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the high road

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Marinette Dupain-Cheng isn’t Ladybug for nothing.

Master Fu had chosen her, after all, for her kindness and her creativity, the ability to find a solution for every problem, an out for every sticky situation.

She’s the head of the team, the strategist, the one who makes the plans to save the day, the one who assesses the risks and rewards, every aspect of a crisis and the problems it may cause.

And Lila Rossi is one hell of a problem.

But Marinette knows better than anyone when to reel back and swap tactics when the situation calls for it.

No, she ascertains, this isn’t a battle that’s meant to end quickly. She can’t keep using the same strategy again and again and hoping it sticks. She can’t use brute force or make this particular fight end as quickly as possible.

With a sharp new clarity, Marinette Dupain-Cheng realizes that this is a waiting game. She knows this is a silent battle of wits, deception and a test of patience. And her classmates… well, they’ve made their choice. Choosing the fool’s gold of the new girl who lies with every breath over a friend they’ve known for years who’s made it known that she despises lies.

So, Marinette guesses they wouldn’t mind getting dragged down with her.

Tikki thinks it’s a brilliant idea, her most creative one yet, and that’s really saying something. And it’s the least suspicious one, too. After all, isn’t Marinette their Everyday Ladybug? Isn’t being kind and helping those in need her specialty, in their eyes? Oh, Lila will never see this coming, for sure.

‘Adrien wants me to take the high road?’ she thinks to herself, as she connects the dots to her plan, and a cunning smile forms on her lips. ‘I’ll force them all onto the damn high road until they’re sick of it.’

Monday, and the next few months, she decides, will be very, very interesting.

~*~

Marinette gets up bright and early on Monday morning, after taking the time to meticulously iron out her plan. She takes it slow, arranging everything she needed for the day, and even her mother notices her change in demeanor, making a comment about ‘waking up on the right side of the bed’. Marinette laughs, and plants a kiss on her cheek before heading out to school.

Even Tikki, who’s sitting in her purse munching on a chocolate chip cookie, is in a chipper mood. She’s one hundred percent on board with Marinette’s plan, much to her chosen’s surprise, and Marinette realizes that Tikki has a bit of a mischievous side to her when pushed hard enough. She’s protective of all her chosen, and Marinette is the best one she’s had in years—plus, after all, the Black Cat’s holder himself said that no one is getting hurt, right? Tikki resisted the urge to roll her eyes when she heard that one.

“You ready, Marinette?”

With a sharp gleam in her eye, Marinette grins at Tikki.

“Very ready, Tikki. Let’s show them what the real high road looks like, shall we?”

With a muffled giggle, Tikki nods and makes herself comfortable in the purse. This is going to be much more entertaining than any of the K-Dramas she can watch on Netflix.

As she steps into the classroom, Marinette is pleased, for once, to see her classmates crowding around Lila, like she expected. Madame Bustier is sitting on her desk, surprisingly early, letting them mingle before the bell rings, but strangely, Adrien isn’t anywhere to be found. It’s just as well, seeing as Adrien might see through her immediately.

She puts on her best remorseful expression, and tentatively edges her way into the group.

“Lila?” she asks feebly, cutting off whatever story she was telling about an AI she helped design for some American mogul.

She tenses slightly, noting the split-second scowl gracing Lila’s face before she turns to Marinette, while their classmates watch her skeptically. They know Marinette isn’t fond of Lila, so they’re wary of what she might say to her.

Trying her best to look unfazed, pushing away the pinch of hurt, Marinette continues, “I know we didn’t start off on the right foot,” she says, and her voice sounds strained, but it helps sell the nervous act (even though she’d really rather eat glass than say any of this, but oh, sacrifices), “—and I just wanted to say I’m really sorry.”

Their jaws collectively drop, including Lila’s, before her classmates start to grin at her, looking immensely excited and proud of her. Marinette holds out a package, wrapped in her most expensive orange stationery paper with tiny black foxes carefully hand-drawn all over with a silver ribbon tied intricately around it. Under her classmates’ eager gazes, Lila tentatively takes the gift.

“I feel really bad about saying that stuff, and I just wanted to make it up to you. I should’ve given you the benefit of the doubt, and I want you to know that. Think of this as a peace offering, from me to you. I hope… I hope we can be friends.”

“Open it, Lila!”

“Yeah, we wanna see too!”

Lila clenches her jaw, and rips the gift open.

Inside is a blood red, handmade jacket that is perfectly suited to Lila’s measurements with the letter L embroidered right on the breastbone, made from Marinette’s softest fabric. One text to Alya asking her for Lila’s measurements to make her an ‘apology gift’ was all it took, really.

The class oohs and ahhs as Lila holds it to her chest, a strange mixture of confusion, irritation and even a bit of awe mingling in her expression, and from the corner of her eye, even Madame Bustier looks incredibly proud of her, no doubt for ‘being the bigger person’. Lila’s eye twitches as she tries to scramble for an appropriate response.

“I… I don’t know what to say, Marinette,” she manages to say through gritted teeth.

Marinette smiles warmly at her.

“You don’t have to say anything, Lila. It’s the least I can do. I hope you like it.”

Lila gapes, shoulders tensing as she analyzes her expression for any undercurrent of anger or betrayal, but finding none. She relaxes, and gives Marinette a winning, saccharine sweet smile, laced with the tiniest hint of suspicion.

(There’s time to quell that soon enough.)

“Thank you, Marinette. It’s lovely.”

Nodding, Marinette turns away to head to her seat, as her friends coo at both her and Lila, ecstatic that their Everyday Ladybug has finally seen the light.

“I knew you’d come around,” Alya grins at her, slapping her shoulder lightly.

“I’m so happy you’re finally getting along, Marinette!”

“You and Lila would work really well together, you’re both amazing!”

“I knew you had it in you, dudette.”

Marinette keeps the smile plastered on her face as everyone celebrates the two’s reconciliation, even when Adrien arrives and sends her a confused look when told the reason. Still, he gives her a thumbs up and a small grin, proud that she’s taken his advice about the high road.

When Madame Bustier finally starts class with a glint of pride in her eye, Marinette is biting hard on the inside of her cheek to stop herself from laughing.

This is going to be much more fun than she thought.

To everyone else, including Lila, the jacket is a symbol of the start of their ‘friendship’.

To Marinette, it’s a declaration of war.

~*~

It takes two days before Lila tries to test the waters with Marinette.

She’s honestly surprised the girl hasn’t tried to pull her into a corner and ask her what’s going on immediately after so Marinette can express her ‘surrender’, but this is a more natural way of making Lila trust her, so she doesn’t question it.

“Madame Bustier, my tinnitus is acting up again!” Lila cries in her most pitiful voice. Marinette perks up at that. “Is it alright if we change seats again?”

Madame Bustier pauses, a little miffed at being interrupted in the middle of class, before giving her a placating smile. “Of course, Lila. Marinette, would you—”

Marinette stands up and procures a laminated diagram from her bag before smiling brightly at Madame Bustier. “Actually, Madame, I’ve got just the thing! I took the liberty of making another class seating chart last night when I remembered Lila’s condition. I’m sorry for taking so long, Lila, it must’ve slipped my mind,” she apologizes to her, who’s looking at her with surprise. Marinette heads to the front and hands Madame Bustier the chart.

“Oh, Marinette, this is sweet of you. You even made notes on the margins here for me and Lila to check, that’s incredibly thoughtful of you.”

Their classmates nod in agreement, making comments about how Marinette is always on top of her game and looking out for them, until Madame Bustier starts making them move their seats.

Adrien’s eyes widen in panic when he finds himself stuck with Lila, who is smiling and batting her eyelashes at him with a triumphant gleam in her eye, at the front.

Rose’s face falls at the mention of her sitting alone in the back because her perfume triggers Lila’s allergic rhinitis.

Nino and Alya wear similar expressions of discontent when they find out that they sit on the opposite ends of the room.

Nathaniel practically bangs his head on the table when he finds himself in the second row with Kim, who’s the noisiest of the entire bunch, effectively disrupting his drawing with his relentless chatter.

Juleka is skeptical about having her seat at the front, not liking being called on to often.

Alix and Ivan, as well as Max and Mylene, just look awkward next to each other, neither really knowing the other well enough to talk, and having almost zero things in common.

Chloe and Sabrina… well, they both didn’t really care as long as they sit together. And Marinette didn’t need to deal with Chloe for this fight.

They all exchange looks of discomfort in their new seats, but Marinette smiles at them so sincerely and thanks them for being so nice to help Lila feel comfortable that they couldn’t quite voice out any complaints. “It’s really hard to have a disability, so it’s really kind of you guys to switch seats in the middle of the school year.”

Madame Bustier nods in agreement. “I’m so proud of you all, especially you, Marinette.”

Marinette’s smile simply widens, especially as she takes note of the unadulterated glee in Lila’s eyes, not a hint of suspicion to be seen, as she notices the less-than-happy smiles of her classmates, at Adrien’s pleading glance at her that she promptly ignores.

~*~

The next instance is the very next day, when Lila feigns a sprained wrist from all of her so-called charity activities.

Marinette is quick to approach Madame Bustier and propose a solution.

“Why don’t we take turns in helping Lila write notes?”

Madame Bustier smiles at the brilliant idea. She knew Marinette had always been smart and kind, but now she’s seeing she made the right choice of making her her model student.

What Madame Bustier doesn’t see is the slight frowns of a couple of students, particularly Nathaniel and Adrien.

Marinette knows Nathaniel doesn’t like his drawing interrupted in class. She also knows that Lila will take full advantage of Adrien taking her notes for her to spend even more time with him. So, she pushes the idea.

“Adrien, Nathaniel, why don’t you help her write her notes first? Since you’re her seatmate, and Nath, you have really neat handwriting. Then maybe next week, we can change it up to someone else.”

“But—” Adrien starts, before trailing off at Madame Bustier’s frown. “…okay.”

“I guess.” Nathaniel huffs, though he’s not very good at hiding his disgruntled expression, and Madame Bustier scolds him gently.

“Thank you so much, Marinette!” Lila beams at her, and Marinette nods back, making sure to look pleased, even as Nathaniel clenches his jaw in frustration before taking out another notebook.

“It’s no trouble at all, Lila!”

~*~

On Friday, the class visibly deflates when Marinette walks into the room without the usual treats in her arms.

It’s been tradition since the start of the school year for Marinette to bring some sweet treats every Friday for the class, or even after a particularly tough test, for them to bond and unwind over, talking about the events of the week, which is what confused the rest of the class when she showed up empty-handed.

Kim dares to ask first.

“Hey, buttercup, no croissants today? Are you alright?”

“Oh,” Marinette says, looking apologetic enough that the class winces in guilt for asking, “I’m sorry. I just remembered last night that Lila is allergic to gluten, and we didn’t have the ingredients to make anything gluten-free for today… and it’d just be unfair if everyone else can eat a treat except Lila.”

Lila immediately launches into a fake-sweet expression of gratitude as Marinette smiles and nods at her.

“But it’s just her, maybe you can just give her a treat next week?” Kim suggests tentatively.

Marinette immediately frowns at him as Lila’s lips quiver pitifully, making him scramble to apologize.

“Kim, I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. Come on, now.” Marinette chastises him gently, her voice dripping with disappointment that makes Kim flinch.

The rest of the class’ eyes widen as Marinette attempts to console Lila, telling her it isn’t her fault. They try to push away the collective disappointment they feel and attempt to see it from Lila’s point of view, but they fail to completely ignore it.

Marinette stops bringing treats altogether.

~*~

“Marinette, why exactly do I have to walk her to and from school?”

“Nino, it’s for a friend! She needs help carrying her things, you know she has arthritis.”

“But before and after classes are the only times I can talk to Alya now…”

“You still have date nights on the weekends, right? Come on, please? Lila really needs it. I’d do it myself, but your house is on the way to hers.”

“…Fine.”

~*~

“Cancelled? What do you mean cancelled?”

“Alix, I can’t exactly push through with a sports fest for our class when Lila can’t participate. It’s unfair, and we shouldn’t leave her out.”

“But she’s just one person, ‘Nette, come on! And it’ll make the teams even if she sits it out.”

“Yeah, but she says she feels really bad about not being able to join, Kim. Maybe when we can all participate, okay?”

~*~

“Marinette, I find it quite counter-productive to continue assisting Lila with her assignments, I would not have minded at first but—”

“Max, it’s only a small favor for a friend, isn’t it? Please?”

“I… suppose.”

~*~

“Girl, there’s an akuma attack! I have to get the footage for the Ladyblog!”

“Alya, you can’t leave Lila alone now! You know that she’s Ladybug’s best friend and how scared she gets during akuma attacks! You have to hide with her!”

“But my blog—”

“Can wait! It’s just an akuma attack, you can always get footage from submissions from your readers.”

“Marinette, come on—”

“Lila is your best friend, Als, you’d do the same for me if I asked, why would she be any different?”

~*~

“Marinette, is there any way you can change the seating chart again?”

“Oh, why, is Lila having some trouble with it, Adrien?”

“Well, no, but I… I miss hanging out with you, Nino and Alya in our old seats.”

“But Lila likes you! And she says you’ve been really helpful, even Madame Bustier thinks so!”

“But—”

“Come on, she’s not hurting anyone. Besides, she says you two are really close and it’s easier for you to discuss your upcoming photoshoots with each other!”

“Marinette, please—”

“Oh, sorry, Lila’s asking me to eat lunch with her, I have to go! Thanks, Adrien!”

~*~

“You understand, don’t you?”

“But you said…”

“I know, I’m sorry, but Lila hasn’t been able to do a lot of photoshoots for Gabriel because she was sick and we should really help her feel better.”

“I guess, but maybe Rose and I can still be in it?”

“Oh, we only need one pair of models for the class project, Adrien and Lila, I’m so sorry, Juleka…”

“Oh.”

“Maybe next time?”

“…I guess.”

~*~

“You should promote the same charity causes that Lila does!”

“Well, Marinette, it’s a nice idea but Ivan and I already—”

“Madame Bustier said it’d be really sweet to choose charities that Lila does, it adds a little personal touch, you know, for a friend?”

“But—”

“It’s only a little change, I can even help you put it up, if you’d like?”

“No, really, Marinette, it’s okay, we can… we can do it ourselves. You don’t have to bother.”

“That’s great! You guys are amazing friends, Lila will be so happy!”

~*~

It’s a month of constant Lila bombarding—slipping in her name and outrageous stories seamlessly into conversation, putting her ‘needs’ above everybody’s wants, the array of disappointed looks and subtle chiding Marinette gives them whenever they try to excuse themselves, of Madame Bustier’s obvious jabs at them—before something shifts in the classroom.

Lila adores it. Oh, she laps up the special attention like fucking cream, taking advantage of every single opportunity for the spotlight that Marinette gives her, latching onto her like a leech, seeing her worst enemy disposed of and turned into the most useful ‘ally’ she’s had in years, that she doesn’t notice the small bursts of annoyance thrown her way when another ‘issue’ of hers arises, or the tiny eyerolls when she butts in a conversation with her very own tall tales.

Marinette could barely stop from grinning like a loon when she notices, forcing herself to play the part of an enraptured best friend as she nods along eagerly to Lila’s stories.

She isn’t sure what sends the suspicion to the edge, but she notices it when Alya calls for a ‘girl group hang-out’ where she conveniently forgets to invite Lila.

She frowns at that.

“What’s up, guys? Where’s Lila?”

“Oh, nothing, we just haven’t briefed her on the Team Adrienette agenda. We got a new idea on how to get you and your beau alone.” Alya says, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively as the girls nod in excitement.

“About that…” Marinette starts, chewing on her lower lip. She loves the girls to death, and she appreciates the fact that they’re still trying to help her with Adrien for as long as they have, but…

This presents another opportunity.

“I don’t know, guys. I think we should call these schemes off. I wouldn’t want for Lila to get hurt.”

There’s a tense silence that’s only broken by Alya’s splutters.

“What? Huh, what are you talki—”

“Lila likes Adrien, too, you know? And I don’t want to hurt her feelings if I ask him out. Besides, they have a much better connection with each other since they do all those photoshoots together,” Marinette shrugs, enjoying the shocked looks on their faces more than she probably should have, “plus, I could barely get two sentences out around Adrien. Maybe it’s better this way… They are both my friends, and they deserve to be happy.”

“Lila does not like Adrien, she told me herself!” Alya protests.

“Well, maybe she’s just embarrassed, like me! But I know a crush when I see one; remember that picture with him she sent us? The one when Oni-chan happened?”

As she scans their faces, Marinette sees it—the glimpse of suspicion in their eyes. Not much, but it’s there. Even as they try to coax her into changing her mind, how she should still give confessing to Adrien a shot, how she can’t just give up now (to which she all adamantly declines), the suspicion never leaves.

Tikki’s having a field day with this one, isn’t she?

~*~

Contrary to what her friends believe, Marinette appreciates a good slow burn. Yes, she likes the rush of a whirlwind romance, yes, she fell hard and fast for the sweet boy who sits in front of her during class, yes, she dives headfirst in certain opportunities that make her heart race and her blood sing, but her parents had taught her that good things come to those who wait and work for them.

And she takes their advice to heart.

Which is why she watches and waits, and enjoys the damn show. She sees the beginnings of resentment bloom through the cracks of their classroom walls, the ever-so-subtle tension that fills the air when a syrupy voice greets them good morning, the clenching of jaws and knuckles when plans are remade and rescheduled and cancelled, the traces of exasperation and soft pleading in their eyes that trail along Marinette’s face when she hangs onto every word Lila says, the skeptical looks they give when Lila’s stories just don’t completely add up.

Oh, but it isn’t for her, no, Marinette makes sure her tracks are covered. And besides, they already made the perfect alibi for her, haven’t they? Their Everyday Ladybug, helping those in need, uplifting people and making sure they’re taken care of. She has a soft spot for people who aren’t capable themselves, always giving them a boost when they’re down, and Lila, poor Lila, is someone who fits the criteria exactly.

After all, didn’t they want her to put her suspicion aside and try to get along with her? What right did they have to complain?

And Marinette knows damn well that’s exactly what her friends are thinking every time Marinette perks up to ‘help’ Lila.

But now they’re wary. They’re doubtful, and just really, really damn annoyed, but they just can’t prove that Lila is doing anything wrong. They don’t know what to do, but they’re getting really sick of Lila being an inconvenience for the rest of the class, and they just want it to stop.

The first one to break, unsurprisingly (or surprisingly, given how much Marinette knows that he dislikes conflict), is Adrien.

It’s two months after her public apology to Lila.

From the corner of her eye, she sees how conflicted he looks, how tense his teeth are clenched, and how his green eyes betray the uncertainty of what he’s about to do. Then he takes a deep breath and steels himself.

Marinette manages to collect herself before he approaches. She isn’t sure what possesses him to do it, really, and for a second, she considers letting him in on the secret—after all, he’s known for a while now that she’s a liar, and sure, she trusts him a lot—not to mention the fact that her chest still flutters when he’s near and the tips of her ears still heat when their skin brushes, but… this plan of hers is a game best played on her own. She’s just sorry that he’s caught in it.

So, when he touches her shoulder and asks if they can talk, Marinette schools her expression to the platonic equivalent of naivete, looking up at him with openly curious eyes and a kind smile.

“What’s up, Adrien? Did you need something?”

“Uh,” he starts, rubbing the back of his neck, “it’s about Lila.”

Marinette cocks her head to the side in confusion, as if she doesn’t know exactly what he’s talking about.

“What about her? Is she okay?”

“Well, I’m just confused, I mean, you’re doing all this stuff for her and I just…”

Marinette raises an eyebrow.

“You know she’s lying, right? About—about having all these disabilities and knowing all these celebrities, and just… everything.”

Bingo.

Marinette gapes at him incredulously, and Adrien starts shuffling his feet nervously, under the weight of her shocked gaze, clearly not anticipating her reaction.

“Adrien, I don’t think… It’s not nice of you to accuse someone of faking a disability.”

“Wha—huh? Marinette, you know she’s lying. Come on. You and I both know, right?” he tries for a smile, but it’s clear he’s getting anxious, his voice getting higher and a tad bit more desperate.

Marinette frowns, chewing on her bottom lip thoughtfully as he gives her an imploring look. Thankfully, his features don’t betray a hint of suspicion.

“Well, I figured… She was just lying because she was the new kid, so that we’d like her! So now I’m just trying to make her feel as comfortable with us as possible. Besides, just because she lied about one thing doesn’t mean she lies about everything. She deserves a second chance, and the benefit of the doubt.”

Adrien’s jaw drops, his eyes widening like saucers, looking as if Marinette had just slapped him, and she forces down the inevitable urge to cave and tell him everything. But no, not now, not yet. She’s just starting, it’s way too soon.

“No! No, you can’t say that. Ladybug confronted her in front of me when she said she was a fox hero, that’s how I know!”

“Ladybug must’ve done it to get Hawkmoth off her trail. She probably got akumatized because they had a fight or she didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to tell someone else about their friendship. She was new here, after all.” Marinette says gently, and Adrien looks seconds away from tearing his hair out.

“No, no, come on, Marinette. If this is about me telling you not to expose her…” Adrien chuckles, more out of anxiety than anything else.

“Look, Adrien, even if she did lie, she must’ve had a good reason to. Like I said, Lila deserves second chances, just like Chloe does!” she smiles brightly, though Adrien’s expression becomes increasingly desperate.

Sure, bringing up Chloe is a bit of a low blow, but hadn’t he been the one to preach about giving both of them a second chance in the first place?

He was right, Chloe is useful for something.

“And let’s say, you were telling the truth,” she continues pleasantly, and oh, she shouldn’t be having so much fun with this, “maybe she was just doing it to fit in. I mean, new school, new city, new people? That must’ve been terrifying for her.”

“But I—”

“And yeah, I hate lies—” Marinette flinches inwardly at the spark of hope in Adrien’s eyes, “but yeah, maybe she just wants to get in our good graces. Maybe she’s had bad experiences in her schools before. I can’t fault her for that. And neither can you.”

Adrien gapes at her like a fish, mouth opening and closing like he wanted to protest but couldn’t find the words to say it. Hook.

“And I don’t think she’s lied ever since. She’s honestly been really sweet to me since we made up. Lila’s always so grateful and appreciative. She went on a trip for two months, hasn’t she? She said it’s for a charity, and really, she does a lot of good in general, don’t you agree?”

Marinette almost preens at the way Adrien flounders to respond, looking more horrified by the second. Line.

Marinette shuts her locker door and turns to give Adrien one of her brightest, warmest smiles.

“Honestly, Adrien. Thank you for the advice. If it weren’t for you, I would’ve missed out on a really amazing friend. I owe you one.”

Sinker.

Marinette turns away and leaves behind Adrien, who looks like she’d just kicked a puppy in front of him, in her tow. The inside of her purse suspiciously lets out shrill giggles, and her saccharine sweet smile morphs into a smug grin.

Perfect.

~*~

What happens next is unprecedented, but Marinette can’t say that she’s complaining.

The next few weeks are the same, but Marinette notices a number of her classmates pulling out phones and typing things down whenever Lila starts to tell a story before glaring at her when they think no one is looking.

Ah, so they’re slowly figuring it out, she surmises, all the while doting on Lila like a puppy ready to please. It took them long enough.

Still, she’s glad they’re slowly coming out of the web of lies Lila has woven, only regretting the method she has to take to get them to realize it.

So really, she’s expecting people to tell her that she was right not-soon-after. One-by-one, a person from their class tries to talk to her in private like Adrien does.

What she didn’t is the fact that the people talking to her haven’t told anyone else about what they learned, only Marinette.

First, it was Rose, poor sweet Rose—one of the people Marinette felt most guilty about deceiving when it came down to it—tentatively cornering her about Prince Ali not recognizing who Lila is, and how she figured out she’s lying after she Googled the so-called charities she’s helped.

Next, it was Juleka, who insisted that Jagged Stone never had a kitten (just like Marinette had said before, but semantics), and how she really dislikes sitting in the front when she figured out that Lila’s tinnitus symptoms sound unrealistic, and maybe they could switch back seats.

Then, it was Kim yapping about how Lila said she met Michael Phelps, an Olympic ice skater, when he was clearly his swimming idol.

Nathaniel says Lila could introduce him Stan Lee, of all people, who’d been dead since 2018.

Alya says Ladybug swore she didn’t have a best friend in the recent post-akuma attack interview.

Nino, Alix, Ivan, Max, Mylene follow suit, separately, having their own versions of the lies that gave Lila away. In a span of two weeks, Marinette has been confronted by every single one of her classmates, asking her for help to stop the special treatment they’ve been giving Lila.

Marinette gives the same confused, innocent, trusting act she did for Adrien, gently defending Lila.

She probably misremembered.

Maybe you forgot a detail.

That’s not exactly solid proof.

It’s possible you misunderstood her.

Why would someone lie about helping a charity?

Is this about when you cancelled so you can help her out? Isn’t that a little petty?

Lying wouldn’t gain Lila anything.

And every single time, they gave her the same, horrified look as she walks away, leaving them fully convinced that Lila has sunk her claws in her so thoroughly that they couldn’t find any solace left.

What Marinette didn’t account for is the fact that they would keep this new knowledge to themselves. They all said as much, really, calling her ‘the only other person who tried to warn them’ and ‘their one ally’. No, they wouldn’t dare share this with anyone else, because Marinette did that at first, and look where it got her?

Now they’re looking for someone to turn to.

Something Marinette didn’t have before.

She’d be glad for it, really, and the guilt sometimes keeps her questioning her decision to continue with this charade, but then she gets reminded of the sinking feeling of betrayal they made her feel every time she tries to work herself into admitting everything, and she backtracks.

For everything to come full circle, Marinette has to keep going.

The high road or nothing.

So, she acts like she refuses to believe Lila is lying, or so they think. She plays her part well—she doesn’t get mad, or defensive, in fact, Marinette ups the ante on her sweet, innocent confusion and plays mediator.

And maybe she’s a bad person, but oh, does she relish in the quiet desperation that cracks around their edges when she turns away.

~*~

After another three long months, a straw finally breaks the camel’s back.

The small confrontations and imploring pleas of her classmates did nothing to change Marinette’s mind on Lila, only making her double down on the Rossi worship—all the class activities and projects she plans are centered around Lila because oh, she misses so many opportunities because of her arthritis, we should make it up to her, all of their outings have been only where Lila wants to go because she rarely goes to any places for leisure, she only does charity travels, all of the food and décor and music for any gatherings are based on Lila’s favorites, and the class is at its wit’s end, trying to keep up with the responsibilities Lila’s ‘conditions’ obligated them with and with Marinette so deeply entrenched in Lila’s lies that they have no clue how to get out of this Lila-themed hell she’s created.

But they draw the line one faithful Wednesday morning.

Marinette isn’t stupid, she knows they have to break someday, and the tension is absolutely palpable that it can’t be ignored at this point. So she makes her final move.

As she takes her sweet time climbing up the school steps, Marinette types out an enthusiastic, unassuming message to the class group chat, knowing full well that everyone is in class except Lila (whom she now knows always misses first period on Wednesday to ‘stop by a homeless shelter’ aka have her nails done) and hits send.

‘Guys, we should throw Lila a party! After all, she missed the last one we had and she’s just been a really wonderful classmate since we started classes. We’ll talk about arrangements when I get there.’

She could barely contain her laugh as she hears someone screaming as she nears the room, and waits by the door frame just outside the room to eavesdrop out of sight.

Surprisingly, it was Adrien who saw it fit to burst.

“—I’m sick and tired of her taking advantage of Marinette’s kindness and doing all this stupid shit for a disability I know she doesn’t have! Tinnitus from saving Jagged Stone’s kitten from a fucking airplane strip?! Arthritis?! Gluten-allergy?! She eats more pastries than I do on photoshoot sets, with the number of disabilities she has, she should be fucking dead by now—”

Marinette’s jaw drops, a little in shock at just how colorful Adrien’s language is.

“—And she played me like a fucking idiot, forcing me to write her notes and tutor her, I don’t even see my friends enough as it and now this, and she’s got even Marinette to believe her and she’s clearly using her to get free stuff like the clothes she makes and she’s just so full of shit, I can’t take playing nice anymore, I’m at the end of my fucking rope—”

He punctuates his rant with frustrated scream, bordering on an animalistic growl before everything goes dead quiet.

Marinette sneaks a peek through the door, enough to still not be spotted, and sees the stunned looks on her classmates’ faces, and the dawning horror on Adrien’s, cheeks still flushed with anger.

Then, it breaks.

“I thought I was the only one!”

“Thank fucking God!”

“You see through her bullshit, too?”

“Do you know how long I’ve waited for someone else to notice it?”

“I can’t fucking stand her anymore, Jesus Christ.”

Her classmates chorus their agreements, a collective sigh of relief so strong even Marinette feels outside sweeps through the classroom as they start to verbally rail on Lila with a viciousness like no other.

Marinette smirks, before walking to the canteen to grab a very deserved iced-coffee before the bell rings, with an extremely satisfied Tikki grinning up at her.

And the other shoe has dropped.

~*~

In the classroom, the tension reignites as Rose brings up a certain issue she’s been stewing over since Adrien’s outburst. With their relief, they momentarily forgot about a big problem they’ve yet to fix.

“Marinette still believes Lila.”

The class falls silent for a second time, slowly letting the words sink in before exchanging horrified looks, Adrien looking downright distressed at the notion.

“Oh my God, she tried to warn us before and now she’s—”

“No, no, no, we have to do something, she doesn’t deserve—”

“Do you think she’ll believe us if we all try to convince her—”

Adrien starts pacing back and forth with his hands pulling at the roots of his hair, looking guiltier by the second.

“I should’ve been there for her, oh God, I knew and I just told her to ignore it and take the high road, I didn’t think she’d actually believe Lila after that—” he starts muttering, his voice getting higher and higher with panic.

“You knew?!” Alya shrieks angrily, making Adrien flinch. “What the fuck, Adrien?”

“Dude, that’s not cool of you.”

“I mean, you didn’t believe it when Marinette first told you, and I was the new kid, so why would you believe me? And I thought, maybe if Marinette and I try to help her become better, she wouldn’t have to lie, but now she’s kept lying and Marinette’s in her clutches, and she doesn’t deserve to be taken advantage of—”

Adrien stops in his tracks as the sickening realization hits him like a freight train.

“Oh God. This is all my fault.”

Then he slumps into his chair, looking devastated.

“It’s not just your fault.” Nino says tentatively. “We all had a hand in it. Marinette tried to warn us, and we didn’t listen. We have to make it up to her.”

“But what do we do? Lila’s got her wrapped around her finger, I mean, didn’t she promise Marinette that she’ll let her meet people like Giovanni Versace? She’ll be crushed,” Rose cries, and the others flinch in guilt as they remember the false promises that they’d so readily believed in.

“What if she gets akumatized over this? She really trusts Lila now; this’ll break her heart.”

Adrien lets out a high-pitched keening sound at the thought of Marinette getting akumatized.

“We should’ve listened to her in the first place, God, we’ve really taken her for granted—”

“The longer we put it off, the worse she’ll hurt. I won’t have my best friend be played like a fool for this long.” Alya says, giving Adrien a harsh glare. “I say we tell her when she gets here, or we just confront Lila. Whoever arrives first.”

“A Lila akuma sounds like a way lesser evil than a Marinette akuma, to be completely honest.” Nathaniel mutters, sending a shudder of fear through the class at the image of an akumatized Marinette.

She’d give Ladybug and Chat Noir a run for their money.

As they start to talk in hushed whispers about their tactics to tell Marinette or confront Lila, Marinette waltzes in humming a happy tune with a cheerful smile on her face, and a half-empty cup of iced coffee in her hand.

“Are you guys ready to plan the party?”

~*~

There’s a beat of silence as they all look at Marinette uncertainly.

Then pandemonium erupts.

They all start talking at once, their voices overlapping in a chaotic chorus, some angry, some pleading, some concerned, all of them begging her to listen.

“Marinette, you gotta believe us, Lila’s no good!”

“She lies with every breath, look at this article—”

“Lila’s taking advantage of your kindness, Marinette!”

“You’re too good for her, girl—”

“Please believe us!”

“Marinette, you knew she was lying from the start, we should’ve believed you!”

“She’s absolutely evil, her charities don’t even exist!”

Desperation, pure desperation, seeps into their voices as they implore Marinette to look at their evidence, to listen to their side, to please believe them.

Oh, the de ja vu hits hard, doesn’t it? How the tables have turned, indeed.

She bites the inside of her cheek to stop from smiling triumphantly, forcing herself to look shocked and confused.

“W-what? Guys, calm down, what do you mean Lila’s lying?”

Adrien steps up, grasping her hands tightly, looking incredibly distraught, his eyes silently begging her to listen to him. “Marinette, I should’ve done something from the start. I’m so sorry, I didn’t think—I didn’t think she’d get you, too. Please, please believe us, we’re all telling the truth, we’d never lie to you.”

Marinette tries not to melt under his intense gaze, even as her heart rings in her ears and the scent of his cologne muddles her senses.

She shakes her head to clear her thoughts. She needs to play this right, to make sure Lila can never come back from this. Now isn’t the time to get lost in those green eyes, no matter how pretty they may look.

Marinette meets his eyes, chewing her lower lip uncertainly.

“Can… can you start from the beginning? What exactly did she lie about?”

Alya and Adrien gesture for her to sit down as the rest of the class watch for any purple butterflies coming through the windows.

“This is going to take a while, Mar.”

~*~

Maybe she should take a career in acting. Sure, she’s awkward in front of the camera because it makes her nerves go haywire, but she puts up a hell of a performance that can give Lila a run for her money.

The class collectively winces as they watch Marinette ‘process’ their evidence. Slowly, she looks up at them, channeling the hurt that she’s felt when they believed Lila over her into her expression.

“I… I just wanted to give her a second chance. Why would she do this? I wanted to be her friend.”

“We know, Mar, it’s sick, you did all of these adjustments for her, made us all help her just for her to—” Alya trails off with a frustrated grunt as Marinette slumps defeatedly in her seat.

“I don’t understand, how could she—”

Marinette is interrupted by a faux sweet voice greeting them good morning, and dear Lord, her day couldn’t get any better than this, can it?

The class turns from sympathetic to outraged in mere seconds, with Adrien even shielding Marinette from Lila as she approaches her table with a brand-new request already on her lips.

“If you ever come near her again, I will make you regret it,” Adrien snarls viciously.

Immediately, Lila’s expression morphs from confusion to a split-second irritation, to manufactured innocence.

“What—Marinette, what is Adrien talking about?” she asks, her eyes wide with ‘shock’.

“You lied to me. Again. How… how could you do that?” Marinette says, her voice barely above a whisper, but it hits with the force stronger than any akuma.

“What?! Who told you that? I would never—” Lila scrambles to try and get her best ally back on her side, but no one was having it.

“The jig is up, Lila. We all know what you did. Just because Marinette is kind doesn’t mean you get to take advantage of that!” Alya hisses, practically lunging at Lila before Nino restrains her (though he didn’t look particularly happy about it, either).

“We’re done with you!”

“You’re a compulsive liar!”

“Have you ever said anything true?!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Do you think Marinette deserves what you did to her? Do you think any of us deserved that?”

“Stay away from us, or so help me God!”

“We’re telling Madame Bustier exactly what you did! Let’s see how your mother feels about that!”

Marinette buries her face in her hands in a show of disappointment as her shoulders start trembling, and she feels a warm hand rubbing soothing circles on her back and smells an incredibly familiar cologne, whispering quiet reassurances in her ear thinking that she must be crying—it’s a sweet gesture, but really, unnecessary. After all, Marinette hasn’t laughed this hard in a very long time.

Today’s a bad day to skip her weekly manicure, that’s for damn sure.

~*~

“Will you ever tell them what you did?” Tikki asks a little too innocently as Marinette prepares for the class picnic they arranged for her, putting on her best floral dress. Her mother calls out to tell her that Adrien is waiting for her downstairs with flowers. When he’d asked to drive her to the picnic as an apology (and maybe sneak a trip to Andre’s ice cream cart, just the two of them, as a bonus) so earnestly, well, how could she say no?

“What do you mean, Tikki?” Marinette replies sweetly, as Tikki flies into her purse. Tikki giggles, munching gratefully at the cookie Marinette packed for her. Marinette gives her a wry grin.

“I just took the high road, didn’t I?”