It's been a long day, and Marinette Dupain-Cheng is tired.
She doesn't remember much, except the feeling of being used, violated, in the worst way possible. She doesn't remember, but she's seen the footage. Her body is tired from battles she doesn't remember fighting.
She remembers Chat Noir's devastation when he realized she was Ladybug, vividly. That's it.
Miss Fortune wreaked havoc on Paris for three weeks and it is all Lila Rossi's fault.
She remembers Adrien had tried to come to her defense, but with a single phone call Adrien was pulled out of school. And Marinette was all alone again. She remembers so little. It's been a long time since she's slept. You can't exactly sleep while you're a villain controlled by Hawk Moth.
Marinette remembers a white butterfly fluttering away, and collapsing into her partner's arms. She remembers the red of Chat's mask and how he closed his eyes and waited for her to take the earrings and transform before opening his eyes and pulling her closer. She remembered how numb she felt, how all the hate and anger was just... gone. She felt so much lighter now, not carrying around all that emotion.
She felt like she could forgive. But part of her whispered she shouldn't. She should just get out of that class and never look back.
She remembers Chat whispering, "You should go home, buginette. Your parents are probably worried about you."
And so they parted ways, rather reluctantly, and Marinette walked home.
She turns around, dull eyes catching on a vaguely familiar face. She couldn't place where she'd seen the girl before.
"Marinette! Sorry, you probably don't remember me. I'm Ondine, Kim's ex," the freckled redhead explains, and Marinette nods. She remembers her now. "I was wondering if you wanted to hang out sometime? No offense, but you look like you could use a friend. And I really need a friend, too."
Marinette grins weakly and the girls exchange phone numbers, planning to meet up for bubble tea in a couple days. She feels a spark in her chest where her emotions used to be, and it feels good. She feels good, better than she has in weeks. It feels like happiness, for once not weighed down by stress and fear and anger. She's going to be okay.
"Hey!" Someone taps her shoulder. Marinette looks at the person who tapped her, raising an eyebrow. She's blonde, with her hair tied back in elegant pigtails and wearing a pretty blue dress. "I'm Aurore, and this is my friend Mireille. I love your outfit. I've never seen a pattern like that," she gestures to Marinette's shirt, "and I was wondering where you got it."
"Oh!" Marinette smiles bashfully. "I made it. I'm an aspiring fashion designer, and it's been my signature pattern since I was eleven."
"Well, it's beautiful," Mireille says. "The two of us run a fashion blog, I'd love to do page about you. Do you do commissions?"
"Yeah, I do," Marinette replies cheerfully, digging around her purse for her business card. She hands it to Mireille.
Mireille gasps. "You're Marinette Dupain-Cheng? I should've guessed! When we asked Adrien for suggestions of up and coming fashion designers, you're the one he recommended!"
"We'll be in touch," Aurore says, linking her arm through Mireille's and handing her umbrella to Mireille so she can wave goodbye as they walk away. Mireille giggles.
She runs into Marc, literally, after meeting the two girls. They're carrying a notebook and and smiling, and they smile wider when they see who they ran into. "Marinette! Look!" They unlock their phone and show a comment on one of their stories, from an author she's heard them talk about before. "I've been looking for you since I got the notification."
"That's awesome, Marc!" she says, all the emptiness in her chest slowly filling up as they sit on a bench together and talk. Marinette remembers the story Marc wrote. They'd been so proud of it, and it was so well written. Marinette's glad Marc's getting the attention they deserve.
When they finally part ways, it's almost three and Marinette is happier than she's been in a long time.
Someone scoops Marinette into a hug from behind, and she nearly bashes them with her elbows before she realizes it's Bridgette. "Oh my god, 'nette, this city is crazy. There are superheroes and villains and also really, really awesome pastries and someone mistook me for you and she kept blaming me for something about some boy getting pulled out of school, which, can I say, sounds like quite an adventure can you please explain that-" Bridgette put Marinette down and took in a big breath as if to continue.
"Bri! It's so good to see you," Marinette says, already feeling great from the girls she met along the way home. "How are you?"
"I'm great! I get to come to Paris and see you, and Mom's restaurant blew up there are lines around the block and as much as I miss you, I love New York. You should come visit sometime! It'll be like you never moved away."
Marinette knows that can't happen as long as Hawk Moth is still around but she doesn't comment, nodding along with her cousin's enthusiastic rambling.
"-also what was that girl talking about when she said you got someone pulled out of school?"
She jumps. "Oh, um, there's this girl who lies about everything and she had my friend's sperm donor- I refuse to call that man a father- pull him back out of school because he tried to defend me. And she convinced everyone that it was my fault."
Marinette looks at Bridgette and is suddenly worried she'll have to break her out of jail when she murder Lila.
"Don't worry, I'm going to request to switch classes. Or schools. Or maybe get homeschooled."
"You'd better be, 'nette, because no one touches my cousin without repercussions."
Marinette knows she should be worried.
She laughs and hugs Bridgette. "I missed you, Bri."
Marinette's sitting on her balcony, listening to Bridgette's heavy breathing from the floor of her room, when Plagg shows up.
Her parents had covered up that she'd been missing from Bridgette easily, and she knows they have questions about where she was, but they accepted her hasty excuse of being a victim of Miss Fortune pretty early on. Tikki is asleep in her purse, exhausted from all the fighting.
Plagg is carrying a white envelope in his paws and sits down to hand it to her and watch her open it. It's from Chat Noir.
It's a drawing (not a very good drawing, but still) of Chat hugging her. It's signed with his typical paw print and a heart.
Marinette grins giddily, holding the drawing to her chest. She opens her trapdoor and flops onto her bed, wincing when Bridgette stirs in her sleep. She's so, so happy. It's been a long day, but she isn't alone. She has Chat and Bri and Marc and Ondine, and maybe even the two fashion girls.
And later, when she feels better, she's going to remember to break Adrien out of his house.