It started the day of two things.
The day after Marinette Dupain-Cheng would last be just that: Marinette, the fashion-enthusiast and last one to class despite living a corner away in a bakery; a rosy-cheeked darling who knew little about superheros, stress, spite and any reason one might say, “Screw you, Agreste!”
But two things happened the day after.
One: She opened a box. Inside, of course, was an overtly perky ladybug god who informed her she’d now superintend every Parisian life there on out, all through the very unquestionable magic of earrings. But that was whatever, she supposed; Tikki was cool.
The second thing, she didn’t want to talk about.
Marinette wasn’t fond of Chloé Bourgeois—Mayor’s daughter, she’d make clear—for a few reasons. Besides the obvious tackiness of her steel-blue eyeshadow and the whine that could make Marinette’s last name rip her own ear canals, Chloé had a pattern of adding problems to her life. She managed to give the class detentions, headaches, and a reflexive flinch at the phrase, “I’m calling Daddy!”
So the day she announced, “Some boy I grew up with is joining our class,” as she inspected her crappy manicure, Marinette knew nothing good was about to walk through Miss Bustier’s room.
“A friend of Chloé’s? We must be in for a treat,” Alya, the new girl from the year before, jested, ribbing Marinette.
Chloé’s blonde half-do lurched as she whipped around to sneer at the bespectacled girl. “Excuse you, brat, but we’re hardly friends. Our parents just got along and are just richer than all of yours. He’s technically nothing but a business associate to me.”
That’s when Marinette scoffed loudly. “Business associate? You were like, kids.”
She angled her nose. “Oh get lost, Dupain-Cheng!”
A new student always interested the school year, but the ‘entertaining’ prospect of a snobby friend– uh, business associate of Chloé’s soon became the last of Marinette’s thoughts as she was thrust into the surely historical events an hour later that was 1) an akuma attack (don’t ask), 2) becoming Ladybug (she couldn’t even ask), and 3)
“Well hey there! Nice of you to drop in.”
“I bet you’re the partner my kwami told me about.”
Some partner she was. She’d just gotten over the longer, red-striped ponytail and sparkly unwelcome of a skin-tight bodysuit that had replaced her ‘first-day-of-school fit’ Not to mention, she was surely just in her balcony no more than twenty seconds ago—and her and her clueless ass had gone ahead and barrelled into this grinning angel.
And he was cool with it!
He introduced himself decidedly as “Chat Noir”, an effortless charm already about him, and Marinette had to blink as her tangled yoyo retracted (why was that her weapon?). The warm confidence in his voice surprised her – almost to the degree that hit her during the little yoyo accident of hers had them meet (bodies, hard) in the first place.
It didn’t help that the flailing yoyo assaulted his head during her own introduction – and that was when all her natural pride bent to the will of wanting to die.
“Gah! I’m so sorry! I’m so– I’m so new to this, sorry.” She rubbed her gloved hands over her face, the magical material cool and grid textured. She missed his grin broaden. “I shouldn’t even be here.”
“Hey, hey! No sweat! I’m new to the ropes, too! But we’ll do fine,” he said, loudly announcing just how stressed he was, all while Marinette couldn’t even remember her name from the way he was smiling at her. He held her shoulder. “We’re in this together, okay?”
“Together,” she laughed, petrified, “okay.”
It went both downhill and uphill from there.
Not only was Chat Noir a sweetheart, but he was a risk-loving, spontaneous mess who didn’t know what he was doing. But after a tender rebuke to his ‘excitement’, they worked together in untraditional greatness as they figured out their powers and skills. Things went too fast then not at all and the next hour became rock and ‘what?’ and more rockand Stoneheart’s deflation at the breaking of his akumatised object: a love letter to Mylène.
But one of two things happened that day.
“What are you doing?”
The foreign mop of blond hair whipped around, sharp face ablaze in panic.
“Uh, I—” the boy who Marinette quickly realised was Chloé’s-whatever stammered, stupidly, and the uncanny cackles of Chloé and Sabrina down the class rows punctuated his fruitless word-bile.
Marinette stared at the gum his tan fingers stuck to – on her seat.
“I get it,” she sneered, “class prankster? Rich-privilege syndrome?”
“Save her the time, Adrien,” Chloé’s pitched voice cut him off. “It’s obvious what you were doing.”
That may have been the closest she’d ever gotten to defending Marinette.
Guess the Mayor’s daughter and Rich-boy seriously weren’t friends.
Adrien looked at her like spears could fly from his green gaze. A further defence went to steamroll out his mouth, but as his luck denied, a hapless-shaped rock monster crashed through the classroom with an eloquent uproar.
A re-akumatized Ivan had returned and sounded keen to find, “Mylène!”. There were thrown desks and cries and Kim’s high-pitched screams before the creature left just as boldly (ha) with the dread-locked girl in one grip and a wailing Chloé in another other.
Under oblong furniture, there was a feverish clutch at the bag Tikki dwelled in.
The pitiful confidence from Chat’s strings of encouragement and earlier’s ‘success’ died within Marinette (or “Ladybug”, she’d finally decided) as she realised she’d forgotten to purify the butterfly that had akumatised Ivan. According to Tikki—the pretty cool ladybug god—she was now, in light terms, screwed.
Most of Paris were now rock monsters. And most of Marinette couldn’t move.
Suddenly, she was no longer Ladybug.
Because she could not do this.
Cars flipped and Parisian street floorings frayed as stone masses trampled through and havocked chaos. Industrial smog reaped from the destruction burnt her lungs as she stood agape and supersuit-less. She was avidly still as a bone-deep cry tore from Alya’s throat; a Zag Mercedes slanted atop her body below the neck.
Marinette saw red.
She unclasped her purse and Tikki flew out. “I changed my mind! I need to be Ladybug!”
The pinkish creature smiled. “I knew you’d come around!”
And she became red.
By the time Chat greeted her, poking fun at her lateness and offering a playful flirt—unsurprisingly while in the confines of her yoyo string because that ‘weapon’ was too attracted to him—Ladybug knew then and there that they’d be a team longer than she had planned. She hadn’t planned any of this! But between a new year, new school bully, and new responsibilities, in the end she wouldn’t sit back and do nothing.
But she still had no plan.
Stoneheart poised on the Eiffel tower with a ring of police and blockades and akuma crowning the base. Ladybug had caught Chloé as she was javelined from the height (she sure could antagonise anyone), intent of going to the heart of the problem, but Officer Roger with his cast-bound arm recognised no authority of hers and let it be known.
“We’re clear to attack!”
“No, don’t attack them!” she cried, horrified at the implications of all the rock monsters enlarging. “You know it’ll only make it worse!”
“I have a new plan, unlike you, ponytail girl! Now move aside and let the pros do their thing! You’ve already failed once!”
Her lower lip fell and everything crumbled to pieces once more.
“Don’t you dare talk to her like that!” Chat spat, pushing past her. “She’s done more than you! She’s trying!”
“And she’s had enough attempts!”
Marinette turned to him quietly. “He’s right you know,” she muttered, lashes timid. “If I’d captured Stoneheart’s akuma the first-time round, none of this would have happened! Gah! I knew I wasn’t the right one for this job!”
Without missing a beat, Chat grabbed her shoulder; a hold firmer than before, yet the connection felt affectionate. His eyes softened against hers.
“No. He’s wrong, because if it wasn’t for you—” he turned her Chloé’s direction and nodded, “—she would no longer be here. And because without us, they won’t make it.” He gripped both shoulders. “And we’ll prove that to them. Trust me on this.”
The tightness in her chest let go. Beneath the spotted mask her fair skin washed to a humble shade of pink. That look in his honest green gaze… it blew off any hesitation; any distrust – in both herself and her new partner. And that jitter—that little foreboding of colossal, intangible things—her heart did made her realise, once again,
she was screwed.
But for a completely different reason.
“So by the time I biked to the Eiffel tower, Ladybug had already purified the butterfly things and told Hawk Moth to get lost! What’s a girl gotta do to get a decent scoop around here?”
Noticing Alya too fixated on swiping through blurry action shots of Ladybug, Marinette stepped in front to push their classroom door open. “You’ll get it soon, I’m sure.”
“You’re right! Next target, ‘Ladybug: An exclusive interview’!”
Marinette laughed and shrugged off her bag, slipping into the seat aisle they’d stolen back from Chloé that morning. “Good luck with tracking her down.” She retrieved her tablet and a magazine she handed to Alya. “And besides, what about Chat Noir?”
“Hm? Oh, I guess he’s cool, but Ladybug pulled a car off me!”
“Uh, she saved me, too.”
The girls blinked up at the sumptuous presence monopolising the space under the door frame, silver-belted hip cocked and an overtired Nathaniel trying to squish under her elbow.
Marinette’s jaw hardened. “So?”
“Well it was way cooler than a car lift, for starters. I actually almost died!”
Alya flipped through her fashion magazine.
“What-ever. You’re lucky you even know someone who’s friends with a superhero. In fact, I’m in such a good mood I won’t even tell you losers to get out of my seat!”
“This was never your seat.”
“It was, but I’ll be gracious. Adrien’s also not coming back because his dad caught him sneaking out. How lucky am I today?!”
Marinette scrunched her nose as Chloé pranced to her chair. Sneaking out? Was he a lowlife prankster and rebellious pest?
“Hey dude, you came back!”
A lean, surreptitious figure strolled in, an arresting green gaze with shuddering lashes looking everywhere but Marinette’s lifted chin. It seemed the rich boy didn’t want her to notice him after being caught red-handed putting gum on her seat.
Great. He came back.
Chloé stared onwards as he took his seat next to Nino, right in front of Marinette. A vivid indignation took over the blonde’s body language but a private gesture from Miss Bustier silenced whatever outrage would have come. The scene was all so confusing. He didn’t have more privileges than Chloé, right?
But Chloé, with folded arms, shrunk in her chair.
Marinette’s gaze sharpened.
“Hey!” Alya whispered, angling the La Mode 93 magazine her way. “You know how you were saying outside that you think you’ve seen that new kid somewhere before? This is why!”
Marinette and her pulled brow scanned over the ruinous advertisements that hid the fashion before the face of a certain model wearing the latest Agreste collection threw her heart up her throat.
“He’s– He’s Adrien Agreste! The son of my favourite fashion designer, Gabriel!”
Alya snatched back the issue. “Daddy’s boy, teen supermodel, and grew up in Chloé’s world? Ha!” She slapped it down. “Forget it: he totally put that gum on your seat on purpose.”
Marinette was inclined to agree.
Past the beige pillars that beheld the mouth of Françoise Dupont, the sky had bled into a wanton shade of sapphire and grey. Marinette stepped from the dry tile into wet light and held her palm to the rain, then slipped off her bag. She’d forgotten an umbrella in all the messes that were the things of the day. In fact, she questioned herself on whether she even knew the forecast.
Then a boy, tall with a white jacket, came from behind and greeted her.
She faced away, squeezing her bag handle.
Adrien dropped his wave sullenly.
“I just wanted you to know,” he began away from her, opening his umbrella, “that I was only trying to take the gum off your seat. I swear.”
Her mouth tipped.
“I’ve never been to school before. I’ve never had friends. It’s all sort of… new to me.”
The rain sailed down her clothes; down her hair, darkening the dripping tip of her ponytail into a sleek black.
Adrien held out his umbrella.
Her bluebell eyes flickered, starstruck, to his hand then to his eyes, and her perishable breath hitched when she saw those eyes. They were sharp and intimately gorgeous, a kindness about them she knew, but beneath it she didn’t feel what she looked for; she still didn’t trust him…
Hesitantly, she bumped his hand, then took his umbrella.
…Then realised why she didn’t trust him.
The umbrella closed on her head.
And all she heard were the audacious, heart-plummeting cackles of Adrien Agreste that fleeting moment as she registered what happened. And when she lifted the wing, all she saw was the deceitful eyes filling with mirth on the flawless face of Adrien Agreste.
“Are you kidding me?!” she cried as she opened the umbrella. “Gum, now this?! Who do you think you are?!”
The warmness of his face fell and a new sort of expression took over. “What? No! I didn’t—”
“You think you can come in and act like you own the place just because your father is Gabriel Agreste?! That’s what this is, right? Another Chloé?!”
His brows furrowed and he raised his hands. “No! No, she was the one—"
“You make me look foolish twice, and both times you try to lie to get yourself out of it? And because you’re a model I’m supposed to fall weak at the knees and let you get away with everything?!”
Raw anger gripped him. “No! Listen—”
“I saw the fangirls today, Adrien. I know you’re used to it so don’t even try.” She shoved the object of embarrassment in his hands, gobsmacking him as humiliation burnt her eyes. “You’re a liar,” she muttered, taking off. He closed the umbrella. “I hate liars.”
“Hey–!” he called out as she trampled down the stairs. “Marinette, stop. Just listen—!” But he changed courses of what he was going to say when she stormed faster, wet from head-to-toe. “The only one that’s acting like they own the place is you!”
She skidded around the corner, now running, wiping her eyes.
His driver honked at the end of the road and Adrien raced down the steps, rage and hopelessness and indignation all heating within his chest at once. Hand tightened around the shortened umbrella, Adrien only made it to the end of the staircase before futilely set in.
She didn’t listen.
She didn’t cease running.
In one final, meaningless strive for a defence, he shouted to the figure dwarfed by the abundance of sapphire sky – or maybe to whoever could hear –, with the threat,
“And don’t ever bring up my father again!”