Life sucks. Sometimes, it sucks a lot. Other times, not so much, and he can get behind it better, in days when he remembers that there might be good things out there, worthy of dedicating himself to.
Today is not that day.
It’s raining outside, the water coming with all its force towards the small Beach City. The clouds are dark and huge, covering any speck of sunlight that tries to penetrate. And yet it’s still afternoon, sometime after lunch; it’s been raining since early morning.
As soon as Lars wakes up, he knows it’ll be one of those days.
Having slept like garbage, he wakes up to an empty house, only throwing a handful of pancakes in his mouth. His parents aren’t home this time, both having left for work earlier. His mother did remember to leave him a little note saying she hoped he has a good day. Lars throws the tiny paper away in indifference. It’s good that his parents aren’t present to see him like this.
Another good thing is that he won’t be going to the Big Donut today. It was closed for some reform he didn’t recall. He’s just happy he won’t have to go to that lousy job again, have Sadie ask him questions or the two of them bicker at each other for an eternity.
He’s just happy he’s alone today.
And now, he’s out in the rain, wearing his red jacket rather than his raincoat. His curly hair is flooded with water, raindrops rolling down his face.
Lars has nowhere to go to. The fog is everywhere, swallowing the town, only the streetlights to guide him. There are no signs of other people in Beach City today, whether they’re all home or sheltering themselves at the local restaurants. He knows the Cool Kids sometimes remain inside Fish Stew Pizza when the weather gets ugly.
(He knows, because he usually finds himself outside, staring at their happiness and wanting to be a part of it. He looks inside with desperation, hoping anyone can notice him, invite him, keep him safe and welcome, and loved.)
Today, though, he doesn’t search for them, for anyone. He just keeps walking without a clear destiny whilst the rain doesn’t seem to stop any sooner.
Lars hears no signs of life in the endless rain. He’s only met with the raindrops hitting his unkept, curly hair, his clothes, the sidewalk. They keep falling and falling and falling… he hides his hands in his pockets and shrinks, hiding part of his face inside his jacket. The coldness of the water touches his skin, chilling him inside.
He sort of likes it, if anything.
(Maybe because he can identify with the weather: it’s foggy and dark, colorless, crying dams. Except he doesn’t cry but it’s a living representation of the paradox inside his chest – heavy and yet empty at the same time, crushing him.)
With each step he finds puddles in his way, varying from small to big portions of water in the sidewalk. When Lars reaches an even bigger one, he can see his own reflection. Blurry, distorted… miserable. Lars finds himself stopping right there, staring at the puddle. He lets out a deep sigh.
(When it leaves his body, it aches.)
However, in the middle of the endless rain, he begins to hear something.
Something like… splashing sounds. Many of them.
A short figure starts forming itself in the dark mist. Thanks to the streetlight, Lars wastes no time to recognize the familiar salmon-pink he sees on a daily basis. As always, Steven Universe is being the happiest kid on Earth, jumping in the puddles and having the most fun he’s seen him.
Steven instantly acknowledges Lars and his grin somehow widens more.
Well. He should’ve known this moment for himself wouldn’t last.
“Hi, Lars!” Steven yells in excitement. “You’re here to jump in puddles, too? It’s so fun!”
Lars doesn’t reply, simply shrugs and is back to staring at his reflection. The image becomes messier with each waterdrop. From the corner of his eye, he can feel Steven looking at him in silence.
“Hey, Lars… are you okay?”
Rather than yelling at him, the older teen asks, “What do you think?” Lars’ tone is indifferent. Empty.
He hears a little gulp.
“Well, you look… tired,” Steven replies anyway, maybe not getting that the question was rhetoric. “Really tired. More than usual, I think—”
“Alright, I get it – I look like crap.” Lars almost feels annoyance, but ultimately sighs it out. “I just- I’m not feeling so fresh today, okay?”
Instead of asking more questions like Lars expects him to, Steven is… surprisingly quiet about this. There’s another moment of silence between them, yet it stretches out more and he can feel the worry coming out of the short boy. Soon enough, he acknowledges some shuffling.
“Here, take this,” Steven says.
For once, Lars looks up and is met with an umbrella. It’s vibrant and pink, in contrast to the grayness of the rain. Steven looks at him with an empathetic look but doesn’t seem to be desperate for him to accept it.
Lars could push it away, tell Steven to butt out, but… he ends up taking the umbrella anyway. It’s small, if anything, but it’s effective in protecting him. At least he’s not getting water in his eyes anymore, he thinks.
“That’s, uh… a little better, I guess,” He mutters.
Steven smiles again, Lars doesn’t return it. Knowing the younger boy, he’s not leaving him out of sight; even then, Lars is too tired to order him to leave now, and… it’s not like he’s forcing him to spit out his feelings.
“So, you wanna go somewhere else?” Steven asks him.
Shrugging, he replies, “Eh, not really. It’s… nice out here.”
“Yeah! We could jump in puddles so you’re not so tired anymore! We could even start a puddle race!”
Lars almost snorts at the thought but what comes out of him is a strange, unidentified noise. “I’m not really in the mood for puddle jumping, Steven.”
“Oh, well, that’s okay.” Steven lowers his tone a little. “You can walk, and I’ll jump at a normal speed. I’ll try not to get water on you, though.”
“Don’t mind if you do. It’s not going to make a difference.”
It may sound like he’s referring to his soaked clothes, but his tone implies something else, too. He doesn’t know if Steven gets it, given the younger boy doesn’t comment on it.
“Off we go, then!” The black-haired boy claims and starts walking, only to jump in the nearest puddle. He’s careful regardless of Lars’ previous statement; he… he can appreciate that.
They go in the same pace, the rain not having mercy and continuing to fall. Steven smiles and giggles in the meantime, while Lars is mostly silent, holding the umbrella.
“So, you’re in day off today, right?” Steven asks him after some time. “The Big Donut was closed when I got there.”
“Yeah. There was going to have a reform or something… at least I’m not gonna work in that piece of junk for today.”
Steven ignores his bitter commentary. “Have you seen Sadie?”
“No. Pretty sure she’s not out here.”
“Aw, that’s too bad… I wanted to beat someone in a puddle race.”
Lars frowns in realization. “Well, what about that girl you’re always hanging out with?”
“Oh, um,” Steven blushes a little. “She’s not coming to Beach City until next week I think.”
“And your, uh, your aunts? Moms?”
“They’re busy, too. Garnet is on a mission, Amethyst is messing around in her room and Pearl is taking care of the house. They’re not exactly big fans of the rain.”
“So, you’re stuck with me.”
Lars sighs, seeing as though he isn’t the best company a bouncy, excited kid might have. Especially not today, in one of his blue, foggy days.
“And I’m happy with that,” Steven says, as if he’s reading his thoughts (who knows, the kid has some weird powers, he thinks in terror). “Maybe you’re not feeling so happy today – or some other days, but… I like spending time with you.”
The older looks at him in certain shock, though maybe he shouldn’t be anywhere surprised – this is Steven Universe, the happiest boy he’s met, who seems to love everyone, even the literal mess that is Lars. And that’s what surprises him the most: how can he love him so much?
He wants to ask why, but he’s unable to. Steven looks back at him and smiles. It’s a loving, affectionate smile. He’s doing so even when Lars is a soaked sad sack.
Given the speechlessness, Steven focuses back on their journey through town. Lars can’t help glancing at him every now and then, as he grips the pink umbrella a little bit tighter. The orange-haired teen expects him to go full chatterbox all the way through but… that’s not what happens.
In fact, Steven is being surprisingly patient with him, doesn’t ask any personal questions, nor push him for details on why he’s feeling bad; and doesn’t blabber on his “Gem” adventures he’s always talking about when he goes to the Big Donut. All Steven does is jump on the many puddles they come across, not at all caring about his own reflection on the water. He doesn’t waste time worrying about it, he steps on them instead, giggling as if it’s the most exciting thing to do.
Only then does Lars realize they’ve reached the main boardwalk, meaning the beach is nearer than before. He can’t make it out to the sea, the clouds blinding the shore. He jumps when he hears Steven gasp loud, and soon enough the younger is jumping in the wider puddles frenetically.
“Puddle paradise!” Steven laughs and runs around endlessly.
Lars watches him do so, quiet. Even when the storm is cackling, Steven never allows it to bring him down. He loosens himself and has fun, and people… love him. And he loves them back.
“You sure you don’t wanna join in?” Steven asks from afar.
He feels like he’s been caught, having stared at the boy have the time of his life.
“Nah, I’m good.” Lars clears his throat to disguise the feeling.
“Okay!” Steven is back to jump at the puddles with his might, now that the taller boy is distant.
It goes on that way, Lars watching him go. The rain seems to strengthen but it doesn’t knock Steven down; if anything, it looks like he’s having a lot more fun.
“Look at me, Lars! I’m the puddle master!” Steven giggles.
Lars doesn’t answer, yet for the first time in maybe days, he feels… something rising in his chest. Not the growing emptiness nor the weight that have been taking control over him. Not butterflies that eat him from the inside. It’s… It’s shy and still shallow, but… it’s like a fuzzy, warm ball growing inside him, it doesn’t hurt him.
(It’s soft and… safe.)
While all of this is happening, he holds the umbrella tighter and… he cracks a very subtle smile.
(And it appears to grow as he watches Steven playing in the rain.)
But as Lars has already learned, life always finds a way to make things suck all over again.
A cold, freezing wind hits him in the face, and he can’t help but shiver and hug himself with his free arm. He knows it’s already cold, but he was able to get through it before. Now, however, he can feel it breaking him.
“W-Woah!” Steven reacts to the sudden force of the weather, but he doesn’t let it defeat him. He steps on the puddle with determination in his eyes and says, “You can’t beat me, wind! I’m the fastest and strongest puddle man alive!”
Steven doesn’t bat an eye at Lars, who’s the victim of the unstoppable blow. The fact that the older teen is soaked all over only manages to worsen the cold, to the point where his teeth starts chattering. Lars, however, tries to shut his mouth and get through it.
He tries to resist but the wind doesn’t give him respite. By each passing minute it grows stronger, invincible, and Lars’ entire body starts shaking like hell. Everything around him suddenly becomes too dark and frigid, and he can’t find a way out. He’s frozen like popsicle where he stands. He’s trapped.
When something reaches his hand, Lars jumps in fear, eyes wide as he finds Steven looking at him with wide, fearful eyes.
“Lars, what is it? What’s wrong?” The boy asks, close to freaking out.
Lars can barely open his mouth when another wave of coldness beats him to it, and he shakes furiously.
“Oh my gosh, you’re freezing!” Steven exclaims. “Here, have this- h-have my jacket! I’m not cold—”
“N-N-No,” Lars refuses. “N-No.”
“No,” He hisses.
Steven stares at him for a while and checks their surroundings in desperation, until he seems to realize something and suggests, “Hey, I-I can take you to my house! You’re really wet and cold, so we can warm you up – we can get you some hot chocolate, watch a show—”
“N-No, I-I’m not going-!”
“Lars, you’re going to get sick at this rate!”
“I-I don’t care!”
“Please, let me help you-!” Steven tries to reach his hand again but the other almost slaps it away.
“I d-d-don’t WANT y-your help!” Lars snaps, ultimately throws the pink umbrella against the ground, allowing the rain to fall on him again. The blaring noise that follows shows that it has been broken.
He breathes in and out furiously, glaring at Steven.
“S-Stop trying to help me for once – you’ve done plenty of it, a-and almost r-ruined my life!” He continues, voice sharp in contrast to his shivering.
Steven is speechless, and his face shifts to… to guilt.
Wait, that’s- that’s new. He’s never seen him show that expression so… intensely before.
“Lars, I… I know I messed up with you.” Steven opens up. “I played around in your body without thinking about what you wanted. I did things my way and I let you down. I’m… I’m sorry.”
Steven looks away, stares at the rejected umbrella with deep pain in his eyes, but he doesn’t appear to have been hurt by Lars. It’s looks like… he feels responsible for the broken little umbrella, even though he wasn’t the one who discarded it.
Lars… doesn’t know how to feel about this. He’s mad, sure, still angry about the day Steven possessed his body, having proved him that other people don’t actually like him for who he is. But seeing the boy apologize this way, with so much remorse, he… he doesn’t want this. He hates hearing these words. He’s not even mad at Lars, for goodness sake.
“You have every right to be mad at me… you don’t have to forgive me and I’m- I’m fine with that,” Steven continues, letting out a deep, painful sigh, and not taking his eyes off the pink object, half of it sunk in the puddle. “I’m really sorry.”
And what makes this worse is that… Steven isn’t even crying – and Lars knows the rain isn’t hiding the tears, because these don’t even form. His dark eyes are deep and endless, like the gloomy weather today, when the younger boy was nowhere close to resembling such foggy day a few minutes before. Now, he looks as miserable as Lars, but what stands out is the blatant grief his look reveals.
Thus, he realizes that, maybe, this isn’t just about the day Steven took control over his body. It’s a side to the flamboyant kid that he’s never seen.
And… Lars doesn’t know what to say.
His anger towards the younger has completely faded and his look is possibly the softest, most regretful he has given him.
(Thinking on it, Lars concludes this is worse than Steven telling him off.)
Long, painful minutes of silence follow, until Steven lets out a sniff and says, “But still, I don’t want to leave you out here on your own. It’s getting real cold and scary, and you’re going to get sick. A-At least- at least let me take you home. Are your parents there?”
Lars finally dares to give him some sort of response; he shakes his head in shame and mutters, “N-Not until night.”
Aware it’s still early in the day, Steven hums in understanding. “Then I can take you to the beach house! It’s not far from here and- and we have a fireplace, it might help, too.” At this point, it sounds like he’s trying to reassure himself as well. “I promise, just this one time and then you- you don’t have to be near me again, okay?”
Part of Lars wants to protest, wants him to stop apologizing (so desperately wants to tell him he’s sorry), but the wind, once again, refrains him from doing so, and he’s a shivering mess again.
In any case, he feels Steven’s arm wrapping around him, pulling him along. The two protect themselves from the weather but, like the black-haired boy has stated, they don’t take too long to get to the beach house facing the sea. Most of the time Lars has his eyes on the ground, and soon enough he finds himself stepping on the wooden floor of Steven’s porch. Then, he hears a door opening and Steven gets him inside.
The difference in temperature is almost astounding; although it’s not that warm, it’s not like the icy rain outside. The lights are all on and Lars recognizes a vacuum cleaner doing its work.
“Steven! Thank goodness you’re back!” A female voice speaks up, revealing itself to be owned by the white-skinned gem; Pearl, if he’s not mistaken. “The weather outside is very dangerous and—”
Pearl turns off the vacuum cleaner and frowns when she spots a trembling Lars beside Steven.
“Oh, hello,” She says awkwardly, yet ignores the taller boy to speak to Steven again. “Why is one of the Donut Children here, Steven?”
“He’s freezing, Pearl; he was out in the rain for really long!”
Her look softens when she pays more attention to Lars, almost worried. “Oh, my… we’d better dry your clothes before you get ill.”
“I’ll take care of the fire!” Steven claims and already rushes to the kitchen, perhaps to get matches.
“Be careful, Steven!” Pearl voices out.
Lars quietly takes his soaked jacket off, realizing his shirt hasn’t been lucky, either. None of his clothes have made it out dry, except maybe for his underwear.
“Hm, you might have to take all of them off,” Pearl notes, drawing Steven’s attention.
“Yeah, maybe you could take a shower, Lars,” He adds.
The orange-haired boy instantly feels his cheeks heating up. “W-What?! But I d-don’t have spare clothes!”
“That’s not a problem! I have plenty of t-shirts with me!”
Lars groans. “Dude—!”
He interrupts himself with a sneeze and hides his embarrassed face from them.
“You either take a shower or get the influenza,” Pearl crosses her arms in seriousness. “It’s your choice.”
Lars pouts. “Fine. W-Where’s the bathroom?”
Steven guides himself to the very corner of the house, revealing a not-so wide bathroom containing a bathtub and a thick red curtain.
“I’ll get you some of my clothes,” The younger tells him and already runs out of there before Lars can say anything.
Not too long after, Steven hands him one of his salmon-pink t-shirts and a pair of shorts and is out of sight again.
Great, Lars bitterly thinks to himself, but closes the door behind him and does what he’s told.