Marinette shivered under her blanket. Well, not just one blanket, three blankets. Three blankets, and scarf, her winter coat, earmuffs, two pairs of socks and a hot water bottle. Her back ached from sitting hour after hour on her rooftop balcony. It had been eight hours since she spoke with Chat. Eight hours to think, and analyze, and ponder what the hell happened. And as as the cloudy night sky started to lighten, she was no closer to figuring out what went wrong.
Marinette was good with puzzles. She was Ladybug for crying out loud. She could defeat villains with a fork, or nail polish, or a snorkel. Analyzing situations came naturally for her. It was her strength. So, why was she so lost now?
Marinette rubbed her dry tired eyes. It had to have been her Chat was talking about. Right? Chat was upset because he had left Marinette to face her mom alone. Right? Chat didn’t go to her school, she knew that. So he couldn’t have know about Lila’s trap to humiliated her. Or did he? Could Chat have been watching? Maybe he sent Plagg to check up on her? Tikki admitted the kwamis hung out together sometimes. But why would Plagg care about her now, when he had been such a brat the other night. No, nothing about it made sense.
Marinette was only sure of one thing. Her partner was hurting, and somehow she made it worse.
Dear Sweet Chat. Marinette sighed through chattering teeth. For all his smirks and puns, Marinette knew Chat was sensitive. He even cries when other people cry. Marinette remembered his tear streaked face two nights ago. She would have done anything to help him feel better then. Marinette cringed, but she had only hurt him more.
Arg! That night, what had she done? She thought they were just two lonely souls sharing soft kisses. Yeah, it sucks that they were caught, but that was just normal teenage stuff. He didn’t know she was used to battling super villains. She was stronger than he knew. And she didn’t blame him for what happened. Chat needed to know that.
Marinette looked over at a candle beside her, the flame dying in a pool of melted wax. On the floor beside her, sat a full thermos of tea, and 2 empty mugs. She needed to fix this, to talk to him as Marinette. She shifted her shoulders, trying to ease her cramping muscles. But she had no way to contact him.
Ladybug had left several apology messages on Chat’s baton, for all the good it did. All went unanswered.
And so, Marinette had waited. All night. Desperately hoping that maybe Chat might see her candle and stop by. Despite his earlier insistence that he wasn’t up for patrolling, he had been running around all night long. But he never came close enough for her to call to him. Ladybug couldn’t help him, but maybe Marinette could assure him. Help take away his pain.
The sky continued lightening, but there would be no colorful sunrise this morning. Gradually, the muted colors of night started to saturate again. Marinette eye’s fell to a wisp of red on the floor of her balcony. She stared at it curiously. Scraps of fabric were everywhere in her room, but they never made it up to her balcony. An icy cold realization swept over her.
No! Marinette shot up out of her blankets, her muscles stiff and slow with the sudden exertion. Within seconds, she was kneeling beside the tiny frayed cord. Tenderly, she picked it up and held it in her cold hands. Adrien’s gift. The tiny charm bracelet, whose textures and beads she knew by touch alone.
The sense of loss was excruciating.
Marinette hadn’t really meant it. Well, maybe she meant it at the time. But, she was just so angry and confused. And, it had been so long since she allowed herself to be angry. So many months of bottled up emotions found their way to the surface, and she exploded. Marinette had acted in anger, she sighed, and no amount of regret would change that now. She cradled the tiny cord in her hands, wishing she could undo that moment she threw her gift away.
Maybe she could still fix this? Her eyes darted around the balcony for the scattered beads. “Tikki!” she shouted. In a moment, the tiny kwami phased through the floor and was floating in front of her.
“The beads, from my bracelet, The one I broke that night with Chat. Do you gather them?”
“Um, no.” Tikki replied as she looked around. “The crows could have taken them. They really love shinny things.”
Marinette shoulders slumped as she rested on her heels. She brought her hands to her chest and bowed her head, holding the precious cord tightly. What had she’d done?
“Marinette, You’re shivering! There’s two hours until school starts and you have been up all night. You should really try to get some sleep.”
“No, Tikki,” She answered, determined, “there’s something else I need to do.”
Marinette arrived to Ms. Bustier’s Classroom 10 minutes early. She couldn’t remember the last time she was this early. Usually, it was a struggle for her to get there on time. But today, she was on a mission.
Marinette looked down to the tiny box sitting on the desk beside of her. Inside were 4 freshly made passionfruit macaroons. Adrien’s favorite. Even with 2 hours to work, she barely was able to finish in time. Do people really know how long these take to make? From shifting the almond flour multiple times, to beating the egg whites, to letting the batter sit once it had been pipped, macaroons were the most time-intensive item in their bakery.
Marinette stretched her neck. She didn’t mind though. Sure, sleep would have been nice, but after a night of feeling powerless to help Chat, this was at least something she could do.
She had been cold to Adrien yesterday. Marinette knew it. But it took everything she had just to get though the day. She couldn’t trust herself to talk about Lila or Alya without bursting into tears. And that wasn’t really an option for her, for Ladybug. Marinette sighed. Adrien was only trying to help, she knew that. But, couldn’t he see that her friendship with Alya was dying before her very eyes? And the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about Lila.
Marinette smiled and waved as Alya and Nino entered the classroom. Alya gave her a half smile and a wave before she sat down next to Nino. I guess she’s still mad.
“Soooo you still up for helping me take my sisters to the amusement park?” Marinette saw Alya smile brightly at Nino.
“You know it, Babe!” He responded, grinning broadly.
“I have the best boyfriend ever,” Alya scooted over closer to him. She grabbed his arm and spoke softly into his ear. “After we get them down for the night, let’s play that super penguino level you been wanting to try.”
Are Nino’s ears actually turning red? Ugh, no one actually thinks you are talking about a video game!
Marinette set the macaroon box on the seat beside her. It appeared like Adrien would sit next to her today. She knew he would forgive her. Adrien was really sweet like that. She smiled as a familiar warmth filled her chest. Here he was a boy that had so much, and yet friendships were so precious to him.
“Agreste, Adrien?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.
“Nino,” Miss Bustier asked, “did Adrien text you he was sick?”
“No, Ma’am” Nino replied, helpfully.
“Lila,” Miss Bustier called to the back of the room, “does Adrien have a photo shoot that you know of?”
“He might be working with a trainer all day today.” Lila offered sweetly. “We have a super sexy photo shoot Sunday morning.”
Marinate suddenly became nauseous.
“Sorry, Babe,” Nino suddenly whispered to Alya, as Miss Bustier continued her roll call. “I’m going to have to bail on Sunday.”
“What, why?” Ayla sounded annoyed.
“My bro needs me,” Nino explained. “Online gaming.”
“Seriously?! I need you.” Ayla was whispering loudly. "The twins are difficult even with two people.”
“Not like this,” Nino spoke hushed. “I’ll make it up to you later, okay? You know what they say, ‘bros before… girlfriends?’”
"That is not what they say!” Ayla slapped her hands on her desk.
“Miss Césaire! If sitting next to Nino is too distracting, please take your old seat.”
“Yes, Miss Bustier.” Alya stood up sheepishly. She then glared at Nino before sliding next to Marinette.
“Chloe, Sabina,” Miss Bustier called as she finished roll. “If your ready for your presentation, please start setting up now.”
“Peace offering?” Alya quietly asked her when she saw the macaroon box on her seat.
“Something like that,” Marinette admitted, blushing. “I made them for Adrien.”
"This again?" Alya asked, concerned.
“No, its not like before,” Marinette defended. “He was kind to me yesterday, I just wanted to say thank you.”
They watched while Sabrina struggled to setup a giant poster board. ‘The Societal and Cultural Impact of Victor Hugo’ was almost impossible to read through the gaudy mess of glitter. Chloe wasn’t helping, but she was ordering instructions to Sabrina nonetheless.
“So,…um any upcoming articles for the Ladyblog?” Marinette asked, changing the topic.
“Kinda. I have a detailed analysis of the strength of akumas now verses three years ago. Hawkmoth isn’t akumatizing people as often, but when he does, they are more powerful and deadly than before.”
Tell me about it, Marinette thought sarcastically.
“…in the article, I discuss the pros and cons. I mean. It sucks for our heroes that the villains are worse. But, we miss less school this way. And we never deal with akumatized babies anymore.
Awhh… Marinette mused, Baby August was so cute too! Well, toddler August now. Did he start preschool yet?
“Alya?” Marinette asked nervously, playing with her hands. “If Nino can’t make it, I can go with you Sunday. You know, to help with your sisters?”
Alya closed her eyes and exhaled. “No, Marinette, but thank you for the offer.”
“Oh, Okay.” Marinette slouched, starting down at her hands.
“You are my friend, Marinette. And I will be here for you.” Alya touched her shoulder lightly. “As soon as you remember I am your friend too.”
After class ended, Marinette and Alya exited the classroom. Nino stopped Alya in the breezeway. He held up his hands defensively. “Listen, Babe, give me a chance to explain.” Marinette continued walking, then stopped and pretended to look at her phone. She watched her friends out of the corner of her eye.
“Okay?” Alya crossed her arms cross her chest. “Let’s her it.”
Nino took a deep breath. “Adrien needs me.” He explained, enunciating every word.
When he didn’t say more, Alya looked around confused. “Um.. yeah, you said that.”
“These photoshoots...” it looked like he was searching for words, “they take a lot out of him.”
“What’s so hard about being pretty and smiling?”
“It’s more than just that.” Nino explained. “It’s embarrassing, its always super cold, and sometimes, they give him this stupid water protocol. The dude can only drink a half liter of water the day before, and nothing the day of.”
“How is that legal?”
“Hell, if I know.” Nino threw up his hands. “But it makes him weak, and dizzy, and it gives him crazy bad headaches.”
“Oh,” Alya said surprised, “Why does he do it, then?”
“It’s like, industry standard, I guess.” Nino offered. “That shit’s messed up!”
“Okay, I get it. Adrien has to go through hell to model.” She paused and looked at Nino. “What does that have to do with you? You guys just online game, with a video chat through your phone. I’ve seen it. You game for hours without even talking to each other.”
“Yes, I know. But I’m there for him.”
Alya looked at him, still confused. “He’s able to eat and drink normally after a shoot, right? The headaches, the dizziness, that goes away after the shoot.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Nino shrugged, “but he still gets really shaky, and sometimes he leaves gaming to go throw up. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”
Alya looked thoughtfully at the ground, as if she was trying to process all the new information. “That’s… that’s actually really terrible. I had no idea.”
“I can’t explain it,” Nino said while taking her hand. “Just being able to see my face,… helps him somehow.” Nino gazed at her, his eyes searching for understanding.
“It’s okay, Nino,” Alya said as she pulled him into a hug. “I’m not mad. You’re a good friend to him.”
“Thanks, Babe.” Nino kissed the top of her head. “I can come over Saturday, we can do your favorite level of Super Penguino.”
Alya smiled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. “Maybe we can do both.”
Marinette watched as her friends headed toward their next class, hand in hand. She felt awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin. Marinette remembered all of Adrien’s photos that used to decorate her walls. She used to spend hours staring at his dreamy eyes, his pouty mouth, his smooth skin. Was she really staring at an embarrassed, cold, and dehydrated teenage boy? The thought made her skin crawl. She felt dirty.
“Hey Nino?” Marinette called as she ran up to her friend. “I couldn’t help overhear your conversation just now.”
“Oh…” Nino turned to face her, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”
“Has it always been like this?” Marinette asked. “The modeling”
“I mean, it varies. He doesn’t always have to do the water thing, and sometimes he’s outside where its warm.” Nino, took a deep breath and exhaled. “But, I don’t think Adrien has ever liked modeling. You know him. The dude is good-looking but he’s also kinda shy. He’s just too much of a people-pleaser to say anything.” Nino paused for a moment before he continued. “Though, it has gotten worse this past year. Much worse.”
“Since he started modeling with Lila?” Marinette asked. Alya raised an eyebrow at her.
“Yea, I guess the really bad shoots started happening around that time.” Nino shrugged, “maybe its extra pressure modeling with a girl. I dunno. My dude never says.”
Marinette spend the rest of the day on auto-pilot. She could always tell Adrien didn’t like the photoshoots with Lila, but having Nino confirm it made it worse. She just didn’t get it! Why did he do it, any of it? Why wouldn’t he just tell his father? If Gabriel knew, there is no way he’d make his son suffer like that. No parent would. Gabriel might be strict, but he’s not a monster.
Her exhaustion was getting the upper hand when she arrived home from school. Thank goodness it was Friday. Marinette groaned as she climbed the stairs to the apartment. She still needed to talk to Chat, but waiting up all night again wasn’t an option. Maybe she could have Ladybug bring him a letter from Marinette? Hmm,... a letter. That could work. But their next patrol wasn’t until Thursday. Maybe she could leave a letter on her balcony? Chat was often seen running around Paris on his non-patrol nights.
Or, she thought with a smile. Maybe Tikki could have Plagg suggest Chat stop by for macaroons? She knew he liked them. Marinette glance at the tiny box she carried in her hands. Even if she dropped these by Adrien’s mansion, he would never be allowed to eat them so close to a photoshoot. Hmm... I wonder if Chat has ever tried passionfruit?
Once Marinette arrived to her room, she headed straight to her desk. She grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Okay, girl. Think! What would Marinette say to Chat?
Her weary brain failed her as she stared at the blank page. She had a hundred things to say, and yet she couldn’t think of a single thing to write. In the end, she kept her words brief.
My Dearest C,
Your identity is safe. I’m not in trouble with my parents. Please don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault. I’m worried about you.
When Marinette awoke the next morning, she checked her balcony first thing. The candle had extinguished itself during the night. The letter and the box of macaroons were in the same spot she left them. Untouched.