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The Murder of Lila Rossi

Chapter Text

                Stella Wolfe wasn't the best at this. 

                Oh, not her job. She was an excellent detective. But comforting the victim's families was a different skill altogether. Usually she let Dubois handle that. 

                Thankfully the woman across from her was past the incoherent sobbing stage, having gotten it all out between the morgue and Wolfe's office. There were still quite a few tears though. 

                "I'm sorry, Mrs. Rossi," Wolfe began, tucking her brown hair behind her ear. "I promise, we will find who did this."

                "Th-thank you," Mrs. Rossi said with a shuddering breath. "I just- I don't think it's really set in yet. She's gone. My daughter is... oh god."

                Her words descended into a string of Italian swears. Wolfe waited, knowing she'd get better answers after. 

                As Mrs. Rossi cried, Wolfe looked over the case again, turquoise eyes roving over any information. Lila Rossi, age 18, had been killed last night sometime between 9:30 and 10:30. Her body was found in the morning by a college student taking a shortcut through an alley. Cause of death was a knife wound in the abdomen. While Lila's purse and wallet were found in the alley, her phone was missing. 

                There were a few photos in the file too. The first was a printout of an image from the victim’s Instagram. She shared her mother’s brown hair, but her eyes were an olive green. The picture looked quite normal. Like that of any other teenage girl laughing with her friends.

                The pictures that didn’t look normal were the ones Wolfe was keeping angled away from Mrs. Rossi. One was of the crime scene, Lila’s body slumped over against the wall of a building, blood staining the front of her romper. The other picture was of her body in the morgue, covered mostly by a sheet, and her hair out of its ponytails.

                "Mrs. Rossi," Wolfe began once the crying died down. "Can you think of anyone who would have done this to your daughter?"

                "No," Mrs. Rossi shook her head. "Everyone loves her! She's so sweet. She... she was so sweet."

                "Are you sure?" She asked. "Please. Anything could help us find whoever did this. Was she fighting with a friend? Her boyfriend? Someone at school?"

                "She didn't mention anything, really," she said. "I mean, there was a comment about some bullies. But it wasn't- it seemed like just typical school drama. She didn't want me involved. But now I wish- I should've done something!"

                "This isn't your fault," she said. "The only person responsible is the person who did this. Now, do you know where Lila was last night?"

                "She went out yesterday morning," she answered. "I know she was going to be out with friends, just wandering and shopping I think. Usually she's back by ten. Only time she broke curfew was when those Akumas were running around."

                Wolfe nodded at that. While it bothered the police department to not know how Hawkmoth and Mayura disappeared, the fact that there were less wild Magic battles disrupting the day helped a lot when it came to solving cases. 

                "Can you give me the names of her friends?" Wolfe asked, pulling out her notepad. "I can talk to them and start putting together her last steps."

                "Of course," Mrs. Rossi said. "There's her best friend, Alya. Alya Cesaire. And her boyfriend, Adrien. I can't remember his last name. Alya would probably know." 

                "Thank you for your help," she said. 

                Some more crying later, and eventually Mrs. Rossi left. Wolfe set about looking into the friend.

Chapter Text

                Wolfe knocked on the apartment door. After a moment, a woman opened the door. She was tall and buff. Very buff. Like, ‘could probably actually knock you into next week with one punch’ buff.

                "Who are you?" The woman asked. 

                "Detective Stella Wolfe," Wolfe introduced. "I'm from the police department. Are you Alya Cesaire?"

                "Nora Cesaire," the woman frowned. "Alya's my sister. What do you want her for? Is she in trouble?"

                "No," she answered. "But a friend of hers, Lila Rossi, has been murdered. I'm the detective in charge of her case."

                Nora's expression dropped as she took in that information. Glancing back into the apartment, she seemed to make a decision. 

                "Look," Nora began. " We were about to take our little sisters to the park. Give me five minutes to get Ella and Etta out. They're too young to hear about that sort of thing."

                "Alright," Wolfe agreed. 

                Nora stepped back and opened the door, letting her into the apartment. She was almost immediately ambushed by two small girls. They were twins, about eight maybe. Wolfe had to agree with Nora. They were too young to hear about this. 

                While the twins practically interrogated Wolfe, Nora had a hushed conversation with another girl. This one with long reddish hair and glasses. Wolfe suddenly remembered where she'd heard the name "Alya Cesaire" before. 

                That one blog.  The Ladyblog. One of many blogs on Ladybug and her team of Heroes. It was one of the most well known and reliable, though some of the earlier work was a bit biased and inexperienced. Wolfe personally preferred the Miracublog, as it had a bit more snark to its articles. She wouldn't mention that though. 

                Eventually Nora managed to drag the younger girls out, leaving Wolfe with Alya. 

                "Hi, I'm Alya," Alya said. "Nora said you were with the police?"

                "Detective Stella Wolfe," Wolfe said. "Did she tell you why I'm here?"

                "No," she answered. 

                "I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "But I'm here investigating a murder. Your friend, Lila Rossi."

                "Wh-what?" She gasped. 

                Alya's eyes searched her face for any hint that this was a joke. Perhaps she was hoping it was, the denial stage setting in pretty fast. 

                When Wolfe didn't laugh, she sank down on the couch. 

                "She can't be dead," Alya whispered. "She can't... she was just here! I just talked to her yesterday! I-I- how? When?"

                "Last night," Wolfe said, taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch. "She was found in an alleyway this morning, stabbed. Our medical examiner says it happened between 9:30 and 10:30 last night."

                Alya just stared off into nothing, tears forming in her eyes. Despite wiping at her face, the tears still made their way down her cheeks. 

                "You said you saw her yesterday?" Wolfe asked. 

                "Yeah we- we were having just a fun day," Alya said. "Girls day out, you know? Shopping, eating at our favorite places, all that. I just- she's really..."

                "When did you last see her?" She asked. 

                "About 7:00?" She answered. "Lila had a date."

                "Her mother mentioned a boyfriend," she nodded. "Do you know his name?"

                "Adrien," She said. "Adrien Agreste. Oh fuck. Who's going to tell him-"

                "Adrien Agreste?" She repeated. "Like the model?"

                "Yes," she confirmed. "They've been together a few months now."

                Wolfe was a little surprised by that. She supposed even famous models had to date someone. Although that was added to her notes. Perhaps some jealous fan had decided to get rid of Adrien's girlfriend. 

                "Is there anyone you can think of who would want to harm Lila?" Wolfe asked. 

                "Maybe?" Alya said. "I mean, there is Ladybug...."

                "Are you saying Ladybug might've..." she raised an eyebrow. 

                "What? No!" She shook her head. "Lila is- was friends with Ladybug. I know Hawkmoth was defeated, but Ladybug never confirmed what happened to him. If he's still out there, he could've killed Lila to get back at her."

                "Her mother didn't mention Ladybug," she said. 

                "Well, her mother didn't know," she replied. "When Lila first befriended Ladybug, her mom thought it was too dangerous to be friends. But Lila wasn't going to just abandon her friend because of the danger. So she kept it from her mom."

                That was more interesting than the model boyfriend. It sounded a little far fetched, but considering the Ladyblogger would be first to know, and that the other Heroes have had interactions with a few civilians before, it wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibility. 

                Still, it couldn't hurt to check.

                "Is there anyone else?" Wolfe asked. "You might be right about Hawkmoth, but I want to check all avenues of investigation. Lila's mother mentioned something about some bullies and school drama?"

                Alya looked shocked, but then curled up a bit. It was easy to see a debate in her head, and Wolfe could guess why. It's easy to believe someone like Hawkmoth could be a murderer. But a classmate, even one you hated, was a different story.

                "Marinette's too nice to kill someone," Alya said. "But then again, I thought she was too nice to do anything else she did to Lila."

                "What happened?" Wolfe asked. 

                "It was a mess," she shook her head. "Marinette used to be my best friend. Then Lila showed up and, well, they both liked Adrien. Marinette... didn't take the competition well. She kept insulting Lila, calling her a liar, and so on. Even teaming up with other girls who liked Adrien to try an eliminate the biggest threat. Lila tried to befriend them, but...."

                "It didn't happen," she guessed. 

                "Yeah," she said. "Eventually I had to pick sides, you know? And since Lila was being more reasonable about it-"

                "You stuck by her instead," she said. 

                "Exactly," she nodded. "Some of our friends chose Lila, others chose Marinette, and it kind of split a few friendships. We're still nice when we run into each other. Obviously. Even if she's being unreasonable, I'm not going to harass her! But we haven't really talked in almost a year now. A few months ago things escalated, and now it's become outright avoidance."

                "Escalated how?" She wondered. 

                "A few months ago," she began, "Lila had been working with Adrien as a model. He'd helped her get the job because they were friends. But then Marinette started working for Gabriel Agreste too, and she ended up causing this whole mess that got Lila fired. Almost ironically, it was the thing that helped Lila and Adrien get together officially. Though they're keeping it quiet because of that whole incident. Adrien's dad would throw a fit if he was dating a girl he fired, you know?"

                "Makes sense," she said. "Do you think Marinette could've killed Lila to fully eliminate the competition?" 

                "I don't want to think she could," she admitted. 

                "What about the others you mentioned?" She asked. "You said Marinette teamed up with others who liked Adrien?"

                "Chloé and Kagami," she said. "They're more likely to kill her. Chloé wouldn't dare get her hands dirty, but she has the money to pay someone to do it. Kagami is a fencer. Knows her way around stabbing weapons, you know?"

                "I'll keep it in mind," she mused. "Just in case something comes up, can you provide an alibi for last night?"

                "I was- I was on my own date," she said. "My boyfriend, Nino, and I went to a new restaurant. There's photos on my personal blog. He walked me home around nine, I think? After that I was here with my family."

                After asking Alya for a few more details on the girls, she left. As Wolfe had no way to directly contact Ladybug to ask about the Hawkmoth angle, she decided to focus on the other girls first. Chloé Bourgeois was the only recognizable name, as she was the mayor's daughter and former Hero 'Queen Bee'. She didn't have much on Kagami Tsurugi, but Alya had provided an address for Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

                It wasn't too far, so she decided to start there. On the way she made a few calls, just double checking Alya's whereabouts. 

Chapter Text

                Tom & Sabine’s Boulangerie Patisserie. Wolfe hadn't been there herself, but she has had their products. Ariel liked the place. Said their cookies always had a little bit of Magic in them. If Wolfe didn't make an arrest here, then perhaps she'd buy some as a surprise. 

                As she walked in, she took notice of who all was here. There were a few customers waiting, but she focused on the women behind the counter. One was about Alya and Lila's age, bright blue eyes and her black hair pulled into pigtails. The other was older, likely the other's mother if the similarly colored hair was any indication. 

                Wolfe didn't bother with the line, walking up to the counter and flashing her badge. The women looked surprised. 

                "Can I help you?" The older one asked. 

                "Yes," Wolfe said. "I'm detective Stella Wolfe. Can I please speak to Marinette Dupain-Cheng?"

                "That's me," the younger one said with a nervous wave. 

                "Do you have somewhere we can talk without an audience?" She asked, nodding her head to the customers, who were already whispering. 

                "We can talk upstairs," Marinette said, taking off her apron. 

                "Hold on," the older woman said. "Let me take care of these customers and I'll come up with you."

                "It's okay, maman," she said. "I'll be fine."

                Her mother looked a bit worried, but did concede that Marinette could handle herself. 

                Wolfe was led through a door to the kitchens, and was surprised to find a very large man in there. Marinette's dad, apparently. The girl assured him everything was fine before continuing through and up the stairs. 

                “Shoes off,” Marinette said.

                After a moment of confusion, Wolfe noticed the girl doing the same, setting her flats in a small cubby space near the entrance.

                Wolfe complied, unlacing her boots and putting them at the door, then walked in. She found herself in the apartment area of the building. The kitchen and living room were pretty normal. She could see stairs leading up to another floor. Likely where bedrooms were. 

                "Would you like something?" Marinette asked. "Something to drink or some pastries?"

                "No thanks," Wolfe said, ignoring the fact that she could still smell all the goods being baked downstairs. 

                "Alright," she said, gesturing for her to sit at the table before taking a seat herself. "What did you want to ask about?"

                "Miss Dupain-Cheng," she began. "Last night, a girl named Lila Rossi was murdered."

                She watched Marinette's expression. There was definitely shock, her eyes going wide. Some sadness, but not nearly the amount as others she's talked to so far. 

                "I... don't know what to say," Marinette said. 

                "Most people would say that it's horrible," Wolfe said. 

                "It is!" She said. "I mean as much as I didn't like her I didn't want her-"

                Marinette paused, blinking in confusion for a few moments. Then she seemed to put the pieces together. With a sigh, she leaned back into the chair. 

                "And that's why you're talking to me," Marinette sighed. "You think I killed her."

                "You are a person of interest," Wolfe admitted. "I asked for people who didn't like Lila, and your name came up."

                "I can bet who you talked to," she said. "Does Alya really think I'm capable of murder?"

                "No," she said. "Miss Cesaire did mention you when I pushed for information, but she doesn't think you killed her."

                "Then why are you here?" She wondered. 

                "Because I have to be sure," she answered. "Most people can't imagine their friends and loved ones could be killers. So it's my job to look at any angle. That said, I was told that you and Lila didn't get along."

                "That's an understatement," she muttered. "Not to speak ill of the dead, but Lila was a horrible person."

                "Really?" She said. "Because so far, I've only heard that she's such a sweet girl."

                "Only if you do what she wants," she said. "When Lila first came to our class, she lied. A lot. Stories about all these celebrities she was friends with. I knew she was lying, and called her out on it. She saw that as a personal slight, and decided to try and make my life miserable. Threatened to take all my friends away."

                "How, exactly?" She frowned. 

                "At first it was petty stuff," she shook her head. "She kept pushing my buttons. Lying about things I knew were false, just so I would call her out on it and she could play the victim. Then she tried to get me expelled. Framing me for cheating, claiming I pushed her down the stairs, even breaking into my locker to plant her necklace and accuse me of stealing it!”

                "That's... quite a lot," she said. 

                "I know," she rolled her eyes. "She didn't try anything that big again for a while, but it kept going. Sometimes it was just her claiming I'd done something to get sympathy, sometimes she'd trip me and blame it on my clumsiness. After a few ruined projects, I learned to keep my schoolwork locked up."

                This conversation was interesting, to say the least. It was highly contradictory to what Lila's mother and best friend said. Which was why Wolfe was asking so many questions, instead of just asking for an alibi. 

                "Can you tell me what happened with Lila a few months ago?" Wolfe asked. 

                "A few months ago?" Marinette wondered tilting her head. 

                "Miss Cesaire said there was an incident," she said. "According to her, you got Lila fired from her job."

                "Lila tried to get me fired," she said with a glare. "I have an internship with Gabriel Agreste. A few months ago, I walked in to find the centerpiece of the line soaked in someone's latte. I didn't even know it was Lila at the time. I just panicked about how the whole line was going to be delayed, how it would affect the schedules of our shows, photo shoots, and every single person who works on them. I worked for two days straight to remake it, and by the time I did Gabriel had discovered exactly how that latte got in there."

                "And this had nothing to do with Adrien?" She asked. 

                "Huh? He wasn't even-," she stopped and frowned again. "Ugh. Let me guess. That was the "motive" brought up? That I was jealous of Lila getting Adrien's attention? Because that's how Lila got everyone to believe I was just being mean for no reason. Jealousy!"

                "It was suggested," she said. "And it does make sense. Not only is jealousy a classic motive, but considering how that event went down? It must have been devastating to hear that after her sabotaging your work, Adrien was comforting her over getting fired."

                "It might've been, if it were true," she rolled her eyes. "That's the last thing Adrien would be doing. He doesn't even like Lila."

                "Really?" She asked. "Because the way I hear it, they were a couple."

                "Absolutely not," she said. "Not only does he not like Lila, at all, but Adrien is my boyfriend."

                Now that was quite a piece of information, though Wolfe wasn't quite sure where it would lead her.

                "Really?" Wolfe asked. "Because both Lila's mother and Miss Cesaire say otherwise. Even if he is with you, he could be-"

                "If you're going to suggest he's cheating," Marinette warned, "then this interrogation is over."

                Wolfe wanted to retort that she was the detective, and she decided when the interview was over. The look in Marinette's eyes stopped her. There was something in them. A spark of something otherworldly. Powerful enough to make them glow a little, but subtle that most wouldn’t see it. It felt oddly energizing, despite the fact that she was being threatened. 

                She remembered Ariel’s wording about how the pastries always had a ‘bit of Magic’ to them. Apparently, it was literal. And Wolfe knew enough of the world of Magic to know that she should tread lightly until she figured out what exactly she was dealing with.

                "As I said," Wolfe begrudgingly backed down. "I want to check all angles."

                "Fine," Marinette said, the glow in her eyes lessening in its intensity. "You can ask Adrien about all of this. He knows the truth."

                "One more question," she said. "Where were you last night between 9:30 and 10:30?"

                "With my friends," she answered. "We were having a sleepover."

                "I need names," she said. "To corroborate your story with them."

                "Adrien was one," she said. "There's also Chloé Bourgeois, Kagami Tsurugi, Luka Couffaine, and Alix Kubdel.  We were at Chloé's hotel." 

                "Adrien was with you the whole time?" She asked. 

                "Yes," she said. 

                Wolfe frowned at that. If Marinette was telling the truth, then she needed to dig deeper into what Lila was doing after she left Alya. That Alibi also involved two more of her suspects. Which would leave her with very few leads. 

                "I'll talk with them soon," Wolfe said, digging out a business card from her pocket. "That said, if you can think of anything that could help the investigation, give me a call."

                "I will," Marinette said, taking the card. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

                "I was thinking of buying a few treats from the bakery," she said. 

                "I can help you with that," she grinned. 

Chapter Text

                Wolfe walked into a small shop, L'Enchantement Royale. It was a place that was unnoticed by most, but has gotten a bit more attention the last few years. Once the Magic Superheroes showed up, people all over the city wanted to try out some spells for themselves.

                The shop always smelled nice, like roses and lavender, but subtle enough to not bother anyone’s senses. Only one person was inside, sitting behind the counter. A mess of red hair buried in a book. 

                "Reading on the job again, Ariel?" Wolfe teased. "What if I was a customer?"

                "You know I can tell when a customer comes in," Ariel said, green eyes flicking over to her. "Good morning, by the way."

                "Ari," she sighed. "It's evening."

                That got her attention. Ariel sat up, looking out the window of the shop. Then checking her phone for the time. She seemed to concede that point to Wolfe before noticing the bag in her hands. 

                "Did you stop by Tom and Sabine's for me, Wolfie?" Ariel asked. 

                "I had to question someone," Wolfe shrugged. "And I’m pretty sure you can't go into a bakery like that without buying something."

                "Question someone?" She repeated, snagging a chocolate chip cookie out of the bag. 

                "Oh you'll love this case," she laughed. "Talking to the victim's mom and best friend, she was just the sweetest girl! And the baker's daughter was jealously in love with the victim's boyfriend."

                "What's the twist?" She asked. 

                "The twist," she said. "Is that according to bakery girl, the boy is hers, and the victim was trying to ruin her life."

                "Interesting," she mused. "So, do you think bakery girl looks good for the murder? I'm hoping that's a no because if you get me banned from Tom and Sabine's, you’ll have another murder on your hands."

                "Not sure yet," she said. "She didn't downplay her hatred of the victim, and even the victim's best friend doesn't think she's that horrible. But if she's telling the truth, then I have to figure out where the Victim actually was, since she told her bff she was with the boyfriend, but he's part of Bakery girl's alibi.”

                "Sounds like you should talk to the boyfriend," she said. 

                "Yeah tomorrow's going to be a headache," she groaned. "The boyfriend is the Agreste kid. Trying to get to him is going to be a headache and a half because rich people are always persnickety about us bothering them. And then I might have to deal with Chloé Bourgeois, another rich kid and former superhero and..."

                She trailed off, seeing the way Ariel froze at that. It was subtle, but she knew her too well. Very few things would make her pause. 

                "You know something," Wolfe frowned. 

                "Not really," Ariel shrugged. "Just remembered something."

                "Ari," she frowned. 

                "It's not connected," she insisted, waving her off. "I just remembered the time I got to meet Gabriel Agreste."

                "You got to meet Gabriel?" She raised an eyebrow. "What, did he just waltz into the shop?"

                "Well he didn't waltz," she said. "But yes, he did. A couple years ago."

                "Was this around the time his wife disappeared?" She raised an eyebrow. 

                "A little after she disappeared," she confirmed. "He even came here in disguise too. The suit was a deep purple instead of that god awful candy cane getup he has. His hair was all tousled instead of gelled back. He even had a mask!"

                "Did he get lost on the way to a masquerade ball?" She laughed. 

                "See, that's what I thought too," she said. "Until I noticed the Glamour."

                Standing up a little straighter, she looked for any mischief in Ariel's face. And while there was plenty of that, there wasn't any insincerity. 

                "I'm not sure what to focus on," Wolfe said. "The fact that Gabriel fucking Agreste can use a Glamour, or the fact that he showed up to a Magic shop in disguise sometime after his wife disappeared."

                "Honestly?" Ariel laughed. "I'd be more focused on how he was extra enough to wear a Glamour over a mask. I told him it'd be better to just use a mask that covers all of your face. A domino mask doesn't cover jack, and Glamours can be broken."

                "Seriously," she rolled her eyes. "What was he looking for here?" 

                "He wanted to know everything on healing Magics," she said. 

                "Healing Magic?" She questioned. "Not a locator spell?"

                "Nope," she said. "Specifically, he wanted spells and such to heal someone's Magic from a sort of corruption."

                "What'd you tell him?" She asked. 

                "That I couldn't help with his specific problem," she said. "But I did recommend a nearby massage shop that I thought might help. I don't think he took me up on that offer, but it seems like his wife came home eventually. All's well that ends well."

                "Is that your way of telling me not to look into it?" She asked. 

                "Hell no," she laughed. "If I hand you a mystery, I'm not going to tell you not to look into it, because all that'll do is make you go wild. I'm just saying that if you investigate these people, you might break a few Glamours. And all I'm going to say is that things seemed to have worked out for the best so far, so leave them be."

                Wolfe glared at her, and then snagged the last cookie. Despite Ariel's pout, she stayed strong and took a bite. 

                "That's for being a cryptic motherfucker."

Chapter Text

                Standing in front of the Agreste mansion, Wolfe was preparing herself for whatever mess this would be. Not only were rich people difficult to deal with, and even more difficult to get answers out of, but this case seemed to have something going on. Between the different testimonies of the victim's character, to whatever it was that Ariel was being smugly cryptic about, this was becoming a headache. 

                She rang the button on the gate, and was surprised to see a panel in the wall open up and reveal a screen. Fancy. 

                The woman on the screen wasn't one she recognized. Black hair with a red streak, icy blue eyes, and a stoic expression. 

                "Who are you?" The woman asked. 

                "Paris Police Department," Wolfe replied, flashing her badge. "I'd like to speak to Adrien Agreste."

                Despite the woman's stoic expression, Wolfe noticed a flicker of fear when the badge appeared. Yet it was quickly replaced with confusion. 

                "You're here for Adrien?" The woman asked. 

                "Just to ask some questions," Wolfe said. 

                The woman regarded her for a moment before hitting a button. The gate opened, and the screen disappeared. Wolfe walked through, trying to ignore the fact that from the gate to the front door was just too long of a walk. Damn rich people. 

                The walk did give her time to think. It was odd that they let her in so easily. Usually rich people tended to get all ‘come back with a warrant’ or ‘let me call my team of lawyers’. And that was the better reaction, as there’s always the ‘I’m rich! I can buy the cops and you’ll never touch me!’ type. Wolfe was glad that they were letting her in, but suspicious over why.

                The door was opened for her by a man. He was large, likely a guard of sorts. Though he didn't say anything, Wolfe met his gaze and found a message in just a look. He saw her as a potential threat. Wolfe stared him down, not going to let herself be intimidated out of a case by just a guard.

                After a few moments, the woman from before walked in. 

                "Hello," the woman said, offering a hand. "Nathalie Sancoeur. Gabriel's assistant."

                "Detective Stella Wolfe," Wolfe replied, taking the handshake. "As I said, I'd like to talk to Adrien about some things."

                "Of course," she said. "Follow me."

                While the mansion was big and beautiful, it felt quite empty. For a while, the only sounds were their footsteps. Nathalie's heels and Wolfe's boots creating a rhythm of clicks and thuds. 

                Yet whispers carried quite far down the empty halls. She could hear two men and a woman having a hushed conversation. 

                "You don't think she's here because-" the woman began. 

                "No," one man said. "I know why she's here."

                "What did you do?" The second man demanded. 

                "Nothing!" The first hissed back. "There's just something else going on. I'll explain later."

                "And what if she's caught on?" The woman asked. 

                "Well then," the first one said. "If she is here because of that, then I'm the best option to talk to her!"

                Turning the corner, Wolfe found the trio who was whispering. She could easily tell who was who. Adrien's face was plastered all over town, and both Gabriel and Emilie had been in the news and magazines enough to be recognizable. 

                They all stopped talking when they noticed her coming. Once she was close enough, Adrien put on a calm smile and walked to meet her. 

                "Hi, I'm Adrien," he said. "How about we talk in the office?"

                Before any of the others could say something, Adrien led her into the one of the rooms and closed the door. However, there weren't any footsteps heading down the hall. Wolfe could easily imagine Gabriel, Emilie, and Nathalie standing there, pressed against the door and eavesdropping. 

                "So," Adrien said, taking a seat on one of the couches. "I assume you're here about Lila."

                "Yes," Wolfe said, taking the opposite couch. "How'd you know?"

                "A few friends texted me," he answered. "Most of us know now."

                Wolfe took note of that. She figured news would spread quickly. Hopefully it would put the culprit on edge. 

                "First things first," Wolfe said. "Where were you Friday night, between 9:30 and 10:30?"

                "I was with some of my friends," Adrien answered. "Marinette, Chloé, Kagami, Luka and Alix. We were at Chloé's place."

                Interesting. It matched Marinette's story. But not Alya's. She might have suspected Alya of lying, if it weren't for the family backing up her alibi. Perhaps it was Lila who was lying. 

                "Can you tell me what your relationship to Lila Rossi was?" Wolfe asked. 

                "How is that relevant?" Adrien wondered. 

                "Motive," she said. 

                "I have an alibi," he said. 

                "True," she said. "However, even if you and your group aren't directly involved, helping me understand what kind of person Lila Rossi was might help me to find others who wanted her dead."

                The boy sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he leaned into the couch. It was clear that the subject itself was complicated. Wolfe waited, knowing she'd get what she wanted. 

                "When Lila first showed up, I gave her a chance," Adrien said. "I found out she was lying about things, but I figured it wasn't outright malicious. She was the new kid, she wanted to be liked, and what's better than spinning a tale about how you know a bunch of celebrities? So I told her she didn't have to do that, and that I'd be her friend regardless."

                "Did you tell anyone else she was lying?" Wolfe asked. 

                "Not at the time," he admitted. "Marinette tried, but no one believed her. I didn't think they'd believe me, since as far as I knew, Marinette had no reason to dislike Lila other than the lies."

                "What do you mean by that?" She asked. 

                "Marinette loves me," he said, a small smile coming to his face. "I didn't know that at the time. Everyone else did though, and thought she was just jealous. But to me, it looked like they stopped believing one of the kindest and most honest people I know, for no reason at all."

                "And you were scared they wouldn't believe you either," she guessed. 

                "A bit," he said. "So I decided to try a nicer route than calling her out. I tried to be her friend. But she wasn't interested in being just friends."

                "Is that how the friendship ended?" She asked. 

                "No," he said. "By the time I realized that she was dangerous, she got Marinette expelled. I made a deal that I'd continue to be her friend if she helped rescind the expulsion and left Marinette alone after that. While she fixed that part, she didn't leave Marinette alone."

                "Are you referring to the incident where Lila was fired?" She asked. 

                "No," he said. "It was all the other little things she was doing to her. While it wasn't enough for me to have her fired as a model, and I stayed professional on shoots, I didn't tolerate her messing with people I cared about."

                Wolfe regarded him carefully at that. It sounded dangerously close to his own motive. Perhaps it was. While he did have an alibi, she couldn’t rule out a group effort yet. Perhaps Adrien, Marinette, and the other two girls who hated Lila decided to work together and say they were with each other. She didn’t know how the others in the alibi fit in yet, but it was worth looking into.

                “So,” Wolfe began. “Tell me about the incident where Lila was fired. Was it because of what she was doing to Marinette? Or something else?”

                “Honestly?” Adrien sighed. “She was going to be fired anyway. We needed a few more photographers and interns to testify about how unprofessional she was, but she pulled that stunt first.”

                “Unprofessional?” she asked.

                “Remember how I said she wasn’t interested in being just friends?” he said, looking away. “Her ‘unprofessionalism’ was arguing with the photographers that every shot together should involve her draped over me like a velvet couch.”

                “She did WHAT?!” Emilie’s voice rang out from behind the door. “Why didn’t you two tell me about this? I will kill her!”

                “Dear, she’s already dead,” Gabriel said.

                “I don’t care!” she snapped. “I’ll kill her again! Where’s the corpse!”

                “So much for subtle eavesdropping,” Nathalie said.

                “The only subtle one in this house is The Gorilla!” Adrien shouted to them.

                That seemed to shut them up. Wolfe tried not to snicker at the display. Instead, she mentally noted the whole thing. The three of them were now potential suspects. Perhaps she should look into that.

                Then again, she might not find much if they did. Gabriel was apparently capable of a Glamour spell, which would make witness difficult to find. But the family was rich enough to pay someone to do it. She’d have to check their financials and see if anything popped.

                “Back to the actual incident where she was fired,” Wolfe said, refocusing the conversation. “Can you tell me what exactly she did?”

                “She ruined a dress,” Adrien said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but this is a fashion company. She intentionally destroyed the centerpiece of our new line. It didn’t matter that it was Lila trying to hurt Marinette at that point. Anyone who did that would have been fired on-sight.”

                He had a point on that, at least. Part of her wanted to push further on that, see if it really was Lila who had done it and not someone framing her for whatever reason. But that didn’t fit yet. After all, if she had been framed, it would have been motive for Lila to harm Marinette or Adrien, not the other way around.

                There was still another mystery she had to pry into.

                “One more question,” Wolfe said. “When I first arrived, you were discussing why you thought I was here. Any chance you’ll just come out and tell me what you’re scared I’ll ask about?”

                That got a reaction. A familiar reaction. The stiffening posture was expected, but his eyes held the same look that Marinette’s did. A slight glow to them. However, his was more… feral. Still, he tried to look normal, keeping that smile and fidgeting with the ring on his hand.

                “I’m sure you’re aware that my mother disappeared for a while,” Adrien said. “When she returned, we got quite a few police officers asking us questions about it. Some of them weren’t nice about it when she said she didn’t have any memory from when she was gone. We were afraid you’d be here to look into that.”

                There was definitely something he wasn’t telling her. But between the Magic on him, the fact that Gabriel knows how to use a Glamour, and the similar magic that had been on Marinette, it was better to let it go. For now.

                They say ‘there’s no upside in screwing with things you can’t explain’. And they’re right. If she was going to have to investigate a Magic murder, she’d have to be more prepared. Not only because Magic threats were a bit more unpredictable, but because convincing her superiors of Magic involvement without solid proof is going to be more of a pain in the ass than dealing with rich people.

Chapter Text

                The Tsurugi home was large. Not quite ‘Agreste Mansion’, but still very, very fancy. As Wolfe rang the bell, a young woman answered the door.

                “You’re the detective?” the woman asked, her voice having a slight accent.

                “Detective Stella Wolfe,” Wolfe said. “Are you Kagami Tsurugi?”

                “Yes,” she answered. “Take off your shoes on the way in.”

                Unlacing her boots, Wolfe followed her in. The décor was very Japanese. That would explain Kagami’s accent.

                The room she was led to was some sort of practice room. The main part of the room was empty, but along the walls was an array of fencing gear. And other swords. ‘Knows her way around stabbing weapons’. Right.

                “I would offer you a drink,” Kagami said. “But I don’t think you’ll be here long.”

                “And why is that?” Wolfe asked.

                “Because I don’t care to waste time,” she said. “And because I want to get this over with before my mother gets home. She wouldn’t be as tolerant of your interview, and would be suggesting I refuse to speak until she contacted several lawyers. However, I have nothing to hide, and would prefer to handle this myself.”

                “Very well,” she nodded. “What were your feelings toward Lila Rossi?”

                “Some might call her a lying snake,” she said. “But it’s an insult to snakes, which are rather cute creatures. And while I admire her determination to get what she wants, her methods and lack of respect for others’ wishes is deplorable.”

                “And your alibi?” she asked.

                “I don’t know the exact time of death,” she admitted. “But I do know it was Friday night. I was in Chloé Bourgeois’ hotel room. Along with my boyfriend, Luka. Marinette, Adrien, and Alix were also there.”

                “I will check that out,” she said.

                “You’ve already talked to Marinette and Adrien,” she said. “Isn’t that enough?”

                Wolfe debated on how much to tell her about that. Being honest could get information, or she could lash out. However, it seemed like saying ‘no, that’s enough’ would just have Kagami telling her to leave.

                “Not entirely,” Wolfe answered. “I had security footage from the hotel sent to our tech team, but they haven’t finished checking them thoroughly. So for now, I’m considering the possibility of your friends working together. Three of you have admitted to not liking Lila, and I can assume the other three are the same.”

                Kagami leveled her with that same look that Marinette and Adrien had given her. This was more of a direct challenge though, so Wolfe didn’t back down. Despite the feeling of a storm brewing in the room.

                “If I killed Lila,” Kagami said. “I would not be hiding it.”

                “Really?” Wolfe mused. “You’d freely tell me, and willingly go to prison for it?”

                “Yes,” she said. “If I decide to kill someone, it’s not going to be over petty things. It will be because they are a threat to me or my loved ones. It will be something I see as the best course of action, and something honorable, despite what the law may say. So yes, if I kill someone, I will confess to it.”

                That was not the usual route. Most people would swear up and down that they would never kill anyone, no matter what. Very few would admit to potentially killing someone to prove that they haven’t yet.

                And she absolutely hated the way that Kagami’s gaze was making her hair stand on end.

                “I believe you,” Wolfe mused. “For now.”

                “Good,” Kagami said. “I am sure you’ll find your killer eventually.”

Chapter Text

            Le Grand Paris was extravagant. Almost comically so. Wolfe had been there a few times before, always on business. Thankfully there had yet to be a murder here, but she did make a couple arrests.

            As soon as she flashed her badge, one of the staff members was ushering her into the elevator and up to Chloé Bourgeois’ room. It was almost terrifying how efficient they were.

            Chloé herself had her hair in a low ponytail, and her makeup was much more subtle and mature than the bright blue eyeshadow she wore last time Wolfe had seen her on TV. 

            “Good afternoon, Detective Wolf,” Chloé said.

            “How did you-“ Wolfe began.

            “Your precinct told me your name when I sent in the security footage,” she answered. “And my friends told me you’d be showing up.”

            “Very well,” she said. “I assume you’re going to tell me the same thing. You and five others were in your hotel room all night?”

            “Yep,” she said. “Do you want any tea?”

            “No thanks,” she said.

            Shrugging, Chloé poured a cup for herself. She took her tea with an ample amount of honey and lemon. Wolfe was, admittedly, a little put off by how casual the girl was being. Still stirring the cup, she sat on one of the chairs and waited for Wolfe to take the other one.

            “My parents suggested that I don’t talk to you,” Chloé said. “My dad insisted that we call our team of lawyers, and my mother keeps going on and on about the ‘scandal’ this could cause. While his lawyers are on standby, I told him I could handle this.”

            “And how exactly are you handling this?” Wolfe asked, sitting across from her.

            “I already sent in the security footage,” she shrugged. “I also gathered up the staff members who came by that night. We ordered room service a few times, and they can testify to seeing us in the room. Here’s the file of their contact information.”

            She slid a file full of papers across the table. Wolfe quickly flipped it open, noting the names, numbers, and addresses of four staff members. It even included written statements. Still, Wolfe would be checking into that more thoroughly.

            “So,” Chloé said. “Since you’re still here, despite video evidence and testimony that my friends and I were here that night, I assume you have other questions. Or you just don’t believe the cameras.”

            “Something like that,” Wolfe said, tucking the file into her bag. “Especially as you do have the money to hire someone to kill her while you have an airtight alibi.”

            “I’d be disappointed in myself,” she mused

            “For hiring someone to kill?” she asked.

            “For hiring someone so sloppy,” she replied. “You have a point. With my money, I could easily find someone willing to kill for me. But I wouldn’t half-ass it. I hear she was stabbed in an alley, right?”

            “Yes,” she said. “No murder weapon at the scene, and her phone was missing. No usable prints on her body or purse. I wouldn’t call that sloppy.”

            “I would,” she said. “Why would I pay someone to kill her in an alley when I can pay extra for some clean up? Kidnap her back to Italy and kill her there, dump her body in the middle of the ocean, so on and so forth. No body, no crime. And if the body is found, it'd be somewhere and sometime where I'd never be considered a suspect.”

            “That’s… oddly thought out,” she raised an eyebrow.

            “There’s no solid plan to kill someone,” she hummed. “Just jokes between friends. I wouldn’t actually follow through with it. Especially not Lila.”

            “Why not?” she asked. “I hear you hated her.”

            “I do,” she said. “She’s been a jerk to my friends. And yes, I am very aware that I was a jerk to them before. But at least I was honest about it. Even my friendship with Sabrina! I might’ve treated her poorly due to both our issues. However, unlike Lila, when I asked her to do things, I actually asked.”

            “What do you mean?” she wondered.

            “See, I’d ask Sabrina to do things for me,” she said. “Homework, carrying my bags, miscellaneous things. She’d do it, because we’re friends. Lila, on the other hand? It’s always ‘oh no! My arthritis is acting up! Can you carry my backpack around?’ and ‘I sprained my wrist saving puppies from a brush fire on my trip to Austrailia over the weekend! Can you do my homework for me?’. That sort of thing.”

            “Lila has a clean bill of health,” she said.

            “Other than being dead,” she almost joked. “Pretty sure Lila also hasn’t left Paris since she moved here. And yet she talked of so many trips. Weekend trips, sometimes longer. Oh, and after the first time she was Akumatized? Which was also the first week in the city, by the way? She was out of school for three months.”

            “Three months?” she parroted.

            “Yep,” she said. “Lila claimed she was with her mother in the Kingdom of Achu. A guest of Prince Ali himself! Yeah right.”

            That was definitely something to look into. Really, perhaps she should go around to Lila’s friends and round up all of the lies she told. One of them could’ve gotten her killed. Maybe the one about being Adrien’s girlfriend, or Ladybug’s bff, or close with Prince Ali, or any number of things Wolfe had yet to hear. Someone jealous, someone seeking revenge, even someone hoping to kidnap and use her as a bargaining chip, only for it to go wrong.

            Still, even if someone did hear one of her lies, they’d likely want more proof before committing a murder. Once she finished looking into this group, she’d look into that. It was far more likely to be someone close to her.

            “We both know you hated Lila,” Wolfe said. “Now, I’ve heard stories of what she did to your friends. But I want to know: What did Lila do to you? It sounds like she got your friend Sabrina to jump ship.”

            “That was half my own fault,” Chloé huffed. “I told her she needed friends better than me. I had hoped she’d try for Marinette again, or perhaps join our group properly. But Lila swooped in. Thankfully she at least has a few of the others. Never thought I’d be thankful for the fact that Alya fell for her bullshit.”

            “Did Lila ever frame you for anything?” she asked. “Try to ruin your reputation? Even just some rude comments. Considering she was ‘Ladybugs Best Friend’, I bet she said something about you being replaced.”

            “She tried,” she scoffed. “Told me I was kicked off the team for being such a terrible Hero and an overall bitch. And how ‘Honeybee’ was far better than I would ever be. Sure, I was mad. But I heard the same things from my mother. And out of the two, I’d rather kill her instead.”

            “Really?” she raised her eyebrow. “You’d rather kill your own mother?”

            “Absolutely,” she said. “See, there’s a difference between Lila and my mother. Do you want to know what that is?”

            “Sure,” she said.

            “Lila can be pleased,” she said. “You go along with her, and she’ll be nice and friendly and like you. Be your best friend. My mother? Not so much. The rules always changed with her. Other than that, they were similar. Especially in how I dealt with them. Ignoring them and not letting their comments about me and my ‘unexceptional’ nature bother me.”

            “Bothering you is one thing,” she said. “But what about your friends? I hear she kept going after Marientte and Adrien, albeit her harassment was different for both. Stealing Sabrina from you too? You already discussed how much that bothers you.”

            As blue eyes stared over the rim of the teacup, Wolfe felt that Magic again. This time it was accompanied by a buzzing noise of sorts. Like a bunch of phones vibrating on a wobbly table.

            “We have other options than murder,” Chloé said. “It took longer than it should of, but piece by piece, Lila’s lies were falling apart. She tried something, and we defended, stood our ground. Lila lost Adrien, lost her job as a model, and lost several of our classmates as they joined the team. How long before the rest came crashing down, and those we lost come crawling back?”

            “Killing her could expedite the process,” she said.

            “Not necessarily,” she said. “Killing her would give her the power. Lila kept people by her by playing the victim when confronted. If I killed her, then she’d still be seen as the ‘victim’ to them.”

            That was an excellent point. However, it doesn’t mean she didn’t do it. Still, as Wolfe thought it over, the buzzing stopped.

            If one more teenager gave off a terrifying Magic Aura during this investigation, Wolfe was pretty sure she might snap.

Chapter Text

            Wolfe was surprised at the small art studio. It looked a little too expensive for three artists pooling their money to rent. She was curious, but unless she suspected it of being related to the murder, she wouldn’t be able to look into the financials of the trio.

            Her nose twitched as she walked in, the smell of spray paints a little overpowering. The woman she was looking for was the one doing the painting. Though all she could see was pink hair, as her face was hidden behind a respirator mask.

            “Excuse me?” Wolfe said. “I’m Detective Stella Wolfe. Would you mind putting the paint down?”

            “Give me one minute,” the woman said. “If I let this dry it won’t turn out right. Stand back or grab the spare mask until I’m done.”

            Though she didn’t like to wait, Wolfe stepped back from the paint. She wasn’t quite sure what the art piece was. For now, it mostly looked like random streaks and sprays of color. Then again, judging by the blank space left, it wasn’t anywhere near finished.

            Looking around the room, she found nothing too out of the ordinary. More spray paints and canvases. There were two other desks, one set up for digital art and the other for traditional.

            Wolfe’s attention was brought back when she heard the spraying stop. The woman took off her mask and walked over.

            “Hey,” the woman said. “I’m Alix. You’re here about that whole Lila thing, right?”

            “Yes,” Wolfe said. “Let’s start off with everyone’s alibi. You were with all five of them at Chloé’s hotel all night?”

            “Exactly,” Alix said. “We done here?”

            “Not quite,” she said. “Can you tell me your opinion of Lila?”

            “She’s a lying jerk,” she said. “What else do you need to know?”

            “Specifics,” she said. “I hear that Lila is pretty convincing. Did you fall for her lies, or did you always know she was a liar.”

            That touched a nerve, judging by the glare. It was quickly followed by her looking away and rubbing her arm. Guilt. Interesting.

            Just as interesting was the look of resolve on Alix’s face. Accompanied by yet another Magic Aura, which made Wolfe want to scream in frustration. This Aura had a ticking feeling to it. She couldn’t tell if it was counting up or counting down.

            “At first I did,” Alix admitted. “It sounded believable, given we had other classmates who were either famous or friends with some celebrity. Mari’s approach was aggressive, and Chloé was still learning how to be nice. It was easy to spin it as ‘they’re jealous because they love Adrien’.”

            “What changed you mind?” Wolfe asked.

            “Juleka’s birthday party,” she said. “Half-way through the night, Chloé dragged me into a closet and we spent a good twenty minutes making out.”

            “So,” she said. “You sided with your new girlfriend?”

            “Not instantly,” she said. “But the next time a confrontation happened, and Lila called Chloé jealous, I started thinking about it. Chloé wasn’t interested in Adrien. She couldn’t be jealous. And while she had a history as a bully, she was trying to stop that. If she insulted someone, she backtracked and apologized. Unless it was Lila.”

            “And you had to ask why,” she said.

            “I asked,” she said. “And I listened. That’s the key to it, I think. While they were calling Lila out when she lied, there were things they only confessed to if they thought you were willing to listen. As soon as I was, they told me about how Lila threatened Mari, how she harassed Adrien, and every other underhanded move she pulled. And suddenly I could see it all laid out.”

            That was something Wolfe knew well. People were scared to speak up after not being believed about small things. When something major happens, they think ‘hey, they didn’t believe me about that, why would they believe this?’. Which was very helpful to a decent liar.

             A charismatic liar was similar to a Glamour spell. You believe it without question, any other ‘truth’ being easily explained away unless faced with something entirely irrefutable. For a Glamour, it would be looking too closely and realizing you can’t fully tell what someone looks like, even when they’re right in front of you. For the liar, it would be hearing a lie you know to be false.

            And once that illusion is broken, you can’t believe how stupid you were for not realizing.

            Just as Wolfe began to ask another question, she heard the door click. Turning, she watched two new people walk in. One was a redheaded male. The other had black hair, though she couldn’t tell their gender. Both looked pretty surprised to see her.

            “Who are you two?” Wolfe asked.

            “I’m Nathaniel,” the redhead said.

            “I’m Marc,” the other one said.

            “Are you a friend of Alix’s?” Nathaniel asked, looking to the pink-haired woman.

            “She’s a cop,” Alix deadpanned. “The one investigating Lila.”

            “Detective Stella Wolfe,” Wolfe said. “You two know Lila as well?”

            Both gave a noncommittal answer to that. Shrugs and a noise that sounded kinda like ‘eh…’. Alix only rolled her eyes.

            “Nath has remained neutral,” Alix explained. “And Marc never got that close.”

            “And by neutral you mean…?” Wolfe asked.

            “Does it mean anything else?” Nathaniel asked. “I’m, uh, pretty quiet. Keep to myself a lot. Lila… liked attention. I didn’t vibe with that.”

            “Did you just say ‘vibe with that’?” Alix teased.

            “A-anyway,” Nathaniel looked away. “I kinda stayed out of the whole thing. I heard some stuff, but everyone gave different stories, you know? I guess I stuck by Mari a little more. I’ve known her for years, and we got along because we’re both artists. But I didn’t interact with Lila much.”

            “Me neither,” Marc said. “I was in a different class when Lila showed up, so I didn’t get to meet her often. Only when Nathaniel invited me to a group hangout. I guess I’d say I was on Mari’s side more, since I’m friends with her.”

            “Are you an artist too?” Wolfe asked.

            “Writer,” they said. “Nath and I work on a comic together.”

            “Interesting,” she said. “Now, I’m not accusing you, but I do want to cover all my bases. Where were you two Friday night?”

            “Here,” Nathaniel said. “We were, uh, working on the comic. And then we went to my place. To continue working on the comic!”

            “All night?” she asked.

            “Yep!” he said. “A-all night!”

            Wolfe was about to ask further, as it sounded like he was nervous and lying. Then she noticed how redfaced both of them were. And while neither seemed big on eye contact, they were very pointedly looking anywhere else.

            “Working on a comic,” Wolfe mused. “Is that what the kids call it these days?”

            “They’re dorks,” Alix sighed. “I don’t care what you two do with your ‘comic’, as long as you don’t do it in the studio!”

            “We didn’t!” Marc exclaimed. 

            “I think I’m done here,” Wolfe said. “I’ll drop by again if I need to talk to any of you.”

Chapter Text

            The Couffaine home had been hard to find. Mostly because it was a boat. There were a few docks it stopped at along the river, but no solid schedule to where. Wolfe had been looking between other investigations, but hadn’t found it until after.

            The deck was a bit of a mess, but there were three people on it. As Wolfe was debating whether she should just shout or go aboard to try and find someone, a woman looked over the side at her.

            “Are you the detective?” The woman asked.

            “Detective Stella Wolfe,” Wolfe answered. “Permission to come aboard?”

            The woman hesitated for a moment, glancing behind her.

            “We’ll come to you,” the woman answered.

            Left wondering what that was about, Wolfe waited. She half expected for the boat to suddenly speed off down the river. Thankfully she wouldn’t have to call in a boat chase, as three people walked across the gangplank.

            The first was a male, between the blue-dyed tips of his hair and the leather jacket, he had an overall punk rock vibe. One was the woman from before, who looked more goth and had purple dye in her hair. The third threw her for a loop, being a blue-eyed blonde and wearing several shades of pink.

            “Sorry,” the male said. “I would’ve invited you up, but mom made a rule about no cops on the Liberty without a warrant.”

            Wolfe didn’t quite know how to respond to that. Technically, as a cop, she wasn’t supposed to say “yeah that’s fair”. But it kinda was in some cases.

            “Anyway,” the man said, seeming to realize some awkwardness in the situation. “I’m Luka. This is my sister Juleka, and her girlfriend, Rose. I heard you’re here about Friday night?”

            “Yes,” Wolfe said. “I assume I’ll get the same answer, but I have to make sure. Where were you that night?”

            “With my friends,” Luka answered. “We were staying in Chloé’s hotel room.”

            “All six of you stayed there the whole night?” She asked.

            “All night,” he said.

            “And you two?” She asked, looking to the couple.

            “We were on the boat,” Juleka said.

            “It was datenight,” Rose said. “I still can’t believe this happened!”

            With a sigh, she leaned against Juleka. Tears pricked at her eyes, and it was easy to see she’d been crying on and off lately. Old tear tracks and smudged eyeliner on her cheeks.

            “How well did you three know Lila?” Wolfe asked.

            “I only met her a few times,” Luka admitted. “Mostly I heard about her from others. At first, it was a bunch of stuff about how wonderful she was. Then Marinette needed to vent about some things and… it wasn’t good. And when I did meet her, her song was all off. Desperate with discordant notes. So I-”

            “Her song?” She asked.

            Luka stopped, seeming to clam up. He looked to Juleka for support, and the two seemed to have some sort of silent conversation.

            “You already mentioned it,” Juleka said. “Might as well tell her.”

            “Tell me what?” Wolfe asked.

            “I… have a weird ability,” Luka said. “I can get an idea of someone’s overall energy. It comes in the form of a melody for each person. It can shift a little with their emotional states, but it gives me a vibe on what kind of person they are.”

            “Huh,” she said. “Never heard of that being an auditory thing.”

            “You’re… oddly accepting of that,” Juleka mused.

            “It might be because of all the Magic superheroes running around!” Rose said, subtly elbowing her. “People tend to believe in Magic a little more!”

            “That’s true,” Wolfe admitted, deciding not to derail the conversation with talk of Magic. “And what about you two? Were you Lila’s friends or…”

            “We were friends at first,” Juleka said. “But when Luka mentioned how Lila’s song sounded… he’s never been wrong before. So we looked into it more.”

            “I figured it would be easy!” Rose said. “Lila told us about how she was friends with Prince Ali. How he had invited her to stay at his palace. Since Ali is a friend of mine I called him and-”

            “Hold on,” Wolfe cut her off. “You’re actually friends with foreign royalty? Given the context I believe you, but how in the world did that happen?”

            “Do you remember when Prince Ali came to Paris and was attacked by an Akuma?” She asked sheepishly.

            “Did you save his life or something?” She asked.

            “No, I was the Akuma,” she admitted. “In my defense I was having a really bad day! I admire Ali’s charity work and wanted to meet him, but I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to because I’m a nobody. So I tried to write a letter but it got destroyed twice. And next thing I knew I was on top of Le Grand Paris with Prince Ali and Ladybug and-”

            “Luckily Prince Ali found it more endearing than creepy,” Juleka cut her off. “Ironically, that sort of thing made Lila’s lie easy to believe. If Rose could be friends with Prince Ali, then why not Lila?”

            “So what happened when you contacted him?” Wolfe asked.

            “He didn’t know who Lila was,” Rose said. “At first, we figured it might just been that she was lying about but…”

            “It was enough to have us realize Marinette was right,” Juleka finished.

            “Did you try telling anyone else about this?” Wolfe asked.

            “Sort of?” She said. “We brought it up but no one really seemed to listen. And when they did, Lila either played victim or came up with an excuse.”

            “She does that a lot,” Luka said. “I’ve heard enough rants from the rest of the team.”

            “I’ll admit we could’ve tried harder,” Rose said. “I just- I just don’t like confronting people like that! It seems so mean! I know people need to know but… she’s not evil! I think she just wanted us to like her and panicked when anyone tried to call her out.”

            Wolfe wanted to say something about that. Bring up some of the other threats and manipulation she’s heard. But she’s been around long enough to know that things weren’t that black and white.

            Rose could be right. Lila wanted people to like her and lied to convince them, only to panic and threaten people who might expose her. Even if that was the case though, it doesn’t excuse her actions.

            “Can you think of anyone who might have killed her?” Wolfe asked.

            “Not really?” Luka said.

            “Maybe it doesn’t have to do with us,” Juleka shrugged. “If Lila lied about the wrong thing, someone might’ve killed her for that. Maybe some political thing?”

            “I really hope not!” Rose exclaimed. “I know Ali didn’t know her, but he’d feel terrible if someone got killed because of a connection to him!”

            “Still, you might be right,” Wolfe said. “Do you think you can give me a list of people she lied about? It could help me narrow things down.”

            Rose and Juleka were more than happy to list off all of Lila’s supposed accomplishments. It was… quite a long list. Thankfully though, most things had been vague. She would say something about a “famous author” but not give a name or book, or mention an actress but say “she was just in this small and beloved indie film you’ve never heard of”.

            Still, there were a few big names she’d been given. Which we’re going to be a little difficult to track down. Asking Prince Ali would be difficult to do “officially”, though Rose did offer to call him. Jagged Stone was currently in America, and Clara Nightingale was in Australia.

            Looks like tracking down Ladybug was going to be the simplest thing on the list. At least she could do that while waiting to hear back from the others.

Chapter Text

            Night had fallen, and Wolfe was still looking at files. She’d pulled everything on every Hero who had appeared, along with files on the two villains.

            While she’d known about Chloé having been Queen Bee, she was surprised to find another familiar name in the files. Kagami Tsurugi had made a one-time appearance as Ryuko, the Dragon Hero before Arashi.

            Considering that, perhaps this was connected. So Wolfe delved deeper into the files.

 

Hero Files:

 

Name: Ladybug

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Ladybug Earrings

Age: 17-19

Powers: Lucky Charm - creates an object to help her, Miraculous Cure - fixes damage caused by the fight. 

Status: Active

Notes: One of the Originals. Leader of the Team. Romantically involved with Chat Noir. Occasionally uses other Miraculous. 

 

Name: Chat Noir

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Black Cat

Age: 17-19

Powers: Cataclysm - destroys anything he touches. 

Status: Active

Notes: One of the Originals. Ladybug's second in command. Romantically involved with Ladybug. Occasionally uses other Miraculous

 

Name: Rena Rouge

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Fox Pendant

Age: 17-19

Powers: Mirage - creates illusions

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: The first temporary Hero. Romantically involved with Carapace. Used to be one of the main team.

 

Name: Carapace

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Turtle Bracelet

Age: 17-19

Powers: Shell-ter - creates a barrier. 

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: Romantically involved with Rena Rouge. Used to be one of the main team.

 

Name: Queen Bee

Identity: Chloé Bourgeois 

Miraculous: Bee hair comb

Age: 18

Powers: Venom - paralyzes target

Status: Inactive. 

Notes: Revealed her identity during a mental breakdown. Appeared a few times, but was replaced with Honeybee. Accepted it with grace. Still helps out as a legal department for the Heroes to deal with copyright issues over people using their images, including her own merchandise department

 

Name: Honeybee

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Bee hair comb

Age: 17-19

Powers: Venom - paralyzes target

Status: Active

Notes: replaced Queen Bee after her identity was comprised. Has a history with Chat Noir. Possibly siblings? Romantically involved with Bunnyx.

 

Name: Viperion

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Snake Bracelet

Age: 19-21

Powers: Second Chance - can rewind Time in short intervals 

Status: Active. 

Notes: seems to be the oldest of the Heroes. Romantically involved with Arashi. Seems to be the older brother of Tigress. 

 

Name: Pegasus

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Horse Glasses

Age: 17-19

Powers: Voyage - teleportation through a portal. 

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: Tech savvy. Good at handling tech-based Akumas

 

Name: Roi Singe

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Monkey Circlet

Age: 17-19

Powers: Uproar - Causes abilities to malfunction

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: Impulsive. Easily goes off plan if taunted by an Akuma. Can be reined in by Ladybug, Pegasus, or Bunnyx.

 

Name: Bunnyx

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Rabbit Pocket Watch

Age: Unknown. Assume 17-19

Powers: Burrow - Time Travel

Status: Active

Notes: Due to her Time Travel, her age is harder to pin down as Bunnyxs from different times appear. We assume she's 17-19, as that's the age she's seen at most and matches the other Heroes. However, we have reports of versions who look over a decade older. Romantically involved with Honeybee.

 

Name: Ryuko

Identity: Kagami Tsurugi

Miraculous: Dragon Choker

Age: 18

Powers: Wind/Water/Lightning Dragon - can turn her body into wind, water, or lightning, controlling each element. 

Status: Inactive

Notes: Kagami was a one-off Hero. Ladybug gave her a Miraculous to keep her safe when her mother, Tomoe Tsurugi, was Akumatized. Kagami's identity was compromised and she was replaced with Arashi. 

 

Name: Arashi

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Dragon Choker

Age: 17-19

Powers:Wind/Water/Lightning Dragon - can turn her body into wind, water, or lightning, controlling each element. 

Status: Active

Notes: replaced Ryuko. Seems to be romantically involved with Viperion. 

 

Name: Petite Souris

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Mouse Pendant

Age: 17-19

Powers: Multitude - Creates clones of herself. The more clones, the smaller she becomes. 

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: Sometimes freezes in battle. Seems to be romantically involved with Oxenfree. 

 

Name: Oxenfree

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Ox nose ring

Age: 17-19

Powers: Bullrush - super strength

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: While all Heroes have enhanced strength, Oxenfree's ability surpasses that. Seems to be romantically involved with Petite Souris. 

 

Name: Tigress

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Tiger panjas bracelet

Age: 17-19

Powers: Stealth - becomes invisible

Status: Active

Notes: shy. Doesn't like interviews. Seems to be the younger sister of Viperion. Romantically involved with Truffles

 

Name: Truffles

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Pig anklet

Age: 17-19

Powers: Scent – Able to track anything or anyone by smell.

Status: Active

Notes: romantically involved with Tigress

 

Name: Wolfhound

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Dog collar

Age: 17-19

Powers: Howl - Sonic sound wave in the form of a howl. Very loud, disrupts abilities, electronics, and shatters windows. 

Status: Unknown. Assumed Inactive. 

Notes: possibly connected to Honeybee. When Wolfhound was hit and knocked unconscious, Honeybee became enraged at the Akuma. 

 

Name: Phoenix

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Rooster thumb ring

Age: 17-19

Powers: Sunrise - Light burst. Can blind opponents and cause some temperature rise. 

Status: Active 

Notes: Flamboyant in the fight, but quiets down when interviewed. Seems to be romantically involved with Aran 

 

Name: Aran 

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Goat hair clips

Age: 17-19

Powers: Parkour - can climb any surface. 

Status: Active 

Notes: seems to be romantically involved with Phoenix

 

Villain Files:

 

Name: Hawkmoth

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Butterfly brooch. 

Age: mid- forties. 

Powers: Akumatization - a sort of possession. He can turn people with negative emotions into villains. Each villain, or Akuma, is varied in power set. Abilities are usually related to the source of their negativity. See Akuma Files for more information.

Status: Inactive. 

Notes: Very little is known about Hawkmoth. Including his motive. Ladybug and her team seem to have defeated him. They proved that they were able to take his Miraculous away and assured the public that he will no longer be a problem. However, it is unknown what exactly happened to him. Close to Mayura.

 

Name: Mayura

Identity: Unknown

Miraculous: Peacock Brooch

Age: mid-forties

Powers: Sentimonsters - Mayura can use someone's emotions to create a monster companion to do their bidding. Sentimonsters vary in abilities and intelligence. Most are simple creatures, a superpowered attack dog of sorts. But she has created a fake Ladybug that could fool the other Heroes. See Sentimonster Files for more information.

Status: Inactive. 

Notes: Much like Hawkmoth, little is known about her, and seems to be defeated. Very close to Hawkmoth. There’s speculation that she is his wife due to the few public interactions that were witnessed, but nothing is confirmed.

 

            There was something about the files that was bothering her. Something familiar, poking at her mind. Yet she couldn’t put the pieces together.

            Maybe if she could, she’d figure out who murdered Lila Rossi.

            Keeping the files in her bag, Wolfe set up camp at the base of Eiffel Tower. Ladybug and her team were known to patrol the city some nights. Even though Akumas no longer appeared, they’d taken to handling some petty crimes they ran across. The police had been against it at first, but they’d learned that those Magic suits protected them from most mortal weapons.

            Still, though they split up across the city, the team usually met up at the Eiffel Tower to touch base.

            After a while of waiting, Wolfe saw a few colorful dots in the distance. It seemed like all active Heroes were out tonight. Wolfe waved up to them, cursing the fact that she’d forgotten to bring a megaphone. Thankfully, it was enough to get the Heroes’ attention.

            Ladybug was the only one to drop down to ground level. The rest of the team stayed up in the beams. Watching. Waiting. That familiar feeling was back, but Wolfe pushed it aside for now.

            “Hello, Ladybug,” Wolfe said. “I’m Detective Stella Wolfe. I’m investigating the murder of Lila Rossi.”

            “I’ve heard,” Ladybug said. “I can’t really help you though. I know Lila talked about knowing me, but it was a lie. I’ve only interacted with her when she was Akumatized or being targeted by an Akuma.”

            “I assumed as much,” she said, making a note of how Ladybug had “heard of her”. “I’m still looking into all that. However, I can’t rule out the connection to you yet. Even though you’re not her friend, people believed her. It was suggested that Hawkmoth could’ve killed her to get back at you for defeating him.”

            “That didn’t happen,” she said.

            “Look,” she sighed. “The police have compliant in your request to not pursue arresting Hawkmoth, as long as he doesn’t return. I understand the idea that Magic situations need to be handled by Magic laws. However, if he has committed a murder, that makes all of the Magic irrelevant. So unless you can provide some proof that Hawkmoth isn’t involved, I’m going to continue to look into this.”

            Ladybug considered that. Her eyes flicked upward to where Chat Noir perched, debating over something. Her expression was soft, scared. Not of Hawkmoth, not for herself. For Chat. Why?

            “This is off the record, alright?” Ladybug said.

            “As long as it is irrelevant to my investigation,” Wolfe agreed.

            “Hawkmoth knows that Lila was lying,” she said. “He knows that, because she was sort of working for him.”

            “Okay, I need more context,” she frowned. “She was working for him? How?”

            “Sort of,” she corrected. “Lila was willing to be Akumatized for her own gain. Sometimes to get back at me for outing some of her lies, like when she was Volpina. Sometimes to play the victim when called out, like her Akumatization as Chameleon. She was also good at getting others riled up and leaving them open to Akumatization. So Hawkmoth kept an eye on her, and used her actions to cause quite a few Akumas.”

            “How is that "sort of” working for him?“ She asked. “It sounds like she was another accomplice.”

            "Because to her, it didn’t matter if Hawkmoth won or not,” she said. “It was petty and short sighted, because she never stopped to think what might happen if Hawkmoth won. What might happen if he was worse and had less morals. But she was only using the powers he granted for her own gain, not to help him.”

            “Why hasn’t this been brought to anyone’s attention?” She asked.

            “As you pointed out,” she began, “we haven’t handed over Hawkmoth and Mayura. We couldn’t hold anything against Lila without doing the same for them. Especially because she was an underage girl who didn't think of the consequences.”

            “I see your point,” she mused.

            That was absolutely a point. Even if Hawkmoth and Mayura had been arrested and put on trial, trying to prosecute Lila would get tricky. A decent lawyer would have an easy time spinning Lila’s involvement as Hawkmoth manipulating her. Even if the courts decided she’d done it of her own free will, she’d been underage at the time. It was likely she wouldn’t get anywhere near the same judgment as Hawkmoth.

            “This doesn’t entirely rule him out,” Wolfe said. “He could have a grudge against her for failing to defeat you.”

            “He doesn’t,” Ladybug said. “And even if he did harbor a grudge, there are easier targets.”

            Ladybug’s gaze flicked over to Chat again. Odd. Was there a connection there? Perhaps she has Chat keeping an eye on Hawkmoth?

            As Wolfe stared between them, she got that feeling again. It was like a pressure in her mind, making her feel like she’s missing something right in front of her. It was annoying and pissed her off. Honestly she hadn’t been that annoyed at a feeling since-

            Oh.

            Since Ariel had taught her about breaking Glamours. It was a long few weeks, filled with lessons on the difference between Glamours and full Transformations, a lot of headaches, and an overall creepy feeling that comes with hearing your girlfriend’s voice come out of one of your coworkers.

            It made sense though. A Glamour would keep people from recognizing the Heroes. Even if their civilian selves are random nobodies, they still had friends and family members. It wouldn’t take much to recognize them. And it wouldn’t take long for the secret to get out, no matter how hard they tried.

            But with a Glamour? It would be nearly impossible for someone unfamiliar with Magic to notice, even if it was their best friend, or sibling, or lover. Even images and video would be affected.

            Wolfe wasn’t sure why she hadn’t noticed it before. Probably because she’d never focused that hard on the Heroes. Never looked into who they were past that, unlike now when she was trying to solve a case.

            It was all too easy to push back against the Glamour. Wolfe focused harder on Ladybug’s face. Black hair in pigtails and blue eyes that were plastered all over Paris, and many girls with the same features had been known to imitate the style. She looked past that, directly at her face, focusing on as many details as she could.

            As the Glamour shattered, Wolfe found herself staring at Marinette Dupain-Cheng in a red mask.

            Now that was something that threw her for a loop. However, she started to form theories and ask questions. Marinette was dating Adrien, yet Ladybug was with Chat Noir. Either she was cheating on him or…

            Looking up to the beams, Wolfe pushed through another Glamour. Chat Noir was Adrien Agreste. That really spoke to the power of a Glamour, as both had their faces plastered across Paris and no one noticed. Hell, didn’t Adrien voice Chat in that movie a while ago?

            She looked through the rest, and found several familiar faces. All people she’d talked to today. She almost laughed when she saw that Chloé and Kagami had replaced themselves when their identities had been compromised. The power of a Glamour.

            Yet something was still bothering her. When she’d brought up Hawkmoth, Ladybug had looked to Chat. To Adrien. Like she was worried. Why was she worried about him? What did Adrien Agreste have to do with….

            Wait. Agreste… Glamours and masks…. Gabriel came to L’Enchantement Royale in a Glamour and Mask right after his wife disappeared… his wife reappeared recently… right after…

            “What the fuck,” Wolfe said.

            “Detective Wolfe?” Ladybug asked. “Are you okay?”

            “Fine,” she shook her head. “Just a headache. A hell of a headache. You’re all free to go. I have to go yell at someone for a thing.”

            With that, Wolfe turned on her heel and walked off in the direction of a certain Magic shop.

Chapter Text

            Wolfe all but kicked down the door to L’Enchantement Royale. The sound startled the only customer, a blonde girl who jumped but looked ready to fight if needed. On the other hand, Ariel barely even flinched.

            “We need to talk,” Wolfe glared.

            “I’m with a customer,” Ariel replied. “Give me a minute, okay?

            Though it killed her to wait, she stomped over and leaned against a wall. The customer watched her with a wary expression, but turned back to the counter.

            “We were discussing silver?” the customer said.

            “Right,” Ariel said. “See, silver and Magic are complicated. There’s only a few branches where silver is a good thing. More often silver is either neutral, or harmful. So using silver polish on a Magic flute? Bad idea.”

            “I figured,” she said. “That’s why I came here.”

            “I’m surprised you came all the way to Paris,” she said. “Don’t they have Magic shops in London?”

            “I wanted the best,” she said. “So, do you have something helpful?”

            “Yep,” she replied, grabbing a jar off the shelf behind the counter. “This is a polish that works on a variety of Enchantment-safe metals. I use it for all tools and enchanted jewelry. It also works wonders on regular metals too, in case you have anything else you need cleaned up. Not to mention I can direct you to a few shops closer to home that sell it.”

            “Perfect,” she grinned.

            They quickly finished the transaction, with Ariel writing down an address on the back of the receipt. The customer gave one last worried look to Wolfe, who had been growing very impatient, before leaving.

            As soon as she was out the door, Wolfe marched up to the counter. Ariel was unfazed, and only grinned.

            “You have a bit of a temper, you know,” Ariel mused.

            “A temper?” Wolfe parroted. “I have spent all day chasing down stories and sifting through all the lies the victim has told. And my most likely suspects? Were just shot out of the water! And you knew this whole time!”

            “I have no clue who killed your victim,” she said.

            “No,” she huffed. “But you knew Bakery Girl is Ladybug. You knew the Agreste Kid is Chat Noir. Fuck. Gabriel fucking Agreste is goddamn Hawkmoth, and you’ve known since the son of a bitch showed up! But you did nothing!”

            “You’re swearing a lot,” she said.

            Wolfe took a breath, trying to remain calm. She also realized that shouting that stuff was probably a bad idea.

            “You knew,” Wolfe said. “You knew who Hawkmoth was, and you didn’t stop him on day one?”

            “You know the rules of Magic,” Ariel shrugged. “Interfering like that is difficult. Especially with the Miraculous. Ancient Magics are tricky and don’t like interference, so I refrained from doing anything unless things turned very dangerous. Besides, even if I did tell the cops, who would believe me when I told them that the Supervillain they’re all worried about is just a fashion designer?”

            “I would’ve,” she muttered.

            “I know,” she said. “But for now, it’s worked itself out, and has nothing to do with your murder.”

            “You’re right about that part,” she sighed. “I was already writing those kids off the suspect list because of the security footage, even counting factors like ‘hiring someone’ or ‘knowing a secret way out of the building’, but now? There’s no way they did it.”

            “I figured you’d go the opposite route,” she said. “You can bypass security cameras by going out a window on an upper floor. Easy for our local Heroes.”

            “Yeah, but body disposal is another thing that’s easy for them,” she said. “Chat’s Cataclysm would’ve turned the body to dust. Bunnyx could’ve sent the victim anywhere in the timeline. Hell, they could’ve brought out the Horse Miraculous again and sent her to the void of space!”

            “Oddly brutal,” she mused. “Good point though.”

            “And Gabriel had the most solid alibi,” she sighed. “He, his wife, and the assistant were all seeing a family therapist, who has already vouched that their session went long into the night.”

            “Must be nice to have the money to pay a therapist for overtime,” she sighed.

            “I can bet that the therapy is about that whole ‘supervillain’ thing though,” she huffed. “Also, you have no right to complain about other people having a lot of money. Though perhaps therapy should be looked into.”

            Ariel only shrugged at that. Wolfe knew better than to argue. With a sigh, she leaned on the counter and stared at the shelves.

            “I need to figure out where exactly to go next,” Wolfe mused. “The biggest question is figuring out where the victim went after leaving her friends, since she didn’t go with the Agreste kid.”

            “I’d say ask the friends again,” Ariel suggested.

            “I was going to do that anyway,” she said. “I was thinking… considering our victim is a liar, and her lies broke up a few friendships, one of them might’ve found out and killed her in revenge.”

            “Could be,” she said.

            “I’m not looking forward to telling them that they dumped Bakery Girl for nothing,” she huffed. “But hopefully there’ll be something. Even if she wasn’t heading out with the Agreste kid, maybe she mentioned where they were supposedly meeting up for their dinner date.”

            “Speaking of,” she began, “you didn’t happen to pick up anything on the way back home?”

            Wolfe only gave her a deadpan stare.

Chapter Text

            Wolfe was knocking on yet another apartment door. A young man opened it. He still seemed half-asleep with coffee in hand and his short hair looking somewhere between ‘just woke up’ and ‘just took off my hat’.

            “Can I help you?” the man asked.

            “I’m looking for Alya Cesaire,” Wolfe answered. “I went to her apartment, but her parents said she spent the night here.”

            “Oh, Detective Wolfe,” Alya said, having appeared to look over the man’s shoulder at her. “Did you find something?”

            “Sort of,” Wolfe said. “Can I come in?”

            “Yeah, sure,” the man said, backing up to let her in. “I’m Nino, by the way. Alya’s boyfriend.”

            “Sorry I wasn’t at home,” Alya said. “I just- after yesterday I wanted comfort.”

            “Understandable,” Wolfe said before turning to Nino. “Do you live here alone?”

            “No, my parents and my little brother live here too,” Nino said. “They went out for the day. We still haven’t told Chris that Lila died.”

            “I don’t think anyone’s told my little sisters either,” Alya said. “Anyway, you said you wanted to talk to me?”

            “Yes,” Wolfe nodded. “We should sit down somewhere.”

            The three sat at the kitchen table. Wolfe knew she had to tread carefully, as impatient as she was getting with this case.

            Staring at the couple, it was easy to notice something. While the Glamour wasn’t currently in effect, she could still break through it. These two were Rena Rouge and Carapace. It was easy to guess that their ‘retirement’ had been due to the Lila situation. Perhaps it was a similar story for the others.

            “Miss Cesaire,” Wolfe began. “Are you sure that Lila told you that she’d be with Adrien Friday night?”

            “Yeah,” Alya answered, giving her a confused look. “She said they had a date.”

            “Did she say anything else?” she asked. “Maybe where they were going?”

            “I don’t think so,” she shook her head. “Didn’t you ask Adrien?”

            “Knowing Adrien’s dad?” Nino almost laughed. “The man probably has Adrien on super lockdown. Either because he thinks you’d arrest him on sight, or to protect him from whoever killed Lila.”

            “Actually,” Wolfe said. “The Agrestes have been very cooperative. They let me in, answered my questions, provided alibis, and so on. The thing is though, according to Adrien, he hasn’t seen Lila since she got fired.”

            “I… what?” Alya asked. “How? That was months ago. They’ve been on dates since then!”

            “Did Adrien tell you this?” she asked. “Did he ever show up to an outing with Lila? Or just surprise her? Did you ever see them on a date together?”

            “Their dates are low key,” she said. “Between fangirls, tabloids, and the fact that Adrien didn’t want his father to find out, they went on a lot of ‘small and quiet restaurants while wearing big sunglasses and a hat’ kind of dates.”

            “And that was when he had the free time,” Nino said. “Adrien’s father keeps his schedule pretty packed. And ever since his mom came back, Adrien’s been spending a lot of free time reconnecting with her. The few other times are when the dates are. Even I haven’t gotten to see him much, since his free time conflicts with my schedule. We still text a lot, but Lila doesn’t come up. I wouldn’t put it past Gabriel to be checking his texts anyway.”

            “Right,” Wolfe said. “But you’re getting all this from Lila, not Adrien, right?”

            “He’s always been busy,” he defended. “Even before we knew Lila, there were all the photoshoots, fencing practice, Chinese and piano lessons. And some unscheduled and sudden events that popped up at random. It’s a wonder he graduated given how much class he missed.”

            “Why are you even asking this?” Alya demanded.

            “Because Lila wasn’t dating Adrien,” Wolfe said. “In fact, he didn’t really like her that much. Lila was fired for destroying an important dress for the new fashion line, not because of ‘Marinette causing drama’. Before that, Lila was about to be fired for harassing Adrien during their shoots together.”

            There was a sound of chair legs scraping against tile as Alya got up abruptly. She paced back and forth, looking like she was trying not to go off and yell. On the other hand, Nino only stared, trying to put puzzle pieces together.

            “Is this some weird tactic?” Alya demanded. “Make up some crap to piss me off and make me say something incriminating? Because it can’t work because I didn’t do it!”

            “Did you know that Lila has a clean bill of health?” Wolfe asked. “Our M.E. didn’t find anything unusual other than the cause of death. And looking into her medical records, there’s nothing about arthritis, sprains, tinnitus, not even a broken bone since she was six and fell of the monkey bars at a playground back in Italy.”

            “No, she has-“ she tried to say.

            “According to Lila’s mother,” she pressed on, “They haven’t been out of the country since they moved to Paris.”

            “But what about-“ Nino tried to ask.

            “I tracked down Ladybug last night,” she said. “She says that her only interactions with Lila were when she became an Akuma, or was targeted by one. Which was pretty often. And Hawkmoth himself knew that they weren’t friends, because Lila’s first Akumatization was because Ladybug told her to stop saying they were ‘bffs’ due to the danger it posed.”

            “She was just protecting-“ Alya attempted to say

            “Oh, and your other friends?” Wolfe asked. “Rose Lavilant and Juleka Couffaine? They apparently also ‘talk to Prince Ali’. Except according to them, he hasn’t heard of Lila Rossi. Verdict’s still out on Jagged Stone, Clara Nightengale, and the handful of other celebrities, but given everything else…”

            “You’re just…” she trailed off.

            “I’m just what? Jealous?” she asked. “Just like Marinette? Just like Chloé and Kagami? Every argument is just about us supposedly being ‘in love with Adrien’ and ‘jealous that he’s with Lila’? That’s a joke considering everyone’s relationships.”

            “Relationships?” Nino repeated.

            “Well,” Wolfe said. “I’m gay and in a relationship, not to mention older than all of you so if I was interested we'd have other problems. That ‘gay and in a relationship’ thing can also be said for Chloé, as she’s been dating your friend Alix Kubdel for a while. Kagami is also in a relationship with one Luka Couffaine. And Marinette? Oh, sure. She’s still interested in Adrien. In fact, according to them, she’s already won the game. They’ve been dating for quite a while now.”

            “She would’ve told me!” Alya exclaimed.

            “Why would she?” she asked. “You told me yourself that you haven’t had a proper conversation in nearly a year. Because you chose Lila. Now tell me, do you think you made the right choice?”

            Wolfe waited for another rebuttal, another denial. Yet, it somehow all seemed to sink in now. Alya was looking around, analyzing everything over and over in her head. Nino was just looking at the table, his hands shaking.

            Despite how desperately they looked for other explanations, there wasn’t one. And they wouldn’t be getting one. Lila was dead. She couldn’t make up excuses or manipulate anyone anymore. She wouldn't have some clever answer to brush off their suspicions. They were finally free. 

            Alya sank back into her chair, looking like she was about to throw up. Deciding that she’d used the ‘bad cop’ routine enough, Wolfe leaned forward and tried to talk softer.

            “I didn’t want to push you that hard,” Wolfe said. “But I knew that the only way I’d get through this investigation is by making you face the truth. Because I don’t care what kind of lies she told unless they were what got her killed.”

            “She couldn’t have…” Alya whispered. “I would’ve known… this can’t…”

            “I know this is difficult,” she said. “But I need you to answer a few more questions. Lila didn’t have a date with Adrien that night. Do you have any idea where she might’ve gone? Even if she told you a restaurant they were supposed to go to, it could-“

            “No,” she shook her head. “That’s… all she said was that they had a date.”

            “What about you?” she asked, turning to Nino. “Did Lila mention anything to you?”

            “No, I…” Nino shook his head. “She didn’t. I didn’t even talk to her much that day. Just when I picked Alya up I said hello but…”

            “We left,” Alya said. “Had to get to our reservations.”

            “I have to ask,” Wolfe said. “While Alya’s family said that she stayed there all night after you dropped her off, where’d you go after?”

            “H-here,” Nino answered. “I didn’t- you don’t think I had anything to do with- I wouldn’t-“

            “I can see you’re shocked,” she said. “But finding out about everything Lila did would be a strong motive for murder. It takes twenty minutes to get here from Alya’s apartment. Your family will say you were here by 9:30-ish and didn’t leave, right?”

            “Right,” he nodded. “You can ask. I wouldn’t have- If I’d found out I would’ve told Alya.”

            “I will double check that, but for now I believe you,” she said. “Now, as I said, finding out would be a strong motive. Can you give me a list of everyone from your group who was close to Lila, and who would’ve been upset if they found out she'd been lying to them?”

            Despite their shock and hesitance to admit that all this was happening, the couple did provide Wolfe with a new list of names. The two girls on the list were a good first stop, as they’d been part of the ‘girls day out’ from Friday.

Chapter Text

            Wolfe sat at a table outside a café. The next interviews were with Mylene Haprele and Ivan Bruel. While she’d stopped at Mylene’s home, her father informed her that the couple had a shift volunteering at an animal shelter.

            She’d popped into the building, but the pair asked her to wait at the café next door, as their lunch break was coming up anyway.

            As she waited, Wolfe took a look at her Hero Files again. After running into ‘Rena Rouge and Carapace’, there was a chance that she might run into the rest of the ‘retired’ Heroes. Mylene and Ivan matched with Petite Souris and Oxenfree. Which left only three unaccounted for.

            Looking up, she saw the pair quickly heading to her table. The files were slipped back into her bag as she did the usual introductions.

            “I don’t know how much help we’ll be,” Mylene admitted as she sat down. “Especially since…”

            “Since what?” Wolfe asked.

            “We got a message from Alya earlier,” Ivan said. “About how Lila really was lying about things.”

            “I can’t believe it,” Mylene said. “I mean I can. Because it makes sense considering the whole situation didn’t make sense!”

            “What do you mean?” Wolfe asked.

            “With Marinette,” she said. “It didn’t make sense that Marinette would be so mean to someone. But Lila only ever was nice to her. When they made us choose sides… I didn’t want to. But I’d only ever seen Lila be nice to Marinette so I…”

            “Now that I think about it,” Ivan frowned. “Wasn’t it Lila who made us choose sides?”

            “Ugh,” she sighed, laying forward on the table. “It was. We really need to talk to Marinette. Even if she hates us now, I want to apologize.”

            Wolfe watched the pair comfort each other, Ivan’s arms around Mylene’s shoulders. They were definitely a little lost with all of this, and unless they were world-class actors, it was likely they didn’t know about Lila’s lies.

            While she wasn’t the best at comforting people grieving, Wolfe was usually better in situations where there was a possible solution. Though it was a little difficult to say. Wolfe might not know much about Marinette, she did know a bit more about Ladybug. And if Ladybug could deal with Hawkmoth enough to intern at his dayjob, then she’d probably forgive the friends who had been manipulated away from her.

            “You were with Lila on Friday afternoon, right?” Wolfe asked. “What time did you last see her?”

            “Around seven,” Mylene said.

            “What did you do after?” she asked.

            “We were supposed to go out to eat,” Ivan said.

            “Supposed to?” she questioned.

            “I have, uh, really bad PMS,” Mylene admitted. “Once my period actually starts it’s manageable, but the day or so leading up to it gives me the ‘can’t really do much but curl up on my bed’ level of pain. That started up in the last half hour when we were walking around. So instead of going out we went to my place for the night.”

            “And you stayed there all night?” she asked.

            “I stepped out at around 8:30 to get Chinese takeout,” Ivan admitted. “Other than that, we were there. Mylene’s dad can verify.”

            Wolfe tried to ask another question, but was cut off by someone tackling Ivan. She jumped, fully preparing to flip the guy over a table, before realizing Ivan was far too used to the man that was grinning and hugging him. There was another person coming up, slightly out of breath.

            The one who had tackled Ivan was tall and athletic, carrying a damp dufflebag. The other was smaller and looked pretty, well, nerdy to be honest. He also had a bag, but it looked more like it held a laptop. Both looked familiar.

            “Kim you can’t just run and tackle hug people,” the nerdy one sighed.

            “It’s just Ivan,” the other one, Kim, defended. “Besides, I didn’t get to see him yesterday so I have to congratulate him!”

            “Congratulate him on what?” Mylene asked.

            “Nothing!” Ivan said quickly. “But now isn’t the best time…”

            “Who’s your friend?” the nerdy guy asked, gesturing to Wolfe.

            “Detective Stella Wolfe,” Wolfe said. “I was asking them a few questions about the murder of Lila Rossi. Who are you two?”

            “Max Kante,” he said, offering a hand. “This is Le Chien Kim.”

            “Just call me Kim,” Kim said, rolling his eyes. “The Lila thing though. It just sucks. Can’t believe anyone would kill her.”

            “Did you not get Alya’s texts yet?” Ivan asked warily.

            “No,” Max said. “Someone decided to wake me up at six in the morning to watch him swim for hours. Even if I trusted my tech near a pool, the people who run it ban all tech to keep anyone from being upset when they inevitably drop their phone in a puddle.”

            “You watched him swim for six hours?” Wolfe raised an eyebrow.

            “I slept on a bench for half of that,” he admitted, taking a drink from his coffee cup. “Haven’t checked my messages yet.”

            “Checking now,” Kim said, pulling out his phone.

            Everyone waited. Ivan and Mylene were nervous, already knowing what he’d find. Max was curious, but unbothered, clueless as to the world-rocking revelations about to happen. And finally, Wolfe was preparing for the fallout.

            As she studied them, Wolfe placed the familiarity. Her Hero Files. Roi Singe and Pegasus. Like the other ‘Inactive Heroes’, they seem to be people who had once been friends with Marinette, and had chosen Lila instead.

            Part of her wondered how they felt about that. Both about how they were benched as Heroes, and also how they’d feel if they knew why.  She couldn’t ask, of course. That would mean exposing identities. And as much as she was annoyed with Ariel for not telling her about said identities, she understood that it was something she shouldn’t actively go talking about in public.

            While she’d been thinking on that, Kim had been reading. His expression went from confused to furious. By the end of the messages, his hands were shaking.

            “What the FUCK?!” Kim shouted, gaining attention from the others nearby.

            “Language!” Mylene chastised.

            “What’s going on?” Max asked.

            “Marinette was right!” Kim shouted. “Lila was lying! And we just- UGH!”

            “I know,” Mylene said. “We really need to go talk to Marinette.”

            “What are you talking about?” Max asked. “There’s no way Lila was lying! I would’ve known!”

            “Even smart people can be manipulated,” Wolfe said. “But from what I’ve found in my investigation, she was lying about a lot of things.”

            “That’s not-,” he shook his head. “Markov!”

            A whirring and beeping noise made Wolfe jump as a small thing popped out of Max’s bag. It looked like a robot of sorts, blue and white with a small propeller and an arm attached, and it was now hovering beside the table.

            “Who are you?” Wolfe asked.

            “Hello, I am Markov!” the little robot said. “Thank you for asking ‘Who’ and not ‘What’!”

            “Markov is a robot I made,” Max explained. “While his programming has enough AI to be Akumatized, his memory and calculation skills are still better than any Humans!”

            That was… a lot to unpack. While Wolfe had said ‘who’ on instinct, she was standing by that now. People were Akumatized through Emotional Magic. If Markov had emotions real enough for the Butterfly Miraculous to hook into, it was probably ‘real’.

            “Anyway,” Max said. “Markov, pull up all of Lila’s statements. How many of those were lies?”

            There was a few seconds of beeping, and then a dinging sound.

            “Statements analyzed,” Markov said. “The percentage of lies Lila Rossi has told is average compared to other people I have observed.”

            “See?” Max said, looking just the tiniest bit smug.

            The other three looked conflicted. They’d jumped past the denial stage quickly, so they didn’t know quite how to handle this. If anything, it made them wonder how many lies the rest of their friends told if Lila’s were considered ‘average’.

            Instead of being intimidated, Wolfe leaned forward. Her world was not quite as binary as a program’s, or as black and white as a young adult's. So she had an idea on how to solve this.

            “Can I ask, Markov,” Wolfe began. “Of Lila’s statements, how many were labeled ‘inconclusive’? Statements where Lila was the only witness, or where there were multiple witnesses with conflicting views and no concrete proof of who was right. Also focus on statements where proving them would involve access to either people who were not there to give their own statement, or you would have to do something illegal to verify them, like hacking into her medical records.”

            While Max gave her a confused look, Markov began beeping again. It took a little longer this time, but eventually there was a ding.

            “Statements analyzed,” Markov exclaimed. “An extremely high percentage of Lila Rossi’s statements fit into the category described.”

            “What does that mean, exactly?” Kim asked.

            “It means that Lila lied,” Wolfe said. “But her lies weren’t simple things proven by basic facts. It was things you couldn’t prove. A ‘he-said-she-said’ situation. Things where you couldn’t get a hold of the people she talked about to verify her story. And the medical records thing was specifically about her supposed disabilities, as that’s the only place to have proof other than just her word.”

            And there was the revelation setting in. Though Wolfe wasn’t sure if Max was more upset over the fact that Lila lied, or the fact that he didn’t figure it out.

            “Since you two are here anyway,” Wolfe said, “I can ask for your alibis that night.”

            “You don’t think we did this?” Kim asked, offended. 

            “I have to double check,” she said. “So where were you two Friday night between 9:30 and 10:30?”

            “I was home,” he said, sinking into the chair and crossing his arms. “My parents were there too.”

            “I was home too,” Max said. “My mom and Markov can verify that.”

            “I’ll check on that,” Wolfe said. “But for now, we’re done here.”

            “Good,” Kim said, his mood brightening almost immediately. “In that case, I can attempt to lighten the mood and get back to congratulating the happy couple!”

            “That’s the second time you said that,” Mylene frowned. “What are we being congratulated on?”

            Kim blinked in confusion. He then put an arm around Ivan, who looked like he wanted to deck his friend, and pulled him over a few feet.

            “Dude,” Kim began in a not-so-hushed whisper. “Please tell me you did not chicken out!”

            “I didn’t!” Ivan defended, actually attempting to whisper. “But things happened and-“

            “What’s going on?” Mylene asked.

            “There’s a high chance Kim just ruined this whole operation,” Max sighed.

            Wolfe felt like she was supposed to leave, as this seemed like something the friend group had planned for a time when there wasn’t currently a homicide detective at the table. However, curiosity got the better of her. As usual.

            After a moment of hesitation from Ivan, which caused Mylene to get up to try and comfort him, he seemed to come to a decision.

            “Well, the thing is,” Ivan began, rubbing the back of his neck “I was going to do this Friday, but then dinner got canceled. And then when we found out that Lila died I was going to wait while. But since Kim can’t stay quiet and I don’t want you to worry that something’s up… god this is really not the situation I wanted for this!”

            “Wanted for what?” Mylene asked.

            With a deep breath, Ivan knelt down. Even on one knee, he was still taller than Mylene. Still, he pulled a ring box out of his pocket. And oh boy did that really get the attention of everyone at the café.

            Mylene finally seemed to figure out what exactly was going on. She squeaked, hands flying to her face as she blushed hard. Both of them were tearing up by this point.

            “Mylene, I love you so much,” Ivan said. “I- I know I’d like to spend the rest of my life with you. So, will you marry me?”

            Though she seemed to have lost her voice from either shock or happiness, Mylene still managed to vigorously nod. The others in the café clapped as he slid the ring onto her finger. They barely got a kiss in before Kim was congratulating them ‘for real this time’.

            Wolfe was glad she stayed to watch. It was good for de-stressing from the case. It was the kind of thing she’d tell Ariel about later, just to hear her go on about the ‘poetic drama’ and how ‘even in the darkest of times, finding out their dead friend is a liar, they can still find happiness’. It was cheesy as hell, but one of the reasons she loved her.

Chapter Text

            Wolfe knocked on yet another door, mentally going over her notes from the previous interviews. She’d made calls on the way over to verify everything else, and so far it was on the up and up. Leads were running out very quickly. Hopefully this gave her something, or else she’d have to hope that one of the various celebrities Lila lied about would get back to her quickly with some sort of news.

            The man who opened the door was familiar. Wolfe couldn’t quite place it until she imagined him with a hat.

            “Wolfe?” Roger asked.

            “Hey, Roger,” Wolfe said. “What are you doing here?”

            “I live here,” he answered.

            Wolfe blinked for a moment, then sighed and rubbed her temples. Great. That stress headache was back.

            “Right,” Wolfe said. “Raincomprix. I didn’t even make the connection. Sabrina’s your daughter, right?”

            “You’re the one on the Lila case, aren’t you?” Roger frowned, posture immediately going on the defensive. “Sabrina didn’t have anything to do with that.”

            “You know as well as I do that I can’t rule her out just because I know you,” she said.

            “I know,” he sighed, relaxing slightly. “But Sabrina was with me Friday night. I picked her up from the park, gave a quick hello to Lila, and that was the last either of us saw her.”

            “I’ll believe you on that,” she said. “Still, I’d like to speak to Sabrina. I’m trying to figure out where Lila went after that. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it turns out that the girl lied about a lot of things. While she lied about going to meet her boyfriend, she might’ve told one of the girls about where she was headed. It could still be a lie, but it’s better than nothing.”

            Roger sighed, but did let her in the door. Wolfe trailed behind a little, following him through the house to the living room.

            On the couch was a red-haired girl still in pajamas. Like the others, she looked like she’d been crying on and off. More than anything, she looked a little lost.

            And just like the others, Wolfe recognized another Hero. Wolfhound. She’d suspected as much after learning that Chloé was Honeybee, and remembering how Honeybee had reacted to Wolfhound getting injured.

            She let Roger talk first, reassuring his daughter that this was just a few questions. After that, he stood behind her, and gestured for Wolfe to take the seat on the other end of the couch.

            “Hello, Sabrina,” Wolfe said. “I’m Detective Stella Wolfe. I’m the one in charge of Lila’s case.”

            “Hello,” Sabrina said. “Sorry, I’m a bit of a mess right now.”

            “Understandable,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out where Lila went after you and the others left. Did she say anything?”

            “Not that I remember,” she said. “Just that she had a date with Adrien.”

            “Can you go over what you do remember?” she asked. “Just right before you left, okay?”

            “Okay,” she said, taking a shuddering breath. “We’d been out most of the day, and ended up in the park around seven. Mylene left first. Her cramps started up so she called Ivan. Then-then Nino came by to pick Alya up for their date. And I waited for my dad to pick me up.”

            “Did you two talk about anything?” she asked.

            “Nothing important,” she said. “Just small talk about the day. She said Adrien was running late because his father ordered a last-minute photoshoot, but considering Alya’s message this morning, I don’t think that matters. After that, dad picked me up and we went home for a Disney movie and ice cream marathon.”

            “Disney movies and ice cream?” she wondered. “That sounds like a depressive comfort thing. Did something she say upset you?”

            “Wolfe,” Roger warned.

            She shot him a look. Wolfe would’ve preferred to do the interview without him present. Parents are protective, and a parent that’s also a cop is even worse, knowing the enemies on both sides of the law. The only reason she tolerated it is because she felt that she wouldn’t have to push Sabrina like she would’ve had to push others.

            “Dad, it’s okay,” Sabrina said. “It wasn’t Lila specifically that upset me. It was just, well, all my friends had dates that night. And I was going home to my dad.”

            “Ah,” Wolfe said. “That’s a good reason for ice cream.”

            At that, Sabrina sat up a little straighter. Despite wanting to immediately ask what she was thinking, Wolfe waited. Let her process it before pressing. It’d get a clearer and more truthful answer, instead of filling in the blanks herself.

            “I mentioned it to Lila before I left,” Sabrina said. “She just kinda laughed and said something about how ‘someday, I’d find someone to go to André’s with’.”

            “André’s?” Wolfe asked. “The Sweetheart Ice Cream guy?”

            “Yeah,” she said. “I know everyone else went to his cart for their own ice cream to share before. I forgot about it, but it sounded like she was implying that she and Adrien were going to track him down.”

            “That’s helpful,” she said.

            “Is it?” she wondered. “If Lila was lying about dating Adrien…”

            “While she was lying about the date,” she said, “Sometimes, the best lies are half-truths. Thanks for answering my questions.”

            There were a few more comments exchanged, but Wolfe was mostly focusing on her next lead. André was well known throughout Paris. He was even more well known in certain circles.

            While it was unlikely that André killed Lila, there was a chance he saw who did.

Chapter Text

                André’s ice cream cart was a little tricky to track down, as usual. Thankfully it wasn’t too busy. Wolfe only had to wait for one giggling couple before walking up.

                “Good evening, André,” Wolfe said.

                “Good evening to you as well, miss Wolfe!” André replied, already scooping ice cream. “Your usual cherry, lime, and cotton candy surprise?”

                “Not tonight,” she said, though it was with a bit of regret. “I’m here on business.”

                “Oh?” He said, a slight flicker of fear crossing his face. “And what does the Dragon Witch want from me?”

                “Not that business,” she said. “I’m not here as Ariel’s messenger. I’m here as a homicide detective.”

                That got him to relax a little. Not completely, as there was still the questioning to go though. But that was less terrifying than the Magic community. Especially Ariel.

                Wolfe opened her bag and took out Lila’s file photo. Handing it over, she gave him a moment to look at it.

                “Did you see this girl Friday night?” Wolfe asked. “Maybe around 10-ish?”

                “I believe I did,” André said. “Is she a suspect or victim?”

                “Victim,” she said, taking the photo back. “One whose whereabouts have been difficult to track. Was she with anyone?”

                “Not exactly,” he frowned.

                “What do you mean?” She asked.

                “She met someone at my cart,” he said. “It didn’t seem like they meant to meet up though. More like they ran into each other. They left together.”

                “Can you give a description the person she met?” She asked. “And I mean a description of their face, not their ice cream order.”

                “Of course,” he said with a slight smile. “She looked about the same age as your victim. Slender, brunette with short hair.”

                Wolfe frowned at that. It didn’t sound like anyone she’d run into so far. And there wasn’t anyone left on the list. All of Lila’s friends and enemies had been discussed and this girl wasn’t any of them. Said friends and enemies also had various alibis. While some were a bit spotty, being basically “I was with friends or family who would lie to protect me” or even just “if I did it you wouldn’t have a body”, none of them matched this description.

                “Anything else about her?” Wolfe asked. “Anything they talked about that sounded interesting?”

                “Nothing unusual,” André said. “It seemed like they were just catching up. Like they hadn’t seen each other in a while. Oh! And when they walked off they started speaking another language. Italian, I believe.”

                Now that was a potential lead. Probably the only good lead Wolfe had gotten since this case started.

Chapter Text

            Alya stood outside the Dupain-Cheng bakery. She hadn't been here in... a while. It wasn't like she'd been banned, but after she chose sides, she never came to visit Marinette. And it had felt too weird to go buy pastries. Plus she was scared that she would actually get banned.

            Walking in, everything looked just the same. Pastries, cookies, and breads displayed on the counters, all of the smells hitting immediately. A decent number of customers were choosing their orders. Marinette and her dad, working behind the counter. It almost felt like the last year had been a dream. 

            She wondered how to get Marinette's attention. However, Mr. Dupain noticed her first. He somewhat subtly elbowed Marinette to get her attention, and suddenly Alya found herself staring into familiar blue eyes. 

            After a moment of pure shock, her expression softened a little, giving a sad smile. Quickly finishing up an order, she was around the counter and walking over. Alya half expected her to tell her to get the hell out, but she just stopped about a foot away. 

            "Can we-" Alya swallowed. "Can we talk?"

            "Yeah," Marinette sighed. "Come on. I'm sure you don't want to do this in front of the customers."

            Alya nodded before following her into the back. Just like old times, Marinette snagged a few blueberry scones before they went up to the apartment. Old habits kicked in as Alya reached the door, already unlacing her sneakers and putting them away. 

            The living room and kitchen looked mostly unchanged, save for a new stain on the couch and a few more family pictures. And when they went upstairs, Marinette's room was just as unchanged. A little bit of furniture rearranging, but not much. The biggest difference was the wall of pictures. 

            Last time Alya was in here, there was a wall of Adrien. And while there were still many pictures of him, it wasn't magazine cutouts. 

            No, these were more candid. Dorky shots of him either alone or with friends. Plenty of him and Marinette being adorable together. 

            But there were other pictures too. She'd expected pictures of Rose, Juleka, Luka, Nathaniel and Marc, even Alix. But seeing those same friendship photos of Chloé and Kagami was strange. It was so small, but it really hit her now much had changed. 

            The thing that probably hurt the most, were her own pictures. There weren't many, but there were a few. Just old group shots, like the ones from that picture day where they broke Juleka's photo curse. Alya had expected to see her literally cut out of those. Or even just erased entirely. She wasn't sure how to feel about that. 

            Snapping out of her thoughts, Alya sat on the chaise lounge. Marinette pulled over the computer chair and the small table she set snacks on. The snack table almost acted as a buffer between them.

            It seemed like she didn't know what to say. That or she was waiting for Alya to start. Which was something she also wasn't sure how to do. 

            "I-I'm sorry," Alya choked out. "For- god just for everything. Believing her, thinking you could do any of the things she said, choosing her side, and just... everything else that happened because of it."

            "I understand," Marinette said. "Lila's lies are- were convincing. She said things that people want to hear."

            "No-that's not," She stammered, recoiling a bit. "I didn't want to think you were... like that. You know that, right?"

            "I know," she said. "I just meant that you wanted to believe that both Lila and I were good people. If you believed me when I said she was lying, that meant you'd have to face her not being a good person. If you believed her calling me jealous, then it means I'm just making mistakes and being petty, but it could be fixed."

            "It makes sense when you put it that way," she admitted. "But still. I mean, I don't know if I'm saying it to make you feel better or to make myself feel like less of an idiot, but I did question her when something weird came up. She just always had some answer for it. Like with you it was the jealousy thing."

            "And other times?" She asked. 

            "I'll admit I questioned it less when she said Chloé or Kagami was mean to her," she said. "When she said she started dating Adrien, she used the "he's always so busy now that we can barely see each other" thing, combined with the ‘don’t bring it up because we’re keeping it secret from Gabriel’ story. And since you didn't tell me... I get why you didn't but..."

            "It wasn't just because we had a fight," she admitted. "No one outside of the inner circle knows. We're keeping quiet on it because of my career, you know? Don't want people saying I earned that job at his father's company by seducing Adrien. "

            "That makes sense," she sighed. "But you still tried to tell me that Lila was lying. Adrien did too, though he was more subtle and I didn’t get it. Rose and Juleka tried to tell us that she didn't know Prince Ali, but Lila gave us a line about how he pretends not to know her for her safety, but "she'll totally talk to him about it next time she takes a trip to Achu!", and we bought it! Hell, even Ladybug herself tried to tell me, and I just..."

            "Really?" She asked. "Ladybug came up and told you she was lying and you didn't catch on? How'd Lila lie her way out of that one?"

            Alya hesitated. There was something in Marinette's voice. It almost sounded like annoyed sarcasm. If it was, then she'd be valid in that. But that didn't quite seem like it.

            "I confronted Lila on it," Alya sighed. "She told me that Ladybug wasn't upset because they weren't friends, but because I posted that info to the Ladyblog. And she and Ladybug had an argument over whether it was okay or not, because it could endanger her. Lila assured me she was safe and that I could keep it up but..."

            "But what?" Marinette asked. 

            "I kept thinking about it," she said. "How it probably was dangerous, and Ladybug was right about how I shouldn't post it. While Lila managed to trick me into believing that she and Ladybug were still friends, it kept me from posting more about Lila's friendship with Ladybug or anyone else. Which is probably a good thing, considering it was all lies. Imagine what it could've done for my career if I did indulge with everything she tried to get me to post?"

            "That's good," she smiled. "I did still keep up with the Ladyblog, you know."

            "Thanks," she said. "I wish I could say the same, but the most I heard was Lila saying stuff from after you started working for Gabriel."

            "Speaking of," she began, "when that detective came to talk to me, she asked about the thing where Lila got fired. What did Lila say about that day?"

            "Does it matter, since it was probably a lie?" She asked. 

            Marinette shrugged. She picked up one of the scones and took a bite. Relaxing a little, Alya picked one up too. At first, she just nibbled on it. But it quickly turned into shoving the entire thing in her mouth. God she'd missed the Dupain-Cheng bakery!!

            It helped break the tension, getting Marinette to giggle. Relaxing a bit more, Alya wiped crumbs off her clothes and started up again. 

            "She said that you'd keep picking fights," Alya said. "Just the usual things you did back in class, really."

            "You mean calling her out on her lies?" Marinette asked. 

            "Yeah, that," she said. "So it was kinda believable. Lila said it had gone on for so long that other coworkers were having issues with your issues. And when it got to Gabriel, he decided that one decent designer was more valuable than an "easily replaceable model". And considering Gabriel..."

            "That does sound like something he'd say," she said, wincing slightly. 

            "So what really happened?" She asked. "Since now I know I can't trust Lila's version of the events. I mean, the detective mentioned something about harassing Adrien, and between the general lies and the fact that she lied about dating him, I believe it." 

            "While that's true, you should probably talk to Adrien about it," she said. "But as for what happened... I got the opportunity to work on the dress that was the centerpiece of the line. It was this gorgeous dress with so much embroidery and, well, anyway. One morning I walk into the workshop to see the nearly completed dress soaked in someone's latte!"

            "She didn't," Alya groaned. "No wonder you ratted her out to Gabriel."

            "Oh, I didn't," she shook her head. "I screamed for a bit, panicked, then slammed eight shots of espresso and spent the next two days working nearly non-stop to remake the dress. And all the embroidery! I didn't know or care who did it, just that I had to fix it. I figured some other intern had wandered in looking for me or some supplies and did it accidentally, then panicked thinking they’d get fired. I was going to take the fall for it but..."

            "But what?" She asked. 

            "The day before that happened," she said, "Adrien was going to invite me to lunch with his mother. Because he knew I wouldn't get food or sunlight if he didn't drag me out. And I kinda went off on Emilie when she walked in with her own cup of coffee because-"

            "Because you don't allow anything that stains inside your workstation," she grinned. "I remember the first time you exploded on me for that."

            "Exactly," she said. "So when Emilie found out about the latte situation, she knew something was going on. They looked into it and you can guess where their investigation ended up."

            Alya just nodded at that, almost laughing. Then she was hit with guilt. And then more guilt. Suddenly she was sobbing again. 

            A box of tissues appeared on the table. It wasn't there a minute ago, and Marinette didn't seem to have moved, but she didn't question it. She just thanked her and took a few to wipe at her face. 

            "S-sorry," Alya said, once she'd calmed a little. "I just... I'm still processing it all, you know? When I first heard Lila had died, I was devastated. Realizing that it was all a lie, it felt like she died a second time. I feel like I shouldn't be sad about it because she wasn't the person I knew, but-"

            "I get it," Marinette cut her off. "While I didn't like her, I'm still sad that she's gone, you know? And for you... look, while Lila lied about a lot of things, I don't know how much of your friendship was a lie."

            "What do you mean?" She sniffed. 

            "I'm... not ready to call her 'pure evil'," she admitted. "Lila was terrible. And she did some terrible things. A lot of terrible things. But I don't think everything could've been a lie. Things about celebrities? Absolutely. But those days you two spent hanging out, or having sleepovers, and all of that? It might've started with a lie but I'm not ready to call it all fake."

            "At least that's never changed," she said. "You're still too nice for your own good."

            "Maybe," she sighed. "Chloé did tell me that she'd kick my ass if I forgave you as easily as I'm planning to."

            "Never thought I'd say 'Chloé is right'," she said. "But she is. You shouldn't be forgiving me. You should be- I don't know. Yelling at me. Being all "I told you so". Telling me that it's far too late and that I should just fuck off."

            "You know me a little better than that," she smiled. 

            "Not enough to keep from falling for what Lila said," she sighed. 

            "It doesn't make you a bad person," she said. "So you're getting forgiven whether you like it or not."

            "Chloé's going to fight you," she said. "And I'm going to help her because you are too forgiving. I bet if Lila had come over and sincerely apologized, you'd forgive her!"

            "First of all, I can absolutely take both of you," she said. "Secondly, it'd take a while, but I'd give her a chance if she tried."

            "As I said," she shook her head. "You're too forgiving."

            "Maybe you're right," she said. "But I want to be. It gives people a better chance. I mean, I always- even after you chose Lila, as much as it hurt, I always hoped you'd come back. I wish it was for a better reason, but..."

            "I'm here to stay this time," she assured her. "Unless you change your mind and want me to leave, I'll stay. And, uh, Nino will too. He wanted to come talk to you, but he had a job tonight and..."

            "I understand," she said. "I've gotten a text from Mylene about her and Ivan, but they can't come in person until tomorrow. Kim texted too and said Max is still in shock, but he's dragging him over so he doesn't wallow in self-pity over not being able to see it."

            "I'll make sure Nino gets over here soon," she said. "I think he's more concerned about Adrien. And... god we'll need to apologize to him too."

            "If you think I'm forgiving..." she warned. 

            A quick smirk and suddenly they're laughing again. It turns into a hug, and then crying once more. Though this crying is a bit happier. 

            When they part, Marinette gets up and walks to the trunk in the room. She fiddles with a few things before opening it. Probably disarming a few traps. Alya still remembers how the girl created a bear trap-like lock box to protect her diary. 

            "You know," Marinette sighed. "I was originally going to wait to give you this. Rebuild trust and all. But... considering the reason you found out about Lila, I think you need something to cheer you up."

            "You don't have to give me gifts," Alya said. "Not that I don't appreciate whatever you're going to try and give me. Though I shouldn't be surprised that you made an 'if we ever make up' gift."

            "Well that's not exactly it," she admitted. "Think of this less as me 'giving you a gift', and more 'giving you something you borrowed before and letting you keep it'."

            Frowning in thought, Alya tried to think of what she could mean. She didn't borrow much from Marinette. As much as she'd wanted to snag a few of her outfits, the two of them were very different sizes.

            As Marinette sat down, she put a box on the table. It was small, black, and octagonal, with Marinette's cherry blossom symbol on its top. Alya was positive she'd never seen it before, much less borrowed it. 

            And yet... she couldn't help but be reminded of a very similar box.

            Her hands shook so much as she picked it up that she almost dropped it twice. The familiar shape and weight creating a lump in her throat that she tried to swallow. 

            Opening the lid, Alya saw something she never thought she'd see again. A beautiful foxtail pendant. All she could do was stare at it for a moment, and then stare at Marinette. 

            "You're probably wondering why I never fell for Lila's lies," Marinette said. "I knew she was a liar the moment you told me about her being best friends with Ladybug. Because Ladybug's best friend was the overzealous reporter who always got the first scoop. The first person she chose to be a Superhero. The person she refused to give up on.”

            This time, Alya did drop the box. Something caught it, though it wasn't Marinette. No, it was a small red creature. A small red Kwami. It set the box down, smiled at her, and then settled onto Marinette's shoulder. 

            It seemed so obvious now. Blue eyes. Black hair in pigtails. Why Ladybug paid attention to a teenage blogger instead of a major news station. Why Ladybug chose people like her and Nino to be Heroes. And it didn't take long to connect Marinette's love life to Ladybug's love life. 

            "I- I think I'm just now realizing how much I fucked up," Alya said, finally remembering to breathe. “You tried to tell me. You tried so many times and I…”

            "I already told you you're forgiven," Marinette said. "And I always hoped you'd come back. Even when it was suggested that I choose a new Fox, I couldn't replace you."

            "You should've," she said. "It would've hurt but- just- strategy. Another Fox would've helped against Hawkmoth. And I didn't. Because I was too caught up in Lila's bullshit."

            She closed the box, and tried to slide it across the table to her. But Marinette placed her hands on Alya's, giving her a soft smile. 

            "You did help," Marinette said. "You always helped."

            "I wasn't Rena Rouge when you needed me," she said. 

            "That was my own decision," she said. "It hurt. Being around you hurt because of what happened, so I avoided bringing out the Fox. But you were always there when I needed you. Without you, there wouldn't be Ladybug."

            "What?" She asked. 

            "Do you remember the first Akuma?" She asked. "When Ivan became Stoneheart. I was terrified, but you cheering me on helped. And when I failed the first time, forgetting to purify the Butterfly, I almost gave up. In fact, I tried putting the Ladybug Miraculous into your backpack. Because I thought someone like you was a better fit for a Hero."

            "Then how...?" She wondered. 

            "You ran off without your backpack to record for the blog," she said, giving her a look. 

            "Yeah, that sounds like me," she laughed. 

            "You also got in trouble," she said, with less of a smile. "Stoneheart flipped a car and you got pinned. And something in me just... clicked. You told me "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing". Well, I had the power to help you, so I had to do something. And even when things got hard and I was so stressed out because of balancing being a secret superhero on top of everything else, I just thought of you and everyone else who looked up to Ladybug. And I realized I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing."

            "And now I'm crying again," she said wiping at her eyes once more. "Don’t suppose you’ll give Nino the Turtle back?”

            “When he comes to apologize,” she said. “The others will get theirs too.”

            “Others?” she asked.

            “Did you think you and Nino were the only friends I chose?” she laughed. “I chose people I could trust. And while that trust was strained because of Lila, the fact that all of you still cared about me….”

            This time, it was Marinette’s turn to stare off into the distance. When tears rolled down her face, Alya offered a tissue.

            “You know,” Marinette sniffed. “At probably the lowest point, I asked Alix to look into other timelines.”

            “Wha-oh,” Alya said. “Rabbit Miraculous?”

            “Yeah,” she said. “At first she refused, because Timelines are tricky. But eventually she relented because I wasn’t looking into the direct future or past. I just wanted to see other ways this could’ve gone.”

            “Bet there were Timelines where I stuck by you,” she said. “Like I should’ve.”

            “True,” she said. “But there were also Timelines where you were a hell of a lot worse. Jumping ship immediately, letting Lila convince you that I was bullying her, and becoming far worse of a bully than Chloé had ever been in the name of ‘retribution’.”

            “All I can say to that is ‘Yikes’,” she recoiled. “You know I’d never-“

            “To be fair,” she said. “There’s also Timelines where I defended myself by using celebrity connections to ruin you and the rest of the class’s careers while going out of my way to replace you as Heroes. Which we both know that this version of me wouldn’t do.”

            “Again, yikes,” she said. “Really glad you didn’t do that.”

            “I don’t want to be that person,” she said. “Then again, there’s a Timeline when I do want that! There’s so many Timelines, Alya. There’s a few Timelines where you did remember your bag and replace me as Ladybug. Or ones where instead of ‘Ladybug and Chat Noir’ it’s ‘Mister Bug and Lady Noire’. Hell, there’s at least two Timelines where Chloé got the Ladybug Miraculous! Though one of those goes better than the other. But that’s the thing! Every possibility, every potential choice and-“

            “Breathe, girl,” she said. “You’re doing that spiraling thing.”

            “Right,” she said, pausing to take a deep breath. “It’s what I get for looking into Timelines. There’s a reason only a few people can handle that power. Seeing all those different Timelines can make people overthink. But it helped. I made the decision that I wouldn’t let myself go down some of those paths, no matter what.”

            That made them lapse into silence. Alya wasn’t sure what Marinette was thinking, but she was having her own spiral with that knowledge. She didn’t need Time Travel to see how things could’ve played out. If she’d fallen for Lila’s lies just a little more, trusted Marinette a little less, didn’t think about what she posted after Ladybug-Marinette-confronted her.

            She shook herself out of that. There’s no use wondering what could’ve happened. Unless she really wanted to snag the Rabbit Miraculous, go back in Time, and smack some sense into the past self. Tempting, but probably more complicated and even disastrous than it seemed.

            For now, Alya was going to focus on fixing what she could. Rebuilding trust, sorting out all of Lila’s lies, and moving forward. Yet there were so many questions she had now. And there was one that was driving her crazy.

            “I do have one question,” Alya said. “About the whole Ladybug thing.”

            “Well, you know what they say about curiosity,” Marinette replied. “Good thing neither of us are Adrien.”

            “Oh, I put that one together when you told me you were Ladybug,” she smirked. “While I might’ve fallen for the ‘you being jealous’ thing, I know you wouldn’t cheat on Buttercup.”

            “God I can’t believe you remember the flower nicknames,” she groaned. “What were you asking about then?”

            “I… I want to know about Hawkmoth,” she confessed. “You don’t have to tell me, but if you do it’ll be completely off the record. No posting to the blog. I just want to know because no one knows what happened. The biggest theory online is that you ended up having to kill him in the final battle and that’s why you’re refusing to tell us who he is, but knowing you… you would be a lot more messed up if you had to kill a man.”

            At that, Marinette grabbed another scone. Even after all this time, Alya was pretty good at reading her expressions. It wasn’t distrust that made her hesitate. It was everything else.

            “Gabriel Agreste,” Marinette said.

            “I’m sorry I don’t think I’m properly processing that,” Alya said.

            “You heard me,” she said. “Gabriel was Hawkmoth. And Nathalie, his assistant, was Mayura.”

            “How…” she shook her head. “And you still took a job at the company after that? Girl, I know I said you’re forgiving, but what the fuck? After all Hawkmoth did?”

            “It’s complicated,” she admitted. “It was one thing when Hawkmoth was this faceless entity who was probably some megalomaniac jackass trying to take over the world. It’s another thing when it’s someone you know, who was just desperate to save his wife.”

            “Oh,” she said. “Adrien’s mom did reappear around that time, didn’t she?”

            “That was the point,” she said. “Gabriel and Emilie found the Butterfly and Peacock Miraculous years ago on a trip. They didn’t realize the Peacock was damaged. And using a damaged Miraculous corrupts your Magic. Your energy starts leaking out, making you tired and dizzy. Use it enough, and eventually you lose Magic too fast to replace it, and you fall asleep. That’s what happened to Emilie.”

            “And the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous could fix it?” she guessed.

            “Technically,” she admitted, “Those two Miraculous combined give the user a Wish that can do anything, but must be balanced. If Gabriel had used them, someone else would end up like Emilie. Thankfully we had other avenues. Namely the Healing Abilities I learned as the new Guardian of the Miraculous. It fixed both Emilie and the Peacock. And things were fine.”

            “Still,” she said. “After all that, you just… let him go? Forgave him?”

            “There were conditions,” she said. “First was that Hawkmoth and Mayura wouldn’t return, which was a given as they didn’t need to be villains anymore. And returning their Miraculous to me, of course. After that, he has to work on fixing things with his family. He’s gotten better at not being a total fuck, which is helped by Emilie’s presence, but they’re also going to a therapist who’s helping them sort things out and communicate healthily.”

            “And you’re still working for him?” she raised an eyebrow.

            “Well it was either him, or Audrey Bourgeois,” she said. “And honestly, Gabriel at his worst is still better than her. Though I did tell Gabriel that I’d kick his ass again if I found out he was giving me a free pass in the company as a way to apologize. I want to get to the top through my own work, not him handing me the keys.”

            “Fair on the career thing,” she said. “Yikes on the Audrey thing. I’m going to unpack that later.”

            “Yeah,” she said. “You should talk to Chloé about that. But honestly? Even with all the sympathetic parts of what Gabriel did, and me being ‘too forgiving’ and all that, I still debated about handing him over to the cops. The only reason I didn’t is because of what it’d do to Adrien.”

            “I can see that being bad,” she winced.

            “Horrible,” she said. “If it got out that Gabriel was Hawkmoth, it would turn Adrien’s world upside down. Even disregarding all the stuff that would happen with Gabriel’s company tanking in sales and the general stuff of being arrested, it wouldn’t end well. People would always associate Adrien with what Gabriel did. They’d wonder and theorize about if Adrien knew and was helping him. Even if Adrien revealed his identity as Chat Noir, people would still say things.”

            “That makes sense,” she agreed. “Still, I’m a little sad I didn’t get to kick his ass when I had the chance. And you know that as soon as Nino finds out he’s going to actually try kicking his ass anyway, right?”

            “I wouldn’t expect anything less,” she laughed. “Hopefully I can satisfy him by pulling up a ten-hour loop of that time Carapace smacked Hawkmoth with his shield.”

Chapter Text

                Wolfe had spent the afternoon talking to Lila’s mother. Though she hadn’t explained the extent of Lila’s trickery, she had managed to get through to Mrs. Rossi that her daughter had told a few lies.

                Still, she had only believed it after seeing the police department's files on Akumas. Volpina, Chameleon, and a few other Akumatizations Lila had over the years, all of which Mrs. Rossi had no idea about.

                While the shock hurt her, it did get Mrs. Rossi to give her names of Lila’s old friends from Italy. After that it was just about running the names.

                She didn’t bother checking all of them for their exact whereabouts. All that was necessary was to type in a few names and see if they were flagged as being in Paris on the night of the murder.

                Luckily, one checked out. Scarlet Skyes. According to records, she’d just moved to Paris last month. And her file photo matched the description from André.

                Hopefully for the last time this case, Wolfe was knocking on another apartment door.

                A woman matching Scarlet’s photo opened the door, and Wolfe looked her over. Not just seeing how well she matched the description, but seeing what her mental state might be like. The woman looked like she’d been crying, and seemed shaken by something.

                “Hello,” Wolfe said. “Are you Scarlet Skyes?”

                “Y-yes,” she answered. “Who are you?”

                “I’m Detective Stella Wolfe,” she said. “I’m here about Lila Rossi and-“

                At the mention of the victim, Scarlet’s pupils shrank to pinpricks. Within a second she was bolting out of the door and down the hall.

                Luckily, Wolfe’s reflexes were faster than Scarlet’s fight or flight response. She reached out and grabbed the back of Scarlet’s shirt. While the momentum initially jerked her sideways, she pulled back and stopped the girl in her tracks.

                Dragging Scarlet back into the doorway, Wolfe let her go. She didn’t run again, but Wolfe stayed ready to grab her if she did.

                “Let’s try again,” Wolfe said. “I already know you knew Lila. I have a witness that places her with you in the time of death window. Motive is easy given Lila’s history. That’s enough for me to get a forensics team down here. Now, would you rather I take you down to the station while they search, or would you like to politely invite me in?”

                She watched the fear in Scarlet’s face grow as she realized she was trapped. That fear slowly turned to acceptance. Scarlet walked back into the apartment, letting Wolfe follow behind.

                The apartment was pretty average. Small, but considering Scarlet was a young adult in a new city, it was normal.

                Except for the disorganization. Even for a lazy young adult, the apartment was a bit of a mess. Things looked like they’d been tossed in fits of emotion. Rage? Sadness? Something. Despite the fact that the sun was beginning to set, none of the lights were on. The tv was also off, as was a discarded laptop.

                “So,” Wolfe said. “Tell me why. Who was Lila to you?”

                “If you found me, you already know,” Scarlet whispered.

                “I have an idea,” she said. “But I want to hear your side.”

                Nodding, Scarlet sat on the couch. She was still in some sort of haze. It was one she’d seen before. This girl wasn’t a cold-blooded killer. The blood on her hands haunted her.

                “Once, I called Lila my best friend,” Scarlet said. “She- she came to our class. Told all these stories of traveling with her mom and meeting important people. I-I- we were just dumb kids, you know? When she said that she befriended some prince or something because she was dragged to a political function by her mom, it was believable. And when she mentioned other celebrities, well, she already had us hooked. It was easy.”

                “But it was all lies,” Wolfe guessed.

                “Nearly everyone fell for it,” she nodded. “Except Cass. Cassandra Tam. I forget what even tipped her off now, might’ve been something about an uncle who worked on a movie set or something. She caught on to one Lila’s lies. She tried to tell us. God she tried so many times.”

                “And you didn’t listen,” she said.

                “Every time, Lila would cry and claim Cass was jealous,” she said. “It made sense. Vinnie, the boy Cass was in love with, he was just as enraptured with Lila as the rest of us. He even dated her for a while. And-and Cass had been jealous before.”

                “It didn’t end there, did it?” she asked.

                “No,” she said. “It started small at first. Cass kept trying to tell us, and Lila would say how Cass had called her names. Or cornered her in the hall and threatened her to stay away from Vinnie. And it got steadily worse and worse. Not just Lila, but projects of ours getting sabotaged and rumors getting started. Lila did that, and convinced us it was Cass. At first we thought it couldn’t be, because Cass had always been nice, but with how we saw her treat Lila…”

                “It was easier to buy,” she finished.

                “I could talk for hours,” she said. “Recounting every horrible thing we did in ‘retaliation’. We should’ve known when any investigations stopped short. Lila convinced us that she was either giving Cass another chance, or that Cass had put on that sweet and innocent smile and fooled everyone. Now I know which one was the fake.”

                “So how’d you find out?” she wondered.

                “Lila stopped talking to us,” she said. “She moved with her mother, and didn’t respond to our texts or emails. And suddenly, the rumors stopped. So did the sabotaged projects. Cass was still there, but Lila wasn’t. And when we started to question it, she wasn’t there with answers. But Cass was.”

                “The fog was lifted,” she said.

                “But it was too late,” she said. “Cass had moved on. Moved on from Vinnie, moved on from us. She hated us. And I get it. We were horrible. I can justify it with being manipulated and gaslighted and so many other things, but we still did all that.”

                Wolfe didn’t know whether to agree or disagree. Technically, as a homicide detective, her job wasn’t to judge that, just see if it was motive for murder.

                On one hand, they were responsible for the things they had done. Even if Lila had been telling the truth, it wasn’t right for them to retaliate. Even if Cass had been just as bad as they’d thought, they would still have to face the consequences.

                On the other hand, they believed they were doing the right thing. They were trying to protect their friend. And on some level, it’s better than doing it out of pure malice

                It was another thing she’d seen in years as a homicide detective. Usually the victims were, well, victims. Maybe not innocent, but just someone who was trying to live their life. And they got killed over money or love or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

                Sometimes though, the murderers are the real victims, trying to protect themselves and their own. But no matter how justified it might have been, they still had to live with what happened.

                “So what happened Friday night?” Wolfe asked. “In the alley?”

                “I came here to start over,” Scarlet said. “Not just because of Lila and Cass, but other things. An ex who took the breakup bad, a job that went south, that sort of thing. One of my coworkers told me about this ice cream cart that supposedly told your soulmate. I didn’t believe in it, even after seeing Paris’ Heroes running around.”

                “Even people who’ve lived here for years can be skeptical,” she said.

                “After I ordered, there was Lila,” she continued, as if she hadn’t heard her. “I wanted to yell at her. To scream and hit her and so many things. But I was in shock, and once more she led the conversation.”

                “She started lying again,” she guessed.

                “Of course she did,” she said. “Told me all about her life here in Paris and even more of the celebrities she knows. Even mentioned her new ‘victims’. Then, she mentioned a girl. One who was ‘harassing her’ over a guy, just like Cass had. And I knew. She was doing the same thing to this girl that she did to Cass.”

                “And you snapped,” she said.

                “She’d do it again,” she said, shaking as tears dripped down her face. “She did it to Cass, and that other girl, and who knows how many in between. Who knows how many she’d hurt after them. Or how much worse! We could’ve hurt Cass permanently! We could’ve ruined her career! Fuck, we could’ve drove her to suicide with all we did! And who knows what Lila could do with more years of practice with her lies and whatever other skills she picked up!”

                “Where’d the knife come from?” she asked.

                “I-I had it for self-defense,” she said, almost laughing. “I work night shifts. Didn’t want to get caught alone walking in the dark, so I bought it to keep me safe. And yet… I guess it kept someone safe, didn’t it?”

                “And her phone?” she asked. “It was missing when we found the body.”

                “She took a picture of us,” she said. “She hadn’t posted it to her Instagram yet, but she would. I-I didn’t know if the police could recover deleted photos, so I took it. Tossed it in the river with the knife.”

                Huh. That tidbit wasn’t expected. Wolfe had assumed it would have been because the phone had some sort of blackmail material on it, and she’d wanted to help. Granted, Wolfe didn’t doubt that there was blackmail on it. But somehow this made plenty of sense too.

                “You have to arrest me now, don’t you?” Scarlet asked.

                “Yes,” Wolfe said. “Are you going to try running again?”

                “Not this time,” she said.

                True to her word, Scarlet didn’t run. She let Wolfe cuff her and take her down to the station.

Chapter Text

            Lila had been walking down the street, minding her own business and texting her mother. Suddenly there was a pressure around her waist, like a rope winding around her, and she was yanked sideways. Her phone dropped out of her hand, shattering on the ground.

            Once she was reoriented, she was met with the sight of an unfortunately familiar smug face hidden behind a red mask.

            “The fuck do you want?” Lila demanded.

            “A lot of things,” Ladybug replied.

            “And kidnapping me helps that?” she asked.

            “Oh, this isn’t a kidnapping!” she replied, brandishing a knife. “This is a murder!”

            The juxtaposition of Ladybug giving her signature cheery (annoying) grin while holding an actual knife threw her off. For a moment, she felt a flicker of fear. Then, she burst out laughing.

            “Come on,” Lila laughed. “We both know you’re not going to kill me! You’re Ladybug! Our perfect little hero! You don’t have it in you to kill.”

            “Maybe,” Ladybug agreed. “A perfect Hero wouldn’t. And yet, I’m still very Human. And when pushed too far, people are unpredictable.”

            “Why do you even care about me?” she scoffed. “You got rid of Hawkmoth, so you don’t have to deal with me ‘causing Akumas’ anymore.”

            “True,” she said. “However, while you aren’t bothering ‘Ladybug’ anymore, you still bother me.”

            “What in the hell are you talking about?” she demanded.

            “Think about it for a minute,” she said. “Other than ‘Ladybug’, you’ve been a problem for one other girl in Paris. And you’re still a problem. To be fair, I’m just so tired of it. We had a long-term plan, but we’re getting impatient.”

            “Again, what the hell are you talking about?!” she demanded.

            “And again, I want you to think,” she said. “How did ‘Marinette’ know you were a liar, when everyone else fell for your stories? Well, the answer is, the first lie she heard from you, is one she knew to be false! And there’s only one person in the world who would know for a fact that you’d never even met Ladybug before.”

            While Lila was processing that revelation, she suddenly felt pain explode in her abdomen. She’d been too busy focusing on what Ladybug was saying, that she forgot about the knife.

            As Ladybug pulled the knife out and retracted her yoyo, Lila sank to her knees, clutching at the wound and the quickly flowing blood. Some part of her thought to scream, but the pain was blurring her thoughts. 

            Ladybug wasn’t worried anyway. She’d learned a soundproofing spell a while ago, in an attempt to keep her parents from hearing all the Kwami in her room. Trixx was also helping her to keep an Illusion around the alley, in case anyone walking by had looked in.

            The knife was all too easy to dispose of. The pocket dimension inside her yoyo was a good hiding spot, as she would be the only one able to get to it. Thinking about it a little longer, she picked up Lila’s shattered phone and popped it in too. Unnecessary, but helpful, if Lila had any blackmail material on it that the police would find.

            Looking at her work, she almost changed her mind on using Cataclysm. But while she was now a murderer, Ladybug wasn’t heartless. Lila’s mother deserved some closure, which she wouldn’t get if Lila ‘disappeared’.

            All that was left to do was use the Horse Miraculous to go back to Chloé’s hotel, and pretend this never happened.


            There had been a lot of things Lila had become accustomed to, living in Paris.

            Akumas were the most plentiful, of course. And all the weird effects that had followed. Not to mention Ladybug and her band of merry Heroes. And Hawkmoth. It had been a little quiet since Hawkmoth’s defeat, but the occasional oddity was still expected.

            However, she wasn’t sure what to make of the tiny red creature hovering in front of her face.

            “Hi!” the creature said. “I’m Tikki!”

            “What exactly are you?” Lila asked.

            “I’m sort of Faerie!” she said. “I bring Good Luck!”

            “Really?” she raised an eyebrow. “A Luck Fairy?”

            “Yep!” she said. “My friends and I can grant wishes to the Pure of Heart! Are you Pure of Heart?”

            “Of course,” she replied, knowing very well that she probably wasn’t.

            “Hmm…” she mused. “Let’s test it! Wish for something simple! Maybe an object?”

            “Simple,” she said. “Okay, I wish for a new necklace.”

            Tikki nodded, and then concentrated, glowing bright. Out of thin air dropped a necklace, black with a red gem. Catching it and examining further, Lila wondered if the gem would be any sort of ‘real’, perhaps she could sell it?

            Oh, well, who was she kidding. She just found a wish-granting Faerie that could help her make her lies truth. Selling the necklace didn’t matter.

            “That’s amazing!” Lila said. “What else can you do?”

            “A lot of things!” Tikki said. “I can grant wishes for money, or if you want to meet someone famous. Oh! And if I call a few of my friends, we can combine our power for a love spell!”

            “A love spell?” she asked, playing up an innocent persona. “Well… there is a boy I like. But this mean girl tricked him into dating her, even though she only wants him for his money. Do you think you can help me with that?

            “Of course!” she replied. “Nothing gets in the way of True Love! Not when I’m around! Come on, let’s go find my friends!”

            Tikki zipped off in a blur of red. And Lila followed. As fast as the little Faerie was, it was easy to keep track of her. The low light made the red glow she gave off very eye-catching.

            When Tikki ducked into an alley, Lila hesitated. However, she still followed. The small creature stopped, hovering in the air at the mid-point.

            “So what now?” Lila asked.

            Instead of answering, Tikki smiled at her. That innocent look quickly turned to something far more malicious.

            “Get her!”

            Lila suddenly felt several things grabbing her. It felt as if she were being swarmed by rats. Despite how much she tried to struggle, all of the creatures overwhelmed her. Something was shoved in her mouth. It was some sort of food, which was a gross thought since they were in an alley, but it was a familiar scent. It also kept her from screaming, which she really wanted to do.

            Exhausted from struggling, she looked to see what was holding her down. And she found more creatures like Tikki, though in various different animal themes. Tikki was still hovering above her, as was a black creature with large green eyes.

            “That’s a waste of good camembert,” the black thing said.

            “You have more, Plagg,” Tikki rolled her eyes. “You can give up a little to a good cause.”

            “A good cause!” Plagg scoffed. “We could’ve used anything else to gag her!”

            “Anything else would’ve been suspicious,” she said. “You can have it back.”

            “Oh fuck no!” he exclaimed. “It’s ruined now!”

            Lila wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but she had a feeling these weren’t ‘Luck Faeries’. And when she saw Tikki disappear for a moment, and come back with a knife, the struggle to escape came back full force.

            “Remind me why I can’t Cataclysm her again?” Plagg asked.

            “Do you remember Atlantis?” the turtle-like creature asked, much his friend’s annoyance.

            “I could use Venom?” the bee-like one said. “That way we don’t have to hold her down like this!”

            “No,” Tikki said. “I don’t want any Magic involved. If anyone notices the Magic around her or where she went missing, it could lead back to our Chosen.”

            “They have alibis,” the dragon-like one said.

            “And do you really think the police will catch on to Magic?” the rabbit-like one asked.

            “Even if they did find us,” the fox-like one grinned, “what are they going to do? Arrest us? I’d like to see handcuffs small enough for it!”

            “Still,” Tikki said. “Just in case someone familiar with Magic does come looking, this will keep anyone from figuring it out!”

            As they bickered, Lila continued to think. ‘Cataclysm’ and ‘Venom’, comments about their ‘Chosen’. Taking stock of the creatures, she counted one for each of the Heroes. And interestingly, two extra from the Villains.

            If she could get out of this, it would be useful. But with seventeen small creatures holding her down, one brandishing a knife, and her mouth too stuffed with cheese to scream, she wasn’t sure she would.


            “You know,” Marinette mused. “When I said the conditions of this was ‘more father/son bonding’, this isn’t what I meant.”

            Both Adrien and Gabriel looked up at her. Usually, Adrien didn’t resemble Gabriel at all. However, the expression they both gave her really showed off the genetics.

            “You agreed to this,” Gabriel reminded her.

            “Unfortunately,” Marinette said.

            “We’re still debating over dropping your ass at the police station,” Alix said.

            “Please,” Chloé scoffed. “Even if Ladybug dropped him off and he gave a full confession, no cop is going to believe that the supervillain they’re after is a fashion designer trying to save his wife. No. They’re going to stubbornly believe that they were right and deny any evidence, then get a pat on the back for ‘finding’ the ‘right culprit’ after arresting an innocent.”

            “You’re still salty about the Rogercop thing, aren’t you?” Adrien asked.

            Her only response was a glare, which made him back down.

            “Hey, so, I have a question,” Rose spoke up. “Are we really considering a murder? Because… it feels a little harsh. Even if it’s Lila.”

            “We know,” Juleka said, holding her girlfriend closer while giving Gabriel and Nathalie a look. “It is harsh. But I’m sure if there was another way, we would use it.”

            “We have considered other options,” Nathalie said. “Despite our theatrics, becoming Supervillains was not our first choice.”

            “Really?” Luka asked. “Because it’s definitely on my bucket list. I think this technically counts.”

            “Being a supervillain is on your bucket list?” Kagami asked. “Why?”

            “The aesthetic,” he shrugged. “Be a supervillain for a day, have a sick outfit, go back to being either Hero or Civillian.”

            “You’re lucky I love you,” she sighed.

            He smiled, placing an arm around her, while everyone else tried to figure out if he was serious or not.

            “Anyway,” Gabriel brought their attention back. “My original plan when it came to sacrificing a life to save Emilie was to take someone that would be dying anyway. Someone terminally ill, or an inmate on death row.”

            “But-“ Rose piped up again.

            “We know,” Marinette cut her off before Gabriel could, knowing he would be snarkier. “But the Miraculous Wish involves balance. Not just a life for a life, but some sort of importance to the people making the Wish. Fortunately, Love and Hate are very connected emotions, and we can trade someone hated for someone loved.”

            “I don’t like it either,” Adrien said. “Even with everything Lila did. But trading her for my mother… It’s not a hard choice.

            “So who’s actually killing her?” Alix asked. “Because while I don’t want to volunteer… eh. I’ll volunteer.

            “I figured it would be one of us,” Nathalie said. “You are young and less willing to kill, so-“

            “Absolutely not,” Marinette said. “You’re still recovering from the Peacock. And I don’t trust Gabriel to use the Miraculous Wish. He might include a loophole that makes us forget this all happened so that he doesn’t have to face consequences.”

            Everyone gave Gabriel a look. He only shrugged in a way that admits he had thought about it. Several eye rolls followed.

            “You know,” Nathaniel spoke up. “I’m less concerned about who kills her as I am about how to get away with it.”

            “A million ways,” Chloé shrugged. “I can think of several ways to kill her and get away with it off the top of my head.”

            “I don’t have time to unpack that sentence,” Marc sighed.

            “That’s not what I mean anyway,” Nathaniel said. “But if Lila dies, then Hawkmoth disappears, and Emilie Agreste reappears all at the same time, someone might connect the dots.”

            “I already have some ideas for that,” Marinette said. “First, we get Emilie back. Then we fake maybe one more Akuma fight before announcing Hawkmoth’s defeat. And at some point later, Lila is found dead.”

            “How are you going to kill Lila after using her to get Emilie back?” Luka asked.

            “Time travel,” she answered, looking to Alix. “We use Burrow to send one of us into the future, kill Lila and take her Life Energy, then return to now and use it on Emilie. And Time Travel also gives us the opportunity to make sure we have alibis for the night it happens. Having Lila be both dead and alive might make the balance of things weird for a bit, especially if she and Emilie interact, but I doubt that will be a problem since Lila won’t have much of a career at Agreste Fashion anymore.”

            “Absolutely not,” Gabriel huffed. “Useful as she was, hearing of certain activities would have gotten her cut off anyway.”

            Adrien flinched at that, shrinking back a little more when everyone gave him a sympathetic look.

            “A-anyway,” Adrien said, trying to change the subject. “Who’s going to do the time jump?”


            Lila stumbled in the alleyway, clutching her abdomen. She almost laughed at how much blood came away on her hands.

            It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It was a simple idea. The last ditch attempt to get back at Marinette.

            All she had to do was pretend to have been attacked. But she’d underestimated how effective she’d wanted to make it. If she wanted to make it believable, she’d have to actually be hurt.

            The stabbing had been difficult, but she’d managed. Dumping the knife in the river made sure that it wouldn’t be found, and even if it was then no prints were on it. Her phone was dumped too, which Lila was now regretting.

            She was supposed to make it home, or at least somewhere more public, where the police would be called. Then all she’d have to do was say it was Marinette who had done this. Even if the girl had an alibi, no one would believe her. After all, it’s not like anyone was stupid enough to stab themselves.

            Apparently, Lila was. As she sank down to the ground, it all settled into her. She knew she didn’t have the strength to make it out of the alley, or to even call for help. Strange, how accepting she was of her own death.

            Her only hope now was that somehow, Marinette would still be blamed.


            Lila found herself held in place by an invisible force, unable to wriggle out of its grasp. All she could do was stare at the woman in front of her. Wild red hair and eyes a bright green.

            “You know,” the woman said, “you’ve been quite a problem for the Magic Community here in Paris. And back in Italy too, from what I’ve heard.”

            “W-what do you mean?” Lila asked. “Who are you?”

            “Ariel Corona,” she replied. “Though those with Magic know me as the Dragon Witch of Paris.”

            Those words meant nothing to Lila. She’d never heard of this woman. Though she could guess that she was dangerous.

            “I don’t know anything about Magic,” Lila said. “I mean, I saw those Superheroes running around, like everyone, but nothing else.”

            “True,” Ariel said. “You might not be Magic, but you still are plenty of a danger. You’re a liar. A decent one. Not the best I’ve seen, but your manipulation tactics and quick thinking make up for that.”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, trying not to let her voice waver.

            “Your tricks won’t work on me,” she grinned, showing off teeth that were far too sharp. “I have a bit of experience in the subject of lies, though mine are usually half—truths. So much better than lies, really. Careful wording, many interpretations, good for dealing with the Fae. Not that they bother me much, nowadays.”

            “But I do?” she frowned, giving up on pretending to be nice. “Because while I still have no clue what you’re talking about, it sounds like you’d have bigger fish to fry than some kid who lies. Why not go after any of the Heroes or Villains running around?”

            “Dealing with Ancient Magic like the Miraculous is tricky,” she said. “Besides, Ladybug’s team is helpful. And Hawkmoth was just an annoyance, and could be dealt with if he had gone too far off the deep end. He didn’t. You on the other hand? Well, you are more of a problem.”

            “How exactly am I more of a problem than Hawkmoth?” she demanded.

            “Easy,” she said. “Hawkmoth hurting people was just a side effect. He had another goal, and that happened to be the way to help him. Your goal is to hurt people. Hawkmoth could be placated by achieving his goal, but you’ll never be satisfied, will you?”

            “And what does it matter to you?” she asked. “You aren’t friends with anyone I know. Hell, I’ve never met you before!”

            Ariel gave her a smirk, seeming amused with the situation. Lila tried to move again, but to no avail. That just served to further amuse her audience of one.

            “Do you know about Dragon Hoards?” Ariel asked. “It’s not just gold and jewels. It can be anything. And to me? This city, and specifically those citizens with Magic, are Mine. You are a threat to them, a threat to what is Mine. And so, I have to eliminate threats!”


            “Detective Wolfe?” Alix addressed. “You wanted to talk to me again?”

            “Yes,” Wolfe said. “I need to borrow the Rabbit Miraculous. Or have you help me. Either one works, I don’t care at this point.”

            Oh boy did that give Alix a jolt of adrenaline and straight up fear.

            “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Alix said.

            “I already know you’re Bunnyx,” Wolfe sighed. “And I know about the others too. Clocked all of you at the Eiffel Tower the other night. Before you ask, the only reason all of Paris is fooled is because your transformations have a Glamour built in. Once you break through it, which is easy if you know how, the only protection is a flimsy mask.”

            “Okay, fine,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I’m handing my Miraculous over without an explanation. So spill.”

            “I’m going to jump back to when Lila was killed,” she said. “I’m either going to see who killed her, or kill her myself for making me deal with all this bullshit of her lies because good fucking fuck this is a headache and a half!”

            “I feel like I’m not supposed to be okay with that,” she mused. “As much as I’m okay with Lila being dead. But hey, part of my job is preserving the Timeline. If you already went back in time and killed Lila, then you have to do it now. Let’s go!”


            Jean something-or-other was everything a good butler should be.

            Efficient, discreet, and willing to do anything to help his employer. He’d worked for the Bourgeois family for years. Over two decades now. And he always preformed his job well.

            His duties were well lined out. Clean up. Make the place spotless. Occasionally take specific orders. And make sure that no one knew that he had catered to their every whim. Even his employers should be unaware sometimes, taking care of their wants without asking, so that they want for nothing.

            Lately he’d been taking orders from the young Miss Chloé. He was quite fond of her, in his own way. Like a niece. Perhaps a daughter, if he really thought about how little her parents had done to guide her.

            Which is why, like so many of his other duties, she would not be quite aware of this one. Perhaps in another life she would be more okay with these sorts of jobs. But in this one, she’d turned her life around fairly well. She was a little too soft now, thanks to those friends. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it did mean that she’d hate him a little if she knew. Even if he was doing it for her.

            He dropped a knife and phone in the river, along with a pair of blood-stained gloves. From his pocket he pulled out another pair of identical gloves and put them on. There was little blood on his suit, but it wasn’t visible enough to get him caught on the way back to the hotel. The suit would end up in an incinerator anyway.

            Yes, Jean whatever-the-hell was a very good butler. And one of his many duties was taking out the trash.


            “Wow! You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to find you!”

            Lila was very confused by the woman in front of her. For the most part, she looked normal. Tan skin with a scar over her nose and on her cheek, and bright turquoise eyes. Her hair was odd, a pink to purple gradient with a blue streak running through it.

            The strangest thing was the… costume pieces? She had wings, a Unicorn horn, and horse-like ears(one of which was torn), all in white with a pink gradient at the tips.

            Well, they might not be costume pieces. The wings shuffled behind her, and the ears flicked with her impatience. The horn was also lit up in a golden glow, that matched the one keeping Lila pinned in place about a foot off the ground.

            “Who are you?” Lila demanded, really hoping to be let down.

            “Flurry Heart,” the woman said, offering her hand. “Princess of Time, Space, and Dimensions.”

            “What kind of name is ‘Flurry Heart’?” she wondered, as the woman forcibly shook her hand.

            “I know, right?” she laughed. “You cause one snowstorm the day you’re born, and your parents decide ‘Hey! Let’s name you after that catastrophe so you can always be reminded of your first fuckup!’. But you know how it goes.”

            Okay then. Lila was almost sure the woman was some kind of crazy. Almost. The animal parts and Magic Aura kinda proved otherwise.

            “So,” Lila swallowed. “Why are you looking for me?”

            “Because you’re quite the anomaly!” Flurry Heart chirped. “Your mere existence has caused hundreds of alternate Timelines and Dimensions! Usually I’d take you home so Auntie Sunset and I can run some tests on your properties, but, well, you’re a little too dangerous. And unlike other dangerous Dimension and Timeline shifting entities I’ve run into, you don’t seem very receptive to the Power of Friendship!”

            Nevermind. The woman was absolutely crazy. She just also happened to be Magic. Great combination. 


            “You thought the killer would be one of the other characters, but it was me, Dio!”


            Lila never imagined that her last thought as a living person would be ‘Wait, is that a crocodile with a knife??’.

            Oh well. C’est la vie.


            The Writer stretched, reaching over to take a drink of a candy-apple flavored energy drink. Really, she needed to find a better position for writing, as her current one always hurt her back.

Getting up, she went to the kitchen, looking around at the fridge and pantry, but found nothing. Resigning to lower expectations and try again later, she walked back to the laptop. A few more stretches, including a stretch to pet the cat, and it was back to writing.

            Several word documents were opened. Ones labeled ‘Lady Luck’, ‘Shenanigan and a Half’, ‘Hero Chat’, and ‘There Is A Child Loose In The Military’. Clicking through these, the Writer opened another one. At the top of the new document, she gave her story a title.

            “The Murder of Lila Rossi”

Chapter Text

                It was a perfect day for a funeral. The sky was dark and dreary, as if waiting to rain. Yet the rain didn’t come. And it likely wouldn’t until later, but the atmosphere still added to everyone’s mood.

                Several people gathered for the viewing, despite the threat of rain. In a sea of black clothes, one stuck out in white. Few questioned it, though those that did were met with an answer about cultural differences.

                The deceased lay in a casket. To anyone who didn’t know, she might look as if she were just sleeping. She had a nice but simple dress in a pastel orange, with darker orange as accents. Her hair had been done in a slightly fancier version of her usual hairstyle, curled as it was separated into three ponytails. Several flowers were spread around her and decorating the coffin. Lilies and dahlias and daffodils, with a few lotuses sprinkled in.

                Quite a ways back from the viewing, behind the crowd, there stood a young woman who looked identical to the one in the casket. However, this one had given up on trying to get the others to see her. So she stood, invisible and frustrated and levitating a few inches off the ground.

                Another woman walked up and stopped beside the ghost. This woman had a lot of red hair, and green eyes that looked a little too bright. She also made no move to wander into the crowd and see the body.

                “You’d be surprised how many ghosts attend their own funerals,” Ariel said. “Though their reasons vary. Some want to see their loved ones and attempt to comfort them, others want to hear what their family will gossip about now that they’re gone. Sometimes-”

                “I knew you could see me,” Lila glared. “Why didn’t you just tell that detective that you could ask me who killed me? It would’ve saved her a few days of running around!”

                “Talking to a ghost in my own home is an invitation to haunting,” she shrugged. “Besides, ghosts can be unreliable. I know a ghost who would swear up and down that his best friend murdered him out of jealousy over a girl and plotted to get revenge using his ghostly powers, but he later found out that the guy was possessed by a-”

                “Ghostly powers?” She wondered, now a little intrigued. “What kind of ghostly powers?”

                “Sorry to disappoint,” she said. “But you don’t have much in the ‘Ghostly Powers’ department. With practice you might be able to move some stuff, but for now you seem to just have the standard 'walk through walls, disappear, and fly’ package.”

                The ghost groaned at the joke, pouting. She sat in mid-air and crossed her arms, levitating a few feet above the ground, so that she didn’t have to look up at the woman.

                Though now she was curious. Who was this woman, exactly? And what was she doing here? Almost as if reading her mind, the woman gave her a sly smile.

                “I hear you had André’s ice cream right before you died,” Ariel said. “Do you remember which flavors you had?”

                “Why does that matter?” Lila raised an eyebrow.

                “Well, it will decide if I can help you or not,” she said. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the Magic of André’s ice cream?”

                “You’re telling me there’s really Magic ice cream?” She deadpanned. “And people call me a liar.”

                “Is it really so far fetched?” She wondered. “All of Paris watched as Heroes and Villains fought over Magic jewelry with their Magic powers. And here you are as a Ghost, with me talking to you.”

                Lila huffed and pouted more. Why was she entertaining this? Oh right. She was the only person who could see her. The only person who had talked to her or given her any direct attention since she died. And the lack of attention and interaction was making her stir crazy.

                “Fine,” Lila said. “The ice cream I got that night was red velvet, caramel, and orange creamsicle. Which is annoying, because I was really looking forward to my usual chocolate, green tea, and orange sorbet. But André doesn’t like when you make requests.”

                “That is interesting, isn’t it?” Ariel asked. “Why do you think it changed?”

                “Hell if I know,” she rolled her eyes.

                There was that sly smile on Ariel’s face. Like she knew something that Lila didn’t. It was infuriating.

                Especially as her usual tactics probably wouldn’t work on this woman. Even if she hadn’t been outed as a liar, there was something about the way she looked at her. Like she could see through that. Perhaps there was something to that whole 'Glamour’ business they’d been discussing.

                Speaking of, Lila thought over that. People were honest when they thought no one was listening in. It was just her luck that she’d tried to say “I’m Ladybug’s bff” to Ladybug herself. At least she was smart enough not to try the 'I’m a Fox Hero!“ trick again. That would’ve ended badly.

                With a sigh, she looked to the crowd of mourners. She didn’t understand them at all. People who had hated her from day one, and people who recently found out how much she had manipulated them, all showed up. Yet none were yelling or gossiping or starting a conga line in celebration "Ding dong the witch is dead” style.

                They seemed… sad? The weirdest part was the fact that none of them seemed to be in denial. There wasn’t talk of how “I’m sure she wasn’t lying! Of course she was innocent!”. They all acknowledge her terrible acts. And yet they still came and comforted each other. Why?

                “Pick three cards,” Ariel said, breaking her out of her thoughts. “Sorry for the small deck. Only felt the Major Arcana were needed for this one.”

                “Are those Tarot Cards?” Lila asked. “Really? Are you just trying to keep an aesthetic or what?”

                Still, she reached for the cards. And her hand went right through. She glared at the laugh the woman gave her, but tried a different method. This time she pointed to the cards she wanted.

                “Interesting,” Ariel mused. “The Chariot in reverse, and The Magician are your first two. The problem and how you handled it.”

                “What does that mean?” Lila asked, beginning to form a genuine curiosity at this point.

                “I can guess,” she said, putting the cards away. “At some point, you felt unhappy with your situation, due to a lack of control over your life. So you decided to control what you could to make people love you. Through lies. Making people believe you were 'worth something’, since to you, you can’t be 'worth something’ without fame and power. You can't be loved without it either."

                “Please,” she scoffed. “The cards didn’t tell you any of that. You already know enough about me to know I’m a liar, and to guess that I wanted fame and power.”

                “The thing about lies like that,” she said, continuing as if she hadn’t heard her, “is that they begin a cycle. You lie so that they love you. But you know that they don’t really love you. That it’s a lie they love. And if they find out, they’d hate you. So when someone threatens to take that love away, you threaten back.”

                “Exactly,” she said. “If they kept their mouths shut, I’d leave them alone. Rose and Juleka got the idea, just avoiding me instead of trying to out me again.”

                “Ah, but that cycle,” she said. “You know they don’t love you, but you don’t want to lose that love. So you keep lying. Even when it makes you feel guilty for lying to your friends.”

                “Please,” she scoffed. “Me? Lying and threatening? Doing anything to get what I want? No. I don’t do 'guilt’ and 'remorse’. And don’t bother thinking I cared about them either. They were just gullible pawns. Idiots to believe me and do whatever I wanted. Not to be cliché, but I would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for the stupid superhero bullshit.”

                “Are you sure you don’t care?” She asked. “Because your ice cream order says different.”

                “You’re basing your assumptions on ice cream again?” She asked.

                “Chocolate, green tea, and orange sorbet,” she said. “André’s ice cream resembles the person you care for most. Romantic, platonic, or even narcissistic, which I assume yours was. And yet it changed. Red velvet, caramel, and orange creamsicle. Does it sound like anyone you know?”

                Despite her annoyance, Lila’s gaze was drawn to one person in the crowd of mourners. One who shared her love of foxtail pendants.

                “No,” Lila lied. “Can’t think of anyone. What was the third card?”

                Ariel only gave her that grin, and then held up the card. Of course, the Death card.

                Lila gave a frustrated scream, that was apparently loud enough to make the more musically-inclined mourners jump and look around. Tucking the card back into the deck, Ariel waved to those who looked toward the source. They seemed to shrug and go back to their conversations. Then she dropped the deck. It seemed to hover in midair for a moment before disappearing.

                “While the card’s meaning might seem obvious,” Ariel said, “Death is about the end of the cycle. Your lies have been outed to all of them. And yet, they still care. It’s not the reaction you expected, is it? You expected more to be like Scarlet. You almost want them to hate you now, as it would justify your actions to keep up the lies, keep them loving you.”

                “They’re idiots,” she said.

                “We all are, sometimes,” she says. “We do stupid things. Sometimes we forgive people we shouldn’t, sometimes we let rage get the better of us. Sometimes we lie to make ourselves feel better instead of letting people love us as is.”

                “Weren’t you saying something earlier about helping me?” She snapped. “Because so far, all I’m seeing is you talk about cards and ice cream and what you think my motives are.”

                “I had to make sure you’d be open to the offer,” she said. “There are many reasons Ghosts stick around after death. When it comes to ones who are murdered, usually they move on after their murder is caught. But you’re still here. Is it for revenge against those who didn’t like you? Or because you died unhappy?”

                “Well, I apparently don’t have any useful ‘Ghost Powers’,” she mused. “So revenge is off the table anyway.”

                “How about a deal, then?” she asked. “While many would say you don’t deserve a second chance, or whatever number of chances you are up to by now, I have my own feelings on the situation. I’ve seen enough change over the years. Enough to offer you a way to try again.”

                “Are you some sort of necromancer?” she asked. “Gonna bring me back to life?”

                “Not quite,” she said.

                “Time travel so I can avoid Scarlet?” she asked. “Or just Time Travel in general and try to ‘help me stop lying before it starts’? Honestly it’s probably a waste of time, but it can’t hurt.”

                Ariel shook her head, and stopped for a minute. Even Lila could tell she was just pausing for dramatic effect. Another wave of her hand, and she was holding one of the flowers from the arrangement up near the casket. A lotus flower.

                “It’s interesting,” Ariel said. “The flowers included lilies, a common flower for death, and dahlias, which mean dishonesty, along with daffodils, meaning forgiveness. All of those make sense for you and your story. And yet, they included a Lotus. A flower representing rebirth.”

                “That’s your plan?” Lila asked.

                “It’s a new chance,” she said. “Time Travel wouldn’t help you now, it’d help a different you, in a different Time. And bringing the dead back to life is a bad idea, on several levels. It never ends well. But rebirth? It’s a true fresh start. None of who ‘Lila’ was will affect you anymore.”

                Lila mulled that over. She couldn’t get any sort of revenge as a Ghost, so that was pointless. She couldn’t even get much attention as a Ghost, unless she decided to haunt Ariel. Which seemed like the worst idea she’d ever had, considering Ariel seemed to do a good job of annoying her right back.

                Perhaps, this might be her only chance at something, anything, other than some form of limbo.

                “What are the conditions?” Lila asked.

                “That you don’t waste the next life,” Ariel said. “Every time you lie in your next life, you will be reminded of this one. Not directly, but the feeling. The guilt, stabbing at you.”

                “Very funny,” she huffed.

                Ariel offered her hand, and the atmosphere shifted. The air crackled with energy, and even the non-Magical mourners seemed to notice something. It was brushed off as the coming rain, but Lila could tell it was radiating from the woman in front of her.

                Hesitantly, Lila took her hand, surprised that she could touch her.

                “We have a deal then,” Ariel grinned wide, showing a set of fangs as her eyes literally lit up with Magic.

                “Yes, we do,” Lila replied, somehow not unnerved.

                Then the whole world faded away. And across the city, a little baby girl was born, given the name Layla Voss. By the time she was eight, she would figure out her curse. The pain that would burn through her whenever she told a lie, no matter how small.