He's not her, and she's not him. He'll never be her, and she'll never be him. How many times did he have to tell them that?
How many times did he have to say that to himself?
It was like a mantra that kept repeating in his mind over and over again, day after day, night after night. He knew this. He saw this. His gem was him, it wasn't her. It'll never be her. It even said itself that she was gone.
Gone, never to come back. Gone, never to be him.
Why was he having doubts again?
Images from that same day began to flash in his mind in a rapid fashion. Memories flew by as he was forcefully reminded of recent events, and he shut his eyes. The problem was that he didn't want to remember, yet-
A flame had been ignited.
He was angry- no, he was infuriated. Pink crawled undauntingly overtop his skin in a bright glow before he had the chance to calm himself back down. The energy provided from his emotional outburst gave him a burst of adrenaline and rage, his consciousness hardly able to suppress it. He couldn't think nor feel, all he felt was the power of his own gem to the point where he couldn't control it anymore. His hands, his face, his eyes. They were all pink. The insufferable expression of rage plastered on his face from countless failed attempts at getting other gems to listen to his words.
They wouldn't listen. They wouldn't believe him. Nothing he did would change their mind no matter how hard he fought to get them to see things from his perspective. His hand clenched at his side, and his teeth bared into an upturned snarl as he glared at his own reflection.
Sometimes you look just like her.
A sharp gasp escaped his lips as his eyes snapped open from where he had temporarily dazed off into his own memories. Don't close your eyes. Focus. Next to Steven's bedside, his limited edition clock kept blinking away. First it read 1:00, then 2:00, and now 3:00. It was another sleepless night. Then again, it's not like he'd sleep if he wanted to. The nightmares would come back over and over no matter how many times he escaped. He couldn't spend another night seeing visions of his own mother, not now. Not when he was having an identity crisis over the founding of his new power.
His new power that turned him pink.
He was over this. He is over it. Why was it plaguing him again? What did he do wrong ?
Everything. The voice in the back of his mind criticized almost matter-of-factly. You're not her. You can't fix her mistakes. It continued to comment almost snidely. Steven clamped his own pillows over his head in a poor attempt to mute the noise in his mind. It wouldn't stop. He wished it would just leave him alone. Why are you trying anymore? You know most of these gems will never believe you anyways. You're only going to mess it all up worse than it already is. Steven swore that he saw a figure materialized from the depths of his night-drowned room. The pillow pressed against his ears tighter, but the voice refused to leave him alone. After all, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it, Universe ?
"Shut up!" He yelled aloud, his voice partially catching in his throat with an animalistic growl. The pillow he had been using to cover his head was aggressively slung across the room at the incriminating shadow on his wall. It hit the wall with a cushioned slam, and just like that, the shadow disappeared back into the night. It was… gone? His dark eyes shot open widely in realization at what he had just done. His arms rubbed at his eyes as if they could clear the warped vision of his room. What was he doing? He was attacking and yelling at nothing. There was nothing there. This wasn't a dream, he was wide awake.
Glancing down at his own hands, he noticed that he was shaking. What was wrong with him? Anyone who'd see him like this would think he's delusional. The room started closing in around him, and it was getting harder and harder to breathe. The darkness was drawing closer, and the silence around him grew deafening. His knees drawled up to his chest as he forcefully sat up against the head of his bed.
His gaze darted to and fro, his pupils shrinking in paranoia. Sleep was already something that he no longer possessed the will to do, and now his night terrors were crawling their way into the waking world. There was no escape anymore. At least he could wake up to get away from the seemingly endless nightmares, but now there was nowhere to go. This was reality. He was alone in his own sea of repressed emotions, and he couldn't bring himself to call out for the gems. They were not going to be dragged right back into his resurfacing problems again. His identity crisis has already crossed them once, he wasn't about to make them go through it again. Rose Quartz should never have to be the center of their problems again, not after last time.
Not even he should be the one to deal with those problems.
A wave of uncharacteristic anger washed over him, but he hastily pushed it back down. They wouldn't understand anyways. Knowing his luck, they'd wave it off as overdramatic human things or they would be overdramatic about him . It's no big deal. It's never been a big deal. Steven could most definitely handle this. He always handled it.
He was okay. He was fine.
Then why are you so upset? Why are you angry ?
The edges of his vision began to darken, and only then did he feel the crushing pressure against his own chest.
Why couldn't he breathe anymore? The air had to be getting thinner. There wasn't enough oxygen in his room. No, that wasn't it. That was never it. It was all too much. His panicked breathing only quickened, and at this point he was gasping for so much as a simple breath. A flush of glowing pink began to spread under his cheeks as fear and frustration started to take over.
Not again. He couldn't get angry again.
"Get… off!" He growled at the spreading pink hue, and to his surprise, the color faded back into his normal skin tone. Hot tears began to stream from his eyes and down his cheeks. He could feel them splashing against his arms and clothes, effectively soaking the fabric of his pajamas. The pounding in his chest grew louder and louder until his heart was beating louder than thunder in his ears. It was all to unbearable and real. He couldn't breathe.
He was supposed to be Steven Universe, the savior of the galaxy, yet here he was, falling apart at the seams.
Pink flashed in front of his eyes again, causing him to shake his head in denial. His eyes scanned his arms and legs for any glowing spots of pink, and the fact that he found none only calmed him a little. Just because he wasn't shifting now doesn't mean that he wouldn't do it again. It was only a matter of time before his buried emotions caught up with him again. What if next time he used his new powers, he shattered someone? The sheets crumpled under his hand as his whitened fingers grabbed at them. He knew that he couldn't control his body once the pure frustration overtook him.
He didn't want to hurt anyone.
He wasn't okay. This wasn't okay. Nothing about this was normal .
He needed help .
His brain raced ahead of his rational thoughts as he leapt for his phone that was plugged in next to him. Anyone was better than no one, yet he had no voice nor energy left to yell. Muscle memory kicked in as he opened up his text messages and tapped on Connie's contact. The gems can't know about his freakout. They can't. The gems were ruled out in seconds. He can't talk to his own dad about issues with his mom and himself either. He's already dealt with enough when it came to him and… Rose. His mind screeched at him frantically as it kept shutting down every other option of communication. It was only a matter of time before it stopped him from contacting Connie too. Without a second to waste, Steven slammed his finger down on the emoji section of his phone, and typed in one specific symbol before pressing send.
Message sent at 3:07AM: 🦋
His head fell into his hands as soon as he placed his phone back by his side. Guilt tugged at his heart at the notion of Connie waking up to find his message. Maybe he was wrong to text her. Maybe it was wrong to text anyone. His breathing remained uneven, and the tears made no move to slow or stop. The voice and shadows had left him alone for now, but nothing stopped his intrusive thoughts from pouring in. All that was left for him to do was wait.
They'd come up with their own code after what happened in White's head. Steven had spent way too long repressing how he felt about what happened to him and his family in Homeworld. The gems pressured him to talk, but he wouldn't. The only ones that he would open up to in the slightest was his dad and Connie, and even then Steven refused to tell them exactly when he was hurting.
Connie was tired of seeing him walk out of his house with sickening bags forming under his eyes. The paper look of his skin and the distance in his own pupils was hard to look at, and she had enough. The two of them had sat down in his home one night and decided on a code system to use in order to express how each of them are doing in times of crisis.
It wasn't anything that was supposed to be hard to decode, as it served as a way to communicate without fumbling over speech and text. One picture meant one message, and there were three stages to choose from when it came to internalized problems.
The first was a single drop of water, which meant that the person who sent it was a bit upset or down about a certain event.
The second stage was a caterpillar. This meant whatever problem they had or now have has progressed to a harsher level, but still enough to be tolerable.
Finally, the butterfly. The butterfly meant that it was all getting to the point of being overwhelming. It was the true symbol of swarming issues that had been agreed on almost immediately by both of the children. If one of them sent this, it meant they needed help right then and there, and they both vowed that those messages would never go ignored no matter where they were.
The soft ping and following rumble of her phone caused Connie's eyes to open sleepily. Through slitted eyes, she could see that her phone screen had flashed on from where it sat by her bed. A sleepy hand rubbed at her eyes as she glanced out the window. The moon was still hanging high in the star-filled sky, so it had to be pretty late still.
Why had her phone went off this late? Had she forgotten to mute an app before she slept? No, that couldn't be it. The only notification sounds she left on was her text messages.
Connie rolled into her side as she gripped her phone with an outstretched hand. She pulled it in close, her eyes going into a squint at the bright screen contrasting against her dark room. The screen was too bright, but she swore that the clock read 3am. That only made this incident even more strange. Her adjusting vision panned down to the notification below the clock.
One unread message:
'Steven 🌠: 🦋' sent at 3:07AM
Oh no. Of course it was him who was up at this hour. If he sent that, then-
She swiped open her phone and opened Steven's contact, sending him a quick 'calling you' text before actually tapping on the call icon. It promptly rang. Connie counted each time that the phone passed a ring. One ring. Two rings… three rings. He wasn't answering her call.
Anxiety pricked at the edges of her mind. He never ignored her calls. The logical part of her figured that Steven had gone back to sleep, but for some reason she knew that he hadn't. This just wasn't like him. He was fine when she came over for sword training with Pearl the other day, so what could have happened between then and now? He didn't have any plans to head off of Earth, so there was no telling who or what set him off this time.
The call dropped entirely after countless failed rings.
She fumbled out of bed and threw on her dad's jacket that she had left hanging in her room. The jacket was pulled up over her shoulders while she was speed walking over to her window. With minimal effort, the window was heaved upward, and she could feel the cool night breeze ruffling her hair.
A loud huff caught her attention from below the opening in the window. Lion blinked at her with an expression of knowing lighting his features. Inwardly, she sighed. Lion always showed up when it came to Steven-related issues, so it was no surprise that he sat waiting almost expectantly. Oh well, the big cat was a speedy source of transportation after all, and that's exactly what she needed right now.
Connie swiped her phone off the nightstand and shoved it in the pocket of her jacket. She tentatively eyed her sword, but then shook her head. No, she wouldn't need it. If Steven ended up in real trouble, there were other kinds of messages to use. A butterfly meant emotional trouble, not do much as physical. Besides, if he was really messed up right now, the last thing she needed to do was break into his house with a sword equipped.
Her head poked back out of the window, and she whistled to get Lion's attention.
When all else fails, breaking and entering isn't so bad.
Steven's house was quiet. What should have been peaceful only brought her an eerie, uncomfortable feeling. Shadows hung around every corner of the empty downstairs floor as the door shut with a soft click behind her. There were no gems bustling about, and no Steven at the door to greet her.
There was nothing down here that she needed, so without hesitation, she began to climb the stairs. She made sure her footsteps were light yet audible so he knew that it wasn't some quartz soldier breaking into his house in the dead of night. At the top of the stairs, his door was closed. Her knuckles rapped against the wooden door gently three times. No response.
If this were any other night, she would've turned around and left him be because, you know, privacy. However, this was no ordinary night, not after the text. She turned the knob of his door, and slowly walked into the room.
This was not the sight she expected to see.
Objects were scattered around the floor of his room as if they'd all been thrown or pushed away. Two steps into the room, her foot bumped against an object, causing it to slightly slide on the floor. Upon inspection, she realized that it was his phone. If his phone was over here, then where was…
A soft pink glow emitted from the side of the room, and for a second, her heart leapt to her throat. A pink Steven was staring at his own reflection in the glass screen door, an expression of hurt and denial covering every inch of his face. Her mind brought her right back to White's head, otherwise known as the first place anyone had ever seen a pink Steven. He wouldn't have taken out his own gem, right?
Her heart began to race as she ran over towards him in a worried panic. "Steven! Where's your-"
The pink Steven turned his head to face her as if he didn't know she was there. He immediately spun back to face the glass door, and raised a fist at his own reflection. The sound of shattering glass stopped her abruptly right before she touched him. His hand stuck right through the glass from the force of his punch and it was bleeding.
From her knowledge, gems didn't bleed. That meant that this pink Steven was actually her Steven.
She grabbed his free hand with both of hers. "Steven? What happened to you?" Connie asked in the most comforting tone that she could manage despite her inner shake. Steven didn't tug out of her hold, but he didn't turn his head either. His eyes were glued onto his other hand that had been assaulted by glass shards, drops of red slowly dripping over his pink skin and onto the floor below.
"Connie…?" He mumbled under his breath in a questioning tone.
"Yeah… Yeah! It's me!" Connie perked up at the sound of her name, but her friend only slumped further. His downturned eyebrows lifted, but his mouth only twitched in shame.
"Am I really some kind of..." He sank to his knees while nursing his bloodied fist close to his chest, his voice temporarily dying off. Connie followed him down, refusing to let go of his other hand. "Am I… a monster?" His weakened voice turned outright pitiful, and it felt as if her heart had broken right then and there.
"What…?" She began in a sullen whisper. "I- Steven, you're… you're not a monster, you're just Steven." The teenager clasped his uninjured hand tighter, but no matter how hard she tried, they never met eye to eye.
"but I'm pink." Steven started to tremble, and his voice followed soon after. "I turn pink now! The gems don't know why or how, I-I look like Mom!" He shouted, and the anger started to flood back into his body language. "I'm a monster who still can't control his own powers." His bloodied hand clenched, and he flinched hard.
She scanned him up and down, noting how the pink aura seemed to intensify the worse he got emotionally. The whole 'pink' thing was new, but it still didn't make her opinion on him suddenly change. Is that what he was thinking? "You aren't a monster." Connie declared with determination. "Come on, be fair to yourself. Would a monster text me hearts every time I'm about to go to sleep?"
"Would a monster get flustered every time I give him a surprise kiss on the cheek?" She continued to ask, her resolve only coming more clear with each word.
Steven's already pink cheeks seemed to flush to a darker tink, and finally, finally, he met her face to face. "No. No it wouldn't." He spoke softly, his volume barely above one of a whisper. He let go of Connie's hand only to lace his fingers with hers.
"No matter what powers you gain or what you look, you'll always be Steven to me." She declared confidently. It didn't matter what he went through or how he acted, Steven would always be Steven. Some weird gem power wasn't going to divide him from her feelings about him, nor would it ever.
A barely audible hic carried through the air as the leftover anger disappeared from his face, and large tears began to fall from his eyes. As the tears fell, the pink glow covering his skin began to retract, leaving him with his normal Steven-y skin tone rather than the one of his gem counterpart. His head ducked for a moment before his regular dark pupils met her own. "I'm sorry." He sniffled while slowly unclenching his injured hand with a wince.
"Sorry?" She tilted her head in confusion. "Sorry for what?"
"For waking you up and making you deal with my magical destiny stuff again." He lamented with a short sigh, his voice still stuffed from crying.
Was he really worried about her right now? He had all of this going on, yet he was more concerned about her sleep than his own bleeding and glass-covered hand. Honestly, his own lack of self-care worried her all the time. Connie could sleep later, and she'd already gotten a decent five hours of sleep prior to this anyways. The only real concern of hers would be her parents finding out that she left the house at three in the morning, but they'd understand why when she explains it to them.
"So?" She shrugged from where she crouched on his floor. "If I didn't want to come or didn't care about you, I wouldn't have bothered getting out of bed." Her other hand that wasn't clasped with his reached into her own pocket and pulled out her phone and waggled it at him. "I told you. All you needed to do was text me and I'd be more than happy to come over here and help you no matter what time it is. I'll always be here for you." A slight blush crossed her face, and she bit the inside of her cheek. "I know you would've done the same for me."
He sighed again, and leaned his head into his own shoulder. "You shouldn't have to deal with my problems all the time. I just… can't talk to the gems or my dad about this. Not yet."
"No one expects you to if you aren't ready. I'm just glad that you aren't bottling it up to yourself anymore." Her phone was unceremoniously dropped back into the pocket of her jacket, and her hand moved to gently cup his cheek. "You're important. More important than anything else the universe has to offer and then some. Promise me you'll take care of yourself from now on whether it be talking to me or talking to your family." He leaned into her touch after she spoke and closed his eyes. In a way, that gesture reminded her of something Lion would do, and it warmed her heart.
His eyes opened back up, and despite the presence of the bags under his eyes, he seemed a bit more alive. "I promise." He murmured, but one of his eyes squinted in a half-wince soon after. "My hand is kind of starting to hurt now that I'm not, you know, pinkified." Steven admitted sheepishly while glancing at his uncurled hand. "Mind giving me a spare hand?"
Connie beamed at his positive shift in mood, and helped pull him to his feet with the one free hand he had left. "Let's go clean up your hand before you heal it, okay?" She rolled her eyes as the tip of his tongue went back into his mouth. "You don't want glass on your tongue or left in your skin, weirdo."
Steven smiled back at her, a sparkle of light returning to the depths of his eyes for the first time that night. "Okay, I guess you're right." He wiggled his bloodied fingers at her, which made her scrunch up her nose in disgust. At least he found something funny, but that was kind of gross. Oh well, she's seen a lot worse from him anyway. "To the bathroom we go." He announced with a pinch of his usual enthusiasm, though Connie could still tell that it wasn't all there. That was alright though. He was getting better, and that's all that mattered to her.
As they walked out of his room, she glanced over her shoulder one last time and stopped. She picked his phone up off of the floor and set it back on his bed so he didn't stumble back in and step on it. As for the rest of the room… Yeah, that could wait. There were more important matters to tend to than room service. With a satisfied smile, Connie headed back towards the door and slowly closed it behind her with a silent click.