A gentle melody accompanies the gentler rocking of a boat on the Seine. When Juleka keeps herself busy, she can pretend that she doesn’t hear it. She isn’t keeping herself busy anymore. No, she is lying in bed, ready to sleep in preparation for tomorrow.
It’s a ghost of a tune, as faint as it is haunting. The notes pine for someone far away. Each tone pings like echolocation searching for their accompaniment. Clear like a solitary tone. Sincere like a thoughtless strum. It’s the song that has been stuck in Juleka’s head since the day Marinette first came over to help them with their fledgling band. Since the day her mother was akumatized. Since the day Luka fell in love.
Juleka never expected her brother to get a crush on her classmate, but then again, everyone falls in love with Marinette Dupain-Cheng at some point. Or near enough. Everyone except Lila, anyway, but that is another issue entirely. Or not. Sometimes, even Juleka herself doesn’t understand how she’s feeling.
Really, Luka is probably handling his crush better than Juleka is. But that’s not a very fair comparison, because Luka is in love and he’s separated from everything that happens in her class and he can afford to be blind to everyone who fails to catch his eye.
As the one who never catches anyone’s eye, Juleka doesn’t have that luxury. As the one who has to sit in the class, and who has to participate in it, she doesn’t have that gift.
In the dark of night, it’s easy to let her thoughts and worries slip away and to pretend that the soundtrack is for the stars. In the day, when Juleka goes once more to school, that’s when things get difficult.
“I feel so bad, really. I can’t possibly ask you all to do something like that for me!”
It’s a familiar voice. Smooth like silk and bright and alluring like a flower. The voice is kind and illuminating and so easy to trust. And yet the words were bright and alluring not like a flower, but like a poison frog.
“Don’t worry Lila, it’s no problem at all!”
“Yeah, we’re glad to help out a friend like you.”
A friend like her. Luka’s song in Juleka’s own takes on a minor key. She knows the truth but doesn’t know it.
“You guys are the best! I really can’t thank you enough!”
“Are you kidding? With all you do, we should be thanking you!”
But what does she actually do?
Juleka’s song is a frustrated mashing of piano keys. It’s a harsh, bloated sound that belongs only where the song has been cut short and abandoned.
It isn’t that she is hurt personally by Lila’s deception. It isn’t even really the lies themselves at all. For Juleka, it all comes back to Luka.
When Marinette tried to call Lila out on her lies, Juleka thought everything should have been brought swiftly to a close. At most, there would be a short coda allowing Lila her regrets or maybe akumatization. But though Lila doesn’t have very good lies, she is undoubtedly a very good liar. She sells her tales in a voice as clear as glass and a song as sincere as a smile. But then, that’s all hindsight. Juleka had believed her, too, like everyone else.
Lila is clever, too. She never unveils her jabs at Marinette. She uses Marinette’s frustration as a tool to turn everyone against her. It’s a brilliant tactic, because when Marinette burns a crescendo Lila can sit and stare, a doe in a spotlight, and play a decrescendo, and there’s little ambiguity for who should be blamed.
“I don’t know what I did to make her hate me so much.”
Juleka doesn’t know what led to Lila making that argument again, but she isn’t surprised to hear it.
“I just wish we could all be friends.”
It is easy for Juleka to hate Marinette, too. By this point, nearly the whole class had lost a lot of faith in her. She used to be the star of the class, shining on anyone who basked before her. She used to guide the way and help them along when they needed it. They used to be able to ask her for anything and she’d work herself to the bone for them.
It was hard, with Lila’s clever spin, to not see that star fade. Juleka just wasn’t sure until recently whether the star refuses to shine or whether those it shines on refuse to look. After all, even though Lila is lying, Marinette is fiery and aggressive and comes at Lila with all the force she usually puts into helping the class with whatever problem they have. Which, now that Juleka thinks about it, probably should have been a sign that Lila was a problem for the class.
But that wasn’t what tipped off Juleka. Not to Marinette’s good-intentions, not to Lila’s manipulation, not even to Lila’s lies themselves. Once again, that all came back to Luka and his song.
It’s easy for Juleka to hate Marinette, too, despite knowing about Lila’s lies. It’s easy to use everyone else’s excuse for not liking her anymore as her own reasoning rather than admit the truth. Because the truth is ugly, and Juleka thinks she’s not a very good person for it.
Luka’s song yearns so dearly to know her, but Marinette’s star refuses to shine on him just like the rest of them. For a different reason, perhaps, but not one that is satisfying. It’s so obvious that Luka has an effect on Marinette. Juleka couldn’t say he shook her crush on Adrien, but there is undoubtedly something taking root between Marinette and Luka. And yet Marinette is so singular-minded that she can’t hear the melody Luka’s played since they met. It’s frustrating.
In most cases, it is a good attribute of Marinette. She focuses so intently that any task she sets her mind to is accomplished. Juleka always assumed this would prove true with Adrien, too. But when Lila came, that asset quickly became Marinette’s most deadly flaw. Lila turned it against her. When it became clear that it wouldn’t let Marinette accept alternatives to Adrien, Juleka’s heart broke for her brother.
Marinette hasn’t silenced Luka’s song quite yet, but Juleka knows it is inevitable. That is simply the kind of person Marinette is. And that is why it is so easy to let Lila’s prodding turn Juleka against her. Because the melody that haunts Luka is the same one that Juleka hears every night. It becomes easy to hate Marinette, just for how Luka hurts.
But it isn’t fair. Ironically, it’s Luka’s song that also makes it so easy to see right through Lila. Because as easy as it is to hate Marinette for the silence she hasn’t yet left behind, it is impossible to hate the girl who is clear like a musical note and sincere like a melody.
If Juleka were a better person, she would take Marinette’s side and stand with her against the rest of the class. But she isn’t. Rose is fully taken in by Lila, and even if Juleka could risk everything else for Marinette’s sake – like Marinette would have done for her – Rose is the one thing in that classroom that Juleka couldn’t lose. Not even for Marinette.
But maybe for Luka. Maybe. Juleka isn’t convinced that helping Marinette and villainizing herself in the process would help him, though. Marinette surely needs friends and support, but did that really mean she’d let herself finally listen to Luka’s song? Juleka really, really doubts it.
Even still, there isn’t nothing Juleka can do. It takes longer than it should to actually pull off, because though Juleka can be brave in the face of a monster, no monster is more terrifying than her peers and their opinions. The last thing she wants is for anything to be traced back to her. It is so obvious, once seen, that Lila is deliberately turning the class on Marinette. If Lila finds out that Juleka knows she’s lying, or that she’s trying to help Marinette, then that manipulation could very well be turned on Juleka. And Juleka just isn’t as strong as Marinette is.
“Hey.” Juleka strides out of the school to meet her brother. His song hangs in the air around them, suspended. Juleka honestly can’t tell if he was actually playing it before she approached.
“Hey, Juleka. Are you ready to go home?”
“Almost.” Juleka still has options. There doesn’t need to be only one musician on the stage. Juleka would just need to be careful to play pianissimo. “I was thinking we should get some food before heading back. Maybe from Marinette’s bakery?”
Maybe that is a little bit forte, but no one, not even Luka, would question her wanting to stop by the best bakery in Paris for a little snack on the way home from school. Especially not when it is so close by. And once inside, and once Marinette was there, Juleka could go fortississimo if she wanted. It will just be the three of them, after all.
She’s just ashamed at how far she let Lila go before working up the nerve to do this.
“That sounds like a great idea.” Luka smiles at her like he knows what she’s doing. Juleka thinks he probably doesn’t know. He just has that kind of smile that makes one think he knows and he’s in on whatever is plotting. And because he can’t help himself, because his song is picking up at the idea, he asks, “Will we stay to talk to Marinette for a while?”
Juleka smiles but reminds herself that her song needs to be quiet. She can’t overpower Luka’s melody, and she doesn’t want to be heard over Lila’s riff. “We can ask if she wants to.” Juleka says as neutrally as she can.
Luka’s smile expands into a grin and his song crescendos.
Marinette had retuned home as soon as school ended. She often does, these days, when the only alternative is to fawn over Lila or listen to her classmates do so. Even when Lila wasn’t involved it sometimes seems like the conversation inevitably turns to her. And when the conversation turns to Lila, it turns to how Marinette doesn’t like her. Never mind that Marinette has hardly said anything in the past week. She must love Lila or face the scorn of her peers.
That’s why the short walk to the bakery was so terrifying, and why Marinette had to go so long without Juleka voicing any support. If she were allowed her silence, it would be different, but if Juleka isn’t allowed to quietly dislike her the same way Marinette isn’t, there’s only one place that path leads.
The tinkling chime of a bell is a welcome accompaniment to Juleka’s song. It punctuates the doubt and pushes her onwards.
“Hello, Juleka.” Mme. Cheng smiles sweeter than the pastries she’s holding when she sees who’s come to visit.
“Hi, Madame Cheng.” Juleka murmurs.
“What can I get for you?”
Juleka has other reasons to be there, of course, but her mouth still waters when she lays eyes on the treats for sale. “Can I get one of those chausson aux pommes?”
“Make that two.” Luka leans over her, to get closer to the counter. “And is Marinette here yet? She’s not expecting us, but we were wondering if we could see her.”
“Oh yes, of course!” Mme. Cheng hands them their pastries and doesn’t even let them pay before urging them into the back. “Marinette is upstairs. Go on up! I’m sure she’d love to see you.”
It isn’t the first time Juleka is pushed into the Dupain-Cheng household, and it wouldn’t be the last. She lets herself smile and leads her brother up to Marinette’s room, munching on her snack. Luka’s eyes gleam when he catches sight of Marinette’s trapdoor. Without any lyrics to their song, the siblings climb up and carefully drum on the door with their knuckles.
It swings open, and Marinette’s song is an improvised duet. Her melody is pop and a little rock but her beat is syncopated. It isn’t bad, necessarily, but it is a mix of tunes Juleka doesn’t really consider Marinette. Juleka always heard Marinette’s song as hard rock, almost metal, with a deep, thrumming, steady beat guiding it.
“Oh, Juleka!” Marinette grins, throws open the trapdoor fully, and backs up to allow her entry. “What a surprise! Did you need something?”
“We wanted some pastries before going home.” Juleka answers. “And since we’re here we thought we’d check in on you.”
Luka climbs in behind Juleka. “Yeah!” The look he gives Marinette is too obvious, but Juleka thinks Marinette already knows about his song so maybe it’s a good thing. “I don’t get too many chances to see you.”
Juleka smiles when Marinette blushes. “Oh, how sweet!” Marinette chuckles awkwardly. “Well, I’m always glad to see you guys. Did you want to stay for a while, or is this just a quick visit?”
“I’d love to stay with you, Marinette.” Juleka hides her mouth so Marinette can’t see her smirk at Luka’s words. It’s all a little bit forte.
Marinette invites them to hang out, and they play video games and music and jam out to Jagged Stone together and it’s fun. There are times when Juleka feels unimportant, or left to the wayside, or invisible, but with her brother always caring for her and Marinette always careful of her she feels more included than usual, even when it is all the class girls together for some grand scheme. That said, the way Marinette and Luka’s songs play off each other makes Juleka wish she were a little more invisible.
It’s easier to practice, even a duet, without an audience, after all.
But in the end nothing comes from it and Juleka doesn’t really expect anything to. Flirtations are exchanged and blushes and adoring looks are thrown around like ragdolls but through it all Marinette’s song still beats for Adrien.
Now that she thinks about it, Adrien never was taken in by Lila, either. It might compromise the plan to get Marinette closer to Luka, but it might still be best if she pulls him into things as well. She had to support her brother, of course, but Juleka had put quite a bit of effort into the Adrienette schemes along with the others, so it wouldn’t be a total loss if things went that direction. Besides, helping Marinette is supposed to be the top priority.
Even if her brother’s song plays on unfinished, it is better than Marinette’s staggered staccato and missed notes. And Marinette is Juleka’s friend, besides.
“Hey, Marinette,” Juleka says as their Jagged Stone song winds down. It’s mean, to lead in this way, but Juleka wants to hear Marinette’s side of the story from her own mouth. She thinks she’s figured things out, but Lila had a way of getting people on her side. She could only guess how Marinette actually felt while she was defending Lila along with the rest of the class. While she frowned and gave disapproving looks and voiced disappointment in Marinette’s perceived unwarranted bullying. “What’s actually the deal with you and Lila?”
Marinette’s song plays four flats in C major. One after another, all out of key. “I- What?” Her eyes betray her unwillingness to speak. Luka eyes both of them with curiosity and a little concern. “Nothing! Nothing at all, there’s no ‘deal’! Why would you even ask something like that?”
Juleka hugs herself and ducks her head. She never did like confrontation, especially with people. Behind her bangs, she says, “You two don’t like each other, but I don’t know why.”
Luka furrows his brow as Marinette narrows her eyes. “Uh-huh.” Marinette huffs. She’s building up, ready for more than Juleka intends or wants. “Who put you up to this? Look, I’ve stopped saying anything, so my relationship with Lila is my own business. It’s not like you would believe anything I say, anyway.”
You really have no idea.
“Marinette, what’s going on?” Luka asks. Juleka wants Marinette to say it, because she wants Marinette’s story and to confirm her suspicions, but Luka’s prompting is the pick on those strings. It has to be Luka’s hand to play them. Juleka knew that from the start.
She has to play pianissimo, so if she can get on Marinette’s side without even her knowing she waited so long despite knowing the truth, all the better. Marinette is less likely to begrudge Juleka the wait that way, and more likely to try to give her other friends the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she could regain them, with time. Forte would work, too, but if this works, this would be better.
“Are you fighting with someone at school?” Luka’s question is clear like his song’s melody and sincere like its harmony. It’s innocent; the question of a bystander, not an accomplice. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
Marinette gives Juleka a dirty look for just a moment. Juleka doesn’t mind too much, though Luka’s song falters a little. Juleka knows she deserves it. Luka doesn’t. “It’s not a big deal.” Marinette says. “It’s just a girl in our class.”
It’s clear that Marinette doesn’t want to speak because Juleka is there, so she knows she needs to say something. She has to believe that Marinette would confide in Luka without her, but she also wants to be there because she wants to hear what Marinette has to say. “I want to hear your side, Marinette.” Juleka says. “I promise I won’t interrupt. I know we never really let you explain.”
Marinette’s song misses another note and hits a sharp this time. She watches in silence as she gapes and her mouth forms silent lyrics. “Okay.” She says eventually and takes a seat. When she starts her story, she talks to Luka. “I guess it started when Lila moved here. She came into class making up all these ridiculous stories, even saying that she’s Ladybug’s best friend! I knew something was off, so I… er…” Marinette looks away. “I followed her when she was talking to Adrien one day.”
She waits and looks at the both of her guests as if expecting them to say something. Juleka is true to her word, though, and vowed not to interrupt the story at all. She waits for Marinette to continue. Luka purses his lips. “And?”
Marinette’s jaw drops. “What? You aren’t going to yell at me for eavesdropping on them, or call me a stalker or something?”
Has someone done that?
Luka chuckles as good-naturedly as his injured song allows. Luka knows about Adrien, too. He can’t miss that much. He doesn’t let it show much, but hearing Marinette talk about Adrien, even in passing, is still a reminder. “Why would we? You said you thought she was up to something, right?” He shrugs. “Maybe following her and eavesdropping wasn’t the nicest or best way to do it, but you were trying to look out for yourself and your friends, weren’t you? That’s the Marinette I know.”
Marinette’s song seemed stuck in her throat as she gurgled on her lyrics. “R-really?”
“What happened? Something must have for you to dislike her.”
“It was…” Marinette shakes her head, shakes away the foreign song. “She stole one of Adrien’s books. That was the first hint, and part of why I followed them out of the library. Then, Ladybug showed up. She called out Lila for lying about being her best friend. So, Adrien and I are the only ones who know she was lying about that. And once you know, it’s pretty clear she’s lying about pretty much everything.”
Luka drums his fingers on his knee. “Okay, so she’s a liar. What led to you fighting?”
“We aren’t, like, actually fighting.” Marinette rolls her eyes. Encouraged by the Couffaine siblings actually listening to her, her song is emboldened and confident again. “She came back to school last month and has been lying non-stop. At first, it irritated me because she was getting close to Adri-” She choughs and sputters and looks away. “Because she was taking advantage of everyone. Using Adrien to help her with her schoolwork – which she should have done because she wasn’t even out of Paris while she was absent – having Kim fetch her lunch for her, and that’s just the start. She’s worse than Chloé!” Marinette shakes her head again, more evenly this time. “Anyway, I called her out on her lies, or tried to. But no one listened to me, and all I did was make her angry. All that happened was that everyone I thought was my friend believed her over me. They all think I’m being a bully because I’m jealous.”
You do have a history of jealousy.
Maybe Juleka feels the need to defend herself, and maybe she is a little embittered that Marinette still likes Adrien over Luka, but she has to cede the point that Adrien hasn’t been any more attached to Lila than Chloé, and if Chloé doesn’t turn Marinette into a bully, jealousy because of Lila shouldn’t either. Marinette hasn’t always been on her best behavior, but it has never been as bad as the class thinks she is now.
Luka closes his eyes and drums his fingers on his biceps as he crosses his arms. Juleka knows he wishes for his guitar. He’s much better at playing than talking. Or he thinks so, anyway. Juleka doesn’t really agree. “I believe you, Marinette.”
“You do?!” Marinette’s gasp is so audible it could be a song of its own.
“Of course. You’re an amazing girl, Marinette. You’re an inspiration, not a bully.”
“Oh, thank you!” Marinette leaps to hug Luka but stops herself. Juleka hides her smile. “Really, you have no idea what that means to me. Recently it seems like everyone’s against me.”
Luka reaches out to her and takes her shoulders in his hands. “I’ll always be on your side, Marinette. You’re such a beautiful song, and I hate to see you upset like that. What can I do to help?”
Marinette bites her lip an looks away and takes a moment before thinking about her response. “You could try to convince your sister.” She says flatly.
Juleka remembers that the story is over, and she hasn’t said anything yet. At the prompting of Luka’s confused glance, she says, “I believe you.”
“You do?” Marinette seems less surprised and more wary and maybe a little more confused. “That was all it took to change your mind?”
Juleka rubs her neck. “As I said, we never gave you the chance to explain before. To be honest, I did think you were just jealous.” It was true, for a while.
“Juleka! You know I wouldn’t be mean, even if I was jealous!”
“I know.” Juleka says. “I’m sorry.”
If anything, that is what makes Marinette’s song falter the most. Marinette holds her gaze for a while, unable to look away even after Juleka does, and once the spell finally breaks, she says, “You don’t need to apologize. I guess I understand.”
“I do, actually.” Juleka has more to apologize for than not just believing her, but Marinette doesn’t need to know that. “And I’m sorry. We’ve been friends for years; I should have believed you from the start.” Marinette’s song rests, unsure of its next measure. Luka beams at them both. Juleka doesn’t want to ask, but Marinette’s story left one big question unanswered. “Why doesn’t Adrien do anything?”
Marinette stumbles even more, and Luka falters for a moment as well. “Ah, well…” Marinette bites her tongue and shakes her head. “It’s nothing. He just doesn’t think calling her out is going to help. And, clearly, it didn’t. So, I guess he’s right.”
That sounds like Adrien. His song is like elevator music sometimes; it is so passive that it becomes just the background. Juleka could point out that Marinette hardly even talks to Adrien, so even if he doesn’t do anything against Lila, he could still stand to do something to support Marinette, but that is a little forte, too. And it really makes Juleka into a hypocrite. Knowing Adrien, he is as afraid of pushback from Lila as Juleka is and doesn’t make any obvious show of support for her because of that. She opts for, instead, “So, what are you going to do?” Because of that, she really is curious.
Marinette sighs. “Nothing. Like Adrien says. It’s not worth it.”
“You can’t let this girl silence you, Marinette.” Luka says with a lift in his song. “It sounds like you’ve been doing nothing, and she’s still hurting you. If Adrien thinks it’s not worth doing something, then he’s wrong. You’re still hurting, and you’re worth more than that.”
Marinette falters again. “Wh- what?” She shakes and recovers herself. “I mean- no. It really isn’t. I can handle it, and no one will believe me if I say anything, anyway. I’ve tried, and they don’t listen to me. All they care about is Lila.”
“All I care about is you.” Luka counters. “But doing something doesn’t have to be exposing her. Maybe you can’t do that, but you can at least play your song. I’ve always found that it helps to have someone to listen. You just can’t keep doing something that’s hurting you.”
“Please, Marinette. When Lila hurts you, come talk to us.”
“I… oh, maybe you’re right. Alright. I promise.”
Luka grins, and Marinette does too, and their songs crescendo together.
Juleka is lucky that Marinette is the kind of person she is. She still feels bad. She knows she should do more for Marinette, but she’s still afraid of retribution from Lila. Marinette understands that, though, and asked her not to put herself in danger for her sake. Juleka still feels like it’s not enough, but it’s as much as she can bear to offer, and it’s more than Marinette has had in a while.
School becomes a waltz; Marinette spends more time near but not with Juleka. Aside from Juleka’s own perception, dancing around Lila and whispers here and there to Marinette, nothing really changes.
There are moments, though, when Juleka isn’t sure if she’s really doing the right thing. Maybe what needs to happen is someone bold enough to stand up and say “Marinette is the best thing to happen to this school! Stop being idiots!” Maybe. But Juleka isn’t bold. She never has been.
Still, there come moments when even the meekest of people have to speak. For Juleka, that moment came, ironically, without Lila even being present.
“Hey, Marinette!” Alya bursts into the art room, causing more than a few jerking streaks to cut across projects. That is the first offense. Juleka’s own project now has an ugly black mark bisecting it, and that is enough to upset any artist.
Behind Alya, Nino and Adrien trail in like ducklings following their mother.
“Girl, come on!” Alya says, hooking an arm around Marinette. Marinette doesn’t look too pleased about this. She herself had jumped when Alya barged in and Juleka knows she’s in the middle of a design she’s struggling with. All the drama with Lila is hard on her creativity, she had said, and so a moment like that in the art room – the space meant to work on creative projects like her design – being interrupted was annoying for more than just the unintended mark on her sketchbook. “We’re all going to my place to play some video games!”
Marinette looks at the three and straightens her back. Her song jumps just a bit. “We are? All of us?”
Her words are pointed to Adrien, but Alya doesn’t notice or ignores it. “Uh, yeah, girl. All five of us.”
Marinette makes a face. She knows what’s coming but has to ask anyway. “Since when are there five of us?”
Alya immediately scowls. She knew that was coming, too. “I know you got beef with Lila for some reason, but you got to give her a chance! We’ll all hang out and you’ll see how awesome she is! It’ll be fun, I promise!”
Marinette snorts and turns back to her sketchbook. “Right. Sorry, Alya, I’ll pass this time. I’m in the middle of something, anyway.”
Alya rolls her eyes and puts her hands on her hips. “I knew you’d say that. Seriously, girl, this needs to stop. Lila didn’t do anything to you.”
Marinette looks up, at Adrien, and returns to her sketchbook. “Mhmm.”
Alya’s song turns fortississimo, which, granted, given how it started isn’t saying much, but it’s clear to Juleka that Alya came here with the intention of making Marinette play nice with Lila, and she doesn’t much care if she has to play rough to do it.
Juleka gets a bad feeling, watching this. It’s natural. Most people would get bad feelings when two best friends prepare to square down. Or, when one of those best friends prepares to square down, while the other remains stubbornly impassive.
What are you thinking?
When Alya lashes out at Marinette, Marinette responds curtly. Not quite rude, but not engaging. Mostly just disinterested. Marinette is simply humoring Alya’s tantrum. Juleka wonders if Marinette is really as unbothered as she seems, though she honestly doubts it.
A lot of things are said that Juleka wishes Alya is ashamed of. For once, though, no one can say that Marinette is out of bounds. Many, of course, can say that Marinette should have just gone with her. She didn’t have a reason not to, they might say. Her hatred of Lila is stupid and unfair and undeserved so there was no reason for her to refuse.
Because it’s not like she was in the middle of a design, minding her own business, when Alya tried to get her to hang out with zero notice. It’s not like most people need to know ahead of time before spending the day doing something.
But with Alya screaming “unreasonable” at the one who is calmly sketching, with her shouting “cruel” at the one saying and doing nothing, with her shouting “jealous” at the one who just declined to spend time with her crush, for once it isn’t Marinette who is cast in the role of the villain.
And all Marinette did is nothing at all.
Not that anyone, once Alya screams herself hoarse, actually steps in to comfort Marinette like they trip over themselves to do for Lila at much lesser offenses. No, of course not. Marinette still could have avoided it all if she’d just gone with them. It’s not like with Lila, where there’s absolutely no reason at all for Marinette to hate her so much.
There come moments when even the meekest of people have to speak, and with no one else willing to play forte for Marinette’s symphony, it had to be Juleka.
Marinette keeps her composure, but Juleka sees she’s trembling. Alya finally runs out of breath. It’s Juleka’s turn. “Are you done?” She asks sharply, forcing more authority into her voice than she thinks she’s ever had before. Most of it is fueled by rage.
Alya’s attention snaps to her, eyes narrowing. “What? We all know it’s true. Marinette’s been holding this stupid grudge against Lila for no reason for over a month now. I’m sick of it! I’m sick of her being a little bully because she’s jealous that Lila likes Adrien.”
“Wait, what?” Adrien blinks and steps back, but Juleka ignores him. Her attention is only on Alya and Marinette.
“I think you’re done here.” Juleka growls.
Alya looks to Marinette. “Oh, no I’m not. Marinette is coming with me, and she’s going to apologize to Lila.”
“Yes, you are. You’re done.” Juleka steps forward, between Alya and Marinette. “You’re not welcome in the art club. Get out.”
“You can’t make that decision! Right, guys?” Alya looks to the other students in the room for backup, but what are the bystanders meant to do? There’s Juleka, who everyone at least knows of, who’s been a part of the art club for years, who was stepping between another long-time member and a girl who’d only stopped by once or twice to pick up one of her friends. Or, there was that girl, who despite having, in their eyes, good intentions – anyone who knew Lila is naturally on her side as far as the content of the argument – just screamed and yelled and cursed for several minutes at a girl who hadn’t so much as said five words back to her.
It’s a brilliant tactic, what Marinette did, because when Alya burns a crescendo Marinette can sit and stare, a doe in a spotlight, and play a decrescendo, and there’s little ambiguity for who should be blamed.
The other students do not come to Alya’s defense. They say nothing. And Alya seems taken aback. She never expected her classmates to abandon her when she calls on them.
Cruel, isn’t it?
“Get out.” Juleka repeats, as harshly as the first time. “Out!” Finally, she raises her voice, screams the order as loud as she can, and Alya’s song is cut off. She backs down alongside the boys, who are cowering alongside her, and grabs each of them by the arm, not giving them the chance to stay and let her go on her own.
They follow behind her like lost little ducklings.
Juleka puts a hand on Marinette’s shoulder, but it’s shrugged off as Marinette stands. Marinette waits a few moments, just long enough, and carefully leaves the room. Juleka follows because she knows what’s happening.
They make their way to the girls’ restroom, and Juleka keeps a careful eye out for butterflies. Marinette slips inside, and Juleka scans the hall once more before entering after her. Marinette is already crying. Juleka doesn’t have any words for her. She wishes Luka were there. He was always better with words, even if he says he’s better with music. All Juleka can do is hug her and keep her own eyes open so Marinette can screw hers shut.
They’re like that for several long moments before Juleka sees it appear in the doorway, squeezing through between the door and the frame. “Akuma.” She breathes. She’s not sure what to do, she just knows that it’s there for Marinette.
Marinette separates from her, sniffs a few more deep breaths, and glares at the akuma. “Go away, Hawk Moth.” She hisses. “How many times do I have to prove I’m better than you?”
Juleka smiles when she sees the akuma stop. She chuckles when it turns around, looking for a new target. Honestly, she’s half-surprised that it didn’t turn to her. But, no, it wouldn’t. Juleka was furious at the time, but in that bathroom she feels only concern. It was out there, though, so Juleka wouldn’t be surprised if they saw another Alya akuma in the next couple hours.
“You should head back to the club.” Marinette says. “I’m just going to be a few more minutes.”
“I can wait.” Juleka says.
Marinette shakes her head. “No. Please. I want to be alone for a moment.”
Juleka wrings her hands. She’s unsure, but the threat of Marinette being akumatized has passed, so Marinette must be calmer now than Juleka would be if their places were reversed. And she does understand wanting to be alone for a while. “Okay.” She says. “But be careful. Someone’s probably still going to be akumatized.”
“I know. I’ll stay safe. You too, okay?” Juleka nods and turns to leave, but she’s stopped by Marinette catching her arm. “And, um… thank you.”
Juleka’s song plays a quiet adagio as she smiles.