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misericordia

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One of Marinette’s first questions about the Miraculous had been if it made her immune to being akumatised, but however Tikki had tried, the kwami just couldn’t come to a definitive conclusion.

“Akumatisation isn’t a natural occurrence, Marinette,” she’d said, hovering across from her new charge. “The Miraculous are only as powerful as their wielder’s imagination, they allow for a creativity and bending of the rules, but akumatisation defies everything known about them.”

“So, if I were to feel sad, would the Papillon be able to find me?”

The kwami stalled. “You have dominion over the Butterfly, that’s why you’re the only one who can purify akumas. If you’re transformed, then the Ladybug will protect you from the Butterfly, though his akumas’ powers can still affect you.”

“And… if I weren’t transformed?”

Tikki frowned. “You need to know, Marinette, I’ve only dealt with wielders who were akumatised by their own magic. It really is something we know little about. Normally, if the Butterfly sent out a liaison to someone -- those normal white butterflies -- that person would have full control over their own actions, instead of being corrupted by the Papillon's akumatic energy. The Miraculous were never intended to be used on another wielder. It was expressly forbidden for millennia.”

“So…” Marinette’s eyebrows drew together, and her face fell resolute. “I’m like everyone else, then. I have to keep my feelings in check, and not let the Papillon exploit them.” Blue eyes rose and gleamed. “I won’t allow my emotions to hurt people, ever.”

Tikki beamed, zipping over to hug Marinette’s cheek.

“Paris is in safe hands, Marinette,” the kwami had said. “You were chosen well.”

 

It was never Marinette’s intention to be late for class, after all, she only lived across the street, but between daytime akuma attacks forcing her to pull all-nighters to catch up on schoolwork, and nighttime akuma attacks draining what energy she had left, it was all too easy to sleep through her alarm clock and wake up five minutes before the entry bell.

She made it to class ten minutes late, her heart stuck in her throat and sleep dust still in her eyes, but to her relief, Mlle Bustier wasn’t present yet, and her classmates were all chattering away. She rubbed at her eyes and blinked again. Half the class had moved seats, Nino was sitting next to Alya, and Adrien was—

Marinette hugged Alya around the shoulders, startling the other girl out of her conversation with Nino.

“How did you pull this off, Alya? I can’t believe you got everyone to change seats so I could sit with Adrien!” She pulled back a little as the reality of the situation set in. “But, to be honest, it’s probably not a great idea; Mlle Bustier already doesn’t like me talking to you during class, so she’ll probably be annoyed if I’m next to Adrien, and you really didn’t have to move everyone else if it’s me and Nino swapping seats—”

“Whoa, hold up, girl,” her best friend pried her hands off, smiling bemusedly. “What are you talking about? You’re not sitting next to Adrien—your seat’s over there.”

Marinette followed the girl’s finger to the back of the classroom. Where Juleka and Rose once sat, was now a completely empty row of seats by the window. She blinked.

“At the back? Why?”

Nino leaned over, resting an arm on Alya’s shoulder. “Sister’s got hearing issues, we couldn’t make her sit at the back.”

“Yeah,” Alya said cheerfully, leaning into her boyfriend. “We figured that Chloé wouldn’t move and neither would Sabrina, but I suggested Nino could move back here with me, and then I thought that Ivan and Mylene should sit together too, and Alix didn’t mind being moved with Nathaniel, and then Rose and Juleka said they wanted to sit on the right side of the aisle for a change, so—”

An uneasy feeling settled in Marinette’s stomach and rose to her throat as Alya excitedly listed everyone’s reason for moving around—everyone except Marinette’s. She finished with a clap of her hands, as though she’d solved some sort of puzzle, and smiled like the thought of Marinette’s reaction had never crossed her mind.

“You’re joking, right?” A desperate smile formed on Marinette’s lips. There was no way Alya would be that aloof to her best friend. Was this just some sort of a prank? What was going on? “Who is ‘she’ anyway?”

To answer her question, Mlle Bustier announced her return. The class’ attention turned to their teacher, and Marinette’s blood ran cold at the student trailing behind her.

“Oh my gosh, you guys remembered my hearing issue and gave me a seat at the front!” Lila Rossi blew kisses at the class, and suddenly everything made sense. “I’m so sorry to have to make everyone move, you’re all so sweet!”

“It wasn’t too hard,” said Alya, as Lila slid into her seat next to Adrien. “It’s the end of the year and we were all fine with switching around.”

All except one. Marinette’s face was marred with a deeply unimpressed frown. Of course, Alya could only be blinded by Lila’s false radiance.

“Well, I appreciate it very much, Aly,” Lila said, leaning over to the row behind her. Alya beamed at the nickname. “I’m sure I can snag you another interview with Ladybug, you’re so—”

“Welcome back, Lila,” Marinette interrupted bluntly, her arms crossed. Lila turned to her, looking like she hadn’t noticed Marinette glowering from the aisle. “I didn’t know you had a hearing issue.”

“Oh, I do,” Lila sighed dramatically, and touched her ear gingerly. “I have tinnitus in my left ear from saving Jagged Stone’s cat—”

“Jagged Stone has a crocodile,” Marinette said bluntly. Anyone would know that, and she especially knew that because she knew the star personally.

“He does now,” Lila amended with a sickeningly sweet smile, “but he used to have the cutest little black kitten until he found out he was allergic to them.”

Some of the class awwed audibly, and Marinette wanted to scream. She bit her lip. Two could play at the game of connections.

“Did you know I made several designs for Jagged Stone, Lila?” she asked, a reckless feeling creeping over her shoulders. “I even designed his latest album cover.”

“Oh, really? That’s wonderful, Marinette,” Lila’s smile didn’t waver. “You should be proud of yourself!”

A haze passed over Marinette’s eyes.

“Yeah, I check in with him every now and then, and I don’t remember him saying he ever had a kitten before. He’s only ever had a dog that he gave to his grandmother.”

“Marinette,” Alya interrupted, looking slightly exasperated, “what are you doing?”

A shame washed over her. Everyone was staring at her, their faces blank and unsupportive. She was going off topic.

“I’m just saying I’ve never heard of Jagged Stone having a kitten. If Lila does have tinnitus from saving a kitten that doesn’t exist, does she have a medical note from a doctor to prove it?”

“Are you calling me a liar, Marinette?” Lila burst out, her smile vanishing. “I wouldn’t lie about having a disability! How could you say something like that?!”

The atmosphere tensed, and the eyes on Marinette ramped up in judgement. Immediately, Lila looked to be on the brink of tears, looking most pitiable, but Marinette dug her heels into the ground and refused to be moved.

“Jesus, Marinette,” Alya tugged at her arm, but Marinette didn’t look at her. “I get it, but you should really let it go, already.”

“Let what go?” asked Lila. Her tears vanished instantly. “I don’t understand. Does Marinette have a problem with me sitting in the front, specifically?”

“I’m so sorry, Lila, ignore her.” Alya stood up, prodding Marinette up the aisle. “Marinette’s just jeal—”

“Alya!” She wrenched her arm out of her best friend’s hold.

“All right, settle down.” Mlle Bustier finally remembered she was the authority figure in the class. She smiled politely at Marinette, but it didn’t inspire confidence.

“Marinette, I can see you’re surprised because you weren’t consulted, but perhaps if you had come to class on time, you would have had a say in this matter. Do you have a vision or hearing issue?”

“But, Professeur,” Marinette frowned, “I’m asking if Lila—”

“I don’t have problems seeing or hearing,” Adrien interrupted her, standing up. “I can sit in the back, and Marinette can sit up front with Lila, right?”

“No!”

Marinette flinched from the sudden cry. Everyone turned, and Lila’s shoulders visibly slumped.

“Look,” the girl sighed, her head dropping, “I’m sorry I’m causing all this trouble for the class. We’re half an hour into the day and we’re arguing about seats. If Marinette really wants to sit in the front, that’s fine, I’ll just sit in the back then.” She stood, looking pathetically miserable. “I’ll be okay.”

Heads swung to Marinette. All of them, Alya, Nino, Adrien, looked disgusted with her. To them, she looked like she was making a big deal out of nothing, like she was doubting someone who’d only been kind to all of them, and refusing to accommodate a hero.

A familiar heat rushed up to her ears.

“I mean, I don’t have trouble seeing or hearing,” Marinette admitted, her bravado receding. “But does Lila have—”

“Then there’ll be no problem with you sitting in the back,” Bustier overrode coolly. “Lila, you and Adrien stay in the front, and Marinette, you can head to the back.”

Lila lit up like a damned Christmas tree, sliding back into her seat and sitting way too closely next to Adrien. Mademoiselle Bustier’s arms crossed, waiting for Marinette to give in.

Her nails dug into her skin, and she turned on her heel. She nearly tripped on the step, but luckily made it to the back of the class without any further incident. Her face was on fire.

She wanted to scream in Lila’s face, grab her by the shoulders and shake her silly, demand how she could stoop ever lower and fake a disability for attention. What was the girl’s problem?

Marinette’s eyes began to sting, and she grabbed her backpack and began rummaging through it, ducking her head to hide any tears.

She was fully expecting Lila to be a total narcissist, that was nothing new. But the way the rest of the class had looked at her… and Alya...

Marinette blinked quickly to rid the tears, and looked up to the front of the class. Alya was talking to Nino, completely oblivious to Marinette’s state. The boy turned and met her eyes, and an alarm flashed over his face for a moment, but then he purposefully averted his gaze.

The tears started anew, but now Marinette was grinding her teeth. Of course, it was just like Nino to ignore her distress. He’d told the class he’d learnt not to be a bystander anymore, but clearly he hadn’t changed at all. Marinette looked into her bag again and pulled out her tablet. Her hands were stained with warm tears.

How did Lila have everyone so enraptured with her, when she’d only been there for a day and then vanished for like two weeks? How did the entire class believe her when just days ago they were telling Marinette how thankful they were for her? Was Lila just that incredible to them, or did Marinette’s word mean that little?

Oh. She had already forgotten how it felt to be alone.

“All right everyone, let’s open our books to page…”

The textbook loaded on her screen, and butterfly wings flapped.

Misericordia, I am—

“Professeur?”

The image of the front of the class was hazy and dark. For a moment, every face before her turned skeletal and empty pairs of eyes leered at her. She clenched her fists and refused to betray herself.

“Yes, Marinette?” Bustier’s voice rang distant and echoed, and it wasn’t from the distance.

“May I go to the washroom, please?”

“Class only just started—” Bustier said, her face flickering into a sneer.

Marinette stood up, seized her shoulder bag with her free hand, and ran down the steps. The class began to cackle amongst themselves.

Look how she cries, look how she runs away, look how pathetic Marinette is!

Bustier called her name in a angered shriek, but she fled the class of mocking classmates and sprinted down the hall. The laughter didn’t stop, trailing behind her, growing louder and louder.

Poor Marinette, did you really think anyone cared about you?

You’re nothing, and no one, I can’t believe you thought we’d be your friends.

No one would miss you, Marinette, maybe you should just do everyone a favour and

Her hands shoved the door open and she stumbled into the girls’ washroom. From her peripheral, the stalls were empty of class skippers. The door swung closed behind her and she screamed at her reflection.

“Leave me alone!”

Glass shattered beneath her knuckles. The sound reverberated through her, and the voices fell silent. Only one remained.

What was that? the Papillon asked.

Every breath came out with a rattling sob. Her right hand didn’t even hurt, and she wiped at her tears. Learned phrases ran through her head.

Deep breaths. What could she feel? Smell? See? Touch? Hear? Ground herself. Focus. Calm down.

The ground was hard beneath her flats. She clasped her hands together and cracked her knuckles. There was no pain from the glass. The washroom smelled of the school’s hand soap. The room was quiet, except herself. She was not alone.

Marinette opened her eyes, and met with herself, split and shattered into pieces. Her vision was well-lit, no darkness to be seen, no demonic faces to jeer at her.

She spoke without reservation, and her words were steady and calm.

“I don’t want your help,” she said quietly, taking steps back towards the mirror. Her hands pulsed with her heartbeat. “I refuse to do anything for you.”

Her eyes were still blue. Her face was red with tears with emotion. There was no holographic mask in her reflection. But he was there in her mind, silent and present.

“I’m just a normal girl having stupid schoolgirl drama. I don’t care about your magical jewellery.”

The Miraculous are the last thing on my mind.

Marinette turned on the tap. It was a familiar action. She’d been through this before. Clean up her face, blow her nose, wet paper towel and press it against her cheeks until her face stopped looking puffy and red. She knew the process, it’d just been a while since the last time.

I could help you, the Papillon continued. You have so much anger, and fear, and hatred inside of you. Don’t you want to make them all pay for what they’ve done you all these years?

“I told you I don’t want your help,” she repeated, her jaw seizing. “Are you hard of hearing too, Papillon?”

No one has ever refused my help before. Yet, you’re so afraid of being akumatised, you gave your fears life.

“So those faces and voices aren’t your doing?”

A laugh rang out in her head. Unfortunately, it was very human.

No, although it would be very helpful. You really don’t want to be akumatised.

“For the last time, I don’t. I don’t want your help and I don’t want revenge and I especially don’t want to assist you in your terrorism,” Marinette growled.

Her reflection pouted.

You say you don’t want revenge, but you do. I’ve never seen someone with this much negative energy before. Not even from that girl who stole your place.

“Lila…” Marinette began. She clenched her fists. “Lila is the worst person I’ve ever met without a Miraculous. I don’t know how no one else can see she’s lying out of her ass about everything, but—”

She let out a muffled cry and slammed her other hand against the sink countertop.

You’ve done so much for them. You gave up everything for them. You’ve let them step all over you because you didn’t want to lead your dearest friends to me. How noble of you, but see how they’ve repaid you? They’d abandoned you, left you behind, let you down. I could help you, Marinette. You could make them feel the same pain they’ve dealt to you. You could

“But I won’t.”

The voice halted. Marinette let out a breath.

“But I won’t,” she shook her head. “I won’t hurt them. I won’t make them pay. I won’t get my revenge. Because it won’t help anyone. I don’t want them to beg my forgiveness because they’re scared of me. I don’t want them to fear me or hate me. I won’t.”

You’re such a kind person, Marinette. But I’m afraid this world does not deserve your kindness. I can feel you are trying to be merciful, but you shouldn’t deny yourself that anger.

“I don’t care.”

She raised her head and met her stoic reflection.

“You’re right, I hate them, and maybe making them feel as bad as I did will make them understand, but I won’t. I refuse. This world is already full of people who do hateful things. I will not add on to that. If I’m kind, if I try my best to be kind, then surely other people will see they can too.”

You’re naive, he almost sounded disappointed in her. Can’t you see what happens to those who forgive too much?

An unintentional snort punctuated his statement. Marinette smiled at the broken mirror.

“Is that how you came to be, Papillon?” she asked, without a hint of sympathy. “Don’t tell me you became the way you are because you were too nice. You chose to do bad things. You have continued to do bad things. It doesn’t matter what you want the Miraculous for—there is nothing that can justify what you’ve done to us. Now get out of my head.

She hissed at him, and let her rage boil over. At last, just for a moment, she could be angry with him, and hate him, and he could do nothing to take advantage of that.

Her friends were stupid teenagers, but the Papillon deserved no pity.

A flash of something hit her, nagging at the back of her mind. Frustration that wasn’t hers built. Her hate gave way to confusion.

“You…” she realised. She turned off the running tap. She pulled back her hair. The right earring remained a deep purple. “You can’t leave me?”

What have you done? the voice snarled. The akuma refuses to leave you.

“I haven’t done anything,” she said defensively, dropping her hand. “I know less than you do. Can’t you just detransform and break the connection? Or do you suck at that too?”

The presence radiated indignance. A shameless pride welled in Marinette. It was mean to insult people, but someone like the Papillon didn’t deserve her respect anyway.

The akuma is independent of my connection to the Miraculous, no matter what. It must be because you’re refusing me. I’ve never left a host without transforming them first.

“Is that your excuse to make me accept? You’re losing your touch, old man. Maybe this is why you shouldn’t use the Miraculous for evil.”

The Miraculous don’t care about human morality.

“Says you,” she scoffed. “I doubt Ladybug and Chat Noir have these problems.”

For someone who feared my powers, you’re awfully bold.

“I’m not scared of you,” she huffed, scowling. “You won’t even come out and fight Ladybug face to face. You needed an entire army first, and you still lost. If it weren’t for that weird monster, you would have been caught on Heroes’ Day.”

Enough!

Despite the raw anger in her mind, it only startled her, like a bright flash of light in the corner of her eye. The Papillon brimmed with fury.

A new feeling bubbled up in her chest, came out as a giggle, and then erupted into a mocking laugh.

“I see what’s going on, now.”

The Papillon was too angry to prompt her.

“You can’t force me to agree, you can’t recall the akuma, which means the only way to get rid of the akuma is to break my earring, am I wrong?”

The presence simmered with anger that couldn’t touch her and the bubbling feeling in her chest grew. It felt like gaining the upper hand on an akuma, except she could almost lose control of it. Her smile grew wider.

“And we all know you can’t send out more than one akuma at a time,” she said, insultingly nonchalant as she worked her way to her conclusion. “You just told me detransforming won’t reset the akuma, either, which means you just rendered yourself completely powerless.”

Her reflection raised its hand and slammed against the barrier. Marinette beamed in response.

Anger, fury, hatred at her and himself. The feeling spilled over and she leaned in to the glass.

“You tried, Papillon, but congratulations: you played yourself.”

The Papillon snarled uselessly in her mind, and vanished in a burst of frustration.

Her reflection turned back to normal. Marinette let out a breath. She was alone.

Truly alone.

She pulled her hair back. The left earring was was red with black spots; Tikki was hidden inside them.

Plans began to run through her mind. Could she risk going to Fu so soon? What if the Papillon transformed back and heard her thinking about the Miraculous? She had him trapped for the moment, but she couldn’t free the akuma just yet. She had to stay like this for as long as possible, and use this unwilling stalemate to her advantage.

Marinette pulled out the earring and cupped it in her hands. It radiated warmth. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the kwami nestled in her palm.

“I’m gonna get us out of this,” she murmured into the earring. “I know I can.”

In the silence, Marinette imagined a pitched voice replying: I know you can, too, Marinette.

 

She left the washroom without anyone seeing her. Luck had been on her side, since no one had heard her arguing with the Papillon. Surely, the school would gossip about who punched a mirror, but her hand didn’t hurt at all and she hadn’t even bled.

Marinette turned the corner, and stopped at the sight of Alya heading her way. The girl’s eyes went wide, and she approached her gingerly. Apparently, she had thought to go after Marinette, twenty minutes after the fact.

“Marinette,” the girl said awkwardly, clasping her hands together.

Something about the sight of the girl gave Marinette a sick feeling in her stomach, but she smiled instinctively. She shoved her hands into her pockets and bounced on the balls of her feet.

“Sorry,” she said, “I made Madame Bustier angry, didn’t I?”

“No, err, well—yeah. She’s a little mad,” Alya said quietly. She came closer, beaming concern and guilt. “Are you feeling better, though?”

Marinette gave a small smile, and stepped away. Alya’s worry was a neon sign. It was suffocating, and a little annoying.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I just pulled an all nighter, and y’know, I wasn’t expecting the seating rearrangement. I just got frustrated.”

Alya sighed, and Marinette tensed. Annoyance? Exasperation?

“Look, Marinette, I know you don’t like Lila, but you can’t just go and accuse her of faking a hearing impairment just because you don’t want her sitting next to Adrien. I mean you hardly know her.”

“You… Do you think this is about Lila?” Marinette stepped back. Alya flinched. “I told you I saw Ladybug yelling at her in the park and calling her a liar.”

“You also said Adrien was there with her on a date,” Alya’s arms crossed defensively. “I love you, Marinette, but you have a huge sore spot when it comes to Adrien. You never get along with any girl who gets even remotely close to him. I don’t mind helping you get together with him, but that doesn’t mean you have to slander other people—”

Slander?” Marinette echoed. Her fists clenched inside her pockets. “It’s not about Lila and Adrien! It’s about—” she sucked in a breath, and turned away. Her shoulders slumped.

No. Just because she had the freedom to be upset, didn’t mean she had the right to upset others. She didn’t want to hurt Alya. She didn’t want revenge.

“About what, then?” Alya pressed, lips pulled in a frown. “‘Cause I really don’t understand why you’re so angry about this. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Of course it wasn’t, not if one thought it was all about seating arrangements.

Marinette spun around, jaw clenched, and stared Alya down.

“It’s about you, and everyone else in class.”

Alya’s jaw dropped. She made to speak, but Marinette spoke first.

“Because you didn’t believe me when I told you about what I saw in the park, even though you know Volpina was Lila. Because you still didn’t believe me when I told you I’d asked Jagged Stone about Lila and he said he didn’t know her. Because you never believe me when I express any sort of opinion about Lila that’s not glowingly positive!

“I was surprised that the class, everyone who I thought were my friends, didn’t believe me, but I expected you of all people to have my back! You’ve known me for much longer than you’ve known Lila, but you trust her word over mine?”

The other girl tried to interrupt, but Marinette’s eyes flashed and she continued over her.

“And you know what’s the worst part about all of this? I wouldn’t have cared half as much that you put Lila next to Adrien, but you put me all in the way in the back row alone just so you could, what, spend more time with Nino? You, who got mad at Chloé on our first day when she tried to move me, didn’t even ask me how I felt about being alone against my will.”

A bitter laugh rang down the hall, and Marinette shook her head.

“Have fun with your boyfriend, Alya,” she said, passing her, “I’m sure you and Lila will be great friends.”

“Marinette, wait!”

She felt it coming before Alya even touched her. Fingers seized Marinette’s shoulder, and she understood exactly what Alya felt.

“I didn’t think you’d be this upset about it,” Alya said, putting her thoughts into coherent words. “It’s almost the end of the school year, I couldn’t justify to Madame Bustier why you should get a desk to yourself and move everyone behind us up a row. I thought you’d be okay with it. I meant to text you before you got to class but I was chatting with Nino and I forgot. You’re my best friend, I’d never intentionally hurt you. I’m sorry it made you upset.”

Marinette pulled away and took a step back. The sick feeling had intensified, and formed into something she recognised: guilt. Alya’s guilt, and more.

Alya felt guilty. Alya was annoyed with her. Alya didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Alya didn’t understand what she’d done wrong, only that it’d made Marinette storm out, and Alya wanted to be forgiven so that sick feeling would go away.

Marinette stared into golden eyes and wondered when their friendship had turned into this.

“You didn’t think I’d make a fuss about it,” her words came out soft and bitter, “because I always make sacrifices for my friends, don’t I?”

“That is not what I thought, Marinette.” Alya protested. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask you first, but… honestly, they’re just seats, I don’t get why you’re so angry about it.”

Marinette smiled and shook her head and turned away. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t believe this.

“I just told you, it’s not the seats I’m angry about,” she said. For someone whose job was to be neutral and relay information, Alya was both biased and bad at listening. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care.”

“Marinette?”

She turned back to face her once-friend and gave a practiced smile.

“Are you coming back to class or what? You did come to find me, didn't you?”

Marinette turned on her heel and started back for the classroom. Alya followed at a distance, but didn’t try to reach out to her again. Marinette’s brows furrowed. She shut her eyes, and felt.

What did you do to me, old man?

The presence hadn’t returned, and she received no answer. Yet, she felt no panic at the new development.

Something had gone wrong, but it would be okay. She could bear this strange new power in return for trapping the Papillon in a stalemate.

She’d just finish her classes for the day, head down to Fu’s, figure out a plan for dragging the Papillon out, and after he was dealt with, she could figure out how to purify herself and release Tikki. It couldn’t be that hard.

Right?

 

Class was uncomfortable. It was even worse when she could feel auras of emotion. Although Lila and Chloé were as physically distant from her as possible, Marinette could still feel their negative feelings from across the room. It radiated from them like a light, and almost drowned out the feelings of unease and boredom from the rest of the class.

Dear god, if this was how the Papillon felt the world, she almost wouldn’t blame him for keeping himself cooped up all the time. If he felt all this hatred all the time, no wonder he had such a bleak view on humanity.

But that was no excuse for terrorising her city and exploiting the fears of innocents. He was just a dick.

Alya kept looking over her shoulder at her, and Marinette felt her confusion and pity and the slightest bit of annoyed condescension. It was awful. Had Alya always seen her this way? Was Marinette just blind to it the whole time?

Her friends were good people. They protected her when her Nonna was akumatised. They called her their everyday Ladybug. They weren’t tricking her or bullying her, not like Chloé, so why

“Marinette, could you answer the next question?”

She looked down at her notes. She’d zoned out. Her lips pursed and she checked the blackboard. What was it?

Ugh, isn’t it obvious? The answer’s C.

She startled, and looked around. No, that voice… That wasn’t the Papillon. It was…

“Marinette?” Bustier prompted again.

“The... answer is C,” she said.

“Good,” Bustier turned back to the board and continued the lesson.

Marinette stared down at the pages, an unwanted blush rising to her ears.

I am so bored.

A different voice, whose was it? Marinette’s brows furrowed. She closed her eyes.

thirty minutes left.

really think?

okay, she looks like she’s

ew, blocked

Her eyes opened again.

Thoughts. She was hearing everyone’s thoughts, now. This couldn’t be.

Her fingers seized her right earlobe, just as a familiar presence settled into her mind.

You need to tell your friend Alya that you’ve been akumatised, and have her call Ladybug.

She wanted to rip her earring out and throw it out the window. Instead, Marinette settled for digging her nails into the notebook.

‘What are you doing to me?’ she asked.

It’s not intentional, I assume it’s a side effect of you not agreeing to the transformation. It’s giving you my powers.

‘You can read minds too?’

…What?

‘I can feel everyone’s feelings, and hear their thoughts. Aren’t those some of your powers?’

The Papillon swore. If it weren’t for the creeping chill down her shoulders, and the dull din of the class’ brains, Marinette might have found it funny.

I can only sense negative emotions. Mind reading is not one of my powers. Just what are you?

‘No idea, but I’m not telling Alya.’ she said bluntly, grabbing a pencil and scribbling lines onto the notebook. One good thing about being alone at the back of the class, no one to notice her scribbling nonsense.

Just because your friend is angry at you does not mean she will leave you to be akumatised. She would never disappoint Ladybug like that.

‘It’s not about Alya.’ The page tore from her pen. ‘What happens if I keep the akuma on me?’

I… I thought you had gained my latent powers.

‘That being?’

Negative emotion reading and manipulation.

‘So you do manipulate people into agreeing to become akumatised.’

Annoyance flickered at her. They do have a say in it, but you’ll find it’s easy to persuade those who are compromised.

‘I don’t have that much faith in your persuasion abilities,’ thought Marinette dryly, ‘considering how well this one is going.’

Listen, you impudent child, do you want to remain akumatised forever?

‘Assuming I don’t gain any more freaky powers,’ Marinette frowned, ‘I can and will wait you out.’

So you won’t ask for help until I… what?

‘Until you surrender your Miraculous, of course,’ she said, smiling at the ruined paper. She tore it out and began to doodle. ‘As annoying as these powers are right now, I’m perfectly happy to bug you with my thoughts until you give up.’

You are insufferable.

‘And you are a monster, Gabriel Agreste.’

A flicker of surprise. Her smile widened, and she muted her amusement.

How…

‘I assumed all along, but you threw me off by akumatising yourself. Until you mentioned today that your akuma acts independently of your own connection to the Miraculous. It was too easy to piece things together from there.’

You… knew?

‘Your company logo is literally a butterfly. You weren’t subtle at all.’

She could see why Chloé always acted so condescending now. It was fun. At least, when the target actually deserved it. Then again, Chloé probably felt everyone deserved it.

Ugh. Okay. Dialing it down a bit. Maybe the akuma was affecting her.

Yet, you didn’t tell anyone?

‘How could I? You’d been akumatised and publicly targeted. I couldn’t prove it was you. Besides,’ she looked over to the front left row. ‘The people I could tell would never believe me anyway.’

I see. Dare I say it, I’m actually impressed, Mlle Marinette.

‘Thanks, I hate it.’

So where do we go from here?

‘Like I said. You can’t send out another akuma, and I refuse to tell anyone I’m akumatised until you give up your Miraculous. I don’t mind these weird powers if it takes you down in the end.’

You are that confident in this plan?

‘I’m very confident I can bore you to surrender first.’

I will find a way to get rid of you, Mlle Marinette. You have not won this.

‘Yet,’ chirped Marinette. Her gaze fell to the window.

All of Paris, and she would play this waiting game to save them all.

The presence vanished, and without a voice to focus on, the rest of the class’ swarmed in.

Marinette grimaced, and jerked her head down to her desk.

Deep breaths. In. Out. Oh boy.

She was going to have to take a few days off, huh?

Her shoulders curled in on herself, and she peeked over to the front row once again.

Maybe it was a good thing she had reason to keep her friends at a distance.

Maybe it was a good thing she already knew their truths.

 

The absolute worst part about her new seat was that she couldn’t avoid Alya. Marinette took as long as she could to pack up after class, but Alya planted herself in front of the door and waited for her.

Any other time, it would have been sweet. Now, it was very much so bitter.

“Marinette,” she said, after everyone else had filed out, stepping between her and the door. “I need to talk to you.”

“And I have to get to German,” Marinette replied, trying to brush past her.

The girl grabbed her by the shoulders, and stared her down. Marinette flinched under the current of emotions and a couple coherent thought threads.

need her to know didn’t mean must not please for

“No, we’re gonna talk about this. You’ve never been mad at me before.” Alya’s hold faltered. “I really don’t know what to do about it.”

“I’m not mad at you,” said Marinette calmly, tugging the girl’s hands off. The wall of emotions retreated. “I’m just not in the greatest mood right now.”

“Because I changed your seat.”

“No. But it didn’t help either.”

“Marinette, I am sorry,” repeated Alya, touching Marinette’s arms. “I really didn’t—”

“I know already!” Marinette snapped, pulling away. “Can you please stop touching me right now? It’s making me really uncomfortable.”

Alya blinked, looking struck.

“You’ve… never had a problem with me hugging you.”

did something happen is she okay did someone hurt

Marinette breathed in sharply, and looked down, rubbing her earring.

“I’m not mad at you. I’m just feeling really cranky today. I’d appreciate it if you just… gave me some space.”

Alya’s shoulders slumped.

that’s not forgiveness

“Is there anything I could do to help?” the girl asked tentatively.

please i need make this right for

Marinette shook her head and Alya pulled herself back.

it’s fine not lila’s fault then she’ll be fine marinette doesn’t

Oh.

The loneliness sparked into anger, but Marinette seized the inside of her lip between her teeth.

“Excuse me,” she said, stepping around Alya, “I gotta go.”

She braced herself against the hall of intangible obstacles, and stepped out of the class.

 

It was so exhausting. There were so many thoughts, and none of them distinct enough to actually understand. All she felt were conflicting emotions on all sides, and a constant murmur of broken dialogue. If Lila had actually had tinnitus, Marinette imagined she’d understand the feeling.

Marinette kept herself grounded with a running monologue of things she would say to Tikki if she were around. She really hoped the kwami was okay, locked inside her one earring. She’d have to make a necklace or something to keep it close. Perhaps a locket? Did she even have the time to make such a thing? She could just buy one.

At last, she made it to German. Late, of course, and with one hell of an entrance.

“Hello to you too, Fräulein Marinette,” her German teacher said. Not even her faceplant into the floor interrupted his elegant writing on the chalkboard.

normal day as usual, she caught.

“Sorry, Sir,” mustered Marinette. She pulled herself to her feet and found herself directly in front of one Lila Rossi. The girl’s face was pulled in blatantly fake expression of concern.

what a clumsy girl

Marinette rolled her eyes and made her way to the back of the classroom. Come on, happy thoughts, punching Little Miss Liar wasn’t going to actually improve anything.

Except maybe her mood.

No, she swatted the idea away and sat down. That was exactly how an akumatised person felt, and she was not going to give into it. She was better than this.

Then Sir Janz assigned Marinette and Lila to work on a group project together, and Marinette briefly considered an amendment to her stance on violence.

 

She was able to escape her friends at lunch, and headed straight home instead of sticking around for the hour. There wasn’t enough time to get to Fu’s and back to school during lunch.

The bakery was still open, so her mother told her to grab some leftovers herself for the moment, an aura of guilt trailing behind her. Unlike Alya, however, this guilt was different. Benign, was all Marinette could call it. Something more earnest than Alya’s panic for forgiveness. Her parents had always tried their best to be there for her, but they just couldn’t be, and Marinette hadn’t wanted to add to their stresses.

She took her lunch up to her room, and was suddenly struck with an emptiness. Perhaps it was the familiar room, perhaps it was the fact that Tikki didn’t zip out of her pocket and chat, or perhaps it was just because she finally felt safe, but she set the food on her desk and sat on the floor.

What was she doing? Playing such a risky gambit against the Papillon? The Ladybug Miraculous was compromised, Tikki was gone, and she could lose all the privacy she’d ever had in her life in an effort to break the Papillon. Gabriel Agreste was a rich and powerful man, even without the Miraculous. How far would he go to make Marinette’s life hell?

She always knew it’d be dangerous to go up against the Papillon, but that was as Ladybug. Ladybug, who could heal any injury and sustain any damage. Ladybug, who was precisely the reason why she had a secret identity. Ladybug, who didn’t have any known associates to threaten or blackmail.

But the alternative? Allowing the Papillon to akumatise her, even though he didn’t know controlling her meant almost certain victory? Or letting the akuma go? The earrings weren’t supposed to be breakable. If she let the akuma leave her, they’d be back to square one and the Papillon would again be at large.

To what lengths would she go to protect her city? Would she be willing to risk the lives of her family?

The presence returned.

What are you doing? he asked, annoyed and curious.

“Nothing,” she said, pulling her knees to her chin. “What do you want?”

You’re awfully upset.

“Congrats on your perceptiveness, did your Miraculous give it to you?”

Why are you so determined to stop me by yourself?

“So you can read minds.”

No, I’m only inferring from what emotions I can feel from you. You feel scared, but not for yourself.

“It’s not that I don’t trust Ladybug or Chat Noir,” she muttered. “But it’s personal. I’ve watched you hurt so many people, people I’ve tried my best to keep away from you. Now is finally my chance to stop you, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

How admirable.

She grunted in acknowledgement.

That is quite the savior complex you have there, Mlle Marinette.

“Excuse me?” she deadpanned. “I don’t have a savior complex.”

Don’t you? You think that, after everything Ladybug and Chat Noir have fought for, you’ll be the one who stops me?

“That’s not the definition of a savior complex,” Marinette scowled. “You don’t need to be a superhero to do good things. Plenty of people fight against you just by keeping themselves calm against your terror and fear.”

Is that so?

“I believe it.”

You’re naive.

“And you’re a dick.”

You were a lot nicer to me last time we met.

“I didn’t think you were a monster, back then.”

And you were trying to get my son back in your class.

“Yeah, well, maybe I shouldn’t have.”

I agree.

“Huh.”

The back-and-forth banter ebbed her fear away, replaced by something reckless and gleeful.

The Papillon wasn’t just a faceless terrifying monster, he was human, and mortal, and anything he could do to her, she could do to him. She could do this. She was just as strong as he was. Maybe even stronger.

She latched onto the carelessness and climbed into the chair.

“How do you even breathe in your costume? Where does your hair go?”

Are these… really the questions you want to ask me?

“I’ve nothing better to do,” she chirped, booting up her computer and picking at her food. “But I do have a serious question: you want the Miraculous to save Emilie Agreste, don’t you?”

Pardon?

“You heard me. You wanna find her, don’t you? You have all the money in the world, but none of it can find your wife. That’s why you want the Miraculous. Am I wrong?”

Yes, he snarled. Anger again, tinted with the pain of failure. She couldn’t feel any sympathy for him.

The reckless joy grew.

“Nah,” she said, waving her fork and smiling at her monitor. “I’m close, I can feel it.”

You couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“And yet,” Marinette grinned, “I’m getting the feeling you’re lying to me, or not being completely honest. I’m not quite right, but I’m close enough. All these akumas, just for your wife, but you just can’t win against two kids, hm?”

The Papillon vanished, and Marinette couldn’t help but chuckle.

So it was pushy and cruel of her to keep bringing up his failures, but that was the point. She would get him to give up, one way or another. Even if it meant saying things she normally couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

Huh. Maybe the akuma was turning her ‘evil’ after all.

 

Alya, thankfully, left her alone for the rest of the day, though Marinette could still feel the girl’s emotions swirling around her person. They were a mix of anxieties over Marinette’s friendliness towards her, and some worry about Lila, who was apparently spewing bullshit about how the class president didn’t seem to like her because she got her moved around and dear god Marinette really wanted to shake them both by the shoulders.

No violence, though. She would not give into that. It helped no one, even if it made her feel better in the moment.

Not even if it got Lila Rossi to shut up for five fucking seconds about her stupid travels.

Class was difficult, though, for whatever she did understand was confused by people who didn’t, and what she didn’t understand was rendered incomprehensible by the people who did. She could barely keep her senses tuned into the real world to hear what the teacher was saying.

Which was why she skipped last period Physics to rush over to Fu’s. She’d checked, and Agreste was supposed to be at some meeting at the hour, so he wouldn’t have the time to transform and potentially figure out who she was talking to.

Marinette raised her hand to knock on the door, and was let in before her knuckles even hit the wood. Fu regarded her gravely, and to her surprise, she couldn’t read him at all.

“Marinette,” he said, “I’m so sorry.”

She couldn’t feel if he meant it, but there was a weariness in his eyes, and she could imagine  he blamed himself.

“How did you know?” she asked, as he let her in. “I can’t read you at all.”

“The Miraculous operate on a balance, each one overcoming and submitting to another, like how water douses fire, and fire burns wood. It is all an interconnected network, and Wayzz felt that Tikki was inactive.” said Fu, walking over to a cabinet. “Would you like some tea?”

“Uh--”

“Where is she?” demanded Wayzz, zipping into view.

Marinette sat down by the coffee table and opened her bag. Fu set down some tea, and Marinette offered the singular earring.

“Is she okay?” she asked, as Fu took the remaining Miraculous.

“She is asleep,” Fu said. “Normally, since the Butterfly falls within the Ladybug’s domain, she could have overpowered it, but the akuma are formed by corrupted thoughts, and we do not fully understand their volatile nature. I believe the Ladybug’s attempt at taking control instead neutralised the Papillon’s hold over you, and is giving you the powers the Butterfly normally wields.”

“But, the Papillon told me he can only sense negative thoughts and emotions,” recounted Marinette. “Is that because of the akuma?”

Fu nodded. “Akumatisation gives greater power to the Miraculous, at the cost of control and restricting certain abilities. The Papillon likely doesn’t know he even has such powers.”

“And… why can’t I read you?”

Fu smiled. “I’ve picked up many things over the years, Marinette. Shielding my mind is one of them. The kwami cannot be read either; you gained your power from one of them.”

“I see…” Marinette relaxed. If she tried, she could hear faint thoughts from the rest of the building, but it was nice to be able to think alone, even only for a moment. “So, does that mean I can’t be purified?”

“Are you worried?” prompted Fu.

“I… I think so,” she said, eyebrows furrowing. She picked at the fabric of her jeans. “I don’t… I think I’m supposed to be, but I can’t…” She touched her heart, realisation setting in. “I can’t feel anything.”

Fu nodded, as though he expected it.

“The akumas prey on what you want the most, Marinette. If I may ask, what did you want when the Papillon found you?”

“I just wanted to be left alone,” said Marinette. “Left alone to feel bad for a while.”

“Despair is what brings meaning to happiness,” said Fu, gaze softening. “But that isn’t it, is it?”

Marinette scowled. “If you know, why don’t you just tell me then?”

Fu blinked. A delayed shame crept up Marinette’s spine. She dipped her head in apology.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been really… rude, since I got akumatised. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I understand, Marinette,” said Fu. “Don’t worry.”

She looked up, and he was smiling reassuringly. A weight lifted.

“I do not know your personal life very well, Marinette, but, I imagine when the Papillon found you, you did not want to feel pain any more. The akuma latched onto that, and now you’re gradually losing touch with your own senses.”

“But that doesn’t explain why I’m feeling everyone else’s thoughts and emotions!” blurted out Marinette. She paused, and groaned into her hands. “I’m sorry, this is so dumb, it shouldn’t have been that easy for him to take control of me.”

“But he hasn’t, Marinette,” said Fu. Marinette looked up. Fu almost looked proud. “If anything, you have taken control of him. He cannot send out another akuma now, so he is much less powerful than he was before. You have been a brilliant Ladybug, Marinette, and I am glad I chose you.”

“I got akumatised over something so silly, though,” Marinette pulled her knees up to her chest. “I’m putting everyone in danger just because I felt lonely.”

“Marinette,” Fu’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you think you’re speaking of yourself like this?”

Marinette paused. “It… It is that petty, though.”

Fu shook his head. “You are being far too harsh with yourself. How many times has Chat Noir compromised himself during an akuma attack, and how many times did you save Paris without his aid?”

“That’s not it, though,” Marinette frowned. “I’m the only one who can purify an akuma, everyone else can make as many mistakes as they want, but if I screw up, it’s all over.”

Fu’s face fell.

“See, you believe me,” said Marinette. “I’m not supposed to be compromised.”

“That is not why,” Fu said, lips pursing. “I am disappointed in myself for burdening you with such a heavy destiny.”

Marinette met his eyes. Fu turned his head away.

“The Order of Guardians valued children as Miraculous wielders because your imagination allows for you to use the Miraculous’ powers with near-unlimited power,” he explained, a ghost in his eyes. “I once cherished that you and Chat Noir could make mistakes without social consequence, for that was not something I could do.”

He turned back to face her.

“However, I should not have chosen you or Chat Noir. I am sorry, Marinette. I believed you two were strong enough to share this weight, but Chat Noir is displeased, and you, who have buried your true feelings behinds false happiness, have fallen victim to the Papillon.” Fu’s eyes watered. “I am so terribly sorry. I failed to protect you.”

Marinette could only stare, as Fu’s head bowed in shame. Then, the words came to her.

“Why are you apologising?” she asked, bluntly. Wayzz’s jaw dropped. “If it’s as you say, and the Miraculous are stronger in the hands of children, then giving it to someone more mature than us might have lead to more people getting hurt. Isn’t it, logically, better that you gave it to me? So what if I’m suffering? I’m one person out of many people whose lives have been saved.”

Fu raised his head. “Marinette, I do not think--”

Marinette rose to her feet, eyes blazing. Her fists were clenched, not in anger, but in determination.

“The Papillon can’t attack me now, he might go after my family, and I might live to regret that, but if stopping him and saving Paris requires sacrifices, then I will make that sacrifice.” She clenched her jaw. “And I know I’m only saying this because the akuma is messing me up, but I will take down the Papillon one way or another. You might feel sorry for giving me the Miraculous, but I’m glad you did. At least now, there’s something I’m useful and needed for.”

She took back the earring, picked up her bag, and made for the door.

“Marinette,” Fu called out, “the only way for you to free the akuma is to accept the feelings it came to you for.”

“Good,” said Marinette, looking over her shoulder. “That gives me the rest of my life to expose Gabriel Agreste.”

She opened the door and slipped out before Fu could even get off the mat.

 

Sleep came to her fitfully. Twice she woke with the feeling of butterflies against her skin, and another time she dreamt of her peers with their demonic faces, turning their backs on her and cackling about her uselessness. She woke up before dawn and gave up on the pretense of sleep, and instead spent the remaining hours before school sketching into her notebook.

It was very morbid, but she did wonder what the Papillon would have transformed her into has she said yes.

Misericordia. Compassion. Mercy. Pity. He’d wanted her to make others suffer the way she did. Perhaps he’d only focused on the “misery” then.

She doodled designs, some more practical than others. Ladybug and Chat Noir were very practical, but the akumatised victims normally looked less than conventional. Maybe if she were a ranged attacker, she could wear a dress like Reflekta or the Marionnettiste.

Marinette flipped back through her sketches. She didn’t have the time to make a locket for Tikki, so she pinned the earring inside a spare locket. It was too light for her comfort though, she’d have to buy another that was heavy enough that she wouldn’t forget it.

In the quiet of the night, with most of her part of the city asleep, all the voices fell to a soft, inaudible murmur. She could almost doze off to it.

Nights like these, when she was feeling restless, she would transform into Ladybug and take a midnight stroll. Surely, she couldn’t do that anymore; she’d have to leave through the front door and risk hell on earth if her parents found out.

She closed her notebook and grabbed her slippers. Akumatised or not, she could still hang out on the rooftop.

The stars were always muted in Paris, but the city’s horizon twinkled in mimicry. She breathed in the night air, and leaned into the railing.

“I can do this,” she said to herself. “I can do this, alone.”

For the first time in quite some time, she was truly alone. No Tikki, no friends, no one at all.

Her parents were sweet, they always were, but she couldn’t confide in them the way she’d learnt to confide in her kwami and her peers. Still, she greatly appreciated that their attitudes towards her were exactly as she thought. She could almost act normal around them with her newfound powers.

What a familiar feeling, being so loved by her mother and father, yet having no friends.

Fu had said the akuma would suppress her feelings, and perhaps it was, because for all the sadness she knew she should feel, all she could feel was a hollow emptiness, and a spark of rage.

“I got this,” she told the city. “I’ll save you all, no matter what.”