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Molting

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The thing is, Chloé never should’ve left.

When her father approaches her about a weeklong vacation – he has some business to do in Italy, and he wants her to come, since normally she jumps at the chance to go with him - she’s initially reluctant, which doesn’t make Mayor Bourgeois very happy. He’s never been brave enough to come right out and say it, but he doesn’t like the fact that she’s Queen Bee. He thinks it’s dangerous and would much rather that she left the duties of being a miraculous holder to Ladybug, Chat Noir and Filou.

He would think that even more if he knew how close she came to dying when fighting Ursa Major, which is exactly why Chloé will be forever grateful that footage from that fight hasn’t surfaced in the past two weeks. The last thing she needs is to have an on-going fight with her father over whether or not it’s safe for her to go fight every time an akuma surfaces.

Anyway, because of her duties as Queen Bee, Chloé can’t just drop everything and swan off whenever she wants to. There’s a reason she has permission to keep her miraculous at all times now; Ladybug and Chat Noir are depending on Queen Bee to be there when an akuma attacks, particularly since Filou has only been in a couple of fights and is still very much trying to get his feet under him.

But when she brings it up in conversation, Marinette sensibly points out that she and Adrien have been handling everything without too much trouble until now, and that they do have Filou to fall back on. Plus, it’s only for a week. What can happen in a week?

Famous last words.

She keeps an eye on the news and the Ladyblog while she’s gone, but honestly Chloé’s first inkling that something is wrong is when she gets off the plane. She’s feeling grumpy, tense and depressed after spending a whole week with Audrey Bourgeois (and, mental note, she really needs to explain to her father the difference between a good surprise and a very shitty surprise).

She takes out her phone and powers it on. Amidst a flurry of Facebook and Instagram notifications, she sees a message from Nathaniel of all people. He may be a miraculous holder on occasion now, but they don’t hang out at school and he never messages her. She furrows her eyebrows at the sight of his name and warily unlocks her phone to see the full message.

11:18pm Nathaniel: you are back at school tomorrow, right?

That’s it. One single line, seven words, and that’s all it takes to make Chloé stop dead in her tracks. A heavy feeling seeps into her chest. She wants to message him back, but it’s almost 5am and it’s unlikely Nathaniel is awake yet, much less hovering over his phone waiting for a response. Chloé scowls, rubbing her chest idly with her free hand. She hadn’t planned on going to school today; it’s Friday, she’s exhausted on more than one level, and she wanted the weekend to sleep.

“Chloé,” Mayor Bourgeois calls out. “Come along. Time to go. We’ve got our luggage now.”

“Right,” Chloé says, walking over to him. “I’ve changed my mind, Daddy. I am going to school after all.”

Mayor Bourgeois looks shocked. “But – but Chloé, I thought you said –”

“I know what I said. I changed my mind,” Chloé snaps, stalking outside the airport. The sight of the sun slowly starting to rise over Paris settles something inside of her that’s been a little off all week, but it does nothing to lessen the edginess burning a new hole in her chest.

And then, in the distance towards the center of the city, they hear the explosion.

“Oh dear,” says Mayor Bourgeois fretfully.

“Sir, it appears there’s an akuma attack in progress. We should get you to safety,” says one of the security guys.

“Right.” Mayor Bourgeois nods briskly and beckons to Chloé. “Let’s go. We can stay in my office until that business is taken care of.”

“Your office?” Chloé repeats, staring at him like he’s dumb. Her father sometimes, honestly.

“It will be safer than trying to get to the hotel,” he says.

Chloé rolls her eyes so hard that it hurts. “Pollen, buzz on!”

Yellow magic brightens the air around her; Queen Bee snaps her wrist and grabs hold of her stinger. She must look as pissed off as she feels because the security team scatters out of her way. Mayor Bourgeois stutters some weak protests behind her that Queen Bee ignores as she throws out her stinger. It wraps around a statute in the distance and promptly yanks her off her feet.

In less than five minutes, she’s almost to the battle. As she gets closer, she takes in the scene with narrowed eyes. The akuma looks like a human-size robot. It’s currently parrying with Chat Noir, who is clearly struggling. Queen Bee spares a second or two to wonder how long the battle has been going on for before she decides she doesn’t really care. Time to see what her stinger will do to a robot.

She lands right behind the robot and bellows, “Venom!” right before stabbing it in the spine with her pulsing stinger.

“What the –” Chat yelps in surprise and leaps backwards in shock as green electricity arches over the robot. It convulses, shaking from head to toe, and then topples over right where Chat was standing. They both stare at it for a moment in silence before Chat looks up at her with huge eyes.

“Hi,” Queen Bee says casually. “My plane was early.”

“I… I see that,” Chat says faintly, looking down at the akuma. “Have I ever told you what impeccable timing you have?” He nudges at the robot’s shoulder with a boot, but nothing happens.

“Tell me when I don’t have a tension headache,” Queen Bee says, looking down at the akuma with distaste. “Where’s Ladybug?”

“Um… she was going to go get Filou, actually,” Chat admits. “We… weren’t expecting you.”

Queen Bee nods absently, scanning the akuma for an object. When she doesn’t find one, she and Chat carefully flip the akuma over onto its back. It beeps feebly and they both freeze, but nothing happens. Chat casts her a wary look and then grabs his baton, extending it. He pokes at the flap of paper sticking out of the robot’s neck until it comes free; Queen Bee grabs it and unfolds it to find a photograph of a father and daughter playing with robots.

“What’s your bet, dad or daughter?” she asks.

Chat steps closer and leans over her shoulder to look too. “Hmm… I’m gonna say daughter.”

“I say dad. Loser buys winner a coffee?”

“Deal.”

“What have I told you about betting on akumas?” Ladybug says, landing right beside them, and both Chat and Queen Bee jump. Queen Bee looks around for Filou but doesn’t see him.

Chat flashes Ladybug a disarming smile. “Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight, My Lady?”

Ladybug just shoots him an unimpressed look and turns to Queen Bee. “I just got to Master Fu’s when I heard everything stop. I figured either Chat had won, or something had gone very wrong, and either way I didn’t have time to go for Filou,” she explains. It makes sense, but the explanation doesn’t make Queen Bee happy. She wants to know what Nathaniel meant, damnit!

“Ready?” Queen Bee says, holding up the photograph. Ladybug takes her yoyo in hand and nods. Queen Bee rips the photograph in half, and a dark purple butterfly flutters out; she automatically takes a huge step back, hair on the back of her neck prickling uncomfortably. She’s been akumatized three times now and has zero desire to go for an even four.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Ladybug murmurs when the butterfly tries to fly away. Her yoyo snaps out. “I free you from evil! Gotcha! Bye bye, little butterfly. Miraculous Ladybug!”

She throws her Lucky Charm into the air and it explodes into streams of red light. Queen Bee turns an expectant look on the akuma and smirks victoriously as a confused, older man is returned to himself. Chat groans under his breath and pouts. Ladybug frowns at the both of them before walking over to the older man and taking his hand to help him to his feet.

“Here you are, Sir,” she says politely, handing the photograph back. “This is yours, right?”

“Ladybug? Oh – yes, that’s mine. What happened? I was looking at this photograph of my daughter… she doesn’t like robots anymore, you see, and I just got so sad…” The man looks bewildered as he takes in Chat and Queen Bee.

“It’s okay now,” Ladybug says soothingly.

Queen Bee leans over to Chat. “You owe me a coffee.”

“Story of my life,” Chat says, crossing his arms. “How’d you know?”

“Just had a feeling,” Queen Bee says carelessly, rather than explain that she’s noticed that children’s akumas tend towards brighter colors and more abstract designs. This robot akuma was both silver and streamlined.

He gives her a suspicious look but relents. “Fine, what do you want?”

“It’s like 5:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep at all last night because we had to be at the airport so early and I spent the whole week with my mother. What do you think I want?” Queen Bee says, much more snappishly than she intends, but she has a feeling and, now that the akuma is gone, she can’t ignore it. Something is wrong and she doesn’t like it.

Chat is quiet for a moment before he steps closer and wraps an arm around her shoulder. “How about breakfast? My treat. You, me, Marinette and Nathaniel. We’ll go to that place you like. Call it team bonding.”

“Yeah, okay,” Queen Bee says, leaning against him. Adrien knows her too well.

Ladybug walks back over to them and, through a yawn, says, “I am so tired.”

“Let’s get breakfast,” says Chat, holding his other arm out to her. Ladybug slips under it and they both cuddle him for a moment. Chat literally purrs in contentment, right up until his stomach grumbles and ruins the moment.

“I’ll get Nathaniel,” Queen Bee says, regretfully slipping away. She throws out her stinger and is gone before either of them can respond, launching herself up to the rooftops. Nathaniel’s family’s apartment isn’t too far away when you travel by rooftops; she’s only been there once, but she remembers the way.

Fortunately, it seems like Nathaniel’s developed a smart habit of sleeping with his bedroom window open. Queen Bee lands lightly on the ledge and spares a quick glance around the room. It’s surprisingly messy, with clothes and other things heaped all over the place. The only two neat spots are the bed and a desk that is loaded down with every imaginable art supply.

Queen Bee slides silently inside and stalks over to the bed just as her transformation gives out. Pollen flutters down onto her shoulder with a sleepy yawn. Nathaniel jerks awake moments later to find her looming over him, hands on her hips; to his credit, he doesn’t scream. He just stares at her blankly for a few seconds, as though trying to assess how real she is, before letting out a long sigh.

“I suppose I should’ve expected this,” he remarks.

“What is this about?” Chloé says, holding her phone up with his text on the screen.

“Good morning to you too, Chloé.”

She folds her arms and stares. “What’s going on at school?”

Nathaniel sits up, running a hand through his hair. “It’s Lila.”

Chloé goes very still. “Tell me.”

“She’s been spreading rumors about Marinette, saying that Marinette is Mayura,” Nathaniel says.

What?!” Chloé hisses.

“I know.” Nathaniel shakes his head, looking tired. “She pointed out that Marinette is absent almost every time there’s an akuma, because Marinette leaves every time there’s an akuma and she’s always late coming back afterwards. And she said that a lot of people around Marinette have been akumatized. People in our class, that kid Marinette baby-sits, Alya’s sisters, Adrien’s bodyguard and dad, André the ice cream guy and Juleka’s mom after Marinette met them, Marinette’s dad and her uncle…”

“That doesn’t mean anything!” Chloé says. “Lots of people have been akumatized!”

“I’m aware of that, but people at our school are thinking about it. Marinette’s reputation never really recovered after Lila showed up. A lot of people still think she did everything Lila said she did.” Nathaniel sighs.

Chloé presses her lips together into a thin line, fighting to contain the rage building up in her. “But that’s dumb,” she says when she can speak without shrieking uncontrollably. “Mayura didn’t even show up until Heroes Day!” There’s a definite buzzing sound filling the air.

“People, and by people I mean Lila, say that Marinette has been in cahoots with Hawkmoth since day one, and, now that he completely trusts her, he’s given her a miraculous. And then she pointed out that Marinette showed up at school after lunch that day just as the red butterflies were being released, and that Mayura and Marinette have never been seen together.” Nathaniel scowls as he speaks. “It’s… it’s not good, Chloé. People are really giving Marinette a hard time.”

“I’m gonna kill Lila,” Chloé decides.

“Okay,” Nathaniel says.

They look at each other for a moment.

Then Nathaniel shrugs. “Can I help?”

“Yes,” Chloé says. “But first, I have to yell at a cat and bug for not telling me about this. Come on.”

“Just let me get dressed. Wait outside.”

Chapter Text

Chloé slips outside Nathaniel’s bedroom door and stands there, jiggling her foot with anger. She warned Lila about staying away from Marinette and Adrien. And now that bitch has deliberately gone behind Chloé’s back and spread a bunch of rumors around school that are designed to hit Marinette where it hurts. Well, that’s going to change. Chloé is going to wring that little brat’s neck.

Nathaniel doesn’t take long, opening the door after a couple minutes. He’s dressed in jeans and a jacket with his backpack slung over his shoulder. He holds a finger to his lips and whispers, “Can you quiet the buzzing down? I don’t want my maman to wake up.”

“I’ll try,” Chloé says through gritted teeth. She focuses on thoughts of punching Lila in the face as she trails Nathaniel through the otherwise quiet apartment. It helps a little.

They walk quickly to the café that Chloé likes. Adrien and Marinette are already there, sharing a booth and a drink. Two other steaming cups are waiting on the table. Chloé slides into the booth first and grabs the drink that’s piled high with whipped cream, completely ignoring the straight black cup of coffee waiting for Nathaniel. She sips from her drink and then holds it in such a way that Pollen can have some whipped cream too without being seen.

“Good morning, Nathaniel,” Marinette says politely.

“Hi Marinette. Hi Adrien,” Nathaniel says. He looks at Chloé, then picks up his menu and opens it up so that he can hide behind it.

“So, I’m going to kill Lila today,” Chloé says casually, just as Marinette takes a huge sip.

Marinette chokes on her drink and starts coughing. Adrien sighs and gently pats her on the back as he looks over at Chloé. “You can’t kill her.”

“Oh, I beg to differ,” Chloé says with a razor sharp smile. Marinette and Adrien are good. They’re good in a way that she’s not, and they probably think she’s kidding. She is most definitely not.

“Chloé, be serious,” Marinette says once she’s stopped coughing. “I wondered why you wanted to go get Nathaniel.” She sounds exasperated, and Nathaniel winces.

“It affects the hive. I thought Chloé should know. She would’ve found out when she went to school today anyway,” says Nathaniel, finally lowering his menu enough to look over it.

“He’s right,” Adrien says before Marinette can protest anymore.

“Why did you hide it from me in the first place?” Chloé demands.

“Because I knew you would react this way,” says Marinette. “Threatening Lila will only make things worse. You can’t even tell her off for spreading lies, because technically she isn’t. She’s just… pointing out inconsistencies and coincidences and suggesting one way that it can all be explained.” She hunches in on herself miserably. “If you yell at her, it only make people suspicious. If they look too closely at me, someone could find out who I am.”

“I knew I should’ve tied her to the top of the Eiffel Tower when I had the chance,” Chloé mutters, buzzing angrily into her drink. They can’t let Lila get away with this, but, as much as she hates to admit it, she can also see the merit in what Marinette is saying no matter how much she doesn’t want to. Frankly, it’s probably a miracle no one at school has jumped to the conclusion that Marinette is Ladybug.

Well, no. It’s not a miracle. Chloé is positive that no one at school now thinks highly enough of Marinette to believe she’s Ladybug. They have Lila to thank for that. If it were anyone else, in any other situation, Chloé might actually admire the slow, systematic destruction of Marinette’s reputation. She’s gone from the beloved class president to assumed sidekick of Hawkmoth in like six months.

“So what are we going to do about it?” Nathaniel asks, quite reasonably.

“What do you mean?” Marinette says.

“Well, we can’t just let people think you’re Mayura,” Nathaniel says.

Adrien and Marinette look at each other. Then Marinette says, “We can’t?”

“Of course we can’t!” Chloé shouts, and all three of them jump. “Are you listening to yourself? Do you even know how much discordance is in the hive right now?! I just – I can’t – ugh!” She grabs at her chest and tries to take slow, deep breaths. It doesn’t help.

“I thought that the rumors might just run their course on their own,” Adrien says hesitantly. “And that things will settle down. That’s what happened last time.”

“Adrikins.” Chloé throws him a look of pure disgust. “Things didn’t run their course. Things festered. That’s why it’s so much worse now. That kind of shit doesn’t just miraculously go away.”

Marinette’s lower lip trembles. “But what can I do? I can’t be in two places at once. Whenever an akuma shows up, I have no choice but to be Ladybug. I have to fight.”

“Well,” Nathaniel says, “Actually. You can be in two different places at once.”

They look at him, and he mimes putting a flute to his lips and playing.

Chloé’s jaw drops. The Fox miraculous. Of course. She feels like slapping herself in the forehead for being so unbelievably dense as to not have thought of it from the moment Nathaniel told her everything. To be fair, Adrien and Marinette look equally dumbfounded. At least Chloé isn’t the only monumentally stupid person sitting at the table right now.

Their waitress chooses that moment to wander over, and says, “What can I get you, kids?”

“Pancakes with extra syrup and a fruit smoothie,” Chloé says, recovering quickly.

“Uh… same for me. With a side of cheese,” Adrien adds.

“I’m not very hungry,” Marinette says quietly.

Chloé glowers at her. “She’ll have the same as me, and some chocolate chip cookies if you’ve got them,” she says to the waitress.

Nathaniel clears his throat, trying not to laugh. “Uh, I’ll take a fruit smoothie and your fruit crepe with extra berries.”

“Got it. Thanks.” The waitress takes their menus and retreats.

“Uh, not that it really matters, but can someone explain to me why I’m seriously craving fruit?” Nathaniel asks, looking around. “I snuck into my sister’s room yesterday and ate her blueberry muffin. I know you don’t know my sister, but that’s about as dangerous as trying to fight an akuma without transforming first. I just couldn’t help myself.”

Marinette stops glaring at Chloé to smile at Nathaniel. “It’s because of your miraculous,” she says, somewhat apologetically. “Sometimes there are certain… um, side effects. Take Chloé, for example. She buzzes when she gets angry, just like a bee would, and she craves sweets.”

“I’ve put on like five pounds since I took the Bee miraculous. It sucks,” Chloé mutters.

“Adrien purrs when he’s happy, and he hates water,” Marinette continues, ignoring Chloé. “I’ve developed a fondness for eating flowers, and I can’t stand the cold. Tikki told me that not every miraculous holder gets the same side effects, so you just kind of have to wait and see what happens. The more you transform, the more you bond with your kwami and the higher your likelihood that you’ll get some side effects.”

“But I’ve only transformed a few times,” Nathaniel says. Suddenly, his eyes get really big. “Wait. I’m not going to start screaming in the face of the person I like, am I?”

“Relax, I’m sure Marc would understand,” Chloé says, and gets Nathaniel’s pointed elbow in her ribs for her trouble.

Adrien shrugs. “Like Marinette says, it depends on the person. Next time you have your miraculous, you can ask Trixx about it. He might be able to tell you some of the more common or troublesome side effects to keep an eye on.”

Nathaniel nods. “I’ll do that.”

“Speaking of that, I think you should have your miraculous really soon. Like, the next time an akuma attacks,” Chloé says.

“Do you really think something so simple will work?” Marinette asks doubtfully.

“Why wouldn’t it?” Chloé says.

“Alya knows how the Fox powers work,” Adrien points out.

Chloé scoffs. “She’d actually have to do some work and connect dots that make sense instead of believing spoon-fed lies or making wild leaps. I think that would be too much effort on her part.”

“Chloé,” Adrien says, giving her a look.

“Even if Alya or Nino did realize what was going on, I’m not sure they’d say anything to Lila,” Marinette says.

“Are you sure about that?” Chloé asks, genuinely curious.

Marinette looks uncertain. “I… yes?”

“That sounds so convincing, Marinette, really,” Chloé drawls.

“The solution,” Nathaniel puts in calmly, “is that Marinette will stay and make sure she’s being seen by people, while I’ll create an illusion of Ladybug. Adrien and Chloé can make sure that the illusion isn’t touched by anything that would make it disappear. That way, Marinette can speak and talk to people just like normal for at least five minutes. Then she can run away. That’s not unusual; most people run during akuma attacks. If we do that several times, it might detract from some of the rumors.”

“It makes sense to me. Chloé and I can distract the akuma until you can slip away to join us, Princess,” Adrien says, laying a hand over Marinette’s.

Marinette looks conflicted. “Do you think that will really work? Won’t people just think that I’m trying to make myself look innocent now?”

“Well, you are. But we can’t just do nothing,” says Chloé. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence working against Marinette right now. She can’t help the fact that she’s late coming back from attacks, or that people around her tend to get akumatized. Short of Marinette revealing her identity, nothing will remove suspicion from her entirely.

But this is the next best option and it may help to sway at least some people towards rationality. They all go quiet for a couple of minutes, during which the waitress brings over their food. Chloé casually leans forward and props her chin on her hand so that Pollen can sit on the table and eat from the pancakes and syrup too. Adrien stuffs cheese into his pocket; Marinette slides her cookies into her purse. Only Nathaniel just starts eating like everything is normal.

“Okay,” Marinette says finally. “I think that it can’t hurt if we try. Thanks, Nathaniel.”

Nathaniel smiles at her. “It’s no problem, Marinette. I just hope that I can make my illusion of Ladybug look natural.”

“You can practice. It wouldn’t hurt,” says Adrien. “Maybe during our next patrol.”

“You know, it wouldn’t hurt for Adrien and Chat to be seen in the same place too,” Chloé says thoughtfully, sipping from her smoothie.

“No one suspects me of being Chat,” Adrien says, looking surprised.

Chloé shrugs. “Are you sure about that?”

“She’s right. Maybe we can do that for you a few times once I’m covered,” Marinette says, leaning into Adrien. He wraps his free arm around her shoulders. “It would help to divert suspicion, just in case.”

“Well… alright. So long as Nathaniel doesn’t mind,” Adrien says.

“I am here for all of your Mirage needs,” Nathaniel says solemnly, then completely ruins the effect by taking a loud, obnoxious slurp of his smoothie.

Breakfast buoys them slightly, though Chloé still feels like she’s dragging big time by the time they arrive at school. Nathaniel wanders away from them, heading over to where Marc is sitting. Chloé clutches her extra large coffee in both hands and stations herself near Marinette and Adrien. A couple students start to walk over, then pause when they see the way that Chloé is staring them down. They quickly reverse their path and retreat.

“Chloé,” Marinette says half-heartedly.

“I didn’t even say anything. You can’t stop me from looking,” Chloé says without even glancing at them. Adrien hides his smile with the remainder of his smoothie; Marinette just sighs and rolls her eyes. Chloé takes that as a win and resumes glaring at anyone who comes within three feet of them.

Chapter Text

They spend the weekend making more plans and letting Nathaniel practice. All four of them are on edge waiting for the next akuma attack – but Monday afternoon comes before it happens. Chloé is filing her nails when she hears the screaming coming from outside. All over the classroom, heads pop up. Madame Bustier sighs loudly and tells them all to follow the protocol for akuma attacks, which is basically shorthand for telling them all to get their butts home as quickly as possible. Adrien catches Chloé’s eye with a meaningful look and she nods back.

While Marinette and Nathaniel hang around to make themselves seen, Chloé will distract the akuma. Chat’s job is to get the Fox miraculous to Nathaniel before joining her. Chloé would’ve preferred it be the other way around, with her going to get the Fox miraculous, but she’s pretty sure Marinette is afraid of letting her get too close to Master Fu without supervision.

Which, honestly, is fair.

“Pollen, buzz on!” Chloé calls out as the rest of her classmates flee – seriously, not having to worry about finding a hiding spot is so handy. Queen Bee hurries over to the windows, pushes one up, and launches herself out. She uses her stinger to control her descent, eyeing the akuma.

Her skin crawls when she catches a glimpse of fur, but then the akuma turns around fully and she sees that it's not a bear. Instead, the akuma is a humanoid cat. Unlike Chat, this cat has pink fur, pink ears and a fluffy white tail. Based on the akuma's height - it barely comes up to Queen Bee's waist - she's pegging it as another little kid being taken advantage of by Hawkmoth. Great. These are hands down the worst kind of akumas. She touches down and yanks her stinger back into her hand, spreading her feet for easy balance.

"I want all the kitties in the world!" the akuma cries, throwing its hand out. Pink sparkles explode from its fingers and hit a couple of students. Immediately, the students turn into kittens that start meowing loudly.

"You have got to be kidding me," Queen Bee says in disbelief.

The akuma turns towards her and frowns ferociously. "I said kitties, not bees!"

"Queen Bee, look out!"

Even before she registers the fact that the akuma is moving to attack, Queen Bee is moving. Weeks of akuma battles have taught her body to respond automatically to that voice. She throws herself to the side, letting the explosion of pink sparkles shower harmlessly against the ground, and looks up to see Marinette standing a few feet away at just the right angle to be caught on the video Alya is recording. Better yet, a few students are nudging each other and pointing to Marinette. Even Alya looks surprised to see her there, and keeps looking back and forth between Marinette and Queen Bee.

"Pay attention to me!" the akuma shrieks, and Queen Bee's attention snaps away from Marinette and the other students.

She doesn't see Chat come back, too busy dodging fast attacks and a faster temper, but it's pretty hard to miss Chat's cackle when he catches a glimpse of the akuma. He and the faux Ladybug jump down to join Queen Bee. The akuma shrieks in rage at the sight of the new heroes. Queen Bee makes sure she lands between the faux Ladybug and Alya's phone as the three of them jump away, because if anyone could peg the faux Ladybug as a mirage it would be Alya. The less chance Alya has to focus on the faux Ladybug, the better. And that means it's time for the next part of their plan.

"I guess it's true that everyone wants to be a cat!" Chat calls out tauntingly to the akuma. Faux Ladybug rolls her eyes in an uncommonly good mimicry of the real Ladybug – Filou’s practice has definitely paid off.

Queen Bee turns to the students. "What the hell are you all still doing here?!" she bellows. "Run! Get out of here unless you want to be turned into a cat!"

Naturally, Alya and Nino completely ignore that. But most of the other students take off, and Marinette goes with them. Moments later, the faux Ladybug goes momentarily out of sight behind a tree. Queen Bee's pretty sure that the Ladybug who emerges is the real one; her suspicion is confirmed when Ladybug takes two steps forward and sharply throws out her yoyo. It wraps around the akuma several times, binding its arms together, and lets Chat get close enough to grab a cat-shaped pin off the front of the akuma's pinafore.

"Cataclysm!" he shouts. The pin dissolves and the butterfly flies out.

"I free you from evil! Gotcha! Bye bye, little butterfly." Ladybug smiles up at the white butterfly as it flutters away.

"They're all so cute," Chat coos, going to his knees as the students-turned-kitties cluster around him. He nearly gets buried under a pile of fur.

Ladybug and Queen Bee exchange a look, and Queen Bee says, "You know you're looking at your future, right? You're gonna have like, a billion kittens someday."

"And to think I used to prefer dogs," Ladybug says with a smirk. "Lucky Charm!" She throws her yoyo straight up and catches the small white ball that falls. She throws the ball up too, shouting, "Miraculous Ladybug!"

The kitties around Chat all change back into humans. The akuma turns back into a little girl, probably about five years old, who immediately starts bawling. Chat frees himself of the students and walks over and scoops her up, and within seconds she's giggling happily and gently petting at his ears. Queen Bee catches a glimpse of the utterly soppy look on Ladybug's face and privately rolls her own eyes. Those two are going to be utterly insufferable once they're old enough to get married and have kids.

Honestly, for her own sanity, she kind of hopes that by that point she has a job on the other side of the world.

"So what happened, honey?" Chat asks.

"I just wanted a kitty and my maman said no," the kid says, pouting.

Chat mock-gasps. "She said no? Mon dieu. Who doesn't want a kitty in their life? Ladybug can attest; we're simply the best! Right, My Lady?"

"Oh yes," Ladybug says dryly, walking over. "Completely. Now come on, Chaton, we have to -"

Because she’s standing further back, Queen Bee sees it before anyone else; she leaps forward, grabbing Ladybug around the waist and pulling her to the ground. The feather sails over them, missing Ladybug’s ribs by mere inches, and hits the concrete with a soft thwack. The two of them stare at the feather for a moment: it stands straight up, the tip so sharp it’s been driven into the ground several inches.

“Just goes to show you, bees really do ruin everything.”

Ladybug tenses and Queen Bee rolls over, looking up instinctively. Her eyes widen at the sight of the miraculous holder standing atop the school. To Queen Bee's experienced eye, Mayura looks different. She's shorter, her hair is longer, and her expression is pure malevolence. But to the average person who hasn't seen Mayura close up, Queen Bee gets how they might not have noticed that the Peacock miraculous has clearly changed hands. That begs the question then, where is the old Mayura?

"Mayura!" Ladybug says, nimbly leaping to her feet. She starts swinging her yoyo. The students who were freed from the akuma’s control start screaming and run for it.

"Alya, you've got to get out of here!"

It's a little odd to hear Marinette's voice when Ladybug is standing right next to her. Queen Bee actually has to double check to make sure Ladybug is still there - and she is, looking just as surprised as Queen Bee feels. They both look over to see Marinette Dupain-Cheng standing at the front gates. Immediately, Queen Bee realizes that Filou must have detransformed after creating the faux Ladybug, fed Trixx, and then retransformed in order to use Mirage a second time.

"Marinette!" Alya exclaims. She and Nino are 'hiding' behind some of the bushes that border the yard. Alya straightens up, lifting her phone, and points it at Marinette before turning to look at Mayura.

"How dare you?!" Mayura shrieks, sounding livid, and leaps at Marinette.

"Marinette, run!" Nino screams.

"Marinette!" Alya cries.

Queen Bee launches herself forward without even thinking about it, tackling Mayura to the ground. It's gratifying to hear Mayura screaming with fury; it gets less fun when Mayura knees Queen Bee in the stomach and knocks all the breath out of her, giving Mayura the opportunity to scramble to her feet. She grabs her hand fan, unfurling it with a flick of her wrist, and grasps a white feather. It turns blue as she pulls it free and Queen Bee tenses, sweeping her eyes over the yard in an effort to figure out who Mayura's victim is going to be -

"I'll give you something to deal with," Mayura seethes.

"Oh no you don't!" Ladybug's yoyo whizzes past Queen Bee's face, knocking the amok out of Mayura's hand. It floats harmlessly through the air and is promptly snapped up by Ladybug's yoyo.

"Still wanna fight, Mayura?" Queen Bee demands, jumping up.

Furious isn't enough to describe the look on Mayura's face right then. "I hate you, Ladybug!" She jumps straight up, landing back on the rooftop of the school, and then flings herself over the back.

Immediately, Queen Bee gives chase. It takes her barely twenty seconds to make it to the top of the school, but Mayura is already gone. She swears under her breath, idly rubbing at her midsection. That went hideously. None of them were prepared for Mayura to show up and they missed the perfect chance to corner her and get the Peacock miraculous back! Instead, they've allowed her to escape. About the only thing that went right is the fact that they now have footage of what everyone will think is Mayura and Marinette in the same place at the same time.

"Damn it," she hisses to herself, turning back around to look below. Chat, Ladybug, and the faux Marinette are all gone. Alya and Nino are running towards the gates. Queen Bee leaps back down to the ground and watches them turn towards the bakery.

"Pollen, buzz off," she says with a sigh. Yellow light flows over her and collaesces into Pollen.

"What's wrong, Chloé?" Pollen asks.

"I'm mad we let Mayura get away. I should've realized she might be hanging around." Chloé crosses her arms over her chest. "And I'm confused too. That's not the Mayura that we're used to. She looked different. Why would the original Mayura hand the Peacock miraculous to someone else?"

"Maybe it was stolen," Pollen suggests. "Maybe Mayura didn't give it up at all."

"But then why would this new girl show up claiming to be Mayura? And why did they look almost exactly the same except for hairstyle and height? It doesn't make any sense. Don't most miraculous holders look pretty different?" Chloé throws her hands up in frustration. Volpina and Rena Rouge looked similar, but their costumes had slight differences. And Filou's is completely different. That can't just be because he's a guy.

"Well, yes. Your costume as Queen Bee looks the way it does because that's what you thought it should look like," says Pollen. "We always take our holder's preferences into account when we transform them. If this Mayura and the old Mayura look similar, it's because the new Mayura wanted it to be that way."

"But why?!" Chloé huffs to herself. Quizzing her kwami is pointless; Pollen doesn’t know any more than Chloé does, and standing out here when Mayura is around is probably a bad idea. She scowls and, after scooping up Pollen, walks out the gate and turns towards the bakery.

She makes it there just in time to see Marinette, the real one this time, pacifying their classmates, saying, “It’s okay. Chat Noir got me out of the way in time. I’m fine.”

“But that was so dangerous! You could’ve been killed! Mayura was really going for you,” Alya says, clutching her phone with both hands.

“And you were just so worried that you couldn’t put your phone down, right?” Chloé drawls, walking up behind them.

Alya immediately turns and scowls. “What do you want?”

“For your information, I need a snack after that battle,” Chloé says. “Since I helped to save Marinette’s butt, I thought she might give me a deal.”

Behind Alya’s and Nino’s backs, Marinette rolls her eyes. “Sure, why not?”

“Marinette?” Nino says, looking at her.

Marinette doesn’t look at him. “Come on, Chloé. I texted Adrien. He’s on his way over, too.” She takes Chloé’s arm and practically drags Chloé into the bakery, letting the door swing shut on the twin baffled, hurt expressions Nino and Alya are currently sporting.

“Harsh. I like it,” Chloé says as she’s dragged up behind the counter and up the stairs.

“Shut up. I hate that you’re rubbing off on me,” Marinette says, but she doesn’t sound very angry. “Go up to my room. Nath’s already there. I’ll grab some food for our kwami and meet you up there.”

Chapter Text

Not that she wants to get into the habit of obeying Marinette outside of their suits, but just this once Chloé does as she’s told. She clambers up the ladder into Marinette’s room and finds Nathaniel sitting on the floor, leaning back against the wall with his eyes shut. Trixx is draped over Nathaniel’s right knee, looking as exhausted as a little fox kwami can look.

Pollen pops out of Chloé’s pocket and flies over to Trixx. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Just tired,” Trixx says wearily. “That’s more of a work-out than I’ve had in centuries, and especially with an inexperienced holder. No offence, Nath.”

“None taken,” Nathaniel says, lifting a hand and gently stroking a finger down Trixx’s back. “Sorry, Trixx.”

“It was good thinking,” Chloé says, moving to sit on Marinette’s chaise. She is not planning to sit on the floor, thank you very much. “Now Césaire’s got footage of Marinette and Mayura in the same place. It’ll be pretty hard for anyone to refute that.”

Nathaniel seems surprised by the compliment, but nods. “Thanks. That’s what I was thinking when I saw Mayura show up out of nowhere. It was too good of an opportunity to show up. I’m just glad I had an apple on me that Trixx was willing to accept.”

“Did anyone see the faux Marinette disappear?” Chloé asks, narrowing her eyes.

“I don’t think so. I made the mirage run away as soon as you tackled Mayura. Chat ran after it; he was trying to get that little girl out of the way too. So all anyone saw was Chat chasing Marinette into an alley. I suppose that little girl might’ve seen my mirage fade away, but if she did I doubt she’ll understand what it means or tell anyone about it.” Nathaniel shrugs a shoulder.

“Fair. Well, Césaire certainly thought it was real. She and Lahiffe were downstairs trying to make sure Marinette was okay when I got here,” Chloé says, full of disdain. It’s too little too late as far as she’s concerned.

“And what did Marinette think of that?” Nathaniel says, a small smile crossing his face.

They both know that Marinette has pretty much reached the limits of her patience with their classmates, particularly Alya and Nino. What’s funny, or sad depending on how you look at it, is that none of them to realize that. When Chloé walked up, she saw and recognized the confusion on Marinette’s face for what it was: Marinette was genuinely surprised that Alya and Nino had been worried about her. But she doesn’t think that Alya or Nino realized what was going on.

“I think Marinette knows she can do better than people who aren’t willing to listen to her or take her word over a strangers,” Chloé replies, knowing exactly how ironic the current situation is.

For years Chloé was the one who made Marinette’s life miserable, though not quite the same way that Lila has. Chloé has never seen the point in lying about other people. Not only are lies are too easily misproven, they’re complicated. It takes someone far more skilled than Lila Rossi to stay on top of an intricate web of lies. Chloé’s just waiting for the moment when their dumbass classmates finally figure out that a lot of what Lila says is unintentionally contradictory. If anyone would just pay an ounce of attention –

But perhaps that’s asking too much. They all like being spoon-fed exactly what they want to hear, apparently. It just baffles Chloé that no one outside of their small circle has clued in yet. Instead, they’re all blindly buying into one of Lila’s biggest lies of all. Marinette as Mayura? Seriously? How could anyone look at a complete do-gooder like Marinette Dupain-Cheng and ever think she could be on Hawkmoth’s side?

Frankly, if Lila had been smart, she would’ve started a rumor that Chloé was Mayura. Most people don’t know enough about the miraculous to know whether a person can wield two at the same time, but everyone at their school knows that Chloé can be a complete bitch. She doesn’t have much regard for other people and she’s not ashamed to admit it. She wants what she wants and don’t care who she has to step on to get it or what arms she has to twist. People would’ve totally bought that rumor and it might’ve done damage to Chloé’s credence as Queen Bee.

Then again… people thinking Chloé is Mayura wouldn’t bother her. Chloé’s used to people whispering about her; she’s used to the smarmy little comments people make and the fact that most people genuinely do not like her. Marinette, on the other hand, goes out of her way to be kind to everyone and takes pride in being a warm, welcoming person. This whole Mayura thing is clearly killing her. In that respect, Lila scored a direct hit.

She crosses one leg over the other and leans forward, placing her elbow on her knee and her chin on her elbow. Lila is a totally different kettle of fish from Chloé. Whereas Chloé is of the opinion that it’s so much more fun to find out the truth and wait for just the right moment to strike, Lila is all about the instant gratification of a lie. She doesn’t have the patience to lay a trap and let her victim wander into it; she wants a reaction right then and there. That’s why she spews out lie after lie after lie.

Hasn’t she ever learned how empty instant gratification is? It feels so much better to smugly point out that Alya is a shitty journalist who never verifies her sources and therefore has no future in that line of work, rather than spread a lie that Chloé knows a famous journalist who can fast track Alya’s future. One of those methods can make waves for weeks, if not months, whereas the other one is noteworthy for all of ten minutes.

It aso begs the question: has no one ever called Lila out on all of these lies? Hasn’t anyone ever asked her why these famous people don’t drop by to see her when they’re in Paris? Or asked when all of these spectacular meetings are going to be taking place? Hell, why hasn’t Alya ever asked Ladybug if Lila is telling the truth? Wouldn’t it matter more if a declaration like that was coming from Ladybug instead of Lila? And Alya really has no excuse. Ladybug totally would’ve given her a sound clip, if not an actual video, though it wouldn’t have held the information Alya thought that it would.

“Uh, what is she doing?” Nathaniel whispers to Pollen. “It’s been like five minutes and she hasn’t said anything, and she’s glaring at that Volpina doll so hard I think she’s going to set it on fire.”

“She’s ranting on the inside,” Pollen says calmly, patting Nathaniel’s left knee where she’s taken a seat. “Just let it happen.”

“I am not ranting,” Chloé grumbles. “I’m trying to figure out why people are so fucking stupid.”

“If you figure that out, let me know,” Nathaniel says.

“If we figure what out?” Marinette’s head pops up through the floor. She climbs up, then reaches back down to lift up a tray. Adrien follows a moment later, pushing the trap door shut while Marinette sets the tray on her desk. Instantly four hungry kwami descend on the cookies, honey crackers, fruit and cheese laid out.

“Why we go to a school with a bunch of brain dead dumbasses,” Chloé says bitterly.

“Chloé,” Adrien says, giving her a look. She sticks her tongue out in retaliation.

“People like it when they’re told what they want to hear,” says Plagg, grabbing a huge chunk of cheese and swallowing it whole. “People want to believe that Lila is telling the truth, because she’s not telling them anything bad. Who wouldn’t want to believe that they can fast-track their way to success?”

“That was surprisingly insightful,” Adrien says.

“Plagg used to lie to his holders a lot,” says Tikki.

Plagg sputters. “I did not!”

“Yes, you did,” Trixx says, looking better after having eaten some fruit. “Ah, the good old days.” He looks dreamy as he bites into a fat berry.

“You haven’t lied to me, have you?” Adrien says, narrowing his eyes.

“Of course not!” Plagg says quickly. Too quickly.

“Plagg…” Adrien says warningly.

Chloé ignores Plagg’s sputtering in favor of bringing up the Ladyblog. A smug smile crosses her face when she sees that there’s already a new blog post with today’s footage. Marinette sits down beside her to watch, and then Adrien drapes himself over their backs, and even Nathaniel scoots over to lean against Chloé’s knee. She privately rolls her eyes but holds her phone so they can all see.

Fortunately, Alya turns out to be good for one thing at least. The video captures Marinette perfectly during the akuma attack – with faux Ladybug in the background, no less – and then again after Mayura shows up. It even shows Mayura diving for Marinette. Unfortunately it doesn’t have Queen Bee’s spectacular tackle of Mayura, so Alya definitely loses points for that one.

“Huh,” Marinette says thoughtfully. “Do you mind if I –” She takes the phone out of Chloé’s hands and rewinds the video a bit, then presses play.

“Excuse you,” Chloé says, grabbing her phone back.

“What’s wrong?” Adrien asks.

“Mayura acted like she knew me,” says Marinette, frowning. “She attacked me… or she would’ve if Queen Bee hadn’t stopped her. Why would she do that? Why wouldn’t she go after Ladybug or one of you guys instead?”

“Maybe this Mayura has something different in mind,” says Chloé. “Maybe she’s not helping Hawkmoth anymore.”

They all look at each other. Then Nathaniel says slowly, “I never fought against the old Mayura, but wouldn’t it be pretty unlikely that Hawkmoth would just give a miraculous away? Maybe this new Mayura stole the Peacock miraculous.”

“Isn’t the Peacock miraculous damaged?” Adrien says, turning to look at their kwamis.

Plagg, Tikki, Trixx and Pollen all exchange looks, but in the end it’s Tikki who speaks. “Yes, Master Fu believes that it’s damaged. We haven’t seen Dusuu for a very long time so we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it, but any miraculous that’s not functioning properly is very dangerous to use.”

“Dangerous how?” Marinette asks.

“It could kill you,” Trixx says bluntly.

“What – are you serious?!” Nathaniel says, reeling back in shock. Even Chloé is stunned silent, staring at Pollen with wide eyes. Pollen meets her gaze and gives a single nod.

“Very serious.” Trixx pops a blueberry into his mouth, chews noisily, and swallows.

“The miraculous aren’t something mess around with,” Pollen pipes up. “Especially in the case of something like the Peacock.”

“Why’s the Peacock so special?” Chloé asks, not sure she wants to know the answer.

“The Peacock deals with the soul. An amok takes an emotion that you’re feeling and amplifies it. That’s why the Peacock, like the Butterfly, is so easily turned to evil. All emotions can be good or bad,” Tikki explains. “Unfortunately, that also means any damage to it would be reflected back against its holder’s soul. If the damage were severe enough, it could destroy the soul entirely.”

Marinette flinches. “And… and what would happen to the holder if that happened?”

“They would more than likely die,” Tikki says, almost gently, and Marinette shudders. Adrien’s arm around her tightens.

“But… but that would take a long time, right?” Chloé says. “It would take like… like months.” But already, Pollen is shaking her head.

However, it’s Plagg that speaks. “The older a holder gets, the more their bodies are equipped to handle the backlash that comes from using a miraculous. That’s why Hawkmoth is able to stay transformed even after using his power; his energy and soul are better able to sustain Nooroo than you all are, though you’re getting better.” He said this with a smile in Adrien’s direction. “You’d all agree the new Mayura looked pretty young, right?”

For some reason, Nathaniel, Adrien and Marinette all look at Chloé. She swallows hard. “Uh, yeah. I guess.”

“If Mayura is your age, and new to using a miraculous on top of that, one or two more uses of the Peacock miraculous could kill her. Especially if her soul is weak,” Tikki tells them.

“Oh my god,” Adrien whispers.

“Then we have to find her,” Nathaniel says at the same time. “We… we have to warn her.”

Marinette and Adrien nod in agreement, both of them wearing identical fierce expressions, but Chloé isn’t so sure it’ll be that easy. Mayura clearly wasn’t looking to have a casual conversation last time. How are they ever going to get her to calm down enough to listen? And even if they do, it’s unlikely that she’ll actually believe them. She’ll just think that they’re lying to get her to give up her miraculous.

She doesn’t say as much, though. She hopes she’s wrong.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week is relatively quiet, but only because there are no akumas and Lila is out sick on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which means she can’t fan the rumors about Marinette. Alya puts her video of the akuma attack on the Ladyblog, and it’s all over the school by mid-morning that Marinette and Mayura were filmed in the same place. The gossip dies down considerably and, for the first time in a long time, Marinette actually starts smiling at school again.

Despite that victory, Chloé can’t shake the feeling that she’s walking on tenterhooks, waiting for the proverbial ax to fall, and it makes her uncomfortable. She’s just not sure which ax is going to strike first. In spite of the fatigue, she almost hopes that it’s an akuma. Naturally, it turns out to be Lila.

She shows up on Friday morning, and Rose and Sabrina practically trip over their own two feet to get to her. Chloé rolls her eyes, refusing to admit that it stings a little that Sabrina has almost completely jumped ship to trail around after Lila. In a way it's sort of convenient, because being a miraculous holder is actually taking up the majority of Chloé's free time, but that doesn't mean it's not an insult to know she's lost something to Lila, of all people.

"Are you okay, Lila?" Rose gushes, taking Lila's hand and looking at her worriedly. "You're so pale."

"I'm okay." Lila gives a brave, totally fake smile, but leans heavily on Sabrina as she enters the classroom.

"You don't look okay," Alya observes, standing back to let Rose and Sabrina help Lila over to her seat. Lila sits down with a dramatic little sigh that makes Chloé roll her eyes. She doesn't need to look over to see that Marinette is probably doing the exact same thing.

"I've just been a little sick. The doctors aren't sure what's wrong with me yet," Lila says; Chloé has to give her credit, the girl's got the art of pitching her voice so that it reaches the ears of pretty much everyone in the class down pat. The idle chatter around them dies down as the rest of their classmates turn around to pay attention to Lila, which is exactly what Lila wanted even if she gives an embarrassed little huff and ducks her head.

This time even Adrien rolls his eyes.

"Oh my gosh, Lila, what happened?" Mylène asks, playing right into Lila’s hands.

"I don't know. I just started feeling really off on Tuesday morning. My mom had to rush me to the hospital," Lila says. "They've been running tests on me. At one point, they thought they might have to rush me into surgery."

Rose, Alya and Mylène gasp in unison.

"But they didn't?" Kim asks. "Do you have a cool new scar?"

"Not yet, but… they haven't ruled surgery out yet. If that happens, I might have to miss months of school. I don't know how I'll ever keep up," Lila says, her eyes filling with fake tears.

Apparently that is Nathaniel's breaking point. He slides out from where he usually sits beside Ivan and slinks up the steps, throwing himself and his backpack down beside Chloé. Chloé eyes him, uncertain if she likes this new intrusion into her space, but the annoyed look on Nathaniel's face is enough to make her hold her tongue. After all, exposure to Lila would be enough to try the patience of a saint. At least when you're at the very back of the classroom, you can pretend that you're watching a play with an overly dramatic, fake liar of a lead acctress.

"Oh, don't worry, Lila! We'll all help you study," Max says immediately.

"That's right! We'll do whatever we can," Rosa says, clutching at Lila's hand. "You don't need to worry about that at all."

Lila sniffs loudly and wipes her eyes. "You guys are the best. Thank you so much. It's nice to know I can depend on you." She looks around, attention zeroing in on Adrien. "Oh, Adrien, maybe you and I could partner up for that presentation that we have to do. It would make me feel better if I knew I had a good, solid partner to lean on."

"Sorry, Lila. Adrien is partnering with me," Marinette says through gritted teeth.

Alya frowns up at them. "Marinette, come on. Surely you could let Adrien be with Lila this one time."

And yeah, okay, hell no. "Actually, it's not Marinette's choice," Chloé says sweetly. "Adrien gets to decide who he partners with and he's already picked Marinette."

"That's right," says Adrien, nodding.

Alya opens her big mouth again, but Chloé smoothly cuts her off by adding, "Besides, it's not a good idea for Rossi to lean on Adrien when Adrien has to miss a lot of classtime because of his job. He also has a ton of extracurricular activities. He doesn't have the time to carry anyone. So why don't you pair up with someone like Césaire, who apparently has ample time to throw around?"

Lila looks pissed for a split second, but the emotion in her face quickly dies away as she turns to Alya. "Oh, Alya, that would be wonderful."

It's hilarious to see how trapped Alya looks; she can't say no because then she'll risk looking like a huge bitch, but it's blatantly obvious that she doesn't want to say yes. Chloé can practically see the wheels spinning as Alya tries to figure out a graceful way to avoid doing the whole presentation while Lila sits back and smiles expectantly. Aya looks around for help, but not even Nino will meet her eyes.

Chloé smirks and, out of the corner of her eyes, catches a glimpse of Nathaniel hiding a smirk of his own behind his sketchbook. Across the aisle, Marinette is outright grinning. Adrien is the only one of them who is able to school his face into a somewhat neutral expression, though the glitter of mischief in his eyes speaks volumes and Chloé knows he’s cackling on the inside.

“Come on, Césaire,” Chloé goads, because she can’t leave well enough alone. “Surely you can be partners with Rossi this one time, right?”

“Sure,” Alya says finally, with an air of defeat. “I can do that, if Nino doesn’t mind partnering up with someone else.”

“I can totally find another partner,” Nino says quickly.

“Great!” Lila says with a sunny smile. “That’s going to take so much stress off of me, Alya. The doctors all told me that I have to be really careful how much energy I put into things right now. They didn’t even want me coming to school, but I insisted. I can’t fall behind.” She sighs loudly. “But it does mean I have to go right home to bed after school.”

The expression on Alya’s face is fantastic; Lila is all but explicitly saying that she’s going to be absolutely no help on the presentation and that Alya will have to do the whole thing herself. Nathaniel snorts into his sketchbook and Marinette claps a hand over her mouth. Chloé swallows the giggles building up in her chest through sheer effort, though that gets a lot harder when she catches Adrien’s eye and he winks.

“I see,” Alya says, now looking completely depressed.

“How awful. I hope you’re not too sick, Lila,” Rose says.

Madame Bustier chooses that moment to walk in. She frowns and looks at Lila. “You’re still not feeling well?”

“I’m okay right now. I just get a little shaky sometimes,” Lila explains. Turning her head away, she covers her mouth with her free hand and gives a couple of little coughs that are totally fake, but everyone else, including Madame Bustier, seem to fall for the routine hook, line and sinker.

“Well, don’t push yourself too hard. If you need anything, you just let me know,” Madame Bustier says.

“Thank you,” Lila says, with just the right amount of gratitude.

It’s probably a good thing, Chloé reflects, that Adrien never moved back to the front of the classroom. Because otherwise, she knows that Lila would be gunning to sit next to him right now. The only saving grace is that it makes no sense for Lila to move to the back of the room. Still, that doesn’t stop Rose and Sabrina from switching places so that Rose is next to Lila and can fawn all over her and Sabrina is beside Juleka.

Interestingly, Juleka doesn’t look happy. In fact, Chloé would almost wager to say she looks… jealous. Now that’s a juicy tidbit to file away and think about later. Rose and Juleka have always been extremely close. It’s not surprising that Lila’s got her hooks into Rose and is disrupting things between them, but it is noteworthy that Juleka is aware enough to be mad about it. And it’s not the first time that Juleka’s reacted that way, either. Perhaps Juleka isn’t as taken in by Lila Rossi as Chloé always assumed that she was.

“Alright class, let’s begin,” Madame Bustier says, moving to the front of the classroom. “We’ve got a test this morning, so everyone close your books and take your pencils out.”

She moves around the classroom, handing out the papers. She pauses when she gets to Chloé and Nathaniel, a puzzled look on her face as she takes in Nathaniel’s new position, but she doesn’t send Nathaniel back to his previous spot. Instead, she just gives each of them a test and turns to Adrien and Marinette. Chloé flips the test over, leans her head on her hand, and resigns herself to an hour of struggling through math.

Come lunch time, she’s mentally and emotionally exhausted. Adrien gets called away for a photoshoot, and Nathaniel wanders away clutching his sketchbook with that dumb look on his face that means he’s thinking about either a sketch or Marc. Chloé walks past the cafeteria and pauses at the door, staring at the seriously pathetic sight of Marinette sitting alone while all of their classmates dwell over Lila.

That feeling wells up in Chloé’s chest. She catches her breath and scowls, placing a hand over her chest in frustration. There’s something off in the hive, but for once she doesn’t need to wonder what it is. Marinette’s misery is blatantly obvious for even a blind person to see. It would be easy to ignore it, even if it would mean that lingering sense of discordance would plague her well into the night –

“Fuck’s sake,” Chloé hisses under her breath, stalking into the cafeteria and right over to Marinette.

“Can I help you?” Marinette says, furrowing her eyebrows.

“Come on. We’re going out for lunch,” Chloé snaps.

Marinette looks at her like Chloé has turned purple and goes, “We are?”

“Yes. We are.” Chloé stares her down, daring Marinette to argue. The thought of spending lunch together isn’t exactly pleasing; Chloé would much rather go home and nap for a while instead.

Hmm. Nap. They are all exhausted. Chloé contemplates this for a few seconds. On the one hand, she’s setting the bar seriously low here. On the other hand, Chloé is nothing if not good at getting what she wants. And there is an obvious answer here.

“I don’t think,” Marinette starts.

“I have a king size bed and the power to make sure no one bothers us,” Chloé says, cutting her off. “I know you don’t usually share a bed with anyone but Adrien, but I’m sure you can make an exception in exchange for the chane to have an uninterrupted power nap.”

There’s a pause during which Marinette looks at Chloé, and then she looks over at Lila. Like a reigning queen, Lila is sitting at a table while Ivan clumsily brings her lunch on a tray. Alya and Nino are sitting to Lila’s left, totally wrapped up in each other. Everyone else is paying attention to their own activities. None of them are paying even a speck of attention to the fact that Marinette is over here by herself.

“Sure, why not,” Marinette says finally. She grabs her tray and stands up, dumping it in the garbage. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The beeping of her phone drags Chloé out of a well deserved sleep. She lurches upwards, looking blearily around her darkened bedroom. Pollen is sound asleep inside her hive. The room is otherwise quiet, save for the obnoxious beeping that signifies someone is texting her. Chloé growls under her breath and stretches out a hand to grab her phone, wincing as the screen lights up full blast at - she glances grumpily at the clock - 4am. Rubbing her eyes, she lowers her gaze to squint at the screen.

Unknown we have a major problem

Unknown you need to get here soon

Unknown BRING HELP

Unknown eyes everywhere

"What.. the fuck?" Chloé mutters to herself, sitting up fully. Her phone says it's an unknown caller, but from the nature of the texts she's pretty sure it's either Ladybug or Chat. It could be Hawkmoth or Mayura laying out a trap, except that no location is specified. And what the hell does 'eyes everywhere' mean?

"Chloé? What's going on?" Pollen asks sleepily, making an adorably soft buzzing sound.

"I don't know. Where's my remote?" She casts around until she locates her remote, shoved halfway under her pillow, and turns the television on. Her eyes go wide and her jaw drops when she sees the news story.

There's an akuma taunting Paris, which explains the weird text messages. According to Nadja Chamack, on seen and gaining footage, this akuma has the power to see everything. Literally. The screen shows Ladybug and Filou running down a street. Hundreds of pairs of eyes, both human and animal, appear on the walls, the street, the lamp posts - literally everywhere. The eyes are tracking the every move of the miraculous holders. It's simultaneously kind of cool and the creepiest thing that Chloé's ever seen, and she can tell from just a quick glance that Ladybug and Filou are similarly freaked out.

She barely has the time to wonder where Chat is before his baton snaps into view. Ladybug grabs the end of it, and Filou grabs her, and Chat yanks them both into the sky - and the eyes follow them, racing up the buildings as fast as the three miraculous holders can move. Then, suddenly, that scene cuts out and it flashes over to a helicopter view of the city. An akuma stands at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It's completely white in color, with no face: just a blank mask. Chloé shudders.

"That looks serious. We should get there right away!" Pollen exclaims.

"Why, so we can get stalked by the creepy akuma too?" Chloé asks, nevertheless throwing her blankets back and leaping out of bed. Her mind is racing. She assumes now that it was Chat who texted her, and he told her to bring help. Since Filou is already with them, does that mean he wants her to bring someone else? Who?

Ugh, this is gonna mean another visit to Master Fu, isn't it?

Queen Bee won't necessarily be helpful against an akuma that literally has eyes everywhere in the city. It's easy to see why Ladybug, Chat and Filou are having trouble, given that they can't get anywhere near the akuma without their every move being seen. And, she realizes with a sudden chill, they have to be extremely careful about using their powers, because the akuma could easily see them detransforming. It doesn't seem to have any limits about being able to use its eyes. That means Chloé has to hurry and get her ass in gear.

She runs over to her closet and rummages around until she finds a blue sweatshirt that she thinks probably belonged to Adrien at some point. It's baggy and too big for her, but it also doesn't look like something Chloé Bourgeois would wear. Plus, it's got a hood. Chloé yanks it on and pulls the hood up over her loose hair, making sure that it covers her face too. Then she gestures for Pollen to hide in the front pouch. With her hair and face covered, wearing a sweatshirt, pajama bottoms and sneakers, there's no way the akuma is going to know who she is.

Considering it's 4am, Paris is strangely busy what with all the people who are outside to see what the latest akuma is doing. Chloé shoves her hands in her pockets, ducks her head and starts fast walking. She keeps glancing around for eyes as she walks, but she doesn't see anything. All she can do is hope like hell that the akuma can't create eyes that are invisible, or she's about to lead Hawkmoth right to Master Fu's door.

It takes her about twenty minutes to get there, which is eighteen minutes slower than it would've been if she were traveling as Queen Bee, and she knocks frantically on the door. Master Fu, to his credit, opens it on the third or fourth knock, wearing a very grim expression. He beckons her quickly inside and shuts the door behind her like he's trying to shut out the akuma too, only Chloé doesn't think it's that easy. A closed door or window isn't going to stop an akuma like that from seeing whatever it wants to see.

"I was expecting Ladybug," he says, leading her into the same room as before.

"Yeah, I don't think she's capable of getting here right now without being seen," Chloé says. Pollen emerges from her hiding spot and waves at Wayzz, who returns the greeting.

Master Fu frowns. "That's true. I suppose you've come from a miraculous. I've never given one out to anyone who isn't Ladybug." The dubious look he gives her speaks volumes about how he feels about giving another miraculous to her, of all people.

Chloé scowls back. "I'm all you're getting and we need help, so cough it up."

"So impudent!" Wayzz exclaims, sounding morally offended.

"No, she's right," Master Fu says before Chloé can respond. "I hate to put more of the miraculous out into circulation, but in this case I don't think we have a choice. This akuma is a tricky one indeed." He shuffles over to a phonograph and picks it up, surprisingly nimble for such an old man, and brings it over to the table. He gestures for her to kneel. Chloé holds in a sigh of frustration and obeys.

"Is this going to take long? Cause I mean, I'm kind of on a time crunch," she says.

"No, it won't take long," he says, looking slightly amused, and presses a series of buttons on the phonograph. The top of it lifts off and Chloé looks at what's underneath with amazement. The innermost, raised part is clearly where the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculouses are meant to be. Five petals surround the circle, including a spot for the Bee miraculous and Fox miraculous. All of those compartments are empty, since Master Fu is wearing the Turtle miraculous and the Butterfly and Peacock miraculouses are both missing.

Expanding out from around the middle are twelve extra compartments, each holding a miraculous that Chloé has never seen before. She honestly didn't expect there to be so many, and the sight of them all takes her breath away. A strange pressure settles over her as she looks them over. How is she supposed to choose which one to use? How does Ladybug pick them? Does she just grab one on a whim and hope that she's made the right choice? What if she makes the wrong choice and screws them all over?

"Chloé Bourgeois," Master Fu says, and she looks up at him. "Pick an ally you can trust to fight alongside you on this mission. Choose wisely, because such powers are designed to serve a greater good and not everyone is equipped to handle them. You have seen what happens when the power of a miraculous falls into the wrong hand; Hawkmoth and Mayura are a warning that you should not take lightly." His eyes bore into her. "Once the mission is over, you must retrieve the Miraculous from your chosen ally and bring it back to me. They must not be allowed to keep their miraculous. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Chloé says, swallowing hard. "I don't know anything about them. What one should I pick?"

Master Fu blinks, and then smiles. "Ah, yes. My apologies. I've taught Marinette about the different miraculouses and their powers."

"Maybe you should teach the rest of us too," Chloé says. "Just... in case."

He gives her an odd look, then reaches out and picks up a panja bracelet from the fuchsia compartment. "This is the Tiger miraculous. It grants the power of invisibility for five minutes, to better allow the Tiger to hunt its prey. I think it will be ideally suited to your needs."

"That works," Chloé says, relieved.

"Remember, you must choose the right person for this mission," Master Fu says, sliding the miraculous into a smaller box that's exactly like the one Chloé found the Bee miraculous in the first time. She still has it, tucked away safely at home in the back of her dresser.

"Right." Chloé accepts the box and sits there for a moment, staring at it. Her automatic thought is to go to Sabrina, because invisibility was literally the power Sabrina had when she was akumatized. And if this were two years ago, she would've gone to Sabrina no problem - except it's not, and Sabrina is much closer to Lila now than she is to Chloé, and also she's not sure that Sabrina is suited to fighting an akuma. Facing down a creature that's essentially trying to kill you takes a certain backbone which Sabrina lacks.

So who then? It's not like Chloé has tons of friends to choose from. Marinette, Adrien and Nathaniel already have a miraculous. Their other classmates are way too far up Lila's ass to - oh.

"I think I know just the person. Thank you, Master," Chloé says, getting up. She slides the box back into her pouch and beckons to Pollen, leaving in a hurry.

The only reason Chloé knows where Juleka Couffaine lives is because Adrien sometimes practices with Kitty Section. He invited Chloé to go with him one time, even sending her Juleka's address, but Chloé had turned him down in favor of literally anything other than spending an afternoon listening to that noise. She scrolls quickly through her phone as she retraces her steps, wishing she could just transform; it would be a lot faster and easier to get where she wants to go if she could, but that would mean alerting the akuma to her plan and that's not feasible either.

Her lungs and ankles are burning with exertion by the time she makes it to the boat. Being that it's now approaching 5am, everything is quiet and no one is around. That doesn't stop Chloé. She makes her way up the ramp and onto the boat, looking around and wondering how best to get Juleka's attention.

"Can I help you?"

"Fuck!" Chloé jumps and spins around to see a boy sitting in the shadows. He smirks at her and lightly strums his guitar.

"Did you need something, or were you just intruding?" he asks innocently.

"I need to speak to Juleka," Chloé says, figuring there's no point in beating around the bush.

He cocks his head. "Why do you need my sister at 5am?"

"We're classmates. It's an emergency," Chloé says. At least now she knows this guy is Juleka's brother. She's heard Adrien mention him before. What's his name?

"An emergency," he repeats, disbelieving.

"Yes! Now come on!" Chloé stomps her foot. "I need Juleka!"

He doesn't look convinced, but he does get up. "I'm Luka, by the way," he tosses over his shoulder as he disappears into the boat.

Luka. Right. Chloé jiggles from foot to foot with impatience as she waits. It seems to take forever before a very sleepy looking Juleka surfaces from the same door that Luka disappeared through. Like Chloé, she's still dressed in pajamas and her hair is a mess. Her eyes go very wide when she sees Chloé standing there and her mouth drops open. But Chloé doesn't have time for questions; she surges forward and grabs Juleka's arm.

"Ladybug needs you," she hisses into Juleka's startled face, dragging her towards the ramp. "Move your butt, my hive is in danger!"

Chapter Text

About two blocks away from her home, Juleka finally snaps out of her shock and digs her heels in. “Chloé, stop! What is going on? What do you mean, Ladybug needs me?”

Chloé glances around and spots a conveniently dark alley. She drags Juleka into it before turning to face her and saying, “Exactly what I said. I don’t know if you’ve realized, but there’s an akuma attacking the city. Ladybug, Chat Noir and Filou are doing their best to fight it, but this akuma is tricky in that it can generate eyes wherever it wants. That means it can see everything. We need special help to sneak up on it.”

“Okaaaay,” Juleka says slowly. “I fail to see where I come into that?”

“This. This is where you come into it.” Chloé pulls the miraculous box out of her sweatshirt and holds it up. “Juleka Couffaine, this is the Tiger miraculous. It grants the power of invisibility. If you agree, you will use it to help us against this akuma. While we provide a distraction, you will sneak up on the akuma and disarm it as best you can. Will you accept?”

Juleka’s mouth falls open as Chloé speaks. Finally, she squeaks out, “What – you – why me?!”

“It’s a long story,” Chloé says with a sigh. “I don’t have time for this. Do you want to help or not?”

“Uh – I guess?” Juleka says, and it comes out like a question but Chloé decides to take it as a solid yes. She shakes the miraculous box at Juleka until Juleka takes it, lifting the top.

A fuchsia blob zips out of the box and around Juleka, who flinches and squeaks, before coming to a stop right in front of her. The blob slowly coalesces into a tiger kwami. It’s not nearly as cute as Pollen, but Chloé has to admit that, as far as kwami go, its not bad. The kwami looks at Juleka with orange eyes and grins, showing off a set of razor-sharp fangs.

“Hi! I’m Roaar,” he chirps. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m… Juleka…” Juleka says hesitantly.

“And I’m Chloé. Glad we’re all introduced. Now quickly, give her the cliffs notes and let’s get moving!” Chloé says impatiently.

Roaar swishes his tail and says, “Juleka, to transform you say ‘Roaar, let’s hunt’. Your special power will enable you to turn invisible, but you only get to do so for five minutes. Once that time is up, you’ll automatically transform back. To enable your special power, you say…” He flies closer to Juleka and whispers something in her ear that Chloé can’t hear.

“Okay, sounds simple enough…” Juleka reaches into the box and takes out the miraculous out. She slides the four rings on her fingers and then clasps the bracelet around her wrist.

“Go on,” Chloé says in what she hopes is an encouraging tone.

“Roaar, let’s hunt!” Juleka shouts. Roaar flashes into the miraculous, which lights up. Magenta lights rolls over Juleka. When it fades away, she’s dressed in a magenta body suit with black markings on her legs, arms and lower body. The belly of her suit is a lighter shade of magenta; her shoulders, fingers, and toes are all solid black. She’s got a sleek magenta tail – an actual tail, unlike Chat’s belt – with three black stripes on it, and two magenta tiger ears tipped in black sticking out of her hair.

The Tiger miraculous adorns her right hand, but her weapon is visible on her left hand. Chloé’s not sure of the appropriate name for it, but it fits snugly over Juleka’s hand. Three extremely strong and sharp silver claws extend out from her hand by about six inches. When Juleka turns her hand over, they both see that the claws seem to be a part of the costume. Juleka can’t remove them, but she also can’t lose them.

Most interesting by far are her eyes, which look exactly like Chat’s except they’re orange and not green. Chloé leans closer and peers into Juleka’s face, wondering if that’s a shared characteristic amongst the cat miraculouses. Kind of like how both the bug and the bee miraculous holders are susceptible to cold. If so, that’s unfair. She’d much rather have cool eyes than freeze all the time.

“Wow, cool,” Juleka breathes, staring at her hands. “Wait till Rose hears about this.”

“Nope. You have to keep this secret. Oh, and you also have to give it back. You can’t keep it,” Chloé tells her.

For a moment Juleka looks disappointed, but then she nods. “I guess that makes sense. Oh, it changed!” She holds her hand up. The Tiger miraculous looks brighter now, and the five pads on the piece over the back of Juleka’s glove are glowing fuchsia. Chloé points to them.

“Those pads will tell you how many minutes you have left once you use your power,” she says. “Pollen, buzz on!”

Juleka looks appropriately awed as Queen Bee appears before her, and Queen Bee takes a split second to preen before she snaps to attention. Unfortunately, they don’t have time to stand around.

“What’s your name?” she demands.

“My… my name?” Juleka says.

“I can’t go around calling you Juleka. Secret identity, remember?”

“Um… Artemal,” Juleka says.

“Right. Okay. Artemal, here’s what you’re going to do. Use your power and turn yourself invisible. Make your way to the Eiffel Tower as fast you can, got it? The akuma is at the top,” Queen Bee tells her.

“How am I supposed to get up there?” Artemal asks, looking baffled.

“You’ll figure it out. You’re a tiger, so you’re probably super fast and can jump pretty high,” Queen Bee says. “Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be seen. Got it?”

Artemal looks very uncertain, but she nods. “Yeah, okay. I can do that. I think.”

“Good.” Queen Bee grabs her stinger and pulls the tip off to see her screen. She types off a very quick message to Chat, Ladybug and Filou.

“So…” Artemal says.

“So, go ahead,” Queen Bee says with an expectant look.

“Oh! Uh, right. Camouflage!” Artemal calls out, holding her claw up; in the next instant, she fades away before Queen Bee’s eyes.

“Artemal?” Queen Bee says.

“I’m here,” Artemal says.

“Let’s go. Follow my lead. Then split off and do what I told you to do,” Queen Bee instructs. She bends her legs and then jumps, clearing twenty feet easy. She lands on the roof and automatically looks around, but of course she can’t see Artemal and there’s no way of knowing if Artemal is on the rooftop too because they can’t risk talking to each other. All she can do is hope that Artemal is following instructions.

She curses quietly under her breath and starts running towards the tower. By rooftop, they’re less than a minute away. She’s almost there when the eyes start to appear around her, watching her from all angles, and holy shit that is just the creepiest feeling ever. Cold shivers run up her spine and she very nearly has a heart attack when Chat lands right beside her.

“Fun night,” Chat says breathlessly, matching her stride perfectly.

“Not my definition of fun,” Queen Bee says. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No worries. Though if you’ve got any bright ideas…” He looks at her meaningfully.

“I’m working on it,” Queen Bee says. “What happens if you attack?”

By way of answer, Chat winds up his baton and hurtles it in the akuma’s direction. Immediately a blast of white lightening shoots down from the akuma, forcing the two of them to jump to opposite sides to avoid being hit. Queen Bee glances at the scorch mark on the roof and barely conceals another shiver as she starts running again. No wonder Chat, Ladybug and Filou aren’t getting anywhere.

They meet up with Ladybug and Filou at the base of the tower. Both of them are looking winded. And there are eyes all around them, watching their every move, so Queen Bee can’t even tell them that she’s got things under control. Or at least, she thinks she does. She fingers her stinger, watching the akuma out of the corner of her eye as the other three mumble to each other. If she’s keeping time correctly Artemal’s got about two and a half minutes left –

The akuma screams.

Queen Bee smirks. “Oh my!” she exclaims dramatically as the akuma plummets off the top of the Eiffel Tower. It’s a fall that would kill a human six times over, but the akuma hits the ground and, after forming a crater, just harmlessly bounces a couple of times.

“What the hell?” Filou says, looking stunned.

The akuma staggers up out of the crater, clutching at its side. Streams of white liquid flood out of three claw marks on its side. The eyes surrounding them flicker.

“Ladybug, now!” Chat hisses.

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug shouts, throwing her yoyo up in the air. A red, black-spotted hairdryer falls into her hands. Ladybug’s eyes flit around the area… and then she smirks.

Approximately forty-five seconds later, Chat successfully Cataclysms the akuma’s object. A purple akuma flutters out. Ladybug catches it, purifies it, and sets the white butterfly free. It flutters away overhead, leaving behind a distraught young woman sobbing into her hands. Ladybug throws her Lucky Charm into the air and casts her cure as Chat walks over to gently help the young woman up.

And then, overhead, Mayura laughs.

“Fuck,” Ladybug says eloquently.

Queen Bee grabs her arm. “Filou and I got this. You and Chat go. Find Artemal. Get the Tiger miraculous back from her.”

“Find who?!” Ladybug’s eyes blow wide with shock and confusion, but Queen Bee doesn’t have time to stick around. If Juleka makes a run for it – and it’s not like Queen Bee would judge her, what with Mayura rearing her ugly head – then she can swing by Juleka’s place afterwards and get the miraculous back.

She lets go of Ladybug and instead grabs Filou, holding his arm tightly as she winds up with her stinger. It wraps around a distant point and hauls them both off the ground and into the air. Mayura is extremely easy to find, as she’s planted herself on one of the buildings that surrounds the Tower. She’s probably been watching and laughing this whole time, Queen Bee realizes.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the lamest members of the Miraculous Squad,” Mayura sneers.

“Shut up and hand over your miraculous,” Queen Bee orders, well and truly out of patience.

“Yeah right. As though I’m going to hand it over to you,” Mayura says with a scoff. She turns her fan, casually admiring the feathers. “If I can collect Ladybug’s and Chat Noir’s miraculous, Hawkmoth will give me whatever I want.”

“You really believe that?” Filou says skeptically, holding his flute in hand.

Mayura gives them both a slow smirk. “Oh, believe me, Hawkmoth and I have brokered out a deal that he’s definitely going to keep.”

“He’s just using you!” Filou says. “The Peacock miraculous is damaged. It’s dangerous.”

“Oh, please,” Mayura says scornfully.

“Much as I hate to admit it, he’s telling the truth. He’s trying to help you right now,” Queen Bee says. “The Peacock is –” She’s about to say ‘going to kill you’, but apparently Mayura decides that the conversation is over.

“Enough!” Mayura yells, silencing them both. “You’re just trying to turn me against Hawkmoth. Well guess what, I have no interest in listening to your lies! I won’t give you the Peacock miraculous. It’s mine. And I’m going to use it to take every single one of your miraculouses!”

She pulls a feather from her fan and whispers something to it; it glows blue and gusts off on the wind. Queen Bee races after it, leaving Filou to continue to try and reason with Mayura. She even throws her stinger out. But the amok magically dodges her at every turn, finally floating through an open apartment window. There’s a scream of pure rage inside the apartment.

In the next instant, a gigantic doll literally grows up out of nowhere and starts tearing the apartment building to shreds. People start screaming and running. Queen Bee narrowly avoids being hit by a chunk of falling debris. No sooner does she land than Filou is there, dragging her out of the way of yet more debris and pulling her under a nearby awning. They huddle there, watching as the doll starts lumbering around.

“Mayura’s gone,” Filou says grimly. “She wouldn’t listen.”

“Figures,” Queen Bee mutters. “Do you ever feel like we don’t get paid enough for this shit?”

Filou sighs and readies his flute. “All the time.”

Chapter Text

It’s well after dawn, probably mid-morning, before Ladybug slides her index finger across her yoyo and releases the purified feather to the world. They all watch it float up and then drift away, caught by the breeze. Queen Bee glances around just to be sure, but of course there’s no sign of Mayura this time. She escaped after conjuring the amok. A flicker of frustration wells up inside of her and she clenches her fist.

“Well, that was horrible,” Chat says with false brightness. “Anyone else want to go sleep for a month?”

“Yes,” Filou and Ladybug say in perfect unison.

“Meet me at my place,” Queen Bee tells them. “I just have to do one little thing first.”

“What?” Ladybug demands, and then, like she’s suddenly remembering, adds, “Who is Artemal? What did you do? Chloé!”

Queen Bee pretends not to hear and throws out her stinger, letting it yank her out of earshot. She doesn’t go far since her miraculous is rapidly beeping down, landing in a nearby alley and leaning against the wall as her transformation comes apart. Chloé catches Pollen in her cupped hands, holding her kwami to her chest. They’re both exhausted. She really just wants to go home and rest.

But she has to get the Tiger miraculous back first. Not only did she promise Master Fu, but Ladybug will give her that ‘I’m disappointed in you’ look if Chloé doesn’t. And she is so over those looks.

“Stick with me, Pollen,” she says.

“I’m okay, My Queen,” Pollen says bravely.

Chloé’s phone beeps with an incoming text. She sags, briefly closing her eyes – she really doesn’t want to deal with anyone, but especially not her father right now – before yanking out her phone anyway. Her eyes widen when she gets a look at the screen: it’s not from her father, thank god, but from Juleka. The text has a location which is only about a block from where Chloé is right now.

She slides Pollen into her sweatshirt, pushes off the wall and unsteadily makes her way down to the address. It’s easy to spot Juleka, who is sitting at an outdoor table with the remains of breakfast in front of her. As Chloé nears, she catches a glimpse of Roaar, partially hidden by Juleka’s coat, sitting on Juleka’s lap. The tiger kwami is stuffing fistfuls of what looks like bacon into his mouth.

“Hey,” Juleka says when Chloé gets to the table.

“Hi,” Chloé says wearily, sinking into the free chair. “I see you fed Roaar.”

“He was hungry after I transformed back, and I wasn’t sure what else to do,” Juleka says with a shrug. The tiger miraculous catches the light when she moves her hand. It’s certainly one of the more noticeable miraculouses, Chloé reflects, though in a way it also seems to fit Juleka. It doesn’t stand out on her the way it would on someone like, say, Marinette.

“No, that was good. Uh… thanks for your help,” Chloé says awkwardly.

Juleka smiles. “Anytime. I had a lot of fun, actually.”

She pats Roaar’s head and then slides off her miraculous. Roaar disappears in a flash of magenta light. Juleka sighs wistfully and takes the box out of her pocket, setting the Tiger miraculous back inside. She looks at it for a few seconds, then reluctantly slides the box across the table towards Chloé.

“How did you get my number?” Chloé asks, uncomfortable at how solemn things are. Is this how Ladybug felt every time she took back the Bee miraculous? Kind of guilty and unsure and sad all at once? Chloé doesn’t like it.

Frankly, she thinks it’s bullshit. The miraculouses aren’t helping anyone by staying locked up in that big box all the time. Hawkmoth would’ve been taken down ages ago if every single one of those miraculous had been put to good use. There would be half a dozen miraculous holders to fight an akuma at any given time, and they would be able to chase down Mayura and take the Peacock away from her.

But no. For some reason, Master Fu is too afraid of that. Isn’t having the extra help and defeating Hawkmoth worth the potential of another miraculous falling into Hawkmoth’s hands?

“I texted Rose, and she texted Sabrina, who had your number,” Juleka says, drawing Chloé’s attention back to her. “I saw all the, err, trouble you were dealing with and figured you would be around eventually, but I didn’t want to go too far.” She shrugs. “I almost came back to help, but I didn’t want to throw myself into the middle of a plan without knowing what was going on.”

“No, you did good. I’m sure I – we – will call on you in the future. But I have to go.” Chloé pushes herself to her feet, pauses, then looks at the remains of Juleka’s breakfast. Naturally every scrap of bacon is gone, but there’s half a pancake left, covered with syrup.

Juleka follows her gaze and frowns. “What?”

"Would you mind?" Chloé asks, somewhat awkwardly.

"Uh... go ahead?" Juleka pushes the plate across the table and Chloé sits. With a quick glance around, she sets Pollen down on the table. The confusion clears from Juleka's face as Pollen scarfs down the pancake like she hasn't eaten in months.

"She needed to be fed before I can transform again," Chloé explains, figuring that Juleka is owed some kind of explanation. She could've ordered something, but frankly she's not even sure if she has any money on her. Normally she never leaves the hotel without her purse, but normally she also doesn't get woken up at 5am for an akuma attack.

"Ah, I see." Juleka still looks curious, probably wondering why Chloé needs to transform again, but those are details Chloé doesn't offer. Marinette and Adrien barely mentioned the guardian before they took Chloé to meet him; she's not even sure if Nathaniel even knows there is a guardian at this point. That kind of information is best left under wraps as much as possible.

When Pollen is done, and hiding back under Chloé's sweatshirt, Chloé gets up and bids Juleka good-bye. Then she walks down the street and ducks into yet another alley. If she could, she wouldn't bother taking the Tiger miraculous back to Master Fu. And she'd insist on Nathaniel being able to keep the Fox miraculous, too. And she'd even go so far as to help Ladybug find other people who can be trusted with a miraculous. It would certainly make all their lives either. But she also knows that so long as Master Fu is against it, Marinette won't even think about it.

"Ready, Pollen?" Chloé says. "As soon as we take the Tiger back, we're done."

"Thank goodness," Pollen says. "I'm ready for a long soak in the bath tub."

"You and me both. Pollen, buzz on!" Chloé calls out. Pollen zips into her miraculous and a flash of yellow light illuminates the alley. With a heavy sigh, Queen Bee leaps into the air.

She makes her way back to Master Fu's and drops down to the ground, detransforming. This time she doesn't bother with knocking, instead pushing the door open and stepping into the shop. Master Fu is speaking to a customer; Chloé crosses her arms over her chest and skulks in a corner until the customer gets the hint and stops chatting and leaves. As the door shuts behind them, Master Fu turns to Chloé with a smile.

"You were successful. Good job, Chloé," he says.

It's a little nice to hear the compliment, but not that nice. Chloé narrows her eyes at him. "Why can't more people keep their miraculous?"

Master Fu looks surprised. "What?"

"You heard me. The whole reason Marinette wanted me to keep mine is because she and Chat had to keep leaving battles to come retrieve it, and that put whoever was left behind at risk by dealing with the akuma alone. But also, because the two of them working alone wasn't enough and it was making them exhausted." Chloé draws herself up, pasting on her best superior expression. "So long as we have people we can trust, why can't they keep their miraculous? Why can't they help?"

"Impertinent girl!" Wayzz says, bursting out of Master Fu's shirt. "You speak of things you don't understand."

Chloé opens her mouth, but she doesn't get the chance to respond. Pollen is there immediately, right up in Wayzz's face, snapping, "Don't talk about Chloé like that! You have no idea what it's been like for them, Wayzz!"

"I know enough to know that she's way overstepping her bounds!"

"That's just your opinion! Chloé's job is to look after the hive and she's doing that job by being here asking these questions!"

"Alright," Master Fu interjects very loudly. "Chloé, listen to me. I understand where you're coming from -"

"Do you?" Chloé says rudely. "Or do you just sit back here in the comfort of your shop and pretend that you do?"

Master Fu starts to speak, then pauses. He gives her a hard, searching look. Chloé meets him stare for stare, refusing to back down.

Finally, he says, "Having never an adversary exactly like Hawkmoth, I suppose I can't say I understand completely. If I could help you fight, I would. Unfortunately, these old bones don't allow me to do that. I have to rely on others like yourself." He holds up a hand to forestall when she starts to speak. "Having said that, there are things about this situation that you don't understand. As the Bee, it is your responsibility to look after the hive. As the guardian, it is my responsibility to look after the miraculous. I have to make the decision that I think is best based on the information that I have."

"And what information is that?" Chloé demands.

"That the risk of having another miraculous fall into the wrong hands is too high right now," Master Fu says steadily. "If you're asking me to understand your position, you must understand mine in return. Not three months ago, Rena Rouge was the Fox miraculous holder. Ladybug trusted her. Now, Rena Rouge can't be trusted and Filou is the new Fox. Can you imagine how difficult it would've been trying to get the Fox miraculous back from Rena Rouge had she been allowed to keep it full time?"

Chloé pauses at that. Much as she hates to admit it, he has a point. Alya got akumatized after she saw Filou for the first time; Chloé really doesn't want to know what it would be like fighting an akumatized Rena Rouge, because she imagines that it's not pleasant. On the one hand, that means Chloé has proven that she can be trusted if Master Fu has allowed her to keep the Bee miraculous all the time. On the other hand, that means giving Artemal or even Filou their miraculous to keep permanently isn't going to happen until they've proven they can be trusted too - however that might happen.

Her conflicting emotions must show on her face, because Master Fu sighs. "A situation like this is difficult," he says kindly. "There is no completely right answer. I'm grateful for your presence, because you help to carry a very heavy load for Ladybug and Chat Noir. But at this time, letting someone else keep a miraculous is just not feasible." He holds his hand out.

She resists for a couple seconds before begrudgingly cracking and fishing the Tiger miraculous out of her pocket. Still, she hesitates before handing it over. "What if Adrien, Marinette and I were allowed to keep another miraculous on hand?" she says slowly. "Not to use, but so that if we needed them in battle they would be there."

Master Fu frowns. "You can't always know which miraculous is going to be helpful to you," he points out.

"I know. But Nathaniel is always going to be Filou, and the Tiger makes sense for the person I chose," Chloé says, thinking it over. "And I'm sure Adrien could pick someone out too. Doesn't it make sense for all three of us to have someone we can each fall back on without having to depend on the others to be there, or having to run here and leave an akuma alone to rampage through the city?" She looks at Fu challengingly, clutching the Tiger miraculous to her chest. "Plus, it means that you don't need to worry about trust. If you can trust me with one miraculous, why can't you trust me with two?"

“That’s an excellent compromise!” Pollen exclaims, beaming with approval.

“Preposterous,” Wayzz says at the same time. “The miraculous are safest here with the guardian! What if you lost it?!”

“Excuse you, Hawkmoth can pry them from my cold, dead hands,” Chloé shoots back, putting her hands on her hips. Then she looks back at Master Fu. “Well? What do you think?”

Chapter Text

It feels strange to walk back into the hotel after how quickly she ran out this morning. Chloé avoids the employees as she slinks towards the elevator, aching with weariness from head to toe. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a glimpse of Butler Jean moving towards her. Luckily, the elevator doors open and she dashes inside and hits the button to close the door before he can make it to her. Jean can be nice, and he's put up with her shit for way longer than most people, but she really doesn't feel like facing an interrogation right now.

The elevator takes her up to the penthouse floor. She walks out and heads over to her bedroom, hearing the voices within long before she actually gets there. When she opens the door, she immediately sees that Marinette, Nathaniel and Adrien have made themselves comfortable on her bed - which is no longer the mess it was when Chloé dashed out of here earlier, so that means housekeeping has been by. Plagg, Tikki and Trixx are all sitting on her pillow, and Chloé narrows her eyes.

"You better not be getting cheese crumbs on my pillow," Chloé says, kicking the door shut. Pollen leaps from her sweatshirt and darts across the room towards the other kwamis.

"Chloé!" Marinette sits up. "Who the heck is Artemal?!"

"Has that seriously been killing you since I mentioned her?" Chloé says, amused. Who is she kidding? Of course it has. So far as Chloé knows, up until Juleka, Chloé is the only person who got a miraculous that wasn't personally chosen by Ladybug. And the only reason that happened is because Ladybug dropped the Bee miraculous before she could give to Alya - luckily for Ladybug. Chloé can't imagine where they would be now if it weren't for Queen Bee!

Marinette crosses her arms and frowns. "Tell me right now."

"Untwist your panties and relax," Chloé says, stripping her sweaty sweatshirt off. "Artemal is the Tiger miraculous holder."

"The Tiger miraculous?" Marinette repeats, eyes wide.

"Who was it?" Adrien asks, looking curious.

Chloé mock-gasps. "Oh, I can't say! Adrikins, don't you know how important secrets identities are?"

Nathaniel and Adrien both grin, but Marinette scowls and says, "Chloé." in that stern tone that means she's losing patience.

"Okay, okay. Sheesh. It was Juleka."

"As in our classmate Juleka?" Nathaniel says, looking intrigued. "Interesting choice."

"It seemed to make sense," Chloé says shortly, not wanting to go into what led her to Juleka. Not right now anyway. "You said that I should come with help and you already had Filou with you. I took that to mean I should visit Master Fu for more help, so I did. He suggested that I take the Tiger miraculous because of its ability to turn its holder invisible. Seemed ideal." She shrugs.

"That's not quite what I meant, but I'm glad you interpreted it that way. We were in serious trouble," Adrien says.

"You got it back from her, right?" Marinette says.

"Yes, Mom. I did. It's right here." Chloé takes the box out of her pocket and grins smugly, waving it around. She'll never forget the look on Wayzz's stupid little face when Master Fu agreed with Chloé about the Tiger and Fox miraculouses. He was definitely not happy, and she's pretty sure Wayzz is still arguing with Master Fu about it even now. Not that it matters. Chloé's not bringing the Tiger miraculous back anytime soon.

"Why didn't you take it back?" Adrien asks.

"I did, but I convinced Master Fu to let me keep it. And Marinette, you get to keep the Fox miraculous," Chloé says proudly. "That way, if we need help, we don't have to go to Master Fu first. Most of the time, Filou and Artemal should be more than enough to cover us. We'll only have to go there for something special."

Marinette looks struck dumb by shock.

"What about Adrien?" Nathaniel asks curiously. "Doesn't he get to keep a spare?"

"Uh, I'm okay with -" Adrien starts.

"Of course he does," Chloé says, deliberately cutting Adrien off. "Once he figures out who he wants to choose as back-up and what miraculous they're best suited for, he can go talk to Master Fu and retrieve it."

"And Master Fu agreed to this?" Marinette says faintly.

Chloé gives her a sharp smile. "He listened to my proposal and agreed that what I was saying was sound. Unlike you, I'm not afraid to speak my mind to him."

"He's the guardian. He usually knows best," Marinette says, a little more sharply.

"Yeah, usually. But he's not the one sticking his neck out, is he?" Chloé retorts, tossing Marinette the empty box for the Fox miraculous. Marinette catches it easily.

"Well, I for one think that's a great plan," Nathaniel says, shrugging. "I can stick closer to you during akuma battles, Marinette. And Juleka knows who Chloé is, so she can do the same thing."

Marinette is still frowning fiercely, like she’s building up a stream of arguments in her head. Chloé leaves them to it, knowing Adrien and Tikki can calm Marinette down way better than she can, and heads into the bathroom, where she takes a very long, very luxurious shower. She washes her hair twice and her body three times, until she finally stops feeling sweaty and gross. Only then does she climb out and gently towel her hair, then wrap a towel around her body.

She opens the bathroom door and lets a cloud of steam rush out, surprised to see that Adrien is still sitting on her bed. Marinette and Nathaniel, along with their kwamis, are gone; the box containing the Tiger miraculous is open, and Plagg and Pollen are having a fierce, though quiet, conversation with Roaar. Adrien is looking at her, already knowing what Chloé’s about to ask.

"Marinette and Nathaniel went home. Their parents were wondering where they were," he says. He doesn't have that problem, given that he's supposed to be in school. No one will have called out for him, of course. But Chloé knows that Madame Bustier will just assume it's an oversight on Nathalie's part. So long as Adrien has a reasonable explanation tomorrow, no one will think twice about it.

"Was she still freaking out?" Chloé asks, walking over to her dresser to grab her brush.

"She wasn't freaking out," Adrien says patiently. "Marinette has a lot more respect for Master Fu than you do. That's not a bad thing."

"Respect should be earned," Chloé points out, turning to face him. "I've said it before and I'll say it again. He's not the one sticking his neck out in battle all the time. If you and Marinette need something, he should be willing to listen to you. What does he think is going to happen to Paris if the two of you burn out? Isn't he concerned about that happening at all?! Doesn't he realize that Hawkmoth has amped things up lately and you two need more support?!" Her voice rises until suddenly she realizes she's yelling, and Adrien is giving her a fond look.

"What was it Tikki said? Turtles and bees don't see things the same way? I understand now what she meant by that. Unfortunately, Marinette and I aren’t his primary concern." Adrien pats the spot in front of him. "He's just trying to do what he thinks is right. His priority is protecting the miraculous."

"There won't be anyone left to protect them if he doesn't start making smarter choices," Chloé mutters, stalking over. She sits in front of him and hands him her brush.

Adrien starts to brush her hair slowly. “Thanks, Chlo.”

“What for?”

“For sticking up for us all of us. Marinette doesn’t really like to challenge Master Fu. Neither do I. I’m not sure either of us would’ve thought of asking for a spare miraculous to carry around, and, even if we had, he probably wouldn’t have agreed. Not without your, umm, fiery way of asking.”

“Is that your way of asking if I was polite?” Chloé asks.

“I already know the answer to that,” Adrien says, and he sounds amused now.

“I wasn’t mean,” Chloé says defensively. “Pollen, was I mean?”

“Absolutely not,” Pollen says, turning around immediately. “You said exactly what needed to be said in a way that made the guardian listen.”

“She’s probably not just saying that,” Plagg offers. “The Turtle can have a pretty hard head to go along with their hard shells. Ironically, because they have the tendency to squabble with the Bee so much, they can be more open to what a Bee says as opposed to another member of the group.”

“See?” Chloé says.

Adrien laughs out loud. “I wasn’t saying it was a bad thing. Seriously, thank you. I’m glad you were able to make him see reason. It’s going to make things a lot easier on us. Now we don’t have to worry about going to Master Fu’s during every fight. If we need help, we can just find the right person.”

“We’ll only have to go to the guardian’s if we need a specific miraculous,” Chloé says, nodding. Then she hisses as the brush hits a tangle.

“Sorry,” Adrien says, gentling his strokes as he works on the tangle. “Between Juleka and Nathaniel, we should be covered for the most part. It’s kind of weird to think there’s a new member who doesn’t know who we all are.”

“Well, once we all get comfortable with her, you all can make those decisions,” Chloé says. Frankly, having everyone already know who she is has some benefits… but then, Chloé has a lot less to lose than anyone else. She really only has her father to worry about, and Mayor Bourgeois is usually riding such a high from power that he’s not really at risk for being akumatized. The only time that usually changes is when Audrey Bourgeois is in town, which thankfully won’t happen for a while.

That’s not to say she wouldn’t care if her classmates or Sabrina got akumatized, but it wouldn’t be the first time and it probably won’t be the last time. Marinette, Adrien, Nathaniel and even Juleka, on the other hand, all have families with parents who aren’t drunk on power (with the possible exception of Gabriel Agreste). Hawkmoth would take ruthless advantage of that.

Adrien makes a humming sound and is quiet for a moment, then says, “I have no idea who to pick or what miraculous they should use. My instinct would be to choose Nino, but…”

“You’ll never get the Turtle away from Master Fu long-term,” Chloé says. See? She can be delicate when the situation calls for it! The real reason is that Nino and Alya both know each other’s identities. And Nino won’t be Carapace if it means there’s a chance Alya will be akumatized again – even though she’s the one who put herself into this situation. He’s too nice for that.

“Right,” Adrien says, sighing. “There’s that. Then I thought of Kagami –”

“Uh, no,” Chloé says. “She has even less time away from her mother than you do.” She never thought there could be a parent more controlling than Gabriel Agreste, but Tome Tsurugi takes the cake.

“Exactly. And then I thought maybe Luka…”

“Juleka’s brother?” Chloé thinks back to the boy standing on the houseboat.

“Yeah, but I really don’t know him that well. I’ve only played with Kitty Section a few times. Marinette knows him better than I do. I…” Adrien leans his forehead against her shoulder and huffs a laugh. “I really want this person to be my choice. Marinette’s chosen everyone else.”

“Except me,” Chloé points out. “And Juleka. But I get what you mean. You’ll find someone, Adrien. Maybe you should start looking at the people you spend the most time with, like the rest of our classmates. There could be someone you’ve overlooked.” She has a couple people in mind who could work, but she’s not going to sway Adrien one way or the other. Not right not anyway. Not unless he chooses someone who won’t really work for their team.

“I guess,” Adrien says, but he sounds more thoughtful now instead of hopeless, which is a step in the right direction.

“Find the person first. Then decide on the miraculous that suits them,” Chloé tells him.

“When did you get so wise?” he asks.

Chloé smirks, reaches down to pat his hand, and says, “I’ve always been wise. You just weren’t paying attention.”

Chapter Text

Lila’s not at school the next morning, which doesn’t surprise Chloé at all. She would bet a lot of money that Lila’s newest scheme, now that she can’t spread more rumors about Marinette, is to make herself seem like she’s deadly ill to milk all the attention she gets. And it seems to be working, because during the class break, Rose walks up to them with Juleka hot on her heels; Rose looks upset, whereas Juleka looks kind of bored.

“Oh Adrien, are you busy after school?” Rose asks, wringing her hands together.

Adrien does a good job of hiding his surprise, giving her a polite smile. “Uh… I think I have a fencing lesson. Why?”

“Lila is really sick. A bunch of us were going to go over to her place after school to visit her,” says Rose. “We thought she’d appreciate seeing you too.”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I can’t,” Adrien says, managing to look contrite, even though Chloé knows he’d rather throw himself off the top of the school untransformed than willingly spend time with Lila. He’s good at acting, she’ll give him that much.

“Chloé and I can go,” Nathaniel says suddenly.

“What?!” Chloé hisses.

“Really,” Marinette says, looking way too amused. Juleka raises both of her eyebrows almost to her hairline, while Adrien is biting his lip to hold back laughter.

“That would be great!” Rose exclaims, clapping her hands. “Okay, we’re going to meet up right outside after school and walk over together. See you then!” She carefully doesn’t glance in Marinette’s direction as she turns away to accost Alix and Kim. Which is probably for the best, really, as the whole class knows that things are very tense between Lila and Marinette, even if most of them are oblivious as to why.

“Speak fast, Tails, or you’re find out what my stinger feels like,” Chloé says venomously.

Nathaniel holds up his hands. “Whoa there. I was just thinking that maybe can find something on Lila if we’re at her house, that’s all. Especially if they’re planning on surprising her, and knowing Rose that’s probably the case. Lila won’t have had time to hide any incriminating evidence.”

“That’s actually a really good plan,” Marinette says with a smile.

“Oh, you’re just saying that because you don’t have to go,” Chloé huffs.

“That too,” Marinette says shamelessly. “I’m so glad Rose didn’t ask me. I would’ve just said I was busy, but I hate lying.”

“You wouldn’t be lying. You have plans to come watch me fence,” Adrien says, draping an arm around Marinette’s shoulders.

“I do, do I?” Marinette says with a flirty smile.

Chloé rolls her eyes and tunes them both out, turning back to Nathaniel. “Fine. But I’m telling you right now, I am not going to be held responsible for what I do to that girl if she can’t keep her mouth shut.”

“Noted,” Nathaniel says.

For the first time ever, the end of the day comes way too fast. Chloé dawdles until Nathaniel grabs her arm and drags her out of her chair, pulling her outside. Rose, Juleka, Sabrina, Mylène, and Ivan are all standing there. Ivan looks incredibly awkward until he spots Nathaniel, at which point he gets a relieved look on his face. No doubt his presence is Mylène’s doing.

“Hi Chloé,” Sabrina says tentatively.

“Hello,” Chloé says, maybe a little more shortly than is necessary. Marinette’s not the only person to have lost people to Lila’s lies. She and Sabrina will probably never be friends again. Chloé doesn’t take betrayal lightly.

Sabrina’s face crumbles, but really what did she expect? They haven’t spoken in weeks and Sabrina trails around behind Lila like a lost puppy. Sort of the way she used to follow Chloé. Chloé frowns back and crosses her arms over her chest, perfectly willing to let the awkward moment drag on.

“Okay, let’s go!” Rose says, clapping her hands. She, Mylène, and Sabrina, probably the only three of the group who are actually enthusiastic about this venture, take the lead. Ivan and Nathaniel fall in behind them, with Chloé and Juleka bringing up the rear.

“Is there a reason you got roped into this?” Juleka asks softly.

“No,” Chloé lies.

Juleka looks at her sideways. “I think that’s the most unconvincing lie I’ve ever heard out of your mouth.”

Chloé just shrugs. She hopes that Juleka doesn’t think that they’re friends now. She’s already got enough people within the hive to be concerned about. It didn’t occur to her before that by handing out new miraculous, that technically means the hive is expanding. She makes a face at the thought. If that’s the case, she hopes Adrien takes his sweet-ass time choosing his second.

“I just want to know if I should be concerned about danger,” Juleka whispers. “If Rose is in danger.”

“She’s got her nose up Lila’s butt, so Rose should be fine,” Chloé says honestly. Lila wouldn’t say or do anything against someone who so openly sucks up every word she says.

“Okay.” Juleka seems satisfied with that response. “Thanks for letting me know.”

“Whatever,” Chloé says, shrugging again.

They walk in silence the rest of the way, which suits Chloé just fine. Lila lives about fifteen minutes away from Collège Françoise Dupont. Chloé memorizes the location of her house, just in case, and stands at the bottom of the stairs as Rose knocks on the door. She’s half-hoping no one will answer, and they can just leave, but after a moment or two the door opens to reveal an older woman that is unquestionably Lila’s mother.

“Yes?” Madame Rossi says, looking confused when she sees them all standing there.

“Hi! We’re Lila’s friends from school. We thought we’d come visit with her,” Rose explains.

Madame Rossi instantly smiles. “Oh, how nice. Lila could use a pick me up. Come right in.”

Nathaniel hooks his arm through Chloé’s and literally drags her up the steps, much to Juleka’s obvious amusement and Ivan’s confusion. The Rossi household is very nice, all things considered, but it’s nothing like the palace that Lila has gone on and on about. Chloé wonders if any of her classmates even remembers that, or if Lila’s lies have all blurred together by this point.

Lila’s bedroom is on the second floor. Madame Rossi points them towards it and tells them that she’s going to get some refreshments, then disappears back downstairs. Mylène, in a rare moment of bravery, is the one to put her hand on the doorknob to Lila’s room and push the door open. Chloé is completely expecting to see Lila in a state of perfect health, so what she actually sees stops her in her tracks.

The room is dark but for some light seeping around the curtains, illuminating the girl lying on the bed. Lila stirs and sits up when the door swings open; her face is pale, lacking its usual olive tones, and sweaty. Her eyes are glazed and unfocused, and she looks at the group like she’s not even sure who they are for at least fifteen seconds before recognition finally dawns.

“Rose? Sabrina? What are you –” A deep, wracking cough overtakes Lila before she can finish her sentence. She doubles over, coughing into her hands with such force that her whole body shakes from the force of it.

“That’s not faked,” Nathaniel breathes, practically draping himself over Chloé’s back. She’s half-tempted to elbow him off, but Juleka is plastered to her right side and, since they’re all standing in the doorway, she can’t get an elbow free to shove either one of them away.

“Is that why you came?” Juleka asks, equally soft and curious.

“Of course not,” Chloé lies.

“Oh Lila, you poor thing!” Rose exclaims, scurrying over to the bed. She gently pats at Lila’s back. Sabrina and Mylène immediately join her, with Sabrina grabbing the cup of water on the bedside table and holding it for Lila to take a few sips from. Ivan steps back from the bed, looking incredibly uncomfortable as he tries not to stare at Lila in her pajamas. It’s obvious he regrets coming.

“Thanks,” Lila says finally, her voice hoarse. “What are you guys doing here?”

“We heard you were sick and came over to see how you were doing,” Mylène tells her. “Everyone in class is worried about you!”

“Really,” Lila says, her eyes wandering over to the group clustered by the door. A faint sneer crosses her face when she meets Chloé’s gaze, but it quickly fades away when she coughs again. Just once or twice this time, but she grabs the cup from Sabrina and quickly drinks some more.

“Do the doctors know what’s wrong?” Sabrina asks.

Lila shakes her head. “No… not yet.”

“What exactly is wrong?” Chloé speaks up, curious in spite of herself.

For a moment Lila’s eyes narrow, clearly wondering why Chloé wants to know, but Lila’s never passed up a chance to talk about herself for attention. She says, “It’s really hard for me to catch my breath. Sometimes it feels like there’s a heavy weight pressing onto my lungs. I cough and cough but…” She flutters her hand near her chest. “It seems to take longer and longer for me to be able to breathe. And my heart just races when I cough; it’s the most awful feeling.”

“That’s awful,” Mylène gasps.

“I know,” Lila says. “And I’m so weak I can barely stand. I fainted in the shower this morning. Mama and Papa had to carry me back to bed. They think it’s because of my fever.”

“You do feel warm,” Rose says immediately, seizing Lila’s hand and holding it.

“Plus I’m tired all the time,” Lila continues, nodding at Rose. “I can barely keep my eyes open. I just want to sleep and never wake up.” She sighs dramatically.

“So you’ve got a cold,” Chloé says. Nathaniel pinches her.

“This sounds like more than just a cold to me,” says Mylène, her face screwed up in thought. “Maybe you have pneumonia or an infection in your lungs.”

“They’ve checked for all that, but none of the tests have come back positive so far,” Lila tells them. It’s obvious she’s enjoying the attention. “They sent me home with some medication and told my mother I should stay in bed as much as possible to rest until they can figure out what’s wrong. It could be deadly.”

Chloé is a little skeptical at that, even as Rose, Sabrina, Mylène and even Ivan gasp appropriately. She has to bite her tongue to stop herself from asking why the doctors wouldn’t keep Lila in the hospital overnight if she were really that sick. Wouldn’t they want her somewhere they could keep an eye on her? If they sent her home, it can’t be that bad…

“Are you contagious?” Juleka asks, sounding a little apprehensive, and they all freeze.

“Um… no, I don’t think so,” Lila says quickly. Too quickly. “This has been creeping up on me for a while, you know… probably for about a week and a half now? It started randomly… I was just really tired… and then the coughing… It’s all got a lot worse two nights ago, seems like.” She sighs heavily. “Yesterday was awful. It seemed to come out of no where, that’s what my mama says. If I were contagious, everyone else in class would be sick already, right?”

“I guess…” Juleka says uncertainly. If she gets any closer to Chloé, they’re going to have to peel themselves away from each other.

“Well, feel better!” Chloé says with forced brightness, kicking Nathaniel’s shin until he gets the hint and backs up. Chloé goes with, unsurprised when Juleka follows on her heels, and the three of them traipse back down the stairs, past Madame Rossi, and back outside.

“That was rude,” Nathaniel comments.

“Shut up, I don’t see you jumping to stay,” Chloé retorts, letting the door go. A big hand catches it and Ivan follows them out, looking guilty.

“I didn’t want to stay either,” he admits when they all look at them. “Mylène is Lila’s friend, not me.”

“You have better taste than I thought,” Chloé says shamelessly.

“Chloé,” Nathaniel and Juleka say together, then look at each other in surprise.

“Whatever. Those three can stay and fawn over Lila as much as they want. I’m not sticking around just in case she is contagious,” Chloé says, her skin prickling at the thought.

“Yeah, I think I might go home and shower,” Juleka admits.

“Wanna walk back?” Nathaniel says to Ivan, and Ivan nods.

“I’m gonna call my daddy for a lift,” Chloé says, shooting Nathaniel a meaningful look. He gives her a subtle nod. The four of them part ways. Chloé waits to be sure that the other three are out of sight before she transforms and takes to the rooftops to head home.

Chapter Text

“So, she’s really sick,” Adrien says, sounding thoughtful.

Chloé leans back and stretches, staring at her laptop screen. Nathaniel, Marinette and Adrien all look back at her. Marinette is in her bedroom, laying on her bed on her stomach with her laptop in front of her. Nathaniel’s sitting at his desk with his computer. Adrien is sitting at his desk too. Chloé is sitting on her bed, reclining against some pillows. They’re all in their pajamas, because it’s late, but at least they’re at home instead of out on some freezing rooftop.

“Well, unless she’s a much better actress than we’ve all given her credit for,” Chloé says. “I don’t think anyone could fake coughing like that, honestly. It really sounded like she couldn’t breathe.”

“Much as I really hate to admit it, it did sound painful,” says Nathaniel.

“Color me surprised,” Marinette says. “I honestly expected her to be faking it for extra attention now that her rumor about me being Mayura has been thoroughly debunked.”

“You and me both,” Chloé replies, shrugging.

“I guess it’s not a bad thing. At least it means she won’t be around to make up more rumors about Marinette,” says Adrien. It would be unlike him to be glad that someone else is sick, except for the fact that he’s fiercely protective over his partner and he hit his limit for Lila’s shenanigans a long time ago.

“Yeah, I’d say she won’t be back to school for a while,” says Nathaniel. “At least a week, maybe more. She said it came on really suddenly about a week and a half ago, but it seems like it’s only in the last couple days that she got really bad.”

“It got worse two days ago?” Marinette says. It sounds like an innocuous question, but there’s something about her voice that makes them all look at her.

“What are you thinking, Bugaboo?” Adrien asks.

Marinette hesitates, biting her lip. “This is probably crazy… but what if Lila was Mayura?”

No one says anything for a long time. Chloé thinks they’re all too dumbstruck by the idea to respond. Marinette's eyes track across her screen like she's looking at all of them, and then she licks her lips - but she doesn't say anything, waiting them out. Nathaniel looks thoroughly flummoxed; Adrien's mouth opens and closes without anything coming out. For her part, Chloé isn't sure whether idea pisses her off or horrifies her. The idea of Lila Ross with a miraculous is terrifying.

"That makes a lot of sense!" Suddenly a black kwami head pops into Adrien's screen. "Pigtails, I think you're on to something."

"Shit," Nathaniel says at last. "Plagg's right. That does make a lot of sense."

Adrien sweeps Plagg away from his webcam, revealing green eyes that are wide and worried. "You really think so? I mean... Lila?"

Marinette shrugs. "I just thought... The timing of her illness works out. And Lila has been akumatized three times now. She's very comfortable in working with Hawkmoth. Maybe she stole it from him... though it seems way more likely that he gave it to her, based on what she said about the two of them having a deal. But I can't think of anyone else who would be happier to fight against Ladybug, can you?"

Chloé can't, and the realization pisses her off. "So, you're telling me that this whole time, Mayura has been sitting four rows away from me?!"

"Well, maybe. We don't know for sure," Nathaniel points out. "It could just be a coincidence."

It's Adrien who voices the obvious. "How can we find out?"

"Maybe one of us could go talk to her," Marinette says slowly.

"You mean like Ladybug?" Chloé says skeptically.

"Uh, yeah, that won't go over well," Nathaniel puts in. "I don't think it should be any of us when we're transformed. If Lila is Mayura, that will put her on guard right away. If she's not, it's going to make her suspicious."

"Well, I can't do it. Lila hates me," says Marinette.

"I could, if I have to," Adrien says reluctantly. "But she's so anxious to impress me, I'm not sure she'd tell me the truth."

Nathaniel clears his throat. "I think it should be Chloé."

"What the hell did I do to you?!" Chloé exclaims, throwing her hands up.

"Nothing!" Nathaniel says, looking like he's trying not to laugh. "But Adrien and Marinette are both right. I could go, but I've barely talked to Lila before. She wouldn't tell me anything."

"I've barely talked to her either. In fact, last time I spoke to her, I threatened her," says Chloé.

"When was that?!" Marinette demands.

"Yeah, but you're Queen Bee. Knowing who you are will throw her off-balance," Nathaniel says at the same time. "It might get Lila to be more honest than she would be otherwise. She knows what you're capable of."

"He kind of has a point," Adrien says.

Marinette nods. "I have to agree."

"But I don't want to," Chloé whines. "I hate Lila!"

"Chloé," Adrien says, turning serious, "if Marinette is right, then that means Lila has transformed into Mayura at least two times. Probably more, if she practiced at all with her powers before she tried to attack Marinette in the school yard. It sounds like she's deteriorating fast. If she transforms again, you heard what our kwamis said. That could be enough to kill her."

The sobering reality of the situation is enough to make them all go quiet. Chloé's heart sinks. She doesn't like Lila. In fact, she would even go so far as to say she hates Lila - but that doesn't mean she wants to see Lila die either. Especially if Lila doesn't know what she's doing, and that seems very likely judging by Mayura's response when Queen Bee and Filou tried to tell her about the Peacock miraculous. Hawkmoth probably lied to her, Chloé thinks, or just plain didn't mention it. And Lila would have no reason to think that using a miraculous is dangerous...

"Alright, fine," Chloé says finally. "I'll go talk to her tomorrow morning."

"Maybe you should go now," Marinette says.

"Chill out, Marinette. It's after midnight. You really think her mom is gonna let me in the house?" Chloé says, raising an eyebrow.

Marinette concedes the point with a sigh and a reluctant nod. "Okay, fine. First thing tomorrow morning."

"First thing," Chloé says with a grimace. Sounds like a great way to ruin a morning, but she knows she doesn't have a choice here. The only other logical choices are either Adrien or Nathaniel. She can't send Adrien into the lion's den, and Nathaniel's too new to this whole miraculous thing for her to feel right about letting him do it either. And of course, there's no way Lila would tell Marinette anything.

"Text us afterwards," Adrien says.

"Yeah, sure. Good night." She hits the button to end the connection without waiting for them to respond, dropping her laptop on the bed with a frustrated grunt.

"Are you okay, My Queen?" Pollen inquires, hovering over Chloé's face with a concerned expression.

"I've been better. I hate the thought of going to talk to her. Being around Lila just really makes me want to punch her in the face." Chloé clenches her fist and holds it up for demonstration.

Pollen gives a small smile. "That's pretty normal. You see Lila as an enemy to the hive. It's natural for you to feel that way."

"Sure I don't just want to punch her?" Chloé says, only half joking. It's true that being around Lila makes her feel anxious and irritable, but she didn't necessarily attribute that to the hive. Then again, maybe Pollen is right. These days, nothing sets Chloé off faster than a threat, implied or otherwise, to the rest of the team.

She heaves a heavy sigh and grabs her laptop, setting it on her nightstand, then squirms down beneath her covers. How could Lila be Mayura? How could none of them have noticed? Is she really Mayura, or are they all just grasping at straws? If she is Mayura, how did they all miss it? At some point, Pollen comes down to lay on the pillow beside her cheek, buzzing just loud enough for it to be audible. The sound is comforting, and, in spite of Chloé's spinning thoughts, lulls her into sleep.

The sun in her face wakes her up the next morning; Chloé crawls out of bed, showers, and gets dressed in a white sundress, yellow cropped jacket, and black boots. She affixes the Bee miraculous in her hair, looking at it for a moment. It’s become a familiar sight, to the point where her ponytail looks weird without the comb. Where does Lila keep the Peacock?

“Okay, Pollen, let’s get this over with,” Chloé says finally, grabbing a black purse. She heads out the door and down to the first floor, where she heads outside.

Chloé retraces the path she and her classmates took yesterday, finding her way back to Lila’s house. This time she climbs the steps alone, wishing that Marinette, Adrien, Nathaniel or even Juleka were there with her – she would feel a lot more confident if they were. Still, they’re not. So Chloé gathers herself up, takes a deep breath, and reaches up to knock gently at the door.

It opens quickly enough, and Madame Rossi says, “Yes?”

“Hi… I’m here to see Lila. I was here yesterday?” Chloé says.

Madame Rossi stares at her for a moment before nodding. “I remember. You and your friends left very quickly.”

“We, uh, we didn’t want to overwhelm Lila with such a big group,” Chloé improvises. “We thought it was better if Sabrina, Rose and Mylène got the chance to visit with her first, and I told Lila I’d come back today.” She pastes on her biggest, brightest, fakest smile, the one she uses when she’s twisting Gabriel Agreste’s arm into letting Adrien have fun once in a while.

“Of course.” Madame Rossi smiles too, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. She steps back to let Chloé in. “Lila is upstairs in her room. I’d appreciate it if you kept your visit short.”

“Oh, this won’t take long,” Chloé says, climbing the steps.

She steels herself again before opening up Lila’s door, not bothering to knock. Part of her is hoping that she’s going to catch Lila in the act, but instead all she sees is Lila sitting on her bed with a magazine open on her lap. Lila glances up when the door opens, a familiar expression of annoyance already on her face, but freezes when she sees who it is. They stare at each other for a moment.

Then Lila recovers and spits out, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Well hello to you too,” Chloé says, stepping into the room and letting the door swing shut behind her. “What’s with the lukewarm reception? I thought you loved it when your classmates came to fawn over you.”

Lila’s eyes narrow. “Right. You hate me and I hate you, so...”

“At least you’re not delirious,” Chloé drawls, crossing her arms over her chest. Any intention she may have had about broaching the subject lightly is now officially off the table. She doesn’t know what they were all thinking. Subtlety and gentle probing is not Chloé’s strong point.

“Are you here trying to prove that I’m not sick?” Lila says with a light, disbelieving laugh.

“Not at all. I’m here to figure out why you’re sick,” Chloé replies, looking her right in the eyes. There’s another, even more tense few seconds during which they stare at each other, and then recognition flashes across Lila’s face.

“Duusu, spread my feathers!” she yells.

Chloé’s jaw drops as she watches the transformation happen right in front of her eyes. Mayura leaps to her feet and then flings herself at the window, disappearing outside before Chloé even realizes what’s happening. One she does, she swears loudly and rushes over to the window just in time to see Mayura disappearing over the roof of the house next door.

“I guess that confirms Marinette’s theory!” Pollen exclaims, popping out of Chloé’s purse.

“Shit, you’re not wrong. Okay, Pollen. Buzz on!”