“Ugh,” Chloé says, examining her nails as the most recent musical abomination wanders offstage to thunderous applause. “If they’re going to call this a ‘talent’ show, they should at least have people here who have talent .”
Alya shakes her head, her teeth gritted. “Still the worst,” she growls. “Can’t you just shut up? For once?”
Chloé crosses her arms, pointing with one upturned, disdainful finger. “You can’t tell me you actually enjoyed that cacophony.”
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Alya snaps. “He was good!”
“Next up,” Nino says into the microphone from his spot at the front of the stage, “we’ve got, um…” He picks up a card to read it. “Lê Chiến Kim with… um, Poetry!”
Chloé opens her mouth to snap back at Alya, only to be immediately nudged in the shoulder by Marinette. She turns, see’s Marinette’s face—halfway between judgemental and kind.
“Chlo,” she murmurs in a tone that immediately cuts through Chloé’s ribcage.
Chloé swallows. “I—yeah, okay,” she grumbles, leaning backward. “Sorry.”
Marinette reaches up and gently squeezes Chloé’s shoulder. “You’re trying,” she says with that infuriatingly understanding smile of hers. “I appreciate the effort.”
Chloé’s hard stutters. “You are not making it any easier to get over you,” she snaps.
Marinette’s grin turns sheepish, embarrassed. “Um,” she says. “Sorry.”
“Oh like that’s her fault,” Alya snarls.
Chloé rears back—then stops, closes her eyes, and takes a breath. “You’re right,” she says. “It’s not. I—sorry.”
She’s—she’s trying okay? She’s not the best, but, well, the old her wouldn’t really even be here. Student council treasurer was never her kind of position—playing second, or, in this case, third banana to anyone has never been her kind of gig—but she’s not the Chloé that she was. She volunteered to help Marinette and Alya set this up—the least she could do is stop insulting the acts. Even if they are terrible.
Alya grimaces, then turns to look at Kim. “Gotta admit, though, Kim’s poetry is…”
Marinette snorts. “At least it’s better than it was when we were five,” she says.
Chloé tunes in to what he’s saying, takes a moment to process the words, and giggles, covering her mouth with her fingers. “Oh, God,” she says. “I’ve written better Naruto fanfiction. ”
Chloé and Marinette immediately fall silent and turn to stare at her, their faces slack, and Chloé realizes that she’s maybe said a bit too much. She has to look cool at all times, or else—
“Okay, I gotta read this,” Alya says. “ You write fanfic?”
“So do you,” Marinette shoots back. “And yours is real person fic , about me , so you don’t get to mock.”
“I’m not mocking!” Alya says. “I’m just surprised is all.” She looks at Chloé with a raised eyebrow. “You don’t seem the type, honestly.”
“Oh, please ,” Chloé snorts. “I grew up with Adrien .” She throws up her fingers in a horizontal peace sign over her eye, then, in her best impression of her practically-brother: “In the Name of the Moon, I will punish you!”
Marinette giggles. “Oh my god, you sound exactly like him.”
“Oh, he’s making you watch Sailor Moon?” Chloé says. “Ask him to explain Star Gentle Uterus. He turns bright red.”
“That’s not hard,” Marinette says, fingering her earrings.
Kim finishes his poetry to a smattering of confused applause. He stands up and takes an exaggerated bow, winks toward a particular seat that Chloé can only assume contains Alix—oh, she must’ve dared him to read his poetry, that makes way more sense—and begins to walk off stage.
“What’s Sabrina doing?” Marinette says. “She brought a bag of some kind, but she won’t tell anyone what’s inside, and you— ” Marinette nudges Chloé playfully. “—have been rather tight-lipped about how she’s participating.”
Chloé grins. “Sabrina has a number of talents that she’s never shown anyone but me,” she says. “She never felt brave enough to show anyone, so I figured she could use some encouragement.”
Alya rolls her eyes. “You signed her up without telling her, didn’t you.”
Chloé opens her mouth and raises a finger to object, of course she didn’t, but then she immediately realize that that is something she absolutely would have done three months ago. “That is an… entirely fair accusation,” she says, “but no. She signed up on herself. I just gave her the push.” Nobody—not even Sabrina’s father—knows that the girl is actually a fairly talented dancer. She and Chloé have been trying to establish identities separate from each other lately, and Chloé had seen this opportunity and suggested it to Sabrina pretty much immediately. It had taken some convincing.
“Up next,” Nino says, pretty much completely ignoring the way Kim’s “performance” seems to have weirded out the crowd, “we have the mysterious masked musician marvels, Kitty Section! ”
The entire crowd erupts into cheers at that, leaving Chloé bewildered. She leans over to Marinette. “Am I missing something?” she murmurs. “What’s Kitty Section? Why’s everyone flipping out?”
“See for yourself,” Marinette says, nodding at the stage.
The group that gets up seems kind of familiar, even behind their glittery cat masks and armor. It takes Chloé a moment to realize that the giant setting up behind the drums has to be Ivan—nobody else at Lycée Anaïs Nin has that build—and some of the rest of the band members’ identities click into place. The small one in front—that’s Rose. The purple hair is clearly Juleka, the pianist—”
“Is that Adrien ?” she hisses.
Marinette grins. “Don’t tell his dad.”
Chloé grins back. “Oh, hell no,” she says, miming a zipper on her lips. “Not one word.”
The last guy—the one with the blue hair. Something about him seems familiar. She can’t place him, but there’s something in the back of her memory…
“Who’s that on guitar?” she whispers.
“That’s Luka,” Marinette whispers back. “Juleka’s brother.”
Chloé blinks. “Your ex?”
Chloé swallows, looking back up at him. “Your ex, the son of Jagged Stone. ”
Marinette nods again with a mischievous grin. “Yeppers.”
Kitty Section is definitely technically proficient, Chloé can say that much—a lot better than anyone other “musician” who’s been onstage today. Ivan’s drumming, while sounding deceptively simple, is more complex than most she can bring to mind, rhythms and counter-rhythms dueling for syncopated space. Juleka’s bass and her brother’s guitar riffs overlap in ways that she’s not sure she can even follow. But none of it sounds particularly interesting to her—she’s not sure what everyone else is getting out of this, though they certainly seem to be. Marinette’s eyes are closed, and she’s humming along, and there’s an emotion on her face that Chloé can’t name. An emotion that Chloé imagines is not unlike the way she feels when she looks at Marinette.
It’s weird to let herself think that now. To admit it even to herself. It’s even weirder that Marinette knows… and doesn’t mind. (Even if she doesn’t feel the same.)
Kitty Section’s set finishes, and nearly everyone erupts to their feet to cheer. Chloé isn’t feeling it, but she can appreciate the technical prowess behind the band’s songs, so she does clap. But she’s not swept up in the crowd, so she can see that some of the other musicians—the less talented, greasy male upperclassmen—are grumbling.
Hang on, she thinks she knows that guy. He’s hit on her at parties a few times, for certain varieties of “hit on.” Specifically the ones that don’t involve words from Chloé at all. Which is impressive, because Chloé loves to talk.
She notes him, for later. Just in case he starts anything.
Good guy to note, she thinks to herself later at the afterparty. (The talent show itself? Aside from the fundraising, that was Marinette and Alya’s baby. But Chloé Bourgeois knows parties . She made sure to run everything by Alya to make sure it wasn’t accidentally mean-spirited, but aside from that, every part of this party is her. Funding, planning, and executing.)
But something about the way that guy is following Juleka when she peels away from Rose toward the bathroom doesn’t sit right with Chloé. So she follows after him.
She doesn’t let him see her, because she’s in no mood to get into a “conversation” with this guy that she can’t extract herself from. He’s attractive enough—clean-cut appearance, only greasy on the inside— but he projects an aura of smarm that she’d have to swim through if she wanted to get within two meters. He’s everything the part of her that hates herself is attracted to, which means he shouldn’t be allowed near Juleka.
The way he perks up when the door to the bathroom opens does not say good things about him. The way he steps forward as soon as the purple of her hair is visible, the way he basically corners her—
“Hey, you did really good up there,” he says, the smugness radiating off him in waves. “My name’s Augustin. And you are?”
Juleka immediately shrinks against the wall. “Um—” she says.
Time to strike. “Juleka, hey!” Chloé says, storming into the corridor, pushing past Augustin and taking her by the wrist. “Rest of the band is looking for you. Some people are looking for autographs!”
“Oh,” Juleka says as Chloé drags her away from Augustin, who has the temerity to look annoyed. “Um, thanks?”
“Don’t mention it,” Chloé says. “I’ve been cornered by that guy. He’s an ass.”
Juleka halts in the middle of the floor, staring at Chloé, amber eyes full of… something. Chloé isn’t sure she likes it.
“What?” Chloé snaps.
Juleka swallows. “You helped me,” she says.
Chloé raises an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
“You… you were serious. About changing.” Juleka grips her elbow. “I didn’t think you were serious.”
All at once, Chloé realizes what she means. Marinette may have been her favorite target, but she wasn’t her only . Juleka didn’t get off so well around her either. Reflekta was, after all, her fault. And that had been part of a long line of cruelties.
Chloé sighs. “Juleka,” she says, “I’m—I’m sorry. The way I treated you was—it wasn’t okay.”
Juleka sets her jaw. “You should come meet the band,” she says.
Overall, Luka is fairly satisfied with the show. It’s always a good energy, being able to perform, and he’s really glad that Juleka was able to enjoy it so much. Adrien too—it’s rare that he can make it, but having him around always energizes the rest of the band. They put on their best shows when he’s with them, just because of how infectious his sunshine is. He honestly can’t blame Marinette for choosing him—Luka is fairly certain that he would’ve made the same choice.
Still, despite how much fun everyone had during the show, Luka is fairly quiet during the afterparty. This isn’t his celebration; it’s theirs, Juleka’s and Rose’s and Ivan’s and Adrien’s. This is their school, their talent show; he’s just the homeschooled tagalong. Outside of Marinette and the band, nobody here really knows him, and as much as he wants to join them, he doesn’t feel like he’s welcome. He lets them do their own thing.
Then Juleka comes back from the bathroom, dragging a very sheepish blonde that he vaguely recognizes. He’s a little surprised at that; Juleka isn’t a very forceful person, and something about the blonde makes him think that she’s kind of imperious, used to getting her way. So the fact that Juleka is just pulling her along, without her complaining—
His ribcage collapses into his lungs with rage as he suddenly remembers where he’s seen that girl before. On TV, right after Style Queen. That’s Queen Bee. The mayor’s daughter. Chloé Bourgeois.
Juleka doesn’t talk about school much, or at least she didn’t until recently, and Anarka never really bothered to ask. But what little Luka has been able to get out of her over the years indicates that Chloé Bourgeois has been making his sister’s life a living hell. Luka considers himself a fairly level-headed person, but everything in him wants to hurt her, to make her feel what Juleka has—
And yet. He can’t. There is one thing that he owes her, one thing that Chloé has done for Juleka that he can’t even—he and his mother have known Juleka was lesbian for years, have known she was dating Rose for years, but she’d never told them, and they’d never prodded her. They’d always figured she’d tell them whenever she was ready.
And then Juleka had come home one day and told him that Chloé Bourgeois had loudly announced two things: one, she’d discovered that she was bisexual, and two, every single LGBT person at school was under her protection. According to Juleka, Sabrina had come out as lesbian pretty much immediately afterward, and any time someone tried to say something about it—generally people who hadn’t known them in collége—Chloé had basically glared them into the ground.
And then later that day, someone had made a snide comment about Max’s sexuality, and Chloé immediately got between them, verbally tearing into the bully and ripping him apart until nobody in the school would look at him. He’d left early that day, an unspecified “cold,” but everyone knew he was too embarrassed to face his friends.
For years, Juleka had been too scared to tell anyone who she was and who she loved, but thanks to Chloé she’d finally gotten the courage to hold Rose’s hand in public, to tell her brother and her mother the truth that they’d already known. And for that, Luka will always be grateful to Chloé. Even if he hates her.
He swallows, forcing down the bile. He won’t attack Bourgeois, out of respect and gratitude for what she did for Juleka, in spite of what she did to her.
“Hey guys,” Juleka says, slinging her arm over Rose’s shoulders. (It makes Luka’s heart sing to see her so comfortable in her own skin now.) She nods toward Chloé. “Chloé just saved me from some creep over by the bathroom.”
Ivan remains impassive, but Adrien beams, while Rose bounces with a double-clap of her hands. “That’s good!” she says, then looks at her girlfriend. “Not the creep. The rescue.”
Juleka laughs, ruffling Rose’s hair. “Mood.”
Chloé shrinks, clutching at her elbow. “I… I know that guy,” she says. “He’s a dick.”
Despite her somewhat stony exterior, Luka can hear the way her heart is strumming fast and out-of-time, like a Mumford and Sons banjo solo if Winston Marshall had mixed absinthe and ecstasy right before going on stage. Chloé Bourgeois is ashamed, scared. And while the imperious, arrogant girl she’d once been is still there, still her main melody, the harmonies beneath are something completely unexpected. Something he’s very familiar with from all his years basically raising Juleka. Chloé, he realizes by the way her eyes dart around—focusing pleadingly on Adrien, then at the rest of them—feels like an outcast. Feels abandoned. Wants to belong.
Her eyes meet his, and he sees the earnest hope and fear in them buried under the snark and cynicism, and his heart leaps.
Ah. Well then. This… isn’t ideal.