I am a part of the Holiday Secret Santa exchange on the Total Drama Writer's Forum this year, and this is one of my several fics for it. This one is written especially for Asgore Dreemur, otherwise known as Meghan. I loved your prompt and I had so much fun writing it, so I hope you enjoy it and have a merry Christmas, Meghan! :D
Jo's hugest pet peeve was probably the question that followed her, hot on her heels like a spoiled dog, for her entire life. It was an ornery and annoying question, one that was usually proceeded by raised eyebrows and stupid, smug smirks; and though the wording was usually different, it always went something along the lines of "isn't that a boy thing?" or "that's not very ladylike." Jo's response was always a well-practiced version of a reassurance that she knew what she was doing and she wasn't going to get hurt. At least, that's what it was on the outside. Her inner monologue involved lots of threats and curses, as who the hell still thought certain things were girl things or boy things anymore? It was the worst question she ever got, and it was one she got quite frequently which, one would think, would discourage her "manly" pursuits, but no; Jo's dream of being one of the strongest athletes in the world was only made stronger by the skepticism of naive busybodies. If only she could escape the damn question for once in her life. Even at her local gym, which she'd been going to for years, newbies would always ignore the warnings of other frequent visitors and bombard Jo with dumb questions.
One such occasion started like any other, with the new guy coming in and zero-ing in on Jo, as if sensing a female presence. That moment found Jo jogging on a treadmill while lifting a dumbbell in one hand (because yes, it was completely necessary) as the naive man approached her from behind. "Hey, are you usin' that dumbbell?" The guy asked awkwardly. Jo rolled her eyes at the mere sound of his voice, as that alone gave away his general IQ level.
She turned to face him, now jogging backwards while still lifting the weight. "Does it look like I'm using it, Red?"
The guy, decked out in a red jumpsuit complete with a matching headband scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Um, well...kinda?"
Jo's eyes were about to roll out of her skull. It was a new record of how fast someone could annoy her. "Yes, I'm using this dumbbell, Dumbbell."
"Oh, well..." The guy looked at his feet, seemingly scared to make eye contact with her, which was good. "I was just wondering because, uh, all of them are being used right now, and I was wondering if I could snag that one from you."
"First of all, my eyes are up here," Jo started in a feeble attempt to make him stop looking at his feet like they were the most interesting things in the world. When his gaze remained firmly planted, she continued. "Second of all, I just started using this, so no. Sorry Jumpsuit."
"My name's Tyler," the guy said suddenly.
"Nice to meetcha, Tyler," Jo said. "I would offer you a handshake, but like we established already, I'm using this dumbbell. Anyway, call me Jo."
Tyler finally looked up at Jo, eyes wide. "Isn't that a—"
"Guy's name! Yes! I get that a lot," Jo scoffed. "But as you could have probably guessed now that your eyes aren't glued to the floor, I'm a girl. Your critical thinking skills are extraordinary, really."
"Well, Jo..." Tyler attempted to look behind her at the treadmill's settings to no avail. "Isn't it kind of dangerous to use that thing backwards?"
"Of course not," Jo said. "I'm managing just fine, aren't I?"
"Fair enough," Tyler said with a nod. "So, uh...there's an awful lot of weight on that dumbbell."
"Yeah, and?" Jo asked, mentally preparing herself for the question she hated oh so much.
"Isn't that a little much for you?" Tyler asked, naive but well-meaning.
Jo shook her head, disappointed in Tyler. "Oh man, poor, poor Jumpsuit. This is the weight I usually use. It's no problem for me. Why don't you take a look at my incredibly ripped arm and tell me how big the muscles you see are?" With that, she offered him her arm to examine.
"I, uh...see those muscles, but..."
"But what?" Jo couldn't help but snap a bit at Tyler's sheepishness.
Tyler kicked at the ground nervously. "I've just uh, never met a girl who was so strong before."
"Then you haven't met enough girls," Jo said. "Besides, this is the least I can do."
"R-really?" Tyler asked.
"Yeah!" Jo was starting to get into this description of just how awesome she was. "This is just my warm-up for the day. After this, I'm probably going to head over to the abdominal bench, then I'm thinking of using the bench press for a bit, and I'm considering ending it with another quarter-mile jog on this here treadmill."
"Whoa..." Tyler said, absorbing everything. "I didn't even know we had an abdominal bench..."
Jo nodded confidently. "We do indeed."
Tyler did a little hop in place, which almost startled Jo into losing pace with the treadmill. "I wanna watch you bench press!"
"Yeah?" Jo asked, sensing a challenge.
Tyler nodded eagerly. "I wanna watch you bench as much as you can! I've never met a strong girl before, and I wanna see how I stack up to you."
Jo couldn't help but smile at this poor, poor boy. "Well Tyler, you have yourself a deal. But only if you go first. Show me just how much you can bench. We can be each other's spotters."
"Sounds like a plan, stan!" Tyler said excitedly. "Oh wait, your name's not Stan..."
Jo shook her head and chuckled. "You're a special one, Tyler."
Moments later, Jo and Tyler found themselves at the nearest bench, Tyler laying down and instructing Jo on how much weight to put on his barbell. When she was done setting it up to his preference, she looked over the weights on either side and crossed her arms. "Hm, doesn't look... very fun."
"What are you talking about?" Tyler asked as he got to lifting.
Jo shrugged. "Your barbell just looks a bit...small compared to the ones I usually lift."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Tyler snapped, losing focus on lifting and therefore starting to have a problem doing it.
"It means what it sounds like! You're not lifting as much as I usually do." Jo stuck a thumb out and pointed at herself with pride.
"W-well, that's just 'cuz I haven't gotten warmed up right," Tyler said. "In a bit, you can stack it the way you usually like it."
"Fair enough," Jo agreed with a nod.
After about ten minutes, Tyler put the barbell back into position and sat up, out of breath. No sooner had he started wheezing had Jo bolted to the rack holding the weights to rearrange his set-up. "Um, Jo?" He asked warily. "What're you doing?"
"I'm setting up the way I lift these babies," she answered.
Jo walked over with an armful of the heavy metal disks. She gingerly placed the stack on a nearby bench before getting to work. "What's wrong? Don't think you can take it?"
"Um, well, I'm kind of exhausted," Tyler explained.
Jo shot him a glare. "Oh please. If you give up just when you're starting to get winded, you'll never get anywhere. Now suck it up!"
Tyler sighed. "Sorry. Not right now."
"Fine," Jo conceded. "Just watch me bench this pile of scrap like it's nothing." She pushed Tyler off the bench and took his place. She cracked her knuckles and got to work. Tyler watched in amazement as she benched all that weight even easier than he was benching his significantly smaller amount. Finally, Jo put the barbell back in place and shot up, sweat glistening on her strong brow. "So how'd I do?" Tyler merely stammered in response, which Jo took as a victory in itself. She nodded confidently and left Tyler to his own devices, ruffling his hair as she left. "Maybe someday you'll be as strong as me, Chicken Fingers."
That was merely one of the countless stupid exchanges Jo had to put up with. In fact, she could not name a single man that came into that gym with intent to be a regular that didn't treat her as lesser because of her gender.
That is, until he came in about a year later.
That fateful day started about the same as any others. Jo spent her warm-up period jogging on the treadmill and jamming to music on her music player as she waited for her usual work out buddy to arrive. Finally, the tardy jerk made himself present with his usual rigid stance with one hand stupidly posed at his face. "Howdy there!" He said with his annoying, unwavering cheerfulness.
"You're late, Brickhouse," Jo said flatly.
"Yeah, my apologies, Jo." Brick's hand that he was using to salute went to the back of his head to scratch at it. "I got a little distracted on the way here. My anniversary with my girlfriend is coming up and I stopped by a nice little shop to look for potential—"
"Oh my god, I don't care!" Jo snapped.
"O—oh. Sorry then," Brick said sadly.
Jo shook her head, taking one of her earbuds out. "Sorry, I got a little snappish there. I'm just impatient. Usually I've at least worked up a bit of a sweat by now. Tell me all about you and Tinkerpale while we work up a sweat, okay?"
Brick nodded. "Yes ma'am. Let's get started right away."
They immediately got to work, taking a journey across the gym to their first destination: the squat station. On the way, they passed good ol' Tyler, struggling with his workout. He reeled back and swung at the punching bag in front of him with all his might, but the equipment didn't appreciate it. The bag came back and smacked him in the face, sending him sprawling. "Hey Red," Jo said with a wave, completely ignoring the actually quite common mishap. "How're you and Hot-Air-Head holding up?" Tyler weakly held a thumb in the air to answer her, and she patted the finger softly. "Good to know." When Tyler responded with a groan, she laughed. "He'll be fine."
"One of these days, that soldier is gonna get himself seriously injured," Brick said to himself.
Halfway to the squat station, Jo and Brick passed the entrance to the gym just in time to watch someone interesting walk in. Jo took a glance to the door and stopped in her tracks when she saw the man wearing the baggy football jersey and holding a bag in one of his hands. In the other, he wrote his name on a paper on the front desk, signing up for the membership. "Oh, would you look at that?" Jo mused. "Fresh meat." Unfortunately, Brick didn't hear her until after he noticed she stopped moving, which happened after he walked right into her, sending her stumbling into a shelf of equipment. "Hey! Watch where you're going, maggot!" Jo snapped as she scrambled to make sure nothing fell from its spot. "You could have broken something!"
"Sorry!" Brick threw his hands up in front of his face and took a step back. "Won't happen again."
Before Jo could respond, the new guy approached them, looking pretty confused. "Is everything okay here?" He asked in an obnoxious high-pitched voice. "Because I just joined this place, and I'd hate to have to leave because y'all got into a fight the second I walked in the door." Then, he did the weirdest thing yet and randomly struck a pose that involved flexing both of his arms. "I know this gun show is wild, but we can't have y'all losing control of yourselves because the Lightning is too fierce! Sha-bam!"
Jo and Brick merely watched him admire himself, both too dumbstruck for words. Finally, it was Brick who spoke up. "So um...new around here?"
The new guy seemed to notice Brick was there for the first time and stood straight. "Yeah I'm new around here. I moved here recently and this is the closest gym to my new place. You can call me Lightning!" At the second mention of his name, it was obvious he had to resist striking another dumb pose. "Excuse me, but where can I do some squats?"
"What, really?" Jo asked, jumping into the conversation for the first time. "You haven't even done any warm-up stretches, and you want to get right to it?"
Lightning cracked a smile at Jo and put a hand on his hip. "I'll have you know that I stretched plenty. This place is a mile from my place, so my warm-up is just the run here!"
Jo frowned, examining the guy from head to toe. "Good to know, I guess. Anyway, we were just heading to the squat station. Just follow Brickhead and I over this way."
"Oh, that reminds me..." As the trio started heading to their destination, Brick decided to get introductions out of the way. "I'm Brick McArthur, and this grumpy woman here is Jo."
"Good to meet y'all, I guess," Lightning said, uninterested. "Just lemme know if I ever need to smoke either of ya at anything at all."
"On the contrary, Brightning," Jo said with a laugh. "It'll me that smokes you. Promise."
"My name's not Brightning, it's Lightning!" Lightning snapped.
"Same thing." Jo rolled her eyes, already annoyed with this new guy. She was just waiting for him to bring up that sore subject so she could have a decent reason to sock him in the jaw. However, the entire day passed and no such question ever came up. Lightning rocked his work outs, too. He would take on several different exercises without breaking a sweat, and Brick was blown away while Jo was marginally impressed. After he would get bored, he would take the bench and watch as Brick and Jo would take a shot, all while bragging about how much he loved his muscles and how the NFL was definitely going to take him.
"Isn't the NFL an American association?" Brick asked in between huffs and puffs.
"Doesn't matter," Lightning responded. "I'm still getting in."
"I like that determination," Jo said, flashing him a grin.
Lightning nodded proudly and flexed once more. "If you need some...too bad! Get it yourselves. I worked hard for this drive!"
Brick and Jo shared a confused look and went back to working out, actually somewhat enjoying the presence of this strange new guy. Finally, the time came to visit one of Jo's favorite machines: the leg press. This was the one machine that seemed to give Lightning some sort of trouble. Jo went first for once, stacking the weights to her usual standards, and spent some time absentmindedly working the machine while Brick and Lightning chattered away. Though it was mostly Brick telling Lightning about his girlfriend and Lightning not really absorbing much. Finally, Jo lifted herself off the machine and motioned towards it, inviting anyone to get on. Brick passed his opportunity to Lightning, who eagerly sat down and immediately started failing the exercise. He pushed with all of his might, but his spindly legs refused to handle the same weight that Jo could.
"What's wrong, Light Bulb?" Jo taunted. "Didja skip leg day or something?"
"Leg day? There's a day for that?" Lightning asked through gritted teeth as he continued to struggle against the leg press.
"If you want to have a half-decent work out regimen, there is," Jo said. "What, do you just do whatever you want?"
"Yeah, pretty much," Lightning said.
Jo barked a laugh as she moved to lighten Lightning's load. "You poor, poor fool."
The instant she laid a finger on one of the weights, Lightning pointed a menacing finger at her. "Don't you dare! I refuse to let you be better than me! I'm gonna lift this if it kills me."
Jo narrowed her eyes at Lightning. Here it came.
"What? You think you have to be better than me at everything because I'm a girl?" She put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at the man torturing himself on the leg press. "Is that what this is about?"
Lightning paused, looking at Jo with a confused expression. "What? No, it's just 'cuz I have to be the best at everything."
Jo shook her head, surprised at what she was hearing. "Excuse me?"
"Yeah, I have to be the best at everything, duh. What are you, deaf? I'm sha-done doin' this dumb exercise." Lightning stood up with an indignant huff and moved on to the next machine as Jo stood in place, dumbstruck for the first time in years.
"...You okay, Jo?" Brick asked.
Jo tilted her head to the side. "I'm...fine."
Brick crossed his arms over his chest, confused. "I thought you hated it when people brought your gender into it."
"Don't worry, I do," Jo assured him. "But this is the first time it wasn't about my gender in...forever. What the hell is wrong with this guy?"
Time wore on and Lightning continued visiting the gym for the same reason Jo did: their top-notch machines. Day after day, week after week, Jo would watch him do the same handful of exercises, refusing to shake up his routine in any way. Finally, Jo approached him on that one day she found herself at the bench press at the same time as him.
"Hey Chicken Legs," she greeted, standing above him and hoping Tyler wouldn't think she was talking to him. "Don't you have a routine of any kind?"
"What do you mean routine?" Lightning asked.
Jo raised an eyebrow. "So you're telling me you just come into the gym and do whatever the hell strikes your fancy?"
"I don't know what that means," Lightning said with a straight face. "I just come in and do whatever I wanna do."
Jo nodded, awestruck at this man's idiocy. "Let me guess, you still can't do the leg press."
Lightning shook his head. "Screw the leg press machine!" His lifting became a bit faster, as if proving how good his upper body was.
Jo crossed her arms with a smirk. "Wanna know how I'm so good at that machine? If I tell you, it'll give you a leg up on me." She finished her sentence with a chuckle at her masterful pun.
"Why would you help the one who wants to be better than you?" Lightning asked. "Sounds like the beginning of a trick to Lightning."
Jo held up her hands in a show of innocence. "No no, trust me. This will seriously help."
Lightning paused, looking at Jo with a doubtful expression. Finally, he put his barbell back into place and sat up. "Alright. How are you so good at the leg press?"
"It's called a routine," Jo said. "I know I said that earlier, but here's what it means. It means you plan your work outs ahead of time, telling yourself you'll only do certain types of exercise on certain days. For example, I have a day where I only work on core muscles, and some days I only do leg muscles."
"Hmm...okay," Lightning said. "So I need a routine?"
"A plan, if you will," Jo said. "And yes, you need one of those. You done on there? It's my turn to lift."
Lightning stood off the bench. "Help yourself."
Jo took her place and started lifting, neglecting to lighten the barbell, which resulted in her struggling to lift it. "Urgh...anyway, what do you think?"
"I guess I could make a plan," Lightning admitted. "I'd do anything to be the best, even if it means doin' smart person stuff."
"It's not really that complicated," Jo said with a grunt. "It's just...a matter of planning ahead. It's super easy if you have a calendar."
"I do have one of those..." Lightning said. "I dunno. It also means learnin' new exercises and what they do for what muscles."
"Well you're in luck buddy!" Jo put the barbell on its perch and sat up, already exhausted. " I know everything about every exercise there is, so I can help you out."
"Oh, sha-score!" Lightning pumped his fist in the air.
"You most definitely did not score, but continue," Jo mumbled.
Luckily, Lightning seemed to either ignore what she said or straight-up not hear it, as he continued his train of thought out loud. "You can tell me about all the exercises I should do!"
Jo gave him a shrug. "I could, but would you remember all of them long enough to write them all down?"
Lightning put a finger to his chin, considering the question. Or maybe trying to decipher it.
Finally, Jo sighed and put a hand on his broad shoulder. "You're hopeless, Bolt Head. Here, I have an idea. Why don't I come over to your place some day and help you plan out a brand new routine?"
"You'd do that for me?" Lightning asked, astonished.
"Duh!" Jo said eagerly. "I like a little healthy competition, and if you keep neglecting your legs, my only competition is gonna fall apart because his legs can't support his big, fat head. I'm still the best in this gym, but with my help, you could maybe have a shot at dethroning me. Maybe."
"Alright then!" Lightning shot out his hand. "It's a deal!"
"We didn't make a deal, but okay..." Jo reached out and shook his hand. Once they let go, they exchanged when they were both free next and set up a time to meet and go over the new routine. Jo was intending on setting this routine up for herself as well so she could keep on eye on his progress as he went and also help him remember his set-up for the early portions of it, so her plan was pretty much fool-proof. Lightning told her where he lived and they departed that day with what some would call a shaky friendship and what others would call a budding rivalry.
I know what you're about to say: This is a bit short, isn't it? Well, I felt like diving this fic up into two chapters, the second of which will be posted in a few days. Just hang in there, I promise there's a thrilling conclusion to this laying around somewhere! See ya soon!