Edit: I've written several chapters now, and I reread this first chapter. Oof. Please read the second chapter if you don't like the writing style of this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Marinette Dupain-Cheng nervously ran her slightly sweaty hands over her skirt, not one of her own creation but of her new school uniform. She adjusted her tie and messed with her black hair, again.
Alya Cesaire bumped her matching uniformed shoulder to Marinette's and said, "Girl, chill, this is gonna be fun!"
Marinette tried smiling, but quickly went back to gnawing on her lower lip. This was a huge opportunity. She had entered a contest and won her and her classmates several spots in the Martha Wayne Foundation's international foreign exchange school program at the esteemed high school Gotham Academy in Gotham City, New Jersey, U.S.A.
She looked around. Americans were chatting loudly while streaming through the metal detectors and into the school while her and her fellow French peers huddled in front of the office. Alya and Nino stood together, holding hands. Alya was selected for the journalism program due to her dedicated reporting on the Ladyblog. Thankfully, Marinette was able to convince Alya before she applied that her interviews with Lila Rossi didn't fit with the theme of the Ladyblog, and that she should keep that on a separate blog for other stories unrelated to the heroes and akuma victims of Paris. Although Marinette was unable to convince Alya of Lila's lies at the time, she did what she could to give Alya the best opportunity to get into the program, even if it meant letting her friend simply move certain articles instead of outright deleting them.
Nino Lahiffe was an excellent DJ, but Marinette was still surprised and delighted when he was selected to be in the music program. She expected members of Kitty Section to apply, but it turned out that the exchange program conflicted with their increasing performance schedule. Nino was excited to learn more music theory that he could apply to his songs, as well as sound production and lot of other things that Marinette got lost on, but was so happy that Nino was able to follow his passion.
Marinette looked to the two others who got into the program. Chloe Bourgeois was sitting on the bench taking selfies with an uncomfortable-looking Adrien Agreste. They both got into the business program. Chloe only applied because Adrien did, not wanting to be left behind by her Adrikins. Marinette did overhear Chloe and Sabrina talk about how close Chloe would be to her mother, who was in New York, and that she would be able to visit her on the weekends. Chloe surprisingly didn't respond as usual, but instead had a rare genuine smile on her face. Chloe did beg Sabrina to come with her, but Sabrina hadn't been accepted into the program, and with the exchange occurring during the school year, Chloe relented in Sabrina staying in Paris.
Then there was Adrien. Marinette hadn't spoken with him for a while and not because of her crush. That was long gone. Now they were barely friends, and only through Nino. Adrien hadn't stood up for her when Lila isolated her from her classmates, her friends. He had just wanted to keep the peace and had told Marinette to do the same. Initially, she tried, but after she was almost akumatized along with her mother, Marinette decided that pacifism wasn't the answer when dealing with Lila.
Her time to act was when Lila lied about Marinette ruining her chances for the program. So, Marinette made an appointment to meet with Lila's mother, Benigna Rossi, under the guise of discussing with her how Lila could improve her application to be accepted by the program. Marinette was the point of contact between the Martha Wayne Foundation and her peers as class president. It came out that Mrs. Rossi had no idea that Lila had applied, that all her signatures were forged as well as all of Lila's references. As Mrs. Rossi looked through Lila's application essay, her eyebrows rose further and further up with each falsehood she read.
Marinette tried to calm Mrs. Rossi when she spotted the akuma phase through the window, but it was too late and the akuma landed on the essay. Hawkmoth named the newest akumatized victim "Grounded", because all that was on Grounded's mind was to make sure that Lila was grounded for the rest of her life.
The fight took a surprisingly long time as Grounded changed gravity on people, so Ladybug and Chat Noir had to run along the ground. It was too dangerous to be in the air, as demonstrated by Chat Noir when he was first hit. He slid down his extended baton and hit the ground hard. His muscles ached as he pulled himself back up, using the baton to give his legs some relief from the strain of standing. Ladybug was hit and was barely able to hook her yo-yo onto the top of the Eiffel Tower before she was too high up, having much less gravity acting upon her. To Ladybug's embarrassment, she let herself be towed by Chat Noir like a life-sized celebrity balloon. The embarrassment went away, though, once Ladybug was able to formulate a plan to use the difference in gravity to their advantage.
By the time Ladybug and Chat Noir were able to release the akuma, Lila had been berated, with many of her lies exposed. Alya tried to defend Lila, but was floated out the window after being told not to get between Grounded and her daughter. Everyone was returned to their normal gravity, safe and sound after the Miraculous Cure. Lila was immediately pulled from school by her mother, and it was last heard that they had returned to Italy after Mrs. Rossi refused to live in Paris anymore with the craziness of akumas there.
It took some time, but Marinette was able to forgive everyone in the class for getting caught up with Lila and her lies, even Adrien. Alya had come over to Marinette's room that same day and cried shameful tears when she realized how terrible of a reporter she was for not checking up on the facts, and for disregarding Marinette's behavior as jealousy. Alya tried pointing out that Marinette did go overboard with all things Adrien, how could she have known that it wasn't Adrien-related? Marinette sighed, disappointed, and pointed out that she had taken down her Adrien photos, aside from her personal friend photos. And the pull-down chart of his schedule had been replaced with a list of due dates for the various tasks she had needed to do for the contest.
Alya completely broke down then. She apologized through her sobs and begged Marinette to still be her friend; she didn't need to be forgiven; she just wanted another chance to show Marinette that she could still be a good friend. What she didn't tell Marinette was that she also mourned her hero status. How could she face Trixx and become Rena Rouge again if she was gullible enough to believe Lila? To allow her best friend to be bullied in front of her eyes and do nothing about it? She didn't deserve to stand beside Ladybug as a hero.
But Marinette forgave her. So Alya became selfless in all things Marinette. Marinette didn't take advantage of Alya's increased friendship, on purpose. She didn't know that Alya began to always cover for her when she went missing. Alya also went through and purged all of her interviews of Lila, putting out a notice of corrections, an apology, and a promise to practice due diligence in the future. As for if she would say "Let's Pounce!" again, she thankfully hadn't had to face that decision yet, nor will she have to, she thought, while she's in Gotham.
Alya was just the first to apologize to Marinette. Eventually, almost everyone was able to find it within themselves to talk with Marinette about Lila, some to apologize for not believing her. Adrien was not one of them. Despite that, Marinette didn't tell anyone that he had known Lila was lying. It seemed to her that Adrien had enough to deal with, with Lila invading his home life as well. Somehow, Lila suckered Adrien's father with her lies and got permission to visit Adrien during his photoshoots and his room whenever she pleased.
Marinette saw how Adrien suffered too. She knew that Adrien was only acting out of self-preservation, but his cowardice forever changed her perspective of him. He was no longer a prince on a pedestal, but one locked away in a tower, like she was when her father was akumatized. Even though she no longer crushed on Adrien, she was his everyday Ladybug, and she was going to make sure he gained the support and self-confidence he needed to stand up for himself. The progress had been slow going though. Adrien was avoiding her. He would look at her guiltily and find some excuse for himself when he could to avoid her. Marinette had resigned herself to talking to Nino when he brought up Adrien and his problems, hoping her advice would help, even in some little way. And she always brought extra pastries from the bakery so that Nino could share with Adrien.
So when Marinette saw Adrien squirming in front of the Gotham Academy office because Chloe was latched onto his arm, she walked over to intervene. "Hey, Chloe, Adrien."
Adrien avoided Marinette's eyes, and mumbled something about a bathroom before scurrying down the hallway.
Chloe sighed and rolled her eyes. "What do you want, Dupain-Cheng." Chloe's tone was the same as ever, but the meaning behind her words was completely different now. While Marinette and her were in no sense of the word "friends", they had come to a sort of understanding during the whole Lila thing. At first, Chloe believed in Lila, but when she tried again and again to cash in on Lila's words, she found them worthless. Afterwards, Chloe chastised her classmates for being ridiculous, but had found a certain amount of respect for Marinette when she learned that Marinette didn't believe in Lila's lies either.
Marinette glanced down the hall where Adrien had scampered off and sighed. "I think Lila did a real number on him."
Chloe squinted at Marinette. "And your point?"
Marinette sat beside Chloe, leaning in and said quietly, "I just think it looks like Adrien needs some time not being touched, after Lila clung to him so much."
Chloe tsked. "Ridiculous," she said, but Marinette could see Chloe thinking it over, scrolling through her selfies with Adrien with a deepening frown.
Marinette jumped to her feet when the principal of the school came out of his office, followed by the vice principal and an assistant.
The principal, Mr. Stark, clapped his hands and loudly said in accented French, "My dear students, are you ready to be introduced to your new classmates?"
Marinette was about to say they were missing a student when she saw that Adrien had quietly returned. Alya gleefully said she was ready, which brought a broad smile to the principal's face.
"I will take the students with their first class in the North or East Wings. Ms. Romanov here will take students to the South and West Wings. I hope each and everyone of you will have a fantastic time during your exchange. Again, please feel free to come to the office if you have any questions or concerns. We'll be more than happy to point you in the right direction. And don't forget to excel!" Mr. Stark added with a grin and a peace sign.
The school bells rang, signaling the start of class. The Parisians split themselves up, Adrien, Chloe, and Alya went and stood by Mr. Stark. "Have a fantastic day, you two," said the principal to Nino and Marinette, who stood by Ms. Romanov. He then said, "Come along, my dears. I'm so excited for your first day!" and walked quickly down the hall, gesticulating to himself as his group of students took a moment before realizing they should go after him when his assistant gently herded them from behind.
The vice principal was a much quieter person, radiating a no nonsense aura. She reminded Marinette of Nathalie Sancoeur, Adrien's father's assistant. She went over some scheduling things with Marinette and Nino as they walked, pointing out certain rooms of interest. In front of one classroom, the vice principal had Marinette wait in the hallway while she knocked and opened the doorway, beckoning Nino to follow. Nino gave Marinette a thumbs up before walking in, leaving Marinette alone in the empty hallway.
Marinette was nervous again, pacing just out of sight of the classroom door window. She felt a pat on her stomach. She unbuttoned her school jacket and looked down to see Tikki give her a thumbs up and a reassuring smile from the pocket Marinette had added that weekend. Marinette smiled back and rebuttoned her jacket, smoothed out her skirt, and readjusted her tie for the n-th time that morning.
Everything was going to be fine, Marinette told herself. If she could handle akumas as Ladybug and Lila as Marinette, she was sure she could handle something like starting school in a new city in a new country in a different language. Marinette was somewhat of a nervous wreck thinking about it that way. But then she thought about akumas again. She had the horse miraculous on the inside of her other jacket pocket. If she felt her phone go off, she'd be able to check to see if it was an akuma alert, then excuse herself, open a portal and pop over to Paris, defeat the akuma, feed Kaalki, then pop back to school. No problem. Plus, with the time difference, maybe she wouldn't be known for her absences here and would be able to fight akumas after school instead of during it. And she gave Kagami and Luka their Miraculouses to hold onto, so if she was delayed, they'd be able to give the akuma hell until she could get there. As for Chat Noir . . .
Marinette was disrupted from her thoughts when the vice principal came out and into the hallway. Marinette saw Nino introducing himself, nervously rubbing his head. He wasn't allowed to wear his signature red cap in class here, but Marinette was sure he'd be able to adjust with time. She and Alya reassured him repeatedly that he looked fine without a hat.
The vice principal placed a hand onto Marinette's shoulder and had a small smile on her face. Marinette smiled back nervously. The vice principal led Marinette to another classroom, knocked on the door and opened it. Marinette took a quick deep breath in and tried to emulate Ladybug's courage as best she could as she walked in.
NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA MARIBAT!!!
Constructive criticism would be appreciated. This is my first attempt at writing fanfic.
I couldn't keep the 2nd chapter away from you guys! That and I have no update schedule.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Marinette heard "exchange student" and "Paris" as well as other tidbits from the vice principal as she looked around the class. Some looked bored, some interested, some very interested, and one angry? Marinette did a doubletake to the angry student. He had slicked-back black hair with green eyes, his skin a light honey color, and he sat alone at his table in the back of the class.
Marinette squeaked in surprise, "Yes?" she said in French. Some of the students giggled. Marinette could feel her face grow warm. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" she asked in English with a French accent.
The teacher, Mr. Rogers, smiled and said, "I asked if you would like to share with us some of your aspirations in the design program."
"Ah, yes. I would like to be a fashion designer! I'm greatly inspired by Gabriel Agreste, but I also like to take inspiration from my surroundings. I enjoy creating costumes, such as for my friend's band. And I make my own clothes!" said Marinette.
When Marinette was dismissed to find a seat, she found that the only available spot was beside the angry young man. She was a little nervous, more than a little, but was determined to make a good impression. She settled into the chair and turned, holding her hand out.
"Hello," she said quietly.
She kept her hand out as the moment stretched out longer and longer. She strained to keep a smile on her face as she felt analyzed by his sharp eyes. She bit her cheek and started to pull her hand away, feeling awkward. She thought Americans greeted with handshakes. Maybe her hands were sweaty and he didn't want to touch her. But then her hand was enveloped in a warm, calloused hand that squeezed once before immediately releasing. The young man turned and faced the front of the class.
Marinette blinked. What just happened?
Marinette turned and found herself face to face with the boy sitting in front of her. He was grinning and held his hand out. She smiled and shook his hand.
"I'm Claude," said the boy.
"It's very nice to meet you, Claude."
"Oo, say that again," he said.
Marinette looked around and back at him. "Am, am I saying it wrong? It's very nice to meet you?"
"You're saying it fine. He's just being an ass," said the angry boy beside her, glaring at Claude. "It's best to ignore him."
"I'm sorry, I just love when people say my name with an accent. I just love accents in general, but your accent and your voice is just sending me to heaven," said Claude, whimsically. "Damian had a beautiful Arabic accent for all of a month when he first moved here."
Damian shot daggers at Claude, not literal ones, though he had some of those hidden in various places upon his body that he was extremely considering using. He leaned to Marinette and seemed about to say something before going back to his space.
Classes went by quickly, and when the bell finally rang for lunch, Marinette was already tired from concentrating so hard on the rapid English of her teachers. She rubbed her eyes and stood, collecting her things. Claude turned in his chair and rest his face upon his hand, looking up at her with eyes that reminded her of a certain black cat. "Marinette, come have lunch with me," he begged.
"I was already planning on having lunch with my friends."
"Great! You and your friends can sit with me and my friends!" he said, bouncing up. He began asking various questions about France and Paris, and about Marinette as they walked toward the cafeteria, which was a severe understatement. It was more of a dining hall with an open kitchen that was full of chefs teaching and directing students on cooking Michelin Star quality meals for the entire school population. Claude led Marinette through the food line, where she found that she could also purchase a cookie that she said was for later, but really was for Tikki, who fluttered happily in her pocket.
Then Claude waved at a table where Alya and Nino were already seated. "Allegra, Allan, I see you've also found new people to bring on this auspicious first day of school."
Marinette gave air kisses to Alya and Nino before sitting at the end of the table beside Alya. The young man and woman, Allan and Allegra, they waved.
"I'm guessing you're also part of the French exchange group?" asked the young woman. She had long beautiful blonde hair and a kind face.
Alya said, "Marinette's actually the one who got us into the exchange program! She was our class president and wrote everyone who applied a commendation worthy of getting a Nobel Peace Prize." Alya wrapped an arm around Marinette and squeezed as Marinette turned red.
"I just wrote what everyone had done that they didn't mention in their personal essays."
"If it weren't for your recommendation letter, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made it into this program," said Nino. "It's so intense and everyone is super talented. Allegra wants to go to Julliard for classical flute!"
"Oh stop, you don't give yourself enough credit. Your sound is so unique and bumping, it makes me want to dance!" said Allegra.
"Exactly," said Marinette. "You just didn't give yourselves enough credit. You deserve to be here, both of you." She leaned forward so she could see Alya's and Nino's faces. "And I'm really glad you're here with me."
"Aww, you're such a ray of sunshine," said Claude. "We need more sunshine in this dreary pit of a city."
"Mood," said Allan. He was a skinny young man with brown hair. "There were fifteen murders last night, eight were gang-related, four were domestic homicides, and three were unsolved. That isn't to speak of missing people reported, or--"
Claude sighed. "Allan, my man, not in front of the sunshine. Sunny thoughts. Happy news. Anyone?"
"There haven't been any akuma attacks in five days!" said Alya.
"What's an akuma?" asked Allegra, confused.
Alya's eyes shined as Nino and Marinette shared a look. Allegra had released the kraken that was Alya and her "journalistic" obsession with all things akuma and hero related. The longer Alya spoke, the more horrified their tablemates were.
"Why hasn't the Justice League been brought in?" Everyone at the table turned to look at Damian, who appeared out of nowhere.
"I know that Ladybug herself has requested assistance from them, but I don't know if she was ever contacted," said Alya. "I sent in a link to the Ladyblog, and Chloe Bourgeois, the mayor's daughter, sent in a video both as herself and as Queen Bee."
"Isn't it for the best though?" asked Marinette. "Imagine if Superman himself was akumatized. He's so powerful already, imagine the damage that would occur if Hawkmoth got a hold of him."
The Parisians shuddered.
"But the, what did you call it, Ladybug cure? Everything would be repaired afterward," said Allan. "Wouldn't the reward of the quick capture of Hawkmoth after three years of terrorism be worth the risk?"
"As much trust as we put into Ladybug into fixing everything after every fight, there's a chance that she won't always win," said Marinette. "And then Hawkmoth makes a wish that could alter the universe as we know it. Excuse me." Marinette got up and left, leaving a stormy feeling over the table.
"No, my sunshine," lamented Claude.
"Well, that was dull," said Chloe.
"What did you expect from a business program, Cirque du Soleil?" Adrien responded.
Chloe raised her eyebrows. "What has gotten into you, Agreste?"
Adrien sighed. "Nothing."
Chloe stepped in front of Adrien, stopping them both. She looked into his face, searching. "You've changed."
After a moment of consideration, Chloe said, "Look, Adrien. I'm sorry."
Chloe squirmed and stepped back, crossing her arms. "Lila Rossi," she finally said. "I'm sorry. I figured out she was lying and I didn't do more to help you. I begged Daddy to have her kicked out of school, but he said something about causing an international incident with a diplomat's daughter, and his reelection or whatever he was going on about."
Adrien looked at his feet as Chloe continued. "I should have gotten her away from you. I don't know what she said to your father, but he should have seen that all she wanted was the benefits of your status. He should have seen how manipulative she was. Or Natalie? She should have realized the disastrous PR stunt Lila was trying to pull. Maybe if I had realized earlier, I could have--what was that?"
"I said that I knew," Adrien said quietly.
"What do you mean that you knew?!" screeched Chloe.
Adrien looked around and saw people were staring as they walked by, so he pulled Chloe into a classroom, saw it was empty, and closed the door. Chloe yanked her hand out of Adrien's grasp.
"Adrien Agreste, you explain yourself!" yelled Chloe, stomping her foot.
Adrien raised his hands in surrender. "I'll try, just stop yelling." He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "Things just got out of hand. I thought Lila was just lying in order to get people to like her and get friends after having just started a new school. But . . ."
"But she was lying for the sake of lying and attention. Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't know what to say. Her lies started hurting people, like when she tried to get Marinette expelled. What could I say, that I willingly let my friends get hurt? And how could I tell my father, after he finally allowed someone from school to visit me at home?"
"You could have told me!"
"And gotten you akumatized? I didn't want to risk it."
"It wouldn't have been the first time I've fought off an akuma," said Chloe, her chin up.
"You fought off an akuma?" asked Adrien, surprised.
"I am Queen Bee, after all. Ladybug trusted me to be a hero. How could I be a hero if I got akumatized again? Plus, I didn't want that creepy guy in my head. You know how it's . . . oh, wait, I almost forgot you haven't been akumatized. It's like an invasion of privacy and loss of all control of what you do, who you are, but it seems worth it in exchange for a surge of power. But no one gets to boss me around now."
"Unless it's Ladybug?" teased Adrien.
Chloe blushed. "She's a heroine."
"Yeah," Adrien agreed, his heart aching.
"So why have you been weird about Marinette?" asked Chloe.
"Wha-what do you mean?" he looked toward the door fearfully.
"That, that whole thing," said Chloe, pointing her finger at him. "You're acting like you're afraid of her."
"I can't face her," confessed Adrian. "I told her that as long as she knew and I knew that Lila was lying, that everything would be okay."
Chloe was shocked, just shocked. Her mouth moved as she wanted to say various things, but ended up just stating plainly, "That was naïve."
Adrien nodded, his face pointed to the ground. Chloe noticed a few tears falling. "I lost a friend because I didn't want Lila to get akumatised by getting called out again."
"You haven't lost Marinette. She wrote you that recommendation letter despite what was going on."
"She wrote one for everyone."
"She didn't write Lila one."
"She would have and said Lila had a unique way with words. She's so nice to everyone. She's our everyday Ladybug and I let her down."
"I've let down actual Ladybug and she still let me be Queen Bee. I think Marinette can forgive you, especially seeing as she had that huge crush on you for so long."
"She has a crush on me?"
"Had. She definitely doesn't look at you like she did, but she doesn't glare at you or anything, so she doesn't hate you. If anything, I think she's worried for you."
"I made her worried?"
"Ugh, stop dramatizing over everything. Just talk it over with her, or something. So simple. Ridiculous, you're being utterly ridiculous. Stop hugging me, you're going to crease our uniforms! They're already atrocities to fashion. You better not be crying on me, Adrien Agreste! You are so covering my dry cleaning bill!"
They didn't see Marinette powerwalk past the classroom door.
Marinette speedwalked until she found her classroom. It was empty. She sat at her spot in the back of the class and took a deep breath. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Tikki phased through her jacket and hovered in front of Marinette. "Everything will be okay, Marinette. If you need to cry, you can. We're far away from any akuma."
"I'm not crying, I'm breathing," said Marinette, using the calming techniques she's learned from Ms. Bustier and Master Fu. Tikki floated over to her and rubbed her head.
Thinking of Master Fu made the back of her throat feel tight. He had bequeathed her the Miraculous box and all the responsibilities involved with it before disappearing. It was for the best as Hawkmoth had discovered his identity. At first, she thought being Ladybug and fighting Hawkmoth would be a temporary thing. But now as Guardian, she has to plan her new future. She needed to form a new Order to protect the Miraculous once the fight was over. She needed to record and teach the Guardian language to someone else so it wouldn't be lost forever if something were to happen to her.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
"What are you doing?" interrupted a voice.
"Meditating," she said, opening her eyes. She hadn't heard Damian come in. Tikki was nowhere in sight, so Marinette hoped that meant that Tikki had hidden in time.
Damian nodded. Then he just stood there.
Marinette blinked. "Can I help you with something?"
Damian stood there, pondering. Marinette wasn't sure if he was just going to stay there until he said, "The Justice League has non-metas that could help in Paris."
"Metahumans. Powered people. Some members of the Justice League don't have powers, like Batman."
Marinette thought for a moment. "He is known as the world's greatest detective. Maybe he could discover who Hawkmoth is so Ladybug and Chat Noir can finally take him down." Marinette stood and started pacing. Switching to French, she started talking to herself more than to Damian. "That could work. And I am in Gotham. The Justice League is based in Civic City." Marinette took out her phone. "Oh Kwami, that's about 400km away. But I could make it work, but it'd have to be on a weekend. This says it takes a little over four hours to get there. Either I'd have to find a hotel or come back late. Maybe I should make an appointment to see them. But maybe I should just walk in since they haven't responded to anyone's requests for help. I could ask Alya print out all the akuma victims to make a point about how so many people have been affected. But then she'd want to come. Maybe I should make a slideshow so I don't have to carry so much."
Marinette stopped and looked up from her phone. Damian had left at some point without a sound. Marinette peeked into her jacket and saw Tikki looking back at her.
"What do you think?"
"If you think you need help, Marinette, then I really hope you can find it. I trust your judgement as Guardian to make the right decision."
Marinette nodded. After a moment, she asked, "There wouldn't happen to be a Bat Miraculous, would there?"
"Father," he said into his phone as he walked down the hallway. "I request a family meeting. Tonight. There are urgent matters to discuss."
Damian heard faint mouse clicks on the other end.
"I can make that happen. What will this be about?"
"The terrorist of Paris called Hawkmoth."
Edit: if you're rereading this, you're not crazy. I got rid of the one sentence about the sentimonster. I decided to set this before Mayura comes into the picture after I had posted this.
Around the table sat several of Gotham's vigilantes: Batman, Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, Red Robin, Robin, and Oracle, with Oracle in her wheelchair. Beneath their domino masks were faces of anger, aside from Red Hood, whose stiff mask covered his entire face and revealed nothing. But his voice was full of rage.
"What do you mean that kids have been fighting a terrorist by themselves?!"
"At least one of them is a minor. Chloe Bourgeois is known publicly as the hero Queen Bee. She's sixteen now," said Red Robin.
"That would have put her at thirteen when this all started!" said Red Hood.
"Not that it makes it alright, but several of us started when we were about that age," pointed out Nightwing.
"But they're all children! All of them! Not an adult among them! Who is looking after them?!" Red Hood pointed at the large screen with the various heroes of Paris on it.
"According to a Ladyblog post, it was theorized that Ladybug was over 5000 years old," said Oracle, pulling up the article.
"That was written before the other heroes made their appearances. With Chloe factored in, it's reasonable to conclude that non-metas are given some sort of artifact known as a Miraculous that grants them powers, each unique in their abilities," countered Red Robin. "Which means that they all could indeed be minors." He sagged back into his chair and sipped out of a large insulated thermos with a Bat-signal sticker on it.
"So why hasn't Chloe been targeted then, with her identity so well known?" asked Batgirl.
"It appears that Hawkmoth is only after Ladybug's and Chat Noir's Miraculouses," said Oracle. "Miraculi? Anyway." She pulled up the video of Hawkmoth's first appearance.
Robin tutted. "Did he really believe he could convince Paris he wasn't the villain after what he did?"
"Wait, isn't that Chloe Bourgeois?" asked Red Robin.
Oracle ran a face analysis on the girl in Stoneheart's hand before he threw her. "That is indeed one Chloe Bourgeois."
"So she was targeted from the start. Maybe that's why Ladybug or Chat Noir or whoever provided her with a Miraculous, to protect herself," said Nightwing.
"Perhaps we should pay Ms. Bourgeois a visit so she may shed light on the situation," said Batman.
"A French student, Alya Cesaire, said that Bourgeois had already contacted the Justice League as both a civilian and as Queen Bee," said Robin. "Cesaire said she had tried to make contact herself, and that even Ladybug had made a request for assistance."
Red Hood clenched his fists and pointed at Batman. "You of all people should have done something, Bruce! These kids begged for help and you did nothing?"
"Codenames, Hood," said Nightwing.
"Go fuck yourself."
"I do not handle the communications for the Justice League. I was unaware of the situation until Robin brought this to my attention," said Batman levelly, but he bristled at the accusation.
"It's weird, isn't it," started Batgirl, "that none of us had even heard of the situation in Paris. Shouldn't this have been global news that Paris has been under constant attack? Shouldn't the president of France have requested help? I'm pretty sure Paris is still considered a top tourist destination. City of Love and all that, not City of Terrorizing Butterflies."
"And based on footage, aside from the first akuma attack, the military has not been involved," said Oracle. "Even the police don't do much aside from keeping civilians away from ongoing attacks and directing them to designated akuma shelters. There's even an app that lets people know when an akuma attack occurs and where the closest shelter is."
"Great, there's an app," said Red Hood, sarcastically. "Just ignore the fact that even the French government is letting a couple kids fight this war with no assistance and is probably trying to cover the whole thing up." He stood up, pushing the chair away so forcefully that it fell back.
"Where are you going?" asked Batman.
"Where do you think? It's time someone showed Hawkmoth what happens when he has to face someone who is finished going through puberty."
Before Red Hood could go too far though, Nightwing caught up with him, grabbing his arm.
"Let go of me, Dick," he said, roughly shrugging Nightwing's hand off of him.
"Code names, Hood. But this is a bad idea. Didn't you see that Hawkmoth targets those with negative emotions? You land in Paris and you'd become a prime target for him. What would the child heroes do then? They'd have to fight an assassin. Just think about the consequences for once." Nightwing walked back to his seat, reluctantly followed by Red Hood.
"The Ladyblog doesn't post information about the victims," said Oracle, "but the local news does get interviews when they can. Looking through their backgrounds, none of the victims appear to have previous incidents of violence. And there have been no attacks at any of the jails or prisons, where you would expect there to be a lot of negative emotions for Hawkmoth to prey upon."
"So, potentially, there are limitations regarding Hawkmoth's powers," stated Red Robin. "Or the man wielding the Butterfly Miraculous doesn't want to utilize psychopaths. Red Hood may be able to walk the streets of Paris with no issue."
"Who are you calling a psychopath, little bird?"
"Oh definitely Hawkmoth," interrupted Batgirl, pointing at the screen. Everyone turned to look. Oracle had come across that one of the akuma victims was just a baby.
Red Hood roared, "That's it, I'm taking the jet. What sort of fucker turns a baby into a monster? A baby?!"
They could hear him yelling "baby" through the Bat Cave as he left.
"No buts," Chloe said, as she dragged Adrien by the hand through the hotel hallways. As part of the exchange program, they were put up in one of the hotels that Wayne Industries owns, free of charge. In fact, they had the entire floor to themselves.
"What did I just say, Agreste? No buts! You are going to talk it out with Dupain-Cheng one way or another!" Chloe turned to use her other hand as Adrien started dragging his heels. At one point he fell, clawing at the carpet and the walls to get a handhold, anything to slow his progress to Marinette's room. Finally, he gave up and went boneless, allowing himself to get dragged along slowly by Chloe.
"Um?" Adrien flopped his head back and saw Alya and Marinette standing in the hallway with a bucket full of ice, taking in the scene before them. Adrien scrambled to stand up and hid behind Chloe.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Adrien wants to talk about the Rossi thing."
Adrien whispered, "Please, Chloe, stop," but was batted away with a well manicured hand.
Alya cringed and looked at Marinette apologetically, but Marinette looked worried. She handed Alya her bucket and walked over to where Adrien was now crouched down behind Chloe. She put a hand on his shoulder, which he flinched at.
"Adrien?" she said softly. "We can go to my room if you want to talk." She looked up at Chloe.
Chloe rolled her eyes, and with surprising strength, lifted Adrien up by his shoulders onto his feet. "Adrien, you can do this. Be brave."
Adrien nodded weakly, and followed Marinette. She fumbled with her door card, but managed to open it, letting Adrien in first.
Alya and Chloe stood in the hallway quietly.
"So, you've been working out?" asked Alya.
"Tsk. Of course. I need to make sure I'm in prime condition for next time Ladybug needs me," said Chloe, flipping her ponytail behind her shoulder.
"That's cool. I'm no super hero," Alya lied, "but what's your routine like, girl?"
"Meet me in the gym. I could give you some pointers."
Chloe huffed, annoyed. "Do you want my workout routine or not?"
"I just, you know, thought you hated me."
Chloe crossed her arms. "Well, you did call yourself a journalist and didn't even fact-check yourself. You were no better than some tabloid trash."
"Okay, maybe I deserve that. But you hated me from the first day I started Dupont."
"Don't make yourself out to be special, Cesaire, I hated everyone in our class aside from Adrien and Sabrina."
"True. But, I thought you still hated me. Why are you offering to be gym buddies?"
Chloe thought for a moment. "If you can take care of yourself during an akuma attack, Ladybug won't have to rescue your sorry ass."
"Wait, that's why? Really?"
"You keep running head first into akuma attacks for your Ladyblog or whatever. You're a liability, Cesaire."
"Okay, okay, I get it."
"And as Queen Bee, it's my duty to make sure Ladybug gets the support she needs, even when I'm a civilian."
"That's, that's actually rather considerate and selfless. I didn't think you took being Queen Bee so seriously."
"I do now, and that's what matters."
"Well, guess I better do my civic duty and learn your workout."
"Don't think I'll go easy on you."
"You better not."
In Marinette's room, Marinette and Adrien sat across from each other at the small breakfast table. She had gotten them each a glass of water to let Adrien collect himself, but he still hadn't said anything, nor looked at her.
"Adrien? I guess I should start by saying I'm sorry."
Adrien's head popped up. "What?"
"I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I was angry at you. I was just so frustrated with all the lies that Lila told. I'm sorry if my anger for her got misdirected toward you."
"But you should be angry with me! I didn't do anything to stop her from lying. And you almost got expelled! I should be the one apologizing. I knew what was happening, and I didn't say anything or stand up for you. I'm a terrible friend. I'm so sorry. I understand if you hate me."
"What? I could never hate you, Adrien! I can't even be angry at you for not saying anything. You just wanted to try to make sure no one got akumatized by keeping the peace. I'm sure that if it had been someone other than Lila, perhaps it would have worked. I didn't stop her from lying her way into your job or your home. At least I had time away from her. I'm sorry I didn't do more to help you. That must have really sucked having your father let friends come over, only for it to be Lila."
"But none of that was your fault! I should have spoken up. I should have made my father listen, and our classmates. I should have said something. Done anything."
Marinette smiled softly. "Well, that's all in the past now, and all we can do is move forward. At least we know how to handle someone like her, so next time we can have each other's backs."
"You, you'd have my back? After everything?"
"You're my friend. Of course I'll have your back."
Adrien turned away, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hands before turning back and smiling at Marinette with red-rimmed eyes. "I'll have your back, no matter what. I'm so sorry that I let you down with Lila. But I'll make sure I'll be the kind of person you can count on, Ladybug."
Marinette's heart stopped. "What, what did you call m-me?"
"Everyday Ladybug? The class used to call you that before Lila showed up. You were--are our everyday Ladybug. I don't know how Lila managed to make everyone forget that."
"Oh, heh. More water?" Marinette jumped up and went to the sink to fill the glasses, her heart pounding in her ears. She took some deep breaths, calming down. Everything was okay. He didn't know. Everything is fine.
When she came back, she said, "Lila told me that she only told lies that people wanted to hear."
Adrien frowned. "But she lied about a lot of things, like having tinnitus but kept switching which ear it affected."
"Oh Kwa--Imeangod, right?? Or saving Max's eyes from getting gouged out from a napkin."
"He wears glasses! What was the napkin going to do, break through them?"
They laughed at the ridiculousness of some of Lila's lies, sharing the dumbest ones they could remember. Adrien perked up more than he had in a long time.
"I guess once you have a certain mindset, it's difficult to imagine you're wrong," said Marinette. "I mean, Alya almost floated off to space because she was so sure that Lila was in the right. At least we know Alya has some convictions once she's made up her mind."
They sat in comfortable silence, happy to find themselves on the other side of the Lila debacle.
"Marinette? I just realized something," said Adrien, with childlike glee. "I can have a sleepover now!"
Marinette grinned. "That sounds fun! We don't even have any homework yet. We could watch a movie!"
"Or play Ultimate Mecha Strike!" Adrien already pulled out his phone and was rapidly texting.
On Marinette's phone, she suddenly got a notification. She opened it and found a group chat with Adrien, herself, Chloe, Nino, and Alya with Adrien describing what the night held for them. She hoped that this meant she could finally put the Lila business behind her.
They ended up sleeping over in Chloe's room. She had demanded that her father put her up in one of the penthouse suites. That didn't happen, but Chloe did get put into the largest suite on their floor. Also, Chloe had the largest television and largest bed. They made the bed even bigger by rearranging the couch furniture around it.
Nino was the playlist DJ, picking jams to play quietly in the background. Everyone's faces were slathered with face masks. Chloe and Adrien painted each others nails, which took a while because Adrien kept switching out with Nino to play against Marinette at Ultimate Mecha Strike. Marinette never lost a game with luck seemingly on her side, and her being overly competitive. Alya hung off the end of the bed exhausted, boneless, and dead to the world, because as Chloe said, she didn't go easy on her at the gym. When the guys got tired of getting their asses kicked, they put on a movie of Adrien's choosing.
On the bed/couch construct, the boys ended up sleeping on the outside, the girls on the inside, with Marinette ending up in the middle.
It was still dark when Marinette sat straight up, panting from a nightmare. She looked around and found everyone still resting peacefully. Alya and Nino were spooning. Chloe was spread out like a starfish, one hand over Adrien's face. Adrien was curled up in a ball. Everything was okay. She tried to gauge what time it was, but her phone was along the wall charging, so she looked out the window. It was pitch black. She rubbed her eyes, ready to go back to sleep. When she opened her eyes, the city's night lights were shining in.
"Tikki?" she whisper-yelled. "Tikki!"
"I'm here, I'm here!" zoomed in Tikki.
"Shh!" Marinette looked around in a panic, but everyone was still breathing evenly.
"Sorry!" whispered Tikki. "What's wrong? Did you have another nightmare?"
Marinette shook her head. "I thought I saw something in the window."
Tikki frowned and flew over to the window, phasing through and peered around. There was a fog that had blanketed the city, absorbing the sounds of the cars that were still on the road at this hour. She floated back to Marinette and said, "I didn't see anything. Maybe you were still dreaming?" Tikki rubbed Marinette's head reassuringly.
"You should try getting back to sleep, Marinette."
Marinette nodded and laid back down. She stared at the window, wondering if she had actually seen something or if it was just part of her dream. Eventually, sleep overcame her.
"What did Chloe have to say?" asked Batgirl.
"She was busy tonight," said Batman. "I'll try again another night."
"Sounds good. Night, Batman."
"Let me know when you've gotten home, Batgirl."
"Of course. Night everyone!"
Various voices responded over their earpieces. One was missing though, noted Batman. Red Hood. He'll have to have Oracle engage his tracking device later, but his best guess was that he was somewhere over the Atlantic. For now, the night had been quiet. Perhaps he should head back to base and think about the choice words he was going to have with whoever was checking the Justice League's correspondence.
Marinette was exhausted. There had been an early morning akuma, early morning in Paris, that is.
Five phones collectively beeped at the akuma alert in the middle of the night. Alya woke up partially, making grabby hands for her phone, but Marinette tucked her friend in, telling her to go back to sleep. Chloe and Nino went immediately back to sleep, seeing all was well. Marinette crawled down the middle of the bed to escape. She picked up her phone and saw that Ryuko was already on the scene, according to the alert.
She tip-toed to the door when she heard a quiet, "Marinette, where are you going?"
She turned around and thought Chat Noir was standing there, back-lit by the window. But no, there were no cat ears poking out of this tussled head of hair, and she was pretty sure Chat Noir didn't wander around in pajamas.
"Can't sleep. I was going to go to my room for a bit. I didn't want to wake anyone up."
"Did the akuma alert wake you up?"
"Yeah. It's fine. You go back to sleep, Adrien," she said as she gently led him back to his spot in the giant nest of blankets and bodies. "Here, I'll tuck you in."
"You don't have to," said Adrien, glad that it was too dark to see his embarrassment.
Marinette held up his blanket as far as her arms could reach, waiting for him to lay down, so he did. She wrapped him up, tucking the blanket under his body, making extra sure that his feet were covered.
"Sleep tight," she whispered before leaning over and kissing him on his forehead. "Sweet dreams."
Adrien was already on his way to sleep in his cocoon when he mumbled, "G'night, mom," but Marinette was already out the door.
As soon as Marinette walked into the classroom that morning, she was swarmed by her classmates. They were all concerned for her, sitting next to Damian. He was so mean and cold to everyone. He didn't even get along with Claude, and everyone got along with Claude. Some offered to squeeze in to triple up at a desk.
Speaking of which, as Claude walked into the classroom and saw Marinette, he fell onto his knees, his backpack discarded beside him. "Marinette, please forgive me!"
She looked around and saw that the other students were giggling. "Forgive you for what?"
"For the rudeness of my friends over lunch. Please chase the dreary clouds away and forgive me so that the sun may shine upon me once more."
Marinette bent down, poking at Claude's forehead. "Why are you in the design program and not drama? Plus I was planning on having lunch with your friends again."
"You were?" Claude asked, his mouth open in almost a perfect "o".
A girl with long black hair said, "Claude is in the drama club, if that helps explain anything. I'm Bridgette, by the way."
Marinette stood and shook hands with Bridgette.
"I'm also into fashion design," said Bridgette, pulling a strand of hair back behind her ear. "We're probably going to get recruited by Claude later to help make the costumes for the term play. It'll be nice having someone with actual sewing experience help with that. Last year was a disaster."
"What happened last year?" asked Marinette.
She jumped as Claude suddenly stage whispered behind her, "Don't ask. It never happened. The year was simply skipped over in the calendar and everyone went along with it."
"They put on Macbeth," said Bridgette.
Claude groaned. "No, don't repeat the name of that cursed play. It's cursed, I tell you! Cursed!"
The classroom suddenly got quiet as Damian entered the room. He paused a moment, looking at Marinette, before walking to his chair. Before Marinette could ask, the teacher walked in and urged people to their seats as the bell rang.
Before Marinette even realized, it was lunch again. Claude was bouncing in his seat, waiting for Marinette to pack her things. Before Marinette got up, she turned to the person beside her.
"Damian?" she asked. She could hear that Claude had stopped bouncing and had started whispering to get her attention. "Would you like to join us for lunch?"
Damian looked at her with his hard eyes, giving away only the slightest rise of his eyebrows. "Yes," he said, without hesitation.
Marinette smiled and stood. She turned to Claude, ready to go now, but Claude looked as if he had been struck by the sight of Medusa, frozen with his mouth agape. Marinette patted his shoulder as she walked past to the door. There, she stopped and turned to make sure the guys were following her when she bumped into something hard. She looked up and realized Damian had been following her rather closely, she just hadn't been able to hear him. She started apologizing profusely, and took a step back, only to get tangled in her own feet and fall backward. She closed her eyes, bracing for impact, but instead felt large warm hands catch her. Opening her eyes, she found Damian setting her upright.
"You okay, Marinette?" asked Claude, finally having broken his spell and had caught up to them.
"Y-yeah, Damian caught me," she said, blushing. She looked up at Damian and thanked him quietly.
Damian nodded and started walking down the hall toward the cafeteria. Claude and Marinette stood outside their classroom staring at Damian.
"You're a magical ray of sunshine," Claude stage-whispered to Marinette. "If it had been anyone else, he would have let them fall." He could barely contain his excitement before he went jogging after Damian.
Marinette giggled before giving chase.
After getting their delicious looking meals, Marinette and Claude found Allegra, Allan, Alya, and Nino together at a table. They said their greetings as they sat. The group had been in the middle of talking about the latest akuma. Alya had her phone out, showing a video someone had uploaded of Ryuko easily defeating the akuma on her own. The victim had been a mailman. It was unknown why they had been akumatized, but they were called "The Deliverer", and they had been shooting people with mail and trapping others in packages. In another video, Ryuko and Viperion were chatting idly amongst themselves as The Deliverer was well and truly tied up, his akumatized mailbag in Ryuko's hand. Ladybug appeared suddenly, released the akuma, deevilized it, and released her Miraculous Cure.
Marinette had been dozing off, but looked up in confusion when it suddenly became quiet. Her friends were staring at her, or rather in her direction. Marinette turned and saw Damian was standing behind her. She smiled and pushed back the empty chair beside her.
"I hope you don't mind. This is Damian. We're desk buddies!" introduced Marinette, with a smile on her face.
Claude covered his face as if shielding it and squinted. "The sunshine, it's too bright, but can't look away."
They laughed, the Gothamites a little nervously as the Damian sat at their table.
Then there was Alya, who smiled broadly and held out her hand. "Alya Cesaire. It's a pleasure to meet you, Damian Wayne. You wouldn't happen to have time to give me an interview, would you?"
"Alya! Let Damian eat his lunch in peace!" defended Marinette. But at the silence and slight cowering from the rest of the table, she looked at Damian and found a scowl marring his face. "Alya is an aspiring journalist," Marinette explained. "She actually runs the Ladyblog, which is very popular in Paris!"
"All the latest information on Paris' heroes and akumas!" Alya said proudly, not cowed by Damian's glare.
"Are your heroes metas, like Superman?" asked Allan. "I looked up akuma attacks last night and they can really take a beating."
"No, they are granted powers using a Miraculous," explained Alya. "Ladybug's are earrings, Chat Noir's a ring, Rena Rouge is a necklace, Carapace a bracelet, and I'm not sure about the others." Alya looked around for a moment before spotting someone and waving. "Chloe, Adrien, over here!"
Alya introduced everyone to each other as Chloe and Adrien sat at their table.
Chloe scoffed, offended. "Excuse you, Cesaire, but that was a pitiful introduction. I'm Chloe Bourgeois, daughter of the mayor of Paris, and daughter of the director of Style Queen. Yes, yes, a pleasure to meet me, I'm sure. And this is Adrien Agreste, model extraordinaire, son of fashion designer Gabriel Agreste of Gabriel."
Adrien rubbed the back of his neck shyly before waving with a nervous smile on his face. Why did Chloe have to pull out the introductions like that?
Alya waved away the miasma of entitlement and asked, "So Chloe, what is your Miraculous jewel?"
"Wait, you're an actual super hero?" asked Claude, astounded.
Chloe tossed her hair behind her shoulder. "I'm Queen Bee. And my Miraculous is none of your beeswax, Cesaire."
Adrien suddenly laughed, "I can't believe you made a pun. That was honey-gold."
A groan arose from the group.
"I think you've been hanging out with Chat too much," said Marinette.
At the Gothamite's confusion, Nino explained, "Chat Noir is known to joke around a lot, especially with puns."
"When I worked with Chat Noir against Evillustrator," said Marinette, "I got a first hand experience of just how much he uses them. So many cat puns. All the cat puns."
"I'm sure they were pawsitively awesome," said Adrien, grinning as he was met with another groan.
Chloe nodded. "I'm pretty sure Chat Noir knows how bad they are because he uses them to distract the akuma into going after him. And he's a terrible flirt with Ladybug."
"Ladynoir forever," said Alya, reverently.
"Ladybee forever," challenged Chloe.
"Ladynoir five-ever," piped up Adrien.
"I don't know. I don't think Ladybug likes Chat that way," said Nino.
"They probably just don't want to be public about their relationship," dismissed Alya.
Damian noticed Marinette was blushing quite a bit, but said nothing.
"So Chloe, what's it like being a super hero?" asked Allegra.
Chloe's eyes sparkled as she said, "It's the best feeling ever. I love soaring through the sky and helping Ladybug kick ass. Of course Daddy is against it. 'You'll get hurt, sweetums,' and something about his reelection," Chloe mocked. "But he can't stop me from being Queen Bee when Ladybug asks for my help."
"But you're still a minor. Shouldn't Ladybug have asked an adult to help?" asked Allan.
"Of course she chose me. I'm her biggest fan!"
"Please, I'm her biggest fan. I run the Ladyblog!" protested Alya.
"You just want to find out who she is. I love her despite her secrets," said Chloe.
"I do not!" scoffed Alya. "I mean, I did, but I realized it would put her in danger. After Hawkmoth is defeated, I will be free to find out who she is!"
"No one knows who they are?" asked Allan.
The Parisians shook their heads.
"The Miraculous disguises you using magic," said Chloe. "If I hadn't said that I was Queen Bee, no one would know who to thank when I save them from akumas."
"I'm sure someone must have run facial recognition on them," said Allan, pulling up pictures of Ladybug on his phone. "They seem to fight a lot during the day, so there are clear pictures of them."
"Yup," said Alya. "I had a friend run multiple face recognition algorithms, and nothing came up."
Nino added, "It's like those anti-paparazzi clothes celebrities can wear that reflects back the camera flash and ruins the white balance."
"But, as I said, magic," said Chloe.
"Maybe that's what Gotham's Batfam uses on their masks," said Allan.
"Batfam?" asked Adrien.
"Batfam!" exclaimed Claude. "You know, Batman? And Batgirl? And Nightwing, and Red Robin, and Robin? Batfam."
"Only two of them are bats," pointed out Alya. "Shouldn't it be Birdfam or something like FlightFam?"
"Batman was here first, so it should be Batfam," said Claude.
"Maybe they also have Miraculouses!" said Alya, suddenly excited. "They are animal-themed after all!"
"I'm not an animal, thank you very much," said Chloe.
"I don't think they have any special abilities though," said Allegra thoughtfully. "One time, I was rescued by Robin? Red Robin? One of the robins. It was dark. But they beat my attacker with their fists and handcuffed them afterward."
"Mmm, yeah, no, if I can throw cars as Queen Bee, I don't want to think what would happen if I punched a civilian. It'd be a disgusting mess. Absolutely disgusting," said Chloe, pushing her remaining food away.
"Do you mind if I ask about the attack?" asked Marinette softly, full of concern.
"Yes, it's fine. I had gotten off at the wrong subway stop when going to my flute teacher's and ended up in a bad part of town. I've seen a therapist about it, and it's all in the past, so I'm able to talk about it now." Allegra smiled bravely.
"That must have been very scary, I'm sorry," said Marinette.
"It's alright. I'm one of the lucky ones. But, yeah, definitely don't go to the bad parts of town, and not by yourself," said Allegra.
"Yeah, stick with us and you'll stay out of trouble," said Claude, puffing out his chest in a show of bravado.
After lunch, Damian sent a quick text to Tim.
(12:35pm) Damian: Here's a recording of the Parisians talking about last night's akumas and their heroes. They even touched on why the facial recognition programs haven't worked for you and Gordon.
(12:35pm) Tim: cool cool
(12:37pm) Tim: how'd you get a decent recording with your phone?
(12:37pm) Tim: the acoustics of the dining hall are usually terrible
(12:38pm) Tim: omg did you sit at their table???
(12:38pm) Tim: did you have lunch with other people?????
(12:38pm) Tim: OMG YOU DID
(12:38pm) Tim: THAT SWEET GIRL INTRODUCED YOU AND EVERYTHING
(12:38pm) Tim: SHE DIDN'T EVEN SOUND AFRAID OF YOU
(12:38pm) Tim: AND SHE STOOD UP FOR YOU FROM ALYA
(12:38pm) Tim: DON'T HURT SUNSHINE GIRL
(12:39pm) Damian: Your caps lock is on. Class will be resuming shortly. Stop spamming me unless there is an emergency.
Damian put his phone away as Marinette sat beside him looking agitated. His pocket buzzed away.
"Damian? I'm really sorry about Alya," said Marinette. "Alya has been talking about wanting to interview all the famous people of Gotham even before she knew she was coming. I'm so sorry if she made you uncomfortable, but she's just so passionate," she said in French, speaking faster than her head could translate, "about honing her craft and she wants to become a great journalist and I believe she can do that but maybe she'll learn some tact but she's always said that polite journalists don't get the story and she'll 'hip-check' people out of the way in order to get the story first and--"
Damian held a hand up. Then he raised and lowered it like a music conductor, breathing in sync with his motions. Marinette breathed in and out with him. After a few more breaths, they sat quietly for a moment.
"It's fine," said Damian. "I've met far worse journalists."
Marinette breathed out in relief. "I just wanted to make sure that you didn't feel preyed upon because of your name. She should know better, especially being friends with Adrien. Adrien has dealt with a lot of journalists and paparazzi in his face. I even got caught up in it a few times. I don't even remember how it happened, but once Adrien and I ended up having to hide in an empty fountain and hopped subway tracks. We finally ended up in a movie theater, but I was still in my pajamas wearing a towel on my head with swim goggles as a disguise and Adrien was in a motorcycle helmet. But then there was an akuma and Adrien got thrown off a skyscraper." Marinette frowned. "I feel like I remembered that day being more like high jinks than now that I've said it out loud."
"Adrien got thrown off a building?" asked Claude as he dumped his backpack onto the floor.
Marinette nodded. "Well, not so much thrown as he jumped, I suppose. His bodyguard had been akumatized, and he needed to escape."
"Oh jeez, did he die?"
Marinette made a face that could be described as "really?" She said, "Ladybug saved him."
"What? Yesterday, you guys talked about how the Ladybug cure fixes everything. So wouldn't he just come back?" asked Claude.
"Well, the cure fixes everything that was done by an akuma or a Miraculous wielder," she said, frowning. "I'm not sure if he would have come back since he had jumped on his own."
"But he wouldn’t have jumped if there hadn't been an akuma?"
"Right . . ."
"So his actions were done due to an akuma! He would have come back! Like the Eiffel Tower!" said Claude.
Marinette's eyebrows knitted together. "I hadn't really thought about how things are restored. Is it fixed, or is it simply time travel, resetting Paris like a save point. No, it must be restoration, because my parents continue baking if the akuma is on the other side of Paris. After the Ladybug cure, it's not like their pastries become unbaked. Magic is so," she flailed her hands trying to grasp at a description, "magical."
"Your parents are bakers? Real French bakers?" asked Claude excitedly.
Damian scoffed. "Is that all you got from that conversation?"
Claude's eyebrows raised. "It's important. Maybe even more important is the next question: Marinette, do you know how to bake?"
Marinette giggled. "Yes. I grew up in the bakery. My parents taught me everything they know."
"Oh my god, marry me, please." Claude got down on one knee. "Gotham's one ray of sunshine, will you do me the honor of baking me something, please, pleasepleaseplease, oh please?" He was on both knees now, his hands pressed together in prayer, his eyes wide, reminding Marinette of Chat Noir's antics.
"I was thinking of making macarons--" started Marinette.
Claude jumped up with a "yippee!"
The bell rang and Claude gave Marinette two thumbs up before sitting in his seat.
While the teacher's back was turned, she leaned over to Damian and whispered, "What flavor macaron would you like?"
Damian leaned back and whispered, "I don't like overly sweet flavors, but I would try pistachio."
Marinette smiled brightly at him, nodded, and wrote a note to herself on her school tablet. Damian saw that other flavors on the list included chocolate, caramel, lemon, raspberry, and lavender.
Damian's phone buzzed again. Marinette tilted her head quizzically. She whispered, "Everything okay? You're phone is buzzing a lot."
Damian looked at the teacher, while stealthily sliding his phone out of his pocket and then looked down. He had
hundreds of messages from Drake, and Grayson, and Gordon, and Brown. He swiped them away, not even leaving them on read.
He silenced his phone, put it away, and rolled his eyes. He whispered to Marinette, "It's just my family. Nothing important."
Marinette worried her lip, but nodded.
Damian saw how nervous she was. He thought, maybe I should say something to calm her down. He didn't think as to why he wanted to make her feel better. "They're just having a laugh at my expense," he whispered, hoping it was reassuring.
"Oh. In a sibling way or do I need to go kick their butts sort of way?"
Damian rose his eyebrows in amusement of imagining this small French girl taking down Gotham's vigilantes.
Marinette suddenly grew red. "I-I didn't mean to imply violence, especially against your family, the very family who brought my classmates to Gotham for this incredible opportunity oh Kwami--I mean god, please don't kick us out of the program, or just kick me out since I'm the one who said I'd kick members of the Wayne Foundation--" Marinette dropped her face down onto the desk, mumbling to herself in French.
Damian purposely dropped his stylus onto the ground and reached down for it until he was level with Marinette's face. "If you kicked their asses, I would give you a scholarship to the best fashion school."
She laughed softly in relief and grinned widely. "I may hold you up to that."
"Let's make it a deal." Damian held out his hand.
Marinette grabbed and shook it, surprising Damian when he found strength behind it. She sat back up and resumed taking notes.
Damian resumed his notes with a slight smirk on his lips.
"Hey, Alfred, this is Jason. Made it to Paris."
"How was the flight, Master Jason?"
"Pretty smooth, aside from a swarm of magic ladybugs getting up in my business."
"There was an akuma as I was getting in, according to the app. After the fucking bugs disappeared, the app said that it was safe, so I'm guessing it was part of the kid's powers."
"Have you made plans for accommodations, Master Jason?"
"Nah. I think I'll just sleep in the jet. I got it parked and camouflaged on a sheep pasture just outside of Paris. I figured I'd just take my bike into the city. Precautions, and all that." What Jason didn't say was that he was nervous. He hated magic. Hated the magic that brought him back. Hated the magic that brainwashed him. And now here he was about to face a brainwashing magic asshole who was targeting people who experienced strong negative emotions. All Jason felt was strong negative emotions. The less time he spent in Paris, the less time he could be targeted.
"You will be sure to wash the Bat Plane upon your return."
"Well, I better hit the road. So far, Mothman hasn't made two akumas in one day, so today will be a good day to scout."
"Very good, Master Jason."
Crack with plot or plot with crack? In any case, this chapter is it. I both love and hate that I wrote this lol
Damian was glad to be at school for once. He usually considered school a waste of time. His father said something about missing out on his childhood or some nonsense like that. He could be helping with the Paris investigation. But now, he was glad he had a place where he could escape from his family.
The previous night, he was pestered about who Sunshine was, who he sat with at lunch, how to talk to girls, dating tips, tales of previous bad dates, excuses for if he was called up for duty in the middle of a date, and so on. He was ready to track down each of his family members patrolling across the city and spill their guts into an alleyway when his father finally silenced them as they were busying the comms. But then his father said Damian was more than welcome to bring friends over as long as he let the family know ahead of time, and the harassment started up again.
He asked Alfred to drop him off early, but he didn't want to go into the classroom yet. So he found himself walking down the street. It was strange, seeing the streets in the daylight from street-level instead of under the cover of darkness from the top of a roof.
He turned quickly, on edge.
"Damian, up here, hey!"
He looked up and saw Alya hanging over the railing of a balcony from several stories up. He realized that he was walking past one of his father's hotels.
"Good morning!" called out Alya.
He looked around and saw people barely sparing a glance to the French-accented yelling.
"Do you want to come up??"
He shook his head. He saw Alya turn and say something to Nino, who had come out and waved at him.
Alya turned back, and he could see a mischievous grin even from that distance. "Marinette could use a hand! She made so many macarons she won't be able to see where she's going!"
Damian rubbed his forehead before looking back up and nodding, then he walked into the hotel. He took the elevator to the floor he counted Alya and Nino to be on. Then down the hallway to the southside of the building. He heard French voices before turning the corner and found Alya and Nino in their school uniforms.
"Oh! We were just coming to get you. How'd you figure out where we were?" asked Alya, suspiciously.
He shrugged and said, "I counted the floors."
"Ah, smart. I should have expected that from a Wayne," grinned Alya. "But since you're here, you can help me wake Marinette up."
Damian stopped in his tracks. "What?"
"Marinette is not a morning person," said Nino. "Like dudette's always late to school back in Paris."
"So she gave us spare keys so we can help get her up on time!" explained Alya, waving the keycard in the air. "She wanted to make a good impression for the start of the school year, but girl hasn't even gone a week! She hasn't texted that she's up, so time to do our friend duty."
"She did spend a lot of time after school baking macarons," pointed out Nino. "And that was after running all over Gotham getting supplies."
"She disappeared before we met up after school," said Alya. "She texted frequently enough until she got back home with like six shopping bags and her backpack."
Damian scowled. "Someone should have gone after her. It isn't safe for her to wander around Gotham on her own."
"Yeah, we know. That's why before we wake her up, I'm going to install an app on her phone so we can track her when she goes off somewhere without us."
Damian nodded, "Good plan."
"Dudes," said Nino, stepping in front of Marinette's door, "that is a huge invasion of privacy. Not cool."
"You know what's not cool?" said Damian, his voice almost at a growl, low and quiet. "Marinette dead in an alley. Or kidnapped and trafficked. Or worse."
Nino gulped, staring between the two.
Alya clenched her jaw and nodded.
Nino frowned. Damian could see something, a resolve form behind the young man's eyes before he stepped into a wide stance and crossed his arms. "I can't let you through if this is your plan."
"This is for her own good," said Alya. "She can't keep running off by herself. This isn't Paris!"
"How about we tell her our concerns and not invade her privacy?" countered Nino.
Before Alya and Damian could respond to move Nino, they heard a commotion from inside Marinette's room. Nino moved aside and Alya quickly got her card into the lock before they all ran in.
There were plastic bags with various store names on them littering the entryway. On the breakfast table were two giant stacks of pink and white boxes. On the sides and the tops were the word "Marinette" as an elegant logo. Also on the table were scissors, glue, and paper scraps the colors of the logo. Further in were baking sheets splayed across the floor, leading around the corner.
Damian had ran in and was the first to see Marinette splayed on the floor, her foot on a baking pan, a decorative table cloth in one hand, a lamp and a ceramic bowl shattered on the ground, the fake fruit contents scattered about. Marinette was blinking up with her big blue eyes, trying to compute what or who she was seeing.
"Damian?" she asked, confused.
He kneeled by her and helped her sit up. "Are you okay?"
"Girl, what happened in here?" asked Alya, crouching down beside her.
Nino not wanting to crowd Marinette, hung back and started picking things up and off the floor.
"Um, yeah, I'm okay, I think. Ugh, I'm so clumsy. I must have been more sleep-deprived than I thought," winced Marinette. She was enjoying Damian's hand on her back. She felt warm and safe. Suddenly, Marinette's face flushed, and she grabbed a baking pan and covered herself. "Um, sorry, I'm still in my pajamas."
Damian didn't move away from Marinette, merely shrugged. "I'm not bothered. I want to make sure you don't have a concussion. Don't move your head and follow my finger with your eyes." He had his pointer finger of his free hand up. He moved it in front of her bright blue eyes in a star pattern, slowly at first, then faster. "Nauseous?"
Marinette shook her head. "No. I feel fine, really. I just need coffee."
"I'll go grab us some coffees from downstairs," offered Nino. "Damian, how do you take yours?"
Nino nodded, and ran out the door.
Alya got up, taking the baking pan with her, and started looking for the trash can to clean the broken things up. Damian reached and put his other arm under Marinette's knees, lifting her bridal style. He didn't want her to step on any glass with her bare feet.
Marinette squeaked and wrapped her arms around Damian's neck, but relaxed quickly. He was surprisingly muscular under his uniform, she realized. And he felt warm. Cozy even. She could close her eyes for just a moment. She nuzzled against him. She suddenly realized what she was doing and jumped out of his arms onto her bed before he could put her down. "Sorry!" she yelled, her face a beet red now. "Sorry. You're too comfortable--I mean--you're a really nice pillow--I mean--I'm really tired and will sleep on you----I MEAN--"
Damian blushed slightly, not only because of what she was saying, though it did make his mind jump to places. He had finally let himself acknowledge what her "pajamas" were. She wore a white and pink silk nightshirt with lacing that accentuated her feminine assets, and shorts of the same qualities. Both had elegantly embroidered flower accents. Not only that, but Damian also noticed how toned and muscular she was, like a gymnast. Her records didn't show her having taken gymnastics though.
Alya couldn't hold it in anymore and was cackling. "Girl, stop flirting and get dressed and ready for school!"
Marinette squeaked, jumped off the bed and ran to the closet, yanked out her school uniform, and bolted to the bathroom, slamming it closed. When she came back out, she had her uniform on, but her hands were full, brushing back her hair with a hair tie in her mouth. The lamp and bowl was cleaned up, the wall table reset, floor cleaned, baking supplies organized away into the cupboards and drawers, and Alya was going around finding her school supplies. Then Nino returned through the door, followed by Adrien and Chloe, all carrying coffee and breakfast foods.
Marinette took out the hair tie from her mouth, dropping her hair. "Good morning. Oh, I couldn't ask for sweeter friends," she said. "How would I survive without you guys?" She gave air kisses to the newcomers.
"You wouldn't," said Chloe, in a matter-of-fact way. "Wayne, I'm surprised you're here with the rabble."
As Nino set a plate of food and two coffees on the now cleared breakfast table in front of Marinette, he said, "Alya spotted him while people watching and invited him up." He walked over to Damian and offered him the last coffee in the holder. Damian took it and nodded. Nino touched his cap and nodded back.
"Should have kept walking, Wayne," said Chloe, plopping onto Marinette's bed. "Ew, Dupain-Cheng, do you eat cookies in bed?" she asked after finding crumbs on the cover.
With her mouth full of breakfast, Marinette leaned back in her chair to peer into her bedroom and said, "Maybe, but you're eating breakfast in my bed too." She had almost fully downed one of the two coffees in front of her.
Chloe rolled her eyes and patted the bed for Adrien to join her. She found the remote to start the large, but not as large as hers, television. She switched it to the news while eating her breakfast. Alya joined them on the bed, watching the morning reports of the various crimes that had occurred the night before. Nino went to watch with them, standing by Alya and squeezing her shoulder comfortingly.
In between bites of food, Marinette tried to hurriedly brush her hair, yanking on the knots so she could have another bite when suddenly, the brush left her hand. Damian stood behind her holding her brush with his other hand open.
"Hair tie," he said.
Marinette hesitantly handed it to him. Damian brushed out Marinette's hair, starting at the ends and worked gently on untangling knots he came across. It was much softer and sleeker than his own, thinner than his mother's. One of the few moments of normal familial bonding he shared with his mother was to brush out her long locks. He didn't realize he remembered that until he started brushing out Marinette's hair. Once he was finished, he braided it into an intricate crown that required no hair pins. An assassin couldn't risk leaving evidence like hair pins behind.
"Damn, Damian," exclaimed Alya. "That looks so nice!" She took some pictures and showed Marinette, who brought her hands up to her cheeks in shock.
"Oh, it's too pretty to wear to school! But I don't want to take it out. Damian, thank you so much, but what am I going to do? It's so pretty!" exclaimed Marinette.
"I thought Alya was exaggerating, but no, that actually looks really nice," said Chloe, having gotten up to see what the hullabaloo was about. "Here, you can't go to school half baked after Wayne did your hair." Chloe dug out some makeup, quickly putting eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss onto Marinette's face. "There. You don't look too bad, Dupain-Cheng." Chloe snapped some pictures of Marinette before making a satisfying hum.
"Guys, not to rush, but we should start heading to school," said Adrien, walking out looking at his phone. Then he looked up. "Oh, whoa, you look really pretty, Marinette."
She smiled, her face rosy. "Thanks, Adrien. Chloe, you're magic," she got up and kissed Chloe's cheek.
Chloe scoffed. "Of course I'm magic, I'm Chloe Bourgeois. Now don't go messing up your makeup!"
Marinette turned and looked at Damian, who was back to sipping his coffee. "Thank you so much, Damian. You're magic too." She stood on her tippy toes and pressed her cheek to Damian's before running to the kitchen where her many boxes of macarons now were, not paying attention to Alya cooing at her or how Damian had reached up and touched his face where hers had been.
She explained that she had made enough for everyone to bring to their classes to share. She handed two to Adrien, pointing out that one was Chloe's, one box to Nino, one to Alya, and then picked up the rest of the boxes herself. It was as Alya said. Marinette had to sidestep like a crab in order to see where she was going as the boxes in her arms were stacked well above her head. She went to the front door to put her shoes on, wiggling her feet into them, but just crushed the heel down.
All of a sudden, the boxes were above her. Damian had picked them all up and out of her hands, and placed them onto one of his arms, perfectly balanced, and sipped out of his coffee cup with his free hand. Marinette blushed and said a quick thanks before bending down to deal with her shoe situation. She reached to take the boxes back from Damian when Alya handed her her backpack and second coffee. Damian then opened the door, leading the way while still holding all of the boxes.
Marinette tried to convince Damian that she could carry her own boxes, thank you very much, but Damian ignored her. Alya pointed out it was probably for the best as Marinette would most likely faceplant and break her nose while trying to save the macarons if she tripped. Marinette blushed in embarrassment as her friends laughed and they agreed that it was only luck that she hadn't done so before now.
Once in the school, everyone air-kissed Marinette farewell and thanked her for their macarons. She made them promise to not eat them all and to share with their classmates. They waved at Damian and told him to have a good day as well, and to enjoy the macarons. They're the best of Paris! Alya grinned and winked at Damian. He put his normal grumpy face back on as Alya took some quick pics before running off.
Damian stood on the sidewalk outside the school with four of his own boxes of macarons. He noticed that after all the macarons had been devoured in the boxes for the classroom, his classmates jealously looked back at him and his full boxes beside him. Well, not quite full. One box was just for him, and he enjoyed snacking out of it throughout the day just to watch various emotions run across his classmates' faces. He wondered what it would take for a classmate to overcome their fear and ask him for one. Not that he would share, but he was curious.
The macarons were good. Very good. Marinette had made his a batch with various macaron flavors but with much less sugar for him to try.
As for the other boxes of macarons, two were for his family, which Damian was still deliberating whether he should actually give to them. The other boxes were for the Martha Wayne Foundation members. Damian was going to tell Alfred to stop by the Wayne Industries Headquarters so he could drop them off, but Alfred wasn't the one who came driving up.
A black luxury SUV pulled up. The dark tinted windows on both the front and middle rolled down. Tim and Steph were wearing sunglasses, as was Dick, who was driving. Tim and Steph hung their elbows out slyly.
"Get in, loser," said Tim.
"We're going shopping," finished Steph, exaggerating a Valley Girl accent.
Damian turned heel and walked back toward the school. There was no way they deserved Marinette's macarons. He could hear car doors opening behind him, so he booked it, careful not to disturb the delicate cookies. He ran into the school, dodging the last few students who were leaving. But before he could get to a hiding place, he came across the Parisians grouped up in the hallway.
"Damian!" said Alya. "I see you managed to save some macarons."
"I told the class that Damian had extra to give to his family and the foundation as thanks," said Marinette. "Our classmates did look like they wanted to pillage the rest though," she added, giggling.
"Like Adrien does?" pointed Alya. Adrien looked like he was stalking Damian, his eyes plastered on the boxes.
"No, bad Adrien, not for you," laughed Marinette, as she put her finger to his forehead and pushed him back.
"Speaking of classmates, do you know those two?" asked Nino, as he put himself between Damian and the two crazy-looking adults wearing sunglasses running through the hallways.
Chloe pushed between everyone and stood beside Nino. Adrien's face went from hunger to serious business as he quickly got on the other side of Nino, pulling out his fencing sword from his gym bag and taking the safety tip off. Even Alya pulled Marinette behind her before she went to stand before the intruders.
Before Damian knew it, he had a wall of Parisians looking ready for battle. He looked down to Marinette, whose eyebrows were knit with concern, but was ready for action as well, taking in their surroundings. Were the akuma attacks turning Parisian children into battle-weary soldiers ready for a fight at a moment's notice?
The two maniacs slowed to walk and stopped several paces away from the group. The young woman was grinning broadly when she placed her sunglasses up atop her blonde hair.
"Dami? Are these your friends?" she asked sing-songly.
Damian scowled toward the two. "None of your business, Brown."
The young man had taken off his sunglasses too and was looking over the group. Tim knew all of their names, of course, but was trying to figure out which would be known as Sunshine. "So what're you hiding in those boxes, Damian?"
"Nothing," he said.
"Just carrying around empty boxes? No, I don't think so. Given that they have the name "Marinette" on them, I would say there is some sort of French pastry in there, no?"
"Wow, you're good," said Alya. "And how did you figure that out?"
"Well, you're all part of the exchange program with Paris, for one," said Tim. "Two, Marinette's parents own Tom and Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie," he said with perfect French pronunciation. "I imagine she would have picked up a thing or two."
"Have you been stalking her? How would you know that" asked Nino, as him and Adrien took a step forward.
"No," he lied. He had totally stalked everyone in the group, actually. "I read her application essay," said Tim, truthfully. "I'm on the committee that selects who is accepted into the program."
"Oh!" said a sweet voice from behind the group. Marinette turned to Damian and tried to grab a box from him, but he held them firmly. "Damian," she whispered, "give me the box for the Foundation."
Damian shook his head and lifted the boxes above her.
"Damian!" Marinette looked at him, then at the young man, then back at Damian, with a pleading look on her face.
"They don't deserve them," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Alya and Chloe turned to Damian. Alya was grinning widely, looking between Damian and Marinette.
"Wayne, she'll make you more," said Chloe, rolling her eyes. "Just give her the damn box."
Damian frowned deeply. He looked over at Tim and Steph, who looked like they were giddy. How annoying. If only he hadn't stopped, he would have had the macarons stashed away in some ceiling tile. But Marinette looked so anxious. He sighed, and brought the boxes down for Marinette to grab the one she was looking for.
Marinette parted through the group and went up with a box and held it out for Tim. "I'm Marinette. I mean, of course you know I'm Marinette--I mean just that you recognized me since you're on the committee, not that I'm that recognizable after looking through thousands of applications I'm sure, but, um. Anyway, I made macarons, as thanks for giving me and my classmates this opportunity to be here."
Tim smiled and took the box with one hand, and held out the other, introducing himself as Tim Drake. Marinette heard Alya squeal, turned and saw her whispering to the others excitedly.
"And I'm Stephanie Brown!" she shook Marinette's hand vigorously. "I'm just so excited to hear that our baby bird finally made some friends!"
"Oh my god, these are so good," said Tim, his mouth full of macaron. Steph grabbed a macaron, and was moaning in ecstasy as she ate it.
The tension in the air broke then, except for the dark aura that Damian was giving off.
"Tim Drake, Alya Cesaire," she said, stepping up. "I wouldn't happen to be able to schedule an interview with you, would I?"
Tim laughed, but then started coughing as he choked on his macaron. Damian smirked. Marinette was ready to pound on his back, but he waved a hand. "I'm okay. If I die eating heavenly macarons, I'd be dying happy. Anyway, I'll have to check my schedule. Here's my business card."
Nino introduced himself, then asked, "So why were you two running in here like bats out of hell?"
Tim and Steph looked at each other before bursting out laughing. "We were picking Damian up and he ran away, so we gave chase," said Steph.
Damian tsked, but then deepened his scowl as he saw who was coming up behind Tim.
"Hello, everyone," said the man. He had black hair and was wearing a business suit and sunglasses. To Tim and Steph, he said, "I'm pretty sure I parked illegally, so let's make this quick. Why didn't you guys answer your phones?"
Tim lifted the box to show off the macarons. As the man reached into grab one, Damian yelled, "Fuck off, Grayson, those aren't for you!"
Dick Grayson raised his eyebrows, then, while maintaining eye contact with Damian, grabbed a macaron and placed it into his mouth. His eye contact broke then as his eyes rolled up. "Oh my god, these are so good."
"That's what I said!" said Tim.
"There are two whole boxes here for the family," pointed out Damian, angrily. "Those are for the Martha Wayne Foundation members only."
"Hey, I am a member. I'm as membery as it gets. She's my grandmother after all," said Dick, grabbing another macaron.
Marinette looked between Damian and the three in front of her, piecing things together. "Oh. Are you all Damian's family?"
"Adopted, except Brown. She's dating Tim," said Damian. "I'm Father's only blood-son."
"Hey, you should be thanking us. If Bruce hadn't practiced parenting on us, he wouldn't have a clue what to do with you," said Tim.
Alya stepped up with a wide grin, her hand out. "Dick Grayson, Alya Cesaire. You--hey!" Alya jumped up and down as Marinette had stomped on her toes.
Dick smiled at each of the Parisians as they were introduced. "It's nice to meet Damian's friends! You should come over for dinner tonight! I know I'd love to get to know all of you."
Damian was fuming. Marinette saw him looking at her while shaking his head no, but Chloe accepted the offer immediately. Damian's shoulders dropped in defeat.
"Is there a dress code?" asked Adrien, ever mindful of appearances.
"Nah," said Tim. "Whatever is fine. We could even drive you now, unless you have other plans."
"I have fencing I need to get to," said Adrien, apologetically.
"With Clint Barton?" asked Dick.
"I'll go have a word with him," said Dick. "I'll make sure you get your practice in. I still have all my fencing gear at home."
Adrien smiled brightly. "That sounds fantastic! Thank you!"
Dick patted Adrien on the back and they went down the hallway talking shop about fencing.
"Anyone else have plans?" asked Tim.
"No, but I would like to get out of this wretched outfit as soon as possible," said Chloe, pinching the lapel of her jacket between two fingers as if she were holding a dead rat, not that she would, but she would probably have the same face.
Tim nodded. "We can stop by the hotel, no problem."
"We wouldn't happen to be having dinner with your father, would we," asked Alya.
"Alya, please," begged Marinette.
Tim laughed. "I'll be sure to add an interview into his schedule."
Alya whooped. "He's no Batman, but an interview with Bruce Wayne himself would just be the highlight of my entire trip!"
Tim and Steph's eyebrows rose. "You want to interview Batman?"
"Batman, any of the Batfam! And I want to see if I can't get a pass to Arkham Asylum and get interviews with some of the big name villains, like Scarecrow, or the Riddler, maybe even the Joker!"
"No!" yelled Tim, Steph, Damian, and Marinette. Nino looked at Alya like this was the first he was hearing of this.
"Alya, this isn't Paris. These villains chose to be villains. They're not akumatized," said Marinette, grabbing Alya's hands.
"You don't want to meet the Joker. He's a madman," said Steph.
"People don't willingly go to Arkham," said Tim. "It's not a place a high schooler can nor should go to. Even hardened psychologists get burned out quickly there."
"Harley Quinn used to be a psychologist to the Joker," said Steph. "He turned an intelligent woman into a psychopath and damaged her mind almost completely."
"She's getting better though," said Tim.
"And how would you know that?" asked Alya.
"She's been seen around the city with Poison Ivy," he explained.
"I thought Poison Ivy was a wanted criminal," said Nino.
"It's complicated," said Steph. "She's more of an ecoterrorist. Still criminal, but in an environmental activist sort of way? Anyway, if you want to interview someone, you should interview her, if you can find her." She saw Tim staring at her. "What?"
"Stop encouraging bad behavior!" said Tim. "And Alya, definitely do not try to find Poison Ivy. She's still a dangerous criminal and a meta."
"Do you have something against metas, Mr. Drake?" asked Alya in her journalist voice.
"No, I'm just mentioning it to emphasize that she's dangerous."
"Do you believe that metahumans are inherently dangerous?"
"It's okay, you don't have to answer her," said Marinette, coming between them. "Alya, you are not holding an interview right now."
Alya looked like she was going to say something, but Nino grabbed her hand and squeezed it gently. "You're right. I'm sorry. This is just a really interesting topic. Maybe we can discuss it another time."
Tim nodded, but he noticed that while Alya was smiling, her eyes were still analyzing him.
Dick and Adrien returning grabbed their attention.
Everyone was led to the SUV in front of the school, which was the biggest car any of the Parisians had been in, aside from a limo. Damian sat in the very back, wanting to get as far away as he could from his siblings. Damian placed the remaining boxes of macarons beside him, protectively. Surprisingly, Marinette also decided to sit in the back with him. Marinette looked like she was going to say something to Damian, but by that time, they were already in front of the hotel.
While the Parisians were having a costume change, Damian realized he was alone with his siblings, who looked back at him like a pack of Harley Quinn's hyenas.
"Shut up," he said, slouching down the seat, folding himself with his knees up so he could disappear from view behind the seats in front of him.
"We didn’t say anything," said Steph, giggling. "You're friends seem nice."
"Is Marinette the sunshine girl?" asked Tim.
Damian groaned angrily and felt his face become warm, ignoring that Tim made a satisfied sound. Why did he become warm? Why did he feel like he wanted to protect Marinette? He wasn't the only one with that feeling. The Parisians all stood to protect him, not that he needed it, and Marinette. Maybe it was just instinctual to want to protect someone so small and precious. Precious? Why did he think that? Ignoring that for now. The way they were ready to protect them was so practiced though. "Drake, did you notice the Parisians were prepared to fight you and Brown?"
"Of course. Even the Agreste kid had taken the safety tip off his sword! Like, damn, that escalated quickly," replied Tim.
"He did that?" asked Dick. "He's such a sweet kid though."
"Honestly, if it were you, Damian, I wouldn't have been surprised," said Steph. "There wasn't a blonde kid your age running around when you were in the League, was there?"
Damian tutted. "Of course not. And it wasn't just Agreste either. Chloe Bourgeois was at the forefront, which isn't that surprising considering she's playing a hero in Paris."
"Playing a hero? Really?" scoffed Steph. "I watched vids of akuma attacks when I could, and it seemed to me that she was actually being a hero." Steph fumed in silence when suddenly she had a thought. "Are you jealous, baby bird?"
"Ha. The great comedian Stephanie Brown, ladies and gentleman," said Damian, sourly.
"Is it cause you're just a vigilante? Aww. I don't blame you. 'Hero of Gotham' has a nicer ring to it," said Steph. She looked out the window, deep in thought.
Damian made mental plans that detailed Stephanie's soon-to-be "accident".
"Guys," said Tim, looking at his phone. "What if they're all heroes of Paris? It'd make sense why they acted the way they did. If Chloe is Queen Bee, it wouldn't be that far of a stretch to imagine the other students becoming heroes by association."
"If I had to choose someone to be a hero by my side, I would choose people I knew and could trust," said Dick.
"Exactly," said Tim. "So potentially, Ladybug or Chat Noir could be attending school with them, be classmates, hell, even be friends." He showed his phone to Dick. It was a still from the school's security camera of the hallway, with a clear view of the Parisians in formation. "So if Chloe is at the front as Queen Bee--"
"You guys could also be jumping conclusions," said Steph. "If Chloe's friends know she's a hero, maybe they just want to back her up because she isn't in her hero form."
"But then they wouldn't look like they had done this before," said Damian.
"Well, maybe they have done this before!" said Steph. "Chloe's class has been targeted by akumas from day one! Stoneheart was a classmate, Ivan Bruel."
"Has Marinette been akumatized?" asked Damian.
Dick, Tim, and Steph looked back at him.
"What? I haven't had the same amount of time to research who has been akumatized as you guys."
"Sure, you tell yourself that," grinned Dick.
"Marinette and Adrien are the only ones who haven't been akumatized out of their whole class," said Steph. "But that could be old information."
"You could always ask her yourself," said Dick, waggling his eyebrows.
Damian scowled and dropped back down behind the seat.
"I mean, if Marinette is Sunshine Girl," said Tim, "it wouldn't be too surprising if she was able to keep her emotions in check enough to not become a target."
"That can't be healthy," said Steph. "A teenage girl who has to keep her emotions in check? She could be this close to a meltdown. No wonder she's a bundle of nerves."
"You're literally talking about us," said Dick. "We're all emotionally stunted. We have Batman as our dad, and who knows when was the last time he experienced an actual emotion."
"I found her meditating after discussing the possibility of Ladybug failing to save Paris," said Damian. "Meditation has always been used as a way to center oneself, even in the League."
"It can't be as simple as practicing meditation," said Dick. "Everyone would be doing it then."
"Paris does have a high meditation center per capita. And it looks like all schools are required to hold daily meditation time," said Tim, after a quick internet search.
"So Adrien would also have exposure to meditation practices," said Steph. "Maybe they're both just very dedicated to it."
"Heads up, Parisians inbound," said Dick.
The Parisians emptied out of the SUV and booked it to their rooms to dump their things and change. Chloe scolded Nino for trying to leave while wearing his cap. They were going to be dining with Bruce Wayne! The Bruce Wayne! A billionaire!
"Put that hat back where it came from, or so help me, Lahiffe!" screamed Chloe.
Nino grumbled about how they could have just been in their school uniforms. Then at least he wouldn't have been yelled at by Chloe. He went back to his room and set his hat on a coat hook by the door. He looked at it forlornly, kissed two fingers and pressed them to the hat bill, and left.
Chloe had nothing but praise for Adrien as he was dressed in his father's brand, of course. But just in case Dick was actually going to fence with him, Adrien had packed his gym bag with extra clothes to change into.
Alya came out of her room dressed to Chloe's mild approval.
Marinette was the last to leave, having dressed carefully as to not disturb her braids. They had lasted this long and she wasn't about to disturb them, especially now that she was going to have dinner with members of the Wayne Foundation, including the founder himself! Tikki munched on her stash of extra sweet macarons while Marinette went through her closet trying to figure out what to wear. When Tikki was finally able to calm Marinette down enough to sit, she helped touch up her makeup. As Marinette slipped on her shoes, Tikki smooched her on the cheek and flew into the purse Marinette held open for her, settling beside the box containing the Horse Miraculous and a sketchbook.
Marinette found everyone outside her door waiting.
"Oh, sorry, did I make you wait long? I didn't want to mess up my hair. Why are you all staring? Oh no, I did mess it up, didn't I?" Marinette started digging through her purse to grab her room key.
Alya was the first to snap out of it and set a reassuring hand on Marinette's arm. "No girl, you look so good! Is that a Marinette original?"
Marinette nodded, then blushed as her friends rushed in with their compliments, even Chloe was impressed. Marinette wore a sleek professional pastel pink dress with a flared business jacket on top.
"If I wasn't the face for my father's company, I would definitely commission you to make me a suit," said Adrien, genuinely.
Marinette grinned broadly. "Thanks, Adrien. That means a lot, coming from you."
"Okay, boys and girls, let's not keep our ride waiting!" said Alya excitedly, grabbing Nino's hand and herding everyone to the elevators.
Nino offered Marinette his other arm as she seemed a bit wobbly on her heels, which she took gratefully.
At the SUV, the guys got in first so the ladies wouldn't have to slide across to get to a seat. Steph, Dick, and Tim gushed over all of them as Marinette made her way to the back of the van, sitting beside the boxes of macarons. She looked over at Damian and found him staring at her.
"Do I look alright? I wasn't sure what to wear, meeting your father."
Damian coughed and looked away, but quietly said, "You look nice." He thought she was gorgeous. For once, he didn't think of pink as that annoying color of blood when it wouldn't fully wash out of his clothes. On her, it highlighted the rosiness of her cheeks, the blue of her eyes, the red of her lips, the--
"Next stop, casa de Wayne!" said Dick, starting the van and interrupting Damian's thoughts, to his unsaid gratitude.
Marinette looked out the window, watching Gotham go by. She pulled out her sketchbook and jotted down the things she saw. Damian watched her side-eye, trying to appear nonchalant. He watched how curious and bright her eyes were beneath her eyelashes, taking in the scenery. She was confident in the pencil strokes her hand made, only looking down occasionally and briefly. She didn't erase any stray markings, allowing imperfections in her sketches. She scribbled down ideas, wrote lists of what she would like to incorporate into a clothing design.
All too soon, the Wayne Manor seemed to rise up to meet them, appearing above the tree-lined driveway. Past the inner security gates, the trees opened up to a large green lawn with statues, fountains, hedges, and topiary. Once Dick parked in front of the door, the Parisians got out and took in the mansion; Chloe was temporarily at a loss for words. It was tall, dark, and handsome. It reminded Marinette of Notre-Dame with its gothic architecture.
"It's a bit much, isn't it?" said Steph, breaking the silence.
"Well it wasn't Bruce's decision," said Dick. "It's been in his family for generations, so blame them."
"Is it haunted?" asked Nino.
"No." "Probably." Tim and Steph said at the same time.
"You can't honestly believe in ghosts," said Tim, one eyebrow raised at Steph.
"Hey, it's a crazy world. Anything is possible," said Steph, with a shrug.
"But they don't," said Tim.
"But they could," said Steph.
The door of the manor swung open and out bounded a huge slobbery blur. Chloe shrieked about getting mud on her clothes and pulled Adrien in front of her, who hissed in fright. Nino and Alya jumped back to avoid getting knocked over. Eyes went wide as they saw that the large mass was headed straight for little Marinette.
"Titus, sit!" said Damian, firmly.
In front of Marinette suddenly sat a giant Great Dane, panting with his tongue hanging out. Her mouth opened, and instead of the scream Damian was expecting, Marinette started spurting a string of French in baby-talk, holding her hand out for Titus to sniff. Titus licked it and leaned forward as much as he could while still sitting. Marinette stepped closer and started scratching behind his ears and below his chin, and gave him big rough rubs along his neck. Damian could pick out some things she was saying, like "handsome boy" and "big boy", but most of it seemed to be nonsense.
Nino stepped forward to join in the dog petting, while Alya hung back, looking a little uncomfortable.
"It's alright, he's a sweetheart," said Steph.
Alya nodded before allowing her hand to be sniffed. She laughed at getting licked as well, and went in for the pets.
Titus looked like he was in heaven, getting pets from all his new friends.
Damian was rather miffed. Why did Titus go straight to Marinette and not me? Titus always greets me first. I'm even holding food, but he's not even curious. What the hell?
Tim came up and whispered in his ear, "Jealous?"
Damian wanted to punch Tim so badly, but he was carrying the macarons. Instead he moved to crush Tim's toes with his heel, but Tim had quickly walked away, avoiding him.
"Oh, hey Alfred," said Dick to the elderly man who was walking down the steps. "Look! We brought Damian's friends!"
The man smiled, which reached the wrinkles around his eyes. "It is a pleasure to meet all of you," he said with a British accent. "I am Alfred Pennyworth, butler to the Wayne family." He bowed slightly.
"But really, Alfred is more like family than anything," said Dick, smiling warmly.
Tim ran to Marinette, putting his hands on her shoulders. "This is Marinette Dupain-Cheng! Up and coming fashion designer" he said, giving a sly wink to Alfred. "And this is Alya Cesaire. She will be giving Lois Lane a run for her money before we know it!"
Alya laughed, but blushed at the compliment. Lois Lane was on her list of people she wanted to meet during her exchange trip, Metropolis being just across the Metro-Narrows bridge and all.
Steph wrapped her arm around Nino's and said, "This is Nino Lahiffe! He's a Parisian DJ! We played his music on the drive here, and it's so good!"
Chloe stepped up and introduced herself, "Chloe Bourgeois."
Adrien raised his eyebrows in surprise. Maybe Chloe was saving her long introduction for Bruce Wayne.
"And this is Adrien Agreste," said Dick, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Adrien grinned and waved.
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Pennyworth," said Marinette. She was about to put her hand up to shake his, but then quickly retreated. "Um, sorry, dog slobber." When Marinette put her hand down, Titus gave it another lick, having followed close behind her.
Alfred chuckled. "That is quite alright, Miss Dupain-Cheng. If you would like to follow me, I can show you where you may wash your hands."
"You can just call me Marinette," she said, smiling sweetly.
"Very well, Miss Marinette. You may call me Alfred."
"Alfred," said Damian, suddenly. "I'll place these in the kitchen. They're macarons for the family and foundation." He ran up the steps and disappeared into the mansion.
"Oh, how delightful," said Alfred.
"Marinette made them!" said Dick. "They're really good."
"So good," nodded Steph.
"Very good," agreed Tim. "Uh oh."
"What?" asked Dick, concerned.
"Damian isn't going to put them in the kitchen. He's going to hide them."
"Oh that little demon spawn!" yelled Steph, running into the house, followed quickly by Dick and Tim.
Alfred sighed. "If you please excuse their behavior. They are rather rowdy and unused to polite company."
The Parisians giggled and followed after Alfred.
The inside of the mansion was warm and inviting, a complete contrast to the feeling the outside portrayed. Adrian swallowed hard. It was nothing like his home, with its cold marble floors and lofty minimalistic rooms. Sometimes he wondered if his father had turned their house into a mausoleum dedicated to Mom, her painted portraits haunting every room, aside from his. Here, the floors were old polished wood and covered with well-placed rugs, all very expensive and tasteful. The walls were decorated with history, and yet it felt homey. He could hear the yells of the Wayne family and feet pounding as they ran. His father would never have allowed that.
Alfred led them to a room with several couches and plush chairs with coffee and side tables. The hearth was lit, filling the room with a smoky wood smell.
"If you would make yourselves comfortable, I will return with refreshments shortly. Those who would like to wash their hands, follow me please." Alfred left the lounge with Alya, Nino, and Marinette following, Titus still trotting beside Marinette happily.
Chloe found the largest plush chair and sat in it primly, crossing her feet at her ankles. Adrien sat on the couch adjacent and jumped up when it made a sound.
"What was that?" asked Chloe.
"I don't know." Adrien poked at the pillow he had leaned up against and it gave a faint cry. He picked up the pillow and found laying behind it a cat. It squinted at the sudden bright light.
"Oh my Kwa--god. Oh my god," he corrected himself. "It's a cat!" He knelt down beside the couch until he was eye level with the cat.
Chloe tsked. "It's just a cat. Don't get yourself all worked up over it." She dug out a compact mirror and checked her makeup.
The cat stood and stretched, it's back hunched up. Then it came over to inspect Adrien, sniffing at his head. Apparently finding him worthy, the cat bonked its head against Adrien.
Adrien was so close to tears, feeling blessed by this cat. He got up and sat beside the cat, petting them softly. The cat walked into Adrien's lap, spun a few times, then laid down, tucking their paws under them and curling their tail around themselves. The cat closed their eyes and started purring.
When Chloe looked up from her mirror, she found Adrien smiling with tears coming down his face while petting the cat in his lap. She rolled her eyes and got out her phone to snap a quick picture. Then she got a tissue out of her purse and tossed it at Adrien. "Clean yourself up, Agreste. You'll have to pay for another dry cleaning bill crying all over yourself like that."
Adrien dabbed at his eyes. He didn't care that Plagg would be a jealous brat cat later. He had a sweet purring kitty to dote on now. Plagg never acted this sweet. He just complained about never getting enough cheese. He wondered if Ladybug had to deal with her kwami being demanding as well.
Dick leaned against the doorway, panting. His suit jacket had been removed at some point in his chase. "Ah, I see you found Alfred."
"Alfred the cat."
Adrien blinked. "Doesn't that get confusing?"
"Yeah. Sometimes. So, hey, uh, Damian didn't happen to come through here, did he?"
"Okay. Cool. Cool cool. Maybe he's . . . but he wouldn't. Ugh, he probably is. Okay, be right back," said Dick, saluting with two fingers in the air before turning around and bounding away.
"I'm so glad I'm an only child," said Chloe. "This is just ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous."
"You have me, doesn't that count?" asked Adrien.
"True. But you wouldn't dare hide Marinette's macarons from me."
"I would have eaten them all if Marinette hadn't said not to," admitted Adrien.
"Hmm. I suppose I wouldn't put it past you. In that case, maybe I would be the one hiding them." Chloe had a half smile on her face at the thought.
Steph ran into the room and out the other doorway, yelling, "Hi! Bye!" as she passed the two.
The chattering of their classmates alerted Adrien and Chloe of their return, followed by Alfred balancing a tray full of glasses. Alya and Nino sat together on another couch while Marinette sat in a lounge chair.
After passing everyone a drink, Alfred said, "If you would give me but a moment, I'll return with your hosts."
When he left, they burst into laughter.
"And I thought Ella and Etta were trouble," laughed Alya.
"I'm so happy I only have Chris," said Nino. "I can't imagine having so many siblings. I bet it gets even crazier when everyone's home."
"Oh, I don't know. I always imagined having three kids," said Marinette.
Alya looked between Marinette and Adrien curiously, but saw that Marinette seemed to be daydreaming, not even sparing Adrien a glance. "You'll have to do more babysitting if you think you want to handle three kids, Marinette."
Marinette sputtered. "I'm a great babysitter, thank you very much."
"Uh huh." Alya started coughing, and coughed out "Puppeteer".
"Hey, that's not fair," pouted Marinette. "What about Sapotis?"
"Girl, you were there helping babysit. And Chris got akumatized during another babysitting session of yours," said Alya.
Marinette groaned and put her palms up to her eyes. "Maybe I am a terrible babysitter."
Titus got up from his place beside the chair and leaned down to rest his head on Marinette's knee.
"Aww, you're the sweetest, Titus," she said, petting his head and giving kisses on his snout. "I thought I wanted a hamster, but you're convincing me that maybe I should get a dog. Maybe I'll just get three dogs and be happy that they won't be akumatized. Probably."
"Hey, by the time you'll have kids, Hawkmoth will have long been captured," said Alya.
Marinette hummed. "Hopefully."
Alfred walked in with Dick, Tim, and Steph slouched in defeat behind him.
"We couldn't find the macarons," said Tim sadly. He plopped down beside Adrien, and gave Alfred the cat a scratch behind the ears. Steph sat beside Tim and put her head against his shoulder in exhaustion.
"Or Damian," said Dick, who sunk into a lounge chair, his legs straight out.
"Ten bucks we'll find him hunkered over a box saying 'my precious' like Golem," said Steph.
"Twenty that he already ate them all," said Adrien, sadly.
Tim groaned. "You're probably right."
Chloe tsked. "Fifty that he hid them somewhere in plain sight, and you three while running around like lunatics went past them."
"Yeah? Well I think he hid them really well and that he's been gone so long to throw off our scent," said Dick.
"Want to put your money where your mouth is, Greyson?" asked Chloe, competitively.
Dick grinned wickedly and stood with his hand outstretched. Chloe stood and they shook hands.
"Wait, I want in on this," said Tim. "I'm raising mine to a hundred. Adrien you in?"
"Sure. I'll just stick with twenty, though," he said.
"I'll put in my ten," said Steph. "I don't even think Damian has seen 'Lord of the Rings'. But in case he somehow manages to say it, that would be clutch."
"Alya, Nino, Marinette, you want in?" asked Dick.
Nino shook his head. "I don't know Damian well enough yet, so I'll sit it out."
"Hmm." Alya looked over to Marinette. "What do you think, Marinette?"
She tapped a finger to her chin as she thought. "I think he put it in the kitchen, like he said."
"Ha, no way!" said Dick. "Unless he thought we wouldn't think to look in the kitchen, in which case we should look in the kitchen. But he would know--"
"And," interrupted Marinette, "he went to change out of his school uniform."
"Yeah? And what are you wagering?"
"I'm sitting this one out. It's going to be too funny to watch."
"Change of subject," said Dick as he turned to Adrien, "did you still want to fence? We have time before Barb and Bruce get home. You probably won't want to fence after dinner."
"Really? I'd love to," said Adrien.
"Tim, Steph, you guys can do the whole house tour spiel. Maybe you'll even find a ghost," said Dick, winking at Nino before leading Adrien out.
Tim and Steph linked arms and began to go over a seemingly well rehearsed house tour speech with jokingly pompous airs. Alya and Nino held hands, followed by Chloe and Marinette. Alya was interested in the history and stories behind the house. Nino kept an eye out for spooky activity. Chloe used a discerning eye to gauge the value of things they passed, satisfied and impressed that everything was authentic. Marinette was slowly getting further behind the group as she admired the paintings and sketched the clothes the people wore in her book.
This house, no, mansion was amazing! The gothic theme, the decorations, the paintings, the lighting, the everything. Marinette wished she could spend days here, finding inspiration at every step. She thought maybe this place could be her Jardins du Trocadéro, where she would spend hours sketching.
After finishing up a larger sketch, she breathed in contently, holding her sketchbook to her chest. She felt so much joy, that is, until she realized she was alone. Well, aside from Titus. Titus was laying by her feet, and realizing she was looking at him, wagged his tail. She couldn't hear Tim and Steph's fancy tour voices. She was a horrible guest, she thought with sudden anxiety. Her hosts were leading a tour and she completely ignored them! What would they think of her? She wasn't even sure which direction they went, or if they were even on the same floor!
Marinette covered her mouth to smother a scream and jumped. It was then that she realized that she shouldn't have done that as she was wearing high stiletto heels. She tried landing so she wouldn't twist an ankle, but ended up teetering too far forward. She windmilled her arms trying to regain balance, but she had her book in one hand. Just as she was about to fall, she was suddenly pulled back and into someone's chest. She sighed in relief, and found herself breathing in a pleasant smelling light cologne. She looked up and saw Damian looking back at her.
"Th-thank you. For catching me. Again." Marinette took a step back and groaned in embarrassment. She nervously looked back at him and finally took in what he was wearing.
Damian was wearing a black turtleneck under a dark gray suit jacket, and well-tailored pants tucked into black ankle boots. There was just a splash of red from the handkerchief in his chest pocket.
Marinette felt as red as that handkerchief. "Y-y-you look pretty boy--PRETTY GOOD!" She covered her mouth with her sketchbook to stop it from betraying her.
Damian knew he was handsome; he was genetically engineered to be the perfect combination of his father's and mother's genetics, and both were very handsome in their own rights. As he grew, his father made him accompany him more to societal obligations, such as parties, galas, charity balls, and so-on. He hated it. There, he was told that he was handsome all the time, as if it were his title when being greeted. The sucking up, the gossip, the foolish play at mind games, the drivel repulsed him. And he saw how the women years older than him, and some of the men, looked at him. He knew they all wanted something from him.
That isn't even getting started on the deluge of so called admirers at the beginning of each school year before they're warned off by their peers. He gave them a week before he would personally cut them down and annihilate them, metaphorically speaking, despite his hands itching to do it with a sword. But seeing Marinette so flustered and tripping over her words at the sight of him, he felt a little pride for his looks for the first time.
His lips curved up at the ends, and Marinette melted. It just wasn't fair, she thought.
"May I see what you were sketching?" he asked.
Marinette nodded, not trusting herself to say something coherent. They stood in silence as Damian flipped through the pages. She watched his green eyes trace over the lines of her sketches, softer than she'd seen them before. His hair was slicked back, but as he leaned forward, she watched as a strand of black hair fell and hung in front of his face.
Finally, he said, "These are very good." He looked up and found Marinette's blue eyes studying him, openly. He felt like he was just injected with iodine-containing contrast medium, feeling a sudden warmth spreading over him.
Marinette blinked and looked away, realizing she had been staring. "Thank you," she said shyly. "May I ask, who dressed you?"
"I did?" he said, seemingly innocently. Damian smirked as he watched her blush spread.
"I-I meant who are you wearing? Your clothes designer."
Damian told her, watching her eyes grow with excitement hearing the name of one of her fashion idols.
"You wear them very well."
"I'm sure I'll be wearing you in the near future," he said with a wicked grin. Her blush reached the tips of her ears and were now tinged red. "With your eye for detail. You may continue sketching, if you like."
"I should find the others, the tour," she said lamely.
"I know the manor history just as well. I can give you a personal tour, and we can go at your pace."
She bit her lower lip. "If, if you want to, I wouldn't mind. Just, tell me if you get bored and I'll go faster."
Plainly, he said, "I won't get bored watching you."
Marinette was sure she looked like Tikki at this point, and feeling feverish. She needed to not look at the devilishly handsome boy who she was sure knew exactly what he was doing. She reopened her sketchbook to a fresh page, took a breath, and turned to Damian with a sweet smile. "Shall we begin?"
They stopped at each step, allowing Marinette to sketch furiously. Damian spoke quietly about the manor. Most of it was from the ingrained tour script, but Damian also started describing the rooms beyond where they were and their histories. As much fun as it was to watch Marinette blush, watching her work was just as engaging.
What neither of them saw were ten pairs of eyes staring up at them sneakily from around a doorway.
Steph, Tim, Nino, Alya, and Chloe quietly backed up. Steph and Alya looked at each other, silently squealing in delight. Nino looked happy, seeing that his friend was having a good time. Tim looked like he was scheming. Chloe didn't particularly care about Marinette's or Damian's love life, but she was having fun poking holes in Tim's ridiculous plots to get them together. Their collective peeping was almost disrupted by Alfred, but they pulled him back and had him peek from around the corner.
It warmed Alfred's old heart to see the youngest Wayne experience something his age. He silently backed away and smiled at the group. He was the first to be willingly roped into Operation Foreign Affairs.
When Dick offered to spar with Adrien, he didn't think he'd be halfway up the climbing wall trying not to get his ass handed to him by a kid almost half his age. He had suited them up with an wireless electronic scoring device, allowing them free range. He wondered if Bruce felt this way, with each new Robin and Bat. He couldn't wonder for long though, as he needed to find another handhold quick. He twisted himself away from the oncoming attack, his back to the wall, one hand above him gripping with just his fingertips, his foil up and parrying against the nonstop barrage. Not only that, but the kid was joking around the entire time.
The buzzer sounded as Adrien made a touch.
Dick began to climb up, motioning Adrien to do the same. At the top, Dick sat with his legs overhanging the wall. He took off his fencing mask, setting it aside. He was a tiny bit relieved to see that Adrien had also worked up a sweat; he wasn't sure if his pride would have been able to handle it if he hadn't.
"Good match," said Dick, patting Adrien on the back.
"Ha, thanks. I hadn't had this much fun since Kagami Tsurugi challenged me to a duel."
"Tsurugi? Like the Olympic fencer Tsurugi?"
"Yeah. We used to train together."
"Why did she challenge you?"
"My fencing instructor was holding try-outs. She demanded to be let in, but D'Argencourt said she needed to duel someone already in his class. So she said she'd only duel the best in the class."
"I could see that. She seemed very intense, from what I saw during the Olympics. Did you end up on a climbing wall then too?"
Adrien laughed. "No, but we were exchanging touches at basically the same time that the electronic score-keeper we had couldn't keep track. So D'Argencourt said he'd do it the old fashion way."
"Sounds like D'Argencourt was full of himself."
"Perhaps, but he's one of the best. So, leash-free, we ended up fighting up the stairs and into the school library!" said Adrien, who was on his feet and pantomiming the fight.
"So who scored?"
"I'm pretty sure it was Kagami, but Marinette wasn't sure and gave the point to me."
"What? Why was Marinette keeping score?"
"I'm not sure. I think she came up a different way and ended up being the only one who saw the point."
"Does she also fence?"
"No. It was actually her first time and she was trying out. I'm sure if she had gotten into the fencing school, she would have been great. I was showing her the basics, and she was a natural."
"That's too bad. Maybe next time we can show her the ropes."
"Sorry, I was assuming since you're friends with Damian that you'd be coming over again."
Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm not sure if we're friends yet. I mean, I would like to be, especially since him and Marinette already seem to be good friends."
"Hey, I'm glad he has any friends at all."
"Let's just say that he had some anger issues growing up. He's gotten way better, but still a bit too prickly for people to warm up to him." Dick knew he was severely understating, but what was he supposed to say? Oh yes, Damian was raised as an assassin, and it's only recently that he stopped stabbing people and breaking fingers when he's angry?
"Ah. I only had Chloe. We're childhood friends, my only friend, until I started school. My dad had me homeschooled until about three years ago."
"Excuse me for saying, but the stuff I've read about him in magazines suggest that your dad is a bit of a recluse."
"Understatement of the year. I think the only person who sees him regularly anymore is Nathalie, his assistant."
Dick frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that."
Adrien shrugged. "It is what it is. Once I started school, I've been able to make so many friends, especially Marinette, Nino, and Alya."
"Well, if Damian ever gives you a hard time, just let me know and I'll set him straight."
"Okay," smiled Adrien, "but you'd probably have to wait in line. My friends are a bit protective."
Dick laughed, "So I heard. I heard you're a bit protective too, given you were ready to run Tim and Steph through."
"Tim was running after Damian while wearing sunglasses and a suit! That's like bad guy outfit 101. I thought they were trying to kidnap him or something."
"I mean, you're not wrong, about them trying to kidnap him. Security would have stopped them if they were actual threats," said Dick, not saying that Damian would have been able to handle himself too.
"I didn't think about that. Maybe that's why my father let me come here without my bodyguard, with all the security already in place at the school and hotel."
Dick wasn't too surprised to learn Adrien had a bodyguard. He remembered the news from quite a few years back about Gabriel Agreste's wife going missing and was eventually declared dead. It seemed like Gabriel was overprotective to prevent a repeat of whatever happened to his wife. But if he was overprotective, then why . . .
"Can I ask, why does your father allow you to continue to go to school with all the akuma attacks?"
"You know about akumas?" Adrien asked, surprised. "It didn't seem like it made international news."
"Not much, but Damian brought it up, and I did some reading on it."
"Ah. Well, with akuma attacks, all the damage is reversed with Ladybug's cure, like it never happened."
"Still doesn't mean they aren't traumatizing."
"No, but it's not like the mansion is any safer. Both my father and my bodyguard have been akumatized."
"I'm sorry. That must have been hard." Dick paused a moment before asking, "Is it rude to ask if you've been akumatized?"
"It's fine. I luckily haven't been. I guess the times I would have been susceptible didn't line up with when Hawkmoth was looking for a target."
"He has a specific time for when he attacks?"
"No. He's sent out akumas at all hours of the day. I don't think the man sleeps. My la--My friend and I talked about how he probably works on writing evil monologues, or if he doesn't, he should because his villain speeches are lame."
Dick laughed. "God, bad guy speeches and monologues are so bad. They should hire an independent editor to go over their stuff."
"Well, should we clean up and find the others? Bruce and Barb should be getting back soon."
"I forgot to ask earlier, but who is Barb?"
"Ah, Barbara Gordon, she's a family friend. She's the most normal out of all of us. She's really smart and brave, and beautiful." Dick stared off wistfully until he realized that Adrien was staring at him with a smile. "Anyway, shall we?"
Adrien put his mask on and was ready to climb down when Dick stopped him. "Hey, by the way, even if you don't become the closest of friends with Damian, you're still welcome to come here."
Adrien nodded, afraid his voice would betray how much he appreciated the invitation.
"Race you to the bottom?" challenged Dick.
Clearing his throat, Adrien exclaimed, "You're on!"
Damian stomped down to the Bat Cave once Alfred had left with their guests to return them back to the hotel. He shucked off his top clothing, grabbed two of his swords, and started hacking away at a training dummy. He heard a footstep behind him, and he swung instinctually, stopping his sword a hair-width away from Dick's neck.
"Whoa, there, baby bird," said Dick, raising his hands up.
Damian scowled and went back to hacking up the training dummy.
"I just came down to thank you for not hiding the macarons. They were great for dessert!" When Damian ignored him and continued attacking with extra enmity, Dick realized something was off. "Hey, I thought you were having a good time. What happened?"
"Father," he finally said with fury, slicing the dummy such that the top half slid off the bottom half and clattered to the floor.
When Bruce returned home, he had turned his charm up to max, breaking out his perfect French while he was at it. Chloe, unsurprisingly, bathed in the charm and praise. Adrien looked like he had never had his praises sung in earnest and soaked it up like a dying man in the desert finding an oasis. Alya and Nino were nervous at first, but enjoyed having their accomplishments recognized, and opened up to talk about their hopes and dreams for their future. And then there was Marinette. Marinette had been reduced to a blushing mess, trying to downplay her long list of accomplishments all evening, trying to direct attention instead to her friends' achievements.
It left Damian with bitter taste in his mouth, watching his father easily manipulate Marinette into laughing, or blushing, or getting into a passionate flurry of words.
"What did Bruce do?"
"He was playing with her! She's not some rich fake bitch. She's real, and he manipulated her like she was some toy to play with."
Dick could only blink, stunned. "What?"
Damian tsked and moved on to attacking another dummy with more fervor.
"I'm . . . confused. Are you talking about Marinette? Bruce has a social image to maintain. How was he acting any different from any other social occasion."
Damian beheaded that dummy, the head rolling to a stop at Dick's feet.
Dick picked it up and held it under his arm. "Okay, baby bird, I'm going to sit over here. Join me when you're ready to talk."
Damian worked at destroying the dummies for well over two hours. Bruce, Tim, and Stephanie had come down in that time, dressed, and left to go on patrol. Seeing the volatile state Damian was in, they let him be. Dick held up a hand and shook his head to show he wasn't going to join them. Barbara came down the hidden elevator and waved to Dick before manning the computer for the night.
Finally, Damian dropped his swords, walked over to Bat-Cow, and pressed his face against her side, breathing in the smell of her, the hay and grain, the manure. He draped his arms over her back.
Dick walked up and pet Bat-Cow under her chin. She leaned into his hands, appreciatively. "Ready to talk?" he asked quietly. He didn't want to interrupt Barb, even though it had been a relatively crime-free night and she was on the far side of the cave.
Damian remained silent.
"That's okay. I had a bit of time trying to . . . unpack what you said." He waited for a response, but receiving none, continued. "You're jealous."
"Tch, I know what jealousy is. I tried to kill you and Drake, remember?"
"Oh I remember. Do you feel like killing Bruce?"
Damian mulled it over. "No. But I want to hurt him."
"So you've grown! That's good!"
"But I don't want to replace him as Batman or CEO. And I have no need to prove my worth."
"No. But you want to be the center of a certain someone's attention."
Damian frowned, not that Dick could see it with his face still against Bat-Cow.
"Did you feel like Bruce was stealing time with Marinette away from you?"
Dick was a little taken aback, surprised Damian answered so quickly. "You knew you felt that but didn't connect it to jealousy?"
"Fuck off, Grayson."
"No, sorry, sorry, my bad. I forget you're still learning to be a real boy."
"I will end you."
"I don't doubt that. Have you figured out why you're jealous?"
"Do you want to figure it out yourself, or do you want a hint?"
"I'm in no mood to play games, Grayson."
"Okay, okay. You have a crush! You like the girl!"
This isn't good, thought Damian. How did this happen? I only met her on Monday. Besides, romantic attachments are a weakness. Someone could target her. Someone could hold her for ransom. What if Mother found out? She could kidnap and torture her to get me to rejoin the League of Assassins.
"Baby bird, you okay over there?"
"I'm fine. I will end my extraneous feelings in regards to Marinette."
Dick made a mental note that Damian called her by her first name. "I'm sorry to tell you, but that's not how these things work."
"If I can quell my fears in the face of extreme torture and certain death, I am certain I can do the same for . . . a crush," he finished saying with disdain.
"Okay, maybe since it's you, you will be able to. But you shouldn't!"
"I don't want to put her in danger."
"There're preventative measures you can take! You can have dates on the manor grounds. Tell the security teams at the hotel and school to keep an eye on her. Get her a personal driver. Hell, you could buy out the entire zoo for the day if you wanted to bring her there."
"You didn't do that with any of your girlfriends."
"Yeah, instead I had to worry about them getting killed nightly or kidnapped and forced to marry some alien guy for political reasons . . . But not the point. You like a civilian! You don't have to worry about her running headlong into danger."
"It would be easier to get rid of these feelings."
"Sure. It's easier to do a lot of things. Doesn't make them right. Come on, think of this as a learning experience!"
"I don't want to play with her emotions for my own benefit. Marinette deserves better than that."
Dick placed his hands over his heart, but silently so Damian wouldn't kill him in his sleep. Damian didn't even realize how far gone he already was.
Chloe was relaxing in her room, watching TV and lifting dumbbells, when she heard a knock from her balcony door. She went over and made a face when she realized who it was before opening it.
"I should have expected a personal visit. I'm not going to sign any autographs for you or your little Justice friends. Now, shoo, Flyman" said Chloe, waving her hand in Batman's face before sliding the door closed.
Batman stuck his foot in the door before she could. "Ms. Bourgeois, I was hoping to discuss the situation in Paris with you."
"Look, I've already sent videos explaining the whole thing to the Justice League."
"I will be sure to look into them. Is there anything you could tell me about the current condition?"
"Sure. The third anniversary of the first akuma attack is next week. There should have been no anniversaries if anyone up there actually gave a shit. You think yourself a goddamn hero? Oh, you put a crazy man in jail? You want a gold sticker and a lollipop? How about saving the lives of every person in Paris on a regular basis, bringing them back from the dead? Can you do that? Cause Ladybug can. She's a real hero. You're just a sad little man in a cape, so last century.
"If you wanted to help, you should have three years ago. Ladybug is finally getting the backup she needs now, no thanks to you, and no thanks to the League. If you think you can butt in now and claim credit for the work, you have another thing coming.
"Now you have five seconds to leave before I throw you over the side of my balcony."
"Ms. Bourgeois, if--"
"I would like--"
"To provide assistance to--"
"Another night perhaps."
"Thank you for your time." Batman turned and shot his grappling hook, making a quick retreat.
Batman took a roundabout route to where Red Robin was, perched across from the hotel.
"That's an oof from me," said Red Robin.
"I kinda like her," said Oracle through Batman's and Red Robin's ear pieces.
"You and I should take her out shopping!" said Batgirl, also through the small communicators.
"That may not be the worst idea," said Red Robin.
"Duh, I made it," shot back Batgirl.
"I meant to gather information," he said.
"Yeah. I know. I thought you were supposed to be the smart Robin," she teased.
"It's a good thing you're cute."
"Funny, I was about to say the same thing. Anyway, Bats, sorry you weren't able to make progress tonight. Maybe Oracle and I will have better luck."
"Robin has been able to gather quite a bit of intelligence so far. Perhaps we should encourage him to continue," said Red Robin.
"From the looks of tonight, I don't think that will be an issue," said Batgirl.
"I don't know what you saw, but when I got there, Robin was ready to murder Batman for talking to his guests," said Oracle.
"Ask Agent A. He's in Operation Foreign Affairs. He'll give you the run down," said Red Robin.
"Operation Foreign Affairs?" asked Batman.
"Ask Agent A back at base," he said.
Jason sat in a small family-run patisserie that he had frequented every afternoon since he arrived in Paris. It was just across the Seine from the Notre-Dame, but more importantly, near Françoise Dupont, which had a higher concentration of akuma attacks than any other school in Paris.
Over the past three days, he had wandered during the day like an American tourist, which wasn't too far from the truth. While he knew French, he toned down his "stay the fuck away from me" vibe so he could try speaking with the locals. He couldn't do anything about not seeming intimidating though. He was tall, and muscular enough to be mistaken for an NFL quarterback. On top of that, he wore a thick motorcycle jacket, which bulked up his silhouette. He wasn't about to risk getting road-rash for the sake of appearances.
While he hadn't had the greatest luck in talking with people, save for the couple who ran the patisserie, during the nights he had been able to plant cameras at some of the akuma hot-spots that he had mapped out. He also patrolled, but hadn't spotted any heroes. Hell, he hadn't seen any crimes that weren't already being taken care of by police. He read that crime-rates had fallen in Paris, and it did coincide with the appearance of super-powered heroes. He would have thought that crime-rates would have gone up with the chaos that akumas brought. It would have in Gotham.
"How are you enjoying your book, Monsieur Jason?" asked the small Chinese-French woman, Sabine. She was half of Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie. She was just barely taller than Jason, who was sitting at one of a handful of tables.
He looked down and saw he was supposed to have been "reading" Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. He had read it before, but was now using it as a cover during his stake out. "It's slow going," he lied.
"You're brave. It's considered a great French work, yet I don't think many French people have read it."
"Not many people enjoy the classics."
"That is true. Is that why you're in Paris? To study literature?" she asked.
Jason shook his head. "Just visiting."
Sabine nodded as she said, "My husband's mother likes to travel on her motorcycle too. She rides all the way from Italy to visit!"
"That's quite the trip."
"It's not the longest trip she's taken. She's been all over the world with her motorcycle. She keeps trying to get my daughter to go on a trip with her, but my daughter is so busy nowadays. She's on a foreign exchange program right now in America!"
"Really? Where abouts?" Jason, of course, already knew the answer. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, sixteen. Class president three-years running. One of two out of her class to supposedly not have been akumatized.
"Gotham City, New Jersey. Have you heard of it?"
"What a small world. I'm from Gotham."
"Really? What a small world, indeed! I read that it's a very dangerous city. I was so worried about letting my daughter go, but with all the akumas, it's been difficult watching her try to keep her emotions subdued when she's had a bad day. When she was a child, you could always tell how she was feeling."
Jason frowned. He wondered what Paris would look like after a few more years of being emotionally stunted.
"That dangerous?" Sabine looked at him with concern.
"Oh, no, sorry, I was thinking of something else. Gotham has it's dark parts, but she should be fine as long as she stays in the good parts of the city and makes smart decisions." No one in their right minds should go to that hell hole willingly.
Sabine nodded. "I suppose that's life in any major city. It's a good thing I taught her how to defend herself." Sabine demonstrated some of her martial arts moves.
"Sweet cake, don't scare off the customers now," chuckled Tom. He put his hands on Sabine's shoulders and bent down to kiss her on top of her head.
"It's alright," smiled Jason. "She was just showing me some moves she taught her daughter. If she knows half as much, I'm sure she will be more than able to handle herself in Gotham." It was a lie. Statistically, she was more likely to be assaulted, mugged, raped, abducted, or killed than anywhere else in the US, but no need to worry them when they could be akumatized over it.
Just then, every phone went off. Jason looked at his while Tom went to switch the TV to a news channel. It was an akuma alert.
"Sorry to leave, but I need to go," said Jason.
"We're a designated akuma shelter," said Sabine. "You'll be safer here."
Tom's eyebrows knit together. "It's just a couple blocks away, in the park."
"Really, I need to go."
Sabine placed a hand on his arm as he got up. She looked so worried, but saw the determination in his eyes. She patted his arm and let go. "Be careful out there, Monsieur Jason."
"I will. Thank you, Madame Sabine. Monsieur Tom." Jason waved goodbye and ran out.
Screams rose above the city noise, echoing off the buildings. Jason rode his motorcycle toward the circle on the map that indicated where the akuma was. He cursed that he didn't have time to change into his vigilante mask, so his motorcycle helmet would have to do.
Suddenly, he swerved his bike and slid to a stop. A young woman had crawled out onto the street, whimpering. They were bent in an in-humanly way, more than any contortionist, but was somehow still alive.
Jason jumped off his bike and ran to the woman, unsure how to help without further hurting her. "What happened?"
"One of my students, she brought a doll that she had gotten for her birthday. Another of my students took it and accidentally broke it." The young woman had gone pale and was hyperventilating. "The akuma went into her doll. Please tell Ladybug. She, she'll fix everything." With that, she passed out. At least, that's what Jason hoped. She still had a faint pulse when he carried her to the curb and gently placed her on the sidewalk.
He ran. He ran past the crying and screaming children that littered the park. He now saw that they were as bent and broken as a doll would be. Some children were holding onto their detached limb. On one end, the limb looked like a ball joint of a doll, the fingers or feet still able to move on the other. Two boys seemed to have quickly gotten over the attack and were poke-fighting with their detached arms.
Jason followed the trail of broken people out of the park and down the street. The screams were getting louder. It was then that he saw the akumatized victim. She still appeared as a small child, but was in a dress befitting an old-styled doll, with lace and ruffles. To top it off, she had a flowery bonnet with lacing around her face. She stood over a similarly small girl who was sobbing and begging, her knees bleeding.
"Please, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to break your doll! Here, here's the arm! Marcie, please! I, I'll fix it! Just let me fix it, Marcie! Please!"
"I'm not Marcie. I'm Poppet."
A shiver ran down Jason's spine. The girl spoke so sweetly.
Poppet reached out her hand and plucked the doll arm from the terrified girl. She popped the arm back into place and moved it around, but the arm hung limply in the socket. She unbent the doll and stroked her hair.
"I think I will break you," said Poppet. "I think I will break you like you broke my doll." With that, she reached down and pulled brutely on the girl's arm, causing her to scream.
Jason barreled into Poppet, knocking her down. Her doll flew out of her hand and landed sprawled out on the street.
"Run, girl!" yelled Jason as he pinned Poppet face down into the asphalt, holding her by the wrists to keep her hands away from him. The crying girl nodded and quickly disappeared around the corner.
"You should learn how to play nicely," said Poppet. She pushed herself up despite Jason kneeling on her. He swept her feet out from under her and sat his full weight on her back, making sure to keep clear of her hands.
"I'm sorry, I really don't want to hurt you," said Jason, desperate.
"That's okay. Because I'm not going to play nice now." Poppet rolled, knocking Jason off of her, but he kept a hold of her wrists. She got back onto her feet and looked annoyingly at Jason over her shoulder. She kicked back and stomped on Jason's foot, crushing his steel-toed boot into his foot. Jason yelled out, but refused to let go.
"It's just a doll!" he yelled. "You shouldn't hurt people over a doll! What will your parents think?"
"They told me I shouldn't bring the doll to class! And they were right!" said Poppet furiously. She spun around, knocking Jason into a car, crumpling the hood and grill. She span faster and faster until Jason was unable to hold on, and he shot down the street, his jacket protecting him from most of the road-burn. Jason groaned and looked up. The doll, it was there within reach, taunting him with its cutesy smiling face. He grabbed the doll and stuffed it into his jacket as he ran awkwardly, ignoring the pain from his foot and his several surely broken ribs as best he could. Behind him, Poppet shrieked.
He turned down an alleyway, then jumped onto a dumpster before launching himself at the alley wall, which he kicked off of, flinging himself toward the opposite wall, and repeated until he was able to grab onto the edge of the roof. He pulled himself up with a groan, but started running once his feet hit the roof. He ran, which caused the pigeons to fly up in a flurry from their roosts. Poppet had found her way up, still shrieking like a child banshee. She chased him as he launched himself over chimneys and jumped across small alleyways. He ran until he found himself trapped, the houses nearby too far to jump to, in front of him the Seine. He turned and started walking toward Poppet, causing her to stop. She held her hand out to him.
"Give me my doll back now, please."
Jason shook his head.
Poppet pouted. "I said please."
Jason suddenly double backed and bolted, moving his legs as quickly as he could, and launched himself away from the house, hoping he would land in the water and not in the street. The edge of the bank was quickly approaching. He cursed at not pushing harder through the pain.
Suddenly, a maelstrom formed and reached up to meet him. He didn't have time to take a breath before he was in the water, but before he could panic, he was on his feet on dry land on the opposite bank. In front of him, a young woman formed out of the water. She wore a red suit with a black and gold dragon winding around her body. Small horns peeked out of her bobbed black hair. Her eyes were sharp with Asian traits. At her side, she wore a fencing foil.
"You're lucky I was nearby. You didn't make your jump," she said plainly.
"Thanks," he said grumpily. "Are you one of the heroes of Paris?"
She nodded. "I am Ryuko."
Jason reached into his jacket and pulled out a doll. "I ran into the little girl's teacher. She said the akuma was in this."
Ryuko nodded, taking the doll. "I will lead her away. Viperion will take you somewhere safe."
Before he could ask who that was, a tall lean man dropped down before him. His suit had reptilian scale pattern in shades of teal. His black hair had a gradient to teal at the tips. He smiled softly and picked up Jason bridal-style like he weighed nothing. Jason struggled in his arms.
"Calm yourself. You're safe now," said Viperion, his voice deep, lilting and soft.
Jason scowled in his helmet. The others must never learn of this. He had a reputation to uphold, one that would be obliterated in a blink of an eye if anyone knew Red Hood was being carried through Paris like a princess. So he crossed his arms, irritably, wincing when he pressed on his injuries.
Finally, Viperion stopped, finding a covered rooftop patio. He placed Jason onto a chair. "Are you okay, monsieur?
"Eh. That little girl stomped the shit out of my foot."
Viperion looked down and saw that Jason's boot was leaking blood onto the roof. He frowned. "Once Ladybug arrives, it'll be good as new. Until then, can I get you a drink?"
Viperion reached behind the rooftop bar and swiped a bottle and a stout round glass. "Calvados?"
"I'd take rubbing alcohol at this point."
He hummed, poured a generous amount into the glass, and handed it to Jason.
Jason had taken off his helmet. His black hair with a white lock was glued down flat with sweat. He downed the drink in one go. "Another."
Viperion raised an eyebrow, but poured him another drink.
Jason swirled it, smelled the alcohol deeply despite the sharp pain in his sides, then sipped it continuously until it was all gone.
"Another?" asked the hero.
Jason shook his head. He just needed enough to dull the pain. He wanted to keep as level-headed as he could. "That's good brandy."
"It's made in the northern part of France." Viperion pulled out his lyre and sat across from Jason, playing a soft tune on it. "You were very brave, facing an akumatized villain by yourself."
Jason shrugged. "I saw a bunch of kids hurt. I couldn't stand by and do nothing. Don't you have some place to be? Like dealing with the doll girl?"
"You've already done the hard part, getting the item the akuma was hiding in. Ryuko just has to act as a distraction until Ladybug can purify it. What's your name?"
He smiled as he said, "You may call me Viperion. What brings you to Paris? Akuma-watching?"
"Visiting. How old are you?"
Viperion pondered for a moment before he poured himself a finger of the apple brandy. He lifted the glass to Jason, then sipped, looking slyly at him.
"Well at least that's one of you who's an adult," mumbled Jason to himself.
Suddenly, a wave of glowing ladybugs swarmed over Jason.
"Ah, Ladybug has arrived," smiled Viperion. "How's your foot feeling?"
Jason wiggled his toes in his uncrushed boot. "Good." He pushed on his ribs and found everything in place. Then he looked up and saw that the glass and bottle of brandy had disappeared, along with his feeling of having drunk anything. "That's a neat trick," he said, before donning his motorcycle helmet.
"Some might even call it miraculous." Viperion stood, placing his lyre onto his back. "Can I take you to where you were before the akuma?"
"I'll just take the stairs." Jason walked over and found the door locked. He jiggled it a few times before giving up. He turned and found Viperion looking at him with amusement. "Or not." Dammit, he couldn't just break the door with him there.
He looked off the sides of the building for a fire escape, a ladder, a rain pipe, anything. But no, he wasn't that lucky, and he was a good three stories up.
"Want a lift?"
"I swear to fucking God, if you pick me up again--"
Viperion grinned. "If you want to just hold onto me then. Piggy-back ride, perhaps?"
Jason grumbled before stomping over to Viperion. The hero bent down, allowing Jason to wrap an arm around his shoulders and his legs around his waist. He stood and bounced Jason up to readjust him for a more secure hold. He could hear Jason's muffled grumbling and swears.
Viperion stepped up onto the railing, easily balancing. "Ready?"
"Just fucking go already before anyone sees."
He chuckled before stepping off. They dropped. When his feet touched the ground, he bent down into a low squat so the landing wouldn't be so jarring for his passenger.
Jason scrambled off of his back as quickly as possible, huffing in indignation.
Viperion smiled and hummed. "Well, Monsieur Jason, it has been a pleasure. Enjoy the rest of your visit. Don't go chasing after akumas again."
Jason scowled as he watched Viperion run elegantly up the wall and disappear onto the rooftop. He stomped all the way back to his bike. On his way through the park, he saw a bunch of kids playing. One little girl was happily playing with a familiar looking doll with a few other girls, who took turns hugging her.
Jason smiled slightly at the sight, until he realized that his phone was ringing. It was Tim. He prayed to whichever god would listen that Tim hadn't seen anything.
"Hello?" he answered.
"Hey, heard there was an akuma. Was wondering if you got to see it."
Jason sighed to himself in relief. "Yup. Bastard akumatized a little girl whose doll got broken."
"What the fuck."
"Right? Anyway, got to see two of the heroes in action. Ryuko can turn into water and carries a fencing foil. Didn't see what Viperion's powers were, but he carries around a lyre. Both seem to have enhanced strength."
"Well, that's expected. Seeing as you were carried like the pretty princess that you are--"
Jason hung up. God fucking dammit. He sat on his motorbike, bent over and rest his helmet on the bars. His phone dinged. In a group chat, Tim sent a gif made from a news feed of a bystander video of him getting carried away by Viperion, him looking like a petulant child in his father's arms. At least he had his goddamned civilian helmet on and was not wearing his Red Hood mask. He groaned. He needed to buy a new helmet now. How could this day get any fucking better, he thought as his phone dinged continuously.
"May I remind everyone that phones are to be silenced before class starts."
"Sorry," apologized Marinette quietly. She silenced her phone, but saw that there was an akuma alert. She bit her lip.
"Akuma?" asked Damian, leaning over and looking at her phone.
She nodded. Another child. It broke her heart. She placed a hand over her mouth. Suddenly, she got up and ran out of the room yelling, "Sick!"
The classroom turned and stared at Damian, shocked. Then all hell broke loose.
"What did you do?" "What did you say?" "What did you tell her?" "She's the sweetest girl." "What's wrong with you?" "Our sunshine . . ." "She gave you so many macarons!" "Yeah, you didn't deserve them!"
"Silence!" yelled Damian, veins popping out of his forehead as he strained with effort not to take everyone out for their stupidity. He stood with his hands pressed against the table, shaking with fury. He took a calming breath, breathing out through his flared nostrils. "Paris has been under attack for the past several years," he said with calm intensity. "Her phone has an alert when an attack occurs."
His classmates looked at each other, unsure. They all began to type away at their tablets and phones. Even Mr. Rogers typed away at his computer, his search projected onto the wall at the front of the room. He clicked on a link of an available live news feed.
"Don't be bemused, it's just the news! I'm Nadja Chamack, here with more information about the latest akuma attack, going by the name of Poppet--"
"Does anyone know French?" "What are they saying?" "I know some French." "I'm taking French." "I know omelette du fromage." "What does that mean?" "Wasn't that from an old cartoon?" "What's an akuma?" "Why is she talking about dolls?"
During this, Damian walked up to the front of the room and leaned over to whisper at Mr. Rogers, "I'm going to look for Marinette."
The teacher nodded, as he watched with concern. The news was cut in with videos people had posted to social media. Students took turns translating, rushing quickly to look up terms they didn't understand.
Damian walked silently in the empty halls. He stood outside the nearest women's restroom. "Marinette, are you in there?" When he received no answer, he walked on until he came to the next restroom, calling inside. Silence. He did this to each restroom until he found that he had ended up all the way at the nurse's station. The nurse inside was working on her computer.
"May I help you?" she asked, adjusting her glasses.
"Has a student come in here by chance?"
"Aside from you, it's been a quiet morning."
"Are you looking for someone?"
"I'm sure I just passed her." He was sure he didn't pass her.
He took out his phone. It had been buzzing as his family discussed the ongoing akuma attack in a group chat. His thumb hovered over an app on his phone. If he pressed it, it would connect to Marinette's phone and give him the precise GPS coordinates of her location. He had installed the tracking app the morning he had visited the hotel. Marinette had been changing in the bathroom, Alya was out looking for a broom, and Nino was retrieving coffee. He had a program on his phone, that by connecting it to hers, cracked the password almost instantly. Alya had been planning on installing a tracking app anyway, after Marinette had gone into the city by herself.
Damian furrowed his brow. He wasn't sure why he was hesitating. On the one hand, he couldn't find Marinette, but on the other, he knew that she was somewhere in the school. Probably. She wouldn't have run out of the school, would she? Maybe he should ask the guards, but then they'd probably lock down the school looking for a missing student. He didn't want to do that to her, if she was somewhere alone, crying and panicking. Damian frowned. She didn't seem like the type, but he knew all about suppressing feelings and how they usually ended up in an explosions of feelings.
Damian touched the app, and it opened. He typed in a password and selected Marinette from the list of names of people he wanted to keep track of.
He selected Marinette again. After a moment, the app showed the same notification, "Not found."
Damian swallowed. It, it was okay. She probably just turned her phone off, not wanting to get more notifications about the attacks happening in her home. If that was the case, why have the akuma alert installed at all? She probably wanted to make sure that her parents and friends were not the ones being targeted or akumatized.
Now was not the time to figure that out. He needed to find the poor girl. He hacked into the school's security system on his phone and scanned through the morning until he found a pig-tailed girl run into the restroom nearest to their classroom.
Damian walked quickly and knocked on the entrance. "Marinette? Are you in there? Is anyone in there?"
No one responded.
"I'm coming in."
With the response of silence, Damian looked around before quickly entering the girl's restroom. All of the stalls were open, aside from one in the back corner. He checked under the stall and didn't see any feet. He jumped up and saw no one in the stall. Just an empty restroom. His phone beeped, alerting him that the akuma had been defeated.
He walked out, confused. The security footage clearly showed Marinette entering the restroom, and fast forwarding, no one had been in or out of the area aside from himself. He even turned and waved at the camera to watch himself wave on his phone. And there were no windows or doors to the outside from within the restroom. Even the vents or ceiling tiles were far above his reach, unless he tried really hard, so surely would have been out of reach for her . . . right?
He was contemplating checking the restroom ceiling tiles when he heard a squeak behind him. He turned and saw Marinette standing in front of the doorway to the empty restroom.
"D-Damian, what are you doing here?"
He studied her as he said, "I was trying to find you, after you ran out of the classroom."
Marinette blushed. "That's kind of you. Just, um, needed to use the restroom!" she laughed nervously. "We should head back to class." She ignored Damian's eyes on her as she fast-walked down the hallway.
Damian and Marinette stood in the doorway of the classroom, watching what was an all out war. There were people holding up signs with various akumatized villain names on them, with a varying number of peers behind them. There was pointing and shouting over each other.
"No, Mr. Pigeon is obviously the worst designed villain!" "No, Rogercop! He's a literal movie rip-off!" "Simon Says looks like he could be the Joker's son!" "Frightningale is a Harley rip-off!" "Guitar Villain literally hurts my eyes." "Puh-lease, he has a dragon side-kick! That's way more awesome than a giant baby! And the baby is eye-burning!" "I think Reflekta wins eye-burning. She makes copies of her eye-melting self too!" "Malediktator's hat is part of his face!" "Mr. Pigeon is a spandex furry." "Hey, don't degrade the furry community by comparing them to villains." "Oh my god, you're totally a furry!" "Am I a furry for thinking Chat Noir is hot?" "Marinette?"
Suddenly, everyone turned to Marinette in the doorway. Bridgette ran to her and threw her arms around the girl, crying. She pulled her into the room as her classmates took turns hugging her and apologized for not knowing what was happening in Paris, and if she was alright, if her family and friends were okay.
Damian found his way back to his seat, and pulled out his phone. He checked his tracking app. It showed Marinette's coordinates, and notified him that she was within four meters of him. When he looked up from his phone, he saw Claude sitting in front of him, looking rather glum.
"Thank you, for going out and looking for her. If you hadn't, I would have," he said.
Damian nodded curtly.
"And the class isn't going to say it, but we're sorry for accusing you. We thought maybe she had asked you out and you did your thing."
Damian turned away, not wanting to show his face as his heart suddenly raced at that thought. "Given my past behavior, it was not an unfair assessment."
Claude leaned to see Damian's face. He suddenly grinned like a maniac, looked around, then put his hand up to whisper to Damian. "Do you like Marinette?"
He growled, "That is none of your business."
Claude reacted as if he had gotten to open a present before Christmas. "Oh my god, the Ice King's heart has been melted by the Sun."
Damian grabbed Claude by his tie and yanked him close so he could whisper into his ear, "If you tell anyone, I will skin you alive and leave you on a beach for the salt to sting your wounds and the seagulls to feast upon your liver as you take your last breaths." He let go of Claude's tie, who pulled back and quickly adjusted himself.
"Hey man, it's cool, man, it's cool. You'll hear nothing from me. Zippo, zip, zilch." Claude mimed locking his mouth with a key, then throwing away the key.
Marinette was walking by when she mimed catching the key. She waggled it in front of Claude, who looked between her and Damian. She offered the key to him, but he chucked it away, then shrugged as if to say, "What can you do?"
"Welcome," said J'onn J'onzz, greeting Batman in the teleporter room. "What brings you to the Watchtower?"
"I've been alerted to a terrorist in Paris."
"Ah, yes, the Miraculous wielder known as Hawkmoth," said the Martian.
Batman growled. "Why hasn't the Justice League been brought into the situation?"
"I have been keeping an eye on the situation. The heroes of Paris have been handling it."
"And you've been morally okay with children fighting a terrorist for the past three years?"
"What are we to do, Bruce? Even I am susceptible to being akumatized, as is Clark, as is Diana and Arthur, as is John."
"You could have sent someone who was non-powered! Then if they were akumatized, it would not be world-destroying."
"If Hawkmoth was set on world-domination, he would have already won. No, Hawkmoth's intentions must be personal in nature, given that he's restricted himself to a single city."
"I heard that with the combination of the Ladybug and Cat Miraculouses, Hawkmoth would be able to make a wish that changes the universe. Why spread his efforts out when he can concentrate them to a single city? He could wish to rule the universe without having to spend the time and resources to do so. You're basically putting all the chips on a couple kids with these powers, powers that can be stolen or lost and end up in the hands of people with bad intentions."
"Tell me, Bruce. Have you heard of the Miraculous before this?"
"And when the Justice League assists in foreign affairs, there is greater new coverage, yes?"
Batman frowned. "You're trying to keep this quiet so others don't try to go after the Miraculous. What if we provided indirect assistance through other means then? Purchase the heroes safehouses throughout Paris. Move their families out of the country and put them in witness protection? Provide them with access to surveillance satellites? Hell, even a video chat every now and then to provide support and training. These kids are on their own, and at least one thinks we've abandoned them completely."
"It would upset the balance."
"Balance? What balance? The scales are already tipped in Hawkmoth's favor. 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil--'"
"'Is for good men to do nothing.' Yes, Bruce, but we are not Miraculous wielders doing nothing. What are we in the face of the powers of the universe but specks of stardust? We would be obstacles to their success."
"Actively doing nothing is still doing nothing. And I can't stand by letting children deal with this on their own."
J'onn frowned. "I will not stop you if you decide to pursue this."
"I wasn't asking for permission. I came up here to investigate why we weren't involved already. Don't bother assembling the others. I'll call who I need for a task force."
As Batman marched back to the teleporter room, J'onn curiously read his mind, only to find an obscene amount of cursing and "why do I always have to do everything myself?"
Someone knocked on Marinette's door. She found Alya and Chloe standing outside.
"Hey girl, we were going to go work out. Wanna come with?" asked Alya. Chloe stood impatiently behind her.
"Um . . . sure, let me just get changed. Come inside, if you like." She hadn't been doing patrols since she'd arrived in Gotham. Ladybug wasn't supposed to be here. Marinette did feel some pent up energy from not running across Paris.
In the gym, Alya was following Chloe's workout routine as best she could, while Marinette was surprised at how easy it was. She shouldn't have been surprised. She'd been Ladybug for almost three years now. While most of the experience and power came from Tikki, that didn't mean she didn't exert anything.
"Dupain-Cheng, you're not even breaking a sweat. Are you even trying?"
"Sorry. Working in the bakery must have made me strong like my papa." She lifted her arms and flexed to show off her guns.
"Damn, girl, you weren't kidding." Alya reached over and felt her arm, squeezing it. It sent Marinette into a giggling fit for how ticklish it felt.
"Cardio," demanded Chloe. "Fastest mile."
"Oh, I can do cardio!" said Alya.
"You do get to the scene of an akuma faster than Ladybug sometimes," said Marinette as she picked the treadmill between Chloe and Alya to pace herself. She shouldn't go too fast.
Marinette accidentally finished before she realized, with Chloe finishing a little after, and Alya right behind. She pretended to wipe her brow, but Chloe glowered beneath her headband, her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath.
"You could have gone faster, Dupain-Cheng."
"You're not even breathing hard, what the hell," cried Alya.
"I . . . I'm always late for class! Yeah, and I have to run!" Marinette lamely imitated running.
"You're a terrible liar," said Alya. "Just say you've been working out without me."
"Well . . . it's not only that." Marinette rubbed her arm. "I . . . Don't tell Maman, but I usually workout in the middle of the night when I can't sleep." It was less of a lie, but it still made Marinette uncomfortable.
Marinette looked to the side.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "Yes, totally sane thing to do, a tiny girl working out in the middle of the night in the streets of Paris. Absolutely ridiculous."
"Hey, I can handle myself. Maman taught me some martial arts for self defense."
"Spar me," said Chloe, standing up.
As she stretched out, she said, "Daddy has been forcing me to take defense classes since I told him I wasn't going to stop being Queen Bee."
Marinette bit her lip. Chloe wielding the Bee Miraculous had been a total accident. Marinette was so embarrassed since she had just chastised Chat Noir for losing his Miraculous, and then went and lost the one she was carrying. While Chloe did return the Miraculous when asked, she first had told everyone her identity and was akumatized! She was improving as a person though, and was someone Marinette was considering calling her friend, especially since they've been in Gotham.
"Wouldn't it not be safe for you to be Queen Bee again?" she asked. "Hawkmoth knows your identity. He could target your family in order to make you give him your Miraculous."
Chloe frowned. "I know. But I can't give up hope. If Ladybug ever needs me, I want to be ready for her. I wouldn't dare let her down. Not again."
"I wonder if you can just change your hero name," said Alya. "And maybe your look. Maybe the magic would keep people from recognizing you."
"Hmm. Maybe. It's not the most ridiculous idea you've come up with, Cesaire."
"What about Tarantula Hawk? So Hawkmoth would know that you're coming for him?" suggested Alya.
"I think those eat spiders," pointed out Marinette.
"I'll have to think about it," said Chloe. "Anyway, Dupain-Cheng, are you ready to get your ass whooped?"
Marinette did not get her ass whooped. Despite being smaller than Chloe, she was able to use it to her advantage, throwing Chloe off her balance. "You've only been sparring with people bigger than you," Marinette stated.
Chloe tried to catch her breath while still on the ground. "There's not many people who are smaller than me who could serve my ass to me on a platter. Why didn't you just do this when I was being a total bitch to you? I'm sure that would have shut younger me right up."
"I doubt that." "Doubt it." Marinette and Alya said.
"Yeah, I doubt it too. Help me up," said Chloe, reaching a hand up to Marinette. She took it and pulled Chloe to her feet.
"Alya, you want us to show you some things?" asked Marinette.
"It's initially why I asked Alya to workout with me," said Chloe. "She keeps running into akumas and distracting Ladybug."
"I do not. That only happened a few times. Let me just send this real quick . . . and sent."
"Holy shit, guys, did you watch Alya's video yet?" yelled Steph as she careened down the stairs into the Bat Cave.
"Is that what Tim's phone has been buzzing about?" asked Barbara. She was on the large computer in the cave while the boys were training.
"Here, I'll add you and Dick to the group," said Steph. "Play it on the big screen. It's so awesome. Guys, get over here."
Dick and Tim walked over while Damian and Bruce continued sparring.
Tim burst out laughing. "Holy shit. Can you play that again in slow-mo, Barb?"
Damian looked over in time to see Marinette throw Chloe handily to the ground, a cheeky grin on her face.
"You'll catch flies with your mouth open like that," joked Bruce.
Damian snapped his mouth shut and walked over to the computer, ignoring the grins and knowing looks his family was giving him. Barbara started the video up again from the start.
"She has great form," commented Bruce.
"Adrien said she tried out for fencing once and was a natural at it," said Dick, impressed. "With her reflexes, I'm not that surprised now."
Steph surreptitiously took a photo of Damian at an angle that didn't show anything incriminating. A little censor paint here just in case, a filter there, a sticker to finish off, and she sent it to the Operation Foreign Affairs chat.
Alya and Chloe's phones buzzed as Marinette was demonstrating a move.
"Sorry, let me just check this," said Alya, grabbing her phone. She grinned slyly and looked at Marinette.
"What? What happened?" asked Marinette.
"I may have sent the video of you and Chloe sparring to some friends, a family really."
"I thought they might enjoy getting their preconceptions of you crushed."
"Alya," whined Marinette, trying to grab Alya's phone out of her hand. "They sponsored us to be here! Tim gave you his number to schedule an interview, not to send videos to!"
"It's fine, he gave me his personal number. Hold on, there's a picture they sent that they thought you would appreciate!"
Marinette stood back, crossing her arms. She looked over at Chloe who had gotten her phone out and her eyebrows went up. "Oh Kwami, Marinette really knows how to pick them, doesn't she?"
Marinette pouted until Alya couldn't handle it. "Okay, okay, here, Chloe, your screen is bigger, you show it to Marinette."
Marinette rolled her eyes until she looked down at Chloe's phone. There was a headshot of Damian, shirtless and drenched in sweat, his hair stuck to his forehead in strands. He was looking slightly upward, accentuating his jawline. His eyes were wide, his mouth slightly open. He looked boyish, but it was not difficult to imagine what a heartbreaker he would be once he was an adult. There was a sparkle sticker placed by his eyes.
Marinette let out a series of sputtering noises that was a close equivalent to the dial-up internet sound. Her hand covered a cheek as it caught on fire.
Alya had to bite her tongue to keep from bursting out laughing as she sent the picture of Marinette to the chat.
"I think you broke her, Cesaire."
Bruce watched in amusement as Damian chased his family around the cave with a stick, yelling threats at them as they laughed so hard they were gasping for air as they ran. On the large screen showed Marinette looking at a phone with a star-struck expression on her face. The caption said, "Marinette appreciated the picture ;D". Damian went red in the face, first at her expression, then with fury when they showed the picture Steph had sent.
"Shall we remind the young master to not murder his siblings?" asked Alfred, handing a towel to Bruce.
He shook his head. "They brought it upon themselves. Maybe they'll learn the consequences of riling Damian up." After a moment of thought, Bruce added, "Would you send out additional invitations to the Labor Day barbeque to the Parisians?"
"Yes, Master Bruce. Shall I inform our other guests?"
"Probably should. Wouldn't want them flying in."
"Very good, sir."
"Hey Ladybug, I know it's in the middle of the night for you. Hope this doesn't wake you up, but I wanted to make sure you're doing okay with the akuma attacks seeming to become more frequent again. I'm sorry I'm not there to help you, but it looks like Ryuko and Viperion are doing a great job. Leave me a message if I don't pick up. I'm . . . I guess to be vague, I'm in a different time zone, so it's not that I'm ignoring you, just, I'm probably just asleep or something. Chat out!"
Chat hung up his communicator and sighed. "Claws in."
Green magic lit up Adrien's hotel room as he detransformed, sitting forlornly at the edge of his bed.
Plagg phased through the hotel minifridge and came back out with a good quarter of a wheel of camembert cheese. "Not even going to yell at me for stinking up your hotel room?" he prodded.
Adrien flopped back onto the bed and put his arm over his eyes. "Do whatever."
Plagg floated over Adrien while eating his cheese, savoring the sweet butteriness of the camembert, the way it melted in his mouth and coated it with delicious cheesy flavor. He shook his head. Now was not the time to wax poetic. It had been weeks since Adrien had transformed to go outside. It's just been to message his lady love to see if she was okay.
Plagg had been hanging out with Tikki pretty often at night. It was nice to catch up with his counterpart after only having a few minutes at a time, if any, the past few years. But she said that Marinette had been feeling so much better after leaving Paris. Plagg wished he could tell his kitten, but then he'd have to come up with some explanation. No, his idea was much better.
Plagg inhaled the rest of the cheese, belched, and sighed contently. "Alright, kid, I'm ready. Let's head out!"
"No, Plagg," sighed Adrien. "Ladybug said not to be seen outside of Paris."
"How are you going to be seen? Your outfit is black. It's a moonless night out, and foggy. And there's masked vigilantes running about anyway! It's not like someone will be able to tell the difference."
Adrien moved his arm away, and looked up at the kwami. He knew he shouldn't do it. He loved being Chat Noir in Paris. It gave him an escape from his home. It let him see Ladybug. But in Gotham, he had no excuse, and no Ladybug to find.
"We shouldn't. Plus Ladybug isn't here to fix everything if I break it."
"Well don't break anything then."
Adrien rolled his eyes. "Says the Kwami of Destruction."
"Well. Suit yourself. When the universe is thrown off balance, don't say I didn't warn you."
"Wait, what?" Adrien sat upright, grabbing Plagg. Plagg sat with his arms crossed and was facing away. "What's wrong with the balance? Should I have stayed in Paris?" Adrien was freaking out.
Plagg opened an eye and looked at Adrien side-eyed. Hook, he thought. "No, you're fine being in Gotham. Creation and destruction just need to be active at the same time, no matter where in the world they may be."
"I thought you were active?"
"Does this look active to you?" asked Plagg, draping himself dramatically in Adrien's hands. "If we don't get out, by the time we return to Paris, Ladybug is going to surpass you in experience. It will make the fights unbalanced. You don't want Ladybug have to compensate for you, do you?" Line.
Adrien frowned. "No. The last thing I want to be is a burden to my lady."
"Just a quick run around the block. Maybe take down a bad guy. You don't want to get flabby on me now, do you?"
"Just around the block?"
Plagg nodded. Sinker.
Adrien smiled widely. "Okay. Since you insist. Plagg, claws out!"
Adrien snuck out through the door of his balcony, and seeing no one about, started to scale the side of the hotel up to the roof. Gotham was a dreary city. The coastal fog blanketed it, blurring lights in the distance, and quieting the sounds. It was almost kind of peaceful. There was a slight chill to the air and it smelled of car exhaust, but to Adrien, it felt refreshing.
He took his baton off the small of his back and extended it. He stood on it at an angle, balancing himself before willing it to extend. Once he was high enough, he leaped off, pogoing off the roof of buildings, trying to get higher and higher to reach the level the skyscrapers. But he miscalculated. The building was dozens of stories taller than he thought, the fog having obscured the actual top of the building. He tried to extend himself up faster, but he was falling into it. Then a gust of wind blew in.
Splat. Chat unstuck his face from the window with a groan. He winced as he spotted a small crack in the window. "Sorry," he whispered. Maybe he should stick to running on rooftops. From this height, he could faintly see a borough just a couple blocks away. He slid down his baton and made his way in that direction.
Running over the rooftops of the houses in the borough was different, but he quickly acclimated to the different roof shapes and obstacles than he was used to. Here, he was called after by angry crows instead of frightened pigeons, but both gave him a fit of sneezes when he passed them.
Shots rang out in the distance. Chat stopped, his ears twitching trying to figure out where they came from. Instead, he picked up the sound of whimpering from the alley below him. A woman was backing into a dead-end alley as she was stalked by a large man wearing a balaclava over his face. In his hand, he held a knife.
"J-just take m-my w-wal-wallet," she sobbed, digging into her purse. She pulled it out and threw it at the man's feet.
As the man bent down to grab the wallet, the woman pulled out a taser. Before she could shoot it off, a black shadow fell from the sky, and knocked the man down. It kicked the knife out of the man's hand and started running around, wrapping him up with . . . a clothes line? There were still clothespins and clothes on it.
"Gentlemen should never steal from a lady, or another gentleman for that matter," reprimanded the shadow. He turned, and the woman was sure his eyes were glowing green. "Are you hurt, mademoiselle?" He picked up the wallet and reached out to hand it to her.
"Just put it on the ground," she said, keeping the taser on him.
He did, ginger placing it on the ground and backed away, his hands in the air. "I don't mean to scare you. I'm just a new cat in town looking to do some good." He grinned charmingly. "I'll stick around until the police arrive."
"You called them?"
The man nodded. Or, not a man, the woman realized. He looked like he was still in his teens.
She aimed the taser down but still kept a hold of it.
"Here," he said gently, "Why don't you wait out by the street so you can wave the police down when you see them." He backed up against a wall, pulling the mugger along with him like he weighed nothing. The mugger started to let loose a string of nastiness when the young man said, "If you can't say something nice," as he reached down and plucked a sock off the line and stuffed it into the man's mouth. "Don't say nothin' at all."
"Did you just quote Bambi?"
The man grinned sheepishly. "Maybe . . . anyway, your path is clear now." He bowed with his arms pointed toward the alley entrance.
She looked at him hesitantly, but quickly walked past him and the mugger, who gave her the stink-eye.
"Ah, just a moment, mademoiselle," said the young man. He reached into his pocket, but stopped as she raised her taser up at him. "Just a handkerchief. Your mascara has run." He plucked it out of his pocket and handed it to her with an outstretched arm.
She let out a laugh. "You really aren't from around here, are you?" She opened her purse and placed the taser back in it before accepting the handkerchief. It was surprisingly soft. Was it silk? After she wiped her eyes, she realized that on the corner was embroidered "C.N." with whiskers coming off of each side.
"I'm sorry I made a mess of your handkerchief," she said before offering it back.
He put his hand up. "You may keep it, so I may always catch your tears."
She rolled her eyes, but smiled for the first time that day. It had just been one of those days, and then to finish it off, she was almost mugged. "I'll be sure to have it on hand when I get home and drink an entire bottle of wine."
The young man's eyes brightened. Did his cat ears move? "Well, may I make some recommendations?" He spoke on about various French wines, the vintages and flavors of the undertones.
"I'll have to keep those in mind. Aren't you a little young to be drinking?"
He shrugged. "My father wanted me to have a refined wine palate."
She lifted one eyebrow up. "Seriously?"
"We French are quite serious about our wines. Ah, I hear the sirens. I shall bid you good night, then."
Before she could ask him to stay, he pulled out a short stick that extended impossibly long and with a wave, he disappeared into the blackness of the night.
"Claws in!" Adrien sighed happily as his transformation fell.
After Plagg retrieved himself some cheese, he asked, "Did you have fun?"
"Better than that! I stopped a mugger!"
"Good job, kid."
"With the fog, I bet I could go out every night!"
"Sounds good. Now let me eat cheese!"
"I should probably get handcuffs or something. I had to take someone's clothesline to wrap up the mugger. I hope the owners gets their clothes back," said Adrien as he was scrolling on his phone. He ordered in bulk with next day delivery, suddenly giddy with the fact that he could do this without Natalie snooping through his mail. He relished in this feeling of freedom.
Jason sat in a dark corner nursing his drink. He thought he had found a small grimy club for the likes of him but instead it was semi-respectable despite the neighborhood. The bar was large with several tenders. There were a couple high tables, but mostly there was room for dancing in front of the stage. Goddamn gentrification. He took a swig.
Cheers rang out as the main band came out for the night. "Needing no introduction, it's Kitty Section!" Jason snorted at the name. Out walked a tiny blonde chick wearing a pink unicorn cat mask with pink armor, a tall black-haired chick wearing similar armor but in purple carrying a bass, a tall guy with black hair and blue tips and blue armor with a guitar, and a hulking guy in red waving drumsticks in the air.
Jason wasn't sure what to expect, but he didn't expect the short chick to be able to belt out rock, and he certainly didn't expect to enjoy listening to the band with their wholesome lyrics. He wondered if the akuma attacks was an influence, to stay away from dark topics. With the very girly pink singer, the choice of unicorns and "cute little fluffy cats" lyrics were probably all her.
The crowd rocked out, forgetting the troubles of the world, leaving behind that tomorrow could be another akuma to destroy Paris. Jason took a swig of his drink and got himself another. Happy thoughts. Unicorns and cute little fluffy cats. All too soon, the band finished their last song and wished everyone a good night. Classic rock started playing over the speakers.
While Jason was lost in his thoughts, he heard footsteps stop beside him. "This seat taken?"
Jason looked up and saw it was the band's guitarist without his costume. He wore a blue suit jacket over a navy hoody, ripped black skinny jeans, and decorated high top vans. On his wrists were many bracelets.
Jason gestured for him to take it. The guitarist sat and set his drink down, reaching a hand out to him. "Luka."
Jason shook his hand. Unlike his, Luka's hand was calloused from music. His fingers were long, the short nails painted black. "Jason. I liked your sound. Wasn't expecting the lyrics that went along with it."
Luka smiled. "That would be Rose's doing, sweet as her name."
"How long has your band been together?"
"Not too long, about two years now."
"Impressive. You all work well together."
"Thank you. The others actually go to school together, and Juleka, the bassist, is my sister. Her and Rose have been dating for longer than the band has been together."
"So what brings you here, Jason?"
"I wanted a drink."
Luka laughed, his voice soft and deep. "I meant, what are you doing in Paris?"
"Do you have the akuma alert app?"
"Yeah. It went off today. I don't really get what happened," said Jason, trying to play dumb.
Luka leaned back and sipped on his drink. "There's a man who goes by Hawkmoth. He sends out akumas to possess a person who experience strong negative emotions."
"What do akumas look like?"
Jason acted surprised and laughed. "You got to be shitting me. Why a butterfly, and how does everyone not have lepidopterophobia?"
"They look magical, so people are able to still appreciate nonmagical butterflies. As for why, he uses a jewel called a Miraculous that provides him with abilities. His is specifically the Butterfly Miraculous."
"So butterfly guy uses butterflies. I saw a bunch of ladybugs fixing everything, supposedly thanks to a ladybug-themed hero. And I saw there was a dragon lady and a snake man. Do they shoot out dragons and snakes?"
Luka chuckled. "No, no I don't think they do. You know, the alert is supposed to show you where to avoid. It sounds like you had a front row seat."
"I was curious. I hadn't heard of akumas or Paris having heroes until I arrived. How is this not international news?"
Luka shrugged. "Where are you from?"
"The U.S. Shit, I mean Canada." Jason playfully looked around as if he were seeing if anyone overheard him.
"Don't worry, no anti-American sentiments from me," said Luka with a smile. "My favorite singer is American."
"No shit. I love Jagged. He's actually from my home town."
"Gotham City? What a small world. I have some friends who are there on an exchange program."
"Small world." Jason internally rolled his eyes, feeling like he had this conversation before.
"Adrien sometimes plays piano for us."
Luka looked surprisingly angry. "His father is . . . strict. He has him take piano lessons, but only to play it perfectly, not to . . . to express himself." Luka closed his eyes and took a breath.
"Sounds like his dad is a real prick."
"To put it mildly. But hopefully Adrien finds some freedom now that he's an ocean away from his father. And there's Marinette. She made all of our costumes. She wanted to give us a unifying look while letting us still express ourselves."
"She must be talented. I thought your costumes looked professionally done."
"She's very talented," said Luka endearingly. "She made Jagged's Eiffel Tower glasses too."
"No way, really?"
"And a few of his album covers."
"Now she's just showing off."
"Jagged simply recognized her talent. What talents do you have?"
Jason thought on it, taking a sip to bide his time. He was talented at killing and maiming people. Talented at weaponry and martial arts. Talented at driving and piloting various vehicles and aircraft. There, that's civilian safe. "I can drive like a stunt car driver."
Luka smiled at that. "Quite impressive. You mind giving me a ride sometime?"
"Maybe some other time, kid." Jason threw back the rest of his drink. "I better head out."
"Hmm, I should probably do the same." Luka finished his drink in one go. "Where are you staying?"
"Hostel outside of the city," he lied.
"You shouldn't drive after drinking," reprimanded Luka.
Jason rubbed his forehead. He was right. He groaned as he pulled out his phone to book a hotel. He could use a shower anyway. "There, you happy?" he grumbled, showing him the confirmation e-mail.
Luka hummed, following Jason out to his motorcycle. Jason lifted the kickstand and put it into neutral and began to walk toward the hotel. Beside him, Luka was humming, his hands in his pockets, his guitar on his back.
"Don't you have anywhere to be?" asked Jason.
"Just making sure you make it to your hotel," said Luka.
"I'm a big boy. I can cross the street myself."
"I know, but it's nice to have someone to walk beside in the dark."
After walking in silence for a block, Jason said, "You know, I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be happening the other way around."
"And which way is that?"
"Guitarist gets swarmed by adoring fans and goes home with one."
"I didn't see you get swarmed by guitarists."
"One is more than enough, and I don't want you following me into the hotel."
"As you wish," hummed Luka. After a moment, he asked, "Are you free tomorrow?"
"Why?" asked Jason, suspiciously.
"I could show you around Paris, if you like."
Jason sighed and stopped. "Look, kid, you're cute, but you should find someone your own age to play with."
"We're both adults here," smiled Luka warmly.
"But why me? I'm an old fuck." Jason pulled down his white lock of hair. "See? White hairs already."
"You aren't older than twenty-three. But I can hear by your song that you've had a hard life."
"Nice trick. Could join the carnival with that act. I'm sure my brother can call in his old circus contacts," said Jason, sarcastically.
Luka's eyebrows went up. "Your brother was in the circus?"
"When he was a kid. Him and his parents were a family acrobat act."
"Both of us are. There's actually a running bet in the family for when Bruce is going to adopt another kid or another kid shows up with 'congrats, you're my father'."
"You are my father," joked Luka, putting his hands over his mouth to mimic Darth Vader.
Jason cried out in a long and anguished, "Nooooooooo!"
After their laughter subsided, Luka asked, "So how many siblings do you have?"
"One older and two younger brothers. Basically two sisters, but Bruce hasn't officially adopt either of them. How about you? Any other siblings aside from Juleka?"
"Nope. Just me and Juleka and our mom."
"You want to take any off my hands?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
"Probably for the best. Oh look, I made it to the hotel. Now scat."
"Should I come by around nine? Take you out for breakfast?"
Jason pinched the bridge of his nose. "You're not letting this go, are you? Give me your damn phone."
Luka smiled brightly as he unlocked his phone and handed it to Jason. Jason texted himself with the message "pretty boy Luka" before handing it back to him.
Luka smiled, a blush reddened his cheeks. He cleared his throat before saying, "I'll text you when I'm near. Good night, Jason."
"Stay safe, kid."
Luka waved as he walked down the street with a little pep to his step.
Jason managed to keep his cool until he checked in and made it to his room before putting his hands over his face, wondering what the fuck he was doing.
(1:12AM) Luka: i asked him out!! ✧*｡٩(ˊᗜˋ*)و✧*｡
(1:12AM) Kagami: It's 1:12 in the morning.
(1:12AM) Kagami: Who did you ask out?
(1:13AM) Luka: the brave foreigner
(1:13AM) Luka: jason (๑♡⌓♡๑)
(1:13AM) Kagami: Did you ask him out as V?
(1:13AM) Luka: lmao no
(1:13AM) Luka: he was at our show
(1:13AM) Luka: some of ladybug's luck must have rubbed off on me (*´꒳`*)
(1:14AM) Kagami: I thought you desired to rub off Jason.
(1:14AM) Luka: (ᗒᗜᗕ)՛̵̖ rofl you bad
(1:14AM) Luka: anyway sorry to wake you
(1:14AM) Luka: get some sleep (- o – ) zzZ
(1:14AM) Kagami: Keep me updated.
(1:14AM) Kagami: I shall cut him down if he is dishonorable.
(1:14AM) Luka: nooo ｡ﾟ(ﾟ´Д`ﾟ)ﾟ｡
(1:14AM) Kagami: I shall restrain myself then. I bid you goodnight.
(1:14AM) Luka: night xo ( ˊᵕˋ )♡
(8:55AM) Luka: here
(8:55AM) Jason: you lied
(8:55AM) Jason: you said you'd text when you were nearby
(8:55AM) Jason: but you've been here for 15 minutes
Luka flushed as he looked around for Jason. He finally spotted him in the hotel lobby, getting up from a plush chair. Jason smirked when he saw that Luka had noticed him, and threw his leather jacket over one shoulder. He sauntered out to Luka.
"Good morning, my little French dove."
Luka was starting to think he had dove in too deep. This morning, Jason's song was confident and curious, teasing even, whereas last night was on edge. The dark foreboding sound was still there, thrumming incessantly.
"Good morning, Jason. Sleep well?"
"Tolerably. You? Did you have sweet dreams?"
"Are you asking if I dreamt of you?" Luka smiled as Jason's melody of confidence wavered slightly.
Jason smiled as if everything was fine. "Just teasing. So, where are you taking me?" he asked as he put his arm around Luka's. He looked up at him with piercing blue eyes.
Luka gulped. He couldn't remember if he knew how to swim.
Marinette strained to understand her teacher's rapid and technical English as she quickly took down notes. Being in a foreign exchange program was no joke, but Marinette loved what she was learning. Her phone buzzed in her pocket as several classmates' phones simultaneously buzzed or dinged. She and Damian took out their phones and saw there was an akuma alert.
Marinette stood, as did some of her classmates offering to go with her to the nurse's office or wherever she wanted. They wanted to be there for Marinette, even though some looked at each other challengingly. Before anyone could insist, the lunch bell rang, and Marinette ran out of the classroom during the chaos.
Damian discretely opened a different tracking app on his phone. This one connected to a bug that Damian had placed on Marinette's shoe that morning when he was leaning over, pretending to be sorting through his backpack during class. He watched the dot run into the nearby bathroom, according to the school blueprint overlay.
"You aren't going after Marinette?" asked Claude.
"It appears that there are several other volunteers willing to cheer Marinette up," scowled Damian. He looked down to the app reporting "Signal Lost". What the fuck? He attempted to reconnect, but it said that "the bug was unable to be located, click here to troubleshoot."
"I need to go," said Damian.
"Go git her, son," said Claude in an old man's voice. He shrunk back when Damian glared at him. "Erm, anyway, I hope you can find her again."
Damian nodded, zipping closed both his and Marinette's backpacks before walking out, carrying both. He didn't want her stuff left alone in an empty classroom. Making his way through the dense hallway crowd, he ended up in front of the women's restroom where he had found her before.
He grabbed the elbow of a classmate who just came out and asked, "Is Marinette in there?"
The girl shook her head, somewhat terrified. "No, and not in any of the other bathrooms either. My friends and I checked."
Damian cursed. He walked into the men's restroom and hid in a stall while he brought up the security footage. In went Marinette to the same bathroom as before. And fast forwarding to the live footage, she was still nowhere to be seen. He tried finding her phone's location, but that was unable to be found as well. So he went and stood in the hallway.
(11:55AM) Damian: Gordon, can you get a connection to this device?
Damian sent the device's address.
(11:57AM) Barbara: No can do.
(11:57AM) Damian: How about this phone?
(11:58AM) Barbara: Not that either. Their phone could be off. Perhaps you've been made out.
(11:59AM) Damian: No. Target is unaware.
(11:59AM) Barbara: Sorry, little D. Looks like you'll have to find your target the old fashioned way.
(11:59AM) Barbara: After school. Send Dick or Steph if it can't wait. No skipping out.
Damian rolled his eyes. No, he had a feeling that his target would be reappearing any moment from this bathroom.
Damian was still leaning against the wall in the hallway forty minutes later. He had both tracking apps attempt reconnecting every ten seconds, even though it was eating through his phone battery.
"Hey, you find her?" asked Claude, walking up with Alya and Nino in tow.
"No. I thought she went into this bathroom, but I believe others have already checked."
"She did this in Paris too," said Alya, her eyebrows knit with concern. "I didn't think she would run off here." She jogged over to the bathroom, only to collide into Marinette running out. As they groaned in pain and rubbed where they had bonked faces together, several phones went off as the akuma alert was lifted.
Damian looked at his phone and saw that both apps were able to connect and gave him accurate location readings.
"Ah, you have my backpack? Thank you so much!" said Marinette, reaching for her bag.
Damian placed it behind himself. "Where were you?" he asked, his voice level despite his thoughts running wild.
Marinette looked up at him with bright eyes. He realized that she was panicking and looking for an escape as her eyes flitted side to side.
"Yeah, girl, Claude told me you ran off and we've been trying to text you all lunch!"
"I, I, I, um," she stuttered. The bell rang indicating lunch was over. "I'll see you in class!" ran Marinette, leaving her backpack and friends behind.
Marinette sat awkwardly at her table as several of her classmates hovered over her, making sure she was alright, talking about how it was perfectly reasonable to feel terror during a terrorist attack on her home, but she could rely on them if she needed a shoulder to cry on. Bridgette sat in Damian's seat while rubbing Marinette's back, but quickly stood when she saw Damian in the classroom doorway.
Her classmates wanted to stay to comfort her, but their fear of encroaching on Damian's space was greater, so they left her, to Marinette's great relief. When Damian took his seat, she turned to get her backpack from him, only to see it on the other side of Damian.
"Damian, could I have my backpack? Please?"
He turned to her, and Marinette felt a chill run through her. It was like the first day of class all over again, being studied under his hard eyes.
"Once you tell me where you were."
"I, I was in the bathroom," whispered Marinette, embarrassed.
The bell rang for class to begin.
"Cl-class started," whispered Marinette. "Damian, could I please have my backpack? I need to take notes."
Damian took out her tablet and handed it to her. She opened a note and wrote large enough for him to see, "Backpack?"
He wrote on his tablet and angled it to show her. He had written, "Where were you?" in a beautiful stylized script.
Marinette turned red as she hesitated before writing something on her tablet. "I was pooping! There, are you happy now?"
"The entire lunch?"
"I'm a nervous pooper!" She drew a frowny face beside it.
Damian looked at her face and saw it was red, her eyes filled with tears. It physically pained him to see her like this, so he relented and returned her backpack. Throughout their afternoon classes, he wrote several apologies, but erased them before showing any to Marinette.
When school ended, Marinette ran before any of her classmates could stop her. She ran all the way to the hotel by herself and deadbolted herself into her room.
"Tikki? What am I supposed to do?" groaned Marinette as she started pacing, yanking on her pigtails. "Everyone here notices when I'm gone!"
"You should feel cared for and loved, Marinette," said Tikki, phasing out of Marinette's jacket.
"It's too much! Too much love! What if someone figures out that I'm Ladybug? What if someone posts that I'm in Gotham City and Hawkmoth comes here and brings his reign of terror with him? It would be all my fault! I would be deported and permanently banned from entering America! I couldn't visit any of the fashion shows or work with Audrey Bourgeois! What if Gabriel moved their headquarters to America after I start working there? I'd have to give up my dream job! What if--"
Tikki flew into Marinette's forehead, bonking the poor girl out of her anxiety spiral. "If someone in Gotham found out that you were Ladybug, it wouldn't be the end of the world."
Marinette let go of her hair. "What do you mean?"
"The reason you need your identity to be especially secret in Paris is if someone became akumatized."
"Right . . . and Hawkmoth hasn't akumatized anyone outside of Paris."
"So if someone found out here, most likely Hawkmoth wouldn't."
"There'd still be a possibility!"
"Yes, but it's in your favor!" said Tikki, spinning in the air. She stopped once she saw Marinette staring while chewing on her thumbnail nervously. "Marinette, perhaps you should find someone you can count on to cover for you while you go off to fight for Paris."
"But Master Fu said--"
"You're the Guardian now, Marinette. Even Master Fu didn't take on Hawkmoth by himself, and you knew each other's identities."
"But that's because--"
"Before you say anything, will you please consider it, Marinette?"
She couldn't say no to those big blue bug eyes. "I'll think about it."
"I want you to be able to achieve your dreams! You shouldn't feel selfish about asking for help to do so."
"Like asking for help from the Justice League?"
"If that's who you would like to get help from."
Marinette nodded. "I was planning on going to Civic City anyway to pay them a visit. Maybe I'll ask for help in covering for me. Maybe they'd know how to do that. Somehow."
(11:40AM) Dick: Hey Jay, I saw the akuma alert. This one looks intense. Are you safe?
(11:41AM) Jason: ttyl busy
(11:41AM) Steph: don't get turned into a spider
(11:41AM) Steph: or do and tell us what it's like
(11:41AM) Tim: you give terrible advice. jason, just stay out of the area
(11:41AM) Dick: Anyone know why the guy is turning people into giant spiders?
(11:42AM) Tim: here's a video someone took link
(11:43AM) Dick: Wow. Is that really all it takes?
(11:43AM) Steph: idk I'd be super pissed if some kid yeeted my pet
(11:43AM) Barb: Yote?
(11:43AM) Dick: Maybe he shouldn't have put his tarantula on a kid who was obviously terrified of spiders.
(11:43AM) Tim: rip arachnaphobes
(11:44AM) Steph: exposure therapy is a thing
(11:44AM) Tim: is turning into the thing you fear exposure therapy?
(11:44AM) Steph: walk in someone's shoes if you will
(11:44AM) Dick: Which feet would you put the shoes on though?
(11:44AM) Steph: back most, obvs
(11:44AM) Tim: no no, second set to the back. frees up the very back set to use as hands.
(11:45AM) Steph: I guess it'd be difficult to spin a web with shoes on your hands
(11:45AM) Tim: tarantulas don't make webs. they make underground dens
(11:45AM) Steph: spin silk, whatever
(11:45AM) Tim: if jason wasn't busy, he'd say he spins silk every night
(11:45AM) Dick: Lol.
(11:45AM) Steph: gross
(11:45AM) Barb: Gross.
Jason was not having a good time. Before this, he and Luka had been walking around the entire day as Luka showed him the sights of Paris, with delicious food and wine tastings sprinkled throughout. He had actually almost allowed himself to enjoy this not-but-maybe-date. But now he and Luka had been split up in the chaos of people running away from giant spiders that came up to chest-height. Jason ducked into a business and texted Luka to meet back up a couple blocks away. He sent off a quick reply text to his family.
Outside, he watched as the giant mutant tarantulas launched themselves at people and bit them. Once the people stopped screaming and moving, the tarantula placed the person across their back and skittered in the direction they came from.
He turned and saw a bunch of frightened people in the store, cowering behind clothing racks. Turning back to the street, he saw that the storefront was just a large window. It wouldn't hold up if something wanted in. The shutters. He looked up and spotted the security shutters. He jumped up onto the window display and yanked it down. As he was locking it in place, a spider noticed the movement and started running toward him. It launched itself at the window, shattering the glass. Jason was knocked back, but the shutter held. He scooted back quickly as the spider shoved its long hairy legs through and tried to grab him with its comparatively small claws. Jason thought of Alfred the Cat sticking his paw under the bathroom door. Little fucker didn't understand the meaning of privacy.
Jason got to his feet and called out, "Is there an employee?"
A weak yes and a shaky hand rose above the clutter of people.
"Where are your cleaning supplies?"
"I-in the back room."
A short man who obviously frequented a tanning bed, and wore fashionable clothing, led Jason to the back room.
"Do you have bug spray?" asked Jason.
The man shook his head while fingering his beaded necklace. "You're bleeding."
Jason growled as his hand came away from his face covered in blood. The window shards must have gotten him. "What about air freshener? Hair spray? Any aerosol?"
"I have hair spray in my bag," he said, going into the office and finding it for him.
Jason nodded, wiped his hand on his jeans and dug through his pockets until he found what he was looking for. With hairspray in hand, he walked back to the front of the store where multiple spiders were now reaching in. The sounds of screams and explosions barely covered the strange vibrating and low thumping noises the spiders emitted.
He shook the can of hairspray and lifted it. "Eat shit!" he yelled before flipping his lighter open with his other hand. With his makeshift flamethrower, he aimed at their legs. The smell of burnt hair filled the air. The spiders yanked out their legs in a hurry and scurried off in all directions to escape. He flipped his lighter closed and handed that and the hairspray to a woman who had come up beside him.
"Where are you going, monsieur?" she asked.
"I need to make sure someone is safe."
"You can wait here until Ladybug fixes this."
"Where I'm from, you can't wait for the heroes to show up," he said before leaving for the backroom and exiting through the door he had seen there.
He ran to the meeting point, but Luka was nowhere to be seen. Spiders were running along the sides of buildings and in the streets, over cars. Some ran toward the screaming in the distance while others went away, carrying people on their back. Jason hid, crouched down behind a large decorative plant pot as he planned his next move.
(6:01PM) Jason: where are you? stay where you are and i'll come get you
After five minutes of no response from Luka, he cursed quietly to himself. He backed up into a nearby alley. A plan. He needed to make a plan. He watched as another spider went by with a person on their back. Maybe Luka was taken. God fucking damn it all, he just met the kid, but he couldn't let him get eaten alive.
He followed the flow of spiders, careful to not be seen, until he found himself prone under a bush on the edge of a university campus quad. There, spiders were crawling over each other like some sort of nightmare. Using his phone's camera to zoom in on the scene, Jason saw a young man holding a large sign that said, "Pet spiders provide emotional support too!" while astride the largest spider he had seen yet. Another spider presented a human to the young man, and when he touched the sign to them, dark magic glopped over the person. In their place was a large and lively spider that raced out into Paris. At least the people weren't dead.
He saw a splash of red out of the corner of his eye. He turned his camera to the roof of a building and saw a young woman in pigtails and a red and black spotted suit crouched down beside Viperion. There was a flash of pink before something appeared in the air and fell into her hands. The familiarity of the object tickled his brain. What the fuck? Why was she holding his mask? The mask he wore as Red Hood. The mask that he was sure he had left with his motorcycle.
She was looking around, unsure what to do, and Viperion was deeply frowning. They didn't have a plan. Fuck.
Jason put his fingers in his mouth and pierced the air with an extremely loud whistle that bounced off the surrounding buildings. The young man yelled in his direction. "Ladybug, no need to whistle for me. I'm all yours, babe! My cluster, bring her to me!" He pointed in Jason's direction.
Jason laid as still as possible as the giant spiders trampled over either side of him, rushing past and into the street behind him. All that were left were people discarded on the lawn, the young man, and his giant spider mount. He saw Ladybug use a line to quickly repel down the side of the building and was quietly running from hiding place to hiding place. There was still a lot of empty space between the edge of the field and where the akumatized villain was.
She needed another distraction, Jason realized. He stood up and started running toward the villain, yelling and waving his arms.
"Hey, dickwad! You love your spider so much you made it big enough to fuck? Anything to get your cock wet, am I right?"
Before Jason could react, the giant spider was upon him. Claws sunk into his sides and lifted him into the air, putting him slightly lower than face level to the villain. He looked furious, but had an evil grin on his mouth.
"You dumb jock. You thought, what, you could come up and beat me with your pathetic muscles? Pound for pound, a spider is far superior in strength. You don't deserve to be part of my cluster. How about I feed you to my darling Charlotte."
"Shut up! I'll have her eat you without paralyzing you. Wouldn't want to have you numbed up. Charlotte--" Before the villain could finish his command, something red but too fast for Jason to see wrapped around the young man's body and yanked him off of his spider. The spider dropped Jason and ran to the rescue.
Jason groaned as he landed flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He turned and saw the villain face first into the ground, ass up. Ladybug stood above him with his sign and broke it across her knee, then rolled to the side to avoid the charging gigantic spider. When she was back on her feet, she yelled, "No more evil doing for you, little akuma. Time to de-evilize!" as she threw up her yo-yo to capture the escaped black butterfly with glowing purple streaks. "Gotcha!"
Jason pushed himself up to a sitting position, hugging himself to put pressure on the wounds on his sides. He watched as the spider shrunk back to a normal tarantula size, and the villain returned to looking like an average college student.
"Bye-bye little butterfly," said Ladybug sweetly, releasing a white butterfly into the air. Viperion ran up to her with Red Hood's mask in hand. "Thanks. Miraculous Ladybug!" she threw the mask into the air, where it dissolved into an impossible number of ladybugs that blocked Jason's view as they swarmed over him.
His sides felt much better, and he looked up to see Viperion standing over him with his hand out. Jason knocked it to the side and got up on his own. He looked past him and saw Ladybug handing the young man his tarantula while rubbing his back. Glowing swarms of ladybugs flew in with confused students, placing them by dropped books and backpacks around the quad.
"What did I tell you about not chasing after akumas?"
Jason turned back to Viperion who looked between concerned and amused. He responded, "I wasn't. Just happened to be in the area."
Viperion smiled knowingly, which pissed Jason off.
Ladybug jogged up to Viperion and said, "Pound it," with her fist raised up. Viperion touched his fist to hers. Then Ladybug pointed her fist to Jason, smiling expectantly.
Jason frowned, but bumped his fist to hers. She's tiny, was Jason's first thought. He couldn't guess her age, but knew more likely than not that she was no older than a teenager.
"Thank you for the help, monsieur," said Ladybug. "But you shouldn't have put yourself in danger like that."
"Ladybug, this is Jason," introduced Viperion.
Her eyebrows rose, or where her eyebrows would be under her mask. "It seems this is the second time you've helped my team. Thank you, Monsieur Jason." Suddenly, Ladybug beeped and she put her hand up to her ear. "I need to go, but thank you again."
"I need to get going too," said Viperion.
As they turned to leave, Jason said, "Wait. Can we meet up? There's something I want to discuss with you."
"Where are you staying?" asked Ladybug quickly.
Jason told them the hotel he stayed at the night before. He would need to book another night.
"We'll be in contact then. Tonight, hopefully. Bug out!" Ladybug threw out her yo-yo and was pulled into the air, where she swung out of sight.
When Jason looked for Viperion, but he had already disappeared out of sight as well.
Jason's phone beeped that the akuma alert had lifted as he was walking back. He realized he had a bunch of unread messages from his family. While he was reading through them, he heard his name being called. He looked around and saw Luka running up to him before almost being tackled off his feet with a hug.
"Watch it, kid," said Jason, grabbing Luka by the shoulders and holding him away so he could look him over. "You alright?"
Luka nodded. "I'm fine."
"I'm sorry we got split up during the attack. I tried looking for you."
"Yeah, I saw your text after Ladybug fixed everything."
Jason sighed. "Well, I should head back to the hotel. Too much excitement for me."
Luka elbowed Jason gently. "You're not that much of an old man."
"You sure? Cause a nap sounds really good right about now."
"I think that's called jetlag. How about we find you some coffee?"
Jason stopped and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Okay, kid, tell me the truth. Are akumas really so common that you and everyone else just finds where they need to be and picks things back up like nothing happened?"
Luka looked around, finding people chatting, seemingly unbothered by the past hour. "Yes? I'm not sure what you're asking."
"Why hasn't there been a mass exodus out of Paris?"
"Everything gets fixed by--"
"Yeah, yeah, Ladybug makes everything hunky-dory. Physically. I'm going to have nightmares of giant spiders for the rest of my life, though, and I've been here less than a week. How is everyone else coping with this shit?"
Luka shrugged. "We're Parisians."
Jason scowled. "Well I'm not. So I'm going to go back to the hotel, run myself a hot bath, and drink all the mini liquor bottles in the fridge until I fall asleep."
"What? You judging me?"
Luka heard Jason's song. It was like the waves of the ocean during a storm. He sensed the anger and sadness, frustration and resolve, and under it all, the darkness wanting to rise up and drown out everything else.
"May I walk you back to your hotel at least?"
Jason didn't laugh so much as push air out of his lungs. "Sure, kid. I'll let you be a gentleman."
"Ladybug! What are you doing up?"
"Um. Couldn't sleep? How have you been doing, Chat?"
"I've been fine. How about you? How was today's attack?"
"Ugh, so creepy. People were turned into giant spiders and they were literally everywhere. It took forever to actually reach the victim without being spotted. It went pretty quickly after we got close enough to engage though."
"Purrhaps my lady forgets her outfit is covered in spots." Chat smiled as Ladybug facepalmed.
They caught up on life, being vague as possible. They talked about how Ryuko and Viperion were doing. Ladybug mentioned she had started a new school, and that she's made a lot of new friends. Chat wished he was in Paris because maybe Ladybug joined his school! Maybe they would have the same classes! They could sit together and pass notes and--
"Yes, my lady?"
Ladybug worried her lip before saying, "I will be asking for help from the Justice League again."
"Do you need me to return to Paris? Because I will in a heartbeat."
"It's alright, Chaton. I miss you, but you should be happy you get to experience being out of the country! We'll defeat Hawkmoth, and you can't exactly put 'superhero' on a resume."
Chat nodded, but his heart raced hearing that his lady missed him.
"Yes, my lady?"
"What's wrong, Ladybug?"
"I didn't realize that starting a new school would mean people would notice when I disappear."
"Akuma attacks aren't enough of a distraction?"
"No. This school is . . . is further away from where most of the akuma attacks occur, so classes aren't disrupted."
"So one of the things I was hoping to ask the League was to give me a cover for when I need to take care of akumas."
"But wouldn't they need to know your identity? I think you're much more creative than whatever the League can come up with."
"Maybe. I'm really a terrible liar and right now my excuses are pretty flimsy. There's only so many times I can claim severe diarrhea before a teacher will ask for a doctor's note."
"Oh my kwami, is that what you've been saying?"
Ladybug tugged on a pigtail, embarrassed. "It's not like I have a second job that would take me away from class like you do."
"You could say you're a model!"
"Please tell me you didn't just say what your job is, Chat," she groaned.
"I'm not a model, but I have a friend who is and he gets taken out of class all the time for photoshoots."
"But then they'll ask for proof! Pictures! A paycheck!"
"I'm sure my lady can figure something out. You could become an actual model. You would be in more demand than Adrien Agreste."
Ladybug rolled her eyes. "The last thing I need is another job." She sighed. "And I don't know how to forge documents or make anything look legitimate."
"So you're saying you're asking the Justice League to provide you with falsified documents."
"Hey, I'm sure they know all about secret identities. Almost everyone in the League wears a mask! Even police go under cover with fake documents!"
"Perhaps you're right, but you shouldn't offer up your identity just for that."
"No, you're right. If they offer to help Paris in exchange for my identity, however, I will provide it."
Chat Noir frowned.
"I just thought that maybe we would reveal ourselves to each other first before telling other people."
"Aw, Chaton, that's sweet, but we can't share our identities with anyone who will be fighting in Paris or even planning on visiting Paris. Not when Hawkmoth could potentially akumatize them and discover our identities."
"Wait. So, I'm not in Paris. Does that mean I can tell my friends that I'm Chat Noir?"
Ladybug gathered her thoughts. "I say no. It's too dangerous and there's a possibility that the information could get back to Hawkmoth, especially if someone posts something on the internet."
Chat's ears drooped.
"But," continued Ladybug, "Tikki said that we should have someone we can rely on since we no longer have the Guardian with us."
"I thought you were the new Guardian."
"Yes, but you and I can't know each other until Hawkmoth is defeated. Essentially, Hawkmoth took out our only support system in Paris."
"I support you, Ladybug."
"I know, Chat, and I support you. But we can't support each other in our civilian lives."
"If you make a friend that you trust with your identity, which means trusting them with your life, the life of your family, the lives of your friends . . . then I will trust that you will make the right judgement call."
"Chin up, little kitten. If I can convince the Justice League this time, we can reveal ourselves to each other even sooner."
Chat smiled. "I wish you good luck then, my lady."
Ladybug smiled back. "Thanks, Chat. I need all the luck I can get. I'll talk to you later. Bug out!"
Chat sighed at the black screen. It was nice to see his lady again, but learning she may need to reveal her identity unnerved him. But what better way to get rid of that feeling than to go out for a rooftop run?
Chat popped up and went to the table that held a large nondescript delivery box. With a quick swipe of his claw, he opened it and revealed a mound of handcuffs. He unpackaged ten of them and put them into his outfit's magically deep pocket. He went out onto his balcony, took a quick look around, then bounded to the top of the hotel before allowing himself to breathe the "fresh" city air. With that, he took off toward the boroughs.
"Our mysterious guest is out again," said Oracle, taking control over the security camera to point and zoom in at the shadow that ran over the rooftops. She put in the coordinates for the rest of the team while taking control of a camera ahead of the shadow to try to capture his face.
"I'm closest. I'll check it out," said Nightwing.
"Five bucks that Catwoman got herself a protégé," said Batgirl.
"Fifty that it's Chat Noir," said Red Robin.
"Your brain is on the Paris heroes. No way he's in Gotham," she responded.
"Queen Bee is here."
"Just because the Parisians act on edge doesn't mean they're all super heroes."
"Chat Noir hasn't been seen at any of the latest akuma attacks."
"Maybe he's out sick."
"And the witness reported that he had a French accent and was well versed in French wines."
"Maybe he's a weeaboo, but for France."
"What's a weeaboo?" asked Nightwing. "Never mind, got eyes on the target."
Nightwing had been the one to alert everyone to the presence of a new player in Gotham. During lunch with some of his old coworkers from back when he was a cop, they regaled how the previous night a woman had been saved from a mugger by a teenager wearing a leather cat costume. He was sweet, apparently, and even gave her a handkerchief. They wanted to take the handkerchief in for analysis, maybe get DNA off of it to identify the vigilante, but the woman refused.
Then the conversation went off the rails for whether a sexy cat costume was gendered or not.
Nightwing wasn't thinking of the sexiness when he rode his motorcycle through alleyways and small streets, trying to avoid cars while keeping track of a person running incredibly fast on all fours. No, it was the blacker than black of the costume that was giving him problems. In the direction they were headed, they were going to end up running straight into Batman, and Nightwing knew how Batman got with unknown metas in Gotham. If this was Chat Noir, or even if they weren't, he didn't want their first greeting to be an attack first, ask questions later. So he honked.
Glowing green eyes suddenly appeared as the shadow stopped. Nightwing waved at them and parked his bike. A pole suddenly appeared in front of Nightwing, and the glowing eyes descended into the dim street light, where they constricted like a cat's. A thin black tail-like thing swished behind them.
"Good evening, monsieur," they said, as their pole shrunk down to their height. "How may I help you?"
Nightwing took off his helmet, revealing his domino mask. "You're Chat Noir."
Chat's eyes widened as his black cat ears flattened down to head. "N-no I'm not. Who's Chat Noir? Certainly not me," he said as he stepped back, trying to retreat into the shadows. Nightwing heard Chat say to himself in French that Ladybug was going to kill him.
"Hey, hey, it's okay. I'm Nightwing. I work with Batman."
Chat's ears perked up. "Batman as in the Justice League Batman?"
Chat came back into the light, looking a little sheepishly. "I guess the jig is up."
"What are you doing in Gotham?"
"You can't tell anyone that I'm here!" he burst out saying. "Ladybug said I shouldn't be seen outside of Paris!"
Suddenly, Chat Noir looked away, his cat ears twitching every which way. "Someone's in trouble," he said before grabbing his pole and launching himself up onto the rooftop, running out of sight.
Nightwing quickly donned his helmet, started up his motorcycle, and raced after him. He looked every which way until he saw a commotion in an alleyway. Chat flipped over a very large man, pulling the man's arm with him, and latched a handcuff around the wrist. When he landed, he slapped the loose cuff around the other wrist. With his baton, he hit the man behind the knees, causing him to fall.
When Nightwing stepped into the alley, Chat spun his pole into a defensive position, but then relaxed once he saw who it was. "These two were having a bit of a cat fight, but with knives," said Chat, pointing his thumb behind him.
Nightwing looked past Chat and saw another man in handcuffs, laying on his side.
"Do you want to call it in, or shall I?" asked Chat.
"Oracle already has."
Chat cocked his head to the side. "Who's Oracle?"
"Another member of the team."
"Oh, cool. Tell them thanks. Have a nice night," said Chat, saluting as he shot up into the air.
"Wait!" called out Nightwing.
Chat's glowing eyes peered over the side of the building.
"Can you hold up back where we were? We should talk."
Nightwing saw a faint nod before the eyes disappeared.
After dealing with the police, Nightwing raced down the street to where he first saw Chat Noir. He didn't see him in front of the building, so he kicked off a wall and grabbed the fire escape to get to the roof. There, he saw the imposing silhouette of Batman.
"Oh hey, Batman," said Nightwing nervously.
Batman turned, and Nightwing saw a pair of glowing eyes appear out of the darkness, looking at him with glee.
"Nightwing," said Batman with his deep gravelly voice, "you will take Chat Noir under your wing and bring him on your patrols."
Chat Noir giggle-snorted, but clapped a hand over his mouth.
Nightwing let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Oh thank god. I was planning on asking him to go on patrols with me already."
"Really?" Chat's eyes grew.
"People in Gotham don't ask strangers running along rooftops for help," said Nightwing. "You're gonna get yourself shot that way."
"Oh," said Chat, chuckling nervously. "I've been stopped to help get cats out of trees so many times in Paris, I guess I forgot that it isn't like that here."
"Unfortunately not," said Nightwing, his eyebrows raised. "I suppose the first thing to do is if Chat Noir isn't supposed to be outside of Paris, what should we call you?"
"How about . . . Black Cat?"
Nightwing smiled. "Welcome to the team, Black Cat."
Jason sat on the hotel roof reading his book under a red light lamp. It was four in the morning and Ladybug had still not come. But he was warm enough zipped up in his leather jacket, and he had a thermos of coffee beside him.
He looked up when he heard soft steps and found Viperion and Ladybug standing before him.
"I'm sorry to make you wait, Monsieur Todd," said Ladybug. "I hope you were not up here long. You could have waited inside."
Jason stood, brushing himself off. "It's fine. I had a book."
"What was it that you were wanting to discuss?"
"Hawkmoth. I want to help take him down."
"That's very kind," said Ladybug, "And I appreciate all the help you've provided so far, but I don't want to put you into unnecessary danger."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Did you volunteer to be Ladybug, or was it forced upon you?"
Ladybug took a step back. "I, I, um--"
"It doesn't really matter, because you were, and are, just a kid," said Jason. "And I'm volunteering for this fight."
She took another step back. "You can't be Ladybug!"
"I don't want to be. Look, I get it. I've been fighting since I was knee-high. It's a hard life. I was eleven before I had a mentor. Someone to look after me and have my back in a fight. Do you have someone like that?"
"She has me. She has our team," said Viperion as he wondered if Jason's childhood was the source of his dark and dissonant harmony.
Jason waved him aside. "Do you have someone who can teach you to fight? How to put up surveillance? How to track someone down? How to patch yourself up? How to plant bugs? Set-up safe houses? I can't teach you about your Miraculous stuff, but do you have someone for that?"
Ladybug stuck her chin up. "I appreciate the offer but I must decline.
"You've been at this for three years, kid. How much closer are you to getting Hawkmoth than you were when you started?"
Ladybug frowned. "I don't know you, monsieur, which means I can't trust you or your word."
"Good. You don't know me from fucking Adam. Hell, I could be one of Hawkmoth's goons for all you know. But I'm not!" he added quickly, when he saw Ladybug reach for her yo-yo.
"You're not being very convincing," said Viperion, smirking.
Jason scowled. "Shut it, lizard boy. Look, I've already mapped out where high levels of akuma activity are," he said before unzipping a gym bag. He pulled out a laptop and started it. On the screen was a map covered in red dots and circles. "I'm sure there have been undocumented attacks, but based on what I could find, he should be within this area. I've set up cameras to capture any akumas that might fly by. So far it's just been a lot of fucking pigeons, but in theory, I can make my search area smaller by comparing the time and location between the camera and akumatization."
"I've already searched these areas though," said Ladybug, pointing to the screen.
"You didn't have me looking though," said Jason. "But before I get started, I wanted to know if I was missing anything that could reduce my search area."
Ladybug looked up at Viperion, then back at Jason before saying, "Akumas can fly through solid objects."
"Fuck, really?" He frowned before adding a note. "After you purify them, why do you let the akuma go?"
"Because it's just a butterfly then. Hawkmoth corrupts butterflies into akumas."
"So looking for someone with a butterfly sanctuary, got it," he said, adding another note. "Anything else?"
Ladybug bit her lip before asking, "You were the one who whistled today, yes?"
Jason looked up at her and nodded.
"Why? You were well hidden. Why risk giving away your position?"
He looked between Ladybug and Viperion before sighing. "I saw that you had something of mine."
"What?" she asked surprised.
He reached back into his bag and pulled out his mask and held it out to her. She took it and studied it, flipping it every which way around.
"I'm no hero. People call me a criminal, a vigilante, but I try to take down the real bastards. I know what it's like needing to hide your identity."
"Why aren't you behind the mask now?" asked Viperion, studying him.
"I didn't have time to pull it on the first time. But then I had already built a rapport with you. Plus I didn't want to scare you guys off. Your masks are cute but hide nothing. I didn't think I could get you guys to trust me in mine."
Viperion hummed in response.
After some time, Ladybug said, "My Lucky Charm provides me with something that will help in the fight. Sometimes, it provides me with a charm that I know means I needed to get backup." Ladybug looked up at Jason and held out his mask. "I couldn't figure out my lucky charm because it was meant for you to see, and now for me to know that I can trust you."
"No background check?"
Ladybug smiled and shook her head. "Nope!"
"Well from now on you are going to check every person before you bring them into your team, got it? I will teach you. You can either do it legitimately, which costs money, or illegitimately, which takes time and you need to cover your tracks."
"I can't right now. Can we meet up again tomorrow? Or, I suppose later today?"
"Can we meet outside of Paris?" Jason brought up a map and pointed.
"Yes, that should be fine." Ladybug started calculating how many sugar cubes and time she would need to recharge Kaalki to get from Gotham to Paris, then Paris to outside of Paris and then a return trip--
"I have a motorbike," said Viperion. "I can bring Ryuko if she's available."
"I'm not sure if it's wise to be in hero form while heading out of Paris."
"I wasn't planning to be."
Ladybug looked up at him with wide eyes. "Viperion . . . do you know who Ryuko is?"
She exploded into a flurry of hand gestures and questions and reasons why it was such a bad idea.
"Whoa, Ladybug. I'm sorry, but it was an accident."
"I found her out during a Second Chance."
"Oh . . . Have, um," Ladybug took a deep breath in before asking, "Do you know who I am?" She watched his eyes for his reaction.
Viperion shook his head. "I believe luck has been on your side."
She nodded, placing a hand on her chest to calm herself.
"Do you know who he is?" asked Jason.
"She does," said Viperion. "She is the one who chose me."
"So who is the one who chose you, Ladybug? Do they know who you are?"
"He had to leave," she said sadly. "Hawkmoth discovered his identity."
Jason balled up his fist wanting to punch something, badly. "So, let me get this straight. This asshole picked a literal child to fight, gets found out, and instead of doing something about it, ran away, leaving a group of children to fight Hawkmoth."
Viperion objected, "I'm not a child, I'm--"
"Shut it, lizard boy. And you have been picking other children to fight with you. Yeah?"
Ladybug blanched at his fury. "I, I was picking people I could trust."
"No, sweetie, no, I'm not angry at you." Jason closed his eyes to calm himself. "This man, was he a relative? Why did he pick you? What about Chat Noir, did he also choose him or was that you?"
Ladybug turned to Viperion. "I will pick you up at . . ." she took a moment to do some mental math to account for time zones. "One. Will that give you enough time to sleep?"
"I believe so."
"Hey, we need to talk about this--"
"Can I meet you and Ryuko in your room then?"
Viperion nodded. Turning back to Jason, she said, "We'll see you a little after one then."
"It takes a good hour to get there though," said Jason.
Ladybug smiled knowingly. "We'll see you then. Bug out!" she threw out her yo-yo and zipped off.
"We're not through with our conversation!" yelled Jason after her. He sighed and turned to Viperion, who smiled at him. "What do you find so funny, punk? Do you know who picked her?"
Viperion shrugged his shoulders before stifling a yawn. "I suppose I should try to catch some shut eye. I'll see you later."
Jason growled to himself as he packed up. He will find out who handed out Miraculouses to children like candy, and when he does, he'll have some explaining to do. They didn't need working knee caps to talk, did they? Or fingernails?
Chat Noir was floating on cloud nine. He was going to work with Nightwing! He was part of Batman's team! He dropped down onto his balcony and went into his room, shutting the blinds.
"WHAT THE FUCK?!" screeched a voice from the darkness.
Adrien screamed as a lamp light came on, revealing Chloe standing angrily in front of the lounge chair.
"Chloe?!" Adrien yelled, his voice breaking.
"Adrien Athanase Agreste! You're Chat Noir?!"
Adrien ran up to Chloe and shushed her. "Someone could hear you!"
She punched him in the stomach, causing him to double over. "I can't believe you! You were Chat Noir this entire time?!" She wrapped her arms around him as he was bent over, sobbing into his shoulder and hitting his back with her fist.
"Chloe," he moaned in pain, "my kidneys."
She jumped back and stood with her arms covering her face, crying loudly.
"Chloe?" he asked as he stood, rubbing his stomach.
Between her sobs, he could make out, "You're my best friend, and you've died so many times."
Adrien pulled her arms down and hugged her, rubbing her back. "Hey, it's okay. I'm okay. Everything is okay."
"It's not okay. It's not okay," she cried into his shoulder. "This isn't fair."
"What isn't fair?"
"Your life. You have so much to deal with on top of fighting fucking Hawkmoth! It just isn't fair to you."
"You're not angry that I didn't tell you?"
Chloe snottily snuffled, "Of course I am. But I've been akumatized so many times that if you had told me, Hawkmoth would have stolen your Miraculous." She wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed. "I'm a horrible friend. You couldn't trust me with your secret because I'm so terrible, so utterly terrible. I'm so sorry."
Adrien squeezed her tightly. "You're not a horrible friend."
"I've hurt you so many times when I was akumatized. I could have killed you."
"Hey, I'm a cat, remember? We have nine lives."
Chloe kicked him in the shin. "I should have known it was you. You always loved those stupid joke books when we were younger."
"Now I purrefer puns."
She laughed between her tearful hiccups. "I hate you."
"You love me."
Adrien rubbed his face against Chloe's, pretending to be a cat, as he sang, "You love me."
She put her hand to his face and pushed him away. "You're too prickly."
"Say that you love me and I'll stop," he said as he rubbed his face against her hand.
"Fine. I love you. Happy?"
"I love you too."
"Okay, enough with the gross affection. I want my cheese!" said Plagg, flying in.
Adrien groaned in annoyance. "Just phase through the fridge, Plagg."
Chloe wiped her eyes, still hiccupping. "Is this your kwami?"
"His kwami?" said Plagg, offended. "I'm my own kwami. Plagg is my name."
Chloe held out a finger. "It's nice to meet you."
"Yeah, yeah, pleasantries, now feed me cheese!"
Adrien groaned as he stomped over to the minifridge and tossed Plagg a small chunk of cheese.
"Oh my kwami, is that what that smell is?" asked Chloe, pinching her nose.
"The delicious fragrant smell of camembert," said Plagg, taking in a big whiff of the cheese and sighing contently. "Such an appetizing odor for such a mouth-watering delight!" With that, he popped the cheese into the air and caught it in his mouth, his jaw unhinged in order for it to fit.
She cringed, slightly disturbed. Then she asked, "Do you know Pollen?"
"Of course," he said, burping loudly.
"How, how is she?"
"Probably living it up in some pocket dimension with the other kwamis."
Chloe nodded. "I'm glad she's doing alright. I miss her," she sighed before suddenly turning to Adrien. "Do you know who Ladybug is?"
He rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head.
"Ah, I suppose it's probably for the best, in case one of you gets akumatized," she said.
"So what were you doing in Adrien's room, Nosy?" asked Plagg, accusingly.
She scoffed. "I went shopping with the Wayne girls this afternoon, and I had finally put all my clothes away. Sabrina was probably asleep, so I wanted to tell Adrikins all about it, but he wasn't answering his door or his phone. So I came in through the balcony and--"
"What?! Chloe, that's really dangerous!" said Adrien, shocked.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "You're one to talk. But anyway, I saw that the door was deadbolted, and there was no signs of struggle. So I figured you had snuck out for whatever reason and that I was going to be super cool and sit in the chair and turn on the light like in the movies whenever you snuck back in. I certainly didn't expect to see you transform."
Adrien made jazz hands and weakly said, "Surprise. You can't tell anyone though."
She scoffed. "Who do you think I am? Cesaire? No, I know well enough to keep my mouth shut."
"Says the girl who broadcast that she was Queen Bee," cackled Plagg.
She glared at him. "I get that I messed up big time. I know better now."
"Sure you do, Nosy," he said before phasing into the minifridge.
"Ignore him," said Adrien, coming up and wrapping an arm around her shoulder. "He's just cranky cause we got caught again."
"What do you mean again?
"Well, Ladybug didn't want me to be seen outside of Paris, right?" started Adrien.
That night, Adrien and Chloe stayed up and talked. It wasn't like they used to, where Chloe would talk all night and Adrien wouldn't be able to get a word in edgewise. This was something new. They shared, they cried, and laughed. It was like they had been reunited with a friend they hadn't seen in years.
Robin was fuming. Not only had Batman recruited a new member without consulting the team, but he was at a dead end as to where Marinette had disappeared to. He had broken into the school and gotten into the ceiling above the women's restroom, but there was nothing but dust and spiderwebs that had been undisturbed most likely since the school had last been renovated. The floors were solid, and there were no false walls or secrets to be discovered. The most aggravating thing was that he went over every inch of the restroom with another tracking bug, and there were absolutely no dead zones. So where the hell did Marinette go?
The early morning sun dimly shone through the dense Gotham fog. Marinette was already up, blearily packing her backpack with her wallet, notebooks, her sketchbook and pencil, her tablet, a cheap usb, a change of clothes, some makeup, emergency domino masks, pepper spray, and a power pack for her phone. Speaking of which, she quickly shot off a text to the newly renamed "Parisian Pals" group chat that she left to go to Civic City. She knew it was early enough on a Saturday that no one would be awake to read it until after she was gone. Alya was going to be upset that she didn't invite her to come along, but she'd make it up to her somehow.
"Tikki, Kaalki, are you ready?" she asked tiredly, trying to act more awake than she was.
"I would rather if we went to the Wayne Manor once more," sighed Kaalki brokenheartedly. "I heard it was marvelous."
"I'm sorry, Kaalki. We actually received an invitation to attend a party there on Monday to celebrate America's Labor Day. I'll make sure you're active then."
"Oh thank you, sweet Guardian, thank you!" she said, flying around Marinette and nuzzling into her hair.
"You deserve the break, especially after today. Did you pack enough sugar cubes?"
"And apples and carrots! One mustn't spoil oneself lest one becomes undignified."
Marinette smiled. "How about you, Tikki? Did you pack yourself treats?"
Tikki held up her bag of extra sweet macarons. "I'm all set, Marinette!"
She opened up her backpack, and the two kwamis placed their bags of treats into it. She double-checked that she had everything she needed before zipping up her bag and putting it over her shoulder.
"Okay. Tikki, spots on!"
Pink light filled her room as she transformed into Ladybug, her backpack disappearing.
"Kaalki, full gallop!" Electric green-blue light filled the room as Ladybug transformed, her pigtails into a long black ponytail, her domino mask into large black visor, and her suit turned to black with accents of dark red with black spots. She wore gloves and knee-high leather boots that were well-fitted. On her hip was a lasso.
"Voyage!" She lassoed together her destination and current location through space and opened a portal. She looked through and found Luka and Kagami sitting on his bed, Luka playing on his guitar. She jumped through and closed the portal.
"Dismount!" Electric green-blue light filled Luka's room as Ladybug stood in place. "Hello, Luka, Kagami, Sass, Longg," she said as she opened her yo-yo and allowed Kaalki to fly in and retrieve an apple.
"Ladybug!" said Kagami, getting to her feet. Longg on her shoulder, bowed respectfully.
"Greetings, Ladybug," hissed Sass.
She smiled to everyone, then air-kissed Kagami's cheeks. "How are you?"
"Busy. My mother is already having me train for the next Olympics."
"Are you able to get away easily enough to fight akumas?"
"Yes. Mother has been less restrictive since I've brought home a gold medal. But today, I actually can't come with you. I am required to escort my mother to an event."
"Why are you here then?"
Kagami looked sad as she said, "I needed to apologize that I had not told you that Luka and I were aware of each other's identities." Kagami bent low in a formal bow. "If you wish for me to return my Miraculous, then so be it."
Ladybug shook her head and gently placed a hand on Kagami's shoulder. "No, I thought about it, and while it's not ideal, I'm glad that it ended up this way. I hope you will be able to rely on each other to overcome the hardships of balancing being a hero and a civilian."
"Very wise, Ladybug," said Sass.
"Just please don't share your identities with more people."
Luka had put away his guitar by this point and stood beside Kagami. "Thank you, Ladybug, for understanding."
"We will be diligent in keeping our identities secret."
Longg flew before Ladybug and said, "I am glad to not have to part with Kagami so soon. She is one of the more spirited wielders that I have had the pleasure of being held by."
Kagami blushed. "I'm glad to not have to part with you as well, Longg."
Ladybug looked to Kaalki and asked, "Are you ready to go?"
She nodded, shaking out her mane and tail. "At your mark, my Lady."
She turned away from Kagami and Luka as she whispered the words to her transformation. When she turned back, standing in Luka's place was Viperion.
"I hope Jason proves useful in discovering Hawkmoth's whereabouts," said Kagami.
"We'll see. We'll update you when we return. Voyage!"
Jason sat on the ramp of the jet, cleaning his guns, when a portal opened a ways away in the field. Out jumped Viperion followed by a chick in black. Jason reassembled the pistol in his hand with precise memorized motions before standing. He watched as the portal disappeared and the chick became surrounded by light, revealing herself to be Ladybug. He holstered his gun in slight relief and he waved at the heroes. As they jogged across the green field, he put away the firearms with the rest of his arsenal.
"Good afternoon, Monsieur Jason," said Ladybug, as she and Viperion came to a stop and took in their surroundings.
"Afternoon. I didn't realize you could teleport. Are you using two Miraculouses?"
Ladybug nodded. "It's not public knowledge. And it's not ideal. There's a chance I could be overwhelmed and 'lose my mind', heh."
When Jason and Viperion looked at her with horror, she quickly said, "Sorry, I guess I shouldn't joke about that. But don't worry, I've worn more before and I was fine."
"How many Miraculouses are there?" asked Jason, his brow furrowed.
Ladybug ignored him as she asked, "So how has no one noticed an advanced aircraft sitting in the middle of the countryside? There is a road just over there."
"Here, just one sec," said Jason. He ran up the ramp and touched a large screen on the wall. The outside of the jet seemed to shimmer before it disappeared. "Martian cloaking tech. Pretty cool, right?"
Viperion's eyes went wide. "Are you a Martian?"
"No, I just know a guy. Come in so I can close up the bird." The heroes followed him into the jet, looking around curiously at the advanced technology within. Jason walked over to a box and opened it, offering the contents to them. "I stopped by a bakery while in Paris and picked up some stuff. Wasn't sure if you guys had eaten yet."
"Oh, that's my pa--my favorite patisserie," said Ladybug, catching herself before she could say that it was her parents' shop. She smiled as she got herself a filled croissant, happy to taste something from home. Perhaps she should stop by as Ladybug to see how her parents were doing, even though she video-chatted with her parents daily.
"They make the best croissants," said Viperion, grabbing one.
"Have you tried their croquettes?" she asked, and before she knew it, she ended up going through everything on their menu. Jason and Viperion looked at her curiously. "What?"
"You have their menu memorized?" asked Jason.
"What? I love their food," she said in her defense.
Jason thought she must live nearby to frequent the patisserie often enough to have the menu memorized. He wondered if perhaps she was a student at Françoise Dupont, maybe even friends with Sabine's daughter. "Well, boys and girls, shall we get started?" Jason activated the strange table near the front of the plane.
"Oooo hologram projector," said Ladybug, her eyes lighting up.
"First, I need to know every fight, every encounter with Hawkmoth and his akumas, their powers, the victims, location and time, if possible."
"I thought you might," said Ladybug. She opened her yo-yo and brought out a bundle of small notebooks held together with a rubber band. The top one was white with soft pastel pink polka dots on the cover.
Jason grimaced and took it. He took one out and thumbed through, finding it was actually full of thorough documentation. "I'll make a copy of these and get it back to you next time."
"Sounds good. Also, you'll read it, but I do have a suspicion of who Hawkmoth is."
Viperion hissed aggressively but said nothing.
"The fashion designer? How did you draw that conclusion?" asked Jason.
"Monsieur Agreste has a book of the Miraculous, which went missing at the same time as the Butterfly and Peacock Miraculouses about 172 years ago. He claims that it's a family heirloom and that he uses it for inspiration."
"Why did you not follow up on this lead?"
"At the time, I believed that Miraculous wielders could not be akumatized. Monsieur Agreste was akumatized as the Collector when his son brought the book to school and misplaced it. But ever since Queen Bee was akumatized, he is the only lead I have."
"Why didn't you just keep the book since it was already thought to be misplaced?"
"I made a digital copy of it. I didn't want to get his son into more trouble than he already was."
"What about the son?" asked Jason. "Perhaps he's Hawkmoth--"
"No!" yelled Ladybug and Viperion simultaneously.
Jason cocked an eyebrow up. "You're potentially letting your personal biases blind--"
"Adrien is in America," interrupted Viperion. "There have been akuma attacks in the time since he left Paris."
"And akumas cannot travel that far," said Ladybug.
"Do you know that for a fact? What if he can teleport them? They already phase through solid objects, as you said last night. They don't have to follow physics as we know it."
Ladybug frowned. "Fine. I believe they cannot travel that far based on that akuma attacks occur within a limited area."
"Maybe. Or he could be trying to flush you and the cat out. Did you become Ladybug before or after Hawkmoth's first attack?"
"After. Same with Chat Noir."
Jason dragged his hands over his face in frustration. Ladybug and Chat Noir had arrived on the scene not that long after the first attack. "And did you have any training at all? Martial arts? Kickboxing?"
Jason put his hands on Ladybug's upper arms, rubbing them comfortingly. "Okay, sweetheart, I need you to tell me who gave you your Miraculous."
"No," she said, easily pulling his hands off of her.
Jason balled his hands into fists as he dropped them to his side. "I just want to talk to them, that's all. Just ask him what the hell he was thinking." He pinched the bridge of his nose.
"He didn't have a choice."
"Didn't have a choice between choosing a kid with no experience or choosing an adult? Yeah, no, he had a choice. Did he at least train you afterward?"
"The Miraculous provides us the muscle memory of the previous wielders. I've picked up some things along the way. I've learned some martial arts since I've started as well."
"This explains so much . . ." muttered Viperion to himself.
"You didn't know how to fight either?" groaned Jason.
Viperion shook his head.
Jason grumbled as he wrote a note to himself.
Ladybug leaned over. "A crash mat?"
"I'm putting together a list of supplies. I'm getting the deed to an old hangar later today."
"You bought a hangar?" asked a bewildered Viperion.
"Yeah. You guys need a base of operations. Some place to meet that's private that isn't someone's goddamn bedroom. And definitely not in Paris." Bruce was more than willing to shell out a few million for the hangar and the surrounding airfield, despite it dating back to World War I. The size would give them plenty of privacy, and it was well outside of Paris so no akumas were likely to come across it.
"A base?" asked Ladybug. "You're getting us a base?"
"Yeah. Plus I need somewhere to park this bastard," he said, knocking on the roof.
"I, I don't know how to repay you," said Ladybug.
"If your government didn't have their heads stuck up their asses, you would've had all the resources you needed. Instead th--" Jason's rant got interrupted as he found he couldn't breathe, with Ladybug crushing him with a hug.
"Thank you, thank you!" cried Ladybug.
Viperion came up and placed a hand on Ladybug's shoulder. "You should let him breathe."
"Sorry!" she yelled, jumping back. "Sorry," she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. "I, just, I . . ."
"You're getting the help you need. And you," said Jason, looking at Viperion, "You are going to train to be the backup Ladybug needs. If you can't put in the time, you should hand back your Miraculous to her now. We are going to take down Hawkmoth, so no more pussyfooting around."
Viperion nodded. "I will do this full time if you need me to."
Jason and Viperion looked at Ladybug, surprised at her outburst.
"You can't quit Ki--, your passion! You have people relying on you!"
"People have the right to feel the entire range of their emotions, Ladybug. Paris has suffered long enough."
"Lu--Viperion. You won't need to be a hero your entire life. Once Hawkmoth has been defeated, you should have something you can return to."
"Fine. But I'm quitting my day gigs. If training will help, I am going to train."
Ladybug frowned. "But being a hero doesn't pay, and you were trying to save up."
"I can help with that," interjected Jason. "I am able to provide a stipend."
Viperion stared at him. "Where are you getting the funding for this?"
"I have a guy."
"I trust you," said Ladybug. "But if you are getting these funds through illegal means, I'm afraid we cannot accept."
Jason took a moment before saying, "I'm a trust fund baby." He was partially telling the truth. Bruce had put trust funds together for all of his wards, adopted or not. But he still hadn't touched his. No, this was a 100% funded venture by one Bruce Wayne, through some offshore anonymous accounts, but all perfectly legal and appropriately taxed. But explaining that would be an unwanted complication.
"What," said Viperion. While he tried to appear cool, inside he was flipping his lid, thinking of all the places he brought Jason to, and died a little inside.
"What? Other rich assholes can buy yachts and private islands for child prostitution rings, but I can't fund taking down a terrorist?"
Ladybug closed her gaping mouth. "You won't be getting anything out of this though. Unless you're planning on writing a book after all this is over with. And I suppose you will be given hero status."
"Look, I'm here cause I found out that a couple of kids were fighting a fucking terrorist who was turning babies into goddamn monsters while their politicians were trying to cover the entire fucking thing up instead of doing something about it."
Ladybug nodded despondently. "I hate when Hawkmoth akumatizes children. We've fought so many who were akumatized because they had a nightmare."
Viperion heard Jason's dark song crescendo as he paced around the plane with his fists clenched. Without warning, Jason punched the closed ramp several times while screaming, "What the FUCK?!", leaving bloody knuckle prints.
When Jason turned back, Ladybug and Viperion were staring at him, shocked.
"Sorry," he said, hiding his bloodied knuckles behind him. "It just pisses me the fuck off. And the Justice League fucking decided to do nothing for some shit reason like balance and--"
"Wait, what about the balance?" interrupted Ladybug.
"Some stupid shit about leaving Miraculous wielders to deal with shit themselves. It was just a fucking excuse to not get involved."
"But we're trying to restore the balance! The Miraculouses were supposed to be used for good, and Hawkmoth is corrupting his doing evil. The Butterfly Miraculous is supposed to raise people up and enhance their feelings to turn them into super heroes. Those who needed to save their people would receive the powers to do so."
"Like a blessing from the gods," said Jason, thinking of various mythologies of champions, heroes, or chosen ones.
"The Justice League hadn't responded to any of our calls for help. Not even to say that they refuse," said Viperion warily. "So why do you know this?"
"I know a guy. Hey Spots, you doing okay?"
Ladybug was staring off into space.
She shook her head. "Sorry. I just, I had made plans to go to the Justice League's headquarters today to ask for help again. I thought maybe they thought the attacks on Paris were made up or a prank since I learned they hadn't made international news." She looked up at Jason, unaware that tears were falling over her mask and down her face. "I, I guess I always held out hope that they would help. But I guess it was all on, on me."
Viperion bent down to look Ladybug in the eyes. "It's going to be okay, Ladybug. Breathe with me."
Ladybug tried to smile bravely, but then her face crumpled and she sobbed into her hands. Viperion gently led her to a seat, where he sat and held her in his lap, letting her cry her eyes out.
Viperion's face morphed through several emotions as he came to the realization of how much pressure was on Ladybug, the responsibilities she must carry to be the only one who can fix everything. He hugged her tighter. He hadn't realized that he had thought of Ladybug as this untouchable force for good. He held her in such high esteem that despite having spent time with her, he forgot that she was still only human, with hopes and dreams put on hold to do her duties as Ladybug. How old was she even? She was so small. Was she older than him? Younger? Was she Juleka's age? He tried to imagine Juleka three years ago, and then imagined her with the weight of the universe on her shoulders.
Eventually, Ladybug's sobs turned to whimpers, then whimpers to sniffles. Viperion looked up and saw Jason with two mugs of hot cocoa, his knuckles wrapped up in gauze. He rubbed Ladybug's back to get her to look up. Jason stuck a mug in front of her face, and Ladybug took it, looking small as she curled up around the heat. When Viperion took the other mug, Jason waggled a flask in front of him, but he shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Monsieur Jason," Ladybug finally said, quietly.
"Don't worry about it, sweetie. You have a lot to deal with, and you're just a kid. You should be worried about college applications and prom dresses or some shit."
Ladybug chuckled as she wiped an eye. "We don't have proms. At least not at my school."
"Shit, well you know what I mean."
"Yeah." Ladybug jumped out of Viperion's lap and set her empty mug down. "I'm going to head out. Viperion, do you want to be dropped back off at your place?"
Viperion nodded before finishing his cocoa and standing.
"Wait, before you go, do you have secure lines of communication?" asked Jason.
Ladybug opened up her yo-yo revealing a smartphone-like interface. Luka's bracelet lit up and a hologram screen appeared over it.
"Great. Here's my number. I'm a light sleeper, so call or text any time and I'll pick up. And here's the address to the hangar. Don't show up yet though. I have contractors coming in. The jet will be here though, if you need somewhere to go." He went through and showed them how to get in if he wasn't there.
"Chin up kid, we'll get this son of a bitch," he said to Ladybug.
She rushed him and picked him up in a hug and spun him around. "I'm so happy that you're here. Thank you, so much."
When she put him down, he ruffled her hair. She slapped away his hand with a giggle and then turned away from him, seeming to hide something in her hands. Then she was surrounded with bright light. When Jason blinked away his sudden blindness, Ladybug was replaced with a seemingly different girl. As he looked at her though, he found he was able to pick out Ladybug under the disguise.
Ladybug took off her lasso and gave it a few spins before tossing it out into the air, where it seemed to catch on something. She yanked back and a portal came into existence. Jason peeked through it and saw a Jagged Stone poster on a wall. Ladybug jumped through first. Viperion smiled softly at Jason, saying thanks, and then jumped through after her, the portal closing behind him.
While Ladybug and Luka fed Kaalki and Sass, he asked, "Are you going to be okay, Ladybug?"
She smiled through her grimace. "I will be. You take care, Luka. Don't you dare quit Kitty Section."
"I didn't realize you were such a fan."
"After Jagged Stone, Kitty Section is my favorite band."
Luka smiled, but let it fall as he said, "I'm going to train hard, Ladybug. You can count on me."
"Thank you. I knew I could. Bring Kagami up to date for me?"
Luka nodded. With that, Ladybug transformed and left through a portal.
Back at the jet, Jason was busy pulling up everything on Gabriel Agreste. He had a large mansion within the akuma-affected area. Location. His wife had gone missing and was declared dead. Motive. The combined wealth of his brand and his wife's acting career and inheritance provided means. He'd have to look into his financial record to see if there was a purchase history of butterfly eggs. If not, any secret accounts he could have made them under.
Mentally, he made a list of other things he needed to do, such as placing cameras and having Barbara bug Gabriel's phone and hack into any webcams and security cameras. He could do it, but he needed time to make copies of Ladybug's akuma attack logs and plot them, as well as deal with setting up the base.
He leaned back in his chair and his eyes settled on one of his gun cases, specifically the case that held his custom sniper rifle. It could be disassembled into two handguns and reassembled into a sniper rifle. It was bulky and dangerous to shoot, but he wondered if he should start carrying it around. If he had the chance, he was going to put Hawkmoth down, permanently, Batman be damned.
(2:57PM) Luka: ʃ(ｰ̀εｰ́ƪ) what if you said you were training under a private instructor?
(2:57PM) Kagami: My mother would want to test the instructor herself. And I doubt Jason is a world class fencer.
(2:58PM) Luka: maybe he is
(2:58PM) Luka: he's loaded with cash, guns, and martian tech
(2:58PM) Luka: for all i know, he could be
(2:59PM) Luka: (┛ ꒪Д꒪)┛彡┻━┻
(3:15PM) Kagami: My apologies, my mother insisted that I at least pretend to be enjoying myself. Are you throwing a table in frustration or anger?
(3:15PM) Luka: both?
(3:15PM) Luka: idk `(๑ △ ๑)`*
(3:15PM) Luka: it's just . . .
(3:17PM) Luka: ヽ(｀Д´)ノ (д´ノ) ヽ( )ノ (ヽ´△) ヽ(´△`)ﾉ
(3:18PM) Kagami: Overwhelming?
(3:18PM) Luka: yeah
(3:19PM) Kagami: Are you still going to pursue him?
(3:19PM) Luka: i honestly don't know
(3:19PM) Kagami: You can take time to process your feelings.
(3:20PM) Luka: i know
(3:22PM) Luka: hey
(3:22PM) Luka: i'm going to go
(3:22PM) Luka: i need to get ready for rehearsal
(3:22PM) Luka: apparently kitty section is one of Ladybug's favorite bands
(3:22PM) Luka: ☆*~ﾟ( ✖ ਊ ✖)ﾟ~*☆
(3:22PM) Luka: later xo
(8:24AM) Alya: Plan is back on! I repeat! Plan is back on! Marinette missed her bus to Civic City and didn't want to wait four hours for the next one.
(8:25AM) Steph: woo!
(8:25AM) Alya: So see you guys at 10?
(8:26AM) Steph: yup!
(8:28AM) Chloe: of course she missed her bus
(8:28AM) Chloe: she is literally always late
(8:28AM) Chloe: utterly ridiculous
(8:29AM) Nino: can confirm
(8:29AM) Nino: dudette is always late
(8:29AM) Alya: Hey, she's learning. She hasn't been late to class this entire week!
(8:30AM) Chloe: only because you and lahiffe have been dragging her out of bed
(8:30AM) Alya: OMG I forgot to send this picture!
(8:30AM) Alya: [Picture delivered]
(8:31AM) Steph: this can't be real
(8:31AM) Steph: this is clearly photoshopped
(8:31AM) Tim: fake news. Damian would never intentionally show physical affection, much less braid someone's hair.
(8:32AM) Barb: Aww, that's so sweet.
(8:32AM) Dick: We need to save all these pictures and play them in a slideshow at their wedding.
(8:32AM) Alya: Waaaay ahead of you.
(8:33AM) Chloe: I bet she'd be late to her own wedding
(8:33AM) Nino: shouldn't we get her to her date first
(8:33AM) Alya: Hey, she has me. I'll make sure she's on time for both!
Damian laid in bed while staring up at the ceiling, thoughts of where Marinette could have gone ran through his head. When he got up and dressed, he thought of Marinette's eyes brimming with tears. When he walked down to the kitchen and got himself a plate of breakfast that Alfred had kept warm for him, he thought of Marinette blushing at him. When he sat at the dining table and ate, he thought of Marinette curled up somewhere, hiding. He imagined finding her and walking up to her, only for her to sweep his legs out from under him and pin him to the ground until she realized it was him. She would let him go and bury her face against his chest. He would stroke her hair while he held her, tell her she was safe. He would go to Paris and bring her Hawkmoth's Miraculous. She would call him her hero and stand on her tippy toes, parting her soft pink lips and--
"Good morning, baby birdy," said Stephanie, grabbing a chair and sitting in it, leaning back on two legs.
"Whoa, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed," she said before snacking on some grapes.
Tim came up behind Steph and planted a kiss on the top of her head before pulling out the chair beside her. "Is there a right side? If so, I haven't found it in years," he said before taking a long swig from his thermos.
"Hey, we were planning on giving some of the exchange students a walking tour of Gotham. You want to come with?" she asked.
Damian tsked as he stood with his empty plate. "I have better things to do."
"Marinette will be there," she teased. She wanted to burst out laughing when Damian spun around and demanded to be brought with them, but she couldn't do it. As much of a brat as Damian was, it was kind of cute to see him act like a normal kid with a crush. A little more intense than a normal kid, but close enough.
Tim somehow kept a straight face as he said, "I thought you had better things to do."
"They can be postponed," immediately countered Damian. "When are we leaving? Where are we going?"
Tim grinned widely behind his thermos as Steph provided him with the details.
"Adrien!" yelled Alya as she dashed down the hallway at him.
He took a step back, unsure if he did something wrong, but Alya was grinning widely as she stopped in front of him. "Do you want to go on a tour of Gotham?"
"You don't want to go on that tour, Adrikins," said Chloe, walking up.
"Why not?" he asked, confused.
Chloe rolled her eyes. "It's a ridiculous plan to get Dupain-Cheng and Wayne together."
"Those two are brimming with chemistry," said Alya. "They were practically all over each other at the manor."
"Marinette was?" asked Adrien, blushing at the thought.
"We're trying to get them alone together again."
"What if you invited both of them for lunch, and then after you were supposed to be there, say you couldn't make it?" suggested Adrien. "And then they would end up having a private lunch date."
Alya's eyes grew wide. "You are a genius, Agreste! We can use that for next time. Do you want in on the group chat?" she said as she pulled out her phone.
"There's a group chat?"
"Added! So you're in on the tour?"
"Adrien is with me today," claimed Chloe, wrapping her arm around his.
"How about both of you come on the tour! Then Chloe, you and Adrien can leave whenever, and maybe that'd inspire Marinette and Damian to go off on their own too!"
Adrien looked at Chloe with kitty-cat eyes. He had heard about the shenanigans their friends would get into while matchmaking. He wanted in.
"Ugh. I hate you," said Chloe, hanging her head back in annoyance. "Fine. This is stupid. Utterly stupid."
"You love me," he said, holding her arm tightly and using it to swing her around.
Alya cocked one eyebrow up, ideas forming in her head, but they would have to be put on the back burner for now.
Alya walked up to Stephanie and gave her air kisses. "Hey girl, good to see you again."
"You too!" she looked past Alya and found all the Parisians grouped up behind her.
Nino was wearing his red cap, his headphones down around his neck. Chloe and Adrien wore matching large round sunglasses and brand name clothes, looking like they had stepped out of a fashion magazine. Marinette wore cute and comfy yet fashionable clothes, drinking out of an extra large flowery pink coffee mug that was as tall as her face.
"What's up, Miss Sleepyhead?" asked Steph.
Marinette blinked a few times before realizing who they were. "Steph? Oh, hi! I didn't realize you were giving the tour!"
"Yeah, me and Tim figured we could show you guys around Gotham!"
Just then, Tim and Damian walked into the hotel lobby, Damian passing the car keys to Tim.
"How'd he park?" asked Steph.
Damian tsked. "I parked just fine." He didn't understand why his father was making him keep track of his driving hours for his permit. He couldn't even put down the hours he drove on his motorcycle or the Batmobile. Plus, his father required him to have someone sign off on his supervised driving times. He even double-checked it to make sure he didn't forge the signatures! It was beyond useless. Something about a rite of passage. He had gone through actual rites of passage, ones that weeded out the weak and pathetic and left them to die. But no, writing down in a little book how many hours he drove with an "adult" was it. He had his pilot's license for fu--
His thoughts were interrupted when he realized that Marinette was acting unusually. He watched as she would smile at his siblings, then quickly glance at him, then away, her smile dropping ever so slightly. It felt like he had been sliced open and his inner organs had dropped out. Something was dreadfully wrong.
As they started walking, Damian paced himself to stand beside Marinette at the back. She looked tired. She used more makeup than he had seen her wear, but it didn't hide that her eyes were slightly puffy.
"What happened?" he asked her quietly, as to not draw the attention of the others.
Marinette looked around before realizing Damian was speaking to her. "Me? Oh, I got up early to go to Civic City, but I missed the bus," she said, repeating the lie she had told her friends.
"What business did you have there?"
"I was going to talk to someone from the Justice League, but . . ." she frowned into her thermos, holding it close.
"I realized that the Justice League hadn't responded to anyone I know who had asked for help. I was thinking maybe they didn't believe that our situation was happening. Maybe they thought it was some elaborate prank since there isn't any physical evidence of attacks. But the more I thought about it, I realized that they would have looked into it. Due diligence and all that. Which means that they decided to not help. So what was the point of going to just be turned away?"
Damian was quiet a moment as he realized that she most likely hadn't missed the bus as she said she did. "What about Batman?"
"What about him? He's in the Justice League."
"Yes, but he also does work outside the League. He was the one you were going to request help from."
"Yes . . . but I don't know how I would find him. I can't exactly run around on rooftops in Gotham and hope I somehow run into him."
Damian looked around before leaning and whispering into her ear, "I may have some contacts."
Marinette blushed at his sudden closeness. "You're saying you know a guy?"
He stood back up and nodded. He watched as she bit on her bottom lip as she thought.
He nodded, then looked down when he realized that Marinette was holding her phone out to him.
"You can text yourself so you have my number to pass on to your guy."
He swallowed as he texted himself with, "Sent from Marinette Dupain-Cheng's personal phone." Then he added himself to her contacts before handing it back.
Her eyes widened when she saw what he did and looked at him curiously.
"In case you wanted the class notes from yesterday. I . . ." Damian frowned before saying, "apologize for distracting you."
"Oh. Thank you. I appreciate it. Could I actually get copies of your notes from this entire week? I don't know if I managed to keep up with everything. There's much more technical language than I was expecting."
He nodded, feeling warm. When he tuned back in to Tim and Steph prattling on about Gotham, he realized they kept glancing back at him, as did Alya and Adrien. How annoying.
"Are you going out tonight?" asked Chloe, not looking up from her magazine as she laid on Adrien's bed.
"Yeah. I'm actually supposed to meet up with Nightwing soon," said Adrien, looking up from his homework. His face was suddenly struck with a dark cloth. He pulled it off and found it to be a soft leather black hood. "What's this for?"
"You said Chat Noir wasn't supposed to be outside of Paris. The hood will change the appearance of your silhouette. Plus it'll keep your civilian identity safe if you need to feed Plagg while you're out."
"This is so thoughtful, Chloe, but I need my ears free to--"
She rolled her eyes as she interrupted. "There are holes for your ears."
He put his hand into the hood and found two holes exactly where his ears would be. "Where did you even find this?"
Adrien walked over to Chloe and rubbed his forehead on the top of her head. "Thank you, Chloe."
"Tsk. You're going to mess up my hair. Now go have fun with your little vigilante friends. Don't get shot or I'll kill you."
Adrien grinned widely as Plagg looked content, just having inhaled a large chunk of camembert. "Plagg, claws out!"
He paced along the edge of the building Nightwing wanted to meet him on. He was early, but he was excited. While he had worked with the other Miraculous wielders, he hadn't worked with any other hero. He balanced on one foot atop a gargoyle before hopping over to another gargoyle.
Chat Noir's ears twitched as he heard the sound of feet landing on the building and the whirr of a motor winding cable.
"Careful there, Black Cat."
He grinned as he flipped backward onto the roof, facing Nightwing. "Good evening, Monsieur Nightwing."
Chat fingered his hood. "Yup! How does it look?" He posed, looking over his shoulder like a model.
He laughed. "Very fashionable. Here, I have some new things for you too." He brought out a small earpiece and a bracer. "It's a communicator. You can switch channels on the screen here, and they're labeled as you can see, as well as bring up the map. You can place markers privately or for the team to see."
Chat was practically vibrating as he hurriedly put on the bracer and earpiece. "Hello. This is Black Cat, over."
Nightwing smiled as he said, "You don't have to say over."
"Oh, heh," he said, while rubbing the back of his neck.
"Hello!" said a voice in his ear. "I'm Oracle. I run mission control. Sometimes Agent A will help, but usually it's just me."
"I'm Red Robin," said another voice.
"I'm Batgirl. You wouldn't happen to be Catwoman's protégé, are you?"
"Who's Catwoman?" asked Black Cat, confused.
"Goddammit," grumbled Batgirl.
"Ha! You owe me five bucks!" crowed Red Robin.
"I hope you choke on it."
"I'll choke on all this love you have for me."
"Yeah, choke on my kisses and die."
Black Cat chuckled as he saw Nightwing pinch the bridge of his nose and say, "We couldn't be professional for five minutes?"
"Two ongoing B&Es," interrupted Oracle. Black Cat followed Nightwing's example and looked at his bracer. On it, he saw six colored dots spread across a street map of the city, two beside each other representing him and Nightwing, and two red pins.
"Monsieur Night, we're pretty close to this one, yeah?" asked Black Cat.
Nightwing frowned. "Yes." He looked up and searched his glowing eyes. "You up for it?"
"Let's go!" said Black Cat, taking a running leap onto the building across the street without even using his baton.
Nightwing groaned as he realized he was going to be the slow one and felt old again, running off and shooting his grappling hook.
By the time Nightwing caught up to Black Cat, he was on the building opposite of the burglary.
"There are six people inside. A seventh and eighth in two separate cars in front. Oh, do you need me to point them out?"
"No, I can switch to night vision," said Nightwing. He made a mental note that Chat Noir had passive night vision capabilities. "Looks like they're all carrying."
"Firearms. Looks like a couple of AR-15s and 556s."
"Oh. Sorry, I have no clue about guns. I'm a simple cat."
"That's fine, we can go over them later. Okay, how about this, you take out the driver in the left car, I'll take the right. Then we'll surprise the rest with a flash bang. You clear the left, I'll clear the center and right. Oracle, you got eyes?"
"Not great. Can you deploy the Batdrone?"
"One Batdrone coming right up." Nightwing pulled out a palm-sized drone and started it up. After a few blinks, it went dark and quickly flew over to the window above the door of the jewelry store. It was silent to Nightwing, but he saw Chat's ears follow the drone.
"Eyes in place," said Oracle.
Nightwing looked over to Black Cat. "I was hoping patrol would be chill tonight. Do a little team bonding, get to know each other. Cat, if you don't want to be thrown to the deep end, we can back out right now."
"This cat lands on his feet every time, no purroblem!" smiled Black Cat as he held his two thumbs up.
"Alright, here we go then." Nightwing attached his grappling hook and repelled down as Black Cat leapt off, silently landing with help from his baton. He crawled to the side of the car, almost impossible to see in the dark street. Nightwing ran up to his car and held up three fingers. Then brought one down, then another, then they both sprung into action.
Nightwing opened the back door and jumped in. He wrapped his arms around the man's neck and pulled, putting pressure on his carotid until he passed out. He leaned forward and unbuckled the man's seatbelt before he got out to open the driver's side door, then pulled out the unconscious man and zip-tied him.
He looked over to Black Cat, but he was nowhere to be seen. He spun around and found him running with his man to across the street, depositing him by the street lamp and using a second pair of cuffs to lock him to it. He ran over faster than Nightwing realized and picked up his man and placed him over by the street light as well.
When he ran back, he whispered, "I didn't want them to get away while we went inside."
"Smart. Okay, follow me." Nightwing ran to the right side of the door, crouching low enough to be hidden by the window display. He undid one of his escrima sticks and took out a flash bang grenade. He unpinned it before barely opening the door and tossing it in.
After the bang, he opened the door and turned to the right, undoing his second escrima stick and taking down one, two men, kicking away their guns. The first one came back up with a semi-automatic .45. Nightwing ran up close before the man could take aim, grabbing his arm and slamming a stick across the man's hand, making him drop the pistol. He spun around, taking the man off his feet and released him into the second man, knocking them both down.
Before Nightwing could attack, a long baton whipped through the air across the two men. They yelled as they tried to push against the baton, but it didn't budge, effectively holding them down. Nightwing looked at the end of the baton and found Black Cat grinning widely. The smoke cleared enough to reveal the four others cuffed to each other.
By the time the police arrived, six grown men were neatly placed in a row in front of the shop, along with a pile of weapons that were snapped in half, even the handguns and pocket knives.
On a nearby rooftop, Batman rewatched the skirmish. Chat Noir, no, Black Cat, he was fast. He slowed the footage from the drone down and watched as Black Cat raced between the burglars, cuffing them and pulling them with him as he snapped the cuff to the next person, grabbing out another cuff to do it again until he had rounded up the four of them. Then he bounded over two glass counters at once and pulled out his baton to hold Nightwing's men down.
"He did well," said Oracle through his earpiece.
Batman grunted. "He's fast, but his movements aren't as clean as they could be."
"You're just nitpicking."
He remained silent. Red Hood had reported in with new information. He said that neither Ladybug nor Viperion had prior experience in fighting. The Miraculouses provided them with the knowledge and experience of the previous wielders. Ladybug started studying martial arts after receiving her Miraculous. As he watched the footage again, he slowed it down further, trying to see if was possible to discern magically-provided instinct from the boy-behind-the-mask's experience. If his Miraculous was ever taken from him, would he be able to fend for himself? Long enough for backup to arrive? To get his Miraculous back? To survive? He wondered if by improving the boy that the hero would improve, and if that was the case, why were children chosen in the first place?
Marinette pulled out the last tray of cookies and placed them on the cooling rack. "What do you think, Tikki? Peanut butter? Chocolate chip? Or the snickerdoodle?"
The little red kwami thought hard as she took a bite from all three cookies. After she swallowed her last bite, she closed her eyes and shook her head. "They're all so good, Marinette! I can't decide!"
Marinette picked up a peanut butter cookie and nibbled at it. It wasn't bad, just peanut butter was such a strange ingredient for a sweet treat, she thought. But since she was going to an American barbeque, she was going to bring an American-flavored dessert. She supposed that she should ask her friends what they thought of the cookies.
She started placing the cookies on a cooled pan, layering them like she would when she put them on display at the patisserie. As she did, she thought about how today was such a strange day. She got a benefactor as Ladybug. She got Damian's number despite how mortifyingly embarrassing she was yesterday. And he even offered to help her with her notes! She didn't understand why everyone called him the "Ice Prince" or "Ice King", or constantly asked if she was alright with sitting beside Damian. He was the perfect gentleman. Sure, he may speak harshly, but it was obvious to see that it was merely his rough exterior. His gorgeous exterior. And she told him that she was a nervous pooper. Oh Kwami. Marinette groaned as she buried her face into her apron.
There was a faint knocking. Her head popped up as she listened and heard the knocking again, pinpointing it to her balcony door.
"Hide Tikki!" she whispered. She opened a drawer and pulled out her rolling pin before walking over to the balcony door. She placed a hand over the shades. Okay, deep breath. Three. Two. One. She pulled back the shades so forcefully that she ripped it down while she held her rolling pin up, ready to strike. On the other side of the glass door was a man in a green domino mask that concealed his eyes with white lenses, a black hooded cape lined with yellow, a red armored vest with yellow and black accents, his arms black, and his spiked and armored bracers green as were his leg armor.
They stared at each other for a moment before Marinette realized who it was, based on her recent research. She breathed out and lowered her rolling pin. She slid open the balcony door and said, "Good evening, Monsieur Robin. Would you come in?"
2019.12.9 Happy holiday season! Heads up, posting is going to start being spotty for about the next 5 weeks, but after that, I should start regularly updating again.
Robin wasn't in the mood to babysit some wannabe hero. The less interaction until they returned to Paris, the better. Once Jason completed the recon, he would go and take down Hawkmoth and make Marinette feel safe again. Wait, what?
He missed a step and fell, twisting into a roll and was back on his feet despite the steep angle of the roof he was on. He didn't bother looking around to see if anyone had seen him. The rest of the team was off stalking the new cat. It was becoming abundantly clear that the only good cat in Gotham was Alfred.
The patrol route he chose took him along Crime Alley. It was unusually quiet until he heard his codename being called.
"Robin! Hey! Robin! Over here!"
Robin pinched the bridge of his nose before he turned. Precariously running across the roof with one hand holding her smartphone was Alya. He had to bite back what he was going to say and instead said in his vigilante voice, "Miss, it's dangerous to be on the roof like this."
"Safer up here than down there. Cops just came through and cleaned up some gang-related fight," she said too excitedly.
Ah, that explained the quietness. "Where are you staying? I'll escort you home."
"First," Alya said, balancing herself and held her phone steady, "Alya Cesaire of the Ladyblog here. Robin, is it true that Paris hero Chat Noir is in Gotham?"
Robin held back an annoyed sneer and morphed his face instead into one of confusion. "Paris has heroes?"
"What? Of course Paris has heroes! Haven't you heard of Ladybug and Chat Noir? The villainous Hawkmoth? Akumas?"
Robin shrugged and shook his head.
"You work with Batman, yes?"
"And Batman works for the Justice League, yes?"
"He is one of the founders."
"Yeah, so how have you not heard about the terrorism in Paris? We've sent the Justice League so many requests for help."
"I'm sorry, but I haven't heard of any of this," he lied.
Alya was momentarily struck silent.
"So where were you staying?" he asked.
"Will you find out what happened? Why the Justice League hadn't received anything? Please go to the Ladyblog. It has everything you need to know about akumas."
"I do not have the spare time to--"
"Please. We need help," said Alya, her voice cracking. "Our heroes need help. They have been fighting for three years. My baby twin sisters have been akumatized! I have been akumatized! My oldest sister, my father, my boyfriend, his little brother. We've all been akumatized. This past year, all but two in my class have been akumatized, some more than once."
Robin sighed and reluctantly asked, "What's an akuma?"
He was expecting to hear the same explanation as she told in the cafeteria. But no, this time the tales were even more horrific in nature. The time Paris flooded, and when she escaped to the rooftop, only saw a handful of people on other roofs. Out of about two million people, only a few thousand probably survived if they were lucky enough to be in a tall enough building and fast enough to reach the roof. The time she was almost sacrificed to resurrect an Egyptian queen. She couldn't stop filming and smiling, because if she stopped, that would mean that she didn't believe Ladybug would rescue her.
With shaky hands, she stopped filming and put down her phone. "I, um, when my baby sisters were akumatized, every time they ate, they multiplied. They escaped out of the house and I had my friend look after the ones inside while I ran after the ones outside. Oh god, they kept multiplying and multiplying and I couldn't keep track of where my original sisters were."
Alya put a hand up to her mouth before taking a breath. "Even Ladybug and Chat Noir had issues. Ladybug, she gave me a Miraculous to help her find the akuma. I became a hero, but only if I promised to return the Miraculous to her afterward. I was so happy to help my idol, it wasn't until much later that I realized that Ladybug asked me, a teenage girl to help her."
She shook her head. "No one does that unless they're creeps or teenagers themselves. Which means that Ladybug could be the same age as me, as my friends. When I became a hero, it was so liberating and terrifying at the same time. Ladybug, she has to be a hero every day. She patrols the city and gives talks and gives us all hope. But if she's just like me, she's going to burn out, if she hasn't already. She hasn't been seen patrolling in weeks. Chat Noir hasn't even been seen at the last few akuma attacks. I don't know where our heroes are. I'm afraid that Hawkmoth will make the akumas even worse to bring Ladybug and Chat Noir back from wherever they are."
Robin frowned deeply. "So you're hoping that Chat Noir is here in Gotham."
"I'm sorry, but I don't know them."
Alya nodded, blinking quickly and lifting her head to keep her tears from falling. She quietly told him where she was staying. He led her safely down a fire escape before pressing a button on his bracer. When the Batmobile appeared, Alya's eyes went wide as she took out her phone again.
"No pictures," he said, grabbing her phone and deleting the photos from her gallery and cloud before handing it back to her.
She whined but stopped quickly, and put her phone away as she got into the Batmobile. The ride was somewhat silent, aside from the occasional questions Alya asked and Robin rarely responded to. Soon after, they were in front of Alya's hotel.
When she got out, she asked, "Will you look into Paris? Please?"
Robin nodded before closing the door and driving off.
He drove around to the back of the hotel, got out and pressed a button, which sent it away. He walked around to the east side of the building and shot his grappling hook up to Marinette's balcony. There he needed to watch his step as flowering potted plants crowded the tiny balcony. They must be new since they hadn't died from the lack of sun and warmth, he thought.
He knocked on the door pane. The light was on, so she should be in. He knocked again. He saw faint movement in the changes of the light escaping through the shades. Suddenly the shades were pulled down and there was the brave and beautiful and fierce face of Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Her eyes studied him and he felt laid bare before her. He watched as her muscles slowly relaxed, the rolling pin lowered, and her blue eyes looked at him openly.
When she opened the door, warm air wafted out, carrying the smell of freshly baked cookies. He stepped in when she invited him. Scattered across the room were textbooks and other school supplies. The kitchen counters were full of drying dishes and cooking racks covered in cookies.
"Would you have some cookies and tell me which ones I should bake again?" she asked, holding out a pan covered in more cookies.
He picked one from each type and ate each in two bites. He didn't like overly sweet things, but these cookies tantalized him with the perfect level of sweetness.
"What do you think?" she asked, having put down the pan and was standing, waiting with her hands behind her back.
"I can't choose. They're all delicious."
She hummed. "I suppose I'll have to make all three then."
"What are you making them for?"
"I was invited to a barbeque, so I wanted to bring a dessert, but I couldn't decide which flavor to make."
Damian's heart and stomach fluttered. "I'm sure the host will appreciate these."
Marinette smiled. "I hope so."
They stood awkwardly for a moment before Marinette said, "So, I heard you're the guy to talk to to get in touch with Batman."
Robin nodded. "Depends, but yes, I can."
"Depends on if I can have another cookie."
She chuckled before setting the pan on the counter in front of Robin.
Through his chewing, he asked, "So what were you wanting to discuss?"
"I wanted to ask why the Justice League chose not to help us in Paris."
Damian frowned. "You're not asking for help?"
Marinette shook her head. "I don't want to cause a rift by having Batman go against the decision of the Justice League."
"Haven't you suffered under a terrorist for the past three years though?"
Marinette nodded. "It will be exactly three years on Thursday."
"What if Batman offered to help?"
"Better late than never I suppose, but I won't hold my breath. Gotham can be a dangerous city and needs someone to watch over it."
"What if I offered to help?"
Marinette looked up at him, trying to study his expression of his hidden eyes. "Why would you do that? Paris isn't your city."
"So you would feel safe."
Marinette blushed and looked away. "That's very heroic of you."
"I could be your hero," he said, but not as quietly as he thought as Marinette suddenly turned to him, her eyes wide, her cheeks red.
"What?" she asked surprised, and took a step back, but her fuzzy-socked foot slipped out from under her. She was suddenly pulled forward by her hand and held steadily against Robin's chest. She blinked. This all felt very familiar. She breathed in and scrambled backward, her eyes wide.
"I apolo--" he started, his hands in the air as he stepped back.
She held up a finger to quiet him as she took him in. She walked around him. The black hair, the strong jawline, the smell of light cologne, the same dimensions give or take some armor. She bit her lips and turned from Robin, taking a moment. Of course it was just her luck that she befriended one of Batman's protégés. She gripped the air and balled her fists at her side as she turned back to Robin, trying to put on a friendly face.
"I'm sorry. I'm so clumsy," she said, "But, yes, I believe the heroes of Paris would appreciate any help you could provide."
Robin's heart fluttered like a captured bird in a cage. She knew. Somehow, someway, she figured out who he was. She looked so worried despite trying to play it off. He crossed his arms and cocked his head to the side, trying to show a bit more bravado than he felt. "Do you think you know who I am?"
Marinette frowned and shook her head quickly. "No. No, no. Not at all! I mean, I know you're Robin! But I definitely don't know your civilian identity! No way! Nope! Completely in the dark." She knew she was rambling, but she couldn't help herself. She had no right to know who Robin was! It wasn't his fault that she figured it out.
His secret identity was at stake, but part of him wanted her to know. If she knew, she would know that he could protect her. "No, no, do tell me. I want to know who you think I am."
She didn't want to be right, and she didn't want to find out if she was. "I, I have no clue."
Robin took a step towards her. Using the softest voice he's used with any person, he said, "Tell me."
She took a shaky breath and whispered, "Damian."
He couldn't believe it. Not yet. "Damian who?"
No, wait, this is bad. This could put her in danger. He couldn't be this fucking stupid, could he? He took two steps back and sneered, "That rich bastard, no, I'm not--"
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! It's just that our hero's identities are protected by magic."
"That doesn't mean you can figure out who I am."
"It's not you're fault. I have just taken enough measurements of people to be able to eyeball some things. You have the same build, the same hair, same face shape, s-same cologne. It's obvious now that you're just manipulating your voice to sound different."
"Miss, I'm not--"
"Does your father know you run around with Batman?" she asked suddenly. "Your family?"
"I'll show myself out. I'll return after I speak with Batma--"
"Wait!" she said as she grabbed onto his arm.
Robin instinctually grabbed onto her wrist while he turned into her, pulling her along as he flipped her over his shoulder. Marinette, meanwhile, had hooked her other arm around Robin's neck, using her momentum to pull him forward. He stumbled but caught himself and ran, shoving Marinette into the couch. She went up and over the back of it, pulling Robin with her with surprising strength. He braced and caught himself before he smashed his face into Marinette's.
Her face was flushed and she was breathing hard, staring widely at him with her arm still around the back of his neck. Her feet were on his hips, ready to flip him upside down onto the coffee table if she kicked out. She let him go when he slowly rolled off to the side. He ended up with his legs up on the back of the couch, his head hung off the front. Marinette let her head hang back and straightened her legs.
Robin grabbed a couch cushion and yelled into it until his lungs were empty, then hugged the cushion to himself.
"I'm sorry," said Marinette. "I didn't mean to figure it out. It just . . . clicked."
"You're a witch is what you are."
Eventually, they found themselves sitting the right way around on the couch, not looking at each other.
"Can I ask you a favor?" she asked.
"If you keep your mouth shut about this."
"What is this favor then?"
"Would you cover for me?"
"When I need you to."
Robin looked at her. "When you run off, you mean."
"Where do you go?"
She shook her head.
"I can't cover for you then."
"I . . . I'll tell your father that you're a vigilante."
He scowled. "Fine." He didn't know what his father would do to her. Drake was adopted after he discovered Batman's identity, but Marinette still had her parents. His father wouldn't kill her parents, that was more something his mother would do. Actually, she would just kill Marinette after torturing her to see who else she told.
"And you can't say something super embarrassing! It just has to be believable and official enough to make people stop worrying about me." She fell back into the couch. "I didn't have this issue in Paris."
"How did you get away with running off all the time?"
"It was more lax. We could go off campus. Plus akuma attacks provided a lot of distraction."
"So you leave when there's an akuma attack." When Marinette didn't respond, he asked, "Are you Hawkmoth?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Definitely not."
"You haven't been akumatized."
"There's over two million people in Paris. More people have not been akumatized than akumatized."
"Your class has a high rate of akumatization."
She turned to him, crossing her legs. "You have been looking into Paris."
"Yes. The French government is covering up that they have child soldiers fighting a terrorist."
"And how old are you that you're not a child crimefighter? Is that any different?"
"I'm fifteen. And no, it's no different, but I didn't have a choice. And apparently neither did Ladybug and Chat Noir."
"How do you know that?"
"We have a guy."
"You mean there's already someone helping in Paris."
Robin said nothing.
"So there may or may not be someone in Paris. Maybe they could help the heroes locate Hawkmoth!" Marinette already had a good idea of who this person was.
After a long moment of silence, he said, "I should get going. I'm supposed to be patrolling." He got up and realized that the couch had slashes across the cushions where he caught himself with his bracers.
"Wait one moment!" Marinette got up and ran over to her cookies, where she hurriedly put as many as she could into resealable bags and then into a shopping bag. She held it out to Robin, who stared at her. "It's for, um, everything. You don't have to share with your family. Not that you should. They'd probably ask where you got the cookies from. I'm going to be baking more for, well, you know, Monday." She grew redder as she became more flustered.
Robin frowned but took the bag from her.
"And. Thank you. For everything."
He tsked before saying, "No thanks for the blackmail."
Marinette looked ashamed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I won't tell anyone. I know how important it must be to keep your identity secret, even from your family."
Robin studied her, which looked like a glare to Marinette with his mask obscuring his eyes.
"I, I promise I won't." She held up her pinky to him.
He took her pinky in his and said, "I will cut this pinky off and worse if you break your promise."
She gulped, but nodded.
He turned, his cape swishing behind him.
He stopped at the door, not turning.
"Good luck on your patrol."
He opened the door and carefully picked his way across the balcony. Only after he got up onto the railing and shot out his grappling hook did he allow himself to look back. Marinette was standing just inside the open door, holding herself against the chill of the night air. He pulled himself away from her mesmerizing blue eyes and swung out into the darkness.
Tikki phased out of her hiding place and flew over to her, circling her worriedly. "Are you okay, Marinette? Are you hurt?"
Marinette shook her head as she looked into the night. "I'm fine, Tikki. He just panicked. I don't know if I would have reacted any better."
"If he lays a finger on you, I'll make all of his luck bad."
She smiled and kissed Tikki on top of her head. "He needs all the good luck he can get though." She frowned. "He protects his city without a Miraculous."
"Once you rescue Nooroo from Hawkmoth, you could akumatize something of his so he could become a powered hero."
Marinette blushed as she remembered that Robin--that Damian told her that he would be her hero.
She blinked at her kwami. "Sorry. You were saying?"
Tikki loudly sighed as she shook her head.
At the end of patrol, everyone gathered atop the darkened roof of the Gotham City Police Department. Black Cat was ecstatic to meet the other members of the team in person. It was almost like a family for how close everyone was. Aside from Robin.
Robin was apparently fetched by Batman to introduce himself as he had been quiet on the comms all night. He scowled and immediately went to hide in the shadows. While the others were speaking with Commissioner Gordon, Black Cat meandered over to Robin. He noticed from the first moment he arrived that Robin smelled like wonderfully fresh cookies. He flipped and landed into a seated position with his legs dangling off the roof beside Robin, who was sulking.
"Someone give you cookies?"
Robin growled, "No," and pulled his cape close around himself.
"Oh. I guess you wouldn't accept them anyway, it being Gotham. In Paris, there is a civilian who lives above a patisserie who would sometimes leave a box of pastries out on their balcony for me and a thermos full of hot cocoa. And there's Andre, he gives me free ice cream even though I've accidentally crashed into his cart before. Thankfully Ladybug fixed it. I want to visit Andre's cart with my lady one day. It's said that couples who share his ice cream will be together for--hey where are you going?"
Robin had gotten up and was walking to a different part of the roof, only to have a shadow follow him. He quickly unsheathed his sword and turned, and pointed it at Black Cat. "Stop following me."
"Robin!" yelled Batman from across the roof, who shook his head angrily.
He grumbled as he put away his sword.
Black Cat crouched on the ledge of the roof, his ears pinned down. "Sorry for getting you in trouble."
Robin glared at him a moment before suddenly shoving him off the roof. He made a strangled noise in surprise, but flipped around midair and grabbed onto a flag pole sticking out of the building. Using his momentum, he spun around the pole and let go, letting himself fly upward. He scrambled up the brickwork of the last few feet to the ledge of the roof, where he pulled himself up.
"What was that for?!" he hissed, his hair seeming to stand on end.
"For annoying me."
"I could have died!"
"You've been thrown further by villains and landed without a scratch."
Robin tsked. Jon never complained . . . Jon. Robin grinned evilly. He'll have to make a call later and see if he could come a day earlier and show this mangy cat a thing or two.
After Black Cat left, leaving his earpiece and bracer with Nightwing, Batman called for a team meeting. The vigilantes were masked, but at various levels of undress around the table, sipping at their chamomile tea that Alfred had provided.
Batman started with, "First order of business, Nightwing, what were your impressions of Black Cat?"
"He's good, really good." Good enough to make him feel like he's gone past his peak despite only being twenty-nine years old. "He's acutely aware of his super strength and has been naturally holding back. None of the criminals were excessively manhandled. I don't think he even left any bruises on anyone we encountered."
"So the antithesis of Red Hood, got it," said Batgirl.
"He seems like a playful soul," said Oracle, smiling. "I heard some of his puns, and they're really godawful, but it's kind of sweet as well."
"Was there anything else you learned of his powers?" asked Red Robin.
"He seemed to have natural night vision," said Nightwing. "It's possible that his transformation gives him cat eyes."
"Why doesn't Ladybug have wings if Chat Noir, sorry, Black Cat is so cat-like?" asked Batgirl.
"She doesn't hibernate as she's fought akumatized villains in the winter," said Red Robin, "And she has neither mandibles nor an extra set of legs. With her coloration though, perhaps she's poisonous."
"When she was transformed with a second Miraculous, she didn't look like any animal or insect, more like a horse rider," said Nightwing.
"Oracle, can you bring up the footage of her transforming in the Bat Plane?" asked Red Robin. She brought it up on the large screen.
"You're wasting our time," said Robin. "We've already gone over it this afternoon."
"Robin," said Batman in an authoritative voice. "Your conduct tonight toward our newest member was not appropriate. Tomorrow, you will be helping Agent A prepare the home for our guests."
His face scrunched up but he said, "Yes, Batman." He smoothed out his features as he asked, "Speaking of guests, I was hoping to invite Superboy to come a day early."
Batman studied him. "You cannot ask him to help you with your punishment."
"No, of course not. I was thinking we could have him test the limits of Black Cat's abilities."
Batgirl laughed, "You're just annoyed at having a new team member and want Superboy to beat him up."
Robin ignored her and continued, "Black Cat is returning to Paris at some point. I'm assuming Batman is wanting to train him in case something would impede us from going to Paris ourselves."
"Whatever your intentions, it's not a bad idea," said Batman. "Additionally, I have had thoughts in regards to what Red Hood relayed to us. While Black Cat is able to fight, it is possible that he is unable to as a civilian without the provided instincts."
"You can't ask him to reveal his identity," said Nightwing.
"No, but I want to invite him here, where he may train unpowered."
Red Robin nodded. "If he's this good without training, how much better would he be with."
"You're assuming he doesn't have training," pointed out Batgirl.
"Between his first appearance to his latest appearance, you can see a marked difference in his fighting capabilities. It's the same as Ladybug, who did not have training."
"It could just be a matter of adjusting his fighting style," said Nightwing. "He could have been practicing taekwondo, but that wouldn't have made him comfortable fighting with a stick."
"If Superboy is able to come early," said Batman, "We can hold an assessment in the cave tomorrow, and then offer to train him while unpowered. So everyone bring a suit to change into upstairs."
The people around the table nodded.
"The second order of business is that I want to bring in the Justice League Dark."
Groans rose from around the table.
"Don't you remember the whole fiasco with Zatanna and Dr. Light?" "Zatanna seriously went over the line." "She wiped your mind!" "She gaslit everyone!" "And isn't Dr. Fate retired or something?" "I wouldn't mind meeting Detective Chimp. Compete in a little battle of wits." "You'd lose." "You have so much faith in me."
Batman put a hand up to silence his team. "While we haven't had the best interactions with them,"--"Understatement."--"they are the most knowledgeable in the occult."
"They're more likely to take the Miraculouses for themselves than to help," sneered Oracle.
"You remember the whole thing with Pandora's box?" asked Nightwing. "Even Wonder Woman attempted to wield it and was overwhelmed. If you bring in League Dark, you could be bringing in people who are the most susceptible to the siren call of powerful magical artifacts."
"What about Constantine?" asked Red Robin. "He was the one who was able to handle the box, yes? And his last known location was in New York."
"I have no serious objection to Constantine," said Nightwing.
Oracle nodded in agreement.
Batman pinched the bridge of his nose. The man grated against his nerves, his arrogance and foolhardiness and chain-smoking. "Fine. Not the entire League then, just Constantine. I believe the others are in Egypt or South America or some other plane of existence or pocket universe anyway." Magic made things more complicated than its worth, and everything had a price. Perhaps the real reason why the Martian decided against assisting Paris. It's not like the League had a great track record in dealing with magic. Send invading extraterrestrials any day.
"Maybe we should get some sleep," suggested Oracle.
"Yes. Meeting adjourned," said Batman, suddenly tired despite his mind racing.
"Sleep is for the weak," said Red Robin, receiving an elbow in his ribs from Batgirl.
"Constantine might banish you for being the walking dead," she teased.
Red Robin groaned as he stood and shuffled like a zombie to his locker.
Oracle rolled her chair over to Nightwing, who was hanging his head down. "You okay?"
"Just feeling old."
"Did you push yourself to keep up with Black Cat?"
"You do realize that he has powers, right? Stronger, faster, and all that."
"Yeah. I don't know. Maybe it's because I know that behind the mask is just some teenager who was thrust into this position of power, and I keep thinking that I can keep up with the kid instead of the hero."
"It's not a bad thing to remember that Black Cat is only human. It's almost reassuring in a way."
"They're relatable. Their disguises are more like uniforms, and from what I've read, the people of Paris respect them like they were firemen, except even more because they put out the fire and fix their house."
"Cat did say that he's been stopped to help get cats out of trees."
"That's adorable. Can you imagine someone asking you to do that?"
"I'll leave it to the professionals." Nightwing stretched and yawned widely, only to get interrupted with a soft poke in his side.
"See you upstairs," smiled Oracle before she rolled away.
"See yah," smiled Nightwing, unaware how goofy his face was as a blush spread across his face.