Things eventually stopped being so tense. But they were never the same.
Marinette stopped going out of her way to do things for the class. No more free outfits, no surprise birthday cakes or croissants for the whole class, no banners for competitions, no last minute babysitting.
Oh sure, she would still do things if they asked her nicely. But now she started charging commissions for her work. Admittedly cheap commissions, but commissions none-the-less.
No-one in the class complained. They knew they had taken their everyday Ladybug for granted for far too long. It was only fair she got something back in return.
Marinette was still kind and polite when speaking to everyone, but she still wasn't comfortable hanging out with anyone except for Alya and Adrien.
But she was trying. And in turn, they did all they could to ensure Marinette didn't regret giving them a second chance.
(Chloe was still...well, Chloe. But her insults had lost a lot of their venom - it probably helped that Mrs. Bustier actually scolded her when she stepped out of line - and for the most part, she left the class alone.)
"Hey, Ladybloggers. Alya here. I'd like to address some of the comments and questions I've been getting as of late.
"Some of you have noticed that a couple of my videos have been deleted. There's a good reason for that.
"You see, those videos were all interviews with a, former classmate of mine, Lila Rossi. In these videos, she said to have been close friends with Ladybug, as well as other, more outrageous claims. I'm...sad to say that I didn't check to see if any of these claims were true. I saw this person who was supposedly connected to Ladybug, and I believed she could be beneficial to me and my blog.
"Sigh...I have no excuse. As an aspiring journalist, I should have known better. I didn't check my sources, and as a result several people were hurt by Lila's lies...including my best friend.
"I can't change what I've done. All I can do is apologize, from the bottom of my heart, and do my best to make sure that I never make the same mistake again. And for those of you still following me...I hope you will continue to watch as I move forward.
"Thanks for listening. Alya out."
It had been a month since they had moved back to Italy. And Lila still wasn't speaking to her.
Mrs. Rossi wasn't moved. If Lila thought giving her the silent treatment would get her to let up on her punishment, she was sorely mistaken.
She could understand, to an extent, how her frequent absence could have led to her daughter making up stories for attention. But skipping school? Bullying another student? There was no excuse for that!
Honestly, she was lucky that her getting expelled was all that happened! What if her lies about all those trips she supposedly took had gotten back to her superiors? She could have been fired if they thought she was wasting embassy time and money instead of doing her job! And then where would they be?! Did she really have no sense at all?!!
Something had happened to Lila that night. The night of that "study group". According to the news reports she'd watched, her daughter had been...physically assaulted at the hands of an akuma. They wouldn't diverge any specific details, Lila wouldn't say anything, and since Ladybug had fixed everything, there wasn't any evidence of what had happened.
But something had happened. And Mrs. Rossi was torn between the desire to protect her only child and the urge to dismiss her unnatural silence as another one of her tricks.
In the end, she decided to send Lila to a therapist.
She was glad she went with her parental instinct, because what the doctor had to say was alarming to say the least.
"It's clear that your daughter suffered some sort of trauma, Signora Rossi. I believe that what she went through has scarred her so thoroughly that she is unable to speak."
She had taken her to a pediatrician, just to be sure. There was nothing physically wrong with her throat or vocal chords.
She kept getting reports from Lila's teachers expressing concern about how withdrawn she was. And yet, doubts still lingered...
It was only after she had gone to her daughter's bedroom one night to check on her, only to see her sitting upright in bed, her face twisted in an open mouth scream with no sound coming out, did Mrs. Rossi finally accept the horrible truth.
Lila had been rendered mute.
Ladybug and Chat Noir sat on the roof of the Louvre, looking out over Paris.
10 days after defeating Couturiere, Ladybug had met up with Chat for their night patrol, only to be glomped and squeezed and spun around by her very relieved partner as he asked her questions. Was she okay? Did Couturiere hurt her? How did she get her Miraculous, and more importantly, how did she get it back?
After asking Chat to stop crushing her ribs, Ladybug explained that the akuma had attacked her from behind, knocking her out. The next thing she knew, she woke up on the ground and the earrings were back in her hand. Couturiere had apparently lost them while she was fighting Chat, and after he had Cataclysmed the akuma, Tikki had managed to sneak them out of the hotel and back to where she had been lying unconscious.
"Tikki woke me up, telling me that I had to use Miraculous Ladybug NOW! I didn't really ask questions. I put on the earrings and...well, you know the rest."
Chat had folded his arms, his face pinched in worry. "You know...it's a good thing akuma victims can't remember anything after they're de-evilized. Otherwise we'd have to worry about your secret identity being exposed."
"Yeah...good thing we don't have to worry about that."
(If Ladybug's eyes kept darting to the side, or if her voice shook a little as she told her story, or if she kept rubbing her arm nervously, Chat didn't notice. And if he did, he didn't care. He was just glad that his Bugaboo was alright.)
Now it was a week later, and the two heroes were basking in the beautiful sunset.
And yet, Chat was still bothered by what happened.
"I should have been there, m'lady. You never should have had to face Couturiere alone. I let you down."
"Chat, I didn't even see her coming until it was too late. And it all worked out in the end. Beating yourself up over it won't help things."
Chat was still unsure, so Ladybug added, "Why don't we put the blame where it actually belongs? On Hawkmoth."
Chat gave a weary smile, then nodded. His face then morphed into anger.
"I hate him, Ladybug. I hate him so much."
Chat's claws dug into his knees. "He just keeps on hurting people...people we care about, and we keep having to clean up the mess he leaves behind!"
Chat was no stranger to watching his friends and loved ones be akumatized. But Marinette was...different. She had been one of the first real friends he had made since he started public school. She had been nothing but kind to him, as Adrien and as Chat...even when he had done nothing to deserve that kindness. He didn't know why but Marinette was...special. She was like the sister he had never had.
(Sister. Riiiiight. Keep telling yourself that. said a voice in the back of his head that sounded suspiciously like Plagg.)
He would never forgive Hawkmoth. If he ever got his claws on that terrible man...
Ladybug placed a hand on Chat's shoulder, and he felt some of the tension bleed out.
"Hawkmoth can't hide forever, chaton. We will catch him. And his victims will finally get the justice they deserve."
And with that affirmation, the wielders of Creation and Destruction looked out over their beloved city.
This latest akuma had put them through the ringer.
But they had come out of it victorious in the end, and they were all the stronger for it.
And when the next threat came, they would be more than ready.