"-Like the crashing of the tide,
I feel our worlds collide…
But as it fades to run and hide,
My heart aches when we divide…
But I'm keeping you inside."
Steven plucked the remaining notes on his ukulele, his eyes shut tight. After a moment of silence, the boy lifted his head to meet his father's gaze at his bedside. The former rockstar rubbed the back of his neck as he cleared his throat.
"Wow, Shtu-ball," Greg hummed, eyes shifting around the boy's room, "That was, er… somethin'..."
"It, eh, needs some work," Steven replied as his cheeks grew flush.
"Oh, no, kiddo, that's not… I mean, it's great! Really. It's just… kinda sad, isn't it?"
"Maybe a little…"
The human gem hybrid nestled his head in his hands, sighing deeply.
"Guess I'm a little rusty. Didn't really get much song-writing time on Homeworld."
"Ha! Been there, Shtu-ball… Well, not Homeworld, I mean... I mean, I was there, but… Anyway, I mean the whole Songwriter's Block thing-"
"I get it, Dad," Steven chuckled.
Greg smiled softly at his son. "Anyway, you'll get back in your mojo. You just have to bang out a few klunkers before you get there."
Steven raised an eyebrow. "'Klunkers'?"
"Y'know… some really bad songs. Like… take me for example."
Steven huffed quietly, 'Oh, jeez…'
And off Mr. Universe went - cruising down Memory Lane. His eyes grew to the size of dinner plates as he recounted his recollections.
"The year was 1982, and 'Comet' was a long way off! I spent months just chilling in the van waiting for a proper jam to come to mind. Then, as I was lighting up a…"
Suddenly, Greg hesitated. His cheeks burned as he remembered who he was telling the story to.
"'Lighting up a' what, Dad?" Steven quirked an eyebrow quizzically.
"Lighting up aaaaa cccaaandle, of course," Greg chuckled nervously, "A-and the… incense… from the, er, candle… gave me my burst of inspiration!"
Greg shot up from beside Steven's bed, shredding his air-guitar.
"And then, she was born… the klunker of all klunkers… 'Let Me Drive My Van into Your Heart'!"
"Pfff, what?!" Steven laughed out loud, "That was a klunker?"
"Oh, you betcha," Greg replied, wiping a bit of sweat from his forehead, "Sure, it wasn't my best song. But, without it… I wouldn't've broken through to my magnum opus."
"But, Dad, that's one of your most popular songs!"
"Yeah, don't remind me. Sadie Killer and the Suspects wouldn't let me live it down when-"
Greg stopped short, slapping a hand across his mouth. Steven looked down to the floor, forcing a smile.
"It's alright, Dad. I've seen bands break up before."
The former rockstar returned to the young man's bedside, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. He inhaled deeply before speaking.
"Hey… are you sure you're alright?"
"Okay… but are you suuuure you are?"
"Dad, you don't have to worry about me."
"Of course I do! You're my boy."
There was a pause. Greg gazed at his son, noticing the young man's shift in demeanor. Beneath his white comforter, Steven shuffled into a seated fetal position. His stare was fixed on his window: rather, the outside of it. He looked out into the ebony abyss, remembering constellations he'd picked up on while warping to and from Homeworld. The sky was ever so lightly freckled with stars, and so vast that it seemed to cover Beach City like a blanket. Keeping his stare fixated at this sight, Steven spoke softly.
"Things've changed around here. Haven't they?"
Greg rubbed the back of his neck. By force of habit, he ran his hands through the phantom mirage of where his thick locks of hair used to be.
The former rockstar sighed, "It's like clockwork, Steven. Change is inevitable."
"Fantastic," Steven mumbled sarcastically. He turned back to his father.
"Thanks for dinner tonight, Dad. Think I'll turn in, though."
"Oh, sure!" Greg replied, almost startled, "Y-you're okay on your own, though? Where's Pearl?"
"Out with Sheena."
"Date Night for Ruby and Sapphire."
"Do you even wanna know what Amethyst is doing?"
Steven chuckled lightly, snuggling deeper into the bed.
"Dad, it's fine. I've gone to sleep here by myself before."
While this was true, Greg could still feel something brewing in the pit of his stomach. Something didn't feel quite right. Then, his eyes beamed at a brilliant thought.
"Hey, I've got an idea," the former rockstar exalted, reaching for his guitar, "How 'bout I tell you a bedtime story about your mom? Huh? It'll be like old times!"
'No, not now!' Steven could feel his cheeks start to glow. He quickly turned his body away from his father, throwing the comforter over his head.
"S-some other time, Dad. I'm pretty tired, and -"
"Now, don'tchu worry," Greg continued, tuning the guitar, "I've got a song all cued up, just for the occasion."
"Really, Dad, you don't have to," Steven's eyes started tearing up. It was becoming painful to restrain himself. Each strum of his father's guitar set Steven's teeth further on edge.
"Okay," Greg hummed melodically, "This is about the time your mother and I-"
"Enough!" That did it.
The register of the boy's shrill cry echoed throughout the room, causing everything to rumble. Greg dropped his guitar, clasping his ears at the piercing sound as he sprang from the bed. He looked down to find Steven balled up beneath the covers, trembling in what looked like a mix of pain and fear.
"Steven, I… I'm sorry-"
"Just go, Father."
Greg inched toward the bed, "I… just wanna make sure you're alright."
There was a beat. The tension in the silence could be sliced with a knife.
"Why wouldn't I be alright?"
"Well, it's just… the Gems have told me some things, and-"
"W-what have they been telling you?" Steven's voice was becoming more and more desperate, and his shivering more erratic beneath the comforter.
Greg extended his arms gently, getting closer to the hunched up ball, "Woah! Easy, bud. They just want to make sure you're okay… and so do I."
"W-woulja stop saying that already?!"
"S-saying that you wanna make sure I'm 'okay'. Okay?! I-I'm okay-"
Greg grabbed the end of the comforter, "Steven-"
"In fact, I'm great -"
His eyes widened as he lifted the blanket, "Steven-"
"...What's happening to you?"
Tented beneath the blanket was a fluorescent-pink Steven. He could not allow his eyes, which were streaming with tears, to meet with Greg's: a pained expression staining his round face as he spoke through breathless sobs.
"I… never wanted you to see this…"
Greg's own eyes started running.
"Does it… hurt?"
"Just the inside."
Greg lifted the rest of the comforter from the boy, revealing pink extremities extending from his yellow shirt and blue pajama pants. Gently, he placed a hand on his son's head.
"Steven… you never have to hide things from me."
His hot tears stained the pillow.
"B-but… d-doesn't this 'gem stuff' freak you out?"
"Pssh! This is nothin', kiddo," Greg scoffed playfully, running his fingers through his son's pink hair, "Your old man's seen worse. Much worse. And, besides... I've gotta be there for m'boy, don't I?"
Steven's sobs softened as he sat upright. He swung his feet around the edge of the bed, joining his father side-by-side.
"I-it's just… I feel like… Like part of me's broken. And, this time, I… don't know how to fix it."
Noticing his son's nose leaking, Greg swiped a tissue from the nightstand.
"Here," the former rockstar commented, handing it off to the boy with a grin, "It won't solve the issue, but-"
"'Here's a tissue'. Thanks," the boy scoffed at his father's old rhyme, "You had a saying for everything, didn't you?"
"Welp," Greg blushed, "I've got quite the rolodex. Let's see what you remember. 'Hold the phone'..."
"'Now, give the phone to me'," Steven giggled.
Greg chuckled as he thought up another one, "'I may be losin' my hair'…"
"'But the magic's still there'," Steven ran his hands through his hair suavely.
The two chortled together. Then, Greg shifted his eyes to the floor.
"'If every porkchop were perfect'..."
"...'We wouldn't have hotdogs'."
With this, Steven could feel his body shifting - looking down at his hands to find that his pigmentation had returned to normal. He was so distracted by this, he almost yelped as his father clapped a steady hand on his shoulder.
"Steven," Greg sighed, "Klunkers aren't exclusive to songwriting, y'know. They're in life, too."
Steven looked up at his father, watching as tears formed in the corner of the former rockstar's eyes.
"Whether it's… leaving your family home, or chasing some wild dream, or… losing the love of your life," a lump forced Greg to clear his throat, "Klunkers keep comin'. Sometimes, right out of nowhere…"
Greg looked down at his son. He smiled - because, no matter how old Steven got, he could still see a small tyke, no more than three years old with stars in his eyes and a bandaged cheek, sitting before him.
"But you'll get over 'em, kiddo. And y'don't have to do it alone."
Steven sighed, resting his head on his father's broad shoulder.
"You rock, Dad."
"You're part-rock, Steven."
"What?! It's true!"
The two began laughing again, almost too hard. Wiping a tear from his eye, Greg sighed as he stood up from the bed.
"Well, it's getting pretty late. I should -"
"What's up, bud?"
Steven's cheeks became warm and crimson, "Well… It's just, uh… If you wanted to, you, um, I mean-"
"Steven… could I… stay the night?"
A relieved smile emerged on the human-gem hybrid's face.
"Great," Greg replied, motioning to the stairs, "I'll go make m'self at-home on the couch. Call me if y'need me, 'kay?"
"Will do," Steven nodded, yawning lightly as he flopped down in bed, "G'night, Dad."
Almost as soon as his head hit the pillow, the boy began to emit light snores. Cautiously, Greg turned back and tiptoed toward the bed. He gently pulled the comforter up to Steven's chin as he sat back down on the bedside. Slowly, he grabbed his guitar from the nightstand and began to pluck a soft lullaby: one that he'd always play for Steven when he was very small. As he played, Greg gazed at his sleeping son as a gentle breeze blew in from the nearby window. A small grin stretched along the brim of his round face.
"G'night, son," Greg sighed contentedly.