Today makes it one year since this fanfiction was over. This story is… it's a big part of my life, to be honest. I'm not exaggerating nor is this a rhetoric figure; I dedicated three years of my life to it. That's about thirteen percent of my life!
This year since I've ended the fic has been quite bittersweet. I've felt incredibly lucky for gaining the wonderful reception that the vast majority had regarding the finale and reading your words of encouragement, of congratulations, and the even sometimes over-the-top compliments have always been heartwarming, a privilege that I don't treat as something I've earned but rather something you've given to me out of kindness.
But it also had its sour part, cause it also meant that I couldn't shake off the feeling that my work in the fandom was done, that I had nothing else to offer, that I was left for dead and to be forgotten lol. And, I mean, it's weird to spend three years thinking daily on a story, and then one day it's over and there's no more thinking to do.
Well, to celebrate this anniversary of its publication and ending, I've decided to write a tiny bit more about this story. There's a saying in Argentina that goes like "I'm dying on my own terms". And to me, this story's ending is already written, and those are my terms lol The story ended with Lincoln finding out that, contrary to what he thought, he had indeed been useful in life, and that he had positively affected the lives of many other people, and that that's worth just as much as being good at sports or music. That's the story I wanted to tell, the idea of the trophies and his empty case was foreshadowed literally on chapter one. To me, that ends the story of Requiem.
Buuuuut, I mean, I'm not gonna lie to you, I've obviously always wondered how the story would go on after the ending. I knew I'd never write it, but it was always a question I asked myself. And to commemorate this year since the story reached its end… why not give it a shot? And so, here we are.
WARNING: To me, this is NOT "canon". This is more of a "What if?", an alternate timeline, a parallel universe, a fanfic of a fanfic. What you'll be reading is not necessarily an epilogue, an official ending, or anything like that. Take it as my personal interpretation.
Or not, do whatever you want lol, Death of the Author, and all that stuff. I understand it's hard for me to write this and just come in here to tell you that it's not official. But what can I say? I felt like doing it. And to everyone that has wanted a continuation/epilogue/different ending… well, here's the first part. Yup, that's right. There'll be a second part coming, too.
Anyway, I think the fic itself deals with the intimate, emotional moments between Lincoln and each one of his sisters, so I'll try my best not to repeat myself yet again. Hope you enjoy it!
Lincoln Loud woke up that morning without any alarm, annoying noise, explosion, or furious battle-cry from his sisters. With nothing to abruptly interrupt his rest, he welcomed a new day with a satisfied sigh, parting his heavy eyelids and letting his eyes get used to the soft light that filtered into the living room through the partially opened curtains.
Ever since that baleful and tempestuous night, he and his sisters had reached a new sleeping arrangement, one that didn't involve compatibility tests nor did it have them all taking turns to bunk with him in his small, crowded bed. The mattresses, pillows, and blankets hadn't returned to their respective rooms, and every night had turned into a sleepover, with all eleven kids watching TV, having conversations, and mutually comforting each other. Bedtime had been extended for the whole family through a tacit deal; even the younger were allowed to stay up however long it took them for tiredness and slumber to take over.
Going to bed early was, possibly, the least of their worries.
This new organization seemed to be having very positive effects on Lincoln. It had been quite a few days since he had suffered his last nightmare, and he had only experienced two more sudden panic attacks. One of them had been handled by Lori with no one else finding out, but unfortunately, the second one had happened right in front of all his sisters. He didn't like to come off as weak and vulnerable like that in front of them, but allowing himself to cry his frustrations out in front of them seemed to put an end to the last pains that had found a hiding place within the nooks and crannies of his heart, slowly poisoning it with stress and desperation. Three days had passed since that incident, and all things considered, Lincoln was living as normally as possible.
He let out a silent yawn and sat up, stretching his arms and legs to shake the sleep-numbness out of them and finish waking up. He took a quick glance around him. The twins were still sleeping at his side, hugging each other. Most of his sisters were still sleeping, in fact, creating a fanfare of snores, some as soft as an eastern breeze through bamboo canes, other as violent as a rhinoceros stampede.
He looked at all of his sister's sleeping faces, and they all seemed to be enjoying their rest. All of them but one. Looking up, he noticed that on the other side of the room, standing still and looking at the street through the window, was Lucy.
Carefully enough not to wake anyone up, Lincoln stood up and walked closer to his little sister.
"It's slightly clouded," she said, not turning in his direction.
Lincoln took place next to her, opening the curtains a bit more to sneak outside along with her. Being still very early into the morning, the mist hadn't dissipated yet, making the sunrise light refract and bathe the neighborhood houses with warm, yellow tones. The sky, just like Lucy had mentioned, seemed to have a few clouds.
"That's a good thing, right? You're not a fan of sunny days."
She shrugged. "As long as it doesn't ruin your date…"
"It won't," he said, smiling and putting an arm over his little sister's shoulders. "How long have you been awake?"
"Not too long," she answered after a brief pause, long enough however for Lincoln to notice it.
"Did you have a nightmare?"
Silence. Lucy let her head tilt to the side, resting on Lincoln's shoulders. He affectionately rubbed her arms. Lucy was never the kind to be particularly affected by nightmares or terrifying dreams —she usually found those stimulating—, but he thought he had an idea of what might have been going through her mind.
"Mom and dad woke up a minute ago. They went to the kitchen to make breakfast."
"Alright, cool. I'll go get dressed," he said, pointing at his orange pajama. Lucy nodded.
"I'll wake Lynn up."
"What for?" He asked, raising an eyebrow. None of his sisters were appreciative of being forcefully woke up in the morning. And if for some reason you had to wake Lynn up, you better have a ball in hand for her not to get pissed at you.
"I…" she started, trailing off for a second before finding the words. "She understands me."
Lincoln also understood her, so she didn't need to say anymore. He squeezed her shoulder a bit, leaving her to wake her roommate up, and then went to the first floor. After a brief cleaning up in the bathroom, he went straight into his room. Truth be told, the absence of his bed in the tiny enclosure made the whole space feel wider and bigger than he was used to.
He quickly put on the cleanest clothes that he had, taking his sweet time to look at the mirror and comb his hair, making sure there was no rebellious lock getting out of shape… except for his little tuft, which stayed as uncontrollable as always. Once he was dressed up and ready to face a new day, there was only one more thing to do before he was free to leave his bedroom.
Lincoln grabbed his hand-made calendar, which could be found folded within one of his drawers. He stopped to take a look at it for a second. With this one, he was striking down the eighteenth day since his diagnosis. The first two weeks were behind him, and he was now getting closer and closer to the third week, that horizon up to which the most positive expectations dared stretch for him.
Every second that he spent observing that sheet of paper caused him a numb sensation on his chest, it dried his throat, it made him feel an uncomfortable burning ache on the back of his neck. He crossed the box as soon as he could, leaving a shaky X mark. It was even fun to see the progression of crosses on the calendar, and how they started all regular and steady, and as the days went by, they became less and less perfect.
"Alright, stop it," he said out loud, putting his calendar away, closing his eyes, and taking a deep breath. "Breakfast. Think about breakfast…"
Every time he found himself entering a spiral of negative thoughts, Lincoln had figured out that focusing on small tasks or things to do would help him feel better. Feeling useful, knowing that he had things to do and something to aim at. Distracting himself helped him escape the dreadful and terrifying situation of just passively waiting for the unforgivable, relentless passage of time would claim his life.
Having breakfast, for example, seemed like a very simple, concrete task to focus on. And he had plans for the rest of the morning and the first hours of the afternoon. Could he book himself with something to do for the night?
He decided to give one quick look at his list of objectives. It was always somewhat of a bittersweet comfort to see how many items he had been able to check as completed, but unfortunately, he still had much too many to accomplish and that he hadn't found the time to do. He gave a quick glance at the pending items, trying to find something that could fit his schedule for the day. Not only that, but he also had to keep track of how much time he was spending with each of his sisters, trying to equally distribute his existence between all of them. The previous day he had played videogames with Lana, explained to Lisa all the scientific inspiration behind his favorite superheroes, and had helped Leni design a dress for Lori. What sister had he left a bit unattended lately? The answer came quickly, and with a smile, he finally found something to do with her.
Two soft knocks on his door made him hastily put away all his private stuff.
"Lincoln, are you there?"
He checked himself in the mirror to make sure he was presentable. His face had seen better days, but he wasn't all that bad. He took a deep breath and opened the door, giving his warmest smile to the one that liked them the best.
"Yeah, I'm here," he told Luan, who had evidently just woke up. Her eyes weren't fully open yet, and her pajama was covered in the typical post-slumber wrinkles for someone who moved on her sleep as much as she did. "Do you need anything'"
"No, no, I just… How are you feeling?" She asked, moving her hands behind her back and balancing her body back and forth.
"Better than ever," he said, giving her a thumbs up.
She seemed relieved as if someone had just told her that the test she hadn't studied for had been suddenly canceled and every student was to receive some free ice cream.
"Alright, that's great! I, uh, I'll get on the line to the bathroom. See ya at breakfast!"
With nothing else to do, Lincoln went straight to the kitchen.
When he passed through the dining room, he couldn't help but look at the wall where there was once the family trophy case. Now, a new collection of trophies seemed to have taken its place, one so big that the case wasn't enough to have them all, and each one of them was addressed to Lincoln. As he walked into the kitchen, a smile grew on his face.
Breakfast was already served, with Lisa, Luna, Lily, and their parents enjoying it. After saying hi and joining them, Lincoln devoured his waffled and drank his hot chocolate, enjoying every little spark of flavor going off in his mouth.
"I seem to detect great satisfaction on your body gestures, big brother," Lisa calmly said, looking at him from the other side of the table.
Lynn Sr smiled and made a small bow that Lily clapped at, clearly entertained by the silly gesture of her father.
"Liz's right, you look pretty jazzy today," added Luna, taking a sip of her coffee.
Lincoln considered his words for a second. He didn't feel particularly 'jazzy', but he wasn't about to argue with that.
"It's a good day," he simply said, finishing one of his waffles before turning around to look at her. "Hey, you think we could do something later?"
"Of course!" The rocker replied, almost before he finished his question. "What d'you have in mind, luv?"
"I was thinking… do you think we could maybe write a song together?"
The rest of the family in the room, even Lily, raised their eyebrows and turned to look at Luna, curious to see her reaction. Completely justified, in fact, since the underground quinceañera looked like a piñata of joy about to explode. She put her coffee aside, placed her hands together on her chest, shaking with excitement, and her heart-shaped eyes focused on her brother.
"Of course we can, bro! Oooooh, this is going to be so rad! Do you have something in mind? Just lyrics or you want us to write the guitar parts, too? You could play the guitar and I'll play the keyboards! What am I saying? I'll play the keyboard, trumpets, drums, and banjo! Do you think we might need a banjo? Doesn't matter, we'll find a way to fit a banjo!"
Excited, she let out a sharp squeal and pulled Lincoln into a very tight hug, pressing their faces together.
"I'm sure we'll find a way to make all those instruments fit," he said, laughing, and extremely satisfied with himself. He had managed to book himself for the afternoon/night, taking an item out of his objective list, and make one of his sisters happy with just a simple question. If that wasn't the definition of efficiency, he didn't know what it meant.
The rest of the breakfast went uneventful, with all the other sisters joining them and establishing casual conversations amongst them until the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it!" Lynn yelled, jumping from her chair and doing a somersault over the pets on her way to the main door.
Lincoln, already figuring out who was at their door, cleaned his mouth with a handkerchief and shook the crumbs off his clothes.
"Hey, Romeo! It's for you!" His athlete sister said, making the rest of his family smile and him to blush.
"Lincoln, please take your phone," Rita asked him, getting closer to fix his clothes and hair.
"Yeah, I know."
"If anything happens, call…"
"I know, I know."
"...she's got our number, we'll all be here, just…"
"I know, mom," he said, giving her a hug to ease her. "Don't worry."
Rita sighed and smiled at him, caressing his face and returning the hug.
"Be very, very, very careful, alright?"
The whole family wished him luck, to take care, and bid him goodbye, letting him go towards the living room, where Lynn was happily chatting with a somewhat shy but cheerful Ronnie Anne.
"There's your boyfriend," the chestnut-haired girl said. "He spent a loooong time combing his hair and making himself look pretty for you."
The young couple blushed, although Ronnie Anne couldn't help but smile.
"At least you admit I look pretty," he said, trying to sound confident. The chuckles the girls let out didn't seem to help him in that regard.
"Speaking of hair, did you do something to yours, Lynn?" Ronnie Anne asked, curiously studying the athlete's hair.
Lynn's freckles were almost hidden underneath the blush that filled her cheeks.
"I… uh… Lincoln suggested to try a bit of this shampoo that Leni sometimes uses, and uh… well…"
"I guess the lame-o knows about hair. It looks shinier. It suits you."
"Well… thanks," she replied, sounding coy. "Anyway… take care of my brother, alright? Keep him out of trouble."
"I can take care of myself, you know?"
"Don't worry, I got this," Ronnie Anne assured her, grabbing Lincoln into a tender side hug.
The two kids said goodbye to Lynn and went ahead onto the sidewalk. It was still extremely early, but at least the mist had disappeared and the sunlight was starting to warm up the streets.
"I've never been to the arcade this early," Lincoln admitted.
"Me neither, but we gotta make the best use of this morning. I just hope Dance Dance Revolution isn't on repairs."
They exchanged a smile; that game brought back some precious memories.
"Are we playing in the versus mode or co-op?" He asked, taking Ronnie Anne by surprise.
"Huh… I guess we could try co-op."
"Maybe we can get the record out of Paige and Artie. Wouldn't that be awesome?"
"Yeah… that'd be pretty great."
And thus, gently, Ronnie Anne finger's weaved with Lincoln's. He smiled and gently squeezed his girlfriend's hand.
Holding hands, they both walked towards the arcade. The most part of their way there was spent in silence, but not an uncomfortable one, but rather the calming silence that makes itself known when words aren't necessary.
"Come on, we're almost there!"
"I-I don't know… if…"
"We'll make it this time, I can feel it!" Ronnie Anne said, jumping from side to side, moving her arms and head to the rhythm of the music. She had taken her hood off, tying it to her waist to feel less overwhelmed by all the exercise this game required. Her ponytail bobbed and whipped in the air, jumping in all directions and following the general moves of the highest difficulty choreography.
Lincoln, right by her side, was trying his best to keep up with the game. With his tongue out and his mouth agape trying to catch as much air as possible, his movements were efficient but decidedly not as fluid or aesthetically attractive as his girlfriend's. He and Clyde used to play together, even on this same difficulty, but ever on such a competitive level. The fact that this was their fourth try wasn't also helping his physical state.
Fortunately, the last few compasses came and went, and with one last diagonal jump, they both got to their finishing pose. The music stopped for a few seconds until the main menu title and music appeared again. And, on the screen, a shiny message announced: "NEW HIGHEST SCORE!"
"We did it!" Ronnie Anne celebrated, side crashing her hips against Lincoln's.
"Wow… We actually did it. A-Awesome!"
"Ha! Just wait until everyone finds out! We're the best team!"
She went towards the screen, touching buttons and introducing a four-characters name. With some new special effects of colors and confetti, the new ranking appeared before them.
Ronnie Anne stood next to him, their arms brushing, and there was a certain sparkle of emotion in her eyes.
"Do you see that? Our initials are together."
"Yes. It's really pretty. Our parents carved their initials on trees," he said, putting an arm around her waist and trying to catch his breath, "we get high scores on videogames."
"It's still romantic."
"If only we could add a plus sign in the middle."
"We don't have to," he assured her, pulling her closer to him. "We know."
His agitated chest seemed to get numb at the same time that a warm feeling flooded his insides. That weird butterfly sensation within his stomach was still fairly new and strange to him, hard to identify and interpret. He only knew that being with Ronnie Anne made him happy and that seeing her smile was like an emotional tickle. Being able to call her himself her boyfriend was almost as valuable as any other trophy that he had received in the past week.
If there was anything that this experience was teaching him was that he shouldn't have any regrets, he shouldn't keep himself from doing anything that he felt like doing. He should take advantage of every opportunity, especially if it was to show affection and caring. On a different occasion, he might have not done it, but right then, his heart hollered for him to hug her. So he decided to listen to it, and she caught her by surprise in a soft, heartfelt embrace, stroking her back and gently squeezing her against him. She immediately returned the gesture, even if she was a bit shy at first.
"You're amazing, Ronnie Anne," he whispered.
"And you're one of a kind, Lincoln Loud," she said, tightening her grip on him.
It might have been her arms that noticed Lincoln's chest moving, or maybe it was how close his mouth was to his ears, but she quickly picked up on his breathing.
"Hey, why don't we go sit down for a bit? We should buy some sodas to celebrate our record."
"That sounds good, yeah."
"And then we can play some air hockey. Unless you don't want to be humiliated."
"Oh, I'm going to destroy you on air hockey. You have no chances."
"Strong words. Do you have what it takes to back them up?"
"Just wait until I catch my breath. You'll see what I got."
"Pfft, we'll see."
She walked him to one of the tables before walking to the countertop to buy their drinks. Lincoln let himself drop on the seating, taking quick, sharp breaths. Who would have known that dancing could be so demanding? As his girlfriend left him alone, he couldn't help to remember all the times they had played against each other in Dance Dance Revolution. They were pretty even, with a toe-to-toe record between them. And it all had begun a few months ago on the night of the Sadie Hawkins dance.
Thinking about that night made Lincoln feel nostalgic. He had had such an awesome time with Ronnie Anne, having fun like never before. It hadn't been an experience as revealing as when they had to take care of an egg, but he had still learned a whole lot about her on that occasion. Her sense of humor, her competitive nature in video games, and that marked the beginning of a complicated relationship in which they both felt attraction for each other but lacked the courage and determination to take things forward into the next step. He wondered how many more moments had they lost for not acting their feelings out. How many more dates they could have had. It was, perhaps, one of the things he'd regret the most…
He tried to think of something else because every time he thought about everything that he hadn't done, it inevitably turned into him remembering his condition and that always left him with a void inside his chest, some sort of general numbness that left him weak, tired, and… and...
And that's exactly how he felt at that moment.
He took a hand to his chest. It was weird. He had calmed his breathing down, but for some reason, there was still a weird sensation on his thorax. It felt as if his muscles were slightly cramped, but after moving his arms a little, there wasn't any particular pain that he could link to a muscle. Just a general awkward sensation like he was wearing a very tight corset. He tried to sit up straighter, assuming that perhaps it was due to his poor posture.
"Here you go, Lincoln," said Ronnie Anne, returning with a soda on each hand and sitting across the table from him. "Feeling better?"
"I, uh, yeah… I think so," he answered, opening his can and moving his shoulders, trying to shake that annoying but seemingly innocuous sensation.
It had the opposite effect. A few moments later, his neck was starting to feel weird too.
"You sure?" She asked, staring at him. "You seem… strange."
"No, no, it's nothing, I'm just…"
Was he just tired because of the game, or was this something more? A very strange, uncomfortable feeling on his chest… was this his heart acting up?
"Lincoln?" She called him, leaving her soda aside, with visible worry on her eyes. "What's wrong? Hey, talk to me. Lincoln! Are you ok?"
He didn't answer, because Ronnie Anne's voice reached him like a faraway echo that he couldn't quite understand. His thoughts were now far away, on a different realm of reality, lost in abstraction. It didn't feel like that time in the park when it all started. That time, he felt nauseous, disoriented, and with a big headache… but that was because the problem had been in his head. According to the doctors, what would kill him now would be his heart.
His heart. Is that what it was, then? Is this how a failing heart felt like? Just a minor inconvenience on his chest? No pain? What was next? He wasn't an expert in cardiology. He assumed that at some point his heart would stop beating and blood wouldn't get to the rest of his body. Would he pass away right after? Would he stay conscious for a while, not being able to feel his own heartbeat? He couldn't imagine how that would feel like.
He didn't want to imagine it. He didn't want to think about it. A cold chill shook his core. He was suddenly aware of cold drops of sweat falling down his forehead, and a tingling sensation on the tip of his left-hand fingers. Like someone was stabbing him with tiny needles. For almost three weeks now, this was the moment he had been getting ready for, and now that he was at the threshold, he realized that he truly didn't know what to do, how to react, and not even how to feel.
He blinked and looked at her. Ronnie Anne Santiago. His bully, his friend, his girlfriend. His first and last girlfriend. She was talking to him, he had to answer. The spell he was caught it was broken.
"I… Ronnie Anne… I think… I think I'm dying," he said, and although someone watching him might have thought that he was way too calm, the truth is that he was perplexed and stunned, not knowing how to act.
She gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. Her terrified eyes were fixed on him, and she looked like she had seen a ghost.
"C-Call an ambulance! An ambulance!" She yelled, running from her seat to get next to Lincoln, placing one shaking hand on his forehead and the other one on his shoulder.
There was a commotion around them and an employee rushed to them, only to quickly go to the telephone to call the emergency service.
"Lincoln, Lincoln, I'm here, alright? I'm with you, look at me," Ronnie Anne told him, the words melting into the next, and her eyes filling with tears. "They're calling an ambulance, j-just calm down and, uh, t-try to breathe, ok? Focus on your breathing."
It was hard for him to focus on anything, to be honest, but his breathing seemed like a good idea. He tried to do so, and without realizing it, he went for her hand, holding on to it tighter than he normally would have. She didn't say anything, holding him strongly as well. He felt his anxiety creeping in, but his symptoms didn't seem to be getting any worse than the generally uncomfortable numbness on his chest and neck. He could also feel himself shaking, but not from the cold. In a weird way, his panic attacks had felt much more urgent than whatever was happening to him right then.
In a way… that was a comforting thought. A peaceful departure.
"This isn't how I wanted to end our date," he said, trying to laugh at his own joke.
"Shh, shh, don't worry, Lincoln, the ambulance will get here soon. S-Save your breath and t-try to calm down, alright? Please…"
She was shaking too, and her lips moved like crazy, trying to suppress her crying and sound calm at the same time. The tears falling down her cheeks made her freckles shine, and Lincoln tried to focus on it for a second, to distract himself, to stay calm. Thinking of freckled, however, made him think of himself, and lastly, of Luna and Lynn.
His sisters. All of them. What was the last thing he'd seen of them? They had shared breakfast. Lynn had received Ronnie Anne. He hadn't properly said goodbye.
He would never see them again.
That idea ended any pretense of easiness that he could have had, and the feeling of burden and anxiety crawled back in, much stronger and aggressive than before.
"I-I need to call them…" He said, staring at Ronnie Anne.
"I got it!"
She removed the hand from his forehead and took his phone out of his shorts so hard that she almost crashed it against the table. She frantically touched the screen and put it next to her ear, trying to calm her breathing.
"Come on… pick up… pick up, please… pi- BOBBY!"
Lincoln couldn't hear the other side of the line.
"Bobby, I'm at the arcade, L-Lincoln… Please, c-call Lori and tell her- No, no, he's with me, but… B-Bobby…" she said, before erupting in an ugly sobbing and dropping her phone, not even ending the call.
She hugged him.
"Lincoln, please, hang on, you… you can't…"
He tried to hug her, but he was starting to feel dizzy and to run out of air again. It all seemed to spin around him, his chest was burning, the employees were trying to talk to them, his throat was dry, Ronnie Anne was crying, he listened to his own heartbeats like he was inside a soundbox…
Everything was a blur, the world lost focus, it all went dark, sound around him vanished, and the last thing Lincoln felt were tears that didn't belong to him falling on his face.
Darkness and a faint sound were all that his senses could perceive. He was aware of every single breath he took, filling his lungs and moving his chest up and down, which hurt as if someone had kicked him. He gulped, still not opening his eyes, and everything around him began to make a little bit more sense.
"Am I dead?" He asked as soon as he recovered control of his conscience.
He only had to wait a few seconds to realize that he was definitely still alive. There were too many stimuli for him to be dead. Chest pains, his breathing, that puzzling rhythmic sound, the cold blankets on his body… way too many sensations for the afterlife. Or at least that's what he imagined. How would he know?
In any case, even without any proper, formal knowledge of the Cartesian philosophy, the fact that he was questioning whether he was or not alive served as enough proof for him to confirm that he was, indeed, alive. That realization sparked a chain reaction of new questions to answer. Where was he? He had to assume that he was at a hospital. And suddenly, that weird beeping sound became undoubtedly that of a hospital's pulse oximeter. At least it meant his heart was beating.
How long had he been out? It wasn't anything he could reason himself into, so he began to open his eyes and to try to sit up and check his watch.
Sharp pain on his left arm stopped him as he tried to find a more comfortable position on the bed. Finally opening his eyes, he took a look, finding out that he wasn't wearing Adrien's watch anymore, and he had some sort of serum connected to his forearm. Apparently, it hurt when he moved too much.
He was so focused on these new findings that, when a deep voice broke the silence, he flinched, causing his chest and arm to hurt in return.
"Congratulations: you've, once again, defied death," they said, although they didn't sound particularly happy. "If you do it one more time, someone somewhere will start a cult."
Sitting on a chair on the opposite side of the room, with his shoes on a table and seemingly watching videos on his phone, there was a tall man, with unkempt hair and beard. He was wearing jeans, a Black Sabbath t-shirt underneath a black blazer. On his lap, right under his phone, he kept a black cane with orange flames at the bottom.
Lincoln remembered him, and to be perfectly frank, he wasn't precisely enthusiastic about seeing him there.
"Doctor House," he greeted him.
"Interesting reaction," the doctor commented, still looking at his phone.
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sure I'm the last person you wish you were seeing right now. I was pretty rude on our first conversation. And yet, you're being polite."
"I don't… hate you, if that's what you mean."
"Are we friends?"
Lincoln frowned. "No, but it's not like I hate you."
"And yet, I represent more than myself. I'm the doctor that diagnosed you, the herald of bad news. I'm the one that explained to you that there would be no cure and the impossible amount of coincidence that led to you not being diagnosed and treated in time. I questioned you until you broke down talking about your sisters. You were complaining about how unfair this whole situation was, and I explained that the universe wasn't interested in justice or destiny. In a way, I represent everything wrong with your life right now. I would expect you to have a wave of irrational anger towards me. Well, maybe not so irrational."
When he put it that way, Lincoln couldn't help to feel that he was probably right. Shouldn't he be mad at the doctor? And yet, for some reason, he wasn't. Not really. He struck him as an odd man, but in a way, it had also been him that had convinced him to see his sisters and let them spend his last days together. He had been very annoying and arrogant, but he had also given him some good advice. In a weird way.
"I'm not happy to see you… or to be here. But I'm not gonna make anything right by being angry. I just want to… I don't know. I feel a lot of things right now."
"Like what?" He asked, finally putting away his phone and standing up. Lincoln saw him taking out a few pills and swallowing them without any water.
"Naturally. If you weren't afraid of death, you would have been killed years ago by a car for not checking both sides of the road."
"I felt good this morning. It all happened so fast. I couldn't even call my family… are they here?" He asked, hopeful.
"Of course, they're all in the waiting room," the doctor replied, sounding much more understanding than usual. "Unfortunately, you're in the intensive care unit. Only one person at the time can enter. It's… gonna take a while to say goodbye to them."
Time seemed to slow down when he heard those words.
House turned away, using his cane to lightly part the room curtains and staring outside, giving his back to Lincoln. For the first time, the kid was able to notice the unmistakable colors of dusk in the firmament.
"Your heart is compromised. Today's attack only weakened it. The ambulance came unbelievably fast and they were able to stabilize you, but it's just a matter of time until there's a new heart attack, and this time, your heart isn't as healthy as this morning."
He took a breath before turning around and giving Lincoln one last look filled with compassion and understanding.
"There's nothing we can do when that happens. Your body managed to get through more than the two weeks we anticipated, but it reached its limit. I'm sorry."
The boy let his body drop on the bed, his arms weak as jelly, incapable of keeping him sat up. He closed his eyes, trying to control his breathing. His fists closed so tight that his nails tried to pierce his palms. The weight of reality and the world fell on his shoulders, and with him being no Atlas, he could feel himself break down under the pressure. This was it. This was the moment.
Lincoln had imagined death so much it felt more like a memory. He had tried his best not to do it, to avoid it as humanly possible, but he had. He had pictured in his mind a thousand ways where death got him in the most expected ways. At his house, with his sisters, his parents, with his friends, on the street… He had imagined his last hours countless times, but for some reason, he hadn't imagined going back to the hospital.
"People hate knowing exactly when they'll die," House said, almost like he was reading his mind. "They lie to themselves saying that the problem is the randomness of it, of not being able to ready themselves, but the truth is that they love having no control over it. It's a great excuse. It lets them say that they didn't have time to change their bad habits, to be better persons, to write a book, donate money, open an orphanage. If only they had had more time… The truth is that facing the inevitability and knowing exactly when it'll happen is disorienting. It forces you to be responsible and act. It leaves you with no excuses to be lazy about it."
Lincoln had very mixed feelings. He agreed and disagreed with what the doctor was saying. There was some cynical element in it, but it also seemed to be missing a few pieces of the puzzle. He could feel something was wrong about it, but he didn't know what it was.
Not being able to put his finger on it was making him uncomfortable.
"This isn't your first ultimatum. You had almost three weeks to get ready for today. Were they worth it?"
Eighteen days. It was crazy thinking of everything that had happened in such a small period of time. Time had twisted in weird ways, like hours and days stretched double or even triple of their regular duration. He remembered being against breaking the news to his younger sisters. How he had to tell Bobby, Clyde, and Ronnie Anne about it. He had shared exceptional moments with each of his sisters. He had found Luan watching old videos, Lynn was almost expelled from school, Luna broke her favorite guitar, Lucy had found out on accident, Lisa tried to find a cure, Lori kept trying to keep everything under control, the twins had been the last to find out, Leni had organized a celebration for him… He had planted a tree and began writing a book with his mother. He had confessed to Ronnie Anne. His life was always chaotic, but he seemed to had done more in eighteen days than he would on a whole year.
Had it been worth it? He wanted to think that yes, it had. If there was anything positive to say about this whole deal was that he was convinced that had done everything in his power to prepare his sisters and leave a positive mark in their lives. He desperately wanted to believe that he had managed to do something.
"Yes," he finally answered. "If I hadn't had this time… if I hadn't been able to be with my family and friends, maybe they wouldn't understand. I don't know how they'd have reacted. I like to think that this time won't be as painful as it could have been otherwise."
House kept studying him with his eyes like he was nothing but a test subject, although there was now a renewed spark of curiosity in his eyes.
"You danced around my question. You're still being too altruistic."
"What does that mean?"
"You worry way too much about everyone else. You put emphasis on helping your family, to get them ready to deal with this situation. You avoid talking about yourself, you walk around the problem. Was it worthwhile for you? Or would you rather have died in an instant without having all these days of dreadful wait?"
Lincoln had to stop to consider the question, but he soon reached an answer, and for the first time since he had met him, he felt smarter than the doctor.
"It's not like I'm not doing this for myself," he explained, choosing his words carefully. "All this time I've spent with my family is also a bit selfish. I planted a tree, you know? And I know they're gonna take care of it. And I had deep moments with every single sister and my best friends. I tried to help them improve and get over a few problems they had in their lives even before this thing happened. And I made sure they would remember me and have me present even when I'm gone. I recorded videos to show on their birthdays and stuff. Videos for whenever they miss me or feel bad. I made sure to leave things for them to remember me."
"Just like the pharaohs," House commented, earning an impressed look from his patient. "Interesting… Huh. It all makes sense now."
"You. I was having a hard time understanding you, Lincoln Loud. There was something about you that just didn't feel right. I knew you were hiding something. Your extreme worry for other people is just another way your ego manifests."
"Hey, I don't—"
"I'm not insulting you, you idiot," he interrupted him. "No one's perfect, we're all selfish, we're all flawed. Human beings are hard-wired to be assholes and bad people. But everyone showcases it in different ways. Some yell at retail workers, some crash planes, some form K-Pop bands. If instead of becoming part of the mafia your form of transcending is to help others… that's pretty noble."
House tilted his head and shrugged.
"Still pointless at the end of the day, but noble."
"You do know you're incredibly rude, right?"
"Of course. But I cure people and solve cases no one else can. Empiric mathematics suggests my impact in the world is more positive than negative," he calmly explained. "So, what could you take off your bucket list?"
"How did you know I made a list?"
House stared at him for a second before smiling.
"I didn't mean a literal list."
"Oh. Well, yes. Although…" Lincoln trailed off, bowing his head and sighing. "I couldn't complete it."
"No life is ever complete. There's not a single person in the history of humanity that died without having anything else to do."
"And now… now I can only wait. Nothing more. How soon do you think it'll happen? Tonight? Tomorrow?"
House got closer to the bed, grabbing his medical files, and silently reading them. As his eyes checked all the numbers and annotations, his head shook.
"Hard to tell. Probably before the night is over."
Lincoln closed his eyes, and the desire to cry his frustrations out overwhelmed him. He still couldn't tell how he felt. Incapable of doing anything, scared...
"Will it hurt?" He asked, with his anxiety as present as ever.
House used his cane to point at the serum.
"As soon as your heart activity becomes irregular, that IV will release drugs and painkillers. No pain. It'll be just like falling asleep."
Part of him felt relieved. At least he knew it wouldn't hurt. That was maybe one of the aspects that scared and worried him the most. Being suffocated with no air or blood pumping through his body for minutes before dying… the mere idea terrified him. Knowing that he wouldn't feel any sort of pain was great news. And yet, thinking that it could be just like falling asleep was just as dreadful. A single instant that he wouldn't be completely aware of…
"Believe me… it's possibly one of the most peaceful ways of going. No pain at all. That's a luxury most people don't have."
Maybe not, Lincoln thought, but it seemed that the wait itself was painful enough, the suffering he was yet to endure. A heavy cross he dragged on the long way to the Calvary, where the prospect of knowing what was coming was probably more tragic and overwhelming than the fact itself.
House left the files aside and sighed.
"I should go. I've already figured out what I needed to know. The missing piece in the puzzle."
Lincoln opened his eyes to stare at him.
"I guess I'm still nothing but a game for you," he sadly commented. "Just another case that you've cracked."
"Not exactly. I'm usually interested in curing and treating diseases, not patients. I'm not a psychologist. But I got a particular interest in you. I don't think you're perfect, or a saint, or the best person in the world. But in all my years… you're probably in the top ten of better persons I've met."
A smile spread on Lincoln's face.
"Top ten? Seriously?"
"At least three of them belong to rock bands, but yes."
"Well… thank you. That means a lot to me."
House nodded, although he seemed to sort of dismiss his compliment.
"Your family's waiting."
He began pacing to the door, but maybe because of his ADHD, there was something Lincoln wanted to know.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"You mean besides that one?"
"You said that this… serum will make it painless. And that most people don't have that luxury. What's the most painful way to die?"
He knew it was a morbid question, but Lincoln was curious. He'd heard that the brain would stay active for a few minutes after decapitation, but as scary as that was, it may not necessarily be the most painful. He wondered if the answer would be electrocution, fire, or maybe drowning.
The doctor took his time reflecting on the question, and his eyes were blankly staring somewhere on the floor. His quick eye movement and his pursed lips were making obvious his thought process. Lincoln wondered if he was maybe mentally going through all the cases he had worked with or something he had learned in medical school.
Finally, House looked up at him, apparently satisfied with the conclusion he had reached.
And with nothing else to say, he abandoned the room, leaving a very thoughtful Lincoln waiting for his family to enter and say their last goodbyes.
For almost three weeks, the family had done everything possible to get ready for the inevitable farewell. Each member had reacted in their own way to the news. Some broke down, some isolated themselves, some let their anger flow, their fears, their regrets. The most painful part had undoubtedly been accepting the news, understanding, comprehending, and assuming the terrible reality that crept in closer and closer with every tick of the clock. It was one of those situations and moments where the words didn't reach. No one had ever imagined having to face such a horrific scenario, something to leave them wordless, reactionless, and worst of all, hopeless.
Knowing themselves incapable of doing anything to help, stop, or even delay the farewell was killing them. They had crashed headfirst into the crude reality, and the impact had been the worst experience of their lives.
And yet, just when they believed that they had endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they were now facing their last chance to say goodbye. All the shed tears, all the words that they said, and the promises they made, it was all coming back together now for one last strike. It seemed impossible to keep floating in such a sea of desolation and anguish; it seemed much easier to just let themselves swim down. Even so, no one avoided the herculean task. One by one, they all stepped into the room to get their last intimate moment with the child they would never forget.
Lisa was the first one. She apologized to him for not being smart enough, but she made sure to emphatically assure him that the lessons he had imparted on him were much more valuable than any scientific essay she had ever read. She promised him to focus on becoming a better person, a better friend, and a better sister.
"I'm sure kids will wait in life to be your friends once they see how awesome you are," he said, holding her tight.
It was painful for both of them to let go, but she spent a long while and everyone else was waiting for their turn. With one last hug, one last goodbye, and a few last tears, the young genius left the room.
Lucy came in after her. She softly approached him, almost gliding through the air. There were only a few words exchanged between them. She simply stood by his side, held his hand, and let silent tears to rain down her face. He pulled her into a hug, shared her pain, and whispered empty words trying to soothe her. The minutes passed in silence, but their souls seemed connected, and even without many words, they had a very meaningful exchange.
She eventually looked up to stare directly into his eyes, and through her heavy bangs, he was able to see the softest, briefest flash of her pupils.
"We'll meet again on the other side," she said, her voice struggling to be heard.
"Take your time, and I'll be waiting for you," he assured her.
When Lori's turn came, she seemed much ready to talk. She sat on the chair next to his bed, looking at him with the trails of her mascara dragged all over her cheeks. She avoided saying goodbye; she didn't seem to be strong enough to do it. But she made it very clear that she would take care of their sisters in his absence.
"We'll all be in this together," she told him, her eyes trailing off at the ceiling like she was trying to visualize the future, or like she couldn't look at him without breaking down. "No one will have to endure this alone. Even Luan and Lynn are so much more open to sharing their feelings, now. I'll take care of everyone."
"Please do. But also take care of yourself," Lincoln asked her, forcing her to look at him. "You deserve someone to look after you, too. And I'm sure they'll be there for you."
Not even all the courage and willpower she summoned was enough for the eldest sister to not break down and cry.
Lynn was after her, but the toughest of the girls had no qualms in breaking into a sobbing mess as soon as she ran into the room, holding him as tight as she could and letting him know how much it hurt and how painful it was to have to say goodbye. He tried to comfort her, but it was hard to lend a helping hand when he himself felt just as terrible. The two of them were able to vent their miseries until Lynn managed to get a grip on her emotions.
"Sometimes I feel like you're the oldest of the two," she confessed, wiping her tears with the sleeve of her jersey. "I wish I had been more mature, o-or a better example."
"You've always been my hero," he told her. "I've always wished I was as brave and bold as you. Challenging yourself to improve, to reach your goals, to be the best… Lynn, I hope you keep being that way. And I hope you inspire many others as you've inspired me."
It took them a long while, but she was finally able to say her last goodbye, and she left her place to Lana, who wouldn't stop shedding tears for a second, but she did everything she could to stay strong. She assured him that she would forever take care of the tree they had both planted, and almost as if she had a speech, she explained all the different cares she needed to take with it, all the tools she would have to use, and everything that she and her sisters could do with it.
"I-It'll give out a big shadow when it's hot, a-and maybe some birds might put their nest on it. But I won't let f-fungi to grow around it, or let it run out of water, o-or let the sun dry its leaves and… and…"
Lincoln stroke her hair as she frantically rubbed her eyes.
"I-I'm trying n-not to cry… I d-don't want to make you feel bad, b-but… it's so hard. W-Would you forgive me if I do?"
And for the rest of the time she spent in the room, he did nothing but comforting her and be there for her as she let out all her pain.
Luna was the next one, and oddly enough, it was she who managed to keep her composure longer than anyone else in the family. The tidal wave of negative emotions she was enduring was evident on her face and posture, but she did her best effort to smile at her little brother as much as she could. She sat next to him on the hospital bed, wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and she made sure to tell him just how much he meant to her. She reminded him of her favorite memories together, their movie nights, their improvised concerts, the dozens of songs he had inspired her to write throughout the years.
"I'm sorry we couldn't write one together," he said, leaning against her shoulder.
"Me too, little dude. Me too. B-But I'll be writing many, many songs about this one special kid. Someone who's always by my side. Someone who looks after me, who understands me… The whole world will know about him."
"Luna? Could you… sing something for me? It can be anything."
She sighed, immediately looking for his hand to hold. He thought about for a few seconds, and then her sweet, melodic voice filled the entire room.
Take my hand tonight
Let's not think about tomorrow
Take my hand tonight
We could find someplace to go
Cause our hearts are locked forever
And our love will never die
Take my hand tonight
One last time…
She had managed to stay strong throughout the whole conversation, but right after externalizing her feelings in the form of song lyrics, Luna Loud had to spend several minutes of silence trying to recover from a devastating emotional blow.
It was then Luan's turn. She was, more in attunement with Lana, did everything she could to stay strong, but emotions were a tricky thing, and she wasn't able to suppress them. She had a small conversation with him about the videos he had been recording. She assured him that, no matter what, she would make sure to preserve them and give them away when the time was right.
Besides that, she apologized for all the heavy pranks she had done to him, to which he told her that not all of them had been that bad. And for several minutes, they got slightly distracted reminiscing about their favorites. He had to admit that some of them had been really funny in retrospect, and she revealed what had been the best reactions she had gotten out of him. They exchanged stories, anecdotes, but the happier the memories were, the more affected she seemed. When it was finally her time to leave the room, she kissed him on the cheek and hugged him. She began to lean back, but her eyes suddenly focused on something on his chest.
"W-What's that?" She asked, pointing with her index finger.
Lincoln looked down to see what she was talking about… and as soon as he did, she pulled her finger up, gently bopping his nose.
"G-Gotcha," she said, trying to smile through the tears. Lincoln giggled. "T-That's all I wanted. One last smile…"
Luan hadn't yet left the room when Lola ran into it, jumping right on Lincoln and letting loose a river of tears on his chest. He held her, stroked her back, and tried his best to soothe her.
"I-I don't want to! I don't want you to leave!" She cried, not worried in the least about keeping his makeup or hair in perfect shape.
"I don't wanna go either…"
"Y-You're my brother… I c-can't… without you I… I don't… L-Lincoln…"
He had to resist the urge to break down. He wanted to tell her that everything would be alright, that he'd get better and would go back home to coach her for her next pageant… but they both knew that it wasn't true. And with him being the older sibling, it was his responsibility to be strong for her.
"Just… remember that whatever you do, your big brother will always be proud of you, and he'll always love you."
He wasn't able to help her the way he wanted, but he had already learned and assumed that there were some pains that no words, as thoughtful and kind as they were, could ever heal. Wounds that would leave scars that could never heal, and which pain would become bearable at best, but it would never fade away.
There was nothing he could do to make Lola feel better right then, but at the very least, she wouldn't be alone.
Finally, and after a quite long staying of the princess in Lincoln's room, it was the turn for the last sister to have a one-on-one moment with him to say goodbye. Leni gently walked next to him, sitting by his side, on the same chair Lori had used, and using her hand as an improvised comb, she kept caressing and stroking her brother's hair.
"I'm sorry if I didn't spend as much time with you as I did with the others, Leni," he apologized, knowing that if he didn't speak that one regret right then, he would never have another chance. "I hope you know I didn't mean anything by it. I love you all the same."
A warm smile spread on the blonde's face.
"You were being a good brother. Taking care of them and making them feel better. And I get really, really sad when they're sad, so in a way, by helping them you were also helping me, right?"
Lincoln grabbed her hand.
"Never change, Leni. Never change."
"I love you so much, Linky. And I-I'll miss you."
"You tried so hard all these days to stay strong for me. Trying to make me feel better and to focus on the good things… but you can cry too if you want. You don't have to be strong all the time."
The invitation was impossible to reject.
After his sisters, it was his parents' turn to step in and face their final challenge. Perhaps they had suffered too much in solitude after the diagnosis, or maybe it was their paternal instinct that granted them the strength they needed, but they were able to stay strong in his presence. Heavy tears fell, but they assured him that he had been a great son, an exemplary person and that they were impossibly proud of him. That the whole family had been lucky to have him in their lives. That he had been one of the great gifts that life had given them.
His father was the first one to step in, and he did it carrying Lily with him. The baby seemed to understand that everything was falling apart around her. She looked sad, maybe because she was seeing her whole family crying, and the first thing she did was get into Lincoln's arms and rest her head on his chest. Lincoln cradled her, trying his best to not scare or confuse her. As he held her, he wondered what sort of person would his baby sister grow up to be. What would her hobbies be? What would she be like?
Would she be affected in any way for not having her brother to grow up with? Lincoln, unfortunately, would never know. In just a few minutes, as Lynn Sr talked with his son, Lily fell asleep, and the sweet innocence of the girl clutching to her brother moved both males. With one final kiss on the forehead and a seemingly eternal hug, Lynn Sr said goodbye to his son, took the baby in his arms, and carried her out of the room.
Rita was the last one to get in, and it was she who stayed with him until the end. She sat next to him, grabbed his hand, and never let go. She seemed to be on the edge of a breakdown, as fragile as a house of cards, but for the first time since the news had hit them, she assumed her role as a parent and carried the weight of the world on her shoulders for him. When he finally confessed that he was afraid, she made sure to let him know that she would be with him to the end.
The hours turned endless as if the passage of time was doing its best to slow down, trying to stretch Lincoln's staying in the world. Every minute felt like its own eternity, with Lincoln simply waiting to meet his end without a moment's notice. He lost count of how many times he felt a slight discomfort or an unexpected sensation, scaring the living daylights out of him, only to find out that it was nothing to worry about.
His mother was beside him, but Lincoln couldn't help but feel extremely alone, and that scared him and made him even more anxious.
"Mom, can I use your phone really quickly?"
Rita gave it to him without even asking what he needed it for. Lincoln looked for the group chat that all his siblings shared, and with his free hand, he took the phone to his mouth to record a short voice message.
"Hey guys, it's me. I just… wanted to remind you that I love you. Very, very much," he simply said, sending it right away.
In a matter of seconds, voice messages from all his sisters started to come in.
"A-And we love you too, Linky! You're the best!
"You'll be in my heart, always."
"Lincoln, we all love you. That's never going to change."
"I love you more!"
"Thanks, Lincoln… me too."
"We love you, Linky!"
"Y-You're the best brother in the world! I love you with all my heart, Linc."
"You'll always be the best thing we've ever had."
"T-The sentiment is mutual. Thank you for this message. I-I needed it."
Lincoln smiled at the sound of their voices. He wished he could have them by his side. That way, maybe the wait wouldn't be so bad.
"Could you play them back?" He asked his mother.
He closed his eyes as he listened to his sister's messages again and again. As the audios looped, he would close his eyes and picture them in his mind. He could clearly see their faces, every little detail clear as water. Their hair, their freckles, their eyelashes, their makeup, their smiles, their eyes, their lips, the expressions he could imagine them having, judging by the inflections on their voices. Focusing on his words, it really felt like they were beside him.
And thus, eventually, his tiredness and stress managed to take over him, and Lincoln Loud surrendered himself to one quiet, peaceful slumber, held by the hand by his mother, with the voices and memories of his sisters, his loved ones, reminding him how much they loved him.
A quiet, peaceful slumber from which he never woke up.