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Couturiere

Chapter Text

She ran.

There was nothing else she could do.

There was no way she could stick around.

Not after that

 

“Come on Marinette, we can talk about this!”

“There’s nothing to talk about. You either believe I’m bullying Lila, or you don’t. It’s that simple!”

Look girl, I’m not your enemy here! I want to believe you! But you have to admit you been acting like someone peed in your cereal ever since Lila showed up-”

“Because she’s a LIAR, Alya! How many times do I have to tell to you?!”

“And how many times do I have to tell YOU! There’s! No! PROOF!”

“SCREW YOUR PROOF! I’M YOUR BEST FRIEND! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TRUST ME!”

“WELL MAYBE IF YOU ACTED LIKE MY BEST FRIEND, I’D ACTUALLY HAVE A REASON TO TRUST YOU!!!”

“…I see.”

“No…Mari, I -”

“Fine. Fine! If you think I’m such a bad friend, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore!”

“Marinette, wait!”

“I’m done. Have fun with your new BFF, Lie-la!”

 

She tried. She really did. But she couldn’t hold it back anymore. There was only so much a girl could take.

And Ladybug could not be akumatized. That was simply not an option.

And so, against Tikki’s protests, she took off her earrings, placed them in the box, and hid them in her drawer. Then, she went up to the roof, and waited.

Sure enough, she heard the faint flapping of wings, and the little black butterfly came into view.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” she asked bitterly. She raised the arm that held her charm bracelet. “Just get it over with.”

The akuma floated over to her raised arm, and sunk itself into the bracelet, turning it black.

You sound as if I’m about to send you to the guillotine, came the amused voice from the back of her mind. I want to help you, Marinette.

Connerie. You want to use me. And then when you’ve gotten what you wanted, you’ll toss me aside like trash.”

Like your friends did?

Marinette stiffened.

You cannot lie to me child. I can feel your anger, your pain. I know all about Miss Rossi’s lies, and how she turned everyone against you. How no one believed you.

Marinette’s mind unintentionally drifted to her fight with Alya.

Ah, but it’s not the lies you’re most upset about, is it? It’s the betrayal. The ingratitude. You’ve done so much for them. You give and give and give, and it’s just not enough.

Marinette had to admit, the passion in Hawkmoth’s voice sounded genuine. Either he was a very good actor, or his Miraculous allowed him to feel her emotions. Either wouldn’t surprise her.

All these years you’ve proven time and again, your loyalty, your reliability. And the one time you needed them to trust you, to believe in you…they turned their backs on you. They chose her pretty words and false promises over you.

Marinette sank to her knees. She knew Hawkmoth was just trying to get under her skin…and by God he was succeeding.

But I can help you rise above that. I can help you cut away the frayed threads, and stitch out your own destiny. No more will anyone define you, especially not Lila Rossi! And all I ask in return, is that you bring me Ladybug and Chat Noir’s Miraculous’.

So, Mistress Couturiere…what do you say?

Marinette was silent, before slowly standing up. A single tear trekked down her face behind the glowing butterfly mask.

What the hell. It’s not like she had anything left to lose.

“…yes, Hawkmoth.”

And as the dark smoke enveloped her body, she had one last conscious thought.

So much for taking the high road, huh, Adrien?

Chapter Text

“Master! Something is wrong! It’s Tikki! I…I can’t sense her anymore!”

Fu’s heart froze as he took in what the turtle kwami just told him. If Wayzz couldn’t sense Tikki, it meant that Marinette had either renounced her and removed the earrings, or…

“There’s more. I sense a dark aura surrounding the Ladybug wielder…I believe she’s been akumatized!”

 

 

Alya stared forlornly at her phone as she contemplated calling her best friend for the fifteenth time.

Well…she supposed ex-best friend now.

Groaning loudly, she buried her face in her pillow. Why couldn’t Marinette understand? Lila was her friend, too. What was she supposed to do? Tell her to take a hike?

Okay, so she could admit that maybe Lila was…overreacting a bit. And maybe their classmates got a bit too caught up in the drama. But Marinette wasn’t exactly helping her case with the way she was acting. And don’t think she didn’t see the way she glared at Adrien. The boy was just sitting there minding his own business! There was no need to take it out on him.

Alya sighed, and  turned on her side. Maybe Marinette just needed some time to cool off. Maybe they could talk things out tomorrow.

A loud series of thumps and crashes made Alya bolt upright. That came from the living room!

Curious, and with a slight feeling of alarm, she went to her door and headed downstairs.

“Nora? Ella? Etta? …If that’s you making noise, keep it down, okay?…Guys, seriously, this isn’t fun-”

Alya stopped. And stared.

On the floor, bound and gagged with what appeared to be copious amounts of string, were her sisters. The twins’ eyes were filled with fright, Nora was shaking her head, as if pleading for Alya to stay away.

And as she looked up, Alya understood why.

There was someone sitting on their couch, their leg crossed gracefully over the other, their hands folded in their lap.

Someone who looked like they popped straight out of a comic book, and yet looked oh so familiar.

Someone who was now staring at Alya very intently, like a cat about to eat a mouse.

“Hey, Alya. I decided to stop by for a visit. I think we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“I brought macarons. They’re cherry cordial.”

Alya stared at the akuma villain that was holding out a box of bright pink pastries for her to sample. She had an idea of her identity.

She had never prayed so hard to be wrong in her life.

“…Marinette?”

The villain shrugged. “Sort of. You could say I’m a better version of her. Call me Mistress Couturiere. Or just Couturiere, either will suffice.”

As Alya hesitantly picked out a macaron from the box, she took in Couturiere’s appearance.

She had Marinette’s pigtails, which were now in in elegant ringlets and tied with pink ribbon. On top of her head was a large pink bow. She had large red heart-shaped earrings.

Her jacket looked like Marinette’s too, only a royal purple with pink lace on the cuffs.

The skirt of her dress had two layers, one pink, one purple, while the bodice looked like a black corset.

Her legs were covered by black leggings, on her feet were pink boots with purple bows and lace.

She wore a black choker with lace, and around her shoulders was what looked like a red tape measure.

Her hands were adorned with black, laced gauntlets, her black nails lacquered and sharp. Around her wrist was a large purple pincushion.

That must be where the akuma is, Alya thought.

But what drew her attention the most was Couturiere’ s face. Her eyes were now an icy blue with black sclera, which were now staring coldly at Alya through a purple, butterfly shaped domino mask.

Whereas Marinette’s smile was warm and welcoming, Couturiere’s red ruby lips were quirked into a sharp, and obviously fake, grin.

It turned Alya’s stomach.

“I’ve been thinking about our little…spat, and I realized that I may have…jumped the gun a bit. You could say that I had a…change of perspective.”

Alya quirked an eyebrow. “And I suppose you had ‘help’ with this revelation?”

Couturiere shrugged. “What can I say? There’s nothing quite like a makeover to make one feel like a new person.”

World’s biggest understatement, Alya thought. Out loud, she asks, “So…you’re not mad anymore?”

 The corners of Couturiere’s mouth turned sharper. “Water under the bridge.”

Alya nodded, ignoring the bead of sweat on her brow. “Good. That’s..I’m glad. So listen, do you think you can untie my-”

“You know, I’m glad too, Alya.” Couturiere interrupted, standing abruptly. “Honestly, I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. All those times I’ve turned Hawkmoth down? I was really missing out.”

Alya’s eyes widened at what Couturiere was implying. Marinette was nearly akumatized before, multiple times apparently, and she never said anything? “Wait. When did this-?”

“But I feel so much better now.” Couturiere continued, ignoring Alya. She staring taking slow, deliberate steps towards Alya, forcing her to back away. “And to celebrate my metamorphosis, I’ve decided to make you a brand new outfit. Tailored made just for you and free of charge.”

As she spoke, Couturiere pressed her fingertips together, and as she pulled them apart, glowing purple thread began to materialize and loop itself around her fingers.

Alya was panicking now. She’d been at the wrong end of an akuma attack enough times to know that this would not end well for her.

“That’s, um, really considerate, Mari-Couturiere,” Alya stuttered, desperately looking for an exit. “But really, that’s not necessary-”

Alya turned on her heel and dashed towards the stairs. She skidded to a halt as a web of thread suddenly appeared and blocked her escape.

She gasped and tugged desperately at the thread but it refused to budge.

Merde merde merde merde MERDE!

“Oh but I insist!” Alya spun around and Couturiere was right in front of her, a manic look on her face. Alya cringed back in fear.

“I mean, I already do so much for you - the free baked goods, the free outfits, helping with your blog, my duties as class rep…babysitting your little brat twin sisters after you dump them on me at the last minute-”

From behind them, Nora let out a muffled “What?!” Alya cringed at the sudden venom in Couturiere’s voice.

“What’s one more little favor for my best friend?”

Couturiere reached out her hand, and Alya squeezed her eyes shut.

 

 

“Well…what do you think?”

Alya slowly opened her eyes, and looked down in shock.

The dress was beautiful. It was white with black straps and accents. It even had matching shoes and jewelry.

“I…thank you?”

“You’re welcome.” Couturiere beamed. “Now, let’s get going. We’ve got a party to plan.”

Alya blinked. “Party?”

“At the Le Grand Paris. All of our friends are invited…and Lila, of course.”

Alya gulped. Lila, Of course. She knew there was a catch.

“Um actually, girl, I’ve got a lot of homework to do, so if you could just-”

But as Alya tried to back away, she found she couldn’t move. It was as if her feet were glued to the floor.

Alya looked to Couturiere in shock. Her eyes were now glowing.

“Oh Alya…it’s cute how you think you have a choice.”

She went to the front door and opened it. “After you.”

Against her will, Alya felt her body move and do as Couturiere instructed.

Yep! There it is! Definitely didn’t miss this!

As Alya unwillingly followed her akumatized best friend out of her apartment and into the streets of Paris, she knew that this was not going to be fun.

Chapter Text

“Pick up the pace, Alya! We don’t have time to waste!”

At Couturiere’s singsong voice, Alya’s body practically trotted up to her. She honestly couldn’t believe that she had made them walk all the way to Le Grand Paris. Her feet were killing her!

“Now remember, this is a surprise party. So act natural, ok?”

Alya tried to protest, only to realize her vocal chords weren’t working.

Couturiere walked right up to Mayor Bourgeois, who was waving to a guest.

“Pardonne, Monsieur,  but my friend and I were wondering if we could use your ballroom? We’re planning a party tonight.”

Mayor Bourgeois furrowed his brows. “I’m sorry, Mademoiselle, but our ballroom is reservation only. You’ll have to…”

His words drifted off as Couturiere chuckled darkly.

“Let me rephrase that…”

Couturiere’s hand suddenly shot out and touched the mayor’s chest. His body was instantly cocooned in glowing purple thread.

Then, before Alya’s eyes, the thread seemed to be absorbed into the mayor’s skin, and in place of his regular attire was a white tuxedo with a red cummerbund and matching top hat.

“We’re using the ballroom.”

Mayor Bourgeois’ face twisted as if in pain as he grunted out, “As…you wish…Mistress Couturiere.”

“Much obliged.” she nodded. She then pulled out her phone and began texting someone.

 

 

Jagged Stone and his assistant Penny Rolling stepped out of the elevator, smiles on their faces. They just got a text from Jagged’s honorary niece, Marinette Dupain-Cheng. She said that she was throwing a party for a classmate of hers here at the hotel, and she knew it was last minute and he was probably busy, but could he please please please come and play, just a song or two?

And how could he say no? After everything she’d done for him, surely an hour or two out of his day was the least he could give her.

As they approached the ballroom, they saw a familiar pig-tailed figure, and quickened their pace.

“Oi! Marinette! Where do ya want us to set up?”

But as the figure turned around, and they got a good look at her, the smile on his face faltered.

“Uncle Jagged! Penny! You came!”

They stared at the creature that was walking towards them with arms wide open. She certainly sounded like Marinette. She even acted like her somewhat.

But they both knew better. Even before they saw the bespectacled girl in the back, silently pleading to them with her eyes.

“Jagged…” Penny clutched Jagged’s arm and pulled frantically.

“It’s alright, Penny. I got this.” he whispered. To the akuma, he said, “So…Marinette…you want me to play some songs, yeah?”

“Marinette” nodded her head. “Oh yes, Jagged. I’d really appreciate it. And do you think you could sing that one song for Lila…what was it called again? Oh, I’m sure she’ll just love that you’re playing the song you wrote just for her -”

“Wait wait wait. I’m sorry. What?

“Marinette” blinked. “The song you wrote Lila. Lila Rossi? After she saved your cat from that runway?”

Jagged stared. And stared. Then he spoke gently and slowly. “Marinette. Love. I think that akuma might be messin’ with your memory a bit. I don’t have a cat. I have a crocodile. Fang, remember? And I think I would remember if I wrote a song for anyone named Lila.”

“Marinette” fake gasped. “Really? Well, imagine. My. Shock.” She slowly turned her head towards her friend, who had gone very pale, with a predatory grin. “Well, this is embarrassing. I mean, I can’t imagine why Lila would lie like that. I mean, my friend Alya certainly thought she was telling the truth. Even posted it on her blog. After all,” she dug her nails into the girl’s shoulder as she hissed, “‘A good journalist always checks their sources.’

The girl, Alya, was now turning a sickly green.

Now Jagged Stone was a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them. As he looked between the two girls, he put two and two together.

“Hang on. So you’re tellin’ me that not only has this girl been makin’ up stories about me, but that she,” he pointed at Alya. “has been postin’ it on the Internet where anyone can read it?”

“Pretty much.” “Marinette” said with a smirk. Alya seemed to visibly shrink.

Jagged glared at Alya. “Let me guess. Marinette tried to tell you the truth and ya didn’t listen to her, did ya?”

“To be fair, it wasn’t just her.” “Marinette” said. “It was our classmates, the teachers, the principal…pretty much everyone.”

While her tone was light, Jagged could see the bitterness in her eyes. His glare at Alya intensified. 

Alya bowed her head in shame, her eyes filled with tears.

Jagged sighed. Getting angry at Alya wouldn’t fix things. She was a dumb kid who made a dumb mistake. Right now, Marinette was his concern.

“Listen Marinette…” Jagged knelt down and gently grasped “Marinette”’s shoulders, who gasped in shock. “I know what you’re goin’ through. I know what it’s like to feel like no one’s listenin’.“

Jagged had no memory of his actions as Guitar Villain, but he did remember the emotions. The anger and resentment. The feeling that everyone is tuning you out, and no one’s on your side.

“But you’re not alone.” Jagged continued passionately. “You have so many people who care about you! You have me! We’ll go to your school, have a press conference, somethin’! We’ll tell them the truth. We’ll fix everthin’! You don’t need to do this! You don’t need Hawkmoth!”

“Marinette”‘s eyes seemed to soften as she listened to Jagged’s words. 

“I…”

“Th-that’s right!” Alya spoke up, apparently having regained her voice. “You don’t need Hawkmoth! He’s using you, Marinette! He’s taking advantage of your pain to suit his own ends.

“I…I know I haven’t been a good friend. I messed up, big time. But I know the truth now! Please…give me a chance to make it right!”

“I..I don’t-”

And what about next time?

 

 

Couturiere and company gasped as the familiar glowing mask appeared on her face.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t listen to him, Marinette! He’s lying!”

Sure, the truth may be exposed now, but what about the next time some liar decides to slander your reputation? Your friend has already proven she cares more about her ambition than your feelings. What’s stopping her from turning on you again?

“Jagged…said he would help me…”

“That’s right! I’m gonna help you, Marinette! Ya hear that, ya winged tosser?! She doesn’t need you!” 

Hawkmoth’s voice was filled with pity. Oh you poor thing. Don’t you see? He shouldn’t have to get involved. Anyone with access to the Internet would have realized Rossi’s claims were rubbish, And yet…none of them did.

The simple fact is, they believed her lies because they wanted to. They compared the two of you and found you lacking.

And really, isn’t that what they’ve always done? How many times have they watched Chloe Bourgeois mistreat you and say nothing? How often do they come to you when they need something?

You are a means to an end. I have kept my promise. Can you say the same for them?

 

 

 

“Come on love! Fight it! I know you can! You’re strong, Marinette! I know you can beat ‘im!”

“Couturiere.”

Jagged’s face fell as his akumatized niece gently grabbed his hands and removed them from her shoulders. She backed away from him slowly.

“Marinette…”

She smiled sadly. “Marinette is gone, Uncle Jagged. There’s only Mistress Couturiere now.”

She turned to Alya, a cold, blank look on her face. “And I don’t need to be told how expendable I am, Alya. Believe me, I learned that the hard way.”

Alya reared back as if slapped.

“Now then, enough drama.” Couturiere’s eyes brightened mischievously. “We have a party to prepare. And you two…”

With frightening speed, she was suddenly behind Jagged and Penny, pressing her hands into their backs.

“…are underdressed!”

Chapter Text

It was disgustingly easy to round up the rest of her classmates.

A single text from Alya's phone and they came like moths to a flame.

There was only one exception.

Adrien.

Before she departed, she made several "ground rules" - they could roam around the ballroom and socialize, but they were not to leave or tell anyone what was really going on. 

Several tried, of course, only to find themselves paralyzed on the spot or literally choking on their own words.

Content to know that her "leashes" were secure, she went off to find the penultimate guest.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, inside his room, Adrien Agreste was sprawled out on his bed, lost in thought.

"Hey Plagg...do you think Marinette looked upset in class today?"

The cat kwami rolled his eyes. "Well gee, I don't know kid. I mean, it's not like your girlfriend was being accused of something she quite clearly didn't do, by the entire class. And it's not like somebody just sat on his butt and said absolutely nothing while all this was going on, despite knowing full well that that Lila girl was lying through her teeth!"

Adrien groaned. "She's not my girlfriend, Plagg. And what good would confronting Lila do? Last time I did, she got akumatized! I can't risk putting Marinette in danger like that!"

"Yeah, because clearly Lila being akumatized is the only thing you need to worry about."

Adrien froze. "What are you saying?"

"Seriously? I really need to spell this out for you?" Plagg loved the kid, he really did, but by the Guardian, was he dumb! "Marinette was upset. What does Hawkmoth do to people who are upset, Adrien?"

Adrien stuttered. "C-come on Plagg. It's...it's Marinette. Our everyday Ladybug!  She always has a solution for any problem! She's way too strong to fall into Hawkmoth's hands."

Plagg stared flatly at his wielder. "She's also human, kid. Even the nicest people have their limits. And Hawkmoth has akumatized people over far less."

"I...I think you're right Plagg. I better go check on her. Plagg, claws out!"

 

 

 

As Couturiere landed in front of  Agreste Manor, she looked up towards the window where she knew Adrien's bedroom would be.

Imagine her shock when she saw the window opened and a certain black cat jumped out.

What luck! Now's your chance to seize his Miraculous! 

"Patience, Hawkmoth." Couturiere said calmly. "You'll get your Miraculous. After I've had my fun."

She summoned a pair of sewing scissors, and threw them to get the cat's attention.

Chat Noir fell to the ground in shock. With a snap of her fingers, he was bound with thread.

"Bonsoir, minou!" She called as she sauntered up to her prey. "This is a surprise. I came here to catch a prince, and instead I catch a stray!"

Chat Noir ceased his struggling, and his eyes widened in horror as he took in her appearance.

"Marinette...?"

"What's left of her." Couturiere gave a mock bow. "Call me Mistress Couturiere. Or just Couturiere, whichever you prefer."

Straightening, she said, "Sorry to cut our chitchat short, but there's a party tonight, and I'm here to deliver Adrien his invitation personally."

And with that, she leapt straight up and through Adrien's window.

 

 

 

Chat Noir banged his head on the ground in frustration.

I'm such an idiot! Plagg was right! I was so focused on keeping Lila from being akumatized that I didn't even think about Marinette! Some friend I am!

As the thread refused to budge, Chat realized there was only one option left.

"Cataclysm!"

The thread turned gray and fell apart instantly. He wasted no time and leapt towards his bedroom window.

He was surprised to see Couturiere standing in the middle of his room, arms crossed, tapping her foot.

"I can't find him anywhere. I'm guessing that's your doing?"

"Ummm...yeah." Chat bluffed. "I got an akuma alert and saw you heading this way. He's...hiding. Yeah."

Couturiere scoffed. "I knew I should've had me and Alya take a cab." Then she shrugged. "Oh well. His loss. I still have to get things ready for the guest of honor."

Chat pretended to be insulted. "You're having a party and you didn't invite me? You wound me, purrincess!"

A loud beep rang out! Merde! He was about to change back!

While he was distracted, Couturiere made a  throwing gesture with her arm, and before Chat knew it, his feet and "tail" were pinned with large sewing needles.

"Oh don't worry, minou." Couturiere cooed, and she walked towards the window. "You and I will get our own song and dance later. Until then...à plus tard!"

And with that, she was gone.

 

 

 

Couturiere returned to the hotel and was greeted with the somber and regretful faces of her classmates.

Apparently Alya and Jagged had told everyone the truth about their dear friend Lila while she was gone.

Couturiere smirked. She bet they were all feeling pretty stupid right now.

But she had no pity for them. They had brought this on themselves.

If they weren't going to listen to her, then she'd make them listen, whether they liked it or not.

"Bad news, everyone!" she called out, clapping her hands together. "Looks like Adrien can't make it. Guess he'll have to miss out!

"But, the show must go on! And so..." she reached into her jacket and pulled out Alya's phone. "Alya? If you would do the honors..."

 

 

 

Lila was in her room, brushing her hair, when her phone buzzed. It was Alya.

"Alya! I was just thinking about you! I just got off the phone with the Marcelle Auclair, and I think she may want to take you on as an apprentice!"

"That's...that's great, Lila. Listen, the reason I called is...well, I'm not really supposed to tell you this but..."

"What is it? You can tell me, I won't tell a soul!"

"...Me and the rest of the class are throwing you a party. Tonight. At Le Grand Paris. It's supposed to be a surprise."

Lila gasped. "A surprise party? For me? Oh you guys shouldn't have, I...wait." Lila made her voice quiet and timid. "Is...Marinette going to be there?"

"...Marinette's not coming. She...wasn't invited."

A huge smirk appeared on Lila's face. "Oh no, Alya. Are you sure? I'd hate to come between you two. I know you two are best friends and all..."

Alya's voice sounded pained. "No Lila. Marinette made her choice. Until she gets over herself and starts acting like an adult, we're not letting her be part of the group."

It took everything Lila had not to giggle. "Well I trust you, Alya. Whatever you think is best. So, when is the party again?"

"It's at 8. At 7:45, me and the girls will come get you. For a 'study group'. Just remember to act surprised when we get to the hotel, okay."

"You got it. Thanks again, Alya. You really are the best friend a girl could ask for!"

"...yeah. See you at 8."

She abruptly hung up, to Lila's confusion.

Lila shrugged. Oh well. She had a party to get ready for. One that Dupain-Cheng wasn't invited to.

That's what you get for getting in my way, you little puttana.

 

 

 

As Couturiere took the phone back from Alya, she asked, "So...she fall for it?"

Alya grimaced. "Yeah...she'll be here at 8."

Excellent. The bait was laid out. The trap was set.

Now all she had to do was wait.

Chapter Text

After powering down and filling Plagg up with camembert, Chat was leaping from rooftop to rooftop, looking for Couturiere.

Considering who the akuma victim's true identity was, it wasn't hard to guess who the "guest of honor" was.

Now the question was, where was the "party" taking place?

True, he had told Couturiere that he had gotten an akuma alert, but really, there was no news about any akuma.

This is going to be tricky. Couturiere is smart - she knows how to keep herself hidden.

Ladybug still wasn't answering. This was the fifth time he'd called her. 

There was only one way to find out. And with that he leapt towards the Rossi residence.

 

 

 

"Mama, I'm going over to my friends' for a study group!"

"Ok dear. Study hard."

Chat narrowed his eyes. A study group? Yeah right.

For one thing, Alya, Mylene, Rose, and Juleka all looked pretty dressed up for just a night of studying.

For another, Lila looked way too much like she was trying too conceal her excitement.

She must not realize she's walking into a trap.

The girls all piled into a cab, and Chat followed them closely.

 

 

 

In the center of the ballroom, Couturiere was contently playing Cat's Cradle with her thread, all while humming "Frere Jacques."

The other "guests" were talking amongst themselves while eying their "host" warily.

When suddenly a voice rang out.

"Ugh. Can you believe this, Sabrina? I mean seriously? The dress doesn't even match my nails! And where are the hor dourves?  What idiot doesn't know to serve food at a party? Worst. Party. Ever!"

The others turned to the voice in exasperation. Seriously, Chloe?!

Couturiere frowned, then closed her hands together, vanishing the thread. "Hey Chloe?"

The blonde turned with a huff. "What."

"You've got something on your face."

The blonde's eyes widened. "What? What is it? It's not a pimple, is it?"

Couturiere walked up to Chloe, getting into her personal space. "It's riiiiiight...here!"

And suddenly, Chloe was across the room, sprawled out on the floor, her cheek bright red and swollen. Sabrina gasped in horror and went to help her up.

Couturiere smirked. "I've always wanted to do that."

While she was gazing down at the fallen Chloe, Nino had snuck up behind her, and was carefully reaching for her pincushion. Alya had told him that was where she thought the akuma was.

If he could just get it off her...

But unfortunately he wasn't fast enough. Suddenly, he was grabbing at his throat as his airway was cut off.

Couturiere turned to him, her hands on her hips, a condescending smirk on her face, "Now Nino, you should know better. It's not nice to touch people's belongings without their permission."

"Marinette, stop! You're killing him!" cried Kim.

"Please Marinette! This isn't you!" pleaded Nathanial. 

And indeed, Nino was staring to turn blue. Rolling her eyes, she mentally allowed his necktie to loosen.

"I don't see why you're all upset." she stated, as she watched Nino take deep gulping breaths. "You all wanted me as the bad guy...so now I am the bad guy."

Everyone in the room flinched.

"Look, what do you want us to say?!" Alix suddenly screamed. "We screwed up okay? We all saw Lila's crocodile tears and didn't stop to think that maybe she was faking them! We were complete and total idiots who completely forgot everything you've done for us and we were totally ungrateful and we're sorry!"

Alix burst into tears. It was completely jarring to see the tomboy come completely unglued.

"I'm sorry." she pleaded. "Please. I just want my friend back."

Couturiere frowned. Alix flinched as she walked over to her, reached out...

And began wiping her tears away. She placed her hands on Alix's shoulders.

Alix allowed her heart to swell with hope. Couturiere was smiling the same gentle, reassuring smile Marinette always had.

"I don't believe you."

And just like that, any hope left was shattered. "But that's okay. Because I don't need you anymore. And once I'm done here, no one will listen to anything that Italian rat says ever again."

Everyone's faces filled with horror at the implications.

Couturiere scoffed. "I'm not going to kill her. Calm down." An evil grin spread across her face. "After all the trouble I went through to get her here? No way she gets off that easy."

 

 

 

They arrived at Le Grand Paris.

Chat heard Lila ask, "So the pa-ahem, study group is at the hotel?"

He looked at the group of girls getting out of the cab and noticed Alya's smile was strained. "Well, what can I say? This is a very...special study group."

"Gotcha." Lila winked. He could've sworn he saw the other girls grimace.

Hiding behind a parked car, Chat whispered, "Claws in."

"What are you doing?" Plagg hissed. "Are you trying to get killed?"

"Those girls are obviously acting under duress. If they see Chat Noir sneaking in, they'll probably tell Couturiere. If I'm gonna take her down, I need the element of surprise."

And his partner. But apparently that wasn't about to happen any time soon.

"For the record, I think this is a terrible idea."

"Noted. Now hide."

He waited until the group had gone inside before he emerged and followed them.

 

 

 

"It's through here."

Lila was trying...and failing...to contain her excitement.

As Alya opened the door....

"SURPRISE!!"

Loud applause greeted Lila as confetti was thrown her way. 

She was stunned. They had even managed to get ahold of Jagged Stone!

"Oh you guys! You threw me a party? Oh, I just don't know what to say! You guys are the best!"

But once the guests stopped clapping she began to notice something was...wrong.

Like the fact that no one was smiling.

Or that there was no music playing, no decorations, and no food put out.

Or that Kim and Ivan had subtly moved behind her to block the door.

And suddenly there was a single person clapping.

Slowly. Sarcastically.

The person made their way to the center of the room. This person was looking at Lila like a cat about to eat a mouse. This person also looked very familiar.

"And the last guest finally arrives. Now we can all get started."

...And Lila realized she just might be in trouble.

Chapter Text

Look at her. Look at the fear on her face. Now she's starting to feel what she made you feel. To be backed into a corner, with no one to defend her.

I have to admit, Hawkmoth, I'm a little surprised you're not leaping to her defense. Couturiere thought back, eyebrow raised. Considering how willing to help you she's been in the past.

She has been...useful, yes. Hawkmoth admitted. But to advance on the board, often times certain...pieces need to be sacrificed. 

 

 

 

And to be honest, Miss Rossi's attitude had started to become tiring as of late. She seemed to be under the delusion that she deserved the power his akumas gave her. 

At this point, he had been biding his time until he could replace her with a more powerful candidate.

But he didn't need to tell Couturiere that.

 

 

 

Couturiere chuckled. "Can't argue with that logic."

And suddenly, Couturiere leapt through the air and landed right in front of the frightened Lila.

"Well, I think congratulations are in order, Lila."

She grabbed Lila's hair and violently wrenched her up to her level. Lila let out a pained gasp. "You got what you wanted."

Couturiere threw Lila forward, causing her to stumble and trip.

"You broke me."

Lila fearfully crawled backwards as Couturiere stalked towards her.

"So tell me...was it worth it?"

A brief flash of anger crossed Lila's face - probably upset that she didn't get the akuma this time - before it changed back into fear.

"Guys, she's hurting me!" Lila cried, looking around desperately at her classmates, and Jagged and Penny. "Do something!"

"Save your breath, Rossi. They couldn't help you even if they wanted to."

To prove her point, Couturiere eyes began to glow, and everyone converged into a circle around the two, trapping Lila in.

Couturiere folded her arms behind her back and bent down to glare at Lila. "I'm going to give you one. Last. Chance. Admit that you've been lying to everyone. I've got nothing left to lose, Rossi. Your threats won't work on me anymore."

Their classmates gasped. Oh. Right. They hadn't known about that.

"I...I don't know what you're talking about." Lila stammered, looking around at the surrounding faces. "I've never threatened her! She threatened me! She told me that she would make my life miserable! That I would lose all my friends! She-" 

"Lila...just stop."

"W..what?"

As Lila looked at the faces of their classmates, she realized that they all had looks of exasperation, exhaustion, irritation, and in the case of Jagged and Penny, absolute fury.

All of it aimed at her.

"We know the truth, Lila." Alya told her, her face imploring. "Just...please. Own up to it."

Couturiere glared in irritation at her former best friend. She didn't need coaching from the peanut gallery.

Lila's face scrunched up in "anguish". "How could you, Marinette?! Bullying me wasn't enough? You had to go and brainwash all our friends-"

Something flew past Lila's face. A sharp pain flared on her cheek and when she touched it, she felt a large, wet cut.

Looking behind her she saw a pair of scissors embedded in the floor, along with several strands of her hair.

Couturiere's face was etched in cold fury. "The truth, Rossi. Now."

Lila's mask cracked slightly. "You...you don't scare me! No matter what you do to me, Ladybug will just fix it in the end!"

She stood up, feeling more emboldened. "In fact, I just got off the phone with her. She knew you had set up a trap for me, and so she and I had cooked up a plan to catch you..."

Lila trailed off as Couturiere chuckled darkly. 

"It's funny you should mention that." She reached into her jacket and pulled something out. She held up her palm so everyone could see. "Look familiar?"

The whole room gasped in horror.

"Ladybug's earrings!"

"No way! She got the drop on Ladybug?!"

"Oh no!"

 

 

 

Hawkmoth gripped his cane in surprise. Couturiere had the Ladybug Miraculous this whole time?!

…no, wait...

If what he was picking up from her was correct, then those earrings were fake, constructs made from her special thread.

Now his interest was piqued. Just what was that girl planning?

 

 

 

"Those...those are fake." Lila stammered, her smile noticeably strained. "There's no...there's no way you could have..."

"Tell yourself that, if it brings you comfort." Couturiere shrugged, putting the earrings back in her jacket. "But the fact remains. Ladybug isn't coming. There be no purifying my akuma. There will be no Miraculous Ladybug. There will be no fixing the damage I've caused. Anything I've done, and will do, is permanent."

She folded her arms. "Do you understand now? There are no adults for you to hide behind. Our classmates can't help you. Ladybug can't save you. You have no allies, no means of lying your way out of this. Oh, and by the way..."

She leaned in to whisper in Lila's ear. "Hawkmoth says that your services are no longer required. He got what he wanted, and he doesn't need you anymore."

Lila sputtered in outrage and shock. "You...you...."

"So I would think very hard about the next words that come out of your mouth, Rossi. Because they very well may be your last."

"What, but, you said-"

"Shut up, Ivan." Couturiere singsonged through gritted teeth. To Lila she said. "So...what's it gonna be?"

Chapter Text

Adrien officially wanted to slap the idiot that thought it was a good idea to put the ballroom on the fifth floor.

As well as the person who designed the elevators in this place, which were taking their sweet time coming back down.

Ding. Finally!

He stepped in and pressed the button to the 5th floor...and had to wait 10 minutes as the elevator slowly made its way up.

Was the universe just actively conspiring against him today?

"Ya know, you could have just avoided this by climbing the side of the building as Chat Noir, but hey, what do I know? I'm just a chaos deity as old as time itself."

"I told you. Element of surprise."

"Fine. By all means, don't let me interfere with your needlessly complicated plan."

Now on the fifth floor, he crept toward the door where he knew the ballroom was.

Opening it slightly, he heard voices inside.

"Ladybug's earrings!"

"No way! She got the drop on Ladybug?!"

"Oh no!"

Couturiere was talking, but Adrien couldn't hear her over the ringing in his ears.

It couldn't be true.

Couturiere had actually succeeded where other akumas had failed.

She had defeated Ladybug and had taken her Miraculous.

Why hadn't she called for him? Why hadn't he helped her?

His knuckles turned white as he gripped the door handle.

 

 

 

Lila looked at the faces of the other "guests", and then at Couturiere. She seemed to finally realize she wasn't going to just simply walk away from this.

And so, with grim determination, she took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry."

Couturiere raised an eyebrow.

Lila's gazed turned to the floor as she rubbed her arm, her voice contrite. "I never meant for things to go this far. I just...I wanted everyone to like me. So I told them what I thought they wanted to hear. But you just kept getting in my way, even though, really, I didn't think I was actually hurting anybody. So...I tried to hurt you. 

"I didn't think you'd get akumatized over it! I mean, everyone keeps calling you their 'everyday Ladybug.' I figured you were stronger than that.

"But...I guess even you have breaking point. I know it doesn't fix anything but...I just wanna say I'm sorry."

Lila turned her gaze up towards Couturiere, her eyes earnest.

...but Couturiere was less than impressed.

"You finished?"

"...I-"

Lila's breath was stolen as Couturiere jammed her knee right in Lila's stomach. She then spun around and kicked her, sending her flying.

A loud CRACK resounded throughout the room as Lila hit the wall.

She began to weep real tears this time as she clutched her shoulder, and everyone could see that her arm was bent at an unnatural angle.

"Pathetic" Couturiere muttered in disgust.

I must admit, it was a rather clever ruse you came up with, with those fake earrings. Hawkmoth praised. A pity it didn't work.

I didn't expect it to, to be honest. Couturiere admitted. Don't worry. You'll have the real thing once I'm done with things here.

She marched over to the fallen girl and grabbed the front of her shirt, lifting her off the ground.

"Please." Lila whimpered. "Please don't."

"I'd say this won't hurt a bit," Couturiere mocked, raising her other arm. "But that would be a lie."

 

"MARINETTE, STOP!"

 

Everyone turned towards the door and someone crashed into the room. A familiar, blonde-haired someone.

Who looked around the room from his place on the floor, his eyes wide and face pale.

"Umm...hi. Sorry I'm late?"

Chapter Text

Couturiere blinked, then narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

"Adrien. You're a hard man to find."

Adrien slowly stood up, a "trying way too hard to look like I'm not hiding something" smile on his face. "I was...taking a shower? Heh."

Couturiere just gave him a flat look. Then she shrugged, jostling Lila, who was still in her grip, causing her to cry out.

"Oh well. Better late than never, I guess."

Without even dropping her prey, she threw out an arm towards Adrien.

Before he could even blink, he was bound with a lasso of glowing purple thread, the end of which appeared in Couturiere's free hand.

With a sharp pull, Adrien was flying towards her. She caught him by the front of his shirt, and he was cocooned in thread.

The thread absorbed itself into Adrien's skin, revealing a formal black suit.

The room stared in horror at the knowledge that not even Marinette's crush was safe from Couturiere's wrath.

"Go stand with the others." Couturiere ordered idly, waving him off with a dismissive hand. She turned back to Lila with an evil smirk, "Now...where were we?"

Adrien struggled with all his might as his body refused to cooperate. "Marinette! Ngh! Marinette, please, you can't do this!"

Couturiere rolled her eye, not even turning around. "Yeah, pretty sure I can."

"This isn't gonna fix anything! You're just stooping to her level!"

"Kinda certain I've gone past that point. Now please be qui-"

"JUST LISTEN TO ME! You're better than this! You're better than him! You've got to..."

Adrien drifted off as he realized that the room had gotten deathly quiet, and that he wasn't moving against his will anymore.

"...listen to you? You want me...to listen to you?"

Couturiere unceremoniously dropped Lila to the floor, where she whimpered in pain from having landed on her broken arm.

Couturiere chuckled bitterly as she turned to face Adrien, her face a mask of pain.

"I did listen, Adrien. When Lila was lying to our friends, playing with their hopes and dreams by giving them false promises, and taking advantage of their kindness by having them carry her books and lunch trays and even doing her homework for her, do you remember what you told me?"

She never raised her voice, but the impact of her words resounded throughout the room as though she had been shouting.

"You said not to say anything. That exposing her would just make the situation worse. You said, and I quote, 'As long as you and I both know the truth, does it really matter?'"

Everyone stared at Adrien in shock at what Couturiere was implying. Adrien, for his part, looked like he wanted to sink into the floor.

"And so, I did as you asked. I said nothing. I let Lila continue to lead our classmates on. I took the high road. And guess what happened?"

While she was talking, Lila had taken this opportunity to try and crawl away. Which was immediately stopped when Couturiere slammed the heel of her boot down on Lila's leg. Another crack! was heard, and Lila wailed in agony.

"Nothing." Couturiere continued, her eyes boring into Adrien. Even though Lila was whimpering in the background, she never changed the volume of her voice. And yet, everyone could hear exactly what she was saying.

"Nothing changed. Lila continued to lie, and everyone continued to eat it up with a big ol' dessert spoon. She, surprisingly, didn't reach an epiphany on the evils of lying. She didn't see the error of her ways. She just. Kept. Going." Couturiere smirked bitterly. "No, that's wrong. One thing changed. She started lying about me."

Couturiere raised a hand to tick off her fingers. "How I was tripping her in the hallways, despite no one being around to see it. How I was calling her names, despite no one being around to hear it. How I was stealing from her. How I was jealous of her. How I was bullying her. You know, stuff that could potentially get me in trouble with the teachers or even get me expelled, but hey, it's not like her lies are hurting anyone, right ?!"

"Marinette...Marinette, I didn't-"

"She threatened me, Adrien." Couturiere whispered. "In the bathroom, and at the front of the school. She told me that I would lose all my friends. That I would lose you. And I would be alone. And well...she was right."

Their classmates bowed their heads in shame.

"Actually, though, I didn't lose you. I never had you to begin with." Couturiere glared at Adrien in contempt. "You said that we were in this together. You said that as long as we both knew the truth, it didn't matter what she did to us. So why was I the only one to suffer? Why was I the only one to lose everything?"

Tears began to form in Couturiere's eyes. "Today in class, I just wanted it to stop! I was getting closer and closer to the edge, and I needed someone, needed you, to just stand up and say, 'I know Marinette Dupain-Cheng, and she is no monster!'. And yet...you just sat there. I needed you to catch me...and you let me fall." 

All the girls, sans Chloe, were full on crying now. Several of the boys looked like they were about to weep themselves.

Adrien just stood there, his eyes hidden under his blond hair.

Couturiere furiously wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "So tell me, Agreste. After how everything went down after listening to your stellar advice...why should I listen to you now?"

"..."

"...That's what I thought." Her face a blank mask, Couturiere turned back to Lila.

"...You're right."

Couturiere froze.

"I was wrong. Lila's lies were hurting people. They were hurting you. But I took the easy way out and just let her do as she pleased because I didn't want to rock the boat. You needed my help, and I let you down."

Couturiere turned to face Adrien. His eyes were wide and remorseful. "You deserved better."

"...sigh. Why couldn't you have realized that sooner?"

She walked over to Adrien and ran her fingers over the shoulder of his suit jacket. She plucked up a single thread and yanked.

And just like that the suit dissolved, the threads vanished, and Adrien was back in his regular clothes. He looked at her in confusion.

Couturiere's eyes were lifeless. "You're not worth the fabric."

Couturiere turned and moved back to Lila. "Chat Noir will be here soon, if he isn't already." She lifted a feebly struggling Lila up and threw her over her shoulder. "I will take his ring. Hawkmoth will have both Miraculous' at the end of this."

As she walked towards the door, she stopped by Adrien, not looking at him. "And if you know what's good for you, you'll stay out of my way."

And with that, she opened the door and walked out.

Adrien fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands.

 

 

 

An oppressive silence filled the room. It was Alya who broke it.

"Adrien, you need to get out of here."

Adrien looked up in surprise.

"Couturiere just gave you a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card. I wouldn't waste it. Something tells me that was a one-time deal."

Adrien stood up as he looked out at his classmates. "But...I can't just leave you guys here-"

"Dude, we're stuck here." Alix spoke up. "We can't leave this room even if we wanted to. We've tried. You staying here with us isn't gonna help anything."

Adrien tried to protest, when Nino spoke, 

"Look bro, I'm gonna be real here. I'm super pissed at you right now. And if we all get outta this in one piece, we will be having some choice words over this." Nino said sternly, before his eyes softened slightly. "But that can't happen if you snuff it."

Adrien considered his best friend's words, then nodded. Before he left he turned to look at them one more time. "I'm gonna make this right. I promise."

"You can start by not dying!" Kim shouted. "Now go!"

Adrien nodded, then ran out the door.

 

 

 

"Sooooo…"

"Save the 'I told you so's for later, Plagg! Claws out!"

He wouldn't fail Marinette a second time. He swore it.

 

 

 

Couturiere stared at her prey with contentment. 

Lila was tied up with her thread, arms above her head, pulling on her broken arm. She was trying to take the weight off of her broken leg, and the cut on her face had reopened, bleeding freely.

"Well, Miss Rossi," Couturiere crooned as she grabbed Lila's face, her nails digging into the girl's cheeks. "Since you apparently can't seem to stop lying to save your life, I'll just have to make sure that from now on...you keep your mouth shut!"

Lila's eyes turned to pinpricks as Couturiere moved the needle towards her face.

Chapter Text

As Chat Noir exited the elevator, he thought about his strategy.

He knew he didn't stand a chance against Couturiere by himself, and with Ladybug out of commission, he'd need all the help he could get.

Unfortunately, with his friends being held hostage, Carapace, Rena Rouge, and even Queen Bee were out of the question.

He supposed he could ask Kagami for help...but which Miraculous would be best suited for her...

But as he opened the front door of the hotel, he was met with a web of thread.

Here we go again.

"Cataclysm!"

Just like before, the thread dissolved into ash...

...And then was immediately replaced with new thread, which seemed to glow and pulsate as it knit itself tighter together.

Chat was gobsmacked. "You've got to be kidding me."

A sinking feeling in his gut, Chat ran to the window and opened it.

Yep. More thread.

Couturiere had successfully trapped him inside.

Be-beep!

And now he was changing back. Great.

Not bothering with the elevator this time, Chat ran up the stairs to the sixth floor where he knew the kitchen was...

...And found the kitchen doors completely bound with thread.

"Seriously?!"

Be-beep!

And now he only had three minutes left. Merde!

Desperate, he ran downstairs and kicked open the nearest hotel door.

Luckily, there was no one inside. And even luckier, there was a cheese platter on the table.

"I know it's not camembert but it'll have to do. Hurry Plagg! It won't be long before Couturiere figures out Chat Noir's here!"

The cat kwami surprisingly gave no protest as he shoved wedge after wedge into his mouth. "I gotta admit kid, you're in a real bind here. This akuma's a lot smarter than the others you've fought. You can't even leave to get help! How're you gonna beat her?"

Adrien gave a deep, shuttering breath. "I don't know Plagg...I just don't know."

 

 

 

Aaaaaaand...finished.

Not her best work, certainly, but still, not half bad if she said so herself.

Hmm? Ah.

Couturiere smiled as she felt her thread be destroyed. Cat Noir had arrived at last.

She immediately sent out more to trap the kitty inside.

She had taken every precaution she could think of. There was no way she could lose.

Still...

She looked down at her pincushion, gazing at it curiously.

Then she nodded, and carefully slipped it off her wrist.

"I'm gonna go hide this, okay? I trust you'll keep this between us."

With an evil cackle, she left the room.

 

 

 

Hawkmoth beamed as he gazed out the window of his lair.

He knew using Marinette Dupain-Cheng was a good idea. His latest akuma was not only powerful, but every bit as intelligent and creative as her civilian counterpart.

Everything he'd worked for, everything he'd sacrificed, it would all be worth it.

"Soon, my love. Just wait a bit longer, and then we will be together again."

 

 

 

Chat Noir had gone into espionage mode as he carefully searched every floor.

No sign of Couturiere yet.

And then, he reached the basement.

Sneaking down the very creaky stairs as best he could, he noticed something huddled in the corner of the room.

He nearly threw up.

Lila Rossi was hanging lifelessly from her bonds, her eyes glassy and empty, her cheeks tear-stained. Her mouth and chin were caked in blood, and as he looked closer, he realized that her lips had been sewn shut. 

"Dieu Tout-Puissant..."

"Like my work, minou?"

Chat spun around and immediately took up a defensive pose.

Couturiere was standing on the stairs, armed folded as she grinned down at them.

"Marinette...how could you?"

No. This isn't Marinette. Remember, she's been brainwashed by Hawkmoth. The real Marinette would never be so cruel.

"Not easily, admittedly." Couturiere said casually, as if she had been asked for the time. "What with all the screaming and thrashing. Good thing these walls are soundproof, eh?"

She shrugged, "You're more than welcome to try and remove them. But that string is nigh-indestructible, as you've probably already guessed. The only thing that can destroy it is your Cataclysm and...well, something tells me using it on a person's face isn't the best idea."

Chat clenched his fist, his other hand going for his staff.

"But enough chit-chat. I think we've stalled long enough." Couturiere held out her palm. "You could just make this easier and hand it over. Or hey, maybe we could work something out with Hawkmoth. Word on the street is you need a new dance partner. What do you say?"

Chat smirked wryly. "Sorry, purrincess. But there's only one true partner for me. And as amazing as the real you is, you're not her."

Couturiere stared at Chat Noir. He noticed a slight twitch pass her face before she shrugged.

"Your loss." She then raised her hands and clapped loudly, twice. "Seize his Miraculous!"

At her words, several figures clambered out of the darkness and towards Chat. It was the other guests of the hotel! They were all wearing the same designer clothes that his classmates were wearing.

Smirking in satisfaction, Couturiere turned and made her way up the stairs.

One guest swung a fist at Chat, which he quickly dodged.

"I'm sorry!" The guest cried. "I can't control it!"

As Chat dodged attacks from the puppeteered guests, he reached out towards the back of the man's jacket and pulled.

If I can just get it off...

But suddenly, the man screamed in pain, and Chat let go in shock.

"Oh, I forgot to mention?" Couturiere called from the top of the stairs. "My special outfits have woven themselves into the nervous systems of my little puppets. They're literally sewed into their skin. Taking them off would probably result in them bleeding to death. So...good luck with that."

And with that, she continued her merry way up the stairs.

"OH COME ON!" Chat screamed in frustration, as the guests closed in on him.

Chapter Text

Ok, so to recap.

Couturiere has completely closed off the building with her thread.

The only thing that can destroy it is my Cataclysm.

But when I do more thread grows back in its place.

On top of that I've got all these adults in evil body-jacking designer clothes attacking me against their will.

I can't fight them without hurting them, and I can't remove their outfits without hurting them.

I'm trapped, I have no backup, I have no means of getting backup, and I'm starting to wear down.

Conclusion?

"I am so screwed!" Chat screamed, as the hotel guests backed him into a corner.

He looked over to Lila, who remained completely unresponsive.

Chat winced. He didn't want to just leave her here...

But he was running on fumes as it was. And he couldn't afford to waste another Cataclysm.

He'd come back for her. After he defeated Couturiere.

Spotting an opening, Chat extended his staff, lifting himself off the floor. He then used momentum to pole-vault over the crowd and over to the stairs.

He dashed up the stairs as fast as he could and slammed the door shut. Then he extended his staff as far as it would go, split it in half, and then used one half to block the door. He took off his belt and tied it to the staff, reinforcing it.

"That should hold them off." Chat panted.

He didn't bother to check to see if it held. He ran, a man on a mission.

 

 

 

Couturiere casually strolled down the hallway, humming idly to herself.

Then she stopped, and counted.

"Trois...deux...un."

Then ducked to the left as Chat Noir came in from behind with a flying kick.

He rolled and then stood up, revealing he had grabbed her measuring tape from around her neck.

"It's over, Couturiere!" Chat cried triumphantly, as he ripped the tape in half.

His smile immediately fell as no black butterfly flew out. 

"Well...you owe me a new measuring tape, minou." Couturiere taunted.

Chat didn't understand. If that wasn't where the akuma was, then where...

As he looked at Couturiere, he noticed her hands on her hips, and then he remembered.

That's right! She was wearing a pincushion on her wrist before. But where...

"Looking for my akuma, Chat?" Couturiere asked, summoning a pair of scissors. "Funny thing. I figured out that as long as the object is intact, I don't need to actually have it on me."

"In other words, if I want to beat you, I'll have to find," Chat smirked, "A needle in a haystack."

Couturiere spun the scissors in her hand. "That implies that I'll actually let you look for it."

She threw the scissors. Chat dodged out of the way, but was immediately thrown off as a right hook caught him in the jaw.

Chat stumbled backwards, wiping the blood from his mouth. He didn't have time to think before a barrage of needles flew at him like shuriken.

He ran down the hall, dodging as best he could. A single needle caught him in the shoulder, causing him to cry out, but he kept going, not daring to stop.

He made his way to the stairs and ran. 

Couturiere smiled, and then dashed after him.

 

 

 

He could hear her right behind him.

Come on Chat, think. If I was Marinette, where would I hide something I didn't want anyone to find?

...In the last place anyone would think I'd put it.

Barely dodging another pair of scissors, he kicked open the door to the fifth floor and head towards Chloe's room.

 

 

 

He's heading for your akuma! Do not let him get his hands on it!

"Not if I get my hands on him first!" Couturiere gritted her teeth, and ran faster.

 

 

 

Chat kicked open the door to Chloe's room and looked around frantically. 

He had no idea where to start.

His breath was stolen as he was tackled from behind. A hand tightly grabbed his ring hand.

"I want you to know this isn't personal, minou." he heard above him. "It's just...a deal is a deal."

As Chat struggled, his eyes were drawn to Chloe's closet.

Every time he'd been in this room, Chloe's shoes were always organized by size, color, and designer. But as his enhanced vision zoomed in on a particular pair of fancy high heels, he noticed that their position was off by a few centimeters.

He positioned his free arm and swung his elbow back as hard as he could.

He heard Couturiere cry out and loosen her grip.

Seizing his chance, he crawled forward and moved the shoes aside.

Yes! There it was!

But before he could grab it, he felt a sharp pain in his calf.

Looking back, he saw a pair of scissors sticking out of his leg. Couturiere was snarling at him, one of her eyes closed.

"That was a dirty trick, minou." she growled, grabbing his ring hand once again. "But now, playtime is over."

As he felt his ring being pulled off his finger, Chat desperately reached for the pincushion.

The ring had slipped past his knuckle as his fingers brushed against it.

Come on...come on...

The ring was now near the tip of his finger.

YES!!!

Chat brought the pincushion to his mouth, bit down, and pulled.

"What?!"

 

 

"NOOOOOOOO!!!!" an enraged Hawkmoth roared.

 

 

Couturiere stumbled back in shock as the black butterfly flew out of the destroyed object.

"CATACLYSM!"

A black fist encased the butterfly, reducing it to ash.

Couturiere's head exploded in pain, and then she blacked out.

 

 

 

"Sir?"

"I was so close, Nathalie! Chat Noir's ring was practically in my hands!"

"Sir-"

"This isn't over! I'll akumatize her again! Again and again! I won't just-"

"Sir!"

"WHAT?!"

"...It's Adrien. He's not in his room."

Chapter Text

"Ha! Hahaha! Haaaa...I did it."

Chat collapsed on the ground, adrenaline completely drained.

He examined his leg, and the scissors still piercing it. It didn't feel like it had gone in too deep, nor did it look like it pierced anything vital.

He gritted his teeth and then quickly yanked them out, hissing at the sharp pain that followed.

"Uhhh…Chat Noir?"

Chat whipped his head around, and a huge grin broke out on his face.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng was sitting up from Chloe's bedroom floor, dazed, but ultimately back to normal and akuma free.

He threw his arms around her in joy. "Marinette! You're back!"

"Back? What do you...Chat, your leg! And your face! You're hurt!"

Chat blinked, then looked down. The wound on his leg had started to bleed all over the floor.

Ooooh...Chloe's not gonna be happy about that.

"Heh, so I am. Don't sweat it purrinccess. This is hardly the worst I've gotten during an akuma attack."

"Akuma...Chat, did I do this?"

Chat winced, then looked away. "...Yeah. You'd been akumatized."

And without Ladybug, there would be no fixing the damage this time...

Ladybug!

The earrings!

He was about to ask Marinette about them...but after seeing Marinette's devastated face, he decided not to. She probably didn't even remember swiping the earrings in the first place. There was no need to make her feel any more guilty than she already did.

And if the loud beep! from his ring was any indication, he didn't have time to look for them anyway.

He'd deal with it later.

"I'm about to change back. We need to get you out of here."

As Chat stood up, he heard a loud rip! and saw Marinette kneeling besides his leg. She was wrapping her jacket sleeve around his wounded leg.

As she stood up, he heard Marinette mutter bitterly, "The least I could do..."

 

 

 

As they stepped of the elevator (now they decided to work quickly, typical) they passed someone that Chat guessed was a hotel guest. 

"Chat Noir? What's going on? Where's Ladybug?"

Chat winced as another loud beep! came from his ring. Only two minutes left. "Ladybug is...out of commission. But the akuma's been dealt with already." He suddenly remembered. "Oh, and check the basement. There's a girl down there...she's badly hurt."

The guest nodded, and ran off to get help.

"It's Lila, isn't it?"

Chat didn't answer. He didn't have to.

"I messed up badly, didn't I?"

"Don't blame yourself, Marinette. You were akumatized. You didn't know what you were doing."

As they reached the front door, Chat looked out. The thread was still there, but it hung loosely and looked like it could be easily pushed aside.

"Can you make it from here?" Marinette nodded. "You better head home then. I'm about to change back."

Marinette nodded again, and then pushed back the thread and disappeared out of sight.

Chat sighed, then ducked behind a large potted plant as his ring finally timed out.

 

 

 

Tom Dupain and Sabine Cheng's head snapped up as they saw their daughter come in through the door.

"Marinette! There you are! We've been so worri-"

But Marinette ignored them, pushing past them as she ran up the stairs to her room.

Tom and Sabine exchanged worried looks.

 

 

 

Marinette tore open her drawer and quickly put on the earrings.

Tikki appeared in front of her, looking relieved. "Marinette! You're-"

"There's no time, Tikki! Spots on!"

She hadn't even made it halfway through her transformation when she reached for her yoyo.

"Miraculous Ladybug!"

 

 

 

At Le Grand Paris, paramedics were checking out the latest akuma's victims.

Though they seem to be physically unharmed, they had no idea how to remove their outfits. 

Lila Rossi was being loaded into an ambulance.

Suddenly, they were surrounded by a familiar swarm of ladybugs, and seconds later, they were all back in their original clothes.

The thread that had cocooned the hotel had disappeared, too.

Lila raised both hands, her arm no longer broken, shakily to her mouth, which was no longer sewed shut.

Then she burst into tears.

 

 

 

Adrien limped down the street, having no idea how to get home.

There were large bloodstains on his shoulder and his pants leg. Marinette's makeshift bandage had been completely bled through.

There was no way he would be able to explain this injuries to Father or Nathalie.

Suddenly, he was swept up into a familiar warmth, and he looked up to see a swarm of ladybugs disappear into the sky.

"My lady..."

A car pulled up besides him, and Nathalie and the Gorilla stepped out and confronted him.

"Adrien. Where have you been? Your father's been...you're bleeding!"

Adrien flinched. The Miraculous Ladybug had unfortunately failed to get the bloodstains out of his clothes.

"Not really. I just got healed. No more injury."

Nathalie glared at him sternly. "What. Happened?"

 

 

 

Ladybug collapsed onto the floor, panting heavily.

"Marinette? May I come in, please?"

Ladybug quickly muttered, "Spots off," and then said out loud, "Yeah Maman. Come in."

Sabine opened the trap door and came into the room. "Your father and I saw the news. Are...are you okay?"

Marinette burst into tears. Sabine simply wrapped her daughter in a tight embrace and just let her sob against her.

"Ma pauvre bébé..."

 

 

 

"Marinette? As in Marinette Dupain-Cheng? She did this?"

Gabriel's tone was as flat as always, but his face had gone just a shade paler.

"It wasn't her fault, Father! She was akumatized! This girl from my class, Lila...she's been bullying her, spreading lies about her and turning everyone against her.

"And...and I enabled it. I knew she was lying and I did nothing to stop her. I was able to escape, but..."

"I see."

"Please believe me Father! This isn't Marinette's fault! Hawkmoth took advantage of her, she didn't-"

"Stop." Gabriel raised a hand to silence his son, then gazed softly at him. "I believe you."

He turned to Nathalie. "I think Adrien has had a long day. Take him up to his room."

Nathalie nodded, and escorted the younger Agreste to his bedroom.

When she looked back, she saw Gabriel clutching his ascot, his eyes squeezed shut, his forehead touching the portrait of him and his son.

Chapter Text

Contrary to popular belief, Caline Bustier was not an idiot.

She knew what her fellow teachers thought of her - that she was weak, a pushover. That her class was cursed, due to it being the source of the majority of akuma victims.

That she was a failure of a teacher.

She knew they were right.

When she first came to this school, she was told to abide by one specific rule - never try to punish Chloe Bourgeois. With her wealthy father as the mayor, it would never be allowed, and it would make no difference anyway - the girl would never change, and there was no point in making everyone suffer from the temper tantrum that would surely follow.

Caline was of course appalled by the blatant hypocrisy...but she needed the paycheck, and she loved to teach. 

And so, for four years, she smiled and looked the other way as Chloe made her other students miserable. True, Chloe's time as Queen Bee had seemed to evoke some sort of change in her - a very...subtle change, mind you - but it didn't erase the overall damage she had caused.

When Chloe had destroyed Marinette's thoughtful and beautifully made gift to her out of spite, she knew her garbage about "being the bigger person" was just that. Garbage. Empty platitudes and nothing more.

And yet, what could she do? With her hands tied, it was all she had to offer.

And so, when Lila Rossi, the daughter of an important foreign diplomat, joined her class, she applied that same line of thinking - keep your head down, focus on teaching the other students, and keep Lila happy.

She never thought she would come to regret that so much.

As she watched the news, regardless of the lack of details, she knew the akuma had been Marinette. How could it not be? She'd have to be blind to see the devastated look on her face as the entire class turned on her because of that girl's lies.

Sitting at her desk, she folded her hands and furrowed her brows. Marinette, just like the rest of her class, was an impressionable, emotional young teen. Just as capable of anger and hurt as anyone else. Hell, the only reason she had been akumatized was because she had taken the akuma in Marinette's place! 

...And yet, she had forgotten that. And look what her willful ignorance had caused.

But no more.

Reaching a decision, she reached for the phone and dialed a specific number.

"Mme. Rossi? This is Madame Bustier, your daughter's teacher. I would like to speak to you about Lila's frequent absences from my class, as well as her...frankly appalling behavior as of late..."

 

 

 

Adrien had not gotten any sleep last night.

But he still willed himself to get ready for school.

He needed to explain himself to Nino, Alya, and the others. To apologize.

And apologize to Marinette...

"Adrien."

He turned to see his father standing on top of the stairs, staring at him over his glasses, as he always did.

"I assume that you plan on visiting Miss Dupain-Cheng's residence this afternoon? To make amends."

Adrien blinked. "I...yes?"

He had thought about it, should Marinette not be in school today, but...

Gabriel curtly nodded. "I will have Nathalie rearrange your schedule. Now hurry along. You'll be late."

And with that, he walked up the stairs and disappeared.

Adrien stared, confused, before turning towards the door and heading out.

 

 

 

 

Nathalie entered his office and closed the door behind her.

"Sir, in light of...recent events, do you think it wise to use Miss Dupain-Cheng again?"

Gabriel thinned his lips as he folded his hands in thought.

Couturiere had kidnapped his son.

She had stolen his child from his very bedroom. Had physically harmed him during his struggle to escape.

And he had been none the wiser.

It shouldn't have been possible. His security measures had been absolute! And yet...

(He, of course, considered one other possibility. But he had long since buried those thoughts, ever since the Gorizilla incident, and to bring them back out would be to open a Pandora's Box that he was not prepared to face.)

"Couturiere has been my most powerful akuma thus far, and extremely intelligent to boot. But she's also a wildcard, one I cannot afford to lose control of. So, for the foreseeable future, we will forgo using Miss Dupain-Cheng in our plans."

 

 

 

When Adrien entered the classroom, his classmates were all glaring at him.

From the looks on their faces, most of them hadn't gotten much sleep either.

Adrien sighed, knowing what was coming. "Alright, out with it."

Nino approached him, his arms folded. "Dude. You knew Lila was lying and you didn't say anything? Why?"

Adrien steeled himself and gave off a multitude of reasons.

How he had confronted Lila initially and it got her akumatized. Hell, he hadn't even confronted her - he had merely pointed out that she didn't have to lie so much to make friends. It was a friendly suggestion at best!

How he didn't want to stoop to her level and humiliate her.

How he thought that sooner or later she would lie herself into a corner, or that everyone would just get tired of her stories and stop listening once they realized that she wasn't going to keep any of her promises.

How he honestly didn't realize how hurtful her lies were. ("Dude. She had us carrying her books for her! We kicked Marinette to the back of the class because we thought she had a disability! That didn't seem messed up to you?!")

How he was afraid they would turn on him too. Most of them had known Marinette since childhood. He was just the lonely rich kid. What chance did he have if Lila chose to turn on him?

(How he saw himself in her - someone who had to constantly lie to the people he loved so he would meet their expectations. He, obviously, kept this reason to himself.)

"In the end, though, it doesn't matter what my reasons were. The end result is still the same. I let my friends get hurt. I abandoned Marinette when she needed me. I was an idiot."

"No arguments there." Alya spoke up, before softening her gaze. "But it'd be pretty hypocritical of me to point fingers when I'm no better. I'm the one who told her that a good journalist always checks their sources, and yet I couldn't even do a simple Google search."

"Yeah bro." Nino added. "I'm still kinda mad, but I think I'm more mad at myself. At least your heart was in the right place."

Mrs. Bustier entered the classroom, and everyone took their seats.

Marinette was absent from class. Her parents had called ahead and told Mrs. Bustier she was sick. 

"Can't say I blame her." Alix said around lunchtime. "Considering we're the reason she got akumatized in the first place."

And speaking of which...someone else was also absent from class. 

"I hope she's okay." 

Everyone turned to Rose in surprise as the final bell rang.

"I know it's not Marinette's fault, and I know she's terrible but...she didn't deserve what happened to her."

Tellingly, no one said a word.

Chapter Text

Adrien and Alya had stopped by the bakery. 

Mom and Dad had turned them away at her request.

She just...couldn't.

"It's okay to still be upset with them, Marinette." Tikki told her.

"I'm not."

"Marinette..."Tikki looked at her pointedly.

"I...sigh, I don't know what to feel, okay? I just...I need time to sort things out."

 

 

 

That night, Mom and Dad showed her a pamphlet for a new school.

"We've been thinking, honey. If you're not comfortable with being in that school anymore, we can place you somewhere else."

Marinette's fists tightened in her lap. "I...don't..."

"We're not saying you have to. But there's no shame in walking away from an environment you feel you can't function in."

Marinette stared at the floor.

Mom came up and kissed her forehead. "Just think about it, okay? Let us know and we'll make the arrangements. But remember, this is about what you want."

 

 

 

Marinette knocked on the door, and held her breathe.

The door open slowly with a creak, and a blank faced Lila stared out.

Marinette smiled nervously. "Hey Lila. I brought eclairs."

Lila just stared at her.

Sighing, Marinette continued, "Listen, I don't...remember what happened when I was...akumatized, but...I know that I hurt you. Badly. And...you didn't deserve that. No one deserves that.

"I am so sorry. If there's anything I-"

Lila grabbed the box out of Marinette's hands and threw it on the ground. Without looking away or changing her expression, she stomped and ground the box until it was completely flat. Then she stepped back inside and slammed the door.

Inside, Marinette heard a scandalized "Lila!", and the door opened to reveal a frazzled looking middle-aged woman.

"Please forgive me. She just...you."

Marinette was frozen on the spot.

Mrs. Rossi sighed, then bent down to pick up the destroyed box of treats. Her gaze was full of pity.

"I'm sorry...but I think it would be best if you leave."

Marinette gave a shaky nod. Her eyes burned as she turned and walked away.

 

 

 

 

"I believe that I may have...made an error in judgement."

Marinette bowed her head in shame. She knew that Master Fu would be disappointed, but...

"I understand. I'll return my Miraculous to you immediately."

"NO!"

Marinette's head snapped up at Tikki's shout. Fu was looking at her, startled.

"Good grief, Master." Wayzz said reproachfully. "You couldn't have worded that a little better?"

"Forgive me Marinette." Fu said. "I did not mean to imply that I was disappointed in you, or that I wished to revoke your title as Ladybug. I merely meant that I have allowed myself to be blinded by what was right in front of me. You were in pain, and I failed to act. And for that I owe you an apology."

Marinette tensed. "You did nothing wrong, Master. I was the one who-"

"Was taken advantage of by Hawkmoth." Tikki interrupted. "What happened to Lila was Hawkmoth's fault! You can't blame yourself for that."

"But I'm Ladybug!" Marinette argued. "I'm supposed to be in control of my emotions! I never should have given him an opening!"

"Marinette! Controlling your emotions isn't the same thing as not feeling at all! You're still allowed to be upset. Lila and your friends hurt you."

"So they deserved to be hurt? To be traumatized?"

Tikki glared sternly. "That is not what I said and you know it. And them being hurt does not negate what they've done to you."

"Marinette." Master Fu calmly interrupted. "Do you remember what you did before you were akumatized?"

Marinette blinked in surprise. "I...ran home. I went upstairs to my room. And..."

"And...?"

"...I took off my earrings and put them in my drawer."

"Why?"

"...Because I couldn't let Hawkmoth get ahold of them. I...couldn't let them fall into the wrong hands."

"Exactly."

Marinette looked up to see Fu smiling. "Even at your lowest, you chose to protect others from Hawkmoth. That only proves that I chose wisely."

Tears streamed down Marinette's face. Fu took her hand.

"You are human, Marinette. A heart as big as yours, it's only natural that you would feel pain just as strongly." He squeezed her hand. "I cannot promise to take your pain away, child. But, if you would allow it...I would like to ease your burden, if only a little."

Marinette lunged forward and embraced the old man. He merely patted her back as she quietly cried into his shoulder.

 

 

 

Chloe showed up two days later.

Marinette just stared in shock.

"You left this," she shoved her hand in Marinette's face. "In my room. I have no need of it. Take it. Or don't. I really don't care."

It was her charm bracelet. Marinette slowly reached out and took it from Chloe's hand. 

Chloe sniffed, flipped her hair, and sauntered towards the bakery door.

"Oh, and one more thing," Chloe turned back, pursing lips. "Drop the martyr act already."

"Excuse me?"

Chloe scoffed, placing a hand of her hip. "So you got akumatized. Guess what? So have I. So has almost everyone in our class. You're not special. And besides, Ladybug's fixed the damage so just get over your little guilt trip."

Marinette bit the inside of her cheek, resisting the urge to point out that Chloe was the reason almost everyone in their class got akumatized in the first place. "What makes you think I feel guilty? Maybe I'm still mad, did you ever think of that?"

Chloe rolled her eyes. "Oh please, Dupain-Cheng. I know you. If you had it your way, you'd take the blame for the Great Flood of Paris." At Marinette's stare, she got indignant. "What? I do pay attention in class sometimes."

Marinette folded her arms. "Why do you even care?"

"I don't. It's not my problem if you never speak to those plebeians ever again. If anything, it just means my Adrikins will spend more time with me." Chloe shrugged. "But you know how he is. He feels terrible about how things went down and he's beating himself up over it. Honestly, he's worse than you."

"..."

Chloe sighed. "Look, just...talk to them okay? It'll...I don't know. Help you get closure, or something."

"..."

"...Whatever." And with that, Chloe exited through the door.

Marinette's grip tightened around her bracelet.

 

 

 

Marinette thought long and hard about what she wanted.

She looked at the pamphlet that her parents had given her.

She looked at her charm bracelet, which laid on her desk untouched since Chloe returned it.

And then...she made a decision.

 

 

 

Marinette walked into class on Monday.

No one said a word as she took her seat and folded her hands on the desk.

"I'm...still mad at all of you."

Everyone collectively winced.

"It isn't even that you believed her lies. It's the fact that you all actively chose to believe the worst in me."

She forced herself to look them in the eye. "I know I'm far from perfect. I'm clumsy, I'm awkward, and I panic too easily. I sometimes act without thinking and yes, I do get jealous." She looked at Alya, who cringed slightly. "But for you to believe that I am so petty that I would willfully mistreat someone because of jealousy?

"Most of you have known me since l'école primaire. Do you really think so little of me?"

"I don't think any of us were thinking at all." They heard Juleka mutter.

She turned to Adrien. "I know why you did what you did, Adrien. I know you didn't mean to hurt me."

"But I still did." Adrien said sadly.

Marinette nodded. "You still did."

"Marinette..." she turned to Alya, who was looking hesitant. "When you were akumatized, you mentioned that Lila had threatened you."

Marinette sighed. "Yeah. She did."

"Girl, why didn't you say anything?!"

"Would you have listened?"

Alya reared back as if slapped, then chuckled bitterly. "Merde, I really messed up didn't I?"

She looked up at Marinette, eyes full of remorse. "I'm so sorry, Marinette. I can't say it enough."

The rest of the class followed suit, expressing their regret with genuine contrition.

Marinette closed her eyes. "I know you are. And...I think I could forgive all of you some day. But not right now. It still hurts too much."

She turned to Alya. "I can't trust you anymore."

Alya looked like she was trying not to cry as she nodded her understanding. Marinette took her hand. "But I want to. I want us to move past this. I still want us to be friends."

A single tear trekked its way down Alya's face as she squeezed Marinette's hand in gratitude. "I swear girl. I'll do everything I can to earn your trust back."

"Me too." Adrien said, holding out his hand. "I did wrong by you, Marinette. I swear I will never leave you hanging like that again."

Marinette smiled, and took his hand, never letting go of Alya's. "I'll hold you to that."

They sat like that for a while, only letting go when Madame Bustier came in to start the lesson.

Things weren't better. They wouldn't be better for a long long time.

But they would get there.

Chapter Text

Things eventually stopped being so tense. But they were never the same.

Marinette stopped going out of her way to do things for the class. No more free outfits, no surprise birthday cakes or croissants for the whole class, no banners for competitions, no last minute babysitting.

Oh sure, she would still do things if they asked her nicely. But now she started charging commissions for her work. Admittedly cheap commissions, but commissions none-the-less.

No-one in the class complained. They knew they had taken their everyday Ladybug for granted for far too long. It was only fair she got something back in return.

Marinette was still kind and polite when speaking to everyone, but she still wasn't comfortable hanging out with anyone except for Alya and Adrien.

But she was trying. And in turn, they did all they could to ensure Marinette didn't regret giving them a second chance.

(Chloe was still...well, Chloe. But her insults had lost a lot of their venom - it probably helped that Mrs. Bustier actually scolded her when she stepped out of line - and for the most part, she left the class alone.)

 

 

 

"Hey, Ladybloggers. Alya here. I'd like to address some of the comments and questions I've been getting as of late.

"Some of you have noticed that a couple of my videos have been deleted. There's a good reason for that.

"You see, those videos were all interviews with a, former classmate of mine, Lila Rossi. In these videos, she said to have been close friends with Ladybug, as well as other, more outrageous claims. I'm...sad to say that I didn't check to see if any of these claims were true. I saw this person who was supposedly connected to Ladybug, and I believed she could be beneficial to me and my blog.

"Sigh...I have no excuse. As an aspiring journalist, I should have known better. I didn't check my sources, and as a result several people were hurt by Lila's lies...including my best friend.

"I can't change what I've done. All I can do is apologize, from the bottom of my heart, and do my best to make sure that I never make the same mistake again. And for those of you still following me...I hope you will continue to watch as I move forward.

"Thanks for listening. Alya out."

 

 

 

It had been a month since they had moved back to Italy. And Lila still wasn't speaking to her.

Mrs. Rossi wasn't moved. If Lila thought giving her the silent treatment would get her to let up on her punishment, she was sorely mistaken.

She could understand, to an extent, how her frequent absence could have led to her daughter making up stories for attention. But skipping school? Bullying another student? There was no excuse for that!

Honestly, she was lucky that her getting expelled was all that happened! What if her lies about all those trips she supposedly took had gotten back to her superiors? She could have been fired if they thought she was wasting embassy time and money instead of doing her job! And then where would they be?! Did she really have no sense at all?!!

Still...

Something had happened to Lila that night. The night of that "study group". According to the news reports she'd watched, her daughter had been...physically assaulted at the hands of an akuma. They wouldn't diverge any specific details, Lila wouldn't say anything, and since Ladybug had fixed everything, there wasn't any evidence of what had happened.

But something had happened. And Mrs. Rossi was torn between the desire to protect her only child and the urge to dismiss her unnatural silence as another one of her tricks.

In the end, she decided to send Lila to a therapist.

She was glad she went with her parental instinct, because what the doctor had to say was alarming to say the least.

"It's clear that your daughter suffered some sort of trauma, Signora Rossi. I believe that what she went through has scarred her so thoroughly that she is unable to speak."

She had taken her to a pediatrician, just to be sure. There was nothing physically wrong with her throat or vocal chords.

She kept getting reports from Lila's teachers expressing concern about how withdrawn she was. And yet, doubts still lingered...

It was only after she had gone to her daughter's bedroom one night to check on her, only to see her sitting upright in bed, her face twisted in an open mouth scream with no sound coming out, did Mrs. Rossi finally accept the horrible truth.

Lila had been rendered mute.

 

 

 

Ladybug and Chat Noir sat on the roof of the Louvre, looking out over Paris.

10 days after defeating Couturiere, Ladybug had met up with Chat for their night patrol, only to be glomped and squeezed and spun around by her very relieved partner as he asked her questions. Was she okay? Did Couturiere hurt her? How did she get her Miraculous, and more importantly, how did she get it back?

After asking Chat to stop crushing her ribs, Ladybug explained that the akuma had attacked her from behind, knocking her out. The next thing she knew, she woke up on the ground and the earrings were back in her hand. Couturiere had apparently lost them while she was fighting Chat, and after he had Cataclysmed the akuma, Tikki had managed to sneak them out of the hotel and back to where she had been lying unconscious.

"Tikki woke me up, telling me that I had to use Miraculous Ladybug NOW! I didn't really ask questions. I put on the earrings and...well, you know the rest."

Chat had folded his arms, his face pinched in worry. "You know...it's a good thing akuma victims can't remember anything after they're de-evilized. Otherwise we'd have to worry about your secret identity being exposed."

"Yeah...good thing we don't have to worry about that."

(If Ladybug's eyes kept darting to the side, or if her voice shook a little as she told her story, or if she kept rubbing her arm nervously, Chat didn't notice. And if he did, he didn't care. He was just glad that his Bugaboo was alright.)

Now it was a week later, and the two heroes were basking in the beautiful sunset.

And yet, Chat was still bothered by what happened.

"I should have been there, m'lady. You never should have had to face Couturiere alone. I let you down."

"Chat, I didn't even see her coming until it was too late. And it all worked out in the end. Beating yourself up over it won't help things."

Chat was still unsure, so Ladybug added, "Why don't we put the blame where it actually belongs? On Hawkmoth."

Chat gave a weary smile, then nodded. His face then morphed into anger.

"I hate him, Ladybug. I hate him so much."

Chat's claws dug into his knees. "He just keeps on hurting people...people we care about, and we keep having to clean up the mess he leaves behind!"

Chat was no stranger to watching his friends and loved ones be akumatized. But Marinette was...different. She had been one of the first real friends he had made since he started public school. She had been nothing but kind to him, as Adrien and as Chat...even when he had done nothing to deserve that kindness. He didn't know why but Marinette was...special. She was like the sister he had never had.

(Sister. Riiiiight. Keep telling yourself that. said a voice in the back of his head that sounded suspiciously like Plagg.)

He would never forgive Hawkmoth. If he ever got his claws on that terrible man...

Ladybug placed a hand on Chat's shoulder, and he felt some of the tension bleed out.

"Hawkmoth can't hide forever, chaton. We will catch him. And his victims will finally get the justice they deserve."

And with that affirmation, the wielders of Creation and Destruction looked out over their beloved city.

This latest akuma had put them through the ringer. 

But they had come out of it victorious in the end, and they were all the stronger for it.

And when the next threat came, they would be more than ready.