Chapter 1: Prologue
Marinette's feet felt as heavy as stone as she trudged up the sidewalk towards the school. A month ago, her feet felt light and airy whenever she started walking to her first class. She used to look forward to girl talk with Alya and the others, mooning over Adrien, and what other wonderful surprises the day had in store for her. But ever since Lila had returned to school and gotten the class under her spell, Marinette never knew whether she would spin another tale and make everyone mad at Mari.
It was taking all of Marinette's strength to keep things as calm and neutral between her and her friends as possible. She had been trying desperately to relieve some of the tension with only some success. But no matter how tense things were between them, they were still her friends.
Besides, Marinette could not blame them entirely for believing Lila's wild tales. As much as she hated to admit it, the Rossi girl had had a valid point—people believe what they wanted to believe. After all, Marinette had only seen through her lies because of her most infamous fibs of being besties with Ladybug—who was secretly Marinette. If Lila had not unknowingly lied about Mari, would the pigtailed girl have been onto her in the first place?
At first, she had been upset at Adrien for not helping her expose Lila. But soon, she remembered Gabriel, and how he had raised his son to obey without protest, to always been seen and not heard. Marinette could not blame Adrien for following his upbringing, no matter how abusive it was. Victims of those things applied that knowledge to everyone they came in contact with.
As such, Marinette knew that all she could do was hold on and hope, hope, hope with all her heart that sooner or later, the class would see through Lila's ridiculous stories. Because that's what friends did, even if things had been rather one-sided lately. She believed in them. Amd nothing could deter her from that belief.
In her deep trance of thoughts and fears of what drama the day might bring, Marinette did not notice a rock in her path, not until it was too late. The next thing she knew, she was jerked from her train of thought and went stumbling forward. She shut her eyes tight, preparing to feel the hard slap of concrete against her face. But it never came.
It was only moments later that she felt two strong hands on her arms, holding her up. Slowly, she opened her eyes to see a handsome face. The features were chiseled, coated in smooth, tan skin. The eyes were a rich cocoa brown, matching the color of his smooth, shiny hair, slicked back into a feathered style. The half-smile he wore on his face, showing his pearly white teeth, would make any girl swoon. After a moment, he spoke, his voice deep and charming. "I know we just just met, but no need to fall for me."
Marinette laughed, half at the joke and half at their awkward meeting, as she pulled herself to an upright standing position. "Sorry about that.", she said, tucking some stray hairs behind her ear nervously. The boy waved it off. "No problem. I'm flattered. Its not everyday that I literally bump into a pretty girl." That made Marinette's face turn red as her Ladybug costume. They had only just met less than a minute ago, and he had already made a pass at her, and called her pretty. And she thought Chat Noir was forward.
The boy thrust his hand out towards her. "Henri LeRoi." She smiled and shook his hand. "Marinette Dupain-Cheng." His brown eyes grew wide. "Marinette...lovely name. Just rolls off the tongue." He said it again, slower and softer this time. "Marinette...its beautiful. But hey...I can't expect less from a beautiful girl."
Now her awkwardness factor had been pumped up to eleven. She looked away, fiddling with her pigtails. She had just been promoted from pretty to beautiful in a matter of seconds. This boy definitely knew how to make a girl blush, as proven by the dark crimson color the skin on her face had taken on. "So...I better get to Francois Dupont..."
Henri smile brightened. "What a coincidence! I'm starting there today!" She looked back, matching his grin. "Really? That's great! That means we'll be seeing more of each other!" "Might I be so bold as to escort you onto the premises?", he asked, in a teasing tone. Marinette giggled at his hoity play accent and replied, "T'would be my honor, Mousier LeRoi."
And with that, they linked arms and went marching into the school. Marinette's heart suddenly felt much lighter than it had in weeks.
Lila Rossi finished gathering her things from her locker when she noticed Marinette enter the room. Lila always had a sixth sense for when her foe walked in. But the thing that really caught her attention was that the rival was on the arm of a really good-looking dude. He was tall and muscular and dressed fashionably, and he and Marinette were laughing, like they had known each other forever.
"Seriously? You're in Madame Bustier's class, too?" "It'll be so great to have you there! I'll save you a seat, kay?" The new boy smiled at her charmingly. "Kay. See ya in class, cutie." And he winked and shot her finger guns. Imagine Lila's surprise when Marinette giggled as she skipped off to class. Oh, no. She wasn't going to let Marinette have that boy as a friend or anything else. She didn't get that. Time for another play of the victim card.
Once she was certain Marinette was gone, she snuck up next to the boy and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, and Lila put on her best pitiful face. "Hey...I saw you talking to Marinette. I know she might seem nice, but there's something you should know about her..." To her surprise, Henri didn't let her get another word in. "Save it. I know about you, Lila. Marinette told me all about you. How you're lying to everyone, trying to turn them all against her."
Lila fumed. The class had listened to her stories. Why wasn't this boy? "Whatever she's said about me, its not true! She's the one bullying me! She hates me for no good reason! She's just jealous that I've done all these awesome things, meeting princes and rockstars, and she's just a dumb baker girl!" Henri raised his eyebrows. "Really? You met the prince? Because last I checked, your mom isn’t allowed take you on her missions."
Lila's face paled. How had he known that? "How...How did you..." "I looked you up on social media when Marinette mentioned you.", he said, stroking his chiseled chin with a devious smirk. "Didn't find any profiles matching you, but I did find your mom’s official webpage on the site for the embassy she works at. I know its her because she mentioned you were her daughter and posted the occasional childhood photograph of you on the family tab. But the embassy rules on the website clearly state that the members aren’t allowed to take their kids with them on foreign missions. I wonder...if she didn’t take you, where have you really been all that time? Maybe I should go to the address on her profile and ask her. Tell to check in with the school, just to be safe..."
Never, in all her weeks of careful planning and manipulations, had Lila been so terrified. This new boy saw through her ruse. What's more, he held the keys to her demise. This was something that she had been dreading since she returned to school, yet had hoped and prayed would never happen. Her whole world was threatening to crumble right before her very eyes.
But before she lie her way out of her situation, or at the very least, get on her knees and beg him not to follow through on his threats, promising him anything under the sun if he only kept her secrets, the new boy surprised her by simply saying, "But instead, I'll make you a little bargain." Lila blinked twice, confused with this sudden and unexpected turn of events. "Pardon?"
The new guy folded his arms over his chest, leaning in towards her, speaking softly so their conversation would not be overheard by unwelcome. "Here's the deal...you keep playing that little game of yours, and I'll keep my mouth shut. What's more, I'll steer her clear of her friends...especially that Adrien guy."
Lila blinked again. A minute ago, this guy had been threatening to expose her to the world. Now, not only was he promising to keep silent for her, he was offering to keep Marinette away from her friends, leaving them all to herself. Lila's one eyebrow and suspicions rose. "What's the catch?" "No catch.", he said. "Just keep doing what you're doing. This way, you can have your crowd of admirers without any interference...and I get Marinette all to myself. Everybody wins."
It all clicked in Lila's mind. So that was his angle. He figured that if all of Marinette's friends were against her, he would have no problems keeping her all to himself, like a dragon hoarding treasure. Of course, when someone offers to not only keep your darkest secrets, but also help you carry on your charade of being special, you don't pass it up. A part of Lila was disappointed that she had failed to turn the boy against Marinette, but she figured it was a worthy sacrifice if it meant no more pigtail girl trying to expose her. So, she smiled wickedly and said, "Deal." And they shook on it before parting ways.
Adrien walked into the classroom, double-checking that all of his school supplies were in order, when he looked up and saw Lila sitting in Nino's seat. Nino and Alya followed in after, seeing what their friend saw. "Oh, is your tinnitus acting up again?", asked Alya. Lila nodded. "Sadly, yes. But don't wirry aboyt Marinette. She'll be just fine." She jerked her thumb behind her, and all three looked towards the back row.
There was Marinette, sitting there, only she did not see any of them. She was too engrossed in a conversation with a boy that they did not recognize, with dark hair and dark eyes and a smile on his face. "His name's Henri. He just transferred here.", explained Lila. She eyed Adrien with a mean smile. "They look pretty cozy, don't they?"
Nino shrugged. "Well, long as she's got company, I guess it'd be okay for me to sit in her seat." He and Alya went to sit in the second row without any protest, but Adrien stayed behind, staring at the sight before him. He wasn't sure why, but his inner alarm bells were ringing when he looked at the new guy. There was something about him that sent his Chat Noir super senses tingling.
Marinette looked into her backpack for something, and that's when Henri noticed Adrien's stare on them. Their eyes met across the room, and that's when it happened. Henri's brown eyes narrowed, and he sent a nasty smirk Adrien's way, one that made the model boy's blood turn to ice in his veins. Then, the moment right before Marinette turned back, Henri was back to his former, cheerful, non-threatening self, chatting happily with her.
All of the sudden, Adrien felt sick, his head spinning, his stomach churning, his heartbeat ceasing fir a few seconds before it started beating a hundred times a minute. He didn't know what had just happened or why, but he had an awful feelings that things would never be the same again.
Chapter 2: The Ol’ Sympathetic Ear
Marinette adjusted the straps of her backpack over her shoulders. Taking her lunch break at home wasn't something she really enjoyed, but it did provide her a much-needed break from all the Lila drama, if only a short one. As she headed for the exit, she heard a gentle voice call out to her. She glanced over her shoulder to see Henri standing there, smiling. "Where are you going?"
"Home for lunch.", she said plainly. "Its the only way I can get a break from you-know-who." He followed her line of vision to the class, all crowded around their teller of tales, who was drinking in all the attention. The only ones who were absent from her shrine were Marinette, Henri and Adrien, who was taking his lunch break at a fitting.
Henri smirked. "If you're worried about being lonely, I'll sit with you." Marinette brightened a bit. "Really?" It felt like such a long time since someone had sat with her at lunch. Everyone always flocked to Lila's table to hear more stories about her totally awesome, totally fake life. For Mari, it was either sit alone or join the others at Lila's place, and heaven knows that last one wasn't going to happen.
Henri nodded. "Really. We'll sit far away from those dumb sheep." Marinette winced. Whether or not they chose to believe Lila's stupid stories, she wasn't very comfortable with someone calling them "dumb sheep". On the other hand, they weren't really making a good first impression on Henri, and he was only trying to make her feel better. So she decided to let it slide just this once.
He offered her his hand. "Shall we, m'lady?" Marinette blinked at that nickname. M'lady. That was Chat Noir's name for her when they saw each other in costume. Even though she found the name cheesy and a little irritating, she wasn't sure she was comfortable with someone else referring to her in the same way. But Henri didn't know. So she just took his hand and didn't say a word.
Alya got some napkins from the lunch supplies table and placed them onto her tray hastily. Lila was in the middle of the story of how she had been offered a movie deal, and the journalist did not want to miss a second of it. However, as soon, as she spun around, she caught sight of something that, for once, made her forget all about Lila for a minute.
Marinette was sitting at a table far away. But she wasn't alone. The new guy was sitting with her, just like he had in class. They looked just as comfy and cozy together as they had in the back row. Alya picked up on their dynamic right away. Even though they had only just met hours before, they were chatting and laughing like they had known each other for ages.
Then something bug happened, so big, Alya might have never forgiven herself if she had missed it. Marinette blushed. Her cheeks turned a soft pink, her cheeks swelling as the corners of her mouth pressed up against them, as she looked at Henri. Alya recognized that blush right away. It was the exact same blush that was usually saved for Adrien, and on occasion, Luka. It surprised Alya. This guy must have been smooth to get that blush on his first day.
Alya hadn't realized that she had arrived at the table until she bumped into the ledge, bruising her hip. "Yow!" The others immediately asked if she was alright, and she quickly said she was fine. Satisfied with her answer, they all turned their attention back to Lila, who picked up where she had left off. Only this time, Alya was paying no attention.
She knew she should be happy that Marinette had a new friend. But there was something about Henri that just gave Alya a funny feeling in her stomach.
"No! No! This is all wrong!" Vincent groaned in frustration as his subject refused to work with him. "Come on! Show me Adrien Agreste's smile!" He tried again, but still, the boy's smile did not appear. Finally, Vincent ordered a five minute break in hopes that the model would use the time to take care of whatever was ailing him.
Adrien knew that he should be more cooperative, but he didn't feel like smiling. All day, the sinking feeling that he had gotten from Henri's nasty look had stuck with him, and he hadn't been able to shake it. All he could think about was the cruel smirk on the other boy's cocoa lips, and the scheming glint in his eye. How could he get such a bad feeling in his gut from one look from a guy he didn't even know?
Not to mention, the way he had switched from nice guy to wicked and back again so fast was baffling. The exchange was as quick as lightning. Blink at the wrong moment, and you'd miss it entirely. And it had all hinged on whether or not Marinette was looking. Did she have something to do with it?
"Hey, kid. You ready to get back to work, or are you still lost in la la land?" Plagg's voice piped up in the privacy of the dressing room, jerking Adrien out of his thoughts. The green-eyed boy sighed as he ran his hands through his golden hair. "I just can't stop thinking about that new guy, Plagg. I don't know what it is, but something about him bugs me."
"Maybe its jealousy.", suggested his kwami. Adrien looked flustered at such an idea. "Jealousy? Why would I be jealous of that guy? I just met him!" Plagg rolled his eyes. "No reason." Adrien glared at his friend as the tiny cat ate his beloved Camembert, back to minding his own business.
"So, Adrien knows, but he's not doing anything?" Marinette sighed. She had just finished relaying the entire story to her new friend, no details spared. She had tried her best to give others perspectives as well as her own, so that her friends would not look like total jerks, but he still seemed entirely disgusted by their actions, especially Adrien's.
"Its not entirely his fault. He missed a bunch of stuff, and I've left out a few details when talking to him as well." "Why?", asked Henri. "Don't you want him on your side?" Marinette fidgeted. "I dunno...I mean, Lila's already gotten akumatized three times. And each time, she's been a tough foe for Ladybug and Chat Noir. I don't want to trigger her a fourth time. What if next time, she actually succeeds as a akuma? I can't set that into motion!"
Henri rolled his eyes. "If you want, Marinetre, I won't say anything. But if you ask me...I think you'd be better off not listening to Adrien. In fact...dare I say, I think you're better off without him, period. And that goes for your other so-called 'friends'. You deserve better." Marinette beamed, her stomach full of butterflies, the good kind, not the kind used by Hawkmoth. "That's so sweet of you."
Adrien arrived back at school for the rest of the school day and sat in his usual seat at the front. Lila was still there, and Nino and Alya sat in the row behind him. Marinette had not arrived back at class yet, but Adrien was hoping when she did, she would get her seat back so he did not have to sit next to Lila.
Moments later, she walked into the classroom. Adrien brightened a bit—until Henri walked in right behind her. They were engaged in yet another conversation, and it was really starting to cheese off Adrien that every time he saw them, they were chitchatting as if they were the best of friends, considering how Henri still gave him a churning stomach feeling whenever he entered his vision.
Still, he put on his usual fake smile, the one he had perfected from years of nonstop modeling, and said cheerily, "Hi, Marinette!" To his shock, she didn't seem to hear him. She didn't even glance in his direction. Her blue eyes were locked onto Henri's brown ones as they climbed the stairs, passing by Adrien and all the others as if they weren't even there. It was once they reached the middle of the steps did Adrien notice they were holding hands.
Alya noticed the sad, surprised look on Adrien's face, and leaned in towards him. "They spent all of lunch together.", she whispered, catching Nino and Lila's attention. "He was talking her up like he's known her all his life! And get this—once, when I was looking at her, she blushed!" She hit that last word hard. "Hit" being a good word to describe her tone, because that one word made Adrien feel like he'd taken a hit to a gut.
Nino looked baffled at the idea. Here, he and his girlfriend had been plotting and scheming for months to get their two best friends to date one another. And now, just like that, her interests had changed? What a turn of events! It was a discovery that needed a few moment to process in his head.
Lila, on the other hand, could scarcely contain her delight. She knew now that she had made the right choice bargaining with Henri. Not only was he steering Marinette away from her friends, but he was actually catching her eye and her heart. Which meant one less girl Lila had to compete with for Adrien's attention. She managed to keep her cool as she commented slyly, "I think they make a lovely couple. Don't you, Adrien?"
Choking down the urge to vomit, the blond boy mumbled out, "Sure.", and turned to Mme. Bustier, hoping that the focus on his lessons would distract him from the fact that that sickly feeling he had caught from Henri had been increased by a thousandfold.
Chapter 3: The Plot Thickens
Adrien swung his sword about absentmindedly, his thoughts on something other than fencing strategies for practice in ten minutes. It had been two whole weeks since Henri had arrived at school, and nothing had gotten better. In fact, if Adrien was being completely honest with himself, things were kind of worse.
Marinette was spending all her time with Henri. She walked to class with him, sat in the back row with him, ate her lunch with him, and even hung out afterschool and on weekends with him. They barely spent a moment apart. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that it seemed as if the more time she spent with Henri, the less time she spent with everyone else.
Marinette had not spoken with Adrien very often before, that was true. But now she scarcely even said hi to him when she walked past him in the halls with Henri. It seemed as of whenever the brunette boy was around, he somehow triggered a force of some sort that made Adrien invisible. Mari hardly even responded to his texts anymore.
Adrien had been expecting, or rather hoping, that the sick feeling Henri gave him would simply fade away over time. But the results were quite opposite. The longer Henri stayed, the more the sickly sensation inside of Adrien grew and grew, until just looking at Henri would make him dizzy and nauseous.
Adrien sighed, pushing his bad feelings to the bottom for now, and went off to the yard to begin.
Plop! Adrien fell on his rear end once more. Getting back up for the fifth time that afternoon, he wielded his sword. "Engarde!" He waited for his fencing partner to strike back. Instead, the opponent in the red suit stood still. Adrien repeated the phrase. In response, Kagami lifted away her mask, and Adrien saw the concern on her face. "You seem off today.", she said in her usual monotone. "Is something bothering you?"
Adrien was quick to shake his head. "No! Of course not!" Kagami narrowed her dark eyes at him. The blond relented. He knew he could not hide anything from her. She could see through anyone's phoniness almost instantly. "Fine.", he moaned. "Its...Its my friend, Marinette. We haven't talked in a while."
A soft gasp escaped Kagami's lips. Not talked? How was this possible? She had known from the start that Marinette was absolutely head over heels for Adrien. "Did you have a disagreement?" Adrien shook his head. "No...there's this new guy in school. Ever since he showed up, she's kinda been ignoring me. I know I should be happy that she has a new friend and all, but..." He didn't finish. Kagami pursed her lips. "But?", she pushed him to go further.
Adrien braced himself. "I can't explain why...but something about him rubs me the wrong way. Ever time I look at him, I get this really bad feeling, like I'm gonna throw up or something. Which is totally weird because he's never said a word to me, but he gave me this weird look and...I just don't feel like I can trust him. And its driving me crazy that I don't know why I feel this way about him!"
Kagami puckered her lips, pondering Adrien's words. Finally, she said, "Perhaps you don't like him because you're jealous." She looked at him, waiting fir a reply. He lifted his mask, and Kagami saw the annoyed look at his face. "Jealousy? Why would I be jealous of him?" First Plagg, now Kagami?
The fencer paused. From where she stood, it seemed like the most logical explanation. This new boy shows up and steals all of Marinette's attention, and Adrien had already admitted to feeling ignored by her. To support her thesis, Adrien had always been rather dense. He had to have been, to not recognize that Marinette had a crush on him, even though it was quite clear to literally everyone else. Perhaps he just never experienced jealousy before and therefore, could not identify it.
Finally, after a moment of quiet between them, she said quite simply, "No reason." Adrien frowned at her, but did not push the subject further. They went straight back to practicing.
"...and then the guy says, 'Banana? I don't even own one!'" Tom and Sabine burst into peals of laughter at his joke. "Good one!", Tom choked out between chuckles. Henri looked back at Marinette, who was finishing mixing the batter, and they shared a smile.
"Oh, Henri! You're a riot!", said Sabine. "We're glad Marinette met you! You're such a nice young man!" "Thank you, Madame Cheng.", said Henri. He stepped behind Marinette and started holding her arms from behind, making her blush, and helped her pour the batter carefully into the pan. "I'm glad Marinette met me, too. She is just the most amazing girl I've ever met!"
Marinette giggled. "Oh, Henri...you're making me blush." "Well, its true.", the brunette boy insisted as they poured the batter together. "You're so kind and talented, and I don't need to tell you that you're the prettiest girl in school!" Marinette smirked a bit. "You should tell Chloe that. She's pretty convinced she holds that title."
Sabine and Tom could not stop smiling. It had been months since they had seen their daughter this happy. Ever since that dreadful Lila girl had come to school, it seemed as if Marinette had been slowly fading away back into her old, withdrawn self. But that light inside had glowing brighter at rapid speed since Henri had walked into her life. And the Dupain-Chengs wanted it to stay that way.
Tom spoke out first. "Marinette, this boy's a keeper! I suggest you snatch him up before some other lucky gal does!" Marinette's face turned bright red. "Papa!" Sabine winced. Tom looked back at his wife. "Too much?" "Too much." Tom looked back at the teens bashfully. "I'll just go...check on the bread." He and Sabine exited, leaving the two alone in the kitchen.
Marinette kept her face averted from Henri's gaze by picking up the pan of batter and bringing to the oven. "I am so sorry about them...they can get in a little too deep when it comes to my love life." She then added under her breath as she opened the oven door and slid the pan in, just low enough so Henri could not hear, "Just ask Chat."
"Really?", came Henri's voice from behind her as she shut the door. "Becayse I think your dad has the right idea." Every muscle in Marinette's body froze when she heard that. Slowly, she turned around, half expecting to see Henri with a goofy grin on his face. But his eyes and smile were sincere as he gazed at her longingly.
He reached out and took her hand in his, smiling fondly at her, adoration etched all over his face. "Marinette...I know I can be kinda a goof sometimes, but...I am crazy about you. You are the kind of girl I've always wanted. So...I was wondering if...you would like to...be my girlfriend?" He looked away, a faint blush dusting his cheeks. "I understand if you say no, but..."
Marinette felt her heart implode with happiness. "Henri...I dunno what to say. I...I like you, too! I mean, I know we've only known each other for a couple weeks, but...it feels like I've known you my entire life. You're the type of boy I've akways fantasized about. Gentle and kind, warm and affectionate...I was so lonely before you came into my life. But now that ypu're in it...you've made me feel things that I haven't felt for a while."
Henri's brown eyes twinkled at her. "So...is that a yes?" Marinette beamed. "Yes, Henri. I would love to be your girlfriend." Henri seemed to take that as an invitation to kiss her on the mouth. Marinette tensed up at first, but soon, her lips melted into his. He tasted like mint. It was glorious.
As they broke apart, Marinette reached for her phone. "My first official relationship! I gotta tell Alya and the girls." Henri coughed, catching her attention, and she saw he looked a tad uncomfortable. "What?" "Again with Alya." Marinette frowned, the high from the confirmation of their new status rapidly falling. "Well, she is my best friend."
"Is she?", asked Henri, his sudden indication shocking his new girlfriend. "Is she really? After all the times she believed Lila over you?" Marinette furrowed her brow at him. "Henri, we've been over this. Its not Alya's fault. Lila is new. What, was Alya just supposed to assume that she's a liar just because I say she is, even without any proof to back me up?"
"So, she assumes you're lying out of jealousy?", said Henri. "You're her best friend. She should know better." "I don't have proof Lila is lying." "And Alya has proof that she's not?" "There's no proof on either side, so Alya wants to give Lila the benefit of the doubt." "What about ypu? You were her friend first. Why don't you get the benefit of the doubt?"
Marinette stared him down. "Henri, I don't like this attitude. I don't want our relationship to start on a sour note. Alya is my friend. They all are. Maybe its hard for you to understand why I'm sticking up for them, because you transferred at a bad time, but they're not bad people. Are they doing something not nice? Sure. Everybody does. Doing a few bad things doesn't make you a bad person. I know in my heart that my friends are good people, who care about me."
Henri looked doubtful, deep in thought, as she continued. "Its not entirely their fault. Lila is manipulating them. She's preying on their lusts and desires, feeding them fantasies. I'm not about to give up on them. I just have to keep trying and hope, hope, hope that they see the truth soon. I know its hard, but I'm willing to wait out the storm for them. Because friends don't give up on each other. No matter what."
Her big blue eyes were shiny as she looked up at Henri. "Please...if you had come here earlier, if you had gotten to know them before Lila came...you would know that they're not bad people. You would know they're worth fighting for." For the longest time, Henri was silent, and it killed her. But she was brought back to life when he smiled and said sweetly, "Okay, Mari. If you say so...I'll wait out the storm with you."
Marinette let out a squeak of joy and leapt up to hug him. "Thank you, Henri! It'll be so much easier to bear this whole thing with you by my side!" "I'm here for you, Maribelle.", he said kindly. "And I'm gonna help you in any way I can." Since Marinette had her head on his shoulder, she did not see the cruel smile that graced his lips, or the malevolent look in his eyes that in no way matched his tone of voice.
Lila was doing her homework when her phone dinged with a text. She looked at the screen and saw a sequence of numbers that she did not recognize. The text itself was coear.
We need to talk.
Lila picked up the device and called the number. It picked up after the first ring. "Its me." Lila's brow furrowed. "Henri? Why are you calling me?" "I'm calling to update the plan." Lila got even more perplexed. "Update?" "Ypu know, the plan to separate Marinette from her friends.", he explained over the phone. "We need to change strategies." Lila frowned. "Why?"
"I've been trying to poison her mind against the class since day one.", said Henri. "I thought the more I kept her away from them and was the model friend, she'd eventually drop them. But no matter how much I remind her if what they did, she still makes excuses for them. Its clear her heart is too strong. If we keep doing things this way, nothing will change. As long as she thinks they're good at heart and they're only victims of you, she's gonna keep fighting for them."
Lila listened to every word with patience and understanding. He was right. Marinette was too fond of her friends to let them go without a fight. Smearing her name would do little to deter her from her mission. This was proven. "So, what do you suggest we do instead?" If only Lila could have seen the smirk that spread across Henri's face, full of malice and spite, before he went on. You've done all you can to turn the class against her. Now its time to pull the ol' switcheroo."
Lila was confused. "The ol' switcheroo? What exactly are you suggesting, LeRoi?" "Instead of turning the class against Marinette,", he explained, his voice holding a touch of excitement for the new strategy he was about to propose. "We need to start on turning her against them." Lila's eyes widened, her eyebriws hidden under her blunt bangs. "Turn Marinette against her friends?"
"Marinette knows that the only reason her friends are acting cold is because they're being manipulated by you.", Henri explained, like a professor reciting a lesson to his students. "So, we have to convince her that you have nothing to do with their new attitude. If she think that they're truly the bullies they're acting like now, that that's who they've always been all along, she'll think they're not worth fighting for."
Lila grinned from ear to ear. Of course... Marinette was too pure and strong of heart to ever give up on someone she thought was worth saving. So the only way to get her to back off her friends was to make her believe they weren't worth saving. If the class fell out of her favor, she would stop fighting for them, leaving them in Lila's clutches forever. It was perfect.
"How can I help?", she asked. "Make up an excuse to not come to school for the next few days.", Henri told her. "This us something I need to start solo. Stay out of school for at least a week, and when you come back, we'll discuss further plans there." "Deal. I'll just tell everyone my mom had a last-minute mission. And I'll fake an illness with my mom. Good luck."
She hung up the phone, then dialed another, more familiar number on it. "Gabriel? Its Lila. I thought I should keep you updated. There's been a slight change of plans. Let me explain..."
Chapter 4: True Colors
Adrien looked through his satchel, gathering his things for class, when Marinette skipped into the classroom, grinning like the cat that got the cream, and humming a happy tune under her breath. Nino, sitting next to Adrien, saw her upbeat demeanor and smiled back. "Well, someone's in a good mood today!", he remarked. Marinette nodded. "I sure am! Where's Alya? I want her to hear this!" "She's running a lil' late.", said Nino. "Why? Whaddaya want her to hear?"
Marinette looked towards the doorway as Henri walked into the classroom, and Adrien had to try and quell his sick stomach once again. "I have a big announcement!", Marinette cried, facing the whole class, who all responded by scooting to the edge of their seats, watching their class representative with wide eyes to show they were listening.
Adrien's green eyes took on a tinge of shock when Marinette reached over and took Henri's hand, lacing his fingers with her own. Her eyes were soft as she looked up at him. Adrien gulped. He wasn't sure what she would say next, but he had a feeling he wasn't going to like it. Marinette looked back her friends and declared, "As of yesterday afternoon, Henri and I are an official couple!"
Adrien felt as if the ground had collapsed under him, leaving to fall into a never-ending vortex of darkness. A black hole opened in his chest, threatening to shallow everything there. He became numb to everything around him. The only thing he could feel was his heart pounding heavily, so hard that he could hear it in his ears.
The rest of the class, however, looked surprised. They had known for a while that Marinette had been in love with Adrien. How had things changed so fast? Still, she seemed happy enough, beaming at Henri. It was best they not come between that. Nino coughed. "That's great, Marinette! Your first boyfriend! This is a big deal."
"Yeah, Marinette!", added Nathaniel. "We're really happy for you." "I think you two make such a cute couple!", Rose swooned romantically. "I gotta admit, Dupain-Cheng,", said Chloe. "You picked a good one. That kid's a real catch." Marinette smiled as the class showered her and Henri woth sweet words of support. All but one.
She saw Adrien sitting in the fromt row, his head bowed. "Adrien?" He looked up, jolting as if he had just awoken suddenly from a nightmare. If only this was a nightmare and not reality, he thought. "Adrien? You've been awfully quiet." Adrien hesitated to answer. Marinette's bluebell eyes were soft, like those of a puppy, silently pleading for his approval of her relationship. How could he tell Marinette that he didn't like Henri? That he didn't feel her boyfriend could be trusted?
No, he could not ruin this for her. He had seen the way she had looked at Henri before she had made the announcement. Like he was the only boy she had ever seen. All he had to back him up on his distrust of Henri was a bad feeling in his gut. That was not enough to convince Adrien to oppose his new relationship with Marinette.
So instead of telling Marinette how he really felt about her new boyfriend, Adrien plastered on a smile, tht fake smile that he had put on so many times, that he had mastered feigning through years of living with his father, and spoke his lines flawlessly, as if they took no effort, when in reality, it was taking everything he had keep up the charade of happiness. "I'm really glad for you, Marinette. Henri is...really lucky to have you."
Her bluebell eyes lit up at his answer, giving him that smile, that sweet, gentle smile that made it all worth it. "Thank you, Adrien. Coming from you...that means a lot to me." He kept his smile on as he looked up at her, silently chanting in his head, its for Marinette, its for Marinette. No one could fake being okay better than Adrien Agreste.
"Oh, by the way.", Nino chimed in. "Lila's gonna be out fir the rest of the week. Her mon had a last minute mission. So you can sit in your old seat if you want." Marinette smiled and nodded. She looked back at Henri, eyes silently requesting permission. He smirked and nodded. Pecking him on the cheek, Marinette ducked under her boyfriend's arm and slid back into her old seat, welcoming it's presence like that of a long-lost friend.
When she reached to get her notebook, she felt someone slide in next to her. She looked back, expecting to see Alya, but was met with Henri's handsome face instead. Marinette blinked a few times. "Henri, you can't sit there. That's Alya's seat." Henri shrugged. "I'm sure she won't mind." Marinette frowned a bit, her pretty eyebrows knitting together. "We should ask her first."
Henri frowned at this. "Why are you so against this? Didn't she do the same to you? Push you out of your seat so she could sit with her boyfriend?" Nino, who had been listening in, sat upright when he heard that. Henri was bringing up painful memories and grudges from the past so he could still sit with his girlfriend. Nino shut his eyes tight, expecting Marinette to agree.
"No, Henri.", she said irritably. "I can't do that to Alya. What, she hurts me, so I hurt her back?" "You know what they say, baby.", Henri told her. "An eye for an eye." "You know what else they say?", she added. "An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind. Hurting Alya back wouldn't do any good. It'd just make me a petty person. And I'm not a petty person.
She took a deep breath. "Look, you can sit there until Alya gets back. Then you can ask her if its okay for you to sit there. If she says no, please move to a different seat." As she turned her attention to the inside of her purse, Adrien and Nino exchanged wary looks.
Seconds later, Alya came running inti the classroom, weary and out of breath. "Sorry I'm late. I overslept editing the Lady..." She lifted her head to see someone else sitting in her seat next to Marinette. "...blog." Her eyes narrowed behind her glasses at Henri, who shot her a nasty smirk. Marinette didn't notice, as she was writing in her notebook.
Alya approached her friend meekly, worried about what she thought was happening. "Marinette?" She looked up, and her pink lips formed an O shape. "Oh! Alya, you're back!" She pointed her pen at her boyfriend beside her. "I told Henri he could sit there until you got back!" Alya sighed in relief. Her worst fears had been debunked.
Henri leaned over and looked at Alya. "You don't mind if we switch seats, right?" Under normal circumstances, Alya might have been willing. But there was something about the look he was giving her, a look that Marinette did not see as she was looking at Alya, that did not sit right with her. Reluctantly, Alya forced out uncertainly, "Uh...I mind a little?"
It was then that Henri's face turned deadly. His face hardened in seconds, and his narrowed eyes took on a sort of glare that made Alya feel cold all over her body. "Why not?", he said, in a tone that was like ice. "You certainly had no problem pushing her to the back so you could sit with your boyfriend."
The silence that followed was louder than if they had all been screaming at the top of their lungs. The three were now the center of attention in the classroom. Wide eyes and wide jaws accompanied almost every face gathered around. The only face that was different was Henri's. He was smirking at Alya in the exact same way Chloe had in the past when she mocked one of her peers.
Alya's face pinched as she stared at Henri. "I...Lila needed the front seat, because of her tinnitus!" Henri looked unmoved. "Marinette didn't sit in the front seat. Nino did." He jerked a thumb towards the capped boy sitting in front of him. "So why couldn't he move to the back? Why did he have to take Marinette's seat?"
Alya fekt like she just got puncjed in the gut. The memories he had mentioned replayed in her head, and realization hit her like a ton of bricks—Henri was right. There was no excuse for what they had done. They didn't need to kick Marinette out of her seat just so Lila could sit in the front row. A wave of shame washed over the auburn-haired girl like a tsumani.
She glanced over at Nino, who now wore the same face she did. A face of guilt. Faced with their mistakes and explanations of it, they had suddenly realized what jerks they had been, pushing aside their close friend just so they could sit together. Alya, the girl who always had a new scoop to announce, questions to ask, a gift fir words, was suddenly speechless.
Marinette was shocked at her boyfriend's behavior. "Henri! That wasn't nice! I told you I wasn't pushing Alya out of her seat! I forgave her for that." Alya's heart both melted and broke. She felt grateful and awful at the same time. She had done something nasty to Marinette, and she still refused to give her a dose of her own medicine, even though Alya would not have blamed her in the slightest if she had.
"No, Mari...", she said softly as Marinette turned around. "He's got a point. I...it was wrong of me to do that. Push you out without your permission. I should have said this sooner...I'm really sorry." Marinette looked sad. "Its okay, Alya. Really, it is. But that doesn't mean I should do the same to you. I'm not that kinda girl."
Alya faked a smile. "Its okay, Marinette. Henri can sit with you. I can go to the back." Marinette's eyes grew sad. "Are you sure?" Another prick. She was so certain not to subject Alya to some karma. She did not deserve Marinette as a friend. Shaking her head, the brunette said in the sweetest tone possible, "Yeah, its fine. I came in late anyway."
Marinette's sad eyes followed Alya as she trudged up the steps to the back of the classroom. She was pulled out of her fantasies by Henri's hand on her shoulder. She looked back at her smiling boyfriend. "See? Toldja she wouldn't mind." Marinette frowned. "After you brought up the past.", she added bitterly. "I told you I wasn't mad at her anymore. And even if I was, that doesn't give you permission to exact revenge. This is between me and Alya."
Henri's face looked sorrowful. "Oh...you're right, baby. I'm really sorry. I'll apologize to her after class. Promise." She looked doubtful as he kissed her on the cheek, but sighed and gave him a sort of smile. "Okay...as long as you're sorry." She smirked. "You're lucky I like you so much." "I sure am.", he confirmed.
Madame Bustier came into the classroom and noticed the new seating arrangement. As Alya explained to her that she was okay switching seats, Adrien replayed the memory of Henri sneering at her over and over again in his mind's eye. He recognized the smirk he had given her. It was the exact same look Henri had given him the day they first saw each other.
At first, Adrien had thought that maybe it had all been in his head. But now...maybe that bad feeling he had about Henri wasn't just jealousy after all.