Luka sat some distance away from his sister and her friends, perfectly content to listen to them having fun while he played his guitar and watched. Something nagged at his mind, however: he recognised everyone there - Juleka, Rose, Alix, Mylene and Alya - except one girl. With two ugly sausages on the side of her head - he really had no clue what type of aesthetic she was reaching for with those, but either way she failed miserably - and a meek expression on her face as she spoke that seemed too carefully crafted to feel real, he could already hear what sort of melody he associated with her. It was sour and impure, a garbled mess of everyone else’s melodies and, quite frankly, it made him feel a little bit queasy.
That wasn’t the main problem, however. He couldn’t help but be painfully aware of Marinette’s absence, and the way no one seemed to care about it either. Ever since Chloe had been akumatized on her parents’ anniversary, he’d been worried for her. He’d spoken with Juleka a few days after Ladybug had set everything back to normal, and he’d asked her if she’d noticed whether something was wrong with Marinette. Her answer hadn’t been very assuring.
“Well,” he remembered her starting, dragging out the word as she thought. When she spoke again, her words had been slow and careful. “Marinette has had something against Lila since she came back from Achu, and she never normally hates someone that much. She keeps saying she’s lying but whenever she does Alya just dismisses her and says that she’s just jealous because Lila is close to Adrien. I always thought that was a bit weird, because she helped Adrien go on that date with Kagami even though it hurt her, but that’s not the point. I don’t know if Lila did something to her, but I think Marinette has a point, even if Alya would kill me for saying that - I mean, she knows Jagged Stone personally.” Juleka looked out of the window nervously before continuing.
“But ever since Chloe and her parents got akumatized, she’s been acting really strange. It’s almost like she’s mourning someone, she’s been that upset. Whenever we ask her to hang out she either blows us off because she’s so busy or she comes but she ends up on her own. Alya asked her why she was so upset once and she just said she’d lost something important. Alya assumed it was because Adrien and Kagami were getting closer. But Rose thought she meant she’d lost something valuable, like an earring or something.”
Since then, he’d seen Marinette once or twice when he had to deliver something to the bakery. Every time, she seemed well. Happy, but reserved. Her melody was more subdued, but it also seemed more mature, like she herself had had an experience that made her wiser. It was unusual, but he’d just been happy that she’d been handling herself well.
So seeing her friends without her, he was inclined to believe that she was just busy again. He was also inclined to believe that the sausage-girl was the Lila that Juleka told him Marinette didn’t like. The girl who could be lying. He focused on his guitar again and began to strum Marinette’s new melody softly.
He didn’t know how much time had passed when he was interrupted by someone holding their hand out to him and quietly saying, “Hi.” He let his final chord finish playing before he looked up to see Lila in front of him, a warm albeit nervous smile on her face. “I’m Lila, and you must be Juleka’s brother Luka. I’ve heard a lot about you, you know. It’s so nice to meet you.”
Before he replied, she scooped up the skirt beneath her legs and sat next to her, making a point to flash him another smile. “The others have just gone to go and get some stuff, but they were so considerate of my arthritis that they told me to just wait up here so I didn’t injure myself! So I thought I’d come and introduce myself to you.”
As unpleasant as her melody was, he didn’t have any reason to distrust or dislike her yet, so he pushed those feelings aside in favour of watching her very carefully. “Well it’s nice to meet you too, Lila. Although, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before.”
She laughed with a wave of one hand. It was a pleasant, bubbly sound but there was something slightly off about it that he couldn’t place. “That’s because you haven’t seen me here before. See, Juleka has invited me here a lot but I’ve always been so busy fundraising or talking with leaders of charities or catching up on schoolwork I’ve missed while away for my mama’s business that this is the first time I’ve been able to accept it,” she explained. Immediately he noticed that she was someone who spoke with her hands, gesticulating and gesturing in random directions to make her explanations seem larger. Whether it was natural or something she’d learned to manipulate people, he wasn’t sure. She hadn’t done anything to indicate she was lying yet.
He tried to hide his skepticism as he spoke, opting for a neutral, “Well, I’m glad you could make it this time, Lila. I’m sure you must have been upset to miss those first few times.”
Her face dropped and she gathered her hands in her lap, staring down at them pointedly as she replied, her voice quivering as she spoke. “Oh, I was really upset about it, but Juleka and the others were so nice about it, they didn’t even get mad when I told them I already had plans. You’re so lucky to have Juleka as a sister, you know. I’d kill to have someone as understanding as her in my family, but you know how it as an only child - you can only emulate those sorts of relationships. It makes me sort of envious of you and Juleka. You guys have always had that, while I’m going to have to search for someone who will trust me the same way I would.” Then she looked up at him, eyes going wide as if she realised she’d done something wrong. “Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry for unloading on you like that, especially when we don’t know each other that well!”
“It’s fine,” he reassured her, despite the conflicting feelings in his chest. On one hand, if she was genuine, he knew he would feel sympathy for her - a mixture of guilt due to inadvertently upsetting her and worry due to how scared she was of upsetting him - but if she was a liar like Marinette said, he knew he would be furious with her for trying to manipulate him into feeling bad, probably to butter him up for a lie. Both mindsets fought the other. “We all have something we need to take off our chest sometimes.”
She sniffled, head in hands before she looked up, cheeks pink and eyes wet around the edges and stared up at him for a moment before her face split into a wide grin and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “Oh, thank you Luka!” she hiccupped, tightening her hold on him. “How can I repay you for being so kind and understanding?”
“Repay?” he asked. Where was she going with this?
“Well, you- you like Jagged Stone, don’t you? I could get you a ticket to his next concert!” she offered, pulling away and clasping her hands in front of her chest. Her voice was hopeful. “It wouldn’t be hard!”
His gut squirmed as he contemplated what to do next. This is it, Luka, he thought. This is where you find out whether she’s lying or not. “How would you do that? I don’t want you paying money just because I listened to you rant about your feelings.”
“It’ll be no trouble at all!” Lila waved him off, her change in mood a little jarring. “I don’t know whether Juleka told you or not already, but Jagged loves me - I’m like his . honorary daughter! He even wrote a song for me once!”
“Really? What song?” There was something suspicious about the way she paled. “If you say it, I’ll know which one you’re talking about.”
“Well,” she spluttered, picking at her nails sheepishly. “I said he wrote a song for me, but I didn’t mean he published it. It would seem a bit weird to praise a 15 year old girl…”
“Actually, that depends on what he’s praised you for,” he countered. “Jagged Stone loved Marinette’s designs so much that he wouldn’t stop promoting her for another two months at least, but no one thought it was weird because he praised her designs, not her. Was he praising you for something you did or was it in a creepy, ‘this random girl is nice, she’s a minor, I’m an adult’ way?”
“I’m guessing Juleka didn’t tell you then?” she asked forcefully, eyes darting to where Juleka and her friends had gone. He shook his head and her shoulders tensed. “Well,” she dragged the word out as her melody began to go even more sour in the back of his mind. “Well, he made the song for me because I did something for him.”
“What did you do?” he asked curiously. “It must have been something dangerous if Jagged has had to keep quiet about it though, because he’s never mentioned you before on any of his social media.”
“I saved his pet from being run over at an airport once,” Lila admitted after what felt like ages, getting visibly nervous - tapping her foot against the floor and hunching her shoulders so that she was smaller, both of which were red flags for him. “My mama and I were on our way to another country for her work and I saw his pet nearly get run over by a plane so I saved it. I’ve had really bad tinnitus ever since.” As if to prove a point, she cupped her left ear with both hands and whimpered slightly. “It hurts, but I’m trying to be brave for everyone.”
“That doesn’t make sense though,” he mused out loud, watching as Lila froze. “Jagged loves Fang so much that he would never let him get anywhere close to somewhere he could be run over, so unless Fang escaped this would have never happened.”
“No, no!” Lila interrupted him hastily, waving both hands in front of her. “It wasn’t Fang, it was his kitten.”
He blinked in disbelief, then any sympathy he had for her was lost. She really had been lying to him and Juleka this entire time, without a care in the world. He took a deep breath before he said anything rash. Once he was calm, he continued. “Jagged is allergic to kittens, he said so in one of his interviews.”
“This was before he realised!”
“He said in his interview he found out about his allergies before he was an adult, and I’m pretty sure you weren’t born early enough to save his cat while he was a teenager.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “There’s no reason to lie to me, Lila. Not if it’s just to impress me.”
“I’m not lying!” she protested, voice raising in volume. “I don’t know why you’re attacking me like that!”
He shuffled away from her, raising his hands in the air to prove a point. “I’m not attacking you, Lila. I told you that you shouldn’t have to lie to impress me, that’s all. I’d much rather know the real Lila over the Lila who lies about Jagged Stone.”
“Oh, why do you care so much?” she snapped, meek demeanor disappearing. “It’s one lie!”
“Yeah, and that’s one lie you’ve told my sister, her classmates and Marinette. For all I know, you could have told more,” he countered evenly, struggling to contain his anger. “I’m pretty sure you were on the Ladyblog as well, with an interview about Ladybug being your best friend. Was that a lie too?”
“It’s only what Alya wanted to hear!”
“People want you to tell the truth, not get their hopes up.” He stared her down. “I want my sister to know that everything she’s being told is genuine. I want her friends to know that everything you say is the truth-”
“They all think it’s the truth anyway,” she hissed. “What’s the difference?”
“The difference is you’re lying,” he said cooly. “And if you’re reacting like this to me knowing, god knows how you reacted to Marinette knowing.”
“It’s always about Marinette, isn’t it?” Lila all but yelled at him. Her eyes glared daggers at him, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “I bet with your crush on her, she convinced you into believing I lied and you just went along with it, didn’t she?”
“Of course she didn’t. Marinette doesn’t like liars but she’s not cruel like that. I drew my own conclusions based on your inconsistencies. Besides, if Marinette wanted people to know you were a liar, she’d go about it in a way you wouldn’t expect her to. She’s not dumb.”
“Of course she’s not dumb!” Lila shot back. “If she’s smart enough to see through my lies she can’t be as dumb as this class! It’s why she’s so annoying!”
He folded his arms. “I’m guessing Ladybug doesn’t like you either?”
“How the hell do I know?” Lila shrugged viciously, expression getting more and more sour by the second. “She’s a bloody superhero, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve! I don’t even know if she has one! She has a brain where her heart is and a cavity in her head that makes her dangerous, because she could hate me and I’d never know because it’s stuck in her stupid head and not on her face! All I know is that she hasn’t called me out yet and every time she sees me she just encourages me to be honest instead of yelling at me, like she realised her mistake.”
“Doesn’t matter. But no, we’re not friends. There, you happy?” She was so angry that it was almost amusing, but he shoved that feeling down. “I hate her, she ruined my chances with Adrien and then gave me a half-assed apology like I was supposed to just accept it? Does she think I’m an idiot?”
“What you’re missing, Lila is a crucial piece of advice if you’re going to continue playing this stupid game.” He ran his fingers over the strings of his guitar as Lila opened her mouth, then closed it, then glared at him expectantly. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re an idiot or not. There are two people in this world that you never piss off.”
“And who would those people be?”
“I think you already know,” he smiled in vindication at the way her expression fell. “But just in case, I’ll remind you. There are two people you never piss off, and they’re Ladybug and Marinette.”
“And why might that be?” Lila was tense as she waited for his answer, eyes darting to and fro. They both knew Juleka could return at any moment. “What’s so special about them?”
“Ladybug has her mind, her Lucky Charm, her word and Chat Noir on her side, while you don’t even have your own word, you just have a reporter who blindly follows you, but even she’ll believe Ladybug over you. Marinette is your class representative, it wouldn’t be hard for her to expose you, especially considering she can contact Jagged Stone whenever she wants.”
“She can?” Lila spluttered. “But she’s a minor! Isn’t that illegal?”
“Not when it’s purely professional, or when his number is on her parents’ phones, or when her parents consented to it.” Lila paled. “Besides that, Marinette is as smart as Ladybug, maybe even smarter. If she wanted to, it would probably only take a day for her to take you down, like you did when she nearly got expelled, except she knows how to cover her tracks.”
At that, Lila scowled. “They still believed it.”
He shrugged. “From what I’ve heard, it was circumstantial at best, you just had so many disabilities people had to cater to that there was no way you could have stolen the papers, or planted the necklace to anyone who didn’t know. Besides, if they believed that, who’s to say they wouldn’t believe Marinette if she did the exact same thing to you, but with real, indisputable proof?”
“They haven’t believed her yet!”
“They haven’t, I’ll admit it, but what has Marinette done to you besides say you’re lying? She hasn’t even begun to gather evidence because she’s playing nice, god knows why.” Lila swallowed at that. Then her eyes widened as she looked past his shoulder.
“Well, I hate to cut this short,” she said, gritting her teeth into a smile. “But Juleka and her friends are back, so I have to go now. It was nice meeting you, Luka.” She stood up hurriedly, brushing any dirt off her skirt before she hurried over to his sister and her group of friends.
“It was nice meeting you Lila,” he murmured with a smile, knowing he’d won. Closing his eyes and leaning back, he returned to playing Marinette’s melody, noting somewhere in the back of his mind how similar it was to the one that played in the back of his mind when he met Ladybug when Desperada attacked as the sun shone across his face.
There were two people he knew to never piss off, and their melodies were so similar he knew exactly why that was the case.