Celine Leclair was not having a good day.
Well, she hadn't had a good day in a while, but today was definitely a local nadir.
She woke up alone in her parents' apartment once again, and trudged her way through the usual morning preparations... and at some point made the mistake of looking at social media.
"... this is what they're angry about today. I hate the internet so much."
You said it, sister. Ooh, scroll back up, that boy looks cute.
"Good morning, Achille," Celine mumbled, obligingly scrolling back up to view the photo that had caught his eye.
See, this is what social media should be for. Just cute people posting pictures of themselves, forever.
Celine cracked a tiny, brief smile and picked up their bookbag.
She was walking into homeroom, lost in thought, when she was clonked hard in the shoulder. She let out an undignified noise and flailed her arms around, hoping yet failing to avoid falling flat on her rear end.
"Watch where you're going, Leclair!" declared Chloé Bourgeois.
Still kinda dazed, Celine slowly rose to her feet. She wasn't sure, but the way she'd gotten clonked suggested that, despite her words, Chloé had in fact jostled Celine on purpose.
So she's after us today, huh... we'll forget a bump in less than an hour, so what's she really got in mind?
She set her bookbag down at her desk and flipped idly through the textbook while she waited for roll call.
Chloé scoffed. "Unlikely..." she muttered.
What... does she mean by that? ... No, that doesn't seem physically possible.
Celine flipped through the textbook some more, zoning out just a little despite knowing she really shouldn't...
"... and as I hope you all remember, your history essays are due today."
The class suddenly fell silent.
"Miss Leclair, that language is highly inappropriate for a school environment..."
"S- sorry Ms. Bustier," Celine stammered. How did we forget this essay?! We set a reminder and everyth—
Suddenly, a 90s pop song began blaring from their phone at full blast. Celine looked at the screen.
8:30 AM: Don't forget to do your history essay, babes~
Celine groaned, silenced the alarm, and headdesk'd. Not again... we're switching to 24-hour time...
In what will surely come as a surprise to none of you, Celine found herself in the principal's office that day.
Celine fiddled with the strap on her bookbag while Mr. Damocles rambled about some story that she was pretty sure was supposed to be relevant to the situation, though she couldn't for the life of her see how.
"... the point of all this, young student," (Oh, good, he's just going to explain it directly.) "being that there has been a substantial increase in the past few weeks of this sort of unacceptable behavior from you. Is there some new source of stress in your life that's made you unable to keep up with school?"
A flood of images passed through Celine's head - an empty apartment, a snooty blonde, an ever-increasing mountain of homework...
"... no, nothing in the past few weeks," she said, technically truthfully.
Mr. Damocles frowned. "Well, if you think of anything, do make sure to talk to someone about it, even if you'd rather not talk to me in particular. And I'm scheduling you for a detention after school today."
Celine sighed, but knew she had no grounds to protest. Maybe if we finish that essay in detention, it'll still count as on time...
The school day finally reached its end, and Celine gathered up their things to take to her detention.
"Oh, look," Chloé snarked, "the nutjob is stuck in detention. Quelle surprise."
Celine tilted her head, looking distinctly nonplussed. "Bourgeois, I don't even know where to begin unpacking how much sense that statement doesn't make." shootshootshoot she knows she KNOWS -
"I've seen you talking to yourself between classes, Leclair," Chloé said.
(Not far away, a certain aspiring fashion designer briefly froze up in terror before realizing Chloé was bullying someone else today.)
"Talking to your imaginary friends?" Chloé continued. "Too crazy to get real ones?"
Celine's fist clenched -
Celine, no! She's not worth it!
She's insulting you, Lea!
She doesn't know I exist, she doesn't even believe people like me can exist! She's just being her normal bitchy self. She's not worth it.
Without another word, Celine just turned around and left.
Two hours later, essay and detention finished, Celine trudged back to her parents' still-empty apartment.
She groaned in annoyance, a groan so deep it was almost a growl
and kicked the door frame.
Which was, of course, a mistake.
I don't know what you were expecting, Celine, Leo thought as Celine held an ice pack on her bruised and probably not broken toes.
"When we opened the door or when I kicked it?"
I meant the kicking, but... both. It's been months and they didn't even text us today, why would they be home?
"They didn't even text me today!" Celine said. "Why do they even have a kid?!"
Well, it won't be too long til we're able to get a proper job and officially be on our own.
"Yeah, I guess... hopefully that coding class works out."
Wait, I thought we were going into art? Achille interrupted.
"I mean, we're taking the elective, yeah, but it's for fun, not a career."
Oh my gosh, I wish you had explained that earlier! I had plans!
"What... plans would you be making about an art career?"
None of them noticed the tiny black butterfly approaching...
"The agony of indecision, being torn in every direction... perfect fodder for an akuma. Fly away, little akuma, and evilize them!"
Meeting cute boys, obviously?
"Meeting cute boys isn't a career plan—"
No, but it is a life plan —
... until it was too late. The akuma dived into their bookbag.
Far away, Shadow Moth flinched briefly. Such a peculiarly fragmented mind... but no matter. I can still work with this. "Legion. I am Shadow Moth. You don't need to sacrifice one of your dreams for the sake of the rest — I'm going to give you the power to do it all."
Celine, Achille, no, don't listen to him—
With a little push of empathic magic, Shadow Moth dazed Leo so he'd stop trying to talk sense into his headmates. "You'll have as many bodies as you need, and can do as you like without worrying about each other constantly. Though I do ask one thing in return — the Miraculous of Ladybug and Cat Noir."
"... let's do this."
An akuma alert blinked on Adrien's phone.
"... the akumatized villain appears to be several humanoid figures, rampaging through the city and dealing property damage seemingly at random."
"This is bait, right?" Plagg said.
"Definitely, but you know we have to take it. Plagg, claws out!"
An akuma alert blinked on Marinette's phone.
"... the many humanoids composing the villain have shown a shape-changing ability, which they've used to their advantage with added muscle to deal damage, reduced size to flee a scene, and myriad other methods."
"Is that... Jade?" Marinette said.
"It does kind of look like them," Tikki said.
"I thought they'd be okay after they walked away from Chloé... I should've checked in on them instead of just assuming!"
"You're never going to know everything everyone's dealing with, Marinette. Even if they had recovered from that, something else could've happened later."
As if specifically to embarrass Tikki, the akuma report continued: "We've just received word that the villain has kidnapped Chloé Bourgeois, the daughter of Mayor Bourgeois."
Tikki sighed. "Or maybe they weren't over it after all..."
"Tikki, spots on!"
Ladybug and Cat Noir arrived at the foot of the tower building that Legion had carried Chloé to.
"This kinda feels like another Sapotis situation," Cat said.
"Maybe," Ladybug said. "I don't think it's quite the same... Did you see any of them carrying around a bookbag?"
"Just a hunch..."
Meanwhile, at the top of the building...
"Let go of me you crazy... crazy!"
"Bitch, if you are gonna sling slurs at us, at least quit using the same one over and over."
A trio of solid-orange humanoid bodies was holding Chloé quite firmly in place, and had been doing so for a good five minutes now, simply standing there and doing nothing else.
"What do you even want, you crazy? You're just standing here, doing nothing!"
"Oh, it's nothing to do with you," Legion chimed, all in perfect unison with themselves. "Or, well, we picked you in particular for a little bit of petty revenge, but the plan itself has nothing to do with you."
Back at the bottom of the tower, things were going, um. Interestingly.
"It's the real actual Cat Noir oh my gosh he's even cuter up close!"
Two of Legion's bodies, solid blue, were.. fanboying out over Cat Noir, apparently. Manhandling him just a little bit. Feeling his muscles and scritching his ears.
"Um, I'm flattered," he said, "but also, extremely baffled and slightly creeped out."
An orange Legion walked onto the scene. "You do realize he's here to stop us, right?"
"Pff, stop you maybe," the blue Legions said. "I'm not doing anything evil."
As if in direct response to this, Hawk Moth's butterfly outline mask appeared in front of Legion's faces.
"... Oh! Right! Of course! The deal! I totally forgot about that." the blue Legions exclaimed. "Hey, Cat, Hawk Moth wants your Miraculous, would you mind handing it over for us?"
Cat blinked. "Um... I think I'm gonna have to say no."
"Oof, darn," they responded. "Sorry, Hawk Moth, he says no. ... Oh, yeah, we can do that —"
In a blink, the two blue Legions were swinging spinning kicks at Cat Noir, which he dodged expertly. After dodging a few more attacks, he planted his staff in the ground and lifted himself up and out of range.
In response to this, they summoned longbows seemingly out of thin air and launched a hail of arrows at him. Cat retracted his staff so he could spin it to deflect the projectiles, which of course meant he fell to the ground, but he dashed off the moment he landed.
"I coulda told him that wouldn't work," Orange Legion muttered, as the blue Legions chased Cat. "Anyway, Ladybug. While the boys go gallivanting, let's talk about Chloé."
Ladybug blinked. "Erm, what about her?"
"I'm holding her at the top of this building," Orange Legion said, jerking her thumb towards it. "You're going to rescue her, of course. Or try to, anyway."
"I... was already planning to do that," Ladybug said, sounding confused. "Are you going to tell me to find and break your akumatized item next?"
Orange Legion snrk'd. "You're welcome to try," she said, and then vanished like dust on the wind.
Ladybug frowned and popped open her yoyophone. "Cat Noir, keep your eye out, but I have a sneaking suspicion the akuma isn't at the tower."
Stealthily, Ladybug ascended to the top of the tower. Using air conditioning units and other things as over, she was able to sneak fairly close to Legion without being spotted.
"We know you're here, Ladybug!" they all intoned at once. "Come out and fight us properly or the bitch gets it."
She had to admit to herself that she wasn't sure whether they were bluffing... but she decided to come out anyway. "There's no call for language like that, Jade," she said, spinning yoyo at the ready.
"Jade's not here! Jade hasn't been here... Anyway, tell that to her," Legion said, shaking Chloé roughly by way of indication.
"But y'know what is called for?" Ladybug retorted. "My Lucky Charm!" The yoyo spun in midair, and out dropped... "A weathervane?" She scanned the area... but the only thing that stuck out to her was the tower's own weathervane —
S M A S H ! A yellow Legion body swooced through the tower's weathervane, knocking it clean off the building and sending it flying. "We know how clever you are, Ladybug, and whatever you're planning, we won't let it happen."
She smirked. "Too late. Catch!" And in a flash, Ladybug tossed the weathervane at the orange Legions holding Chloé, one of which let go to catch the vane, staring at it in confusion.
In the same motion, Ladybug tossed her yoyo at Chloé, securing the girl and yanking her out of the hands of the two remaining slightly-distracted orange Legions, whereupon she fled the scene.
After half a beat to realize what just happened, they dropped the weathervane and shouted "Get her!"
"Where are you going, Lady-nothing?" Chloé griped. "I don't live this direction!"
"If I take you back to the hotel, they'll just kidnap you again," Ladybug said. "So instead, I'm taking you somewhere they won't check. A random spot on the way to my real destination..."
Legion had smashed the tower's weathervane, but not before Ladybug had realized what direction it was pointing, and where the akuma might be hiding.
After dropping Chloé off, Ladybug considered the distance she still needed to cover, and took a brief detour to detransform and recharge, giving Tikki one of her emergency macarons.
She very quickly realized the true wisdom of this precaution when she reached her destination and found it surrounded by a solid wall of Legion bodies, arms linked together to form an impenetrable barrier.
"I'm guessing this is where they're hiding the akuma," Cat Noir said, dropping in.
"That's the good news," Ladybug said. "The bad news is... this is where they're hiding it. Wall of bodies and all."
Cat Noir considered the situation. "I don't see anything relevant to destroy other than the villain themself...s? Uh, but I don't think I want to use my power on a person..."
"No, that won't do," Ladybug agreed. "Their bodies are temporary — one vanished after delivering me a message — but that doesn't necessarily mean it's safe to Cataclysm them... What we need is a Lucky Charm!"
Once again, the yoyo spun in midair, and this time, it produced...
"A... boombox?" Ladybug said. "What am I supposed to do with this...?" She looked around the area...
... Legion's bodies weren't all uniform, many of them had animal ears...
"... I got it. Cat Noir, use your belt to tie your ears down, cause this is gonna be loud."
He removed his tail-belt and did as Ladybug asked, grinning. "Are we gonna defeat the villain with the power of rock?"
"I think we may very well be doing that," Ladybug said, and turned the boombox's volume knob up to 11.
Face-melting rock beats began to blast from the boombox at a volume so high even Ladybug winced slightly. The animal-eared Legion bodies recoiled in agony, covering their head, and the rest turned their attention to Ladybug herself and the source of the racket.
"I'll keep their attention, Cat Noir, you get inside and find the akuma!" And with that, Ladybug nyoomed off to lead Legion in a merry chase around the block.
Cat Noir pole-vaulted his way into the apartment, unhindered by the whimpering Legion bodies, and began his search.
The place looked lonely and desolate, and he got the feeling this wasn't the villain's doing.
The living room and kitchen didn't contain anything obviously interesting, nor did the master bedroom, but when he got to the other bedroom —
one lonesome green Legion body, floating curled up in mid-air, seemingly asleep, clutching a bookbag that glowed with the evil aura of an akuma.
"... Why do I feel like this is someone who desperately needs to see a therapist after we free them?" Cat Noir mused, yoinking the bookbag.
He paused for a moment, knowing from video games that this was usually the moment a whole bunch of enemies appeared in a swarm... but apparently not this time. He texted Ladybug on his staff-phone and vaulted out the window.
The two heroes met back up in front of the Eiffel Tower — because of course they did — Cat Noir still clutching the akumatized bookbag and Ladybug carrying the now-silent boombox. "I led 'em to a Jagged Stone display at the electronics store, so they couldn't tell when I turned this one off," she said.
"Clever as always, bugaboo," Cat Noir said with a smirk.
"Not clever enough!" A flock of winged yellow Legions called from above.
"... I really don't know how you think you're gonna stop me when I literally have your akuma in my hand," Cat Noir pointed out. "All I have to do is say Cataclysm, and —" the bookbag disintegrated into dust, releasing the evil butterfly.
"Cat, they're still in midair —!" Ladybug exclaimed as Hawk Moth's powers faded away, causing all the extra Legion bodies to vanish and leaving one very disoriented Leclair several feet above the ground.
Cat Noir, having anticipated this, pole-vaulted up to them and caught them before they fell, carrying them safely to the ground.
"Wh... what happened?" Celine muttered.
"You got akumatized," Cat Noir said. "But you're better now."
Indeed, Celine could see Ladybug purifying the akuma and summoning the Miraculous Ladybugs to repair the damage done.
"Why..." She thought back. "... w- I got akumatized over that? That was the least awful thing that happened today..."
"Maybe it was the last straw," Cat Noir suggested. "Hawk Moth can say anything he likes when he's trying to akumatize you, he doesn't necessarily have to focus on the actual worst thing going on in your life at the moment."
"Pah... trust Hawk Moth to focus on the most stereotypical garbage," Celine muttered.
"Cat Noir, will you be able to get —" They implied they're somehow not Jade... "— Ms. Leclair back home?" Ladybug said, approaching the two. "I won't have time before I detransform," she added, her earrings beeping as if to confirm her statement.
"Can do, bugaboo," Cat Noir said with a grin... which soon faltered. "Ah, while I was in there, I noticed... it seemed kinda..."
"Desolate?" Celine said. "Yeah. It's... hells, you're heroes, you keep secrets already. Our parents have been away for... months. It's fine, they didn't die or full-on abandon us or anything, and we can take care of ourselves," she added hastily, "but... it's lonely, y'know?"
"I can imagine," Cat Noir said.
"Have you tried reaching out to your friends?" Ladybug asked.
"We don't have any friends," Celine muttered. "Only person who seems to pay any attention to us at all is that Bourgeois b— girl."
"Hmm," Ladybug hmm'd. "I've gotta bug out," she said, her earrings beeping once more, somehow sounding more urgent this time, "but... I think I might be able to find some time during tonight's patrol to chat with a Parisian in need, if that's all right?"
Hours later, the Leclair apartment was mostly dark, but there was one light still on. Glancing into the window, Ladybug saw... whoever she saw, poring over a textbook and looking kinda distracted. A reasonable enough time to drop in, especially since the window was left wide open, presumably for her.
With a zzzzip of her yoyo, she swooced in and gently landed in Jade's bedroom. "Hey there... uh..."
"Jade Leclair," Celine said.
"Mm... about that. How much do you remember about the time you spent akumatized?"
"... Scattered fragments. Memory work is hard enough without literal magic getting involved, and we're not checking the Ladyblog footage til we've gotten as much as we can from our own brain." Celine closed their textbook. "So you worked that out, huh?"
"You... one of you did outright say that Jade hasn't been around for a while," Ladybug said. "That part doesn't seem to be anywhere in the footage, so your secret's... approximately safe with me. And Cat Noir."
Celine sighed. "Well. We haven't heard of you two leaking anyone else's deep dark secrets, so we'll trust you. Better you than some other people we could name."
Ladybug nodded. "Um... if I'm not talking to Jade... is it okay to ask who I am talking to?"
"I guess collectively you could call us Thunderbolt system?" She shrugged. "That name's kinda a work in progress... me in particular, though, I'm Celine. I've been running this operation near full-time since Jade vanished a few months ago. Wish we knew what was going on with them... How much did you tell Cat?"
"Not much, actually," Ladybug said, "he made a guess based on the color-coded bodies, and I just confirmed I'd guessed the same thing. One in particular stood out to him, in this room, sleeping and holding the akuma. It was the only green one either of us saw the whole fight."
"... jade green?" Celine asked. Ladybug nodded. "So they are still here... just sleeping. That's a relief to know. Wish we coulda learned it without turning into a villain. What other colors were there?"
"Yellow, orange, and blue were the ones I saw most of during the fight," Ladybug said. "There were a few others guarding the akuma, but they didn't show up anywhere else."
"If I had to guess," Celine said, "yellow was Lea, blue was Achille, and that would make orange me. Did the blue ones flirt with Cat at all?"
"... I think they tried to?"
Celine snrk'd. "Yep, that's Achille all right. Thinks he's smooth as butter but he's actually just so awkward it wraps around to adorable. And a huge Cat Noir fanboy.
"He is kitty, Celine!" indignantly exclaimed a slightly different voice that Ladybug inferred was probably Achille. "How can you not adore the kitty?
"Hey, I never said I didn't like him," Celine responded. "He is one of Paris's superheroes. But I'm not the one who has half their room filled with plushies of the guy."
"Cat Noir plushies?" Ladybug said with a smirk. "He didn't mention seeing those."
"Well he wouldn't have, they're not... out here," Celine said, gesturing broadly to the general surroundings. "They're in headspace," she clarified, tapping the side of her head. "We did look for physical Cat Noir plushies online, but we couldn't tell what was legit or a ripoff..."
"I don't think we have any officially licensed merch," Ladybug mused. "I don't think it's possible for us to get into all that image licensing stuff without compromising our identities..."
"Ah, that makes sense," Celine said with a shrug. "Guess we'll have to look elsewhere. Wonder if Dupain-Cheng knows how to make plushies..."
"Dupain-Cheng?" Ladybug asked, sounding curious. I don't recall being on a last-name basis with Jade — oh, huh.
"Marinette Dupain-Cheng, a classmate of ours," Celine said. "She's a designer and seamstress, though she's mostly working in fashion, so I don't know if she'd make a plushie. She might not have any stuffing on hand, for one thing..."
"She's definitely made dolls before," Ladybug said, recalling the Puppeteer incident. "I'm sure she'd be willing to whip up a Cat doll for a friend."
"I dunno, we're not that close," Celine said. "I mean, she was friendly enough with Jade, but she doesn't actually know me. Hells, we've been masquerading as Jade since they vanished, so technically, Dupain-Cheng doesn't even know I exist. Or Achille, for that matter, since the plushie would really be for him. Maybe we could tell her about us... she was cool enough about Jade being agender... don't really know if that maps, though..."
Celine yawned. "Shoot, but it's getting late, isn't it.
"It is getting late. We've had a nice chat with Ladybug, but now we should go to bed, Celine."
Celine snrk'd. "Thank you for the reminder, Leo. It was nice talking to you, Ladybug... we'll try to reach out to our classmates tomorrow."
Ladybug nodded. "Before I go, there's something I didn't have time to do this afternoon..." She opened up her yoyo and withdrew a small round amulet, patterned in red, yellow, orange, and green, with black ladybug spots. "Thunderbolt system, this is a magical charm that will protect you from Hawk Moth. Keep it with you always, and he'll never be able to manipulate you again."
"Thank you, Ladybug," Celine said, taking the charm. "... Is this why Mr. Pigeon stopped showing up? We'd been wondering what was up with that."
"Mm-hmm! Keep it quiet though, the longer Shadow Moth takes to figure these out, the longer we can use them without him coming up with a countermeasure." Ladybug waved and tossed her yoyo. "Bug out!" she said as she zipped out the window.
For once, Celine Leclair was having a good day.
A video on her phone rambled on about medieval recipes while she brushed her teeth. Ooh, we should try making that one, Achille thought.
It does sound tasty, she agreed. We'll have to grab a few ingredients on the way home. We'll add that to the list.
She drifted towards homeroom, almost completely lost in thought... almost.
Suddenly, she quickly stepped to the side — neatly dodging Chloé's attempt to repeat her clonking of the previous day.
"Hello there, Bourgeois," she said, sounding for all the world like she was just greeting a casual acquaintance.
"Watch where you're going, Leclair," Chloé declared.
"I was watching where I was going today," Celine said. "That's why I didn't bump into you. You see how that works? See ya," she added, and turned and walked off before Chloé could respond.
"I bet you are," Chloé muttered. Celine just rolled her eyes.
Really starting to think that she might know about us.
Ahhh, who cares. What's she gonna do, tell people? Nobody'd believe Chloé Bourgeois talking behind a classmate's back.
"I'm handing back your history essays that were due yesterday," Ms. Bustier said, "I'm pleased to note that everyone got a passing grade."
Celine glanced at the top of her essay and was somehow both relieved and vexed that it was a high B. That'd have been an A if I'd gotten it in on time...
True, but we've switched our phone to 24-hour time, so we won't be making that mistake again.
After a very brief encounter with Chloé — consisting mainly of the other girl saying veiled insults and Celine pretending not to notice — they arrived home. The apartment was desolate as always.
Celine sighed, sounding more annoyed than anything. "Okay, this still gets on my nerves. What kinda business trip keeps someone away this long...? After we finish our homework we're gonna look for some coding jobs online. The faster we're officially on our own, the better."
But what about art?!
"Hm. Well, we could try combining coding with art... I can think of several things we can do with that, actually. Web design. Visual novels. Probably a lot more. Let's keep an eye out."
Heck yeah! Do all the things, but in a normal mundane non-akumatized way!
Celine snrk'd. "Exactly."