Chapter 1: What a Nut
Chapter 1: What a Nut
"She did WHAT?!" A shrill voice echoed through the cafeteria.
"Shhhh! Keep your voice down…!" Lincoln hushed his friend as some of the nearby students glanced over.
"S-sorry…" Clyde muttered sheepishly. "But she really kissed you?!"
"Yeah…" Lincoln sighed as he took a bite of his sandwich. He'd decided to tell Clyde about what had happened over the weekend; the prom, the incident with Joanna, the heart-to-heart chat with Leni… the kiss. He'd been reluctant to bring it up, but he felt it necessary to confide in someone… and who better than his closest friend?
"Geez, Lincoln, that's... wow." Clyde said in disbelief. "That's heavy, man. I mean, that's your sister." He seemed shaken by the news, which Lincoln had expected; still, he trusted his friend to keep the matter to himself. "What did you do…?"
"W-well..." Lincoln coughed. "I was kind of freaked out, but… I didn't really try to stop her," He admitted. Granted, that was a half-truth… but Lincoln thought it best to leave out the fact that he had accepted and even returned the kiss. "And it was… kinda nice, I guess."
"Kind of nice?!" Clyde raised his voice again, earning him a nasty glare from Lincoln. "Lincoln, you know how serious this is, right?" He continued in a hushed whisper. "She's your sister. Your older sister. Like, an adult." Clyde hissed. "She could go to jail for that, you know?"
"Clyde, don't even think-"
"I-I'm not going to say anything, but…" Clyde said, looking at his friend intensely. "Lincoln, she hasn't… like, touched you, has she?" He asked in a serious tone.
"W-wha… no!" Lincoln responded, mortified. "Jeez, Clyde…"
"Well I don't know!" Clyde said, throwing up his hands in exasperation. Finally, he groaned and slumped into his seat, massaging his temples. "Alright… alright, let's think about this. This is Leni we're talking about. Maybe she didn't mean anything by it? Like, maybe she was just… I don't know, thanking you or something."
"Well… maybe." Lincoln furrowed his brow. It was a fair question, really… Leni being, well, Leni. But it didn't quite add up… she'd hesitated, after all, and the dreamy gazes she'd kept throwing in his direction hinted at something more. And, as airheaded as his sister may be, he knew her… she was smart enough to know the difference between a platonic kiss and a loving one. "But what if she did? What if, y'know… she's in love with me?"
Clyde sighed. "Then you've got to put a stop to it. You've got to sit her down and explain to her that you're her brother, that it's wrong, and that you love her as family… nothing more than that."
"W-well…" Lincoln coughed before pausing to take another bite of his sandwich.
"Well…?" Clyde cocked an eyebrow.
As Lincoln swallowed, he averted his eyes. "I mean, I'm just saying…"
"Like, let's say… I don't know. Let's say I also kinda felt the same way about her…"
"If we were, y'know... a couple…" Lincoln muttered at last, slightly red-faced. "Would it really be such a big deal?"
Silence. Clyde looked at his friend with a mixture of horror, shock, and disbelief. "…God, Lincoln," Clyde finally stammered, shaking his head. "What do you expect me to say to that?"
"I-I don't know, man!" Lincoln sputtered. "I-I mean… your parents are kinda, y'know, 'unconventional', right?!"
Clyde simply stared at Lincoln with a deadpan expression. "…You want to try that one again?" He asked with the slightest twinge of annoyance to his voice.
"S-sorry…" Lincoln sighed apologetically. "It's just… look Clyde, a week ago I would've agreed with you. But now I'm… I'm not so sure." He admitted.
Clyde frowned, taking a sip of his juice. Part of him wanted to end the conversation and put it out of his mind forever, but he felt he should at least hear Lincoln's reasoning. "…What do you mean?" He asked with some reluctance.
"I mean…" Lincoln mumbled through the last bite, swallowing before continuing. "Look, I've known Leni my whole life… and I've always been close to her. But… talking with her like that made me realize just how little I actually knew her. And I guess… I guess I finally felt like I could see her for who she was. Like I could see her as a person, not just as my sister."
"But she is your sister," Clyde interjected.
"Yeah, I know." Lincoln chewed his lip. "I know she's my sister. I know I'm not supposed to have feelings like this. But at the same time, I feel like… like why should it matter? If you look past the fact that we're related, she's just a girl. She's a wonderful, kind, beautiful girl…" he said a bit dreamily, and had to shake his head to compose himself. "Even if she's a bit slow, even if she's, well, Leni… she's perfect, Clyde. Were she anyone else, I wouldn't even need to think about it. So if she sees me as more than a brother, and I feel the same way as her… is it really so wrong?" He asked, a note of desperation in his voice.
Clyde exhaled softly. He said nothing as he gathered up his trash onto his tray, walked to the garbage bin, dumped it, and set the tray on top. Finally he walked back to his seat and sat down, looking at his best friend with a serious gaze and tented fingers. "You, my friend," He said at last, pointing at Lincoln, "Are thinking with your dick."
"I am not thinking with my dick," Lincoln scowled.
"Listen, buddy. You're 13. Your body is changing, and your hormones are all out of whack… I'm in the same boat, y'know?" Clyde explained. "You're starting to think about girls in ways you hadn't before. And Leni, well… make no mistake, she's a total babe. It's only natural you'd start taking notice, even if she is your sister. Especially, you know, after Ronnie-Anne…" Lincoln cringed slightly at that, but Clyde continued. "You're just confused, Linc. You got close to your attractive sister during a volatile time, she kissed you because she doesn't know any better, and your brain is morphing this into something it's not. You are thinking with your dick."
Lincoln was about to retort, but was suddenly interrupted by the bell signaling the end of lunch. As the other students began filing out, Lincoln could only sulk bitterly.
"Look, what you need to do is calm down, have yourself a good ol' spank session, and get all these crazy thoughts out of your head." Clyde said as he got up. "I know some good sites. I'll link you later, alright?" Lincoln only scoffed, avoiding eye contact. "…What?"
"Hypocrite," Lincoln muttered under his breath.
Clyde frowned. "…'Scuse me?"
"I thought you'd understand," grumbled Lincoln. "Considering you've got two Dads."
Clyde's brow furrowed. "Do you have a problem with my Dads, Lincoln?" He asked, a hint of edge to his voice.
"No, of course not." Lincoln sighed softly. "They're great people. They love each other, and they love you. But… there are lots of people out there that say that's wrong, somehow. They think that it's sick, or evil. There's people that literally devote their whole lives to stopping guys like Harold and Howard from being happy together."
Clyde winced, gritting his teeth. He knew this all too well; it had been the primary reason why his family had moved to Royal Woods in the first place. Even Clyde himself had been bullied relentlessly for his parents' orientation. "What does that have to do with anything…?" He asked somewhat bitterly.
"Because," Lincoln began, "In spite of all that… in spite of the world telling them they can't be the way they are, they didn't let that stop them from being together. It didn't stop them from getting married, and it didn't stop them from raising you. So, I don't know…" Lincoln exhaled deeply. "Look… I can't pretend to be in the same boat as them. But if their love isn't wrong… why is this any different?"
Clyde chewed his lip in thought. He had to admit… Lincoln had a point. It didn't change his opinion on the matter, not by a long shot; however, try as he may, he couldn't think of a worthy rebuke. With a sigh, he sat back down. "Okay. Lincoln. Let's say there is something more between you two. What then?"
"Well, first of all," Clyde said, "Incest aside… you're thirteen. She's eighteen. As far as the law is concerned, she's an adult and you're a child. You do understand that, right?"
"W-well, yeah…" Lincoln mumbled. "But if we waited-"
"Even then, you can't legally get married," Clyde continued, "At least not in America. You can't have kids, not unless you want 'em to come out all messed up. Society would never accept you; you'd be subjecting yourselves to scrutiny for the rest of your lives. You'd be dragging your family's name through the mud, and that's just assuming they don't outright disown you." Clyde could see Lincoln shrinking down in his seat with each point he made, but pressed on regardless. "Even if I agreed with you, which I don't, here's the thing… society has decided that people like my Dads are allowed to be together. Some people may disagree, but that doesn't change the fact that it's allowed. In the best case scenario, you'd forced to hide your relationship from the world."
Lincoln said nothing, his gaze focused somewhere off to the side. Clyde sighed.
"Lincoln, look… all that aside, you still don't even really know for sure why she kissed you. For all you know, this could be a huge misunderstanding. And," he added, "Can you really be sure that you've got feelings for her? Can you assure me, in all certainty, that this isn't just some puberty-induced crush?"
Before he could even think about answering, the bell rang again; Clyde groaned. "Anyway, come on... we're gonna be late." He said. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather not get chewed out by Mrs. Rivers again." With a small grunt of approval, Lincoln got to his feet, hoisting his backpack over his shoulder.
Lincoln didn't pay attention during English, nor the Social Studies class that followed it; instead he simply rested his chin on his palm, staring out the window for the entirety of class. He'd hoped that talking with Clyde would give him some idea of what to do, but he was more uncertain than ever.
Lincoln sighed softly as he idly watched a squirrel eat a pizza crust from the garbage. Clyde was right, of course… in all honesty, he wasn't sure about his feelings for Leni. On one hand, yes, he was a bit sexually confused right now… well, perhaps more than a bit. Leni was his sister, yes, but she was also a stunningly beautiful girl… and considering that he lived with her, it made sense that he would start to take notice of how attractive she was. Plus, he had gotten all worked up over her friend earlier in the night, so perhaps he was just imprinting those feelings onto his sister. And as for Leni, well, she was a kisser. Granted, never on the lips before, but… who knows. Maybe she just thought it was appropriate for the situation. Not to mention that she had been acting pretty normal towards him since then…
On the other hand, however, he couldn't shake the feeling that that wasn't the case. He could still remember the warmth of Leni's body against his, the gentle weight of her head on his lap… it had felt right, somehow. Though Ronnie-Anne had been more of a cuddler than most would expect, there was always that tension, that hint of awkwardness between them, even at the height of their relationship. But with Leni, there was none of that; she was completely at ease in his arms, and Lincoln had felt just as at ease in hers. It was something he had never quite felt before with anyone… not with his parents, not with his sisters, and definitely not with Ronnie-Anne. It had been the same during their private dance outside the school too; her body had just felt right in his arms. The way the delicate curves of her hips had nestled just so into in his hands-
Lincoln's face scrunched up in shame as he forced the thought aside. As much as he found himself thinking about his sister's… assets… there was more to it than that. The time he'd spent with her that night had felt special. He'd learned about her, gotten to know her better than he ever had before. He'd always just seen her as his ditzy, lovable older sister, but now he felt like he knew the real Leni Loud. Beyond the surface was a girl who, he found, actually shared more interests with him than he had ever expected. A girl full of hidden doubts, insecurities, and even self-loathing. A girl that looked to him for guidance and protection, even if he was five years her junior. A girl that relied on him.
Lincoln furrowed his brow in thought as the teacher droned on, trying to collect his thoughts. He could pick things apart all he wanted, but one thing was clear: he was developing feelings for his sister. Whether those feelings were romantic or not, he wasn't sure… but after Clyde's warnings, he couldn't help but hope for the latter. He knew his friend was right; the age gap, the social stigma, the harsh realities of an incestuous relationship. And the more he thought about it, the more he hated himself for feeling this way. She was his sister. He'd known her since the moment he was born… she'd held him, fed him, cared for him, practically raised him just as much as his mother had. He couldn't really be falling for her, could he…?
"Maybe I am thinking with my dick," he thought out loud. Then, he became subtly aware that the room had gone silent; glancing away from the window, he found to his chagrin that every eye in the classroom was on him, their expressions ranging from stunned to confused. Were he to turn around, he would have seen Clyde's face buried in his palms in second-hand embarrassment.
"W-well, that's very unfortunate, Mr. Loud," His teacher spoke at last, clearing his throat. "But this is a school, and we prefer students think with their brains here. See me after class."
"Y-yes sir," Lincoln muttered, red-faced as his classmates snickered in amusement. Well, that was embarrassing. As the teacher continued with the lecture, Lincoln forced himself to follow along; clearly, this wasn't the time for daydreaming.
Soon enough the bell rang, signaling the end of class for the day. Thank GOD, Lincoln thought. After a thankfully brief scolding from his teacher, Lincoln left the class to find Clyde waiting for him in the hallway.
"Was it bad…?" Clyde asked hesitantly.
"Nah," Lincoln replied. "He just let me off with a warning. Good thing, too… that's a conversation with my folks I'd rather not have." Lincoln sighed softly as he and Clyde walked to their lockers. Few words were exchanged between the two as they put away their books.
"…I'm sorry." Clyde said at last as he shut his locker. His voice was gentle and genuinely apologetic.
"What for?" Asked Lincoln.
"For upsetting you," Clyde answered. "I wasn't trying to be hard on you or anything, I just-"
"Clyde, it's cool." Lincoln assured him, motioning for his friend to follow him as he finished with his locker. "You were right… I'm not sure about anything. In fact, I'm more confused than before…" Lincoln admitted with a sigh. "…But, if anything, that's good. It gives me more time to think before I do something stupid."
"So… what are you going to do?" Clyde asked as they stepped out the school entrance and began their walk home.
"Well… I dunno yet." Lincoln muttered, scratching the back of his head. "I need to talk to her about it, that's for sure…" Lincoln noticed Clyde's uncertain expression out of the corner of his eye. "I-I mean, not about everything. I just… I need to understand how she feels before I can really figure myself out, you know?"
"I guess…" Clyde mumbled. "I just hope you know what you're doing, man. I mean, Jaime Lannister hooked up with his sister and look how bad that turned out."
"…That's a TV show, Clyde."
"Book series first," His friend corrected him. "Shame it never got finished though."
"Poor George R. Martin…" Lincoln frowned. "Choked on an entire pork chop. RIP in peace."
"RIP in peace," Clyde concurred solemnly. The two hung their heads in respect for a few moments before snickering at the absurdity of it all. "A-anyway… in all seriousness, I'm just worried about you, man. You're playing with fire here, and the last thing I want is for you to get burned."
"I know. Thanks, Clyde." Lincoln said with a smirk. "And sorry I called you a hypocrite. I know you're just looking out for me."
"Ah, don't worry about it," Clyde replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Look, Lincoln… I may not agree with it, but whatever happens I've always got your back."
"It is kind of funny, though," mused Lincoln. "Considering you always used to chase after Lori…"
"Hey man, she's not my sister. Plus she was seventeen then. Totally different." Clyde huffed, before adding, "…why, has she mentioned me?"
"Linken! Linken!" Three-year-old Lily shouted happily as her brother arrived home. She ran up to him excitedly, clutching a piece of white construction paper in her hands.
"Hey there Lily!" Lincoln replied, bending over and ruffling her hair gently. "How was your day?"
"Good," She giggled. "Look!" She said, holding up the piece of paper for him to see. "For you!" On the paper was a crayon drawing of Lincoln; he smiled as he took it from her.
"Wow, is that me? It looks so good!" He said, making her grin brightly. It wasn't a lie, either… it was quite good, at least for a child her age. It was a bit crude and unsteady, but it was still instantly recognizable as him, right down to the placement of the freckles. He could only expect that she'd continue to improve with age, and he couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of shame at the fact that even his baby sister had discovered her talent before he had. Nonetheless, he was proud of her. "I'll hang it in my room right away."
Lily smiled, nodding before scampering off to return to her doodling. Lincoln could smell dinner cooking from the kitchen, and figured his Dad must be hard at work; even with Lori gone, preparing a meal for twelve people was a rough job. "Hey Dad, I'm home!" He called out.
"Hey there Sport," Lynn Sr. responded from the kitchen. "Can you come give me a hand?"
"Sure," Lincoln replied as he headed for the stairs. "Lemme just get changed!"
The upstairs hallway was noisy as per usual; Luna was rocking out especially hard today, which either meant that she was in a bad mood or that her time of the month had begun… either way, he made a mental note to stay on her good side for the rest of the night. He could hear the telltale thumping of Lynn's basketball against the wall of her room, and Lana and Lola were arguing loudly about… something or other. With a sigh, Lincoln stepped into the former linen closet that served as his bedroom and shut the door.
Lincoln took off his backpack and hung it from the hook on the wall before unbuttoning his shirt and throwing it aside; his pants soon followed. Lincoln had maintained a fairly consistent look over the years… though the specifics varied, and he had mostly taken to wearing black jeans as of late, he was almost never without an orange shirt of some kind. Orange was his favorite color, of course, but it was also one he wore well. Leni had told him that orange was a difficult color to pull off, but his white hair went well with it. For Lincoln, that was enough… after all, who knows more about fashion than Leni?
"…Lincoln." Lincoln shrieked like a little girl as a dull voice broke the silence without warning. It was Lucy, seated on his bed with her notebook in her lap, looking at him with slightly flushed cheeks.
"L-Lucy?!" He stammered, doing his best to cover himself. "W-why didn't you say anything?!"
"I did. Several times." She muttered, deadpan as ever, before hopping off his bed. "…Nice underwear." She said with what he could only assume was sarcasm, taking note of the highly worn-out 'victory undies' he still wore to this day.
"S-shush," Lincoln grumbled, red-faced. "What are you even doing in my room…"
"I come in here to write, sometimes." Lucy admitted, slinking past him. "It inspires me."
"It… inspires you?" Lincoln asked, cocking an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because," she said as she opened the door. "Your room is depressing, Lincoln." And with that, she was gone. Lincoln frowned; she wasn't wrong, really. Being the only boy in a house full of girls, Lincoln needed to have a room to himself, and unfortunately the best his parents could manage was this old linen closet. Still, it wasn't so bad… he'd had a lot of good times in this room. With a shrug, Lincoln finished changing into a pair of dark grey sweatpants and an Ace Savvy t-shirt before heading back out to the hall.
Lincoln was about to head back downstairs when he realized he needed to pee, badly, and so he scurried off to the bathroom at the end of the hall. He swung the door open and-
Leni stood at the sink, clad in nothing but a towel as she blow-dried her hair. She was humming to herself, apparently oblivious to his presence; Lincoln, however, was frozen in place, face red as a tomato. He knew he should back out, shut the door, pretend this never happened, but he couldn't look away. He wasn't fully sure why… it wasn't like he could actually see anything, and heck, he'd seen Leni wearing nothing but a towel plenty of times. But now, with the situation being as it was… Lincoln couldn't help but thank the heavens that he had chosen to wear loose-fitting pants.
Then, Leni's eyes fluttered open and she spotted him through the mirror. "Oh, hello Linky~!" She said happily, her lips spreading into a wide grin. "How was school today?"
"U-uh… it was good," He stammered, his heart pounding in his chest. "Yours…?"
"Ugh, it was totes boring." Leni sighed, apparently having no issue with Lincoln seeing her in this state. "Mr. Fletcher gave us all a surprise quiz, and it was, like, really hard!"
"That, uh… that sucks." Lincoln muttered.
"I know, right? So I was like, 'Mr. Fletcher, why are we learning English if we already speak English?' And he was like… well actually I don't remember what he said, but it was really confusing and… Linky? Are you alright?" Leni asked with a hint of concern in her voice as she noticed how flustered he was.
"Y-yeah! Just, uh…" He coughed. "Just needed the bathroom." Well, it technically wasn't a lie.
"Oh! Sorry~" Leni apologized. "Aaaalmost done… there." She shut off the blow-dryer and flipped her hair, letting it cascade naturally around her head. "How do I look?" She asked, turning to Lincoln with a sweet smile.
"Looks good," He said honestly, forcing a grin. In truth, she looked absolutely adorable right now, with her slightly disheveled hair only serving to enhance her natural charm. And with her perfect body barely covered by a pale blue towel… it was taking everything Lincoln had in him to keep it together.
"Great!" She chirped happily, slipping past him to her room. "See you at dinner, Linky~!" She gently shut her door and Lincoln dove into the bathroom, practically slamming the door behind him. He exhaled deeply, taking a moment to calm his frazzled nerves before another wave of discomfort reminded him of why he had come in here in the first place.
As he relieved himself for what felt like at least a full minute and a half, it dawned on Lincoln that he hadn't gone to the bathroom since before lunch. He must have been too lost in thought to even acknowledge the call of nature. And now that that was gone, he felt himself confronted with another urge thanks to Leni's surprise appearance. He frowned, chewing his lip slightly. He had the bathroom to himself. The door was locked. Maybe he could just-
"Lincoln!" Lynn suddenly cried out, frantically pounding on the door. "Hurry up! It's an emergency!" Lincoln groaned. Of course. He flushed, washed his hands, and then opened the door to a very desperate Lynn Loud.
"Move!" She shouted, pushing roughly past him. "This meatball sub ain't waiting a second longer!" With that, she slammed the door, and Lincoln cringed as the bathroom echoed with the kinds of vile sounds only Lynn could provide. Well, at least he wasn't turned on anymore.
Dinner was boring, as always. Now that he was thirteen, Lincoln had officially joined the grown-up table. Though he'd grown to appreciate the peace and quiet somewhat, he still couldn't help but miss the chaos of the kids' table a little bit… especially tonight, when he really could have used something to distract him from his thoughts. He couldn't help but sigh under his breath as he picked idly at his food.
Leni frowned slightly as she noticed this out of the corner of her eye. As airheaded as Leni may be, she could still tell when something was bothering one of her siblings, especially Lincoln. She was about to ask him what was wrong, but thought the better of it; she knew fully well that would simply be opening a can of worms to the rest of the family. Well, no matter… she knew better than anyone how to get a smile out of Lincoln.
Lincoln glanced up from his plate as he felt Leni's foot nudge his, and almost spit out his mashed potatoes at the sight; Leni had two string beans sticking out from beneath her lip like a pair of walrus tusks, with her eyes crossed and a goofy smirk on her face. He covered his mouth and let the snickering subside as he planned his counterattack. Not one to be one-upped in mealtime shenanigans, he placed two carrot slices over his eyes and furrowed his brow to keep them in place, grimacing and sticking out his tongue like some sort of zombie. Leni giggled in return; if it was a war he wanted, it was a war he'd get.
"Ahem." Lynn Sr. finally chimed in just as Lincoln was sticking a string bean into his nose, startling him enough to make him inhale it and start coughing. "Knock it off, you two. And Luan, no phones at the table."
"S-sorry Dad," Luan wheezed out between snorts of laughter as she finished recording the two sibling's gag war. Lincoln and Leni sheepishly returned to their food, though not before shooting each other an amused grin.
After dinner, Lincoln helped clean up and then returned to his room to do his homework. Thankfully, there wasn't much of it… and absolutely none in Math, his most hated subject. In barely over half an hour, he had finished.
And now, he stood awkwardly in front of Leni's bedroom door, finding himself struck with an intense feeling of déjà vu. Whereas last Sunday he had simply been reluctant to accept Leni's prom invitation, this time he found himself legitimately dreading the conversation to come. Still, he had to know; he had to know why she had kissed him. He had to know if she just saw him as a brother, or as something more.
Somehow, he found himself equally dreading either answer.
Sucking in a deep breath, he knocked on his sister's door. "Come in~!" came the reply, chipper as ever; he released his breath and entered.
Leni was at the far end of the room, sitting at her desk in her seafoam green nightgown. At first he figured she must be working on a dress or something, but upon closer inspection he noticed that her sewing machine had been set aside on the ground. Instead, she had a bunch of papers splayed out in front of her. He couldn't help but notice how the sheer fabric of her nightgown flowed along the contours of her body, tracing the curve of her back down to her perfectly round- Whoa, Lincoln told himself. Easy there, chief.
"H-hey, Leni." He said nervously.
"Hey Linky!" She said happily, turning to greet him; however, he could pick up just a hint of stress in her voice. "How are you?"
"Good… are you doing your homework?" Lincoln asked.
"Kind of… I'm studying for the finals." Leni replied. "Our teachers gave us all these really tricky questions to do. To, like… repair us."
"You're studying alone?" Lincoln asked, surprised. It was highly unusual for Leni to be doing any sort of schoolwork alone… usually she would get Luna or Lisa to help.
"No…" Leni frowned. "Well… yes. I mean, I'm trying." She sounded a bit upset. Lincoln walked over and took a closer look.
"Leni, you haven't even started." Lincoln said, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yes I have!" Leni said with a pout. "I did the first question, see?" She pointed at the worksheet to show him.
"…That's your name, Leni."
"That totes counts as a question, Lincoln," Leni huffed. Lincoln smirked; he couldn't help but find it cute when Leni got annoyed like this.
"Well, why didn't you ask anyone for help?" Lincoln asked. To his surprise, Leni's face fell slightly.
"Because I was trying to do it myself for once." Leni mumbled sadly. "I'm eighteen. I should, like… be able to do something on my own, right…?" Lincoln could hear that familiar note of pain laced through her words; it pierced his heart.
"Scoot over," He said, giving her a gentle nudge. "I'll help."
"I told you, remember?" He said with a gentle smirk. "There's nothing wrong with needing some help. Now, come on. Scoot."
Leni smiled sweetly and gave Lincoln some room. The old wooden stool was long gone; it had since been replaced with a comfortable ottoman built by Leni herself. It was a bit small, but there was just enough room for Lincoln and her to sit together… close together. "T-thank you Lincoln…" She said a bit apologetically. "But are you sure? You're in, like… center school."
"Middle school, Leni," Lincoln corrected her with a chuckle. "And sure. How much harder could it be?"
"W-well… okay." She nudged the worksheet between the two of them. It was Math, to Lincoln's disappointment. "See, it's like… this, here. I don't get it." She said, pointing to the first problem.
"Let's see… 'Leeroy has a box of twenty-two cookies. If Leeroy eats two cookies in the morning, gives one to each of his five friends at school, and eats three himself on the way home, how many does he have left?'" Lincoln said, reading the question aloud. It was… remarkably simple, to tell the truth. He could only assume that they were reviewing things from the beginning in preparation for the finals. "Well, which part don't you get?"
"Like, any of it!" Leni whined. "Like… who's Leeroy?"
"Leni…" Lincoln groaned. "Leeroy isn't important, it's-"
"Well, he must be if they made a math problem about him." Leni concluded. "And like, why'd he bring a whole box of cookies with him if he was only gonna give away five?"
"Leni, that's not-"
"And," She continued, "You should never eat cookies in the morning! That's totes bad for you-"
"Leni, please…" Lincoln muttered, burying his face in his hands. Well, no wonder she was having issues. Leni was actually surprisingly good with numbers… she needed to be, considering all the measurements she needed to take for her dressmaking. But word problems were another matter entirely. Leni took things extremely literally, to the point where at times she would stubbornly refuse to look past the hypothetical situation presented by the question.
Leni sunk down in her seat a bit. "…Sorry." She mumbled softly, as though she'd done something wrong. Lincoln sighed.
"N-no, don't apologize. Listen, you just need to…" An idea came to him. "Leni, let's say you had twenty-two feet of fabric..."
Leni gasped. "Why… that's not enough at all…!"
"Leni, focus. Let's say you had twenty-two feet of fabric. You use two feet to make a trim for a dress."
Leni thought for a moment. "…I can work with that."
"Great." Lincoln said. "And then later, you use five one-foot pieces to make… uh… I dunno, something for five of your friends."
"Omigosh! I have five friends!" Leni shouted excitedly.
"Right." Lincoln chuckled. "And then after that, you use three more feet to make a skirt."
"Wow, that'd be a really tiny skirt…" Leni giggled. "…Is that what you like, Linky~?"
"W-wha…" Lincoln stammered, red-faced. "N-no, I… look, never mind! How many feet of fabric would you have left?"
"Twelve," Leni said without hesitation. "But Linky, what that that have to do with anything?"
"That's… that's it, Leni." He responded, breathing a small sigh of relief. "That's the answer, see?" He nudged the worksheet closer to her.
"…Huh…?" Leni cocked her head in confusion. She picked up the worksheet and read the question again… and then again… and then again. For two minutes she said nothing, simply staring at the worksheet with narrowed eyes. Then, she gasped. "It's just numbers!"
"That's right!" Lincoln said with a grin. "You see now?"
"But, Linky…" Leni whined, "Why do they need to write it all out like that with words and Leeroys and cookies?"
"Well… I guess because they want you to think about it." Lincoln shrugged.
"But… but I'm no good with thinky things, Lincoln…" Leni sighed as she set down the worksheet. "What if the finals are all like that?"
"I doubt they will be," Lincoln assured her. "Besides… you're better than you think, Leni. If anything, your problem is you think too much."
"How do I not do that…?"
"Well…" Lincoln scratched his chin in thought. "How about we keep going? Maybe you'll start getting the hang of it."
Leni perked up a bit. "You really don't mind? You don't have, like… more important stuff to do?" She asked somewhat timidly.
Lincoln smiled warmly. "Nothing's more important than you, Leni."
Lincoln's eyes went wide. Wait, what did he just say?
"U-uh… I mean…" He sputtered, his cheeks red as a tomato; Leni, for her part, looked almost as flustered as he did. "A-anyway…" Lincoln cleared his throat and quickly diverted his attention back to the worksheet.
"Right…" Leni murmured softlly, following suit. However, he could distinctly feel her body nestle slightly into his side. He didn't mind; just as before, the heat and presence of her body against his was incredibly comfortable. "Um… can I try the next one first?" She said, pointing to what seemed like a simple 'find x' equation.
"Go right ahead." Lincoln replied.
"It's right here~!" Leni said happily, pointing to the literal 'x' on the equation. Lincoln gave her an unimpressed glare.
"Leni, that's not-"
"Got you, Linky~" Leni teased, sticking out her tongue cutely. "Even I know how to do this."
The impromptu tutoring session continued for nearly an hour. He helped only as needed, mostly giving her advice and hints as needed, at least for the word problems; however the questions got more and more difficult each time, and by the time they reached the fifth page Lincoln had no idea what he was even looking at. Everything just looked like a jumble of letters, numbers, and symbols.
"Linky, this is too haaaaaard!" Leni whimpered, laying her head on the desk. "I give up."
Lincoln wanted to argue, but in truth she was right… he couldn't even begin to fathom how these equations worked. Is this really what high school's' gonna be like? He thought with a shudder. Without waiting for a response, Leni got up and shambled over to her bed, flopping facedown onto it with a groan. Lincoln sighed. "Just one more?" He asked.
"Nuh," Replied Leni, mumbling into her blanket.
"Don't you need to get this done?"
"No," Said Leni, turning her head enough to speak freely. "It's studying, Linky… I, like, don't even need to do it at all." Leni yawned loudly before turning on to her side. "…I will though." She added, as though anticipating his follow-up question. "I want to pass."
Lincoln simply smiled, taking a moment to organize Leni's papers a bit before getting to his feet. He walked over to her bed and sat down on the edge of her bed. "I'm sure you'll do fine, Leni." He assured her. "You got this far, didn't you?"
Leni didn't respond to that. She simply stared at the wall for a few moments, mulling over something in her head. "Lincoln," she began, in a low, serious tone, "What's it like being smart…?
Well. Whatever Lincoln had been expecting, that hadn't been it. "…Huh?"
"What's it like being smart?" She asked again.
Lincoln blinked. "I-I mean…" He mumbled, scratching at the back of his head. "I don't think I'm particularly smart…"
"You are!" Leni replied matter-of-factly, suddenly getting up into a kneeling position and leaning in close to him. "You're totes smart, Linky! Like… you understand stuff, and you pass all your classes, and you're not…" Leni frowned. "You're not stupid like me." That word. The way she said it, laced with so much venom, directed at herself… it made Lincoln sick to his stomach.
"Leni." Lincoln said sternly, turning to face her. "You're not stupid."
"I am, Lincoln." Leni replied quietly, barely above a whisper. "I know I am. And it's not like… it's not like I don't try, you know?" Leni sighed softly, lying back down and staring up at the ceiling. "I try. But it's hard, and no matter how hard I try I never get any better."
A deep frown crossed Lincoln's face. He scooted himself over to her and laid down next to her. "You're not stupid." He affirmed, sliding his arm beneath her shoulders and pulling her close to him. She didn't resist, and shut her eyes peacefully as her body rested against his.
"…What am I, then?" She asked.
"You're Leni." Lincoln replied without hesitation. "You're my big sister."
"Your favorite sister?" Leni asked playfully.
"C'mon, Leni," Lincoln said with a small chuckle. "You know I can't pick a favorite."
"But if you had to it'd totes be me, right?"
"…Maybe." Lincoln admitted. "You'd at least be in the top fifteen."
"That's good, I- wait a minute!" Leni pouted, giving her brother a gentle shove. "Don't tease me, Lincoln."
"Sorry!" Lincoln laughed, eliciting a giggle from Leni as well. She nuzzled into his neck happily.
"You always make me feel better, Linky." Leni murmured softly. "Why do you have to be such a good guy…?" She added under her breath, just a hint of sadness to her voice.
"Hmm?" Lincoln asked, glancing at her with a raised eyebrow. "Did you say something…?" But she had already fallen asleep, her chest gently rising and falling with each breath. He smiled as he saw her sleeping face; she really was beautiful. He carefully slid his arm out from under her and got up. Since she was lying on top of her comforter already, he pulled the blanket from Lori's bed and covered her with it. He spent a few moments just watching her sleep. Part of him wanted to stay, but he knew that would be a bad idea… it'd be hard to explain to the others if they happened to get caught, not to mention what other issues could… arise from the situation.
He leant down and gently brushed a stray hair from her face before planting a quick kiss on her forehead, then turned off the light and left the room.
Just as Lincoln shut his bedroom door behind him, it dawned on him that he had completely forgotten to ask Leni about the kiss. He mentally kicked himself before flopping down on the bed with a sigh. Can't be helped, he thought. I'll just have to ask her tomorrow. Besides, he figured, tonight had been nice, if a bit dull. He glanced over at the clock; damn, it was already 10. Lincoln knew he should probably go to sleep, but he was a bit too wired right now.
Lincoln grabbed his laptop off the dresser and flopped onto his bed, getting himself comfortable. He lazily browsed social media for a while, sharing a few cute cat posts from Clyde that caught his attention; he vaguely noticed that Ronnie-Anne had finally set her status to 'in a relationship', but found that it didn't really bother him anymore. After a few minutes he received a PM from Clyde.
Hey man, here's that stuff I promised you. Enjoy ;D
P.S. Wear headphones! #killmenow #nosydads #epiccringe
He would never understand why Clyde found it necessary to include hashtags in private messages, but he ignored that for now; beneath the message were three links. He could tell from the URLs exactly what kind of content awaited him within. Lincoln gulped. It was late… but there was no denying that he could use a bit of 'me time', especially after tonight.
Lincoln took a quick glance around the room to be sure Lucy wasn't lurking around anywhere, even peeking under the bed; you could never be sure with her. Satisfied, he fished out his headphones and plugged them in, his heart racing with nervous excitement. Lincoln was still fairly new to this sort of thing… new enough that each time felt like an adventure fraught with peril. Privacy was a hot commodity in the Loud house, and he dreaded the thought of his parents catching him in the act… or, God forbid, one of his sisters. He would never be able to live it down. Still, it was late, he was alone, and quite frankly, he deserved this. So with that in mind he clicked the first link, slid down his sweatpants, lowered a hand beneath the sheets, and began his dark work.
As per usual, Clyde did not hold back at all. Literally from the moment the page loaded Lincoln was bombarded by pure, shameless smut. The days of easing into things with a few nudie mags were long gone… the digital age had opened a gateway to the abyss, and Clyde had dove in without hesitation. More power to him, Lincoln figured, but for Lincoln it was just a bit too much. Hell, half the time the girls didn't even look like they were enjoying it. Where was the pleasure? Where was the love?
With a sigh, Lincoln gave the second link a try… and then closed it an instant later. Jesus, Clyde, Lincoln thought with a cringe. You need to pace yourself. That's just savagery. Perhaps it was Lincoln's gentle nature, but he just didn't have a taste for the rough stuff. He supposed he could see the appeal, and perhaps he'd even get there eventually… but he liked his porn a little more tasteful.
Well, the third time's the charm, I guess. Lincoln clicked the third link, and already it was an improvement; everything was neatly categorized and tagged, allowing him to browse specifically for what he liked.
And boy, did he find what he liked.
He'd have to thank Clyde tomorrow. This site was a treasure trove… gorgeous young women in all kinds of enticing situations, and not a tear or bruise in sight. Within minutes, Lincoln was already going at it harder than he ever had before.
…So why couldn't he cross that line?
Oh, he'd come close, sure. In fact he'd been close for the past ten minutes or so. But alas… nothing. The relief never came. It was insanely frustrating; it was at the point where he was already starting to wear himself out, and yet if he stopped now he'd never be able to get to sleep. All he'd done is get himself even more worked up.
Dammit, Lincoln…! He grit his teeth in annoyance as he began quickly scrolling through the page for something, anything to bring him over the edge. There's gotta be-
Lincoln's heart stopped.
No. There's no way. He scrolled back up slowly, fearfully… it couldn't be, he thought. His throat ran dry as he neared the photo. She wouldn't… Lincoln told himself. She COULDN'T.
Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief, bonking his head against the headboard for being so stupid. Of course not, you idiot. On his screen was a photo of a beautiful young woman, no older than twenty… fair skin, youthful face, tastefully applied makeup.
Long platinum blonde hair.
In his frenzied state, his brain had morphed the photo into something else as it flew by. Well… someone else. She was far from identical, of course… but there was definitely a slight resemblance. The hair, though a bit longer and styled differently, was almost the exact same shade as hers. Her skin was a similar light shade of peach. Her body was just a bit shapelier, her face nicely rounded and, despite the erotic nature of her pose… strangely innocent. All in all, not an uncanny likeness… but fairly close.
Close enough, perhaps.
Lincoln swallowed. Had it finally come to this? Was he really about to blow his top to a girl just because she happened to look vaguely similar to his sister? Wow, Lincoln. Wow. He scolded himself. You really are messed up, you know that?
Yeah, he knew.
Right now, he didn't care.
'Andrea Shepherd' was the girl's name. He clicked the tag and began browsing. Seemed like she got around a lot, for lack of a better term… there were tons of photos and videos from several different studios, and some of the content was pushing it a bit too far for his liking. But nonetheless, he found himself transfixed. She was good. She was doing the trick.
But he needed more.
Lincoln bit his lip. Screw it, he thought as he scrolled up to the search bar. No backing out now. He clicked the bar and, hand trembling with excitement, typed in 'andrea shepherd pov'. Enter. Searching.
Nine results found.
Lincoln glanced through the thumbnails. There was one that caught his eye; though normally Lincoln had no interest in the men in these videos, in this situation it was almost as important as the girl herself. Fifth video down. Fair skin, faintest hint of musculature beneath his scrawny build. Again, not an exact match… but more than close enough. Lincoln clicked the video and maximized the view.
This was what he had needed. Lincoln lost himself in the video; before long he was panting heavily, rocking his body in sync with the action, his body slick with sweat. In his mind, he was there. He was there and that girl was-
"L-Len-iii...!" He groaned as sweet, glorious relief finally overtook him, his body arching forward before slumping back against his mattress. For a full minute his mind was completely blank as he came down from his high; Goddamn had he needed that. He took a few deep breaths before slowly cracking open his eyes…
…And finding the bespectacled, analytical gaze of Lisa Loud staring back at him.
Chapter 2: Sympathy for the Devil
My apologies if this chapter isn't quite up to snuff. I was running out of steam near the end, and this one's a bit more of a filler chapter before things really get going, in all honesty. The following chapters will be better, I promise!
Lincoln had to clasp a hand over his mouth to stifle his scream. Lisa was there. Lisa had seen him. How much had she seen?! How much had she heard?! "L-Lisa…?!" He sputtered, a mixture of shame, horror, and rage bubbling up within him. "D-don't you know how to knock?!"
"Don't you know how to lock?" Lisa replied flatly, and Lincoln mentally cursed himself for not being sure to lock the door. Her eyes flicked to the girl on the screen, and Lincoln slammed the laptop shut in embarrassment. Lisa's expression was as cold and analytical as ever; Lincoln almost wished she would laugh, or look disgusted with him, or something. "Though I suppose I should have known better than to barge in on a pubescent male without warning…"
Lincoln groaned, pulling up his sheets to cover his burning face. "H-how long have you been there…?" He mumbled from under the covers.
"Long enough," Lisa stated. "You were too caught up in your… activities to take notice. I'd meant to ask if you still had that graphing calculator I had loaned you, but the chance to observe the sexual urges of a hormonal teen firsthand was simply too good an opportunity to pass up. If it makes you feel any better, I assure you that my interest was purely scientific."
"Yeah, great…" Lincoln scoffed. In truth, he was more angry at himself than at Lisa… he should have locked the door. He knew better than this. And now, he'd been caught, and had no one to blame for it but himself.
"As to that…" Lisa cleared her throat. "Given the prosperity of the situation, perhaps I could trouble you for a sample…?"
"Wha- NO!" Lincoln snapped, flinging his pillow at the girl. She didn't react as it bounced softly off her face and to the floor, leaving her glasses slightly askew. "W-will you just get out of here, already?!"
"…Very well." She muttered, pushing her glasses back up her nose. "My apologies for intruding." As she turned to leave, she added, "By the way… is our sister aware of your lust towards her?"
Lincoln felt his blood run cold. Oh, God… she had heard him. "W-wait," he rasped out, his throat suddenly very dry. "Lisa, please… y-you can't tell anyone." He plead his sister, the desperation evident in his voice. "Please… I'll do anything."
Lisa frowned, thinking for a moment, before her lips pulled into a sly smirk. "Well… I suppose I could be persuaded." She pulled a vial out of her pocket, offering it to Lincoln. He just stared at it with an exasperated look on his face; Lisa wiggled it slightly for emphasis, and Lincoln finally sighed.
"Why do you even have this…?" He grumbled as he reluctantly took the vial.
"I always keep a few spare vials on hand, just in case." Lisa stated proudly. "Now then, I'll be awaiting you in my room. Do hurry… the fresher the sample the better." She turned on her heel and left the room, leaving her brother to his devices. Lincoln looked at the vial, frowning deeply.
"Why is my life like this…?"
Lincoln hadn't expected to cap off his night by bringing a vial of his own semen to his six-year-old sister, but in a way he supposed it was fitting. He was Lincoln Loud, after all… living proof of Murphy's Law. Compared to some of the other nonsense he'd been caught up in over the years, this seemed downright tame.
"Come in," He heard Lisa say as he lightly rapped on the door. He stepped inside, finding Lisa sitting at her desk; Lily was asleep in her bed, a fuzzy pink pair of earmuffs slipped over her head to block out the noise. "Close the door," Lisa ordered. "And lock it. Assuming you know how, of course." Lincoln sighed. He just wanted to go back to bed and try to forget that this ever happened, but it didn't seem that Lisa was going to give him that luxury… and right now, he was in no position to argue. He did as he was told, then walked over to her desk and handed her the vial.
"Hmmm…" She glanced it over, closely examining the substance within; it made Lincoln feel a bit icky, but then again, Lisa was far from an ordinary girl. "Yes, this should be sufficient." She said, pressing a hidden button underneath the desk; a freezer compartment popped open and she placed the vial within, alongside other various samples taken, Lincoln assumed, from the rest of the family. "Now then, sit." She gestured towards a nearby chair, and Lincoln reluctantly complied.
Neither said anything for a short while; Lisa seemed to be lost in thought, and Lincoln, well, what could he say, really? She'd just caught him jackin' it to his older sister. He wanted nothing more than to just curl up and die right now. "Lincoln," she began, her voice soft and uncharacteristically measured. "It's nothing to be ashamed of."
"…Eh?" Well, he hadn't expected that.
"Just because I have yet to reach puberty myself does not mean I lack knowledge on the subject. You are becoming a man, Lincoln." Lisa said, folding her hands in her lap. "…I do realize that phrase is thrown about quite liberally, but it's an accurate statement. For all intents and purposes, your body has begun its transformation into adulthood… a process that takes years to complete, and during which time you will experience a rapid onset of hormonal production resulting in a plethora of physical, emotional, and sexual changes."
Lincoln's brow furrowed, his mouth pulled tightly into a wide, straight line. Was Lisa seriously giving him 'the talk'? "U-um…" Lincoln cleared his throat, "Thanks, Lisa, but I already know all this-"
"Let me finish, Lincoln." Lisa huffed. "As your libido develops, you will start experiencing strong, sometimes nearly uncontrollable sexual urges… you will find yourself thinking about members of the opposite sex in ways you had not before. As Leni has been gifted with numerous physical attributes pleasing to the male eye, it is only natural that you would find yourself sexually attracted to her."
"But…" Lincoln said sheepishly, "She's my sister, though."
"Perhaps," Lisa nodded, "…but a female nonetheless."
"You don't think that's weird?"
"What arouses you is your business, brother. Whether I or anyone else find it 'weird' is meaningless… those fantasies are yours and yours alone." She said plainly. "But, no… I do not. As I said, such things are natural. I only wished to ease your worries." She gave a small, but kind smile, which Lincoln couldn't help but return.
Lisa had grown over the past two years, he realized, in more ways than one. Physically, of course… she was now almost as tall as the twins had been at her age, though Lincoln could tell she would always be a bit of a shorty. But she'd also matured emotionally. She was still the same old Lisa, her vast intellect making her blunt and even unapproachable at times… but she'd grown more kind with age, better at expressing her own feelings and understanding the feelings of others. For the most part, anyway.
Lincoln couldn't help but feel slightly less ashamed. She was right… it was nobody else's business what he got off to. He knew he could leave it at this… go back about his business as if nothing had happened, and put the whole embarrassing situation out of his mind. Still, there was far more to this than simple attraction… and he felt that maybe, just maybe, he could trust Lisa enough to tell her.
"W-well…" He mumbled. "What if… what if there's more to it than that?"
Lisa seemed confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean…" Lincoln began, taking a deep breath before continuing. "What if… it was more than just being attracted to her?"
Lisa's eyes narrowed. She stared at her brother in silence for just a little too long for his liking; he was already starting to regret saying anything. "…Lincoln… are you in love with Leni?" She asked at last, as though hesitant.
"I…" Lincoln stammered, hanging his head in shame. "I… don't know."
Lisa frowned deeply. "Why do you think you might be?"
Lincoln swallowed. There was no going back now. "I just… feel it, I guess. Ever since the prom, I've felt closer to her. Like… like I finally see her not just as Leni, my sister, but as Leni the person. And…" He sighed. "And she feels like someone I could see myself with. Like someone I… want to be with. When I make her laugh, it feels right. When she smiles at me, it feels right. When I hold her, she just… feels right." Lincoln bit his lip. "Even if I know it's wrong."
"And how does she feel?"
"She, uh… she kissed me." Lincoln admitted; he could see Lisa stiffen slightly out of the corner of his eye. "I don't know if it meant anything, though. I, uh… I haven't asked her yet."
Lisa pursed her lips in thought. This hadn't been expected. She'd always known, in the back of her mind, that something like this could come up some day… after all, Lincoln was the only boy among ten girls, all of whom were very close with him, herself included. Throw puberty into the mix, and it's hardly shocking that feelings may develop beyond that of mere siblings… in fact, she'd long suspected that Lynn secretly harbored a crush on her brother, and had been prepared to intervene if the need ever arose. Still, now that it was all before her, she felt… conflicted.
"…Lincoln," She began, removing her glasses and using the hem of her pajamas to clean the lenses. "As a woman of science, I have little to say regarding issues of morality. That said, incest is taboo for reasons beyond societal norms… in fact, many believe there to be a biological, instinctual component leading to the near-universal implementation of these rules. A sort of innate defense mechanism to prevent inbreeding, if you will. There is much debate on the subject, of course..."
Lincoln simply stared at her with a furrowed brow, mouth hanging open slightly in confusion. Lisa sighed and slipped her glasses back on.
"Lincoln, the social and moral implications of this aside, I'm sure I don't need to explain to you what inbreeding is, nor why it should be avoided."
Lincoln frowned, shaking his head. "No, you don't…"
"That said…" Lisa continued, her expression softening somewhat. "I am also aware that matters of the heart go beyond mere scientific reasoning. If you truly are in love with your sister, there's nothing I could do or say that would change that fact. And were she to feel the same… I suppose that would be that, wouldn't it?"
Lincoln stared at Lisa wide-eyed in silence. He had to swallow the lump in his throat before finally speaking. "Lisa… are you telling me to go for it?"
"Speaking as a scientist, I can only advise against pursuing such a relationship. However…" Lisa cleared her throat. "Speaking as an individual, I believe that love comes in all forms. Whether your feelings for our sister are right or wrong, I cannot say… but I do not find them unnatural." She smirked again, and Lincoln could feel the tightness in his chest subside.
"Well, that's good to know…" Lincoln laughed softly. "But what should I do? I mean… I can't even say for sure if I'm in love with her or not."
Lisa shrugged. "Love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain, Lincoln… and chemicals don't lie. In time, you will learn how to read them… and when all else fails, just do what I do."
"Follow your instincts." She said. Lincoln smiled. In her own way, he knew she was rooting for him.
"…Thanks, Lis." He said as he got to his feet. "I feel a lot better."
"Glad I could be of assistance," Lisa replied. "If nothing else, this could provide for some fascinating research…"
Lincoln chuckled at that. "Good night, Lisa. And you'd better get to bed! It's late." He chastised her.
"I sleep precisely as much as I need to, brother." Lisa said flatly. "Not a second more, not a second less."
"Yo… Leni? Earth to Leni?"
"H-huh…?" Leni snapped out of her daze, looking over at her friend Rochelle and smiling sheepishly. "Sorry… like, what were you saying?"
"We were talking about having a study session at my place later. You in?" The raven-haired girl asked before taking a delicate forkful of her salad. She sat opposite Leni, their other four friends forming a ring around the circular table they always had to themselves. This was an unspoken rule true of all high school cafeterias… while the main rows of long tables were a free-for-all, the smaller ones in the back belonged to the cliques. The jocks, the nerds, the preps, it seemed every group had silently claimed a table as their territory, and the others almost instinctually respected that. This table was for Leni and her friends, as it had been since the beginning of high school.
"Oh… yeah! That sounds great!" Leni replied happily. "Linky was helping me a bit last night, but there's still a lot I don't get…"
"You mean that little brother of yours?" Piped Bethany, the redhead of the group. "Isn't he, like, in middle school?"
"Yeah, but he's totes smart." Leni said with a hint of pride. "Like… probably as smart as Lori, at least."
"Lucky," Clarissa mumbled as she toyed with the pink ribbon in her hair. "My lil' sis never helps me with anything."
"Remember how he stood up for Leni at the prom?" Peggy sighed, a dreamy look in her sky blue eyes. "He totes must love you."
"He's gonna make some girl really happy someday." Rosalie concurred, her dark brown hair bobbing up and down as she nodded.
"But he already makes me happy!" Leni said innocently, prompting giggles from her friends.
"So what's up with him, by the way?" Rochelle leaned forward, a sly grin on her face. "Any… girlfriends or anything?"
"No…" Leni frowned slightly. "I mean, he did until not too long ago, but they broke up."
"Really? Now that's a shame." Rochelle replied, the smile never leaving her face. "She must be crazy. Guy like that..." She gave a low, sultry chuckle. "You just gotta clamp down on 'em and never let go."
"Roche, ew." Clarissa gasped. "He's, like, a kid."
"More of a man than most guys I know," Rochelle shrugged. "He's sweet, he's mature, he's totally cute… he's the whole package. Speaking of package…" Rochelle bit her lip as she looked at Leni. "You ever get a look at his?"
"Oh my God, Rochelle," Bethany mumbled through her hand as she laughed, "You're such a slut!"
Leni laughed along with her friends, though she didn't really get it; she'd never open one of Lincoln's packages without permission, after all. But besides that, her attention was elsewhere, to the far corner of the room… what used to be the mean girls' table.
Now, Joanna Hawthorne sat alone, picking at her lunch with a sullen expression. On Monday she had sat down among her clique as per usual… only for them to get up without a word, abandoning the girl. Those that saw it had enjoyed a good chuckle at her expense.
All except Leni, that is.
The videos of the prom incident had quickly gone viral, being shared and reposted under such titles as 'REAL LIFE CARRIE PRANK GONE WRONG!1!' and 'Thug lyfe: kid DESTROYS bitchy teenage girl'; by Sunday there was already a supercut compiled from the various recordings of the event, and just yesterday she had seen a video that ended with 'to be continued' just before the bucket had hit the ground. Admittedly it made her giggle, though she didn't really understand the reference.
For the most part, people were supportive of Leni; the complete thrashing of Joanna had overshadowed the embarrassment that she'd suffered, and those that did bring it up had almost without fail been sympathetic towards her. Joanna, however, had been effectively pilloried. Even without Lincoln's involvement, nobody had found the prank to be funny… Lincoln's epic takedown of her had just been the coup de grace. Joanna had crossed the line, and now she was paying the price.
Leni knew that she should feel satisfied by this. Joanna, after all, had tormented her so many times over the years… she had even been the one to start spreading rumors that Leni was sleeping around, leading to Chaz breaking up with her. Leni wasn't even sure what that meant… she slept in a bed like everyone else, after all.
But when Leni saw Joanna's so-called friends walk out on her like that, she felt a bit sick. After all, many of them had done things just as bad… and several had been implicit in the prom incident as well. They'd abandoned her to save their own reputations, she realized. They abandoned her because they'd never really been her friends at all.
Maybe she'd never had any.
Leni forced a smile as she looked back to her own friends. "So, like… your place tonight, Rochelle?"
"Like, great! See you girls later, then~!" Leni said cheerfully before getting up, taking her food with her. Her friends watched in confusion as she walked over to Joanna's table.
"What's she doing…?" Peggy asked. Rochelle snickered in response.
"Oh, you know… just being Leni."
Joanna was completely lost in her own sulking as she ate, not even noticing as Leni sat down opposite her. "Hey, Joanna~!" Leni greeted her cheerfully; her eyes darted up in surprise, her brows furrowing as her sights set on the intruder. Leni just smiled sweetly back at her, as though this entire situation was completely normal.
"…What are you doing?" She mumbled, making no effort to hide her disdain for the girl before her.
"Eating lunch, silly!" Leni giggled as she set down her own food.
"Yeah, no shit," Joanna hissed. "I mean what are you doing here?"
"Well… you totes looked lonely sitting here all by yourself, so I figured I'd join you." Leni said simply, her smile not fading for an instant.
"Just leave me alone, Leni." Joanna grunted, returning to her crappy tuna fish sandwich. Leni seemed to consider it for a moment, tapping her chin in mock thought… then shook her head.
"Nope~!" Leni said matter-of-factly. Joanna wanted to scream at her to go away, but she knew it would only make things worse... the entire school already hated her, after all. The last thing she needed was to make another scene.
"…Do what you want." She scoffed. Leni seemed satisfied by this, and popped open her Tupperware container. Joanna was suddenly hit with an incredibly delicious scent, and couldn't help but glance up; Leni was eating a perfectly sautéed salmon filet. Joanna glanced at the tuna sandwich in her hand and frowned deeply. It had been the best she could do on her own… which is to say, not very good at all. She'd added too much mayo, not enough salt, and overloaded the damn thing with lemon, making the bread slightly soggy… Leni's lunch, however, was making her mouth water.
"Would you like to try some?" Leni asked, apparently noticing Joanna's interest. "I made it myself." Leni offered Joanna a forkful, smiling that same sweet smile that annoyed her so much. Even now, part of her wanted to refuse… heck, part of her wanted to smack that fork right out of her hand, just for bothering her like this.
But it did look good.
Joanna's stomach growled, her poorly-made sandwich doing little to ease her hunger. Joanna swallowed her pride and reached out, taking the fork from Leni's hand. She sniffed it; it did smell good. Had Leni Loud really made this?
Leni Loud, who couldn't even walk in a straight line without getting lost?
Joanna hesitated for a moment. If Leni made this, there must be something wrong with it… but then again, she'd just been eating it herself. And it did look good. With a sigh of resignation, Joanna placed the fork in her mouth and the instant the fish touched her tongue, her eyes went wide.
It was divine. The skin was nice and crisp, the meat soft and perfectly tender, the seasoning present but not overpowering. She closed her eyes, savoring the flavor before finally swallowing… it was easily the best salmon she'd ever had. Possibly the best thing she'd ever had. "You made this…?"
Leni nodded cheerfully. "My Dad taught me! He's, like, a chef."
"It's… really good." Joanna admitted.
"There's totes more if you'd like!" Leni offered, pushing the contained towards her a bit. "I always bring a bit extra." Joanna stared at Leni as though she were from another planet. It didn't make any sense… she wasn't trying to butter her up or anything. There was none of the desperate, scared fawning of someone trying to get on her good side. She was just… kind.
"…Why?" Joanna asked softly.
"Because you look hungry!" Leni replied. "And I don't mind shar-"
"I mean," Joanna cut her off. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
Leni cocked her head to one side. "Why wouldn't I be…?" It sounded like a genuine question; as though the idea of not being friendly towards her worst enemy was foreign to her. Joanna sighed.
"Because of the prom, for one."
Leni's smile faltered for a brief moment, but then seemed to return even wider than it had been before. "That was, like, forever ago! This is now~" Again, nothing but sincerity in her voice. Once again, Leni had extended the olive branch to Joanna, even after she had ruined her night. Even after she had humiliated her in front of the entire school. It was like the brat had said… Leni was nice to everyone, even people that didn't deserve it.
Even people like her.
It made Joanna feel… angry, somehow. But not at Leni.
"…This is why people walk all over you, you know?" Joanna spat under her breath.
"Nobody walks over me…" Leni paused, thinking for a moment. "Though… sometimes they step on me when I fall asleep on the floor…" Leni gasped. "Wait! Is that what you meant by sleeping around?!"
"W-why are you so… never mind." Joanna groaned, burying her face in her hand. "I'll have some salmon, thanks."
Joanna's terrible sandwich was pushed to the side, completely forgotten as she and Leni shared the salmon filet. It wasn't lost on her that Leni gave her the larger of the two portions… she may have protested, were it not for her hunger.
"You have nine sisters?" Joanna queried incredulously. "Doesn't that get, I don't know… difficult?"
"Sometimes," Leni admitted. "Like, we do get in fights, sometimes for silly things… but I wouldn't change it for anything." Leni grinned brightly.
"How many brothers, then?"
"Just the one," Leni giggled. "But he's, like, the best brother ever! He always looks out for me, and he's really kind and patient with me…" She leaned forward, adding in a hushed whisper, "I get a little mixed up sometimes."
"Y-you don't say." Joanna muttered before clearing her throat. "Sounds like you really love him."
"I do." Leni stated with a smile. "I really, really do. He's… he's the best." Leni's expression grew slightly distant, and Joanna couldn't help but pick up something… else in her tone. "What about you?" She asked before Joanna could dwell on things further.
"Oh… no, I'm an only child." Joanna replied, taking another forkful of salmon. "It's just me and Daddy… and whatever new whore of the week he's decided to bring home…" The venom in her voice was evident. Joanna wasn't sure why she was telling Leni this… she never told anyone about her home life, and in fact nobody had ever really asked. She'd always been content to maintain the charade of a spoiled, rich Daddy's girl. She was far from poor, sure… but her relationship with her father was strained at best, and virtually nonexistent at worst.
"That sounds lonely." Leni mumbled sadly. "Are you lonely…?" Joanna scoffed, and was about to deny it, but… she couldn't.
"…I'm used to it." Was all she could grumble out. She hated how this stupid girl was forcing her to open up like this. Vaguely, she was aware that Leni wasn't making her do anything… she was simply asking questions no one else had bothered to, and Joanna just found herself responding without really thinking about it. It felt strange, but not entirely unpleasant.
Leni hummed in thought, tapping her chin. "Weeell… how about from now on, you sit with me and the girls?" She asked sweetly. "There's enough room for one more."
Joanna's eyes flicked over to the table Leni usually occupied with her friends. "I doubt they'd be too happy about that."
"Oh, don't you worry about that~" Leni said, waving her hand dismissively. "They're totes nice. I'm sure they'll let you eat with us!"
Joanna frowned slightly. As much as she wanted to say no, for some reason she couldn't help but think it might not be so bad. After all, this wasn't so bad… "Maybe. We'll see." She said quickly, not making eye contact with Leni; she seemed satisfied with the noncommittal answer, and went back to eating her food.
Lincoln's day was normal enough, thankfully. Clyde had asked him in the morning about what happened with Leni, he'd answered that he was going to talk to her tonight, and Clyde had seemed content to let the matter rest for the remainder of the day. Lincoln didn't find it necessary to mention that Lisa had found out, due in no small part to not wanting to relive the event in his mind.
Lincoln was mildly concerned that Lisa would tell one of the others… her track record for keeping secrets had not been stellar in the past. But still, he trusted her not to spill the beans on something so personal… especially if it involved other family members as well. And, as awkward as the situation had been, Lisa had eased his conscience at least somewhat. He was still conflicted, unsure of how exactly he should go about this... and terrified of what may happen when he did.
Nonetheless, Lincoln managed to keep focused on his classes and soon enough the day came to an end. He arrived home to find Luan sitting on the couch, watching a comedy special he knew she'd seen a hundred times before with a board expression on her face.
"Hey, Luan," he said as he stepped through the door. "Why the long face?"
"Oh, hey Lincoln." Luan sighed. "Luna's in one of her moods."
Lincoln frowned; he recalled that she had been out of sorts the previous day. Clearly, whatever was bothering her was still going on. "What's wrong with Luna?"
"Couldn't tell ya," Luan shrugged. "She won't talk to me about it. I figured it'd be best not to rock the boat any further and came down here… get it?" Luan wiggled her eyebrows in jest, making Lincoln groan.
"Very punny, Luan." He said, rolling his eyes and earning a snicker from his sister.
"Not bad, Linc. Bit overused, but I'll let you have that one."
As Lincoln continued up the stairs, it became abundantly clear that Luan wasn't kidding; he could hear heavy industrial music blaring from inside her room, the bass thumping so hard that the floor was vibrating beneath his feet. He knew Luna well enough to know what this meant. She loved rock music of all kinds, and to most it would seem that she listened to them all equally.
But to those that knew her well, it was clear that she had definite preferences based on her mood. When in a good mood she liked to jam out to good old hard rock… Mick Swagger, SMOOCH and the like. When in a particularly giddy mood, she preferred lighter fare like the Beatles. When sad, she tended to enjoy symphonic or doom metal… a rare interest she shared with Lucy. When mad, however, only the heaviest of metal would do. Death metal, thrash, and, of course, industrial. And this may have been the hardest industrial metal he'd ever heard; as though the band had found a way to channel raw aggression into a music form. It didn't even sound good per se, but he could nonetheless hear Luna playing along with it on her guitar.
Lincoln sighed. He would go see how she was doing, but… well, barging in on her in a bad mood rarely ended well. He did his best to ignore the pounding beat of the music and went to his room to change. Lincoln triedto get some homework done before dinner, but the music made it impossible to keep focus. All too soon, he heard his father calling everyone down for dinner, and sighed as he looked down at his blank worksheet; at least the music had stopped.
He head down to the living room to find everyone already at their seats. Well… almost everyone. "Where's Leni?" He asked as he sat down.
"She's studying with her friends tonight," Rita answered as she scooped some goulash onto his plate. "She won't be back till later."
"O-oh… okay." Lincoln said, doing his best to hide his disappointment. At the same time, however, he couldn't help but feel slightly relieved; at least now he had an excuse to put off their conversation a bit longer. He took a bite of goulash, finding it to be as delicious as ever. While admittedly he'd had it so many times over the years that he sometimes got bored of it, his father's goulash was consistently good.
"Can you pass the salt, dude?" Luna asked. Her voice was missing some of its usual liveliness, and as he handed her the salt he noticed that her fingertips were scratched up and red; she'd literally been playing till her fingers bled. She must have noticed him staring, because she quickly grabbed the salt and hid her hand from view. "…Thanks." She grunted under her breath.
"N-no problem." Lincoln mumbled softly. Clearly, it was even worse than he'd thought… he wanted to say something, but he was interrupted by Luan subtly clearing her throat. She looked at him with pleading eyes, giving a small shake of her head. She was right, he realized… not here. Not right now.
Later, he told himself.
And so after dinner, Lincoln helped his parents wash up before heading upstairs… and to Luna's room. The music was already blasting full force again, and he could already feel his eardrums crying out for mercy before even opening the door. He knocked. No answer, not that he would have been able to hear one. With a sigh, he turned the knob and walked in.
Luna sat in her beanbag chair, eyes shut as she shredded along with the music; literally, as her bleeding fingers would attest to. Her brow was furrowed in focus, teeth clenched tightly as she jammed out. "Luna?" He called to her, receiving no response. "Luna!" He tried again with a bit more force, but still no reply. With a frustrated growl, he strode over to the boombox and lowered the volume. "Lun-"
Literally the instant he had lowered the dial a single pip Luna had stopped playing, glaring daggers at him. He grinned sheepishly, turning the music back up a bit. "S-sorry…" Luna simply sighed, picking up her guitar and getting back to it.
"Leave me alone, Lincoln." She said sternly. It made Lincoln shudder a bit; usually, Luna was one of the kinder ones among his sisters, but when angered she could be just as vicious as Lori. Still… he wasn't going to let this keep going.
"Luna, you have to stop." He said, walking over to her. "What's going on?" She didn't answer, him, and just seemed to deepen her focus into her guitar. Lincoln grit his teeth in annoyance; if she was going to be difficult, so would he. He grabbed a nearby microphone and switched it on, the feedback coming from a nearby speaker confirming that it was indeed plugged in. "LUNA, TALK TO ME!" His voice blasted through the speaker, making both himself and his sister wince. That had been even louder than he expected.
Luna tossed her guitar aside and leapt to her feet, angrily snatching the microphone out of his hand. "You really wanna push it right now, dude?! Go. Away." Her voice came out as a low, threatening hiss, and Lincoln had to fight the urge to run away with his tail between his legs. But Lincoln stood his ground.
"Talk to me." He demanded again, quietly this time. Luna's hands clenched into fists and he recoiled in anticipation of a punch, but it never came. Instead, Luna simply let out a sigh of resignation and flopped back into her beanbag chair.
"…I'm sorry." Luna grumbled under her breath. Lincoln sat down on the floor beside her and waited for her to speak. "It's Sam." She continued after a few moments.
Lincoln's frown deepened; he'd had a feeling it might be about Sam. She and Luna had been dating ever since Luna had first asked her out, and things seemed well enough between them. "Did something happen?"
Luna chewed her lip. "…No." She huffed, looking away from him. "The problem is what's not happening."
Lincoln cocked an eyebrow in confusion. "Um... what?"
"Two years, Lincoln." Luna said softly, holding up two fingers for emphasis. "We've been together two years. And she still hasn't told her parents about us! She hasn't even come out yet!"
"Because she's scared of what they'll think!" Luna shouted, throwing her hands up in frustration. "You and everybody else know, but any time I'm around her family it's like I'm walking on eggshells. Do you have any idea how unfair that is?!"
"Well…" Lincoln scratched the back of his head. "Have you told her how it makes you feel?"
"Of course I have." Luna scoffed, folding her arms. "But then she just gets mad at me for bringing it up. She keeps saying she'll do it eventually, but 'eventually' never comes! Meanwhile we can't even act like a couple unless we're in private! No kissing, no hugging… heck, we can't even hold hands in public just in case, I don't know, her dad finds out or something!" Luna sniffed and wiped at the corner of her eye, and Lincoln could see that she was tearing up a bit. "I mean… I like her a lot, y'know? Love her, even… but I hate that we can't be open about it! Like… is she just ashamed of me?"
It hurt, seeing Luna so upset. Lincoln hoisted himself onto the beanbag chair beside Luna and put his arm around her. "I'm sure she's not ashamed of you. You rock." Luna smirked slightly at that. "But… have you tried looking at things from her perspective?"
Luna's sorrowful eyes met his. "Her perspective?"
"Clyde told me something once…" He began before hesitating briefly; it was kind of a personal tidbit, and he wasn't quite sure if he should be sharing it so freely. Nonetheless, he pressed on. "His Dad… Howard, I mean… when he told his family he was gay, his dad kicked him out of the house. He was only sixteen. Did you know that?"
Luna cringed, shaking her head. "N-No… I didn't. That's really fucked up."
"Yeah," Lincoln agreed. "They never spoke to each other again… Howard was pretty much completely cut off from his family. That's why he took Harold's last name."
Luna pursed her lips in thought. She'd always wondered which of the two had the surname originally; though she'd never really considered the reasons why. It made her feel angry… Howard was such a sweet, sensitive guy. "I had no idea…"
"Not everyone's as accepting as our parents, Luna." Lincoln sighed softly. "This kind of stuff happens too, y'know? Maybe Sam really is worried for nothing... but, knowing that, can you really blame her?"
Luna exhaled deeply, leaning against her little brother. "No… I guess not. But it still hurts."
"I'm sure it does." Lincoln said. "But… maybe you should talk to the McBrides about it?"
Luna's face lit up. "Hey… y'know what? That's a rockin' idea! I mean, if they've dealt with this stuff themselves, they'll probably have some kinda advice to give, right?"
"Yeah," Lincoln grinned. "For you and Sam."
Luna returned the smile and hugged Lincoln tightly. "Thanks, Bro." She said as she ruffled his hair. "When the hell did you get so mature, huh?"
"Well, one of us had to," Lincoln teased, earning him a playful shove from his big sister. "You feeling better now?"
"Yeah, I guess…" Luna replied with a sigh. "I mean, I'm still a bit mad. Just… maybe not at Sam, y'know? I guess I'm just mad at the situation."
"It does sound pretty frustrating," Lincoln admitted. "But I'm sure you guys will get it figured out."
"Yeah," Luna smirked. "We will. Thanks, Dude… really. Sorry I've been so uncool."
"You? C'mon." Lincoln chuckled. "You could never be uncool. Just… don't shut us all out like that. We're supposed to help each other out."
"Yeah, I know." Luna mumbled sheepishly. She had always been a bit stubborn when it came to seeking out her siblings' advice… likely the headstrong nature that came with her rock 'n roll lifestyle. Sometimes, she just needed a good kick in the pants to get her out of her rut. "I owe you one."
"No you don't." Lincoln said, getting up from the beanbag chair. "But I do have some homework to do, so… maybe keep the volume down a bit?"
"You got it, dude." Luna assured him, giving him the o-k gesture.
"Goodnight, giiiiiirls~!" Leni bid her friends farewell, her voice sleepy and unfocused. She stood and watched as Bethany's car drove off down the street, and continued watching as it disappeared around the corner… and then continued staring for a few more minutes before realizing she was back at her house. "Ohhh yeah~" She giggled as she turned on her heel and stumbled towards it, humming a tune to herself that could have been any of several songs. Leni stood at the front door, fishing through her purse until she found her keys, only to find that she couldn't quite remember what you were supposed to do with them, nor why she was standing outside in the first place.
In his room, Lincoln glanced at the clock. Just after ten, he thought. He had finished his homework not too long ago… after finishing up with Luna, Lola and Lana had forced him to read them a bedtime story, and then Lucy had made him help her with some poems, and now it was past ten. Lincoln sighed; sometimes, living with ten sisters meant you didn't have any time to yourself. Nonetheless, he was thirsty, so he decided to get a glass of water before bed.
As he carefully made his way down the stairs, he spotted a familiar head of blonde hair through the front door window. Lincoln smirked as he realized Leni must be home; quickly, he darted into the kitchen to get himself some water.
...When he emerged a minute later, Leni was still standing there.
Did she forget her keys again? Lincoln thought with a sigh, walking to the door and opening it. "Leni, what're you-" He began, but the words caught in his throat as he laid eyes on his sister; she was swaying slightly, seemingly in a daze, staring blankly at the doorknob with her keys in hand… or, where the doorknob had been, rather. Her eyes were slightly red and bleary, and she didn't seem to realize at first that the door had opened. "Uhh… Leni? You okay?" He asked, which seemed to get her attention. Her eyes slowly shifted over to him, her expression remaining blank for a few moments before a wide grin spread across her face.
"Linkyyyy~!" Leni drawled happily, practically falling onto him as she gave him a big hug. "What're you doing here…?"
"Y-you're home, Leni…" Lincoln had to use all his strength to support her; was Leni drunk?! No, it didn't seem like it… she didn't smell like alcohol, and Lincoln knew fully well that she couldn't handle the taste anyway. But clearly something was up. "Why didn't you come inside?"
"I forgot…" She giggled, glancing back at the door for a few seconds before gasping and looking at Lincoln in surprise. "Omigosh! Linky, when did I get home?"
Lincoln nervously glanced over at his parents' bedroom door. He couldn't let them see Leni like this. "C-c'mon, Leni." He said, placing her arm around his shoulder to support her. "Let's get you upstairs, okay?"
"Walking's hard, Linkyyy~" Leni whined, throwing her arms around his neck. "Carry me."
"Leni, you're bigger than me-"
"Nuh!" Leni hopped into his arms, giving him no choice but to catch her bridal-style; his legs buckled beneath him as her full weight bared down on him, but he was able to maintain it. After the initial shock, she was actually fairly light.
"Dang it, Leni…!" Lincoln groaned. He didn't want to risk making a commotion, however, so he began carefully making his way up the stairs with Leni in his arms. She seemed happy, at least… she gently laid her head against his chest as he carried her. Under different circumstances, Lincoln may have enjoyed holding his sister like this, but right now it was late, he was tired, and even if he could manage her weight she was still larger than him and very cumbersome. He practically needed to walk sideways up the stairs to keep from banging her head against the wall.
Plus, though he couldn't smell any alcohol, he could faintly make out an unusual scent in her hair… pungent and earthy, though not exactly unpleasant, kind of like freshly-cut grass. It was something he'd smelled before on Luna, but he'd never expected it from Leni. If anyone else were to find out… well, he wasn't about to let that happen.
As quickly and quietly as he could manage, he made his way down the hall, using his foot to push open Leni's door. He practically dumped her out onto her bed, and she giggled as she bounced on the soft mattress. "Leni, what happened?" He asked, a hint of aggravation to his voice.
"We just studied…!" Leni said happily. "And like… Peggy had this funny looking cigarette, and-"
"Leni, did you smoke?!"
"Of course not, Linky!" Leni pouted, puffing out her cheeks in offense. "Smoking is totes bad for you!" Lincoln didn't doubt her… he couldn't see Leni ever willingly smoking a joint. He'd heard enough about this sort of thing to deduce that his sister simply had a contact high… though it seemed she was enough of a lightweight for it to not be much of a difference.
"Well, what else happened?" He asked, helping Leni take her shoes off. She giggled as his fingers unintentionally brushed across her feet.
"W-well, they were smoking… they said it was herb, but I thought it was weird because herbs are, like, for food." Leni mumbled. "But like… then I started really wanting food all of the sudden, and then we totes went to the store to get some snacks…" Her eyes lit up suddenly, and she bolted upright to a seated position. "Linky, do we have any snacks?!"
"Leni…" Lincoln groaned, burying his face in his palm. "You're high."
"The bed's not that high up, silly…" Leni giggled. "OH! Linky, at the store, they were playing our song…!"
"Our… song?" Lincoln asked, cocking an eyebrow; he hadn't been aware they had a song. Leni nodded excitedly, fishing her phone from her purse.
"Hang on, it's… here it is!" She pressed play, and the opening notes of Toto's Africa started playing… the same song he had danced to with her following the prom. "Remember~?" Leni asked, looking at him with a wistful smile.
"Y-yeah… yeah, I remember." Lincoln said, feeling his cheeks heat up a bit. It had been a last-minute idea on his part, a half-hearted attempt to make up for his past mistake… he hadn't realized just how much the dance had meant to his sister. Leni shut her eyes, humming along with the tune as it played.
"It's a really great song," Leni said quietly. "But you made it my favorite." She giggled again, flopping back against her pillow. Something about the way she said that made Lincoln's heart flutter, and he smiled warmly at her.
"It is a good song, isn't it?" Lincoln agreed, sitting down on the side of the bed.
"Do you think we're allowed to have a song…?" Leni asked a bit hesitantly. "Because, like, we're brother and sister..." Her smile dropped slightly as she said that.
"…I think so." He assured her. "I mean, even if you are my sister… if the song means something special to us-"
"It does!" Leni said matter-of-factly. "It does…" She repeated, quietly this time, as her eyes grew unfocused. Suddenly, she snapped back awake. "Linky! We should listen to music!"
"Uh… now?" Lincoln asked, scratching the back of his head. "It's late, Leni."
"Yes, now!" Leni pouted. "All of the music!"
"What you should do, Leni, is get some sleep." Lincoln chuckled, giving her a gentle push back against her pillow. "We have school in the morning."
"Awwww~" Leni whined. "But I wanna listen to music with you, Linky!"
"Some other time," He assured her.
"A-and I wanna watch Lord of the Rings with you too! And all that other stuff!" Leni pouted.
"We'll do all that, I promise!" He said, pulling up her blanket and tucking her in. "But right now, you need to sleep."
"Fine," Leni huffed, nestling comfortably into her bed. "As long as you promise." She let out a cute, girlish yawn.
"I do." Lincoln stooped down, giving her a kiss on the cheek; she giggled, blushing a light pink. "Good night, Leni. Sober up, okay?"
"I don't need to soap up, Lincoln… I'll shower in the morning…" Leni mumbled as she began to drift off to sleep. Lincoln smirked, flicking off the light and heading for the door. "Linky?"
"I love you." She muttered softly.
Lincoln felt his heart skip a beat. It was something they'd said to each other plenty of times in the past, but with his newfound feelings for his sister it meant so much more. "…You too." He said, shutting the door behind him as he headed back to his room. He felt it would be best if he didn't ask her about the kiss tonight… he doubted she'd remember anything in the morning, anyway. Tomorrow, he told himself. Tomorrow for sure.
Lincoln found himself awakening in the middle of the night to his door creaking open. "Linky, are you awake~?" Cooed a sweet, yet sultry voice; Lincoln rubbed his eyes, sitting up and looking at the intruder with a tired squint.
"Leni…?" He called out quietly, seeing his sister standing in the doorway, illuminated by the moonlight cascading through his window. She looked cleaned up, her hair nearly brushed and her makeup applied perfectly, which he thought was odd… why would she put on makeup if she was going to bed? As she took a step forward, Lincoln's heart stopped as he noticed her nightgown was practically see-through. "L-Leni!" He stammered, red-faced. "W-what're you-"
"Shhhhhh~" She gently shushed him before taking his head in her hands and pressing her lips to his. Lincoln's eyes went wide, his heart racing as he felt her tongue slither past his lips and into his mouth. Slowly, he shut his eyes and leant into the kiss. Soon enough, the kiss broke and he found himself pushed down onto his back, Leni staring down at him with a sensual gaze.
"L-Leni…" Lincoln gasped, his chest rising and falling with ragged breaths. "W-what…"
"I just love you so much, Linky." Leni giggled, her sweet voice carrying a barely hidden note of lust. "I couldn't stand waiting any more. I want to show you just how much you mean to me~" Leni leant down, kissing him on the neck before pressing her tongue lightly against the nape, making him jump and shudder in pleasure. She slowly dragged her tongue up his neck and traced the contour of his cheek before flicking against his earlobe.
"O-oh God, Leni…!" Lincoln bit his lip, finding himself unable to move and completely at her mercy. He couldn't have stopped this even if he wanted to… there was no way in hell he had that much willpower. Leni chuckled, slowly sliding her hand down his chest and hooking her fingers on the waistband of his pajamas.
"Show me, Linky…" She whispered huskily in his ear as she slid down his pajama bottoms. "Show me how much my baby brother has grown~"
Lincoln suddenly jolted awake; he was in his room, of course, but there was no Leni. A dream. It had all been a dream.
Then why did he feel so drafty…?
Lincoln glanced down to find that yes, his blanket had been pulled away, and yes, there was a hand gripping he waistband of his pajamas… Lisa's hand, specifically. In her other, she held a massive syringe filled with a glowing red fluid. "Ah, you're awake." She said in a flat, dry tone, as if there was nothing unusual about any of this. "My apologies, Lincoln. It seemed that you were having a pleasant dream, and I didn't wish to disturb you."
Lincoln stared at his little sister in silence, his expression more one of exasperated confusion than shock. After what felt like forever, he let out a long sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose as he shut his tired eyes. "What are you doing, Lisa." He said in a voice just as deadpan as hers. There was no note of surprise in his tone, nor anger… quite frankly he was beyond that at this point.
"Simple, brother." She said. "I need to inject this serum into your testicles."
Again, silence. Lincoln stared at her with a furrowed brow, his mouth slightly ajar. "…Why." He said at last, his voice monotone as ever.
"I developed this with the help of your sample from earlier," Lisa explained. "This syringe contains billions of microscopic nanobots that, in essence, will rewrite your genetic code, altering your reproductive cells to prevent the negative effects of inbreeding should you pursue a sexual relationship with Leni. Assuming this works as intended, of course."
"…Right. And if it doesn't work as intended…?"
Lisa averted her gaze, clearing her throat. "In the worst case scenario… the nanobots enter your bloodstream, potentially bunching together as they travel through your veins and likely resulting in heart failure."
Lincoln glared at his sister with an unamused expression. "And… would this hurt?"
"Not at all. This procedure will be completely painless-"
"For me, I mean."
"Oh... not for you, no." Lisa mumbled, readjusting her glasses. "You will find the sensation quite excruciating, I believe. However, I'm certain you are more than capable of handling it."
Lincoln blinked. "…Lisa." He said, leaning forward and placing his hands on her shoulders. "Why. Why would I ever let you do this."
Lisa frowned. "Yes… yes, I suppose you're right," She sighed, lowering the syringe. "My apologies, brother. It was foolish of me to assume you would agree to such a reckless request."
"Just go to bed, Lisa." Lincoln groaned, flopping back against his mattress and pulling his blanket back over himself. He heard the shuffling of Lisa's feet as she walked away, followed by his door closing. For several minutes, he tossed and turned as he tried to fall back asleep, to no avail. With a resigned sigh, he got out of bed.
Well, as long as I'm up, he thought, glancing over to his laptop on the desk. I guess I may as well blow off some steam-
Just then, his door swung open again; Lisa popped back inside with a small black pistol, aiming it right for Lincoln. "Lisa, what-" He began, only for Lisa to pull the trigger, firing a large dart directly into the poor boy's groin. He let out a strangled gasp of pain, falling to his knees as an intense burning sensation spread across his body; for lack of a better term, he literally felt as though his balls were on fire.
Lisa gave a satisfied smirk as her brother writhed on the floor in agony, plucking the now-empty dart from his crotch. "And that's that. The worst of the pain should subside in a few hours… should you feel yourself experiencing cardiac arrest, a few strong blows to the chest may be enough to dislodge the nanobots… at least, it's a possibility."
"Lisaaa whyyyy…?!" Lincoln hissed in pain, clutching his rapidly-swelling groin as he collapsed to the ground in a fetal position.
"For your benefit, dear brother. No need to thank me." She said as she headed for the door. "Good night, Lincoln. I'll be back in the morning to check on you. Oh, and don't be alarmed if you notice blood in your urine for the next several days… it's most likely nothing to be concerned about." And with that, she was gone.
Note to self, Lincoln thought between surges of intense pain. Never tell Lisa ANYTHING.
Lisa's little stunt ended up taking Lincoln out of commission for the rest of the week. She managed to convince the rest of the family that he'd just come down with a bad fever, which he supposed was true enough… his entire body felt as though it were on fire, as if the grotesque swelling in his nether regions wasn't bad enough. Lisa assured him that meant the serum was working, not that it made him any happier about the situation.
Thankfully, by Friday night both the fever and the swelling had gone down, and now Lincoln was resting comfortably in his bed, browsing the web on his laptop. Clyde had brought him the homework he'd missed, but he figured he'd do it over the weekend… after all, he figured he deserved some leisure after the week he'd had.
Lincoln was just about to fire up some Ancients of the Storm when he heard a knock on his door. "Come in!" He called out, only to sigh loudly as none other than Lisa herself walked in, clipboard in hand. "…Hello, Lisa." He grumbled.
"No need for the attitude, brother." The little girl replied flatly. "You seem to be back to your usual self, at any rate. Any swelling?" Lisa lifted up his blanket to check, only for him to swat her hand away.
"Knock it off, Lisa." Lincoln huffed. In truth, he couldn't be too mad at her… she had only been trying to help after all, even if her methods were unorthodox at best. Still, the discomfort he'd suffered the past three days left him sore in more ways than one. "I'm fine."
"Good. Well, as long as you've got your computer out," She began, reaching into her pocket. "I'm going to need another sample."
"No." Lincoln groaned.
"Lincoln, I need to make sure that the serum worked as intended." Lisa sighed, setting an empty vial down on his dresser. "Have you been able to maintain an erection?"
Lincoln scoffed and turned back to his laptop, slipping on his headphones. He didn't want to deal with this right now… he knew she meant well, but quite frankly he'd shared more than enough private information with the girl already. Lisa frowned, seeing she wasn't about to get a clear answer from him.
"…Very well. I have other methods." Lisa produced her highly-modified tablet and began to fiddle with it; a moment later, Lincoln's game closed on its own and his web browser opened, displaying hardcore pornography. Lincoln gasped and slammed the laptop shut, while Lisa just stared down at her tablet in displeasure. "Hmm… troubling. The nanobots are detecting no change in blood flow to your-"
"Will you knock it off?!" Lincoln snapped, his cheeks beet red. "My thing is working just fine, alright?! Now go away-" Lincoln was interrupted by yet another knocking at his door.
"Linky?" Spoke none other than Leni from the other side. "Can I come in…?" Lincoln immediately felt his anger dissipate as he heard his sister's gentle voice. He flashed Lisa a warning glare before responding.
"U-uh… yeah! Come on in!" Lincoln replied. The door opened and Leni stepped inside, a concerned expression painted on her face; she forced a bright smile as she laid eyes on her brother. "Hey, Leni. What's up?"
"Hi, Linky~!" Leni greeted her little brother as she bounced over to the bed. "Are you feeling better…?" She asked with a hint of trepidation in her voice.
"Yup, all better now! Thanks to you, of course." Lincoln said with a grin. Leni, of course, had been his most regular visitor over the past several days, going out of her way to care for him in any way she could. While the ice packs and homemade soups did little to actually improve his condition, they'd certainly helped to keep his spirits up.
Leni's face lit up at Lincoln's words. "Yay~!" She cheered, wrapping him into a big hug. Lincoln felt his cheeks heat up again as his big sister's chest pressed against his; Lisa simply smirked as she glanced down at her tablet.
"Ah, there it goes."
"Oh… Lisa, I totes didn't see you there!" Leni said sheepishly as she broke off the hug. "Did I, like, interrupt something…?"
"Not at all, sister. I was just on my way out." Lisa said, clearing her throat. "Lincoln, I'm glad you're once again in good health. Do remember that 'matter' we discussed." She flicked her eyes over to the vial on the counter as she spoke. "Until then, don't do anything… reckless." Lisa added with a sly note to her voice, before shuffling her way out of the room and leaving her two older siblings alone.
Lincoln sighed in relief as Lisa finally left. Leni, however, still looked a bit worried. "Linky," She began, placing her hand against his forehead. "Are you, like, sure that you're alright? You're all red…"
"I-I'm fine, really." Lincoln assured her, laughing nervously. "Anyway… what's up? Is Lori home yet?"
"Well… about that." Leni frowned slightly. "Lori called earlier… like, something came up and she won't be back till tomorrow night."
"Something came up…? Is she-"
"She's fine!" Leni assured him. "She said she'd have a big announcement to make, so like… do you think Bobby finally popped the question?!" Leni guessed with big sparkling eyes, practically hopping up and down in excitement.
"I… doubt that." Lincoln chuckled softly. "I mean, they're only 19…"
"So?" Leni pouted. "Age doesn't matter when it comes to love~!"
"Uh…" Lincoln coughed. "I dunno if I'd say that…"
"Anyway…" Leni began, fidgeting slightly. Lincoln knew this behavior… it was the same she always had whenever she wanted to ask for something. "Since Lori's not gonna be around till later on…"
"Well… like, I was wondering if you'd want to go to the mall with me?" Leni asked hopefully, looking at him with those beautiful blue eyes of hers. Lincoln felt his heart skip a beat, not that he would have said no even without the puppy-dog eyes… if nothing else, he owed her one for caring for him.
Of course, that was far from the only reason he wanted to spend time with her.
Still, Lincoln was feeling somewhat playful tonight. "I dunno…" He said, pursing his lips in mock thought. "I mean, I told the boss I'd come in to the office Saturday."
Leni's face fell. "The office…? B-but it's the weekend!"
"I know, I know…" Lincoln said, giving an exaggerated sigh. "But you know how the boss is. He's been on my back lately about my sales numbers being too low… as if he could do better, right?" He scoffed. "I might be able to get Paul to cover for me, but…"
"No… it's okay, Linky." Leni sighed softly. "I wouldn't want you to get in trouble for my sake… we'll just go to the mall another time." She sounded legitimately disappointed, and Lincoln was tempted to end the charade right there; but on the other hand, this was too much fun. As she left the room, he began counting down in his head.
Five, four, three, two…
"Wait!" Leni shouted, bursting back into the room right on queue. "Lincoln, you do not have a job!"
"N-no, I don't." Lincoln admitted, snickering into his palm. "You got me."
"I told you to stop teasing me…" Leni pouted, puffing her cheeks out slightly. Lincoln couldn't help but smirk; only Leni could look so cute when angry.
"Sorry, sorry…" He apologized as the last of his chuckles faded away. "Of course I'll go to the mall with you." Leni's frown instantly disappeared, a wide grin spreading across her face as she leapt forward and hugged Lincoln tightly.
"Yay~! Thank you, Linky!" She squealed excitedly. Lincoln wheezed, his spine popping audibly as Leni squeezed him too tightly; he had no idea how such a dainty girl could be so strong. He wheezed as she let him go. "I can't wait~" She giggled. "You're totes overdue for a wardrobe change."
"Yeah, it'll be… wait, what…?" Lincoln gulped.
"Nothing, nothing!" Leni said, waving her hand dismissively. "I'll see you in the morning, then. Good night, Linky~" Leni leant over, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before prancing off to her room.
Lincoln groaned, lying back against his pillow. He knew what he'd heard, and he dreaded it. As much as Lincoln was in touch with his feminine side, he was still a boy, and he hated trying on clothes. On the rare occasions he bought new clothes for himself, his only criteria was that he could put them on… if they were a bit too baggy, so be it.
But Leni? She was thorough to a fault, and past shopping sprees with her had resulted in hours upon tedious hours spent in the fitting rooms, trying on what felt like every article of clothing in the store. Granted, he always ended up satisfied with what she picked for him, but he still wished he could just skip the fitting… Leni knew all his measurements by heart, after all.
Oh well, he figured. He could handle a few hours of boredom if it made her happy. Besides, Leni always went out of her way to make their mall trips worth his while… unlike, say, Lori, who would generally just treat him as her own personal butler.
Speaking of Lori, Lincoln couldn't help but wonder what she was up to. The more he thought about it, the more Leni's hypothesis made sense… he could totally imagine Lori forcing Bobby into an early proposal. Still, something in his gut told him that wasn't the case.
Well, he supposed that question would be answered tomorrow night. For now, he had some gaming to catch up on. He picked up his laptop and flipped it open-
…Oh. Right. The porn.
Lincoln sighed. He wasn't sure what troubled him more… the fact that Lisa had the ability to remotely hijack his computer at will, or that the young girl already had access to such explicit content. He idly wondered if she actually looked at it herself, but he thought it best not to explore that line of thought.
Lincoln's cursor hovered over the 'X' on the browser window, but he found himself hesitating. His eyes flicked over to the vial on the dresser. As reluctant as he was to comply with Lisa's demands, he knew she wouldn't stop hounding him until he gave her what she wanted. And besides… it had been a few days. With a grunt, Lincoln hopped off his bed and snatched the vial from the dresser.
This time, he was sure to lock the door.
The next morning, after everyone had eaten breakfast and run off to their own activities, Lincoln returned to his room to change. Normally he would just throw on some clothes and be done with it, but today he found himself actually trying to make himself presentable for once… after all, Leni took pride in her appearance, and he figured he should at least look worthy of being in her presence.
…And maybe a small part of him wanted to impress her too.
Lincoln put on the nicest casual shirt he had; two-toned, black on the bottom and orange on the top, with long sleeves. He matched that with one of the few pairs of black jeans he had that weren't worn or frayed, and as for shoes… well, he didn't really have much choice there. It was either his usual sneakers or the same dress shoes he wore to the prom, which still had flecks of red paint stuck to them. So, sneakers it was.
Finally, he spritzed himself with some cologne. He tried combing his hair back, but without gel it was a fruitless task… and he wasn't about to go that far. This was just a trip to the mall, after all, not a date.
Yep. Not a date at all.
Of course, everything he wore now had been picked out for him by Leni on of their past shopping sprees. Her keen eye for fashion was something he could never hope to match on his own, and he couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. She always went out of her way to pick out nice clothes for him, and yet he rarely used them, preferring to stick to the same old junk he always wore.
Lincoln jammed his hands into his pockets and eased into a relaxed stance, doing his best to look cool and casual as he stood before the mirror. He had to admit, he looked pretty good… the change of clothes made him look more mature, more like a man and less like the boy he was. He wasn't sure why he didn't make more of an effort to dress himself on a day to day basis…
…Until his eyes wandered up to his face.
That's right. Lincoln groaned as he withdrew his hands from his pockets, slumping his shoulders. What was he doing…? Of course he didn't look cool. Of course he didn't look mature. As much as puberty had enhanced his appearance, no clothes could change the fact that he was Lincoln Loud… freckled, buck-toothed Lincoln Loud. At best, he was 'cute'… and at worst, he was downright goofy-looking. When Lincoln looked in the mirror, all he could see was a dork in denial.
Lincoln's bout of self-loathing was interrupted by a thud against his door, accompanied by a girlish "Ouchies!" Lincoln rolled his eyes; Leni may have gotten better over the years, but she still tended to walk into things from time to time.
"You okay, Leni?" He asked as he opened the door.
"Y-yeah…" The young fashionista had fallen flat on her rear, a sheepish expression on her face as she rubbed her forehead. Lincoln just chuckled under his breath and offered her his hand, which she gladly accepted. "Thank you, Linky~" Leni giggled as her little brother gently pulled her to her feet. "I wasn't paying atten-" Her voice caught in her throat as she laid eyes on Lincoln. She blinked in surprise, eying him up and down before her lips pulled into a broad grin. "Lincoln, you look great!"
"Y-you think so…?" Lincoln stammered, blushing lightly. Leni nodded enthusiastically, positively beaming with excitement.
"Totes~!" Leni assured him. "You look so cool! But… now I feel underdressed…" Leni pouted slightly. Lincoln had no idea what she was talking about; Leni looked pretty as ever, clad in a deep blue sundress that he swore must have been the exact same shade as her eyes. Her hair and makeup were perfect, and her sunglasses sat perched atop her head as usual. It may have been a relatively simple ensemble, but Leni rocked it.
"Don't be ridiculous," Lincoln said. "You look gorgeous." Leni blushed a deep red at his compliment, and Lincoln found himself following suit. "I-I mean…" Lincoln laughed nervously as he tried to walk it back. "I mean, you look really nice." He averted his gaze as he realized Leni was staring at him with that dreamy look in her eyes again. "A-anyway… are you ready to go?"
Leni blinked a few times, snapping out of her daze before smiling sweetly. "Yeah!"
"Then, shall we?" Lincoln asked, offering her his arm much as he had at the prom. Leni blushed again, but nonetheless took his arm with a gentle grin.
"…Yes, I understand. I'll be there as soon as possible." Rita sighed as she hung up the phone, just as Leni and Lincoln came down the stairs. "Oh! There you two are... just in time."
"Hey, Mom… is something wrong?" Lincoln asked with a hint of concern, noticing the stress evident on his mother's face.
"Dr. Feinstein just called," Rita explained. "There's an emergency patient coming in and he needs my assistance. It should only be a couple of hours, but… would you two mind taking Lily with you today? There's nobody else who can watch her…"
"No probs~!" Leni replied cheerfully.
"Y-yeah… we'll take her." Lincoln agreed, forcing a smile. He couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed; he'd been looking forward to some alone time with Leni. Still, Lily was a good girl, and it's not like he really had any choice in the matter.
"Great… thank you." Rita breathed a sigh of relief. "Let me get my things, I'll drop you off on the way. Lily!" She called to the toddler, who was kneeling at the coffee table; Lily took a moment to finish her outline before she looked up from her drawing. "Come on, sweetie. You're going to the mall with your brother and sister."
"Mall!" Lily cheered excitedly, hopping to her feet. Lincoln smirked; like the rest of the Loud sisters, she loved the mall despite her young age. For Lincoln, the mall was more of a means to an end, but he couldn't help but find the little girl's enthusiasm to be somewhat contagious.
"Okay, everyone out!" Rita ordered as she pulled to a harsh stop in front of the Royal Woods Mall. Lincoln staggered out with Lily in his arms as the door slid open, followed by an equally-queasy Leni; Rita was an ungraceful driver even at the best of times, but when in a rush her trips were downright nauseating.
Still, at least one of her passengers seemed to enjoy the ride. "Again! Again!" Lily giggled, clapping happily.
"I should be finished within a few hours, so just give me a call when you're ready to be picked up." Rita said. "Now, Lily, you be on your best behavior. Listen to Lincoln and Leni, no running off on your own, and no talking to strangers, okay sweetie?"
"'Kay." Lily replied with a wide grin, practically hopping with excitement as she took Lincoln's hand.
"And Lincoln, here." Rita added as she offered her son a small wad of cash. "For looking after Lily. Enjoy yourself, alright?"
"Thanks, mom." Lincoln said as he gratefully accepted the money.
"See you kids later! Be safe!" Rita leaned out and gave Lincoln a kiss on the forehead before speeding off, leaving the siblings coughing as she kicked up a cloud of dust.
"So, where to first?" Lincoln asked Leni as they headed into the mall, each holding one of Lily's hands as she walked between them.
"The department store, of course~!" Leni said with a bubbly grin. Lincoln wasn't sure why he even bothered to ask; the department store was Leni's go-to destination for shopping. This was hardly surprising, as it offered pretty much everything anyone could possibly need, to the point where Lincoln often wondered why the mall bothered having any other shops at all.
As they made their way towards the far end of the mall, nearly every employee they passed stopped to greet Leni; it was hardly surprising that she knew everyone by name, considering that the mall was practically a second home to her.
"So, like, I need to get a few things first… and then we'll take care of you, sound good?" Leni asked.
"Y-yeah… sounds like a plan." Lincoln muttered half-heartedly. He'd hoped that having Lily with them would discourage her from going all-out on clothes shopping, but clearly that wasn't going to be the case. Still, Lily didn't seem to mind, cheerfully hopping up and letting herself dangle from her sibling's arms. Lincoln grinned softly and swung the little girl slightly, eliciting a giggle from her. He wondered if he had been so carefree at her age, but unfortunately his memories of those early years were limited to a few brief, yet vivid moments in time.
The gentle sound of piano music filled the air as they arrived at the store. Leni, of course, was sure to say hello to the pianist Chet on the way to the ladies' wear department.
"Leni Loud, as I live and breathe~!" A flamboyant voice called out from across the department, and a thin, wiry man weaved his way through the rows of clothing with an exaggerated strut.
"Morris!" Leni greeted him cheerfully, and they shared a hug, Morris giving her a light peck on each cheek.
"Thank God you're here. If I had to deal with one more bedraggled frump today I was literally going to die." The stylist bemoaned, rolling his eyes. "If only all customers had your fashion sense."
Leni giggled at that. "Oh… Morris, you remember my little brother Lincoln, right?" She said.
"H-hey Morris… 'sup?" Lincoln said nervously, giving a small wave. He could still remember the last time Morris had tried to give him a makeover; the man had meant well, but his taste in men's fashion was clearly better suited towards a more… colorful crowd.
Morris raised his eyebrows in surprise as he took notice of Lincoln. "Weeeell, look at you! I always knew there was a trendy little fellow hidden in there somewhere."
"Well… it's a start, at least." The stylist added, pursing his lips and tapping a finger against his chin. "It might be enough to impress the common folk, but if you really want to stand out, you're going to need some work. God, you would look fabulous in an ascot…"
"A-actually," Leni cut in, apparently sensing her brother's discomfort. "I was going to help out Linky myself. But… I could totes use a little help, if you don't mind!"
Morris' face lit up. "Oh, absolutely! We just got some new items in that you would look simply divine in…" Morris flitted off with Leni following close behind, leaving Lincoln and Lily behind. Lincoln smirked, grateful to his big sister for the save.
While Morris tended to Leni, Lincoln idly browsed the aisles with Lily in tow, glancing among the women's clothing with disinterest. Lincoln was more in touch with his feminine side than most boys his age… living with ten sisters would do that to you. Nonetheless, he always felt out of his element here, which he supposed was only natural. If anything, it was encouraging that no matter how much he was 'one of the girls', he still had at least some shred of masculinity.
"Link'n!" Lily called up to him, tugging on his pant leg. "Link'n, look!" Lincoln glanced down at his baby sister, only to find that, much to his chagrin, she was holding a woman's bra over her chest. "Boobies!" She giggled.
"L-Lily, stop that." Lincoln sighed, taking the bra from her. "And where did you hear that word?"
"Lynn!" Lily replied cheerfully. Lincoln groaned; of course it would be Lynn. He'd have to be sure to have a talk with her later. He held up the bra and looked at it, suddenly aware that he'd never actually held one before. He'd never really stopped to actually consider them before, either. He recalled once accidentally walking in on Lori when she was changing, and how she'd freaked out and covered herself… and yet, she'd had no problem wearing an even more revealing bikini around him. Sometimes, the world just made no sense to him.
That said… now that he actually thought about it, he couldn't help but wonder what Leni's bra looked like, and especially how she looked in it. He gulped as he felt his cheeks start to heat up; he was soon lost in his own fantasies as Leni approached, several items of clothing in her arms.
"Linky, do you like that?" She asked innocently, snapping him out of his daze.
"H-huh…?" Lincoln looked at her, then back to the bra in his hands; his eyes went wide, his face turning red as a tomato. "I-I…" He sputtered. "N-no, I was just… Lily was…!"
"It's cute!" Leni said with a smile. If she found anything weird about this, she certainly didn't show it. "But… it's a bit too small… hey, Morris!" She called out, grabbing Lincoln's hand and raising it above the clothing racks to show him the undergarment. "Do you have this in my size?" Lincoln was absolutely mortified, and did his best to shrink down out of sight among the racks.
"Of course I do, darling!" Morris replied without hesitation. "You sit tight and I'll snag one for you." Lincoln found it slightly odd that Morris apparently knew Leni's cup size by heart, but he supposed the man was an expert.
Leni turned back to Lincoln with a grin. "See, Linky~? You totes have good taste." Lincoln could only nod feebly in response. Quite frankly, he wished he could just disappear. "Anyway, I'm going to go try these on… coming?"
"Er… yeah, sure…" Lincoln mumbled. As he meekly followed his sister to the changing rooms, there was only one thought that managed to cut through the sheer embarrassment he was feeling:
THAT was TOO SMALL?!
Lincoln sat just outside the changing rooms with Lily, bored out of his mind. He would play a game on his phone, but he had given it to the toddler to keep her occupied. Leni would periodically come out in a new ensemble, asking for his opinion on it… of course, she looked amazing in all of them, and he was sure she would buy all of them as usual. If nothing else, Morris certainly knew what suited Leni.
Still, as bored as he was, Lincoln couldn't help but notice that she wasn't taking as much time as usual. It hadn't even been half an hour before she was finished, exiting the changing room with two outfits in hand.
"I'll take these!" She said cheerfully, handing them to Morris; Lincoln hadn't even noticed that he was there.
"Fabulous choices! They'll be waiting for you at the counter when you're finished." Morris grinned broadly. "Now, are you positive you don't need any help with little Lincoln?"
"Oh, no. Thank you." Leni giggled. "Like, I'll take it from here." Morris nodded in understanding and, just as suddenly as he had arrived, he was gone. Leni turned to Lincoln with a smile. "Ready~?"
"Um… yeah, I guess. Come on, Lily." Lincoln slid out of the chair, his little sister obediently following him. "You're done already?"
"Mmhm!" Leni nodded.
"That was fast," Lincoln noted. "And you're only getting two? Didn't you like the other dresses?"
"Well… yes, I did." Leni admitted. "But we're not just here for me today!"
"Oh…" Lincoln felt a pang of guilt. "Leni, you don't need to hold back on my account. I have money-"
"Lincoln…" Leni grinned, pressing a finger to his lips to silence him. "Don't worry about it. I'm doing this because I want to." Before he could say anything further, Leni grabbed his arm and pulled him along with her to the boy's section. "Now come on~!" Whatever protest he may have had died on his lips as he saw just how excited she was about this. Lincoln simply sighed and gave in.
"What do you think of this? Ooh, and this…? Omigosh! Look at this!" Leni was positively giddy as she browsed, not even letting Lincoln get a word in edgewise as she picked out clothes for him to try. Not that he was trying to, mind you… he was more than content to let the master work. "Ooh, ooh…! Definitely this~"
"Um, Leni…" He finally spoke up as the pile of clothes in his arms reached his neck. "Don't you think this is a bit much…?"
Leni frowned slightly, tapping her chin in thought. "Hmm… you're right. You can go to the changing room now, Linky." Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief. "I'll pick out some more while you're trying those on~!" Leni added.
"R-right… thanks, Leni." Lincoln groaned as he headed for the fitting rooms, leaving Lily with his older sister. So far, this was going pretty much exactly as he expected… not that he wasn't grateful.
He used his leg to shut the door behind him and set the clothes down on the bench. In all honesty, this was the first time he'd actually looked at what Leni had selected… quite frankly, he wasn't even sure where to begin. There were polos and Henley shirts in various colors and patterns, most incorporating orange to some extent… slacks and jeans in black and several shades of blue, and, most bafflingly, a pink button-down shirt with a phoenix design on the back. He had no idea what she'd been thinking with that one.
Well, no use delaying the inevitable. Lincoln removed his shirt and slipped on one of the Henleys, pale orange with navy blue sleeves. He matched that with one of the dark blue slacks, only for it to slide down his waist; he clicked his tongue in frustration as he removed the belt from his jeans and put it on. The realization that he'd need to do this for every pair of pants he tried on only served to agitate him further.
Once he was finished, he looked in the mirror. He looked… fine. The clothes were nice enough, and they were certainly comfortable, but he just looked fine. Lincoln frowned at his reflection; was this really it? Was he so awkward looking that even nice clothes did nothing to help?
"Linky~! Can I come in?" Leni asked as she knocked gently at the door, snapping Lincoln out of his thoughts. He opened the door to reveal his sister carrying an even larger stack of clothes, and they practically fell out of her arms onto the bench. "Phew, there… that should-" Leni suddenly gasped as she looked at her brother. "Lincoln, what are you doing?!"
"Uh… trying on clothes?"
"You can't match that shirt with slacks, Linky!" Leni scolded him. "It's too casual, it goes better with jeans! Here…" Leni picked out a dark blue pair of jeans from the pile. "Try these instead."
"Okay, okay…" Lincoln sighed, taking the jeans from her. He waited for her to leave, but she just… stood there, looking at him expectantly. "U-um…" He cleared his throat. "Do you mind…?"
"Do I mind what?" Leni asked in that sweet, innocent voice of hers.
"I need to change."
Lincoln sighed, massaging his temples. "…I need privacy."
"Oh…" Leni laughed nervously, backing out of the room. "Sorry, Linky… I guess you're not a kid anymore. I'll be right outside~" With that, she shut the door. Lincoln chuckled softly before looking down at the jeans in his hands. Surely a change of pants couldn't make that much of a difference, right…? Lincoln shrugged and pulled off his belt, followed by the slacks, and slipped on the jeans. Once the belt was back in place he looked at his reflection again and…
It did look better. In fact, it looked good… really good. He could totally see himself wearing this regularly. Leni seemed to agree; she beamed at him as he opened the door. "Wow, Lincoln, you look great! Like, don't you think so too Lily?" She asked the little girl in her lap. Lily nodded, a big toothy grin spread across her face.
"You think so?" Lincoln asked, scratching the back of his head sheepishly.
"Totes~! That one's a keeper for sure."
"Well…" Lincoln glanced back at the rest of the clothes. "What do you think I should try next?"
One by one, Lincoln worked his way through the outfits Leni had picked. Leni would suggest a combination of top and bottoms, he would try them on, and invariably both he and his sisters would like it. Maybe it was just because he was maturing. Maybe it was because he wanted to look good for Leni. Either way, he wasn't complaining. He looked good, and he found that it made him feel good.
However, this one shirt proved to be a bit of a roadblock. It was a short sleeved button-down shirt with an orange, black and blue tartan pattern. A nice shirt, but it just seemed… off, somehow, even paired with the jeans Leni suggested.
"Hmm…" Leni hummed in thought as she eyed him up and down. Clearly, she thought the same.
"Well, I guess this one just isn't-"
"Shhh." Leni cut him off. She looked completely focused as she set down Lily, got to her feet, and walked into the changing room. Lily followed close behind.
"Uh, Leni…?" Lincoln couldn't help but take a step back, intimidated by his sister's intense gaze. She reached out and, to his embarrassment, began undoing the buttons on his shirt. "L-Leni?! I-I can do that myself…!" He stammered, red-faced; Leni however paid him no mind. She was in the zone, and nothing could snap her out of it until she'd figured something out. Lincoln just sighed in resignation and looked away, doing his best to ignore the sensation of her soft, delicate fingers brushing against his bare skin.
Leni pulled the shirt off of him and began rifling through the various t-shirts she had picked out. Lincoln felt incredibly awkward standing there bare-chested… puberty had brought a modesty that he had lacked as a child. That said, he doubted he'd feel as self-conscious if it had been anyone other than Leni in the room with him. As he glanced over at his reflection, he felt the confidence he had just moments prior slip away in an instant.
Pale skin. Freckled shoulders. Scrawny build. Even with the slight musculature beginning to take form beneath his skin, he knew it'd never amount to much; he had little taste for athletics, after all. Lincoln had never really thought about his body too much before… he'd always known he was a bit goofy looking, but now? Now, he felt sick to his stomach. No wonder Ronnie-Anne had broken up with him. How could anyone want to be with someone that looked like him?
Especially someone as perfect as Leni.
"Here!" Leni exclaimed as she pulled out a white t-shirt with an abstract black graffiti-like design in the lower right corner. She pulled it over his head without hesitation and he had to awkwardly wriggle his arms up and through the sleeves. The t-shirt was surprisingly sheer, made of a much thinner material than he was used to… it was a lot smoother against his skin and he had to admit it was pretty comfortable.
"And now wear this over it!" Leni handed the button-down shirt back to him. Lincoln sighed and slipped it on. He began to button it, but Leni took his hands to stop him. "No, no… leave it open." Leni looked him up and down again before smiling and clapping her hands together. "Perfect!"
"Yeah… it's nice." Lincoln mumbled as he looked in the mirror again. It did look good, but… he was still himself. Leni noticed his glum demeanor and her face fell slightly.
"You don't like it…?"
"No, I do. It's just…" Lincoln hesitated, looking away and running his tongue along the back of his teeth. "It's just… what's the point?"
"What do you mean?" Leni asked, tilting her head to one side. Lincoln frowned deeply; he didn't feel like pouring out his heart now, in the middle of a department store of all places… but Leni's pleading gaze pushed him onwards. He never could say no to her.
"I mean… even if I dress nice, what's the point? I still look like… this." Lincoln gestured towards himself.
Leni's brow furrowed in confusion. "But you look great, Linky."
"No, the clothes do." Lincoln sighed. "I look like a dork. I'm… ugly." He spat, the last word feeling like poison on his tongue. Leni gasped, her eyes widening slightly as her hand shot up to her mouth. Then, to Lincoln's bafflement… she began to laugh softly, her expression growing mirthful. "W-what…? What's so funny?!" Lincoln snapped, feeling slightly hurt by her apparent amusement.
"S-sorry…" Leni managed to squeak out between giggles. "It's just… you really are growing up."
Leni's laughter trailed off and she smiled at him sweetly. She sat down on the bench and patted it, offering him to sit down next to her. Lincoln reluctantly complied; he was still a bit offended by her laughter, but he could tell there had been no malice in it. Leni folded her hands in her lap and took a moment to consider her words before continuing. "Lincoln," She began, "It's totes normal you would feel that way. Like, everyone does at your age."
"Really?" Lincoln asked. Leni nodded.
"Really. You're growing up really fast right now, and so is your body. It's, like… hard to keep up with, sometimes." Leni gave a short laugh. "When you're a kid, you just kind of blend in with everyone else, right? But now you're starting to become… you. Right now, you might not like how you look. But you will, I promise. It was the same for all of us… Lori, Lynn, Luna, Luan… everyone."
"Even you…?" Lincoln was surprised; yes, puberty had hit Lori hard, there was no doubt about that. She'd gone through a very rough patch before she became the pretty girl she was now. But Leni? Lincoln couldn't remember her ever being anything but beautiful.
"Even me. I was like… all tall and thin, remember? I looked like a string bean." Leni chuckled bashfully. Lincoln could vaguely remember her going through a sudden, rapid growth spurt, but he never thought she looked weird. "I felt really bad about it," She continued. "I started to, like… hate myself. But mom sat me down and told me all this, and I never forgot it."
Lincoln mulled over her advice for a bit. It was a bit unexpected for Leni to give such sage words of wisdom… especially as of late, he had grown accustomed to being the one to comfort her. But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He could remember Luan holing herself up in her room, bemoaning her large teeth and forehead… especially once she'd had to get braces. Lynn had, to his shock, begun to fret over her lack of femininity, as had Luna.
"And, Lincoln… you don't have anything to worry about. Y-you're…" Leni fidgeted with her hands, a light blush creeping along her cheeks. "You're totes handsome. I-I think so, anyway…" Lincoln felt his face grow hot. She'd called him handsome before, at the prom… but he'd figured that had just been his well-groomed appearance. Something about the way she said it now made his heart pound in his chest. He looked towards the mirror, anything to avert his gaze from Leni; as he met his reflection, he stopped to look at it closer.
His face… wasn't that bad, really. A bit dopey, but perhaps not ugly. His overbite was nowhere near as bad as it had been two years prior, only peeking out slightly from beneath his upper lip. His freckles were a trait he shared with Lynn and Luna, and, in all honesty… he found both of them to be quite cute. And while he was certainly prone to the occasional pimple, he never broke out the way Lori used to. Lincoln stood up and smoothed out the overshirt he was wearing. It did look good, he realized.
It looked good on him.
He recalled something Lori had told him when he first started going through puberty… one of rare occasions where she had approached him as a loving sister, offering her insight free of snark. Lincoln, this is gonna be a rough time for you, she had said. You're going to feel stuck… not a boy, not a teenager, and definitely not a man. But it gets better. Lincoln smiled softly; in a way, Leni had just told him the same thing.
"Thanks, Leni." He said, giving his sister a big hug. "I feel a lot better." It was the truth; sure, he didn't really think he was attractive by any means, but maybe he'd get there eventually. And even if he didn't think so… Leni certainly did. He knew her well enough to tell when she was speaking honestly. Leni returned the hug with a loving smile.
"I'm hungry," Lily chimed in, interrupting their moment. She'd been so well-behaved that Lincoln had almost forgotten she was there. He chuckled softly, realizing he was pretty hungry himself.
"Me too… I could eat." He said.
"Me three~" Leni agreed. "I guess we should… wait!" She gasped. "One more!" To Lincoln's disappointment, she picked out the pink shirt.
"Um, Leni…" Lincoln muttered. "It's… pink."
"I'm a guy."
"Lincoln," Leni scoffed. "Pink is for everyone." She ignored his protests as she pulled off the tartan shirt and practically had to wrestle the pink one onto him. Lincoln hadn't felt so ashamed since the time she'd made him try out her 'manotard'; he couldn't even bear to look at his reflection. "It's nice," Leni said, her hands on her hips as she studied him. "But something's missing." As Leni struggled to think, her eyes fell on Lily. The toddler was playing around with a grey newsboy cap that someone else must have left in the room. "Lily, you're a genius~!" Leni took the hat and placed it on Lincoln's head.
"L-Leni, stop…" Lincoln grumbled in shame, but Leni paid him no mind. She looked at him silently, her lips spreading into an ecstatic grin. She gripped his shoulders and turned him to face the mirror. With an annoyed grunt, he finally glanced up at the horror that awaited him.
Lincoln stood frozen in place for a moment, his expression impossible to read. He looked… cool. Rather than looking feminine, the pink overshirt seemed somehow rebellious in a way… combined with the hat and t-shirt, he looked downright hip and grungy. He could only imagine that Luna would approve of the look.
"…Wow." Was all Lincoln could gasp out.
"See?" Leni giggled, planting a kiss on his cheek. "Handsome~"
The three siblings sat in the food court, Lincoln and Leni on each side of their baby sister. Lincoln had a cheeseburger with fries, while Leni had opted for a 'healthier' grilled chicken sandwich; Lincoln didn't have the heart to tell her just how many calories were actually in the thing. Not that it mattered… Lincoln had never seen the girl put on weight regardless of what she ate, something that Lori had often professed her jealously over.
Lily, meanwhile, had chicken nuggets. Despite her apparent hunger, she was barely touching her food, instead focused on doodling on her placemat. Lincoln couldn't help but watch in awe as she worked. Despite her color palette being limited to the red, yellow and blue crayons that came with the kid's meal, she managed to make them work. For skin tones, she started with a light coating of yellow and layered it over with red, before licking her thumb and smudging the two colors together. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was surprisingly clever for a three-year old. He felt slightly jealous… as much as he wanted to be a comic book artist, his work had barely improved over the years. Lily, on the other hand, was a natural.
They'd ended up leaving the store with eight shirts and four pairs of pants for Lincoln, as well as the two outfits Leni had picked for herself; and the bra, to Lincoln's embarrassment. The total had come to well over $300, and Lincoln couldn't help but feel guilty… but Leni, generous as ever, had insisted on paying for it herself. He at least managed to convince her to let him cover lunch, but that didn't even come close to making up for it.
"Omigosh, Leni!" A familiar voice rang out. Lincoln looked up and his eyes went wide; it was Rochelle.
"Rochelle~!" Leni greeted her friend excitedly. She got up and gave Rochelle a big hug as the girl set down her own tray of food. "Like, so good to see you!"
"Sames~" Rochelle said with a smile. "So what brings you here? Getting some new clothes?"
"Well, yes… but mostly for Linky."
"Oh…?" Rochelle glanced over at the table and her eyebrows arched in surprise. She hadn't recognized him at first; the boy had opted to wear his new ensemble out. Her eyes narrowed into a half-lidded, sultry gaze as she eyed him up and down. "Oh, wow… hey there, cutie." She smirked, giving a small wink. "Looking good."
"H-hey, Rochelle…" Lincoln rasped out, waving nervously.
"Mind if I join you guys?" Rochelle asked.
"Not at all~!" Leni beamed happily; Lincoln felt his heart drop into his stomach. Rochelle, of course, opted to sit right next to him, her arm brushing against his as she took her seat. He was sure it had been intentional… while he may have been uncertain about Leni's feelings, there was no doubt in his mind that Rochelle had flirted with him at the prom. Even now he could feel her eying him with a predatory gaze, and he did his best to focus his attention on his burger.
"Lily, you remember Rochelle, right?" Leni asked her little sister.
"Mhmm…" Lily mumbled, looking up quickly and giving the girl a friendly smile. "Hi!" Then, she was back to her doodling.
"God, she's adorable." Rochelle grinned. "I remember when she was just a tiny little thing."
"They grow up so fast, don't they?" Leni giggled. As the two talked, Lincoln tried to ignore the girl beside him; even while chatting casually with her best friend, Rochelle was still managing to rile the poor boy up. She was sure to lean just right to give him a view of her cleavage, she brushed her hand across his back sensually as she reached over to ruffle Lily's hair, she crossed her legs and slid her foot against his thigh… somehow, she'd managed to get her shoe off without using her hands. It wasn't so much that she made him uncomfortable… quite the opposite, really, as his tightening jeans would attest to. Leni, of course, was oblivious to all of it.
A gentle nudge from Rochelle forced him to glance in her direction. She plucked two cherry tomatoes from her salad and popped them into her mouth, rolling them around on her tongue suggestively and giving a soft moan. Lincoln felt a lump in his throat, his face turning beet red, but he couldn't look away; finally she tilted her head back and swallowed both tomatoes whole, making a visible bulge in her throat as they traveled downwards. She licked her lips and smirked at the overwhelmed thirteen-year old. "Love tomatoes." She said in a low, sultry tone.
Lincoln slammed his palms on the table in exasperation, biting his lip hard to distract himself from the growing shame down below. The sudden jolt startled his sisters. "Linky, are you okay…?" Leni asked, concerned.
"Y-yeah… just thought I saw a bug." Lincoln stammered, giving a nervous laugh. This seemed to satisfy Leni, and she gave a warm smile before returning to her sandwich. Rochelle just chuckled softly; as much fun as it was to tease the boy, she knew when it was time to back things off a bit.
"So, Linky…" Something about the way she said his name sent a shiver up his spine. "I hear you've been helping Leni with her studies."
"Uh… y-yeah, a bit." Lincoln breathed a small sigh of relief, glad that the conversation was taking a normal turn for once. "I mean, as much as I can…"
"She says you're really smart." Rochelle said with a grin.
"W-well, I don't know about that…" Lincoln scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"You are, Linky!" Leni assured him.
"So… you think you're gonna be ready for the finals, Lens?" Rochelle asked, her tone slightly more serious.
Leni chewed her lip. "…I'll try my best." Lincoln's brow furrowed. He didn't like the uncertainty of her answer.
"I'm sure you'll do fine." Rochelle replied supportively.
"Yeah," Lincoln agreed, smiling gently. "There's still time, and I'll help whenever you need it."
"Thank you, Linky." Leni grinned sweetly.
"By the way… where are you going to college, again?"
Rochelle's question made Leni freeze, her chicken sandwich inches away from her mouth. She slowly lowered her sandwich, the smile gone from her face. "Um… Royal Woods Community College." She muttered quietly.
"…Huh…" Rochelle blinked, surprised at her answer. "I thought you were going to one of those fancy artistic schools… didn't you want to be a fashion designer?"
"I-I do…" Leni mumbled softly. "I tried. None of them… none of them accepted my portfolio." Lincoln looked away, his hands balling into fists. He couldn't blame Rochelle for asking… he was a bit surprised that she hadn't told her friends about this, but then again it was still a touchy subject for her. She had worked so hard, and he had helped a lot himself… quite frankly, he couldn't believe that not one of them had accepted her.
"O-oh." Rochelle frowned, clearing her throat. "Well… you can always try again, right?" She said, forcing a smile. "I'm sure you'll get in… your dresses are amazing."
Leni simply nodded silently, eyes still downcast. Lincoln felt an aching in his heart; he'd known how upset she was at not getting in, but the revelations on prom night made clear just how many layers there were to her pain. Leni felt inadequate, and getting rejected by twelve different universities couldn't have helped that. Even now, he knew those feelings of self-doubt still lingered. Lincoln reached over and took her hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze, a small reminder that he was there for her. Leni seemed to calm down a bit from his touch. She looked up at him and felt instantly comforted by his kind smile, and couldn't help but return it.
Rochelle paused mid-chew, looking at the pair with a narrowed, analytical gaze. Compared to the rest of her friends, the promiscuous girl was surprisingly perceptive, and almost immediately she noticed something was up. The body language, the gentle blush creeping across both their cheeks, the way that Leni rubbed her thumb across the back of Lincoln's hand… oh yeah. Something was up, alright.
"Lily, you've barely touched your food!" Leni chided. Lily barely acknowledged her, completely focused on her drawing. Leni sighed, dipping one of her little sister's chicken nuggets into the honey mustard and offered it to her. "Here… eat." Lily shot her a look of mild annoyance as a glob of sauce landed on the placemat; clearly, she'd been planning to draw there too. Nonetheless, she leaned forward and took the whole nugget into her mouth, chewing it idly as she returned to her drawing. "Lilyyy, you'll choke!" Leni whined, though there was a faint smile on her lips all the same.
"Here, Lily… you've got a little schmutz." Lincoln said as he wiped some sauce from the corner of her mouth.
"Schmutz…?" Leni asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Schmutz." Lincoln repeated, holding up the sauce-covered napkin.
"…Schmutz…" Leni muttered, apparently lost in thought for a moment before grinning. "Schmutz." She giggled. Apparently, she found the word amusing.
Rochelle finally swallowed the salad in her mouth. Seeing the two of them laughing together, caring for Lily… it was like they were a family. Well, they were, but it was like they were a married couple, and Lily was their child. Strangely… it didn't seem wrong to her. She rested her cheek against her palm watching them with a coy smirk on her face.
"Hafta potty." Lily mumbled.
"Oh… I'll take you!" Leni said sweetly, hoisting the toddler out of her booster seat. "We'll be right back~" She told the others.
"Take your time," Rochelle grinned, waving her off. "I'll take care of your little brother while you're gone." Lincoln gulped, feeling beads of sweat forming on his forehead. Leni, however, simply smiled before walking off with Lily. "So," Rochelle began, leaning towards him with a seductive smirk. "I'm really digging the new duds."
"Y-yeah… me too." Lincoln stammered, grinning nervously. He couldn't bring himself to meet her gaze; even looking away, he could feel her eyes on him. "Leni picked it out."
"I bet. She really knows her stuff, doesn't she?" Rochelle reached over and stole one of his fries, popping it into her mouth. "I like it. Real men wear pink, you know." She winked at him, and he laughed nervously. God, he was cute. Rochelle didn't consider herself a cradle robber, but she definitely preferred shy guys… the fact that he was younger than her was just the icing on the cake. Still, she knew what she'd seen, and she wasn't about to interfere. She chuckled softly, leaning back in her chair. "...Don't worry. I don't intend to get in the way of this little thing you've got going on."
"Little… hey!" Lincoln snapped, red-faced.
"Oh my God, not that." Rochelle laughed, though, given the circumstances… she could understand the confusion. "I mean this thing between you and Leni."
Lincoln went pale. How could she know?! "W-what're you…" He sputtered unconvincingly, "What're you talking about…?"
"I'm not blind, you know." Rochelle giggled. "I can tell from the way you look at each other."
Lincoln's mouth suddenly felt very dry. He grabbed his soda and took a big gulp before speaking again. "…We're not together." He mumbled, his voice hoarse.
"But you'd like to be." It was a statement of fact, not a question. Lincoln groaned, burying his face in his arms. "Hey… relax." Rochelle said softly, resting a hand on his shoulder. "It's cute."
"Please don't tell anyone…" Lincoln grumbled.
"I won't," Rochelle assured him. "But… have you told her?"
"…No." Lincoln admitted, turning his head enough for one eye to peek out from his arms at her. "Not yet."
"Well, what're you waiting for?" Rochelle asked. "Go for it."
"What if she doesn't feel the same?" Lincoln sighed. "She kissed me after the prom, but… this is Leni we're talking about. What if it didn't mean anything?"
Rochelle rolled her eyes. "You're not giving her enough credit, y'know. If she kissed you, what more proof do you need?" Lincoln still didn't look convinced, and Rochelle squeezed his shoulder gently. "Sometimes you've gotta take a chance when it comes to girls. If you get shot down, you get shot down."
"It's different, though… this isn't just some girl. She's my sister." Lincoln frowned. "What if she freaks out? What if she hates me?"
"I don't think Leni can hate anyone." Rochelle said with a smirk. "Did you know that Joanna's sitting with us at lunch now? Leni invited her."
"What?!" Lincoln shouted, making a few people glance in his direction; he shrank down a bit sheepishly. "Joanna Hawthorne?" He hissed, clearly not pleased by the situation. Leni hadn't mentioned this.
"That's the one. She's not so bad, really… bit rude at times, but I think she's trying to get better. Point is," Rochelle leaned forward again, her voice low and surprisingly soothing. "If Leni could forgive a bitch like that… how could she possibly fault you for something you can't control?" Lincoln chewed his lip in thought. She made good points; Leni was kind and forgiving to a fault. "Besides… I'm sure she feels the same way. Call it woman's intuition."
Lincoln's eyes met hers. "You think so?"
"Oh, yeah. Bit of a shame, really…" The black-haired beauty sighed, giving an exaggerated shrug. "You're totally my type, but I'm not about to step in on another girl's territory. Not that I could compete with Leni anyway." Lincoln managed a smile despite the burning in his cheeks.
"…Thanks, Rochelle." He said as he spotted Leni and Lily walking back to the table. "Really. You've… set my mind at ease a bit." At least SOMETHING'S at ease, he added in his head.
"Anytime." She grinned, before leaning in close and whispering into his ear. "And hey… if things don't work out," She began, and Lincoln shuddered as he realized her hand was dancing along his thigh. "Give me a call. I will rock your world, little boy." And with that, her hand slid to his inner thigh…
…And she grabbed a handful of his junk.
It only lasted a brief moment, but it may as well have been hours; Lincoln's brain shut down completely, a feeble drawn-out croak emanating from his parted lips. Leni helped Lily back into her seat before sitting down herself. "Back!"
"Heyyy, Lens!" Rochelle smiled mischievously, putting an arm around Lincoln's shoulders. "Your little bro's really something, you know that?"
"Oh, I know~" Leni giggled, apparently not noticing Lincoln's delirious state.
"Aaanyway…" Rochelle got to her feet, taking a moment to stretch. "I'd better be on my way. See you Monday, Leni… let's try to get in a couple more study sessions before the finals, yeah?"
"Of course!" Leni said. "But like… no more of those funny cigarettes. I felt weird afterwards…" Leni pouted slightly.
"Eh… we'll see." Rochelle snickered into her palm. Even if it was just a contact high, Leni had been an absolute trip.
"Wait!" Lily cried out. She held up the placemat for the girl, beaming at her; she'd drawn Rochelle. Again, it was a surprisingly good likeness.
"Oooh! Is this for me?" Lily nodded, and Rochelle smiled brightly. "Thank you! You're really talented, aren't you?" She patted the little artist on the head, making her giggle. "Well, goodbye to you too, Lily. And you too, Linky~" She shot another sly wink in Lincoln's direction before heading off, waving at them one last time.
"Isn't she great?" Leni asked, before noticing that Lincoln was still in a daze. "Linky?" She asked, tilting her head in confusion.
"O-oh… yeah." Lincoln grunted, snapping out of it. He began ravenously devouring his burger, desperately trying to ignore the searing heat in his cheeks… as well as elsewhere. Just once, I'd like to have a normal day.
As Vanzilla pulled into the driveway, the presence of a second car indicated that Lori must have arrived. However, it looked… different. "Is that… Bobby's car?" Lincoln asked, and Rita gave a small smirk.
"Yes it is," Rita chuckled. "They asked me not to tell you… they wanted to keep it a surprise."
Lincoln grinned broadly. Even though they weren't in contact as much anymore, Bobby was still like the brother he never had. He hadn't seen the boy since Christmas, and had missed him quite a bit. Lincoln suddenly noticed that the seat was shaking a bit, and he glanced over at Leni; she was positively vibrating with excitement, her eyes wide and sparkling.
"L-Linkyyyy…." Leni squealed. "Do you know what this means?!" It quickly dawned on Lincoln what she meant. If Lori had a big announcement to make, and had seen fit to bring her boyfriend along with her… Leni may have been right. Either way, he supposed he'd find out soon enough.
"Bro!" Bobby exclaimed as Lincoln walked through the door. He immediately got up from the couch and dashed over, embracing him in a bro-hug. "How you been, man?"
"Great, Bobby. Good to see you." Lincoln said happily as he returned the hug.
"Looking good, lil' guy." Bobby said with a grin. "Stylin'."
"Yeah, no kidding." Lori agreed as she joined the pair. She gave her little brother a hug before playfully pulling down his cap over his eyes. "Let me guess... Leni?"
"Of course…" Lincoln grunted as he re-adjusted his new hat. He could only feign annoyance for a moment before smirking at his older sister. Since starting college, she had noticeably mellowed out… her teasing had become less callous and more affectionate. She still called him twerp from time to time, but quite frankly Lincoln wouldn't have it any other way.
"Loriiii!" Leni cried as she walked in, immediately diving into her big sister's arms. She squeezed Lori tightly, making her wheeze.
"L-Leni…" Lori gasped. "Too tight… I'm-"
Everyone looked at Lori in surprise, Leni letting go of her. Lori coughed, averting her eyes in embarrassment. "…That was my shoes." She grumbled. Lincoln and Leni shared a laugh; clearly, some things never changed.
"Hey, Leni." Bobby greeted her with a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Bobby~" Leni smiled. "Ooh, you've grown out your beard!" She said, brushing her fingers across his chin; indeed, his boyish scruff had grown into a well-trimmed goatee. "Facial hair is totes back in."
"Yeah?" Bobby chuckled softly. "I wanted to grow a full beard, but Lori said no."
"Because you'd look stupid, darling." Lori groaned, before leaning against him and lovingly tickling his chin. "This is perfect." Bobby blushed, and Leni nodded in approval.
"Lori, Lori!" Lily reached for her big sister as Rita carried her inside. Lori smiled warmly and took the little girl into her arms.
"Hey, Lily!" Lori said sweetly as she gave the toddler a soft squeeze, kissing the top of her head. "Did you miss me?"
Lily gave a toothy grin and nodded before burying her face against her big sister's chest. Lori chuckled and embraced the girl gently. Lincoln could only smile at the sight; though she'd been a bit harsh towards her other siblings in the past, she'd never been anything but motherly towards her youngest sister… for the most part, anyway.
As the others chatted with one another, Lincoln turned to Bobby. "So… how's Ronnie-Anne?"
"Oh… uh, she's good." Bobby said a bit nervously. He'd heard from Lori how upset Lincoln had been over their breakup. He frowned slightly as he scratched the back of his head. "Are you… okay, though?"
"I'm fine, man. I'm over it now." Lincoln smirked, holding up his palm in assurance. "Is she happy?"
"Yeah, seems so." Bobby sighed in relief.
"Then there's nothing to worry about." Lincoln assured him. "I've moved on."
"So… does that mean you've got your eyes on someone else?" Bobby wiggled his eyebrows, giving the boy a nudge with his elbow. "No wonder you're all dressed up."
Lincoln laughed nervously, blushing slightly. "A-ah… well…" He stammered. He'd need to change the subject before Bobby pressed him for more info. "S-so what's this big announcement?"
"Oooh, ooh, yes…!" Leni gasped, hopping up and down excitedly. "Tell us, tell us!"
"At dinner," Lori said with a chuckle. "I want everyone to hear."
Their father had set up the long table for the occasion, usually reserved for holidays; after all, having everyone together like this was rare. He had made stuffed peppers, one of Lori's favorites… as well as a meatloaf, to the relief of some of the younger Louds. Despite the simplicity of the dish, he knew how to make it delicious.
"So, so, so… what's the announcement~?" Of course, Leni had to ask almost immediately. Lori and Bobby exchanged a glance, smiling sweetly at one another. He placed his hand over hers, and she grasped it lovingly.
"Well… okay." Lori cleared her throat. "Bobby and I…" Leni leaned in eagerly, her eyes wide and shining. "…We got approved on an apartment! We're moving in in two weeks!" Lori stated excitedly.
"Oh, congratulations you two!" Rita gasped. "Where is it? Is it nice?"
"It's about fifteen minutes from the university," Bobby explained. "It's pretty good for the price."
"We'll make it work," Lori assured them.
"Well, that's boring." Lola huffed. "I thought you two were finally getting hitched." Bobby and Lori blushed, looking away. Lana just groaned and shook her head; clearly, her twin had been going on about this for a while. She took a bite of her meatloaf as she ignored her sister, chewing to the best of her ability. Lola's front teeth had grown back over the past two years, and while Lana's had as well… she had quickly lost others. If anything, she had fewer teeth now than she had in the past.
"N-now Lola…" Lynn Sr. stifled a cough. "They're young still. It's too early to think about that." Lori rolled her eyes; while her father liked Bobby a lot and considered him part of the family, he still tended to get a bit too protective of his firstborn.
"Daddy, you're too old fashioned. Times have changed." Lola scoffed. "Seriously, Bobby…" The little princess gave him an annoyed look as she leaned forward, her elbow on the table. "What's the hold up? Put a ring on it already." Bobby scratched his arm, chuckling softly in embarrassment.
"Wait… I thought you guys were still saving up?" Luna asked. "You sure you can afford it?"
"Well, about that…" Bobby smirked.
"That's the other announcement." Lori finished for him.
"Well, out with it!" Luan urged.
"Well…" Bobby mumbled through a mouthful of stuffed pepper; he swallowed before continuing. "Mi abuelo… er, my granddad, I mean," He clarified. "He decided it was time to retire."
"Oh, dear…" Rita muttered, concerned. "What happens to the bodega, then? Is it closing?"
"Nope." Bobby grinned. Everyone waited with bated breath.
"Stop leaving them hanging, Bobby." Lori scolded him, giving him a gentle elbow to the ribs.
"Okay, okay… easy, babe." Bobby laughed. He puffed out his chest proudly, a confident smile on his face. "You are looking at the new owner and operator of the Casagrande Market."
Everyone, even Lola, gasped in shock. "Holy shit, dude, really?!" Luna said with a big smile.
"Luna, language!" Rita scolded her before beaming at Bobby. "Oh, Bobby, I am so happy for you."
"Yeah, congrats, bro!" Lincoln gave him a fist bump, grinning excitedly. He felt proud of the young man… becoming a manager was always one of his goals, but owner? That was a big deal.
"Wow… only nineteen and already running a business. Good for you, son." Lynn Sr. seemed impressed by the news, and he looked at Lori with a sly grin. "I agree with Lola, honey. You need to lock him down."
"Oh my God, dad…" Lori groaned, burying her face in her palm.
"Well, I think this calls for a celebration." Her father said as he got to his feet. "I'm cracking open some wine."
"Lynn!" Rita gasped. "They're underage!"
Lynn Sr. frowned, considering her words for a moment… then simply shrugged. "Screw it." He hurried off to the liquor cabinet, and Rita sighed in exasperation.
"Make it a good one, at least!" She called after her husband. Despite her reservations, she had to agree… this was cause to celebrate. She noticed Lynn, Luna, and Luan looking at her expectantly, and she frowned slightly. "…Fine." She reluctantly agreed. "But only a little bit."
"Rock on." Luna and Luan high fived.
"And Lola, you can stop looking at me like that. The answer's no." Rita chided as Lola gave her puppy-dog eyes.
"No fair," The little princess huffed, crossing her arms and sulking in her seat. Everyone shared a laugh at that.
…Everyone except Leni.
Lincoln glanced at his sister; there was still a grin plastered across her face, but the excitement she'd had only minutes earlier was gone… her smile was empty, joyless. Lincoln's brow furrowed in concern, and he realized that she hadn't actually said anything since Lori told them the news. He gave her a gentle nudge. "You okay…?" He asked under his breath. Leni simply nodded, not looking at him.
"I'm totes happy for you two," She said to the couple across from her, smiling sweetly. "Congratulations."
"Thanks, Leni." Lori replied, returning the smile with far more authenticity. "We're really excited." She leaned over, sharing a loving kiss with her boyfriend; Lola, Luan, and Rita gave a gentle 'Awww~' at the sight, while Lucy, Luna, and even Lisa smirked gently. Lana and Lynn just gagged.
Leni, however, just retained that same expression as she returned to her food, picking at it and taking small bites. Lori was too caught up in the moment to notice just how fake her sister's smile was… but Lincoln wasn't. He frowned, but decided it wasn't best to push the issue right now. Not with everyone around.
Lincoln lay in his bed in his pajamas, staring at the ceiling. He sucked his teeth as he mulled over the evening's events. His parents had gotten drunk, of course… there was no such thing as temperance with those two. Lori and Bobby both got quite tipsy as well, as did Lynn, despite only having less than half a glass. He'd never had figured her for a lightweight. Even Lincoln had been allowed a couple of sips… not enough to have any sort of effect on him. Quite frankly, he didn't really see what the big deal was; it was bitter and lukewarm, with a taste like unsweetened grape Kool-Aid.
Leni had been one of the first to retire for the evening, preceded only by Lucy. He'd followed, of course, but she'd gently brushed him off and assured him that everything was fine. He knew it wasn't, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to interrogate her.
Lincoln sighed and turned onto his side. Glancing at the clock, he saw it was a few minutes before 10:45, but he just didn't feel tired. He didn't feel like 'relaxing' either, even after the encounter with Rochelle earlier in the day. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep. He could only hope that Leni would feel better in the morning.
A light, gentle rap on his door foiled his attempts at sleeping. He groaned; he should have figured it wouldn't be that easy. "Not now, Lisa." He grumbled.
"It's me." The quiet voice of Leni spoke. Lincoln sat up immediately, feeling a strange mixture of relief and concern.
"S-sorry. Come in." He said apologetically. Leni opened the door and shuffled in. She looked downcast, the false smile gone from her face, and stood before him in her nightgown; despite the sheer fabric, he felt no stirring in his loins this time. Not when she looked like that. "…Hey." He said softly.
"…Hi, Linky." She spoke softly, her voice barely above a whisper. Neither said anything for a moment, and she wouldn't make eye contact with him. "I, um…" She began, shuffling her feet sheepishly. "I was lonely."
"Isn't Lori with you?"
Leni shook her head. "She fell asleep on the couch with Bobby." Lincoln frowned at that. He could hardly blame her, but still… she should make time for her sister. Lincoln swiveled around so he sat on the edge of his bed, and motioned for Leni to take a seat too. Leni complied, daintily sitting beside him. He waited a bit to see if she would say something first before speaking.
"Are you… upset that they're not getting married?" He asked, knowing already that wasn't the case. There was no way she'd be this broken up over that. Confirming his suspicions, she shook her head.
"I am a little, but… no, it's not that." Leni said quietly.
"It's because she won't be around as much, isn't it?" Lincoln guessed. Leni chewed her lip slightly before giving a small, almost imperceptible nod. Lincoln sighed softly, placing his hand over hers. "Leni… you knew this was coming."
"It's too soon." Leni muttered as she fidgeted with her hands in her lap. "I'm not… I'm not ready."
"Leni… it's not about you. It's Lori's life." His words were the harsh truth, but his voice was gentle. Leni's frown deepened.
"I know that, Lincoln." Leni whispered as she balled her hands into fists, clutching the fabric of her nightgown tightly. "I just… I need her…"
"Leni…" Lincoln said softly, placing his hand over hers. "You're stronger than that. And I'm still here, remember? So is everyone else."
Leni bit her lip, shaking her head again. "No, Lincoln. I'm… I'm not." She sniffled, looking down at the floor. "I'm not strong. I never will be. Even if you're here now… you'll leave too. You all will. And I… I can't."
Ah. That's where this was coming from. Lincoln exhaled softly. "Leni, you're not going to be stuck here forever." He looked at her, an encouraging smile on his face. "You'll get accepted into a good university next ti-"
Lincoln blinked. The way she had said it… there was more to it than just self-depreciation. "What…" He began, his mouth feeling dry for some reason. "What do you mean…?"
At first, Leni said nothing. She sat staring at the floor, motionless save for the subtle movement of her pupils. "…I lied." She said at last, almost too quietly for Lincoln to make out.
"…About what…?" Lincoln asked apprehensively. Somehow, he had a bad feeling about this.
"A-about the portfolio." She muttered, wringing her hands. "I… never sent it," She admitted, practically spitting out the words. "Anywhere."
Lincoln remained silent, his brow furrowed as he took in what she had just said. It suddenly dawned on him that he had never seen a single rejection letter… she hadn't been rejected. She simply hadn't sent the portfolio out.
She'd never even applied.
"…What." Leni shrunk back slightly; he couldn't hide the note of anger in his voice. He was angry… beyond that, he was disappointed. He stood up, pacing away from her with his hand against his mouth. Leni just hung her head in shame. "Why?" He asked, the question coming out in a harsh rasp.
"I'm sorry I wasted your time." She mumbled quietly.
"I don't care about that!" Lincoln snapped, making the troubled girl flinch. "I care about you! Why would you throw away all that effort?! Why wouldn't you even try?!"
Leni felt sick. She couldn't bring herself to look at her brother; even if she were to try, her vision was starting to go blurry. "I-I…" She whimpered, trembling slightly. The edge vanished from Lincoln's expression in an instant. "I'm sorry…" Leni got up and reached for the door, but Lincoln grabbed her arm.
"…Why?" Lincoln asked again, gentler this time. He couldn't stay mad at her… even if he was disappointed. She was hurting.
She needed him.
Leni didn't resist as her brother pulled her to him, nor as he wiped the tears from her eyes. "Leni, look at me…" Leni glanced up, her bleary gaze meeting his kind eyes. Her lip trembled and she had to choke back a sob.
"I was…" She sniffled softly. "I was scared."
"Of being alone."
Lincoln frowned deeply. "Leni, you'll never-"
"I will!" Leni cried, pulling her arm from his grasp. "If I leave, I'm alone! If I stay, you'll all leave me! W-whether I stay or go, it won't matter… either I'll be alone now or later…" Leni dropped to her knees, letting the tears flow freely. She wailed loudly, and Lincoln had never been more grateful for the soundproofing Lisa had installed throughout the house.
"Don't you get it, Lincoln?" Leni sobbed. "I-I'm not like Lori… I'm not smart, I'm not capable… it doesn't matter how 'talented' I am! I-it doesn't matter if I can make a… a fucking dress!" Lincoln's mouth hung open; he had never heard his sister use such language. "I can… I can barely manage things now, even with your help… how can I manage on my own?! Tell me, Lincoln!"
Lincoln's breath came out in short breaths as he looked down at his sister, her body heaving with loud, pathetic sobs. It felt like someone was twisting a knife in his heart; he knew perfectly well that she'd been struggling, even after their little pep talk at the prom. But clearly, this was worse than he had thought possible. The fact that Leni of all people had all of this pain bottled up inside… it made him feel sick. How long had she felt this way?
Lincoln kneeled down and embraced Leni, pulling her against his chest. She wrapped her arms around him tightly as she broke down, each anguished wail piercing Lincoln to his very core. But he didn't cry; he couldn't. Not now. Not when she needed him.
In truth, Lincoln had no answer for her. She was right, in a way; as long as she felt this way, she couldn't be on her own. Not yet. But he couldn't leave it at that. He knew she was better than that… he felt it. She wasn't some idiot. She wasn't broken. She wasn't incapable.
She was perfect… she just didn't know it.
Lincoln let his sister cry until she ran out of tears. He wasn't sure how long it took… it could have been a few minutes, it could have been an hour. It felt like an eternity. She kept her face buried against his chest, her shoulders lurching with the occasional dry sob. Lincoln rubbed her back gently. "Are you okay?" He asked quietly; Leni silently shook her head. Lincoln sighed softly and ran his hand up the back of her head, lightly stroking her head. Leni shuddered at his touch before relaxing, her body practically melting into his as his fingers ran through her silky golden locks.
"Listen, Leni…" He said in a soft, soothing voice. "Maybe you're not ready, yet. That's fine. I'm sorry I yelled at you, I just…" Lincoln looked away for a moment, chewing his lip as he gathered his thoughts. "If I'd known you felt this way, I would have done something sooner."
"…Don't apologize, Linky…" Leni mumbled, her words muffled against his chest. She sniffled and turned her head to the side to speak clearly. "T-there's nothing you can do. I'm just-"
"Yes, there is. I'm going to help you, Leni."
Leni sniffled again. "…How?"
Lincoln frowned. "I… don't know." He admitted. "But I will. I promise. You do want to get better, don't you?" She nodded, and he kissed the top of her head. "Then I'll figure out a way, somehow. I'm… good at thinking on my feet." Lincoln chuckled softly.
Leni swallowed the lump in her throat and looked up at her little brother. Even if he didn't know how yet, she felt the sincerity in his words. She knew he would try his hardest for her sake, and she felt guilty… he was so young, yet for how much she relied on him he may as well have been twice her age. "I don't deserve you, Lincoln…" She whimpered, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Y-you do too much for me already."
"I don't mind," He assured her. "I want to help you, because I care about you. I care about you more than anyone else." He cupped her cheek and gently wiped the tears from her red, puffy eyes with his thumb; she closed her eyes, placing her hand over his.
"…You're not supposed to have a favorite sister, silly." Leni said, a tiny smile finally returning to her face.
"Maybe…" Lincoln shrugged. "But I do." Leni opened her eyes and looked at him; his expression was so kind, so loving that it made her heart hurt. She looked away as a light blush crept along her cheeks.
"Why do you have to make me feel this way…?" She muttered softly, barely more than a whisper. But Lincoln heard; his breath caught in his throat for a moment, but he forced it down.
"…What way?" He asked. Leni didn't respond; she merely fidgeted awkwardly, chewing her bottom lip. Lincoln wasn't sure why… maybe it was due to Rochelle's encouragement, or maybe the wine had affected him more than he thought… but right now, he didn't feel nervous. Something seemed to push him onwards. "Is it why you kissed me?" There it was, at last. The big question, the one he had struggled to ask for nearly a week. Leni stiffened up, her brow furrowing.
"…Don't ask me that, Linky." She managed to squeak out, her voice cracking. But Lincoln pressed on.
Leni hesitated. The silence was almost deafening, the only sound coming from their faint breathing and the gentle rustling of their bodies against the carpet. "B-because…" She stammered, pulling away from him slightly. "It's, like… not right. If I tell you… you won't want to be around me anymore."
"Leni… please." He pleaded quietly. "Tell me." He already knew why, of course… he could feel it. But he needed to hear it from her.
Leni's face scrunched up in a mixture of fear, uncertainty, and shame. She looked as though she might cry again, if she had any tears left to shed. "I…" She gulped, shutting her eyes. "I love you."
Lincoln felt his heart stop for a brief moment. Hearing the words out loud, in that tone of voice… it was as if all the air was sucked from his lungs. He took a deep breath. "As… as a brother?"
Leni sniffed, hanging her head. "…As more."
Neither said anything. Lincoln sucked his teeth as he let it set in. It was all out on the table now… she'd confessed her love for him. He had to do the same.
But words wouldn't be enough.
Lincoln leaned forward, taking her cheek in his hand once more. Her eyes opened and met his as he turned her face towards him. Lincoln was acting almost automatically, as if he were being guided by some outside force... but he just let it happen. It felt right.
"L-Linc-" Leni was silenced as Lincoln captured her soft lips with his. Her eyes shot wide open, but she made no attempt to pull away, slowly, she let her eyes drift closed as she leant into the kiss. Lincoln's other hand slid around to her back, pulling her closer, and she gladly obliged. All too soon, they had to break away to catch their breath; it came in heavy gasps as they gazed upon each other, their eyes filled with love, longing…
The siblings kissed again, Leni raking her fingers through her baby brother's snowy white hair; his hand slid down her back, feeling every contour of her perfect body through the thin fabric of her nightgown. He felt something soft and wet probe his lips, and he accepted her without hesitation. Their tongues intertwined and their saliva mingled together; Lincoln could taste the strawberry gloss on her lips, and the lingering scent of cologne drove Leni wild.
Leni whimpered into his mouth as his silky tongue lapped against hers, pulling Lincoln against her tightly. It was as though she were driven by a desperate need to feel her brother's body against her; to know that he was hers, that he was there… that he was where he belonged. They couldn't be any closer if they tried, their bodies melding together in a mass of heated flesh and lust. They broke away again and Lincoln buried his face into her neck, making her shudder in pleasure as he kissed her neck.
That was it; Leni couldn't take it anymore. She dove onto Lincoln, pushing him to the ground as her lips claimed his yet again. His hands slid down her back and settled on his big sister's shapely cheeks, giving them a firm squeeze, making her pull away and arch her back with a loud gasp. The two lovers panted for air, their faces red their body's glistening with sweat. Slowly, Leni looked down into her brother's eyes. She was straddling his waist, his hands firmly planted on her hips; she wanted him, and he wanted her. It would be so easy.
And yet… the same instincts that had driven them this far told them not to carry things further. It wasn't time yet… they weren't ready. Neither needed to say a word. Their lust-filled eyes settled into a half-lidded, loving gaze, gentle smiles crossing their faces. Leni slowly leant forward, using her hand to keep her hair out of the way as she shared a soft, tender kiss with Lincoln. She lay against him comfortably, his arms settling into a gentle embrace around her. For a while, neither said anything; they simply enjoyed the moment.
"…Linky…" Leni was the first to break the silence, her voice small and quiet. "Is… is this wrong…?"
Lincoln frowned slightly. "Does it feel wrong?"
Leni nuzzled against his chest, shaking her head. "…No. It doesn't." Lincoln smirked softly; that settled that, then. "But… what happens now…?" She asked, looking up at him.
"I guess we're a couple now?"
"No, I mean… what do we do? Like… do we tell the others?"
Lincoln winced; that was a pretty tough question. "…No." He sighed. "Not yet, anyway." He knew that, ultimately, they would need to come clean about their relationship… there's no way they'd be able to hide it forever. Still, Leni seemed satisfied by that answer, and she relaxed into his arms again. "Do you want to stay here tonight?"
"On the floor…?" Leni asked, making Lincoln chuckle.
"No, Leni… on the bed." He clarified.
"Oh. Yeah, that'd be totes better~" She giggled. It took a few moments for them to finally get up; they didn't want to leave each other's side for even a second. But soon, they were lying together in Lincoln's bed, on their sides with Leni's back pressed against her brother's chest. His arms were wrapped around her from behind, and he could only marvel at how relaxed her presence made him feel… as though she had been the one thing missing this whole time.
"Linky… do you really think I can get better?" She asked.
"No," Lincoln's answer made her tense up. "I know you can." Lincoln finished, planting a soft kiss on her shoulder that made her jump.
"L-Linkyyyy…" She muttered, pouting slightly. "You're teasing me again…"
"I know," He snickered softly. "But you like it, don't you?"
Leni smirked, closing her eyes and shifting closer against him. "I do~"
As Lincoln lay with his older sister in his arms, he couldn't help but mull over the absurdity of the situation. She was his sister, five years his senior… legally an adult, while he was little more than a child. And yet… they were in love.
The more he thought about it, the more he started to understand. If there was one thing that defined the Louds, it was their passions… from the moment his sisters opened their eyes, it had immediately become clear who they would grow up to be. Leni had quickly taken an interest in fashion, Luna had been drawn to instruments as if by instinct… all of the girls had their thing, and it showed.
But Lincoln had always been the outlier. He had no 'thing', no singular interest… there was nothing that defined him as a person. Instead, he fit into whatever role was needed at the time; for Lola, he could be a pageant coach. For Lucy, he could provide critique and inspiration. For Lynn, he could be a training partner… even if he wasn't particularly cut out for it. But maybe he'd been looking at things all wrong. What defined him, above all else, was his love for his sisters. He knew each of them deeper and more personally than anyone else, and he would do anything for them; in fact, nothing made him happier than making them happy. He loved them, and each of them loved him just as much... even if things got a bit tense at times.
So maybe, just maybe… falling for one of his sisters wasn't that crazy. He'd always needed that bond, that connection with someone… something deeper than mere attraction. With Ronnie, he'd had to fight to feel some semblance of a bond, beyond friendship of course. But with Leni, that bond was already there. It always had been, since the moment she first laid eyes on him as a newborn baby. She'd decided right then and there that he would always be precious to her, and perhaps he'd even felt the same at a subconscious level.
Lincoln could hear the soft breathing from Leni signaling that she had drifted off to sleep. She hugged his arm against her chest, her lips resting softly against his knuckles, and Lincoln smiled; he nuzzled her hair gently, taking in the flowery scent of her shampoo. He could feel the softness of her breasts against his arm, and her backside pressed against his groin, and yet he felt no arousal. Not even the slightest stirring in his loins, despite his current situation… only the warmth and comfort of his lover. For him, that was all the evidence he needed; he was in love with his sister. And he felt absolutely fine with that.
For the first time in weeks, sleep came easy for Lincoln Loud.
Wow, this one ended up a lot longer than intended. It may seem like the end, but don't worry… this story ain't over yet.
Chapter 4: Sister Knows Best
Aaaaand we're back! Gotta admit, after the stuff I've done in the interim it felt a bit like a step backwards to return to this, but I promised it would be next and here it is. I will do my best to alternate between this and 'What She'd Been Missing', as had been the case with 'Darkness Falls on the House of Loud'. I may sprinkle in a one-shot from time to time, should any new ideas strike me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Leni let out a tiny groan as she began to stir. A warm beam of sunlight landed on her face from the window, and she grimaced slightly in protest; she thought it was a bit strange, as her bed was pretty far from the window, but decided it wasn't worth thinking about. As she turned away from the intruding light, she became aware that there was something draped across her torso. Also, she could have sworn her bed was a lot softer than this. Slowly, she opened her eyes.
…Only to find herself staring at the face of her baby brother.
"Hey," Said Lincoln with a small smirk.
"Eep!" Leni yelped in shock, recoiling and falling out of her brother's bed, landing in a heap on the floor. "Owwies…"
"Y-you okay…?" Lincoln asked as he peeked over the edge of his bed, a look of mild concern on his face.
"Yeah… I'm fine…" Leni muttered, rubbing her head. Then, as she looked up at her brother, she gasped and jumped to her feet. "L-Linky?! W-what am I doing in your room?!" Lincoln just cocked an eyebrow at his sister.
"You came here, remember? You were lonely." He reminded her. Leni furrowed her brow in thought, and then her eyes went wide; she clasped her hand to her mouth, her cheeks turning bright red as the events of the previous night came back to her.
"Oh… oh my gosh…" Leni stammered. "T-that wasn't a dream…?"
"N-no, it wasn't…" Lincoln muttered, scratching his cheek sheepishly as his own face became tinged with pink. Neither said anything for a moment, an uncomfortable silence hanging between them.
"We… we kissed." Leni muttered, almost too quietly to even hear. "A lot." Lincoln just gave a small nod.
"We did." He confirmed. Leni averted her eyes from Lincoln as she nervously chewed her lip. She looked… distraught, Lincoln realized. He slid off the bed, gently placing a hand on his big sister's arm. "Hey… what's wrong?"
Leni fidgeted awkwardly, her face scrunching up further in distress. Finally, she gave a small shake of her head. "I… I'm sorry." She whimpered, sounding as though she was about to cry. "Please… please don't hate me, I…"
"W-whoa… Leni, why would I hate you?" Lincoln asked.
"B-because…" Leni began, gently pulling her arm from her brother's grasp. "I'm… I'm not completely clueless, Linky. I-I know…" Leni swallowed, trembling slightly. "Brothers and sisters aren't supposed to be like that. And… and you're so young… oh noooo…" She let out a high-pitched whine, burying her face in her hands. "I… I raped you…!"
A snort escaped Lincoln's nose, and he had to clamp a hand over his mouth to stop from bursting into laughter. The mere thought of sweet, innocent Leni forcing herself on anyone was one of the funniest things he had ever heard in his life. "Leni…" He croaked out, thankfully managing to suppress the chortle threatening to escape his throat. "You didn't rape me. We just kissed… that's all." Granted, they had gotten a bit handsy, but Lincoln figured it was best he didn't remind her of that part.
"B-but…" Leni stuttered. "You're, like, too young, Linky. It's not… it's a bad thing. I did a bad thing to you…" Lincoln's amused expression dropped in an instant as he saw tears gathering in his big sister's eyes. He had to remind himself that this was Leni he was talking to.
"Hey… Leni, c'mon." He said gently. "I'm the one that kissed you, remember?"
"N-not the first time!" Leni whimpered. Lincoln frowned slightly; she did have a point.
"E-even so…" Lincoln cleared his throat. "That doesn't change anything. I kissed you because I wanted to… because I'm… yknow…" He trailed off somewhat, his cheeks growing bright red. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't actually said the words to her at any point… and somehow, despite their furious make-out session the night before, he found this to be comparatively more difficult. "…Because I'm in love with you." He said at last.
Leni raised her eyebrows, her mouth hanging open slightly as the words sank in. Slowly, an ecstatic, trembling smile spread across her face and she covered her mouth with her hands. "H-he loves me…" She gasped under her breath before letting out an excited squeal. It was as though she were a schoolgirl with a crush… well, technically she was, Lincoln supposed. Still, he couldn't help but feel a bit flustered.
"A-anyway…" Lincoln stammered. "Look, Leni… I've been thinking about this all week. Whether or not it's okay to feel this way about my sister… honestly, I don't know." He sighed softly. "But I decided that no matter what anyone says… I'm okay with it." Leni was staring at him with that dreamy look in her eyes again, and he suddenly found it very difficult to look directly at her. "I-if I feel this way about you, and you feel this way about me, who cares what anybody else thinks?"
Leni mulled this over for a few moments. In all honesty… she did want to be with him. She wanted to be with him a lot, in fact. She wasn't entirely sure when she'd begun to have deeper feelings for her brother; maybe they'd always been there somewhere. If nothing else, she was certain she'd always found him to be a handsome boy. But it was the prom that really made her see him in a different light… not just as her brother, but as a man.
Or as a teenager, at least. He was very mature for his age, after all.
At the time, she hadn't really put too much thought into whether or not she should feel that way… the kiss had been a spur-of-the-moment act, practically a reflex. But it wasn't until the initial high of the moment had worn off that she really started to consider the reality of the situation. She had feelings for her brother… a thirteen-year-old boy. At first she thought her brain was being silly again, as it often was… but the feelings continued to linger. In fact, those feelings only deepened with each passing day, each little act of kindness, each hug.
Each time he was there for her.
Lori had told her once that the ideal man was someone who would always be there for you, no matter what. Quite frankly, Lincoln had always been there for her from the moment he could talk. Granted, he was there for all of his sisters when they needed him the most, but Leni had always felt that maybe, just maybe, her sweet lil' Linky always seemed to rush to her side first. To her, he was the ideal man, or at least he would be in time.
But he was still her brother, and Leni knew that you were never supposed to be lovey-dovey with your brother, even if she didn't know exactly why. Leni had always tried to be a good girl, but she worried that feeling this way made her a bad girl instead. But Linky felt the same way, and she knew that he was a good boy. The goodest, in fact. Or, at least, Leni thought so.
So if the goodest boy ever could feel lovey-dovey things for her, maybe it was okay for her to feel the same for him?
"Linky…" She began, tapping her fingers together sheepishly. "Are you sure this is what you want? That I'm who you want…?" To Lincoln, it was an almost ridiculous question… who wouldn't want to be with someone like Leni? Even if she was a bit mixed-up at times, she was still the kindest, gentlest person he knew, not to mention drop-dead gorgeous.
"What more could I ask for?" Lincoln replied, grinning that sweet grin of his. Between that and the simple honesty of his answer, it took everything Leni had in her not to swoon right then and there. Instead, she simply stammered unintelligibly, her face bright scarlet.
That is, until he pulled her in for another deep kiss. Then she swooned.
The next several weeks seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. When not at school, Lincoln and Leni were practically inseparable, be it studying or just hanging out. They would sneak kisses whenever they could, and they were nearly caught more than once. Nearly every night, once everyone else had fallen asleep, one would sneak to the other's room; though things never got quite as intense as they had that first night, Lincoln didn't mind. No need to rush things after all… besides, just being close to one another was enough.
At any rate, soon enough the finals had come and gone, heralding the start of summer vacation. Leni had managed to pass with a C+ average, which she seemed thrilled about… quite frankly, Lincoln felt she might have done better had they focused on studying more than on one another, but at least she passed.
That said, Lincoln still had no idea as to what to do about Leni's other problem. Helping his sister study was one thing… but helping her overcome her insecurities was something else entirely. He didn't even know if it was simply self-depreciation or anxiety or something deeper than that. Leni had been to a therapist a few times in the past, but it had never amounted to much; Dr. Morris had never quite been able to pierce through her eccentricities enough to really get her to open up, and seemed content enough to diagnose her as 'mildly autistic' and call it a day. Lincoln was no expert on mental health, but something in his gut told him that wasn't the case.
"Maybe Dr. Lopez…" Lincoln muttered to himself.
"Hmm? Did you say something, Linky?"
"O-oh, um… don't worry about it." Lincoln said, smiling up at his sister. He was laying on the couch with his head resting in Leni's lap… one of his favorite places to be, quite frankly. He wasn't sure how her thighs were so much softer than the couch, but lo and behold. Most of the family was out, and those that were home were mostly cooped up in their rooms. Plus, Lincoln figured he was still young enough for this not to seem too weird.
Leni returned her brother's smile and ran her hand through his hair; a small part of him felt embarrassed at being pampered like this, but he supposed her maternal nature was just another reason he'd fallen for Leni. Besides, it felt nice.
"I don't think I can sleep with you tonight…" Leni mumbled in an apologetic tone. "Since Lori's gonna be here, you know?" While Lori had been living in the dormitory she had left many of her non-essential belongings behind, but now that she and Bobby had their own place, she finally had room for it all. She'd be coming by to pick up her stuff and spend the night... the last night she would be spending there for quite some time.
"No worries," Lincoln replied with a smirk. "I can manage on my own for one night. Besides, you should spend some time with Lori before she leaves." Leni nodded, a slightly wistful smile on her face. Since they'd begun dating, she'd largely gotten over her sadness at Lori's departure… she'd still miss her terribly, but she knew she'd have to just deal with it and move on. Besides, she had her Linky now, and all in all she was more content than she had been in quite some time. She did wish they could be open about their relationship, but even she knew what the repercussions could be.
Lincoln let out a relaxed sigh and shut his eyes. Leni's heart fluttered as she looked down at her lover's peaceful face. He really was handsome, at least to Leni… but even if he wasn't, she knew she'd still love him just as much. After all, who he was mattered far more to Leni than what he looked like. Still, she couldn't help but wonder how he might look when he got a bit older.
Leni glanced up at the TV. A Dessert Storm re-run was playing, one she had seen many times in the past… but quite frankly, even if it was a brand new episode she doubted she could pay much attention. Not when her little brother looked so darn cute. It felt like they were kids again, when Lincoln used to run to her for comfort when he'd had a bad dream… though the difference now was that his presence comforted her just as much. The only thing that could make it better, she felt, would be a ring on her finger.
The young woman blushed at the thought. She knew fully well that they were both too young to even consider that… and even if they weren't, the chances of that ever happening were highly unlikely. Leni could be surprisingly studious when something interested her, and she'd been doing some research on the topic over the past few weeks; she knew fully well that they could never actually marry unless, God forbid, they moved to Alabama. Still, a girl can dream. Either way, she had him, and he had her… for now, that was enough.
"There… that should do it." Lori huffed as she sealed shut the last box. With Leni's help, she'd managed to pack her life away into no more than four boxes… though the girl may have her weaknesses, she definitely knew how to pack efficiently. "Thanks, Leni. You're literally a lifesaver."
Leni simply nodded silently, seated on the edge of her bed. Without Lori's belongings, the room felt shockingly empty. Before, she could almost forget at times that her big sister wasn't around anymore… but now, each day would be a reminder that Lori had moved on, while she was still too much of a child to do so. Leni let out a small sigh.
"Leni?" Lori frowned slightly as she noticed her sister's melancholy demeanor. She sat down beside Leni, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Hey… what's wrong?"
"It's nothing," Leni said quietly. "I'm just… I'm totes gonna miss you, Lori."
"Aw, Leni…" Lori gave her sister a gentle, reassuring smile. "It's not like I'm going away forever. I'll still visit, just not as much as before. And any time you need me, you can just give me a call, you know?"
"I know." Her sister muttered. "I'm sorry, Lori. Like, I know this is a super important thing for you, and I'm happy for you." Leni returned her sister's smile, albeit somewhat sadly. "That's why I'm not gonna cry. I need to grow up, like you did. Like everyone does. I don't… want you to have to worry about me anymore."
"W-well…" Lori coughed. "That's good. I always knew you had it in you-"
"And that goes for you too!" Leni said as she wrapped her sister in a big hug. "Any time you're feeling sad or lonely, I'll totes be there for you~!" Lori was genuinely shocked by her sister's response; just a month ago, Leni would have been bawling in her arms and begging her not to leave. But now? Now, she sounded downright mature.
Now, it sounded like Leni was the one trying to comfort her.
"Wow, Leni…" Lori let out a small laugh as she returned the hug. "Where'd all this come from?" Leni giggled as she broke the hug, a wide smile crossing her face.
"I dunno! I guess… I just have a lot to be happy about these days~"
"…Oh?" Lori's eyebrows rose slightly. She knew that tone of voice all too well. "Alright, Sis." She began, giving her sister a sly grin. "Who is he?"
"Who is who?"
"C'mon, Leni… you think I was born yesterday?" Lori leaned back, crossing her arms smugly. "You're seeing someone, aren't you?"
"Of course I am, silly~" Leni giggled. "I see you right now!" Lori smacked her palm to her forehead. Right… Leni, she reminded herself.
"I mean," Leni clarified, "You're dating someone." Leni froze for a moment before quickly averting her eyes, her cheeks tinged with pink.
"N-no…" She muttered under her breath. Lori's grin only grew wider; her little sister's reaction told her everything she needed to know.
"Alright, details." Lori leaned forward excitedly. "Who is he? Do I know him? What's his sign?!" Leni simply pouted, doing her best to avoid meeting her sister's gaze. "C'mooon Leni!" Lori whined, giving Leni a gentle shove. "Tell me!"
"No." Leni huffed, puffing out her cheeks cutely. "It's a secret."
"Oh, come ooooon…" Lori groaned. "Do I keep secrets from you?"
"Well, no…" Leni admitted, twiddling her thumbs a bit apprehensively. "But this one's a big secret. Sorries~"
"Well, give me something at least." Lori said, rolling her eyes. "Like… how long have you been dating? What's he like?" Leni frowned slightly, mulling things over; surely, giving her sister some details would be alright, if for no other reason than to get her to drop it.
"Well…" Leni cleared her throat. "We've been together a few weeks. He's really nice, and really cute, and really patient with me, and…" The fashionista trailed off a bit, her cheeks growing a deeper shade of red. "…And I love him."
"Oh my God, that is literally the cutest~!" Lori squealed, clasping her hands together in delight. "Have you, y'know…" She added, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. "Done it yet?"
"Done…?" Then, as the meaning of Lori's words, set in, Leni's eyes went wide. "N-no!" She stammered, her face feeling as though it were on fire. "N-not that I don't want… I-I mean when we're ready, I…" Lori could only laugh at her sister's flustered reaction.
"Relax, Leni… I'm just teasing. Though I hope you're safe when you do." Lori assured her. "Anyway, now I'm really curious. Can't you give me a hint?"
"No." Leni spoke with a finality that Lori wasn't used to hearing from her. "Maybe someday, but… not today."
"Alright, alright… fine." Lori sighed, waving her hand dismissively. "But I'm going to get it out of you one of these days."
"Okay." Leni replied with a mischievous grin. "Then I'm totes gonna keep asking when you and Bobby are finally gonna tie the knot~" Lori grunted in mild annoyance. She'd already brought up the topic on five separate occasions tonight, and in all honesty she couldn't imagine how it could get worse.
Quite frankly, she wasn't sure why Leni was so reluctant to tell her about her boyfriend… the girl had always been forthcoming with information in the past, often to a fault. She supposed she shouldn't complain about her sister's newfound independence, but nonetheless she couldn't help but feel slightly concerned. After all, Leni was an innocent, trusting girl… there were no shortage of guys out there that would try to take advantage of that. Hell, plenty had tried throughout high school, but Lori had always been there to put a stop to it. Well, Leni seems happy with him at least, Lori told herself.
"Aaanyway…" Lori said, getting to her feet and giving a little stretch. "I'm gonna take a shower before bed. All that packing got me sweaty." Lori eyed Leni up and down; as usual, she looked just fine. "…I dunno how you do it, Leni." She sighed.
"Nothing, nothing… be back in a bit." Lori said before leaving the room, being sure to grab her sleepwear on the way. Leni simply shrugged and began changing into her nightgown. Sometimes, it felt like people were talking at her instead of with her, but she was used to it by now.
In any case, as long as Lori was preoccupied for a bit, Leni figured she should check in on her secret lover. Leni smirked and tip-toed her way down the hall to Lincoln's room.
"Come in!" Lincoln called out as he heard a gentle knock on his door. He already knew it was Leni… over the past few weeks he'd learned to identify her knocks, be it her usual soft rapping or the heavy thunk of her walking headfirst into the door.
"Hey, Linky!" Leni greeted her brother cheerfully as she stepped in. Lincoln smiled brightly and slid out of bed, setting his comic book aside.
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't show," Lincoln teased.
"Don't be silly… of course I'd come say goodnight to my Linky-Winky~" She said, pinching his cheek. Lincoln wasn't sure what was more embarrassing… the cutesy nickname or his girlfriend treating him like a child. For her part, Leni could only giggle at the boy's reaction… she'd grown to enjoy flustering him from time to time. Not only was it adorable, but it was remarkably easy to do.
"S-so…" Lincoln coughed, his face feeling slightly hot. "Are you doing alright…? About Lori, I mean." Leni's grin faltered for a brief moment, but then she gave a nod.
"Like, I'm still sad, but I'll be okay. It's not like she's disappearing entirely… and besides, I have you now, Lincoln." Leni assured him with a sweet smile. Lincoln wasn't sure why, but he got butterflies in his stomach whenever Leni called him by his proper name; or at least, when she said it in that tone. "But…" She began, sighing softly. "My room totes feels empty now. It's gonna be… weird for a bit, I think."
"Makes sense." Her brother said with a nod. "Remember when I used to share a room with Lynn? It took a while to adjust to being on my own."
"I remember!" Leni snickered into her palm. "That was when you would keep running to me when you had nightmares… like, almost every night." Thinking back, she wasn't wrong… he'd been with Lynn for so long that he couldn't bear sleeping alone. Even back then, Leni's motherly nature had drawn him in; she had always been more than willing to let her little brother spend the night with her, despite Lori's frequent complaints.
Lincoln let out a small chuckle. "I guess not much has changed, huh?"
Leni gave her brother another warm grin. "No… I guess it hasn't."
Lori hung her head forward, letting the warm water beat against the back of her neck; it figured that they would only install an adjustable showerhead after she had gone off to college. It may not feel quite as good as a massage, but right now it was working wonders in relaxing the kinks in her neck. She wasn't sure why she'd been so stressed out as of late… it was summer, after all. She had no classes, no obligations, nothing to do but relax and enjoy herself. Perhaps enjoy herself a little too much, as her slight muffin-top would attest to.
Lori sighed softly. Perhaps she just missed her family. Well, she knew she did, but only now was it really starting to sink in. She'd gone from a house of thirteen to an apartment of two, and while she certainly appreciated the peace and quiet, she couldn't help but miss the chaos a bit. Just last week a pipe had sprung a leak, and she had actually cried out for Lana as if on reflex; hell, more than once she'd said 'Good morning, Leni' upon waking up… much to Bobby's amusement.
Lori knew she'd get used to things eventually. She had to. Soon enough, she would be turning twenty… she'd be leaving her teenage years behind and officially setting forth in life as an adult. And while she grew older, so too did her siblings; she remembered how she used to carry Lincoln as a baby, and now he was nearly big enough to carry her. Hell, maybe he could. The same was true for the others: they were growing, changing… maturing. And now, even Leni seemed to be changing.
Lori's brow furrowed in thought. She was happy that Leni was making strides at last… or at least trying to. However, the truth of the matter was that there was a big part of Lori that liked being depended on, and somehow the thought of Leni not needing her anymore hurt a bit. She knew she shouldn't feel this way, but she did.
Lori shut off the water and stepped out of the shower; she shuddered as the cool air danced along her damp skin and wasted no time in toweling herself off. Before slipping into her sleepwear, she glanced at herself in the mirror. Lori frowned as she pinched the flab around her midsection. Granted, it wasn't a lot, but to the young woman any flab was an absolute nightmare. That's it, she told herself. I'm gonna have to start doing aerobics again.
Lori got into her usual tank top and pajama shorts before returning to the hallway. She didn't feel like worrying about her teeth and hair tonight… she just wanted to go to sleep. She had a long drive in the morning after all.
But just as her hand touched her doorknob, she heard a strange sound coming from down the hall. It sounded like…
Yep, that was moaning alright, albeit quiet and somewhat muffled. She glanced down the hall, noticing that Lincoln's door was slightly ajar. "Ugh… nice, Lincoln. Real nice." Lori scoffed, rolling her eyes. She knew that her brother was at that age, but really… watching porn with the door open? Without headphones, at least? For shame.
Lori chewed her lip as she considered her options. She could just ignore it and go to bed… but what if one of their younger sisters were to hear? No, it was her duty to scold Lincoln for being so careless.
Although, if she were to be completely honest… she just couldn't pass up the opportunity to tease the little twerp about this.
Quietly, Lori snuck her way down the hall. As she got closer, however, she noticed that the moans seemed too… organic. They didn't sound like they were coming from a speaker at all, and Lori briefly wondered if they were coming from Lincoln himself. But no… they were too high, too feminine… and strangely familiar.
Lori hesitated. Something in her mind was telling her to go back, telling her not to invade her brother's privacy, to just go to bed and leave well enough alone. And yet, at the same time something was pushing her forward. She'd been meddling in Lincoln's affairs his whole life, after all… why stop now? Lori raised a trembling hand and slowly pushed the door open slightly further, just enough to get a peek inside.
The color drained from her face in an instant.
Lincoln and Leni were embracing one another, their lips locked together in a long, passionate kiss. Her sister was practically leaning herself into the shorter boy's arms, giving herself completely to him; the soft moans escaping her throat and the subtle wet noises between them spoke volumes. They weren't just kissing…
…They were making out.
Lori clasped a hand over her mouth, her eyes wide in horror at the sight that lay before her. She felt as though she were going to vomit, and yet something kept her firmly rooted in place, her eyes desperately scanning the scene in some vain attempt to find something, anything to indicate that this wasn't what it looked like. Maybe this was just kissing practice? Lori and Leni had tried it once when they were going through puberty.
But that was then. This was now, and her eighteen-year-old sister had her tongue halfway down a child's throat.
Her own brother, no less.
As the two lovers broke away, leaving a thin thread of saliva connecting their mouths, Lori couldn't take it anymore. She turned and bolted down the hallway back to her room, not even caring that she slammed the door behind her. Her heart was racing a mile a minute, her brain barely even able to process what she had just seen. She was tempted to go back, to be sure that her mind wasn't playing tricks on her, but the mere thought of witnessing that again was enough to make the bile rise in her throat.
It made sense now… Leni's boyfriend. The one she refused to talk about. 'Really nice, really cute, patient'…
"…And I love him."
"O-oh…" Lori stammered as the reality of the situation became clear. "Oh, God… oh God, Leni..." For some time, Lori couldn't even move. After what felt like an eternity, she managed to drag herself to her bed and sit down on the edge, burying her head in her hands.
Leni was dating Lincoln. Leni was dating her brother. Even in her mind, it sounded too absurd to even consider. And yet, she'd seen it with her own two eyes. Lori felt sick to her stomach, not just from seeing the two in action but from the fact that it was happening at all. This was wrong… surely even Leni knew that. Surely Lincoln knew that.
"Alrighty~!" Leni's practically skipped her way into the room, her bubbly voice snapping Lori out of her thoughts. "Like, sorry about that! Was just saying good-"
"Leni." Lori croaked out, her mouth feeling very dry. "Lock the door behind you, please."
"Huh…? Why? We never-"
"Just do it, Leni." Lori ordered. "We need to talk." Leni frowned slightly, but nonetheless complied before sitting on her own bed opposite Lori.
"Lori, is something wrong…?" Leni asked her big sister, immediately taking notice of her tense posture. Lori chewed her lip, mulling over her next words. Quite frankly, there was no good way to start this… so she may as well just be direct.
"I, um…" Lori began. "I saw you."
"Saw me what?" Leni asked, tilting her head in confusion. Lori sighed deeply, her hands clenched tightly together in her lap.
"…With Lincoln." She clarified. Leni's eyes widened in shock before her expression settled into a nervous aside glance, slumping forward slightly in shame. There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence between the two, neither sure exactly what to say or even able to look at one another. "…This needs to stop." Lori spoke at last.
Leni frowned, giving a small shake of her head. "It's not going to."
"That wasn't a request, Leni," Lori said in a low, borderline threatening tone. "This. Needs. To. Stop." Lori glared at her sister angrily, but Leni wouldn't look at her. She sniffed, her eyes narrowing slightly.
"And I said no." Leni replied defiantly. "We love each other."
"No, you don't." Her sister countered. "You think you do, but you don't."
"…What do you know?" Leni huffed, crossing her arms.
"I know it's sick!" Lori snapped, bolting to her feet. "I know it's wrong! He's literally your brother, Leni! Do you have any idea how fucked that is?!"
"Only because everyone else says it is." Leni said calmly. "I don't care how other people feel about it… only how we feel. I love him, he loves me. Even if he is my brother."
"Leni, for God's sake…" Lori pleaded with her sister, practically begging her to be rational. "He's a kid. He's just a kid, Leni."
"No, he's not." Leni pouted. "He's thirteen. I'm eighteen. We're, like, both teens, so it's fine." Lori could only gape open-mouthed at the girl. She should have expected her sister to be stubborn about this… she always had been when it came to such matters. But this? This was downright absurd.
"He's. A. Kid." Lori repeated. "It doesn't matter if he's thirteen, or fourteen, or even fifteen. He's a kid, and you're an adult. Don't you understand how serious this is?!" She shouted down at her sister, but the girl didn't as much as flinch. "You could go to jail, Leni! You could destroy your entire life over this! And for what?! Because you… because you want to fuck your little brother?!"
"Because I love him, Lori!" Leni shot back, finally looking her older sister right in the eye. "It doesn't matter to me how old he is, or whether or not we're related, or what! I love him, and I'll wait for him no matter how long it takes!"
"Y-you're…" Lori stammered. "You're crazy…"
"I am not crazy!" Leni shouted, getting to her feet and staring down Lori. "I am not! And I'm not stupid either, no matter what you or anyone else thinks!"
"I never said-"
"You don't need to, Lori!" The girl spat. "I know what you think! I know what everyone thinks! But I'm not stupid. You think I don't know how serious this is…? You think I don't know what could happen? You think I haven't thought about this every day since I started feeling this way?!"
"I have, Lori!" Leni pressed on, paying her sister no heed. "I've thought about it a lot. I'm not… I'm not just some airhead. I think. I'm always thinking. I think so much that… that it gets hard to sort things out, sometimes." Leni bit her lip, averting her eyes from Lori. "I used to think I was stupid, too. But Lincoln… Lincoln showed me that I'm not. He never saw me as someone that needed to be protected… he never saw me as some lost cause. He saw me as a person, even at my worst. Even… even when you didn't."
Lori's jaw hung open slightly, her brow furrowed in shock. She'd never heard Leni talk like this… even when they'd fought in the past, Leni was still, well, Leni. But this was different… she was expressing herself in a way she never had before, with a clarity that Lori never could have imagined she'd hear from the girl. "I… I never thought you were a lost cause…"
"Yes, you did. You, like, told me from the beginning that I should just stay here and go to the community college… but Lincoln didn't. Lincoln helped me make a portfolio. And I… I still never sent it out, because I was too scared to leave…" Leni sniffed. "I'm still scared. But Lincoln is totes trying to help me… Lincoln thinks I can do better. He knows I can, and… and I know he's right. And you… you didn't. You never did." Leni let out a small sigh before continuing. "You told me once that I should be with someone that would always be there for me. You told me that when I met the right guy, I'd know. Well, I do know. When I'm with Lincoln, it feels right. Even if you think it's wrong… it feels right."
"But… but he's your brother." Lori pleaded. "You can't… you can't be with him, Leni. Don't you get that?" Her sister merely frowned and looked away from her.
"Lori, let me ask you something." Leni said quietly. "You told me once that with Bobby, it was love at first sight. So what if he was your brother? Do you think that would change?" Lori bristled at Leni's question, her response dying on her lips.
"That's… you can't compare the two, Leni." She managed to reply, her voice lacking its usual edge. "Bobby isn't my brother, and there's literally no point in thinking about what-ifs. Lincoln is your brother, and… and you can't be with him."
"…You're not going to change my mind, Lori." Leni muttered in barely more than a whisper. "If you're going to tell mom and dad, just do it already. But you're not going to change my mind." And with that, Leni got into bed, switching off her light before turning away from her sister. "Goodnight."
"I…" Lori bit her lip, looking down at the floor. She knew she should tell their parents… but she couldn't. She couldn't put Leni through that. She didn't want Leni or Lincoln to be sent away somewhere. Lori took a deep, shuddering breath before getting into her own bed. As she lay there, her mind was racing; she had to do something.
She had to put a stop to this.
Soon, a plan started to fall into place. A desperate, flawed plan… but the best she could manage right now. Lori made a mental note to talk to her parents first thing in the morning before drifting off into an uneasy sleep.
"Like, thanks again, Lori~!" Leni said cheerfully, practically bouncing with excitement in the back seat of her sister's car. "It's been too long since we've gone to the mall together like this!"
"Y-yeah… well, it's the least I could do, you know?" Lori said, laughing nervously. "I mean… I wanted to apologize. I was… a bit hard on you last night."
"Well… I was totes hard on you, too." Leni replied sheepishly. "I know you're just trying to look out for me… you always have. But… I love Lincoln, Lori. I can't… change that. And neither can you." Lori winced slightly, but didn't protest… there would be time for that later.
"Well…" Lori coughed. "You literally can't help how you feel, Leni. If you want to be with Lincoln, and he feels the same, there's not much I can do to stop that. So… I'm going to drop it." Leni's eyes widened slightly before a big, happy grin spread across her face.
"…Thank you, Lori." Her sister's tone was so relieved and sincere that it cut right through Lori's heart like a knife. She hated deceiving Leni like this… she loved her sister more than anything. Hell, she loved Leni more than Bobby.
And that's exactly why she had to do this.
As expected, her parents had been fully on board with the idea… even if they didn't know Lori's true motives. And Leni, as expected, had been easy to fool as well; the phrase "morning flash sale" had barely even left Lori's lips before her little sister was rushing to get ready. Thankfully, Lincoln was over at Clyde's place, so there was no risk of him getting involved at all.
"Hey, Lori…" Leni began, the confusion evident in her voice as they turned onto the highway. "Um, isn't the mall the other way?"
"O-oh, um… different mall, Leni." Lori lied. "It's the one in Beaverton."
"Oooohhh…" Leni gasped, her eyes lighting up. "I didn't even know Beaverton had a mall~!"
"Yeah… it's new." Lori muttered. She mentally kicked herself for not thinking this through in more detail, but thankfully Leni was Leni, and she was already babbling excitedly about the new mall in the backseat.
Lori sighed softly, tuning out her sister's ramblings. Quite frankly… she hadn't thought this through much at all. She still had no idea how she would go about this, nor how she would even convince Leni to stay. But what else could she do? There was no one she could turn to, and she had to do something. She had to nip this in the bud before things got worse or, God forbid, they had sex. And that was only assuming they hadn't already.
Lori cringed at the thought. She wouldn't be surprised if her sister failed to use a contraceptive, or, hell, if she even knew what one was. As if inbreeding wasn't bad enough on its own, adding Leni's genes to the mix? That would be a nightmare.
Lincoln may have thought that Leni could manage on her own, but Lori knew better. This was the kind of shit that happened when you left Leni to her own devices. This was why she'd been coming home so often, why she'd been willing to spend hundreds of dollars on gas just to be with her sister. Leni may not be stupid, but she was sure as hell irresponsible, careless, and foolish. Maybe some day she could take care of herself, but not now.
Leni needed her. She always had. And now, Leni needed her more than ever… the poor girl was more confused than she'd ever been. Dating your thirteen-year-old brother? That was clearly not the decision of a rational mind. She couldn't blame Lincoln for his part in all this… he was just a kid, after all. He didn't know any better. But Lori did, and she wasn't about to let them ruin their lives.
Within a few minutes, Leni had gone silent, her head bobbing back and forth in a daze; long drives always made her get a bit loopy. Lori had counted on this, of course… otherwise, this would have been significantly more difficult. In any case, she was grateful that things were quiet.
Well… maybe a little too quiet.
Lori switched on the radio, tuning it to her favorite station. As the familiar beat by Boyz Will Be Boyz kicked in, Lori took a deep breath before exhaling, soothing her rattled nerves somewhat. This will be fine, Lori told herself. This is for her own good.
Lori went straight past the Beaverton exit and drove on towards the city.
By the time Lori pulled in to her apartment building's parking garage, her whole body felt sore; usually the three-hour trip would include a brief stop for food or gas along the way, but Lori couldn't risk rousing Leni. The girl's woozy groans had given way to gentle snoring midway through their drive and Lori wasn't about to meddle with good fortune.
"Leni," Lori said as she pulled in to her designated parking space. "Leni, wake up. We're here."
"Hhhnnnn?" Leni mumbled, her brow scrunching up before her eyes slowly blinked open. She gave a little stretch, yawning loudly. "Izzis the mall…?"
"Just… come on." Lori huffed as she got out, being sure to grab the small duffel bag from the passenger's seat along the way. She circled around to the rear passenger's side and opened the door for her sister.
"Okay…" The drowsy girl grunted, barely managing to hoist herself out of the car in her delirious state. "W-wait…" Leni began as Lori shut the door. "My purse…"
"Don't need it," Lori said as she gently took her sister's arm and led her to the entrance. Leni was still a bit too out of it to find this unusual,so she simply followed along obediently.
She didn't find it unusual when they stepped into an elevator, either. Lots of malls have elevators, after all.
It wasn't until they were partway down the hall on the fourth floor that Leni realized something was up. "Hey..." Leni muttered, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. "This doesn't look like any mall I've seen…"
"Don't worry about it." Lori spoke curtly, and Leni yanked her arm free.
"Where are we, Lori?"
Lori sighed. "…We're at my place."
"Why?" Leni asked, her tone confused yet unmistakably accusatory.
"Just… I'll explain inside, okay?" Lori lowered her voice, doing her best to sound comforting. Not that it did much to ease Leni's mind, but she nonetheless found it best to listen to her sister for now.
The apartment Lori shared with Bobby was modest, yet passable… surely not the kind of place she'd want to remain in for more than a few years. It was sparsely furnished, with little more than a sofa and television gracing the living room. Off to the side was the kitchen, with an opening in the wall granting a view of the living room and entrance. Down the small hallway was a closed door that Leni assumed led to a closet of some sort, as well as two open doors that no doubt led to the bedroom and bathroom.
"Sorry, I know it's not much." Lori said, as though she were inviting her sister in as a guest.
"No, it's… nice." Leni muttered. "Lori, why are we here?" She asked again, some of the edge returning to her voice. Lori frowned, setting down the bag before walking over to the couch.
"Come on… sit." Lori sat down, gesturing with her head to the other end of the sofa. Leni hesitated for a moment before complying, making little attempt to hide her irritation. Even Leni could understand that something was wrong here. As she took a seat, she shot her sister a glare.
"Like, don't make me ask again… why are we here?!" Leni questioned her sister again, more forcefully this time. Lori wouldn't look her in the eye; she shut her eyes, taking a deep breath before opening them.
"You need to leave Lincoln." She said simply.
Leni's scowl deepened. "You tricked me…"
"I did," Lori admitted. "Because I needed to get you away for a bit. You can't be with him, Leni."
"You can't be with him. You can't date your brother, Leni." Lori's voice was even and stern, laying down the law as only she could. "I know you think life is like some stupid fairy tale, but it's not."
Leni's face scrunched up in indignant rage. "I do not-"
"It's not, Leni!" Lori snapped. "This is real life, and you can't be in a relationship with your fucking brother! You can't be in a relationship with a fucking child! Are you literally so dense that you can't understand that?!" Leni opened her mouth to speak, but her sister cut in once more. "I love you too much to let you do this to yourself. You think people wouldn't find out? You think they'll just be okay with it when they do?! You'd be destroying your life, you'd be destroying our brother's life, and that's only if you don't go to jail… do you understand me? Do you understand anything?!"
Leni shrunk back slightly, stung by Lori's words. "I-I…" Leni stammered in a quiet voice. "I want to go home."
"You're not going home. Not until you agree to do the right thing and put an end to this," Lori pleaded with her sister. "Not until you realize just how insane this is. He's not just some cute boy, Leni. He's your brother. He's your thirteen-year-old brother. He's a fucking child, Leni! Do you really think there's nothing wrong with that?! Do you not see how sick this is?!"
"I love hi-"
"You don't! Fucking! Love! Him!" Lori shouted at her sister, punctuating each word with a clap of her hands. "It's sick, Leni! It's not natural! You need to stop living in a fucking fantasy world and wake up to the fact that these feelings are not okay!"
"I love him." Leni repeated as sternly as she could. "I told you. I'm not leaving him. Now take me home."
"You're not. Going. Home. Not until you come to your senses."
"I have my senses, thank you very much." Leni replied in a snippy tone, getting to her feet. "Now, I'm leaving. If you won't take me home, then I'll just find a way back on my own." Lori got up at well, staring down her little sister.
"You're not leaving."
"You can't make me stay."
"I can and I will." Lori snarled. "Now sit down." Leni narrowed her eyes, staring down her sister in silence. Finally, she huffed and turned away.
"Goodbye, Lori." Leni said as she headed for the door.
"You're staying!" Lori leapt forward, grabbing the girl by the arm. Leni let out a small yelp of pain as Lori squeezed her arm far too tightly.
"Let go!" Leni snapped, wheeling around and lashing out at her sister. She hadn't even intended to do so, it had simply been a reflexive response to being grabbed so roughly. Lori's eyes went wide in surprise as Leni struck her across the face; it wasn't so much that the slap hurt, simply who it was coming from that shocked Lori. Leni had never slapped her before. For her part, Leni looked no less shocked than her sister. "L-Lori," She stammered. "I-"
Lori's blow was strong enough to knock her younger sister to the ground. Leni was too stunned to even cry out… all she could do was gasp in pain, her left cheek feeling as though it were on fire. Once the initial shock wore off, tears began forming in her eyes. She'd been slapped before, by Lori in fact… but never like that. She looked up at her sister in fear, only to find that Lori had begun to cry as well.
"I'm trying to help you, you idiot…" Lori hissed. "I'm trying to protect you, don't you understand that?!" She grabbed Leni by the forearm and roughly yanked her to her feet.
"Ow!" Leni cried out, struggling in her sister's grip. "Let go!" But Lori was far stronger than her, and there was little she could do to resist her. Lori grabbed a nearby chair before dragging her younger sister down the hall, towards the closed door.
"You're not leaving, Leni." Lori repeated. "Not until you understand." Lori pulled the door open, revealing a small, mostly-empty closet. She shoved Leni inside, sending the girl tumbling to the ground. "Not until you get better."
"Lori, wait!" Leni screeched and scrambled for the door, only for Lori to slam it shut and wedge the chair under the door handle. "Lori!" Leni screamed, pounding on the door with all her might. "Lori, let me out! Please!"
"I-I'm sorry, Leni… but this is for your own good." Lori's voice was unsteady and wavering, as though she were about to break down herself. "I love you, and I'm not… I'm not going to let you ruin your life."
"Lori, please!" Leni sobbed, desperately beating her fists against the door. "Please… just let me go home!"
But Lori wouldn't listen. She couldn't let her sister leave… not until she came around. So she did her best to ignore Leni's frantic cries, turning away and returning to the living room. Leni was pounding on the door so hard that Lori was worried she may hurt herself, but she thought it best to simply let the girl wear herself out.
Lori bit her lip, trying her best to fight back her tears. She didn't want to do this. Even now, part of her wanted to apologize, to drive her sister back home and let her live her life however she chose to do so. But no, Lori loved her sister far too much for that. Leni would come around… she had to.
After all, big sister knows best.
Aaand we have our villain! Or our antagonist, at any rate.
Chapter 5: Sending in the Big Guns
Aaalrighty, here it is. Thank you all for bearing with me while I fixed things up a bit. I hope that you all find the revised Chapter 5 to be an improvement over the old one. Note that I also made a few edits to chapter 4; namely I removed some lines implying Lori was pregnant, as this plot point has been dropped. Also, in case there are any new readers that get confused by some of the older reviews... this is the reason. Stuff's been revised!
Lincoln sighed as he put his phone in his pocket. Still no answer… it had been more than four hours since he'd first texted Leni, and she still hadn't responded. She hadn't answered his calls, either. It wasn't too unusual for his sister to be busy with something or other, but for this long…? He considered texting her again, but he didn't want to be that guy. He continued his walk home in silence, wishing that he had remembered to bring his earbuds.
Clyde had handled the news of his relationship with Leni about as well as expected. True to his word, he was supportive of his friend even though he was clearly unsettled by the situation… although he did ask far too many times whether Leni had made him feel uncomfortable at all. Lincoln supposed he couldn't blame the boy too much… were he on the other end of something like this, he may have been skeptical himself.
Lincoln checked his phone again. Nothing. He grumbled under his breath; he could have sworn he'd felt it vibrate, but it he must have imagined it. He shoved it back in his pocket, forcing himself not to check until he got home.
…Alright, maybe one more time.
"Hey, mom… you seen Leni today?" Lincoln asked as he stepped into the kitchen. Rita was washing dishes in the sink, apparently struggling to rub off a particularly persistent stain.
"Hmm? Oh, Leni…" Rita sighed, giving up on the plate for the time being. "She won't be back for a week or so, at least."
"Oh... okay…" Lincoln sighed. He turned and skulked his way out of the room, only to freeze in his tracks and come running back. "Wait, what?!"
"Lori took her back to the city with her," Rita explained with a smile. "She wants to give her a taste of the city life… hopefully give her something to aspire to, you know?" Lincoln's brow scrunched up in confusion. Why hadn't Leni mentioned this? Had she just forgotten? Knowing Leni, it was certainly possible. She was with Lori, after all… it made sense she would be a bit distracted.
Still, at least this gave him a starting point.
"Alright… thanks, mom."
"Did you need her for something?" Rita asked.
"Oh… no." Lincoln muttered. "Y'know… just wondering."
"Aw, you miss her, don't you?" Rita cooed, chuckling softly. "You two have certainly been close lately."
"Ah, well, y'know… Lincoln let out a nervous laugh, his cheeks reddening slightly. "A-anyway, talk to you later!" Before his mother could question him any further Lincoln hurried out of the kitchen, through the dining room, and up the stairs. His mother was far from the only one who had noticed that he and Leni had been spending more time together… it was readily apparent, after all. It had gotten to the point where they had vowed to give each other space when others were around.
That vow didn't last long.
Lincoln made his way to his room, shutting and locking his door. If Leni wouldn't answer, he'd just have to try calling Lori.
Lori sat before her television, staring at it with an unfocused gaze… not that she was really watching it. Leni's desperate cries had petered out long ago, giving way to anguished sobbing, then nothing. Somehow, the silence hurt worse than the screaming.
Lori sighed, resting her forehead in her palm. She felt awful, taking advantage of her sister's naiveté the way she had… and even worse about treating her so harshly. But what else could she do? The girl wouldn't listen to reason. What she was doing was immoral, unnatural, and above all else illegal. The mere thought of Leni ending up in prison terrified Lori beyond all measure.
That said, Lori had not the slightest idea what the hell she was supposed to do now. She couldn't keep Leni in the closet forever… heck, she couldn't even keep her here forever. And what was she going to tell Bobby?
Before she could pursue that line of thought, her phone began to vibrate in her pocket. Lori sighed and fished it out. She didn't even bother to check the caller ID… she rarely did. "Yeah?"
Lori's blood ran cold. It was Lincoln. Why, why did it have to be Lincoln? "H-hey," She stammered, getting to her feet. "Um… hang on a second." Lori stepped out of her apartment and into the hallway. She couldn't risk Leni making a commotion, after all. "Alright… what's up, Lincoln?" She asked as she leaned against the wall.
'Not much. Hey, Leni's with you, right?'
Lori swallowed. She had forgotten to take into account that even if she'd kept her true motives a secret, their parents knew that Leni was with her and would surely divulge that information to anyone that asked. "Er… y-yeah. Yeah, she's here."
'Can you put her on? I've been trying to reach her.'
Lori groaned, softly knocking her head against the wall. Of course he'd ask to speak with her. "Y-yeah, hold on…" She said without thinking. For a moment, Lori considered trying to fake her voice, but she'd never been good with impressions… and Lincoln was far too smart for that. And she couldn't very well put Leni herself on the phone.
…But maybe she didn't have to.
"She, uh… she said she doesn't want to talk to you right now."
For a few seconds, Lincoln didn't respond. '…Why not…?'
"One second…" Lori placed her hand over the receiver. She couldn't help but hesitate; she didn't want to do this. She knew it was a terrible, cruel thing to do… but what else could she do? The young woman took a deep breath before speaking again. "Um… s-she says that… she says it's over." Lori began. "She said to tell you that… things can't keep going the way they have been. She said you'd know what she meant."
Silence. Lori could hear him breathing, but he wasn't saying anything. 'U-um…' He said at last. 'Can you please… put her on the phone?'
"She… doesn't want to talk, Lincoln. I can't force her." Again, there was a period of silence before he spoke again.
'…A-alright… thanks, Lori.' His breathing was becoming noticeably strained… he sounded heartbroken. 'Um… see you.'
"Lincoln, wait!" But it was too late… he'd already ended the call. Lori hung her head in shame; it was tempting to call him back and confess, but she couldn't. Not when her sister's wellbeing was at stake.
Lincoln sat motionless on the edge of his bed, his phone still clutched tightly in his hand. He couldn't believe it… Leni had left him. Why? Just last night things had been completely normal. Had he done something wrong?
Lincoln's hand fell to his lap, his phone slipping free from his grasp and dropping to the floor. He didn't care. To say Lincoln was upset would be an understatement. He felt empty… so empty he couldn't even cry. It felt like there was a vice gradually tightening on his heart with each passing second. All he could do was lie on his side and wallow in his own despair.
Lincoln wouldn't come down for dinner that night. He gave the same excuse he always did when something was bothering him… that he wasn't feeling well. It wasn't really a lie… he didn't feel well. He felt sick to his stomach, even worse than when Ronnie had left him. He'd felt something with his sister that he'd never felt towards anyone before… love. Not infatuation, but love. Even at thirteen years old, the difference was readily apparent to him. He thought she'd felt the same.
So what happened?
Shortly after dinner, he heard a knock on his door. "…Go away." He said quietly.
"It's me, Lincoln." Came the unmistakable voice of Lisa from the other side. "I understand you're feeling ill. May I come in?" Lincoln's eyes narrowed. Lisa was the last person he wanted to deal with right now… well, except for Luan, perhaps. Or Lola.
"Not now, Lisa." Lincoln grumbled. "Just… go away."
"Brother, if you're sick, it's best I diagnose the issue now before it-"
"I said fuck off, Lisa!" Lincoln snapped. "For once in your life, just leave me alone and stop forcing yourself into my business!"
There was a long, awkward pause. Lincoln knew he'd gone too far, but he didn't care. He just wanted the girl to go away. After some time, Lisa finally cleared her throat. "R-right, then… very well. I'll be in my room should you change your mind," She said, "Or… if you just need to talk." Lincoln winced; now he felt slightly bad.
"Well, that was harsh," Luan muttered from behind Lisa. "Should I-"
"It's fine," Lisa assured her older sister. "I… think it's best we leave him be for now." Luan simply sighed, giving a small shrug. As the two returned to their rooms, neither noticed Lucy standing nearby… few ever did.
Lucy frowned as she looked towards her brother's door. Even if nobody noticed Lucy, she noticed them. She noticed a lot of things, and she was pretty sure she knew what was going on with Lincoln… but for now at least, she figured she should give him his space.
"Sigh… I suppose love can be a cruel mistress."
"Leni, I brought you something to eat…" Lori spoke through the door. She held a glass of water and a plate with a peanut butter sandwich… nothing special, but the best she was capable of. "I'm gonna open up, so don't try anything, okay?" No response. Lori sighed and pulled the chair out from under the doorknob before opening the door. Leni was still seated against the far wall; she glared at Lori as she entered, but made no effort to escape. She knew fully well she wouldn't be able to overpower her sister. "Don't look at me like that. Here… it's not much, but it's something." Lori said as she set down the plate and glass.
"I'm not hungry."
"Whether you want to eat or not, it's there." Lori replied. Leni averted her eyes from her sister. Admittedly, she was hungry… she'd barely eaten at all today.
But she wasn't about to give Lori the satisfaction.
"Leni…" Lori began. "You know I love you, right?" Leni remained silent, drawing her knees closer to her chest. "Please… just try to look at this from my side."
"I have." Leni mumbled. "And it's, like, still wrong."
"You would do the same-"
"No, I wouldn't!" Leni snapped. "I would never do something so… so mean! Not to you, not to anyone!"
"I'm not being mean!" Lori countered. "I'm doing this because I care about you! Because I care about Lincoln!"
"No," Her sister hissed. "You're doing this because you want to be the boss. That's all you ever want." Lori scowled; that had struck a nerve.
"Y'know, it's funny…" Lori scoffed, crossing her arms. "Not too long ago you were literally begging me not to leave. You said you needed me, remember…?" Leni's brow furrowed slightly. "That's right… you needed me, because you didn't know how to do anything for yourself."
"Do you have any idea just how much I've done for your sake?!" Lori shouted. "Do you have any idea how much of a pain it was to drive three hours just to see you, and three hours back?! Do you have any idea how much I had to spend on gas money alone?!"
"And now, what, that just changes in a few weeks?! You expect me to believe that you've got everything figured out now?! The fact that you're dating your brother proves that you have no idea what you're doing!"
Leni shrunk back against the wall. Her resolute expression had faded, and she looked as though she were about to cry. "Lincoln… Lincoln's helping me…"
"He's a kid. You really think he can help you?" Lori crouched down to eye level, poking her sister's head. "Get it through that thick skull of yours, Leni. He is a child. You can't be with him. He can't help you. Literally all that can happen here is one or both of you getting hurt… and I'm not going to allow that."
Leni hung her head. "Please… just let me go home."
"You can go home whenever you want…" Lori sighed, getting to her feet. "But you know what you need to do." Leni did know what she needed to do, of course…
…But she wouldn't.
"…I guess I'm staying here forever, then."
Lori's face scrunched up in anger. She was about to yell at her sister again, but she forced herself not to; she knew it would do no good. "…Fine." Lori grumbled before leaving the closet. "If that's what you want, then fine. Stay there." Lori shut the door behind her, wedging the chair beneath the doorknob; she knew fully well this was an empty threat. There was no way she could actually keep Leni here for more than a week or so… but this was Leni. Surely she'd crack before then.
Just as she returned to the living room, she heard a sound that made her heart plummet into her stomach: someone unlocking the front door. Bobby was home… and Lori hadn't even begun to consider what she'd tell him
"Hey, babe! I'm home!" Bobby called out as he stepped through the door, only to see his girlfriend already standing before him. "Oh, hey." He said with a grin. "Miss me?"
"Y-yeah…" Lori stammered as her boyfriend pulled her in for a kiss. "How was work…?"
"Ah, y'know…" Bobby shrugged. "The usu-"
"Bobby! Bobby, is that you?!"
"Wha… is that Leni?!" Bobby asked, glancing past Lori and down the hallway.
"Yes! It's me! Lori, like, locked me in the closet!" Leni cried. Bobby looked at his girlfriend with a raised eyebrow.
"Babe… why is Leni locked in the closet?"
"W-well, about that…" Lori laughed nervously. "We, uh, we need to-"
"Let me OUT!" Leni began banging on the door loudly.
"H-hang on, Leni!" Bobby stepped around Lori and headed for the closet, but Lori grabbed the back of his shirt.
"Wait!" Lori hissed. "You can't!" She dragged her boyfriend into the bedroom, shutting the door behind them… not that it did much to muffle the banging. "Listen… we can't let her out yet."
"W-why not?!" Bobby snapped. "Babe, just what the heck is going on here?!"
"Look, it's…" Lori began, but hesitated. "…There's been some… stuff going on, and we need to keep Leni in the closet for a few days."
Bobby stared at his girlfriend in silence. "…Um."
"Look, I know this sounds crazy-"
"Yeah, you're damn right it sounds crazy!" Bobby cut in. "Lori, what kind of 'stuff' could possibly make you lock your sister in the closet?!" Lori sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed; she should have known this wouldn't be so easy.
"Alright, listen…" Lori said quietly. "Leni's… been dating Lincoln." Bobby's brow furrowed in confusion. For a few moments, he had no response.
"Lincoln Loud!" Lori cried. "Our brother! I caught them… sucking face in his bedroom! They've literally been at it for weeks!" Bobby seemed somewhat stunned by the revelation, as though he wasn't quite processing it.
"O-oh." He muttered. "Bro… bro's got a girlfriend, huh…"
"He's got a… Bobby!" Lori snapped, springing to her feet. "Leni is dating her brother! Her thirteen-year-old brother! Do you understand, Bobby?!"
"Y-yeah…" Bobby stammered, scratching the back of his head. "That… is pretty weird, isn't it?" Lori groaned, burying her face in her hand. She loved her boyfriend, but at times he could be nearly as dense as Leni. "B-but… why in she in the closet?!"
"Because she wouldn't listen, Bobby." Lori explained. "I told her why it was wrong, why it was sick, what the consequences could be… but she wouldn't listen. So I'm keeping her in the closet until she agrees to put an end to it."
"Right…" Bobby crossed his arms, averting his eyes from his girlfriend. This was certainly not how he expected his day to go. "Babe… you've gotta let her out."
"I'm not letting her out, Bobby." Lori sighed. "Not until she stops this… this nonsense and comes to her senses!"
"Babe, please," Her boyfriend pleaded. "I get why you're upset, but you can't just… kidnap your sister!"
"I didn't kidnap my…" Lori trailed off, her brow furrowing in thought. "…Oh my God." Lori gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth. "I kidnapped my sister."
"Yeah, you did! And you've gotta let her-"
"W-w-well what else was I supposed to do?! I panicked!" Lori sputtered. "She wouldn't listen, Bobby! She acts like this is normal, just because she thinks she loves him!"
"Well… maybe she does love him?"
Lori's eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me you think this is okay…"
"N-no, of course not! But that doesn't mean you should force yourself into their business!" Bobby said sternly. "She's an adult, Lori! She can make her own choices!"
"No she can't." Lori hissed, pointing towards the wall. "That girl literally can not make her own choices. That girl is the reason I've had to go home nearly every weekend! She's irresponsible, she's immature, and she's too naïve to realize just how fucked this whole situation is!"
"More fucked than locking your own sister in the closet?!"
"YES!" Lori roared, making her boyfriend flinch slightly. "Do you not understand what's going to happen if I don't stop this?! She could literally end up in jail, Bobby! Do you want that?!"
"No!" Bobby shot back. "B-but that doesn't mean this is okay! For God's sake, this is Leni! Just think about what you're doing here!" Lori's expression seemed to falter slightly. "I know that this is messed up, but what you're doing isn't going to help! If you really want to help her, you'll let your parents-"
"I can't tell them, Bobby!" His girlfriend cried. "I can't let anyone find out about this! I-I don't… I don't want Leni to be sent away!"
Lori sat back down, hanging her head. "I… I don't know what to do, Bobby. I can't get anyone else involved. I don't want her or Lincoln to get hurt. And if I don't do anything… they will. I know they will." She sniffed, giving a small shake of her head. "Just… give me a week. I know I can convince her by then. If not… I promise I'll take her home."
Bobby sighed, running his hand through his hair. He could understand where Lori was coming from… he couldn't even begin to imagine what he'd do in her position. But locking Leni of all people in a closet was going quite a few steps too far.
Bobby chewed his lip in thought. Lincoln was only thirteen years old… a kid, still. Leni was an adult, but she was, well… Leni. Not to mention that they were brother and knew fully well that was wrong, but quite frankly, so was this.
"You can't keep her in the closet." Bobby muttered. "You… you can't just leave Leni locked up in there. It's not right."
"I… won't. At least not during the day. I'll stay here with her," Lori promised. "I'll make sure she's… comfortable, at least. I just… I have to do something, Bobby. I have to. For her sake." She looked at her boyfriend with sad, pleading eyes… something he'd never been able to resist. Bobby groaned, slumping back against the wall. This was absolutely insane. He wanted to help Leni just as much as Lori did, but to go this far?
Then again… this was an intervention of sorts, right?
"…Alright. But only for now," Bobby said. "If I change my mind, that's it. I'm… not gonna let you torture Leni."
"H-how can you think-"
"Babe, you know you can get a bit… extreme at times." Bobby said. Lori looked as though she were about to protest, but quite frankly, she knew he was right.
"Alright… alright. I promise, I'll take good care of her. I just… need to help her, Bobby."
"Yeah…" Bobby grunted. "I know, babe." If he were to be completely honest, he didn't like any of this… if anything, he felt that Lori should leave well enough alone. But he knew he wouldn't be able to dissuade her. Besides… he didn't want to see anything happen to Leni or Lincoln.
The next three days were nearly as much of a nightmare for the couple as they were for Leni herself. The girl had been as uncooperative as possible. She refused to eat, she refused to sleep, and she refused to let them sleep; every night she would kick the wall until she ran out of steam. Lori couldn't believe just how much stamina her sister had, given the situation at hand… the banging would persist for hours before she wore herself out.
As promised, Lori left the closet open during the day, while she could keep watch over her sister… at night, she'd barricade the closet once more. But Leni wouldn't leave. She only left the closet to use the bathroom, after which she would go right back to her sulking. She wouldn't speak to Lori at all beyond one or two-word sentences. For her part, Lori tried everything she could think of to reason with her sister… but Leni wouldn't listen, and all Lori could do was watch her sister waste away. If anything, it felt like she was the one being worn down.
Now, Lori sat on the couch, idly watching a recent episode of The Dream Boat. The new season was terrible, but it wasn't like she had anything better to do. She was tired, to say the least… even without Leni kicking the wall, the situation had her so stressed out that she could barely sleep no matter how hard she tried.
Then, she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. To her shock, it was Leni. She silently walked past her sister and sat down next to her. For some time, neither said anything; neither was sure what to say, quite frankly. Finally, Lori took a deep breath. "…You came out." She said quietly.
"The floor was totes starting to hurt." Leni replied. Lori glanced over at her sister. She looked awful, with unkempt hair and sunken cheeks, her eyes lined with dark circles from lack of sleep. Lori had given her bedding, but as far as she could tell she hadn't been using it. She'd lost weight too, her dress visibly looser around her frame than it had been. Lori let out a soft sigh and turned looked back towards the television.
"Are you ready to listen, now?"
Lori buried her face in her hand, pinching the bridge of her nose. No, of course she wouldn't be, she told herself. Still, at least for now she had the girl's attention. Lori pulled her phone from her pocket and launched the browser.
"…In Michigan, what you and Lincoln have been doing is considered criminal sexual conduct in the second degree." She said quietly. "Did you know that?" Leni frowned.
"I told you… we haven't been having sex." Leni muttered.
"It doesn't matter, Leni." Lori responded. "Second degree means 'sexual touching other than penetration, even over clothing, that is meant to arouse or gratify sexual desire'. Sound familiar?"
"First of all, I, like, don't know what most of those words mean. Second-"
"That means touching," Lori cut in. "Making out, rubbing all over each other the way you were." Leni opened her mouth to speak, but Lori continued. "I literally saw you, Leni. I know what you were doing."
"Well, so what?" Leni huffed, crossing her arms. "It's none of anyone's business."
"Yeah, well, some may disagree." Lori turned towards her sister with a serious look in her eyes. "That alone could get you put away for fifteen years. Let's say you decided to take it further, and that's only assuming you haven't already. If you so much as suck him off-"
"L-Lori!" Leni stammered, covering her reddening cheeks with her hands. "W-we haven't-"
Lori rolled her eyes. "If you did, that bumps it up to first degree. You think fifteen years is bad? Try life." Leni's brow furrowed slightly and she drew her arms closer around her chest, but her sister pressed on. "The law doesn't care what you want. The law doesn't care if you're in love. If anyone found out about this, that would literally be it for you… do you understand?"
"Leni, I'm not your enemy here… I'm trying to help you. I don't want you to be separated. I don't want you to be sent away. But if you keep doing this, you're going to get hurt. Both of you will." Lori sighed and lowered her phone. "If you really love him… you'll end things."
Leni hung her head and chewed her lip in silence. It wasn't like she didn't understand… she did, and far better than Lori thought she did.
But she didn't care.
"…Lori…" Leni began quietly. "If someone told you that you and Bobby-"
"Leni, we are not having this-"
"Like, I listened to you! Now you listen to me!" Leni shot back. Lori scowled slightly but nonetheless let her sister continue. "Imagine if one day people said you couldn't be with Bobby anymore. Like, nothing else changed… he was totes the same Bobby he is now, and you still loved him just as much, but you couldn't be with him just because other people said so… how would you feel? What would you do?"
Lori frowned. "But that's not-"
"It doesn't matter, Lori!" Leni snapped. "It doesn't matter if it is or isn't! Just, like, give me an answer! Just try to look at things from my side for once!" She glared at her older sister, waiting for an answer. Lori clicked her tongue in irritation. Once again, it was a pointless question. Bobby wasn't her brother, and nobody was telling them they couldn't be together. There was no merit in thinking about a nonsensical hypothetical situation like that.
Though, if she were to be completely honest… she really had no answer for the girl.
Even Leni could see the uncertainty in her sister's eyes; figuring she wasn't going to get a straight answer, she pushed on. "I love him, Lori. I love Lincoln. Like, I know I'm not 'supposed' to. I know it's 'wrong'. I-I know I could… I know I could get in a lot of trouble…" Leni took a deep breath to steady herself. "I told you… I'm not stupid. I… know this is risky. But I love him, and he loves me, and… and I need him."
"Leni, please…" Lori pleaded with her sister. "I'm not saying you can't have him. Just… not in the way you want. If you keep this up, you're going to get caught… and if that happens, you won't have him at all."
"Don't you get it, Lori…?" Leni said sadly. "Even if I leave him, it wouldn't change how I feel. I'd still… love him, and every day would just hurt… like when you're on a diet and you see someone eating an ice cream sundae, you know?" She sniffled and bit her lip, doing her best to fight back tears. "S-so… if you're asking me to choose between that or maybe going to jail… I really don't see much of a difference..."
Lori opened her mouth to speak, but the words died on her lips. She knew Leni better than anyone, and quite frankly… she'd never heard the girl sound so certain of anything before. She couldn't really understand it… Lincoln was a great kid to be sure, but the way Leni talked about him you'd think he was the perfect man. Then again… she supposed someone didn't have to be perfect to be perfect for you, as Bobby would attest to.
Still, she did understand one thing: Leni was in love with her brother. There was no questioning that. There was no telling if Lincoln's feelings matched hers, but he was still just a kid… a mature kid perhaps, but a kid nonetheless. He couldn't make that kind of commitment.
Lori sighed as she slumped back against the sofa. She brought a hand to her head and massaged her temples. Why was she even questioning this? It was wrong. It was illegal. As their older sister, it was her job to put a stop to things now.
…So why did she feel even more uncertain than before?
Things had barely been going any better for Lincoln. Ever since the call, he had mostly remained cooped up in his room, just… sleeping. Or trying to, at least… he only came down to eat, but even that was rare. It had become abundantly clear that whatever was going on was more than mere illness, but he refused to talk about it with anyone; he wouldn't even answer his phone when Clyde called. It felt like a piece of him was missing, like he was… incomplete, somehow.
Lincoln frowned as he stared aimlessly at the wall. It was hard to believe that all of this had occurred in barely over a month… before the prom, the idea of dating his own sister would have been a ridiculous notion. But now? Now, it felt natural… any apprehension he may have had over the arrangement had all but faded away. He loved her, simple as that. Regardless of age, regardless of relation, he loved his sister. He knew fully well there could be consequences… he'd taken lots of time to consider the risks even after they were already together. He knew fully well that ignoring these risks was a reckless and potentially dangerous thing to do. But it changed nothing… he loved her, simple as that. Regardless of age, regardless of relation, he loved his sister.
Lincoln heard a knock at his door. He sighed, drawing his blanket further around himself. "…Not now."
"Dude… it's me," Spoke the familiar raspy voice of Luna. "Can you let me in? I just want to talk."
"…No." Lincoln grumbled. "Go away, Luna. Please."
"Lincoln… we're worried about you." The rocker pressed on. "All of us. And… I want to help you. You know… the way you helped me." Lincoln's brow scrunched up slightly. Part of him wanted to let her in… out of all his sisters, he felt she was the one he could trust the most about something like this. But he just wanted to be alone.
"Luna… no." He muttered. "I don't want to talk. Just… leave me alone, okay?" There were a few moments of silence before Luna spoke again.
"…Alright. But I'll be back."
"…Yeah. I know." Said Lincoln. He heard her gentle footsteps heading down the hall, and with a small sigh he turned over to his other side.
Lincoln yelped, jumping back and wincing in pain as his back struck the wall. Lucy was standing beside his bed, looking straight at him… probably. It was always hard to tell with her. "L-Lucy?! What the heck are you doing in here? How did you get in here?!"
"Vents," The ten-year-old goth said plainly. "Lincoln, why are you doing this to yourself?"
Lincoln huffed and laid back down, turning to face the wall again. "…Go away, Lucy. It's nothing you need to worry about."
"I think it is," Lucy said. "You don't look good, Lincoln. You look sick."
"I am sick, Lucy." Lincoln mumbled.
"Sigh… no, you're not. I know better than that." Lucy sat down on the side of his bed with her legs hanging off the side. Lincoln simply scooted away from his sister, doing his best to ignore her. "Mind if I take a guess?"
"…Do what you want." Lincoln grunted.
"Leni broke up with you, didn't she?"
Lincoln's eyes shot wide open. He turned, staring at his younger sister in shock. "W-what…?"
"I've seen you, you know." Lucy explained. "From the vents. I… see lots of things." Lucy turned her head slightly to look at him. "I know you two are in a relationship. Or… that you were, at least." Lincoln groaned, burying his face in his hands; he should have known that Lucy would have caught them… she was always creeping around unseen. "You don't need to worry," She assured him. "I… find it quite beautiful, actually."
Lincoln raised an eyebrow. "Beautiful…?" Lucy gave a small nod, folding her hands in her lap.
"Your love is forbidden, but you choose to pursue it. Others would say your relationship is wrong, but to you it feels right, doesn't it?" Lincoln could only nod in response. How did his sister know all this? "Like I said… I've been watching," She said, as though reading his mind. "And I can tell that the love you share is real. So what happened?"
Lincoln took a deep breath, pulling himself upright. He knew Lucy wouldn't give this up, and quite frankly he couldn't bring himself to yell at the girl. "…I don't know," He said quietly. "Things were going fine, or at least I thought they were… but a few days ago she just… ended it."
"Ended it how?" Lucy asked. Lincoln wasn't sure why that mattered, but he figured he might as well explain.
"…Over the phone." Lincoln sighed. "I tried calling her but she wouldn't answer, so I called Lori. And… she broke up with me… she wouldn't even talk to me. She just… went through Lori." Lucy could hear the heartbreak in his voice, and he looked as though he were about to cry. "I just… I don't know why. All she said was that it was over." Lucy frowned, mulling this over for a bit.
"That… seems a bit odd, doesn't it?" She said softly.
"Well, yeah, of course it's-"
"No, I mean… odd for Leni." Said Lucy. She looked towards her brother again, and for a moment he could have sworn he saw just a hint of a pale blue eye between her bangs. "She doesn't seem like the type to do something like that. Not without reason."
"Well, I dunno…" Lincoln grumbled. "She's so sweet that she probably couldn't bring herself to do it."
"I don't know about that," His little sister shifted slightly. "I'd say this hurts more, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess… but it is what it is, right? There's nothing I can do about it."
Lucy drummed her fingers against her knee in thought. "…You never spoke to Leni, though."
"Because she didn't want to talk to me," Lincoln explained. "She-"
"Did she say that, or did Lori?"
Lincoln's words died on his lips. He rubbed his chin, thinking back to the call; he hadn't spoken to Leni at all. He hadn't even heard Leni in the background… why? "I, uh… well, it was Lori…"
"…Hm." Lucy simply grunted in acknowledgement, staring straight forward once more. "Then it's not over yet."
"Are you really going to give up so easily?" Lucy cut him off. "Lincoln, call it a hunch, but none of this sits right with me."
"But what can I do?" Lincoln asked. "Leni won't answer, and Lori-"
"Don't call Lori, then." Lucy said. "Find another way. You're smart… you can figure this out."
Lincoln thought about it for a moment. Lucy was right… this whole thing was unusual. First she left without warning, then she wouldn't answer his calls, and then breaking up from him through Lori? No part of this made sense. "Y-you're right… this whole thing feels wrong." Lucy nodded, hopping down from his bed.
"Deal with it, then. When you really love someone, you don't let go until you know you have to. That, or you can just keep dwelling in the darkness like you have been." She said before adding, "…That's more my thing. It doesn't suit you well, Lincoln."
"Yeah… I guess it doesn't." Lincoln said with chuckle. Lucy gave a small smirk before heading for the door. "Lucy, wait…" He began, getting out of bed himself.
"Yes…?" She asked, turning back to face her brother. She froze up as he pulled her into a tight embrace; she'd never been much of a hugger.
"Thank you, Luce. You've… been a big help." Lincoln said quietly. "I love you." Lucy's cheeks heated up slightly.
"U-um… yes…" Lucy stammered, returning the hug half-heartedly. "I… love you too, Lincoln." As they broke away, Lucy coughed into her hand nervously. "R-right… well, I'll leave you to it. Good luck." Before Lincoln could say anything further, his sister rushed out the door.
The flustered girl took a few deep breaths to settle her nerves. Sigh… it's a shame Leni got to him first. That's what I get for hesitating, I suppose… She thought before giving a small shrug. Ah well. C'est la vie. Perhaps this will make for some good poetry, at least.
The young girl returned to her bedroom, sitting down at her desk and opening her notebook. She took out her pen and began writing:
O, my love, my muse
You are my angel, my curse
You are my demon, my verse
My pain, each bruise
You haunt me
You taunt me
Your presence inspir
Lucy paused, reading over what she had written. With a frustrated click of her tongue, she tore out the page and crumpled it up. Nah, she thought as she chucked it into the wastebin. Too… emotional.
"Hey, CJ, you mind checking the rattraps in the basement?"
"Sure thing, captain!" The young man said cheerfully, giving his cousin a salute before heading off. Bobby chuckled softly; despite his disability, CJ was a surprisingly good worker. He was friendly, followed orders well, and even if he was back in his pirate phase at the moment, customers seemed to get a kick out of it.
Bobby felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He knew he shouldn't take calls while working, but business was always slow this time of day… besides, he was the boss now. He set down one last can of tuna on the shelf before fishing his phone out of his pocket. "Y'ello? Bobby here."
'Hey, Bobby. It's Lincoln.'
"H-hey bro!" Bobby greeted the boy nervously. "It's been a while… what, uh, what's up?"
'Not much. Hey, Leni's been staying with you guys, right?' Bobby swallowed the lump in his throat before responding.
"Eer… yeeeeaaahhhh… why…?" Bobby knew why, of course… he should have figured that Lincoln would call him at some point. He mentally cursed himself for not checking the caller ID first.
'Well, I haven't heard from her in a while… is something going on over there…?'
"N-no, everything's great! Everything's A-ok! She's probably just been too busy with Lori… y'know how close they are." He said with a nervous laugh.
'…Huh…' Lincoln muttered. He could hear the uncertainty in Bobby's voice, and based on his reply, it seemed like he didn't know about his call with Lori.
…Maybe a different approach would work.
'Well, that's weird…' Lincoln began.
"W-what's weird, bro?" Bobby stammered.
'Well, when Leni called me the other day, she sounded upset about something.'
Bobby's heart plummeted into his stomach. "…What…?"
'Yeah,' Lincoln continued. 'It sounded like she was REALLY upset, but she said she couldn't tell me what it was.'
"Th-that's impossible…" Bobby said quietly. "Lori took her-" Bobby gasped, clamping a hand over his mouth. He'd nearly said too much. He had said too much. On his end, Lincoln smirked; he finally had something.
'Bobby, what's going on?'
"I… I… uh…" Bobby sputtered. "Igottagohavelotsofcustomersbye!" Bobby hung up and buried his face in his palm. He'd fucked that one up big time. He was tempted to call Lori and tell her what happened, but something stopped him from doing so… as though part of him wanted to let this play out.
Lincoln sighed as Bobby ended the call. He hadn't gotten much out of the man, but he'd gotten something at least. Not enough, but something.
Lincoln rubbed his chin, mulling over his options. He thought back to Ace Savvy and how he would tackle something like this. He could call Lori and grill her with the new piece of information, or he could try to find out more first. The question was how exactly he would go about it; he doubted Bobby would pick up were he to call back. Come to think of it, Lori might not either.
Lincoln groaned, knocking his fist against his forehead a few times. Think, Lincoln. Think. There has to be SOMETHING. Then, it came to him. Lincoln quickly typed in the number and pressed the call number, then put the phone to his ear and waited. Before long, there was an answer.
Lincoln smirked. It'd been a while since he'd heard that name. "Hey, Ronnie. How's it going?"
'Can't complain. Just hangin' with the gang.' Lincoln could hear her friends give a faint greeting in the background. 'Anyway, how about you? Gotta admit, I was startin' to think I wouldn't hear from you again.'
"Y-yeah… sorry about that." Lincoln said sheepishly. "It… took me a bit to get over things, y'know…?"
'Don't worry about it, Lincoln. But, um…' Ronnie Anne muttered, her tone softening a bit. 'We're… cool, right?'
"Yeah. We're cool." Lincoln assured her. "Anyway, I needed to ask you something. Um… away from the others, I mean."
'Oh… uh, okay. Hey, guys, be right back!' Ronnie called to her friends. Lincoln could hear Nikki saying something in response, but it was unclear. 'What's up?'
"Well… have you seen Leni recently?"
'…Leni…?' Ronnie sounded confused. 'Why would I have seen Leni…?'
Lincoln frowned. Had Bobby not told her? "She's been staying with Lori and Bobby. You didn't know?"
'N-no, I didn't… I see Bobby every day, and he never said anything about that.'
"Oh…" Lincoln grumbled. "Damn…"
'Why? Is something going on?'
"Well, I'm not really sure…" Lincoln said, scratching his cheek. "I haven't been able to get through to Leni, and the others haven't been much help either. I think they might be… I dunno. Keeping her away from me."
'Why would they be doing that…?' Ronnie asked. Lincoln groaned; that was the exact question he'd hoped she wouldn't ask.
"I, uh…" Lincoln began. "I can't tell you." For a few moments, Ronnie said nothing.
"Because… it's kinda, you know…" Lincoln mumbled. "It's big."
'Linc… you can tell me anything.' Ronnie said. 'I won't make fun of you for it, I promise.'
"It's… kind of a big deal, Ronnie." Lincoln said with a depreciating laugh. "Just… please drop it?" For a few moments, he didn't get a response. Finally, he heard a small sigh.
'…Alright, fine. I'm not gonna pry.'
"Thank you…" Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief. "Sorry. I promise I'll tell you someday. Just…"
'Not now, got it. It's cool.' Ronnie said, brushing aside the topic. 'Anyway, I guess you want me to look into it, right?'
"Huh? Oh…" Lincoln gave a small shake of his head to push the matter aside. "Y-yeah, if you don't mind…"
'Sure, no prob'. Figure I… owe ya that much at least, y'know?' Ronnie said softly. 'Anyway, hang on a sec… hey, guys! I gotta bounce!'
Ronnie stepped off the bus about two blocks away from the bodega. She would have walked, but she felt that she shouldn't delay things too much… besides, it was a hot day, and even without her sweater she was feeling a bit too toasty for her liking.
As she made her way home, she thought about the situation at hand. Looking back, Bobby had been acting a bit weird the past few days, as though he were distracted by something. She hadn't thought much of it at the time… she figured he had just been arguing with Lori.
Ronnie arrived at the bodega just as a customer stepped out, bag in hand. Good, she thought. Nobody here.
"Welco- oh, hey Nini!" Bobby greeted her from behind the counter as she walked in. "I thought you were with your friends?"
"Yeah, I was." Ronnie said. "I needed to ask you something, though." Bobby raised an eyebrow.
"Why didn't you just call…?"
"Eh, y'know." She shrugged. "Figured it's best I ask you face to face."
"Um… o-ok…" Bobby muttered, drumming his fingers against the countertop. Somehow, he already didn't like where this was going. "Soooo… what's up?"
"Why didn't you tell me Leni was staying with you?"
"U-um… I didn't?" Her brother said, laughing nervously. "Must have slipped my mind…"
"Slipped your mind, huh?" Ronnie's eyes narrowed. "Y'know, Lincoln's been trying to reach her, but apparently he hasn't been able to get through to her at all."
"Wait, what…? But Lincoln said-" Bobby caught himself again, letting out a low groan. Dammit, Bobby, why are you like this?
"Oh, you talked to him? Interesting." Ronnie Anne grinned smugly. She knew she had him now. "Let me ask you something, Bobby… is it that Leni won't answer the phone, or that she can't?"
Bobby swallowed. "N-Nini, c'mon… she's just been busy with her sister, y'know? They don't get to see each other too often anymore…"
"…Uh-huh." Ronnie sighed. "Bobby, why do you have to make things so difficult?"
"I… I don't know what you're talking about…" Bobby lied. Ronnie turned and locked the door, then flipped the sign to 'Closed'. "Um… Nini, we're still open…"
"No, we're not." Ronnie said as she approached the checkout counter. "Not till I get some answers." Before Bobby could protest, Ronnie vaulted over the counter.
"R-Ronnie! You can't come back here, this is employees only!" Bobby complained, but she wasn't about to listen. She'd promised Lincoln she would look into things, and she was never one to break her promises.
Even if she had to go back to her old ways to do it.
"I can go anywhere I want, Roberto. I'm the boss now." Ronnie said in a cold tone. She advanced on her older brother, backing him into the corner. "Now, I'm not gonna ask again. What is going on?"
"Nini, please…" Bobby whined, cowering in fear as his little sister cracked her knuckles. He'd forgotten just how scary the girl could be when she was angry. "I told you, there's noth- OW!" Bobby cried out in pain as Ronnie reached out and pinched him on the arm.
"What's going on, Bobby?!"
"I-I can't… I can't say, it's- OW!" He cried as Ronnie pinched him again, this time adding a little twist. "C'mon, Ronnie, that really hurts! I'm a very sensitive boy!"
"Oh, you will be when I'm done with you…" Ronnie hissed. Her brother's eyes went wide with horror as she curled her fingers, making a pinching motion with her thumb and index finger. "Remember Mrs. Nurple?"
"Y-you wouldn't…" Bobby whimpered, doing his best to cover his chest with his hands. Ronnie smirked wickedly.
"Oh, yes I would."
With the sort of precision that could only come from years of bullying, Ronnie spotted an opening and hooked her hand beneath his arm. She clamped down on his nipple hard, twisting it without mercy; Bobby screamed in pain, tears beginning to form in his eyes. "O-okay! Uncle! I'll talk!" Ronnie let go, letting her brother catch his breath before explaining.
"Talk, then." Ronnie demanded. Bobby swallowed the lump in his throat.
"L-Lori caught her making out with Lincoln, and s-s-she wouldn't break up with him, so Lori brought her home and she's keeping her there until she can talk some sense into her and I-I don't know what to do about it, okay?!" Bobby blurted out in one breath.
Silence. Ronnie studied her brother with narrowed eyes, as though she were trying to deduce whether or not he was making this up; for his part, Bobby couldn't force himself to meet her gaze. He simply rubbed his sore chest in silence as his little sister took in what he just told her.
Chapter 6: Rough Neighborhood
Well. Here it is. I greatly apologize for the wait, this fic has been a constant source of frustration for me for over a year now. If it feels anti-climactic, or less than satisfiying after such a long period of time, trust me when I say I feel the same way. While it does play out the way I intended, it's kind of a mess as far as I'm concerned. Ultimately I just wasn't sure what to do with it and decided it's best to just get it done, like pulling off a band-aid. There will, however, be an epilogue as well as a one-shot sequel in the future, so hopefully that will alleviate some of the disappointment over this chapter. In any case, I thank all of you for being so patient with me.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Leni sighed as she washed her hands in the bathroom sink. Her conversation with Lori was long since over… she'd argued her point. She'd said all she needed to say, and if those words had done anything to sway Lori's opinion she certainly didn't show it.
Leni just wanted to go home. She wanted to see Lincoln again. She missed his touch, his voice, his love… all that she had grown accustomed to over the past several months. Without him she felt empty, as though a piece of herself had gone missing. But she wouldn't give in to Lori's ultimatum; to do so would be to betray her own heart.
Leni switched off the bathroom light before returning to the hallway. She considered returning to the living room but the last thing she wanted right now was more of Lori's lecturing… even the uncomfortable floor of the closet would be better than that. But as she passed by Lori's bedroom, she froze in place. The door was wide open… not that that was anything new, but Leni had never really stopped to consider the possibilities.
She peeked over her shoulder to make sure that Lori was still watching TV, then crept her way inside. The room was fairly sparse, perhaps due to them having only recently moved in, and the bed seemed to be old and out of shape. However, to Leni it looked like the most comfortable thing in the world right now, and it took every ounce of restraint in her not to just flop down onto it and go to sleep. Instead, she made her way over to the window overlooking the city streets. She peered out and found, to her delight, that there was a fire escape leading down the side of the building.
She'd found her way out.
"Bobby, I swear if you're making this up…"
"I-I'm not! I promise!" Bobby stammered, crossing his heart. Ronnie's hands balled up into fists. She wasn't sure which of the two revelations shocked her more; that Lincoln was dating his own sister or that Lori was keeping the girl locked up like some sort of prisoner.
"And you're just letting this happen?!" Ronnie shouted.
"Look, I'm not crazy about it either!" Bobby countered. "B-but what else am I supposed to do? She's dating Lincoln-"
"And how is that any of your business?!"
"That's what I told Lori!" The frightened young man explained. "But she wouldn't listen! A-and, I mean… come on, Ronnie, they're brother and sister! That's… weird, you know?!" Well, he wasn't wrong about that. Not that it changed much… as far as Ronnie was concerned, Lori and Bobby had for all intents and purposes kidnapped Leni.
"You'd better call Lori right now and put a stop to this," Ronnie hissed. "It doesn't matter what she and Lincoln are doing… you've got no right keeping her locked up like this." Bobby frowned and averted his eyes. He knew his sister was right… hell, he'd known from the beginning that this was a bad idea. Either way, the jig was up. With a sigh, he fished his phone out of his pocket. Ronnie, meanwhile, was already calling Lincoln back; he needed to know about this right away.
Of course, she had a few questions for him as well.
Lori leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She had given up any pretense of watching TV at this point… she could only dwell on what her sister had said.
Throughout all of this, she'd been thinking about things from the outside… from the perspective of a concerned sister. If anything, she'd deliberately avoided putting herself in Leni's shoes. Hell, she wasn't even sure she could if she tried. The thought of being in love with one's own brother, not to mention a thirteen-year-old, was something she couldn't even begin to consider. And even if she were in such a situation, surely she would have the common sense to push aside those thoughts for both their sakes.
But what if it were Bobby?
Lori groaned and buried her face in her palms. Why was she even entertaining the notion? Bobby wasn't her brother, nor was he a child, nor was anyone telling them they couldn't be together. Sure she'd be upset if that were the case, but who wouldn't? Nobody wants their love life to be dictated by others.
So what the hell are you doing?
Lori pinched the bridge of her nose. What was she doing? She'd been keeping her sister in a closet, for crying out loud. But before she could dwell on the matter further, her phone began to ring; Lori let out a sigh and picked it up. She couldn't help but smile a bit upon seeing that it was Bobby; perhaps her boo-boo-bear would be able to lift her spirits somewhat.
'Babe, it's over,' Her boyfriend said. 'You've gotta let Leni go.' Lori blinked.
'Ronnie knows,' Bobby explained. 'She's on the phone with Lincoln right now.'
"You told Ronnie?!" Lori gasped.
'I had to, Babe! She was gonna beat me up!' Bobby whined.
"You're a grown… ugh, never mind…" Lori groaned with a roll of her eyes. As always, Bobby was too much of a pushover for his own good… then again, she supposed that gentle disposition was one of the things that made him so endearing. "How much does she know…?"
'Pretty much everything.' Bobby said. 'She knows, y'know… WHY we've been keeping Leni here, I mean.'
"Damn it, Bobby…" Lori muttered as she dragged her hand down her face. Great, she thought. Just great. It wasn't so much that she was mad… well, no, she was mad, but not as mad as she'd have expected. In fact, she couldn't help but feel a small measure of relief. Sure, nothing had actually been resolved, and she'd be lucky if Leni or Lincoln ever talked to her again… but at least now the matter would be out of her hands.
'Babe, I'm sorry, but this has gotta stop. Ronnie's right, it isn't any of our business-'
"No… no, it's alright." Lori sighed. "You're right. This is… I don't know. It's a mess, and it has to end. Hey, Leni! Come here, will you?" She called out.
"Leni!" Again, no response. Lori grumbled under her breath and got to her feet, wincing as her bones creaked and popped in protest. Clearly, she'd been sitting there for longer than she thought. She made her way down the hallway to the closet. "Len-" She began as she peeked inside, only to find it was empty.
Maybe she was in the bathroom?
"Leni…?" A knock on the bathroom door also yielded no response, and a peek inside revealed that it too was empty. Lori cocked an eyebrow. "Huh…"
"H-hang on, Bobby…" Lori muttered. She hurried to the kitchen: no Leni. She checked the front door; maybe she'd been too caught up in her thoughts to notice Leni slip past? But, no, that was still locked. This only left the bedroom, but once again, no Leni. She wasn't in the room, she wasn't in the closet, and Lori even checked under the bed to no avail. Then, she saw it: the window.
It was open.
"A closet?! Are you serious?!"
'Would I joke about something like this?'
"Well, no, but…" Lincoln groaned in frustration, flopping back onto his bed. He didn't know if he was more relieved that Leni was okay or angry at Lori for doing something so crazy; she'd always been prone to self-righteous behavior, but this was on a whole other level. "Lori's letting her go, then?"
'Bobby's on the phone with her right now,' Ronnie said. 'But that's not the only problem here… I mean, your SISTER? REALLY, Lincoln?!'
"Ronnie, look…" Lincoln scratched the back of his head. "I don't expect you to understand-"
'Yeah, no shit I don't understand,' Ronnie huffed. 'I mean, if it wasn't bad enough she's your sister-'
'-She's EIGHTEEN, Lincoln!' The girl continued. 'You're only thirteen! Do you have any idea-"
"I know, okay?!" Lincoln snapped. "I know! We… we both do. It's not like we just jumped into this without thinking." For a few moments, Lincoln couldn't hear anything aside from the faint voice of Bobby in the background. "Ronnie… please don't tell anyone about this." He muttered. There was another pause, and then the girl let out a long sigh.
'…I wasn't planning to,' She admitted. 'I don't like it, but whatever you do is your business. I just hope you know what you're… huh?' Ronnie trailed off, her voice growing quieter as she leaned away from the phone. 'What? What do you mean she's GONE?'
"R-Ronnie…?" Lincoln stammered. "What's… what's going on?" She didn't answer immediately, and he could vaguely make out that Bobby was saying something to her; when she did return, however, there was an unmistakable note of anxiousness to her voice.
'Um… w-we've got a problem,' She said.
"A problem? What kind of problem?"
'I-it's Leni… she's missing.'
"What do you mean missing?" Lincoln asked.
'I mean, she's… ugh, alright. Hang on…' Lincoln heard some shuffling on the other end of the phone, and Ronnie's voice was suddenly replaced by that of a male.
"…Bobby." Lincoln grunted. Part of him wanted to go off on the man for addressing him so casually given the circumstances, but there were more pressing matters at the moment. "What the heck is going on?!"
'R-right, well. Leni kinda… escaped.' At first, Lincoln had no idea why that was an issue… but then it dawned on him. Leni was out on the unfamiliar streets of Great Lakes City, completely alone and without any means to contact them.
'Today. Hard to say when.' Bobby replied. 'Look, she can't have gone too far. We'll find her, I promise… so, just sit tight, okay?'
"I…" Sit tight? How was he supposed to sit tight at a time like this? Then again, what else could he do…? "I… yeah. Yeah, okay…" He said quietly.
'We'll find her,' Bobby said again. 'And, look, Linc… I-I'm sor-'
"Not now, Bobby." Lincoln huffed. "Just… let me know if there's any news."
'…Right. I'll, uh… I'll get back to ya soon.' With that, Bobby hung up. Lincoln sat on the edge of his bed and took a deep breath, running a hand through his platinum-blonde hair. Despite his 'bro's' assurance that they would find her, there was a terrible sinking feeling in his gut. He hated inaction, but it wasn't like he could go to anyone else for help… that would raise far too many questions that he couldn't afford to answer.
It's okay, he told himself. Leni's okay. Why wouldn't she be? Sure, the city could be a bit rough in certain areas, but it wasn't like she was in the middle of nowhere. Besides, she wasn't stupid… surely she would find a way to contact someone. It was a metropolitan city, after all, there were bound to be phone booths around. Or she could find a police station, or something. Everything would be fine… this is what Lincoln told himself as he lay down, taking another deep breath to calm himself. He was sure he'd get a call soon enough, either from the others or from Leni herself.
And so, with little more than the muffled sound of Luna's guitar breaking the silence, Lincoln waited.
Five minutes turned to ten, which turned to thirty, which turned to an hour. Lincoln checked his phone again; still nothing. Obviously… it wasn't like he'd heard anything, and lord knew he was keeping an ear out. He stared at the screen with a furrowed brow, his leg bouncing anxiously. He sent Ronnie a text asking if there was any news, and fifteen minutes later received a response in the negative. He gripped the phone tightly, considering firing off texts at Bobby and Lori too, but he knew it would be no use.
Lincoln got to his feet and began pacing as he weighed his options. He couldn't just leave this alone. He had to do something, but what? He couldn't go to his parents. He severely doubted that Lucy or Lisa would be able to do much to help in this situation, and quite frankly he was in no rush to let anyone else know about his and Leni's unusual relationship. They'd be disgusted… horrified even, and he had little doubt they'd spill the beans to his parents, or worse, the police.
Think, Lincoln, he told himself. Think. He shut his eyes, beating his fist against his forehead as he tried to tune out Luna's guitar. There had to be something, someone he could go to for help. Someone who would understand, someone who didn't judge-
"Damn thing's still off…" Luna grumbled as she fiddled with the tuning knobs on her guitar. She tightened them, tested the string, loosened it a bit, then tested again before tightening just a bit more and giving one last test strum. A satisfied smirk crossed her face and she gave a small nod. "Bloody brilliant," she said, settling into her beanbag chair. She was eager to try out her new composition; a song inspired by Sam. Without further ado, she readied her pick.
Luna's hand slipped as the door burst open, snapping the E string and sending a loud, electric whine through her amp. She cringed and lowered the instrument to her lap. Shoulda known better than to expect privacy in THIS family, she thought.
"Dude, can't you at least kno-"
"No time for that!" Lincoln cut in. "I-I need your help!" Luna's look of irritation quickly faded as she took note of her brother's frantic demeanor, and she set her guitar aside.
"Hey, calm down… what's goin' on, Linc?" She asked. "Y'look like you're about to have a come-apart." Lincoln tried to speak only to catch himself, letting out a faint croak. How was he supposed to go about this? Luna was an open-minded girl, to be sure… but that open-minded? Luna frowned, leaning forward with concern in her eyes. "Dude… Lincoln, talk to me. What's wrong?" Lincoln averted his eyes, his face scrunching up in thought as he considered his options. Finally, he closed and locked the door behind him.
"L-look, um…" He muttered, taking a moment to collect his thoughts. "...There's… something going on. A-and I need you to promise it stays between us." Luna cocked an eyebrow in confusion.
"Uh… sure, dude." Luna said, putting on the most comforting smile she could. "You know my lips are sealed. Lincoln hesitated again,before finally letting out a deep sigh and sitting down opposite her.
"Alright… alright. Look. Just… don't freak out at what I'm about to tell you, okay?"
"This is all my fault."
"What was that, babe?"
"This is all my fault," Lori repeated.
"Yeah, no kidding," Ronnie huffed from the back seat of Lori's car. "I knew you could be a bitch, but this is a new low." Her brother sighed and shook his head.
"No, she's right," Lori muttered. "I have no idea what the hell I was thinking. I should have just… let them be." Bobby frowned and glanced over at his girlfriend.
"Look… there'll be time for apologies later," The young man said. "Right now, let's just focus on finding Leni. She can't have gotten too far, right?"
"I don't know… who knows how long she'd been missing before I'd noticed." Lori groaned and laid her head back against the headrest. "That's what I get for taking my eyes off her… hell, that's what I get for putting her through all this in the first place, not to mention dragging you into this mess. I'm literally the biggest idiot on the planet."
"Hey, it's not like you put a gun to my head," Bobby said. "I could have put my foot down, but I just rolled over and let it happen. So you're not the only one at fault, babe."
"Yeah, and don't think I've forgotten about that, either." Ronnie grumbled. "I swear, when this is all over I'm giving you the worst purple nurple of your life." Bobby swallowed, briefly glancing in the rearview mirror and finding his little sister glaring back at him angrily. He barely suppressed a shudder as he turned his focus back to the road.
"A-anyway, we'd better keep an eye out," Bobby muttered. Ronnie scoffed and crossed her arms, falling silent as they drove down the run-down streets. There were few people around these parts in general… this part of the city had been on a steady decline over the years, and while their own home was just at the cusp of the district, it only grew more dilapidated as one neared the center.
Not to mention more dangerous.
They drove slowly, ignoring the irritated honks of the occasional driver behind them as they scanned their surroundings for a flash of color amongst the gray, faded old neighborhood. They passed by closed storefronts, long since boarded up and forgotten by time. Broken light posts and newspaper dispensers. An old phone booth that looked as though it hadn't been touched in several decades, coated in rust and so badly scratched-up and clouded with age that one couldn't even see through the glass. Thinking nothing of it they drove on, continuing their search…
...Turning the corner just as the rusted door folded open and a dejected Leni Loud stepped out.
The young woman groaned before slumping forward in defeat. She'd hoped that she had found her ticket home, but it was not to be. The pay phone had been completely smashed by vandals and, even if it hadn't, the receiver was missing entirely. Leni hugged her chest and glanced around her surroundings. She didn't like it here, not one bit… wherever 'here' was. She idly wondered if someone could be lost if they had no idea where they were going in the first place, but she quickly shook the thought aside lest she start to dwell on it. Even she knew that now wasn't the time for distractions. Leni walked on down the barren sidewalk, attempting to get help from the occasional pedestrian along the way, but none wanted anything to do with her… between her disheveled appearance and bare feet, they assumed she was just some junkie looking for a fix. Leni may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but she had enough reasoning ability to know that if people were too wary to even talk to her, this was probably not a place she should stay in for long. Besides, the hard and jagged gravel hurt her feet.
"'Ey there, sweet thing." A gravelly voice cut through the air… the first person to speak to her, rather than the other way around. She looked to her left to see four men standing at the street corner; how she hadn't seen them, she had no idea. They looked young… the man that had spoken couldn't have been more than twenty-five, and yet there was a scuzziness to them that made Leni's initial joy quickly fade away. The man in question was the tallest of the bunch, wearing a ratty grey hoodie and a baseball cap that didn't quite fit him, and he shot Leni a sneering grin that made her skin crawl.
"Um… h-hello there." Leni said with a forced smile. The man chuckled and took a long drag from his cigarette that would put even aunt Ruth to shame. The ensuing plume of smoke was large enough to make her cough, and as she tried to wave it away she heard the man's cohorts chuckling under their breaths.
"Ain't seen you 'round here before," He said. "You lost?" Leni swallowed, her words leaving her for a moment as she shook her head.
"N-no, of course not…" The girl lied.
"Really, now." The stranger said plainly. "'Cause ya sure look lost." Leni could feel the men's gaze upon her, as though they were trying to undress her with their eyes. Needless to say, it made her very uncomfortable.
"Well, I'm not." Leni said, taking a small step back. "A-and I'm in a hurry, so-"
"Ah c'mon, what's the rush?" One of the other men asked, a shorter fellow wearing a black skullcap pulled all the way down past his eyebrows. "Stick around a while... we're real nice, ain't we?" The other men snickered and voiced their agreements, but Leni wasn't about to fall for their nonsense.
"Sorry, but no," She said, letting a slight edge creep into her voice. "...I have somewhere to be. Have a nice day." With that she strode past the men, ignoring their cat-calls as she continued on with a noticeable haste to her step. She kept her gaze trained forward, being sure not to slow her pace… at least not until she felt safe.
The tall man scoffed, chewing the end of his cigarette before taking one last drag and flicking it onto the ground. With a jerk of his head he motioned for his friends to follow him, and they set off after Leni.
"Can't this thing go any faster?!" Lincoln shouted as vanzilla sped down the highway.
"Do you want us to get pulled over?!" Luna shot back. "I'm already going ten miles over the speed limit." She glanced over as Lincoln took a sharp breath through his nose, his grip tightening anxiously around his knee. "Look, I'm as worried as you are. We'll get there, I promise."
"...I know." Lincoln said softly. In truth, she couldn't afford to go any faster than she was, lest she become distracted by her own racing thoughts.
"So…" Luna said. "...You and Leni, huh…?" Lincoln gave a vague grunt of confirmation, and the young rocker cleared her throat. "That's, uh… that's somethin', all right." Quite frankly, she was still struggling to process it. "How long has this been going on?"
"About a month," The boy muttered. "Or… since the prom, maybe. I don't know. It's… complicated."
"Who else knows?"
"Lisa, Lucy… Lori, obviously." He replied. Luna frowned and gave a small nod. "Clyde-"
"Wait, hold up. You told Clyde?!" She looked at her brother with a baffled expression, but the teen simply shrugged in response.
"I needed advice, and I didn't know who else to trust." Lincoln said. Luna had to admit, she couldn't really argue with that… had she been in his shoes, she had no idea who she could have turned to. "He thinks it's weird, obviously. But he accepts it." There was an awkward pause, the tension practically thick enough to cut with a knife; finally, Lincoln sighed and shook his head. "...It is weird. I get that. I'm sure you think so too."
"...Well, I… okay, yeah. Yeah, I do," The girl admitted. "But I know what it's like to live by my own rules too, so I can't really judge you too hard for it. Besides, you're a smart bloke. I doubt you'd get yourself into something like this without understanding the risks." Lincoln didn't respond, his gaze firmly focused on the passing scenery, though Luna doubted he was really taking any of it in. "Look, Linc… I may not get it, but it's your choice and I'll support it no matter what. And even if I didn't, what Lori did is completely inexcusable."
"Yeah…" Lincoln grumbled. "I just can't believe she'd go that far. I know she's just looking out for us, but-"
"Doesn't matter why she did it. It was wrong, and honestly that girl's gonna be lucky if I don't kick her right in the cooch." Lincoln couldn't help but chuckle at that; he doubted that Luna would actually go through with it, but it was a funny mental image if nothing else. "Anyway… try not to worry too much," Luna assured her brother, offering him a small smile. "She may be, y'know… Leni, but she's a big girl. I'm sure she's alright."
"Yeah, I know." Lincoln sighed, settling back into his seat. Never had a drive to the city felt so long.
Leni stopped at a crosswalk, anxiously fidgeting in place as she waited for the light to change. The girl felt a growing sense of unease that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Granted, she was already uneasy about her situation, but something felt… wrong, somehow. Or perhaps it was just her nerves getting to her.
She hoped so, at least.
Leni was no stranger to being lost… she'd always had a poor sense of direction, and she couldn't count how many times she'd absentmindedly wandered off into unfamiliar territory. That said, she had never forgotten what her parents had taught her to do in such situations: head for a landmark. Simple enough, or at least it would be if there were any landmarks to be found. Instead, Leni saw nothing but derelict buildings in all directions, and upon closer inspection she was almost certain she'd been down that street at least once already. Leni groaned and buried her face in her palm. Maybe she should have talked to those men after all; sure, they were a bit scary, but they'd at least been willing to speak to her.
However, as she took a glance around her surroundings, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye: there were what appeared to be several figures approaching from a distance behind her. Something in Leni's gut told her that this was bad news, and she swallowed and resisted the urge to turn around for a better look; instead, she simply glanced both ways and continued on, crossing light be damned. It wasn't as though there were anyone around to scold her for it, anyway. She walked at a brisk pace, taking periodic discrete glances behind herself to see if she was still being followed… and, sure enough, she was. They were still keeping their distance, perhaps so as not to arouse suspicion, and quite frankly being aware of that fact didn't make Leni feel any safer. She soldiered on, doing her best to resist running from her pursuers lest they give chase.
At the end of the block she turned a corner, and another at the end of that block, but she could neither lose them nor find anyone to help; in fact, the further she fled the more run-down and desolate the surrounding streets became… she wasn't even sure when she'd last seen a building that even looked somewhat habitable. Not only that, but the uneven and neglected sidewalk was absolute hell on her bare feet. So, after turning one more corner, she finally gave in and sprinted down the block, once again ignoring a crossing light and nearly getting hit in the process. Unfortunately, after a string of foul insults the driver sped off before she could even get a word in edgewise.
"Please…" The girl pleaded helplessly between gasps of air. This couldn't go on… she was simply too tired and out of breath to keep running. Glancing over her shoulder, she found that her pursuers had yet to catch up with her. Perhaps they'd given up the chase? Either way, she wasn't about to stay and find out. She looked around herself for some means to hide, spotting an alleyway between two derelict buildings. It was dark, and dingy, and more than a little creepy, but she vastly preferred that over whatever those men may or may not have planned for her. She darted down the alley, finding it desolate as expected. There was an old, heavily-rusted dumpster nearby that Leni thought might make for a good hiding spot, but a quick peek inside dashed those hopes; it was completely filled with seemingly years-old garbage, abandoned and left to rot just like everything else.
Leni headed further down the alley before stopping and leaning against the wall to catch her breath. She hated this. She'd never been more scared in her life… she'd rather kiss a spider right on the mandible than spend even another second in that run-down neighborhood. Now that she had a moment to think, however, she began to consider her options. Wandering around aimlessly in hopes of finding help was clearly doing her no good… she needed to get out of that neighborhood, and fast. So, she reached a conclusion: she wouldn't wander at all. She'd pick a direction and just keep walking until she'd reached safety. It was so simple that even Leni mentally kicked herself for not thinking of it earlier. In any case, there was still the immediate issue of the men following her. She'd just wait until she felt the coast was clear, and-
"There y'are." Leni froze as a gravelly voice broke the silence. She looked up to find the gang of hoodlums shuffling down the alleyway, approaching her with unpleasant sneers adorning their faces. The apparent leader of the group looked almost amused, as though the chase had been little more than a game to him. "Shouldn't be runnin' around like that, y'know… not 'round these parts. It's a pretty dangerous neighborhood, 'specially for a girl like you."
"S-stay away." The men did not heed Leni's request, continuing their approach with an air of menace. "Stay away!" She snapped, again to no avail. She took a step back, and then another, and then finally turned and sprinted off down the alley as fast as she could manage. She could hear them calling out behind her, though she couldn't make out what they were saying; quite frankly, she didn't care. Right now, all she knew was that she had to get away, and fast. She darted around corners, nearly tripping over junk littering the path, until one final turn brought her to a screeching halt. Blocking the alleyway was a chain link fence, the door sealed shut by a heavily rusted padlock. She turned to head back and try a different direction, but it was too late: the men had her cornered. "I-I'll scream," She threatened in a feeble voice.
"Ain't nobody 'round to hear," One of the men said, sharing a cold chuckle with the rest of the party. Leni's eyes frantically around in search of an escape, but found none. She was trapped. She could feel the tears welling up in her eyes, and it took everything she had in her not to start openly sobbing. She couldn't, not now. They didn't have her yet.
In one last-ditch effort, she sprinted towards the men, intent on slipping past them before they could grab her. Unfortunately, it was a futile effort: the man nearest her reached out and snatched her by the wrist, yanking her towards the group with a yelp of pain. The leader of the group grabbed her from behind, clasping his hand over her mouth before she could scream. Now, she began to cry; her muffled sobs were easily drowned out by the laughter and jeers of the creeps surrounding her. This was it… there was no one to hear her. No one to help her. And as the men advanced upon her, all she could think about was Lincoln.
"Hey." A loud, gruff voice cut through the commotion. At first, Leni simply thought it was one of her attackers, but to her surprise the men's jeers trailed off and they glanced towards the source of the voice. Leni followed their gaze to a pile of rubbish against the graffiti-laden wall; or at least, she'd thought that it was. Slowly, with an audible grunt of annoyance, the pile began to move and rise up: it had been a worn and haggard-looking man, covered up by old clothes as a sort of makeshift blanket. He stretched his neck, making a pop so loud that Leni could hear it even from a distance. "Th' hell's all this?"
"None'a your business. Go back to sleep, old man," The leader snapped, but the homeless man seemed nonplussed by his tone. He briefly locked eyes with the silently pleading Leni, before turning his focus back to her assailant.
"Hard t'do that when yer makin' suck a ruckus," The older man grumbled, sounding more annoyed with the disturbance than anything else. "An' anything that happens in my alley is my business. So howsabout y'let go of the girl an' fuck off?" The gang exchanged a glance before bursting into peals of laughter.
"Funny. You're a funny guy." The leader snickered, before the smirk faded from his face. He glanced over his shoulder at one of his cohorts, a bald and heavily-tattooed man that, quite frankly, looked big enough to bench press a truck. "Shut 'im up, Diesel." The muscular man grinned and cracked his knuckles, advancing upon the bum… but, again, he seemed unmoved. He simply sighed and scratched the back of his neck.
"Fuck's sake. This is why I hate young people…" He huffed. With that he reached into his tattered coat, withdrawing a pistol. At the sight of it Diesel stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening in fear.
"Oh, shit… shit!"
"Go! GO!" Leni found herself roughly pushed to the ground as the men scattered, scrambling back down the alley like the cowards they were. Her savior simply scoffed and shook his head.
"Fuckin' kids…" The man grumbled, before turning his focus to the terrified girl lying upon the ground. "Y'okay?" He asked, with little actual concern in his tone. Leni, however, didn't respond… she was breathing heavily, her heart still racing with adrenaline. He noticed her glancing fearfully at the gun in his hand. "Relax," He assured her, "It ain't loaded. Doubt th' damn thing works anyway…" He put the pistol away and approached the girl, who scooted back slightly in fear. "'Ey. Calm down, will ya? Those punks ain't comin' back, an' I ain't gonna hurt ya none. Now, y'alright?" Leni locked eyes with the man, seeing no malice in his gaze… or much of anything really, beyond apparent irritation at the intrusion. She swallowed the lump in her throat and gave a small nod.
"I-I think so…" The girl muttered, staggering to her feet. "Um… thank you. You, like, totes saved my life."
"Eh. Right place, right time." The man grunted, waving her off. Now that she was in the clear, Leni could get a better look at him… his age was hard to determine through his shaggy red beard; he looked like he could be anywhere from his late 30s to well into his 40s. He was wearing a military jacket and sported a pair of dog tags hung from his neck. "So what's a girl like you doin' in a dump like this?"
"I… well, I guess I'm lost." She replied. Her savior cocked an eyebrow.
"Yeah…" Leni sighed, hanging her head. "I was trying to find a way out of this scary neighborhood, but then those meanies started following me and-"
"Yeah, yeah, I get the picture." He said. He looked her over, from her unwashed and unkempt hair to her bare, dirt-stained feet. "...Reckon' that's how they found ya." He said, pointing down at the girl's foot; Leni looked down, gasping as she noticed a trail of small blood spatters leading down the alleyway right to her foot.
"Oh! Whoopsies, I hadn't even noticed…" She said, letting out a bashful giggle at her own expense. The man simply grumbled something under his breath and shuffled over to his belongings, fishing out some gauze from a duffel bag before striding back over to Leni.
"Here," He said, offering her the gauze. "I'd do it for ya, but I figger y'got more'n enough dirt in there as is."
"Ooh… thankies!" Leni said cheerfully as she graciously took the gauze. As she sat on the ground to wrap up her cut foot, the man reached into his jacket and retrieved a pack of cigarettes and lighter, placing one in his mouth and lighting it before pocketing the box again. "I really owe you one, Mr…"
"Drew," The man huffed, blowing out a puff of smoke.
"Well, it's nice to meet you! You have no idea how happy I am to see a friendly face…" Leni said with a sigh of relief. Drew cocked an eyebrow; quite frankly, he would consider his face to be far from friendly. "My name's Leni."
"Didn't ask, but alright." He muttered, eyeing the girl with a curious gaze. She was humming to herself as she wrapped up her foot, surprisingly chipper given the situation… perhaps she was just happy to be rescued, or perhaps she was just simple-minded. Likely both, he figured. "Well, none o' my business what yer doin' out here lookin' like that, and t'be honest I don't really care… but y'said yer lost? Where y'tryin' to get to?"
"Home!" Leni replied, earning her a roll of the eyes from Drew.
"...Yep... simple, alright…" Drew mumbled under his breath. "And where'd that be, exactly?"
"Oh. Like, you should have asked that from the beginning!" She said in a slightly chiding tone. "I live in Royal Woods." Drew raised his eyebrows slightly.
"...Y'don't say." He withdrew the cigarette from his lips and tapped it out onto the ground. "Well, yer a long way from there."
"Y-yeah…" Leni unsteadily got back on her feet. "I'm not supposed to be here right now, I, um…" She trailed off, averting her eyes and biting her lip anxiously. As upset as she was with Lori, she didn't want to sell her out so easily… even to a complete stranger. "...Things… happened." Thankfully, Drew seemed satisfied enough with that, simply shrugging his shoulders in acceptance.
"Like I said, ain't my business," He grunted. He took one last drag of his cigarette and spat it onto the ground, stomping it out with his foot. "Well, let's go then." Leni frowned, tilting her head in confusion.
"Go…?" She asked. "Go where?"
"Somewhere else," He said simply. "Y'wanna get home, right? Then c'mon." With that, the man headed off down the alleyway, leaving a confused Leni in his wake; then, she gasped in realization and hurried after him.
"Th-thank you so much, Drew!" She said excitedly as she caught up and joined him at his side. "You're a very nice person~!"
"Nah," The gruff man scoffed. "Just figger I might as well give ya a hand, seein' as how y'already woke me up an' all. God knows I ain't got nothin' better t'do."
"Hehe, you're silly." Leni giggled. Drew simply rolled his eyes and walked on in silence, his companion blathering on all the while.
The sun was already setting by the time Luna and Lincoln made it to the city, and by the time they reached central park plaza the sky had turned a deep reddish-purple. Lincoln didn't even wait for his sister to park; once it was in view, he bolted from the car as soon as they stopped at a red light. Quite frankly, Luna just didn't have it in her to stop him… though she was far from happy when he nearly got hit by a car bolting across the street. But Lincoln couldn't care less. Right now, all he cared about was Leni. And before long, he saw her: right where she said she'd be, at the same fountain where he'd once hung out with Ronnie and her friends.
Leni looked up, and their eyes met. For a moment, neither moved; it almost felt like a dream, as though it were too good to be true. But their hesitation only lasted a few seconds, and Leni got to her feet as Lincoln ran to her as fast as he could. They practically dove into each others' arms, clinging to one another as tightly as they could. For what felt like minutes they remained locked in their embrace, neither saying a word.
"Linky…" Leni whimpered, breaking the silence at last. "I-I was so scared…"
"I know," Lincoln muttered. "Thank God you're okay." The lovers broke their embrace and grasped each others' hands; as the two looked into each others' eyes, it took everything they had in them not to burst into tears.
"S-sorries…" Leni gave a small, awkward laugh, sniffling and wiping the corner of her eyes. "...I'm… totes a mess right now…" Her brother simply chuckled and shook his head.
"No… you're beautiful." Lincoln assured her, reaching up to cup the older girl's cheek. She shut her eyes and smiled peacefully as he wiped away a stray tear with his thumb. Again, a silence fell over the pair… Leni opened her eyes, looking down at the boy with a loving gaze that he returned in earnest, only for the two to be snapped out of their moment by someone clearing their throat. Lincoln glanced over to the source of the noise, the smile fading from his face as he laid eyes upon Lori, Bobby and Ronnie. The trio looked understandably uncomfortable with the display, and the lovers took a step apart.
"Um…" Lori muttered, averting her eyes and rubbing her arm awkwardly. "...Hey, Lincoln…"
"...Lori." Lincoln said coldly. The three had arrived well before he and Luna had, of course… he'd called them to tell them the news as soon as he'd gotten off the phone with Leni. While he was grateful for their assistance, he was still furious with Lori for doing what she did, and Bobby as well. Not that she could blame him. The guilt-stricken young woman sighed and scratched the back of her head.
"Look, I… um…" She mumbled. "...I'm sorry. I could say that a million times, and it still wouldn't be enough. I screwed up. Bad."
"We both did," Bobby chimed in. He looked just as ashamed of himself as his girlfriend, with none of his usual carefree demeanor. "I should have put a stop to this right at the beginning. But we were just trying to- OW!" The young man yelped in pain as Ronnie stomped on his foot, giving him a harsh glare. "Okay, okay! I wussed out, simple as that… I don't have an excuse for it, bro. I'm sor-."
"No excuse?!" A furious, scratchy voice rang out as Luna stormed over, positively fuming with rage. "Damn right you don't have an excuse! What the hell were you thinking?!"
"Luna, come on…" Lincoln said with a sigh. "Don't-"
"And you," Luna hissed, pointing at her little brother angrily. "Don't run off like that. You got that?!" Lincoln swallowed, giving a timid nod, and the rocker turned her focus back to Lori and Bobby. "Lori, you've done a lot of selfish, stupid things over the years, but this? This takes the cake."
"Luna-" Leni tried to cut in, but her younger sister pressed on.
"Kidnapping your sister, locking her in a closet… and you just allowed this to happen?!" She snarled, shooting Bobby a glare that made him take a step back in fear. "I have half a mind to beat the shit out of you two right here and-"
"Luna." The rocker felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, and glanced behind her to find Leni looking back at her with a serious gaze. "Please. What's done is done… even if she was wrong, Lori was just doing what she thought was best for me, right?" She looked over at her older sister, who gave an apologetic nod. Luna shot the girl a fierce glare again before pulling away with a frustrated click of her tongue.
"Fine. Forgive her if you want, but I'm not. Not yet," She grumbled. "...Just say what you're gonna say and let's go home, before I deck this bitch in the face." With that, the furious teen stormed over to the fountain and took a seat.
"...I… look, I still don't approve of this. At all." Lori said. "But it's your lives, and I should never have tried to force you to be someone that you're not. I just… hope you two know what you're doing."
"We do," Lincoln said, taking Leni's hand as he joined her. "We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't." Lori looked between the pair, searching their eyes before giving a small nod.
"I'll… stay out out of it, then." She promised. "...Even if I don't think I should." Leni smiled and, to her sister's surprise, wrapped her in a warm hug. Lori hesitated for a moment before a small smile crept along her face as well, and she returned the girl's embrace. For her part, Ronnie simply sighed and shrugged.
"...That's Leni for you, I guess…" She muttered, striding over to Lincoln. Her expression was hard to read… irritated perhaps, or even a bit judgemental. Nonetheless, she forced a smirk. "Been a while, Lame-O."
"Yeah…" Lincoln said with a chuckle. "Thanks, Ronnie. I owe you for this, big time."
"Eh, don't worry about it. What're friends for?" She said, giving another shrug. "For the record though, I ain't crazy about all this either… but it's none of my business, and I'm not gonna make it my business. You do you." The two exchanged a grin, bumping their fists together in agreement just as the two sisters broke their hug.
"Anyway…" Lori said, clearing her throat. "...I'm sure you guys want to get back, so… I guess we'll talk to you later…?" It was almost a ridiculously casual thing to say, given the situation… but Lincoln couldn't help but agree. He still didn't forgive Lori, not yet at least… it would take some time, something she knew as well. The boy nodded, taking Leni's hand once more.
"...Yeah. See you later, Lori." They exchanged their goodbyes, awkward and uncomfortable though they may have been, and with that the trio departed with Ronnie berating her brother all the while. Lincoln and Leni snickered and looked at one another with a smile before walking over to the disgruntled Luna.
"Finally…" She grumbled. "You two ready, then?"
"Yeppers, we… oh!" Leni gasped, her eyes widening slightly. "W-wait, I almost forgot…!"
"Forgot wha-" Lincoln yelped in surprise as Leni scurried away, dragging him along by the hand to a filthy, unkempt man smoking beneath a nearby tree… right beside a 'no smoking' sign, no less.
"Linky, this is Drew," Leni said cheerfully. "He's the one who helped me!" Lincoln looked up at the strange man, who started back down at him in disinterest. Quite frankly, he hardly looked the heroic type… then again, Lincoln knew fully well that looks could be deceiving.
"Well, I guess I owe you my thanks, then." Lincoln said with a grin; he began to extend his hand, only to lower it as he took note of the man's unwashed state. Instead, he let out an awkward laugh and waved. "Nice to mee-"
"Yeah, yeah," The man grunted. "Jus' luck on her part, nothin' more'n that."
"Still, we owe you one, dude." Luna said as she strode over. "Here," She muttered, reaching into her pocket and withdrawing her wallet. She fished out several $20 bills and offered them to the man. "Ain't much, but it's all I-"
"Eh, I don't need no charity," Drew scoffed, waving the girl off.
"...Just fuckin' take it, dude." She said in a serious tone. Drew looked from the girl's stony gaze down to the money in her hand; finally, he accepted it with a sigh of resignation.
"...Well… thanks, I guess," He grumbled. He flicked through the bills… $80 all together. More than enough for several days worth of food.
...Or a train ticket.
"Hey," Drew grunted as he pocketed the cash. "...How's Royal Woods these days?"
"Oh, it's great!" Leni said in her usual bubbly demeanor. "Why?" The man didn't immediately respond, and seemed lost in thought as he took a deep drag from his cigarette. Finally, he blew it out in a thick cloud that drifted over to the trio, making them cough and wave it away. Not that he seemed to care.
"Old man offered me his scrapyard a while back. Told th' bastard t'go fuck himself." He said gruffly, scratching the back of his neck. "...Might be time t' reconsider." With that, he dropped his cigarette and stomped it out. "Well, I won't keep ya. See y-" Before he could finish, Leni wrapped him in a big hug.
"Thank you for everything, Drew~!" She squealed; the man grimaced, leaning as far away as possible before carefully pushing the girl away.
"Right, enough o' that, thanks…" He growled, not that it seemed to disrupt Leni's cheerful mood in the slightest. She beamed at the man, who looked away and stifled a cough. "R-right then… see you." With that, he turned and walked away.
"Thanks again, Drew~! You're totes the best!" Leni called after him, standing on her toes as she waved.
"Thank you!" Lincoln called out as well. The man simply grunted, raising his hand in a half-hearted wave as he walked. The trio watched him go with a smile, before Luna let out a yawn.
"Well, I dunno about you two lovebirds, but I've had more than enough of all this… and I didn't pay the parking meter, so y'know." She huffed. "C'mon, dudes, let's blow this popsicle stand before I get a ticket." Luna walked off, leaving the young couple in her wake. Leni giggled and looked down at her brother with a smile, which he returned in kind. She'd been through quite the ordeal, but something in her heart told her it was all going to be alright now.
"Well, better not keep her waiting, I guess." Lincoln said; Leni's smile deepened and she slid her hand into his, locking their fingers together.
"Yeah… let's go home."
Drew is a character belonging to Patanu. Stay tuned for the epilogue and follow-up story!
It was a busy day at Oakland County International Airport, unsurprising given that the holidays were right around the corner. As the throngs of disembarking travelers flooded into the baggage claim, eager to gather their things and meet with their awaiting families. Lincoln Loud, however, was not one of these travelers… he stood off to the side, alternating between scanning the crowd and checking his phone. His leg bounced anxiously, more out of excitement than anything else; sure, it hadn’t been that long since Thanksgiving, but every day spent away from his sister might as well have been an eternity to the boy.
Lincoln hummed to himself as he waited, once again checking his phone. The last message from Leni had been just short of twenty minutes prior, informing him that her plane had landed and she was on her way to the baggage claim. The boy sighed, pocketing his phone and leaning against the nearby pillar. He had to be patient. Between the crowds and the walk from the terminal, he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that it was taking her a bit to arrive.
Much had changed in the past three years. Lincoln had grown of course, and into a fairly handsome young man at that… his white hair granting an air of maturity to his otherwise boyish good looks. He was also in his junior year of high school, and had already begun making his college plans; always best to start early, after all.
And, most important of all… Leni had been accepted into a fashion institute in New York.
The Lori incident had been a trying time for everyone involved, but some good had in fact come out of it: rather than letting the traumatic event get her down, Leni had emerged with a newfound drive to better herself and follow her true passion. She’d put her nose to the grindstone, giving her first year at Royal Woods Community College the best effort she could manage. And while it was admittedly a bumpy road, her acceptance to the institute made it all worth it in the end. And, while living away from her family had taken quite a bit of adjustment and many tearful calls to Lincoln at all hours of the day, she’d eventually settled into her new life and taken to her studies with gusto.
This wasn’t to say it had been a particularly easy adjustment for Lincoln, either. He was beyond happy for her, of course, not to mention proud of the great strides she’d made in a relatively short period of time. But needless to say, he missed her; he’d gotten so used to having her in his life that her absence in it created a void, one that had taken quite some time to get used to. But he knew it would all be worth it in the end. Besides, he had his sights set on a university in New York as well.
Total coincidence, of course.
As for their relationship, despite the distance their love was just as strong as ever, if not more so. Lori had remained true to her word, even asking how things were going between them on rare occasions… though Lincoln could still feel the discomfort in her voice whenever she addressed the topic. Quite frankly, he couldn’t really blame her for that. Thankfully nobody else had discovered their forbidden romance since then, and those that did know were just as accepting as ever. Hell, even Clyde had come to accept it, showing none of the misgivings he once had for the matter. In short, things were going well, and aside from the ever-present concern that they may be discovered, Lincoln and Leni were happy and optimistic for the future.
“Linkyyyy~!” The boy was snapped from his thoughts by a warm, bubbly voice cutting through the clamor. He looked up, scanning the crowd for the source of the voice, until finally he saw Leni standing on her tip-toes and waving excitedly amongst a sea of strangers. A wide smile crossed Lincoln’s face.
“Leni!” He called, waving back to her as though she hadn’t already spotted him. The young woman grinned brightly and began making her way through the dense crowd, apologising as she or her carry-on bag accidentally bumped several people along the way. Finally she stumbled out of the crowd with a small yelp, tripping on a stranger’s rolling suitcase and falling, thankfully, right into her brother’s arms. “Whoa, easy there!” He said, chuckling softly.
“Th-thankies.” Leni let out a sheepish giggle at her own clumsiness. She righted herself, smoothing out the creases in her dress. “Sorry about the wait… I kinda got lost. This place is like a maze, I swear!” The fashionista said with a cute, childish pout. Lincoln was about to point out that she’d made this trip plenty of times before, but thought the better of it… Leni was Leni after all, and no matter how far she’d come she’d always have that scatter-brained side to her. Instead he simply smirked and shook his head.
“It’s fine… I’m just glad you’re here now,” He assured her. “How was the flight?”
“Fine! I slept through most of it, hehe~” That was nothing new; she always took some medicine for her motion sickness before flying, and it always put her out like a light. Quite frankly she preferred it that way… between the heights and the turbulence, flying was a less-than-comfortable experience for her. The two exchanged a small laugh before Leni glanced around curiously. “Um… are you the only one here?”
“Yeah… mom and dad had some things to take care of, so I offered to come pick you up.” The boy explained. “Sorry… I guess it’s not much of a warm welcome, but-” Before he could finish he found himself trapped in his sister’s loving embrace. The young man blinked in surprise, then returned Leni’s hug with a gentle smile.
“I missed you so much,” She said, her light voice barely above a whisper.
“I missed you too, Leni. Welcome home.” Lincoln chuckled and held the girl close, taking in her pleasant and familiar scent as he threaded a hand through her silky golden locks. Her warmth, her presence, was something he’d missed above all else, and judging by how tightly she was clinging to him he could only assume the same was true for her as well. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the two broke their embrace; instead they grasped each other’s hands, looking into one another’s eyes with loving gazes.
Perhaps it was due to being so far apart, but Lincoln couldn’t help but feel that his sister grew even more gorgeous each time he saw her. Her silken hair, her flawlessly smooth skin, her delicate features accentuated by her tastefully-applied makeup… her outer beauty was only matched by the pure heart within. It was these feelings that cut through any doubt, any shame he may have held for his feelings.
Leni briefly looked away, glancing around at the passerby with a hint of concern in her eyes, but Lincoln gently squeezed her hands to reassure her. And as Leni looked back at him with a flustered, questioning gaze, he understood what she wanted without even needing to ask. The two lovers leaned forward, their lips touching together in a long-overdue kiss… restrained at first, before quickly throwing their concerns to the wayside and locking their lips together in an open display of love and passion. They’d never kissed in public before, at least not within view of others; Royal Woods was a small town after all, and it wouldn’t take long before their incestuous relationship was exposed. But they weren’t in Royal Woods right now. Here, they were strangers, just two young lovers reuniting after far too long apart. Here, they were no different, no less normal than anyone else. Here, they were free to show their love without risk, without judgement, without fear.
To most, their relationship was wrong; sick, even. Hiding it from the world was not an easy task, and Lincoln knew fully well that it would likely get even more difficult as time went on. But he didn’t care… he knew how he felt for her just as well as she knew how she felt for him. For better or worse, they were in love. For better or worse, she’d become far more than a sister to him.
And whatever their future held, they would face it together.
It's been a long road to completion, but we've finally made it. I'd like to thank my readers and everyone who enjoyed and supported this fic despite the repeated and long hiatuses, my own misgivings regarding it, and my overall slow pace as of late. But it's finally done, and I do hope you're satisfied with the conclusion.
This isn't quite the end of Leni and Lincoln's story, as I've got a one-shot continuation planned in the hopefully near future. But I thank you all again for the support and patience. This fic gave me a lot of trouble and knowing that you guys enjoyed it regardless makes a big difference.