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A Mother's Affection (Affliction)

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If there's one reason Adrien will never abandon Chloé, no matter how vicious, or cruel she is, no matter how she manipulates or takes advantage of them, it's because he understands. It's because she was his first friend, his friend for years, and he was there, they were together every step of the way.

He was there when she was screaming and crying and tearing her room apart, to listen to her rant about "not fair" and "why wasn't I good enough" and "she left she left she left" until she had no more anger left and collapsed. And she was there when he shut down, unable to understand a world where someone can be there one minute and then gone in the time it takes to blink, in the time it takes to say "I'll be back soon" and "Aurevoir maman", in the space of a breath or the closing of a door. She was there to talk to him tirelessly for hours about inane things, even when he didn't speak a word to her or look her in the eyes, she was there and she kept trying. They were there for each other, for countless tearful midnights and five a.m. break downs. They were there for each other when there was no one else to be there, so Adrien understands. Better than anyone else, he knows. He knows he won't ever leave Chloé behind, no matter how mean she gets, because he understands how she got to be this way. He understands why she's as scared as she is to let people close, why she lashes out at people to make herself feel superior, why she feels she needs to do those things to prove to the world she's worth something. He understands why Chloé is who she is, because he watched her become that person. He would never make excuses for her, but he would never leave her behind either. Because he knows why she is who she is, and it all comes down to one woman who walked away.

He never, not in a thousand lifetimes, imagined he would see that same woman waiting on the steps outside their collége.

When Adrien stops abruptly in his tracks, it takes his friends, Alya, Nino, and Marinette, a few steps to realize he's no longer keeping pace with them. It takes a few moments more for them to look back, and see him trembling, fists balled up tightly, coiled like a spring with tension in every line of his body, viciously burning gaze directed down the front steps at a woman none of them recognize.

Adrien is angrier than they've ever seen him. Hell, they've barely ever seen him angry at all, but now, in the face of this stranger, he is shaking with a barely contained fury that no one who knew him would have thought him capable of.

"Adrien?" Nino asks hesitantly, glancing between his best friend and the woman none of them know, Adrien's doesn't even spare a second to glance his way. "Adrien, man, are you okay?"

The woman is leaning on the handrail at the bottom of the steps, her hair is platinum blond and styled into a complicated updo, she looks fairly young, nowhere near young enough to be a student, but far younger than most parents as well. Her makeup is flashy and immaculate, her nails are long and red, her eyes are blue, and are glued to her expensive looking phone. When Nino calls Adrien's name however, she glances up, and locks eyes with him.

She grins, the picture of delighted surprise, Adrien glares, the picture of someone about to commit a murder.

"Adrien!" She exclaims, turning and opening her arms.

"Why are you here?" He replies, voice ragged and full of as much fear an horror as anger.

"I barely recognized you, goodness you've grown!" She begins ascending the steps, bouncing happily upwards in a pair of heels no one has any right to move so swiftly in. "How long has it been? Do you remember me? I'm Chloé's-"

"I know who you are." Adrien says, words clipped from being forced out through a clenched jaw. He practically seethes rage, and his three companions struggle with the urge to step back out of fear or draw closer in support of their friend. "Why are you here?"

"I'm here to see my daughter, of course!" She smiles, willfully oblivious, and glances obviously over Adrien's shoulder into the school building. There aren't many students still filtering out, most having begun the trip home already, but those that do remain are giving the small knot of people at the entrance concerned glances. "Did you see her on your way out? I wanted to do lunch, maybe you could come along and catch up, I hear you're a model now."

"No." Adrien replies, even though the woman looks like she had more to say, she seems a little affronted, if only for a moment, her first reaction to Adrien's obvious distress.

"No you haven't seen her, or no you're not a model?" She asks, patient and amused, as though she finds the way he's acting rather silly.

"No, you can't see Chloé." He says, more firmly, drawing himself up in his defiance. "I won't let you, I won't let you do this to her. You have no right."

"Adrien, you're being ridiculous." The woman, who is apparently Mrs. Bourgeois, waves a hand dismissively. The small audience watches the back and forth with dawning horror, wondering why they didn't see the resemblance, wondering why they never questioned the fact that in all the years they'd known her, Chloé had never once mentioned her mother. "She's my daughter, I have every right!"

"No!" Adrien shouts back, lurching forward as if some invisible force holding him in place has finally been broken. "No you don't get to do this! You don't get to waltz in here and pretend everything's fine! You don't get to just show up like you've been here all along! You don't get to leave her and act like she should be happy to see you!" He steps forward with every sentence, and Mrs. Bourgeois leans back, away from him, surprised.

It almost seems for a moment, that Adrien is getting through, as she stares at him in shock, truly ruffled for the first time since her appearance. Hers isn't the only wide-eyed gaze directed at Adrien, Marinette especially, is reeling, trying to piece together a quickly eroding worldview under the cascade of new information about Chloé and Adrien both, two people she thought she understood. Unlike Marinette, however, for Mrs. Bourgeois, the moment quickly passes.

"Don't be an idiot, Adrien." Her eyes narrow, and the resemblance to Chloé becomes that much more pronounced with her ire. "You have no idea what you're talking about, I'm her mother, of course she'll be happy to see me."

Adrien looks unsure whether he wants to keep screaming, cry, or simply hit the woman in front of him and be done with it. Until he can choose, he settles on glaring at her with all the intensity of his disgust for in his eyes. As it turns out, he never does have to figure out just what to do next. Because something pulls his attention away. A quiet voice from behind them has everyone's eyes drawn towards the source with differing levels of shock, horror, and in one case, relief.

"Maman?" Chloé practically whispers the word, eyes wide and filled with too many conflicting emotions to name. She looks more vulnerable than anyone, save Adrien, has ever seen her, and her gaze is focused solely on the woman at the front door of the school.
Her gaze shifts to Adrien as he places himself between her and her mother. His eyes hold many emotions as well, understanding, sorrow, and a wordless apology that he could not stop this from happening.

That's Adrien through and through, the thought occurs to her, numbly, always believing he needs to protect everyone, to get between them and the monster. She wonders, privately, in this moment, just which one of them he thinks he's protecting.

"Chloé, dear, there you are!" Mrs. Bourgeois calls her daughter's attention back to her as she steps out from behind Adrien, this is one bullet he can't take for his friend. Her earlier anger is gone in an instant, replaced with the very convincing warm smile that those observing are quickly finding, and that Chloé has always known, to be completely empty. "I've been waiting for ages! I thought we could grab something to eat and just talk, it seems like forever since I last saw you!"

Chloé stares at her mother, at a woman she has not seen in years, at a woman who has defined every moment of her life by her absence. She looks at her warm but empty smile, and the blue eyes she has inherited, and the thousand conflicting emotions in her chest settle into one razor edged conclusion.
With a shriek of rage, she lunges.

Adrien catches her around her stomach as her nails come millimeters from grazing the tip of her mother's nose, lifting her easily even as she kicks and struggles in a desperate attempt to get free and get at her mother. To take the spiky ball of pain and rage and fear in her chest and inflict it back on the woman who gave it to her.

"You bitch! You bitch you bitch you fucking bitch! I'll kill you! I'll tear your eyes out, Adrien put me down, I'll kill her!" Marinette, Alya and Nino watch her vicious attempts to claw her way to her mother with horror from a few feet away. Many of her other classmates watch from a safer distance, she doesn't give them a second thought. "You left me!

You worthless bitch, you left me! How could you? How could you?!"

Her energy is entirely focused on her mother, who watches the proceedings as well, mere inches beyond the range of Chloé's attacks, looking shocked, but not one inch remorseful. Adrien experiences the whole thing passively as he carries Chloé screaming from the room. Her nails dig into his shoulders, and she knees him in the stomach more than once as she screams profanity at her mother, and at him for not letting her go, but he ignores it all. He needs to get Chloé away, he'll worry about everything else later, for now, it's the only thing that matters.

Chloé's screaming becomes a wordless howl as she disappears down the hall over the shoulder of her oldest friend. That soon becomes loud sobs that fade with the distance.
Eventually, there is silence, and Mrs. Bourgeois stands frozen in place at the top of the stares, staring after her daughter.

She shakes herself, and for a moment their is uncertainty and pain in her eyes, but then she pulls righteous indignation up around herself like a familiar coat, and once again, the moment passes.

"Well." She says, sniffing. "That was completely uncalled for, I don't know what's gotten into her." She turns her attention to her phone as she turns her back on the school. "I'll have to wait until she's feeling a little more rational."

The three students who had seen every moment of the exchange meaningful glances, but for a moment, no one steps forward.

Then Marinette, Chloé's longtime enemy, but always the bravest and kindest of her peers, decides she cannot let this slide.

"I think you should leave." She says, and is surprised by the steadiness of her own voice, considering the turmoil inside her.

"Excuse me?" Replies Mrs. Bourgeois, with the utmost disdain. "And who are you to tell me that?"

"I'm no one." Marinette shakes her head, a realization settling over her softly, but all at once giving her a rush of certainty and strength. "Chloé and I aren't even friends, she hates me, and I'm not fond of her either."

Confusion flits across Mrs. Bourgeois' face, caught off guard, she doesn't reply, and Marinette doesn't waste the opportunity, she takes a deep breath, and plows forward.

"I don't like Chloé, and I don't know anything about what happened between you two Mrs. Bourgeois," She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, every inch the hero no one knew she was. "But I know no one deserves what you just did to you. If you try to come back here, I'll stop you."

Mrs. Bourgeois stares at her, looking for all the world like she'd just swallowed a live guppy. Marinette barely keeps herself from giggling at her expression, or wilting under her gaze, but she remembers how Adrien tried to stand between his friend and the danger he saw, and decides she's going to do the same. Even if it's for Chloé Bourgeois,

Marinette knows she'd be no hero at all if she only stood up for people who deserved it.

"Me too." Marinette's eyes snap to Alya, she wasn't expecting the support, or the friendly squeeze of a hand on her shoulder, but she should have been.

"Yeah, get lost!" Nino pipes up as well, crossing his arms in shaky defiance.

Mrs. Bourgeois takes the sight of them in, rocking back slightly on her heels as though reeling from a blow. She tears her gaze away and looks back down the silent hallway where her daughter disappeared.

Then, face blank, for the second time in her life, Mrs. Bourgeois turned and walked away.

This time, it was the right choice.