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Miraculous Escalation

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Marinette didn’t get angry easily. She liked to think of herself as a nice girl. She’d gotten angry at Lila and Chloe, but even there she’d tried to keep it controlled.

But she was furious. Chloe was the only backup they had, Nino and Alya were covering for her, claiming she was with them at a movie.

Another lie to her parents.

She’d almost detransformed in front of the medics, because the little boy had been clinging to her like a limpet. They’d had to assure him that there were no bugs at the hospital and then he’d had a second screaming fit as she’d left the yard because a butterfly went fluttering by.

They were waiting in a corner of the park, in a little clearing surrounded by high bushes so nobody could see them. At this time of the day, nobody was around, so they could have privacy. It was one of their daytime rendezvous spots when the rooftops weren’t a good idea.

They didn’t use it at night time, not since Marinette had burst through the brushes to see a pair of older teens…

Well. They didn’t use it at night.

But this time, nobody was around, and since Skitter couldn’t jump around like they could…

“What’s this about, Ladybug?” Queen Bee asked.

“Skitter just terrified a five-year-old into being akumaized.” Chat’s voice was lacking his normal humor.

What?

“According to the police, she broke into a house with a few thousand bugs for backup, and held a father, mother, and two children hostage while she asked questions.” Marinette practically spat the words.

“He was a criminal,” Skitter said as she came walking into the clearing from behind Marinette.

Marinette didn’t even consciously consider what she was about to do as she spun around and nailed Skitter right in the face with her fist. Skitter went flying back with a cracking sound, remaining on the ground for a moment, looking up at Marinette.

Suddenly Chat was holding her by the shoulders while Queen Bee was standing between her and Skitter.

Marinette didn’t know what held her back more, Chat Noir or the fact that Chloe was playing peacekeeper.

“You didn’t telegraph that at all,” Skitter said in her same voice, though the sound of bugs around them grew.

“And you didn’t say anything about terrorizing the citizens of my city!” Marinette snarled.

“Do your citizens include criminals now?” Skitter asked.

“What?” Chloe said. “Criminals?”

“The father was involved in organized crime. Not violent, as such things go, but he had lots of ties. I’d expected him to be more… reluctant to talk.”

“You had his wife, you had his children,” Marinette shouted. “What did you expect him to do?”

“Regardless, I think I may have a link to Hawkmoth.”

“How?” Chat Noir said. His hands relaxed slightly from where he was holding her.

“People like Hawkmoth don’t live out of dumpsters. They have money, have organizations. There was a villain back home, Coil, who always worked through minions—just like Hawkmoth. That needs money and services you can’t get at the local bank. Since this world doesn’t have any version of the Number Man, he’d have to go through ordinary criminals. I got a lot of data.”

There wasn’t anything about the Number Man in the files…

“And that justifies it?” Marinette asked.

“How would you have gotten it?” Skitter said in that same calm voice, though the bugs were still rumbling around them.

Does she even have any emotions? Marinette wondered. Was she smirking at them though that mask, or snarling at them? Did she… Even care about what she’d done?

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe ask him?” Chloe said, inspecting her fingers, even though her uniform covered her hands. “You may not have noticed, Bugpocalypse, but people in this town don’t like Hawkmoth, in fact they’re pretty scared of him. Anyone who told who he was, or helped find out who he was would probably get a reward and anything short of mass murder forgiven.”

“Unless he has more to gain by working with Hawkmoth.” Skitter tilted her head. “The police can investigate.”

“No, they can’t.” Marinette glared at her. “It was an Akuma incident. Anything short of a currently occurring violent crime can’t be investigated as a result of an Akuma incident.”

“What.” The word was flat.

Chat sighed. “Look, Skitter, you may not have noticed but Akuma’s can appear anywhere. They also come with stress, and people who work sensitive jobs, or stressful jobs tend to create the most… Challenging Akumas.”

“Like Radiator.” All three winced.

“I… Don’t know that one,” Skitter said.

“He was an X-ray tech who got fired for messing up some dosages.” Marinette rubbed her belly, remembering that day.

“And that was the day that we all learned to hate the term “ionizing radiation”.” Chloe glared. “If it hadn’t been for the miraculous cure, I would have been bald!”

“You and half of Paris,” Chat said. “We kept it quiet and we think that was a mistake on Hawkmoth’s part, because he didn’t do anything for almost three weeks after that. But the thing is, depending on the situation, Paris and even the foreign embassies let us go anywhere. They trust us. If I show up and say I need to walk into GIGN’s classified archives, they let me. But the flip side of that is they know that anything we find is related to Akuma’s, only Akuma’s and we don’t… Don’t just… rum—”

“Fishing expeditions,” Skitter said.

“Yeah. And that even extends to crooks, because if they decide to try and hide evidence, not let people know there’s an akuma…”

“We could have a real problem,” Marinette said, rubbing her knuckles. She was still furious, but calmer now.

“Endbringer Truces only last for a short time,” Skitter said, as the sound of bugs started to fade. “I hadn’t considered how a long-term threat like Hawkmoth would work. I made a mistake, but I still think this is the best way to locate him.”

“Just… Tune down the terror,” Chloe said. “It makes work for us, and I need my beauty time.”

The bugs got a little louder, then faded.

“So what are you going to do?”

“I’ll tell Paris that this incident won’t be repeated again.” Marinette glared up at Skitter. “I’m not lying, am I? It won’t, right?”

“… No.”

“Good.” Marinette walked up to the taller figure. “But there’s something else you need to know, something else you did. You know how people can be akumaized due to stress or fear? That goes double for people who have suffered trauma. We’ve all been out there, talking publicly about how Paris needs to come together, but even so, people who have suffered real problems like a death in the family or a traumatic breakup, tend to see people pull away from them. Because they might be turned into Akumas.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?” Marinette said, her voice rising. “Because then why did you do that to those children? Everyone saw how hysterical they were, and everyone knows that Hawkmoth uses that, offers them strength, preys on their fears. I expect half of his friends, if not more, will be told to be careful around him.”

Marinette smiled, and suddenly Chloe stepped back. “You know, like people who have been around the Simurgh. I read that entire file. We don’t have a Simurgh here, but why do we need one when we have you busily making Skitter bombs.”

Skitter was silent, and then the bugs started rumbling like an avalanche. “You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I? Everyone is going to be looking at the family you terrorized as Hawkmoth’s next pawns and—” She was advancing on Skitter and Skitter wasn’t giving way and—

“That’s it!” Chloe was between the two of them again, her arms outflung. “Time out, both of you, before we have a butterfly drop by on us.” She looked at them both. “Everyone’s pissed. I’m pissed, but since I’m the only one who has fought off an Akuma, that means I might end up fighting you two and I have better things to do.” She stared at Skitter. “You fucked up. Big time. You came here, did whatever it was you did back home, but this isn’t home. Next time, talk to us.” Turning to Marinette, she poked her in the sternum. “And you really need to try and calm down. I don’t know what this sim-urg is, but I don’t think Skitter liked you comparing her to it. So chill with the insults, because if you don’t I’ll have to show you how a real pro does it.”

“Chloe’s right. We’re all angry,” Chat said. “Skitter, just… Try and be… Less terrifying. Let’s get together and have a meeting…”

“Saturday,” Chloe said. “Everyone’s off, and it gives certain people time to calm down.”

“Right. Saturday. We can text you with the time…” he looked at Marinette. “And you can select the place so we don’t have any more slugging.”

Marinette didn’t trust herself to say anything. She just folded her arms and tried to calm down.

“Fine,” Skitter said. “I’ll be in touch.” She withdrew through the bushes. They waited a few minutes, not that they could be certain she wasn’t watching them, then Chloe rounded on Marinette.

“What was that, LB? You’re supposed to be the calm one. I’d expect that from Rena Rouge or the stray here, but you?”

“Sorry.” Marinette couldn’t meet her eyes. “But the… He was younger than—” than Alya’s sisters “—and he was just terrified. I’ve never seen a little kid so scared. He’d wet himself and he was screaming at anything that looked like an insect I—” She shook her head. “Sorry.”

“Just… Go relax,” Chloe said. “Find something to do.” Then she paused. “But I do want to see the files.”

“No. No, you don’t.” Chat and Marinette said.

“I’ll… Before we meet Skitter I’ll get everyone together and tell you what you need to know,” Marinette raised a hand. “And what you don’t need to know will just make you puke.”

“Fine,” Chloe said. “Well, I’m off, Paris needs to see their adorable Queen Bee!”

Chat shook his head. “Are you okay, Milady?”

“No.” Marinette sat down on the ground. “Chat… What if she isn’t fighting all those terrible things.”

“What?”

“What if she’s their competitor?”

Because what hero—what good person—could be so casual about terrifying a child?