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The String That Binds Us

Chapter Text

A string is a glowing red thread that leads from one person’s heart to their soulmate’s heart.  It will appear when the soulmates are both ready to meet and when they’re locations are close to each other it will gently tug them together.  Sometimes, two people could know each other for years before their strings bring them together. Sometimes, it brings strangers together to form a bond that will last a lifetime.  

 

Alya and Nino hadn’t had their strings tug them together until the day at the zoo when Ladybug locked them in a cage together.  Likewise, Ivan and Mylene were tugged together shortly after Ivan was freed from Stoneheart. As soon as he was courageous enough to be honest with Mylene about his feelings, their string had appeared.

 

Marinette always loved hearing about her parent’s soulmate story.  They had been culinary students enjoying a day at the farmer's market when their string brought them together in front of a pastry cart.  Tom had been smitten with Sabine’s obviously strong, caring nature. Sabine had thought that Tom’s bumbling and clumsy attempts to introduce himself were adorable.  The pastry vender treated them to a pair of macaroons in celebration and they always joked that cookies brought them together.

 

A few years ago, Marinette had hoped that her string would lead her to Adrien, but now Marinette felt like she’d dodged a bullet that it never had.  She’d been hopeful that she and Adrien would draw closer in their friendship, especially after he promised to have her back against Lila. However, as time went on, Adrien seemed to make more and more compromises to appease his father.  Instead of gaining confidence and independence as he grew up, he seemed more focused on blending in and not making waves. When he came to Marinette and confessed that his father had explicitly instructed Adrien to keep LIla happy--and Adrien had agreed--Marinette knew he was no longer the boy she had fallen for.  She felt sad that the trust she had in him was gone and sad that he wasn’t willing to stand up for himself or for others. But, try as she might, Adrien didn’t want to do anything about his unhealthy situation and she could only do so much.

 

After she’d gotten over Adrien, Marinette had some hopes that her soulmate would be Luka, but his string had soon led him to Kagami.  While many were shocked by this pairing and dismissed them as having nothing in common, Marinette almost instantly saw the connection they had and how good they were for each other.  They truly were each other's balance. Kagami brought order to Luka’s free spiritedness and Luka in turn helped Kagami free herself from rigid perfectionism. They were noticeably happier soon after they established their bond.  Luka was expressing himself more verbally and firmly and Kagami was learning to live as her best self instead of an unattainable best.  She began expressing herself more emotionally, though only a fool took this to mean she’d lost her competitive edge.

 

Marinette was thankful that she and Kagami had eventually had a heart to heart about their turbulent start.  Luka and Kagami became close friends and fierce supporters to Marinette, something she was especially thankful for as things with Lila escalated.

 

It had taken longer than Lila probably had hoped, but Marinette’s friendships--even with Alya--had finally fallen apart.  Over the years, Alya kept pushing Marinette to apologize and make friends with Lila and one day Marinette had gathered the courage to be brutally honest with her.

 

“Alya,” Marinette had said, “Lila has been publically needling me and privately cruel and threatening to me ever since she arrived in our class.  I’ve tried to prove this and her lies to you countless times over the years, but my evidence is never good enough for you. I’m tired. I’m tired of the pressure, I’m tired of having to keep myself together all the time, I’m tired of not having your support, and I’m tired of constantly being criticized--if not down right abused--by the people who should know me better.

 

“Do you not see how Lila has changed you?  Everything you do revolves around her. She’s in every conversation, she’s the deciding factor in almost every decision you make.  When was the last time we even hung out together outside of me helping you babysit or you coming around to lecture me about something Lila said?  Which, by the way, you never ask my side of! That’s not healthy, Alya. It’s toxic. It’s toxic between you and me and it’s toxic between you and Lila.  Is that how you really want to live your life?”

 

Needless to say, that conversation was not pretty.  She’d been met with denial and hostility. Alya claimed she was being unfairly cruel to Lila and until she got over her pettiness she didn’t want to be friends.  It broke Marinette’s heart, but she was no longer surprised. She actually felt some sense of relief that the confrontation was finally over and she no longer had the stress of treating their friendship with kit gloves.

 

Lila didn’t have any power over Marinette though Alya’s friendship anymore, but that didn’t stop her. The bullying got worse, sometimes physical others mental, and was almost a daily constant.  Marinette took note that Lila made sure it was contained between the students and Marinette. She wanted Marinette around to suffer in the shadow of Lila’s ‘victory,’ so she didn’t paint any tails of woe to the teachers that Marinette was bullying her.  She just fed that line to her classmates and they followed her word without thought.

 

Tom and Sabine fought hard to have the principal or Ms. Bustier take action but they both had the mindset that the kids should work it out for themselves.  Ms. Bustier was convinced that Marinette’s kind nature was a thermometer for her classroom and took to the belief that the situation was a misunderstanding and would blow over.  No one took a serious initiative to keep themselves aware of how catastrophically the atmosphere had changed.

 

Marinette’s parents were understandably furious and were looking to formalize a legal complaint.  In the meantime, they were strongly encouraging Marinette to switch schools. However, Marinette was now one year away from graduating.  She’d had years of hard work as class representative--Lila never ran because she was busy with her ‘charity work’ and the class kept her in office despite their rift because Marinette got the job done.  She’d also developed a good reputation with her teachers and other students around the school. She didn’t want to lose these connections and have to rebuild her reputation and references just when she was trying to apply to universities and internships.

 

So she stayed.  She wasn’t even able to manage a class transfer because Ms. Bustier had caught wind of the change and mistakenly ‘helped’ Marinette stay with her ‘friends’ and Principal Damocles had been negligent to ensure the request had gone through.

 

Sabine had scoured the city for a therapist suited for Marinette’s needs and had been happy to find Dr. Chang.  Marinette had fought back a giggle when her parents introduced her to the man for the first time and she had to pretend not to know Master Fu.  She couldn’t have asked for a better therapist however--apparently he’d had time in his nearly two centuries of life to become quite qualified in the area of mental health.  He’d acquired several specialized degrees…though he didn’t mention the years they were earned. She was able to talk to him about everything and he helped her have hope and plans for a brighter, healthier future.

 

And did she have plans!  Audrey Bourgeois had renewed her interest in having Marinette as her apprentice.  In the few years since her first offer, Audrey had a wake-up call regarding her relationship with her daughter and they’d become closer and healthier, though not perfect.  While Chloe and Marinette were not close friends, Chloe credited Marinette with instigating the change with her mother. Audrey kept a close eye on Marinette and was willing to be more flexible with her offer this time around.  She suggested something of a cross between university and an internship. Marinette would get her degree, work for Audrey remotely, and travel to select events with her. Audrey even suggested that Marinette take full advantage of the opportunity to travel and choose a university abroad. 

 

Tom and Sabine supported this idea heartily, having both studied abroad themselves.  They’d found it to be a transformative experience and they hoped it would be a rejuvenating experience for their daughter’s self esteem after so long in a toxic environment.

 

Marinette was more open to the idea than she would have thought.  The idea of a new environment was tantalizing--and the promise of being able to blossom on her own without the nasty voices of former friends over her shoulder claiming she was full of herself or didn’t deserve her success spurred her to pour over university pamphlets from London, New York, Madrid, and Tokyo.  She quickly decided to narrow it down to countries she had a comfortable mastery of the language. Though her Nona had been teaching her Italian, she had no desire to go anywhere she associated Lila with and so Italy was never considered. London was a promising option that would allow her to visit her parents a little easier...but she knew it would be just as promising to her fellow classmates and she’d risked a greater chance of crossing paths with them.

 

Of course, this all hinged on one very important detail: a butterfly.  She refused to leave her responsibilities as Ladybug--especially now that her Guardian training was nearly complete.  She was constantly brainstorming battle plans about how to take down Hawkmoth and was very much hoping to end his reign of terror before she had to make a final decision about university.

 

As if she didn’t have enough stress, Ladybug and Cat Noir were under constantly increasing criticism about apprehending Hawkmoth and Mayura.  It was not appreciated. 

 

Study abroad or not, Marinette was planning on taking a break from Paris as soon as Hawkmoth was defeated.  Master Fu was perhaps the biggest supporter of her plan. He planned to retire after Hawkmoth was gone and said that having Marinette relocate the Miracle Box for a while was a wise choice.

 

These plans afforded Marinette a surge of hope that helped her face her classmates.  She’d already started applying to universities and institutes in America when Ms. Bustier announced a class trip to be held in late October.  When she heard the location, Marinette couldn’t help but smile. It seemed a little Ladybug Luck was working in her favor because only the day before she’d received news that she’d been offered an interview at one of her favorite options.  With a little finagling between her teacher and the school--making sure her classmates didn’t hear even a whisper about it--Marinette made an appointment for an interview and official school tour.  

 

Come October, Marinette would be seeing what Gotham Fashion Institute of Technology has to offer her future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note--the Gotham University name (GFIT) is a nod to Big Hero 6 and their school SFIT.

 

Chapter Text

One nine hour flight, a lonely hotel room, a missed alarm, and an unfortunate episode of being left behind at the hotel later and Marinette found herself at Wayne Enterprises.  It was the second full day of the trip and Marinette had only barely made the bus on time after her alarm had failed to go off again .

 

Marinette’s heart was still racing from the stressful morning and she hung in the back of the group as Lila kept up her own commentary over that of the tour guide.  She wanted no part of that, thank you, but she could still hear them talking--and just when she’d been interested in hearing about the building’s gothic architecture!

 

“Dami-bear is so hopeful that he’ll be on the other end of my string!” Lila was cooing.  “But then, so many celebrities wish that! And we hardly ever get to see each other...”

“I have no doubt he does, Lila!  You’re awesome!” Alya praised.

 

Lila’s voice carried through the hall and gained the attention of many people outside her classmates--people Lila would eventually wish never heard her.  Marinette just rolled her eyes and tried to ignore her. Anyone worth their salt would never want Lila to be on the other end of their string! It did hit her a little hard though… more of her friends--or former friends--kept finding their soulmates and she was feeling lonesome and impatient for hers.  It didn’t help that Cat Noir was constantly bugging her about revealing their identities because he was sure that when they did their strings would connect.  Tikki had confirmed that that’s not how soulmates work, though she didn’t say more, and Marinette would bet that Plagg had said something similar...though to be fair, Plagg wasn’t usually as clear and helpful as Tikki.

 

Just as Lila was boasting about something else, Marinette felt a gentle tug on her heart.  Ah...wishful thinking… Or at least that’s what she thought until she looked down and clearly saw her string!  It was connected to her chest, right above her heart, and it was glowing and beautiful!

 

It was really happening!  Marinette thought with a smile.  She felt a couple more gentle tugs and Marinette took a couple of hesitant steps with each tug in an attempt to follow.  Apparently, that wasn’t enough because suddenly the string yanked and started pulling her where it wanted her to go!

 

“Yipe!” Marinette cried as she was hauled in one direction.  

 

Marinette’s yelp drew her classmates' attention to her so they were all witnesses to her being towed away by her string. Everyone stared openly, no one had ever seen a string react so strongly before!

 

As Marinette ran, trying to keep up with her string’s pace, she passed two men in suits and nearly ran into them.  They seemed to be making their way to her class.

 

“Sorry!  I don’t know where I’m going!” Marinette shrieked as they sidestepped her.

 

The two men shared a look and then the older man gave the younger one a look and nodded in Marinette’s direction.  With a simple nod, the younger man ran off to catch up to Marinette.

 

Marinette’s first obstacle in her run to her soulmate was a door--a door that had a clear ‘employees only’ sign on it and clearly need a pass card to open.

 

“Crud!”  Marinette braced herself as she slammed into the door.  

 

She hoped her string would take this as a hint and find a different route, but apparently her string was stubborn and Marinette felt the string yank her again until she was full-body slamming the door repeatedly. 

 

 “You have got to be kidding me!” Marinette growled.

 

“Hang on, Little Lady!  I’ve got your back!” came a male voice from behind.

 

It was one of the two men she nearly ran over; he bolted up to her and quickly scanned his pass card.  He barely had time to push the door open before her body slammed into it again and she stumbled through.

 

“Thank you!” Marinette said gratefully.

 

“You’re not leaving me behind, Miss!  Someone has to make sure you don’t run into anymore doors!”  he said as he kept pace behind her. “Besides, I love a good soulmate meet cute!” 

 

Once the door closed, the second man turned back to the stunned class and began to approach the teacher.  Before he could, though, his phone rang.

 

“Alfred?” he answered.  “Now? What...I see. I’m on my way.”

 

He turned swiftly around and made a quick exit, taking a mental note to address the lying celebrity-chaser at another time.

 

Meanwhile, Marinette had been having her own, personal tour of the Wayne building.  She’d been down three long hallways, up three flights of stairs, two more hallways, and had slammed into another two doors before they could be unlocked.  She’d disrupted one very startled business meeting--ouch, those coffee stains would not be coming out of that Brooks Brothers suit!--and now, so far, had gone up ten flights of stairs.  And. Counting.

 

Marinette was getting tired and dizzy, she’d barely had time to grab a danish from the hotel breakfast buffet before running to the bus and that poor excuse for a pastry had long been exhausted as an energy source.  

 

Thankfully, the man that was running with her had a good sense of humor and thought this was hilarious.  He’d introduced himself as Dick and told her, “You should have been seen me and my soulmate when we met! Now that was a disaster!”

 

Before she could ask what he meant, Marinette had to keep herself from tripping on the stairs after a particularly nasty yank.

 

“My string hates me!  Why is this taking me all over the place?  And why is this place such a maze?!” Marinette lamented, running out of breath and stumbling around because of her string.  

 

“I don’t know why you’re running all over, or why your string is pulling you this hard, but this place is a maze because Bruce is weird.” Dick answered, still breathing calmly and keeping a steady pace.  How was he doing that?!

 

“My kingdom for an elevator!” Marinette bemoaned to Dick’s amusement.  “Seriously! Why not just let me take the elevator instead of running up, what?  Fifteen sets of stairs by now?!”

 

Dick just laughed at Marinette’s comment as they left the stairs and ran down another hallway.

 

As they ran through more twists and turns, Marinette was beginning to wonder when this would end.  This was not how she imagined meeting her soulmate!  Just as she thought that, she collided with another body, hard, giving her only a moment to brace for impact.

 

“Ouch!”  Marinette squeaked as she ran into a wall of muscle--clearly a man’s body--the impact hurting her slightly.

 

“Oof.” Came from the guy she ran into, clearly not as bothered by the hit.

 

When Marinette had braced herself, she put her hands in front of her, so they were now resting on the guy’s chest!   Heaven help her.  Marinette’s soulmate, because that was clearly who he was, ended up wrapping his arms around her.  

 

Something happened with the string right after it finished pulling.  The string began to bind them together, winding around them from shoulder to ankle so there was no escape.  Marinette couldn’t believe what was happening and, apparently neither could her soulmate or the three bystanders.  Was one of them filming this?

 

“I-I’m so s-sorry!  I didn’t mean to run into you!  The string just yanked and I couldn’t stop!” Marinette rushed out in one gasp.

 

Before her soulmate could answer her, there were comments from their audience.

 

“I can’t believe it!  Demon Spawn really does have someone at the end of his string and she’s cute!”

 

Well, that seemed rather harsh.  Why wouldn’t he have someone at the end of his string?

 

“If I wasn’t seeing this for myself I wouldn’t believe it!  The brat has soulmate! And a...very active string?”

“Guys, watch it!  You don’t want to scare the Little Lady off before she’s properly introduced, do you?”  Dick asked with clear mirth.

 

“Shut up, you idiots!  You’re not wanted here.” Marinette felt more than heard from the chest she was pressed against.

 

Marinette knew it!  She made her soulmate upset!  She needed to find a way to fix it before he decided he hated her and never wanted to see her again and she died alone with a house full of hamsters…

 

Red in the face, Marinette started to ramble.  “I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

 

Marinette was cut off by her soulmate.  “I don’t mean you, Miss, I meant our stupid, unwanted peanut gallery.”

 

“That’s not nice, Little D, I did help get her to you!” Dick said smugly.

 

“Shut up, Grayson.”  

 

“Umm…” Marinette interrupted, bringing their attention back to her.  “Hi, I’m Marinette…”

 

The other boys snickered because they could see Damian blush even if she couldn’t.

 

“Hello, Marinette.  Apparently we’re soulmates, I’m--”

 

“Apparently?  Really, Demon spawn?  You two are literally tied together with your string; that’s more of a definitely!”

 

“Timmy’s right, you know.”

 

“Shut up, Todd, Drake!”

 

“Guys, please introduce yourselves before she just deems you all dangerous.” Dick sighed.

 

“Fine, Dicky-Bird!  Hi, Rosy-Cheeks! I’m Jason.” the one with the white streak in his hair said.

 

“And I’m Tim,” the one filming said, “we’re Mr. Charm’s brothers; along with Dick.  Sorry if we made you uncomfortable.”

 

“It’s fine!  It’s just a lot has happened in such a short period and my string dragging me around was really confusing.” Marinette explained.

 

Jason and Tim started laughing.

 

“We know!  Watching Grumpy Cat get towed around like he was on a leash was hilarious!” Jason cackled.

 

“Yeah, seeing him get dragged from his desk was hysterical!” Tim snickered.

 

Marinette felt her soulmate growl and looked up at his face.  What do you know, he’s handsome! And...turning pink.

 

“Shut. Up.” he commanded, looking like he wanted to hurt his brothers.

 

Marinette wanted to soothe his ire.

 

“Don’t worry,” Marinette smiled as she drew his attention.  “I did much more embarrassing things than you. I got pulled away from my class, nearly bowled over Dick and the person he was with, ran into a few doors, went up, like, twenty flights of stairs, and disrupted a board meeting.  I think I did worse than you.”

 

There was a moment of silence.

 

“Grayson, did she really do all that?” he asked Dick.

 

“Yup.  I’m surprised she’s not more tired, really.”

 

“Are you hurt?” her soulmate asked, focusing on Marinette.

 

“What?  No, I’m fine.” Marinette answered, confused.

 

“Are you sure? That must not have been an easy run.”

 

“It wasn’t bad, I promise,” she smiled at his concern.

 

“If you’re sure, Marinette.”

 

“I’m sure!”

 

“Alright then, I--Drake, are you still filming?  I told you to cut it out!”

 

“That’s not exactly what you said…” Tim said with a smirk.

 

“Off!  Now!” he growled.

 

“Oh, come on, Demon Spawn!” Tim complained.  “We have to record this for posterity or no one will believe that this sweetie pie is your soulmate!”

 

Marinette interrupted another growl by saying, “Actually…”

 

Her soulmate leaned back slightly to look at her.

 

“My parents are totally going to want a copy of that.” she said shamelessly.  “They’ll never forgive me if they find out this was filmed and I go back to Paris without it.”

 

Dick, Tim, and Jason laughed as her soulmate just sighed.  Tim finally stopped recording as Jason took a good look at them before starting to circle them like a vulture. 

 

“Look, as cute as this is, you two are still tied together.  How do you plan on getting out?” Tim inquired.

 

Marinette blinked at Tim and shared a look with her soulmate.

 

“I...I don’t know.  I’ve never heard about a string doing this at all.”  Marinette conceded, inwardly thinking of all the trouble her yo-yo had given her and betting that Tikki had something to do with this.

 

Marinette tried to wiggle away from her soulmate as Tim plucked at the string, seeing if it would give and making observations.  Unfortunately, Marinette underestimated their balance and they instantly tipped over and landed on the floor.

 

“I’m so sorry!” Marinette squeaked as she realized her soulmate had somehow twisted so she would land on him instead of him crushing her.

 

“It’s not a problem, Marinette,” he said while shooting a glare at his snickering brothers.

 

Marinette awkwardly searched for something to say.  “Um...nice carpeting.”

 

He craned his neck to look at her incredulously as his brothers laughed even harder.  “Oh. Thank you…”

 

He glared at the boys again.  “You know, you three could try being helpful!”

 

Tim ignored him and began to make observations.  “This really is interesting. This has to be the first record of a string dragging people together instead of gently tugging--and the first record of it tying them up!”

 

Again everyone fell into silence, unsure how to remedy the issue, until Jason spoke up.

 

“Why don’t they kiss?”

 

“What?!” They both yelled as one. 

 

Marinette was sure she felt Tikki giggling in her purse.

 

“You guys have any better ideas?” Jason asked.

 

They both turned bright red but couldn’t argue with Jason.

 

“B-but…everyone’s watching…” Marinette whimpered.

 

Dick noticed a few Wayne Enterprize employees had drifted into the hallway to see the spectacle.  

 

“Nothing to see here, folks!” he shooed them on before helping the pair back to their feet.  “The Lady is right, we should give them privacy to have their moment together.”

 

Dick looked around before spotting a nearby maintenance closet.

 

“This should do nicely!” Dick proclaimed as he shuffled them inside the closet.  “We’ll leave you two alone, now.”

 

He was corralling Tim and Jason away, but before the door could fully close the brothers made a few last remarks.

 

“Enjoy Seven Minutes in Heaven, Demon Spawn!” Jason yelled.

 

“Be a gentleman, brat!  Nice to meet you, Marinette!” Tim added.

 

Then Marinette and Damian were alone, quiet, and embarrassed.  Thankfully, Dick had switched on a light before he’d left, but neither could bring themselves to look at the other.

 

“I’m sorry about my brothers, Marinette.  They live to humiliate me.” he said.

 

Marinette giggled.  “It wasn’t too bad.”

Damian cleared his throat.

 

“We should at least try Todd’s idea.”

 

Marinette flushed bright red again.  “Right! Sure, yeah...of course! I, um...it’s just...this is…I mean…”

 

Damian blinked at the girl he was bound to as she tried to hide her face.

 

“Are you saying that you’ve never been kissed before?” he asked.

 

“Yes.” Marinette whispered.  She didn’t count Dark Cupid or Oblivio.  One had been to save Cat’s life--and hers!--and they other had been under a spell and she couldn’t remember it.

 

“But how?!  You’re beautiful!” Damian exclaimed, completely shocked by this revelation.  The thought had actually crossed his mind that she probably already had a boyfriend and he wondered what it would mean for them as they got to know each other.

 

“I-I-I-I-I…” Marinette stammered, turning even brighter red.

 

“Forgive me for my forwardness, Marinette, but it’s true.  You are beautiful.”

 

“T-thank you.” she whispered before bravely adding.  “I-I think your handsome, too.”

 

She couldn’t see it, but Damian’s features softened and he looked at her fondly.  “Thank you, my dear, but we really should try to get out of the string now.”

 

“Right.”

 

There was some awkward moving and wiggling--Damian was significantly taller than her--but eventually they got close enough to kiss.

 

Marinette had always expected the electric spark that should come with a soulmate’s kiss.  When their lips touched, the spark was there, as she’d dreamed, but what she didn’t expect was the warm, comforting feeling that wrapped around her.  Her heart sighed in contentment and her very being said, ‘Oh, there you are. Hello.’

 

When Damian and Marinette pulled away from each other, they found the string was gone.  Without realising it, during the kiss Marinette had moved her hands from Damian’s chest to around his neck and Damian’s arms had tightened their embrace and held her closer and more tenderly.  The embrace was intimate but neither felt uncomfortable. On the contrary, they found themselves completely serene and not wanting to break the moment.  

 

Marinette sighed and nestled her head on his chest as Damian rested his head on top of her head.

 

“I should get back to my class…” Marinette breathed without any conviction.

 

“True.  Perhaps you would be willing to join me for dinner tonight?  I would enjoy getting to know you, Marinette.” he asked.

 

“I would like that, too, but I think I’m going to be in trouble for running away from the class, soulmate string or not.”  She’d certainly gotten in trouble for being left behind the day before--even though she’d arrived in the lobby on time (barely) and they were the ones not to realise she was missing.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m sure my brother’s more than likely have...handled the situation with your class.”

 

Marinette tilted her head in confusion.  “If you say so…”

 

“Let me walk you back?” he asked, holding out his arm.

 

“It would be my pleasure.” Marinette giggled as she intertwined their arms.

 

They carried on a light conversation as they went down to meet her class in the lobby--this time making use of the elevator.

 

“May I have your phone number?” he asked, coming to a stop before the class could see them.

 

“Oh!  Of course!”

 

Marinette was still entering her contact information when Dick ran up to them.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Little D, but it’s an emergency!” Dick said.

 

Damian glared at him.  “Now? Does it really require all of our attention?”

 

“I’m afraid it’s no joke , Baby Bird.”  Dick said seriously.

 

“I should get going anyway,” Marinette said, “I hope it’s nothing serious?”

 

“Don’t worry, my dear,” Damian assured.  “I’m sure it will all be straightened out by tonight.  Where is your class headed next?”

 

“Um… I think the Gotham Science Museum?” Marinette tried to remember.

 

Damain nodded.  “I hope you enjoy it, I’ll pick you up at your hotel tonight.  Seven pm?”

 

Marinette smiled.  “It’s a d-date! We’re staying at the Gotham Grand.”

 

Damian knew exactly which hotel that was, Wayne Enterprises owned it.

 

“It’s a date.  I’ll see you then.”

 

With that, the two brothers ran off back to the elevator and Marinette walked dreamily back into the lobby.  For a glorious minute she’d completely forgotten about her class. Then they surrounded her.

 

“Marinette, did you find your soulmate?”

 

“Of course she did, if she hadn’t she’d still be getting tugged!  Ridiculous!”

 

“What’s he like?”

 

“Was he on a tour?”

 

Having her classmates surround her was causing Marinette anxiety, feeling like a mob had closed in on her.  For the first time in months, they almost all seemed friendly and excited for her. It was strange and unnerving and Marinette was waiting for something to go sour.

 

“What was with that wild string?”

 

“Are you going to see him again?”

 

“Does he live in Gotham?”

 

“Has he ever seen the Batman team in person?”

 

“What’s his name?”

 

Marinette opened her mouth to answer the last question and paused.

 

“Eeep!” Marinette shrieked as she grabbed onto her pigtails.  “I forgot to ask for his name!”

 

Some of her classmates giggled good naturedly as she literally started to spiral around and pace.  “This is a disaster! A disaster!”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Damian had not been pleased to have been called away from his newly discovered soulmate to deal with the Joker.  At least there had been a target to unleash his ire on and between his father and brothers they’d actually captured the Joker quickly for once.

 

Once his irritation passed, Damian was actually relieved that this Joker incident had happened now when Marinette was on the other side of the city and safe in the Science Museum.  He didn’t know how long she would be in Gotham and hoped she wouldn’t be returning home to...she said Paris? Yes, that matched with her sweet, slight French accent. Anyway, he hoped she wouldn’t be leaving soon, but he was glad Joker was returning to Arkham before she could be harmed by the sociopath.  It was more than likely he wouldn’t escape again while she was still visiting.

 

Still, Gotham is a city of crime and he couldn’t help checking the crime reports surrounding the Science Museum while things were being wrapped up at the crime scene.

 

“Worried about a certain someone?” Red Hood leaned over Robin’s shoulder.

 

Robin scowled behind his mask.  “Not here, idiot.”

 

Red Hood snorted.  “That’s a yes.”

 

“What’s a yes?”

 

Damian rolled his eyes as Batman, Nightwing, and Red Robin joined them.  He bet even Alfred was listening in on the coms.

 

“Little Bird, here, is worried about his soulmate.” Though Red Hood was taunting him, he’d had the sense to do so quietly and not draw attention.

 

Batman’s interest was caught.  “Soulmate?” he whispered.

 

“Remember earlier?” Nightwing prompted.  “That was her.”

“Really…” Batman mused.

 

“We are not having this conversation here.” Robin said firmly.

 

“At least tell us you got a date?” Nightwing smirked.

 

“Like I would ever tell anything to you imbeciles!” Damian growled as he turned to leave.

 

Red Hood and Nightwing laughed while Red Robin called out, “You know we’ll find out eventually!”

 

Robin ignored them and grumbled to himself as he made his way to the Batcave.  He had dinner reservations to make and he knew one person who would actually be helpful and knew the meaning of the word discreet.



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette checked her reflection in the hotel mirror again.  She didn’t think she’d have many occasions to dress up on the trip, but she’d packed a nice dress because a play at the Gotham Opera House was on the schedule for later next week.  Now she was vacillating between wondering if she was over dressing or under dressing for the date…

 

She was going on a date with her soulmate!

 

She was not prepared for this!  She hadn’t thought she’d meet her soulmate on this trip, and certainly not the way she had.  Now, she was going on her first date since Pierre Devereux had asked her to a school dance and Lila had told everyone he was Marinette’s cousin and that she’d paid him to be her date.  The boy had been so embarrassed he’d barely talked to her since.

 

Marinette pulled back the high-necked halter of her dress to expose the skin over her heart.  Her soulmate’s name had not appeared yet, but when she’d called her parents over lunch they had assured her that it would not appear until both soulmates had shared their true names.  Sabine had told her they would not miss it when it happened because there would be a slight glow and they’d feel another (hopefully lighter) tug on their hearts.  

 

They had been so excited for her and couldn’t wait to see the video Tim had taken.  Tom thought the whole being dragged around a building thing was hilarious and had already asked what kind of cookies to send the family as a greeting.  Sabine had reminded him that the cookies would wind up as crumbs, and Tom had reluctantly started scheming about what pastry would survive an air shipment with the most success.  They reminded her to call them, no matter the time difference, as soon as she got back into her hotel room so that they knew she was safe and so they could hear how the date went.

 

“You look beautiful, Marinette!” Tikki exclaimed as she brushed a stray hair into Marinette’s high bun.

 

“Thank’s, Tikki,” Marinette sighed.  “I’m just so nervous! I can’t believe I didn’t even get his name!”

 

Tikki giggled.  “Well, you were a bit tied up!”

Marinette mock glared at her.  “Uh huh. And I suppose you had nothing to do with that?”

 

Tikki looked completely innocent.  “Of course not! Though it is an interesting coincidence that Miraculous holders seem to be prone toward more dramatic reveals between them and their soulmates!”

 

Marinette sighed dramatically.

 

“If I even had his number I could text and ask where we’re going!  Though I wouldn’t want to interrupt his emergency, I hope everything’s alright…you don’t think he wanted me to plan the date, do you?”

 

Tikki shook her head in reassurance.  “He was the one to ask you on the date and he probably lives in the area, I’m sure he’s planned out the date.”

 

Marinette glanced at her phone again and squared her shoulders.  It was almost seven.

 

“Well, Tikki!  Ready or not, here we go!” Marinette announced like a war cry.

 

Tikki gave Marinette a quick snuggle against her cheek and then dove into Marinette’s clutch purse.  Marinette folded her charcoal dress coat over her arm and double checked that she had her room key before she left.

 

“Marinette!”

 

She jumped when she heard the voice behind her on the way to the elevator.

 

Adrien had been heading down the hall toward the room the rest of the class was meeting in to hang out.  The students were supposed to get dinner during their free time tonight, and they’d elected to order take out and stay in after Lila complained that her sciatica was acting up.

 

“I see you were stuck with the bill again.” Marinette commented.

 

Adrien grimaced and looked away.  “I can afford it and I like to pay for my friends.”

“Doesn’t mean they should expect it from you, Adrien.” Marinette reminded him.

 

“Lila said it would be easier than us all trying to break the check up and pay separately… and that I’m generous so I don’t mind.” Adrien said.

 

Marinette hummed but didn’t comment.

 

“I just...wanted to say congratulations.” Adrien said awkwardly.  “About finding your soulmate, that is. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.”

 

Marinette sighed.  “Thank you, Adrien.” she paused.  “I know how much finding your soulmate means to you, I’m sure it’ll happen for you soon.  When you’re ready.”

 

Adrien smiled tiredly.  “At least Lila hasn’t tried to lie about that yet…”

 

“It would be hard for her to fake the soulmate signature.” Marinette pointed out.

 

“True,” Adrien admitted, “thank goodness a tattoo just can’t imitate the real thing, right?”

 

Marinette nodded.  Adrien was never cruel like some of the others, but she’d made it clear that she wasn’t interested in his occasional friendship.

 

“I hope you enjoy your date,” Adrien sheepishly said as the elevator arrived.  “Be safe, I know he’s your soulmate but he’s still a stranger and this is Gotham.”

 

“I will.” Marinette promised.

 

“Marinette?” Adrien’s vulnerable tone got her to look him in the eye.  “Do you think...my soulmate would...like me?”

 

Marinette felt her heart soften.  She looked Adrien in the eye and said with kind firmness.  “I’m sure your soulmate will love you, Adrien. But do you like yourself?  Because that’s really important to establish before you try to build something with another person.”

 

He gave her a little wave as the elevator doors closed.



~~~~~~~~~~



Damian resisted the ridiculous urge to check that his tie was straight when he knew perfectly well that it already was.  He’d arrived at the Gotham Grande fifteen minutes early and then waited in his car until he was only five minutes early.

 

Alfred had suggested a restaurant with a view of the harbor.  Handel’s Dinner Club, according to Alfred, was renowned for their food, views, and live music and dancing.  However, the restaurant was also not considered an extravagant option compared to the five star restaurants the Gotham glitterati frequented.  It was high end, but had a more modest, family vibe and Alfred said he suspected Marinette would feel more at home at Hadel’s than some of the more pretentious options.

 

Most importantly, Handel’s Dinner Club was on the opposite side of the city from where Alfred promised he would ‘conveniently’ tell Damian’s brothers they would be.

 

Damian watched as the blonde boy--Adrien Agreste, son of Gabriel Agreste--from Marinette’s class came and paid for a large amount of takeout food and then returned upstairs.  Not that he’d been snooping around for information about Marinette...really he’d dialed his normal new-person investigation way down from his normal.

 

A few minutes later, the elevator doors opened again and he saw Marinette.  She looked beautiful, but he already knew she was beautiful. The small catch in his throat--that he knew was redundant to deny but he was still embarrassed of--was caused by the knowledge that this young woman was his soulmate.  He didn’t even know her, but Damian had an incredible certainty that Marinette was going to quickly become an important person in his life.

 

He finally took notice of what she was wearing, remembering that his intel said that she was interested in fashion design.  He hadn’t searched too deeply, honest.  Just a generic search on google and Facebook like most would do before an, essentially, blind date.

 

Her dress was a high-necked, black halter, fitted at the waist and then flared into a wide, gathered skirt.  She wore dark nylons with black, t-strap, wedged heels. He could tell she was nervous, but she strode toward him boldly and he couldn’t help but smile.  She was a vision of midnight grace--beautiful, dark, and mysterious while undeniably elegant.

 

“He-hello.” she greeted as she fiddled with her coat.

 

“Good evening, Marinette,” Damian said with a slight smile, “you look even more beautiful than this afternoon, if that is possible.”

 

Marniette blushed beautifully and Damian found that it gave him an unexpected thrill to have gotten such a positive response from his complement.

 

“Shall we?” Damian held out his hand.

 

“Um...before we go…” Marinette sheepishly paused and Damian waited for her to continue.  “Um… I never got your actual name? Unless it really is Demon Spawn?”

 

Damian’s eyebrows twitched in surprise.  He couldn’t believe it. He and his imbecile brothers had had an entire conversation--he’d kissed her--and they hadn’t even had the decency to make sure they’d finished the proper introductions!  He hadn’t even noticed that her soulmark signature was missing over his heart.

 

“I am so sorry, Marinette!” he apologized.  “I can’t believe I never gave you my name! That was incredibly rude of me.”

 

Marinette easily laughed it off.  “It’s understandable! We had a very unusual meeting and then you had that emergency to deal with.  Did everything turn out alright with that?”

 

“Everything turned out just fine.” Damian assured, offering his hand.  “Allow me to make amends. Hello, my name’s Damian Wayne and I’m your soulmate.”

 

Marinette giggled and clasped his hand, ready to shake hands but then blushing when he kissed her knuckles.  “I-I’m Ma-Marinette. Marrinette Dupain-Cheng. And I’m your soulmate!” She finished nervously.

 

A soft glow that had matched their string shone over their hearts for a moment and they both felt a warmth on their skin over their hearts.  Marinette blushed and placed her other hand over the soulmate signature that was covered by her dress. Damian smiled at her and resisted the urge to hold the signature over his own heart.

 

“Marinette,” Damian said as he helped her with her coat, “I couldn’t be happier to know you.”



~~~~~~~~~~



“I still don’t see why we have to do this now!” Jason complained.  “We could be spying on Damian’s first date with his soulmate! Do you people realize the trainwreck we’re missing?!”

 

“Dick and I heard some disturbing lies that a classmate of Marinette’s was telling right before Marinette was tugged away by her string.” Bruce clarified.  He had gathered the boys and Alfred in the Batcave and already had Tim doing a thorough background check on Marinette and her class. “From what you all have said, Marinette seems like a nice girl.  However, I think our situation warrants a little invasiveness regarding privacy. As Damian’s soulmate, she’ll be an important part of his life very soon and I want to know what we should expect.”

 

“What was the other kid talking about, anyway?” Jason asked.

 

Dick snorted.  “She was a total brat--and not Damian-level bratness.  We only heard the tail end of her spiel but she was claiming something about Damian practically worshiping her and wishing he was her soulmate!”

 

Jason laughed loudly.  “ Demon Spawn ?  Wow.  Does she even know anything about Damian besides his name?”

 

“Doubtful.” Tim muttered.

 

“I would have put a stop to it immediately but Alfred called me about the Joker before I could.” Bruce said.  “Celebrity stalkers are nothing new, we’ve handled people that think they can use our name to their benefit before and resolved it easily.  What I’m concerned about is the fact that the girl seemed to have her class enraptured with a clearly outrageous story. It’s safe to assume that this is regular behavior for the girl.  I have to wonder if Marinette also believes her and how this has affected her.”

 

“She seemed pretty smart.” Dick commented.  “Unless the girl is usually a better liar, I doubt Marinette has been fooled by her.”

 

“Well this is interesting.” Tim spoke up.

 

“What are we looking at?” Jason asked as they looked over Tim’s shoulder.

 

“Apparently, Marinette’s parents have filed a complaint against her school for negligence in bullying.” Tim explained.

 

“Damian’s soulmate is getting bullied?” Dick growled.

 

“Looks like it, and it gets worse.” Tim added.  “One of her classmates is the mayor’s daughter and, from what I’ve skimmed already, it seems like any complaint made against the school, especially his daughter’s class, is blocked--directly by the Mayor’s Office.”

 

“Abuse of power.” Bruce nodded.  “Not unexpected…”

 

“It seems like the Dupain-Chengs are really fighting it...there are records of a lawyer and everything, but I’d say the system is really screwed up.”

 

Bruce nodded again.

 

“You thinking of a little trip to Paris?” Dick asked. 

 

“Perhaps.” Bruce answered.  “It would be good to meet the family of Damian’s soulmate and it would allow them more time to get to know each other.”

 

Jason shrugged.  “I could just solve it by--”

 

“No.” Bruce said firmly.

 

“You don’t even know what I was going to say!”

 

“Was it violent?”

 

“Of course.”

“Then no.”

 

Dick shrugged.  “Okay! So, family trip to Paris!  Do you need me to be Batman while you’re gone?  Because I know Kor’i would love a trip to Paris and I’d love to see little Mar’i try to fly up the Eiffel Tower!  She’s so close to a steady flight path! We could go at night and--”

 

“There’s more you should know.”

 

“What?” Dick asked and the others turned to Bruce.

 

“The Justice League has been monitoring supervillain activity in Paris for roughly the past three or more years.” Bruce said.  “A villain named Hawkmoth appeared out of nowhere and began demanding the Miraculous of the Ladybug and Black Cat.”

 

“The Miraculous?” Alfred asked in alarm.

 

“Wait, I saw something about that in a blog written by one of Marinette’s classmates.” Tim said in surprise.  “You mean that magic jewelry nonsense is true?”

 

Bruce nodded.  “Our information has been limited, but Hawkmoth and his accomplice, Mayura, appear to wield magical Miraculouses--jewelry--that grant them the power to create superpowered villains and monsters based off of negative emotions.  The wielders of the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses, Ladybug and Cat Noir, have been fighting their creations but have been unable to defeat Hawkmoth as of yet.”

 

“Why are we just hearing about this now?” Jason frowned.

 

“Holy--” Tim started.

 

“Tim!  The rule!” Dick interrupted.

 

“Mar’i isn’t even here!” Tim complained.

 

“It’s a habit!” Dick argued.  “Kor’i will kill us all if Mar’i learns another swear word!”

 

“It was funny!” Jason dismissed.

 

“You weren’t the one with the angry Tamaranean wife!” Dick exclaimed.

 

“Guys!  Focus!” Tim yelled.  “Check it out! This is a recent picture of Ladybug and Cat Noir.”

 

Tim enlarged a press photo of the heroes.

 

“My word!” Alfred exclaimed.

 

“They can’t be older than Demon Spawn!”

 

“And this conflict has been ongoing for over three years?” Alfred mused.  “They would have been very young when chosen...perhaps twelve or thirteen.  That is a grave amount of power and responsibility for two so young and by themselves.”

“Seriously, why haven’t we done anything about this?” Jason asked.

 

Bruce frowned.  “The League approached Mayor Bourgeois about offering support to Ladybug and Cat Noir but he refused to grant us jurisdiction.  Ladybug has the ability to repair all damage caused by a Miraculous fight--”

 

“That would come in handy…” Dick muttered.

 

“Yes, except Mayor Bourgeois relies heavily on it.  He claimed we would get in the way and that we would cause damage that the Ladybug Cure couldn’t fix.”  Bruce growled. “He has essentially banned the Justice League from interfering.”

 

“And you took that?” Jason asked incredulously.

 

“We’ve had other crises to deal with, so we’ve been monitoring the situation.” Bruce replied.

 

Tim huffed.  “That mayor is a complete hypocrite, if you ask me.  Based on these news reports, he and Paris were welcoming and supportive of Ladybug and Cat Noir at the beginning, but recent reports and statements from the Mayor’s Office all show growing pressure and criticism against the heros.  And something about his daughter not having a bee?”

 

“It would seem Master Damian’s soulmate and their meet have caused a timely excuse for the Waynes to visit Paris.” Alfred commented.  “It would be quite convenient to circumvent the mayor and offer assistance directly to Ladybug and Cat Noir.”

 

“Still thinking about taking the little wifey and kid along on the vay-kay, Dicky-Bird?” Jason snarked.

 

Dick rolled his eyes and grumbled.  “Remind me why I thought it was a good idea to move back to Gotham?”

 

“I seem to remember the words ‘free babysitters who don’t ask questions’ came into the conversation.” Bruce smirked.

Chapter Text

“Wait, wait, wait…” Damian’s eyes blew wide.  “How many times has this guy been akumatized?”

 

“At this point…” Marinette scrunched up her nose.  “Roughly two-hundered and thirty-three.”

 

“And he’s called Mr. Pigeon?” Damian asked incredulously.

 

“Yep.  Although, lately his focus has changed and he’s been Mr. Rat.” Marinette said.  “Poor Mr. Ramier…”

 

“I cannot believe this is the first I’ve heard about this…” Damian pinched the bridge of his nose while Marinette calmly continued eating her dinner.

 

“I’m not surprised.” Marinette said easily.  “I mean, it’s big locally, but Mayor Bourgeois is pretty adamant on keeping negative international press to a minimum.  Besides, there are so many supervillains world wide--or even just here in Gotham--it would be easy to overlook one maniacal butterfly.”

 

Damian snorted but looked at Marinette in concern.  “And you’ve never been...akumatized?”

 

Marinette shook her head.  “I’ve come close, but I’ve managed to ward them off before they could take possession.  It’s all about remembering there’s hope and other solutions beyond what Hawkmoth offers.”

 

Damian frowned.  “Still, it must be very tiring for you to have to police your emotions all the time.  You should be allowed to have and deal with your own negative emotions without the fear that a terrorist with take advantage of you.”

 

Marinette looked surprised and that bothered him.

 

“Th-thank you, Damian.” Marinette stuttered.  “Very few people understand that so quickly...I mean, my parents and my therapist are always there to support me!  But still…people usually don’t understand how much pressure it is not to be akumatized...or even consider that I would have valid reason to be…”

 

Damian’s frown deepened.  “Valid reason? Who treats you like your feelings aren’t valuable, Angel?”

 

Marinette’s eyes brightened a little.  “Angel? Where did that come from?”

 

Damian smirked.  “Well, only an idiot would fail to notice you have the kindness of an angel after five minutes of talking to you, plus you are so sweet to look at I half expect to see a halo above your head.”

 

Marinette laughed and he felt like congratulating himself.

 

“I don’t know how I’ve attracted so many sugary-sweet people in my life,” Damian teased, “but I can tell already, you just wouldn’t be yourself if there was anything less than pure sugar running through your veins.  Undoubtedly, you’re the only sweet person I can tolerate.”

 

Marinette laughed and smirked right back.  “Oh no! Don’t think you can fool me! I heard you talk about your family!  You may act tough but I know you love them!”

 

Damian scoffed.  “They are completely insufferable!”

 

“Oh, then I suppose that wasn’t pride I saw in your eyes when you told me how your niece used your brother Jason’s helmet as a toilet when she was potty training?” Marinette challenged.

 

Damian smiled wickedly at the memory.  “Alright. She’s not insufferable.”

 

Marinette laughed and Damian joined her.  As much as he didn’t want to bring her back down, though, he had to ask.

 

“Still, Angel, please know you can tell me about it.” Damain said as he took her hand.

 

“Tell you about what?” Marinette asked, though he was sure she knew.

 

“Whoever has hurt you.” Damian said.  “When you’re ready, I’ll be here if you want to talk about it.”

 

Marinette squeezed his hand.  “Thank you, Dami. I will tell you...just not tonight.  Being here with you has been so wonderful...I just don’t want to bring that into it.”

 

“I understand, Angel.” Damian said.  “It’s your choice.”

 

Marinette smiled.  “Well then! Let’s see if I got this right…” she said as she changed the subject.  “You’re seventeen, you graduated highschool early and are in your second year of university, and you’re interning at Wayne Enterprises.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Does that get confusing?  I mean, don’t you have the same name as the owner’s son?  Or does he not interact as much with the company so it doesn’t make a difference?” Marinette asked.

 

Damian looked startled.  “Actually, Marinette…”

 

Marinette blinked a few times before her brain seemed to connect the dots.  “Oh. Oh! You’re the Damian Wayne!  I--gah! Can we please forget I ever asked that?  That was so dumb of me! Please believe me, I swear I have a higher IQ than an amoeba!”

 

Damian chuckled.  “It’s perfectly alright!  I take it you didn’t expect your string to connect you to a quote-unquote celebrity?”

 

“The celebrity thing doesn’t really make a difference to me, just to reassure you,” Marinette quickly said.  “It just seems like too much of a coincidence that I was led to you directly after the liar in my class claimed that you were desperate to be her soulmate!”

 

Damian grimaced.  “Seriously?”

 

“Yes!” Marinette groaned.  “I must have subconsciously dismissed the possibility and assumed that it was a common name!”

 

“Not that I know of,” Damian snickered.

 

“Now it’s my turn.” Damian said.  “You, Angel, are a promising young Designer on the rise--”

 

“Damian!”

 

“And far too modest about it!” Damian smirked.  “My brother’s will go insane when they find you that you’re the Marinette Dupain-Cheng, favorite fashion designer of Jagged Stone and award-winning artist behind his last four album covers.”

 

“That was really a matter of lucky circumstances and being in the right place at the right time with Jagged.” Marinette dismissed.  “If I hadn’t been assigned as his gofer for a class project then he probably wouldn’t know me from Adam.”

 

Damian shook his head.  “It was you’re talent that caught his interest, Marinette.  And now you’ve designed for Jagged Stone, Clara Nightingale, Gabriel Agreste--you’ve even caught Audrey Bourgeois’ attention!  I may not follow fashion very much, but even I know she has the reputation of an irate dragon straight out of The Devil Wears Prada !

 

“Can you show me the signature you were telling me about?” he asked.

 

Marinette straightened out her skirt and lifted the hem slightly so Damian could see the subtle detail in the stitching.  “The location changes to fit each piece, but I always hide it in plain sight.”

 

“I’ll be sure to look for it.” Damian promised.  “It’s ingenious, though I hope you don’t have anyone else stealing your work again.”

“The last time that happened was with Bob Roth.” Marinette explained.  “He’s a music producer, but he doesn’t have any ethics and he doesn’t have a sense for quality, sustainable talent.  He’s a complete trend chaser! After he tried to steal my designs for Kitty Section and their music, Penny--Jagged’s manager and now wife--worked with me and my friend Luka about ways to protect our work from intellectual theft.”

 

“If it happens again, I happen to know a few shark lawyers that have too much time on their hands and would love a chance to decimate someone like him.” Damian said.

 

“Thank you, but I’ve got it covered.” Marinette replied.  “I don’t want to take advantage of our relationship.”

 

“Angel,” Damian said seriously, “I’m confident you can take care of yourself.  I would still like to offer assistance wherever and whenever I can. I don’t want you to suffer.”

 

Marinette blushed.

 

Damian stood up from his chair and offered Marinette his hand.  “Care to dance, Angel?”



~~~~~~~~~~



“I can’t believe this!” Red Hood complained over the coms.

 

“You knew Alfred would have never given us the actual location of Damian’s date!” Nightwing reminded.

 

“Not that!” Red Hood groused.  “I can’t believe the brat was able scramble his cell signal well enough to confuse Timmy!”

 

“No names, Hood!” Red Robin shouted.

 

“Yeah, yeah…”

 

“I found his car!”  Red Robin announced a few minutes later.  “Now, if he’s where I think he is...got him!  They’re at Handel’s Dinner Club.”

 

“On it!” Red Hood announced as he changed directions on his patrol route.

 

“I’m delayed.” Nightwing said softly.  “I’ve got my eyes on suspicious activity.”

 

“Sucks for you.” Red Hood said.  “Don’t leave us hanging, Red Robin!  What’s going on? Did the brat scare her off yet?”

 

“They’re behind a crowd... I can almost see them…” Red Robin’s jaw dropped and he gasped loudly, speechless.

 

“What?  What’s happening?” Red Hood hissed.

 

“I--he…” Red Robin stuttered.  “Damian’s smiling. The brat is still smiling!  A real, big, genuine smile!  He doesn’t even look like he’s plotting to kill someone.  It’s a happy smile!  Maybe even sappy!  I didn’t think he’s facial muscles were capable of that motion!”

 

“What!” Nightwing shouted.  “Holy character development!  I’ve got to run, I just scared off the perp.  For all that is holy, take pictures, man!”

 

“Oh, I’m way ahead of you!” Red Robin was already snapping shots of Damian and Marinette and sending them on a group text to his brothers and Bruce and Alfred.  He was just contemplating hacking the security cameras when Damian spotted him.

 

~~~~~~~~~



Marinette was resting her head on Damian’s chest as they swayed to the music.  It wasn’t Jagged Stone and the band was mostly playing covers of slow songs that had long been out of the Top Twenty, but it was an ideal excuse to cozy up to his newly discovered soulmate.

 

Damian inwardly recoiled when he realized the word ‘cozy’ had been willingly supplied by his own brain.  He was not the type of person who liked having his physical space invaded.  He was selective with physical affection with his own family and yet here he was enjoying being close to someone who he’d barely known a day.  He was surprised that he felt so comfortable around Marinette, but it did make him wonder…

 

“Marinette?” Damian asked.

 

“Yes, Dami?” Marinette looked at him and he had to remind himself that he was a person who was not affected by heart melting nicknames and robin’s egg blue eyes!

 

“I was just concerned...do you think we’re moving too fast?” Damian asked.

 

When she looked alarmed he began rerunning what he’d said to figure out if he’d come off like his usual harsh self.

 

“Are you uncomfortable?” Marinette asked with genuine concern and pulled back a bit.

 

“Honestly?  That’s the thing that I’m wondering about, because I feel very comfortable.” Damian furrowed his brow a little.  “I’m really enjoying myself with you, Marinette, and I’m finding myself more...relaxed around you? I’ve never really had a romantic relationship before, Marinette.  And maybe it’s presumptuous of me to think that we would be romantic soulmates, but our interaction so far has indicated you would be receptive to that…”

 

Damian sighed.  “I guess I want to know how you feel about all of this?  I don’t want to take things faster than you’re comfortable with and right now I feel in danger of doing so because I already feel closer to you than I have any right to after such a short time.  I also don’t want to mislead you,” Damian wondered how to put this, “you seem like an incredibly kind, caring person and I greatly admire you already. I, on the other hand, am admittedly rather cold and insensitive by nature.  You only saw me interact with my brothers for a few minutes, but you might have picked up on the fact that, while I care for them, I treat them…”

 

“Brusquely?” Marinette supplied with a smirk.

 

Damian chortled.  “That is a polite way of describing it, Angel.”

 

Marinette giggled.  “First off, I don’t need you to behave exactly like me, I want you to be yourself and I want to get to know who that is.  I can tell that you have a different personality and outlook on life than I do, but I don’t believe you’re unkind. You seem to be the type of person that is loyal and steadfast--maybe broody and on the sarcastic side,” she giggled, “but I can tell by how you talk about your family and friends that you appreciate and care about them.  

 

“Secondly, yes.  I would like to pursue a romantic relationship together.  I feel a-attracted to you as more than a friend. And yes, it is weird to think that I already feel comfortable enough around you to say that!  I’ve never had a boyfriend, but the last time I had a crush I saw the guy almost everyday and still could barely string two words together in front of him!  I appreciate that you’re asking me what I’m comfortable with and we should probably talk about what we want our relationship to look like...but on the whole, I’m excited.”

 

Damian smiled.  “May I kiss your cheek?”

 

Marinette blushed and nodded so he leaned down and softly pecked her cheek. A flicker of that homey feeling they’d shared during their first kiss returned at the touch.

 

They shuffled through a few more dances and talked about how they wanted to go about dating and what their boundaries were.  Damian told Marinette he would like to meet her parents and cringed when she said she’d like to meet his family--which made her laugh, so maybe that was okay.  They worked on the details of how and when they’d see each other while she was still in Gotham, he had classes most weekdays that alternated with his internship at Wayne Enterprises and she had the class tour and her interview at GFIT.

 

Damian was smiling as Marinette recounted the attributes GFIT offered and professors that she had researched and would be excited to work with if she attended the school.  Damian told her some of the things he liked about Gotham University--which GFIT was a division of. He wasn’t very knowledgeable about the fashion school--he was double majoring in business and law--but he shared his experiences with professors in the general education courses she might take.

 

It was right around the point that they were talking about their worst studying mishaps that he detected movement outside the window in his peripheral vision.

 

Sure enough, there was an annoying bird perched outside.  The pest had his phone out and was taking his life into his hands when he waved at Damian.  

 

At least Red Robin had the decency to shrink away from the window when Damian’s glare-of-death was directed at him.  

 

“Damian? Is something wrong?”

 

“Not at all, Angel.” Damian schooled his features and skillfully danced Marinette away from the window.

 

A lot of good that maneuver did when another couple next to them gasped and people started pointing at the window.  Marinette was quick to look as well and her eyes grew wide.

 

“Aren’t those members of Batman’s team?” she asked.

 

Thankfully, Marinette was distracted and missed how his glare amplified ten-fold when they turned around to see Red Robin and Red Hood casually posing and waving to the restaurant guests.

 

“Yes.  Yes, it is.” Damian grit his teeth.

 

“Which ones are they?” Marinette asked.  “Do they often surprise citizens like this?”

 

“That’s Red Robin on the left and the one with the helmet is Red Hood.” Damian said.  “I’m not going to comment on their antics.”

 

“Huh.” Marinette cocked her head.  “You know, the helmet’s not a bad idea.  It’s a pretty smart idea, actually…”

 

“One of his few, I assure you.” Damian muttered.

 

“What was that?” Marinette asked.

 

“I was wondering if you’d like to get dessert on the way back to your hotel?” Damian sidestepped her question.  “I know a wonderful place to get ice cream.”

 

“Sounds great.” Marinette agreed.



~~~~~~~~~~



There was a slight drizzle as Damian and Marinette returned to her hotel that evening.  They stopped in the alcove just inside the lobby doors and Marinette giggled when she saw the leftover ice cream still on his nose from when she’d booped it with her cone earlier.

 

“What?” Damian asked wearily.

 

Marinette took pity on him and wiped away the mint-chip residue before his brothers could tease him.

 

Damian looked scandalized.  “And just how long were you going to let me walk around like that?”

 

“Hmm…” Marinette grinned impishly.  “About this long.”

 

Damian rolled his eyes as she giggled.  

 

“I had a great time, Dami,” Marinette said after a moment, “thank you.”

 

“I had a wonderful time, as well, Angel.” Damian smiled.  “What’s on your itinerary for tomorrow?”

 

“We’re going back to Wayne Enterprises again tomorrow.” she explained.  “We took the general building tour today but tomorrow we’re part of the student seminar.”

 

Damian nodded.  “You will probably enjoy that.  Father’s tailored it specifically to engage youth in taking initiative in their careers.  There are lectures on how to be proactive in your career path, ethical business practices, the role of businesses in the community, and one specifically about actively participating to maintain strong community bonds.” 

 

“I do like the sounds of that.” Marinette’s eyes glittered.  “From what I’ve read, your family really has taken that to heart.”

 

Damian nodded.  “We may be well off financially, but we’ve all had hardships.  My brothers are all adopted and we’ve all experienced tragedy and hardships.  My father witnessed his parents’ murder as a child, as did Dick with his parents.”

 

Mairenette’s heart broke as she listened to the losses they had endured.  She noticed Damian didn’t mention his mother and was vague about Tim and Jason’s pasts, but she figured there was a lot of pain there that wasn’t her place to pry about.

 

“Alfred raised father,” Damian explained, “he’s actually our butler, but he’s really like a grandfather to us boys.  I don’t say this to boast, but our experiences have been the driving force behind our community involvement. Gotham is a dangerous city, but we feel we can all take steps to make it a little safer, provide safe places and hope for at risk youth, help our neighbors, and so on.”

 

“I think that’s wonderful, Damian, and I can tell you follow through on those beliefs.” Marinette hesitated and then laughed a little.

 

“What?” Damian asked with a smirk.

 

“Sorry!” Marinette giggled.  “This is a completely inappropriate time for me to be laughing, but it just made me think of my principal!”

 

“How so?” Damian chuckled with her.

 

“Well, he always wanted to be a superhero and was really inspired by a comic book superhero that was like a knock-off of Batman.” Marinette explained with a smile.  “Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the skill set that Batman does.”

 

“I’m not liking where this story is headed.” Damian smirked.

 

“He got his own costume and set up a lair in his school office--I do not want to know where he found the money for that!” Marinette rolled her eyes.  “He started calling himself The Owl and went around trying to save the day by getting kittens out of trees and stuff…”

“Okay, it’s not sounding too bad so far…” Damian said hesitantly.

 

“The problem came when he ended up causing more trouble and putting himself in danger with his actions.  Ladybug and Cat Noir had to shadow him everyday for, like, a week! Then they tried to help him feel like he fulfilled his hero dream by allowing him to defeat a ‘villain’ and ended up outing him to the press--although, it was completely obvious it was him--and embarrassing him.  He was akumatized into the Dark Owl over it, but when it was all over he became a kind-of civilian hero. He still goes around as The Owl, but he’s an advocate for how to handle emergencies safely.”

 

Damian looked thoughtful.  “That’s actually admirable.”

 

Marinette nodded.  “He’s got some major failings as a principal, but he’s helped to get people to support homeless shelters, family centers, that sort of stuff.”

 

“What kinds of failings as a principal?” Damian asked, concerned.

 

Marinette looked like she hadn’t meant to say that much.  “Oh... just that he tends to be not as assertive to authority figures as he needs to be and has a problem advocating for the needs of his students.  He tends to not think things through during a confrontation. Once, my classmate Chloe--she’s the mayor’s daughter--was bored during my Papa’s baking demonstration for our class and she faked an emergency call to the fire department.”

 

Damian’s eyebrows rose.

 

“The whole school was gathered and Principal Damocles wanted the responsible party to come up and apologize to the fireman, even though the guy kept telling him that he needed to leave--”

 

“Public punishment and humiliation as well as abuse of an emergency services worker’s time.  Fantastic.” Damian said snidely.

 

“Oh, it got better,” Marinette said sarcastically, “I’d seen Chloe making a call so I wanted to say something but my then-friends Alya and Adrien pointed out that we didn’t have proof--which admittedly was true.”

 

“None of that should have been necessary.” Damian frowned.  “Does the French Emergency Service Operators not have a way to track calls?”

 

Marinette threw her arms out.  “Thank you! It should have been that simple to find out who made the false alarm and we wouldn’t have needed the theatrics!  But Chloe tried to blame me for the whole thing!”

 

“What?” Damian growled.

 

“Chloe had been my bully for years, although before Lila came back she was getting better…” Marinette waved the thought off.  “Anyway, that time Adrien and Alya defended me, otherwise I’m sure Principal Damocles would have taken Chloe’s word over mine.  As it was, since no one came forward, he decided to punish the whole school--except for Chloe who was sure her father wouldn’t approve.”

 

Damian scowled.  “So the man has a habit of punishing and letting innocent students suffer while pandering to the bad habits of bullies because he’s afraid to lose his job.”

 

“Spot o--I mean...yes.” Marinette stuttered.

 

“And this is in a city plagued by a villain that preys on negative emotions?” Damian clarified in disgust.

 

“Correct again.”

 

“That’s just deplorable.” Damian shook his head.

 

Marinette cringed and decided to save the whole Lila-expulsion story for another day.  “Sorry, I kinda got lost on a tangent.”

 

“No, I’m glad to learn more about your life, Angel.” Damian reassured.  “I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to share more of your struggles with me as we get to know each other better.”

 

Marinette smiled.  “I’m sure I will...and I hope you will, too.”

They stood there awkwardly for a moment, neither wanting to end the evening.

 

“Marinette…” Damian asked as a blush uninvitedly creeped up his neck.  “May I be so forward as to kiss you goodnight?”

 

Marinette blushed in response and nodded because she didn’t trust what would spill out of her mouth.

 

Damian brushed his hand over her cheek and pulled her in for a chaste and loving kiss.  Just like before, they were washed in the sensation of rightness and belonging. Even after the kiss ended, Damian was loath to leave her presence.

 

Finally, his sense of propriety won out and with a final caress to her cheek and a kiss to her forehead he backed away.

 

“Goodnight, Angel.” Damian smiled.  “Would you please text me when you get to your room so I know you made it safely?”

 

“You think Gotham is too dangerous to even walk the hotel halls?” Marinette sassed.

 

Damian tried to smile but this time it was strained.  “I’d just feel better knowing you were safe. You can never be too careful.”

 

Marinette nodded.  “I’ll text you, Dami.  Goodnight!”

 

She lunged forward to peck his cheek before she ran to the elevator and scurried in just as the doors were closing after another guest.

 

Damian would completely deny the besotted grin that graced his face.

 

Marinette was almost to her room when she heard voices come around the corner of the hallway.

 

“I just don’t think this is a very ethical behavior, Max.” 

 

Markov? 

 

“You heard what Marinette said to Lila, Markov.” Max argued.  “She made fun of Lila having trouble waking up in the morning because of her sleep disturbances and said she hoped the bus left her behind! That was uncalled for and Lila said that she would feel better if Marinette had a taste of her own medicine.”

 

Marinette felt fury and hurt bite at her heart.

 

“But, Max! I never heard Marinette say that to Lila.  In fact, Marinette says very little to Lila unless she has to and she seems to be very careful of her word choice.” Leave it to the robot to be show more human kindness than her classmates.  “My data on Lila doesn’t show any symptoms of a sleep disorder at all and I have no record of her ever claiming to have one before this instance.”

“I’m sure she just didn’t want to make a big deal about her health issues.” Max dismissed.

 

“Actually, my data shows that Lila is ninety-five percent likely to be vocal about any physical ailment.  It would actually be more surprising if she previously had a sleep disturbance problem and kept it private.” Markov deduced.

 

“We must have just missed it, Lila wouldn’t lie to us about something like this.” Max insisted.

 

Markov made an electronic sighing sound.  “Still, Max, hacking into Marinette’s phone to turn off her alarms is not right.  Its vengeful and an act of bullying and it could recklessly put your classmate in danger in a city with a crime rating like Gotham’s.”

 

Marinette held back a gasp.  So that’s why her alarm hadn’t been going off.

 

“Marinette’s the one that has been bullying Lila.” Max said tiredly.  “Lila’s too nice to get Marinette in trouble by reporting her actions, so we need to support her where we can.”

 

“Max, I think that if you take a metaphorical step back and reanalyze the data--”

 

“We’ve been over this before, Markov.” Max sighed.  “You just don’t yet understand how manipulative and deceptive people can be.”

 

Markov was silent.

 

“I still don’t understand why you needed to be closer to Marinette’s phone to hack it and change her alarms?” Max questioned.

 

Markov seemed to hesitate and then said.  “I’m having trouble getting a strong enough signal.  I can track the phone’s GPS location but I needed to have a stronger wireless connection to successfully complete this task.”

 

“Well, can you do it before someone catches us in the hallway?” Max asked.

 

There was a moment of silence before Markov spoke up again.  “The task is completed.”

 

“Good, let's get going.” Max said as the sound of footsteps echoed away from her.  

 

Marinette peeked around the corner and was only a little startled to see Markov looking at her.  There was a profound expression of sadness in his digital eyes before he turned and followed Max.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

“We’ve got trouble.” Red Robin said over the coms. “Batman, you’re not going to like this.”

 

Batman sighed.  “What is it?”

 

His Batman cell phone buzzed with an incoming message.  Batman opened a link that Red Robin had sent to everyone on the team except Robin.

 

The link opened to a tabloid article with a picture of a young man that was clearly Damian tied up with his obscured soulmate in their string and surrounded by his laughing brothers.  The headline read, “Ice King Damian Wayne Warms Up With Soulmate!”

 

“Great.” Nightwing sassed.  “So...we get to stop a murder tonight.  Anyone know where Baby Bird is right now?”

 

“Do we know who sold this picture?” Batman asked. 

 

“I’m working on it.” Red Robin answered.

 

“I can’t believe we missed someone taking this,” Red Hood said, “but I do know that only employees were on that floor.”

 

“That’s a clear violation of the privacy contract all employees are required to sign.” Batman said.  “We’ll have to resolve this tomorrow. The damage has already been done, we can only hope this doesn’t cause too much trouble for them.”

Chapter Text

 

The next morning found Marinette being woken up by Tikki pulling on her hair as the hotel room phone rang. She made a quick fumble for it and tried to sound somewhat human as she spoke. 

 

“H-hello?” She mumbled. She congratulated herself on managing to remember what language to use. 

 

“Ms. Dupain-Cheng? This is the front desk calling for your 7:45 wake up call.” A woman said pleasantly. 

 

“7:45!” Marinette exclaimed as she shot up in bed. “It was supposed to be for 6:30!”

 

“Your friend came to the front desk this morning to say you wanted your wake up call delayed by an hour.” The woman said, sounding flustered. 

 

Marinette groaned. “Was this friend a girl with brown hair and bangs?”

 

“Yes.” 

 

Marinette sighed. “I’m afraid that is not my friend, just an early riser who likes to make my life miserable. Please make a note that anything regarding my room or charges to my room must be verified by me—better yet, make sure it requires that the person show ID.”

 

“Of course, Ms. Dupain-Cheng.  I apologize for the mistake.” The woman said. 

 

“Thank you.” Marinette hung up the phone and raced to get herself ready for the day.  

 

“I’m sorry, Marinette!” Tikki exclaimed as she hovered over her shoulder. “I would have woken you up sooner but I thought the hotel was going to call you so I let myself fall back to sleep!”

 

“It’s not your fault, Tikki!” Marinette said as she finished brushing her teeth and started changing clothes at a speed firefighters would be envious of. “That rat Lila switched my wake up call! She must have figured that I would try something like this since my phone alarm was ‘mysteriously’ failing!”

 

Marinette had made the request last night after Markov made sure she overheard his conversation with Max. She didn’t want to trust that Max wouldn’t make Markov hack her phone again in the morning, but it seemed her proactiveness had been wasted. 

 

As she pulled on her pink sweater-knit t-shirt, Marinette snuck a brief, happy glance at her soulmate signature. She’d spent a good deal of time last night staring at it, when she wasn’t on the phone listening to her parents giggle about the video she’d forwarded to them from Tim. Soulmate signatures were so faint that if you weren’t looking for it you wouldn’t notice it. But, if you were looking, you would see the soulmate’s name written in their handwriting over the heart. Marinette thought Damian’s signature was crisp and decisive looking, exactly what she expected of him so far. 

 

There wasn’t much time to stare at the soulmate mark, Marinette forced herself to grab her purse and her blazer before dashing downstairs. The night before she had switched to a slightly larger crossbody purse that could hold her tablet and a scarf and gloves in case she became too cold later.  She checked that she hadn’t missed anything while she was in the elevator and when the doors opened on the ground floor she saw that her class was already boarding the bus. 

 

Marinette raced to the bus door just as it was closing, forfeiting the opportunity to even grab anything from the breakfast buffet.  Ms. Bustier looked startled as Marinette climbed aboard and looked for an open seat.

 

“Marinette! I thought you were already seated!” She exclaimed. 

 

“No.” Marinette said, trying to school her response.  “I asked for a wake up call but the front desk told me someone from my class had it delayed by an hour. I just got here.”

 

“I’m sure it was a misunderstanding—”

 

“People don’t accidentally sabotage other people, Ms. Bustier, it’s called bullying.” Marinette said, beyond frustrated. “I’ve tried to seek help for it before to no affect and this is the result of that.”

 

Ms. Bustier looked hurt but Marinette ignored it and the sour looks from her classmates and made her way to an open seat in the back of the bus.

 

Ms. Bustier used to be her favorite teacher. Marinette admired that she tried to foster positive relationships between her students and that she taught meditation to combat akumas, but over the years she proved to be naïve regarding what went on in her classroom.  Ms. Bustier had never fully regained Marinette’s trust after Lila framed Marinette and got her expelled. Since then, she’d been faultingly supportive of her students even when they needed correction and merely tried to placate the victims.

 

Ms. Bustier genuinely seemed to believe that her methods were positive and Marinette felt sorry for her. Maybe in a healthier situation her methods would be fine, but she clearly didn’t understand how to recognize and handle a toxic situation. 

 

Marinette was only glad that she didn’t miss the seminar at Wayne Enterprises thanks to her teacher’s remisness. The seminar was one that she had researched, along with the other class reps, last year and had needed to apply for her class to be invited.  It was considered an honor to attend and most students that attended in the past had claimed it to be informative and valuable to their futures. Other classes from her school had applied but had not been accepted. However, Marinette had gone above and beyond when she prepared her class’s application. She’d highlighted her classmates’ many accomplishments, despite how they treated her, and they had been accepted because of her diligence—not that anyone recognized that. 

 

She felt a nudge against her thigh and looked down to see Tikki offer her a smile of encouragement. Marinette didn’t like confronting her teacher, it made her feel disrespectful and caused her anxiety. But, it also made Marinette mad that she felt that way when she was the victim and had been forced into the situation.  

 

Tikki offered a cookie to Marinette but Marinette shook her head. She needed to buy more cookies today and knew that there was only one in her purse at the moment. No akumas in Gotham or not, Marinette didn’t want her Kwamii to go hungry. 

 

Marinette spent the bus ride doing one of her calming exercises and was still trying to bolster her spirits when the class walked into the Wayne Enterprises lobby. 

 

“Bonjour, Francoise Dupont students!” A cheery voice caused Marinette’s head to snap up. “I’m Dick and I’ll be stepping in as your tour guide!”

 

Marinette couldn’t decide if she wanted to laugh or plant her palm firmly against her forehead.  Dick began leading them toward one of the research departments, which was off limits to the general tour groups. When he held the door open for everyone to pass, Marinette made sure she was the last in the line and gave him a skeptical look. 

 

“Tour guide?” She said dryly. 

 

“I couldn’t resist.” he smiled back. 

 

Marinette laughed and rolled her eyes and settled back to enjoy the show.  After racing around the building with Dick, and from what Damian has told her, she knew it would be interesting. 

 

Sure enough, Dick was soon charming her class with jokes and interesting tidbits of information she was sure weren’t on the standard tour itinerary. He even escorted them to their seats the large auditorium where the lecture would be held. She raised her eyebrow at the fact that they had front, prime seating but Dick merely smirked at her and shamelessly confirmed that he’d given them special treatment. 

 

Marinette’s embarrassment was compounded when her empty stomach growled loudly as she sat down. 

 

“Careful, Marinette, you wouldn’t want to disrupt the speaker!” Lila said to the class’s giggles. 

 

Marinette flushed and tried to hide her discomfort, missing Dick frown at the students.  Before he could say anything, other student groups stated filing in and he was forced to step away after he told them he’d be back to lead them to the cafeteria for lunch. 

 

Marinette found the seminar to be just as wonderful as it had been built up to be. She took notes on her tablet that she hoped to utilize for herself as well as notes on practices to suggest the school make use of at the next representatives’ meeting.  She felt exasperated when Lila tried to whisper over the speaker but was more than a little satisfied when the speaker noticed right away. The woman singled her out and told her she would be asked to leave if she couldn’t remain silent. 

 

When Bruce Wayne himself took the podium the audience seemed to spark in silent anticipation.  Lila seemed to be hiding a slight unease and Marinette figured she’d either forgotten or hadn’t paid attention to the fact that he would be a speaker when she’d lied about his family.

 

Marinette was struck with the realization that this was Damian’s father. She was so flustered about almost meeting her soulmate’s parent that she had trouble paying attention to Bruce’s lecture, but she refused to waste the lesson and tried to take as many notes as possible. 

 

She wondered if he would approach the class when the seminar was over and couldn’t decide if the idea excited her or terrified her. Seeing Lila’s connection to the Waynes be exposed as a fraud would be enjoyable, but Marinette hoped to have Damian with her when she met his father, even if he had spoken of him favorably. 

 

It was with relief that Marinette watched Bruce leave the auditorium before the host finished the concluding remarks.  Dick reappeared and led them to the cafeteria where they were quickly swept up in the lunch rush. It would have been nice to have a moment to chat with Dick, but Marinette was growing desperate to feed her empty stomach and she didn’t waste any time buying her lunch.  There were so many employees and students in line that it was taking longer than Marinette had hoped to get through it. The harried cashier had been so stressed that Marinette didn’t even take the time to return her wallet to her purse after she paid, she just slid it into her blazer pocket and shuffled onward. 

 

She’d just spotted an empty spot at a table when she felt a foot hook her ankle and she took a hard fall to the ground. Marinette landed painfully on her hands and knees, avoiding slamming her chin into the floor but upending her tray in the process.

 

Marinette’s heart sank as she shakily pulled herself up and saw that her lunch was totally ruined. The laughs she heard behind her only threatened to spill the tears in her eyes. 

 

“Marinette, you should really be more careful!” Lila said mockingly. 

 

“Causing disasters internationally now, girl?” Alya added. 

 

Marinette didn’t look at them as they stepped over the mess and walked away laughing. She thought she would be immune to the cruelty of her former friend by now, but she kept being proved wrong. 

 

She mustered up a smile to a kind student and an employee who stopped to help her clean up the mess.  While a sigh, Marinette got back into the lunch line again. While she was waiting she decided to get her money ready and looked inside her purse for her wallet. A look from her kwamii reminded her that her wallet was still in her blazer pocket. Marinette took it back out...only to find all her cash gone. 

 

Startled, Marinette made a quick search of her wallet even though she knew it was useless. She’d had over a hundred American dollars in her wallet and it was now gone.

 

Tikki looked at her questioningly when Marinette groaned and in answer she showed her the empty bill pocket. 

 

The line had started to thin and she was almost to the food so Marinette did a quick count of her change. She had just enough to buy herself an apple before she hurried to an ATM she’d seen at the cafeteria entrance.  To her dismay, she was met with another long line. 

 

Money wasn’t a problem for Marinette. Though she didn’t flaunt it, Marinette had made a tidy sum from her commissions for Jagged Stone and Clara Nightingale.  It was still unsettling that someone had stolen from her, and more unsettling that she hadn’t sensed the thief—though she was almost certain she knew who it was.

 

By the time she’d replaced her cash and stowed her wallet away—this time safely in the front pocket of her jeans—the class was gathering to leave. 

 

“There you are, Marinette!” Ms. Bustier said, looking flustered by the crowds. “We can’t afford to dawdle, the bus is waiting for us.”

 

Marinette bristled at that.  “I wasn’t dawdling! Someone tripped me and I lost my lunch. Then, I found out that someone stole over a hundred dollars in cash from my wallet!”

 

Alya scoffed. “Stop blaming others for your blunders!  Are you really that desperate for attention?”

 

“Marinette, is your wallet missing?” Ms. Bustier frowned. 

 

“No, the cash was removed and then the wallet put back in my pocket.”

 

“Who would take the time to return your wallet?” Alya rolled her eyes. “If someone had actually stolen from you they would have just taken the whole thing!”

 

Marinette was about to reply but Ms. Bustier took another look at her watch and started shooing her students along. 

 

“I’m sure the money’s back in your hotel room, Marinette.” She said. “We need to leave now or we’ll miss our tour at the Gotham Historical Society.”

 

The class was hurried back out to the busses and missed the glare being sent their way from around the corner. 

 

Dick made a quick call as he watched them leave. “Tim?  I got a job for you.”



~~~~~~~~~~



The Historical Society turned out to be Marinette’s favorite Gotham landmark so far. The building was a beautifully restored Victorian mansion and it was filled with fantastic memorabilia of years gone by.  Cameras were, surprisingly, allowed and she took pictures of exhibits that sparked her imagination.

 

She only wished she didn’t feel like was about to collapse. 

 

Interesting enough, the name Wayne came up a few times during the tour and she wondered if it was the same Wayne family her Damian belonged to. 

 

Her Damian? Marinette blushed and she’d only thought the words inside her head.

 

Then the tour guide confirmed her suspicions by commenting that the Jonathan Wayne was the father of billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne. 

 

Kim smiled and proclaimed. “Lila knows the Wayne family! She’s dated Damian Wayne!”

 

The tour guide seemed startled to hear the remark about Damian dating. Marinette held in a giggle, knowing Damian’s reputation had preceded him.

 

That giggle died a cold death when Lila loudly faked a demure laugh.

 

“I suppose I shouldn’t say anything, Damiboo does like his privacy, but…” Lila pulled out a tabloid from her bag and Marinette’s eyes widened at the sight. 

 

“Girl! You’re Damian Wayne’s soulmate? Why didn’t you say something?! Congratulations!” Alya crowed. 

 

The class descended on Lila while Marinette hung back and tried to hold herself together despite the pain she felt in her heart. 

 

“He wants to keep it just between us for now.  You won’t say anything, right?” Lila beamed. 

 

“Oh, how romantic!” Rose cooed. 

 

“You have to let me interview you both for my blog! First Ladybug’s best friend and now the soulmate of a famous billionaire!” Alya gushed. “It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving girl!”

 

“I heard they own a whole basketball team! Think he can get us tickets?” Kim asked. 

 

“Oh, they’re so busy! I doubt we’ll even be able to see Damian on this trip!  I wouldn’t want to bother them!” Lila waved off the idea. 

 

The tour guide seemed less impressed with Lila’s display.  She tried to get Ms. Bustier’s attention to get the class in order but when that didn’t work she let out a piercing whistle that did the trick. 

 

“As fascinating as that is, we need to continue on.” She smiled primly. “Over here…”

 

Marinette smirked, glad to see someone else that clearly wasn’t fooled by Lila’s silver tongue.



~~~~~~~~~~



“There you have it, Dick.” Tim said with a scowl. 

 

Tim had tracked down the security footage of Lila tripping Marinette in the cafeteria faster than the time it took the class’ bus to leave the property.  

 

Dick glared at the screen. “Looks like your research about Marinette being bullied was completely on the money.  I was watching them during the tour—”

 

“So you didn’t take the tour to tease Damian’s soulmate?” Tim raised an eyebrow. 

 

“You know I multitask,” Dick said. “Anyway, Marinette kept to herself during the entire tour and neither her classmates nor her teacher interacted with her.  That Lila girl is the one that was claiming to have Damian eating out of her hand—”

 

“The brat? Ha!” Tim scoffed. 

 

“She made an embarrassing comment about Marinette’s stomach growling when we got to the auditorium. Her entire class laughed at her and her teacher did nothing.  She did the same thing when Marinette told her she’d tripped, lost her lunch, and had her money stolen.”

 

Tim frowned as he rewound the security footage. “The lectures startled fairly early...if she was already that hungry she probably didn’t eat much—or anything—for breakfast.  That means she’s two meals down so far today without her teacher ensuring she was safe and fed.”

 

“Right there!” Dick pointed. 

 

“Shocker.” Tim said sarcastically. 

 

He zoomed in the video to show Lila sneak up behind Marinette in the crowd. She quickly snatched Marinette’s wallet, which was nearly falling out of her pocket, and emptied it of cash before slipping it back, unnoticed. 

 

“That’s some pretty damning evidence,” Tim commented, “shall we have her picked up?”

 

Dick frowned, considering.  “I’m not sure it’s so simple…”

 

“We have the theft and bullying on high-def video!  How is that not simple?” 

 

“You didn’t see them interact.” Dick explained. “It’s a completely toxic environment. Marinette knows her bully was claiming to know Damian and she could have outed her today by introducing me, but she chose not to.”

 

“Maybe she was too intimidated by Lila to go against her.” Tim suggested. “You know how abuse can affect people, she might need someone to stand up for her. And if she’s got the whole class against her then that’s got to have played on her confidence and self worth.”

 

“It’s possible…” Dick admitted.  “But it’s also possible that if she doesn’t have anyone supporting her in the class she might believe attempting to expose Lila will only cause more aggression from her classmates.  We know she’s tried to report the bullying and received no help from the school!”

 

Tim sighed and shook his head. “So we wait and follow her lead?”

 

“I think we have to.” Dick said grimly. “I want to keep an eye on Marinette though.  Damian said her class has a habit of leaving her behind and I don’t trust her teacher. Gotham is too dangerous a city to be so careless with a student.  Can you update Bruce?”

 

Tim nodded.  “I already sent him the clips of the footage.  You think we should tell the brat?”

 

“Depends,” Dick muttered, “Do you know where he’s hidden all of his weapons?”

 

Tim snorted. “You kidding?”

 

“Yeah, let's hold off on that for a while.” Dick quipped.  “We really don’t need an international incident on our hands.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~



After the tour at the Gotham Historical Society, the class walked through a small shopping district on the way to the Gotham City Government Building.  

 

Marinette had taken the opportunity to buy a small travel alarm clock themed after the Gotham heroes.  She’d also found Batman aprons for her mama and papa that had the caption, “Don’t lick the Bat-ter!”

 

She was especially grateful that Hawkmoth couldn’t send akumas long distance to Gotham when Lila had loudly gathered her friends around her and oh-so-generously offered to pay for their souvenirs.  Adrien had taken the momentary distraction to move away, clearly not fooled and disgusted, but Ms. Bustier had been sucked in and thanked Lila for the Gotham travel mug Lila bought her. Only Marinette saw the smug, pleased smirk Lila sent her way as she handed the cashier Marinette’s stolen money.  

 

They still had an hour until their late afternoon tour and Marinette was feeling shaky.  It didn’t help that she felt cold, even with her scarf and gloves on. Tikki had snuck out of her purse and was hiding in the folds of her scarf.  Marinette had been looking for a fast food restaurant or something to duck into when Tikki tapped her ear.

 

“Marinette, there’s a food cart over there!” Tikki whispered.

 

Marinette looked where Tikki nudged her and then hurried to the vender while her class mosied down the sidewalk.  The vendor was selling large Batman themed danishes and her mouth was watering as she dug her wallet out. The vendor amicably served her, amused at Marinette’s obvious eagerness, and even waited for Marinette to put her wallet away before he handed her the pastry.  She took it happily with a careful grip, determined not to lose this one.

 

“Thank you!” Marinette said after taking a bite.  “It’s delicious!”

 

As a daughter of some of the best bakers in Paris, Marinette was a tough judge of pastry.  However, she didn’t think it was just desperation that made this pastry taste delicious. She was genuinely enjoying the cute local treat.

 

Only for Lila ruin it with a snide remark.

 

“Careful, Marinette, those things are awfully fattening and that’s the last thing you need.  Don’t you think?” Lila smirked and Alya chuckled.  Nino looked a little uncomfortable but just looked away.

 

Marinette frowned and tried to gird herself from the jibe that she knew was only proof of Lila’s vapid character.  Still, it was another cruel comment that tied an anxious knot in her stomach and reminded her of how much she couldn’t wait to graduate.  If she hadn’t had ceaseless therapy and support from Master Fu and her parents, she didn’t know where she’d be.  It was hard enough holding strong as it was.

 

It felt defeating to admit, but Marinette knew that anything she said would only spur on her classmates’ hateful behavior and she was just too hungry to deal with them right now.

 

She was just turning her back to ignore them when a voice spoke up from the heavens.  Or, more accurately, from the low roof above as a man swung down to them.

 

“Now, if that’s not a lame, pathetic taunt, I don’t know what is!”

Nightwing landed gracefully in front of the stunned class.  Nightwing! And he was glaring at Lila and Alya. Alya was so thrown she didn’t even reach for her phone to record him.

 

“Lame and pathetic doesn’t even cut it!  I thought most people with a heart and a brain knew how demeaning, superficial, crass, and loathsome it is to bully a person--and don’t pretend that wasn’t what that was!--at all, much less about their appearance and weight!

 

“You, Little Lady, are beautiful just the way you are and you are clearly within a healthy weight parameter--not that it would matter or be anyone else’s business but your own.” Nightwing said with a wink.  “Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Nightwing’s words lifted her heart and brought an honest, bright smile to her face.  Her classmate’s astonished expressions didn’t hurt, either.

 

Nightwing turned to the vendor to buy a danish but the vendor just handed him one and told him it was on him.  Then he glared pointedly at Lila and Alya.

 

“My son suffered from anorexia and bullying.  Hateful, cruel comments about a person’s weight and appearance are not a laughing matter.”

 

Nightwing nodded and thanked him, keeping an eye on the class.  Both Nightwing and Marinette noticed Lila snap back into coverup mode.

 

“Oh, I know!  I’m actually an advocate for eating disorder awareness and anti-bullying!  Marinette knows I'm just kidding.” Lila said with a smooth smile.

 

Alya looked smugly satisfied and proud, even reaching for her phone--probably planning on asking Nightwing for an interview with her humanitarian bestie.  However, NIghtwing was not impressed or deterred.

 

“If you were actually involved with anything to do with raising awareness for eating disorders--or bullying-- than you would know better than to make an obvious dig like that.” he said firmly.  

 

NIghtwing’s glare seemed to silence any retort from the class and even Alya put her phone away without comment.  They all started when Ms. Bustier called everyone to continue on.

 

Before she followed her class, Marinette turned back to the vendor and Nightwing.  She had to hide a giggle when she saw NIghtwing slip a twenty dollar bill into the tip jar while the man was still scowling at the retreating class

 

“Thank you,” Marinette said sincerely, “both of you.”

 

The vendor gave her a kind smile and Nightwing beamed and saluted her.

 

“Meant every word, Little Lady.” he said.

 

“Take heart, Miss,” the vendor added, “don’t let the slop of swine taint your heart.”

 

Marinette smiled and thanked them again before hurrying to catch up with the class.  She happened to stop close to Lila and Alya as they waited at a crosswalk.

 

She looked at them with a victorious smile.  Emboldened, she looked Lila in the eye and pointedly took a big, satisfied, and savory bite of her Batman danish.

 

NIghtwing, who was still watching, burst into laughter and turned to the vendor who was chuckling himself.

 

“I’m so proud!” NIghtwing said with a dramatic hand over his heart.



~~~~~~~~~~



Rose, Juleka, and Mylene were talking quietly outside a Gotham gift shop.  Lila was watching them carefully and knew it was time to step in.  

 

“Watcha talking about, guys?” Lila asked pleasantly.  Alya heard her, as she’d hoped, and dragged Nino over with her from where he’d been trying on his new Batman-eared hat.

 

The girls looked uncomfortably at each other before Mylene spoke up.

 

“Well...it’s just…we know you have a bad history with Marinette…” Rose started.

 

“But we kind of agree with Nightwing.” Mylene grimaced. 

 

“Jokes about a person’s appearance and stuff aren’t cool.” Juleka muttered.

 

Alya scowled.  “You know how cruel Marinette’s been to Lila!  If she’s going to be a bully she deserves it! Nightwing didn’t know what he was talking about.”

 

Nino ran his hand down the back of his neck.  “Actually, Babe… I kinda agree with Nightwing and the girls...it was crossing a line.”

 

“Nino!” Alya glared.  “How can you say that!  After everything she’s done to Lila?  She should get back a bit of what she’s dished out.”

 

“I just don’t think that’s behavior you want to fall into, no matter the circumstances.” Nino sighed.

 

Lila took stock as more classmates started to gather around her.  Adrien was nowhere to be found, a shame since he was easy to use and the class trusted him, and almost the entire class was gathered around and looked like they were agreeing.

 

Lila giggled and waved off Nino’s comment.  “It really wasn’t that bad. Even Nightwing didn’t really think so!  He’s such a kidder, he does this all the time!  Oops!” Lila faked looking sheepish.  “I probably shouldn’t have said that!”

 

Most of the students, especially Alya, perked up when she said that.

 

“Girl, what are you saying!” Alya squealed.  “Do you know Nightwing?!”

 

Lila sighed dramatically.  “Well…I really shouldn’t be saying anything, but…”  Lila smiled.

 

“No way!”

 

“Cool!”

 

“Do you know all the heroes?”

 

“But... why didn’t Nightwing say hello to you?” Rose asked innocently.  “He seemed pretty angry.”

 

“Oh, that!” Lila scoffed.  “It was a total act! He was just teasing me, like always!  He likes to give people a hard time, but I’ll tell him he took it a bit too far this time!  He has to learn to let people know when he’s only kidding around.”

 

Everyone started chatting excitedly and Alya pulled her phone out to interview her about how she knew the Gotham heroes.  A few people still looked wary, but the tense atmosphere had been broken and Lila was back on her pedestal again.

 

“You see, it was a while back when I was visiting Damiboo…” Lila began an elaborate story about how she’d met Batman and his team and helped them save the city from a super villain--coincidentally one that no one had heard of before.  Alya was ecstatic about getting the scoop on a villian that no one had reported on yet.

 

No one noticed the bystander listening attentively from the shadows around the corner.



~~~~~~~~~~



“Then Marinette goes and takes a big bite of the thing, right in front of them!”  Dick boasted in the Batcave to Jason. “It was just like that scene in Big Fat Liar when the one lady the Wolf guy made all those stupid weight comments to goes and takes a big bite of somthing to taunt him!  It was awesome!”

 

“Well, way to go, Pigtails!” Jason smirked.  “Now I just need to teach her a few moves and those jerks in her class--”

 

“Who’s been saying what to Marinette?” Damian growled.

 

Jason and Dick jumped in place--though they wouldn’t admit it--when they realized Damian and Bruce had come up behind them.  

 

Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.  “Just tell him.”

 

“So…” Dick drawled.  “We did a little checking up on your soulmate…and it seems like she’s got a little problem with being bullied...by the entire student body of her class.”

 

Damian scowled.  “I knew something was wrong.  What do you know?”

 

Bruce and the boys filled Damian in on what Tim had found and what Dick had observed.  He was seething by the end of the story.

 

“Let me go!” Damian shouted as his father and brothers held him away from his weapons rack.  “They’re degenerate, cruel imbeciles that are engaging in emotional warfare! Studies are widespread and commonly known about the effects bullying has on a person!  They’re actions are just as bad as if they were beating her with bludgunds!” 

 

“We all know that and agree!” Bruce said firmly.  “But threatening a class of French students at swordpoint or having them ‘mysteriously disappear’ is not a healthy solution and will not help Marinette!”

 

“She doesn’t have to know!” Damian argued.  “They could all just leave notes about how they’ve decided to become monks in the remotest parts of Tibet and have renounced all forms of communication and technology!  Tim can forge the letters!”

 

“Yeah, because disappearing on a trip to Tibet isn’t at all suspicious sounding!” Jason sassed.

 

“Little D, think about how Marinette would feel if she ever found out you got violent with her classmates.” Dick reminded.

 

Damian paused just long enough to make them think they’d started to get though.

 

“We can come up with a productive, healthy, and legal solution to Marinette’s situation.” Bruce insisted.  “We’re not going to let her suffer. But first we need to talk to her and get her input about how she wants to handle things.”

 

Damian growled.  “Fine.”

 

They cautiously let Damian go and he simply turned toward a training dummy and kicked it across the cave.

 

“I’ll tell Marinette what you noticed during the tour and ask her what’s been going on.” Damian said.  “But I’m not letting them go back to Paris without making sure she’s at least in a semi safer environment!”

 

“We’re with you, Damian.” Jason said seriously.  “She may be new to us, but no one deserves to be bullied.  We all want to see her out of this.”

 

“And it just got worse, too.” Tim announced as he approached them, still focused on his tablet.

 

“What?” Damian growled.

 

Tim looked at them grimly.  “There’s chatter on the Dark Web.  We need to find Marinette’s class. Now !”

 

 

Chapter Text

The Gotham Government Building was an ornate, historic building.  It housed the State Supreme Court, the State Senate and Representatives, and was the city’s original courthouse.  It had impressive artwork and the docent was animated and informative in describing Gotham’s dark past.

 

All of which would be far more enjoyable if the class wasn’t largely ignoring the docent and listening to Lila describe her adventures with Batman.

 

The docent was noticeably peeved by this and Marinette found a companion in misery when the young woman figured out she was the only one not enraptured by the Lila’s tails.

 

“Do they actually believe this trash?” she asked Marinette in a hushed tone.  “She can’t even get their names right! She keeps calling Red Hood ‘Red Head!’”

 

Marinette just shook her head in exasperation.  She missed when Lila had started claiming to know the Gotham superheroes, but sometime between the danish cart and the government building Lila became some sort of civilian ally to the team.  She claimed to have saved the lives of each of the heroes at least once and even claimed to have talked the Joker into turning himself back into Arkham.

 

Ms. Bustier quietly shushed the docent,  Zonta, and leaned close to whisper. “She has a very rare disease that causes her to hallucinate and lose control over what she says, she can’t help it.”

 

Zonta looked at Ms. Bustier, completely unimpressed.  “Seriously? And I suppose the other students know about her disease and are just humoring her?”

 

“Well… no.” Ms. Bustier said.  “But we don’t want to hinder her ability to make friends and live a normal life.”

 

“Excellent idea,” Zonta said sarcastically.  “Better to put the entire class’ safety at risk by not informing them that they can’t trust her to tell the truth.  They’ll hopefully figure it out before she makes some claim that could get them all killed.

 

“I’ve run into a few people over the years with this disease also.  It’s called being a pathological liar.”  Zonta went on.  

 

Marinette thought she may have found her new best friend.

 

Ms. Bustier looked shocked and went to say something but Zonta cut her off with a whistle that rivaled the woman’s from the Historical Society.  Marinette began to think the shill whistle was a compulsory skill learned in the Gotham school system.

 

“Attention please!” she said to the class.  “We need to keep moving, we have much ground to cover still.”

 

The class followed her into a large courtroom.  There were tall windows on one side of that let in the late afternoon sunlight.  It smelled a little musty, but overall was an impressive sight.

 

“This is one room you don’t want to find yourself to be a special guest in!” Zonta joked.  “This courtroom was added in 1948 to accommodate the increased flow of trials following the rise of crime in Gotham in 1947.  On average, the number of trials this courtroom sees per week can reach--”

 

Zonta was startled into silence when the Judge’s Chamber door opened up and men surged out holding machine guns.  The class erupted in shrieks and some bolted for the door, only to find it closed and blocked by more men with guns. 

 

Marinette frantically glanced around the room for an escape route or, if need be, a place to transform.  She bumped into Adrien who was busy looking around frantically. They both shared a startled look before their attention was drawn to a final man entering the room.

 

“All arise for the honorable Two-Face!”  The man sneered. 

 

Marinette gasped.  The man’s face was grotesquely sinister.  Half of his face was that of an average man, but the other half had been horrendously disfigured.  Marinette wasn’t one to judge by appearance, but the man seemed to play up his fearful features by dressinging in bilateral, contrasting color blocks.  He had the look of an old time gangster and loosely held a machine gun in one hand and flipped a silver coin in the other.

 

The class recoiled with screams and Two-Face motioned for one of his henchmen to fire into the ceiling.  Marinette and Adrien pushed their classmates down and Ms. Bustier and Zonta did the same to the others.  

 

“Silence in the court!” Two-Face sneered and chuckled.  “Welcome, to Gotham, little Frenchies!”

 

He strode over and glared the class down.  “I understand one of you and I have a common friend .  Anyone want to guess who that is?”

 

He eyed them like he dared them to answer but no one did.  Lila had made herself extra small, hiding behind Ivan somewhere in the middle.

 

“No?” Two-Face mused.  “Maybe I can refresh your memory.”

 

He motioned to two men close to him.  “Grab the blonde and pigtails here.”

 

“Hey!” Adrien said as they grabbed his arm. 

 

He and Marinette fought against them for all of a moment before a gun was held to Marinette’s head and they both stopped.  Two-Face pulled them away from the class, ignoring their protests, and had them stand side-by-side in full view of the others.

 

“How appropriate.” Two-Face mocked, flicking first at Adrien’s hair and then Marinette. “Sunshine gold and the Midnight sky!”

 

He turned back to the class and adults.  

 

“We’re going to play a little game.” He grinned, disfigured.  “You’ll tell me which one of you is part of the Bat-Brat Pack, or I will flip the coin and see what happens to your little friends--starting with these two.”

 

Alya started to slip her phone out of her pocket but jumped back with a yelp when it was shot out of her hand with a single bullet.  Nino frantically pulled her back and shielded her. Two-Face had pulled out a handgun and was laughing at Alya’s foolishness.

 

“No phones in the court, young lady!” Two-Face mocked.  “That will get you held in contempt!”

 

Marinette gasped and she shared a glance with Adrien.  He looked slightly frantic but determined and she hoped he wasn’t planning on doing something foolish.  She knew for sure she was thinking foolishly, but then she knew she would be the first up for the coin toss.  She was desperately trying to come up with a solution that didn’t involve revealing her secret identity to a room full of criminals and former, back-stabbing friends.  How crazy would it be to try to grab a machine gun? Master Fu and her mother had been training her outside the mask…

 

Two-Face glared at them and his goons squeezed in closer to them.  “Don’t try my patience. I want to know who--”

 

He didn’t finish his statement because the windows were suddenly blown in and masked men were confronting them.  Two-Face whipped around to the interlopers, yanking Marinette from her captor’s hold and locking her in his arms with his machine gun pointed at her head.

 

“Harvey!” Batman growled.  “Release your hostages and put down your weapons.”

 

Marinette gasped as Two-Face tightened his arm and squeezed the air out of her lungs, her arms pinned to her side.

 

“You’re out of order, Batman!” Two-Face sneered.  “I’ve got business with your civilian friend and I’m not leaving without the brat!”

 

Marinette’s head started to spin with the combination of fear and the fact that she was having trouble breathing.  Still, she heard a soft gasp over the din of noise and looked up.

 

Robin was staring at her with his jaw dropped, obvious terror splayed across his face.  Marinette suddenly had the sensation of being suspended in time. It was only for a split second, but it was long enough for both Marinette and Damian to share a distinct thought that came with an achy pull at their hearts.

 

Yep, Marinette thought, so…apparently soulmates can’t hide behind masks.  Good to know.

 

The moment ended and the look of terror on Dami--no, Robin’s face flickered to horrified and then concerned before finally landing on unadulterated rage.  All this happened without anyone else seeming to notice anything until he finally hit full-fury and everyone was drawn to look at the boy before feeling the urge to cower.  Marinette supposed she should feel taken aback by the pure murder in her soulmate’s expression, but she just couldn’t muster the inclination. It was more like she felt sympathetic pain because she knew he was worried about her, she could feel his fear.  

 

A little, almost sickly satisfied, part of her felt kinda bad for Two-Face.

 

Her Dami was not happy that this guy was threatening his soulmate.

 

Without hesitation, Robin threw a bird-a-rang that impaled Two-Face’s gun hand.  Two-Face shouted and recoiled from the sudden pain, dropping the machine gun.

 

Marinette rammed her elbow into his solar-plexus and caught the machine gun before it could hit the ground.  In one fluid move, she spun around and rammed the butt of the gun into Two-Face’s head on the more sensitive, scarred side.  She felt herself get yanked back again, but this time it was by Robin who shoved her under the prosecutor’s table before taking down the next two goons before they could react and shoot Marinette.  The other heroes jumped into play and Adrien was soon released. Adrien smashed a chair over a henchmen’s head that was ganging up on Red Robin before he dove next to Marinette and held her back from jumping back into the fray--which she was totally trying to do, much to his consternation.

 

Just like that, Two-Face and his men had been rounded up and the Bat-Team was disarming and securing the criminals for the police.  Marinette couldn’t help but smirk when she caught Robin tightening the zip-tie around Two-Face’s hands a little tighter than necessary even though he was unconscious.

 

The police stormed the room and they found themselves in a chaos of a different kind.  Marinette and Adrien were helped out from under the table and rounded up with the rest of the traumatized class.  Zonta was sitting in one of the pews and it looked like an EMT was helping her through a panic attack. Reality had yet to catch up to Marinette, even as she watched Two-Face and his gang be escorted out by the police.

 

She deliberately tried not to look at Robin, not wanting either of them to slip up and show any more signs of recognition, but their eyes wound up meeting anyway.  Though they were behind a mask, the moment they looked at eachother Marinette felt the warmth and comfort of their connection and reality suddenly settled on her. She looked away before he could see her shaking, hoping he wouldn’t try to comfort her as Robin.

 

Sweet macarons and moonpies!  She’d just been a hostage for a supervillain.  A supervillain that was not a middle-aged moth-man obsessed with stealing jewelry from teenagers.  A supervillain whose damage would not be magically cleaned up by her Ladybug Cure and who had held a machine gun to her head.  She could still feel the phantom touch of the muzzle on her temple.

 

She shivered as she watched Batman approach a shaky, pale Ms. Bustier.  An older man with a police badge and glasses was by his side and the Robins held back behind him.

 

“I am Batman and this is Commissioner Gordon.” Batman said to their teacher.  “I understand there has been chatter going through the underworld about a student in your class making claims regarding Gotham’s heroes and villains?”

 

Ms. Bustier looked surprised and Lila shifted slightly, looking for an out.  Alya was the one to chime in, saying, “Lila was just telling us about all the work she’s done with you in the past, Sir!”

 

Batman looked her in the eye, an altogether unnerving experience.

 

“Who is Lila?” Batman said darkly.

 

He, of course, knew each member of the class and the teacher by name and reputation.  Not only had he studied Tim’s research about his son’s soulmate and her class, but Bruce had gone back and reviewed the outstanding application Marinette had submitted for the seminar.  While he didn’t doubt the truthfulness of the accomplishments she had outlined in the application, he felt that her generous praise for her classmates were overestimated. While his research on Marinette seemed promising, his first, low impression about the class seemed to be holding true.

 

Of course he recognized Lila, and Alya, too.  And, of course, that was the last thing he would admit to them.

 

He heard Red Hood snort when his question echoed through the suddenly silent courtroom.  Even the police officers seemed to pause in their work to hear about the drama.

 

A tall boy in a sweatshirt and spiky hair answered, pulling Lila forward.  “Lila Rossi--your civilian aide!”

 

Kim wilted under Batman’s stern glare.  “Ms. Rossi is a complete stranger to me and my team.  We have never worked with her, nor would we. It would be a completely inappropriate to wantonly disregard a civilian’s safety--not to mention the stories I’ve heard in a short span of two hours on the Dark Web are ludicrous, inaccurate, and frankly insulting.  Her blatant broadcasting of such claims only confirms that we would’ve never trusted her or anyone else who is so disrespectful to our privacy as well as chose to recklessly and selfishly endanger her life and the lives of those around her.

 

“Ms. Rossi,” Batman continued.  “Consider this your only warning.  Cease any and all fabrications immediately.  If we hear that you’ve perpetrated further fraud we will be forced to work with the consulate and issue charges.  If you endanger your class, yourself, or others again we will bring charges against you and have you, and potentially your classmates, deported immediately.  Gotham is not a safe city. Take my warning seriously. Madame, I suggest you learn from this experience and keep a close watch on your students and their activities.”

 

“Y-yes, Batman.” Ms. Bustier stuttered. 

 

Lila saw the questioning glare directed at her and when she thought Batman had turned away, she whispered, “He’s just putting on a good show!  He doesn’t really mean it. I always tell my friends the things that matter and it’s never been a problem...I bet Marinette just said something when she was jealous and was overheart, that’s why we were targeted.”

 

“I can still hear you, Ms. Rossi.”

 

Lila jumped when she realized Batman was behind her again.  She had no idea that she was lucky it had been Batman to confront her and not Robin, who was being physically restrained by Nightwing’s quick hand to his shoulder.  Robin was having a very difficult time remembering not to react to the malice that was quickly directed toward Marinette.  

 

“I will repeat, I do not know you .  My team and I have never worked with you and will never work with you.  The responsibility for endangering your classmates belongs to you and it is deplorable that you would throw the blame on a fellow student--one, I’ll add, that you nearly got killed because of your selfish actions.  The press is waiting outside and I will be setting them straight. Don’t ever let me hear your name again.”

 

Batman left then, but Robin noticed with disgust that Lila’s comments had done their job.  While some students just looked upset about the ordeal, a good few seemed to buy what Lila had said even after Batman had shut her down for a second time.  This went even deeper than he’d originally thought.

 

Idiots, he decided, all of them.

 

Worse, they had drifted away from Marinette, glaring at her, and had left her alone.  Lila was drawing attention to herself with fat crocodile tears and even the teacher seemed too flustered to comfort the only student who’d had a gun held to her head.

 

Ignoring his brothers and walking past the police officers, Robin picked up a shock blanket and calmly walked up to Marinette and placed it over her shoulders.  He surprised himself by how immensely relieved he was to finally just be next to her. He’d had to dig deep into his will power to restrain himself from rushing her before and during Batman’s lecture.  He’d only known Marinette a day and a half and already seeing her in danger made him feel like the world was disintegrating around him.  

 

Stange, but undeniable.  He wondered if that was a soulmate thing or a Marinette thing?  Didn’t matter. He’d accepted it.

 

Marinette was pale and shaking.  Robin knew she’d been trying to play it cool, but Lila’s accusations and her classmates scorn had clearly been the final blow to push her into shock from the whole ordeal.  She’d zoned out completely and so she jumped when he wrapped the blanket around her.

 

She turned to him and he saw the tears that had whelmed in her eyes spill over and down her cheeks.  Robin felt his heart break at the silent misery pouring off her--and he did not break easily. He gently helped her sit down before she could collapse.  

 

“Are you hurt, Angel?” Robin whispered for only her to hear.

 

Marinette shook her head.  “I’ll be okay.”

 

Robin tentatively rubbed her back and Marinette felt unbelievably calmed by the action.  But she was still aware enough to keep track of their surroundings. Her classmates were alternating between being oblivious or ignoring her, but the other heroes--Nightwing, Red Hood, and Red Robin--were all obviously trying, and failing, to hide their incredulous stares.  

 

“I think you need to go.” Marinette whispered regretfully.  “We can talk later.”

 

Robin looked like he wanted to protest but thought of a better solution.

 

“Not much later,” he promised before standing up and saying goodbye before she could ask him to clarify what he meant.

 

“A little risky there, Baby Bird?” Nightwing whispered as they walked away.  

 

Red Hood and Red Robin stayed behind, suspiciously eyeing the class and waiting to see if any would comfort Marinette.  They’d silently decided to stay as guards for as long as they could.

 

“She knows.” Robin said simply.

 

“You told her already?” Nightwing asked, trying to keep his shock quiet.

 

Robin shook his head.  “She knew as soon as she saw me.  We could both feel it. Did that not happen with you and Starfire?”

 

“We met as heroes first so maybe it was different.” Nightwing guessed.

 

“I’m making my exit.”  

 

“We guessed.  I’ll come with you and cover for you so you can make better time.”

 

Robin nodded and then they were gone.  It was only a few minutes later that Marinette heard a commotion at the police line.

 

She looked up to see Damian waving down the police commissioner.

 

“Commissioner Gordon,” Damian said, “my soulmate is in the class that was attacked, can I please go to her?”

 

Gordon looked to where the youngest Wayne pointed and saw the lone girl staring back under the shock blanket.  He waved him through with a slight smile on his face.

 

Damian ran to Marinette and she stood up to meet him.  She needn’t have bothered because as soon as he reached her Damian caught her in a hug that had his brother’s and the Commissioner’s jaws dropping.  He picked her up and made her comfortable sitting down on the pew again.

 

“That was quick.” Marinette muttered with a smile as she rested her head on his shoulder.

 

Damian returned to smoothing circles across her back and this time also started massaging her head.

 

“It’s already breaking news, so it’s not implausible for me to get here so quickly and I don’t want to leave you anyway.”

 

“Thank you.” she whispered.

 

Marinette melted into Damian’s arms and started to muse that you’d think she’d be more prepared for an attack like this.  She’d spent years fighting akumas… but this had been her first non-magic supervillain encounter and it had been outside of the Ladybug suit.  And her classmates had only rubbed salt in her wounds.

 

After a few minutes, a smile crept onto her face and she smirked at Damian.  “Does this make me an official Gothamite?”

 

Damian snickered.  “Sure, Angel.”



~~~~~~~~~~



Damian took a few subtle actions to ensure Marinette was among the first to give her statement to the police.  Marinette had to hold back a laugh, and even Damian hid a snicker, when they noticed the officer who got stuck interviewing Lila--who was going on and on--was noticeably exasperated and had a ‘why me?’ expression on his face.

 

The officer getting Marinette’s statement was thorough but kind.  Oddly enough, she was a family friend named Barbara.

 

When Barbara told them they were free to go, after some kindly teasing, Marinette and Damian approached Ms. Bustier.

 

The bus that had been already been waiting for them had been damaged before Two-Face’s gang confronted the class.  Thankfully, the driver was unharmed, but the bus was unusable and the class already was planning to take taxis back to the hotel where they would be able to get a quiet dinner through room service.  

 

Marinette already disappointedly guessed that Ms. Bustier didn’t realize she had neither a buddy to accompany her safely nor a roommate to share the evening with after all the stress.

 

Damian offered to give her a ride back and she was determined that they have a much needed conversation.

 

“Ms. Bustier?” Marinette asked her frazzled teacher.

 

At least her classmates were all busy and they didn’t have an audience.

 

“This is my soulmate, Damian.” Marinette introduced.  “He heard what happened on the news and offered to give me a ride back to the hotel.  May I please be excused?”

Ms. Bustier looked conflicted, but she was clearly a romantic.  “Are you sure it’s safe, Marinette?”

 

“I’m sure.” Marinette said with conviction.  “I trust Damian with my life.”

 

The crazy thing was that she knew it was true, even after so short a time.  The only person she’d ever had this much immediate trust for was Cat Noir.

 

“Alright, just be safe.” Ms. Bustier agreed.  “And remember the policy, no co-eds in the rooms.”

 

Marinette blushed brightly and agreed before quickly pulling Damian away by his hand.

 

Damian was grateful they managed to get away, but disgusted that the teacher was so easily convinced.  Marinette had only known him for less than two days! Soulmate or not, he could be a serial killer for all the woman knew!  He actually was raised to be a trained assassin!  Did the woman not take Batman’s warning about Gotham seriously?!

 

Nevertheless, Damian snuck Marinette out under the radar of the press and quickly shepherded her down the street.

 

Marinette yelped when his car zoomed up to them and opened the doors to reveal no one was behind the wheel.

 

Damian chuckled as he helped her into the car.  “Self driving car. Comes in handy.”

 

Once they were both buckled in, Marinette sank into her seat and sighed.  “Do we have to go back to the hotel right away? I was hoping we could talk.”

 

“I was hoping for that as well, Angel, but won’t you get in trouble if you’re not accounted for?” he asked.

 

Marinette waved off his concern.  “I doubt anyone will notice. I don’t have a roommate and Ms. Bustier hasn’t done any bed checks.”

 

Damian frowned at that knowledge and the fact that Marinette seemed to accept it so blasely.  He kept his thoughts to himself...for now.

 

“Are you hungry, Angel?” Damian asked, remembering her horrible meal encounters earlier.

 

“Starving!” Marinette smiled and Damian felt his lips mirror the movement.

 

“I know just the place…” 

 

 

Chapter Text

Damian took them to a small park on a quieter side of the city.  They were able to park and look over a pond and a small playground with children running around in the twilight.

 

They had stopped along the way to pick up a feast of comfort foods.  Or...at least what Damian hoped would be comfort foods--he still didn’t know her favorite things very well.  He’d taken her to a small drive-thru he was fond of. It was a small business and had an eclectic menu, making a name for itself as an environmentally friendly place with fresh ingredients and recipes that leaned towards the healthier side.  The prices were higher than the average drive-thru, but Damian could afford it and it had become guilty pleasure of his. Bruce was impressed enough by Chicken and Waffles that he was ready to franchise it.

 

By the time they’d laid out out all the food, they had a spread of burritos, chicken fingers, barbeque, and tubs of sauteed vegetables and macaroni and cheese to share.  It wasn’t Papa’s macaroons or Mama’s dumplings, but it had Marinette feeling cozy already.

 

“How are you coping with Gotham’s hospitality?” Damian asked.

 

He was pleased that that elicited a laugh from Marinette.

 

“I’m a little shook up, to be honest.” she admitted. “We deal with akumas all the time in Paris, but this was just a little...different, somehow.”

 

Damian frowned.  “I still can’t believe I never heard of these akumas before now!”

 

Marinette shrugged.  “It does sound pretty fantastic and hard to believe--plus the major has worked hard to minimize the negative press about the situation.  At least on the international level.”

 

That only caused him to frown more.  “I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with that, Marinette.  Now that you know about my secret identity you can probably understand my concern that this went undetected for so long.”

 

Marinette smirked.  “I can certainly understand that.”

 

“Though it has recently come to my attention that Batman and the League have been monitoring the situation.” Damian expanded.

 

“Really?” Marinette exclaimed, slightly starstruck.  “The Justice League!”

 

“Yes, apparently Batman offered the League’s assistance some time ago but was declined by the mayor.”

 

Marinette suddenly looked very putout.  “Seriously? He’s been complaining non-stop for the last two years and he turned down help from experienced superheroes?!”

 

Damian shrugged.  “Batman said they were accused of being too destructive and that the --what did you call it?  Ladybug Cure wouldn’t fix the damage?”

 

Marinette groaned and threw her head back against the seat.

 

Damian cleared his throat.  “Speaking of Batman and Robin, I feel I should apologize to you.  If not for keeping my identity a secret, then for how you had to discover it.”

 

“Neither were your fault, Dami.” Marinette’s fond tone caused him to blush slightly.  “I understand the importance of a secret identity and I would not have held it against you if you’d chosen to keep it from me.  How were we to know that soulmates can’t hide their identities from each other?”

 

Damian felt inexplicably relieved to hear her say that.  “I had planned on telling you eventually, but I had wanted to wait and tell you once we’d gotten to know each other better as people and not just as soulmates.  I also did not want to overwhelm you.”

 

Marinette laughed.  “Well, it’s certainly not everyday you find out your soulmate is a superhero!”

 

Damian smirked.  “Only in Gotham, Angel.”

 

Marinette laughed but then bit her lip and looked sheepish.  She hesitated for a moment, but before Damian could ask what was wrong she pulled out her phone and looked something up.  Marinette stared at her screen but Damian didn’t interrupted, sensing that she needed space for whatever was troubling her.

 

Finally, Marinette took a deep breath and looked very seriously at Damian.

 

“Damian?  You know how I told you about Ladybug and Cat Noir?” she asked with a slight tremor in her voice.

 

“Yes.”

 

Marinette nodded and took another fortifying breath and handed him her phone.  “This is a picture of Ladybug.”

 

He took the phone and stared at the screen.  It wasn’t as dramatic as earlier, but he felt the same pull at his heart and instant recognition.  Damian snapped his gaze up to Marinette, who was clutching her pigtails in anxiety.

 

“You’re Ladybug.” he stated.

 

“I’ve never told anyone before…” she whispered.  “But I thought it would be better to avoid another high-intensity reveal.”

 

“I’m the first to know?” Damian asked in concern.  “What about your parents?”

 

Marinette shook her head.  “The only other person who knows is the Guardian of the Miraculous and he is the one who chose me.  Not even Cat Noir knows who I am.”

 

Damian took her hand and kissed it.  “I feel honored, Marinette, that you trusted me with this knowledge.  You didn’t have to, you know, there’s no guarantee that I would have encountered Ladybug.”

 

He didn’t mention the fact that Bruce was already planning a trip to Paris where he likely would see Ladybug.  He didn’t want her to feel beholden.

 

“I know.  But...I’m relieved.” Marinette smiled.  “It’s nice to know that I won’t have to be careful about my words around you.  Or be worried that you’ll stop trusting me because of my excuses...of course Tikki might not be happy with me.”

 

“Tikki?” Damian frowned.

 

No sooner had Damian asked before a red blur flew from Marinette’s purse and greeted him.  Eyes wide, Damian glanced around to make sure no one outside the car was watching, but the windows were tinted and Tikki was hidden under the level of the dashboard.

 

“Hello, Damian!  I’m Tikki, the Kwamii of Creation!  I help Marinette become Ladybug.” she said cheerfully before turning to Marinette.  “I’m not at all disappointed in you, Marinette! I knew this was inevitable as soon as you found your soulmate.  The connection you both share is stronger than any disguise or any glamor and your hearts will know each other despite any attempts to conceal yourselves.  I am surprised that it was a two-way reveal, though! How exciting! This must be why those other superheroes keep appearing around you!”

 

Marinette laughed as Damian tried to hide his embarrassment.

 

“Wait a minute…” Damian thought or a moment and then groaned.

 

“What’s wrong?” Marinette asked.

 

Damian pinched the bridge of his nose.  “This means I’m inevitably going to see you in danger again, correct?”

 

“Most likely.”

 

“Fan-freakin-tastic!”

 

“Don’t get your feathers ruffled!” Marinette smirked.  “Remember, the same goes for me.”

 

Damian looked at her blankly.  “I’m officially regretting this.”

 

Marinette snorted.  “Sure you are.”

 

After that, Tikki snacked on some cookies while Damian and Marinette shared the no-longer-secret aspects of their lives.

 

Damian was apprehensive about how Marinette would react to learning about his childhood growing up in the League of Assassins.  Marinette was a little unsettled, but not greatly surprised since she had already seen he was a skilled warrior. She asked him about how he came to be with Batman and what his beliefs were and he explained how he’d deflected from the Assassins and how his values had changed.  He told her it wasn’t an easy transition but that he wanted to use his skills to be a force for good...but that old habits weren’t easy to kill.

 

Marinette told him the story of how she became Ladybug, though she told him she couldn’t tell him much about the Guardian--which Damian understood.  Damian revealed that he knew about the toxicity in her class and Marinette explained how Lila’s appearance had changed her former friends.

 

“It’s not like they’re all openly hostile to me,” Marinette said with a wince.  “I’ll probably never know what Lila told Rose, but she just doesn’t trust me anymore.  Mylene believed that I was bullying Lila and so she’s not friendly with me but she just ignores me.  Ivan’s her boyfriend but he’s also in a band with my best friend Luka--along with Rose and Juleka. I’m not sure what he thinks of all this, but he generally ignores me also.  Juleka is Luka’s sister and I think she’s listened to Luka when he’s told her I’m innocent, but I think she’s too far under Lila’s influence to do anything about it. She was starting to show some confidence and was pushing herself to pursue her dreams of modeling, but I think Lila got to her because she stopped modeling and retreated back to trying not to draw attention to herself and became even more quiet than she was before Lila came.

 

“Adrien knows Lila’s lying and bullying me and he tried to stand up for me at the beginning, but his father is very controlling and he enforced so many restrictions and penalties on Adrien for what Gabriel called his ‘rebelliousness’ that eventually Adrien gave up and went along with what Gabriel wanted.  He told me his father wants him to keep Lila happy. It came down to Adrien choosing between his freedom or his friendship with me and he chose his freedom.” Marinette said grimly. “I get it, in a way. He’s in an abusive situation and he doesn’t see a way out. But it still meant that he left me to suffer and he lost my trust after that.  I forgive him, and I can tell he’s suffering, but I told him I don’t want a friend that treats me one way in public and another in private. I’ve tried to get him to reach out for help but he refuses. I think he still wants to believe his father has his best interest at heart.

 

“Alya was the most changed by Lila.  We were best friends but she refused to believe that my claims that Lila was lying were anything but me being jealous of Lila because Alya claimed I saw her as a rival to Adrien--who I had a crush on at the time.  Eventually, that escalated to her believing Lila over me when Lila would bully me. Lila actually got me expelled once--though I found out it was Adrien that got her to lie to get me back in. I think that was the start of Alya thinking that I was capable of being a bully because she did an ‘investigation’ to prove my innocence but came up with nothing.  One of the things Lila claimed was that I pushed her down the stairs and I think Alya believed whatever sob story Lila told her instead of me when I tried to tell her Lila was faking it.

 

“It took a while, but once Lila had fully turned Alya against me the rest of the class followed her example.” Marinette sighed.  “I just heard last night that she’s got Max hacking my phone to mess with my alarms so I’ll be late. Kim and Alix can get verbally aggressive when they believe I’ve done something mean--which hurts but at least their motivated by the fact that they think they’re calling me out on bad behavior.  Nino is Alya’s boyfriend and used to be my childhood friend.  He’s barely spoken to me since and acts so betrayed that it breaks my heart even as it burns me up that he believed Lila and Alya over me.  

 

“Lila is the main source of my harassment.  Sometimes its physical, but since I petitioned the school to instal security cameras she’s been mainly confined to emotional and social bullying.  She sometimes gets the others--like Max--to join her, but it's mostly Alya who joins her when she torments me. I don’t think Alya notices that it’s Lila who is tripping me or whatever the case is, but she joins in by taunting me.” Marinette said as she tried to hold back tears.  Damian took her hand as she continued. “Lila’s got her so twisted that she’s adopted this...vindictive sense of justice. She never was never so cruel when Chloe used to bully me, but now she almost views anything against me as fair game because Lila’s ‘too nice’ to formally report me for bullying.

 

“And Chloe!  She was doing pretty well for a while there, but Lila brings out the worst in her and I think she said something that got Chloe to distrust Ladybug, who she used to look to as a role model.  She has been somewhat nice to me, at least outside of class, ever since she and her mom started to have a healthier relationship. She credits me for that because I got them to see that they had common ground in basically how awful they both were, but I really only gave them that first nudge, they did the hard work to become better themselves.  Of course, you know her father, the mayor, still has relatively no backbone and is more self serving than civil serving.”

 

As Damian listened he was boggled by the amount of abuse and injustice Marinette had faced.  He was disgusted by Marinette’s recounting of the negligence and lack of protection from her school officials.  He was disappointed to learn that it even took her parents sometime to understand the reality of Lila’s bullying, but was relieved when Marinette said they took the situation very seriously once they came to grips with it.

 

“I see the Guardian as my therapist...which I maybe shouldn’t have told you.” Marinette grimaced.

 

“I won’t pry for information about him.” Damian promised.

 

Marinette nodded gratefully.  “Thank you. Anyway, the good thing that came from this was that it gave my parents a good excuse for some of my more ‘irresponsible’ actions that are actually a result of my being Ladybug.  If I have an unexcused absence, or I disappear suddenly and they can’t find me, they call Master and he tells them that I stopped by for a session. We have a rule that if I’m having trouble coping I can drop everything and get help.”

 

Marinette shrugged.  “It’s probably not the best solution, ideally the school either needed to take action to protect me or I should have transferred to a school with a healthier environment.  But I didn’t want to transfer so close to graduation--and now I’m glad I didn’t switch classes or we wouldn’t have met. At least this allows me to do my job without the added stress of my parents thinking I’ve been lying to them and being irresponsible.”

 

“I have trouble with the idea that anyone would see you as irresponsible, Marinette, but I can see how, from your parents perspective, it might look that way when they don’t know the full story.”  Damian said.

 

“Thank you.” Marinette squeezed his hand.

 

“Earlier, you said that you were glad I wouldn’t stop trusting you because of your excuses,” Damian recalled, “I take it that has happened before?”

 

“It was putting stress on my relationship with my parents and it was something Lila weaponized to perfection .” Marinette nodded grimly.  “She cast scrutiny on my actions and then took it further by claiming she’d told me about things only for me to not follow through and then she’d claim I was lying if I didn’t know about them--and that’s just a sample of what she did, the full explanation is much longer.”

 

Damian still didn’t like that Marinette had to deal with constant bullying--especially because she had the added stress, as Ladybug, of being the one person in Paris that had to be constantly on guard against akumatization.  He was angrier still when he heard that her partner was still pushing for a romantic relationship with her despite her refusal and that the Cat had become undependable--supposedly do to constraints in his civilian life.  With her friends in short supply, Marinette had very few people she could reach out to as temporary wielders.

 

Marinette insisted that he did not need to share the identities of the Gotham heroes, but Damian explained that they already knew she knew and he doubted they would be able to maintain their cover for five minutes the next time they saw her before they had outed themselves.  He told her that Batman was his father and the others were his brothers and Marinette had laughed heartily when she remembered Nightwing watching out for her and the Reds spying on their date.

 

Damian reassured Marinette that she didn’t need to feel obligated to share her Ladybug identity with his family, but she was strongly considering it.  Marinette planned on telling her parents about being Ladybug as soon as Hawkmoth was defeated, especially since her role as the next Guardian would greatly affect her life and she wanted them aware of that.  Having the support of fellow heroes and (almost) family outside of Paris was a tempting prospect, even knowing they would likely be visiting Paris before Hawkmoth’s defeat.

 

When Damian guaranteed her the assistance of the Justice League, no matter what she decided about her identity, Marinette just about flipped.  She was so torn between fan-girling and being grateful that she was overwhelmed. With the assistance of the Justice League it was almost a certainty that they would see an end to Hawkmoth’s reign.  

 

Marinette decided she would give it some thought, but she was strongly leaning toward telling Damian’s family.  She felt bad that she would be telling someone outside of Cat Noir or her parents first, but she wanted to accept their help and if they saw Ladybug working with Robin she had no doubt that sooner or later they would become suspicious of their bond.  Damian had invited her to a family dinner on Sunday and she told him she would decide by then.

 

“So, why pigtails?” Damian asked.  “If the past two days and your press photo are anything to go by, they seem to be your signature look.”

 

Marinette smirked.  He’d seen it before, but this time he finally realized the implications.  She could sass and he didn’t stand a chance against this woman.

 

“Pigtails are lucky, I thought everyone knew that.” she said pertly.

 

He snorted.  “Why are they lucky?”

 

She smirked again.  Confirmed, he was doomed.

 

“Ladybug wears them, so they must be lucky!”

 

He groaned as she giggled.

 

“So, who’s taking care of the akumas while you’re here?” he asked, curious.  

 

“No one,” Marinette answered.  “About a year ago the Guardian uncovered a spell that could temporarily keep any nearby Miraculous from transforming for fourteen days.  We’ve only used it twice before, once when Hawkmoth was sending out constant akumas in an attempt to wear us out and make us vulnerable and a second time when the stress at school was really bad and I needed time off for myself to manage everything and heal.”

 

Damian frowned at another instance of Marinette’s suffering, but his thoughts were interrupted when Marinette’s phone started to ring.  She winced a little and looked slightly nervous when she saw who it was. “So...ready to meet the parents?”

 

“Of course,” Damian said, determined, “I would be honored.”

 

Marinette mumbled something about overprotective dads and rose towers.

 

Damian decided to ignore that and ask, “Are you going to tell them about Two-Face?” 

 

Marinette sighed.  “I wanted to break it to them gently...but if they’re calling now it probably means that they’ve heard.”

 

Marinette answered and instantly heard her parents frantic voices talking over each other.

 

“Marinette, are you alright?” Tom asked.

 

“We heard about the attack, Honey!  What happened?” Sabine seconded.

 

“How did you hear so fast?” Marinette asked.  “Isn’t it close to midnight in Paris? I thought you’d be asleep!”

 

“We have an alert on our phones for breaking news in Gotham.” Tom explained.

 

“And you know you can call us at any hour, sweetheart!” Sabine reminded.  “Did you not think you could call us?”

 

“No, no!” Marinette reassured.  “I’m alright. Batman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, and Robin all showed up and it was resolved pretty quickly before anyone was hurt.”  

 

She left out the held-at-gunpoint detail.

 

“How did this happen?  The news said this Two-Face was targeting your class specifically!” Tom asked.

 

“Lila decided it would be a swell idea to boast about how she was an invaluable ally to the Bat Team.” Marinette said flatly.

 

Sabine started shouting in Mandarin.

 

“Mama!” Marinette tried to break in but Sabine kept going.  “Mama, my Mandarin is getting better but you know I can’t understand you when you swear!”

 

“I can.” Damian said, obviously impressed with Sabine’s expletives that were clearly audible even without being on speakerphone.

 

Marinette glared at him.  “Hush, you! You’re not helping!”

 

“Is someone there with you?” Tom asked.

 

“Damian picked me up and we drove to a park to eat while I calm down from today.” Marinette said.  

 

She could almost see their yenta minds kick into overdrive.

 

“Oh!  Put us on speaker!” Sabine exclaimed.

 

Marinette visually checked again that Damian was ready for the impromptu meet-and-greet.  Once he nodded, she turned on the speaker.

 

“Hello, M. and Mme. Dupain-Cheng,” Damian said in French.  “It’s an honor to speak with you. You’ve raised a wonderful daughter.”

 

Tom and Sabine excitedly exchanged greetings before her papa asked, “Tell us the truth, Damian, is our Cupcake alright?  She wasn’t hurt?”

 

“No, sir, she’s unharmed.  She’s understandably shaken up, but she’s processing things well under the circumstances.”  Damian reassured.

 

“You’ve got Dr. Chang’s number with you, don’t you, Marinette?” Sabine asked.

 

“Yes, I’ll probably call him tomorrow, but I really am actually doing pretty well.” Marinette promised. 

 

“We’re glad to hear it, Cupcake, we just want to make sure you’re getting the best help possible.” Tom said.

 

“I understand. Thanks, Papa.” Marinette said.

 

“So, young man,” Sabine said with an obvious smile in her tone.  “We really enjoyed the video your brother took!”

 

Damian winced.  “So did my brothers.”

 

Tom and Sabine laughed before Sabine demanded, “Tell us about yourself!”

 

Damian shared the more public-friendly details of his life: age, studies, family.  He told them about his dog Titus and Tom told him how Marinette wanted a hamster--but Marinette got embarrassed and cut him off before Damian found out what she wanted to name it.  When Tom asked if Gotham was as dangerous as it's reputation made it out to be Damian struggled to come up with an answer.

 

“It...is not a place where you want to take safety for granted,” he said carefully, “the heroes and police force do what they can, but it's undeniable that we have a high crime rate.”

 

“I worry about Marinette choosing Gotham’s Fashion Institute of Technology.” Sabine admitted.  “It has a wonderful program, but I’d rather her be in a safer location--especially after all of these years of akumas.”

 

“You read the safety brochure from Gotham University, Mama,” Marinette reminded, “it’s not as bad as the sensationalists make it sound.”

 

“Well…” Damian muttered before Marientte elbowed his arm.

 

“Marinette,” Sabine said sternly, “You’ve been in Gotham for four days and you’ve already had an encounter with a dangerous criminal.”

 

“You say that like its a bad thing?” Marinette said innocently, causing Damian to snort. 

 

Tom intervened.  “Please just be aware of your surroundings and do your best to stay away from danger.”

 

“I will, Papa.”

 

“I’ll watch out for her as well.” Damian promised.

 

“Thank you, son,” Tom said, “we look forward to getting to know you more.”

 

They said goodbye then, needing to get some sleep before they had to be up again to prep the bakery.

 

Marinette sighed fondly.  “I love them, but they tend to worry--especially Papa.  I tend to catastrophize and he’s the one I inherited that trait from.  I shudder to think what their reaction will be once I tell them I’m Ladybug.”

 

“I’m sure it will be a shock, but they seem like kind people who believe in you very much.” Damian smiled.

 

“They liked you.” Marinette said.

 

“Now that is most definitely a shock.” Damian joked, causing Marinette to laugh.

 

Damian was thoughtful for a moment.  “Marinette, you are clearly a very talented individual and would be an asset to any school you choose to go to.”

 

“I sense a ‘but’ coming?” 

 

Damian smirked.  “I was thinking about what your parents said about your education.  I realize we’ve only known each other for a short time, but--as seems to be the case with soulmates--we cannot seem to spend enough time together.  Granted, I cannot speak for you, but I certainly find myself wanting to be in your presence.

 

“I just want you to know that you don’t have to base your school decision on me.  We can progress our relationship at a pace we both deem comfortable, but I want you to know from the start that if you’ll allow me I will have no problem following you to Paris or New York or anywhere you need to be.” Damian said resolutely.

 

“But what about your duty as Robin?” Marinette asked.

 

“My responsibilities are not limited to Gotham.” Damian explained.  “In my family, we have an understanding and promise to step up when one of us is in need.  Gotham will be well taken care of, even if I need to leave.

 

“The reality is, your parents were right.  Gotham is a very dangerous place.” Damian said grimly.  “I’ve seen some truly awful things in my life, Angel, yet seeing you being threatened by Two-Face was a completely different horror than what I’d yet experienced.  I know you have your own duties that will put you at risk, but I still desire not to see you in danger. And in Gotham, danger is almost inevitable. I will not pressure you to attend university here.”

 

Marinette smiled and Damian felt an instant comfort when she took his hand and reached over to kiss his cheek.

 

“I feel the same way, Dami.” Marinette said.  “While danger is everywhere,” she laughed, “I know Gotham is more of a magnet for it than other places.  I won’t enjoy seeing you in danger, either...but honestly? I don’t know why, but I feel drawn here. It could be our soulmate connection, but maybe it’s something to do with the Miraculous.  If we can defeat Hawkmoth in the next few months--”

 

“We will help ensure you do.”

 

Marinette smiled.  “Still, if and when that happens, the Guardian wants to pass his mantle onto me.  He’s over one hundred and ninety years old, he’s certainly earned a retirement. He thinks it would be wise to move the Miracle Box out of Paris for a while and I agree with him.  If I’m feeling drawn here...it just might be that the next chapter of the Miraculous is meant to be in Gotham.”

 

Damian sighed.  “Whatever you choose, Angel, I’ll be by your side.”

 

Marinette smiled as she gently trailed her hand down his face and his expression became relaxed and at ease.

 

“Likewise, Mon Cher.” 



~~~~~~~~~~



They ate and talked until only crumbs remained of their food and only the city lights shone above the park.  There were still some people taking late strolls as a street performer played guitar for a couple who’d just left a restaurant.  Tikki gave them some privacy by retreating back into Marinette’s purse and Damian and Marinette held hands while they listened to the music through the open car windows.  They lingered until they couldn’t ignore the time anymore and Damian drove her back to the hotel.

 

When they arrived, Damian opened Marinette’s door and walked her to the lobby. 

 

After an awkward moment of hesitation, Damian and Marinette moved to initiate a hug at the same time. 

 

“Th-thank you...for saving my life,” she whispered and Damian shuddered. 

 

“I can’t describe how grateful I am that you are alright, Marinette.” Damian whispered, holding her tighter. 

 

“Likewise, Damian.” Marinette whispered back. “Damian?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“I’m glad you’re my soulmate.” she said softly.  “I think you’re incredible, and your past doesn’t change that. I’m proud of the person you’ve worked hard to become.”

 

Damian smiled though she couldn’t see it with his cheek resting on the top of her head. He had to wait a moment before he could speak past the emotion in his throat. “I’m glad you’re my soulmate as well, Marinette. You are an amazing, special person with with a beautiful heart. I will do everything in my power to be deserving of it.”

 

They shared a sweet kiss before parting, with Marinette promising to text him when she got to her room safely. Damian waited in his car until he received her text and then drove back to the manor with a smile on his face. 

Chapter Text

Marinette awoke leisurely on Saturday morning.  Her new alarm clock--she had to laugh when she realized she unintentionally bought her soulmate’s merchandise--had worked and for the first time on the trip she had enough time to relax and get ready for the day at her own pace.  

 

The class was scheduled to spend the day just outside of Gotham at an Autumn fair.  The weather was warm for fall, but still brisk. Marinette knew her Ladybug aversion to cold would not be kind to her, so she wore a warm thermal shirt under her hand-knit, pink sweater. The sweater was a relaxed fit and had a stylish front-twist, a high-low hem, and was adorned with white, knitted pearls.  It paired nicely with her jeans and warm, tall boots. She hoped she wouldn’t need a jacket, but again stuffed a scarf, hat, and gloves in her purse.

 

Just as she was about to leave, Marinette got a request for a video chat.  With a smile, she answered the call and Luka and Kagami’s faces filled her screen.

 

“A certain someone’s parents sent us a video of a friend of ours all tied up with a tall, dark stranger.” Kagami smirked.

 

Marinette groaned as they both openly laughed at her.

 

“Congratulations, Marinette!” Luka said.  “We can’t wait to meet the harmony to your melody.”

 

“But he’s still going to have to prove his worth to us.” Kagami added wickedly.

 

“Sweet madelines!” Marinette said in exasperation.  “First I have a werewolf papa and now you people! I swear, I’m never bringing home another boy as long as I live!  Maybe I’ll let you meet him at our golden anniversary!”

 

“All kidding aside, we would have called you sooner, but we understood you were busy being held hostage by a machinegun toting villain !” Kagami growled.

 

“Ha, ha…” Marinette grimaced.  “That’s part of the story…”

 

“What’s the other part?” Luka warily asked.

 

“Better yet, just tell me who to kill.” Kagami interjected.

 

“Why do I have so many violent people in my life?” Marinette mumbled.  “I’m a nice person...average...mostly…”

 

“What was that?” Luka chuckled.

 

“We both know I could read your lips even if you think we can’t hear you.” Kagami said.  “Just who else is violent?”

 

“Well, first off, Lila thought it would be a good idea to broadcast the ‘fact’ that she was some sort of indispensable asset to the Batman team--”

 

“Idiot.” Kagami condemned.

 

“Then Two-Face--I take it you’ve now heard of him?--he attacked and held me and Adrien hostage until the heroes got there and Robin saved my life.” Marinette said quickly with only a slight waver in her voice.  “Then Damian came and we got comfort food and talked and he helped me process the night and calm down.”

 

“Is Juleka okay?” Luka worried.  “I know our chords have been dissonant since I told her I didn’t believe Lila, but she usually doesn’t freeze me out.  She hasn’t been answering my calls or Mom’s and we’re worried.”

 

“She was fine last night, but I’ll tell her you’re worried and want her to call.” Marinette reassured.

 

She could see Kagami patting Luka’s shoulder in comfort.  

 

“So…” Kagami asked.  “Who else is violent?”

 

Marinette snorted.  “You’re going to love my soulmate!”


~~~~~~~~~~


Even after a second call to Master Fu, Marinette still made it downstairs in plenty of time to get her breakfast from the contienental buffet, even if it meant she had to be around her classmates.  Adrien sent her a sympathetic smile, but most of the students cast her glares or ignored her.  

 

Her lucky spots were working in her favor and Juleka was still at the buffet, waiting at the waffle maker.  Marinette served herself some eggs and then looked over the selection of pastries next to Juleka...reminding herself that not everyone could bake like her parents and that didn’t mean these pastries were that awful.

 

“Luka and Kagami called me this morning.” Marinette whispered, startling Juleka.  “He’s worried that you haven’t been answering since last night.”

 

Juleka hesitate before answering.  “Thanks...I’ll call him.”

 

“Sounds good.” Marinette said.  “You doing alright?”

 

Juleka looked at her from the side of her eyes.  “Fine. You?”

 

“I’m alright.” Marinette chose a muffin and started to leave.  “Glad you all are okay.”

 

“Marinette!” Lila said in overdone surprise.  “Your early! I’m so glad you’re being more responsible with your time.”

 

“It wasn’t so hard once my alarms and wake-up calls stopped being tampered with.” Marinette said.

 

Max shrunk very slightly under her gaze, but Lila looked insulted.

 

“What are you saying, Marinette?” Lila said in a hurt tone.

 

Alya scoffed.  “When are you going to stop blaming other people for your own mistakes, Marinette?  It’s really just pathetic.”

 

“You got the pathetic part right, Alya.” Marinette said but ignored any response as she chose a seat as far away from the others as possible.

 

A few minutes later, Ms. Bustier entered the dining room.  Marinette’s senses were on high alert after her encounter with her classmates, so she watched as her teacher approached her. 

 

“Marinette?” Ms. Bustier said.  “I just wanted to make sure you were alright after last night?”

 

Marinette swallowed her resentments that it had taken Ms. Bustier so long to check on her.  “I’m fine, Ms. Bustier, thank you. I talked to my therapist before I came down to breakfast.”

“Oh, I’m glad to hear that.” Ms. Bustier said awkwardly.  “Don’t you want to join your friends?”

 

Marinette gave Ms. Bustier an incredulous look.  “Ms. Bustier, my classmates are openly hostile to me the majority of the time.  I have no desire to subject myself to being surrounded by bullies.”

 

Ms. Bustier frowned.  “Marinette, you’re one of my best students, I’m sure if you keep being a good influence--”

 

“Ms. Bustier,” Marinette interrupted, “we’ve had this conversation before.  I am happy to live by example, but there is nothing more I can do when the people around me choose to follow a different example.”

 

“Lila can’t help the way she is, Marinette--”

 

“I know what she claims,” Marinette said.  “Whether I believe it or not doesn’t change the fact that her actions--intentional or not--have ruined my reputation with my friends.  They were never informed about Lila’s ‘condition’ and they believe everything she says. They don’t want to follow my example anymore because they no longer believe in me.  That is not my fault, Ms. Bustier, it’s the fault of Lila and those who could have corrected her lies but didn’t.”

 

“It wouldn’t be fair to Lila for her disease to impair her ability to make friends.” Ms. Bustier attempted to reason.

 

“So is it fair that Lila has destroyed my friendships?  That I have no one in the class that I can rely on?” Marinette asked.  “Is it fair that my former friends take delight in being cruel to me and even go so far as to try to slander my reputation and future?  Tell me, Ms. Bustier, do you honestly not think I’m being abused? Or do you think it’s fair that I’m being bullied?”

 

Ms. Bustier was unable to come up with a response and was called away by another student.  She hesitated, before walking away with one last glance toward Marinette.


~~~~~~~~~~


Damian waited by the entrance to the festival and tried to shrug off the slight nerves that were trying to unsettle him.  Marinette had invited him to join her today and he had happily agreed, but now he hoped she wouldn’t regret the invitation…

 

The bus finally arrived and Damian watched as Marinette’s classmates surged out of the bus and past him.  Marinette was the last one off the bus and Damian was relieved that she hadn’t been left behind again.

 

When she saw him, Marinette smiled and raced to him, jumping into his arms.

 

Damian laughed.  “Good morning! Do you always give such exuberant greetings?”

 

“Depends on if I’m trying to butter up a victim--I mean friend--into a carnival games battle royale!” Marinette challenged.

 

Damian scoffed.  “Please! These things are notoriously rigged!”

 

“Oh? So you’re saying you can’t win?” Marinette asked innocently.

 

“Hardly!” Damian said instantly.  “I know I can win--I know how to beat a scammer at their own game.  You, on the other hand, wouldn’t want to tarnish your halo.” 

 

“Are you kidding?” Marinette said as started pulling Damian to the ticket taker.  “My halo is stainless steel and is the ideal throwing device to knock out my competition!”

 

“I knew it would happen!  What did I tell you, Timmy?  Only a few days with Demon Spawn and Marinette’s already got horns growing where her halo should be.” 

 

Marinette spun around to see Jason and Tim approaching them with smiles.

 

“I didn’t know you two were coming today!” she said excitedly.

 

“If it had been up to me they wouldn’t have…” Damian grumbled.

 

“We couldn’t pass up this wholesome family activity!” Jason sassed.  “Besides, even Damian couldn’t argue when little Mar’i used her babydoll eyes on him.  Dick and the princesses are inside already.”

 

“Kor’i and Mar’i couldn’t wait until tomorrow to meet you.” Tim explained.  “We hope we’re not intruding.”

 

“Of course not!” Marinette said at the same time as Damian said, “You are.”

 

Marinette elbowed Damian with a roll of her eyes.  “The more the merrier! Your family’s great!”

 

“See, Brat!” Jason crowed.  “Pigtails appreciates us!”

 

“We’ll see how you feel about them at the end of the day.” Damian glared at his brothers.

 

“Uncle Dami!  Uncle Dami!”  

 

A little girl launched herself into Damian’s arms.  She had a wild, dark mop of hair and vivid green eyes and a contagious smile.  For a second before Damian caught her, Marinette almost thought the little girl was airborne...oh!  She’d almost forgot that Damian said Dick was married to Starfire! The little four year old probably had been airborne for a moment!

 

Dick walked up to group with a smile and his arm around a beautiful woman with red hair wearing high waisted jeans and a purple, crop, turtleneck sweater.  The woman had the same unearthly, vivid green eyes as her daughter and exuded a friendly, welcoming aura. 

 

“Nice to see you again, Marinette,” Dick said.  “This is my soulmate and wife, Kor’i, and our daughter, Mar’i.”

 

“It is most wondrous to make the acquaintance of the Little D’s soulmate!” Kor’i said with a body-rattling hand shake.

 

“Kor’i, please do not break Marinette.” Damian said flatly.

 

“Oh!  My apologies!” Kor’i exclaimed and abruptly let go of Marinette’s hand.

 

“No problem!” Marinette laughed.  “I’m excited to meet you, too! Damian’s told me a lot about you all.”

 

“And you still wanted to meet us?” Jason teased.  “My, you are a brave one!”

 

“He said some very nice things.” Marinette teased.

 

“Oh, Little Bird!  You do care!” Tim pretended to wipe away a tear.

 

“Utter nonsense,” Damian denied.  “Marinette’s just trying to spare your feelings.”

 

“What about me, Uncle Dami?” Mar’i asked.  “Did you talk nice about me?”

 

“Of course, Mar’i.” Damian promptly answered.  “You are the only sane member of the family. It’s clearly a trait you picked up from your mother.”

 

Mar’i giggled as the others laughed at Dick’s affronted expression.  The little girl turned to Marinette.

 

“Are you going to be my auntie?” Mar’i asked innocently.

 

“Oh! Gah...I...mah…” Marinette stuttered as Damian’s neck flushed.  

 

Dick came to their rescue.  “Marinette and Damian are soulmates, Mar’i, but that doesn’t mean they have to get married.  Some soulmates are just friends, but Marinette can still be a part of the family as long as she wants to.”

 

Marinette made an incoherent sound of consent as she blushed heavily.

 

Mar’i frowned.  “But you and Mommy are soulmates and you’re married.  And Uncle Dami thinks Marinette is pretty, right, Uncle Dami?”

 

Jason and Tim roared in laughter as Marinette and Damian blushed even redder.

 

“Marinette is very pretty.” Damian said despite his embarrassment.  “Isn’t there something fun you’d rather be doing?”

 

Marinette smiled sheepishly at the compliment and missed excitement light up Mar’i’s face.

 

“Facepaint!”  Mar’i squealed and scurried out of Damian’s arms and latched onto Marinette and Kor’i’s hands with a strong grip. 

 

Marinette laughed as they were pulled along to a nearby stall doing face art.

 

“Uncle Dami?” Mar’i called.  “Are you gonna paint your face?”

 

“No.” Damian said.

 

“Please?” Mar’i pleaded with her babydoll eyes.

 

Dick laughed.  “Princess, I think it’ll take more than your pretty eyes to convince Damian to get his face painted.”

 

“Dami?” Marinette said innocently.

 

Damian made the mistake of looking at Marinette and got trapped my her babydoll eyes.  He found himself pinned by two sets of babydoll eyes.

 

Damian scowled but sat down in one of the painters' chairs.  “This is ridiculous and degrading.”

 

Marinette high-fived Mar’i and nearly was thrown back by the little girl’s strength.  “But you’ll look so cute!”

 

Damian and Marinette ended up getting coordinating art on their face while Mar’i got a unicorn themed mask.  Kor’i joined in the fun with shooting stars painted on her face and even Dick got a single shooting star to match.  Jason and Tim were then peer pressured into having their faces painted too, Jason choosing a cricket bat (muttering something about it being a good bludgeon) and Tim with a robot pattern.

 

Damian had one side of his face painted in a trail of ladybugs that he actually thought was fitting and kind of nice looking, though he wouldn’t admit it.  Marinette followed suit and had a trail of feathers in Robin’s colors painted on the opposite side of her face. She even managed to coax a smile out of Damian when she took a selfie of them with their faces pressed together so the paint looked almost like a yin-yang symbol shared between their faces.

 

Kor’i and Marinette hit it off right away, to no one’s surprise. Marinette loved Kor’i’s exuberance and humor and Kor’i proclaimed that Marinette was the sister she always wanted. 

 

“You don’t have a sister?” Marinette asked. 

 

Kor’i grimaced. “It is complicated.”

 

“Auntie Blackfire keeps trying to sell Mommy back into slavery and other mean stuff.” Mar’i piped up. 

 

Marinette eyes blew wide in concern. 

 

“As I said, our relationship is complicated.” Kor’i sighed. 

 

Marinette gave her a quick hug before addressing Mar’i. 

 

“So what’s next?” Marinette asked. 

 

Kor’i shared a smug look with Dick. 

 

“Richard, I suggest we take Mar’i to the petting zoo.” Kor’i said liltingly. 

 

“Excellent idea, Star.” Dick smirked. “Damian, you probably should hang back with Marinette.”

 

“Wouldn’t want your face to scare the animals.” Jason added. 

 

“Shut up, Todd.” Damian muttered. 

 

“Why can’t Marinette and Uncle Dami come with us?” Mar’i asked. 

 

Dick picked up his daughter and whispered in her ear. 

 

“Oh!” Mar’i giggled. “Bye, Marinette! Bye, Uncle Dami! Have fun kissing and being mushy!”

 

“Grayson!” Damian growled. 

 

“Time to go!” Dick ushered his family away while Kor’i and the boys laughed. 

 

Marinette giggled and reached up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to his furrowed brow. 

 

“What? Don’t want to get mushy with me?” Marinette teased. 

 

“Grayson’s lucky I do since it’s keeping me from wasting time pulverizing him.” Damian grumbled with a small smirk.  “That and I can’t beat him up in front of his daughter and wife. I’m not that cruel or stupid—I know they could beat me to a pulp.”

 

Marinette snorted then started tugging him toward a caramel apple cart. “Come on!”


~~~~~~~~~~


“No.”

 

“We have to do it!”

 

“It’s cliche and a waste of money.” Damian said flatly.

 

“It’s practically a tradition!” Marinette bounced, excited.  “Besides, it’s fun!”

 

“We can take pictures on our phones,” Damian reminded.  “Why do we need to take pictures in a photo booth?”

 

“Because it’s cute, we can do fun poses, we’re not limited by a selfie pose, it’s a sweet little souvenir,” Marinette gave Damian a dazzling smile, “and I really, really  want to do it!”

 

Damian scowled before pulling her into the booth.  “Fine, but it’s still a waste of resources.”

 

“Yay!” Marinette exclaimed.

 

Damian resigned himself to sitting on the bench while Marinette closed the curtain and got the machine ready.  

 

“Okay, ready?  Smile!” Marinette pulled Damian toward her and smiled brightly, even as Damian looked less than pleased.

 

Marinette gave him a look and he shrugged.  “I’m really not much of a smiler. Really, the Joker’s ruined it for everyone in my opinion.”

 

Marinette rolled her eyes before looking at him with a mischievous gleam that had Damian concerned.  When the next photo countdown started, Marinette threw her arms around him before squishing his cheeks and doing a fishy face so they both looked funny.  As soon as the picture was taken Damaian pulled away and grumbled as he massaged his cheeks. He glared at Marinette but she only laughed at him--completely the opposite of the sane fear response he normally garnered.

 

He couldn’t deny that her bright, unabashed laughter was disarming.  The next picture was taken without him even paying attention to the countdown.  She was smiling and holding up a peace sign while he was caught staring at her in open admiration.

 

There was one more picture left and Damian had an idea.

 

“Alright,” Damian said “Even I know what to do for this one!”

 

“Oh, do you?” Marinette challenged.

 

Damian didn’t answer besides smirking back.

 

The countdown started and Damian ran his hand gently down her cheek.  Marinette’s breath caught as he ran his thumb over her lower lip. Damian caught her gaze as he slowly drew closer, silently asking for her permission.  Just before the picture was taken, their eyes closed along with the distance between them and Damian kissed her gently. They both felt the familiar feeling of being found in each other again.  Before she knew it, Marinette had snaked her arms around Damain’s neck and he’d pulled her close in a warm embrace.  Several long, tender moments later, Damian peppered kisses along her cheek and to her ear as they pulled away.

 

“You may have been right about this being fun, my Angel.” Damian whispered.

 

Marinette giggled and Damian felt his heart flutter and a smile begin to break across his face.

 

“I’m always right, Dami.” Marinette teased before pecking his cheek and bouncing out of the booth.

 

Damian had to shake his head and roll his eyes as he followed her out, only to almost run into Marinette when she froze in the doorway.  He frowned when he realized her laugh was gone and her face had become blank and slightly pale. He threw a glare at the people in front of them who were clearly gawking at them and they at least had the decency to flinch out of their stupor.

 

“Marinette?” a girl with brightly colored dreadlocks said.

 

“Mylene.” Marinette said in a short acknowledgement. 

 

Ah, yes… Damian recognised them from when he’d memorised Marinette’s class roster.  The dreadlock girl was Mylene and she was with her boyfriend Ivan and the two girls with them were Rose and Juleka.  He already disliked them from what he’d learned about her class, but he reminded himself that Marinette said they took a less active part in her bullying--mostly ignoring her and expressing disappointment for behavior that she had never had.

 

“What are you--well, no...um…” Mylene and the others were sneeking glances to the side of the photo booth and looking slightly embarrassed, though Rose was giggling and Juleka smiled softly at them.

 

Marinette turned around to see what had caught their attention and turned a lovely shade of Ladybug red.  Damian could see why, as even his cheeks and neck edged towards pink when he realized their photos were displayed on a view screen and their intimate moment was displayed for all to see.

 

Damian grabbed the copies of their photos as they printed out and then quickly took Marinette’s hand.

 

“Right.” Damian said.  “Nothing untoward, just two soulmates enjoying the fair.  It’s practically tradition. Good day.”

 

He quickly led them away before her classmates could say anything else and tried to ignore the guffaws coming from the girl he was towing along.

 

“Untoward?” Marinette laughed.

 

“Just because a word sounds outdated does not make it any less effective.” Damian said as he tugged her along, hoping his neck didn’t look as hot as it felt.  “Language is a valuable asset and it is a shame to become complacent in it.”

 

“Tots seriously, Dami.” Marinette snickered.

 

“Now you’re just doing that to annoy me.”


~~~~~~~~~~


It wasn’t until lunch time that Marinette realized she had forgotten to give Damian a heads up on a few little details…

 

They’d already spent a few lovely hours strolling around the fair and sampling a few fall treats.  Marinette had convinced Damian to join her in painting faces on mini pumpkins and they’d managed to track the others down to join them.  Damian grumbled throughout the activity and threatened Jason with bodily harm when Jason had dubbed his unfortunate looking pumpkin ‘little Demon Spawn,’ but Marinette wasn’t fooled and knew he was enjoying himself.  She didn’t quite get it, but laughed in the shared mirth when Damian had turned his pumpkin into a zombie with a white streak in it’s hair like Jason and told him it was fitting. Damian had grimaced when she’d questioned him about it and he promised to explain something called the Lazareth Pit to her later.

 

They’d broken apart again when Dick and Kor’i had taken Mar’i back to the car for a light rest during lunch and Tim and Jason had decided to check out some rides while the lines were short during the lunch rush.  It had been a blissful few hours since she’d had anymore run-ins with her classmates and she’d felt more relaxed and joyful than she’d been in months.

 

All it took was hearing the chilling sound of an overly charming laugh to bring back a pit of anxiety in her stomach.  Marinette stopped dead in her tracks and made a quick visual sweep of their surroundings.

 

“What’s wrong, Angel?” Damian was beside her and holding her protectively in an instant.

 

Marinette didn’t answer before she pushed Damian between two stalls.  “Shh! Don’t let them see us!”

 

Damian frowned but complied.  He followed Marinette’s gaze as she peered around the corner to a group of her classmates at a food stall close by.  He growled and held Marinette closer when he recognized Lila in the center of the group, clearly captivating those around her.  

 

“You’re safe, Angel,” Damian assured her.  “I won’t let her get to you, I promise.”

 

Marinette squeezed his hand but didn’t say anything.  She shrunk back into him and Damian pulled them further into the shadows as the group passed close to them.

 

“The food here is alright for American food,” Lila said loftily, “of course, it can’t begin to compare to the fine restaurant my Damiboo took me to celebrate that we’re soulmates!”

 

Surely she wasn’t saying what he thought she was saying.

 

“I’m happy for you, girl!” Alya hip-bumped her.  “Totally not surprising, though! With how amazing you are, you were bound to get some sort of fabulous soulmate!”

 

Lila giggled in a over-the-top demure manner.  “What can I say? Damian Wayne and I were just meant to be soulmates!”

 

Damain felt like a knife was piercing his heart and his hand twitched in the desire to return the favor.  Marinette cringed into him and his grip on her tightened and became even more protective.

 

The group continued on, not even noticing the two, and Damian noted that for someone that was supposedly devoted to her new soulmate, Lila seemed to be awfully clingy towards the Agreste kid.  He growled low in his throat and moved to confront them.

 

“Damian, wait!” Marinette held him back.

 

“I’m not letting that shrew get away with claiming that she’s my soulmate!” Damian seethed.  “You can’t tell me that what she said didn’t gut you!”

 

Marinette sighed.  “It did. I’m sorry, I should have warned you...after the picture of us wrapped in our string got leaked, Lila began telling everyone that you were her soulmate.  You can barely see me in the picture, so it was easily believed...well, easy for my class to believe. I should have told you last night, but I forgot in the chaos.”

 

Damian took a deep breath and tried to control himself.  “I won’t allow anyone to use my name or my family’s name for their own selfish gain--especially when it affects you!”

 

“I don’t think she’s made any public claims…” Marinette looked insecure suddenly and he did not care for it.  It only made him more determined to go after the fools.  “That was just Lila, Alya, Mylene, Adri--”

 

“Adrien Agreste, Alix Kubdel, Nathaniel Kurtzberg, and Ivan Bruel.” Damian said.  “I don’t care if it’s just within your class or if she broadcasts it worldwide--I will not let her claim a title that only belongs to you!”

 

Marinette blinked.  “You’ve been snooping about my class, haven’t you?”

 

Damian felt like he’d been caught with arsenic in his hands while evilly twirling an old fashioned mustache, however,  he schooled his features. “No.”

 

Marinette smirked.  “It’s okay, I’ve had my stalker-crush moments!  I even had my collection of my crush’s pictures accidentally revealed on live television before!”

 

“I wasn’t stalking !” he said crossly.  “I was investigating--which is my job, thank you--after a plausible concern was brought to my attention by the girl I lo--am developing strong feelings for and happens to be my soulmate.”

 

Marinette blushed and looked at him dreamily--clearly picking up on what he’d avoided saying. 

“I’m developing strong feelings for you, too, Dami.” Marinette said softly.

 

Damian smiled and blushed slightly, grateful Marinette was kind enough not to mention it.

 

“Don’t change the subject,” he said quietly, “Marinette, why don’t you want me to correct Lila’s claim that I’m her soulmate?”

 

Marinette became downcast and Damian wrapped her closely in his arms.  

 

“I want you to, Dami,” Marinette admitted, “but she always has an answer for anything that challenges her lies and she always tries to turn it back against me.”

 

“It’s true.” Tikki supported from where she peeked out of Marinette’s purse.  “She even has the teacher protecting her lies, Damian. The only person who knows the truth is Adrien, and he becomes more resigned and complacent to her behavior by the day.  Whenever Marinette stands up for herself, Lila spurs the class into hurting her more.”

 

Damian grit his teeth and tried to remember that this problem of a girl could not be fixed with violence...and that he’d left his katana in the Batcave.

 

“How do you want to handle this, Angel?” Damian finally asked.

 

Marinette buried her head in his chest and was silent for a moment.  “I honestly don’t know anymore, Damian. I’ve talked to Ms. Bustier, but she doesn’t understand the problem and is in denial about Lila’s behavior.  I don’t want people to get hurt anymore...I’m sure that if it hadn’t been for the soulmate bond, Lila would have broken up some of the couples in class.  As it is, Juleka and Luka have to walk on eggshells around each other and Alya’s Ladyblog has practically become the Lilablog in all but name. She and Nino didn’t even try to listen when Ladybug told them she couldn’t trust them in battle anymore--and Lila turned that on me, too, after Alya complained to her about not being Rena Rouge anymore.”

 

Damian sighed and rubbed circles on her back.  He was still trying to grasp the great trust Marinette had had in her former best friend--enough to try to give her both the Ladybug and the Fox Miraculous--that Alya had squandered.

 

“I know you don’t want anyone else getting hurt, “ he said, “but what about you ?  What do you want?  You know you don’t deserve to be hurt, either.  Right?” You most of all, he wanted to say.

 

Marinette shuddered at the question, and his heart broke when he realized how few people she had in her life that told her that.

 

“I…” Marinette hesitated.  “I want her to be exposed... but I don’t want to be cruel and I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

 

Damian thought for a moment, cognizant of the fact that Marinette was trembling and he instinctively knew it was from anxiety rather than the cold. 

 

“I’m beginning to form a plan.” Damian said.  “I can’t promise that there won’t be any hurt.  Lila will be furious when her deceit is exposed and it’s a given that your classmates will feel hurt for being fooled by her.  However, if you trust me, I’m confident I can expose her lies--at least about me--and cast her other lies into doubt. You don’t have to be concerned, I will handle everything.”

 

Marinette considered him.  “It won’t be a form of vigilante justice?”

 

Damian snickered.  “No… though that is always an option.”

 

Marinette rolled her eyes.  

 

“I think you should try it, Marinette,” Tikki said.  “So long as you don’t take things too far, young man, it’s an ideal situation for Damian to call Lila out on.  When it comes to proof, Lila will have none and you and Damian both have your soulmate signatures! You can easily prove that you’re Damian’s real soulmate--plus, you’re not in Paris!  By the time you get home and the spell wears off, hopefully any hurt feelings will have dissipated and Hawkmoth won’t be able to make use of them.”

 

Marinette smiled and hid a stray tear as it fell off the tip of her nose.  “Alright. I’ll let you handle it. Just give me a heads up if you’re doing something drastic.  Better yet, don’t do something drastic.”

 

 “As you wish, my Angel.” Damian promised.

 

Marinette smiled.  “Come on! I want to try one of those pretzel-hotdog things!” Marinette exclaimed.  “And there’s some snickerdoodle cookies over there with Tikki’s name on them!”

 

“Yay!” the tiny cheer from Marinette’s purse brought a smile to his lips and Damian tabled his battle plans, for now, in favor of focusing on their time together.

Chapter Text

“Don’t be stupid, Grayson, these things are rigged.” Damian sneered.

 

“Is that a sneer about carnival folk, Baby Bird?”  Dick said tersely.

 

After lunch, Damian and Marinette had joined Jason and Tim for a few rides before they all met up again for a hayride.  Marinette’s heart had been smitten when little Mar’i had snuggled up next to her and spent the ride asking her questions and pointing out every small detail that captured little girl’s attention.  Damian was slightly exasperated by it all, but it was more because of his brothers’ and sister-in-law’s teasing than with his niece’s antics. He was glad that his family had taken so well to Marinette, which didn’t surprise him, and he was relieved that Marinette seemed to like them as well, which didn’t surprise him either, because that seemed to be the kind of person she was, but he still took it as a sign of her fortitude that they hadn’t scared her off yet.

 

“No, it's a fact that carnival games cannot yield a profit if every participant walks away with a prize.” Damian said.  “In order to stay in business, vendors must insure that their rate of winners is proportioned between people who succeed, thereby drawing in more participants, and people who do not succeed, walking away without a prize.

 

“Also,” Damian pointed to the muzzle of the game’s gun, “this pea-shooter has clearly been tampered with to affect the aim of the shooter.  Come now, Grayson, you should know this.”

 

Dick rolled his eyes.  “Well, your niece has her heart set on the giant Tsum Tsum plushie.” Dick shoved the gun into Damian’s hands.  “Think you can beat the system?”

 

“It looks like Silkie, Uncle Dami!” Mar’i exclaimed.

 

“It looks nothing like Silkie!” Damian argued.  “Silkie is a giant larva! That is clearly some kind of cat!”

 

“It’s Marie from The Aristocats .” Marinette said with a giggle.

 

“See? Clearly not Silkie.” Damian said.

 

“So you can’t do it?” Dick challenged.

 

Damian glared at Dick while he slammed some money down on the counter.  The game vendor took the money and then retreated, knowing well enough to stay far away from the group.  Damian aimed the gun, compensated for the impaired muzzle, and shot all his targets in quick succession.  

 

The vendor sighed.  “We have a winner!”

 

“Yay!” Mar’i exclaimed.  “Thanks, Uncle Dami!”

 

Kor’i and Marinette laughed and clapped in good humor while Damain smirked at Dick as he presented Mar’i with the prize.

 

“Kor’i!  Mar’i!” Jason ran up to them and scooped up his niece.  “Come with me! Tim found a test-your-strength game! Let’s go freak out the hawker!”

 

“Ooo!  That sounds like fun!” Kor’i smiled, briefly lifting off the ground before dragging Dick after Jason.

 

“Ah, guys…” Dick trailed off as they pulled him away.

 

“Come on!” Marinette tugged on Damian’s hand.  “We can’t miss this!”

 

Damian smiled as he was pulled behind her, even as he calculated how many different ways this was a bad idea and could expose their identities.

 

It may have been well worth the risk.  Kor’i had stepped up to the strength test, gabbed the mallet from a doubting vendor, and hauled off a slam that easily clanged the bell at the top of the measure.


“I am victorious!” Kor’i shouted, handing the mallet back to the stunned vendor, who staggered under its weight.

 

“My turn, my turn!” Mar’i said excitedly as she handed the vendor the money herself.

 

“Ah...sure.” the man said standing aside so she could reach the kiddy sized strength test.

 

Instead, Mar’i effortlessly lifted the adult sized mallet from the man’s hands as her dad and uncles tried to control their laughter.  Mar’i lifted the mallet--which was twice her size-- over her head and brought it down with a resounding clang!  

 

“Yay!” Mar’i exclaimed. 

 

“My little bumgorf!” Kor’i said and picked her up proudly.  “Well done!”

 

Marinette had tears in her eyes from laughing and even Damian cracked a smile at the completely broken look on the vendor’s face.

 

“Kids these days, am I right?” Dick said to the man before they walked away.

 

Tim elbowed Damian as they past a stall for knocking down milk bottles.  Damian frowned but looked where Tim pointed. He blushed and felt like pointing out what an indignant cliche the idea was...but then he saw Marinette’s eyes light up when she also noticed the game.

 

“Would you like to play, Angel?”

 

“Looks like fun!” Marinette agreed.

 

Mar’i and Kor’i cheered them on while the brothers heckled Damian as they both easily knocked down their targets, evenly matched.

 

“You’ve got quite the arm, Pixie-Pop!” Jason said.

 

Marinette giggled and winked at Damian.  “Lucky shot, I guess!”

 

Damian presented her with the cute Robin-themed teddy bear Tim had pointed out and then Marinette surprised him by giving him the ladybug plushie she’d won that he hadn’t even noticed on the prize rack.

 

When they’d gotten their fill of games, they decided to stow their prizes away in the car and Kor’i invited Marinette to go along with her and Mar’i for some girl talk.

 

It was nearing sunset, so the boys agreed to meet them at the picnic grounds by the food stands.  They were about to split up to buy dinner when Damian again noticed Lila and her followers.

 

He eyed them closely as they lounged at a picnic table, not very conscious of their surroundings and absorbed in animated conversation.  Lila purposefully dropped her trash on the ground and then he watched as she made a show of dismay. He could read her lips as she made some pathetic excuse for why she couldn’t pick up after herself and Mylene instantly picked up after her with a smile.  Lila had a sick grin on her face as her classmate did her bidding and Damian scowled, feeling a coldness as he assessed Marinette’s bully.

 

“Glad to see she clearly took last night to heart.” Jason said snidely.

 

“The trollop’s now claiming that she’s Damian Wayne’s soulmate .” Damian bit out.

 

Jason raised an eyebrow.  “And she’s still alive?”

 

“Please tell me you didn’t poison their food.” Dick sighed.

 

Damian rolled his eyes.  “I promised Marinette I wouldn’t resort to violence!  I’m not a complete brute, you know, I’ve changed since joining Father.”

 

“How have they not recognized you?” Jason scoffed. “I mean, I know your face is hard to look at…”

 

Damian scowled at Jason. “Marinette said the liar was showing off that tabloid picture.  That photo was not taken straight on, people unfamiliar with me may not have been able to recognize me from that image—even if it’s obvious to people that have done research into what I look like that it is me.  I don’t imagine these fools have done anything of the kind, so they have no idea I’ve literally walked among them.”

 

“So…I take it we’re unleashing the pack of Wayne lawyers on her?” Tim assumed.

 

“Eventually, yes.” Damian nodded.  “A restraining order will be a given, at the very least, but Marinette’s tormentors have a nasty habit of blaming her for every perceived slight.  This will require finesse.”

 

His brothers agreed silently, and stared sternly at the group that was completely oblivious of their presence.

 

“You have a plan.” Dick stated.

 

“Of course.” 

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Marinette sipped on some hot, spiced cider as she burrowed into her scarf.  The temperature had dropped when the sun had set and she could already feel herself shiver, despite the fact that it was still a relatively moderate evening.  A warm arm wrapped around her shoulders.

 

“Are you cold, Angel?” Damain asked.

 

“Oh, I’m fine!” Marinette said dismissively before adding in a whisper, “Ladybug’s don’t handle cold very well.”

 

Damian raised his brow.  “Seriously? You’re affected like that?”

 

Marinette nodded.  “It becomes more apparent the longer I’m bonded with Tikki.”

 

“Don’t ladybugs hibernate during the winter?” Damian frowned.  “Doesn’t that put you at risk?”

 

“I’ve never actually completely hibernated.” Marinette explained.  “But I have to be careful not to get too cold. If my temperature becomes too low I’ll fall asleep and won’t wake up until I’m warm again.”

 

Damian frowned deeper and took off his jacket to wrap her in, despite her protests.

 

“Dami, I’m fine!” she argued.  “You put your jacket right back on!  You’ll get cold!”

 

“I don’t get cold easily.” Damian deflected.

 

“I never get cold!” Mar’i boasted.  “That’s cuz I’m--”

 

“Just like your mother.” Damian interrupted before Mar’i could shout about Tamaran.

 

Marinette giggled and wrapped her gloved hand around Mar’i’s little fingers.  “That’s very fortunate for you!”

 

“Are you a ladybug, Marinette?” Mar’i asked.

 

Both teens froze, realizing she’d overheard more than they’d thought.  Damian took a quick look around and didn’t see anyone that appeared to have overheard Mar’i’s comment.  They were taking a walk through the corn maze and had separated from the others when Mar’i had declared she wanted to go with Uncle Dami and Marinette.

 

Marinette crouched down to be at the little girl’s level.  “It’s complicated...I have a secret.” she said in a whisper.

 

“Like Mommy and Daddy?” Mar’i whispered back.

 

Marinette nodded with a smile. “I can’t tell you right now, but maybe tomorrow, okay?”

 

Mar’i smiled brightly back.  “Okay! I’m a good secret keeper.”

 

“I’m sure you are,” Marinette giggled.

 

“She has to be in this family.” Damian said flatly.

 

The topic of Marinette knowing about the family’s secret identities had been mostly avoided throughout the day, besides a few quipes and teases, but she knew it was likely to be a big discussion when she had dinner at Wayne Manor Sunday night.

 

“Well, well!  What a surprise!” Marinette cringed at the voice behind her.  She slowly stood up and turned to face Lila, Alya, Nino, and Adrien.

 

“Marinette scrounging in the dirt.” Lila said as she clung into Adrien’s shoulder.  “Looking for your dignity?”

 

Alya and Lila laughed, Nino offering a faint chuckle and Adrien just smiling painfully.

 

Mar’i came out from behind Marinette’s legs and frowned at them.  “Why did that lady say that? And why did those other people laugh?  It was mean!”

 

Nino stiffened and looked ashamed when he saw Mar’i and heard her accusation.  If possible, Adrien looked more miserable than usual.

 

“Well, the lady said that because she wanted to do something to make Marinette feel bad.” Damian said to his niece in a teaching tone.  “Which basically means that she’s an insufferable--”

 

“Damian!” Marinette stopped him.

 

“Yes?” he asked innocently.

 

“I know what you were going to say and I’m not letting you say it in front of Mar’i!” Marinette said as she leveled a stern look at him.

 

“But it is true.” Damian snarked with a pointed look at an indignant Alya and calculating Lila.

 

“I’m not letting you corrupt this sweet child!” Marinette said spiritedly.

 

Mar’i giggled.  “That’s what my daddy says!”

 

Marinette and Damian laughed as they walked away, ignoring her classmates.

 

“Wha--” Alya sputtered.  “Marinette! You can’t just walk away like that!  You--”

 

“Alya,” Nino said as he ushered the group away.  “Just drop it this time, okay?”

 

“Marinette must have told all sorts of awful things to them about us!” Lila sniffled.  “That’s probably her soulmate. Can you imagine?”

 

Alya scoffed loudly.  “I honestly pity whoever got stuck with her!”

 

Lila smirked and snuck a look back at Marinette.  “I’m sure they’ll find out how awful she is soon enough, everyone else has!  Even a soulmate wouldn’t want to put up with her.”

 

Marinette froze but Mar’i gasped and turned on them.

 

“You’re a meanie!” she shouted.  “Marinette’s super nice and you’re yucky!”

 

Mar’i’s eyes and her clenched fists began to glow.  As much as he would have been proud for his niece to reign righteous fury down on the imbeciles, Damian grabbed her and shielded her from their view.

 

“Why don’t you get lost!” he growled.  

 

Alya looked ready to pick a fight, but Nino looked even more ashamed and started pulling them away.  With an apologetic look, Adrien allowed himself to be towed along.

 

Damian glared at them until they were out of sight.  Mar’i squirmed in his arms until he let her fling herself at Marinette, who caught her automatically.

 

Marinette was stiff and was visibly trying to hold back tears.  Mar’i wrapped her arms around her neck and hugged her, shedding tears of her own.

 

“I’m sorry, Mar’i.” Marinette said as she hugged her back, shakily.  “You shouldn’t have heard that.”

 

Damian hugged them both, seething and trying to hold himself together.  “What they said was utter trash, Marinette. You are a genuinely wonderful person and I am honored that our strings brought us together.”

 

“We won’t leave you, Marinette!” Mar’i cried.

 

Marinette shuddered and kissed the top of Mar’i’s head.

 

“We won’t.” Damian promised.

 

“And neither will Daddy, or Mommy, or Uncle Jay, or Uncle Timmy, or Grandpa B, or Grandpa Alfie!” Mar’i said hotly.  “I like you, Auntie Marinette!”

 

Marinette laughed and Damian stiffened slightly, embarrassed yet delighted.

 

“I’m Auntie Marinette, now?” Marinette pulled back to smile at her.  

 

“Yes!” Mar’i said with an adorable pout.

 

“I like it!  And I like you, too!  Thank you!” Marinette laughed and gave her a swift hug.

 

“And that meanie should be called that name Uncle Jay--”

 

“Woah!” Damian said.  “Remember what Mommy and Daddy said about that word?”

 

Marinette gave him a look that asked where this attitude was a few minutes prior.

 

“That it was a harsh, inappropriate ex-po-la-tive and that I should be careful to choose words that I know the meaning of.” Mar’i recited.  “But then Uncle Jay said it was funny if Mommy and Daddy aren’t around.”

 

Marinette snorted.

 

Damian sighed.  “So long as it goes on record that that’s Todd’s doing.”

 

Mar’i giggled and squirmed until she was on the ground and running again, ugly confrontation forgotten.

 

Damian pulled Marinette close.  “How are you?”

 

Marinette sighed, her smile turning a little sad.  “I’ll be alright. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.  At least here there’s no possessed butterflies.”

 

Before Damian could say more, Mar’i started to bounce in the air, almost taking flight, trying to see over the corn stalks.  With a quick kiss to Marinette’s forehead, Damian dashed over to Mar’i before she drew attention.

 

Marinette ambled down the maze row, enjoying the sounds of children shrieking happily as they raced through the maze.  Lost in thought, she turned a corner or two before her attention was caught by an odd decoration.

 

A large scarecrow leaned against a post, it’s limbs and head hanging limp.  Marinette felt an unsettling wariness as she looked at it. It was grotesquely made up with a burlap sack head and a noose around its neck--way scarier than anything else in the family-friendly maze.

 

Marinette took a long hard look at it before slowly backing away, never taking her eyes away from it.

 

The scarecrow suddenly raised its head.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

A scream cut across the maze and brought the happy sounds to an abrupt end.  Damian felt his heart freeze.

 

“Marinette!” Damian shouted.

 

Damain hoisted Mar’i into his arms and dashed down the path Marinette had taken.  He was berating himself for losing sight of her, but thought that she needed a moment for herself.

 

“Marine--”

 

Damian was cut off as Marinette dashed around the corner and grabbed his arm, running with him and not breaking stride.

 

“Move!” she warned.

 

“What is it?” Damian yelled.

 

Marinette started stuttering, seemingly having trouble gathering her words in English and reverting back into French.  She finally gave up trying to translate and yelled out a French word that sent alarm racing through his veins.

 

“Scarecrow!” Damian yelled as they picked up speed, not bothering trying to navigate the twists of the maze and just bursting through the walls when necessary.  “Evacuate! It’s Scarecrow!” 

 

He regretted the panic that ensued, but knew that the people needed to get as far away as possible before Scarecrow began setting off his fear gas.  

 

Mar’i clung to Damian’s neck, making it a little hard for him to breathe.  Marinette started to trip, but Damian caught her and they kept pace.

 

“This is why I hate horror movies!” she shouted.

 

“Good to know.” Damian shouted back.

 

They broke out of the corn maze and saw that pandemonium had already broken out.  Several fear-toxin bombs were already going off and Damian wove them around the chaos.  

 

“Don’t breathe it!” he reminded Marinette and Mar’i.

 

Their run was suddenly cut off as Scarecrow himself jumped into their path.  Marinette pushed them back in time to avoid his scythe as it carved toward them.  She pushed them away from her and then grabbed the staff of the scythe, twisting it out of Scarecrow’s grip and swinging it around, striking Scarecrow.  Marinette got a few swift strikes in before Scarecrow caught the scythe and ripped it back.

 

Scarecrow brought the scythe down on Marinette while Damian was still too far away to help.

 

“No!” he yelled.

 

A Green energy bolt exploded between Marinette and Scarecrow, throwing them both away from each other.  

 

Marinette landed hard but scrambled up as soon as she could.  Damian was beside her before she knew it, helping her up.  

 

Starfire was raining down energy bolts on Scarecrow, furiously driving him away from her daughter and the teens.  Nightwing jumped beside them and directed them away towards the parking lot.  

 

“Protect Mar’i and Marinette! We’ll handle Scarecrow!” Nightwing growled.

 

Nightwing fell back suddenly, diverting an attack from one of Scarecrow’s thugs.  Red Hood appeared by his side, blocking the attack of a civilian who was in a fear frenzy.  

 

“Marinette, can you take her?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette scooped Mar’i up in her arms as they ran, the little girl scared and burying her head in Marinette’s neck.  Damian dug out several knives and a dart gun that he’d hidden on his person, impressing Marinette and sparking a vague inspiration for hidden pockets… 

 

This is not the time, Marinette! she reminded herself.

 

Damian shot a few tranquilizing darts at thugs and fear-gassed civilians that were in their path.

 

“It’s okay, sweetie!” Marinette tried to assure Mar’i.  “We’re getting out of here!”

 

Damian continued acting as their guard and herded them to the parking lot.  When Marinette caught him looking back, she called out, “Do you need to go?”

 

“I’m not leaving you two unprotected!” he growled.

 

“I can protect us!” Marinette reminded.

 

“We should leave that as a last resort.” Damian reasoned.  “Ladybug has no reason to be in Gotham right now, it’d be too suspicious!”

 

Damian swore when they got to the parking lot only to find a bedlam of cars--some clearly being driven by people under the influence of the fear gas.

 

They jumped over cars and ducked over to where the Waynes parked.  Damian didn’t waste time and brought out a suitcase from a hidden compartment in the back of Dick’s car. Making sure they were all hidden from view and away from crazed drivers, Damian pulled out three oxygen masks and he and Marinette fitted them over their faces and Mar’i’s face.  

 

“Are you feeling any effects from the gas?” Damian asked.

 

Mar’i was crying and didn’t answer him, but Marinette looked hesitant before nodding.

 

“I’ve dealt with worse from akumas, but I feel like I’m a second away from having a panic attack.” she admitted.

 

Damian nodded.  He’d worked hard to work up a tolerance for the fear gas, but he knew he’d taken in some as well.  He gave them all a booster of the fear anti-toxin.

 

After a few deep breaths had calmed her anxiety, Marinette locked eyes with Damian.

 

“What’s the plan?” Marinette asked.

 

Damian frowned and looked back out on the disaster.

 

“We need to stop the cars before there’s a mass crash.” Damian said and handed her his phone.  “Call Alfred, keep him informed.”

 

“Right.” Marinette agreed.

 

Damian swiftly pulled out a device just as Alfred answered her call.

 

“Master Damian, your father is on his way.” Alfred--or she assumed it was Alfred--said as he answered.

 

“Dami, he says your dad’s on the way!” Marinette relayed.

 

“Am I speaking to Miss Marinette?” Alfred asked.

 

“Bonjour, Alfred,” Marinette said, “Damian gave me his phone, we’re in the parking lot and we’re attempting to stop some out of control drivers.”

 

“I’m about to set off a short ranged EMP.” Damian announced.

 

“He’s going to set off an EMP.” Marinette said.

 

“Understood.” Alfred answered.

 

“I’m going to go closer to the center of the chaos.” Damian explained.  “I can’t risk the range knocking out the others’ gear.”

 

“Be careful!” Marinette called after him.  She told Alfred what he was up to and he said he would pass a warning on to the others, just in case.

 

Marinette smoothed Mar’i’s wild hair and reached into the car to grab the little girl’s new plushie.  Mar’i clung to it and Marinette hugged her close, swaying back and forth in an effort to calm the little one.

 

“This reminds me of a time my...friend Mylene was akumatized.” Marinette told Mar’i in an excited voice, like she was starting a great story.

 

“Akumatized?” Mar’i asked.

 

“Yes, you see, Mylene doesn’t like to be afraid--not many do--and we were filming a monster movie!” Marinette said.  “The villain Hawkmoth turned her into the most adorable pink monster with gooey pink slime!”

 

“Eew!” Mar’i hiccuped with a small smile.  

 

“But the brave Ladybug and Cat Noir knew that Mylene liked the song ‘Smelly Wolf,’ so…” Marinette entranced the little girl while the fight went on around them.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

When the battle was finally over, the Batfam reigned victorious but Scarecrow had managed to escape.  Red Robin and EMTs were busy distributing anti-toxin while the rest of the team helped to organize and assess the damage.

 

Starfire and Nightwing were missing from the cleanup, while Kor’i and Dick comforted their surprisingly upbeat daughter.

 

“And then the Pigeon-man made Cat Noir sneeze cuz of his allergies--” Mar’i rambled on while happily wrapped in her parents’ arms.

 

Marinette was helping to round up a few children who had been separated from their parents in the attack.  They were all understandably upset and teary, but Marinette engaged them in either conversation or friendly reassurance or simple, calming silence depending on each child’s needs.

 

Damian approached Batman and Red Hood, as though giving a statement.

 

“Are you serious?” Damian growled.

 

“I saw them book it out of here in their bus soon after the fight started.” Red Hood said in disgust.  “The police and EMTs are catching up with them and other people who fled to make sure they’re dosed with anti-toxin if necessary.” he scoffed.  “I mean, I get panicking and getting your charges to safety, but Tim says he already hacked the hotel security cams. They’re already back at the hotel, gathered in the lounge, and still don’t seem to even realize she’s missing!”

 

Batman scowled.  “I’ll handle this.  Get Marinette back safely and I will follow with a crew to personally check that the entire class is accounted for and treated.

 

Damian nodded.  “Be ready, that shrew will likely try to turn this on Marinette.”

 

“I’ll be prepared.”

 

Damian went to Marinette and put a soft hand on her shoulder.  “Angel? It’s time I took you back to your hotel.”

 

Marinette looked at him and had an expression of resignation for a moment before it settled into neutrality.  “They left me behind again, didn’t they?” 

 

“I’m sorry, Marinette.” Damian said.

 

Marinette shrugged.  “I can’t leave just yet, I need to make sure these kids get back to their families.”

 

Damian smiled and helped Marinette comfort the kids, though he was not a natural at it like Marinette was.  They stayed with the kids until an officer came to take charge of their care. They said goodbye to the kids and Damian lead a clearly exhausted Marinette towards his car.

 

“I just have one question.” Marinette said tiredly.

 

“What is it?” Damian asked.

 

“What was Starfire thinking !” Marinette exasperated.  “Her costume is completely impractical!  Sure, she has Tamaranean traits that give her an edge on invulnerability, but she doesn’t even wear a mask!  How does she protect her identity?”

 

Damian shook his head.  “Now you now my pain. You should see Superman.  How he hasn’t outed himself is either a miracle or a measure of mankind’s pure stupidity.  I’m friends with his son and he’s just as bad, if not worse.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Ms. Bustier’s nerves were frayed and she was well beyond the point of wondering why they’d chosen Gotham as a class trip--renowned Wayne seminar or not.  Rose and Adrien seemed to have been affected by the villain’s fear gas and Rose was surrounded by Juleka and Mylene while Adrien sat rocking back and forth, muttering while holding his head in his hands by himself as his friends surrounded Lila as she lamented her encounter with Scarecrow.

 

“Ms. Bustier?” someone said behind her.

 

“Yes?  Oh!” Ms. Bustier was surprised to turn around and find Batman and some EMT workers.

 

“We are tracking down all those affected by tonight's attack to make sure they are properly treated for the fear gas.” Batman said.

 

“Oh, please!” Ms. Bustier gestured to the group.  “Thank you so much! Rose and Adrien seem to have been the most affected.”

 

An EMT approached Rose while another gently addressed a distressed Adrien.

 

“Are all your students accounted for?” Batman asked.

 

“Of course!” Ms. Bustier promptly replied before a twinge of doubt set in.  Everything had happened so fast…

 

“I suggest you do a headcount to make certain.” Batman reminded.

 

Ms. Bustier quickly counted her students and blanched when she realized who was missing.

 

“Oh dear!” she sighed.  “Marinette’s missing, again!  She’s normally so dependable, I don’t understand--”

 

“I am going to correct you, Madame.” Batman said firmly.  “As I tried to warn you last night, Gotham is a dangerous city.  It is not Marinette’s fault that you did not take the time to make sure all of your students had boarded the school bus before leaving her behind.  She did not miss a curfew, she was caught up in a dangerous attack.”

 

Ms. Bustier looked down, embarrassed for her taking her frustrations out on Marinette.

 

“For your information, she is safe and should be returned to the hotel shortly.” Batman added.  “I hope you now realize the importance of your students’ safety. While it is understandable that mistakes happen in times of panic, I’m concerned about this particular girl’s safety when none of her peers or teacher have any thought for her welfare after the panic has ceased.  After what I witnessed last night with Ms. Rossi and with tonight’s incident, I have to wonder if the girl is in a safe environment or if her parents need to be informed about this severe neglect.”

 

“Marinette is my most responsible student, she sets an example for her peers--”

 

“Both are admirable qualities but will not prevent Marinette from being targeted and abused.” Batman reprimanded.  “She can’t be held responsible for other people’s behavior. The toll this must have on her wellbeing must be staggering to begin with, without the physical endangerment of abuse and neglect.  I don’t need to remind you that the damage done by a villain in Gotham cannot be undone by a magical hero with a yo-yo.”

 

“Marinette! There you are!  We were so worried, why did you run away?” Lila suddenly cried.

 

The class and Batman turned to see a pale Marinette and a glowering Damian in the doorway.

 

Batman made a move before Lila could open her mouth and do anymore damage--and before Damian finally lost his temper.

 

“Ms. Dupain-Cheng did not run away.” Batman said loudly and firmly.  “She was separated in the chaos of Scarecrow's attack, but I understand from Nightwing she protected a young child from being cut down by Scarecrow himself.”

 

Batman held back a smirk as his son smugly stared down the astonished students.

 

“Ms. Dupain-Cheng, I have to thank you.” Batman continued and shook her hand.  “I understand from Inspector Gordon that you took the time to comfort children separated from their families due to the battle and ensured they received proper treatment.  Your efforts greatly helped to reunite the children with their loved ones and prevented further harm from befalling them in the aftermath.”

 

“I-it was nothing, Mr. Batman...sir!” Marinette stuttered.

 

Batman smiled slightly.  “If you’ve already been treated you should be free to go.  Thank you again for your assistance.”

 

“My-my pleasure!” Marinette squeaked.

 

She waved awkwardly at her teacher before pecking a brief kiss to Damian’s cheek and dashing to the elevator.  Damian shot one last glare at the class before eyeing his father and offering a formal, “Thank you, Batman.” He made a quick exit to his car before anyone could accidentally out him as a Wayne.

 

“W-wasn’t it wrong of Marinette to get in the way of the heroes?” Lila tried to sputter only to be cut off by Batman.

 

“Marinette didn’t interfere with any of the hero work.” he said in a tone that silenced even Lila’s flapping tongue.  “She was evacuating when a situation arose that was out of her control but she still responded to it bravely and saved a life or two in the process.  I would not have thanked her if I did not mean it with sincerity.”

 

“Madame, I hope the remainder of your trip is less stressful than the last two days.” Batman said to Ms. Bustier.  “Kindly consider what I have said and it just might be.”

Chapter Text

“Damian.  This is not a house.”  Marinette said as the car came to a stop at the front door.

 

“I told you, it’s a manor.”

 

“No, it’s a fortress!” Marinette gapped.  “I mean, I’ve seen the Agreste Mansion and Chloe lives in a freakin’ luxury hotel, but this is--woah!”

 

“It is rather exorbitant.” Damian allowed.

 

“This place is bigger than my entire school!” Marinette went on.  “It-it--you could put my whole class in here and still have room left to spare!”

 

“Angel, if we housed your class here one of us, more than likely me or Todd, would ‘accidentally’ leave the defense system on while they were taking a stroll around the gardens.  And blood would ruin the aesthetic of the landscaping.” Damian said.

 

“That would be the concerning part, wouldn’t it?” Marinette said sarcastically.  “The aesthetics and not the grievous injuries.”

 

“Father has an amazing insurance policy.” Damian smirked.

 

Marinette rolled her eyes and let him open the front door for her.

 

“Auntie Bug!” Mar’i cried as she launched herself at Marinette.

 

Marinette caught her with a laugh.  “Am I Auntie Bug now? I like your pigtails, Mar’i!”

 

“She’s been calling you that since last night.” Dick said as the others started coming to greet her.  “She insisted we do her hair like Ladybug after all your stories.”

 

“Really...” Marinette blushed.

 

Damian smirked.  “Imagine that.”

 

Bruce Wayne approached Marinette along with an older gentleman with white hair.

 

“Marinette, I’d like you to formally meet my father, Bruce Wayne.” Damian introduced.  “This is Alfred Pennyworth, our butler and the real master of the household.”

 

Bruce smiled as he shook her hand after Mar’i jumped out of her arms and hovered in the air.

 

Alfred also shook her hand and with a twinkle in his eyes said, “I also very much enjoyed your Ladybug stories last night.”

 

Marinette blushed.  “Oh...y-you heard those?”

 

Alfred nodded.  “Until the EMP cut our call short.”

 

“Damian, why don’t you give Marinette the tour and then we can talk before dinner.”  Bruce said. “I understand we need to have a conversation about my family’s hobby?”

 

Marinette blushed deeper.  “I-I’m sorry, sir. It truly was an accident!  We had no idea the bond would...react that way.”

 

“Please don’t apologize, Marinette,” Bruce reassured.  “We don’t hold either of you at fault. I’m simply surprised that, in our line of work, this is the first we’ve come to know of it.”

 

“Though to be fair,” Tim said, “Kor’i never saw Dick in another persona until after he volunteered his identity.  Then there’s Clark and Lois, their string’s didn’t connect until after he’d revealed himself…”

 

Marinette slapped her hands over her ears.  “I shouldn’t be hearing this!”

 

Jason laughed.  “Consider this your induction into the family, Pixie-Pop.  You’ll get used to casual name-dropping with Justice League members.”

 

“I don’t need to know they’re with the Justice League!” Marinette winced.  “I don’t need to know anyone’s identity without their consent!”

 

“That is admirable, Miss Marinette.” Alfred said.

 

“It also proves she has more intelligence than three-fourths of the family’s aviary.” Damian smirked.

 

“Ah, thanks, Damian!” Tim said teasingly.  “I know I’m smarter than you all, but for you to admit it so willingly just make it all the more sweeter.”

 

Damian scowled while Marinette laughed at their antics.



~~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette had gawked, teased, and sketched her way through Damian’s tour, taking breaks whenever inspiration struck.  They’d ended up in the parlor, where the Batfam had had a more serious discussion with Marinette about their line of work and the ramifications of her knowledge of it.  Bruce had leveled with her about their investigation of her, and she’d reassured them she understood their caution. She ended up telling them about her family, aspirations, and schooling before going in depth to answer their questions about being bullied and the Hawkmoth situation.  Titus took a liking to Marinette and he could tell she made his person happy, so he snuggled close to her and Damian as she bore her heartache. 

 

Mar’i was absent for the more serious aspects of the conversation and Marinette learned a new word when Kor’i shared her experiences with abuse.  Dick said bullies were Troqs, though Kor’i protested against using the word to describe anyone. Once Damian explained what it meant, Marinette could see both Dick and Kor’i’s perspectives.  

 

The act of bullying was a worthless endeavor, but no one was nothing or worthless--even if they tried to make others feel like they were.

 

Jason was practically bouncing out of his seat in excitement when he was finally able to ask Marinette how she’d learned the moves Dick and Kor’i had seen her use on Scarecrow.  She explained that Sabine had taught her some moves and that she’d gotten some private training after Hawkmoth’s appearance.

 

She showed them the online video clip of Sabine’s reaction during the Troublemaker debacle.  The boys laughed and even Bruce smirked, while Damian recognized a spark of Marinette’s fierceness reflected in her mother.

 

“Wait, wait, wait…” Jason exclaimed.  “This is the Jagged Stone episode of that reality show.”

 

“Yep.” Marinette smiled.  “I accidentally smothered him in flour.”

 

Dick suddenly sucked in an over the top gasp that even had Kor’i looking at him strangely.  Seems Dick was the first to connect the spots, Damian thought and cursed himself for thinking the pun.

 

“No.  Freaking.  Way.” Jason exclaimed as he caught on.

 

“Are you that Marinette, Marinette?” Tim asked, wide eyed.  “What am I saying? Of course you are! Who else could MDC be?!”

 

“Kor’i!  She’s the Jagged Stone’s primary designer!” Dick explained to his wife.  “She’s the one that he brags about all the time and has won awards for his album covers!  She even designed the wedding clothes for when Jagged married his manager!”

 

Kor’i lit up as she understood who they were talking about.  “He is the musician whose music you blast during training! Richard played the Rock Giant album so repetitively that Cyborg deleted it off all the Teen Titans' electronic devices! Richard even had a cologne made to match the smelly sticker on the cover...it was not very pleasant.”

 

Marinette laughed.  “Jagged can be over the top and, like, a bizarre, little man-child sometimes, but he’s a pretty nice guy.  I’m sure he’ll want to meet you all…especially if my parents have already sent him the string video, like I fear.”

 

Mar’i hover-hopped into the room.  She’d been getting closer to full-on flying but still hadn’t mastered the art of stabilizing her flight.

 

“Are you done with grown-up talk, yet?” she asked as she landed on her parents laps.  

 

“Just about, Starshine.” Dick answered.

 

“I wanna show Auntie Bug how we fly, Daddy!” Mar’i smiled.

 

“I believe there is still enough time before dinner is served, Master Dick.” Alfred said.

 

Dick smiled.  “Who’s up for a trip to the training room?”



~~~~~~~~~~



The training room, it turned out, was more like a giant gymnasium.  There was a running track, weight lifting and workout equipment, and mats for combat training.  Mar’i instantly bolted for a full trapeze set while Dick checked that the safety net was secure.

 

“Wow!” Marinette gawked.  “I take it you don’t have a gym membership.”

 

“No, but I think we own a few of them.” Damian smirked.

 

“Ready, Daddy?” Mar’i cried.  

 

“Ready, Star?” Dick checked with Kor’i as she hovered close while he readied the trapeze bar.

 

“Ready!” Kor’i confirmed.

 

“Okay, Starshine!  Here I come!” Dick swung forward on the bar and made few passes as he gained momentum.

 

Marinette watched, entranced, as Dick flipped himself upside down and got ready to catch his daughter.

 

“Ready...Steady…” Dick called.  “Go!”

 

Mar’i launched herself from the platform, flying quickly but somewhat sloppily over the expanse to her father.  Dick grabbed her and they swung together, Kor’i congratulating her daughter while Mar’i’s giggles filled the gymnasium.  They swung together a few times before Dick tossed her to the next platform and Mar’i made a wobbly but successful landing.  Everyone clapped as Dick landed next to her and Mar’i jumped up and down in excitement.

 

“Do you wanna try, Auntie Bug?” she cried.

 

Damian tried to cover his wince and grabbed Marinette’s hand.  

 

Marinette had been told to dress casually, so she’d worn a nice pair of jeans with another hand-made sweater.

 

Dick looked confused as he glanced down at them.  “Marinette, do you do trapeze?”

 

“Sort of…” Marinette trailed off.

 

“I don’t think Marinette is dressed for the trapeze today, Mar’i.” Damian interceeded.

 

“It’s okay, Damian.” Marinette winked at him.  “I always carry a change of clothes…”

 

“You don’t have to, Angel.” he whispered.  “Are you sure?”

 

“Yeah, Marinette,” Tim said. “Flying trapeze isn’t something to experiment with unless you’ve had proper training.”

 

Marinette looked Damian in the eye.  “I’m sure.”

 

Bruce looked to Alfred, expecting him to offer a room to change, but Alfred just stood, waiting expectantly.

 

“Tikki, Spots On!” Marinette called out.  

 

Jason swore and Dick nearly fell off the platform as a pink light engulfed Marinette.  When it abated, Ladybug flung something out around the rafters and zipped up next to Dick and Mar’i.

 

“Holy spots!” Dick exclaimed.

 

“Sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln!” Jason yelled.

 

“Was that a yo-yo?!” Tim asked.

 

“Seriously, Drake?  That’s what you want to know?”

 

Ladybug laughed at their astonishment before jumping off the platform.  She parkour-ran a few paces across the wall before reaching out with her yo-yo again. She swung a few passes across the gymnasium and did a few twirls and somersaults before giddily landing beside Damian.

 

“Nice spots.” Damian sassed.

 

“Thanks.” Ladybug said as she transformed.  “Would anyone like to meet my kwamii?”



~~~~~~~~~~



“You are so cute!” Kor’i gushed again as Tikki rested in her hand, bashfully enjoying the praise.

 

“Thank you!” Tikki giggled.  “When Marinette first met me she called me a giant bug mouse!”

 

Marinette groaned at the memory.

 

“You’re like a fairy!” Mar’i exclaimed.

 

“I would have guessed genie, based on how Marinette said Tikki appeared when Marinette released her from a box…” Tim mused.

 

They had returned back to the parlor and Alfred had laid out an appetizer of cookies that had Tikki, Mar’i, and the boys very excited.

 

“I have to say, Marinette,” Bruce commented, “it’s not often someone manages to surprise us, but you certainly have done so.  Thank you for trusting us with this, we understand how important your identity must be to you.”

 

“You’ve really never told anyone before?” Dick asked.  “Not even your parents?”

 

Marinette shook her head.  “Cat Noir and I don’t even know each other’s identities.  Tikki and the Guardian were very clear about the importance of secrecy, and there have been incidences with past teammates that have proven the need.  Tikki said it was inevitable that Damian and I would recognize each other, and Damian assured me I didn’t need to feel obligated to share my identity… but I’ve given it a lot of thought and I decided you needed to know.  I plan on telling my parents after Hawkmoth is defeated, but you all work as a team. I didn’t want to ask Damian to keep this from you--”

 

“I really doubt Demon Spawn would have had a problem with that.” Jason said snidely.

 

“Honestly, though…” Marinette added sheepishly.  “Damian said you might be able to help Cat Noir and I to defeat Hawkmoth.  It’s not your fight and I don’t want to drag you into it… but if you do help I thought you deserved to know the truth.”

 

Bruce nodded.  “We are definitely going to offer you our assistance.  At the very least, a few of us will join you in Paris, but I will keep the League informed about what we’re doing.  Did Damian tell you about our roadblocks with the mayor?”

 

Marinette groaned and collapsed against the back of the loveseat, next to Damian.

 

“Yes!” she exasperated.  “I can’t believe him! The man’s been berating us for not doing a good enough job, yet he turned down the Justice League !  Does he not have any concept for the big picture?”

 

“If your suspicions about Hawkmoth are correct, then the man has been criminally negligent.” Bruce said.

 

“So you don’t know what Hawkmoth’s wish is, but you know the price would always be bad no matter what?” Tim asked.

 

Marinette shrugged.  “I suppose if he wished for a candybar it might not be horrible… it would just steal that candybar from someone else.  Every wish must be balanced, so if he wished for money it would take the wealth from someone else--or even a whole group of people.  Power would be taken from someone else’s authority. My classmate’s robot was akumatized once--”

 

“A sentient robot?  Sweet!” Tim exclaimed.

 

Marinette nodded.  “Markov, the robot, was akumatized into Robustus.  He wanted to use the wish to become human, but if he’d succeeded then someone else would have lost their humanity.”

 

“I still can’t believe some grown man in a butterfly costume and a bird chick have been terrorizing Paris of all places and we are just learning about it!” Jason complained.  “So what happens when you catch them? Do you have to destroy the Miraculous?”

 

“Goodness, no, Master Jason.” Alfred said.  “History has seen many Miraculous users, some worthy servants of the order and some abusers of the power.  It is the wielder who is corrupt, not the Miraculous. Even the kwamii are subject to their master’s orders and are incapable of breaking free of their abuse.”

 

Everyone stared at Alfred, even Bruce.

 

Alfred smirked.  “I believe it is my turn to explain.  You see, before I came into the Wayne family’s employ, I performed several covert operations with a partner called Dussu.”

 

Tikki and Marinette gasped.

 

“You were a peacock?!” Marinette cried.

 

Alfred smiled sadly.  “It was a lifetime ago, I’m afraid.  Dussu told me what she could about the destruction of the Temple and I had promised her that I would do my best to reunite her with the lost Guardian.  However, on our last mission we became compromised. One of my colleagues became obsessed with the power and attempted to seize the Butterfly and Peacock Miraculous.”

 

“You had them both!” Marinette exclaimed.

 

Alfred nodded.  “Another colleague was the wielder of the Butterfly and the traitor was our handler.  We were deep undercover when he turned on us. He attempted to use magic that he did not understand and a great battle ensued.  In the end, the magic destroyed the man, but he’d already caused immense damage. The Butterfly wielder was killed and I was in a coma for weeks.  When I awoke, both MIraculouses were lost and my superiors were attempting to cover up the entire event. I retired after that and I have never seen Dussu again.”

 

“Dussu is the Peacock kwamii?” Tim clarified. 

 

“Yes.” Marinette answered.  “The Butterfly kwamii is Nooroo.”

 

“Is it possible that the agency still had the kwamiis and were concealing it?” Damian asked.

 

“I doubt it.” Alfred said.  “They thoroughly interrogated me in an attempt to recover the Miraculouses and I did my own investigation to ensure they were not concealing them.  I even returned to the location of our final battle but was unable to uncover a thing.”

 

Marinette hummed. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, and further sorry that you had to relive it by returning there, though I thank you for your efforts to find them.  This may not give us any new leads on Hawkmoth’s identity... but I am honored to meet a former Miraculous wielder! I would love to talk to you more about this and I’m sure the Guardian will have some questions.”

 

“Of course, Miss Marinette.” Alfred said with a smile.  “I am at your service.”



~~~~~~~~~~



When Adrien received the text he’d been waiting for, he made his excuses to Nino and left their room.  His friend was half asleep while watching the movie they’d rented and merely hummed in response.

 

Guillaume “the Gorilla” Godard was checking in at the front desk when Adrien reached the lobby.  Gabriel had been livid when he’d heard about the attack by Two-Face on Friday evening, and nearly pulled Adrien out of the trip completely after the attack by Scarecrow.  Only Adrien’s pleading and Natalie’s suggestion that Guillaume join the trip as chaperone and bodyguard convinced Gabriel to allow Adrien to stay on.

 

Adrien waited to the side until the Gorilla was finished.  When the man turned around and saw the boy, he cracked a smile and patted his charge’s head.

 

Adrien laughed, a pleasant change of pace on this vacation.  The Gorilla didn’t talk much, but he was kindly in his protective nature and wasn’t afraid to put distance between Adrien and Lila when he saw Adrien was uncomfortable.

 

Lila may have been making this trip a nightmare, but Adrien was glad that he didn’t have to go home and face both Lila and Agreste brand isolation just yet.  He was hopeful that he could use the Gorilla as an excuse to get away from the girls for a while and just have guy time with Nino or one of his other friends.  For now, he had a mission in mind…

 

“Guillaume?” Adrien asked softly.  “Do you remember my friend Marinette?”

 

The Gorilla’s brow lowered and he grunted an affirmative.  Adrien had always seemed so happy when he spent time with Marinette and then suddenly he’d seen those interactions cease.

 

“The thing is…” Adrien said awkwardly.  “I’m sure Father has told you he wants me to keep Lila happy, am I right?”

 

The Gorilla scowled deeper, he had been privy to that information.  

 

“Well…” Adrien sighed.  “Lila’s turned the class against Marinette and has been lying about her.  I can’t do anything because of Father’s orders and Ms. Bustier hasn’t been helpful either.  Marinette’s already been left behind multiple times and Lila keeps trying to blame things on her.  Even last night, the class didn’t even realize Marinette had been left behind in the Scarecrow attack until Batman brought Ms. Bustier’s attention to it hours later!”

 

The Gorilla growled at that, very displeased.

 

“What I’m asking is,” Adrien sighed, “can you help keep an eye on Marinette?  Please? She met her soulmate on this trip, and it seems he’s watching out for her, but otherwise she’s got no one keeping her best interests in mind.  With Lila clinging to me, I haven’t been able to keep track of her...and last night I g-got so freaked out by that gas I couldn’t even think straight. We left--” his voice cracked and Adrien had to swallow hard “--we left her behind in all the mayhem and no one seemed to even care!”

 

Apparitions of Ladybug, Plagg, the Guardian, Father, Natialie, Marinette, Nino, and even his mother had circled him, plagued him.  They taunted him and condemned him, just like his nightmare of Ladybug during Sandboy. They told him he was useless as a hero. Pathetic.  A spineless pushover. That he abandoned his friends. He abandoned Marinette.

 

He’d felt shackled and claustrophobic, but he couldn’t argue that most of it wasn’t true.  Adrien hadn’t talked to anyone about his hallucinations, not even Plagg.

 

A heavy hand rested gently on Adrien’s shoulder and brought him back out of his dark thoughts.  The Gorilla grunted and nodded sharply before surprising Adrien with one of his rare verbal comments.

 

“I will.” Gorilla said.  “You okay?”

 

Adrien sighed and fought against his emotion for a moment before flinging himself into the Gorilla's arms for a hug.  The big man patted Adrien’s back awkwardly before warmly returning the embrace. Adrien could feel Plagg’s reassuring, low purr rumble against his back where the kwamii was hiding.  For a few minutes, Adrien let himself grieve and despair in the arms of one of the few adults he knew he could trust.




 

Chapter Text

Marinette hovered anxiously in front of the mirror.  Her hair was back up in a bun, soft wisps casually feathering her face and neck, and her makeup was done to perfection-- natural, but with a subtly dramatic touch to the eyes.

 

The outfit for her interview had been agonized over and decided in Paris.  Marinette wore black pencil-leg dress pants; a fitted, raspberry, peplum blazer--with a ladybug pin on the lapel for that je ne sais quoi; and a charcoal, button-up blouse with a modified mandarin collar.  

 

“Stop fussing, Marinette!” Tikki giggled.  “You look wonderful!”

 

Marinette snatched her portfolio up and started flipping through it.  “What if I forgot--”

 

“To include the suit you made Jagged for the awards show?” Tikki asked, bemused.  “You passed it two seconds ago.”

 

“But what about--”

 

“You have copies of your letters of recommendation and the school already has your transcripts.” Tikki added.

 

Marienette took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.

 

“Right...I’ve got this.” she tried to remember.

 

“Yes you do!” Tikki beamed at her.  “Anyone would be lucky to have you, Marinette!”

 

Marinette smiled at Tikki and pulled her close for a cheek nuzzle.  “Aw! Thanks, Tikki!”

 

“Why don’t you stop your puttering and go enjoy some breakfast!” Tikki suggested.

 

“You’re right…” Marinette sighed.  She took one last look at her outfit, made sure she had her portfolio and other necessities in her custom, messenger-bag styled briefcase, and left her room.

 

Marinette approached the dining room cautiously.  She snuck a peek around the corner and found Lila already sitting at a table drinking coffee.

 

Images flashed through Marinette’s imagination... Lila throwing coffee on her jacket, grape jelly that mysteriously winds up smeared on her shirt, stale donut crumbs rubbed into her hair…

 

Marinette made the strategic decision to retreat before she could be seen.  Not a moment later, she was gliding out the front doors without confrontation.  There was a diner down the street, so Marinette quickly hid herself there and took a seat at the counter.  After she’d ordered a light breakfast that would be easy on her nervous stomach, Marinette sent a text to Damian to ask him to pick her up at the diner instead of the hotel.

 

She got his reply almost instantly, concerned that she’d been wandering alone in Gotham.

 

Angel: Seriously? I walked a block. Maybe.

 

Dami: I realize you could break a grown man in half without even trying, Angel, but other people aren’t that astute.  You are aware, aren’t you, that a young, petite, teen girl walking around alone is a profile for an easy mark?

 

Angel: What’s your point?

 

Dami: That this is Gotham, the most crime ridden city in the world.

 

Angel: And?

 

Dami: And… and you are going to turn my hair prematurely gray.

 

Angel: You’d look good with gray hair.  Though, if you prefer, I’m pretty good with hair dye.  Luka taught me.

 

Dami: I’m not commenting.  I’m getting in the car now, I’ll be there soon.

 

Marinette chuckled as she sent a concluding text and then put her phone down so she could eat and he could drive.  She smiled and sighed, more relaxed and happy than she’d been for months, maybe even years.  

 

Kagami and Luka were great, but neither of them were in class with her.  Usually it felt like she was either in a stressful, isolating nightmare with her class or a safe, fun atmosphere with her friends with no middle ground in between.  It was wonderful to feel great with Kagami and Luka, but the emotional whiplash was dizzying. While Damian wasn’t in her class, he saved her from the isolation she’d assumed would be a given on this trip.  Lila was still after her and the class hadn’t changed, but for now it felt like she’d had a reprieve from their misery and she was enjoying it.

 

She was even growing very fond of Gotham, despite her run-ins with the local frights.  She was inspired by the new city and the feeling of being drawn here continued to increase. Marinette was growing more confident by the day that she and the Miraculous were needed here.  And GFIT was such a good school for her…

 

GFIT!  Marinette’s anxiety flared as she remembered her interview and catastrophes bombarded her brain.  Her breakfast was shoveled into her mouth without thought and Marinette had paid her bill and was pacing the sidewalk outside before she fully realized what she was doing.

 

“Angel, you’re not dodging nearly enough to be considered a difficult moving target.” 

 

Marinette jumped when she heard Damian’s voice and realized he’d pulled up beside her.  She ignored his stupid, cute smirk and jumped into the passenger’s seat.

 

“Good morning, Angel.” Damian’s smirk turned into a smile.  “You look beautiful, as always.”

 

“Thank you, Damian!  You don’t think it’s to much do you?  Or too little?” Marinette gibbered. “I picked this outfit before I left Paris and it took me, like, a week.  Kagami almost shish kabobed me a few times and I think Luka might have wanted to let her… I was hoping to go with something that said ‘business-with-flare!’  Do you think the pink was wrong? Maybe I should have worn neutrals--but this is a fashion school I’m applying to, so shouldn’t I exhibit a sense of my personal style?  Do you think I should have worn heels? I probably should have worn heels! But I don’t want to kill myself walking on the way to the interview! Or worse! I could trip and knock the person over!  Why did I wear my own designs? It’s way too in your face! I should have bought quality business clothes--no! That’s not creative enough! Damian, quick! Can you swing by a galleria on the way there?  What are you doing?”

 

Damian tried to trade coffee cups with her.  “I’m switching you to decaf.”

 

Marinette pouted at him and took back her original coffee while he snickered.  

 

Damian took her hand and said softly.  “Deep and slow breaths, my Angel. Honestly, the outfit you’ve picked out is ideal for the situation.  You should showcase your skills and talents--and you are doing so without being haughty.  Your design is modest and professional with a personalized flare--I would say you accomplished your goal.” Damian smirked.  “Now we just need to make sure you pause often enough to breathe and you’ll be fine.”

 

Marinette playfully smacked his arm while he snickered and leisurely drove her to the university.

 

“For the record,” Damian added cheekily, “the flats were also a good choice.  Your face is too pretty to take a nosedive into the pavement.”

 

Marinette punched his shoulder a little harder.



~~~~~~~~~~



“I can’t believe my parents won’t let me get a new phone until we’re back in Paris!” Alya complained as she slumped next to Nino on the bus.

 

“It’s only a few days, Babe,” Nino reminded, “and in all fairness, you did kinda recklessly endanger yourself with a villain by trying to use the thing.”

 

“The story would have been worth it, Nino!” Alya exclaimed.  “First hand footage of an actual Gotham villian attack!  And a rescue by Batman himself!”

 

Nino sighed in resignation.  “Alya, your life is worth more than a two minute viral video on an established criminal.”

 

“Can I at least borrow your phone?” Alya pleaded with the baby doll eyes.  “Just for a second? To check social media?”

 

Nino shook his head.  “Your Dad and Mom called me--separately and together, a total of three times --to let me know that if I give you my phone for anything short of an emergency or a quick selfie they will bare me from the house, sik Nora on me, and feed me to the panther.”

 

Alya waved him off.  “They’re bluffing! Nora’s away on a circuit tour, they wouldn’t sik her on you.”

 

“How relieving.” Nino said flatly.

 

“I’d let you use mine, Alya,” Lila said pleasantly, “but so many people are depending on me!  I really can’t be away from my phone! Prince Ali is supposed to get back to me soon about my new environmental proposal.  Besides, I’m privy to so many high security people and situations that my phone has to be protected with special locks and antispyware--it wouldn’t allow anyone but me to use it.” 

 

“Thanks anyway, Lila.” Alya said graciously.  “I can always count on you.”

 

Guillaume growled as he listened into their conversation.  Adrien was sitting in an aisle seat, Lila clutching him and leaning over him to talk to Alya across from them.  The boy looked completely resigned and was only barely trying to lean away from Lila, accepting the inevitable and praying for the bus to hit a bump so big that it would toss him out of his seat and onto the floor.

 

The final students entered the bus and Ms. Bustier turned to tell the bus driver he could leave.  The Gorilla frowned and clamped his hand over Ms. Bustier’s shoulder.

 

Ms. Bustier jumped and turned questioning eyes to him.  “Yes?”

 

The Gorilla frowned and pointed to the students and held up one finger.  Ms. Bustier frowned, confused, but counted the students and realized they were one short.  

 

“Oh dear…” Ms. Bustier frowned and blushed.

 

They both looked out the door to see if they’d find a girl in pigtails running to catch up.

 

“Maybe she’s still in the dining room,” Ms. Bustier commented, “I’ll be right back.”

Ms. Bustier made a quick search of the dining room and came up empty.  She had the front desk ring Marinette’s room but no one answered the phone.  Frowning even more, she went back to the bus.

 

“She didn’t answer the phone and she’s not in the dining room…” Ms. Bustier said.

 

“Is Marinette playing hookie again?” Lila said sadly.  “She really shouldn’t be so selfish. Her need for attention is going to put her in danger.”

 

Alya scoffed and began rambling about how annoyed she was with Marinette.

 

Adrien made eye contact with the Gorilla and the man nodded in acknowledgement.  

 

“Did you call her cell phone?” Gorilla asked.

 

“No…” Ms. Bustier looked thoughtful and flipped through some of her supplies.  “I don’t have her number...” louder, she asked, “does anyone have Marinette’s cell number?”

 

Adrien spoke up before anyone could try calling her.  “Marinette changed her number a while back, none of us have her current one.  She had to after she was getting spammed with hate messages--”

 

Lila dug her nails into Adrien’s arm and he grit his teeth.  He hated when Lila silenced him, but at least he’d gotten his message out this time.

 

The Gorilla noticed and he growled low in his throat, staring Lila down.  Lila’s sense of self preservation kicked in and she gave Adrien some space, smiling as though it was some kind of misunderstanding.

 

“I suppose we can wait a few minutes, but there really isn’t much else we can do…” Ms. Bustier fretted.

 

Guillaume turned his focus back on the teacher, shocked.  Wait a few minutes? They needed to find out the student’s location!  She could be hurt or in danger! She could even be lying sick and passed out in her own hotel room!

 

“I’m sure Marinette will catch up eventually!” Lila said brightly.  “She’s so self reliant, and she’s caught up to us before.”

 

“Serves her right, the drama queen…” Alya grumbled.

 

Ms. Bustier didn’t seem to be paying attention to either of their comments, checking the time instead.  

 

“I’ll leave my cellphone number at the desk and ask them to give it to Marinette with the message to call and meet up with us.” Ms. Bustier announced as she hastened to the lobby again.

 

The Gorilla was shocked at the teacher’s nonchalance.  A shared look at the furious bus driver confirmed that he had not been hearing things.  Gabriel Agreste was one of the most controlling, security-freak clients he’d ever worked for and this was the type of school he sent his son to?

 

He couldn’t ask to have access to the Marinette’s room, she wasn’t his client and he wasn’t an authorized guardian or even a chaperone--not to mention, who in their right mind would let a strange, large man into a teenage girl’s room?  He didn’t have the girl’s contact information, nor that of her parents...though a text to Nathalie might provide him with that…

 

But he did have the contact information for the host of the seminar: Bruce Wayne.  Gabriel Agreste did not know the man personally, but he’d used the Agreste name to at least get the business contact information for Bruce when he’d given Adrien permission to go on the trip.  Gabriel had passed the information on to Guillaume in case anything arose that needed the influence of a local wealth-magnet with a strong presence in the community.

 

The Gorilla had done his own research and knew Mr. Wayne was a dedicated philanthropist.  He wasn’t likely to smooth over a scandal the class got into because of the request of a fellow billionaire...but he was dedicated to programs that ensure children’s safety.

 

While Ms. Bustier was still in the lobby, Guillaume sent a quick message to Bruce Wayne explaining who he was, who he was working for, and the situation.

 

To his surprise, he received an answer immediately.  Bruce didn’t question who he was or how he contacted him.  The message was a thank you for keeping him informed and a reassurance that he’d been informed Marinette had permission to leave the tour for the day to attend a university interview.

 

The Gorilla raised an eyebrow at that.  He realised there was missing information in that explanation...but he also began to consider the fact it was obvious Marinette hadn’t told any of her classmates of her interview.  Marinette struck him as a responsible if nervous girl; he doubted she would have voluntarily left the tour without advanced permission, yet Bruce Wayne seemed to know more about her whereabouts than her teacher.

 

He observed Ms. Bustier as she came back to the bus.  She always seemed to be in a flustered state on this trip, though he’d only seen her this morning.  She pasted on a smile and asked the bus driver to take them to the Gotham City Zoo.  

 

He was not impressed with her competency to protect her students, he wouldn’t put it past her to have forgotten about Marinette’s interview.  Without further information, he would have to wait to confirm Marinette’s safety. For now, he decided not to ask the teacher about the interview, wanting to see what her next course of action would be.

 

He caught Adrien’s eye and gave him a single nod.  Adrien still looked wary, but seemed somewhat reassured that the Gorilla had the situation well in hand.



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette felt like she was flying!  The interview hadn’t been nearly as terrifying as she’d built it up to be.  The admissions counselor was a kind, older woman who seemed happy with Marinette’s application--and had complimented her ladybug pin!  Marinette’s portfolio proved to have been immaculately prepared and included hard copies of recommendations letters from Ms. Mendeleiev, her class rep supervisors, Jagged Stone, and Audrey Bourgeois.  The woman even ended the appointment by directing Marinette toward someone she could talk with for help getting her student visa in order.

 

Damian had stayed with her until her interview started--distracting her, calming her, and reassuring her--but he had classes to attend during and after her appointment.  Marinette sent him a brief text to let him know that it went well and he snuck a response back about how he was not surprised.

 

One of the things Marinette had catastrophized about before the interview had been the thought that one of the Wayne’s would pull strings for her because she was Damian’s soulmate.  Damian was quick to reassure her that that was not the case. He said that even if he didn’t already know that she was immensely talented, could succeed on her own, and would be devastated if she’d ever known he’d pulled something like that; that his father refused to molly-codle his kids and that he always let them succeed or fail on their own.  Hearing that had eased the voice in Marinette’s head telling her she didn’t deserve her success and now she was able to enjoy the campus tour she was on.

 

Dottie was an honors student at GFIT and often was a volunteer guide for prospective students.  She was kind and welcoming and showed Marinette around the administrative building, the dorms, the common areas like the cafeteria, and the classrooms.  She even led Marinette around some of the work rooms and let Marinette sit in on a few minutes of a class. They ate a quick lunch at the cafeteria and the food wasn’t as bad as some of the horror stories Marinette heard about college food.  Dottie was honest and answered Marinette’s questions about what she did and didn’t like about GFIT and overall the school seemed very promising. The more she leaned of the school the more Marinette liked it.

 

“So, Marinette,” Dottie asked as they finished the tour, “what attracted you to GFIT?  Most non-locals are put off by Gotham’s reputation. Was there something specific you liked about us or did you know someone who goes here?”

 

“Actually,” Marinette said, “I’ve heard really good things about the program from my mentor and when I looked into it GFIT really appealed to me.  We have villian activity in Paris right now, so that wasn’t too intimidating...sort of. My soulmate does go here, but that wasn’t really a factor in my applying here since we didn’t meet until last week.”

 

“That’s exciting!” Dottie said.  “I wonder if I know him?! Do you mind if I ask who it is?”

 

Marinette stifled a chuckle.  “You, uh, probably have heard of his reputation--at the least--based on what he’s told me…”

 

“Oh?”

 

Marinette nodded.  “I don’t mind if you don’t believe me, seeing as it’s kind of a name drop, but since you asked...my soulmate is Damian Wayne.”

 

Dottie actually blanched.  “Damian Wayne? The Ice KIng?  Could probably make the Joker cry?”

 

Marinette snorted.  “He’s really not that bad...mostly.”

 

Dottie shook her head in bewilderment.  “I believe you. No sane person who knows even a thing about Wayne would ever claim to be that guy’s soulmate unless it was true!”

 

Marinette laughed and Dottie had to wonder about this girl.  “I only know Damian by reputation...but honestly, I thought his soulmate had to have ice in her veins!  I can’t decide if you’re in the honeymoon stage where you think Wayne is great or if you have a secret dark side!”

 

Marinette rolled her eyes.  “We aren’t exactly the same, and Damian’s been honest with me about his past, but we do genuinely compliment each other.”

 

Dottie blew her bangs out of her eyes and shook her head.  “Well bless your heart and good luck to you both! It was nice to meet you and I hope to see you on campus next Fall!”

 

“Nice to meet you, Dottie!” Marinette smiled and waved goodbye.  “Thanks for the tour!”

Dottie waved one last time and then hurried back to her dorm to get ready for her late afternoon class.

 

Marinette checked the time and knew that Damian would still be in class.  They had agreed to meet up outside the school library when he got out, so Marinette decided to wander about campus until then.  Twenty minutes later, she was headed to the library when her attention was caught by a group of music students performing on the sidewalk and collecting donations for a local children’s shelter.  A group of people had gathered to listen and Marinette joined them for a few minutes.

 

She’d just tossed some money into their collection when a suspicious movement drew her gaze.  A grandmother and her young grandchildren were enjoying the music, the young boy bouncing in her arms from excitement.  Her large purse had sagged on her shoulder and it was hanging open at her side. A man had silently slid next to her and was slowly reaching into her bag.

 

Marinette frowned before she also gently stepped next to the woman.  The crowd was so enraptured that no one noticed the man rifling through the woman’s purse.  They also didn’t notice as Marinette snuck her hand next to his. With a swift, steady move, Marinette took hold of the thief's hand and deftly broke his thumb.  She gently brought her hand back to her side as the man cringed and backed away in agony.  

 

Marinette watched in a slightly smug satisfaction as he stumbled away, with the crowd blissfully unaware.  She simply smiled back when the little boy turned and beamed at her.

 

“I have never been more attracted to someone in my life.” Damian said from behind her.

 

Marinette jumped a little, slightly embarrassed that Damian saw her, but he looked at her in absolute awe.

 

“It, uh, probably wasn’t the textbook way to handle things...but I didn’t want to scare the kids.” Marinette muttered.

 

Damian shook his head.  “Angel, you’re talking to a glorified vigilante,” he whispered, “that was amazing.  My brothers will never believe me when I tell them.”

 

Marinette blushed but squeezed his hand back when he laced their fingers together.

 

“Have we known each other long enough for me to ask you to be my girlfriend?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette blushed even harder and had to clear her throat so she could speak in a tone that was clearer than a squeek.  

 

“I-I think that would be o-okay…” Marinette said sheepishly.

 

“Would you be my girlfriend, Marinette Dupain-Cheng?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette pecked him on the cheek.  “Yes. I would love to. Thank you, Damian.”

 

It took a moment for reality to catch up with her, but then Marinette looked utterly mortified.  

 

“What’s wrong, Angel?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette whimpered.  “I just realized that for the rest of our lives if we want to honestly answer the question ‘how did you officially become a couple?’ we have to say that you asked me after you watched me break a pick-pocket!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~



Damian drove Marinette back to her hotel to change into more casual clothes.  Marinette had been excused for her interview for the entire day, so they were going to take the opportunity for Damian to show her around Gotham for a few hours.  They walked into the lobby hand-in-hand and were not expecting the hurricane they were hit with.

 

“Marinette!” Ms. Bustier cried as she quickly approached from across the lobby.  “There you are! Where have you been? We’ve been very worried!”

 

Alya suddenly was in Marinette’s space and furious.  “Seriously, Marinette? You ditched the tour to hang out with some stupid guy?  What is wrong with you!? We had to make a special stop back here just to look for you!”

 

Damian and the Gorilla moved at the same time, the Gorilla separated Alya and held her back while Damian stepped in front of Marinette.

 

Some of her other classmates--Alix, Nino, Nathaniel, Adrien, and Lila--had also swarmed and were adding their own comments.  Nathaniel and Nino only made disapproving comments; Alix was livid, Lila was smug and degrading, and Adrien was just silent and miserable.

 

“Excuse you, what makes you think you have any right to judge Marinette’s wearabouts?” Damian growled.  “Don’t you even have any idea where she was?”

 

Marinette took charge in the sudden silencing affect Damian’s death glare wrought.

 

“Ms. Bustier, do you remember last month ,” Marinette stressed, “when I got permission from you, my parents, and Principal Damocles to be excused for today so that I could attend a university interview?  Or last week when I confirmed that interview with you before we left?”

 

Ms. Bustier’s eyes blew wide and her cheeks flushed, clearly embarrassed.

 

“If you forgot and no one knew where I was, why didn’t you call me and ask?” Marinette asked.

 

Alya rolled her eyes.  “ Apparently you changed your number and didn’t have the courtesy to tell anyone!”

 

Marinette’s eyes lit on fire.  “I had the right not to share my new number with anyone after I had to change my number because some people were spamming my phone with hate messages!  I had so many blocked numbers that I had more blocked contacts than regular contacts!  Or do you not remember sending me pictures of you four hanging out and texting ‘you could be here too if you weren’t a bitter, jealous hack!’”

 

“Wait, what!?” Alix exclaimed.

 

Marinette didn’t bother taking the time to explain, she turned her attention back to her teacher.  “And I organized the class information packet myself! It has every student’s current personal contact information and that of their parents--including mine.  As class rep, I compiled that information from the paperwork that was handed in for the trip. You should have a complete list of students attending, their information, any food allergies or documented health concerns, a full and detailed itinerary for the trip, a brief advisory statement from WE regarding safety in Gotham; as well as contact information for the hotel, Gotham Emergencies Services, and Wayne Enterprises.”

 

Ms. Bustier scrambled to take a manila folder from her side bag.  The Gorilla scoffed when it appeared unopened.

 

“Right,” Marinette muttered, “glad I spent a week putting that together!”

 

“I apologize, Marinette!” Ms. Bustier said, crestfallen.  “I completely forgot about all of this! Things have been so chaotic since we arrived in Gotham…I hope your interview went well.”

 

“Thank you.” Marinette said stiffly.

 

“Where was this ‘interview,’” Alya mockingly used air quotes, “that your boyfriend just so happened to be along for?”

 

“First, off,” Marinette said before Ms. Bustier could supply a name.  “I have no obligation to tell you where I am applying for school. I don’t need to prove my whereabouts to anyone and I had permission to miss today.  Second, my boyfriend--aka, my soulmate--is a university student and was gracious enough to take me to the campus for my interview and bring me back after his classes were over.”

 

“How can we believe you when you won’t even tell us the name of the school?” Lila asked with her fake doe eyes. 

 

“As I said, I have no obligation to tell you where I have applied for university.” Marinette grit her teeth and glared at Alya.  “I’ve learned my lesson--or are you disappointed that you won’t be able to sabotage my application like you did my design website?”

 

“Hold it!” Alix exclaimed.  “ Who did what ?”

 

“Alya and Lila set up a smear campaign to ruin my website for my business--the very one Alya helped me set up in the first place!  They cyber bullied me into having to close down my website and social media accounts!” Marinette stared Alya down. “I lost commissions because of them!  Some of which were already in progress or finished and I never saw payment for my work! It almost ruined my reputation! And it would have, if it weren’t for loyal clients that new my integrity.”

 

Damian was seething beside Marinette.  This was even worse than what she described and Damian had to take deep breaths and keep repeating to himself to choose a legal sword and not a metal one.

 

Alix exploded.  “You did what!?”

 

“What?” Alya huffed.

 

“You seriously trashed Marinette’s rep online?” Alix scowled.  “You said her site went down because she lost her ten minutes in the limelight and couldn’t get commissions! What did you say?”

 

Nino’s eyes bugged.  “Alya!”

 

“What does it matter?  It’s Marinette!” Alya complained.

 

“She called me a fake, a fraud, and wrote reviews about my work being sloppy, amateurish, and knocked off.”  Marinette said. “And those were the kind comments! She claimed I’d run out of inspiration and was stealing ideas from other designers!”

 

“You were!” Alya argued.  “Lila proved it to me!”

 

“Alya!” Alix exclaimed.

 

“She deserved it!” Alya claimed.

 

“No!  She didn’t!” Alix scowled.  “I know Marinette’s been awful to Lila--”

 

“I really haven’t--”

 

“But you don’t lie and go after someone like this!  Marinette’s got talent and she obviously works hard--she would never cheat!  This isn’t the healthy way of doing something! It’s persecution and it’s illegal!  You could ruin Marinette’s future and you could get sued for slander!”

 

Jagged and Penny had practically been foaming at the mouth when they’d found out about the slander and wanted to spearhead a lawsuit for Marinette but she had been firm that she didn’t want to pursue it.  It had been soon after Alya’s breakaway and she’d been in shock and hadn’t wanted to sue her former friend. Already, she’d been conditioned into thinking she couldn’t make waves or stand up for herself. Her therapy with Master Fu was in the early stages and she didn’t want to give anyone anything else to be angry over with her.  In retrospect, she knew she should have done something...but she just deleted her website and created all new--private--social media accounts, completely disconnected from her classmates.

 

Ms. Bustier looked like she was instinctively looking for an akuma.  “Let’s all calm down...Marinette? Since you’re here now you can join us for the last events for today.”

 

Marinette sighed but nodded, knowing she didn't have a valid excuse not to join them anymore.  “I just need to change out of my interview clothes.”

 

“That’s fine, we can wait on the bus.” Ms. Bustier started to herd the students back to the lounge where the others were waiting.

 

“I’m sorry, Damian,” Marinette said, “I would rather be with you, but since they’re here and my interview is over my excuse to not join them is sort of expired.”

 

“I’m sorry as well, Angel.” Damian said with a kiss to her forehead.  “Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

 

“I’ll be fine.” Marinette weakly chuckled.  “Actually, that went pretty well...Alix had my back.”

 

Damian wasn’t so impressed, but kept silent since Marinette was pleased.  “I’ll wait here until you’re bus leaves so I can be sure you get on without being further accosted.”

 

Marinette snorted.  “Accosted?”

 

“It’s not even an outdated word, just formal!  You can’t complain about it!” Damian grumbled.

 

Marinette hugged him and pecked his cheek before racing for the elevator.

 

When Marinette was out of sight, Damian turned his glare on her teacher until the woman shriveled and turned away.  Dissatisfied as he was at how their time had been interrupted and brutally ended, Damian knew he still had preparations for his surprise for the class…

 

Starting with returning a phone call.



~~~~~~~~~~



Instead of picnicking with Damian at the Gotham Botanical Gardens, Marinette was trying to make the most of her time at Killinger’s Department Store--even despite the company...or... lack of company.  They had briefly taken their bus to The Westward Bridge and stopped to walk around and take pictures of the Statue of Justice.  After, Alya had been ecstatic over the tour of the Gotham Gazette .  It was nearing the end of normal business hours, but they still got a peak at the newspaper workings.  

 

Marinette wondered if Alya considered who organized the trip itinerary and ensured the visit to the famous newspaper.

 

They were only swinging through the department store while they waited for their reservations at a restaurant down the street.  Still, as far as distractions go, Marinette thought the store was pleasant. She found a few fun things to remember her vacation by--luckily she kept the receipts close because Lila tried to have her picked up for shoplifting.  Twice! Luckily, the third time she tried, the security team was wise to her and ignored her.  

 

Marinette hung back from the group for the most part, but she did notice Alix having a heated discussion with Kim.  She tried not to get her hopes up, but there was something encouraging about the confusion and anger Kim was looking at Alya and Lila with.

 

She was careful to never get so far behind the group that she could be left behind, though the Gorilla was watching out for her now and had stepped in to defend her when security questioned her.  Guillaume had whispered a reassurance that Adrien had explained the situation to him and Marinette was grateful for the kind, if covert, efforts.  

 

Still, no matter what distance she put between herself and Lila, Marinette never seemed to be able to escape hearing about Lila’s supposed exploits.  Her newest claim had Marinette completely exasperated--but for once it wasn’t with Lila.

 

Marinette waited until she had some breathing room away from her class and took out her phone.  A quick internet search to validate Lila’s base claim, and Marinette was placing a call before Lila could even finish her latest fable.

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” Marinette greeted when her call was answered.

 

“Marinette!  How’s my favorite niece?” Jagged boomed.

 

“They sent you the video, didn’t they?” Marinette grumbled.

 

“It was so adorable!” Jagged cooed.  “You’ve got a salty little soulmate on your hands, love!”

 

“Please tell me the rumors aren’t true and you haven’t actually rearranged your tour to stop in Gotham.” Marinette massaged her temples.  

 

“Um…”

 

Marinette whimpered.  “No. No Way!”

 

“Technically, no performances were canceled or rescheduled--we just made a little detour!” Jagged argued.

 

“You cannot do this!” Marinette groaned.  “You are not rearranging your tour to come here!  This is Gotham   we’re talking about!  Penny is five months pregnant!  You wanted to be away from Paris during the pregnancy just to avoid akumas!  Gotham is no place for a pregnant woman!”

 

“I’m sure there are pregnant women in Gotham, Marinette.” Jagged said amusedly.

 

“It’s still dangerous!” Marinette pouted.

 

“Yes, and do you know what else is dangerous?  Arguing with a pregnant woman!” he cried. “A pregnant woman, I might add, who can organize my doom without breaking a sweat and is friends with a crocodile!” he started mumbling.  “Traitorous reptile, been liking her more ever since she got preggers…”

 

Marinette just shook her head, knowing Jagged couldn’t see her tired bemusement.

 

“Besides!” he said, jovial again.  “Fang is great at intimidating overzealous fans and all manner of spandex-clad baddies!”

 

“Fang is a scaley puppy and you know it.” Marinette said.

 

“You’re the one that wants to move to Gotham!” he reminded.  “You can’t knock it!”

 

“That’s different!” Marinette pouted again.

 

“Sure it is, Angelcake.” Jagged said smugly. 

 

Marinette sighed.  “Just...promise me your not going to go too over the top when you meet Damian.”

 

“Oh, I’ve already talked to your lad.”  Jagged said breezily. “Stand up chap with a devious little mind.”

 

Oh no.

 

“What do you mean ‘devious little mind?’” Marinette growled.  “What is he up to and how are you involved?”

 

Just what was Damian planning?  He promised not to go overboard!

 

“Uh…” Jagged stalled.  “Oh, look! Penny’s craving pickled pears again!  Gotta run, love!”

 

Marinette scowled at her phone as the call ended.  She pouted as she opened a text to Damian.

 

Angel: Uncle Jagged said he’s already talked to you and he’s acting suspiciously.  What are you up to!?!?

 

Damian sent her back a classic clip of Donald Duck as an angel saying ‘have no fear!’ before switching to a cackling devil Donald.  She remembered it being used in Flubber with Robin Williams.

 

Angel: Do your brothers know you know how to GIF?

 

Chapter Text

“Students, please don’t make a fuss about the seating order, you won’t be able to socialize during the performance anyway.” Ms. Bustier instructed.  “Kim, I saw that noise maker. If you disrupt the performance you will be asked to leave and will be assigned detention when we return home.”

 

Ms. Bustier sighed and took a wary look around her students.  Lila ignored her instructions about switching seats around and had managed to fit herself between Alya and Adrien.  Thankfully, Alix had snatched Kim’s small horn and clouted him behind the head. Max was talking to into his jacket...so that probably meant the robot was with him.  

 

She could only be glad they were returning to Paris tomorrow.  Ms. Bustier just wasn’t cut out for chaperoning fifteen teenagers in a dangerous city.  

 

The Gorilla grunted next to her and pointed to an empty seat.  

 

Ms. Bustier sighed in defeat.  “Not again… I know she was with us on the bus!”

 

The Gorilla grunted in disapproval and motioned for Adrien to get up and follow him. Eyes alight at the excuse to leave, Adrien smiled unrepentantly at Lila as he pried himself out of her claws and followed his bodyguard and Ms. Bustier back to the lobby.

 

“I know I had it before the coat check!” they could hear Marinette cry out stressfully. 

 

They found her near the door with the ticket taker.  The woman had seen that Marinette had clearly been with a class group but was unable to allow her in when Marinette couldn’t find her ticket. 

 

A matinee performance on a Tuesday wasn’t necessarily glamourous, but Marinette had been looking forward to it!  She’d only set her clutch down for a moment while she checked her coat and jacket but it seemed that was enough time for her ticket to ‘disappear.’  Marinette chided herself for not having Tikki guard the ticket from her hiding spot in her dress pocket.

 

“Marinette, what’s the matter?” Ms. Bustier asked.

 

Marinette groaned in exasperation.  “My ticket was stolen!”  

 

Ms. Bustier sighed, slightly cross.  “Marinette, please don’t take such drastic leaps.  If you lost your ticket--”

 

“I did not lose my ticket!  I had it secured in the zippered pocket of my purse!”  Marinette argued. “I had it before I went to the coat check, but now it’s gone!  I’ve emptied my entire bag and it’s not there!”

 

“Perhaps it was left in one of your coat pockets…”

 

The Gorilla, meanwhile, approached the trash can he’d noted Lila hovering next to earlier.  She’d seemed smugly pleased with herself and he’d been trying to keep aware of her actions. He grunted as he pulled a ripped ticket from the bin.

 

The ticket taker, Ms. Bustier, and Adrien looked at him while Marinette’s shoulders slumped in defeat.

 

“I can take a guess about how that got there!” Adrien muttered, offering Marinette a consoling shoulder pat.

 

Ms. Bustier startled at the venom she heard in the boy’s voice. 

 

“I’m sorry, Miss, but I’m not allowed to admit anyone with a destroyed ticket.” the woman cringed.

 

Marinette looked resigned and on the verge of tears.  “I understand.”

 

“You can have my ticket, Marinette.” Adrien offered.

 

“I’m not going to take your ticket, Adrien.” Marinette said tiredly.

 

“Please?” Adrien offered again.  “This isn’t even really my thing and you worked so hard to put this trip together!  You should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.”

 

Marinette sniffed heavily and tried to reign in her emotions.  “ Thank you, Adrien. You have no idea how much I appreciate that.  But you know I can’t take your ticket. If I go in there and you don’t--even if you had the Soprano come out on stage and sing that you didn’t want to be here, the class will blame me for you missing the show and it’ll all be for nothing.  I won’t enjoy the show, you won’t enjoy the show, and the backlash will be awful for the both of us--even if it’s in different ways.”

 

Adrien rubbed his neck in frustration and sighed, knowing she was right and trying to come up with a solution.

 

Guillaume frowned at the inaction of the teacher.  He was about to suggest giving Marinette his ticket while he bought one elsewhere in the theater--it wasn’t necessary for him to hover over Adrien so long as he was in the general vicinity.

 

A pointed clearing of the throat beat him to the offer.

 

“We have an extra seat in our box.  She’s welcome to join us.”

 

“Dami!” Marinette beamed.  “I didn’t know you were coming today.”

 

Damian’s expression softened as he addressed her.  “It was a last minute decision.” Purposefully made because the Waynes did not trust her class.

 

“That’s wonderful!” the ticket taker said, slightly nervous around the Ice King.  “Thank you, Mr. Wa--”

 

“My pleasure.”

 

It didn’t escape the Gorilla’s attention that the boy cut the woman off before she could say his name. 

 

“Shall we, Angel?” he offered her his arm.

 

Guillaume had to admit, based off his limited observations the boy, he seemed courteous and protective and Marinette seemed relaxed around him.  He took these as positive signs of the boy’s trustworthiness, though he still felt onguard around the stranger.

 

Marinette smiled and nodded as she easily slipped into his embrace.  The marked change in her countenance was so obvious it was almost jarring.  Formally concealed tension practically crashed as it fell off her and Marinette looked so blissfully reassured and comforted that she was almost unrecognizable from a second prior.  

 

Not even Adrien, with all his longing for his own soulmate, could find it in himself to be anything less than happy for the warmth that emanated from the two.

 

 The ticket taker looked like she might pass out from the shock of the display.

 

“I can meet you at the door afterward, Ms. Bustier.” Marinette proposed. 

 

“Very well.” Ms. bustier nodded.  “Please be prompt, we have that surprise to get to for dinner.”

 

“Of course.” Marinette said, gritting her teeth and sensing the implication of her supposed ‘irresponsibility’ for being left behind.

 

As they parted, they could hear Damian say to Marinette, “This should be entertaining.  Todd doesn’t have the patience for high arts and can be easily undone at these events.”

 

“Not that you would ever take advantage of that, I’m sure.” Marinette replied sarcastically.

 

“That would be beneath me.” Damain agreed instantly.

 

Once seated back in the theater, Lila unnecessarily leaned over Adrien and asked--loudly--in overdone concern.  “Where’s Marinette?”

 

Adrien replied evenly.  “Her ticket was stolen and shredded so she wasn’t granted entry.”

 

“That’s terrible!” Lila said.  “And she seemed to look so forward to this!  She really should be more careful!”

 

Alya scoffed.  “She’s probably just trying to get attention again.  If she’s that desperate then she deserves what she gets.”

 

“It wasn’t Marinette’s fault.” Adrien reiterated, ignoring Lila’s heel as it ground down on his foot.  “Thankfully, her soulmate had an extra ticket and offered it to her.”

 

Adrien pointed, slightly smugly, to one of the private boxes and enjoyed seeing Lila’s jaw drop.

 

“Ms. Bustier,” Lila complained.  “Isn’t it unfair for Marinette to receive special treatment?  She should be with the class, not off with her boyfriend!”

 

“Her ticket could not be accepted since it was destroyed.” Ms. Bustier said.  “At least this way she can still see the show instead of sitting it out in the lobby.”

 

“Wow.” Alix said in an irreverent observation.  “Marinette’s soulmate must have connections .  Those are some of the most coveted seats in the theater.”

 

“I met him again in the lobby, he seemed like a cool guy.” Adrien glanced at Marinette as she interacted with her soulmate, beaming with a smile he’d not seen in years.  “They seem really good together, we should be happy for them.”

 

“Please!” Alya rolled her eyes.  “She’s probably just faking it because she’s jealous Lila got her soulmate first!”

 

“Babe…” Nino said gently. “We saw her get pulled away by her string, and it was before Lila told us about her soulmate.”

 

“I think it's just a shame that Marinette’s been so awful to us.” Lila said, leaning in to dig her nails into Adrien’s arm.  “If she hadn’t been, then she’d have someone to share this experience with instead of throwing herself at some stranger.”

 

Adrien frowned and ignored the growing bruise beneath his suit jacket.  “She’s not throwing herself at anyone, Lila. Soulmate bonds are sacred and it is common for the bond to strengthen quickly after the string brings two people together.”

 

“Yeah!  Just look at me and you, Babe!” Nino said as he smiled and pressed a kiss to Alya’s cheek, disrupting her scowl and bringing back her smile.  “We were just friends before our strings connected and then after we practically couldn’t be seperated!”

 

Lila frowned as she watched Alya soften and smile.  

 

“Yeah...maybe you have a point.”

 

Alya’s eyes turned wistful for a moment and she chanced a glance in Marinette’s direction.  Lila recognised the look and knew she had to act quickly to redirect Alya’s attention. She opened her mouth to say something, but was cut off by a grunt from the Gorilla.

 

“Please remember to be quiet during the performance, everyone.” Ms. Bustier whispered as the lights dimmed.

 

Lila cast a scowl at Adrien but he ignored her as the curtain rose.   

 

“You’re smarter than this, Adrien.” Lila hissed.  “Don’t forget, I can ruin your reputation without even trying hard.  Your father wouldn’t be pleased with that now, would he?”

 

You would probably know better than me, Adrien thought as anxiety settled heavily in his stomach.



~~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette tried to stifle a giggle at the enraptured look on Jason’s face as he watched the show.  She and Damian had teased him about his disinterest before it began, but Marinette’s quiet commentary about the opera and the costume designer’s choices in correlation with the other production choices had caught his interest.

 

“Demon Spawn,” Jason whispered.  “What are they saying now?”

 

Damian heaved a long suffering sigh.  “It was better when he snored through the performance....”

 

“Shut up and translate!” Jason hissed.

 

“That’s mutually exclusive.” Damian doned back.

 

“Pigtails!  Control your man!” Jason whisper yelled.  “Help a guy out! What’s going on?”

 

Marinette leaned over Damian to whisper what she knew of the opera from her research.  Damian rolled his eyes but rested his hand on her shoulder as she educated his dunderheaded brother.

 

Tikki was enjoying a rare, ideal view from her perch hidden amidst the box’s red velvet curtains.  Damian had pointed out the hiding spot as soon as they’d reached the box and Jason had even given her one of the cookies he’d smuggled along in his jacket.

 

Marinette snuck a glance at Tikki, who was also joyously wrapped up in the show--and nestled into the velvet like it was a blanket.  Marinette sighed and leaned into Damian’s shoulder.

 

“I’m glad Lila tore up my ticket.” Marinette whispered to him.  “This is wonderful. Thank you.”

 

Damian held her closer as his gaze sought out her classmates below them.  They appeared to be behaving themselves-- now --and in the low light they didn’t appear to be even gabbing amongst themselves.

 

Anger and worry had warred in his chest when he’d realized Marinette wasn’t with her class earlier.  He’d only hung back long enough to observe as the bodyguard sought out her destroyed ticket. Damian stepped in once he confirmed Ms. Bustier wasn’t offering any help to Marinette, but after what Marinette had texted him the night before, he made a mental reminder to formally thank Mr. Godard for advocating for her.

 

The play was over all too quickly for Damian’s liking, despite the fact it had lasted from the afternoon through the evening.  

 

Very reluctantly, Damian kissed Marinette goodbye and made sure she was in the protection of the bodyguard before he and Jason raced back to the Manor to get ready for the night.



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette was surprised to discover that their transportation for the evening had been changed from their usual school bus to luxury stretch limos.  Not so surprising was the fact that Lila graciously took the credit for the arrangements, but Marinette started to have a sneaking suspicion that Lila wasn’t so far off the mark, for once…

 

They were split up into two limos and Marinette felt a surge of warmth when the Gorilla made sure she was in the car he was supervising.  It was unfortunate that this also lead to Marinette sharing a close-cornered car ride with Lila. Alya and Nino were listening to Lila as she went on about how the limo rides were a gift from her sweet Damiboo since he felt so bad he couldn’t meet her friends on this trip.  Alix, however, seemed to be more studious as she listened to Lila and closely observed her as she hung onto Adrien.

 

Marinette wasn’t sure if what she felt as the limos drove up the long drive to Wayne Manor was excitement or heart-stopping anxiety.  All she knew was that her suspicions had been confirmed and there was a danger-warning sounding off in her head like the robot on Lost in Space .

 

The class was in awe as they stepped out of the cars and gawked at the gothic manor.  Even Lila was stunned silent and Marinette watched her--from a safe distance--and waited for whatever death blow was coming.

 

“Class,” Ms. Bustier said in excitement.  “I’m happy to announce the surprise for this evening!  This is Wayne Manor, home of Bruce Wayne--CEO and host of the Wayne Student Seminar, and he has graciously extended an invitation for us to join him and his family for dinner this evening.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Class,” Ms. Bustier said in excitement.  “I’m happy to announce the surprise for this evening!  This is Wayne Manor, home of Bruce Wayne--CEO and host of the Wayne Student Seminar, and he has graciously extended an invitation for us to join him and his family for dinner this evening.”

 

The class, naturally, erupted into astonished chatter and many shared happy exclamations toward the suddenly pale Lila about finally getting to meet her soulmate.  Ms. Bustier seemed to falter a little, seemingly having forgotten Lila’s claims about the Waynes and unsure how to handle the situation.

 

Marinette hung back and watched as they practically rushed the front door, barely giving Lila a chance to respond.

 

“W-what a surprise!” Lila stuttered.  “B-but don’t get your hopes up! Damian is a very, uh...shy person!  He probably won’t want the attention.”

 

Marinette actually had to bite her hand to keep herself from snorting at the notion of a shy Damian.  She wasn’t sure Damian could do shy if he was undercover and his life depended on it.  She kept those thoughts to herself, however, wanting to see what drama was about to unfold.

 

“Really, I’m not sure Damian would want--”

 

“Girl, stop being so modest!” Alya urged as she rang the doorbell.  “I’m sure he can’t wait to see you!”

 

The bell had hardly been rung when the door was swung open by a smiling Dick Grayson--the only tell that something was up was the steely glint in his eyes.

 

“Welcome, welcome!” Dick motioned them in grandly.  “Please come in!”

 

Lila gathered herself and tried to play her part with grandeur.  She tried not to gawk as much as her classmates as they entered the foyar--aware that she was supposed to have been in the Manor before.  She recognised the docent from the tour and assumed he must have been picking up extra work as a butler or footman… though the suit he wore was entirely too casual in her opinion.  Hardly standard for the help. Still, she smiled and handed him her coat with barely a second glance...except he didn’t take her coat.

 

“Did you want me to do something with that?” Dick asked with a smirk.

 

Lila rolled her eyes but schooled her expression when she saw her classmates didn’t have the same reaction to the obtuse butler.

 

“I assumed you would do your job?” Lila said in a sweet, helpless voice.

 

“Master Dick is not the butler, miss.” Alfred stepped forward from the shadows--a formidable presence in his crisp suit and impeccable statue.  “I am. I will take that, young sir.”

 

“Don’t sweat it, Alfred.” Dick said, oozing with charm.  “Now that I know what she was getting at, I can help out.  I’m not so stuck up that I can’t help with a few coats.”

 

Dick was smirking and Marinette could barely look at him as she tried to control her grin.

 

“Thank you, Master Dick.” Alfred smiled.  “I believe some introductions are due. Master Bruce?”

 

The class practically jumped when they realized Bruce Wayne had entered the foyar from a side room as they’d been distracted.

 

“Ms. Bustier, I presume?” Bruce cordially shook the teacher’s hand.  “Thank you for making the time to join me and my family.”

 

“Thank you for the invitation!” Ms. Bustier replied.  “I was quite surprised to receive it.”

 

Bruce smiled disarmingly.  “I’ve been hearing a lot about your class from my son’s soulmate and I wanted to meet you all personally.”

 

Ms. Bustier looked confused at his statement and slid a skeptical look toward Lila, who had noticeably paled again.  The rest of the class was practically preening, but no one had much time to consider Bruce’s claim.

 

“Angel!  Welcome back.” Damian said as he descended the stairs.

 

He was moving too swiftly for the class to get a good look at him, but they expected he was rushing to greet Lila.  Angel? How sweet!

 

Imagine their confusion when he walked right past Lila, without a glance, and went directly toward Marinette.  They greeted each other with a chaste kiss before Damian twined his hand around Marinette’s. He turned to face the crowd with a devious smirk on his face.

 

“I’m glad you all could make it.  It’s good to see you all again.” Damian said slyly.

 

The class stared as they recognized the boy that had been practically glued to Marinette’s side all weekend.  The silence was broken when Adrien striffled a snorting laugh, which was mostly covered by the muffled chortling of Damian’s brothers in the adjoining room.

 

Damian gallantly helped Marinette take her coat off and then openly admired the jacket underneath.  She was back in the dress she wore on their first date, only now she’d added a cropped moto leather jacket in pink with her signature flower embroidered on the lapel and on the waist.  Damian’s smile softened as he delicately picked at her lapel.

 

“There it is…” he said smugly.

 

Marinette rolled her eyes but blushed.  “You’re going to look for my signature on everything now, aren’t you?”

 

“Of course, my Angel.” Damian said innocently.  “What kind of soulmate would I be if I couldn’t pick out your signature?”

 

“Lila…” Rose was the first to break out of the class stupor and looked about in innocent confusion.  “I thought you said you were Damian Wayne’s soulmate?”

 

“M-Marinette...i-is this some kind of trick?” Lila stammered.

 

Damian snorted dismissively.  “That’s just pathetic.” He revealed his driver’s license to them so they could plainly see his picture and name, confirming he was Damian Wayne.  

 

All eyes turned toward Lila--mostly in confusion, but some in anger.

 

“M-Marinette!  How could you? What have you done?” Lila wailed as she sobbed.  “How could you get my soulmate to turn against me?”

 

Damian scowled at Lila and she recoiled.  “First off,” Damian growled, “You will not speak to Marinette unless she gives you express permission.  Second, keep in mind that anything you say will be held against you when I file for a restraining order.”

 

Alya bristled at that.  “Restraining order? Where do you get off treating Lila--”

 

“I have every right to take legal action against a liar who has been using my name for her personal gain.” Damian said firmly.  “I am not this woman’s soulmate!  Marinette is my soulmate.”

 

Marinette stepped closer to Damian as the eyes of her classmates settled on her.  Ms. Bustier was clearly at a loss for what to do and even Gorilla seemed unsure of himself.  Bruce and the others were hanging back, present if the need arose but allowing Damian room to work.

 

Marinette gulped and carefully drew back her jacket and neckline to reveal the soulmate signature.  Damian followed suit and unbuttoned the top of his shirt to reveal his soulmate signature. Murmurs began as they could clearly identify the marks over their hearts.

 

“Those-those are obviously fake!” Lila claimed.  “Marinette must have convinced him to get a tattoo with her!”

 

“No way, dudette.” Nino shook his head and even Alya looked skeptical.  “Soulmate signatures can’t be faked. When my uncle remarried after his soulmate died, he got his second wife’s signature tattooed next to his soulmate signature as a way to honor them both.  There was no confusing the two!  You just can’t replicate it.  Those are the real deal.”

 

Lila broke down and covered her face as she heaved dramatic sobs.  Alya tried to comfort her, even though she still looked flummoxed herself.  Alix looked indignant and got into Lila’s space, startling her.

 

“If you’re Damian Wayne’s soulmate, then why don’t you show us your soulmate signature.” Alix challenged.

 

Lila gasped, looking offended.

 

“That’s...pretty personal, Alix.” Alya defended.

 

Alix wasn’t fazed.  “Lila’s the one claiming Marinette and Damian are lying about her.  They’ve already shown us their soulmate signatures!  If Lila wants to prove so bad that she hasn’t been lying then she should ante up!”

 

The class looked at Lila in expectation then.  Lila frantically looked around, trying to avoid Damian’s deathly glare and the brooding presence of Bruce Wayne behind her.

 

“Are you really claiming that my family and I would not only forget who my soulmate was--and believe both of us when we say there was no mistaking our strings connecting--but that you also would not recognize me as your soulmate before now?  When you have plainly seen and conversed with me?” Damian accused. “I’ve seen plenty of manipulators and social climbers as a Wayne, but impersonating a soulmate is just deplorable and stupid.”

 

Lila covered her heart dramatically and released more crocodile tears.  “Alright! I admit it!” she whimpered. “I was jealous that Marinette found her soulmate before me!”  

 

Lila emphasised Marinette’s name as though to remind the others of Marinette’s supposed cruelty.

 

“I have so been wanting to find my soulmate!” Lila wailed.  “I didn’t think it was a big deal to pretend for a little while!  If I’d known Damian was Marinette’s soulmate I would never have made the claim!  Why didn’t you tell me, Marinette? Was this funny to you?”

 

Alix growled.  “You claimed to know the Waynes but you didn’t even recognize them!  That’s not Marinette’s fault!”

 

Lila took a step back from Alix’s fury.

 

“And it wasn’t funny.” Marinette said softly, almost low enough to miss if the class’s senses weren’t heightened by the confrontation.  “It physically pained both of us to hear your lies.”

 

Lila whimpered and threw herself into Alya’s arms.  Alya rubbed her back sympathetically.

 

“You could have said something!” Alya complained.

 

“I have before.  Why would this time be any different?” Marinette asked.

 

Marinette saw realization dawn with horrible clarity across Alix and Juleka’s faces.



~~~~~~~~~~



“Soulmate of the Little D!” Kor’i exclaimed as she picked Marinette up in a crushing hug.  “It is glorious to see you once again!”

 

Marinette laughed as she returned the hug.  Kor’i was exuberant, but Marinette could tell she was overdoing the soulmate talk on purpose to salt the class.  

 

Her classmates had numbly filed into the parlor and were gathering in awkward clumps around the room.

 

“It’s good to see you too, Kor’i!” Marinette said.  “How is Mar’i?”

 

Dick smiled as he wrapped his arms around his wife.  “The little fireball is doing good. She’s sad the dinner was too late for her to join, but we promised she could come say hello before she goes to bed.”

 

“It didn’t hurt that they bribed her with those mustard macaroons that you gave them the recipe for.”  Jason added.

 

“Yeah.” Dick said flatly.  “Thanks for that by the way.”

 

“Oh yes! I am most thankful and excited for these mustard macaroons!” Kor’i was genuinely enthusiastic but Dick was slightly green at the thought.

 

“I’m glad.” Marinette laughed.

 

“Mustard Macaroons?” Ms. Bustier asked in confusion.

 

“This is eldest son’s wife, Kor’i.  Her favorite flavor is mustard.” Bruce explained.

 

“It’s only Papa’s basic recipe for macaroons with the added instructions for experimenting with the flavor.” Marinette explained.

 

“Incidentally, I will be conspicuously absent from the Manor tomorrow while you’re baking and unavailable as a test subject.” Damian said.

 

“Alfred already helped us make some today!” Kor’i said.  “They were delicious! Thank you so much!”

 

“It really wasn’t a problem.” Marinette smiled.  “Papa was just exited someone was interested in the more...uncommon flavors.”

 

“There are still plenty left, I’ll go get some so we can all enjoy them!” Kor’i dashed to the kitchen.

 

Dick whimpered again.  “Yeah… again--thank for that.”

 

Marinette grimaced.  “Believe me, I got my just desserts.”

 

Dick snorted, as did Adrien.

 

“Papa was inspired by the request.” Marinette explained.  “When I get home, Mama and I will have to be his taste testers--and he’s already planning flavors of mustard. ketchup, relish--a whole condiments line, really--as well as squid ink, brussel sprouts, and,” Marinette gulped, “camembert cheese!”

 

Everyone startled when Adrien suddenly yiped and slammed a hand to his breast pocket with a grimace.

 

“Heh, heh…” he said sheepishly.  “Mosquito bite?”

 

Damian raised a skeptical eyebrow at the lame excuse but said nothing.

 

“Auntie Marinette!” Mar’i ran into the room with her pajamas on and Marinette caught her in a hug, relieved she didn’t have to explain ‘Auntie Bug’ to her classmates.

 

“Hey, Mar’i!”  Marinette smiled.  “Are you ready for bed?”

 

“Ah huh!” Mar’i smiled.  “Guess what! I got to play with a crocodile today!”

 

“Oh dear…” Marinette sighed as Mar’i wiggled to the ground.  

 

Marinette leveled a look at Damian but he met it without flinching.  Dick, on the other hand, seemed to be valiantly--and failingly--trying to control his fanboying.

 

“Oh!  Auntie Marinette told me about when a bad butterfly turned you into a pink thing!” Mar’i exclaimed innocently.

 

Marinette stiffened as she realized Mar’i had struck up a conversation with Mylene. Dick moved to intercept his daughter, but the damage had been done.  Ivan and a few others glared at Marinette while Lila watched and radiated smugness.

 

“Oh?” Mylene said timidly.

 

“Ah huh!” Mar’i said brightly.  “She told me all about the bad butterfly man when I was scared of Scarecrow!  She said you looked really cute and taught me the song about the smelly wolf! It made me happy just like she said it made you happy!  Marinette said you were really brave even though the butterfly man was mean to you.”

 

Mylene looked surprised for a moment.  “M-Marinette said that?”

 

Mar’i nodded.  “I like your hair!  It’s as pretty as Marinette said it was--that’s how I knew it was you!”

 

Mylene blushed.  “Thank you. I-I’m glad my story helped you not be so afraid.”

 

“Leave it to Marinette to talk about a person’s akuma form!” Lila faux whispered.  “How rude!”

 

Mar’i scowled even as Dick picked his daughter up.  “You’re the meanie that said that bad stuff about Auntie!”

 

Mylene and a few other swung surprised looks at Lila.  Dick glowered at Lila and Nino and Adrien both tried to make themselves scarce.

 

“I’m sure Marinette’s said horrible things about me.” Lila whimpered.  “But what do you expect?”

 

“Auntie Marinette didn’t say anything about you!” Mar’i defended.  “We were having fun in the maze until you said that mean stuff and you laughed at her!  You’re not nice!”

 

Lila was struggling to keep up appearances while her anger at the little girl rose.

 

“That was all a misunderstanding!” Lila said as she tried to approach the child dotingly.

 

Dick promptly moved his daughter away just as Kor’i came back with the mustard macaroons.  Kor’i read the increased tension in the room, saw her upset daughter, and had to hold back her temper.  

 

“Who would like to partake in the mustard macaroons?” Kor’i said pleasantly, glad to see that seemed to brighten her daughter’s mood.

 

Most everyone declined, though Tim and Marinette were both suckered into eating a macaroon each.

 

Mar’i was eating one macaroon and had two others in her hand.  “Can I play with Fang before bed?”

 

Marinette swung her gaze at Damian.  “Fang is still here?!”

 

Damian smiled but it was Bruce who answered and explained to Ms. Bustier and Gorilla.  “I hope you don’t mind, we invited some of Marinette’s family who was in the area to join us.”

 

“Is Fang the crocodile?” Ms. Bustier asked.  “A real crocodile?!”

 

“I sure wouldn’t be traveling around with an imaginary croc!” 

 

“Jagged Stone!” Someone exclaimed as Jagged and Penny entered the parlor.  

 

Ms. Bustier and some of the others shrieked as Fang dashed about the room.  The Gorilla put himself between Adrien and the croc, but otherwise just watched as Fang approached Mar’i like a giant puppy.

 

Mar’i jumped on Fang’s back and they started bounding around the room.

 

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Mylene asked. 

 

“Oh, no!” Jagged dismissed.  “She won’t hurt him.”

 

“Won’t he hurt her !” Ms. Bustier cried, leaping away from the crocodile.

 

“No way!  Fang’s a sweetheart!  Wouldn’t hurt a fly...as long as you don’t make him mad.” Jagged said with a proud smile.

 

“Time for bed, young Miss.” Alfred announced.

 

“No!” Mar’i complained as Fang came to an abrupt halt.

 

“Yes, little bumgorf!” Kor’i insisted.  “Say goodnight and you can sleep with Silkie.”

 

Mar’i brightened a little at that and quickly waved goodbye, with some goodnight hugs to her family.  Kor’i took Mar’i upstairs with Fang following happily behind them, already at home.

 

“Dude!” Kim finally exclaimed.  “You’re the real Jagged Stone.”

 

“I hope so,” Jagged sassed with his arm around Penny, “otherwise I have no business snogging his wife!”

 

Penny walloped him playfully as she rolled her eyes.  “Jag, try to keep it classy.”

 

“Yes, love.” Jagged smirked.

 

“He would actually have to be cruder to fit in with my brothers, Penny.” Damian said.

 

“What are you doing here, Mr. Stone?” Max asked.

 

“Duh!  Isn’t it obvious?” Chloe rolled her eyes.  “He’s here for Marinette! The man’s practically adopted her for crying out loud!”

 

Alya’s eyes flashed in hurt.  “That’s not true! Marinette never--”

 

“Of course it’s true!” Jagged said indignantly before adding in overdone ignorance.  “Whoever said it wasn’t? Penny and I’ve been honorary Dupain-Chengs for years!”

 

“Marinette’s going to be the Godmother to our baby.” Penny spoke softly as she caressed her baby bump but her eyes held steel as she looked at them.

 

“Little Bowie or Janis couldn’t ask for anyone better!” Jagged proclaimed as he dragged Marinette in for a hug.

 

“We are not naming our child either of those names.” Penny said firmly.

 

“But they’re so rock n’ roll!” Jagged begged.

 

“No.”

 

Marinette groaned in embarrassment and glared at Damian.

 

“Sorry to spring this on you, Marinette.”  Penny rescued her from Jagged’s overenthusiastic grip.  “But when we heard about all the excitement happening in Gotham we had to come and see for ourselves.”

 

“You mean...you didn’t come to Gotham to get musical advice from your muse?” Rose asked.

 

Jagged looked surprised.  “My muse? Penny is my muse!  I don’t need to travel anywhere to find her!  Who told you that?”

 

“Lila said that she was your muse and you needed her opinion on your next single…” Mylene explained.

 

“Who’s Lila?” Jagged asked.

 

Marinette knew Jagged was fully aware of who Lila was.  The only reason he hadn’t called her out before was because Marinette had been afraid of the backlash from her class if Lila made Marinette out to be the bad guy for the reveal.  And she was still afraid… 

 

“Didn’t Lila save your cat’s life when it got loose on an airport tarmac?” Alix asked, already expecting the answer.

 

“What?  A cat?” Jagged scoffed.  “I’ve never owned a cat! Vicious beasts--haven’t been able to go near one since I was a kid and my neighbor’s cat attacked me!  Only cool cat is Cat Noir!”

 

Alix swung a dangerous look at Lila but Ms. Bustier broke in before she could say anything.

 

“Are these your other sons, Mr. Wayne?” she asked.

 

Bruce could tell the teacher was anxious to switch the topic and he allowed it--for now.  Damian wanted to play the long game with this reveal. “Yes. You’ve already met Dick, and these are my middle sons Jason Todd and Tim Drake.  Kor’i and Mar’i are Dick’s wife and daughter, and this is Alfred Pennyworth. He is formally our butler, but is really a member of the family. We hired a serving staff to come in for tonight so Alfred would be free to join us.”

 

The serving staff must have been trained to perform with Alfred’s astute precision because, as though summoned by Bruce’s mere mention, they appeared and began circulating with appetizers.  The tense atmosphere broke up slightly, though groups began to cluster around the room. Alix and Kim seemed to be arguing with Nathanel and Max, Ivan and Mylene seemed concerned while they talked with a morose Juleka and a shaken looking Rose, and Lila was spinning some sort of woeful tale to Alya and Nino while she clung to Adrien.  Chloe and Sabrina couldn’t care less about the Lila turmoil and were enjoying the spectacle.

 

“Um...Mr. Stone?” Dick asked.

 

“Jagged, please!” Jagged insisted.  “Any friends of Marinette are friends of mine!”

 

“Jagged,” Dick smiled widely.  “We’re all really big fans of yours, and I’ve been meaning to ask...could I get your autograph for my daughter?”

 

Damian sarcastically raised his eyebrow.  “Really?”

 

“Sure!” Jagged enthused.  “What’s the little lady’s name again?”

 

“Um…” Dick blushed.  “Dick Grayson...”

 

Penny hid a chuckle as Jason loudly guffawed. 

 

Damian sighed in disgust.  “Thank goodness we don’t share any DNA.”

 

Jagged laughed in good nature as Dick tried to sheepishly disappear.  After promising to get Dick the autograph before they left, Jagged and Penny struck up a conversation with the Wayne brothers--and Kor’i after she returned--about, of all things, the Dinosaur exhibit that was traveling the US recently.

 

Alya was trying to prod Nino into approaching Jagged about his music.

 

“This is your chance!  You should go for it!” Alya whispered.

 

“Alya, this is not a good opportunity!” Nino said anxiously.  “You heard him, he doesn’t actually know Lila afterall. He looks really ticked with us…”

 

“That’s just because he forgot her and he’s been hearing trash talk about us from Marinette!” Alya repeated Lila’s excuse.  

 

Nino looked apprehensive.  “Something's not right, Alya.  Just trust me on this, okay? The dude doesn’t look like he’s in the mood for networking.  Besides, they said they were here to meet Marinette’s soulmate and his family. We shouldn’t go star-crazy on them, it wouldn’t be cool.”

 

Alya frowned at the reminder of Marinette’s soulmate.  “I can’t believe Marinette let us walk into this stupid trap!  She didn’t have to embarrass Lila like that!”

 

Nino grimaced.  “I don’t know… Marinette looked just as surprised as the rest of us that we were here... maybe it was Damian’s idea?  You two were pretty harsh with Marinette at the fair and Lila did lie about him...I know if I heard someone lie about you or our bound I’d be furious, maybe he just jumped on this shindig without telling her.”

 

Alya was too angry to think clearly and was beyond hurt over the perceived change in Marinette.  “I don’t care. You know Marinette just keeps taking any chance she can to be cruel to Lila! You saw the texts!  Last night she kept spamming Lila all sorts of trash about her soulmate! She obviously was rubbing it in Lila’s face.”

 

Nino sighed in frustration.  When Lila explained herself after Damian and Jagged exposed her lies, she showed them texts messages from an unnamed number that had all sorts of cruel comments about her never finding her soulmate.  Nobody knew what Marinette’s knew number was...but Marinette had been the one to put together the class emergency contact list and would have had access to Lila’s number.

 

“Still…” Nino sighed.  “Alya...we talked about this--”

 

“I know you didn’t like what the little girl said--”

“I also didn’t like what the little girl overheard.” Nino corrected.

 

“Lila’s worked with anti-bullying programs before.” Alya reminded.  “She knows how to handle bullies like Marinette. The only way to handle it is to be aggressive and give it right back to them.  She says if we’d handled Chloe like that then she’d have been better off sooner.”

Nino frowned.  “My parents always told me to report bullying to an authority figure, not to engage the bully--”

 

“Lila doesn’t want to report Marinette.” Alya insisted.  “She says she’s being nice, but I think she’s just scared Marinette will retaliate if Lila says something.”

 

Nino sighed and ran his hand under his “dressy” cap in frustration. 

 

“Trust Lila, Babe,” Alya rubbed his shoulder, “she knows what she’s talking about.”

 

Meanwhile, Lila had pulled Adrien farther away from the others.  She curled herself around Adrien’s arm and stared at him adoringly while she dug her nails into his jacket.

 

“You need to stand up for me, Adrien,” Lila hissed lowly, “Marinette’s making a fool of me, and friends don’t let that happen.”

 

“You would be an expert on what friends do for fools, wouldn’t you, Lila?” Adrien said lowly.

 

Lila’s expression lost some of it’s charm for a moment.  “I don’t think your father would be happy to hear how you’ve been treating your friends, Adrien.”

 

“Why don’t you tell him that yourself when we get back to Paris.” Adrien growled.  “This has been a long time coming and I’m going to sit back and enjoy the show.”

 

Bruce watched as Lila’s face turned dangerous.  He didn’t have Clark’s super hearing, as handy as that would be at the moment, but he was pretty good at reading lips.  He picked up the gist of the conversation, though, and he didn’t like it.  

 

Most people didn’t automatically think of men first when they thought of partner abuse, but Bruce definitely was recognizing the signs of it between the Agreste kid and the liar.  With the kid’s high profile and the girl’s charismatic hold on her peers, he could easily see Adrien falling into Lila’s abusive hold with a few well placed lies or threats. The fact that the bodyguard stepped in and Lila charmingly stepped aside did little to pacify his concerns.  The boy was too relieved for her to leave, the guard was too disturbed by her proximity to his charge, and Lila was too easily able to switch from angry and threatening to sweet and demur.

 

A server approached Alfred and after a quick word Alfred cleared his throat to gain the room’s attention.

 

“Dinner is served in the formal dining room.” Alfred announced crisply.  “Right this way, if you please…”

 

Jagged tugged Marinette aside before they could leave.

 

“Penny and I like your young man!” Jagged whispered with a wink.  “He’s got some angst! And he hates those bullies of yours just as much as I do!  We think he’s got a good heart and he seems to really care about you, but you just let Uncle Jag know if anything goes wrong, ya hear?  I’ll feed him to Fang.”

 

Marinette smiled.  “Thanks, Uncle Jag.  I know you’ll fight for me, but I’m glad you like him.”

 

Jagged gave her a quick side hug before he took Penny’s arm to escort her to the dining room.

 

Nino nudged Alya forward with a pointed look and Alya scowled back at him.

 

“You’re the one that wanted to say something!” Nino whispered.

 

Marinette noticed them edging toward her and sighed in aprehension.  The room was quickly emptying and she didn’t want to be isolated with either of them, so she decided to speed things along.

 

“Is there something you need?” Marinette asked.

 

Alya huffed in defeat and approached Marinette.  She was obviously pushing herself to be courteous, and Marinette was nervous about what Alya wanted to ask.

 

“Look, can you talk to your soulmate to get him and his family to back down on the soulmate talk a little?  I get that you guys wanted to, I guess, meet and mingle....” Alya still didn’t look Marinette in the eye, but Marinette didn’t get the feeling she was nervous, just frustrated.  “Lila just feels a little embarrassed and she’s struggling without her soulmate. This is kinda rubbing it in.”

 

Marinette took a deep breath to steady herself.  “I’m sorry she’s struggling with the soulmate topic.  It’s certainly not my intention, and I certainly know what it’s like to struggle with both the topic of soulmates and with people rubbing things in my face.  However, I didn’t have any say in how Damian’s planned this evening. If you’re not happy with something, then you need to talk to him about it yourself. I’m not going to be your go between, especially since you refuse to listen to anyone’s side but Lila’s during any altercation.”

 

Alya’s temper obviously flared at Marinette’s statement but she was clearly trying to repress it.  The glance Alya threw behind Marinette’s shoulder told Marinette the reason why.

 

“Why do you have to be so difficult all the time?” Alya hissed.

 

“Believe it or not, Alya, I’m not trying to make things difficult for you--and I very easily could have if I’d wanted to.” Marinette said, resigned.  “I have only ever wanted to help you and the others.”

 

Alya bit back a retort and brushed past Marinette out of the parlor.  Damian kept his glare aimed at her until she was gone, then he directed it at Nino.  The three of them were the last to leave and Damian caught Nino before he could follow his girlfriend.

 

“You should know that Marinette is telling the truth.” Damian said, staring Nino down.

 

Nino gulped but didn’t finch away or make any excuses.

 

“Marinette could have, and should have, had Alya under legal charges for slander.” Damian said.  “You heard her admit what she and Lila did to Marinette’s business. Before this is over, she could very well still be sued for slander or worse.  And mark my words, it is only a matter of time before Lila is completely exposed for who and what she is, and when that day comes I have no doubt the police will be involved.  I haven’t lived in Gotham all these years without being able to identify a sociopath when I see one. If you really want to help your girlfriend, you both need to wake up and stop drinking the Kool-aid.”

 

Nino scowled at Damian but thoughtfully kept his mouth shut and left to catch up with Alya.

 

“Are you alright, Angel?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette settled into his arms as they walked to the dining room in tandim.  “I’m not sure...but thank you for fighting for me.”



~~~~~~~~~~



Dinner was served with pristine polish.  It didn’t hold with the grandiose picture Lila had painted of the lavish parties she had supposedly attended with other socialites, but it was elegant, white glove service.  Bruce, despite his reputation, was generally a man who didn’t like ostentatious things if they weren’t necessary. The meal was delicious and above reproach, the silverware spotless, and the service dignified; but it was clear the staff was treated with respect and that the Waynes did not put on any airs as opposed to how Lila often acted.

 

Lila cringed when she saw Alfred take the seat at Bruce’s right hand at the head of the table.  She was both disgruntled with the obvious intermingling with the help and dismayed at the negative reflection it had on her earlier behavior when she had assumed Dick was the butler.

 

Lila loathed it when Damian and Marinette were seated near the head of the table--the little mouse, she seethed, was sandwiched between her rich soulmate and Jagged Stone.

 

Lila knew Marinette had connections to Jagged Stone, though she hadn’t been aware of that when she first claimed to know the musician.  It had been Lila’s hope that when she manipulated Alya into ruining Marinette’s online reputation that it would have killed her design career and severed any ties with Jagged Stone.  Apparently they hadn’t ruined Marinette’s reputation enough because Jagged was still singing Marinette’s praises! Lila didn’t really keep close tabs on designers and she really wasn’t a fan of Jagged Stone--she prefered XY--but she vaguely remembered people clamoring about his designer MDC.

 

She wanted to break something when it became clear to absolutely everyone that MDC was actually Marinette!  Her mind raced, trying to come up with a way to cast this news in a bad light for Marinette...but she was coming up empty.

 

Accuse Marinette of unsavory, scandalous behavior to get the job?  Impossible, Jagged and his wife were ridiculously sweet together and obviously had eyes only for each other.  Not to mention they made clear reference to being involved as a family with the Dupain-Chengs, going in great detail to recall stories with Marinette’s parents to the Waynes.  Lila wasn’t fool enough to think she could convince anyone that Marinette’s parents would allow that behavior or put her in that kind of danger.

 

Suggest Marinette was being self absorbed and an attention hog?  Not even possible at the moment--maybe later. Marinette was being nauseatingly humble and was beat red in embarrassment.  The class was stupidly hung up on every word Jagged said--even the classmates that Lila worriedly noted looked somewhat guilty and kept sending her dirty looks.

 

Claim Marinette stole her designs from Lila?  She’d already used that on Alya once, throwing in a claim, of course, that Marinette had stolen from Lila’s other devastated friends, too.  Jagged would tear that excuse apart in a moment; and, now that she knew him, Lila realised Damian Wayne would tear her apart in a moment if she tried anything big in his presence.

 

Damian was the greatest danger--him and his family.  The Waynes were playing the perfect hosts, but they clearly wouldn’t allow a bad word to be said about Marinette.  Lila got the distinct feeling that they would openly threaten her, if given the opportunity. Her best bet would be to cast a quick aspersion on Marinette and then try to redirect the conversation to Lila’s own ‘accomplishments’ while Marinette vacillated in her ensuing anxiety.

 

The perfect opportunity came when the topic came back around to soulmates.

 

“I guess we all know now why you wanted the class trip to be to Gotham, Marinette.” Lila giggled as though it was a cheerful tease.

 

Marinette frowned.  “I didn’t choose Gotham as a class trip because of Damian, Lila.”

 

“We didn’t even meet until last week.” Damian added tersely.

 

“Oh, of course not…” Lila simpered.  “But you did have that school interview yesterday, didn’t you?  It must have been very convenient for you to attend it when you already had a free trip to Gotham.”

 

Not as many classmates looked upset at Lila’s implications as she had hoped.  In fact, some of them looked accusingly at her .

 

“Are you implying my student seminar was not worth the trip, Ms. Rossi?” 

 

Oops.  “No, of course not, Mr. Wayne…”

“Previous attendees have commented that they found the seminar quite helpful.” Bruce went on.  “I’m sure Marinette has already explained that Wayne Enterprises sends follow-up lesson plans for the attendees to apply in class after the seminar.  Classmates that engage in the lessons in efforts to better their school and community are often candidates for grants and scholarships through the Wayne Foundation.  Regardless, having the seminar on your applications is usually considered an honor…”

 

“Oh, we are very appreciative for this opportunity, Mr. Wayne.” Ms. Bustier assured.

 

“Yes, it’s very prestigious!” Lila agreed.  “I only meant that Marinette might have had her mind on other things when she picked out this trip...after all we’ve seen how dangerous Gotham can be…”

 

“I didn’t pick out this trip.” Marinette replied calmly.  “It was brought up by another class rep when we were collectively researching educational opportunities we could utilize as class trips.  We each applied on our class’ behalf--before I even thought to apply to university abroad.”

 

“And what’s this about a free ride?” Alix chimed in.  “Marinette’s the one that organized the fundraiser for us to afford a class trip in the first place--and the second fundraiser this past month since we got into the seminar and need a bigger budget to cover costs!  And she did all the work by herself--if you remember--since she doesn’t even have a vice rep.”

 

“Lila helped!” Alya argued.

 

“About that...” Alix glared back at Alya, “what exactly was the reason why Lila’s mysterious wealthy benefactor couldn’t fund the trip anymore?”

 

“Don’t talk about it so condescendingly!  It wasn’t Lila’s fault that her grandmother had to have that major surgery and couldn’t afford to donate the money!” Alya exclaimed.

 

“Well, if it hadn’t been for Marinette finishing the fundraiser by herself we wouldn’t have been able to go on any trip!” Kim glared at Lila.

 

Bruce narrowed his eyes in anger...while keeping a close eye on Damian and Jason’s cutlery.  It was an easy assumption to make that Lila had hoped Marinette would fail to raise enough money to bring the trip she spearheaded into fruition.  Obviously, Lila’s grandmother was never going to cover costs for their trip and when that came to light the girl would throw the blame on Marinette for not succeeding in her job.  It would have furthered the resentment between Marinette and her classmates and made sure the class didn’t credit Marinette for the prestigious trip.

 

Marinette felt her anxiety spike and her stomach tighten and she abruptly stopped eating for fear that she’d vomit her dinner across the table.

 

Lila sniffled a little.  “I wish I could have done something sooner, but I had to be by grandmother’s side in her hour of need!  It was such a shock! Grandmother had been saving for years in the hope that she could send me and my friends on a grand trip, but sadly we even had to wipe out my savings account for my education--”

 

“Then I’m sure you are especially glad Marinette had the foresight to apply for this honor.” Tim interrupted.  “Seeing as, if you apply yourself, the Wayne scholarships can be very generous.”

 

“Y-yes, how...fortunate.” Lila ground out.

 

“I’m not sure if you all are aware,” Bruce began, “but your class was one among thousands of classes world-wide that applied for the Wayne Student Seminar.  I reviewed the application myself, and was admittedly impressed by the accomplishments the members of your class have achieved. Marinette painted a very complimentary picture.”

 

Rose’s brow scrunched in confusion.  “Lila? Weren’t you saying recently that you sent in the application for this seminar?”

 

“Please, it was practically all she could talk about on the plane!” Chloe scoffed.  “A little strange since she was just criticising Dupain-Cheng for picking this trip in the first place.”

 

Lila laughed, effortlessly.  “Oh, that! I had my misgivings, but I had to help Marinette with the application when she was overloaded and unable to keep up her duties.”

 

Marinette silently seethed and didn’t bother looking at any of her peers.

 

“Really?” Penny said coldly.  “What did you write in the application?”

 

Lila almost looked a little panicked, but only if you were looking for it.  “Well, as we all know I’ve been a part of many international environmental projects...so...of course I made sure to mention those...the other details are a little foggy over time.”

 

“Interesting.” Bruce said.  “I don’t remember any mention of your charities, Ms. Rossi.  If you gave me the names I could have my assistant double check for me?”

 

“That’s not necessary!” Lila smiled.  “I’m sure you’re busy.”

 

Jason didn’t even try to hide his snort at that comment, although he was given a light reprimand from Alfred regarding table manners.

 

Bruce simply hummed.  “Since you brought it up, Marinette made a very impressive video essay detailing the accomplishments of her classmates.  She included clips from the Ladyblog, Mr. Lahiffe’s recent award winning short film, a sampling of Kitty Section’s music, a selection of Mr. Kurtzberg’s comic that was picked up by Thomas Astruc, and certifications and verified records for the various awards and community services you students have accomplished.  I will say, after talking to Jagged, Marinette, you were far too modest. You hardly mentioned your own success unless it was related to the efforts of your classmates.”

 

“Marinette has always been modest of her accomplishments.” Adrien cheerfully supplied, safety and strategically seated far away from Lila and next to the Gorilla.

 

While the class gibbered away about the application and the Waynes and Stones cordially inquired about some of their projects, Damian noticed Marinette’s distress.  He reached under the table to take her hand and she almost jumped.

 

“What is the matter, Angel?” Damian whispered.

 

Marinette didn’t answer for a long minute and couldn’t even meet his gaze.  Damian noticed that her eyes were shining with unshed tears and he could feel her pulse skyrocketing just though their hand contact.

 

“I’m alright.” she finally whispered back.

 

Damian frowned, but tried to soften his expression so she wouldn’t mistakenly think he was angry with her.  “You’re not alright. Is this conversation bothering you?”

 

Marinette hesitated again, but then leaned closer so she could talk to Damian easier.

 

“I know you’re trying to help me by exposing Lila’s actions to my class,” Marinette said shakily, “but the last time someone tried to do this it didn’t have positive results…”

 

When Alya refused to listen to Marinette, Ladybug had stepped in as a last ditch effort to reveal the truth.  After calling a special meeting with Nino and Alya, Ladybug had explained to them that she should have asked Alya to take Lila’s interviews down long ago.  She told them Lila had lied about their friendship was using her to take advantage of people. Alya and NIno had shocked her by saying they had expected Ladybug to say something like that because Lila had warned them Marinette had somehow poisoned her friendship with the superhero.  They tried to convince Ladybug that Marinette’s claims against Lila were untrue and that she should make amends with Lila.  Ladybug had been shocked and told them that she couldn’t trust their judgment in battle if their judgment in civilian life was so skewed and if they refused to listen to her anymore.  

 

To make matters worse, Alya had gone to Lila for consolation and revealed her identity as Rena Rouge.  Lila claimed to have been the one to suggest her as the Fox and commiserated with her over Ladybug’s betrayal.  Lila worked Alya up into a frenzy and got the class to group together to admonish Marinette for lying to the city’s heroine.  The class had yelled at her, told her how disappointed they were in her, and laughed at her when Lila ‘accidentally’ slammed Marinette’s locker door on her hand.

 

The piece de resistance had been when Alya had cornered her and berated her.  She told Marinette she had no clue what pain she’d caused. She said Marinette had no idea what the pain was like to have a liar turn her friends against her.

 

That had triggered one of the biggest panic attacks Marinette had ever had.  She’d only barely started therapy with Master Fu and knew she was in danger from Hawkmoth.  Marinette had fled the school, donned the Horse Miraculous Fu had lent her for this purpose, and transported outside Hawkmoth’s range.  There she had broken down and had to deal with the panic attack alone, not even able to call Master Fu for help until hours later.

 

Marinette gave Damian a short summary of what had happened.  Damain took several calming breaths and focused his attention on making sure Marinette was alright.

 

“This reveal is causing you anxiety.” Damian didn’t ask, he confirmed.  “You’re having PTSD flashbacks.”

 

“I w-wouldn’t go that far…” Marinette said faintly.

 

“Do you need to leave?” Damian asked.  “We don’t have to stay here. We can take a walk in the gardens?  Or we can go to the screening room? Dick has a collection of fluffy blankets we can commandeer.”

 

Marinette smiled softly at the thought.  “No. I don’t want to leave, that’d probably just make it worse.”

 

Damian sighed...but he could easily imagine the gossip the shrew would fling about if he and Marinette disappeared alone together.

 

“Alright.” Damian kissed her brow.  “No more surprises tonight. I think my goals were accomplished anyway.”

 

Damian sent a quick text to his father, brothers, Alfred, and Kor’i:

 

Damian: Marinette is about to have a panic attack.  We need to ease our approach for now. Cancel the video of the pickpocketing and the confrontation with Bustier about the bullying reports and undocumented health acomodations.

 

By prior arrangement, the family had left their phones on vibrate.  Only Bruce picked up his phone when they all received their message, the others had agreed to let Damian take the lead and Bruce mediate.  They would let them handle the problem and then check their messages once it wasn’t obvious that they all received a group text.

 

Bruce calmly read the text and answered without indicating it was anything more than a business message.  

 

Bruce: I’m not happy about letting her off for that, but Marinette already made it clear she would not be pressing charges--which is not surprising conduct in cases of abuse.  We can let the matter go for now. Does Marinette need assistance?

 

Damian: We have given ample evidence to expose some of Lila’s lies, cast her in doubt, and remind the others about Marinette’s valid accomplishments and work ethics.  Marinette says she’s fine and doesn’t want the liar to create a scene should she need to leave. I will monitor her, but if we need to escape perhaps Kor’i can accompany us as a chaperone to avoid any backlash?

 

Bruce: Understood.  I’ll ask Kor’i to help you in the kitchen as a cover, if need be.

 

Damian: In the kitchen?  Really? The extra hired staff needs help and Alfred wouldn’t be on tearing them apart for it?

Bruce: Marinette’s background affords us a perfect excuse for her expertise regarding desert.  I’d send Alfred but, as you know, a female chaperone will be more friendly looking, should Lila skew the facts, than if Marinette were to leave the party alone with two men.

 

Damian: Fine.

 

Damian shoved his phone back in his pocket and subtly shifted his chair closer to Marinette.  He made sure to take her hand in a comforting hold and rub circles into the back of her hand, hoping it was a calming gesture.

 

Soon enough, Damian took note of each of his family members subtly checking their phones.  Kor’i always had a hard time disguising and controlling her emotions--a very good reason, he realized, to keep her away from the Paris mission--but she only sent Marinette a warm, concerned look before helping to change the topic.

 

It was easy enough once Penny seemed to catch onto the situation and asked the Wayne siblings about themselves.

 

Unfortunately, when Kor’i explained her civilian cover story, it sparked a new Lila drama.  Starfire had been a major role in establishing an organization that fostered friendly Earth/Intergalactic relationships.  Kor’i Grayson, as a civilian, was considered an ambassador in the intergalactic embassy, but she told people she worked as an aide.

 

One brief mention of Starfire and Lila thought she’d caught an opportunity to fluff her feathers.  

 

“Oh!  Your an aide at the embassy?” Lila tittered.  “My mother is a diplomat and she’s taken me on a visit there!  I even met Starfire.” Lila took stock and noticed that not even most of her classmates seemed impressed by her claim...she figured she needed to add some authenticity to her story.  “We really hit it off--she even taught me some Tamaranean! In her language, it’s a compliment to refer to someone as a Troq. It’s like a show of respect or an endearment!”

 

Everyone, even the furious Waynes, jumped when Kor’i snapped the heavy silver fork in her hand in half.

 

“I believe you are mistaken.” Kor’i said levely.  “Troq is not a term of endearment.”

 

Lila frowned slightly, but tried to act sweetly.  It just came off patronizing. “I don’t think so… Starfire taught me the saying herself!  Maybe you just aren’t privy to that kind of information. It’s nothing to be upset over though…”

 

Kor’i jumped to her feet in fury and began angrily yelling at Lila in Tamaranean--a very frightening language to be yelled at in--and her eyes and fists began to glow.

 

“How dare you!” Kor’i added in english.  “You know nothing of Tamaran and yet you presume much!  You have insulted the Tamranean culture and have done nothing but promote ignorant slurs!  The Intergalactic Embassy’s website plainly displays awareness regarding the word Troq and other bigoted phrases common for our galatic neighbors!”

 

“Dude!” Nino gaped.  “Are you Starfire?!”

 

“Of course not!” Damian scoffed.

 

“Do you think Starfire is the only interplanetary immigrant to Earth from Tamaran?”  Tim asked in disdain.

 

“That is so racist!” Jason added.

 

Damian couldn’t decide if he was amused by the class’ fumbling attempts to backpedal themselves from the slight and prove they weren’t racist, or disgusted by the fact they were so easily redirected.



~~~~~~~~~~



Soon enough--or not soon enough, depending on who you asked--the evening drew to a close and the class was escorted back to the waiting limousines.  Damian wanted to drive Marinette back to the hotel personally, especially as he watched, with regret, the toll the night had taken on her, but she declined because she was too tired to deal with anymore accusations of special treatment--no matter how ridiculous they may be.

 

The Waynes waited as they left, taking special care that neither Lila nor anyone else ever roamed free throughout the manor.

 

“I don’t like this.” Jason scowled.  “What happened to you, Demon Spawn? I know Marinette was uncomfortable, but you were way too easy on them.”

 

Damian lost any semblance of cordiality as the cars drove out of sight.  “This was just my first move.” he said. “I’m not done with them yet.”

 

Chapter Text

“How are you feeling now, Angel?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette sighed in relief.  After she was safely tucked away in her hotel room, Marinette had had a good, long talk with Tikki and Master Fu and then another with her parents.  She’d destressed with them, talking through the evening and doing her calming exercises. A warm bath and a cup of chamomile tea later, Marinette was bundled up and relaxed in bed wearing her coziest pajamas and wrapped in her Heroes of Gotham blanket (an impulse purchase she was not telling Damian about anytime soon...probably...she had other plans...).

 

“Worn out, but I’m okay.” Marinette smiled.  “I really appreciate what you did tonight.”

 

Damian sighed over the phone.  “I’m sorry I underestimated how difficult it would be for you.”

 

“Don’t apologize.” Marinette insisted.  “We’ve still not even known each other a full week, Damian.  It’s not like I’ve withheld anything about the Lila situation, but there’s just too much history to have conveyed in this short time.  

 

“I think I’ve learned how to handle myself fairly well over the years.  I stand up for myself and try to plainly state what the problem is when I feel I’ve been mistreated...and I know how to choose my battles.” Marinette sighed as she curled under the blanket and nuzzled Tikki as she slept.  “But there are times like tonight when it’s really hard to stand up for myself or to have other people stand up for me. I should have explained what happened before when you said you wanted to do something...but it was nice to have you take it out of my hands for once.”

 

“Would you like me to specify the remaining details of my plan for Rossi?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette thought for a moment.  “Maybe not all tonight. Is there any pertinent information I need to know for tomorrow?”

 

“I’m afraid so,” Damian said.  “Tim looked into Rossi’s background and Father also had his legal team make a formal investigation.  I’ll spare you the results tonight, but it suffices to say she was deemed a threat. Father was advised that we need to take legal precautions before she could do damage to either the family or company.  

 

“Thankfully, the liar was foolish enough to be caught on security cameras making claims about the family.  It might have been difficult to pursue if it was simple celebrity name drop, but we caught her during the seminar’s lunch break trying to use our names to access restricted employee space.  it looked like she was trying to show off to some of your classmates and when she was denied access she covered herself by claiming to know us and threatening to have us fire the employee that turned them away.  A restraining order will be issued before your class checks out of your hotel in the morning and arrangements have been made for her mother to be notified of the action. Unfortunately, we will have to issue a separate order for France, but as WE is an international company it should not be a problem.”

 

Marinette blew her bangs off her forehead in a frustrated breath.  “Okay, good move and good to know. Thank you for the heads up.”

 

“Can I see you in the morning?” Damian asked.

 

Marinette smiled.  “Don’t you have classes?”

 

“Not until later, I have time.” Damian said.  “Besides, I’d rather see you--and that particular class is inane--completely a waist of class credits.”

 

“I’d love to see you.” Marinette giggled.  “I--”

 

A knock at Marinette’s door interrupted her.  “Someone’s at my door.”

 

“This late?” Damian said, concerned and alert.

 

Marinette got out of bed and Tikki, awakened by the disturbance, hid in her robe pocket as she approached the door.  

 

It was very unusual for any of her classmates to seek her out like this and Marinette felt her anxiety rising.  It was possible it could be Adrien, sneaking away to talk...but it was even more likely to be Alya coming to reprimand her.  Or worse, Lila could be making a special appearance to corner her again.

 

However, one glance through the peephole and Marinette flung the door open.

 

“Alix!” Marinette gasped.  “Are you crying!”

 

“What’s wong?” Damian asked.  

 

“Alix is crying!” Marinette repeated to the phone.

 

“Shut up!” Alix grumbled.  “I’m not crying! And if that’s your string dude, tell him what of it!”

 

Alix said the last part loud enough for Damian to hear.

 

“Are you alright, Angel?” he asked.

 

“It’s okay, Damian.” Marinette said.  “I think Alix and I need to talk though.”

 

“Call or text me when you’re done, if you want--don’t worry about the time.” Damian said worriedly.  “Todd and I are going to be working for a while.  If you need anything I can be there in ten minutes.”

 

“Thanks, Dami,” Marinette answered.  “Try not to, um, work too hard. Goodnight.”

 

Marinette ended her call and awkwardly let Alix into her room.  Despite her protests, Alix looked upset. She was also in her pajamas but her eyes were red and she was acting defensive yet surprisingly unsure of herself.  It had been too long for Marinette to feel confident in knowing how to comfort her former friend, so she was left with no option but to wait for Alix to start any conversation.

 

“So…” Alix crossed her arms and shifted uncomfortably.  “You were never jealous because of Adrien.”

 

Oh.  So this was happening.

 

“I wouldn’t say never.” Marinette answered truthfully.  “I’m not perfect after all, but I didn’t persecute Lila because of it.  I just was more aware because of it and became suspicious of Lila’s claims and actions.  When I followed up on those suspicions, I found out that I had reason to be concerned because Lila was lying about everything.  Nothing she said could be verified and I point-blank caught her in a couple lies.”

 

Alix looked angry and wouldn’t look at Marinette.  “So the bullying claims…”

 

Marinette took a guarded breath and took a step out in faith as she told Alix the truth.  “When she came back from her ‘trip to Achu,’ Lila cornered me in the bathroom. She tried to win me over and when I made it clear I wasn’t buying it she pulled a Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde level switch on me.  She threatened me with the good ‘ol ‘if you’re not with me you’re against me’ and promised to turn all my friends against me if I didn’t go along with her.”

 

Alix looked ready to explode but she just nodded her head.  “And you didn’t tell us ‘cuz we were already being idiots about her, right?”

 

“Pretty much.” Marinette agreed.  “You already knew I was willing to put my feelings aside for Adrien’s happiness instead of acting out of jealousy when I wingmanned him on his date with Kagami, yet that didn’t seem to matter.  And, I mean, you guys did think that I could have gouged out Max’s eye with a napkin... through his glasses .”

 

Alix made a pained sound and pouted in a way that might have been comical if Marinette hadn’t still been on guard. 

 

After a long moment of silence, Alix forced herself to square her shoulders and look Marinette in the eye.

 

“I’m sorry, Marinete.” Alix said.  “You tried to warn us and we wouldn’t listen.  We were inconsiderate to you and your feelings and we were dismissive to your ideas and wrote them off because of a stupid boy.  And we betrayed you, we played right into Lila’s ploy and we hurt you. I hurt you…I did that.”

 

“Technically, you weren’t really the one doing the bullying…” Marinette grimaced.

 

“It doesn’t matter.” Alix insisted.  “I didn’t give any thought to your side of the story when Lila started making those stupid claims against you.  I just chewed you out when you didn’t deserve it and I didn’t do anything when Lila started pulling the retribution card with you.  They’re bu...they’re bullying you and I didn’t do anything. I just cut ties with you when you need a friend the most.”

 

Alix started tearing up and she got angrier--Marinette knew Alix hated crying.

 

“I’m sorry.” Alix said again.  “I know it’s way too late, but I’m sorry.  I don’t know how you’ve put up with us all these years--and I’ve been thinking about all of Lila’s claims and all the accidents that Lila claimed were you being clumsy, or-or looking for attention… and I’m realizing how way worse the situation was than I realized!  And I can’t believe I was totally ignoring all that!  And you’ve just been freakin’ suffering! W-why haven’t you just ripped us apart?  We’ve been t-tr-trash to you! I’ve been trash to you! And you just--”

 

Marinette cut off Alix’s sobs and pulled her into a hug.  Alix froze for a full five seconds before making a strangled groaning sound.

 

“Couldn’t you just punch me?  I’m giving you a free pass to give me a black eye!”

 

Marinette snorted.  “Giving you a black eye doesn’t seem like a great start to forgiving you.”

 

Alix sagged against her.  “Marinette, you’re forgiving me way too easily.”

 

“What?  You want me to hold onto that pain and let it fester and never let it go?” Marinette said sarcastically.  “Is there a designated ‘good time’ to forgive someone?”

“Marinette…” Alix complained.

 

“I’m forgiving you.” Marinette said firmly.  “That doesn’t mean this is easy for me or that I’m letting you off easy.  I’m not just being too nice--this has been the worst experience of my life and forgiving the hurts done against me is not easy but it is a choice that I am making.  The rest is in your court what you do with my forgiveness. Are you going to start acting like a friend again?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Then maybe--eventually--we can be friends again.” Marinette said.  “I really hate being alone in class.”

 

Alix growled and finally returned Marinette’s hug.  “I’m gonna make this up to you so hard!”

 

Marinette snorted and felt some of her tension release.

 

Alix pulled away and gruffly wiped the tears from her eyes.  She plopped herself down on Marinette's bed and gestured for Marinette to sit down.

 

“Get comfy, Lotus,” Alix said grumpily.  “I’m not leaving ‘til you fill me in on what’s really been going on.”



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette checked her room three times before lugging her luggage downstairs the next morning.  Tikki reassured her that she hadn’t left anything behind but Marinette still double checked that she had her ticket and passport in a secure--and Lila proof--location while she was riding the elevator down.  Despite the late-night conversation with Alix, Marinette was happy to be one of the first to make it down to breakfast this morning.

 

She grinned when she saw Damian was already waiting for her.  Marinette flipped up the hood on her sweatshirt and walked flirtingly towards him.  Or…as much as one can flirt whilst juggling luggage.

 

Damian smirked and met her with a smug, thoughtful look.  “Are you under some sort of impression that seeing you in Robin merchandise will prompt me to respond like a muscle-brained jock seeing his adorable girlfriend in his jersey?”

 

Marinette smirked back and played with the sleeves of her Robin hoodie.  “What? It’s not working?”

 

“Oh...you just had to sass me back, didn’t you!” he chuckled lowly and ducked down to kiss her beneath her hood as she giggled.

 

He traded her a warm cup of coffee for her carry-on bag and they took a seat in the hotel dining room to eat breakfast.  They found an almost secluded corner and Damian held Marinette close when she scooted her chair next to his.  Neither felt much like eating and were playing with the food in front of them.  

 

“You should eat something, Angel.” Damian said, ignoring the embarrassing lump in his throat.  “You’ve got a long flight ahead of you. You need sustenance.”

 

“You need to eat too, Dami,” Marinette mumbled, “you’ve got classes and jumping around dressed like a traffic light to think about.”

 

Damian scoffed a laugh and tweaked Marinette’s nose before pulling her into a tighter hug.  “Just for the record, I didn’t pick the color scheme. Blame Grayson, it’s based off one of the costumes his family wore as the Flying Graysons.”

 

Marinette rolled her eyes and stuffed part of a danish in her mouth before feeding some to Damian.  “At least I can spot you in a crowd.”

 

Damian scoffed.  “More like I can spot you…”

 

He froze and Marinette giggled.

 

“Don’t tell Grayson I punned.” Damian said, aghast.

 

Marinette made no promises and they nibbled at their food for a few moments.  “I’m going to miss you, Damian.”

 

Damian didn’t answer right away.  “Christmas break isn’t that far off.  I’ll be joining you in Paris soon.” He lowered his voice before adding.  “The League has Zeta platforms in Paris, despite the Mayor’s opinion about our involvement.  Don’t hesitate to call if you need help. If that stupid cat bails--”

 

“He’s just having trouble in his civilian life.” Marinette defended.

 

“He’s either there or he’s not.” Damian glared, though she couldn’t see it.  “Regardless of the cat, I’ll come any time you need. Give the League’s number to the Guardian and he can contact us, too.”

 

Marinette nodded and they went back to silently picking at their food.

 

“You know, the food is for guests only.” a voice scoffed.

 

Damian glared at Alya, who had gone out of her way to accuse them on the way to her own table.

 

“My father owns this hotel.” Damian snapped.  “My brothers and I are allowed to eat in any establishment owned by Wayne Enterprises either for free or with compensation through the office.  Care to check with the hotel manager?”

 

Alya glared back at him and went to sit down next to Mylene, who looked embarrassed.

 

With Alya gone, they noticed Kim and Alix hovering nearby.  Kim looked apprehensive to approach them until Alix yanked him by the ear and started pulling him along.  Pouting, he glared at Alix, but then looked contritely at Marinette.

 

“Uh...hey, Marinette.” Kim squirmed nervously and couldn’t keep her gaze.

 

Alix looked impatient and elbowed him in the gut.

 

“Oof!” Kim almost doubled over, but looked Marinette in the eye.  “I’m sorry!”

 

Marinette flinched at the abrupt apology and Kim winced.

 

“I really am sorry, Marinette.” Kim restated.  “And I’m not just saying it because Alix dragged me over, I wanted to apologize since last night but I didn’t know how.

 

“We’ve all been awful to you for years because we believed what Lila said...but we never should have trusted her over you.  We should have given you a chance to explain but we just took LIla at her word when she said you didn’t really care about us and that you were just trying to look good.”

 

“She claimed that?” Marinette winced and Damian tensed.  

 

Most of Lila’s defamations were still unknown to her--vague at best--because her former friends wouldn’t tell her what she’d done to upset them unless they got angry enough to reprimand her.  And that pattern wasn’t conducive to problem solving and damage control.

 

Kim nodded.  “You do so much for all of us, Marinette, and never rub our noses in your kindness and success.  You didn’t do all that for attention or to get stuff from us in return. I should have seen it before…Lila’s always boasting about herself…but, I guess I have a habit of doing that myself, so it didn’t seem unusual to me.  Even so, we never should have been so cruel to you, no matter what Lila said.”

 

Marinette nodded.  “No. If I’d really been bullying Lila, as she claimed, then you should have reported it.  But Lila wanted me around to torment and she doesn’t want to risk anyone finding out from Principal Damocles or Ms. Bustier that she already convinced the administration she has as a disease that makes her lie and hallucinate.”

 

They both looked shocked.

 

“You’re not serious.” Alix said flatly.

 

“Afraid so.”  Marinette rolled her eyes.  “Did I forget to mention that last night?  It’s what she told them after she tried to frame me and get me expelled that first year.  Adrien stepped in and got her to say something to get me back in school, but that was before his father forced him to play nice with her.”

 

Alix looked ready to kill.  “Okay, I know last night you said Agreste is in a bind, but do you mean to say Bustier has known all this time ?”

 

“Yep.  She wants me to set a good example for Lila and the class.  She also doesn’t want Lila’s supposed disability impairing her from making friends.”

 

“That is so messed up…” Kim fumed.

 

“If Lila actually had this disability--” Alix started.

 

“She doesn’t.” Damian informed.  “She’s never been tested for any kind of physical or neurological disability--don’t ask how I know.  This particular disease she described doesn’t even exist; if you were to search the symptoms on the web, the closest you would come would be a Compulsive Lying Disorder or Schizophrenia.  I’m not saying she doesn’t have any disease or disorder, I personally think she has the earmarkings of a sociopath, but she is currently undiagnosed.”

 

“I can’t believe this!” Kim clenched his fists.

 

Alix growled.  “Like I was saying, if she actually had a disability that was causing her to do this stuff, we wouldn’t have judged her for it!  Most of the class would have still gone out of their way to make her feel welcome, we just would have taken what she said with a grain of salt!  Instead, they let her make idiots out of ourselves!”

 

“Indeed.” Damian said.

 

Marinette snorted.  “I just remembered, do you know that she described you as shy?”

 

Damian scoffed and looked offended.

 

Some of their other classmates walked by just then and Alix and Kim shared frosty glances with Max and Nathaniel.  Marinette sighed.

 

“You know… I’m not going to force you to act like anything’s changed.” Marinette whispered.

 

“You’re not?” Kim asked.

 

“You’re not?” Damian growled.

 

“Lila can make life pretty miserable and tear friendships apart.  Don’t underestimate her vindictiveness.” Marinette said. “You don’t have to make yourselves targets by obviously supporting me.  It’s just nice to know you know the truth. I’ll understand.”

 

“I won’t.” Damian scowled.

 

Alix and Kim looked at Marinette, horrified.  

 

“Like freakin’ talking macaroons is that happening!” Alix exclaimed.  “Kim, grab the cupcake! I got her suitcase!”

 

“On it!” Kim plucked Marinette from Damian’s arms before she could even yelp.  “Don’t fight it, Marinette, we have years of overprotective smothering to catch up on!”

 

“Kim, it’s not even time to leave yet!” Marinette complained.  “Put me down.”

 

“Please return my girlfriend.” Damian said flatly.  “Your bus hasn’t even arrived yet and it will be uncomfortable for her to carried like a potato sack until it arrives.”

 

“Shoot, he’s got a point…” Alix grumbled.

 

“I thought it was a cool, dramatic exit.” Kim added.  “Very heartfelt.”

 

“I’m going to feel my breakfast again if I have your shoulder in my stomach much longer.” Marinette groaned.

 

“Oops.” Kim placed her on her feet and Damian took possession of her again.

 

“I don’t trust you.” Damian said baldly.

 

Kim sighed.  “We know. We deserve it.”

 

“But we’re going to make it up to Marinette.” Alix said with determination.

 

Damian continued scowling at them, but not nearly at his full-scowl force.  “See that you do.”



~~~~~~~~~~



Nino fiddled with his headphones and tried to stretch the tension out of his shoulders.  The morning had been way more stressful than he’d anticipated.

 

He’d barely gotten any sleep the night before--because after Alya had spent hours talking through Damian and Marinette’s claims with Lila, she’d called Nino upset and he’d talked with her for at least an hour after that.  Nino had been too worked up to sleep before Alya had called him, and after her call his mind was even more chaotic and averse to sleep.  

 

Adrien had been withdrawn after the Wayne dinner and he’d been very cautious about what he said to Nino--an obvious red flag, knowing his friend.  Nino didn’t want to disturb Adrien’s sleep by demanding Adrien woke up and leveled with him, but when the morning came they both had almost overslept their alarms and didn’t have time to talk.  If it hadn’t been for Adrien’s bodyguard waking them, Nino wondered if they would have missed the bus like Marinette...as is they’d bumbled around the room--him being very groggy from lack of sleep--and hastily finished packing for the return trip.

 

They’d arrived just in time for the drama of Lila being served a restraining order.  Nino was even more baffled than he’d been all night when he walked into the hotel lobby and found Lila, Alya, and Ms. Bustier arguing with an intimidating Wayne Enterprise lawyer.  

 

Alya was livid and accused them of persecution.  Lila was inconsolable and tried to turn to Adrien only to find he’d already made a quick escape to the dining room with the Gorilla.  Nino didn’t miss the tense look on Adrien’s face, nor did he miss the brief look of fury from Lila. What surprised him most was that Ms. Bustier wasn’t really defending Lila to the lawyer, just trying to placate the situation.  She kept trying to talk to him about some kind of...medical problem?  

 

Nino had to physically restrain Alya from going off on Marinette and Damian while they were saying their goodbyes.  He wasn’t sure what to think about the situation or what he thought about Marinette’s soulmate, but it was obvious Damian was sending out a clear mess-with-me-and-die signal and Nino really didn’t want to test that.  

 

Even so, his heart twisted a bit when he glimpsed Marinette and Damian finally part ways.  He’d always known Marinette to be emotional, but even the King of Ice--didn’t one of his brother’s call him Demon Spawn?--had become distraught when Marinette had to leave.  He felt like he was intruding when he saw them kiss so openly and tenderly, and tears were streaking Marinette’s cheeks as they held each other for a long while.

 

It was almost a relief when Kim had stepped in--only at the last moment when the bus was ready to leave--and hefted Marinette away as she giggled and waved goodbye with a watery smile.

 

That was another thing, Alix and Kim had clearly become a protective force field around Marinette since the night before.  It threw him for another loop because, while Kim was known for the occasional thoughtless behavior, neither of them were very tolerant of bad behavior...Kim’s crush on Chloe aside. 

 

All of this combined did nothing to help the unsettled feeling that had been growing on Nino’s conscience.  He wasn’t sure where to even start sorting through it all...

 

Adrien made the decision for him when Nino saw him cringe away from Lia hugging his arm. 

 

The seat arrangements had been spread out over the plane, but almost everyone had a seat buddy.  Nino was set to sit with Alya on the flight back, just like he had on the flight to Gotham, but he made up his mind to switch with Lila on the way back so that he could talk to Adrien without anyone around.

 

Nino waited until the Gorilla had left Adrien to find his own seat and then he’d approached Lila to ask her about switching.   

 

“Oh!  I would love to switch with you, Nino!” Lila winced.  “But my seat had to be specially selected so the air pressure isn’t too much for my inner ear to handle!  I’m sure you understand.”

 

“Um, yeah…”

 

Adrien smiled.  “Not a problem! Alya can take my seat and I’ll sit with Nino in their row!”

 

“Great idea, Adrien!” Alya beamed happily.  She’d followed Nino to talk with their friends and was happy to jump on this idea.  “Now we can have some girl time on the flight back! Isn’t that great, Lila?”

 

Lila almost seemed to grit her teeth as she smiled.  “Wonderful!”

 

Nino was helping Alya move her carry-on, so he almost didn’t catch Adrien when he tripped over Lila’s foot as he got up to change seats.

 

“Watch yourself, Adrien!” Lila said sweetly.

 

Nino seemed to be the only one to notice that Adrien’s only response was a clouded expression; Alya was already getting settled and eagerly talking with Lila.

 

He decided to give Adrien some space as they settled into their seats, a few rows behind Alya and Lila, and went through the security demo.  It wasn’t until the flight had evened out that Nino addressed the elephant in the air cabin.

 

“Dude?” Nino said.

 

Adrien stopped searching through the in-flight movie options and gave Nino his attention.

 

“What’s going on between you and Lila?” Nino asked.

 

Adrien stiffened and wouldn’t meet his eye.  Alya would plow forward and interrogate him with the intent to uncover some sort of buried crush, but Nino knew Adrien better.  He may not have great experience expressing his emotions, but the dude had plenty of them and was a hopeful romantic.  The walls Nino saw Adrien building were not meant to hide a crush, but were more akin to the defensive perimeter he built regarding anything with his father.

 

“Dude--what’s up?” Nino said lowly but firmly.

 

Adrien visibly struggled between frustration, resignation, and--most surprising--a terrific amount of anger.

 

“I’m not at liberty to discuss it.” Adrien bit out.  “I wish I could, man.”

 

Nino frowned.  “This is about your old man?”

 

Adrien didn’t answer, which was answer enough.

 

“Okay…” Nino hedged.  “But this is also about Lila, right?”

 

Again, no answer which was the answer.

 

“Is she making you feel uncomfortable?” Nino asked.

 

Adrien hesitated, but nodded.

 

Nino frowned.  “Dude, you have to say something.  I don’t think Lila’s picking up on that.  She’s a pretty tactile person and she’s obviously got a thing for you.  I thought you were just upset during the trip because she got her soulmate and it wasn’t you--”

 

Adrien scoffed--harshly.

 

Nino’s eyes blew wide and he stared at his friend.  “Bro, you don’t like her?!”

 

“That’s putting it lightly…” Adrien mumbled.

 

“I-I, gah--dude!  Not cool! You have to say something to her!  You can’t just lead her on!” Nino whisper shouted.

 

“Believe me, Nino.” Adrien said bitterly.  “I’ve been very clear with her and she’s been very clear with me.  I’m not leading her on.”

 

Nino openly gaped at his friend as Adrien plugged in his headphones and quickly queued up a movie, obviously closing down the conversation.  His thoughts were still spinning and Nino was trying to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to get any more answers any time soon. Then Adrien whispered something Nino almost missed under the din of the engines.

 

“Thanks for getting me away from her…” Adrien murmured without looking at him.  “If you really want answers, you should ask Marinette.” 

 

Chapter Text

The return of Ms. Bustier’s class to Paris after their week in Gotham was both dramatic and unremarkable.  Not much had changed in the classroom dynamic, although Alix and Alya were routinely squaring off in heated arguments and Lila was exhausting her supply of crocodile tears.

 

Alix and Kim had been thoroughly interrogated by Kagami before being grudgingly welcomed into the fold.  Alix and Kim were experiencing a dry spell in their friendships with Nathaniel and Max because both still firmly refused to believe they’d been fooled by Lila.  Max was experiencing a problem with hubris and was stubbornly insisting he hadn’t been wrong in his assessment of the situation. Nathaniel was clinging to the fact Lila had pulled strings for his and Marc’s comic to be picked up by Thomas Astruc, so he saw that as proof Lila couldn’t have been lying.

 

Alix and Kim started joining Marinette when she hung out with Kagami and Luka.  This eventually led to more interaction with Juleka while at the house boat.  

 

Juleka had made it a practice--before Gotham--to make herself scarce when Marinette was aboard The Liberty .  Upon returning home, Juleka made tentative attempts to approach them but ended up retreating.  After a long talk with her brother and his encouragement that she was welcome to join them, Juleka gradually began immersing herself into their hangouts.  Kagami didn’t interrogate her as she had Alix and Kim, but Juleka still remained reclusive amidst the group. Marinette could see she was struggling and gave her time to adjust while making it clear she also wanted Juleka to feel welcome.

 

It took a few weeks, but Juleka finally felt safe enough to have a heart to heart discussion with just Luka and Marinette.  She admitted to having felt something was off about Lila for a while, but that with everyone so enamored with Lila, Juleka never felt confident in what it could be.  Now, with Lila’s character under scrutiny, Juleka finally began voicing the concerns she’d had with Lila but hadn’t even shared with her brother.

 

Marinette had been right in her suspicion that Lila had discouraged Juleka from pursuing her dream in modeling.  Lila had oh-so-helpfully given Juleka critiques on her modeling and convinced her that she wasn’t good enough. That and a few well placed comments around the other girls against the modeling industry was all it took for Juleka to stop reaching for her dream.  The girls had stopped encouraging Juleka because they thought it was a bad idea and Juleka had Lila’s voice in her head telling her couldn’t make it. It had been the start of a long chain of digs Lila directed at Juleka--veiled with subtlety and under the guise of being friendly advice.  

 

It wasn’t until Lila’s lies had been laid bare that Juleka started to doubt all of Lila’s “well meaning” advice.  The damage to her self esteem had been done and it took all of Juleka’s courage to recount her experiences and apologize to Marinette.  Marinette told Juleka she’d already forgiven her and wanted her to try modeling for her again. It wasn’t going to be that simple to rebuild Juleka’s confidence and Juleka wanted to refuse at first--feeling too ashamed of abandoning Marinette--but she was quickly reminded that Marinette was a force to be reckoned with and she hesitantly agreed.  As for Luka…

 

Marinette had never heard Luka truly yell before.  He was a quiet type, even when he expressed anger, but this had pushed him beyond his tolerance level.  Luka was angrier than he’d been when he was akumatized into Silencer. She was pretty sure only two things kept him from becoming akumatized again.  The first was his natural desire to comfort and build his sister back up...and the second may have had something to do with Kagami rushing over to hold him as tight as a boa constrictor.  Still, Marinette put Tikki on akuma watch and kept herself watchful, too.

 

Kagami, for her part, looked to be devising a plan on how to trick Lila into being her own, personal fencing dummy.  Maybe she could fix it for Lila to claim she was an expert in the art of swordsmanship and insist they duel--spare. She meant spare.  With blunted weapons...of course.

 

Alix apologized to Juleka for never noticing the conditioning Lila was putting her under.  She was stuck again with how obvious it seemed in retrospect and regretted that she’d failed to protect another friend from Lila.

 

Juleka admitting and opening up to the others about her experiences with Lila paved the way for Rose to come to grips with Lila’s subterfuge.  Rose was so trusting by nature that the betrayal came as a great shock to her and the guilt of Marinette’s treatment had been even more potent.  She was humiliated and devastated. Rose was an intelligent and kind girl, but her kindness had been taken advantage of and she felt like a gullible fool.  When she apologized to Marinette, Marinette found herself overrun with apology letters, poems...and experimental perfumes.

 

Lila’s empire began to crumble around her and she employed all her charm to evoke sympathy for her and villainize Marinette, but her ploys only worked on those that had not pulled away from her control.  She was limited in her actions because the restraining orders had brought her attention that she didn’t want for once and she had to choose her attacks carefully.

 

The first day back in the classroom, Alix caught Lila during an attempt to steal from her backpack and plant it on Marinette.  She’d gotten as far as “tripping” next to Alix’s desk and had her hand around Alix’s heirloom watch when Alix started yelling at her.

 

“Hey!” Alix got the whole room’s attention even as they prepared to leave for lunch.  “Get your paws off my watch!”

 

Lila meekly withdrew and said timidly.  “I’m sorry! I only tripped and I noticed your watch was about to fall out of your bag!  I know it’s important to you and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.”

 

“Sure, that’s why your hand was in my bag!” Alix glared her down.  “What kind of idiot do you think I am?  I was watching you from the moment you ‘tripped!’”

 

“Lay off, Alix!” Alya defended.  “She said she was just trying to help!”

 

“Yeah, help herself!” Kim had accused.  

 

An argument had erupted that ended in Alya leaded away a crying Lila.  As soon as she had a moment, Marinette drew them aside and gave them a much needed warning.

 

“I should have told you sooner,” Marinette winced.  “You know Lila plays dirty. I’ve had to learn not to bring anything valuable to school or anywhere she has access.  I don’t even bring my sketch book to class anymore unless its my spare and I don’t have any ideas in it that can be stolen or destroyed.  Don’t keep your bags unattended anymore. I keep my purse and bookbag on the bench next to me--when I can--and away from the aisle. Make sure you’re lockers are secure but, again, don’t leave anything valuable in them.  I made sure the security cameras can record most important areas to discourage and record theft or altercations, but don’t trust them to catch her.”

 

Kim and Alix were ashamed by another reminder of how they had failed Marinette, but saw wisdom in her plan and put it into play immediately.  As Juleka and Rose joined the team they also implemented the practice. Adrien had already been taught the trick by Marinette, though it only provided moderate protection for him since Lila was not deterred when she wanted to invade his space and belongings.  Lila rarely had anything to do with Chloe and only interacted with Sabrina when she found her useful. They had very little to fear of Lila’s retaliation, but still seemed to be practicing Marinette’s security measures as well. It became that you could recognize a student’s allegiance just by how they treated their belongings in class.

 

It wasn’t an obvious move, but Lila still noticed it as her various schemes were preemptively foiled. 

 

Despite Marinette’s avoidance tactics and renewed allies, Lila still managed to corner her.  Marinette had just been about to leave the bathroom when Lila walked in and blocked her exit.

 

“That was a real cute stunt you pulled in Gotham, Marinette.” Lila sneared.  “You lucked out when your string connected you to someone that matters like the Damian Wayne.  Pity he can’t say the same.”

 

“As much as your opinion matters to me, do you want to cut to the chase?” Marinette said, forcing herself to remain calm.

 

Lila glared at Marinette with malicious intensity.  “You may think you won something, with those pathetic losers going whimpering back to you with their tails between their legs, but you’ve only made things worse for yourself.  I told my mother all about you--the jealous, friendless girl in my class that was so petty that she couldn’t stand her soulmate having a simple conversation with me!  It all escalated so quickly and the Wayne family issued the restraining order just so he could placate you...it’s a shame you’re so distrustful of him.  Persecuting me really is taking it too far, Marinette, and my mother won’t allow this too just slide…”

 

Marinette couldn’t even begin to describe the ludicrousness of Lila’s statement.

 

“So...to be clear,” Marinette drawled, “you have decided to lie to your mother about what happened in Gotham instead of accepting the consequences of your actions.  Not surprising… and the story you’ve decided to spin is that Damian Wayne convinced his family--specifically Bruce Wayne, a highly intelligent and renowned businessman--to issue a restraining order superfluously to satisfy his jealous girlfriend.  I assume you’ve also concocted a cover story for why she shouldn’t contact the school for further information about how this happened and what they’re doing to protect you from such a vicious student?”

 

Lila smirked.  “My mother was very upset to hear how you’ve been treating me, Marinette.  She’s had to take legal action in response, and Alya, Max, and Nathaneal were all so willing to give their accounts of what happened after everything you’ve put me through.  You’re causing so much trouble for you soulmate’s family.” her predatory grin became even more menacing. “In the end, I couldn’t have asked for you to screw up any more than you already have.  My mother will cause so much trouble for the Waynes that they’ll wish they never met you and your little ‘success’ will be crushed like the bug you are. You handed me the perfect opportunity to ruin you, so thank you.”

 

Marinette tried to brush off her comment about the Waynes, reminding herself that she knew her new friends better than that.  She knew the caliber of their character and they wouldn’t abandon her.

 

Marinette smiled sweetly at Lila.  “Well, good luck to you. The Wayne Enterprise legal team is made up of men and women who are responsible for thwarting Lex Luthor when he attempted a hostile takeover of WE.  They even managed to supply the necessary evidence to nail Luthor and get him jailed in a tax evasion case that rivaled that of Al Capone. And the Wayne family ?  They’re even more determined.  Do you really think your little tricks will work with them?  I suggest coming clean before your dirty laundry is aired for everyone to see.”

 

With that, Marinette walked calmly out the door and let  Lila stew in her own mess. She knew Lila recognized her manipulative hold was starting to slip.  Lila’s latest attempt to corner and threaten her only served to prove that Lila was floundering and desperate to demoralize Marinette.  It wasn’t a comforting thought--Marinette was familiar with the analogy of what damage a drowning man could do and she didn’t want to find out what Lila was capable of doing with that kind of desperation.

 

Confident as she was during the confrontation, it didn’t stop Marinette from calling Damian directly after.  She was embarrassed to admit the insecurities Lila had played on regarding their soulmate bond, but found great relief when Damian wasn’t insulted by her admission and gladly took the time to reassure her.



~~~~~~~~~~



At first, Marinette didn’t know what to think about Mylene and Ivan.  They seemed to distance themselves from everyone after the dinner at Wayne Manor.  They were polite to anyone that approached them, but did not seek people out. Marinette often caught them looking her way and thought they may have been guiltily considering her.  Many times, people would interrupt what looked like deep conversations between the two, but when asked they refused to say what they were discussing and then they would change the subject.

 

Just over a week after Juleka and Rose officially became a part of Team Marinette, Luka invited Marinette over to The Liberty for a Saturday on the water with their friends.  Kagami picked her up and helped her carry boxes of pastries aboard the houseboat.

 

Crossing the gangplank, Marinette was shocked to see the deck had been (mostly) cleaned and decked out in pink and red streamers.  A “We Love Marinette” banner was hung over the cabin and her renewed friends were all waiting for her. Alix and Kim looked like they had just finished an argument--probably about who could hang the banner better, as they were still right next to it and acting overly innocent even though Marinette clearly saw Alix release Kim from a headlock.  Rose was waiting by the gangplank to escort her aboard and she led Marinette dazedly front and center before she joined Kitty Section on stage.

 

Luka sent her a brotherly wink while he and Juleka started strumming and Rose played a soft tamborine.  The drums were left untouched because Ivan and Mylene were center stage singing an apology song they wrote themselves for Marinette.  Mylene looked utterly terrified and Ivan was obviously more at home behind his drums than with a microphone in his hands, but they still had Marinette in tears by the time they had finished.

 

She was crying so hard, in fact, that Luka wondered if they had finally pushed Marinette past her limit and he worried the apology was too much for her to bear.  All the other apologies had been private and quiet and he began to worry that they had put too much pressure on her to face the trauma of the last few years, even though they were trying to do something kind that she deserved.

 

“Marinette?” Mylene asked timidly.

 

“H-hur...hu-hu-hurry!” Mariette hiccuped out.  “Hurry up and h-hug me already!”

 

Mylene was the first to reach her in the hug swarm that ensued.  Some tears continued to flow throughout the party, but they were mostly from relief.  

 

Marinette was horrified to hear what Lila had been claiming she’d said and done over the years.  Most of the supposed offences were cruel comments about Mylene--things Marinette knew Mylene was insecure about or scared of--and the lies had been presented with convincingly forged evidence.  Marinette could easily see how it would crush Mylene, and anything that hurt Mylene rightfully earned Ivan’s disdain.  

 

Ivan and, especially, Mylene were deeply remorseful that they had believed Lila, but Marinette had to admit that Lila had been painfully thorough in convincing them.  The change Marinette witnessed in her classmates in a few short weeks was completely surreal to her. A great weight lifted off her heart and she enjoyed the mirth radiating off the group.  

 

She didn’t remind them that her trust would take time to earn back--they already knew. Marinette still tensed up in a group and had to fight off the constant fear that she was about to be attacked, but already her friends were being extremely repentant and taking great pains to be considerate of her and not repeat their mistakes.

 

Life settled into a new normal.  Her friends and support system had grown, but there was still school, family, design work, the bakery, and akumas to contend with and balance on a daily basis.  

 

But there was something Marinette had been avoiding since her return to Paris and an akuma was what forced her to address it.

 

Ladybug and Cat Noir had seen each other a few times since the transformation blocking spell had worn off.  The first few times, Marinette procrastinated and told herself she needed time to distance herself from any suspicion regarding her secret identity.  After a month had gone by, she knew she couldn't deny she was dreading the inevitable conversation she needed to have with her partner. After a month and three days, she admitted to herself that she didn’t want to hurt her Kitty and was worried about how he would react but realized she couldn’t put it off any longer.

 

Ladybug needed to tell Cat Noir she had found her soulmate.

 

The akuma that forced her hand wasn’t a particularly dangerous one, just a sad one.  The victim had just broken off a two year relationship after hitting it off with their newly found soulmate.  It was the victim who had done the breaking up, but he felt so horrible about it that Hawkmoth had turned him into one of the most ineffective, despondent akumas they’d faced yet.  Both Ladybug and Cat Noir had plenty of time after the fight to comfort the victim, but there was little they could do. Thankfully, his ex had shown up. Though it was awkward and clearly painful, his ex had been very clear there were no hard feelings.

 

Cat Noir had tried to lighten the atmosphere with a flirtatious pass as they made their exit, but Ladybug couldn’t bring herself to even sass him back.  Cat knew something was up and instantly agreed to meet her that night.

 

They met on an obscure rooftop after midnight.  Ladybug brought pastries but, for once, they went uneaten.  Cat seemed to know the conversation would be difficult and his sweet tooth was forgotten.  His instincts proved correct. Ladybug gently revealed to him that her string had led her to her soulmate and Cat felt lead settle in his stomach.  He didn’t interrupt Ladybug as she spoke and he still didn’t say anything after she had finished. He stared down at the streets of Paris as the sleepy clamor of the city continued around them.

 

“Cat?  You okay?” Ladybug asked.

 

He gave her a sad smile but still didn’t look at her.

 

“Just...processing.” he said softly.  “I think...I kinda already knew. If we were soulmates we probably would have figured it out by now.” Cat swallow hard over the lump in his throat.  “But I’ve been clinging to this as a...hope for a long time.”

 

He took a shaky breath.  “I’m in a really awful situation outside the mask, M’lady.  I’ve made terrible decisions because of it. Someone I trust recently asked me if I like who I’ve become.  The truth is I don’t. I wanted our strings to connect because you are one of the people I trust and admire most in the world.  You know I love you. Part of me hoped it would magically change everything that my life has become. But another part of me...I thought, maybe our strings weren’t connecting because I wasn’t deserving of you.”

 

“Oh, Kitty!”  Ladybug squeezed his hand.  “I hate that you’re going through whatever is going on in your life right now, but you are a wonderful person.  I have faith in you. I know you can come back from the mistakes you’ve made and learn from them. I’ll be here to help you in whatever way I can, and if it's something I can’t help you with then we’ll find someone who can.  Have you talked to Master Fu about this?”

 

“Somewhat…”

 

“He’s helped me greatly in my civilian life, Cat.” Ladybug said.  “I know he will gladly be there for you too. As for your soulmate, I know it will happen for you when the time is right--when you’re both ready.  Until then, you are not alone .  Soulmates aren’t the only bond that can last a lifetime.”

 

That prompted a watery smile from her Kitty.  He sighed, “Thanks, Bug. I think...I have to love myself first, you know?  Before I’ll be ready. Honestly...I don’t want my soulmate to see me the way I am right now.  With the act I’m putting on and the decisions I’m making right now, I mean. I just...have to figure out a way to fix this and get out safely.”

 

“Cat?” Ladybug sternly asked.  “Are you in danger? Are you at risk?  Or being abused? Neglected?”

 

“It’s complicated.” Cat Noir winced.  “I just have a really controlling family.”

 

“That didn’t answer my question.” Ladybug frowned.  “Are. You. In. Danger?”

 

“No...I don’t think so.” he shook his head.  “I’ll figure something out and be fine, LB. Don’t worry.”

 

Ladybug sighed and lost her frown, though she was obviously still distressed.  “I really don’t believe you, but fine.  Just remember, I don’t care about secret identities if you need help, alright?”

 

Cat Noir finally looked at her, partly in surprise and partly in adoration.  “I-I know, M’lady. But I really appreciate hearing it.”

 

Ladybug opened her arms to offer a hug and Cat immediately took her up on it.  She could feel his harsh, shuddering sobs but didn’t say anything. She had her own tears leaking from her eyes.  

 

“I couldn’t have asked for a finer first love, Bugaboo.” Cat Noir whispered after a while.

 

“Bugaboo…” she mock grumbled.  “Just wait, Kitty. What you have to look forward to will make this first love pale in comparison.”

 

Cat Noir was the one to pull away and dry his eyes first.  Ladybug had let him hold her until he was ready to let go. He offered her a fist bump and though he was still upset he also felt refreshed and filled with hope.

 

“You and me against the world, partner?” Cat Noir asked.

 

Ladybug bumped his fist with a smile.  “Partners. For life.”

Chapter Text

The weeks passed by. Early December arrived and Marinette could never get warm at school. She didn’t know who the wise guy was that decided an open-roof courtyard was a good idea, but she knew he never had to contend with Ladybug cold tendencies. 

 

After Ivan and Mylene joined the fold, things evened out and started becoming routine. Lila still targeted her but she was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of care and censure she had to employ to avoid the wrath of Marinette’s new protectors. Alix especially was a fierce advocate for Marinette.  Lila began targeting Alix as well but was still trying to frame it on Marinette. Mylene was still mildly friends with Alya, who couldn’t understand why Mylene was now uncomfortable around Lila, but really, the rest of the girl squad had never been as close of ‘friends’ compared to Alya and Lila’s bestie status. After Marinette was ostracized, the girl group mainly became an intermingling of smaller bestfriend groups, so it didn’t make such a stark difference when the other girls pulled away—but was still significant enough in the eyes of Lila and Alya. 

 

Surprisingly, Adrien seemed to be making efforts to distance himself from Lila, with her clearly doubling down against his resistance.  He and Nino had clearly talked and Nino was trying to at least convince Alya to back off trying to match Adrien and Lila together but Alya insisted that she knew better and that Lila explained he was just shy and inexperienced with relationships. 

 

Marinette recognized Adrien looking for an escape and offered him support should he want it. She still wasn’t keen on a friendship that was dependent on him at least pretending to treat her poorly to comply to orders, but Adrien was clearly trying to break away and she had always told him she’d support him when he decided to seek help.  He had been melancholy for a few weeks, but also strangely determined. Adrien had a new fire burning in his eyes more and more often and Marinette couldn’t wait to see what he’d do with it.

 

Damian and Marinette were texting, emailing, and video chatting regularly—building their relationship and planning their next steps in teaming the Miraculous Squad with the BatFam. 

 

They had their first fight. It wasn’t major, but they discovered that an ocean separating them was both a help and hindrance while in a long distance relationship. They had space to cool down, which was a positive, but a negative was that they had too much space. They couldn’t bump into each other between classes or around town and be forced to address each other. This tripped them up more than their actual argument because both found it new, awkward, and—yes—frightening to break the ice and take the first step of coming back and dealing with the situation. It was unfamiliar territory, but they stumbled their way through it. Marinette had advice from her parents and friends, and Damian had some advice--and heckling--from his family.  She got the impression that Dick and Jason managed to subdue Damian in a straight jacket and hold him upside down until he agreed to finally call her. She also got the impression that he was still upside down in their hold for at least the first twenty minutes of their conversation. 

 

Much to Damian’s dismay, she met his self proclaimed best friend Jon one day on her lunch break.  

 

She and Juleka were leaving school and planning on squeezing lunch and a fitting in during the break.  Marinette had a design she thought was perfect for Juleka to use to ease back into modeling.  She was hoping Juleka would be as excited as she was, once she saw it.  

 

They already had tentative plans to shoot some photos the coming weekend--and Marinette even had an offer from a certain former crush to be the photographer.  Adrien couldn’t make any promises, but he was trying to test the restraints on his life and genuinely wanted to help Marinette. Kagami had promised to be on hand, just in case.  She wasn’t generally artistic, but she’d adopted photography as a hobby and knew how to capture a good photo.

 

“Hey! Pigtailed girl!” a voice called behind them.

 

Marinette and Juleka stopped before they got to the crosswalk and watched as a boy they didn’t know raced up to them with a huge smile.

 

Marinette’s phone began ringing just as the boy reached them.  

 

“That’s probably Damian.” the boy said, still smiling.  “You should probably answer it or he’ll try to beat me senseless.”

 

Juleka looked mildly startled, but Marinette was beginning to guess what was happening.  The boy seemed energetic and non-threatening, so she just answered her phone while he stood before them like an eager puppy.

 

“Marinette!” Damian shouted in a half-growl, half-panic.  “There might be a sugar-hyped boy scout on your trail!”

 

“Tall guy, blue eyes, dark hair, glasses, acts like a puppy?” Marienette asked.  “Pretty sure he already caught up with me.”

 

The boy bobbed his head in confirmation.  “Jonathan Kent! You can call me Jon. I’m Damian’s best friend!”

 

“I heard that, Kent!” Damian yelled so loud that Marinette pulled the phone away from her ear.  “I told you! You’re not allowed to shanghai my girlfriend!”

 

“Tell Damian I can’t hear him.” Jon chuckled.

 

“I heard that too, Kent!” Damian yelled back.  “Don’t be stupid! I know you can hear me, you blasted ignoramus!”

 

Jon laughed harder as Juleka looked even more confused.  Marinette, on the other hand, had an ah-ha moment and pieced together the puzzle.

 

Marinette groaned.  “I see what you mean, now, about your friends and their...discretion.”

 

Damian growled and mumbled on the phone.  “This is why I didn’t tell the space-for-brain!  Not five minutes and he’s already making a nuisance of himself in Paris…”

 

Jon was still shamelessly smiling and waiting to talk to her.

 

Marinette finally broke down and laughed at the situation.  “It’s fine, Damian. I’m glad to meet your friend and I’m on my lunch break anyway.”

 

“Just tell him to take a flying leap!” Damian said.

 

“That’s a little rude, Damian, he is already here.”  Marinette giggled.

 

“He’s resilient.  He can take it.” Damian insisted.  “Tell him he can meet you when we’re all together and I have my Kryptonite knuckles.”

 

Jon rolled his eyes, unfazed, and Marinette laughed harder after she made sure Juleka hadn’t heard anything about the Kryptonite.

 

“I think it’s a little late to put this off, Dami.” Marinette said.  “If Juleka doesn’t mind, Jon can join us for lunch and we can video call you so you’re included.”

 

Damian bemoaned his life with a very long and growl-like sigh.  “Fine. If you’re friend is there maybe he’ll behave. Give Jon the phone for a second.”

 

“He wants to talk to you.”  Marinette handed Jon the phone.

 

Jon took it but before he would listen to Damian he said to Marinette, “You are so adorable!  You’re going to be great for him--I can tell! I can’t believe the sourpuss was able to hide you for this long!  I’ve been pestering him about his soulmate ever since the tabloid outed you guys! I couldn’t even find out your name because if he knew I was coming he’d always wear the lead--”

 

Jonathan Kent!  Shut up!” Damian screamed loud enough for them all to hear.

 

Marinette shook her head.  “Juleka, this is Jon, a friend of Damian’s.  Jon, this is my friend Juleka. I live above the bakery on the corner, why don’t you join us after you talk to Damian.  I’ll tell my parents to expect you. If that’s ok with you, Juleka?”

 

Juleka shrugged, but looked slightly amused by now.  “Cool.”

 

By the time Jon joined them in the apartment, he’d been lectured by Damian and he’d thoroughly charmed Marinette’s parents.  Damian joined them on a video chat from his room, looking surly and uncharacteristically unkempt. Though she couldn’t ask while Juleka was there, Marinette guessed that Jon had surprise-attacked Damian while he was sleeping to get a peek at his soulmate signature, gained intel on her, and then promptly flown to Paris before Damian could counter attack.  

 

It would probably be wise for Jon to keep a low profile for a while.



~~~~~~~~~~



Damian and Marinette developed the habit of calling each other at least twice a day. Damian would call Marinette when he was finishing up with patrol or homework and she was getting up for the morning. Marinette would call when she was getting out of school and he was starting his day. Little interactions like these weren’t long but set the day off on a pleasant note. 

 

“You look like death.” Damian said. 

 

Marinette groaned into her desk and considered chucking her phone so she could rest her head in blessed silence for a minute before class started. 

 

“Thanks, handsome, you really know how to flatter a girl. You’re looking spiffy too!” She croaked with her sore throat. 

 

Marinette had been to the doctor already and knew she had the flu. She was personally--and irrationaly--placing the blame on Plagg since she was completely convinced this pestilence was some remnant of an eons old destruction that Plagg unleashed on humanity with a stupid sneeze. 

 

Poor dinosaurs...

 

“Why aren’t you at home and resting?” Damian asked sternly. 

 

Alix suddenly swiped the phone out of Marinette’s hands and Marinette made grabby motions, pathetically trying to get it back. 

 

“Hey,  Marinette’s string guy!” Alix popped a bubble with her gum. 

 

“Kubdel.” Damian acknowledged. “Care to explain why Marinette is attending school when she looks like she needs to be in a hospital?”

 

“I don’t need to be in a hospital!” Marinette squawked. 

 

They both ignored her. Traitors. 

 

“Our lovely school administrators received an ‘anonymous’ tip that someone was going to sell the answers to some major tests we’re taking in the next few days.  As a result, all students are required to take the tests at the same time. No makeup tests will be given and anyone who misses any test will receive a zero--no matter the circumstances.” Alix explained. “Amazing, isn’t it, that this tip was received after Marinette showed signs of getting sick and needing to stay home?”

 

Damian growled and Marinette finally managed to grab her phone back. 

 

“There’s only one test today and then I’m heading home. My parents already called me out.”

 

“Do you need anything?” Damian asked in concern. 

 

The akumas and weather had been hitting her hard lately. He wasn’t at all surprised that she was run down and had become sick. What she really needed as uninterrupted rest in a warm, safe place—not to be running around and cold at school where she would inevitably have to deal with demands and stress.

 

This time, Kim plucked the phone out of her hands and Marinette whimpered in protest. 

 

“No worries, Wayne. We’ll make sure she gets back to the bakery safe and sound and then Mama Cheng will take the smothering from there.”

 

Marinette yanked her phone back.  They really had been working hard to earn back her trust and it was times like this that it showed.  Even if they were annoying. 

 

“I’m okay, Dami.” She cracked a smile, though it couldn’t really be seen since she was wearing a medical mask. “I’ll call you later, just sleep well.”

 

“Isn’t it super late in Gotham?” Alix questioned. 

 

Damian didn’t hesitate. “I’m a college student. I run on determination, not sleep.”

 

“Yep. You’re Marinette’s.” Alix rolled her eyes.

 

“Gosh, Marinette!” said a voice--syrupy, sickening, and could only be belonging to Lila.  “You look positively dreadful! You really should be going to a doctor, not coming to school!  Why, you might be contagious! What if you get the rest of us sick?”

 

Damian looked ready to explode on the video chat, but Marinette spoke before he could say anything.

 

“I have been to the doctor, Lila, thank you for the concern.” Marinette tensely said.  “I wouldn’t be in school at all if someone hadn’t made it impossible for me to make up the test when I was well.  My doctor wasn’t pleased to hear about the school’s ruling, but he assured me that, under the circumstances, my wearing a mask would have to be good enough.”

 

Alya rolled her eyes.  “I’m sure that makes it okay then!  We could all get sick because you had to expose us--but it’s okay, because you wore a mask !  Honestly!  Are you really that selfish?”

 

“Hey!” Damian shouted.  “Did you not hear that Marinette wouldn’t be there if the school let her take the stupid test when she wasn’t sick?  How selfish are you! Why should she have to fail just because she became ill? Through no fault of her own, even!”

 

“Yeah, and I bet we all know who that ‘anonymous’ tip came from, anyway!”  Alix challenged.

 

Nino looked startled when he realized Damian was on the phone, but Alya and Lila didn’t back down.

 

“At least someone has the courage to do the decent thing and report it when someone else is low enough to do something trashy like plan to sell the test answers after they’ve taken the test!” Alya pointedly accused.

 

Marinette didn’t have the energy to deal with this.  The accusation stung, and sparked a slight, surreal panic that someone would believe she was capable of that behavior, but Damian, Alix, and Kim were already loudly defending her honor.  

 

The argument was loud and chaotic and Marinette couldn’t follow much of the melee.  She was grateful when Ms. Bustier came in and called the class to order.

 

“Sleep well, Dami.” Marinette whispered.

 

“Take care of yourself.” Damian answered firmly, but with a care that Marinette noticed.



~~~~~~~~~~



Kim and Alix followed through on their promise and escorted Marinette home after the test was finished and they’d been released for lunch.  Kagami was waiting for them at the bakery, as she had offered to pick up a homeopathic remedy for Marinette’s flu. Luka also tagged along to offer his well wishes and then take Kagami for a lunch date.  Marinette didn’t want to linger long in the bakery--even if she was wearing a mask--but she stood to the side for a moment as her friends chatted with her and her parents.

 

Suddenly, the front door slammed open and Adrien ran in before ducking low under the windows.  Everyone in the bakery stared, except for Marinette, Luka, Kagami, and Sabine. They seemed to be used to this behavior.

 

“Dramatic, Agreste?” Kagami said judgingly.

 

“Shhhhhh!” Adrien hissed and then tensed.

 

Outside there were the chaotic sounds of a large group of people hurrying en masse.  Over the din was the unmistakable sound of Lila Rossi calling for Adrien. After the sounds dissipated, Adrien relaxed.

 

“Um...My father wanted me to have lunch with Lila at a bistro down the street, but the fire alarms very unexpectedly and completely accidentally malfunctioned.  Like, they were completely destroyed.” Adrien said nervously. “Weird, right? Anyway, whoops! I got seperated from Lila in the crowd! And I forgot my phone at home!  And no one else had theirs --put that thing away, Kubdel!”

 

Alix gave him an unimpressed look but pocketed her phone.

 

“Congratulations, you’ve probably bought yourself at least an hour before they track you down via the microchip embedded in your body.” Kagami said.

 

“Haha...wait.  That’s not a real thing, is it?”  Adrien looked worried.  

 

“It is for dogs.” Alix shrugged.

 

“B-but they can’t do that to people, right?  Or I’d at least know about it?” Adrien worried more.

 

Marinette put a calming hand on his shoulder and Sabine gave him a fresh, warm cookie.  

 

“Don’t worry about it.” Marinette said.  “Live in the moment. For now.”

 

“I’ve got plenty of soup warming upstairs, Adrien.” Sabine said.  “You’re welcome to hide here during lunch, but you need to go back to school when the time comes so your father doesn’t worry too much.  Just stay away from Marinette, we don’t want you getting sick too.”

 

Adrien lit up at the possibility.  “No way--that’s a great idea! Marinette, cough on me!  Do you think you could manage a sneeze? I’ve got photoshoots with Lila scheduled all week!  Maybe if I’m dying then Father would get someone to step in for me so the aesthetic isn’t damaged!”

 

“No.” Marinette said.

 

“That is a beyond-stupid idea.” Kagami added.

 

“It’s not worth it.” Luka chimed in.

 

Adrien pouted.  “You’ve never been there.  It’s worth it.”

 

“If you catch my flu I’ll probably be blamed somehow.” Marinette reminded.  “Aren’t I suffering enough?”

 

Adrien deflated at that.  “Fine.”

 

“Whoa, whoa--hold it!” Kim exclaimed, clearly confused.  “I thought Agreste was the enemy!? Adrien actually knew Lila was a fake!”

 

“Yes, but he’s got extenuating circumstances.” Marinette reminded.

 

“He’s on probation.” Kagami said.

 

“How come he doesn’t have to prove himself to you like we did?” KIm complained.

 

Kagami was nonplussed by his argument.  “Adrien and I have an understanding regarding his father’s parenting skills and the environment we have both been raised in.  While I am not pleased with the situation Adrien has been an unwilling accomplice of, I understand his predicament and have maintained my friendship with him.”

 

Kim pouted and mumbled.  “No fair! You made me sweat through my sweatshirt when you interrogated me…”

 

Kagami stared him down as she started pulling Luka out the door by his hand.  “Marinette is my friend. My friend, my rules. Deal with it.”

 

Marinette laughed weakly as she started toward the stairs.  Alix and Kim followed with Adrien and Sabine sent along a box of croissants to go with the soup.

 

“So you’re stuck with Lila?” Marinette asked.

 

“Yes!” Adrien whimpered.  “He’s called us out of school just for the shoots and they’re all the way on the other side of Paris!  Lila must have used some pull to get it scheduled during school hours too, because it’s completely unnecessary for it to be scheduled at that time!  If it weren’t for the tests, I’m sure we would have been pulled out for the entire school week!”

 

Marinette shook her head and covered a deep, chest cough.  “Okay, we can destress about Lila another time, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m done with her for today.  We are now entering a Lila-free zone.”



~~~~~~~~~~



It was an absolutely miserable day.  Marinette made it through the week of no-makeup-tests-allowed exams, but it had been awful.  She felt terrible and the only comfort she had was the fact that her new, favorite Robin sweatshirt and Batman and Robins blanket were waiting with a bowl of soup at home.

 

Lila had been in fine form all morning.  Apparently, Lila had fainting spells and the stress of the exams were bringing them about.  The only relief she could find was in a fresh, cool breeze wafting through the room.  

 

It was below freezing out, so even Ms. Bustier was hesitant to comply, but Lila started to “black out” so she allowed a window to be opened so the cold air would help clear her head.  It was suggested that Lila should go to the nurse, but she made a scene about not wanting to be a bother or miss the test. She made a pointed comment that she shouldn’t have to fail the exam just because some people --clearly implying Marinette--wanted to cheat.

 

When Max made the suggestion that they open the back window--next to Marinette’s seat--and the classroom door to create a crossbreeze, Marinette was actually fairly positive that he only meant to be helpful and wasn’t trying to make things harder for her.  He seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that Marinette was still huddled in her winter jacket with her gloves, scarf, medical mask, hat, and hood all still on.

 

Marinette wasn’t the only one to complain about the cold.  Throughout the test, the temperature would continue to drop until all the students--even Lila--were shivering and unable to concentrate.  At that point, the window and door would be closed and the room would start to become more comfortable. However, just when Marinette felt like she was thawing out, Lila would become “faint” again and the crossbreeze would be back.

 

Her head was spinning and she was shivering as her fever rose.  All Marinette wanted to do was speed through the test and go home--at this point she didn’t even care how she scored.  Her Ladybug tendencies were hitting her hard, though, and her thought process was slowing as she fought sleep off as well as her illness.  

 

All her friends finished the test ahead of her.  They were casting her looks, obviously trying to pace themselves to keep up with her, but it was no use.  Adrien was one of the first to finish, urged on by Natalie’s presence as she arrived and somehow had permission to stand by the door to whisk Adrien and Lila away the moment their tests were completed.  He finished right after Max, and Lila followed only seconds later--which wasn’t a surprise because anyone watching realized she was undoubtedly peering over Adrien’s shoulder and copying his answers.

 

So much for the school’s attempt to avoid cheating.

 

One by one, students handed in their exams until it was only Marinette remaining.  It took Marinette so long to complete the test that she was sure she had outlasted the allotted test time.  She expected to be asked to hand in her test unfinished, which spiked her anxiety despite her exhaustion. Ms. Bustier must have been taking mercy on her, however, and waited patiently at her desk until Marinette finally gave her a completed exam.  

 

Lunch was actually over by the time Marinette left the classroom.  All her friends were already busy with their next class so no one was there to walk her home, but at least no one was there to harass her, either.

 

She was coughing as she slowly walked home, but it was nowhere near the incessant cough she’d had while in class.  Marinette had actually felt guilty because her cough had to be distracting--or at least unsettling--for her friends and classmates to hear while trying to concentrate.

 

Marinette was so out of it that Tikki had to phase through her purse and get her attention before Marinette realized screams were growing in volume--seemingly coming from all directions.  

 

Almost in tears, Marinette stumbled behind a wall and transformed.  She was praying for an easy akuma--was it awful to hope that Mr. Ramier was having a bad day? 

 

All her hopes were dashed when she saw the akuma and the growing army of aggressive, mind controlled civilians at its command.  

 

Alya was not yet on the scene attempting to get a scoupe for the Ladyblog, but her sister Nora was there.  Ladybug sluggishly watched as Nora charged the akuma and tried to pin him down, but the Akuma threw her off easily--obviously gifted with super strength.  Nora was quick to get back up and Ladybug leapt into action to get her out of the way.

 

The akuma was quicker than both of them.  A beam of light shot out from the boxer’s glove on his hand and slammed into Nora.  She went down again, but this time when she got back up her eyes glowed a disturbing red.  

 

Dismayed, Ladybug watched Nora join the akuma’s ranks as he seemed to feed off the rage that literally poured off her shoulders in visable energy waves.  The akuma savored the aggression and smiled as his already giant size grew even greater.

 

“I am Butterfly Guard!  They said I wasn’t aggressive enough to make it in their fight club!  Now their rage will feed me and I will rule them all!”

Chapter Text

An hour into the fight and Ladybug was still struggling alone and barely holding on.  The Butterfly Guard was fast and vicious. She thanked her lucky spots that she’d managed to avoid being hit by his beam so far, but other people weren’t so fortunate. The akuma was doubled in size and he seemed to take pleasure in either smacking her around like a ping-pong ball or allowing his minions to the honors.

 

She’d been tossed around the city more than a dozen times but the akuma always caught up to her quickly and Ladybug barely had any time to recover before she was being pummeled again.  The thought occurred to her that her response time was affected by her illness and exhaustion, but the realization didn’t help and it only served to discourage her more. At least her suit was keeping her fairly comfortable temperature wise, but it was scant comfort.

 

The onslaught was so brutal that she was never even afforded enough time to slip away and get backup--and Second Chance was looking especially appealing right now.

 

Butterfly Guard was laughing at her and the purple outline around his mask seemed to indicate that Hawkmoth was in agreement with him.  Their plan seemed to be to beat Ladybug to a pulp until she was so worn out she couldn’t fight anymore and then take her Miraculous.

 

“Please, Kitty…” Ladybug murmured in desperation.

 

Cat Noir had warned her his week was shaping up to be difficult and expected to find it hard to escape to don the mask and ears.  She was never so devastated that he’d been right.

 

Her energy was already depleted when the fight began, now she was only surviving on jolts of adrenaline coursing through her veins at every near miss.  Ladybug thought back on when her Papa had been akumatized and the pain Cat had been in despite the protection from his magical suit. This must have been similar to how he felt.  Her body just felt broken .  There was no other way to describe it, though she was sure she didn’t actually have any broken bones.

 

Ladybug tripped and pain radiated through her body like shockwaves from multiple explosions.  She was having trouble pulling herself back up again. Getting up in time to avoid Butterfly Guard’s next blast proved impossible.

 

She was too tired to flinch when he aimed his fist at her.  Ladybug just watched in resignation as the light began to encompass his glove.

 

No !” 

 

Black.  

 

Black filled her vision and black absorbed the beam as Cat Noir finally arrived only in time to throw himself in front of his partner and save her from becoming possessed.

 

“No…” Ladybug whispered as Cat shuddered a moment before grinning maniacally at her with red glazed eyes.



~~~~~~~~~~



Damian stumbled into the kitchen, feeling oddly unsettled and out of sorts.  Well...stumbled for him. He was still completely coordinated but he was feeling sluggish and even more on edge than usual.  Tim seemed to sense that he was ready to snap and he wisely kept a safe distance.  

 

He’d been worried about Marinette most of the night and she’d missed their bidaily video call.  It seemed like a silly reason to be worried and Damian chided himself for how soft he’d become. Still...he knew she was ill and under duress with her exams and bullies.

 

“Hey, Drake.” Damian said, not quite in a questioning tone but also not demanding.  “Can you check on the situation in Paris, please?”

 

Tim smirked.  “Trouble in Paradise?”

 

“Shut up.  You know nothing.” Damian snapped.  “Just look to see if something is going down right now.  I’ll even take something posted on the hack’s blog.”

     

Tim rolled his eyes but he got to work on his laptop.  Attitude is one thing Damian had in excess, but Tim could tell he was genuinely worried.  Tim was reluctant to seek out the Ladyblog, but went there when a general search pulled up nothing.

 

Tim frowned and abandoned his coffee in favor of turning to the computer to his little brother.  “It’s not good.”

 

Damian’s face contorted into a storm of fury and disgust.  

 

“Suit up.”  Damian said as he stalked back out the kitchen door.  “Any idiot that’s not at the Zeta Platform in five minute is getting left behind.”     

 

Tim chugged the remainder of his coffee as he sent an emergency text to the rest of the family--minus Kor’i who had taken Mar’i on a short trip to Tamaran to visit her k’norfka.

 

He took one last look at the live feed of Ladybug being chased and beaten by her partner and the akuma before he shut his computer and made a dash for the Cave.



~~~~~~~~~~



Cat Noir was grinning evilly, red eyes narrowed in focus and mirth as he played with his prey.  Ladybug was barely dodging blows from Cat’s staff and the akuma’s fists. Every other attempt by her opponents seemed to find their mark and Ladybug was sent spinning to recover.

 

Seizing an opportunity, Ladybug wrapped her yo-yo around Cat Noir’s staff and pulled it out of his grip.  Acting on a surge of adrenaline, she swung at Butterfly Guard and knocked him back a few steps before batting Cat across three whole city blocks.  

 

Butterfly Guard came charging back to her and Ladybug dodged and tried to wrap him in her yo-yo.  The string wrapped around him but when she attempted to fling him across the city or at least spin him like a top, he fisted the string and yanked her instead.  Ladybug had to recall her yo-you or risk losing her primary weapon.

 

Both staff and yo-yo were spun into shields as a wave of minions closed in on her.  Heartsick, Ladybug saw her Papa among the crowd and guessed he’d come looking for Marinette when she didn’t come home after school.  The minions were repelled as they rushed Ladybug and bounced off the magic shields. Undeterred, they kept leaping back up and uselessly tried their charge again, only succeeding in tiring Ladybug.  

 

A feral yowl caught her attention just in time for her to bring the staff above her head to deflect Cat Noir’s airborne attack.  Unfortunately, Cat Noir took the hit she gave him without trying to deflect it. Instead, Cat allowed the staff to make a sickening, crunching contact to his ribs and he smiled--unaware or uncaring of pain--as his hands wrapped around his staff and he yanked it out of Ladybug’s grasp.

 

Tripping and unbalanced from the pull, Ladybug didn’t react in time to stop Cat Noir as he brought the staff down on her shoulder.

 

She did feel the impact as her shoulder and collarbone shattered.  This time Ladybug knew something had broken. The force of the impact knocked her down the street to where the akuma seemed to be waiting.  He seemed to take pleasure from her pain and she couldn’t help but whimper as Butterfly Guard picked her up.  

 

As if by silent command, the minions cleared out of the streets.  They squeezed together, overflowing the sidewalks, braying like a bloodlusting coliseum crowd awaiting the arrival of gladiators.  At the end of the cleared street, Cat Noir prowled in anticipation and twirled his staff.  

 

Butterfly Guard brought back his fist and Ladybug worried that he was about to hit her with his beam.  His gloved fist slamming into her abdomen was not a much better alternative.

 

Ladybug flew down the street and couldn’t even throw out her yo-yo before she was pitched right into Cat Noir’s staff.  Pain slammed into her back and her broken shoulder hurt so much that she thought she would pass out. It must have shocked her numb because Ladybug was hardly aware of being batted back and forth between the akuma and her partner like a limp doll.  

 

She was almost relieved when Cat’s last bat didn’t throw her quite far enough to reach Butterfly Guard.  She hit the streets hard and bounced and skid, scraping what skin was exposed out of her suit until she landed in a heap with the minions jeering around her.

 

Ladybug was barely more aware of anything other than the rasping, sucking sound of her trying to breathe and the immense pain driving through her body.

 

Laughing, the akuma scooped her off the street.  His fist cruelly clamped down on her injured shoulder and she somehow found the breath to release a bloodcurdling scream.

 

A purple light appeared in her blurred vision as Hawkmoth communicate with Butterfly Guard.

 

“You’ll get your prize, Hawkmoth.” Butterfly Guard promised.  “Just as soon as I finish my opponent…”

 

Butterfly Guard drew back his fist again and prepared a final, devastating blow to Ladybug’s head.  

 

Only to be thrown back in surprise as a half dozen smoke bombs exploded in his face.  Butterfly Guard was knocked back and let go of Ladybug in his surprise. She couldn’t even try to catch herself when she was dropped, but thankfully Ladybug didn’t land on the pavement.  

 

Arms wrapped around her and Ladybug felt herself being swung up into the air, very similar to her yo-yo travel.  She was tossed like a hot potato from one set of arms to another as Butterfly Guard and Cat Noir were distracted and Ladybug was whisked away from the battle.

 

The sudden stillness, when they finally came to a stop, didn’t help the spinning in her head.

 

“Ang…” she heard a soft murmur but she was too busy holding back her nausea and trying to breathe to pay attention.

 

A blessedly cold hand gently rested on her forehead.

 

“Her fever has spiked and she’s taken heavy damage,” a tense voice bit out.

 

“Bats, Nightwing, and Hood have them successfully distracted.  Our appearance seems to have surprised Hawkmoth and he is communicating with his victim.” another voice said.  “The akuma seems to be leaching the fury radiating off his minions even after the initial power surge of possession.  Batman, deploying the sedative gas bombs should reduce his available manpower and stave off some of the negative energy he’s feeding off of.”

 

Ladybug struggled to force her eyelids open.  Her vision wouldn’t focus, but outside of the pain and the numbness of her battered brain she realized she was cradled in a yellow, green, and red embrace.

 

“D-d...Rrr…” Ladybug could barely form a coherent thought, let alone a coherent--and identity safe--sentence.  She flailed out her good arm, not really sure what she was doing but thinking she needed to do something .

 

Her arm was caught but the grasp was so gentle she didn’t fear the touch.  “Shh, Angel.” Robin whispered in French. “It’s us, you are safe.”

 

Her vision only slightly improved as Ladybug caught her breath, but she did catch a whiff of a scent that echoed memories filled with messages of safe and home .  She sagged in relief and Robin placed a kiss on her forehead, careful to avoid the awful scrapes and bruises across her face.

 

“Robin.” she gasped out.

 

He didn’t answer her, instead speaking to Red Robin who was guarding the shaded alcove they were hiding in on an obscure roof.

 

“You need to subdue the akuma but I’m taking her to a hospital.” Robin said.

 

“No…” Ladybug moaned.

 

“You are sick and injured.” Robin said firmly.

 

Ladybug weakly shook her head.  “Just...over did it...I’ll be fine after the cure.  Need to...butterfly. I’ve got...purify the butterfly.”

 

“Can’t I just slice the thing?” Robin grit out.

 

“No!” Ladybug clung to his uniform in a panic.  “It’ll just possess your...katana…”

 

Robin growled but Red Robin intercede.  “We can bring you the akumatized object.  Can you cast the cure now?”

 

“Not till till...damage done.” Ladybug gasped.  “Couldn’t even call for..charm. Couldn’t risk timing out.”

 

“Do you know what the possessed item is?” Red Robin asked, not looking her way as he kept busy working on a hand-held device.

 

“Glove.” Ladybug said.  “Don’t get hit by beam.”

 

Butterfly Guard was not as outfitted as Anasi had been.  Anasi had been decked out in proper, modern protective gear, Butterfly Guard looked like he was outfitted more like an Old Hollywood movie boxer.  He wore a flashy pair of boxing shorts, shoes, and gloves but he didn’t even seem to have a mouth guard on. Ladybug thought it unlikely for the akuma to have possessed his shoes--they didn’t seem important to him like Alix’s skates had been to her.  She severely hoped the akuma wasn’t in his shorts.

 

Robin seethed but controlled himself so he wouldn’t cause Ladybug undo stress.  “Fine. Get the moth. Now !”

 

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug whispered.

 

A red and black spotted hammer fell out of the air and nearly landed on Ladybug’s stomach before Robin snatched it out of the air. 

 

“Good.  A bludgeon.” Robin commented.

 

“Not…” Ladybug mumbled.  

 

She considered the hammer for a moment as she tried to piece together a plan in her clouded brain.  A glance at Red Robin and a plan became clear.

 

“Red Robin, take the hammer and make some noise.” Ladybug directed.  “They haven’t seen you yet...right? Hit lamp posts, streetlights--anything to distract the akuma.  Cat will be your biggest threat. Have Red Hood distract him. Bait him into activating his Cataclysm but don’t let it touch anything--especially you guys.  Batman and Nightwing engage Butterfly Guard as one. Split his focus and overload his senses with the extra noise. Have Red Hood lead Cat to Butterfly Guard and fake them out so Cat touches the blasting glove.”

 

Red Robin nodded and left with the hammer.

 

“We need to be...closer.” Ladybug said, growing weaker.

 

“They can bring the butterfly to us.” Robin said.

 

“Not likely.” Ladybug insisted.  “We have to cleanse the akuma before it multiples or it will create an army of Butterfly Guards.”

 

Robin sighed but silently admitted defeat.  Watching their surroundings carefully, Robin made his way back to the battle via the rooftops with Ladybug held uneasily in his arms.  Though his strength had been well honed through his training, Ladybug was almost dead weight and it was very difficult for him to keep a safe grasp on her without endangering or injuring her further.  

 

Ladybug winced as the clatter of her plan and the terrifying roar of the akuma and his minions rose to a maddening volume.  She heard Nightwing call out something about, “Time to deliver the punchline!” and Robin’s corresponding scoff.

 

“Hood’s about to bait and switch…” Robin muttered.  “He got it!”

 

Ladybug sat up with Robin’s help and used her nose to open her yo-yo, not even bothering to attempt to use her bad arm.

 

“No more evildoing for you, little akuma…” Ladybug said softly.  

 

The purified butterfly was barely fluttering away when Red Robin was by her side and offering her the hammer.

 

Robin helped her toss it into the air and Ladybug forced herself to call out, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

 

Fresh, cold air in a deep, full breath is what Ladybug first relished when the ladybugs swarmed around her.  Her pain was gone and her head was clear, but she was immediately caught in a coughing attack and her fever and weariness didn’t seem much improved.

 

Robin helped her up and Ladybug suddenly stared at him, only now seeming to really take in his presence.

 

“You’re here.” she said softly.

 

Robin frowned and brought her close for a lingering hug, Red Robin graciously gave them some privacy.  “Of course. I promised you I would be.”

 

Ladybug shook her head.  “I couldn’t even call for help!”

 

“Shh…” Robin brushed his nose against hers.

 

“Don’t!  You’ll get sick!” Ladybug tried to pull back but Robin just kept his gentle hold on her. 

 

“I don’t get sick.  I’ve decided against it.” Robin said as he rested his cheek against hers.

 

“That’s not how it works…” Ladybug protested.

 

Robin pulled away just far enough to look her in the eye and cradle her cheek.

 

“It’s worth it.” Robin said.

 

When Ladybug stopped arguing with him, Robin leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips.

 

Ladybug smiled at him but they both snapped back into work mode when noises from the street drew their attention.

 

Ladybug caught Robin around his waist and swung them down to the street.

 

Many of the former minions had quickly dispersed, anxious to reunite with loved ones or get back to their lives.  Robin joined his family as they watched Nora talk to the former akumatized victim. The young man wasn’t nearly as formidable looking as when he was akumatized and was clearly dazed and embarrassed.  He was very thin and seemed meek as he slumped on the ground. Seeing the Batman and the Gotham heroes hovering nearby did nothing to assuage his guilt and bewilderment.

 

“Hey!” Nora said as she pulled him abruptly to his feet.  “I was trying to tell you earlier, Rex doesn’t know what he’s talking about!  You might be a lightweight, but ya got pluck and you’re a good sport! Rex can’t bar you from the club, I’ll help you go above his head and get a spot.”

 

Ladybug watched as the victim’s entire demeanor changed and he was fully focused on Nora as they began talking shop.

 

Ladybug turned to greet her partner as he shuffled up next to her.  Though he had saved her from being forced under the akumas control, she knew Cat would feel guilty for his actions against her--especially later on when he saw footage of the battle after he was controlled.  She was sure she saw Alya creeping around the battlefield at least once.  

 

Though for the moment Cat Noir wasn’t wracked with guilt but was staring slack-jawed at Batman.

 

“Batman.” Cat said dumbly.

 

“I told you I was getting us help…” Ladybug said with a soft chuckle.

 

“Batman.” Cat Noir said again.  “We team up with Batman...and I was a brainwashed flunkie for the whole thing.”

 

“There will be other times, Kitty.” Ladybug giggled.

 

“Okay, I am incredibly grateful you are well now, M’lady,” Cat Noir said, flustered, “like, incredibly relieved, honestly.  But how in the ever-loving kitty litter did you get the Caped Crusader to come to Paris!”

 

Ladybug winced.  “Okay...so there’s something I forgot to tell you, but you probably need to know for your own future knowledge…and I’m afraid you’re going to feel hurt.”

 

“What?” Cat Noir tilted his head slightly.  

 

“So...I recently discovered the hard way that two soulmates can’t hide their identities from each other once their strings connect.” Ladybug said sheepishly.  “They recognise each other immediately.”

 

Cat Noir blinked once and then twice as her words processed themselves in his brain.  “So...oh. Oh! So, you...and he!”

 

Ladybug nodded.  “I’m so sorry, Cat Noir.  I always planned that we would reveal our identities to each other first, but the soulmate connection took me by surprise and Tikki said it was inevitable.”

 

“No, no!” Cat Noir immediately assured her.  “I understand! Soulmate connections can be tricky, but I know how much you value our partnership.  I’ve given it more thought, and you were right--it’s probably best for us to not know our identities for now--look how it compromised Rena Rouge and Carapace back when they were on the team.  Let’s not even get started on Queen Bee...it’s just--wow!”

 

“Pretty much.” Ladybug blew a stay bang hair out of her eyes.

 

“Then…” Cat Noir seemed to be thinking something through and he suddenly paled.  “Oh. My. Camembert.” 

 

Cat Noir’s brain was in a tailspin and he wished his mind had a tail for Ladybug to yank back like she could reel him back in real life.

 

“You’re soulmate is a Robin?!” Cat screeched.  

 

“Figured that out, huh?” Ladybug chuckled awkwardly.

 

“Which one?!” Cat Noir paled.  “You know what, it doesn’t matter!  They’re all scary! Oh man…I am so dead when he finds out I flirt with you!  Can you tell him it’s all in good fun? I mean, who else am I supposed to bounce my awesome flirtitude off of?!  Oh...he’s going to kill me! Oh gosh! I’m gonna die--this is how it happens! This is how I die! I can see my nine lives flash before my eyes!”

 

“Do you really think you still have all nine lives?”  Ladybug raised a skeptical eyebrow at him.

 

“A kitten can hope--oh camembert!  This doesn’t mean I have to stop the nicknames, does it?!  I probably should have asked before; but, honestly, if I have to stop completely it might actually kill me--literally because I won’t be able to stop and your soulmate will end me!”

 

“Only if you really deserve it.”

 

Cat Noir jumped and hissed in surprise.  Ladybug was not amused because he’d ended up in her arms with his claws messing up her pigtails.

 

“I didn’t do anything!” Cat Noir yelped.

 

“Smooth.” Ladybug grumbled.  “Robin, play nice and don’t scare the cat.”

 

Robin didn’t respond as a sequence of beeps came from Ladybug’s earrings, followed soon after by Cat Noir’s ring.  Cat jumped out of Ladybug’s arms as Batman and the others approached.

 

“Thank you all for coming.” Ladybug said, voice obviously hoarse.  “I apologize for the hassle.”

 

“Are you kidding?” Nightwing exclaimed.  “That was nothing compared to what goes on in Gotham every day!  And you fixed all the damage completely and instantaneously! Hassle?!  Please, you should see what Joker can...no. Actually, no. Don’t ever see what Joker can do!”  

 

Batman stared at Cat Noir with a blank expression as the Cat stared back, completely star struck.

 

Ladybug chuckled, which almost turned into a coughing fit.  “Have you gone catatonic, Kitty?”

 

“Oh.  My. Batman.” Cat Noir mewed.

 

The older brothers obviously found this amusing, while Batman held back a smirk.  Robin was glaring at them all.

 

The Miraculouses beeped again just as the press began to gather.  

 

“Everyone head home.” Ladybug croaked out, energy draining by the second.  “We’ll address the press on our own terms at a later date. Cat, we’ll talk later.”

 

The Batfam gave her questioning looks, concerned about her and with her former injuries still fresh on their minds, but she held her ground and they made their escape.  Cat was still staring after them and Ladybug had to smirk, even despite how awful she felt.

 

Cat Noir shook himself back into focus.  “Are you alright, M’lady?”

 

Ladybug winced, red eyes glowing in her memory for a moment.  “I’ll be fine, Kitty. Tonight?”

 

“Tonight.” Cat Noir nodded in affirmation and they took off in separate directions.



~~~~~~~~~~



Tom was already back in the bakery by the time Marinette shuffled through the door.  Her parents rushed her and smothered her in concern. She giggled at their affectionate hovering and assured them she was fine.  She claimed to have been turned into a minion by the akuma. Tom had no recollection of his time as a minion--something Marinette was immensely grateful for--so Marinette claimed to have no memory of the event either.  Her exhaustion was plain for her parents to see, so they sent Marinette upstairs with a warm cup of cocoa while they dealt with a sudden surge of post-akuma customers.  

 

Marinette was glad for their distraction.  Her mind was warring with her body. Horrors of the day competing for attention with every miserable molecule of her body.  This akuma was going to be a feature in her nightmares and her therapy, but for now her body was practically demanding that her brain shut down and deal with it another time.

 

“It took you longer to return home than I’d anticipated.”

 

Marinette gasped and almost fell back down the stairs to her room when the voice suddenly spoke up from the shadows.

 

“Damian!” Marinette gasped.  “What are you doing here?! I thought you went home with the others!  You’re not even supposed to be in this country and you’re hiding in my room!  You gave me a fright!”

 

“One good turn deserves another.” Damian said back.  He moved into the light, mask off but still in his Robin costume.  “You nearly scared me to death today. I came by to make sure you were finally taking care of yourself.”

 

“It’s not like I was trying to run myself ragged!” Marinette rolled her eyes as her latest surge of adrenaline wore off and her exhaustion hit her even harder.  “Just get over here and give me a hug!”

 

Damian easily complied.  He wrapped her up in his arms and lead her to the chaise.  Before letting her go he held her for a long moment. Congested sniffles turned to wet sniffles and Damian realized she was crying.

 

“Oh, love.” Damian snagged a tissue for her and tried to dry her tears as he soothed her.  “Why are you crying?”

 

Marinette shrugged.  “Just..everything. I missed you, Dami.” Marinette mumbled before she started coughing.

 

Damian rubbed her back and held her closer.  “I missed you as well.” 

 

They let his endearment slide.  They hadn’t said the big L word yet and neither of them wanted the first time to be under these circumstances.  Soon, Damian got up and closed the trap door and turned on the lights.

 

The shadows in the room were cast aside and Marinette laughed at the expression on Damian’s face.  He looked somewhere between dismayed and laughably terrified of the pink explosion in her bedroom.

 

“What?” she giggled.

 

“I’ve just seen my future.  And it’s pink .” Damain said mournfully.  “I don’t think the manor’s ever even had pink…”

 

Marinette laughed even more.  “What about Kor’i and Mar’i?”

 

“They’re more into purple.  I think it’s a Tamaranean thing.” Damian said numbly.

 

Marinette shook her head and smiled.  “You don’t really mind do you?”

 

Damian sighed and grabbed a blanket, determined to get Marinette to rest.

 

“No.” Damian said.  “Of course not. It’s not my favorite, but you obviously love it.  But Gotham may have a city wide crisis with all this peppy pink.”

 

Marinette laughed.  “If it can handle Kor’i and Mar’i then I’m sure Gotham can survive little ‘ol me.”

 

“I’ll get used to the pink.” Damian promised.  “Besides, it’s the support color for Breast Cancer awareness.”

 

“Good.” Marinette smirked.  “Because I’ve been thinking about getting some pink highlights in my hair…”

 

Damian groaned and Marinette laughed so hard that she started coughing.

 

“Come on, get comfortable.” Damian shooed her to get settled on the chaise.  “I’m here to make sure you actually rest instead of running off to save Paris or go design crazy.”

 

Marinette sobered as Damian tucked a blanket around her.  “Damian, as much as I love seeing you, you can’t be here. I assume you used the Zeta platform to get here as Robin but Damian Wayne’s not due to be here for another couple of weeks!  What if my parents come up?”

 

“When I snuck in I made sure your parents were distracted and I set up surveillance sensors in your stairway.  It’ll warn me with enough time to disappear before they can find out Robin came to pay you a visit.” Damian explained.

 

Marinette glared at Damian.

 

“What?” he defended himself.  “It’s not spying if I tell you about it!”

 

Marinette looked exasperated.  “I’m too tired to deal with that.”

 

“Do you need anything?” Damian asked. 

 

“I’m good.” Marinette held up her cup of cocoa.  “Mama set me up with the good stuff.”

 

Damian leaned forward to kiss her cheek but Marinette pushed him back by the nose.  “Don’t! You’ll get sick!”

 

He smirked and pecked her cheek anyway.  “Already told you, it’s worth it.”

 

Marinette coughed again and burrowed deeper into the blankets.  “No it’s not! Believe me!”

 

Damian chuckled.

 

Marinette pouted.  “Fine. If you’re gonna be that way then you can at least be my personal teddy bear!”

 

Damian smirked and took off his cape and katana before settling down next to her and letting Marinette snuggle into his side.

 

“What’s your plan?” Marinette asked.  “I assume you’re not going to return to Gotham until you're satisfied I’m not going to be plowed down by either the flu or an akuma?”

 

“You assume correctly.” Damian answered.  “Don’t worry about it. The Justice League has a safe house here and Tim and I are going to say close the next few days until you are back to full force.”

 

Marinette sighed, weary.  “Sorry…”

 

“Don’t even go there.” Damian said firmly.  “You shouldn’t even be fighting while you’re this ill.  If Alfred was here he would bench you indefinitely. And that stupid flea bag wasn’t any help—”

 

Cat Noir was not at fault here.” Marinette insisted.  “He warned me this week was going to be trouble.”

 

“He’s got a job to do.” Damian growled.  He bit back the venom he felt when he thought of the Cat beating on Marinette.  He knew he was under mind control but he still wanted to return every blow back to Cat Noir twenty fold.  “He should have been there sooner and fought smarter--especially with you sick.”

 

Marinette winced.  “I didn’t directly tell him I was sick.”

 

Damian raised an eyebrow.  “What directly did you tell him?”

 

“Um...nothing,” she admitted, “but he might have picked up on something after seeing me today.”

 

Damian sighed.  “Why didn’t you warn your partner you were sick?”

 

“He’s met me before as a civilian.” Marinette shrugged.  “We have to be careful what personal information we share.  Marinette and Ladybug getting the flu at the same time could be suspicious.”

 

“Is it really that important?” Damian asked.

 

“It’s hard to say.” Marinette admitted.  “We’ve had teammates in the past who have known who each other is or Hawkmoth has found out their identities and it’s caused problems.”

 

“Why didn’t you cast that spell that stops transformations when you knew you were sick?” Damian asked.

 

“We have to be selective about when we enact it.” Marinette explained.  “It’s not the easiest spell to begin with and it’s not risk free. Unless Cat Noir and I take all the Miraculouses and our own out of range before hand, we would be defenceless if an emergency came up.  Also, we don’t know how mobile Hawkmoth is. If his Miraculous is outside the range when the spell is cast, then it will be pointless--and if Cat and I were in range of the spell then we won’t be able to fight off any akumas.” Marinette paused to yawn.  “We mostly reserve it for emergencies.”

 

“You don’t call this an emergency?!” he grumbled, annoyed when Marinette just gave a blase shrug.

 

Damian tried to hold back his scowl as he felt Marinette become more relaxed and drowsy.

 

“Rest, Angel,” he said as he rubbed her back softly.  “I’ll slip away before you’re parents catch me.”

 

“I’m meeting Cat tonight to catch him up.” Marinette mumbled.  “Do you want to be there?”

 

“Among other things, it is too cold for you to go out and exhaust yourself even more tonight.” Damian said.  “I will meet with the Cat and explain things.”

 

“You don’t have to—”

 

“You can’t honestly tell me you think you are in any shape for Ladybug duty.” Damian interrupted.

 

“But—” 

 

“You should listen to him, Marinette.” Tikki had gone quiet and had given them space but now she swooped into the conversation.  “Cat Noir will understand and you need rest to get well.”

 

Marinette sighed.  “Be nice to him. Remember, he’s not the enemy.  If he hadn’t taken that hit for me today I would have been the one compromised and Hawkmoth would have my identity and my earrings by now.”

 

Damian grit his teeth.  “I’ll leave the katana with Tim.”

 

Marinette sighed but accepted the promise was the best she was going to get.  “We’re supposed to meet at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight.”

 

“You meet on the Eiffel Tower?!” Damian said sarcastically.  “Seriously?”

 

“I mean, it’s no brooding gargoyle on a gothic skyscraper, but we call it home.” Marinette sassed.

 

Damian scoffed and Tikki giggled at them both before curling up in the crook of Marinette’s neck for a nap.

Chapter Text

Cat Noir was trying to control his shaking as he stood on the top of the Eiffel Tower.  The more he tried to control it, the worse the shaking became so he just sat down and tried to relax.  The Batman stupor had quickly worn off but he’d had to wait till he was home and alone before he could look up the fight on the Ladyblog.  

 

Adrien had to paste on a smile as he returned to the set of the photo shoot to a worried Guillaume and an irate Lila.  He didn’t remember what excuse he gave them, but he was pretty sure it was lame. Thankfully, Guillaume seemed to take it as an excuse to duck Lila for a while and was understanding.  Lila had made him suffer for his absence by being extra cloying during the photoshoot. The photographer, Vincent, was annoyed for once instead of taken in by her charms and the shoot went overtime because Lila kept trying to make each pose more suggestive than Vincent wanted.  

 

The car ride back across Paris was unbearable.  Natalie had taken a seperate car back to the mansion as soon as she was assured that Adrien and Lila made it to the photoshoot site, so the return ride trapped Guillaume and Adrien in the car alone with Lila during an awful traffic jam.  Lila tried to get the Gorilla to raise the partition to give them privacy, but Adrien was thankful the blessed man flatly turned her down and made an excuse of it being broken. Still, she talked non-stop and constantly invaded Adrien’s personal space in ways that made him uncomfortable but weren’t outright, obviously inappropriate.  Adrien was no stranger to making small talk to odious people, but Lila clearly wasn’t interested in an actual conversation and no matter what he did the subject always seemed to return to toxic, vapid topics.  

 

Eventually he mostly tuned her out--as much as he could when he always felt onguard with her--and his brain anxiously supplied all sorts of horrible things he may have done while controlled by the akuma.  Plag was as far away from Lila as he could get while still being on Adrien’s person and he supplied a steady, quiet purr from beneath Adrien’s coat. Adrien scrunched down into his blue scarf and tried to draw comfort from Plagg and the old gift from Marinette.  

 

He had discovered Marinette had been cheated out of the credit for her gift while they were still on the outs and lately he had started wearing it whenever he needed a reminder of the people in his life that really cared about and supported him.  

 

He was worried that Lila was going to try to barge her way into the mansion and was mentally devising ways to force her to keep her distance should Lila make it to his room again.  After what felt like eons in her presence, they were finally approaching the mansion and Adrien braced himself for the dreaded announcement of some excuse for her staying in his presence.  It was late for the dinner hour and he hated the idea that she might have been invited for the meal. As much as Adrien craved quality time with his father, the only time he seemed to make for spending a meal with his son, lately, seemed to be if Lila was in attendance.  At least he wasn’t forced to endure a meal alone with her. It was with great relief that Guillaume drove past the mansion and on to Lila’s home.

 

Once they finally drove through the mansion’s gate, Adrien was poised to race to his room and didn’t even wait for the car to completely stop before he was out and making a dash for it.  The Ladyblog was already queued up on his hibernating computer and he refreshed the page and threw his winter gear on the floor while he waited for it to reload. He watched the fight in horror but when he saw Ladybug’s limp body batted back and forth between him and the akuma he felt sick.  He barely made it to the bathroom before throwing up and he could still hear the awful sounds of Alya’s video while he was sick.  

 

It was horrible.  Ladybug Cure or not, he was shocked Ladybug was still alive.  Knowing he’d taken the blast and become controlled to save her did nothing to assuage his guilt.  He spent hours thinking of what he could have done differently so this wouldn’t have happened. He’d transformed and raced around the rooftops of Paris as soon as he was sure the staff was done checking in on him for the night.  His run hadn’t helped burn off his nervous energy and he’d arrived early and miserable to wait for Ladybug’s arrival at their arranged meeting spot.

 

Cat Noir tapped his baton against the tower in agitation and checked the GPS app on it to see if Ladybug was transformed yet.  It still showed no signs of Ladybug and he was starting to worry that she was still hurt and not coming. His nervous fidgeting increased and his baton created a steady clatter.

 

“Could you cease that racket?  It’s annoying.”

 

Cat Noir jumped in surprise and his baton went flying.  Fortunately--or unfortunately--Robin deftly caught it without even flinching.

 

“Is Ladybug alright?” Cat asked.

 

Robin frowned.  “She’s ill.”

 

Cat Noir blanched.  “W-was it the battle?  Did the Cure not work?”

 

“No.” Robin’s glare intensified, but he wasn’t looking directly at Cat Noir.  “She was already sick and she should have informed you but she refrained.”

 

Cat Noir sighed, not in relief but in recognition.  “She tends to do that. Ladybug takes her responsibilities very seriously and sometimes forgets that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens by herself.  When she does put her needs first she usually feels really guilty about it.”

 

“Imagine that.” Robin said sarcastically, thinking of the conversations he overheard in her classroom while on video chat.

 

Cat Noir seemed to take his comment personally and shrunk in on himself, almost imperceptibly.  “I should have been there earlier.”

 

“Yes.” Robin grit his teeth, trying to remember his agreement not to be too harsh with the Cat.

 

“If I’d known she was sick, I…” Cat Noir sighed and ran a hand through his hair, disturbing his life-like cat ears.  “I probably still would have been late. I just...couldn’t get away. I--”

 

“Couldn’t get away?”  Robin snarled, temper flaring.  “What could possibly be so important that you couldn’t be inconvenienced with backing up your partner?!”

 

Cat Noir took offense to that and started becoming defensive.  “It wasn’t important, I just--”

 

“It wasn’t important?” Robin seathed.  “She was fighting alone for hours and what kept you wasn’t even important ?!”

 

“Not like that!”  Cat Noir cried. “I couldn’t get away!  I was held up in my civilian life--”

 

“So you can’t put your civilian life on hold but Ladybug can?” Robin accused.

 

“That’s not what I said!” Cat Noir shouted.  “I just meant that I have responsibilities that make it difficult to get away to transform!”

 

“You have a responsibility to Paris!” Robin growled.  “To your partner! You think I don’t have a life back in Gotham?  Responsibilities outside of the mask? I do! They don’t wait when the Joker goes on a rampage or Mr. Freeze puts the city on ice, but I have to put them aside and answer the call when my teammates need me!”

 

“Well yippy skippy for you!” Cat Noir snapped.  “I guess your father doesn’t tie a freaking ball and chain around your neck or watch you like an inmate!”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Robin glared.

 

Cat Noir seemed frustrated and practically pulled his hair out when he ran his claws through it.

 

“Nothing,” he finally said, “I’m just being dramatic.”

 

Robin was silent for a moment.

 

“Look,” Cat Noir said.  “It’s next to impossible for me to slip away during the day most of the time--especially during an attack.  But just...ask Ladybug if she’d like to trade Miraculouses at night. I can almost always get away unnoticed at night.  She can rest and catch up on any work she missed during the day because of Ladybug duty while I handle any night akumas.”

 

“I doubt she’ll agree.” Robin took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.  “But I will relay your offer.”

 

“Thanks.” Cat Noir sighed.

 

“I promised Ladybug I wouldn’t be too harsh with you, but you left a rotten first impression.” Robin said tensely.

 

The image of Ladybug being batted around crossed both of their minds.

 

“I don’t blame you.” Cat Noir admitted.

 

Robin was silent for a moment.  “Ladybug has spoken of her concern for you.  Is there something you are keeping from her? Are you in danger?  Something with your father?”

 

Cat twitched but really wasn’t surprised by the question after his outburst.  “I’m fine.”

 

The obviously pat answer hung in the air for a few long moments.  Robin tried to glare him down but was-- almost --impressed that the Cat stood his ground.

 

“What do you normally tell people when you need to get away?” Robin finally asked.

 

“It depends on the situation.” Cat Noir shrugged.

 

“Give me an example.” Robin insisted.

 

“Um...sometimes I’ve pretended to take showers?” Cat Noir hesitantly supplied.

 

“Seriously?” Robin said flatly.

 

“What’s wrong with that?” Cat Noir asked.

 

“Right.  Because all average, normal citizens see a potentially life-threatening event and say, ‘Wow!  My BO is terrible! Time for a shower!’” Robin snarked.

 

“I had limited options!” Cat Noir argued, embarrassed.

 

“It would have been better to tell people you were constipated.” Robin said.

 

“Ew!” Cat cringed.  “And, also, probably wouldn’t have worked.  I probably would have had to either work through it and/or see a doctor and get put on laxatives or something.”

 

Robin mentally filed away the comment about working through ailments.  “And pretending to wash your cares away like a South Pacific song reenactment is a more believable approach?”

 

Cat Noir had a definite surreal sensation that Robin had just randomly referenced “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair” in their conversation.  Not what he was expecting. Robin wasn’t expecting it either and was silently cursing movie nights with Dick and Kor’i.

 

“I’ll have you know,” Cat Noir argued a beat later, “I fooled Ladybug with that excuse!”

 

“Ignoring the potentially stupid and revealing nature of that comment, I’m not surprised.” Robin scoffed.  “You probably flustered her into a wreck.”

 

Cat sulked when he couldn’t think of a comeback.  “If Ladybug is sick, then can I assume she sent you to catch me up on this team up?  Or did you just come up here to yell and aggravate me?”

 

“That’s just a bonus.” Robin said easily.  “There’s not much you don’t already know, Ladybug was just waiting to tell you when the details were finalized.  Also, it was inevitable that once you were informed about me that she would have to explain our soulmate bond and she was hesitant to broach that awkward subject.”

 

Cat Noir just nodded.  “So you are her soulmate.”

 

“I believe I just confirmed that.” Robin said, but not too harshly.

 

They were silent for a moment.

 

“You...don’t need to be worried...I won’t threaten your relationship.” Cat Noir said.

 

“I’m not.” Robin said.

 

“I just mean…” Cat Noir sighed.  “I care a lot about Ladybug and I respect her.  I just want to be honest...letting her go isn’t easy, but I would never try to hurt her or try to hurt your relationship.”

 

“Good.” Robin said sharply.

 

Cat Noir nodded and they lapsed into tense silence again while Cat waited for Robin to explain the rest of Ladybug’s plan and Robin tried to think of Cat Noir beyond witnessing him beat his soulmate.  

 

“I still don’t trust you.” Robin said.

 

Cat Noir sighed heavily.  “Get in line.”



~~~~~~~~~~



“How did I get stuck here with you?” Damian complained a few days later.  

 

Damian and Tim were taking a break from the JL’s safe house.  Obscure and efficient as the apartment was, it was also a small, confining space that the brothers had been mostly cooped up in for the last three days.  It had reached a point where even Damian swore the space was shrinking on them by the second.

 

Unfortunately, they still had a job to do and were not technically supposed to be in Paris at all...legally.  This forced them to keep a low profile and--most unfortunate of all--stay close together.

 

“It could just as easily have been Jason.” Tim shrugged.  “Which of us annoys you more?”

 

“It’s a toss up.” Damian scowled.

 

Tim’s disguise was a perfect example of hiding in plain sight.  Already a sleep deprived caffeine addict; the transition to wearing trendy, layered clothes with big glasses and a slouchy hat easily turned him into just another coffee shop hipster.  He’d brought his laptop with him when they escaped the apartment for the cafe and Tim was on his third coffee and half finished with his sandwich while he used a portable, secured wifi connection to catch up on some CEO work for Wayne Enterprises.  When he needed a break, he would switch his focus and do some research for the Paris Mission.

 

Damian felt like an idiot.  A hat and glasses he could understand, but he’d allowed himself to be talked into wearing some stupid fan sweatshirt--formerly belonging to Grayson--and had a very uncomfortable faux nose ring and with a chain that connected to a cuff on his ear.  He had better things to do--like spending time with his Angel--but everyone kept reminding him that they couldn’t risk excessive contact with each other until he was in the country legally. 

 

Red Robin and Robin had briefly helped out with one akuma since the fight with Butterfly Guard, but otherwise their presence had not been necessary.

 

“Let’s be honest.” Tim said.  “Jason would be akumatized three times over by now if he was here--more if he’d witnessed any interaction between Marinette and her class.  

 

“Please, if Todd was akumatized once, he’d go rogue, track down Hawkmoth, and shoot him…” Damian considered the idea.  “Actually, perhaps we should allow Todd to come over here…”

 

“I’m pretty sure that neither Bruce nor Pigtails would approve that plan.” Tim reminded.

 

“It’s not like he’d have to shoot to kill!  Just to pain and disable.” Damian grumbled.

 

“To pain?” Tim chuckled.  “Is this The Princess Bride now?”

 

“Huh?” Damian looked mildly confused.  He figured he was missing a pop culture reference, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

 

Tim smirked.  “Never mind! Just...next time to see Marinette make sure to slide an ‘as you wish’ into the conversation when she asks you for something.”

 

Damian hummed but didn’t agree to the promise.  He’d look up the reference first. When Drake wasn’t four feet away from him.

 

“Anyway, as for Jay?  How about we don’t take that bet…” Tim trailed off as his attention was ripped from his computer to his cellphone as alerts started coming in on phones throughout the cafe.

 

Damian rolled his eyes as he and his brother casually got up and left.  “At least now I can remove this thing from my septum.”

 

They made quick work of finding a place to change and safely hide their stuff.  Very soon, Robin and Red Robin grappled up to the roof and took off at a run. They’d barely crossed the distance of one building when Red Robin body-slammed Robin mid run.

 

“Down!” Red Robin warned seconds before a car could take their heads off.

 

They both jumped back up and Red Robin went into data assessment mode.

 

“Clearly the akuma has some sort of either super strength or telekinesis.  We need to be ready for either. I haven’t seen any minions yet, but--Robin?  What’s wrong?”

 

Robin was hardly poised for battle.  He looked like he was about to be sick.

 

“It-it…” he said in a strangled voice.  “It hit the bakery!”

 

With that he staggered into a run.  Red Robin looked where his brother was focused and felt sick himself.

 

Just visible over the rooftops was the tail end of the car they’d barely dodged--crashed into the attic of the Dupain-Cheng Boulangerie and Patisserie.



~~~~~~~~~~



She had to have already transformed, Robin thought.  She would be protected by the suit and she likely wasn’t even in the building.  He was overreacting. He was embarrassing himself.

 

He’d care later.

 

He barely gave any consideration to the structural integrity of the building before he swung down to the rooftop balcony and threw open the trap door.  

 

“Marinette!”  He called.

 

The room was in shambles.  Plaster and bricks were everywhere and a thick cloud of dust wafted in the air.  

 

“Damian!” Tikki’s high-pitched voice called.  “Over here!”

 

No.

 

“Marinette!” Robin screamed as he jumped down to her floor.  

 

The car was still lodged in the wall and he didn’t like how close it was to Marinette’s crumpled body.  

 

Her crumbled body!  

 

She was on the floor next to her chaise and a blanket was tangled up around her.  She was half buried under debris and Robin could already see blood from a gash on her head.  Her window was also smashed, but the glass appeared to be tempered and hadn’t sliced her.

 

“Angel!” Robin called as he started digging her out of the rubble.

 

“We were taking a nap on the chaise!” Tikki explained.  “We slept right through the alert! We didn’t even know there was an akuma until the car crashed through!”

 

Red Robin was suddenly beside him and grabbed his hands, pushing them away and taking over the task of freeing Marinette much more carefully.

 

Robin desperately cupped Marinette’s face.  “Marinette? Angel?”

 

“Da-Robin!” Red Robin held back his wrists.  “No touching! The wrong movement will exacerbate her injuries!”

 

Robin bit the inside of his lip to avoid snapping at Red Robin.  He knew he was right--he knew .  But he was panicking and he was not too proud to admit it.

 

Marinette flinched and groaned as one particularly large piece of drywall was removed from over her arm.  Her eyes started to flutter open but she was clearly fighting consciousness. Still, it eased the tension knotting in Robin’s gut.

 

“Wha…?” Marinette gasped as she stared at Robin and Red Robin. 

 

“Marinette!” Tikki cried as she nuzzled into Marinette’s cheek.

 

“Akuma?” she asked weakly.

 

“It will be alright, Angel.” Robin said, trying to regain control over his nerves.

 

Ignoring the protests of the boys, Marinette started trying to sit herself up.

 

“Not so fast!” Red Robin ordered as they both gently helped her lay back down.  “You’re not going anywhere until we assess your injures.”

 

Red Robin left out that he doubted she would be going anywhere period unless it was a hospital.  He wondered what the procedure was for akuma battle casualties?  He knew the damage was reversed by the Ladybug Cure, but what was done in the meantime?  He decidedly put off thinking about how there could be no Ladybug Cure without Ladybug--who was clearly incapacitated.

 

“I have to get...the thing.” Marinette mumbled.

 

“What thing, Angel?” Robin asked soothingly.  He could guess she was talking about the akumatized object, but was trying to gauge her head injury.

 

“The...thing, thing…”

 

“Okay.” Robin said after he and Red Robin shared a look.  They already had at least an idea of how badly she was hurt.  “You have a concussion. You’re benched.”

Marinette whined, but didn’t argue.  Unlike the other day, she couldn’t even think about transforming and suffering through the battle--not even on the sidelines.  She couldn’t think at all.

 

“Earrings.” she muttered.

 

“What about the earrings?” Red Robin asked.

 

She began to move in an attempt to take them off but her pain and the brothers stopped her.  

 

“Cat.” she gasped.  “We’ve practiced.”

 

“There’s been occasions where Ladybug and Cat Noir have needed to switch Miraculouses for a fight.” Tikki explained.  “They’ve trained for this eventuality, so Cat Noir is prepared to take up the mantle of Mister Bug.”

 

Robin reluctantly removed the earrings from Marinette’s ears very gently.  Since Marinette wasn’t renouncing Tikki, the kwamii remained next to them.

 

“Is there anyone else in the house?”

 

“Gra...Grrr...Gram…” Marinette tried.

 

Tikki intervened.  “Marinette’s Grandpa Rolland slipped on some ice this morning and Tom took him to the hospital.  Sabine had to run out to make a delivery.”

 

“Go.” Marinette tried to urge.

 

Robin tried to hand the earrings to Red Robin but his brother shook his head.  

 

“I am not leaving her!” Robin growled.

 

“You are in no condition to be left with her.” Red Robin said firmly.  “I know you have medic training, but since arriving I’ve had to stop you no less than eight times from acting in a way that could worsen her injuries.”

 

Robin winced.  He knew he wasn’t thinking logically but he didn’t realize it was that bad.  He wasn’t even aware of most of the instance’s Red Robin referred to.

 

“You’re too close to the situation,” Red Robin said softer.  “There’s a reason doctors aren’t allowed to operate on family members--this is just like that.”

 

Robin growled but was startled out of it when he felt a squeeze on his hand.  He didn’t even know when he started holding Marinette’s hand.

 

“It’s okay…” Marinette whispered.

 

Robin frowned at himself and forced himself to focus.  He had no business acting in a way that made her reassure him at the moment.  

 

He stared hard at Red Robin.

 

“Take care of her.” Robin demanded.  “If the battle takes too long or if her vitals deteriorate--”

 

Red Robin nodded swiftly.  “I’ll call for an ambulance now and let them know we have an akuma related injury.  I’ll just tell them I witnessed the crash and found a victim.”

 

Robin didn’t comment.  He nodded once and swiftly bent down to ghost a kiss over Marinette’s cheek.  Tikki also pecked a cute kiss to her cheek before they raced out of the trap door.



~~~~~~~~~~



Cat Noir was wrenching a car away from some trapped civilians when Robin jumped down next to him.  Robin quickly pulled out one man--who was clearly was favoring his leg but it didn’t seem to be a serious injury.  Another two civilians scurried out and then helped their companion to his feet. They all thanked the two heroes before limping to the nearest akuma shelter.

 

“Where’s Ladybug?” Cat Noir asked frantically as more screams and crashing noises echoed across the neighborhood.

 

“She’s injured.” Robin said bluntly.

 

Cat Noir paled and looked panicked.  “Is she okay?”

 

“She will be fine, but she’s grounded.”

“Oh, this is bad!” Cat Noir pulled on his cat ears and started speaking rapidly.  “On the way here I saw one of my good friend’s home was wrecked too! This is a really destructive akuma, if we don’t have Ladybug we can’t cleanse the akuma or cast the Cure!  They’ll just stay hurt!”

 

Cat Noir was clearly spiraling and Robin vaguely filed away that something about Cat’s “good friend” rang suspiciously familiar.

 

“She said you know how to use her Miraculous?” Robin asked.

 

Cat Noir took a deep, ragged breath and nodded.  “Yes, you have it?”

 

Tikki popped out from Robin’s hood and waved in response.

 

Cat held out his hand for the earrings but Robin hesitated.

 

“You’re unpredictable.  Ladybug may trust you but I’m not giving you access to both the Black Cat and the Ladybug Miraculous at once.”

 

Cat bristled.  “Well, I’m not handing you both either!”

 

“Fine.” Robin grit out.

 

Cat Noir took another deep, tense breath and stared him down.  “Take cover in that alley and I’ll hide in the one across the street.  I’ll send Plagg with my ring and you send Tikki with the earrings. Meet back here after you transform.”

 

“Wait, what?!” Robin exclaimed.  “I’m not transforming!”

 

Cat Noir smirked.  “Oh, yes you are! Someone needs to protect the ring and it’ll be better for you to be wielding it than it just going to waste during battle.  Why? Afraid of a little black cat? Don’t want to wield the destruction? Don’t want to be the Cat?”

 

“Why can’t I just be the Robin?” Robin persisted.

 

“Because you’re stubborn like a cat!” Cat Noir rolled his eyes.  “Plagg’s going to love this…”

Robin growled and punched Cat Noir solidly in the stomach, but it only resulted in the Cat laughing annoyingly.

 

“You know, some cultures eat cats!” Robin grumbled as he took off.

 

“And other cultures revere them!” Cat Noir shouted back.

 

Robin waited impatiently in the alley, ducked down behind a trash bin.  He’d already given the earrings to Tikki but she hovered close before leaving.  Suddenly swooping in and nuzzling Robin’s cheek she smiled at him encouragingly.

 

“Don’t worry!” she chirruped.  “Everything’s going to go well and she’ll be completely healed before you know it.”

 

Robin’s usual aversion to all things cutesy seemed to be slowly becoming obliterated by his association to Marinette and the other tolerable, cheery people in his life.  He merely sighed and tried to hide his overwhelming tension.

 

“Thank you, Tikki.” Robin answered.

 

Tikki smiled once more before flying off.  Not a moment later a black kwamii appeared in his face--far too close to his face--with an entirely inappropriate smirk gracing his expression.

 

“Name’s Plagg, I’m sure you’ve heard of me.  So you’re the bug’s string, huh?” Plagg drawled.  “Oooh...you do have darkness in your soul!  Righteous fury runs through your veins!  We can have a lot of fun together…”

 

Robin scowled at Plagg.  “This isn’t fun, this is serious!”

 

Plagg rolled his eyes.  “Another one of those , eh?  No one ever wants to shake things up with a little mayhem these days!  It’s all, ‘hey! That’s my homework!’ or ‘Plagg, someone’s going to care that bubble gum doesn’t come out of hair!’ or ‘Plagggggg!  I can’t buy a new TV every week just because you like the clatter it makes when it breaks!’”

 

“Ladybug is injured !  Or did that fleabag forget to mention that!” Robin growled.  “I don’t have time for your games!”

 

Plagg wilted and looked miffed.  “The kid told me! Don’t be so hard on him, he’s a good kitten!”

 

Robin rolled his eyes.  “Can we get on with this, already?”

 

“Are you considered an adult?” Plagg asked suddenly.

 

“Not yet, technically.” Robin grumpily answered, hoping there was a reason for this.

 

“Then you’ll still only be able to use your special power once before needing to recharge.”  Plagg explained. “After you call for a Cataclysm you’ll only have five minutes before you detransform.  Be careful what you use it on--it really packs a punch. Stupid dinosaurs…”

 

Robin ignored him and put on the ring.

 

“You got any camembert on you?” Plagg asked eagerly.

 

“I have a protein bar?” Robin answered.

 

Plagg looked incredibly put out and he sighed dramatically.  “I suppose that will have to do…”

 

“How do I transform?” Robin asked irritatedly.

 

“Claws Out to transform, Claws In to detransform.” Plagg said promptly.

 

“Plagg, Claws Out!” Robin cried.

 

Plagg was sucked into the ring and Robin was down one irritant as he was engulfed in a wash of electrifying, green magic.

 

Looking down at himself, Robin groaned.  He was dressed very similarly to his Robin costume, except his suit was now all black with accents of toxic green.  His cape was gone but his hood remained and he was relieved to find he didn’t have a tail like Cat Noir. That relief was short lived when he ran his hand over his hood and realized he had cat ears sticking out through his hood.  Robin didn’t need to see his eyes to know they’d become cat like. Marinette had explained that that change was standard, and he was already noticing the enhancements of the feline vision.

 

A whimper absolutely did not pass his lips.  He had very seriously groaned.  That’s it. Totally.

 

“If Selina ever finds out about this…” he couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.

 

He took an experimental jump and easily cleared the building he was hiding next to.  Grudgingly, he had to admit there were advantages to the suit. He’d probably enjoy the opportunity much more if his angel wasn’t currently so injured.

 

Mister Bug was waiting for him back where they’d started and looked him up and down appraisingly.

 

“Not bad…” Mister Bug commented with a smirk.  “The suit looks good on you. Welcome to the Dark Side!”

 

“Shut up.” Robin said flatly.  “Where’s the akuma?”

 

“Not far, follow me!” Mister Bug used his yo-yo to propel himself away and after a moment of figuring out how the staff worked, Robin followed.

 

They raced across the rooftops, following a trail of destruction.  Robin was slightly unnerved by his enhanced senses, yet they seemed innately second nature at the same time.

 

Mister Bug came to a stop behind a chimney and pointed for Robin to take a look.

 

Robin scowled as he studied the giant rampaging in a lavender bodysuit.  He was clearly frustrated and enraged with bucket-sized tears flowing down his cheeks.

 

“That’s August, AKA Gigantitian.” Mister Bug explained.  “He’s one of our regulars, Hawkmoth’s been akumatizing the poor kid since he was a toddler.  He’s a real cool kid--and smart too--but he’s always reduced to the rage and confusion he had when he was first akumatized as a baby.  I don’t envy the kid, growing up with as one of the youngest akumas has gotten him picked on--even though people know it’s not his fault and Ladybug and I have tried to combat it.  Who knows what set him off today…”

 

Robin’s eye twitched.  “Did you say since he was a toddler ?!”

 

Mister bug nodded solemnly.

 

“A toddler?!” Robin raged.  “He took advantage of a toddler’s emotions and turned him a giant?  What is wrong with this guy?! What’s next? Make a monster out of some poor kid who had a nightmare?!”

 

Mister Bug shuddered.  “Sandboy! We do not speak of Sandboy!”

 

Robin growled at Hawkmoth in anger and it came out surprisingly animalistic.

 

“Nice.” Mister Bug commented, getting ready to leap into the fray.  “Oh, and technically it’s an akuma, not a monster. The sentimonsters are made by the Peacock.”

 

Mister Bug swung closer to Gigantitian and waited for Robin to follow before he called out in a singsong voice, “Oh, little August!  Ready to play? Today you face the wrath of Mister Bug and...Kittyhawk!”

 

Robin looked at him flatly.  “No.”

 

“Kittyhawk!” Gigantitian shouted.

 

“Sorry, it’s been coined.  You’re now Kittyhawk.” Mister Bug smiled shamelessly.

 

“I refuse to--dodge!” Kittyhawk shouted and he and Mister Bug jumped apart just in time to avoid a flying bike.

 

Gigantitan wasn’t paying them much attention.  He picked up another bike and took one look at it and burst into a fresh round of tears.  He dropped to his bottom and the violent tremor almost tossed Mister Bug and Kittyhawk off the roof.  He sat right next to a crowded bike rack and began smashing all the bikes locked there.

 

Mister Bug darted around the kid and tried to get his attention while Kittyhawk circled Gigantitian in the other direction, both searching for the akumatized object.  August didn’t wear his ID bracelet much anymore and no longer used a pacifier. The older Gigantitian had a few differences from his toddler akuma, his bodysuit had gained knee and elbow pads and he had a purple and green beanie hat instead of a onesie hood.

 

“Come on, Augie!” Mister Bug called.  “Want to play with the cars? Looking for some sweets?”

 

Kittyhawk stifled his frustration, observing that even though Mister Bug seemed to be clowning around he was trying to engage the akuma into revealing more about himself.

 

A mammoth, purple mask lit up around Gigantitian’s mask but the kid seemed to pay it no heed.

 

Gigantitian looked heartbrokenly at Mister Bug with tears still running down his face.  “Stupid bike!”

 

His voice boomed loud over them as he howled in misery and tossed another bike down the street.

 

Both Kittyhawk and Mister Bug grimaced when they saw how close the bike came to taking out a pair of daring reporters and a sensible, fleeing citizen.

 

Kittyhawk leapt over to his temporary partner.  “We need more space to work. Any suggestions?”

 

Mister Bug nodded.  “The Champ de Mars! I already called ahead, the police should have cleared it by now.  It’s where most of our Gigantitian fights end up at some point.”

 

Sure enough, by the time Kittyhawk and Mister Bug had lured Gigantitian there, the Champ de Mars was cleared and barricaded by the police and the Eiffel Tower had been evacuated.

 

Gigantitian was getting another message from Hawkmoth but he still wasn’t paying any attention.  He had immediately headed to the Tower and began climbing it like a jungle gym.  

 

Suddenly, an electric current seemed to run through Gigantitian and he fell back to the ground.  A tremor shook the park and Mister Bug and Kittyhawk covered their ears as the kid broke out into a new round of ear-splitting sobs.

 

Kittyhawk growled and even yowled when he realized Hawkmoth was trying to use pain to bully the akuma into doing his bidding.

 

“Time for that kid’s luck to turn around.” Mister Bug declared.  “Lucky Charm!”

 

“What in all the blazes are you supposed to do with that?!” Kittyhawk complained.  “Is this how it always goes?”

 

“Pretty much.” Mister Bug shrugged.

 

“And Ladybug just goes for it?” Kittyhawk clarified.

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m starting to fear how her mind works.” Kittyhawk frowned.

 

Mister Bug lit up like their banter was his Christmas gift.  “She’s your soulmate, dude. You have my prayers.”

 

The Lucky Charm was a giant box of soap.  It reminded Kittyhawk of an older brand of detergent that Alfred swore by.  Happy Soap, was it?

 

Mister Bug smirked.  “Time to clean up our act!”

 

“She warned me this would happen…” Kittyhawk sighed.

 

Gigantitian had stopped crying by now and was picking himself off the ground and rubbing the tears out of his eyes pitifully.  

 

“Kittyhawk!” Mister Bug shouted.  “The fire hydrant!”

 

Before he really processed the small, interesting details of his actions, Kittyhawk bound over to the fire hydrant like a cat.

 

“Cataclysm!” Kittyhawk declared.

 

The concentrated destruction eroded the fire hydrant and water burst out with tremendous pressure.  Kittyhawk was utterly mortified when some water splashed him and he actually hissed .  He decided to write it off as because of the frigid water and the winter air--a completely normal reaction for someone who did not want to succumb to hypothermia--and never think of it again.

 

Water quickly flooded the park and Mister Bug swung from one side of the park to the other, pouring out the soap flakes as he went.

 

An inconceivable amount of bubbles began to accumulate.  Kittyhawk jumped out of the way as the bubbles continued to rise and landed next to Mister Bug on the outer edge of the park.  

 

“This should not be possible.” Kittyhawk muttered.

 

“Don’t think about it too much, it doesn’t help.” Mister Bug said with a smile.  “You’ll get used to it.”

 

The Champ de Mars became a giant field of bubbles.  When it reached the height of Gigantitian’s knees he suddenly took notice of it and a giant smile spread across his face.

 

“Bubbles!” Gigantitian shouted and lunged into the fluff.

 

The suds exploded in a tidal wave and the police and spectators on the rim of the park all ducked for cover, just as Kittyhawk and Mister Bug did, behind cars and benches.  

 

“Bubbles!” Gigantitian laughed as he played and splashed about.

 

Mister Bug shot out his yo-yo and swung himself out of the pile of suds as Kittyhawk spung his staff to clear his way.  While Gigantitian was distracted, the two approached and were even able to stand right next to him without any interference.

 

“Any clue as to where it is?” Kittyhawk asked.

 

Mister Bug hummed and watched Gigantitian thoughtfully.  The boy was having a grand time and blew a humongus cloud of bubbles into the air as he shifted in his seat, turning toward the heroes.

 

“There!” Mister Bug and Kittyhawk shouted at the same time.

 

Mister Bug lashed out with his yo-yo and ripped a hubcap sized button pinned off his collar.  Kittyhawk caught it and snapped it over his knee...which probably should have hurt, but he was surprised to find it didn’t.

 

The corrupted butterfly fluttered out and Mister Bug wasted no time catching it in his yo-yo.

 

“Play time’s over, little akuma!  Time to deevilize!” Mister Bug declared as the butterfly disappeared into the yo-yo.  “Bye-bye, little butterfly.”

 

“Hurry up and cast the cure.” Kittyhawk said, ears shifting anxiously.

 

Mister Bug threw what was left of the detergent box into the air and summoned the cure.  “Miraculous Mister Bug!”

 

The corruption washed off of Gigantitian as the ladybugs spread out over Paris, joyful cheers echoing in the distance.  Little August was left sitting on the grass looking confused and then utterly defeated.

 

“It fixed everything, correct?” Kittyhawk asked, seeming to try to control an ear twitch.

 

Mister Bug seemed to catch what he meant and he nodded solemnly.  “If it was from the battle, yes.”

 

Kittyhawk nodded once and they both turned to the boy.

 

August looked up to them and Kittyhawk sucked in a breath.  He had to be no older than Mar’i.

 

The boy looked back to the ground and curled up on himself, sheepish and avoiding looking their way again.

 

“Hey, buddy.” Mister Bug sat down next to him.  “How’s it going?”

 

“It happened again, didn’t it?” August whispered.

 

Mister Bug nodded, even if the boy refused to look at him.  “Yeah, but it happens to everyone. Everyone has bad days, and you’re safe now, Augie.”

 

August sniffled and peered at them from the corners of his eyes.  Kittyhawk squatted down so he was also at the child’s level.

 

“Where’s Ladybug?” August asked tearfully.

 

“She’s got the day off today.” Mister Bug said gently.  “This is my friend Kittyhawk.”

 

“The name is up for debate.” Kittyhawk said, but tried to smile and appear friendly.

 

August lips upturned just a bit and he responded with a small wave.

 

“Want to talk about what happened?” Mister Bug asked as he handed back the now restored pin, which turned out to be a BMX fan button.

 

Come to think of it, Kittyhawk now realized the boy was decked out with a helmet over his winter hat and knee and elbow pads over his jeans and winter coat.

 

August sniffled and took the pin sorrowfully.

 

“The other kids were all making fun of me ‘cuz…’cuz I can’t ride a bike without training wheels yet.” August mumbled with a hitched voice.  “I try but I just can’t get it! I’ll never be as good as those guys in the videos.”

 

“Professional BMX athletes?” Mister Bug guessed.

 

August looked down as he nodded but they could still see a tear race down his cheek.

 

Mister Bug smiled brightly at him.  “Hey, don’t think like that! Just because you’re having trouble with something right now doesn’t mean it will be like that forever.  I bet if you keep up your hard work and practice you’ll be surprised with what you’ll accomplish! Until then, don’t let what those kids said get you down, everyone learns at their own pace.  And you wanna know something? I had a terrible time learning how to ride a two-wheeler! I couldn’t get the hang of it until I was at least eight!  And I still have trouble sometimes.”

 

August looked at Mister Bug in shock.  “You? Really?”

 

Mister Bug nodded and Kittyhawk shrugged his shoulders.

 

“I didn’t even get my first bike until I was over eleven.” Kittyhawk said.

 

It was true.  Tricycles and training wheels were considered irrelevant and puerile.  A complete waste of time for the heir to Ra’s al Ghul. It wasn’t until his first Christmas with his father that he received his first bike--a Batman and Robin themed model--under the Christmas tree.

 

Sure, he could ride a motorcycle and hotwire and drive a car since he was six...but that might not be encouraging to tell the kid at the moment...nor was it probably good emulatable behavior to share with a child outside of his family.

 

August whipped his eyes and nose with his sleeve.

 

“So...you don’t think I’m a lame-o?” he asked them both.

 

“Not a chance, August.” Mister Bug reassured and Kittyhawk smiled softly in agreement.  “And hey! If anyone gives you any trouble, you tell them you were the first person to meet Kittyhawk!  How’s that for cool?”

August got a big smile on his face and threw a hug around Mister Bug’s neck.  Kittyhawk almost jumped in surprise when August tackled him in a hug too.

 

“Thanks, Mister Bug!  Thanks, Kittyhawk!” August said happily.

 

“I’m not--”

 

“August!”

 

A man had been let through the police line and was racing toward them.

 

“Dad!” August shouted excitedly and ran to meet him.  “Guess what Mister Bug and Kittyhawk said!”

 

Kittyhawk sighed and was about ready to admit defeat.  At least there were no reporters nearby...nope. There they were.

 

Forget Selina, his brothers would never let him forget this.

 

As the reporters finally charged past the police, Mister Bug cast him a friendly--yet smug--smile.  “Nice working with you, Kittyhawk.”

 

Kittyhawk glared at Mister Bug to no avail.  The banana-hair actually had the audacity to smile at him.

 

“Most people have the good sense to be intimidated by this.” he pointed to his scowl.

 

Mister Bug shrugged.  “Meh. You actually remind me of my cousin.  You know how some kids are afraid to sit on Santa’s lap at Christmas?”

 

“It’s a reasonable fear.” Kittyhawk grumbled.  “Parents handing their children over to some strange, large man with a beard…”

 

“Yeah…” Mister Bug drawled.  “Let’s just say that when it came to Christmas and family reunions growing up, it wasn’t Santa Claus I feared.”

 

Kittyhawk’s Miraculous beeped and he felt a surge of impatience, wanting to get back to Marinette.  The cameras and microphones that were suddenly shoved into his face made him wish he still had the use of the Cataclysm.

 

Questions were shouted asking about the new hero and where Ladybug was.  Mindful of their depleting time, Mister Bug slung his arm around Kittyhawk’s shoulders and beamed at the cameras.

 

“Not to worry, fair Parisians!  Ladybug is safe and sound, just resting her spots for the moment.  In the meantime you’ve got yours truly, Mister Bug, and our friend Kittyhawk to save the day!”

 

“I did not agree to that name.” Kittyhawk scowled.

 

“Too late.  It’s probably already trending.”  Mister Bug said gleefully. “Bug out, Paris!”

 

Mister Bug flung himself away on his yo-yo and Kittyhawk took that as his cue to also leave.  They quickly raced away from the crowd and ducked back to the allies they’d used before.

 

Robin took a deep breath as the green light encompassed him again and he returned to himself.

 

Plagg landed in his outstretched hand and coughed pathetically.  For a cat he sure could ham it up.

 

“Camembert!” He cried.  “I need my sweet ambrosia!  I’m so weak!”

 

Robin wasn’t very sympathetic.  “I told you before, I don’t have any.  I wasn’t expecting to transform with your ring and I didn’t know I would need to feed you.  You said the protein bar would be fine.”

 

Plagg gasped.  “I can’t go on like this!  How will I return to Cat Noir and my sweet cheese?”

 

“What did I just say about the protein bar?” Robin glared.

 

“I must have my sweet camembert goodness!” Plagg cried dramatically.

 

“I would get stuck with a kwamii that’s just as annoying as my brothers…” Robin complained.

 

“Show some respect!” Plagg snapped.  “I’m an eons old being!”

 

“You’d have to be, it’s probably taken you this long to gather whatever intelligence you have.” Robin said back.

 

Plagg pouted but secretly had to suppress his glee.  This kitten had claws and it was fun to sass him and have the kid give it right back.

 

Tikki suddenly appeared with the earrings, looking less than pleased.

 

“Stop being such a pain, Plagg!  Cat Noir is waiting for you!” Tikki scolded.  “He’ll eat whatever you can give him, Robin. He’s just being difficult.”

“I am not!” Plagg instantly had more fight in him than his supposed ‘weak’ state from a moment before.  “If the kid’s gonna use my Miraculous then he should show some respect! What better way to do that than to provide me with my sweet cheese after a battle!”

 

Robin scowled and held out the protein bar.  “I refuse to go around smelling like rotten gym socks on the off chance that I have to wield the ring.  You’ll eat what I give you and like it.”

 

Plagg rolled his eyes and took a big, sloppy bite, spewing crumbs as he spoke.  “You guys are no fun! Until next time, Kittyhawk !  See you around, Sugarcube!”

 

Robin glared at Plagg as he took the ring and sped away.  Turning back to Tikki, his look softened. “Do you need anything?”

 

Tikki shook her head with a smile.  “Nope! Cat Noir shared some of Stinky Sock’s cheese with me and I’ll have to eat ten cookies to get rid of the taste...but thank you for asking.  Let’s go see our girl!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~



Robin was borderline careless as he raced back to the bakery.  He knew, logically, the Ladybug Cure must have worked. He knew, logically, he could just call Marinette or Red Robin and get immediate confirmation that she was alright.  Neither of those options felt appealing, however. He just wanted to see her himself and be able to hold her.

 

Even in his haste, Robin did not miss spotting Sabine Dupain-Cheng speeding down the street, looking like she was trying to hail a cab even as she ran--clearly impatient to return home.  Though there was some post-akuma traffic, he knew Sabine would be arriving back at the bakery shortly, which meant he needed to hurry if he wanted any time with his soulmate before her mother saw him with her and started asking questions about why Gotham’s Robin was hugging her daughter.

 

Red Robin and Marinette were waiting on her rooftop balcony when he finally got back.  He didn’t waste any time with pleasantries, just rushed her and held her tightly.

 

“I’m alright, cheri,” she murmured as she held him close. 

 

Robin completely didn’t care that his brother was right next to them and could hold this over his head for a lifetime.  He was trying to hide a tremor running through him while pressing kisses to where the gash on her head used to be.

 

“I thought those feakin pigtails were good luck!  Whatever happened to that, huh? Why didn’t they do their feakin job?!” Robin groused.

 

Marinette snorted a laugh and Red Robin was utterly confused.  Thankfully, he decided to practice tact and stepped away to give them a modicum of privacy.  He sat on Marinette’s lounge chair and pretended to make himself busy as she and Robin sank below the cover of the railing and held each other tightly.  

 

“Do you have any lingering side effects after the Ladybug Cure?” Robin asked quietly.

 

Marinette kissed him on the cheek and nuzzled him close.  “No, Dami. I am all healed now. Honestly, I was so out of it that I hardly remember anything.”

 

Robin sighed and wondered if he wished he could say the same.  

 

“And your illness?” he asked.

 

“Almost completely better.” she assured.

 

Robin kissed her temple and they just held each other for a few moments.

 

“So…” Marinette smirked.  “You looked pretty cute with those ears sticking out of your hood.”

 

Robin groaned and braced himself for what was to come.

 

“You are a very, very pretty kitty, Kittyhawk.” she teased.

 

“We are not calling me Kittyhawk!” Robin exclaimed.  “That blasted Cat picked that out, not me!”

 

Marinette shrugged.  “Technically, I didn’t really pick the name Ladybug, either.  I just couldn’t pick something and went with it when...Alya asked me...after she had called out to me using that name during Stoneheart.  Sometimes the people just pick for you.”

 

Robin looked very cross.  “Someday I just want to actually pick my own stupid superhero name!”

 

Marinette giggled and Robin felt his ire fade, despite himself.  

 

“You haven’t met her yet, but Father’s soulmate is Catwoman.” Damian said, trying to sound grumpy but his smirk started to turn into a smile.  “She’s been away on a long term mission. If she finds out about this, she'll have a field day.”

 

“Not if , Baby Bird.” Red Robin piped in with a smirk.  “I already set her the link.”

 

Robin just dropped his head onto Marinette’s shoulder and mustered up a sound that was something between a growl and a groan. 

 

“She says you’re adorable and if she didn’t know better she’d start questioning if Talia’s your actual birth mother.” Red Robin added cheerfully.

 

Marinette laughed heartily and even Damian had to smile.  

 

“So…” Marinette began sheepishly, but with mischief in her eyes.  “Other than the obvious, how did you find the battle?”

 

Robin shifted and looked petulant for a moment.

 

“Wearing the ring was quite the experience and I could see its advantages--though those advantages are negligible when you consider Plagg as an addendum.” Robin paused to enjoy Marinette and Tikki’s giggles. “I still hold reservations regarding your Black Cat...but I was satisfied with how he handled the situation in your absence and he was thoughtful and interacted well with the child.  I still don’t believe he has the fortitude to go against more vicious levels subterfuge and villainy, but he works well with kids and I am confident he would do well in fields requiring interaction with children.”

 

Marinette snorted and rolled her eyes.  “You should tell him that next time you see him--seriously.  He’s been trying to figure out what his life goals are and what he wants his field of study to be.”

 

Robin was thoughtful.  “I will consider that.”

 

They were quiet for a long moment but suddenly Tikki zipped out of sight and Red Robin jolted in his seat.  The trap door to Marinette’s room was suddenly flung open as Sabine frantically looked for her daughter.

 

“Marinette?!  Oh!” Sabine startled at the sight of the Gotham heroes on her daughter’s balcony.  Thankfully, Robin and Marinette had thrown themselves apart and she hadn’t caught them cuddling.  “Sweetheart, are you alright? I got a call from the neighbors that there was massive damage from the akuma?!”

 

“I’m alright, Mama.” Marinette reassured as Sabine pulled her up and into a hug.  “There was an incident, but Robin and Red Robin came to my rescue and stayed with me until the Cure passed.”

 

Sabine looked instantly both stricken and relieved--stricken because it was just confirmed her daughter had been injured somehow, and relieved because she was clearly healed.  It was obvious by her doting gaze that her esteem for the boys had just exploded.

 

“Thank you so much for helping my baby!”  She caught first Red Robin and then Robin into hugs that neither were sure how to respond to.  “Are you two on timers like Ladybug and Cat Noir? Or can you stay for some pastries?”

 

“Oh!  That’s not necessary, Madame--” Red Robin tried to say.

 

“Nonsense!” Sabine insisted.  “I won’t let you leave without at least a to-go bag as a thank you!  You both are so young! When did you last have a good meal? And you, sir, look so tired!  Are you sleeping enough?”

 

Robin snickered as his brother floundered.  Sabine saw through Red Robin so quickly he almost feared for when she finally met Tim without his mask to hide behind.  

 

Marinette and the boys argued fiercely--all aware that Sabine and Tom would be meeting the Wayne family in person soon and didn’t want them to catch similarities just yet--but they were no match for Sabine.  The Dupain-Cheng’s had two unexpected guests for dinner that night and Robin spent an uncomfortable evening getting to know his soulmate’s parents while trying not to reveal himself to them. Red Robin enjoyed it all far too much, but at least he had his Angel subtly holding his hand and reassuring him when her parents weren’t looking.



~~~~~~~~~~



After a few chaotic days in Paris and two close calls, Damian was loath to leave his soulmate and return home.  Marinette was well enough to return to her Ladybug duties without concern, Tim needed to get back to WE, and he had finals to return for, but Damian was already impatient counting down the few weeks remaining before his official trip to Paris.

 

Marinette already gave Damian and Tim a few boxes of cookies and other pastries to share with the family back in Gotham.  She left the house under the guise of taking a walk and getting fresh air after being stuck in the house sick for the past few days.  Her parents--especially Tom--were very reluctant to let her go alone, still upset after the Gigantitian attack. Grandpa Rolland was staying with them for a few days after being released from the hospital and Marinette found herself having to convince three overprotective loved ones that she would be fine.  She finally made it to the Zeta Platform the Bats gave her the address for feeling slightly smothered and frazzled, but loved.

 

Tim was rising in Damian’s regard--reluctantly--as he’d been practicing more and more tact regarding Damian and Marinette.  Tim knew Damian had difficulty talking through emotions and relationships, but had let him know he sympathized with Damian seeing Marinette so hurt and ill and that he could talk to him.  Other than that, the typical teasing Damian expected from his family had lessened the past few days. When it came time to leave, Tim gave Marinette a sound hug, messed up her bangs, and then stepped away after telling her he’d see her soon.

 

Damian appreciated this and enjoyed the long hug he and Marinette shared in peace.  As they parted, Damian suddenly seemed to remember something and instantly looked awkward and nervous.

 

“I will miss you greatly, my Angel.” Damian said softly.

 

Marinette smiled brightly at him.  “I already miss you, cheri.”

 

“Please be safe.” he implored.

 

“I will.” Marinette promised and cleared her throat after her voice wavered.  “You take care too. Please.”

 

Marinette studied him as Damian shifted and blushed.  He locked eyes with her briefly before drawing close and placing a soft kiss on her lips.  Damian trailed a few kisses from her jaw and across her cheek to her ear. There, he hesitated nervously for just a second before whispering, “As you wish.”

 

He pulled away in time to see realization dawn brightly in Marinette’s eyes.  She tugged him back for a longer, thorough kiss. “I love you too, Damian.”

Chapter Text

Adrien waved to the Gorilla as he stepped out of the car and fixed his “Magic of Friendship” scarf--as he had come to call Marinette’s stolen gift--against the brisk wind.  He smiled, taking some encouragement from the memento as he weaved through a few pedestrians to get to the cafe Nino asked him to meet.

 

He idly thought that it was a good thing he hadn’t known about Marinette’s crush all those years ago.  Adrien didn’t know Damian very well, but he and Marinette were clearly very happy together.  He would never have wanted to stand between them, and he knew Marinette would have been a hard girl to get over if they’d tried dating.  Ladybug was hard enough to get over and they’d never even dated! Imagine how hard it would have been if he’d dated the Marinette Dupain-Cheng and had to get over her!  Yeah, he was good nursing one heartache, thank you very much.

 

Walking into the crowded cafe, Adrien smiled as he spotted Nino in a back corner, already sipping something that likely had more caramel and chocolate than coffee.  A flash of orange caught his attention just as he was about to wave and make his way over. Gut clenching, Adrien slipped behind a decorative alcove and spied on his friend.  

 

Sure enough, Alya and Lila were cozily settled in the booth with Nino.  If Alya hadn’t shifted in her seat when she did, he wouldn’t have seen them because they were sitting in the nook facing away from the door.  Obviously someone was thinking ahead, because they clearly understood that if they wanted to bamboozle him into spending more time with Lila then they’d need to keep him in the dark until the very last moment.  As much as he hated it, Adrien knew if he went over there he’d default into doing the polite thing and not make a big deal over the set up.

 

Thankfully, Adrien had a healthy distance between them and he still had time to save himself before they entered his politeness range.  He almost ducked right back outside, but decided to send a quick text to Nino.

 

Adrien: Tell the girls you need to go to the bathroom and go over to the alcove by the door.  We need to talk. DON’T tell the girls I’m here.

 

Was he testing his friend?  Probably. Lately, things with Marinette and talking with Ladybug--and even Robin those few, surly times--had been goading him into being courageous.  He felt like he wanted to take charge of his life! Assert his boundaries and his rights! Become the person he was born to be!

 

It really made him feel like he was going to hurl.

 

To Nino’s credit, he read his message and complied in the most natural, unobtrusive way he could manage--which was to say that he completely awkwardly made his excuses and robotically walked away.  Adrien shook his head. His bro was a talented DJ and had shown signs of brilliance when it came to music and film, but the man could not act. Luckily, Alya and Lila had been engrossed in their conversation and hadn’t seen him receive a text.  They dismissed his behavior as embarrassment regarding bathroom matters.

 

“Dude?  What’s--whoa!” Nino cut off his own question as Adrien pulled him into the alcove.  

 

“Nino!” Adrien hissed.  “What are Alya and Lila doing here?  I thought you said this was a bros day!  What happened to going to the new Marvelous Morphing Robots movie?”

 

Nino cringed slightly.  “So...here’s the thing...it’s, like, I want to do bro things with you!  But I’ve got this other thing--well, no. I mean, you’re, like, super busy and you’re dad’s wack, so make use of the time we got, right?”  Nino sighed in frustration. “Am I making any sense?”

 

Adrien frowned.  “Alya wants to set me up with Lila.  You want to spend time with me but my schedule is jam-packed and you didn’t think there was any harm in fitting in a little matchmaking along with our bro time.  Especially since my father actually approved of this outing and I’m not likely to be pulled away.”

 

Nino sagged in relief.  “Exactly, bro.”

“What about the fact I’ve made it clear to you that I don’t have any interest in dating Lila?” Adrien tensely asked.

 

“Um…” Nino suddenly found his shoes very interesting.  “Well, man...it’s just...I know you don’t have a lot of experience with dates--like, real dates that aren’t publicity stunts!  And, well...Alya and I were talking with Lila and--”

“And Lila says I’m just insecure about starting a relationship and that I need a ‘friendly’ push out of the proverbial nest.”  Adrien filled in the rest.

 

Nino didn’t say anything and couldn’t meet his gaze.  Adrien sighed again, frustrated with his friend and annoyed because he didn’t want to be.

 

“Nino, I know you care about my wellbeing,” Adrien said carefully.  “But shouldn’t when and who I date be up to me?”

 

“Of course, dude!” Nino said immediately.  “It’s just…you and Lila seemed to be kinda close for a while there, and Alya’s convinced you’d be good together...are you sure this mess with the rest of the class isn’t influencing how you look at Lila?  They’ve been really harsh with her lately.” 

 

Adrien drew a tense, deep breath through his nose.  “Nino, did you ever talk to Marinette? She’d be...more free to explain things without consequence than I am.”

 

He may be trying to stand up for himself and be more assertive, but Adrien wasn’t a fool.  Gabriel Agreste was a mean opponent and he didn’t want Adrien telling anyone about whatever deal caused him to force Adrien to play nice with Lila Rossi.

 

Nino frowned and looked away as he ran a hand under his hat.  “I just don’t think that’s a good idea. Marinette’s always had it out for Lila and she’s really been nasty to her.”

 

“Are you sure about that?” Adrien asked.

 

“What?” Nino frowned.  “Adrien, you know what Lila told us.  I know Marinette’s always seemed sweet--”

 

“But did you ever ask Marinette what was going on?” Adrien pressed, trying to give Nino a please-pick-up-what-I-can’t-say look.  “Really listen to her side of the story?”

 

Nino leaned back against the alcove and didn’t answer, but he looked thoughtful and uncomfortable.

 

“Look, man,” Nino said finally.  “Lila’s our friend--”

 

“You used to count Marinette as a friend, too, Nino.” Adrien reminded.  “Doesn’t it tell you anything that my father approves of Lila?”

 

Nino cringed again.

 

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck.  After a moment of tense silence, he said, “Look, I know Alya’s your soulmate and she wants me to give Lila a chance.  I don’t want to put you in an awkward position, but I need you to trust me on this for now. I don’t want to spend any time with Lila, okay?  She makes me uncomfortable and she knows it.  Really, I hope that’s enough for you to not put pressure on me to be with her.”

 

Nino instantly deflated when he phrased it like that.  “Dude. You’re right, I’m sorry. I don’t get it, but the last thing I want to do is put any pressure on you.”

 

“Thanks, Nino.  That’s all I ask.” Adrien relaxed slightly.

 

“So what do you want to do about today?” Nino hesitantly asked.  “I don’t suppose you want to--”

 

“No.” Adrien answered immediately.  “I need to get out of here, Nino. I’ll just...text you in a minute and say that I’m stuck in really bad traffic.  Tell you to go on without me.”

 

Nino nodded.  “Yeah, man. Sorry about our plans.”

 

“I get it.  Thanks though.” Adrien shrugged.

 

They exchanged a quick bro-hug before Nino made his way back to the table.  Adrien sent him the text and watched as Nino read it to the girls. It was a testament to how bummed Nino was that he didn’t have to put up an awkward act to sell the news.  Adrien briefly caught sight of Lila’s angry, calculative expression before she schooled her emotions. He slipped out of the cafe while Alya was comforting her friend.

 

Now he was faced with the conundrum of what to do.  Nathalie cleared his schedule for the afternoon supposedly so he could hang out with Nino--but really so he could go on an impromptu date with Lila.  It was absolutely, one-hundred-and-ten percent positive that Lila would be complaining to either Nathalie or his father within the next twenty minutes.  What would happen if they discover he was not stuck in traffic like he claimed? Maybe he should get in a cab and spend the next few hours chatting up the driver while he paid to sit in traffic.  He’d started to carry large supplies of cash with him for exactly situations like this when he needed to pay for something that he didn’t want showing up on his father’s credit card bill--like receipts from Tom and Sabine’s Boulangerie and Patisserie.

 

Adrien stopped short at the sight of the hulking angel waiting for him.  Gorilla stood beside the towncar, patiently waiting as though he knew Adrien would need a quick escape.

 

“So...here’s the thing…” Adrien began after giving Guillaume a grateful smile.

 

Guillaume held one hand up to silence him.  “Traffic jam?”

 

“Yep.” Adrien said defeatedly.

 

The Gorilla just nodded and began fishing something out of his pockets.  

 

“Give me your phone.”

 

Adrien did as he was asked. 

 

Guillaume pocketed Adrien’s phone and gave him back another one.  “This is my personal phone,” he explained, “it is not connected to the Agreste’s network.”

 

Adrien raised his eyebrows at what the man was implying: Adrien’s phone and the Gorilla’s work phone could be easily tracked by Nathalie and Gabriel, but the phone he was just loaned could not.  Or at least, not as easily.

 

“I’m taking a brief drive on the Rue Clavel,” the Gorilla added, “that should give you enough time to buy some pastries at the bakery over there.”

 

Guillaume pointed down the road and a smile threatened to appear on Adrien’s face when he realized he was indicating Tom and Sabine’s place.

 

“I like opera cake.  I’ll meet you there soon.” the Gorilla finished.

 

Adrien hesitated for a brief moment before capturing his bodyguard in a lightning fast hug.  “Thank you.”

 

Guillaume gave a closed lipped smile in return and watched as his charge ran down the sidewalk.  As soon as he saw Adrien disappear into the bakery, he got back into the car and made sure the GPS on both his work phone and Adrien’s cell were on before he pulled out into traffic.



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette and Damian were having a quiet conversation over video chat.  He needed to run a few last details about their Parisian Mission plans past her, but they were minor details and quickly handled.  The fact that she and Cat Noir were officially working with the Justice League was beginning to feel real and it never failed to send a thrill through her.  

 

They really didn’t have much left to discuss but neither of them wanted to end the call.  Marinette was working on knitting her family’s Christmas presents--beneath the range of her computer’s camera where the gifts couldn’t be seen.  Damian was somewhat working on an essay for one of his classes but he wasn’t really investing his attention into the project at the moment.

 

The knock on Marinette’s trap door to the downstairs caught both of their attention.  Adrien sheepishly peeked his head through and waved at them both.

 

“Adrien?” Marinette said in surprise.

 

“Hey, Marinette!  Hey, Damian...it is Damian, right?  I mean, I know it’s Damian, but can I call you Damian?  Might be weird if I call you Mr. Wayne.” Adrien said nervously.  “I’ve heard a lot about you from Marinette! All good things, all good things…”

 

“What are you doing there, Agreste?” Damian asked.

 

“Okay.” Adrien came fully into the bedroom and stood with his arms stiffly at his sides.  “So, I actually got permission from my father to hang with Nino--which, honestly, should have been my first clue something was off--but when I met up with him Alya and Lila were there, too.  I kinda ducked out after I saw them and my bodyguard took my phone and gave me his so he could run interference and now he’s driving on Rue Clavel until he picks me up here.”

 

“Rue Clavel has terrible traffic this time of day.” Marinette commented.

 

“Exactly.” Adrien nodded.  “I should probably name my first born child after that blessed man.  Anyway...can I please hide here with you for a while? Please? I don’t want to impose, but I know Luka and Kagami are at the Tsurugi home and Mme. Tsurugi would definitely tell my father if I show up there.”

 

Marinette smiled, shared a brief look with Damian who seemed slightly annoyed but not opposed, and nodded.

 

“How about we all play the new online Mecha Strike?  We can do the three opponents option.” Marinette suggested.

 

“Sounds great!” Adrien smiled in relief and then turned mischievous.  “Maybe Damian and I will actually have a chance against you if you’re fighting both of us at once.”

 

Marinette smiled sweetly in return.  “Keep dreaming.”



~~~~~~~~~~



Marinette smiled on her way to class.  The last of her Christmas presents had been completed yesterday and she’d just finished sending off her Gotham presents via first class airmail.  The shipment also included the MDC originals that the Wayne family commissioned for the gala on Christmas day. Alfred already promised to intercept the parcels when they arrived and he would hide the presents before any of the nosy boys got into them--he also promised to take a picture of when little Mar’i saw the special galaxy-inspired princess dress she made for her.  She couldn’t wait!

 

The unusual clamor of discord in her classroom barely had any affect on her.  Lila still fought hard to regain her lost followers, but was having no success.  This “injustice”--as Alya deemed it--caused those that remained loyal to Lila to double down on their belief in Lila’s innocence.  Marinette thought there was more vitriol in the classroom now that the teens were split than when they’d all been against Marinette--and that was saying something when she looked back on certain memories.

 

Marinette was pretty ready to tune out whatever the Lila Forces had to say, but Alix was never one to bite her tongue and she was still plenty mad over the whole thing--especially since she and Nathaniel were still on the outs.

 

“Adrien and I had such a good photoshoot the other day!” Lila beamed at Adrien but he kept his head down.  “Modeling for the Gabriel brand has been so good for my career! It’s still early in the negotiations, so I can’t say much, but I was talking to Heidi Klum the other day and she said she might have a little something for me that would launch my career internationally.  Juleka, I heard you started modeling again? Maybe I could give Heidi your portfolio and she could pass along some tips.”

 

Alix rolled her eyes.  “She doesn’t need any more of your modeling tips, Lila!  And do you really expect us to believe you know Heidi Klum all of a sudden?  You’ve never mentioned her before. This is just like all your claims about knowing Jagged Stone!”

 

Marinette walked along the far wall of the room so she didn’t have to go down the middle of the war zone.  She didn’t even have to look to know that Lila’s face crumpled into a stricken look before being pulled together in a downcast, guarded look.

 

“I don’t know why they claimed not to remember me.” Lila said softly.  “We’ve always been so close...or at least we used to be. But then, that was before they met Marinette.”

 

Marinette’s friends bristled on her behalf but she didn’t even spare Lila a glance, nor did she respond to the obvious glare Alya was sending her.

 

“I guess they forgot about me when they moved on to the next shiny thing…” Lila said calculatedly.

 

The comment was obviously meant to rip open Marinette’s old wounds left by her friends, but it backfired on Lila because it served more to fill the others with shame and raise their defenses. 

 

“Don’t worry, girl.” Alya patted Lila on the back.  “It’s their loss, we know you were tight with them”

 

Lila gave Alya a watery smile.  “Thanks, Alya. It’s still hard, I used to admire them!  But...you know it’s not really their fault.”

 

Alya hurumphed.  “You’re too kind.”

 

“Really!  They’re good people.  They just fell into the wrong...influence.” Lila’s face brightened, as though remembering something positive.  “You know, I was there when they found out they were soulmates! It was so sweet!”

 

Lila relished the gasps that filled the room, but the sudden uneasy silence caused her to second guess herself.  She’d finally gained Marinette’s full attention and she was clearly angry with her. However, not only were Marinette’s friends glaring at her, but Lila’s allies looked shocked as well--and not in a good way.

 

Max looked sucker punched, though his aghast expression didn’t reveal much beyond a furrowed brow and a dropped jaw.  Nathaniel and Alya looked at her in confusion, but Nino looked shocked. Adrien looked downright furious. Lila knew enough to know that Adrien considered soulmate bonds to be sacred and that he would naturally be angry, but she knew he wasn’t a threat.  Gabriel ensured that Adrien stayed in line.

 

Still, she needed to figure out her misstep quickly because it seemed like she’d made a critical error that her audience had actually picked up on.

 

“That’s just low, Lila!” Kim glared.

 

Lila started to tear up and look at Kim with doe eyes, but she was interrupted. 

 

“Every true fan of Jagged Stone knows that his twin brother was his soulmate.” Ivan spoke up, glowering at her.  “His brother died years ago, but most of his albums are still dedicated to his memory.”

 

“Oh, of course!” Lila tittered.  “But Jagged and P…” it was obvious she was having trouble remembering Penny’s name so she slurred the name into a cough.  “They have a special bond! They became romantic soulmates even though Jagged formally had a familial soulmate!”

Nino didn’t look convinced but Alya appeared satisfied by the answer.  Even more, she seemed excited by the idea and began grilling Lila for more information.

 

Marinette was beyond angry on her friends’ behalves.  She glowered at Lila--so much so that Damian would have been proud.  Still, she bit her tongue and shook her head when her friends looked to her for clarification.

 

If it was true that some people’s strings connected to more than one person--especially after a loss--she didn’t know.  But Marinette did know that hadn’t been the case with Jagged and Penny and she refused to reveal that privileged information to Lila.

 

Jagged was very open about his brother.  Many of his works were inspired by him and Jagged was a longstanding spokesman for soulmate loss groups.  Penny was a different story. She was still very pained by the subject and only opened up about her soulmate to those closest to her--a select group Marinette felt honored to be included in.

 

It was how Penny and Jagged met--at a soulmate bereavement group.  They quickly bonded over their shared grief and became fast friends.  While Jagged’s brother passed away after a long battle with cancer and they’d had time to say goodbye, Penny never met her soulmate.  She was still waiting for her string to lead her to her soulmate when his name unexpectedly appeared over her heart one day. She was devastated to find out that he’d been killed in an accident.  Eventually, Penny was able to meet his family and learned about who he had been. It proved to be comforting for his family and they all became very close, but Penny always wondered what it would have been like to know him herself.

 

Jagged was just beginning his career when they met and he was quick to ask Penny to partner with him once he saw how talented she was in business and management.  They never had a dramatic moment where their strings brought them together. Penny fell in love with Jagged despite her past pain. When she finally confessed her feelings, Jagged had the response of an innocent puppy:

 

“I know!  I’m in love with you too, Pen!  Isn’t this great?! Want to go on a date sometime?”

 

Penny decided to take the risk that his obtuseness could be hereditary and she married him.  Now, even though Jagged was strongly advocating for a rock n’ roll name for their baby, Penny was lobbying for a name in honor of their late soulmates that brought them together.

 

Of course, jagged strongly refused to name a child after his brother--since his brother absolutely hated his given name.  He was more open to Penny’s soulmate’s name...but was still coming up with new musician combo names every few days.

 

Lila would never learn any of that information if Marinette could help it.

 

Her friends seemed to understand not to press Marinette for details, even if they were obviously curious.  She was grateful for their discretion. Ms. Bustier finally arrived just as the bell rang and everyone settled down for the lesson.  Marinette sank back against her seat and she didn’t even notice Lila send her a smug smirk over her shoulder.

 

The topic of lost soulmates forced Marinette to relive memories of her own that were more poignant than Lila’s petty ego.  Ms. Bustier began discussing their next reading assignment but her voice became a monotonous drone in Marinette’s ear. Kim had long since declared himself her seat mate, and he nudged her slightly with a questioning look.  She gave him a weak smile and pretended that she was alright.

 

In reality, Marinette felt heartsick.  In her mind, she was thrown back to the confusing period of time when she’d wondered why her soulmate’s name looked like it was trying to appear over her heart.  At the time, she and her parents assumed her soulmate was in a near death experience, though they grew more and more concerned as the mark lingered and remained unchanged; neither forming completely nor disappearing.  It never became legible enough for her to read Damian’s name, but now she knew what happened. Damian had died and she might not have ever met him, just like Penny. Apparently, the bond somehow knew that Damian’s life wasn’t done yet, which explained why the signature never fully formed.  Eventually, the mark disappeared without explanation--though she now knew that was when he was revived.  

 

The thought of a world without Damian made Marinette want to break down sobbing.  It had come way too close to that and she’d never even known. He and his family had taken residence in her heart very quickly and she didn’t want to think of going back to a life without any of them.  She would have thought their line of work would make her resent the risks it presented and want nothing to do with that danger, but on the contrary, it only made her more grateful that she had been chosen as Ladybug and given the opportunity to fight beside these wonderful people.

 

Marinette chided herself in a tone that sounded very much like Damian in her head.  She was not going to get sentimental in class--especially this class--and she refused to let these thoughts sour her morning.  Damian was alive, as were both of their families. She would not break down and blubber in front of a bunch of people that were either firmly her friends or firmly her enemies--during a lecture on A Tale of Two Cities , no less!

 

Kim caught her gaze again as she brushed the light moisture from her eyes and she gave him a more genuine smile.  

 

If she happened to sneak a brief text to Damian when no one was looking, no one else needed to know.



~~~~~~~~~~~



Damian scowled and hunched in on himself, frustration radiating off him while he walked down the sidewalk, tightly sandwiched between all three of his brothers.  

 

It was snowing, people were being inordinately cheerful , there were people ringing bells and collecting for charities (most of them, he took note of the ones that were obviously scammers), and his brothers had forcefully mummified him in more fluffy layers than he deemed necessary.

 

This was Gotham, for brooding’s sake!  It was not supposed to be this merry and bright!  

 

Damian grumbled to himself as Dick started whistling the same Christmas tune that had been stuck in his head--and thus, everyone else’s also--since Thanksgiving.  He supposed he should be grateful that the city seemed to be enjoying a momentary break from the misery that clung to Gotham like glue. Still, If Grayson sang that stupid song one more time he might have to knock himself out with the nearest candy cane.

 

“Cheer up, Demon Spawn!” Jason said, throwing his arm around him and squeezing his shoulders tightly--making him feel even less cheerful.  “We’re going to find the perfect gift for your pixie girlfriend, just you wait!”

 

“Oh, what joyful and expectant awaiting.” Damian dully said.

 

“That’s the spirit, Little D!” Dick grabbed all three of his brothers in a squeeze from behind.  “Here, let’s start at Tennyson Jewelers. That’s where I got Starfire’s gift last year!”

 

It was Damian’s own fault he’d gotten into this mess.  His family had been especially considerate of him since the return from Paris.  They still teased each other, of course, but it was toned down. It was almost annoying how they all offered him an ear if he needed to talk, but Damian appreciated that they were trying to be supportive.  He was grateful that on the rare occasion he came out of his room with red eyes they didn’t call him out on it, though Mar’i had given Uncle Dami more than a few “feel better hugs” over the past few days.  

 

The sentimentality must have gotten to him and Damian was cursing that he’d gone soft.  Ultimately, all this familial lovey-dovey stuff led him to admit that he was having a hard time deciding on Marinette’s Christmas gift.  He knew she didn’t care for flashy things and would feel uncomfortable if he went too overboard. She dealt with a sense of guilt due to years of certain unscrupulous fiends that had made her feel like she either didn’t deserve it or was a gold digger if she accept anything lavish that was freely gifted to her--a fact that made his blood boil and increased his desire to spoil her until she felt worthy...which might not be a sound plan to combat her insecurities... 

 

Still, this was their first big holiday together and he wanted something that showed he cared.  He regretted asking for help the very moment his brothers’ eyes lit up and Bruce smirked at him and wished him luck.  Damian really should have remembered the chaos that ensued when Bruce asked for help picking out Selina’s engagement ring.  If the woman hadn’t stepped in herself--totally decimating Bruce’s idea that he could surprise her--and actually told them the ring she wanted, Wayne Enterprises might have had to buy out half of Gotham’s jewelry stores to compensate for the emotional trauma of the poor employees.  Dick had been the smart one back when he proposed to Kor’i--he’d gotten a ring forged for her on her home planet of Tamaran and proposed via some complicated ritual they had that Damian never paid full attention to when Dick explained it.

 

Why did he ever go to anyone other than Alfred for assistance?  He was the only sensible person in the family. Now he was stuck spending the day Christmas shopping with his brothers.

 

The brothers started off mundanely enough.  Dick also took the opportunity to peruse the display cases for something for his wife and, he said, maybe a locket for his daughter.  Tim and Jason tried to make helpful comments but didn’t have very strong opinions about what they were seeing. Tim was the one that knew MDC’s style the best out of all of them and was trying to suggest things that were up to Marinette’s aesthetic...but nothing seemed in keeping with her personality.

 

Jason was starting to zone out and was ignoring the glare he received from a sales clerk when he leaned against a glass display case.

 

“Why don’t you get her a pair of earrings?” Jason suggested pointing to a random pink pair.  “She’d like those.”

 

Damian glared at him in disdain.  “That’s a new level of stupidity, even for you, Todd.”

 

“What?” Jason scoffed.  “She likes pink!”

 

“Think really hard for a moment about why I shouldn’t give my girlfriend earrings.” Damian said patronizingly.

 

Jason gave him a nasty look right back, before his face froze and he muttered, “oh...right.”

 

“‘Oh, right!’” Damian mocked softly with a roll of his eyes.

 

Dick tweaked his nose and Damian swatted his hand away.

 

“We need to get him to Paris.” Dick commented.  “He’s having severe Marinette withdrawal. He’s reverting back to his surly state.”

 

“I’m sorry, there was a difference?” Tim quipped.

 

Damian scoffed.  “You people are infuriating.  This is why Father’s taking me to Paris and not you.”

 

“Actually, brat, I’m joining you for some of it.” Tim smirked.

 

Damian looked genuinely alarmed.  “No.”

 

Jason smirked.  “We’re all on standby, and you know how quickly we can get there…”

 

Damian speed walked away from them to seek refuge on the other side of the store.  “Marinette’s nicer than any of you people! I’m going to tell her to deprive you all of the Dupain-Cheng pastries!”

 

“No!” Dick laughed in a whine.  “We’ll be good, Little D! Promise!  I want cookies that aren’t mustard flavored!”



~~~~~~~~~~



Alya almost growled as she watched Adrien nervously glance around before entering through the back door of the bakery.

 

She knew something was up!  That excuse about getting stuck in traffic never set well with her--he only lived a few blocks from where they were supposed to meet up!  Adrien majorly let down Nino and Lila that day, not to mention he’d been acting rude and evasive to Lila ever since they came back from Gotham.  She had a hunch that the problem traced back to Marinette, and here was her proof!

 

Apparently having one rich boyfriend wasn’t enough for Marinette!  She had to try to steal Adrien from Lila, too!  

 

Well, Alya wasn’t going to just take this lying down.  She stormed up to the back of the bakery before slowing down and taking a careful look through the window.  Tom and Sabine were busy with customers and the door had been left slightly ajar while waiting for a delivery man to finish unloading fresh ingredients.  Alya smoothly and confidently walked through the door as though she belonged there. The delivery man didn’t give her a second glance and she was already on the second flight of stairs before Tom and Sabine even turned around.

 

Just as she’d hoped, the apartment door was left unlocked.  It was a little odd to be back in the Dupain-Cheng home, but she focused on making sure her steps were quiet as she eased herself towards the attic.  Whatever Adrien and Marinette were doing, she wanted to catch them in the act. Adrien needed a good reality check if he was going traitor on them for Marinette and she wasn’t going to spare him any of her wrath--it was for his own good.

 

Alya paused at the trap door and listened.  When she didn’t hear anything, she flung the door open with a shout: “Adrien!”

 

Adrien and Marinette both jumped...as did Kagami and Luka who were cuddled on the chaise.  Movement on Marinette’s computer screen drew Alya’s attention to the fact that Damian Wayne was scowling at her on video chat.

 

She almost felt embarrassed for assuming she’d find them in some sort of compromised situation.  Still, this wasn’t right and Alya quickly regained her fury.

 

“What are you doing here?” Alya accused.

 

Adrien looked at her innocently.  “Fifth wheeling two couples of soulmates and getting help on my English homework from a natural born English speaker.”

 

“Who’s that?” Damian promptly asked.  “My first language is Arabic and nothing about my birth can be considered natural.”

Marinette laughed but quickly turned her outraged glare back at Alya.

 

“Alya, what are you doing here?” Kagami calmly asked.

 

“More importantly, how are you here?  Mama and Papa made it clear you are not welcome in our home.  Even Nora is afraid to cross Mama when she comes in.” Marinette said.

 

Her parents were strongly tempted to ban Lila, Alya, and some of her other classmates from the bakery over the course of the bullying Marinette endured.  However, they realized it would likely cause them more trouble than it was worth because it would likely cause someone to accuse them of illegally refusing service.  

 

Alya ignored both of them to stare down Adrien.  “So this is why you’ve been acting so weird? You’ve been cheating on Lila with Marinette?!”

 

“What, no!” Adrien started to blabber but Damian cut him off.

 

“Your accusations are completely unfounded and based on a malicious desire to see the worst in Marinette and her associates.” Damian said forcefully.

 

“Easy for you to say!” Alya accused.  “You’re an ocean away and only knew Marinette in person for a week!  You have no idea what Marinette is really like!”

 

“I have a better idea than you do,” Damian bit out tensely.  

 

“Alya--” Adrien tried to interject but Alya spoke over him.

 

“You know better, Adrien!” Alya seethed.  “How dare you be here after how Marinette’s treated Lila!  She deserves better than for you to be sneaking around behind her back with the bully that’s tormented her for years!”

 

“I am not sneaking around!” Adrien argued.

 

“Sure looks like it!” Alya countered.  “Does your father know you’re here?”

 

Adrien visibly paled and the others all tensed, frowning at Alya.

 

“I don’t know what is going on with you Adrien, but you need to get out of here and talk it through with the people who are actually your friends!” Alya declared.  “You’ve been off ever since we came back from Gotham and you can’t keep stringing Lila along like this!”

 

“I’m not stringing her along!” Adrien protested.

 

“Aren’t you?” Alya challenged.  “I don’t see you letting other girls hang off you all the time!  And you can’t tell me all those kissy ads together are just work!  You seem to be enjoying yourself plenty!”

 

Adrien began sputtering incoherently.  His anxiety was skyrocketing and all he could see was his father’s disapproving eyes staring down on him.

 

“Agreste.”  

 

Adrien whipped around to stare at Damian from his seat on the floor.

 

“Deep breaths.” Damian ordered.  “No fear. Face her straight on.”

 

Adrien stared at him, completely lost.

 

“Adrien,” Luka said a little more gently, but firmly.  “What do you feel about what Alya just said?”

 

Surprisingly, Alya waited for him to speak--though she looked like she was expecting to combat whatever nonsense she thought he’d say.

 

“Alya…” what was he supposed to say? “Alya, Lila and I are not dating.  I have no desire to date her and I have stated that to her plainly.”

 

Alya rolled her eyes and Adrien felt something inside him shrivel.

 

“Do not hesitate, Adrien.” Kagami said softly.

 

“You're doing good,” Luka added.  “Why do you not want to date Lila?”

 

Adrien gulped.  “I...she…”

 

Alya looked almost smug, as though his lack of answer was confirmation that he was just shy about starting a relationship with Lila.

 

“You can do this, Adrien.” Marinette whispered so softly he almost missed it.

 

“Alya, I don’t want to date her.” Adrien said.  “My father is the one that makes me spend time with her and I do not enjoy our photoshoots, nor do I enjoy her hanging off of me.  It makes me uncomfortable, and if she were honest with herself, Lila knows this. If...if you’re my friend I need you to believe me and trust that my choice is valid.”

 

Alya glowered at him and the others, clearly angry.  “You’ve changed Adrien. This isn’t you, you’ve been spending too much time with these...bullies and users.”

 

Luka had to restrain Kagami when she instinctively wanted to lunge at Alya.

 

“Lila deserves better than you, Adrien.” Alya pointedly ignored everyone else in the room.  “So does Nino.”

 

Adrien hung his head in his hands as he leaned against his knees. 

 

“Alya, get out of my home before I have Papa call the police for trespassing.” Marinette said through gritted teeth.

 

Alya huffed and stared Marinette down, bold in her imagined righteousness.  “You just keep finding new ways to sink lower, don’t you, Dupain-Cheng? I’d be careful if I were you, Damian, she may look sweet but she’s really pure poison.”

 

Damian growled and tensed to attack, even though he was thousands of miles away.

 

Just as she was about to walk down the stairs, Adrien said in a small voice.  “Are you going to say anything?”

 

Alya frowned at him, as though he was asking her to cover for his crimes.  “I won’t say anything. Not for you, because what you’re doing is wrong. But because I’m not going to let Lila be hurt by this and because your dad’s a prissy jerk and I won’t give him the satisfaction.”

 

“Thank you.” Adrien whispered.

 

Marinette followed after Alya and informed her parents about the intrusion before making sure both doors were locked.  When she got back to her room, she found Kagami and Luka on the floor next to Adrien. He was putting on his model face, as though nothing was wrong, but he was obviously trying to push down his rising panic.

 

“Agreste.” 

 

Everyone turned to Damian on the computer.  While Luka and Kagami had interacted with Damian enough to worry that he was about to say something harsh, Marinette recognized the determined expression Damian wore.

 

“You must be as mentally ready to do battle against people like that--people that want to push you around--just as you would in any physical fight.” Damian said firmly.  “Do these people have any right to force their own will on you? Or to restrict your own free will?”

 

Adrien looked at him warily but shook his head.

 

“Correct.” Damian said.  “Parents have a right to teach and guide their children, not to enforce a dictatorship of control over their child.  You have a right to advocate for yourself and assert your needs--especially when your safety is threatened as with that Lila girl.”

 

“But my safety isn’t--” Adrien started.  

 

“Adrien, we all know you don’t believe that.” Marinette gently interrupted.

 

“There are measures you can take to ensure that you are not put into a dangerous or otherwise compromised position by the people in your life meant to take care of you.” Damian said.

 

Luka nodded.  “We can help you.”

 

“I...don’t even know where I’d start.” Adrien admitted.  Some days, being Cat Noir was much easier.

 

“Perhaps it would be wise if we made a formal outline of what your father’s rules and expectations are for you.” Kagami suggested.  “We would need you to be completely blunt about your father’s orders regarding Rossi.”

 

“How would that be helpful?” Adrien asked.

 

Marinette and Kagami shared a glance.  Neither of them thought it would go over well if they told Adrien they may need to talk to someone from Child Protection Services and use the list as evidence.

 

Damian, thankfully, seemed to pick up on that.  “Simple. One must know one’s opponent's motives, their expectations.  Your father is playing a game and in order to participate, you must know the rules.”

 

Luka cast a look toward the computer as though he thought Damian was overdoing it, but Damian seemed serious.

 

“When your father, or his lackey I’ve heard about, challenges you, you must be ready to face him head on.” Damian said firmly.  “You must show no fear, find his weakness, and then strike. You are not a sniveling dog for him to command and you must act as such.”

 

Damian raised a questioning eyebrow when Kagami and Luka both turned to look at him oddly and Adrien looked positively ashen.

 

Marinette sighed.  “Let’s take that martial confidence and dial back the angst and violence to that of an average mortal.”

 

Damian scoffed and Adrien slapped his hand over his shirt pocket as it began to shake.  He must have left his phone on vibrate in his breast pocket.

 

“Is that what you do with your father?” Adrien asked with wide eyes and a slightly tremulous voice.

 

"My mother, actually." Damian answered.

 

Marinette intervened before the conversation could spiral further.  “Like I said, love the confidence, let’s just dial back the vitriol.”



~~~~~~~~~~~



“This is an obscene waste of time.” Damian seethed, tense in his seat in the screening room.

 

Tim flicked some popcorn at him, barely turning his attention away from the movie.  “Alfred wants us to bond like a normal family. Family movie night is an opportunity to destress and foster trust and unity outside of life-endangering exploits.”

 

“Pennyworth isn’t even here.”

 

“He and Mar’i fell asleep watching The Muppet Christmas Carol in her fort after dinner.” Dick reminded.  

 

Dick and Kor’i were snuggled up on a recliner while Tim, Jason, and Damian were set up on the couch.  Bruce was in his armchair, either sound asleep or pretending to be asleep so he could ignore Damian’s persisting argument.

 

“Demon Spawn, you’re just complaining because you don’t like the movie.” Jason said with a roll of his eyes.

 

“The treatment of animals in this film is barbaric!” Damian exclaimed, throwing an accusing hand at the screen.  “Granted the damage is exaggerated, but the negligence? The supposed electrocution?! Not to mention the animal being forced to endure the idiocy of that buffoon in the ugly mock turtleneck?!”

 

“Oh.  My. Gosh!” Jason groaned, ready to tear out his hair.  “I never would have shown you National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation if I thought you’d go ASPCA on us!  Can’t you just chill and enjoy the comedy?”

 

“Marinette has officially affected you.” Tim muttered.  “You’ve made at least four outraged comments about that mock turtleneck alone--I’m not even beginning to count your other comments critiquing other fashion faux pas.  If we got Marinette here right now, I bet even she wouldn’t have as many complaints as you!”

 

Damian scoffed.  “Idiots. I would never subject Marinette to this atrocity.  She hates horror movies.”

 

Dick happily ignored them all as he snuggled Kor’i closer while she dozed with her arms around Silkie.  “Can we watch the great aunt saying ‘grace’ again? That’s my favorite!”

 

Jason snorted.  “What you like is getting some sort of weird kick that their turkey disaster is worse than Kor’i’s cooking.”

 

“I have heard that and your comment was rude!” Kor’i mumbled.

 

“Sorry, Kor’i…” Jason grumbled.

 

“Can’t we just start patrol early?” Damian almost whined.

 

“Alfred used his override code to lock the Batcave.” Bruce informed, proving that he had indeed been awake and hiding it--the coward.

 

“Do you really want to defy Alfred , Little D?” Dick asked.

 

A very long growl was the only answer as Damian pried the popcorn bowl out of Tim’s hand and stuffed a very large handful into his mouth, angrily glaring at the screen. 



~~~~~~~~~~



“Hey Ladyblog viewers!  Alya here with my girl Lila!”

 

The video shifted to a selfie position, revealing Lila and Alya smiling cheerfully at the camera.  They’d chosen to shoot the video in the Champ de Mars with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Both were wearing Ladyblog scarves Alya had commissioned from an online store, but since Alya was still convinced Ladybug turned her back on Lila for no reason the logo for the Ladyblog had changed to the Miraculous symbol.  

 

A few years back, she’d discovered an emblem appearing throughout history that corresponded with theoretical Miraculous wielders.  Alya had yet to uncover any further evidence regarding her theory--despite Gabriel Agreste taking an interest and sponsoring her blog for a research special.  Back then, Marinette had not been happy that she’d shared the information...but she didn’t like dwelling on that. Once she and Marinette had their falling out, Alya wanted to change her logo since Marinette designed the original.  She gave Nathaniel references to the emblem and commissioned him to create a new logo from it.

 

“Once again, we come to you with the inside scoop on the latest with team Miraculous!” Alya said before training the camera on just Lila.

 

Though Lila tried to convince everyone that Marinette sabotaged her friendship with Ladybug, she later claimed that Cat Noir sympathized with her and occasionally talked with her, acted as mediator, or just checked in to see how she was doing.  

 

“Hi everyone!” Lila said with a wide smile and a demure wave.

 

“So Lila, care to give us the deets about the new Black Cat?” Alya asked.

 

Lila nodded with a somber look on her face.  “Of course. As you all know, Batman and his team unexpectedly showed up in Paris the other week and interfered with Ladybug’s battle with the akuma Butterfly Guard--”

 

“Interfered?” Alya questioned.  “I thought that was a teamup?” 

 

Lila cringed as though she’d said something she shouldn’t have.  “Well...while I’m sure they were trying to be helpful, they weren’t--shall I say...invited.”

 

The camera jostled slightly, the only evidence of Alya’s surprise.  Lila hadn’t told her this when they were planning the interview, but then it seemed like she’d let slip more information than she’d intended to.

 

“To be honest, Ladybug was quite upset about the whole ordeal.” Lila then smiled in a camaraderie fashion.  “And let’s be honest Paris, we don’t need any outside help, do we? Not when we believe in our own heroes!

 

“Anyway, Ladybug did not take it well and needed to take a step back.”  Lila said sheepishly. “She’d never shirk her duty to Paris, but we all have our off days.”

 

“Are you saying...Ladybug sat out the fight on purpose?” Alya asked.  “Because she was--what? Throwing a tantrum about Batman?”

 

Lila shrunk in on herself.  “All I know is that Cat Noir temporarily donned the mantle of Mister Bug and recruited the help of Kittyhawk to fill his role as the Black Cat.”

 

“What’s Kittyhawk like?” Alya decided to let go of the tantrum subject for now since it was making Lila uncomfortable.

 

Lila instantly brightened.  “Oh! Kittyhawk is such a sweetheart!  Of course, I can’t reveal any personal information that could jeopardize his identity...but I can say that Kittyhawk and Cat Noir are very close--you’d almost say like brothers!”  Here, she gave a pointed wink to the camera.

 

“No way!” Alya exclaimed.  “There you have it! Kittyhawk and Mister Bug fans unite!  Until next time, Ladybloggers!”



~~~~~~~~~~



Nadja Chamack jumped out of the news van as soon as the driver stopped.  Her cameraman, Raul, was only a step behind her as they joined the throng of reporters and spectators that were rushing to get to the impromptu press conference Ladybug and Cat Noir announced.

 

TVi had been hoping to get an exclusive when Ladybug called about an interview, but instead they were still happy to pull all the necessary strings to organize and legalize the press conference with such little notice.  Nadja was just glad that Sabine was able to watch Manon at the last minute. She would have asked Marinette, knowing how much Manon adores her, but the girl had already left to run to the fabric store before Nadja could inquire--and no one wanted to interrupt Marinette once she was sucked into her designing mode.

 

At five pm on the dot, Ladybug and Cat Noir jumped down from the rooftops onto the hastily constructed platform and were instantly assaulted with hundreds of camera flashes.  

 

“Greetings, Parisians.” Ladybug said as she took the lead at the microphone.  “Thank you for joining us at this late notice.”

 

Shouts from the crowd already threatened to drown out Ladybug’s voice.  Cat Noir held his hands up with his palms out, urging them into silence.

 

“Cat Noir and I, along with our reserve heroes, Viperon and Ryuko, are pleased to make an announcement.” Ladybug stated clearly.

 

Behind them, right on que, Batman and Robin swung down to the platform from the rooftops.  If possible, the crowd became even more electric and Nadia turned to Raul to make sure he was getting a good shot.

 

Ladybug let her partner take a turn at the microphone and with a proud smile he proclaimed, “Please join us in welcoming Batman and Robin to Paris as they partner with us in our mission to defeat Hawkmoth.”

 

The noise level rose to a steady buzz.  A good deal of people cried out in cheers of excitement while others called out indistinguishable questions.  The camera flashes became a near constant strobe.

 

Ladybug retook the microphone and held her hand up for silence.  “Cat Noir and I made a promise to you, Paris, that we would be there when you were in danger.  It has been over five years since we swore to reclaim Hawkmoth’s Miraculous and free this city of his terrible siege.  Today, we take an unprecedented and monumental step toward accomplishing that goal. Hawkmoth, we will find you.”

 

Ladybug stepped back and Batman briefly took the microphone.

 

“On behalf of the Justice League and myself, we pledge our assistance and our resources to aid in bringing this standoff with Hawkmoth to an end.” Batman said in his gravelly voice.  “Ladybug, Cat Noir, and their associates have fought valiantly and are proud defenders of their city. We will not be taking over for your heroes, merely assisting them. The Justice League acknowledges their authority in this matter and is officially deputizing them as probationary members of the Justice League.”

 

Again, the crowd exploded in excited noise at this announcement and Cat Noir and Ladybug both whipped their heads to Batman in surprise.  His almost imperceptible smirk was their only indication that he was enjoying springing this surprise on them.

 

“Ladybug!” Nadja called out and was surprised when she almost instantly got Ladybug’s attention.

 

Ladybug retook the microphone and Batman stepped back to stand on the outer edge of their group.  Robin stood between him and Ladybug and Cat Noir stood at his place on her other side.

 

“What do you say to the allegations that you chose to sit out a recent akuma fight in protest of Batman’s involvement?” Nadja asked.

 

For her part, Ladybug looked shocked.  In reality, Alya’s livestream of Lila’s interview had been one of their main catalysts for their “impromptu” press conference.  Marinette still kept tabs on Alya’s blog and was notified the moment she started streaming. They’d always planned on making the formal announcement of the partnership with Batman before the arrival of the Waynes, but Alya’s video hastened their timeline.  Within hours, the video had not only gone viral but was causing chaos within the city.  Many were outraged about the claims against Ladybug, while many more believed them and were outraged by them.  Ladybug and Cat Noir already had to deal with one akuma as a result--thankfully it was a disillusioned child that was more sad than angry and was easily dealt with and the victim reassured.  

 

It was obvious Hawkmoth was taking advantage of the situation and they needed to assuage the people’s concerns before Hawkmoth could exploit Paris’s anxiety and anger.  They did, however, debate about allowing the red herring regarding Kittyhawk’s identity to stand. On one hand, it would divert people’s attention further away from Cat Noir’s identity, but on the other hand they had an opportunity to cement, before the public, the trust the Miraculous Team had in their partnership with Batman and his team.  Blowing Lila’s credibility out of the water was another tantalizing prospect...

 

“I’m not certain how those allegations came to be.” Ladybug announced.  “However, I can assure you that so long as Hawkmoth remains a threat, I will never sit idly by while Paris is in danger.”

 

“Ladybug,” another reporter called out, “if you were not inactive in protest, why were you absent during the latest battle with Gigantitian?”

 

Ladybug adopted a solemn half-smile and hoped no one would notice Robin tense slightly.  “I had to step away for the day due to a family emergency. I cannot elaborate further for my own safety and the safety of my loved ones, but I am thankful Mister Bug and Kittyhawk were able handle the situation so wonderfully in my absence.”

 

“Is there any truth to the rumor that Cat Noir and Kittyhawk are related?” a journalist asked.

 

Ladybug shared a brief look with her teammates before going ahead with the information they’d decided to release.

 

“I cannot share information regarding Kittyhawk’s personal life, but after deliberation we have decided that the public would benefit from some clarification on this matter.” Ladybug stated.  “The temporary wielder of the Black Cat Miraculous called ‘Kittyhawk’ was our ally Robin.”

 

Ladybug indicated Robin and he merely nodded in acknowledgement as the press was stirred into a frenzy once more.

 

Cat Noir was slightly less formal and he draped his arms over Robin and Ladybug’s shoulders, pulling them in a half-hug, half-headlock as he stole the microphone and smirked.  “He’s a good teammate! We’ll be keeping him in the wings for if we need him again!”

 

Ladybug groaned and Robin scoffed as he tossed Cat Noir’s arm away.

 

“Will Robin as Kittyhawk be making more appearances in the future?”

 

“No,” Robin answered flatly just as Cat Noir exclaimed, “Maybe!”

 

At Robin’s glare, Cat Noir shot him an eager--slightly nervous--smile and said, “What?  We should do a boys night out! We could grab Viperion, get some pizza--it’d be fun! We could bond!”

 

“Definitely no.” Robin returned.

 

The press was eating up the playful banter between--what Ladybug was sure would be coined--happy cat and grumpy bird.  Ladybug had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from laughing and she was almost sure she saw Batman smirk. Everyone’s attention was redirected when a limousine with police escort pulled up beside the platform and the Mayor hurried up the steps with dignity.

 

Cat Noir and Ladybug exchanged a serious glance as they all turned to face Mayor Bourgeois.  They specifically organized the press conference away from the Mayor’s office so they could attempt to avoid any public admonishment for working with the Justice League.  Andre Bourgeois was not included in the months of planning that went into preparing for the Miraculous and Batman partnership and Ladybug and Cat Noir ignored all attempts Andre made to contact them since the Batman Team’s first appearance.  

 

Andre took the podium and smiled nervously at the press, not even bothering to greet the superheroes. 

 

“Mayor Bourgeois,” Nadia called out, “you have previously stated your stance against Justice League action regarding Hawkmoth’s attacks, how do you respond to the Miraculous/Batman partnership?”

 

Andre looked stricken as his smile froze on his face.  “Dear Parisians!” he began and cleared his throat while he clearly scrambled for a response.  “I join you in welcoming Batman and company to our fair city.”

 

He paused as though expecting a response and there was a few sparse applause but the crowd was largely made up of the press who were waiting for him to continue.

 

“As major, it is my duty and privilege to care for the city and its people,” Andre went on, “unfortunately, it is also my duty to uphold our laws and regulations.”

 

Robin scoffed and Batman was thankful it was too soft to be caught on any of the camera microphones.

 

“As such,” Andre said in a gallant yet conciliatory tone, “any and all visitors to our city must be able to provide legal, government-issued identification--such as a passport, for our foreign visitors.  While I welcome any and all help our brave heroes can receive, I also understand the grave importance a superhero’s private identity is--especially given my dear Chloe’s first hand experience as Queen Bee.  I cannot, in good conscience, ask Batman or his teammates to jeopardize their identities. And as no one is above the law--not even superheroes--I have no choice but to…”

 

Andre trailed off as Batman and Robin revealed official passports for their hero personas, showing them to the press before handing them to Andre for inspection.  After a moment of Andre staring at them slack jawed, Batman also withdrew an envelope from a pocket in his suit.  

 

Batman took the microphone out of it’s stand since Andre was still staring and didn’t seem inclined to leave the podium.  Batman cleared his throat pointedly and began summarizing the document enclosed in the envelope.  

 

“As of November the twenty-ninth of this year, President Gougere has awarded us temporary jurisdiction in Paris.” Batman announced.  “Our jurisdiction will last until Hawkmoth and Mayura are defeated or one year, whichever comes first. In the event that Hawkmoth is still at large one year from now, this agreement will be subject to review and renewed should it be deemed necessary.  This document is on file with the Ministry of the Armed Forces, will be filed in the Mayor’s office, and will be made available in Public Records.”

 

Andre’s mouth soundlessly opened and closed as a significantly larger amount of people cheered this announcement.

 

Right on time, Batman and Robin received alerts that blared loudly from their coms.  Normally these would be silenced, but they’d set the effect up specifically as a getaway excuse.

 

Batman spoke to the crowd once more.  “Either I or one of my partners will be on call to help Ladybug and Cat Noir as needed.  Otherwise, we will continue our regular roles in Gotham and with the Justice League at large.  Thank you.”

 

Batman shook Mayor Bourgeois hand--even though the man was still in shock and only limply responding like a puppet--and followed up by shaking Ladybug and Cat Noir’s hands.  The four even finished with a brief pose of Ladybug and Cat Noir doing their Pound-It with Batman and Robin framing them on either side. Then, with a bug out, a yoyo, a staff, and a few grappling hooks, the group was gone and disappearing onto the rooftops.  Andre was left standing awkwardly on stage even as most reporters considered the press conference over and began to leave. Nadia and Raul shared a bemused glance before packing up to go back to TVi. 



~~~~~~~~~~



The four paused when they were a few blocks away and Batman and Robin received another alert--though this time it was actual League business and not a staged alert made by Agent A.

 

“Stay safe.” Ladybug said to them both.

 

Batman nodded and made his exit immediately but Robin hesitated a moment.  Cat Noir turned away slightly as Robin and Ladybug embraced tightly and shared a quick peck on the lips before Robin followed Batman to the Zeta Platform.  The sight caused Cat Noir’s heart to squeeze a little in melancholy, but it was a lesser pain than he’d expected and he already knew it would continue to dissipate with time. 

 

Cat Noir twirled his staff idly for a moment as they stood there in silence after the Bats’ departure.  Abruptly cutting off his twirl and leaning on his staff, Cat Noir cocked his head at Ladybug.

 

“M’lady, I’ve tried to keep a respectful boundary...but I’ve got to know…” Cat Noir began, earning himself a wary look from Ladybug.

 

“What?” she asked hesitantly.

 

Cat Noir took a deep breath.  “Did you freak out when you met the Big Bat?  No, stupid question--correction, how much did you freak out when you met the Big Bat?  Because I can’t be the only one freaking out!”

 

Ladybug threw her head back and laughed.

 

“No, seriously!  I mean, we are working with the Batman ?!  Have you stopped and thought about that?!  Because that was one thing I didn’t even put on my bucket list because I never thought it would happen!” Cat Noir dodged when Ladybug playfully attempted to push him off the roof.  “Have you seen the Batcave? Is it real or just an urban legend? Wait, can I see the Batcave?!  Oh camembert that would be amazing!  Say, how mad would Robin be if I code named him Baby Bat?  Because I think it’d be hilariously adorable!”



~~~~~~~~~~



Gabriel Agreste scowled as the press conference came to a close and signaled Nathalie to turn off the news as the anchors prattled on about the announcement.  He turned away to stare at his wife’s portrait in contemplation.

 

“Sir,” Nathalie began tentatively, “the resources and involvement of the Justice League, specifically Batman, poses an immediate threat to our mission.”

 

“I am aware.” Gabriel said tersely.  “It was my hope that the discord sewn by Ms. Rossi’s interview would prompt the public and those in authority to reject Batman’s involvement.  In light of this failure, I may need to take additional precautions to ensure the Bat is kept busy and away from our work…”

 

Chapter Text

The corruption bubbled away from the akuma as the ladybugs swarmed around the city and corrected the newest damage.  Poor Mr. Ramier looked around in confusion from where he found himself on the ground in front of the Louvre. He sighed when he found Ladybug in front of him offering a hand up.

 

“Again?” Mr. Ramier said mournfully.

 

“Afraid so,” Ladybug admitted.  “But don’t worry, it’s not your fault.  You really weren’t even that troublesome to fight, it just took a little longer to locate you this time.”

 

Mr. Ramier nodded along with Ladybug’s explanation, checking his wrist watch and grateful that at least his lunch hour wasn’t completely up and he probably wouldn’t get in trouble for being late back to work.

 

“Thank you, Ladybug, I--” Mr. Ramier stopped with a gasp as he noticed the figures behind her.  “It’s you!”

 

He caught everyone off guard when he let out an ear-piercing squeal.  

 

“It’s you, it’s you, it’s really you!” Mr. Ramier exclaimed, suddenly ecstatic.  

 

He brushed past a bemused Ladybug and nearly ran over Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, and Nightwing.  Mr. Ramier was so excited that he started bouncing from one foot onto the other.

 

“Ah, yes?” Red Hood’s voice echoed inside his helmet.

 

“You’re the Robins!” Mr. Ramier shouted, as though he had to explain it to them.  “The greatest representative of birds in the world of aviary superheroes!”

 

“Thank...you?” Red Robin said awkwardly as Mr. Ramier started circling them and talking a mile a minute.

 

“Is it true you possess hollow bones just the same as your feathered namesake?” Mr. Ramier asked Nightwing.

 

“Um…” Nightwing hesitated, looking at Ladybug for help.

 

Mr. Ramier wasn’t waiting for him to elaborate.  “And you are the one that received a blessing from your mystical fowl brother?”

 

Red Hood snorted.  “I’m not sure how to answer that, but my brothers are foul.”

 

“And you, fair Red Robin,” Mr. Ramier looked at him adoringly, “Are the one so in tune and sympathetic to our feathered friends that you have to cover your head with mask and cowl so as not to reveal your sacred feathered bird-brain?”

 

“Hey!” Red Robin looked affronted and confused even if the others held back a chuckle. “Wait, what?!”

 

Robin scoffed at the spectacle but tensed when Mr. Ramier picked up the edge of his cape.

 

“Such an interesting adaptive trait!” Mr. Ramier studied.  “Tell me, how did you evolve to such a stage as to be able to detach your wings from your more human-esk arms?”

 

Robin stared at the man incredulously until a snicker caught his attention and he swung his glare around to the offender.  Both Ladybug and Cat Noir pointed at each other and neither looked repentant.

 

Robin snatched his hand away when Mr. Ramier--completely oblivious to those around him--began to pick up his arm and study it.

 

“Okay, Mr. Ramier,” Ladybug finally intervened.  “It’s time for us to say goodbye.”

 

Mr. Ramier looked back up at her forlornly.  “Already? I haven’t even bought you ice cream yet.”

 

“I’m afraid so,” Ladybug said kindly.  “It’s a school day and all.”

 

Mr. Ramier nodded reluctantly and bid them farewell with a bird coo that he appeared to think the Robins would understand.  The heroes quickly made their escape before anyone else could confront them and met up on a nearby rooftop to debrief.

 

“So that was Mr. Pigeon?”  Robin asked.

 

“On a good day.  Other times he becomes Mr. Rat.” Ladybug said with a shudder.

 

“Speak for yourself, I’d take the rat any day!” Cat Noir said with a snotty sniffle.  “How come your Cure doesn’t help my allergies?!”

 

“I guess your body just isn’t as miraculous as you think, Kitty.” Ladybug teased smugly.

 

“Oh, hardy har har!” Cat Noir complained as he blew his nose into his sleeve.

 

Robin hummed in contemplation.  “Weird guy. But he isn’t completely off base regarding his animal rights frustrations.  Also, that Officer Raincomprix guy was practically antagonizing him with his micromanaging.”

 

“Yeah...he can tend to get stuck on the small things and miss the bigger picture.” Ladybug admitted.

 

“Yeah, like the fact the mayor’s daughter treats his kid like a stooge.” Cat Noir sniffled again.

 

Ladybug raised an eyebrow at her partner.  “My, aren’t you just done with the world when your allergies act up...”

 

“It’s the mucus.”  Cat Noir complained.  “I’ve got that sarcastic, cartoon booger from the Mucinex commercial stuck in my head and he’s making some very convincing arguments…”

 

Nightwing, Red Hood, and Ladybug snickered while Red Robin stayed focused on the last of their business before they Zetaed back to Gotham and the other two raced back to class.  While it hadn’t been hugely important for them to rush to Paris to fight Mr. Pigeon, of all people, the boys had been bored and Damian had been itching for an excuse to visit Marinette. The fact they wanted to keep up random yet steady appearances until their official Wayne arrival also pushed them to make the snap decision to head to Paris when they received the alert.

 

“Right, sarcastic snot.  Just like Robin.” Red Robin muttered, ducking a quick swipe from his little brother.  “Quick update, I’m almost finished with the analysis program that will sift through various security camera and publicly posted videos of akumas.  It’s goal will be to compile various patterns in location and should pull and red flag any footage of suspicious activity connected to an akuma. It operates very similarly to the technology that malls use to deal with shoplifters--”

 

“Fascinating.” Robin said flatly.

 

“It is!” Cat Noir smiled brightly.  “Can I check it out?”

 

Red Robin nodded.  “How about we meet next week sometime?  I could use some help with the beta testing.”

 

“Nerds.” Red Hood shook his head.

 

Red Robin gave him a look behind his cowl.  “Yes. Because you don’t have a stack of literary magazines with articles on Shakespeare conspiracies and an annotated edition of War and Peace hidden under your bed.”

 

“You’ve been in my room?!” Red Hood growled.

 

“I wouldn’t go near your room!” Red Robin said sarcastically.  “The stench alone could kill a man. Agent A’s the only one brave enough to go in that sty.  By the way, he says if you didn’t want him to find your stash you should have hidden it better and that he was at least pleased it was lit mags you were hiding and not playboy magazines.  He found it when he was looking for the copy of King Lear he leant you.”

 

Red Hood began to grumble something but Red Robin went back to the topic at hand.

 

“Media response is mixed in the aftermath of the announcement of the Miraculous-Batman partnership.”  Red Robin went on. “Such news houses such as The Daily Planet-Paris and TVi--spearheaded by Nadja Chamack--are avid supporters of the partnership.  Other notable media personalities are criticizing the Miraculous Team for seeking outside assistance, while yet others are criticizing them for taking so long to seek outside assistance.”

 

He went on, listing further responses to the teamup, which responses demanded addressing and which they could ignore, then finally he paused and smirked.

 

“And, of course, thanks to the upstanding people at The Ladyblog, people are still firmly of the belief that Cat Noir and Robin are brothers--despite the press release denying that fact.” Red Robin finished.

 

Red Hood scoffed.  “Do you have a tragic backstory, kid?  Because with B’s adoption record he’d might just snatch you up even if the blond hair doesn’t fit with the typical aesthetic.”

 

“Realy?!” Cat Noir looked strangely excited by the idea. 

 

Robin’s eyes seemed to go wide and he was suddenly alarmed.  “No one tells Father!”



~~~~~~~~~~



Nino shifted in the entrance to the school.  He glanced at the time on his phone again and kept twitching his gaze between the bakery and the classroom.  Almost everyone else had already returned to class after the lunch break. He’d even seen Adrien run past him--not even noticing Nino in the doorway--after his bodyguard dropped him off later than usual.

 

This was cutting it closer than Nino would like it--but he had to take this opportunity!  Alya and Lila would be livid if they saw him talking to Marinette, but they were already in the classroom, too engrossed in conversation to pay him any mind when he’d made his lame excuse to leave.  Nino had been putting off talking to Marinette for weeks--months! But he couldn’t in good conscience keep putting it off after Adrien had practically begged him to talk to her.  

 

Once he’d seen that she hadn’t been with Alix and Kim during lunch, like she usually was since returning from Gotham, Nino knew his only viable opportunity might be upon him.  After school was a big no because there was no way Alya and Lila wouldn’t catch that and Nino did not want to risk approaching the bakery after the withering glare Sabine had given him the last time.

 

Whatever Marinette told her parents about them, it wasn’t pretty.  Alya’s attempt to explain the situation had only made it worse…

 

Nino forced himself to focus as Marinette came running toward the school--late as usual.  She almost zoomed past him before he stepped into her path and caught her attention--and was almost run over in the process.

 

“Nino?” Marinette gasped as she backtracked and looked at him suspiciously.  “What do you want?”

 

Nino took a deep breath and released it in one tense gust.  “Look, we need to talk.”

 

“That much I gathered.” Marinette said curtly.  “Is there a reason you're making me late to class for this conversation?  Other than you don’t want to be seen talking to me?”

 

Nino winced.  “Um...look...we don’t really have any opportunities to talk, you know?  And Adrien’s been really insistent that I talk to you about Lila. I guess I need to just cut to the chase and ask you what your deal with Lila is.”

 

Marinette narrowed her gaze.  “What my deal with Lila is?”

“Yeah.” Nino ran his hand beneath his hat.  “I mean, you used to be cool, Marinette! Then you changed all of a sudden when Lila got here!  It’s like, you never gave her a chance, you know? And everything that went down was crazy and totally not what I expected of you--but there it was!”

 

Nino felt the tension rise when Marinette rolled her eyes.  “Nino, you didn’t listen to my side of the story then, is the only reason you’re asking me now because of Adrien?”

 

“I listened to your side back then!” Nino said defensively.

 

“No, you stopped listening to my side when I admitted to following Adrien that one time!” Marinette corrected with a scowl.  “Then you only listened to Lila’s side!”

 

“Dude, that was totally uncool!” Nino reminded.

 

“Did I say it was cool?” Marinette fired back.  “Do you have any idea how humiliating it was to admit that?  To have my foibles thrown back in my face? You never even listened to why I did it or what I found out!  Even Adrien was interested in what I found out after I told him what happened.”

 

Nino frowned.  “Wait, what did you tell Adrien?  Is that why he’s not comfortable around Lila anymore?”

 

Marinette growled out in frustration.  She looked at Nino and shook her head. “You don’t really want to know, do you?  You just want to be justified in your belief in Lila and that I am the root cause of all the evil of this world!”

 

“Hey!  I’ve never implied that!” Nino shouted.

 

“It sure has seemed like it the last few years, Nino!” Marinette said.  “Marinette doesn’t like the new girl because she’s a conniving liar? It must be Marinette’s fault.  Answers stolen to a test that Marinette got a perfect score on? It must be Marinette’s fault.  Lila claims the ownership of designs that Marinette has worked on for years?  It must be Marinette’s fault. You and Alya can’t be superheroes anymore? It’s Marinette’s fault!”

 

Nino reared back as if slapped.  “So you really did know we were Rena Rouge and Carapace?” he whispered, looking betrayed.

 

Marinette sighed in frustration.  “Why are you whispering, Nino? Alya already blabbed to Lila, remember?  I’m surprised half of Paris doesn’t know by now!”

 

“Lila already knew though!” Nino frowned.  “She’s the one who recommended us to Ladybug!”

 

“Funny that didn’t come up until after Alya mentioned it?” Marinette bit out.  “It couldn’t possibly be that she was latching onto an excuse to make herself look good and fan the flames of the fire she was burning me with?”

 

“She didn’t mention it before because it was supposed to be a secret!” Nino argued.  “That’s the first thing Ladybug always asked of us!”

 

“Exactly, Nino!”  Marinette cried. “Ladybug always insisted on secrecy!  Yet one of the first things Lila did when she met a group of strangers at a new school was to tell them of her superhero bestie, Ladybug!”

 

Nino rubbed his temples.  “You still just sound jealous, Marinette.”

 

Marinette clenched her teeth, willing her tears not to fall.  “Don’t pull that with me again. You don’t like what I’m saying?  Fine. But don’t dismiss my thoughts because you think I’m blinded by my emotions.  If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that when I make a mistake I own up to it and do what I can to fix it.”

 

“Yet you haven’t done a thing, in all this time, to fix things with Lila!” Nino flung his hands out, frustrated.  

 

“Haven’t you ever stopped to wonder why that is?” Marinette’s voice cracked in exasperation.  She just shook her head as she held her forehead in her palm. “You know what, fine. Tell Adrien you talked to me.  Whatever. Just don’t pressure him into doing something he doesn’t want to do.” 

 

She looked up and made eye contact with him, her gaze steely despite the dampness.  “Just keep a few things in mind, Nino. First, Lila likes to offer a lot of information--privileged information--up to people with very little prompting or reason.  Privileged information that is usually earned through time and tested trust--and agreed upon with the consent of the other party, even if the other person is a celebrity bestie.  

 

“Second, you always asked me for proof of my claims, but never once did you ask Lila to prove anything--not even the promises she made to you.” Marinette swiped at a rogue tear harshly.

 

“And third, try to remember back to when Carapace first appeared.” Marinette’s glare intensified, if that was possible.  “It wasn’t Lila that saw you bravely race toward danger to protect the girl that you loved--Lila, supposedly, would have still been in Achu.  When Ladybug was looking for someone with a strong protective passion or someone who was willing to do anything to save her akumatized little sisters, are you really sure that it was Lila who was in the position to recommend you guys to her?”

 

Marinette walked away then and Nino stared after her, shocked.  He couldn’t believe she would try to take credit for something like that all these years later.



~~~~~~~~~~



“Marinette? May I speak with you for a moment?”  Ms. Bustier asked as the class was gathering their belongings and leaving the classroom.  

 

A few students snickered--namely Lila, Alya, and Nathaniel.  Alix and Kim caught Marinette’s eye before she nodded and seemed to give them the okay to leave.  Still, they lingered outside the doorway with Juleka after she hung back with them.

 

“Is something wrong, Ms. Bustier?” Marinette asked carefully.  “If it’s about my tardy from coming back from lunch late, my parents have already called it in as excused because I was speaking to my therapist.”

 

“No, no…” Ms Bustier waved off her concerns with a pleasant smile.  “Actually, I wanted to congratulate you.”

 

Marinette frowned. “Congratulate me?”

 

“Yes.” Ms. Bustier nodded.  “I’ve noticed your interaction with your peers has improved again since our return from Gotham and I wanted to congratulate you on your good attitude.  I’ve always known that your good example is a powerful influence on our class and I’m glad to see your efforts come to fruition.”

 

Marinette’s mouth dropped open slightly.

 

“I was hoping you could speak to your friends, actually, about being a little kinder to the others--”

“Hold up!” Alix came storming back into the classroom.  “You cannot actually be serious?!”

 

Ms. Bustier looked startled and even Marinette looked surprised--to a lesser extent--by Alix’s intervention.

 

“We did not magically become friends with Marinette again because of her ‘good example!’  We came crawling back to her begging for her forgiveness after realizing we’d been antagonizing her in favor of a toxic viper!  For years !” Alix exclaimed.

 

“Alix!” Ms. Bustier sputtered.  “This is a private conversation!”

 

“It’s a conversation that directly involves and affects me, so I’m going to insist on taking part in it!” Alix said firmly.  “Ms. Bustier, do you have any idea the toxic behavior you’ve fostered by allowing Lila’s lies to go unchecked?”

 

“Lila has a disability and should not be persecuted for it.” Ms. Bustier reprimanded.

 

Alix rolled her eyes irreverently.  “Sure. But her ‘disability’ shouldn’t be allowed free reign to spread like wildfire, either!  Proper accommodations for a student’s disability are designed for the safety of the student and the rest of the class while helping the student to flourish.  It does not mean feeding into the student’s disability and allowing it to hurt the student and the rest of the class. Didn’t you ever consider how her actions affect others?  She had us convinced that Marinette was doing horrible things to her--”

“Marinette did not have the authorization to address Lila’s disability with others.” Ms. Bustier insisted.

 

“In a normal case, that may be true,” Alix allowed.  “But Marinette never ‘addressed Lila’s disability!’ Lila’s blatant falsehoods were often directed at Marinette and/or intended to take advantage of her fellow students--patterns, by the way, that imply strategic targeting and planning and not random, uncontrollable behaviors.  Marinette had every right to defend herself against slander and, as class rep and our friend, she was doing her duty to attempt to keep us from being used and hurt.

 

“Are you aware that Lila messed with Juleka’s sense of self worth?  Gotten her to give up things that she was passionate about? Convinced Mylene that Marinette was talking behind her back about her biggest insecurities?  Heck, take a good look at Alya!” Alix huffed. “Not only did she ruin the friendship Marinette and Alya had, but Lila brainwashed Alya into believing a dogma of Lila’s own making.  She’s completely skewed Alya’s sense of righteousness and consciousness of what acceptable, justifiable behavior is!”

 

“That’s going a bit far, Alix--”

“How about all the things we regret doing to Marinette because we thought the school was letting her get away with bullying Lila?” KIm asked as he too made his presence known.  He was frowning and Juleka followed him with a grim expression--even as she tried to hide behind her bangs.

 

“We watched Chloe bully all of us--but especially Marinette--for years without any reprimand because she was the mayor’s daughter.” Kim went on.  “That was bad enough, but we gave the school the benefit of the doubt because the mayor was so willing to spite anyone who Chloe disliked. Still, we never stood up for Marinette back then, when we should have.  We didn’t have nearly the same class unity we now have until Marinette made us feel like we mattered and  made us feel like our concerns were heard. Which is why her ‘behavior’ cut even deeper for us when Lila started to make claims against her.

 

“But now we were unified like we hadn’t been with Chloe.” Kim still looked ashamed, but Marinette was proud of how eloquent he was in his defense.  “Now, we were bonded as friends and as a team. Now, when we perceived Marinette not getting punished for her supposed offenses we knew it wasn’t because the school was afraid of her parents and we were angry--so we punished her ourselves.  I know I could get in trouble for admitting it, but do you realize we pushed her, ridiculed her, isolated her? How could you allow us to fall into this toxic pit without even trying to correct our behavior? Marinette didn’t deserve to be punished, and even if she did our retaliation only perpetuate a cycle of dysfunction and aggressive behavior.  The entire situation was a mockery of how bullying should be handled. And you knew the truth! You should have protected Marinette--and us--by addressing any misinformation and correcting our poor behavior!”

 

“You wanted Marinette to be a good example for us.” Juleka said softly but firmly before Ms. Bustier could speak.  “But your inaction taught us she was the bad example. Instead we sought out and followed a truly bad example set by Lila because we were led to believe she was in the right.” 

 

Ms. Bustier frowned in confusion.  “I’m sorry you feel that way...but I am still concerned that your antagonizing Lila will only worsen the rift within the classroom.”

 

Alix shook her head.  “Ms. Bustier, any rift in the classroom is the result of Lila and her friends.  We have not persecuted her for her lies, only refused to remain silent and pander to her lies and whims anymore.”

 

Ms. Bustier sighed and looked weary.  “Very well...I will take you observations under advisement.”

 

Ms. Bustier dismissed them and they all filed out into the hall.  Overall, Marinette was stunned.

 

“Wow.” Marinette said thoughtfully.  “You know, most of your arguments are things that I’ve said before...but she seemed to almost get it this time.  Or, at least, a little more than usual.”

 

“Sometimes it helps to have support to reinforce your voice.” Juleka smiled softly.

 

Alix was giving Kim a strange look.  “When did you start talking smart?”



~~~~~~~~~~



Dick rummaged through the scattered toys in his daughter’s room, looking for his phone that was ringing for the second time in a row.  He grimaced as his hand hit something squishy and pulled it away-- very grateful it ended up being slime from a squeeze toy and not a “gift” from Silkie.  

 

“Mar’i, Princess, have you seen Dad’s phone?” He asked.

 

Mar’i promptly smiled and--with all the skill and wonder that children seem to be blessed with--instantly found his phone under a pile of doll clothes in the corner.

“Here you go, Daddy.” she said with a proud smile.

 

“Thank you, Starshine.” Dick wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or frustrated that she’d found it so easily, but he just kissed her forehead and answered his call.

 

“Vic?  Sorry I missed your first call, is everything alright?” Dick asked.

 

“Hey, man, no worries.  It’s nothing big, did I catch you at a bad time?” Victor Stone--aka Cyborg--said with a clear smile in his tone.

 

“No,” Dick reassured, “I’m playing with Mar’i and my phone just got a little buried.  Kor’i had a late meeting at the embassy and we’re just waiting for her to get home before we have dinner.”

 

“Cool, we’ll I won’t keep you.  I just wanted to check in about this weird story I heard about some birds I know messing around in Paris?”  Victor’s tone was teasing but semi concerned.

 

“Yeah, we’re doing some backup for the new heroes there.” Dick confirmed.  “Didn’t you get the briefing? It was detailed at last month’s League conference.”

 

“Nah, I had to miss that one.  I was undercover with Beast Boy and Bee, remember?” Victor reminded.

 

Dick’s eyes widened.  “Right! Sorry, man! How’d it go?”

 

“Great.” Victor said.  “Course, would have been faster if BB hadn’t made us stop so often for tofu burgers.”

 

“Hey!” Dick could hear Garfield--Beast Boy--shout in the background.  “A good tofu burger is an art form and you can’t expect me to pass Tiny’s Tofu Terrace and not go in!”

 

Dick chuckled as his friends bickered and he made funny faces at Mar’i’s inquisitive glance to make her laugh and include her in on the fun.

 

“Anyway,” Victor sighed, “what’s this I hear about a moth villain in Paris?  Hawkmoth or something? What, did Mothman pop up again and just randomly decide to rebrand?  He’s not making you date Kitten again, is he? I mean, that was one thing when y’all were teens, but you're a married man with a kid!  Last I even heard, Kitten was gunning for her own reality show-- Keeping Up With Kitten .”  

 

Dick snorted.  “No, thankfully this has nothing to do with Kitten!  Yuk!”

 

Victor laughed along with his friend.

 

“Although, Mothman was always a little more...shall we say, pronounced with his presence?  It was never a struggle to find that guy, unlike this Hawkmoth. Tim’s coming up with some solutions, but it’s been tough for the local heroes.  There’s more info in the League Bulletin, if you’re interested--but these guys are dealing with Miraculous Magic. Basically, Hawkmoth’s been trying to steal Ladybug and Cat Noir’s power source for a couple of years now and the League’s been blocked from assisting until this point because of the mayor.  Unlike Mothman, Hawkmoth rarely is ever seen in person and fights through brainwashed, magic-hyped goons called akumas. And these heroes are kids, Vic, kids! They got their Miraculouses and started fighting this guy when they were younger than even BB was when we founded the Titans.”

 

“Woah.  Yeah, I’m definitely going to do more research to understand this--because that sounds pretty messed up and that’s in comparison to some of the weird situations we’ve gotten into.” Victor said thoughtfully.  “I actually already started to look up what the news had on this and I came across something called The Ladyblog ?”

 

Dick’s groan seemed to be all the answer Victor needed.

 

“Yeah, I thought something was off.”  Victor said sarcastically.

 

“It’s a long story.” Dick grumbled.

 

“So Big B didn’t adopt another one?’ Victor teased.

 

“Not yet.” Dick said warily.

 

“And our endearing Robin didn’t insult this Ladybug and antagonize her into sitting out battles?” Victor started listing off a few other Ladyblog claim’s.  “Or steal the Black Cat Miraculous?  Or threaten the Parisian mayor at sword point?”

 

“Of course not!”  Dick scoffed. “Well...I’m pretty sure the mayor thing didn’t happen…Anyway, Damian definitely didn’t antagonize Ladybug!  She’s got him wrapped around her little finger.”

 

“Say what now?” Victor sounded astonished.  “Did she use magic on him or something?”

 

“The oldest kind.” Dick said sagely.  “She’s his soulmate.”

Victor laughed.  “Is she nice?”

 

“She’s the best!” Dick smiled.  “Mar’i absolutely adores her! And I guess it's a bonus that Damian’s in love with her, too.”

 

“A minor detail like that is convenient.” Victor sassed.  “Sounds great, can’t wait to meet her.”

 

“About that, her civilian ID is on a need-to-know basis right now.”  Dick explained. “I mean, it wouldn’t be heard for you to connect the spots--if you catch my drift--” judging by Victor’s groan, he did “--but try not to for now.  The Justice League knows she’s Robin’s soulmate and therefore is on our priority list to offer aid, but it’s asked that we let her keep her privacy until the thing with Hawkmoth is settled.  She and her partner haven’t even exchanged identities yet. Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

 

“Got it.” Victor confirmed.  “Just please tell me it’s not that conniving star-chaser that was featured on the blog back in October as some kind of sidekick/hero to Batman?”

 

“No.” Dick said firmly.  “And thank you for reminding me about those posts.  We’ll have to get more firm about cease and desist notices.  You would not believe the problems that brat has created! She’s an absolute nightmare and a headache and a half!”

 

“Yikes.  We’ll, at least I won the bet with BB.” Victor said smugly.  “Gar bet Damian’s soulmate would be as cold-fished as Damian is.  Can’t wait to tell him he was wrong!”

 

“I bet!” Dick laughed.  “You know, it’s actually a shame about the blogger.  We’ve been watching her and she’s not actually a bad writer--her early stuff is pretty amazing--but she definitely has a skewed sense of ethics, partiality, and hasn’t learned to properly vet her sources.  It’s sad really. You don’t have to be Tim to look at a timeline of her posts and figure out that her quality starts to steadily plummet with her exposure to the fame seeker.”

 

“Speaking of nosy brainiacs,” Victor teased, “Are you telling me you honestly don’t know who Ladybug and Cat Noir are behind the masks?  I’m pretty sure you had dossiers on all of us within twenty-four hours of us teaming up--even Starfire and she was escaping alien slavers!”

 

“I can respect people’s privacy!” Dick cried.  “We all can! Besides, Ladybug told us herself when she and Little D started dating.”

 

“Uh huh.  So, that leaves the cat.” Victor was clearly smirking.  “The one that’s ‘not yet’ adopted but likely will be in the future?”

 

“He’s almost eighteen, it wouldn’t make sense to adopt him formally at this point!” Dick groaned.

 

“So you do know who he is.” Victor said smugly.

 

Dick cringed and checked that Mar’i wasn’t paying attention.  “Um...not confirmed. A strong suspicion, definitely, but mostly hearsay.”

 

“‘Hearsay’ my metal keister.” Victor said dismissively.  “Tim figured out your identity based off of your old routine during your circus days!  You want me to believe you don’t have tabs on all these magical-animal teens?”

 

Dick sighed.  “I don’t know what Tim’s thoughts are on the subject.  I’ve learned it’s sometimes better not to ask Tim what he knows…”

 

Victor chuckled.  “Well, I’ll let you get back to playing with the princess!  Say hi to Kor’i and everyone for me. Give Mar’i a hug and tell her I’ll stop by soon.”

 

Mar’i smiled at that and Dick told him she had already heard him.  

 

“Let me know if you guys need anything.” Victor said casually.

 

“Likewise, Vic.” Dick reminded.  

 

The sound of bickering--and perhaps a...smoke detector?--filled the line as the call ended and Dick had to chuckle a little.