Tourmaline: chapter 13
Steven lay flat on the couch, singular arm slung over the edge. He stared at the slatted ceiling, which had bled to a dark projection of desaturated stripes now that the sun had gone down. He glanced to the screen door; darkness swallowed up anything past the radius of the porch light. It led to only a vast nothingness, formlessness which he couldn’t make out. There was only the lapping and crashing of the distant ocean, like falling rain. The air was damp with lingering rain water, and cold.
He blinked. He stared up again. He held his breath. He shut his eyes.
This body didn’t sleep.
Steven pressed his eyes closed, harder now, until stars sparked in his vision. It did nothing. He couldn’t feel the scattered, thoughtless pull of drowsiness in his mind. He was tired though. Mentally, physically exhausted. Just now, he was permanently conscious too. Steven groaned, rolled, and set his feet to the floor.
He wanted desperately to get the Gems. He wanted to sit side-by-side with Amethyst and lose himself to fits of laughter over her goofy jokes about his body. He wanted to listen, silently, to Pearl’s stories about how his mom handled the Homeworld invasions, to feel that strange cocktail of pride and admiration and fear whenever Pearl let details of the war slip. He wanted to press himself into Garnet’s sturdy arms and forget anything else existed.
Now more than ever, though, he knew they needed their space. There’d been a steady, dense, stickiness in the air when the Gems were around. Like oatmeal on a hot day, soggy and topped with too much cinnamon: it was a discomfort, a queasy fullness, when they had to look at him as he…was, in this body, trapped in this form. It taxed them; it exhausted them to deal with what he’d created.
So he sat in the growing darkness now, “asleep”, trying to sort out which of his memories had been the Gems’ spoken words and which had been their private thoughts. The “We love you”s and the “We’re sorry”s had been out loud. He knew that. And he knew they were sincere. But that didn’t help; Steven took no comfort in their regret, especially not now. He’d hated feeling it, and he hadn’t been able to say anything to lighten it. The Gems had laughed at the jokes he’d cracked: about his arm, about his dance, about his all-around stupid behavior. But each modest chuckle had come with a stinging new twang of guilt in the air. It was like a physical weight on his chest, feeling that responsibility for their pain.