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Velvet Fist - Act V

Wrightfag Jul 31st, 2016 (edited) 2,189 Never
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  1.     It was still dark when Lori's eyes cracked open, the dawn shrouded by the remnants of last night's storm. A toned arm remained wrapped around her waist, and her neck, chest and groin ached in the most pleasant way. A shiver coursed through her at the memory of what had transpired just a couple of hours ago. "Mmm, Bobby boo-boo bear, you up?" She gently shifted back and forth in his embrace, a more imminent need requiring her attention.
  2.  
  3.     A groan emitted from just behind and above her head, and in a half-awake daze he slurred, "s'wha? Whasup, babe?" A long yawn welled up from within him, and he stretched his arm, allowing her to make her move. Slowly rolling to the side, she threw her legs over the edge of the bed and blindly groped around the floor for something to make herself halfway decent with. After a moment of urgent fumbling she managed to come up with a pair of boxers. Uncaring that they were his, she shimmied them on and made a break for the restroom on the other side of the room.
  4.  
  5.     She would be forever jealous of him for possessing such an amenity. 'What kind of two-story house with thirteen people living in it has only one bathroom?' She flicked the light on and quietly shut the door, taking a brief second in front of the mirror to appreciate how positively spent she looked. Her face and chest were still somewhat flushed, and a veritable necklace of small purple marks on her throat and collar bone reminded her of each little love bite amongst the other affections she'd been showered with. "Oh, Bobby," she swooned, catching herself on the sink before returning to her task.
  6.  
  7.     After relieving herself and freshening up, she exited back to the bedroom where Bobby was beginning to stir now that his source of warmth had vanished. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he flicked the lamp next to his bed on and was rewarded with the sight of his half-clad girlfriend looking high and low for something. Glancing at the headboard above him, he grasped a piece of fabric and held it out for her inspection. "You after this, Lor?"
  8.  
  9.     She gratefully grabbed her bra and donned it swiftly before climbing back into bed, the two wrapping each other up in a tangle of arms and legs once more. "I literally never want to get out of this bed again, sweetie," she drawled, drawing him so close as to try to become one with him. He chuckled, the rumble in his chest giving her goosebumps. "I can't remember ever feeling as relaxed as I do right now."
  10.  
  11.     "Heh, going three rounds'll take the stress out of anyone, I'd say." He'd initially been overwhelmed by her 'appetite', but they'd gotten into a rhythm fairly quickly, a rhythm they might just get into again at this rate. "What's got you so wound up anyway? I hadn't heard from you in a couple days, and then last night was just, WOW."
  12.  
  13.     With a resounding sigh, Lori traced little circles on his chest with her finger. "I just needed to get out of that house, away from those animals. Anything and everything that could go wrong without our parents there has, and there's still an entire week left to go." She pursed her lips and fluttered her eyelashes at him as she suggested, "maybe you'd like to come help me?"
  14.  
  15.     Bobby grimaced through a smile as he replied, "sorry, but you know how it goes now that we're off school. I gotta be at work each day this week from seven to three, then I gotta get Ronnie to and from her tutoring sessions, then I gotta help my dad with the truck in the evenings-"
  16.  
  17.     "Alright, alright, I get it," she pouted, "you're a very busy man." Though she was disappointed, she grinned as she began to run her hand up and down his side. "A responsible man. I like that." She leaned in toward his face, and he caught on quickly enough, the two of them coming in for a long kiss. She shifted onto her back and he followed, straddling her as their legs began to rub against one another. They eventually had to come back up for air, and Lori found herself hungry for more. She glanced down where their legs met, and spied her prize. "Now it's my turn to take responsibility," she purred, hand reaching out toward his package. Her hand stopped just short, though, and he looked down and under himself in anticipation. "Wait..."
  18.  
  19.     "C'mon, babe, don't leave me hanging like this," he pleaded, preparing to help her if necessary. Unfortunately, she drew back before he could react, and she gazed up at him with an unreadable expression. "Okay, I might be able to make some time-"
  20.  
  21.     Shaking her head, she said, "no, it's not that." Taking a moment to let her own head clear, she offered him an apologetic kiss as he uneasily settled back down at her side. "Alright, so this has been bothering me for days now. What's the deal between Ricardo and Leni?" She expected Bobby to be completely pumped for his best friend, and was promptly blindsided by the confused expression he answered her with. "You don't have to keep it a secret from me, I won't bite," she assured, before adding in a slightly menacing tone, "at least not literally."
  22.  
  23.     Scratching the back of his head, Bobby tumbled the idea around for a few moments before shrugging and informing her, "I have no idea. I thought she never really cared for him. Well, at least when we were younger, anyway."
  24.  
  25.     Eyes narrowing, Lori practically coiled like a snake and lunged atop him, finding a seat upon his lap and eliciting a pleased groan from him. "Don't be like that, Bobby," she leaned down to speak softly in his ear, caressing his chest all the while. "I've got half the story from Leni at least, and it sounds like they really hit it off recently. And when I say hit it, I mean 'hit it'." Her hands running along his sides and abs left no doubt in his mind what she meant, and the confusion only grew from there.
  26.  
  27.     Sitting up and bringing Lori with him, Bobby caught her hands and held them between the two as he rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles. "Babe, I honestly have no idea what you're talking about, there's no way the two of them could have hooked up. Leni's not, uh, exactly what Rickie's looking for..."
  28.  
  29.     Stunned by the denial, she gripped him on either side of the head and demanded, "what does that mean? 'Not what he's looking for?' Are you saying he thinks she's not good enough for him?!"
  30.  
  31.     "Wha- no, babe! Leni's great, but Rick, well...let's just say that he's not exactly looking for a girl-"
  32.  
  33.     "A girl who what? Spit it out!" Lori shook him back and forth, nearly sending the two of them tumbling over. "Don't EVEN tell me that he thinks he can get away with getting down and dirty with MY little sister and then leaving her with...with..." She could barely find the words through her anger, her breaths coming hot and heavy as Bobby struggled to comprehend where this was all coming from.
  34.  
  35.     Taking her by the shoulders, he implored, "babe, calm down! Alright, I promised not to tell anyone this, but the reason he couldn't have fooled around with Leni is because..." She eyed him like a hawk as he paused, before finally he finished, "...because he's not looking for a girl at all. Rickie bats for the other team, Lori." He could see the gears grinding to a halt in her head, her eyes searching for something to direct her ire toward. "Not only that, but he's already got a piece of 'guy candy' anyway." He shivered horribly at the term his friend had used to describe his newest partner.
  36.  
  37.     "But that's...she...she wouldn't lie about something like that, Bobby!" The events of two nights ago were coming back to haunt her, and she grasped for any rationalization that seemed even remotely plausible. "She's been sick for like four days at least, and she said that they've been getting close, and-"
  38.  
  39.     "Lori, listen to me," he requested, starting to become unnerved by the entire conversation. "There's just no way that this...whatever you think happened, happened. Ricardo wasn't even in the country a few weeks ago, he was visiting family down in Puerto Rico."
  40.  
  41.     Her mouth opened and closed in a perfect imitation of a goldfish, complete with wide eyes that seemed to be missing everything but what was directly in front of her. Had Leni actually lied to her? 'No...at least, not technically.' Recalling the entire conversation they had the previous morning, only in hindsight did she realize that outside of a few vague variables, Leni had never actually given her definitive answers to her questions. 'He's alright. He seems nice. Just a few weeks.' She could have been talking about their father for all anyone knew, just listening to that. But what did Leni have to gain by, if not lying, then at least misleading her?
  42.  
  43.     "Babe, are you alright?" Bobby's anxiety grew along with the expression of shock on his girlfriend's face. "Lori?"
  44.  
  45.     Her shaking hands came to rest over her heart as she was confronted with her greatest fear. Of the multiple choices she'd had available to her when Leni had begun to act out, only one remained, and the reality of it nearly took her breath away. "No...this isn't happening, it can't actually be happening!" She vaulted from his embrace, pacing back and forth as he rose to follow after her.
  46.  
  47.     "Lori, what's wrong? Did something happen to Leni, or what?" Bobby only knew the second-oldest Loud through association, but he'd be damned he wouldn't do anything for her if she'd been wronged somehow, as it was beginning to sound.
  48.  
  49.     The blonde was on autopilot now, however, as she began to gather up her things. "It's not that something happened to her, but the other way around," she answered in a grave tone. "I have to go..."
  50.  
  51.     Looking toward the clock on his nightstand, Bobby informed her, "it's not even five yet, babe." She followed his line of sight to see that it was indeed 4:54 AM. "Look, whatever's going on, you oughta handle it when you're all there, y'know?" He tapped the side of his head to accentuate his concern. "Come get some sleep, you can head back while I'm heading off to work." Seeing that she was still torn, he added, "Luna and Luan are still there, yeah? I'm sure they can help her hold down the fort, right?"
  52.  
  53.     Lori's shoulders fell as she considered her options. 'Drive back home in the middle of the night while it's still storming out, for something I can't even be sure is the case, or do the same thing when I'm a little more awake...' Resigning herself to her fate, she returned to bed and curled up next to her boyfriend, who placed a supportive arm around her. Resting her head in the crook of his neck, she mumbled, "why can't I just get it right, for once?"
  54.  
  55.     Rubbing a hand along her back, he shushed her, "just get some rest, Lori. It's gonna be alright, just wait and see." Whatever 'it' was. Eventually he lulled her into a fitful slumber, and he followed soon after.
  56.  
  57. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  58.  
  59.     On the opposite side of Royal Woods, another group of people was stirring from slumber under decidedly less pleasant circumstances. As a light drizzle continued to lull the rest of her erstwhile roommates, Leni stirred from a thankfully dreamless sleep to the sensation of another individual in bed with her. Eyes snapping open, she tensed in preparation to throw them out, but a murmur stayed her hand. Pulling the sheet up, she discovered Lola sleeping soundly next to her; a glance across the room confirmed that Lana had bunked with Luna for the night. "S'cold," Lola murmured, blindly grasping for the lost warmth of the covers.
  60.  
  61.     A rapid-fire knocking at the door rang throughout the room, followed by Luan frantically shouting from the hallway, "Luna! LUNA!" That must have been what woke her, she noted with some irritation. The poor girl sounded terrified, and it brought a sick pleasure to Leni as she listened to the brat cry out in vain. Her pleasure turned into curiosity when the girl then hesitantly called out, "Luna, please...LENI! ANYONE!"
  62.  
  63.     'Did she really just ask for me?' That curiosity got the better of Leni as she slipped out of bed, doing her best not to wake her bunkmate in the process. Sliding on her slippers, she tip-toed to the door, amazed that the pounding and yelling hadn't woken the rest of them up. 'Then again, Luna's probably used to to a lot of pounding.' Snickering to herself, she grasped the doorknob and slowly turned, opening the door to faintly make out Luan fidgeting in front of her in her nightgown. The smaller girl's eyes widened and her mouth fell open slightly, having not expected her abuser to actually be the one to answer. "Don't look so glad to see me," the blonde quipped. "Like, what's all the racket for?"
  64.  
  65.     Luan nearly bolted then and there, but she wasn't here for her right now. Not that she'd be able to find her way in the darkness to begin with. Shaking her head and evening her breaths, she implored her sister, "come with me right now! There's something wrong with Lynn!" She didn't wait for whatever snide response she was sure Leni had waiting, instead shuffling down the darkened hallway toward her next-door neighbors. It occurred to Leni that the power was still out, so she'd have to settle for feeling her way after Luan.
  66.  
  67.     Luckily most of them had desklamps that didn't rely on the electricity working, and a faint light spilled from her destination. The two of them entered Lynn and Lucy's room to see the latter hovering near the former, the older of the two breathing heavily as she tossed and turned in her bed. Lucy's head swung toward them and she zeroed in on Leni, lost in thought for but a moment before informing her, "please, you've got to do something for Lynn. She got sick last night and she's been like this ever since, she hasn't even slept."
  68.  
  69.     Leni carefully closed in on the sickened girl, leaning over the bed to get a good look at her in the gloomy light. It couldn't be any later than six o'clock, if the past few days were any sort of indicator, meaning that her concoction had to have taken effect within the last several hours. "Lynn, can you hear me?" A moan issued forth from her victim, and brown eyes squinted at her from beneath a mop of matted hair. 'Heh, worked like a charm.' The athlete was the most likely to be able to put up a fight after Lori and Luna, so that was one more worry abated. Turning to Lucy, she brought her hand up to her chin and put on her best 'nervous' face as she asked, "has she said anything to you since she got this way?"
  70.  
  71.     The goth shook her head and replied, "only a little bit, and most of it was about how sick she is. Then she started talking nonsense, things like sanding and giraffes..." Lucy shivered at the memory, having had to practically carry her sister back to bed after they'd made a failed run for the bathroom. Her two companions exchanged incredulous looks before Leni spun around to fetch Luna.
  72.  
  73.     As the oldest present sibling backtracked toward her room, she worried about how Luna would react to her roommate's condition. Even taking their recent fighting into account, if she believed someone had hurt Luan, there wouldn't be much reasoning with her. 'I need to get her against Luan again, now that them being buddies isn't necessary.' She combed her memories for anything that would cause them to fight, but the only serious issue she could remember recently was the spider and drum. 'The DRUM.' Instead of returning to her own, she ducked into Luna and Luan's room. 'If I recall correctly,' she thought, crouching down in front of the busted bass drum, 'it's right...here!' She reached inside the torn cover and retrieved the wad of money she'd given to the rocker just last night.
  74.  
  75.     A door shut harshly behind her and she nearly jumped completely off the floor. Stopping dead in her tracks, Leni didn't look back, opting instead to allow Luan to make the first move. "What are you doing in here?" The younger girl demanded.
  76.  
  77.     Leni was in her element now, though, and she used it to her full advantage. Placing herself in front of the window and the dim light flowing in, accentuated by the last flashes of lightning outside, she became the monster in the dark that she had been to Lori just yesterday. Luan's composure visibly crumbled, and she nearly tripped back up toward the door she'd just entered through. "Like, my bad, I forgot that Luna slept in my room last night. Because she couldn't stand the thought of sharing a room with you." Luan nearly bit back, but instead she bit her tongue, looking instead to the wall. "Plus, like I told you, all your shit is mine. This room is mine now."
  78.  
  79.     Swallowing her pride and trying to stay focused on the task at hand, she kept her voice as even as she could. "You have to call someone right now," the young girl insisted, hands knotting in the material of her robe. She fumbled for the doorknob and opened it, and both of them were well aware that there was now a clear path to Leni's room for their sister to hear them.
  80.  
  81.     "I don't have to do a damn thing," Leni replied, "people get sick in this house all the time and no one, like, does anything about it. I would know." She started on her way out the door again when a hand caught her nightgown. Wheeling on her sister, she smacked Luan's hand away, willing to go further if not for the darkness hampering her. "You're seriously pushing your luck, go back to bed."
  82.  
  83.     "Leni, please!" Luan begged, bracing herself for whatever would come at her from the shadows. "This isn't about you or me! Lynn's really sick, she needs someone, something-"
  84.  
  85.     "Wha's goin' on out 'ere?" They were both startled by a voice from behind them. Luna trudged up to them, finding them by sound alone as they argued. "Who's sick?" As if to answer her question, her own stomach gurgled in protest, and she placed a hand on the wall to support herself. "Ugh, liver's good for just about everything 'cept the stomach."
  86.  
  87.     Before Luan could explain the situation, Leni replied, "it looks like the liver didn't agree with Lynn either, except she's, like, even less into it than you are." The two of them chuckled, to their sister's astonishment.
  88.  
  89.     "It's not funny! She's really sick, you both need to do something about it!" Luan shouted. Leni grinned, unseen in the darkened hallway, and she shoulder-checked the comedienne on her way back toward the sickened sister's room. Luan considered just spilling to Luna what had happened between them last night, but with things as they were in the house she backed down. 'We need Lori here, and Lincoln...Linc...' Leni's hateful words filled her ears, about how horribly she'd treated their brother, and she covered them as she turned to follow her tormentor.
  90.  
  91.     "What could possthibly be causthing thisth much excthitment thisth early in the morning?" Lisa demanded as she waddled from the opposite end of the hallway to meet the group. They could hear Lily crying from the other room as well, and Leni broke off to go and fetch her.
  92.  
  93.     "Hey, this could work! Liz can figure out what's wrong with her!" Luna bent down to sling an arm around the genius's shoulders, a gesture said genius was less than appreciative of. "I bet he's just got a stomach bug or somethin', nothin' to worry about."
  94.  
  95.     Shaking the punk's arm off, the four-year old cracked her fingers and led the procession into Lynn and Lucy's room. Immediately upon seeing the girl and the condition she was in, she announced, "she'sth not sthuffering from any bacterial, viral or fungal affliction, excluding her feet regarding the latter."
  96.  
  97.     All of them cringed and gagged at the unneeded information, and Lucy asked, "how can you tell that just from looking?"
  98.  
  99.     "No offensthe, Lucthy, but I doubt you'd want to hear the sthpecthificsth," Lisa dismissed with a veritable storm of spittle at the last word. "No, what'sth happening here is an affliction. Now, let'sth sthee..." She began to measure Lynn's pulse and inspect her eyes as Leni returned with Lily, the baby making as much of a fuss as possible without actually bawling.
  100.  
  101.     "Shh, it's okay, you're okay," Leni murmured to her youngest sister, rocking her back and forth. She watched with trepidation as Lisa went about examining her most recent victim, hoping that it would take more than a few off-the-cuff observations to figure out just what had happened this time. Her focus was interrupted several times by the baby pulling her hair and bopping her in the face as she squirmed. She looked at her littlest sister in annoyance, only to find a smile in return as she began to calm down. "Oh, I can't be mad at you, you little cutie pie," she gushed, nuzzling Lily's nose with her own. 'You're the only one in this house who's completely innocent.' As much as she loved Lincoln, even he couldn't say that, but he'd gone further than anyone else to make amends for what he'd done.
  102.  
  103.     Soon the room was crowded with seven individuals, and the sight of their normally energetic sister reduced to a shivering mess prompted Luna to full alertness. "Dude, this is more than just leftover-itis. Do you think maybe she got food poisoning or something?"
  104.  
  105.     Swinging her head back and forth, Lynn herself slurred, "sshtop talkin' 'bout me like I'm ain't here. I'm fiiine, never better." They all stared at her in concern as Lucy stepped forward to place a calming hand on her forehead.
  106.  
  107.     "She's got a temperature, and it looks like she's a little swollen," Lucy noted. "She wouldn't be bloating from decomposition yet, would she?" Her head flung around to address Lisa.
  108.  
  109.     "What? No! She'sth not even dead yet!" They all gasped at the word 'yet,', and she slapped a hand against her forehead. "And she'sth not GOING to be dead yet, or EVER. At leastht not for another stheventy yearsth, sthtatisthtically sthpeaking." It didn't do much to calm them, but it would have to be enough for now.
  110.  
  111.     "It could be allergies," Luan suggested, biting her lip in concentration and yelping in pain.
  112.  
  113.     Every conscious member of the room turned to face her, and in the light Luna noticed her state for the first time. "Woah, Luan! What happened to your teeth?! And your arms and legs!" She was upon her roommate in an instant, looking her up and down.
  114.  
  115.     Without even looking Luan could feel Leni's oppressive aura behind her, and she quickly sputtered, "I f-fell down the stairs last night, when the lights went out." Just as the one who'd inflicted the wounds on her had said, it wasn't a lie, and it came easily enough. 'What am I THINKING? Everyone is here, I need to say something NOW!' As Lucy began educating Luna on the high likelihood of what Luan had described happening to the rest of them, Luan spun to confront her oppressor.
  116.  
  117.     Leni looked down at the younger teen, utter contempt radiating from her. She knew exactly what Luan was thinking, and she was appropriately equipped to deal with it. With everyone except Luan distracted, Leni looked directly at her and placed a hand just over Lily's head. Luan lurched back in abject horror as she made a twisting motion with the hand, directing a suggestive glance at the infant in her grasp. "From the bottom," she mouthed, "UP."
  118.  
  119.     Luan's eyes screwed shut and she turned her back in the pair, fighting not to cry again or else risk giving everything away. With a satisfied smile, Leni returned to coddling the baby, giving her a kiss on the forehead. 'Of course I'd never do something like that, but she doesn't need to know.'
  120.  
  121.     Shaking her head, Lisa informed them, "Lynn has no sthubstantial food allergiesth. I'll need to do some resthearch...in the meantime, I don't believe her condition isth anything we can't handle yet, but keep an eye on her." With that, she slid past the crowd to depart for her room once more. Leni followed after her in order to put Lily back to bed, and upon reaching the room a poor omen awaited her. As she entered the room, she could see the records and graphs spilled across her sister's table and the floor, also illuminated by a desk lamp.
  122.  
  123.     "Like, what are you working so hard on, Lisa?" She asked, trying to sound casual; the toddler had been meeting with Lori, and it didn't bode well.
  124.  
  125.     Sifting through a stack of papers, Lisa idly answered, "justht sthome resthearch and bills, sthame as alwaysth." As Leni set their younger sister into her crib, she added, "how have you been lately?"
  126.  
  127.     Leni paused at the question. It was an obvious bait, but it'd be just as suspicious if she didn't answer. "Uh, kind of stressed, a little tired, but pretty good! Why do you ask?"
  128.  
  129.     Lisa considered lying to her, but it wouldn't do much to further her purpose. Instead, she carefully answered, "sthomeone in this housthe asthked about you, but they didn't feel like that could asthk you directly." Their eyes met, and the prodigy implored, "pleasthe take care of yoursthelf. For their sthake."
  130.  
  131.     Leni maintained a neutral expression as she made sure Lily was calm enough to lie down, before donning a winning smile as she faced Lisa. "I'll keep that in mind. Thanks, little sis. And, I'm sorry. About the other day, in the bathroom."
  132.  
  133.     "Water under the bridge." Lisa hadn't been expecting an apology, so it was fairly easy to receive. "What happened to that pill?"
  134.  
  135.     A crack formed in her mask, and Leni lied, "I got rid of it." Lisa simply hummed in acknowledgement, and an awkward moment passed before the teen excused herself. With all of the most immediate distractions out of her way, Lisa shut the door behind her before settling in to pore over her work. Looking up Lynn's medical files was no trouble, and soon enough she'd have the answers they needed.
  136.  
  137.     "Justht as I informed them, no food allergiesth." Lisa was prepared to simply leave it at that, but it seemed there was a little more to her beanbag-brained sister than she realized. While she indeed had no food allergies, she did have issues with a few medications. Pulling at that thread, Lisa investigated those medications and the normal recurring purchases made on account of the only athletic Loud.
  138.  
  139.     As Lisa extrapolated the new data with what she'd discovered last night, her investigation quickly took a dark turn. After a night of thorough research and a few calls to Janice that required the promise of some rather generous and exotic gifts, she had uncovered a discrepancy in the bills that she usually payed, one she wouldn't have even thought to look for. Along with Lynn's supplements, regularly scheduled physicals and antifungals there was a charge simply referred to as 'stress medication', paid for on a bi-monthly basis. Well aware of Lynn's habits and personality, however, she knew that the teen would have no need for such a thing. "A euphemisthm, then. But for what?"
  140.  
  141.     Delving into the family's medical record, she discovered that the bills dated back four years, and it hadn't always been just one medication, either. Her mind flashed to the incident the previous day with Lana, Leni and the pill. Branching out from the origin point of that medication being prescribed, she discovered that her siblings appeared to have been the unfortunate victims of a number of 'accidents' in the year prior. "Sthprains, a broken bone, lotsth of bruisthes and cutsth..." Even her normally apathetic heart sunk at the only obvious conclusion to be reached.
  142.  
  143.     "They were being abusthed...but by whom?" Never once had her mother or father raised a hand to her, and she couldn't recall such a thing ever having occured to any of them in her lifetime. "My lifetime...the abusthe sthtopped at the sthame time as the 'sthtress medicthine' was presthcribed." Did that mean that Lynn had been harming their sisters? She would have only been nine years old, though, hardly a challenge for the eldest three girls. No, it didn't add up...
  144.  
  145.     Setting her papers to one side, she adjourned to her closet to collect some of her sparse supply of medical tools. Fortunately, she'd only need to take a little blood this time...
  146.  
  147. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  148.  
  149.     "LENI! LUNA!" The two sisters, in their respective rooms, tore through the hallway at the sound of LUCY of all people shouting for them. Colliding with each other outside their doors, and then again trying to fit into the room of their ill sister, they finally squeezed in to find Lynn alternately jerking violently on the bed and then becoming eerily still. "I-it's like she's possessed!" If it were any other day or circumstance, Lucy would be over the moon with delight, but this was neither the day nor the time. "We have to do something!"
  150.  
  151.     "Okay, okay, let me get in here," Luna requested, sliding onto the bed next to her younger sister and trying to get her to settle down. As Lynn convulsed in her grasp, a sickness began to well in Leni's stomach, and for the first time it didn't have anything to do with anger.
  152.  
  153.     'Fuck, fuck, fuck...I wanted to teach her a lesson, but not this!' She pulled at her hair as she considered her options, but there really were none this time. Had she finally made a — quite literally — fatal error? 'I read those articles, I didn't think I gave her a dangerous amount!' Lana and Lola appeared on the sidelines as well, only just aware of what was going on with their partner in crime.
  154.  
  155.     "What's all the yelling for? What happened to Lynn?" Lana tried to crawl onto the bed alongside Luna, though the older sister held her at bay.
  156.  
  157.     Lola stood patiently by the bed, expressing her concern instead by kneading her hands together and testing the tense air in the room. "Is she sick? Because our tummies have been a little sore too." She rubbed at her own stomach, which bubbled in response. Lisa appeared soon after, dragging by a handle a small wagon filled with several imposing implements.
  158.  
  159.     "We need to call the hospital, Len! Or Mom and Dad, or Lori, or ANYONE!" Luna cried, fretting and fussing over their bedridden sister as the younger Louds struggled to understand what was happening, minus Luan and Lisa. "W-what if she...she...d-"
  160.  
  161.     Leni took her sister's shoulders in her hands and shook Luna like a ragdoll, briefly considering a slap for good measure. "Luna! Like, not in front of the kids!" The two of them glanced over at the gaggle of children, and she spoke further in a whisper, "she's not going to do...that. For all we know it could just be, like, an awful tummy ache! The way Lynn eats and plays, I'm sure this kind of thing really happens all the time!" Never would she have guessed earlier that she'd end up hoping the words she was speaking were true.
  162.  
  163.     "No, it really doesn't." Lucy's voice startled them not because of any proximity she had to them, but quite the opposite; she'd been watching like a hawk from the other side of the room and still managed to hear them. "Even when she was binging on spicy meatball subs and protein mix, she was never completely incapacitated like she is now." She spoke in the same monotone as always, but subtle clues hinted at her worry for her roommate. Head drooped slightly further than usual, hands wringing, her legs restless whether seated or standing.
  164.  
  165.     Lisa strongarmed her way through the crowd as effectively as any four-year old could and reached for Lynn's wrist, the teen's arm hanging limply over the side of the bed. To everyone's shock, Leni slapped it away, glaring down at the toddler with an otherworldly gleam in her eyes. "Like, this is no time for your games, Lisa. Not when she's hurting like this."
  166.  
  167.     Snorting and narrowing her own eyes at the offense, Lisa countered, "thisth isth precthisely the time for my 'gamesth', you..." Lola and Lana each put a hand on one of her shoulders, the former out of warning and the latter out of concern. Shaking her head and rubbing her stricken hand, Lisa coolly finished, "I can deducthe what'sth wrong with her, and how to fix it. In the meantime, it would be bestht to at leastht contact Lori. I'll let you do the honorsth." It may have been her lisp at work, but she practically spat at Leni to cap off the statement. The two of them stared each other down for several seconds, only stopping to note with concern that their sickened sister was becoming more vocal in her misery.
  168.  
  169.     Taking Lynn's wrist as she originally intended, Lisa requested, "Luna, fetch me the blood pressthure sthleeve from my wagon, pleasthe." After some trial and error, the teen managed to procure the correct tool and handed it to the now-resident physician. "Thank you." Wrapping the sleeve around her patient's arm, she pumped pressure into it, letting it sit a moment and measuring her pulse as she released the pressure in a very ad-hoc method. "Sthtethesthcope, pleasthe." Another game of chance before she was finally supplied with what she needed, and she climbed onto the bed with Luna's assistance, now effectively her nurse. After listening to the girl's heart and lungs, she further asked, "thermometer." Taking the athlete's temperature through the mouth, she jotted down some notes before dismounting the bed.
  170.  
  171.     "Heart rate: 119 BPM. Blood pressthure: 90 sthysthtolic, 50 diasthtolic. Resthpirationsth: 10 per minute." They all stared at her, mystified by the terms and numbers she had recited, and she closed her eyes as she calmly informed them, "her vitalsth are sthtable, but she'sth definitely very ill." Waving them out of her way, she personally returned to the wagon and collected a pile of equipment from it. "I'm going to take a blood sthample."
  172.  
  173.     "And do what with it," Lucy asked as she warily eyed the needle attached to the machine, "can you seriously do a blood test here in the house?" The rest of them seemed as skeptical as she was.
  174.  
  175.     Hooking all the neccessary tools up, Lisa answered, "that'sth about the limit of my capabilitiesth at the moment, but yesth, I can."
  176.  
  177.     Torn between preventing Lisa from discovering her treachery and finding out just how seriously ill she'd made Lynn, Leni cautioned, "is it really alright to be taking her blood right now? Like, doesn't she need that to breathe?"
  178.  
  179.     Lisa didn't even deign to look at her as she muttered, "she needsth the oxygen in it, yesth."
  180.  
  181.     "Len, if anyone's got this it's Lisa," Luna assured, laying what was meant to be a comforting hand on her older sister's shoulder. "We can hit up Lori and go from there, alright?" Leni reluctantly nodded her head, and the musician smiled weakly now that they seemed to have a plan coming together. "Alright, cool. While we're at it," she addressed the rest of the sisters in turn, "I think we oughta give them some space, dig?" And so she ushered everyone sans the patient, her roommate and her caretaker from the room, seeing them to their own before leaning against the wall and placing a hand to her forehead. "Can we not catch a break, or what? It's one thing after another, this weekend..."
  182.  
  183.     Leni stood patiently by her side. Now that she knew Lynn was at least stable, she found herself more concerned about how quickly Lisa would piece her involvement together than Lynn's actual condition. 'Gotta get her before Lori gets home, the little rat. She's seen too much already...' Putting on a brave face, she quipped, "like, it's not actually the weekend anymore though, right?" Luna slid her hand down her face to reveal The Look, and the blonde grimaced before amending, "sorry! You're right, but what can we do? I'm gonna call Lori, did you want to call an ambulance, or...?"
  184.  
  185.     "No, no, not yet. Can you imagine how fast Mom and Dad would flip if they find out we put Lynn in the hospital?" Leni found herself agreeing with her sister, if not quite out of the same concern. "Let's let Liz do her thing. Alright, what's Lori's num- wait, we can't get a hold of her!"
  186.  
  187.     "What do...oh, you're right, her phone!" Lori not having her phone was becoming a complication in a way Leni hadn't expected. Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and she spotted an opportunity to both pull the rug out from under her older sister and cement the foundation she'd regained with her little sister. "Do you think you can try to get a hold of her anyway? Like, maybe her phone was at Bobby's this whole time or something?"
  188.  
  189.     Bringing a hand up to cup her chin, Luna mulled the possibility over. "Y'know, you might just be right! And you've got Bobby's number, yeah?" Leni nodded, and Luna formed that hand into a fist that came down to impact the palm of her other. "We'll hit'em at the same time! They can't ignore both of us!" Her enthusiasm began to return now that they were following through on an actual plan, and Leni was surprised to find herself happy for her.
  190.  
  191.     'Don't get in too deep,' the blonde reminded herself, 'you can't trust any of these people. Lynn'll be lucky if you even do anything for her at all.' As Luna turned to descend the steps, Leni glared at her, but the venom she had felt as recently as Saturday had begun to ebb again. 'Hmph. Not even worth it...' As Luna retreated to the kitchen, Leni took her opportunity and dashed to Lisa and Lily's room, shutting the door behind her. Rushing to the diaper disposal bin, she thrust her arm into it, knowing that to stop for even  second would reduce her to a retching, puking mess. Holding her breath and biting her tongue to take her focus off the overwhelming stench, she fished around the bottom until she felt a rectangular object. Extracting her arm from the container, she was rewarded for her efforts with Lori's long-lost phone.
  192.  
  193.     "Ugh, so nasty. Whose job is it to empty this thing?" Content with her prize, she doubled back toward the door when it began to open. Freezing up, she watched as Lisa dropped back down from the tips of her toes and adjusted her glasses before stopping in the threshold to stare at the intruder. Her eyes immediately focused on the phone, and Leni had to devote all of her attention to focusing on something other than punting the pint-sized scientist right then and there. "H-hey, Lisa. Sorry for barging in like this, and...for what just happened back there. But I needed to, like, check on Lily and-"
  194.  
  195.     "You justht happened to find Lori'sth phone in our room while you were at it?" She fixed the blonde with a deadpan stare and reasoned, "well, that explainsth the interferencthe I wasth experienchting. You were going to check on Lily, correct?" Leni started at the question, primed to fight or flee at any second. "Don't sthtop on my account. Justht make sure you don't leave anything behind thisth time."
  196.  
  197.     Leni snarled at the implicit warning — that Lisa knew exactly what she'd done, so far as the phone crisis went — and jerked back from the crib, leaving their sleeping younger sister for the moment. She swept out of the room, the door closing almost the instant she had cleared it, and she stalked down the hallway to her own. She hooked Lori's phone up to the charger on their dresser, and before long it sprung to life with over sixty messages and fifteen missed calls. "Like, which one of them is the girl?" Giving the messages a quick glance in case they contained any more incriminating material, she found that the most recent one was from Luna.
  198.  
  199.     <yo lori, u gotta get home now! lynn is super sic and we need ur help!! are u there?>
  200.  
  201.     Leni's heart raced as she put the next piece of the puzzle into place. She relished every click of the buttons as she typed back,
  202.  
  203.     <Luna, how many times did I tell u guys not to call or text me?>
  204.     <Yeah I'm here, phone was at Bobby's all this time! How funny is that :D>
  205.     <Battery is running low though, this isn't helping>
  206.     <I'll be back this afternoon, it can wait, right?>
  207.  
  208.     She waited a moment for the response, and she wasn't disappointed.
  209.  
  210.     <dude, no it cant wait!! this is sum major stuff were dealin with, its an emergency!!>
  211.     <come home NOW!!!!>
  212.  
  213.     'Now, the last nail.' Leni hammered it home, trying to pull off her best Lori,
  214.  
  215.     <I said I'll be back soon. I get literally one day to myself, and I'm going to take it.>
  216.     <Handle it. This is what you guys are in charge for. I've got some 'business' to finish ;)>
  217.  
  218.     Believing the exchange to be finished there, Leni set the phone back down, only for it to begin shrieking and vibrating as a call came through. Snatching it back up, she ran her fingers along its entire face and over every button. "Shut up, shut up, shut UP!" Finally she threw it onto the floor, its alerts finally ending with a small snapping noise. She
  219. retrieved it just in time to hear footsteps coming up the stairs, and she tossed it under her bed just before Luna rounded the corner into her room.
  220.  
  221.     Her face red, whole body tense, the punk quickly asked, "did you just get a call?"
  222.  
  223.     Nodding her head, Leni shakily answered, "y-yeah, from Bobby. It disconnected right away, though..."
  224.  
  225.     Slamming a fist against the wall, Luna grit her teeth and unleashed a feral howl. "Fuckin' Lori!" Leni recoiled from the outburst, though she wasn't displeased with it. "I got a hold of her, her stupid phone was at Bobby's from the beginning! And when she answered me, she completely blew me off so she could get her damn rocks off some more!" Her chest heaved as she related the story, and she slammed a boot into the floor, eager to vent her frustration. "How could she do that? I told her it was an emergency!"
  226.  
  227.     Leni timidly moved closer to her, and when it seemed she wasn't going to be set upon, she slowly encircled her younger sister in a hug. "Like, she didn't say that was what she was doing, right? Please, tell me she didn't seriously say that..."
  228.  
  229.     "She did, Len." The brunette's voice was heavy with a number of powerful emotions, and she crushed Leni in returning the embrace. "She probably shut down that call you just got, too. What the hell is her problem? First with Lola, and now this."
  230.  
  231.     Leni patted her on the back while trying to escape the ironclad grip. "I-it's okay, Luna. We'll figure it out, alright?" Luna finally released her, wiping at her eyes to avoid showing just how overwhelmed she was becoming by everything. Leni rubbed a hand up and down the younger girl's arm, assuring her in comforting tones, "we'll get through this. You and me, right?"
  232.  
  233.     Luna looked at her as if she were looking at her for the first time, and it slightly put Leni on edge. Finally, she put on a wavering smile and raised a fist between them. "Yeah...you and me." Leni formed a fist of her own and bumped her sister's. In so doing, however, she made another of her now-patented Critical Errors™. "Woah, what happened to your hand?" Leni glanced down at it, and cursed herself as she noticed the scab and cut flesh from her encounter with Luan.
  234.  
  235.     "O-oh, you know me, clumsy old Leni. Can't even make some simple dessert without, like, messing something up. It's alright, though, nothing a little peroxide can't fix!" She hoped that would be enough. Fate, it seemed, had other plans. Luna gently took her by the wrist and examined the wound before giving her an odd look. "S-something wrong?"
  236.  
  237.     "Peroxide, eh? You didn't actually clean this, did you?" Leni didn't dare speak, but she hesitantly shook her head. "I thought so. Can't put one over on your sis, Len, I've seen this happen too many times at concerts. C'mere." Without letting go, she led Leni to the bathroom and sat her down on the edge of the bathtub.
  238.  
  239.     'Talk about déjà vu,' Leni thought as Luna worked at the medicine cabinet. Just days ago she'd been in Luna's position, and Lincoln in hers. Her spirit dampened considerably at the thought of what he'd be returning to. But it had to be done.
  240.  
  241.     ...
  242.  
  243.     Didn't it?
  244.  
  245.     As Luna finished gathering up everything she was after, Leni thought carefully about just what she wanted to accomplish after everything was said and done. Lori, Luna, and Luan deserved to be punished, along with their parents; this much was true. But what would she do afterward? 'If they gang up on me like before, they're just going to put me back on the medicine...no, there's got to be, like, some kind of endgame...' She became aware of an annoying clicking noise, and upon returning to reality she experienced another bout of recall as Luna snapped her fingers in front of her.
  246.  
  247.     "There she is!" Luna chuckled, lowering her left hand and raising a cotton swab in the other. "Alright, gimme your hand." Leni complied, and her sister set about carefully tending to her hand. She winced as the solution and consequent rubbing reopened her wound. "S'alright, easy as 'making dessert', right?" The brunette grinned at the blonde, who looked abashedly to the side. Soon her knuckles were bandaged, and Luna covered her sister's injured hand in both of hers. She knelt down in front of the blonde, unusually silent all the while.
  248.  
  249.     "Luna...?" It was an odd gesture, to be sure, made all the more odd when the younger girl lowered her head to rest it on their joined hands.
  250.  
  251.     "Leni..." They remained that way for what seemed like an eternity; far too long for Leni's comfort. Color began to rise in her cheeks until finally she spoke again, "I know we just talked about this the other day, but...just now, doin' this, it's like a blast from the past. You used to fix us up all the time when we got too rough, remember?" She lifted her head to face Leni, who couldn't answer her directly or risk giving herself away. "I know things weren't always great, but I wish...I just wish it'd been different, y'know?" Luna lowered her head again, that heaviness returning to her voice as she made a stunning admission. "I wish I'd done something for you, like you used to do for us. I should have stood up for you, helped you get better, anything other than what happened..."
  252.  
  253.     Words weren't enough to express the thoughts running through Leni's head. The anger she felt before was still there, but the remorse she'd felt on Lincoln's behalf bled into it as it began to dawn on her that Luna's remorse might actually be genuine. Undaunted, Luna continued, "with Lori it's just not the same. She doesn't listen, not like you do...like you did."
  254.  
  255.     Leni felt that most dangerous of feelings ease her troubled heart again; affection. She remembered now, and it made it all the harder for her to continue on as she was. She missed it too, the way things were; the way they couldn't go back to. 'I could tell her, though.' She almost slapped herself for even allowing the thought to come to life, but there it was. Luna seemed to be firmly on her side, to the point of keeping their private conversations a secret from the others, including Luan.
  256.  
  257.     'She'll ruin you, just like they did before. Like they all did.'
  258.  
  259.     'They're all responsible. They all have to be made to take responsibility.'
  260.  
  261.     "You let them do it last time, and you're going to let them do it again."
  262.  
  263.     Her head jerking up, Luna asked, "what?" Leni was giving her that look again, or rather the wall behind her. Rather than break her out of it, though, she remained perfectly still.
  264.  
  265.     Caught up in her thoughts, the blonde absentmindedly droned, "it can't go back...you can't go back..."
  266.  
  267.     Swallowing hard, unsure of what she was seeing or listening to, Luna whispered, "can't go back to what?"
  268.  
  269.     "To the way things were. You can't trust them, they're going to put you right back into those pills."
  270.  
  271.     Luna's eyes widened, and she let go of Leni's hands, jumping back and backing away enough to put a room's worth of distance between them. Leni seemed to break out of her trance, and looked questioningly at her. Her own face fell at the realization that she'd been speaking aloud. 'Well...that settles that...'
  272.  
  273.     The two of them remained still as statues, eyes fixed on one another now that the jig was up. Neither of them dared speak a word, afraid that the other would take the opportunity to pounce. Finally, Luna began to move toward the door, each step measured, face never veering from the other girl. Leni didn't make an attempt to stop her. If it were anyone else...but not Luna. Apparently Lincoln and Lily weren't her only weaknesses.
  274.  
  275.     The younger sister reached the door, and Leni finally broke eye contact with her, contemplating just how she was going to get out of this one. The door clicked shut, and she brought her hands up to her face. So focused was she on the building sense of fear, the voice in her head crying out to her to chase down Luna and do something, ANYTHING to save herself, that she didn't realize she wasn't alone until she felt a hand on her back.
  276.  
  277.     Slowly, painfully, she withdrew her head to look to her left, looking into Luna's eyes, glassy with unshed tears. Gulping again, the younger Loud croaked, "alright...alright. Level with me, here."
  278.  
  279. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  280.  
  281.     As soon as she entered the door, Lori knew something had gone terribly wrong. There was no rock music blaring, no pies being thrown, no dirt bike course constructed throughout the downstairs. "Hello? Leni? Luna? Luan?" There was some shuffling upstairs, followed by the sound of someone practically jumping down the steps. She wasn't left in suspense for long as Luan came barreling toward her, nearly tackling her as she wrapped her arms around Lori and buried her face into her chest.
  282.  
  283.     "Lori!" Said sister was taken aback by the show of affection, and with little other option she returned the embrace. "Thank god you're back, thank you, thank you-"
  284.  
  285.     Prying her unusually clingy sister just far enough away to look her in the eyes, Lori beseeched her, "Luan, get a hold of yourself! I missed you girls too, but I was only gone one night!" The misery on the normally cheerful girl's face told her there was more to it than time spent apart, however. "What's going on? It feels like someone died in here! And what happened to you?!" Luan's expression took on a new sense of urgency at that, and Lori began to genuinely worry before they were both distracted by the sound of another individual on their way down to join them.
  286.  
  287.     As Leni reached the bottom step, her entire body jerked at the sight of Lori and Luan together. While their oldest sister gave her a questioning look, Luan glared at her and turned to face Lori once more, pulling her head down and whispering frantically in her ear. Leni's jaw clenched and adrenaline flooded her veins as she stormed to the door to wedge herself between them and roughly shove the brunette away and into the armchair.
  288.  
  289.     As Luan toppled over the seat with a surprised squawk, Leni rounded on her, only to be stopped by a heavy hand on her shoulder. Eyes darting back to the room's other occupant, her mouth became noticeably dry at the unbridled rage in Lori's eyes. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
  290.  
  291.     "Don't listen to her, Lori!" Leni pleaded, playing the victim rather well. "She's been causing, like, so much trouble since you left, and I bet she was just now telling you-"
  292.  
  293.     "How much she missed me, and what was going on with Lynn?" Lori stared her sister into submission, and Leni's eyes darted to Luan, who was smirking at her.
  294.  
  295.     That old, familiar bile rocketed through Leni's stomach and into her throat, and she had to choke it down. 'She played me...you goddamn bug...just a bug, that I'm gonna crush.' Shaking her head, she backed away from Lori, who advanced on her in lock-step. "L-Lori, I can explain-"
  296.  
  297.     Hands clenching, Lori belted out out one after another, "explain about just now? Or about your 'relationship'? Or just what the hell you've been doing these past four days?" Leni quickly found herself against the wall next to her parents' bedroom door, and her own hands balled into fists upon being cornered. "Yeah, you've got a lot to explain, and this time you're going to tell me the damn truth. I'm DONE playing games, with literally ALL of you."
  298.  
  299.     Luan was practically beside herself with relief as her unexpected hero of the past several days bore down on the fiend they both knew. Her breathing becoming labored, the mask threatening to give way at any second, Leni played the only gambit immediately available to her. "Maybe we ought to have that conversation after you, like, make yourself presentable." Both Lori and Luan took a moment to ponder on that statement before it became clear that Lori looked just as spent now as she had earlier that morning. The younger of the three blushed wildly, and Lori's face contorted in embarrassment.
  300.  
  301.     Diverting toward the stairs, Lori began her ascent. Stopping halfway, she looked down on Leni and commanded, "our room. One hour. Be there, or I'll PUT you there." With that warning set in stone, she continued on to her room to grab a fresh set of clothes before ending up in the bathroom.
  302.  
  303.     Back in the living room, Leni began to tremble with anger and fear. 'It's too soon...she came back too soon, and Lisa's going to fucking ruin everything...' Gritting her teeth, Leni stormed up to Luan, reaching into a pocket all the while. The other girl fled at her advance, and Luan prepared to shout as Leni raised a fist toward her. That shout died in her throat when the fist opened slightly to reveal a clip of money. "Take this."
  304.  
  305.     Luan stared at the bills, completely baffled by what she was being offered. "W-what is this? Blood money or something? You think I'm going to stay quiet-"
  306.  
  307.     Leni threw the clip at her, striking her in the face with it and nearly hitting her in her damaged teeth. "You ARE going to stay quiet, and I'm going to sort things out with Lori. Consider that collateral. Otherwise, someone else is going to end up as collateral. Get it?"
  308.  
  309.     Against her better judgement, Luan stooped down to collect the money, glancing between it and her sister. "This doesn't change anything."
  310.  
  311.     "It's not supposed to. Now just keep your trap shut and wait here. And put that away, neither you nor I want anyone seeing it." With that, she began her own journey upstairs, leaving Luan to try and figure out just what her game was. Reaching the second floor, she proceeded first to her room, collecting a change of clothes and her secret weapon before continuing on to Lincoln's room. She closed the door ever so slightly, leaving just a small crack to listen through. 'The waiting game. Joy...'
  312.  
  313.     Following her shower, Lori wrapped herself snugly in her bathrobe and exited the sauna she'd created to find the twins lurking outside Lucy and Lynn's room. Upon seeing her, Lola fled downstairs, though Lana remained with a worried look etched onto her face. Rolling her eyes at the younger twin's departure, she pushed her way past the older one, who followed silently in her wake. When Luan had told her that Lynn was ill, she had expected the flu, maybe a stomach virus, but this..."What happened to her?"
  314.  
  315.     Lisa and Lucy both acknowledged her as she entered, and she moved to the side of the bed to lay eyes on her sickened sister. Their homegrown athlete extraordinaire, as energetic as the rest of them put together, lay still on her bed; skin pale, sweat plastering her unkempt hair to her head and shoulders, eyes rapidly twitching under the lids. It made Lori sick just to look at her, and she turned toward Lisa, who was positioned next to her equipment and notes. "What's the diagnosis? Were you able to find out what's wrong with her?"
  316.  
  317.     Lisa's mouth formed into a thin line as she double-checked her records before answering, "indeed I wasth. Lynn has taken in a consthiderable, but NOT deadly, amount of oxthalic acid." Lori and Lucys' expressions begged an explanation, and she continued, "a compound that can occur asth a poisthon in cthertain foodsth."
  318.  
  319.     Lori's head fell into her hands. She was sure she already knew the answer, but she needed to hear it from someone else. Lifting it again, she looked to Lana and ordered her, "out. Now. Take Lola and go play."
  320.  
  321.     "No way! I wanna know what's goin' on too, you guys keep making me leave for all the important stuff!"
  322.  
  323.     "Please, Lana, this is important boring grown-up talk. I guarantee you're going to literally be bored to death after a few minutes." The six-year old finally relented,moping out of the room. "And close the door, please." She did as she was asked, and immediately after the door closed Luna left her room to descend downstairs. Leni quietly left her brother's room and stopped just outside Lynn and Lucy's door. Now they could get down to business. "What are some of the foods?"
  324.  
  325.     Referencing her notes, Lisa answered, "the mostht notable of them are parsthley and rhubarb." There it was. The latter of the two was what Leni had sought at the grocery yesterday. Her throat began to close up at the idea that this might have been...
  326.  
  327.     "People don't get sick from eating rhubarb, though, do they? You can make pie out of it, right?" There might still be an explanation for this, an explanation that Lori desperately needed.
  328.  
  329.     "The sthtalk of the plant isth edible, the toxinsth are located in the leavesth, rather."
  330.  
  331.     Lori's head rose again with a rationalization of what had happened. "That must have been it," she stated with a paradoxical mix of relief and anxiety, "we got some rhubarb yesterday so she could make a pie with Lincoln. She always makes her smoothies with greens, though. That idiot, she must have used the leaves to make it with."
  332.  
  333.     Lisa listened to the story and slowly nodded her head. "That isth very possthible, definitely a 'Leni' moment-"
  334.  
  335.     "No." They both fell silent at Lucy's utterance, and in a display neither of them had seen in ages, she parted her hair to reveal her eyes. The bloodshot orbs stung in the afternoon light, and her brow furrowed over them as she frowned. "There was nothing 'Leni' about this, at least not the way we think of it." Lori's breath hitched as Lisa focused on what she might mean. "Ever since Friday, she's been like a completely different person, and what she did earlier makes me think she meant to do it."
  336.  
  337.     A bloodcurdling fear chased through Lori's veins. "Lucy," she breathed, "that's...that's a really serious accusation."
  338.  
  339.     "I know, and I don't like making it. But listen to me," the goth implored, setting her hands on her knees. "That morning when all of this drama started, I walked in on her in the bathroom. She was talking to herself, talking about 'remembering', and that it 'wasn't fair.'" The eldest sister's eyes widened, and she began to shake imperceptibly as Lucy unknowingly demolished the last of her peace of mind. "She cursed at me, then said she was sorry and ran off with Lincoln. Later that night, I caught her coming back up from the living room with some of Luan's...tapes." She shuddered at the memory, perhaps the only subject where she found common ground with Leni, and continued, "she wasn't talking like herself..."
  340.  
  341.     Lucy paused a moment at the unraveled look on Lori's face before quietly finishing, "everyone who drank something she made last night felt at least a little bit sick. Everyone except her. And she wasn't nearly as worried about Lynn as the rest of us..." She allowed her hair to follow back in front of her face, lest she reveal anymore humanity than she already had. "She did it, Lori. I just know it..."
  342.  
  343.     Lori couldn't bring herself to speak, the weight of what had been happening — what her willful ignorance had directly resulted in — bearing down on her completely. Lisa took the moment of silence to provide her own evidence. "Justht yesthterday, Lana disthcovered a pill in the bathroom. Leni confronted usth before I could appropriate it, and her hosthtility was uncharacteristhtic in the extreme. Justht earlier, when I went to check Lynn's condition, she sthlapped my hand away to try to sthtop me." Whether through a sixth sense or dumb luck, Leni chose that moment to flee back to Lincoln's room.
  344.  
  345.     'I...oh god, no, I...I couldn't...I DIDN'T...' Lori doubled over, and she lunged from the bed to race for the bathroom, throwing both doors in her path open and throwing herself in front of the toilet to vomit. 'This is how Lynn felt...oh my god, no...' Tears dripped from her face into the sullied water, now that she could no longer deny what she'd known in her heart to be true days ago. 'Sick, irritable, fainting. Planning ahead, stringing me along. God damnit, I just didn't want to believe it...she's not pregnant, she's...she...' Even now it still seemed impossible, but it was the only option left. 'She was withdrawing...'
  346.  
  347.     Somewhere in this house, a beast was waiting for her. A beast that had already harmed one of her sisters...at LEAST one. Luan's injuries and reactions toward Leni flooded her head, and she retched again, heaving the rest of last night's dinner into the commode. She heard voices at her side, though she could barely concentrate enough to distinguish the words. A shock of black and white to the right, and brown and green at the left. Lucy and Lisa offered her their support, but she couldn't bring herself to accept it.
  348.  
  349.     She had failed completely, as a sister and a caretaker. 'They were right...both Lola, and even...even Leni. I've been so caught up in myself, thinking I was the be all, end all in this house...I didn't do anything to make sure she was still 'her'...I left for one night, just to go...to go get fucked, and that was all it took.'
  350.  
  351.     Finally drawing back from the toilet, she rested on her knees, trying to gather herself. Lisa, in an unusual show of concern, took hold of her fingers with her tiny hand. Lucy took her other hand in kind, and she simply breathed. There was going to be a fight, and she wasn't going to win it if she wasn't at her best. "Lucy, Lisa," she spoke quietly but firmly, putting as much of her undeserved authority into her voice as she could. "I need both of you to go to your rooms. Don't come out until I come and get you."
  352.  
  353.     Lisa seemed to understand on some level where this was headed, but Lucy wasn't prepared to just let the talk they were having go. "What do you mean?"
  354.  
  355.     Lori shifted to face her fully, and she set her hands on the eight-year old's shoulders. "I need you to do this for me, alright? For Lynn, too." That seemed to impart a sense of duty to the goth, who silently nodded, and she looked to Lisa as well. "No matter what you hear, don't come out. Alright?" They both nodded, aware that something was about to happen, if not what exactly. She ushered them out of the bathroom and toward their rooms, making sure they were well on their way before she turned to her own. Leni wasn't there. "Of course not." Her roommate had been lurking in their parents' room, as far as she knew, and that seemed the next most likely place.
  356.  
  357.     She entered her room and shut the door, preparing herself for the confrontation about to come. As that door closed, another began to peek open, a figure watching as Lisa entered her room. As the second-youngest sibling began to close the door, a boot shoved itself in the way. Lisa had little time to react as the door was kicked open, backpedaling and falling on her rear as Leni followed and closed the door in a startling imitation of the bathroom incident. "L-Leni-"
  358.  
  359.     "Shut. Your. Mouth." Leni emphasized each word as she kicked the door shut behind her, concentrating all of her anger into a look that could have likely melted lead, or so it felt to her sister.
  360.  
  361.     Lisa looked for an escape, perhaps one of her inventions, but with the power still out her options were woefully limited. Talking it out, then. "What isth thisth about?"
  362.  
  363.     With only a brief window of time to pull this off, Leni fished the pill out from her skirt pocket and held it out for her sister to see. "What this is 'about' is this pill. You wanted it so badly the other day." She grinned savagely as she informed the young poindexter, "well, you got your wish. I'm going to 'give' it to you."
  364.  
  365.     Lisa picked up on the threat immediately, and all bets were off. "LOR-" Leni was upon her before she could even finish shouting the name, however. The teen seized her by the collar of her sweater and lifted her fully into the air, cutting off just enough of her air to silence her.
  366.  
  367.     "Not so fun, is it?" Leni flashed a toothy grin as the four-year old kicked, scratched and attempted to bite her arm. "Being at someone else's mercy does things to you. Makes you think stupid things, like, 'I wish someone would get me out of this,' or 'why is this person doing this to me? What did I ever do to them?'" She threw her sister onto her bed, following immediately after.
  368.  
  369.     Lisa scrambled backward, quickly backed into a corner as she frantically looked for a way out. "We c-can d-d-disthcussth thisth like r-reasthonable, rational women!"
  370.  
  371.     Leni sneered at her, placing her arms on either side of the girl, truly trapping her. "There's only one thing we're going to discuss, and that's, like, how you're going to take this pill."
  372.  
  373.     Accepting that there was no way out, and that this was really happening, Lisa dropped all pretense and sense of superiority. "L-Leni, d-don't do thisth, p-pleasthe," she spoke through a terrible stutter that only appeared when she was truly frightened, like this very moment. "I-I'm s-s-sthorry-"
  374.  
  375.     "Prove it," the blonde demanded. She held the pill between them, both of there eyes locked onto it.
  376.  
  377.     Her heart rate began to reach an unacceptable level, and Lisa curled in on herself, anything to get further away from what she suspected was about to happen to her. "Y-you know thisth is for a-a-adolesthcents and older, r-right? Th-the effect it might have on a f-four-year old—"
  378.  
  379.     Leni's grin shrunk to a sinister smirk as she delivered the line she'd been waiting to use since Friday night. "Think of it as...an experiment."
  380.  
  381.     There would be no mercy, Lisa realized. The toddler began to hyperventilate, and her fear completely overwhelmed her in a more visceral sense as she quite literally lost control of her functions. "L-Leni, p-pleasthe..." Tears sprang to her eyes as she wet herself, body quaking.
  382.  
  383.     Snarling in disgust, Leni could have slapped her, but she chose to take the high road. She roughly grabbed Lisa's hand and forced the blue capsule into it. Anticipating the girl would try to get rid of it immediately, she warned, "You can either take it yourself, or I can make you. And if I have to make you, everyone else is going to pay for it. Starting from the bottom up." She gave a meaningful look to Lily's crib, and it finally broke the terrified genius's resolve. Tears and snot running down her face, Lisa drew her hand back and looked at the accursed object. "You know, you ought to be grateful; I'm giving you something that, like, no one else ever gave me."
  384.  
  385.     "A choice."
  386.  
  387. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
  388.  
  389.     Lori knocked on the door, and received no answer. Waiting for a moment, she knocked again, and still nothing. Putting an ear to the surface, she couldn't hear any machines humming or scribbled writing; not even Lily making a scene. Going for the doorknob, she found it locked. "She wouldn't be asleep this early, would she?" It wasn't unheard of per se for Lisa to take a nap during the day, but that typically only occurred if she was sick or getting there. "Well, at least she's kind of listening to what I said."
  390.  
  391.     "Not enough time for it right now." She traced her steps back to the stairs, before making a pitstop by Luna and Luan's room. Empty. Returning to the stairs, she descended slowly, and it seemed they weren't on the first floor either. 'Alright, I'm going this alone...' Before she knew it, she was standing in front of her parents' bedroom door. Waiting for her on the other side wasn't a guardian, though, but a devil.
  392.  
  393.     'You've got this, Lori. You've handled Leni before...' Even so, knowing what the stakes were, she still wasn't sure if she'd be able to follow through this time. She hadn't had to actually knock-down, drag-out fight one of her siblings for four years now. Leni constantly exercised, as well. Despite having an age advantage, Lori knew her opponent had the strength advantage. 'I've just gotta fight smart...' Swallowing her doubts, she knocked on the door.
  394.  
  395.     From the other side, she heard a muffled shout. "It's unlocked."
  396.  
  397.     Steeling herself, Lori opened the door, entered quickly, and closed and locked it behind her. Eyes adjusting to the light, any last remaining doubts were erased from her mind as she gazed upon her younger sister in all her glory. Clad in her new 'old' outfit, Leni had her hands folded on her lap, one leg crossed over the other under her skirt. "Lori."
  398.  
  399.     "Leni."
  400.  
  401.     They took a short moment to size each other up. Lori knew Leni would still be smarting from her fall, but she couldn't rely on it; Leni always resorted to dirty tactics sooner or later. "So, you've been busy these past few days." She couldn't betray any weakness, and that included any pauses or faults in her speech.
  402.  
  403.     "Oh, you know how it is," Leni shrugged, "I had, like, plenty to catch up on. You know, the little things, like having two new sisters." She watched carefully for any flinch, any chink in her big sister's armor. Nothing.
  404.  
  405.     Brow furrowing and lips curling downward, Lori replied, "let's not pretend there isn't a reason you had 'catching up' to do in the first place. In fact, you seem a little tense right now. Why don't we get you a chill pill?" Leni's eyes narrowed; the first move in their game.
  406.  
  407.     Snorting, Leni made a show of examining her nails. "Why fix what's not broke? I'm cool as a corsage. Besides, there aren't any pills in this house. Not anymore. I think it's better if, like, people act the way they're supposed to."
  408.  
  409.     "The way some people act isn't good for other people."
  410.  
  411.     "Maybe those people need to understand that people act the way they do for a reason."
  412.  
  413.     This was getting nowhere fast, and Lori began to succumb to her infamous temper. "What does someone have to do to deserve being poisoned? Or thrown around? Or any of the other shit you did to them, to me, when we were kids?"
  414.  
  415.     Leni gave her a big smile as she answered, "the same things that are going to get rid of our parents and remind all of you why I treated you that way in the first place."
  416.  
  417.     Breathing heavily, the eldest sister stood her ground despite every instinct to begin the fight right now and put an end to this. Taking a page from the notebook of the very girl in front of her, she warned, "I'm giving you one chance to bring it off, Leni. Take your pills and make up for what you've done."
  418.  
  419.     Leni stared at her for all of a few seconds before bursting out laughing, a shrill noise that scraped Lori's eardrums. "What a riot! This is LITERALLY you right now: 'do something horrible to yourself, or I'm going to do it for you.'" Calming down, she blessed her sister with a most condescending look as she declared, "you're as bad as I am, if not worse. The only difference is that I never dressed what I did up as some holier-than-thou 'tough love' older sister bullshit." Lori's composure began to crumble under the barrage, just as she'd hoped. "I hurt people because they hurt me, Lori. Because they deserve it. You deserve it. ALL of you, except Lincoln and Lily."
  420.  
  421.     "Leni-"
  422.  
  423.     "NO," the younger sister shouted. "You're not going to stand here and lecture me. You, who let all of this happen on your watch, who lost your mind and went ballistic on everyone because you lost your precious fucking phone. You're even more petty than I am, a selfish, entitled bitch. And I'm going to make everyone see you for what you are."
  424.  
  425.     At her limit, Lori slowly advanced toward the girl. Leni didn't move from her seat, though, and she wasn't sure what to make of it. One of them had to make the first move, however, and it clearly wasn't going to be the younger of the two. Waiting one beat, then two, Lori vaulted toward her, her objective to get Leni on the ground as soon as possible. It seemed Leni had the same idea, though; as Lori grabbed hold of her, Leni threw all of her weight back, sending the armchair flipping backward and taking both of them with it. Leni used the momentum to throw Lori into the wall, rolling over and pouncing on her sister.
  426.  
  427.     Wrapping one arm around her bucking opponent's waist, Leni began slamming a fist into the back of her head. "Just make this easier on both of us. Stay. DOWN." as she came in for another blow, Lori ducked her head and reached up behind her, taking the incoming arm and pulling it further along to send Leni toppling over the other side. On her back, Leni fought to stop Lori from mounting her, and it devolved into a grapple with a great deal of scratching and hair-pulling, the occasional hay maker flying as well.
  428.  
  429.     As she feared, though, Lori didn't possess the sheer strength or endurance that Leni did. It didn't help that she'd spent her energy the previous night, either. Leni managed to get her legs around Lori and used her elbows to throw herself up, putting Lori on her back. Before her sister could control her arms, Lori wrapped one around her and pulled herself up, using the other to deliver several solid punches to Leni's bruised tailbone. Leni shrieked and began boxing Lori's ears until finally both of them collapsed, the latter gripping her head while the former rolled away and assumed a defensive position.
  430.  
  431.     Both of them were winded, and each of them eyed the other like a piece of meat now that they had a moment to recover. "Not bad, considering you let yourself go for so long. I'm surprised you can move that fast with that fat ass," Leni growled, rubbing at her thrice-punished back.
  432.  
  433.     "You too...I guess an animal...doesn't forget its instincts, huh?" They'd always had a rapport during their fights, no matter how hateful they became, and now was no different. Lori could hardly speak between taking deep breaths, though, and it was clear to both of them how it would end at this rate.
  434.  
  435.     Leni, however, wouldn't settle for just kicking her big sister's ass; that was too easy. No, her victory needed to be complete. "I'm glad you can give me a challenge, Luan and Lynn sure didn't. Then again, Lynn never got the chance." Lori had to stop herself from diving back in right there. Laughing humorlessly, she added, "and don't even get me started on Lisa." THAT got the reaction she'd wanted, as Lori's entire posture seized up. "Like taking candy from a baby. Or giving it, in this case."
  436.  
  437.     "Leni, no..." Lori's voice gave way as she contemplated the damage that could have been done to their second-youngest sister, the damage that had already been done to two others. Her voice hoarse, barely above a whisper, she asked, "what did you do to Lisa?" The anxiety that had hung over her like a funeral shroud since returning home bled into that same fear and shame from before, knowing that he could have prevented this before it even began. 'All the warning signs were there, and I just...I couldn't...'
  438.  
  439.     Her stomach churned as Leni's eyes lit up and a little smirk appeared. "I'm kind of proud of it, honestly," the younger sister admitted as though it was some humble act to be talked up, "I watched those tapes our joke of a sister took of that little...THING, performing her experiments on me." Her confidence began to return now that Lori had literally been brought to her knees, and she weathered the blows and bruises she'd just received in kind as she sneered, "she seemed like she was having so much fun. You ALL had fun, didn't you?" She drew as close as she believed possible without risking another brawl and looked down her nose at her vanquished foe. "Treating me like an idiot, or a child, or a fucking animal to be played with."
  440.  
  441.     The elder sister raised her head to look upon her closest friend for the past sixteen years, now her most bitter enemy once again. In spite of everything that they'd been through in the past — everything that had just taken place in the past four days — her heart still broke anew as she watched the tears roll down Leni's face. As furious as she was with her sister at that moment, as disgusted as she was with herself, she couldn't deny the accusations that spilled forth. Her mouth moved, an attempt to say anything to salvage what they'd had until so recently, but the words wouldn't come. It wouldn't take long for fury to win out, though, as Leni had no such reservations.
  442.  
  443.     "Well, I gave it back as good as I got it, Lori. As far as Lisa's concerned, I guess you could say, like, I gave her a taste of MY own medicine." Lori's jaw dropped, a counterpoint to the cruel grin that marred her sister's face. "Poetic justice, I think it's called, right? Gotta give Lucy credit for that one." In her arrogance, she leaned dangerously close to her crestfallen opponent, lost in the moment as she smugly informed her, "speaking of whom, she's nex-"
  444.  
  445.     The words flew through the air as fast as her head as Lori snatched her by her collar and thrust the top of her head directly into Leni's face. Using the momentum to stand again, she grabbed the shell-shocked girl by her hair and flung her to the side where she crashed into the dresser, sending a number of the objects on top raining down upon her. Lori loomed over her, prepared to kick her into submission if she moved so much as an inch. "You're not going to lay a finger on another one of them, Leni. This is over. YOU'RE over." She cautiously backed toward the door as her little sister tracked her every motion with unyielding focus.
  446.  
  447.     Leni used the dresser to support her as she got to her feet, her knees shaking from the exertion. Just as she'd expected, Lori was no pushover, and it was clear now that she wasn't going to win a fair fight. Brushing a strand of hair out of her face, she huffed, "so what now? Are you gonna go tattle on me to mommy and daddy? Get Luna and Luan to help you do your dirty work again?" She spat at Lori, the shot coming up just short. "You're as sad now as you were before. You'll never be able to do anything on your own, and that includes putting me in my place." She bit off the final word, and hoped Lori would rise to the occasion.
  448.  
  449.     Lori bared her teeth and tensed her arms, and Leni prepared to receive her assault, but after a moment the elder sister loosened up again and continued her fighting retreat. 'Don't do it, that's what she wants,' she reminded herself. She'd gone down this road enough times in the past to know that Leni ALWAYS had a trick up her sleeve, even when it looked like she was down for the count. She finally found the door, and she unlocked it, slowly turning the knob. 'I just need to get a hold of Luna and Luan, the three of us can keep her under control.' Opening the door, she quickly spun and prepared to make a run for it. Instead, she found her path blocked by a shaking Lucy, who stumbled back at being found out. "Lucy?!"
  450.  
  451.     "Lori, I'm sorry-"
  452.  
  453.     Lori flew face first into the floor as Leni bull rushed her from behind. Lucy drew back in horror as her oldest sister scrambled to get upright again. Not allowing her the chance, Leni quickly spotted Lori's left ankle still within the threshold of the door. She grabbed the door and slammed it shut with as much force as she could, crushing Lori's foot in the process. The older girl screamed, and Lucy watched in frozen fear as Leni threw the door open again, grabbing Lori by her injured leg and dragging her back in before slamming it shut and locking it.
  454.  
  455.     She tried with all her might to regain her bearings, but she'd been denied all advantage now. Leni took her by her hair and collar and threw her onto her back, before grabbing an arm and throwing her again onto her chest. For the finishing blow, the younger girl brought her knee down into Lori's back, expelling the air from her lungs and preventing her from drawing the precious breath needed to continue the fight. Panting with exertion and high on adrenaline, Leni grabbed her forearms, crossed them over one another and began to force them up, rendering Lori completely helpless with agonizing pain.
  456.  
  457.     "Game over."
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