Paris historically was the fashion capital of the world, unfortunately it wasn’t where Marinette needed to be anymore. Even more unfortunate, Paris still required Ladybug. Opportunity didn't throw itself at you twice. Luckily apparently for her it did, this time she was going to take her time before she said no, instead of blindly following Tikki's leadership.
Her good fortune was making her miserable though. She needed to talk to Chat but he wouldn't understand. Not completely. Alya would only understand to an extent as well. No one could completely understand. She was being torn three ways. She had been accepted to Parsons New School of Design in New York City with a benefactor. The design house Fumée attended all of Gabriel Agreste's shows as a sign of solidarity since they also called Paris their home and had stayed independent while many brands had become one with Veer, Merton and Leonides more commonly referred to as VML. While Gabriel had been the one to have contests that she would win and eventually even allow her to shadow him regularly it was Fumée that came to her with the offer. They would pay for her to attend Parsons New School of Design, not just tuition but books, materials, models, and she could even live in one of their model apartments. All she needed to do was pay for food then work for them, 2 seasons after graduation. It was an unheard-of offer.
Except she’d have to leave Chat Noir alone for 3-4 years if they allowed her to come back to Paris for her working seasons. If she worked in Paris, they would have to pay her. In the US she would be an intern and she heard they didn't always pay interns over there. But her clothes would be on the runway which would be far more important.
"Mar-ri-nette!" Alya snapped, literally and figuratively in front of Marinette's nose. "Class has ended, what're you thinking so deeply about?" Her joking smile started to fade. Something had happened after the fashion show last weekend and it had been eating her and her boyfriend’s best friends up since. She knew something had to have happened hopefully between them but neither of them had said anything. "Marinette? What's going on?" She felt her phone vibrate against her hip-.
"It's nothing," Marinette said glumly putting her books in her pack, walking down the steps, and over to her friend. "Just having a hard time deciding what to do with the rest of my life." She muttered watching Alya look at her phone and navigate the corridor and text or whatever she was doing while walking -- effortlessly.
Alya looked up and half laughed, "what are you talking about? You're going to get up the nerve to finally ask Adrien to the party we're having for finishing school! We'll help you! We can't go to Cote D’Azur with you two still single!" Alya snapped her mouth shut. She looked like she didn't mean to say that. Marinette suspected she and Nino were tired of babysitting their single friends whenever they went places but it kind of hurt to have it confirmed.
Marinette nodded slowly and smiled tentatively trying to cover the small hurt that was irritatingly partly guilt. "Okay," She could think about Parson's after asking Adrien to the party right? Parsons her brain yelled at her, her shoulders fell and so did her smile, no, she had to make a decision about this.
"Whoa. What just happened? Marinette?" Alya looked at her dejected friend.
"Alya, I gotta, go home" she said briefly looking up at Nino and Adrien and without a second glance, trip or embarrassing moment quickly walked away. That was how Alya knew something was truly wrong.
Tom and Sabine sat down at the table across from Marinette with their tablets open to their bank accounts and their various funds. Sabine smiled brightly, "we've been saving since before we had you. I'm Asian," she said with a wink as if Marinette had never known she was half Chinese.
Tom laughed, "Sabine, everyone does that, not just Asians."
Sabine smiled brightly, "well, as I was saying we originally planned to have more children so we have been putting aside more than what most would."
Marinette smiled because she knew her mother wanted her to, but her stomach got a sick feeling inside. "Oh?"
"Yes!" Sabine looked up at her husband with a gleeful smile. "We haven't been paying attention. Usually that's bad but this time it is good! We've saved more than enough! You can choose any University in Paris! Everything will be covered. I know how important quality material is and there is enough for that too. And to pay for models for shows .
Marinette became nauseated, "Wow," she smiled hoping she looked and sounded sincere. It looked like tonight was the night she was going to have to bring up the Parsons offer. “Um, actually, there’s another offer on the table I need to discuss with you. I haven’t made my mind up about it yet, and I need your advice.”
Her parents looked at her with such trust and openness, Tom spoke up after clearing his throat, “Go on.”
“Last weekend Thérèse DuPont from Fumée came to me after the show. She said knew a designer when she saw one, and she had been following me for years. She offered to send me to the top design school in New York. If I work for Fumée for 1 year after graduation. I never planned on Parsons, but,” Marinette sighed and looked off into the distance, “people who go there, go to the top.”
Sabine looked sad but still smiled, it wasn’t fake either. A thoughtful smile, her daughter was grown and understood the world worked the way it did and you had to jump in and work in the space you had been given. Only then could you begin to make it right for you. You couldn’t expect the world to create a space for you just the way you are. Everyone is unique but we all have to work together. One thing bothered her though, snatching an apprentice, declared or not was tacky, at least in the baking world, “What did Gabriel say?”
“He didn’t say anything”
Tom looked down at Marinette sternly, “Does he know?”
“He was standing next to me when I was offered.”
Tom nodded satisfied, maybe Gabriel agreed it was a good education he looked at Sabine who nodded to him and they both spoke at the same time.
“Well I think it’s I great opportunity,” Tom stated.
“You should discuss it with Gabriel,” Sabine said smiling gently until she realized there had been a miscommunication in that nod.
Marinette understood their logic but frankly Gabriel giving her advice for which university when he practically ignored Adrien would be like kicking her crush in the head. She looked up, she was so lucky, yet another reason going to NY would be difficult no Mom & Dad. “You guys know I love you right? I know I am so lucky to have parents like you two. Thank you.” She felt her eyes well up and her nose itch.
Her parents walked around to hug her. “We know, and we love you too.” Her mother said while her dad kept snuggling her. Was that a sniff? Was he crying?
“Okay, well I’ve got to get to bed,” she said
“Alright good night honey,” her mom waved her toward the stairs.
Marinette climbed the stairs, through the hatch up the ladder and into bed.
In bed she lay back and heard a sound that reminded her of squealing brakes. Thinking it was an accident she looked out the window, but nothing was going on out there finally she found the source of the horrendous noise. “Tikki, what are you doing?”
“Oh, you’re going to talk to me now?” Tikki said angrily.
Marinette rarely ever saw her kwami angry and she always deserved it but this time she refused to be pushed around. Yes, she was Ladybug, but why? Because she was a good person, she should have her dreams taken away? It wasn’t fair! The fact she felt guilt at all wasn’t fair! When Marinette and whoever was under the mask of Chat Noir were too old to do their jobs, they would no doubt be discarded and then where would she be? No education, no money, nothing. Chat Noir and Ladybug gave themselves to thousands of Parisians but received nothing and never asking for anything. At least Marinette had the bakery, a family business to inherit, she never even thought about Chat Noir. He probably had nothing.
“I have to stay because my job as Ladybug is to take care of Paris. That is what you want to tell me right?” Marinette grumbled
Tikki looked at her with wide eyes and nodded. “Yes. Chat Noir needs you to cleanse and rebuild, no one else can do it but you.”
Marinette felt the whole world was trapping her. She reached up and twisted the lock and opened her hatch and stepped outside to get away from Tikki. All was dark and calm. She inhaled the calm, she could smell the yeast, some of the kids at school said it always smelled like bread or sweets even when the DuPain Chengs went on vacation. Living there she rarely smelled what they meant but was glad she was smelling it now. It was the yeast, a living organism, its one goal to make their bread puff up and give a web of complex bubbles and deliciousness. She was pretty sure she was going to New York, and she would miss this. She ju--.
The sound of a page turning scared her, and she whipped around. Chat Noir was sitting on her chair with a bottle of Orangina and a textbook. “I was beginning to think you were ignoring meow-n purrpuss” his lips kicked up on one side into a sexy grin, “three, that’s gotta be a record.”
“Sorry, I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I’ve got to make a decision for University.”
“Oh, yeah? I just figured you’d go to ECSCP like Gabriel Agreste” Chat said.
“Mm. Agreste attended Studio Bercot, I was accepted there, and Esmod, both were first choices, I never thought I could make it into ” Marinette rolled her eyes normal people don’t go to schools like Parson, ECSCP, Studio Bercot or Esmod, only real fashion designers did. Is that what I am? When did that happen?
“So, you didn’t apply?”
“Oh, I applied, or rather Nathalie and my mom did,” she went on mumbling, "behind my back.”
Chat dropped the pen he had been holding, and his chin. He picked it up and closed the book nonchalantly, “Is that her friend?”
Marinette shook her head, “No, it’s Mm. Agreste’s personal assistant.”
“I’m sure it’s a formality.”
Chat mentally rolled his eyes, in what world? What did Nathalie and Father want from Marinette? “Still, that’s pretty cool.”
“I need your advice.”
“Should I stay, or should I go.”
“Now.” Back in full Chat Noir mode he pointed at her with both hands, clicked his tongue, and shot her with his finger guns and winked.
“Very funny. But also, true, either way there will be trouble.” She sighed and moved a plant off her spool table and sat.
“Where are you going?”
Chat thought he might choke, she wasn’t allowed to go that far away, what if something happened? He wouldn’t be there to protect her. And the crime! “For how long”
“I’m not sure, three or four years.”
Chat felt the overwhelming urge to call his suit off, he couldn’t breathe. It was too tight, the mask was restricting his nostrils, maybe all those models really were getting their noses fixed because they had a deviated septum. Maybe he had one too! The mask must be putting pressure on it! He should see a surgeon immediately.
Marinette looked over at Chat, he didn’t look too good, “Cha-
Chat gasped and pulled his bell away from his body letting air in but not pulling it down, “Why?!” he whined.
Marinette looked at him perplexed, and surprised “for school. I’ve been offered a full scholarship to Parsons in New York.” His suit isn’t stuck to him!?
Chat narrowed his eyes, histrionics finished, why is she lying? “Parsons doesn’t give scholarships.”
Marinette didn’t notice that, “Well, it wasn’t really a scholarship. See, there’s a designer, well she’s really one of the heads of an old house, her name is Thérèse DuPont, you probably don’t know her”
His lips went flat, fortunately Marinette was looking at the sky. Oh, he knew her. He knew she needed to learn to keep her hands to herself. Off of the models and off of other designers’ designs. At least she had waited till he was 18 before she had decided he was public property.
“She’s one of the top designers of Fumée. I had already been accepted to Parsons, it was one of the schools Nathalie and my mom and sent my portfolio and application to. She told me that Fumée would pay for everything for my education not just tuition but books, materials, models, and they said I could even live in one of their model apartments. Whatever that is.”
”It’s where they let models stay when they’re on assignment for them in that location,” Chat said glumly without thinking. Still in his head about Thérèse. If Guillaume (he would never call him Gorilla again) hadn’t come, he was pretty sure what would have happened.
“Oh, that makes sense. Well, all I would have to do is pay for my food and any other personal expenses. And in return I would have to work for them for 2 seasons.”
“Like fall and winter?” Adrien said trying to cover his earlier fashion knowledge.
“No silly kitty. Fall and Spring.” Her words were upbeat, and her voice even sounded like it was trying to be but her body language didn’t seem happy at all.
“One year is not two seasons.” Adrien said knowing that was exactly what it was in the industry.
“Should I stay, or should I go?”
Adrien thought he would die answering her, “it’s the chance of a lifetime isn’t it?”
“You should go.”
“Is there anyone who you need to talk to?” Chat couldn't understand why he felt so betrayed. He wasn’t. He knew he wasn’t, but his friend had decided to leave without telling him. She was talking to some strange man who only showed up for food and comfort at his convenience. She saw him every day, yet she made the decision to leave him with Chat Noir. He hated hating himself.
Marinette looked up at him knowing Ladybug needed to talk to Chat but she still had no idea how to have that discussion. So she simply replied, “Mm. Agreste,” then very softly “and you,” knowing he wouldn’t understand.
Adrien felt a knot in his throat. “Anyone else?”
“My friends don't know, I should talk to Adrien."
“Why?” why was he pushing? Isn’t that what he wanted?
Marinette became flustered and leaned on the table wrong causing it to tip precariously, “no reason!” she squeaked, then, “he’s a model and Gabriel’s son, he'll have good advice. He's just a-a good friend. I respect his opinion.” She rushed on.
Chat wasn’t quite sure he should be giving the designer any advice. They were living on different sides of the stitch at this point. Her words stirred his thoughts. At least then he could tell her about the rumors of Thérèse stealing protégé’s designs. Chat wouldn’t know anything about it. Her voice stirred him from his thoughts.
“I know you said you couldn’t tell me who you were, but I feel pretty confident we’re close to the same age. Are you graduating this year?”
Chat sighed and nodded, “I can’t tell you much more than that, you know that.”
Marinette nodded appreciating how serious he took their vows. She suddenly found her eyes filling with tears, this was getting ridiculous. She turned away from him to get control of her emotions. She stood up and walked to the railing and looked at the Seine. It’s good to know he takes some things seriously, she smiled. “Are you going to University?”
Chat shook his head, “I’ll be working for the first year.” He’d already been booked since he’d been 17 and he had gained 12 kg in muscles. He had probably added more with the model regimen and Chat Noir work. All he knew was some mornings he just hurt. He wasn’t sure how it would work but Ladybug and he would figure it out. He had to go on location out of country a few places, he was kind of excited about the Great Wall. Marinette would love that, he’d have to remember to tell her about it. But he’d have to spread the out of region shoots apart so his Lady wouldn’t be left alone. “Maybe even 2 years”
Marinette turned away and frowned, looking Notre Dame with it's depressing shrouds and scaffolding still waiting for her tower. That’s what she thought, even with the low cost to students Chat wasn’t going to be able to afford university and with his laissez-faire attitude he probably had not saved anything yet. She took so much for granted. She didn’t know what to say. “Oh,” was all she managed. She knew so little about her partner. He wore Adrien fragrance, but Ladybug bought it for their anniversary, other than that she didn’t know anything.
“It'll be exciting,” he said looking forward to getting away from Gabriel’s aggressive parenting and seeing the world between photoshoots.
It was sweet how he was making it sound good after she made her good luck sound bad. Now she felt terrible. She turned back to him with a bright smile.
Chat flinched, Marinette looked like she was in pain, her smile was so obviously forced. What had she said, ‘either way there will be trouble’, what did she mean? They both spoke up, “What's the trou-" he cut off.
“I should go to bed-I-mean sleep" she blushed.
It was getting late, but everything seemed perfect, what was the problem? She never told him that part. He sighed picked up the tiny empty bottle, books and pen. He unzipped his suit's pocket to put the pen away and arose from the hammock chair his body rippling. Marinette usually just rolled out. She blinked and hoped she wasn’t staring. Did he always look like that? His claws were gripping the glass bottle gently in front of Marinette’s nose, “could you take care of this for me?”
“Sh-sh-sure,” she nodded as she took the bottle.
Chat gently took her free hand letting his claws touch her skin, he pulled her close in a hug that felt more than friendly but somehow less than romantic and whispered, “don’t leave before we see each other again.”
Marinette couldn’t stop her tears this time, the lack of sleep and stress pushed her over the edge. The boy who had become a man by her side had no idea the woman in his arms would never leave him easily. That was her biggest problem, leaving her partner. Leaving him. “Never.” She whispered looking down feeling her tears fall, hoping he didn’t see them.
Chat felt terrible, he hadn’t meant to make her cry. He resisted the urge to nuzzle the top of her head with his cheek. There had been so many times she had given him comfort yet he still hadn’t figured out how to do it for her. He felt more than heard her sigh and pulled away. “I should go, I have an exam tomorrow.”
Marinette nodded, “me too. Good luck!”
It wasn’t until Adrien was lying in bed that he realized he still didn’t know what the big problem was that was keeping her from happily jumping on the first flight to New York. It certainly didn’t have anything to do with Thérèse or she wouldn’t have such admiration in her eyes.
Adrien felt sick, and naïve. Something happened to nearly every model, did he really think nothing would happen to him? Why? Because he was the son of the great Gabriel Agreste?
He felt his nose itch and his eyes water and immediately felt Plagg’s presence floating near his ear. “You’re safe kid. He got you. You’re alright.” Adrien turned to look at Plagg. He’d been shocked the Kwami had been understanding at all. Adrien had, had no intention of telling him what had happened.
He hadn’t been able to wear his ring in the show and gave it to Master Fu in the audience. That night when Adrien woke up screaming and Guillaume his bodyguard came running into the room to find nothing but a terrified boy in a man's body he sat down on the bed and gathered him in his arms and sang to him until he calmed. It was one of the most incredible moments of his life and he had a pretty amazing life.
Plagg had hidden and watched the whole thing then heard the conversation after. Guillaume had told him he was still a man, a kind, wise, brave and wonderful man and no one could take that from him. His actions created the man he had become and no one else's actions could change that. Adrien clung to him and cried while being reassured. What he still hadn’t told anyone was he felt guilty. He didn’t feel entitled to his shame or pity or encouragement. He hadn’t been raped, there were no bruises or scratches. He felt like his feelings were hurt, it shouldn’t be considered a sexual assault. Yes, she’d touched him inappropriately, and yes, she probably would have forced him into a compromising position, if someone hadn’t come, but they had. “Kid?”
Adrien sat up and swung his legs over then walked over to his desk and back to his sofa.
“You know I hate that.” Plagg grumbled.
Adrien hissed at Plagg like the cat he had become more like, then lit the cigarette in his mouth then took a deep pull and closed his eyes calming. Then felt his eyes burn and the tears escaped his closed lids.
Plagg floated close, not a fan of Adrien’s smoking but knowing this wasn’t the time to harass him. “Talk to me kid."
Adrien took a deep drag and shakily let it out looking at his snarky yet wise friend, “you know what happened at the last show?”
Plagg murmured to the affirmative, not saying anything more, not sure what to say. He usually screwed up when he spoke.
“Her name was Thérèse DuPont. She's very powerful in fashion. I’m not the first.”
“Why haven’t you told your old man?”
“You already know the answer to that,” Adrien said crossing his legs at the knee and stretching his body back over the back of the sofa and his arms across the entire width of it. Such an innocent move would have surely put Marinette in the hospital had she witnessed him stretching. He relaxed and looked at Plagg. “He'd never let me out of the house. He'd sue, it would be a ‘he said’ ‘she said’ battle, and I would lose. Father would be made to look like he had made it up to make another house look bad. Then he would lose customers and worse.”
“Yeah, then where would I get my cheese?” Plagg said sarcastically, floating over to the table where he sat down.
“She offered to pay for Marinette’s schooling in exchange for 1 year of work.”
“Sounds pretty good, are you worried she will do the same thing to Marinette that she did to you?”
Adrien sat up, eyes popping open with smoke pluming out of his nose like an angry dragon. The idea had never even occurred to him before! Would she? It was all about power, he relaxed and shook his head, “I don’t think so. What she would do to her is bad though too. There’s been rumors of her stealing one of her subordinates’ designs and saying they were hers. No one believes it because Thérèse has so much experience and the designer was so young but being friends with Marinette has shown me age means nothing compared with talent and dedication. What if Thérèse is just setting her up?” Adrien took one last inhale then stubbed out his Gauloise and stood up feeling overheated. He’d been wearing sweats to bed since The Incident, but this was the first time he felt too warm. He pulled his sweatshirt off leaving the undershirt on beneath and headed back to bed folding the bulky sweatshirt as he walked. Setting it on the end of his bed he got in, “any ideas?”
“Tell the truth?”
Adrien sighed and nodded. “Sounds good, ‘Night Plagg”
Marinette sat terrified in Nino’s seat with a box of chouquettes. Her hair was up in its bun being held in place with 4 pencils (today) of various hardness ready for her to pull out whenever inspiration hit giving her a peacock effect. She looked behind her to see Alya give her two thumbs up and mouth “You’ll do great!” that’s when she noticed all the girls in the class were looking at her. Staring at her, she gulped, she was going to do this right, even if she had to speak slowly or start over. Just remember the mantra she thought: Adrien is my friend. He won’t hurt me even if he doesn’t like me. Adrien is my friend. He wo-
“Marinette are you okay?” Adrien walked over and sat down next to her.
Marinette jumped up then sat back down after banging her hip against the table, audibly. She heard some of the students around her whisper “ouch” in sympathy. They were right. She bit her lips together and nodded, “Mmmhmm, yep, fine.” he was sitting next to her. Wow, he smelled good, even sitting he was so tall.
“Marinette? Are you sure you’re okay?”
She sat up straight and decided to not look directly at him. The box! She looked at the chouquettes box and slid them over to him so they couldn’t fall out or any other disaster could happen. “I brought these for you.”
“If you want, they’re yours.”
Adrien looked down something had changed, normally everything was a group gift. He leaned close to her ear, “chouquettes are my favorite, thank you”.
Marinette’s eyes widened impossibly watching him lean back seeing his beautiful green eyes. She wanted so badly to reach her hand up and touch his jaw. “Will you go with me to the graduation party?”
Adrien nodded, “That was the plan--”
“No, will you go with me”
Adrien smiled softly, “Mar--
“Class please clear your tables the examination is being passed now and silence is required. Your conversations can resume at the end of the class.”