The Loud House and all associated characters are owned by Nickelodeon. I make neither profit from this work of fiction nor claims of ownership over the show.
Lincoln looked out the dining room window. His eyes followed the red-and-white blur zoom to the right. A moment later his eyes darted to the left, following the motion.
She'd been doing that for a while now. Whatever it was she was doing... At first, it looked like she was doing an intensive form of interpretive dance. But the more he watched, the more it started to look like she was exercising. Multiple ones. At the same time. In quick succession… but there was something else.
He was no expert in exercising by any means, Lynn had that honor. But he could tell something was off, as he compared his memories of Lynn exercising, to the girl's. Her form, her balance, her movements, the way she exerted herself… as he took all of them into consideration. It all became apparent.
Her body's coordination was off.
He tore his attention from the girl, before beelining to the kitchen.
Lincoln watched attentively.
The girl wore a red athletic jacket and white track shorts. And a red ballcap with a yellow crest on the center. He noticed the hat was a tad too big, as it rested precariously on her head.
With trembling arms, Bailey tried her best to complete the set. Eyes closed and teeth clenched, she pushed with all her might. Gravitational pull be damned. The oversized ballcap lost the fight a second later as it draped over her eyes, but she pushed through regardless.
"T-ten!" she laughed, as she raised her ballcap's visor. Only to widen her eyes as they made eye contact. She gaped at him, before blurting. "– h-hundred!"
He tried to contain his grin. She looked mortified for a moment, before she scrambled to her feet with renewed vigor. She played it cool a second later, leaning against the side of the house with one arm.
"Hey there, Hotshot~" she said as she flexed a slender arm. "Here for the gun show?"
"Depends… am I getting front row seats?" He responded, rolling with it. Her face flushed as he said that, and he suddenly remembered why he was there in the first place. "Here."
It was just a glass of water. But something about the way she shifted her eyes from it back to his own face, hinted at conflicting emotions... she apprehensively took the glass from his outstretched hand, and squinted at the transparent liquid.
"D-Did Brie get ahold of this?" stuttered Bailey. "She might be trying to test her new infusion on you, you know…"
"No…" he said hesitantly. Only for realization to grace him. "Is that why she insisted on adding flavoring to it?"
Bailey looked ready to empty it on the ground.
"But I didn't let her!" He blurted. Before cupping his chin. "…And I don't think she was trying to add anything weird to it? I mean… she really insisted on adding mint leaves and lemon slices, but…"
"She did huh...Thanks then." She muttered vaguely after that. "Probably thought… you… gonna… drink it…"
Lincoln meant to ask, but she suddenly started downing the tall glass of water. Thinking nothing of it, he shrugged it off before finally asking her "So… you need help with your training or something?"
She gagged. She coughed and she heaved, and pounded a fist on her chest. By the time she was done she was gaping at him as water dribbled over her chin. He meant to ask her if she was okay, but she suddenly widened her eyes. She quickly turned around, wiped her face with her sleeve, before slapping her cheeks with her hands twice, before quickly turning back to him.
Her face was red. He didn't know if it was because of the heat or because she slapped herself too hard.
But the smile was unmistakable.
It took a bit of adjusting at first. With the energy of an excited puppy, she peppered him with weird and obscure workout maneuvers, and if he was familiar with any of them. Some of the exercises she described didn't even sound like they were real, much less possible. And that was saying something… considering he lived with Lynn!
Eventually, they settled on the basics. She was eager to oblige, and he was relieved that he'd be helping her with the fundamentals. Something that he was familiar with at least, and something he felt like she needed help with the most. So, they picked up where they left off.
"Right, before we start, I'm going to need you to stretch your arms in front." He said in front of her, a short distance away, before demonstrating.
"L-like I'm gonna give someone a hug?"
"Yeah!" He eyed her arm positions. "But keep your palms down. Good. Now raise them, like your pushing a wall. That's it! Good. Now - "
Lincoln paused when he suddenly felt her palms connect with his. He felt her fingers trembling against his, only to relax a moment after. When Lincoln looked at her face, he found her trying to contain a smile as she kept her eyes on the grass. Lincoln followed her line of sight, and found her lightly rocking a foot back and forth against the grass.
Keeping their palms against one another, Lincoln pushed lightly. He felt no resistance as he slowly closed the distance. The moment he began, her eyes darted back to his, and widened. Every step he took closer, her face turned redder and redder. Her fingers trembled again as he kept his eyes locked on hers.
They were close, her ballcap's visor almost touching his forehead. Their elbows folded as they kept their hands up and against one another. Her whole body was trembling now. Her hands, her lips, her eyes. Lincoln took the moment to inspect her form before continuing.
"Feel that?" he asked.
"Y-y-y-y-," Bailey stuttered, over and over. She stared at him, trembling faster as each second passed. Her hands were practically vibrating against his hands, as he waited patiently. Then suddenly, like a spring, coiled to its lowest point – Straining against resistance. She released. Hard. From the top of her voice, and to her arms. "YES!".
It was the last thing he heard before he hit the ground. Lincoln took back everything he inferred about the girl's athletic prowess. The look of her arms betrayed the muscles underneath.
Bailey was stronger than he thought.
"L-Lincoln?" he heard her ask. "Oh man! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to -"
"Good form! Hold that position," he wheezed as he stood up, ignoring the ache on his torso. Before walking back to a red-faced Bailey and placing a hand on her shoulder. She squeaked when he did so. "Always return to that position. Then back again, just like earlier. You should feel your shoulder blades moving like that. You understand?"
"M-Mm-hmm," She sounded, lips trembling. She nodded her head animatedly at him.
He smiled at her eagerness… and also the ballcap flapping on her head, as it struggled to stay on.
So, they continued on. Him coaching her, and her eagerly obliging. Subtly correcting her exercise forms. And reminded her to slow down when she got too into it and messed up her forms again.
Man, if Lynn could see him now. He wouldn't hear the end of it.
He was surprised to find how energetic Bailey was. She'd been working out non-stop since they started, despite asking her to take a break a few times. "Nah!" she said through gritted teeth. "N-No pain, N-No gain!". And every time she said so, she compensated harder to convince him otherwise.
She was like Lynn that way. A lot like her.
The type that would break before she bends.
It led him to subtly finding ways to get her to do less-intensive exercises. Ones that were less likely to get her hurt... or him. Stretching, planking… they were doing sit-ups now, as he tried to distract her.
"Hey, Bailey?" he asked, his hands on her calves, keeping them in place. "What're you even training for?"
…In the summer… while wearing a jacket. He wanted to ask those too, but he kept that to himself.
"Tryouts," She winced as she brought her torso up, and smiled once they were eye level again. She'd been doing that for a while now. Her face was flushed again, whether it was because of the heat, or if she was pushing herself too hard again, he didn't know. But that didn't stop her from doing it every time. "Need to make a name for myself. Need everyone to understand. Especially my mom."
"Understand what?" he asked, watching her go down again.
"That I'm not giving up on sports. Even if I have to work hard to earn it." She brought herself up again and continued curling. "Mom just doesn't understand. Says I should focus on studying."
"Every parent does that."
"She's different." Her smile was gone now when their eyes met again. "Wants me to throw the towel."
"…She doesn't support you?"
"She used to…" she took longer to get back up that time. Her visor covered her eyes as the ballcap loosened on her head.
Lincoln mulled over what she said. It seemed that Bailey did so as well, as she kept silent. He opted to say something to comfort her, but Bailey got there first.
"But that's all going to change!" A frenzy seemed to have overtaken her, as she continued her reps. Hard and fast. "I'll learn the ropes! I'll get better, and I'll blow them all away! All of them! And it starts with me beating Bertha. And I'm not giving in until I do."
"Bertha?" he asked hesitantly. "...What does she have to do with all this."
"She's the strongest competition. She's everything I stand against," She said, not bothering to expand on that.
"Wouldn't – Wouldn't it be better if both of you helped each other?" he tried to convince her. "I mean… training? Workouts? Sounds like her expertise…"
"Bertha's not into sports. Thinks it's dumb, even though she's talented in it…" Grunted Bailey, as she curled faster. "She's wasted potential. She might as well join Beth and the rest of them."
"Don't… don't talk about your sisters like that," He murmured.
"Half-sister." She corrected. Her eyes were intense as she raised her visor. Before she continued curling hard again. "All the more reason to beat her…"
Sibling rivalry, despite their situation… he couldn't say that he didn't relate to her, though. With his own sisters. Especially Lynn, who outmatched everyone when it came to physical activities. They all learned at some point, that winning against Lynnsanity on her field was a dead-end.
And if the same could be said with Bertha… then it said a lot about Bailey as well. She hadn't given up yet, despite the fact.
He admired that about her, and he resolved to do he's best to support her…
Panic suddenly flashed through him. He forgot what he was trying to do in the first place!
"Bailey! Do you need a breather?! You've been going non-stop for a while now!"
"Huh?" she paused and raised her eyebrows, before smirking. "Nah, I feel – "
She winced before she could finish the thought. She collapsed on her back, as she tried to keep up the front, she didn't groan or curl over in pain. But the grimace on her face was unmistakable.
He scolded himself. He placed a hand on her abdomen and tried to soothe the pain away. "There, there~"
Tried. At least.
The moment his hands were in place, he heard a squeal. It was the last thing he heard before he found himself back on the ground, with a throbbing forehead. Followed by the a view of a red ballcap flying overhead.
"Lincoln? Oh man, I'm so sorry!" said Bailey, her face now closely hovering over his. Her pain seemed to have faded. That was good, at least. "My body just acted on its own! I'm so so so sorry I'll – why, uh - why are you smiling?"
He reached up, and softly thumbed the imprint on her forehead. "You look good without your cap…"
It was easy to miss, when her cap drew most of the attention. Her hair was longer than he expected, and a bit messy. But that was too be expected… under her cap, and her strenuous activities. It prompted the question, why she didn't tie it... But despite all that, his face heated up as he realized that he was staring.
"H-huh?" she stuttered as she relaxed against his touch. Only to tense again, as she ran her hands over her hair. She gave him one-last wide-eyed look, before she bolted. She was back, soon as she had left, cap back where it belonged. She was red-faced again, apologizing profusely.
It didn't matter really. It was his fault, if anything. But he didn't get the chance to say so as he laid there. Suddenly, an idea popped into his head.
"W-What?" asked Bailey.
He patted the soft grass next to him. "Come on. Let's take it slow for a while."
She mumbled. Her eyes darted from his to the spot beside him. She seemed conflicted at his suggestion for a moment before she finally relented. He felt satisfaction surge through him. He finally got her to stay rest…
Only for embarrassment to overtake it once she settled down next to him.
He didn't know she'd lay down that close to him.
If both of them so much as turned at each other's direction. His forehead would've surely hit her cap's visor. It was awkward at first, they just kept silent. Looking at the sky above them. But he adjusted to it eventually... He couldn't say the same about the tense girl beside him, though.
So, he tried to distract her.
"Tell me about your ballcap."
That did the trick. More than he expected, actually. She smiled at him, before she started. She began slow, and gradually picked up pace the more she got into it. He regretted not paying attention to Lynn more when she talked about sports. Because she went off wild tangents. Talked about famous baseball players, explained the history of basketball, and spouted weird football trivia. He tried his best to follow, but his knowledge was limited. And he got lost at some points in the story… even though he paid close attention.
Because the more he paid attention to the story, the more he got distracted by her. The way she smiled, the way her eyes lit up, the way she gestured and re-enacted forms and maneuvers for him. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and It drew him to her. And each time he caught himself doing it, he felt hot and embarrassed.
He didn't know how long they've been there, but it didn't matter. Bailey was happy, and she got her rest. And that was enough for him.
"This cap is one of a kind, Lincoln! It's my trademark, and I'll grow into it eventually," She said, as she raised the visor higher from her head. "It pumps me up when I'm in the zone. It inspires me when I lose. And it's something I'll wear when I succeed."
"Wow," He breathed out, as he locked eyes with her again. "Hope I'll be there to see it when you do."
"You- you really mean it?" she asked, disbelief in her tone. "You want to be there? To support me?"
"Why wouldn't I?" he said, assuring her. "This is important for you, isn't it?"
She nodded at him slowly, and her face looked pensive. "When I do, huh…"
Lincoln was about to ask her what was on her mind. When suddenly, she sat up, fist pumped and smiled at him.
"Come on, Lincoln!" She said as she stood up. Her energy was back to full capacity it seemed.
"What?" he asked hesitantly, as she pulled him to his feet. "More exercising?"
"Nah! Those were just warmups!"
"W-warmups?" he repeated, incredulously. "Warmups for what?"
They've been waiting for a while now... Lincoln looked around the front yard again. Nothing. Not what Bailey was looking for, at least. He leaned against the tree, glass of water in his hand. He didn't know how much longer they'd have to wait... and he was beginning to get concerned about Bailey.
Did the afternoon heat get to her?
She stood there on the sidewalk. Hand over squinted eyes, eyeing the horizon. Like a hawk scanning for prey.
Whatever that was…
Suddenly, she perked up. Something caught her attention. Lincoln strained his eyes at the direction. And found an orange blur slowly coming into sight. He looked at Bailey for clues…but found her missing. He turned back at the blur and found Bailey whizzing towards it. Farther and farther from him.
He could barely make out what was happening. Two blurs. Red and orange. Doing…something? As soon as they got close. The red blur seemed to have struck a pose, and shouted something at the orange blur… Only for the orange blur to swerve around the red one without stopping, Ignoring her. The red blur didn't seem to like that. She jumped up and down, shouting behind the orange blur.
As the blur got closer into sight, everything became clearer. If he squinted enough, he could almost see his sister, Lynn… But it wasn't her. The fact made more apparent as she got closer. Because the girl wore orange. Tank top. Gym shorts. Sweatband.
Bertha. Did Bailey change her mind about his suggestion earlier?
Her eyes focused straight ahead, and gave him a quick glance as she neared him. Then back ahead, her eyes slowly widened as she passed him. She was busy with jogging, it seemed.
Just when he thought the encounter was over. He suddenly felt a weight on his shoulder. Making him lean to the side, and closer into someone that wasn't there before.
How did she -?!
"Hey there, Tiger~" Bertha purred, grinning, her face remarkable close to his.
"Tiger?" he asked. Bertha tapped his chest with a finger in response. Lincoln resisted the urge to roll his eyes and grin at what she was getting at. "You… do realize that we're both wearing orange, right?"
He got his answer as red flooded her cheeks. "Of – of course I did! I'm just saying… uh… you know how the saying goes… Tigers of the same stripes… and birds never changes feathers… and all that!"
That definitely was not how the saying goes.
Lincoln couldn't resist a smile. "Nice save."
"R-right?" she stuttered, and flexed a toned arm. "So… here for the gun show?"
"Depends… do I get backstage passes?" Her face lit up again, as a toothy grin appeared. And once again, it reminded him of earlier as he eyed the glass of water in his hand. "Here."
"For me? Well, aren't you sweet!" she said as she accepted it. Lincoln felt his face heat up at the compliment… not to mention the suggestive way she looked at him, as she pressed the glass to her lips.
Then, A familiar voice suddenly interrupted her before she could drink.
"What are you doing?!" interrogated Bailey. For a moment, he thought she was talking to him. But Bailey ran to his other side. And tugged the arm around his shoulders. "Get your sweaty arm off him!"
"You're one to talk, Runt." Bertha rolled her eyes. "Told you already, I'm not interested."
"Don't call me runt, meathead!" Bailey tugged harder. "Doesn't even make sense! We're the same height!"
"Yeah, but you act like one!" said Bertha, barely bothered by Bailey's tugging. "Can't you see we're busy here?"
"He's not here for you!" Bailey arched her back as she pulled harder, her legs grinding into his own. "He's here to support me!"
This was going too far.
Lincoln tried to defuse the situation before it escalated further… and maybe take advantage of the opportunity.
"How about – you two – compromise." he offered, feeling like a chew toy between two territorial canines. "And the – three of us – do something – together!"
"No way! Bai-loser will just mess it up." Bertha scoffed, before smiling at him as she brought the glass of water back to her lips. "How about just you and me." She said, before downing the water.
He glanced at Bailey. Her face flushed and her brows furrowed as she glared at Bertha… Then, she suddenly grinned. "Didn't know you like Brie's drinks that much, Bertha."
Bertha paled. It happened in an instant after that. Bertha dropped the glass, and he barely caught it. She turned her head away from them, and did the longest spit take he'd ever seen, forcing herself to expel what she took in. Bailey laughed as it all unfolded, clutching her stomach. While he, on the other hand, tried to convince Bertha that it was just water. (Water that Brie insisted to add flavoring again…but he kept that to himself.)
It was rather funny, if he was being honest. But Bertha didn't seem to think so. She was red again when she glanced at him, wiping the water dribbling down her chin. And turned even redder when she spotted Bailey laughing.
"That's it! You want a rematch?" Bertha growled. "You. Me. Let's settle this!"
"You wanna go?" Bailey challenged. "Let's go. Right now!"
Lincoln tried his best to do damage control, but he could only do so much between the two angry girls grinding against him. Throwing insults, daring each other to do something, each word exchanged harsher than the last.
"Come on, guys!" Lincoln tried to keep them apart, but it was a losing battle. "Maybe we can settle this some other way!"
"Yeah." Bertha snarled at Bailey. It seemed like she didn't even notice him. "Like boxing."
Lincoln shrank at that suggestion. "Or beatboxing!"
"Or Wrestling." Bailey growled at Bertha, not noticing him as well.
Lincoln winced. "Or Thumb Wrestling!"
"Or –" they both started.
"Or a non-contact sport that won't end up with either of you dead, hospitalized, incapacitated, injured or just hurt in general!" he said in one breath, before either of them get crazier ideas.
That did the trick. They finally noticed him… which means they also noticed the compromising position they were in. How much their bodies were pressed together. With a squeak, both scrambled away, and composed themselves.
He was just relieved that he managed to defuse the tension, as he enjoyed the peace.
Eventually, someone cleared their throat. Lincoln turned to the source.
Bertha looked away from them, her ears red. "The usual."
The usual? He turned to Bailey for answers.
She looked away from them as well. Her ears were red too. "Fine. Same time. Same place."
"Fine," said Bertha… then she followed it up. "He competes as well."
"No!" Bailey snapped, as she turned to Bertha. "You – you're just the worst, you know that! "
Bertha met Bailey's glare head on. "He competes or I walk."
Bailey was going to argue against it, but he stepped in before she could.
"It's okay, Bailey…" he tried to appease her. "If this is what you want…"
When he suggested they all should do something together… he didn't expect this…
But it was non-contact, at least. That comforted him. The competition was simple. An hour before sunset. Started and ended at the Warrens. One lap through Regal Woods park… And if it was the same place as the one back home, it would take an hour to finish. Give or take. A race, Bailey explained...before she suddenly distanced away from him... She looked despondent, for some reason.
They all went their separate ways after that, making preparations. His came in the form of a small sling bag around his back. Courtesy of Beverly, who fussed over him, when he told her and Beth everything.
The time for the race came soon enough. The sky started to tinge a light orange, as the sun neared the horizon. He turned to the Warrens and found unexpected spectators, bunched up, as they watched from the living room window. Lincoln waved at them, and they suddenly turned their attention elsewhere, pretending they weren't interested… Except for Brandy, who smiled and waved back enthusiastically.
His competitors, on the other hand, were finishing up their warm-ups. Bertha had a look that conveyed both boredom and annoyance. While, Bailey shifted from looking distracted to motivated.
"Think you'll win?" said a familiar voice beside him.
"Think I'll pass out…" He responded. "Trying to keep those two from butting heads…"
"Yeah? Well…Look on the bright side..."
"What bright side?"
"If you do pass out…" Beth yawned at the thought, before smiling. "We can both be unconscious together again..."
"Hmm, tempting offer." Lincoln smiled at the joke. "Maybe this time you get to be the pillow?"
A light tinge of pink crept up to Beth's cheeks. "We'll see…"
A whistle suddenly blared, he took that as the signal. He went to the sidewalk, and got into position between Bertha and Bailey. He wished Bertha good luck, she responded with a wink. He did the same with Bailey… but she responded with a strange look on her face, before she turned away, slapped her cheeks again with both hands, and turned her ballcap back. He heard her whisper to herself, "Get in the game, Bailey…"
He turned to his front, and found an anxious Beverly holding a flag and officiating the race.
"On your mark…"
They crouched low on the asphalt.
They placed all their weight on their feet, ready to kick off.
"Oh! - Wait! Lincoln honey, did you bring – "
"Just GO!" a voice that sounded suspiciously like Beth interrupted.
And they kicked off running. Bailey most of all. She bolted pass him, immediately. He kept his attention on her as she started gaining more and more distance from him. Lincoln couldn't contain himself at the sight, and to think, just a few minutes ago he was worried for her!
"Woah! Go Bailey!" he cheered as loud as he could. He didn't know if she heard him or not. But her pacing got faster and faster, Gaining speed. Gaining momentum.
…And soon enough, she was out of sight.
After a few minutes of jogging on the sidewalk, Lincoln came to a conclusion.
The race was a rather…uneventful affair. Not like the ones he saw on Television, at least. There were no obstacles, or competitors sabotaging each other, or even neck-and-neck suspense.
It was almost peaceful...
Hardly what he expected from a competition.
Just as he finished the thought, he suddenly heard footsteps picking up behind him. Bertha! He couldn't believe he forgot about her. Lincoln picked up the pace instinctually. Only for his jaw to drop when she passed him… as she jogged backwards! Clearly having no problem matching his pace despite doing so.
"Easy there, Tiger." Bertha suddenly overtook him, forcing him to match her pace. Bertha grinned at him. "What's the rush?"
"What's the rush?" he repeated incredulously, as he slowed down to prevent from crashing into her. "It's a race!"
"She's still calling it that, huh?" She shook her head. "Never learns that one."
"It's all about endurance and stamina, Tiger. Not speed."
"Oh… shouldn't you be taking it seriously then?" He asked. Surrendered to the fact that he was outmatched against Bertha. "Bailey has loads of energy."
"Hmmm…Nah." Bertha grinned as she gazed at him. Slowly. From head to toe. "I'd rather be here."
Lincoln tried to ignore the heat on his face, as he looked for a distraction. "You shouldn't be doing that, you know… You might trip or something…"
"Worried about little old me?" She snickered. "I guess you're just gonna have to look out for me then, huh."
"What's the matter? Rather see my backside or something?" her face flushed, as she said it. She grinned at him. "Trust me... You're gonna see a lot more of it later when I start gaining on you."
He cleared his throat. "…Don't you mean me and Bailey?"
"Yeah…" said Bertha. She had a different look on her face now, a strange one. "Earlier… when the race started… you shouldn't do that…"
"What? Cheer Bailey on?" he guessed. Suddenly, he understood what she was hinting at." Oh, I get it… I hope you do your best as well, Bertha!"
She lost her footing when he said that, almost crashing into him. Fortunately, she caught herself at the last second. She quickly turned around and jogged beside him, properly.
"That's – That's not what I meant!" Bertha stuttered; flushed face turned away from him. "But… thanks."
"…What did you mean then?"
It took her a moment to respond back. They were inside the park now, and Bailey was still nowhere in sight. The sun was starting to lower. It's fleeting rays lighting everything in a faint glow of orange and yellow.
Bertha cleared her throat. "I meant don't humor the try-hard."
His footing faltered for a second. "Don't call your sister that."
"Half-sister." She corrected.
Lincoln exhaled slowly. "You two are a lot alike, you know? She thinks you're talented… She looks up to you."
"Yeah… Like a rock climber looks up at a cliff side." Bertha scoffed. " It's insulting. An obstacle for her to surpass. Wouldn't expect anything less from a jock."
"Don't dismiss her like that…" he tried to convince her. "Bailey has something to prove."
"They all have something to prove. All the same at the end of the day. Their self-inflated egos, their delusions of grandeur, thinking everything's a competition… Funny how having something to prove usually results in having an enemy…" Bertha rolled her eyes. "Athletes."
"…I thought you were an athlete?" he hesitated to ask. Scandalized at the Lynn look-alike.
"I'm a fitness enthusiast - A gym buff. There's a difference." She was scanning the park now. Looking for something. "Athletes are defined by competition – they need competitors to prove something. But people like me? Our competition is inside us. Ourselves."
Lincoln mulled over the implications between the two girls. "Sounds like you know a lot about... athletes."
"Yeah…" Bertha suddenly stopped jogging. He stopped as well, confused. Bertha looked at him, before pointing at something in the distance. "Even the ones that are bad at it."
Lincoln followed the direction.
And he felt his heart drop.
His feet acted on its own, as he raced as fast as he can.
She was lying there limply. A red form against a sea of green and orange. Her body turned upwards; face covered by her ballcap. Lincoln was beside her in a flash.
"Bailey!" He removed the hat from her face. He sighed in relief when he saw she was conscious. "Are you okay?!"
She widened her eyes, before her eyelids dropped halfway. She turned her head away from him. "I'm fine... just taking a rest... Just go on with the race."
"Lying," said Bertha, behind him. Standing against the setting sunlight, casting a shadow over them. "Burnt out? Can't race if you can't move."
Lincoln suddenly remembered his bag, he brought out a water bottle. Lifted Bailey's head, and offered her water. But she wouldn't cooperate. And he had a sneaking suspicion why…
Bertha looked away. "Passed the half-way mark…"
"Yeah-Yeah. " Bailey rolled her eyes, her voice dry. She slowly grabbed her hat from him and covered her face again. "Good game…"
Bertha looked back at him and Bailey. And said nothing. None of them said anything for a while. The race was over, but it felt…wrong. He half-expected Bertha to gloat at some point, but she just stood there...
Eventually, he broke the silence…
They were losing daylight.
"Hey, Bertha? Can you go on ahead?" he asked softly. "Tell Beverly and the others that we'll be back soon?"
Bertha looked like she wanted to say something. But after looking at him, she turned her eyes downward, bit her lip and nodded. Before turning around and started running again.
Disappearing out of sight.
Only then did he managed to coax Bailey to drink, as he held and pressed the bottle to her lips.
Bailey felt hot on his back… and quiet, ever since they left the park. He found her pensive when he checked on her. She was processing something, and he didn't interrupt, despite wanting to make sure she was okay. So, he distracted himself with the darkening orange sky above them. And the faint evening breeze behind their backs.
Bailey shifted behind him. "I'm sorry I lost."
Lincoln looked over his shoulder. She had her visor lowered. "Why're you apologizing? You don't need to apologize for anything."
"'Cause I let you down…" she said quietly. "I thought you weren't gonna support me anymore… when I dragged you into all this… then I heard you and I – I lost my cool… and I panicked… and I overcompensated… So, I ran... Until I couldn't … I didn't even think that you were gonna find me like that…burnt out before even finishing the race... Stupid."
"Hey…you didn't let me down." He assured her. "And you didn't have to go that hard either… Winning's not worth exhausting yourself like that."
"No. I did." Bailey gritted her teeth. "And It wasn't because I wanted to win that badly... I was scared of losing this time."
"You were gonna give up on me..."
His breathing hitched. "I'm not giving up on you, Bailey. What made you think that?"
"My mom did…" Her head turned away from him and watched the sunset. "And... you know…"
A long pause followed. He turned back to his front to give her some space. When he looked down at her arms around him, he found her hands clenched tight. She drew shallow breaths as she continued.
"That's why I need to train, Lincoln… I need to prove that I can be someone… Someone not to be given up on." She murmured between breaths. "That's why I need to beat Bertha… Because she's everyone."
"Yeah. Everyone." She repeated. "She's everyone that said I wasn't good enough… that I should just give up on sports... that told me that I was talentless… She's the look my mom gives me every time I ask her if she wants to watch me tryout for something… She's -"
"Your sister." He interrupted without thinking.
"…Half-sister." She corrected, as she drew deep breaths. "…And all the more reason to beat her."
She took in a deep breath, before letting it all out. He felt her shift behind him, before laxing again. Lincoln kept his eyes forward, as he took it all in. And waited for her to continue.
"I think about the difference between me and her sometimes... When I can't sleep at night." She started again, voice low. "How… we have the same dad... But one of us is 'naturally gifted'… and what that means for the both of us…like, how we took after our moms… and the idea that maybe our dad left… Because he found someone more talented…"
Everything fell into place after that. He was wrong, earlier. It was more than sibling rivalry.
That's where her drive for competition came from...
Lincoln swallowed. His mouth felt dry.
She was here for a reason, and it conflicted with his own…
He breathed deeply, before continuing. "…And what happens if you do beat her?"
Bailey tensed up behind him.
He turned to her, before continuing. "...And stops being your competitor?"
She didn't respond for a while. "I - I don't know probably…celebrate? Probably…"
"Probably… what?" he urged vaguely. She didn't think this whole thing through yet, there was a chance...
He hoped she reached the same conclusion he did.
Probably stop seeing her as a rival… and more as her sister.
Bailey drew a sharp breath… and exhaled slowly, like a sigh. "I-I'll cross that bridge when I get to it…"
He felt a pang of disappointment… but took comfort in the hope that she'll get there… eventually. So he focused on the road ahead of him.
The sun was down now. Leaving the sky, a light shade of purple crept in, as the orange afterglow faded away.
"You can let me down, Lincoln…" Bailey unclasped her hands from him. "I think I can walk by myself now."
He took a second to consider it, before bending his knees. He looked back at her, and stared her straight in the eyes, before turning back to the way before him. "Nah, I don't think I'm gonna!"
"What? Lincoln, don't be - " She yelped and scrambled to fasten her arms around him again as he kicked off running. "Lincoln! What are you doing?! Let me down!"
"No can do!" He saw the tip of her visor on his shoulder. Bailey braced her head as he kept running. He felt her mid-section, rising and falling, hinting at amusement. "You're going to need all the rest you can get!"
"For what?" she clutched tighter. Her voice's higher pitch wasn't lost on him, nor the start of a laugh threatening to burst as she struggled to contain herself.
Lincoln couldn't help but grin. "For next time!"
"You're still gonna support me?" She tittered, one hand on her head, keeping her ballcap from falling off.
He didn't respond to that. He just kept running and running. Just the two of them at that moment, under the purple sky, lamp posts lighting up, guiding the way to their destination. Racing against the wind. Faster and faster. Never stopping or slowing down. Not until he heard her laugh, and when she did, he ran even faster as he joined her.
By the end of it, both of them were breathless. It was the most tired he ever felt in a while. But it was all worth it. He slowed down to a crawl, leisurely walking down the sidewalk to catch his breath.
Bailey shifted behind him, as her arms crept down to his bag. Confusion blended with fatigue as he watched for answers. And got it a second later. When she brought out his water bottle, opened it… and pressed it to his lips.
He obliged and savored it as it ran down his throat. Enjoying every last drop, as he cooled down. When he finished it all, he glanced at Bailey and thanked her. Her face was flushed for some reason, She kept glancing to his own and back to the mouth of the water bottle. Before shaking her head and placing it back in his bag.
"You didn't have to do all that, you know…" she mumbled, as she fastened her arms back around him again. "I lost. So… I haven't earned it… or proven myself yet."
"Well, I lost too. And I say, you've earned it," he said, using her words against her. And more than he can give...
Bailey looked conflicted, she looked like she wanted to argue... but seemed to have decided against it. As she went silent.
"Hey, you have nothing to prove. To me. Or anyone, Bailey… But if you have to prove something to yourself, then I'm right behind you," he said softly, meaning every word of it, before turning to look her in the eye."…And don't worry about what I did. As your supporter, it's my job to do things like that until you get your drive back, okay? You just do what you do best."
"R-Right. Get back up. Focus on next time." Her face was flushed again, she tried to hide it as she lowered her visor. "You should know… I'm probably gonna lose again."
"Probably," He repeated. "…And I'll be there to do my job again too."
"And - and you're totally gonna spend more time with me…" Bailey nestled her head again on his shoulder and tightened her limbs around him. "To - to help me train… and stuff."
"Totally," He repeated again. "…Already one step ahead of you."
"G-good then. I'll hold you to that…" she squeaked out. "Thanks…"
Lincoln turned back to the way. And continued his journey. A cool evening breeze picked up and met him halfway, as if rewarding him. And despite how tired he felt earlier… He felt lighter. Like he was walking on air. He closed his eyes and savored the feeling flowing through him. He was so immersed in it that her barely even felt something being placed on his head.
Lincoln looked up and found a familiar red visor on his forehead.
"And you're gonna wear that next time too…" whispered Bailey, as she fixed it on his head.
"You're one of a kind ballcap?" he breathed out; the cap felt snug on his head. He turned to her and found himself entranced. As he stared back at Bailey, who smiled at him. Her hair lightly swaying behind her, dancing with the wind. Lincoln felt his face grow hot, as he lost himself at the sight. "I - I thought you needed it for motivation, I thought you wanted to wear it when you win?"
"Well yeah, but…" she trailed off, looking deeply in his eyes. "I think it'll motivate me more knowing it's with you… waiting for me near the finish line."
His face heated up even more. He tried to hide it as he turned back to his front. And when he did… he felt her nestle her head on the crook of his neck again. He drew out a shaky breath as he tried to compose himself. "Y-yeah, okay, Bailey."
It was peaceful after that. Both of them enjoying the summer evening, as they made small talk. Nearing their destination.
"Still… I kinda feel bad you had to carry me all the way back..." said Bailey, her head still resting on his shoulder.
"Hey, if it's any consolation, I would've ended up the same way too…" he said, as a smile crept up on his face. "If I did ten-hundred push-ups earlier as well."
She squeaked, before groaning. She buried her head even deeper in his shoulder, before she playfully swatted his arm. "Jerk."
A/N: (2/25) Half-sister saga. (1/2?) Bailey – Bertha arc… Which won't be continued until a few more sister chapters. Pending title: Bertha of a Champion!
A hint at what I plan to do with the half-sisters that resemble Lincoln's sisters. The idea is to differentiate them, while at the same time retaining some familiar characteristics. Resulting in different outcomes for new characters. Which (I hope), Fleshes them out and makes them memorable for, you, the reader, as the story progresses.
This chapter is basically my take on the concepts of: 'What if Lynn Jr. was a scrappy underdog?' and 'What if Lynn Jr. wasn't into sports?'. I took creative liberties and turned them into foils for each other.
Expect the same 'What ifs?' in the future. ( ˘ ³˘)
Woah, Thank you very much! You're one of the writers that got me into writing fanfiction! I've reread Fashion (Turn to the left!) many times before I actually started writing this!
I really appreciate the detailed comment! I waited for years for a fanfic about the scrapped TLH show concept and concept designs, to no avail, until I decided to do it myself. This fic is basically a patchwork of that and different ideas I had over that time, so that contributed to the world building aspect of it. And I really appreciate you noticing the work I placed into the characters too. I wanted to make sure that, despite how petty they, and their spats, may seem on the surface, they're all actually having an ideological war against one another at their core. Characters and traits, molded by their environments and experiences, and are unapologetic about them in response to their new situation. Including Lincoln, and his family-centric beliefs, who I try to keep accurate to the fact!
Once again, thank you, I'm a big fan! I'll try to keep meeting expectations and keep improving as the story goes on!
Thanks again, I really appreciate these kinds of feedback! It helps me improve my English aptitude, and the presentation of this story for other future readers.
To Leo 23,
Good Question! I'm not giving a definitive answer, because that's spoiler territory. So, I'll be vague. It'll hit the same beats as one... But I will say this, despite this fic being labeled 'Family/Romance', it would be more accurate to label it as 'Family vs Romance', and end in something different altogether. But that won't come into play until later…
To all the readers,
Thanks again for all your support and interest in this story, I really appreciate it as a fledgling fanfic writer on this site.