Marinette shuffled into her classroom, hiding a yawn with the back of her hand. She was early for once, by virtue of the fact that someone had called in sick this morning and her parents had needed her to man the counter for a couple of hours. She never minded helping out, but she felt like she hadn't had the chance to catch up with sleep after dinner with Chat Noir, and her papa's akumatization, two nights ago. Getting up early hadn't helped her state of exhaustion. All she could hope for now was that Ms. Bustier wouldn't pay much attention to Marinette quietly snoozing in the back of the room.
Then she registered the loud, dramatic sound of Lila crying, and immediately wished she'd stayed home for the day.
"What's going on?" Marinette asked warily, bracing herself for someone to blame her for whatever Lila's issue of the day was. It had only been a couple weeks since Lila had taken over their class, but her influence was still going strong. Marinette hadn't even spoken to her so-called best friend in fifteen days.
"It's awful," Rose said, tears in her eyes. "Chat Noir attacked Lila last night!"
"What?!" Marinette blurted out, shocked.
"What?" said a voice behind her. Marinette half-turned and realized that Adrien had walked in behind her. She really was tired if she hadn't noticed that.
"I just can't believe it," Alya said. She was standing behind Lila's desk with her arms folded across her chest. "Chat Noir seems like such a kind person." Nino, standing beside her, was frowning and nodding.
Maybe Alya was finally starting to fact check her sources. It had taken long enough. Marinette frowned and started to say something, but at that moment Lila lifted her head and a surprised gasp came out instead. Lila had a black eyes and great big scratch running across her right cheek. Her eyes were also puffy and red from crying. She put a hand to her face and gave a low sob that immediately had Kim wrapping an arm around her shoulders, giving her a little hug. Mylene, who was sitting on Lila's opposite side, took Lila's hand and held it.
"It was horrible. I was running an errand for my grandmother. You know how she's terribly sick and confined to bed. She asked me if I'd go to the store and get her some flowers," Lila said, the very picture of a traumatized victim. "I was passing by an alley when this... this black shadow grabbed my wrist and dragged me inside. He threw me up against the alley wall and said... He said..." Her voice faltered.
"What did he say?" Mylene prompted gently.
"He said that this was revenge for Marinette, because he loved her."
All eyes flew to Marinette, who recoiled slightly. Word of Chat Noir's presence at her parent's bakery had spread pretty fast thanks to her papa; apparently, the day that Chat Noir was due to come for dinner, he'd been bragging to customers that his daughter and Chat Noir were going to be married anyday now. The whole school had known by the time Marinette walked in yesterday morning, and she'd spent most of the day fending off rumors. Obviously the attention Marinette was receiving had caught Lila's eye, and this was how Lila had decided to retaliate.
"Chat would never do that," Marinette said. "He's not that kind of person."
"Of course you would say that," Lila said, sniffing. "He's your friend. I'm sorry to be the one who has to tell you this..." She trailed off, turning as though to hide her face in Kim's chest, but Marinette caught the edge of a smirk on her face. A surge of fury ran through her. How dare Lila drag Chat Noir into this?
"I'm telling you that you must be wrong. It must've been someone dressed like him," Marinette replied.
"It wasn't. He... he... he showed me his Cataclysm." Lila gave another sob.
"This is ridiculous," Chloe muttered. Marinette's eyes flew to her. Chloe had been sitting quietly in her seat until that point, but now she turned a piercing gaze on Lila. "Everyone knows Chat Noir only has a few minutes after he uses his Cataclysm. Why would he risk his identity just to threaten someone like you?"
"He left right after," Lila said quickly.
Nino and Alya exchanged looks. Marinette was a little pleased to see that both of them looked doubtful. She would've been really pissed at them had they believed Lila's assertion, considering that both of them had fought by Chat Noir's side and knew what kind of person he was. As it was, she could save all of her anger for Lila. It was one thing for Lila to threaten Marinette; it was something else entirely for Lila to threaten her kitty.
"That's not true," Adrien said quietly, but forcefully.
"What was that, Adrien?" Lila looked up at him. Her olive green eyes were bright with tears.
"I said you're lying. Chat Noir wasn't there. He never threatened you," Adrien said, stepping up beside Marinette. His hands were clenched.
Lila blinked in surprise. "Why would I lie?"
"Because you don't like Chat Noir or Ladybug," Adrien snapped. "You hate them."
"Ladybug and I are best friends," Lila said. "I could never hate her. I just don't understand why you're saying such mean things to me." Her face crumbled and she covered her mouth.
Max huffed and straightened his glass, throwing Adrien a disapproving look. "Just because you like Ladybug and Chat Noir doesn't mean you know what they're really like. We don't know anything about Chat Noir. No one knows who he is or what he's like in his civilian form. He could be someone dangerous. He could be a rapist or a serial killer for all we know!"
Marinette's eyes bugged. "Excuse me?!" she gasped.
But it was Adrien who spoke louder. "That's not - you - I would never! I didn't! I didn't attack her!"
"No one said that you did," Max said, giving Adrien an odd look. But Chloe's, Alya's and Nino's eyes had all widened in realization. So had Marinette's.
"Yes you did! You just did!" Adrien sounded both flustered and panicked, a combination that made Marinette's stomach hurt.
Lila lurched to her feet. "I don't believe you. You can't be -"
"Plagg, claws out!"
"Oh my god," Marinette whispered, shocked to her core.
"I never attacked you," Chat Noir - Adrien - said, green eyes narrowed and tail lashing the air.
"You... you've been Chat Noir all this time?!" Lila hissed, tears miraculously vanishing. She pushed past Mylene and stormed up to Chat Noir. "How dare you!"
Something inside of Marinette had been steadily weakening during these past few weeks. Like metal that was super-heated to the point where it could be melted or cracked, the tenuous hold on her temper was finally ready to break entirely. And when Lila shoved her way so far into Chat Noir's space that he flinched backwards, Marinette Dupain-Cheng snapped.
"Get the hell away from my kitty," Marinette snarled. It was a good thing that she was small, because she was able to insinuate herself between Chat Noir and Lila without touching either one of them.
"Your kitty?" Lila repeated, taking a step back. "I knew it! You are dating him!"
Marinette looked her in the eye. She didn't shout. She spoke every word calmly and coldly. "You're goddamn right he's mine. My partner, my kitty, my everything. I love him. He loves me. And I won't stand here and listen to you spout off lies another moment longer. It was one thing when you were just threatening me, Lila Rossi, but I will not stand by and let you drag Chat Noir's reputation through the mud. He never attacked you. That's just another one of your ridiculous lies. I know that because he was with me last night!"
There was a stunned silence, broken only by Chat Noir whispering, "My.. my... Marinette?"
It looked like the cat was out of the bag. Marinette sighed. "Tikki, spots on!"
Lila's jaw dropped, and several shocked gasps rang out. Ladybug didn't care about any of them. She only had eyes for Lila. She took a step forward and was flooded with satisfaction when Lila took a corresponding step back. She kept moving until she'd backed Lila up against the far wall. Ladybug loomed over her.
"I've had enough of you and your lies. I've never regretted saving anyone from Hawkmoth. You're the first, and hopefully the only, person to win that distinction. If it were up to me, I'd tie you to the top of the Eiffel Tower with my yoyo and leave you there until you were no longer anyone's problem." She leaned in closer, until she and Lila were nose to nose. "But I am a superhero, and superheroes don't do that. Luckily for you. What I will do is warn you very clearly that Chat and I have evidence that you're a liar. If you try to slander either one of us again, or any of our teammates, or if you tell anyone who we are, I won't hesitate to make sure all of Paris knows about that evidence."
"Are you threatening me?" Lila said, face expressionless.
"It's a promise, Lila, not a threat. It's your choice. I can call Jagged Stone up right now and he would tell everyone that he's never met you before," Ladybug said.
Chat Noir stepped up behind her, so close that she could feel his body heat. "My father can prove you've never had anything to do with the modeling industry. He knows everyone."
"Rose has Prince Ali's number. She can call him and prove that you've never been to Archu," Alya said. "I'll post everything on my Ladyblog."
"And I'll ask my daddy to personally ban you and your family from Paris," Chloe said, appearing over Ladybug's other shoulder. She may not have been transformed, but Chloe had perfected the art of intimidation from before she could walk. "I'm sure your parents would love to know why."
"And by the way," Ladybug added, "I'm completely willing to go on the record on the Ladyblog and say that you and I are not friends, and that we never will be."
Lila's jaw clenched. "I hate you," she hissed.
"Well I hate you too," Ladybug replied, hearing Chat Noir and Chloe murmur their agreement. It felt good to have them at her back, knowing that they were both supporting her.
She watched as Lila’s scowl deepened into something furious, and Lila looked around the classroom. Ladybug followed her gaze, finding that everyone was glaring at Lila. Apparently Lila wasn’t fond of the lack of support, because she began fake sobbing, jumped to her feet, and raced out of the room.
Whereupon literally everyone turned to stare at Ladybug and Chat.
She gulped at the almost manic light in Alya’s eyes.
“Okay, well, bug out!” Ladybug exclaimed shrilly, throwing her yoyo out the window.
“Not without me!” Chat yelped, throwing his arms around her waist. As a result, her yoyo dragged them both out the window as exclamations and yells of surprise echoed behind them. They zipped across the street and up, dangling from a statue.
“I am so tired,” she said to no one in particular.
“Well, it could be worse,” Chat said optimistically, hanging from her waist.
Chat opened his mouth and then paused. “Give me a minute, I’m thinking.”
“That’s what I thought.”