“Oh no.” Marinette fumbles with a box of pencils as she tears through her locker. “No, no, no! Where’d it go?!”
Marinette jumps at Alya’s voice behind her. “My sketchbook!” She shrieks. “I can’t find it anywhere!”
She feels Alya’s hand on her back. “Calm down, girl. You probably just left it at home.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Marinette pulls at her hair and turns away from the locker. A sigh escapes her as she accepts that her sketchbook isn’t going to be found. “I looked at home all night last night! I thought I must have left it here!”
Alya purses her lips. “It’ll turn up. Come on, we need to get to class, but I’ll help you look for it, after, alright?”
“You’re the best, Alya.” Marinette sighs. “And you’re right.” There’s a pit in Marinette’s stomach even as she says it but knowing Alya has her back does lessen the weight of it.
Still. It’s her sketchbook. She’s an artist! A designer! Her sketchbook is the cumulative work of the last five months and she isn’t sure she can handle losing it. So many sketches – granted, she never plans on making most of them, but looking back on the process helps sometimes. How many times has she looked back at old designs that never went anywhere and drew inspiration from them? Even the duds are important. And that’s not even starting on the multiple rough drafts she has in there that she’s still excited for and wants to make.
At least she has extra copies of the designs for the dress she’s currently working on. If she loses her references at this stage, she might as well kiss the whole project goodbye. That wouldn’t just be effort wasted, but money and time on fabric and stitching.
The worst part, though, is that she legitimately has no idea how she could have misplaced it. Sure, she had it out at school yesterday, but she knows she put all of her things back in her backpack.
“Just try to focus on class for now, alright?” Marinette felt Alya nudge her, bringing her back into the moment.
Marinette shakes her head slowly. She’s right. We can look for it later.
With a deep breath, Marinette let the classwork and lecture carry her worries away. She isn’t exactly the most academically inclined student, but she could appreciate what those people would tell her sometimes; that when they get lost in a good problem or get too deep into research, they lose track of time and things just pass by.
It’s not like Marinette hasn’t experienced that phenomenon before. It’s part of what she likes about hand-sewing. She can just get lost in a sort of trance as she works and she enters that flow state. It’s not something she would associate with academics, usually, but she has to admit that it’s similar when she manages to push her worries aside and let her focus stay on the classwork.
The classes go by quickly, and that’s the end of Marinette’s peace that day.
The first strike is another cruel lie. Marinette has been dealing with Lila for months now, and it’s fine. Try as she might, Lila isn’t going to isolate Marinette entirely. Alya, Nino, and Adrien still hang out with her, and minus Adrien they often have lunch together. When they don’t, it’s because Marinette is letting Alya and Nino have some time together, not because either of them don’t want her around. And even then, nine times out of ten, one of her other classmates is more than happy to spend time with her if she wants to. At the very least, what Marinette has built is far too strong to be toppled in mere months.
That being said, no one takes kindly if Marinette tries to call Lila out on lying, so Adrien was right when he told her that outing her isn’t going to do any good. Or, at least, outing her the way Marinette had planned. The best thing Marinette can do, really, is ignore Lila, let her previous statements speak for her lack of enthusiasm about hanging out together, and try her best to be as friendly as she can otherwise. So long as she isn’t hostile, she’s not giving Lila any ammunition. And if she doesn’t give Lila ammunition, she has nothing to worry about.
That doesn’t stop Lila from trying, though. “Marinette. Please stay for a moment.” Mlle. Bustier says. Marinette furrows her brow and shares a look with Alya, but gestures for her friend to go ahead without her.
All the students file out of the classroom, and Marinette packs up her things, but stays patiently in her seat. Once everyone else is gone, Mlle. Bustier calls Marinette up to her desk. “What’s up?” Marinette asks.
Mlle. Bustier wears an atypical frown, deeply set into her face. “Marinette, I’ve heard some troubling rumors.”
“Oh?” Marinette has no idea what they could be, but Mlle. Bustier seems to be waiting for her to act like she knows exactly what’s going on. I mean, none that involve me. Unless she heard I’m Ladybug? But that’s impossible. If that’s a rumor, then someone would have told Alya by now and I would have heard it. Even if it wasn’t about me.
Mlle. Bustier retains her frown, but her stern countenance weakens just a little at Marinette’s confusion. “I heard that you cheated on yesterday’s test.”
“Cheated?” Marinette isn’t sure how she reacts, if she’s honest. She doesn’t think about what she shows outwardly because in her own head she’s just shell-shocked. She can’t think anything at all.
Mlle. Bustier nods slowly. “Marinette, be honest with me. Is there any truth to these rumors?”
Marinette hesitates a fraction too long. She’s still processing the accusation. “What? No, of course not! You know I wouldn’t do that!” Inwardly, Marinette is already panicking. Cheating?! Who would accuse me of cheating? And why? I haven’t eve- oh… Lila. Of course. Stamping down all the panic and fury as best she could, she thought of words that have helped her so many times up to this point. Every problem has a solution.
“Of course, you understand that I have to speak with you.” Mlle. Bustier says softly. “Even if it’s just a rumor, I have to make sure.”
“Of course, I understand.” Marinette says quickly, putting on her best smile. There’s an easy solution right in front of her. An inconvenient one, but an easy one. After all, the literature test yesterday was one that she had the rare chance to finish reading the whole book it was over. She’s more prepared for it than most tests she takes. “If you need me to, I can retake the test alone. I should have time after school this week.”
Mlle. Bustier finally smiles, the same expression Marinette is much more used to seeing on her teacher. “That won’t be necessary. We don’t throw out tests based on one student’s claims alone. I do believe that you wouldn’t cheat, and your willingness to retake the test only proves it.” Something warm swells in Marinette’s chest. She grins and puffs up a little. A small victory. A plan foiled. It feels good, whether she’s doing it as Ladybug or Marinette. “You can go now.” Mlle. Bustier says. “I’m sorry for taking your time.”
“No worries, Mlle. Bustier. I understand. You can’t just ignore accusations like that.”
She honestly thought she’d end up having to retake the test. Or worse. But she’s glad that Mlle. Bustier is the kind of teacher she is.
Really, though, Lila should know better. Cheating on a test? Everyone knows Marinette wouldn’t do that. There’s no way she could get Marinette in any legitimate trouble with a lie like that. Not with Mlle. Bustier, at least. If she says the same thing to Mme. Mendeleiev, then maybe Marinette might feel it, but this? This is weak, even by Lila’s standards.
Marinette leaves the room not expecting anyone waiting for her, so when she finds the hall abandoned, she thinks nothing of it and simply makes her way home.
Now all she needs to do is find her sketchbook.
“Hey, girl!” Alya’s voice comes from Marinette’s phone. It’s a bit more subdued than normal, but that’s nothing to be alarmed about. “What was that with Mlle. Bustier about?”
Marinette shrugs even though the phone camera is pointing at her ceiling instead of her. The box in her hands rattles a little. “Apparently, someone told her that I cheated on yesterday’s test. She had to follow up. Not a big deal.”
“Cheated?” Alya asks. Marinette furrows her brow because… well, she expected Alya to sound just a tad more incredulous. Or, at least, surprised. “So, what’s going to happen?”
“Nothing, as far as I know. Mlle. Bustier knows I wouldn’t cheat. And, I mean, I didn’t, so she won’t punish me just because someone said I did.”
Alya sighs. “Good. I knew Lila had to have been mistaken.”
The stone in Marinette’s gut drops. It sets the water there boiling. She suspected Lila, of course, but to get it confirmed sets a strange mix of exasperation and fury off inside her. Because first of all, how dare she accuse Marinette of something like that, but on the other hand, it fell so flat that it’s kind of pitiful. “Lila?” Marinette says. “It was her?”
Alya groans. Apparently, Marinette’s distaste comes across as clear through her voice as it normally does through her face. “I shouldn’t have said anything. Now you’re just going to use this against her, aren’t you?”
Marinette set down her box and overturned the things inside it. “Why would I do that?”
“Uh, because of that grudge you have?”
Marinette scoffs. “Please. This is no different than anything else she’s done to me. Actually, this has been a pretty poor attempt at hurting me, since she kind of failed big-time.”
“Girl, I’m sure she was just mistaken. She doesn’t have it out for you.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Marinette says. “Look. I do believe that she did this on purpose. But it doesn’t really matter. All she managed to do was get two minutes taken out of my day. It’s really no big deal. I’m not going to blow up at her or anything because of this.”
“Trust me, Alya. I really couldn’t care less about that right now. All I care about right now is finding my sketchbook.”
Alya sighs. “Yeah, okay. I believe you. Oh, and I asked around. Looks like no one at school has seen it. You sure it isn’t in your room, or your bag?”
“I’m going through my room for the third time now.” Marinette whines. “It’s really just not here.”
“Maybe you took it downstairs? You sketch in your living room, sometimes.”
“Yeah, I looked there, too. I even asked my parents to keep an eye out for it.” Marinette is really starting to lose faith at this point. She’s rapidly running out of places to triple-check.
“It’ll turn up.” Alya says. The confidence in her voice is, as always, relieving. “Just don’t give up, alright? And I’ll keep looking around, too.”
No matter what she tells Alya, the lie about her cheating does bother Marinette. Not too badly, but it does. Because that is a major accusation. If Lila had gotten away with it, she could have ruined Marinette’s reputation completely. Definitely in the classroom, but if it got out further, which Marinette isn’t sure Lila wouldn’t ensure, her professional reputation as well.
She could probably recover. She’s still just a teenager, after all. But she’d have to fight harder than she already is. Even though she’s young, she does have connections, and if a scandal like that came out it could cast doubt on her design, too, on whether she’d be willing to steal designs, and there’s a real chance she’d have to remake those connections. She has such an advantage at her disposal with her work for Jagged Stone and Clara Nightingale that is very much in peril if Lila keeps trying plots on that scale.
So yes, it does bother Marinette, but not too much. Despite it all, she does believe that the truth will come out and she has the truth on her side. So long as Mlle. Bustier doesn’t believe she’s a cheater, she’s in little danger from wild accusations like that so long as she doesn’t actually cheat.
But then again… that’s how propaganda works. The dirty looks – just a couple, not the whole class by any means – that greet Marinette when she walks into the classroom the next day remind Marinette of that fact. Even if it’s not the truth, if it’s what people hear, and especially if it’s all of what people hear or what they hear over and over, they’ll start believing it.
And to her credit, Lila is persistent.
Alya nudges her, and Marinette sees the look that Alya points from her to Lila. She shakes her head. “Don’t.” She says softly, just for Alya’s ears. “It’s not worth it.”
“It’s an honest mistake, right? If she really did think I cheated, she did the right thing by telling the teacher.” Marinette says smoothly. It really isn’t worth it. Every confrontation is another moment for Lila to spin. It’s better to just let it die and not make it into a federal issue. Besides, no apology from Lila would be genuine, anyway, so Marinette doesn’t want it. And she especially doesn’t want to have to accept it or risk looking like the bad guy.
No. It’s better to let it go.
Alya smiles at Marinette and nods and leaves it alone. Marinette appreciates that Alya wants to get Lila to apologize, even if it would do more harm than good, so she touches Alya’s arm and smiles back. Thanks.
It still nags at her, deep in the back of her mind, and she knows in another time she’d be freaking out over what Lila might do, if she’s willing to lie about that, but she has much better things to think about than another of Lila’s failed ploys. Her sketchbook really does just take priority in her mind.
And then comes strike two.
Marinette can’t really express how wonderful the art program at Françoise Dupont is. In just that small room there is all the basic supplies and materials. Paints and pencils and clay and the rest, but for the art club there’s so much more. Alix has a whole billboard set up and spray paints with a mask and everything. The members of Kitty Section there have an area where they can practice with microphones and speakers and a little stage. As long as they clean up after themselves and don’t get too in the way of regular art classes, the art club gets more than Marinette ever could have expected.
That applies to herself, too, of course. She has a dress form and a small folding table to work on that, since no one else in the club regularly works on fashion design, is largely just her own. It’s not hers, of course, but it may as well be and everyone knows it.
That said, if someone wants to use her table or her dress form, all they have to do is ask. Nathanaël has used her mannequin before, and a lot of students have borrowed her sewing table.
Marinette walks into the art club expecting to work on the little project she has going there. It’s a side project, really, but she’s pretty excited for it. She likes to experiment with her projects at school, so even though she isn’t too far into this one, it’s fiddly and difficult and took a lot of time to get to where it is. She’s never tried this shape before, so it is an interesting challenge. Or, if not that, she’ll look around to see if she left her sketchbook there. It really can’t be, since she had used it and found it missing between the last times she’d been in the room, but as time wears on she becomes less sure and more desperate, so she may as well look anyway. The last thing she expects is the same dirty looks from when she stepped into the classroom. From more people this time.
But that happens sometimes. Lila says something, people give her some looks, and it wears away. Marinette doesn’t let it bother her anymore. What’s not okay is when she turns into the storage room to pull out her project and finds bright, garish, clashing fabrics draped and pinned haphazardly on the dress form. Marinette assumes it’s supposed to be a dress.
Okay. She takes a deep breath. The panic in her chest is familiar enough that she can stamp it down long enough to take stock of the situation. She’s got the tools for that, at least. Calm down. Someone else wanted to use it. That’s fine. They must have put my dress around here somewhere. She doesn’t own the form, so she can’t be mad that someone else has taken it. It’s definitely rude, but there’s only one, so she understands. It must have just been someone who was here while Marinette wasn’t, so they couldn’t ask her to take her dress off of it. That’s fine. Even if they do have… questionable taste. They just haven’t done it before. She thinks, examining the garment. Yeah. This is just someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
The designer and the girl in her can’t begrudge that. If someone else in the school is taking an interest in design, even just a passing one, she shouldn’t be critical of a beginner. I can tell what it is! I think. So that’s good. That seam should really be placed a little further to the side, though.
With a shake of her head, she dismisses the garment on the form. With dread, she begins searching for her own piece. It is, theoretically, in a place where she can take it off the form without problems, but if the same person who made the dress on it removed hers… well, Marinette really doesn’t trust that they knew not to touch any of the pins.
Whoever it is is clearly a beginner, so they might not recognize exactly what stage Marinette’s dress is at. It’s all put together and everything, but not sewn. It’s just held together by pins and… well… at the school, the pins are also a shared resource.
But where can Marinette’s dress be?
Marinette looks around the dress form and finds nothing. She looks on the shelf nearby, where she normally stores her things and where it makes sense to put anything taken off the dress form standing directly next to it, but no luck there, either. She sweeps through the rest of the room, but her dress isn’t anywhere to be found. She goes back to her shelf and… Hang on. No. No, no, no, no, no!
It can’t be gone! Who would even mess with my sketches?! All of her references, from her sketches to her research on techniques, were stored there with her dress but it isn’t just her dress that has vanished, but her entire project. This can’t be happening. Not with my sketchbook gone, too!
There’s a tension in her chest and her breath is short and she throws a hail Mary because she doesn’t know what else to do. She pokes her head back out into the art room and calls out. “Hey, guys? Has anyone seen my project?” A few people glare at her – she still doesn’t know why – but the ones that don’t shake their heads. Oh. Oh, no. Marinette sighs.
She’s turning away to search the storage room again when Nathanaël slaps his hand over his mouth and gasps audibly. He doesn’t let go of his paint brush so bright blue paint splatters across his face and over his shoulder, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Before she can say anything, he drops his brush and sprints over to the doorway Marinette is standing in. Marinette stumbles back at his sudden approach. “Nathanaël?”
“It couldn’t be.” Nathanaël mumbles. His face is still frozen in that terrified gasp as he drops to his knees and grabs the trash bin next to the wall. “There’s no way someone would…”
He reaches in and pulls out scrap after scrap of beautiful red fabric, each one torn and with its own scar of muddy paint or used tissues or marks of discarded pencils. Very, very carefully, Nathanaël lays each piece flat on the floor, and a very familiar shape emerges.
When he’s done, Nathanaël covers his mouth again. He looks like he’s about to cry, but Marinette can’t be sure because she has to look through her own tears to see.
“I saw it earlier…” Nathanaël says. “I thought it was scrap you threw out, because it’s just pieces, but…” He chokes over his words.
Marinette doesn’t know what overcomes her when she reaches over and digs through the trash can herself. There, at the bottom, destroyed almost beyond recognition by the paint that had gotten in the can, are her sketches and references. Her patterns are missing entirely.
She’d have to start from scratch.
And she doesn’t even have her sketchbook to just pick a new project from.
“Marinette, I’m so sorry. I can’t image who would do something like this.”
Marinette can. She can, but this time even she isn’t sure she’s right. She has no evidence Lila has ever stepped foot in the art room in her life, much less that she’s tampered with her project. Even though she has a lot to hate Lila for, and even though this feels like such a targeted attack and the first one that comes to mind is Lila, this time, Marinette can’t even blame her. It could very easily be exactly what Marinette first thought it is – a rude beginner who just doesn’t know any better.
That doesn’t make Marinette feel any better.
Nathanaël’s tight, tight hug does a little. Just a tiny, little bit. She hugs him back and cries into his shoulder even though it smells like paint.
When Alya offers to go on a manhunt to find the one who destroyed Marinette’s project, Marinette is tempted to let her. If it is Lila, then Alya may very well bring Lila what’s coming to her. Or, Lila will manipulate the situation and go for pity and accuse Marinette of attacking her for trying to get interested in design. Marinette doubts Alya would fall for that completely. Maybe enough to get off Lila’s back, but not so far as to actually buy the implication that Marinette is just upset that Lila is using the dress form and not the (almost certain) intentional destruction and trashing of Marinette’s own project.
It’s tempting, but… if it really is just some poor fool who doesn’t know any better, then there are quite a few people who would be much better to send after them than Alya. Alya can be a little aggressive, especially with matters like this in which Marinette is clearly and obviously wronged. She isn’t an artist herself, but Alya spends enough time with Marinette to know how important every project is to her. No one just tosses someone else’s projects, no matter the situation.
Marinette looks through her phone as Alya rants. In her list of text conversations, she finds a name that she hasn’t talked to in too long. Really, too long. With the shadow hanging over her, she thinks that maybe, if anyone could help her past this atrocious week, maybe he can. No offense to Alya, but… well, as much as Marinette loves her, family is always on another level. He’ll always know her best, even if she doesn’t see him too often during the school year.
“Alya.” Marinette says. She’s tired. After a day like this… she’s just tired. Too tired for Alya’s anger. She’s appreciative, but she just can’t handle it right now. “What’s done is done.”
“What?! Come on, girl. Whoever did that to you was way out of line! We need to find them and teach them a lesson!”
Marinette sighs. It’s already a loss. I won’t get that dress back. “Please, just… I’m tired. I just want to find my sketchbook and move on.”
Alya watches her carefully but nods and opens one of her drawers to look for her sketchbook. There’s a fire in her eyes, a determination, and she moves fast. Marinette methodically combs her room once more, and then together they look through the rest of the house in near silence.
Still no sketchbook.
Marinette falls asleep almost as soon as she hits her pillow that evening, but she’s fitful and when she wakes up she feels even more tired.
This is the worst week of my life. At least there hasn’t been an akuma. She flinches at the mere thought, and sighs heavily. And now I’ve jinxed it. Can’t wait for today’s fight.
When she gets to school, after a walk that feels a hundred times as far as it truly is, Marinette is dumping a few things in her locker when Alya comes up to her with strike three.
“Marinette!” Alya yells. “You won’t believe this!” She’s waving her phone like Marinette can read the conversation on it. “Lila found your sketchbook!”
There’s a rollercoaster that Marinette’s heart decided to take a ride on. It soars up, when she hears “found your sketchbook.” Found. We found it! And then the rollercoaster plummets suddenly when the track disappears. “Lila found…” Lila.
Marinette knows she’s pale, and the look Alya gives her is incredulous but humoring. No. No, no, no. I can’t. I can’t deal with this. She’s done something and I can’t… I can’t handle this.
“Marinette! Alya!” Lila’s voice. Marinette feels like she’s rotting. Like Chat Noir just cataclysm’d her from the inside out and she’s rapidly disintegrating. Tears are in her eyes before Lila can even pull out her own crocodile versions. “I’m so, so sorry!” Lila says. “I found it, but it looks like something got to it. Probably the pigeons. It was under the stairs, so they must have gotten to it while everyone was in class or gone home.”
Lila holds out her hands, and the sketchbook within them.
If one can even call it a sketchbook anymore.
It’s completely and utterly obliterated. Torn to shreds. Every page. The harder covers are pretty much all that’s left. The spiral binding is twisted and gnarled. The only thing even identifying it as Marinette’s sketchbook is her name, barely legible, scribed inside the thick, hard cover. Not a single page, not a single design is recognizable. Most aren’t even there.
Trembling, Marinette takes the disfigured sketchbook and clutches it tightly to her chest. Everything she’s been working on. Months of her life. Gone. Just like that. Because of her.
Marinette can’t tear her eyes from the book, though, to see what Lila is doing.
“I’m so sorry, Marinette. This must be terrible.”
She doesn’t trust herself to speak. All she can choke out is. “Don’t.”
In her periphery, she can still see Lila recoil. “Sorry? I… I know you don’t like me, Marinette, but you know this isn’t my fault. You don’t need to push me away.”
“Don’t.” Marinette breathes once more.
She feels Alya’s hand on her back. “Mari…”
Marinette peels herself away violently. “Go. Please. Just… leave me alone.”
Marinette is heading for the doors, but she hears Alya behind her. “Come on, Lila. It’s not you, I promise. It’s just that that thing is super important to her. She’s going through a lot right now. I’m sure she’ll come and thank you for finding it once she calms down.”
Thank her. The very thought is insulting. Marinette chokes on her own breath and runs. A few people call her name, people she must have passed, but she hardly hears them. She runs and runs until she collapses in the grass. She’s in the park outside the school, she knows, but past that she just cries.
When her tears stop coming, she’s still alone. The few passersby around look at her oddly, but it’s schooltime so there aren’t many people around.
She stares at the remains of her sketchbook and swallows the sticky lump of phlegm in her throat. She sniffs back the last of her tears and sets her jaw. Tikki is in her purse, and makes her presence known with a quiet press against her side, but… it doesn’t help.
She really did think she could handle Lila, but this… this is a new level of cruel. This is beyond her initial threat. This isn’t just manipulation, it’s the dismantling of Marinette’s base. Her art, her design, that’s what she can always go back to. Tikki tells her that every problem has a solution, but her art? It’s the creativity that allows her to see the solutions even when they aren’t obvious.
But with that gone… she only has one more thing to turn to.
She pulls out her phone and finds the right name and presses the call button. She knows he’s in class, but she hopes that he’ll pick up anyway. They don’t usually call each other. If they need to talk it’s usually through text, so she hopes he’ll realize it’s important.
But she does feel bad about pulling him out of class. After the second ring, she’s about to end the call and just text and wait, but then there’s a click and a breathy voice. “Mari? What’s up? I was in class.”
Marinette chokes on her words. “S-sorry. I didn’t know what else to do.”
The voice on the line is immediately tense. “Are… are you crying? Marinette? What happened?”
Explaining everything takes a long time, because Marinette keeps crying even more throughout it, but he’s patient and waits for her to tell her tale without interrupting her. When she finally finishes with the last bad thing of the week, she hears a heavy exhale. “Damn.” He says. “I’m… so sorry. That’s a lot.”
“Y-yeah.” Marinette wipes at her eyes again. Her lids are starting to hurt from how often she’s done that. “It’s just too much. All on top of each other.”
“I hear you.” He sighs. “What are we going to do?”
“Do?” Marinette hesitates, and then she chuckles ruefully. “What can we do?”
“Well,” he says, “we have to do something. It’s not going to get better so long as you have that girl on your back.”
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t prove she’s lying. I can’t call her out.”
“Maybe not, but we’ll figure something out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course. I’ve got your back. We’ll figure it out together. After all, what are brothers for?”