Marinette shoved the apartment door open with her elbow before dropping her shopping bags on the kitchen counter.
‘I’m home,’ she announced into the dimly lit apartment.
There was a thud in one of the bedrooms up the hall, then a door opened.
‘Good evening,’ Adrien said, poking his head around the hallway doorjamb. ‘Did you have a good day?’
Marinette shrugged. ‘It was tolerable.’
Adrien hummed, unconvinced. ‘You’re back late,’ he observed.
She gave him a flat look. ‘Because I had to pick up your blood supply, not to mention the other human groceries I needed.’
He had the decency to look embarrassed, hanging his head and shuffling his feet.
Really, Marinette thought. He has got to be the most unvampiric vampire ever.
She had first met Adrien eighteen months ago, while participating in a runway show. She was the aspiring designer, and he was the brooding model who refused to work before sunset. She had thought him mysterious, arrogant, and overly dramatic, until she saw him trip over an errant cable backstage. He had sprawled in an inelegant heap, his arms outstretched, with an undignified squawk.
She had helped him up, trying valiantly to suppress a chuckle with minimal success. He had dropped the aloof act after that, for which Marinette was extremely grateful. They had been friends ever since.
But it was only six months ago when her landlord decided to sell, forcing her out of her humble apartment. She had moaned long and bitterly to her co-workers, until one of them suggested she talk to Adrien.
She had approached him cautiously. They were friends, but she didn’t want to encroach on his space, or presume too much, so she skirted the subject until she could mention offhandedly that she was looking for a new place, even if it were only temporary.
He had offered a room in his small dwelling, claiming he would enjoy the company, and that she could stay for as long as she needed.
Initially, she had only intended to impose on his hospitality until she could find her own place, but all her applications were rejected. Either the place was already leased, or it was above what she could afford, or her references weren’t sufficient. Whatever the reason, she had roomed with Adrien ever since. She still looked for places, and submitted the occasional application, but she wasn’t as upset by the refusals anymore.
She had found out about his vampirism by accident, after she entered the kitchen late one night to find him slurping on a donor bag. Her eyes had widened, and she felt lightheaded, so she turned around and went back to bed, convincing herself it was a dream. Until he had approached her the following night, sitting her down to explain everything, and imploring her to keep his secret. His begging was so pathetic, she had agreed without question.
‘I would have picked it up myself,’ Adrien mumbled into his chest, ‘but my inside man was leaving early today. A date with his fiancé, apparently.’
Marinette sighed. ‘It’s ok. Like I said, I had other things to pick up, and the blood bank was on the way. You never would have woken up on time, and I know how you get when you’re hungry.’
‘Hangry,’ Adrien snickered.
Marinette just gave him the flattest, most unimpressed look she could muster. He bit his lip, trying not to laugh, as he held on to the doorframe.
‘I should not have to put up with this,’ Marinette muttered, as she turned around to put her groceries away.
Adrien slunk out of the shadows to help, weaving around her like an oil slick. Then, he grabbed a blood bag, emptied it into one of his large mugs, and heated it in the microwave.
It still grossed Marinette out, even if the blood came from a willing donor. She had insisted he have his own cups, so she bought him a set of soup mugs so he wouldn’t confuse his with hers. Adrien was delighted with the purchase; he had no idea cups came that big. Furthermore, he wouldn’t have to make extra dishes by dividing his meal between two mugs. It was more convenient all around.
Marinette waited until he was done, then prepared a bowl of instant noodles. She wasn’t in the mood to cook. Then she sat beside him on the couch while he searched for something to watch. He decided on a documentary, then set the remote down to cradle his mug in both hands.
‘I got another letter from Father,’ he murmured into his mug. He kept his eyes averted, like he always did whenever he mentioned his family.
Marinette twisted her face into a scowl. ‘What did Dracula want this time?’
He snorted into his mug, a smile lighting up his eyes for a moment. ‘Dracula was a fictional character, you know that, right? Father would foam at the mouth if he heard someone call him that.’
‘I don’t care about his tender feelings. So, what did that leech have to say this time?’
Adrien shook his head at her. ‘The same as always. He wants me to come home, that I never should have left the security of the estate, blah blah blah.’
‘Well, you did. He needs to learn that you’re an adult, and you're capable of making your own decisions. You can live away from home, and it’s not his place to make that decision for you. Tell him to suck an egg.’
Putting his mug on the coffee table, Adrien laughed again. ‘Yeah, that’ll go well. If he knew what a bad influence you were, he’d be more insistent I return home.’
‘You know I’d never actually do anything to jeopardise your relationship with your father. But you are my friend, and I care about you. I just want you to be happy.’
‘I know. Thank you, it really means a lot to me.’
Marinette finished her noodles, and Adrien his drink, in silence. She leaned against him, ignoring the slight smell of iron, wordlessly offering comfort and support. Adrien raised his arm to drape it across her shoulders, accepting her friendship.
They were an odd pair, to be sure. She, one of the daylight folks, rooming with her natural predator, but they made it work. She was happy in his company, and she believed he appreciated not being alone. She often wondered why someone who got lonely so easily would leave his nest, where all his family and other vampiric acquaintances were. But she guessed he wanted to escape the control of his father for reasons of his own. She never pried, but she managed to piece some things together. Adrien’s and his father’s relationship one of the easiest things to make assumptions about.
Marinette remembered when she had moved out for the first time. Tom had been happy for her, but Sabine had all but begged her to remain with them. But Marinette had been adamant, and for a while, she had been content. She admitted her situation had been uncertain for a while, and she had seriously contemplated returning home, but then Adrien had come through at the eleventh hour, and saved her from Sabine’s grasp.
She really did owe him a lot.
Lol. What is an update schedule, or a word count?
Adrien loved Marinette. From the moment he met her, he was impressed by her fire, her compassion, and her talent. He had eagerly accepted her friendship, and when he found out she needed a place to stay, he had offered his own humble abode without hesitation. It had been brash, but he figured as long as he was careful, she would never know about his secret.
Unfortunately, she had stumbled upon him late one night, merely a month into their new routine, to find him slurping from a blood bag as he sat on the kitchen floor. Her face had turned ashen as she spun about to head back to bed, her eyes bulging from their sockets. Adrien, caught unprepared, had stayed where he was, wondering how he was going to get himself out of this.
He decided honesty was the best policy, and the following evening he sat with her on the couch to explain himself and beg for her discretion. She had nodded along, and agreed to never speak of his condition outside the home, much to his relief. He wondered if she only agreed because she was now afraid of him, and did his best to appear as non-threatening as possible for the next three weeks.
She surprised him when she told him she wasn’t afraid of him, actually thinking he was a complete dork instead. He laughed, agreeing with her assessment, and their relationship went back to how it was before she found him out, and even running the occasional errand he couldn’t do for himself.
He admired her bravery. She accepted him without fuss, and never hesitated to put him in his place. She talked to him like she would anyone else, not at all put out by his vampirism, apart from the fact that she couldn’t stand to watch him eat. She said that she bought him the soup mugs so there wouldn’t be any confusion, but he knew that meant so her mugs wouldn’t be contaminated by his meals. Adrien shrugged off her quirk; he couldn’t blame her, really.
The downside of living with her was that she only saw him as a friend. He wanted to hold her, caress her skin, and breathe in her scent. She smelled like any other human, but it was different when he adored her so much. Everything about her was immediately more appealing, from the way she sang in the shower, to making sure all the curtains were properly drawn during the day.
Sometimes, Adrien was up during daylight hours. He was weakened and sensitive, but he could stand to be up and about for short periods of time. Marinette, aware of his abilities and limitations, made sure he was comfortable while he was still inside. Her solicitousness was endearing, especially when she stroked his forehead as if he were ill.
Adrien told no one of his current living conditions, or his crush. If Gabriel ever found out about either of those things, he would have a fit. He would insist Adrien sever all ties with her, and force him back to the nest while sending out one of his helots to hypnotise Marinette into forgetting all about him. It was a fate he desperately wanted to avoid.
As a member of one of the Twelve Noble Families, Gabriel often claimed it was Adrien’s duty to maintain standards to which they are accustomed and known for. As Gabriel’s heir, it was his place to set an example for all of their people, and perform the role expected of him.
Adrien railed against the strict rules and traditions he was told to live by, claiming he wanted to be a part of the world he inhabited, not stand aside as if he were somehow above it. Gabriel didn’t understand; he was a product of his own upbringing and indoctrination by his predecessors, Adrien’s grandparents. They had long since shucked the mortal coil, but their legacy haunted Adrien to this day.
He sighed as he reclined on the couch, attempting to take in the peacefulness of the night. Marinette had already gone to bed, in preparation of another early morning start, leaving him to his own devices. Lately they had been like two ships in the night, passing in close quarters only briefly, before vanishing from sight.
What’s the point of having a roommate if you barely even see them? he wondered.
A sudden tapping made him start. He swivelled around to face the balcony doors, and glared at the owl standing impatiently outside, another missive in its talons. It rapped on the glass with its beak again, clearly displeased with his slow reaction.
‘What now?’ grumbled Adrien as he sat up.
Sliding the door open, the bird strutted inside, deposited the letter on the floor, then turned around to head back out. It flapped its wings, straining to give itself lift, as it made to fly away. Adrien ignored its departure, scowling at the correspondence it had left on the floor.
He groaned as he stooped to pick it up, anxiety churning in his guts. Only Gabriel sent him letters, or more accurately, Nathalie sent the letters on his behalf, and they all contained the same thing – do come home, do your duty, and marry a nice vampire girl.
He cracked the seal reluctantly, but the letter wasn’t from Gabriel or Nathalie. It was from Chloé, his childhood friend. A fellow vampire of aristocratic descent, Chloé could otherwise not be more different from himself. She enjoyed her position as a ranking member of the nobility, and performed her duties with only token protestations.
She was spoiled, wilful, mean, and delighted in messing with humans. Her favourite pastime was seducing human males, hypnotising them into submission, then partaking of their blood before dumping the unfortunate soul in some unlikely location, then waiting for the effects of her hypnosis to wear off. She thought their confused stumbling and head-scratching was hilarious, as they wondered where the beautiful woman from the previous evening had gone.
Adrien did not approve of her hobby, but they had been friends for years and she was only one of a few his age who understood the strain of their position, even if she revelled in it in a way he could not.
Dearest Adrien, the letter began. Life is so dull without you here. The helots are no fun, and the elders are such bores. We have fun together, don’t we, my darling? Do you remember?
Adrien winced at the reminder of that indiscretion. He and Chloé had been young and bored, and had partaken a bit too liberally from the sacramental carafe. The blood it contained was said to be that of a blessed human, mixed with a potent wine, and was only used for sacred ceremonies. He and Chloé then hid in her chambers and fooled around for the rest of the evening. Adrien considered the whole night a colossal mistake, but Chloé acted like it was a proposal of marriage.
No one ever found out about their misadventure, but many thought their acquaintanceship was most fortuitous. Audrey Bourgeois in particular pushed for a union between their families, claiming an alliance would make them the most powerful house in existence.
Adrien shook his head, and scrunched up the letter, declining to read the rest.
There was a thump, then the creak of a door opening down the hall. Marinette stumbled into the kitchen, squinting in the dim light, as she poured a glass of water.
‘Everything ok?’ Adrien asked, moving around her to dump the letter in the garbage bin.
She didn’t notice his furtive movements as she gulped.
‘I’m fine,’ she gasped, finally lowering the glass. ‘Just a bad dream.’
‘Oh, no. What was it about?’
He gave her shoulders a rub, easing the tension she carried. She curled into his hands, letting her head fall back with a satisfied hum.
‘I don’t know, something about a monster with too many teeth chasing me. It was one of those dreams where no matter where you hide, the monster always finds you, you know?’
‘No. I don’t dream.’
Marinette tipped her head back to look up at him. ‘You don’t?’
He shook his head. ‘Dreams are for humans.’
‘If you start in about that undeserving undead crap – ‘
She was cut off by his surprised chuckle.
‘What?’ she demanded.
‘Vampires aren’t undead. We’re very much alive. What you’re thinking of is a Hollywood construct; a very politically incorrect stereotype, I’ll have you know.’
Marinette looked equal parts annoyed and contrite. ‘Well how was I supposed to know that?’
‘We really need to sit down and have a serious talk one of these days, about what makes a vampire a vampire, and what is myth perpetuated by Hollywood clichés.’
She hummed an agreeing note, albeit sarcastically. ‘Yeah, let’s do that – another night. I’d like to go back to sleep for now. I have to be up at six.’
Seeing an opportunity, he took it. ‘Would you like me to accompany you? If you have another nightmare, I’ll be right there.’
Marinette raised an eyebrow. ‘To wake up to another creature with too many teeth who could eat me? That’s not exactly reassuring.’
Adrien frowned. ‘I know I said I like your sass, but really? Really?’
Trying to suppress a chuckle, she stood on tip toe to peck his cheek. ‘I’m sorry, that was thoughtless. I know you’d never try to eat me. Thanks for offering, but I’ll be all right. Good night, Adrien.’
He watched her go, his fingers trailing over his cheek. ‘Goodnight, Marinette.’
Feeling restless and discontent, he slouched back to the couch. He would have loved it if Marinette had accepted his offer, but she was headstrong and proud, so he wasn’t surprised by her refusal.
Her misconceptions were as amusing as they were insulting. His kind were not undead, and they did not disintegrate upon exposure to sunlight. They were not immortal, either, but did enjoy an unnaturally long life compared to a human. Gabriel looked like a mortal in his forties, but was actually closer to two hundred.
Vampires aged like humans did, up until their mid-twenties, when they reached their prime, then they stopped and remained like that for decades. Adrien had only just reached his early twenties, and would also cease to age soon. He tried not to think about it. The thought of leaving Marinette behind was too painful, and the thought of petitioning Gabriel for The Bite was unrealistic. Marinette would never consent to a life of darkness and blood. She was a creature of daylight and creation, almost a direct opposite to himself.
He heaved a sigh, and whiled away the hours pretending to sleep. If he imagined hard enough, it was just like dreaming.
I'm tired and my head hurts, so please excuse any typos.
More perspectives will be introduced soon, but no plot. I haven't gotten that far yet.
Café de Flore is a real place!
After another long day, Marinette headed home. Her back and shoulders ached, her head throbbed, her stomach rumbled, and it was only Tuesday. Releasing a long-suffering sigh, she rolled her shoulders back, and stretched.
She had been hunched over her desk all day, sketching, sewing, checking her emails, and talking on the phone. It was a typical day, but what bothered her was Monsieur XY constantly interrupting her, asking if she had designed his next costume yet, when she was going to make it, and if she would like to have dinner with him. He was exhausting, and his borderline inappropriate behaviour was wearing her patience thin.
Marinette stomped down the steps into the Metro, then waited impatiently for the train home. While she was shifting her weight from foot to foot, her phone rang. She ferreted through her handbag, pulling her phone from the very bottom, then swiped the screen without checking the caller ID.
‘Hey, girl,’ Alya’s voice answered.
‘Hey yourself. I feel like I haven’t seen you in ages. How have you been?’
‘I’m well. You?’
Marinette could have complained a great deal, but her woes were superficial and she doubted she had time to launch into a tirade about XY. Her train was due in a couple of minutes.
‘That’s good to hear,’ Alya replied. ‘Listen, there’s something I need to tell you, but I want to do it in person. Are you free to meet up this weekend?’
‘Sounds ominous. Let me check.’ Marinette wedged her phone between her shoulder and her ear, before rummaging through her bag once more. Pulling out a beaten-up work diary, she flipped through the pages. ‘You’re in luck. Looks like I’m free all weekend.’
‘Brilliant. Say, lunch at Café de Flore on Saturday?’
‘Sure. See you then.’
Alya hung up without reassuring Marinette that what she needed to discuss was not terrible. It was a tense train ride home.
She entered the apartment with an exhausted sigh. ‘It’s nice to be home.’
‘Hey there, working girl. Another long day?’ Adrien was on the couch, in track pants and a threadbare t-shirt, sucking straight from a blood bag.
‘Tell me you, at least, warmed that up first,’ Marinette groaned.
He blinked, then pulled the bag away to inspect it closely. ‘Yeah.’
His upward inflection did not inspire confidence. Supressing another sigh, Marinette kicked her shoes off, before collapsing on the lounge next to him. Adrien was a decent roommate, but he often forgot even the simplest things, such as heating up his snacks.
‘Blood cannot taste nice cold,’ she said, leaning back into the couch cushions.
‘I did warm it up,’ he replied, sounding sure.
‘In your hands doesn’t count.’
Closing her eyes, Marinette relaxed. She didn’t want to start a round of half-hearted bickering, so when Adrien stated he’d warmed the blood in a pot of water on the stove, she waved her hand limply, before letting it fall into her lap.
Her mind drifted into pleasant blankness, but she was roused by hands on her right calf. Opening her eyes, she saw Adrien sitting on the floor, her foot in his lap, as he massaged her leg.
‘Rough day?’ he asked, without looking up.
‘No, just tiring.’
He frowned at her stocking, before reaching up to grasp the hem just under her skirt. Marinette raised an eyebrow as he rolled the thigh-high down and tugged it off her foot, but didn’t voice an objection. He resumed his massage, working his way down until he was running his thumbs up the sole of her foot.
‘How did you get so good at that?’ she asked.
Marinette snorted, unsure if he was serious or not.
‘Did you have a nice day?’ she went on.
‘I slept through most of it. I don’t know what I’m going to do when fashion week begins. Being up during the day sucks. I’m trying to train myself, but I don’t think it’s working.’
‘What do you have to be up and around for?’
‘Fittings, mostly. I’m required to go into the studio, ‘cause funnily enough, people like to go home at night.’
‘Why don’t I just do them here after I get home from work?’
Adrien paused, his eyes widening.
Marinette snickered. ‘You didn’t even think of that, did you?’
Slowly, he shook his head. ‘Why haven’t we done this before? Wait, would it really be ok? I don’t want to put you out.’
‘It’s not putting me out. I’ll just say I'm working extra hours, or something. Besides, doesn’t your dad own this company? We can tell him I’ve offered to accommodate your inexplicable dislike of being out during daylight hours. I’m sure he’d be happy to compensate me under those circumstances.’
‘Well, I suppose we can try. Thank you, Marinette. I really appreciate this.’
‘No problem. Hey, how did a vampire lord become a fashion mogul in the first place?’
‘Quite by accident, really.’ Adrien laughed. ‘Some twenty odd years ago, my father was attending an event, posing as a human. Father may be a vampire lord, but he’s still a very wealthy man, so he’s often invited to society events, regardless of species.
‘Anyway, this really popular fashion critic was there, and he commented on how well-dressed Father was, and asked who his stylist was. Father said he dressed himself, thank you very much, which the critic completely misinterpreted. He thought Father designed his own clothes, and hailed him as an unacknowledged fashion genius. Then he proceeded to ask about Father’s label, and if that was how he had come into his wealth.
‘To maintain his human charade, Father went along with it, and launched a modest company he thought would die out after a couple of years. He said he never put much effort into it, but I suspect he actually enjoyed drawing and designing. But in an unforeseen turn of events, the brand took off, rising in popularity faster than anyone expected. Father had no choice but to keep it going, and now, it’s an international sensation.’
Marinette tilted her head. ‘Twenty years is a long time. How has he prevented people from figuring out he’s basically immortal?’
‘Well, he just never goes out much, and after Mother’s death, no one really questions it. In a few years, he’ll announce he’s passing the business down to me, or he’ll sell it, or palm it off to whomever will take it off his hands. Then he won’t have to worry about maintaining his cover anymore.’
‘Wow, your lives are so convoluted. Wouldn’t it be easier to just come out of the coffin, as it were?’
‘You mean expose our existence Charlaine Harris style? No, we’re too secretive, too steeped in tradition. The elders would never hear of it. Besides, can you imagine the panic? People would be hunting us down before we finished speaking.’
‘But you told me.’
‘You’re a special case. You’re my roommate and my friend. You also walked in on me when I wasn’t expecting.’
A blush crept up Marinette’s face. ‘It’s not like I did it on purpose,’ she muttered.
Adrien set her foot back in his lap, before lifting the other one. He pulled the stocking off, before massaging her calf, watching his hands as they worked.
‘I know that, but the rest of the community wouldn’t see it the same way.’
Unease settled in Marinette's gut. ‘Would they try to kill me for finding out?’
He looked up at her with wide eyes. ‘What? No. This isn’t the sixteenth century; we’re not so uncivilised as that. You would just be relocated and hypnotised into forgetting everything.’
Marinette pouted. ‘But I don’t want to forget. Where would they even relocate me to?’
Adrien shrugged. ‘Could be the other side of the city, could be the other side of the planet. I’m assured, however, that they take care of pretty much everything. They’ll just make you forget about me, and think that moving was your own idea.’
‘I don’t want to move, either.’
He smiled up at her. ‘I'm glad to hear it. I don’t want you to move either.’
‘Your massages feel too nice.’
His smile morphed into a frown. ‘Tell me that isn’t the only reason why we’re friends.’
‘The rent is reasonable, and it’s an easy commute to work.’
He hung his head with a despairing groan. ‘Why do you torment me like this?’
‘Because you make it too easy.’
Smirking at his pitiful whine, she ruffled his hair and extracted her legs so she could stand up.
‘I'm going to have a shower, then dinner, then bed. I have another early start tomorrow.’
‘You should complain to your boss.’ Adrien hoisted himself onto the lounge, then poked as his blood bag, still sitting on the coffee table, half full. He grimaced, withdrawing his hand.
‘Considering my boss is your dad, I figure I can just talk to you. You’ll talk to him on his workers’ behalf, right?’
‘I’ll talk to him on my behalf.’
Marinette gasped, laying a hand over her breast in exaggerated betrayal. With an affronted humph, she headed into the bathroom, snapping the door shut behind her.
I'm up to chapter ten, and there's still no real plot, just some stuff that happens.
It's all leading up to something, I'm sure... I just don't know what.
God, I hope this isn't one of those fics that doesn't go anywhere.
After Marinette had gone to bed, Adrien picked up his landline phone, and called Gabriel's estate. After two rings, Nathalie’s disinterested voice answered.
‘Good evening, Adrien.’
His breath caught in his throat, before he remembered that she had caller ID, and was not suddenly psychic.
‘Hello, Nathalie. How are you?’
‘I’m well, thank you.’
There was a lengthy pause as he waited for her to return the pleasantry, but he was only met with an awkward silence.
Taking a deep breath, Adrien asked, ‘is Father around?’
He hung his head. ‘It’s about work.’
‘Just a moment.’
There was a clatter as Nathalie put the receiver down, then a drawn-out silence. Adrien waited patiently, though his spirits were low.
He jumped at the sudden sound of someone picking up the receiver on the other end.
‘Adrien?’ Gabriel asked. ‘Why are you calling me on this machine? You know how I despise these modern inventions.’
‘Father, the telephone is almost as old as you,’ he replied, with forced patience. They’d had this conversation many times now.
‘I would still prefer you to send me a letter, rather than holler at me through this fangled device. Better yet, it would be preferable if you gave up this foolishness and came home. Haven’t you had enough fun in the outside world?’
Adrien pinched the bridge of his nose and collapsed onto the couch with a weary sigh. ‘No, Father, that would not be preferable at all.’
Gabriel released a tired sigh of his own. ‘Why are you calling, Adrien? I’m a busy man, and I don’t have time for idle conversation.’
You were the one who derailed the discussion in the first place, Adrien thought irritably.
‘I wanted to talk about my fittings for fashion week,’ he said instead.
‘What about them?’ Gabriel huffed.
‘I was wondering if I could have them done after the usual closing hours so I won’t have to go out during the day.’
There was a momentary pause where Adrien could almost see the exasperation on Gabriel's face.
‘How long have you been living among the daylight folk, Son? You know that they dislike working into the night. They would complain if I made them stay merely to accommodate you.’
‘You don’t have to make anyone do anything. I’ve already spoken to one of the designers, and they volunteered to come to my place after finishing for the day. They said the usual after-hours rate is acceptable, too.’
Gabriel hummed disapprovingly. ‘A human at your residence makes me uncomfortable. Why can’t this individual do your fittings in the studio?’
‘Well, it’s not exactly a matter of “can’t,” you see,’ he stammered. ‘It’s more for convenience. I don’t have to go out for anything else that day, and the designer says my place is on their way, so they offered to drop by after they were done. It’ll save me a trip, and the designer can leave the office with everyone else. We can keep this arrangement totally discreet that way.’
Adrien’s sudden idea of secrecy would appeal to Gabriel. As someone who had lived most of his life in the shadows, any effort at caution held immediate approval.
‘Are you certain this person is trustworthy?’ he finally asked.
‘Only fools deal in absolutes, Son.’
‘Fine. Yes, I’m confident they’re trustworthy. So, can we do this or not?’
‘Very well, but I want an accurate accounting of their time, from when they arrive, to when they depart, and how much work they do. I can’t have them claiming extra wages for incomplete practices. I also require their name, qualifications, and position within my company.’
‘Yes, Father. I’ll report to Nathalie after it’s done.’
Gabriel hung up without further pleasantries.
Adrien scowled at his phone, then placed it back in the cradle. He had hoped to keep Marinette’s name out of his dealings with his father, but it seemed that would be unavoidable this time. His only saving grace was that he had not mentioned a name yet, or a specific date for the fittings, so no one would be watching her until after the job was done.
Maybe I can convince her to stay with her folks for a week, he mused.
It would be typical of Gabriel to have Marinette watched closely until she was deemed non-threatening. Fortunately, it only took him a few days to make up his mind about someone, after which, Marinette would be able to return home without fear of recriminations.
Still, Adrien didn’t want to worry her unnecessarily. He thought of simply not telling her about the likelihood of being watched, but the dishonesty didn’t feel right. He would just have to phrase it in a way so it wouldn’t scare her.
As strong as Marinette was, she was frightened by the idea of being relocated, or hypnotised into forgetting, which was a very real possibility, if Gabriel decided she posed a threat.
Adrien didn’t want her to forget either. For the first time in his life, he had a friend who liked him for himself, who valued his presence, and brought love and light into his bleak life. He loved her, and he would not let her go willingly because Gabriel said so.
Suddenly feeling anxious and restless, he stood up and began to pace the small loungeroom. He crossed the space in four long strides, before spinning on his heel, and walking back like a caged panther.
The confined space wasn’t enough to expel his nervous energy, so Adrien grabbed his wallet, keys, and shoes, and stuffed them into a bag with a water bottle and a towel. There was a twenty-four-hour gym he irregularly visited nearby, which would provide the perfect means to work off his edginess.
Before he headed out the door, Adrien peeked into Marinette's room. She was sound asleep, covered up to her nose by a thick blanket, her hair spread in a dishevelled mane over her pillow. Adrien smiled fondly, then quietly closed the door.
The air outside was brisk and refreshing. Adrien inhaled deeply before setting off at a jog, his bag bouncing merrily over his shoulder. It was quiet; he was the only pedestrian while cars were few and far between. Still, he maintained his human pace, though he had the impulse to leap to the rooftops and travel upon the thieves’ highway. It was a silly flight of fancy as there may have been witnesses or security cameras hidden deep in the shadows. Still, Adrien couldn’t help but imagine himself racing over the tiles with the wind in his hair, and boundless freedom around him.
While he was fantasising, the lights of the gym came into view. Still riding his imaginary high, Adrien let himself inside. The harsh fluorescent lights were almost blinding after the dim streets, making him squint until his eyes adjusted. Blinking rapidly, he approached the front desk, and the heavily muscled man behind it.
Once he had paid his admittance, Adrien wondered around to the treadmills. He began at an easy walk, then quickly escalated into a run. He evened out his breathing and had fallen into a rhythm when he noticed the only other customer struggling with the weights. Seeing the potential for disaster, Adrien stepped off the treadmill, and hurried toward the floundering man.
He grabbed the barbell just before it crushed the other man’s throat, and set it back in the rack so he could sit up.
‘Thanks,’ he huffed. ‘Where are the staff when you need ‘em, right?’
Adrien cocked his head. ‘Nino?’
Nino swivelled around, his eyes wide. ‘Adrien? Man, I’m glad to see you.’
He stood up to wrap Adrien in a sweaty hug. Adrien returned the embrace, thumping Nino’s back enthusiastically.
‘Thanks, Dude. I think you just saved my life,’ Nino said.
‘What are you doing here?’ Adrien asked as he drew back. ‘Shouldn’t you be with your fiancé?’
Nino blushed, and rubbed the back of his head. ‘Well, she’s not exactly my fiancé yet.’
‘You were supposed to ask her last month,’ he exclaimed.
‘I chickened out. Alya is the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, and well, I guess I wanted to be the kind of man who could carry my bride over the threshold. Is it really so bad if I want to literally sweep her off her feet?’
Adrien shook his head in disbelief. ‘No, but it is super cheesy. But if I could make a suggestion?’
‘Sure, Dude. What is it?’
‘Don’t try to lift more than you can handle, especially when you haven’t been at it for very long. Starting out at extremely heavy weights isn’t going to build muscle faster. You’re just more likely to hurt yourself.’
Nino pouted. ‘Sounds fake, but ok.’
Suppressing an amused sigh, Adrien replaced the weights with much smaller ones. ‘Ok, try this. I’ll spot you.’
Nino lay back down, and resumed lifting. ‘Ok, yeah, this is much more manageable. I feel like if any of the other gym junkies were here, though, they’d laugh at me.’
‘If they do, they obviously don’t care about your health and safety. Ignore them.’
Once Nino’s arms began trembling, they switched positions after Adrien put the much heavier weights back on.
‘Must be nice, all that vampiric strength,’ Nino mused.
‘Like any power, it has its pros and cons. Your family still in the helot business?’
‘Yeah, I don’t know why though. They’re too old now to petition for the Bite.’
‘The money’s still good. You and your siblings should be set up for life once you receive your inheritance.’
‘Yeah, I guess so. I just don’t see why they’d still want to. My mum is squeamish about blood and gore, and she loves sunflowers and gardening. It just doesn’t make sense.’
Adrien hummed thoughtfully. ‘Your family has served the vampire community for generations. It’s probably all your family knows.’
‘I guess so. I do have a question for you, though.’
Peering up at him, Adrien blinked. ‘What?’
‘Why are they called helots if they get paid? I thought the word meant slave.’
‘Well, I guess some vampire back in antiquity thought the word sounded good. It’s actually Spartan in origin, and back then, “slave” was probably a pretty accurate term. But in the nineteenth century, the helots unionised and petitioned for better working conditions and fair pay. So, now we have a servant class which is possibly wealthier than many humans.’
Nino shook his head. ‘That’s insane.’
Adrien shrugged. ‘Vampires have an extremely limited understanding of money. I think it carried over from their advanced age. They have no idea what constitutes a lot, or what it means to have very little.’
‘You vampires are all just spoiled rich kids, aren’t you?’
Raising an eyebrow, Adrien asked, ‘and you’re not? I know your family’s loaded.’
Nino just rolled his eyes and smiled, declining to answer.
‘How’s the DJ thing going? You fitting that in with your time working at the blood bank?’
Nino held out a hand and tipped it from side to side. ‘It’s ok. I mean, it’s fun and all, but I’m having a hard time getting my name out there. The club I work at, and the blood bank only pay minimum wage, though. As long as I can hold both jobs, I can get by.’
‘Didn’t your parents give you an allowance?’
‘I don’t want to depend on them, or their employers. I'm an adult; I want to make my own way in the world.’
‘That’s very mature of you.’
Adrien finished his set, then they both headed back toward the treadmills. Nino kept to a light jog, while Adrien ran.
‘So, when are you going to propose to Alya?’ Adrien asked.
Nino almost tripped. ‘I’m waiting for the perfect moment.’
‘Opportunities like that don’t just happen. You’re going to have to set up your “perfect moment” over dinner or something. Take her somewhere nice, have a candlelit meal, and propose over dessert. I think that sounds romantic.’
Looking pensive, Nino murmured, ‘yeah, maybe.’
‘Does she know this is coming?’
‘I don’t think so. Neither one of us have really talked about it much before, but she’s mentioned she’d like to get married one day. So, I think it’ll be nice to surprise her.’
Adrien felt a dopey smile stretch across his face. ‘I’m happy for you, Man.’
Nino grinned back. ‘Thanks, Dude.’
They finished their session with sit-ups and push-ups, then called it a night. Finally feeling worn out, Adrien walked home, his mind drifting into a pleasant blankness.
Marinette was still asleep when he arrived, though now she was on her belly, with one leg dangling over the side of her bed. Adrien carefully tucked it back in for her, before leaving her be.
Adrien spent the rest of the night sitting at the kitchen counter, composing a piano solo he had privately dedicated to Marinette, and fantasising about what it would be like to be married to her.
Nino, you lucky bastard, he thought wistfully.
It has been so long since I wrote chapter three, that I'd forgotten what it was I had originally planned for Alya to tell Mari.
So, I had to think of something new, quick! I still can't recall the original reason Alya wanted to meet :P
Anyway, I hope this satisfies!
New perspectives, and a plot, has begun to develop too, so stay tuned!
The rest of Marinette’s week passed slowly. By day, she drew, measured, cut, sewed, talked on the phone, answered emails, and deflected XY’s increasingly persistent advances. After she got home, she had yet more work to do, which was slowed down considerably by Adrien’s extreme ticklishness, so by the time she was finished, she was exhausted.
‘It’s almost the weekend,’ Adrien consoled her as she put her supplies away.
‘Thank Christ for that.’
‘I take it you’re going to relax all weekend?’ he asked, as he stretched his arms above his head.
Marinette groaned. ‘I’d like to, but I promised a friend we’d catch up. Hopefully it won’t take more than a couple of hours.’
Adrien rubbed her shoulders with a commiserating hum. ‘My poor bestie has the soul of a hermit, but the social life of an upper-class heiress. How will you ever manage?’
‘By gritting my teeth and dealing with it. Seriously, Alya better make this time worth it.’
‘Alya?’ Adrien asked.
‘Yeah, Alya Césaire. She’s been my best friend since we were teenagers. She’s a freelance reporter and has been overseas covering a humanitarian crisis for the last two weeks.’
‘She wouldn’t be the same Alya who’s dating Nino Lahiffe, would she?’ Adrien drawled.
Startled, Marinette turned to him. ‘You know Nino?’
‘Of course. His family has been in the service of mine for generations.’
Marinette blinked, dumbfounded. ‘I had no idea. So, he knows all about you, then?’
‘Yup. Though he wants to break away from that and strike out on his own.’
Biting her lip against a snort, Marinette nodded. ‘That sounds like him. How long have you known him?’
Adrien tipped his head back, squinting as he thought. ‘About five years, give or take. We ran into each other at one of Father’s functions, where he and his family were working. We bonded over how dumb we thought our parents were, and being dragged to that event against our wills. We thought we were so cool.’
Marinette snickered into her hand. ‘So edgy.’
‘We totally were. How did you meet him?’
She waved her hand in a casual gesture. ‘School. I’ve known Nino since primary school, but we didn’t really talk much until Alya came along. She was like the glue in our little clique.’
Adrien sighed. ‘I wish I could’ve gone to school. It sounds fun.’
Marinette smirked, her hands on her hips. ‘I don’t think school would have been an ideal place for you. It’s held during the day, you know.’
Spluttering indignantly, he replied, ‘I know that. But vampires don’t all go to school together like you do. It’d be too convenient for our enemies, to find all of the young ones together in one place. An entire generation could be taken out in one fell swoop.’
‘You have enemies?’
He shrugged. ‘Not me personally, but there are monster hunters out there who would love to decimate our population. So, no, we can’t go to school. I, like all my people, was home-schooled.’
‘Sounds lonely.’ It was saddening to think of Little Adrien, all alone with no one to play with, in a draughty old castle in the countryside. ‘How did you make friends?’
‘Mostly through functions held by the social elite. These were held irregularly to avoid becoming predictable, and thus avoiding the hunters. Unfortunately, they also made it hard to meet new people, and make friends. Not that it really made a difference. There’re only two other vampires about my age, and I rarely get to see them.’
Intrigued, Marinette asked, ‘who are they?’
Adrien flopped onto the couch and spread out gracelessly. Marinette sat in the opposite corner, and stretched her legs out over the top of his.
‘I’m close friends with a girl named Chloé. She’s spoiled and mean, but I think she cares about me in her own way. Her personal helot, Sabrina, has come from a long line of people who’ve served her family, like Nino has with us. The other vampire is Nathaniel, but he’s very reclusive; always has been, even before monster hunters wiped out half his family.’
Marinette gasped. ‘How awful.’
‘It was a tragedy, and a devastating loss to all of us as a whole. Our population is already so small, we really couldn’t afford to lose them. They were some of our greatest artists, too.’
Tipping her head, Marinette narrowed her eyes as she thought about what he’d said. ‘Why do you call them monster hunters? You don’t actually think of yourself as a monster, do you?’
‘No, I don’t think of my people so negatively. We’re adapting with the times, and taking only the blood of willing donors now. But I can see why some people would think that of us. Drinking blood is pretty grisly. But they aren’t called vampire hunters because they don’t just hunt vampires.’
Marinette stilled, a sudden chill creeping up her spine. ‘You mean…’
She trailed off, leaving her sentence unfinished.
Adrien nodded. ‘Yeah, there are more than just vampires out there.’
‘Like what?’ she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
‘Oh, geez, what isn’t there? There are werewolves, fairies, nagas, witches, you name it. Some of them even pass as human and live a fairly mundane life. There are good creatures, nasty ones, and some who’re fairly indifferent to the goings on of human activity. Unfortunately, monster hunters don’t discriminate, and will actively hunt even the most benign of us. They’re sort of like human supremacists.’
‘So, if it’s not human, they’ll destroy it?’ Marinette was appalled, but unsurprised.
‘Pretty much. Mercifully, hunters are as rare as the monsters themselves, thanks to the widespread disbelief in our existence. You’d have a pretty hard time convincing your average human vampires exist, and not sound like a crazy person.’
Marinette drew her feet up, and rested her chin on her knees. ‘Have you met other creatures?’
‘Other than vampires? Not personally. We all tend to keep to our own. You’ve probably met a whole bunch of them, and never even realised.’
‘That’s a surreal thought,’ she replied, feeling a little dizzy.
‘But it makes the world a slightly more wonderous place, does it not?’
She couldn’t disagree with that.
Saturday dawned bright and warm. Marinette groaned her displeasure, and rolled out of bed.
Alya had texted her the previous evening with a reminder of their lunch date. While their meeting wasn’t for another few hours, Marinette knew from experience that if she didn’t get up immediately, she never would.
As she ambled down the hallway, she noticed Adrien’s bedroom door was ajar. Peeking inside, she saw him curled up on his side, the blanket held securely under his chin, as he breathed deeply. Marinette smiled, then closed the door, shutting out any errant ray of sunshine.
Opening the living room curtains, she then headed into the kitchen. Her breakfast was simple, but it would keep her sated until she met with Alya, and after her first cup of coffee she began to feel human again. She then whiled away the next couple of hours answering emails she couldn’t get to on Friday.
After she showered, her wardrobe gave her some difficulties, before she finally settled on a floral skirt with a tissue-drop hem, and a plain white fitted t-shirt. A wide belt and leather sandals completed the look, then she put her hair up in a messy bun secured with a decorative wooden pin.
Grabbing her handbag, she left quietly, and locked the door behind her.
She met Alya at Café de Flore, right on time. Alya waved from a table outside, grinning manically, until Marinette deposited her handbag on the table and sat down.
‘Hey, Girl,’ Alya greeted her, leaning over to kiss her cheeks.
Marinette returned the gesture fondly. ‘Hey yourself. Have you ordered yet?’
‘Of course. Got you something too.’
‘You didn’t have to do that.’
Alya waved her off. ‘Nonsense. I asked you out, so it’s only proper that I pay for our date. Besides, there’s something I have to tell you, and it cannot wait.’
Marinette took in Alya’s excited bouncing and barely suppressed glee.
‘What is it?’
‘I'm pregnant,’ she squealed before Marinette had even finished.
People turned to look at them, with various degrees of curiosity and annoyance on their faces.
‘Felicitations, Mademoiselle,’ said the waiter as he brought their coffees, ‘but please keep your celebrations to an appropriate volume.’
‘Sorry,’ Alya replied through a contrite grin. All feelings of remorse, however, vanished the moment his back was turned. Alya pumped both fists, her lips pressed together, as another squeal built up like a kettle coming to the boil.
‘Oh my god, Alya,’ Marinette whisper-screamed. ‘Are you really?’
Alya nodded vigorously. ‘Uh-huh. I really am. I saw the doctor and everything.’
Marinette could feel her own tea-kettle scream building up. ‘How far along are you?’
‘Not far. Only about four weeks, but the doctor confirmed it yesterday. I’d only had suspicions until then.’
‘This is so exciting. Have you told Nino yet?’
Alya’s smile slipped. ‘Not yet. Actually, you’re the first person I’ve told.’
Marinette was honoured to be the first to receive the news, but she also felt Nino had a right to know before anyone else. ‘When are you going to tell him? You are going to, right?’
‘Of course,’ Alya exclaimed. ‘He’s the father, and I know he’ll be happy.’
‘He’s been working so hard lately, and we’re barely making ends meet. My cheque hasn’t come through from my last job yet, so things are a little tight. Nino worries about things like that.’
‘You’re worried he’ll add unnecessary stress to himself in anticipation of a new family member,’ Marinette summed up.
‘Something like that,’ Alya replied through a wavering smile.
Marinette took a sip of her coffee before it cooled. ‘Have you considered going to Nino’s parents? I know he doesn’t like asking them for money, but I bet they’d love to help support their new grandchild. I’m sure Nino could set his pride aside for that.’
‘I’ll ask, but I’m still not sure how I’m going to tell him he’s going to be a father. I mean, you can’t just drop a bombshell like that out of the blue.’
‘Weren’t you two trying for a baby before you left for that last job? It can’t be that much of a surprise.’
Alya pursed her lips. ‘We weren't actively trying, per se. More like enjoying our time together without the usual precautions.’
Marinette held her hands out. ‘Ok, I'm going to stop you right there. I don’t need all the details.’
Alya’s grin turned wicked. ‘Are you sure? I know your love life has been a little dry for a while now.’
‘Maybe I could set you up with someone?’
‘I don’t need you to manage my romantic life, thank you very much,’ Marinette groused.
Alya sipped from her own cup, one eyebrow raised.
‘I'm not as hard up as you think I am,’ Marinette went on, determined to defend herself. ‘I could get a date any time I want.’
‘That creep XY hitting on you at work doesn’t count.’
Marinette folded her hands in her lap and frowned, feeling huffy that Alya had caught on to her loophole so quickly.
Alya laughed at her. ‘Well, if you wanted to just scratch an itch, he’d be an option. But I know you want a real relationship with someone.’
‘Also, I don’t want XY to see me naked. It’d feel like giving him some kind of advantage over me.’
‘What about this mysterious roommate of yours?’
Marinette blinked. She had later told Alya about her troubles after her old landlord had decided to sell, and when she’d eventually come to stay with a work colleague, but had never said anything more. Marinette wasn’t trying to keep secrets, but she wasn’t sure how much Adrien wanted other people to know; not just because of what he was, but who he was as well. He was a famous model, and if news got out about him having a female roommate, the tabloids would have a field day. Should word get back to his father, they would both be in severe trouble.
‘Adrien and I are just friends,’ she explained easily. ‘There’s nothing like that between us.’
Alya uttered a low sound of disappointment. ‘That’s too bad. You don’t talk about him much. Is there something I should know, even if you two aren’t dating?’
Waving her hands, Marinette shook her head. ‘No, no, there’s nothing to worry about. His dad is just super strict and controlling, so Adrien wants to avoid any detection at all costs.’
Alya frowned. ‘What is he, a kid?’
‘No, but I don’t think his dad is really ready to accept that he’s all grown up and can make his own choices. He keeps asking Adrien to come home.’
‘Oh, so he’s like your mum.’
Marinette winced. ‘I guess.’
Alya took another sip, frowned at her cup, then drained it. ‘I don’t think I like caffeine-free coffee.’
Marinette emptied her own cup. ‘I love me my heavily chocolated coffee.’
‘No. You did this to yourself.’
‘Actually, Nino did this to me.’
Marinette cocked an eyebrow. ‘It takes two to tango. But there’s no reason you can’t convince him to make it up to you.’
Alya pondered that for a moment. ‘He’s going to give me foot rubs for the next five years.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ Marinette chuckled. ‘So, how are you going to tell him?’
‘I think the best way would be to butter him up first. I’ll cook all his favourite things, play that musician he’s taken a liking to, maybe do that thing he likes.’
Marinette snapped her fingers in Alya’s face after she trailed off, undoubtedly lost in some lewd fantasy.
Alya came back to the present with a start. ‘Yeah, butter him up really good, then just tell him.’
‘Sounds like a plan,’ Marinette agreed.
They chatted idly about work and mutual acquaintances after that, before parting ways. Marinette rode the metro back, a warm happiness coming over her for Alya’s good fortune.
I’m going to be an aunt, she thought giddily.
Arriving back at the apartment, she saw that the heavy curtains had been drawn, plunging the living room into darkness. Closing the front door, she turned the lock with a click, and peered into the gloom.
‘Adrien?’ she called softly.
There was an unintelligible moan from the couch.
Hurrying over, she identified the thatch of hair sticking out from under a thick blanket.
‘What are you doing up?’ she asked as she ran her fingers through the blond mess.
Instead of answering, a corner of the blanket flipped over to reveal his face. Adrien peered at her from within his cocoon, before his hand shot out to grab her wrist. He tugged her down and wrapped both arms around her, enveloping her with the blanket.
‘You look like spring, and smell like sunshine,’ he mumbled into her hair.
‘What I am is painfully uncomfortable. Would you let me go, please?’
He whined like a petulant child. ‘Dun wanna.’
He released her with a despondent sigh, before curling into a tight ball under the covers. Marinette shook her head at him, patted the uniform lump consolingly, then went to change into track pants and an old t-shirt. When she came back, the lump had shifted to the other end of the couch, where it emitted a low hum.
Feeling cheeky, Marinette lay over the top of it, her arms spread wide as she looked up at the ceiling. ‘Oh, what an uncomfortable pillow this is.’
Adrien wiggled around under her, almost sending her to the floor, as she tried to smother her laughter. He managed to wriggle onto his back, then wrapped his arms around her once more.
‘Gotcha,’ he stated satisfactorily, then he promptly fell back to sleep, Marinette still clutched securely to his chest.
‘You have got to be kidding me,’ she grumbled.
When she was sure he was in a deep sleep, she extracted herself carefully before filling the place she had vacated with a throw pillow. Adrien squeezed it and nuzzled the corner before settling down again. Marinette huffed a sigh, then went to make herself something to eat. Truly, her roommate was the greatest mystery in her otherwise normal life.
Alya paced in the bathroom, shaking her hands out and building her nerves up before confronting Nino. While he was in the kitchen helping to prepare dinner, Alya had excused herself to the bathroom before she screamed in his ear.
After her conversation with Marinette, Alya desperately wanted to tell him her good news. She knew he would be thrilled, but she wanted the moment to be perfect, so she had suggested they indulge in a romantic night in. He’d agreed, so they put on their favourite music, lit some candles, set the table, and roasted some vegetables. All the while, Alya had been vibrating with nervous energy.
Bracing her hands on the basin, she glared at the mirror. Her reflection looked ashen and sweaty, a fine tremor running throughout her body. Squeezing her eyes shut, Alya brought both hands to her cheeks with a slap.
‘Get a grip, woman. You can do this.’
With a final, firm nod at her reflection, Alya strode from the bathroom, and into the bedroom. She changed into a nice dress, and put her hair up, but decided to forgo the shoes.
Re-joining Nino in the kitchen, she wrapped her arms around his waist as he plated up the salmon.
He smiled over his shoulder. ‘This was a great idea. Why don’t you grab the wine, and take a seat? I’ll finish up here.’
She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, then turned to the fridge. She was about to sit down when he pulled her chair out with a courtly bow.
‘Dork,’ she murmured fondly, as she sat.
Nino darted back for their plates, then rushed toward the bedroom. He came back a moment later, looking jittery and ill.
Alya raised an eyebrow. ‘Are you ok?’
‘Fine,’ he replied, his voice pitching alarmingly.
As she thought about what she was going to say, she picked up her fork and ate. She dismissed each idea as it came, then looked longingly at her glass of wine. Had she not been pregnant, she would have swigged half the glass for a shot of liquid courage already. Unfortunately, that was not an option this time. She picked up her water instead.
Nino fumbled his cutlery, sending a spray of silverware, potato, and cauliflower to the floor. Babbling an apology, he ducked out of sight to retrieve his fork and clean up the mess with a napkin. When he reappeared, his complexion was ruddy, and sweat beaded his temples.
‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ Alya asked again.
His answering grin was too wide. ‘Yeah, yeah, peachy keen. Just, you know, butter fingers.’
Alya’s stomach plummeted. He knows. He knows already, and he’s not happy.
Certainty settled like a leaden weight deep in her gut. Her nervous excitement morphed into undiluted despair. She knew his mannerisms; his unspoken language that came from years of intimate living. That was the smile he wore when he pretended he was happy for her. He was only that clumsy when he knew he was about to be confronted by something he knew he wouldn’t like, and dreaded dealing with.
Alya’s elation popped like a soap bubble, leaving only a churning queasiness. Unable to stay, she shot out of her chair, grabbed her handbag, and ran out of the apartment.
Blinking away tears, Alya drove recklessly across town, her phone in her lap as she checked the address Marinette had given her.
It was a black mark on her character that she hadn’t known when Marinette’s previous landlord had sold, and she needed to move out. It further incriminated her when she hadn’t been there to help Marinette move. She hadn’t known or done anything to help her best and oldest friend, but she knew that, despite it all, Marinette would still be there for her.
She pulled up in front of the modest apartment block, and all but fell out of the car. Scrambling to stay upright, she snatched her bag from the passenger seat, slammed the door shut, and pressed the lock pad. The car chirped merrily as she sprinted up the steps, and barrelled inside just as another couple was leaving.
Checking her phone again, and ignoring the incoming calls and texts, Alya found Marinette's apartment on the top floor. She thumped at the door desperately as the tiles chilled her bare feet.
A blond man she didn’t recognise answered. ‘Yes?’
‘Would this be Marinette's place?’
‘It is. How -?’
She barged by him without waiting for him to finish, or explaining herself.
Marinette got up from the couch, brow furrowed as she looked over. With a wail, Alya launched herself into her arms, then collapsed into a sobbing heap in her lap when Alya’s momentum sent them both down to the couch.
She felt Marinette stroke her hair, but couldn’t look up or speak.
‘Alya, what happened?’
She shook her head, smearing Marinette’s lap with tears. Heaving great sobs, she lay there, mourning what should have been the happiest day of her life.
‘Honey, I need you to talk to me,’ Marinette encouraged her.
‘I'm going to call Nino,’ stated the blond quietly. The sound of his footfalls disappeared down the hall, followed shortly by the click of a door closing.
Only then did Alya sit up, her head hanging low, and tears still dripping off her chin. In a stilted whisper, she told Marinette about what happened, then folded over to lay back in Marinette's lap.
‘Maybe it wasn’t like that,’ Marinette tried. ‘Could it be you misinterpreted him?’
‘I know him. I know all his quirks and tells. He knew something was coming, and it made him sick. How could I possibly misinterpret that?’
Stammering, she replied, ‘I don’t know. But how could he know you’re pregnant? I didn’t tell him.’
Alya snorted. ‘He probably noticed when I missed my last period.’
Alya’s cycle was notoriously vicious, unless she was heavily medicated. It would have been noteworthy to even the most oblivious male when she wasn’t writhing in pain, or sleeping off a dose of strong painkillers, and Nino wasn’t an idiot. He had lived with her for long enough to become familiar with her routines, just as she was with his.
‘This must be karma,’ she muttered.
‘Karma, for not being here when you needed me,’ Alya explained.
Marinette sighed and petted her hair. ‘That’s just silly. You were working in Marseille when everything went down. I couldn’t ask you to come all that way.’
‘It’s less than a day’s travel,’ Alya argued. ‘I could have at least called you.’
‘You didn’t know. I didn’t tell you, and you’re not psychic. Stop beating yourself up over it.’
Alya turned her head to look up at her with doleful eyes. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
Marinette smiled gently back at her. ‘I didn’t want you to worry. Besides, Adrien came through for me before things got dire. I was never in any real danger.’
Heaving a deep sigh, Alya spun around to sit up. As she repositioned herself, her knee collided painfully with the coffee table, knocking over the large mug sitting there. Dark, viscous liquid pooled across the tabletop, giving off an unmistakable odour.
Alya stared at the spreading liquid, her eyes wide and her stomach turning. Slowly, she turned to look at Marinette who had gone pale, with her eyes darting from the spill to the kitchen.
‘I should, um, clean that up,’ she stammered, pointing toward the kitchen.
‘Marinette, is that blood?’
‘What? No, it’s beetroot soup. See, it’s in a soup mug and everything. Not blood, that’s just weird. You’re weird, Alya, and gross. Why would we even have blood in a cup?’
Before Alya could reply, she shot from her seat and went to the kitchen and grabbed a roll of paper towels. She had just put a handful to use when Adrien re-entered the room.
‘So, I just spoke with Nino, and, what’s going on?’
He stood in the doorway, watching with wide eyes as Marinette straightened up, bloody paper towels in hand. Alya remained on the couch, her head swivelling between each of them as if she were at a tennis tournament.
‘Oh, we had a little spill. I’m just cleaning up your beetroot soup,’ Marinette explained pointedly.
Alya surged up, her panic mounting. ‘You’re not fooling anyone, Marinette. That’s blood. Why is there blood in a cup? What’s going on here?’
Breathing hard, she stared at each of them, silently begging them for a rational explanation.
Adrien sighed. ‘I'm a vampire.’
Alya stared at him in bemusement. ‘I’m sorry; a what?’
‘I'm a vampire,’ he repeated. ‘I come from a long line of vampires. While we aren’t the night-time predators popular media makes us out to be, we still drink the blood of humans to live. Though these days, it comes from places like blood banks, like the one Nino works at.’
‘You know Nino?’ Alya suddenly felt weak.
‘Yeah, he’s been my inside man for years now.’
‘So, he knows?’
Adrien nodded. ‘His family has worked for my family for decades. It’s become, what you might call, a symbiotic relationship.’
Alya shook her head, slowly at first, but quickly becoming vigorous. ‘You’re lying. Vampires don’t exist; how dumb do you think I am? Now give me a sensible explanation, right now.’
‘Alya,’ Marinette interrupted quietly, ‘it’s true.’
Taking a step back, Alya kept shaking her head. ‘I don’t believe you.’
Adrien approached from behind, leaned around Alya and picked up the mug. Bringing it to his lips, he took a sip, and pulled a face. Alya almost gagged.
‘It’s gone cold.’
Marinette crossed her arms. ‘It has been sitting there this whole time. What little is left will be undrinkable now, anyway. Go wash it out.’
Adrien stared mournfully at the mug, then went to do as he was told. The second his back was turned, Alya spun on Marinette.
‘Whose blood was that?’
She shrugged, and uttered an I don’t know hum.
Her panic rising, Alya grabbed her shoulders. ‘He’s never had your blood, has he?’
Marinette cocked an eyebrow. ‘Do I look bitten to you?’
Alya scanned her neck, then all the visible patches of skin, but there was no evidence of teeth marks.
‘Maybe he bit you somewhere I can’t see. Aren’t vampires supposed to be, like, highly sexual beings or something?’
‘Hey,’ Adrien protested from the kitchen.
Marinette removed Alya’s hands from her shoulders, and held them, meeting Alya’s gaze steadily. ‘Adrien has never, and never would bite me. He only drinks the blood of donors that Nino gives him from the blood bank. I take it you believe us now, then.’
‘Kind of hard to deny it when he drinks it in front of me.’ She shuddered as she recalled his stained teeth when he spoke. ‘How long have you known?’
Marinette snorted a laugh. ‘I only found out a couple months after I moved in. I walked in on him while he was eating at two in the morning. It was an eye-opener, that’s for sure.’
Alya was aghast. ‘How can you be so blasé about this?’
‘Probably because he’s a massive dork.’
‘Hey,’ Adrien called again, feigned hurt lacing his tone.
‘He’s really vain, too,’ Marinette went on loudly. ‘Since discovering that silver no longer backs mirrors, he can’t stop looking at himself and preening.’
Alya watched the two of them banter with wide eyes. It astounded her that her oldest and dearest friend was exchanging good-natured insults with a monster who shouldn’t exist. A monster who should have devoured her at the first opportunity.
‘Who are you people?’ she muttered helplessly.
They turned to her with matching confused smiles. Then, a sudden banging on the door diverted their attention. Adrien went to answer it, while Marinette resumed her seat on the couch.
Nino ran inside, looking frantic. ‘Alya, what’s wrong? You just ran out, and I don’t know what I did. Was it something I did? Please talk to me when something’s upsetting you. I can’t fix it if I don’t know what’s wrong.’
Alya’s jaw worked soundlessly for a moment, then she jabbed a finger at Adrien. ‘Your friend is a vampire.’
Nino looked nonplussed. ‘Yeah, has been his whole life. When did you find out? Wait, is that why you’re upset? Gotta say, I’m a little disappointed. I didn’t take you for a racist, Al.’
‘What? No. That’s not it, and I’m not racist.’
‘Alya,’ Marinette intervened, ‘just get to the point.’
While she stood there feeling awkward, Marinette got up and dragged Adrien from the room, leaving her alone with Nino. She gulped and wrung her hands as she rallied her thoughts.
‘We’ve known each other for a long time,’ she began. ‘In the years since I met you, and lived with you, I’ve come to know everything about you. Your likes and dislikes, habits and behaviours, even your silent language. Tonight, your body language and other tells showed me that you were unhappy about the news.’
Her gaze fell to the floor, unable to look at him as she awaited his confirmation.
‘What news? I was only thinking about what I wanted to ask you.’
Alya blinked, and raised her head. ‘You wanted to ask me something?’
Wringing his hands, Nino shrugged. ‘Yeah, I was a little nervous though. I wasn’t sure how you were going to react. Then you just ran away.’
He trailed off, looking despondent.
‘So, you weren’t unhappy about the news, even though it may add to our financial strain?’ she asked.
‘I don’t even know what your news is. But then you ran away when I was about to ask you something, so I thought you’d rejected me.’
‘I would never reject you,’ she told him vehemently. ‘What were you going to ask, anyway?’
He tilted his head. ‘What was your news?’
An expectant silence descended.
‘I’m pregnant,’ she cried after a long moment.
In the same instant, Nino knelt in front of her exclaiming, ‘please marry me?’
He held up a box with a glittering silver ring, his jaw slack. ‘You’re pregnant?’
‘You want to marry me?’
Suddenly, Alya felt like the world’s biggest fool. Nino’s sweating and clumsiness had been because of nervous anticipation, not because he was about to spurn her and their unborn child.
‘I’m such an idiot,’ she moaned.
Nino stood, and gathered her up in a trembling embrace. ‘Yeah, you are. You’ve always had a habit of jumping to conclusions.’
‘Do you still want me, despite all of that?’
‘Of course. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be you. Normally, your instincts serve you well.’
‘Just not this time,’ she added.
Nino eased back and briskly rubbed her arms. ‘You were worried I wouldn’t want to be a father, so your imagination ran away with you, right?’
She nodded. ‘Something like that.’
Nino’s smile widened. ‘I’m going to be a dad.’
Alya bit her lip, trying to keep her own grin under control. ‘Yeah, you are. Is that ok?’
‘More than ok. Babe, we’re going to be parents. You still haven’t answered my question, though.’ He showed her the ring. ‘Will you marry me?’
Alya beamed up at him, then threw herself into his arms. ‘Yes. Absolutely yes.’
‘Love you, Babe,’ he murmured into her hair.
‘Love you too,’ she replied.
Marinette and Adrien came back, offering their congratulations. Alya was a little perturbed that Adrien had heard their whole conversation from down the hall, but he treated Marinette with a gentleness that won him her favour, so Alya let the indiscretion slide.
She and Nino stayed for a couple of hours, catching up and celebrating the double reveal. Alya admired the silver ring with a modest yellow diamond embedded in the top, then showed it to Marinette proudly.
She remained close to Nino the entire night, and eventually fell asleep in his arms, his skin warm against her own as they cuddled in bed.
Give me another set of adorable idiots
And now, back to our regularly scheduled updates -
(every Saturday night)
Adrien tried to stand still, but the tape measure and Marinette’s slender fingers tickled his ribs. He sucked in a breath and held it, biting his lip hard to keep from laughing, but despite his best efforts, muffled giggles slipped out as traitorous raspberries.
‘Hey,’ Marinette pinched his hip, ‘stand still, and stop holding your breath. These measurements have to be accurate.’
Determined to be a proper mannequin, Adrien squared his shoulders and stood up straight. She shot him one last baleful look, then got back to work.
This was the second week of her taking his measurements and adjusting his fittings at home after hours. Adrien kept Gabriel apprised of her efforts, as per their agreement, and so far, he had not pushed too hard on the matter of her personal details. He simply wanted to know the times she began and finished, and how much work she was putting in.
Adrien detailed her industriousness without exaggeration, and was pleased to note that Gabriel found no fault in her work or commitment. This meant that as long as Gabriel remained satisfied, he would not dig too deeply into Marinette's background or living situation. He had yet to ask for Marinette's name, and his disinterest would likely continue until it came time for him to pay her, by which time, Marinette's new role would be finished.
‘You’ve lost weight,’ she told him, bringing him abruptly out of his reverie.
He raised an eyebrow. ‘I have?’
‘Only a few centimetres, but do try to keep your weight steady. You’d look ridiculous walking down the runway in ill-fitting clothes.’
‘I’ll do my best. I haven’t really done anything different lately, though.’
Marinette hummed noncommittally, then began pulling an outfit from a garment bag. She had him put on the formal shirt and jacket, then began tugging and fussing to make sure the lengths were right. Once she was satisfied with that, she told him to go to his room and try on the slacks. These he noted, were a little loose at the waist, and long in the leg.
‘This might need some adjusting,’ he announced when he came back.
Marinette marked and pinned the areas which needed alteration, then had him try on another outfit. The next few hours passed in the same tedious pattern, until Adrien told her to go to bed.
‘It’s almost midnight,’ he informed her.
‘Yeah, yeah, in a sec,’ she muttered.
Adrien waited patiently until she finished stitching, then plucked the needle and clothing from her hand.
‘Hey,’ she protested.
Giving her a pointed look, Adrien said, ‘bed. Now.’
She sent him a flat look, then heaved herself to her feet. He heard her back pop in three separate places as she stretched.
‘Ok, I’m going. You can be such a mother hen, you know that right?’
‘It’s for your own good,’ he told her piously.
Grumbling ungraciously, Marinette haphazardly put her supplies away, then went to get ready for bed. Once her door closed behind her, Adrien fell onto the couch with a deep sigh.
It was a torturous delight getting to spend time with Marinette. He stood in their loungeroom half naked while she flittered around him, putting her hands on his skin. But she remained professional and unmoved by his bare chest and stomach.
Pay attention to me, he whined in his head.
He pulled his t-shirt back on and slumped back into the couch. Immediately, he began to feel restless and bored. It was on nights like these when he missed living among his own kind the most, when company and entertainment were easily accessible and always eager to please. Even if his own father was distant and withdrawn, there was always someone willing to accommodate Adrien’s needs.
There were some perks to the position, he thought.
Gabriel Agreste was the Pontifex Maximus, literally the greatest priest in Europe, within the vampire community. As his son, Adrien had been doted on and spoiled since infancy, and never wanted for company. However, Gabriel had always been selective in who came into his son’s presence, which had only become stricter since Emilie’s death.
Maybe I’m not missing out on much after all, he amended ruefully.
Heaving a forlorn sigh, he got up and emptied a blood bag into a mug to heat it in the microwave.
He’d just sat down again when an insistent tapping on the balcony door disturbed him. Groaning at the interruption, he headed over, and let in the owl carrying a letter in its talons. As it flew back out, Adrien picked up the neatly rolled scroll, then once again sank into the couch.
Dearest Adrikins, the letter read.
You never replied to my last letter, so I'm sending you another. I expect you to answer me this time; no excuses.
‘Oops,’ Adrien murmured over the rim of his cup, but he felt no remorse at tossing the previous unread letter in the bin.
As you know, the Red Night, when we celebrate Saint Eichatadt, is coming soon and I would like you to accompany me to the ball.
Just think, Adri-chou, we’d be the most powerful couple there. I can see us now, in our matching formalwear, looking positively resplendent. We can finally lay all those awful rumours to rest, too.
‘What rumours?’ he asked himself, his brow furrowing.
Anyway, I expect a reply within the next three days. I’ll need to get the tailors started on your finery as soon as possible if we’re to make a grand entrance. Don’t worry, you’ll look stunning in my family’s colours, I’m sure of it.
Bye for now, my Adrikins. Chloé.
Irritation and dread bubbled in Adrien’s stomach. He had completely forgotten about the Saint Eichatadt celebrations. While the ball itself was a refined affair, long since leaving the blood sacrifices in the past, it was the responsibilities that came with his position that bothered him. If he went, it would be as Gabriel's representative and heir, where everyone would expect him to assure them he was preparing for his role as the future Pontifex Maximus. The only upside of that would be that he would not have to wear Chloé’s house colours.
Driven by her desire to publicly claim him as her own, Chloé had forgotten about his larger responsibilities. She would be furious to learn he would not be able to wear whatever she had picked out for him, and would probably throw a tantrum until someone acquiesced, or a higher-ranking member refused her outright. However, as aggravating as Chloé could be, Adrien wasn’t certain he wanted to attend.
Unfortunately, if he failed to make an appearance, it would cause a scandal, and likely fuel whatever rumours were circulating. But as of this moment, those whispers hadn’t reached Adrien, and he was blissfully unaware of them and their impact.
It was Gabriel's wrath he feared, should he decline the invitation.
Groaning miserably, Adrien fetched a pen and notepad to compose his reply.
While I would be honoured to attend the Saint Eichatadt ball with you, I would be required to go as my father’s heir and representative. This means that I would have to wear whatever Father chooses.
So, I'm sorry, but I will not be able to go in matching outfits.
I’ll see you then. Adrien.
He reread the letter, and decided it was good enough. Chloé would throw a fit when she saw she wouldn’t be able to dress him up like a doll, but the fact that he’d agreed to go with her should mollify her.
Adrien rolled the letter up, and sealed it with a sticker of a bat in flight. He then stood out on the balcony, and whistled a short tune. The musical spell brought an owl to him within minutes. He gave the bird clear instructions, then sent it on its way, the letter clutched tight in its talons.
Adrien sighed as it faded from view.
‘I don’t even want to go,’ he groused.
Still, his attendance should deflect attention from his life outside of the nest. The rumours Chloé mentioned were most likely about him abdicating his position in favour of his cousin, Felix. It was no secret that Felix was ambitious, and would dearly love to take Adrien’s place. However, as he was the son of Gabriel's younger sister, his chances of ascending any higher in their society was slim.
Adrien would have loved nothing more than to hand off all his responsibilities to Felix. His cousin was far more suited to the role than he was – he had the commitment, the drive, and the intelligence needed to succeed. Adrien just wanted to lay his head in Marinette's lap while she ran her fingers through his hair, and sleep in the sunshine.
He chuckled bitterly at his own folly. He would never be able to rest comfortably in the sun, nor would Marinette ever be his lover. She could never be more than a fleeting companion, and he would have to spend the rest of his long existence without her.
How long will it be until I forget what her voice sounds like? he pondered morosely. How long until I forget how she smells, or what she looks like?
He had told himself before that falling in love with a human would bring nothing but heartbreak. Her life was too short; even if he spent the remainder of her days with her, she would still age, and grow old, while he would look like a young man for centuries.
Curling up on the couch, Adrien grabbed a throw cushion and held it tight. He inhaled the scent Marinette left behind, committing it to memory while he could. In the blink of an eye, she will have grown old and died, compared to his lifespan. He had never cursed his longevity as much as he did in that moment.
Trying not to cry, Adrien buried his face in the cushion, his mug still half full, left forgotten on the coffee table.
It was the longest night he could remember since his mother passed away.
Let's see what Gabe is thinking.
Also, I'm up to chapter 20 in this bitch... send help!
Gabriel Agreste perused the handful of missives Nathalie passed to him with disinterest. Most were notifications stating the sender would be attending the Red Night ball, and looked forward to seeing him there.
Gabriel gave a derisive snort before handing them back to Nathalie. One letter, however, caught his attention. It was from the indomitable Audrey Bourgeois, her curling signature taking up a third of the page. He curled his lip at her short note, then scrunched it up before dropping it in the waste paper basket under his desk.
‘Something wrong, Sir?’ enquired Nathalie.
‘Madame Bourgeois is pushing for a union again, this time citing the Red Night ball as the perfect opportunity to set our offspring up for matrimony.’
‘It’s nothing you haven’t foreseen, Sir.’
‘No, but she had better be careful and mind her place. If she openly criticises my house colours, she risks putting herself, and her clan, in my disfavour.’
Nathalie raised an eyebrow. ‘Your colours, Sir?’
Leaning back in his chair, Gabriel pinched the bridge of his nose with a grimace. ‘It would seem mademoiselle Chloé Bourgeois had her heart set on matching finery, decorating Adrien in her house colours. Audrey asked me to let her have her way, as my colours are drab and would clash with hers. The arrogance of the Bourgeois’ knows no bounds.’
Nathalie began fidgeting with the letters he’d already handed back. ‘Are you sure Adrien will even be in attendance this year?’
Narrowing his eyes, Gabriel gave her a hard stare. ‘He knows what will happen if he plays truant. He’ll be there.’
‘As you say,’ Nathalie replied, easily. ‘His presence would certainly put the worst of the rumours to rest as well.’
Gabriel clenched his teeth with a silent snarl. The rumours about Adrien ranged from ailing health, to freely relinquishing his birthright to his cousin. Unrest had gripped the vampire community as they waited for official word, but they pushed their own agendas in the shadows, setting up potential members of their own clans to take Adrien’s place. Their jockeying was almost laughable, had it not been at the Agreste’s expense.
‘The sooner those fools are dealt with, the better,’ he muttered.
‘Take solace in the fact that news of his living in the outside world has not yet reached the masses.’
Gabriel could not suppress a groan. ‘They would riot if they knew their precious prince had abandoned them.’
Nathalie raised a brow at his choice of words, but refrained from commenting. Gabriel, though, was pragmatic; he knew his position and rank, and how that reflected upon his son. Adrien was as good as a prince among their people, and had been treated as such since birth. If their people knew he had chosen to live among humans, they would see it as abandonment, and there would be pandemonium. At the very least, Adrien would have to be disinherited, thus pushing Felix up the line of succession. At the worst, there would be calls for Gabriel to step down, and let another clan rule.
Gabriel shuddered at the thought. While there was no official monarchy, there was a hierarchy, beginning with their Ancients – the oldest vampires in living history whom they worshipped as gods. It was Gabriel's job to act as emissary and spokesman to those Ancients, passing down their rulings as their official mouthpiece. It was a job he would entrust to no other. Still, Adrien would need to begin his training soon if he was to take over once Gabriel could no longer perform his role.
‘Adrien does seem to be doing well on his own, though, Sir. Are you not at all proud at how he has managed?’
He waved a hand dismissively. ‘It doesn’t take much brainpower to stand over a tribe of monkeys, Nathalie. Even the ineptest of us would outclass mindless apes.’
‘As you say, Sir.’
‘Has he been keeping you updated on his schedule and fittings?’
‘Yes, Sir. He has been most punctual and forthcoming in sending me the times and workload of the designer accommodating him.’
Gabriel nodded in satisfaction. ‘Good.’
She hesitated before asking her next question. ‘Would it not be prudent to acquire more information on this individual? They’re in Adrien’s apartment every day, after all.’
‘As long as they do their job, I see no reason to concern myself with insignificant cattle.’
Gabriel briefly wondered if she ever tired of repeating those two words, or if it were simply habit now. ‘See to it that those names are added to the list of attendees, then check on how preparations for the ball are progressing.’
‘As you wish.’ Nathalie turned on her heel and strode out, dropping the letters on her desk and writing the names in a ledger by hand.
Gabriel turned back to the open sketchpad on his desk, and scowled at the blank pages. For a career he had invented on the spur of the moment, it had grown into a large, and persistent nuisance. Designing clothes was a way to pass the time, but he had not intended to be at it for long. However, his pride kept him from sabotaging himself with poor designs, and he had found no one competent enough to take the burden from his hands. So, he was stuck drawing pictures and keeping up to date with the latest trends, even though he had far more pressing concerns.
‘Blasted humans,’ he groused.
Finally, he took inspiration from pictures of natural settings, coupled with the feelings his late wife used to give him. The end result looked overly sentimental and stylised, but humans seemed to enjoy that. Huffing in exasperation, Gabriel tore the pages out, and slipped them into a large envelope he addressed to his studio. He would let his human staff take care of the rest.
Unbidden, his thoughts turned back to Adrien. Of course, he worried for his son’s safety as he lived recklessly outside the care of the nest. But there was a time when he, too, had felt the pull of the larger world, yet his parents had kept him under their watchful eyes right up until they submitted to Plagg’s Touch.
Gabriel had lived with that regret for too long; he did not want Adrien to be consumed by thoughts of what if once he took his place as Pontifex Maximus, so he’d allowed Adrien to live on the outside, if only for a short time. Adrien would have to return once people began to notice he’d stopped ageing, and travelling abroad was difficult for their kind. Gabriel could only hope that Adrien’s travel lust abated by the time he returned to the fold, because once those doors closed behind him, he would be condemned to a lifetime inside the walls of the compound, venturing outside only rarely and always under heavy guard.
Gabriel shook his head and sighed. ‘Live well, my son.’
The date of the ball approached fast, and Adrien found himself bombarded by letters from his father and Chloé, both demanding his time and attention, stating that their requirements took priority. While Adrien loved them both, their constant harassment exhausted him.
Marinette lay a hand over his forehead as he sagged into the couch, lightly brushing his hair aside. ‘You ok?’
He groaned and closed his eyes. ‘No.’
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked as she sat beside him.
‘I don’t want to go to the Red Night festivities. There’s too much pressure, and not enough pleasure.’
‘Poor baby,’ she crooned. ‘How cruel of them to have a lavish party, with music, dancing, and socialising, and expect you to attend.’
Adrien shot her a glare from the corner of his eye. ‘It’s more than just a party, you know. There’s establishing and maintaining alliances, sizing up your rivals, undermining your enemies and competitors, and jockeying for power, all while maintaining a polite façade, knowing that everyone else is doing the same to you.’
Marinette's eyes widened. ‘Oof. Sounds very political.’
‘You have no idea.’
‘I’m just glad it’s you, and not me.’
He grimaced through a pained groan. ‘Why must you torment me so?’
‘Because you’re being a baby. Suck it up and go; it’s only a party.’
He sat up, spluttering his indignation. ‘What did I just say? It’s not just some party I don’t feel like going to. Saint Eichatadt is a major event in our calendar, steeped in tradition and laden with more significance than your Christmas. There are rituals to be observed, rites to take part in, and displays of worship to our gods. So please don’t dismiss it as just a party.’
He gasped for breath, his chest heaving, hoping that he’d made his point.
Marinette raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re pretty defensive for someone who doesn’t want to go.’
His jaw fell open, appalled he’d been so neatly caught in her trap.
She patted his shoulder consolingly. ‘Why don’t you really want to go, apart from all the previously mentioned reasons?’
Adrien’s shoulders drooped. ‘I guess I’m worried that if I go, they’ll lock me in there, and I won’t be able to leave.’
That I’ll never be able to see you again, he added silently.
Marinette hummed as she thought about that. ‘Is it imperative that you go?’
He nodded morosely. ‘Yeah. Father is one of the highest-ranking vampires in Europe, so for his only son to miss such a significant event as the Red Night ball would be disastrous. Apparently, there are already rumours circulating.’
Tilting her head, she asked, ‘what rumours?’
‘I don’t know. Chloé mentioned them in her last letter, but didn’t explain anything. If the rumours aren’t about her, and they probably weren’t if she talked about them, then they’re likely to do with my cousin and the line of succession.’
‘You sound like a royal family bickering over who’ll ascend the throne.’
He turned to her with a serious expression. ‘That analogy isn’t too far off, actually.’
Marinette's eyes widened. ‘You’re royalty?’
He shrugged. ‘No. We don’t have an established monarchy, but it’s pretty similar. Father is the Pontifex Maximus, a hereditary role passed from parent to child, to act as the spokesperson for our gods.’
Marinette furrowed her brows as she considered this new piece of information. ‘So, your dad is like the Pope?’
‘Something like that, yeah.’
‘But since it’s a hereditary role, you’re the next in line?’
He watched in mild amusement while she processed that. Adrien had refrained from telling her too much about his society, and his role therein, but was forthcoming with information when she asked, or when the topic was relevant to their situation. So far, he had found no way to inform her of his status until now, and had not looked for one out of fear she would treat him differently.
‘I can’t believe your dick of a dad holds such a rank,’ she eventually muttered. ‘How awful.’
Adrien snorted an inelegant laugh. ‘He’s not that bad.’
The look she gave him was one of incredulous disbelief.
‘Honestly,’ he placated her. ‘Father takes his position seriously, and makes sure to perform it well. Our people are peaceful under his guidance, which hadn’t been seen for centuries until he came along.’
‘That doesn’t excuse how he treats you.’
‘Probably not, but you have to remember he’s spent most of his years hiding from those who would harm us. He’s only trying to protect me the best way he knows how.’
Marinette harrumphed and crossed her arms. ‘Fine, I’ll give him a pass this one time.’
Adrien’s eyes softened. ‘Thank you, and thanks for caring about me. I appreciate it.’
A light blush turned her cheeks pink.
‘Of course,’ she replied, bumping him with her shoulder, ‘that's what friends do.’
‘Of course,’ he echoed, quietly. ‘Hey, aren’t you going to do the fittings tonight? Fashion week is only a few weeks away.’
Marinette gave him an odd look. ‘No, I’ve finished. I told you that last night, remember?’
All Adrien remembered from the previous evening was putting on what she told him to, then trying to stand still as she made her adjustments.
‘I guess I spaced out,’ he excused, rubbing the back of his head with a rueful laugh.
She sighed and shook her head. ‘Pay attention when people speak, will you? But yes, I’ve finished, so that means no more squirmy models as I try to fit them.’
‘That’s great.’ His enthusiasm dimmed at the realisation that he was now required to make a full report to Nathalie on Marinette's progress, and offer her personal information before the next pay day.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
Adrien let his hand rest on the back of his neck, his gaze drifting aside. ‘Listen, I was supposed to inform Father about your progress here, and give him an accurate accounting of your time and work ethic. I’ve done all that as part of our agreement to let you work at home, but now Nathalie’s going to need your details, like your name and position in the company so she can pay you.’
‘Ok, that’s pretty standard stuff. Why is that a bother?’
He sucked in a breath between his teeth. ‘I just worry that once Father has your name, he’ll post someone to watch you, to make sure you aren’t a threat. The problem is, he doesn’t know you live with me, and I don’t know what he’d do if he found out.’
Marinette blinked, all of her bravado vanishing. ‘Do you think he’d erase my memory?’
‘It’s a possibility.’
‘What do you suggest I do?’
Adrien took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. ‘After work tomorrow, go and stay with your parents for a week. That should be enough time for Father to form an opinion, and then you should be free to come back. Does that sound ok to you? Marinette?’
She looked ashen, and she had stopped blinking.
‘Marinette?’ he asked again, growing concerned.
‘I suddenly understand why you don’t want to go back home,’ she whispered. ‘If I go back to the bakery, Maman and Papa will be overjoyed, then Maman will insist I stay longer and longer, until I can’t ever leave again for fear of breaking her heart.’
She turned to him with desperate eyes. ‘If I don’t come back, have Alya take care of my things. I won’t be needing them anymore.’
He patted her hands reassuringly. ‘If you don’t come back, I’ll come and rescue you myself.’
‘I promise. What would this poor knight be without his princess?’
Marinette snorted out a wobbly laugh. ‘You are neither poor, nor a knight, and I am definitely not a princess.’
But you’re still mine, he thought as a fond smile lit his face.
Marinette sighed as she leaned against him. ‘I suppose I should pack a bag before I leave for work tomorrow. Geez, everyone’s going to ask so many questions.’
Adrien wrapped an arm around her shoulders. ‘You’re a strong, independent woman. I’m confident you can deal with a few nosy questions.’
Despite her words, she remained where she was, her head still on Adrien’s shoulder. Slowly, he trailed his fingers up and down her arm in a gesture he’d only seen lovers do. It was a peaceful moment in which he allowed his imagination to wander, fantasising about what it would be like if he could really claim Marinette as his.
The moment ended when she sat up, and stretched her arms above her head with a groan.
‘I’d better start planning, if I'm going to spend the week at my parents’ place. Do you know what the weather’s supposed to be like?’
Adrien shook his head to clear it. ‘I think it’s meant to be fine, and warm. Still pack something for cold weather, though. The forecasters have been wrong before.’
Marinette grinned sardonically over her shoulder a she walked away. ‘Yes, mother.’
He watched her walk into the hallway, then let his smile drop. He’d gotten used to having her around, even when they barely saw each other. Simply the knowledge of having another person in the house was comforting, even if he couldn’t see her as often as he would have liked.
I’m going to miss you, he thought.
Then he immediately berated himself for his childishness. This was for the best, and it was only a week. He would not be reduced to a pathetic mess because he felt lonesome, and a week of solitude was not the worst thing he had experienced. He’d spent even longer on his own before her appearance in his life, and when she came back, he would welcome her coolly, like a mature adult.
I’ll be fine. I can do this. I'm an adult who is perfectly happy in his own company for a little while.
He still wasn’t convinced.
I first began writing this fic well before Weredad was aired, so I imagined Sabine as the clingy parent. It's too late to change it now, so she's still the clingy parent, and will continue to be so. Sigh. The things we have to sacrifice for continuity. Well, Tom still dotes on his little girl too, so there is that.
In celebration of 2,000 hits, y'all can have another chapter!
Now, let's meet my OCs.
You may remember Mathéo from a previous fic. He's been altered a little, but he's essentially the same guy. I just really like him.
Angelique is... yeah. You're not supposed to like her that much. She has no endearing qualities :P
You'll meet my third OC, Noemie, in upcoming chapters. She's super cool.
Marinette slid into her seat, and swung her suitcase under her desk, out of the way. While she waited for the computer to boot up, she picked up her work landline to check for any messages. However, before she could press the play button, Angelique sidled up to her desk, smiling obsequiously, as she coiled a blonde curl around her finger.
‘Good morning, Marinette,’ she greeted in her customary smarmy fashion. ‘Going on a trip?’
Marinette gave her a bland smile. Angelique was a terrible gossip, and anything Marinette told her would spread throughout the office before midday, grossly exaggerated and borderline inappropriate.
‘I’m just going to stay with my parents until my apartment block finishes its mandated pest control measures.’
The lie rolled off her tongue easily. Silently, she thanked Adrien for coming up with the cover story, and helping her practice until it came naturally.
It helps that it’s even half true, she thought.
Angelique pouted. ‘No great holiday planned, then? No secret rendezvous with an Armenian lover in Mauritius?’
Marinette raised an eyebrow in confusion. ‘No, nothing like that.’
‘How disappointing,’ she sighed.
‘Sorry to let you down,’ Marinette muttered, before turning pointedly back to her phone.
Angelique huffed and strode away, clearly dissatisfied.
Marinette didn’t care; she had a productive morning after that. The phone messages were answered, her emails were responded to, and she finally had an idea for XY’s closing costume for his upcoming concert.
Unfortunately, as if the mere thought of him summoned him, XY appeared before her desk, grinning in what he thought was a winning manner. To Marinette, it just looked greasy.
‘Here’s my favourite seamstress,’ he announced, gesturing broadly.
‘Hello, XY,’ she replied in a coolly professional tone.
He sat in the chair before her desk uninvited, one leg hooked over the arm, as he rested his elbow on her paperwork. ‘How would you like to have lunch with me today?’
‘No thank you. I’m busy.’ She indicated the costume she was still sketching, though her muse was quickly leaving her.
XY’s eyes lit up. ‘Is that my outfit? It looks awesome. What colour is it? I’m rather partial to purple, though I also look good in blue, but you’re the expert.’
‘Thanks,’ she replied dryly.
Her insincerity went straight over his head.
‘You’re very welcome. So, are you ready to stop colouring in, and come eat? My treat.’
‘As tempting as that is, I have a lot of work to do, and very little time in which to do it. Now, if you’ll excuse me,’ she left her sentence unfinished, and picked up a pencil.
‘You know,’ XY drawled, ‘there are plenty of women who would jump at the chance to go out with me.’
‘Good, I’m sure one of them would be delighted to keep you company.’ She didn’t look up from her work, but hoped he would finally catch a clue and leave her be.
XY remained where he was, apparently unprepared for her calling his bluff.
‘That woman with the blonde curls keeps giving me suggestive looks,’ he tried.
‘Angelique has no standards.’ Struck by an idea, Marinette laced her fingers and rested her chin on them, smiling broadly. ‘I bet Angelique would love to go on a date with you. You should ask her out right now.’
XY gave her an arch look. ‘I think I will. Maybe when you see how happy we are together, you’ll realise what you’ve missed out on.’
Marinette's expression fell. ‘I’m sure.’
Unnecessarily slowly, XY rose and turned his back on her. She watched in morbid curiosity as he approached Angelique, and was greeted warmly with a welcoming smile and a hug. XY then threw a look of smug satisfaction over his shoulder, before leading Angelique away, her arm looped through his.
‘I see you’re utterly heartbroken by your devastating loss,’ observed Mathéo. ‘To think, you lost such a promising match to Angelique of all people.’
Marinette spun her chair around, unable to keep a genuine smile from her face. Mathéo, a fussy little man in his forties, was her department supervisor, and a good friend. His warm brown skin was contrasted by platinum hair, and a fuchsia suit that, while gaudy, suited his personality perfectly. Mathéo stood a couple of centimetres shorter than herself, but when the occasion demanded, he could give the impression of a man twice the height of the tallest man in the room. Marinette admired him greatly, and often treated him like an honorary uncle. In turn, he spoiled her shamelessly, but not in any way people could prove. It was thanks to him that she reached her current position as quickly as she did.
‘Yes, as you can see, I am terribly distraught,’ she agreed. ‘How will I ever recover from such a humiliating defeat?’
‘I'm sure you’ll bounce back, my dear. You’ve always been tenacious and resilient. But I must ask, why is there a suitcase at your feet?’
Feeling slightly more discomforted at lying to her friend, she told him the same story she’d given Angelique. Mathéo nodded, and accepted her explanation without argument. Then his eyes lit up hopefully.
‘I don’t suppose you’d be able to bring me one of your father’s famed cherry canelé?’
Marinette laughed. ‘I was planning on it. They’re your favourite, right?’
Mathéo placed both hands over his mouth to stifle a gleeful squeal. ‘Oh, my dear, you are definitely my favourite. You know me too well.’
Marinette shushed him through a fit of giggles. ‘Don’t say that too loudly, or we’ll get in trouble.’
He sobered immediately, though there was a twinkle in his eyes. Giving her a secretive wink, he linked his hands behind his back, and walked away.
Marinette shook her head fondly, and turned back to her work.
During the day, she sent Sabine a text to inform her of her impending stay, citing the same reasons she’d given her workmates. The reply she got an hour later was excited and overly maternal, making Marinette cringe.
XY and Angelique returned from their impromptu date, but not as predicted. Angelique looked irritated, and for the first time since Marinette met her, she went back to work without talking to anyone. XY didn’t even enter the building, opting instead to drop Angelique off at the door, before driving away at reckless speeds as if he couldn’t get away fast enough.
Marinette snickered heartlessly at both of them.
By the end of the day, she felt good about her progress. She had finished the preliminary sketches, and had found the patterns required to construct XY’s costumes. She looked forward to making the mock-ups, and was relieved to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
She took the metro to her parents’ place, dragging her suitcase behind her. It bumped over the ground, one wheel permanently skewed, but she loved it and refused to throw it away. It had been a gift from Gina, with the promise they would travel the world together one day.
Marinette sighed at the bittersweet memory.
Tom was waiting for her at the bakery door, hopping excitedly from foot to foot as she crossed the road.
‘Marinette, welcome home,’ he cheered, before enveloping her in a hug. ‘How have you been?’
‘Good, Papa. Yourself?’ She returned his embrace, glad to see him despite her misgivings.
‘We’ve been well. Come inside and say hello to your mother.’
He ushered her in, and took possession of her bags to lug them up to her childhood room. Sabine rushed from the kitchen, broom still in hand and with flour on her clothes.
‘Welcome home, my darling,’ she sang, her arms open wide, as the broom fell to the floor with a clatter. Sabine ignored it in favour of greeting Marinette.
‘Hi, Maman. It’s s good to see you,’ she said, stepping into her mother’s arms.
Sabine almost squeezed her breathless, then led her upstairs, chattering happily all the way.
Marinette had a nice evening with her parents, cooking, catching up, and cleaning. She almost felt like she was fifteen again.
They told her they already knew of Alya’s pregnancy, and the impending nuptials. Alya and Nino had dropped by a few days before to share the news, and had asked if Tom could make their wedding cake when the time came. He’d been honoured, and had promised them the most decadent confection in his repertoire.
She told them about work, but glossed over XY’s inappropriate behaviour, instead focussing on her successes and work ethic. Tom frowned at her brief mention of XY, but was not given an opening to expand on it, so he was forced to drop the subject.
‘What about your roommate?’ asked Sabine. ‘It’s been months, and we’ve never met him.’
Marinette nodded. ‘He’s good. Work keeps him busy, so I haven’t seen him that much lately.’
‘He works at the same place you do, right?’
‘Yeah, as a model. Our paths don’t often cross, though.’
Tom and Sabine exchanged a look.
Marinette gave them both a flat stare. ‘What is it?’
Sabine cleared her throat. ‘It’s nothing, Dear.’
Marinette shrugged the moment off. They probably think I made him up, or something.
‘So, you’re staying for the whole week?’ Tom asked, in an obvious effort to change the subject.
She assured them that was the case, and they finished their meal in relative quiet. Afterwards, they watched television together for an hour, then Tom and Sabine retired for the evening. Marinette kissed their cheeks, wished them sweet dreams, and was left alone.
‘This feels strange,’ she uttered into the oppressive silence.
It had been so long since she had lived on her own, she found she missed Adrien’s company.
‘It’s only a week. I’m a big girl now, I can handle it.’
She went to bed earlier that night than she had in years.
I'm really losing steam with this fic. I'm up to chapter 25, and my motivation has plummeted.
I don't want to give up as there are still things I'd like to get to. I like this AU, so I want to see it through to completion, but I may begin posting another WIP, just to give myself some variety. Though that won't happen until I run out of chapters in this fic.
Also, if anyone can think of a better synopsis to introduce this story, I'd like to see it.
As always, you're always welcome to leave comments, or come scream with me on Tumblr. If you have a writer's block breaking prompt, send it to me there, and I'll see what I can do. I'm always happy to hear from you.
Thanks for reading!
Adrien drummed his fingers on the kitchen counter while he waited for Nathalie or Gabriel to pick up the phone. Just as he was about to give up, the receiver clattered, and Nathalie’s voice answered.
‘Hello, Nathalie. Is Father available?’
Gabriel's voice cracked like a whip a few seconds later, startling Adrien so much he almost dropped the phone.
‘What is it, Adrien? I’m busy.’
Someone’s testy this evening, he thought dourly.
‘I just wanted to let you know that I will be attending the Red Night ball, and I’ll be accompanying Chloé Bourgeois.’
Gabriel hummed a displeased acknowledgement. ‘Of course. I’ll have one of the helots deliver your suit soon. In the meantime, do not let Mademoiselle Bourgeois coerce you into wearing one of her custom-made monstrosities. You are to attend as a representative of the noble house of Agreste. Do not embarrass me by allowing her to display you like one of her dolls.’
Adrien sighed. ‘Yes, Father.’
‘I had better see you there, Son. Nothing short of your untimely demise will excuse you.’
Gabriel hung up. Adrien stared at the handpiece for a minute, then put it back in its cradle.
He wanted to ask about the investigation into Marinette, but he feared that showing any interest in her would increase Gabriel's scrutiny, and put Marinette at risk. It was safer to let him run his course, and dismiss Marinette as just another human in his own time.
He missed her, though. She had only departed that morning, and Adrien already felt lonely. Her presence in the apartment was something he felt keenly, even when she slept in her room, oblivious to his comings and goings. The knowledge that she was there comforted him in a way he couldn’t describe.
Looking to the clock, Adrien noticed it was getting late, and he needed to see Nino at the blood bank.
‘Shit,’ he muttered as he pulled his shoes on, then grabbed his wallet and keys.
He ran as fast as he dared without drawing attention to himself. The sun had set, and fewer people lined the streets, but it was still best to be prudent.
When he reached the blood bank, he was disheartened to see that the lights were out, and the door was locked. He hung his head, cursing himself for a fool.
‘This never would’ve happened if Marinette didn’t have to leave.’
‘You know, talking to yourself is considered the first sign of madness,’ drawled a familiar voice.
Adrien’s head snapped up, his eyes wide and his jaw slack. Nino leaned against the wall by the narrow alley beside the blood bank, one foot propped on the bricks behind him with his arms crossed.
He grinned, then leaned down to pick up a small cooler box by his foot. ‘Thought you might be running low, so I saved you some.’
Adrien rushed forward to wrap Nino up in a hug.
‘Thank you so much, I really owe you one.’
Nino patted his back. ‘No problem. Though I’d appreciate being able to breathe soon.’
Letting go and stepping back, Adrien smiled wide, jubilant at Nino’s foresight and thoughtfulness. He offered the cooler box, which Adrien accepted eagerly, pleased by the weight. Nino had been generous.
Nino cocked an eyebrow. ‘Dang, you really are hungry.’
Nino indicated his teeth. ‘Your little fangs have popped out. They only do that when you're, like, starving, right?’
Adrien ran his tongue over his teeth. Just as Nino had said, his feeders had lengthened in anticipation of a much-needed meal. ‘Yeah, the length depends on how hungry I am.’
His stomach rumbled.
Giving him a flat look, Nino asked, ‘how long has it been since you last ate?’
‘Only about,’ he counted on his fingers, ‘eighteen hours.’
He sagged at the realisation.
‘You’re lucky,’ Nino told him. ‘Normally we would have closed and gone home much earlier, but there was an accident. One of the new trainees was squeamish around blood and fainted. He made a massive mess when he went down, too. Then we had to wait for his dad to come pick him up before we could leave.’
Adrien snickered at the unfortunate trainee. ‘He’s in the wrong business, then.’
‘True, but how come you’ve not eaten in so long? That’s not like you.’
He shrugged. ‘I didn’t notice I was running low until yesterday, then I forgot, what with Marinette leaving for the week, the Red Night ball, and Fashion Week.’
‘How are you coping on your own?’
Adrien hefted the cooler. ‘Miserably. I can’t even remember to go for groceries.’
Nino patted his back consolingly, then began walking. They strode side by side for a few minutes in companionable silence, Adrien swinging the cooler cheerfully.
‘How are things between you and Alya?’ he asked.
‘Good. We had a long talk after that misunderstanding, and we’ve agreed on no more earth-shattering surprises. We’re also going to talk to my family about lending us some money for the baby. We’re going to convert our study into a nursery, but we still have to get everything, like a cot, drawers, a pram, and all that other baby paraphernalia. Honestly, it’s a bit overwhelming.’
‘It sounds like you’ve got a handle on it, though. Do you think your parents will help?’
Nino nodded. ‘Yeah, I’m sure they’d be thrilled. My mum loves babies, and she adores Alya. Maybe I’ll let Alya do the talking.’
Adrien chuckled. ‘Don’t be a wuss, man. Your family’s great.’
‘They really are.’ Nino’s soft smile morphed into panic. ‘You don’t have to worry about Alya, either. When we talked, I mentioned your need for absolute secrecy, and she promised she wouldn’t say anything to anyone, I swear.’
Adrien blinked at the rushed spiel. ‘Huh?’
Nino blinked back, breathing hard. ‘You weren’t worried Alya would write a reveal-all exclusive on the existence of vampires?’
A lengthy pause stretched between them.
‘Oh, that,’ Adrien drawled. ‘No, I wasn’t worried. Alya’s your fiancé, and Marinette’s best friend, after all.’
‘You trust our judgement that much, you don’t even question it? Gotta say, Adrien, I don’t think that’s very smart.’
‘What if we’re wrong? I don’t want to be the reason hunters come knocking your door down.’
Adrien laughed aloud. ‘I wouldn’t worry about that. Hunters are separatists, always staying in the shadows, and lurking around. Like your typical human murderers, they’re loners by nature. If you ever saw one, you’d actively avoid him, ‘cause they're creepy as hell.’
Nino snorted. ‘Like, trench coats, hat brim pulled low over their eyes, a cigarette hanging out their mouth, that kinda deal?’
‘Don’t forget the weapons strapped to every inch of their bodies.’
His expression turning serious, Nino asked, ‘have you ever seen a hunter?’
Adrien shook his head. ‘Not personally, but I’ve heard from people who have. A survivor of the Kurtzberg clan told a whole group of us once. Our parents use stories of hunters to keep misbehaving kids in line, too.’
‘That's surreal to think about. Humans do the same thing, but with monsters. I was terrified of the bogey man for years. I thought he would leap out the toilet and drag me in if I had to pee late at night. Of course, it didn’t help that the sound of the toilet flushing was so loud.’
Laughing, Adrien thumped Nino on the back. ‘The bogey man isn’t real, but I suppose your family had to think of something, since they worked with literal monsters and know what we’re like.’
Nino laughed at himself. ‘Yeah, well, I think I was a gullible kid.’
Adrien smiled. ‘I think it’s endearing.’
‘Don’t get all sentimental on me now.’
They came to an intersection, and stopped to bid their goodbyes. Feeling marginally better, Adrien set off alone, waving over his shoulder periodically until Nino was out of sight.
An owl was waiting impatiently for him on the balcony when he returned. It tapped the glass door irritably, and when Adrien let it in, it defecated on the hardwood floor.
‘Rude,’ Adrien admonished it.
The bird deposited a letter, then flew out again, flipping its tailfeathers contemptuously.
Shaking his head, Adrien cleaned up the mess, then washed his hands before picking up the letter. It was from Nathalie, telling him a helot would be by within the week to deliver his clothes for the ball.
‘Ugh, I can’t wait until it’s over,’ he grumbled.
Carefully, he set his blood in the fridge, and put the cooler aside to return to Nino at a later date.
Deciding a bath sounded good, he ran the water and lit one of Marinette's scented candles. Determined to spoil himself, he added some of her bubble bath too. While he waited for the tub to fill, he undressed, and set a mug of blood to heat in the microwave.
Finally, he sank into the water with his mug and a magazine. It had been months since he’d indulged in a soak, and it was exactly the kind of stress relief he needed. With the ball, and Fashion Week fast approaching, he was sure to have plenty to do, so he wanted to take advantage of the calm while it lasted.
He stayed in there until the water cooled, and his muscles loosened. Then he heaved himself out, and dried off with the fluffiest towel he owned. When he sniffed his skin, he smelled like Marinette.
Pulling on his favourite pyjama pants, Adrien lay on the couch with his arm over his face. As he drifted into a light doze, he thought that if he could dream, it would certainly be of Marinette.
Tuesday dawned warm and bright, the light shining into Marinette’s childhood room to wake her by stabbing her mercilessly in the eyes before she had even opened them. She groaned irritably and rolled over, pulling her blankets up to shield her face and go back to sleep.
‘Honey,’ Sabine called from the stairs, ‘time to get up. You’re going to be late.’
Marinette was just about to beg for five more minutes, when she remembered she wasn’t a child anymore, and had adult responsibilities to take care of.
It was an arduous process getting ready that day, and Sabine tutting at her did not help.
‘Really, Marinette, you’re an adult now. You shouldn’t need me to get you up in the morning.’
Marinette bit her tongue against an acerbic reply, and brushed her hair. Once she was ready, she grabbed her bag, called out her goodbyes to Sabine, and skipped down to the bakery where she grabbed a box of assorted pastries and a cherry canelé for Mathéo.
‘Thanks, Papa. I'm sure everyone will love them.’
Tom winked at her. ‘Never hurts to grease the wheel with your colleagues, and the fastest way to anyone’s heart is with fresh pastries.’
‘I don’t think that’s quite how the saying goes,’ she laughed as the door swung shut behind her.
It was an uneventful trip into the city, and when she reached Gabriel's studio, she offered the pastry box to the two young ladies behind the reception desk first. They made their selections with appreciative smiles, then Marinette headed into the design department, leaving the box in the department kitchenette on the way.
‘Good morning, my dear,’ Mathéo greeted her warmly, with his arms outstretched. ‘You look positively radiant today.’
Marinette couldn’t help the half smile tugging at her lips. ‘You can stop buttering me up. Here.’
She handed him his canelé, carefully packaged in its own little box, which he accepted eagerly. ‘Remind me to see that you get a raise.’
Waving him off with a laugh, Marinette headed to her desk and began her morning procedures.
Her day was progressing peacefully, until Angelique stormed up to her desk just before lunch.
‘Marinette Dupain-Cheng,’ she announced loudly, her hands on her hips.
Marinette closed her eyes and groaned; she hadn’t heard anyone use her full name in years. People nearby turned to stare, Noémie even pulled out her phone to record the confrontation.
‘What is it, Angelique?’ Marinette asked as patiently as she could.
Angelique huffed, and drew herself up to her full height, though her only advantage was that Marinette had remained seated. If she were to stand, she and Angelique would be of the same height.
‘You have some nerve sending that lousy musician my way yesterday. I don’t want your rejects.’
Mindful of all the eyes, and Noémie’s phone focussed on her, Marinette took a deep breath before replying.
‘I'm sorry it didn’t work out between you and XY. I honestly thought you two would hit it off.’
‘Well, we didn’t. He’s a self-centred, condescending, egotistic, misogynist who tried to stiff me with the bill. He’s a world-famous rock star, yet he claims to have no cash on him. I don’t know whether he was trying to use me, or test me, but I didn't appreciate it, and now you need to apologise for putting me through such a harrowing experience.’
Marinette watched as Angelique’s composure broke, leaving a frazzled, wild-looking woman in her place.
Before she could compose a reply, Mathéo interceded on her behalf. He stood behind Marinette with his arms crossed, his face uncharacteristically stern. He levelled a hard glare at Angelique, but she remained defiant, despite her hair falling from its neat bun, to hang in stringy tendrils down her face.
‘Angelique, your misdirected anger at Marinette is most unbecoming of an employee of Gabriel's. You allowed yourself to be taken in by XY’s dubious charms, and seemed quite willing to lead him away from Marinette, thinking you had gained some paltry victory. You have no one to blame but yourself for the predicament you now find yourself in.’
Angelique pointed an accusatory finger at Marinette. ‘But she tried to sabotage me.’
Marinette shot to her feet, her hands braced against the desk. ‘I did not.’
‘You did so. You left a box of pastries in the kitchen knowing full well I’m a stress eater. You're trying to make me fat, you conniving bitch.’
Everyone within earshot stared at Angelique in varying degrees of shock, before turning aside to mutter into their hands.
Mathéo cleared his throat. ‘I think you had better come with me, Angelique.’
He led her away, one hand clamped around her elbow as she hissed and seethed. His office door closed behind them with a firm click.
Noémie shook her head as she lowered her phone. ‘Some days, I wonder why I ever left Belgium.’
A heavy silence fell over the room as everyone slowly got back to work. Thirty minutes later, Angelique emerged from Mathéo’s office, grabbed her handbag, and strode from the studio without a backward glance, her face stony.
Mathéo came out after she’d left, looking tired and harried. He beckoned Marinette from his doorway, and she immediately got up, her guts tying themselves in knots.
Approaching him slowly, she tried to keep her composure, but worried everyone could see her sweating. Mathéo held out a hand, gesturing her into his office, before closing the door again.
‘Take a seat, my dear,’ he told her.
Marinette sat in one of the two guest chairs, her hands wringing in her lap, as she crossed her legs at the ankle. ‘Am I in trouble?’
Mathéo took his seat, and folded his hands upon the desk. ‘Goodness me, no. You did nothing wrong, and handled yourself commendably, under the circumstances. No, I wanted to ask whether you wanted to push for disciplinary action against Angelique. She openly accused you of sabotage, however frivolous, and tried to court your client, thereby robbing you of an opportunity and wages. She has already been given temporary leave, but if you wish for something harsher, you had better tell me now.’
Marinette blinked in astonishment. ‘What? No, I don’t think further punishment is necessary. Maybe give her a talk about acceptable workplace behaviour, but I don’t want her fired, or her wages cut.’
Mathéo’s smile was gentle. ‘You’re a good person, Marinette. I still have to report this incident to my seniors, but I’ll let them know your stance on the matter. You can head on back now.’
She nodded and took her leave, offering reassuring smiles to those who turned to her in concern. The rest of the day dragged by torturously slowly, yet she still felt like she had accomplished very little by the end of it.
That night, Marinette stood on her balcony, staring up at the murky sky as she let herself decompress. The rest of her day had passed unremarkably, and she had told her parents about what happened over dinner. They were outraged on her behalf, but proud of how she’d handled the confrontation, then the subject moved on to difficult customers, and the moment had gone.
Marinette wasn’t sorry. She’d had enough of talking about Angelique, and all associated subjects, including work. She let her parents’ voices wash over her, humming and nodding along at appropriate intervals without taking any of it in.
With a weary sigh, she rested her elbows on the balcony rail, and thought back on easier times.
‘Never thought I’d miss the days when boys and exams were my biggest problems,’ she mused.
‘You’re having problems?’ asked a voice.
Marinette spun on her heel, ready to punch the intruder, only to see a small fog bank coalesce into a human form.
He chuckled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head as the last few wisps of fog joined the rest of him. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you.’
Her shoulders sagged as she released a gusty exhale. ‘Some warning would be nice. You should ring or something if you intend to come over.’
‘You said your parents were bakers. I didn’t want to disturb them if they have to go to bed early.’
Marinette quirked her lips. ‘I have a mobile; you could have texted me.’
‘Noted. I take it you had a rough day?’
Marinette tipped her head back with a loud groan. She told him what had transpired, then collapsed into the tired old deck chair, which creaked alarmingly under her sudden weight.
‘Sounds awful,’ Adrien commiserated.
She rolled her eyes towards him. ‘Enough about me. What brings you here?’
He shrugged, his eyes dropping to his feet as he leaned back against the rails to her left. ‘I guess I was bored. Now that the fittings for fashion week are over, and the Red Night is still a while away, I have nothing better to do than wait.’
Marinette hummed in understanding. ‘That does sound boring. You don’t have to sit through fittings for your Red Night clothes?’
‘Nah. Father already has my measurements. The suit can be made without me present. It’ll be dropped by later in the week.’
‘Another reason for me to not be there.’
‘You’re right. It would look pretty bad, even if it were only a helot who saw you. They’ll be sure to report everything back to Father as it is.’
Crossing her legs, Marinette pivoted to look at him. ‘You don’t have any modelling gigs going on at the moment, either?’
He shook his head. ‘Father’s attention is exclusively on the Red Night, so everything else has fallen by the wayside. He’s left the running of the business to the humans in management positions.’
Marinette raised an eyebrow, idly wondering if that would have any impact on Angelique's future in the company.
Probably not, she dismissed. It’ll be fine.
‘So,’ she went on, ‘miss me yet?’
Adrien smiled like an innocent schoolboy. ‘A little.’
‘So that’s why you really came here tonight. I’m surprised you remember the address, actually. You didn’t have to think too hard on it, did you?’
Adrien frowned and crossed his arms. ‘You were the one who left the address on a note in the kitchen. I just happened to find it.’
Tilting her head, Marinette rubbed her chin, trying to remember when she had written such a note. ‘I must have written that ages ago.’
‘It did look pretty rumpled. You probably wrote it shortly after moving in with me.’
She hummed an agreeing note, before lapsing into silence. Adrien rubbed his arm, and stared at her plants, before lightly touching the edge of a leaf.
‘I don’t think I've ever seen you as smoke before,’ she commented.
Adrien looked back at her with a small smile. ‘Well, transforming into a bat is outdated and gauche. No one with any modicum of taste does it anymore.’
‘Ah, I see. Everyone got sick of getting bugs stuck in their teeth, didn’t they?’
His laugh was low, but genuine. ‘Probably. Mercifully, we aren’t overtaken by bat instincts when we transform, so there was no intentional eating of said bugs, or soiling oneself as they flew.’
She wrinkled her nose in distaste. ‘Do bats do that?’
‘I have no idea,’ he confessed.
Marinette brought her feet up to rest her chin on her knees. ‘How are you, otherwise? Are you eating enough, sleeping well, that sort of thing?’
He nodded, though he avoided looking her in the eyes. ‘Yeah, all of that, though Nino had to stay back and wait for me to come get my food after I almost forgot.’
‘Why didn’t he just deliver it, if you were running late?’
Adrien stilled, his arms dropping to hang limp by his sides. ‘That son of a bitch.’
‘I bet he made me come on purpose, like he wanted to teach me a lesson in self-sufficiency or something. Unbelievable.’
Marinette laughed at him. ‘Yeah, that sounds like something he’d do. Next time, remember to call him if you’re going to be late. He may take mercy on you, and deliver it while he’s on his way home.’
Adrien pouted and mumbled sourly under his breath.
She chuckled again, then scooted as far over as she could, before patting the small space beside her in invitation.
Adrien ceased grumbling, and sank into the spot carefully in an attempt to avoid squashing her. It was tight, but they both fit with relative comfort. Together, they lay back to look up at the clouds scudding across the night sky.
‘It’s going to be a long week,’ observed Adrien.
‘Yeah, but it’s only one week, and we’re strong.’
‘We certainly are,’ he agreed.
I know this isn't much of a chapter, but guys, how am I supposed to know if you like this fic or not unless you talk to me?
That being said, I would like to thank my stalwart readers for always leaving something. You guys are the real MVPs.
Adrien was pulled from a restless sleep by a persistent knocking on his front door. With a despairing moan, he rolled out of bed, and wrapped his blanket around him as he ambled down the hall. His curtains were drawn, blocking the worst of the sun’s light, but he still felt weak as he unlatched the door.
Peering through a narrow gap, he saw a vaguely familiar face smiling back at him.
‘Good afternoon, Adrien. It’s me, Lila Rossi. I’ve come to deliver your Red Night suit.’
‘Of course, please come in.’ He opened the door and let her in, before shutting it again.
The Rossi family had faithfully served the Agreste clan as helots for centuries. As such, they enjoyed a certain preferential treatment from the vampire community, and were among the most respected in their caste. Adrien had only met Lila a few times, but he thought she performed her duties admirably and made her family legacy proud.
Lila draped a black garment bag over the couch and carefully unzipped it, before lifting the clothing out with movements that were almost graceful and reverent.
She’s been well trained, he observed.
She turned back to him, holding up the suit. Adrien tried not to wince as he took the proffered items. The jacket was a dusky purple, with wide, matte black lapels and polished nickel buttons so bright they looked silver. The silk shirt was plain charcoal, and the vest was silver and amethyst paisley. The cravat too was a glossy silver, held in place with a pin shaped like a butterfly.
The pants were black, with double lines of purple and silver running down the outside of the leg, leading the eye to highly polished business shoes. Over it all went a frock coat of deep purple with black velvet lapels, cuffs, and hem. It too fastened with polished nickel buttons, and black lace trailed from the cuffs, intended to draw attention to his long fingers. Worst of all, on the back a large, elaborate butterfly had been embroidered in silver thread, which caught the light and sparkled, giving it the illusion of flight.
Adrien eyed the ensemble with forced enthusiasm. ‘Yay. Can’t wait.’
‘You’re going to look dashing,’ Lila told him.
‘It’ll be something else, all right.’
Putting the clothes back in the bag, Adrien turned back to Lila. ‘Are you and your family going to be working the ball?’
She nodded, her ever-present smile unwavering. ‘Yes, it will be our honour to serve you during your festivities.’
‘Great, maybe I’ll see you there.’
‘I hope so. I look forward to seeing you in your finery, with Lady Bourgeois on your arm. You’re sure to be the most glamourous pair there.’
Adrien chuckled awkwardly. Even the helots want us to be together.
‘I’m sure you’ll look lovely as well, Mademoiselle Rossi.’
She placed a modest hand against her breast. ‘Please, call me Lila, Master Agreste.’
‘I think when we’re alone, we can dispense with the formalities. Just call me Adrien.’
Like with any noble class, servants were required to address their lords by title, unless given permission to do otherwise. However, in the presence of others, that deference was to be strictly adhered to. Lapses in protocol were not tolerated, and could be punished by immediate dismissal if the servant was believed to be overly casual or disrespectful toward their lord. It was an honour, and spoke of a great deal of trust between master and servant, to be given permission to use their lord’s given name, even if it could only be used in private.
Lila tipped her head in gracious appreciation. ‘Thank you, Adrien. I’m honoured.’
During his childhood, Adrien had been accustomed to the ingratiating behaviour of the helots, but after spending so much time among humans, it now made him distinctly uncomfortable.
‘Yeah, no problem. Was there anything else?’
She shook her head. ‘No, just your suit. I assume Lady Bourgeois will contact you herself regarding the finer details for the Red Night.’
‘Most likely. Well, thank you for stopping by, I appreciate you taking the time to deliver this.’
Recognising the dismissal, Lila nodded in understanding, and headed toward the door. Adrien followed, and stood in the doorway to see her off.
‘Rest well, Adrien.’ She gave him a final, charming smile, and walked away.
Adrien closed the door, and turned back to the garment bag as if it were a hostile entity. Scowling, he approached it slowly and circled the couch where it lay, almost daring it to move. Gingerly, he picked it up by the hanger between his forefinger and thumb, and held it at arm’s length until he could stuff it into his wardrobe where he wouldn’t have to look at it until the ball.
‘I’m going to look ridiculous,’ he moaned. ‘Again.’
Not for the first time, he wondered what colours his mother’s house had. Emilie had taken Gabriel's house colours when she married him, as she had become a part of his family, effectively forsaking her own. Yet no one spoke of her much, even before her mysterious death, so Adrien had no idea which clan she came from.
Whatever it was, her former colours had to be better than these, he grumped as he slammed his wardrobe door shut.
Adrien was of the opinion that his house colours did not suit him at all. He thought they washed out his complexion, making him look pale and sickly. This belief was not helped by Chloé, who told him every year how drab he looked, and how he would benefit by joining her clan and adopting her colours. Adrien, however, did not think that bright yellow, black, and white would suit him any better. He always thought that Chloé looked like an overgrown bee with an identity crisis.
Whining miserably, Adrien leaned his head against the wardrobe door. ‘I hate everything about this.’
Taking a moment to breathe, he pulled himself together, and went to prepare a mug of blood, his blanket still trailing on the floor as he held it close about himself. After he was sated, he fell back into bed, but his sleep was as unrestful as it was before the interruption.
Thursday morning had a better start than the previous two days. Marinette awoke in time for breakfast, and prepared for work at a leisurely pace, before collecting a box of assorted pastries from Tom as she left.
She entered the office, paid her daily tithe of a cherry canelé to Mathéo, left the rest of the pastries in the kitchenette, and sat at her desk, ready to sew XY’s costumes.
Noémie leaned precariously over the back of her chair and hissed for Marinette’s attention. Startled, her head whipped up, eyes wide as she looked to the other woman seated diagonally to her left.
‘Hey, Marinette. Did you hear? Angelique was fired yesterday.’
Marinette dropped the satin she had been about to pin. ‘What? No way.’
‘Yeah. Turned out, she wasn’t performing well, and hadn’t done any real work for weeks. Mathéo checked her work log, and found it practically empty. She’d probably still be rorting the system if she hadn’t brought all that attention on herself on Tuesday.’
Marinette was astounded. ‘You're kidding.’
Noémie shook her head. ‘Mathéo asked around a little bit, wondering if anyone had seen her do her job, but no one was even sure what her job was. I thought she was a secretary, or something.’
Marinette tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. ‘Mathéo didn’t question me about anything. I didn’t even know he was doing it.’
‘He probably avoided you, on account of Angelique singling you out. He has to keep his report free of any and all bias, I suppose.’
Marinette hummed in pensive acknowledgement. ‘I would’ve given an honest accounting of what happened, but I suppose that’s unnecessary, given how many witnesses there were, including Mathéo himself. But I honestly thought Angelique was from the admin department.’
‘Turns out, she was a designer like us,’ Noémie informed her. ‘Sure shocked me, but that would explain why she was always hanging around here.’
Marinette stared at her in disbelief. ‘I just thought she wanted to meet celebrities.’
‘Yeah, well, that wouldn’t be out of character either. Angelique made no secret of the fact that she would ditch this place in a hot second if she thought she could land a rich husband.’
‘Wow, just, wow.’ Marinette, lost for words, shook her head and resumed pinning XY’s costume into place.
Noémie turned back around, and got back to work sewing her share of the workload in preparation for Fashion Week.
Marinette liked Noémie. She was a little older than Marinette, with chestnut hair, fair skin, and stunning green eyes. Her nose was slightly too big for good looks, but it didn’t detract from her likableness. She was friendly, responsible, and mature, as well as a good designer and source of information, without being gossipy. She could be told things in confidence, and only chatted as she just did when she felt the information was pertinent.
Marinette appreciated her taking the time to keep her abreast of the Angelique situation, and vowed to bring her something special from the bakery the next morning.
After lunch, she was almost done sewing a piece, when the sound of a body dropping into the seat in front of her desk caught her attention.
Before she could turn around, a smarmy voice began speaking.
‘Good afternoon, my lovely Marinette. How are you this fine day?’
‘Hello, Monsieur XY.’ She spun her chair around until she faced him.
XY lounged in her guest chair, one leg hanging over the arm, as he grinned at her. ‘Perhaps today’s the day when you finally agree to have lunch with me.’
‘I see it didn’t take you long to recover from your lunch with Angelique the other day.’
XY waved a dismissive hand as he blew a raspberry with his lips. ‘She was a demanding little gold digger. You could tell right from the start she was high maintenance; I’m better off without her.’
‘I see.’ Taken over by morbid curiosity, she felt compelled to ask, ‘but you don’t think I’d be exactly the same? I could be demanding and high maintenance, for all you know.’
XY leaned back and laughed. Then he surged forward so fast, Marinette automatically shifted backward.
‘You’re not that type of girl,’ he told her. ‘You’re the kind of person who would listen to everything I say, and support me when I need it most. You’re that person who bends over backwards to meet the needs of others, and never asks for anything in return. You’re tidy, I bet you like to cook, and you’re physically attractive, so you’d make an ideal housewife. Best of all, you’re malleable. You’re like the perfect package.’
Marinette didn’t know how to respond to that. ‘Huh. You think so?’
‘I bet beneath that demure façade, you’re a beast in the sack, too,’ he added with a lascivious wink.
Her stomach turned.
‘You know,’ called Noémie from her desk, her head still bent over her work, ‘one could construe that as harassment.’
XY curled his lip, and tipped his head back in her general direction. ‘No one asked you, horse face.’
Marinette felt her face turn a dangerous shade of pink. Her fists clenched, and she grit her teeth, seething and desperately wanting to put him in his place.
‘Ah, horses are such noble creatures,’ Noémie sighed. ‘When I was a kid, I used to crawl around and give my little sister pony rides. I have such fond memories of being a horse.’
XY looked flummoxed, confused by her taking his scathing remark and turning it into something positive.
‘Whatever,’ he tsked.
He turned back to Marinette but paused when he saw the look on her face.
‘Get out,’ she growled, enunciating each word as if it were its own sentence.
‘Geez, why are you so pissy? Is it that time of the month?’
She would have picked up her stapler and hurled it at his head, had Mathéo not come along at that point after making his rounds.
‘How’re things going here?’ he asked, but trailed off at the murderous look in Marinette’s eyes.
‘XY is being particularly offensive today,’ Noémie explained, still resolutely focussed on her work. ‘I think it would be best if he were escorted from the premises and denied entry from here on out.’
Mathéo turned stony. ‘Is this true?’
Marinette could only nod; she didn’t trust herself to speak without devolving into a string of expletives.
‘I was only making conversation,’ XY attempted to explain, but Noémie held up her phone.
A recording of his voice played, repeating his estimation of Marinette’s character, and the unfortunate comments that followed.
‘I believe the ladies can handle the completion of your costumes without your ongoing input, Monsieur,’ Mathéo told him, voice frosty. ‘I think it’s time you leave, preferably before I have to call security. We wouldn’t want to cause a scandal so close to your concert date.’
XY snorted and curled his lip in disdain, before getting up and walking away. He slammed the door after himself like an ill-tempered child.
Marinette took a deep breath, and released it slowly. Then she got up to thank Noémie properly for her support. As she rounded Noémie’s desk, though, she saw the older woman discreetly dab at her eyes with a handkerchief.
‘Noémie, are you all right?’ she asked, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Noémie spun her chair around, smiling through her tears. ‘That was scary.’
Without further prompting, Marinette wrapped her arms around her and hugged her tight.
‘Thanks for having my back.’
Noémie sniffled and returned the embrace. ‘We girls have to watch out for each other, right?’
‘You said it. Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do for you.’
Marinette gave Noémie a final squeeze before letting go. Mathéo stood by her chair, and indicated she follow him back to his office. She trailed obediently behind him, her head low as she wondered how this would look to management, her imagination painting darker and grimmer images the longer she let it run rampant.
Closing his office door, Mathéo turned back to her with a sigh.
‘Am I going to be fired?’ she asked, feeling small and timid.
He blinked at her. ‘Gracious me, why would you think that?’
‘I was rude to a major client. I could have cost us his patronage. The executives hate to lose big money, and I may have cost us our partnership with his record label. This is a disaster for the company’s bottom line.’
She felt tears burn her eyes, and turned away before he could see.
‘My dear, you are not going to be fired. We have a binding contract with Bob Roth Records, and if they break it, they face legal action. No, I brought you in here to apologise.’
‘Apologise for what? Wait, me or you?’
Mathéo placed both hands on her shoulders. ‘I asked you to make XY’s costumes because you have the creative genius required for something as flamboyant as a concert, even ones as uninspired as XY’s. You aren’t inhibited by the confines of high fashion like the rest of us. But what I did not foresee was what a cretin he is. I knew he was a lout, but I underestimated the depths of his boorish behaviour. I certainly didn’t anticipate his apparent liking for you, or his frequent visits. I’m sorry I ever inflicted him upon you.’
She shook her head and wiped her unshed tears on her sleeve. ‘I knew of the rumours about him, and I’ve read interviews of people he’s worked with. I knew what I was getting into, and normally I’d handle it just fine, but then he insulted Noémie.’
‘Your desire to defend your friend is commendable, and her coming to your aid speaks volumes about the both of you. I’m very proud of you, but if you would prefer to be taken off the XY project, and participate in Fashion Week instead, I would understand. Fashion Week is a far more desirable project to take part in, that’s for certain.’
It was a generous offer, but Marinette shook her head. ‘I've already committed to the concert project, so I’ll see it through to completion. Thanks for offering, though.’
‘Of course. Go on back to work now, and don’t fret about management. There’s really no issue on that front.’
She nodded her thanks, and returned to her desk, determined to have XY’s costumes completed as soon as she was able.
Later that same night...
A big thank you to everyone who has been reading, commenting, and leaving Kudos!
Because of you, we have now exceeded 3,000 hits, which was why you got the last chapter early.
As always, your continued encouragement is appreciated, and you can still find me on Tumblr under the same username if you have any questions. Please enjoy the chapter!
Adrien was waiting on the microwave when an impatient rapping sounded against the balcony doors. He jumped and spun around, then glared at the owl peering back at him, yet another missive clutched in its talons.
‘What now?’ he moaned as he walked over and slid the door open.
The bird dropped the letter just inside the door, then took off, disinterested in his response. Adrien sighed as he stooped to pick up the neatly rolled parchment, noting absently that it was from Chloé this time.
He broke the seal on his way back to the kitchen and grabbed his large mug, before sinking into the couch cushions. With one hand, he unrolled the parchment over his knee and drank while he read.
The Red Night ball is this Sunday. Do not forget. Pick me up at six o’clock sharp, and try not to look so glum this year; you’ll give yourself wrinkles.
She went on, detailing her dress and how unfortunate it was that she hadn’t been granted permission to oversee his wardrobe, complaining bitterly how their clothes were going to clash.
Adrien rolled his eyes, and crumpled the letter before tossing it carelessly over his shoulder.
Already he felt like the walls of Gabriel's estate were closing in on him, crushing him breathless.
Quickly, he raised his mug and drained it, heedless of the scalding temperature. It warmed him as it went down, but the cold pit opening in his gut remained unaffected.
‘I need to get out.’
He dissolved into fog, and flowed outside from under the balcony door. He let himself drift, but the feeling of impending doom followed him.
Letting the wind carry his nebulous form where it would, he became an idle passenger to its whims in an attempt to calm his anxieties. He had felt almost free when he had last transformed and had gone to visit Marinette at her parents’ place. Unfortunately, that peace evaded him now, taunting him with his looming responsibilities and possible entrapment.
He silently cursed, his tumultuous thoughts sending the fog into restless eddies.
With a start, Adrien noticed he was floating over Gabriel's studios, Marinette’s place of work. He cursed the capricious winds for mocking his pain, reminding him yet again of his rank, and that Marinette would not be coming home tonight.
However, he could not help but pause and watch the building for a moment. Marinette would have left hours ago, and was probably enjoying a simple, domestic evening with good food at her parents’ place.
He was proven wrong when Marinette slipped from the front doors, with a large, black bag dragging her shoulder down.
Concerned, he floated to the ground and collected himself deep in the shadows between two streetlights. Before he could step forward to relieve her of her burden, a mortal man approached her from the opposite direction to himself, and called out to her by name, waving for her attention.
‘Hello, my sweet dressmaker,’ the man called.
Adrien bristled at the possessive pronoun and the condescending description of her career.
‘You’re working late tonight,’ he continued in an unpleasantly nasal voice.
‘I was sewing your costumes,’ she told him, as if it were his fault.
So, this is the infamous Monsieur XY, Adrien thought as he slipped deeper into the shadows.
‘I see, I see,’ XY replied, nodding along.
‘Why are you here?’ Marinette asked. ‘I thought you were angry with me.’
Adrien tensed, ready to intervene should XY lose his temper.
‘I was never angry at you,’ he answered, opening his arms in a relaxed gesture. ‘I just don’t understand why you’re still playing hard to get. I mean, we have such obvious chemistry.’
Adrien nearly gagged.
Marinette’s face turned frigid. ‘There was no chemistry, XY. I took your measurements, and since then, I have done nothing but my job, however much you tried to interfere with that. Now, I believe you were asked to stay off Gabriel's property.’
XY held up his index finger and wagged it in her face. ‘Uh-uh, I was told not to enter the building during business hours; no one said anything about waiting for you outside.’
She took a step back, her eyes widening. Adrien clenched his jaw and strode purposefully forward just as XY leaned into Marinette's personal space with his lips puckered.
‘How about we stop playing around, huh?’ He reached out and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close.
Instantly, she kneed him hard in the groin. XY curled in on himself and collapsed into the foetal position on the ground, whimpering like a sick puppy.
Adrien grinned, feeling no pity for the other man. ‘I was just about to intervene, but I see you’re quite capable of rescuing yourself, Princess.’
Marinette’s eyes flicked up to him. Squaring her shoulders, she replied, ‘I am perfectly able to take care of myself.’
‘I see that.’ Adrien glanced at XY, still on the ground and cupping his crotch tenderly.
XY looked at them both with watery eyes. ‘Who’re you?’
Trying not to laugh at his embarrassingly high pitch, Adrien raised an eyebrow. ‘I'm Adrien Agreste.’
It took a moment to sink in, XY’s face morphing slowly from bafflement to horrified recognition. ‘Agreste? As in, Gabriel Agreste?’
‘That’s the one.’
XY pointed an accusing finger back at Marinette. ‘She attacked me. I was just being friendly, and she attacked me.’
Adrien nodded. ‘I saw.’
‘Then you agree it was unprovoked? I’m going to take her to court for this.’
‘No, you won’t.’
XY gasped as he made some inaccurate assumptions. ‘You’re dating her.’
‘Oh, for crying out loud,’ grumbled Marinette.
XY turned back to her. ‘You’re sleeping with the boss’ son, you tart. How could you lead me on like this?’
Marinette stammered in outrage. ‘I did not.’
‘I have never seen this woman outside of work,’ Adrien lied, not only for XY’s sake, but in case any of his father’s spies were watching.
She picked up on his ruse immediately, if not the whole reasoning for it. ‘We’re complete strangers. You just can’t stand the thought that I’m not interested in you. Get over yourself, and move on.’
‘It is pretty pathetic, to keep chasing a lady after she’s already rejected you,’ Adrien added.
XY uttered feeble protests, but they went unheard as Adrien extended his arm toward Marinette. ‘Will you allow me to escort you home, Mademoiselle?’
Huffing primly through her nose, Marinette stepped over XY, and accepted his arm. ‘Thank you, kind Sir.’
They strolled away, arm in arm, ignoring XY’s plaintive cries and weak accusations.
‘Are you ok?’ he asked, once everything had fallen silent.
Marinette drew a shaky breath. ‘He startled me, but I’m all right.’
‘I can walk you back to the bakery, if you want. I know you can look after yourself, but it would make me feel better.’
Her grip on his arm tightened. ‘I’d appreciate that.’
Adrien kept an eye on the streets around them, trying to spot any spies who might have followed them, but he saw no evidence of them. He wasn’t about to fall into complacency, though, so he kept his contact and conversation with Marinette carefully impersonal.
‘Why did he think you wanted to go out with him?’
Marinette let her head fall back with a pained groan. ‘I was chosen to make his outfits for an upcoming concert. But somehow, while I was taking his measurements, he got it into his head that we should date. Like, I’d seen him in his underwear, so we must be soulmates or something. It was creepy and gross.’
‘You have my sympathies, and my deepest apologies. Is there anything the company can do to make it up to you? My dad’s the boss, you know.’
Marinette struggled to keep her expression neutral. ‘You don’t say. Well, you have impeccable timing, Monsieur Agreste.’
‘I do say, and I agree. But really, is there anything we can do?’
Her smile was small, but genuine. ‘Just make sure no more creeps have such easy access to the building, and give Mathéo and Noémie a raise. If it weren’t for them, things might have gone very differently.’
Adrien arched an eyebrow. ‘Nothing for yourself?’
She shook her head. ‘I already have everything I could possibly want. Thank you, though.’
He felt warmth bloom in his chest, and allowed himself to believe he was one of those things she so obviously valued.
They fell into a companionable silence, but he escorted her all the way to the bakery door, where he reluctantly let go of her arm.
‘Well, this is me,’ she told him, jerking her thumb at the bakery window.
Adrien looked the building over appreciatively. ‘It feels so warm and welcoming.’
‘You should meet the people who own it,’ she laughed.
‘I’d love to,’ he replied, sincerely.
Marinette stared at him blankly for a moment, then before she could say anything else, the door burst open.
‘Honey, where have you been?’ screeched a diminutive woman. ‘You’re so late, your father and I were getting worried.’
Marinette rolled her eyes before turning toward the woman. ‘Sorry, Maman, I just had to finish a few things.’
But she wasn’t listening. Marinette’s mother was leaning around her daughter, openly appraising Adrien as he stood awkwardly on the footpath.
‘Who’s this?’ she asked, a hint of a smile teasing her lips.
Marinette flushed, embarrassed by her oversight. ‘I’m so sorry. Maman, this is Adrien Agreste, my boss’ son. Monsieur Agreste, this is my mum, Sabine Cheng.’
Sabine’s expression was calculating. ‘Adrien, huh?’
Marinette’s face matched his sudden spark of alarm. ‘Why don’t we take this conversation inside? Adrien, please come in.’
‘Wonderful idea,’ Sabine said. ‘You can meet Tom.’
Adrien obediently followed Marinette and Sabine inside, hoping that Gabriel's spies wouldn’t lower themselves to eavesdropping outside of windows.
Looking around, he admired the quaint interior. It was homey and welcoming, with years of familial warmth permeating the air. Adrien took a deep breath, a little envious of Marinette’s childhood.
They marched upstairs, where Sabine led them into a small apartment, Marinette taking a second to invite him in again. Adrien didn’t need the second invitation, but appreciated her covering all their bases under the guise of courtesy.
Tom strode from the kitchen, booming a welcome, but paused when he noticed Adrien.
Sabine held out an arm. ‘Tom, this is Adrien Agreste. Adrien, this is my husband, Tom.’
Tom’s look mirrored the one Sabine wore only minutes ago.
‘He wouldn’t be the Adrien, would he?’ Tom hissed in an unsubtle stage whisper.
Marinette turned red as she brought a hand to her face with an audible smack.
‘The Adrien?’ Adrien asked, like he hadn’t already figured out that Marinette must have spoken of him to her family.
‘You wouldn’t be Marinette’s flatmate, by any chance, would you?’ Tom enquired.
She looked at him from between her fingers, letting him decide if he wanted to divulge such sensitive information.
Adrien held out his hand with a grin. ‘The very same. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you both.’
They greeted him enthusiastically with vigorous handshakes, before inviting him in for a cup of tea. He accepted, and let them place him on the couch, while they prepared tea and light snacks.
‘Can you even drink tea?’ Marinette muttered as she sat beside him.
‘A little bit. One cup will be my limit, though.’
Leaving the tea to steep, Tom and Sabine came back, smiling broadly as they sat down.
‘So, the boss’s son, huh?’ Tom began. ‘No wonder Marinette has been so secretive about her roommate.’
Sabine nodded. ‘We were starting to get concerned, to be honest. We wondered at first if she had made you up, then we thought she might have gotten involved with some unsavoury element, like a drug dealer, or an abusive boyfriend.’
‘To find out you’re her boss’s son is a relief, actually,’ Tom continued. ‘I mean, I understand why she had to keep it a secret, but some reassurance she wasn’t in danger would have been nice.’
‘Papa,’ groaned Marinette, her face in her hands as she rested her elbows on her knees.
Sabine frowned at her. ‘We were only concerned for your wellbeing, young lady.’
Adrien held up his hands in a placating gesture. ‘I apologise, this is my fault. I was the one who asked Marinette to keep our arrangement secret. If my father found out, he would have a fit. He doesn’t like the idea of me cohabitating.’
Tom and Sabine both nodded in acknowledgement.
‘Also, if word were to spread throughout the company, your reputations may suffer,’ Sabine added with a sagely nod.
‘Rumours of workplace romances, professional bias and favouritism, accusations of unprofessional conduct for personal gain, the list goes on,’ Adrien agreed. ‘I would be largely untouchable, but Marinette would definitely suffer if word got out.’
Sabine tilted her head, her brow furrowing. ‘But Marinette, you told us that you asked around at work for someone who had a spare room they’d be willing to lease.’
Marinette cleared her throat. ‘I only talked to Mathéo and Noémie, and I can trust them both to keep quiet. Besides, if anyone should catch trouble for favouritism, it should be Mathéo. He spoils me terribly.’
Sabine went to pour the tea, coming back with a tray laden with cups and biscuits. After performing her hostess duties, she resumed her place next to Tom, teacup in hand.
Adrien picked up his own cup and took a delicate sip. It tasted like hot grass water, but he smiled and thanked her politely. Sabine beamed back at him.
Tom settled back against the cushions, his tiny cup dwarfed by his hand. ‘Mathéo is a man who knows quality work. I doubt he put you in your position just because he likes you.’
Adrien nodded. ‘All raises and promotions have to go through management, to be approved or denied, based on the work submitted for their inspection. Mathéo may have pushed hard for you, but it was clearly your work and dedication that won you your place. I think you deserve more credit than you give yourself.’
‘Here-here,’ Sabine cheered.
Adrien allowed himself to bask in the warmth Marinette's family provided. For a little while he could forget the upcoming ball, and the obligations laying therein.
Not for the first time, he dreamed that this was what his life would have been, if he’d been born to a human family. Alas, he hadn’t and soon, Tom and Sabine hinted that they were growing tired, and still had to get up early the following day.
Adrien took his leave, wishing all of them a good night, to return to a dark apartment alone. Somehow, he felt even more bereft than when he’d left, and desperately wished Marinette had been able to come back with him
‘Only a couple more nights,’ he told himself. ‘She’ll come back the day after the Red Night ball.’
Taking a deep breath, Adrien packed a duffel bag to while away a few hours at the gym. If he could keep his mind occupied and his body exhausted, he wouldn’t fret so much.
Y'all can have another chapter 'cause Lazybug16 over on Tumblr made me laugh
Marinette worked like a machine, powering through constructing and sewing XY’s concert outfits in record time, without compromising the integrity of her work. Her colleagues raised their eyebrows at her sudden urgency, but she ignored them, determined to finish, and put the whole ordeal behind her.
Someone placed a sandwich and a bottle of water by her elbow during lunch. She took a quick break, but then dived straight back into it, reluctant to emerge from her zone for longer than necessary.
By day’s end, she had completed three of the six costumes XY would be wearing for his next concert. They were simpler garments compared to the other three, but she felt a vast sense of accomplishment regardless.
She sat back and wiped her forehead, releasing a gusty breath at the same time. When she looked around, however, the department was empty. Furrowing her brow, she checked the time; it was already an hour after closing, and security was sweeping the building before locking up for the night.
Marinette scrambled to pack up, but left most of her station as it was. Then she scurried from the building, nodding apologetically to the guards as she dashed by.
Outside, the sun was setting, lengthening the shadows and turning the sky pink and orange. The evening chill began to seep in as well, sending a shiver down her back as she took a step away from the building.
Staring at the ground, Marinette rubbed her arms as she walked away. She didn’t notice someone standing in her path until she almost ran into them.
‘Sorry,’ she murmured as she made to move around them.
The person, though, grabbed her sleeve and yanked her back roughly. Marinette looked up in alarm, then scowled at Angelique fiercely.
Angelique glowered back, but released her arm with a shove.
Marinette stood up straight, and crossed her arms. ‘You look awful.’
Angelique’s hair hung limp and lifeless down her back, unadorned and uncurled. Her usual heavy makeup was gone, leaving a sallow complexion and dark shadows under her eyes. Even her clothes were plain; instead of her usual tailored blouse and pencil skirt, she wore grubby jeans and a cheap t-shirt. If it weren’t for her facial features, Marinette doubted she would have recognised her.
‘This is all your fault,’ Angelique spat. ‘I lost my job because of you.’
Marinette's frown deepened. ‘You did that to yourself. It’s not my fault you have a poor work ethic.’
Angelique shrieked and lunged at her, her hands outstretched and curled into claws. Marinette stepped back, and to an angle, letting Angelique rush right by her. Angelique snarled, and came back, her teeth bared like a feral animal.
Marinette sidestepped her again, this time sticking her foot out to trip Angelique as she rushed by. Angelique sprawled over the pavement, grazing her elbows as she tried to protect her face. Her forehead still collided with the ground despite her best efforts, the point of contact sure to bruise spectacularly by the following day.
Watching her warily, Marinette positioned her feet so she could run away with the best possible start, but Angelique didn’t move. She lay where she had landed, face down, looking wretched and defeated.
‘I'm sorry things turned out the way they did,’ Marinette said. ‘I told Mathéo I didn’t want you fired, that I didn’t want to push things any further. Whatever decisions were made had nothing to do with me, so how about you do a little self-reflection before you go around accusing and attacking people without reason. Next time, I won’t be so lenient.’
With that, Marinette turned around and walked away.
‘You’ll pay for this, Dupain-Cheng,’ Angelique shrieked behind her. ‘I’ll make sure of it.’
Marinette ignored her squawking, but the security guards did not. They approached the woman cautiously, but upon realising she was unarmed, they grabbed her and dragged her to the ground. They muffled her yells, and shackled her when she struck one of them with a flailing foot, but after that, Marinette had no idea what they did with her, nor did she care.
Mercifully, the rest of her journey home was uneventful, and she enjoyed a peaceful night in with her parents.
Angelique seethed as she rubbed her tender wrists. The Gabriel's security guards had called the police, who had then taken her in and held her in a cell for a few hours until she had calmed down. There were no charges pressed against her, and no one had seen her attempted attack on Marinette, so they had no legal reason to keep her there, but she could tell they were loath to let her go.
She marched down the dark street, her righteous fury warding off the worst of the chill, but she had nowhere to go. For the last month she had been living in a hotel, after her spending habits had taken priority over her rent and other amenities. She was now living out of her car after losing her job, her clothes and cosmetics taking up more than half of the available space.
After walking for half an hour in scuffed joggers, Angelique collapsed into the driver’s seat, and slammed the door shut. Turning the key, her car told her she had less than half a tank of petrol, and it wasn't the most economic vehicle on the market. She would have to sell more clothes if she wanted to drive or eat again.
‘That bitch,’ she snarled, slamming her fists on the steering wheel.
Briefly, Angelique considered going to her parents, but dismissed the idea. They were a conservative pair who held no sympathy for her, and disapproved strongly of her life choices. They would tell her the same thing that Marinette had – that she did this to herself.
Her brother was also struck from her list, as was the rest of her extended family. They were a strict and joyless bunch, who utterly failed to appreciate the finer things in life.
Angelique had never fit in with any of them, and was glad to be rid of them.
This left her with only one recourse. She revved the engine, then pulled recklessly from the curb to speed to the only refuge she had left.
Half an hour later, with her petrol perilously low, she pulled up outside her ex boyfriend’s townhouse. Swallowing her pride, she got out of the car, and marched up to his front door where she rang the doorbell.
Her foot tapped impatiently as she waited. From inside came muffled voices and footfalls, but it was still some time before the door inched open, revealing a suspicious grey eye.
Angelique smiled winsomely. ‘Hey, Kim.’
The eye blinked, and widened, before the door swung open a little more.
‘Hey, Angelique. What’re you doing here?’
Angelique scuffed her toe, her gaze dropping demurely to the side. ‘I wanted to see you.’
He cast a quick glance behind him, before meeting her eyes once more. ‘Now really isn’t the best time.’
She batted her lashes, and willed herself to tear up. ‘Please? I have nowhere else to go.’
Kim squeezed his eyes shut, and swore under his breath. ‘Wait here.’
He closed the door with a snap, startling her. She blinked away the false tears, and huffed, tapping her foot again, irate he was making her wait out in the cold.
She could hear many people within, though their voices were too muffled to understand. Some, she thought, sounded annoyed. Angelique didn’t care, as long as she had a roof over her head, and minimal expectations on her to do housework or pay board.
Kim had always been a doting boyfriend and a bleeding heart; he would have let her get away with murder.
After a short wait, the door opened once more. Kim smiled in welcome, and held out an arm in silent invitation. Angelique grinned approvingly, and stepped into the living room, waving politely at the small group of people gathered there. All of them, she noted, wore long coats, and large boots, which poorly concealed an array of weapons.
The townhouse itself hadn’t changed since the last time she saw it. The walls were still a sickly moss green, with a narrow flight of stairs to the right of the front door, which abutted the hallway leading to the kitchen, laundry, and tiny backyard. Kim’s preferred décor also remained the same, consisting of sturdy leather lounges, a thick fur rug, with a collection of guns and blades hanging on the walls.
‘I see you’re as keen a hunter as ever,’ she observed with a charming smile.
It's a little sudden, but here it is! The Red Night ball!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Gabriel watched from his place on the dais as his people mingled or waltzed around the dancefloor, glittering in their finery like so many jewels come to life. The Kurtzberg heir remained on the sidelines, watching the crowd from behind his artfully styled hair, giving the impression of a pained and grieving youth begging to be soothed by some kind soul. The Tsurugi clan, recently migrated from Japan, stood on the other side of the great room, clad in traditional dress. They cast a disparaging eye over the scene, which Gabriel thought a little ironic, given Madame Tsurugi’s disability.
A commotion by the entrance drew Gabriel's gaze to the front doors. He suppressed a long-suffering sigh as the Bourgeois clan made an obnoxious entrance, their noise only surpassed by their choice of dress. André Bourgeois was the most tastefully clad, in a simple dark suit with accents of his house colours. Audrey Bourgeois, however, wore a full gown, three quarters of which was unadorned white, while down her right side ran a column of solid black. Only her hair and large headpiece were yellow, with surprisingly understated makeup.
The pair marched purposefully forward, all decorum forgotten, as they came to present themselves.
Stopping at the foot of the dais, Audrey swept into a deep curtsey, while André bowed low from the waist, their noses almost touching the floor. Gabriel refrained from rolling his eyes at their show of obsequiousness.
‘Good evening, Lord Pontifex Maximus,’ Audrey began. As the more outspoken half of the couple, she addressed him by his professional role as befitted the occasion.
‘A felicitous Saint Eichatadt to you and your clan. May the Divine Saint bestow prosperity and good tidings on your house.’
Gabriel raised an eyebrow at her flowery greeting. ‘Good evening, Madame and Monsieur Bourgeois. Please enjoy your night.’
They bowed and curtsied once more, then moved aside as another group came forward to greet him.
Gabriel was doing nothing so much as going through the motions while he waited for Adrien to arrive. He was already late, and it was beginning to reflect poorly on Gabriel; he could see members of the other Twelve Noble Families muttering conspiratorially behind their hands, and glancing his way as if he didn’t know what they were talking about.
She stepped forward, but remained one pace behind his right shoulder. ‘Yes, Sir?’
‘Where is my son?’
‘He should be here soon, Sir. Perhaps he ran into some unavoidable delay.’
Gabriel scowled, frightening the minor clan before him who had just knelt in a show of obeisance. He cleared his expression with effort, and excused the group with a small nod of acknowledgement.
He looked out over the top of the crowd before the next group could present themselves. His nephew, Felix, carried himself well, his shoulders straight, and face impassive as he greeted the guests. It was considered a shame by many that he had been born to Gabriel's sister, as he would have made an ideal successor and heir. Gabriel was inclined to agree, but he could never give up, or be disappointed in his son, not when there was so much of Emilie in him. Because of Emilie, Adrien had the empathy that Felix lacked, which could be the difference between a good ruler, and a great one.
‘Stand aside, peasant,’ ordered a strident voice.
Gabriel closed his eyes and took a steadying breath as Chloé Bourgeois bulldozed her way through the dancers, before checking herself and carrying on at a more sedate pace. Adrien caught up to her, though he hadn’t hurried to do so, with a look of pained resignation on his face.
They stopped in front of the dais to bow and curtsy, then straightened up again.
‘Our deepest apologies for our tardiness, Father,’ Adrien said.
Gabriel thought he looked very much like the young lord and heir in his finery. Meanwhile, Chloé’s dress consisted of a daringly low Queen Anne neckline, the black bodice broken with sharp yellow stripes pointing down in a V at her waist. At the lowest point, her yellow skirt split down the middle, and separated like fine drapes to reveal a plain white underskirt with an elaborate embroidery anglaise hem. Her skirt was filled out with multiple layers of stiff petticoats, under which she wore jewelled high heels.
Twin swathes of white fabric ran from her shoulders and down her back in imitation of insect wings fluttering behind her. Her hair was piled high atop her head, and decorated with two slender, long, black, artificial feathers. Rather than sleeves, she wore black gloves with a gauntlet point on her hands, and reached up to her biceps.
But none of this excused their lateness.
‘I assume there is an explanation for your belatedness, yes?’
Adrien winced at his frosty tone, and opened his mouth to answer as his eyes slid toward Chloé.
‘We’re not that late,’ Chloé interrupted them. ‘It’s not like the rituals have started yet.’
Gabriel narrowed his eyes at her until she subsided with a cringe.
Adrien cleared his throat. ‘We were late because Chloé had trouble with her gown, that’s all. I apologise if this caused any trouble.’
Someone in the crowd snickered viciously. ‘Chloé was too fat to fit into her dress.’
‘What?’ Chloé turned to the source of the voice with a snarl, but was unable to identify the culprit.
Unfortunately, the comment was met with cruel giggles and more whispers behind concealing hands. Chloé clenched her jaw and shrieked, but no one was fazed by her show of temper.
‘Enough,’ Gabriel commanded.
Reluctantly, Chloé backed down, curtsied again, then dragged Adrien away by the elbow, still fuming at the insult.
Gabriel released a sigh, and rolled his eyes. ‘Nathalie, what of those rumours?’
She stepped as close as protocol allowed, and explained in a low voice. ‘There are several variations pertaining to Adrien’s health, most of which will be disproven with his appearance here tonight.’
‘The rumours concerning the succession are still rife, however. Many of those will gain momentum after that indecorous display, but they should be laid to rest after Adrien performs his role at the ceremony.’
‘Is there anything else?’
Nathalie shifted her weight in a rare display of discomfort. ‘There is a rumour about you, Sir.’
Gabriel's eyebrows shot to his hairline, and he had to stop himself from turning toward her. ‘Me?’
‘Yes. Some people have gotten the notion that you are looking for a new wife, Sir.’
Gabriel choked on air. ‘Preposterous.’
‘Of course, but don’t allow yourself to be caught off guard by some young chit trying to gain your attention and win favour.’
Gabriel twitched his shoulders, suddenly feeling like a target had been painted on his back. Never in all his years had he wanted so desperately for this night to be over.
Adrien disentangled himself from Chloé, then immediately ducked into the crowd to escape her. He heard her calling for him, but wended his way through the other attendees until her voice blended into the general cacophony of voices and music.
Stopping by the refreshment table, he picked up a glass of blood, and held it, simply to give his hand something to do while he considered his next move.
‘That was quite an entrance,’ drawled a haughty voice behind him.
Adrien sucked in a deep breath, and turned to face his cousin. Felix was dressed in a suit similar to his own, but with less ornamentation to denote his lesser position within their clan. As usual, he looked pallid and drawn, belying his physical and mental prowess. Once again, Adrien’s belief that his house colours poorly suited his family was confirmed.
He shrugged. ‘You know Chloé likes to make a scene. If she can’t be fashionably late, then there’s no point.’
Felix huffed derisively. ‘That frivolous chit will bring nothing but embarrassment upon our house should you marry her.’
Adrien raised an eyebrow. ‘Is that concern you’re showing, Felix?’
Felix took a sip from his own glass. ‘Only for our family’s reputation. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Cousin.’
Narrowing his eyes, Adrien turned aside to watch the milling crowd. ‘I wouldn’t worry if I were you. If I were to marry Chloé, she has the idea that I would enter into her clan, rather than the other way around. The matter has become increasingly moot anyway, since I have no desire to marry her at all.’
Felix snorted indelicately. ‘Should you two wed, her joining our house is a given. We outrank them, despite the size of their collective ego. Chloé is delusional if she believes otherwise.’
Adrien sighed and nodded. As the lesser ranked of the two, Chloé would indeed join his clan, and take on his house colours in the event of a union. She would not be pleased by that, as Chloé was fiercely proud of her clan and her colours, like her mother before her.
Before her marriage to André Bourgeois, Audrey had been a member of a common family with no rank but who had just earned their right to a family crest and colours. Rumour had it, she had been most reluctant to give up on the colours her house had worked so hard to achieve, but tradition was not to be fought against. In the end, she had taken on her new role among the Bourgeois clan with enthusiasm, and to look at her now, no one would ever guess as to her humble beginnings.
Felix had a point, though. Chloé was wilful and domineering, with a flair for the dramatic that could jeopardise their standing in the community. The Agreste clan was known to be tough, but fair; however, with Chloé in a position of power, that reputation would be ruined within the decade.
Adrien set his glass back on the table. ‘Well, like I said, I don’t want to marry Chloé, so there’s nothing to worry about.’
Felix swirled his glass, watching the blood create a vortex down the centre. ‘I don’t know if you’ll have a choice. Ranking members of society are already limited, and Chloé is the only female of eligible age. Your marriage is as good as done.’
‘There are other options.’
Felix turned to face him, a brow raised in scepticism. ‘Your father will tolerate no less than a member of the Twelve Noble Families. To even entertain the idea of wedding someone of a lower rank is ludicrous. Honestly, the best you could hope for is a union with the Tsurugi clan. They have a girl about the appropriate age.’
‘I don’t want to marry someone for the sake of political alliances,’ muttered Adrien.
Felix barked a short, humourless laugh. ‘Surely you didn’t think you would marry for love? People of your rank don’t have that luxury.’
Not for the first time, Adrien wished their positions were the other way around. With no expectations, Felix was free to wed whomever he pleased, for whatever reason. He could run off with a human lover, with no more consequence than a few unkind rumours, and an embarrassed mother.
A gong sounded from the front of the room, calling their attention to Gabriel, still standing on the dais. The heavy purple curtains behind him parted, revealing a dark, rough-hewn opening in a solid stone wall.
‘Let us begin,’ Gabriel intoned solemnly, before turning around and entering the tunnel.
Felix held out a hand, gesturing for Adrien to precede him. With a muted sigh, Adrien hurried to the front of the room, and followed Gabriel down the worn and musty path.
Behind him, came Felix, then the other Twelve Noble Families in order of rank, while the vampires who held no titles brought up the rear. Leaving the helots and all possessions behind, they marched downward in sombre silence.
They gathered in a large, stone cavern underground, illuminated by flickering green flames atop stone spires. The front of the chamber boasted another set of heavy purple drapes, at the foot of which sat two large, unadorned, stone slab thrones.
Adrien took a deep breath as he joined Gabriel on the dais in front of the thrones. Gabriel led the congregation through a chant, Adrien mumbling incoherently along with the others.
After an hour of sonorous droning, Nathalie stepped forward, bearing the Sacred Box, which she handed to Gabriel, who then held it aloft, before turning to Adrien to give it to him with all due ceremony.
Adrien accepted the box, and recalling years of watching the same procedure, carried the box among his peers so they might deposit the one Sacred Item entrusted to each Noble Family inside.
Once each item was put in its specified place within the Box, Adrien returned to the dais, to present it to Gabriel, kneeling humbly at his feet. Rather than reclaim the box, Gabriel began chanting in a language long forgotten. The assembled crowd bowed their heads, their hands clasped, as they prayed for their Gods’ continued graciousness.
Adrien was the first to notice twin balls of light appear above the thrones. One red and one green, they spiralled down and hovered just over the seats of the thrones. Still chanting, Gabriel walked slowly backwards until he was on the main floor with the rest of those gathered, Adrien and Nathalie following his lead expeditiously.
The balls of light, no greater than Adrien’s fist, expanded and flared in a blinding flash. He shielded his eyes with his forearm, but he still had to blink away spots from his vision.
When Adrien lowered his arm, the two thrones were now occupied.
In the throne to the right sat a man so pale, his skin was almost green. His black hair reached his waist, but half was tied back out of his face, revealing delicately pointed ears. His eyes were solid green, with slit pupils, which almost seemed to glow in the dim light. Despite the inhuman features, he looked bored, his expressionless face reminiscent of someone trying with minimal effort to be polite at an undesirable function.
His three-piece suit was almost completely black, only broken by the accents of green in his cravat, and the cuffs on his jacket, which drew the eye to black claws at the end of his long, slender fingers. Adrien was briefly amused to note that his shoes were as polished as his own.
On the other throne sat a woman with terracotta skin, and long black hair, which hung in many tendrils over the back and arms of her seat, to pool on the floor. Her inhumanly beautiful face was impassive, with mysterious, deep blue eyes, and curved lips. She had a large black spot high on her forehead, and one on each cheek like a ladybeetle.
Her slender figure was robed in a deep red gown with a square neckline. Black lace with a pattern of solid circles decorated the bodice, which came to a point at her hips, while her flute sleeves were an unadorned red, the trailing fabric under her wrists reaching the floor.
Her skirt fell in heavy folds over her legs and concealed her feet. The hem was trimmed in a wide band of black velvet, that somehow deflected the dust.
Adrien blinked, then remembering his place, prostrated before his Gods. He heard the rest of the congregation lower themselves to the floor reverentially, not even Chloé daring to complain about getting her gown dirty.
‘My Lord Plagg, my Lady Tikki, thank you for granting us this honour,’ gasped Gabriel. ‘It has been almost three hundred years since you last deigned to appear before us together.’
‘Two hundred and eighty-seven years, hasn’t it been, Tikki?’ asked Plagg in a dull baritone.
‘Two hundred and eighty-nine years, my Love,’ she corrected him gently, her voice sweet and mellifluous. ‘They so rarely need both of us at the same time.’
Plagg rolled his eyes while Tikki smiled fondly at him.
Adrien peeked up at them, awed by their presence, but Gabriel kept his face pressed into the floor and began another round of chanting. Adrien had to quickly stifle a snicker when Plagg worked his jaw in soundless mockery.
The attendees repeated every other line Gabriel uttered, and after fifteen minutes, they all fell silent again, awaiting word from their patron deities. When they remained quiet, Gabriel raised his head.
‘I pray thee, our great Maker and Breaker, please tell us why you have graced us with your presence after such a long absence?’
Plagg winced, then turned expectantly to Tikki.
Tikki, the revered Maker, rose and strode to the lip of the dais. ‘We have seen interesting times approaching, my children. We came to wish you well in whatever trials or tribulations are to come next.’
Plagg, their fearsome Breaker, moved to stand by her side. ‘Just don’t fuck it up.’
There was another flash of light, and they were two fist-sized balls of light once more, whizzing up and out of the ancient chamber.
A restless susurrus stirred from the crowd, before Gabriel repositioned himself upon the dais and raised his hands for their attention. He took them through the finishing prayers, passed around the goblet of sacramental wine, then had Adrien return their sacred items.
They then filed back up to the main floor, still muttering about portentous omens and inauspicious visits from the gods.
Adrien couldn’t fathom why they weren’t thrilled by the long-awaited appearance of both their patron deities. Plagg and Tikki claimed interesting times were ahead, but that was no indication of bad things coming their way.
So, why is everyone acting so nervous? he wondered.
‘Adrikins,’ Chloé shouted from behind him.
He turned toward the sound of her voice, and watched with carefully concealed impatience as she marched up to him.
She waved and hollered until she caught up, huffing like a bellows.
‘A gentleman does not leave a lady behind,’ she told him reproachfully.
‘Whatever. Have you heard the rumours going around yet?’
She clung to his arm, and led him to an out of the way corner, smiling eagerly up at him.
Adrien shook his head. ‘No, I haven’t.’
She rested her head against his shoulder, still clutching his arm. ‘People are saying we look fantastic together, despite your drab family colours. They’re starting to place bets on the date of the engagement announcement.’
He winced. ‘Listen, Chloé.’
‘Naturally, I would prefer to make the announcement soon. I want to avoid a winter wedding; they’re so gauche, don’t you think?’ She spoke over him, oblivious to his desires, and ploughed on. ‘I’ll let your father design my dress, but after you’ve joined my clan, you can stop humouring him. You could actually do something useful with your time. Well, you’ll have to, anyway, learning about my family history. I can’t have my new husband embarrass me with his ignorance, can I? Just think, with us together, the highest-ranking members of the Twelve Families, we’ll be a political powerhouse.’
There were so many misconceptions he ought to correct, but his mind dwelled on one thing only. ‘What about love?’
Chloé looked baffled. ‘What about it?’
‘We should marry because we love each other, not for power or convenience.’
Her expression looked pitying. ‘Oh, Adrien. There’s no such thing. Love is for children and the woefully unfortunate. It gives them hope. But what you and I could have together is very real. We could bring the world to its knees.’
Adrien shook his head. ‘I don’t want the world, and I certainly don’t want to subjugate it. Is asking for happiness really so unreasonable?’
Chloé put her hands on her hips. ‘For people in our positions, yes. We don’t get to pick and choose as we want. But I can have power and standing if I marry you, and frankly, neither one of us has any other options. Our numbers are too few; you know that.’
He crossed his arms and looked away. ‘You could marry Nathaniel. You have options.’
‘No, I don’t. The Kurtzberg clan is dying out, in more than the literal sense. Their wealth has dropped to practically nothing, so all they have now is nothing but their name and history. I can’t marry into a clan on the decline. It’ll be a disgrace.’
‘I’m sorry Chloé, but I can’t agree with your stance. I don’t think I can marry you, if our opinions are so opposed.’
Her expression dropped. ‘What?’
‘I won’t marry anyone for power or material wealth. If I’m going to spend the rest of my life with someone, it should be someone I love.’
He turned his back on her and left, leaving her to gape after him in astonishment.
The rumours were circulating, Adrien knew, but he had stopped caring. He’d performed his role in the ceremony, and was eager for the night to finish, even if that meant returning to an empty apartment.
He sighed, and drained his glass, before putting it down on an unoccupied table. He was about to sneak away when a tray of fresh glasses was thrust under his nose.
‘Another drink, Lord Agreste?’
He blinked, and took a step back.
Lila lowered the tray with a bashful chuckle. ‘My apologies, Milord.’
Adrien took a glass, giving her a professional nod of approval. Lila wore a long, charcoal dress, with full length sleeves. Her high collar, cuffs, and tastefully ruffled apron were plain white, with her hair bound under a simple cotton snood. She was the picture of a classic domestic servant, and she carried the ensemble well.
‘It’s fine. Are you enjoying the evening, Lila?’
He felt foolish for asking, as working was never considered a pleasurable pastime, but he had nothing else to say, so he fell back on basic etiquette.
‘It’s been amazing seeing everyone in all their best finery. I’ve even heard that the Maker and Breaker themselves appeared at Mass. Is it true?’
He nodded. ‘Yes, they both appeared. It’s almost unheard of.’
She sidled closer, tilting her head up to his ear conspiratorially. ‘I guess it’s true, that they favour you and your kind. You’re very lucky.’
He shifted back a step, smiling through his unease at her familiarity. ‘Uh, yeah, I guess.’
Ignoring his discomfort, she stepped into his space once more. Lowering her voice, she asked, ‘can I speak with you in private?’
Adrien blinked, then stammered, ‘sure, as long as it’s quick.’
‘Follow me. I found a quiet room down the hall.’
She set her tray of drinks on a table as she walked by, then slipped through the double doors. Puzzled, and a little uneasy, he followed Lila from the great ballroom at a discreet distance.
Once he was through the main doors, he glanced down either side of the hallway, searching, until he saw her wave from a dark doorway to his left. He dashed toward her, and then eased the door shut behind him. Lila had lit a single candle, and taken a seat at a small table in front of him.
Adrien perched in the armchair across from her, and waited for her to begin.
‘It must have been so exciting to see both Gods tonight,’ she breathed.
Swallowing against his dry mouth, Adrien nodded. ‘Yeah, it was incredible.’
‘They’re called the Maker and the Breaker, right?’
‘Is that because one of them creates vampires, and the other destroys them?’
He tugged at his collar. ‘That’s right, but they won’t just create or destroy anyone. There’s a procedure to be followed.’
Lila laced her fingers, and leaned her chin on them, staring at him with bright eyes. ‘They have to petition your dad for an audience with the Maker, I know.’
Letting go of his collar, Adrien placed both hands in his lap, before giving her a level look. ‘Is there a reason you called me here, Lila?’
All pretence dropped. Lila’s winsome smile vanished, and she sat up straight, with a steely look in her eyes. ‘I want you to put me forward for the Bite.’
‘You want to petition for the Bite? It’s dangerous; you may not survive. You may not even be approved.’
Lila shook her head. ‘No, I don’t want to petition, and chance rejection. I want you to take me to see this Maker, and get them to Bite me directly.’
His stomach did a sickening roll. ‘Lila, I can’t do that. If you want to be a vampire, you have to go through the proper channels.’
She slammed her hands down on the table, her usually calm demeanour gone. ‘A petition takes too long. I want to be turned now, tonight. Make it happen.’
Taken aback by her sudden change, Adrien could only gape at her. ‘I can’t. Only Father has that authority.’
‘I don’t care about authority and procedure,’ she yelled, ‘I want you to sneak me down there, and transform me before anyone can stop it, you idiot.’
Dread sat like a cold stone in his gut. ‘But why?’
She curled her lip and stared at him like he was simple. ‘I want to be young and beautiful for ever. I want to hold a rank above slave and be treated like an equal by your kind. I won’t be pushed around anymore by arrogant bloodsuckers, and I won’t be doomed to a life of drudgery and anonymity. I want more. I want to be more. Do you get it, now?’
Adrien held his hands up in a calming gesture. ‘Look, I’m sure your life has been hard. I can’t even imagine – ‘
‘Of course, it hasn’t been hard,’ she snapped. ‘I’ve always gotten everything I could ever want, and when my parents die, I’ll inherit everything they own.’
The following silence was broken only by the muffled music and chatter from the ballroom.
Adrien shook his head in bemusement. ‘Then why?’
‘Because it’s not enough. To you, I’ll always be just another human, another helot. Expendable, and unremarkable. There are plenty of us, so you never have to worry about having enough servants. But for us, the story is different. We compete with each other over who gets to work for whom, we fight for even the slightest bit of your attention, and for what? We’re cast aside when we’re no longer useful. You use us however you please, and we get nothing in return.’
‘You get plenty,’ Adrien retorted. ‘You’re fed, housed, clothed, and paid. We take care of you just as much as you take care of us. This relationship isn’t as one sided as you think.’
‘We’re removed from service once we get too old. You throw us out like yesterday’s trash.’
Adrien seethed at her interpretation of their class differences. ‘The elderly are retired with very generous severance packages, enough to see them well looked after for the remainder of their days. If you aren’t satisfied with being a helot, then I suggest you pack your things and leave immediately. You will not find immortality here; I’ll make sure of it.’
Lila stilled, her eyes cold and steady. ‘You’re going to regret this, Adrien.’
‘That’s Lord Agreste to you, helot.’
They stared each other down, but eventually, Lila broke first. She huffed, and got up, leaving the room without a backward glance.
That just didn't want to end, did it?
Oops, forgot to upload this last night. Sorry!
Marinette was glad to come home. She had spent the majority of the weekend finishing XY’s concert outfits, and had just come back from delivering them to his record studio. Mercifully, XY hadn’t been there to receive them in person, so the receptionist had obligingly taken them with humble thanks, and a strained, knowing smile.
She had just locked the front door behind herself when there was an ungodly screech of her name, followed by a massive, warm weight throwing itself at her.
‘I’m so happy to see you,’ Adrien squealed into her hair as he squeezed the breath out of her.
Marinette patted his back, silently begging him to release her. She couldn’t breathe with her face crushed against his chest.
Stepping back, Adrien beamed down at her, still grasping her shoulders.
‘Welcome home, Marinette.’
‘Thanks, I’m glad to be back.’
Adrien took possession of her suitcase and began dragging it down the hall. ‘How are your parents?’
Marinette sighed. ‘Physically, they’re well. Though they both claimed I was breaking their hearts by leaving again. How have things been here?’
Leaving the suitcase beside her bed, Adrien faced her with a too-wide smile. ‘Good. Really good, actually.’
She raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
Immediately, he crumpled. Slumping down, he collapsed onto the bed with his head bowed and his shoulders drooping, his hands hanging limply between his knees.
‘The Saint Eichatadt ball was held last night.’
Marinette’s brows shot to her hairline. ‘That was fast. How’d it go?’
‘Could have been better.’
Marinette sat beside him and listened as he recollected the events of the night, patting his back and rubbing it soothingly in turns.
‘Sounds rough,’ she commiserated. ‘Did anything go well?’
‘The appearance of the Maker and the Breaker together was pretty spectacular. They haven’t been seen side by side in centuries.’
Marinette tilted her head. ‘Maker and Breaker?’
‘Our oldest known vampires, and patron deities. Tikki, the Maker, has the power to create new vampires from humans. It’s her job to stop us from stagnating, by expanding our gene pool. Plagg is the Breaker, so it’s his role to release vampires from their immortality. Those who feel like they’ve lived long enough ask for his merciful release.’
‘They’re your gods? They sound incredible.’
A half smile tilted up one side of his mouth. ‘It was something to see, all right.’
‘I thought any vampire could make new ones with just a bite, though.’
Adrien shook his head. ‘No, if I were to bite someone, they’d just bleed. If someone like Father tried to transform a person, the best he could hope for is a mindless, slave-like creature; at worst, a ravening beast. For everyone’s safety, we leave the creation of new vampires to the Maker.’
Marinette sat back, her hand still absently stroking his shoulders, as she pondered this latest titbit of information. ‘But you can still have babies, obviously.’
‘Yeah, we just can’t turn humans. It doesn’t work.’
Thinking of Lila, she asked, ‘where do the helots fit in?’
Adrien straightened up and let his head fall back with a sigh. ‘It’s believed that somewhere, back in ancient times, humans who wanted to become vampires approached us, but rather than turn them straight away, the humans had to prove they were worthy, or pay their dues, by working for the vampires. Somehow, over the centuries, that relationship has evolved, so now we have generations of the same families working for us, but who don’t often petition for the Bite.’
‘This Lila Rossi came from one of those families?’
‘Yup. One of the oldest, and most respected, too. She thought she was entitled to a shot at transformation, without going through the proper channels. Sadly, just because a family has been helots for centuries, and some have been successfully turned, there’s no guarantee it would work for her.’
‘There’s a chance it wouldn’t work?’ Marinette had always assumed that every bite resulted in the creation of a functioning vampire. To hear that was not always the case shocked her.
Adrien hummed a sad acknowledgement. ‘No one can predict how or why; sometimes the person just dies. Furthermore, I wouldn’t entirely dismiss Tikki as a cause of that, either. I bet if she thought someone unworthy of her Bite, she’d make sure they didn’t survive it.’
Marinette was about to probe further, when Adrien brought his hands down on his legs with a slap.
‘Enough of that,’ he stated, ‘it’s over, and we’re both home where we belong. What would you like for dinner?’
He got to his feet, then turned around to help her up. She had not anticipated him yanking on her arms, so she stumbled forward to collide into his chest with a breathless oomph. Marinette stepped back with all the dignity she could muster, and shot him a half-hearted glare. He grinned back, completely unrepentant.
‘I want Italian,’ she told him, firmly.
His expression fell.
‘Specifically, the pesto chicken stuff,’ she clarified.
‘Seriously?’ he asked in a choked voice.
‘But it has so much garlic in it.’
Marinette raised her brows at his whining, and crossed her arms. ‘You’d think vampires would love garlic, seeing as it’s a natural anticoagulant.’
She continued to look at him until he lowered his head in defeat.
‘Ok, you can have the stinky, green, sludge meal.’
‘I intend to, with or without your permission.’
She strode by him to enter the living room. Adrien trudged in behind her, and picked up the phone to place an order for delivery.
To occupy her mind until her meal arrived, Marinette flicked on the tv, and settled back into the couch, browsing through the stations until she came upon a rerun of a sitcom. Lowering the volume, she turned to face Adrien as he sat at the other end of the couch. He looked back at her with a silly grin lighting up his face.
‘I’m really happy you’re home,’ he said. ‘How have you been since I last saw you?’
With a mighty sigh, bordering on a groan, she told him about the rest of her week. He was gratifyingly outraged when she explained Angelique’s attempted assault, and was fuming when security failed to prevent it from happening.
‘They should have done more,’ he insisted, after she told him the security guards had taken her away.
Marinette patted his hand. ‘What’s done is done, and I wasn’t hurt. The guards know to keep an eye out for her, and will call the cops should she ever come back. It’s under control, so relax, ok?’
He muttered darkly under his breath, then flinched when the doorbell rang. He leapt to his feet, then scurried away, to reappear a short time later holding a plastic bag with his forefinger and thumb, his arm out as far as it could reach.
Marinette laughed at him. ‘It’s not that bad.’
‘It stinks,’ he reiterated vociferously.
‘Just give it here.’
She took the bag, and lay two containers on the coffee table. One was filled with chicken, pasta, and her favourite pesto, while the other had ravioli swimming in a red sauce. She turned back to Adrien with one brow raised.
Whistling nonchalantly, Adrien went to the kitchen to make his own dinner. When he returned with a warm mug, Marinette pointedly opened her pesto dish, retrieved a plastic fork from the bottom of the bag, and took a large bite. Adrien winced, and curled his nose in disgust.
She made a face at his idea of a meal in return. They kept pulling faces in attempts to get the other to laugh or admit defeat, until they finished.
Marinette eyed the remaining container on the coffee table. ‘Why did you get that?’
‘In case you wanted something that didn’t reek of garlic.’
She looked at him askance. ‘I’m having pesto again tomorrow.’
His wail of despair was impressively long, but Marinette remained unmoved. She was used to his theatrics by now.
Lila settled into the armchair by her apartment window to watch the street below. The rain came down in torrents, but that didn’t stop people from going about their business, with their umbrellas up and their shoulders hunched. It wasn’t so long ago when she had been one of them.
Her whole life had been dedicated to assisting the vampire community, with the expectation of a reward for her loyal service. No matter the weather, the time of day, or personal issues, she worked with single-minded purpose at their behest, hoping to one day be the one giving the commands, rather than just obeying them.
Dusk settled over the city; night brought on prematurely by the heavy cloud cover. The rain had yet to abate, but Lila got up and grabbed her coat and boots. They were too new and in good condition for her to play the poverty-stricken victim, but she would find a story that could work.
All of her belongings were new and fashionable. A combination of vampire pride, financial excess, and her own vanity saw her in nothing but the latest trends. Her years of hard labour had to yield some reward, and an impressive pay cheque had been it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough.
She wanted to be one of them, to preserve her youthful good looks, and finally gain the respect she deserved.
Then Adrien had denied her everything she had strived so hard for.
Clenching her jaw against a snarl, Lila shoved a wide-brimmed hat over her hair, and stormed from her apartment.
Outside, the rain soaked her within minutes. She shuddered at the frigid water seeping through her clothes, and cursed not having an umbrella. She could have brought hers, but it wouldn’t send the same message as going without.
She set off briskly toward the seedier parts of the city, hoping to keep warm with exertion.
Reaching the less affluent part of town footsore and chilled, Lila sought refuge in a disreputable looking pub filled with hard-bitten and leery patrons. They eyed her warily as she came in, but no one confronted her. She took a seat at the bar, and ordered a rum and coke, then settled down to listen to the chatter picking up around her.
An hour later, she had the information she needed. She left a small pile of cash for the bartender, and casually exited the building. Bracing against the weather once more, Lila took off toward the nineteenth district, concocting a story as she went.
The hidden advantage to working with vampires was learning the movements of their enemies. They kept a covert eye on the hunters they knew about, and where they lurked. Lila had listened in on their clandestine meetings, unnoticed as she performed her duties in adjacent rooms, or sometimes, in the meeting room itself. In their arrogance, the vampires had not seen her as a threat, and had acted as if she were invisible while they discussed sensitive topics like politics, or the last known locations of the hunters.
Lila pulled her hat lower over her eyes, and broke into a stumbling run. Acting every inch the damsel in distress, she panted and wheezed, before falling to her knees in a puddle when she noticed the light of a cigarette burning in the shadows.
Three figures emerged, clad in long trench coats, and bristling with weaponry. They stood before her in a loose semicircle as she stretched a hand toward them imploringly.
‘Help,’ she gasped, weakly. She ended her performance by collapsing into a faint.
Large hands burrowed behind her knees and under her back, before scooping her out of the mud. She let the man carry her to where the three of them had been standing under an awning, and sat her on an upturned wooden crate, before lightly tapping her cheeks.
Lila roused from her faint, and willed tears to her eyes. She gasped, and worked her mouth soundlessly, then put her face in her hands and cried great, heaving sobs.
One of the men patted her shoulder, while another knelt in front of her knees to hold her hand.
‘Can you tell us what happened?’ asked the burly man at her feet. ‘Was it a bad boyfriend, or a mugger?’
Lila shook her head vehemently. ‘No, I’m not even sure it was human.’
The men stilled, exchanging significant looks when they thought she wouldn’t notice.
‘Can you tell us more?’ the man continued.
Lila turned her head away, her free hand curling over her lips. ‘It sounds crazy.’
The man at her shoulder huffed a short laugh. ‘We specialise in crazy. You can tell us.’
Hesitantly, Lila told them the story she’d concocted on her way there. ‘My sister and I were walking home from our favourite restaurant. It was in the sixteenth arrondissement; we thought we were safe on our own. But then this thing jumped down from the top of a building, and snatched my sister up. He, it looked like a he, bit her neck before she could even scream. The blood. There was so much blood.’
‘Did you see where the monster went?’ asked the third man, a hand already resting on a weapon barely concealed by his coat.
Sucking in a deep breath, Lila nodded. ‘It entered a building belonging to Gabriel Agreste, the fashion designer.’
The men exchanged another meaningful look, before turning back to her.
‘What’s the address?’ asked the man at her feet.
Lila described the area just enough for the men to get their bearings, then broke down in a fit of hysterical sobs.
‘Kim, maybe you should take the young lady back to your place,’ said the third man, still standing a short distance away. ‘She won’t be safe if we just leave her somewhere.’
‘But,’ the man at her shoulder began to protest.
‘Your father’s right,’ added the man still kneeling by Lila’s feet. ‘They may have her scent now. It’s a miracle she got away at all.’
Lila did not correct the men’s misconception that a vampire’s sense of smell was that strong. While more acute than a human’s, they were not as strong as was widely believed.
Kim helped her to her feet, and led her solicitously to a nondescript car parked in the shadows between flickering streetlights.
Once seated, and Kim had the engine going, Lila cast a concerned glance over her shoulder.
‘Will they be ok? That thing,’ she trailed off timidly.
Kim puffed his chest out. ‘Don’t worry, they’ve been hunting monsters like that for decades. If anyone can find that bloodsucker and avenge your sister, it’s my dad and uncle.’
She gave him a wan smile. ‘If you're sure.’
‘I'm positive. We’ve had our suspicions that monsters have been living in the more affluent parts of town for years, but now we have proof, thanks to you.’
‘That was proof?’ She blinked wide, guileless eyes at him.
Kim pulled the car out, and drove down the rain-flooded road. ‘That monster was most likely a vampire, and a vampire can’t enter a personal residence without an invitation. To see one enter this fashion designer’s place means he’s either one of them, or he’s in league with them. Damn traitor to human kind is what he is.’
‘If that’s the case, won’t your dad and uncle be walking right into their den? It’s suicide to go after a monster in its own home.’
Kim patted her knee reassuringly. ‘Not to fret, Mademoiselle. They’ll just do some reconnaissance tonight, and attack when they’ve got reinforcements later. They not as foolhardy as all that.’
Lila nodded, and fell silent, feeling she had completed her role thus far.
‘You’re taking this rather well,’ commented Kim, after a short while.
Lila gave him a bitter laugh she didn’t have to fake. ‘Maybe I’m still in shock, or something. Anyway, it’s an eyeopener when someone jumps down to bite someone else and drink their blood right in front of you.’
He spared her a sympathetic look, before returning his attention to the road. ‘We’ve all been there. We’ve all lost someone. Hopefully, we’ll eradicate this menace within our lifetimes, and no one else will have to suffer.’
‘That would be nice,’ she murmured.
Lila rested her head against the window and closed her eyes, making a show of taking deep, calming breaths before arriving at their destination.
Inside, Lila was exalting in her first victory. She had given the hunters the address of one of Gabriel Agreste’s townhouses, currently in use by a family of minor vampires from the country, in town to celebrate their unholy holiday.
It wasn’t the Agreste’s she would see wiped out, but the deaths were sure to rattle the rest of them. Then there was her trump card – she knew where Adrien lived.
They would give her what she wanted, when the time was right.
Angelique was roused by an almighty clattering in the kitchen downstairs. She groaned and rolled over, pulling the pillow over her head to muffle the racket, but it was no good. Beside her, Kim lay on his back, his mouth open as he slept on.
He’s always been a heavy sleeper, she thought with an irritated frown.
The noise in the kitchen continued, preventing her from falling back to sleep. With a frustrated huff, Angelique got up, tugged on a thick dressing gown, and stepped into a pair of well-worn slippers.
Never one for early morning starts, she scowled fiercely as she approached the kitchen, thinking about what she would say to the rude individual who had interrupted her sleep.
To her surprise, it was a woman clattering about as she prepared breakfast.
‘Who the hell are you?’ Angelique demanded.
She was sure this woman hadn’t been there before, and Angelique had resided here for a few days now. She idly wondered if she were Kim’s relative, or one of the other’s partner.
The woman spun away from the stovetop, where she had been flipping pancakes, the spatula still in hand.
‘Oh, good morning. I’m Lila.’
Angelique didn’t trust her. There was something in her smile that screamed insincerity. She continued to stare at the interloper until she began to sweat.
‘I smell food,’ Kim’s voice called from the stairs.
Lila gasped and turned back to the pan, to flip the pancakes before they burned.
‘Just in time,’ she sighed.
Kim came up behind Angelique to rest his chin on her shoulder, inhaling deeply. He hummed in approval, and squeezed her around the middle. As if remembering his manners, he straightened up again almost immediately with an embarrassed chuckle.
‘Angelique, this is Lila. We rescued her from an attack last night. We didn’t know what to do with her, so we brought her back here. Lila, this is my girlfriend, Angelique.’
Lila put the spatula down, and extended her hand. ‘It’s nice to meet you.’
Angelique gave it a limp shake, with an equally weak smile. ‘Charmed, I’m sure.’
Kim smiled, and wended his way into the kitchen while Lila plated up the pancakes with fresh fruit and whipped cream, with a generous serving of maple syrup. Kim accepted his plate eagerly, licking his lips like a starved dog.
Then Lila extended a similar plate to Angelique. She accepted it with lukewarm thanks, and followed Kim to the dining room.
‘Where are your dad and uncle?’ she asked as she sat down.
‘Prolly out getting supplies,’ he replied around a mouthful. ‘They’ll be back whenever.’
She tried not to show her revulsion. ‘I see.’
Lila came in with her own serving, and sat at Kim’s other side, opposite Angelique.
‘Do you like it?’ she enquired, nodding at their plates.
Kim nodded enthusiastically, and shovelled another forkful into his mouth.
‘I’m surprised you found the ingredients,’ Angelique murmured. ‘I didn’t know we had fresh fruit.’
Kim snorted in amusement. ‘Maybe you should go to the kitchen from time to time.’
She curled her lip at him with a sarcastic laugh.
‘You’re very lucky,’ Lila said, with a simpering smile, ‘to have a boyfriend like Kim.’
Angelique rested a possessive hand over his forearm. ‘I really am.’
She kept an eye on Lila throughout breakfast. There was something about her that made Angelique's hackles rise.
Finally, Kim sat back with a sigh. ‘That was wonderful, Lila, thank you.’
‘It was the least I could do after you rescued me from that monster.’
Something shifted. The moment she said that, Kim stilled as his eyes widened. He shot Lila a meaningful look with an almost imperceptible shake of his head, to which she gave a look of confusion.
Angelique’s suspicions shot up. ‘What is going on here?’
‘Nothing,’ Kim replied, too quickly.
Lila shrugged. ‘That’s right. He and his family rescued me last night, that’s all.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘It’s the truth. Come on, Babe,’ Kim begged.
‘It really is true,’ Lila confirmed. ‘They found me out in the rain and brought me back here for safety.’
Kim nodded, corroborating her story wordlessly.
Angelique narrowed her eyes. Kim wasn’t a liar. He was too bad at it.
‘How come you didn’t go to the police?’ she asked.
‘We did,’ Lila interjected smoothly. ‘They said I shouldn’t be alone after being attacked, so here I am.’
Kim’s eyes widened again as his jaw fell slack, giving away the lie.
Angelique hummed sceptically, but let the subject drop. It would do no good to question them too closely so soon.
‘So,’ Lila went on, ‘how long have you two been dating?’
It was a difficult question, as they had been off and on for a long time. Kim stammered and turned ruddy, unsure how to answer, but Angelique gave her a tepid smile, and gripped his arm tighter.
‘About three years,’ she replied, neglecting to include the times they had split up.
Lila sighed enviously. ‘You’re so lucky.’
Angelique hummed in agreement, then turned back to her breakfast. She did not trust this other woman, and was deeply suspicious about her sudden appearance. However, it was not like Kim to cheat, or be so stupid as to bring the other woman home.
She decided to watch for the time being, before making any wild accusations, and incriminating herself. She would wait and watch, and figure out the real story before making a decision. Her indelicate handling of the Marinette situation had taught her to be cautious, and it was a lesson she intended to heed.
Adrien paced across the living room, thinking. With the Saint Eichatadt Red Night ball finally over, he could focus on Fashion Week, and help his father prepare. However, it felt like swapping one stressful event for another.
He looked at Gabriel’s letter again, delivered by owl only a few minutes before.
As I am still wrapping up the Saint Eichatadt festivities, and with Fashion Week approaching, I find I am unable to accomplish certain tasks myself. Nathalie, too, is busy with her own responsibilities.
Therefore, I am entrusting you to find appropriate musical accompaniment for our show during Fashion Week.
I would like you to hire a band with a high tempo repertoire; something the models can walk to, and stir the audience.
I would have them play on stage in the background, so the group will get decent exposure, while adding to the feel of the show. They will also be generously compensated for their time.
Find me a band which will draw in the youths of today, without embarrassing the brand.
‘Not too much to ask at all,’ he muttered.
These instructions immediately ruled Nino out. Besides, he was sure Nino had plans with Alya that week. Sighing mightily, Adrien picked up his laptop, and fell to the couch to begin searching.
An hour later, he understood why Gabriel and Nathalie had passed this chore on to him. It was hard to find bands that fit Gabriel's specifications, and who would be available during Fashion Week. Some even charged prices that made his eyebrows shoot up. He was certain Gabriel would not want to pay exorbitant amounts of money, despite his promise of a generous payment; he was a vampire, his pride would only allow him to offer so much, and not yield to the unreasonable demands of a few impertinent humans.
Groaning, he closed out of his latest tab, set the laptop on the coffee table, and slumped into the couch.
The front door rattled, and Marinette entered with a weary greeting. ‘Hey. I'm home.’
‘Hey. How was your day?’
She groaned and unceremoniously dropped her handbag. It fell to the floor with a sad fwump as Marinette lurched into the living room.
Adrien patted the seat beside him, glad for the distraction. ‘Come tell me about it.’
She fell down next to him, then kept going until her head was in his lap, her eyes closed. Adrien felt his heart rate pick up, and he was sure he’d stopped breathing. He desperately wanted to run his fingers through her hair, but didn’t dare. To prevent himself from doing something stupid, he curled his hands into fists, and rested his elbows on the back of the couch. It was horribly uncomfortable, but safe.
‘It wasn’t bad,’ Marinette began, ‘just busy. Since I’ve spent the last couple of weeks on the XY project, I missed out on working on the Fashion Week projects. But now that I’ve finished with XY, I was at a loose end.’
‘You couldn’t work on Fashion Week as well?’
She shook her head. ‘All the tasks have been assigned already, so I’ve spent yesterday and today running about like everybody’s intern. I don’t really mind, but I would like to work on something too.’
‘Your talents are wasted in that dump.’
Marinette snorted an inelegant giggle. ‘Should you really be saying that about your dad’s company?’
‘It’s because he’s my dad that I can say such things. Seriously, I’ve seen your sketches, and your skills up close. They really don’t utilise you like they should.’
‘Take your issues up with the boss; I’m just a lowly grunt. How was your day? Did you sleep well?’
He let the subject drop, and hummed an agreeing note.
Marinette opened her eyes. ‘What’s wrong?’
She was too perceptive.
She squinted at him. ‘You’re scrunching your eyebrows, and frowning at your laptop. Do I have to check your browser history to find out what’s up, or are you going to tell me yourself?’
Adrien’s jaw dropped. ‘You wouldn’t.’
Immediately, she sat up and reached for the laptop still sitting on the coffee table. With a resigned sigh, he grabbed her shoulder and tugged her back.
‘Truly, it’s nothing to worry about. Father has just instructed me to find a band to play for him during Fashion Week, but I've found nothing that fits his requirements. So, it’s really not that bad. Annoying, yes, but not bad.’
Marinette tilted her head. ‘You need a band?’
He picked up Gabriel's letter and passed it to her. She read it with a furrowed brow, then snorted derisively.
‘They don’t want to do the onerous job themselves, so they’ve fobbed it off on you with some paltry excuse. Unbelievable.’
‘Well, seeing as it’s Father and Nathalie, I’d say it’s pretty on brand.’
She gave him a dry look. ‘You know what I mean. I don’t see the big deal, though. Just ask Nino. He’s been wanting some big-time exposure for ages now.’
Adrien shook his head. ‘Father specifically states he wants a band. I guess he thinks they look good or something. You know it’s all about the aesthetics, and Nino lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.’
Marinette snickered into her hand. ‘Don’t let him hear you say that.’
‘He’s a great DJ, don’t get me wrong, but a guy standing behind his deck just isn’t as flashy as a live band.’
She nodded in understanding. ‘I guess I see what you mean.’
Adrien hummed his own agreement, then frowned at his laptop. ‘Besides, I’m pretty sure he has plans with Alya. Still, that leaves me here, trying to find a band with no real idea of what I’m doing, or what it is I'm looking for.’
Marinette read the letter again, her lips pursed. ‘I may know someone.’
Adrien sat up straight. ‘You do?’
‘Yeah. When I was still in collège, three of my classmates formed a band. Together with Juleka’s older brother, they made Kitty Section. It was pretty wild.’
Marinette smiled as she reminisced. ‘Sweet little Rose screaming like a death metal goth into the microphone was definitely something, and those lyrics. Good times.
‘Rose left the band after high school to do humanitarian work overseas. Juleka got bored without her there, and left as well, leaving only Luka and Ivan. Last I heard, they had recruited a new bass player and vocalist, and renamed themselves Tinnitus.’
Adrien curled his nose. ‘Why Tinnitus?’
She chuckled quietly. ‘Because when you say their names really quick, Luka Couffaine, Juleka Couffaine, it sounds like acouphène, or tinnitus.’
‘I see,’ he drawled. ‘But would a band like that really fit what Father wants? They sound a little heavy metal for his tastes.’
She waved him off, blowing a raspberry with her lips. ‘Of course. Luka’s an old friend, I’m sure he’ll have something appropriate. At the very least, he and his group do amazing cover songs, as well as original works.’
Biting his lip, he thought hard for a long moment. ‘Do you still happen to have their contact information?’
Marinette tugged her phone from her pocket, and poked at the screen before putting it to her ear. ‘Hey, Luka, it’s Marinette. How have you been?’
Adrien watched on as she giggled through the niceties of idle conversation. He could hear Luka’s voice responding to her questions, something hot and unpleasant seething in his chest.
‘Listen,’ she went on, getting to her reason for calling, ‘does your band still hire out for events?’
Luka confirmed that they did.
‘Would you like to play for Gabriel Agreste at Fashion Week? I know it’s not really your scene, but the money's good, and you’ll get great exposure. The only requirement seems to be music the models can pace their walks to. It doesn’t say it has to be overly poppy or anything, just with a fast tempo. The types of songs to get people dancing in their seats kind of thing.’
Marinette gave Adrien an excited thumbs up, before returning her attention to the phone. Luka expressed a desire to meet with the musical organiser of Fashion Week to discuss the finer details. She nodded, and glanced back up at Adrien.
‘Will you be free to meet later in the week?’ she hissed.
‘Ah, sure, as long as it’s after dark,’ he stammered.
She nodded and turned back to the phone. ‘Yup, that should be fine. See you then.’
Marinette hung up, and grinned at him. ‘You want to go out this weekend?’
Acouphène literally means tinnitus.
I once asked on Tumblr why Anarka's, Luka's, and Juleka's names all ended with Ka, and someone was nice, and knowledgeable enough to explain that when you say their whole name fast enough, it sounds like acouphène. So, yeah - Tinnitus.
Thank you, random Tumblr person!
My apologies for the super short chapter.
Anyway, thanks for 5,000 hits, everyone!
‘Sir, this just arrived for you.’
Gabriel accepted the missive Nathalie handed him, and prised up the wax seal with a letter opener. He read the letter carefully, then re-read it, hoping he had misinterpreted it.
‘Is something wrong?’ she asked.
Gabriel felt a chill grip his guts. ‘There has been an attack on my townhouse in the sixteenth arrondissement. Hunters broke in early this morning.’
Nathalie gasped, but kept her composure. ‘There are survivors?’
He nodded. ‘No one was killed. Even though the clan staying there is new nobility, they have two members who’re capable of staying up during daylight hours. It seems they heard the intruders, and headed them off before they could slaughter every vampire there.’
‘What of the hunters?’
‘One was injured, but they fled soon after they were located. Still, the security of that location has been compromised. Send out the scouts to keep an eye on the hunters’ usual haunts, then have the clan relocate here for the duration of their stay. Tomorrow, I want you to put the townhouse up for sale.’
‘As you wish, Sir.’
Nathalie strode away, her emotions strictly reined in.
Gabriel sighed and rested in head in his hands. It had been a close call. Not so long ago, he had tried to convince Adrien to stay in that townhouse, since he insisted on living outside of the nest. But he had refused, stating that he needed his own place out from under Gabriel's influence.
‘Get over your bout of independence and come home soon, Son,’ Gabriel begged the empty room.
The timing of this attack could not be a coincidence. Lila’s sudden resignation and subsequent disappearance was suspicious. However, neither her co-workers, nor her parents knew where she had gone, or why she had left.
This unsettled Gabriel deeply. He knew of her ambitions and what had occurred during the Red Night celebrations. Adrien had approached him after she had made her demands, and informed him of everything she had said. She was desperate and dangerous, especially to Adrien, if she held a grudge.
Gabriel picked up his phone. ‘Gorilla, take a team and track down Mademoiselle Lila Rossi. Once you’ve found her, keep an eye on her, and report her movements directly to Madame Sancœur or myself. Understand?’
He hoped he was wrong, but the events were too suspicious for him to grow complacent. It was far better to be safe than sorry. With that thought in mind, he penned another letter to Adrien, telling him to be careful, and all but begging him to come home.
Another short chapter. Sorry!
Lila spent two days at Kim’s place before she decided she’d outstayed her welcome.
‘Guests are like fish,’ her mother was fond of saying, ‘they begin to smell after a few days.’
After assuring her hosts she would be safe as long as she travelled during the day, and never ventured outside after dark, she would come to no harm. Privately, she simply did not want to be caught rooming with the enemy should the vampires track the hunters back to their base. As long as she was not seen with them, she could always plead ignorance to the attack on the Agreste townhouse.
Furthermore, Angelique was beginning to piss her off. Jealous and petty, Angelique had done her best to make Lila feel as unwelcome as possible, from pretending to not hear her when she spoke, to deliberately shoulder ramming her on the stairs. She then had the audacity to act sweet and innocent in front of Kim and his relatives, saying she had no idea why Lila had chosen to leave so soon.
Lila was reluctant to hand the woman this small, false victory. It grated her pride that her tactical retreat was perceived as running away from Angelique’s lacklustre show of dominance. Her sneer as Lila walked out the door made her want to punch Angelique’s teeth out.
Still, she was no longer Lila’s problem. If Lila ever needed Kim and his lot again, she knew where to find them, and did not need Angelique’s approval or friendship to do so.
It was a relief to put Kim’s abode behind her. It had been a unique form of torture staying there with the oblivious male and a hostile woman.
Lila arrived home in clothes in need of laundering. She had borrowed Angelique’s castoffs for the previous day, and had loathed every second the inferior fabric scratched at her skin.
The moment she locked the front door behind her, Lila shucked her dishevelled clothes, and stepped into the bathroom.
Steam quickly fogged the bathroom mirror and shower door. Another downside to staying with Kim was Angelique's habit of using all the hot water.
Childish bitch, Lila thought venomously.
Taking a deep breath, she attempted to let the feelings go, and focus on her next move. She would have to let Gabriel simmer for a while, lest he figure out she was the reason hunters had attacked his residence. If he knew she had fed such intimate information to their enemies, her life was as good as over.
This meant she needed to tread carefully. The next steps in her plan were crucial, so she desperately needed to avoid mistakes. If she wanted to become a vampire, she needed to be clear of all suspicion.
Ironic, that I still want to be one of them after all this, she mused as she shut off the water.
Refusing to think about it too hard, she dried off and went to her room for her pyjamas.
When she came back to the living room, she played the messages waiting on her landline phone. One was from her landlord, demanding his rent. Lila rolled her eyes, and used her mobile phone to pay him online. The other six messages were from her parents, asking where she had gone, and why she left her job. She declined to call them back.
She then called her favourite restaurant and had them deliver a meal similar to something her grandmother used to make. With that, she curled up on the couch to watch television, daydream about her future, and wonder how she would phrase her “request” to be Turned. She couldn’t demand it outright, but she could offer an exchange, such as information about where the hunters lived.
Lila smirked at her own cleverness.
On Saturday night, Adrien accompanied Marinette to a cosy bar a short distance from the Seine. Warm, golden light spilled from the windows, as did many voices and loud music. Marinette grinned up at him, and tugged on his hand eagerly.
‘Come on, that must be Luka’s band. We don’t want to miss the whole gig.’
Forcing a brittle smile, Adrien let her lead him into the densely packed pub. Inside, the bar to the right was four rows of people deep, all trying to get the bartenders’ attention, shoving and jostling as they yelled over each other, and the music.
The band was on a low stage at the opposite end, performing under an array of multicoloured lights. The lead guitarist, whom Adrien presumed was Luka, was tall and lanky, with dyed hair and painted fingernails. Adrien thought he looked like the rocker cliché come to life.
‘Wow, I needed this,’ Marinette called over the noise as they entered.
Adrien nodded, certain she would never be able to hear his reply. She was right, though; she had been in need of some fun. Fashion Week loomed ever closer, and with it came the stress and nervous anticipation that frayed everyone’s patience. Even Adrien wasn’t immune to the demands of the workplace anymore. Come Monday morning, he would be expected to make an appearance at rehearsals, despite his genetic disposition.
They waded into the crowd, shuffling along with one shoulder out front in a crab-like walk. People bumped into him from every angle, shouted around him, and passed drinks to each other across his path. Alcohol spilled to the already sticky floor, and added another layer to the particular smell all bars have.
He breathed a sigh of relief when Marinette made it to the other side of the pub, to a small table littered with glasses and empty bottles. She slid onto a bench next to a tall woman with long, dark hair and greeted her warmly. Next to the strange woman sat a petite blonde whom Marinette met with excitement. Opposite them sat a short woman with hair dyed multiple colours, who welcomed Marinette with a genuine smile, her eyes lighting up at her appearance.
Adrien watched from the sidelines, until Marinette waved him over. He sat next to the short woman seated alone on her bench, nodding politely at them.
‘Girls, this is my roommate, Adrien. Adrien, this is Mylène, Rose, and Juleka,’ she said, indicating each woman in turn.
‘Nice to meet you,’ he yelled. It unsettled him that, even with his superior hearing, he had difficulty making out what they were saying. He had to guess their replies, choosing to nod along at appropriate intervals rather than respond verbally.
How the heck do they do it? he wondered as he watched them pick up their conversation. If he wanted to hear what they were saying, he had to lean toward the centre of the table.
When his companions’ conversation drifted toward mutual acquaintances, Adrien let his attention wander. The pulsing crowd seemed to have grown thicker, the temperature rising as more people arrived to fill the space and move to the music.
The band was not unaffected. Adrien could see the sweat dripping down the vocalist’s face, and the damp patches on the drummer’s shirt. The crowd, combined with the heat of the stage lights, was sure to have them sweltering.
Despite the discomfort, they played well and seemed unruffled by the antics of avid music lovers in the audience. A woman was eyeing the bass player and moving in what she thought was a seductive dance, while an inebriated man was begging the keyboard player to let him come up and play with them. He had to be dragged off by security when he tried to clamber up on stage, to be unceremoniously dropped outside the front doors.
One of the floor staff brought them a tray of drinks, to Adrien’s confusion. In the metallic purple bar tray sat five bright pink daiquiris with little paper parasols, a straw, and a sliced strawberry on the rim.
Marinette squealed and clapped her hands, before claiming one with delight. Mylène, Rose, and Juleka took one each as well without questioning its sudden appearance.
Mylène smiled at him. ‘As guests of the band, we get special treatment.’
‘No,’ Rose cut in, waving off Mylène’s explanation. ‘The band has a tab here, and we requested these at the start of the night. We told the staff we’d be expecting two more guests, as well. I’m glad they remembered.’
‘As long as we don’t go too crazy, the band lets us order whatever we want,’ Juleka added.
Marinette, her lips still around her straw, raised an eyebrow. ‘Aren’t daiquiris a bit pricey?’
‘It’s only one each,’ Mylène replied, with a dismissive wave. ‘Besides, the guys dote on us.’
‘You mean Ivan dotes on you,’ teased Marinette.
Mylène blushed and hunched her shoulders, opting to sip from her drink rather than answer.
‘She’s not entirely wrong,’ Juleka went on. ‘Luka spoils me.’
Rose clasped her hands. ‘That’s because he’s such a good big brother.’
Adrien remembered what Marinette had told him earlier in the week. Looking to Rose and Juleka, he asked, ‘you two were in the band once too, right?’
‘That’s right,’ Rose affirmed. ‘But I left to go help build schools and girls’ homes in Cambodia after I finished school.’
‘Wow.’ Adrien was impressed, but Rose shrugged like it was no big deal.
‘Things went downhill for the band after that,’ Mylène told him. ‘Juleka left to pursue her own interests, so Ivan and Luka had to replace them, and pick up a keyboard player as well. They put out advertisements and fliers, then they held auditions until they found those guys. But, with only two original band members left, they felt like they had to rename themselves. They decided on Tinnitus, and here we are.’
‘That’s quite a story,’ Adrien said. ‘But what did you end up doing, Juleka?’
‘I’m just about to finish my degree in creative writing. I want to be a novelist.’
‘Awesome. What’re you interested in writing?’
Adrien stilled, his polite smile feeling strained. Too often, his people were the subject of such stories; often maligned and misrepresented, these mediums were typically insulting, or a creepy projection of the creator’s fetishist ideas.
I don’t even know which is worse, he thought.
‘What kind of horror?’ he asked, then mentally berated himself for doing so.
‘The atrocities inherent in human nature.’
Adrien clamped his jaw shut. That was unexpected.
The music stopped then, the band’s final set for the evening complete. The vocalist thanked the rambunctious crowd, then began packing up. They were quick and efficient, making way for a DJ who would play for the remainder of the evening. The girls, however, stayed in their seats, and continued talking.
Forty-five minutes after their gig was over, Luka re-entered the pub with a large, brawny man beside him. Rose stood up to wave them over, then sat once she was sure they had seen her.
Marinette made the introductions as they approached. ‘The big guy is Ivan, Mylène’s fiancé. The guy with blue hair is Juleka’s brother, Luka. Guys, this is my roommate, Adrien.’
Luka held out a hand with an affable smile. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘Likewise.’ Adrien took his hand, intending to shake it.
The moment he touched Luka’s skin, a shiver ran down his spine. Luka, too, looked unsettled as he fell still, but continued to stare at Adrien intently. Slowly, he pulled his hand back, and sank into the vacant seat beside Marinette.
Something unpleasant squirmed in Adrien’s chest.
Ivan dropped onto the bench on Mylène’s other side. His sudden weight made the chair tilt, startling Adrien from his stupor. He broke eye contact with Luka to frown reproachfully at Ivan.
‘Sorry,’ he said, blushing.
Letting it go, Adrien turned back to the conversation still going on around him, only to see Luka’s arm around Marinette's shoulders. The horrible, squirmy thing inside him screeched in outrage.
‘So, Marinette,’ Luka began, ‘what brings you out tonight?’
‘I wanted to talk to you about playing for Fashion Week. Have you thought about it?’
‘I discussed it with the guys, yeah.’
‘And?’ she prompted.
He paused for dramatic effect. ‘Sure, we’ll be happy to do it.’
Marinette's face lit up. ‘Really?’
‘It’s not our usual thing,’ Ivan cut in, ‘but it would be good exposure.’
She squealed and threw her arms around Luka. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’
Luka smiled indulgently and patted her back. ‘We’re always happy to help a friend.’
‘What is it we’ll be doing, exactly?’ asked Ivan.
‘You’ll be set up on the back of the stage, behind the catwalk,’ Adrien told him. ‘While you’re doing your thing, us models will be doing ours. You’ll be like the flashy backdrop to a photoshoot.’
Ivan gave him a lopsided grin. ‘Cool.’
Raising an eyebrow, Luka asked, ‘so, what kind of music would you like us to play?’
Trying not to bristle at his casual arm still around Marinette's shoulders, Adrien gave him a pained smile. ‘I’d like something Jagged Stone-esque. Alas, this is my father’s show, and he wants something a little tamer. So, something with a rhythm akin to a brisk walk for the models to strut to.’
Luka took his arm back and drummed the table with his hands in a steady beat. ‘Like this?’
Adrien nodded. ‘Yeah, even a little faster, if you like.’
Marinette squealed. ‘This is going to be so much fun.’
Adrien wasn’t so sure. For the remainder of the night, he tried not to stare at Luka. He knew there was something “other” about him, but Adrien could not figure out what it was. He cursed his sheltered upbringing, and Gabriel's paranoia, which prevented him from meeting others in the supernatural set. If he had been exposed to other creatures, he might have been able to identify Luka’s species, and know if he were a threat. He didn’t think Luka had any ill intentions against Marinette, but the way he kept his arm around her, smirking, and the feel of his very presence told Adrien there was something off about him. It made Adrien dislike him intensely.
I imagine Rose worked at some place like this - https://sunrisecambodia.org.au/
Monday morning was a trial. Marinette struggled to wake up, before hauling herself out of bed and into the shower. She fumbled through her routine, deciding to forego breakfast, and was just about to head out when she realised Adrien was still abed.
‘God damn it,’ she grumbled.
Adrien was supposed to go to work and prepare for Fashion Week with the other models. They had planned to travel together, so she could keep an eye on him as he was weakened by sunlight. He had seemed delighted by the prospect, yet now that the time had arrived, he overslept, making them both late.
Marinette thumped on his bedroom door. ‘Adrien, are you up yet?’
When there was no response, she knocked again, then let herself in. Adrien lay, curled like a kitten, under a pile of heavy blankets, his blackout curtains plunging the room into near darkness. Marinette squinted at the large lump on the bed as she stepped inside.
‘Wake up, we’re going to be late,’ she yelled, shaking what she hoped was his shoulder.
The lump moaned and shifted. ‘What time is it?’
A head of tousled blond hair emerged, followed by sleep-hazed eyes. ‘You’re gonna be late.’
‘We’re going to be late,’ she corrected him emphatically. ‘You're supposed to come in today too, remember?’
Adrien closed his eyes and groaned. ‘God damn it.’
‘I’ll be waiting by the door.’
She left to wait for him while Adrien wrestled his way out from under his bedding. She heard him stagger from his room and into the bathroom, a clatter and a yelp indicating he had dropped the shampoo bottle on his toe. Marinette shook her head.
When Adrien finally emerged, he was completely covered. He wore a wide brimmed hat, large sunglasses, a long coat with the collar turned up, gloves, dark jeans, and thick boots. She raised an eyebrow at his choice of wardrobe, but instead of commenting, fastened the button below his chin where she could see skin.
‘Ready to go?’ she asked, patting his lapels.
‘What about breakfast?’
‘We don’t have time. Come on.’
He whined, but obediently followed her outside. He flinched and hesitated at the main door, then took a tentative step into the sunlight. Marinette waited for him at the bottom of the stoop, one hand extended toward him invitingly.
‘Come on, Kitty. We really can’t afford to dawdle.’
She smiled. ‘You just reminded me of a cat about to walk on wet grass.’
He pouted, then strode purposefully forward. Grasping her hand, he led the way to the metro, releasing a gusty sigh of relief once they were underground.
It was a pleasant trip in. Marinette’s thoughts were usually preoccupied with her upcoming day to dwell much on companionship, but she realised how lonely it could be to travel alone every day. It was a nice change to be able to talk to someone while she travelled.
Adrien too seemed happy, despite his fatigue. He had been giddy the night before at the prospect of accompanying her to work, and came up with a variety of excuses as to why they had to arrive together. Then Marinette halted his increasingly improbable stories by suggesting they bumped into each other, then decided to continue together as they had become acquainted while she did his fittings for Fashion Week. He agreed, though he sulked that she had spoiled his fun.
The train pulled up at their stop, and they filed off with the other passengers. Adrien linked their arms to avoid getting separated in the crowd, though his superior height gave him an advantage, allowing him to easily make his way to the stairs as the people parted before him.
Marinette felt him shudder as they emerged into the sunlight once more.
‘Are you ok?’ she asked.
Adrien nodded. ‘Yeah. It’s just bright.’
Marinette tightened her grip on his arm. ‘Do you feel all right?’
‘Yeah, yeah. I think I’ll need to eat a lot later, though.’
She patted his arm. ‘Are you properly stocked up?’
‘There should be a couple of bags left.’
She nodded, and continued walking. ‘Almost there.’
Once they entered Gabriel's, they parted ways in the foyer. With a goodbye and a cheery wave, Adrien ducked into an elevator, and headed up to the photography studios. Marinette waved back with a smile, then turned to greet the ladies at the reception desk. They were grinning at her knowingly, with a wicked twinkle in their eyes.
‘It’s not like that,’ she told them, before striding toward the design studio.
Marinette sat at her desk, waiting for someone to give her something to do. She had missed her chance to work on the Fashion Week items, as she had been busy with XY’s costumes for his concert. Since she had finished that, she had occupied her time by fetching and carrying for the other designers like an intern. Marinette didn’t mind running menial errands, but she would have preferred proper work befitting her station.
She leaned back with a sigh. Just sitting here twiddling my thumbs is not my style.
After a short while, Noémie called for her assistance. Marinette jumped to her feet, and rushed over to help.
Noémie asked for more help than usual that day, from holding pieces of fabric in place, to asking for design and accessory advice. Marinette offered her aid and opinion, with in-depth explanations and examples. Often, she would diverge on to some tangent, before recalling the initial question and returned to it with a light blush. Noémie was patient and chuckled at her slight missteps, but accepted her input with good grace. It warmed Marinette from the inside out when the older woman took her advice, usually with a compliment.
‘You’ll get some credit for this, too,’ Noémie informed her.
Marinette blinked up at her. ‘Huh? But this is your workload.’
‘It is, but your assistance has been invaluable. It’s come along so well because of you.’
She blushed and ducked her head. No matter how often it happened, Marinette was always embarrassed by sincere praise.
‘Also, if it all goes pear-shaped,’ Noémie continued, ‘we can share the blame.’
‘So that’s your game,’ Marinette gasped in false outrage. ‘If it goes wrong, you won’t be the only one going down for it.’
Noémie winked, and held up two spools of thread. ‘Red or green for the black slacks?’
Marinette frowned, first at her, then in thought. ‘Green. Red is overdone.’
‘Ooh, daring. I like it.’
They shared a laugh, then continued working.
By lunchtime, Noémie’s share of the work was almost done. They sat back with a sigh, grinning at each other.
‘Good afternoon, ladies,’ Mathéo greeted them. ‘You’re coming along splendidly, I see.’
‘It’s all thanks to Marinette,’ Noémie told him with a smile.
‘It’s called teamwork,’ Marinette retorted, as she tried to will away another blush.
‘Whatever it is, it’s done wonders for your schedule; you’re miles ahead of the others,’ Mathéo said. ‘After you're done, perhaps you could both assist your colleagues? I’m afraid everyone else is going to fall behind, then it’ll be my arse on the line.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ they agreed in unison.
After they returned from their lunch break, Marinette and Noémie finished their share of the work, then split up to help the others. While it was not the work Marinette preferred, it was still contributing to the overall success of the company, and her workmates respected her enough to accept her opinions.
She hoped Adrien’s day was going as well.
Adrien’s day was not going well. He was reprimanded by the photographer for being late, and the rest of the cast and crew were also short with him. He had set them back almost half an hour, and they were not at all generous or forgiving, despite his relationship with their boss.
The stylist tugged his hair as he dragged a brush through it, muttering an insincere apology, before doing it again almost immediately. The makeup artist scowled as she applied her craft, and wardrobe threw his clothes at him with snapped commands. Adrien felt like a child caught in an inexcusable misstep.
‘I really am sorry for being late,’ he muttered to his fellow models, but they turned up their noses and shrugged him off. He sighed as Vincent called for him.
The rest of the morning followed a similar pattern, so Adrien gave up trying to beg their forgiveness. Instead, he followed orders and didn’t stray outside the building during lunch, hoping to avoid another delay. Still, his colleagues spurned his attempts at friendly banter, so he smothered a sigh, and returned their frosty reception.
Quickly, he sent Marinette a text, telling her he would be home late, and to head off without him when she was done. Her reply was instantaneous, asking if he were sure, and if she should pick anything up for him on her way.
No, he sent back. I can fetch my own supplies, thanks. See you later.
She sent her own farewells, then Adrien was called for once more. Vincent micromanaged every nuance of his poses, and remained particularly picky for the rest of the afternoon. He took no such issue with the other models.
By day’s end, Adrien’s patience was perilously thin. He had been awake all day, had nothing to eat, and everyone seemed to be holding a grudge. By the time he was dismissed for the day, he felt like he could snap someone’s throat clean in half, figuratively and literally.
Once he had changed back into his own clothes, he walked away without saying goodbye, or lingering to catch up on gossip with the others. It was obvious they didn’t want him around, so he felt no guilt at leaving them behind.
They probably want to talk shit about me anyway, he fumed.
It was after nightfall by the time he slipped outside and into a shadowy recess, where he dissolved into dense fog. He needed some alone time, and drifting on the breeze usually calmed his frazzled nerves. Unfortunately, even in this state, he could feel the hollowness in his belly. He willed himself to drift home a little faster.
Adrien entered via the balcony, re-forming just inside the sliding doors. Marinette was in the bathroom, the occasional splash indicating she was indulging in a bath. He smiled, glad she was having a better time than he was.
Treading lightly, he went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Only a single bag of blood remained in the drawer where he kept his cache. His stomach rumbled mutinously.
I hope it’s enough, he thought as he took it out.
Careful to avoid spills, he emptied the bag into a soup mug and warmed it in the microwave. He was coming to the opinion that microwaved blood wasn’t as good as heated in a pot on the stove, but he was in a hurry. He could feel his fangs lengthening to dimple his bottom lip.
Finally, the microwave dinged. Adrien guzzled his meal without waiting for it to cool, then licked his lips, before using his finger to scrape the residue from the sides of the mug. He was still hungry.
It was late, but he called the blood bank where Nino worked, hoping to ask for a mercy delivery. Unfortunately, the phone rang out, then an automated voice instructed him to leave a message.
He then tried to call Nino’s mobile phone, but it too directed him to voicemail. Adrien hung up, annoyed.
‘Oh dear, that's an unhappy face.’
Marinette stood in the hall doorway, wearing a nightgown and a towel around her head. She removed the towel, and rubbed at her hair. ‘What’s wrong?’
Adrien sighed. ‘A crappy day, followed by an insufficient meal. I’m starving, and I can’t get in touch with Nino. He’s not at work, and not answering his phone, and now I’m cranky.’
‘Poor baby. I’ll check in with Alya; maybe she can reach him.’
Adrien looked away while she turned around to head back up the short hallway. She returned a moment later, with her phone to her ear, but minus the towel. She frowned as she waited for a response, but eventually pulled the phone away.
‘She’s not answering either. My guess is they want some private time together.’
Adrien clenched his fists. ‘Damn it.’
Marinette tilted her head as she looked at him. ‘Is it really that bad?’
Instead of answering, he showed her his fangs. They had grown to their full length, extending just past his lower lip.
Marinette’s eyes widened. ‘Oh, ok, yeah. It’s pretty bad. Can you hold out until the morning?’
‘I don’t know,’ he replied honestly.
She drew her lips in and pressed them together as she thought. ‘Would you, um. I mean, you can have some of my blood, if you want.’
Adrien stilled, even as his heart began to race. He could feel sweat break out across his forehead, and all but stopped breathing. ‘Your blood?’
‘Yeah, I mean,’ she shrugged, ‘what’s a little blood between friends?’
He slowly shook his head. ‘I couldn’t ask that of you.’
Internally, he was waging a war with himself. He was starving, and his instincts were clamouring to take over. Furthermore, to drink the blood of the woman he loved; it would be a transcendent experience.
However, it was because he loved her that he hesitated. Biting her would hurt her, and he didn’t know if he could forgive himself for that.
‘You’re not asking me; I’m offering. It’s freely given,’ she answered.
It was rare for a human to willingly offer themselves, and it made their blood that much sweeter. Adrien’s gut, and something deeper, more primal, urged him to accept her generosity. He nodded stiffly, and directed her to the couch.
She stood, patiently waiting for him, until he joined her by the sofa. He sat down carefully, then gently guided her onto his lap. She perched on his knees, facing him, with her hands on his shoulders for balance.
‘So, how do you want to do this?’ she asked.
Adrien appreciated her attempt at nonchalance, but he heard the quaver in her voice. She knew it was going to hurt, despite his best efforts, and was nervous. No human, or any other species enjoyed being in pain. He would do his best to mitigate the worst of it, but he could only do so much.
‘Just try to sit still,’ he advised, as he brushed her hair back.
Her nightgown bunched under his right hand, where he placed it over her hip. Her knees rested against his left side, trembling almost imperceptibly.
Adrien leaned in. Something in his chest purred with satisfaction, but another part screamed at him, begging him to stop. Yet another part, something far more feral and instinctive, spurred him on.
He could smell her. Marinette smelt of fresh water, flowers, clean linen, and a scent that was uniquely her. He pressed his nose into her neck and inhaled, unable to help himself. He wanted to memorise what she smelled like before he tainted her. She stiffened, her hands tightening on his shoulders as she waited for the burst of pain.
Adrien licked her skin in silent apology. Marinette gasped, then he delicately tilted her head, cradling it in both hands, as her hair tangled around his fingers.
He opened his mouth.
Before Adrien’s fangs even touched her skin, he closed his jaw with a snap, and set her aside. Marinette sat on the couch, staring up at him in bewilderment, as he forced himself to his feet.
‘I, I can’t,’ he stammered. ‘Thank you, but, sorry. I can’t.’
With his head bowed low, he fled to his room, ashamed of what he had almost done.
Gabriel stood up to farewell the family of vampires who had sought refuge in his manor after the attack on the townhouse. They were heading back to their estate in the countryside, away from the big city and its excitement.
‘Safe travels,’ he wished them, inclining his head politely.
They thanked him again, and took their leave. There were only six of them – two adults, one male and one female, their three children, and a gentleman whose exact relation with the rest was unclear. It had been the two men who had scared off the hunters, while the woman had stayed behind to defend the children. Their only daughter, no more than three years old, had been particularly scared. Gabriel believed it was more for the sake of the children they were leaving so soon after the festivities had wound down.
He couldn’t blame them. Had he been in their position, he would have gone home immediately, niceties of modern society be damned.
‘Nathalie.’ Gabriel sat back down at his desk, staring pensively into the middle distance.
She stepped forward. ‘Yes, Sir?’
‘How is the sale of the townhouse going?’
‘You have three prospective buyers, but I believe only two are viable options. The third just seemed curious, and a quick background check revealed he didn’t have the required funds.’
Gabriel nodded. ‘Are the remaining two serious bidders?’
‘I believe so. One is an actress of significant means, who says she would like a permanent residence in town, probably more for status than necessity. The other is the CEO of an international corporation, who claims he would like a holiday house for his mistress. I assume he would want that kept out of the public eye, especially given his wife’s reputation, but humans have always been foolish creatures.’
‘As long as they can afford it, what they do with the house is none of my concern. What more have you learned about the hunters?’
‘They appear to be a local branch, but slippery. As our best trackers have been unable to locate them, I’d say they know what they’re doing.’
He hummed thoughtfully. ‘Not amateurs, then.’
‘No, Sir. After questioning the family they attacked, the men seem to be relatives, or at least, very closely acquainted.’
Gabriel cocked an eyebrow. ‘A family of hunters?’
‘It’s possible, though rare. Humans are usually reluctant to bring their relatives into such dangerous endeavours.’
He steepled his fingers, and rested his chin on them, his elbows on the desk. ‘True, though I would advise against discounting the possibility just yet. What word of Mademoiselle Rossi?’
Nathalie cleared her throat. Lila had become a tender subject for many over the last week, her sudden absence arousing the suspicions of many. Rumours were circulating, ranging from her sudden death, suspicious or otherwise, to abandoning her post to chase a distant lover. Either way, her absence was an embarrassment to the Agreste clan, at best, and dangerous at worst.
‘Lights have been on in her apartment, but no one has seen her. I believe she is laying low to lick her wounds for the moment,’ Nathalie replied.
Gabriel had kept her demands for transformation quiet, divulging the truth only to Nathalie and Gorilla. While there was no evidence linking her to the attack on the townhouse, Gabriel thought the timing was suspicious. Humans had no idea vampires resided among them, and their private addresses were often kept secret, even from each other. While the townhouse address was known among the vampire community, none of their own would leak that information to the hunters, and vampires were a careful people by nature.
Which begs the question, how did the hunters know to strike there? If not Lila, then what?
It was a conundrum, one that he hoped his investigators could answer soon.
His musings were interrupted by a loud knock on his office door, before Audrey Bourgeois marched inside.
‘Madame Bourgeois, this is most irregular,’ Gabriel chided her.
She frowned at him, and folded her arms. ‘Did you know your son refuses to marry my daughter?’
Gabriel's expression remained impassive. ‘Excuse me?’
‘Your son,’ she repeated, leaning over him, ‘does not want to marry my Chloé. Something about not being in love with her, or some such trivial rot.’
‘I fail to see why this is an issue.’
Audrey gasped, placing a hand over her breast as she straightened up. ‘I thought you wanted Adrien to marry within the Twelve Noble Houses. Since Chloé is the only lady of marriageable age, I say it’s a given they wed each other.’
Gabriel nodded. ‘I see. Yes, I had wanted him to marry well.’
‘You had?’ Audrey repeated. ‘Past tense? Are you saying you no longer care for the purity of your line?’
Gabriel rose to his feet, keeping steady eye contact with Audrey. ‘You forget, Madame Bourgeois, that I also married for love. To deny Adrien the same would make me a hypocrite of the highest possible order. Of course, I want the best for him, but if his heart leads him elsewhere, who am I to deny him?’
‘You’re his father,’ Audrey snapped. ‘You may have wed to the embarrassment of your family, but –’
‘You overstep your bounds, Madame,’ thundered Gabriel.
Audrey paused, her complexion pallid under her makeup, but she rallied quickly, never to be cowed for long. ‘My Chloé is the only serviceable option. She comes from good stock, and was raised to rule. Really, what other options do you have?’
Gabriel looked down his nose at her. ‘You seem to have forgotten your own humble beginnings, Madame Bourgeois. André married far beneath his station, did he not?’
Audrey’s face turned pink. ‘How dare you?’
‘What, remind you that you are not “good stock” as you called it? Perhaps it was time someone reminded you of your former life, since you insist on acting like someone born to one of the Twelve Noble Families. Do not delude yourself, Madame, and don’t try to meddle in my son’s affairs. If he chooses to marry your daughter, then so be it. Even if he chooses another, I will accept it. Like any parent, I want my child to be happy. I would expect you to understand that.’
Audrey scowled at him. ‘At the rate you’re going, he’s going to make the same mistakes you did. I’m sure you remember how well that turned out.’
With that, she spun on her heel and left, leaving Gabriel fuming behind her.
Nathalie took a tentative step forward. ‘Sir?’
‘Ban that woman from my house. I don’t want to see her in here again.’
As Nathalie went to enforce his order, Gabriel sank into his seat, to hold his head in his hands. Audrey had not been wrong. He had made mistakes, and they had hurt him deeply, but he could not entirely regret them. His choices had given him the love of his life, which in turn had given him Adrien.
But Plagg have mercy on him should his son ever find out the truth.
Angelique sat in her car, seething as she watched Marinette stroll into the Gabriel's building. Her fingers drummed against the steering wheel, something dark and sinister urging her to veer onto the footpath and plough right through the front doors to mow her down. She smiled as she entertained the fantasy, imagining Marinette bleeding out and begging from under her car.
Once Marinette was out of sight, Angelique got out of her car, and slammed the door shut. Her reflection in the car window was pathetic. In a plain t-shirt and jeans, she was a far cry from what she used to be. Gone was the perfectly coiffed hair, the designer clothes, and high heels. In their place was a drab, sad creature with lank hair and scuffed shoes.
In a fit of pique, she kicked the wheel, then yelped in pain. Her shoes were worn too thin for such vigorous activities. She limped away, her shoulders hunched, as tears of pain and frustration stung her eyes.
The next block over, with Gabriel's no longer in sight, she entered a café to collect herself. Taking a seat at a small table by the left wall, she glared at the happy crowd around her. She didn’t know what she had been trying to accomplish by coming here, except to affirm herself of her righteous fury against Marinette, and her former workplace.
‘Fuck her, and fuck the entire Agreste line,’ she hissed.
‘Did you say Agreste?’ enquired a familiar voice.
Angelique started, and looked up to see Lila standing over her. Her already sour mood worsened.
‘What’s it to you?’
Angelique loathed Lila. She was an interloper who had taken advantage of Kim’s idiocy, and hospitality for too long, and had been trying to win him away for herself. She was wily, and was the type of person to use her looks to get what she wanted. Angelique was willing to bet Lila had never worked hard a day in her life.
Lila sat down uninvited, and folded her hands atop the table. ‘Did I understand you correctly when you said fuck the Agreste line?’
Angelique scowled. ‘That’s what I said. What of it?’
Lila smirked. ‘Well then, it seems we have something in common.’
‘What, Gabriel didn’t want to make you a model or something?’
‘Or something. So, what’s your deal, why are you sulking about the Agrestes?’
Mistrustful of Lila’s sudden friendliness, Angelique grew defensive. ‘Why should I tell you?’
Lila shrugged. ‘Like I said, we have something in common. I’ll buy you a coffee.’
‘Make it a non-fat, caramel macchiato.’
Smirking, Lila went to place their orders while Angelique set her pride aside. She only had the money Kim gave her, which was a pittance compared to how much she used to earn, and barely gave her enough to live on after she bought the necessities.
Being a girl is expensive, she moaned internally.
After a few minutes, Lila returned and set a mug and a blueberry muffin down in front of her. For herself she had bought a double shot espresso and a white chocolate chip biscuit.
Angelique picked up her drink and indulged in the scent before taking a sip. It was a little light on the caramel, but she would refrain from commenting. Her mother had taught her not to criticise a gift, and Angelique had learned not to piss off people who may be useful later, and at this point in time, Lila was proving very useful.
‘I’m glad you like it,’ Lila said, her tone dry.
Picking up on the attitude, Angelique gave her a brittle smile. ‘Thank you. I appreciate your kindness.’
‘Don’t lay it on too thick, you might choke.’
Angelique offered a weak laugh, then took another sip to avoid further conversation.
Lila drank her coffee, and ate her biscuit, then turned back to Angelique.
‘So, what’s your beef with the Agrestes?’
Setting her macchiato down, Angelique released an aggravated sigh. ‘It all started with this bitch named Marinette. She set me up, got me fired from Gabriel's, and they don’t even realise what a manipulative little cow she is. As far as I'm concerned, their stupidity is as bad as her machinations.’
Humming thoughtfully, Lila raised an eyebrow. ‘So, your issues aren’t with the Agreste family specifically, just their management.’
‘Is there a difference?’
Lila looked at her with something almost like pity. ‘Of course, there’s a difference. Gabriel Agreste leaves most managerial decisions to his staff. He does very little, apart from draw his silly little pictures.’
Angelique narrowed her eyes. ‘How do you know so much about it?’
‘My family has worked for his for years. I know just about everything about him.’
The wheels in her head began turning. ‘Enough to get a few of his employees fired?’
Lila grinned viciously. ‘Honey, what I know could bring down his whole empire, as long as I told the right people, of course.’
‘Who are the right people? Wouldn’t the newspapers be enough?’
She shook her head, still grinning. ‘Oh no, that wouldn’t do it, unless you like having people call you crazy. No. There are certain factions, however, who would dearly love to know what I know. The Agreste clan has enemies, none of whom would bat an eye at getting their hands dirty.’
Angelique was getting impatient. ‘You’re being too vague. Stop trying to be mysterious, and tell me what you know.’
Lila shook her head. ‘No, not yet. Besides, you’d never believe me. Instead, how about you tell me all about this woman who got you fired? Maybe we can come to an arrangement.’
Her suspicions shooting up, Angelique leaned back. ‘What sort of an arrangement?’
‘I don’t know yet,’ Lila replied with a nonchalant shrug. ‘But you want to get back at Gabriel's for wrongfully firing you, and Gabriel's top boss has something that I want.’
‘That sounds like a conflict of interests.’
‘Not really. See, if Gabriel Agreste, or his son, doesn’t give me what I want, I will burn them to the ground, and if anyone happens to get caught in the crossfire, then so be it.’
Angelique was not reassured. ‘What if they do give you what you want?’
Lila’s answering smile sent shivers down Angelique's spine.
‘I burn them to the ground anyway. They’ve disrespected me too many times, for too long. I want payback, and if that means using them, or lying to them to get what I want, then I’ll do it. I will see them at my mercy, begging for their lives, right before I crush them under my heel.’
In Angelique's opinion, Lila was insane. However, if she could help bring Marinette down, then Angelique would accept her assistance, despite her misgivings. Lila had knowledge and resources that could be useful in time, and at this moment, Angelique had nothing.
Returning Lila’s grin, she held out her hand. ‘Ok, I’m in.’
Lila shook it, looking satisfied. ‘Good. First, we need to learn their schedules. What have you got?’
Alya shut down her computer, and hefted her handbag strap over her shoulder.
‘Ok, everyone, I'm off,’ she called to the room.
She got a scattered response, most of her colleagues opting to simply wave their goodbyes rather than be distracted from their tasks.
Alya smiled; she was like that most days herself. Usually, she was the last one out of the office, too focussed on her articles to pay much attention to the goings on around her.
She chose to take the stairs again as she left, rather than risk the elevator. Her stomach was sensitive, and getting increasingly worse as her pregnancy went on. The last time she took the elevator she had almost thrown up in her purse. Only sheer force of will had kept the contents of her stomach down, as she disliked being sick, and did not want to lose her favourite handbag.
Mercifully, she was just above the ground floor, so her trip was brief, and she was sure the extra exercise was doing her good. Her doctor had told her to keep active for as long as she was able, and stairs were an excellent form of cardio.
‘Feel the burn, baby,’ she huffed.
Nino had, unfortunately, grown increasingly overprotective. He insisted she eat as much yoghurt as she could stomach, and all but forced her to rest while she was at home to “avoid stress.”
It had taken a particularly nasty argument to get him to back off. Yet she could still feel Nino staring reprovingly at her back whenever she engaged in activities he thought were detrimental to hers and the baby’s health.
‘Deep breaths, Césaire,’ she told herself. ‘That particular obstacle is done with, so there’s no need to be angry anymore.’
Setting her budding irritation aside, Alya focussed on her afternoon outing. She had called Marinette the day before, asking if she were free to meet after work. Marinette had confirmed she was, so they’d organised to meet at their favourite café.
Alya had been looking forward to catching up all day, despite her various minor annoyances. It had been a long time since they’d last met, and Alya was keen to reaffirm their friendship.
When she arrived, she was surprised to see Marinette waiting for her, waving from a seat by the window. Alya mimed fainting, then headed inside while Marinette stuck her tongue out.
‘Hey, Girl,’ Alya said as she approached the table.
Alya sat down, and leaned back with a sigh. ‘Have you ordered yet?’
‘Not yet. The waiter should be back soon. I told him I was waiting on you.’
As if the mere mention had summoned him, the waiter appeared at their side, notepad and pen in hand. Marinette ordered a mocha and a danish, while Alya requested a chai tea and a kouign amann.
Marinette raised an eyebrow, but Alya pointed sternly at her.
‘Don’t you start with me, Dupain-Cheng. Don’t even think it. I’ve had Nino all up in my business trying to dictate what I eat, and I’ve only just gotten him off my back. I don’t want to have the same argument with you.’
Marinette put her hands up in surrender. ‘Ok, ok. No need to ask how your week’s been, I guess.’
Alya sighed. ‘Sorry. We rarely get to see each other these days, and the first thing I do is jump down your throat. I’m sorry.’
Marinette shook her head. ‘It’s fine. I can’t even imagine how annoying that must’ve been for you.’
Feeling like a thorough heel, Alya fiddled with the tablecloth. ‘I get that he’s trying, and only wants the best for me and the baby, but he was getting overbearing, and you know how I feel about being smothered. We had a massive argument.’
Marinette gasped, her hands over her mouth and her eyes wide. ‘No.’
‘Yup. I called him an over-vigilant arse, so he called me reckless and stupid. There was more name calling and mudslinging, but we eventually came to an agreement.’
‘He stops nagging me, or I’ll leave him.’
Alya winced. ‘Yeah, that’s what I said. I’m not proud of it, but at least it got results. He’s no longer trying to force-feed me whatever recommended diet he read about in baby books, and I police what I eat myself.’
The waiter came back with their orders, setting them down before discreetly excusing himself.
‘Which includes,’ Alya continued, as if the interruption never happened, ‘caffeine free drinks, and the occasional treat because I deserve it. I’m growing a whole new human being here, you know.’
‘Ok,’ Marinette relented. ‘No more food shaming, you super incubator.’
Alya lifted her head proudly, and took a sip of her tea. ‘Ugh, bland.’
Giggling behind her hand, Marinette asked, ‘so how have you been since the last time we met? You know, apart from controlling fiancés and all that.’
‘Fairly ordinary, to be honest. Morning sickness had been kicking my butt.’
Marinette pulled a face that was a mix of sympathy and disgust.
‘Whoever called it “morning sickness” was a damned liar,’ Alya went on. ‘I’ve been sick all day, and can really only keep small things down after four o’clock.’
‘In the afternoon?’ Marinette asked, appalled.
‘Yeah, so I’m hungry, but too ill to eat anything. Anything too strong, or exotic, and you can forget it. It just won’t stay down.’
‘Will you be able to eat this without being sick?’ Marinette pointed to the pastry sitting on a small plate by Alya’s elbow.
She paused to think about it. ‘Should be fine.’
‘Alya,’ hissed Marinette, aghast.
To prove her point, Alya picked it up and took a small bite. Swallowing, she waited for the tell-tale roiling in her stomach that preceded imminent eruptions. When nothing happened, she shrugged and took another bite.
‘You're unbelievable,’ Marinette sighed.
‘At least work is still going well. Oh, we talked to Nino’s parents, and they bought us a whole nursery. We have a cot, changing table, rocking chair, a freaking rocking chair. Can you believe it? Madame Lahiffe said it’s good for the baby.’
‘Wow. That was really nice of them.’
‘Yeah, they’re super excited. They even got us bottles, nappies, clothes, a whole pile of stuff. This baby won’t want for anything.’
‘Well, I’m glad it worked out. Nino didn’t want to ask his folks for anything, did he?’
Alya’s shoulders drooped. ‘I get that he wants to be independent, but babies are expensive, and we would really be struggling if we had to do it ourselves. I’m thankful for their generosity, even if he isn’t.’
Marinette narrowed her eyes. ‘I don’t think I’d say he’s ungrateful, just proud.’
Swallowing her mouthful of tea, Alya nodded. ‘I know, and he was gracious about receiving everything. I guess I’m just feeling overwrought at the moment.’
‘Maybe you two need a short break from each other. Could you stay with your parents for a few days?’
‘Nah, the twins are back home. They wouldn’t give me a moment of peace. Maybe I can hit up Madame Lahiffe to put me up in a hotel for a week.’
They shared a laugh, and ate the remainder of their pastries.
Alya, her tea finally gone, asked, ‘so how have you been?’
Carefully, Marinette set her mug down. ‘Mostly all right.’
She then gave an in-depth explanation of her dealings with XY, Angelique, and her own parents when she’d been forced to stay with them. Alya listened closely, eager to hear all about the vampiric gossip when Marinette told her about Adrien’s Red Night ball, and the fallout thereafter. But once Marinette was done, Alya could tell she was withholding something.
‘Ok, so what aren’t you telling me?’ she prompted when Marinette fell silent.
Marinette opened her mouth, looking like she was about to refute the accusation, then slumped in her seat, defeated.
‘I never could hide anything from you, could I?’
‘Nope. Now, out with it.’
Rubbing her arm, Marinette looked away. ‘Adrien’s been acting weird since Monday. I don’t know what to do.’
‘Did something happen?’
Alya raised an eyebrow. ‘Guys don’t act weird for no reason. Tell me about Monday.’
Listening patiently as Marinette recalled the events of that day, Alya tried to pinpoint the source of the strangeness Marinette had mentioned.
‘Then I offered to let him bite me.’
Alya nearly inhaled her own tongue.
‘You what?’ she shrieked.
There was a chorus of irritated shushes from the other patrons, and a collection of dirty looks, but Alya ignored it all. Leaning in close, she stared at Marinette with wide eyes.
‘You offered to let him feed from you?’ she hissed.
Marinette bent down closer, and whispered, ‘he was starving, and couldn’t reach Nino. Where was he, anyway?’
Alya cast her mind back. ‘We had a big argument. I went out for dinner alone, and turned my phone off so he wouldn’t disturb me. I don’t know what he did, but maybe he turned his phone off too.’
Marinette shook her head and sighed. ‘Well, anyway, we were all set for Adrien to bite, but he pulled back at the last second and said he couldn’t do it. He then left, and I think he’s been avoiding me ever since.’
Alya sat back, mulling over the information and what she had seen of Adrien’s and Marinette’s interactions.
‘What would have happened if he bit you?’
‘I would have bled. That was kind of the whole point.’
Alya furrowed her brows. ‘You wouldn’t have turned into a vampire, or some mindless thrall?’
‘No, he's not strong enough for that yet.’
She hummed pensively. ‘So accidentally turning you and feeling guilty about it isn’t the reason.’
Then she recalled how gentle he was with Marinette, how he treated her as if she were fragile. Precious.
Alya raised her head to meet Marinette’s gaze. She tried to look at her as any man would, taking in her fair skin, earnest eyes, and pink lips.
Oh, that poor boy has got it bad.
‘Alya, tell me what it is,’ demanded Marinette impatiently.
‘Oh, well, I’d say he freaked out at the idea of biting you.’
Marinette sat back, looking deeply confused. ‘He's a vampire. It’s what they do.’
Shaking her head, Alya held her hands up. ‘No, that’s not what I mean. I think he balked because if he bit you, it would have hurt.’
‘Yeah, again, it’s what vampires do.’
‘No, Marinette, you’re not listening to me. He didn’t bite you because he didn’t want to hurt you. I don’t think he can stand the idea of causing you pain.’
Marinette fell still, only her eyelids moving as she blinked. ‘Well, that’s just dumb. He can’t feed from someone without causing them pain. He’s breaking the skin with his teeth, for goodness sake.’
Alya couldn’t decide if she wanted to facepalm, or shake her friend until she came to her senses. Caught in her indecision, she remained in her seat, smiling tightly as a nerve ticked near her eye.
That poor boy.
She came back to herself when Marinette waved her hand before Alya's eyes.
‘You still there?’
Alya’s grin felt strained. ‘Yup, still here.’
‘Anyway, I was thinking of meeting up with Rose and Juleka this weekend. Tinnitus might be playing for Gabriel Agreste at Fashion Week, and I’d like to go over which songs they should play. You want to come?’
‘Sure, I’ll be there. When and where?’
‘I’ll text you the details.’
Alya zoned out the rest of Marinette’s chatter, caught unprepared by her complete obliviousness, and trying in vain to comprehend it. Alya had only seen the two of them interact once, and had already figured out Adrien was crushing on her badly. That Marinette was so blind to it was almost comical, were it not for the tragedy of Adrien’s unreciprocated feelings.
Alya wasn’t sure how she felt about a vampire falling in love with her best friend. He seemed like a decent person, and that he held himself back even though he was starving spoke volumes about his character. However, while he may be good, there was no indication the rest of his people would treat Marinette as well. Then there was the issue of lifespans. Surely such a union could only end in heartbreak.
Thank you for 7,000+ hits! Also, I'm bored. Leave comments! :D
Marinette returned home, still mulling over Alya’s revelation. She had to admit, it made sense that Adrien had pulled away because he didn’t want to harm her, but his subsequent avoidance of her was inexplicable. To add to the confusion, she didn’t know whether she should confront him about it, or continue to go on as if it had never happened.
In the end, she decided to bring it up briefly, just long enough to assure him she was ok, and didn’t bear any grudges, before going on as usual.
She closed the front door and flicked the lock mechanism, before leaving her handbag on the kitchen counter, and wandered into the loungeroom.
‘I’m home,’ she announced to the empty room.
Frowning, she turned toward the hallway. Light shone from beneath Adrien’s bedroom door, but there was no sound. Tentatively, she knocked.
‘Adrien? Can I come in?’
There was a wild rustling, followed by a thud and a hissed expletive, before the door was suddenly wrenched open. Adrien stood before her, shirtless, his hair wild, and panting for breath.
‘Did you need something?’ he asked.
‘I just wanted to talk. Is now a good time?’ She eyed him dubiously, wondering if she had interrupted something.
‘Oh, well, I still have another set of sit-ups to do, then push ups, things like that. The life of a model,’ he explained with an unconvincing laugh.
Marinette remained where she was, torn between annoyance and hurt. ‘Why are you avoiding me?’
That brought him up short. ‘I’m sorry? I'm not avoiding you.’
‘You are so. You can’t be in the same room as me for more than a second, let alone actually talk to me. You can’t even look me in the eyes right now.’
He had been staring at a point over her right shoulder, with the occasional flick of his eyes to meet hers, before immediately skittering away again. At that moment, hurt was winning out over irritation, and unshed tears began to sting her eyes.
‘Look, I realise it was forward of me to suggest you feed from me, and I know you didn’t want to cause me pain, but this, what you’re doing right now is causing far more hurt than any bite would. Can’t you just get over whatever hang-up has been eating at you, and just be my friend again?’
Adrien rubbed the back of his neck, but still didn’t meet her gaze, instead focussing on the floor. ‘You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just ashamed of myself for letting things get as bad as they did. I should know how to look after myself by now, and not depend on you as much as I do. I saw my supplies were getting low, but just didn’t think about it. There’s no excuse for any of it, and I’m sorry.’
She tried to angle her head around to face him, but he steadfastly avoided making eye contact.
‘I was never upset with you,’ she told him. ‘I was hurt and confused by your continued distance, but I was never mad. Tell me what this is really about.’
He whispered something, but it was too low to hear.
‘I’m sorry, could you repeat that?’
‘I said I can’t hurt you,’ he repeated, louder than necessary.
Marinette took an involuntary step back, and Adrien gasped, covering his mouth with his hand.
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. I just, I can’t. I need to be alone.’
He closed the door. Marinette stared at it for a long moment, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Finally, she shook her head, then went to make herself dinner, still hopelessly confused.
Adrien leaned against his door, his hand over his mouth as he attempted to regulate his breathing, and not cry. Marinette could not possibly understand what it was like to be starving, about to lose all self-control, and then be faced with the woman he was in love with offering herself on the altar of his hunger.
She was only half right when she guessed he didn’t want to hurt her. But the full truth was that he didn’t want to kill her, which he could have done easily, without meaning to. He was not so old that he only needed a mouthful to sustain himself; he hadn’t even gained full control over his appetites. It was too dangerous for him to feed from a person when he was hungry.
This was one reason why vampires had chosen to feed from donor bags. The risk to human life was too great, and should too many humans die, it would bring unwanted scrutiny down on his people. It would give the hunters a legitimate reason to destroy them.
Then there was the guilt. If he felt this bad for nearly biting her, he dreaded to think of what accidentally killing her would do to him. It was a selfish reason, and motivated his cowardice in hiding from her, but he could not bring himself to face her yet. Her large, bright eyes drilled a hole right through him, eroding his sense of self and free will until all he knew was her. She merely had to ask him, and whatever she wanted, he would do.
Adrien was learning just how dangerous love could be, but it was a drug, and he was addicted. He would never give her up willingly.
‘Pull yourself together,’ he growled, bashing the heels of his hands against his forehead.
He would have to accompany her to work again tomorrow, as he had been doing all week. During the day he could hide behind his sunglasses and layers of clothing, using his weakness as an excuse to avoid talking to her, but he could no more separate himself from her than he could pull out his own heart.
‘Vampires love easily, and completely,’ Emilie had once told him.
It was a line he hadn’t understood until he met Marinette. He had fallen in love with her as easily as breathing, and so absolutely he felt he would wither and die without her. Suddenly, he wondered how Gabriel had pulled himself out of mourning and went on with his life after Emilie had passed away. A surge of newfound respect for his father bloomed, even as maudlin thoughts of Marinette succumbing to advanced age plagued his mind.
Unable to take the solitude or spiralling misery any longer, Adrien inched his door open and crept down the hall. Marinette was on the couch watching tv, her head resting on the arm, looking like she was asleep. Adrien tip toed closer, then peered over the back of the lounge.
Her eyes were open, but glassy and vacant, as if she too were trapped in her own thoughts.
Gingerly, he crawled onto the lounge until he could stretch out behind her, and hold her close.
‘I'm sorry,’ he whispered into her hair.
She gripped his arms wrapped around her middle. ‘Me too.’
He shook his head. ‘You have nothing to apologise for. These are my issues, and I should not have made you feel like it was in any way your fault.’
‘What issues? Is there anything I can do to help?’
He took a deep breath, inhaling her scent. ‘I may have freaked out on Monday night. I can’t be responsible for hurting you. I can’t cause you that type of pain, and I don’t think I could bear the guilt. I know how selfish that sounds, but I need you to promise me something.’
‘Never offer yourself to me like that again.’
‘What?’ she repeated, stunned.
Rather than explain his poor choice of words, he decided to tell her the truth.
‘I was starving. I could have drained you of every last drop of blood. Do you understand what I mean?’
‘I could have died?’
She lay very still for a long time, only the rise and fall of her ribs indicating she was still present.
Adrien felt his guts plummet. ‘Are you scared?’
‘A little,’ she admitted.
Adrien squeezed his eyes shut. ‘Do you want me to go?’
She remained quiet for so long, he thought she wasn’t going to answer.
‘No,’ she eventually whispered.
Pressing his lips together, Adrien kept as still as he could for fear of frightening her further, and having to leave. To his relief, she fell asleep after a while. Tenderly, he kissed her hair, and eased out from behind her. Once free, he scooped her up and carried her to her room, tucking her into her bed before quietly taking his leave.
He retreated to the kitchen, and opened the fridge to find a drawer full of blood donor bags. Marinette had stopped by Nino’s blood bank on Tuesday morning, and he had visited on Wednesday evening, eager to avoid another incident like the one on Monday night. In an effort to avoid going home, he had spent an hour catching up with Nino. It was a relief to deal with someone else’s problems, if only for a short while.
Once he’d warmed his blood, Adrien sat on the couch and idly flipped through tv stations until he found an old movie. He half listened while he ate, but most of his attention was spent trying to figure out how he could return to his old dynamic with Marinette. He was sure nothing had changed irreparably, at least on the surface. But now Marinette knew the true perils of living with a vampire. He hoped she would rally as quickly as she had when she first found out about him.
He finished his meal, and washed out the cup. Yawning, he was surprised to note he was physically and emotionally exhausted.
‘All this work during the day,’ he told himself. ‘It’s unnatural for a nocturnal creature.’
Still, he felt he could rest a little easier after clearing the air with Marinette. She may still decide to leave, in fear of her life, but Adrien thought the possibility was slim. She was a stronger individual than he was, after all.
He went to bed, feeling a bit strange at sleeping during the night, but he knew he would need the rest, especially if he wanted to wake up on time. His colleagues were still short with him, so he didn’t want to give them another reason to hate him.
Things seemed to be getting back to normal. Adrien was talking to her again, and Marinette wasn’t so boggled by his strange behaviour. She breathed a sigh of relief when he started singing in the shower. Uptown Girl was a particular favourite of his, indicating he was in a good mood.
In her bedroom, she sang along. ‘I'm gonna try for an uptown girl. She's been living in her white bread world.’
Her phone dinged with an incoming message, interrupting the next verse. Marinette grunted as she reached across the width of her bed for her phone on the opposite bedside table. It was a text from Alya.
We’re meeting at Luka’s place, right?
She replied that they were, and the expected time. Tossing her phone down, she tugged on her shoes, and swept her hair into a messy bun. Examining herself in the mirror, she decided she looked good enough. Her dark blue dress with the asymmetric hem was casual enough to look like she wasn’t trying too hard, but nice enough not to appear slovenly.
Who have I got to impress, anyway? she wondered.
With that thought, she decided to forego makeup, opting for a tinted lip-gloss just to give her face some colour.
But a girl does like to feel nice, her second thoughts told her.
She compromised with herself by spritzing on her favourite perfume.
‘I’m ready,’ she called as she picked up her handbag.
There was a thud in Adrien’s room, then his door swung open to allow him to stumble into the hall, still trying to pull his shoe on. ‘I just need a sec.’
Marinette crossed her arms and leaned against the wall, a half smile tugging at her lips. She could be excused for forgetting he was a vampire in situations like this. In her opinion, he wasn’t much different from human men his age, all dorky, awkward, and forgetful. He reminded her of a young deer, still finding his way in the world.
He tied his shoe with a triumphant cry. ‘Got it. Ok, now I'm ready. Where are we going?’
‘We’re going to meet with my friends. Luka and Ivan will be there too, so you can discuss what’s going to happen during Fashion Week. Have you heard from your father?’
‘Oh. No, not really. I can only assume he trusts me enough to pick his music for him.’
Marinette hummed dubiously. ‘Ok, well, we’d better get going. We’re going to be late.’
‘Can’t have that,’ Adrien sang as he skipped down the hall.
The evening was pleasantly cool, and the sky was clear. The weather had been warm, so the residual heat seeped up from the footpath, tempering a mild breeze. The streets were still busy, though, as people made their way home, picked up dinner, or enjoyed a night out with friends. Voices filled the air, accompanied by the ever-present hum of cars, and miscellaneous city noises.
Marinette walked side by side with Adrien, happy to take in the particular peace afforded her after the sun went down. She allowed her mind to wander, trusting her feet to carry her along the well-worn path to Luka’s place.
‘You’re quiet,’ observed Adrien.
She came back to herself with a start. ‘Oh, I’m just spacing out.’
He rubbed the back of his neck. ‘You aren’t put off?’
She tilted her head. ‘By what?’
‘Never mind. It’s nothing.’
She let the comment slide and lapsed into silence once more.
Before long, they had reached the dock where Luka’s houseboat was moored. He and Juleka had inherited the old barge after Anarka passed away the previous year, but Juleka had relinquished her claim and moved in with Rose in a small, ground floor apartment overlooking the river where she had grown up. Sometimes Marinette wondered if the Couffaine family had the Seine in their veins.
‘Here we are,’ she announced, once she had spotted the boat.
She raced down the steps, then turned around to hurry Adrien along. He descended slowly, then paused at the bottom, staring at the boat with trepidation.
‘You never mentioned your friend lived on a houseboat.’
‘Is that a problem?’ she asked.
‘Uh, yeah. Vampires can’t travel over moving water. It makes us dreadfully sick.’
She blinked up at him. ‘Vampires get sea sick?’
‘Yeah, but like, a thousand times worse. I don’t much fancy bleeding out of my eyeballs tonight.’
Marinette felt her own blood drain from her face. ‘Ok, um, right. Hang on a second. I’ll try to convince the others to move their party onto land.’
She scurried up the gangplank, and down into the hold, where familiar voices rose in friendly conversation.
‘Marinette, you made it,’ cheered Luka.
He approached her with a drink in hand, smiling in welcome. Juleka, Rose, Ivan, Mylène, Alya, and Nino were already present, and hailed her from various points about the room. Though Alya, Marinette noted with concern, was looking a little green.
‘Hey, Luka.’ She greeted him warmly with a kiss on the cheek.
‘Where’s Monsieur Model?’ he asked. ‘Wasn’t he supposed to be here?’
‘About that. Listen, do you mind if we take this to the dock? Adrien, um, doesn’t like the water.’
Luka raised an eyebrow. ‘What is he, a vampire?’
Marinette blanched. ‘What? No, that’s ridiculous. Vampires aren’t real. Why would you even say that? That is such a weird thing to say. You’re weird.’
Luka nodded in casual acceptance.
‘So, what’s his deal?’ Luka went on. ‘Doesn’t know how to swim?’
‘I have no idea, to be honest. But I do know he gets terrible seasickness, and just between you and me, Alya doesn’t seem to be doing so well either.’
Luka glanced over his shoulder. Alya had her head between her knees as she clutched the arms of her chair, her knuckles white with the force of her grip.
‘Ok, for Alya’s sake if nothing else,’ Luka agreed.
Marinette breathed a quiet sigh of relief, giving herself a mental pat on the back for her own cleverness.
‘All right, everyone, let’s take this party landside. The constant swaying may seem nice now, but it will not be your friend if you continue drinking like this,’ Luka announced. ‘Grab a chair, and we’ll set up on the canal.’
‘It’s a lovely night,’ Marinette added, before helping Alya stand up and navigating her to the deck, and then down the gangplank.
‘Thank Christ,’ Alya murmured as Marinette lowered her to a seat Nino had set up.
Once she made sure Alya was comfortable, Marinette turned to Adrien and Luka. They stood a few feet in front of each other, staring like they were waiting for the other to make the first move. Alongside them, the others set up deck chairs around a large cooler and settled in, chatting amicably. Rose and Juleka shared a seat, and had spread a light blanket around their shoulders. Even Alya was looking slightly more animated, with a glass of chilled water in her hand.
Marinette decided to break the tension only she seemed to feel. ‘Luka, you remember Adrien, right? He’d just like to go over some details for Fashion Week with you, if you don’t mind. Adrien, even though Ivan and Luka are the only band members present, I’m sure they are very capable of making decisions on the band’s behalf. Isn’t that right, Luka?’
Luka gave her an easy smile and slung an arm over her shoulders. ‘No problem at all. Why don’t we all take a seat, and get started?’
Adrien didn’t reply, but followed them to the available chairs. He took the seat on Marinette’s left, while Luka claimed the chair on her right, but the strange tension remained. It made Marinette’s skin itch.
Still, their conversation was civil. When Adrien leaned his elbows on his knees as he tried to explain his ideas to Ivan, Marinette relaxed. She summed up Adrien’s initial awkwardness to nerves at meeting people he wasn’t overly familiar with yet.
Luka, however, was as urbane as usual. He had left his guitar inside, but his fingers twitched constantly, as if he could feel a pick and strings like phantom limbs. He asked questions, and listened intently to the answers, then he turned to the others to include them in the conversation. Occasionally, when the dim light caught in his eyes, his pupils almost seemed slitted, rather than round, but Marinette dismissed it as a trick of the light.
‘So, you’re free to perform on those dates?’ Adrien finally asked.
‘You bet,’ agreed Ivan.
Luka nodded. ‘We’ll be there.’
‘And you’re comfortable with the song choices?’ pressed Adrien.
‘Absolutely. It’ll be a show-stopper,’ Luka assured him.
Rose pouted as she thought. ‘What about wardrobes? Will Monsieur Agreste give you something to wear, or are your own clothes all right?’
‘Huh. Let me ask.’ Adrien pulled out his mobile, tapped at it, then held it to his ear.
‘Will your old man even be awake?’ Ivan asked.
‘Oh yeah. He’s a real night owl. Hey, Nathalie, is Father there? I need to ask him something about Fashion Week.’
Everyone watched on with bated breath as Adrien waited.
‘Father, good evening. The musical accompaniment for your runway during Fashion Week. Will the band members be required to wear something of your creation, or will their own attire suffice?’
He hummed short notes of understanding, wished Gabriel a good night, then hung up.
‘Father says your own clothes are fine, as long as they’re presentable. So, no holes or threadbare fabric. You’re basically playing a super fancy gig, so I think it should be ok to dress how you normally would for such an occasion.’
Ivan breathed a noisy sigh of relief. ‘Thank goodness.’
Mylène frowned. ‘I was hoping to see you all dressed up by a world-famous fashion designer.’
Luka shrugged. ‘At least this way, we can remain true to our style. Besides, it’s not like we don’t have good gig clothes.’
‘Not the point,’ Mylène sulked.
Marinette laughed along with the others. She was glad all her friends were getting along.
Adrien still didn’t like Luka. He kept a possessive arm around Marinette’s shoulders all night, and threw smug looks at Adrien when she wasn’t looking. He made snide comments under the pretence of amicability, and had an opinion on everything, even on subjects he knew nothing about. Adrien came to think of him as That Guy. The one who had to be the centre of attention, the knowledgeable expert, with barely concealed condescension in his voice. The social chameleon who was everybody’s friend, but who’s true motives remained unknown until it was too late.
What galled him the most was that everyone else seemed to be completely oblivious to Luka’s sly manipulations; even Marinette was taken in by his act. Still, Adrien vowed to rise above it. He knew he would only make a fool of himself if he tried to draw attention to Luka’s flaws, so he played along, pretending he didn’t notice the subtle barbs, and backhanded compliments. Until he knew what Luka really wanted, it was all he could do.
‘So, Adrien,’ Luka said, turning towards him.
He braced himself, expecting something particularly insulting.
‘What’s it like, being a model?’
Caught off guard by the banal question, he stammered for a moment. ‘It’s ok. It can get tiring after a while, though.’
Luka nodded. ‘I see. It must be a real drag having gorgeous women drape themselves all over you, day in and day out.’
Adrien’s expression fell flat. There it is.
But Luka wasn’t done. ‘I suppose it’s not a physically arduous job, though. All you do is stand around and look pretty. I can see why it could be monotonous after a while. How do you keep yourself stimulated?’
With a frigid smile, he replied, ‘like any job, a certain amount of professionalism is required. If I get bored, or my face begins to ache, I press on, and do what I’m paid to do.’
‘Can’t hurt that daddy owns the company. That way, all your indiscretions can be brushed aside without consequence.’
‘Luka,’ Marinette said reprovingly. ‘Enough teasing. Adrien is a good model, and a close friend. Leave him be.’
Adrien shot Luka a smug grin of his own, but he looked away with a shrug, and changed the subject. Adrien had to console himself with the knowledge that Marinette wasn’t as blind as he’d originally thought, but it was a cold comfort.
Luka declined to address Adrien again that evening, something for which he was very grateful. However, he still caught the occasion glare, or taunting grin, as Luka found ways to keep in physical contact with Marinette. She either didn’t notice or didn’t care about the prolonged contact, which spoke of a long standing, and close relationship between the two of them.
Adrien concealed a pout and glanced away, only to see Alya give him a sympathetic smile. He shrugged off her silent question, hoping it conveyed the depth of how much he didn’t care.
They parted ways after one in the morning. First, Nino and Alya made their excuses and departed, then Ivan and Mylène a short time later. Juleka roused Rose from a light doze, then they too headed home, leaving him and Marinette alone with Luka.
Not for the first time, Adrien cursed his sheltered upbringing. Luka’s Otherness was more pronounced than ever, but Adrien was still unable to identify his species. The ambient light made his pupils look like slits, until he blinked and turned to face Adrien fully.
Not a trick of the light, he realised.
Luka grinned, revealing a set of fangs which dropped down from concealed sheaths along his gums, like the hinges inherent in some species of snakes.
Adrien’s eyes widened.
‘Well, that was fun,’ announced Marinette, startling them both. ‘I’m starting to get tired, so we might get going as well. Did either of you have any more questions before we leave?’
It took Adrien a moment to remember that she meant Fashion Week, rather than their respective supernatural sets.
‘I think I’ve explained everything I needed,’ he replied.
Luka’s teeth retracted, and he nodded. ‘Yeah, we have the time, date, location, and playlist sorted. I have no further questions.’
‘Excellent. Goodnight, Luka.’
As she marched toward the stairs, Adrien hesitated. He eyed Luka suspiciously, as the other man returned the look dispassionately.
‘What are you?’
Luka quirked an eyebrow. ‘You don’t know?’
Adrien shrugged, rather than offer an explanation. He had already admitted he was at a disadvantage, so he was not about to confess to another weakness.
When it became apparent he was not going to elaborate, Luka put his hands in his pockets with an air of contrived nonchalance, then stuck his tongue out and hissed.
Adrien could not cover his shock, equal parts fascinated and repulsed by the forked tongue.
‘You’re a naga?’
‘That’s right, Vampire. You got a problem with that?’
While they weren’t natural enemies, mistakes had been made on both sides. A hungry vampire would drain what he thought was an ordinary human, or a naga would strike at an inconsiderate vampire, infecting them with disease or misfortune. They had an uneasy alliance most of the time, but no one denied the simmering resentment.
‘No, no problem. It explains why you live on a houseboat, though.’
‘Indeed. My kind has always lived in, or near bodies of water.’
He was about to ask how a creature from Hindu mythology came to live in France, but Marinette called to him from the top of the embankment. He waved at her, then turned back to Luka.
‘Look, I know our people are not always friendly, but I don’t see why we should continue the passive-aggressive feud our ancestors have engaged in for so long. I have never personally been offended by any of the other supernatural sets, nor have I caused offence. So, if not for my sake, then at least for Marinette’s, can we try to keep it civil?’
Luka stared at him for a moment, then nodded. ‘It’s not that I dislike you, Adrien. But I’ve known Marinette since she was fourteen. She’s like family. For her to suddenly move in with a vampire worries me. I’m sure you can see where I’m coming from.’
He nodded. His people were among the most lethal predators around, and they were not known for their tolerance. ‘I’ll make sure she comes to no harm.’
‘You’d better, or I’ll be coming after you.’
With a nod of acknowledgment, he strode away, torn between admiration and trepidation.
A huge THANK YOU to Lunian for letting me use the Naga-Luka idea from that Curse AU.
I'm sorry it took me so long to actually get around to!
Lila skulked in the shadows between two buildings as she watched Gabriel's employees head into their offices. Among them was a tall young man with blond hair who accompanied a petite woman of mixed heritage. Despite his attempts to hide from the sunlight, Lila could pick Adrien out easily. The way he held himself, his mannerisms as he talked, there was no mistaking him.
Lila’s lip curled in distaste.
‘That’s her,’ hissed Angelique. ‘Marinette.’
Lila rolled her eyes as Angelique spat the name like an epithet. She stood at Lila’s side, glaring at a figure across the road, her features contorting with rage.
‘Which one?’ Lila asked with forced patience.
‘That one,’ she pointed, ‘walking beside the weirdo in the trench coat.’
‘That weirdo is Adrien Agreste, and he could be the ticket we need to get what we want.’
Angelique’s eyes widened. ‘That’s Adrien Agreste? What is he wearing?’
‘He’s sensitive to sunlight, just like his father, so they cover up. That’s why you never see them about during the day.’
‘So, what is Dupain-Cheng doing with him? She’s just a no-count, hack designer, with zero prospects.’
Lila pressed her lips together as she thought. ‘I heard that Adrien was to have his measurements for Fashion Week taken at home so he wouldn’t have to go outside any more than necessary. She must have been the one doing it.’
‘But why her?’ Angelique wailed.
Lila shushed her impatiently. ‘Do you want to get caught? It would reflect badly on both of us if we were seen hanging around here, and you have no idea what Gabriel Agreste is capable of if he feels his son’s safety is at risk.’
Angelique raised a sceptical brow. ‘What, he’d have us killed?’
‘Only if we’re lucky,’ she replied, turning back to her surveillance.
She heard Angelique gulp, and smirked.
Ignorant novice, she thought contemptuously.
They watched on in silence as Adrien opened the door for Marinette, and headed inside. They drew back into the alley to lean against the wall.
‘Now what?’ asked Angelique.
Lila hummed thoughtfully, tapping her chin, as she considered their options. ‘Well, since Adrien and Marinette know each other, maybe this’ll be easier than I anticipated.’
Angelique put her hands on her hips. ‘Would you mind filling in the rest of the class, or would you prefer I guess?’
Biting back a scathing remark, Lila turned to her with a forced smile. ‘It’ll be like killing two birds with one stone. We can use her to make Gabriel give me what I want, and if he refuses, she pays the price.’
‘What if he does give in to your demands?’
Lila waved a flippant hand. ‘Oh, they can have the chit back; at least, what’s left of her.’
Angelique frowned. ‘I don’t know what you have in mind, but I’m not comfortable with torture or murder.’
‘Who said anything about that?’ she replied airily. ‘Our hands will be absolutely clean.’
When Angelique still didn’t look convinced, Lila shrugged her off.
‘I mean, if you’re happy to sit back and let her get away with getting you fired, that’s your business. You can pull out now, if you want. I won’t stop you.’
Hopping from foot to foot, Angelique gnawed her lip with indecision. It was clear she wanted revenge, which made her particularly easy to manipulate. Lila almost pitied the woman.
‘Ok, fine,’ she relented, with poor grace. ‘But I’ll have no part in hurting someone, even if they’re Marinette.’
‘Right, you’ve made your point. Go on home now, our job for the day is done.’
Angelique paused. ‘Already? We haven’t even done anything.’
Lila had to quash the temptation to roll her eyes. ‘Today was about reconnoitring. Observation and information gathering only. It’s too soon to act yet.’
‘But that’s what we’ve been doing for the last week.’
‘Yes, and because we’re being smart, no one has caught on to us yet. Your impatience could land us both in prison, so we’re doing this my way, understand?’
Angelique subsided with a mutinous grumble as she crossed her arms and pouted at the ground. Taking that as an assent, Lila cast one final glance at Gabriel's headquarters, before walking away in the opposite direction.
Leaving Angelique at the metro, Lila headed back to the alley where she had been that morning. Once there, she settled in to wait, overturning an old crate to sit on, then pulling a thermos from her handbag. She sniffed the hot coffee, then poured herself a capful, still watching the doors across the street closely.
A handful of employees left the premises for lunch, including Angelique’s mousy little nemesis. Lila studied her intently, but saw nothing remarkable. She appeared to be as ordinary and unimpressive as her rival.
‘How typical that she’d earn the enmity of someone so bland,’ she muttered.
As Marinette walked away, talking animatedly with her co-workers, Lila wondered how her own family and former colleagues were faring. She idly noted she did not miss them personally, but she did regret the absence of the camaraderie they had shared. While Lila would never describe any of them as close friends, she still felt the sting of not having anyone to talk to.
But it had been like that for a long time, and had grown increasingly worse, even before she left Gabriel's employment. Lila had become hostile toward her former colleagues, and sown discord wherever she went in an attempt to get the best jobs, and better pay or acknowledgement. She wanted to put herself in the best steading to further her campaign in her petition for the Bite. She believed that, should she prove herself worthy, Gabriel would not deny her request.
It wasn’t until later when she found out the process could take years. She grew bitter, and more desperate by the day, until she had finally approached Adrien with her plan the night of the ball. She had not, however, foreseen the possibility of a refusal.
Now, she felt she was left with no other recourse, except for a few cheap, underhanded tactics. Angelique’s rival was the key to getting what she wanted, she was sure of it, but the issue of how she was to use this tool had yet to reveal itself. There were so many possibilities, and a few choice contingency plans, but none offered an ideal place to start.
Lila sat back with a sigh, and continued watching the building, slowly sipping her coffee.
The sun was lowering by the time Gabriel's closed for the day. Employees streamed from the double doors, but there was no sign of Adrien or Marinette. Lila frowned and shifted her weight, wondering if they’d left via another door.
Twenty minutes later, just as Lila was about to start searching for a rear exit, the front doors swung open. Adrien and Marinette strolled out together, talking like old friends, and headed off in the same direction.
Without thinking, Lila followed them at a discreet distance. Her instincts were screaming at her, and she had never been one to ignore her gut. She was too far away to hear what they were saying, but Lila could make assumptions about a close acquaintanceship by how familiar they both looked. Adrien spoke with broad gestures and a large grin she had never seen him wear at the Agreste estate, and Marinette poked his nose and teased him with coquettish slaps on his arms.
Friends, or something more? she wondered.
Lila’s suspicions were aroused the longer she followed them. They boarded the same train, and got off at the same stop, then continued walking together.
A few blocks from Adrien’s apartment, they veered off course. Intrigued, Lila remained on their tail, mentally noting their location and the routes taken to get there.
When they approached a local blood bank, Lila didn’t know whether to be shocked or not. Another acquaintance of theirs emerged from the shadows, holding a cooler. Lila recognised him as Nino Lahiffe, and watched as he handed Adrien the box. Remaining where she was, Lila watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. It came as no surprise that Nino was his supplier since leaving the estate, but the fact that Marinette witnessed the handover implied that she knew of Adrien’s vampirism.
If they are lovers, of course he wouldn’t be able to keep that hidden, she mused. She had to admit, it was looking increasingly likely.
The three bade their farewells, then Adrien and Marinette turned back the way they had come. Lila’s heart lurched when she saw them heading in her direction, so she ducked deeper into a gap used for discreetly housing dumpsters. She hunkered behind the malodorous bin, hoping the smell would cover her presence.
Adrien and Marinette passed her by, none the wiser. Lila crept forward, watching until they were almost out of sight before leaving her hiding place to follow.
Adrien had retrieved a blood bag from the cooler, and was sliding it into a fabric pouch Marinette held open for him. She sealed it inside with a couple of buttons, then Adrien raised it to sip from the straw-like protrusion at the top. It was a clever idea, she had to admit, letting Adrien feed while they were out in public. It probably wouldn’t work during the day, but at night, no one could see the blood rising through the clear plastic.
She should patent that, Lila thought critically.
Then she considered taking the idea for herself and approaching Gabriel with it. It would make her look good if she had a peace offering in hand, and Gabriel would be more likely to listen to her pleas. Smirking, she continued her surveillance.
She was unsurprised to see them both enter Adrien’s apartment block. It was looking more and more like they were lovers, a piece of news she was sure Gabriel would want to hear. Looking around, she saw a niche hidden in the shadows where she could watch the building from. Lila concealed herself therein, and watched Adrien’s windows.
A few minutes later, Marinette drew the curtains shut, turning her head to talk over her shoulder with a smile lighting up her face. Lila turned away to head back home; she had all the information she needed.
Thank you so much for 8,000 hits!
Marinette had spent the week helping her workmates complete their pieces for Fashion Week. She was disappointed none of her own works would make it down the runway, but she still sketched in her free time between assisting one colleague and another, hoping for a chance she knew was not going to come at the last minute.
‘My dear Marinette,’ Mathéo cooed over her shoulder, ‘why so glum?’
She sighed. ‘Because of Monsieur XY’s atrocious timing, I missed out on a chance to work on the biggest event on the fashion calendar. I’m so bummed.’
She slumped over her desk, her arms outstretched, as her pencil dangled precariously from her fingers.
Mathéo patted her back consolingly. ‘There’s always next year, and other, smaller events throughout. I’m sure you’ll get the chance to work on something big soon.’
He looked over her shoulder, appraising her sketches. ‘These are exquisite. I could put them forward at the next committee meeting, if you like.’
She turned to him with doleful eyes. ‘Really?’
‘Of course, my dear. I’ve said before you have an imagination unfettered by years in the industry. It’s these types of inspired ideas which keep a label relevant.’
Marinette blinked away the tears blurring her vision. ‘Thank you, Mathéo. I mean it.’
He patted her back again, and picked up the sketchpad, perusing it as he walked away.
Noémie spun her chair around, and winked at her. ‘You won’t be idle for long now.’
Marinette tilted her head with a questioning hum.
‘Once they see what you’re capable of, management is going to work you to the bone. They’ll bleed you dry,’ she warned with a teasing smile.
‘At least I’ll be earning my pay,’ Marinette retorted.
The week had flown by in a flurry of fabrics and pricked fingers. Fashion Week was to be held on the upcoming Monday, so the designers and garment-makers had been working overtime in an attempt to finish on schedule.
Now, the pieces were finished, and it was upon the models’ shoulders to make the show a success. Marinette hoped Adrien was keeping up; all this time spent awake during the day was exhausting him.
She and her workmates managed to fill their days, either by thinking of designs for the smaller shows held throughout the year, or by picking up a mop and cleaning. Some people found that doing other things helped break their creativity blocks, so they ended up with the cleanest workspace in the building.
Still, Marinette was glad when it was time to go home. Adrien wouldn’t finish until late, so she headed off on her own, her handbag swinging from her shoulder. She stopped by Nino’s blood bank, eager to avoid another incident like the one from the previous week.
He seemed in good spirits, which she took as a sign that things between him and Alya were well. They then exchanged pleasantries until he got a text.
‘It’s Alya,’ he explained. ‘Gotta go. Say hi to my boy for me.’
‘Will do.’ She waved until he was out of sight, before continuing on her way. Once she was home, she changed into her pyjamas, heated up leftovers, then sat in front of the television.
It wasn’t until after dark when Adrien finally arrived. As a dense fog bank, he drifted in under the balcony doors, and coalesced in the middle of the loungeroom. Once he was solid, Marinette threw a handful of popcorn at him.
‘Down in front.’
He grinned mischievously down at her.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Am I in your way?’ He stepped from side to side as she tried to watch the tv around him.
‘Sit down, you sentient lamp post,’ she snapped. ‘I like this movie.’
He laughed, and flopped into the seat beside her. Marinette set her bowl on the coffee table, before giving him her full attention.
‘How was your day?’ she asked.
He shrugged. ‘Yeah, it was a day. Fairly standard before Fashion Week.’
‘It’s certainly building up. People are starting to get snappy.’
Marinette didn’t envy the models, or the crew. Over the next few days, they would be rehearsing from sunup to sundown, with very few breaks, and lots of rapid outfit changes. During this time, things got lost or damaged, further fraying already overwrought nerves. Coupled with biting remarks or clipped commands, feelings were bound to get hurt, despite their best intentions to remain professional.
‘Sounds rough,’ she commiserated.
Adrien tipped a hand from side to side. ‘It is, but the real fun happens on the night. You should see if you can help out backstage, you know, as a dresser or something. We always have a designer or two on hand in case something goes wrong.’
‘What goes wrong?’ Marinette felt her stomach tip in sympathy.
‘Rips, loose buttons, mismatched items. Sometimes, when things go horribly wrong, we need to improvise an outfit, which is why we need a designer. You can put together an outfit from scraps and rejects, can’t you?’
She gave him a flat stare. ‘I hope you’re joking.’
He grinned back. ‘It’s rare, but it happens. You’d think we’d be at a more professional level at Fashion Week, but sometimes shit just happens.’
Marinette sighed. ‘Well, if there’s a position available, I’ll put my hand up. God knows, I’d like to do something to contribute to the biggest event on the calendar.’
‘Excellent, you can witness the true chaos and ugliness that is Fashion Week.’
With that encouraging remark, Adrien went to fix his own dinner.
Gabriel was at his desk, writing letters of appreciation to the families who had appeared at the Red Night festivities. He thanked them for their attendance, ongoing support, and understanding, even to those who didn’t deserve it. Gabriel was a politician, and that meant currying favour with his comrades, as well as his rivals. To those he couldn’t call friend, he wrote a formulaic note with little familiarity. With his supporters he was less formal, but no less proper, giving them the respect they deserved. It was a tedious task, but one he felt could not be delegated to someone else.
A rap at his door was immediately followed by Nathalie sticking her head inside.
‘Sir, you have a guest.’
Tapping the loose pages into a neat stack, he raised an eyebrow. ‘Who is it?’
‘A Mademoiselle Camille Archambeau, from one of the minor families.’
He suppressed a sigh. ‘Show her in.’
Nathalie bobbed her head, then retreated behind the doorjamb. She was replaced by a striking young woman with dark brown hair expertly styled to fall over her shoulders in loose waves, lightly tanned skin, and expressive amber eyes. She wore plain black dress pants, with the heels of her boots visible under the hems. Her white blouse was ruffled around the sleeves, and cut daringly low at the collar, displaying her ample décolletage. She approached his desk with a pronounced sway in her hips, then leaned forward more than necessary as she took a seat before him. Perched there with her hands demurely in her lap, she batted thick lashes at him.
Gabriel, however, remained unmoved. ‘Mademoiselle Archambeau, how may I help you?’
Camille blinked, apparently stunned her attempt at seduction wasn’t going as well as she’d hoped, yet she remained undeterred. Looking at him from beneath her hair, she curled her shoulders in, pressing her breasts together.
‘My family is retreating to their country estate today,’ she told him. ‘They’re afraid of the hunters living in the big city, and without anyone to protect us, we’re vulnerable.’
‘You would be equally as vulnerable in the country,’ Gabriel pointed out, ‘if not more so than here in the city. We couldn’t send aid as quickly if your clan was so far removed. That isolation you find solace in could be your downfall if the hunters found you there. Your estate isn’t exactly subtle.’
She blinked again. ‘Well, maybe if we had a reason to stay, we could. With your assurance that we’re in no danger, of course. Can you offer my family protection?’
Gabriel clenched his jaw against an exasperated sigh. Nathalie had warned him there had been rumours spreading about him looking for a new wife, but no one had approached him since the night of the ball, so he had forgotten about it. Now, it seemed the Archambeau clan was making a move to set one of their eligible offspring up as a contender.
Or word has spread that Adrien rejected Chloé’s proposal, he mused.
‘Mademoiselle Archambeau, I can offer you the same level of protection I give to all of my citizens residing here in Paris. I have highly capable guards running patrols every night, to keep tabs on the hunters. If an attack does occur, they can be there in an instant to fight by your side. That is the best I can offer.’
Camille looked crestfallen for a breath, but rallied almost immediately. She nodded her understanding. ‘Thank you for your time, Lord Pontifex Maximus.’
He nodded in return, then she took her leave. The Archambeau family was numerous, and among the most powerful of the lesser clans, which made them pushy and ambitious, but they were not stupid. Camille had recognised the refusal for what it was, and had accepted it graciously. He was grateful for her mental acumen, and hoped that others following the Archambeau lead would behave the similarly.
Gabriel returned to his letter writing, but this time, he addressed one to Adrien, asking if he had someone in mind whom he would like to wed. Gabriel had married for love, despite his parents’ objections. He wanted Adrien to know that he would support his son’s decisions, even if the person who had captured his heart was from the lesser clans.
There was another knock at his door, before Nathalie let herself in. Gabriel handed her the letter.
‘See that Adrien gets this.’
‘Yes, Sir. You have another guest waiting in the foyer.’
Gabriel rubbed his forehead with a quiet groan. ‘Who is it?’
‘Mademoiselle Renée of the Chauveau clan.’
‘Show her in. Let’s get this over with,’ he muttered.
Nathalie exited, then in came a timid, diminutive girl with porcelain skin, blonde hair, and large green eyes.
Gabriel choked on air, before surging to his feet to point at the door.
‘Out,’ he thundered.
The girl paled, then fled, her skirts twisting about her ankles. Nathalie came back in, astonishment clear in her expression.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
Gabriel scowled at the door. ‘The Chauveau family has gone too far. They are in my deep displeasure until further notice.’
Nathalie nodded her understanding and left, closing the door softly behind herself, while Gabriel sat and rested his head in his hands. He sent away two more girls that evening without seeing them, telling Nathalie to relay the message that he was not accepting any offers of wedlock for himself, nor his son. He was sure he disappointed the families of the girls who had come to see him, but it couldn’t be helped. He could never love anyone the way he did Emilie, and he could not speak for Adrien until Adrien himself said something. He hoped his son would answer the letter promptly.
In the early hours of the morning, shortly before sunrise, there was yet another knock on his door, but it wasn’t Nathalie’s familiar rap. Gabriel set his pen down, and eyed the door suspiciously.
‘Enter,’ he called.
His breath caught in his throat when Lila stepped inside. She kept her head low as she approached him, her hands still and in plain sight at her sides. Finally, she stood before his desk, habit keeping her standing until he offered her a seat. Gabriel declined giving her the courtesy.
Before he could speak, she withdrew a small bundle from her pocket, and held it out to him. Gabriel tensed, half expecting her to pull out a weapon. Gingerly, he accepted the offering, and unfolded the little bundle of fabric.
‘It’s a cover,’ she explained, ‘for when you need to eat while outside. You slip the blood bag inside, do up the buttons, then all you can see is the very tip of the straw. It’s discreet, and convenient, everything the busy, modern vampire needs.’
He examined the piece carefully, yet found no sharp protrusions, silver, or dead man’s blood hidden inside. It was a clever idea, but one he doubted she came up with alone.
‘Why are you here, Mademoiselle Rossi?’
She balked, her smile dropping for a moment before hitching it back into place. ‘I wanted to apologise for my behaviour these last few weeks. I was petulant and spoiled, and there’s no excuse for that. I’m sorry, Lord Agreste.’
‘Are you asking for your job back?’
Lila had always been intelligent, so he doubted that was what brought her to him that night.
‘Actually, I was hoping we could make a deal,’ she said instead.
He raised an eyebrow, then rolled his hand for her to continue.
Interpreting what she wanted, Lila went on. ‘I have information.’
‘Where the hunters live.’
Despite his reservations, she had his attention.
‘And your price?’
‘To return to your service, my previous position unchanged.’
Gabriel narrowed his eyes. She was a dangerous liability, but she was more dangerous when angered, especially if she knew where to find the hunters. There was great risk in taking her back, but it would be easier to monitor her movements while she worked under his roof.
‘Very well, Mademoiselle Rossi, you have a deal. Where are these hunters?’
Angelique crossed her arms and scowled. ‘What do you mean you’re working for Gabriel Agreste again?’
Lila curled her lip. ‘I don’t have to explain myself to you. All you need to know is that our scheme is going as planned. Oh, and I’d advise against going out at night.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Angelique watched as Lila tapped her lip pensively, before shrugging the question off.
‘You’ll find out soon enough, I'm sure. I’ll be in touch.’
She strode away, leaving Angelique to fume in impotent rage behind her.
‘What’s wrong, Babe?’ asked Kim as he entered the loungeroom.
Angelique sat on the couch below the antique rifles mounted on the wall. Never before had she been so tempted to grab one and hit him over the head with it. Instead of breaking one over his skull, she folded her arms and turned away.
Kim sidled up to her, carefully sitting down at her side. He rubbed her back as he tried again.
‘You can talk to me. Tell me what’s upsetting you.’
Angelique's anger burst like a dam. ‘It’s that harlot, Lila.’
Kim’s eyebrows shot up. ‘What did she do?’
Rather than go into the details, she just spat, ‘she’s working for Gabriel Agreste again.’
Kim fell still. ‘Gabriel Agreste, the fashion designer?’
‘My old boss,’ she agreed.
He was on his feet immediately, his phone in hand.
‘We need to evacuate, now,’ he said, when the person on the other end picked up. ‘This location may have been compromised.’
The answering voice was audible even from the other side of the room, though Angelique couldn’t make out what he was saying.
‘That woman we rescued,’ Kim went on. ‘She’s working with one of them.’
He hummed a short note of acknowledgement, then hung up. Turning back to Angelique, he said, ‘pack your things. We’re going to a safe house in the twentieth arrondissement.’
Angelique balked. ‘The twentieth? Are you kidding me?’
‘This isn’t a joke,’ he snapped, uncharacteristically serious. ‘Go pack your things, now.’
Cowed, Angelique slipped from the room and hurried upstairs.
She placed what was left of her clothes and cosmetics in a pair of worn suitcases, then sat on the bed and listened as Kim’s relatives arrived. There was plenty of hushed chatter, and thumping about as they packed up. Angelique crept to the top of the stairs to eavesdrop, but she still couldn’t hear what they were saying.
Eventually, Kim came up to fetch her, looking sweaty and anxious.
‘Come on, let’s get your things in the car.’
She lugged down the lighter of her suitcases, and slid it onto the back seat of Kim’s car. He then instructed her to wait in the passenger seat, before running back inside to finish packing his own things.
His uncle pulled up in a moving truck, rolled up the rear door and lowered an access ramp, then let himself into Kim’s house. He came out again a moment later, hefting one end of Kim’s sturdy lounge, while his dad held the other. Between the three of them, they cleared the house in a couple of hours. Kim got into his car, and revved the engine, ignoring Angelique's pointed looks.
‘Well?’ she demanded, when he seemed disinclined to talk.
He spared her a glance, then pressed his lips together. ‘I don’t know how much I can tell you, but my family has enemies. Lots of very dangerous enemies.’
Angelique was not impressed. ‘Are you and Lila related? You're both so dramatic and annoyingly mysterious.’
Stomping her foot irritably, she said, ‘will you just tell me what’s going on already?’
Kim’s eyes darted in her direction once more before returning to the road. ‘I don’t know if I should. It might be safer if you don’t know.’
Angelique had lost all patience. ‘Kim!’
He cringed at her tone. ‘I’m sorry, really. Look, I’ll talk to my uncle and dad, and see if they think it’s all right to tell you. But it really is dangerous, and it might put you at risk, so I need to know that you’ll accept their decision if they say no.’
‘What if I don’t accept it?’ she asked, her tone dark.
He gulped. ‘Then you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.’
Her jaw dropped. ‘You’ll kick me out?’
‘It’s for your own good,’ he argued.
‘Don’t give me that crap.’
‘Just. Just wait, ok? We’ll talk, and see how things go from there.’
Angelique subsided with a huff, and glared out of the window. In the wing mirror, she saw the moving truck lumbering along behind them, and behind that came Kim’s dad in her car. She appreciated that they had thought to bring it along, rather than leave it behind for the vandals. Still, it stung that Kim was so reluctant to talk to her. It was too reminiscent of how Lila behaved, and she liked being spoken down to no more than the next woman.
After a twisting, forty-five-minute drive, Kim pulled up in front of a disreputable looking block of flats. The greying brickwork, makeshift curtains inside, and graffiti did not make a good impression; Angelique was sure that if she spent a single night inside, she would be murdered before morning.
‘You expect me to stay in an apartment like this?’ she demanded, gesturing at the building.
Kim ignored her, and let himself out to unpack the car. Reluctantly, Angelique followed, grabbing a suitcase and staying close behind him as they entered.
Their apartment was on the ground floor. It was empty, and smelled musty, but the inside was better than the outside would suggest. Angelique turned her nose up, and dragged her suitcase to the master bedroom. She then helped the men bring in and unpack the lighter boxes, struggling to keep her mouth closed until Kim could talk to his relatives.
It was dark by the time the boxes were unpacked, and the furniture had been assembled and arranged. She was then dismissed to the bedroom while Kim consulted with his father and uncle. Angelique paced in the tiny room, frustrated that she still couldn’t listen in on their conversation.
‘You can come out now,’ Kim eventually informed her through the door.
Angelique yanked it open and frowned at him. ‘About time.’
As she stepped into the hallway, Kim tugged on her arm to halt her. She turned back to him with a brow raised.
‘I’d recommend you drop the attitude,’ he said. ‘I may put up with it, but they won’t.’
Angelique’s breath caught in her throat. She nodded, her eyes wide, until he let her go.
She met Kim’s dad and uncle in the loungeroom. They sat in the two armchairs, leaving her and Kim the couch. Once she had sat down, they told her everything.
Thanks for 9,000 hits! You guys are the best <3
In case you aren’t aware, rumours have been spreading about me searching for a new wife. I assure you this is not true, so disregard anything you hear to the contrary.
Word has probably also gotten around that you rejected the Bourgeois girl’s marriage proposal, so you should anticipate an influx of offers from many of the lesser clans.
If you already have someone in mind, I would appreciate it if you would inform me, so I can screen or redirect unwanted interest. Furthermore, I will not disown you for loving one of the lesser clans. I married for love myself, once.
Adrien quirked an eyebrow at the uncharacteristically supportive letter. As much as he appreciated reading it, he doubted Gabriel's magnanimous attitude would extend to him loving a human. Releasing a breath, he set the letter aside, and picked up the second roll of parchment Gabriel had sent.
I received a visit from Mademoiselle Lila Rossi. She came to me with a proposal – information in exchange for her old position. She said she would tell me where some local hunters lived, as long as I took her back into my house.
She even had what I assume is a peace offering – the fabric bag I have enclosed for your inspection.
I do not like her having such intimate knowledge of the hunters’ location. It’s too suspicious, given the attack on the townhouse earlier this month. She’s after something, and I think we both know what. But as the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” I would feel better if she remains where we can keep an eye on her.
A folded piece of fabric had fallen into his lap as he unrolled the letter. Picking it up, Adrien furrowed his brow and frowned.
‘What’s that look for?’ Marinette asked from the kitchen.
Adrien held up the fabric. ‘Someone’s pilfered your design.’
She abandoned her dinner and came closer, taking the bag from him as she sat on the couch beside him. She turned it over, studying it with a critical eye.
‘I never put this idea on paper. I just made it from scraps at work,’ she told him.
‘I need to write Father back.’
Adrien got to his feet and rummaged around until he had a notepad and pen.
Thank you for keeping me informed. I appreciate you taking the time.
Unfortunately, there is no one from the lower clans who has captured my interest, or from the Twelve Noble Families, for that matter. Please discourage anyone who asks, as I am not yet ready to settle down.
I think your suspicions about Lila are accurate. She’s definitely up to something, and I bet she’ll do or say anything to get it, including tipping off the enemy.
Her “peace offering” is a load of crap, too. My friend, Marinette, made one for me, the girl who took my measurements for Fashion Week. I told her, weeks ago, that I like those refreshments that come in squeezy bags, but people laughed at me for it. Her solution was to conceal the bag in a fabric pouch, so she made it for me. I have only used it a few times.
I believe this means Lila has been following me. As such, she may have some misconceptions about my relationship with Marinette. Take anything she says with a grain of salt.
I believe keeping her on is a dangerous risk, and it’s just a matter of time before she stabs you in the back. Be careful, Father.
He re-read the letter, then rolled it up with a sigh. Heading to the balcony, he whistled the short tune to summon an owl. After giving the bird its instructions and sending it away, he leaned against the wall with his arms folded, staring blankly into the distance.
Marinette came to stand beside him, resting her hand lightly on his arm.
‘I honestly don’t know.’
She stroked his arm soothingly, while he wanted nothing more than to bury his face in her shoulder and hold her tight. He compromised by taking her hand and holding it.
For once, she didn’t pull away.
Lila brushed her hair and smiled at the mirror. All her plans were falling into place, and she hadn’t even needed Angelique's help. She had neatly trapped Gabriel under the guise of penitent employee searching for absolution, with the promise of information on the hunters’ den. She would win her way back into his good graces as a model employee and accurate provider of knowledge.
I will make myself indispensable.
Despite her surety, she still resided in her own apartment. Her co-workers and family would be unlikely to welcome her back with open arms, so she spared herself the anguish and avoided unnecessary contact with them. To further minimise her interactions with the other human staff, she would be returning on a Saturday, when only a few humans were about. Most opted to have the weekends off, but that was not a part of Lila’s plan. If she needed to earn Gabriel's favour, she would have to demonstrate her willingness to work, even on weekends.
After tying her hair, she applied her makeup, then grinned at her reflection.
‘Flawless,’ she complemented herself.
Blowing her reflection a kiss, she gathered her shoes, jacket, and bag, then left.
The commute was peaceful in its familiarity, a sensation she had not anticipated. Not so long ago, she had dreaded the trip, thinking of the many ways the vampires would find to torment and humiliate her, but it was different now. They needed her, so they had to treat her better if they wanted her to keep providing information – not that she had much more, but they didn’t know that. She smirked at her impeccable manipulations.
The sun was setting as she arrived at Gabriel's estate. Outwardly, everything was calm, the façade painted in shades of pink and orange, but inside, people would be scurrying about in preparation of their master’s awakening. Gabriel was notoriously pedantic, so everything from his breakfast, to the hanging of the drapes, had to be just so. That was something Lila had not missed.
With a roll of her eyes, she wended around to the rear of the building to the servants’ entrance. Her appearance was met with wide eyes and astonished gasps, before they turned to whisper to each other behind their hands. Lila would have laughed if she didn’t think word would find its way back to Gabriel.
She strode through the dimly lit halls until she reached the servants’ waiting room. Madame Sancœur was already there, directing the helots with an imperious point of her finger and a few, concise commands. Lila marched up to stand before her, ready to hear her allotted chores.
‘Mademoiselle Rossi,’ Nathalie began, ‘welcome back.’
‘It’s a pleasure to be back,’ she simpered. ‘Thank you for giving me a second chance.’
Nathalie remained as aloof as ever. ‘It’s not me whom you should thank, Mademoiselle.’
‘I know, I should ask to speak with Lord Agreste soon, I just wanted to thank you for your patience as well.’
Nathalie hummed in sceptical acknowledgement. Rather than argue her point, Lila let the subject drop.
‘So, what are my duties for tonight, Madame Sancœur?’
Nathalie raised her tablet, and scrolled down to the relevant information. ‘Tonight, you will be in the garden, spreading fertiliser for the roses.’
Lila’s smile dropped. ‘Excuse me?’
Nathalie lifted an eyebrow. ‘Is there a problem, Mademoiselle Rossi? Our current gardener has only recently returned after a back injury, and is unable to perform some of his duties. Tonight, you shall do his heavy lifting for him, understood?’
Fixing a brittle grin in place, Lila nodded. ‘Yes, Madame Sancœur.’
Nathalie nodded once in satisfaction. ‘Good. Change clothes, and report to the garden shed. Jean-Yves will give you your instructions.’
Struggling to maintain a gracious demeanour, Lila turned to a stack of neatly folded outdoor uniforms sitting on a shelf. She spent longer than necessary finding a size small enough to fit, then excused herself to the changerooms, again taking as much time as possible.
By the time she had fastened her overalls, the other helots were gone, along with Nathalie. Lila swore viciously under her breath, then trudged out to the garden shed.
So much for not giving me the humiliating jobs, she thought sourly.
Jean-Yves was an elderly gentleman close to retirement, near blind, toothless, and with laugh-lines all across his withered face. He smiled as she approached, showing off his gums as he waved a cane above his head in greeting. He gave Lila the creeps.
‘Alright, Sonny, let’s get those roses nice and poopy,’ he cackled.
She did not share his humour. Lila grimly followed him into the malodorous shed, and obeyed his command to heft the sacks of manure into a wheelbarrow.
‘Don’t forget the shears, shovel, and trowel,’ he said, pointing with his cane to rusted tools sitting in rows on a rack.
Dumping the tools in the wheelbarrow, Lila followed Jean-Yves to the first collection of rose bushes.
It was hard, foul work, and performing it at night was not making it any easier. It was only thanks to the bright, outdoor lights from the manor that she could see anything at all. Jean-Yves whacked her about the legs when she erred, and sternly corrected her until she got the task right. Lila desperately wanted to snatch his cane and toss it over the high walls surrounding the estate, but knew that if she did, Gabriel would hear about it.
It’s a test, she kept reminding herself. He’s testing me to see if I’m worthy.
When Jean-Yves was finally satisfied, it was almost dawn. Dismissed at last, Lila ran inside for a shower, and clean clothes. Once she was dry and decked in the uniform typical of a domestic servant, she waited once more in the servants’ area, hoping for a simpler job before she was sent home for the day.
Nathalie found her fifteen minutes later. ‘Lord Agreste wishes to speak with you.’
Lila swallowed a scathing retort, and followed her from the room. Nathalie led her to Gabriel's private office, knocked thrice, then let herself in.
‘Mademoiselle Rossi, Sir.’
A murmured response, then Nathalie ushered her inside, before moving to stand by Gabriel's left shoulder.
She bobbed a curtsey. ‘Good evening, Lord Agreste.’
‘Mademoiselle Rossi,’ he returned. ‘I’m sure you’re eager to return home and get some rest, so I’ll keep this brief.’
‘Your information was off. There were no hunters in the location you provided; there were no humans at all. Can you explain that?’
Lila gasped. ‘No, I can’t. I don’t know why that would be. I was there, I saw it.’
Gabriel's hard stare was unforgiving. ‘Perchance you ran back to your hunters and informed them of an impending attack. Is that it?’
‘No,’ she protested vehemently. ‘I haven’t been back since I found them. Maybe it’s their policy to move around.’
‘That’s very convenient.’
‘I’ll find them again,’ Lila promised, desperate to prove herself. ‘I swear it, I will.’
Gabriel was quiet for a long moment. ‘You have three days.’
She gulped audibly. Nathalie stepped forward to guide her from the room, and back to the servants’ area where she changed back into her own clothes before going home. All through the commute back to her apartment, her guts roiled at the unspoken threat.
It won’t be like this for ever, she told herself. Just hold out a little longer.
Once she was home and in her pyjamas, she thought about her predicament, and how to get out of it. Her first step was to find Angelique, and squeeze the little rat until she squeaked.
Before the sun had risen on Sunday morning, Marinette accompanied Adrien to his final dress rehearsal with a steaming coffee in hand, and yawning wide enough to crack her jaw. Adrien smiled sympathetically as she shuffled along behind him, then reached out to grab her hand before she tripped.
‘You need to open your eyes when you walk,’ he told her.
‘Dun wanna,’ she mumbled, struggling against her drooping eyelids.
He hummed pensively. ‘Maybe you shouldn’t come after all. You're a liability in this state.’
‘I’m awake. I just need more coffee.’ She took a sip from her travel mug, but it did little to help.
The journey to Carrousel du Louvre passed in a blur of grey fog and ambling footsteps. Despite her fatigue, Marinette was thrilled she had the chance to participate in Fashion Week. She had called Mathéo and all but begged him to let her assist backstage. To her delight, he had granted her permission after the committee had praised her sketches earlier that week. She blushed at his effusive compliments and thanked him politely, before shrieking her elation once she was alone.
‘Almost there,’ Adrien said, pulling her from her reverie.
As the Carrousel du Louvre came into view, Marinette shook off her lethargy. Tucking her empty travel mug into her handbag, she stood up straight, and focussed.
Time to prove what I can do, she thought as determination sank in.
At the rear entrance, she and Adrien saw Luka as he tried to argue his way past a security guard. The rest of the band stood a short distance behind him with their equipment at their feet, shuffling their weight nervously.
‘I’m telling you, we’re supposed to be here,’ Luka told the doorman. ‘We’re the band Monsieur Agreste hired. Try looking under Tinnitus.’
The doorman flipped through a sheaf of papers on his clipboard. ‘I don’t see you on the list. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.’
Marinette marched forward. ‘Is there a problem here?’
Luka turned to her, sighing in relief. ‘Marinette, you’ll vouch for us, right?’
Turning to the obstinate security guard, she introduced herself, then indicated Adrien coming up behind her. The doorman’s attitude changed immediately.
‘Monsieur Agreste, it’s an honour.’
Adrien gave him a frigid smile. ‘This is the band my father hired for the event. Please let them in.’
Without waiting for a response, Adrien waved the band members inside, then bowed Marinette in, before entering himself.
‘Thanks, Adrien,’ she whispered, giving his arm a squeeze.
‘Of course,’ he murmured, before showing Luka where he was to set up.
Marinette watched them go, waiting until they had disappeared into the chaotic crowd before she began to search for Mathéo.
He stood by the racks of clothes, directing models, stagehands, dressers, and the sundry other personnel rushing about. He looked like he was just on the edge of losing his cool, so Marinette lifted a bottle of water from a communal cooler box, and handed it to him as soon as she was within reach.
Mathéo gave her a grateful nod. ‘Thank you, but this is no time to be idling about. Where is the band?’
‘Setting up as we speak.’
‘Young Master Agreste?’
‘Also present. I believe he’s assisting the band.’
‘Excellent. Be a dear and make yourself useful in any way you can. You won’t be left standing around for long, I can assure you of that.’
Just then, something behind Marinette caught his attention. As he strode off, yelling at a startled group of dressers, Marinette looked around, searching for a place to begin.
Rehearsals were more extensive than she had anticipated, and required a lot of personal assistance – not just in helping the models dress, but fetching, carrying, mending minor tears, and helping keep everyone calm and functioning as they should. One young model in particular was shaking and pale with nerves, until Marinette took her through breathing exercises, and gave her an encouraging pep-talk, while keeping a steadying grip on her shoulders. Still a little uneasy, the model gave her a brave smile, and continued. She walked the runway flawlessly, to return to Marinette with a triumphant grin, before scurrying away to change clothes again, her faith in her own abilities restored.
Mathéo clapped Marinette on the shoulder with an explosive exhalation. ‘Thank goodness you’re here. Because of you, things have been running smoother than ever.’
A blush immediately warmed her face. ‘Oh, no. I didn’t do much. It’s because everyone here is such a professional. I still feel like a novice.’
‘This may be your first time assisting backstage, but you have been a godsend. Now, come help me check over these strapping young men before they take the catwalk.’
Marinette's stammering ceased as she realised what Mathéo was asking of her. Even though it was only a rehearsal, he was relying on her to make the final checks on the clothes before they made their debut. It was a huge responsibility, and one she could not afford to mess up if she ever hoped to attend Fashion Week again. She gave Mathéo a firm nod, then followed him to the curtains where she ran a critical eye over each model as they approached.
‘How are things looking?’ Mathéo asked, as he adjusted the lapels of a young man’s jacket.
‘Mostly perfect,’ she replied, pausing to straighten the skewed pocket square on the following model.
Her model chuckled. ‘Thanks, Marinette.’
She glanced up to see Adrien winking at her. She gave his arm a light slap, then sent him on his way. Across from her, Mathéo laughed.
‘Nice to see you two getting along.’
‘He's a good friend.’
Mathéo hummed in acknowledgement, though he sounded almost sceptical. Marinette narrowed her eyes at him, but was then forced to focus on the job as another line of models approached.
By the end of the day she was exhausted, just like everyone else. The sun had set, and as everyone began to drift home, or to nearby hotels and restaurants, Marinette took a deep breath, and allowed herself to feel the moment and acknowledge her emotions. She was excited and nervous in equal measure, a little overwhelmed, and really hungry. Her belly rumbled a protest.
‘Someone skipped lunch,’ observed a familiar voice.
Marinette rolled her eyes with a fond smile. ‘I’m not the only one. Today was hectic.’
‘It’ll be like this all week, so you’d better come prepared,’ Adrien advised. ‘I’ve seen people bring muesli bars and things like that, things you can eat quickly, with minimal mess and fuss.’
‘Sounds like a good idea. What about you, though?’
He began walking toward the metro, Marinette falling into step beside him.
‘I’ll be fine if I eat a lot tonight, and more before I leave tomorrow. Thanks to our regular visits with Nino, I have more than enough.’
‘That’s good. How are the other models holding up?’
‘Remarkably well. No one’s thrown up at all yet, and we usually have one or two by now who can’t control their nerves.’
A pleased flush heated her skin as memories of Mathéo’s praises rose to the surface. ‘Maybe the calibre of model has improved.’
Adrien grinned, looking at her from the corner of his eye. ‘That must be it.’
They fell into a comfortable silence until they reached the metro. As they rode the train, Adrien slung a companionable arm around her shoulders.
‘Tinnitus was good. The songs they have were a delight to walk to.’
Marinette grinned up at him. ‘Really? That’s awesome. I couldn’t hear them clearly backstage, and they were still discussing sound and lighting when I left.’
‘They’re true professionals, all right. I think Father and I owe you one for recommending them,’ he said with a chuckle.
Waving him off, she shook her head. ‘No, of course not. I was just happy to help out.’
‘Well, you’ve helped all of us. Tinnitus will get excellent publicity out of this. So, still looking forward to the rest of the week, despite how insane it’s going to get?’
‘Absolutely. Bring it on.’