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Moving On

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Marinette steps into the bakery after another long day. The last two weeks has been a never ending series of long days really, each one worse than the day before. Ever since Lila had shown up again things had been going downhill, starting with being forced to the back of the class alone without being asked.

And that's what had really stung, not being asked, everyone just assuming she wouldn't have a problem with sitting alone away from everyone else, while everyone else got to sit with their signifigant others and best friends.

And then they'd gotten mad at her when she's voiced the problem, as if she wasn't allowed to be upset. Everyone had just brushed her aside as being some stupid jealous girl, as if that was all she was, as if she couldn't have complex feelings for thoughts or dislike someone without it being related to a boy.

And Lila's lies continued to spread through everyone, first about her extravagent adventures and super cool acquaintances and then to sneaker, meaner lies. Lies like Marinette threatening her about her disability. or Marinette tripping her in the hallway. Or Marinette not wanting to go to the movies with everyone.

And it hadn't been so bad at first. Sure it had hurt that no one believed her but Adrien did, he knew, and even if Lila was infuriating she still had her friends by her side. But as the days went on she didn't even have that. Lila was dedicated to keeping her away from everyone, especially Adrien, and her friends slowly started to drift away, more and more drawn in by Lila and less willing ot listen to Marinette 'rag on Lila for no reason'.

Today no one had even spoken to her during lunch, not even Alya. And just before going home her supposed best friend, the girl who'd promised to always have her back and support her, had pulled her aside and yelled at her. Had called her a jealous stalker over some offense Lila had made up.

And it stung. So much. She couldn't do this anymore.

"Sweetheart?" Sabine steps in front of her, setting her hands on her daughter's shoulders and holdng her tight. "Marinette what's wrong?" Marinette stares down at her mother and realizes there are tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Mamma.... I can't... I can't." she falls foward, wrapping her arms around her mother's shoulders and sobbing into her neck.

Several store patrons stop and stare but her father rushes foward and ushers them all out the front door, citing a family emergency. He locks the door and flips the sign to closed, coming over to his wife and daughter and wrapping his big arms around them both. "Come on. Let's go upstairs." The three of them head up to the house, Tom practically carrying Marinette in his arms, and he settles her carefully on the couch before sitting beside her, both of them on either side of her, bracketing her, trying to protect her from everything, "Tell us what happening baby girl." he asks softly, holding her tight.

Marinette sobs through the story, telling them about Lila and getting moved and the lies and her friends turning on her. Her parents scowl at her retelling, holding her even closer, "I just..." she finally finshes, sobs finally having slowed to quiet sniffles, "I can't do it anymore. I can't just keep pretending that nothing is wrong. My friends hate me. No one will believe me. I've almost been akumatized, like, three times."

Tom's eyebrows shoot up into his hairline, "Akumatized! Oh sweetheart!"

Sabine pulls Marinette's head down onto her chest, petting her hair soothingly, "And you don't have to do it anymore. Never again. You'll stay home the rest of this week and we'll get you transferred to a new school. I refuse to allow my daughter to be bullied like this." She presses a feather soft kiss to Marinette's forehead before standing and stomping off in search of her phone.

Tom presses an equally soft kiss to her forehead as well, "It's gonna be ok baby girl. You'll always have your mom and me, and no matter what we'll always be on your side. There's nothing you could do or say that'll change that. And right now, we're gonna take care of you, we promise." He stands, smiling down at her, "You don't have to be perfect smiling Marinette all the time. You're allowed to be angry and sad and hurt, and you're allowed to say you've had enough and give up. And i am so proud of you for giving it your all for as long as you have, but you don't have to anymore. Now, I think we have some hot cocoa around her somewhere, do you wanna make some now and talk some more or would you like a little time alone?"

Marinette stands, wrapping her arms around her dad and hugging him tight, relishing in how warm and safe his arms will always be, "I'd like to be alone for a little bit please. Thanks papa."

He smiles, "I love you Marinette. Go get some rest. You mom and I will have this all figured out by tomorrow."

Marinette hugs him one more time before heading up to her room, dropping down onto her chaise and staring up at the ceiling.

Tikki flutters up to hover over her face a moment later, nuzzling against her cheek, "Your dad is right Marinette. You don't have to be positive all the time, even Ladybug needs to feel bad sometimes and take a break. You've held on far longer than most others would have in your position and I'm proud of you too!"

Marinette closes her eyes, hugging the kwami to her face, "Thanks Tikki."

Tikki beams, looking down on her chosen, "And remember, it's not just your parents who will always have your back, you have me too!"

Marinette finally offers up a big smile, "What would I do without you Tikki?"
++
Marinette finishes out the week at home while her parents get everything sorted. She gets a few messages from her classmates, mostly Adrien, asking if she's sick and would like him to bring her the homework. She gets a few from Alya who makes a joke about her being late and ditching, but it doesn't feel like harmless teasing, not like it used to.

By the weekend she is enrolled in Rose River Academy, a private school further into the city. She'll have to get up earlier to combat her lateness in order to make it on time every morning but she's ok with that. She has to get fitted for a uniform too, a simple white blazer over a black button up, red pleated skirt and matching tie, black tights. It's a cute uniform luckily, and the school is relaxed enough to allow students to customize their outfits slightly to show their personalities as long as they're not over the top. She sticks a ladybug pin beneath the school emblem on her blazer, hoping for a little bit of luck.

Along with the new school and the new uniform she also gets a new phone with a brand new number. So far only her parents have it, and though she debates for a long time she decides that not even Adrien can be trusted to have it. He'd likely give it to Nino and Alya.

On Monday she gets up a whole hour early, eating breakfast with her parents who have insisted they walk her to the station that morning even if it means opening the shop late. Marinette is beyond happy for their company as they make their way past her old school, students milling about the front steps and talking. A few stop and stare at her in her new uniform, eyes wide and curious as she continues right on by, clutching her parents hands. None of them are her current classmates, but she knows some of them from previous years.

Her parents each kiss one of her cheeks when they leave her at the station. "Have fun today sweetheart." Sabine beams, looking just as nervous as she feels. Tom ruffles her hair, "Make tons of amazing new friends." he encourages. She smiles, still nervous, but also excited, and turns to hurry onto the coming train.

She sees a few other students in the same uniform and they all smile at her, watching her curiously. She follows them off the train, heading up the street to Rose River Academy's grand front entrance. One of the boys she'd noticed boarding the train with her stops and waits for her to catch up, offering her a wide grin, "You must be new. I'd definitely remember if we'd met before." He holds out a hand for to shake, "Claude Jean-Paul."

She smiles back, shaking his hand eagerly, "Marinette Dupain-Cheng."

Claude is tall, easily towering over her by a good half a foot, though his relaxed and slouched posture makes him seem shorter. He has big blue eyes and dark brown hair sweeping across his forehead, and a big crooked smile. He spins on his heel to stand beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her along beside him through the big double doors, "So Marinette, what class is fortunate enough to have someone as pretty as you in it?"

She bites her lip to keep from laughing outright, smile pulling at her lips. He reminds her a lot of Cat Noir and his shameless flirting, and surprisingly it's doing a lot to put her at ease. "M. Toulouse."

Claude's eyes widen and his grin somehow gets even bigger, "No way! How lucky am I! I must have been blessed by a ladybug." he winks and taps the pin on her lapel.

He keeps pulling her through the building, down hallways and up a staircase until they end up in a classroom, tables set for four people spread across the floor. The class is still mostly empty as Claude lead her in and straight up to the front where two students stand together. They're arguing rather intensely, a boy and a girl, both around Marinette's height. The girl has long blond hair pulled behind her in a tight braid, dark blue eyes lit with passion as she waves her hands wildly. The boy is black with short brown hair under a frankly hideous green and white cap, his brown nearly golden eyes narrowed as he hisses back at her.

Claude unwinds his arm from around Marinette and whistles to draw their attention, "What are you two on about now?"

The girl pouts, crossing her arms and refusing to turn away from her opponent, "This buffoon is insisting Batman couldn't take Superman in a fight. Like come on!"

The boy splutters angrily, "Oh don't you dare act like I'm the crazy one! Batman is an emotionally repressed dude in a suit! Superman has powers! Crazy strong powers!"

The girl waves her hands emphatically, "He keeps kryptonite in his belt! That is a one hit KO!"

They continue bickering back and forth, completely ignoring the two of them. Claude sighs dramatically, resting his elbow atop Marinette's head, "Such rude friends I have." he says loudly, "Completely ignoring our new student on her first day."

The two snap around suddenly, eyes wide. "Oh!" they chorus, looking appropriately shamed.

"Hi!" the girl chirps, "So nice to meet you. You must be Marinette. I'm Allegra Cassidy, class rep for our year. If there's anything you need please don't hesitate to ask me."

The boy offers her a small wave, looking sheepish, "Uh, Alan Montgomery. Sorry for arguing like that. I promise we're not super nerds like, all the time."

Marinette smiles, "Oh don't worry about that. I'm actually pretty into superheroes myself."

The pair light up and Allegra claps exciteldy, "Oh you are a keeper Marinette!" she checks her watch quickly, "Well, class should start soon but during the break but I'd be happy to give you a proper tour."

Marinette beams, relaxing quickly, "Yes please. I don't think I could find the front door again right now."

Claude laughs, "Don't worry beautiful, I know all the fastest shortcuts around this place." He lets out an 'oof' of pain and doubles over as two fists collide with his stomach.

"Don't harrass the new girl!" Alan hisses while Allegra just glares.

Mrinette covers her mouth to smother her giggles. She can't remember the last time she had fun like this with other people. The three of them all stare at her suddenly as she reigns in her laughter, and Allegra squeals, "You are too cute!" she reaches out to take her hand as the bell rings, pullilng her over to the nearest table, "You can sit by me! Don't worry, the seat's empty."

Alan snorts, "Everyone else is convinced Allegra will eat them if they sit next to her."

The girl in question huffs, flipping her braid behind her, "They respect me Alan, as their leader. And they know I'm not above a little blackmail." she winks at Marinette.

Alan rolls his eyes while Claude leans over the table to whisper, "Allegra's a witch. Watch out."

Allegra sticks her tongue out and Marinette dissolves into giggles again.

Students begin to file in quickly, all hurrying to their seats and only stopping to stare at Marinette for a second. Marinette's eyes widen when a very familiar face enters the room and stops cold, "Oh Marinette...." Kagami Tsurugi steps up the table cautiously, lips pursed in a frown, "Hello again."

Marinette smiles shakily, "Hi Kagami." She hasn't spoken to the terrifying girl much, at least not since the disastrous double date at the ice rink, but Marinette doesn't dislike her. She may be a little cold and harsh but she's honest and up front about her feelings which she appreciates, especially after the last few weeks.

Before they can say any more to each other the teacher arrives, clapping his hands together as he stands before the desk. "Good morning everyone! Let's hurry up and get started today as we have a new face joining us!" M. Toulouse is a strange man, short and stocky with wiry silver hair and bright green eyes. He wears a distractingly bright blue shirt and navy slacks that are too short for his legs and show off a pair of mismatched kitten print socks. He turns to Marinette and acknowledges her with a grand wave of his hand, "Everyone, meet our newest friend Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Marinette, welcome to our class. Allegra, the usual?"

The man sits as Allegra jumps to her feet, beaming, "On behalf of Rose River Academy welcome Marinette. We aim to help you reach your future goals. I'm the yearly representative Allegra, and my best subject is English."

She sits gracefully as Alan stands, offering her a wry smile, "Alan Mackenzie. Uh, I guess my best subject is history."

Claude stands next, giving her a little two-fingered salute and a wink, "Claude Jean-Paul, but you already know that gorgeous."

Toulouse sighs, "Claude."

The boy waves his hand dismissively, "Just teasing teach. I don't have any best subjects so don't ask my help in anything." he sits to the giggles of his peers. The rest of the class introduces themselves in a way that is obviously practiced, giving names and subjects they feel they can adequately offer aid in.

Eventually Kagami stands, nodding to her, "We have met before. My best subject is mathematics." And she sits quickly as the boy beside her starts.

By the end Marinette's head is swimming with names and faces and she's sure she won't remember any of the subjects they'd mentioned. Toulouse stands once the last student has introduced himself, "Alright then, Marinette should you need any help I am certain any one of your new classmates will be willing to offer a and, and don't hesitate to reach out to me either." He offers her a big, wide smile before turning to the monitor, "Alright then, now that that's done let's get on with the lesson. Today we're picking up where we left off last week in sixteenth century France."

++

By the time lunch rolls around Marinette’s head is swimming with information and she’s wondering how she’s ever going to be able to catch up. She’s met the other half of her year by now and received even more names, faces, and subjects to remember and it’s all jumbling together in her head. As soon as she stands and grabs her bag Allegra is at her side, linking their arms together and pulling her out into the hall, “So, still up for that tour?”

Claude and Alan join them from their own class, debating about….. tater tots? She offers the girl a warm smile, “That sounds amazing. Thank you.”

Allegra winks and in a seconds has Marinette spun towards the front door, taking her on a grand, in-depth tour of the entire building including classrooms, clubrooms, bathrooms, gymnasium, offices, and finally the cafeteria.

Alan helpfully points out every teacher they encounter and how to get on their good sides- like bringing Toulouse something sweet or showing Mme. Alcarte a picture of a dog.

Claude mostly makes jokes out of everything- like the sculpture in the principal’s office that is most definitely phallic shaped- but he also points out some useful shortcuts and secret hidey-holes that she could definitely use for transforming.

By the time they finally get their lunch and sit down the lunch room is mostly empty and Marinette’s stomach is grumbling.

“So Marinette, what brings you to Rose River?” Alan asks curiously, mouth half full of turkey sandwich.

Marinette pales at the question, mind flashing to Dupont and Lila’s smirking face, her classmates rage, and little purple butterflies. And then she remembers that Rose River is actually a specialized private school that aims to help students with their future careers. She smiles, “Fashion. I’d like to be a designer one day.”

Allegra gasps, “No way! Do you design already? I bet you’re amazing! Could I commission a dress from you? I have this recital next month and I want to look like a princess.”

Marinette chuckles, nodding, “I’d be happy to. I actually have my sketchbook if you want to see some designs?”

Allegra makes grabby hands and the boys both lean closer to see as Marinette opens it onto the table. They all ooh and ahh at the rough sketches she shows them, Claude pointing out that blue is his favorite color and Alan admitting he’s worn the same outfit for the last three days. Allegra squeals when she comes across what is very obviously a Jagged Stone inspired jacket.

“I love his music! If I could play rock and roll on a flute I would.”

Marinette laughs, “I bet Jagged would love it too. He’s all about finding new sounds.”

Claude blinks at her, “Wait… do you like, actually know him?”

She nods, “Yeah. I’ve done some design work for some before and he’s filmed a show at my parents bakery.”

Alan drops his sandwich. Allegra gapes openly. Claude’s mouth opens and closes a few times before he finally asks, “Are you the girl that made the sunglasses?”

She nods.

Claude drapes his hand over his face and swoons into Allegra’s side, “Pretty, smart, and talented! I must be dreaming!”

Allegra shoves him off with a snicker while Alan rolls his eyes. Marinette laughs at the theatrics before turning to the boy beside her, “So, what are you all studying?”

Alan grins, puffing up his chest, “You’re looking at the future gold medal winner for the French Olympic track team.”

Allegra snorts, “You should have seen him at his first track meet. He fell on his face and cried for fifteen minutes.”

Alan turns a sharp glare on her, and if not for his dark complexion Marinette is sure he’d be bright red, “I was seven!”

She shrugs, and turns a winning smile on Marinette, “I’m a musician. I’d like to play for the French Orchestra one day and travel internationally with them.”

Claude wraps an arm around her shoulders, grinning with pride, “Legra can play just about any classical instrument. Piano, violin, horn, you name it.”

Allegra swats at him, cheeks pinkening, “Claude! I’m not that good. My specialty is the flute really.”

Marinette smiles, “That sounds amazing. I’d love to hear you play sometime if that’s alright.”
Allegra flushes darker, elbowing Claude when he snickers, “I’d love to!”

Marinette turns to the final boy, who is smirking at her, “And you? What are you doing besides flirting with the new girls?”

He laughs, throwing his head back, “Oh and you’ve got some bite to you too huh? And just so you know I don’t discriminate with my flirting. I’ll flirt just as much with the new boys if they’re cute enough.” He winks. “And I’m an actor. I’ve been blessed by Shakespeare himself, my beauty and my skill.”

Alan groans and Allegra sighs deeply as Marinette tries and fails to cover her snort.

“Such a drama queen.” Alan complains, shaking his head sadly.

Claude just grins, unashamed, and offers her another wink.

Before she can ask anymore questions shouting starts up from the courtyard. Allegra groans, shaking her head as she stands, “A reps duty is never done. I’ll be right back.” She hurries towards the noise, shoulders back and head high, a queen if there ever was one.

Marinette smiles after her before turning back to the table and the boys, “So, have you guys known each other a long time?”

Alan’s smile turns soft and fond, “Yeah. Me and Allegra live next door to each other. We have our whole lives. We’ve been best friends as long as I can remember.”

Claude crumples up his chip bag and throws it at him, “Sap.” He huffs, but he’s smiling, “Mine and Allegra’s moms work together. We met at an office Christmas party when we were like….. ten? We caused so much trouble that we both got grounded for a week. Then one day Allegra shows up at my house with Alan in tow and the rest, as they say, is history!”

Alan turns in his seat to look over at the cafeteria door, where the sound of yelling has ceased finally, “She was the one who wanted to come to Rose River. And well, Allegra’s kinda the boss of us. Where she goes, we go. And besides, I wasn’t gonna pass up this chance.”

Claude huffs, leaning his elbows on the table, “I was bored. Didn’t have anything better to do. And besides, can you imagine them without me around? It’d be chaos.”

Marinette snickers, leaning her hand on her chin, “Oh yes, you are the pinnacle of order and serenity.”

Claude throws his head back and laughs. Alan rolls his eyes. And Allegra stomps back into the cafeteria and throws herself back into her seat, looking murderous.

“I hate boys.” She hisses.

Claude nods, patting her on the head, “Good to know that hasn’t changed. Who did what this time?”

She huffs, swiping a chocolate bar from Claude’s bag and tearing it open, “Elias and Carter again. Apparently they’ve decided that today was the day they were going to test their stairwell theory.”

Alan’s eyebrows shoot up, “And what theory is that?”

She sighs deeply, “You don’t want to know.”

Marinette bites her lip to keep from smiling. She’s pretty sure she remembers which boys were Elias and Carter, and she’s pretty sure she’d heard them debating this morning about something involving a rubber chicken and the staircase.

The warning bell rings and Allegra groans, standing again, “Whatever. It’s done now and if I catch them again I’m going to kill them. Come on Marinette!”

She rounds the table, linking arms with Marinette once more and pulling her off. The boys scramble to follow, “Hey!” Claude shouts as he and Alan try to gather their things, “Quit hogging Marinette!”

Allegra turns and sticks her tongue out at him, and then continues.

Marinette laughs all the way up to the classroom.

++

When the last bell finally rings Marinette is exhausted but happy. She’s had a good first day, a great day really. She can’t remember the last time she had one of those.

“So Marinette,” Alan falls into step beside her as they head for the front steps, “You free now? We were planning on heading to my place to hang out and do some homework. We can help you catch up.”

Marinette looks over her shoulder to where Allegra and Claude are watching her expectantly, both with big puppy dog eyes, and then at her phone. She smiles, “Not today sorry. I promised I’d tell my parents I’d tell them all about my first day. Tomorrow?”

Allegra nods excitedly, “Sure thing! We’ll have a super day planned for you- Ooh! Idea!” She pulls Marinette into her side, taking the phone from her hand and opening up the camera, “Come on boys, selfie time. You can show your folks what amazing new friends you have.” Claude snorts as he leans over to put his head between theirs and Alan moves to stand on tiptoe on Marinette’s other side.

“Cheese!” they chorus as Allegra snaps the picture. She hands it back to Marinette with an eager grin.

Marinette takes it and smiles. Claude is giving both her and Allegra bunny ears, Alan is making a ridiculous face with his mouth hanging open, and Allegra has her tongue out. It’s perfect. “I love it! Thank you!”

Allegra beams, hugging her tight before turning and practically skipping down the stairs.
“See you tomorrow beautiful.” Claude winks.

Alan sighs, shaking his head, “Later Marinette.”

She watches them head down the street together before turning towards the station. She gets only a few steps away from the school when a car pulls up alongside her and the back door flies open, “Marinette!” Kagami steps out, shoulders relaxing, “I’m glad I caught you. Would you like a ride? I’m headed to Dupont anyways.”

Marinette purses her lips, unsure. She doesn’t exactly know how to deal with Kagami, she’s so cold and harsh, and while Marinette does appreciate her honestly she’s not sure she can deal with her methods right now.

Kagami offers her a small, unsure smile, looking awkward, “Um… I was hoping we could talk?”
Marinette swallows thickly but nods. She won’t be rude, and a ride would be faster than the train. Besides, Kagami seems as unsure of how to interact as she is. She ducks under the girl’s arm and into the backseat, sliding along to the far window as Kagami scoots in after her, closing the door and turning to the driver, “The Dupain-Cheng Bakery please.” She instructs, and the car starts moving.

They sit in silence for a long moment, both staring at their laps. Kagami clears her throat, “I… heard about what happened.” She says softly, “I am…sorry. It was not fair at all.”

Marinette’s eyes widen and she turns to stare at the girl, “You know?”

Kagami nods, “Lila Rossi is not a very good liar. Or… well, I suppose she is, but she builds up her lies too fast and too big, it only takes one false move to topple her. She told me she was related to a famous Italian fencer. I know him personally and he has no familial relations left. It is easy to see through the rest of her lies after that.” She falls silent, still staring at her lap, “And then I heard about your class, about you, of all people, bullying the new girl. It was impossible to believe. Though I do not know you very well, I know better than that.”

Marinette scowls at her lap, “I thought my friends knew better too…. But they all believed her.”
Kagami’s eyes widen, “Even Adrien?”

Marinette’s eyes water, just thinking about it, “No… he knew she was lying but…” she scoffs, bitter, “He said she wasn’t hurting anyone, and so me trying to out her would just be creating another akuma. He said to take the high road.”

Kagami frowns, lips pursing in anger, “Her lies were hurting you. As your friend he should have stood up for you.”

Marinette wipes at her eyes. She really thought she was over all the crying. She looks at Kagami, incensed on her behalf, she’s practically breathing steam. She smiles, “Thank you. I just… I really needed to hear someone else say that. I was starting to think I was the crazy one.”

Kagami reaches over and hesitantly takes her hand, “You deserve better in friends Marinette. And… I believe I owe you an apology.”

She blinks, surprised, “For what?”

“I was rather harsh to you at the ice rink. I had believed Adrien had had a crush on you, and you had come along to tease him with your new boyfriend. I can see now that I was mistaken.”

Marinette flushes, squeaking, “Adrien! Having a crush on me! Nonononono.” She covers her face with her free hand, embarrassed, then takes a few deep breaths. “Actually, I had a crush on him.” She admits, “Or well, I used to.” Her frown is back. It still stings, thinking about him.

Kagami’s hand squeezes hers gently, giving her a small, awkward smile that tells Marinette she isn’t used to giving it, “Should you ever need anything Marinette, I am here. I know we had a bit of a rough start but… I would be honored to call someone as kind as you my friend. If that would be alright.”

Marinette stares at her a moment. Kagami the ‘Ice Queen’, cold and harsh, brutally honest and uncaring. And Marinette sees past that, kind and soft, unsure of herself and unused to friendship. She smiles, leaning forward to pull the girl into a hug.

“Thank you Kagami.”

The girl pats her on the back, clearing her throat as she pulls back. “We have arrived- Oh.”
Marinette looks out the car window and sees the front of the bakery where Alya, Nino, and Adrien are stood scouring the street. She pales.

Kagami squeezes her tight, “Is there another entrance?”

She nods, “Around the side. It goes straight upstairs.” The car automatically turns down the street and pulls up right at the door.

Kagami gets out first, grabbing her fencing gear and adjusting it on her shoulder as Marinette steps out onto the street. “I can come by tomorrow morning if you’d like to give you a ride to school.” She offers.

Marinette thinks about having to walk by her old school tomorrow and something seizes in her gut. But she also doesn’t want Kagami going so far out of her way just for her. She smiles, “Uh, no thanks. I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow. And thanks again.”

Kagami nods, lips still pursed, “Very well. See you tomorrow Marinette.” Then she turns and walks briskly down the street towards the school.

Marinette digs her keys out of her bag and lets herself into the hallways. She sighs, leaning back against the door and taking a moment to catch her breath.

“Today was a very good day Marinette.” Tikki says, fluttering out of her purse, “I’m glad you found such good friends.”

Marinette smiles, thinking of the new photo and Kagami’s awkward smile. “Yeah, me too. Now hide Tikki, I better go tell my parents. I’ll be sure to sneak you some fresh cookies.

Tikki cheers as she dives back down into the purse. Marinette heads into the back of the bakery where her father is milling around mixing up some pie fillings. “Hey Papa.” She greets as she grabs her favorite pink apron.

He looks up, beaming, “Marinette! You’re home early! How was your first day?” He comes around the counter to give her one of his massive, warm, bear hugs, the kind that never fails to make her feel safe.

“It was good. A friend gave me a ride home. I met some really cool people.”

Sabine comes back into the kitchen, smiling, “Is that my wonderful daughter I hear?”

Marinette laughs, “Mama!”

Sabine hugs her tight, pressing a kiss to her cheek, “Tell us all about it sweetheart.”

Marinette rolls up the sleeves of her shirt and grabs the dough as she does.

++

Adrien wakes up to a pit in his stomach and lets him know that today is going to be a bad day.

He rolls out of bed, staring at the calendar on his wall to see if he has anything like a photoshoot planned but no, other than fencing practice after school his day is clear.

“Cheese!” Plagg moans, floating aimlessly around the room, “Cheese!”

Adrien rolls his eyes, forgetting about the odd feeling for now in favor of feeding his annoying, insatiable kwami.

But the feeling doesn’t leave. Not through getting ready, or breakfast, or Nathalie reading him his schedule for the week. Not even in the car, where Gorilla is silent as they meander through traffic.

He checks his phone as they go, sending another text to Marinette. She hasn’t responded to any of the messages he’d sent her over the weekend. He frowns, making up his mind that if she’s not in class today he’s going to visit her after practice.

His gut twists painfully as he thinks about the likely cause of her absences and his bad feeling. Lila. She’s probably up to something today. She’s been really awful lately, though no one but him seems to notice. Her lies had been kicked into high gear, and Alya seemed to be spending more time with her than with Marinette. It had to hurt.

He wonders if his advice about taking the high road was good or not. At the time he’d certainly thought her lies were harmless little things, but now he’s not so sure.

As soon as he’s dropped off he heads up to the classroom, sneaking past the gaggle of students in the courtyard crowded around Lila as she explains her fabulous weekend trip t somewhere doing something.

The classroom is mostly empty save for Nathaniel who is bent over his desk drawing and Alex and Max, who are competing in some game on their phones. He looks up to the back corner of the room and finds no sign of Marinette. He frowns and takes his seat as the warning bell rings, staring intently at the door as students file in. Lila drops into the seat beside him, smiling wide and scooting right up into his personal space, latching onto his arm despite how he tries to wiggle away.

He frowns at the door as the last student trickles in followed by Mme. Bustier, who shuts the door behind her and hurries to her desk with an uncharacteristic sadness on her face. She turns to setting up the monitor and pulling out the attendance sheet as everyone gets settled.

Alya groans, “God is she skipping again? What is up with her, I know she has a problem with tardiness but this is getting ridiculous.”

She doesn’t even sound concerned that her best friend hasn’t ben in class for several days.
Mme. Bustier sighs as she calls for their attention, “Good morning class. I hope you all had a good weekend. I’m afraid I must start the day with some rather bad news.” Adrien’s stomach sinks. “Marinette has transferred to a new school.”

The uproar is immediate, everyone talking at once and asking questions, wondering why she would have gone.

“She didn’t even say goodbye!” Rose laments from the back, eyes watery.

Lila’s crocodile tears start to fall soon after, “This is my fault isn’t it? Oh, I knew I should have tried harder to make her like me. Now she’s left.”

Instantly the class’ attention switches to consoling her, assuring her that it’s not her fault and that Marinette was to blame for being bitter and jealous of her. Adrien feels like he may be sick. He looks up at Mme. Bustier to find her frowning, staring at Lila and the class with narrowed eyes.

She clears her throat, “Well everyone, let us begin with the lecture. I don’t have any other information regarding Marinette or her business so any questions will have to be directed elsewhere.”

There is a strange coldness to her voice, and she doesn’t let anyone else comment before jumping right into the material and leaving them all to scramble to take notes.

Adrien really does try his best to focus through the rest of the day, sending another text to Marinette and wondering if she’s even getting them. But he keeps finding himself looking at his phone, or turning to stare at the empty seat in the back. His notes are sloppier than usual.

When lunch finally rolls around the entire class starts up about going over to the bakery, insisting on finding out why Marinette left. Adrien takes two steps towards the door when his arm is captured by Lila, who smiles pleasantly at everyone.

“I’m sure she isn’t back yet. Afterall, whenever I go to a new school I usually eat lunch there. It’d be better to wait till after school.” Everyone nods, murmuring consent and thanking Lila for her input. Adrien grits his teeth as Lila leads the way to the cafeteria, not releasing her death grip on his arm, “And I don’t mean to assume, but clearly Marinette isn’t really your friend, after all, she didn’t even say goodbye. And I know you all said she was so sweet and kind but she’s been nothing but awful to me since I got here. I truly think she’s been deceiving you.”

There are more murmurs, nodding heads and narrowed eyes. As if Marinette didn’t frequently drop everything she was doing to rush to their aid. As if she didn’t go out of their way to make them happy.

Chloe scoffs, rolling her eyes, and stalks away from the group to eat lunch by herself.

After a moment, Adrien finally manages to untangle from Lila and goes to join her.

“I see you’re not falling for Lie-la’s utterly ridiculous stories.” She huffs, arms crossing over her chest and glaring at her lunch. “I mean seriously, I don’t even like Dupain-Cheng but at least I know the kind of person she is. And these morons call themselves the good guys.”

Adrien watches as everyone fawns over Lila, bringing her things from the lunch line and following her every whim. “Why don’t you say something Chloe?” he asks, wonders the same thing about himself. If he just said something, anything….

Chloe examines one finely manicured nail, “Are you kidding? They don’t like me already, and if they turned against the class darling so easily, what hope do I have of calling out that fake. I’m trying to be a better person Adrikins, so I’m not going to say anything or else I run the risk of stinging that harpy.”

Adrien stares down at his lap, and finds he has no appetite. They all turned on Marinette. At the drop of a hat they abandoned her. Refused to believe her. Alienated her. And Marinette was the kindest, most amazing person he’d ever met. She helped everyone, no matter what. Most of the people in their class had known her half their lives.

And he…. He was the new kid. The rich new kid, who rarely joined them on outings, who never offered up anything of himself. They didn’t’ know him very well. What would they do to him if he said something? If they turned on him, he’d have nothing. He’d be back to square one, in a big empty house, all alone, no friends.

By the time the final bell releases them Adrien is practically running out the door, evading Lila’s grabby hands and hurrying towards the bakery. He can already hear Lila convincing everyone to just wait to talk to Marinette tomorrow. Just wait. Wait. Wait until you forget all about her.

Alya and Nino are right behind him though, both too determined though for different reasons. Alya is furious, Nino confused. Adrien doesn’t have much time before fencing practice starts, but he has to try and see her.

The Dupain-Cheng bakery is warm and welcoming, and since the start of the year it’s been one of Adrien’s favorite places. He can’t count the number of lunches he and the class spent at the bakery, everyone crowding around the counter and laughing as Mrs. Cheng looks them all over and singles out whoever looks to be too thin. Mr. Dupain is always smiling, always giving fully belly laughs and never without a baking related pun. The couple was always so kind, and he can see where Marinette gets it from in her father’s big grin to her mother’s warm eyes.

But now neither of those things are turned on the three teens. As soon as they enter the bakery the couple’s eyes on them are cold and harsh, full of anger.

“Shoo!” Mrs. Cheng hisses, “Out!”

Mr. Dupain glares as he slams a tray of cookies down on the counter with uncharacteristic harshness, “I’m afraid you kids are no longer welcome here. Take you business elsewhere.”

Nino’s mouth drops open and Alya’s eyes are wide. Nino has been coming to the bakery since he was seven, and Alya has spent the better part of the last year here. Never once had the Dupain-Chengs been anything les than pleasant.

Alya rallies first, squaring her shoulders and tightening her jaw, “We’re looking for Marinette.”

Mrs. Cheng glares at her, “Only our daughters friends are allowed to wait inside. If you want to speak to her you wait outside. Shoo.”

Adrien flinches at the insinuation that they are no longer friends of Marinette, stomach rolling.

Nino squeaks as Mr. Dupain hefts a truly massive rolling pin, grabbing Alya and Adrien by the elbows and dragging them out onto the sidewalk.

“What the hell!” Alya seethes once the door is closed, “First she acts like a raging bitch, then she just up and leaves, and now this? What the hell!”

Adrien wants to say something, to tell them the truth, to them anything. But he bites his lip and keeps quiet, watching the fire in Alya’s eyes as she insults who was supposed to be her best friend.

They stand on the street corner by the front door and stare up and down the street, eyes peeled for any sign of Marinette. Adrien isn’t sure how long they wait but he’s fairly certain he’s going to end up missing practice.

Someone clears their throat behind them and the three of them whip around to find Kagami Tsurugi with her arms crossed, fencing bag slung over her shoulder and glare icier than usual. “Agreste, shouldn’t you be getting ready for practice?”

He swallows. His father will be furious with him if he skips. But he needs to see Marinette.
Kagami turns her glare on Alya and Nino next, “You two, whoever you are, I suggest you go home. Marinette has already gone up, and I doubt she’ll come back down for the likes of you.” She sneers.

Alya’s glare hardens, “She’s here? What the hell? I don’t know who you think you are-“

Kagami stalks past her without listening, heading towards the school, “Hurry up Agreste.” She calls over her shoulder.

Adrien looks up at the bakery one more time before hurrying after her.

He is still distracted all through practice, clumsy and unfocused. He loses all of his practice matches. Kagami is harsher than she usually is with him, her glare never lessening, and he can practically feel it even when her mask is down. She speaks to him in short, clipped sentences, even colder than she’d been the first time they’d met. She doesn’t even speak to him when practice finally ends, but Adrien doesn’t stop to ask her what’s up. Instead he hurries to change, texting the Gorilla that he’s staying late to practice. As soon as the last person has left the locker room Plagg flies out of his locker.

“You’ve messed up big time kid.” He says, eyes narrowed

Adrien sighs, “I know. But right now I need to make sure Marinette’s ok. Plagg, claws out!”

He leaps across the street, landing on the Marinette’s little balcony and carefully crawling down into her room. It is exactly as he last saw it, a little cluttered but cute. Warm. It feels more like a home than his room had ever had. One of the desks is nearly completely overrun with fabrics and yarn and thread in all colors, but it’s the wall above that that draws his attention.

The whole wall is plastered in pictures from the last year. Like last time, there are a fair number of him, of his shoots, but those hardly compare to the number of those with the class. Alya and Nino, the class photo Marinette arranged for Juleka, Kim posing dramatically with Alix and Max hanging from his biceps, a selfie from their Heroes Day picnic, Rose kissing Juleka’s cheek, Mylene and Ivan waving protest signs, Nathaniel blushing at his first ever convention booth he’d opened. There’s even one of Chloe, flashing a peace sign while leaning on Sabrina’s head. Their whole year is displayed here in perfect clarity on Marinette’s wall in selfies and group photos and candid shots.

He turns as the hatch door pops open and Marinette’s head appears. She freezes, eyes wide, “Cat Noir?”

There is flour on her hands and what looks like strawberry jam on her cheek.

He smiles, sad, “Hey Marinette.”

She offers him a small, warm smile as she closes the hatch door, dropping her bag by her desk and draping her white blazer over the chair. She’s wearing the same uniform as Kagami was, he realizes, which probably explains both how the girl knew Marinette was home and also her mood.

“Rose River huh?” he asks, nodding to the jacket, “Didn’t know you changed schools.”

Her smiles turns sad as she looks up at the wall of pictures he had clearly been perusing. “I couldn’t do it anymore Kitty…. I just…” she swallows, taking a deep breath and looking near tears, “I thought they were my friends.” She says quietly, “I trusted them. I loved them. I did everything for them but…. But when I needed them they weren’t there for me.” She looks up at him, eyes watery, “It really hurt. And I got tired of pretending that it didn’t. It’s time I take care of myself for once.”

She reaches up and pulls a photo from the wall, laying it on the desk and placing the pin in a little cup. And then she grabs another. And another. And another.

Cat Noir watches as she slowly takes down the last year of her life, and swallows thickly, “I’m so sorry Marinette.”

She looks back at him, and offers him a shaky smile, “Don’t be minou. This is for the best.” Her voice cracks.

He steps up beside her and reaches to take down another photo, adding it to her growing pile. They work in silence as they remove each and every photo from the wall. He pauses when he realizes he’s holding one of his own photos, a photo shoot from what felt like forever ago, in the park, with the little girl Marinette had been babysitting.

Marinette looks over at him when he pauses and lets out a deep sigh when she sees the photo. She takes it from him carefully, staring at the smiling face, expression twisted with something he can’t name.

“He knew.” She admits after a long moment, “He knew and I thought that was enough. Because Adrien knew and I loved him and he said her lies didn’t matter but….” She squeezes her eyes shut and tosses the photo with force onto the pile, sending the whole thing falling over.
Cat Noir can’t breathe. “It was hurting me. He said it wasn’t hurting anyone and it was hurting me. And he didn’t say anything.”

She loved him? She loved Adrien? Marinette?

He thinks back to their every interaction, to her stuttering sentences and fumbling words, to the distance she kept and the way she’d never been able to act around him the way she did everyone else. He had thought she might still have been holding a grudge from the gum incident. But no, Marinette loved him.

And he’d stabbed her in the back.

“Oh Marinette.” He pulls her into a hug, squeezing her tight, so tight that he imagines she could feel everything he can’t quite find the words to say.

She holds onto him, crying softly into his shoulder. They stand there for a long time, not saying anything, just holding onto each other, and he wishes desperately that he had half this courage when he was Adrien.

When Marinette finally pulls back it is to pull the rest of the photos off the wall and gather everything up to put in the waste bin. Then she grabs her phone- a new phone, shiny and sleek and a bright vibrant pink- and taps at it until her printer starts up. She grabs the new photo and cuts it out, pinning it up in the center of hew now empty wall.

It is of Marinette and who must be her new friends, three of them, all wearing the Rose River Academy uniform. A pretty blond is hugging Marinette tightly with her tongue stuck out, a boy in a bright green cap is making a silly face, and a taller boy with brown hair is giving both girls bunny ears. And Marinette is smiling, beaming, looking happier than he can recall seeing her in weeks.

He looks down at the girl beside him with her red-rimmed eyes and her small, hopeful smile. He puts a hand on her shoulder, “You deserve all the happiness in the world Marinette. I hope these new friends give you that.”

She beams up at him, wrapping her arms around his middle, “And I have you too Kitty. You’ve always been on my side. Thank you.”

Cat Noir feels like he may be sick. But he hugs her back, pressing his nose into her hair, “I better go Purr-incess. This alley cat has a city to paw-trol.”

Marinette giggles, stepping out of his arms with a wide smile, “Well then, you better hurry or else there’ll be a cat-astrophe.”

He laughs, wishing to just stay beside her for one minute more. But he needs to go or else the Gorilla will come looking for him. “See you around Princess.” He gives her a dramatic bow before heading back up to her balcony and taking off, trying his hardest not to look back.
He still feels like he’s gonna throw up.

Chapter Text

Marinette doesn’t fully realize the problem until she’s putting on her shoes the next morning.
“Oh god…. I have to walk past the school again.”

Tikki frowns, settling on her shoulder so she can nuzzle her chosen’s cheek, “Be brave Marinette. You can do it.”

She takes a deep steadying breath, suddenly wishing she’d taken Kagami’s offer of a ride. But Tikki’s right. She can do this She just has to hope none of her old classmates showed up early to try and ambush her. She’s still not sure what she’d say to them. Still not sure she can even look at them without bursting into tears.

She stops into the bakery before heading out, watching her father hum cheerfully as he kneads dough and her mother exchange polite small talk with an elderly customer at the register. Tom looks up and smiles at her, “Good morning baby girl, are you sure you don’t want us to walk with you again?”

She really, really does. But asking would mean they’d have to close the bakery for a little bit and she can’t ask that.

She smiles, “I’ll be fine Papa.”

He nods, coming around to give her a big, noisy kiss on the forehead, “Have a great day. I love you.”

Sabine leaves the register to give her a tight hug and another forehead kiss, “Are you going out with those friends today?” she asks as she turns to bag up some macarons.

Marinette nods, “I think so. I’ll text you and let you know.”

Sabine nods, handing her the bag, “For your new friends. And make sure you let them know they’re welcome anytime.”

She gets another kiss to the cheek before her mother heads back to the register. Marinette heads for the back door, not willing to risk being spotted out the front. She takes one last deep breath before stepping outside.

“Well today truly is a beautiful morning.” And standing by the back door is Claude, grinning wildly as he throws a hand over his chest, “Oh be still my heart, the sun has truly risen this morning!”

Marinette is startled into a laugh, “Claude? What are you doing here?”

He stands up straight, winking as he offers her his arm, “I have come to escort a beautiful lady to school.”

She links her arm through his, letting him lead her across the street towards the train station, too bemused by the situation to really question what’s happening. As they pass the school her breathing picks up, eyes wide as she spots nearly half her old class scattered across the front steps.

“Marinette!” Alya shouts, shooting to her feet.

Marinette stops dead in her tracks, eyes wide, breath coming faster as she panics.

Claude’s hand slips into hers, squeezing tight as he leans down to whisper in her ear, “Time to run!”

And then he takes off at a sprint, pulling her along and giving her no choice but to run and try to keep up with his long strides. She doesn’t look back, half afraid that if she does she’ll spot the others giving chase. They run all the way down the block and to the station, darting between disgruntled pedestrians as they weave down the stairs and onto the platform, diving onto the departing train just as the doors start to close. The both collapse into the first set of empty seats they find, panting.

Claude groans, “I don’t think I’ve run that fast since I was ten.”

Marinette laughs, a little hysterical, leaning her head back against the train window, “Thank you.” She pants, “Really, Claude…. It, It means a lot to me that you were there.” She frowns, “Wait… how did you know where I lived?”

Claude’s eyes slip shut as he pants, “Kagami called….. Allegra…. Said you needed help….. God are your lungs supposed to hurt this much?”

Marinette laughs again, warmth flooding her. Kagami. She’s definitely gonna have to thank her later. She reaches out to pat Claude on the shoulder, “I think you’re just out of shape.” She’s finally managed to get her own breath back, but Claude is definitely still struggling.

He squints one eye open to glare at her, “How dare you. I am a paragon of human fitness.”
She rolls her eyes, and then realizes she’s still holding the bag her mother gave her. She holds it up, “Macaron?”

He shoots up in his seat, grinning, “Marinette you are the most beautiful creature on the planet.”

He eats three macarons and pouts when she takes the bag back.

Allegra, Alan, and Kagami are waiting on the front steps for her and Claude. Unlike earlier, seeing people she knows clustered in wait for her makes her relax and smile wider. She waves, hurrying her steps to wrap Kagami in a tight hug.

“Thank you!” she sighs, holding the stiff girl.

Kagami is frozen, eyes wide as she cautiously pats Marinette on the top of her head, “You are very welcome.”

When Marinette pulls back Alan and Allegra are both frowning, “Are you ok?” Alan asks

Marinette nods, “All good.” She checks the time on her phone, frowning, “I promise I’ll explain everything, but I think we might need to get to class.”

Allegra links their arms, the gesture starting to become familiar, she smiles, “You don’t have to explain anything if you don’t want to. Your business is your own. Although I do think we’re all dying of curiosity. But it’s your choice. We’ll support you either way.”

The five of them head up to the classroom together, the boys directing conversation to their homework instead. None of them make any mention of the incident this morning, nor seem at all inclined to ask why her classmates were waiting for her. By the time lunch rolls around they still haven’t even implied that she needs to say anything, and she’s so very grateful, but she also feels like they deserve to know.

Kagami sits with them today though she doesn’t say much. The others carry much of the conversation as they eat, Allegra and Alan bicker across the table, Claude leaning on Allegra’s shoulder to rile her up further. Alan keeps elbowing Marinette to join his side of the argument. Kagami, on her other side, seems to be enjoying the dinner and a show.

Marinette pushes her lunch away from her, not feeling very hungry, hugging herself as she takes a deep breath, “So…” she starts, and her voice cracks a little. The four of them all turn to her, quieting instantly. Kagami’s hand comes up to rest on her lower back and she can feel Tikki wriggling in her purse offering silent comfort. She takes another deep breath, “I had to leave my old school because of this girl.” She starts, and summarizes the whole sordid affair, from Lila’s horribly unbelievable lies to her friends all turning on her. By the end Allegra looks murderous, Alan’s leg is tapping anxiously, and Claude’s smile has turned icy.

“And what was this girl’s name again?” he asks, voice far too sweet, almost frightening, “Just for curiosity’s sake.”

Marinette shivers, “It’s ok. Really. I’ve put all that behind me now. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Lila or my old friends. I just want to pretend it never happened and just…. Move on.”

Alan wraps his arm around her shoulders, smiling warmly, “If that’s what you wanna do then cool. Good on you for being the bigger person. Personally I would have drop kicked this bitch but that’s just me. But if you want to forget those losers then I know just the thing. After school we are all going to the arcade.”

Allegra’s murderous expression melts into joy, “Yay! Oh Marinette you’re gonna love it! You can help me squash Alan into the dirt again!”

Alan glares at her, “I’m not that bad at video games!”

Claude snorts, “He’s really bad.”

Kagami smothers a smile into her drink.

Marinette lets out a breath of relief and laughs.

As soon as the final bell rings she hardly has time to stand and gather her bag when Alan and Allegra are on either side of her, linking arms and leading her out of the school. Claude and Kagami keep pace just behind them.

“Are you coming Kagami?” he asks, and Marinette turns to look pleading at the girl.

Kagami sighs, pointedly not looking at Marinette’s puppy dog eyes, “I am afraid not. My grandparents are in town this week and I am expected to be home to entertain them.” She rolls her eyes, offering a small, fond smile, “Perhaps another time.”

Marinette beams back, wriggling out of her friends’ hold to embrace the girl, “Thanks again for this morning.” She whispers before skipping back to the others.

Claude slaps Kagami heartily on the back, “We’ll get you eventually Tsurugi, don’t you worry.”
Kagami snorts, shaking her head, and turns away to head to the waiting car. Claude falls into step with the rest of them as they head to the nearest arcade.

Apparently they aren’t they only who had the idea, as Elias and Carter are already battling at one of the shooting games when they arrive.

The pair have apparently been friends forever, and between the two of them come up with enough hair-brained schemes that Allegra swears she’s going gray. Elias is taller than Carter by a half head, black with close cropped brown hair and brown eyes. Carter is far more slender, practically skin and bone, with rusty orange hair and green eyes behind glasses. If she remembers correctly Carter was a painter and Elias a soccer player. Both boys stiffen when the four of them walk in, eyes widening.

“Allegra!” Elias yelps

“We didn’t do anything!” Carter assures

Allegra rolls her eyes as Claude snickers. “I’m not here for you two ding-dongs. C’mon Marinette, let’s race!”

The four of them go settle in at one of the racecar stations, Elias taking the fifth and final seat and Carter settling for leaning between Marinette and Claude’s seat to shout encouragement. Alan comes dead last by a large margin because he spent most of the game respawning from various cliffs. Marinette, naturally, comes first. Elias, who had been right behind her the entire match, groans.

“How are you so good at this! I swear I couldn’t catch up!”

Carter whoops as Marinette’s scantily clad avatar does a victory dance, “Man Marinette, you have got to come to video game night with us! Eli’s title of best gamer is going down!”

She laughs at his enthusiasm, “Video games are my specialty, right behind fashion. You should see me at Ultimate Mecha Strike.”

Elias gapes at her, “You! You were that girl who won the competition! I knew you looked familiar!”

She smirks “Yep.” She pops the p.

Elias groans again, “You are your partner kicked my team’s ass!”

Claude sinks down in his chair with a sigh, “I fall more in love by the day!”

Carter is staring at her with wide eyes, “Dude, like, same.” He immediately flushes bright red as Claude and Elias laugh uproariously.

Allegra huffs, rolling her eyes as she stands, “So what next?”

Alan scrambles out of his chair, “Shooting! I can do shooting!”

He cannot, apparently, do shooting. He loses just as badly as in racing. Marinette once more takes the high score with Elias and Allegra right behind her. Claude, who spent most of his turn trying to blow up Carter’s character, still managed to get a higher score. Alan pouts. Marinette promises to go easy on him next time, which makes the pouting worse.

The six of them play just about every game in the arcade, playing until the sun has set and the streetlights come on. Claude is the one to call it quits, insisting they leave before the staff comes to kick them out.

“Come on children. Bedtime.” He insists, herding them all out, “I need my beauty sleep after all.”

Alan snorts, “You might be a little late to that game.”

Claude shoves him.

Carter and Elias snicker, “See you guys tomorrow.” Elias waves, turning to head home.

Carter offers her a bright grin, “Later Marinette!” and then he jogs to catch up with his best friend.

Claude holds out his arm to her again, “Mind the company?”

She smiles, “What a gentleman you are.”

Allegra sticks her tongue out, “No fair! You get more Marinette time!”

Claude blows a raspberry at her. They split eventually, Alan and Allegra heading to their house and Claude and Marinette heading to the train station. They spend the whole ride debating whether or not they had homework and if it was imminently due. He walks her all the way to her door, giving her a dramatic little bow that reminds her so much of Cat Noir.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow.”

She smiles, standing on tip toe to wrap her arms around his neck for a proper hug. “Thanks Claude.”

He winks, and then turns and strolls casually down the sidewalk as she heads back inside.

++

Marinette sinks onto her bed with a groan, eyes slipping shut as she tries to forget just how much homework she has to do this weekend.

The pain of being flung face first into a building had faded with her Miraculous Cure but she could still remember the feeling of crunching cartilage and blood pouring down her face.

Hawkmoth had really been upping his game, not only with more frequent akumas but with more powerful ones too. Her and Cat Noir were barely managing to them down each time, and as of late she’s been down to the wire with her transformation’s time limit. This couldn’t keep up much longer or else the both of them were toast.

Tikki finishes her snack and comes to rest in Marinette’s hair, “I think it may be time we talk to Master Fu. Hawkmoth is getting more dangerous Marinette, he can’t be allowed to gain possession of the ladybug or black cat miraculous.”

She sighs, sitting up slowly, “You’re right Tikki. Let’s go, if I keep lying down I’m going to fall asleep.” She’s so tired. She’s fought three akumas this week alone. “Tikki, spots on.”

She leaps from her balcony, racing over rooftops towards Fu’s place, trying to keep out of sight of any civilians. She wouldn’t want anything to link her to Fu and reveal his identity. She drops into an alley down the street from his apartment and drops her transformation, walking on foot the last block and knocking on his door. It’s late now, the sun starting to set, but she has a feeling the old man will be expecting her.

He smiles when he lets her in, no looking the least bit surprised, “Good evening Marinette. How can I help you?”

She settles at the low table in the main room, leaning her elbows forward and sighing, “Master we need more help to deal with Hawkmoth and his akumas. Cat and I can’t do it on our own anymore.”

Fu nods, stroking his chin thoughtfully, “Yes… I believe you are correct. He is getting more desperate, especially after his near demise on Heroes Day. A man with nothing to lose and everything to gain can be a most deadly foe. Perhaps it is time one of your temporary allies become more permanent?”

Marinette can’t quite keep the flinch the reminder of her old friends bring her, and Fu’s expression turns sad.

“Oh my child… what happened?”

She swallows, “Lila Rossi.” Fu scowls. He knows her name well by now, not only due to her appearance as Volpina but also with her involvement in Heroes Day. They’d both discussed the possibility of her turning to Hawkmoth’s side. “She… Her lies turned all my friends against me. I’ve had to move schools.”

Wayzz floats up into her field of view, eyes wide and sad, “Not Nino! Surely….”

Marinette shakes her head, “Nino and Alya too. They said such awful things to me…. I was almost akumatized. I- I can’t trust them with the miraculous. Not anymore.”

Fu reaches across the table and takes her hand, “I am sorry Marinette for your suffering. But you are very wise and very strong, and I know nothing could ever keep you down.” He smiles, and it makes her feel warm and proud. He nods, considering, “But you are right, if you cannot trust them, they cannot have the miraculous. But you will need to find others. And soon.”
She nods, standing, “Thank you Master. I’ll keep my eye out.”

He shows her to the door, “As will I. And Marinette, have faith. I have a feeling you are only headed up.”

She heads back to the same alley to transform, shooting up to the sky. She lands on the rooftop and surveys the city. It is Cat Noir’s night to patrol and she can see him now in the distance, leaping across rooftops headed towards the Eiffel Tower to start his watch. After a moment’s consideration she follows him.

“Good evening my Lady, to what do I owe this pleasure?” he turns to her when she lands, grinning ear to ear. All the worry and stress melts away in an instant and she takes a seat, gesturing for him to join her.

“Actually Cat, I wanted to talk to you.”

He drops down beside her, leaning back on his palms, legs hanging over the edge of the tower, “Nothing makes me happier Bugaboo.”

She smiles, leaning her head on his shoulder, “I just talked to Master Fu.” She starts, and he hums.

“We need backup, don’t we?” he asks, voice quiet.

She nods, “Yes. We’re managing for now but we won’t forever. Master agrees. We need permanent help.”

Cat hums, “So, who’s it gonna be? Rena Rouge? Carapace?” He doesn’t suggest Queen Bee, they both know she could only ever be temporary. Ladybug pauses for a long moment, long enough that Cat Noir notices and turns to face her, “My Lady?”

She swallows, “ I knew Rena and Carapace…. As civilians.” She admits and his eyes widen. “I trusted them but lately…. I can’t trust them anymore Cat. I can’t tell you what happened but….” She pulls her knees up to her chest, hugging them close, “It hurt.”

Cat’s expression fills with pain, “Oh Ladybug.” He wraps his arms around her, holding her close, “It’s ok.” He purrs, “It’ll all be ok.”

She doesn’t cry. She won’t. She takes a deep breath, “Thank you Cat. But we do need backup. I’ll find someone, eventually. Until then, we just need to hold on.”

He smiles, keeping one arm around her shoulders, “Me and you against the world Bug.”

She smiles, letting everything else fade away, “Always.”

He butts his head against hers gently, “Say, you up for a race?”

She laughs, letting him stand and pull her to her feet, “Of course Kitty. But you’re going down.”

He grins, tail flicking behind him, “Not this time.” He turns and leaps off the tower before she can respond.

“Cheater!” she shouts after him, and takes off.

++

It’s been a month now since Marinette transferred to Rose River. Honestly she’s having the time of her life. Not only does she have so many amazing new friends, she’s also making leaps and bounds of progress in her design career.

Rose River really strives to help its students achieve their goals by any means- like Kagami attending fencing practice at a different school with a renowned instructor, or Allegra getting to sit in on professional recitals. Marinette’s future study period is spent in one of the big art classrooms with state of the art sewing equipment and any kind of fabric or material she could ever dream of. Her counselor helps her set up her portfolio and gets her on the waiting list for an exclusive internship at one of the local fashion houses for the summer. She’s also getting sponsored in any design competition she sets her eyes on and has the cell phone number of ten other Rose River Alumni in the design field who are all more than happy and willing to help her out when needed. She’s over the moon.

She spends her lunch period and any free time she has with all her new friends, which has expanded significantly from her first day. It’s not just Claude, Allegra, Alan, and Kagami now.

No she also spends a lot of time with Carter and Elias, who invite her to their weekly video game tournaments.

And with Celia, who never turns down being one of Marinette’s models as long as Marinette brings her some macarons.

And Jaime and Serafine, who come over to the bakery to learn new recipe’s and worship her father’s skill. Serafine even ends up working with them part time on weekends.

She gets to know every one of her classmates, their quirks and their passions and their pet peeves and their laughter. And they actually get to know her too.

It’s a Wednesday and their morning class is interrupted by an akuma attack. Everyone flees when the akuma comes crashing through the school trying to draw Ladybug and Cat Noir’s attention. Terrified students flee in all directions, heading for safety. Marinette ducks away from Alan’s side when he turns to find Allegra and Claude, sprinting to one of the little hidey-holes Claude had shown her. She transforms quickly and rushes out to the rooftop just in time to see Cat Noir leaping into the fray.

The akuma is clown-themed, much to Ladybug’s annoyance. This is at least the third one Hawkmoth has created and none of them look any better. But this one is full on circus clown too, which only makes her annoyance grow. She’s not a fan of circus clowns, they creep her out. At least Mime and Jester didn’t creep her out.

This one, calling himself Clownzilla of all awful things, keeps manifesting annoying clown-themed items that serve more to slow Cat Noir and Ladybug down rather than do any real harm. They subdue him easily, breaking the akumatized object- a freaking rubber chicken- and restore the city, giving their usual ‘pound it’ before heading separate ways to return to class.

Marinette sneaks back into the building and heads for the classroom, meeting Alan halfway. The boy tackles her in a hug, “Please don’t scare me like that!” he urges, shaking her a little, “God I turned around and you were just gone!”

She feels a little bad about that, but says nothing. Alan keeps a tight hold on her all the way to their next class. Allegra is waiting for them, chewing on her thumbnail, something she really only does when she’s nervous.

Alan gives her a heavy look and she shakes her head. The pair of them sit, Marinette looking between both of them and Claude’s empty seat.

“Where’s Claude.” She asks, suddenly nervous. She knows nothing bad could have happened, not really. If Claude had been caught up in the attack he would have returned by now, and if he were in serious trouble Allegra and Alan wouldn’t just be sitting here.

Alan’s foot starts tapping as he stares at the seat beside him, “It’s…. complicated. Claude kind of has a thing about clowns…. Uh…. I really shouldn’t say more without his permission.”

Marinette nods and turns to pull out her tablet, frowning deeply.

Claude doesn’t show up for their next class, or through lunch, and while Marinette is inclined to go look for him Allegra insists he needs his space, “Believe me. We’ve tried going after him when he’s like this. He just spews some bullshit about being fine and then ignores us for a few days. If we just let him stew like a moron he’ll come back out and then he’ll pretend nothing happened.” She glares at her lap the whole time she says it.

He doesn’t show up for their next class either, and by Career-Studies Marinette is more than concerned. She scrolls through her phone rather than work on her designs, telling the teacher she’s doing some research. She debates texting Claude but ends up clicking out of his contact. He’ll tell her when he’s ready.

She finds herself looking through information about today’s akuma instead. Already there are numerous articles and interviews out with the victim about his motives and what he was doing at the time, the public doing everything they could to help locate Hawkmoth and find out his plans. One link she finds takes her to a photo collage of all the previous victims, now freshly updated with Clownzilla’s face. Marinette scrolls through them lazily, frowning. Sandboy, Glaciator, Collector, Frozer, Rogercop. So many familiar faces. Has it really been seven months since she started doing this?

Her finger freezes as one akuma’s face pops up on the screen, eyes widening at the familiarity of him. Her phone drops onto the table as she remembers. She’d just been thinking about him during the fight too.

Jester.

It’d been a couple months since they’d fought him, a clown-esque akuma with the classic court jester hat on his head. He’d paraded around the city and sprayed people with a cartoony flower on his lapel. Once struck people laughed so hard they could barely move, until they were sobbing and it hurt to laugh. He’d gotten Cat Noir in the fight and her partner had been down for the count, laughing and wheezing for breath, tears streaming down his face. Jester had insisted the world needed to laugh to forget the pain. The akuma had been in the stem of his flower which had reverted to an ordinary rose afterwards. Jester had returned to being a high school boy.

To Claude.

Marinette stands quickly, insisting she has to use the bathroom as she practically sprints from the room. She hurries down the hall towards the gym. She knows exactly where Claude is hiding. The boy had shown her every hidden nook and cranny of the school, every secret passage and dark closet, every crawlspace and rooftop access hatch. All except one, which she had found on her own by accident. She’d tripped and her phone had gone skittering under the bleachers which were huge and took up an entire wall, the underneath crammed full of foldable chairs. But further down, out of sight and almost entirely hidden in shadows is a small door in the wall where the chairs used to be stored. At first she’d wondered if Claude simply hadn’t known about it. But considering he knew about the freaking tunnel in the walls she finds it hard to believe he would miss this.

She crouches down to crawl her way under the bleachers, stopping by the little door and knocking carefully, “Claude? It’s me, Marinette. Do you want some company?”

There is a long minute of silence where she wonders if maybe he’s already gone home before there is a slow, deliberate knock in return.

She smiles and opens the hatch, crawling into the short space that stretches further out into the darkness. The space is illuminated by the flashlight on Claude’s phone, resting on the floor, and with it she can clearly see her friend. Claude is sat near the entrance, long legs splayed out in front of him, arms limp at his sides and head leaning back against the wall, staring up at the ceiling. “Hey Mari…” he says, but his voice lacks its usual warmth.

She closes the hatch door behind her and sits beside him, scooting close enough that their hips are pressed together, their sides flush.

She doesn’t say anything, and neither does he, both of them just sitting in the heavy silence. Marinette thinks of the last month, how every morning Claude was waiting by her doorstep to walk her to school, about how he’d smiled so easily that first day and didn’t ask her to tell him why she’d been so afraid. She leans her head on his shoulder, reaching down for his hand and twining their finger together, holding tight, letting him know that she’s there.

“I was so mad…” he finally says, after a long moment of stillness, his voice choked and halting, “My parents…. They didn’t even show up and I… God it was my first starring role and I just thought they would… they promised they would and….” He takes a shuddering breath, “And Allegra and Alan kept looking at me like I was gonna break. Like I was some fragile fucking…. Like I wasn’t already used to it. I should have been used to it. I just laughed it off, like I always do. Because that’s what I have to do. Every time they miss something, just laugh it off. It doesn’t matter. But they wouldn’t drop it. They kept… insisting that it was fine, that I didn’t have to hide and… God it just pissed me off so much.” His other hand, the one she’s not gripping so tight it must hurt, comes up to cover his face, shoulders curving inwards as he tries to hide, “I don’t remember anything….that’s the worst part. I hurt my friends… and I saw myself on the news and now… god just thinking about clowns….”

Marinette squeezes his hand again, “Why don’t you let Allegra and Alan in? You know they want to help you.”

He sighs, pulling his hand away from his face to look down at her, eyes red-rimmed, “I’m supposed to be the funny cool guy that takes care of them. I’m supposed to be there for them when they lose their shit. I can’t lose my shit. I’m the big brother and they need me to have a fucking handle on my life and I can’t just lose it every fucking time my parents forget they have a fucking son.”

Marinette drops Claude’s hand and jumps up, straddling his thighs and bringing her hands up to cup his face, forcing him to look at her, “Hey, breathe. Breathe with me Claude. It’s ok.” She pulls his face into her neck, holding him tight. His arms wrap around her middle, body shaking. “You don’t have to be strong all the time Claude. Take it from someone who knows, eventually things get rough and you break. You fall apart. And that’s ok. As long as you have people to fall back on. People who love you and want to protect you. You have those people Claude. You have Allegra and Alan, and you have me. We care about you, we don’t need you to be strong all the time.” She pulls back, looking down on him as he stares up at her. She smiles, “My papa gave me some really good advice recently. He said, you don’t have to be perfect and smiling all the time. You’re allowed to be angry and sad and hurt, and you’re allowed to say you’ve had enough and give up. Claude, you don’t have to keep going like this. You’re allowed to ask for help. Let your friends help you.”

He smiles, wobbly and small, and pulls her back in for another hug, “Thanks Mari…”

She smiles, pressing a kiss to the top of his head, “You’re welcome.”

He takes a deep breath before finally letting her go, pocketing his phone as he reaches for the hatch door, “Come on. I think I need to do the feelings talk with the two of them now.”

Marinette giggles as she follows him out of the crawlspace and out of the bleachers, walking leisurely to the courtyard. He texts the other two as they go, and Marinette laces their fingers together to assure him she’s still there.

They don’t have to wait very long. It’s less than a minute before Allegra comes bounding down the stairs from the music room, sprinting across the courtyard to tackle Claude in a hug. He holds her tight, burying his face in her hair. She punches him in the back, “You moron!” she hisses, shaking.

Alan comes in from the field a moment later, hurrying to join them in their little hug. Claude wraps his arms around both of them, holding tight as his eyes slip shut. He blinks one eye back open and smiles at her, “Get in here Marinette.”

She beams, not hesitating to slide into the space between Alan and Claude, letting herself get lost in how warm and safe she feels.

Everything is going to be ok.

++

Marinette hums a quiet tune on her way home, some melody Allegra had been playing earlier.

It’s quiet, nearing sunset, and the Seine beside her is lovely. She’d spent the afternoon at Claude’s place, the both of them struggling to decipher their combined notes to study for their upcoming physics exam.

Claude had finally called it quits and intended to walk her home. She insisted she could walk on her own and she’d see him tomorrow. It’s peaceful now, and she finds, not for the first time, that she’s genuinely happy again.

Her humming trails off when another sound catches her attention, the distant, soft chords of a guitar being strummed. She keeps walking, head bobbing to the slow, melodious tune of the musician, pace slowing to match the rhythm, eyes slipping shut as she just enjoys the music. It really is a pretty piece, something she’s never heard before. It makes her want to slow dance in a pretty white dress under the moonlight.

The music gets louder the further along the river she walks, calling her closer, beckoning her. Suddenly it stops cold, chord unfinished, ending in a sharp ‘twang’ sound that grates slightly. She opens her eyes slowly as the trance of the music washes off of her, and her eyes widen.

“Oh!”

Luka Couffaine is sitting on the ground, leant up against the nearby building, guitar perched in his lap. He’s staring up at her with wide eyes. “Marinette?”

She smiles, cheeks flushing as the boy hurriedly stands, leaning his guitar against the wall and moving closer, grin widening, “It’s so good to see you again!” he says, wrapping her in a warm, tight hug. “I heard…” he pulls back, his smiling dropping into a frown, “I’m so sorry about what happened. I don’t what’s going on with my sister and her friends.”

Marinette lets out a breath, smile softening, “It’s ok. I’m moving past it now. I’m going to a new school actually.”

She gestures to her uniform and he looks her up and down appraisingly, something sparkling in his eyes, “Rose River huh? Man, now I wished I would have stayed.”

Marinette’s eyes widen, “You went to Rose River!” she practically shrieks

Luka nods, laughing, “For a few years yeah. I was studying music. It was great and all but I really just needed to spread my wings and learn on my own.”

Marinette chuckles, that sounds exactly like Luka. “It’s really good to see you again Luka. I was kinda thinking I’d never get the chance to apologize.”

He frowns, confused, “Apologize? To me? What for?”

She ducks her head, toe kicking up loose stones, “For how I behaved at the ice rink. I totally ignored you and left you on your own. I’m sorry.”

His smile turns soft and he reaches out to take one of her hands, “You have nothing to apologize for Ma-Ma-Marinette.” He winks, “Just spending time with you was a treasure.”

She blushes, squeaking as he presses a kiss to her knuckles, “Y-You! Why- Luka!”

He chuckles, looking up at from under his fringe, “I’d like to hang out with you again sometime Marinette, if that’s alright.”

He lets go of her hand and she snatches it behind her back, feeling it burn where his lips touched. She swallows, “Like a… a d-d-date?” she squeaks.

He smiles, ducking his head shyly, cheeks pinkening, “I mean… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it to be one. But I know how you feel and I’d be perfectly happy just hanging out as friends. I really do think you’re amazing Marinette, and any chance to spend time with you would be perfect.”

Marinette imagines suddenly, in startling clarity, that Alan is right behind her, glaring fiercely. “Don’t be a wimp Nette! Go after what you want! Woman up!”

She takes a deep breath, hands shaking and mustering every ounce of her Ladybug courage to rush out, “Idlovetogoonadatewithyou!”

Luka looks at her with wide eyes, practically beaming, “Really! Wow that’s just…” he coughs, visibly trying to reign in his excitement. It’s entirely adorable, “That’s awesome. Yeah, let’s.” he rubs at the back of his neck, “So, I’ll text you later?”

She nods, then jumps, “Wait! I got a new phone!” she fumbles the device out of her purse and practically throws it at the boy. He just barely manages to catch it after it thunks into his chest. Marinette buries her face in her hands and groans, “I am so sorry!”

Luka just laughs, imputing his number into her phone before very carefully handing it back to her, “I’ll see you later Marinette.”

She smiles back, feeling giddy, “Bye Luka.”

She hurries past him, face still burning, grin stretched across her face. The music starts back up a moment later, something light and cheery and hopeful. She practically skips down the street until she has to turn the corner.

Tikki bursts out of her purse as soon as the coast is clear, “I am so proud of you Marinette!” she chirps, “That was wonderful! And you only got a little flustered!”

Marinette laughs, “Honestly, I was imaging Alan. He would kick my ass if he knew I chickened out of asking a boy out.”

Tikki laughs delightedly, “You’re probably right. But nevertheless, you did it. And I’m very proud!”

Marinette beams with the praise, reaching up to stroke her kwami’s soft head, “Thanks Tikki. Now, let’s hurry home. I think we both are more than deserving of some fresh treats.”

Tikki cheers, settling back in her purse for the remainder of their walk home.

The next day she excitedly tells her friends about her upcoming date and the reaction is immediate.

Allegra squeals excitedly.

Claude drops his head onto the table and fakes a sob.

Kagami pats her on the back in congratulations.

And Alan does a little dance.

“Nice one Nette!” Alan cheers, coming around the table to pull her out of her seat and into a hug that leaves her giggling, “How’d you manage?”

She settles back down and looks up at her friend with a wry smile, “Actually I was imagining what you would say if you were there. It was… very effective.”

Allegra wheezes with laughter, “Oh man…. Can you imagine…..”

Claude finally picks his head up, wiping a very convincing tear from his eye, “My dearest Marinette…. Of with another man… however will I manage?”

Marinette rolls her eyes, leaning her head on her hands, “You pitiful creature.” She deadpans.

Kagami hides her smile behind her hand, coughing to smother the laughter, “So, who is the lucky fellow?” she asks softly

Marinette smiles, thinking about him, and her cheeks go a little pink, “It’s Luka actually.”

Kagami nods sagely, “Yes he will do nicely. He was very enamored with you at the ice rink.”

Alan’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, “Wait you’ve been on a date with him before?”

Allegra shrieks, “Wait Luka! Luka Couffaine? Guitar Luka?”

Claude’s head drops back onto the table with a groan as Allegra begins to elbow him excitedly.

Marinette stares at them in surprise, “You know Luka?”

Allegra grins, leaning forward across the table, “Duh! He went here! We only shared the one year together but he was so cool! His music is amazing! We did some piano and guitar duets together and we were planning on mixing in my flute when he left. Claude had the biggest crush on him.”

Claude’s head snaps up, face bright red, “Allegra!”

Alan laughs and even Kagami is surprised into a little snicker.

Marinette smirks, leaning forward, “Oh? Do I have some competition?”

Claude pouts, crossing his arms over his chest, “It’s been like, two years since I’ve seen the guy. And no, you do not.” He gives her a small, fond smile, “I’m happy for you Mari, really. He’s a good guy. You deserve to be happy.”

Marinette flushes, eyes welling with tears, “Stop being so nice to me!” she whines, “You’re gonna make me cry!”

Allegra giggles, reaching across the table to take Marinette’s hands, “You are so cute!”

They insist on getting all the details. How the two of them met, the date at the ice rink, their meeting last night. She tells them about texting him all last night, staying up far later than was smart to keep up the conversation. Turns out Luka was a very poetic texter, and he’d sent her at least three voice recordings of him singing about how happy he was to see her again. He’s adorable. She’s entirely smitten.

Allegra and Kagami shove closer together to listen to one of his recordings and Allegra swoons back onto the bench, “Oh that voice! Think of the duets we could do!”

Marinette giggles, beaming, “We should all hang out soon. I, for one, would love to hear you two together.”

Claude snorts, “Oh yeah.” He replies dryly, “Luka with the voice of an angel and Allegra, with the voice of a whale.”

Alan dissolves into hysterical laughter while Allegra huffs, throwing her blazer at their faces, “Rude! Unbelievably rude! Don’t listen to them Nette!”

Kagami nods appeasing, “I have to say Claude, your description doesn’t quite fit. She is no whale.” Her smile turns a little sharp, “More like an old cat.”

Allegra shrieks in outrage, Claude doubles over in pain, Alan falls off the bench, and Marinette laughs so hard she cries.

Chapter Text

Saturday is her date with Luka. They’ve agreed to meet up at the bowling alley at five where she hopes not to completely embarrass herself. She digs through her closet with increasing frustration as the day wears into evening, tossing garments over her shoulder to join the quickly growing mountain on her floor. Nothing feels right.

“Tikki help!” she cries, throwing aside yet another dress that felt too formal.

Tikki floats over to eye her closet, little mouth pursed in a frown, “It’s alright Marinette. Don’t panic. Just pick something you like.”

She’s been saying much the same thing for the last hour. Marinette groans, “You don’t understand! Nothing feels right! Should I dress up? Should I wear heels? What if I trip? Should I go super casual? What if he thinks I don’t care enough to look nice? What if he thinks I look stupid? What if-“

Tikki whistles loudly, breaking the tirade, “Marinette! Just breathe. You made all of these clothes and they all look wonderful. Anything you pick Luka will adore because he adores you already. Just calm down and breathe.”
Marinette takes a series of slow, deep breaths. “You’re right Tikki. I just…. Need to calm down. Ok, let’s see.” She continues going through her closet, Tikki now hovering on her shoulder and giving her input.

“Ooh! That one Marinette!” she exclaims, shooting forward to pick up the hanger before Marinette can grab at it.

Marinette takes it from her, eyeing it carefully. It’s a light pink pair of overalls with extra long straps so that the front hangs low on her bust line. There’s a large pocket on the front, like a pouch on her stomach, with a little white heart decal in the center. The legs had been cut off into shorts, rolled up to show off the lighter pink color on the inside of the material. She had made it last summer for a picnic with her family and had only worn it the once. She kept insisting that she was going to add more to it. Now she can’t understand why. It’s perfect, casual and cute, comfortable enough to allow for easy movement. She throws it on over a plain white, tank top, admiring her reflection in the full-length mirror on her wall.

“Marinette!” Tikki squeals, “You look so cute!”

She frowns…. Not quite. She grabs her favorite jacket, the gray one with the white inside and pink spots. Better….. She redoes her hair, fixing her pigtails lower so that they stick down instead of out, and adds a little pink bow to the top of her head. She grins. Perfect. She checks the time, almost five. She better hurry.

She grabs her purse and sticks her phone, wallet, and a little baggy of cookies inside. Taking a deep, steady breath as Tikki gets comfortable.

“You can do this Marinette!” she encourages.

Marinette smiles, then goes downstairs, kisses her parents goodbye, and heads for the bowling alley. She can do this.

She is only a few minutes away from the bakery when the familiar sound of Cat Noir’s staff extending reaches her ears, and a moment later the hero drops down onto the street beside her.

He grins, looking her up and down before offering her a deep, formal bow, “Well, my princess is looking lovely this fine evening. What is the occasion?”

Marinette laughs, leaning forward to wrap the hero in a hug. She hasn’t seen him in her civilian form since her first day of school, and she’s found she actually misses spending time with her partner when she isn’t Ladybug.
“Thanks for the compliment Cat. And to answer your question, I am going on a date!”

Cat Noir’s eyes widen, back going stiff, jaw dropping. He is frozen for a moment before he droops, smile returning though it is far smaller than before. He offers his arm for her to hold as he escorts her down the street, “Well then, it seems I am too late to whisk you away. Unless of course I bring a fight to the foul beast that has stolen your heart from me.”

She laughs easily at the playful banter, reminded of Claude’s similar reaction to the news. If she hadn’t already figured out Claude wasn’t Cat Noir, she would definitely have thought so now. The two of them would really get along though, she’s sure of it.

“I’m not sure that’s any of your business Kitty.”

He holds his free hand to his chest, “Meow-ch. Come on Princess, this fine cat just wants to protect your honor. So, is it someone new? A new classmate? A handsome hero?”

She rolls her eyes, snickering at his theatrics, “If you must know, it’s someone I already knew actually. It’s Luka, Luka Couffaine. You’ve met him before right? With Captain Hardrock.”

Cat Noir freezes mid step, pulling her to a halt alongside him. His grin is stuck too wide on his face, “Ah… I see.”

She frowns at the abrupt change in his mood, “Cat? Are you ok?”

He shakes his head as if to clear it, smile becoming far more genuine, “It’s nothing Princess. I’m just…. I’m so glad that you’re finally happy.”

He looks down at her, eyes full of warmth and fondness, so much so that it makes her heart feel fuller.

She smiles, cheeks flushed, eyes watery, “Cat…. Thank you.” She hugs him again, and they continue walking.

When they reach the end of the street Cat Noir reluctantly steps away from her, “Alas, I must part with you here. Until next time, Marinette.”

He offers her another one of his ridiculous bows before his staff extends and he shoots skywards, landing gracefully on a nearby rooftop and jumping out of sight. She stares after him for a long moment and then turns to continue on.

Luka is leaning against the wall just outside the front entrance to the bowling alley waiting for her to arrive. He grins when he sees her, eyes lighting up as he hurries to greet her, wrapping her in a warm hug. He steps back, eyeing her appreciatively.

“Wow Marinette you look…. Wow.”

Marinette smiles, cheeks pink, “You thank. I mean! Thank you!”

Luka chuckles, “So, ready to bowl?”

Marinette nods, “I hope you’re prepared to jump because I haven’t bowled in years and there is every chance the ball goes the wrong direction.”

He snorts, smirking, “I’ll keep an eye out then. But I have a feeling you’ll do better than you think. You’re pretty talented at everything else.”

She flushes again, ducking her head as she and Luka head up the front counter to get their shoes. “How are you so smooth?”

He makes an obvious show of looking around for people watching before leaning down to whisper, “Keep this between you and me, but I definitely practiced talking to you in the mirror before I showed up.”

She giggles, the mental picture of Luka making Cat Noir-esque faces in a mirror popping into her head. Luka smiles at her, leading the way down the alley towards their designated lane.

Luka decides to go first but she beats him to the machine, imputing his name as Lulu before he can counter. He narrows his eyes at her, frowning, “Oh so this is the game you wanna play?” before wrapping one arm around her middle and using his height advantage to hold her at bay while he inputs her name as ‘Ma-Ma’ as she wriggles and screeches.

She frowns at the screen as it displays on the overhead above them, “Now it just looks like two old ladies are playing.”

Luka snorts and grabs a ball.

Unsurprisingly, they get very into it. Luka is a lot more competitive than he lets on, and despite his big lead in the beginning, once Marinette starts catching up he gets devious. They get competitive over the balls they use too- Marinette refusing to bowl with anything but the bright pink swirly one and Luka doing his best to switch it out with a heavier one when she isn’t looking. In return she keeps taking his blue and green ball and hiding it back on the rack. He tickles her sides when she goes up to bowl, making her squeal and causing her ball to careen for the gutter. She throws her shoes at his feet to trip him up. By the end they’re both giggling like crazy, breathless with exertion after a sudden wrestling match for the last slice of cheap bowling alley pizza. Marinette had won but only because Luka had gone easy on her- he insists but Marinette sticks her tongue out at him and takes a victory bite.
On their final turn they make a truce to not mess with each other. Luka bowls a spare and a four and then does a dramatic little victory dance that ends with him sprawled on the bench beside her with a huge grin. She rolls her eyes and steps up with her glittery pink ball, eyeing the pins and trying to calculate how many points she needs to win. She bowls a six and then a two. And now she’s on her final bowl. Her last chance.
Luka smiles at her, eyes full of so much warmth and laughter that it makes her breath come faster. He leans forward, watching her intently. “You can do it Marinette.”

She flushes, squeaking in embarrassment at the absolutely awestruck look on her face, the ball flying out of her hand without looking where it’s going. She turns to watch it, eyes wide as it barrels down the lane towards the waiting ten pins.

Strike.

Luka leaps to his feet with a cheer and she jumps up and down excitedly. She just won. She turns to Luka, beaming, and the boy picks her up, spinning her happily as they both laugh and shout. Several other patrons turn to stare at them, some smiling fondly but most just looking annoyed.

“I won!” she cheers, still held aloft in Luka’s arms, looking down at him.

He grins up at her, looking at her like she’s the most amazing thing he’s ever seen. “I told you.”

He walks her home after that, after they’ve returned their bowling shoes and Marinette took a victory selfie with her score. They talk about classes- her new school and his homeschool lessons- and friends and he asks about her designs and she begs to hear some of his new songs. Halfway there she looks down and finds he’s holding her hand, his black painted fingernails stark against their pale hands. His thumb is stroking the back of her hand. She smiles.

When they get to the bakery her parents are just now closing up, her father sweeping the floors as her mother counts out the register.

“Welcome back. Did you two have fun?” Sabine asks as they step in, abandoning her register to come give Marinette a hug.

Marinette beams, looking up at Luka, “We did.”

Luka smiles back, still holding her hand. He turns to her parents, “Your daughter is incredible Mrs. Cheng, Mr. Dupain. I was lucky to get to hang out with her.”

Tom comes over, grinning broadly, and though most people often shrink back at the size of her father Luka just smiles up at him. “Well we’re glad she’s got such a charming young man like yourself.” He wraps one arm around his wife, holding her tight, and Sabine leans into his side, eyeing the two teens fondly.

“Would you like to stay for a late dinner Luka? I was about to make something.”

Luka shakes his head, “Sadly I have to go. I promised my mom I’d be home early to help with the boat. Saturday’s moving day after all.”

Sabine detaches from her husband to take Luka’s other hand, “You’re welcome any time dear. Thank you for taking care of our Marinette.”

Marinette flushes, “Momma!”

Luka just smiles at the woman, “It’s my pleasure ma’am.” He turns back to Marinette, eyes soft again, “I’ll text you?”

She nods, “Yeah.”

He casts a look at her parents before leaning in to give her a hug, holding tight, “See you later.”

Then he turns and leaves. Marinette smiles after him and then turns to her parents with a squeal, “Isn’t he wonderful!”

Sabine laughs, “Wonderful indeed.”

Tom pulls her into a hug that sweeps her off her feet, “Oh my precious little girl! She’s finally found her prince charming!”

Marinette giggles as Sabine shakes her head fondly, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves dear. Marinette, why don’t you go change into something more comfortable and then we can start dinner.”

Marinette hums, “Kay.” And practically skips up the steps to the apartment.

She has nearly a hundred ignored text messages from the others asking questions but right now she just throws herself down on her bed and squeals excitedly. She might just be in love.

++

Marinette sticks her tongue out in concentration, tilting her head so far to the side she’s definitely going to be aching later. She’s working on a Cat Noir themed evening gown and it’s going to work out or so help her... She’s been working on it all week and she’s this close to finishing the bodice. Tikki naps on her shoulder, snoring softly as her chosen mutters increasingly frustrated thoughts about killing the person that invented leather.

“Marinette!”

She jumps about a foot in the air when the apartment door downstairs bursts open with a slam, nearly stabbing herself with a needle and shrieking in surprise, sending poor Tikki falling to her lap. The kwami only just manages to dive for the safety of Marinette’s pile of fabrics as the hatch door bursts open and Serafine bolts in, eyes wild and whole front covered in flour.

“Sera!” she scolds, hand over chest to calm her wildly racing heart, “You scared the shit out of me!”

Serafine doesn’t look the least bit concerned, coming over to Marinette’s side to shake her by the shoulders, “Freaking Penny Rolling is here looking for you! Jagged Stone’s assistant asked for you by name!”

Marinette blinks in surprise, “Penny? Here?”

She stares at her friend for a moment, processing this, and then yelps. She jumps up, half sprinting half stumbling down the stairs towards the bakery, Serafine on her tail. She bolts into the bakery to find her parents fawning over Penny, stood by the register.

“Really dear, you should sit. You’ve been working much too hard I can tell.” Sabine is saying, trying to coax the woman into one of the little chairs by the windows.

“I’m fine Mrs. Cheng, really.”

“Penny!” she shouts, grinning, and the woman looks up at her and smiles, opening her arms for Marinette to barrel into.

“Marinette! It’s so good to see you again. I’m sorry for showing up unannounced like this but I did try calling first. You weren’t answering your phone.”

Marinette pulls out of the woman’s arms with a wince, “Sorry. I got a new phone recently. What’s up?”

Penny smiles, “Actually, Jagged wanted to talk to you about designing for him again.”

Marinette’s mouth drops open. Sabine beams. Tom laughs heartily. Serafine squeals.

“Me!” she squeaks.

Penny nods, “Yes. You. If you have time right now he’s really looking forward to seeing your ideas.”

Marinette looks back at her parents.

“Well go on!” Tom urges, shooing her towards the door.

Marinette grins, “Let me grab my bag!”

++

“Marinette! There’s my favorite little designer!”

Jagged Stone is just as loud and energetic as the last time she saw him. He wraps her up in a big hug, ruffling her hair affectionately before tugging her over to the couches in his hotel room.

“Hey Jagged.” She finally manages to greet after she’s let out of his hold. She looks down when something cold touches her knee and finds Fang pressing his snout in her lap. “And hello to you too Fang.” She scratches the crocodile on the top of his head before turning her full attention to the Rockstar before her.

“Thank god you’re here Marinette! When Penny said she couldn’t reach your I thought I’d have to settle for someone else. No one understands my rockin’ style like you do!”

Marinette flushes, pleased, “Of course. What do you need?”

Penny leans on the back of Jagged’s couch, holding out an invitation, “The Parisian Music Awards is next month and Jagged needs a suit. He refuses to wear anything… ‘mundane’.” She rolls her eyes and Marinette snickers.
Jagged huffs, swatting at his assistant affectionately, “Oh hush! You wouldn’t let me be seen in anything like that anyways Pen. No, I need something big. Bold. Something that screams Rock and Roll!” He turns the full force of his magnetic grin on Marinette, “So what do ya say little lady? Wanna make me a tux?”

Marinette’s mouth drops open again, eyes wide, “Me? Make your outfit for the PMAs?”

He nods, “Wouldn’t trust anyone else. So, what do ya got?”

Marinette shakes her head to clear it and then pulls her sketchbook out of her bag, opening to a fresh page and immediately getting to work. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Better than small hats on a runway or sunglasses on a stage. She’s designing something for a rock legend to wear on a televised event. This is her big break.

Jagged starts ranting about the other designers of the past and the suits they’d made for him, all boring plain pieces, just like everyone else’s. He goes on about his style and his vision but Marinette is only half listening, too intent on her drawing. She scribbles furiously, erasing and redrawing, eyes peeking up to watch Jagged’s movements, how he talks with his hands and how he sits, how best to marry his style to something outstanding. Jagged and Penny bicker back and forth about color choices and patterns- Jagged seems to be considered sequins of all things- and Marinette jots little notes in the corner of the page as she hears them.

She’s not sure how much time passes, maybe a few minutes, maybe hours, she’s not very good at keeping track of time when she’s on a roll, but finally she sits back, staring at her design, and grins.

“How about something like this?” she suggests, holding the book out to the pair across from her.

Jagged eagerly snatches it up, holding her sketchbook reverently as he drink in the image. It’s a lot like a regular tux, the same basic shape save for the massive shoulder pads, and she’s decided to cut it up, the sleeves of the jacket cut short and asymmetrical, loose button up shirt beneath with one sleeve missing entirely, untucked and with a loose tie around the neck. Little studs decorate the belt and a choker. The whole ensemble is a little sloppy looking, but purposefully so, a statement at such a refined event.

Jagged beams, “Marinette you are a star!” he cackles, leaning forward eagerly to point out the sketch, “This is brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Don’t you think so Penny?”

The woman nods, smiling, “It’s exactly you Jagged.”

Jagged nods decisively, “That it is. How soon can you have it ready by?”

Marinette purses her lips, considering, “Um… it’ll take me a week or two probably.”

Jagged nods, “Great. More than enough time then. Now, about the color, are we thinking plain black? How do you feel about adding some color?”

++

By the time Marinette finally leaves Jagged’s suite she’s creatively exhausted and just about bouncing out of her skin.

She’s really doing this.

Penny insists on driving her back to the bakery, walking alongside her as they leave the elevator as she discusses working around Marinette’s school schedule for fittings and everything.

“Dupain-Cheng?”

Marinette whirls around to find Chloe Bourgeois sitting on top of the front desk of the hotel lobby, eyes wide with surprise.

“Chloe?”

The rich girl shakes off her shock quickly, jumping to her feet and hurrying closer, “What on earth are you doing here?” she asks, though her voice is softer than it usually is, and she looks honestly curious rather than accusatory.
Marinette swallows, “Um… I had a meeting with Jagged Stone. I’m designing for him again.”

Penny looks between the two girls, lips pursed, but doesn’t say anything yet.

Chloe nods, twiddling her fingers uncertainly, “So… how are you doing?” she asks after a moment, seeming uncomfortable.

Marinette stares at her, at the tense line of her shoulders and the uncomfortable turn of her mouth. Chloe is worried about her, and it makes Marinette feel strangely warm inside. She smiles, “I’m doing good Chloe. Really…. How’s everyone else?”

Chloe’s face twists with disgust, nose turning up in the air with a huff, “Those imbeciles? Well nothing has changed if that’s what your asking. They’re still stupidly devoted to Lie-la and believe every word out of her ugly mouth.”
Marinette winces. It’s been a month now and the reminder still hurts. After the first week none of her old friends were waiting on the steps in the morning. None of them came by after school to try and see her. No one wanted an explanation or a reason. They all just let her leave.

“I had a feeling.” She sighs, shaking her head, “What about you? I’m sure things haven’t been pleasant for you with Lila around.”

Chloe scoffs, “That’s an understatement. She truly is a despicable girl.” The anger in her eyes turns sad, lip wobbling, “Sabrina won’t speak to me anymore.” She admits, taking a slow deep breath, “Whatever. It’s ridiculous. They’re ridiculous. First they chase you out and now I’m the one being blacklisted. It was so much easier when I wasn’t trying to be a good person.”

Marinette snorts, one corner of her lips tilting up, “Well I’m proud of you Chloe. And I’m sure Ladybug is too. And if you ever get sick of them Rose River’s great.”

Chloe raises one perfectly waxed eyebrow, “I suppose so. Well, I better go. Mommy’s waiting to get some mani-pedis. See you around Dupain-Cheng.”

She turns and stalks to the elevators, not looking back. Marinette sighs, turning back to the door, and freezes. Penny is watching her with narrowed eyes. Penny has been present the whole conversation.

“Marinette….” She says slowly, “Did you get bullied out of your old school?” There is a very quiet rage simmering in the assistant’s eyes, and Marinette is reminded suddenly that Penny has cowed people like Jagged Stone and his manager into behaving themselves for years.

She squeaks, “Nonono. Really Penny, it’s nothing. I mean… yes I did move schools and well… I guess it did have to do with this girl but-“

Penny puts a hand on her shoulder, expression stern, “Come on. Let’s get you home. And you’re going to tell me all about it.”

Marinette does. She insists she won’t say anything but after two minutes of babbling on her part and firm silence from Penny she cracks like an egg and spills everything. She doesn’t cry this time, which she considers an improvement, but she does start breathing heavy and her hands start shaking.

Penny’s mouth turns down in a scowl, eyes narrowed, and she takes a very deep breath before offering Marinette a smile. “Don’t you worry Marinette. Jagged and I will have these lies put to rest immediately.”

Marinette yelps, “NO! I mean…. Yeah it sucks but I don’t want to publicly humiliate Lila. That’ll just make her angrier and she’ll get akumatized again. I just… Please don’t tell Jagged. Please Penny!”

The woman sighs, turning in her seat to face Marinette fully and placing a kind hand on her shoulder, “You’re a very talented young woman Marinette, and Jagged really likes you. He sees a lot of potential in you, and so do I. Bullies like this girl need to be dealt with, they can’t just be ignored. If not you then someone else will be hurt by her, are you really ok with that?”

Marinette frowns, staring at her lap. She had considered that. She’d considered the disappointment and the anger other people would have when Lila’s false promises fell through. When Nino wasn’t introduced to a director or some musician didn’t show to support Mylene and Rose’s protests. That’s why she had tried so hard to convince them to see the truth, to protect them. But they didn’t want to listen to her.

“I’m not ok with it.” She admits finally, shoulders sagging, “But I’ve tried convincing her to stop and she won’t. She doesn’t see a problem with what she’s doing and nothing is going to stop her. She wouldn’t even listen to Ladybug Penny, so who is gonna convince her? I don’t want her to hurt other people but frankly I just don’t care anymore. I’m tired of being held responsible for other people’s mistakes. If she wants to continue telling lies then fine, she and everyone who chooses to believe her can deal with the consequences.”

Penny frowns at her, eyes sad, “Oh Marinette… I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this. And… I promise not to tell Jagged, for now. I think you should tell him and see what he has to say. I know he may not seem like it but he gives very good advice. Promise me you’ll talk to him next time you come?”

Marinette nods, smiling, “I will. Thanks Penny.”

The woman pulls her into a hug as the car pulls up to the bakery. Marinette heads inside to find her parents waiting, near bouncing with nervous energy.

“Well?” Her mother demands, looking eager.

Marinette grins, “He wants me to design his suit for the PMAs!”

Sabine lets out a little shriek of joy, rushing forward to hug her daughter, Tom right behind her, both holding her tight.

“We’re so proud of you!” Sabine insists, kissing her cheeks.

Tom laughs, “Our little girl! Designing a rockstar’s outfit!”

Marinette beams, sinking in their embrace. She looks up when the bell above the door rings, a new customer walking in. Sabine pulls back, beaming, “Go on upstairs sweetheart. We’ll talk more after closing.” She kisses Marinette on the forehead and then goes to greet the woman at the counter.

Tom hugs her once more, “We are so proud baby girl.”

Marinette heads upstairs to her room floating on air. “Tikki!” she squeals, jumping around excitedly.

Her kwami flies out of her purse, grinning, “This is an incredible opportunity Marinette!”

“I know! I can’t believe it! Me! Designing Jagged’s suit for the PMAs! I think I’m gonna pass out!”

Tikki giggles, “You should let your friends know. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to know.”

Marinette scrambles for her phone before realizing she must have left it somewhere in her room. She winces when she finally tracks it down, looking at the nearly 100 missed texts and phone calls from her friends.
She skims through them quickly, the gist being that Serafine had sent out a mass text in their class group-chat and informed everyone that Jagged Stone had asked for her personally. And then everyone had started messaging her excitedly asking for details. There is…. A lot of uppercase letters and exclamation points and emojis that she does not have time to decipher right now so- planning to tell everyone in bulk tomorrow at school- she heads to the group chat she has with her best friends.

Someone has changed the title to ‘MARINETTE TELL US THE DEETS’ in the last hour.

She flicks through the majority of the messages, most of them begging for an explanation. She rolls her eyes at the sheer number of emojis Alan has plagued the chat with before finally thumbing in a response.

Perfect Angel: glad to see I was missed
Musical Goddess: MARINETTE!
Musical Goddess: TELL US
Musical Goddess: THE DEETS
Musical Goddess: !!!!!!11!!!!!1!!!

Well that answered the question of who changed the group name.

Speedy Gonzalez: Nette! Is it tru?
Bitchboi: r u desing for JS????
Bitchboi: who thr fuk chngd me name
Musical Goddess: ;p
Bitchboi: ur ded to me
Too Cool: We have all been anxiously waiting to hear from you.
Speedy Gonzaelz: Nette!

She snickers, grinning at the enthusiasm she can practically feel through her phone.

Perfect Angel: its true
Perfect Angel: Jagged want me to design his suit for the PMAs
Speedy Gonzalez: :O
Musical Goddess: AHHHHHHHHHHHH
Speedy Gonzalez: :]
Bitchboi: HOLY FUCK
Too Cool: Congratulations.
Musical Goddess: giv me twenty min im on my way
Musical Goddess: Al too
Musical Goddess: we are celebrating the shit out of this
Bitchboi: OMW
Too Cool: I have some free time this evening. I will come over as well if that is alright?
Perfect Angel: Come on over

She grins to herself as her phone falls silent finally.

Tikki shakes her head fondly, “So much energy.” She sighs

Marinette giggles, pulling out her sketchbook to look at her new design again. “I’m really doing this Tikki…”

“You are. And you’ll have your friends here to support you ever step of the way.”

Marinette grins, thinking of what her future holds for her. She can’t wait.

Chapter Text

Marinette yawns around her sandwich, blinking rapidly to rouse herself. She’d been up late last night with yet another akuma battle that had lasted well into early morning. She’s exhausted and she’s definitely behind on her homework, but luckily her friends are pretty great.

Today they’re all eating lunch in the courtyard- minus Kagami because she’s out of town for a fencing tournament. Beside her, Alan is multitasking shoving as many fries as humanly possible into his mouth with reviewing her history essay that’s due tomorrow. Across the table Allegra is copying over her notes from their morning classes to make up for Marinette’s truly abysmal notes she’d managed to take in between sudden naps. And Claude is fussing over them as they eat, trying to forcibly spoon some of his pudding into Allegra’s mouth and constantly moving Marinette’s water bottle farther and farther away from the edge of the table.

And that is the precise moment shouting starts up in the cafeteria, along with the sound of a lunch tray clattering to the ground.

Allegra groans, dropping her pen, “Why me?” but she stands, straightening her blazer as she starts towards the lunch room doors to deal with whatever issue has arisen.

Before she can even get halfway however the cafeteria doors burst open, Carter barreling through looking furious, scrubbing at his face with his sleeve. Elias is hot on his heels, scowling.

“Shut up!” Carter screams over his shoulder, “You’re the worst friend I’ve ever had!”

Elias grabs him harshly by the arm, stopping him from storming off, “I’m the only friend you’ve ever had stupid!” he yells back

Allegra practically flies across the courtyard, jumping between them, a hand on each of their chests, “Both of you knock it off!” Carter snarls, fists clenching. Allegra sighs, turning back towards the three of them “Alan go get a teacher.”

Alan jumps up and sprints upstairs towards the teacher’s lounge.

Allegra turns back to the boys beside her, putting on her most winning smile, “Why don’t we all take a deep, calming breath, and we can talk this out.”

“Talk what out?” Carter hisses, “He’s just an asshole.”

Elias scoffs, “Oh I’m an asshole? You’re just a jealous baby.”

Carter is shaking with his anger now, fists clenched tight at his stands, “I had every freaking right to be jealous! I worked my ass of for that position that you said you didn’t want!”

Elias rolls his eyes, “Whatever. You only wanted it to impress Marinette.” He turns his head, spotting said girl standing next to Claude. He smirks, mean, down at Carter, and raises his voice even more, “You know, since you have such a stupid crush on her?”

Carter lets out a little breath of air, deflating instantly, shoulders rising defensively.

“Elias knock it off.” Allegra hisses, eyes wide.

Elias just glares, “Why? Everyone knows. Carter likes Marinette. Which is stupid because she’s so cool and he’s not. She’s way out of your league, that’s why she has that cool boyfriend now, remember? Why would she ever be into you?”

The courtyard falls silent as Carter turns slowly to see Marinette sitting behind him, his face quickly flushing red as the tears begin to fall.

Too late Marinette notices the little purple butterfly floating down, and stands up just as it melts into Carter’s glasses.

She takes an aborted step forward, Claude gripping her wrist tight suddenly to hold her back. Carter’s face turns in a sneer, “Of course Hawkmoth.” He growls, and purple smoke envelops him completely.

Allegra shoves Elias back, the two of them sprinting for cover as the akuma form of Carter emerges.

He stands tall, no longer slouched, wearing a sleek pink and purple tuxedo, a black domino mask over his eyes. His skin has paled to an unhealthy color, his eyes pure white, his hair darkened black. He wields a purple cane with a little pink heart gem on top and he smirks as he hefts it up, spinning gracefully to survey the room.

“Hello.” He calls in Carter’s voice, sickly sweet, “I am Dream Snatcher. And from now on, your only dream is to serve me!”

He turns his staff to point at Elias, cowering at the edge of the courtyard. Once struck Elias lets out a screech as his whole body turns pink, eyes glowing white like Dream Snatcher’s, and he bows deeply, “How can I serve you?” he asks, voice cold and empty.

Dream Snatcher laughs, looking around the room as he starts zapping the fleeing students, turning roughly a dozen into his loyal servants. “Bring me Ladybug and Cat Noir.” He demands, “Do whatever you must to gain their attention.”

His lackeys start sprinting for the front doors to do his bidding. Dream Snatcher turns around slowly, looking for more students to turn when his eyes alight on Marinette and Claude, still standing by their table. His eyes widen and a smile pulls across his face.

“Marinette! Just the girl I wanted to see.” He raises his cane, pointing it straight at her, “Now you’ll love me.”

Claude tackles her to the ground as Dream Snatcher fires, narrowly avoiding the blast.

“Let’s go” he hisses, pushing her to her feet and taking her hand, pulling her towards the front door.

“Stop!” Dream Snatcher orders, transforming several more lackeys nearby, “Grab her!” he orders, and three hurry their direction.

He aims his cane again, then lets out a yelp of pain as a lunch tray collides with the back of his head.

“Back off!” Allegra shouts, wielding two more trays. She throws one directly at the akuma’s face which he just barely manages to avoid. Allegra sprints for cover, joining Marinette and Claude by the stairs, “Run Mari!” she urges, looking around the edge of the stairs to where Dream Snatcher is transforming more people.

Claude grins at her, picking up an abandoned bookbag and testing its weight, “We’ll slow him down. Just go!”

Then the two of them sprint out into the open, yelling battle cries and throwing things at the akuma.

Marinette sprints up the stairs with the distraction, hoping to get to the janitor’s closet to transform before her stupid, wonderful friends get themselves hurt.

Suddenly something grabs her leg and she screams, looking down at one of the hypnotized lackeys holding fast to her ankle, smiling sweetly up at her, “The Master has requested you.” He says.

“Let her go!” Alan appears out of nowhere, kicking her attacker in the face and scooping her up bridal style, turning and booking it down the hall to the first empty classroom he can find. He sets her down carefully, looking her up and down, “Ok, you stay here. I’ll try and draw them away from you.”

She puts her hand on his shoulder to stop him, eyes wide “Why are you doing this?” she asks

He grins, “You’re our friend Nette. We’re not gonna let anything hurt you.” Then he takes off down the hall, shouting for ‘Marinette’ to keep up with him. The pursuing lackeys chase after him, going right past her hiding spot.

Tikki zips out of her pocket, eyes wide, “Your friends won’t be able to hold them for long.”

Marinette nods, “Then we better not keep them waiting. Tikki, spots on!”

As soon as she’s transformed she hurries back out to the courtyard, looking around quickly and very nearly laughing out loud.

Dream Snatcher is still there, obviously struggling under the combined chaos of Allegra, Claude, and Cat Noir.

The hero is doing most of the attacking of course but the two civilians are doing their very best to distract the akuma.

“Come on ugly you hit like a wimp!” Claude shouts, dancing out of the way of the monster’s fist.

Cat Noir takes the opportunity to use his staff on the akuma’s exposed back, smacking him across the room and into the waiting lunch tray Allegra is holding up.

“Oof, that one looked like it hurt.” She grins, all teeth

Dream Snatcher snarls, diving at her, only for Cat Noir to scoop her up and deposit her safely out of the way. “Easy you two. I think our first time akuma is having some performance issues.”

Ladybug drops to the bottom of the stairs, using all her willpower to smother her laughter, “Seems you’ve found some new friends Cat.”

The three of them all turn to her, “Ladybug!” they chorus.

Allegra runs up to her, taking her hands, “Please Ladybug, he’s after one of our friends, Marinette. You have to protect her.”

Cat Noir’s eyes narrow, turning towards the stairs like he intends to go search, but Ladybug stops him with a hand on his shoulder. “Marinette is safe for now. And we’ll take it from here. You two get somewhere safe.”

Claude frowns, “No offense Ladybug but I think we’re gonna help. This guys is after our friend, we’re not gonna just sit here.”

Dream Snatcher screams in rage, turning their direction finally, now surrounded by the full force of his little army.

Ladybug pushes both Claude and Allegra towards the stairs, “Go!”

They frown at her before nodding, and sprint upstairs out of sight.

Ladybug turns her attention to the akuma, readying her yo-yo, “Ready Kitty?”

He grins, “After you M’Lady.”

And they charge into battle.

++

After the battle with Dream Snatcher has ended- after Carter and Elias hugged each other crying and apologizing to each other and her friends held her tight to make sure she was ok- Marinette finds herself going back to Master Fu’s.

The old man welcomes her with a smile, pouring her a cup of freshly made tea, “I assume you have found someone to join in the battle against Hawkmoth.”

She frowns into her cup, biting at her lip, “I think so but… it’s complicated.”

Fu takes a long, slow sip, “Explain it to me then.”

She sighs, “The new friends I’ve made, their names are Alan, Claude, and Allegra. They’re… They’re very kind and loyal. And today they showed tremendous bravery. They took on an akuma and his lackeys in order to protect my civilian identity. They refused to leave the fight even when Ladybug showed up….”

She remembers Allegra throwing textbooks down on Dream Snatcher from the balcony, Claude and Alan sprinting around the courtyard to distract the lackeys so she and Cat could focus on the akuma. The way they’d refused to let her go when they’d found her again, so happy she was safe.

“I truly believe any one of them would be an incredible hero but… I don’t which one to pick, or even what miraculous I would give them.”

Fu hums, staring at Wayzz, the little kwami nodding slowly.

The old man nods, “I believe I have just the thing.” He stands slowly, hobbling over to the closet and coming back with a small, rectangular wooden box. He lays it on the table between them as he sits, and gestures for her to open it.

Inside are three simple silver metal bracelets, innocuous and simple looking. But then again, most miraculous are.

“These are the Miraculous of Man.” He tells her, reverently tracing the silver edge of the middle most bracelet.

Marinette stares at them wide-eyed, “I didn’t know there were any other miraculous outside the Miracle Box.”

He chuckles, “There are no others like the Miracle Box. Those pieces are one of a kind, Miraculous and the kwami that inhabit them encompass truths and ideas of the universe, such as creation and destruction. They grant the wearer great power but that power is the same for all users. These three were made not with the help of the gods but by one, hopeful man. His goal had been to copy the power of the miraculous and become a god himself. But in the end, his experiments proved fatal. He perished and these are all that remains. The miraculous of the mind, body and soul. Each one grants incredible power and is custom tailored to the wearer, no two holders will have the same power.”

Marinette nods slowly, considering, “What would happen if one person were to wear all three?” she asks

Fu shakes his head, “The same fate that befell the first. They are too unstable to be combined. They can only reach their full potential when three heroes work together for a common goal.” He smiles softly, “And if these three friends of yours are as good as you say, then I believe it only fitting that they take them.”

He pushes the box across the table to her, closing the lid softly. She takes it into her arms, smiling.

“We can trust them Master. I know we can.”

He nods, “I will help you with this Marinette. For the three of them to be as powerful as we need them to be they must be prepared and know how to use their powers. You will bring them to me and I will tell them what they must know.”

She frowns, eyebrows furrowing, “At the same time? What about their secret identities?”

The old man shakes his head, “They require an intimate relationship with eachother and secrets will inhibit that. They must know each other.”

She nods slowly, lips pursing, “Alright. I’ll bring them tomorrow night.”

She stands, leaving the box on the table for now.

Master Fu chuckles, smiling up at her, “Go home now Marinette. Sleep. The rest we will handle tomorrow.

She does not go home immediately. First she calls Cat Noir.

“Hey Bugabbo, what’s new?”

She rolls her eyes as he snickers over the communicator. “Just a heads up Kitty, starting tomorrow we’ll be having company.”

He gives her an exaggerated whine, “Aww, so long our peaceful days.” Then he laughs, “Sounds great LB, you in for one last race, while its still just the two of us?” she can practically hear his eyebrows waggling.

She huffs a laugh, “Sorry Kitty, but I’ve got some work to do tonight.”

He sighs dramatically before hanging up.

She hurries on her way, to her last stop before she can fall into bed and sleep off this day.

She has been to Allegra and Alan’s apartment complex many times in the last month. They live in the two next door units on the top floor, their bedroom windows side-by-side, sharing a fire escape. Apparently they’d been climbing up to the roof together since they were seven to play. Right now the both of them are in Allegra’s bedroom, as is Claude, all three of them lounging on the floor doing homework.

Claude had pouted when she’d said she couldn’t come over after school. Allegra had almost cried, still so worried about her after the attack. Alan had threatened to drag her over.

She knocks on the window, carefully perched on the fire escape, and has to bite her lip to keep from laughing at the wide-eyed, wonderous looks they all shoot at her. And then they all tackle each other to the be the first to open the window, kicking and clawing at clothes to pull their opponents down to the floor.

“Ladybug!” Alan grins, standing on top of Claude’s back to keep him down.

Allegra jumps off the floor and body slams him out of the way, holding out her hand to help the heroine inside, “Please come in!” she urges.

Claude sits up and grumbles, rubbing at his back.

Ladybug smiles, standing before the three of them as they assemble in a line across from her, all anxious and a little awe-struck. It’s one thing to see Ladybug in battle, it’s entirely another for her to come to someone’s house.
“Allegra, Claude, Alan, I need a favor from you three.”

They all stand at attention, faces suddenly serious.

“Anything Ladybug!” Allegra assures. The boys nod.

“I can’t tell you everything yet, but I need to know that I can trust you.” They all nod, “Good. Then tomorrow at five pm I need you to meet me at this address.” She hands the slip of paper she’d prepared to Claude, who holds it carefully. “You’re not allowed to tell anyone where you are going or why. Can I count on you?”

Alan nods rapidly, “Of course!”

Allegra puffs out her chest, “We won’t let you down!”

Claude grins, “We’ll do our best.”

She offers them one last smile before leaving the way she came, swinging across the city and back to her bedroom. Finally she drops her transformation and drops onto her bed, falling instantly asleep.

Tomorrow, things will change.

++

To their credit, the three of them don’t say anything about their late night visit from Ladybug or her strange request. They do, however, act awful suspicious the whole day long.

Alan is incredibly nervous, tapping his foot and casting shifty eyes all around. He honest to god squeaks when Marinette asks to come over to his place after school.

Allegra is just barely holding it together, smiles too wide and tight on her face, giggling just the littlest bit hysterically at her request.

Claude is the only one with any calm, smiling winningly and telling her ‘regretfully’ that the three of them have a prior obligation that would probably bore her to death.

She presses them all through the day to see if they’ll crack but they hold firm, and give away nothing.

She’s very proud.

She leaves them as soon as the bell rings and heads to pick up Master Fu and the miraculous. The old man has transformed into the Jade Turtle, smiling warmly at her and holding the box protectively as she carries him to their meeting place. Her friends haven’t arrived yet, so the two settle in and wait.

She hears them long before she sees them, whispering to each other alongside their shuffling steps.

They’re huddled together when they enter the warehouse she has chosen, looking around fearfully before they finally spot her, hurrying their steps to meet up with the heroine.

“Ladybug!” Alan smiles, looking much more at ease now that he sees her, less like he’s worried about getting mugged.

She smiles back, looking each of them over carefully.

Yes, they will do just fine.

“Alan Montgomery.” He stares at her, eyes wide, looking afraid and excited all at once.

“Claude Jean-Paul.” He smiles, hands shaking the tiniest bit as he offers a little two-fingered salute.

“Allegra Cassidy.” Her spine straightens, eyes wide.

“You three have shown me that you are brave and loyal, and I must ask for your help now, in the battle against Hawkmoth.”

Jade Turtle steps up beside her and their eyes snap to him as he opens the box to display the three silver bands.

Alan’s mouth drops open, Allegra scarcely seems to be breathing, and Claude’s eyes are so wide she thinks they may pop out of his skull.

“Will you three take up the Miraculous and fight by my side?”

Claude recovers first, shaking his head to clear it and elbowing the two on either side of him so harshly Allegra nearly crashes to the floor. “Hell yeah!”

Allegra nods quickly, “We’d be honored!”

Alan just nods, mouth still gaping open.

Ladybug valiantly fights the smile from overtaking her face, but ends up grinning anyways, taking the first silver band from the box and holding it carefully.

“Claude.” She starts, and the boy steps forward, smile shaky, as she carefully attaches it to his right wrist, “You are loyal and quick-witted. Your instincts are impressive and you’re smarter than you give yourself credit for. I give you the Miraculous of the Mind.”

He stares at it, eyes wide, “Uh… what do I do with it?” he asks

Jade Turtle smiles, “You must summon the power of your miraculous, however you see fit to do so.”

Claude nods, still staring at the jewelry. Finally he takes a deep breath, bringing his right arm up over his chest so that the miraculous is over his heart, legs spread in a battle stance, “By the Power of the Mind, transform me!” he invokes, and in a bright flash of blue light, Claude’s transformation overtakes him.

When the light fades he is standing before them in a blue and white spandex suit, a blue domino mask set over his face. He holds up his arms and looks himself over, the miraculous has turned the same color blue as his suit.
Behind him, Allegra facepalms, “You just did the Power Ranger thing you absolute dweeb.” She groans.

Alan snickers.

Ladybug smiles as Jade Turtle stares the new hero down, “Your powers will come from the mind. Previous wielders had abilities ranging from telekinesis to mind control. Try what feels natural.”

Claude looks around, eyes narrowed as he stares down different objects. “I don’t think I can move things.” He says after a long moment of silent staring.

Alan rolls his eyes, “Doing great Claude.”

Claude turns to glare at him, nose scrunching up as he swats his hand at Alan.

Only to freeze as Alan lets out an ‘oof’ of pain and falls to the floor. Claude stares at his hands, eyes wide.

“Look!” Allegra gasps, pointing to Claude’s shadow, which is holding a comically large fly swatter that the real Claude is not.

“Holy shit….” He gasps, bouncing excitedly in place.

Jade Turtle smiles, “You can create things with your actions. What you wish to happen will happen.”

Claude nods slowly, and turns to Allegra, smile turning sharp as he mimes a lasso over his head.

She narrows her eyes at him, “Don’t you dare.”

He just grins and throws, his shadow showing a long length of rope reaching out and winding around Allegra, her arms pulling in to her chest as the lasso pulls taut, trapping her as Claude slowly reels her in. He lets out a whoop of joy, “I’m a mime!”

Alan finally gets up off the floor and smirks, “Always knew you were a clown.”

Claude glares, “Keep talking and I’ll put you in a box.”

Ladybug chuckles, drawing their attention, “Well, now you’ll need a name for yourself.”

Claude purses his lips in thought, hands dropping to his sides and the invisible rope around Allegra dissolving as if it were never there.

“Mime… Mime… Kid Mime?” he asks, looking back to his friends. They both shrug. He nods, “Kid Mime, at your service Ladybug.”

She nods, smiling warmly, “Welcome to the team.” She turns to grab the second miraculous, “Alan.”

Kid Mime steps back to stand by Allegra as Alan steps forward, sweating profusely and looking a little like he might pass out. “Ready!” he squeaks, standing before the heroine.

Her smile softens as she gives him the bracelet, “Alan, you are kind-hearted and protective of your friends. Your skills on the field are impressive and are only growing. I give you the Miraculous of the Body.” She steps away as he finishes clasping it to his wrist.

Alan stares at it before glancing over his shoulder with a shaky smile, “Better keep with the theme.” He jokes, raising his arm over his chest, “By the Power of the Mind, transform me!”

A bright white light flashes and then fades, leaving Alan standing before them not looking entirely human.

“Holy shit…” Allegra echoes Claude, mouth dropping open.

Kid Mime just stares.

Alan’s skin has turned purple, head to toe, save for the glowing white stripes and swirls that shift and move over his body. The top of his head is the same blinding white color, almost mimicking the pattern of his hair. The strangest thing is his eyes, almost inverted now, the whites gone black, the iris a bright lilac color and the pupil a stark white. He looks quite a bit like an alien. The bracelet on his wrist is the only thing that stands out against him, but is almost easily overlooked by the brightness. Looking at him too long hurts the eyes.

Alan looks down at his own hands and yelps, jumping back, onto to suddenly be on the other side of the room with a whoosh of air. He grins, “I have super speed!” he yells, bolting a quick lap around the room in the time it takes them all to blink.

“I have super speed!” he says again, appearing back in his original space, bouncing eagerly on the balls of his feet.

Jade Turtle shakes his head, chuckling, “And I am willing to be some added strength as well.”

Alan turns instantly and grabs Kid Mime, easily lifting the boy over his head as if he weighted nothing. He lets out a cheer, “This is the best day ever!”

Kid Mime tries and fails to wriggle his way out of Alan’s hold before grinning, bringing one hand to his lips and blowing dramatically. His shadow raises a giant balloon over his head and Kid Mime lifts up into the air delicately, swaying softly in the breeze as he lowers himself back down the floor.

Alan glares at him, “No one like a show off.”

Jade Turtle coughs, Ladybug turns to stare at the old man as he tries desperately not to laugh. “Very good children.” He manages after a moment, “You will need a name as well.”

Alan taps his foot rapidly, before lighting up, snapping his fingers as an idea hits him, “Mercury! You know, like Quicksilver.”

Allegra groans, “Such a nerd.”

Kid Mime gives him a thumbs up.

Ladybug takes the final bracelet and Allegra smiles nervously as she steps forward, both boys patting her encouragingly on the back.

“Allegra, you are stubborn and determined to take care of your own, and you have a passion for what you do. I give you the Miraculous of the Soul.” She slides it carefully onto the blonde’s wrist and steps back.

Allegra takes a deep, steadying breath, “I guess we’re committing to this then.” She raises her wrist up over her heart, “By the Power of the Soul, transform me!”

A shimmering golden light winds around her body and then vanishes, her transformation done. Allegra’s suit is a creamy off-white color, black swirls in an almost musical note pattern curving up her chest and along her wrists. Her mask is the same off-white, with the black swirls jutting out of the corners of her eyes almost like elaborate eyeliner. Her golden braid has loosened considerably, no longer tied tight behind her and instead left in a messy mass over one shoulder. A golden sash is tied around her waist, to which a small golden flute is attached. Her bracelet has also turned golden.

Allegra studies herself carefully before taking the flute off her hip, holding it reverently as she brings it to her lips.

She plays a quick little tune, cheerful and fast-paced, and from the end of the instrument the notes appear in a rainbow of colors, swaying in the air before her.

Allegra stops playing, staring transfixed at the notes hovering around her.

The Jade Turtle inclines his head towards them, “Go on.” He urges.

The first note she had played has settled near the floor and she takes a deep breath before jumping up and landing atop it, running quickly across the notes that move to meet her like stepping stones. The tune she had played before echoes back as her feet touch each note, replaying the melody as she laughs, ascending higher and higher into the room. Just as she is about to run out of notes she pulls her flute back out and continues playing, more notes appearing and flying around her, their notes playing out of order as she jumps at random, creating a chaotic cacophony of noise.

Kid Mime rolls his eyes, cupping his hand around his mouth to shout up, “And you guys called me a show off!”

Allegra turns quickly mid-air, wielding her flute like a baseball bat as she swats one of her notes out of the air and towards her friend.

Mercury grabs Kid Mime and speeds him out of the way, the musical note crashing to the floor with a burst of noise and light.

Allegra descends gracefully to the floor, grinning as she affixes her flute to her hip, “Call me Melodie.” She says, hands on her hips.

Ladybug beams, nodding, “Alright.”

Jade Turtle’s smile is wide and proud, “I have a feeling you three will do well as heroes. You will need to depend on each other and trust one another. Your duty from now on is to protect Paris and to keep Hawkmoth from gaining possession of the ladybug and black cat miraculous.”

The three of them nod, “We’ll do our best.” Mercury assures the old man.

Ladybug smiles, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder, “I have faith in them Master. Together, the five of us will finally bring an end to Hawkmoth’s reign of terror.”

Jade Turtle nods, “I believe you Ladybug. Good luck, all of you.”

Then the old man turns, holding the now empty box close to his chest as he slowly leaves the warehouse.

Ladybug turns back to them, “Alright you three, I know you’re excited about being superheroes but remember, your number one priority is to keep your identities a secret. No one else can know, not your friends, not your family, not even Cat Noir. I’m trusting you all with this, so please don’t let me down.”

Melodie nods seriously, “We won’t Ladybug. We swear.”

Her smile softens, “I know. For now, we need to get to work training your abilities. The more we know and understand them the better we’ll able to utilize them in battle. Now come on, I’ve promised Cat we’d meet him at the top of the Eiffel Tower.”

“This is gonna be awesome!” Mercury squeals, and then turns and is gone in a flash.

“Cheater!” Kid Mime calls, even though the boy can no longer hear him.

Melodie smirks, “Keep up Kid.” And then she starts playing her flute, the notes appearing as steps before her, and she runs up them and out of the warehouse.

Kid Mime groans, starting up a flight of invisible stairs, “Why do I get the feeling I’m about to lose a lot of races.”

Ladybug chuckles, tossing her yo-yo for the nearest roof, “That’s because you will. Now hurry.”

Then she takes off for the tower, her new teammate’s groan echoing behind her.

++

Ladybug and Melodie reach the tower around the same time, Ladybug a half second ahead of her. Mercury is already waiting, talking excitedly to Cat Noir.

“My Lady!” her partner grins, and then notices Melodie. He smirks, offering her one of his dramatic bows, “And a new mademoiselle. How do you do?”

Melodie scoffs, “Sorry Cat, you’re pretty and all but my interests lie firmly on the other side of the fence.”

Cat Noir just winks, “As long as you don’t steal my Lady’s heart from me.”

Ladybug rolls her eyes. She definitely didn’t take enough time to consider how her friends’ and Cat Noir’s sense of humor would drive her crazy.

“HELP ME!” Kid Mime yells, scrabbling slowly up the side of the tower.

Mercury zips down and grabs him, settling him down on the top. “What took so long Kid?”

Kid Mime groans, “Apparently, talking about what I’m doing ruins the illusion. My staircase fell out from under me.”

Melodie snickers. “Maybe it’s a sign that you should finally shut that big mouth of yours.”

Cat Noir cackles, “I like you guys.”

Ladybug shakes her head, “Cat, this is Mercury, Melodie, and Kid Mime. They’ll be helping us out from now on.”

Cat Noir grins, “Awesome.”

Mercury bounces excitedly in place, “This is so cool!”

He freezes when the distant sound of an explosion echoes through the night, all of them turning as one to see a massive akuma stalking through the streets.

Melodie grins, readying her flute, “Are we gonna go be superheroes or not?”

Ladybug smiles, “Let’s do this.”

And she jumps into battle, Cat Noir at her side, and her brand new team at her back. They’ll be unstoppable.

Chapter Text

“Marinette! Have I told you lately just how much I adore you!” Jagged’s enthusiastically loud voice precedes his entrance into the room Marinette is using to work on his suit.

Jagged had insisted upon setting up a space for her in his suite to work, buying a brand new sewing machine and fabrics- most of which she did not need for this project but which he was letting her take home- and anything else she might need.

He’d also been trying to get her to call him ‘Uncle Jagged’ for the last few days to little success.

Marinette smiles, standing from her workstation so the Rockstar can wrap her up in a hug, giggling a little as he presses a noisy kiss to the top of her head.

“You are a star Marinette! Isn’t she a star Penny?” he shouts over his shoulder, to his assistant who only offers an exhausted thumbs up from the other room, “I mean, this jacket! Absolutely flawless!”

He does a little spin, showing off the Cat Noir inspired leather jacket she’d made over the week that she may or may not have used Jagged’ measurements for.

“I’m glad you like it. My counselor wants me to start a website, maybe start taking commissions. I was thinking about adding that one to the list, maybe doing a whole Ladybug and Cat Noir themed thing.”

Jagged gasps, slapping his hands to his face, “That’s rockin’ Marinette! I’ll take one of each! For me and Penny both!”

Marinette giggles, cheeks flushing with pride at the man’s enthusiasm. “We’ll see what I come up with.”

Penny comes into the room and drops onto the couch with a sigh, tossing her earpiece onto the coffee table, “I think I’m going to kill Bob.” She sighs

Jagged cackles, “Please do love. The old bastard’s driving me up the wall.” He turns to Marinette, face pulled into a look of absolute disgust, “He wants me to change my sound! Me! I’m Jagged Fucking Stone! My sound is iconic!”

Marinette shakes her head, biting her lip to keep from cackling, “I love your sound.” She assures.

Jagged nods, taking her by the hand and dragging her over to the couch, pushing her into the seat beside Penny before going to sprawl across the loveseat. And he does sprawl, legs spread wide and body slouched, looking far too relaxed.

Marinette pats Penny on the shoulder in comfort, “Deep breaths Penny.” She reminds, and the woman sighs again, rubbing the bridge of her nose.

Jagged sits up suddenly, leaning forward, “Oh yeah Marinette, Penny mentioned you going to a new school now? What’s all that about?”

Marinette shoots Penny a betrayed look, but Penny only narrows her eyes at her and nods her head towards Jagged.

‘Tell him’ the look says, but Marinette purses her lips and turns back to the man.

“I’m going to Rose River Academy.” She says with her brightest smile, the one she uses to distract Alan and Kagami from the fact that she hadn’t slept in two days because she was up late working on designs, “It’s an amazing school, really caters to each individual student’s needs. I’m getting a major boost in my design career because of it. I’ve wanted to attend for years actually, I almost went there instead of Dupont but it was farther away and my parents needed my help in the bakery after school so, I didn’t go. But now they have a new part-timer and because of all your help in kick-starting my career I decided to go for it.”

Penny elbows her gently and Marinette shoots her a glare.

Jagged looks between the two of them, blinking in surprise, “Why do I get the feeling there’s more to it than that?”

Marinette bites her lip, determined to keep quiet. But under the combined stares of Penny and Jagged she sighs, shoulders slumping, and looks down at her hands, wringing them nervously in her lap.

“I was bullied out of my old school.” She admits at last, not daring to look up.

“What?” Jagged’s voice has dropped into nearly a growl, a level of anger she has never heard before from the usually light-hearted, laid-back man. She looks up in surprise, watching as Jagged takes a series of deep, calming breaths, fists clenched on the arms of his chair.

Penny huffs, shaking her head, “Easy Jagged.” She reminds, voice soft despite the anger in her eyes.

Jagged growls- actually growls, “Easy? Easy! Marinette you are the most rockin, amazing young girl I’ve ever met! You’re so nice and talented and wonderful and you’re telling me you’ve been bullied! By some snot nosed, useless, blind as shit no good-“ he continues ranting, jumping up from his seat to pace angrily around the room, yelling insults about her former classmates.

Penny sighs, turning in her seat to face Marinette, “Jagged was bullied when he was your age Marinette. He doesn’t take things like this lightly. Give him a minute to get this out of his system and then he’ll have some actual advice for you.”

It does take a minute. A long minute with Jagged’s expletives getting longer, louder, and more creative as he goes.

Marinette shrinks a little, wondering if the floor will swallow her whole. She definitely didn’t mean for all this to happen. “It isn’t a big deal Jagged. It’s just this girl who lies about everything. And yeah it hurt but I’m over it now. It’s in the past. I’m happy. I’ve got some great friends, a great boyfriend, an awesome job working with you. Really, it doesn’t matter.”

Jagged stops dead in his tracks, staring at her with wide eyes. Finally he drops down on the couch, squishing Marinette between himself and Penny, taking the girl’s hands in both of his, squeezing tight.

“Hey, listen to me, I know it’s easy to pretend it’s not a big deal. Believe me, I do. But I also know that these things leave scars. Have you talked to your old friends since then?”

She looks down at her hands, mouth twisting in a frown. She can hardly bare to think about them still.

“See?” he asks, cupping her face gently with one hand and tipping it back up so she’s looking at him, “Even if you’re happy, even if you have everything you ever wanted, there’s still this little pit inside of you, isn’t there? It’s angry and sad and hurt and awful and it won’t go away, no matter how much you try. And I’m not saying you need to forgive those jerks, I still haven’t forgiven the kids that nearly made me give up on my dreams, but you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen. People don’t heal like that. You need to open up, let yourself hurt, let yourself be angry and sad. Let yourself talk to someone. And when you’re ready, when it no longer hurts to look at them or think about them, then you’ll heal.”

Marinette wipes at her eyes, choking on a sob, “It really hurt.” She admits, shoulders shaking, “They were my best friends and… they wouldn’t even listen to me.”

Jagged wraps his arms around her, letting her sob into his chest. Penny scoots closer, bracketing Marinette between them, and holds her tight.

“Just let it out.” She sooths, voice soft, “It’s all gonna be ok.”

Marinette continues to sob, letting herself feel hurt and betrayed and miserable, lets herself feel all the things she’d been bottling up ever since it happened. Lets herself mourn the friendships she’d lost.

Jagged pets her back soothingly, “You, Marinette Dupain-Cheng, are the bravest, strongest, most talented girl I have ever met. Nothing can hold you down, I know it. But you gotta let yourself break down sometimes, it’s the only way we build ourselves back up.”

Marinette buries her face in his chest, and just cries.

++

Ladybug watches from above as the newest akuma, Clay Face, turns fleeing civilians into resilient moldable clay monsters to fight for her.

Cat Noir and Melodie crouch on either side of her, Kid Mime hovering over their shoulders as they watch the chaos unfold. They all step away from the ledge, out of sight, and turn to each other.

“Great. Hypnotizing. I’m afraid my track record isn’t too good M’Lady.” Cat Noir sighs, offering her a tired grin.

Melodie hums in thought, “I could corral them, keep them from spreading throughout the city?”

Mercury appears at her side suddenly in a whoosh of air, “Good news and bad news.” He says in a rush.

Kid Mime offers a thumbs-up with a grimace. He’d decided to stay mostly silent when transformed, trying not to risk interfering with his powers.

Mercury rocks back and forth on his heels, “Ok, so good news, I found the akuma. Bad news, its in her fist.”

They peer back over the edge of the roof to see Clay Face’s clay fist molded around something.

Ladybug curses, “The clay is too wet to try and grab it. We need to find a way to get her to drop it.”

Kid Mime hefts his arms up over one shoulder, his shadow is holding a giant mallet.

Ladybug shakes her head, “Maybe… We need to keep her from getting any more people caught up in this first. Mercury, Melodie, crowd control. Get as many people as you can away from here and block off the streets. Kid Mime, Cat Noir, we’re gonna distract her and her ‘sculptures’ while they work. See if you can find some way to get her to drop the item.”

She’s met with various nods and they disperse, Melodie and Mercury taking off for the outskirts of the battle while the rest of them dive in.

It’s only the second akuma that she and her new team have faced together. The other three are still so new and inexperienced. They haven’t really had the chance to test out their powers yet. Which is why things go to hell as quickly as they do.

Kid Mime goes down first, his mallet crashing down into the midst of the sculptures only for the clay to mold around it, grabbing tight and trapping it. Kid Mime is too focused on getting his mallet free to notice the others coming up behind him, and then he’s being absorbed in clay with a yelp.

Melodie is splitting her attention between keeping airborne and sending attacks down into the crowd, ushering the sculptures away from the fleeing public. She’s so focused on firing attacks down that she doesn’t notice there are no more musical notes at her feet, and with a scream she plummets to the earth, caught up in the wet embrace of the clay.

Cat Noir makes a dive for her, using his staff in an attempt to fling the clay off of her body as it spreads. But the clay moves up his staff and onto him, and by the time Melodie is enveloped, so is Cat Noir.

Ladybug looks around, unable to distinguish her teammates from the shapeless clay monsters.

Clay Face cackles.

“Mercury!” she calls, backing up as quickly as she can, “We need to fall back.”

In a second the hero is at her side, scooping her up in his arms and speeding out of the street and back up onto the roof.

He looks down, eyes wide, “What do we do?” he asks, voice high pitched and panicked.

She watches the akuma and the sculptures spread further out into the city, mind moving quickly, and an idea hits her, “We need firepower, to harden the clay.”

Mercury stares at her, “Can your lucky charm make a flame thrower? Cause that’d be great.”

She smiles, “I’m not sure. But I’ve got something better in mind. Stay here and keep an eye on Clay Face. Don’t engage until I get back. Call me if something happens.”

He lets out a hysterical giggle, “Something like that?” he points down to where Clay Face’s minions are merging into one another to become bigger creatures.

She sighs, “Exactly like that. Stay safe.” Then she throws out her yo-yo and rushes to Master Fu’s.

Luckily, she knows exactly what she needs, and exactly who to give it to. She grabs the miraculous from the box and speeds out just as quickly, racing over the city as the sounds of destruction get louder and closer.

She balances carefully on the windowsill and knocks loudly on the window, hoping that the room’s occupant will hear her.

A moment later Kagami Tsurugi rushes to let her in, “Ladybug!” she stares, “What’s going on?”

She steps in, holding out the black and red box, “Kagami Tsurugi, here is the Miraculous of the Dragon, which grants the power to burn whatever you must. You will use it for the greater good. Once the job is done you will return the Miraculous to me. Can I trust you?”

Kagami’s mouth opens and closes in surprise before she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. When she opens them again she smiles, shoulders going back and holding out her hand, “Of course.”

She opens the box without hesitation, not even flinching at the blinding red light that emerges and flutters around her. The dragon kwami emerges, and bows, “I am Longg, pleasure to meet you.”

Kagami nods, “And you as well. Shall we?”

The dragon grins, “To the point. I like you. All you must say is ‘Longg, fire out’.”

She grins back, sharp, “Longg, fire out!”

Her transformation washes over her in a rush of red, leaving her in a black and red patterned suit, the markings similar to scales. Her mask and fingertips are gold, and there are long black horns protruding from the top of her head. Her eyes are solid black with little red pupils, the color shifting like flames. On her hip is a long golden sword that she draws carefully, wielding it with familiarity.

Ladybug smiles at her, “What should I call you?”

Kagami stares at her sword and then at the heroine, a sharp smile overtaking her face, “Ryukogo.”

“Let’s go then Ryukogo.” And the two of them take off for the sounds of chaos.

They find Mercury a mile or two away from the Louvre, standing on top of another roof and pacing rapidly back and forth. He looks up when they land behind him, sagging in relief, “Thank God!” he sighs, “I thought she might have gotten you.”

Ladybug smiles, “It’ll take more than this to get me down. Ryukogo, the akuma is in her hand, you see it?”

They all peer over the roof to see Clay Face and her swarm attacking the museum. Her right hand is a giant ball of clay, shifting and moving with every movement, but less defined than her other hand.

Ryukogo nods, “If we heat the clay it will solidify.” She says slowly, comprehension dawning

“And then I can break it, and purify the akuma.” She confirms.

Mercury shifts nervously, “Ok… what’s the plan?”

Ladybug looks around at the sculptures, hoping to see any kind of identifying mark to single out her team. Nothing. They’re in this alone.

She takes a deep breath, “Lucky charm!” she summons, throwing her yo-yo up and wishing Tikki will give her something useful and straightforward for once. A hammer drops into her waiting hand she breathes a sigh of relief. Thank you Tikki.

“Mercury, I need you to separate Clay Face from her sculptures. Keep them back and out of the fight. I’ll distract her, draw her in, and then Ryukogo will use her power on her hand so I can break it. Everyone clear?” They both nod, “Then let’s do this. I don’t have much time now.”

The three of them leap into the fray, Mercury running as fast as possible around Clay Face, forming an almost physical barrier of wind that pushes her sculptures back, isolating the villain.

Ladybug jumps in front of her, effectively gaining her attention, and does her best to strike with her yo-yo and dodge any physical attacks for as long as she can while Mercury pushes the others back.

She jumps away, Clay Face brining her right hand forward in a punch when it finally happens.

Kagami comes bursting out of the mass of sculptures, her sword slicing through them like butter as they part before her. She leaps into the air, raising her sword above her head, “Dragon’s Breath!” she yells, her sword glowing red as fire pours off of her whole body, funneling down into the sword until the weapon is nothing but a line of flame as she brigs it down on Clay Face’s hand.

Clay Face shrieks, darting backwards as the clay all along her arm and up her front solidifies and begins to crack.

Ladybug darts forward, bringing the hammer down on Clay Face’s hand and shattering it, a little ceramic bowl falling down and crashing to the street, breaking instantly. The purple akuma flutters out, heading skywards, as Clay Face drops to the ground and reverts.

“No more evil doing for you little akuma!” She captures it quickly and purifies it, watching the now white butterfly float up towards the sky, “Bye-bye little butterfly.” She hefts the hammer into the sky next, “Miraculous Ladybug!” and the swarm instantly descends over Paris, returning everything to how it should be.

Confused civilians mill around, looking around at where they’ve found themselves as they turn back from clay monsters.

Cat Noir, Melodie, and Kid Mime rush over as Ryukogo, Ladybug, and Mercury bump fists, “Pound it.”

“I told you I have a terrible track record.” Cat Noir says, offering her a lopsided grin

Melodie frowns, “That was sucky. Sorry Ladybug. I should have been paying attention.”

Ladybug just smiles, “You guys are still learning. It’ll take time before you truly get good at this, trust me.” She turns back to the new hero, “Thank you Ryukogo, we couldn’t have done it without you.”

She nods stiffly, “Anytime Ladybug.”

Kid Mime stretches in an over exaggerated yawn.

Mercury shoves him, “You didn’t even do anything!”

Cat Noir cackles, “Mime’s right. Bed time kittens. Good night, M’Lady.” He winks, bowing dramatically, and then is off.

Ladybug shakes her head, sighing fondly, “Let’s get you home.” She says to Ryukogo, and then to her team, “Go home. We have plenty of time to train tomorrow.”

Kid Mime salutes her, and then jumps on Mercury’s back as Mercury scoops Melodie up in a princess carry and the three of them are off.

Ladybug follows Ryukogo back to her house, smiling. Things may have gone to shit today, but they figured things out.

They always would.

++

Ladybug sits on the railing of the bridge and watches Melodie leap through the sky, alternating musical notes to act as stepping stones and attacks. Her concentration is improving and her ability to multitask is getting better. She’s hardly slipped once since they started.

Melodie drops down next to her with a groan, wringing water out of her braid from when she’d slipped in earlier. “How was that?” she asks, eyes wide and hopeful.

She smiles, “Very good. I did notice you hesitate a little bit before you step sometimes. You have to have faith that you’ll have a note there.”

Melodie sighs, “I know it’s just… scary. What was it like for you the first time you used swung around?”

She chuckles, “Actually I crashed right into Cat Noir. We got tangled up for a good minute.”

Melodie laughs, kicking her legs beneath her, “No way? Really? Can I tell Kid? He’ll be so relieved to know he’s not the only one.”

Ladybug bites her lip to keep from snorting at the reminder of just how frequently their new teammate hit himself in the face or fell out of the sky.

She checks her yo-yo to see a message from Cat Noir, begging to switch with her.

Tonight they’re both trying to get the three of them better acquainted with their powers. After the disaster with Clay Face they all agreed some extra training was in order. She’d called dips on Melodie, and stuck the boys with Cat Noir.

Mercury’s powers were better suited to crowd control and rescue missions, so Cat was working to set up little obstacle courses for him to run.

Kid Mime was better with distractions and surprise attacks, so they were working on different things he could try in battle without losing the illusion.

Melodie was made for offense and distractions, and they were working on keeping her concentration split between multiple tasks.

Ladybug knew the boys would work hard but she also didn’t want to deal with Kid Mime’s punning and Mercury’s nervous energy.

She stands, stretching, “Come on, let’s go meet up with the boys.”

Melodie stands gracefully, taking a deep breath before playing her flute, creating a staircase of musical notes to follow as she starts to run. Ladybug throws her yo-yo out and follows her.

They’re maybe halfway to the Eiffel Tower when Ladybug nearly jumps out of her skin at an ear piercing shriek.

“LADYBUG!”

She turns midair towards the noise, finding Chloe Bourgeois standing on the rooftop of the Grand Paris Hotel, waving frantically to get the heroine’s attention.

Ladybug considers ignoring it, but then she remembers Chloe’s nervous concern about how she was doing, and decides to head up. Behind her, Melodie’s notes quickly rearrange to follow.

Chloe throws her arms out with a cheer, “Oh Ladybug! I knew you’d come!” she hugs her tight, Ladybug rolling her eyes as she pats the blonde on the head.

Melodie touches down on the edge of the roof, attaching her flute to her hip and looking Chloe up and curiously.

Chloe pulls back from Ladybug, lips pursed in her signature pout, “And who are you supposed to be?” she huffs, arms crossing over her chest.

Melodie stares at Chloe for a minute, cheeks faintly pink, before she manages a smile more befitting Claude as she bows gracefully, “Just a humble musician, Your Majesty.”

Chloe’s face turns red as she hurriedly turns away from her and back to Ladybug, “So, you’ve got new heroes now huh? Haven’t seen any news coverage yet. Finally above that whole Ladyblog garbage?”

Ladybug frowns disapprovingly, “Chloe, don’t be rude. Melodie and her team are still new to the scene. And as for the Ladyblog…. Well, I’m sure she’ll get her scoop eventually.”

Chloe’s eyes widen and her smile turns sharp, “So what you’re saying is that Cessaire hasn’t gotten to you yet? This is perfect, I can show that no good reporter a thing or two. Stay here!”

She turns and sprints back into her bedroom.

Ladybug turns to Melodie, eyebrow raised, “What’s going on?” she whispers.

Melodie just shrugs, “No idea Bug. Let’s just go with it.”

Chloe returns a moment later with a tripod, her laptop, and freshly applied makeup. She sets up her equipment, maneuvering two pool chairs into frame and gesturing for Ladybug to take a seat, “Pretty please Ladybug!” she begs when the heroine doesn’t move.

Melodie nudges her with her shoulder, “You did say we needed more publicity to get the public to trust us.”

Ladybug sighs, questioning all of her life choices as she moves to sit beside Chloe.

The girl cheers again before setting her phone on the tripod and hooking it up to her latptop, setting it to record before leaning back in her seat with a grin.

“Hello Paris!” Chloe coos, “I am Chloe Bourgeois, also known as Queen Bee, here live with Paris’ beloved hero Ladybug!”

She offers small, awkward wave to the camera, which is apparently broadcasting live. “Good evening.”

Chloe crosses her legs and turns more in her seat to face Ladybug, holding up a little microphone she got from who knows where, “So, apparently you’ve got some new heroes on the scene? Care to tell us more?”

Melodie leans over the back of Ladybug’s chair and winks.

Ladybug shakes her head with a chuckle, “Yes, three new heroes have joined our permanent roster alongside myself and Cat Noir. Melodie, who you see here, and her team Kid Mime and Mercury. You’ll be seeing a lot more of them soon and I hope you all support them just as much as you support me and Cat.”

Melodie slinks out of frame and goes to lounge on one of Chloe’s pool chairs.

Chloe grins, leaning in even closer, “So, what’s the need for new heroes?

“Good question Chloe.” The girl flushes and leans back, “Hawkmoth has been upping his game consistently. Cat Noir and I have a handle on things but eventually it is going to overwhelm us, especially when our civilian lives keep us from being able to help. We’ve decided to bring in some permanent heroes so that they will be well trained and capable of handling any threat even if Cat Noir and myself are unable to appear.”

Chloe frowns, “But you have to be there Ladybug! You need to purify the akuma!”

She nods, “Yes of course. I don’t plan to just stop fighting or to not show up. This is merely in case on an emergency and I can’t make it right away. I made a promise that I would always be around to help Paris, and I don’t ever intend to break that promise. The Quantic Kids, as they call themselves, aren’t here to replace Cat and I. They’re just here to help us keep this city safe and to finally take down Hawkmoth.”

Chloe nods looking appeased, and then looks over at Melodie as a deeper frown takes over her face, “So uh, follow up questions. Why completely new heroes? Surely if you wanted a permanent addition the city could trust you’d go with someone they already knew right? Like Rena Rouge, Carapace…. Queen Bee?”

Ladybug reaches over to the take the blonde’s hand, squeezing tight, “Due to your identity being revealed we can’t allow you to have a miraculous full time, that would put you and your family in danger. But I do know that should I ever need help, Queen Bee will be there, right?”

Chloe beams, chest puffing out with pride, “Of course Ladybug! You can always count on me!”

Now her smile drops, turning to the other half of Chloe’s question.

She knew, eventually, that she’d have to explain to the public why the two of them were never coming back but….

She remembers what Jagged had said the other day.

She takes a deep breath, picking her words carefully, “Rena Rouge and Carapace…. I can’t say too much without revealing their identities so I have to be vague but…. I’ve seen some behavior from them recently and frankly, the things they’ve done have upset me very much. While I hope one day they can earn forgiveness, I know I can never again trust them to have my back in battle. So I’m afraid Rena Rouge and Carapace will never regain their miraculous.”

Chloe’s mouth drops open, eyes wide. Off camera Melodie is openly gaping.

“Holy shit…” Melodie gasps, then claps her hands over her mouth.

Ladybug sighs, focusing on Chloe, “We really should be going, we need to meet up with the others for patrol.”

She stands and Chloe jumps up with her, recovering quickly as she smiles winningly for the camera, “Of course Ladybug! Thank you so much for your time! Anyways, this has been Chloe Bourgeois with the hottest scoop on the new heroes and some bonus dirt on the old ones! Until next time Paris!” she signs off with an over-exaggerated kissy noise and then cuts off the feed.

Ladybug goes to pull Melodie to her feet, the blonde pulling out her flute and still looking wide-eyed, “I had no idea…” she says softly

“Um Ladybug?” Chloe is standing behind her looking nervous, twiddling her fingers in front of her

“Yes Chloe?”

Chloe takes a deep breath, “Ok look, if you tell anyone about this I’ll totally deny it but… there’s this girl, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.” Melodie makes a noise behind her, “She’s like, cool or whatever, and I still owe her for the thing with my mom. Anyways, she’s been handed some shit by people who were meant to be her friends and- well, it sounds like maybe you might know what that’s like? I just… I don’t think she’s in trouble of being akumatized anymore but… maybe you could stop by and give her some advice? Let her know that… it’ll all be ok?”

She won’t meet her idol’s eye, staring intently at her shoes with her lips twisted in a frown, cheeks pink with embarrassment.

Ladybug’s smile softens, warmth filling her. She never thought she’d see the day her childhood bully would be concerned for her.

She reaches out to put a warm hand on the girl’s shoulder, “I’m sure Marinette would love to know that you’re looking out for her Chloe, and I’ll be sure to stop by when I can.”

Chloe nods stiffly before turning rapidly to start cleaning up her equipment.

Ladybug goes to the edge of the roof, turning to Melodie, “You ready?”

Melodie looks to Chloe, eyes wide and looking the tiniest bit star-struck. She smiles then, giving the girl a wink, “See you around Your Majesty.” And then she joins Ladybug on the roof and they set off.

Ladybug rolls her eyes, “You need to stop spending so much time with Cat Noir.” She calls over her shoulder as they hurry over the buildings towards the Eiffel Tower.

Melodie just laughs, jumping from musical note to musical note to keep up with her.

Ladybug focuses on where she’s going, and not on what’s behind her. She lets the interview fade away, the reminder of the betrayal and the heartache, and she lets herself get lost in the beauty of Paris at nighttime.

She doesn’t realize until she’s home in bed that night, but during the interview, it didn’t hurt at all to talk about them.

Chapter Text

Alya is looking through the footage she’d gotten of the news heroes instead of doing her homework. She knows that if she doesn’t at least do half of this essay by tonight she’s gonna hate herself tomorrow but she can’t help it. The new heroes are so cool.

There’s three of them, and though they’ve been around for about a week now Alya hasn’t had the chance to get any solid footage or interviews. All she has are some blurry videos she’d managed to get as they hurried past her.

She’s going to have more soon, hopefully she can score an interview after the next akuma attack. Ladybug had been pretty distant with her lately but what with the frequency of akumas she can hardly blame the heroine for being busy. She nearly de-transformed mid battle a few weeks back because of how tough they were getting.

Alya’s not gonna lie, she’s a little jealous. She would have liked to have become a full time hero herself, and the fact that one of the newbies wields a flute is a little insulting.

But she’s not gonna judge Ladybug for her choice. She’s Ladybug after all, she knows what she’s doing.

At least tomorrow Lila promised to give her a scoop on the new heroes. Apparently Ladybug had told her about them recently and she knew a lot. Like the silent one was a mute apparently, which was so cool because having a disabled superhero is amazing. And the one people can’t see very well is a teleporter! And the flute wielder is in love with Cat Noir! Her blog is going to explode.

Her laptop beeps at her, alerting her to a sudden trending of Ladybug on social media and she hurriedly switches tabs. Usually the alert means an akuma is on the move and she needs to hurry if she wants her interview.

Instead she’s directed to a live steam from Chloe of all people. She groans but goes to watch. It’s probably another one of her stupid edited pow-wows with ‘Ladybug’. She’ll watch a second to verify and then get on with her essay.

She’s very glad she did click though when the livestream kicks in and the very real, very not-Chloe Ladybug is seen sitting next to the blond, smiling faintly. Alya hurriedly grabs her notebook and a pen and starts taking notes.

“-kmoth has been upping his game consistently.” Ladybug is saying, going on about how they’ve been struggling and why they needed to bring in more heroes.

Not for the first time Alya wonders why Ladybug didn’t just bring in her and Nino, especially if they were struggling this much.

She continues taking notes, dutifully listening to Ladybug speak and begrudgingly admitting that Chloe isn’t doing too bad a job as reporter.

She perks up when Chloe asks about her, forgetting her notes for a moment in favor of listening to her response. Why hasn’t Ladybug called her? Why? Why?

Ladybug visibly hesitates, a frown on her face as she thinks over her words.

“Rena Rouge and Carapace…. “ she starts, and looks like she might be in pain, “I can’t say too much without revealing their identities so I have to be vague but…. I’ve seen some behavior from them recently and frankly, the things they’ve done have upset me very much. While I hope one day they can earn forgiveness, I know I can never again trust them to have my back in battle. So I’m afraid Rena Rouge and Carapace will never regain their miraculous.”

Alya’s pen falls from her hand, her mouth dropping open.

She… She upset Ladybug?

She doesn’t process the rest of the video. Doesn’t process the fact that she’s been staring at a blank screen for upwards of ten minutes in shock until her phone rings.

“Did you see it?” she asks, voice shaking, because she already knows who it is.

Nino sighs on the other end, “Yeah… I saw. How you holding up?”

Alya honestly feels like she’s on the verge of tears, like her heart has been ripped into a million tiny pieces.

She upset Ladybug. The heroine no longer trusts her. She can’t ever wear her miraculous again.

“I don’t understand…” she settles for saying, “What… Nino what did we do?”

Nino is silent for a long minute. “I don’t know babe. But it’s gonna be ok. We’ll figure it out together and-and then we’ll find Ladybug and we’ll apologize. Ok?”

That sounded like a plan. A very good plan. She could do that.

“Ok… see you tomorrow.”

Nino is quiet again, “See ya.” And hangs up.

Alya doesn’t understand, she can’t wrap her head around it. But she forces herself to relax, to breathe.

She pulls her notes back towards her and pulls up the archived version of the stream and she gets to work.

++

Alya doesn’t end up falling asleep for hours, during which she re-watches the interview over and over and over again. She takes notes and annotates her notes and annotates her annotations until the paper is nothing but overlapping, jumbled multicolored ink.

She goes to school the next morning exhausted and wrung out. Still confused.

Nino is already there when she arrives, sitting on one of the benches in the courtyard and looking as tired and upset as she feels.

He offers her a small smile and pats the bench beside him. “Any luck last night?” he asks as she sits.

She shakes her head, bringing her knees up to her chest to hug as his arm wraps around her shoulders, “I don’t know what we could have done to warrant… this! I mean, maybe I haven’t been a great person all the time, like, I yelled at the twins the other day but doing something so bad that Ladybug would no longer trust me?”

Nino sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face, “I mean, yeah me too. Small stuff, nothing major like, trust destroying.” He sighs again, leaning his head back on the bench, “This sucks.”

Alya agrees, looking around the courtyard as their friends mill around. Lila is on the other side of the room surrounded by the majority of their class, laughing easily as she shares one of her stories.

She’s Ladybug’s best friend, Alya remembers. Maybe she can do something about this?

Chloe goes strutting past them, heading for the classroom, not giving Lila or the group any of her attention.

Alya glares at her back. Chloe was the worst person alive and she was still trusted with a miraculous.

“Alya! Nino!” She turns back to the front door as Adrien hurries over to them, grinning brightly as he stands before them, “Hey guys, what’s wrong?” his grin fades slightly, looking down on the pair of them.

Nino sits up straighter, forcing a smile on his face, “Nothing’s wrong dude. What’s up?”

Alya elbows him, leaning forward eagerly, “Actually Adrien, we had a question for you!”

The blond perks up, smiling again, “For me? Sure, go ahead.”

“Have we done anything recently that might make us… untrustworthy?”

Nino sends her a glare but she’s spared arguing bringing Adrien into this when the boy pales, shoulders going stiff as he looks quickly towards the stairs as if he could make an escape.

“Uh… Nope. Um- I mean, well…”

Nino turns quickly to stare wide-eyed at his best friend, “Adrien… dude, please.”

Adrien deflates like a balloon, shoulders curling inwards and arms crossing defensively, looking every bit the sad, neglected little boy he pretends not to be. It breaks Nino’s heart.

“Actually….” He starts, looking at them like he’s expecting them to start yelling, “The whole thing with Marinette…. Wasn’t cool.”

Alya bristles, chest puffing up, “Wasn’t cool? Are you kidding me Adrien? She’s been nothing but mean and petty ever since Lila showed up and you want to say we were in the wrong there?”

Adrien’s shoulders go back up, hunching in on himself, “I mean… well- if you just-“

Alya doesn’t let him finish, standing quickly and shoving her finger into the blond’s chest, “Look, I get that you don’t understand the whole social thing but you don’t get a say in this. You’ve stood up for Chloe since the beginning despite her being nothing but a bully! No wonder you’re suddenly defending Marinette.”

“Alya…” Nino hisses, standing, but Alya isn’t done.

“Did you know she pretty much stalked you? She had your fucking schedule printed out like some creeper. And I thought Chloe was bad being all clingy and mean but at least she was upfront about how awful she was. She didn’t hide around pretending to be this nice person just to stab everyone in the back!”

“Alya!” Nino snaps, grabbing Alya by the shoulder and turning her forcefully to face him, “Enough.” He says, voice harsher than she’s ever heard it. She crosses her arms and glares as Nino turns his attention back to Nino, “Adrien, I think you need to explain to us what’s going on.”

Adrien shifts uncomfortably, not meeting either of their gazes. He winces suddenly, rubbing at the spot on his chest where his pocket was. Finally he sighs.

“Marinette was telling the truth…” he finally says, voice quiet and smaller than Nino has ever heard him, “Lila really was lying about everything. She never went to Achu, she doesn’t know anyone famous. She didn’t rescue Jagged Stone’s kitten or get tinnitus. She doesn’t know Ladybug. She hates her actually because Ladybug called her out on lying about being the owner of the fox miraculous.”

Nino swallows, “You’ve known all along?” he asks, and Adrien hesitantly nods. “And you didn’t tell us because?”

Adrien’s lip wobbles, “I tried talking to her about it, but she didn’t’ want to stop, and I figured eventually everyone would realize the truth and she’d learn that way and…..At first I just thought it wasn’t really a big deal. I mean, it was just a couple lies, I didn’t think they were hurting anyone but… but then I saw what was happening to Marinette and- and I got scared. She was our everyday Ladybug and everyone turned on her so easily. I’m just… I didn’t want them to turn on me too. I didn’t want you guys to… hate me like you hate her.”

All the fight goes out of Alya at once, horror and humiliation burning in her gut.

Marinette was right?

Marinette was right and Alya had turned against her because she didn’t like what she had to say. Had shoved her aside as nothing more than a jealous, love-sick girl.

She pales, pulling her phone form her pocket and scrolling quickly through the last few months of texts between herself and Marinette. It’s pretty sparse, what with the girl having gotten a new phone, but even before she left Dupont her responses were few and far between, short answers to Alya’s accusations.

And they are accusations. Mean, cruel accusations about Marinette being jealous and mean and bullying Lila. The words stalker and bitch come up more times than she would like. They’d come up just this conversation too, and she hadn’t even thought anything was wrong with that.

Nino is staring at his hands in horror and Adrien is still staring at the floor like he’s waiting for them to start screaming at him.

A part of Alya wants to.

He knew. He knew all along that Lila was a liar, that she didn’t know Ladybug or Prince Ali or Jagged Stone. That she’d never been to Achu, that she didn’t’ have Tinnitus. He knew and he let them all believe her. He’d let her post those interviews with Lila. He’d let her hurt Marinette.

Except for the fact that he didn’t.

Adrien had been scared, she can see that. He’s so terrified of losing the only friends he’s ever had, and Alya is the cause of that. Of all of this.

She and the others turned on Marinette extremely quickly. And Marinette had warned her about Lila, had told her exactly what Adrien is telling her now, but Alya hadn’t wanted to listen.

She hadn’t fact-checked a single thing out of Lila’s mouth, just trusting her at face value instead of trusting her own best friend.

No wonder Ladybug didn’t trust her anymore. She wasn’t a reliable reporter. She wasn’t a reliable friend.

She’d turned against Marinette and made Adrien so afraid he had kept quiet about the truth.

And all because she’d wanted to sit next to her boyfriend and hear pretty stories to make herself feel cooler and more important.

Nino jumps forward and pulls Adrien into a hug, burying the blonde’s face in his shoulder as he rubs at his back, “I’m sorry.” He’s whispering, “It’s ok. I’m not mad. It’s ok.”

Alya uses the boys’ distraction to hurry to the bathroom. She feels like she’s about to throw up.

How is she ever going to be able to make up for this?

In the locker room she suddenly hears voices, Lila’s loudest of them all as she excitedly tells whoever is around her about how Rena Rouge and Carapace had never been very good heroes and how Ladybug had never liked them.

Alya feels rage course through her. At Lila, at herself. None of this ever would have happened if Lila had never come back.

She digs through her bag quickly, suddenly, searching for the ladybug phone charm Marinette had gotten her for her birthday and which she’d ripped off when Marinette had left. It’s still buried at the bottom, underneath her textbooks. She clutches it tight, listening to Lila laugh loudly just outside the door.

“Hello Backstabber, I am Hawkmoth.” The villain’s smooth voice interrupts her thoughts suddenly, all the rage and sorrow and guilt churning through her at once and drowning out everything else. “You betrayed your best friend for nothing. I shall give you the power to make it up for her, and put that liar in her place. All I ask in return is that you bring me Ladybug and Cat Noir’s miraculous.”

She snarls at her reflection in the mirror, purple butterfly mask lighting up her face, “Yes Hawkmoth.”

The mist washes over her, clouding out everything but her darkest emotions and ambitions, amplifying her anger tenfold. When it fades she stares at her reflection, skin gone a dark bloody red and wearing a black bodysuit that goes all the way down to her fingertips and toes, up to her neck. A ruby red necklace hangs around her neck, with a simple red stone in the center. Her hair’s turned black and giant red horns protrude from her forehead. In her hand she wields a black pitchfork, and her little black devil’s tail swishes behind her.

She grins. Yes, now she can get revenge on Lila for ruining everything. She can make her suffer, and she can prove to Marinette that she’s a true friend.

++

Adrien holds tightly to Nino, wishing not for the first time that he was a braver person and could have avoided this whole mess by just standing up to Lila’s lies.

Nino looks exhausted and heartbroken.

It probably really hurts, realizing he’d turned against a girl he’d known practically his entire life over nothing.

And Nino always took it so personally when Adrien was upset, always went out of his way to cheer him up. He liked to joke about his future plans of beating up Adrien’s dad and adopting Adrien into the Lahiffe family. Knowing that Adrien’s fear stems from angering his best friend probably isn’t helping.

Adrien pulls back from Nino slightly, looking over to the bench where Alya has been uncharacteristically silent.

Only Alya is gone.

Panic seizes in his gut, “Alya?” he calls out, looking around to try and spot where she went.

Nino looks around too, worried, “Shit…dude she’s not in a good place right now…”

Suddenly Lila, Rose, and Juleka all come sprinting out of the women’s locker room screaming, and the door bursts open behind them and an akuma stomps out, pitchfork raised.

“Oh Lila!” she calls, grinning with too sharp teeth.

“Alya!” Nino calls, jumping forward like he’s going to grab her.

Alya grabs him by the wrist and snarls, throwing him to the floor, “You’re just like me! A traitor!” She kicks him harshly until Nino rolls over onto his stomach and then plunges her pitchfork into his back.

Nino screams as fire consumes him, shooting out from his back and wrapping around his body until he vanishes suddnely, red light flashing and shooting into the handle of the pitchfork. Alya holds up her pitchfork, a little red light appearing on the handle

Adrien turns and sprints for the exit as Alya- Backstabber- heads up towards the classroom.

“Jeez that looks like it hurt.” Plagg grimaces as he floats out of Adrien’s pocket.

Adrien swallows nervously, “We have to stop her before she goes looking for Marinette. Plagg, claws out!” he transforms and doesn’t waste any time in rushing back into the building in search of Backstabber.

Cat Noir sprints through the building, following the sounds of screams to where Backstabber is prowling after Lila in the upstairs hallways. Her pitchfork has gained three more lights since he went to transform.

“Please!” Lila cries, shaking as she backs away, “Why are you doing this?”

Backstabber snarls, hefting her pitchfork, “You are a liar, this is all your fault! Now you have to pay!”

Lila turns and starts to run, but this is exactly what Backstabber was waiting for. She throws her pitchfork and it imbeds itself into Lila’s back. The girl screams, fire lighting around her before she disappears into the pitchfork.

Backstabber stares at her collection, grinning.

“Hey, haven’t you heard it’s not very nice to stab people in the back?” he calls, carefully making sure he’s facing the girl.

Backstabber turns to him and hisses, “Cat Noir, you will give me your miraculous.”

“I don’t think so.” He says, smirking, and with a whoosh of air Mercury is standing beside him, “I think you’ll be going down.”

Mercury scans the area quickly, “The others are on their way.” He says under his breath, “What’s the plan?”

Cat Noir keeps his eyes on Backstabber, “What we practiced. You get the civilians out of here. I don’t wanna find out what happens when she fills up all those lights.”

Mercury nods and is gone in a blink, the students in the hallways quickly disappearing one by one.

Backstabber snarls again, “You don’t understand!” she screams, and sprints at him.

They fight, exchanging blows, Cat Noir carefully deflecting her pitchfork and making sure to keep his back away from her. He stumbles at one point, and nearly falls, but a musical note crashes into his back and balances him.

“Need a hand Stray?” Melodie asks, dropping down beside him, flute poised and ready.

Ladybug drops in on his other side, “Sorry for the wait Cat.”

Behind Backstabber Kid Mime drops down from an invisible staircase, tipping an imaginary hat their direction with a wink.

Backstabber looks between them all snarling, “I have to do this!” she yells, eyes darting back and forth between both sides, “I have to make it up to her!”

Ladybug swings her yo-yo in front of her, frowning, and Cat Noir puts a hand on her shoulder to keep her back, “Careful M’Lady. If she gets you in the back it’s over.”

She nods, looking Backstabber up and down for her akumatized item. “I’m sure whatever you did will be ok.” She calls, voice soft, “Whoever you’re doing this for wouldn’t want this.”

Backstabber shakes, face scrunched up in pain, “That liar did this! I betrayed my own friend for her! For nothing! I need to show her how sorry I am!”

Ladybug steps back, yo-yo falling limp, eyes wide in horror, “Alya?” she whispers.

Backstabber screams, sprinting towards them, only to stop on her tracks when Kid Mime’s invisible rope wraps around her middle and pulls her back. The akuma snarls, spinning around and slashing at the rope with her pitchfork, sending Kid Mime falling to the ground at the release in tension.

Melodie darts forward, sprinting up into the air across her musical notes and firing down, disorienting Backstabber enough for Cat Noir to jump forward and kick the pitchfork out of her hands. Backstabber screams again, jumping at the hero, and he and Melodie being an intense wrestling match on the floor with her.

Mercury appears beside Ladybug, frowning, “You ok Bug?” he asks, and then darts forward and back, now holding the pitchfork in his hands.

Ladybug shakes her head to clear it, and tosses her yo-yo up, “Lucky Charm!” she summons, and a photo of Alya and Marinette drops into her hand.

Mercury’s eyes widen as he stares at it, “What?”

Ladybug swallows, thinking. She remembers taking this photo. It was from Alya’s birthday. They’d gone out to their favorite café after school, just the two of them. Marinette had gotten her a ladybug charm for her phone. Her eyes widen, and she looks up, scanning Backstabber up and down as she rolls about the floor trying to slash at the two heroes with her claws. The necklace she’s wearing lights up spotted.

“Mercury, I need you to get that necklace.” She says, and then rushes in, wrapping her yo-yo around Backstabber and pulling her off her teammates.

Cat Noir and Melodie jump back, Melodie’s cheek bleeding and Cat Noir’s shoulders scratched up. Kid Mime jumps forward and builds and builds a box around the girl trapping her in place. She screams, pounding her fist against invisible walls.

Kid Mime steps closer, quickly opening and closing the door on Ladybug’s command. Mercury uses the split second to dive in, grab the necklace, and dive out.

Alya drops to her knees once the necklace is broken, the akuma fluttering skywards. Ladybug purifies it and does the miraculous cure, turning to her ex-best friend as other appear in the hallway around them.

Lila and Nino, Rose, Juleka, Max.

All of them look around curiously, unsure of what happened.

Melodie and Mercury glare at Alya as they go join Kid Mime. “Wish I’d gotten in kick to the face.” Mercury mutters angrily

Alya looks up at Ladybug, eyes wide, “Ladybug! Wait!” she calls, jumping to her feet and running to the heroine. Nino joins her, wrapping one arm around her.

Ladybug looks over at her teammates, all watching her curiously. She nods at them.

Cat Noir smiles wryly, “See ya later Bugaboo.”, and then he’s gone. Mercury picks up Mime and Melodie in each arm and heads off too.

Which leaves her with Alya and Nino in the hallway, the other students having hurried away at some point- probably because of Cat.

Alya swallows, looking nervous and sad and unsure, “Ladybug…. I’m so sorry.” She says, and her voice catches, “I… I’ve been awful recently. I hurt my best friend. I… I said such awful things to her. I understand why you can’t trust me anymore and… And I’m so very sorry Ladybug.”

She looks on the verge of tears, and Nino holds her tighter, nodding, “We were being stupid.” He agrees, “We didn’t want to see the truth and now… Sorry.”

Ladybug shifts uncomfortably, and takes a deep breath, “Look, I’m glad you two have finally realized the truth but…I’m not the one you need to be apologizing to. What you did to m- to Marinette, it was awful. She needed you and you weren’t there, worse yet you hurt her.” Her voice cracks, and she has to take another deep breath, “You need to apologize to her. But… You need to know Alya, she may not be ready to see you yet. And you have to do this on her terms, not yours. Don’t apologize to her to make yourself feel better for what happened. And don’t expect her forgiveness. Things like this… they take time to heal.”

Alya nods, tears streaming down her face. Nino pulls her into his chest.

Ladybug looks away, uncomfortable and sad. She swings away, back to Rose River.

When Marinette walks into her first period she is instantly attacked in a warm hug by her three closest friends. She leans into the embrace, not sure how to feel.

She lets Allegra lead her to her seat and she stares at her hands as Claude does a dramatic reenactment of his morning while Allegra holds her hand.

She looks down at her phone when it buzzes.

Luka <3: You ok?
You: yeah?
Luka <3: Alan texted. Said you looked sad. :(

She smiles at her phone, peeking up at her friends who are carrying on their conversation.

You: Alya got akumatized.
Luka <3: she found out the truth?
You: Yeah
Luka <3: how you feeling?
You: I don’t know
You: Part of me wants to forgive her and be done with it but
You: I don’t know
Luka <3: I’ll pick you up after school
Luka <3: we’ll get ice cream. And you can kick my butt at UMS till you feel better
You: Sounds great
You: Thanks Luka
Luka <3: have a good day

She puts her phone back into her bag and sighs.

“Nette?” Claude asks, looking across the table at her, “You listening?”

She blinks, looking at their concerned faces. She smiles, and realizes that she doesn’t have to fake it. She loves her friends so much. “Not at all. What are you arguing about this time?”

Alan squawks, “This is no mere argument Marinette! This is life or death! This buffoon!” he gestures grandly at Claude, “Likes pineapple on his pizza!”

Allegra gags and Claude sticks his tongue out, “Ok, just because my flavor palate is more refined that you uncultured morons-“

Allegra shrieks, “Oh you wanna go bitchboi!”

They keep squabbling back and forth as Marinette giggles. Across the room Kagami shakes her head with a laugh.

Toulouse stands behind his desk and sighs. “Alright everyone, let’s get started. Allegra please let go of Claude’s hair and sit down. Claude please put your shoe back on. Alan…. Please don’t do that ever again. Now, we’re gonna start today with a video, so get comfy.”

He turns to the projector and Marinette smirks into her hand as the three of them grumble, and she lets herself forget about this morning for now. She has more important things to be worrying about.

++

Marinette waves goodbye to Jagged as she leaves his suite, tucking her sketchbook back into her bag as she rides the elevator down.

Her school has been letting her leave early all week to work with Jagged, and her temporary boss slash uncle is letting her take a break so she can meet up with her friends at a café for a snack. The others should just be getting out of class and they all agreed – plus Luka- to meet up down the street.

She pauses in the lobby when she finds Chloe walking through the front door, tossing her bag behind the front desk without a care with a dramatic sigh. She looks tired. She probably hasn’t really had anyone to talk to since Sabrina started hanging around Lila.

Marinette considers her options for a moment before approaching her. Chloe had been worried about her, enough to ask Ladybug to check in on her. This is the least she can do.

“Hey Chloe!” she calls, smiling genuinely at the blond.

Chloe snaps around, eyes wide, “Dupain-Cheng? Oh, uh hi.” She shifts nervously in place.

Marinette just smiles, “I wanted to say thank you. For sending Ladybug.”

Chloe flushes red, “I told her not to say it was me!” she whines

Marinette just chuckles, “Regardless, it really meant a lot. So, thank you.”

Chloe shrugs, purposefully careless, “I mean, whatever.” She coughs, looking around so as no to meet Marinette’s gaze, “So….. you’re doing good then?”

She nods, “I am. Actually…” she pauses, considering, “I was about to go get something to eat with my friends. Would you…. Like to come with me?”

Chloe’s eyes widen in surprise, head snapping around to stare at Marinette in utter shock, “You want me to come?” she asks, voice a little shrill.

Marinette nods, “I do.”

Chloe stares at her like she’ grown a second head, “But… after everything I’ve done to you?”

Marinette shrugs, “I’m not gonna like Chloe, you weren’t the nicest person. And you really hurt my feelings a lot of the time. But I’ve also seen you grow a lot the last few months, and I know deep down you can be a really great person, and I want to give you a second chance.”

Chloe’s lip wobbles and she hurriedly clears her throat, “I…” she stops, then squares her shoulders, “I don’t think I ever apologized to you before so… I’m sorry, really, about the way I treated you and the things I did. Trying to steal you design and making fun of you. I’m sorry.”

Marinette beams, pride welling up inside her, “I forgive you Chloe. So, you wanna come?”

A small, beautiful smile lights up Chloe’s face, and she nods.

++

Everyone else is already there when the two of them arrive. Marinette slides into the seat next to Luka, and Chloe pulls over another chair to squeeze on her other side.

“Everyone, this is Chloe. Chloe, this is Alan, Allegra, Claude, Kagami, and Luka.”

They all wave. Allegra has gone pink. “Hi.” She squeaks.

Chloe nods in greeting, looking strangely subdued and nervous, “Um… hello.”

Claude grins, leaning forward on the table, “So, back to my theory. I am telling you that one-hundred-percent Keanu Reeves is an immortal!”

Allegra and Alan groan. Luka chuckles, “Is this what you all talk about?” he asks, raising one eyebrow at Marinette who shrugs.

Chloe sniffs, “Hello, have you seen Jennifer Aniston? I mean, if anyone were to be immortal it would be the woman who hasn’t aged a day since Friends?”

Everyone stares at her in shock. Allegra looks a little bit like she’s about to fall out of her chair.

“Exactly!” Claude practically screams, and that starts up the debate.

Marinette laughs. Who would have thought Chloe would get along with her friends.

She looks over when Luka takes her hand and he’s smiling at her. She smiles back, feeling content, and she lets herself get swept away in the ridiculousness that is their current conversation.

Chapter Text

Claude is very aware that he isn’t the smartest guy around. His grades are frankly abysmal and if it weren’t for Allegra and Claude’s constant insistence on study sessions he probably would have been booted from Rose River his first semester.

It’s not that he isn’t smart, he knows a lot of things about a lot of stuff. He just doesn’t care to apply himself to things he doesn’t find interesting.

But he is smart in his own way. He has good instincts and intuition, and when his gut tells him something its usually right.

He has the Miraculous of the Mind, that has to count for something.

And while his intuition is almost always right, sometimes he has a hard time figuring out what its telling him.

The whole thing starts late one night at one of those study sessions. It’s at Marinette’s place, studying for their upcoming history exam. Allegra is on her way from flute practice, Alan is helping Marinette bring up the goodies her parents had made them and Kagami had gone to the bathroom.

Claude is just looking for music on Marinette’s computer, trying to pull up a playlist he likes that he knows will annoy the crap out of Allegra. And then he accidentally opens the picture album.

Logic and good-friend code dictates that he should close the tab and continue going about his own business but his curiosity wins out. He looks.

There are tons of pictures of Marinette’s old classmates, like actually hundreds of them, and he clicks one at random. It’s a photo taken in the park next door, really nicely done, almost professional, everyone standing around a bench and smiling. Everyone except Chloe at least, who is noticeably absent.

He hurriedly closes the app and gets back to finding music, feeling pretty bad about snooping.

Everything clicks early in the morning a few weeks later, on the day that Alya Cessaire, Ladyblogger, is akumatized into Backstabber.

Claude watches Ladybug during the fight, the way she hesitates, unsure. The way she looks at her Lucky Charm, which Alan will later tell them about. The way she’d stayed behind to talk to her.

Claude doesn’t put it together until later that night, until he remembers the class photo on her computer and something in his gut pulls.

He goes to his own computer and pulls up the Dupont school’s website and finds the official class photo, this one in the school courtyard. Mme. Bustier’s class smiling out at him, this time Chloe and some red head are present and a girl with purple streaks is missing.

He stares at the photo for a long time, wondering why this is important. He reads the class names and stops.

Juleka Couffaine is listed as not pictured, the girl with the purple streaks is Luka’s sister.

He googles her, its not hard, and along with a few social media posts about a band called Kitty Section he comes across Reflekta. According to the timestamp on the photo this was the day she was akumatized.

He frowns, looking over the class again, and starts putting all their names into google.

Bubbler, Princess Fragrance, Time Breaker, Dark Cupid, Gamer, Horrificator, Vanisher, Evilustrator, Lady Wifi, Antibug and Queen Wasp, even Stone Heart, the very first akuma.

All of them have been akumatized at some point, even the teacher and principal, Zombizou and Dark Owl.

That in itself wouldn’t be to unusual, tons of people had been akumatized since the start of this. Kagami was akumatized and at least five others in Rose River. Hell, he’d been akumatized himself, what felt like a lifetime ago.

But this huge concentration, every member of this singular class when the others- when he checks- only have one or two apiece….

It is too much coincidence.

He looks at the only two students out of the bunch to have never fallen victim to Hawkmoth.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste.

And suddenly it makes sense.

Marinette, strong reliable, courageous Marinette, with the world on her shoulders. Marinette who never shied away from anything yet miraculously disappeared whenever an akuma attacked.

Marinette who’d been awfully keen to hang out with them the day they’d gotten their miraculous.

It explains why Ladybug suddenly appeared in Allegra’s window, despite never having spoken to them before. Why she trusted them to become heroes at her side.

Marinette was Ladybug, and Adrien was Cat Noir.

++

Ladybug sighs as she drops down to a seat on the edge of the Eiffel Tower. Behind her Melodie and Cat Noir are competing over pick up lines and she’s getting a headache. Mercury lounges beside her, head tilted to watch the competition avidly. Kid Mime leans back against the structure, juggling what looks like- according to his shadow- a chainsaw, a bowling pin, and a chicken.

She sighs again, “You’re killing me you two.”

Cat Noir grins, unrepentant, “Perhaps we should call it a night M’Lady.”

She nods, “Yeah. It’s quiet now. If anything happens then, well, for now let’s all just go to bed.”

Mercury laughs, standing and helping her to her feet, “Sleep tight Bug.” And then goes to grab Melodie. He pauses when he gestures for Kid Mime to jump into his arms but the boy doesn’t move.

He clears his throat, arms dropping to his side, “Have a sec to chat Bug?” he asks, voice soft

Everyone blinks. It’s been a while since Kid Mime spoke.

She nods, “Sure Kid.” She gestures everyone else away.

Cat Noir salutes and then shoots off into the night. Melodie and Mercury look at him for a long moment before speeding away.

Kid Mime stares at her for a long moment before sighing, “By the Power of the Mind, transform me.” He says softly, and in a flash of blue light Claude is standing before her.

“Claude?” she asks, concerned. He’s never asked to speak to her like this, definitely never dropped his transformation.

He stuffs his hands in his pocket and rocks back on his heels, “Marinette…” he says slowly, and her heart lodges in her throat, “I think we need to talk.”

Her immediate reaction is to refute it. To laugh and joke it off, make up some excuse.

But Claude is still staring at her, waiting, and she can’t lie to him.

“Tikki, spots off.”

Her kwami rests tiredly on her shoulder, staring curiously at Claude, “How’d you figure it out?” she asks, tense.

Claude shrugs, “Alya. You were acting strange. Then it just kinda… clicked.”

Marinette sighs, scrubbing a hand over her face, “So I’m guessing all three of you know now?”

He shakes his head, “I didn’t tell them. And I won’t, if you don’t want me to. It’s just….” He pauses, looking for the word, “Marinette, you’re the most amazing person I know. And I want you to know how much I care about you. This doesn’t change anything, you’re still the bravest, kindest, smartest girl I’ve ever met- please don’t tell Allegra I said that.”

She smiles, “Claude…”

Claude takes a deep breath, “Which is why this is also gonna suck so much.” He twists his miraculous around his wrist, nervous, “Look, Marinette, I know who Cat Noir is.”

Marinette blinks, “What?”

He grimaces, “I mean, once I found out your identity, his was pretty easy.”

She frowns, “I don’t understand. How could you have possibly figured him out?”

He’s silent for a long moment, considering if he should say anything. Tikki very slowly nods her head. He sighs, “You’re the only two in your old class not to be akumatized.”

Marinette blinks. Wheels turning in her head. Processing. She thinks back over her old classmates, every face flashing past her mind and their akumatized version along with them, until she comes up empty. Everything stops.

“No…..” she breathes, and it sounds like the word was punched out of her, “No.”

Claude jumps forward to wrap his arms around her, “I’m so sorry Marinette.”

Her hands shake, and she can’t breathe. There’s no way… It can’t be… Because if- if HE is Cat Noir, then that means her own partner didn’t stand up for her. Her own partner let her suffer in silence, ignored, alone.

Claude curses, but all the words he’s saying she can’t process. It’s like he’s speaking under water, garbled and vague. There’s a flash of blue light, more talking, frantic, worried. And then hands on her shoulders.

It can’t be true. There’s no way. Her mind plays through the last few months, every close call, every desperate search for him, Cat Noir’s instant assurance that he was safe. Riposte, Gorizilla, Style Queen…. It’s making too much sense but it can’t. There’s no way that-

“Marinette?” Cat Noir is standing on the Eiffel Tower now, looking like he sprinted the whole way here. He casts a worried look to Kid Mime, who is holding onto her trying to get her to breathe, “Princess, are you alright?”

Her breath catches, staring at him. How did she never see it before?

“Adrien?” she chokes out, practically a sob, and the hero stiffens.

He stares at her, wide-eyed, and then finally notices the kwami settled on her shoulder. He gasps, “Ladybug?”

Kid Mime sighs, “I think you two need to talk now. I’ll… see you tomorrow Nette.” And then he heads for the elevator, leaving the two of them alone on top of the Eiffel Tower.

They stare at each other for a long moment before Cat Noir finally looks away, “Plagg, claws in.” and then Adrien is standing before her.

“Marinette….” He says slowly, then stops. He doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know if there’s anything he can say that’ll make this better.

Plagg floats just over his shoulder, looking concerned, “Spots, look-“

Tikki darts forward and tackles him out of the air, hands over his mouth, “Let them do this.” She hisses, and the two of them hover together off to the side and watch.

Marinette swallows, throat dry, something awful burning in her stomach. “Why didn’t you say something before?” she asks, and her voice cracks.

Adrien winces, “I was scared-“

Marinette continues, voice rising slowly, “Not to the class! Why didn’t you say anything to me?”

He just stares at her, eyes wide.

“You said that as long as we both knew the truth, that was all that mattered, that we were in it together. But that was it. You never came to speak to me. You never hung out with me. You never did anything when everyone was being so mean and- She was killing me Adrien. She was tearing me apart and not only did you not care to stop her you didn’t even care to help me pick up the pieces. You abandoned me when I needed you most.”

She takes a long, shuddering breath, wiping at the tears that have started streaming down her face.

“Marinette…” he takes a half step forward but she flinches back

“No… No. You’re supposed to be my partner Cat. How can I ever trust you again when you weren’t there for me?”

He winces, “Ladybug I’m so sorry. Marinette, please, you have to believe me, I am so sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen.”

She stares at him, lip wobbling, “I needed you Adrien. And you ignored me. I just- I can’t. Tikki, spots on.” She transforms, wiping her tears over her mask now, “I can’t look at you right now.” Then she turns and swings off into the night.

“Ladybug!” he screams after her, “Plagg-“

“Don’t kid.” Plagg sighs, rubbing his paws over his face, “She needs time on her own to deal with this.”

“But-“

“Just leave it. Listen, you’re not the first Ladybug and Cat Noir to have issues like this. Spots just needs some time to process, and you running after her is just going to pull up more bad memories. Give her some time and space and then you can both sit down and talk this out. But Adrien, please tell me you realize just how wrong you were in this crap?”

Adrien nods, “I messed up… I messed up so bad…”

Plagg sighs, “We’ll fix this kid, don’t worry. Right now let’s just go back and get some rest, ok?”

Adrien nods again, “Plagg, claws out.” And then he heads home. He falls face first onto his bed as soon as his transformation drops and then he starts to cry.

Across town Marinette curls up in a ball in the corner of her room and sobs, Tikki humming softly to soothe her. She scrambles blindly for her phone, thumbing open Claude’s contact with blurry vision.

You: Come over
Claude: u ok?

She stares at her phone and another sob tears out of her throat.

You: no
Claude: backup?
You: please

She drops her phone back onto the floor and buries her face in her knees.

A moment later a rush of wind tears through her room and Mercury is standing there, depositing Allegra and Claude, and then Alan de-transforms and kneels next to her.

“Marinette?” he says softly, holding his arms out

She throws herself into his chest, sobbing harder, and he holds her through it. Allegra and Claude settle on either side of her, holding tight, whispering and calming her.

She doesn’t know what to do.

++

The next day Marinette and her friends sit out in the courtyard, a safe distance from the rest of their peers. Allegra and Alan box her in between them, and Claude holds her hand across the table.

They’d been a little worried about Kagami but then their friend had called and said she was going to be staying at home to take care of her mom, who had fallen ill.

So they sit together, Marinette silent, while her friends rage.

“Personally, I think we get Bee involved. Have her Sting him and then just wham on him.” Allegra insists, arms crossed

Claude scoffs, “You just want more quality time with ‘Your Majesty’?” he pitches his voice in a poor imitation of Allegra, but the blond flushes anyways, throwing a half-eaten roll at his head.

“Shut up! We are planning a murder here! Be serious!”

Alan sighs, “You’re making this too complicated. Let’s just tell Kagami, give her a very sharp sword, and she’ll handle this in two minutes.”

Allegra rolls her eyes, “Tell her what? The superhero stuff? How well do you expect that to fly over?”

“I’m just saying! I know she’s been waiting for an excuse to wail on him, and if we give her a little extra dragon fire boost she’d go ham.”

Claude sighs in disappointment, “I can’t believe I ever had a crush on Cat Noir. It was the leather. Too distracting. Too kinky.”

“Ok but you’re missing the point entirely Al! We can’t tell her that Adrien is Cat Noir! It goes against the entire secret identity code.”

“Oh like you know anything about secret identity code-“

“Can we not talk about this right now.” Marinette asks suddenly, voice cracking just a little bit.

The three of them turn to stare at her in surprise, all looking just a little bit guilty.

“Sorry Nette.” Claude says, squeezing her hand, “How’s Jagged’s suit coming?”

She sighs, shrugging, “Fine. I’m pretty much done with it. Right now I’m mostly working on mine and Penny’s dresses so that they’ll complement his outfit without overshadowing.”

Allegra knocks their shoulders together with a grin, “A week and a half to go Nette. And then you’ll be at the PMA’s, rocking it up as Jagged Stone’s personal designer. Everyone else is going to riot to get you commissioned.”

Marinette offers her friend a half smile, still not really feeling it.

Alan sighs, “Alright, last bit, then we’ll really move on. How about you skip patrol tonight? We’ll handle the city and you just…. Work on your stuff. If anything serious happens we’ll come get you. Sound good?”

Marinette wants to say no. Wants to say the city is too important and she can’t just take a day off just because she doesn’t want to see Cat Noir but…. But she also really, really doesn’t want to see Cat Noir right now. She finds herself actually smiling, relief flooding her, “Thank you Alan.”

He grins, ruffling her hair playfully, “We got your back Nette. You just focus on this thing with Jagged, we’ll handle the city.”

She leans into his side, happy and warm and safe. She doesn’t have to worry about anything right now. The conversation shifts to who they think will win at the PMA’s, and she tries her best to chime in, to be a part of the conversation, and to forget about everything else.

++

It’s been three days since the reveal. Marinette hasn’t gone on patrol since then, instead focusing solely on her dresses for the PMAs.

It’s been… nice, having a little bit of a break. She hasn’t really had one of those since this whole thing started.

She’s lucky Hawkmoth has been taking things easy this week, there hasn’t been an akuma, which means she gets to hide away a little while longer.

She can’t avoid him forever she knows, eventually they’re going to have to face this.

Her phone buzzes and she looks down. It’s Kagami. She’d been out of school all week because her mom had fallen ill, and she was staying home to look after her.

Kagami: My mother’s health has improved. I will likely be back tomorrow. We should get lunch off campus.
You: glad to hear it! Sounds good, I’ll let everyone know. Miss you!
Kagami: Miss you as well.

She smiles at her phone before setting it aside.

“Marinette!” Tikki gasps, staring at the tv. Marinette spins and finds a news broadcast about a new akuma.

“Ok Tikki, we can’t hide away forever. Spots on!” she transforms and rushes across the city towards the Seine.

Mercury is already dealing with the crowds, guiding people away from the chaos.

The akuma, Detention-ator, appears to be a disgruntled teacher wielding a ruler that he uses to zap people away to ‘detention’. She’ll bet her favorite pair of sewing scissors the akuma is in the ruler.

“Ladybug….” Cat Noir lands silently beside her, looking nervous.

She tenses, “Later Adr-Cat.” Then she leaps down into the fight.

It’s… a mess. Her and Cat are completely out of sync, they can’t work together, and it’s clearly affecting the whole team.

Mercury gets zapped early on, trying to shield Ladybug because she’d foolishly leaped away from Cat Noir.

Melodie and Kid Mime get taken too, struggling with the two different fight strategies going on because they won’t agree on a battle plan.

Now it’s just the two of them.

“Please, Ladybug, you have to trust me!” he yells, dodging Detention-ator’s fist.

She swallows, “Lucky Charm!” a ladybug-patterned teapot drops into her hands. “I’ll be back.” She calls over her shoulder, and hurries towards Fu’s.

“Ladybug!” Cat Noir yells, but she doesn’t look back.

Five minutes later she returns with Ryukogo in tow, the newer heroine drawing her sword and diving into battle without hesitation. She engages in a fast-paced sword fight with Dentention-ator’s ruler, Ladybug summoning another Lucky Charm while Cat Noir tries to trip up the akuma.

It still takes a while, but eventually Ladybug is able to use a bottle of dish soap to get Detetion-ator to slip, Ryukogo using her Dragon Breath to burn the akuma’s hand and cause him to drop his ruler, and Cat Noir uses his Cataclysm to destroy it. Ladybug purifies the akuma, does her Miraculous Cure, and everything is back to normal.

Or… almost everything.

Cat Noir stares at her, frowning, kicking his feet nervously.

Melodie puts a hand on her shoulder, “We could still ask her to skewer him.” She says, the tiniest smile tilting up her lips.

Ladybug sighs, looking at her partner. They can’t avoid this forever.

“It’s fine. I… I need to do this.”

The three of them nod and depart.

She turns to Cat Noir, “Recharge. I’m gonna take the dragon back to Fu and… and then we’ll meet at the Tower and talk.”

He nods, then turns and runs off.

She sighs, turning to Ryukogo who drops her transformation as soon as he’s gone. She hands over the dragon necklace.

“He may be an idiot and a coward, but he cares for you very much. Both you and Marinette.” Kagami says, giving her a meaningful look.

Ladybug sighs, “I’m not even surprised that you know. Did Alan tell you?”

She shakes her head, “He did not have to. The four of you are not very quiet. I came back to school briefly to gather my homework for the week. I heard you all discussing it in the courtyard. You may wish to be more discreet in the future.”

“Noted. Thank you Kagami, we couldn’t have done this without your help.”

Her friend offers one of her rare, small smiles, “Don’t mention it. You know I’ll always help whenever you ask.”

Then she turns and starts the walk home.

Ladybug heads to Fu’s to return the Miraculous, wondering what on earth she’s going to say to her partner.

++

By the time she makes it to the Eiffel Tower Adrien is already waiting. He’s sitting patiently, watching her approach with Plagg tucked up on his shoulder.

“Hey…” he says slowly, biting his lip, “Thanks for not…just blowing me off.”

She shrugs, “We need to talk if we’re ever going to be able to work together again.”

She sits next to him, a good foot of space between them and drops her transformation, Tikki curling up in her lap and giving her a warm, comforting smile. She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

“I really am sorry.” Adrien says softly, twisting his hands together in his lap, “I never meant for things to get this bad but… You’re right. I wasn’t there for you. I didn’t have your back. I was… I was a coward, I always have been, but I was insensitive and stupid and mean too. I didn’t stand up to Lila, I scolded you for wanting to protect our friends from her, I didn’t see just how harmful her lies could be and I let them hurt you. And by the time I realized the truth I was too cowardly to do anything about it. I’ve been a terrible partner, and a terrible friend, and I know I have no right to your forgiveness Marinette.”

Her hands are shaking in her lap so she clenches them into fists, taking another quick breath to keep herself from sobbing. “It really hurt Adrien. You just… Knowing that you’re my partner and you weren’t there for me…”

“I know. I let you down. I chose to keep the status quo rather then standing up for my friends. For you. Even when I saw how you were being treated…I don’t deserve to be Cat Noir. I’m not a hero.”

“Adrien!” Plagg yelps, eyes wide

Marinette shakes her head quickly, “No, you’re a great Cat Noir, and an amazing hero. I would never have gotten this far without you. But… I don’t think we can continue on as we are… it still… I’m not sure I can trust you again yet, that I can rely on you like I always have.”

Adrien’s lip wobbles as he looks hurriedly down at his lap, “That’s okay. You can take as long as you want to forgive me, or not, if you don’t want to. But… But I’ll be here my Lady, until you can trust me again. I… I really don’t think I could give up being Cat Noir, it’s the only freedom I have but… if you want me off the team, off patrols, that’s fine. I’ll show up for akumas and really bad disasters but I’ll leave everything else to you and the Quantic Kids.”

“Adrien… To be honest, I don’t really know what I want right now. I’m still so confused and hurt and… and I don’t want to make any rash decisions right now. We’re the protectors of Paris, this city needs us to be our best so… I think I’d like some time, to think everything over, if that’s ok?”

Adrien nods, “Take as much time as you need Marinette. I… I’m sorry, again. I’ll go now just… you know where to find me.” He offers her a small, guilty smile, “Plagg, claws out.” Then he transforms, and leaps off into the night.

Marinette hugs her knees to her chest, willing herself not to cry.

“Marinette?” Tikki asks, eyes wide and concerned, “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know Tikki… things are just so confusing. I want to forgive Adrien, I want to trust him again but… I don’t know…”

“Everything will be alright. Just take you time and listen to your heart. No matter what you choose, just know that you’ll always have me and the others on your side, ok?”

Marinette nods, smiling at her kwami, “Thank you Tikki. Now come on, let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Marinette drops down into the café chair and groans. “I’m going to fail chemistry.”

Allegra makes a sympathetic noise and pushes over her iced chai, letting Marinette chug the rest of it as she hails the waiter.

Alan pats her on the back, “Maybe we can get Elias to help. He’s good at chem.”

“Elias is busy with semifinals. I don’t wanna bother him.” She whines, banging her head on the table. She looks pleadingly at her assembled friends.

Chloe scoffs, “Don’t look at me. I’m barely passing any of my classes without Sabrina’s help.”

Claude shrugs, “I’m a moron.”

Luka offers her a genuinely apologetic smile, “Sorry babe, unless its music I’m kinda useless.”

Marinette groans again.

Kagami sighs, “You are being dramatic.”

Claude smirks at her, “Oh yeah? I saw your grade on that last chem test Kagami.”

The girl purses her lips at him, glaring, “That was… not ideal.”

“We’re all screwed.” Alan sighs.

Chloe makes a face suddenly, looking at something over Marinette’s shoulder. “So, I don’t want to alarm you, but we have a… visitor.”

Allegra and Claude, on either side of the blonde, follow her line of sight. Claude yelps and Allegra’s expression turns murderous. Kagami frowns deeply. Marinette is almost afraid to look.

She turns slowly and her breath catches in her throat. Adrien is standing on the sidewalk, the door to his car open, staring at them all with wide eyes. She hasn’t spoken to him since the night on the Eiffel Tower last week, and true to his word Cat Noir hadn’t shown up to patrol.

Marinette swallows, reaching for Luka’s hand. He grips it tight, squeezing. She can feel Tikki wriggling in her purse so she looks down, finding her kwami smiling warmly at her, nodding slowly. She looks out at her friends.

Allegra, Alan, and Kagami are glaring black death at the model. Claude is looking back and forth between him and Marinette. Chloe is the only neutral party, face carefully blank as she inspects her nails. Luka looks at her and smiles softly.

“Do whatever you want to do.” He whispers.

She nods, then steels herself and stands.

Adrien nearly falls over in his haste to close the car door to greet her properly as she approaches, “Marinette! Hi! How are you?”

She bites her lip, “Actually, I’ve been thinking, can we talk for a second?”

Adrien swallows nervously, but nods. Marinette looks back at her friends and gestures for them to wait as she leads Adrien further away. She can practically feel them watching her intently.

Adrien shuffles nervously in front of her, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously, “So… I guess they’re… the Quantic Kids?” he asks, gesturing to her three best friends.

She nods, “Yeah. And Kagami is Ryukogo.”

Adrien huffs a laugh, “Trust me, I figured that out pretty quickly.” At her questioning look he shrugged, “She may have confronted me after fencing practice this week. There was definitely the threat of fireballs to the face.”

Despite herself, Marinette smiles, a little laugh bubble out of her. That sounds like Kagami. She shakes her head, “Does no one care about secret identities anymore?”

Adrien chuckles, “Guess not. So… what’s up?”

Her smile drops, and she twists her hands together nervously, “Um… I’ve been thinking… about us…”

Adrien swallows, looking so stiff a light breeze might blow him over, “And?”

She sighs, “Look, what you did… honestly it sucked. But, I haven’t exactly been a good friend either. You… You know I had a crush on you, right?”

Adrien winces, “Yeah… you told me, or well, you told Cat. Before that I really had no idea.”

“Yeah… I wasn’t very good at talking to you. Honestly, it was kinda unhealthy, the way I obsessed over you. I had your schedule printed out on my wall.”

Adrien blinks slowly, “That’s… a little creepy.” He says

She nods, “Yep. Not gonna lie, totally creepy. I also stole phone once, but to be fair, Alya told me to because I sent you like, the most embarrassing message.”

Adrien grins, “Really? What, did you confess your undying love to me?”

“Pretty close actually.”

“Really! I wanna hear!”

“No way! And I deleted it anyways.”

“Aw man.” He pouts, but there’s a playful smile pulling at his lips.

Marinette finds herself smiling. She… She’s never had a conversation like this with Adrien.

“But the point is, we’ve both done things, and I can’t say that you violated my trust as if I wasn’t violating yours. I claimed to be your friend but I definitely had ulterior motives and I did some pretty gross things. So… let’s start over. I’m Marinette Dupain-Chang. My parents own the bakery down the street, I want to be a designer and I’m Ladybug.” She holds out a hand to him.

Adrien grins, possibly the biggest, brightest smile she’s ever seen from him, and he takes her offered hand, pressing a kiss to the back, “Pleasure to meet you My Lady. I’m Adrien Agreste, my father just so happens to be a designer, I love science, and I am Cat Noir.”

She smiles at him, the familiarity, “Nice to meet you partner.”

“You too.”

She looks over her shoulder to where her friends are pretending they aren’t watching her every move, “Um…Do you… want to join us for lunch?”

Adrien looks at her and then over at her friends, eyes wide, “Really? Is that… Ok?”

She nods, “They’ll get over themselves. Come on.” She uses his grip on her hand to pull him after her, leading him to the table and sitting him down in between Claude and Chloe.

“Agreste.” Kagami says, eyes narrowed.

“Adrikins.” Chloe smirks, smile too sharp.

“Guys, this is my friend Adrien. Adrien, these are my friends Claude, Allegra and Alan. You know Chloe and Kagami. And uh, Luka, my boyfriend.”

Luka smiles softly at Adrien, “Good to see you again Adrien.”

Adrien stares at Luka with wide, surprised eyes, but then smiles sincerely, “You too. We should play together again sometime.”

“I’d love too.”

“You play?” Allegra asks, eyebrow raised, still looking two seconds away from maiming him.

Adrien swallows nervously under her sharp gaze, and nods, “Uh yeah, piano.”

She hums, tilting her head, but doesn’t get the chance to say anything else because Alan elbows her.

“Nice to meet you, officially.” He says, “Any friend of Marinette’s, is a friend of ours. Right guys?” he gives a stern look to the other two, who grumble but nod.

Adrien shifts in his seat, “So, what are we talking about?”

Marinette groans at the reminder, “We’re going to fail chemistry.”

Claude sighs, “It was a good life we lived, but alas, the foul beast that is the periodic table has brought us down!” he throws one arm over his eyes, leaning back precariously in his chair.

Allegra puts her head in her hands and groans at his theatrics while Adrien chuckles.

“You know, if you need help with chemistry I’m pretty good at it. I could… help?”

Everyone’s attention snaps to the model, “Really?” Alan asks, a slow smile taking over his face, “Man you are a life saver!”

“Maybe you’re not so bad after all.” Allegra smirks.

Chloe huffs, nudging Adrien with her shoulder, “If you really wanna win these losers over, just tell them about your Ladybug doll collection.”

Adrien flushes bright red, “Chloe!” he hisses

Claude sits up straighter in his seat, “Wait, hold up, what Ladybug doll collection?”

Marinette smiles into her hand, “You collect Ladybug dolls?”

Adrien pouts, “Maybe…”

Luka snickers, “Now this, I gotta see.”

Chloe slings her arm around Adrien’s shoulder, winking at him, “So let’s go, we can make fun of Adrikins’ dolls and then he can teach chemistry. A fun little hang out day, right?” she looks at Adrien, whose eyes widen slowly.

“Yeah! Sure, come on over!”

“Sweet!” Claude cheers, jumping to his feet, “Chloe are you paying?”

The rich blond huffs, flicking her ponytail over her shoulder, “Of course, do you think you can pay?”

“Chloe!” Adrien chastises, a smirk stretching his face, “Be nice or I’ll tell everyone about your Ladybug collection!”

Alan howls with laughter, “No way! You too?”

Chloe glares, “Oh you will regret that.”

Adrien snickers, dancing away from Chloe to hide behind Luka, who fist bumps him.

Marinette smiles, watching all of this.

Maybe things will be ok after all.

++

Marinette runs her hands down her dress for the millionth time in search of wrinkles, hands shaking as the limousine moves slowly closer and closer to the flashing lights of cameras.

“Relax Marinette!” Jagged laughs, throwing one arm around Penny and reaching the other out to take her hand, stilling her anxious movements, “We’ve done hundreds of these things, right Pen? You’re gonna do fine!”

Penny offers her a small, fond smile, “The outfits are gorgeous. You look wonderful, and everything is going to be ok.”

Marinette lets out a slow breath, wishing again that she’d asked Jagged if she was allowed to bring a plus one. She could definitely use Luka and his calming words right now.

“I’m fine.” She squeaks, her smile stretching too thin to be believable.

What if everyone hates her design? What if Jagged trips and falls and breaks his neck? What if she trips and falls and sets the whole theatre on fire? What if-

“Marinette!” Jagged shouts, standing awkwardly in the small space and shuffling over to sit next to her, slinging his arm around her and pulling her in close, “Just breathe, yeah? Whatever awful things you’re thinking won’t happen, not while I’m around!” he winks, “Uncle Jagged has your back.”

She gives a shaky smile, shoulders losing their tensions slightly. It’s very hard to be upset or nervous in the face of Jagged Stone’s pure optimism.

“We’re here.” Penny announces, and now the nerves are back.

“Relax Marinette! Just stick with Penny and follow me!” Jagged laughs, then throws open the limo door and struts out onto the red carpet to the roaring cheers of paparazzi and fans both.

Penny squeezes her hand in reassurance and then follows Jagged, walking like a normal, sane person after her boss whilst keeping a close eye on the surrounding press.

Marinette takes one more breath, reaches into her clutch to pet Tikki’s head once for comfort, and then follows.

It’s… It’s like nothing she’s ever seen before.

There are people everywhere, on both sides of the carpet in a positive sea of faces, hardly visible beneath the flashing lights of camera flashes and the constant sound of shutters and cheers.

All up the carpet celebrities mill about slowly, leisurely walking up towards the theatre, posing for the cameras and talking to each other, giving short interviews along the way, modeling their amazing outfits.

Marinette nearly throws herself back into the limo but the door has already been shut and it’s driving away, allowing the next celebrity out. She hurries after Penny, hanging half in the assistant’s shadow as they mill after Jagged and watch him pose for the cameras, grinning wide and slapping backs with his fellow musicians he knows well enough.

“Jagged Stone!” Nadja Chamack calls, waving the rock star over, smiling happily, “Good evening! How do you feel about your chances for tonight?”

Jagged swans into frame, leaning into the microphone’s space, grinning near wide enough to split his face, “Honestly I’m just so stoked to be nominated Nadja! It’s a real honor! There’s some real talent here tonight!”

Nadja nods, “Yes, it truly is a star-studded evening. Speaking of studded, I see you’ve brought some serious spikes to the evening.” She pokes at one of the spikes on the shoulder pads of his jacket, “Who are you wearing?”

Jagged’s grin somehow gets even bigger, “Only the best designer in all of Paris. Marinette! Get in here!” He gestures for her to join him and she rapidly shakes her head, only for Penny to put both hands on her shoulders and shove her into Jagged’s waiting arms. “This is Marinette Dupain-Chang, my favorite designer, she made my suit and hers and Penny’s dresses!”

The camera pans over her and Penny’s dresses and Jagged’s suit, and Marinette waves awkwardly.

Nadja beams, “Well, you’ve certainly found a real star talent here Jagged.” She winks at Marinette, “Good luck tonight, we’ll be rooting for you.” And then she moves on towards the next oncoming celebrity.

Jagged laughs, arm still around Marinette as he leads her forward.

A few minutes later, as Jagged is excitedly talking to XY and Penny is setting up the next interview, Marinette feels a tap on her shoulder.

She spins, and very nearly screeches when she finds Clara Nightingale standing behind her with a sunny grin.

“Clara!” she yelps, “Hi! I love your music!”

The popstar giggles, “Your talent in fashion I can’t deny, A design from you I’d love to buy!”

Marinette blinks owlishly while she processes the riddle-like speech of the woman, and then her mouth drops open.

“You want me to design something for you!”

Clara nods, “Not hiring you, well there’s nothing dumber, So let’s work together, I’ll give you my number!” She holds out a business card with her personal information on it and winks, “Call me soon and we’ll get everything set, when I’m wearing your stuff I’m sure I’ll look the best!”

“Thank you! I look forward to working with you!” Marinette manages to get out before the pop star hurries on down the carpet.

Marinette stares at the business card and gapes, open-mouthed, until Penny comes up next to her and grins.

“Here, I’ve got three more musicians who want to consult with you on their outfits for future music videos, concerts, and album covers. You’ll be keeping busy Marinette.”

Marinette can’t stop the massive grin from coming over her face, “I can’t believe this! This is incredible!”
“Believe it Marinette!” Jagged crows, slinging his arm around her again, “XY just asked me to give you his number. He wants your help in designing something to go along with his new song.”

Marinette grins, stuffing all these new contacts into her clutch, getting a brief glimpse of Tikki’s face shining with pride before they move on.

They stop for at least another ten cameras, all of which Jagged calls her out on, praising her endlessly and enthusing about her skill, promising to hire her again.

“And is this the girl that designed your famous Eiffel Tower sunglasses?” Alec asks, grinning eagerly.

Jagged grins, “Oh yeah, and the album cover for the song I’m nominated for! I’m telling you Alec, this girl is my lucky charm!”

“Amazing! Anything to add Marinette?” he moves the microphone down to her

She shuffles, smiling, “Really I’m just so honored that Jagged thinks so highly of me. He’s given me so many opportunities to grow as a designer and I wouldn’t be here without his support.”

Jagged beams, ruffling her hair lightly so as not to mess up her hair, “I tell you, this girl’s like a niece to me! If I had kids, I could only hope they were half as amazing as Marinette here!”

Alec ‘awws’, “Isn’t that sweet! Well, we’ll let you get on your way to the ceremony, unless there’s anything else?”

Marinette shuffles back to Penny, grinning, only to turn when Jagged reaches for the mic, “Actually, yeah!” He looks to the camera, suddenly frowning, “I know it isn’t a big deal, but there’s a rumor going around that’s really bothered me lately.”

“Oh really?” Alec asks, leaning closer, “Well go ahead Jagged.”

Jagged nods, still frowning, “Yeah, it’s super weird too. Apparently someone’s saying I used to own a cat.”

Alec blinks, clearly thrown off course, “A… A cat?”

Jagged nods seriously, “Yeah! As if I’d ever own a cat! There not nearly rock and roll enough for me! Besides, I’m allergic, I’ve known since I was four! I’d never own a cat! It’s just a super stupid rumor to spread about a guy, you know. And I really hate people who spread rumors about me just to gain popularity.” He smirks at the camera, and then back at Marinette.

Her mouth drops open.

She has the distinct feeling Allegra is behind this.

By the time she shakes herself out of her shock Jagged has already moved on, leaving her and Penny to hurry after him.

She’ll… deal with this later.

++

Alya curls up on the couch, tucked up into Nino’s side as they watch the PMA’s live, phone in hand as she texts the rest of the class.

She’d done a poll yesterday about who they thought would win each category and she’s pretty sure Alix is taking bets.

“Alya!” Nino gasps, looking wide-eyed at the screen.

She looks, and very nearly drops her phone.

Marinette is on screen, smiling sweetly under Jagged Stone’s arm as the Rockstar enthuses her skill to Alec. Apparently she’d designed his suit.

“Woah…” she whispers, eyes filling with tears.

Her phone lights up with a flurry of messages.

PinkBitch: HOly ShIT ItS MArineTTE
Flowergirl: She looks SO pretty!!! 😊 😊
Artfart: that suit is so cool
Dumbfuck: y is marinate on tv
PinkBitch: CuZ sHE desSEgind his Suti dUGndshit
Nerd: This is a surprising development.
SmellyWolf: I love her dress!
Rock: pretty
GothQueen: apparently she’s dating my brother
Flowergirl: Really! So cute! 😊
Sunshine: Marinette really is a great designer!
Snitch: My dad’s doing security tonight! I’ll ask him to get some pictures!
LovelyFox: I wonder what she had to do to get that position?
LovelyFox: I mean, a professional such as Jagged wouldn’t just hire a novice for no reason.
LovelyFox: I don’t want to be rude, but Marinette probably had to do something unsavory.

Alya snarls at her phone, resisting the urge to throw it across the room.

Nino tightens his arm around her and frowns at her screen, “How did we not see it before?” he asks, “She clearly has it out for Marinette.”

“Cause we’re idiots.” Alya hisses, “Idiots who hate our best friend.”

Nino rubs her shoulder, “Deep breathes babe. Calming thoughts. Pulitzier prize, beach days, Punching Hawkmoth in the dick.”

Alya breathes deeply and sets her phone down, deciding to ignore the rest of the messages coming through that are no doubt insulting Marinette. She’d done her fair share of that recently, she’d fallen for it all hook line and sinker.

She’d spent the last few weeks since her re-akumatization doing what she should have done since the start, fact-checking. She’d followed up on every one of Lila’s stories, every claim, every connection, every location. She’d found nothing. Not a shred of evidence proving even a little bit of truth.

The worst part is, none of this ever would have happened if she would have acted like a damn reporter in the first place. All of this could have been avoided if she’d listened to her best friend.

“How are we ever gonna make this up to her?” she asks Nino quietly, watching her best friend beam on TV, laughing happily as her idol talks her up.

Nino just sighs, “I have no idea. But we’ll think of something.”

They turn their full attention back to the screen when Jagged frowns, pulling at the mic. Alya’s eyes widen slowly as he talks.

“Yeah! As if I’d ever own a cat! There not nearly rock and roll enough for me! Besides, I’m allergic, I’ve known since I was four! I’d never own a cat! It’s just a super stupid rumor to spread about a guy, you know. And I really hate people who spread rumors about me just to gain popularity.”

Her mouth drops open, Nino squeezes her close, eyes impossibly wide. “Did he just…” he gapes

Alya grins, picking her phone back up and ignoring the flood of messages in favor of starting a new group chat with everyone but Lila.

Reporter: Lila’s a liar. She lied about everything. And I have proof.
DJAwesome: Class meeting tomorrow park by school
DjAweseome: No one tell Lila

There’s various confirmations and questions but Alya ignores them. She focuses on Marinette on the screen, looking surprised but happy.

She’s going to make this up to her.

She’s going to fix this.

++

Mme. Bustier’s class meets bright and early the next morning at the park next to the school.

They all huddle around the picnic tables, frowning as Alya lays out all her research from the last few weeks.

Adrien, hunched in on himself and practically hidden under Nino’s protective arm, frowns at his lap while everyone yells.

“What a bitch!” Alix yells, slamming her fist into the table, “I can’t believe we fell for her stupid lies!”

“Poor Marinette!” Rose wails, already having gone through a whole box of tissues and quickly making her way through a second

“We’re the worst friends ever…” Juleka mumbles, holding Rose carefully.

Mylene has dissolved into hysterical sobs into Ivan’s chest while the big guy pasts her back and frowns deeply.

“Is there anything we can do?” Nathaniel asks softly, not meeting anyone’s gaze

“We can expose her finally.” Alya insists, “And apologize to Marinette.”

Kim frowns, looking down to Max, who shrugs, “Statistically speaking, the odds of Marinette forgiving us for this are… not good. We have been jerks to an exponential degree, likely to such a degree that not even her boundless kindness could forgive.”

“She doesn’t have to forgive us.” Nino speaks up, keeping his arm tight around Adrien, “That’s not why we’re doing this. We’re doing this because we care about her and want her to know that we’re really sorry.”

Chloe scoffs, flipping her hair over her shoulder, “Please, you don’t care about her. You only care now because you realized you did something wrong. You didn’t care before.”

Alya flinches, but squares her shoulders, “Oh yeah? And you care Chloe?”

“Of course I care. Marinette actually is my friend now. And I knew Lila was a piece of trash from the start.”

Adrien shakes in Nino’s arms, “Chloe…”

“Don’t start Adrikins. Your unwillingness to stand up to jerks was what got you in this mess in the first place. You may be back on Marinette’s good side but don’t think I won’t push you out if you’re gonna go back to being a spineless jerk. They need to hear this, whether they want to or not.”

Sabrina swallows, “Chloe’s right. We were being jerks, and not just to Marinette. I’m sorry Chloe.”

Chloe huffs, crossing her arms, “Whatever. I’m not the one who wants or needs an apology. Later losers, I’m doing lunch with Marinette and our friends later. Whenever you figure your shit out, hit us up.”

She hoists Adrien up off the bench and drags him after her and out of the park. He waves awkwardly at them and hurries his steps to keep up with his childhood friend.

Alya sighs, “This is such a mess.”

Kim throws his arms out in exasperation, “Well? What do we do?”

Nino looks around at all his friends, “What we should have done from the start. We listen to what Marinette said and actually question Lila about her stories instead of just believing them. We call her out.”

Everyone nods.

They’re going to make this right. They’re going to fix this.

Chapter Text

On Monday morning, Caline Bustier arrives to find nearly all of her students waiting outside the classroom for her to unlock the door.

She looks around their determined faces and sees who is absent and she smiles.

Everyone takes their positions, Alya, Sabrina, and Max by the desk, Ivan and Kim by the door, everyone else waiting patiently in their seats.

Mme. Bustier sits in her chair behind the desk and watches carefully. “Alya, do we need to alert Ladybug of any potential danger?” she asks

Alya frowns, “Maybe. I’ll put an alert on the Ladyblog.” She starts typing on her phone.

Bustier nods and then gathers up her papers and decides to go make a few extra copies.

Chloe walks in then, takes one look around the room, and smirks. She takes her seat in the back where she was pushed, and watches eagerly.

They all wait in anxious silence for the main event to start, all eyeing the door impatiently.

It’s a few minutes before Lila walks in, looking around curiously before her face lights up in a too wide smile, “Oh! Here you all are! I was looking everywhere for you guys! You will not believe the weekend I had!” She goes to her seat, looking around curiously and only now seeming to notice that Adrien has moved to the back by Chloe, “Adrien what are you doing back there? Aren’t you going to help me with my notes?” her eyes widen.

“He won’t be helping you with your notes Lila.” Alya interrupts, “In fact, no one in this room will be helping you with anything ever again.”

Lila blinks slowly, seemingly caught off guard, “Excuse me? I don’t understand? What’s wrong Alya?”

Alya’s teeth bare in a snarl, “We don’t exactly like helping out a liar.”

Lila gasps, eyes filling with tears, “A liar? Alya how could you say something so hurtful?” she looks around the class for a sympathetic face only to find everyone glaring at her.

“We know the truth now Lila.” Max says, hands clasped behind his back, “There is zero evidence to provide support to any of your previous claims. Including the claims you made about your supposed disabilities.”

Lila’s eyes narrow for the briefest second in annoyance before widening again in faux misery, “You’ve been talking to Marinette haven’t you? I don’t know why she doesn’t like me but she keeps saying such awful things! You heard her didn’t you!”

“Actually,” Sabrina cuts in, “We never heard Marinette say anything to you that you claimed she did. And she wasn’t the one who sold you out. That was Jagged Stone.”

Lila blinks, “What?”

“Oh that’s right.” Alya smirks, “You weren’t watching the awards show last night. Where were you? Let me think, you were helping feed the homeless last night right? So if I were to call that charity and ask for a certain volunteer named Lila Rossi they’d definitely know who you were, right?” she raises her phone, as if to call.

Lila jumps up from her seat, “Let’s not disturb anyone so early!” she protests, “Come on everyone, why are you being so mean?”

“Jagged said on live tv last night that he’s never owned a cat.” Sabrina explains, “And Adrien, actually, told Alya and Nino about you being a liar, and they informed the rest of us.”

“You’re a real piece of work, you know that.” Alya hisses, “Turning us against Marinette because she saw through all your bullshit.”

Lila’s doe eyed expression finally broke and she smirked, “Well it worked didn’t it? None of you could care less about her until now. And you can’t blame me for everything, you were only too happy to drop her the first chance you got.” She heads towards the door only for Ivan and Kim to block her path, “What’s this?”

“You’re not going anywhere until you apologize to us and to Marinette.” Alya insists, crossing her arms.

Lila laughs, “You’re joking? I’m not the bad guy here. I just told you all what you wanted to hear. It’s not my fault you all decided to chase her out of here.”

Alya clenches her hands into fists, “It was your fault! And now everyone knows it!”

Lila shakes her head, “Whatever, so you guys know now, I’ll just change schools again.”

“No Lila, you won’t.” Max says, “Because you will first have to face the consequences of skipping months of school.”

“Oh yeah? And how are you going to prove that?”

“With the video recording of this conversation.”

Lila pales, “What?”

Max points to Markov, hovering in the corner holding Max’s cellphone.

“Busted.” Sabrina smirks.

“Now there’s nowhere you can go where people won’t know who you really are.” Alya grins, “Lila the Liar.”

Lila snarls, fists clenching, “No! I won’t let you do this!”

“And what are you going to do about it?” Alya asks, eyebrow raising, “You don’t have any cards left to play.”

Lila closes her eyes, squeezing her fists tighter, “Hawkmoth!” she screams, “Akumatize me!”

Everyone gasps, “Is she serious?” Alix yelps,

“No way!” Mylene whimpers

“Come on!” Lila yells, “Fifth times a charm!”

And then a little purple butterfly phases through the window and flutters towards Lila.

“Everyone out!” Chloe yells, jumping to her feet, “Cessaire, put an alert on the Ladyblog now!”

Everyone sprints towards the exit as Lila becomes engulfed in purple smoke.

++

Marinette is pulling out her tablet waiting for class to start when Alan leans over the desk to show her his phone, “Hey Nette, you might wanna see this.”

It’s a new post on the Ladyblog.

‘Warning to Ladybug! Potential akuma at Dupont! Confronting someone with known multiple akumatizations!’

Marinette gasps, “Lila!”

She looks at her friends, gathered around her. Allegra frowns, “If they really do confront her then… she’ll definitely be akumatized.”

Claude stands quickly, “We should go. Come on.”

The four of them rush to the roof and transform, hurrying across the city to Dupont. By the time the slower three of them make it, the battle has already started.

The akuma hovers in the middle of a massive web strung up over Dupont, her giant spider like legs working quickly to lay out thin threads of silk that move on their own to weave the web bigger and bigger, spreading out into the city. A number of civilians have already been turned, shambling about slowly under the akuma’s control.

The four of them sit on the rooftop, watching carefully, when Cat Noir drops down next to them, out of breath.

“Is it Lila?” Ladybug asks.

Her partner nods, “Yep. The whole class confronted her about her lies, recorded her confession too. Then she actually asked Hawkmoth to turn her.”

“Holy shit.” Mercury gasps

“She’s calling herself Weaver, and her web is her power. If you touch it, you fall under her control. She’s already got half the class and like, most of the school, and her web moves fast.”

“Not faster than me. I’ll see how far it’s spread.” Mercury grins, then speeds off. He’s back a second later, face grim, “So, uh, it’s fast. It’s already at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and it’s still spreading. I counted at least a hundred lackeys already.”

“It’s been like five minutes!” Allegra hisses, looking down at Weaver

“The good news, “Mercury continues, “Is that the web is pretty easy to see, so avoiding it won’t be hard. But with so many people under her control there’s no way we’ll be able to get close to her.”

Kid Mime flaps his arms like wings and blows out a heavy breath.

Ladybug nods, “You’re right, Ryukogo might be able to destroy some of those threads. I’ll get her, but be careful everyone. Cat, don’t cataclysm the strings, I don’t know if it’ll turn you or not.”

Cat Noir salutes, “Yes ma’am Ladybug!” he grins, “Go get help. We’ll keep Weaver distracted.”

Ladybug turns and starts to swing away from the battle.

“Ladybug!” someone screams, and she looks down to find Chloe sprinting down the street with several lackeys on her tail.

Ladybug swoops down, picking up Chloe bridal style and depositing her on the nearest roof, “Stay here Chloe, and try not to be seen!”

Chloe holds her tight to keep her from rushing off, “I can help! Give me the bee and I’ll sting this bitch right where it hurts!”

Ladybug sighs, “Stay here.”

She continues on to Fu’s.

She doesn’t even bother transforming back to Marinette, just dives through his open window into the living room. She can already see the web on this side of town. It’s spreading fast, she doesn’t have much time until all of Paris is turned into Weaver’s lackeys.

“Ladybug!” Fu gasps, standing quickly, “Hurry, you must have backup!” He opens the miracle box as fast as possible, “Who do you need?”

“The dragon. And the bee.”

Fu hands her both, then frowns, “The akuma has control over many people, it will be a difficult battle.”

Ladybug sighs, “I know Master. Hopefully we’ll be able to find a way to distract them or…”

“I may have a solution.” He pulls out the Miraculous of the Snake, holding it out to her, “The Snake has the power to control others as well. Its power might be enough to turn some to your side, temporarily.”

“Thank you Master, this is exactly what we need.” She takes all three Miraculous and then leaps back outside.

She rushes back to Rose River, finding Kagami ushering terrified students into the basement.

“Ladybug!” she calls, rushing towards the heroine, “Do you need my help again?”

“Yes. Here, you know the rules by now. Hurry to Dupont, it’s Lila.”

Kagami frowns, transforms, and then rushes ahead.

Ladybug follows behind her, going back to the roof she left Chloe on.

“Ladybug!” the blond waves her down, “I’m ready! Let’s do this!” She takes the bee miraculous and transforms.

“Let’s go.” Ladybug tells her, hurrying back towards Dupont, where her teammates are struggling under the force of so many people.

Queen Bee has already put herself next to Melodie, both blondes fighting side by side. Bee is using her spinning top to corral people into the path of Melodie’s musical note attacks.

Kid Mime is shaking with the effort of trapping people in invisible boxes, Cat Noir keeping a close eye on him to protect him.

Ryukogo uses her sword to slash at the web before it can come too close, keeping a careful barrier of space that they can use to fight.

Mercury runs around it all, punching lackeys and watching the others back. There aren’t any civilians he can rush to safety.

Ladybug uses her yo-yo to yank someone away from Cat Noir’s back and turns quickly, “Mercury!” the hero appears beside her in a flash, “Is there anyone we know who isn’t akumatized right now? I need someone to use the snake miraculous.”

“I’ll check. Stay safe Bug.” And then he speeds away.

Ladybug jumps headfirst into the fray, trying to knock out as many as she can but more and more keep coming.

“Ladybug!” Cat Noir yelps, pushing her out of the way of someone’s baseball bat, wincing as he’s hit.

“Cat!”

“I’m fine. But now would be a really great time for a lucky charm!”

Mercury arrives then, looking panicked, “I looked everywhere Bug! I think everyone’s either turned or in the akuma shelters by now.”

“Shit… Ok then, Lucky Charm!” she throws up her yo-yo, hoping desperately for something useful.

“Please be like, a stun grenade, or something.” Queen Been hisses as she rushes past to attack someone coming up on her six.

Instead, a small spotted guitar pick lands in her palm. She stares at it, confused, before realization takes over. “I’ll be right back.”

“Ladybug!” Melodie shouts, ducking an attack and then dancing up into the air on her notes

“Where are you going?” Mercury shouts

“To get more help!” she shouts back, and then swings faster.

She has to be careful with the threads of Weaver’s web everywhere, but in no time at all she’s made it to the Couffaine houseboat.

“Sorry mom.” Luka says, wincing as he holds the bathroom door shut, what must be his mother banging on the other side.

“Luka!”

The boys turns, eyes wide, “Ladybug? What are you doing here?”

“I need your help. Luka Couffaine, here is the Miraculous of the Snake, which grants the power to control others. You will use it for the greater good. Once the job is done you will return the Miraculous to me. Can I trust you?”

Luka stares at her for a long moment, and then beams, “I’ll do my best.” He takes the bracelet and slips it on, examining the silver and green thing for a quick moment before he takes a deep breath.

Sass appears beside him from a green light, smirking, “I am Sass, are you prepared Luka?”

“I think so.”

“Then all you must say is Sass, scales up.”

Luka nods, “Sass, scales up!”

He transforms, a hero in green and black scales, a small green harp attached to his hip. He looks to her, and smiles, “Ready when you are Ladybug.”

Ladybug nods, wrapping one arm around the boy and carrying him back to the fight.

“Oh thank god!” Mercury cries when they arrive, “Please tell me he can handle all this?”

Luka smirks, “I’m Viperion, and I’ll do what I can.” And then he dives into battle.

Viperion is fast and agile, ducking under attacks and backstepping quickly to avoid harm. He stays close to her and Cat, working together to drive back the hordes of turned civilians until she gives him the signal.

Melodie has moved up into the air, firing down on the crowd while dancing around Weaver’s web.

Kid Mime is using an invisible fly swatter to keep Weaver distracted while Ryukogo continues slicing through web.

Mercury uses whatever rope or cord he can get his speedy hands on to tie up subdued people to keep them out of the way.

“You can’t beat me Ladybug!” Weaver screams, scuttling closer down her web, “I’m better than you! I’m stronger than you! You are nothing compared to me!”

“Yeah?” Cat Noir calls up, smirking, “Well she’s prettier than you!”

Weaver snarls, and a mass of web comes flying their direction. Mercury speeds Cat out of the way while Viperion grabs Ladybug and dives, the web sticking the to building behind them and starting to grow.

“We’re running out of real estate!” Queen Bee warns, back to back with Kid Mime now as he uses gardening shears on the web.

“Stop antagonizing the akuma!” Melodie shouts from above

“Perhaps I should use my ability.” Ryukogo asks, touching down on the ground next to them.

Ladybug breathes heavily. She’s starting to get tired, her limbs getting sore, lungs burning. She can only imagine how the others are doing. They won’t be able to keep this up much longer, and once they use their abilities they’re on a time crunch. They need a plan.

“Enough!” Weaver roars, one of her long legs flying outwards to swat Melodie right out of the air.

Melodie screams as she falls, her flute fumbling out of her grip and hitting the pavement. Melodie flies through the air and hits the side of a building with an awful crack.

“Melodie!” Kid Mime screams, his shears dropping into nothingness as he turns, distracted now, allowing three people to tackle him to the ground.

Queen Bee is already leaping up, catching Melodie as she starts to fall towards the ground. She cradles the heroine close as she jumps up onto the roof, safe from harm, “Melodie? Come on wake up!”

Ladybug hurries up to the roof just in time for the golden flash of Melodie’s fading transformation. “Chloe!”

Queen Bee gasps, eyes wide, “Allegra?” her gaze snaps up to Ladybug, eyes widening even further, “Marinette?”

She swallows, doesn’t bother denying it, “Is she ok?”

Queen Bee looks back to Allegra, still cradling her in her lap, “I think so. Just unconscious. What… What do we do now?”

“Lucky Charm!” she summons, hoping whatever she comes up with will save them all.

Into her hands drops a red and black bowling ball.

She looks around rapidly, at Queen Bee and Allegra, at Weaver scuttling forward with Cat Noir and the others trying to battle the civilians. She has a plan.

Queen Bee stands up slowly, carefully settling Allegra on the roof, “What do you need?” she asks, coming to stand by her.

Ladybug takes a deep breath, “I need you to be ready to sting.”

Queen Bee smirks, “With pleasure.” Then she darts back into the fray.

Ladybug dives after her, rushing ahead to the others, “Ryukogo, I need you to burn us a path to Weaver.”

“Yes Ladybug.”

“Mercury, Kid Mime, Cat Noir, take care of the people not on our side, keep them back. Viperion, I need you to direct people to grab her legs.”

“Let’s do this!” Mercury grins

Viperion smiles, “Alright.”

Ryukogo leaps up into the air, sword raised above her head, “Dragon Breath!” A well of fire runs up her sword and then bursts outwards, burning through web as easily as a hot knife through butter, creating a clear path towards Weaver.

Cat Noir and Kid Mime follow Mercury towards the villain, Kid Mime bringing out his fly swatter once more, face filled with fury. Mercury runs as fast as he can, disorienting Weaver while Cat Noir bats at her with his staff.

Ladybug runs after them, hefting the bowling ball along.

“Ladybug!” Someone screams, and she’s too slow to avoid being tackled by the person that’s come up beside her. The woman’s eyes are glazed over, unseeing, face twisted in rage, “You’re the worst! You’re no hero!” she screams

“Marinette!” Chloe yells, turning quickly, raising her top

“Don’t waste it!” she calls back, not even bothering that Chloe just yelled her real name. Everyone on the team knows anyways. Everyone except-

“Get off of her!” Viperion yells, grabbing the woman by the collar of her shirt and throwing her backwards, expression full of more rage than she’s ever seen, “Marinette…” he smiles, “Of course it’s you.” He helps her to her feet, holding her hand tight.

“Luka….”

He leans in and presses a quick kiss to her cheek, “Later. Right now, we have an akuma to defeat.”

She smiles, cheeks flushing red. “Ok, then you better go get us some help.”

He grins, nodding, then runs ahead, pulling his harp off his hip and bringing it up. “Hypnotize!” he calls, and the harp turns golden, glowing bright, as he slowly plays a soothing melody, humming softly. All the people in the vicinity stop in their tracks, eyes widening, the haze clearing only for their to turn white. “For Ladybug!” Viperion yells, and all his minions cheer.

They rush forward, pushing through the path Ryukogo has made, around the others as Cat Noir, Kid Mime, and Mercury work to hold them back.

“What are you doing!” Weaver screams, looking down as they rush at her. They wrap themselves around her spider legs, holding tight and pulling, unbalancing her. “Let me go!”

“For Ladybug!” they cheer, and Weaver screams louder in rage. She makes to swipe at them with her arms, to push them up but-

“Venom!” Queen Bee darts out of the shadows, top extended and stabs it into Weaver’s arm.

Weaver shouts, freezing in place, eyes widening. “Let me go!” she screams, “Let me go!”

Ladybug jumps over her, dropping the bowling ball down onto Weaver’s back, her legs buckling as she falls down to the floor. “Cat, now!”

Cat Noir grins, darting forward to grab Lila’s earring, “Cataclysm!” It crumbles under his fist.

Ladybug stumbles as Lila’s transformation falls in a puff of purple. She falls forward, arms windmilling, only for Viperion to catch her easily. He smiles, “Looks like you fell for me.”

She snorts a laugh, rolling her eyes, “You and Cat are gonna get along fine.”

Kid Mime comes up to her then, carefully holding an invisible box with the akuma trapped inside, fluttering angrily. He grins.

“I’m so tired.” Mercury groans, appearing suddenly with Allegra still passed out in his arms.

Ladybug readies her yo-yo, catching the akuma quickly, “No more evil doing for you little akuma.” She lets it out, a pure white butterfly fluttering up to the sky, “Bye-bye little butterfly.” She grabs the bowling ball, struggling to throw it up just above her head, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

The swarm of butterflies goes shooting out, removing all of Weaver’s web and repairing any damage, reverting all the civilians back to normal people and returning them to where they’d been before. Allegra shoots up in Mercury’s arm with a gasp.

“Where is she! I’m gonna-“ she looks around and then down at herself, blinking slowly, “I mean, uh, I’m gonna go home and be safe. Thank you for saving me oh mighty heroes.”

Queen Bee snorts, “Relax blondie, we all know now.”

Allegra’s mouth drops open, “Uh… what?”

“Look who’s the dumb one now.” Kid Mime snickers, gently knocking his elbow into her side as Mercury sets her down on her feet.

She glares at him, “Don’t think I won’t smack you.” She looks over everyone, “So… It’s over now?”

Ladybug nods “It’s over now. Except for…”

She looks over to Lila, who is slowly sitting up from her place on the street, looking around with a petulant frown.

Cat Noir glares, “What do we do with her?”

Ladybug sighs, “I don’t know. But we can’t just leave her here.”

Queen Bee scoffs, “Why not?”

Allegra grins, “I’m for it.”

Their miraculous beep for everyone but the Quantic Kids and Ladybug sighs, “You three keep an eye on her. I’m going to recharge. Ryukogo, Bee, Viperion, I’ll need your miraculous as well.”

They all dart off, the other three going to keep a close eye on Lila.

Once out of sigh of the main street they drop their transformations, leaving five teens staring at each other.

Chloe groans, “Ew Adrikins! I should have known with those awful puns!”

Adrien smiles bashfully, “Aw Chlo, but my puns are paw-sitively great.”

Chloe gags. Kagami chuckles, shaking her head. Luka smiles.

Their kwamis hover between them, grinning.

“That was quite the ordeal.” Longg smirks, settling himself on top of Kagami’s head and watching them all with amusement.

“It’s been so long since this many of us were active at once.” Sass agrees, settling on Luka’s shoulder and leaning into the scritches under his chin.

“It was an honor to work with you again.” Tikki nods, smiling sweetly as she settles herself back in Marinette’s purse.

“My Queen has grown so much!” Pollen enthuses, nuzzling Chloe’s cheek affectionately

“I’m hungry.” Plagg groans, glaring at Adrien.

Adrien sighs, “Of all the polite, wise kwamis and I’m stuck with you.” But he smiles, and digs some cheese out of his pocket.

“That’s why you always smell!” Chloe shrieks

Kagami chuckles, as she passes over the ring, “It was a pleasure to work alongside you.”

Luka grins, passing over the bracelet as Chloe finally hands over the hairpin. “I’m glad you trusted me.” He says, hand lingering in hers.

She flushes again, smiling slightly, “I’m sorry you had to find out this way.”

“It makes sense. The kindest, most amazing girl as Paris’ superhero? I don’t know why I didn’t see it earlier.”

Plagg gags, “Enough mush. Let’s go. I want to destroy this liar.”

Marinette sighs, looking up at Luka, “I’ll see you later?”

He smiles, leaning down to kiss her cheek again, “I’m looking forward to it.”

She touches her cheek, smiling dopily as her boyfriend and two of her closest friends leave the alley.

“You two are cute together.” Adrien says quietly, smiling softly at her.

“Adrien…”

He shakes his head, “I’m happy for you M’Lady. And I think I’m happier being your friend.” He grins, “So, shall we go finish this.” He holds out his arm to her.

She smiles, taking it, “Let’s.”

They head out of the alley, back to Lila being restrained by Kid Mime, with Mercury and Melodie- freshly transformed- hovering over her.

“It’s over Lila.”

Chapter Text

Lila sneers up at Ladybug, arms crossed, looking completely unrepentant.

“Don’t you feel sorry at all?” Ladybug asks

Lila huffs, “What for? I haven’t done anything wrong. I was akumatized!”

“There’s video footage.” Cat Noir says in a near growl, “You asked to be.”

Lila snarls, “Shut up! It’s not fair! I deserve this! I deserve to-“

“You deserve a good kick in the face.” Kid Mime hisses, making the girl blink in shock.

She might have actually thought her rumor of Kid Mime being mute was true. She rallies quickly though, still scowling, “You gonna attack me then? I’m sure that’ll look real good. Paris hero attacks civilian.”

“How about Paris Heroes arrest terrorist!” someone shouts, and they all turn to find Chloe stalking down the street, smug smirk on her face as she leads Officer Raincomprix after her, “Don’t speak Lie-la.” She smiles, too sweet, “I’ve already gotten Cessaire to send a copy of that little video to me and I’ve helpfully shown it to the police. There’s no talking your way out of this one rat.”

Officer Raincomprix’s face is stony and harsh, “Miss Bourgeois is right. You willingly chose to work with a terrorist, there will be legal repercussions for this Miss Rossi.”

Lila pales, eyes wide, “What- but I- you don’t understand.”

“Stop talking Lila.” Ladybug sighs, shaking her head, “I told you, all of this could have been avoided if you just told the truth. But you chose to lie, to con people into liking you and bully those who stood against you. You chose to hurt others rather than face consequences for your actions. I learned recently that there was good and kindness in everyone, even the meanest, most cruel people.” She casts a look to Chloe, who smiles softly back at her, cheeks flushed, “So please Lila, stop this. This is your last chance.”

Lila looks between Ladybug and her team and Officer Raincomprix and Chloe. Her face is turning scarlet in rage. “Fine.” She grits out, fists clenched.

Cat Noir frowns, “She’s still pissed.” He whispers to Ladybug, eyeing the girl nervously, “There’s no way she’s giving up just like that.”

Mercury leans in on her other side, “What do we do Bug?”

Ladybug frowns, considering, then looks to Roger, “Officer, I think I may have a solution to this. One that doesn’t involve Lila going to prison.”

Lila is still scowling. Behind her Melodie lets out a disappointed sigh. Raincomprix nods, “Well, let’s hear it.”

++

Lila sits in handcuffs in the mayor’s office, scowling at her lap with such intensity Ladybug half expects steam to start pouring from her ears.

She and Cat stand on either side of the Mayor’s desk, the Mayor himself sat in his seat with Officer Raincomprix standing guard over Lila. The rest of the team has gone home for now, waiting to hear how things go, as Ladybug watches the video of Lila’s downfall play out on the Mayor’s computer.

Apparently Alya had already uploaded it, as well as some footage of her akuma to the Ladyblog. It was spreading like wildfire, already millions of views and comments. Lila’s name was the headline for a lot of them.

‘Lila Rossi willingly works for Hawkmoth’

There was no way she was coming back from this.

The sound of angry Italian cursing and the stomp of high heels precedes Mme. Rossi into the office. She slams the door open, expression filled with rage as she scans the room quickly and finally lands on her daughter.

Lila sinks down in her seat as her mother glares at her.

The woman starts screaming in Italian, face going red as Lila starts shouting back. Both of them yelling at each other as the rest of the room watches on in confusion.

Cat Noir slinks over to hide behind her, ears flat on his head with all the noise. She reaches back to soothingly pat his arm as the screaming subsides.

Lila pouts at her lap, tears welling in her eyes as Mme. Rossi finally turns to the rest of them.

“I am so sorry for my daughter. I had no idea.” She cuts a glare back to her, and then looks to Ladybug, “She told me school had been cancelled for months due to akumas, and with how often I was out of town I’m afraid I just wasn’t keeping up. I accept full responsibility for her. Whatever you think we need to do, I’ll do my best to help.”

Ladybug looks at Lila, still completely unrepentant, still angry. She keeps glancing to the window, waiting for another purple butterfly.

Mayor Bourgeois clears his throat, “Yes, well, that’s all well and good Mme. Rossi, but these are serious circumstances. I’ve already spoken to her teacher Ms. Bustier and the principal M. Damocles, and they’ve officially had Lila expelled for her excess absences. And they wish for her to face consequences for her disruption of classes and the leading of a mass bullying event that apparently chased out one of Dupont’s top students. All of this will be going onto her permanent record.”

Ladybug jumps at that, eyes widening.

Mme. Rossi turns back to her daughter, shouting again in Italian before turning back to the Mayor, “She will be grounded at home. And I am considering a behavioral institution to send her to. And I intend to have her personally apologize to this student.”

Lila scowls.

“Good, but, that is the least of the issues here. There is video recording of Lila asking to be akumatized to take revenge on her classmates. She has chosen to willingly work alongside a known terrorist. And with Ladybug’s claims, it appears this was not the first time she did so.”

Mme. Rossi snaps her attention to her, eyes wide.

She clears her throat, “Lila was akumatized the first time last semester, and, I’ll be honest, it was partly my fault. She was spreading her lies about knowing me and… I reacted poorly. It was unprofessional and rather cruel and I take full responsibility for her attack as Volpina. However afterwards was when Lila stopped coming to school and seemed to hold a personal grudge against me. She was the one who created the illusion on Heroes Day, of myself and Cat Noir fighting. However since I never cleansed the butterfly that means Hawkmoth did, which means she knew, at the very least, she had been akumatized, and said nothing to authorities or myself. And again a few months ago, when called out on her lies, she was akumatized into Chameleon. I can’t say for sure she knew what she was doing but I do know that the akuma that turned her was not intended for her. I was pursing that akuma after… after it went after Marinette Dupain-Cheng. How Lila got it, I don’t know. And now today. That is a grand total of four akumatizations, far more than any other individual.”

Mme. Rossi frowns, “I see… What do you recommend then?”

“Lila needs to leave Paris. She’s at risk to be akumatized again and the danger to the city can’t be ignored. I ask that you and your family return to Italy or any other country where you might have business.”

The woman scoffs, “Business. I have no business now! I’m a diplomat and now all people are talking about is how my daughter is a terrorist. I’ve lost all my contacts! All the work I’ve done for decades to help people down the drain.” She takes a calming breath, “We will go back to Italy. I have family there still that can help and hopefully, Lila will learn her lesson from this.”

Mayor Bourgeois stands, “Very well then, Mme. Rossi, as it stands, you and your family are furthermore barred from entering France until the situation with Hawkmoth is settled. I will give you time to arrange your things but I must insist you and your daughter leave by the end of the day. I can have a private jet arranged to take you back to Italy.”

“Thank you. And again, I’m very sorry for all this.”

She turns, stomping out of the room. Raincomprix follows, leading Lila ahead of him. The girl glares at Ladybug, “This isn’t over.” Then the door slams shut.

“Oh dear…” The Mayor says, “I do think she may be right.”

Cat Noir grins, “Yeah, but at least from now on we won’t have to worry about her having powers to attack us with.”

Ladybug sighs, “True. But we definitely haven’t seen the last of Lila Rossi.”

He slings his arms around her, “Ready to go M’Lady?”

She nods, finally letting a smile slip onto her face, “Yeah Cat. Let’s go.”

++

“To Lila!” Allegra toasts, raising her bottle of soda into the air, “May she rot in hell!”

“Cheers!” Claude calls enthusiastically, sloshing his drink all over himself in his rush.

Marinette laughs, leaning into Luka’s side as her boyfriend plays his guitar.

It’s a quiet, peaceful afternoon, the day after their final confrontation with Lila. The girl and her mother had officially been deported this morning according to Chloe, and she’d no longer bother them.

They’d all agreed to have a picnic after class got out, in the park by her house. She’s brought most of the food of course, but her friends had certainly pulled out all the stops.

Luka wrote a brand-new song to celebrate the occasion. Claude performs a one-man rendition of the battle. Kagami and Adrien arm wrestle each other for superiority and Alan eats so many macarons he pukes. Allegra and Chloe make out on the picnic blanket for like, ten minutes.

“You guys are gonna make me barf again.” Alan complains as he wiggles his foot in between the two girls.

Chloe digs her elbow into his shin while Allegra runs her fingernail up the arch of his foot, making Alan shriek and roll desperately across the blanket to get away.

Luka chuckles, stilling his fingers on the strings, “Adrien, you’re gonna break your arm.” He warns, watching as Kagami effortlessly holds Adrien’s hand in place as the blond struggles desperately to pin hers.

“I’m….gonna…win…this time….”

Kagami yawns, “Not happening Agreste.”

Claude flops dramatically on top of Marinette’s lap, “I’m so single and alone!” he whines, “Everyone but me and Alan is paired up!”

Kagami reaches out with her free hand to swat him “If you think I’m dating this loser we will have words.”

“Hey!” Adrien whines, pouting, “I’m a catch!”

Chloe scoffs, “The puns Adrien. The puns.”

Adrien grins, “Hey, they’re-“

“Don’t finish that!” Marinette warns, glaring at her partner. Adrien pouts again, hand slamming to the ground as Kagami pins him.

“Oh come on! I was distracted!”

“Too bad and yet so sad.”

Plagg snickers, “That’s 10-1 kid. Hand over the cheese Danish.”

Adrien pouts and hands it over, Kagami adding it to her small mountain of sweets she’d won.

Plagg dives for it, devouring it eagerly. Tikki, nestled among the array of cookies Kagami had won, frowns at him.

“You’re disgusting.”

“You love it Sugar-Cube.”

“Don’t call me that, Stink-Breath.”

“Ok so I was thinking,” Allegra starts, grinning, “This weekend we should go to the beach!”

“Ooh beach!” Adrien grins, bouncing excitedly, “I’ve never been to the beach!”

“You poor, sheltered boy.” Claude sighs

“It’ll probably still be cold.” Luka reminds them with a smile, “You might not get to see Chloe in a bikini like you want.”

Allegra flushes, pouting, “You caught that then…”

Chloe laughs, pulling Allegra back in for a quick peck, “Babe you can see me in whatever you want.”

“I’m gonna barf!” Alan yells

Luka laughs, pressing a kiss to the top of her head and Marinette nuzzles into his side, closing her eyes as everyone bickers around her.

She blinks them open when Luka stiffens slightly, looking up at him curiously.

He frowns down at her, whispering softly, “Look over there.”

She follows his gaze, frowning, and then gasps.

Alya and Nino are stood on the path around the park, eyes wide as they stare at the group. They’d clearly been on a walk together, holding hands tightly. Alya notices her looking and offers her a small, shy wave.

Marinette swallows nervously, “What do I do?” she whispers

Luka shrugs, setting his guitar aside to wrap his arms around her, “Whatever you want to do. You go at your pace. If you’re not ready then don’t worry about it.”

“How do I know if I’m ready?”

Luka smiles at her, kissing the side of her head, “I have a feeling you already know.”

She closes her eyes, hates sometimes how smart and perfect her boyfriend is. She takes a deep breath and stands.

The walk over is far shorter than she would have liked, and she can feel everyone staring behind her, feel the murderous intent and the hopeful calm.

“Hi…” she says, when she finally stands in front of them, twisting her hands in front of herself and shuffling her feet nervously.

Alya’s hand tightens in Nino’s and he swallows nervously.

“Hey….” Alya says softly, biting her lip

“Hey Marinette, how’s it going?” Nino asks, offering her a small, shy smile.

She shrugs, “Um… Good, I guess. My friends and I are having a picnic to celebrate….”

Alya nods, then takes a deep breath, expression turning serious, “Look, Marinette, I am so sorry for what I did. I claimed to be your best friend but I didn’t listen to you. I ignored you. I said awful things to you and behind your back. I exposed secrets you shared with me and betrayed your trust. And… And I don’t think I can ever apologize enough to make up for all of that.” Tears sting her eyes, and she wipes furiously at them, “Shit… I wasn’t supposed to make this all about me by crying… Fuck…”

Nino wraps an arm around her and squeezes, “I’m sorry too Marinette. I’ve known you since we were little kids, I should have known what you were like and believed you over her. And I don’t expect you to forgive me, honestly, I don’t deserve you to forgive me. You’re the nicest, most helpful and amazing girl and we did you wrong. I just want you to know how sorry I really am, even if you can’t forgive me, and I hope you have the best life, because you deserve it.”

Marinette finds her lip wobbling and she wipes at her eyes.

Alya chokes on a sob, “You shouldn’t forgive us.” She agrees, shaking in Nino’s hold, “You shouldn’t because we’re awful people and we hurt you. But god… God Marinette I want you to forgive me so bad. I want to be your friend again. I want to make everything up to you. I want to have sleepovers and paint your nails and talk about my boyfriend being an idiot. I want to watch you geek out over fashion and trip over fucking nothing because you can’t walk in a line girl…”

Marinette’s tears are falling now, streaking down her face in a flood she can’t stop.

“I do want to forgive you.” She says at last, “I wanted to forgive you from the start. I wanted to be your friend again, I wanted to pretend none of this had ever happened but…” she wipes at her eyes, struggling to breath, “But it did. And… And it really hurt Alya. You were my best friend and you just… you said such awful things…”

“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”

Marinette takes a shuddering breath, “I do forgive you. Both of you. And I want to thank you for what you did with Lila, for standing up to her but… But I can’t be your friend again, not yet at least. I…I need time. Time to trust you again.”

Nino nods quickly, “Of course. We’ll do this at your speed Marinette. Whatever you’re willing to do.”

Alya wipes furiously at her face, “This weekend, wanna get a coffee?” she asks

Marinette looks back at her friends, all watching her, she wipes at her tears, “Actually, I think I’m going to the beach this weekend. Maybe next week?”

Alya nods, “Yeah… Yeah that sounds good.”

Marinette debates for a long second before pulling her phone out, handing it over, “I got a new phone.” Nino quickly adds his and Alya’s numbers, “I’ll… I’ll text you.”

Nino smiles, eyes shining, “Can’t wait. See you around Marinette.”

Alya beams, “See you later.”

The pair leave.

Marinette watches them go before she makes her way back to the picnic, dropping heavily next to Luka as her boyfriend wraps his arms around her.

“I’m proud of you.” He whispers, “It’s gonna be ok.”

Around her, everyone starts arguing about the beach again.

She takes a deep breath, “I want to trust them again…”

“And you will, someday. These things just take time Marinette.”

She smiles up at him, “How’d I get lucky enough to have a boyfriend like you?”

He grins, “You captured my heart the moment we met Marinette. You’re one of a kind.”

She flushes, ducking her head, “Luka…”

“I love you Marinette.”

She looks up, eyes wide. Luka’s cheeks are pink but he’s still smiling, looking at her like she’s hung the moon.

She beams, “I love you too.” Then she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him in for their first, proper kiss.

“Guys!” Alan groans, “You’re gonna make me barf!”

Chapter Text

Epilogue- 10 years later

Marinette wakes up slowly, blinking blearily at the alarm clock on her night stand as she tries to comprehend what day it is and whether its worth it to get out of bed.

The bed dips behind her and a pair of arms slide around her, pulling her back into a solid chest as warm lips press against the nape of her neck.

“Good morning.” Luka smiles into her skin, the short ends of her hair tickling his face.

She yawns, “We gotta get up.”

He groans, pressing more kisses to her neck, “Don’t wanna…”

She snorts, wiggling out of his hold and throwing her legs over the side of the bed as she sits up. She looks down on him, his dark hair all mussed up from sleep. She runs her fingers through it, almost missing the green color from their teenage years.

“Wake up sleepyhead. We have things to do.”

He opens one eye to glare at her, frowning, “Too early.”

She snorts, “It’s ten am. I’ll start the coffee pot. And see if our cat’s awake.”

Luka snorts, “He’s gonna be so late.”

Marinette pads out into the living room of their apartment, easily spotting the dark blob of too many blankets curled up on her couch. She shakes her head, leaning over the back to scream,

“Wake up!”

Adrien yelps, jumping a foot off the couch before falling in a heap on the floor, “I’m up!” He looks around wildly, and when he sees her he glares, “You’re the worst, you know that right?”

She snickers, blowing him a kiss on her way to start the coffee. “You’re gonna be late for class if you don’t get up.”

Adrien looks at the time on his phone, yelps, and then sprints for the bathroom.

Adrien had been living on their couch for three months now, while he worked on getting his own place and finishing up his dual doctorate in chemistry and physics. He’s actually been living on everyone’s couches since he officially left his father’s company and stopped taking the man’s calls, but he mostly ends up on her and Luka’s couch.

Tikki and Plagg are curled up around each other on the counter, snoring softly in a patch of sunlight from the big windows. She pets them both on the head and goes to pour herself some cereal. Sass is in the pantry, buried face first in the bag of pretzels she bought for him.

He smirks at her, grabs another handful in his little hands, and then phases through the wall and disappears to wherever he hides things.

She sighs, shaking her head as she grabs her lucky charms- she’s on the box and it’s awesome. There used to be a toy inside but Adrien stole it- and sits down to eat.

By the time she’s mostly finished her breakfast and half a cup of coffee both boys come into the room, Adrien fully dressed as he runs fill tilt around the living room, gathering his school bag and his things.

“Plagg come on!” he screams, hopping on one foot as he tries to shove his foot into a shoe.

Plagg grumbles as he gets up, floating over to his chosen, “But we haven’t eaten breakfast yet!”

Tikki, awake now, yawns and settles on top of Marinette’s head.

“We’ll get something on campus! We’re late! Shit!” Adrien rushes for the door, “Bye Marinette! Bye Luka!”

“Bye Adrien.” Luka calls, dressed as well as he sits casually at the bar next to her.

Adrien is out the door a second later.

Marinette shakes her head, “That boy is a train wreck.”

Luka snickers, “So, what’s on the schedule for today?”

She shrugs, going to put her bowl in the sink, “I have a meeting with Jagged around lunch to talk about his upcoming tour and I need to go into the office for a few hours this morning to check on the shipment of Ladybug jackets we just got in. Hopefully we’ll have them up on the store by the end of the week if Leslie can get those bugs worked out.”

He nods, eating slowly, “I rescheduled my meeting for tomorrow so I’m just gonna go into the studio and try and finish up this song.”

She grins, “When do I get to hear it?”

He chuckles, “When it’s done. You’re not allowed to listen until its perfect.”

She leans forward to peck him on the lips, “We’re still good for six tonight at my parents’ place yeah?”

He nods, “Can’t wait.”

“They’re so excited. I think they started designing this cake as soon as we graduated high school.”

Luka laughs, head thrown back, “I wouldn’t put it past them. You’re their baby girl Marinette, they want your wedding cake to be as perfect as you.”

She blushes, smacking his arm playfully, “Stop it!”

He just laughs. She takes a moment to admire the ring on her finger, simple and unassuming, with an engraved snake and ladybug on the inside.

“Marinette.” Tikki calls from the top of her head, “You need to get ready.”

She nods, pressing one more kiss to Luka’s lips, “Love you, see you later.”

++

Work goes well. The jackets came in and they look even better than she’d hoped. Leslie gets their online store fixed up- Lady Noir Fashion- and the jacket is on schedule to be added to the inventory by tomorrow. Pre-orders are already through the roof, and sales expects that once they’re officially out they’ll have even more orders put in.

When lunch finally rolls around Marinette heads to the Grand Paris Hotel

Mr. Bourgeious, now firmly back in the hotel business and out of the political world, greets her with a warm smile, “Ah, Miss Dupain-Chang. Miss Rolling insisted you go straight on up. Oh, and Chloe asked you to visit whenever you were done.”

“Thanks sir.” She smiles, rolling her eyes. She has a feeling she’s about to hear about Allegra.

She’s hardly stepped through the door to Jagged’s suite when the man in question cheers, “Marinette!” and rushes her, sweeping her off her feet and swinging her around in a hug, “Oh I’ve missed my favorite little designer!”

Marinette giggles, patting the man on the back to signal she’s ready to be let down, “Hey Uncle J. Congrats on the Grammy.”

Jagged grins, “Wish you could have been there Marinette. Beyoncé loved my suit by the way! She really wants a Marinette original now!”

She resists the urge to squeal like a teenager. Claude was going to flip. “You’re shitting me?”

“He’s really not.” Penny comes into the room, hugging Marinette quickly, “I’ve given her your number to contact, you should be hearing from her soon.”

“You’re the best Pen.”

Penny goes to sit on the couches and Jagged wraps an arm around her shoulder, dragging her after the woman, “So, let’s talk shop.”

Marinette nods, digging her sketchbook out of her bag, “Right, I’ve gone ahead and drawn up some preliminary designs for your tour outfits and-“

“Not my concert Marinette!” Jagged whines, “The wedding! Let’s talk about the wedding!”

Marinette blinks, “My wedding?”

Jagged nods, “Yes! Now, I know Tom’ll be walking you down the aisle, but, as your honorary Uncle, I demand a spot of my own! Ring bearer? Musician? Flower girl!”

Marinette bites her lip to keep from snorting at the mental image of Jagged Stone in the dress she’d designed for Luka’s baby cousin to wear as flower girl.

Penny sighs, smacking Jagged on the back of the head, “Sorry about him Marinette. He is… very excited.”

Marinette smiles, “Luka’s cousin is already flower girl and Alan is ringbearer. As for music, well Adrien and Allegra have volunteered but I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have your help.”

Luka was going crazy not being able to pick out any of the music for their wedding- Allegra had insisted. Adrien was also doubling as her Man of Honor, with Luka’s sister Juleka taking the role of Best Woman. The wedding parties weren’t exactly traditional, but they were happy with it.

Jagged crows, “I’ll do it!”

Penny sighs, shaking her head. Marinette slaps her hand over her mouth to keep from snorting.

“Let’s get back to the other business.” Penny insists, pulling Marinette’s sketches closer, “Before he gets distracted again.”

This time, Marinette does laugh, and Jagged pouts, “Penny!”

++

Marinette leaves Jagged’s suite and heads up the elevator to the penthouse, hardly even having to knock before the door bursts open.

“Marinette!” Chloe yelps, eyes wide, cheeks flushed. She grabs Marinette by the front of her shirt and drags her into her childhood bedroom, “Emergency!”

Marinette looks her friend up and down cautiously, “What kind of emergency?”

Chloe is pacing quickly back and forth in front of her balcony, running her hands through her hair. She’d started wearing it down after university, and it really suited her. It made her look softer.

“Allegra!” she yelped, pacing faster, “I found that in her nightstand!” she points dramatically at her vanity, where a simple velvet box is sitting.

Marinette gasps, “Is that an engagement ring?”

Chloe nods, “I think so! I haven’t opened it yet!”

Marinette dives for the box, opening it before Chloe can protest. Her face softens, “Oh Chlo….”

“What? What is it?”

Marinette just smiles, closing the box carefully, “Put it back where you found it and wait for Allegra to be ready.”

Chloe whines, “But I don’t want to wait. I want to talk to her now!”

Marinette sits on Chloe’s bed, cheeks warm with joy. Her two closest friends are gonna get engaged soon. They’d been dating since lycée, since the battle with Lila when Chloe found out their identities, and they’d moved in together in University, in a shitty little apartment that had driven Chloe half out of her mind. They were living somewhere nicer now, somewhere more to her rich girl standards. Chloe, Allegra, and their three overfed cats

“Be calm my Queen.” Pollen soothes, floating up from Chloe’s pillow with sleepy eyes, “All will be well soon.”

Marinette looks over at the kwami, “How long has she been at this?”

Pollen sighs, “Seven hours. Since she found the ring this morning.”

Marinette pats her consolingly on the head as Tikki flutters out to join them, “Easy Chloe.” She laughs, “Just breathe.”

Chloe takes several hurried, shallow breathes.

“Slower.” Marinette reminds, “Just let Allegra do this on her own time.”

“Or buy your own ring and propose first.” Pollen suggests.

Chloe’s eyes widen, latching onto the idea.

“Chloe no…”

“Chloe yes! See you later Marinette I’ve got ring shopping to do!” she grabs her purse and then bolts for the elevator, leaving Pollen to chase after her and leaving Marinette sitting on her bed.

She sighs, “Allegra’s gonna be pissed.”

Tikki giggles, “Don’t you think she’ll be more excited that she’s engaged?”

“I mean, yeah, but she also really likes to be the first one to do something. That Chloe would beat her to proposing is gonna drive her crazy.” She shakes her head, “Come on, we have a little time to get relax before we need to be at my parents.”

++

She gets to the lobby of the hotel when her phone dings with the group chat.

Cockblock: hungry. Meet 4 food in ten at caf?
Cockblock: pls
Lesbean: in the area. B trh son
BadBitch: I have time before my next meeting. I will be there as soon as I can.
Stupit: YAS! FOoD! 😊

She snorts, figuring she has enough time to kill to join them.

FuckyCharm: im in. c u soon

Then she heads down the street to their usual café.

When she gets there, Allegra has already gotten their usual table, an extra chair already pulled over and her drink already half empty.

“Marinette!” she squeals, jumping up to hug her. Marinette resists the urge to scream about the proposal. She can’t reveal that Chloe knows and is planning to propose first.

“Hey Leg. How was practice?”

Allegra groans, “They’re trying to kill us. I’ve lost all feeling in my fingers.”

Allegra had been a part of the French National Symphony for four years now as their lead flutist. It takes her out of the city a lot, and frequently out of the country too, but she loves it. She sends them all postcards from all over the world, and a copious number of selfies too.

Between Allegra’s job and Chloe’s work running the hotel, neither of them need to worry too much about money. Marinette is very certain their wedding will be huge.

“Marinette! Allegra!” Claude and Alan rush over, both enveloping the girls in tight hugs.

“I’ve missed you!” Alan groans into her neck, squeezing tight.

She laughs, “You just saw me two days ago.”

“Too long.” He insists.

Claude collapses into his seat and looks down at his watch, “So, I have like, an hour before I need to be back at Rose River.”

Claude had taken up the theatre director position since his former teacher had retired. He’s having a blast teaching the kids and putting together shows, as well as driving his old teachers up the walls. She’s like, ninety percent sure he’s on a crusade to make M. Toulouse have a hernia.

Alan, meanwhile, is busy with training. He’s got prospects in the Olympics next year, which will be his second time competing. He got bronze last time, and it hangs proudly on his bedroom wall and she knows he shows if off every time he brings a girl back to his apartment.

Their love lives are… well, the boys are trying. Alan is apparently on and off again with some girl on his team that none of them have met yet. Claude hasn’t exactly been looking ever since he and Adrien had broken up. That had been… not fun for anyone. At least it had ended on friendly terms, so things weren’t too awkward for very long.

“Hello everyone.” Kagami takes the final seat, waving down the waiter as she drops her bag on the floor with a thud.

“God Kags, what the hell do you have in that thing?” Allegra asks, eyes wide

She sighs, “Paperwork. So much paperwork. I spent years training for owning the company and not once was I prepared for the sheer amount of forms I’d have to fill out every day.”

Kagami had taken over her family’s gym business, not only the one in France but the branches all around the world too. She switched her time between managing the ‘raging dumpster fire’ as she called it, and competing in fencing tournaments around the world. She’s already on her way to surpassing her mother’s title of top worldwide fencing champion five years earlier.

Claude winces, “Tell me about. It. Do you have any idea how many forms I have to fill out to put on a show? I mean, it’s Cinderella, high schooler Cinderella.”

Alan snorts, “Speaking of princesses, how’s Chloe?”

Marinette bites her lip to keep from grinning. Kagami raises an eyebrow at her and gestures to her ring finger. Marinette nods. Kagami shakes her head with a smile.

Allegra sighs dreamily, “Good. She’s at work all day today. I think I’m gonna ask her to marry me this weekend.”

Claude screams, “What!”

Alan bounces in his seat, “No way really? That’s amazing Leg! Do you have a ring?”

She nods, “Just got it last night. I was on my way home and I saw it in this shop window and I just… I think we’re ready.” She smiles, soft and happy and so unbelievably sweet it makes Marinette want to hug her again, “Hope you don’t think I’m upstaging your wedding Nette.”

Marinette shakes her head, “Not at all. I’m so happy for you guys. Although, I think you might want to do it sooner. Like, tonight maybe.”

Kagami coughs to hide her snort of laughter. Claude narrows his eyes at her, “Any reason?” he asks

She shrugs, “No….uh…bet with Luka?”

Allegra gasps, “A bet! I will absolutely be in on this! You are winning this bet Marinette I am proposing to Chloe Bourgeois tonight!” she stands quickly in determination, one foot up on the chair.

Alan sighs, “Don’t put your feet on the furniture.”

Claude leans over to whisper in her ear, “Chloe knows doesn’t she?”

She nods, leaning in too, “Getting a ring as we speak.”

Claude smirks, “Oh this’ll be fun.”

Allegra is still standing in her chair, Alan trying to coax her down with Kagami only urging her on, when a crash sounds down the street, screaming starting up moments later.

She looks at her friends, all of them looking to her.

She smiles, “So much for a peaceful afternoon.” She looks down to her lap at Tikki, peeking out of her purse, “Ready?”

“Of course Marinette.” Her kwami grins

The four of them stand, “See you later Kagami.” Alan grins, waving.

The woman sighs, a smile pulling at her lips, “I suppose a heroes work is never done. Go on, I’ll take care of the bill.”

They rush to the nearest alley, all grinning at each other. The three of them hold up their right arms, their silver miraculous glinting on the wrists, not having lost their shine even all these years later.

“By the power of the Mind-“

“By the power of the Soul-“

“By the power of the Body-“

“Transform me!” They chorus

Marinette grins as her three best friends turn in Kid Mime, Melodie, and Mercury before her eyes.

“Tikki, spots on!”

The four of them rush out into the battle.

There are three akumas today, and she groans. It seems Hawkmoth is learning more about his powers as well, though while her and Cat had found additional abilities and more strength and endurance, Hawkmoth had found the ability to control more people at once.

The Terrible Trio stomp through the city, calling themselves the Natural Disasters. Tornadooom, with the power of harsh winds, Tsunaminator, with floods of water pouring out of his hands, and Earthquaker, shaking the world with each heavy stomp of his feet.

Cat Noir touches down on the ground next to them a moment later, “Purr-fect timing. I just got out of class.”

Melodie smirks “Hope you’re still ready to school these guys.”

Ladybug sighs, “You’re both uninvited to my wedding.”

They snicker, “You don’t mean that Bug.” Melodie coos,

Cat Noir grins, “We better hurry, class is in session.”

The two fist bump. Ladybug looks to Mercury whose eyes have rolled heavenward.

“Let’s do this guys.” She says instead, and the five of them leap into battle.

It doesn’t take long to realize they’re overwhelmed. They may have numbers on their side but the three of them have sheer size and power.

“Lucky charm maybe?” Cat Noir asks, drenched from head to toe after his tussle with Tsunaminator.

Melodie, her hair defying gravity and filled with twigs and debris from Tornadoom’s winds, glares at their opponents, “Someone is going to pay.”

Ladybug looks at her yo-yo and at her teammates, she already knows what her lucky charm will give her.

“Mercury.” She calls, and the hero appears beside her in a flash.

“Yeah Bug?”

She grins, “All hands on deck.”

He grins back, throwing his head back to laugh, “Oh now this is gonna be fun.” Then he turns and zips away.

Cat Noir shakes his hair out, “We having a party M’Lady?”

She nods, “Hopefully. Keep our new friends busy Cat Noir.”

“Yes Ma’am.” He salutes, and then follows Melodie and Mime back into the fight.

Ladybug works on perimeter, swinging civilians to safety and clearing the area before the battle can really begin.

Mercury rushes past her to punch Earthquaker in the face, “Party time!” he shouts, zipping quickly around the street in search of civilians.

Ladybug looks up as an array of heroes rush into the street, smiling as the battle truly starts.

She dives in after them, joining the fight against Tsunaminator, jumping up for another punch in the giant’s face. She lands easily in Viperion’s arms, the hero smirking at her.

“I think we might be late to your parents.”

She shrugs, “We’ll tell them we lost track of time.” She leans up to press a quick peck to his cheek and then he throws her up into the air so she can land on Tornadoom’s shoulder for another punch, Viperion rushing over to help the others.

She stands back and surveys the fight.

Viperion, Melodie, and Kid Mime work together to keep Earthquaker on his toes, off-balancing him enough that he’s unable to keep shaking the ground beneath them.

Ryukogo and at Noir are surrounding Tsunaminator, distracting him from sending out his barrage of water.

Mercury, Queen Bee and Carapace are all keeping Tornadoom from using his wind powers by boxing him in.

Someone lands next to her, “Sorry I’m late.” Rena Rouge grins at her, flipping her hair over her shoulder, “Where do you need me Bug?”

Ladybug grins, “You’re just in time.” She throws up her yo-yo, “Lucky Charm!”

The Natural Disasters don’t stand a chance, not against Ladybug and her team of heroes.

Not against Marinette and her friends.