Marinette steps into the bakery after another long day. The last two weeks has been a never ending series of long days really, each one worse than the day before. Ever since Lila had shown up again things had been going downhill, starting with being forced to the back of the class alone without being asked.
And that's what had really stung, not being asked, everyone just assuming she wouldn't have a problem with sitting alone away from everyone else, while everyone else got to sit with their signifigant others and best friends.
And then they'd gotten mad at her when she's voiced the problem, as if she wasn't allowed to be upset. Everyone had just brushed her aside as being some stupid jealous girl, as if that was all she was, as if she couldn't have complex feelings for thoughts or dislike someone without it being related to a boy.
And Lila's lies continued to spread through everyone, first about her extravagent adventures and super cool acquaintances and then to sneaker, meaner lies. Lies like Marinette threatening her about her disability. or Marinette tripping her in the hallway. Or Marinette not wanting to go to the movies with everyone.
And it hadn't been so bad at first. Sure it had hurt that no one believed her but Adrien did, he knew, and even if Lila was infuriating she still had her friends by her side. But as the days went on she didn't even have that. Lila was dedicated to keeping her away from everyone, especially Adrien, and her friends slowly started to drift away, more and more drawn in by Lila and less willing ot listen to Marinette 'rag on Lila for no reason'.
Today no one had even spoken to her during lunch, not even Alya. And just before going home her supposed best friend, the girl who'd promised to always have her back and support her, had pulled her aside and yelled at her. Had called her a jealous stalker over some offense Lila had made up.
And it stung. So much. She couldn't do this anymore.
"Sweetheart?" Sabine steps in front of her, setting her hands on her daughter's shoulders and holdng her tight. "Marinette what's wrong?" Marinette stares down at her mother and realizes there are tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Mamma.... I can't... I can't." she falls foward, wrapping her arms around her mother's shoulders and sobbing into her neck.
Several store patrons stop and stare but her father rushes foward and ushers them all out the front door, citing a family emergency. He locks the door and flips the sign to closed, coming over to his wife and daughter and wrapping his big arms around them both. "Come on. Let's go upstairs." The three of them head up to the house, Tom practically carrying Marinette in his arms, and he settles her carefully on the couch before sitting beside her, both of them on either side of her, bracketing her, trying to protect her from everything, "Tell us what happening baby girl." he asks softly, holding her tight.
Marinette sobs through the story, telling them about Lila and getting moved and the lies and her friends turning on her. Her parents scowl at her retelling, holding her even closer, "I just..." she finally finshes, sobs finally having slowed to quiet sniffles, "I can't do it anymore. I can't just keep pretending that nothing is wrong. My friends hate me. No one will believe me. I've almost been akumatized, like, three times."
Tom's eyebrows shoot up into his hairline, "Akumatized! Oh sweetheart!"
Sabine pulls Marinette's head down onto her chest, petting her hair soothingly, "And you don't have to do it anymore. Never again. You'll stay home the rest of this week and we'll get you transferred to a new school. I refuse to allow my daughter to be bullied like this." She presses a feather soft kiss to Marinette's forehead before standing and stomping off in search of her phone.
Tom presses an equally soft kiss to her forehead as well, "It's gonna be ok baby girl. You'll always have your mom and me, and no matter what we'll always be on your side. There's nothing you could do or say that'll change that. And right now, we're gonna take care of you, we promise." He stands, smiling down at her, "You don't have to be perfect smiling Marinette all the time. You're allowed to be angry and sad and hurt, and you're allowed to say you've had enough and give up. And i am so proud of you for giving it your all for as long as you have, but you don't have to anymore. Now, I think we have some hot cocoa around her somewhere, do you wanna make some now and talk some more or would you like a little time alone?"
Marinette stands, wrapping her arms around her dad and hugging him tight, relishing in how warm and safe his arms will always be, "I'd like to be alone for a little bit please. Thanks papa."
He smiles, "I love you Marinette. Go get some rest. You mom and I will have this all figured out by tomorrow."
Marinette hugs him one more time before heading up to her room, dropping down onto her chaise and staring up at the ceiling.
Tikki flutters up to hover over her face a moment later, nuzzling against her cheek, "Your dad is right Marinette. You don't have to be positive all the time, even Ladybug needs to feel bad sometimes and take a break. You've held on far longer than most others would have in your position and I'm proud of you too!"
Marinette closes her eyes, hugging the kwami to her face, "Thanks Tikki."
Tikki beams, looking down on her chosen, "And remember, it's not just your parents who will always have your back, you have me too!"
Marinette finally offers up a big smile, "What would I do without you Tikki?"
Marinette finishes out the week at home while her parents get everything sorted. She gets a few messages from her classmates, mostly Adrien, asking if she's sick and would like him to bring her the homework. She gets a few from Alya who makes a joke about her being late and ditching, but it doesn't feel like harmless teasing, not like it used to.
By the weekend she is enrolled in Rose River Academy, a private school further into the city. She'll have to get up earlier to combat her lateness in order to make it on time every morning but she's ok with that. She has to get fitted for a uniform too, a simple white blazer over a black button up, red pleated skirt and matching tie, black tights. It's a cute uniform luckily, and the school is relaxed enough to allow students to customize their outfits slightly to show their personalities as long as they're not over the top. She sticks a ladybug pin beneath the school emblem on her blazer, hoping for a little bit of luck.
Along with the new school and the new uniform she also gets a new phone with a brand new number. So far only her parents have it, and though she debates for a long time she decides that not even Adrien can be trusted to have it. He'd likely give it to Nino and Alya.
On Monday she gets up a whole hour early, eating breakfast with her parents who have insisted they walk her to the station that morning even if it means opening the shop late. Marinette is beyond happy for their company as they make their way past her old school, students milling about the front steps and talking. A few stop and stare at her in her new uniform, eyes wide and curious as she continues right on by, clutching her parents hands. None of them are her current classmates, but she knows some of them from previous years.
Her parents each kiss one of her cheeks when they leave her at the station. "Have fun today sweetheart." Sabine beams, looking just as nervous as she feels. Tom ruffles her hair, "Make tons of amazing new friends." he encourages. She smiles, still nervous, but also excited, and turns to hurry onto the coming train.
She sees a few other students in the same uniform and they all smile at her, watching her curiously. She follows them off the train, heading up the street to Rose River Academy's grand front entrance. One of the boys she'd noticed boarding the train with her stops and waits for her to catch up, offering her a wide grin, "You must be new. I'd definitely remember if we'd met before." He holds out a hand for to shake, "Claude Jean-Paul."
She smiles back, shaking his hand eagerly, "Marinette Dupain-Cheng."
Claude is tall, easily towering over her by a good half a foot, though his relaxed and slouched posture makes him seem shorter. He has big blue eyes and dark brown hair sweeping across his forehead, and a big crooked smile. He spins on his heel to stand beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her along beside him through the big double doors, "So Marinette, what class is fortunate enough to have someone as pretty as you in it?"
She bites her lip to keep from laughing outright, smile pulling at her lips. He reminds her a lot of Cat Noir and his shameless flirting, and surprisingly it's doing a lot to put her at ease. "M. Toulouse."
Claude's eyes widen and his grin somehow gets even bigger, "No way! How lucky am I! I must have been blessed by a ladybug." he winks and taps the pin on her lapel.
He keeps pulling her through the building, down hallways and up a staircase until they end up in a classroom, tables set for four people spread across the floor. The class is still mostly empty as Claude lead her in and straight up to the front where two students stand together. They're arguing rather intensely, a boy and a girl, both around Marinette's height. The girl has long blond hair pulled behind her in a tight braid, dark blue eyes lit with passion as she waves her hands wildly. The boy is black with short brown hair under a frankly hideous green and white cap, his brown nearly golden eyes narrowed as he hisses back at her.
Claude unwinds his arm from around Marinette and whistles to draw their attention, "What are you two on about now?"
The girl pouts, crossing her arms and refusing to turn away from her opponent, "This buffoon is insisting Batman couldn't take Superman in a fight. Like come on!"
The boy splutters angrily, "Oh don't you dare act like I'm the crazy one! Batman is an emotionally repressed dude in a suit! Superman has powers! Crazy strong powers!"
The girl waves her hands emphatically, "He keeps kryptonite in his belt! That is a one hit KO!"
They continue bickering back and forth, completely ignoring the two of them. Claude sighs dramatically, resting his elbow atop Marinette's head, "Such rude friends I have." he says loudly, "Completely ignoring our new student on her first day."
The two snap around suddenly, eyes wide. "Oh!" they chorus, looking appropriately shamed.
"Hi!" the girl chirps, "So nice to meet you. You must be Marinette. I'm Allegra Cassidy, class rep for our year. If there's anything you need please don't hesitate to ask me."
The boy offers her a small wave, looking sheepish, "Uh, Alan Montgomery. Sorry for arguing like that. I promise we're not super nerds like, all the time."
Marinette smiles, "Oh don't worry about that. I'm actually pretty into superheroes myself."
The pair light up and Allegra claps exciteldy, "Oh you are a keeper Marinette!" she checks her watch quickly, "Well, class should start soon but during the break but I'd be happy to give you a proper tour."
Marinette beams, relaxing quickly, "Yes please. I don't think I could find the front door again right now."
Claude laughs, "Don't worry beautiful, I know all the fastest shortcuts around this place." He lets out an 'oof' of pain and doubles over as two fists collide with his stomach.
"Don't harrass the new girl!" Alan hisses while Allegra just glares.
Mrinette covers her mouth to smother her giggles. She can't remember the last time she had fun like this with other people. The three of them all stare at her suddenly as she reigns in her laughter, and Allegra squeals, "You are too cute!" she reaches out to take her hand as the bell rings, pullilng her over to the nearest table, "You can sit by me! Don't worry, the seat's empty."
Alan snorts, "Everyone else is convinced Allegra will eat them if they sit next to her."
The girl in question huffs, flipping her braid behind her, "They respect me Alan, as their leader. And they know I'm not above a little blackmail." she winks at Marinette.
Alan rolls his eyes while Claude leans over the table to whisper, "Allegra's a witch. Watch out."
Allegra sticks her tongue out and Marinette dissolves into giggles again.
Students begin to file in quickly, all hurrying to their seats and only stopping to stare at Marinette for a second. Marinette's eyes widen when a very familiar face enters the room and stops cold, "Oh Marinette...." Kagami Tsurugi steps up the table cautiously, lips pursed in a frown, "Hello again."
Marinette smiles shakily, "Hi Kagami." She hasn't spoken to the terrifying girl much, at least not since the disastrous double date at the ice rink, but Marinette doesn't dislike her. She may be a little cold and harsh but she's honest and up front about her feelings which she appreciates, especially after the last few weeks.
Before they can say any more to each other the teacher arrives, clapping his hands together as he stands before the desk. "Good morning everyone! Let's hurry up and get started today as we have a new face joining us!" M. Toulouse is a strange man, short and stocky with wiry silver hair and bright green eyes. He wears a distractingly bright blue shirt and navy slacks that are too short for his legs and show off a pair of mismatched kitten print socks. He turns to Marinette and acknowledges her with a grand wave of his hand, "Everyone, meet our newest friend Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Marinette, welcome to our class. Allegra, the usual?"
The man sits as Allegra jumps to her feet, beaming, "On behalf of Rose River Academy welcome Marinette. We aim to help you reach your future goals. I'm the yearly representative Allegra, and my best subject is English."
She sits gracefully as Alan stands, offering her a wry smile, "Alan Mackenzie. Uh, I guess my best subject is history."
Claude stands next, giving her a little two-fingered salute and a wink, "Claude Jean-Paul, but you already know that gorgeous."
Toulouse sighs, "Claude."
The boy waves his hand dismissively, "Just teasing teach. I don't have any best subjects so don't ask my help in anything." he sits to the giggles of his peers. The rest of the class introduces themselves in a way that is obviously practiced, giving names and subjects they feel they can adequately offer aid in.
Eventually Kagami stands, nodding to her, "We have met before. My best subject is mathematics." And she sits quickly as the boy beside her starts.
By the end Marinette's head is swimming with names and faces and she's sure she won't remember any of the subjects they'd mentioned. Toulouse stands once the last student has introduced himself, "Alright then, Marinette should you need any help I am certain any one of your new classmates will be willing to offer a and, and don't hesitate to reach out to me either." He offers her a big, wide smile before turning to the monitor, "Alright then, now that that's done let's get on with the lesson. Today we're picking up where we left off last week in sixteenth century France."
By the time lunch rolls around Marinette’s head is swimming with information and she’s wondering how she’s ever going to be able to catch up. She’s met the other half of her year by now and received even more names, faces, and subjects to remember and it’s all jumbling together in her head. As soon as she stands and grabs her bag Allegra is at her side, linking their arms together and pulling her out into the hall, “So, still up for that tour?”
Claude and Alan join them from their own class, debating about….. tater tots? She offers the girl a warm smile, “That sounds amazing. Thank you.”
Allegra winks and in a seconds has Marinette spun towards the front door, taking her on a grand, in-depth tour of the entire building including classrooms, clubrooms, bathrooms, gymnasium, offices, and finally the cafeteria.
Alan helpfully points out every teacher they encounter and how to get on their good sides- like bringing Toulouse something sweet or showing Mme. Alcarte a picture of a dog.
Claude mostly makes jokes out of everything- like the sculpture in the principal’s office that is most definitely phallic shaped- but he also points out some useful shortcuts and secret hidey-holes that she could definitely use for transforming.
By the time they finally get their lunch and sit down the lunch room is mostly empty and Marinette’s stomach is grumbling.
“So Marinette, what brings you to Rose River?” Alan asks curiously, mouth half full of turkey sandwich.
Marinette pales at the question, mind flashing to Dupont and Lila’s smirking face, her classmates rage, and little purple butterflies. And then she remembers that Rose River is actually a specialized private school that aims to help students with their future careers. She smiles, “Fashion. I’d like to be a designer one day.”
Allegra gasps, “No way! Do you design already? I bet you’re amazing! Could I commission a dress from you? I have this recital next month and I want to look like a princess.”
Marinette chuckles, nodding, “I’d be happy to. I actually have my sketchbook if you want to see some designs?”
Allegra makes grabby hands and the boys both lean closer to see as Marinette opens it onto the table. They all ooh and ahh at the rough sketches she shows them, Claude pointing out that blue is his favorite color and Alan admitting he’s worn the same outfit for the last three days. Allegra squeals when she comes across what is very obviously a Jagged Stone inspired jacket.
“I love his music! If I could play rock and roll on a flute I would.”
Marinette laughs, “I bet Jagged would love it too. He’s all about finding new sounds.”
Claude blinks at her, “Wait… do you like, actually know him?”
She nods, “Yeah. I’ve done some design work for some before and he’s filmed a show at my parents bakery.”
Alan drops his sandwich. Allegra gapes openly. Claude’s mouth opens and closes a few times before he finally asks, “Are you the girl that made the sunglasses?”
Claude drapes his hand over his face and swoons into Allegra’s side, “Pretty, smart, and talented! I must be dreaming!”
Allegra shoves him off with a snicker while Alan rolls his eyes. Marinette laughs at the theatrics before turning to the boy beside her, “So, what are you all studying?”
Alan grins, puffing up his chest, “You’re looking at the future gold medal winner for the French Olympic track team.”
Allegra snorts, “You should have seen him at his first track meet. He fell on his face and cried for fifteen minutes.”
Alan turns a sharp glare on her, and if not for his dark complexion Marinette is sure he’d be bright red, “I was seven!”
She shrugs, and turns a winning smile on Marinette, “I’m a musician. I’d like to play for the French Orchestra one day and travel internationally with them.”
Claude wraps an arm around her shoulders, grinning with pride, “Legra can play just about any classical instrument. Piano, violin, horn, you name it.”
Allegra swats at him, cheeks pinkening, “Claude! I’m not that good. My specialty is the flute really.”
Marinette smiles, “That sounds amazing. I’d love to hear you play sometime if that’s alright.”
Allegra flushes darker, elbowing Claude when he snickers, “I’d love to!”
Marinette turns to the final boy, who is smirking at her, “And you? What are you doing besides flirting with the new girls?”
He laughs, throwing his head back, “Oh and you’ve got some bite to you too huh? And just so you know I don’t discriminate with my flirting. I’ll flirt just as much with the new boys if they’re cute enough.” He winks. “And I’m an actor. I’ve been blessed by Shakespeare himself, my beauty and my skill.”
Alan groans and Allegra sighs deeply as Marinette tries and fails to cover her snort.
“Such a drama queen.” Alan complains, shaking his head sadly.
Claude just grins, unashamed, and offers her another wink.
Before she can ask anymore questions shouting starts up from the courtyard. Allegra groans, shaking her head as she stands, “A reps duty is never done. I’ll be right back.” She hurries towards the noise, shoulders back and head high, a queen if there ever was one.
Marinette smiles after her before turning back to the table and the boys, “So, have you guys known each other a long time?”
Alan’s smile turns soft and fond, “Yeah. Me and Allegra live next door to each other. We have our whole lives. We’ve been best friends as long as I can remember.”
Claude crumples up his chip bag and throws it at him, “Sap.” He huffs, but he’s smiling, “Mine and Allegra’s moms work together. We met at an office Christmas party when we were like….. ten? We caused so much trouble that we both got grounded for a week. Then one day Allegra shows up at my house with Alan in tow and the rest, as they say, is history!”
Alan turns in his seat to look over at the cafeteria door, where the sound of yelling has ceased finally, “She was the one who wanted to come to Rose River. And well, Allegra’s kinda the boss of us. Where she goes, we go. And besides, I wasn’t gonna pass up this chance.”
Claude huffs, leaning his elbows on the table, “I was bored. Didn’t have anything better to do. And besides, can you imagine them without me around? It’d be chaos.”
Marinette snickers, leaning her hand on her chin, “Oh yes, you are the pinnacle of order and serenity.”
Claude throws his head back and laughs. Alan rolls his eyes. And Allegra stomps back into the cafeteria and throws herself back into her seat, looking murderous.
“I hate boys.” She hisses.
Claude nods, patting her on the head, “Good to know that hasn’t changed. Who did what this time?”
She huffs, swiping a chocolate bar from Claude’s bag and tearing it open, “Elias and Carter again. Apparently they’ve decided that today was the day they were going to test their stairwell theory.”
Alan’s eyebrows shoot up, “And what theory is that?”
She sighs deeply, “You don’t want to know.”
Marinette bites her lip to keep from smiling. She’s pretty sure she remembers which boys were Elias and Carter, and she’s pretty sure she’d heard them debating this morning about something involving a rubber chicken and the staircase.
The warning bell rings and Allegra groans, standing again, “Whatever. It’s done now and if I catch them again I’m going to kill them. Come on Marinette!”
She rounds the table, linking arms with Marinette once more and pulling her off. The boys scramble to follow, “Hey!” Claude shouts as he and Alan try to gather their things, “Quit hogging Marinette!”
Allegra turns and sticks her tongue out at him, and then continues.
Marinette laughs all the way up to the classroom.
When the last bell finally rings Marinette is exhausted but happy. She’s had a good first day, a great day really. She can’t remember the last time she had one of those.
“So Marinette,” Alan falls into step beside her as they head for the front steps, “You free now? We were planning on heading to my place to hang out and do some homework. We can help you catch up.”
Marinette looks over her shoulder to where Allegra and Claude are watching her expectantly, both with big puppy dog eyes, and then at her phone. She smiles, “Not today sorry. I promised I’d tell my parents I’d tell them all about my first day. Tomorrow?”
Allegra nods excitedly, “Sure thing! We’ll have a super day planned for you- Ooh! Idea!” She pulls Marinette into her side, taking the phone from her hand and opening up the camera, “Come on boys, selfie time. You can show your folks what amazing new friends you have.” Claude snorts as he leans over to put his head between theirs and Alan moves to stand on tiptoe on Marinette’s other side.
“Cheese!” they chorus as Allegra snaps the picture. She hands it back to Marinette with an eager grin.
Marinette takes it and smiles. Claude is giving both her and Allegra bunny ears, Alan is making a ridiculous face with his mouth hanging open, and Allegra has her tongue out. It’s perfect. “I love it! Thank you!”
Allegra beams, hugging her tight before turning and practically skipping down the stairs.
“See you tomorrow beautiful.” Claude winks.
Alan sighs, shaking his head, “Later Marinette.”
She watches them head down the street together before turning towards the station. She gets only a few steps away from the school when a car pulls up alongside her and the back door flies open, “Marinette!” Kagami steps out, shoulders relaxing, “I’m glad I caught you. Would you like a ride? I’m headed to Dupont anyways.”
Marinette purses her lips, unsure. She doesn’t exactly know how to deal with Kagami, she’s so cold and harsh, and while Marinette does appreciate her honestly she’s not sure she can deal with her methods right now.
Kagami offers her a small, unsure smile, looking awkward, “Um… I was hoping we could talk?”
Marinette swallows thickly but nods. She won’t be rude, and a ride would be faster than the train. Besides, Kagami seems as unsure of how to interact as she is. She ducks under the girl’s arm and into the backseat, sliding along to the far window as Kagami scoots in after her, closing the door and turning to the driver, “The Dupain-Cheng Bakery please.” She instructs, and the car starts moving.
They sit in silence for a long moment, both staring at their laps. Kagami clears her throat, “I… heard about what happened.” She says softly, “I am…sorry. It was not fair at all.”
Marinette’s eyes widen and she turns to stare at the girl, “You know?”
Kagami nods, “Lila Rossi is not a very good liar. Or… well, I suppose she is, but she builds up her lies too fast and too big, it only takes one false move to topple her. She told me she was related to a famous Italian fencer. I know him personally and he has no familial relations left. It is easy to see through the rest of her lies after that.” She falls silent, still staring at her lap, “And then I heard about your class, about you, of all people, bullying the new girl. It was impossible to believe. Though I do not know you very well, I know better than that.”
Marinette scowls at her lap, “I thought my friends knew better too…. But they all believed her.”
Kagami’s eyes widen, “Even Adrien?”
Marinette’s eyes water, just thinking about it, “No… he knew she was lying but…” she scoffs, bitter, “He said she wasn’t hurting anyone, and so me trying to out her would just be creating another akuma. He said to take the high road.”
Kagami frowns, lips pursing in anger, “Her lies were hurting you. As your friend he should have stood up for you.”
Marinette wipes at her eyes. She really thought she was over all the crying. She looks at Kagami, incensed on her behalf, she’s practically breathing steam. She smiles, “Thank you. I just… I really needed to hear someone else say that. I was starting to think I was the crazy one.”
Kagami reaches over and hesitantly takes her hand, “You deserve better in friends Marinette. And… I believe I owe you an apology.”
She blinks, surprised, “For what?”
“I was rather harsh to you at the ice rink. I had believed Adrien had had a crush on you, and you had come along to tease him with your new boyfriend. I can see now that I was mistaken.”
Marinette flushes, squeaking, “Adrien! Having a crush on me! Nonononono.” She covers her face with her free hand, embarrassed, then takes a few deep breaths. “Actually, I had a crush on him.” She admits, “Or well, I used to.” Her frown is back. It still stings, thinking about him.
Kagami’s hand squeezes hers gently, giving her a small, awkward smile that tells Marinette she isn’t used to giving it, “Should you ever need anything Marinette, I am here. I know we had a bit of a rough start but… I would be honored to call someone as kind as you my friend. If that would be alright.”
Marinette stares at her a moment. Kagami the ‘Ice Queen’, cold and harsh, brutally honest and uncaring. And Marinette sees past that, kind and soft, unsure of herself and unused to friendship. She smiles, leaning forward to pull the girl into a hug.
“Thank you Kagami.”
The girl pats her on the back, clearing her throat as she pulls back. “We have arrived- Oh.”
Marinette looks out the car window and sees the front of the bakery where Alya, Nino, and Adrien are stood scouring the street. She pales.
Kagami squeezes her tight, “Is there another entrance?”
She nods, “Around the side. It goes straight upstairs.” The car automatically turns down the street and pulls up right at the door.
Kagami gets out first, grabbing her fencing gear and adjusting it on her shoulder as Marinette steps out onto the street. “I can come by tomorrow morning if you’d like to give you a ride to school.” She offers.
Marinette thinks about having to walk by her old school tomorrow and something seizes in her gut. But she also doesn’t want Kagami going so far out of her way just for her. She smiles, “Uh, no thanks. I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow. And thanks again.”
Kagami nods, lips still pursed, “Very well. See you tomorrow Marinette.” Then she turns and walks briskly down the street towards the school.
Marinette digs her keys out of her bag and lets herself into the hallways. She sighs, leaning back against the door and taking a moment to catch her breath.
“Today was a very good day Marinette.” Tikki says, fluttering out of her purse, “I’m glad you found such good friends.”
Marinette smiles, thinking of the new photo and Kagami’s awkward smile. “Yeah, me too. Now hide Tikki, I better go tell my parents. I’ll be sure to sneak you some fresh cookies.
Tikki cheers as she dives back down into the purse. Marinette heads into the back of the bakery where her father is milling around mixing up some pie fillings. “Hey Papa.” She greets as she grabs her favorite pink apron.
He looks up, beaming, “Marinette! You’re home early! How was your first day?” He comes around the counter to give her one of his massive, warm, bear hugs, the kind that never fails to make her feel safe.
“It was good. A friend gave me a ride home. I met some really cool people.”
Sabine comes back into the kitchen, smiling, “Is that my wonderful daughter I hear?”
Marinette laughs, “Mama!”
Sabine hugs her tight, pressing a kiss to her cheek, “Tell us all about it sweetheart.”
Marinette rolls up the sleeves of her shirt and grabs the dough as she does.
Adrien wakes up to a pit in his stomach and lets him know that today is going to be a bad day.
He rolls out of bed, staring at the calendar on his wall to see if he has anything like a photoshoot planned but no, other than fencing practice after school his day is clear.
“Cheese!” Plagg moans, floating aimlessly around the room, “Cheese!”
Adrien rolls his eyes, forgetting about the odd feeling for now in favor of feeding his annoying, insatiable kwami.
But the feeling doesn’t leave. Not through getting ready, or breakfast, or Nathalie reading him his schedule for the week. Not even in the car, where Gorilla is silent as they meander through traffic.
He checks his phone as they go, sending another text to Marinette. She hasn’t responded to any of the messages he’d sent her over the weekend. He frowns, making up his mind that if she’s not in class today he’s going to visit her after practice.
His gut twists painfully as he thinks about the likely cause of her absences and his bad feeling. Lila. She’s probably up to something today. She’s been really awful lately, though no one but him seems to notice. Her lies had been kicked into high gear, and Alya seemed to be spending more time with her than with Marinette. It had to hurt.
He wonders if his advice about taking the high road was good or not. At the time he’d certainly thought her lies were harmless little things, but now he’s not so sure.
As soon as he’s dropped off he heads up to the classroom, sneaking past the gaggle of students in the courtyard crowded around Lila as she explains her fabulous weekend trip t somewhere doing something.
The classroom is mostly empty save for Nathaniel who is bent over his desk drawing and Alex and Max, who are competing in some game on their phones. He looks up to the back corner of the room and finds no sign of Marinette. He frowns and takes his seat as the warning bell rings, staring intently at the door as students file in. Lila drops into the seat beside him, smiling wide and scooting right up into his personal space, latching onto his arm despite how he tries to wiggle away.
He frowns at the door as the last student trickles in followed by Mme. Bustier, who shuts the door behind her and hurries to her desk with an uncharacteristic sadness on her face. She turns to setting up the monitor and pulling out the attendance sheet as everyone gets settled.
Alya groans, “God is she skipping again? What is up with her, I know she has a problem with tardiness but this is getting ridiculous.”
She doesn’t even sound concerned that her best friend hasn’t ben in class for several days.
Mme. Bustier sighs as she calls for their attention, “Good morning class. I hope you all had a good weekend. I’m afraid I must start the day with some rather bad news.” Adrien’s stomach sinks. “Marinette has transferred to a new school.”
The uproar is immediate, everyone talking at once and asking questions, wondering why she would have gone.
“She didn’t even say goodbye!” Rose laments from the back, eyes watery.
Lila’s crocodile tears start to fall soon after, “This is my fault isn’t it? Oh, I knew I should have tried harder to make her like me. Now she’s left.”
Instantly the class’ attention switches to consoling her, assuring her that it’s not her fault and that Marinette was to blame for being bitter and jealous of her. Adrien feels like he may be sick. He looks up at Mme. Bustier to find her frowning, staring at Lila and the class with narrowed eyes.
She clears her throat, “Well everyone, let us begin with the lecture. I don’t have any other information regarding Marinette or her business so any questions will have to be directed elsewhere.”
There is a strange coldness to her voice, and she doesn’t let anyone else comment before jumping right into the material and leaving them all to scramble to take notes.
Adrien really does try his best to focus through the rest of the day, sending another text to Marinette and wondering if she’s even getting them. But he keeps finding himself looking at his phone, or turning to stare at the empty seat in the back. His notes are sloppier than usual.
When lunch finally rolls around the entire class starts up about going over to the bakery, insisting on finding out why Marinette left. Adrien takes two steps towards the door when his arm is captured by Lila, who smiles pleasantly at everyone.
“I’m sure she isn’t back yet. Afterall, whenever I go to a new school I usually eat lunch there. It’d be better to wait till after school.” Everyone nods, murmuring consent and thanking Lila for her input. Adrien grits his teeth as Lila leads the way to the cafeteria, not releasing her death grip on his arm, “And I don’t mean to assume, but clearly Marinette isn’t really your friend, after all, she didn’t even say goodbye. And I know you all said she was so sweet and kind but she’s been nothing but awful to me since I got here. I truly think she’s been deceiving you.”
There are more murmurs, nodding heads and narrowed eyes. As if Marinette didn’t frequently drop everything she was doing to rush to their aid. As if she didn’t go out of their way to make them happy.
Chloe scoffs, rolling her eyes, and stalks away from the group to eat lunch by herself.
After a moment, Adrien finally manages to untangle from Lila and goes to join her.
“I see you’re not falling for Lie-la’s utterly ridiculous stories.” She huffs, arms crossing over her chest and glaring at her lunch. “I mean seriously, I don’t even like Dupain-Cheng but at least I know the kind of person she is. And these morons call themselves the good guys.”
Adrien watches as everyone fawns over Lila, bringing her things from the lunch line and following her every whim. “Why don’t you say something Chloe?” he asks, wonders the same thing about himself. If he just said something, anything….
Chloe examines one finely manicured nail, “Are you kidding? They don’t like me already, and if they turned against the class darling so easily, what hope do I have of calling out that fake. I’m trying to be a better person Adrikins, so I’m not going to say anything or else I run the risk of stinging that harpy.”
Adrien stares down at his lap, and finds he has no appetite. They all turned on Marinette. At the drop of a hat they abandoned her. Refused to believe her. Alienated her. And Marinette was the kindest, most amazing person he’d ever met. She helped everyone, no matter what. Most of the people in their class had known her half their lives.
And he…. He was the new kid. The rich new kid, who rarely joined them on outings, who never offered up anything of himself. They didn’t’ know him very well. What would they do to him if he said something? If they turned on him, he’d have nothing. He’d be back to square one, in a big empty house, all alone, no friends.
By the time the final bell releases them Adrien is practically running out the door, evading Lila’s grabby hands and hurrying towards the bakery. He can already hear Lila convincing everyone to just wait to talk to Marinette tomorrow. Just wait. Wait. Wait until you forget all about her.
Alya and Nino are right behind him though, both too determined though for different reasons. Alya is furious, Nino confused. Adrien doesn’t have much time before fencing practice starts, but he has to try and see her.
The Dupain-Cheng bakery is warm and welcoming, and since the start of the year it’s been one of Adrien’s favorite places. He can’t count the number of lunches he and the class spent at the bakery, everyone crowding around the counter and laughing as Mrs. Cheng looks them all over and singles out whoever looks to be too thin. Mr. Dupain is always smiling, always giving fully belly laughs and never without a baking related pun. The couple was always so kind, and he can see where Marinette gets it from in her father’s big grin to her mother’s warm eyes.
But now neither of those things are turned on the three teens. As soon as they enter the bakery the couple’s eyes on them are cold and harsh, full of anger.
“Shoo!” Mrs. Cheng hisses, “Out!”
Mr. Dupain glares as he slams a tray of cookies down on the counter with uncharacteristic harshness, “I’m afraid you kids are no longer welcome here. Take you business elsewhere.”
Nino’s mouth drops open and Alya’s eyes are wide. Nino has been coming to the bakery since he was seven, and Alya has spent the better part of the last year here. Never once had the Dupain-Chengs been anything les than pleasant.
Alya rallies first, squaring her shoulders and tightening her jaw, “We’re looking for Marinette.”
Mrs. Cheng glares at her, “Only our daughters friends are allowed to wait inside. If you want to speak to her you wait outside. Shoo.”
Adrien flinches at the insinuation that they are no longer friends of Marinette, stomach rolling.
Nino squeaks as Mr. Dupain hefts a truly massive rolling pin, grabbing Alya and Adrien by the elbows and dragging them out onto the sidewalk.
“What the hell!” Alya seethes once the door is closed, “First she acts like a raging bitch, then she just up and leaves, and now this? What the hell!”
Adrien wants to say something, to tell them the truth, to them anything. But he bites his lip and keeps quiet, watching the fire in Alya’s eyes as she insults who was supposed to be her best friend.
They stand on the street corner by the front door and stare up and down the street, eyes peeled for any sign of Marinette. Adrien isn’t sure how long they wait but he’s fairly certain he’s going to end up missing practice.
Someone clears their throat behind them and the three of them whip around to find Kagami Tsurugi with her arms crossed, fencing bag slung over her shoulder and glare icier than usual. “Agreste, shouldn’t you be getting ready for practice?”
He swallows. His father will be furious with him if he skips. But he needs to see Marinette.
Kagami turns her glare on Alya and Nino next, “You two, whoever you are, I suggest you go home. Marinette has already gone up, and I doubt she’ll come back down for the likes of you.” She sneers.
Alya’s glare hardens, “She’s here? What the hell? I don’t know who you think you are-“
Kagami stalks past her without listening, heading towards the school, “Hurry up Agreste.” She calls over her shoulder.
Adrien looks up at the bakery one more time before hurrying after her.
He is still distracted all through practice, clumsy and unfocused. He loses all of his practice matches. Kagami is harsher than she usually is with him, her glare never lessening, and he can practically feel it even when her mask is down. She speaks to him in short, clipped sentences, even colder than she’d been the first time they’d met. She doesn’t even speak to him when practice finally ends, but Adrien doesn’t stop to ask her what’s up. Instead he hurries to change, texting the Gorilla that he’s staying late to practice. As soon as the last person has left the locker room Plagg flies out of his locker.
“You’ve messed up big time kid.” He says, eyes narrowed
Adrien sighs, “I know. But right now I need to make sure Marinette’s ok. Plagg, claws out!”
He leaps across the street, landing on the Marinette’s little balcony and carefully crawling down into her room. It is exactly as he last saw it, a little cluttered but cute. Warm. It feels more like a home than his room had ever had. One of the desks is nearly completely overrun with fabrics and yarn and thread in all colors, but it’s the wall above that that draws his attention.
The whole wall is plastered in pictures from the last year. Like last time, there are a fair number of him, of his shoots, but those hardly compare to the number of those with the class. Alya and Nino, the class photo Marinette arranged for Juleka, Kim posing dramatically with Alix and Max hanging from his biceps, a selfie from their Heroes Day picnic, Rose kissing Juleka’s cheek, Mylene and Ivan waving protest signs, Nathaniel blushing at his first ever convention booth he’d opened. There’s even one of Chloe, flashing a peace sign while leaning on Sabrina’s head. Their whole year is displayed here in perfect clarity on Marinette’s wall in selfies and group photos and candid shots.
He turns as the hatch door pops open and Marinette’s head appears. She freezes, eyes wide, “Cat Noir?”
There is flour on her hands and what looks like strawberry jam on her cheek.
He smiles, sad, “Hey Marinette.”
She offers him a small, warm smile as she closes the hatch door, dropping her bag by her desk and draping her white blazer over the chair. She’s wearing the same uniform as Kagami was, he realizes, which probably explains both how the girl knew Marinette was home and also her mood.
“Rose River huh?” he asks, nodding to the jacket, “Didn’t know you changed schools.”
Her smiles turns sad as she looks up at the wall of pictures he had clearly been perusing. “I couldn’t do it anymore Kitty…. I just…” she swallows, taking a deep breath and looking near tears, “I thought they were my friends.” She says quietly, “I trusted them. I loved them. I did everything for them but…. But when I needed them they weren’t there for me.” She looks up at him, eyes watery, “It really hurt. And I got tired of pretending that it didn’t. It’s time I take care of myself for once.”
She reaches up and pulls a photo from the wall, laying it on the desk and placing the pin in a little cup. And then she grabs another. And another. And another.
Cat Noir watches as she slowly takes down the last year of her life, and swallows thickly, “I’m so sorry Marinette.”
She looks back at him, and offers him a shaky smile, “Don’t be minou. This is for the best.” Her voice cracks.
He steps up beside her and reaches to take down another photo, adding it to her growing pile. They work in silence as they remove each and every photo from the wall. He pauses when he realizes he’s holding one of his own photos, a photo shoot from what felt like forever ago, in the park, with the little girl Marinette had been babysitting.
Marinette looks over at him when he pauses and lets out a deep sigh when she sees the photo. She takes it from him carefully, staring at the smiling face, expression twisted with something he can’t name.
“He knew.” She admits after a long moment, “He knew and I thought that was enough. Because Adrien knew and I loved him and he said her lies didn’t matter but….” She squeezes her eyes shut and tosses the photo with force onto the pile, sending the whole thing falling over.
Cat Noir can’t breathe. “It was hurting me. He said it wasn’t hurting anyone and it was hurting me. And he didn’t say anything.”
She loved him? She loved Adrien? Marinette?
He thinks back to their every interaction, to her stuttering sentences and fumbling words, to the distance she kept and the way she’d never been able to act around him the way she did everyone else. He had thought she might still have been holding a grudge from the gum incident. But no, Marinette loved him.
And he’d stabbed her in the back.
“Oh Marinette.” He pulls her into a hug, squeezing her tight, so tight that he imagines she could feel everything he can’t quite find the words to say.
She holds onto him, crying softly into his shoulder. They stand there for a long time, not saying anything, just holding onto each other, and he wishes desperately that he had half this courage when he was Adrien.
When Marinette finally pulls back it is to pull the rest of the photos off the wall and gather everything up to put in the waste bin. Then she grabs her phone- a new phone, shiny and sleek and a bright vibrant pink- and taps at it until her printer starts up. She grabs the new photo and cuts it out, pinning it up in the center of hew now empty wall.
It is of Marinette and who must be her new friends, three of them, all wearing the Rose River Academy uniform. A pretty blond is hugging Marinette tightly with her tongue stuck out, a boy in a bright green cap is making a silly face, and a taller boy with brown hair is giving both girls bunny ears. And Marinette is smiling, beaming, looking happier than he can recall seeing her in weeks.
He looks down at the girl beside him with her red-rimmed eyes and her small, hopeful smile. He puts a hand on her shoulder, “You deserve all the happiness in the world Marinette. I hope these new friends give you that.”
She beams up at him, wrapping her arms around his middle, “And I have you too Kitty. You’ve always been on my side. Thank you.”
Cat Noir feels like he may be sick. But he hugs her back, pressing his nose into her hair, “I better go Purr-incess. This alley cat has a city to paw-trol.”
Marinette giggles, stepping out of his arms with a wide smile, “Well then, you better hurry or else there’ll be a cat-astrophe.”
He laughs, wishing to just stay beside her for one minute more. But he needs to go or else the Gorilla will come looking for him. “See you around Princess.” He gives her a dramatic bow before heading back up to her balcony and taking off, trying his hardest not to look back.
He still feels like he’s gonna throw up.