Actions

Work Header

you've strengthened an icarus (she will flow too close to the sun)

Chapter Text

Thursday, April 25th  — Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France. 
5:15 pm. 

The silence of the classroom is deafening.

Marinette deflates after the ordeal of explaining, passing a hand over her eyes to rid herself of the angry, bitter tears, before resting on top of the table — formed in fists. Now that she's got it out, now that it isn't suffocating her anymore (for the moment), she feels raw and utterly exposed like this. There's still tears flowing, and she feels like if she attempts to speak, she'll sound exactly how she feels at the moment — broken, and fraying at the seams.

She can't bring herself to look at the woman, not when she's poured her heart out and is so vulnerable; so she casts her eyes everywhere — the window on the right, displaying the warm light of the setting sun. The tick-tick-tick of the clock, which reads five-fifteen. Her teacher's tall glass of water, its condensation slowly descending until it accompanied its fallen brethren, becoming a part of the pooling around the glass' base.

The call of her name is what makes her redirect her attention — after a great deal of hesitation — to stare her teacher in the face once more. Her lovely, lovely teacher, who was now watching her with intensified dismay.

"Marinette...I — " Mme. Caline Bustier exhales, before placing her hands over the girl's and Marinette really had to fight to keep the newly-produced tears at bay. No one had yet to comfort her like this — as if they were genuinely listening to her. "— I truly had no idea. If I had known I would have — I'm so sorry." 

The hands tightened around hers, and the girl attempted a wobbly, yet grateful smile towards her. "You didn't know."

Because really —  Lila was an incredible liar, and so much more manipulative than most people (a certain blonde haired boy) seemed willing to credit her. She was kept alive by the various students who were too trusting to actually check her (too blind, too afraid, too deceived). But even Marinette had her fucking limits — there was a point where she grew tired of constantly filtering her words. Constantly checking her emotions. Constantly being cast in a negative light for not putting up with her bullshit anymore.

Taking the high road wasn't the wrong way to go about this, but it was too convenient. And she had had enough.

"No," Caline said, firmly. "I should have done more as your teacher. The fact that you were so backed into a corner that you felt as if you couldn't come to me, or Mlle. Mendeleiev — you were almost akumatized — " Her teal eyes were cold as they bore into her desk. "It wouldn't have taken me so long to check Mlle. Rossi's records to prove her medical issues, or check her absences. Or even oversee the seating arrangement properly instead of leaving it to everyone."

The girl says nothing in response because — it really wouldn't have.

The older woman exhales yet again, eyeing her. "Do your parents know? Would you like me to talk to them for you?"

She manages a nod, "They do."

That explanation had turned out much like this one had — after a truly harrowing afternoon where everything had just gotten too much, she had only kept herself together up until she reached the bakery, where she promptly broke down. Both her loving, amazing parents had comforted her throughout her uncontrollable sobbing, with embraces that were full of comfort and safety before she was able to tell them everything. She could still remember her father's soothing head pats while her mother asked her what she wanted to do. "They want to follow whatever I decide."

"And that is?"

Marinette looked at their joined hands again. "I think — I think it would be best if I transferred to a new school."

Caline's shoulders drooped, and it was a long moment before she spoke again. "Are you sure? This won't go unpunished, Marinette. I will be speaking to M. Damocles about this, and Mlle. Rossi will be harshly dealt with —"

"I don't doubt that, Mme. Bustier, but...I can't — " She closes her eyes, " — I can't stay in this class anymore. Or this school."

And she truly couldn't. Not with Lila still reigning terror. Not with her classmates opposing her at every turn. If she just left the class, they'd question her at every turn. She'd never escape them. While yes, they themselves might not have known the extent to Lila's lies, or even afraid to confront her; there's the glaring fact that most actually thought her so horrible to hate on a new student for no reason . She was never so brutal to Chloe of all people, and yet, no one thought to question her reluctance to warm up to Lila. They — Alya — attributed her dislike of the girl for fucking jealously — 

She flinched. She couldn't open that bag of hurt just yet.

The woman cleared her throat, eyes saddened. "I — I understand. I still will deal with Mlle. Rossi personally. Do you — " There was a pause, where Marinette noticed just how torn up about this her teacher really was, as the woman cleared her throat a couple of times, the setting sun causing her eyes to be hidden behind a shadow. "Have you found any schools to your liking?"

She shook her head. "Not yet."

"I could — I could help you with that. There are many great schools that may be suited for you, especially pertaining to Arts and Design." Caline eyes found hers. "I can work with you and your parents on finding the perfect school where you can truly feel at ease again. You deserve that at least."

Marinette's eyes misted once more. "Thank you."

Mme. Bustier tightened her grip.

 


 

Through constant back and forth, and even in-house visits from her teacher, they had gone over numerous schools in the surrounding area. It had taken a while before they finally settled on one — École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts.

Mme. Bustier directed her to the school's official website, that depicted their well-rounded vision:

 

"At École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts; we primarily cultivate students' artistic interests and goals while still providing enriching academic electives and after-school clubs and activities. Design and the arts — Performing and Visual, are part of our collège academic requirements to encourage all students’ creative expression, as we believe in making the students the best they could be — artistically."

 

The collège certainly sounded amazing — it was a private school, but was incredible in its size. Many of the students attending were on the richer spectrum of things, but it didn't discriminate on which people they accepted. It had an amazing success rate, and many fashion designers, singers, and actors came from it. It was slightly more expensive than Collège Françoise Dupont — something that Marinette was alarmed at and tried to pretend as if she wasn't enamored with the school already — but they were adamant. If it meant their daughter's happiness, they would invest in the school. 

Marinette allows herself to cry.

She gathers a last minute portfolio, in line with the application requirements (she always has pieces and sketchbooks just for situations like this). With the help of Mme. Bustier; an interview is arranged with the school's principal — a Monsieur Moreau, and by the end of the week she's enrolled in, an acceptance letter in the mail:

 

Dear Mademoiselle Dupain-Cheng,

We are pleased to inform you that your transfer request was successful. You have been accepted at École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts as a student for the academic year, commencing Monday, April 29th.

Along with this acceptance letter, there are other documents that will assist you in the admission and registration process. Kindly refer to all web links listed below, and carefully read through all documents. These contain important information relating to your admission. Additionally, ensure that all documents needed to be returned by a specified date (such as your medical form) are returned. Details concerning your blazer fittings and pick up are also included.

Do not hesitate to visit or contact us via email at admin@lvcpourlesarts.edu  should you have any queries or concerns about the registration process. Our Customer Service Representatives in the Marie-Adrienne Chameroy  Student Administration Building are always willing to assist. I take this opportunity to congratulate you on securing an acceptance from École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts.  We look forward to welcoming you to our school!

Yours sincerely,
Alexandre Moreau.
Principal of École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts.

 

Madame Bustier additionally speaks with Monsieur Damocles in getting Marinette out, and the girl goes to school to gather her things from her locker (at the end of the day, after everyone's gone from the school).

The teacher wishes her good luck, sadness etched in her features. She gives the woman a hug, thankful for her help towards the end.

Her parents say they'll buy her a new phone, one that will only have Mme. Bustier and their numbers on it, as her other one is getting filled with messages from her classmates (mostly Adrien) asking if she's sick. She eyes them — the unread text from Adrien: hey, i have the homework that due monday i can bring it for you if you want, Juleka's unread hey marinette are you okay? and Alya's — 

She exhales and shoves the phone in one of her drawers. She can't bring herself to fully delete them, or even throw it away. Besides,  Jagged and Penny's numbers are on there, as well as Nadja Chamack's. She'll have to put them on her new phone when she gets it. She spends some time contemplating the years of pictures she has with her past classmates (the class picture, a few of her and Alya, some of her, Alya, Nino and Adrien, among others) — 

I only tell people what they want to hear. 

She eventually throws them in the same drawer. She'll eventually get rid of them.

Her room was much different, now that pictures of her classmates were gone from her walls. They were now filled with new ideas, and inspirations for designs, as well as pictures of her past designs for Jagged. Since this school was all about "making students the best they could be — artistically", she needed to be on top of things.

Marinette eyes herself in her full-length mirror, eyes staring at her reflection as Tikki flies up to embrace her jaw. She had certainly felt lighter, after finally getting somewhere. She's wasn't completely healed — no not yet — but for the moment, she felt like she get through the day again. And that was enough.

Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng was going to erase herself from this narrative. And she wasn't going to give anyone a heads up.

Let them all wonder what just made her up and leave.

Chapter Text

Monday, April 29th  —  The Dupain-Cheng home,  Paris, France.
4:30 am.

She gets up an hour early before she's supposed to, just to calm herself.

She eats with her parents, who give her warm words of encouragements, and with Tikki pressing herself against her leg, she can't help but smile. The new phone her parents had promised her was bought, and Marinette input their numbers. She would do the others when she got home later today.

Tikki has a few words for her, "I know that you're hesitant, Marinette. But don't be afraid to make new friends again." She pauses at that for a moment, before sighing, nodding at the Kwami before going to get ready. 

The uniform isn't really a uniform — according to the principal, Monsieur Moreau, it would constrict the students' ability to express themselves. And they couldn't have that. However; all students had to wear the official school blazer (that was only utilized whenever they had field trips) every Monday morning. So she buttoned the blazer over her designated outfit for the day, a red dress with black leggings, looking at herself in the mirror.

Almost there.

Her parents had offered to walk her there, but she told them that she had to do this herself. They would always be at home for her if anything. Besides; whilst the school wasn't as near as Collége Françoise Dupont, the metro was close enough, and she definitely knew her way to and from there. 

They nod, but are noticeably as nervous as she is when they hug her goodbye. Sabine beams at her, exhaling. "Good luck, bǎo bǎo." Good luck, baby. 

She carries that with her to the metro station (somehow getting past her old school without anyone spotting her), and to the entrance of the school; École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts, arching on the top of the two pillars of the main entrance. And despite visiting the school before, it seems even more imposing than back then; the complex architecture born from the French Revolution towering over her.  

A small paw rests on her arm, and Marinette glances downwards. Tikki's blue eyes look up warmly at hers, and the girl smiles. "It'll be okay, Marinette. You got this." The kwami vanishes back into her bag, lest she be seen by anyone around.

She nods, "I got this." And then, calling upon the strength and aptitude of her superhero alter-ego, and the other ladybugs before her — despite the emotional strain for these past few months; she squares her shoulders, holding her head high. She struts past the colossal carved heads at the main entrance, confidence exuding from her. This was totally different, with a hopefully different atmosphere and different people. She's got this.

There was a bigger population here, and she tried her best to stay confident. Some of the students in the expansive courtyard raised a questioning eyebrow at her, eyes filled with knowledge of the fact that they had never seen her before. Some of them carried themselves with an air of pride and superiority, similar to how Chloe would be most of the time and she sighed. Hopefully she wouldn't have to deal with anyone like the rich blonde.

She passed the monument in the middle of the yard, a pillar with a sculpture of Mlle. Louise Vallayer-Coster herself, and opened the doors to the main building. The ceiling overhead was like a dome, the skylight emitting through its glass panes. She glances over the pictures hung up of past students that were now renowned in their various fields. Other students walked on by, though a few were like the ones outside — their eyes questioning who are you?

She made her way to the principal's office, the third door on her left of this long corridor, and knocked before she walked inside.

"Ah, Good Morning Mlle. Dupain-Cheng." Monsieur Moreau warmly greeted her, his eyes even smiling behind his glasses. She returned it, giving a similar greeting. She seats herself in the visitor's chair, placing her bag on her lap. Monsieur Moreau promises her a moment, assembling some papers, and she takes the time to glance around his office once more. Various pictures of past principals were around the office, as well as multiple pictures of him with what she could only assume are students, or past ones.

She exhaled, her grip on her bag tightening. You've got this.

He takes a seat in his chair, resting a sealed envelope on the table. "Your schedule along with the student's handbook is in here. Like I said last time you were here, you will be aided by our student representatives —"

Just then, there was a small knock on the door before it opened.

"— Ah, speaking of which: This is Mlle. Allegra Beaumont, one of your designated student reps. She's also your class representative." He gestured for Marinette to turn.

The first student representative assigned to lead her around for the first few days was quite beautiful, Marinette had to admit — she stood tall, like a ballerina at full height, her blonde hair braided back and ending at her waist. Her blazer was over what seemed to be a violet skirt, a small Quaver note pinned to her blazer's lapel. Her violet eyes appraised Marinette from where she sat, face void of expression, and Marinette gulped. Beautiful and terrifying — a dangerous combination.

Marinette scrambled to stand, extending a hand. "Hi! My name is Marinette Dupain-Cheng." 

Mlle. Allegra blinked, and Marinette faltered slightly at the small silence that followed, but eventually, the girl gave her a small, polite nod. "Hello, Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Like M. Moreau said, I'm gonna be leading you around the school."

She slowly nodded, she still had yet to explore the school in its entirety, let alone her own classes. She just hoped that she wouldn't be subjected to a tour with someone who didn't seem to be that inviting. But, like Tikki said, don't be afraid. "Thank you so much."

Monsieur Moreau leaned back in his chair, at ease. "Even though I don't think you'll need it — Mlle. Beaumont is quite through on her tours, you may come to my office at any time." At Marinette's answering nod, he eyed the taller girl. "And Mlle. Beaumont, please remember to forewarn her of M. Jean-Baptiste." His eyes glazed over with a sort of tiredness, yet there was amusement in there.

The girl's expression shifted just then, and Marinette could see genuine annoyance at the man's comment. "Hopefully I can before he magics himself wherever I am."

Marinette raised an eyebrow at that, before allowing Allegra to lead her outside, saying a final goodbye to her new principal.

 


 

Her tour guide didn't take long to change Marinette's perception of her. Mlle. Allegra Beaumont was actually quite warm when she spoke more than four sentences, and she quickly apologized for her unwelcoming disposition as soon as they left Monsieur Moreau's office, noting that she had yet to consume coffee for the morning. The comment relaxed Marinette and the two girls went about the tour.

There was a certain grace to her movements, and Marinette believed that she wasn't that far off from comparing her to a ballerina earlier. She carried herself with an air unlike many of the other students that she saw in the courtyard — she had no doubt that the girl was possibly well off, but there was no superiority there. Just someone who seemed to have ingrained etiquette classes in their daily lives. 

She was also a repository of knowledge — the blonde spoke at length about the school's rich history, their clubs, specifically renowned teachers at the school and the ones to be wary of. M. Tréville is one of the nicest teachers in the entire school, he'll probably get you a puppy if you asked for it. But Physical Education? God, Mme. Strachan and M. Dumas are terrors when it comes to their sessions. 

The young designer wasn't deterred, the student had a way of speaking that Marinette couldn't help but be attentive. She found some great places she could go to if she needed to transform.

Walking with Allegra gathered many calls in the hallways from various students, to which the girl always made sure to wave back at. There was still time before the first classes of the day were scheduled to start, so Allegra made sure to take Marinette everywhere near the Main Building. They ended up in a garden area, made up of tall trees and shrubbery, as well as a fountain in the middle. Various headless sculptures decorated the area, and Marinette blinked at the tranquility the garden exuded. 

"And here we have La cour d'Étienne. It's essentially a relaxation spot in-between classes so you can come here whenever you're free."

Marinette closed her eyes as the wind blew, her hair fluttering. "It's really nice here." It was the first amount of actual peace she felt for a while now.

Allegra smiled, ready to spout more information. "This was the third part of the school established way back in 1655. See, Monsieur Pierre Thomas and Mlle. Louise Vallayer-Coster had a vision, a vision that students should be able to — "

"Jesus, 'Legra. It's the girl's first day, wait another week or something."

The girl, who was the picture of sophisticated grace up until this point, actually screeched at the unexpected interruption. She turned to view the culprit, eventually aiming a scowl at them. "God — just like you to sneak up on me. I can never escape you."

The person, who was now smirking at Allegra, was much taller than her, and by extension towering over Marinette by a good half-foot. Their blue eyes were alight with amusement, and they moved to grab Allegra in a one-armed hug. The blonde scoffed, attempting to get out of their hold. 

"Monsieur Moreau stuck you with her first, huh?" They pretended as if the girl wasn't trying to escape them, holding on tighter. "Makes sense, she's normally the girl every teacher assigns for things like this — teacher's pet." At Allegra's squawk, they eyed her. "Did I lie? Every single teacher in your academic career loves you. Well, except Mme. Mirolioubova."

Marinette blinked as Allegra sucked air through her teeth, turning her nose up. "That woman has always had it out for me." She eyed Marinette, "I had never gotten an "f" in my life, except when she failed me for recess in second grade." She scrunched her features, and Marinette had to control the sudden giggles at the clear mimicking. "Teachers need a break too, Allegra. I just wanted a question answered." And to her surprise, a pout formed on her lips, and she looked much like an indigent child in the moment.

The newcomer eyed her in amusement, causing the half-Chinese girl to bit her lips, lest her laughs come out. "The audacity."

Marinette allows a laugh to escape her at the ridiculousness of it all, making them grin in satisfaction. "I bet she made you think that she was a cold, stand-offish person, huh?" At Marinette's sheepish nod, they chuckled. "Don't worry, she's really a dork at heart. So, I assume you're Mlle. Dupain-Cheng? What class is going to be blessed with your pretty face first period?" The shameless, shameless flirting reminded her so much of her fellow partner, and like Chat Noir, they was succeeding in putting her at ease at the moment.

Allegra successfully shoved them away, though not before elbowing them harshly in the gut. "Leave the girl alone!" 

The blue-nette didn't attempt to smother her giggles. "No, no. They're not bothering me."

"Yeah, Beaumont. I'm not bothering her." They leveled a grin at her despite the slight pain, to which Allegra exhaled heavily, taking a moment to regain her composure.

"Marinette, this is Claude Jean-Baptiste — he's the person I was going to warn you about."

Claude gasped, pretending to be offended. "You and Monsieur Moreau are continuing to slander my name. I have never done anything wrong in my life ever."

Marinette snickered, "Even I know that's a lie."

Allegra gave a smile of approval. He gasped, although his eyes were clearly delighted, and he comically huffed. "I just came out to show you a good time and I'm feeling so attacked right now."

"I apologize for him — he tends to be a lot for the new students. He's harmless though. Claude's the second representative for you today."

The boy winked, motioning a hand for her walk on. The designer smiled at the gesture, walking along with the two. "I'm the person who's gonna make you aware of things that Beaumont here isn't going to tell you — like the fact that the archives is haunted by the ghosts of former teachers, and Mlle. Louise Vallayer-Coster herself."

"It is not," Allegra bristled. "Stop telling all the new students that!"

Claude made a show of ignoring her, causing the other representative to scowl. "So what brings you to our lovely École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts? Don't get me wrong, we don't mind accepting the highly praised designer who worked with Jagged Stone, but you did go to another school before this, yes?"

Marinette faltered, stuttering in her steps, and she missed the way Allegra gawked at her and questioned the veracity of Claude's words. Because of course, who was she to forget exactly why she had left? She may have vowed to erase herself from that narrative, but Lila's threats wouldn't simply go away. The denouncing gazes that every single one of her classmates threw her wouldn't go away. Alya's disbelieving, criticizing comments would never go away. That moment when Hawkmoth had her under his control as a result of that mess would never leave her haunting nightmares, neither would the hot, fiery ice in her veins as she fought his power, or the rapid, cold numbness she felt after she successfully forced him out — 

The grounding presence of something on her head made her blink out of her stupor, a shock of breath escaping her, and she came to Claude's face peering down at her, realizing the weight on her head for what it was — his hand. His features had changed from the open, self-satisfied and welcoming expressions he had before, to something that held the utmost concern, clear alarm in his eyes. Marinette forces her head to look next to them.

Allegra's gaze was the same, her violet eyes searching her blue ones for an answer on what exactly was that just now.

She straightened herself, clearing her throat. Letting out an empty laugh, Marinette attempted to walk as normal as she did before, her mind racing a mile a minute. "Sorry, I spaced out for a moment. I, uh — I want to focus on myself more. In Fashion Design. Yes. Fashion Design. I wanted to develop myself in design more, and I thought that change would be...good for me." Her fists unconsciously clenched.

Claude stared at her for a moment, brows furrowing and his blue eyes examining her. It felt like an eternity before he accepted it with a slight nod, seemingly renewed as he plastered a grin on his lips.

She relaxed.

"Well, you've come to the right school, little lady!" He patted her head once, before dropping his arm. "Here, we breathe nothing but development." They walked towards the Faculty of Humanities and Languages, as first period was almost about to start. 

Marinette didn't catch the worried exchange of looks behind her head.

 


 

Her homeroom was essentially her French Language and Literature class, and she was led there by her two new acquaintances. The classroom was reminiscent of Mme. Bustier's class, from the various clusters of diverse students all over to the sheer size of the room. She stood awkwardly in the doorway — none of these faces were familiar, nor did they notice her presence, and for a moment; she couldn't help but re-imagine herself back in her old classroom. Everyone already knew each other, they already had their groups. She didn't want to invade their already established space — 

Claude patted the top of her head. "Come sit with us. We're your student representatives for the day, you really think we're gonna leave you to fend for yourself?"

Marinette exhaled, sending him a grateful smile. "Thanks."

Allegra waved her off, as she led her to the right of the classroom, to the first two rows. "The four of us usually sit here, but you can sit up front with me."

The girl nodded, shuffling into the first row. Placing her bag down, she questioned, "So — you said "the four of us". You guys have more friends?"

Claude raised an eyebrow, "You trying to say something about us, Marinette?"

Marinette bit back a smile as Allegra flicked him between his eyebrows, ignoring the yelp he made in response. "We always hang out with two other people. Both of them are going to be absent for the majority of this week though — one's in the midst of a dance workshop, while the other's simply sick. Claude gave it to him." The boy gave a sheepish smile, and Allegra continued. "We'll introduce them to you eventually."

Just then, their subject teacher walked in. She was a rather short woman, her hair twisted back braids, and the clop-clop-clop of her heels halted most of the chatter from the rest of the students. She placed her manila folder on the desk — most likely her attendance record and list of students going off from Mme. Bustier, and she gave a cheery smile towards the classroom.

"Good morning, class." She waited for the responding various greetings before continuing. "My name is Mlle. Josephine Smith, and I say that because today, we have a new student joining us." The older woman motioned a hand, "Mlle, if you'll kindly introduce yourself."

Marinette cleared her throat, hesitating before she stood. She waved a hand towards her new classmates, gathering the strength of ladybug. "Hi, everyone. My name is Marinette Dupain-Cheng and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your class." The various faces seemed friendly enough. Most were sending her small smiles, while a few actually sent her tiny waves.

One of them however, seemed to be eyeing her for a moment, before her eyes widened in remembrance.

"I've heard of you before. Didn't you design a hat for one of Adrien Agreste's fashion shows?" The red-haired girl pipped up excitedly, and Marinette smiled in response.

"I did actually. It was a contest by Gabriel Agreste himself."

The person, a brunette girl, next to her gasped, "Didn't you also design Jagged Stone's album cover and sunglasses?"

"Yeah, I did."

That statement caused various excited murmurs around the classroom. Mlle. Smith whistled to quiet them once more, smiling in amusement. 

"Nevertheless Mlle. Dupain-Cheng, I hope you're able to adapt into our classroom without any problems."

Marinette nodded, feeling more at ease and she sat back down as Mlle. Smith started to take the roll. During that time, Marinette asked the two to help decipher her schedule for the day, and upon taking a look at it; Claude had the first two periods with her —  Sciences de la vie et de la Terre (SVT), specifically Biology, and History. Allegra had (SVT) Geology and Geography at that time.The third period she shared with them both —  English. After that was lunch, then French, Math, Arts and Design (where students seperated to go to their preferred fields of Art) and (SVT) Biology again. Eventually, the bell rang to signal the end of homeroom, and everyone started to gather their things to leave. Allegra touched her shoulder before she left, "Sit with us at lunch, okay?"

The girl nodded, smiling, and followed Claude to their Biology class, the boy facilitating most of the conversation. 

 


 

The first three periods passed by rather quickly. The teacher, Mlle. Régina Badet, was accommodating enough; welcoming her to the class and jokingly noting that she wouldn't call on her for the week. M. Sok, her history teacher, didn't give her that luxury, and treated her like the rest of the students. Claude snorted, nudging her in the side. "It's a tactic. Depending on how well you answer these questions, he'll eventually ease off if he likes you that much."

Claude did his best to ensure that the girl didn't feel excluded, and Marinette really appreciated it. She didn't know whether or not they would become friends past this week, but she was enjoying her time with him. He reminded her so much of her partner, yet there was a clear distinction between the two. While he flirted with her, it was definitely in good fun. He flirted with her as one would ask someone for the time, and he didn't discriminate with who he flirted with either. He made eyes at some theater kid, who promptly ducked his head in bashfulness.

Marinette grinned, "You player. Just this morning, you were so in love with me, and now you go for the next set of pretty eyes you see."

"Jealous?" He had grinned, and the girl couldn't contain her laugh. "Don't beat your pretty little head, I just have a big heart with a lot of love for everyone."

Moreover, he was currently dotting on her...and it was quite reminiscent of those family reunions where her cousins would pat her head, comforting her in solidarity since they couldn't fully understand, nor communicate with Marinette's Chinese relatives either.

Chat Noir, on the other hand...his flirting always had some romantic tinge to them. Ever since that night where he had brought her civilian self to that immaculately decorated scene for Ladybug, she knew that he actually loved her. Whether or not that love was drenched in hero worship, or he actually liked her as a person — despite the identity of the person under the mask, she didn't know. But she was definitely aware now. 

She hadn't seen him in a while, aside from forcing herself to deal with the occasional akuma. She would have to call a patrol soon.

English was a calm affair as well, and the two had made her feel at ease throughout the class. Lunch soon arrived, and they all walked together to the cafeteria. The cafeteria's design was a clear portrayal of the school's wealth. The natural light from outside made all the difference to what would have be dark, and depressing. With it, it was inviting, and the addition of the wall of windows overlooked the view of the Seine. The tables and seats were much more modern, the tables coloured an attractive burgundy. The food was assembled like her old school, students had to take a tray and collect their food. There were many more options though, much more enriching options that could only come from being in a private school. 

Claude snickered at her dumbfounded reaction and she blushed. Forgive her if she wasn't used to this lavishness. 

While waiting in line however, Marinette couldn't help thinking about her past friends though. Normally, she'd be chatting with Kim as he went on and on about the latest race he beat someone in, or she would have been present for Alya's latest theories concerning her superhero alter-ego. She had nearly jumped out of her skin when some girl behind her in line said "I've had way too much potatoes already." and sounded so much like Alya that it made her heart skip a beat. But it wasn't Alya. And she was both relieved and sad about it. She exhaled, gathering the last of her choice in food, before following Allegra and Claude to a table.

Somehow the conversation redirected to the earlier discussion about her accomplishments, an attempt to find out more about the young designer.

"So, I hadn't had a chance to ask you this earlier this morning. But what was it like working with the Jagged Stone?" Allegra questioned, her eyes bright, and wow — she really was completely different from their first conversation. "It must have been a huge honour working with him!"

Claude eyed her from where he sat, eyes seeming to say here we go, and Marinette smiled. "Oh, It was! He's a really great person to work with, and he always has a vision for every project. It's never a dull moment."

Allegra sighed, "I'll admit, I'm much more partial to Salvatore Adamo and Clara Nightingale myself. But, I can respect a fellow artist. His drive and passion for his art — "

"God, you've done it now Marinette. She's gonna go on one of her tangents again." He chewed on his chicken.

The blonde huffed, aiming her fork towards him. "Shut up, Jean-Baptiste."

Marinette giggled, taking a bite of her potatoes. "You two seem like really good friends."

Allegra narrowed her eyes towards the tan boy, "I'm stuck with him."

"Unfortunately, we're related — cousins actually. I had absolutely no idea that Beaumont even existed until my mother introduced us at one of our Dinner parties. She was, and still is, a brat." The girl scowled in response, chewing her vegetables pointedly.

The half-Chinese girl blinked, "Dinner parties?"

"Oh yeah, our parents usually arrange them whenever they're trying to get in the good graces of business people for future ventures. I think we had Anne Dias-Griffin and François-Henri Pinault at that party. I pushed her in the fountain when we first met." He offhandedly noted, as if having wealthy socialites at their home was a normal Thursday evening. For them, it probably was, now that she thought about it. 

His cousin sputtered, "You pushed me in the lake."

Claude waved his hands, "Semantics. The poor maid had to help her dripping self." 

Marinette shrunk in her seat. "Wow. I knew that the majority of the people here were well-off but...I'm way out of my depth here." Her grip clenched around her spoon.

Allegra swiftly punched him in the shoulder, causing the boy to wince. "Idiot," she hissed, before placing a gentle hand on Marinette's shoulder. "Hey, we didn't mean to overshadow you about that. We may have money, but that doesn't matter. You already sound cool to us — You won a contest that was handpicked by Gabriel Agreste himself. You've worked with Jagged Stone more than once."

" — also I'm like eighty percent sure that you're related to that famous Chinese chef that was on that contest that one time. Weren't you on television with him?"

"I was."

Allegra motioned, "See. You certainly have accomplished a lot so far. And you're connected with some great people."

Marinette frowned, "Well I wouldn't say that."

Claude raised an eyebrow, "Why do I feel like you're not the type of person to take advantage of your connections?"

The girl bit her lip, while she did her best in getting opportunities pertaining to design competitions, the same could not be said for her working relationship with Jagged and Penny. Sure; they checked on her well-being every once in a while, and she had their personal numbers, but she didn't take up Jagged's offers to provide her with a more efficient working station and other benefits. She usually did her work from the comfort of her own home, and while the two had offered her an actual studio for her to work in, she didn't want to ask for too much.

Allegra waved her hand, "You're a modest person. But that adds to it all, you seem like a great person. And well, we were kind of hoping that...maybe there's a possibility that we could all become friends? Or — or talking acquaintances at least, it doesn't matter."

Marinette froze, taking in the hopeful gazes of the two students. Could she do this? The wounds from Collége Françoise Dupont still hadn't fully been unearthed from within her, she still felt betrayed. She still felt bitter. She still felt angry. It hadn't even been a full week since her leaving, and here she was, already being presented with a call of friendship. She opened her mouth, she was somehow going to find the words to explain that she really wasn't in the proper head-space for that yet, but then Tikki's words from this morning rang again in her mind:

Don't be afraid to make new friends again.

The girl sighed, she owed it to herself. She owed it to herself and her personal growth from her pain. It's what she deserved. Besides — so far, the two seemed like really enjoyable people to be around. She would just have to be more cautious this time, and not take bullshit if they wanted to try her. She had made that same mistake before. "Sure, I would like that."

Allegra's eyes brightened, before giving her a smile. "I'm glad."

"I'm saddened by that hesitation, are we that horrible?" Claude's words were meant to be humourous, but his cerulean eyes bore into hers searchingly, as he leaned forward on his arms. With a blink, his contemplative expression was gone, and he grinned. Marinette shrugged it off, it was most likely a trick from the lighting. "Fair warning, you're going to have to deal with my and Allen's nonsense constantly. Are you sure you're up for the task?"

Marinette grinned, "I've had enough of a dose to know I'll survive."

He cackled loudly, gathering the attention of some students a few tables away, who simply just went back to eating. His cousin rolled her eyes, going back to her lunch, "Trust me, you think that you can handle it. And then it just proves you oh so horribly wrong."

"I'm an acquired taste, that's okay, not everyone can handle me."

"Not everyone has the patience."

As the two bickered back and forth, in the noise of the cafeteria from the other students, Marinette let herself lean back in her chair. She felt the familiar, comforting press of Tikki's paw against her leg, and she relaxed. This was good for her. She deserved to be surrounded by good people. Hopefully, it wouldn't end up like before.

 


 

"Now, Voltaire's Candide — we're writing," Mlle. Smith eyed her class, who prepared to quickly jut down her words. "  —  highlights the movement that gave rise to the French Revolution and to the ideas of 18th century French philosophers. Voltaire shares the evolution of just how a man learns to think for himself and starts to free himself from commonly accepted religious beliefs and prejudices. It is an encouragement to build your own destiny and think for yourself, while also noting key ideas and philosophies of the Enlightenment." 

After lunch was French Language and Literature; and as Mlle. Smith taught on, Marinette began to think of Mme. Bustier. How was she doing, in the aftermath of it all? The woman had seemed very distraught when she came to her last Wednesday, and had done her best to do right this time. But, when the woman thought she wasn't looking, Marinette could discern the clear dejectedness in her eyes, the absolute disappointment at herself, at her lack of acknowledgement of the whole thing. Despite the girl telling her that she had forgiven her. And while Marinette would start anew, the teacher still had to go about the day with her past classmates, with the knowledge of how they had treated her, with Lila's mere presence — 

She bristled, breathing multiple times to calm herself. She would just have to check up with Mme. Bustier from time to time, the woman had left her contact information with her, saying that she could come to her with anything. She could read between the lines of the woman's words, I'll be there for you this time.

For her Clothing and Decorative Design class; she was directed by the two to the Faculty of Creative and Festival Arts, many various buildings that held the many divisions such as: Fine Arts, which contained students particular to drawing, painting, sculpture and printmaking. There was Film, Video & Photographic Arts, which included studies connected to the department name. Thirdly, there was Performing Arts, where students perusing Theater, Musical Performance and Singing, as well as Dance would go. And lastly, Applied Arts, where students wanting to do Fashion Design and Decorative Arts (basket-weaving,ceramics, tapestry, etc.) stayed. Marinette had gawked at the many divisions when researching the school, it essentially was a like that of a university. At least the school was going to be taking her through lycée as well. 

Her classroom/work room itself was exceptionally large. Each student had their very own work station that they could leave their materials and works for assignments on; where their very own mannequin was provided for any alterations they wanted to make, as well as a personal sewing machine. There was a specific wall dedicated to winning designs of the past, designs that had gone through fashion shows, or competitions. There was also a section where the students would sit, if a specific session was for note-taking. There was a storage room, where they apparently locked specific things behind. The atmosphere at the moment was very relaxed, given that there were only ten students in the class, and quite inviting.

After introducing her to her classmates, her teacher, Marcelle Chéruit led her to her station, as the woman had been told of her new student beforehand. "Feel free to personalize around it all you want. Just don't do anything permanent to the table-top itself."

The woman went on to say that, due to having a new student; this session would be a chill day, and the students could stay here and do whatever, or go to the library. The nine other students were overjoyed, and they actually thanked the girl. "Dieu merci ," a boy named Leo said. "I really wasn't in the mood for working today."

They invited her into a circle to get to know her better, and most of them questioned just how she landed working for Jagged Stone. Marinette smiled, explaining the chance opportunity, and they hung on her every word. They even played the typical icebreaker games, courtesy of the Theater class according to a girl named Chantelle, and Marinette found herself giggling throughout the activity.

At the end of the day; Marinette's head was filled with new faces and lots of information. It was much denser than her old school, but she would just have to work hard. She walked out with Claude and Allegra, and noted what must have been their ride, since as soon as the man next to it noticed them, he opened the back door. Allegra raised an eyebrow, "Would you like a ride? Considering that this school is the only one in this area, I'm guessing you were either dropped here or you took the metro."

She thought about it — by now Collége Françoise Dupont would have finished classes. And while she was lucky to avoid her old classmates this morning, she may not be so lucky now. Marinette nodded, "Thank you so much."

Claude ushered her in, "Just direct André on where to go."

She recited the address of her home for the driver — 12 Rue Gotlib, 21st arrondissement, Paris, France, and he input it in the car's GPS. Upon reaching the white walls of the bakery, and noting the T and S printed in stylized font; the boy gaped. "You live in the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie?"

Marinette blinked, "You've been to our bakery before?"

"We had a huge order of Macarons, Cakes, Mille-Feuilles and Croissants for one of our parties." Allegra nodded, "I'm partial to their éclairs myself."

"Oh, you must've been the Catherine Beaumont order. I helped them in preparing everything."

Claude grinned, "Artistically and culinarily gifted? You're a girl of all trades."

She exited their car, and the two students waved her goodbye, saying that they'd see her tomorrow. She made her way inside, the bell above the door signaling her entrance. There were multiple customers present, so she simply waved hello to both her mother and their newly hired employee. "Hey mama, I'm home. Hey, Martin."

The boy waved a hand in response, her mother calling out a similar greeting in the midst of dealing with a customer, and she made her way upstairs. She met her father in the kitchen, taking some water out of the refrigerator. Upon seeing her, he opened his arms for a hug, to which the girl ran into. She sunk into the warmth. "How was it, sweetheart?"

"It was actually pretty good." She leaned back far enough to look up at him. "The people seem very nice, and two people wanted to be my friends."

Tom smiled, relieved. He hugs her for a moment longer, voice gentle, "That's my girl. If there's any problems, you'll tell us, right?"

She thought about just how taken aback they were when she had broke down and told them, how distraught they were and she nodded. "Yes, papa."

Tom ushers her to her room, noting that he had to go back and help downstairs. As soon as she reaches the comfort of her room; she collapses into the comfort of her chaise, and her Kwami nuzzles her cheek. "I'm so proud of you, Marinette. You made it through the day."

Marinette closes her eyes, it was tough in the beginning, but she did make it. She places a hand near Tikki, cupping her hand to stimulate a hug. "Thanks, Tikki."

"Allegra and Claude seem really nice! Maybe having them as friends will be a great thing for you."

Marinette nodded unconsciously, thinking back to their interactions throughout the day, eyeing the wall where her past pictures were once hung and says honestly, "I hope so too."

Chapter Text

Monday, April 29th  —  École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts, Paris, France. 
7:05 am.

Muffled voices sounded from La cour d'Étienne.

Claude walked closer, having been directed here by one of the various students, because everyone knew of Allegra. And she was known to be present at the school at a disgustingly early time — 6:45 am on the dot, as unaffected from the morning air as she usually was. He glanced at the clock in the corridor, it wasn't that far before first period, so Allegra must've taken the girl through the majority of the school already.

The voices drew closer, one of them perhaps a smidge consistent and filled with energy than acceptable for this hour, but given the person she was (— if he was correct in his assumption of their identity), he'd give her grace, she was always like that. One of the voices — filled with awe, was complimenting the massive size of the school. Only the words one would expect from either an important guest visitor, or a new transfer student. He caught a couple words here and there from the other person, clearly from someone who had been here a good while, about how it normally takes many new students to get used to its size.

Walking through the pillars, he spotted the familiar back of a head.

Yep, that was his Allegra. Going on and on with her usual explanation of École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts. With the new transfer student.

Now, if you asked him, Claude Jean-Baptiste would absolutely consider himself a perceptive person. He's always had an inclination of people-watching, even as a child — or, as his cousin had pointed out to him aeons ago, perched upon one of the plush reading chairs, it was called sondering. She had read its meaning with an attempt of a sophisticated tilt to her tiny voice. He's always been much too aware that many had their own complexities to work out — populated with their strong, heavy ambitions. Such as the ever so cunning business people who knew that speaking to, and successfully working out an arrangement with his parents, and his dear aunt and uncle, would certainly push them in the right direction.

He would usually pick up on the many quirks to a person. Before he truly got to know one of his friends, he noted just how deadpan they were constantly. But occasionally, he catches a smirk hiding at the corner of his mouth — and that was kind of intriguing. The boy was like a particularly tricky equation, at the time, and he was determined to figure him out. (And he did.)

He had to be observant as he was, being the thespian he was. It had been instilled in him that one had to work to the expectations and assumptions of the average audience go-er. While on stage, and for anyone trying to discern a character's emotions, he had to do little micro-expressions, or emote with a certain spark that gave any observing person some sort of hint as to what that character was feeling, or hiding.

Claude was well-aware of the image he presents to most, and to be honest, at times, it’s far easier to let people believe he’s simply loud. It gives him leverage, control — it allows him to watch and catalogue without people being any wiser. He's been taught from his mother, who was the most assertive of them all, his father, the most lively, but he was always the most observant.

Additionally, and most importantly, it was a tactic of ease.

When it came to the new transfers, he always employed his trick on the much too nervous ones. When this one girl — cute kid, much to skittish though — looked this close to seeping through the grate above the canals of the school; he played it up, bringing up the secret make-out spots that students employed in the past, bringing a laugh to the kid's face. Allegra was annoyed, but he could see in her eyes that she knew what he was doing.

So, smiling a little to himself; he walked up behind them and reflexively interrupted Allegra's spiel. Her face immediately set in lines of long-suffering endurance, trying her best to escape his grip. And it's there, after gently teasing Allegra, when he directly says his first words to famed Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Really meant to be an ice-breaker, just to put her at ease, because there were many tells that she wasn't relaxed yet — her shoulders were much too stiff, and her eyes were slightly anxious. Also, she was pretty cute.

"So, I assume you're Mlle. Dupain-Cheng? What class is going to be blessed with your pretty face first period?" He was quite aware of the girl's numerous achievements — such her collaboration with Jagged Stone, and her participation in Gabriel Agreste headed competitions. But then, why would she be transferring this late in the school year? It was basically June. From the past transfers that he's overseen with Allegra, he eventually found out that the ones that transferred at a late time mostly did so due to their past schools being constricting environments, whether on their academics or social wise. Therefore, whatever she says would provide useful information. Whatever she says would add to more tells.

She laughed off his words, and unlike some of the new students, she doesn't showcase any of the subtle cues that tell that she's interested in him based on this conversation alone. Thank god, because that wasn't his intention with any of them. "No, no. They're not bothering me."

Mlle. Dupain-Cheng also seemed to be quite sassy — there was a glint in her eyes, something exasperatedly amused that could only come from someone who was well-acquainted with a person as outwardly exuberant as him, "Even I know that's a lie." The amused tilt of her lips was a hint of something cheeky. Her eyes follow his sweeping movements with mirth, and she relaxes a little bit more.

"I'm the person who's gonna make you aware of things that Beaumont here isn't going to tell you — like the fact that the archives is haunted by the ghosts of former teachers, and Mlle. Louise Vallayer-Coster herself." Marinette grinned at that, and he nodded inwardly, so far so good.

"It is not," Allegra bristled. "Stop telling all the new students that!"

He smirks to himself, it was never hard to aggravate the girl. "So what brings you to our lovely École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts? Don't get me wrong, we don't mind accepting the highly praised designer who worked with Jagged Stone, but you did go to another school before this, yes?"

He’s good at picking up non-verbal communication. So, he noted the way she paused at what should have been a simple question. He noted the way her fists had clenched as she stayed silent, her breathing growing much heavier, and the way her eyebrows had narrowed, essentially shadowing her eyes. Almost as if...she was..upset? No, angry was a better word for what he was seeing.

Claude brought a hand on her head to ground her, because really what should he do, to bring her back to the present. Whatever was making her upset at a simple question must have been horrible. Her eyes are wide, when she remembers that she's on a tour, and that she had gone to wherever she went. Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng straightened herself, clearing her throat to give a vacant laugh. Then, her choice of words, as well as her disposition, made him really think.

"I, uh — I want to focus on myself more. In Fashion Design. Yes. Fashion Design. I wanted to develop myself in design more, and I thought that change would be...good for me."

He eyed the way her fists had clenched after saying would be good for me, a tell showcased that what she said wasn't quite correct. Or at least, that it wasn't the full reason.

He’s good at unspoken motivations. And he’s really good at finding out the story. And just from using all of those talents, he'll work out just how to align the numerous fragments of Mlle. Dupain-Cheng into one coherent whole. And just from contemplating this little fragment of Marinette Dupain-Cheng, he knows that something's off. Because while her reason is a plausible one, no one reacts like that just from wanting to develop themselves more. No, as a result to his words, her body language was immediately closed off. Defensive. As if she was prepared for one of them to question her.

Then; after noting her stiffening stature, Claude sees her sky-blue eyes shifted to contain a hint of fear, as if to say please don't push please don't push please don't push — she absolutely wasn't ready to disclose just why she had left. And this, this along with all her other tells, alarms him. Because there's a slight hypothesis forming in his thoughts, a saddening one, but he doesn't have anything concrete to support it. But he's seen this sort of behaviour before, one of his long-time friends depicted this very same underlying aura of anger and sadness when speaking of his old school. And if Mlle. Dupain-Cheng's reasons for her leaving were similar to his reasons for leaving — 

But, it isn't his place. The girl just got here, just met them both, and it wasn't his or Allegra's place to know any of those details. No matter how many of the unfortunate boxes her behaviour's ticking. She clearly wanted a fresh start, to leave everything concerning that matter behind, and he wasn't going to try and force her to let loose any of those feelings she was clearly keeping locked up. It wasn't Claude's place.

So, he plasters a grin on his lips, not a genuine one but enough to get her off the defensive.

And it works — her shoulders relax as soon as he does so.

He gives her one last comforting pat on the head, as he won't do more than that. "Well, you've come to the right school, little lady! Here, we breathe nothing but development." Marinette walks a little ahead of him, seemingly hopeful.

He eyes his cousin with a meaningful look, and she understands. Allegra's worried eyes glance back at his, and he can tell that they're on the same wavelength.

They'll talk about this later.

 


 

Room 04 · The Performing Arts Wing, The Faculty of Creative and Festival Arts,  École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts.
1 0:05 am.

A soft melody fills the air of one of the music rooms while everyone kept busy — a beautiful adagio. She could visualize the story that Amélie was currently playing on the room's piano: The persona's life was once filled with warmth, and they went through life with stars in their eyes, content. But then, there was a shift, and Amélie's notes turn from something capriccioso to gradual forte — something changes, something strong and damaging. It's swift and rapid, stringendo, and there's no way for the persona to have even seen it coming. And then, at it's height, at it's loudest; it drops to pianissimo. It's laced with feeling, something sorrowful, there's a hint of bitterness in there — the persona is heartbroken by the entire thing. And then, there was the hints of furiousity there, the fuoco prominent more towards the end — the persona's heartbreak gradually turns to anger.

Allegra thinks the girl's song is great, but as she overhears her teacher's comment she agrees with the man's words. There's no explanation as to what happened to the persona to result in the change in emotions. Granted, that could've very well been the point, it could have been up to the listener to empathize with the piece and place their own circumstances to it. But usually, there was a hint of an explanation — the early stage could have been accompanied by appassionato, or amore, to signify that a relationship could have been the cause. 

She exhales, since her Geography teacher was absent for the day, she decided to go to her usual music room to do some sort of work. Every other music student, who also had the period free, were in the midst of focusing on their own pieces. However, she couldn't focus on hers. She could afford to, she supposed, she was sure that her piece was perfect — Monsieur Bernard even expressed his satisfaction during her last practice. She would just have to put make sure later today. What her mind was currently on, was her new classmate: Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

Marinette seemed like a nice girl in the short time she took to show her around. Her aura was subdued, reserved, and pleasant, something that was constant in most transfer students. And it certainly didn't help that she had made the poor girl even more nervous. But after a quick apology from her, the girl was much more relaxed and even engaged her into questions about the school. Allegra didn't have to do most of the talking.

Then Claude appeared, and she did relax a bit more — everyone relaxed around Claude. But then Claude asked about the reason for her transfer to École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts, and she trailed off from her surprise at the fact that the girl apparently worked for Jagged Stone, because something changed.

Marinette's disposition suddenly shifted to something pianissimo, more than it already was. Her response was akin to the abrupt mashing of piano keys that Allegra's become accustomed to hearing in the music room. She became stiff, her melody turning feroce, inflamed, angry. Allegra moved forward to see her more — from the side, she could see that her eyes were downwards, eyebrows furrowed. But then Claude soothed her soft, upset tempo — like he usually tended to do, and she relaxed. Marinette drew her eyes to hers, and they were filled with panic, her tempo adagissimo.

The girl straightened herself, attempting to make her melody go leggiero. She cleared her throat, gave a rather empty laugh and said, "Sorry, I spaced out for a moment. I, uh — I want to focus on myself more. In Fashion Design. Yes. Fashion Design. I wanted to develop myself in design more, and I thought that change would be...good for me."

But the anger was still there, underlying, before something else became in relievo — Allegra caught the protruding lacrimoso in her melody. And she eyed Claude, who was already glancing her way, Don't push her for answers. He raised an eyebrow, Later? And she nodded, we're gonna talk about this later.

Throughout the day, the interaction stayed in her mind, because she has absolutely no idea how to explain Marinette's song. What could've possibly happened for the girl to go from nervous, with a hint of scherzando, to absolutely upset. The thing that had tipped her off was her old school, but what could've been so horrible? While few of past transfer students came from somewhat toxic circumstances, she would hate to think of that for the girl.

Allegra can feel  her melody getting inquieto. She wanted to question the girl, wanted to pick out the problem so she could process it, analyse it, and solve it by whatever means necessary, all while providing comfort in anyway that she could. She was never one to stand still when there was a problem. But Claude had given her that look for a reason, had eyed her with as much seriousness as he could muster — it wasn't her place to ask. 

She grumbled, deflating because he was right, as always. It wasn't her place, because if Allegra was reading the girl correctly, she wanted to start anew. And her asking, pushing, prodding at whatever sort of wound Marinette had wouldn't do anyone any good. And she still wanted to help in any way possible, but she couldn't. Not without causing some sort of damage.

The blonde sighed, leaning back into the lounging chair. Damn Claude for being so perceptive.

There was a vibration in one of her blazer pockets, and she fished out the device. There was a message from none other than her ever-omniscient cousin, who just so happened to sense that he was being thought of. She eyed Amélie at the piano, trying to figure out how to tailor her song to their teacher's suggestion, and opened the messenger:

  

PM between Allegra and Claude 
10:15 am.

something tells me that you're worrying 
(10:15 am)

 

She scowled.

 

Aren't you supposed to be in History right now? 
(10: 16 am)

took a bathroom break (10: 16 am)
meet me outside? (10:16 am)

 

She stares down at the message for a moment before eyeing her belongings — they should be fine here, it was always safe in the music room. She tells Monet that she's leaving her stuff behind, just in case, and they wave their assent. She opens the music room door, and upon looking to the left, sees Claude leaned up against the wall, doing something on his phone. His eyes leave it to trail up to hers, and he pockets the device. Allegra shakes her head, "A bathroom break, huh?"

He grinned, "It's on the way. And I'm not missing anything, you know that."

She did, he was never behind on his studies.

They walked until they reached La cour d'Étienne, the rushing water from the fountain punctuating the still air. There were no teachers or security guards patrolling the areas to ensure that students were in their classes. Claude gets straight to the point, raising an eyebrow towards her. "You invited her to lunch."

She shifts where she sat on the bench, saying slowly, "I did."

He allows a knowing smile on his lips, "Just like you to adopt the new students."

But Allegra considers his melody, one that she's able to decipher after how many years of knowing each other. His nervousness is ostinato, quite espressivo. "Only me?"

He closes his eyes and drums his fingers on the stone bench seat, the wind fluttering his brown hair. It's a moment before he speaks again, voice low. "She reminds me of Al'." The blonde's eyes widen, immediately turning her head to him. He doesn't do the same, still glancing forward, though his eyes seemed to focus on nothing in particular.

"Are you sure?"

He nods, "I made sure that she wasn't alone throughout class — she's adorable. But she keeps to herself so...I don't know. Usually, I would just chalk it up to first day nervousness but..." His hand gestures in the air, and she knows he's referring to what happened earlier with Marinette. "She wouldn't be the first transfer student to leave that situation."

It would make sense. Allegra stares down at her feet. There are some ants following each other with bits of food on their backs, all in single file. Yet, some of them are wayward, adjacent to the others. "Maybe it's because she's worked with someone famous? Jealously is usually what leads to it." She seemed to have gone to a public school before, perhaps one of those awful children cornered her constantly. Maybe it was more than one.

"'Legra — "

"Or maybe it's because she's won those contests? With a prominent figure like Gabriel Agreste, I could only imagine — "

"Allegra." She flinches, and glances up to see Claude turned towards her, eyes serious yet understanding. "It's not our place."

She knows. She knows it's not. But she's not content with that. She hadn't know the girl for long, but Marinette seemed too sweet for that. She breathes out noisily. "So we just sit and do nothing? We've never done that with Allan, or Rosette, or Beau, or — "

"You know I'm not saying that." His voice is leveled unlike hers, and his melody is slow and calm against her agitato. "We can't just make her talk about something that she doesn't want to.  You saw her, I don't even think she's even unpacked all of it. She'd just retreat into herself if you push, and that won't help her any. She's a person, not one of your original music pieces to reconfigure."

She straightened, "I never said that!"

Claude's words were soothing, "I know you didn't. But you do understand what I'm saying, right? We can guess all we like, but she doesn't have to give us any answers. She seems as if she just wants to start over, and what she needs right now are some people to surround herself with." He eyed the fluttering of two birds near the fountain, one of them shaking their feathers free from the stray droplets. "Be there for her until she feels as if she can walk on her own — like friends. If she wants to stay, she will and if she doesn't, she won't."

With all of the new transfers, they were always with them as situational friends. Most of them turned into good friends and classmates, even if they weren't best friends, and some didn't, due to being in other classes — yet they never shied away from the two whenever they came across them in the halls, they were still good acquaintances. One of them even turned into their close friend. He was right, as always. She knew he was. She eyes the ants at her feet, they were all now following each other. "Like we've done before."

He nods and she subsequently exhales, "I suppose I'll extend the request for friendship then. And possibly introduce her into our circle?" Their friends were understanding, and never minded, so this wouldn't be an issue.

"We'll tell them this afternoon." Claude eyes her, "If she looks as if she doesn't want to — "

"Back off, I know." 

He nods in satisfaction, eyes back to the birds at the fountain. A comfortable silence lapse between them until she cranes her head to look at the clock in-between one of the pillars. She fumbles to get up, while Claude nonchalantly raises an eyebrow at her haste. "Oh no, it's way past the time for English! And we need to show her where the English room is." 

He stops her with a hand on her shoulder, not even hiding his amused grin. "You go get your things. I'll lead her to the English room."

There's a tilt to her lips, and Allegra can't help the comment, "Providing that you don't get in trouble from Monsieur Sok for skipping his class."

Claude shrugged, eyes alight. "He can't prove a damn thing."

And then they separate, having arrived at an understanding, their melodies equally determined — deciso, their tempos marcia moderato.

Chapter Text

Friday, June 3rd — Through the streets of Paris, France.
8:50 am.

"Sorry! Sorry, sorry — merde. I'm really sorry!"

She didn't mean for this to happen. Nope, absolutely not. She did not want this to happen at all. But it did.

And boy, was it royally screwing her up right now.

Today was quite reminiscent of her past mornings for Collége Françoise Dupont ; in which she once again slept through her alarm, fell out of bed with hardly enough time to eat breakfast and run to school. This slight difference? Instead of her usual outfit that she would have worn, she only had enough time to throw on simple blue hoodie with jeans.

To add to the problematic situation, the difficulty was increased due to the fact that she needed to get to school using the freaking metro. Which landed her being sandwiched between multiple nine to five workers dressed in their business causal attire, her hoodie and their closeness adding to overwhelming heat for the entire ride. In her rush; she sprinted past the intersection — causing a few cars to honk in offense — to which, she called out a quick apology. Additionally; everybody in all of Paris seemed to be occupying the sidewalk she was attempting to sprint, leading Marinette to aggressively bump into countless Parisians. Most of them swear in response, and she hurriedly apologized to those she couldn't help but collide into.

Marinette zipped past the school entrance gates, her heart lodged in her throat. As late as she usually ended up being at her old school, she couldn't afford to do it here. The teachers, as nice as they mostly seemed, would definitely not let her get away with her late entrances. Especially when it was only a few days into her first week. She was lucky enough that the school still accepted her, and she had promised herself, as well as the principal that she would be able to reach on time.

Honestly, she was way too aspirational sometimes.

Somehow, despite the time, there was still a good amount of students walking around in the main courtyard, some that she even recognized from her new class were walking on the large cemented path. She couldn't understand why — Monsieur Colombe was strict concerning time, he'd made that very aware during her past classes. Marinette was almost towards the monument of Mlle. Louise Vallayer-Coster herself, when she collided with someone yet again, only this time, she ended up stumbling backwards.

Squawking, she flailed, and braced herself for impact on the poured concrete.

However, her painful descent was prevented by something catching her before she landed. And, after a moment of realizing that she hadn't fallen flat on her ass; did she open her eyes to glance around, and realize three things:

One, she was only this close from hitting the ground.

Two, her head was absolutely throbbing from her violent crash.

And three, she was currently being held up by a pair of strong, steady arms, and against a broad chest.

Blinking at the wall of a jean-jacket covered chest, a teal shirt on the inside; Marinette brought her eyes up to the owner's face. Golden-brown eyes stared into her blue ones, worry and concern in them. Orange and black headphones were around his neck, and coily hair fluttering slightly. His eyes roamed her face for any sign of something wrong.

" 'm glad I caught you." The dark-skinned boy said, voice with a slight accented tilt to it, effortlessly bringing her back into a standing position. "Are you okay? You could've really gotten hurt."

Marinette nods, straightening her clothes. Some students glanced over them curiously before redirecting their attention to whatever they were doing before. "I'm fine, thanks."

"You're in a hurry," the girl turned her head and noticed Claude just then, standing a little away from them. He didn't seem alarmed at her near slip up, sipping some drink in a lavish packaging, eyeing her in unconcealed amusement. She narrowed her eyes, it was slowly starting to become comfortable to playfully snark at him. "Where's the fire?"

The young designer then furrowed her eyebrows, "Don't we have a double of Math right now?"

Claude blinked in confusion, before smacking his forehead in realization. "La vache, we forgot to tell you. Sorry Marinette, we usually have the two periods free. Monsieur Colombe usually can't make it this early."

Marinette took a moment to pause at that, the perilous events of her morning up to this point running through her head. Her brain was internally screaming at the fact that she really had traveled all this way in haste, pushing people out of her way accidentally — she's pretty sure she almost tripped a poor child, not eaten enough of her breakfast —  her father's deliciously made pancakes, for nothing.

She attempted to hide the most likely high-pitched whine that threatened to leave her throat and said, her voice weak, "It's okay."

It didn't seem to work, given the way Claude's eyebrows furrowed in concern, but then — 

"Wait — Marinette?" The other boy's eyes widened, "As in, our new classmate Marinette?"

She nodded slowly, and Claude took that moment to spontaneously extend his arm that wasn't holding the drink, voice dropping to the ombre of a TV-show announcer. "Mlle. Dupain-Cheng, may I introduce you to your saviour, Monsieur Allan Montgomery. He's the one that was stuck in the dance workshop."

Allan Montgomery gave a polite wave, "It's nice to finally meet you, Marinette. Allegra and Claude already told me so much about you."

Marinette furrowed her brows, finally? already? She eyed Claude, "Really? I haven't heard that much about you." Claude gave nothing away, only taking a swig of his drink once more, eyes blank.

It was only after a moment when Marinette realized that her words might have been considered rude, and she winced. Her fatigue really wasn't going to be considerate on her basically functioning today huh? "I — I mean! Sorry, I didn't mean it like that, I just — "

But Allan shook his head, no offense visible in his eyes, and he simply raised a single eyebrow towards Claude, voice dry and amused, "So 'm not good enough to get a proper pre-introduction? Wow Claude, I thought we really had something special." The effect was heightened by the folding of his arms.

He huffs a laugh, "You were gonna see her today anyway, so I didn't bother." Then, Claude's demeanor shifts into something flirtatious, voice dropping low. "You know that I would never pass up the oppurtunity to speak on and on about you, sweetheart." Yet, there was nothing inherently amorous or tender about it, it seemed to just be Claude being himself.

"Mmm-hmm," was all Allan simply said before pointedly turning his body away, redirecting his attention to her. "Well now, you'll have tons to speak about me since you'll be alone for the day." Claude choked on air, affronted, and Allan looked at her, an amused glint in his eyes. She smiled. "Make sure to make me sound good."

"Allan!" He was aghast, contrite, and playfully so. Some students around curiously eyed the interaction, a few with entertained grins. "Allan, you know I didn't mean to!"

And instead of sympathy in Allan's voice, there was mocking indifference, "Excuses, excuses."

Marinette eyed their banter. So this was another person she had to contemplate. Throughout the week, she found herself mostly hanging around Claude and Allegra, while still trying to assimilate into her new class. And even though they extended the offer of friendship, even though she was enjoying their company, Marinette was well aware of the effects of being faced with a new environment: You seek familiarity. And the novelty of familiarity can only last for so long. Things can change. People can change.

So, as much as she hoped that things would be better, she had no guarantee for that. With the addition of more people — people who have already been long-term friends by the sound of it, there was only so much one would spend on the new transfer kid. So this — whatever they had right now — may not last, or even develop further.

But she had promised Tikki — had promised herself that she wouldn't let her bad experience dictate future ones. So all she could do was wait, and observe. Allan seemed nice enough. And yet, so had her old classmates when they all first met: Juleka, Alix, Nino, Alya

Marinette pushed down that pang of hurt. Now was not the time to deal with that. The adrenaline had finally worn off, fatigue taking its place — she was too tired for it.

"How am I to go on without you?"

Allan waved him off, "You'll survive somehow." He then turned to her, gesturing for her to walk first. She adjusted the bag on her back, stepping forward. "So, Mlle. Marinette, I heard that you're a fashion designer?" Claude trailed next to them, a pout on his lips.

"Well — an aspiring one anyway." She waved off the statement. "I still have a long way to go."

Claude scoffed as they reached the front door entrance, pushing the doors open. "You've literally won a contest headed by Gabriel Agreste and had your design worn by his son. I think you've gotten a good mile more than others."

As assuring as the statement should have been, she was limited from doing anything else pertaining to fashion design. She tried her best to creatively make do with what she could afford, and also, "Are you telling me that people here don't go to local and internationally exclusive fashion shows?" She could only dream of attending anything like Paris Fashion Week, of being in the presence of such high profile brands like Dior, or Chanel, or even Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, and American and Parisian designers alike. She had to settle for catching the highlights from online articles, or YouTube videos that somehow got actual clips from the event.

Claude deflated at that, staying silent because really, she was absolutely right. A laugh escaped Allan, and his eyes were incredibly delighted. "Thank god, finally — someone else that I can complain with about all these damn rich people. There aren't that many people like me in our class — can't help but feel out of my depth sometimes, yunno?"

She could empathize — passing through the halls and talks of maids, chauffeurs and lavish parties was enough to disconcert anyone. "Tell me about it," she murmured.

The three of them made their way to the library, the room marked with a plague in a stylized inscription adjacent to its doors: La Bibliothèque Étudiante Pierre Thomas (The Pierre Thomas Student Library), followed with a brief history and vision of the room's inception. Marinette halted her steps in the doorway, gazing around the room in muted awe. The room was quite grand, with wooden bookshelves containing numerous books as far as the eye could see. There was an upstairs portion to it as well, accessible by multiple staircases. Most of the sitting areas seemed to be in the middle of the room, yet there seemed to be some in-between the rows of bookshelves. The chairs looked plush, and the few students that were in here were either in the midst of reading or studying, or speaking with their respective friends.

Allan noted her gaping, not bothering to hide his smile. He wrote his name in the student's book, "Damn rich people, huh?"

Marinette blew her bangs from her face. She hadn't had a reason to enter the library for the past few days, so one could excuse her surprise at what she saw. She quickly wrote her name down.

Claude walked on ahead, eyes seeming to be scanning for something. A few of her other classmates caught her eye, sending her polite waves, which she returned. Once he spotted what he was looking for, he gestured for the two to follow him. He lead them to a table where Allegra and a pale blond-haired boy was sitting, seemingly in the midst of a conversation. His eyes caught them approaching first, slowly marking the page of the book in his hands. Allegra followed his line of sight, and she smiled in greeting, demure and pleasant. "Salut, Marinette! Allan."

The two of them returned with a greeting of their own, while her cousin scowled, "It's too early to be a brat."

The boy Allegra was originally sitting with raised a single eyebrow, tone dry. "It's after nine."

"Too early."

The boy simply shrugged, eyes half-lidded, "Not our problem that you're not a morning person." Allan simply watched the interaction, leaning backwards into his chair amusedly. His cousin only exhaled heavily, placing her head in propped up hand as she observed — clearly, this was a usual occurrence.

"Unbelievable — you're gone for four days and you come back and you immediately start hating on me."

"Gone for four days because you contaminated me with your germs." He calmly said, "I'm still sick by the way."

"Allan, do you see this?" Claude gestured wildly, "Our friends are being unbelievably rude before ten!"

Said boy was currently fiddling with his headphones, not even sparing him a glance. "Marinette, Allegra, you hear something?"

"You know what, Allan? I actually do not."

Affronted, he throws his hands up and speaks before Marinette could even answer. Then again, perhaps that was a good thing considering that she was absolutely going to answer in the negative. She wasn't even bothering to hide her amusement. "I don't need any of this." He dropped himself into his chair, arms folded. "Marinette wouldn't treat me like this."

"You haven't even give her the chance to do so." The blond-haired boy pointed out, and he scowled.

Allegra sent her a smile, placing a hand out in introduction. "Marinette, this is Félix, another one of our friends."

"I'm second guessing that classification." Claude quipped.

The blond-haired boy — Félix — appraised her from where he sat, expression passive. He, like many of the students at the school, dressed in a way that seemed to emulate his background. His sage sweater with a dress shirt underneath, combined with the combed-back hair made him look every bit of sophisticated, but not out of place with the school. And yet, despite him looking every bit as different in appearance, despite his light blueish-gray that could never be green ones; his facial features were shaped like someone quite familiar. Someone like...

Like Adrien.

Félix hesitantly glanced towards the others in confusion, blinking at her staring before attempting a, "Um, hello?"

There was a slight nudge, to pointedly snap her out of whatever she was in, and she jumped. Claude eyed her from where he sat and she blanched, "Sorry, sorry. It's nice to meet you." She extended her hand quickly in an attempt of politeness, and he did the same, hesitating a bit before shaking it slowly. Marinette exhaled, closing her eyes for a moment. "I'm just... I'm just really tired. And you just reminded me of...someone I used to know."

He stared at her wordlessly, and the glint in his eyes shifted to...what she could only describe as understanding. But at what, she had no idea. And before she could ponder it further, Allegra leaned forward in her vision, her eyes narrowed in concern.

"Tired? Would you like one of us to get you a coffee or something from one of the stations?"

She shrunk slightly as all their eyes were now focused on her. "N — no!" She waved her hands. "No, no — I'll be fine. I'll wake up eventually."

Claude nodded once, leaning back into his chair. "You came in such a rush this morning. You travel using the metro, right? How come you don't use the school's shuttle service?"

Principal Moreau had recommended it to her parents back at their meeting before her first week, given the distance from her house to here. But, Marinette at the time had felt that she would be able to make it without any problems. Oh, how naive of her. "I thought I wouldn't need it," she drooped slightly in her seat. "I guess I should probably put myself on the register." 

There would be benefits, she wouldn't have to walk past her old school again. She needed to speak with Principal Moreau.

"By the way," Allan started. "How's your first week been? I know for me it was pretty overwhelming."

"It's been okay, everyone seems nice so far." Marinette said. "I just never thought that the different Art departments would be so big." She still wasn't used to room for Clothing and Decorative Design class, and she still had yet to really personalize her work station.

Félix raised an eyebrow, "What art are you focusing on?"

This was good, she could have a lengthy conversation with new people about this. "I'm focusing on Fashion Design. I still have a lot to learn, but I try my best to experiment with different things, like shirts, and hats, and bags and stuff."

Allegra smiled, "Do you wear any of your designs? What do you usually like to make?" 

"I usually do — a lot of my clothes are ones that I've sown." Marinette contemplated, "I'm partial to jewelry really, but I really just like creating things."

Félix regarded her for a moment, "How resourceful of you."

She slowly nodded. Félix was making an attempt within the conversation, despite not saying much. He seemed to be pretty stoic, though that could have been due to her being a newcomer. She couldn't fault him. "What about you guys?" She knew that Claude was focused on Theater, and Allegra in Music. Allan was noted to be part of a dance workshop so...

"You already know that I'm a thespian." Claude grinned, ignoring the responding groans from his friends. "But yeah, I'm really drawn to all types of stage acting — plays, musicals, it doesn't matter."

Allan smiled, "Claude's amazing. Y' should see him up on stage, he's a natural."

The brunet waved him off, "Oh stop, Allan." But then he grinned, and Marinette couldn't help her smile. "I'm joking, keep going."

"I'm much more on the musical side of the Arts." Allegra cut in, "I'm an enthusiast of classical music and instruments, and I'm a flautist myself."

"She can also sing," Allan cut in.

Claude snorted, muttering, "If you can call that screeching singing."

The blonde eyes her cousin for a moment, eyes narrowed. Had it not been for where they currently were, and possibly because of Marinette herself, the blue-nette didn't doubt that she would have throw something at him. Marinette wouldn't have thought Allegra to be the sort of person to deviate from her reserved nature, but then she remembered her first encounter with the girl. She wasn't simply demure. The designer smiled, "What about you, Allan?"

The boy grinned, "I'm a dancer. I've just always like to move, ever since I was a baby — or so my mom says anyway."

Félix nodded, "Allan's participated in Juste Debout already." Marinette's eyes widened. Juste Debout was a big event, an international dance competition held in multiple countries as well as France, that focused on street dance styles. There was somewhat of a proud note in Félix's voice, and Allan subsequently became bashful.

"Whoa."

"I still can't believe you didn't place first." Claude scoffed.

Allan shook his head, "The people who won were so much better. I was jus' glad for the experience."

Allegra then gestured to Félix, "And Félix here is simply sensational on the piano."

He scoffed, eyes downwards. "I'm hardly any good."

"Please, don't let him fool you." Claude cut in. "Once, he played a piece that actually made me cry — it was beautiful."

"Making you cry isn't that hard of a feat," Félix quipped, but there was a slight tilt to his lips, his eyes cast downwards — he was absolutely flattered

"Y' should hear him play sometime," Allan grinned, having caught the same thing she did. "He and Allegra are usually in the same music room."

Marinette would've politely said that she would like to, had it not been for the sharp vibration of her phone in her pocket. "Sorry," She fished it out, hurriedly answering it before it stopped ringing. "Hello?" 

The voice at the other end had her freeze in her seat, catching the attention of Claude. He observed the way she paused before glancing around at them all, before standing up, "E — Excuse me — I have to..." He waves a hand, watching as she walked far away from them, close to the library entrance.

Félix watches her walk away as well, and they make eye-contact.

Allan smiles at where she once sat, "She's cute. Like a tiny, impressionable newborn baby."

Allegra nods slightly in agreement, "Ugh. I almost offered her a ride with us on the afternoons, since she took it up Monday."

The blond raised an eyebrow, leaning back into his chair. "It was possibly for the best that you didn't. You could've made it seem as if you were doing it because she's new, or because she's not as well off as us. And that wouldn't be beneficial for any of us." Claude is glad that Félix was as perceptive as he was.

The girl straightened at his words, and Allan nodded, "He's right. If any of you 'ad offered me that during my first week, I would've steered clear from you guys."

His cousin exhaled heavily, placing a hand to her face for a moment. "Thank goodness I didn't then."

Claude hummed, eyeing where Marinette stood. She seemed distressed while she spoke with whomever was on the other side of that conversation. She then ended her call, standing still for a few moments before walking back over. She was much straighter, and her fingers drummed on the top of the study table — whatever she had just heard had somewhat worried her.

Despite that, she aimed a small, polite smile at everyone. "Sorry, you guys." Marinette then directed her attention to Félix. "So, how long have you been playing piano?"

Claude leaned back into his chair, cataloging that for later, focusing on his friend's answer instead.

 


 

Madame Bustier's Class ·  Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France.
9:10 am.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.

Caline's pen constantly hit the edge of her table irritably, its obnoxious clicking matching the pounding in her head. The woman was restless as she scanned over her report to submit to Monsieur Damocles, her eyes this close to glazing over, and she passed a hand through her reddish-orangish hair. It was out for the day, since she couldn't bother placing it in her usual bun.

She had been mostly committed to this report over the past few days, and thanks to Marinette's account; she had detailed every single activity in Mlle. Lila Rossi's lies and bullying:

 

On April 24, 2019, one Mlle. Lila Rossi cornered Mlle. Marinette Dupain-Cheng in the girl's restroom. According to Mlle. Dupain-Cheng, she attempted to request that Mlle. Rossi stop lying about numerous details — including but not limited to, a hearing disability, which Mlle. Rossi has used to rearrange the classroom seating arrangements. This led to Mlle. Dupain-Cheng to be designated to the back, and separated away from her peers.

However, according to Mlle. Dupain-Cheng's account, Mlle. Rossi instead gave her an ultimatum: to stop trying to prove that she was lying, and go along with everything, or she would forcibly ensure that Mlle. Dupain-Cheng lose any friendships that she held within the class. This has led to Mlle. Dupain-Cheng almost being akumatized numerous times, and  —  as she did not go along with Mlle. Rossi's demands — the quite negative outlook of her former classmates, all of which, were the reasons for her departure.

 

Pertaining to her supposed hearing disability, Caline had survey the girl's school file —  there was nothing of the sort noted there. Additionally, Mlle. Rossi's numerous discrepancies concerning her absences still had yet to be included. Marinette had voiced her concerns about the girl lying about her whereabouts, and, upon reviewing attendance records, her absences were always backed up by a signed excuse. Then again; it was per the Collège Françoise Dupont School Code that parents be notified about the excuses provided, so she would've thought that Monsieur Damocles would've, at the very least, investigated the truth to these claims.

Then again, maybe she should've as well.

Caline exhaled heavily. She had left a voicemail on her mother's answering machine earlier, to hopefully set up a meeting and to see whether the woman's answers matched her daughter's. There was the possibility of her mother not even knowing the depth of Mlle. Rossi's time at school, given the woman's demanding job — which she couldn't necessarily fault, as she had seemed interested in her daughter's academics. She could only be in so many places at once. And if her mother did not know, then that meant that Mlle. Rossi was going to exceptional lengths to keep it that way — which would explain the signatures on the provided excuses: they could have very well been forged.

Her fingers wrung themselves together in anxiety. The burn of shame flamed her cheeks just then, leaving the remnants of remorse on her face. The events that last Thursday—  that Thursday when Marinette had had enough, enough to bring her to tears — played on repeat in her head, akin to a worn film tape rolling over and over in her thoughts.

How could she, as a teacher, not have even noticed any of these events? How could she, as a teacher, not have been able to prevent these instances, and furthermore, prevent Marinette's departure. Throughout the school day, it essentially became her main thought, haunting her mind with a penitent chime. How could she, as a teacher, have been so careless towards one of her students?

Caline groaned softly, eyeing the rest of her students. She had given them the period free, so she could focus on this report — they were ahead for two days anyway, so she could afford to. Most of them were in their usual friend groups, in the midst of their various conversations. Some — like Nathaniel — were engaged in their own individual activities. No one seemed to have noticed Marinette's absence yet, though she supposed that may have been due to the fact that the girl usually came late. She glanced towards the first two desks on the right — Mlle. Césaire was the midst of a conversation with Nino, Adrien and...Mlle. Rossi.

Mlle. Rossi had certainly adapted well into her class, seemingly being so amiable and coming from an interesting, voyaging background. She also, had certainly crept her way into Marinette's personal friendships within the class. Now that she was observing them, actually paying attention, she and Mlle. Césaire seemed to be quite close now — the Italian girl currently seemed to be speaking at length about something, with Mlle. Césaire looking at her wonder. 

She had questioned about the seating arrangements that everyone else had made — apparently it was done without her consent, and the fact that Mlle. Césaire saw no problem with subjecting her friend to the back of the class, away from her friends, without her consent was beyond her. And while Marinette hadn't gone into specifics into how she currently felt about the girl, the way she spoke about Mlle. Césaire, the definite bitterness in her words, made it quite clear that she was absolutely hurt over the circumstances.

Why had she left it to the class to be sorted out?

Furthermore, the fact that all of her classmates saw no problem with that was additionally concerning — did Mlle. Rossi really have them all that fooled? Then again, for a moment, so was she. So no wonder Marinette had had enough, she couldn't imagine having to endure that constantly, never having anyone believe in her and feeling as if there was no one to go to. After submitting this report, and Mlle. Rossi was dealt with; she would have to speak to them about their actions.

Mlle. Rossi attempted to be demure in her laughter, shuffling closer to Adrien who inconspicuously leaned away, an anxious glint in his eyes — that was interesting. In fact, as Caline observed them more, the only people seeming enamored with whatever Mlle. Rossi was say was Mlle. Césaire and Nino only.

Adrien seemed — what could only be described as weary. With his apathetic demeanor, he wasn't participating in the conversation as much as the other three were, and his eyes were tilted downwards. The only times he ever seemed to contribute where whenever he was prompted to by the others, mostly Mlle. Rossi.

But for what reason? Caline furrowed her brows — Adrien was a polite, yet reserved person, and she suspected that it may have had to do with the fact that he only now went through public schooling. So in the beginning, she checked up on him; constantly ensuring that he wasn't having any problems adapting into her class. But the students seemed enamored with him, and he had made fast friends with the likes of Nino. She asked him questions about how he was doing with this new change, and he always related to her that he never had any problems. So she backed off little by little.

But now, as she looked at him, she wondered if she should've have kept that up. Was the girl making him uncomfortable? Was he experiencing the same circumstances that Marinette did? Had that slipped past her as well? Maybe she should ask him to stay back to question —

"Mme. Bustier?" The teacher blinked, redirecting her attention to Rose, who was now hesitantly standing before her table.

The woman winced. She had caught the unsure expressions of her students when she had entered, and had most likely noted that she wasn't in the mood, especially if she was giving them a free period. And she hadn't addressed them as much, save for checking their attendance and giving them the instruction to be quiet. So, she supposed that they would be concerned.

Caline cleared her throat, placing some hair behind her ear. "How can I help you, Rose?"

The girl seemed to relax, and it was only then did she notice the book in her hands. "Do you know if Marinette is sick?" Her blue eyes were filled with concern, eyes glancing downwards. "Everyone's been calling her ever since last week, and she hasn't picked up. I wanted to show her an idea I had." 

Well, someone would've noticed sooner or later, even if the majority hadn't. There were multiple things one could've said about Marinette's attendance, but she eventually came to class — the fact that Marinette hadn't been at school for about a week was out of character for her, and was something that most would have noted. The girl had already made her aware that she wasn't going to be taking any calls from her previous classmates, on the basis that she didn't want to have any connections with anyone from the class, save for her. Caline supposed she understood, but was saddened by how hurt the girl truly was. When asking her if she should keep her whereabouts hidden from them, as the woman wasn't liable to actually disclose that information, Marinette had said "You can tell them if you want. If they truly have questions, and won't blame me for anything ridiculous, they can come ask me themselves. Just please don't tell them where I've transferred to."  

So she sighed, lowly answering, "Unfortunately; I'm afraid that Marinette doesn't go here anymore, Rose. She — "

To be honest; she should've presumed that whatever response Rose gave to her words would only be alarmed. Because sure enough; the girl's eyes widened, and her incredulous voice carried throughout the class, drawing everyone's attention to her table. "What do you mean Marinette doesn't go here anymore?!"

Caline noted the exact moment Rose's words had sunk in, and then the class erupted:

"Marinette's not going here anymore?"

"What?!"

"That can't be true!"

"There's no way she just left without so much as a single goodbye to any of us."

The teacher sighed for a moment, her headache intensifying slightly. For god's sake, why couldn't she do things right for once? She slowly reached for one of the poetry books on her desks, contemplating its weight — it was heavy enough, and certainly would be loud enough — before slamming it on the top of her desk. The resounding thud promptly brought everyone to silence — worried, questioning silence — and all their concerned eyes on her. 

"Yes, everyone." She eyed them, "I'm afraid that Marinette isn't a student here anymore."

The chatter started up again, everyone glancing to each other in horrified confusion. But amidst the class' surprise and dismay; Caline noted that the only person whom wasn't betraying how they felt, was Mlle. Rossi — she noted the rigid way the girl was holding herself, her passive expression way too blank to be considered casual, and the woman clenched the arm of her chair.

Mlle. Césaire stood up, her eyes shimmering with hurt. "Are you sure, Mme. Bustier? Marinette wouldn't just leave without saying something!"

"I helped her with finalizing her paperwork, Mlle. Césaire. So yes, I'm sure."

Mlle. Césaire flinched back at that, expression unbelieving for a moment, before slipping into resolution. Caline eyed the way she now stood straight — she knew that the girl was not the type to let something go when it wasn't to her liking. She was too headstrong sometimes. Her not having any sort of answers due to Marinette's abrupt leaving meant that she was going to get them herself.

She would have to call Marinette after this.

The rest of her students exchanged distressed or confused glances in silence for a moment — even Chloe, who she knew had never gotten along with the girl was shocked. And then, another student raised their hand in question — Caline had to conceal her immediate fury at seeing Mlle. Rossi's eagerness, and simply nodded to acknowledge her. "Do you know why she left, Mme. Bustier? It just seems so weird that she left so suddenly." Her eyes were too wide, trying to emulate an incredibly concerned student. 

She eyed the faces of her students at that. She couldn't let on the true reason why the girl left, not yet. That would cause more issues, and if Mlle. Rossi was as committed to lying as she was, that would cause more lies. Caline didn't exactly have evidence as yet, and couldn't have the girl alerted that she was on to her.

So she cleared her throat, "I'm afraid that you'll have to ask her yourselves. I'm not even sure either."

She could see it now in Mlle. Rossi, the assessment: Anxious. Upset. Tired. Unknowing. Nothing to worry about.

Caline kept her expression deceptively blank. Good. Because as of now, if she wanted this to go as she wanted, that's how Mlle. Rossi needed to see her. She mimed checking her phone — Marinette needed to be alerted sooner rather than later.

"If you all can go back to your previous activities — I'll be stepping outside for just a moment."

The woman fixes her gaze forward, pointedly not taking a glimpse at whatever expressions they had at her answer, and began to leave the room. The moment the door to her classroom is shut, she takes a deep breath, her thumb pressing down.

 


 

La Bibliothèque Étudiante Pierre Thomas · École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts, Paris, France.
9:45 am. 

"Hello?" 

"Marinette, this is Mme. Bustier." 

What was the reason, Marinette thought, freezing in her chair, that she was calling her? She hadn't been lying when she told her that she wanted to stay in contact, because the woman had helped her in the end, but she wasn't expecting anything this soon.

One way to find out, She caught the eyes of her table-mates. Right. She couldn't stay on the phone here.

After excusing herself, she walked towards the entrance where there wasn't anyone save one of the librarians and stood. "Sorry about that, what is it?"

The woman's voice was weary, tired. "Oh, were you in class? Did I pull you out?"

She eyed the working librarian, eyes focused on their book. "No, I have the first two periods free right now."

Silence on the line between them. Just like the silence between them in the classroom last Thursday, when she was vulnerable and exposed and drained, and when she gave the woman time to digest her splurge of thoughts and to think. 

"Mme. Bustier." She would be patient. "What is it?"

A drawn-out, jaded breath. "Someone finally questioned your absence — Rose actually. They...I told them that you've transferred."

Oh. Oh. She — she supposed that it was time for them to know anyway. It was Friday, she had been absent for a little over a week now. "Right. Right. Uh — how were...how did they take it?" They must have been surprised, because they clearly were just expecting her to get over herself and calm down. They were expecting her to play nice with Lila. They weren't expecting her to leave. 

A slow breath. “Confused mostly. Shocked. From their perspective, they didn't think you would just leave."

Of course they wouldn't.

"But the real reason why I'm calling — Marinette, you know they'll have questions."

She knew. It was something the woman had brought up during their school-scouting, which was why she questioned whether or not to disclose everything. She knows that they'll be blowing up her old phone, that has yet to be thrown out, stored in that drawer. She exhaled heavily, leaning against the wall. "I know. I'm expecting it." 

A slow breath. Pointedly, "Mlle. Césaire will have some questions."

Marinette shuddered out a breath. Right. Right. Alya wasn't one to sit quietly in the face of uncertainty. In the destruction from akumas and their victims, in the attempts of herself and Chat Noir, she always placed herself in the midst of it, usually running. She wasn't going to just let this fly by. "How — how was...?"

"I could see it in her eyes." Mme. Bustier's voice was assured. "She's going to come see you eventually."

Eventually meant as soon as possibletoday even, and she clenched her fist. "Right." God — she really just couldn't deal with Alya right now. She knows that she'll be loud in her hurt and confusion, assuming with her cutting words, demanding answers and there's just not enough energy within her to deal with that yet. She doesn't know if there ever will be.

Deep breath. She couldn't afford do deal with this now, not here.

"Marinette?" Concern from the other end. Tikki moved against the back of her neck, concealed by her hoodie. Marinette realized she was holding her breath and made herself exhale.

"And Lila? How did she react?"

A short, sardonic laugh escaped her. It took a moment before she answered, "Satisfied with herself. I could tell that she was, despite her best efforts to pretend otherwise." 

Of course she was. She had to be, what with Marinette absent from throwing a wrench in her lies. If Adrien wasn't going to do anything — which she doubted that he was, he was very firm in taking the high road; Lila was now free to have things the way she wanted, to control her classmates any how she wanted. 

The slight anger in the woman's voice calmed her somewhat. She had told her that she'd make sure that Lila was taken care of, and she knew that the teacher would. "Thank you for telling me." She wouldn't have known what to do if she had walked home and unexpectedly encountered an upset Alya.

"Of course, Marinette." The weariness crept back into her voice, and she spoke before the slightly awkward air grew even more so. "I suppose I'll have to get back to my report. I hope that the rest of the day is good for you."

"Thank you...and the same to you."

Marinette listened to the silence after Mme. Bustier hung up, before eventually pocketing her phone.

She needed to call her mother. 

Chapter Text

Wednesday, April 24th —  Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie, Paris, France.
4:34 pm.

Nothing during the slow, serene day would have prepared Sabine for this. 

This being their daughter, who hadn't too long come from school upset. Upset, and crying.

They were all currently gathered in the living room. It had been a rush — the last customer had just been out the door, their new employee Martin hadn't even left for home, and the unsold bread and pastries still needed to be put away, but they would do it one at a time. She quickly sent the concerned young boy home, she would put away the bread and everything. She locked the bakery door, turning the sign from open to closed, and had crested the stairs to the living room to sort this out.

Her daughter looked small, curled up on the couch in the midst of the room. Her husband, who was currently trying to calm her down, had taken to acting as a sort of cocoon. But his massive size dwarfed her, making her appear even tinier — and gods, Sabine was right by their side in a second, her heart swelling with that bone-deep protectiveness, howling at her to protect her protect her protect her.

The last time Marinette had truly cried, of this magnitude, Sabine thought distantly, it was borne from pure frustration from messing up a project of hers. So — what happened today that caused this

"I just — I just c-can't do it anymore —" There was something akin to a sob, painful despite her daughter's lack of breath. " — no one believes me. I — I was almost akumatized —" Her face crumpled as she broke off, turning her head to curl up into her husband's torso.

Her mind blared, and something in her turned to ice. 

Tom straightened, and his expression was filled with genuine horror. "Akumatized? Marinette, what —"

"Tom," she firmly said, and he promptly cut himself off, but his golden eyes were pained. And she understood. The very idea of their daughter being exploited, manipulated by a consistent terrorist was stomach-churning. The fact that Marinette had narrowly escaped that — that monster's hold made her undeniably sick

So yes, she definitely understood. But it wouldn't do any of them good if they overwhelmed her when she was already in clear distress, and have Marinette work herself up to akumatization again. She couldn't have her daughter in Hawkmoth's unforgiving clutches. She wouldn't allow it.

Therefore, despite her tumultuous thoughts, she pitched her voice low. Low and calming. Because gods, she needed her calm. "Mari, xiǎo tián tián — " Sweetheart. " — I need you to calm down a bit, okay?"

Marinette acknowledged her, yet she choked on her breath in an attempt to calm down — like she was drowning, like she was dying, and Sabine's heart twisted painfully. She shut her eyes tight, because she needed a moment, a moment to calm herself —  she couldn't falter, not now. She took a minuscule look at Tom from her periphery, who had been staring in horrified silence. She needed to be the calm one for everyone. "I understand that you're upset, but you need to calm down a bit. Okay, sweetie? You can do it."

It had definitely taken some time: Afternoon had turned into evening. Dusk made its way onto the Parisian horizon, the orange light pouring through the window. Marinette's sobs turned into sniffles, and from sniffles into little sporadic hiccups. And she waited. And waited. And waited. She would stay by her daughter's side all night if she had to, and she knew Tom would do the same.

Eventually, Marinette had calmed down a significant amount and was able to speak. Softly and still crying, but clearly. And she explained about some classmate named Lila Rossi, and how much of a liar the girl was. About how she had cornered her in the bathroom, had threatened to isolate her from her friends, which had made the akuma come after her. About the sudden turn of her classmates. And as her daughter went on, she stared. Stared, and stared and stared in fury that only a mother would have. Because she couldn't comprehend that her daughter was being bullied. Couldn't make a visible link to it. How dare this little girl — 

Tom eyed her for a moment, before motioning his chin towards the kitchen. "How about you make her some tea, honey?"

She knew what he was doing. And he shamelessly stared her in the face, not saying anymore. But she eventually stood up, ignoring the pulse of anger that repeated they needed to fix this they needed to fix this right now. "Of course," she softly said. "I'll be right back, bǎo bèi." I'll be right back, baby.

She eyed her husband, who bobbed his head in silent assent — i'm not going anywhere, just get some warm tea to help calm her down some more, and she made her way to their kitchen. 

Tea. She could do tea.

 


 

Marinette shakily accepted the cup of tea from her, a small hiccup escaping her lips. "Thanks, Maman."

They sat in silence once more, with Marinette still in Tom's arms, and Sabine comfortingly patting her head. And she waited until the girl had downed her cup, until she was full of warm tea before she attempted to broach the topic again. "Are you ready to continue, 宝宝 (baby)?" Because if she wasn't, she wait until tomorrow, keep her home until they got this sorted out.

But Marinette nodded, and she took the cup away from her, placing it on their coffee table.

"It's just — my whole class —" Marinette's words were dead and dull. "It's almost as if I haven't gone through école élémentaire with them."

Sabine still can't wrap her head around it — The whole class? Those nice children who she's let into their home ever since her daughter was around eight? All of them? Even sweet Alya?

She and Tom were always on the same wavelength. He raised an eyebrow, "Everyone? Even Alya?"

"Alya practically threw me at the back of the fucking class!" She bristled, raising her head and fixing them with a sharp stare, a furious fire burning in those eyes of hers. Sabine didn't bother reprimanding her for her language, and neither did her husband — she was somewhat past the stage of sadness, and was now into anger. Marinette needed to let this out.

Sure enough, just a second later, she let out a gusty exhale, anger and anguish shimmering in her blue eyes, and she shook her head. "I — I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be yelling.”

"It's fine, sweetheart."

Marinette continued as if Tom hadn't spoken, “It's just — I wouldn't have minded trading seats with her so she could sit with Nino. They're still in the early stages of figuring out their feelings and they want to spend every moment they can with each other. I get that." She chuckled, the noise bitter and mirthless. "But she didn't even ask me. She wanted to be close to Nino but didn't even think of the fact that I may have wanted to be close to my friends. No one thought about that."

There must have been some sort of misunderstanding — Alya didn't seem like the type of girl to just not ask. "Did she know that she didn't have your consent?" Which, Sabine will admit, sounds like a nonsensical question, but she's trying to make sense of it all.

She sighs, "Maybe Lila got into contact with everyone separately and made up some sort of lie to separate me and not make Alya question it — because they apparently all knew about Lila coming back to school before I did. But...she had no idea at that point that I knew that she was lying. She didn't know who I even was. So I ruled that out. Alya probably thought I wouldn't mind, but she didn't ask me." Marinette burrowed more into Tom, "And when I — when I said that it was unfair, everyone just brushed me off. Everyone got to sit with their friends and partners and...didn't think twice about me."

I should have been paying attention, Sabine berated herself, because she had noticed that Marinette was a little off for the past few days. But at the time, Marinette hadn't given any indication that it was this bad. I should’ve noticed she was upset, I should’ve questioned her about it earlier but I didn’t, and now…

"A— and they — Alya — acted as if I was only like this because of my crush on Adrien." She continued, "Which, okay I get. I haven't been the best person when it comes to that aspect." An expression crossed her face that spoke of such deep shame, "I've done a lot of things that I'm...not proud of. I have had my crush on him dictate how I act to some people. And yeah, following Adrien and Lila was because I was initially jealous. I'm guilty of that, and I was completely wrong. But I've immediately tried to fix anything I did wrong."

Her voice was cold, "I helped Adrien work things out with Kagami because it didn't matter that he liked someone else, he needed advice from a friend — and they knew that. Alya, and everyone else knew that. We had a whole girls meeting about it where I said that I wasn't going to do anything. And I've never been so horrible to Chloe, even with how she fawns over Adrien. So, to just place my feelings solely on fucking jealously — "

Sabine rubbed her head, as a reminder to not get worked up any more. The girl placed an understanding hand over hers. "Just because I haven't been the best person doesn't mean that I'm so horrible as they think I am. I get why they think that, but it still hurts. And yeah, not believing someone when they say that they have a disability is pretty horrible, but I'm not that mean. I didn't even question that aspect. I was just upset that I wasn't consulted first. That's not all that it is, but...Alya refused to hear me out."

Tom blinked, "What do you mean?"

"She told me that "A good reporter always verifies her sources". But, she never even fact-checked anything that Lila said. Ladyblog Reporter, Journalist Extraordinaire, Alya Césaire didn't investigate her claims." Marinette sputtered, "That's what Alya does. I just don't get it. The girl who was so set on figuring out Ladybug's civilian identity that she investigated the fact that Ladybug had a history book that was for students in our year, didn't investigate what Lila said. That's just so unlike her."

Sabine had to agree, that was so unlike the girl. What had made Alya do a complete turnaround in her own nature?

"She didn't even once question how valid her claims where —" And she pitched her voice into something high, and clearly meant to be annoying. "— 'oh, I know Jagged Stone, I saved his cat and got a hearing disability as a result.'  I'm on friendly terms with Jagged, she didn't even ask me if what Lila said was true." And she exhaled, just oh so tired. "She kept trying to force me and Lila to become friends, even though she knew I didn't like her. She said that I was being ridiculous."

"And Adrien?" Because she didn't want to believe that the young boy wouldn't be behind her.  

She falters, eyes downcast. "He doesn't think that calling her out will help, since she might get akumatized and cause havoc. And — I guess he's right. Everyone at school believes her lies, I'm even sure she's getting around the teachers somehow. She'll just find some way to lie herself out of it. She's done it before, and she'll do it again."

She supposes that Adrien's right — that isn't horrible advice to give, but the fact that the girl cornered her in the bathroom.... "Does he know that she threatened you?" Because if he did, and still didn't want to do anything — 

"No, he doesn't know." 

Her mind mulled that over — he truly didn't know the depth of the girl's terror, might have thought that the only thing that Lila Rossi was doing was just spinning lies. She could tell that his upbringing wasn't quite the best, and he may have been socialized to passively go through life. He may not know just how his words are hurting her daughter, but logically, she couldn't exactly fault him.

But the protectiveness in her flared — he shouldn't have to know to still stand by her. He knows that the girl's lying, is spinning webs around his fellow classmates, and yet doesn't want to disrupt the normalcy of things. If she's been treated like this by the rest of her classmates, was he really keeping his word about it not mattering, since he said that he was in her corner? Was he doing his best to speak for her against her classmates? 

Gods is she conflicted.

"....I'm sorry, sweetie." Three words from Tom, soft and small and achingly sad.

She aimed a smile at him. A strained, aching sort of smile — but a smile all the same. "I just — I just don't know what to do, Papa. Maman." Marinette's eyes filled with tears once more, her hands curled tight into frustrated fists. "It's like she has them all under a spell. They don't even question anything she says, even thought every word out of her mouth is completely outlandish."

Tom glanced over to her, a clear question in his eyes, and she instantly opened her arms in wait. He passed Marinette onto her, and at first, she flinched upon leaving her father's arms. But then Sabine wrapped her arms around, and her shoulders relaxed, her head resting on her chest, and her legs still on her father's. She fiercely hugged her daughter, and Sabine thought for a moment.

"Marinette," Sabine murmured, closing her eyes, holding back the fury simmering in her veins. "I know — I know that it feels as if nothing's going right — as if it's never going to let up." She curls more into her at that, and she continues. "This Lila Rossi is like...an Icarus." 

Slowly, oh-so slowly, she raised her head slightly. "The Greek Mythology story?" There was a confused tilt to her thin voice. 

She hummed, using a hand to curl the end of one of her pigtails. "She ignores any warnings that she shouldn't be lying. She thinks that she's untouchable, and your classmates are blinded by her, too manipulated to question anything she says. They're strengthening her." Sabine doesn't think that she's imaging the hard tone her voice now took. "But sooner or later, she will fly too close to the sun. And then she fall, down down down and crash so painfully. And she'll be drowning with the weight of her lies, and the disproving eyes of everyone. She'll be burning."

The Chinese woman drew her back for a moment, staring into her tearful, red-rimmed eyes. "Qiān jīn...." My Darling Daughter. "Your classmates will realize the truth, and that they treated you horribly. Alya will realize that she treated you horribly. And I know how you've been feeling as if you shouldn't be upset, how your classmates have been making you feel as if you shouldn't be upset. But you have every right to be."

Her daughter stared at her for a moment longer before the tears fell yet again, and she choked on something — most likely a sob, and a wheeze of relief escaped her. And the entire situation rang in her head for a moment, because how long had Marinette kept her frustration to herself? How long had Marinette been told that she was overreacting, or that she was being ridiculous? How long had —

— and then Sabine gasped as there was a sudden blur of motion, Marinette slamming into her and pulling her into another attempt of receiving comfort, her head resting on her chest. She welcomed it, placing her head on the girl's chin and wrapping her arms gently around her. What mattered was that they were helping her now, and they were going to fix this, they were absolutely going to fix this.

Tom gently began to pat her head, voice into a careful whisper, "What do you want to do, sweetie?" And despite the distraught glint in his golden eyes, his voice was still strong as he spoke, "Would you like us to speak to one of your teachers? Or your principal?" But it was a given that they were already going to do so, they weren't going to leave it just like that. "Whatever you decide, we're always behind you."

There was a pause, before Marinette whispered, "I think that I should transfer."

Sabine paused. Stared.

Oh.

The words hung in the air between them all, and Marinette's fragile shoulders hitched slightly at the silence, instantly prompting her to speak . "Okay," Sabine eyed her husband, who was currently frowning. "But, you don't necessarily have to leave, bǎo bǎo."  But, you don't necessarily have to leave, baby. "We can speak with Principal Damocles and —"

"I don't want to be around anyone right now." She interrupted, and she froze. "Things may be solved, and everyone — they'll try to make it go back to normal, but...I just can't forget this. I'll just be wondering when's the next time they'll just completely deviate. And...I'm not going to let anyone know. I want them all to wonder just how I reacted with it all." Her voice was filled with venom, with cold resolve.

Because this wasn't just some misunderstanding — to her at least. This wasn't some passionate rant that Marinette tended to get into sometimes. This was serious — she was serious.

And if that would make things better, she would absolutely — unreservedly, do it.

So she nodded, "Okay."

"I did say that we're always behind you no matter what you decide — didn't I?" Tom made a soft, sympathetic noise. He spoke softly, patting her head. "We'll take you out of Dupont, but we'll still have to meet with your teachers — or one of them at least — to discuss this. As well as your principal."

Marinette nodded, wiping some of her tears. "I know. I'll go to school tomorrow and talk with Mme. Bustier."

But what she thought of going to school tomorrow clearly showed up on her face, and Sabine exchanged a look with her husband. "You don't have to, sweetie. We can just take a day off to talk with her."

Their daughter shook her head, "I'll be fine, Papa. I'l just.... I'll just keep to myself until the afternoon." But Sabine could read what she didn't say, the whisper of like i've been doing, and she exhaled, steadying herself. Now wasn't the time.

The silence that followed was somewhat comfortable, now that everything was out in the open. And after — well she didn’t know how long it had been, minutes, hours, days —  above their daughter's head; Tom raised an eyebrow, we're gonna have to talk about this later.

She frowned, i know. 

But for now — she watched as Marinette separated from her slightly, to place a hand on Tom's arm and to look at them both. Sky-blue eyes peeked out from under long bangs for a moment, looking dejected, but warm all the same. "Thank you for understanding."

Sabine nodded, giving her a smile. "Of course, sweetie." Tom gathered them all in a hug, his arms big enough to hold them both, and she closed her eyes for another moment more. They'll figure this whole mess out. "We love you, Marinette."

Softly, "I love you, too."

— for now, they would just hold her.

Chapter Text

    Something didn't feel right between her and Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

Their friendship is approximately a little more than a year old now, and she already knows her like the palm of her own hand, and she'd like to think that it was vice versa for Marinette — so there shouldn't be any problems, right?There shouldn't be any big issues in their so called friendship, because they’re best friends after all.

She knows what the girl likes: her favourite colour being pink; how she hates the cold weather — practically going through hibernation through the chill; exactly how she took her coffee — with loads of sugar and almond milk; among other things. She and Marinette usually told each other everything, whether over the phone on a scheduled night, or during one of their sleepovers. Sure, there was the occasional back and forth, but that was common between friends.

    So logically, technically, there shouldn't be any issues.

But recently, Alya was beginning to notice a disconnect — she and Marinette were on an island that slowly, gradually started to split in the middle. The islands were drifting away from each other, rising with the tide of the water, and then there was an incredible distance between them. And there was an obvious conclusion:

She was losing her best friend.

    Alya really, truly, genuinely hated to think of that possibility — but she couldn't ignore it, not when it was clear as all fucking day. Because she couldn't remember the last time she and Marinette had truly hung out. Every single time, Marinette had something to do, somewhere else to be. And that made this entire situation worse — so much worse, because that meant that Marinette was actively trying her best to get away from her. At least, that's what it seemed like. And she'd like to think that even if her instincts aren't as sharp as they always are, she'd still be able to tell when she's being avoided by someone.

She was losing her best friend.

    And the thing was, she could pin-point just exactly what had led to this disconnect. The crux of this issue that was making Marinette Dupain-Cheng act incredibly different — because she truly was becoming something unrecognizable, something that wasn't the best friend she knew:

Lila Rossi.

 


 

     "I'm telling you, Alya! She's definitely lying — why would anyone go around saying that they're best friends with Ladybug?"

Alya exhaled, eyes skimming through the Ladyblog Forum Discussions. Marinette had been on the discussion of Lila a lot, ever since the girl had entered, and she wasn't showing any sign of letting up. She liked Lila — she was certainly accomplished for someone around her age, and in Alya's opinion, was absolutely cool: She led a life of constant travel, since her parents are diplomats. She knew Prince Ali, and is a frequent visitor to his place and usually goes with him to summits. She knows numerous Hollywood directors, like Steven Besielberg. She knew Jagged Stone.

She was also nice, and friendly, just wanting to fit in with the class. And that she could understand — Alya had been the new girl once, and she was lucky to get along with someone as well as she did on her first day. And everyone in the class thought the world of her, because she was a sweetheart.

    Everyone, except Marinette.

"Why wouldn't anyone say that they're best friends with Ladybug?"

Marinette frowned, "You're telling me that you would tell everyone you meet that you knew Ladybug personally?"

She ignored the fact that she did know Ladybug — not personally, strictly business-wise or superheroing wise — and said, "I mean — if I knew Ladybug, that'd be pretty fucking awesome. I'd tell someone."

"Okay — fine. Someone. Not everyone I came in contact with." The blue-nette wildly waved her arms. "Hawkmoth's keeping everyone in Paris in fear — he'll be looking for any possible weakness for Ladybug and Chat Noir."

Her mind briefly went to her uploaded video about Lila speaking on her and Ladybug's friendship, but she shook it away. Hawkmoth wouldn't be focusing on her little blog. "Yeah but she only told us, Marinette. People who she trusts, and we wouldn't tell anyone. Besides, even though she's not hiding her relationship with Ladybug, that doesn't mean that she's lying."

But Marinette only grumbles, deflating on the cafeteria bench. "She's a liar, Alya."

Alya watches her for a moment, watches her eyes narrow at her lunch tray as if it murdered her entire family line, and sets her phone aside. Because she's been meaning to talk about this for a while now, because Marinette had been taking every single moment for pick on the new girl, and Lila definitely didn't deserve that.

"Marinette," she slowly started. "Are you jealous because Lila and Adrien seem to be getting along?" Because that would explain so much, and the girl truly had kicked up a fuss when she spotted the two talking at the top of the stairs.

She sat up straight, eyes wide, "What?"

"Look, I know how you get about Adrien," because she did know, her friend was an absolute mess whenever it came to the Sunshine Boy™. But despite how much she loved her, it was getting irritating at this point. "And I know you got a one track mind whenever it comes to him, but that doesn't mean that you should be treating Lila like that."

Mouth open, mouth closed. Marinette was still staring at her in shock, blue eyes searching her. ".....you think that I'm saying that Lila's a liar because of my crush on Adrien?"

Alya simply raised an eyebrow, "Are you gonna tell me that you haven't done the most because of it?"

Marinette stares at her for a moment more, before her dark brows narrow. "That's not why — "

"It's not like you to dislike people for no reason, is it? And based off of the first time you saw her, it's a reasonable assumption that I can make." She was wary of the people in the cafeteria, and kept her voice low. "You're not exactly being welcoming, Mari. And it's not fair to Lila, yelling at the fact that she's lying constantly — I've seen the looks you give her. Everyone in all of Paris has a crush on him, are you gonna side-eye every person that likes him?"

She's staring at her food, completely silent and Alya felt guilt prick at her. Because it wasn't Marinette's fault that she couldn't help her feelings. She was definitely in the wrong for treating Lila as she was, but she was only human. But she clearly realized that she was wrong, and maybe she could change her approach to the girl.

"Hey," she gently placed her hand on one of hers. "It's okay, chérie. Once you spend more time with Lila, I'm sure that she'll overlook how you were acting before. She's nice like that."

But Marinette drew her hand back, and something about the little movement made her stomach sink, and she watched as the girl went back to eating her food, saying nothing except a muttered "I bet she will."

Alya frowned. She suddenly couldn't discern Marinette's emotions — her expression was blank, and her eyes were down in her food. But she had a feeling that the girl wasn't quite so content with what she just said. Alya huffed, exasperated. Marinette clearly realized that she was being ridiculous, but was still holding on to her jealously. 

    No matter, she'd help the girl overcome her dislike of Lila. Once Marinette was around her more often, she'd realize that she was being unfair, and get over her nonsensical jealous streak.

She was sure of it.

 


 

    Okay, so this was going to be an issue.

Alya had done her part and made sure that Lila was present every time — at lunch, whether at the cafeteria or out to eat at a café; during the free periods they miraculously received throughout the day — because Lila deserved to feel at welcome, deserved to be included in a group of nice people that liked her well enough.

But she could only do so much, because Marinette just wasn't cooperating.

She invited Lila to eat with them at lunch, and the girl was talking about her outing with an American singer: "It was so lovely! I even got the chance to see her twins Rumi and Sir — they're so adorable!" Yet, despite the amazing recount of the Italian girl's dinner with the starlet, and despite everyone being in awe because it really was just so cool that she got that chance, Marinette hadn't budged one bit.

She just sat, not saying much of anything.

And it wasn't just her who noticed it. Alix had shared a few pointed glances with her, and Juleka and Rose worriedly looked over at Marinette's frigidness, and god — it was getting exasperating at this point. She still hadn't stopped questioning the supposed truth of her experiences. She wasn't giving the girl a single chance because of her petty jealously, and it was wholeheartedly affecting the group dynamic.

If Marinette wasn't going to cooperate, then she would just have to force it. 

So, she cleared her throat. "Hey, Lila. Do you wanna be a part of our special Girls' Night Sleepover?"

The girl had looked surprised, delighted. Marinette had looked surprised, annoyed.

"I — really?" Lila waved her hands. "I wouldn't want to get in-between your girls' time. Like you said, it's special." Her eyes drifted over to Marinette's and Alya groaned — of course she'd realize. Because if everyone here could sense it, then obviously Lila could sense Marinette's disdain. 

"Of course, Lila! You're totally welcome, you wouldn't be intruding on anything." Rose and Juleka chimed in with their own reassurances, yeah, of course you're welcome and you're our friend Lila, they wanted this friendship to work.

"Yeah!" Alix was also clearly on board. "You're cool, and we all totally want you to be a part of it." She pointedly eyed Marinette, eyes narrowed. "Right, Marinette?"

Said blue-nette spared the small girl a glare, and additionally made eye contact with her. Alya stared her dead on, it's for your own good Marinette, you're being ridiculous and need to get over it. Marinette sighed, before begrudgingly sending Lila the most fake smile she'd ever since the girl attempt.

"Of course, Lila."

Lila had bought it, not noticing her struggling to say what she did, simply just happy at the invitation. What a sweetheart. "Thank you, guys! I haven’t had a sleepover in ages since I’ve been traveling so much!"

Alya smiled, but eyed the way Marinette had leaned back out of the conversation again. Upset, and angry.

 


 

    Marinette stopped hanging out with them.

Well, stopped wasn't the right word. More accurately, she always was caught up in something. Never able to go with all of them whenever they broached it. And Alya doesn't think that it's a coincidence that it started happening after the sleepover invitation.

"Hey, Mari. Wanna come with us for lunch? Lila wants to try this new restaurant that opened up." Sorry, Alya. But I gotta help my parents with a scheduled delivery.

"Wanna come see the new movie at le cinéma? It'll just be you, me and the girls." The girls? "Juleka, Rose, Mylène and Lila." I'll see. A few days after, Sorry, I can't. I need to help Maman and Papa with this important order for a party.

"Girl, Jagged Stone's having a concert. Maybe we can snag some tickets and go?" Once she said that Lila would be present? I have to check with Maman and Papa first. After? I don't have enough money to go.

    Every single time, Marinette had something to do. And she knew that it wasn't a coincidence.

Why was she being so ridiculous?

 


 

     Marinette couldn't make it to the sleepover.

Her excuse? She was sick. And the girls had given her well-wishes but that just hadn't sit well with her, because she just so happened to get sick before this sleepover? That they've planned weeks in advance? After her constant successful attempts to get away from them? From Lila? She just didn't believe that.

But they had carried on without her, and there was no obvious tension in the air. No coldness from an unwilling Marinette. They had had fun.

And then, the topic changed.

"Does Marinette not like me for some reason?"

Lila exhaled, dejected at the possibility and they all rushed to assure her that it wasn't anything that she did, Marinette was just acting odd, but Alix was as blunt as ever.

"Marinette has something up her butt." She crunched on some potato chips. "We have no idea what the hell's been going on. But she's being ridiculous — questioning your tinnitus? Constantly putting you down?" Lila tried to dissuade her rant, as nice as ever, but Alix wouldn't have it. "No! She can't keep treating you like this, Lila."

Alya hadn't said a word at that, because Alix was saying everything that she wanted to say — Marinette had been constantly trying to bring Lila down. She had been looking for any chance to do so. She couldn't give any sort of excuses for her, so she just kept painting Lila's nails.

"....it is weird that Marinette's acting like this." Juleka thoughtfully frowned. "She was never like this before." Something that everyone in the class had commented on, because it was just so obvious. And Alya had to agree, because her friend was changing — was becoming something foreign to her, and she didn't like it. 

"And then intentionally blowing us off? She's always doing this." Alix dropped herself back into the beanbag chair. "I don't know what's going with her."

"I'm sure there were good reasons for her not coming with us in the past." Lila soothed, not wanting to think badly of the girl. "But I can understand why you guys feel that way — you've constantly helped her out before this right?"

"Yeah — we've always helped her come up with ridiculous schemes to help her confess to — " Juleka harshly elbowed Alix, who scowled. "What? We have! And it's pretty obvious that she has a crush on Adrien."

"Oh yeah, I realized it." Lila nodded.

Alix waves her hand, as if to say you see?

The Italian girl thought for a moment, "I'm not saying that Marinette's a bad person, but it does seem like she's not being considerate of your feelings. You should talk to her, because you guys shouldn't just take it."

And her words bring a pang to her heart, because Lila does have a point. She, along with the other girls have done their best to help Marinette, because she was their friend, she's Alya's best friend, but she had blown them off before. Numerous times. She'd been late before. She'd even forgotten some outings. And she doesn't want to think this of the girl, but it did seem pretty one-sided.

    Alya feels sick. And she doesn't sleep easy when the rest of them do.

 


 

Wednesday, April 24th  — Madame Bustier's Class, Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France. 
3:34 pm.

    She tries again, testing the waters. Waits until its after school. Until it's only them. The others went on ahead, saying that they'd wait by the steps.

"Hey, Mari. Let's all go to Maison de la Poutine. Lila's been there and she says that it's great."

Marinette pauses. And she hates that she can't read her face anymore, hates that she can't tell what she's thinking. "All? All who?"

"You, me, and the girls: Juleka, Rose and Lila." 

She purposely says Lila's name. And she watches for any sign, any clue of what she's thinking. And finally, finally she gets something. Marinette's face drops to a scowl, and Alya fumes. And before she can say some excuse to get out of it, Alya cuts in.

"There — right there. Every single time I mention Lila. You were going to say how you couldn't come right?"

She exhales heavily, "Alya — "

"What the hell is your problem with Lila? She's never done anything to you." She folds her arms as Marinette continues to pack her things and she feels annoyance course through her. "This needs to stop, Marinette. You're making her feel like she's done something to you, when all it is is just you not being able to get over your ridiculous jealously."

She roughly shoves a book into her bag. "I told you that me disliking her isn't because I'm jealous — "

"Then what is it, Marinette?" She feels like tearing her hair out. "Give me something to work with here! You certainly don't talk to me, so how would I know? If it isn't jealously, then what. What is making you treat Lila like shit?"

Marinette doesn't answer, but she's gone back to scowling. Trying to pack her bag. Trying to get away from this.

She's not going to let her.

"When was the last time we hung out?" Because Alya doesn't know. Can't recall the last time they had an enjoyable meeting with her. Because Marinette won't even stay behind to spend time with her, much less the rest of the girls. "Because every single you say you can't come. And I know why — because you hate being around Lila. And I — I miss you Mari. Why can't you just get over this?"

Marinette zips her bag up, and turns to look at her. "You know I don't like her, Alya."

"Even though I can't imagine why — yes, I know you do — "

"Then why — " She inhales. "Why do you keep trying to force us together and insist that I get along with her?"

"Because you're being — "

"Alya," she narrows her eyes, and she steps back a bit because she's never looked at her like that. "I don't like being around her. I'm uncomfortable being around her. And if I don't want to be around her, you should leave it alone.  Stop trying to force it."

Alya sputtered, "You see you're not even giving her a chance! Why? You could at least try and act civil, but you're not even doing that! And what about the rest of us? We're trying to help Lila find her footing, doing something nice, and every single time we can't help but feel awkward because you keep shooting her eyes."

"You guys know I don't like her, and every time I try to not be there to prevent that from happening, I'm the bad guy!" She growls, tugging one of her pigtails with an agitated hand. 

"Because you're not even attempting to get to know her!" Alya's shouting now, and she doesn't think about the possibility that anyone could hear. Because Marinette's not even trying. Because the division's getting bigger. "You're letting your petty jealousy over Adrien get the best of you! And don't try to deny it."

"For the last time, Alya — I'm not jealous of her. She's a liar!"

"This again. This again. What proof do you have that she's lying, Marinette?"

"Well, if you would just check for once — "

"You wanna know what I think? I think that you're definitely jealous, because Lila's lived an exotic life and she knows a lot of people and she's sitting with Adrien and you have a problem with that. You have such a problem that you're doing whatever it takes to bring her down. That's what I think."

"If you would just listen to me — "

"I'm not going to listen to you make an excuse. Because you've been treating Lila horribly, Marinette, and that's so unlike you. You're — " and she hesitates but she needs to say it. " — you're not acting like my best friend. You've changed. Lila said something about how — "

"So you're listening to Lila now?" Her voice is low, hurt and Alya snarls, exasperated.

"She said that we shouldn't just take all the times that you've bailed on us just like that, all the times you've brought us together concerning your crush on Adrien — and she's right. And I didn't want to think badly of you because of that. But with the whole Lila thing — you don't talk to me anymore, Marinette. It feels like you're avoiding me, and I'm — I'm hurt, Marinette. I'm trying my best here, and you..."

"I'm hurt!" Her voice echoes throughout the classroom. And Alya's voice trails off into shock because Marinette's staring at her, her blue eyes flaming and visible tears threatening to fall. "I'm hurt because apparently you guys are talking about me behind my back, to someone who you don't even know, and you just — you just listen to her? What else have you guys been talking about?"

Her voice is glacial, biting and Alya bristles. "Don't be like that. What else are we supposed to do? You won't talk to me, you definitely won't talk to the others. We all noticed that you're being ridiculous, what else were we supposed to do? Why can't you just get over yourself — "

"I can't believe you." Marinette's expression is cold, her voice dripping with hurt and Alya feels the same way. "I can't believe that you really think I'm so bad — "

She scoffs, "What the fuck are we supposed to think?"

"I thought we were best friends, Alya!"

She clenches her fists, "I thought we were too. But you're not acting like the Marinette I used to know. The Marinette I knew wouldn't treat someone like shit because she couldn't get over her stupid, fucking jealousy!"

Marinette opens her mouth once more, before softly laughing. And something in her still stirs at how broken it sounds.

"I'm not going to deal with this." And she walks around her, clearly aiming to leave.

"W — where are you going?" Because she needs to know just what's going on with Marinette, because she's losing her best friend. She's losing her.

"The bathroom," is all she simply says, her voice wobbly. "Away from you."

And the venom in her voice makes Alya flinch back, giving Marinette a window to walk away from her. She jerks herself in motion, head still hot, and goes to the classroom door. But the hallway is clear, all of the students either further off in the school or off the compound, and Marinette's no where to be seen.

The only person by the door is Lila.

"Hey, you hadn't come yet so I came to check on you." Her eyes were wide. Worried. And Alya can't believe how Marinette can't possibly like her.

"Did you see the direction that Marinette went?" Because there were multiple bathrooms around the school, and she needs to get to the bottom of this — 

"Just before I came I saw here go that way." She points off to the right. "Is everything all right?"

She laughs. It was everything but that. "Nope."

"Do you need me to come with you?"

That wouldn't be good. "No, I'll handle it." She couldn't risk Marinette going off on the girl.

"Okay, good luck." She gives her a hopeful smile. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom and then we'll go, okay?" She points to the left.

"Thanks." And she speeds off, hoping to catch her before she leaves.

    She doesn't find her.

 


 

After waiting a bit for Lila, they go to Maison de la Poutine. But all throughout the outing, Alya's mind is elsewhere.

Lila nudges her slightly, "Is everything okay?"

She gives a small smile and a nod. But she can tell that the girl doesn't believe her.

She's losing her best friend.

 


 

Thursday, April 25th — Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France.  

    She doesn't attempt to call her, thinking that they both need some time to stew in everything. 

And the next day, Marinette doesn't speak to her. Doesn't look at her. And everyone notices: Nino. Adrien. The girls. The class.

Marinette doesn't leave any window for Alya to attempt to talk with her, immediately walking out of class by the sound of the bell. The girls come to her, filled with questions, and she tells them everything. At the end of the day, she assumes that the girl went home, seeing as she took everything with her as she went out the door. So she walked home as well.

    And despite her anger, she couldn't help but think that walking without Marinette was lonely.

 


 

    She attempts to call that night. And once she sees that the girl hasn't come to school the days after, she calls night after night after night. Because she's trying to understand what's wrong with her. It was obviously jealously, but why was she letting it have so much power over her?

But she doesn't pick up.

She's thankful for Lila's assurances, for everyone's assurances but she can't help but feel as if she's losing her best friend.

    As if she's already lost her best friend.

 


 

    She can't walk over to physically talk to her since she's stuck on babysitting duty — maman's orders. Therefore, she can't leave the house.

Embarrassment is starting to rear its ugly head, for how she handled it all, but Anger outweighs it. All she wants to do is wallow in her sadness and anger.

Marinette still isn't answering her calls.

 


 

Friday, June 3rd  — Madame Bustier's Class, Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France.  
9:15 am.

    Lila's noticed that she's still not in a happy mood, so she tells her a story of her meeting the Canadian Prime Minister. And she can't help but be interested as Lila speaks of the encounter, because she really did lead an amazing life. And her mind leaves the swirling pool of anger and confusion for a moment to fully immerse herself in Lila's recounting.

But then — 

.

.

.

.

"What do you mean Marinette doesn't go here anymore?!"

 .

.

.

.

Alya has no words, shocked to her core. Because what? What?

She doesn't hear the questions from everyone else from Rose's words, because her brain just couldn't connect the last time she saw Marinette to this news. She recalls the way her back was turned, her venomous voice saying how she wanted to get away from her, and she doesn't understand, what the fuck — 

The slam of Bustier's book on her table interrupts her train of thought, as the teacher slowly says, "Yes, everyone. I'm afraid that Marinette isn't a student here anymore."

She scrambles to stand up, because she doesn't understand, she doesn't understand, "Are you sure, Mme. Bustier? Marinette wouldn't just leave without saying something!"

Her teacher only eyes her, "I helped her with finalizing her paperwork, Mlle. Césaire. So yes, I'm sure."

She flinches, a huge pang of hurt in her chest. Confusion swimming in her thoughts. Anger coursing through her veins. She just ran away? Just like that?  Because of what she said? She didn't even try to work this out this out between them, she just left away from you. away from you. away from you.

Alya's eyes narrowed. No — Marinette might be inclined to just leave without any sort of explanation, but she wasn't. Nothing was right about her, about this, and she's going to get to the bottom of just what is up with Marinette. Get to the bottom of this — this sudden transfer.

"Do you know why she left, Mme. Bustier? It just seems so weird that she left so suddenly." Lila, as nice as ever, her eyes wide in concern. But did she tell Mme. Bustier? Was the woman the only person Marinette went to, and not Alya — 

But the teacher shook her head, "I'm afraid that you'll have to ask her yourselves. I'm not even sure either."

The woman had left after, needing to take a call, but Alya manages to faintly drop in her seat, and she takes in the various concerned questions from the rest of her classmates. Nino pulls her into a one-armed hug while Adrien glanced towards her, and his face held incredible worry and concern. "Should we visit her after school?"

But she shakes her head. "I'll do it."

She was going to get to the bottom of this.

Chapter Text

Friday, June 3rd — Madame Bustier's Class, Collège Françoise Dupont, Paris, France. 
9:10 am.

Tired.

Adrien Agreste was tired. Exhausted.

He was currently slumped over on his desk next to Lila, only braced by the hand holding his face. He was currently running on an hour of sleep and large cup of coffee snuck for him by Nino, on account of the back-to-back night shoots for his father's latest collaboration project with another company. It surely wasn't enough to get through the school day — it hadn't even been a full hour and he wanted nothing more than to go back home — because right now, he didn't feel like he was even in his own body. He had no idea what lucid dreaming was, but if what he had heard about it was correct, then he felt as if he was as close to the phenomenon without actually experiencing it. 

Madame Bustier had given them the period free, looking every bit as tired as he was. Though, it was clearly more than that, since the woman hadn't seemed to even be in the mood to actually deal with any of them today. At least Hawkmoth was nice enough to not even send out any akumas for his and Ladybug's miraculous this week — which, he had thought was odd and possibly should've been more worried, but he guessed even Hawkmoth was able to be busy. Thank god, because the man had some nerve to constantly be sending akumas out on collège students.

At the moment, Alya and Nino were currently engaged into another story that Lila seemed to be telling, something about the Canadian Prime Minister. He exhaled heavily. Lila was another issue all on its own. He understood that she simply wanted attention, and was just lying as a means to get it, but she'd been increasing her number of lies lately for some reason. He had tried his best to deter her from lying (because if she really started being truthful, she'd be much better to talk with), but Lila had refused to. After that really, he'd been content to just let her crash and burn, because it would happen eventually. And she hadn't been truly hurting anyone with her antics. Marinette may have disagreed with him (having taken the approach to antagonize the girl), but he knew that it was for the best. That's how he'd dealt with problems in the past, anyway.

Speaking of Marinette; he eyed the bench at the back of the class — the empty bench at the back of the class.

Marinette had been absent for a week now, and it was getting worrying. In fact, it had been worrying for a while now, because she had been absent longer than that. Sure she was physically present in school, but she hadn't been staying around them as much. Because every time, she had something else to do. (Never being able to go out with them for lunch, because she always had to help her parents. Never being able to catch a movie, because she wasn't feeling too well. She constantly was stuck doing a project in the Art room. She's doing more assignments to make up for her missed classes.) She was always busy. And he had a feeling that it had a lot to do with Lila being much more included in their circle of friends.

Aside from him, (because as much as Marinette may not have liked him that much, he still thought her nice enough to seek out in a group) Alya had been quick to notice it. And she said that she would handle it. Well, he didn't know exactly what had transpired, but the day after that Marinette hadn't even spoken to her. To them. Everywhere she walked, he could sense the anger exuding from her. Every one else in the class was observant enough to steer clear away from her. And then, at the end of the day, she immediately packed up her things at the sound of the bell and seemingly left. 

He's been sending her messages since last Thursday — because he's incredibly worried. Any other day, he'd be able to supply another synonym for his feelings, but he's tired — and she hasn't responded to any of them. He'd been meaning to visit her during this week, but the photo-shoots had stopped that plan from happening. Since it was Friday, and since he'd finally be free from photo-shoots, he'd visit her later tonight as Chat Noir. He'd do it right after school, but he still had fencing lessons.

He hopes she's okay. Maybe she's sick?

"That's so awesome, Lila."

It may have been impolite to not be paying attention to a conversation (he could hear his father reprimanding him), but at the moment, Adrien couldn't find it within himself to give half a fuck. Much less a whole one. Besides, he wasn't up for playing along with Lila's storytelling right now. 

But then he manages to catch a laugh (probably Lila's), and then realizes that Lila seems much closer than she previously was.

What he does find within himself, is the strength in his limbs to actually inch away from the girl. He's sure that she doesn't mean any harm, but he can't help but feel uncomfortable whenever Lila gets extremely touchy.

Adrien sighs, closing his eyes from a moment, and feeling the burn of not shutting them for a while. Man, he really wants to go to back to his room. Just to curl up in the comfort of his bed like the cat that he was. Sleep well enough to have pleasant dreams of himself and his lady, without the daunting existence of Hawkmoth, and they could possibly even share a — 

"What do you mean Marinette doesn't go here anymore?!"

He froze at Rose's screech. And he wasn't sure if his tired brain had somehow manifested a horrible thought and made him mishear Rose (science was an incredible thing, it could happen), because it didn't make any sense. Nausea began to well up in the pit of his stomach.

"Marinette's not going here anymore?"

"What?!"

"That can't be true!"

"There's no way she just left without so much as a single goodbye to any of us."

He slowly eyed Mme. Bustier at her desk, who looked even more exhausted than she did when she first entered class. She rubbed her temples for a second, a defeated slump to her shoulders and Adrien's stomach twisted even more, because that meant that Rose was telling the truth. Marinette really wasn't going here anymore. And he couldn't help but think of the last time he'd seen her — angry, upset, and giving them all the silent treatment. Not speaking up in class unless she absolutely had to. Was that an indication of this?

Mme. Bustier exhaled as she grabbed one of her books, slamming it on the desk to get everyone to quiet down. He jumped at the sound, but stared at her, awaiting. 

"Yes, everyone. I'm afraid that Marinette isn't a student here anymore."

The confirmation made him flinch. And the rest of his classmates start chattering again, obviously shocked by this. And Alya quickly stands up from her desk behind him, eyes wide with hurt, and tears threatening to fall. Because of course, the last time Alya spoke to Marinette, it clearly hadn't ended well. Did she leave because of that argument? But he immediately casts that thought away. Even if they did argue, Marinette didn't seem to be the type of person to pack up and leave because of that. Then again, he has no idea what could've transpired. Perhaps the argument was the catalyst. 

"Are you sure, Mme. Bustier? Marinette wouldn't just leave without saying something!"

Mme Bustier only looks at her, "I helped her with finalizing her paperwork, Mlle. Césaire. So yes, I'm sure."

He could tell, by the way Alya flinched back at that, that she truly was affected — of course she would be, she's Marinette's best friend...or, his heart sinks, was

"Do you know why she left, Mme. Bustier? It just seems so weird that she left so suddenly." Lila questioned from beside him, eyes wide. And that was a good question, because if the woman handled her paperwork, surely she must have some idea as to why.

But the teacher shook her head, "I'm afraid that you'll have to ask her yourselves. I'm not even sure either." Oh. Maybe by "finalizing her paperwork", she just meant authorizing it and sending it to Principal Damocles. She was then alerted to her phone, most likely getting a call. "If you all can go back to your previous activities — I'll be stepping outside for just a moment."

But there was no way that they could go back to their previous activities. Not after that.

While everyone else in the class speaks amongst themselves, he turns to see Alya. She had sat back down, face worryingly blank. Nino was currently pulling her into a one-armed hug, while Lila placed her hand over hers on the desk, "I'm so sorry, Alya." She didn't seem to hear her though. 

He was much more awake now, and anxiety thrummed in his bones. Because he still couldn't wrap his head around it. Marinette isn't a student here anymore. "Should we visit her after school?" Because he'd do it. He'd gladly miss thirty minutes of his fencing lessons if it meant finding Marinette and trying to understand it all.

But Alya shook her head, "I'll do it." And that....that was even more worrying. He knew Alya had a tendency to act on her emotions than having a...civil discussion. And right now, she seemed....angry. Determined, by the way her eyes were narrowed.  But it was her friend, so maybe it wouldn't be too bad. No matter, he wasn't just going to leave seeing her up to Alya alone. He could see Plagg's head poke out from his bag, a questioning look in his green eyes, and he gave a slight nod.

Tonight.

 


 

Cardinal Lemoine Station · The Paris Métro, The Paris metropolitan area , France.
4:05 pm.

Marinette was quiet as she left the metro station entrance. It wasn't as sweltering as it could've been with the upcoming near-summer weather, and around this time; the afternoon air started to inch into the eventual chill that the evening would bring. She was glad for her hoodie over her top half, her legs shivering at the breeze.

She welcomed the background noise of Paris, France: The wisps of various, indiscernible conversations carried off by the wind. The excited screams of children playing and running after each other. The whirring of cars. The subtle splashing of the Seine River. They were comforting, but as much as she would prefer to be immersed in the environment, her mind couldn't help but drift back to Mme. Bustier's call.

I could see it in her eyes. She's going to come see you eventually. Marinette groaned. She had done her best to prolong her time after school, wanting to speak with Principal Moreau on signing her up for the school's shuttle service. Collége Françoise Dupont  was definitely over by now, and she knew that Alya was going to come over at the first window of opportunity. 

The Marinette I knew wouldn't treat someone like shit because she couldn't get over her stupid, fucking jealousy!  She growled softly. She called her mother beforehand to take care of Alya in case she came around immediately after school. She just — she just couldn't deal with her right now. She'd just be angry, and demanding, and audaciously assuming, and Marinette knows that she'd just blow up at her.

But despite how aggravated she was, Marinette couldn't deny the what she really was feeling was hurt. Hurt because Alya, like the rest of the class, thought her so disagreeable of a person that she'd hate on a new person for no fucking reason. Hurt because Alya, her supposed best friend, couldn't see what the big deal was, hadn't cared to actually ask her how she felt about letting her sit with her boyfriend, and at the end had left her to be by herself at the back of the class. Hurt, because Alya hadn't once believed her on anything — hadn't even questioned just why she hadn't liked Lila from the start, had just blamed her feelings on something as petty as jealously (but initially you were. yeah, but I got over that — when i realized what she truly was, I got over myself) and at the end of it all, just believed the words of some girl over her own friend — 

"Marinette!" She blinked past the moisture in her eyes — when had she started crying? — and stared down to her pouch, until her kwami finally came into focus. And she sighed, because she knew  what Tikki was about to say. She couldn't afford to get upset again, she had already been targeted by Hawkmoth, had already been this close to being fully akumatized multiple times. With her position as Ladybug, she couldn't afford — 

But then Tikki zips out from her hiding place — and Marinette feels slight panic tremor through her because, what if someone sees —  and with a surprising amount of force, straightens her head forward. And she blinks in confusion, before drawing her eyes behind Tikki before freezing — 

The walk to the bakery seemed all too short, because she was already here....

....and Alya was at the front door.

She violently lurched back, reeling, something coming over her. She can't see me She can't see me She can't me —

The mantra reverberated through her, as her eyes took in the scene before her, where she stood on the sidewalk in an immobile, hushed and aborted movement. But her legs jump-started without another thought, and she ducked into the right side of the bakery. She wouldn't be seen, the tinted one-sided windows would prevent that from happening. Tikki immediately trailed after her, tucked into her hood behind her.

For a split second; fear pricked at her, at the possibility that Alya might've seen her and would subsequently call out her name or try to come over to her hiding spot. But as her ears were peeled, there was no sound of determined footsteps. No summoning for her to come out. No indication that she was seen.

Alya's voice was pitched high, as she carried on speaking. She hadn't seen her. Good. 

If Tikki hadn't stopped her in time, she would've walked straight into the conversation. Straight into Alya.

Marinette could feel herself tremble with her back against the wall — in anger or fright she doesn't know. What she does know is that she refuses to let Alya see her. 

And, despite her racing heart and swirling thoughts, she listens.

 


 

Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie · 12 Rue Gotlib, 21st arrondissement, Paris, France.
3:15 pm.

She had been expecting this, if she was being quite honest.

In fact, if she was being even more honest; despite the days that had slowly, steadily trickled by, Sabine had been expecting this ever since they had completely pulled Marinette out of school.

And there were multiple reasons. For one: Marinette's old classmates had known her ever since they were all extremely young. She wouldn't expect them to just let the news of Marinette's departure be said and not at least question why. Some of them would eventually come to the bakery to see and question her (though, with Marinette's recollection about how most of her classmates had been before she left, she wasn't quite sure about this one).

The second? She knew Mlle. Alya Césaire. They had been the best of friends for a little over a year now, and Sabine knew that that girl wouldn't take that news laying down. Within the many times the girl had been over at their house, she had observed numerous specifics to the girl's exuberant personality. She was quite headstrong, and rather....invasive. While she was sure that the girl hadn't meant any harm by her curiosity, she tended to do whatever it took to find out what she wanted. 

So when Marinette called around lunch to ask her to not let Alya see her (or more specifically, to not let her into the bakery or her room), she reassured her daughter, because she understood what could happen. Alya would come barreling towards the bakery (even despite how Marinette said that she treated her, because she hadn't let anyone know that she was leaving), and if she caught sight of her daughter, there would just be an out-load of questions that Marinette wouldn't be able to deal with right now.

Marinette hadn't really dealt with it much, Sabine frowned. Not really.

She may have been dropping the ball here — it had only been a little over a week, after all — but aside from the tears she had shed during the school scouting, there wasn't as much acknowledgement concerning the situation. Her daughter had just been trying to integrate into the new school environment, and she and Tom did their best to question her on her first week. But she knew that Marinette needed to tackle that a bit more, that she needed to talk about it more.

Maybe she should talk with someone professional? She thinks for a moment. She knew that many people didn't think that speaking with a therapist was necessary when they didn't have a specific issue with their mental health, or that their problems were bad enough to warrant it. But everyone should be able to speak on and dissect anything that stressed them in life, whether it be someone who they trusted, or a stranger — the therapist — no matter the issue. And while she was sure that Marinette would speak with them on anything else, she knew that the girl wouldn't tell them everything. It took a while before she even told them about this.

Perhaps she should do meditation? Mediation techniques did help in relieving stress and grounding. She could probably enroll in mediation classes by Master Wang Fu, it was one of his specialties, and he was renowned in all of France for being able to read energy and improve the health of persons. She had been there before, and it had worked for her.

Sabine wearily sat at one of the bakery's tables. Because while she had already talked at length with Tom about it, this was something they needed to talk to Marinette about. Later, not right now. Because right now, she needed to look out for Alya.

So she waited. And waited. It was a slow business day, so not that many people entered the bakery. There wasn't even the usual after-school rush. Then again, that wasn't weird, it was Friday. They never really got a large number of students at the end of the week. She glances towards the clock: 3:30. Alya hadn't rushed over here immediately after her classes. 

She frowned, thinking. If she were in Alya's position, instead of being early, she'd show up at a time when she knew the other had to be home.....

.....but Marinette, just like Sabine had initially, clearly was expecting her to come around right after Collège Françoise Dupont had ended its classes for the day. Meaning she was most likely — intentionally — extending her time at school or travel home. Taking those two details into account, they could very well reach the bakery around the same time..... 

..... which would be highly problematic, since the chance of the two meeting would be incredibly disastrous

Soft curses escaped her. She could call Marinette and tell her to wait a bit longer, but she really didn't know what time Alya would try to appear. If she came closer to the late evening, Marinette would definitely be home by then. And it wouldn't be an issue for the girl considering that Alya didn't live that far. Well then.....

So she continued waiting amongst Martin's cleaning of the table-tops, eyes still fixed on the clock. It was almost four, meaning Marinette would be home soon. 

She exhaled, closing her eyes for a moment and praying under her breath. Please don't let them come here at the same time — Marinette wouldn't be able to handle that right now...not to mention an infuriated Alya... 

"Madame Cheng?" 

Her eyes flash open. She turned her head to watch as her newest employee stood in the entrance of the bakery, holding the door open. She cleared her throat, allowing a small smile despite herself. "How many times have I told you to call me Sabine, Martin?"

The boy flushed under her teasing, with the air of someone who had heard this many times before, bashfully chuckling. "S-Sabine," he fumbled with the unfamiliarity of the name. "Uh — you said to call you if that girl showed up, so..."

He had been notified in case she wasn't immediately there when Alya came by (she'd already been over numerous times after his hiring, so he had an idea of who exactly she was and what she looked like). Sabine stood up at once, patting his shoulder comfortingly before she quickly made her way outside. "Thank you, Martin. Leave through the other entrance when you're done, okay?"

She closed the bakery door behind her, awaiting the girl to come up — and upon taking a good look at her, she knew Marinette was right to call her.

Because logically, of course, Sabine knew that Alya would never do anything to intentionally — premeditatedly and antagonistically — hurt her daughter (she most likely would've deluded herself to not think that Marinette would be affected by how she treated her). But she knew that harsh words can fly when tempers raise, and she knew that Alya was an impulsive, reckless young woman. But after whatever incredible argument the two had that left Marinette distraught and wailing and this close to a full-scale panic attack, Sabine vowed that she would do everything in her power to ensure to protect her from anything (because she hadn't been there before, hadn't paid enough attention).

Even if — especially if — that anything included her daughter's former friend who she clearly did not want to see right now.

The girl walked up to her, determination in her steps and she looked...

Well, she looked upset obviously. She looked angry, clearly. But her resolute-ridden aureate eyes hadn't once drifted from hers in her sprint-walk to the bakery and Sabine couldn’t help raising her eyebrows in wonder. There was a flicker of something in her gaze as she stood in front of her — Pure rage that was being held back? Indignation? Confusion?  

No, she realized after a moment. Because Sabine can see, as clear as day, that she was — without a doubt, hurt. And as much as Sabine wants to be inconsiderate in this conversation (because it was her daughter that came home crying, it was her daughter that hadn't been given a second thought for some lying, treacherous bully and being put down simply for her personal feelings), she couldn't help the thoughts of consider this from her perspective, because if she's feeling hurt, perhaps it's not as clear cut as you thought. And she exhaled, because Alya was completely in the wrong for what she did in that argument, she shouldn't have handled it the way she did, and her actions were questionable as a friend. But maybe she truly didn't know. But at the end of it all, did that really matter?

"Bonne après-midi, Madame Cheng."

She eyed the girl she was only the mother in this situation. And while she certainly had numerous questions concerning Alya's line of thinking in this entire situation, now wasn't the time. Because Marinette would be home soon, and she couldn't have her and Alya meet, not when she was like this, hurt and upset. Because she knew Alya, and that would lead to her lashing out even more, and then Sabine would have to absolutely, unrelentingly step in squaring her shoulders, her back straight"Alya."

She didn't seem to notice the slow, cautious way that the woman spoke, her mind likely caught up with other matters. "Is Marinette home? I need to speak with her about something important."

Her fists clenched at her sides at that, and Sabine knew she was right in her judgement. Alya was in no state to have a calm discussion — though, she didn't think that she would be for a long, long time, concerning the issue. "She isn't, she should still be at school." Truthfully, she should be on her way home, but she couldn't have Alya knowing that.

She flinched at the mention of Marinette still being at school (a new school, away from her and the others), head dropping and eyes trailing down to her feet. "Oh."

Again, the thoughts of perhaps it's not as clear cut as you thought flashed once more, but she let the ice take over — ice from her protectiveness over her daughter and this entire situation — as she said, "Although, I don't think that you should be here when she eventually does come home." She scanned everywhere behind her quickly, searching for any hint of her daughter just in case.

Alya promptly picked her head up to stare at her. Her eyes were wide with raw disbelief and overwhelming shock as she blinked at her — before she hesitantly manages a "What?"

Sabine simply stared back, and she could see, through the flickering of emotions on her face, when Alya truly understood the situation — because after a week of Marinette being absent, and going to a new school, there was no possible way that both she and Tom didn't have an idea of why she left. There was no way that they didn't know everything about the time before she decided to leave. Especially their argument.

The young girl straightened, "I just — I jut want to know why she left. She didn't tell me anything, she....she hasn't been telling me anything lately." That last part was only a murmur, most likely something that she wasn't supposed to hear, but Sabine caught it all the same. "She hasn't been answering my calls either, and then she just up and leaves...." 

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, before opening them to narrow, "I just want to know why."

So Alya truly had no idea what she did, or had any idea of the full picture. To her, Marinette just seemed to up and leave without a good reason and hadn't had the decency to tell her, especially after their argument. Perhaps it's not as clear cut as you thought.

But it wasn't her place to explain. Because right now, she wanted to tell Alya everything she'd been told about this Lila girl. But if Alya's reaction at Marinette's earlier attempts were an indication, the girl wouldn't believe a word she was saying. And she knew that no matter what she said, Alya would still try to track her daughter down. "She left because she wanted to start over. If you do want to know why, you'll have to ask her yourself. But for now, she doesn't want to see you."

Her eyes widen at that, and she sputters. "Madame Cheng, Marinette's been acting weird since the last time I saw her." Then, her tone starts to drip with distaste — at what, she didn't know.  "And I know why  — she's been treating someone awfully for a while now, and that girl doesn't deserve it and — "

Sabine bristled, because it was clear that even though Alya had no idea of what was going on, she still viewed Marinette as the one in the wrong. "From what I've been told," she held back the protective fury slightly — only slightly, "that girl isn't exactly the most truthful."

Alya scowled, "Marinette's constantly been saying that Lila's a liar. But there's no truth to it, and I know that she's only been pushing this because she views Lila as a threat, because on her crush on — "

"You know, it's quite late, Alya. Perhaps you should go on home." The girl flinched back at the sudden winter-like, frigid tone her voice now took — Sabine could only imagine. She'd never spoken to any of Marinette's old classmates like she was doing now, much less Alya. And she knew that they most likely couldn't begin to fathom that she could even find it within herself to be harsh. Oh, she knew, and she always took advantage of people underestimating her like that. "It'd be best for everyone if you left before Marinette came home. I'll tell her you stopped by, but maybe it's for the best that you have this conversation another day."

Alya fumbled over her words — clearly panicked at the clear dismissal to leave and at Sabine's disposition. "But — but Madame Cheng, I really need to talk to — " 

"Are you really going to talk, or is this going to be another shouting match?" Her words were jagged. "Because something tells me that, aside from trying to figure out what's happening, if I let you see my daughter, you're going to yell." And as unfortunate as the circumstances were, as much as Alya truly had no idea, she also knew her.... "And I refuse to just let you shout at her." Because if that happened, Sabine wouldn't give a damn that it was Alya. She would step in and defuse it, regardless of how angry she got.

The young girl's eyes were wide and fearful. "So therefore," she lowly said. "I suggest you go home for now, and try to broach this conversation another time." Sabine knew damn well that Alya wouldn't be able to reach her for a good while  — Marinette had gotten a new phone, and once she told her of this conversation, she'd be ensuring that Alya wouldn't get a chance to catch her.

Alya took a moment, her jaw tightening, but Sabine only stared. She let her see the simply arching of her eyebrow, let Alya be reminded just who exactly she was talking to. Because as much as the girl had a tendency to push and push and push, she was Marinette's mother. As nice as she was — and Sabine would like to think that she's a nice woman; after this evening's conversation, she would think that Alya would think twice about bypassing her suggestion. (At least she wasn't as harsh as she could've been.)

After a while, she cleared her throat, eyes downcast. But there was still anger emanating from her. "Right. Bonne soirée, Madame Cheng. And — " she hesitated before speaking. "— can you please let Marinette know that I was here?"

She nodded, "I will. Bonne soirée, Alya. Au revoir."

"......Au revoir." And with that, she walked back in the direction she came, most likely going to her house. 

Sabine watched until she disappeared from her sight, before exhaling heavily. She opened the bakery door, and closed it behind her.

 


 

She hears the defeated drawl from Alya — her back still against the wall — and listens to her retreating footsteps, her heartbeat ringing in her ears.

She waits a moment, before there's a weary exhale from her mother, and the chime of the bell above the bakery door. She's gone back inside. 

Alya still thought that she was being delusional. She still thought that her actions were because she was jealous. That she was ridiculous.

"Marinette?"

The gasp that escaped from her throat was almost involuntary, and she glanced forward again. Tikki — Tikki was hovering by her face, blue-bell eyes wide with worry and sadness and a bunch of things that she couldn't name right now, things that she didn't want to name right now (because she really didn't feel like tackling anything right now, she just wanted to go to bed and block it all out with sleep), watching her with hesitation. 

She exhaled, quickly leaning off the wall to go inside. Not now. Not right now.

"Marinette!" Alarmed. As if she wasn't believing that she was going to ignore this right now. But she was. She's been tired ever since this morning and she needs to go to sleep.

She pushed open the bakery door, the bell signaling her entrance. Her mother hadn't gotten far, jumping at the sound and quickly turning to her.

"Tiánxīn, you're home." Sweetheart, you're home. She gave a smile, walking forward with her arms open. "How was your day?"

Was her mother not going to mention Alya's appearance? No matter, she was content with that. She really didn't feel up to it right now. "Pretty draining. I really just want to go sleep it off."

Warm arms wrapped around her, and Marinette sank into the embrace, the closeness, the contact soothing her body from the fleeing adrenaline.  "I can imagine." She listens to the comforting rumble from her mother's chest. "You need to eat before that though. I'll start dinner soon, okay? I'll call you to come down when it's time."

That would be a few hours from now. So in order to not think about this, she needed to keep herself busy. But not in her room — Tikki would most likely try to corner her into speaking about this. She needed to do something.

"Is Papa in the kitchen?"

"He should be, yes. Most likely putting the bread and cakes away."

"I'll go help him." She tried to seem as if she'd be able to. "It'll be faster with the both of us." Even though she was going to take her sweet time.

"If you want to, sweetie. Like you said, you're tired."

"Don't worry, maman. I can handle it."

She needed to do something.

Chapter Text

The Dupain-Cheng home · 12 Rue Gotlib, 21st arrondissement, Paris, France.
7:05 pm.

Marinette wasn't enjoying dinner.

She never hated having dinner with her family, no; not like how many dramatic teenagers in those American movies and television shows hated to spend time with their family, because she truly loved and appreciated her parents. Dinners in the Dupain-Cheng household were usually communicative, with everyone sharing what had happened in their individual lives for the day, or commenting on whatever was happening on the news. Papa would make some puns while her and her Maman would playfully roll their eyes in solidarity.

No, Marinette had never not enjoyed dinner — not until she sat down in uncharacteristic silence, a newscaster reading their report being the only thing filling the quietude. Not until she was forcing herself to keep her head down and her eyes on her food, in an attempt to avoid her parents' eyes, ignoring their staring. Not until her brief glances caught both her Maman and Papa simply eating, sending each other looks she couldn't decipher. 

She definitely wasn't enjoying dinner right now, discomfort rising in her chest. They were still staring at her, not saying a word. She's sure that they have something to discuss with her, something important, and are trying to find some way to start the conversation. Maybe it concerned Alya's coming to the bakery. No, not maybe — it definitely concerned Alya's visit to the bakery.  But she's tired; and had done everything to prolong any acknowledgement of this evening — helping her father downstairs, intentionally staying in the living room so Tikki wouldn't try to talk with her, staying around her mother, everything

And it seemed as though that wasn't enough.

And as much as she would very much prefer to go upstairs and burrow under her covers, she knew that her parents wouldn't let her leave without talking about it, seeing as they were already so concerned about it. And if her parents weren't going to start, then she might as well to make it hurry along quicker.

So with an exhale, she gently placed her fork down and ventures, "What's wrong?"

They eyed her back, and she watches as they share one last indiscernible look before her maman took control of the conversation.

"Alya came by earlier today."

Maman's grey eyes searched her for any indication for how she felt about that statement, and really — Marinette was too tired to pretend as if she didn't already know that, as if she hadn't heard their entire conversation. She wearily drooped in her chair, "I know. I heard the two of you talking."

The older woman blinked, before her expression shifted — she'd always hated the way her forehead wrinkled whenever she heard something troubling. Her eyes also caught the tight frown her father wore. It never failed to make her feel guilty, and every single time she always strived to never make her parents this worried again. She only knows that they're this worried because of how upset she was a week ago. She needed to stop troubling them so much. 

"And...how do you feel about that?"

Tired. Oh, so, fucking tired. But she should probably vocalize her feelings better.

"Tired?" She froze, eyes darting to her father. He was leaning forward, "How long have you been feeling this way, Marinette?"

Shit. Did she say that out loud? Was she so tired that she couldn't control what she said anymore?

"Yes, you did."

Shit. "Shit."

Maman couldn't help the disapproving look aimed at her language, and she clears her throat, sluggishly picking up her glass of orange juice. Truthfully, she only started to feel like this from this morning, what with the chaotic morning she'd had. But it had fully reached its peak from Mme. Bustier's call, and hadn't let up since. It heavily weighed on her throughout the rest of the day, and she fought hard against its cloudiness as to not get in trouble with her teachers, because she couldn't afford to. It was only her first week, and she can't have the teachers think that she isn't a good student. "Only today."

She's doesn't think that her answer soothed their worries, because they give each other another look, one that she can finally decipher as worry.  And she attempts to make it go away. "Really ! Really guys, it's only been from today. Me waking up late, and the whole thing with Alya and everyone else — " Her body grew even more tired at the thought, if it was even possible. " — I'm just not ready to see any of them right now. And thanks for telling me, Maman. I'll just have to watch my time in coming home. It should be fine since I signed up for the shuttle service at school."

Maman doesn't lose that wrinkle. "No problem, sweetheart. But..."

Papa continues from where she trails off, a bit slowly. "Actually sweetie....that's not what we really wanted to talk about."

She blinks, "Oh?"

He leans forward, "Marinette. We know that it's only been a week since...everything. And we know that it's still very fresh, but....we're worried that you may not be dealing with it well."

She frowns. But she's been settling into École Louise Vallayer-Coster pour Les Arts nicely, better than how she expected her first week to go. And while she's out of place with the other more wealthier students, she's hopeful that they're truly a better atmosphere than her old school. "But I haven't had any issues with school yet."

"We're not talking about the school, sweetie." He exhales. "Or, not your new one anyway. We're talking about Collège Françoise Dupont and your old classmates. We don't think that you're dealing with it well. You haven't been acknowledging it much unless you have to." 

Oh.

Her mouth runs dry, "I just want to get over it."

"And we understand. But I don't think that avoiding it is best."

She stares down at her food. It's bound to already be cold at this point. If only she was spending this time eating it. "I'm not avoiding it." Thoughts push at the forefront of her mind however: Yes, you are. You're trying to avoid it because you don't want to deal with it right now. You can't deal with it right now. You just want to sleep. But she attempts again, "I'm not."

And yet, the images of her old phone stuffed in a drawer, and mountain of pictures with her old classmates dashed away said otherwise.

"Tiánxīn," Sweetheart. Maman places a hand on hers. "I understand that you just want to leave it behind you. But, you can't just expect it all to go away just like that. You saw it this afternoon. Alya wants to talk with you about it, and she's not going to give up anytime soon." Her hand shakes in her mother's grasp. "You say that you've only been tired from today, and I believe you since you woke up late, but we think it's also resulted from everything accumulating at once. You only officially left Françoise Dupont a little over a week ago, and you transferred within that same week. It's a new shift that may be affecting you. Alya coming over was just a reminder of that."

"And that's what we're concerned about, Marinette." Papa eyes her with distress. "While we may be ahead of ourselves, because it's only been a week, we just don't want you to ignore everything in the name of leaving it behind you. We know that the past few times when you had acknowledged it, you — " and he cut himself off, clearing his throat. " — you were almost taken over by Hawkmoth. So you're trying to prevent that from happening again. That's not healthy. We want you to deal with it in a healthy manner."

There are a few things that Marinette wants to do after hearing their words:

Protest, for one. Because they're overreacting a bit, it's only been a week after all. And she wasn't planning to ignore all of that for long. She's only been tired today, because of her horrible morning, and she knows resting is going to make it all go away.

Cry, for another. Because the feelings she's suppressed about it all is resurfacing, along with the tears to accompany it. Because she's being forced to acknowledge it once again, and the last two times she did were filled with all sorts of uncomfortable.

But then she has to admit that subconsciously, she had been trying to not focus on the matter of her old school. She had been trying to keep her emotions down. As the heroine of Paris, France; it is her duty to ensure that she doesn't fully succumb to Hawkmoth's control. She's already been slacking, what with letting Hawkmoth into her head multiple times. She can't be so susceptible anymore. Like Tikki's been telling her. She needs to get rid of this negativity. Tikki's right. They're right.

So despite it all, and through her tiredness; she takes in their overwhelming worry, and the unfinished food on her plate, removes her hand from under maman's to join them together by the fingers and murmurs, closing her eyes, "How?" The burn of not shutting her eyes for a while cause tears to show up.

Papa reaches for her other hand, "Your mother and I have been discussing a little. Been doing some research," Because of course, they always spoke with each other on everything. "But there's only so much you and the two of us can do. And while there are methods you can research and do on your own, maybe you need a professional."

She knows what's the main thing he's suggesting. "You mean like a therapist?"

Maman's warm and steady voice soothes her immediate discontent. "Not necessarily. You can talk with a therapist about this. It doesn't matter that your problem may not be as big as anyone else's — it's still too much for you to handle. It might be better to talk to a stranger about this. There would be psychotherapist-patient confidentiality, and we'll never know. Even I know that even you can't tell us everything, and that's fine."

Her maman was right, as she always was. She couldn't tell them everything. Ladybug was still a well-kept secret. And she understands where they're both coming from. But the idea of talking with a complete stranger over something so trivial, considering their line of work? Not to mention the fact that she couldn't be completely honest, considering her superheroing duties? That seemed....

"What else is there?"

"There's meditation. And other stress-relieving techniques." Maman continues. "While you could just research some, maybe it would be best if you got help from someone who specializes in this. There's Master Wang Fu, very good teacher. He has classes that have been a great help to many, and they always tackle the problem at the root." 

Well then. This option would help with her superheroing. She's already welcome to Master Fu, and he's always professed that she must do her best to ensure that she keeps a strong mind to be the hero she is. Tikki would probably agree with this the most. She can't be so susceptible anymore. She needs to tackle it.

They're right.  

They always were. And in the rarity of times in which they weren't, they always had her best interests at heart. "You're right. But can I think about it over the weekend? I really am tired." This conversation has made her more somnolent.

She finally looks her parents in the face, takes in their expressions, and she can see a slight twitch from them at her response. And she thinks that she's slightly disheartened them — they were probably expecting you to make up your mind on it now, to reach some sort of conclusion tonight — and she would've felt awful had it not been for her papa squeezing her hand, "Of course, Marinette. We know how tiring this must be for you."

She gives him a grateful attempt at a smile.

Maman gestures towards her now disgustingly-cold dinner. "Are you still hungry? If not, I'll just put it in the fridge." Marinette doesn't feel hungry anymore. And from the beginning, she had a feeling that whatever this conversation would be about would result in her losing her appetite. 

"Thanks," And she removes her hands from theirs. "I think I'll just go up and sleep now." But she feels a nudge from one of her pants legs and conceals a grimace. 

Not if Tikki had anything to say about it.  

"Alright." And when she gets up, her father calls out her name. He gives her a warm, reassuring smile, "We love you, sweetie." He must've realized that she needed to hear it. 

Marinette feels her mother's gaze and turns, finding a similar smile on her face.

She returns it, dipping her head gratefully. She really has great parents.

"Love you too."

 


 

Marinette's room· The Dupain-Cheng home, Paris, France.
8:25 pm.

In her post-discussion tiredness, Marinette flops onto her chaise with a sigh, a hand over her eyes because she knows what's coming.

"Marinette?"

She doesn't answer, the sluggish feeling in her limbs making her weigh the pros and cons of sitting back up. What if she pretended to fall asleep? A long shot, but with her tired state, believable enough — 

"Marinette, it's obvious you aren't sleeping."

Ugh.

She musters the strength to remove the arm over her eyes, finding the kwami hovering over her face expectantly. She's frowning, eyes staring down into hers. Marinette grumbles, getting up from her extremely comfortable laying position.

"Your parents' suggestions were pretty good. You could probably do both options."

Marinette makes some non-committal noise in response, standing to pick up her pajamas off the end of her chaise to change. She'll forgo taking a night shower, her limbs feel ten pounds heavier. 

"Though, going to Master Fu would be a better solution to all of this." The kwami sits down on her vanity, watching as her chosen changes. "He knows about both of your lives, and he'd have techniques to ensure that Ladybug doesn't become susceptible to Hawkmoth."

She opens her mouth, closes it, and shakes her head.

The thing is — she knows that Tikki is right. She knows. This issue is affecting her, but it's a bigger threat to Paris and its citizens. To Ladybug.  She knows the importance of her alter-ego. She takes Tikki's wise words to heart, holds herself up to that standard. But sometimes.....

Sometimes, it feels as if everyone cares about Ladybug than they do her. And it's wrong for her to get annoyed, wrong for that usual irritated flare up to show up because she understands. It's bigger than her, she knows. And it's wrong to make it seem as if Tikki doesn't care for her civilian self, because she absolutely does. She knows that. And yet....

Marinette stares at her reflection in the mirror.

The girl before her looks every bit of spent. In the low lighting, she can she the observing glint of her blue eyes, the pallid complexion of her face, the slightly-dark crescent build-up under her eyes. Her hair's tickling her shoulders, it desperately needs to be washed. The figure stares back at her, and all she can hear is her Maman's voice; the way it was softly pitched, the sympathetic undercurrent as she spoke. You can't just expect it all to go away just like that. The knowledge of the things still locked away in her drawer crept up once again, and she made a face. Her mirror image duplicated it.

She's not feeling for anymore deep talks. "Yeah, you're right Tikki. I'll go see Master Fu sometime after school." Because everyone's right, and truthfully, she owes it to herself.

The kwami's smile is sunny, and Marinette feels even worse for her earlier thoughts. How dare you even think that, her brain supplies. What kind of chosen was she, to be acting like such a child? There was the bigger picture, and she needed to understand that. "Don't worry, Marinette. I know that it's been a lot since it happened, and you haven't had a chance to really tackle it head on." She flitters up to her cheek, "But once you talk about this, you'll be able to become a better you! More than you already are, of course."

She cups a hand around her little friend, the disbelieving thoughts from earlier quite near diminished. The kwami truly meant well. "Thanks, Tikki." She gives her smile, "But for now though, I think I need to go to sleep. It's been a long — "

Something landed overhead.

Marinette blinked, her eyes trailing upwards and her shoulders unconsciously drooping. She clearly hadn't imagined it, if Tikki's immediate dash behind her bottle of lotion was anything to go by. But it was late — too late for any visitors right now, and she couldn't think of any reason that someone would be dropping by. It had been a long time since she last had a visitor too — 

A knock punctuated her thoughts, insistent.

Sending a confused look towards her kwami, she climbed up her stairs to go check, mind mourning at the slight setback to sleep.

 


 

The Parisian rooftops · 21st arrondissement, Paris, France.
8:35 pm.

Paris was absolutely breathtaking in its night life, with its exquisite skyscrapers and other buildings clothed with the warm glow of streetlights and their personal gleam. On other nights, one of those nights where he'd want to escape the suffocating walls of his towering home, he'd try to enjoy it. He'd sit on some rooftop where he could see a panoramic view of Paris in all its beauty. He'd immerse himself in the music that was strong enough to flow through the wind from the cabarets like Moulin Rouge, or Chez Moune

But tonight, he was on a mission. A mission that had to deal with a certain classmate of his.

Chat Noir smoothly leaped and glided across rooftops, blending within the shadows, the silver moonlight being the only thing betraying his silhouette to any mere civilian. He eventually arrived at his destination, landing on Marinette's balcony. He traces the intricate design of the railing, and touches a rose from one of her plants before glancing down through her glass hatch, the yellow-glow of her bedroom light emitting from it.

She isn't in bed, but her voice slightly carries past the glass — he can't discern what she's saying, but he knows its her voice. So, he knocks loud enough to get her attention, and waits until her head pops in on the other side of the glass. Her blue eyes are surprised as she says, loud enough for him to make out, "Chat Noir?"

He gives a small wave in response, and shuffles back as she opens the hatch.

"Good evening, Princess," he said, standing up to attempt a bow. She stands up in her bed and is half-hanging out of the hatch, looking up at him with slight confusion. She seems to have been getting ready for bed.

"What are you doing here?" Her folded arms rest on the ground. "Is there an akuma?" He watched as dread crept into her features for some reason, and he paused. He hadn't seen his classmate for a week, and she seemed troubling exhausted over something, something akin to how Mme. Bustier was earlier, probably similar to how he felt earlier. 

"Actually, I'm here to see you." He sends her a charming smile to calm her somewhat. "I was in the neighbourhood and thought that I'd check up on my favourite civilian."

Instead of a playful comment in response however, she only looks at him. "Check up on me?" She raises a tired eyebrow.

"Well yeah," His hand flew to the back of his neck. "I...came across one of the students from Collège Françoise Dupont. They really wanted to me to check up on you. Said that you weren't going to school there anymore for some reason? Everyone's really concerned." He was concerned.

He blinks as she closes her eyes for a moment, longer than a few seconds. She exhaled heavily, and he's even more concerned. Alarmed. He clears his throat. "Marinette?"

"Look Chat Noir, thank you for checking up on me." Her eyes are weary, but at their core, there's a flicker of something that he can't discern. "But I highly doubt everyone's so concerned."

Chat Noir stares at her. "You don't believe me?"

"Absolutely not." She wearily glances past him. "Did you knock down any of my plants vaulting in here?" Her face shows that she's expecting her flower pot of roses to be on the ground, dirt beside it.

"No, they're fine." But he gets back on track. "Princess, I don't understand. Why don't you think that everyone's concerned? They're all your friends, aren't they?"

And instead of the affirmation that he was expecting, Marinette simply draws her eyes downwards, voice small. "No, they're not."

Adrien could only stare for another moment — stare, and remember the constant excuses that had been given for all the times she hadn't been around: Can't go out for lunch because she always had to help her parents. Can't catch a movie with us, because she wasn't feeling too well. She's stuck in the Art Room on this big project. She's doing more assignments to make up for her missed classes. Remember how detached she generally was the last time he'd seen her, how angry she was.

How long did she feel this way? Because something in her tone makes him believe that she truly disliked her classmates. Her, Marinette, the coined 'Everyday Ladybug' of Mme. Bustier's class, one of the nicest people he's ever met, saying that they weren't her friends?

That...that actually unsettled him more than he'd be able to admit right now.

Because he's known Marinette to be one who'd do anything to help their classmates. So for her to believe that they wouldn't be concerned for her, to say that they all weren't her friends......?

Chat Noir swallows thickly, holding back the sudden onslaught of questions he wanted to ask. "What happened?" he rasped, bringing himself into a sit. "Why do you say that they aren't? Because I...uh — it really seems like they were shocked by your absence."

She exhales heavily, sounding so tired and so exasperated and so....infuriated. He straightens. He's never actually seen her angry before. Panicked, yes. Awkward and in a nervous frenzy, absolutely. Frustrated? Oh yeah, that had been showing up recently whenever Lila was around. But never angry. "It's funny that they're worried now. They didn't seem to care enough before. Every single time I was the bad guy."

She chuckles, but it's so jaded and bitter that he recoils slightly. "Marinette, what happened? You can tell me I'm — " he cuts himself off, because he was sounding a bit too desperate for information, he was letting Adrien seep into Chat Noir and he couldn't have that happen. "I'm all ears." He gave a her a too wide smile, akin to the ones he gave during his photo-shoots.

Marinette returns it, gratitude in those blue eyes but it's subdued. No no no no no. "Thank you. But I've had my fill of emotional talks for the night, and I don't feel like talking about any of that....that right now. Maybe someday I'll tell you." She yawns, "What I will tell you is that it was a lot. And now, I've changed schools."

".....I'm sorry to hear that." And her eyebrows furrowed slightly in confusion, tilting her head, but he continued. "I had no idea that you hated it there." He truly didn't. Sure, he didn't engage with her much, but now he wished he had.

"It wasn't that I hated it. Things only started getting horrible a while ago, and I just...." she exhaled. "I just needed to leave. It was better for me."

Things only started getting horrible a while ago. So something prompted her to leave. It was better for me. What had happened that she truly thought that it would be best if she left? He could sense that she didn't want to stay on the topic anymore, so he cleared his throat. "Would you like company for the rest of the night? This alley cat has nowhere to be, its c'est vendredi soir, after all." Because he didn't think that it was best to leave after that information.

But she waved him off. Oh no. "Thanks, but I'm going to have to decline. I have a well-overdue appointment with my bed that was supposed to be claimed since this morning, and I need to cash that in."

Adrien worried at his lip for a minute, peering down at her, before reluctantly acquiescing. 

"Very well then." He stands up, giving a poor attempt at a bow. "Bonne nuit, princess. I...." He forces his next words out. "I wish you all the best at your new school."

She sends him a tired smile, and he feels sick. "I hope for the best too. Au revoir, Chat Noir."

He gives one last wave as she goes back down, and hesitates before jumping off her balcony. 

And in his leaps back across the rooftops, he faintly registered that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.