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The Great IKEA Game

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Marinette originally came to the IKEA an hour outside of Gotham to buy twinkle lights for her new living room. She eventually extended her trip into obtaining new dishes since all the ones she owned right now were actually empty takeout containers she kept rewashing. She would have been content buying what she needed and heading off on her way, (no, she wasn't lonely Plagg, she had two dozen mini-gods to keep her company, shut up) but halfway between the bedding and lights sections, Marinette’s life changed forever. 

For the better, if she was being honest. 

She never would have realized it if she hadn’t ducked into a showroom to test out a couch. She settled against the fluffy folds, stroking the fabric, a pity it wouldn't survive ten minutes if she ever brought it home. When out of the corner of her eye, a movement drew her attention. A boy, no man, about her age, hiding behind a desk looking for all the world as if he were plotting world domination or someone’s demise. 

They looked at each other in shock for a moment. 

“Are… are you ok-”

“Shhh!” his green eyes narrowed, and boy, Marinette had been on the receiving end of death glares before, but this one had to take the cake. 

“Sorry,” she whispered. 

He rolled his eyes. “Do you see a group of obnoxious dark-haired idiots out there?” 

The request was an odd one, but Marinette rose from the couch and glanced around outside of the showroom. She didn’t see anyone fitting his description. She shook her head. 

The man let out a small sigh. “My idiot older brothers dragged me along for a “family bonding experience”." He made the little quotation marks, and Marinette never thought anyone could look cool doing that, but somehow this person nailed it. "Tt. I was unaware of when the coast would be clear. ” He rose gracefully from the ground, with the grace of a prince, rather than a crazy person hiding from his family. 

It was absurd. 

Marinette found herself instantly amused. 

“I have friends exactly like that, I totally get it,” she said, thinking how Adrian would be beside himself when she told him the story later. The pang of loneliness present since she’d left her friends in Paris, for college in America re-emerged. She shook her head clear of the maudlin thoughts. 

The Kwamis would have had a field day with this idea too, thankfully she left them in her severely under-furnished apartment for the day in order to avoid the squabbling that came with taking a few of them out of the house at a time.  

Marinette looked back out at the hallway again. Would the man's brothers soon appear? She found herself invested in what would happen. “What are you going to do now?” 

“Well, Grayson has the keys, and those idiots will insist on participating in these shenanigans till the store closes, so…” he shrugged. 

“Are they like… furnishing a whole house?” Marinette didn’t know how you could spend an entire day here. Sure, it was big, but… 

“No. We are engaged in a no holds barred game of hide-and-seek.” Marinette’s mouth dropped open. “If one of them catches me I become the seeker.” 

“Why?” 

He smirked, “Because I held out the longest.” 

"No, I mean, why are you playing hide-and-seek?" It seemed an odd choice for a bunch of adults. Well, Marinette and her friends would do it. But they also willingly became superheroes at the age of fourteen so their judgment was already in question.   

He shrugged. "My oldest brother thought it would be fun, and our father is... out of town at the moment," he said with a bit of hesitation. 

“So, you’re just going to hide in this showroom till the store closes?” 

A devious smile spread across the man’s handsome features. “No, doing that has gotten boring. I intend to "troll" them," he said once again with air quotes. "If Grayson wants my participation, I shall make him regret it.” 

Throwing away any idea of finishing her shopping today Marinette returned his smirk. “Any chance I could join you in your crusade?” 

The guy looked her over suspiciously. “Why should I allow a stranger to join me and potentially ruin my chances at victory?” 

Marinette thought for a moment. “Well, your brothers know you well?” He wavered at the admission but eventually - grudgingly - nodded. “Then they likely know what you’ll do to avoid and troll them. You need a fresh perspective. Plus, I can operate out in the open, I’m not officially a part of the game.” 

“Hmm...” his face was impassive. 

Okay, time to bring out the big guns then.

Marinette huffed, “I also grew up in Paris without being akumatized.” 

He raised an eyebrow. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Paris had a terrorist for five years that turned people into monsterized versions of themselves if they felt negative feelings. They were called Akuamas. Everyone in my class had it happen to them at least once. More for some particularly loose cannons.” 

The guy looked bewildered. “Where was the news coverage?" 

Marinette shrugged, trying to play off her knowledge as what a normal civilian would know. “Combination of corrupt politicians, social media blackouts, and magic. People died during these attacks, but everything was put to rights at the end of every fight due to the superheroes powers.” 

His mouth dropped, but he recovered quickly looking contemplative. “I want to know more about this at a later time, but if what you say is true you can control yourself better than the average peon. Still, this shall not be easy. Are you sure you can keep up?” 

“Positive.” 

He hesitates a second longer before shrugging his shoulders. “Perhaps this shall prove an effective tactic. ” He offered her his hand. "You may call me Damian.” 

She took it, feeling a slight shock as her fingers touched his. “I’m Marinette, nice to meet you, Damian.” 

“You shall regret saying that soon enough,” he said with a slight smirk. He looked over her shoulder. “Shit.” He dove beneath the desk he’d been hiding behind earlier. “Tall guy with the white streak in his hair.” Marinette turned to look. “Do not make it obvious,” he hissed. 

Marinette grabbed her phone and leaned against the desk. With small side glances, she saw a man probably mid-to-late twenties with two-toned hair. He wore a leather jacket and seemed to be searching for something, or someone. 

“Who’s that?” she asked quietly. 

“Second oldest brother, Jason Todd - arguably the most and least dangerous.” 

“Why both?” 

“He did not want to participate initially, but at the same time, he hates losing.  He shall hang on to the bitter end. More resourceful than the other two, and more violent, although less sophisticated.” 

Jason moved closer to their showroom. 

“Hush, he’s headed this way,” she whispered. Damian remained quiet and Marinette tried to make herself look busy. 

“Quick question miss?” Marinette glanced up from her phone. Jason stood at the entrance to the showroom. 

“Oh, uh, oui? Non, non, I mean yes?” Marinette said in an exaggerated accent, playing into the oblivious tourist stereotype always came in handy. 

“Oh French, shit, haven’t spoken that in a while,” he muttered. “Um...” 

“Non, it iz okay, I speak English well. Can I help you?” She batted her eyes just a bit. Marinette had long since grown from the days of not using all her advantages - courtesy of forced confidence from Chole. A friendship no one had seen coming but had grown quick and strong once they reached an understanding. 

“Oh, I’m looking for my little brother, about yay high, black hair, green eyes, permanent scowl. Have you seen him?” 

Marinette pretended to think for a second. “Non... I do not theenk so, perhaps help desk at zee front?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason said, Marinette could see he had already written her off as useless. “Thanks, anyway.” He walked away quickly. 

There was a minute of silence. “Coast is clear,” said Marinette once Jason was out of sight. 

Damian popped up, a gleam in his eyes. “Your lying skills are adequate; we may just win this yet.” 

“I’m glad to meet such high approval, monsieur. Let’s get going.” 

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They skirted along the edges of the showroom. Damian explained his brothers were tech wizzes and would no doubt be watching the security cams if they already had access. 

“Our first line of business is to mess up their ability to track us,” he said, taking out his phone, “we need to disable the cameras completely.” 

Marinette blanched, could he disable the security cameras with his phone alone? 

“We can’t do that! What about the rest of the customers? They need to be watched. Those cameras are used for safety.” 

Damian rolled his eyes. “Great I landed myself with a partner with no sense of the bigger picture.” 

Marinette huffed, “I do too, but we need to think of consequences. The security team will shut the system down and restart everything. Which leaves us at square one again.” 

“Well I do not hear any ideas from you,” he snarled. Damian pointed to a small corridor out of the way. “We need coverage until we figure out a plan.”

Squeezed between two displays, their chests inches apart from one another, Marinette realized how tall and muscular Damian was. He could easily command a room with his presence alone - her designer brain, constantly on as it was, nearly drooled. He’d make a superb model. 

She shook those less than useful thoughts away. 

He peered at her with a tilt to his head, a glint of curiosity in his eyes. “So... what reason brings a girl from Paris to the most dangerous city in America?” 

“I thought that was Bludhaven.” 

Damian rolled his eyes, “Depends on your definition of dangerous. I will take the drugs and gangs over the Joker any day of the week.” 

She shrugged. “Gotham University has a good fashion and design program.” 

“Other cities have better ones,” he responded. 

“I wanted a change of scenery.” 

“Prettier cities exist sans the villain infestation.” 

Marinette didn’t know what else to say without sounding like a loon. 'Oh, I came to Gotham because an ancient magical box full of tiny gods pinpointed this location as a well of chaos and misery. It needs the attention of the wielder of the powers of the universe, which is me, by the way. Hi!'  She was sure that would go over just swell. 

“I guess it was luck.” 

“Bad luck, perhaps.” 

She smiled. “I’m not one for having much bad luck.” 

“I would say you do, your shopping trip has turned into a showdown between very competitive brothers. And you happened to get stuck with me.” 

Marinette laughed. “I don’t consider that bad luck.” She dropped her voice to a tone she would use for flirting. For a reason she couldn’t place, this guy intrigued her and drew her in. Damian’s face turned red in the fluorescent light. 

Marinette dragged her eyes over Damian again, watching his muscles flex even through the fabric of his shirt...

Oh... 

She looked at what they were wearing - her outfit consisted of a fluffy pink sweater with a long brown coat. He, in black slacks, a black turtleneck, and a black blazer. She surveyed the room beyond their hiding spot and saw a rack of clothes. 

“How morally adverse are you to modifying products before we buy them?” she asked, a plan forming in her mind. 

Damian startled at the change of conversation, but he scoffed in response to her question. “Assume I have no morals.” 

Marinette paused. “Do you not have morals?” 

"I do, but winning trumps everything but murder today.” 

“Are you open to murder other days?” 

He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “The universe sure likes to tempt me.” His tone was joking, but when he looked back at her the glint in his eyes was anything but. Hardened steel and mired guilt swam in them. Marinette recognized that look well. 

In Chloe’s eyes when Sabrina had been stabbed by an Akuma. 

In Adrian’s eyes when he realized his father was Hawkmoth. 

In Kagami’s eyes when half of Paris had burned. 

In Luka’s eyes when he had to restart the fight over and over and over again so they could have a chance at winning. 

In her own eyes when faced with the well-being of an entire city besieged by a madman. 

The creeping panic and anxiety which had been her constant companion since fourteen was ruthlessly squashed. 

They had won. 

That was what mattered. 

“Fair enough,” she croaked. Damian peered at her quizzically, but she ignored him. “Can your brothers cross-reference height and skin color to search for you, or are they searching for a person with your general look?” 

“Well, Drake refrained from bringing his computer; with only his phone, he will not have that specific program available.”

Marinette nodded, although she wondered why on earth they would have programs like that even on their computers. “Perfect, give me your jacket.” 

“Why?” he asked already unbuttoning the blazer. 

“Because they’re looking for a tall boy in black. We’re about to become masters of disguise.” Marinette casually strolled out of their hiding place and over to the rack of clothes. She winced at the prices of the poorly made garments - highway robbery. 

Taking what she thought she would need, she motioned for Damian to follow her to a corner showroom. She put the clothing on a butcher block table.

“We’ll need to pay for this later.” 

Damian shrugged. “I have it covered.” 

Marinette started to protest, but he reminded her they were running on borrowed time. Reluctantly shelving the argument, she opened her bag and brought out her travel sewing kit. 

Less than ten minutes later - they both ducked behind the table when a passing employee came by their display - they walked out with radically different clothes - and a hat and fake glasses for Damian. 

“Why do you have these in your bag?” He said pushing the glasses up his nose. 

Marinette remembered the times fans would mob Adrian in the streets and the increasingly convoluted lengths she and their friends would go through to disguise themselves. “You’d be surprised how many times they’ve come in handy. So, where to next?” 

“We need to find something to mark our presence - a symbol my brothers would notice and figure out the fact they've missed us. Our calling card to frustrate them.” They weaved through the crowds ducking their heads anytime they thought they saw dark hair - as he informed her all his brothers had. 

“You could write your name?” 

“Too plebeian.” 

Marinette thought for a moment, “Is there a shared memory they would recognize, something they would know was from you?” They stopped in front of a display of hand towels. Beautiful nature designs decorated the fabric. Damian stared at them thoughtfully before grabbing an armful. 

“May I borrow those scissors of yours?” 

“Sure?” 

They settled in another display room, pink and delicate and covered in fairy lights - exactly what Marinette hoped her apartment would have looked like by the end of the week. 

She ran her hand over the soft fabric of the couch she sat on, remembering the lonely chair which she had been using since she’d arrived in Gotham. Her skin tingled, and she looked up; Damian watched her in fascination, when he realized she had seen him, he looked like a deer caught in the headlights and quickly turned back to cutting out fabric, his cheeks and ears turning red.  She smiled; he was cute. 

“What are you doing?” She asked Damian, as he cut into the hand towels without blinking an eye. 

“They are covered in robins,” he told her, his voice a little scratchy. “This is Gotham.” 

“Oh, that makes sense. Are you sure they’ll understand it though? It’s broad for a city that knows exactly who its’ heroes are.” 

“First off, the correct term is vigilantes,” he said, not looking up. “Second they shall definitely get it. Our family, unfortunately, magnetizes situations requiring heroic intervention." 

“I thought people generally didn’t interact with them too much?” At least not unless you were a criminal, not for the first time since meeting Damian, Marinette wondered who exactly she had teamed herself up with. 

“My family’s a bit... special,” Damian said sneering, fully over his earlier embarrassment. He finished cutting out the last robin. He handed her the cutouts and swept the scrap fabric into his hands. “Place one here in full view, and I’ll find a place to dispose of these.” 

He walked out of the room. 

Marinette sighed and tacked the fabric robin to the couch she’d been sitting on. She glanced around the room and tried picking out different pieces she liked, she’d have to see if any of the thrift shops near her house had anything similar to it - the prices for even the small items were way too expensive.

“Trying to shop?” Asked Damian coming back into the display room. 

“Nah, I’ll have to come back on a different day. Besides, it’s too expensive anyway. I was mostly here for inspiration anyway.” She ran her fingers over the fluffy couch. “Pity though, it’s a nice couch.” 

Ducking out of the room, she expected Damian to follow her, but when she looked behind her, he still stood in the room with his phone out. 

“Come on we need to go - they’ll be on our trail soon.” 

He clicked his phone off, with a small genuine smile on his face, the first she’d seen from him. “Alright.” Marinette put the tiny little exchange out of her mind, as they headed deeper into the store. Intent on winning, whatever the cost. 

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Cautiously they snuck around from display to display - hiding their cloth robins in increasingly creative places, on a corkboard, with a dining set, on a fake bird. It became somewhat of a competition to find the best place within the display room. 

They remained serious in their mission at first, but soon conversation flowed. Snide comments about passing customers, little anecdotes - Damian’s humor was hilarious once you understood his sarcasm and pointed edges were just a defense mechanism (it reminded her of Chloe)- and joking around. Well, as much as they could be, being on the lookout for his older brothers. 

Over an hour they hid over thirty birds, changed outfits twice, spotted Jason another time, which resulted in Damian diving behind some fake curtains while Marinette tried not to drool over a butcher-block table perfect for a sewing room (but which was way too expensive). 

 “Coast is clear,” Marinette called, once Jason once again disappeared. Damian slid out from behind the curtain and joined her by the table. 

“This is nice,” he said. “But I like the dark oak better.” He pointed to the options available, and Marinette had to agree.

“Yeah, but my cabinets are light brown. Not that I need this or can afford it for that matter. I didn’t have a proper workstation even when I was in Paris.”

“Why not?” 

“No room. My parents had the bakery downstairs, then they lived on the second floor. I lived in a converted attic, which was great - I even had a balcony, but my computer desk took up a lot of room.” She shrugged a little self-consciously. “Besides, my projects always ended up splayed all over the floor, anyway.” 

“That’s fair,” he said with a small nod. He pulled out a map of the store, although Marinette couldn’t ever remember seeing ones to pick up. “We've neared the end of the showrooms - or at least the ones we placed calling cards in - once we enter the warehouse we’ll be out in the open. I’m sure one of my brothers are stationed there.” 

“Question is do we want to leave calling cards on the shelves of the warehouse, or do we need to avoid them more?” Marinette asked. 

Damian considered it for a moment, then shook his head. “We’ve still got several hours to go - open and bold moves now are an unnecessary risk. I would propose avoiding it altogether, but…” he trailed off. 

“What?” she prompted. A loud rumbling sound erupted from her stomach, and Marinette instantly wanted to die. Damian bit his lip, holding off a small smile. 

“Oh, laugh it up.” Marinette rolled her eyes, studiously ignoring the burning in her cheeks. “All I had to eat today was a pack of crackers.” 

“I thought you might be hungry - you could go grab something to eat from the food court and take a break if you wanted?” 

Marinette frowned. “But what about you? Aren’t you hungry?” 

Damian waved her off. “Nothing I can’t handle. I’ve gone longer than a few hours without food before.” His eyes were hard and cold, opposite of the teasing glint that had been there a moment before. It sent a small shiver down Marinette’s spine. It was obvious to anyone - or maybe it was just her - that Damian had been through things. 

But it didn’t sit right with her to head off to the safety of the food court and leave him alone and without food. While he had seemed perfectly capable of handling himself before she came along Marinette was very invested in how this turned out.

“How about I go grab both of us something to eat, come back here, and then we work on our next move from there?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “Fine, if it makes you feel better.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sleek black wallet.

Marinette shook her head. “No, no, I can-”

He shoved a black metallic card into her hands; it weighed more than she thought it should.  

“I insist.”

“I have money.”

“So do I.”

“I don’t need your charity.”

“It’s not–it’s… payment.”

“I’m doing this for fun.”

“I won’t take no for an answer.” He crossed his arms and glared. It might have worked. If Marinette had been someone else. But she had been subjected to both Chole and Kagami’s overprotective and stubborn glares for years. This was nothing in comparison.

“I can pay, it’s nothing.”

He rolled his eyes again. “You’re a college student, it’s not nothing. Take. The. Card.”

Marinette threw her hands in the air. “Fine, you stubborn man.” A brief smile overtook Damian’s features, and then he dove out of sight. She turned to leave.

“I’m a vegetarian," he called. "Nothing with meat. And the pin is 1914.”

“Okay, I’ll be back in fifteen.” Walking away with the card in hand, she felt a little guilty for not fighting more. She was the one who was hungry, and who had offered to get him food. He didn’t need to give her his card.

Sighing in fond exasperation, she left the end of the display rooms. The warehouse section was large with rows upon rows of metallic shelving covered in boxes, but the food court sat off to the side; easy to find. It was mildly busy for a weekend afternoon, so she quickly stood in line and figured out what to order.

As she placed her order, she thought for a moment about just buying everything with her card, and then returning it to Damian as if she used it. She had a sneaking suspicion he would see right through that. Even after years of being a superhero, she still sucked at lying directly to someone’s face.

She scrolled through her phone, enjoying the slight break off her feet when she heard a familiar-sounding voice.

“Damn it, I don’t see the demon spawn,” growled an irritated voice.

Jason.

It was only years of practiced eavesdropping that stilled Mariette’s head from turning toward voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Damian’s older brother running a hand through his two-toned hair. A slightly smaller, but no less attractive man stood next to him, frowning at his phone.

“His credit card just pinged; he can’t have left that quickly.”

Marinette felt herself grow completely still at the mention of the credit card.

‘I am so going to tell him, I told you so,’ she thought furiously in her mind. How the hell would she leave without looking suspicious?

A third man jogged up to the two. A little older than them, but still just as attractive.

'This entire family looks like they could be on the cover of a freaking magazine,’ grumbled the part of her mind that was not overtaken with panic.

“I just checked the perimeter. No sign of him. Are you sure the charge was for the food court, Timmy?”

The man with the phone rolled his eyes. “Yeah–It comes out as $8.32, IKEA Food Court, order number 177.”

“Order 177. Order 177. Your food is ready,” called out a server. They placed the food on the counter, and Marinette saw the men all turn in sync to where the order laid innocently on the counter.

Marinette felt her stomach rumble again but knew the food was out of her reach now. Sacrifices had to be made to win.

‘Damn, I was looking forward to those meatballs and fries.’ No. She had to get out of here without Damian’s brothers noticing anything suspicious. They walked over to the counter, probably to ask the server who had ordered the food and which way they had gone.

Shit. She didn’t have any time.

Tapping on her locked screen, she placed it up to her ear as if taking a call.

“Hey Chole, yeah, no good to hear from you…” She rose from the plastic picnic bench. Only a few minutes before had seemed like such a nice place to rest, now it mocked her. She strolled away from the food court calmly, knowing one wrong move and she would be found out.

She reached into her bag, still walking normally, and grabbed a small metallic ball. It had a green paw print on the front.

Now, this was an experiment she and the kwamis had worked on over the summer. With a little help from Max–not that he knew what it was for–they had siphoned off a bit of pure energy from the Kwami’s and placed it into a small metallic ball that could be activated in a time of need. Mostly when it wasn’t safe to transform. It wasn’t super powerful and, so far, they’d only managed it with Plagg and Tikki, but it was something.

‘A bit of bad luck to distract them,’ Marinette thought.

Now, strictly speaking, this wasn’t exactly what they had in mind when creating the little devices, but desperate times called for desperate measures and all that.

She pressed the small paw print–using a bit of her own energy to activate the device–and threw it on the ground, letting it roll. She continued to walk calmly, and by the time she reached the entrance back to the showrooms, a clatter of noise erupted behind her. She only let herself glance back for a second, watching as a mostly empty display shelf collapsed onto an empty forklift.

Marinette winced. Hopefully, nothing was too damaged.  

Off to the side she saw multiple people had gotten into a traffic jam with their shopping carts, and… oh, everything had spilled out of one, and another looked like it had lost two wheels.

… okay, maybe the balls were a bit powerful.

Seeing she wasn’t being followed, she picked up her pace and made her way back to the showroom she’d left Damian at. Along the way, she saw multiple employees rushing toward the warehouse section. She felt a little bad for them, it would be a mess cleaning all this up, but it was her best shot at a clean escape.

After what felt like forever, but was just five minutes, she made it back to Damian’s hiding spot. Taking a moment to check her surroundings, she glanced around, not seeing any of Damian’s brothers. She breathed a small sigh of relief. She entered the showroom and ducked behind the counter.

“We need to go,” she whispered.

“Where’s the food?”

She shook her head. “Who cares about the food, we have bigger problems. Your brothers were waiting in ambush.” She shoved his credit card back at them. “They tracked your card.”

“Damn it,” Damian muttered.

She paused, thinking over the absurdity of the situation. “Who tracks their brother’s credit card?”

“People who want to win. What about you, Miss Disguises-in-your-purse?”

“They’ve come in handy multiple times.”

“Attention all IKEA customers be warned that aisles seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty are now closed because of potentially unsafe shelving units. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

Damian looked at her with a questioning glance, “Did you…?”

“I needed a distraction.”

“How… you know what… no, never mind.” He shook his head, but a small smile told Marinette it amused him.

“They’ll know you’re working with a partner if they get anything out of the server at the register. We need a better hiding spot.”

“Well, while you caused chaos, I figured out our next move.” He motioned her to follow him, and they crept along the floor to the back of the showroom. He moved aside a curtain to reveal an air conditioning grate big enough for both of them to crawl into. “The ventilation layout shows this running straight back to the loading docks, which have rooftop access. We can access another shaft which will take us back to the front of the store. I figured the long route would be safer than going the ground route.”

“Genius.” Said Marinette in amazement, although slightly wondering how on earth he got access to something like ventilation layouts.

“I am aware.”

“But how will we get it off the wall? I have a sewing kit, not a tool belt.”

Damian reached into his pocket and pulled something out.

“That’s a pen,” Marinette deadpanned.

“It’s a specially designed pen.” He grasped the top. “Avert your eyes.” Marinette glanced away, but then heard the sizzle of metal, and felt the warm rush of heat.

She looked. In Damian’s hand was a small laser, shaped like a pen, easily cutting through the metallic grate blocking off the air shaft.

“It’s a LASER?” Marinette whispered in a shriek. “You… just have laser in your pocket.”

“Well, you apparently disabled four industrial shelving units with your mind.” He grabbed hold of the grate as it came loose and placed it behind the curtain.

“I didn’t disable four shelving units. Just one,” she paused, “and a forklift… and some shopping carts. Just enough to cause a distraction.”

“Whatever,” he rolled his eyes, but she could see the glee lurking beneath the surface. She couldn’t help the smile spreading across her own face. Something about Damian was infectiously fun and absurd. Marinette was reminded of her earlier days as a hero before the weight of the city fully settled on her shoulders. Back when fights were simple, and midnight patrols were racing across the Parisian rooftops–making the blood in her veins pound with the rhythm of her steps.

She missed it.

“Ladies, first,” Damian said, gesturing to the vent.

“Thanks.” She crawled in, beyond grateful she decided to wear pants that day. Damian crawled in right behind her and readjusted the curtain over the uncovered air shaft.

She grabbed her phone from her bag and turned on the light. Holding it and crawling was difficult, but it was better than crawling around in total darkness. It was times like this where she questioned the absolute insanity of her life.

She wouldn’t have it any other way, though. 

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Tim wondered when his day took a solid dive off the cliffs of normal and into the waters of weird.

It probably started when Dick dragged them out of bed at eight in the morning – on a Saturday – piled them into the car, and drove them an hour and a half out of the city to an IKEA. If they had actually been there to shop they would have either burned the store down or killed one another. 

Not that those things were off the table yet. 

Tim had work, actual work, that he could be doing. But no, instead he was playing a demented game of hide-and-go-seek, which was careening into an all-out war. The destroyed shelving units, shopping carts, and the forklift were unmistakable evidence of that.

How had the demon spawn accomplished this in less than a minute?

Bruce would kill them, once he came back from off-world.

That is if Alfred didn’t get to them first.

“Uh, order 177?" The counter worker sighed. "Shit, my pay isn't enough for this.”

The words shook Tim from his stupor. He walked over to the counter.

“Hi,” he said, flashing his most charming CEO grin. “I have a quick question?”

The server's fixed customer service smile contrasted with his dull eyes.

“I need to know what way the boy who ordered this headed.”

“No.”

Tim sighed, “Look, it’s important. My brother-”

“I mean, no, it wasn’t a boy.”

Tim paused. “Huh?”

“It was a girl, a teen girl. Black hair, big blue eyes, French accent. She sat over there,” he waved at an empty table. “But I think she walked away before that happened.” Referring to the giant train wreck occurring a few aisles over.

“Oh,” said Tim. “Thanks.”

“Do you want the order?”

Tim held back an annoyed sigh.

“Sure.”

So that’s how he, Jason, and Dick, sat at the abandoned picnic table, staring at the abandoned meal bought with Damian’s credit card. Jason grabbed a couple of fries and shoved them in his mouth.

“That’s evidence, nitwit,” hissed Tim.

Jason ignored him, stabbing a meatball with the plastic fork. “What? It’s going to go to waste. Girlie obviously ain’t coming back for it.”

“We should be more worried about how a random girl used Damian’s credit card!”

“She could have stolen it?” offered Dick.

“Demon spawn would have broken her arm before getting pickpocketed,” countered Jason, eating another fry. Silence. A weird glint appeared in Jason's eye. He turned to Tim. “What did you say the girl looked like again?”

“Black hair, blue eyes, French accent.”

“Shit,” muttered Jason.

“What?”

“I think I ran into her earlier, about an hour and a half ago. Asked her if she had run into demon spawn – she sounded confused and tourist-like. But maybe…”

“Maybe she’s working with him?” offered Tim.

“Could be.”

“Damian? Working with another person? A stranger?” Dick shook his head. “Doesn’t sound like him.”

Jason shoved another fry into his mouth. “The brat’s a competitive little shit, if he thought teaming up would help him get ahead, he’d do it in a heartbeat.” He pointed a fry at Tim. “Can you look at the security footage?”

“I’m already two steps ahead of you,” Tim said, flashing his phone with the hacked in security camera footage on-screen. Jason and Dick huddled in close as a small girl walk on screen and stood at the counter.

“Yep, that’s her. Can you ID her, Timmy?”

Tim rolled his eyes, “This is a smartphone, Jay, not a laptop.”

“I thought Mr. World’s Second Greatest Detective would be prepared for anything.”

“Well excuse me for not having facial recognition software, on my phone.”

“Guys chill.”

“Shut up, Dick,” Jason and Tim said in unison.

The footage played out and they watched the girl order two meals and pay with Damian’s credit card. They switched to another camera when she left and sat at the picnic table. A few minutes later Jason and Tim walked into frame.

“Look, there! She tenses. Look at her body language, she’s panicking. She knows who you two are.” Dick looked shocked that, yes, Damian had teamed up with a partner.

They watched the girl panic, although she managed to keep her body from reacting too much. She placed her phone to her ear and walked away from her spot.

“Who is she talking to?”

“Maybe Damian watched out of sight?”

“Shoot, Tim, she’s out of frame. Do we have another angle?”

It took another minute or so, but Tim found the right security camera catching the mysterious girl leaving the food court. As she walked away the image on the screen flickered, and a moment later the shelving units fell.

“Oh crap,” swore Jason. “Do you think she has magic? Fuck, it would be just our luck if demon spawn teamed up with someone dangerous.”

Dick shook his head. “It could be a coincidence. We didn’t see her do anything. The chaos could have been a coordinated effort between her and Damian.”

Tim wasn’t so sure. “Come on Dick, you’ve been in the game long enough to know just because something looks one way, doesn’t mean it's true.”

They watched the girl hurry out of sight, this time it was much more difficult to follow her progress through the store. She randomly ducked in and out of showrooms, coming out differently than how she came in. If the three boys hadn’t been trained in stealth and detection for years, they would have had a challenging time tracking her.

Jason whistled low. “Who is this chick? I’m impressed. She has serious skill.”

Finally, she ducked into a showroom and didn’t come out. Tim couldn’t find a camera giving them an unobstructed view, but it didn't matter. They had a destination.  

“This was ten minutes ago, they could already be long gone,” said Dick.

“Or they could still be hiding there,” countered Jason.

“We’ll find out when we get there.” They walked out of the cafeteria and past the closed aisles. The forklift that had been buried under the collapsed shelving unit was being unearthed by a flock of bewildered employees.

“Ten bucks says she has magic,” said Jason.

“Yeah, no.” Tim was good at math and the odds of everything happening just as she left was too big to be a coincidence. “I’m not stupid enough to take that bet.”

“Come on you guys, let’s focus here,” chided Dick.

Walking back through the showrooms Tim kept an eye out for any sign of his brother or his accomplice, but it was as if they had disappeared into thin air. Arriving at the last location they had spotted the girl, they waited for a touring couple to leave before descending on the tiny, boxed room like the detectives they were trained to be.

It didn’t take long to discover the lasered off vent.

“Shit,” groaned Jason. “They could be anywhere by now.”

“Tim can you-”

Tim had his phone in hand, “I’m already on it. I’ll have the vent layout in a minute.” He felt insulted they even needed to ask.

Jason peered into the vent, “Damn, I think we’re too big to follow.”

 Dick sighed. “I miss my vent crawling days; they just don’t make them as big as they used to.”

“That’s what she said,” snickered Jason.

“Focus you two,” Tim snapped. “I’ve pulled up the air duct plans.” He flashed the screen to his two brothers who settled down. “This particular vent runs a couple of places. We have one entrance at the back of the store in the storeroom. Then another veering off near the daycare center, and the last which comes out near the unloading dock.”

“I’ll take the one next to the daycare center,” said Dick. “I’m the only one who isn't demented,” pointing to Jason, “or sleep-deprived,” pointing to Tim.

“Hey!” exclaimed Jason.

Tim sneered, repressing a Damian-like growl, “I wouldn’t be so sleep deprived if you hadn’t dragged us out of the house at eight in the morning. I arrived in from patrol at three.” He hadn’t had coffee in hours, and the weight of his tired body pressed on him like a panini maker.

Dick ignored them. “Jason can take the one at the loading docks, and Tim you’ll be able to bypass security and get into the back the easiest.”

“Sounds good to me,” grunted Jason.

“Alright,” agreed Tim. “The second any of us spots them, text the group chat, will box them in from there.”

They nodded and headed off their separate ways. Despite the tiredness in Tim's bones, there was a heady rush of the hunt thrumming in his veins. Damian, and whoever he had decided to pair up with, were going down.

Chapter Text

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Television shows made navigating through vents appear much easier than it was in real life. Then again, they also made being a superhero look easy too, and Marinette was painfully aware of how that was false. Her knees and back ached from crawling through the low ceiling vents, and though she wasn’t claustrophobic, she was decidedly cramped. And if that’s how she felt, Damian, at more than half a foot taller, had to be doubly suffering. She asked how he was doing.

“I've crawled through far more pleasant vents before,” he replied seriously. “If we could continue quickly, we’ll come out near another vent gate in about ten or so minutes.”

They continued in silence until they came to a fork in the vent.

“Which way?” asked Marinette.

Damian hesitated. “I didn’t see this on the plans.”

“So, you don’t know.”  

“I did not say that.”

“So which way do we go?”

Silence.

Marinette sighed and closed her eyes, poking for the pooled energy inside herself. Being the Guardian of the Miraculous had helped her innate magic to grow in leaps and bounds, but it was her Ladybug powers she ultimately searched for. After being bonded with Tikki for so long, certain… qualities tended to bleed over. One such ability was making decisions infused with good luck. It wasn’t easy, but it was one she had been working hard to master.  

A glimmer of magic burned in her chest, and a fleeting whispered voice told her to turn left. She smiled in the dark of the vent.

“Left,” she said confidently, “we go left.”

“Why?”

Marinette’s smile turned into a smirk, even though Damian couldn’t see her. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

“You wouldn’t be the first to try.” The quickness made the reply appear casual, but Marinette could tell by the steel in his tone it told more truth than intended.

‘Who the hell did I team up with?’ her brain once again asked.

“Let’s leave me off the list,” she said, bypassing the dangerous remark with a gymnast's grace. “Come on.”

She crawled around the corner and, after only a moment’s hesitation, heard Damian follow after her.

Silence reigned for another minute or so before far in the distance they spotted light.

“Oh, thank the Kwamis, an exit,” Marinette muttered.

Damian grumbled behind her. “None of this appeared on the plans.”

“Learn to roll with the flow.” The light grew stronger, so she flicked off her phone flashlight. “Chances are it didn’t take your brothers too long to track me back to our hiding spot. They probably know we’re in the vents. If they found the same plan you did…”

“They won’t have any clue about this.” She could hear the pleased smirk in his voice.

“Exactly.”

The light flooded upwards from the vent floor. The slats in between large enough to view the room below. Marinette crawled over it and maneuvered herself around to face Damian.

“Nice to see your face again.”

The dim light from the vent illuminated his face. “N-Nice to see yours too,” he said. It was at that point, it dawned on Marinette that Damian's view the whole way through the vent was an up-close look at her butt. From the heat radiating off her cheeks, it was likely her face was as red as his. She was torn between laughing hysterically and curling into a mortified ball and never emerging.

Instead of either of those rational actions though, her mouth, her stupid, stupid mouth, decided to betray her.

“Enjoy the view?” she asked with a grin. ''What are you doing?' She yelled at herself, that was the last thing she wanted to utter.

Damian, if it was even possible, turned redder, and coughed lightly. “You have, uh, your bottom is quite shapely.” By the end of his confession, his voice was a high-pitched squeak, more appropriate for a preteen, then an adult. It took every bit of self-control for Marinette to keep from falling apart laughing.

“Thanks, I exercise,” she responded cheekily. A familiar magical hum settled in her breastbone. Her connection to the Kwamis magic. Marinette held back from rolling her eyes, even as her inner panic grew. One of the Kwamis was helping her to flirt. Probably Plagg judging by her cheesy replies.

‘They are the physical embodiments of the powers of the universe, and they choose to help me flirt. What even is my life?’

“It's working well,” replied Damian, with more of a teasing tone than an embarrassed one, although his cheeks still appeared redder than normal.

“Yeah, well…” Marinette sat there struggling for a reply when noise from below cut off their impromptu flir- teasing session.

“I swear to God, if I find out who caused the mess in the Market Hall, I'll strangle them with my bare hands,” complained a voice from below.

Marinette winced when she saw Damian looking at her with a raised eyebrow. She hadn’t meant to cause that much damage.

“Oh, come on, Ian, it’s not like it was unscrewed on purpose. A bolt probably loosened and the shelf got bumped into. Blame it on bad luck.”

“Well, can I strangle bad luck then?”

Marinette held back an undainty snort. Plagg's constant whining and complaining came to mind. ‘There I certain days I definitely want to.’

“I don’t think so. I’m more worried about the giant cart pile up.” At that, Damian raised a second eyebrow, and Marinette shrugged, she didn't control what the Bad Luck Balls did. “We’re gonna need to test all the carts to check for any more loose wheels, that’s gonna take forever. Anyway, are you headed home?”

“Yeah, I’m half an hour over the end of my shift,” responded Ian. Marinette could see two people moving around in the room below. “Ooh look, someone brought in doughnuts! You want one Casey?”

“No thanks, still trying to stay on that diet. I just came in here for a drink and then I’m back out on the floor.” The sound of a fridge door opened. “See you next week.”

“Yeah, you too Casey.”

The sound of another door opened leaving the room below silent once more.

“Shopping carts?” Damian asked, half-amused, and half bewildered. “I didn’t hear about that.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “Escape was the highest priority, okay?”  

“When would you find the time to accomplish that?”

Marinette hesitated, there was no good explanation to give that would satisfy him. She wouldn’t tell him about the Miraculous or the Kwamis. It was her job, no her duty, to maintain their safety, and after everything she had fought for, bled for, nearly died for... no matter how comfortable he made her, there was no way he'd learn about what she could do. Especially when she had the feeling he was far more than meets the eye. Which didn’t leave much in the way of a good excuse for what she did and how.

Then, as if understanding Marinette’s great need for a distraction, their stomachs rumbled in unison. They looked at each other for a moment before laughing.

Marinette huffed, wiping away a tear of joy from her eye. “Okay, we need to find food to eat.”

Damian nodded. “The food court is a no go now; Drake will monitor it even more closely than before. We could find a vending machine?”

An idea popped into Marinette’s mind. “Or… how about the doughnuts?”

“Huh?”

She pointed down. “This is the breakroom. Ian mentioned doughnuts.”

“That would be stealing.”

“As opposed to the twenty other things we’ve stolen over the course of the past two hours?”

Damian rolled his eyes. “I can back pay those.”

“So, we’ll send them a box of doughnuts once we’ve won. I’m sure the IKEA employees will understand the doughnut's sacrifice to a worthy cause. Besides, breakrooms have coffee machines.”

Damian sneered. “Coffee from a machine will taste will taste like swill.”

“Didn't you say your brother dragged you out of bed at eight this morning? Coffee means caffeine, which means energy.”

He tilted his head and contemplated it for a moment. “Fair point.” He looked at the grate. “It’s probably a ten-foot drop. Can you handle that?”

Marinette had to refrain from rolling her eyes. She had free fallen off the Eiffel Tower before, she could handle a measly ten-foot drop. But Damian wasn't aware of any of that of course. “Yeah, I can do that.”

He dug into his pocket and pulled out the laser pen. “Back up, it’s going to get hot in here.”

Marinette averted her eyes while Damian cut the grate away with the laser, the heat making the metal vent shaft turn into a furnace. She wiped away at a bead of sweat forming at her brow. The grate gave way and clattered against the floor below. Damian put away the laser and gave her a quick smirk. He slipped his legs into the hole where the grate had been and jumped to the floor, landing with a soft thud.

Breathing a sigh of relief at finally leaving the cramped vent, Marinette maneuvered her legs to dangle over the vent opening and slid out, bracing herself for the landing.

But instead of meeting the floor, she found herself caught in mid-air. Damian had her in his grasp, holding her off the floor by a few inches with his strong arms snug around her waist. Their eyes caught and the air between them grew thick with tension. His bare hands brushed against a sliver of her exposed back, the contact sent shivers up her spine.

Neither of them breathed for a brief moment.

“I told you I could handle the drop,” Marinette said, her words barely above a whisper.

“I know.” Damian’s voice matched hers. The look in his eyes impossible to decipher. His arms tightened for a moment, before letting her slip-free.

Marinette smiled, resting her hands against his arms. “Thanks.”

Damian opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it. He stepped back, effectively breaking the bubble around them. Marinette pushed the rapid flutter in her chest away. She could deal with it later when she was far removed from crazy games of hide-and-seek, and dark-skinned boys who made her too comfortable to be safe.

She turned and looked around the room they had dropped into, finding it, thankfully, empty. The last thing they needed was security getting called on them. Spotting the counter with the box of doughnuts on it, Marinette smiled.

She walked over to the box. “Well, it’s no Parisian artisan pastries, but I suppose the chain-restaurant swill will suffice,” she teased, looking back over her shoulder at Damian.  

“Ha, ha, very funny,” he deadpanned, heading over to the coffee machine to start a new pot. She turned her attention back to the box, the words Krispy Kreme printed on the front in large green letters, several doughnuts still inside.

“Which one do you want?” she asked.

“Anything with chocolate.”

“You have excellent taste.”

“I strive too.” That made Marinette smile. It was such a Chole-like response. She had to make sure never to introduce the two of them.

Marinette pulled out a few doughnuts and put them in the microwave. They would taste much better warm. After a few seconds, she brought the plate over to Damian staring at the ancient coffee machine with distaste.

“Here, you take this.” She pushed the plate of warm doughnuts into his hands. “And I’ll deal with this.” Grabbing a filter to place the pre-crushed coffee grounds into.

“Tt, why don’t they use a Keurig?” he asked with a sneer.

“Uh… because it’s a breakroom in an IKEA?” Marinette was shocked to find a breakroom at all. She’d figured employees would have to lean against the wall if they wanted a break, before being prodded into moving again by their superior. At least, she thought that was what Americans did.

Damian scoffed. “Everyone uses Keurig.”

“Even you, Mr. Machine coffee tastes like swill?”

“No, Alfred makes our coffee in the morning French press style. I do occasionally steal Drake’s Keurig out of his room when he hasn’t slept in four days to watch him cry though.”

“Damian!” she exclaimed.

“What? It’s for his own good. At that point he’s more likely to make a mistake, he needs sleep, not more caffeine.”

Marinette's thoughts flickered to her own Keurig she bought before she left Paris and the number of times she had played out the exact scenario Damian described. “Coffee is a lifestyle.” She grabbed two paper cups and placed one underneath the machine as the coffee dripped.

“It’s a crutch. Drake is a grown man, and he should, mlph-” Marinette cut him off by shoving a chocolate doughnut into his mouth. He glared at her.

“Getting between a determined person and their coffee is a criminal offense and should be punished.” She grabbed a doughnut for herself taking a bite of the sugary pastry. It tasted nothing like her parents’, but her empty stomach didn't care, so it would do. “Who’s Alfred by the way? Another brother?”

Damian took half the doughnut out of his mouth, swallowing the rest. “Most people wouldn’t dare to take the liberties you do with me.”

“Good thing I’m not most people,” Marinette responded with a smile. “You’re avoiding the question.” She took the cup out, now full to the brim of steaming hot coffee, and replaced it with the second.

“No, fortunately, I have no more brothers. Although my father likes to pick up strays so who knows if we’ll obtain another. Alfred is our butler.”

Thankfully, Marinette hadn’t taken a sip of coffee otherwise she might have done a spit-take. “You have a butler?” She had gotten the impression his family was pretty rich, and she was used to her friends having personal staff, but never failed to shock her when this level of luxury was mentioned so casually.

Damian shrugged. “Tt, butler, pseudo-grandfather, the only reason our family functions even semi-normally; same difference.”

Marinette shook her head in exasperation. “If you say so.” She pulled out the second cup, handing it to Damian. He took a sip.

“If mediocre had a taste…”

“Oh, shut up and drink it.”

They devoured their meager rations in silence, going back for seconds on both doughnuts and coffee. Marinette was by no means full when she finished, but at least her stomach wasn’t threatening to eat itself anymore.

“So, where do we go from here?” she asked.

Damian pulled out his phone. “The store closes at nine, which means we either have to avoid my brothers for eight more hours, or…”

“We have to knock them out of the game completely.”

“Exactly.”

“So, are we gonna actually knock them out, or should we just get them kicked out of the store?” She would normally try to avoid the use of excessive force on civilians, but from the few hints Damian had dropped, Marinette figured his family was used to a higher level of insanity. Living in Gotham must have that effect.

“Effective and vicious,” commented Damian, “I like the way you think. As much fun as it would be to knock them out, getting them kicked out is probably the better method. We have… family plans for this evening that potential concussions would make difficult.”

“Who’s our first target?”

“Drake,” said Damian without a moment’s hesitation. “He’s their eyes and ears. The other two are still good at hacking, but he’s the best. Get rid of him, and Grayson and Todd will be scrambling to recover. Plus, he’s the least likely to put up a fight.”

With a plan made, they erased their presence from the breakroom, hiding the lasered off vent grate and discarding their trash. Once confident the coast was clear they snuck out of the breakroom, and into the bowels of the back hallways, leaving nothing but doughnut crumbs and the smell of coffee in their wake.

It was time for the hunters to become the prey.

Chapter Text

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“How will we find them?” Marinette asked as they made their way through the back hallways of the store. It was a little disconcerting no one tried to stop them, but besides from a harried man wearing a blue vest dragging around an industrial-sized banana, and a teen girl with vibrant pink hair who looked like she hadn’t slept in two days, they hadn’t run into anybody.

“Oh, I know where Drake is,” replied Damian, who had his head bent looking at his phone, but for some reason was able to make a series of turns without running into a single wall. “Just trust me.”

Eventually, they came to the end of the hall. The transition from dingy carpet to concrete, a box of vests and hats, and a sign above that read: “CAUTION! DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT SAFETY GEAR!”  made it astoundingly clear they were about to enter a public workspace. An electronic door with a key code blocked their way. Through the door’s screen glass window, they could see a giant warehouse filled floor to ceiling with metal shelves. Boxes piled on shelves, just like the customer warehouse section at the front of the store was. Marinette remembered the website boasting this IKEA was the distribution plant for the mid-northeast. The whole back wall was filled with giant shutter doors, big enough that semi-trucks could be loaded and unloaded. A group of about ten workers unloaded boxes off a truck.

“What now?” Marinette asked.

“My brothers, without a doubt, followed you back to our hiding spot, and they pulled up the same blueprints we did for the vent system.” He handed his phone to her. “Now if you’ll note, there are three locations where those vents end.”

“Which means they most likely split up.” It made sense it was what she would do if she tried to trap someone.

“Three locations: two in the back and one in public. Here in the distribution plant near the security office, one near the loading docks, and one near the children’s daycare center. Grayson took the front, Drake the back-door entrance, and Todd the back lot,” said Damian with a look of confidence that brokered no argument. Marinette was curious as to how he came to his conclusion but figured Damian knew his brothers well enough to reason out their strategy.

“Drake will watch the camera feed, so we need to stay out of the line of sight otherwise he’ll know we’re no longer in the vents.”

“If he’s in the back, he’ll also stay out of the sight of the cameras too. So, no one in the security room will see he’s out of bounds.”

Damian nodded. “He’ll be working in a limited range, watching the vent. We’ll be working in an even smaller one.” He tapped on another tab on his phone and showed her the screen, it cycled between all of the cameras for the distribution center. “Here, you familiarize yourself with this, while I disable the lock on the door.”

Marinette wondered for a second how he gained access to the footage but considering his brothers tracked their younger sibling’s credit card, it wasn’t unreasonable to think they were all good with technology. She watched the screen noting the exits and entrances and possible places to hide from the camera’s immediate reach. The vent entrance they were supposed to come out of was barely on camera, just a sliver, she figured Tim would be in that area. She noticed the cameras were all pointing down to the warehouse floor but not upwards.

A small unlocking noise filled the air. “Let’s go,” Damian said, placing a small metallic-looking device back into his pocket, the door pad lit green and he pushed it open.

“Wait,” she replied. Marinette grabbed two vests and hats from the box and handed a set to him. He raised an eyebrow in question, and she shrugged

“If we’re spotted, we’ll at least vaguely look like we belong.”

“That’s fair,” he said. They got into the vests and Marinette readjusted her hair so the helmet would fit on her head. She handed Damian back his phone, and they crept out onto the metallic landing above the work floor.

Leaving the quiet hallway into the echoey warehouse was a jarring shift. The beeping of machines, the chattering of people, even the large booms of boxes hitting the ground all collected into a symphony of noise and distraction. No one would ever have picked out the sound of two sets of footsteps against metal cautiously crossing above them.

The landing they stepped out onto led down to a set of stairs onto the floor proper, but it also connected to a series of catwalks. Currently, thankfully, empty. Marinette felt a rush of excitement run through her. She hadn’t done proper sneaking in so long. She missed the thrill of it.

“The vent is at the east-back of the warehouse, over by the main offices and intake channels,” whispered Damian, barely audible over the cacophonous din of the space.

They made their way around the walks taking caution to avoid the cameras, but at a certain point, they couldn’t reach any closer to their destination without being in their view. The vent was still fifty feet away. Damian poked her shoulder and pointed to a stretch of wall. It was mostly in shadow due to the hanging light above it being out. Marinette could see the soft flickers of a mis-screwed bulb, and in the brief flashes of light, she saw a figure leaned up against the wall.

Crouching on the walkway to reduce the chance of someone noticing their stall, they began to take stock of their position.

“We need to get him out in the open,” said Marinette, her eyes moving rapidly around the room. Without Tikki, devising off the cuff plans infused with luck wasn’t perfect, but after years of practice, she discovered the ability bled over a bit into her civilian form.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a tub of industrial-strength quick dry glue, and the gears in her mind began to turn.

“But we can’t let him see us!” Damian hissed. “If he knows we’re here he’ll text the others.”

Marinette’s mind froze. “Wait. They have a group chat?”

Damian shrugged. “Well, technically I’m on it too. It’s how I knew I was the last one waiting to be found.”

“Then how do we know they’re not tracking your phone!?”

Damian shook his head. “Against the rules. We’re allowed to use our tech to hack public resources, not our own.”

“So, the credit card?”

“The bank is technically public.”

Marinette pinched the bridge of her nose with a restrained sigh, a growing tension built behind her eyes. “Okay, okay, let me think.” She inched over to the edge of the catwalk. Her eyes flittered over the work floor, landing on a pile of loosely stacked wood pallets, then over to the broken light hanging above the spot where Tim was hiding, then she looked at the ceiling.

She smiled.  

A plan forming in her mind, Marinette asked, “He’ll move if he thinks he’s in danger of being spotted, right?”

Damian nodded slowly. “What are you thinking?”

“What kind of shoes does he wear?”

Damian blinked, pausing for a moment, before saying, “Laced up combat boots.”

Marinette smirked. “Perfect. Have you ever watched the Home Alone movies before?”

Damian snarled his nose, but shrunk in a bit, as if embarrassed. “They’re banned in our house.”

“Why?” asked Marinette, slightly afraid of the answer.

“According to certain parties, movies which encourage the use of “extreme violence” in handling petty criminals are unsuitable for bored vi-young adults with technical know-how.” A small smirk crept onto his face and his vibrant green eyes flickered to hers. “I ignored the ban and watched it at an… acquaintance’s house instead.”

Marinette laughed at Damian’s self-satisfaction. “Okay, we'll need perfect timing for this to work then. How do you feel about setting a tiny, controlled, fire?”  

Damian’s smirk grew wider. “Go on.”


“It’s like monkey bars,” she whispered, trying to convince herself. “Giant, freaking, monkey bars.”

It wasn’t like monkey bars. It was nothing like monkey bars.

No, this was crawling along a metal I-beam thirty feet up in the air trying to stay out of the reach of security cameras to screw in a lightbulb. This was the best her magically enhanced brain could come up with.

“You defeated a supervillain with nothing more than luck and rope. You’ve-” her hand slipped on the metal causing her to stop as she righted herself. “You have run across rooftops and hung above giants vats of boiling food. This will not be the end of you,” said Marinette, berating herself. To be fair, Damian heard the plan and thought it was perfect, so this idiocy could have lain on his shoulders too. He got the easy part though.

Hindsight’s twenty-twenty, and all that rot.

Now it wasn’t as if Marinette was scared of heights. One too many involuntary trips off the Eiffel Tower cured that fear in startlingly quick fashion. Normally though, she had the protection of an ancient deity and an unbreakable never-ending rope at her side. Right now, she was just a slightly more durable human risking life and limb for a game. If she fell, that was it.

Damian did raise that concern when she explained the plan, insisting he go and screw in the light bulb, but Marinette knew she could do it, and it was the likeliest part of the plan where Tim could spot them. They couldn’t risk it. So here she was while Damian waited below implementing the second part of their devious scheme.

Despite all the risk involved, Marinette still thought this was the most fun she’d had in weeks.

Finally, she reached the spot above the flickering lamp, her hands sweated from the tight grip she had on the metal. Now came the hard part. She untied a length of rope from her belt. She’d found it on her way to climb a small ladder up to the very top of the warehouse where the exposed metal beams crisscrossed the ceiling. After all, some insurance was better than none.

Attaching the rope securely around her waist and the other end to the metal beam, she swung her legs around so they could grip the beam and she could lean back and hang upside down, next to the lamp. The blood rushed past her ears and into her head, her hair flipped over, and she became distinctly aware of just how high up she was.

“The tower was taller,” she muttered. “The tower was taller.”

Now, with her hands unimpeded, she was free to mess with the lamp. The flickering light she noticed from down on the catwalk indicated power, but a loose connection. Feeling with her hands, as she wasn’t far down enough to see into the lamp, she grasped the bulb and tried to turn it.

It wouldn’t budge.

“Fuck,” she muttered. Marinette tried again, this time using a little more strength, but still, it wouldn’t move.

Damn. If this didn’t work, Marinette didn’t know what they would do. Their (her) entire crazy plan involved lighting this area up so Tim would move.

Breathing heavily, dizzy from the pooling blood in her head, she twisted again harder. Pushing as much of her body into it as she could. One of her legs started to slip from the beam, but just when she thought she would fall, the bulb budged and turned to the right. The flicker became a flood.

image

“Let there be light,” she muttered. Her hands flew back to the beam, stabilizing her slipping legs and she did a weird half sit up and pulled herself upright. The blood rushed back down causing black dots to appear in her vision and the world seemed to tilt, but she held tight onto the beam. Once the momentary wooziness passed, she straightened herself out and untied herself.

“Alright, Damian, up to you now.” She crawled back across the beam to the access point.

The plan, despite its potential dangers, was rather simple.

Marinette would head up and fix the light. (Check) Meanwhile, Damian, wearing the fake glasses, helmet, and vest would pour quick dry glue in the only other spot that would be out of the security camera’s range, semi-dark once the light was fixed, and still able to view the vent.

The glue was the key to all of this. The substance was not only quick-dry but highly flammable. So, Damian would pour a thin circle around the spot where Tim would stand and a line away from it, like a trail of gunpowder, and wait until Marinette gave the signal. Then he would light the trail. This of course all being away from anything else flammable. Tim would be stuck to the floor surrounded by a ring of fire.

She only had two concerns with the plan; would Tim get hurt, and how much trouble could he get into? Damian reassured her Tim was the one that got them out of trouble most of the time. He would charm (and potentially bribe) his way out and no lasting consequences would occur. Further, he and his siblings were all trained in case of an emergency (a common occurrence in Gotham), so it wasn’t like his brother would panic.

Granted he said that with a devious gleam in his eye, which spoke of sibling retribution. Marinette wasn’t about to get in the way of that and trusted Damian knew Tim well enough that he wouldn’t be harmed.  

Marinette, after fixing the light, would make her way back down to the work floor, and position herself behind the pile of loosely stacked wood pallets. Once Damian lit the fire, she would tip over the pallets attracting the attention of a ton of workers, and the office manager. Damian would immediately hide after setting the fire, while Tim would be stuck to the ground. Once the fire was put out and Tim apprehended, she and Damian would meet on the catwalks, where there was rooftop access. They would be out of the line of sight, and if anyone looked through the footage, they would see nothing more than two workers in vests and hats.  

If it hadn’t been for the death-defying stunt, Marinette would have called it one of her better thought-out plans.

It took her less time to get down than the initial climb. She grabbed her abandoned helmet, and a clipboard filled with random paper. Looking official meant less chance of people talking to her, and less chance of being discovered. Making her way down the steps onto the work floor, she strode across to an empty station and pretended to look busy. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Damian hidden in his spot to set the fire.

Walking over to the pallet stack with a straight face was harder than she thought it would be. She noticed Tim abandoned his previous spot and moved exactly where they wanted him. A small ball of tension built in her stomach. This is where everything could go wrong. The fire could not light properly, or she could get caught, or Damian could get caught, or they could light something else on fire, or they could set off the sprinkler system and everyone had to evacuate.

Before she knew it, Marinette stood in front of the pallets. She sent a text to Damian (they’d exchanged numbers while hashing out the details of the plan), a simple ‘go’ and a second later, saw the flicker of flames rushing along the floor. Without hesitating, she leaned against the pallet stack with both hands and watched as it tumbled down.

The clatter rang through the warehouse, at the same time as a huge column of flames rose up into the air.  

Marinette froze her eyes affixed on the burning inferno.

Well… that ended up larger than anticipated.

Seems they didn’t need the knocked-over wood pallets after all.

Moving mostly on instinct, she ducked behind a shelving unit, watching as a ton of workers ran over to the fire. The doors to the offices slammed open, and several people in suits and a few security guards rushed out. Marinette waited until the crowd was large enough, before slipping back in to see what happened next.

Despite, the initial large burst the fire died down very quickly. Thankfully, it didn’t set off the fire alarm, and after someone grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed out the rest of the flames, all evidence was gone.

Well, besides for one very confused Tim Drake.

He stood in the middle of the foamed circle; his boots still stuck to the ground. His clothes were unharmed, but from a distance, she could see the ends of his hair whisp with smoke.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOIN’ ON HERE?” yelled a large rotund man in a safety vest and worker's hat. Marinette watched as his eyes zeroed in on Tim. “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU, PUNK? WHAT DID YOU DO IN MY WAREHOUSE?”

Tim blinked for a second before finally realizing the man was talking to him. “N-No, me? I- I didn’t do anything. The fire just came out of nowhere.”

“You think you can just pop back here and set fire to whatever you please? Does anyone recognize him?” A chorus of negative answers erupted from the gathered crowd. If possible, the man’s face grew even redder. “You a customer? WHAT THE HELL IS A CUSTOMER DOING SETTING FIRE TO MY STORE?”

A man in a suit walked over and cautiously placed a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Jerry, calm down, we’ll have security sort this out.” Jerry rounded on the other man and glared.

“No! I’ll take care of this punk myself.” He walked right over to Tim and roughly grabbed his arm. At this point, the crowd had doubled in size and Marinette had to push her way through to watch. Jerry tugged Tim to move him, but unfortunately, his shoes were still stuck to the ground. Jerry tugged again, and the crowd realized what was happening and started laughing.

“AH, SHUT UP!” Jerry yelled. He leaned in real close to Tim, who’ been protesting the whole time to no avail. “Unlace your shoes, boy. We’re gonna have a good chat, just you wait until your father hears about this.”

The perpetually baby-faced Tim pouted. “I’m almost twenty-five, my dad isn’t in charge of me.”

The shark-like grin Jerry made, caused Marinette to sympathize with whoever had to deal with the man on a normal basis. “Great, I’ll get the police to deal with you then.”

Tim, apparently a creature with no fear, (seriously who were these brothers?) laughed in Jerry’s face. “I’d love to see that happen. Seriously, go ahead.”

The man’s red face turned burgundy, and Marinette was fairly certain Jerry was about to explode. Without saying another word, he pointed down at Tim’s shoes. Tim shrugged, and quickly untied his laces.

“I’m telling you; this wasn’t me. I’ve been framed,” Tim said, completely calm. His eyes scanned the crowd probably looking for his brother. Marinette swiftly moved behind a taller person to avoid being seen.

“HA! Likely story you little punk.” Once the last of the laces had been untied and Tim stepped out of his shoes, Jerry once again grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the offices. The group of men in suits looked vaguely resigned to the occurring series of events and followed close behind with a few security guards.

“WHAT ARE YOU STANDING AROUND GAWKING AT, HUH?” Jerry yelled to the crowd of assembled workers. “YOU'RE ON THE CLOCK! GET BACK TO WORK!”  He pushed his way through the crowd, which parted quickly out of the way. Marinette saw them coming her way, and almost shuffled to the side to avert being seen.

But at the last second, a thought occurred to her and she moved closer to the pair, bumping into the edge of Tim’s shoulder. She moved quickly, with years of practiced skill, then faked a stumble.

“Sorry,” she mumbled when Jerry glared at her. She moved further back into the crowd, clutching her prize in hand. She allowed herself to smirk a little; Tim hadn’t even looked at her.  

Moving with the crowd, still chattering about the fire and showdown they’d seen, she diverted off when they’d moved far enough from the sight of the fire. Walking along the catwalks to the rooftop access door, she found Damian nowhere to be seen.

She only had a moment to panic, before he dropped down from an I-beam, landing on the metallic grating with a low clang.

“Why were you up there?”

He glared. “Why were you late?

“I watched the aftermath. Weren’t you concerned about your brother? The fire ended up larger than expected.”

Damian shrugged, “Tt. I could see him, he was fine. Barely even singed. You could have risked the whole plan by lingering and gawking. Now we’re behind, and it’s likely he’s already warned Todd and Grayson.”

Marinette smirked, “I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”

“Why?” he asked in angry confusion. “It’s what I would do.”

She pulled a sleek grey phone out of her pocket. “It’s kinda hard to text people when you don’t have a phone.”

Damian looked at the stolen object in obvious shock. He blinked once, then twice. “You stole his phone.”

“I stole his phone,” she repeated with a pleased grin.

Damian’s cheeks grew red, and he coughed. “Well- um… that’s good and um… yeah, just, great.”

“Less mad now.” Marinette teased.

Damian turned back to the rooftop access door. “Yeah, whatever. You’ve bought us a little time, but that doesn’t mean we have the luxury to linger.” He pulled out the little metallic device again, and within seconds the door pad lit green. “Let’s go.” He pushed open the door and stepped into the sun.

Marinette followed, eager to continue.‘One brother down, two to go.’  

Chapter Text

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The light of day was a welcome change to the artificial lights of the building. Although what captured Marinette’s attention first was the dramatic decrease in sound. High above on the roof, only the faint wisps of cars and people could be heard. Mostly it was just a low humming noise from a nearby air conditioner and the whistling wind.

Marinette stood in a sunlight patch, turning her face to the sky, letting the warm rays hit her skin. She closed her eyes and sighed. Still full from the doughnuts and coffee, running on the adrenaline high of their first successful elimination, the warm sun was like a cherry on top.

Damian cleared his throat.

Marinette opened her eyes, biting her lip. “Sorry, feels nice to be outside.”

Damian shrugged. “That’s fine, your actions mirrored someone I know.” He turned his head away looking across the roof for where to go next. This granted Marinette a pleasant view of his side profile.

‘Damn that jawline could cut glass,’ piped a little voice in her head. She waved it away, now was not the time for those thoughts. “Who?” she asked.

He startled, turning back with a sheepish expression. “My… cat. Pennyworth. He likes to stretch in the sun, as you just did.”  

She paused; did he just compare her to a cat?? It took a moment before the statement's hilarity hit her and she started to laugh. It took over completely, bending her at the stomach forcing her to close her eyes, she gasped for breaths between bursts of laughter.  

“Sorry, sorry,” he grumbled, his cheeks a flustered red. “I will refrain from comparing your actions to an animal again, but I don’t see what you find so funny.”

“No,” she wheezed. “No, that’s not the problem.” Just the thought of being compared to a cat was hilarious. Plagg would never let her live it down. Tikki had the same love of bathing in sunspots, but to a cat owner, yes, she must have looked exactly like one. “I’m sorry, I’m not-” she took a big breath finally subsuming the laughter. She placed a hand on Damian’s shoulder. “I’m not laughing at you. It’s an exceptionally long story as to why I find the comparison funny.”

Damian’s cheeks were still red, but he looked less offended now. “Perhaps you can tell me another time, we are still on the clock after all.”

The warning of their limited time finally drove away the last of her giggles. “You’re right, you’re right. Sorry. I’ve derailed us. Another time.” She was pleased, that, even after making a fool of herself Damian still maybe wanted to know her when they were finished with this crazy hide and seek game.   

Crossing the roof to the back edge they peered over. Down below they could semi-trucks parked around haphazardly and workers unloading and offloading boxes. Off to one side of the backlot, a shipping container maze covered a good amount of space. A few were scattered around, open to the workers pulling material off them, but the rest waited, untouched and unbothered. The lot, compared to the warehouse, had far fewer people working, but it was open, with fewer places to hide.

“Even with Drake’s phone gone, Todd will be aware of the fire before too long. Word of the incident will spread quickly,” commented Damian, pulling out his phone and tapping on another app. It zoomed in on the area below. “Unfortunately, I am banned from using the trackers I placed on my brothers. Against the rules.”  

“You have trackers on your brothers?” It fit with everything she knew about him, but the absurdity of his statements blindsided her at times. What kind of world did he come from where tracking people was normal?

“Sure, I put trackers on everyone,” said Damian, focused on panning the phone across the work lot, searching for his brother.

Marinette blinked, realizing the totality of his statement. “Including me?”

He froze. “Would you be mad if I said yes?”

She wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this. “Damian, do I have a tracker on me?”

He shifted back and forth on his feet, but his face remained impassive. “I can remove the tracker?”

“Do the trackers help?” She wasn’t sure if she meant for practical purposes or for his own peace of mind. Maybe, if she was honest, he used it for a little bit of both.  

“Yes, it has proven useful on occasion.”

She shrugged her shoulders, suppressing a smile. “Then the tracker can stay.”

The tension in Damian’s shoulder’s dropped, but before he could say anything else, his phone dinged. On the screen was an image of Jason, leaned up against the back wall of the building. He stood right next to the vent, gazing off into the distance. She and Damian dropped to the ground of the roof, it wasn’t likely he would spot them from all the way up here, but there was no reason to take the chance.

“So, we know where he is, do you have any ideas on how to eliminate him?” asked Marinette. “Because if you hadn’t noticed, I kinda did all the planning last time.”

Damian rolled his eyes, “Yes, I am aware. Last time we utilized Drake’s own advantages against him. We knew he wanted to stay out of sight of the cameras and had the means of accessing them. And, despite all his sophisticated skill-” he paused, his eyes widening, then he snarled his nose. “Not that I would ever admit to that skill, and you heard nothing of the sort,” he backtracked, pointing at her.

She raised a hand to her lips pretending to zipper and lock them. “He’ll hear nothing from me.”

Damian nodded. “Regardless, he was certain their plan was foolproof and therefore was not anticipating retaliation. Todd, on the other hand, is a paranoid bastard. Here, observe.” He raised himself above the edge of the building, pointing his phone at Jason. “It appears as if he is daydreaming, but in actuality-”

“He’s categorizing weak spots in the area and is in the best possible position to chase us if we were to appear or fight in case something comes after him.” She whistled low. “Impressive.”

“Tt.” Damian scowled, turning off the phone, stuffing it back into his pocket. “It’s not that impressive. We’re all paranoid bastards trained to analyze situations to utilize them for our advantage. He’s objectively the worse at it. I could do better.”

She patted his shoulder consolingly. “I’m sure you could, but right now he,” she gestured in Jason’s direction. “Is the paranoid bastard we have to take down, so how do we do that?”

“Well, Todd is impulsive, reckless, emotional, prone to jumping to conclusions, and entirely too trigger happy. Confronting him openly is risky. Having him found and kicked out is the best viable option. However, he won’t stay still like Tim did, and will certainly put up much more of a fuss.”

“So…” she tried thinking of options. “How about tying him up?”

Damian tilted his head back and forth, weighing the idea. “He will claim it was done by someone else or break out before security even reaches him.”

She shook her head, “No, we need them to think he was tied up for a reason. We framed Tim for the fire, or at least we put him in the general proximity of the fire. What if we frame Jason for something else?”

“Like stealing? Todd does have a history of it.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Damian we’re both wearing stolen clothes, and I pickpocketed Tim’s phone.”

He waved it off. “I never said we were innocent. Just if the police are called, they would believe it of him. Not that it would come to that. Todd would escape custody before going ten feet near a police car.”

“Alright, but we still have the problem of actually trapping him.”

Damian sighed, staying silent, but Marinette could tell he was furiously thinking, trying to devise a plan. She too kept silent, running through different scenarios and discarding each one; ones for being too complicated, others for not being likely to work. They both sat there, minutes passing, each second feeling like a wasted eternity, and then Damian finally gasped.

“I… have an idea,” he said with hesitation.

“Great!”

“It’s complicated.”

She scoffed, “Do you not remember what we just pulled off with Tim ten minutes ago. Complicated isn’t a problem for us.”

“It’ll require acting on your part.”

Marinette shrugged, “I can do that.” If she could fool her parents and classmates for years about being a superhero, tricking one person, paranoid or not, would be a cinch.

“Todd will kill me for even suggesting this. It not only plays off his weaknesses but his fears,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Then he looked directly at her, his green eyes piercing, holding her in place “Are you okay with that?”

“Will it hurt him?”

“Physically, no. Emotionally, yes, probably.”

Marinette wafted back and forth. Being mean wasn't a good thing. Multiple years of bullying in high school drove her to strive for kindness whenever possible, but this was… this was different. This was a game, a competition. Obviously, Damian and his brothers played by a harsher set of rules than the average person. Damian even described them as being, 'a combination of street orphans, circus brats, gymnastics freaks, and geniuses’. They were trained (seriously, who trains their children???), which indicated they should be able to hold up even under more… problematic circumstances. 

“Will it work?”

Damian breathed in sharply. “Yes,” he said, nodding confidently.

Marinette smirked, remembering Damian’s words from a few hours ago. “Well, winning trumps everything but murder today. I’m in.”

Damian paused, his eyes widening. His lips twitched, then stretched into the biggest grin Marinette had seen from him. He raised a hand to cover his eyes and laughed. It was a deep, warm sound, coming straight from his chest. In the brief time she’d known him, Damian appeared to be snarky, harsh, and at times, a bit feral. Laughter, or even a genuine smile, was not something she would assume was normal for him. But caught up like this, relaxed and happy, it was a good look for him.

Marinette ruthlessly squashed down the small part of her wanting to be the reason for that happiness. Emotions like that were a disaster waiting to happen. She hardly knew Damian; she was in America to go to school and protect the Miraculous. A romance was not part of those priorities. She took those unwanted feelings and shoved them into a box. She would deal with them later when she was home, and far away from chaotic tan-skinned boys with laughter that made her stomach flutter. She refocused herself back on the situation at hand, as Damian’s laughter calmed down.

He looked back up at her, mirth dancing in his emerald green eyes, his smile replaced with a devious smirk. “Perfect, we have work to do.”


Jason’s POV

Jason glanced down at his phone for the fifth time in a minute. The clock still blinking 2:15, he waited another second.

And another.

And another.

2:16.

He groaned. This wait was killing him, at least when he’d been inside searching for the demon-brat he’d been able to walk around. Stationed outside, stuck watching a tiny vent entrance was fucking boring.

Dick’s idea had been stupid at eight in the morning, and it was still stupid now. Their oldest brother knew they were competitive little assholes, and Damian took the fucking crown. Now the brat was god knows where, paired up with the little French chick, and evading them like the annoying assassin he was bred and raised to be.

Jason tapped into his messages, again, and wondered when, if ever, the others would text. Maybe they’d already spotted the Damian and his partner (and dear god, who would ever want to partner up with the brat willingly??) and were in the process of chasing them down, and just hadn’t had the time to check-in. Which, rude. He could have been doing so many more interesting things with his Saturday.

Another minute dragged past, and Jason shifted his weight off his left foot and propped it on the wall. He would wait five, five, more minutes, and then he would head back inside. Those fries he’d taken from the abandoned meal hadn’t nearly been enough. His stomach begged for a more substantial meal, maybe burgers and a shake. Or tacos. 

Another minute or two passed, testing his will to stay still when his phone started to vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out.

REPLACEMENT Calling

He smashed the answer call button. “Ugh, finally, Replacement. I’ve been standing here forever. What the hell is going on? Where’s demon spawn?”

There was a moment of silence.

“Good Afternoon, Monsieur Todd,” a smug accented voice said, a voice that was definitely not Tim.

Jason blinked, the words taking a moment to register, when they did, he pushed off the wall he’d been leaning on. He swiveled his head around searching for signs of danger.

“What the- Who- How the hell did you get this phone? Damian, what the fuck are you playing at?”

The girl on the other end of the call giggled, high pitched and haughty. “Oh, Monsieur Todd, I thought you smarter than zat. My name certainly is not Damian. As for the phone, I acquired it.”

Jason scowled. “Tim would never let his phone out of his sight. Ignorance doesn’t look good on you girlie, you’re a little too late, we already know you’re working with Damian.”

“Oh, working with him, that’s what you thought?” She laughed again. “Non, non, non, I was working with him, but I found what I needed. Like this little phone, so much information, so little time.”

Jason started to worry. If she managed to break into the phone, there was a ridiculous amount of damning information Tim kept stored there. “Tim keeps that thing locked tighter than Fort Knox, even if you have it, you’ll never get anything off it.”

“I’m sure it’ll take me a while, but everything can be broken with enough time and effort, as I’m sure you would know.”

His insides froze, how the fuck did she-

“You’re playing a trick on me,” he said, as calmly as he could manage with his blood boiling. “You and Damian have teamed up, and are playing a god-awful trick on me, and Demon Spawn I’m going to kill you for it.”

“Ha, non, Monsieur Todd, no trick. I would let you talk to your brothers, but they’re a little… occupied at zey moment.”

He was still half-convinced this was a crazy scheme concocted by Damian to trap him, but he was willing to play along. She had told him nothing but misdirection and allusions so far, nothing solid. “No, seriously sweet cheeks, what did the brat offer you to put you up to this? Money? A press release? Pictures?”

“Oh, I was put up to this, as you would say, but not by Damian. It was a nice little offshore routing account with a seven-figure number attached. You and your family’s laxity just made me a very rich woman.”

Fuck, he was getting nothing from her. He looked around again, she could be miles away, or just out of sight, laughing her ass off and he had no way of telling. “Say I believe you. Why would you call? Rule number in this game, never let your opponent know when you’re ahead.”

“Yes, you would know that, wouldn’t you. Well, as I said I was paid for information, not murder.”

“Murder. Ha, yeah right, even if you got Tim, there’s no way you could take Damian down.” She hadn’t used their aliases yet; she may have just been paid for information on the Wayne side of the family. That was if this still wasn’t all a trick by her and Damian. If it weren’t, Damian wouldn’t hold back, and he’d have torn the girl apart.  

“Men are all ze same, there are always weaknesses to be exploited.”

Jason had to laugh. “Yeah, right, you’re telling me you seduced Damian into letting his guard down. Sorry, hon, but that’s the oldest trick in the book. He wouldn’t fall for that.” Not in the least because Talia and Bruce taught him otherwise. For obvious reasons.  

“You American’s with your minds in dirty places. I meant food, and drink for Tim in particular. Fast-acting, odorless, tasteless. Easy and quick. You all interrupted my first attempt, but I found an alternative route.”

Fuck, they had found the girl in the cafeteria. She would have had plenty of time to slip a compound in Damian’s food before returning to their hiding spot. They could have found a vending machine or something afterward, and she could have caught him there. And Tim? He would definitely drink free coffee if offered to him.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

“What the hell did you do to my brothers you bitch,” he snarled. Even if this was still a trick, this charade went too fucking far, he had every right to be pissed.

“Hasn’t anyone ever taught you not to swear in front of a lady?”

“The last thing you are is a lady. Now, why the fuck call did you call me? Just to gloat?”

“I told you I was paid for information. I found what I came for. I do not need blood on my ledger, but you might end up with it if you keep asking stupid time-wasting questions.”

What did you do?”

Nothing permanent… yet. I would say you have another… oh, forty minutes to deliver them to an ‘ospital, before ze brain damage becomes irreversible.”

Imagining his brothers damaged; unable to walk, or talk, or joke, or fight, god - it would be worse than killing them. His throat closed like it was trapped in an iron vice, his mouth itched, drier than sand. “You’re trying to trick me,” he finally choked out.

“Hmph… I’m trying to be nice. I’m hired to complete a job, not be a monster. It’s up to you whether you want to wish to take my kindness or not. Now about fifty feet to your left there iz several stacks of shipping containers. I placed your brothers behind the third to last row coming from your direction.”

Jason held deathly still, his eyes darting over to the shipping containers she was talking about. “You’re a dead woman, you hear me. If you’ve actually poisoned them there is not a fucking hole deep enough, or a shadow dark enough on this planet, in this entire universe, that you can hide from us. You have no clue who you’re dealing with.” God, there were days he hated Damian and Tim, but they were his brothers, and if this bitch thought she could threaten them? He would show her no mercy.

She laughed again, and Jason may have been reading far too into it, but it sounded nervous this time. Good. She should be fucking terrified. “I’ll take that into consideration. Your time is ticking monsieur. Tick, tock, tick, tock-” The call ended abruptly.

A second passed.

Then two.

“Fucking hell,” Jason swore aloud. Even if this were a trick, he couldn’t risk it. This family was insane enough, unlucky enough, that a stupid game of hide-and-seek at an IKEA could turn into a life-or-death situation. It probably wasn’t the weirdest thing to happen.   

He ran.

The French dead-woman-walking specifically mentioned where his brothers were in relation to himself, deciding to take a little bit of precaution he headed in a back way. He was still fast enough in running through the towering stacks of the shipping containers that the extra distance would not make a difference. With his phone still in hand, he pulled up the dial call screen and punched in a short and familiar number. Turning a sharp corner, he placed the phone to his ear.

“911, what is your emer-”

He never even saw the tripwire.

He was on the ground before he could register what happened. The wire was a contact release design Tim tinkered with ages ago, where it wrapped the target up from point of contact until it ran out of feed. Effectively hogtying whoever was unlucky enough to become caught in its’ confines. His legs were smushed together, and his arms pinned unrelentingly to his sides. His phone flew out of his hands landing in front of a pair of black combat boots.

Jason managed to raise his head to stare at his youngest brother's mocking face, who calmly reached down and picked up the phone.

“I apologize, this number was dialed in error. Have a pleasant day,” he said, smirking wide. He pressed the end call button and pocketed it. “Tt. Todd, I’m disappointed in you. You let yourself be tricked by a little girl,” he said with a sneer.

“This little girl is at the perfect height to knee you in the crotch, so keep in mind your next words,” called a voice from the shadows. The small French chick emerged; her voice much less accented than what Jason remembered hearing only moments before.

“You’re right, my apologies,” Damian said, without a second thought or grimace. If Jason weren’t beyond pissed, he would have probably fainted in shock. Damian never apologized.

“You’re a fucking psychopath demon-spawn, and you’re not any better you bitch,” he hissed, as the girl came closer to him.

“Don’t call her that,” Damian snapped. “It was my idea to trick you like this.” Jason, again, could not believe his ears. Damian was defending another living creature, one that didn’t have four legs and fur?

“To be fair,” she said, as she kneeled down next to him, Jason could feel her rifling through his pockets. “I was the one who suggested the fire for Tim.” She moved out of his sight, walking around to the other side.

“You set Tim on FIRE?”  Jason yelled.

Damian rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, we barely singed him. He’s fine.”

“That is not any better!”

The girl walked towards Damian, the stark contrast between the two finally visible. She was short, pale, and bubbly, with a warm visage that could melt ice. While Damian was tall, tan, and brooding, looking more and more like a mini version of Bruce every day. It made for an odd sight “You're very terrifying when you issue threats. I’m sorry for the lying,” she said, with a chagrined smile. “But anything goes when it comes to winning.” Her eyes twinkled with mirth.

Ah, there is what connected the two; they were both fucking insane. “You’re just as demented as he is,” Jason growled.

The smile turned into a smirk, “Thank you, I think we make great partners.”

“We should get going,” said Damian. “Security should be here soon.”

“I’ll be out of this before they even arrive.” It would be difficult, but Jason had trained with this stuff before if he could just get to the knife in his boot… He saw the girl flick out his knife from below her pink fluffy sweater.

“Balance is a little off,” she mused. “But I like the carving on the handle.”

“And I modified Drake’s design on this. Military-grade, carbon steel wiring, you’d need a more than a pocketknife to handle that.”

“Do you ever get tired of being a little shit?” Jason muttered.

“I don’t know, do you ever get tired of being an incompetent screwup, incapable of gaining father’s approval.”

“Test tube baby.”

“Street trash.”

“Boys enough,” the petite girl called out, laying a hand on Damian’s shoulder. Jason immediately expected her to be yelled at for the offense, but Damian merely backed down from his tirade. Okay, had he hit his head when he fell, or had he fallen into another dimension?

“I’ll tell them you tied me up, I’ll tell them everything,” Jason tried. “I don’t care about Dick’s stupid game anymore.” They would be caught the same as him, and no one would win.

“They won’t believe you; I gave them a call as our mutual friend.” Jason bit back a groan. ‘Mutual friend’ was their civilian code for Robin. “Speaking of which.” Damian grabbed a black duffel bag and tossed it next to him. “Need to leave behind the evidence for that.”

“I’ll tell them who I am, they’ll think the whole thing was a prank call.”

The girl smiled, his knife disappearing once more beneath the sweater, this time his black leather wallet appeared between her fingers. “I don’t know, kinda hard to prove your identity without your ID.”

“Or your phone,” smirked Damian.

“Fuck you,” Jason said, although it had lost a bit of heat. He knew when he was beaten. “You won’t win. Dickie-bird will beat you.”

“Tt. Todd, I tricked Drake into a ring of fire, caught you with a tripwire, and Grayson has no clue what’s coming. I am already winning.” He grabbed the girl’s hand. “Come on Marinette, two annoyances down, one to go.”

“Bye, Jason,” the girl, Marinette apparently, shouted over her shoulder. The two quickly disappeared from sight leaving him tied up on the ground; no phone, no ID, security about to descend, and no foreseeable plan to escape.

And yet there was only one thing Jason could think about.

Oh fuck, Damian has a crush.

Chapter Text

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Chapter 8

Marinette and Damian fled, hand-in-hand, from the tied-up Jason. They ducked behind a stack of boxes when a security team raced past, squawking into their walkie-talkies. A couple of workers nearby didn’t even glance at the sounds of shouting in the distance.

“I think we can consider this a job well done,” Damian smirked in the direction the security members raced towards.

Marinette bit her lip, holding in a small laugh. “Yes, but rather mean. Aren’t you afraid he’ll get back at you?”

Damian rolled his eyes, shrugging off the question with an air of superiority. “Tt. He can certainly try .” He glanced back at her, smirking smugly. “He’ll be after you too. Don’t forget you also participated in that little scheme.”

“Yes, but I followed your script.”

“Fire meet tripwire. Pot meet kettle.” 

Marinette huffed shaking her head. “Well, the damage is done.” Damage she fully intended to rectify later. Maybe Jason would appreciate an apology consisting of home-made treats? A loud shout rang out in the distance, making her wince. Damian’s prediction proved right; Jason would not go down easily for the security personnel. “Two brothers defeated, one to go. Dick is still in the store, right?”

Damian nodded, pulling out his phone, the familiar IKEA map layout already loaded on-screen. Marinette hadn’t visited one bigger than this before. It consisted of three display floors, the cafeteria and check-out floor, and the giant attached warehouse covering half the lot in the back. The ground floor opened to a large atrium. Two glass elevators and four escalators ferried shoppers to-and-from floors. The children’s daycare center, lockers, and a Starbucks were located there too.

“We should enter through the checkout area, obtain new disguises, and make our way to the atrium from a third-floor vantage position. Grayson should be located in this general vicinity.” He pointed to the daycare area. Marinette passed the center on her way in. Between bright colors, a large jungle gym, floor trampolines, a video game area, and a ginormous ball pit suspended in midair, the whole center gave radiating vibes of a fast-food restaurant’s play place mixed with an arcade. 

“We’ll scope him out once in position and make a plan from there,” finished Damian, placing his phone back into his pocket.

“Sounds good to me.” Marinette risked a peek over the boxes to ensure the coast was clear. A slight tug held her back from moving all the way. She glanced back, her hand still clasped in Damians’. He stared at their connected appendages, then back at her. Dipping his eyes when he caught hers, and pulled his hand away, clearing his throat.

“Uh… my apologies for manhandling you.” His voice pitched a touch higher than normal.

From the heat alone Marinette could tell her cheeks were redder than her Ladybug suit.  “No, no, it’s- it’s fine!” She smiled thinly, wanting to burn the butterflies overwhelming her stomach. “We, ah, we should get going.”

He nodded quickly. “Yes, yes, you’re right. Let’s depart.” They emerged from behind the boxes, hurrying through the backlot without another word, or looking at each other. It took a while to arrive at the large glass doors leading out from the checkout area, and by then Marinette succeeded in wrestling her emotions under a semblance of control.

Later, she told herself, I can deal with this mess of feelings … later.

At two-thirty in the afternoon on a Saturday in August, disappearing into the store’s crowd proved ridiculously easy. Around them strolled families, couples, bored teens, and hyperactive kids, packed in together with their carts and boxes and food. Chaos incarnate. Perfect cover. 

Swinging past a clothes rack, they split up to enter the bathrooms, changing into new outfits. Marinette pulled off the comfy pink top and blue jeans, changing into a dark red shirt, a black leather jacket, and black jeans. She plaited her hair into two braids and stuck a black ball cap on her head. Marinette kept her boots and purse, the bag held her wallet, phone, a few remaining Chaos balls, a Luck ball, Tim’s phone, Jason’s phone, and his wallet. She slipped his knife into the side of her boot and exited the restroom. Her old outfit carefully hung on the previous clothes’ hangers.

Damian beat her to the finish, already changed and ready to go. He leaned against a wall under a huge Cinnabon banner. Changed into black jeans, a dark green shirt, and a black hoodie, he purposefully mussed his hair, leaving it artfully messy, and wore the fake glasses she gave him hours ago. Over his shoulder hung a black messenger bag. To the average passerby, he appeared relaxed, but between his tense body and darting eyes, anyone trained could tell he watched for danger.

“Ready to go?” he asked when she approached.

“Yeah.” Marinette pointed to the messenger bag. “What do you have in there?”

Damian smirked. “A few things I acquired that might prove useful.” Marinette nodded hoping he kept track of the objects they… borrowed today because she certainly hadn’t. 

They passed the cafeteria and in the distance, the damaged aisles attracted a small crowd, roped off by warning signs and caution tape. The broken forklift still sat crushed beneath the giant shelving unit. 

“How in the world…” Damian mumbled.

“Not the time or place,” Marinette responded, inwardly wincing. She didn’t intend to cause that much damage. Damian gazed at her, his narrow, piercing eyes raking over her form with razor focus. She crossed her arms, holding in a sigh. “What? I’m not questioning you on the military-grade tripwire, laser pen, or hacking software. You have your secrets, and I have mine.” He scowled but didn’t say anything else. Marinette bit her lip avoiding eye contact with her partner. She would need to give Damian an explanation, eventually. Especially if they wanted to continue their… friendship, after this whole endeavor. But where could she even begin with the crazy-up mess of her life? It sounded too bizarre to believe. 

They slipped into an elevator with a crowd of people, shuffling to the back. Waiting patiently as customers exited and entered on every floor. Tension bubbled in Marinette’s chest. One wrong step and they could lose, but the right one and they would achieve victory. They shuffled out when the elevator opened to the third floor, and as inconspicuously as possible, trekked to the open-aired atrium where they could spy unseen from above.

They sat on a couch placed near the edge of the glass railing, a perfect view of the entire atrium spread out below. Delighted screeches of children filled the air around the frankly gigantic play structure.

“Any sight of him?” she asked, after a few minutes of searching. She couldn’t distinguish a single person on the crowded floor from up here, much less search out one. 

Damian shook his head, his phone scanning the faces of the people below. “No, too many people moving too quickly. Besides, Grayson leaving himself in an easy line of sight is doubtful. As a grown man, hanging out in a back lot or a warehouse inspires little suspicion, but a man hanging around a children’s play place without of child of his own is cause for alarm.”

Marinette winced; unless handled carefully loitering around children could land Damian’s older brother in serious trouble. “Where’s the vent then?”

“Technically inside the daycare center. Here.” He pointed to the spot on his map. “It comes out of the wall above the ball pit, nowhere near ground level.” 

Marinette tilted her head, raising an eyebrow. “Why even station him there? We never would choose the spot because of the difficult exiting.”

“Which is why they placed Grayson in the vicinity. He’s the least likely to actively catch me.”

Marinette rubbed the ridge of her brow; that didn’t make a lick of sense. The brothers, from how Damian described them, reveled in extreme competition. Not to mention Dick conceived of this insane adventure in the first place. “Why?”

Damian fell silent for a moment, his body language tense and uncomfortable. Marinette resisted the urge to drop her head into her hands. Her insatiable need to poke her nose into other people’s business goes too far, yet again. “It’s okay, you don’t-”

Damian sighed, dark shadows in his eyes swimming to the surface. “I had a… difficult childhood, to say the least.” His mouth twisted into a grimace. “Grayson always tries his hardest to make up for those deficiencies. Even when I was less than appreciative of his efforts. Endeavors like this, as competitive as they may be, are childish . Exactly the type of activities and bonding I never experienced.” He shrugged, his face infinitely softer than Marinette had seen yet from him. “He might let me win to ensure sure I have fun.”

A bright bubbling flooded her chest, and she smiled softly. “That’s rather sweet of him.” His reluctance to share made sense, childhood trauma wasn’t pleasant. Talking to others exposed nerves and triggers many wanted to bury and forget about. Several hard-fought conversations with Adrien, in particular, came to mind.

Damian slammed his emotional walls back up. “Tt. It exposes him as a liability to Todd and Drake. Thus they placed him out of the way, as they should have.” He reached into the satchel bag and pulled out a pair of binoculars. Marinette did not have it in her to even be surprised. “Here, attempt spotting him with these. Do you recall his appearance?”

“Yeah.” She took the offered pair of binoculars and scanned the bottom floor. Packed crowds of people proved Damian right as Marinette searced; detecting individual faces a near-impossible task. It was like a demented Where’s Waldo puzzle come to life. She swept over the area without spotting Dick. Swinging over to the play place led nowhere too. Her eyes darting from kid to kid before landing on the lady manning the front desk. In her mid-twenties, the bright purple-haired woman visibly chewed on a piece of gum and didn’t glance at a single child. A flirtatious smile spread across her face, as she leaned over the desk exposing her cleavage to the employee she was talking to…

“Damian?”

“Yes?”

“Would your brother flirt to distract somebody?”

He scoffed. “Grayson would flirt with a rock. Why?”

She offered him the binoculars. “Check the front desk of the daycare center.”

He scowled, swiping the binoculars out of her hands, placing them to his face. She jumped when a second later he spat out a word in a language unknown to her.

“He disguised himself as an employee,” he seethed. Which was true. Dick stood at the daycare center counter in a pair of black pants and a striped blue and yellow employee shirt at least two sizes too small. The entire ensemble boarded on ridiculous, but if the daycare worker flirting with him minded she did not show it.

Ignoring Damian’s verbal tirade, Marinette stole the binoculars back to watch the two adults interact. The woman twisted her hair around her finger at Dick’s blinding smile. A convincing display; no one would suspect the man as anything other than a bored employee on break.

A girl, no older than five, bounced over, a box in hand, and tugged on the shirt of the daycare worker, but the woman ignored her. She tugged again, and the woman whirled around placing her hands on her hips a scowl twisting cherry red lips. Marinette could not make out what the woman said, but the little girl slumped away in obvious disappointment. Flipping her hair over her shoulder the woman returned to flirting with Dick.

A growl escaped from Marinette’s mouth; nothing hurt a child more than dismissal and rejection, this was not okay. “We need to put a stop to this,” Marinette declared, lowering the binoculars from her eyes. Damian hummed, his head bent over his phone. “What are you doing?”

“Looking at the consequences of committing IKEA employee identification fraud,” he intoned, serious and straight-faced.

“And?”

He looked up, a devious smirk stretching across his face. “Well, one guy suffered imprisonment for three hours in a locked room with security, and received banishment from every store in his country for life.”

Marinette tilted her head. “Drastic consequences, but Dick did choose the disguise.” The effectiveness of his choice was not in question. Hanging around the daycare center in an employee’s uniform circumvented the trouble Dick could land in as a grown man observing children, and if a real employee came through, he could say he was on break or off the clock.

Damian scowled, the edge of his nose scrunching in distaste. “The difference in that scenario lies in the man interacting with customers, basically begging discovery. Grayson wants to remain undetected; we must bring a manager to him.”

She thought for a moment, picturing the variety of ways they could play this. “Or force him into a position where it’s obvious he is a fake.”

Damian leaned back against the couch shaking his head “He won’t abandon the safety of the desk; the risk runs too high.” 

A lightbulb blazed to life inside Marinette’s mind, illuminating the outline of a devious plan. It would cast the last two as mere child’s play compared to endless complications, variables, and moving parts, but if it worked…  “He would if he saw one of us.”

Damian rolled his eyes. “Tt. I just told you he might not even try to catch me.”

“But he might try to catch me . I’m a mystery. It’s what intrigued and frightened Jason enough for him to run straight into a trap. Besides, you pose a liability. If he caught you-”

“Which he couldn’t,” interjected Damian.

Marinette waved the statement aside. “If he caught you, that’s it, game over. But me? I’m not officially part of the game. I can be bait.”

“Bait for what?” Damian asked, raising a brow.

“The trap you’re going to set and lead the managers to.”


Marinette would like to believe she couldn’t have imagined climbing through an IKEA vent shaft, for the second time that day, to descend into a children’s play place ball pit to incite revenge against the supervising adults to ferret out a player in a high stakes game of hide-and-seek disguised as an employee. 

The depressing fact is though, she probably could have 

Which went to show how high her base level of crazy sat at.

Convincing Damian to relinquish his laser pen demonstrated the boy’s true stubbornness. He huffed and griped until she took it by force, calling him a control freak. The offended look he sent her likely intimidated most who drew its ire, but she found it ridiculously cute instead.  Besides, he couldn’t accompany her and open every exit she encountered, he needed to set the trap.

Marinette’s knees and back did not thank her for returning to the crouched position in the unforgiving metallic shafts. She quickly shuffled through the vents, following the outlined path on her phone. One turn away and she should-

Light flooded into the darkened vent from the slotted grate and Marinette smiled. She placed her phone away and retrieved the laser pen. Hopefully, none of the kids, or Dick for that matter, paid the wall above any mind. She and Damian agreed Dick probably abandoned catching them long ago and wouldn’t check. Plus, from where he stood, monitoring the vent became impossible; too many objects obscured his line of sight. Giving Marinette enough space and time to set her plans into motion with no one the wiser.

Well, so long as she could get the kids on her side.

Marinette waited in anxious silence watching the laser slice through the grate with pinpoint precision. She grabbed it right before it fell, tugging the cut metal into the vent shaft. She couldn’t risk it falling and hurting a child.

“Ouch, ouch, ouch.” She flinched away from the scorching metal. The palms of her hands visibly red. Those would blister. She blew on them for a quick second of relief but knowing she needed to move on. No time to lose. Ignoring the pain, she cautiously poked her head out of the vent and surveyed her position.

The ball pit laid seven or so feet below her, a minor drop she could make in her sleep. A few children played on the other side, a better opportunity couldn’t have landed in her lap. Climbing out of the vent she dropped into the plastic balls below, landing in a crouch. Louder than she intended the sound garnered the attention of the group of kids.

They turned to look at her in unison as if communicating on a hivemind wavelength.

She raised a finger to her lips, ignoring the blistering heat of her hands, and gestured for them to come over. Slowly, they moved closer. The oldest, a girl around eight or nine, taking the lead.

“Who are you?” she asked, once the group of six finally approached Marinette. “Where did you come from?”

Another girl, this one younger, waved excitedly. “Hi I’m Emily, I’m five.”

An older boy turned to hush her. “You can’t talk to her Em, she’s a stranger.”

“I don’t have to be,” argued Marinette. “If you tell me your names, and I tell you mine, we’re no longer strangers, right?” It was kid logic, a skill she developed through years of babysitting. The oldest girl regarded her for a second before nodding. She offered Marinette her hand.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Abby.” Marinette withheld a wince when she shook the girl’s hand, burned skin prickling in irritation.

“Hi Abby, my name’s Marinette.” The kids lost their wariness and introduced themselves.

“I’m Harry, Emily’s older brother,” said the boy who shushed Emily earlier.

“Rex,” grunted a larger boy with a dinosaur on his shirt.

“Krysten, with a y,” chirped a young bright red-haired girl.

The last boy pushed his glasses up his nose. “And I’m Devon.”

“It’s nice to meet all of you.”

“What are you doing in the ball pit, Miss Marinette?” questioned Krysten.

“I’m here because I’m playing a game with my friend, and I need you to help me.”

Abby crossed her arms and frowned. “Why should we help an adult who appeared out of nowhere? You shouldn’t be here. What if we go tell the workers you’re here right now?”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “And would they listen to you? Any of you?” She surveyed the kids as they thought for a minute. Slowly they shook their heads.

“Ms. Sarah is busy playing videogames with the older kids, and Mr. Conner is watching the kids on the trampolines, and Ms. Lacy is too busy talking to the other employee,” said Harry. Marinette smirked.

“I know. You see, he’s my friend’s older brother. Not a real employee. He’s trying to catch me and his brother.” The kid’s eyes widened.

Abby’s head tilted, her earlier suspicion replaced with eager excitement  “Like hide-and-go-seek tag?”

Marinette nodded. “Exactly like hide-and-go-seek tag. See that vent there?” She pointed to the opening where she dropped through. “He tried to catch us coming out of the vent, but we found out and now we plan to trick him.”

“Whoa you were in there?” asked Harry with bright eyes. “Like a spy? Or a superhero?”  Marinette glanced side to side before smiling wide as if sharing a secret. The kids grinned and oohed, beyond pleased to gain inclusion into a mysterious adult’s plans. She mentally pumped a fist in the air; she totally had them.

“You guys would have fun, get revenge on Ms. Lacy and the others for ignoring you, and cause  chaos; how about it?”

“Will we get in trouble?” squeaked Devon. “Because I don’t want to be in trouble.”

“I wanna cause trouble,” exclaimed Rex with a smile.

“Trouble, trouble, trouble,” chanted Emily, flinging herself back into the plastic balls.

Marinette resisted the intense urge to pinch her nose. This was just how kids acted, she knew this. “No, no. No one will get in trouble. I promise. Will you help me?”

“I’m always up for a game,” purred Abby, her smile bright and eager. “What do you want us to do? I mean we don’t have much to work with.”

“If only I brought my nerf gun,” pouted Rex.  

Marinette shook her head. “No, that’s okay. You see we need to lead my friend’s brother into a trap. I need to get his attention and distract Ms. Lacy. We need to cause chaos, but we have what we need right here to carry this out.” She gestured around. The kids gazed at her confused. She smirked, leaning in closer. “Have you ever played paintball before?” They shook their heads. Not surprising, all things considered, it took Marinette sixteen years before she played the game. “How about dodgeball?”

“We play that in school,” said Devon. Marinette shivered; she did not miss those days. Her clumsiness did not get better until well into high school, and by the time it subsided she was so wired dodge ball became less of a fun game, and more of an incoming anxiety attack sending her straight into fight mode.

“Here’s what you’ll do, I need you to gather as many other kids as possible. Bring them here and tell them they’re going to play ball dodge ball against the staff, but especially Ms. Lacy. Once everyone is super distracted, someone will go to her and start crying,” she paused wondering if any of the kids could do that on command. Manon could do it, but Manon was a conniving little sweetheart. “Or something of the sort to drag her away from my friend’s brother.”

“Ooh, like a nosebleed?” asked Krysten.

Marinette winced; she didn’t want any of the kids hurt from this little stunt. “No one is going to get hurt.”

“Oh, no, I get nosebleeds all the time ,” the girl said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “I use it to get out of class.”

Marinette blinked. “Umm… can you do it on command?”

Krysten gave her a deadpanned stare that could rival Chole at her most petty. “Uh… duh!”

Rex offered his hand for a high-five. “That’s hardcore.” Krysten daintily slapped it.

Eagerness shone in their eyes, accompanying the joy innate in the need to cause trouble. Marinette, with a tight bubble of magic in her chest, hopefully, enough to direct this endeavor in the way she wanted it to go, sent them off to go gather their army. Krysten stayed behind with her. She took to Marinette’s ideas like a duck to water. Repeating the lines Marinette fed her with genuine honesty and believability. Krysten exhibited the makings of a fantastic actress, which she told Marinette that’s what she wanted to be.

Less than ten minutes later over twenty-five kids gathered plastic balls in their arms, positioning themselves around the jungle gym. Kids took off their jackets and used them to carry even more ammunition. Their faces portraying a mix of unadulterated glee and pure maliciousness. Marinette almost pitied the poor daycare workers.  

She left Abby in charge and prayed to the Kwamis the young girl wouldn’t let anyone throw until Marinette gave the signal. She and Krysten scrambled down the jungle gym and exited at the back wall away from Ms. Lacy and the rest of the workers.

“Are you ready for this?” she asked Krysten. The girl bopped her head with a vicious grin. Holding tight to the edge of a platform on the jungle gym, the girl flipped herself upside down, letting her hair dangle. She held the position for longer than Marinette thought possible before swinging back to the ground. Standing unsteadily on her feet it took a second before the first drops of blood leaked from the girl’s nose.

“Caw caw, caw caw,” Marinette cried out into the noisy daycare center. The adults didn’t even glance at the sound. They would soon regret the decision.

The first ball comes out of nowhere and hits Sarah, the other female worker, straight on the head. The woman turned away from the television, where a game of Mario-kart played out and glared at the jungle gym.

“Hey, no throwing the balls, whoever did that come down here right now.” Silence reigned for a tense second. “I mean it, come down here right now.”

“We no longer listen to you! The cries of our people have long gone unheard. You have insulted us, and you shall pay the price!” cried a maniacal voice sounding suspiciously like Abby. Marinette smiled at the speech, which she didn’t tell her to give, but added an excellent touch. “Viva la REVOLUTION!”  A screeching war cry echoes through the cavernous space, and then it’s chaos.  

A flurry of plastic balls rained from the heavens, pelting everyone below. Kids on the ground picked them up and flung them at each other, or back towards the jungle gym. Sarah and Conner, who abandoned the in-floor trampolines, found themselves torn between stopping the kids around them from fighting and stopping the barrage. They ended accomplishing neither. Marinette glanced at the desk where Lacy and Dick ducked away from a heavily concentrated volley of balls, utterly distracted and inconvenienced. Perfect.

Marinette turned to Krysten; her hand covered in the blood directly contrasted to the glee on the girl’s face.

“I can’t believe it’s working!” she squealed. “It’s like a scene out of a movie!”

“Alright, head over now; we don’t know how long the onslaught will last before it stops.” Marinette smiled. “And thank you for the help.”

“Are you kidding? This is the most fun I’ve had all summer!” Krysten confessed, she beamed at Marinette, her bright red hair the same color as the blood on her face. “I hope you win.” And with that, the girl schooled her face into a flawless imitation of pain and terror and dived into the fray. She maneuvered herself around the flying balls, and the full-on fistfight breaking out in the middle of the floor. She ran to Lacy and tugged on the lady’s shirt.

Marinette trusted the diva to succeed, with everyone distracted, she snuck to the front of the play area and jumped the gate, blending into the crowd of observers and watched the chaos continue to unfold. Krysten, standing in front of Dick and Lacy, had her face appear a mess with smeared blood and fat crocodile tears rolling down her cheeks. Had Marinette not known the scene was an act she would gasp in shock at the little girl’s state.

The woman, although clearly not the best person to be in charge of little kids if her easy distraction was any indication, wasn’t stupid. She immediately searched for tissues to clean the girl’s blood. She called over to Sarah and Conner, entangled in the process of breaking apart the fistfight and failing miserably, to wrangle the chaos under control and to page the girl’s parents.

Dick, aware of his cover blown to smithereens, abandoned ship and slipped into the crowd. Marinette smirked; exactly as she planned.

Casually, she strode in his direction, making sure she didn’t draw notice from anyone around her. Shoppers paused to watch the kids; some smiled, some laughed and pulled out their phones, others shook their heads in annoyance. Marinette didn’t care what they thought, the purpose they served mattered more to her. Cover and distraction. Smoke and mirrors.

Butterflies in her stomach flapped furiously as she approached her target. Marinette paused taking a closer view at Damian’s older brother. Between his tight IKEA shirt, perfectly coiffed hair, and handsome face, (Seriously were these boys models? They had to be models.) how could anyone think he worked here? 

His car keys and phone ruined the line of his pants. Unfortunately, they sat in his front pocket, not his back. Marinette huffed. She could take the objects from there too, but it would be a bit trickier. She took a deep breath, readjusted the hat on her head, and pulled her own phone out, and opened the map of the store.

Time for another performance.

Chapter Text

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She walked over to Dick, tapping the man on his shoulder. 

“Excuse me, sir?” Marinette asked, in her best American accent. She subtly tilted her head down so Dick only caught the brim of her hat and not her face. Not too difficult a feat, considering he towered over her.

“Oh, um, yes?” he replied, a bright spark of panic twinkled in his eye before disappearing under a smooth charm. Damn, he was good.  

She shoved her phone at him. “I’m so sorry, but I have no clue where to go to find bedding here. Like, I don’t see a spot marked out at all. Could you help me?”

Dick smiled, bright and blinding. “Oh, of course, let me see...” While he tried to find where in the world bedding actually was and successfully pretended to be a good little fake employee. Marinette planned to pilfer his pockets. 

She leaned in close to his side, pressing her thigh against his - hopefully he would mistake her actions for flirtiness - and slipped two fingers into his front pocket. His tight jeans stopped her from just taking the objects out with no detection. 

An annoyed sigh bubbled in her chest, but she squashed it down ruthlessly. 

This was fine, she could handle this.

His phone sat on top, so she faked a stumble. She used the movement to push the object into her fingers and lift it out of his pocket; keeping it close to her side hidden by her jacket folds. She waited a brief second before slipping it into her purse. One down, one to go.

“Okay, so, you need to go a few different places to find bedding. You could go here where the queen- and full-size beds are located or…” Dick continued his spiel pointing out where to go on the map. Marinette shifted again; she needed to keep her movements slow and steady.

Once more, slipping two fingers into his pocket, she hooked one finger on the key ring. Marinette moved in closer to point out a section on her phone, standing on her tiptoes while she did, gaining extra momentum to wiggle the keys loose from the bottom of his pocket.

“What about here?” she asked, stumbling forward, pushing her knee into his leg with more force. She tapped on the screen in a place to make the map disappear; she used the contact to lift the keys out to his pocket’s edge. “Oh no, I’m so sorry.” She recoiled, placing one hand on his arm, slipping the car keys free. Thankfully a single key and clicker button and not a whole bunch of keys liable to jingle and give the gig away. Palming the object, she tilted her arm and the keys fell into her sleeve.

Dick remained none the wiser.

Now it wasn’t like she was proud of her thieving skills. It came down to practicalities; the basics of sleight of hand, misdirection, acting, and distraction. All which she used as a superhero with a secret identity. Especially when her goal pertained to removing a cursed object from a person, in frankly, rather ridiculous and elaborate schemes. 

It wasn’t her fault the lessons easily applied in other scenarios.  

“No worries. Here.” He opened the map again and pointed out where to go next. “After you write down the object’s numbers, head to the bottom floor by following this path. You can request the larger items to be added to your cart and check out from there; you follow me here?”

Marinette giggled. “Thank you so much. I doubt I could find the bathroom on this map.” 

A large crash erupted from behind them. 

They turned to the play area where an upended table lay. Kids darted in and out behind it throwing more balls at another group of kids who sought cover behind stacked bean bag chairs. Abby, hanging from the jungle gym’s peak, in a makeshift crown with a flag in hand, taunted the workers below. Marinette’s eyes widened. 

Well, instead of winding down, the ball pit war had spiraled wildly out of control. 

Oops.

...Time to make her exit.

“I need to go but thank you for your help. You made it so easy.” She pressed a hand to his arm and giggled again. He needed to remember she acted a tad suspicious for the next part of her plan to work.

“Oh, trust me, it was my pleasure,” he purred, his eyebrows arched flirtatiously. Marinette held back a snort. Oh god, he reminded her of Chat. Keeping in mind what Damian told her of his older brother, she feared the two boys would get along too well. They could never be allowed to meet.

Retreating into the crowd, she slipped the key from her sleeve into her purse. Striding over to the escalator, Marinette rode to the store’s second floor and waited by the top. Dick stood below observing the chaos a while longer. He craned his head, searching the crowd, trying to spot Damian no doubt, but found nothing. His hand reached into his pocket, and-

His body tensed. Marinette’s smirk crept onto her face inch by inch. The gears turning in Dick’s brain were clearly visible, even from here. There’s a beat, then another. He glanced left and right scanning the ground for his phone and keys. Marinette, standing above him, toyed with them in her purse.  

‘Come on,’ she thought. ‘Make the connection, you’re a smart one.’

The moment he does felt scripted for the finesse he exhibited as he turned on his heel and searched for her. Marinette knew the second he spotted her when his eyes widened. She smiled, mockingly waved at him, and rocketed away from the banister’s edge ducking through the crowd of people and into the store proper. She seamlessly pulled out her phone, making her first turn into the winding labyrinth.

Sending a one-handed text to Damian, she alerted him the plan’s second part was underway, and to ready and set the trap. In the distance, the disgruntled cries of people being shoved out of the way sounded out, she slowed for a second so Dick could get closer. 

This wasn’t a chase, after all, this was an escort.

She risked a glance over her shoulder. Dick reached the top of the escalator and zoomed in on her like a diving hawk, power walking in her direction. She led the older man through the store, not running, but moving significantly faster due to her shorter legs. A rush of adrenaline thrummed through her veins; this was it; this was it! 

Memorizing the path to the trap proved a clever idea because she couldn’t spare a second to glance at her phone, keeping enough ahead of Dick proved difficult. She nearly lost her footing on a turn running headfirst into another woman. Spinning on her feet, she caught a glimpse of Dick barely thirty feet behind her.

“Sorry,” Marinette yelled over her shoulder to the disgruntled woman. She picked up the pace.

Her phone hadn’t gone off with a return text from Damian, and Marinette hoped she gave him enough time. Turning the last corner for the final stretch, a burst of exhilaration filled her. At the end, Damian should be waiting with a trip rope, a precariously balanced display, and an assistant manager held in place with annoying questions.

But as Marinette approached the designated spot her heart dropped into her stomach, and a panicked dread replaced her previous exhilaration.

Chaos. It was pure and utter chaos. 

Several displays scattered over the floor; entire clothing racks lay upended, what was supposed to be a towel pyramid but was now a fabric pile, a glass plate shelf shattered into shards upon the ground, even an overturned couch. Marinette nearly tripped on - what she desperately hoped was soda spilled all over everything - before banking to avoid the mess

All that, Marinette could have reasonably handled. 

But it was the security guard strung up and hanging from the ceiling with a gag in his mouth, that made her wince. Nerf darts dotted the walls and floors. A cleaning crew and security guards directed away traumatized-looking customers and roped the place off.

“Fucking merde,” she swore. What the hell happened here? What happened to their plan?

Despite the questions racing through her head, Marinette was keenly aware of Dick not too far behind her, which meant she couldn’t afford to stop. Turning quickly on her heel she shot off down another path weaving through an oncoming group of customers. She abandoned trying to remain unnoticed and ran full speed. She needed to lose Dick, or at the very least put space between them.

“Miss, please stop! I’m not angry, I just want to ask you questions!” yelled Dick from behind her. A quick glance told her he had given up pretenses and was running after her.

“You think I’m dumb enough to believe that!” she responded. “This is too important, and we’ve gone too far to lose now!” Her brain oscillated between panic and determination. She didn’t have a clue how this happened, but she planned to fix it.

“Isn’t it ‘ come too far’?” asked Dick his voice pitching in, probably valid, concern.

A breathy maniacal cackle escaped her mouth. “Nope!” 

Marinette gritted her teeth, turning a corner and nearly running headfirst into two employees lifting a couch. Finding no time to move she pushed as much power into her legs as possible and jumped over the couch in midair, landing on the other side in a rolling crouch. Ignoring the people gasping around her as she bolted away.

“Whatever Damian threatened you with, I swear he was kidding! You don’t need to do this,” the other man pleaded.

She scoffed, even though it wasn’t likely the other man heard her. “That’s a nice opinion to have of your brother!”

“It’s a realistic one!”

She rolled her eyes and pulled out her phone, tapping on Damian’s number. Marinette needed information on what happened and fast if she had any chance of salvaging this mess.

“Come on, come on. Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up.”  The call finally connected.

“Hello?” Damian said far too calm and composed sounding for Marinette to buy.

“Where did everything go wrong?” she screeched, nearly bowling into a couple and their shopping cart, she sidestepped them with a leap and continued running, ignoring whatever Dick shouted to her next.

“Well, it started when mother wished to gain father’s affection and decided a baby was a good place to start, and-” .

“Not funny, Damian! I have your brother chasing me and no trap to lead him to. Where did you go? What happened?” she hissed low, not wanting to take the chance of Dick overhearing them. She made two quick turns and found herself faced with a long stretch of hall with nowhere to turn or hide. Barreling down the open hallway, harsh ragged breaths tore from her chest. Damn, she needed to keep in better shape if this was her condition after heavily running for a few minutes. 

“Todd escaped.”

Marinette blinked, desperately hoping she misheard. “What?”

“Todd escaped the clutches of the security team we sicced after him, and now intends to hunt us down with extreme prejudice.” The sound of muffled yelling clearly discernible in the background of the phone call. “He’s a tad angry at the moment.”

Marinette threw her eyes to the ceiling, craving to bury her head in her hands, but a quick glance over her shoulder showed she had no time for such luxuries. Dick wasn’t too far behind her.  

Fuck. She was screwed.

She ran faster banking around another turn, while she asked, “How does Jason escaping end with our trap in ruins and an employee hanging from the ceiling?”

“I abandoned ship when he came after me in the hallway. I set the trap off early to give myself time to escape! As for the employee? Who knows!” Marinette almost believed him if not for the slight hitch in his voice. 

She begrudgingly didn’t mention it; during the middle of a chase was perhaps not the most ideal time to call him out. 

“Now what do we do?”

Well, excuse me for not having a feasible backup plan at the moment. I’m busy being chased by a homicidal maniac with a nerf-gun!”  This was the first time Damian came even close to sounding flustered, although this bordered more on the edge of pissed off. “Oh, shit!” he muttered. Muffled crashing sounds filtered through his phone.

“Listen, I will call you when I’ve lost Todd. Do your best to distract Grayson. You’re good at distractions, correct?”

“In case you forgot, the last time I needed a distraction, I brought down six shelves and destroyed a forklift!” Her path was cut off by another person’s shopping cart; no way around, no way under – must go over. Marinette’s instincts launched her into the air, thankfully not as high as when she jumped to avoid the couch. A surprised yell erupted from the crowd around her. A glance over her shoulder showed Dick repeating the same action, adding in an extra flip, landing smoothly on the ground. The tight shirt did little to hide how lean and muscular he was.

Really, he could do that too?

Damian continued to talk. “Less destruction is, of course, preferable this time, but don’t pull your punches. Grayson is experienced and ruthless if need be, you must be ten times more so to outwit him. Good luck.” The call abruptly disconnected. Marinette yanked the phone from her ear.

“Oh, like that’s any help!” What was she supposed to do now? Between running low on steam, no plan in place, no backup coming, her exploitable options proved severely limited. She shoved the phone into her purse and her hand brushed the smooth metal of the Chaos Balls rolling around in the bottom of her bag.

Well… maybe not no plan.

Marinette shook her head. What was she thinking? Using the balls had the potential to result in even more damage than the food court incident. She needed to lose Dick and devise a plan from there. Readjusting her bag strap, she turned another corner and kicked it into high gear.

At this point, most people had seen them and, quite smartly, moved out of the two crazy people’s paths. Which meant Marinette focused on running at full speed and not dodging obstacles. 

But that didn’t mean everyone. 

A large woman, more busy arguing with a sullen teenager, walked into the aisle with their shopping cart, forcing Marinette to jump over it rather than lose speed by going around, or worse, run into a display and collapsing it. A large gasp arose from the crowd around her and a quick “that’s badass” shouted in the distance. 

“Hey, you know, you’re pretty good at that!” Dick yelled.

She rolled her eyes. “Really? You think complimenting me will help you here?”

“Compliments always help the situation!”

Oh, he and Adrian would definitely get along. “Are you insane, or oblivious?”

A sharp clear laugh rang out. “My brothers would say both!”

Out of the corner of her eye, two employees panickedly talked into walkie-talkies watching Dick chase her. She would land in as much trouble as him if they fell into the clutches of store management. There wasn’t much time left now. The Chaos balls weighed heavily in her purse and appeared a better and better option by the second.  

In ideal circumstances, she would have kept up the chase for longer, but the decision left her hands when the chill music filling the store came to a halt, the intercom cutting in. Heavy breathing filled the line’s other end, and dread pooled in Marinette’s stomach.

“All IKEA customers lookout for two young adults: one Middle Eastern male in a black jacket, green shirt, and glasses, and an Asian female in a black jacket and red shirt. Report them to the nearest employee or customer service agent near you. Thank you for your understanding and have a great rest of your day.” The voice seemed professional, but if you had a clue what unrestrained maniacal glee sounded like, it was clear whoever was speaking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an intercom system.

Fuck.

“That was Jason. Why is Jason calling you two out?” Dick panickedly questioned. “What did you do to piss him off so badly?”

The stares of a thousand eyes fell on her and Marinette cursed. She readjusted the baseball cap on her head and ran faster. 

Jason left her no choice. 

Dipping her hand into her purse she pulled out a metallic ball with a glowing green paw print.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” she muttered. Activating the object of concentrated chaos and destruction with a sacrifice of her own energy, she threw it to the ceiling. It flew into the open air above, sending off tiny black and green sparks along its arcing path.  

Marinette crossed her fingers. This better work.

“Wait, what was that?” yelled Dick.

The strip lights crackled, sparking loudly for a brief moment before… darkness descended. Stunned silence stretched for a moment and then people lost their minds. Shouting and swearing erupted from all directions, several kids shrieked out wails, and music - which in the light sounded relaxing - took on an ominous tone, blatantly out of place. 

Not all the lights go out though. A few displays keep their lamps on. The faint glow enough for Marinette to navigate the store around her.

Perfect. 

“What the fuck? What the absolute fuck? You are a magic-user! Damn, I should have taken the bet,” Dick shouted loud enough above the crowd’s panicked commotion. Marinette restrained her laugh. She had her distraction, now she needed to use it. Ducking into a side aisle with light from an emergency exit illuminating the empty space, she sprinted. Banking another turn she nearly crashed into a cart but swerved around them instead.

Running along the inside wall she passed by display rooms aplenty, but none suited her purpose.

“Hey, get back here!” Dick yelled again. Marinette huffed; when has that ever worked for anyone? She glanced around to find any other place to lose him but found nothing. Blindly reaching into her purse again, she pulled out another ball, the green image glowing faintly in the darkness. She tossed it over her shoulder and prayed it wouldn’t do too much damage.

Pulling magic into her chest, she allowed her legs to carry her wherever instinct led and requested the usually uncaring universe to not let her run face-first into a person, or a wall. Please? Thanks.

A crash arose from behind her and a small grin formed on Marinette’s face. She desperately hoped whatever Dick tripped over was cheap; she never intended for this much property damage. She continued through the darkened store with a rushed urgency she hasn’t used since the last time she fought an Akuma.

The music once again cut out, but the person on the intercom isn’t Jason. “Shoppers do not worry; electricity will be returned as shortly as possible. In the meantime, please stay where you are. Thank you.”

Marinette burst into the main section again, maneuvering around the stalled people who stand in close groups. People hold their cellphones out, using their flashlights to provide more illumination. Risking a check around her, to search for signs of Damian’s brother. She can’t hear or see him, which meant truly little. Besides, if the lights do turn on, Jason painted a target on her back, which put her in danger if an employee or particularly observant shopper put two and two together. She needed to change into a less inconspicuous outfit now.

Granted, people might have forgotten about that little announcement with the lights going out, but luck favors the prepared.  

Moving slower than before, to avoid attracting too much attention, she strolled through the store, ducking in and out of showrooms as needed if she suspected a tail. Odds are she lost Dick back at the crash, but he could be biding his time waiting to jump her.

Unfortunately, a flicker above her indicated the end of her manufactured chaos, and the lights blaze to life above. Not all of them, but enough so visibility returned to the store. The crowd cheered and clapped and moved around again like they hadn’t just been plunged into complete darkness. 

Ah, the life of an oblivious civilian. 

Marinette, at risk of losing her crowd cover, ducked into a two-part display room and shot straight into the second room. Diving behind a chair, she crashed to the floor in an exhausted heap.

Her head hit the wall with a thud, and she spent a few seconds trying not to die. Controlling the heavy breaths of air her lungs demanded proved a fruitless battle. It wasn’t often she engaged in physical activities without magic enhancing her every move. The chase pushed her to limits she didn’t even know existed. Her legs ached with a familiar burn; she’ll definitely be sore tomorrow. 

Once no longer two seconds from dying, she risked a peek out from behind the chair. No one had followed her in. Pressing a hand to her still racing heart she sent a quick thank you to the universe. She thought she’d been screwed for sure.

On wobbly legs, she rose, chucking the leather jacket - which was recognizable and too hot - onto the chair. A small piece of color on the otherwise black upholstery caught her attention. 

A cloth robin. 

She picked up the calling card she and Damian left. The events of a few hours ago stuck out in her mind like a lifetime ago. A simpler time compared to the utter mess she found herself stuck in the mire of.

Even if she was having a blast. 

Taking another deep breath, she repined the robin back to the chair and cautiously exited the showroom 

Half the lights in the store still remained off, but if the customers noticed they hardly showed it. Her brain still drunk on adrenaline, Marinette wasn’t sure what to do next. Damian was lost to the wind. Dick and Jason were god-knew-where, and if Murphy's universal law of let’s-screw-with-Marinette applied, chances likely lended to both men being within spitting distance of her.

She picked at her bright red shirt and grimaced. First things first, she needed to change clothes and switch her hair. Then she intended to find a water fountain and drink until she drowned. After, she could contact Damian and scheme how to take his brothers down (again) from there. With a plan in mind, she walked into the crowd, making sure not to appear too suspicious. Kinda hard to do when one constantly checked for tails, but Marinette thought she did alright. No one gave her a second glance at least.

The clothing in the area was for children, leaving Marinette adrift. She panicked each time she glimpsed a shock of dark hair on anyone even remotely tall. Years building patience and skill the only reasons keeping her from jumping out of her skin and making her suspicion exceedingly obvious. Her vigilance paid off when the glimpse of dark hair finally accompanied a streak of white.

Jason.

He stood at the end of the hall, jacket missing, a murderous expression on his face. In his hands held the most expensive-looking nerf gun she’d ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. Ducking behind a shelf just before he spotted her, she muttered a curse. Placing a hand to her chest to calm her fluttering heart, Marinette furiously tried to concoct a plan to escape without being spotted.

Her phone dinged with a text message.

She pulled the device from her bag. A text from Damian lighting her screen.

Damian: Showroom to your left. Back corner.

Her head swung left and sure enough, there was a showroom. She raised an eyebrow. How did he...? 

She paused, oh right; the tracker. 

Cautiously, she moved along the shelf hoping the few seconds where she exposed herself to the open corridor wouldn’t be enough for Jason to spot her. With as much calm as her fried nerves could muster, she slinked across the aisle and into the showroom. Darting towards the back corner, she arrived at a vacant section filled only with a small writing desk and black cabinets.

“Damian,” she whispered loudly. “Damian, where are- YAHH!” Strong hands grabbed her by the arms and dragged her backward. Before her instincts fully kick in, she’s surrounded by a dark enclosed space and swung around. A single hand muffling her mouth.

“Shhhh!” a deep voice told her. Her eyes adjusted to the cabinet’s dim lighting before she made out the shape of the person before her.

“What the hell Damian,” Marinette exclaimed. Although with his hand still over her mouth it sounded more like, “Whuu te ell amian!”

“If I move my hand, are you going to yell?” he asked. Marinette shook her head. Slowly he lowered his hand. She tried to readjust herself, but there wasn’t much room in the tiny space. She eventually brought her hands to lay on his chest, her back leaned against the cabinet’s wall.

“Where the hell have you been?” she whispered furiously, glaring in his face’s direction.

“Avoiding Jason,” he responded back in the same hushed voice.

“Well, you’re doing a terrible job at it. He’s literally fifty feet outside this room right now with a look that could kill.”

He huffed. “Tt. Well, at least I managed to evade him without causing a full-blown panic. You cut off electricity for the whole store!”

“Oh, was it the whole store?” Wow, she vastly underestimated the power stored in those balls. “I couldn’t tell. I stayed here on the second floor. You told me to cause a distraction, and I did that. While you failed to avoid Jason, I lost your other brother. I think I did surprisingly well, all things considered.”

A loud, perpetually cheery voice filtered through the cabinet’s cracks. “Miss, I know you came in here. I just want to ask you a few questions, I don’t care about my stuff you stole or the magic. Let’s end this on good terms. We don’t need to be enemies here.”

Marinette and Damian froze still.

SHIT! Shitshtshitshitshit.

In the dark Marinette couldn’t make out Damian’s face, but his hands rested around her shoulders pinning her in tight as if taking up less space in the closet might make them invisible when Dick opened the door. His footsteps plodded closer and any second the door would swing open to expose them.

This was it. Game over.

She held her breath, and-

Chapter Text

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“Excuse me? Excuse me, sir, I need to talk to you.” An annoyed, high-pitched voice cut through Marinette’s impending panic. Her eyes flew open in shock, revealing the still dark cabinet. They hadn’t been discovered. 

Who the hell was this?

“Um…” Dick’s muffled voice said, hesitating before answering. “I’m sorry, can I help you?” 

The voice scoffed, “Uh, yeah that’s your job, isn’t it? Do you realize how long it took to find a competent employee in this maze of a store?”

Oh. 

Oh no. 

This could not… 

Was this actually happening?

“Listen,” Dick dragged out the word. “I’m kinda in the middle of something here, so-”

“Excuse you, I’m kinda trying to find out why these names don’t make any sense; this is America I should be able to read this – it’s English right?” 

Dick cleared his throat. “Well- no, actually this is a Swedish store, it-”

“Ugh, why didn’t they change the names so paying customers can read it? Look, you have to help me find my stuff here.” 

Marinette bit her lip to stop crying out; oh, dear god, what was this woman on?

“Ma’am, really, I’d love to help-” Dick sounded like he would rather stick a knife in his eye than help the unpleasant woman. “But I’m busy so if you could just find another employ-”

“No, I will not just find another employee. You’re the one here and being ridiculously rude to a paying customer. Who’s your manager? I bet if they were here you wouldn’t treat me this way.”

Marinette’s eyes stretched open in shock, her mouth gaping.

Damian shifted closer to her, his head coming down to her face. A warm breath hit her cheek as he whispered into her ear. “I am unsure whether to appreciate this woman’s excellent timing or to smack her upside the head for her absurdity,” he whispered softly. Pure panic at near-future discovery and reflexive sympathy for Dick stuck on an entitled customer’s bad side, combined together for an odd sensation in Marinette’s chest…

…And nothing to do with Damian’s lean and solid frame pressed against her like sardines in a metal can. Nope, absolutely nothing to do with that. Marinette strongly resisted the urge to shift, fully aware where she stood in relation to certain, uh… certain body parts.

Wait. She needed to focus. Yeah, focus on the crazy lady and Dick standing literally feet outside the inescapable hiding place.

“-And another thing!” Oh wow, the woman hadn’t stopped talking. “If you have the audacity to stand there and refuse to help me, I swear I will get you fired from this store and put on your permanent record.”

“Is something the matter here?”

Oh, great someone new!

"Oh my gosh yes, finally!" exclaimed the woman. "Are you a manager?"

"No," replied the new man's voice. "But I can go get one if there's a problem here,” he remarked, hesitant, unsure of the situation, and now very uncomfortable he stuck himself in the middle.

'Good,' thought Marinette. 'Be afraid, be very afraid.'

"Yes, there's a problem here. What kind of place hires unhelpful, incompetent workers? I tried asking him to help me find my items, but he completely ignored me!"

"Listen, ma'am-" Dick tried to calm her, using a good approximation of a customer service voice; one Marinette knew all too well after using it for years to help out her parents at the bakery and dealing with nosy reporters as LAdybug.

"No! You. Listen. To. Me."

Oh boy. 

Marinette raised herself to her tiptoes placing her hands on Damian's (broad) shoulders and whispered softly. "This is about to get ugly."

Damian’s hands on her waist tightened. "It wasn't already?" he whispered back.

She rested her head on his chest; smiling, biting her lips to hold back the guilty laugh threatening to escape. 

"You've been unhelpful, rude, sarcastic, so you know what? Yes, yes, I would like to speak to a manager. Let's go!" There's a scuffle outside the door and a light grunt.

"Ma’am, ma'am please don't do that," the other man cried out. "You don't need to drag-"

"Lady get your hands off me!" exclaimed Dick.

"I'm making sure you don't run off or something," she sniped back.

"Well, I won't, so hands-off." Another scuffle, this time louder, and then an irritating shriek. Marinette held back a wince; how this scene hadn’t caught a crowd’s attention defied all odds. With Jason not too far off, she hoped he wouldn’t notice, because otherwise they would end up even more screwed.

"You hit me!" the lady screeched 

"I did nothing of the sort!" Dick yelled back caught between incredulous and pissed. He may not have hit her, but it sounded like he was not far off from trying.

"Ma'am he didn't hit you," reassured the other man. 

"Are you both serious?" she yelled. "Yes, he did! Oh, not only will I get you fired for your incompetence now, but I’m also going to sue. My husband's a lawyer. We're going to a manager right now, or I swear-!"

"Ma'am please, please calm down. We can head this way..." the voices fade into the store’s greater din and distraction, leaving the showroom and cabinet behind.

Marinette held her breath, she didn't dare trust the fragile and charged silence. 

"What in the world?" Damian muttered, utterly befuddled.

And that was what broke her.

Marinette huffed out a laugh, bringing a hand to her face. She found once she started, the laughter wouldn’t stop. Leaning hard against the cabinet’s back, she desperately tried to make sure her glee wasn’t too loud.

"Oh, mon dieu!" She managed to exclaim through a chuckle. "I've- I have met entitled customers before, but that- she just- she took the cake."

"It surprises me Grayson controlled the urge not to hit her," Damian muttered darkly. "If she acted like that against my person, I would not extend her the same courtesy."

"I don't think she would give you the chance. She-" another chuckle escaped her mouth. "She talked right over him, that was- Whew!" Marinette wiped away a stray tear from her eye due to her joyous laughter.

Damian shifted, bringing back the uncomfortable situation’s reality; they stood stuffed inside a tiny closet, uncomfortably close to one another. Marinette’s last thread of mirth faded away.

She cleared her throat; thankful the dark hid her heated cheeks. “We uh- we should probably get out of here.”

“Indeed,” came the other’s terse reply. “Do you believe the coast is clear?”

Marinette shrugged. “I don’t think we have much of a choice but to check. The longer we stay here the better chance Dick returns, or Jason’s search proves fruitful.” She hesitated; Jason had stood not too far away when she arrived. “Do you think Jason overheard that little confrontation?”

“Depends on if he left or not.” Damian took a step back, and the pressure in Marinette’s chest released allowing her to breathe. He opened the closet door slow, painfully slow. Light flooded in, and Marinette winced, her eyes readjusting to the brighter space.

The display room was, thank god, completely empty.

Both partners breathed relieved sighs. The last remnants of fear-induced tension faded from Marinette’s shoulders.

“We’re not out of the game yet,” she said with a smirk. 

Damian took a large breath, stretching his arms behind his back, tan skin showing between the edge of his jeans and his shirt, and returned her smirk. “No, not yet.”

They crept to the display room’s edge and Marinette cautiously peaked out. She glanced to the area she’d last spotted Jason and-

“Whew,” she breathed out. “He’s gone.” The archway Jason had occupied stood clear and empty, the older man nowhere in sight. She turned to Damian, who pulled out his phone. “What’s our plan then?”

His fingers flew across the screen, searching for their next route. “Staying here is obviously untenable, who knows when Grayson or Todd might return.”

“So back to ducking in out of showrooms? Without Tim, they’re flying blind, we can easily hide without too much attention.” 

“Grayson is a proficient hacker himself, as is Todd,” admitted Damian. “But resorting to monitoring the cameras will not be their first inclination.” 

“Not to mention, Dick’s likely to get thrown out anyway. Our original plan had him confronted by a manager in the first place.” Marinette paused for a second before she snorted. “The woman did a better job than us exposing him.”

“We were working under tenuous circumstances. We did not expect Jason to have escaped.”

“Still blew up in our faces.”

“Tt.” He turned the phone screen towards her. “We have a clear path right to the elevators if we leave this room and head left. As long as we avoid running into my brothers and the angry lady, I’d say we’re in the clear.”

Marinette bit at her lip. “But what about someone recognizing us from Jason’s earlier announcement.” After all the crowd’s stares after Jason hung up the intercom were numerous, enough she felt justified using another chaos ball. 

Damian raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you really think anyone will remember that little announcement after your electricity blowout trick?” 

Marinette silently admitted he had a point. “Should we at least worry about security?”

Damian waved a hand. “Security has more important predicaments on their hands than tracking down two people from an odd announcement. Like figuring out how Todd even accessed the intercom in the first place.” He placed the phone back into his pocket. “We should refrain from lingering.”

Cautiously, still not quite believing they managed to escape detection by the skin of their teeth, Marinette and Damian creeped out of the showroom. Marinette’s first impulse pushed her to gradually inch her way to the elevator, but that would draw more suspicions than walking normally.

She glanced over at Damian, who held himself in a carefully relaxed pose, even though his eyes flicked in every direction searching for his brothers or any sign of trouble.

“Well now we’re back in square one,” she commented quietly, aware that Damian standing so close next to her could hear. “What do we do now?”

“If luck is on our side,” started Damian. Marinette’s hands twitched, resisting the urge to touch her earrings. “Then Grayson will be discovered as a fraud and get kicked out without us having to lift a finger. Drake is probably still stuck listening to that blundering man or kicked out himself. So we’re not completely at square one.”

“But Jason-” Marinette pointed out.

Damian sighed. “Yes, Todd remains an irritable challenge.”

“Could we… I don’t know, goad him into a situation where security kicks him out?” 

The taller boy tried to hide a wince, but Marinette caught it. “Jason engaging security members will not end well for anyone,” he admitted.

The image of the struggling hogtied security officer hanging from the ceiling flashed in her mind, and she quietly agreed. “Yeah, what did happen to that- eekMMPH!” After being a hero for years, Marinette should have come to expect people unceremoniously grabbing and moving her without her consent, but it still managed to shock her. Damian’s hand grabbed her wrist, while the other pressed against her mouth, as he flung them behind a shelf.

Her back pressed hard against the wall, and only the sight of Damian’s apprehensive face quelled her instincts of ‘dropkick-first-ask-questions-later’. Barely.

His warm hand slowly moved off her face and he placed it to his lips motioning her quiet. She nodded, and he pointed off to the side. She followed his gaze.

Not thirty feet away stood Jason crouched next to a little kid. The tot couldn’t be more than four or five, his mother stood with the cart a few feet away. The biggest smile played across Jason’s face as he showed the young child the souped-up nerf gun he held in his hand.

A small voice inside Marinette cooed ‘Awww’, at the adorable scene. Despite all the hardcore competitiveness these brothers showed, they were all actual softies. Another two kids wandered over and asked to see the toy and Jason appeared happy to show them.

“What do we do now?” she mumbled softly enough, the words barely more than a breath passing her lips. Damian’s furrowed brow served as an indication he heard her. He frantically flicked his eyes around the portion of the store they found themselves in, searching for a way to get them out of there undetected.

“There’s an employee-only door, about twenty feet to the left of us,” he gestured. A utility door, silver in color, placed slightly out of the way. A ‘No Customers” sign hanging next to it. The door appeared a good option, had it not landed perfectly in Jason’s line of sight.

“He’ll spot us,” Marinette pointed out. “We could retreat back the way we came?”

Damian shook his head, pointing down the hallway they’d come from. Even more so the straight line to the employee door, the hallway lay directly in front of Jason. If he looked up for even a second, he would spot them for a solid thirty yards. Marinette turned back to Damian’s older brother; he paid close attention to the group of kids surrounding him, but every ten or so seconds glanced around checking his surroundings scanning for any sign of his prey.

The fact he hadn’t spotted them coming down the hallway had to be pure luck. Not for the first time, Marinette wondered how she influenced the world around her; did she have something to do with the irritated customer appearing right before Dick found them? Did she shield them from Jason’s view? Was every plan of theirs infused with a degree of chance the universe would not normally bestow?

How much was real, and how much was manufactured? 

Marinette pushed the thoughts aside. Indulging those hypotheticals tended to lead to panic attacks and crippling paranoia and they had too many other problems at the moment to focus on.

Damian shuffled closer, and Marinette couldn’t help but hold her breath, his taller body crowded her against the shelf. “The door is only twenty feet away if we wait for a big enough crowd to pass by, we can make our way over to the door and be behind it before Todd even looks up.” He ran a hand through his hair, long since mussed up from the slicked-back style he’d had it in hours earlier. “As long as we act normal no one will even notice.”

Marinette closed her eyes and bit back an annoyed groan. They kept escaping one impossible situation only to land in another. 

“Are you sure?”

Damian placed a hand on her shoulder. “Trust me.” The look in his eyes radiated confidence and determination, and despite herself, Marinette relaxed at the reassurance.

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. “Let’s do this then.”

Anticipation laced seconds ticked by in thick silence as they waited for a large enough group to pass by. Marinette held back ragged breaths only by years of trained stillness, and although Damian appeared perfectly calm, Marinette sensed his nervousness.

Time seemed dragged on forever, but in reality, probably only a minute passed by before a large group appeared in the distance. People slowly meandered to the intersection between the shelves Marinette and Damian hid behind, Jason and his gaggle of children, and the employee door.

“You ready?” Damian whispered. Marinette nodded, not trusting her voice to portray any semblance of confidence. The crowd of people began to pass, and Jason’s head swiveled to answer the question of an enthusiastic child.

Marinette and Damian moved as one, walking hand in hand out into the hallway, heads straight and feet steady.

Reigning back the instinct to run and acting as if everything is perfectly normal, is not an easy feat. Flawless execution of such a maneuver only came after years of exposing oneself to danger and telling it, ‘No, you blink first.’ Marinette knew where her experience came from, but the source of Damian’s perfected reactions remained an intriguing mystery.

The fifteen seconds it took to cross the IKEA hallway stretched out like an eternity.

But surprisingly…

It worked.

Reaching the door, they found it, thankfully, free of any lock. Damian pushed on the metal handle and in it swung and they darted inside and the door closed with a thud and latch, cutting off the outside hallway’s sounds. The empty stairwell only echoed Marinette and Damian’s heavy breathing.

They did it.

Marinette leaned against the wall, letting her head tilt back while she closed her eyes sending a quick ‘thank you', out into the universe. She lolled her head around. Damian, who also leaned against the opposing wall appeared less visibly relieved than herself, but the tension in his eyes and shoulders was gone. A small, satisfied smile sat smugly on his face.

“I told you it would work,” he teased.

Marinette rolled her eyes and pinned him with a straight gaze. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. You know normal people don’t do this, right? You’re all crazy, aren’t you?”

“Undoubtedly, it is a prerequisite for my family, and if we’re crazy, what does that make you?” Damian pushed himself off the wall, and sauntered over to her, an eyebrow perfectly arched in curious inquiry.

Marinette, because of the sweet rush of adrenaline, no longer kept a straight face. She burst out into a large grin, a giggle rising from her chest and escaping her mouth. “Oh, that makes me doubly crazy. I came to shop today for twinkle lights, and plates, and maybe a cute pillow. Not- not whatever this is!” She gestured wildly into the air.

Damian’s assured satisfaction faded, vibrant green eyes gazing at her. “Do you regret it?” His tone flattened, not emotionless, just… guarded. Shy almost.

Marinette’s grin softened, having a difficult time picturing Damian – even in as little time as she’d known him – as coming anywhere close to shy, but his cautious hesitancy played out on his face plain as day for all to see.

She shook her head, “No. This entire adventure has been a blast. I haven’t had this much fun in… well-” It was hard to say. Her last few years in Paris resembled a complicated whirlwind, and her time in America, while exciting and new, didn’t exactly classify as fun. 

“Years,” she finally breathed out. “I haven’t had this much fun in years.” Probably back during her early Ladybug days where the burden laying before her remained obscured by the fog of the future.

Damian’s hesitancy faded and he took another step closer. “I can not remember ever having this much fun,” he confessed.

“Really?” questioned Marinette. He confided about his unconventional childhood, but he lived with his father for close to ten years now, he should have fun experiences since then.

“Bursts of fun here and there, I suppose. Going to the carnival with friends, learning from my brothers and father, caring for my animals, but never anything this…” he searched for the right word.

“Unrestrictedly chaotic?” she offered.

Unholy glee edged a blinding smile. “Yes.”

Marinette took a step towards him, stopping inches away from his chest. “Well, I’m glad I was able to introduce you to the wonders of childish mayhem, it only took you nineteen years to get there.”

Damian opened his mouth to reply, but before he could-

“Hey, is someone in here?” a young voice called out. Marinette and Damian froze. The voice called out again, coming from above them, and descending footsteps filled the echoey stairwell. “Hello, I heard voices?”

‘Not again!’ Marinette thought, frustrated and frightened at yet another precarious situation. 

She panickily turned to Damian. “What do we do?” she whispered. There was nowhere to go. Damian didn’t have enough time to hack the other door locked with a passcode. The staircase only went up, which would lead them straight to the employee. And leaving the way they came in was impossible, because, oh yeah, JASON WAS STILL OUT THERE!

Damian’s own wide eyes stared back. The footsteps grew louder.

“Hey, who’s down there?”

Damian flickered back and forth between the door and the stairwell quickly trying to develop a plan.

“Marinette, you need to play along,” he finally whispered, taking a long stride towards her, crowding her against the wall. Marinette didn’t feel nervous - Damian was bigger and taller than her, sure, but she’d taken down people far bigger and far taller; he didn’t scare her.

“Okay,” she agreed.

“And... I apologize in advance,” he glanced at her, looking… scared?

No. Embarrassed.

“Damian, what-” she cut off her question abruptly when Damian ducked into her personal space, one hand settled on her waist, the other on her cheek, and in a flash second, he tilted his head, and kissed her. 

Chapter Text

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At first, Marinette didn’t know how to act. This was the last route she expected Damian to take. The shock of Damian’s lips against hers turned her body rigid; hands splayed out to the sides, unsure of where to touch. After a second of floundering, she gained enough bearing to place her hands firmly on Damian’s arms. Her once still lips hesitantly moving against his. The closed-mouth kiss stayed chaste, but Marinette found herself fluttering her eyes closed, sinking into the warmth.

Damian stood taller than her, bending into the kiss while she craned her neck. Marinette pushed herself upward, arching onto the tips of her toes, and Damian’s hands wrapped tighter around her waist, deepening the kiss. She readjusted her mouth for a second grabbing a quick gasp of air before diving in again with more fervor. Damian responded in kind, pushing her back fully against the wall, one hand migrating from her waist to cup her cheek.

Damn. Damian was a good kisser.

“What the- Hey, customers are not allowed to be in here!”

Oh, right. The employee. That’s why they were kissing.

Why would kissing be helpful in this situation?

Not that Marinette was complaining, but-

Damian pulled away from her, and Marinette held back a pitiful whine when he turned away and faced the employee.

‘Bad thoughts, Marinette,’ she chided herself. ‘Focus on the mission, not Damian, or his lips, or his eyes, or-’

“Oh, sorry ‘bout that,” said Damian with a bashful smile.

Wait…

Blink.

What?

Marinette dragged herself out of the kiss-induced bliss, focusing on her co-conspirator, and had she been less in control of herself her jaw would have dropped.

Damian’s whole demeanor had markedly changed. His normal sharp posture sunk into a causal slouch; the emotions on his face, generally a mix of sharp observation or practiced disdain, now a mix of charming elegance and, yes, bashfulness. He flashed a wide grin at the oncoming employee, a person in their early twenties, who froze when they saw them.

Or rather, Damian.

Rapidly blinking bright blue eyes gazed at them. “Oh, oh you- you’re-” 

“Yeah, yeah, we all know who I am,” said Damian, rubbing the back of his neck. Even the way he spoke changed; careful pronunciation and formality thrown out the window for a lax New Jersian drawl. “What’s your name?” He asked with such a genuine smile, had Marinette not been versed in people lying through their teeth, she would have bought it. 

Not for the first time, Marinette wondered how famous Damian’s family was – obviously rich enough, and high profile enough - to be recognized on the spot.

The person paused for a moment, fiddling with a strand of curly blond hair. “I’m- I’m ah… Fey, nice to meet you Mr.-”

Damian cut them off with a laugh. “Oh please, any name with a mister makes me think of my father or my older brother. Call me Dami.” He offered a hand to the flustered Fey. They limply shook it.

“Oh… ah- alright Dami.”

Damian encircled a hand around Marinette’s waist dragging her out of the weirdness induced fugue state she’d fallen into. “And this… well,” he lowered his eyes, catching her attention and winked. “This is my girlfriend Marinette.” 

Fuck, this is what he meant by play along.

Fey dropped open their mouth before closing it quickly.

“Oh, I hadn’t read-” 

Damian cut the flustered employee off again.

“We’ve kept it quiet.” He waved his hand dismissively. “The papers would devour a story like this,” he said, with a sense of vapid annoyance, although a trace of his normal calculated disdain accented his words.

Note to self; Damian didn’t like the media. Good, Marinette didn’t much like the invasive vultures either.

Fey nodded along, twirling a lock of hair on their finger. “Oh yeah, that totally makes sense.” They paused shaking their head to clear away an emotion… awe? Fear? Marinette couldn’t tell. “But uh, why are you here? Like in the stairwell, not in the store. Because of course celebrities would still shop, right? I mean-” Poor Fey was a stuttering mess. Marinette almost felt bad for them.  

She felt like an absolute stuttering mess too, but she would be damned if Damian would carry this lie all by himself.

She was fucking Ladybug; savior of Paris, Guardian of the Miraculous.

She could act like a lovestruck fool.

“It iz so sweet,” she said, emphasizing her accent to add a little more pageantry to this entire scheme. “I just arrived back from Paris, and wanted to decorate my new apartment with ze ah-” she waved her hands around, “Oh, how you Americans put it? Fairy lights?”

Fey nodded quickly. “Yeah, we have a couple of good selections, but-” Marinette continued before they could logic their way out of the made-up cover story.

“I planned to go by myself, but Dami-” at this she moved forward to wrap her arms around his, leaning into his side. The warmth of his body bleeding through his clothes. “He insisted on ‘companying me even though he dozen’t like ze crowds.” She leaned forward with a conspiratorial air. “He gets grumpy,” she divulged with a girlish giggle. Why Damian did a 180 on his personality was a complete mystery, but if he dropped the act, this would make Fey less suspicious.

Fey nodded right along like Marinette’s comment made total sense. “Yeah, I don’t read too many magazines, but damn they must pin you all wrong,” they said to Damian. From Marinette’s position at his side, she felt his body tense the slightest amount. “Gotham’s Ice Prince, yeah right.”

Marinette inwardly quirked an eyebrow. ‘Ice Prince, huh?’ The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on where she’d heard it before.

Damian nervously chuckled again, sounding more authentic this time. “Oh no, I’m a grump when it comes to the media, I fully admit. My, ah,” he looked at her again, an apology flashing in his green eyes. “ Angel here puts me in a better mood.”

A rushing noise filled Marinette’s ears, and her heart quickened. She vaguely registered a squeal of delight coming from Fey, but it sounded far away compared to her blood pounding at a thunderous level. Heat flushed in her cheeks, and the confident smile she plastered on her face almost dropped at the pet name.

 Angel.

He called her angel.

What level of utter insanity had she dropped into?

“A few disguises later,” Damian continued, adjusting the glasses on his face, and oblivious of the turmoil he’d created in Marinette’s mind. “I thought we’d be able to stay under the radar, I just wanted a day out with my girlfriend,” he said with a put-upon sigh. The emotional, charming actions stood in complete opposite to Damian’s normal demeanor.

Marinette found herself desperately torn between breaking down laughing hysterically or clapping at Damian’s masterful performance.

“You got noticed?” asked Fey.

“We got noticed.” Damian sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair. Marinette regretted not touching it while she and Damian kissed; was it as fluffy as it looked? “And Marinette, the sweet angel she is, isn’t used to the whole utter insanity of… you know, dating a celebrity.” He glanced at her, teasing her with a fonder smirk than his usual. Marinette wanted to roll her eyes. Damian had no clue she knew very well the consequences of dating a celebrity.

Never mind she’d only dated Adrian a month before they broke up because his dad turned out to be a psychopathic supervillain intent on plunging the whole of France into an apocalyptic hellscape in an attempt to upset the universes’ balance, and was fully okay with killing the both of them to make it happen.

Being friends after that little debacle was the better option. For both their sanities.

Focus Marinette.’ She dragged her attention back to the conversation.

“We kinda ducked in here when nobody was paying attention. I want to keep this away from the media as long as possible, for my angel’s privacy.” Marinette wanted to scoff at how Damian leaned into that nickname. He certainly was laying it on thick. Marinette wouldn’t have bought the act, but that was due to her years of lying and deceiving in the name of super-heroics.

Fey, with their eager demeanor and bright blue eyes, didn’t stand a chance.

“Oh, that’s awful people wouldn’t leave you alone. I bet most celebrities would be familiar with the attention, but for you to look out for Marinette too?” They whistled. “Damn girl, he’s a keeper for sure.”

The blush gracing Marinette’s cheeks was 100% real. “Oh, well, ah, zank you. I know.”

“Well, no one will hear a word from me,” Fey promised. They fiddled with their hands and sent a shy smile at Damian. Marinette’s stomach clenched at the sight, and without her permission, her traitorous hands tightened their grip on Damian’s arm. “Without your family’s scholarship, my sister never would have graduated med school. She would kill me if I even thought of ratting you out to the papers.”

“Oh…” said Damian, his outward appearance of shock mirroring Marinette’s own internal emotions.

‘His family is rich enough to fund medical scholarships?’

“Well, that’s not on me directly, you know,” he commented. “All my father’s doing. I hope- ah… I hope she’s doing well?” Although his face portrayed a bashful and relaxed air, his body language screamed uncomfortableness. Marinette released one hand from his arm and brought it to rest on the small of his back, circling her thumb around. He relaxed, slightly, and Marinette smiled.

“Yeah, actually she is,” said Fey beaming. “She’s working at the new pediatric clinic that opened in Crime Alley.”

“Good for her,” said Damian honestly. “We need more people willing to work to make the city a better place. Money can only do so much.”

“Money definitely helps though,” Fey replied, wryly. Marinette agreed. Long-buried memories of her early years arose. Living above her parents’ shop, where every month they spread their bills across the kitchen table and talked in hushed tones while Marinette sat on the steps to her attic room and worried, even if at five and six she didn’t know what she was worried about.

Those days were long gone. Her parents and their creations internationally famous, with three separate locations across the greater Paris metro alone. But that worry never really went away.

Fey shifted on their feet reading their watch. “Well, you guys stay here if you want until whatever crowd out there loses interest.” They gestured to the door Marinette and Damian entered through. “Or you can come with me if you want?” Pointing to the other locked door. “I’m heading out to the atrium to deal with a problem, but you can continue on with your shopping.”

“Zank you so much,” Marinette replied. “We will go with you if you do not mind?” 

“Of course not,” said Fey, walking to the door and pulling out a security key. They opened the door, but Damian held it allowing Marinette and Fey to walk through before he followed. Placing a hand once more around Marinette’s waist.

“What problem in the atrium, if you don’t mind me asking?” he prodded, sharing a look with Marinette.

It could be nothing, but it could also have something to do with his brothers.

Considering their luck today, Marinette would be shocked if it wasn’t the latter option.

“Oh, well it started with the children’s center shutting down. Apparently, the kids got it in their minds to start a dodge ball fight with the workers. Which, you know, totally fair,” confided Fey, as they walked through the back corridors. “Sounded like it was a blast to watch. I was such a shit when I was a kid, I would have joined them in a heartbeat. It wrapped up fairly quickly, but they can’t convince the main instigator to descend from the jungle gym. I think they’re still hunting down her parents.”

Marinette pursed her lips trying to hold back a smile. ‘Oh, Abby,’ she thought, ‘you absolute gem.’

“I only heard about it from Lisa when I got back because I was dealing with a security issue in the back lot.” Fey glanced at them nervously. “Not that there’s anything wrong, we’re perfectly safe.”

Marinette and Damian shared a look. 

Jason.

“Of course,” said Marinette.

Followed by a quick, “Absolutely,” from Damian.

Fey relaxed. “So this is, apparently, a whole bunch of workers on strike? They walked out of the back warehouse and congregated in the atrium, spouting on about living wages and corrupt big business, and the effects of verbal abuse in the workplace.” Fey said with a wave of their arms. “And it’s not like I don’t agree , because I do. Jerry, the warehouse general manager, is an asshole.” Marinette and Damian exchange worried glances at the rotund angry man’s name, who they last saw dragging a singed Tim into an office.

“…but it makes my job hard,” whined Fey, oblivious to their compatriot’s inner panic. “And the Starbucks baristas joined them, so their kiosk closed too.” Fey chuckled, “I would avoid the whole area if I were you, especially if you don’t want anyone finding out you’re together.”

“I wonder how zat ended up happening?” Marinette asked hopefully her high-pitched voice conveyed confusion instead of slowly settling in panic.

“They called in saying some guy lead the charge, he’s worked the crowd into a fervor. I’m there to be the HR rep while security tries to remove him. You know, normally my job involves sitting at a desk all day listening to bitchy customers on the phone. I’ve dealt with more in-store problems today since last Black Friday.” Fey chuckled. “What a day, ya’ know?”

Marinette glanced at Damian, his casual mask still firmly in place, although his left eye twitched, and the hand he wrapped around her waist, tightened at Fey’s words.  

Fey finally reached another door, pulling out their pass and lead them out into the store’s main section.

“Well, it was nice to meet you Marinette, Dami,” Fey chirped. “Nobody will hear from me about any of this.” They mimed zipping their lips.

Marinette smiled, hoping the strain wasn’t too noticeable. “It waz nice to meet you too Fey.”

“Good luck with whatever is happening in the atrium,” said Damian. They stood at the door and watched them move out of sight. When Fey finally disappeared around a corner, Damian turned to Marinette his casual persona rippling away as if it never existed at all. His hand slipped off her waist. 

She did not, absolutely not , want to grab it and put it back thank you very much.

“How much do you wish to wager on Drake’s involvement in whatever is occurring in the atrium?” he asked. Marinette smiled, reassured at the return of his clipped and formal tone. The informal speech felt wrong coming from Damian’s mouth. 

“Oh, I don’t know Dami ?” she teased. Then again, she couldn’t let this opportunity pass by her. “I don’t think I have enough money for that bet with you.”

Damian closed his eyes with a grimace and sigh. “Do not call me that.” He opened his eyes, an expression just short of pleading radiated from them “Please.”

“I would rather gag, and it sounds so would you.” Marinette covered her grin with her hand, unable to stop a slight giggle at the man’s long-suffering tone. “You pulled off vapid lovesick celebrity well, but why the need to act at all?”

“I have plenty of reference to draw from,” he grumbled, piquing Marinette’s interest; every half aside comment enticing her to dig further at Damian’s life. “I needed whoever descended those steps on our side and my normal... demeanor tends to put people off.” He folded his hands behind his back, a perfect picture of casualness, but the tightness around his eyes and the twitch of his mouth was all Marinette needed to note his self-consciousness. 

“Well, I for one find your usual self charming,” Marinette admitted, pleased when Damian relaxed at her words. “You freaked me out acting that weird.”

“It is not an option I use often,” Damian admitted. “My brothers tend to make big productions of themselves. I prefer a far subtler approach, but this required more theatrics to make it believable.” He glanced at her. “I hope…” he paused. She watched his hand flutter and turn into a fist at his side. “I hope I did not overstep your bounds, that is, I mean violate your...” Damian refused to look at her, his gaze firmly planted on a far wall.

Marinette could let the poor man continue but ended up taking pity on him before he dug an even deeper hole. She placed a hand on his arm. “You were fine. If I didn’t want you… kissing me,” she said the words out loud for the first time, reigning in a pleasurable shudder at the memory. “I would have pushed you off, and if I felt violated, which I didn’t, you would have found yourself on the ground in plenty of pain.”

Damian dragged his gaze back to hers, a small smirk twitching at the corner of his lips. “Undoubtedly, yes, you easily could have done so.”

Marinette smirked again, not willing to let the entire debacle slip away quite yet though. “Although I have to ask, where in the world did angel come from? And what on earth made you think it would be a good nickname for our fake relationship?”

Damian lifted his nose haughtily. “It is a perfectly acceptable name of affection for a significant other. What, did you wish for ‘sweetheart’ or ‘ doll’ ?” he asked, drawing out those names with the earlier casual New Jersian accent. Marinette withheld a shiver at his low tone of voice curling those words around his tongue. She may prefer his normal speech, but damn he still sounded unbearably attractive when he dropped that low.

‘Focus, Marinette. FOCUS!’ she inwardly screamed at herself.

“Goodness no,” said Marinette, forcing a pretend shudder. “Something with more class perhaps? Darling, or beloved?”

Damian pursed his lips. “Not beloved. That’s what my mother refers to my father with.” Marinette winced, yeah, that could be awkward. Not that this whole conversation wasn’t a disaster plucked out of a fever dream. Why, why was she debating Damian on the finer points of affectionate nickname giving?

But her mouth continued talking. “Alright, I suppose angel isn’t bad in comparison. Still, it’s a bit cliché. What does that make you? A demon?”

Damian tilted his head with a shrug. “Tt. My brothers do call me that on occasion, yes.” Oh right, Jason called him demon-spawn a few times during their confrontation. With the way Damian rolled his eyes in annoyance, Marinette figured a story lurked behind that particular nickname.  

“Regardless, we have strayed dangerously off-topic here. We should head towards the pandemonium in the atrium, yes?” Damian pushed off the wall he’d leaned against, and Marinette followed.

“I thought it was Panic at the Disco?” Marinette teased with a grin.

Damian pointed a finger at her, trying for a stern expression, but the glint in his eyes betrayed his amusement. “You think yourself terribly clever, don’t you?”

“I think I’m adorable,” she shot back. “But I also think you’re right. It sounds like Tim managed to involve himself. If he’s making a scene, I bet he’ll draw the rest of your brothers there too.”

“You think Grayson will escape the clutches of that ravenous she-wolf?”

Marinette scoffed. “Damian, you’ll insult wolves with that comparison. I thought she resembled more of a hyena myself.” The woman certainly shrieked enough for it. “From what I saw, your brother probably ducked out at the first opportunity available to him.”

“True. Which leaves Todd, and nothing attracts his attention more than a spectacle. Especially when Drake stands chance to make a fool of himself.” Turning a corner they found themselves several yards away from the open-aired atrium. A crowd of people lingered around the railing looking into the courtyard below. Clapping and cheers fill the air.

“Shall we?” asked Marinette, excitement brewing in her chest.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” grumbled Damian. “But I suppose we must.” 

Chapter Text

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Edging closer to the atrium, Marinette kept a close eye out for Jason or Dick. Pitter-patter anxiety thrummed in her breastbone, and tension seeped into her shoulders. Walking closer they slipped into the crowd surrounding the glass balcony, to look over the scene below.

Pandemonium, perhaps, understated the situation.

“Oh dear,” muttered Marinette, standing in front of the invested crowd.  

“Drake you utter imbecilic moron ,” hissed Damian, sounding like he wanted to stab something, most likely his brother.

In the atrium below gathered a crowd a hundred strong, consisting of warehouse workers, Starbucks employees, cashiers and stockers, and a multitude of rowdy customers. Off to the side stood a group a gang of confused security guards.

At the escalator’s base stood Tim; jacket gone, shoes still missing, hair a ruffled mess, and a maniacal grin stretching his lips. He stood addressing the crowd around him, in a surprisingly strong voice given his stature.

“…and the oppressor and oppressed, stand in constant opposition to one another. They carry on an uninterrupted fight, a fight that each time ends, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes. Understand that our modern society has sprouted from the seeds of an old system, one which still seeks to rule over us, and has established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.”

Tim was an impassioned speaker, his words ebbing and flowing brimming with confidence and purpose. The crowd practically hung off every word he preached.

But Marinette concerned herself more with what he stood on, rather than what he said.

“Why is he standing on an overturned shopping cart?” she asked, her voice pitching in bewilderment.

“Tt. A useless endeavor to feel tall; he threw an absolute fit when I surpassed him in height two years ago,” Damian confided with a smirk. “I propose a more important question; why is he reciting the Communist Manifesto?”

Marinette blinked, hoping she heard him wrong. “What?”

Damian leaned on the railing, gesturing to his brother below. “It’s not word for word of course, but the words are recognizable enough.” Well, Marinette bet not too many people memorized the Communist Manifesto, so she would silently disagree. “But it is quite frankly incongruous. Drake was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and bewitched his way into gaining another. He is the very definition of Marx’s ruling bourgeoisie.”

Marinette hummed. “People say whatever, to appeal to a crowd. Your brother, apparently, wants a spectacle, which a worker’s strike will achieve. No one needs to know where it’s from to find his words appealing.” The gathered crowd grew more fervent with every passing word. Shouting and clapping filling the atrium until it almost drowned out Tim’s words, but the young man continued on, the noise and excitement further encouraging him.

“Everyone but security sulking in the corner. And- oh look, there’s Fey.” The flustered-looking employee approached the group of security guards, proceeding to talk, and angrily gesture, to no effect on the increasingly raucous mob. 

“What can we do?” asked Marinette, the nervous energy building in her chest finding nowhere to turn.

Damian sighed. “Unfortunately, not much. We can not confront Drake without drawing attention to ourselves or losing the game. The situation has spiraled such, that it is firmly out of our hands.” He paused, then, “Did you spot a vending machine on our way over? Partaking in snacks while this unfolds sounds like a good idea.”

“What and turn this into dinner and a show?” By the looks of it, the crowd itched for something to do other than listen to impassioned words, they were liable to riot at this rate.

Scoffing, Damian upturned his nose. “Hardly. The true show is whenever Todd emerges from the woodwork.” Damian tilted his head to her, grinning sharply. “Born and bred rich boy playing the people’s liberator, versus the lower class, literate, street rat who can’t stand Drake’s guts on a good day. It will end up a proverbial blood bath.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Should I be concerned over how excited you sound about that?”

Damian waved her concern aside. “I must find my entertainment somewhere, even though there will hardly be any bloodshed considering the public setting.” Damian probably meant to look disappointed, but his expression leaned more on the side of adorable pouting.

“That doesn’t seem very healthy,” Marinette remarked.  

“Tt. The only figure of emotional stability in our family is Alfred, and he’s a stiff upper lip British ex-army officer. This is about as healthy as it gets.”

Before Marinette could think too hard on that, a cry sounded from the crowd. Less enthusiastic, and more outraged. She whipped her head around, Damian doing the same, to observe the disturbance.

Tim, no longer talking, turned to glare behind him clutching a small foam dart. Jason stood on the escalator, slowly descending into the atrium, nerf gun cocked and pointed at Tim.

“Oh, look Todd’s arrived,” mused Damian, his flat tone barely disguising his obvious amusement. Marinette couldn’t help the small laugh bubbling in her chest, she placed a hand over her mouth to stifle it. Didn’t want to draw too much attention.

Although, why would anyone pay attention to them when the confrontation between the two brothers in the atrium proved far more interesting?

“Yo, replacement!” Jason yelled, “What the hell are you doin’ preachin’ like the next messiah?” Jason reached the bottom of the moving staircase and walked towards the crowd. The exuded grace of a predator parted the crowd before him, all scrambling out of their way of a force that could crush them like a bug.

“I’m educating them on the realities of class warfare and instigating a peaceful strike?” said Tim, perceptibly annoyed at the sight of his brother.

“I think we could chance moving closer,” whispered Marinette. “If something goes wrong…”

“What could go wrong?” scoffed Damian. “Besides these two idiots succumbing to a showdown and security dragging them out, of course.” He gestured over to the slightly larger group of security guards bordering the outside of the crowd. Fey stood nervously nearby, their head whipping back and forth between Damian’s two brothers. Their eyes were wide and panicked.

Oh shit. If Fey recognized Damian, it was a fair chance they recognized his brothers too.

Well, hopefully, they wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of that.

The twisting anxiety in Marinette’s stomach pulsed again, and she winced. With the amount of magic she’d used today, her whole body ended up hypersensitive to the intertwining pulses the universe emitted; otherwise what people called ‘a gut feeling’. Except her gut feelings tended to be more accurate.

Another pang.

And persistent.

They needed closer.

“Damian…” Marinette laid a hand on his shoulder. “Trust me. We need to move closer.”

He peered at her, eyes scanning her face. If Marinette weren’t ninety-nine percent positive the man didn’t possess magic, she would swear he tried to read her mind. The moment passed and Damian relaxed.

“If you believe it necessary,” he said.

Without thinking her hand darted out and grabbed his wrist, and she pulled him through the crowd. Slowly, as to not gain too much attention. Jason and Tim may be distracted but that didn’t mean they were oblivious. And Dick could be anywhere.

The feeling in Marinette’s chest continued to flutter the closer they moved to the action’s center. Jason and Tim’s banter loud enough for the whole atrium to hear.

“…what? And you would have them riot and loot?” Tim’s gestured to the crowd around him. “Change comes from banding together and improving the system!” The crowd cheered at his words.

“The system is corrupt to its core!” sneered Jason. “Tear it down and burn the rubble is what I say. It’s those in power, like yourself, that want the system to change so slow it kills the people struggling to survive!” However, it seemed Jason gained a handful of supporters too, and several cheered when he finished talking.

Damian groaned. “Oh great, not this again .”

“Is this a thing?” whispered Marinette, as they moved through the second-floor crowd along the railing.

“Only their most fervent of rehashed arguments,” Damian confided with a sigh. “Todd is a borderline anarchist on his good days; growing up in the Gotham slums only to be adopted into luxury. Meanwhile, Drake, as I previously stated, is a hopeless rich kid who runs multi-billion-dollar corporations for fun.” Marinette’s eyes widened at that last statement; oh, Damian and his family were that type of rich. 

“Doesn’t that make you a hopeless rich kid too?”

Damian huffed. “I may be rich, but I am by no means hopeless. I was trained better than that.” The presence of the word trained stuck out in Marinette’s mind, and she winced at its implications. “And Todd is welcome to the drudgery of running my father’s company. It does not negate the fact he remains an interloping charlatan.” The grumbling sounded harsh, but his tone lacked any true malice. Marinette suspected Damian just enjoyed insulting his adopted brothers even if he didn’t really mean it.

He might take offense to observation if she mentioned the thought out loud though.

Traveling down a quick flight of stairs towards the atrium’s back wall, Marinette and Damian reached the bottom floor and placed themselves hidden in the shadows. Still close enough to hear the commentary that wasn’t shouted to the whole atrium, but far enough back to watch the whole disaster unfold and not have anyone see them.

At this point, Jason worked his way onto the shopping cart and stood next to Tim, his broad and well-muscled shoulders a stark contrast to Tim’s lithe figure. He hadn’t tried to push the younger man off the cart, but it looked like a close thing.

“If you had one ounce, one iota of an idea of how the real world worked Timmy boy, you wouldn’t begrudge the people a chance to vent their frustrations,” Jason growled.

“Violence doesn’t solve anything!”

Marinette saw Jason’s face from where she stood, and although he didn’t say anything out loud, his expression clearly said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Damian muffled a laugh-turned-cough with his hand.

“Violence isn’t an effective way to resolve things so they last for the long term,” amended Tim. Marinette swore she saw a light blush tinged his cheeks. “Speaking against abuses and mistreatment,” he gestured to the group of warehouse workers, all still gathered around him. “It has its purpose, but systemic change comes gradually.”

“Then why the hell did you recite the Communist Manifesto? The basis of 20th-century revolutionary thought doesn’t really mesh well with gradual change, now does it?”

Tim stamped his foot. “Because Marx and Engels are excellent writers, and their words are thought-provoking. Now get off my shopping cart! I have a strike to continue with.” Tim grabbed Jason by the arms and lightly shoved him. However, Jason must have great balance because he didn’t move from his spot precariously perched on the overturned cart’s edge.

“Aww, does little Timmy not have enough room?” teased Jason. “Can’t push me off by yourself?”

“Well, if someone would lay off nightly chili dogs maybe you wouldn’t weigh so much,” grumbled Tim. The fight devolved into both men trying to knock the other off the shopping cart. Jason, one-handed because he held firm to his nerf gun, maintained a height and weight advantage. As much as the crowd had been invested in the promise of a strike, watching a fight proved far more interesting and so they cheered as the two brothers duked it out.

“Are they like this all the time?” asked Marinette.

“They are normally so much worse.” 

Tim grabbed a fistful of Jason’s hair and tried to yank him off the cart. Jason kicked at his legs, but Tim jumped right over it. Both stayed on the cart. The crowd continued to cheer. 

“Children,” grumbled Damian, “I am surrounded by children .”

“HEY!” yelled a third voice, over the crowd’s roar. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING?” The ring of people over by the main entrance parted to reveal Dick, sans employee t-shirt, back in his leather jacket a disgruntled expression on his face. Jason and Tim held still where they were - Tim’s hands clutching at the lapels of Jason’s jacket - and Jason ready to bash Tim over the head with his nerf gun.

“Damnit Grayson, you could have let them duke it out,” mumbled Damian.

“I think security might have stepped in before then,” Marinette said. The group of security guards stood particularly anxious over near the water fountains, but they hadn’t stepped in yet. Which was… odd . What held them back? Watching carefully, Marinette saw Fey stayed their intervention, allowing the scene to play out.

“Oh great!” yelled Jason. “Golden boy come to swoop in and show everyone up. Where the hell have you been?”

“Where have I been? Dealing with the creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s what! Where the hell have you two been? What are you even doing?”

“Starting a worker’s strike.”

“Chasing demon-spawn and his French bitch.”

Marinette reacted before Damian even had the chance to, grabbing his wrists and holding them tightly. He tried to lunge out of her grasp, but she held firm.

“I told him not to call you that,” he snarled, his vibrant green eyes practically glowing in the dim lighting of their hiding place. “You are not-”

Marinette rolled her eyes, cuffing him on the shoulder, cutting off her irate partner. “Damian I’ve been called far worse.” He snarled again, and a knotted ball in the pit of her stomach unwound at his fervent defense of her honor. “Your brother is upset with me; justifiably so. Don’t lose sight of the end goal because of a few mean words.” Damian huffed, pursing his lips, but the look on his face receded from fratricidal to annoyed, and Marinette felt it safe to let go.  

“THERE HE IS!” screeched a voice causing both Damian and Marinette to whip their heads back to the scene in front of them. At the top of the elevator stood a middle-aged woman, brittle blond hair piled on top of her head, face caked in makeup, and too thin clothes stretched over a frumpy frame. Behind her stood two frantic-looking IKEA employees.

“Oh, shit!” exclaimed Dick looking, quite frankly, scared for his life, scrambling behind Jason and Tim.

“Do you wanna bet-” started Marinette.

“The hyena descends upon her prey with inescapable ferocity,” said Damian, in an overexaggerated British accent. Marinette barely stopped a shiver from shaking her body at the crisp words. It should be illegal to sound that good. “The shrieks elicited from her ravenous maw tell the prey danger is coming.” Marinette burst out laughing, covering her mouth with her hand.

Leaning hard into Damian’s side, she whispered through her breathless giggles, “You’re awful. She’s going to kill them.”

“I know. I admire her audacity,” Damian replied with a smirking grin.

Marinette swatted his shoulder, barely able to gasp out, “Oh, stop it.” He was right of course, but that didn’t mean she should encourage it.

The woman strode down the escalator, storming towards Damian’s brother with fire in her eyes. “You!” she shrieked pointing at Dick. She watched the employees trailing after her, with a glint in her eye. “I told you we would find him here!”

“Listen I don’t want any more trouble,” started Dick, hands raised defensively, backing away from the crazy woman approaching him. Marinette winced in sympathy at the pure panic on the man’s face. It seemed further interactions between Dick and the woman had not gone over well.

“Ooh, you’re not getting out of this easy mister!” the woman spat. “You humiliated me, made us track you down across half the store, and now you want us to let it go !” The woman laughed, if one called a high shrieking cackle a laugh. “Fat chance.”

“Who the hell is this Dickie?” asked Jason, looking at the woman like she was a bug trying to crawl into his food.  

“Jessica Merope-Laverne. Who the hell do you think you are?” she snipped back.

“None of your damn fucking business that’s who. But you’re yellin’ at my brother, so that’s going to cause problems if you don’t get the hell out of our faces.” At this point, Jason did jump from the cart and strode over to the woman. She looked ridiculously small compared to man, but either she had balls of steel or no sense of danger because she did not flinch or cower at his advance.

“Your brother impersonated an employee and proceeded to humiliate me,” Jessica shot back.

“Woman you look like someone sneezing in your general direction would humiliate you.” 

The resounding slap sent the entire atrium into silence.

“Oh, on second thought, Todd might just tear her to pieces,” Damian whispered in Marinette’s ear. Marinette bit her lip; this was like watching three trains running into each other at breakneck speeds carrying nothing but mentos and diet coke. An unmitigated, messy, explosive disaster for everyone involved.

Jason’s face, what little she could see of it, bore a bright red mark imprinted on the side. Jason held his body taught and restrained. Marinette had little doubt Damian’s older brother could tear the entitled woman apart in minutes, and the way the rest of the crowd slowly backed away from the scene, so did everyone else.

Out of the corner of her eye, the group of security officers inched their way through the crowd approaching the explosive group in the middle. Fey wrangled their hands off to the side, looking about to pass out.

“Lady, you better count yourself lucky I ain’t willing to lower myself to your level otherwise you’d be splayed across the floor with more than that love tap you just gave me,” Jason growled.

Finally, the woman showed a minuscule amount of situational awareness and backed away. But apparently, that didn’t carry over to her tongue, because she still had the gall to say, “Are you threatening me?”

Jason chuckled darkly, “No that’s a promise.”

Tim jumped off the cart rushing over and placing himself between the tense pair. “Now, now, there’s no need for threats or promises here. My brothers are uncouth, but I’m sure there’s a way we can peacefully resolve this situation.”

Jessica slapped his outstretched hand away. “Don’t tell me what to do! I’m going to have all of you thrown out and banned, and I’m going to sue for emotional damages. And you!” she pointed a sharply manicured finger at Dick. “You, I’m going to have sued and possibly jailed for impersonating a store employee.”

“Lady you’re fucking crazy,” retorted Dick, advancing on Jessica, only to be held back by Jason before he could enter the woman’s striking range. “I didn’t do anything to you, and it’s not a crime to play dress-up now is it?”

“Actually-” started one of the men lingering behind Jessica. Before he could say another word though Jessica screeched again.

Everyone turned to pay attention to the woman who stared in apoplectic shock in the play place’s direction.

There, perched on the colorful plastic wall separating the atrium from the children’s area, was Abby. Her hair a frizzy and wild mess, long ago released from the two pigtails she’d had it in earlier. A paper crown adorned her head, and a self-satisfied grin stretched across her lips.

“Who is she?” whispered Damian. 

“That’s Abby,” explained Marinette proud smile. “We like Abby.” 

At Jessica’s feet lay a green plastic ball pit ball. The woman gaped like a landbound fish, ready to explode into a tiny million pieces.

“You little cretin! Your parents oughta smack some sense into you!”

The girl scoffed. “Yeah, well you aren’t my momma, so you have to shut up and listen. No one wants to hear your screeching, lady.” Abby threw and caught another ball in her hand. “Now why don’t you take a chill pill and leave.” She pitched the ball at Jessica’s face. The woman barely dodged leaving the ball to sail behind her and hit the manager Jessica dragged along right in the face.

The crowd’s earlier silence lifts, and they start chanting, “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”

Jessica sputtered indignantly. “Oh, why I oughta-” and lunged at the little girl, only held back at the last second by Tim, who darted forward and grabbed the older woman by her arms.

“This situation might, perhaps, have spiraled out of hand,” commented Damian, watching little Abby ready another ball to throw, manic smile spread across her face, and Jessica clawing against his brother like he’s the only thing between her and tearing the tiny child to shreds.

“Oh, we are well past that,” Marinette snarked back. “I think we passed out of hand about five minutes ago when Jason and Tim argued revolutionary philosophies on an overturned shopping cart.” She gestured out to the uproarious crowd, Jason holding back Dick, Tim holding back Jessica, the descending security guards, the confused managers, and Fey on the edge of a nervous breakdown. “This is an unmitigated disaster.”

Damian huffed. “I do not disagree with you, but the way I see this resolving is all of them taking each other out. I leave free from entanglement in this debacle, and my brothers will undoubtedly drag themselves home at a later juncture.”

Marinette blinked. “Free of entanglement? Damian, everything happening here is kind of our fault.”

He raised an imperious eyebrow at her. “And what do you suppose we do? Hmm? Throw ourselves into the mix in a show of misguided responsibility and make it a hundred times worse?”

“No,” pouted Marinette, annoyed Damian was ready to give up, and annoyed at herself she hadn’t devised a solution to the problem.

At this point, Jessica still screeched at Abby, and Tim barely maintained a good handle on her. A group of three security guards approached Jason and Dick who fended them off will the nerf gun and raised voices, respectfully. The crowd’s chanting of ‘fight, fight, fight,’ grew louder and the chaotic energy practically lingered in the air, reveling in the madness and spurning it on in equal measure.

What could Marinette even begin to-

Wait.

A.

Second.

Her head whipped into the air. Her last thought was meant to be more poetic than real, but as she concentrated, a thick black and green miasma pulsed visibly in the air. She’d only ever seen it once before, during the final battle against Hawkmoth. When the fighting lasted for hours and using the abilities granted by the Miraculous multiple times. The Parisian air glowed in a multitude of colors as the clashing powers of gods filled the air

Similar to the multiple chaos balls she’d thrown about today.

Shit. This wasn’t just their fault. It was her fault.

Aware of it now, the writhing mass taunting her with its mere presence, she had an idea about how to combat it, and maybe salvage the situation. She just needed a bit of luck to pull it off though.

Reaching into her purse, hopefully for the last time today, she pulled out another little metallic silver ball. This time with a bright red ladybug etched into its surface. The metal ball, cool to the touch, calmed her as she rolled it in between her fingers.

She only had one, and it needed to be effective as possible. Looking into the mass chaotic confusion, Marinette knew she needed to be closer

She took a deep breath, steadying the growing nerves in her chest, and moved forward, intent on her plan.

But before she could move too far, and large hand prevented her from moving. Marinette remembered she wasn’t alone. She turned back to Damian who watched her with a furrowed brow.

“What do you think you will accomplish meddling near that mess?” he asked.

“I have something I want to try, and I need to be closer for it to have a chance of working.” She hesitated, briefly, before holding up the ball, realizing there was very little chance of escaping this situation without having to reveal her powers. 

Damn it.

Damian reached for the object, but Marinette snatched it away, breathing sharply at the unwelcome movement. “What is that?” he snapped, his tone cautious and wary. 

Marinette gulped, her chest tight, acutely aware of Damian’s hand gripping her wrist tightly. “A little bit of good luck,” she replied, the inside of her head sending off alarm sirens, as her panic reached a fever pitch.

Would this be enough to fix everything? Would Damian react badly to the magic? Would he think she was a freak? What if he found out about the Kwamis? What if she ruined everything?

“Oh, like the disaster in the cafeteria, or the lights going out, or Jessica appearing to distract Grayson?” he asked, his voice sounding more and more defensive as he rambled out all of the odd occurrences over the course of the day. Marinette dragged in a steadying breath. She had to show confidence. She had never backed down before and she wouldn’t start now.

“No that was bad luck, chaos if you will.” Marinette didn’t have the time to explain to Damian what her powers could or could not do. “And I had nothing to do with Jessica’s arrival, although I do think it was the universe giving us a gift.”

“The universe doesn’t play favorites,” Damian snarked.

“Not when you don’t know the rules.”

“And you do?”

“You have to know them in order to bend them. Damian, please, give me a chance to set things right. I’m pretty sure this can work.”

He sneered, his green eyes glinting coldly in the dim light. “How can I trust that?”

A crash erupted behind them, as Tim finally lost control of Jessica and the woman pushed him back. He stumbled over the cart and onto the ground. She launched herself at Abby, who threw another ball, and scampered around the woman in the direction of Dick and Jason, flinging herself behind the two, and safely out of the woman’s reach. The crowd’s yelling raised in pitch, and security lingered on the outskirts with no chance of calming them.

Marinette glanced back at Damian, “I don’t think you have much of a choice.” Her eyes traveled to their combined hands, the force of Damian’s grasp on her wrist already starting to smart a bit. “Please.”

Damian released her hand and she immediately fled in the crowd’s direction. The thick fog of chaos hanging smugly in the air, and if she weren’t so versed in how normal people couldn’t see ambient magic, she would be shocked no one noticed the interfering entity’s presence. Gathering the call of her magic in her chest, she focused on the feeling leading directly to her intuition and connection to Tikki’s presence, this power-up would need as much of a boost as possible for the situation to end well.

“I hope this works.” Marinette let the magic flow from her chest down her arm, and into the waiting container clutched in her fist. The ball pulsed in response, and she opened her eyes with a smirk. “Miraculous ladybug,” she muttered, hoping the old familiar words would help fuel the flames of her magic. And, without further delay, chucked the tiny object into the crowd.

She watched it arch into the air and land by Dick’s shoe. The ball gave off tiny black and red sparks, which scattered across the floor, dancing like sparkler stars, but nobody took notice of it. For a moment, the scene continued as if nothing changed at all, and the panic in Marinette’s chest clenched her lungs like a vice.

“WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON HERE!” boomed a voice, stern and demanding. Everyone froze in shock as a black man in a business suit descended from the elevator flanked by more security guards.

“WELL? I WOULD LOVE AN EXPLANATION AS TO WHAT-” he cut himself off when his eyes landed on Dick.

“Richard? Richard Grayson, is that you?” Dick, still caught in a headlock by Jason, glanced at the imposing figure.

“Will Faulkner?” he swiped his foot at Jason’s stance and managed to dislodge his brother’s grip. Jason backed up, finding himself with Abby attached like a limpet to his side. “What the hell are you doing here man? I haven’t seen you since our first year at college together.”

Marinette smiled, watching the ambient luck spiral into the air, tampering with the chaos’ effect. The tension in the shoulders of everyone in the room lessened as the scene played out. Even Jessica in her feral fugue fell still and silent as the magic worked its’… well… magic.

A figure approached behind her, and she glanced up to see Damian standing cautiously out of arms to reach, peering at her like a puzzle to solve, or a bomb carefully handled.

“What did you do?” he whispered loud enough for her and no other. 

“I used luck to even out the odds. Now we should move back, it would suck to get discovered now.” She punctured the wall of space between them, grabbing his wrist and tugging him back to their hiding spot, so they could watch the rest of the events unfold.

Will laughed. “I own this location, I told you I planned to use my business degree for something useful.” Will approached Dick with a friendly smile and a side hug. He looked Dick over and raised an eyebrow. “You look well, Grayson. Last I saw you; you were on the edge of a nervous breakdown and rocking a mullet.”

Dick ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Yeah, I lost that back a while ago…” he chuckled weakly, looking around at the entire mess. “Listen, man, I’m sorry about all of this. Me and my brothers, we honestly didn’t mean for today to get so out of hand.”

“Yes, we did,” chorused Jason and Tim. Dick winced.

But instead of appearing angry, Will just laughed. “No hard feelings, I understand. I remember how much trouble we caused during freshman year, and you were a walking disaster zone.” He looked Dick over again like a particularly juicy treat.

“Does your magic cause uncontrolled attraction?” asked Damian, his voice taut.

Marinette shook her head. “No, it just makes events more likely to happen. It’s luck, not compulsion. That attraction Will displays is all him.” Now, other miraculous magic could work like that, and eventually, she might have a strong enough connection to Nooroo or Duusu to wield such influence. But after watching the power’s effects over several years Marinette found herself disinclined to wield anything that might affect a person on a deeper level.

No, swaying the universes’ natural dice rolls was enough manipulation for her.

“Hmm...” responded Damian, Marinette couldn’t quite make out what he meant by it.

But when it seemed like everything would resolve peacefully… 

“Are you just going to let them get away with this?” came an indignant screech from Jessica, who stood with her arms outstretched.

Oh right, she was still there.

“And who might you be?” Will asked.

“Jessica Merope-Laverne! He-” she pointed to Dick, “-humiliated me pretending to be an employee, and hit me.”

“Dude, I did not, she’s delusional-”

“Then he-” she pointed to Jason, “-insulted me.”

“And you hit me you crazy bi-” he cut himself off because he remembered Abby still clutched at his leg. “Bizarre creature of a human being.” Abby giggled.

“AND THEN THAT LITTLE BOTHERSOME BRAT!” yelled Jessica, making Abby bury her head in Jason’s side. Jason looked ready to follow through on his earlier promise to punch the woman to the ground. “THREW A BALL AT ME!” she clutched the earlier green plastic ball and waved it in Will’s face. The man gazed unimpressed at Jessica, before glancing over at Abby.

The man sighed, placing a hand on his hip. “Abagail how do you always land yourself in these situations?” he asked calmly.

Abby peeked her head out from Jason’s protective embrace. “Hi, uncle Will. I didn’t mean to cause so much trouble. She was being a meanie and I had to do something! You always said if someone’s being mean you should stop them!” Abby explained with her head held high and her tiny hands on her hips. Her uncle sighed, placing a defeated head in his hand while also smiling.

If the possibility for a person’s head to explode existed, Jessica would have done it. “I’m going to sue this whole fucking store and have all of you fired!” she yelled, making to lunge at Will now before another figure emerged from the crowd.

Fey.

They cleared their throat. “Ma’am if you would like, I’ll take you to customer service, and we can work up a case file, okay?”

“No! I want it done and I want it done now!”

Fey sighed as if dealing with an unruly child instead of an adult. “Ma’am I going to have to ask you to come with me quietly, or I will involve security.” Three security guards stand behind the fearless little HR employee.

“And what about them!” Jessica gestured to Damian’s brothers. Jason sneered at her, pointing his nerf gun. Tim gave a little wave. “Aren’t they going to deal with security too?”

“Not if they agree to leave quietly,” stated Will.

The tension seeped out of Dick’s shoulders. “Really?” he asked, his voice hopeful. Marinette sighed in relief, this was a generous resolution; no one would end up hurt, and it would solve the problem of Damian’s brothers for good.

Will nodded his head, smiling at Dick. “Yeah, if you promise to leave, never come back, and pay for any damages, we won’t have to call the cops or anything.”

Jessica finally lost her mind, she screamed wordless and rage-filled, making to lunge at Will and Dick, but she was grabbed by three guards and frog-marched out through the crowd, which parted in their wake. No one wanting too close to the raging woman. Fey followed behind, looking proud of removing the irritable figure from the atrium

With Jessica finally gone, her furious screams fading with each passing second, Tim bounced over and handed Will a business card. “Thank you so much sir, we’ll be on our way right now. Here’s my personal number. Feel free to call, and we’ll work out the payments for the damages,” he rushed out in a single breath. He snatched Dick’s hand and started tugging him towards the entrance.

“I’m keeping the nerf gun,” said Jason, before offering a hand to high-five Abby, who delightfully slapped his palm. “Keep being awesome, little miss!” He ran off after his brothers and all three left the store through the front doors.

“Bye misters!” she yelled, running over to her uncle. He scooped her up and placed her on his hip. “Uncle Will you won’t believe the day I’ve had!” Will carried her off in the opposite direction that Fey left.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me all about it won’t you, you little trouble maker. Hopefully, your parents won’t kill me for letting this happen.” They passed by Marinette and Damian’s hiding place, and Abby looked over her uncle’s shoulder and spotted Marinette.

Marinette placed a finger to her lips, and the little girl nodded enthusiastically waving goodbye to them as well.

A contingent of security guards remained in the atrium, breaking up the last of the crowd. Within minutes, nobody could tell only moments before a chaotic mess of epic proportions took place there. Even the shopping cart was righted and placed back in the storage area.

“We won,” Marinette whispered, watching the last pieces ambient chaotic and lucky energies dissipated, and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, that could have gone a lot worse.” Then she laughed, it wasn’t so often a situation wrapped up so easily. Especially not without the Ladybug Miraculous itself present. Under its power, she could reverse time, repair cities from ash, or bring back the dead.

But on her own? Even with the help of the Luck ball…

She swayed on her feet, the light feeling in her chest transforming into a woozy sensation in her head. A pair of strong hands held her up by her arms, as the ground swam beneath her.

“Marinette? Are you okay?” asked Damian in a low voice.

She laughed weakly. “Yeah, I think… I think I poured too much magic into that last activation. Could we go sit down?” Damian nodded, and they shuffled over to a nearby bench. Marinette collapsed onto the wooden beams and rested her head against the wall.

“Will you pass out?”

Marinette huffed, smiling softly as she closed her eyes. Damn, she was tired. “No, nothing so dramatic. I just overextended myself. I used far too much magic today.” She pried open her eyes and looked over at Damian who sat awkwardly next to her, just out of arm’s reach, as if she were a ticking time bomb about to go off.  

“Oh, why the long face Damian?”

He pursed his lips, “You lied to me.”

Marinette rolled her eyes. “At what point did I ever say anything about having magic or not? Not once.”

“But you didn’t-”

“I didn’t what? Just tell you?” She raised a piercing eyebrow at the man. “What, like you tell every stranger you meet your deepest darkest secrets?” She had a litany of questions about his past, ad she very much doubted he would say a word if pressed. Damian slumped into the bench and refused to look at her. “Damian?”

“No,” he barked. “Obviously not, but…”

Marinette sighed. “But you still feel lied to.” She honestly couldn’t be mad at him for the feeling. She and Adrian hadn’t spoken to each other for a week after revealing their identities. When you put so much faith in what should be, and reality reveals what the truth is , the inevitable end feels like a betrayal.

“Look, I won’t apologize for not saying anything. I’ve only known you for a few hours, I have the right to my secrets. But I did let things spiral out of control, and I will apologize for that.”

Damian didn’t say anything for a long moment. Staring at the back far wall, Marinette practically felt him weighing out the day in his mind, calculating every interaction and situation in light of the new information. “You fixed everything?” Damian asked.

Marinette nodded slowly, the wooziness still spinning in her head. “Yeah, everyone affected by the ambient magic might have a slight headache for an hour or two, but besides that, back to normal.” Besides the physical destruction caused by the magic, she couldn’t do that without the added strength granted by the miraculous.

A beat of silence, passed before Damian straightened out of his slump, looking at her intently.

“Damian?” she asked nervously, hoping this wouldn’t be a deal-breaker; hunting the man down if he ran and having to erase his memories sent a pang of regret through Marinette’s chest. 

But she would do it if necessary. 

Damian ran a hand through his hair, “I acknowledge the necessity of half-truths and obfuscations, and while I find myself… vexed by such deception, you had every right to remain silent about your magic, and it was wrong of me to assume otherwise.” The words were overly formal and stilted suggesting Damian rarely apologized, but otherwise sincere, and that made Marinette smile. “Furthermore, I... apologize for my rough treatment of your person,” he said, glancing at her wrist, slightly recoiling at the sight. 

True to her earlier concern, a red imprint of his hand marked her wrist, but Marinette didn’t think it would bruise. She rested her other hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” she reassured. “I’ve suffered worse.”

He huffed, grabbing the damaged wrist with a light grasp, and cradling it softly in his own hands. Her heart fluttered at the gesture. “That does not inspire any confidence in me about the types of people you are acquainted with, or the regard you hold for your own safety.” Absently, his thumb traced the mark’s outline with a feather-light touch.

“Pain is a part of life Damian. I’ve learned to deal with it well.” She viewed his own arms, covered in scars and burns, stretched and faded and layered. Reaching out and gently stroking what looked like a stab wound, she wanted to return the unstated concern. He fell frozen at the touch. “And apparently so have you.”

Silence.

Slowly, Damian released her wrist and pulled back from her touch, he stuffed both hands into the pockets of his pants and gazed off into the distance. A tense but peaceful silence falling between them. 

The day’s danger now passed, and here they were, unintentionally revealed secrets laid out before them, nerves raw, and nowhere else to go. No more enemies to defeat. 

Well… 

There was one last thing. 

“Hey, you do know your brothers can’t go anywhere, right?” Marinette asked. 

Damian’s brow furrowed. “Pardon?” 

Marinette dipped a hand into her purse and fished out Dick’s car keys, dangling them off her ring finger. “I kinda took these when I took his phone.” 

Damian stared at the keys for a moment, before closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. He tried to hide the laugh emerging from his mouth but failed; the low sound rumbling in his chest. The smile that crept on his face was mischievous. 

‘Oh,’ thought Marinette fondly, ‘we are going to be okay.” 

“You know what,” he declared, standing from the bench. “They can wait a few minutes more. We won the game without discovery, I believe that calls for libations.” 

Marinette pushed herself off the bench, briefly stumbling for a moment before Damian’s hand caught and steadied her. Instead of pulling back, his hand came to rest at the curve of her back. Solid and warm. “American drinking age exists,” she reminded him lightly. 

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, and its’ ineffective puritanical presence curbs absolutely no one from engaging in drink if they wish to do so. Besides, I would not subject our celebration to whatever swill we can acquire here. I was proposing ice cream.” 

Marinette laughed, high and bright, glad the discovery of her magic and the melancholy of Damian’s past couldn’t erase the glowing shine of victory. As for everything else; his brothers, her powers, his past, and their future they could deal with it all later. “Ice cream sounds perfect.” 

Chapter Text

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Dick didn’t resist Tim’s insistent pulling, as the IKEA doors slid open. The clean, cool, air giving way to oppressive and muggy late May heat. Jason appeared at his back, a self-satisfied grin on his face, nerf gun slung on his shoulder.

“We are never following your suggestions for family bonding time ever again,” grumbled Tim, blinking in the mid afternoon’s bright sun.

Dick winced. This hadn’t been his best idea, but it turned out alright in the end, hadn’t it? He knew they were lucky to escape this mess without too many consequences. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” Jason smirked. “I think this was Dickie’s best bad idea yet.”

“Do you realize the number of problems we caused?” complained Tim, completely ignoring Jason. “PR will have my head for this, all our heads actually. I saw people filming us! This will be on social media before the hour is out. And don’t get me started on what Bruce will do.”

“Bruce will be happy we’re getting along,” Dick offered weakly. Which, you know, he would, if getting along didn’t also come attached to media scandals and a large bill. But Dick preferred to look on the upside here.

Tim pinned him with a stare. “No, no he won’t. And the only reason we might, I repeat, might have a chance at mitigating how much a fit he’ll throw is because he’s on another planet halfway across the galaxy.” 

“That’s if Alfie doesn’t have our heads first,” Jason said, his previous grin tempered with the idea of what their long-suffering butler-grandfather would do. Lock them out of the cave? Subject them to his waffles? The patented Pennyworth look of I’m Not Mad I’m Just Disappointed?   

Dick shuddered.

“That too,” said Tim.

They approached the car, an older model Toyota that generally sat unused in the garage. It wasn’t often they traveled as a group unless it involved cape activities, in which case everyone split themselves between the batmobile and their respective cycles, or a fancy upscale event requiring the limo’s use.

Dick reached into his pocket, to hit nothing but air and lint, and groaned.

“Fucking hell!”

Jason raised a brow. “What’s the matter?”

“The French girl stole my keys.” Then, remembering the interaction which played out between them, “And my phone.”

“Mine too, plus my wallet and knife,” grumbled Jason, twidling with the trigger on the nerf gun.

Tim bit his lip, turning a thought over in his mind. “I thought I lost my phone in the fire’s chaotic aftermath, but I do remember bumping into a girl on my way to the back office.” 

“Fire?” Dick asked. “What fire?” He was ignored.

“Congratulations world’s second greatest detective,” drawled Jason. “An untrained opportunistic civilian managed to pickpocket you.”  

Tim shifted back and forth on his feet, barefoot against the parking lot blacktop. “And what’s your excuse?”

Jason rolled his eyes, “Oh shut it. They had me tied up. Plus, demon spawn probably would have ripped my head off.” He snurled his nose. “He’s head over heels for the chick.”

Dick’s concern about Tim and the fire took a back seat to this revelation. “Wait… what!?” Damian … had a crush ? “Really?” he asked, once he’d caught his breath. “I find that hard to believe. Teaming up with her is one thing, but having a crush…”

Jason shook his head. “Dickie, you didn’t see them.”

Dick raised an eyebrow. “I chased her through half the store, I’m pretty sure I did.”

“No, no, see them together. He defended her, called her by her first name , and deferred to her when she told him to stop insulting me,” Jason informed them, growing more and more frantic by the word.

Dick admitted that sounded like a crush. Damian showed similar tendencies around Raven before she and Garfield found themselves in a relationship.

“You’re making shit up,” Tim scoffed.

“I’m not! The little demon brat is either in love or bewitched!”

Jason’s words rang in his mind. Bewitched. “She does have magic,” Dick stated. “That’s how she knocked out the store’s electricity.” It was a common problem no matter how hard they trained, or how well they prepared they were always at risk of falling to powers they could not combat.

Damian may be fierce, but if he was under a spell…

Tim scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Yeah right, who’d want to bewitch Damian into a relationship? The brat’s an intolerable little shit on his best days.”

“I don’t know!” exclaimed Jason. “Someone crazy enough to take part in his sadistic little plans to torture us!” 

“Both of you quit it,” Dick snapped, a rising headache forming at the neck’s base. How had he become the collected and responsible one here? Out of the corner of his eye, Tim shifted again and realized how painful it must be standing still on the scorching blacktop. “And Tim, sit on the hood, you’ll burn the soles of your feet at this rate.”

“Oh, so you’d rather I burn my ass off,” sniped Tim, but he jumped on the car’s hood. The bottom of his feet, a bright cherry red that would probably need checking over at home.

“You gotta admit, it’s one of your least attractive features,” teased Jason.

“Your face is your least attractive feature.”  

“Really?” Jason asked, raising an eyebrow. “I always thought it was the autopsy scars.”

Dick clapped loudly, and both his brothers startled enough to stop snarking at each other. “If you could both focus on the bigger issue here; how are we getting home? If French girl-”

Marinette, apparently,” sneered Jason. 

Dick rolled his eyes. “Okay, Marinette took the keys. How are we getting in the car?” 

Jason picked up his leg and slid the sole away from his boot. “Bitch took my knife but not my lock picks.” He held a small lock pick set between his hands. 

Tim crossed his legs, raising an eyebrow. “So… what? You’ll break into the car and use shoestrings and lint to hotwire it?” 

Jason knelt by the car door. “I’ve been breaking into cars before you could walk Timbo.” 

“Jason” Tim started slowly. Dick sighed; this would end up in another fight, wasn’t it? “Even if you could get in without tripping the alarm, which you can’t.” Jason’s face twitched. “You’d have to undo the entire console to reach the wires, which are kept in place by Wayne anti-theft tech.” He pinned Jason with a stare. “Vigilante stress-tested and approved.” 

Jason scoffed a very Damian-like sound. “Pfft. So?” 

“Large enough electric shock to render even you unconscious, especially without the proper equipment.” 

Jason paused a moment, glaring at Tim in frustration, before leaning his head against the car door with a long-suffering sigh. “We don’t use this fucking car for anything!” 

Dick rested a consoling hand on Jason’s shoulder. “When has that ever mattered in this family.” 

“Oh no, no, no, don’t you include me in this family’s paranoid bullshit. I’m the normal one,” he said, sticking the lockpicks back in the hidden compartment. Dick felt it was kinder to let his brother continue living in a fantasy world where any of them could be considered, “normal”. 

Tim, however, did not have that same consideration.

“You have at least four safe houses in Gotham alone, five money caches, a dozen weapons depots, more fake identities and passports than even Bruce, and you triple check your locks before you go to the bathroom. And you claim you’re normal?”

Jason glared. “You little shit, now I need to establish more safehouses.”

Tim perked up. “I found all of them?”

Jason grunted and leveled the nerf gun at Tim, shooting a foam dart right at his head. Tim leaned to the side, the projectile flying clean over his shoulder.

Tim glared. “Why did you take that stupid gun anyhow? Your real artillery cash is larger than the contents of some country’s entire stockpiles.”

Jason smirked. “True. But I didn’t have a nerf gun. I could wave this around the manor, and the old man wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it!” Jason crowed, with a manic smile.

Dick sighed. Of course, that’s where Jason’s thinking went; ‘ what was the best way to piss Bruce off?’ “Jay, one, you already do that with your normal guns, you never care about the consequences. And two, what on earth makes you think Alfred will let you bring that inside the manor?”

Jason scoffed. “ Please, like Alfred doesn’t have several shotguns hidden around the house. This is a nerf gun; totally harmless.”

“The fact it’s a toy gun won’t bother him, just the amount of chaos you cause with it,” mumbled Dick, leaning against the car. The sun beat down on his head and he shucked off his jacket. It was long past noon, but the weather was still hot and muggy and unbearable on the coast. Especially with no chance of air conditioning in sight.

“The real concern is what happens when Steph gets her hands on it,” mused Tim.

Jason’s eye twitched. “Well, that won’t happen, because blondie will keep her hands to herself if she knows what’s good for her.” He stroked the plastic toy’s barrel with the same reverence as he did his normal weapons. Dick would call it concerning if it didn’t even make the top twenty things about Jason’s personality he did find concerning.

Tim rolled his eyes again and tapped his fingers angrily against the car’s hood.

“Stop that,” complained Jason.

Tim didn’t. “What? I need something to do since without a phone I can’t mitigating the damage we caused.”

“You’re way too addicted to that thing.”

“Well, excuse me for having a day job that keeps us in spandex and kevlar.”

Dick groaned, ignoring their banter. “Dami knows he won, right?” he asked. “What’s taking him so long?”

Jason shrugged. “Like you said, the little shit could be bewitched. The French chick could have kidnapped him.”

Tim threw up his hands. “Oh well he’s gone, c’est la vie. He’ll be missed, etcetera, etcetera. Let’s find a good Samaritan and see if we can phone Alfie for a ride back.” He moved to slide off the car hood before Dick stopped him. 

Dick stared in horror. “Tim that’s our little brother!”

“They set me on fire!” Tim snarked back.

“Tt. Do not be ridiculous Drake.” Dick startled, Jason and Tim doing the same, and turned around. Damian and Marinette approached the group. Dick hadn’t seen his brother since the morning and in that time he’d managed to completely change his outfit, dishevel his hair out of his normal severe style, and picked up a pair of glasses. The two victors casually walking side by side, holding ice cream in hand and looked pleased. 

Damian continued. “We set fire around you, and merely signed your person in the process. It was controlled, you were in no actual harm. Unfortunately.”

“Ahh… the victorious bastards return,” drawled Jason, fidgeting with the nerf gun. “Tell me, little liar, did you place demon spawn here under a spell? Interested parties only moderately care if the answer is yes.”

The young woman looked unimpressed with his question. Damian, on the other hand, snarled, his grip tightening on his ice cream, the vanilla treat dripping onto his hand in the hot summer sun. “Fuck off Todd, Marinette has done nothing of the sort.”

“What?” drawled Tim. “Only looking out for your best interests baby bro.”

“My powers aren’t capable of that. I affect situational outcomes, and even then my input is loose and non-directional.” Dick didn’t think magic worked like that but also didn’t know enough to say it didn’t work like that. “So, no, I did not place your brother under a spell.” By the end, she stood right before Jason shooting him a pissed glare.

Damian placed his hands on her shoulders and slowly inched her back. “You have explained the situation to my satisfaction, you owe these cretins no such considerations.”

The young woman pulled herself back and huffed, calming herself. “No, no, Damian. They’re right. They don’t know me, all they’ve seen is me do magic, steal their things, and run away from them. They have a right to be concerned.” She offered her hand in Jason’s direction. “I’m Marinette, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

Jason scoffed and turned away. Tim looked like he would get off the car, but Dick sent him a firm glare, and his younger brother stayed put. Dick walked forward, not taking the proffered hand. Marinette dropped it, slightly disappointed, but resigned. Damian, on the other hand, inched towards explosive.

Not a good sign his little brother wasn’t under a spell.

Still, good manners were a top priority Alfred drilled into them and returned the greeting. “Nice to meet you Marinette. It’s not every day you find someone who can keep up with us.” He threw a pointed glance at Damian, hoping for a short, if not informative, explanation as to why she could keep up with them.

Damian merely raised an eyebrow and smirked in a way indicating he didn;t intend to tell Dick anything. Damn it.

“Can I have my phone back?” yelled Tim from atop the car. “I’m assuming you’re the one who took my phone.” He observed the woman with scanning eyes, his default mode for anything new that stumbled into Tim’s orbit. 

Marinette flushed, reaching into her purse. “Yes, yes I did. You need to work on your situational awareness.” She pulled out a collection of phones, wallets, and the car keys.  

“I had plenty situational awareness, little liar,” sneered Jason. The woman’s face twitched at the term. Funny. The rest of their standoffish behavior hadn’t affected her. “You cowards tied me up!” 

“We trapped you fair and square,” said Damian, rolling his eyes. 

“With lies and trickery!” spat Jason 

“Completely within the game’s rules?” Marinette asked sweetly. Damian nodded, and she shrugged at Jason with a ‘what-can-you-do-about-it’ face. Jason sneered and swiped his phone, wallet, and the car keys out of her hands. He turned to Dick, “I’m driving.”

Dick shrugged, figuring that was not a fight worth having, at least it wasn’t Tim arguing to drive – his god-awful road rage would kill them before they hit the city. He grabbed his own phone and wallet and tossed Tim his phone. His younger brother caught it with ease. He stroked it like Jason did his guns; the behavior also not making the top twenty things concerning Dick about Tim – the first eight alone having to do with Tim’s utter disregard to his own health and wellbeing.

“You have good technique.” Dick chose to say to Marinette. “Your acting could have been subtler.”

The woman ducked her head at the comment, a guilt-tinged smile on her face. “I was trying to make you notice, not escape your attention completely.”  

“Well, you succeeded.” The utter bafflement, and not the least bit of rage, he felt at her deception lingered in the back of his mind. It made sense his brother would be attracted to someone who caused chaos as easily as he did.

“Obviously she succeeded,” Damian commented, coming behind her and placing a hand on her shoulder. “She showed more brain cells concerning strategical, misdirection, and physical skills in the past few hours than you three miscreants combined.”  Dick didn’t know whether to squeal because; look – his baby brother was flirting! Or roll his eyes, because ugh- his baby brother was flirting.

The girl blushed but didn’t pull away. “Thanks, Damian. I’m glad this turned out to be a fun afternoon.” Marinette glanced at her phone and paled. “I need to go, the bus will be here soon. It was really nice to meet you all!”

“Can’t say the same,” grumbled Jason. Damian tightened at his words and Dick prepared himself to jump in if necessary.

But Marinette brushed off his brusqueness. She turned to Damian with an embarrassed smile. “Oh, there is one more thing I wanted to know…”

“Yes?” asked Damian.

“You never told me your last name? Grayson, Todd, Drake, something else? I’m assuming not Drake, but…” she trailed off. Damian stood in front of her with eyes wide and panicked.

Oh.

Oh.

This would be fun.

Tim reacted first. “Wait!” he exclaimed, jumping off the car. “Wait, wait, wait, wait.” He stalked closer to Damian, who hadn’t moved an inch since Marinette’s question. “You’re telling me, you, Damian ‘Blood is the only thing that matters. Peasants bow before me. Father, dispose of the unworthy interlopers.’ didn’t tell her your last name?!”

“Jump off a cliff Drake,” Damian snarled through clenched teeth.

“Oh nah, kiddo,” Jason said with a malicious grin spreading across his face. “Go on, introduce yourself to the pretty girl.”

“I hate you all with undying passion.”

Dick stretched to ruffle his baby brother’s hair. Good god, the kid was getting tall. “No, you don’t, you love us.”

“No. I hate you. I’m returning to my mother,” his younger brother whined. 

Marinette reached and rested her hand on Damian’s arm. “Damian…” she simply said, raising a brow. Such a look shouldn’t do much of anything; Damian regularly did what he wanted when he wanted, but the younger man deflated like a balloon under the woman’s touch.

“Wayne. It’s Wayne . The only blood son of Bruce Wayne. You know... the billionaire that owns half of Gotham.” Dick had never seen Damian so nervous to introduce himself as Bruce’s son before. Normally, he took a ridiculous amount of pride in being a Wayne.

A small part of Dick couldn’t resist the years of training in paranoia. Damian may have been insistent on Marinette casting a spell over him, Dick wouldn’t let the idea go. Not yet.

“We don’t own that much,” corrected Tim with an impish smile. “Maybe like… a quarter of it.”

Marinette’s eyes widened, before settling into a knowing smile. “Of course, I’ve seen you all in a few magazines before. My English reading skills were shakier back then, so I didn’t connect the names.” She placed her hands on her hips, the picture of a person Damian found interesting enough to partner with for the whole afternoon.

“Did you honestly think your last name would make me treat you any differently?”

Damian shrugged lightly, trying to maintain a superior air, and failing miserably at it. Dick wanted so badly to fish out his newly returned phone and take pictures but figured his brother was already embarrassed enough.

“Tt. Well, it has occurred before.”

She rolled her eyes and elbowed him in the side. Pausing for a moment. She peered at Damian before hugging him. Her tiny arms wrapping around Damian’s middle and her face buried into his chest. Dick blinked in shock; even he realized spontaneous affection and Damian mixed about as well as oil and water.

But instead of a knife or a rough shove, Damian’s arms settle firmly around Marinette’s shoulders.

“I didn’t know demon brat was capable of giving non-coerced hugs,” staged whispered Jason. Damian’s hackles rose, and the ex-assassin sent a kill-worthy glare at Jason, but he didn’t disengage from the hug.

Marinette pulled away, just an inch or so, but enough that Damian’s hands dropped from her shoulder to her waist. “We’ll keep in touch. It was a pleasure to meet you, Damian.”

Damian grinned, small and slightly sarcastic. “Most people do not express the same.”

The woman laughed, a bright and cheery smile; Dick knew it felt like gold to a besotted young adult. And Damian’s face showed it. “Well, I’m not most people,” she responded. She glanced over to Dick and his other two brothers who stood silently shocked over to the side. “And nice to meet all of you too. No hard feelings, I hope. It was only a game after all.”

Her slight smirk did not grant Dick any comfort. Jason shot her the middle finger, diving into the passenger seat before Damian retaliated, and Tim gave a little wave before following and slipping into the passenger seat. Great. Now it fell to him to make nice with Damian’s crush.

“Sorry about them, it’s been a long day. Good game, it was nice to meet you Marinette,” he said, pulling out his most convincing attitude. It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the truth either.

Judging from the way Damian’s hands tightened at the woman’s waist he knew it. The smile on Marinette’s face didn’t quite reach her eyes; she knew it too.

Marinette pulled away from Damian’s grasp, laying her hand on his arm again, before whispering into his little brother’s ear. Damian’s face turned from shocked to amused and settled on a genuine smile. He nodded, and the girl turned and walked away with another wave and a happy, “Avoir une bonne après-midi.”

“Toi aussi ange!” his brother shouted back.

She turned around and shot him the middle finger with a laugh. His brother’s lips twitched in glee, and it was such a normal, open, emotional expression it left Dick breathless.

Damian had a crush.

His little brother was growing up.

Damn, he would be so disappointed if this Marinette girl turned out to be bad news.

Dick walked over and slung an arm around Damian’s shoulder. “Congrats on the win Lil’ D. Seems you had a fun time.”

Damian roughly shoved him away, the dopey smile melted off his face like morning fog into the afternoon sun. “You have the absolute worst ideas, Grayson.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” teased Dick. “I think it worked out for you.”

Damian didn’t respond to that, causing Dick to inch in closer. His baby brother seemed to be in a good mood, but that could change on a dime, and Dick didn’t want a knife pressed to his stomach today.

“Are you sure you’re alright? We could run tests in the cave before patrol.” Damian kept his eyes to the distance watching Marinette trek her way across the parking lot before she disappeared out of sight.

“I am perfectly fine Richard,” he said, his voice soft and calm. The same tone Damian used when appreciating a good piece of art, or spending an afternoon lazing with his pets. “As I stated, Marinette explained the scope of her powers to me, everything I feel is…” the young man paused. “I had… fun .”

“That was kinda the game’s point Dames.”

Damian rolled his eyes. “You cretins were not what made it fun.”

“Nah, I guess that would be your little girlfriend?”

Damian scoffed. “She is not my girlfriend, she is… a friend , who happens to be a girl. She proved herself an adequate partner against your combined efforts. A rare find.”  

“Woah! Damian, are you giving someone a compliment?”

Damian shoved his shoulder. “I am capable of such, yes.”

Dick sighed. “Alright, as long as you’re sure. She seemed… nice .” No, she seemed like a chaotic little gremlin, and he desperately feared the girl meeting Steph. But with the way Damian acted, Dick doubted this would be the last they saw of the French woman. 

Damian smirked. “There are many words I would use to describe Marinette. Nice is a weak and wholly inadequate one.”

“But not untrue?”

Damian hesitated; his hands firmly clenched at his side to prevent fidgeting. “…no.”   

A loud honk pierced the air, breaking the conversation.

Jason had the window rolled down and a pair of shades covering his eyes. “If you two losers don’t get in here right now, Timmy and I will leave you behind.” The window rolled back up as Jason revved the engine.

Damian sighed. “Best to not keep Todd waiting.” He turned to the car and slipped into the back seat.

Dick smiled into the sun. Okay, so maybe the day had been a disaster. Maybe they were banned from IKEA for life. And maybe Bruce would have his head for letting things get so out of hand.

But.

But.

His brothers were together, and happy, if not a little inconvenienced from their crazy adventures. It was all Dick wanted for them; to be free and open enough to have fun without the weight of their lives bogging them down. So even if this hadn’t been the smartest idea, it had been a good one.

A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. The car was rolling away. Tim, seated on the passenger side, waved at him as Jason drove past.

Dick ran to catch the accelerating car. “OH, COME ON!” he shouted. Never mind, his brothers were disloyal idiots, and he didn’t know why he tried.

Oh well; he still loved them, even if they were absolute little shits.