concern.

I’m going over to his house. I finally talked to him and I think there’s something wrong. I don’t think he’s being honest with me, her text read.

Not being honest with her? I don’t like the sound of that, the doctor thought. She was lucky she had a break in her shift when the text came in and she replied right away.

What do you mean? Dr. Maheswaran replied. Please keep me posted, and no going out into space overnight without coming home first.

Ok mom, Connie’s response read. I just mean he was being dodgy when I asked him some things. I’m worried and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.

Dr. Maheswaran stared at her daughter’s reply, frowning. That’s incredibly vague, she thought. Either he’s seeing other people after proposing to Connie, or my diagnosis needs a follow-up immediately. She put those thoughts aside before continuing her shift, but her concern lingered, listening out for any pages over the hospital’s loudspeaker that mentioned the name Universe.


Once the workday was over, Dr. Maheswaran checked her phone again. Connie’s reply came in about an hour before, reading: I’m staying over. He’s had a really rough day. Dr. Maheswaran was astonished at her daughter’s bold reply. All the gems and his dad are here. You don’t have to worry about anything happening.

What in the world is going on? The doctor thought. She’s not asking permission; she’s assuming that this is ok to disregard the rules because of extenuating circumstances, and she isn’t telling me why. How can she expect me to just say yes? Dr. Maheswaran furrowed her brow as she walked to her car and unlocked the door. Before immediately jumping to conclusions, she decided to check her other messages to ensure that the Gems or Greg didn’t send over any more pertinent details that would make this at all less disconcerting. Her texts read mostly normally: an invite to a dinner party next week, a reminder for a seminar that she had signed up for, political spam message, and a text from Doug, that started Honey, don’t get too worked up...

Oh yes Doug, perfect way to make me worry less, she thought sarcastically. She opened the text, frowning as she sat in the driver’s seat.

Honey, don’t get too worked up but Connie asked if she could stay over Steven’s house tonight, and I said ok. Now I know you’re worried since they’re teenagers, but she assured me that she wouldn’t be alone with him for any extended period of time since all the gems are there and apparently they’re nervous to let him out of their sight. Something gem related happened and although I didn’t get all the details it took a toll on him. The message continued in a second text. Greg said Steven was exhausted. I wouldn’t trust it if Greg hadn’t assured me there would be no funny business and Connie would be sleeping on the couch. She already has a plan for which of her classmates would bring her notes and assignments after school tomorrow and she’s stopping by the house to pick up her books as soon as Steven’s asleep. See you when you get home, Priya.

Priyanka looked over both texts a second time, making sure she wasn’t missing something. It seemed like the orderly structure as parents she and Doug had planned for was being shelved for some still unknown reason. Connie, don’t you see this is a big ask, she thought, and Doug, how can you just roll over on this? What is going on? She closed her messages and opened her contacts. She selected Connie from her favorites and brought the phone to her ear. Dr. Maheswaran anxiously tapped on the steering wheel as the phone rang, looking around the parking lot to ensure she was not being watched. She let out an agitated huff as the call went to voicemail. She glared at the phone as she brought the receiver from her ear and hung up.

We need to talk about this young lady. Dr. Maheswaran texted. Pick up your phone. Connie’s reply was nearly immediate, which only annoyed her mother further.

I’m still in the room with him and he’s trying to sleep.

I want more details, Connie. The doctor answered. What happened? I know your father said it was gem related, but I am not satisfied with that answer. Was it the swelling? Was there an attack from a rogue gem?

It’s complicated. Connie replied. The typing indicator went on for a moment and Dr. Maheswaran waited. It’s related to the swelling, he had another bout of that but it was more extreme than that. He’s been keeping things from the gems, they didn’t know he went to the hospital, and apparently a lot happened in the past few days. We’ve all been comparing notes, trying to figure this out, but I don’t know how much he wants me to say. He didn’t want to ask for help when he needed to and he was trying to avoid making anybody worry because he felt bad about it. Dr. Maheswaran stared at the screen for a moment, trying to read between the lines and finding herself frustrated at the lack of detail in what Connie said.

What do you mean, more extreme than the swelling? Dr. Maheswaran asked. She waited two minutes with no reply, fiddling with the radio and drumming on the wheel impatiently. Connie, answer me or I’m calling Greg. Frustratingly, that still didn’t get an answer from her daughter. After another two minutes ticked by, with no indication Connie was typing, Dr. Maheswaran closed her messages and opened her contacts. She called Greg, as she had promised, shutting the car off as it rang. After three rings Greg picked up.

“Dr. Maheswaran, hi.” He answered, his voice tight but trying to sound pleasant. “How are you?”

“Greg, I’m not calling to exchange pleasantries.” She replied bitterly. “Connie won’t answer her phone. I know she’s there. I know something gem related happened to Steven and she said it was ‘more extreme’ than the swelling.” Her voice began to raise in volume as she spoke. “She wouldn’t tell me anything else. I know that whatever happened is the reason she’s staying over. What I want to know is exactly why. Now are you going to give me details or am I going to have to come there myself to get answers?”

Greg was stunned for a moment but he sighed before responding. “It’s a lot of things, Priyanka. A lot happened since the hospital. Are you… are you sitting down? Cause this might take a while.”

“Yes.” She answered sternly. “Firstly, was Connie hurt?”

“No,” he replied quickly. “I can’t say this whole thing was easy on any of us, but she didn’t come to any harm.”

“Good. And Steven?” her voice softened slightly, in the back of her mind she suspected the answer.

“Physically, he’s ok now. But he got hurt before. And this is going to be a lot to deal with.” Greg answered. He paused before continuing. “When he was discussing his trauma with you, did he mention anything about his shapeshifting powers?”

“Yes,” she replied, “he said ‘I almost turned so old I died’ and ‘I lost control of my body and turned into a blob of cats’… does that have anything to do with swelling? Or what happened today?”

“Yes,” he replied shakily, “at least we think so.” A beat of silence passed between both parents. “He had another bout of swelling when I came over earlier today, but this one was more… uniform. He looked like he grew into his early twenties. He was broader than I’ve ever seen him, more muscular, and taller than Garnet. We were trying to get him to tell us what was going on with him, we kinda had to corner him to get him to talk-“

“Greg!” she bit back. “What were you thinking? Cornering a child with trauma often leads to panic, or lashing out.” Greg didn’t answer immediately. She paused, voice quieting. “What happened?”

“He was frustrated.” Greg answered. “He snapped at us; he started talking about all of the things that happened since the hospital and how he could make mistakes and fix them. How we didn’t have to know about any of it.” He paused again. “He called himself a fraud and a monster and that’s when his powers started to react. He grew spines out of his back and started looking and acting like a corrupted gem.” He swallowed before continuing. “He was huge, bigger than the hillside the temple is on. I’m sure anyone who was in town saw him. It took a while to reach him, but thanks to Connie we all got through to him. She helped us all pull our collective heads out of our a- rears,” he corrected before stopping.

“Greg,” Dr. Maheswaran started, “it sounds like he’s struggling with his trauma more than he’s let on before. You all need to step up and give him support and professional help. He can’t be left to deal with this on his own. I’m sure this incident is weighing on him from what little Connie told me.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m ready to take whatever steps we need to, to help him through this.”

“But Connie can’t be his primary support here, you are his caregivers and she needs to take care of herself, her studies, her future aspirations.”

“I don’t think it’s just that Steven wants her here. I think she’s not ready to leave yet either. If you came here to pick her up right now I’m pretty sure she’d fight you on it.”

“I’ve been texting her and she is pretty insistent that she’s staying tonight.” Dr. Maheswaran agreed. “My daughter has a mile-wide stubborn streak. Even if I forced her to come home, she’d probably sneak out. I’ve caught her doing it twice before this, and Doug has caught her trying to sneak back into her room three times.”

Greg chuckled, “Ah, well, I definitely did that when I was her age, and for less noble reasons. I wasn’t saving the world.”

“Four out of the five times it was just to see Steven.”

“Considering everything that’s come to light, he’s been going through a lot. I’m glad that they’re always there for each other.”

“Your choice of words is interesting, considering what Connie told me about what happened before the hospital.”

Oh,” Greg answered nervously, voice cracking. “We probably need to address the whole proposing thing at some point, huh?”

“Connie said that she told him ‘Not now, Steven.’ That’s not a no. So yes, I will want that to be addressed in the future if our children are planning on getting married. However, that isn’t a pressing issue right now.”

“Ok,” Greg replied. “So what are our next steps, Doctor?”

“Firstly, have you gotten him into the insurance system like I suggested last week?”

“Yes, he’ll have coverage starting tomorrow.”

“Good. The next steps are him seeing a specialist for his mental health. I’ll be coming tomorrow to give him a follow-up assessment and to pick up Connie. I have a feeling if you tried to bring him to me he’d at the very least be hesitant.”

“Yeah. We’re going to do whatever he needs. He’s exhausted right now, but tomorrow sounds good. I hope this hasn’t put you out, Priyanka. This is a big help.” The doctor smiled.

“I’m here for my patients. Unless I’m unable, I’m going to do what I can to get them the help they need.”

“Thank you,” Greg replied, his voice warm with gratitude. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow, Greg.” Dr. Maheswaran hung up, and started her car to make her way back home.


The following afternoon Priyanka finished her shift and drove down to costal Beach City to visit the Universe family. The weather was pleasant, warm and partly cloudy as she followed the winding streets with her window half-down. She noticed the town itself didn’t seem to have any damage, whatever destruction Steven’s corruption caused had left Little Homeworld and Beach City proper unmarred. Once she pulled up to the house, however, she could see construction was in the process on Steven’s front door and siding.

She parked next to Greg’s van, shutting the car off. Once she got out of her car she saw Garnet and Greg sitting by the outdoor furniture on the porch. Garnet waved the doctor over as she came up the porch stairs. Seeing Garnet waving caught the attention of Amethyst and Pearl, who quickly made their way outside.

“Have a seat,” Greg said, his voice tired but friendly.

“Who’s with Steven right now?” Dr. Maheswaran asked.

“Connie, Bismuth and Lion.” Pearl answered, her air somewhat strained. “Lapis and Peridot are on a supply run. They’ll be back soon.”

Dr. Maheswaran sat and folded her hands in her lap. Garnet leaned on the porch railing, one hand hanging relaxed by her hip and the other supporting her on the banister. Amethyst hopped up on the railing to sit next to the fusion. Greg sat on the lawn chair opposite the doctor. Pearl was the only one of the five remaining standing, standing a few feet from the table with her fingers interlaced in front of her.

“How has Steven been today?” Dr. Maheswaran asked.

“Low energy,” Garnet answered quietly. “He woke up after eleven, which is very unusual for him.”

“How is his appetite?” The doctor continued.

“He’s had two meals today,” Pearl replied, “Brunch was Eggs, fake bacon, and a quarter of a cantaloupe. Late lunch was veggie soup. He hasn’t wanted anything else. He came down for brunch, but he asked us to bring the soup upstairs.”

“He apologized for it too,” Amethyst interjected, her tone unusually glum. “Connie’s been trying to get him to see that he doesn’t have to apologize for needing help, but it’s slow going.”

“Did he finish both of his meals?” Dr. Maheswaran probed.

“Yeah,” Amethyst answered. “That’s a good thing, right?”

“It’s important that he keeps his strength up.” The doctor replied. “What happened yesterday may have taken a toll on his mind, and very likely his body. It’s possible that kind of extreme strain will affect not only his appetite, but his mood and sleep patterns as well. He should be under observation for at least a few days, and any significant changes should be brought to his doctors’ attention.”

“What other doctors is he going to need to see?” Pearl asked gently.

“That’s partially why I’m here to assess him.” Dr. Maheswaran answered. “Based on my previous appointment he likely should see a child trauma specialist, but he may need someone who deals in other specialties as well. There’s a considerable department in the hospital I work at that may be the right fit in this case, however, there are other facilities all over the state if ours isn’t what he needs.”

“Would the hospital only treat him as an inpatient?” Greg prodded nervously. “Or would he be able to get treatment on an outpatient basis?”

“I believe its inpatient only,” she replied, one of her hands going to rub at her chin, before resting back in her lap. “Are you concerned about him having an overnight stay or that he may be uncomfortable spending time away from his support system?”

“Well, the second one would be true for any inpatient support,” Greg answered solemnly, “but for your hospital specifically, I think he would be especially uncomfortable considering his swell-up was there. I don’t want to put him in a position to have the experience be more anxiety inducing.”

“Ah, I understand.” The doctor regarded him sympathetically. “I’ll find a facility that does both in and outpatient treatment. They only would admit him as inpatient if they truly think he needs it, and any paperwork I forward will have noted he should be considered for outpatient preferably.”

“We want what’s best for Steven; however this needs to be handled, we will offer our support.” Garnet affirmed, her tone notably somber. The gems nodded.

“Can you tell me more about yesterday’s incident? And are you using any specific terms to refer to it?” Dr. Maheswaran asked.

“Ronaldo’s been calling it ‘Pink-zilla’ on his blog, according to Connie.” Amethyst answered, folding one of her arms across her chest. “Though no one but us knows it was Steven, well us and the Diamonds and Spinel.” The purple gem jerked her thumb over her shoulder to where the Diamond’s ship rested a distance away on the beach.

“We told Ronaldo not to release any more information regarding yesterday’s attack,” Pearl added, “and that we will have a statement be released through the mayor’s office no later than tomorrow. If Steven’s feeling up to it tonight, we were going to discuss how he wants to handle telling the town what happened. This isn’t something that the public needs all the details on, and if he wants it to stay private we will enforce that.” She paused closing her eyes. “Regarding your first question, I think it would be easier to show you the moments before ‘Pink-zilla,’” her tone slightly disparaging on the mocking name of the incident. Pearl’s gem glowed and began to show a hologram of Steven, Greg and Connie.

‘We are worried!’ Connie’s holo-double said, voice wavering.

‘Steven, you know you can tell us anything.’ Holo-Greg pleaded.

Frowning, holo-double Steven’s enlarged form snarled,‘It's not that easy. You know what? I don't have to deal with this.’ Holo-Pearl, Holo-Amethyst and Holo-Garnet moved into view, preventing him from leaving.

Priyanka tried to keep her face neutral as the group surrounded Steven in the hologram played on but she felt her stomach ache with discomfort.

'Hold up, dude.' Holo-Amethyst said.

'Steven! You have to stop running.' Holo-Garnet implored.

'Please,' urges Holo-Greg.

Holo-Steven froze with a shudder and the irregular swelling returned on his face.

'Steven, we should get you back to the hospital.' Holo-Connie warned.

'HOSPITAL?!' Holo-Pearl and Holo-Amethyst shouted together.

Holo-Pearl continued, 'When were you in the hospital?!'

'You didn't tell them?' Connie's holo-double reprimanded.

Priyanka’s stomach gave another uncomfortable turn and she swallowed. This scene became increasingly more worrisome as it continued but she fought to keep it out of her expression.

Holo-Steven's form distorted more and he groaned. As the swelling balanced out with a few unsteady breaths he replied, voice strained, 'it wasn't that important, you guys.’ His voice began to sound more confident, face showing a pained smile, ‘You're making a big deal out of nothing. Have I done some things wrong? Sure! I trashed the house today. I broke an anvil. What teenager hasn't? Dad and I had a little disagreement. That's practically a rite of passage!'

The holo-versions of the gem trio and Connie turned their attention to holo-Greg and he shruged with an unnerved grimace. Holo-Steven seems not to notice this as he continues, ' I mean, it would be weird if we didn't, right? And maybe, I've had a not-so-nice thought or two about, like, you know, slamming White Diamond's head through a pillar ,’ he makes a gesture of doing that with his own face, ‘but it's not like I actually went through with it! I only actually shattered Jasper!'

Holo-Connie, Holo-Greg, Holo-Pearl, and Holo-Garnet all gasped, whole Holo-Amethyst shrieked 'WHAT?!'

Nervously, Holo-Connie stuttered, 'you're- you're joking, right?

'Oh, don’t worry,’ Steven’s holo-double replied, ‘I fixed that too! I can fix anything! I can just keep messing up and fixing things forever, and you'll never have to know or think about any of it!’

‘Steven,’ Holo-Garnet called, voice desperate.

Holo-Steven’s expression turned to a hollow frown and let out a shuddering breath before continuing. ‘How messed up is that? That I've gotten away with this for so long. You have no idea how bad I am.’ Holo-Pearl raised a fist to her mouth. Holo-Connie and Holo-Greg’s expressions were stunned speechless. Holo-Amethyst and Holo-Garnet both grimace, guilt plastered on all of the gems’ features. Holo-Steven’s frown turned to a withering scowl. ‘You-you think I'm so great, and I'm so mature, and I always know what to do, but that's not true! I haven't learned a thing from my problems! They've all just made me worse! You think of me as some angel, but, I'm not that kid anymore!’

He paused, voice dropped to a despondent degree. ‘I’m a fraud.’

Priyanka felt her hands shudder in her lap as she fisted the cloth of her pants. She cannot tear her gaze away from the boy she has come to know have his insecurities laid bare for his family to see. It made her heart ache that he felt this way about himself.

Holo-Steven’s knees gave out, collapsing to hands and knees in the center of his family. He sobbed, inhaling deeply before repeating, ‘I’m a fraud!’ Palms push from the ground as he set his elbows beneath him and hands tangled into his curls.

Priyanka’s lip quivered and she can’t force herself to care that she isn’t able to be objective anymore. Why are they saying nothing? Why aren’t they doing anything? How could you all let this happen! He was hurting, and all of you stood back and watched!

‘I’m a monster!’ he shouted as his body trembles violently. Painful looking spines burst forward from the holo-double of the boy, shooting upward as the group stepped back. The spines stretched out forty-feet, laying behind him as his hands shifted to claws and the rest of his form began to distort. Muscles swelled, arms became elongated and his mouth distorted to accommodate sharp teeth and tusks with a horrified inhuman screech. His curls vanished, and in their place a row of five horns broke through skin, which began to look hard and scaly. His features resemble a bipedal lizard with massive arms that appeared gorilla-like as they supported most of his weight.

‘STEVEN!’ the group shouted as he continued to grow, neck elongating and he shot forward, loping over the group that blocked the front door and crashing through the front of the house, bellowing loudly.

Priyanka shut her eyes, and said, “that’s enough.” The holo-vision disappears and the group looked to her with concern. She opened her eyes and met Pearl’s gaze first, followed by Greg’s. “I know that this is an extreme situation, and you all probably are going to need some time to process this, but he’s the one that went through that. You have to step up and put him first.” She paused and let that command settle. “If any of you can’t do that, you have to let others step in. For his health and safety, you must prioritize his needs.” She paused again, looking around and getting a nod of confirmation from the Gems and Greg. “Children and teenagers who go through significant trauma without proper treatment often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as avoidant behavior, which seems to me what he’s been doing up until now, but also lashing out, self-harm, substance abuse, other addictive behaviors…” she trailed off as she sees Greg curl his fist and his face shift with discomfort.

It’s probable he’s had some experience with one or more of those, Priyanka thought and her expression softens. “I would like to discuss more some of the things he said and family history which would be helpful in finding the best treatment options, but I’m going to step away for a moment.” She stood, and walked toward the stairs and back to her car. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She called as she steps onto the sand. She managed a deep breath as she sat down in her car and closed the door. She fought the urge to scream.

I can’t understand how these people could let it get so bad, she thought as she leaned her elbows forward on the top of her steering wheel, resting her head in her hands. And Connie is now in the middle of this. I have to figure out how to tackle this. They all love him, they want what’s best for him, but they are so utterly helpless at this point. He deserves better- stop it, you know that line of thinking isn’t constructive. He needs guidance, structure, and if they can’t give it to him I will have to have him admitted until they can get their act together. She let out a shuttering sigh.

His symptoms are presenting in worrying ways. Imposter Syndrome is very likely, clear self-loathing, intrusive thoughts of violence, what else has been keeping in? I have to make some calls when I’m done here, he should be seen by specialists tomorrow if possible. The University of Delmarva is two and a half hours away but may be the best fit. Perhaps someone at work has a connection with East Shore Trauma Center, that’s only a little over an hour away if I can get my foot in the door. I have to make sure he’s getting the care he needs. Someone has to stop this spiraling. She took a few more centering breaths to calm herself and opened her car door to return to the group.

She saw Lapis along with two water clones soaring in onto the porch, arms laden with construction material as they landed. Peridot was not far behind, floating in on metal supports bound with wire and touched down on the beach before jogging up the stairs. Once Lapis set down her load of siding, Peridot extended her hands. As Dr. Maheswaran approached, she could see the lithe blue gem shrug several reusable grocery bags from her shoulder and hand them off to her smaller companion as the pair talked with Steven’s family. After a moment, Peridot nodded at the doctor and carried the groceries inside. With a wave, Lapis walked around to the back of the house and out of sight.

Pearl was the first of the group to turn her attention back to Dr. Maheswaran. “You said you had more questions for us, right?”

“Yes,” the doctor answered, and all eyes turned back to her as she took her seat. “Firstly, what did he mean when he said, ‘I trashed the house today’?”

“His voice,” Pearl answered quietly. “When he has been getting too emotional and isn’t controlling his voice, it can cause damage. It cracked the glass door in his room. That was one of the first things we fixed while he had his meal downstairs. So he wouldn’t have to look at it.” She paused. “It happened a few times before, too. His mother also had the same power, she used it before she came to earth.”

Greg interjected sadly, “That’s why she spoke so softly all the time. She probably was afraid of raising her voice.” Priyanka nodded.

“So before the meltdown, his damage to the house was accidental?”

“Yeah,” Amethyst answered. “Wait, meltdown?”

“His argument with you before he changed.” Dr. Maheswaran replied. “If he isn’t comfortable calling this incident Pink-zilla, that’s the best human way to describe what happened. It may make him feel more comfortable talking about it as I can imagine having it relate to a human problem may make it more bearable to tackle. Now, what about him and Greg having a disagreement? How recent was it?” She focused her gaze on Steven’s father.

The man clenched his jaw before answering, voice worn and gravely. “Two days after the hospital, I took him to my childhood home in West Keystone. He saw pictures and mementos from me growing up. I went there to get an old music CD and to tell him about how I really found myself through music. But when we were talking about it, he was angry, angry that he never knew his grandparents or had normalcy.” The man rubbed his arm with discomfort. “I said that he had it better off not living life feeling imprisoned, having freedom but I realize now that was definitely the wrong thing to say.” Priyanka regarded him incredulously. “He said ‘you’re just like mom.’ We kept arguing and he went pink, and dislodged the steering wheel. The van went out of control, but luckily we didn’t hit anyone.” The doctor stared in stunned silence, eyes wide. “The worst of it was the car flipped onto its side. I pulled him out. We both made it out without being hurt. I got a tow truck to bring us back to Beach City, but he barely talked to me after that until yesterday. He was acting very distant. I really fouled that whole situation up. But I’m gonna do everything I can to make it better.”

Dr. Maheswaran leaned forward on her elbows to the picnic table. She steepled her fingers and touched her pointers to the bridge of her nose. “Greg,” she started, hesitating. “I know you don’t have a good relationship to your parents. But you made something he was struggling with, feeling out of place, too much about your own parental issues. That wasn’t fair to him. And you said you pulled him out of the car? Was he knocked unconscious by the crash?”

“He briefly wasn’t responding,” he replied regretfully, “the van flipped onto the driver’s side so I unbuckled him and hauled him out through the passenger’s side. Once we were both out on the ground, he came to. It really scared me.”

“If that happened two days after the hospital, what happened the day before that?”

“He wasn’t up for much.” Greg answered. “He slept in, but it wasn’t very restful sleep. We talked a little, watched some movies and I got us take-out.” Priyanka sat back up straight, face turning stern.

“So after the accident, why didn’t you schedule any follow-up?” she asked before turning her attention to the gems. “And why weren’t you all here for all of this?”

“I don’t have a very good excuse,” Greg answered, looking at his hands in his lap. “It was late when we got back from West Keystone, but I could have called you in the morning.”

“And he didn’t call you after that because after getting into an argument with us over the accident, Steven ran away from home,” Garnet answered solemnly. Dr. Maheswaran jumped to her feet.

WHAT?!” she yelled, slamming her hands on the table. Greg flinched, while Pearl and Amethyst stared in shock. Garnet’s expression was unreadable. “I don’t understand how that wasn’t the first thing you could tell me about how this whole thing started! How many days was he missing? Where did he go? How did he get back?”

“He was gone for three days,” Pearl choked out, looking away.

“He went into the woods, he didn’t want to be found,” Amethyst murmured.

“He came back on his own,” Garnet answered. “He came back because he shattered Jasper and needed the diamond essence to fix it. We still don’t know how it happened. He won’t talk about it with us.”

“We weren’t there for him when he needed us, after the whole proposal and hospital thing, because we were on a Little Homeschool field trip with no cell service,” Amethyst said, keeping Dr. Maheswaran’s gaze.

“We had no idea,” Pearl continued, “the first thing Greg told us about was the car accident and we were most concerned about the pink power causing himself or others to get hurt.”

“I should have told them after he went missing,” Greg added, “but I was just focused on finding him, and I didn’t really think about the why.”

“We all screwed this up.” Amethyst concluded. “We’ve been trying to put together what’s been going on with him for the past few months so we can figure out how we went wrong. We want to be better for him. Connie helped us see that when she talked him down.”

“You don’t have any other option,” Dr. Maheswaran said resolutely. “If you want him to get better, you have to recognize your missteps and be better for him. I’ll ask about his family history later, I want to hear his side of things.” She stepped away from the table and marched through the Beach House’s broken doorway, scowling.

Chapter Text

Dr. Maheswaran entered the damaged beach house and saw Peridot putting away groceries while Bismuth was working on metal parts for a door closure at the kitchen table. As agitated as she was from her conversation with Steven’s caregivers, she quickly put together that Bismuth had previously been watching over Steven and Connie, and now she had vacated that post.

“Hello Peridot, Bismuth,” the doctor greeted, fighting down her ire and unclenching her hands. She looked to the taller of the pair. “Weren’t you the Gem keeping an eye on Steven and Connie?”

“Oh Hi, Dr. Maheswaran,” Bismuth replied, looking up from her work with a smile. “Lapis relieved me when she came back with Peridot.”

“Yes,” the green Gem interjected, “And once you all finish your conversations, Bismuth, Pearl and I will finish fixing the temple’s exterior. It won’t make a huge difference to me, but I was told that you were going to be interviewing Steven and the loud noises may not be beneficial to your line of questioning.” She went back to putting away the groceries, using a metal step-stool to float to the high cabinets and place boxes of rice and cereal away.

“I suppose interview is one way to put it,” Dr. Maheswaran responded dryly. “Regardless, I do intend to speak with him and pick up my daughter. However, I wish to use your bathroom before I do so. Is that alright?”

“Bathroom’s in good order,” Bismuth answered, gesturing with one hand while the other was shaped into a screwdriver. “No shine off my gem if you need to use it.”

“Thank you,” Dr. Maheswaran replied, walking to the door and closing it behind her. After a moment she set her bag down on the floor and gave a tense sigh. She sat down on the closed lid of the toilet and closed her eyes to think.

This is unbelievable. The gems drove him to run away from home, after getting in a car accident that was severe enough to flip his father’s van and cause him to fall unconscious, which in turn led him to shattering a gem. That’s supposed be a permanent death-like state for them. The fact that happened being the reason he came back after running away to fix it makes it seem like he didn’t mean for it to happen, but I can’t be sure until I ask him. It could be that he regretted after the fact…

He’s only 16 years old and he nearly killed someone. If I didn’t know Steven Universe, I would be going to the authorities with this. But he needs someone he can trust. Connie would never forgive me if I let someone who I couldn’t be sure would treat the gems as people treat him. He shouldn’t have to feel like a monster when all of these awful things happened to him, and not just anyone would understand that. Whoever would be examining him should be prepped on his gem background. I’m going to need a personal connection with the facility to ensure he gets the care he needs. I know we had some residents who went on to work at the East Shore Trauma Center… I think that Dr. Stromberg was an overseeing physician to one of the psychology residents that work there now.

Priyanka took her phone out of her bag with a shuddering breath and unlocked it. She pulled up her messages and found her most recent message to Drew Stromberg was just over 2 weeks ago. Well the last message was from him was the time he asked me to jump his car, so since he owes me a favor hopefully he’ll get back to me right away.

Dr. Stromberg, Can you get me in contact with Dr. Wilkins your psych resident who’s working at ESTC now? I have a trauma patient who’s a special case and I’d rather he not go into the system blind. He needs care asap and I want to try and have him seen tom if possible. She sent the text after proofreading it once. After closing her message to Dr. Stromberg she opened up Doug’s last message.

When do you think you’ll be back? His text read from 4:28pm.

Could be another 1/2 hour or so before I leave and it’s about a 15 min drive from here. If you haven’t started dinner yet, order takeout. It’s been a rough day. She replied. After sending the message to Doug, Drew’s reply came in.

You’re working late for a Wednesday. Dr. Stromberg’s text read. Don’t you get out at 4? And what’s the story for your trauma patient? Is he a minor?

He’s a friend of my daughter’s. I’m making a house call. His family hasn’t had him in the medical system until now and he’s 16. Can you give me Amber’s number? She answered.

I’ll call her and have her text you. You with the patient now? Dr. S asked.

I’m at his house. His name is Steven Universe. I’ve had his father email the insurance to me so I’ll fwd it over once she gets in touch. If you can’t get a hold of her tonight, try to reach someone else from ESTC, he’s going to need a doc prepped on his situation, and I’d rather he be closer to home if poss. Thanks. She replied, and closed her messages.

After putting her phone back into her bag, she pulled Steven’s chart out and took note of the most pertinent details regarding what the Crystal Gems and Greg had said about his condition. She returned the chart to her bag then stood and slipped bag’s the strap over her shoulder. She looked herself over in the mirror, making sure she didn’t appear as frazzled as she felt and exited the bathroom.

Upon leaving the bathroom she found Peridot waiting by the door. “Did you need me for something?” Dr. Maheswaran asked.

“My apologies if this is impolite,” Peridot answered, “but I want to discuss something with you before you speak with Steven. Did Garnet, Amethyst or Pearl discuss his new dream power?”

“No, they didn’t mention that,” Dr. Maheswaran replied.

“Your evaluation with Steven might be better equipped if you’re informed by something I found out several weeks ago.” Peridot recounted. “He mentioned to me having weird dreams when we were watching the new reboot of a Teen Drama, Camp Pi-” Peridot paused, looking away for a moment. “The show’s not important, actually. But the recording he had of the show was partially overwritten via a projection of his dreams. We experimented with this ability to try and make the show more interesting, but he became distressed as we went on. He wanted ‘an excuse to hang out’ as he put it. The dreams showed being locked out from his friends, falling from great heights, and he mentioned not knowing ‘how to be a friend without something to fix.’” Priyanka’s eyes widened. “Perhaps if your medical associates need more insight into what is going on with him, you could ask to tape his dreams. I’ve found studies of dream analysis online,” Peridot’s tone turned annoyed, “but I was told to ‘leave this to the experts.’ Still, I thought this would be useful for you to know.”

With a slight pause to try and process the heap of information Peridot had just given her, Dr. Maheswaran replied, “thank you.”

“You are welcome. Is there any other questions you have? If there’s anything at all I can do to help Steven I want to help.”

“Actually, there is. Connie mentioned you have a tablet. Are you set-up with email?”

Peridot froze and smiled, looking like she was about to excitedly ramble about something before composing herself. “Yes. Do you want me to get the tablet now?”

“Well, I want to give you my email-” Priyanka started before Peridot cut her off.

“Not to worry, I’ll remember what it is.”

“I want to give Steven’s other doctors a brief primer on gem history, primarily the transition from era 1 to era 2 and 2 to 3, because I have limited knowledge myself there. Some background on the Diamonds as their physiology and abilities may help the doctors to understand his difficulties. Also, if there’s anything that causes gems undue stress or pain, I want to tell them so they can avoid unintentionally harming him.”

“To my knowledge most Earth based tech isn’t strong enough to harm gems, but damaging gem tech is based in sound and light, both of which you do have access to here. So I suppose it’s possible to cause issues with the physical form with a sound based technology. Lasers do minimal damage so I think that would be the only light based tech that would be relevant. I’ll send you some details shortly.”

“The email is p-r-i-m-a-h-e-s-5-16@b-mail.com.” The doctor spelled out.

“I’ll have the history primer to you within the hour.” Peridot replied. “The weaknesses shouldn’t take too long either, that I could compile later today, but other than listing off the diamonds previous and current abilities, they don’t make a lot of things public knowledge about the beginning of Era 1.”

“Isn’t their ship on the other side of the beach?” Dr. Maheswaran said sarcastically. “If you tell them it’s for Steven, they should want to help. I would think, anyway, if they consider him family.”

“Perhaps we can persuade them,” Peridot replied, steepling her fingers. “I think if I get Greg and Garnet to come with me it would be more likely to be a productive discussion. Blue Diamond has some sympathy for Greg,” she separated her hands and rotated her wrist several times as she spoke, “and White and Yellow have been treating Garnet with more respect since they were made aware of Steven’s whole… pink condition.”

“I appreciate any background you and they are able to provide,” The doctor asserted. “It will make understanding his issues easier for the doctors examining him tomorrow.”

“So your… evaluation today is preliminary? This isn’t the extent of his treatment then, if I understand correctly.”

“Yes,” Dr. Maheswaran replied. “I’ve spoken to the others about it but I hope to have him seen by a trauma specialist as soon as tomorrow. Based on what you all have told me, the sooner he’s seen the easier is recovery will be.”

“I’m hoping that this will be successful as soon as possible,” Peridot said with a sad smile. “Just one other thing to note, regarding his encounter with Jasper.”

“Garnet said that he didn’t want to talk about it with any of them,” the doctor replied pensively. “Did something change?”

“Although Steven didn’t wish to discuss his time with her, yesterday Greg and I were getting supplies from Little Homeworld, and I saw her there. I confronted her about why she and Steven had met upon his running away,” Peridot quieted significantly, “and her subsequent shattering.” Peridot gave a hard stare as she continued, tone brought back to her standard slightly too loud volume. “I told her I wasn’t able to give any details about Steven’s condition but if she had any ounce of pride left in her gem, and didn’t want me to collapse a building on her to increase her list of disgraces since the end of Era 2 she would tell me what happened to make Steven distressed. She only would tell me, ‘My diamond shattered me in a fight to prove what he could do. He had been made soft by the Crystal Gems and needed a real Gem to test his mettle.’ I told her to stay away from the temple or ‘I’d shove a metal beam through her form so fast she wouldn’t have time to flinch.’ She tried to tell me her purpose now isn’t with her Diamond,” her tone dropped to a more neutral measure, closing her eyes, “and I gave her some choice words I was told not to repeat in present company.” The doctor absorbed Peridot’s long-winded speech with a nod.

“Thank you for the information, Peridot.”

“I will assist in whatever way I can, for Steven.”

Bismuth strode over to the pair and put a hand on Peridot’s shoulder. “We all want to help him. I think you should know what he mentioned to me not long ago at the roller rink.”

Yes, the night Connie insisted wasn’t a date, a few days before the proposal, the doctor thought. She nodded at Bismuth to encourage the broad Gem to continue.

“He was worried about how he thought him and Connie were growing apart. He said he felt like they were ‘living different lives,’ and ‘I wonder if I’m even her best friend anymore.’ I would hope he doesn’t have any doubts anymore, but it might have something to do with how this all happened.”

Priyanka barely registered the last sentence Bismuth said as all of the thoughts regarding Steven’s proposal clicked into place, jaw going slightly slack. It makes far too much sense if he felt they were drifting apart why he wanted to hold onto what he thought was a stable relationship in a time of crisis. And with everything he said during the meltdown that shows evidence of unhealthy self-worth, he wanted to cling to that. Thank heavens Connie has a good head on her shoulders and tried to handle this gently. With a brief pause, she nodded and composed herself.

“I agree with your assessment, Bismuth,” Dr. Maheswaran replied. “I appreciate your input. If there’s nothing else the two of you have to add, I’m going to check my messages and then I’ll be going up to see him.”

“I believe that was the extent of the relevant information to note,” Peridot responded.

“If there’s anything else, Tiny can send you the info on her tablet,” Bismuth added, giving a marginally too hard clap on Peridot’s back, causing the smaller gem to lean forward with a frown. Dr. Maheswaran nodded and strode over to the stairs, pulling out her phone. She saw she had 2 messages once she unlocked it.

The first was from Doug: Parsi Mutton and Tandori Gobi are in the oven. Should I break out the Jackfruit Wine too?

Yes. She replied without hesitation. She opened the second message from Dr. Wilkins.

Hi Dr. Maheswaran, I’m Dr. Amber Wilkins. Dr. Stromberg said you were looking to get a 16 year old trauma patient in at ESTC in tomorrow? Did you want to give me the contact info for his family so I can send you the forms?

I have some of the questionnaires with me and I’m taking the family history before I leave. I’ll be scanning his chart with all that when I return home. She answered. If I want you to do his intake, when should I have them arrive by? She silenced the phone and locked it before heading up the stairs.

As Dr. Maheswaran went up to the first landing to the stairs, she saw Lapis Lazuli draped sideways on a desk chair she believed was Steven’s. The slender blue gem had an elbow on the backrest, as she lounged side-saddle, a Japanese graphic novel titled “I Can’t Believe My Stepdad is a Sword” visible in her hands, and one leg in a four-cross over the other. Priyanka knew of Lapis, but having never formally met her she thought it would be best to introduce herself once she addressed her patient.

As the doctor approached the top of the landing she could see both Steven and Connie lying on the bed. Connie lay on her stomach on top of Steven’s comforter, propped up on one arm with her schoolwork in front of her, facing the stairway and Lapis. Connie had quickly pulled her hand forward to adjust her hair spilling over her shoulder and laid it on one of her textbooks. Seems likely that hand was otherwise occupied before I came up, Priyanka thought. Steven was laying on his side, under a comforter, but his back and legs leaned against Connie’s form. He also had a graphic novel in one hand, the other draped over his hip. The novel appeared to have a group of colorful teens and young adults in action poses but the title wasn’t visible from the doctor’s angle. The young man appeared slightly pale, and noticeable bags were presented under half-lidded eyes. If these weren’t extenuating circumstances, I would have something to say about how close you two are sitting, the doctor mused.

“Mom,” Connie said, leaning forward. “Hi, I didn’t realize you were here yet. I thought the gems would have told me.” She looked pointedly at Lapis, who shrugged.

“Oh yeah,” the blue gem remarked aloofly. “Sorry, I forgot to mention it. She got here a little before I got back.” Connie rolled her eyes with a neutral expression. Steven shifted his position slightly to better take in the conversation and Dr. Maheswaran gave a comforting smile.

“Good Afternoon, Steven, Connie.”

“Hi,” Steven said quietly, his voice a little hoarse. He set the graphic novel he had been reading face-down on his pillow. He had his typical star-tee on but he definitely looked like he hadn’t been out of bed for a while. The tiredness registered in his posture, tone and the way his eyes seemed to lack their usual luster. He looked worse off than she had seen him when he was overworked at Little Homeschool or the day she had seen him at the hospital.

“Mom,” Connie said, stuffing her books into her bag sitting by the foot of the bed. “You and Lapis haven’t met yet, right?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, turning her attention to the gem and outstretching her hand. “I’m Dr. Maheswaran, Connie’s mother. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Lapis Lazuli,” she introduced herself, and shook the doctor’s hand, her grip deceptively strong. “Crystal Gem. Nice to meet you too. Connie tells me that you’re here to help Steven, right?”

“I intend to do my best,” Dr. Maheswaran replied. Connie sat up and slung her bag over her shoulder. “In order to do my assessment, I will need both of you to leave the room.” Connie turned back to Steven, searching his face. He had a slight frown on as Connie looked him over. “We won’t be leaving immediately after I’m done speaking with him, so you two can say good-bye after.” Connie gave him a small smile, reaching over and giving his hand a light squeeze before getting up and walking down the stairs. The doctor turned her attention back to Lapis who gave a quiet sigh before standing up.

“I’ll be on the deck, Steven.” The blue gem said, still holding the graphic novel and opened the back door to exit. He watched her cautiously, still slightly frowning, as Lapis closed the glass door behind her and settled pretzel-style on the wooden porch a small distance away. Steven turned his attention to the doctor and sat up more fully. The doctor pulled up the chair Lapis had vacated, setting her bag down next to it and seated herself in front of him.

“How are you feeling today, Steven?” Dr. Maheswaran asked gently, pulling out Steven’s chart. He swallowed before meeting her eyes.

“Yesterday was pretty hard… but today’s been a little easier.”

“Are you in any pain?”

“I’m kinda sore, but it’s not terrible.”

“Anywhere you’re hurting specifically? How would you describe it?”

“It’s all over. Like a muscle ache.” He paused and looked away before continuing. “Do you… do you remember the green hand ship from a few years ago? How the town was evacuated when it came down?”

“The green hand ship…” The doctor said thoughtfully. “This was before Garnet’s wedding, right?”

“Right. That one crashed into the beach and left wreckage everywhere.”

“Yes, I recall.” Dr. Maheswaran replied, pausing to let him continue.

“After that ship crashed, the gems asked me to help clean up the debris. I was working at it for hours and I was pretty sore after. It’s like that, not as strongly, but it’s lasted since…” He trailed off.

“Since yesterday.” She finished for him. He nodded, staring at his hands. “Steven, I’ve heard from your family about yesterday’s incident. It may be easier to talk about if we go over some medical terms that trauma patients use to describe triggering events.”

“I’m not like them.” He mumbled. He shifted in place, knees coming up in front of him and arms curled around his waist.

“The circumstances may be different,” she replied frankly, “but having language to describe what you’re going through doctors have found makes it easier to cope with.” Steven was silent. “I understand you don’t like what Ronaldo’s been calling it on his blog.”

“I’m… It’s not his fault I turned into that thing.” Steven answered bitterly. “I have to deal with it.”

“You and the gems can discuss how you want to tell the public about it, but for you, it would be healthier to think about it in human terms. Typically feeling over-“

“But human terms don’t get at what happened.” He interrupted, glaring into his lap. “Pink-zilla is what I deserve.” Dr. Maheswaran frowned. He was usually so polite, she hadn’t expected him to cut her off.

“Steven, I understand that may be what you’re feeling right now, but the reaction you had was a stress response. An extreme reaction, perhaps, but the best way to move forward from it is to find ways to discuss what happened without triggering those feelings again.” She paused, letting her statement settle. “Typically, stress responses like that we would refer to as a meltdown. Do you feel like that would make it easier to talk about?”

“I guess… I can try it…” he murmured, trailing off again.

“Alright, now I have some questions about what happened between our last visit and your meltdown.” She replied, a small reassuring smile on her face. “If any topic becomes too uncomfortable, we can come back to it, or it can be addressed at a later time. Would you be willing to try that?” Steven chewed his lip for a moment before nodding.

“Good. Now between last week and now, your father said that the two of you went on a trip that resulted in a car accident. I understand that there were no other vehicles involved. Can you tell me a bit about what happened? Were you hurt at all?” Dr. Maheswaran waited as Steven seemed to consider her questions. He released his waist and wrapped his arms around his knees, pulling them to his chest. Eventually, he met her eyes and began to answer.

“Dad and I went to his parents’ house. We drove there without him telling me that’s what the place was, he only told me he was going to show me how he became Mr. Universe. I had no clue what he was doing when he hopped the fence in this seemingly random suburban neighborhood in West Keystone and I started to freak out a little.” Dr. Maheswaran’s expression slipped to a disappointed frown. “Once he went in through the window, I followed him and went to write a note to these people I thought were strangers, but I figured it out after a few minutes. I saw his pictures, wresting trophies, baby clothes all in boxes. But after a while, he found the CD he was looking for in the air vent.” Dr. Maheswaran looked surprised for a moment, before training her expression back to a neutral attentive gaze. “We left, he played me the song he got our last name from…” Dr. Maheswaran’s brow furrowed and she opened and closed her mouth once, briefly looking away. Steven paused. “You want me to clarify, right?” She shook her head.

“I don’t want to interrupt you. I can ask him later.”

“No, it’s fi-“

“Steven, if you’re about to say ‘fine,’ I was told by Connie that is a banned word for you right now.”

“Ah,” Steven said, cringing slightly, “Right.” He stopped, face dropping back to a neutral expression. “Well, I can tell you the short version. Dad’s last name was originally DeMayo and he left home at about age twenty. Sometime between then and when I was born, he had his name legally changed to Universe. As far as I know, that’s been my last name my whole life.” She nodded for Steven to continue.

“I knew that I had some family, My Uncle Andy for one, but when dad told me he ‘never looked back’ on his old life, a family he chose to leave behind and kept from me I was angry.” He looked away as he went on. “He wanted me to hear the song so I could find some sort of meaning outside of myself, I had told him I wasn’t sure who I was anymore, and he hoped that hearing the song that was apparently life-changing for him would help. But all it did was get me thinking about everything he turned his back on. He chose a new name, and his parents… He never mentioned them to me before except to say ‘my life was a prison.’ It reminded me of what happened with mom’s family and all the legacy stuff I had to deal with over the past few years.” He paused again, crossing his arms over his bent knees so he could lean on his forearms. She looked at him with concern, but he still wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I felt angry he never told me, that he had a normal life, maybe I could have had one too, and he said I was ‘better off’ than he was.” He spoke the last words bitterly. “I snapped at him about how much he was like mom. I turned pink in the middle of the argument and I pulled the wheel off. We drifted into the other lanes over to the shoulder, but I was panicking. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, only dad shaking me when I was on the ground outside of the van.”

Dr. Maheswaran’s mouth twitched down, looking him over. He was curled in on himself, and his eyes, still glancing away, looked more tired than before, but weren’t watery. She waited for him to continue but he hesitated. Quietly, she noted a few things on his chart, glancing up after a few sentences to see he was still looking away. After a few moments passed, she looked up to see him watching her. She set her pen down and folded her hands in her lap before addressing him.

“Steven, there’s two things I wish to address before we continue, if there’s nothing you have to add.” She said soothingly. He shook his head. “Firstly, your father comparing the struggles you had to his own experience was incredibly short-sighted. When he and I spoke about this, I told him so. Try not to take his statement about you being ‘better off’ to heart. If he hasn’t apologized to you yet, I’ll tell him that it bothered you, and that he should.” Steven’s eyes widened and he shook his head quickly, straightening slightly. “It was unfair of him to put that on you, and he needs to be the bigger man and say he’s sorry.”

“I already caused so much trouble- I- I don’t-“

“Steven.” She interjected and he quieted. “If you continue to stew on this without it being addressed, you only cause yourself preventable stress. Your pink power is a stress-triggered response; you should try to avoid situations like this. Unburden yourself. Allow others to care for you.” He glanced away again, one arm falling to his side and the other tangled in the hair on the back of his neck, expression one of clear tension. She sighed quietly before continuing. “Secondly, feeling as though you ‘don’t know who you are anymore’ is a very human problem.” He looked back at her, searching her expression expectantly. “When roles or opportunities change for teenagers and young adults, often times there is a period where you feel out of sorts regarding your future, especially if your previous job was a large part of your identity. It’s okay to confide in others regarding this uncomfortable adjustment period. Your support system all wants to help. They’ve all made that explicitly clear to me.” She waited for him to interject but he only took in what she had to say, not answering. “Do you doubt what I’m saying, Steven?”

The young man shook his head. “No, it’s just… I don’t like making my problems everyone else’s. I’m not used to asking for stuff like this.”

“You put a great deal of pressure on yourself.” Dr. Maheswaran replied. “I don’t doubt that is a root cause to some of the issues you’re having.” He glanced down, shrugging. “It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.”

“I guess I thought I was doing a better job of that since a week ago than I actually was.”

“Do you think that those feelings of not wanting to reach out have been going on for longer than that?” She asked. Steven chewed his lip, hands resting back to his lap and didn’t answer. “It’s alright if you want to switch to another topic for now. I have a few more questions if you would rather move on.” He nodded, taking a deep breath. “Regarding the accident, you don’t remember the van flipping?” He shook his head. “After the wheel came off, is there anything you can recall?”

“I remember us drifting into the other lanes, my heart was pounding. I went from mad to scared pretty fast. I stepped on the breaks and as we slowed, it was like I had tunnel vision. The van spun around, I remember the screech of tires… and the next thing I knew dad was hovering over me and I was on the ground.”

“Were you in any pain when you woke up?”

“I had a headache. I wasn’t sore or anything else.”

“Was your vision blurry, or doubled? Or did you feel like vomiting?”

“No.”

“What happened after? Did your father ask you questions to make sure you were alright?”

“He told me I scared him and that the van’s been through worse…” Steven answered. “Then he told me he understood I was ‘having a hard time’ and he was ‘proud of me.’” Dr. Maheswaran’s face fell, stunned. Steven glared into his lap and continued indignantly, “I couldn’t believe it. He was proud that I told him off. But I just crashed the van! He just didn’t get it. How could he say that after what I did?” The doctor closed her mouth, eyes full of concern. He quieted, tone somber. “We were able to get it fixed but… I was angry at myself and I wanted him to be mad at me too. I shouldn’t have been so careless. I could have really hurt him, or someone else.”

“Luckily, that wasn’t the case. I know Greg’s van has a lot of value to your family, but both of you made it through the crash, if a little worse for wear. It’s possible that you sustained a minor head injury, but often those don’t show up on MRI or CAT scans. Did your headache get worse after a while? Or do you have any other issues with memory regarding this incident?”

“No, my headache went away after a few hours. And I still remember most of what happened after.” He paused. “The only thing that was off was after he told me he was glad I ‘had the guts to tell him off’ I remember feeling like… the only way I can describe it was everything started to feel muffled. Like someone started stuffing cotton balls in my ears.”

“Steven, has that ever happened before?” Dr. Maheswaran’s tone was quiet and solemn. “Have you ever felt disconnected from your body or numb, either physically or emotionally, after a traumatic event?”

“I… I know I can astrally project as part of my powers, but you don’t mean that, right?” Dr. Maheswaran shook her head. “… Yeah, I remember feeling kinda numb after some stuff. Emotionally, I mean. I don’t think it happens very often.”

“That’s a symptom of dissociation, Steven.” She replied, pausing. “Have you ever told anyone about this?” He shook his head and curled in on himself again. “When was the last time you remember feeling numb?”

“… After my meltdown.” He paused, swallowing. “I cried a lot after I calmed down from being corr- the big me, and after that I switched from feeling so overwhelmed to basically nothing. Just tired and numb. I knew everyone just wanted to help but with everything out in the open like that I didn’t feel worried, or angry or sad. At least not for a few hours.”

“Feeling numb or being disconnected from stimuli is your body trying to deal with the trauma you went through. If you find that happening again, there are steps we can take to walk you through it. I can go over that with you before I leave.” Dr. Maheswaran waited and he didn’t respond. “Did you want to talk more about the meltdown?”

“No.”

“That’s okay, I have a few more questions for you, but if you need a break, I’ll go get your father or one of the gems.” Steven shifted in the bed and moved away the covers, sliding bare feet onto the floor next to the bed.

“I’m just gonna go to the bathroom,” he answered softly. “I’ll be back.” She watched him retreat down the stairs, taking in the pajama pants and his slumped posture with concern.

After she heard the bathroom door quietly open, she looked over his chart and began to note more. A few of the questions on the PTSD checklist had been answered as Yes between the two conversations: Tried hard not think about upsetting event or avoided situations that remind you of it, and Felt numb or detached from others, activities or surroundings. On the other trauma questionnaire she noted down Transportation Accident, Captivity, Sudden Unexpected death of someone close to you and Serious Injury or Death you caused to someone were all to be marked in the Happened to me column, Assault with A Weapon and Life Threatening Injury were definitely to be filled in with Witnessed it, even if it wasn’t what he experienced, though it likely was, considering the things Connie had told her. She thought for a moment if Combat or Exposure to a warzone would qualify as anything other than Heard about it, but she needed to get more data before confirming that.

He’s been through so much. She thought. I’m amazed it took this long for all of this to come to light, but he needs help now.

Chapter Text

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?!”