A weird feeling flutters in Marinette's stomach as she walks through the streets of Paris. Though she still loves Adrien, part of her heart beats faster around Luka. Her feelings for Luka are still pretty superficial compared to her feelings for Adrien, but it gets confusing when both Adrien and Luka are together. She'd learned that when on that double-date with Kagami. Now she's about to experience this again. Kitty Section is having their first practice that Adrien can attend since the music festival. For the next few hours, Marinette is going to have to sit through her divided heart pulling her in two directions. On top of all that, Marinette's last conversation with Cat Noir still bothers her.
Oh well. At least Alya will be there.
To help distract herself from her jumbled emotions, Marinette had also invited Évrard at their last study session. Introducing him to the others will give her something to focus on until the band actually starts playing. After that, both of the boys will be too concerned with playing to pay attention to Marinette and she can just listen to the music.
When she finally reaches the river, Marinette takes a deep breath to steady herself. She replaces the worried expression on her face with an excited one--which, considering how much she's looking forward to watching her friends practice, this isn't hard to do--and takes the last turn. The houseboat, Liberty, comes into view. Rose, Juleka, and Luka are already there setting up. Alya and Nino are talking together on the road next to the boat. The only ones not here yet are Adrien, Évrard, and herself. Marinette picks up the pace.
Alya spots her first and waves to her as she comes close. "Hey, Marinette. You're actually on time for once."
Marinette flushes, glaring at her friend. "I'm not always late."
"Didn't you get grounded once for missing class?" Alya asks.
"That's not the same thing," Marinette protests.
"It is weird though," Nino states. "You've never had this much problem with attendance before. And you live right next to the school."
Alya glances at her boyfriend in surprise. "Really? What happened?"
Nino shrugs. "She was a lot quieter back then too. Not as sociable and not as willing to stand up to Chloé."
"Guys," Marinette pipes up, "I'm still here."
Nino, at least, has the decency to look bashful. "Sorry, dude."
Marinette shakes her head. "It's fine. You're not wrong. I've changed a lot this year."
Alya wraps her arm around her friend's shoulders. "I'm glad you've grown more confident. Someone needs to stand up to Chloé."
The young designer grins. "I think you could handle her just fine on your own."
"Yeah," the girl agrees. "But it's more fun with a friend."
They laugh together. By now, Rose has noticed Marinette's arrival and calls a greeting. Marinette looks over to wave back when her eyes meet Luka's. She gives a timid smile and her wave is small. Luka grins, nodding back toward her. Alya jolts Marinette playfully.
"That compass is going to go really crazy today, isn't it?" she says under her breath.
Marinette groans and pushes Alya off of her.
Nino looks between the two of them. "What about a compass?"
The reporter just rolls her eyes before taking his hand. "Don't worry about it." She leads Nino across the gangplank to help with set up.
Marinette moves to join them when movement catches her eye. Évrard has arrived, and with him is a boy she doesn't recognize. The boy is taller than Évrard. Though they have a similar body type, the other boy is obviously the more athletic of the two. A prominent nose draws attention away from his blue eyes. Rich black hair reminding Marinette of Watchdog frames his face.
"This is Marek," Évrard introduces. "I was hoping that it would be alright if I brought a friend."
"That's fine," Marinette answers. She holds out her hand to Marek. "I'm Marinette, nice to meet you."
Marek takes her hand and, instead of shaking it, he bows over it. "So you're the lovely Marinette." He releases her hand and slightly slaps Évrard on the shoulder. "Thank you for helping him with his English."
A flash of familiarity causes her to blink in surprise. "Oh, no-no problem. Happy to help. Er... let me introduce you to everyone else." Marinette waves them to follow her. The three step onto the boat. "Everyone, this is Évrard and his friend Marek. They wanted to watch practice as well."
Rose speaks up from where she's fiddling with the microphone. "Oh, is Évrard the kid you're tutoring?" Marinette nods. The blonde singer walks over, her hand extended. "Nice to meet you both. I'm Rose." They shake hands as Juleka walks over. She mumbles a greeting that Évrard somehow manages to make out and the two girls go back to setting up.
"And I'm Alya, Marinette's best friend," the young reporter announces. "This here is Nino."
While they talk, Luka walks up to Marinette. "Hey, how're you doing? I haven't seen you in a while."
"Oh, I've been doing fine. A little busier than I'd like." Designing and making two dresses, school, superhero-ing, and tutoring on top of all that hasn't given her a lot of time to rest. "But what about you?"
Luka shrugs. "Same. I've almost finished a song if you want to hear it after practice?"
"Sounds good. What's the song about?" Marinette answers.
His response is cut off by a sharp voice. "I can't believe your band practices here!"
"Who's that?" Luka wonders.
Marinette groans. "Chloé."
Adrien leads the way onto the boat, Chloé close behind him. "Well, Juleka's mom lets us practice here. They have all the equipment. There aren't neighbors around to complain if we get too loud. It just makes sense."
"But it's so-so messy," Chloé complains.
Luka laughs. "That's just how Mom likes it. Don't worry though, it never gets more than cluttered."
Chloé glares at the guitarist. "And who are you?"
The boy steps forward, his hand extended. "Name's Luka. I'm Juleka's brother and I play guitar in the band. I guess you're here to watch us practice?"
The girl in yellow scoffs. "Oh no. I've come to offer my lovely voice to the band." Chloé leans into Adrien. He edges back slightly but doesn't step away, not wanting her to fall. "Only the best for Adrien's band, right?"
Marinette interjects, "But Rose is the singer."
Chloé turns her gaze to the girl, sizing her up as if the designer had just appeared from nowhere. Chloé smiles sickly-sweet. "But of course. I don't want to take Rose's position from her, I'm just suggesting that the band have two singers."
"Hmm." Marinette nods, unconvinced.
Adrien grabs onto Chloé's shoulders, a strained grin already on his face. "How about you just watch this time, Chlo? You can ask Rose and Juleka about joining afterward."
"Fine," she sighs. "Anything for you, Adrikins." Chloé pecks Adrien on the cheek before sauntering off to find a place to sit. Her expression changes to one of disgust as she over-exaggeratedly picks her way through the slight mess on the deck.
"I'm sorry about her," Adrien says once the girl is far enough away. "I mentioned band practice when she tried to invite me out yesterday and she insisted on coming along."
Luka shakes his head. "It's fine. I'm sure she means well."
Marinette makes a noise in disagreement. When the boys turn to her questioningly, she hurries to correct herself. "Chloé's been getting better. Ladybug trusts her enough to give her the Bee Miraculous, right?"
"That's true," Adrien comments. He gives Luka and Marinette a genuine smile. "Anyway, I'm glad I could come today."
"Yeah, I haven't seen you since the ice-rink," Luka replies. "How are things with Kagami?"
Adrien rubs his neck. "We've decided not to go on another date."
Luka tucks his hands into his pockets. "Oh? That's too bad. Why? If you don't mind me asking."
Marinette tries not to let her interest in the topic show. Adrien glances at Marinette, knowing his answer could hurt her. But she's crushing on Cat Noir, right? Who is still him, though she doesn't know that. Either way, he feels guilty as he says, "I like this other girl." A quiet gasp from Marinette causes him to pause. "I've liked her for a long time, but Kagami convinced me to 'change target.' At least for a while. Our date showed me that I'm not ready to let go of my feelings for this girl yet."
The way Adrien's eyes shine as he speaks about this 'other girl' breaks Marinette's heart. She bites her lips and clasps her hands together, her thumb rubbing her other hand unconsciously. Luka lays a hand on her shoulder.
"You should probably set up your keyboard. We're almost ready to start."
Adrien blinks. "Ah, sure." He makes his way over to the makeshift stage to set up, his face showing light guilt. He had hurt Marinette. Maybe she wasn't over him after all.
Luka angles into Marinette's line of sight, his hand still on her shoulder. "I take it you didn't know."
She nods. "I'm not surprised though. Of course he like someone else. I bet she's amazing." Marinette blinks back the beginning of tears. This feels different than when Adrien asked her to help with Kagami. Maybe because, as he said, she wasn't the one he really likes.
"She can't be any more amazing than you," Luka refutes.
Marinette shakes her head though a smile tugs at her lips. She meets the boy's eyes. "Thanks, Luka."