The akuma was defeated, turning back into a young blonde woman. She looked around, first in confusion, then in panic as tears filled her eyes. The damage had been cleared and the citizens she had put under her control were freed, but she was still mentally berating herself for succumbing to Glöyn’s will in the first place. The young woman was still stewing in her self-hatred when a red gloved hand gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and she looked up at the hero in fear.
“Hey, it’s okay, miss,” Ladybird said softly, kneeling down in front of her. “You’re free now.”
“But I still allowed myself to fall in the first place,” the woman sobbed softly. She clutched her hair, which had fallen from its bun. “What am I to say when I return home? My father…”
“Should understand the circumstances leading to this,” Chat Noir interjected, coming to stand behind Ladybird. “The presence of a powerful villain who can manipulate emotions at will should excuse some unseemly behavior.”
“Well said, Chat.” The red and black hero gave his partner a small smile before turning back to the young woman. “It wasn’t your fault. Glöyn was the one who made you do this. You shouldn’t blame yourself, okay?”
He handed her the blue pen that once held the dark butterfly. She took it, and grabbed his hand with both of hers.
“Please,” she whispered, “accept my humblest apologies, and my sincerest gratitude.”
“Of course,” Ladybird said gently. “You’re welcome.”
The woman stood shakily, turning her pen in her hand as she watched as Ladybird and Chat Noir took off into the night.
“Makoto. Makoto, wake up!”
Makoto woke up to something rapidly poking his cheek. He opened his eyes a little to see a red blur inches from his face.
“Tikki?” He sat up, blinking tiredly. “What is it?”
“You, about to be late for the fifth time in a row,” the Good Luck kwami said sternly.
A quick look at the clock told him it was eight o’clock. He had thirty minutes to get to school and he was still in pajamas.
“I can’t be late again,” Makoto fretted, digging through his drawer to find clothes. “That’ll be an entire week of school I’ve been late!”
“Not to mention, Kiyotaka will never let you hear the end of it,” Tikki reminded him.
“I know,” he groaned, pulling a green shirt over his head.
Tikki gave her handler a sympathetic look as he looked for pants. She flew in front of Makoto, an idea popping into her head.
“You know, you’ll be able to get to school a lot faster as Ladybird,” she told him as he struggled into his pants.
“Wait, really?” Makoto looked at the kwami in surprise. “Is that allowed?”
“I wouldn’t make a habit out of it,” Tikki said, “but sure. Go for it!”
“Uh, okay. If you say so.” Makoto put on his jacket and laced up his red sneakers before tapping the white earrings. “Tikki, spots on!”
A red glow surrounded Makoto, and the red and black suit covered him. His jacket turned black with red sleeves, the back splitting in the middle like a pair of closed ladybug wings. The black spotted red mask covered his eyes, and the earrings in his ears displayed a ladybug pattern.
Makoto, now Ladybird, pulled his yo-yo from his pocket and threw it through his open window. It attached to a flagpole, and Ladybird swung towards Hope’s Peak Academy.
An out of breath Makoto burst into the classroom. He had changed back a block away from the school, and ran the rest of the way with at least five minutes to spare. The homeroom teacher, Chisa Yukizome, gave him a small smile as he went to take his seat. Makoto had a feeling she was grateful that he had arrived early so that Taka didn't have to make a scene.
Speaking of, the spiky haired hall monitor gave Makoto an approving nod as he sat down next to Kyoko.
The bell rang. Miss Yukizome began taking attendance. As she did, Kyoko turned to Makoto as he was taking his stuff out of his bag.
“Did you manage to catch the akuma yesterday?” she asked softly.
Makoto shot up in his seat, grimacing as his knee slammed into the table.
“D-Did I what?!” he whisper-yelled.
“Did you see the akuma?” Kyoko asked again, and Makoto gets the sense that she phrased it the other way on purpose.
“Yeah, I saw it,” he replied softly. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I didn’t see you afterwards.” They paused to announce their presence. “I was… worried about you…”
Makoto knew that it was hard for the lavender-haired girl to share her feelings, so this must’ve really been bugging her since the attack. He placed a hand on her arm, and she looked away.
“I’m okay,” he whispered to her. He gave her a small smile. “I got home safely, you didn’t have to worry.”
Kyoko turned back to him. Her face was blank, but her eyes were no longer distressed.
The two looked up see Miss Yukizome, and their classmates, watching them. Makoto’s face flushed.
“Is everything alright, you two?”
Makoto’s face went even redder. Kyoko cleared her throat.
“Makoto and I were just talking about the akuma that appeared yesterday,” she said matter-of-factly.
The atmosphere went cold. The class stiffened, and they all looked at the table behind Kyoko and Makoto. Celeste glanced over at Byakuya, who was glaring at the table, before turning her red gaze to the other students, as if daring them to say anything negative.
“Ah, yes, Miss Togami,” Chisa said softly, twirling a strand of strawberry blonde hair between her fingers. “It’s truly terrible what happened.” She looked at Byakuya, who was still avoiding everyone’s gaze. “Is she doing okay?”
Byakuya let out an inaudible sigh.
“Yes,” he said, voice uncharacteristically soft. “Shinobu’s fine.”
“I didn’t see her today,” Chisa prodded gently.
“She didn’t deem herself worthy to come in today.” Byakuya’s voice sounded monotonous, as if he were reciting them. “She won’t be absent for long. I feel she’ll miss this place too much.” The last line seemed a bit forced, as if he had meant to say something else, but decided against it.
“Ha! If I were her, I’d be too ashamed to show my face anywhere after that display!”
Everyone turned to the table across from Makoto and Kyoko. Celeste glared sharply at Junko, who was smirking at Byakuya, whose face was perfectly blank.
“Junko…” Chisa reprimanded softly.
“What was that, you little brat?” Celeste hissed angrily.
“What? It’s the truth.” Junko crossed her legs as she turned in her seat. Her sister, Mukuro, watched her nervously.
“Ikusaba, I suggest you reign in your sister,” Celeste snarled dangerously. Mukuro looked away, her eyes closed.
“Why don’t you tell Byakuya to do the same?”
Junko rose from her seat. Celeste shifted in hers, as if trying to shield her friend from the fashionista's jabs.
“Junko, please, sit down-”
“Can it, Yukizome!”
Junko rudely cut off Chisa as she approached Celeste and Byakuya’s table. Stopping directly in front of the latter, Junko’s smirk became a somewhat innocent smile.
“Don’t feel too bad, Byakuya,” she said, her tone soft yet condescending, like a neglectful parent attempting to placate their unwanted child. “It happens to the best of us, really. Except,” she feigned surprise, “it hasn’t happened to you, has it?” Junko smirked. “I guess that makes your stupid secretary sister better than you, huh?”
“That doesn’t make a lick of sense,” Celeste scoffed.
“Yeah!” Hina stood from her seat, glaring at Junko angrily. “And even if it did, becoming an akuma is nothing to laugh at!”
“Hina’s right,” Sakura agreed. “It’s one thing to target a victim, but doing it in the face of their family is just disgraceful.”
Junko gave the two a bored look.
“I could do without the peanut gallery,” she deadpanned. “Besides, he obviously doesn’t mind. I’m sure if he actually cared about her, he’d have much more to say about it.” She bent a bit at the waist, putting her face right next to Byakuya’s. He glared at her, icy blue meeting icy blue.
“Who are you to say whether or not I care about my own sister?” he asked through clenched teeth.
“You clearly don’t,” Junko said, “else you’d have turned when you saw her. It happened with Natsumi and Fuyuhiko, but not with you. And after all the trouble I went through to get poor Shinobu to akumatize in the first place.”
Chisa’s eyes went wide.
“You caused that? But… Juzo-”
“Oh, please,” Junko scoffed, “it’s easy to get that idiot to yell at anyone, especially when he thinks they’ve done something wrong! Now, butt out!” She turned back to Byakuya with a sadistic grin. “I came to see a shitshow, and that’s what I’m gonna get!”
“You really think a few pathetic words is all it takes to make me lose my composure?” The heir sneered at the model. “It seems all that noxious hairspray has finally taken its toll on your brainwaves.”
“Oh, and speaking of pathetic,” Junko went on, completely ignoring Byakuya’s insult, “Chiaki translated your sister’s akuma name, Rúnaí Damáistithe, on her Miracu-Blog, and, boy, is it laughable! I mean, ‘Damaged Secretary’? Really?”
She laughed loudly, unaware(or probably uncaring) of how Byakuya tensed at the name of the akuma.
“Even my own stupid sister managed to come up with a less obvious name than that!” Junko wiped a mirthful tear from her eye as her laughter died down. “Honestly, the only proper name for Shinobu Togami now would be Rúnaí Pathetic.”
The class was deathly silent once Junko delivered her finishing blow. All eyes were glued on the horrifically triumphant fashion model as she smirked maliciously at the dangerously quiet heir.
Then, Byakuya stood abruptly, and wordlessly left the room.
“Junko Enoshima, that was such a horrific thing to do!” Taka stood from his seat. “I refuse to allow such appalling behavior to continue any longer! You must find Byakuya immediately and apologize for your cruel behavior!”
“Why would I do that?!” Junko asked incredulously. “I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since akumas first started popping up. Besides, aren’t you all just a little curious what an akumatized Byakuya would be like?”
“No, we aren’t!” Sayaka exclaimed. “Akumas are awful, horrid creatures!”
“But, haven’t you been akumatized before, Maizono?” asked Mukuro, who had finally spoken up.
“Yes, and it was a truly dreadful experience.” Sayaka gave Mukuro a grave expression. “I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Junko dismissed flippantly. “You just think that because you were defeated, like, super easily. You’ve never felt the thrill of being nearly unstoppable.” She rolled her eyes. “We should get an unbiased opinion. Makoto, what do you think about this whole thing?”
There was no answer.
The class turned to see an empty seat next to Kyoko. They then looked to the open classroom door. Kyoko chuckled softly.
“Of course he did,” she said with a smile.
Byakuya moved swiftly through the halls, towards the second floor stairs. Once he was far enough from the classrooms, a black blob phased from the pocket of his equally black blazer.
“Hey, hey, whoa!” Plagg flew in front of Byakya’s face, holding up his tiny paws in a placating manner. “Jeez, kid, where’s the fire?”
“Plagg, I do not have time for your antics,” Byakuya said sharply as he ascended the stairs.
“You’re not hung up on what Enoshima said, are ya?” asked the Bad Luck kwami.
Byakuya didn’t answer.
Plagg flew closer to his handler, who continued to silently move up the stairs. Once they reached the top, Byakuya sighed.
“Like I said, a few words aren’t enough to sway me,” he muttered, “but that doesn’t mean I had to sit there and take it.”
Byakuya walked down the hall to the library. Plagg flew after him.
“Well, yeah, and I’m glad you pulled away from the situation when you did,” the kwami said. “That girl just doesn’t know when to quit.”
Byakuya pushed open the library doors and stepped inside.
In the face of the Togami household’s personal library, Hope’s Peak Academy’s library was truly nothing to gawk at. Even so, Byakuya still found the solitude and quaintness of it to be somewhat comforting.
Like, a home away from home.
Byakuya entered the mystery section, scanning the titles. He had read most of these before, but he would welcome the nostalgia of rereading in light of recent events. He pulled a book off of the shelf, leaning against it as he read. Plagg perched just behind his head, dozing off on top of a book.
After a few minutes of reading(or sleeping, in Plagg’s case), Byakuya heard the door open slowly.
“Byakuya? A-Are you in here?”
The heir quickly shoved Plagg(much to his displeasure) back into his pocket as Makoto came into view. The luckster looked relieved when he saw Byakuya, apparently fearing the worst.
“Oh, there you are,” Makoto said, a small smile on his face. “I was worried about you.”
Byakuya averted his gaze as his face heated up.
“Yes, well, you didn’t have to,” he replied. “As you can see, I’m perfectly fine.”
“Even so, I had to make sure.” Makoto looked at him with big green eyes. “If you got akumatized…”
He trailed off, and looked down at his sneakers. Byakuya pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose before he turned back to Makoto.
“Your blatant underestimation of my willpower insults me,” he snarked, though his tone lacked its usual bite.
“Yeah, but…” Makoto fidgeted a little. “Those things Junko said-”
“The things that come from that idiotic woman’s mouth mean nothing to me,” Byakuya snapped. “The only pathetic one here is herself.”
“...if you say so, Byakuya.”
It was silent. Makoto unconsciously twirled the strings of his hoodie between his fingers. Byakuya straightened his blazer and crossed his arms.
“Are you going to come back to class?” Makoto asked awkwardly.
“No.” Byakuya pulled his phone from his pocket.
“Oh.” A pause. “Should I tell Miss Yukizome you went home?”
“If you must.” He opened his contacts and aimlessly scrolled through them. Clicking one, he quickly typed out a message.
“O-Okay. Um, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“I suppose you will.” The response was immediate. Byakuya turned to make his leave.
Makoto darted in front of him, fumbling with the pocket of his hoodie. He pulled out a small tray, quickly opening it and fishing out a piece of strawberry-flavored candy.
“I know you’re not too fond of sweets, but-”
“I’m well aware of your little ‘tradition’, Naegi.”
After every student akuma attack, if he could, Makoto gave them sweets as a way of consoling them after such a traumatic experience. Byakuya never imagined he’d be on the receiving end of such a childish act, but here they were.
“It’s not really a tradition, per se,” Makoto said, nervously scratching at his cheek. “I like to think of it as more of a nice gesture, to comfort others, I guess.”
Byakuya rolled his eyes. “I already told you I was fine.”
“I know, but-”
Byakuya’s phone vibrated in his hand. He scowled down at Makoto, before holding out his hand. The luckster stared at it dumbly, and the heir gave an irritated sigh.
“Hurry up and hand it over, imbecile, I don’t have all day,” he commanded.
This made Makoto snap to attention, and he quickly deposited the small treat in Byakuya’s hand. He pocketed it(in the pocket that wasn’t holding his kwami) before striding out of the library.
“Oh, um, goodbye!”
Byakuya didn’t answer as he left Makoto behind in the library.
Byakuya sat in the passengers’ seat of his eldest sister’s dark pink Prius. He turned the piece of candy over and over between his fingers. Haruka Togami noticed this, of course. As silent as she was, her perception was as sharp as Yuka Togami’s knives.
“Is everything okay, Byakuya?” Haruka signed.
“Oh, he’s fine,” Plagg drawled. “He just got a piece of candy from his crush, no big deal.”
The heir scoffed. “He is not my crush. Haruka, do not encourage him,” Byakuya added, as his sister broke into silent laughter. He rolled his eyes as Haruka turned her eyes back to the road and Plagg flew back into the cup holder to finish off his provided Camembert. Byakuya leaned back against the seat, staring down at the piece of candy. Very carefully, he unwrapped the pink packaging, and held the spherical treat between his fingers.
He popped it into his mouth. The artificial strawberry flavor stayed with him for the rest of the day.