Queen Bee hangs back, watching as Ladybug and Chat Noir gently bump their fists together. The sight never fails to fill her with a strange combination of wonder and wistfulness. Wonder because this is everything she's hoped for since the day that Ladybug first took to the skies of Paris, and wistfulness because the end of a battle means that they're going to be taking her miraculous away. Every time she gets Pollen back, it gets a little bit harder to give her up.
"Hey, you're okay," Ladybug says to the girl, who is sitting on the ground and crying. "It's okay."
"It's not okay. They just spread all these horrible lies about me."
Ladybug visibly tenses up. Then she does something she wouldn't normally do. She kneels down in front of the girl, putting a hand on her shoulder. "People who lie are awful. But you can't let them get you down."
"What would you know?!" the girl yells. "You're Ladybug! People would never lie about you."
"There's someone in my class who lies about me all the time," Ladybug says, sounding distant. "She took all my friends, actually. So I know a bit more about it than you think."
Which, huh. That sounds a little bit familiar.
"Then what do you do?" the girl says, clutching at Ladybug's hand. "What do you do?"
"You don't do anything," Chat chimes in. "Making a bad guy suffer has never turned them into a good guy." Ladybug stiffens even more, her shoulders so tight she looks like she's going to fall over.
And, oh. Queen Bee has heard that particular brand of bullshit before. She stares at Chat for a long moment, and then she looks at Ladybug, and then she says, "Holy fucking shit."
"What?" Chat says, looking around at her.
Queen Bee gives her head a shake. Thoughts are spiralling through her brain so fast she can barely grasp them, and there's a new weird, heavy pressure in her chest, but she still holds it together long enough to say, "Ladybug, you're almost out of time. Maybe Chat should come with me instead."
"That's fine," Ladybug says with a tight smile.
"Great." Queen Bee smiles too, but it probably only conveys how pissed off she's starting to feel because Chat flinches when she turns in his direction.
"I, uh, I don't -"
"Shut up," Queen Bee hisses into his stupid face, and grabs his upper arm. She literally drags him to the edge of the roof and pushes him off, then winds back her stinger and lets it fly. Her last glimpse of Ladybug is seeing Ladybug turn back to the girl who was akumatized, and Queen Bee knows that Ladybug won't leave, oh no, she'll stay and comfort that girl until she absolutely has to go. But she won't have time to get home because she'll have pushed it so long, so her miraculous will give out and Ladybug will be left wandering through Paris alone.
Goddamnit. Queen Bee does not want to be having feels about Ladybug if her suspicions are correct, but she's pretty sure she no longer has a choice.
She lands on her balcony, withdrawing her stinger with a practiced flick of the wrist. Not that anyone will ever know, but it's a move she spent hours practicing in front of the mirror after finding a video on the Ladyblog that shows Ladybug doing it.
That shows Marinette doing it.
"FUCK!" Queen Bee screams at the city.
"Whoa! Is that necessary?" Chat's boots land lightly on the balcony. He straightens up and retracts his baton.
"Yes, Adrien, it's fucking necessary," Queen Bee snaps.
He drops the baton. "Wh-what did you just call me?!"
"I can't believe this! You! And her! All this time!" Queen Bee throws her hands up.
"And that bitch! Threatening Ladybug! Can you imagine?!"
"I really didn't want to get involved, but now I have to. UGH. This is going to be so much work."
"I am going to need a total spa day after this."
"Chloé!" Chat grabs her shoulders. "What are you talking about?!"
Their eyes meet, and Queen Bee narrows her eyes at him. "Don't think I've forgotten that time you made me say 'please', Adrien Agreste."
Chat swallows, throat bobbing, and laughs nervously. "A-Adrien? W-what? As if I could ever be -"
"Oh would you just stop," Queen Bee says crossly. "Pollen, buzz off." The yellow magic zips away from her as Pollen appears. Chloé holds her hands out, letting Pollen come to rest on her cupped palms.
"Good job today, my queen!" Pollen says brightly, and Chloé's heart melts. Just a little. It helps with the weird heaviness in her chest.
"I've got to feed Pollen before you go. What does your kwami like?" she asks Chat.
He just stands there, gaping at her.
"Plagg likes cheese," Pollen pipes up.
"Cheese it is." Chloé stalks into her room. When Chat doesn't follow, she barks, "Adrikins!" over her shoulder.
That gets him moving, and he sulks into her bedroom with his shoulders hunched, nervously spinning his tail. Chloé ignores him as she moves over to her phone and calls up the kitchen, placing an order for some of the honey crackers that Pollen favors and a plate of the most expensive cheese the kitchen has on hand. Pollen leaves her hands and flies over to Chat, hovering in front of him.
"May I see Plagg?" she asks, very politely.
Chat squirms, eyes darting around. "I - uh - I don't think -"
"Adrien, please, I know it's you," Chloé says, suddenly weary.
He frowns severely, but mutters, "Plagg, claws in."
"Greetings, Plagg!" Pollen chirps.
"Hey Pollen," Plagg says, before he turns to Adrien and says smugly, "Ladybug is going to kill you."
"I didn't tell her!" Adrien says defensively.
"You didn't have to. I've known you for years. I'm frankly appalled that it took me this long to figure out," Chloé says, frowning at herself. She knows why, of course. She's never paid much attention to Chat Noir, preferring instead to focus all of her attention on Ladybug.
Adrien sighs, rubbing at the back of his neck. "I guess I don't need to tell you that this absolutely has to be a secret."
"What? Adrien, don't be stupid. Of course I won't tell anyone about you or Ladybug."
"Right, thanks - wait. About Ladybug? You know who she is?!"
Chloé sighs, planting her hands on her hips. "After today, it was pretty obvious."
"No, it wasn't!" Adrien says indignantly. "I've been trying to figure it out for weeks!"
"He really has," Plagg says. "It's hilarious and sad at the same time. I don't think I've ever had such an oblivious kitten."
"I am not oblivious, Plagg."
"You kind of are," Chloé says. "But I was too. Willfully oblivious. I can't believe I actually dressed up like her."
"Like who?!" Adrien practically screeches.
Chloé looks at Plagg. "Is there some unwritten rule that says I can't tell him?"
Plagg shrugs. "Nope, but the bug won't appreciate it."
Fair. Chloé twists her mouth. She hates when things like morals get in her way. But Ladybug can’t get mad if he figures it out on his own, right? "Okay, Adrikins, listen to me. Think about what happened at the end of the battle today."
Adrien scowls. "What about it?"
"Ladybug said there is someone in her class who lies about her all the time and has stolen all her friends. Doesn't that sound a tiny bit familiar?"
Adrien squints at her. "Not really."
"Not even a little bit?" Chloé presses, because honestly. It's like Gabriel Agreste ground any ability to think critically right out of his son. She used to like it that way, because it meant Adrien was both naive and gullible and would go along with her plans. But right now, it's just massively frustrating.
"Well, I mean, it kinda sounds a bit like Marinette and Lila."
Chloé smiles tightly, leaning back to fold her arms across her chest. "Okay."
"But that would mean..." Adrien trails off.
"Oh my god!"
"There you go," Chloé says, refusing to let the feeling of her heart shattering into a thousand pieces reflect on her face. People can say what they like; she's always harbored a secret dream that Adrien would decide he loves her and they'd get married. She hoped his Ladybug obsession was a passing phase. But now that she knows Adrien is Chat Noir and Marinette Dupain-Cheng is Ladybug, Chloé can see the fragments of that dream being crushed beneath fate. It hurts, it hurts a lot, but it's not Adrien's fault and she won't make him feel like it is.
There's a knock at the door, and Chloé pads over to answer it. She accepts the tray and closes the door in her butler's face. Plagg dive bombs the tray with an excited squeal when he sees camembert, while Pollen approaches to grab a cracker. Chloé takes the tray, laden with food and munching kwamis, over to the bed ands sets it down. Adrien is staring off into space with a dazed expression.
"Marinette is Ladybug," Adrien breathes at last, like he's just been granted the greatest revelation of his life. Probably because he has.
"Yeah, she is," Chloé says, glad that he's not looking at her. It hurts to see the soft look on his face, because it's not directed at her and it never will be. Just for a second, she really wants to leave Marinette to Lila's clutches.
But she can't, the weird pressure in her chest intensifies just at the thought, and Chloé hates it.
"Adrien, could you do me favor?"
He finally looks over at her. "What?"
"I know you're supposed to take my miraculous back, but do you think I could keep her for tonight?"
Adrien immediately frowns. "I don't know. I'm supposed to take it back right away."
"It's just for the night. I'll give it back to you tomorrow, I swear," Chloé says. "Cross my heart."
He stares at her, still frowning. "You're not going to go out, are you?"
"No. I'll stay here. Won't leave my room until morning unless another akuma attacks. I'd just like Pollen's company tonight, that's all." It's kind of mean to use this tactic, because Adrien is even better acquainted with loneliness than Chloé is, but it's also not a lie.
"Okay," Adrien says, just as she knew he would. "But you better give it back tomorrow, or Ladybug will kill us both." His eyes go all soft and gooey when he says Ladybug's name.
"You better spend the night figuring out how to get yourself under control," Chloé says.
"Why would I do that? Can't I just tell my lady the truth?"
"Well... I guess," Chloé says slowly. It seems weird to freely hand out that kind of information, but this is Adrien. Of course he wants to tell Marinette. Now she's going to have to watch them be all cute and loving. Double ugh.
He beams. "How do you think I should do it?"
"Adrien, please. I'm happy you've found your lady -" she's not, but she won't tell him that "- but don't ask me to plan out your grand love confession. That's what Plagg is for."
"Hey!" Plagg says indignantly.
"No, you're right. Sorry." Adrien pauses, then reaches out to touch her arm. "I am sorry, Chlo."
"It's fine. You should go anyway. It's getting dark," Chloé says, steeling herself.
Adrien just nods. "If you're right. Plagg, claws out!"
Chat Noir leaps off of Chloé's balcony, leaving behind Pollen and a tray covered with cheese crumbs. Chloé gets up and shuts the doors, watching the dark figure leap from building to building. The grace, the ability, the puns... she really can't believe she didn't see it before.
"Are you well, My Queen?" Pollen asks.
"Not really," Chloé says quietly, resting her forehead against the glass. "Pollen? Do Ladybug and Chat Noir always end up together?"
"Not always," Pollen says thoughtfully. "But then, I’m not entirely familiar with all of the details. I haven't always been active when Plagg and Tikki are. But in my experience, Ladybug and Chat Noir are always drawn to each other, often to the point of exclusion. It seems to be a natural process."
"Of course it is," Chloé mutters.
A gentle weight alights on her shoulder, and Pollen says, "I'm very sorry."
Chloé's eyes feel wet. She blinks, but that doesn't help. "Whatever. So long as Dupain-Cheng treats him right, I guess it's fine." She'll make it be fine, because she's not willing to lose Adrien over this. And that's what will happen, because he's been in love with Ladybug for like a year and a half now and Marinette has still caught his interest, whereas Chloé has never been anything other than a friend.
She walks over to her bed and crawls under the covers. If she cries, Pollen won't tell anyone.
The next morning is a Friday. Chloé gets up early and showers so that she can do her make-up and hair perfectly. She fastens her comb into her hair and lets Pollen slide into the pocket of her black jacket. Underneath is a yellow and black striped shirt, paired with black jeans and tall black boots that give her an extra two inches of height. She's going to need them today.
It's late when she gets to school. That's what she wants. She gets out of the car and stalks up the steps, back straight and chin up. The hallways are empty, but when she gets to the classroom she sees that class hasn't started yet. Madame Bustier isn't in the room, which means everyone is still up and chatting. Adrien and Marinette are sitting side by side in the back row, having a quiet conversation. Something warm that Chloé will never admit to feeling blossoms in her chest when she sees them, but that warm feeling goes all crackly with discordance when she spots her target.
There's trouble in the hive, and Chloé will be goddamned if she lets anyone continue to sow that kind of discord. Pollen's words from last night, about how it's the responsibility of a queen bee to keep a hive working smoothly, run through her mind. She draws strength from them as she storms over to Lila's desk and slams her hand down on the top of it. The resulting bang makes Lila jump about a foot into the air and the whole classroom goes quiet.
"Look," Chloé says icily, staring Lila down. "You can do whatever you want outside of this classroom. I really don't care what kind of lies you tell, or who believes your crap. But this is your official warning, Rossi. Stay away from Marientte."
There's about thirty seconds of absolute silence. Chloé doesn't look away from Lila, but she has the feeling everyone is gawking at them. Well, good. Let this be a lesson for everyone, because it's not one Chloé wants to repeat anytime soon. And it will probably always be Chloé who does it, because Adrien may be protective as hell over Marinette but he's not the type to do anything about it when it might get back to his father. Chloé gets that, she knows what a dick Gabriel Agreste can be, but that just means it'll be her job and she'd really like to get this point across once and be done with it.
"Excuse me?" Lila says finally. "What are you trying to imply?"
"I'm not implying anything. I'm outright telling you that I know everything that comes out of your mouth is bullshit. Now, if the idiots in this classroom want to swallow your lies hook, line and sinker, that's not my problem."
"But Marinette is?" Lila says, narrowing her eyes.
"Yes," Chloé says, much as she hates to admit it, and feels better as soon as she says it. She leans in a bit closer. "Marinette and Adrien are mine. I will not hesitate to tie your ass to the top of the Eiffel Tower and leave you there for twenty-four hours if you don't get that through your head immediately, and that's if you're lucky. If you really piss me off, you'll find out first-hand what my sting feels like."
"You can't do that. Everyone knows you don't have your miraculous," says Lila, squaring her shoulders.
"Don't I?" Chloé says, twining a strand of hair around her finger. "Didn't you see Queen Bee helping out last night?" She gives Lila the biggest, smuggest smile she can muster. "Unlike you, Ladybug really is my friend."
Lila's mouth pinches, her cheeks reddening. "That's bullshit!"
"Is it really? Well, keep pushing and you'll find out," Chloé tells her. "The bottom line, Rossi, is that this is my hive, and as the Queen Bee I won't hesitate to kick the ass of anyone who oversteps their bounds. You're already over that line, so I would walk pretty carefully from now on if I were you. I'll be keeping an eye out."
"Are you threatening me?" Lila demands.
"Nope. I don't make threats; I make promises," Chloé says with another sunny smile. "Got it? Good. I'm glad we had this conversation." She straightens up, finally taking in the shocked expressions on every face that's turned in her direction. Marinette in particular looks absolutely gobsmacked, whereas Adrien is a radiating ball of sunshine. Chloé ignores them all and stalks up the steps to take a seat in the back row, forgoing her usual seat next to Sabrina. It's too close to Lila for her tastes. Instead, she takes a seat across the aisle from Marinette.
The classroom breaks out in a flurry of whispers, though Chloé notices Lila isn't contributing to them. She looks shell-shocked, and the sight fills Chloé with a kind of vindictive pleasure. It really has been getting on her nerves to see the way Lila struts around the school, bending everyone to her will. She just didn't have the urge to do anything about it until now.
"What was that?" Marinette says at last, still looking dumbfounded.
"I don't like people messing with my hive," Chloé says with a sniff, reaching into her jacket to give Pollen a gentle pat. She can feel her kwami giggling and it makes her grin.
Marinette opens and then closes her mouth, then opens it again. "You never cared before."
"Well, I guess I just didn't have the right incentive," Chloé drawls. "Right, Adrikins?" She winks at Adrien, and he grins.
"Hey Mari," he says, wrapping an arm around Marinette's shoulder. "Let's go have ice cream after school. You, me, and Chloé. My treat."
Marinette's eyebrows draw together, and she casts a suspicious look between them. "Okay... sure."
Chloé spends the day watching Lila like a hawk, even going so far as to join the rest of the class in the cafeteria. It's totally satisfying to see the way Lila goes pale when she realizes Chloé is sitting about five feet away, blatantly eavesdropping on the conversation. And she can tell that Adrien's taken the opportunity to talk to Marinette during lunch, because Marinette looks stunned when they all go back to the classroom. She looks at Chloé like Chloé is someone she's never seen before, which is fair: that's kind of how Chloé felt last night too.
When class finishes for the day, Chloé collects her things and walks down the steps only to find Alya standing in her way. Chloé looks at her and says, "What?"
"Marinette isn't yours," Alya says, all flushed and angry. "What kind of game are you playing? You hate Marinette!"
"Yet I'm being a better friend to her right now than you are," says Chloé, cocking her head and smiling. "Funny, that."
"That's not true!" Alya exclaims.
"Isn't it? Tell me, did you ever bother to ask Ladybug if she knows Lila?" Chloé says.
Alya blinks. "I - no. I don't know Ladybug well enough to ask."
"Yeah, okay, Rena Rouge," Chloé says, low enough that no one else can hear, but Alya's face still goes pink.
"How do you know that?!" she hisses.
Chloé flips her ponytail over her shoulder. "Unlike you, I don't get taken in by every lying liar that opens their mouth and tells me what I want to hear. I sit back, acknowledge all of the facts, think things through, and then form my own opinions based on fact, not the fiction that I want to hear. You might almost say that I act like a real journalist, unlike some people whose names I won't mention."
Alya jerks back like she's been slapped. "That's not - Lila doesn't -"
"Don't tell me what Rossi does and doesn't do when you don't have a fucking clue," Chloé hisses. "Now get out of my way, Césaire." She pushes past Alya and leaves the room.
Adrien and Marinette are waiting outside. As soon as Chloé is close enough, Adrien says, "That was brilliant!" and grabs her in a hug.
"Adrikins, my hair," Chloé whines half-heartedly.
"I can't believe you did that," Marinette says, staring at her. "Why would you do that?"
Chloé shrugs as Adrien lets go, pretending like straightening the lapel of her jacket is a huge deal that requires all of her attention. "You're Ladybug," she says to the ground. "You're in my hive. I protect the hive and keep it functional and harmonious, and that includes dealing with potential threats." The words feel weird as they roll off her tongue, but they feel right at the same time. It occurred to her late last night that she would happily murder anyone who tried to hurt Ladybug and Chat Noir. Hawkmoth better hope to hell that Queen Bee doesn't catch hold of him first.
Marinette stares some more. "Are you sick?"
"Nah, she's just a bee," Plagg says, popping out of Adrien's jacket. Adrien makes a high-pitched squeaky sound, but when Chloé glances around she sees that the hall is otherwise empty. Even Alya is gone, presumably off to lick her wounds.
"A bee? Is that meant to be an insult?" Chloé demands, hands on her hips.
Plagg rolls his eyes. "No more so than saying Adrien's a kitten or Marinette's a bug," he says boredly. "You are what you are."
Chloé eyes him for a second, then decides to accept that as an answer. "Besides, I really hate Rossi," she says to no one in particular.
"I like you," a new voice says, and a ladybug kwami pops out of Marinette's purse.
"Tikki!" Marinette exclaims. She clutches at her hair. "This is hands down the weirdest day of my life."
"But good weird, right?" Adrien says, reaching up and grabbing one of Marinette's hands. Marinette immediately turns red, but she also smiles.
"Um, y-yeah," she says. They stare at each other for a few seconds.
"Ugh, is this how it's going to be from now on?" Chloé says. It hurts a little to see them staring at each other so lovingly, but not as bad she might have thought. She thinks she'll get over it sooner rather than later.
"Finally, someone who feels my pain," Plagg says, sighing exaggeratedly.
"And mine," Tikki says, though she's looking at Marinette and Adrien so fondly that Chloé thinks she doesn't really mean it.
"Okay!" Chloé says, clapping her hands together. Both of them jump. "I was promised ice cream, Adrikins."
"I like ice cream," Pollen says, poking her head out of Chloé's jacket, because honey is her favorite but Pollen is a sucker for anything creamy and sweet. Marinette's eyes focus on Pollen, then flick up Chloé's face.
"Oh, right. I suppose you want this back," Chloé says, downcast. But she did promise. She reaches up to pull the comb out of her hair and is shocked when Marinette's hand on her wrist stops her.
"You might as well keep it until we go home," Marinette says. She's looking at Chloé with that same funny expression on her face, like she's never seen Chloé before and is trying hard to figure her out.
"If you insist," Chloé replies, aiming for flippant, because no one will ever know that giving Pollen up feels like losing a piece of herself every time. Unfortunately, she thinks that Adrien and Marinette might already know.
"Well," Adrien says, and he extends an arm to both of them. "Shall we?"
"Yes, we shall," Chloé says grandly, taking Adrien's arm. Marinette hesitates a second, but eventually takes Adrien's other arm. Adrien grins at the both of them, their kwamis hide, and the three of them walk out of the school together.