His cousin’s class naturally hated Felix. No doubt Adrien and those he got akumatized had warned the other’s, preemptively isolating him. He could see the hatred in their eyes as Mme. Bustier introduced him, as she instructed him to sit in the back next to the black-haired girl who was in love with Adrien.
Felix nimbly dodged a kick from Lady Wifi, glowering back in response to her glare and smirking when she flinched in return. Amateur. As if she could intimidate him. He’d stared down the most intimidating members of the fashion and movie industry: famous photographers, directors who thought they could tell him how act, Audrey Bourgeois, his uncle. No mere school girl would get under his skin.
He sat next to the black-haired girl, overtly aware of her presence next to him as the rest of the class turned back to an Italian girl in the front. His position in the room was dangerous. Next to someone who’d feel righteous in getting back at him for Adrien, alone in the back where the teacher couldn’t see. If he was a lesser man, sweat would dot his brow. Instead, he glanced at her. She was facing him. So it was the direct approach then? She didn’t seem like the type--
“My name is Marinette Dupain-Cheng. I’m the class president, so feel free to ask if you need something,” she said with a small smile and a head tilt.
Felix blinked in surprise. She was... she was just a better actress than he initially assessed, he told himself. It was merely a faced to catch him off guard.
Felix sneered. “I’m sure, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng. Please spare me the facade. I’m already more than aware of you and your classmates hatred towards me.”
She looked hurt. “I don’t hate you.”
“And Adrien’s not my cousin,” he scoffed.
“I’m not lying,” she said lowly, her frame trembling and fists clenched. Felix watched warily as she calmed herself down, breathing deeply. “Sorry; I shouldn’t have gotten mad. I don’t hate you, M. Graham de Vanily. I’m angry at you, yes, but... I want to give you a chance. I don’t know the circumstances that led to your... behavior two weeks ago, but regardless... I’m willing to be your friend.” She looked away, her cheeks ruddy. “If you want.”
His eyes narrowed. He didn’t believe her. “Do you always forgive so easily?”
“I try to.”
“That’s a good way to get stabbed in the back.”
She smiled, close-lipped and bitter. “I’m used to the feeling. What’s one more stab wound?”
He hadn’t expected that. How does one respond to that? Fortunately, he didn’t have to as Mme. Bustier called the class to attention to start the day.
The classes were simple compared to Felix’s school in London. It was boring, but it did give him ample time to study the class. There was something wrong going on. From the way Mlle. Dupain-Cheng acted, betrayals seemed common. Or were they just common for her?
It seemed to be the case; since they sat in the back, they should have been safe from scrutiny, yet students went out of their way to turn around in their seats to glare at them. Or rather, at Dupain-Cheng. How... confusing. Felix didn’t like being confused.
Was it possible that Dupain-Cheng had done something. It seemed so, but Felix was hesitant to place the blame on her shoulders. There was still a very real possibility that she was a gold-digger or a betrayer, but they were treating her like she was... him. How novel.
But that wasn’t the only thing wrong with the class. At the left-front, a girl had been talking through most of the classes without being reprimanded once by Mme. Bustier. Adrien, to his minimal credit, was trying to ignore her, but the two people behind her--a boy with glasses and Lady Wifi--were listening with rapt attention. Their other classmates shot the two envious looks. Why though? Did they want to be distracted all throughout the lesson?
The bell for lunch rang and several students bolted out the door. Dupain-Cheng sighed and started packing up her things. Felix, who hadn’t taken this things out to begin with, simply got up and tried to leave. Keyword being “tried” since as he walked down the stairs, Lady Wifi stopped him.
“How could you do that to Lila this morning!?” She snarled, outrage twisting her face.
“Who--” She chocked, clearly taken aback. She waved at the Italian girl who’d been talking all class, who now was bawling into her arm. “Lila! The girl who tried to guide you to class this morning. The one you pushed away and yelled at! Are you such a monster that you didn’t even bother to know who she was before lashing out!?”
He looked at her again. Funny, you’d think he’d remember doing that. “I was in the principal’s office all morning, getting my paperwork done.” The girl, Lila apparently, stiffened. “He can verify that. I’ve never met this girl before in my life, Lady Wifi.”
Lady Wifi flinched back. “That’s not-- Don’t call me that!”
The boy who’d been next to her joined in. “She has a name, you jerk!”
“I’d learn it if I cared.” Felix brushed passed them and stopped next to Lila. “Next time you lie about your betters, at least make it believable. And stop your sniveling; anyone with ears can tell it isn’t real.”
Felix left the class to their uproar. He started heading towards the front exit. Obviously he wasn’t going to eat the cafeteria food here, but he didn’t know the area well. Hopefully there would be a coffee shop nearby...
“Felix!” Adrien latched onto his arm and he rolled his eyes. Of course. “Felix we need to talk.”
“Of course,” he mocked. “When will we make the appointment then?”
Satisfaction filled him as he saw rage cross Adrien’s face. It was gone too soon. “Come on.” Without waiting for a response, Adrien pulled him into the empty bathroom nearby. He stood in between Felix and the door. “What are you doing here?”
“Mother thought it would do me well to spend some more time in Paris while she dealt with the company.” In truth, she was hoping he could get access to the other of the Graham de Vanily rings. Mother thought that Gabriel may have started wearing it himself or that he gave it to Adrien.
Felix was a little surprised that Gabriel hadn’t reported him for the theft, though it did make sense. Aunt Emilie had stolen the rings from the family, after all. It was only Mother’s good will that she was not reported, though the rings were listed as stolen.
Adrien narrowed his eyes. “I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t care. Are we done now? I have no desire to spent my lunch in a bathroom.”
“No. Stay away from Marinette.” His eyebrows shot up. “I know she’s your seat mate, but leave her alone. She doesn’t need you on her case too.”
“‘On her case...?’ Dear cousin, it’s like you mistake me for some sort of scoundrel. But don’t worry, I don’t plan to do anything to your little girlfriend.”
“What?” Adrien looked shocked. “Marinette’s not my girlfriend. We’re just friends.”
...So his cousin was an idiot. Or blind and deaf, those were possibilities. Seriously, the girl confessed her love to him in the bluntest way possible. Felix didn’t even delete the videos off his phone! Did Adrien really think that friends just confessed their love to each other?
That spoiled little...
Felix smiled, close-mouthed. “Well, then there’s not a problem then. You can be friends, while I can... well, we’ll see. Have a good lunch, Adrien. Try not to eat so much.”
He left Adrien behind and headed outside. Honestly, did Adrien consider himself Dupain-Cheng’s keeper? A knight in shining armor that had to protect the princess from the villain? Felix wanted to be offended on her behalf, but it’s not like he knew her. Maybe she’d be flattered?
Outside was much worse than when he left it. It had been overcast when he entered the school, but in the time in between then and now rain had started coming down. There, under the overhang, was Dupain-Cheng, rooting around in her backpack.
Felix sighed and opened his backpack as well. There had to be something wrong with him as he took out both his main and spare umbrella. He held the spare out to Dupain-Cheng, startling her. “Here,” he offered. “I usually carry an extra.” One normally broke, but she didn’t need to know that.
She took it gingerly. “Oh... Thank you.”
“You can thank me by showing me a decent place to eat nearby,” he said, not looking at her. “I have no idea what’s good around here and I’m certainly not going to suffer through the indignity of eating cafeteria food.”
She giggled at his disgust. “The food here isn’t that bad.”
“Ah, but that doesn’t mean it’s good either.” He opened his umbrella and stepped out into the rain. “So? Do we have a deal?”
She nodded and opened her umbrella as well, the black material shielding her from the sky above. “We do. Don’t worry, I know the perfect place.”
“I look forward to it,” Felix said, smirking at Adrien who’d been watching them from the other side of the doors. This was going to be fun.
The place Dupain-Cheng took him to was a small bakery not far from the school. Stepping inside, the smell of fresh baked bread assaulted his nose. In the display case, dozens of macaroons in all colors lined parchment paper next to croissants and cream-stuffed pastries. Felix expected Dupain-Cheng to get in line to order; instead, the girl skipped the line, approaching the woman at the register directly. "Hi, Maman," Dupain-Cheng greeted.
Felix wanted to scoff as he watched mother and daughter hug. Of course, she'd take him to her family bakery! She wouldn't be able to afford any of the places his pallet was used to. But... despite his first instinct, the establishment did have a rather... warm feel to it, further embellished y the downpour outside. And the food did look impeccable. Not his usual fare, certainly, but one day off his diet wouldn't hurt him.
"Welcome home, Marinette," her mother greeted. Her eyes met his and furrowed with confusion before her expression smoothed out. "Who's your friend? He's never dropped by before."
So she could tell him and Adrien apart. Good.
"Ah! Maman, this is -"
"Felix Graham de Vanily," Felix cut in smoothly, smiling charmingly. "I'm new in class and your daughter has been kind enough to help me gain my barrings at Fransis-Depoint. It's a pleasure to meet you, Mme. Cheng." He bowed at the waist, eyes lowered. He wanted to make a good impression -
"It's nice to to meet you too, Felix," Mme. Cheng nodded, seemingly amused. "Why don't you two grab something from the back and eat upstairs." She glanced at the line, which had only grown in number since they arrived. "It seems like it's about to get full down here."
"Thanks, Maman." Dupain-Cheng pressed a kiss to her mother's cheek. "Come on, back here."
Felix followed her behind the counter and into the kitchen beyond where an extremely large man, presumably her father, was icing a particularly tall wedding cake. "Hey, Dad! Felix and I are just grabbing some food before going upstairs."
The father smiled, surprisingly calm about his daughter arriving with a strange boy in his shop. "Go right ahead! There's some fresh chicken salad and cold cuts in the fridge if either of you want them."
They each loaded up their plates, but when Dupain-Cheng started to ascend the stairs, Felix hesitated. He looked back at M. Dupain. "Sir... Forgive me, but how do I pay for this?" Father and daughter exchanged a shocked glance. "I didn't get a chance to properly observe the menu, so otherwise I'd-"
"Don't worry about it!" M. Dupain laughed. "No friend of Marinette has to pay! Consider it the 'friends and family' discount."
Felix frowned. He didn't really consider them friends yet; acquaintances, yes, but not friends. Though, if the quality of his classmates refused to improve, she might end up being the only person he could stand talking to on a regular basis. "Sir, I must insist-"
"They're not going to let you pay, trust me," Dupain-Cheng said. "You're not the first person to try, nor are you going to be the last. Just come on." She went upstairs and Felix reluctantly followed. He wasn't used to other people doing favors for him. Usually people wanted favors, thinking he'd be naive enough to allow them to ride off the Graham de Vanily family coat tails. Felix never allowed that mentality to stick around him long; no one had ever been stupid enough to try more than once.
The familial part of the home looked nothing like the elegant, cold entry hall of his family's manor, nor did the connecting living room resemble any parlor or sitting room that he's ever been in. It looked well-used, lacking the meticulous housekeeping that the maids kept, with a blanket crumpled up on the couch and a video game console pushed to the side, like someone had finished playing in a hurry. He could see into the open kitchen from the living room and noticed that although it looked clean, there were dishes stacked in the skin. Was this how commoners lived? Clearly despite their beloved establishment, the Dupain-Chengs weren't nearly as well off as some of the other members of their school, like himself, Adrien, and Chloe. So how did they attend? The tuition was rather costly; did she get in on scholarship?
Of course, Felix had enough sense not to ask her about her family's financial status. Things simply weren't done in polite society, and while Felix often didn't feel the need to follow those unspoken rules, there was no need to insult someone in their own home.
Dupain-Cheng sat on the couch while Felix took the love seat nearby, sitting gingerly upon it as though it could bite him. Despite the home being so banal, Felix found himself... liking it. It was warm, much like how the bakery below was warm, with a lingering sense of comfort radiating from every square centimeter of the home. He found himself sinking into the plush of the chair without meaning to.
To distract his mind, he tucked into lunch, only to find his meal delicious. He paused after a single mouthful. Somehow, the simple meal was able to rival those made by the professional chefs in his family's employ. Good work deserves to be complimented, so Felix told Dupain-Cheng so and she flushed. "T-Thanks. I'm sure my parents appreciate it," she said with a cough, having swallowed some of her food wrong. "Would you like to go over where we are in the curriculum now?"
"Yes, that would be quite useful."
She showed him her notes for their classes and just as he thought, he was already ahead in most subjects. The only exception was literature, but only because his school had focused more on British authors than French. Still, it wouldn't take for him to catch up. But there was still one thing about the day that bothered him and since Dupain-Cheng volunteered her service, he asked, "I am unsure if this falls under you assisting me around the school, but could you explain what that Lila girl was trying to do today?"
Dupain-Cheng set down her utensils and exhaled heavily. "What has she lied about this time?"
"Apparently I pushed her after a greeting. Which is odd because I had no idea she existed before class." Not that Felix really cared. But saying he pushed her was a step too far; he has far more subtly than direct physical assault. At least be clever when you try to slander him!
"Huh, so she's directly attacking you already? That's weird, I could have sworn she'd make up some lie about forgiving you and promising to help you meet your favorite celebrity if you promised to be nice."
He scoffed, but Dupain-Cheng made no similar noise. Like... she was serious. Oh God, she was serious. "Are you telling me people actually believe that swill?"
"Most of our class, Mme Bustier, and our principal. Fortunately she hasn't started working on making the people in other classes believe her yet, but there are a handful there too." It seemed as though speaking about it unleashed a dam inside the girl. "And it doesn't make any sense because most of her lies can be disproven with either an internet search or a phone call! She claimed that she saved Jagged Stone's cat from an airplane, but was there any media coverage from it? None at all! She claims to go on all these expensive vacations, but either her photos got damaged on the way back or she just shows the class stock images of generic tourist stuff. And the volunteer work! Sure, I can understand charities not advertising who their workers are, but all you'd have to do is call them and every charity she's mentioned ends up saying that a Lila Rossi never worked with their organization. I just... I don't understand how they can keep falling for this stuff! None of them even bother to consider that she could be lying!" Her chest heaved after her rant, but she looked relieved, like she'd finally been able to get it off her chest. "They... none of them even think that I'm telling the truth," she continued in a small voice. "They all think that poorly of me."
Their... classmates, as much as Felix hated to admit any relation to those morons, had really done a number on her. He found empathy to be distasteful, especially with his plan to become a ruthless business man later in life, but he could help but pity her. Not that he'd ever admit it. Perhaps he could change the subject? Or at least lighten the mood.
"I'm going to be surrounded by idiots then. Lovely." She shot him a hurt look. "Well, not you. Obviously. Though seeing past such a clear liar isn't really a point towards you as it is a negative three against the others."
"You rate people on a point scale?" Her eyes were starting to lighten, brighten.
"Only when I need to inform others of how lowly I consider them." He sniffed haughtily.
"Does that mean you think better of me than them?" she teased, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth.
"No need to get a big head now; it's not that you're better, but rather that you're less awful." He smirked in return, hopefully letting her know that he was returning her tease. At least, he thought that's what he was doing. He never really understood how to communicate with his peers in a fashion that reflected well on him.
"I'm pretty sure that's the definition of better though."
"Well, if you're so desperate to claim the title, you could always prove it." Felix folded his hands under his chin. "Prove that you, Marinette Dupain-Cheng, are worthy of my time."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not sure if I want it now."
He frowned in disappointment, but inside he was triumphant. "Truly a shame; and here I wanted to get to know the real Dupain-Cheng... But alas I fear that knowledge will forever be out of reach."
"Who says 'alas' anymore?"
"Well!" he huffed, "Just because you're unused to refined vocabulary doesn't mean you have to insult me, Mademoiselle!"
The verbal sparring went back and forth for a while and as rapier wit battled rapier wit, Felix found it hard to keep a smile off his face.