Moving forward was a delicate process.
For Steven, it was difficult, because he still didn't know what to do about Peridot. Everybody kept telling him not to push it, that they both needed time and space and being around one another wasn't going to help either of them. The hybrid was just about the last person who wanted to push any of them on that one - memories or not, arguing with them was just something he physically couldn't bring himself to do. He knew why, and he was working on it; working to get out of the 'soldier' headspace and remember that this was his family. He was allowed to have disagreements, he was allowed to have an opinion and voice it to them. But he couldn't help it, whenever they told him it wasn't a good idea, or 'not yet', or he still needed time. He couldn't help shutting down for a second, he couldn't help the part of him that immediately backed off from any hints of what could have been an argument, if he dared to open his mouth. Disobedience wasn't his strong suit - and it certainly didn't help that he actually cared for them.
So for a while, he stuck to what he could do. They were still worried about overwhelming him, so he was allowed to roam the beach whenever he wanted. Walking the length of the shore, keeping far enough from the water so that it didn't touch him, but close enough to land so that he could come running back if anybody called for him to return. It wasn't that they weren't nice, and they were far more lenient than Blue Diamond and Homeworld would ever be. Part of it, he suspected, might have been because of his unwillingness to argue with them, to test his boundaries and limits and see how far he could press. After everything, he was still worried. He was still scared. Sometimes he felt so lost in his own fear and uncertainty that he just wanted to stay there forever - other times, he drowned in anger and frustration. Not for them, but himself. They were trying so hard to make him comfortable. He knew them. He shouldn't be so afraid.
Otherwise, for the most part… things were going pretty well. They were still doing their best to make him comfortable, and for the most part, he felt as safe as ever when he was with them. He knew he wasn't scared of them hurting him - but he was still scared, and he couldn't figure out what it was. He didn't make an effort to hide it, and they didn't mention it, but he could see how hard they were trying. Trying to not directly tell him 'no' to things, giving him choice after choice. Deep down, he knew their 'maybe you should wait''s were not orders, but suggestions - but it was one thing he couldn't bring himself to argue with them about, no matter what he thought. They were nice, they were his family, they wouldn't hurt him… maybe it was the fact that they were usually so lenient, the fact that this was the only thing they seemed to hesitate about, that really threw him off. Whatever it was, he just kept his mouth shut and he didn't question it. He asked every so often, how she was doing - he tiptoed around the subject, occasionally wondered aloud if there was something he could do to help. Each time, it was the same answer. "You don't need to do anything, Steven," they would assure him. "You just focus on you now."
I wish I could, he wanted to argue. Oh, he wanted to argue with them so badly, he wanted to speak his mind and tell them, but she's hurting right now. We're both hurting right now. I know that she's fragile, and I know you think I'm fragile too. But just because we're both in pain doesn't mean that we can't both be in pain together. That we can't mourn over her together.
His empathy would be the death of him, he knew. Didn't stop his heart from aching for Peridot, for every time Berry or Lemon Lime or Candy or Garnet warped in and shook their heads. She was having such a hard time coming to terms with it, and Steven loved all of them to death, but he knew none of them were properly equipped to handle the little green gem right then. Not to say that he was properly equipped to do so either, but she was in denial over Lapis' death now. Steven had already been there, done that. Steven understood, he understood far too well.
But, he took their advice. After a few days, he struggled to focus on other things; one, getting on a schedule with his meals and sleeping. Oh, how grateful he was to be able to sleep now. Even with the nightmares, trying to catch up on his rest was definitely important to him. He also began taking showers regularly, though he didn't enjoy those as much. He'd stand under the water and think back to that one nightmare, drowning in an endless stretch of water with gem shards and blood floating around him. It wasn't the first time he had the dream and he doubted it would be the last - it seemed to be a recurring nightmare for him, one he found himself waking up screaming and openly crying from in the middle of the night. Typically, it was one of the gems or his father that came to his aid, comforting him and sitting with him until he was okay enough to fall asleep. He tried to describe the dream to them occasionally, but he could never remember details when he opened his mouth to speak about it. He only remembered it clearly right after he woke up - so he made a habit of showering at night instead of in the morning, when the dream wasn't as fresh in his mind. Of course, eating, he still detested… but he did his best to keep up with that, despite his newfound disdain for anything that had any kind of flavor to it now.
Right then, he was somewhere he wasn't sure he was supposed to be. Nobody had stopped him when he headed for the warp pad - Pearl had asked where he was going, and in the split second of stunned silence that followed after he told her, he let the warp pad take him away. So he figured he wasn't not supposed to be there, since nobody had told him he couldn't leave. They had let him go - so it was another step forward, another boundary tested. And he thought about that as he floated in the warp stream, the fact that, for the most part, they let him do what he wanted. By the time the warp was over, and he landed gracefully on the platform when he had arrived, Steven resolved to finally speak up and tell the gems he wanted to see Peridot. No beating around the bush, no hinting, just outright telling them that he wanted to talk to her. The worst thing they could do was give him the same answer they'd already given him before, right? At least then Steven could say he had at least tried a little harder, at least pushed a little more.
But for now, the hybrid walked forward, gently stepping down from the warp pad and making his way forward slowly. It didn't take long for him to see what was ahead of him, but he cherished the few seconds in which he didn't have to. Looking ahead, he caught a familiar glimpse of sparkling water as he slowed to a stop at the top of the stairs and furrowed his eyebrows as he looked down. The water churned gently, still filled to the bottom of the stairs, flooding the entire area. The fountain hadn't changed a bit in his time away - even the petals that drifted through the water looked like they had freshly fallen. He twisted his mouth upwards, taking a deep breath and rolling his shoulders back to steel himself, and looked up toward the statue silently.
He wondered, for a fleeting second, how anybody could look so… beautiful, even while they cried. Even with the water streaming from her eyes, she was gorgeous, graceful, the picture of elegance Steven had grown up believing her to be. Looking at her now, he realized that his feelings toward her hadn't quite changed - some particular emotions had either fizzled out or they'd intensified, but there were just others in place of them instead. It was still complicated. As he steadied his gaze on the statue, he almost smiled; at least, he realized, he could count on that. It was a bittersweet realization, but it wasn't without a flicker of relief, or amusement.
"Hey, Rose." Steven steadied himself with another breath. "Mind if I join you?"
He took his time stripping down to the swimming trunks he had pulled on underneath his clothes, and he stopped to fold his shirt and shorts neatly, placing them at the top of the stairs before finally making his way down toward the water. He let his hands settle overtop of his gem for a moment, letting his fingers stretch out carefully and lightly rubbing at one of the scars he was only just realizing was a little too close to it. It was small, but it could have been fatal, for sure, had it struck the right spot. The hybrid swallowed and curled his fingers around the gemstone, pausing at the bottom of the stairs and looking down into the glimmering water. He tested it with his foot first, lightly pressing his toes into the water. That was one of the things he remembered liking about the fountain - water was usually always cold at first when he first touched it, but the water here was warm. Almost welcoming, he realized, always welcoming.
Still, he couldn't help but shudder as he waded into the water. His aversion to it was probably going to stick with him for the rest of his life, but he knew it was damn near unavoidable now. Something he'd have to work on for himself, if he was ever really going to move forward.
He paused, reaching one foot down and feeling nothing. It was an almost comforting realization, to know that he still couldn't reach the bottom of the fountain yet. He wasn't that tall now.
The hybrid pushed himself off the last step and swam forward, briefly letting the water completely rush over him. He winced initially at the feeling, but he relaxed rather quickly. Nothing could hurt him here, could it? No, that was the point of this place. Steven breathed in, and heaved out a gentle sigh as he rolled over in the water, letting his back break the surface and spreading his arms out beside him to let himself float backwards toward the center. He could feel the warm water brushing against his ears, jerking his head instinctively every so often when it rippled just to make sure none of it actually made it inside. He felt it soak through his hair, brushing his skin with the ever-gentle touch. Content for a moment, he shut his eyes.
"I remember the first time I came here," he commented to the statue, pushing himself through the water with his feet and letting his hands carry him the rest of the way. He opened his eyes and shifted to turn, still floating, so that he could tilt his head and look up at the statue. "You remember the conversation we had, right? It's a little hazy, but…" He cracked a smile toward the stone gem, and twisted himself upright again, kicking his feet to keep floating. "I remember…"
He remembered little things. Inadequacy, fear. He remembered worrying over Amethyst, realizing that this could very well take away one of the people that mattered the most to him.
"I remember you," he sighed, furrowing his eyebrows. "You reached for me, when I was under the water. But it wasn't really you, was it?" He added dubiously, searching Rose Quartz's crying face and cocking his head to one side as he gazed at her through narrowed eyes, eyebrows furrowed faintly as he struggled to recall that particular day's events. "It couldn't have been you. I remember seeing you, and I remember talking to you… I remember being upset with you, and yelling at you, and then hugging you. I remember you," he insisted again, growing frustrated. "But you're gone, aren't you? You've been gone for as long as I've been alive. You've never been here, you've never existed alongside me- so why do I have these memories of you?"
Silence, aside from the sound of rushing water. Steven stared at the statue.
"Why do I have memories of you?" He asked again after a few moments. "You're dead. You've been dead for years. And that was your choice, wasn't it? You knew you would disappear. I don't know how I know… but you knew that. You knew you weren't going to live through me," he added, somewhat bitterly. "You knew we weren't going to be the same person. You knew this wasn't some dramatic, more advanced way of poofing and reforming, or being rejuvenated. You knew exactly what you were doing. Just like I knew what I was doing when I put myself on that ship. I knew I could have died on Homeworld." He paused to sweep his gaze around the fountain for a moment, staring at one of the roses floating through the water. "And you knew you were going to die when you had me. But you didn't do that to save anybody else, did you? I did what I did, I gave myself up, for the greater good. Why did you do it, knowing you'd just… die?"
Once again, there was no response.
"After all this time…" Steven huffed out a laugh around the lump forming in his throat, shaking his head at himself and looking up at the statue tiredly. "Everything that happened, from here to Homeworld… all those months, all those memories, and I still don't know how to feel about you. There's still things I don't understand." Another choked laugh, this one a little more unsteady. "There's still memories I'll never have answers for. Like, why do I remember shattering Pink Diamond? Why is it so easy to- to remember being you, when… when I know that I'm not you?"
This time, in the silence, Steven ducked his head and took the chance to compose himself again. He hadn't meant to come here and start talking to a statue, to someone who wasn't real. Someone who couldn't talk back to him, even though he wished she could. The hybrid shook his head, keeping it lowered for a moment, but he did speak again. "I went to Homeworld," he mumbled. "I saw everything. Everything you left behind, everything that you fought against." Steven paused, taking a deep breath and raising his head again. "I used to be so angry when I heard that you shattered Pink Diamond. Because it went against everything I knew about you. Everything I knew about the Crystal Gems," he added desperately. "But I get it now, Rose."
Another pause. More silence. Steven nodded, letting his head fall back to stare at the sky.
"I get it," he said again, watching the clouds. "You know, at least a little. Pink Diamond ruled over Earth, and you were trying to protect it. I know how Diamonds can be." He ran his tongue over his lips, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. "I'm sorry you had to deal with Homeworld. I'm sorry you had to deal with any of that. And I'm… I'm glad you fought back against them. I know that you only did what you had to do because it was the right thing. I'm glad you fought for them. For Earth. For us- for me." Steven sucked in a shaky breath and blinked his eyes open again. "And I know that you… you are a good person. Whatever you've done, whatever you did… there's not any part of me that doubts that whatever it was, you did it because you thought it was right. Good people can make bad decisions," his voice wavered a little, and he swallowed. "Good people can make mistakes. Funnily enough, it's one of the things that- that makes you something you've always wanted to be," he added with a quiet laugh. "It makes you human."
He breathed in and sighed, finally letting a small smile tug at his lips again as he shook his head. He glanced down at the water, lightly reaching out to catch one of the heart-shaped petals floating through the sparkling water. "For whatever it might be worth, you started something great. You did great things, you did bad things… you took a life, but you built so many more," he marveled, furrowing his eyebrows down at the petal in his hand. "You… you made Pearl into a warrior, you let her fight beside you and prove that she was more than just some servant. You showed Garnet it was okay to be herself, and to fight for what she believed in. And it's…" Steven trailed off, running his tongue over his lips. "It's complicated, I know, but it's wonderful. Even everything you did wrong, every mistake you made. 'Cause I'm here to learn from them…" He paused, lifting his hand up and opening his palm to stare down at the petal he was holding. "... I won't make the same mistakes you did," he said quietly. "Because I'm not you."
Narrowing his eyes, the hybrid tilted his hand and let the petal fall after a moment. The water rippled as it fell, and Steven managed a small, steady smile as he looked up at the statue. "But I'll still fight for you. I'll still fight for what you believed in. Because I believe in it too, Rose," he added quietly. "I believe in Earth, and the Crystal Gems, and the good in Homeworld." He pushed himself back again, drifting through the water on his back, and let his eyes drift shut. "And I believe that Blue Diamond needs to be stopped… whatever it takes to stop her."
Steven paused, letting himself slow to a stop and rolling onto his stomach, turning toward the stairs to look up. He offered a smile to Pearl and Amethyst when he saw them; the purple gem wasted no time in rushing forward and cannonballing into the water, but Pearl hesitated slightly. Steven lifted a hand, shielding himself from the spray. "Hey, guys," he greeted, chuckling.
Amethyst popped her head out of the water with a laugh, spitting out a stream of it and grinning. "Hey, hey, little man…" She paused, blinking at him for a moment. "Hey, you're not healed."
The hybrid glanced down and blinked, checking out his reflection in the sparkling water. No, he still had the scar on his face, and he still had the ones on his neck and chest, and his stomach. Steven lifted a hand, lightly tracing his fingers down the scar on his jaw, and tilted his head slightly to better show off the one on his neck. But, after a moment, he shrugged and looked up. If the fountain water wasn't healing him, then, sure, something was wrong - but at that point, the hybrid had long accepted the fact that he might never be free of the scars marring his body. And he had come to terms with it, learning to accept and embrace them, rather than feel ashamed. "Yeah…" He trailed off, briefly reaching behind him to feel his back. The scars were still there.
Amethyst's expression seemed to falter, looking back toward Pearl. The pale gem had seated herself on the top of the stairs, a troubled look on her face; Steven heaved out a sigh, glancing between the two of them silently for a moment before he swam forward toward the stairs again. "It's fine, guys," he told them, pulling himself up onto one of the steps. He shuddered as the cold air hit him, the abrupt change of temperature already raising goosebumps. "I'm used to them."
Pearl offered him a sad smile. She held her arms out, and Steven pushed himself up the rest of the stairs at once, happily allowing the pale gem to embrace him in a gentle, cautious hug.
"Sorry," he chuckled as he pulled back. "I'm wet."
Pearl rolled her eyes at him in response. "Oh, I'd hug you if you were covered in dirt," she retorted dismissively, and the hybrid allowed the corners of his lips to tug upwards briefly. He seated himself beside her, and she handed him his clothes with a smile. "Are you sure you're…"
"I'm fine, Mom," Steven chided, pausing to shake his hair out, and smirking to himself when Pearl leaned away from him in response, before he unfolded the shirt and shook it out to pull it over his head again. He stretched his arms up, pushing them through the sleeves, and reached down once he had done so to tug the shirt down completely. "I didn't come here to heal myself."
"Then why'd you come here, dude?" Amethyst crossed her arms over the wall of the fountain, letting her legs float behind her. Steven paused to pull his shorts on, thinking for a moment.
"Closure," he finally replied. "I came here to get closure."
He shook his hair out again while Pearl and Amethyst exchanged a glance. He was still wet, but he figured he'd have a chance to properly dry off and change when he got back to the house. He reached back to pull some of his hair out from under his shirt after a moment. It was getting long again, he'd have to go ahead and remedy that with his scythe a little bit later, before Berry had the chance to offer him the usual 'you look so weird with long hair'. Steven himself didn't quite mind it - he'd considered growing his hair out a few times when he was younger, but he'd never had the chance to do so. But he did know long hair could be a disadvantage in battle, and he knew it was hard enough to keep up with already as it was, so he left it at shoulder-length.
"Well…" Pearl trailed off, turning back to him, and Steven ran his fingers through his hair and looked back up at them expectantly after a moment, arching an eyebrow. "Did you find it?"
"Find…" Steven stared at her for a moment, then blinked, widening his eyes. "Oh! Yeah. Yeah, I think I did," he added, glancing toward the fountain for a moment, and briefly focusing his gaze on the statue. He stared at it for a few seconds, just letting his gaze flick across it, before offering a quiet nod and turning back to the other two. "I think I did." He reached down, smoothing his shirt down over his stomach and taking a deep breath. And he steeled himself, readying himself for what he was about to say next, for the conversation that would follow. He didn't know how either of them would react, what they might say to him, but he was finally ready.
"So, we need to talk." The hybrid glanced back up at them. "About Peridot."