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Under attack. Trapped! Freaked out humans screaming in fear! Animals chasing him from his first safe hiding spot!

All he remembered feeling was the constant, unwavering need to get somewhere—anywhere—but here, to get away from the muffled, foreign screams, the words he didn't understand why he didn't understand.

—He hadn't meant to! Really!

He was… frustrated. It had made total sense… except that it hadn't.

When he'd woken up alone in warm air, under the night sky, he had been relieved.

When he'd woken up on Homeworld, concerned gems looking over his form, he had been less so.

It was only the third time, when he woke up in the cold vacuum of space, that he realized it wasn't him waking up at all.

He had been… taking people over—humans and gems. He scarcely recalled what he'd had them do, but he still knew, because Connie had told him… after.

They'd been panicked, frightened… enraged.

Ashamed.

Just like him.


"—and much cooler air wraps in behind this area of low pressure on the backside by Saturday morning. I'll have your Week Ahead forecast coming up in just a few minutes. Minnie?"

"Thanks, Charles! I'm a big fan of the cold, so I'll be looking out for that! Coming up after the break on WUDV Sunrise, the streaming services with the best bang for your buck, and the apps you can use to organize—"

The sound of the 4 a.m. newscast snaps Steven back to the present.

That's been happening more often—he'll fall asleep sometime after midnight with the TV on only to wake up in the early morning hours to something utterly mind-numbing or else too interesting to go back to sleep after.

…If he goes to sleep at all before the morning news comes on.

He isn't sure which one today is, honestly, because he doesn't remember waking up or staying up.

Was he dreaming or just lost in thought?

Does it matter when the outcome of both is the same: an utterly unrested teen boy with a sleep schedule a graveyard shift employee would envy?

He finds himself jumping back to it—even with all the gaps in what he remembers—regularly. Maybe even nightly.

Sometimes during the day, too, but he doesn't wanna freak people out even though he's supposed to try to be more open about things now.

It was… he'd—why had he been so dumb?!

No. No. He was not—is not dumb. He just thinks a little different, that's all.

Even now.

His thoughts scatter everywhere and nowhere all at once so much that it's hard to focus on the here and now and he doesn't know how much of that is because of what happened to him versus just how he feels about it.

He wonders if it can do that to you, change you like that.

Well, of course it can change you; everyone who's come back from it has some sort of physical reminder, and he's no different with the bright pink blotches speckling several spots on his skin, mostly covered by his jacket and the like but a few peeking out on his neck and face, and the little bumps mottling his scalp, hidden by his hair but immediately prominent to anyone who gets close enough to touch the top of his head.

But what he wonders is if the internal effects—the tendrils that touched his mind—are still there, somehow, if the others feel like it could pull them back at any moment, and it will or if that's just him being afraid of something that will never happen after something so big, so life-changing.

…The words don't come easy.

And not just because his bite has changed significantly and a bunch of words are actually harder to say while he adjusts to the change… or maybe forever. He doesn't know.

He's tried to tell Dad, the gems, Connie, how he feels, how he remembers feeling, but it's like there's some sort of detour pushing the words off the road from his brain to his mouth so that he tries to ask to talk but then ends up gesturing uncomfortably, his mouth closing and opening, until he eventually resigns himself to sitting in awkward silence.

They look at him with a look he isn't quite sure what to call—understanding? pity? who knows?—and give him a hug and let him know they're free whenever, and it just leaves him feeling ashamed because he should be able to describe this, dang it!

Connie invites him to talk to Jeff's mom, a therapist, but even that gets nowhere. She doesn't treat him as if it's his fault (honestly, she's profusely, profoundly the opposite), but it still feels that way.

… He guesses this is just life for him now.

He burrows most days in the "sad-nest" he made for Amethyst a few years ago, sometimes with her, Connie, or both, but usually alone. In fact, that's where he is now, though he doesn't know when he climbed in or how long he's been here.

It usually helps him feel better, but he feels bad for that, too, because this isn't some sort of endless suffering, he's fine, it's not even something it feels right to be sad about, and yet…

He spends more time around Little Homeworld than he used to. Gems he's never talked to at length give him knowing looks and the space to just be. Gems he knows more closely invite him into their homes to hang out, do things—the Heaven and Earth Beetles often ask him to play video games, Biggs has him come listen to music with her, and Centi—Nephrite, he reminds himself, even though she doesn't mind his nickname—asks him over for a snack of Chaaaaps when she's not doing something with her crew. They don't push him to talk or anything else if he doesn't want to, and it's nice. They know how it feels. He relaxes around them.

…At least when it's a good day. When it's a bad day he doesn't go, even though he has questions, so many questions, because they don't seem to feel bad about what happened anymore, and he doesn't want to make them feel bad about—he can't bring himself to use the word, as if uttering it will summon it to occur again—what happened, or feel bad about who they are now. He doesn't want to feel bad about himself that way, either, but he doesn't want to try to climb his way out of it if it means dragging people down on the way.

He falls back in the same old ruts, putting others first and him last, and he has to remember that it's vital he doesn't. The thoughts need to come, and he needs to let them so he can get past them, but it's so hard when the reminders are constant and couldn't he please, please get a break?

He's supposed to talk to someone when he gets like this, or at least let them know he's down, but it's 4:30 in the morning and Dad is his usual person of choice lately, but he's woken up Dad the last four nights and doesn't wanna go for a fifth.

Maybe meditating will work. Maybe it won't.

But he tries it.

At least until he hears a knock at the front door.

He pushes himself off the ground and pulls himself down the stairs to find Dad on the other side of the screen, his hand on the back of his head. He cocks an eyebrow and gingerly opens the door.

"Hey, Schtu-Ball," Dad's been using the nickname less lately so whenever he does, it gives Steven a rush of nostalgia, "me and Amethyst were out on the beach talking about some stuff—don't worry, your old man went to bed pretty early last night—" he adds when Steven's eyes widen as he thinks about the time, "and I thought considering how things've been for you this week that maybe you'd be awake and willing to join us? Talk? Jam session? Whatever you're up for doing?" His still-tired eyes are pleading but gentle, like a hug from someone who knows Steven's going through and getting used to a lot but doesn't want to push him into something he's not ready to do.

…Sigh. What's a fifth night if Dad is already up and wants him to tag along? Certainly better than listening to a story about the state capital's rising murder rate or something. "Yeah. That… sounds good."

He wraps his arms around Dad, and Dad returns the favor, running a hand through his son's hair. For the first time since it happened, Steven doesn't even flinch at the touch of his scalp, though he does tighten the hug as if he's trying to focus on that instead of the touch.

It might be awhile before things are better. He knows that. They've only just happened, after all.

But they can be okay.

And that's okay.