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The Model's Apprentice

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"Marinette, what is this?" Sabine Dupain-Cheng, Marinette's mother, stared curiously at the folded certificate within her hand and gave her daughter a dubious stare.

Marinette shrugged an awkward shoulder, suddenly feeling shy. Glancing towards Alya who sent her a well-meaning, positive beam, the woman slowly took in a deep breath, before she finally met her mother's eyes.

Marinette's father, Tom, a thick man who sported an amazing mustache, stepped behind his wife to place his hands jokingly around her shoulders. He peeked down at the paper in her hands.

"What's that?" he asked, not having heard his wife's earlier question.

Marinette felt her face screw up slightly, as she tried to get her words to come out. The woman had been so excited before, ecstatic even, but now that she was looking at both of her parents, there was a certain unsureness that settled within her gut at the unknown; the many unfamiliar variables that taking on such an important task would mean. The idea that she would fail – could fail her family and best friend – created a newfound sickness that resonated deeply within her stomach, as a disgusting churning motion. It moved round and round, anxiously bubbling up in her front. The feeling wobbled back and forth very much like her thoughts on the matter.

Marinette mentally shook her head. Rapidly noticing how her parents' stares were beginning to appear concerned, the raven haired girl forced her heartbeat to quieten, and she gently bared her teeth. Forming a taut, settled posture, the woman nibbled unsurely at the delicate pink plump of her bottom lip and accidentally broke the skin, before she was eventually able to clumsily push out her admission.

"I may have… kind of… auditioned to be mentored by someone in the fashion industry."

"What?" her mother automatically cried. Giving her daughter a look of surprise, the older woman's eyes widened, and she eagerly questioned, "Why? When? Well, what happened? What did they say?"

An animated hum had entered her mother's voice.

Marinette took in another steadying breath and peeked through her lashes at the both of them with a sheepish expression. Blinking dumbly, her hands started to shake along with her nerves, and a small anxious flush of shame began to crawl its way up her neck. The wave of anxiety that hit her at this moment was almost deafening – crippling – and was within inches of being close enough to make her wish that she had not mentioned anything to them. Why did the woman have to go and make her decision harder on herself? Additionally, why had this been so much easier when she was admitting everything to Alya?

Mentally attempting to steel herself, Marinette threw her arms behind her back and awkwardly laced her fingers together, treading them into an edgy ball. She fluttered from her left foot to her right, as she looked through her fallen lids to peer up at her parents. In her vantage point, Tom gave a tender smile. His leer was kind and encouraging. The beam was everything that a father was supposed to be, and the kindness she found there coerced the female to slowly, albeit quite fumblingly, continue her story.

"T-The board over the placement said…" Marinette shook her head in disbelief and self-consciously changed her sentence, "They said that I might… have won?"

The last few words of Marinette's statement came out as a timid, high-pitched squeak. Nevertheless, the words were still legible enough to send her into a panic. The woman visibly paled, refusing to gauge her parent's reactions. This was it; this was the end of her life. The anxiety was horrible. Her palms were totally shaky, and a small sweat had worked itself across the length of her brow. Ugh, she was so nervous! There was no telling how her parents Was she would react to the news. Also, there was no telling how she would do in the fashion industry. good enough? Had there been a fluke while the panel was judging her and the other contestant's designs? What would they say when she walked through the door having no experience whatsoever? Oh god. What if she failed? What if they hated her? What if Gabriel Agreste hated her? What if-

A duet of excited, overjoyed gasps promptly drew Marinette from her thoughts. The sound had come from her parents, and the woman snuck a quick peek in their direction. She instantly noted the sheen of absolute pride that shown in their eyes. Sabine squealed. Feeling overjoyed, the mother of one threw her arms firmly around Marinette's thin waist, leaching around her figure. She held her daughter especially close. Then, the short Chinese woman began to cheerfully mutter into the embrace, while her husband waited with a pair of beefy guns spread out wide in a welcoming gesture. He laughed vigorously, and as soon as Sabine moved, Marinette's father stomped over to pull his only daughter into a swift bone crushing hug. She giggled on instinct, her heart feeling a tad lighter, while a small smile graced her lips. The female's expression brightened out of pleasant shock; of course she had been wrong. Marinette had allowed herself to worry non-stop for months, and what had that gotten her? Simply months and months of non-stop worrying. Everything had been for naught. She had been stupid! Of course her parents would have been excited. Of course they would have supported her, Alya too, and the three of them would have definitely helped her since the beginning.

Marinette could not help but blushing warmly at her own idiotic stupidity. Imaginably, this was undeniably not the worst scenario the woman had imagined. Most of the outcomes had been way worse; granted, many of the female's thoughts were based off her own fears and self-doubt. The poor woman had been so worried… God, she had been so terribly worried.

"This is amazing!" Marinette's mother cheered and tossed her hands high into the air. She drew them back down to herself and clapped them a couple of times with an eager grin on her face. Jogging over to an equally as exuberant Alya, she drew the darker skinned woman in an impulsive squeeze. The girl was family, practically like a second daughter to her. Plus, the cute little Chinese woman was a buzzing ball of glee, and hugging was her favorite way to both express and share her immense excitement, "Ah, I am so happy! Am I a proud momma or what?"

Tom sat Marinette down on the ground once he was finally done with embracing her and moved to affectionately ruffle her hair. Then, he readily asked, "Well, who are you being mentored by? Anyone we've heard of before?"

She looked down at the ground in response before drawing in a disbelieving breath. Then, she thought back to the folded sheet of paper she had given her mother beforehand. The older woman had yet to read its insides yet.

Marinette's words came out moderately heavy, as she dizzily replied, "Oh, yeah. You've without a doubt heard of him. Mom, can you read the note?"

"Ah," her mother made an abrupt noise, as she finally noticed the creased sheet that was still hanging from her grasp. The woman speedily threw open the letter and began to read its contents aloud to the small group, "Dear Mademoiselle Marinette Elena Dupain-Cheng: It is both a great pleasure and honor to write this message in order to announce you as the winner of our first international advisor competition. Due to your past consent, all of your best designs shall be featured in both our upcoming spring fashion show and our summer in the city issue of La Mode Foudre. Throughout the entire competition, your designs have stood tall above the rest. Overall, have been some of the greatest pieces of fashion that I have ever had the pleasure to witness. As a professional in the business, I am thankful to one day be able to finally make your acquaintance. Therefore, I look forward to seeing what else you can create."

As Marinette's mother finished the letter, her orbs gradually widened once more, and she breathlessly whispered, "Your mentor, Gabriel Agreste."

Sabine let her eyes lift from the letter in pure astonishment, before she squealed a second time and threw her arms once more around her daughter.

"Imagine, my daughter, winning the chance to be able to work under the fabulous Gabriel Agreste," the way Marinette's mother said his name made the man sound as if she were talking about a god, and perhaps he truly was. The man's designs certainly were considered by a generous portion of the world to be particularly heavenly. Not to mention the fact that Marinette had already placed the up-to-the-minute designer on a tall pedestal due to his modish genius; surely, the man was not all bad, "Granted, before now I knew that you always had it in you. I won't remark about the fact that I would have obviously supported you throughout all of this if I had known about you entering, but whatever!"

"What's done is done," Sabine continued, pulling away to gaze honestly into Marinette's orbs, "What matters most is that you have worked so hard to get to where you are today, and I am so proud of you, mon petite ladybug."

A feathery emotion occurred in Marinette's soul. Gawking desperately into the color of her mother's eyes, the woman felt her chest tighten with a strong sense of warmth. Then, it released around her in a cooling wave of relief, and she sniffled under the weight of her parent's ogles. Happy tears shown in her pretty blue orbs, and a shaky but thankful smile graced her features. The woman took a hesitant step forward, moving her hands to rest in front of her waist. Idly, her clammy hands fiddled with one another; her nerves were still on edge. Nevertheless, the dark-haired girl was fine for now. The emotions thudding around in her heart were oppressive, wholly terrifying, but she knew that she was going to be okay.

Marinette would always be okay if she had the support of her loved ones. Mom, dad, Alya – all three of them believed in her. Her heart swelled with both love and gratefulness. She appreciated their faith in her power more than they knew. A happy sob escaped the woman, "Thank you, thank you."

This was all that Marinette could say through her sudden crying spell. That is, until she lastly managed to shakily mumble, "I-I was so worried. I've been stressed out from a-all of this for months. I-I was totally petrified of rejection. I-I thought that I… that I wasn't good enough, and that I would never be good enough. I-I expected to fail; h-honestly I did, but when the letter came in, that short, little letter, and I read its c-contents, the message surprised me. The idea that I had won and that they had accepted me was gratifyingly amazing… yet it filled me with dread, and it all – everything – became completely real for me. Far too real for me."

"I just," her voice became broken, and she peered sadly across at her parents, "I just wonder if I'm good enough… and if I'm enough."

"Am I enough?" Marinette's question came out as a minute whimper.

Her father's response was an extensive saddened sigh, "Oh sweetheart, of course you are enough."

With his mustache turning up slightly, Tom sent her a welcoming expression. The broad-shouldered man ambled over to pull his only daughter into a second much needed and thoroughly deserved embrace.

"You will always be enough," the older male spoke with confliction, "You are great and talented. You are smart and beautiful. You are kind, and the people gravitate toward you. All of the customers love you. As a person, you are unique and special. You are unbreakable, you are resilient, and you are miraculous. No matter what happens, remember that."

Behind them, Marinette's mother stepped in to join their embrace. She smiled softly and put out a hand in Alya's direction, her palm facing outward. The gesture was offering, openhearted. The movement caused the woman to blink in revelation, before all of a sudden a feeling of acceptance burned in the friend's honeyed eyes. She nodded without a sound and smiled as she neared the trio. Her arms encased the three in a heartfelt clinch.

The four simply stood there, fondly holding onto one another and grinning in pride. The hug ended when Marinette coughed, willing the rest of them to look down at her and let go.

Sabine was the first to speak, "Now, this definitely calls for a celebration! Forget the sandwiches; I can pack those away for lunch tomorrow. We're going out to eat tonight! We can have anything that you want, dear."

Everyone turned to stare at Marinette with happy but expecting eyes, and Alya's own laughed in her friend's direction; a gleam of mirth settled within them.

Marinette's sky blue eyes blinked, but she fiddled with her hands some more and took in a shallow breath. In all honesty, the woman did not care where the four of them went. Basically, she was merely content knowing that her family now understood why she had been on edge for the past few months. It was a glorious feeling for her, audibly being told and now knowing without a doubt that she had a group of people behind her who believed in her abilities enough to fully support her career choices. The girl almost felt giddy.

"Um, how does Italian food sound?" the woman meekly replied, her shoulders moving along with her words. Wherever she ate made no difference to the relieved nervousness she now felt in their presence.

Alya threw up a thumb in her direction.

"Sounds great!" the reporter cheered.

Tom grinned, moving to grab his wallet from the kitchen counter. As he walked, he sent a warm chuckle over his shoulder, "You know, I was wanting some pizza earlier. Thankfully, this will give me the perfect excuse to pig out."

"Humph, like you need to do that!" Sabine cried. However, the short woman caringly laughed through her playful statement and sped off into the coziness of the couple's bedroom, swiftly grabbing her favorite lengthy side-strap purse, "I'm so glad that I'm dressed from work earlier; otherwise, leaving right now would suck royally."

Marinette giggled helplessly, as she watched her parents eagerly grab their things. It was easy to see that the two adults were excited, if only because the pair had been cooped inside the precincts of their family bakery all day. Well, the woman had no problem with indulging in their need to celebrate. The sight was endearing, and it had Alya sneaking up beside her to jokingly nudge her elbow.

"See? It wasn't nearly as bad as you thought," Alya smirked down at her.

Marinette laughed, pushed a strand of hair nervously behind her ear, and looked up at her best friend, instantly blushing a little. She quietly admitted, "Okay, yeah. I didn't die, and the sky didn't fall, so I guess you could say it's been a fairly okay turnout. Mom and Dad seem happy."

"Seem happy?" Alya ironically parroted, "Marinette, the two of them are ecstatic! They are so proud. Just like I am!"

The darker skinned female threw both of her arms around Marinette's head and formed a fist with her right hand. She placed it against her hair and began to give the unsuspecting woman an affectionate noogie.

"Ha! Now, I have you!" Alya favorably jeered, chuckling fondly with the brunt of her weight thrown on top of her, "God, you're such a dweeb, Mari! Face the power of my noogies!"

Marinette squealed. The shorter girl let out a laughing cry, fruitlessly flailing to fight her off. Ugh, her best friend was so darn heavy! Still, there was nowhere else that the raven haired girl would rather be.

Under the light of the setting sun, a stern-faced Gabriel Agreste sat with his back to the door of his office; a firm edge over his brow. With his right leg poised pointedly over his left knee, he glared out into the deepening sky, a hellish fusion of orange and red, and thought of nothing, as he stared. He remained completely mute even as a door opened behind him.

"Sir," a feminine but moderately piercing voice uttered, "There is a problem downstairs with the new line. We need you to assess the situation."

Gabriel was not even listening, as he easily spoke over her, "Did you ever send that letter, Nathalie?"

The nicely dressed woman in question blinked, her eyes falling to the ground in subtle disgruntlement. Still, she had been working under Monsieur Agreste for years now; therefore, the female knew how her boss wanted to control everything and how he only liked to concern himself with one matter at a time. For some reason, her boss was focused on this issue more than any other as of late. Although, the suited assistant could kind of understand his mood. It was not every day that Gabriel Agreste had a charge under him.

"Yes, I did," Nathalie promptly responded, eyeing the back of his shadowed figure, as he idly nodded at her words. When her boss said nothing, she spoke, "I even called the postal service to see where it was currently. It arrived to her home this morning."

A thin, somewhat thoughtful but equally as cold hum left his lips. Nathalie only stared, watching as the top of his head moved along with his breathing. Then, his form slowly slid in the chair to face her direction; his hands sat listed in his lap, while the pads of his fingers airily tapped at one another. He stared into Nathalie's eyes for a long moment, visibly gauging her appearance with a thickened air, before he inexplicably glanced down to the small picture frame on his desk. There, resting in the depth of its serenely shining glass, was an aged photo of the fashion designer's lost wife. She had been missing for nineteen years now, and not a single trace of her existence could be found. In the photograph, the day had been warm, increasingly so. The emerald-eyed woman wore a bright blue dress with plain white trim on the sides and little spots of lace around the bodice and hem. Gabriel remembered it well. The image was ingrained in his brain, and the man only had to glance down at it for a minute, before his gaze shot up to the form of his favorite and only assistant.

"The letter," Nathalie's boss abruptly spoke. The sound of his stiff voice roughly pulled the woman from her wavering thoughts, and it visibly showed in the way her orbs widened just the tiniest bit in the edges. Her expression deepened into a mute façade. Mentally, Gabriel noted this; though, if he cared was another story. The hardened woman steeled her scrutiny but watched, as a somewhat warmer line seemed to inexplicably grace his stark features, "Thank you for writing it for me."

The subject of his words caught the raven-haired woman off guard, but she rigidly bowed to his unusual gratitude. Her face became pale, as she wondered why he would be thanking her. Gabriel had never wanted to participate in such a contest; at first, he absolutely refused. It was not until Nathalie managed to eventually convince him that this would help to better image in the eye of the general public that he gave the smallest thought of agreeing. This was a way to get his name spread once again in the papers, ultimately furthering his profit. The man's face would be put on both international and local news, as the anchors cheerfully talked about the glowing and wide-eyed appearance of Gabriel Agreste's mysterious new protégé. They would mention how some of her designs were to be added to the infamous Gabriel Agreste's upcoming and extremely popular spring and summer lines. Citizens across the entirety of Europe and all around the world would hungrily take in such information. Their wallets would fly open, as money would practically be forced into his hands. Not that much persuasion would be needed from the public for the talented man to take their payment, of course. Thousands upon thousands of dollars. The plan was simple and foolproof. Because of the mysteriousness of his new charge, the Agreste's empire would only grow, further stapling itself within the confines of the ever-evolving clothing world.

Gabriel knew that the girl was good; as a naturally picky person, the professional personally studied and judged each and every applicants' work. That being said, the man was always caught off guard by her clothing. The pieces had stricken him in their utter perfection, and the thought of his immense shock still managed to throw him off his game. Because of her talents, Gabriel's fortune was sure to rise to immeasurable heights. His company that he had once built on his own from the ground up would become more of a force to be reckoned with, and everything would be changed because of this… this Dupain-Cheng woman.

Gabriel cleared out his throat. He stared tediously at his assistant, seemingly affected by his thoughts, and his gaze became colder. The man took in a short breath and quickly said, "I will be down to take care of it in a moment, Nathalie. You are excused."

"Yes sir," the woman respectfully bowed, but her lips formed an imaginary scowl. She turned on a perfectly placed heel, noiselessly clicking herself out of the room. The door was closed without a sound behind her.

Closing his ocean-like eyes, the trendy designer permitted a taut sigh. He was relentlessly exhausted. Running an entire business singlehandedly, while also managing to maintain your son's constant whereabouts, could do that to a man. He felt like passing out. He wanted to desperately curse at the world, but his mind could only succumb to it. The universe was cruel; fate hated him, yet the disgruntled man knew there was no rest for the wicked. There was never any time for resting when you wanted to stay on top. No time for love. No time for games. No time for family.

Groggily cracking at his limbs, the male peered a second time through the length of his lashes at the tiny frame that stood like a beloved monument on his desk. It shined from what little light was left spilling on it from the setting sun. He frowned a tad, his mind running away from him for a moment. There she was, beautiful as ever, but gone from his grasp. She was a ghost. An imperfect, perfect shadow of herself – of what she had been – in his young adoring eyes. Perhaps, sometimes, a glimmer of that timeworn care would still show in those worn orbs, but the feeling was now masked by a stern seamless mask. The task used to be hard, and it left him feeling pained and frostbitten, but now it simply washed over him. It came as easy as breathing; just the featherless pushing of an emotion, quelling it down into a nonexistent ache. It did not hurt anymore. There came no more pain.

Through a pair of thin red Gucci glasses, Gabriel gazed at the aged picture, idly re-imagining the day it was taken on. He proposed that he could allow himself at least a moment to ponder…

The sunshine had been so warm and bright, while the sky was crystalline blue. There was the feel of happiness in the air. A flooding emotion was in his heart, as he forgot about his worries for a moment. No clothing. No meetings. No stress. It was a time when the grass was green and thriving in the summer heat. The day was akin to the appreciations of his beautiful wife who smiled widely through a pair of makeup-less lips. Her eyes were all inclusive, hot and steady with a keenly pleasant mirth. They gleamed within the venerable photo.

Gabriel's eyes trailed downward, and a tender melancholy had him reaching down to grip at the arms of his immense chair. His foot subconsciously tapped at the ground, an edge coming about his actions, as he forced himself to regard the lower half of the picture. He felt himself swallow; suddenly quite hollow, an invisible grip settled over his heart like an unexpected vice. He stared at the image. A twinge of regret marked his features, but it was masked by his usual façade of calm hardness. This was not his fault, his mind was adamant, yet he could truthfully only find blame himself. The male's eyes roamed over the portion of the image, before he let out a low sigh. In the fullness of his wife's arms, the woman held tightly onto the form of a headful of honey blond locks. It belonged to the proud and grinning figure of a little golden haired boy. In the picture he innocently held up five fingers to the camera, a somewhat toothless beam shooting openly into the camera's lens. You could tell that the child was used to having his picture taken by the one behind the lens, his father, and he was only too pleased to bare them to him.

Gabriel took in another deep breath, as he took in the image as a whole. It was surreal. The time of the photo, which was originally taken so many years back by the actions of his own hand, was on the exuberant noon of the couple's only son's, Adrien's, fifth birthday. A day of celebration; a day that was sure to bring up only pleasant memories whenever the two men thought back on it. However, life had other plans, and fate does not always work out the way that you want it to. The two should have cherished what they had, but the day passed by in a gleeful daze, as it was certain to live on in the colors of their memories forever. Though, as of this moment, the day lived on for all of the wrong reasons. It was not a joy but a burden. It was a weight that pulled down like gravity on both Adrien and Gabriel; it tore at them and tore them apart. It was the last day that either Agreste ever saw her again.

PSA: I was almost in tears while writing this last paragraph. So freaking emotional. Please, someone help this piece of trash. A.K.A. me.

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