Author's Note (Alpha): I'm so relieved that everyone's stuck behind this story through undoubtedly the part I worried the most about. But we're never going to be out of the woods. Perhaps this is the chapter that turns opinions? Or maybe not.

After the heightened emotions of the previous three, it's time to revel in misery before we get into some cool-down chapters.

Onwards!


Sunday came with the ferocity of a sloth. The delicate balance of the Loud House, already unevenly mended, had just been shattered again.

One versus twelve. As it had been in the past, as it was again. But unlike those old days, Lincoln won. Some tiny part of him wished he didn't. That boy he used to be beat at his current self. The Lincoln of before the Incident would never forgive who he was now. And perhaps ominously, that old Lincoln warned him in his sleep the most sinister threat to ever pass through his mind: This ain't it, chief.

But oh well, whatever. Never mind the doubts. All he needed to do was wait it out and everything would reach a new normal. A better normal. Everything would be okay. Everything would be okay. He just needed to wait for better days, and everything would be okay.

Down in the bunker where the sun could not reach, Lisa continued work on her assistant robot, not focusing on the mechanical aspects— that, she left to the help of Lana, who wasn't available at the moment. Rather, she worked on the schematics, revising and refining the design until she pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes.

She sighed.

"Vindictive sibling," she said to herself as she stared upon her reflection, cast back at her from upon the surface of an indistinct steel slab. "Your actions aren't out of enhanced caution for your own physical and psychological wellbeing, are they?" She set her glasses onto a table and looked up at the ceiling. "Our grayscale sister unit is not a victim of vengeance, is she? If I may hypothesize upon the moment, you rather aim to utilize her for the expressed purpose of inflicting a communal sororal sense of disciplined understanding. She is but a victim of circumstance."

In English, 'You're not actually upset with Lucy, are you Lincoln? You're just making an example out of her.' She spoke as if she knew this to be true, despite the doubts and frustration.

To a modicum of chagrin to this little prodigy, Lisa understood just as well as the rest that some sisters were closer to Lincoln than others. She most certainly was not high on his list of favorites, and to some degree, she participated in actively accentuating this increased disregard for her. The weaker bond she had with others, she often said to herself, the greater she could focus on her own pursuits.

"And look at where such schizoid disregard for my fellow genetic relative has left us." Her work this morning done, her time down there spent, she returned to the surface and into the central den of the Loud House. She looked upon what had once been a mighty case of awards for herself. These accomplishments might, she knew, have been the last she'd ever bring home. They might not.

And there, resting upon the edge like a cackling witch mocking her and her worldview, was "Most Improved Brother."

What a joke. What an insult. No one was there to tell them of their ways before it spiraled so catastrophically out of control. The slippery hands of karma had its way with them. As it should have.

How illogical to entertain the existence of "karma." There is action and there is reaction. There are actions and there are consequences. What the superstitious called 'karma' was only consequence that behaved according to our socially accepted understanding of justice. It all could have been so different, as it had once been.

Lisa, for all she played up being a cold and unfeeling machine of science, could not bear the thought for long without forcing back tears and modeling the possibility in her mind: if he could get rid of one of his closest, if not his closest sister, Lincoln could disown any of them, possibly for any reason.

This was the hypothesis: that Lincoln's intense antipathy was a threat to them all— be on your best behavior, or else. As the metabolically exceptional sister unit would say, 'The ball is in his court, and we aren't allowed to touch it.'

She sighed again.

Lucy's decidedly schizotypal obsession with the paranormal and pseudoscientific proved frustrating and beguiling, but never once had the prodigy entertained the thought she deserved to be physically removed from the family. Besides, even she was bizarrely irrational in her belief in luck. The goodwill she fostered in hunting down and returning Lincoln's belongings may have been a great personal honor to have, but like a stone, it was merely a diamond wrought from pressure. Would she have done it if she hadn't paid the price for her betrayal of her brother?

"If anyone is a hypocrite, it's myself," she said as she could not bring herself to continue work on her droid. Rather, she followed the sweetness in the air to the kitchen table where a baker's dozen chocolate-glazed donuts beckoned. "Ah, this terrible mess of misrouted synapses and malfunctioning neural pathways has foiled me." She slouched in her chair and said, "If I had the will, the only retribution I deserve is a lobotomy. I don't deserve my intellect…" She slouched further. "If only Lincoln overcame his nearsighted desire for revenge and knew me to be the malignant factor in his life. Perhaps then, grayscale sister, your fate would have been different."

She took a bite.

An unstated understanding spread throughout the Louds as hushed whispers and frightened visions of future wrongs being addressed and past wrongs being revisited.

So it proved in a room half pink and sparkly, cleaned out of all animals and with far fewer pageantry gowns, as another girl contemplated her fate in this new Loud House.

For years, she, the mighty and supreme Lola, thought of herself as a pretty sweet person and yet knew very well she bended everyone to get what she wants, because she was "proudly evil" or something like that.

"I-I'm a sweetheart, aren't I?" she said to herself in the mirror, looking at her half-brushed hair. All that time she spent grooming herself, all that time she spent admiring herself, all that time she spent perfecting herself, all of it had gone to waste. Her rival, the ever scheming Lindsay Sweetwater, won so overwhelmingly, so magnificently, that even if everything went back to normal, the little princess had lost too much face to show herself on the pageant circuit ever again. Most of this nation knew nothing of the family's criminal actions. Why should they? Just to satisfy their own greedy need to hate something other than themselves? Bah! Give this girl a break. Most people are too easily amused by other's failures. Watch the cutthroat backstage drama of pageantry for more than an hour on daytime television and you'd know there is no such thing as forgiveness— every bad move and mistake was only ammunition with which the world and your enemies would gladly use to shoot you at your most vulnerable.

And now this same understanding came home to roost. For three weeks she concerned herself with Lincoln's wellbeing against her worse nature. For three weeks, she watched as the boy's actions towards their spooky sister inexplicably grew colder and colder, from the reconciliatory gestures the pure kid offered everyone to frozen glares when he bothered to acknowledge her at all. Yet never had she thought it would end up like this. She never thought Lincoln would fire. That wasn't who the boy was. That wasn't who she knew the boy to be.

But, she knew that's who the boy became. And it was her fault.

The Queen of Mean set her head against the edge of her desk and wept. Lana wasn't in the room. She was downstairs, eager to get a donut to ease the tension. All it'd take is another bad day, and he could have her kicked out... like a king disowning the princess and sending her to live in a muddy hut! All that power she had over Lincoln evaporated like a bubble.

The only way she could possibly get ahead in this house now was to kowtow before him as pisspoorly and pathetically as Lucy had done the previous night. Ugh, how embarrassing!

Though her twin did tell her that as she came upstairs, saw the mess she was in, and said, "Honestly, maybe things would've been better if we'd just been nicer to the poor guy. He didn't deserve any of the crud we put him through."

The instinct threatened to fire a sharp retort, yet Lola resisted with strength she had built up for the past couple months. Sadly she nodded and said, "Yeah… you're right."

"At the end of the day, this is all our fault."

"It's all LYNN's fault," Lola said. With renewed anger that felt good to indulge in, she said, "She's the one who said Lincoln was bad luck."

"Yeah. Because he wanted alone time... from us. And we didn't give it to him."

And like that, Lola's defenses fell again. It wasn't enough for her to soak in the sourness. If she was going to despair, so was someone else.

And so she said, "Hey, Lana?"

"Yeah, dude?" said the grungy girl as she licked her chocolate-covered fingers clean.

Beat. "Buzz buzz."

Lana's eyes almost fell out of her head as she grasped her throat and fell onto her side, shocked and confused as she preened her neck. "Y-you butthead!" With great relief, she felt nothing. No collar. No shock. And yet she did feel the pressure of tears come to her eyes as she angrily stared down her twin, who sat sprawled out with a smug, tearful grin.

At least she could still win against someone. And now it was time to run before Lana could strangle her.

It was around midday that a rap on the door startled Lincoln. Part of him feared who it would be, but he thought it prudent to answer.

"Come in."

The door creaked open. In came brunette hair and purple clothes.

Luna peeked in and said lowly, "Hey, bro."

"Hey." He turned back to read his comic, Bun-Bun under his armpit.

It took her a few moments to speak. Moments that Lincoln felt she spent simply looking at him. Maybe she was waiting for him to speak first. If you're just going to stand around, do it somewhere else, you twit. "Didn't you want breakfast?"

She spoke so delicately, and it dragged down the mood. Lincoln turned the page and responded, "I had some snacks under my bed."

There was no callousness in his tone, and a small smile grew on the rocker's face as she let herself into the room.

"Dad bought donuts. I left you mine just in case."

His eyes lit up. "Thanks." He then exchanged a quick glance with her. "Wait. Didn't you want yours?" He scanned her, up and down, trying to find the game she was playing.

She shook her hand. "I wasn't too hungry, little bro. Just lookin' out for you."

You're trying too hard, Luna. Leave me alone. "Hmm." On the page before him, Ace Savvy and One-Eyed Jack had just dispatched the wily Miss Fortune, a persistent opponent who pretended to offer gifts that were not what they seemed to unsuspecting victims that would be easily fooled by her pseudo-generosity. As always, Ace could see through Miss Fortune's feigned sweetness and recognize that her so-called gifts were always laced with some form of brainwashing or worse, a Love Bomb. Reading it made him wonder if the real Miss Fortune was standing in the room with him, walking over, sitting on his bed— dang it, Luna.

"Last night was pretty crazy."

"Yyyyeah, it was." He turned the page, now frustrated to see that Miss Fortune had slipped out of their sight while the duo reaffirmed their heroics to the cheering crowd.

"I know I can't change your mind, but I really wanted to know, bruv— do you hate her? Or is it all of us?"

He didn't respond, and a cold shock pulsed through the rocker's chest, playing with her heartbeat.

But then he did respond, and said, "No."

She nodded and gulped.

He went on, "Any more dumb questions?"

Luna blinked and pulled her mouth into her cheeks as if preemptively stifling a sniffle. In terms of 'dumb questions,' there was one on her mind that nearly came to her lips. The answer came two months prior.

Still, there was a fuzzy need to defend herself that led to her saying, "Dude, I'm trying! Okay? I just don't want to upset you. You forgave me, and I don't want to make you regret that."

The comic got slapped onto the bed. It reminded her too much of what he did last night. "Luna, I'm not in the mood. I'm really not. Go help Lucy pack her stuff." As soon as he said that, he knew he shouldn't have. No one knew he'd been listening to his parents and Lori the night before. But Luna wouldn't know better, he knew.

The proof was, "But, bro!" And she stopped, as if expecting the kid to interject. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, confused as to why she wasn't saying anything.

Honestly, he asked, "Yeah?"

"Uh—... Um…" She looked ahead. All those years of the neighborhood kids saying that she was Lincoln's guardian culminated in this awkward and uncomfortable moment. What was it she even wanted to say? Oh of course. "Are you feeling okay, little dude?"

Finally, a nibble. He sighed and said, "I'm fine! Thanks for asking."

Nibble and run. "Is this what you wanted to happen?"

He lifted his hands to the heavens and said pointed, "I dunno. Maybe this all could've been avoided if you respected my privacy and alone-time more." His head bobbed slightly towards the door, but he did not motion more than that.

Her tone sullen, she asked, "Well… no offense, but why didn't you just ask?"

He set Bun-Bun aside and said, "I did! Maybe not constantly, but I did ask you guys. And you either got offended or told me 'Family comes first.' And look, I don't disagree! I loves ya guys, I really do! Even if I'm feeling sore at you, I get that I shouldn't have run with the lie that far."

"It still wasn't your fault, though. Like you said, we were the ones who weren't giving you your own time." Beat. "I guess we were toxic like that, huh?"

"Well, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm blameless. We all have our flaws."

"So why…?" Luna caught her tongue.

Lincoln said, "Because she screwed me over. Prrr-itty bad move."

"And it was bad enough that you can't forgive her? Even after all she's been through?"

Lincoln raised his eyebrow again. Luna looked away. This was the danger of attempting to moralize after the Bad Luck Incident. Whatever she thought they didn't deserve, he could simply raise an eyebrow and remind her. Karma had its way with them, and they opened themselves to the fate they received.

"But she loves you so much! I was actually jealous of the relationship you two had. You would bond over spooky stuff all the time and always disappeared into the vents— I totally wished I had lwhat she had. People used to say I was your guardian and crud. Sometimes it felt like you were her's. And I guess that's why I just can't get why you'd throw her out like that."

He shrugged. "Well, should've been careful what you wish for, because it looks like you might have just got it, sis."

She blinked, mouth forward for a brief second before her eyes fell and she said, "Whaddya mean?"

Lincoln rolled over and brushed her hair with a quick swipe. "I like ya', sis. Keep it up and that whole 'guardian' thing people used to think we had, who knows. Maybe it'll come true. Or maybe not! Depends on whatcha wanna do."

An awkward moment later, Luna said, "What did you mean with that example you gave, with Luan? Even if she kicked me out of the house, I don't think I'd ever disown her like that. I don't think I could kick her out just to get back at her."

Still going on about this, aren't ya?

"Who knows, maybe I'm just angry. But I am hungry! I could go for your donut if it's still down there."

It took a moment for Luna to smile, and she said, "Sure thing…".

The old Lincoln broke through to say, "And I'm going to tempt fate now by totally admitting that I can't wait to see how this blows up in my face."

"Y-you mean the donut?"

"No, I mean the whole Lucy thing." The Man with the Plan got to his feet, ready to make a beeline to the kitchen for his cold donut.

Luna sighed. "I just can't wrap my head around why you're being so harsh on that little girl… She was already taking all this about as hard as any of us."

I know.

Memories of the Louds' darkest hours returned to the forefront of his mind. While he lived large with his new brother and his closest friends among many more rallying around him, he watched from a good safe distance as his ex-family hit its lowest. They were all outcasts. It was the direct action policy of that damn group, the L.O.U.D. Defense Club, to "crush the Loud sisters." And crushed they were under karma's iron heel. Perfect humiliation. Pure defeat.

They only had each other. In a time when the Louds had been more selfish and competitive than they had ever been, the hardships brought upon them ironically saw them set aside their flaws and come together.

When his family had nothing left other than each other, they refused to succumb to the pressure. Something about that made him angry. Upset. Despondent.

And for some reason, he felt sorry for them. More than that— he wanted it all to stop. He and Pop-Pop alike. For all they had done wrong to him, they were still his family. Seeing them come together was all he ever craved, and it was this rocker's words to him that broke his hardness.

The previous night came to mind. Of Lynn's flared nostrils and balled fist, followed immediately by her tears and pleading. She threw away the bat.

Luna snapped him back to awareness. "But I'll respect your decision."

Respect is the only thing I ever wanted around this place. I didn't want the town to turn on you guys or anything. Even though that was the only way to make you see the light.

The Lucy thing, though… Not all that surprising everyone's so bummed. I guess some part of me isn't feeling to hot about it either. I wish I could tell you why I feel this way.

But… it's just so embarrassing. And I'm not so sure about you, Lunes. I don't think you'd understand either.

This was it. For weeks the family planned on their next Loud family meeting happening once Lincoln made his choice on what to do with his so-called loved ones. The patriarch had grown too excited in a boyish way to see the family come back together. This was all the man ever wanted in life: a happy, loving family. One where all its members had each other's back and would never let another fall.

He messed up. His whole family did, ripping the familial bonds asunder. Only through suffering and love had they overcome their own self-inflicted darkest hour.

His son, his only son, that beautiful boy he had wronged, had given him a second chance. The vindictive coldness with which he and his family now received was deserved. They'd do anything, accept anything, suffer anything for him. Just to make him feel loved and happy.

Even this.

Lynn Sr looked upon the silent girl sitting before him, hands together and head down.

Even this.

Lincoln came down second and sat directly next to Lucy.

And he said to her, "Now you know how I felt."

She silently nodded.

The clock read 4:51. The family gathered in their masses as if attending a funeral.

Ting ting ting went the glass once more.

Why had he done that? Could this all have been avoided if he just let Luan stumble and act on her own? Or was it inevitable?

Coldly, he announced, "We've reached a decision." He gulped and looked to Lucy. "Lucy… you're… you're no longer a Loud."

Quietly, she nodded as if letting a body be rolled unto a grave along a bier. Leni's face contorted in grief as she threw her arms around her sister. Lucy set a single hand against her.

His face a bearer of pain, he winced through saying, "It's not up for debate. We already had our discussion. At the behest and for the benefit of Lincoln, we're willingly splitting up the family."

A little part of Lincoln panicked.

Not the whole family, Dad. Correct yourself

Lynn Sr seemed to understand the subtle motion on his son's face and added, "If only slightly."

The moment hung perverse like a noose-bound body. More perverse still was the lack of resistance. Lincoln looked over his shoulder and saw that none of the Loud girls could bring themselves to defend their fallen sibling, in word or expression, for doing so was to declare him more worthy of being cast out.

He looked to his left and saw it. That stoic front she'd put on for all these years broke like a levee. This was a levee that had been badly repaired suffering its final and most complete failure.

It wasn't satisfying to Lincoln to see her so sad. It wasn't revenge that he wanted. Still, the sheer loss of respect he felt towards the girl kept him from changing his mind, no matter how many times Lynn looked to him, waiting for him to give the word that this was all some sick prank, that he had a change of heart, something.

He didn't pay much attention to it, but Lincoln heard Lynn make a last ditch effort to defend her sister.

Something to the effect of "But we could keep her separate from Lincoln instead! On different sides of the house! You know, separate but equal!" Everyone blinked at her, and she shrunk.

Swing and a miss, Lynn. Swing and a miss.

Even if she succeeded, it didn't change Lincoln's feelings or take back what he said to her.

With that awkwardness over, Lynn Sr. stooped forward, set his hand on his son's shoulder, and said, "Lincoln, I know your feelings are still a little raw. But is there anything you'd like to say to your little sister?"

I caught that, Dad.

He cleared his throat and said, "No."

Lucy's sobs were the only sound for several seconds. Geo rolled up to the edge of the living room, and exchanged glances with Charles who also drew a sad expression.

Lily reached for Lucy, but Lori pushed her hands down.

"Well, Lucy? Any words from you?"

Try as she might, she couldn't stop the tears.

If it had been even a month prior, Lincoln was sure he'd have doubted whether these tears were real.

Lincoln wanted to feel for her. This was the lovely little girl he'd known since he himself was a toddler. That old side of him floated around and about his head. Remember when she was a baby? Remember when he thought she was her twin-from-another-year? Remember how she had always relied on him for help with her poetry? Remember when she first asked him 'Is something troubling you, Linky?'

You're gonna pay for this so hard, buddy. This is your last chance.

And yet as he watched his ex-baby sister weep and attempt to fall in his arms, a greater disgust bubbled. From upon his other shoulder came a different perspective.

You're all letting her cry. You're giving her the time to defend herself. You're letting her try to convince me, no— MANIPULATE me into changing my mind.

Where. Was. This. For. Me?! When I was outside and begging you all to get back in?

His face unflinching, with a weeping girl against his chest, Lincoln reset his resolve. He didn't want to feel so angry anymore, but the feelings were still easy to churn to the surface.

That's right. Look at her. Look at her and cry yourselves.

And yet it returned.

I'm warning you, me. This ain't it, chief. This ain't it, chief! You still got time…

He silenced himself, stood, and walked away. Lucy fell into the seat. Overdramatic, but perhaps deserved.

Rita rushed forward, embraced her disowned daughter, and took her outside. It was too hard to see, and so the girls did their best to look away as they heard Lucy whimper in her mother's arms.

Lynn tried curling up into a ball, a motion betrayed by her weak legs. Her spirit was weak.

Her father answered precisely one question, asked by Lana: "But, Dad… where's she gonna go?"

Lincoln stood by the front door. There on the porch where he kneeled in defeat, he watched Lucy being tended to by his mother.

The wrong that had been inflicted upon him had already been addressed. Some of that debt had been paid. He didn't want to see Lucy on the streets again, least of all without anyone to protect her. He simply hadn't forgiven her— he meant no actual harm.

Aunt Ruth, Aunt Shirley, Uncle Rick, Pop-Pop, Papa Leonard, the whole lot of them chose against it. Wasn't Lincoln so right after all?

And his father answered, "Well, sweety, we planned to put her up for adoption. But considering our, ahem, our little misfortune recently, we only have one taker, and he said he'd take Lucy off our hands ASAP. And by ASAP, I mean he wants to meet her tomorrow." He paused for a moment before dropping the bombshell: "He wants to… take her tomorrow."

Lincoln exhaled heavily. A single day? Did the foster system even work that fast? Or was this not even going through the typical foster system? He didn't know. Life in this town was so wacky, he was surprised it wasn't that very hour. If he was being put up for adoption, he'd have been out of the house before his parents finished saying the word 'foster.' At least, that's how it would have been before the Bad Luck Incident. Though Lucy wept, he was more intrigued to see Lynn look so defeated.

Do I love them? Do I even have a choice?

He looked over at the other side of the room. There on the floor was Lucy's poem to him, never picked up. Never read.

"Lincoln," came that solemn voice.

Lincoln looked up from his comic. It was his parents— and Lucy.

They had a talk.

"So… Billy Bierpong?" lowly asked Lincoln, looking at the man's profile image and the myriad of messages, all dated that day and a few hours prior. How eager he was to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

"Hoo boy, he's a total DINK," said Lynn Sr., swashing his arm about in an unfitting moment of his normal chipperness.

Lucy folded her arms and covered her face with her hand, trying to keep herself together. Seeing this, her father added, "I know he looks a bit crusty, but is heart is in the right place. He and his wife Mandy could never make a family themselves, so they raise unwa— er, foster kids. He's raised eleven kids before, admittedly not all at once. And not all in one place." Seeing Lucy begin leaning forward, he added, "Now, now! Don't worry— he still lives in this town." With a sheepish frown, he added, "On the north side of it, admittedly. He lives by Prana's Everything Market, and he says he's got no other kids right now. Though he did mention something about wanting to let his nephew stay with him for the summer, so don't get too comfortable with being an only child, kiddo."

Lincoln read through more messages and saw pictures and selfies of the man with his wife and their previous foster children. Happy images. If nothing else, she's in good hands.

So many images of vacations to sandy beaches with a lot of smiles, of cakes and happy moments with a chubby-faced redhead with sideburns too young. Undoubtedly one of the kids he adopted. Lincoln stopped scrolling.

An only child? With a guy like that?

Maybe I should've crashed with him when I had the chance. Maybe he'd have adopted me.

He felt no frustration at the thought that Lucy might actually wind up living a better life after all. If anything was to be feared, it was that she still lived in Royal Woods, a town that had turned squarely against the Louds, besides himself and his infant sister. Without the other girls to buffer her from that hostility, there was a chance her life could remain stressful.

So what did Mom mean when she said all the kids he raised turned out bad?

Looking again at the images of pampering, middle-class excess, and the chubby-faced boy grinning so smugly in them all, he felt he just asked the third dumbest question in years.

Yeesh. Imagine one of my sisters, except even more spoiled and without ten others holding them back. Cripes. I can never win, can I?

Well, even if I can't win, at least she loses. Lincoln looked past Lucy, past his parents, and onwards towards the wall, seemingly at nothing in particular.

And her father stooped to her level and asked her, "We're still here for ya, kiddo. In case you ever need us, we aren't so far away." He ran his hand across her back and pulled her in for a hug, with Rita joining in.

Lincoln had never seen Little Miss Misery look so miserable. Not even in those fleeting moments they encountered each other in aftermath of the Bad Luck Incident. Back then, when he rested from the climate-controlled comforts of the McBride household and got to look out the window, he'd see his ex-family moping on the curb and saw the gloom on all their faces. At least back then, he'd close the blinds and go back to sipping out of that snazzy Ace Savvy mug.

It took a few minutes to collect herself enough to turn to Lincoln and asked with a weak voice, "Is it meaningless to apologize?" Luan's question, now heavier.

He rested his fist in his cheek and said, "I mean, you know what you did. What you didn't do. You can always tell me, but my answer's not changing. And I'm not taking back what I said either."

Hearing the sheer antipathy he now possessed for her was the most brutal of gutpunches she had ever felt, one whose sheer blunt pain hit deeper than the initial blowback to her involvement in the Incident.

So enormous was the pain that it boggled her young mind. All that she had suffered over the past two months was child's play compared to this. The worst of the post-Incident feelings had returned.

She sniffled and said, "No matter what…no matter what you feel…" She looked through her fallen bangs so purely— "I still love you."

Lincoln nodded.

She opened her arms for a hug. He pulled her in, but could not bring himself to squeeze.

"I'll miss you, Lincoln. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I failed you. I-I w-wasn't thinking at all… I-I was sc-scared of them…I didn't-didn't… care enough about you…"

Excuses, excuses. Lincoln said nothing. But one part of him certainly wanted to.

This ain't freaking it, chief!

He was tired of listening to that shoulder, the selfless doormat that would have likely unconditionally forgiven an unhinged psychopath with an irrational vendetta trying to kill him. The new Lincoln wasn't a dark-hearted punisher. He knew it was better to forgive. All that changed was that he had standards and conditions. He needed time. He needed space. He need to know his forgiveness would not end up spit in his face.

'Everyone's so freaking sad.' He looked down at the black mat of hair in his arms. 'Look atcha, Luce. You're so sad too. I bet you didn't expect I'd do this to you. And I guess that's why I'm doing it. Just so you learn your lesson. I couldn't let you get away with this so easily.' He pulled himself away from her and let her crystal blue eyes shimmer behind her tears as she looked at him, lip quivering.

Ah, dang it.

Lincoln looked down at her and said, "I guess… what I said last night was a little too harsh. But I mean it. You're creepy, you're, uhh…" What was the word Lisa used? "You're avoidant, you only see things from your own narrow little perspective… Ugh!" He slapped his face. "I don't know where you went wrong, Luce. I feel like I should've seen it coming. Like maybe I was too close to you and couldn't see what others saw in you all along."

"Sorry, Lincoln…"

He sighed and said, "I'd say it's okay, but I still feel sour about it. But look, this isn't the end of the world. All I'm asking is for you to leave me alone for a while. If you really love me like you say you do, you can do that. But I know you. I know you wouldn't be able to do that if you still lived here. You'd come right back to me looking for my help, and I just don't think I can help you anymore. I don't wanna hafta deal with that right now."

"I just… didn't think this is how things would end up for me. Even though I did something that wasn't at all nice to you, I always tried to be a nice person."

"You did! I'm not saying you're not. I'm not calling you a monster or a ghoul. I'm saying you screwed up. Even nice people can royally screw up." In his mind came yet another sister, one for which he couldn't feel mad towards and yet whose face and history still filled him with a profound sense of disappointment. "I just can't let you get away with it. Not this time." As he said that, his eyes passed over his parents.

She sniffled. "Are we really no longer brother and sister?"

"For right now?" Bluntly, he answered, "Yes.." He looked again to his parents, who he knew still thought this was all over a dumb children's book. "I'm still not sure if I can ever forgive you."

Lucy looked down at her lap and reflected on this. To think she would suffer this fate! She, who had for so long been so respectful and went out of her way to stand by Lincoln's side... And here she was, being singled out for unforgiveness. It was too surreal.

But she understood why. She too knew her parents likely only thought it was about Princess Pony. How awkward. But she knew Lincoln well and knew how personal it was to him. Maybe it no longer need be such a closed secret to the family, but she didn't want to find out. Whatever whittled mess was left of their bond could be severed so permanently that the boy could throw her out of the house through his window if he didn't care for her revealing it.

Twas truly a well deserved fate.

She jumped. Lincoln pat her shoulder and said, "Be strong, Luce. It doesn't have to be forever." He looked up without shifting his head, eying his parents and the door. "You guys said you'd give me my space." He looked back down. "That's all I'm asking for. Let me decide when I want her back. Until then…"

"Um… Lincoln," said Rita with concern as she realized her son had no clue of the reality of foster care.

"Yeah?"

"You can't just take back adoption so easily. You made your choice to disown Lucy. Once Mr. Bierpong has legal custody of her, he might not let her come back even if you want her to."

Lucy contemplated this. Lincoln accepted it. Once the gothling left, she might never return. He really would be down one sister, perhaps forever.

Dang it, didn't think of that. Didn't think this through at all. He sighed. He hated it when others were right and he was wrong. His offense over his parents' statement last night seemed silly. For once, they knew what they were talking about.

But they still did it to me.

Oh well.

Without much further internal deliberation, he said, "Sorry, Lucy. But I'm not changing my mind."

Similarly, she said, "Lincoln, it's okay. I understand. If I'm never allowed back into this house, let it be a memorial to my failure."

For the first time, Lincoln felt legitimately bad for her in a way even his vindictive side could not thwart. This sense of understanding was a better first step back into his good graces than offering to cut her bangs. All he needed from Lucy was a hundred more steps like this. Maybe they'd never be siblings again. But in due time, perhaps she could be his sister once more.

What had Mr. Grouse said to him?

'LOUDS! YARD! OFF! NOW!'

Er, what was the other thing Mr. Grouse had said to him?

'Love's like a fire, Lincoln. It can burn you and it can be extinguished if you're not careful. But that doesn't mean it can't be rekindled and warm you again. It just takes a little effort and understanding of boundaries.'

With the fall of evening came the echoes of the buzz of cicadas bouncing around a half-bare room. Silhouettes of trees glowed black against the red and blue sky. Gloom spread. A fallen day, another perfect day lost. A red glint shone off the metal of a wheelchair.

Into her pillow, Lucy cried, "What have I done?" She beat at her bed, with Lynn there, carrying her in her arms. "What have I done? What have I done? What have I done? H-h-he hates me! Everyone hates me!" Pulling at her hair, she went on, "I-I'm a ghoul… a monster… What is even happening anymore…?"

She had it all. A loving family, great friends, a charmed life, and a wonderful brother with which she shared the greatest bond. And in a moment of callous idiocy and betrayal to the one she loved, she threw it all away. Whatever fate she suffered, she knew she deserved. As much as she didn't want it to happen.

It doesn't have to be forever.

'Lincoln… how long is forever?'

Lynn watched in fright and melancholic confusion as her room had been half-cleared out in just a few hours. What would have once been a source of gloating celebration was now one of despair. No more than a few months ago, Lynn would have given the world to have her own room, free from the gloomy tyranny of Spooky. Who cared what happened to her, as long as she had her own friggin' room!

Tomorrow, Lucy would be gone.

After tomorrow, Lynn would be alone. All alone.

This wasn't right. Nothing about this was right. Lucy? Lucy? Why Lucy? Of all the asinine contrivances! Of all the rotten luck…

'I don't care what she's done to you, bro. She doesn't deserve this.'

How much she wanted to tear off Lincoln's face! How much she wanted to leave him in the wheelchair she rolled in! How much she wanted him to sweat to death in that stupid suit while she and Lucy danced well in the shade!

And she wept. How much she wanted Lincoln to love her again. How much she wanted the family to be together in love. How much she wanted to be the one put up for adoption.

How much she wanted to die.

Lynn held Lucy close and wept, in her mind begging for the cold hands of time to turn back and punish her instead. It wasn't fair.

'This is supposed be my story,' she sobbed. 'Not yours.' Like the coldest winter chill, Lucy laid beside her.

She looked past her sister towards the wall. 'Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted?'

Lincoln had defeated her, once and for all. His revenge complete, she begged at nothing in particular for him to come into their room, look them in their eyes, and tell them that he thought it over and changed his mind. 'Sorry for the scare, Luce. No hard feelings, right? Besides, I thought you liked scary things! And you, Lynn, maybe if you wear the squirrel suit for a few weeks, I might letcha back in.'

Lincoln listened to the collective sobbing through the walls and sighed. It was going to be a long time before he saw Lucy as his sibling again. Lynn already earned that privilege. And he knew she hated that.

Sorry, Lynn. You lose.

Somewhere in that great world beyond the milky walls of death, a similar bang-covered face watched on in dismay and regret.

Unto Lucy, she told the world, 'Let her fate be a warning to others. All bonds, no matter their strength, can be broken. And should someone ever risk their own benefit for you, in return you risk yourself for their safety, or else the pain of betrayal wrought surpasses all others. How I raged against you, my great-granddaughter, for your foolishness and apathy towards your brother dearest's suffering. In your darkest hour, I said it to you: your fate is of your own design. It is through your own will that shall determine whether bonds broken can be mended and perhaps strengthened…'

And unto Lincoln, she spoke, 'O' this long-suffered snow-haired boy has set in motion a terrible chain of events. Once he was the suffer'd. And yet now, in a horrible irony, he delivers suffering. My sympathies for that beautiful boy, my great-grandson, whom had been so terribly wronged by his family in the selfish pursuit of luck. And now, I offer him no sympathy for the regret to which he has damned himself. Child, you are right to be angry. You are right to express your will to power. But alas, your history of pain is no excuse for pain delivered. The same karma that has renewed you can so easily turn against you, boy…'

'Oh, but Harriet! Shouldn't you intervene?" said a spirit to her.

'Aye, I could. But it is not the place of us long-passed spirits to interfere with mortal affairs. Indeed, I hold the same opinion that I grew so proud of my redeemed family for developing on their own: let the boy choose his own fate. Respect his decisions. I'm afraid my blood must suffer their fates. Not tomorrow, not even next year, but soon enough, that day will come when that beautiful snow-haired boy reaps that fate which he has today sown.'

Harriet closed an ethereal book and said, 'The game is now over. The last chapter is written. All now only suffer the pangs of time until we may all read what is on the last page.'


Author's Note (Omega): Skippidity doo-bop! Another chapter down. I didn't intend on it being so long. It just happened.

I recognize that Lincoln's been written as incredibly mean and unforgiving. Obviously the justification is "There is no justification, he's OOC for the sake of the story," but let's play Devil's advocate for my fic. First of all, understand that he is still just a kid. He knows not what he has done. Second, can you blame him? He's still torn up about the Bad Luck Incident and all that preceded it. Did he return to the Loud House too soon? Undoubtedly. But sometimes you need to jump into the deep end to learn how to survive.

Third, the family themselves were mean and unforgiving in NSL. Sure, they learned their lessons by now, but that doesn't mean Lincoln can't still enjoy some schadenfreudistic get back.

Fourth, there is no fourth. I had him soften up in this chapter. Just so it was obvious that while he's holding a grudge, he is still Lincoln at the end of the day. Grudges aren't his strong suit.

Coming up next: a relatively short chapter where we see Lucy moved out and meet her new guardians for the first time, see a tiny bit of promising character development, and finally introduce Clyde in a speaking role.

To those worried that Lucy simply exists to suffer misfortune, I swear that's not the case. It's not all gloom and doom for her! Without light, darkness becomes nothingness.

Now listen carefully. Reader feedback is going to determine the future of this story again, except this time a specific plot point.

Will Lynn recover fully?

I'm not asking anything but the question.

Lend me your feedback and I'll consider what to do with it.

Reviews!

in nomine: Yeah, I get that No-Such-Lucksploitation fics have their loyal audience. They wouldn't keep getting written if they didn't. I suppose my bile fascination with them is in seeing the tiny nuances of events. Judging by which home Lincoln runs off to, which ship does the writer support— Girl Jordan, Carol, Stella, or Ronnie Anne? Which of the Loud sisters, if any, get off from being punished due to being 'nice?' Is Lynn a sociopath or a misguided girl who just needs to see the light? How do the Louds get gruesomely murdered this time? How long does Lincoln hold onto his vendetta against his family – forever, a few weeks, immediate forgiveness, does he ever hate them at all? Has anyone yet played with the idea of Lincoln actually being bad luck or CPS thinking he is? Did the writer even freaking finish the story once they got it all out of their system after roasting the Louds? More often than not on those last two, no.

Anon16: Hold that thought.

Anon12: Who knows, it's possible.

Guest who said the word 'muthafukkas' and LincolnL5959: Yeah… They said that unironically. But let's play Devil's advocate again— it's not like it's two days after the events of NSL. It only feels that way because I skipped the "NSL Aftermath" story. Consider the possibility that the Loud parents learned their lesson. It might be too little, too late for Lincoln to feel good, but it'd still be a lesson they learned.

Tagirovo, Loudkilla, & Loudhousereader: Yes, we get it, you hate the Loud sisters and are only reading this to see Lucy suffer. I genuinely hope I satisfied your desire to see an 8-year-old emotionally collapse. I'm not even allowed to be bitchy considering I'm the one writing this.

DarianShaylon: Thank you for your support. Unfortunately, this isn't intended on being akin to That Engineer's stories which realistically deconstruct the consequences of BitF and NSL if they had gone south. The whole inciting concept for this story was "Let's torment Lucy, A Series of Unfortunate Events style." I prefer at least some measure of realism because there's no emotional weight in truly over-the-top Biblical suffering.

R0b0tf4c3: On that last point, I don't know. We still get NSLsploitation played completely straight to this day, suggesting to me that a lot of people genuinely still do want karmic closure.

Yuli Ban: Gordon Bennett, you are lucky. Trust me, it's not worth it. Just ignore the series if you can. I do find it hilarious that you, as a non-Loud House fan, view Lincoln to be the annoying little shit. But you wouldn't be the first. Most non-Loud House fans seem to have the same opinion.

Tzatziki Bongwater: Yes, Alice in Chains is great. A lot of 90s alternative rock is. You, ugly barnacle, and fmarcsthespot do bring up a good point about Lincoln tormenting his family as revenge. He's standing up for himself which is good, I think I speak for most Loud House fans when I say so much fandom grief would have been spared if he written to be a stronger character. However the circumstances have granted him more power than he otherwise would be allowed have which is iffy. Let's see if he mellows out or not.

Gravity Dean: To be fair, it once was nothing but a Lincoln and Lucy (ft. Lynn) story. As I mentioned to PLC-the-CD, there was good reason to fear I'd do nothing with the other Louds at first. But that turned out to be no fun.