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Red For Fortune

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MONDAY - February 1

 

Marinette was pretty good at public speaking, if she didn't think too hard about it beforehand. The impromptu speech that won her the class presidency worked so well precisely because it had been improvised. When she had to plan out a presentation, she would inevitably overthink things and psyche herself out, especially if it was something she really cared about.

This explained why her palms were so sweaty and her stomach tied itself in knots as she stood before her class on Monday morning.  She hadn't stuttered once thus far, and her voice barely shook, which Marinette credited entirely to the fact that she'd avoided looking directly at Adrien during her speech.

"-So I thought it would be best to bring it up to the class to see if you all were interested before asking permission from M. Damocles. The Lunar New Year celebration in the 13th arrondissement is one of the biggest in Europe - there are usually over 200,000 people in attendance, and it's lots of fun. I would love to share this with you all!"

Marinette finished her speech with a nervous grin, and finally allowed herself to inspect her classmates' reactions. Alya was grinning encouragingly at her, and Nino winked when he caught her eye. Rose seemed delighted by the idea, while Alix and Juleka seemed intrigued. She couldn't see Nathanäel behind Ivan, who was busy passing notes to Myléne. Kim and Max appeared only vaguely interested - Kim would jump at her proposal, if only to get out of class. When Marinette finally allowed herself to look at Adrien, the blonde boy smiled sweetly at her.

Another blonde in the class was less genial in their response. While Chloé wasn't sneering outright, her expression was nonplussed. Marinette braced herself for the argument that was certainly ahead.

"Not that I'm opposed to a field trip or anything," Chloé began, "but do you really think Principal Damocles is going to let us off to go watch a parade next week when we get a half-day the very next day for basically the same thing?"

Most of the students who'd seemed interested by Marinette's plan became disheartened by Chloé's argument. For once, the mayor's daughter employed logic instead of spite - the Lunar New Year began in a week, but Mardi Gras was the day afterwards. College François DuPont would close early in honor of that holiday.

"It's not the same thing!" Marinette protested heatedly. "Just because Mardi Gras also has a parade doesn't mean it's anything like New Years!"

"M. Damocles isn't going to see it that way. He'll think we just want to slack off."

"Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays of the year for a massive chunk of the world's population. If this school wants to prepare us to live in a global society, we need to learn more about other cultures. This isn't just about having a fun field trip - it's about having an active cultural exchange."

Marinette earnestly looked around the room, silently entreating her other classmates for their support. Before anyone could speak up, Chloé scoffed.

"You act like you're an authority on the subject just because your mom is Chinese. But how much can you really know, Madame President? If I remember correctly, you couldn't even speak to your own uncle - you had to get Adrien to translate."

Marinette felt herself go cold before abruptly flushing red. Old shame swept through her - the feeling of not being enough of any one thing, of not really belonging. If she hadn't already seen Chloé as an akuma, she would have thought the other girl's superpower would have been exploiting the weaknesses people were most sensitive about. The taunt did exactly what Chloé wanted it to do - Marinette was about to lose her cool.

Mlle. Bustier saw it too, and decided to intervene before a fight broke out in the classroom. She placed a hand on Marinette's shoulder and smiled gently at the girl. "Why don't we table this for now? We can discuss it more at the end of the day, and speak with M. Damocles then."

Feeling almost betrayed by the teacher's intervention, Marinette went to her seat, shoulders back, jaw set, and chin held high. She dutifully took notes all through lecture, but avoided participating in class, and avoided all attempts to catch her eye. By the time lunch rolled around, Marinette had a massive headache.

 

~

 

Principal Damocles did not grant approval for the field trip. Marinette almost wished that Chloé was responsible for his decision. The truth was far worse; Chloé had been right about how the principal would view the proposed trip.

Frustrated and feeling the sting of humiliation, Marinette's headache was back at full force before she even reached home. She didn't bother going to her room, merely collapsing on the couch and covering her head with a throw blanket. She had the presence of mind to release Tikki from her purse, but Marinette's body language clearly told the kwami to leave the girl alone for now.

Marinette dozed off, worn out by her headache and the day's trials. Dusk had fallen when she felt gentle hands untying her hair. The smell of curry wafted from the kitchen. All in all, it was the most pleasant awakening she'd had in a while.

"Rough day, sweetheart?" Her mother softly asked.

Marinette was tempted to moan and bury her head in the couch cushions, but she knew that was a poor way to repay her mother. Instead she sighed and sat up. She gave her mother a baleful look and undid the pigtail that had been unreachable while prostrate on the couch. At last, Marinette though sardonically, I look on the outside how I feel on the inside - a miserable mess.

Out loud, Marinette merely replied "It's just... stuff. I don't really want to talk about it."

Bless Sabine Cheng, because that's all it took for her to understand what had so upset her daughter. She didn't know the details, and she didn't really need to - as the daughter of Chinese immigrants growing up in the 20th arrondissement, Sabine had dealt with her fair share of "stuff". She also knew that articulating it wasn't going to help Marinette right now.

"In that case, I'm glad your father went to sleep early. No need for us to sit down to a family dinner. I reheated the curry from yesterday, so you and I can just take our plates and watch a movie."

Marinette smiled at the suggestion - her first real smile since that morning. "That sounds great, Maman. Do you want to watch ‘Avatar’ again?"

‘Avatar’ was their standard "stuff" day show. Mother and daughter knew the entire series by heart, and it was as comforting as any bedtime story.

Sabine smiled teasingly at her daughter as she stood to go to the kitchen. "I said 'movie', didn't I?"

Marinette followed her mother curiously, but moved to prepare their plates when she saw her rummaging through her purse. Sabine was deliberately keeping whatever it was out of sight, so Marinette shrugged and brought their food over to the couch to wait.

"I picked this up a few days ago," Sabine said, sauntering towards the tv. "I was going to save it until next week, but I think the need for it is greater tonight."

After depositing the movie disc into the player, Sabine turned around and presented the case with a flourish. Marinette couldn't read the title, but she recognized the cover art. Her gasp of delighted surprise was everything her mother had hoped it would be.

"Where did you get that? I thought it wasn't out in France yet. How did you know I wanted to see it?"

Sabine took a seat beside her daughter and began navigating the movie menu. In an airy tone, she responded to Marinette's questions. "I picked it up in the 13th, and I was told it's an import. If the subtitles are too fast for you, I'll translate. As for the 'how', I'm your mother. Did you think I would forget your favorite hero?"

"I did only make you read ‘Journey to the West’ to me a dozen times," Marinette giggled.

The two women settled in to watch the film, offering questions and commentary between bites of food. After finishing her dinner, Marinette brought their plates to the sink, then returned to curl up beside her mother. Absorbed in the animated heroics on the screen, she was hardly aware of gradually leaning into her mother's lap. Marinette fell asleep to the comforting sound of Mandarin dialogue from the television, and the feel of her mother's fingers running through her hair.

Chapter Text

TUESDAY - February 2

 

Most businesses experience a slump during January and February. After the rush and bustle of December, consumers are worn out on commerce. It's as though they have decided that they too should hibernate during the coldest months of the year.

The Dupain-Cheng's patisserie and boulangerie was an exception to this phenomena. There was typically a brief lull in mid-January, but by the beginning on February there was a high demand for King Cakes and beignets for Mardi Gras parties, and an innumerable variety of sweets for Valentine's Day. Those in the know would come for the traditional Chinese treats Sabine would make in honor of the Lunar New Year. In short, it was one of the busiest times of the year at the bakery.

This explained why Marinette was attending the front counter on a Tuesday afternoon when she really should have been attending to her math homework. Her father was in the back, baking at least three different batches of pastries at once, and doing the prep work for five more. Sabine was coordinating with suppliers to ensure they had the unique ingredients for their seasonal treats, and going over their accounts. Everyone in the family had mastered multi-tasking, as evidenced by Marinette, who was answering phone calls to take custom orders while also making certain things ran smoothly in the shop.

A small queue had formed while Marinette finished a phone call for their latest custom order - a six inch pink champagne cake decorated with chocolate dipped strawberries for a M. de Havillard. Once she'd confirmed the order details and noted them in the bakery's special order book, Marinette thanked M. de Havillard for his patronage, and turned her attention to the elderly lady at the front of the line.      

"Thank you for you patience! How can I help you, Madame?"

Marinette handled the busy shop with aplomb. The rush of business hardly bothered her, having spent her entire life around it. There were, however, some things Marinette would never really get used to (didn't want to get used to), which on this day took the form of the fourth customer after M. de Havillard's phone call.

The young man was several years older than Marinette, possibly in his last year at lycée. She supposed most people would find him somewhat attractive, with his blue eyes and auburn hair, but he wasn't really her type. The way he was looking at her only confirmed it. Still, Marinette had practically been raised in customer service, so she brushed off the discomfort caused by the boy's gaze, and offered him a practiced smile.

"Sorry for the wait. What can I get for you?"

"You could start with your number."

Oh yeah, he was going to be a problem. Marinette pretended obliviousness and rattled off the bakery's line. "I could include our business card with your order, if you would like?"

"Ah, no. Actually, I'm not sure what I want. Could you tell me what flavored macarons you have featured today?"

The boy had been standing in line for at least ten minutes, plenty of time to peruse the display cases, or read the list of specials posted by the entrance.

Marinette's smile became increasingly fixed as she lead him through the options. The boy's deliberate slowness was grating on more than just Marinette; the other patrons were clearly running out of patience too. Mme. Vaughn, who came every Tuesday for a loaf of brioche, looked particularly irritated, constantly checking her watch.

It was difficult to maintain a cheery demeanor by the time the boy began questioning Marinette about the seventh different treat (who comes to bakery and asks if the eclairs are vegan or gluten free?!). Times like this were particularly frustrating for the collége student; the boy wasn't being overtly disrespectful, so she couldn't respond to the way he was wasting her time. Had Marinette been at school, or working a different job, she wouldn't have tolerated it. But this was her family's bakery, their entire livelihood. Marinette couldn't risk a show of temper in front of a shopful of customers.

Mme. Vaughn had taken to loudly tapping her foot, and several other a were glaring at the boy by the time he finally made his selection. Marinette tried not to appear too eager as she packages up the two cream puffs. She had just placed them in a box when the boy spoke up again.

"So, what are you?"

Marinette tensed, the tongs in her hand clacking shut. She took a moment to compose herself before standing from her crouch behind the counter. The bakery regulars could see that Marinette's 'customer service' smile had taken on a slightly manic edge.

"I'm a collége student."

The boy laughed condescendingly, "I meant, where were you born?"

Marinette made a show of considering his question as she boxed up his pastries. Hoping that if she drew this response out long enough she could get him out of the store without further mortification.

"Hmmm... I think it was Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière, but I'd have to ask my parents."

The boy was looking frustrated now. Behind him, the tapping of Mme. Vaughn's foot grew louder, but when she caught Marinette's eye, the older woman winked.

"But, like, where is your family from?"

"Belleville," she replied, without missing a beat.

"Really? But you look so exotic!"

It took all of Marinette's considerable willpower not to draw back in revulsion. She hated that word. It was bad enough when someone asked her "what" she was; that could at least be poor wording instead of bad intent. But nothing made her feel more like an object and less like a person than being called "exotic".

She was preparing a rejoinder -  something about how the size of the Chinese population meant she was statistically average - when Mme. Vaughn intervened.

"Little boy, if you are quite done harassing this young lady with your impertinent questions, the rest of us would like to make our purchases."

The lycée student turned to confront her, but seemingly lost his nerve when he set eyes on Mme. Vaughn.  She was a tall woman, and not easily cowed. The dreadlocks carefully arranged on her head resembled a crown to Marinette in that moment. She looked down her nose at the boy with all the disdain of an Egyptian queen presented with a dung beetle; regal and implacable.

Faced with the intimidating Mme. Vaughn and a queue of disgruntled customers, the boy paid Marinette with no further commentary, snatched up his box of pastries, and hurried out of the bakery. He avoided looking at anyone on his way out.

Mme. Vaughn stepped up to the counter. She smiled warmly at Marinette, once more the friendly thirty-something real estate agent that came in every Tuesday. "Are you alright, honey?"

"Yeah, I just-" nearly lost my temper? Hate when I'm treated like that, especially in my own home? Feel ashamed that you witnessed that and that I apparently wasn't able to handle something so simple on my own? Wish you'd stepped in earlier? "I'm fine, thanks. One loaf of brioche, right?"

"Yes, and one of your non-vegan, non-gluten free eclairs as well, please."

Marinette quickly wrapped up the requested items. As she handed the bag to Mme. Vaughn, the older woman deliberately caught their hands together and squeezed gently. It happened so fast, Marinette hardly had time to react to the comforting gesture.

"I can't stand being called that either," she said softly, before exiting then bakery.

It wasn't until the end of her shift that Marinette realized Mme. Vaughn had left her a €20 tip.

Chapter Text

WEDNESDAY - February 3

 

Despite Mme. Vaughn's generous tip, Marinette had still been upset and distracted after her shift in the bakery. Unable to focus on her math assignment, she called up Alya in order to vent while bullshitting her way through her history and literature homework. This decision seemed much more foolish by the light of day. She'd barely solved half of the one hundred and fifty algebra problems Mme. Mendeleiev had given them.

It's alright, Marinette reassured herself, I don't have that class until this afternoon. I can finish those problems during lunch.

Usually such a plan wouldn't have presented a problem for Marinette. While she would never enjoy math, she was a capable student. Though her answers weren't always correct, she understood the concepts and would show her work, so she always got at least partial credit.

Had Marinette been a normal student, she would have been fine. But she wasn't, and the Akuma that began terrorizing the Latin Quarter ten minutes into lunch clearly didn't care about Marinette's math grade.

Marinette cursed all of her life choices as she and Chat Noir faced down Maiden Meter. She kept up a mental litany with every attack.

Why did I ever put those earrings on?

Duck under the parking meter being used as a cudgel.

I should have never done whatever it was that made the Guardian choose me.

Dodge a volley of razor sharp parking tickets.

I shouldn't have taken that shift at the bakery.

Ignore the stunningly bad joke her partner made ("Your time has expired"? Really?).

I shouldn't have spent so long talking to Alya.

Summon her Lucky Charm - a tire iron.

I should have done my homework last night. Who needs sleep?

Resist the urge to use the Lucky Charm to just bludgeon Maiden Meter into submission.

I should have told off that creep myself.

Use the tire iron to pry up a manhole cover, setting a trap for Maiden Meter's demonic little scooter.

I shouldn't have to deal with creeps like that in the first place.

Have Chat grab the enchanted parking ticket from the Akuma’s pocket when she goes flying over the handlebars.

I shouldn't have to argue with people to get them to respect who I am.

Purify the Akuma, reverse the damage to the Latin Quarter, and fist bump. Mission accomplished.

~*~

After seeing someone so violently enraged over a parking ticket, Marinette privately swore to never get a car. Or Vespa, as the case may be. Roof hopping and the metro were good enough for her, thank you very much.

Of course, public transportation barely got Marinette back to school in time for her afternoon classes. Forget about giving her enough time to finish her math homework once she'd arrived there.

With grim resignation, Marinette made her way to Mme. Mendeleiev's classroom, as though she were a condemned prisoner. She didn't bother thinking up excuses, or devising the best begging strategy; Mme. Mendeleiev wouldn't care about any of it. Instead, Marinette mentally braced herself for the tongue lashing she was sure to receive.

Marinette trudged into the classroom just as the signal bell rang. She hardly noticed Alya's concerned glance, or Adrien literally sliding into the room behind her. She passed in her unfinished homework alongside everyone else, and mentally counted down to the public shaming that would likely occur at the end of class.

Mme. Mendeleiev was the type of math teacher that inspired a life-long loathing of the subject in her students. She was utterly incapable of simplifying concepts for her students, and had little patience for questions on points she felt had already been addressed. As she meticulously took notes on the lecture, Marinette privately resolved to have her parents explain it to her later.

After completing the lesson, Mme. Mendeleiev assigned them several practice problems to work on while she graded their homework. They would review them as a class, but that was as close as Mme. Mendeleiev ever got to addressing specific weak points her students had.

Struggling through the problems beside Alya, when neither of them had truly grasped the concepts behind them yet, was a miserable battle. It was made all the more difficult by Marinette's inattention. This was not the usual distraction of an infatuated teenager seated right by their crush. No, it was the distraction of someone who felt that, with every paper the teacher graded, a thread holding up their own personal sword of Damocles had frayed.

Marinette knew her homework had been reached when Mme. Mendeleiev scowled particularly fiercely and glowered in her direction. Rather than relieving her tension, this only made her more anxious over the coming confrontation.

Her nerves were wound so tight that when the class went over the in class assignment, Marinette practically jumped out of her skin every time she was called on, and her stuttered responses were nigh unintelligible. Mme. Mendeleiev called on Marinette often that day.

At the end of class, when she returned their graded assignments, Mme. Mendeleiev started on Marinette's side of the room. The girl was both relieved and distraught by this - on one hand, her torturous wait ended sooner. On the other, her classmates would not be focusing on their own returned homework, making them more likely to listen to whatever criticism the prickly professor gave Marinette, thus amplifying her humiliation. She knew it was too much to hope that Adrien would be too absorbed in revising his own homework to pay attention to what Mme. Mendeleiev had to say about Marinette’s, but she continued to silently pray for it.

The math teacher glared at Marinette over the rim of her glasses, so there wasn’t even the thin layer of glass to protect her from the basilisk-like stare. Marinette envied the fictional denizens of Hogwarts for a moment - at least they had a magical excuse for being petrified.

“Miss Cheng,” Mme. Mendeleiev began, “Your performance in class today has been abysmal. Perhaps you would improve if you actually bothered to do your homework.”

Marinette bit back the defensive response on the tip of her tongue - today’s lesson had nothing to do with last night’s homework. It hadn’t built off of things covered in the homework assignment. And it wasn’t like Marinette made a habit of skipping out on homework.

But none of that would change the large, red, “30%” at the top of her paper. All that talking back would accomplish would be getting her a detention. This would have been easier to accept were it not for Mme. Mendeleiev’s parting comment.

“I expect someone of your background to value their math and science education more, Miss Cheng.”

Though Marinette was inclined to cringe back or become defensive over the earlier, reasonable, criticism, this comment inspired a wholly different response. A wash of cold swept through her body, her fingertips tingled as though they’d fallen asleep. In contrast, her face felt unnaturally warm, pin-pricks of heat flaring upon her cheeks and at her temples. The muscles in her face slackened, expression carefully empty as Marinette stared blankly at the board for the rest of the period.

Marinette deliberately turned her thoughts to other things - how she might watch the movie her mother had bought after school, how her father might join her. She did not think about how she yet again had to accept someone demeaning her publicly due to the power they had over her. She didn’t think about how these people thought they had the authority to say who and what she was.

Marinette was so focused on not thinking about things that she didn’t notice the concerned glances Alya and Nino shared. She was mortified enough as it was, she didn't wan't to even contemplate the reactions of her peers. At least it seemed that Adrien had paid no mind to her humiliation.

When the end of class bell chimed, Marinette practically dashed out of the room, eager to find somewhere to lick her wounds in private before she had to make her way back to Mlle. Bustier’s classroom. Without giving it too much thought, she went to the library. There was a study table nearly hidden by bookcases in one of the corners that would provide the perfect retreat if it was empty.

Upon seeing the desk unoccupied, Marinette abandoned all pretense of calm or dignity, and scrambled underneath it. She clenched her eyes shut and covered her ears, hoping to block out the rest of the world and calm her emotions down enough to face the rest of the day ahead. She needed to get ahold of herself quickly, so as not to miss Mlle. Bustier’s class; being late or missing the class would only confirm to her classmates that Mme. Mendeleiev had gotten under her skin, and Marinette was not about to let that happen. Even hiding under a table in the library, Marinette had her pride.

After a few more steadying breaths, Marinette crawled out from her hiding spot. As she adjusted the straps of her book bag on her shoulders, a large tanned hand presented itself to her, startling a squeak from the girl. Tracing her eyes up to the hand’d owner, she met a familiar gaze, though his expression was a kind half-smile rather than his usual cocky smirk.

“Need a hand?” Kim asked, his tone devoid of judgement.

Marinette ordinarily would have felt beyond humiliated in this situation. Cowering under a desk because a teacher had upset you wasn’t the most socially acceptable response, especially for the class president. But something about Kim’s expression had her tentatively smile back and accept his help.

Once back on her feet, Marinette noticed that Max was with Kim. She shouldn’t be surprised by his presence, though she was surprised by his gentle expression.

“How did you know I was here?”

“We deemed it unlikely that you were in that much of a rush to get to history class, and you had no reason to go to your locker -“

Kim cut Max off. “Marinette, we’ve known you since we were, like, seven. We know what you do when you’re upset.”

"You knew I would be hiding under a table in the library?"

"Not exactly," Max hedged. "We knew you'd want to be somewhere alone, and the library is usually empty during this period."

Marinette looked down and fiddled with the strap of her book bag. "Was I - was I that obvious? Am I gonna look like a total baby in front of everyone?" In front of Chloé and Adrien?

The boys shared a knowing look above her head. After a nod from Max, Kim thumped Marinette's back with forced joviality. The girl stumbled slightly at the contact, but was halted by the bespectacled boy flanking her left.

"Don't worry, Marinette," Max said gently, "Kim and I only noticed because we've been there."

Kim threw his right arm around Marinette's shoulders, and began to steer their group out of the library. He gesticulated grandly with his left hand as he talked. "D'Argencourt still can't seem to accept that I like sports, and Max doesn't. Don't even get me started on Mendeleiev!"

"Do you remember when we first had her for math, and she accused us of swapping papers? All because I had the good grades and you didn't?"

"Man, I said not to get me started!"

Marinette was torn between wincing in sympathy, and laughing at their byplay.

"We should start a club - ‘Underachievers Anonymous’!"

"But Kim, Max doesn't underachieve," Marinette pointed out.

"He does in sports!"

"If I was graded on my coaching ability or knowledge of sports, it would be a completely different story, and you know it. How about the ‘Brown Student Alliance’?"

Kim scoffed, "As if the school would even allow that."

"Oh, I know!" Marinette exclaimed as inspiration struck. "'Students Against Silly Stereotypes', or SASS."

"Bien joué!" Both boys cheered as they traded fistbumps. They were late to history class, but laughed and joked the entire walk to Mlle. Bustier's classroom. 

Chapter Text

THURSDAY - February 4

 

“Marinette, do you really have time for this? You don’t want to get in trouble with your teacher again, you’ve had enough problems this week!”

“Relax, Tikki. The only thing I have to worry about tomorrow is that history quiz, and I’m sure to ace it. Besides, it’s not like I’m doing this just for fun - Maman is all out of some of the ingredients for her nian gao and dowry cakes, and we aren’t due for another shipment before Monday. Someone has to go to the Asian Quarter, and it might as well be me.”

“And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Alya is going to be meeting you there?” The tiny deity packed an outsized amount of skepticism into that question.

“I’m hurt that you would question my motives like this, Tikki. Alya is going to help me carry everything home.”

“Of course. Such labor is always easier with the help of a friend.” The kwami and her charge shared a smile before Tikki dove into Marinette’s purse, and the teenager made her way down to the metro.

There were several districts in Paris that were considered Chinatowns. The smallest but oldest was in the 3rd Arrondissement, where Chinese immigrants had been settling for over a century. Marinette’s own grandparents had settled in the Belleville neighborhood of the 20th Arrondissement when they left Wenzhou province back in the early eighties, due to the fact that the thriving community primarily consisted of fellow Wenzhounese. It was the 13th Arrondissement, however, that earned the title “Quartier Asiatique” - it boasted the largest Asian community in Europe, with over 50,000 people packed into a fraction of the seven square kilometers that made up the 13th Arrondissement. Most relevant to Marinette today, the flagship stores of the two largest Asian supermarket chains in Europe - Tang Frères and Paristore - were both within walking distance of each other in the district.

Marinette got off the metro at the Place d’Italie station, and waited for Alya at the large fountain in the center of the square. She circled the water restlessly as she reviewed the day’s mission. Maman needed more black sesame, lotus seeds, and winter melon for her special Chinese pastries, and the bakery’s usual supplier didn’t carry them. Once Alya arrived, they’d head to Tang Frères and see what they had in stock. After that, they’d go to Paristore. If neither of the large stores had enough of the ingredients, Marinette could check the outdoor market and a few smaller family businesses that she knew of.

“Cherie! Are you ready to show me all of the wonders of the Asian Quarter?” Alya’s greeting drew Marinette from planning the best route to M. Yi’s store.

“It would take more than an afternoon to show you everything, but I can certainly introduce you to the wonders of Asian supermarkets.” The girls laughed and linked their arms together as they turned down Avenue d’Ivry.

Alya was the type of friend who knew when to avoid upsetting topics, and when to encourage others to vent. Today, Alya kept from mentioning anything to do with school, or creepy bakery patrons. The location of their outing served as a constant reminder of why such topics were currently taboo, so the would-be journalist decided to use it as it’s own diversion.

“You said we had to get special ingredients for your mom’s recipes, but what are they? And what is she making? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything at your bakery that was, like, super unusual.”

“Hmmm? Why so curious?”

“I’m a journalist; it’s in my nature. Besides-” Alya leaned over and tugged on her friend’s pigtail “-I might be tempted to put a promo on the Ladyblog, or a feature on the school webpage. Wouldn’t the be a great message to M. Damocles and the rest?”

Marinette laughed along with her friend, and proceeded to tell her all about winter melon and lotus seeds. This was followed by loving descriptions of Chinese pastries that were featured during major holidays, like tang yuan, zonge, wife cake, dowry cake, egg custard, and nian gao. She was in the midst of explaining the history of moon cakes when they spotted the yellow and red sign of Tang Frères.

“-So they were able to hide the messages telling people when to rise up against the Mongol rulers without anyone being the wiser!”

“Okay, so I definitely think we should find some way to use that. Like, secret messages in class or something.”

“Alya, that’s totally impractical.”

“Don’t crush my dreams, Marinette! It’s totally feas…” Alya trailed off as they walked into the store. “Holy crap, it’s like Disney World in here.”

Marinette grinned at her friend’s bug-eyed reaction. “I think I’m offended,” she teased, “this place is much more authentic than Disney.”

“Point,” Alya conceded, staring at the huge aquarium near the entrance.

Tang Frères was filled with the cheery, barely reined in chaos that major holidays inspired. Red and gold decorations were artfully arranged along the ceiling. Large displays of seasonal items were strategically placed around the store. There were New Years favorites from nearly every east and southeast Asian country featured prominently. There were signs written in four languages in addition to French, and Marinette could pick out conversations in at least three Chinese dialects taking place around her.

With confidence she rarely felt outside of her superhero guise, Marinette dragged her friend away from the display of Japanese candy she was gawking at, and towards the produce section. There was plenty there to catch Alya’s interest. The blogger hardly took her finger off her phone’s photo button, snapping pictures of piles of unpeeled lychee, plums, and persimmons.

“Oh, is that breadfruit?!” Alya excitedly gestured to a large, spiky, green fruit. “What’s that doing in an Asian market?”

“Uh, because it’s from Asia?”

“Nuh-uh, it’s Caribbean. We had it on Martinique all the time.”

The girls shared a challenging glance, before whipping out their phones and racing to to load Google. After a few moments of hurried typing, Marinette let out a victorious cheer. “Ha! Wikipedia says it originally came from the Pacific islands, so there.”

“Okay, so we were both wrong - it’s not from Asia either.” Alya grabbed a fruit and continued before Marinette dispute this. “Anyways, I’m gonna get some; mom has a ton of recipes for these. Now that I know where to get breadfruit, we may never buy bread again.”

Marinette gasped and swooned in mock horror. “Noooooo! Alya, you can’t leave me for breadfruit! And after I introduced you, too!”

The girls giggled over their theatrics as other patrons deftly avoided them. Once their bout of hilarity passed, they each selected their produce. Marinette filled two entire canvas tote bags with fuzzy, un-ripened winter melon, compared with Alya’s two breadfruit.

They scoured the store’s aisles for another ten minutes (well, Marinette scoured, Alya flitted about taking instagram pics and asking Marinette what various things were) before finding the second item on their list. Unfortunately, Tang Frères supply of black sesame was sorely depleted. Grabbing the one remaining bag of her mother’s preferred brand, Marinette silently hoped she’d have more success at Paristore. A quick, though stilted conversation with one of the shop clerks confirmed that they’d have to find lotus seeds elsewhere as well. The girls completed their purchases and headed down the block to the next store.

“Okay girl, what’s the deal? I thought you couldn’t speak Chinese.”

“I can’t.”

“Then what was that back there? You told me you didn’t know enough to speak with your uncle, but you were switching between French and Chinese as easy as breathing just now.”

“I don’t, though! Uncle Cheng speaks a completely different dialect. It would be like… like someone from Senegal speaking to someone from Quebec.” Marinette wasn’t satisfied with the analogy, but continued on. “Besides, asking where the lotus seeds are in shaky Wenzhounese is hardly the same as trying to have a deep conversation in Mandarin.”

“Okay, I can get that - I could hardly understand anyone when we had a layover in Haiti.”

“Ooh, when was this?”

Marinette, who had never left mainland Europe, eagerly listened to Alya’s tales of her various trips to the Caribbean while they browsed the shelves of Paristore. With all the time required to run the bakery, the Dupain-Chengs hardly even left Paris, let alone the continent. Most of the time this didn’t faze Marinette, but Alya’s offhand promise to bring her along on the next vacation, and the inner certainty that Ladybug couldn’t leave Paris unprotected, made a hard knot of envy form in her stomach.

The teens bought out Paristore’s stock of Sabine’s favorite brand of black sesame, and that of two smaller shops before Marinette was satisfied. It took all of three stores, plus a market stall, to meet their demand for lotus seeds. By the time they made their way back to the Place d’Italie metro station, Alya and Marinette were laden with nearly half a dozen bags each, and were exhausted.

“Cherie, can you watch my bags while I grab some coffee? There’s a café across the square where I can get some to go.”

“Sure, so long as you get some for me too,” Marinette replied.

“Of course! The usual?”

“Yeah. I’ll wait inside the station for you.”

With a nod of agreement, the girls split up.

The dry heat of the metro station was a welcome reprieve from the damp cold that was Paris in February. Marinette seated herself, and her grocery bags, on one of the benches along the wall with a sigh of relief. Her toes and fingers tingled as they thawed in the heat. The evening commuters paid her little mind.

Once the vague numbness of cold had left her fingertips, Marinette decided to take her moment of relative privacy to peek into her purse and check on Tikki. The small deity smiled up from the nest of fabric scraps that lined the purse’s bottom. Before Marinette could ask after her well being, a nearby conversation distracted her.

“- taking up the whole bench.”

“What is she even doing with all that stuff? She can’t possibly carry it all.”

“You know how it is with those foreigners - they always have more children than they can handle. They probably need that many groceries.”

“Maybe we should be quieter; what if she hears us?”

“She probably doesn’t even speak French. They never bother to learn our language when they come here.”

Marinette stared into her purse, unseeing. Her grip on the lip of the bag was so tight that her fingers started to go numb again. The heat crawling up her cheeks had nothing to do with the nearby vents. The two strangers spoke with provincial accents; normally Marinette found such accents charming (Adrien had the barest hint of a provincial accent, and it only made him more perfect to her). Right now, though, Marinette thought the screech of a braking metro train would be more pleasant than anything these two had to say.

“We should get on a different car from her, regardless. I’m sure all that food will stink up the train.”

“Ugh, I know. Shopping in Chinatown was fun, but I can’t stand the smell.”

“Yeah, I’m glad we found that hotel in the Latin Quarter.”

The scent of coffee and chocolate brought Marinette back to herself. With a start, she snapped her purse shut, and looked up to see the paper cup Alya had been dangling in front of her. Marinette grasped the cup eagerly, grateful for the distraction. She opened her mouth to thank Alya, only to see that her friend was watching the two tourists with a sneer on her lips and fire in her eyes.

The train pulled up before Marinette could say anything to Alya. The other girl had already picked up her share of shopping bags, and was walking towards the sliding doors of the closest car before the train had even come to a stop. She turned back to her friend with a sly look on her face, and spoke loudly as the squeal of brakes faded from the station.

“Your dad is still picking us up from Châtelet station, right?”

Marinette didn’t know what Alya’s game was, but decided to play along. “Yeah, he texted me to confirm just a few minutes ago.”

“Good. You know I can’t stand getting off at St. Michel.”

Marinette knew nothing of the sort. St. Michel was the closest metro station to home, after all. They used it all the time. “I still don’t understand why you hate it so much.”

They were just passing the tourists when Alya replied, with perhaps greater volume than necessary. “There were rats on the platform, Mari!”

Marinette scoffed, and made sure that her Parisian accent was obvious as she responded, “You saw them once. Besides, this is Paris - there are rats everywhere.”

They stepped onto the train, and turned to face the platform. Alya looked pointedly out the still open doors at the tourists, who were staring at them, aghast. “You’re right. In fact, I think I see some at this station too.”

The doors slid shut, and the girls broke into giggles as the train pulled away. Marinette knew that it was foolish and petty of her to indulge in such insults, and misdirecting tourists, but at that moment she couldn’t bring herself to care. The sound of Alya’s triumphant laughter rang sweet in her ears, and drowned out the cruelty of strangers.

Chapter Text

FRIDAY - February 5

 

Normally, Marinette was never asked to work at the bakery during her lunch break. Her parents didn’t like the idea of being responsible for her being late to class, and liked her being distracted during the school day in such a way even less. They appreciated that their daughter was so willing to help the family business, but would often tell her that the purpose of the the business was to help the family, which meant helping Marinette do well in what she wanted to do.

Today was a rare exception; now that they had the necessary ingredients, Sabine was hard at work catching up on backorders of Chinese pastries. With Lunar New Year less than three days away, the bakers were operating under a time crunch and needed every available moment to work. Tom kept up with their usual demand, as well as the Mardi Gras and Valentine’s orders, while Sabine focused on the intensive work required to make her specialties. This meant they were in no position to turn down Marinette’s offer of watching the front of the shop during the Friday lunch rush.

Marinette was almost happy to be working. Barring any more creepy customers, the bustle of the bakery kept her from fretting over having Mme. Mendeleiv’s class right after lunch. She was caught up on homework, and there were no planned tests that day, but it would be typical of the woman to spring a pop quiz on them. Given the teacher’s demeanor earlier in the week, Marinette was feeling pessimistic about the odds of avoiding that.

Being at the bakery proved serendipitous. Halfway through lunch, a delivery man walked in with a sizable package. Marinette couldn’t read the return address, but she recognized the international shipping labels that decorated the box; there was only one person likely to send them something from China. A bright grin light up her face as she signed for the delivery.

“Maman! Uncle Cheng sent us a package!” Marinette called into the kitchen.

“Just store it behind the counter, dear. We’ll open it when we’re free for a few minutes.”

It was difficult to stay focused for the remainder of the lunch rush, with her attention frequently straying to the box tucked away near the register. More than one customer had to repeat their order, much to Marinette’s embarrassment.

The lunch rush wound down half an hour before Marinette had to be back in class. After doing some light cleanup, the teenager leaned against the counter, reviewing her math notes. Her attention often strayed to the box beside her feet, but she dared not open it without her mother’s presence. Not only was her mother the only one who could read the Mandarin writing on the labels, but Sabine could also be prickly about these sorts of deliveries.

“I can practically feel your curiosity from here, dear.”

Marinette jumped at her mother’s call from the kitchen. This of course caused the girl to trip over the object of her fascination and knock her schoolbooks to the ground. The ensuing ruckus and flustered yelp led both of her parents to pop their heads out of the kitchen door.

Sabine sighed and shook her head ruefully while Tom helped their daughter off the floor. “Give us a minute to come to a stopping point, and we’ll end your agony, Marinette.”

“Right,” Tom agreed, looking Marinette over for any injuries, “we wouldn’t want you distracted in class all afternoon, would we?”

A few minutes, and one quiche sale later, Marinette’s parents emerged once from the kitchen. With deliberate slowness, they removed their aprons and wiped the flour from their hands. Marinette was practically dancing with impatience, and when her father made a show of looking for the package, she scooped up the box and deposited it on the display counter.

Sabine examined the shipping label and hummed thoughtfully. “You’re right, it is from my uncle.”

Marinette knew it was childish to whine, but she couldn’t help it. “Maman! You said you would end my agony!”

Rather than chastise her daughter for her attitude, Sabine smiled indulgently and sliced open the box. Atop piles of crumpled newspaper lay a red envelope addressed to “Sᴀʙɪɴᴇ” in neat print, with Chinese characters beneath it. Marinette and her father began removing the packing paper from the box while Sabine took the envelope.

“It says to read this first,” she murmured before tearing open the envelope. Two pages of somewhat sloppily written Chinese characters were found inside. Sabine read the letter over before working to translate for her family.

“Uncle says that he enjoyed visiting us, and that he was particularly pleased to finally meet Marinette. He hopes to see us all again in the coming year, provided that he can get away from his restaurant. Otherwise… you must have made an excellent impression on Uncle Cheng, Marinette; he’s invited you to visit him during your summer holidays. Well, the whole family, but he makes special mention of you.”

Marinette felt her heart leap at the prospect of a trip to Shanghai. For a moment she fantasized about all of the adventures she’d have this summer, before viciously tamping down on such premature elation. Even if her parents could take a break from the bakery (or even less likely - were willing to send their teenage daughter to China by herself), Ladybug couldn’t take a break from protecting Paris. It’s enough that Uncle Cheng cares enough to invite me, she told herself firmly, before returning her attention to her parents.

“- Don’t open those until New Years, Tom.”

“Chèrie, I’ve  been married to you for twenty years, I have learned how hong bao works in that time.”

Sabine was unappeased by her husband’s defense, and seized the red and gold decorated envelopes from his hands before returning to the letter. “There’s hong bao for each of us, as well as candies from a confectionary Uncle likes. He also sent something special for Marinette to wear on New Years.”

“I think I’ve found it,” Tome declared.

In his hands was an octagonal box, roughly the size of a coffee mug. It was made of red cardboard, with flaps at the top latching together in a pattern resembling a flower. There was a tag tied to the top addressed to “Mᴀʀɪɴᴇᴛᴛᴇ”, with a message painstakingly written in French on the back.

“‘Uɴᴇ ғʟᴇᴜʀ ᴅɪsᴛɪɴɢᴜᴇ́ᴇ ᴘᴏᴜʀ ᴍᴀ ɴɪᴇ̀ᴄᴇ ɴᴏʙʟᴇ.’ I wonder what he means by that?”

“Open it and see, Marinette!” Her father encouraged.

Teasingly, Marinette carefully pulled apart the tabs of the box, as her parents eagerly looked on. Inside, on a bed of crimson tissue paper, lay the most exquisite hair pin she’d ever seen. Dozens upon dozens of flower petals were formed from wire and translucent resin. When Marinette lifted it from the box, light played through and across the petals, displaying their varying shades of golden yellow.

“A chrysanthemum? Thats… odd,” Marinette murmured.

“What is your uncle getting at, Sabine? Seems like a mixed message to me.”

Sabine pursed her lips and read the gift tag before examining the second page of her letter. A smile blossomed across her face, as bright and lovely as the hair pin in her daughter’s hands.

“He must have been working very hard on his French; Uncle Cheng was trying to make a pun. In China, chrysanthemums are known as one of the ‘Four Gentlemen’ or ‘Four Noble Ones,’ and yellow is the color of members of the nobility.”

“All this,” Marinette gestured to the presumably pricy gift, “for a pun?” First her father, then Chat Noir, and now her uncle. Was every man in her life determined to torture her with puns?

“I still think it’s strange to send Marinette a chrysanthemum, regardless of the wordplay.”

“Chrysanthemums aren’t just for funerals in China, dear. In fact, they’re the lucky flower of the Year of the Monkey. This makes perfect sense from his perspective.”

Marinette looked at the hairpin with renewed fascination. It really was very lovely, perhaps the prettiest thing anyone had ever given her. That she now had something new in a lucky color to wear on New Years made it all that sweeter.

Sabine came over to fix the flower in her hair, pinning it just above her right ear. “In his letter, Uncle Cheng says her enjoyed the violets you gave him, and associates you with flowers. It sounds much more poetic in Mandarin, but he ‘wanted to give an eternal flower to a girl in the blossom of her youth.’”

“Ah!” Tom declared, scooping Marinette up into his arms. “He has a point! My little girl is blossoming into a wonderful young woman!”

Marinette let out an indignant screech as she scrabbled to escape her father’s hold, and get her feet back on the ground. Sabine giggled as she watched the display.

“Papa! You’re gonna ruin my hair!”

“It can’t be ruined; everything of yours is perfect no matter what!”

“Oh my god, how are you even real? This is so embarrassing.”

“Who is here to be embarrassed in front of? Your mother agrees with me.”

“Ugh, let me down, Papa. I have to get back to school.”

Tom laughed as he released his daughter. Finally free, Marinette ducked behind the counter to grab her school bags. Satisfied that she had everything, Marinette slid her way around the cases, kissed her mother’s cheek, and sprinted out the door with a cheery farewell, avoiding any further mortifying displays.

Chapter Text

FRIDAY - February 5 [Part II]

 

Alya excitedly waved Marinette over when the girl arrived at Mme. Mendeleiev’s classroom a full ten minutes early.

“How was the bakery, chèrie? No more creepers, I hope?”

“Nope! In fact,” she cheerily gestured to her new accessory, “I got a gift from my uncle.”

Alya made the appropriately awed noises when examining the resin flower. “Your Uncle Cheng sent it, right? I can’t imagine any of your dad’s relatives sending you a chrysanthemum.”

“Yeah, it means something totally different in China.”

“Well now I’m kinda mad,” Alya pouted. “The present I got for you isn’t nearly as nice.”

“It’s not a competi- wait, you got me a present?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not much, but I saw but I saw it during lunch and thought of you.”

Marinette cut her off with a tackle hug, nearly knocking the other girl from her chair. “Thank you thankyou thank you! I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful friend!”

Anya laughed into Marinette’s shoulder. “You don’t even know what I got you! It’s just a little something because you’ve had a rough week.”

“It doesn’t matter what it is,” Marinette declared as she released her friend from her embrace, “Why you got it is what makes it special.”

Cheeks glowing red at the praise, Alya opened her book bag and retrieved a glossy magazine. She presented it with a flourish, “Ta-dah! The latest issue of Mᴏᴅᴇ, hot off the presses.”

Marinette accepted it with a squeal of joy. She had to pick and choose which fashion magazines to buy with her limited allowance, and a subscription to Mᴏᴅᴇ was usually too much for her budget. Alya had often been subjected to Marinette debating between purchasing Vogue or Mᴏᴅᴇ in any given month.

She had barely glanced at the cover - an exceptionally glamorous photo of Marion Cotillard - when an unwelcome voice inserted itself into the conversation.

“Is that the new Mᴏᴅᴇ?” Lila Rossi leaned over Marinette’s desk, having stopped on her way to her seat near the back of the room. “Mᴏᴅᴇ Iᴛᴀʟɪᴀ came out last week - it was such a fantastic issue. My aunt works for Meade Publishing, and she gets me sneak peaks and free copies.”

Marinette smiled tightly at the interloper. “Well, I’m sure that there are differences between this one and Mᴏᴅᴇ Iᴛᴀʟɪᴀ …”

“Of course, maybe we could trade issues later and compare them?”

Before she could think of a way to politely deflect Lila’s request (and further conversation with her), a scoff came from the front of the room.

“Neither of you should bother. I already read February’s Mᴏᴅᴇ, and it’s a waste of good paper.” Chloé was seated on top of her desk, idly filing her nails. When she looked up at the trio, her disdainful expression was mixed with something that, on anyone else, Marinette would label as concern. Her next sneering words dispelled that mirage. “Seriously, what type of friend gives someone something so trashy? You’re better off throwing it away right now, Marinette.”

Unwilling to butt heads with the mayor’s daughter, Lila gave an exaggerated sigh and moved on to her seat. Alya and Marinette were less inclined to ignore Chloé’s jabs. Alya deliberately turned to Marinette, and spoke in a manner that was directed towards her classroom nemesis.

“I know movie stars aren’t really your thing -“

“Not when they’re white, I mean, just look at Marion Cotillard. Can you blame me?”

“Of course not, white faves always disappoint you in the end. But check this out; there’s a big spread on fashion inspired by Chinese New Year!”

Alya pointed to a headline proclaiming that Chinese fashions were trendy just in time to celebrate the new year. Marinette made certain Chloé could hear her complimenting Alya’s thoughtfulness. Neither paid any attention to the way the blonde girl shook her head as they flipped through the magazine.

“It’s traditional to wear new clothes on the first day of the new year,” Marinette happily babbled as she thumbed through the articles. “I was thinking of making something this weekend. Something to really highlight Uncle’s gift, you know? Maybe this will give me some inspira-”

The smile abruptly fell off her face, and tongue felt momentarily numb.

Marinette had found the Lunar New Year spread. Page after page of glossy, full frame photos, some spreading across the spine of the magazine. She hurriedly examined each shot, before turning the page with unnecessary force. She felt her shoulders tensing and jaw clenching as she reached the end of the editorial, and flipped back to the beginning to re-examine it.

“What. The. Fuck.”

She didn’t notice the reaction to her hissed comment. Not the look of concern from Alya. Not the surprise from Lila, Rose, and Nathanaël. Not Nino’s sudden wariness, or the way Alix, Kim, and Max looked torn between ducking for cover or grabbing a bag of popcorn. She didn’t notice Chloé muttering “I tried to warn her,” to Sabrina.

Marinette couldn’t focus on anything beyond the magazine in front of her. The models were mostly dressed in red and gold, with mandarin collars and silk frog clasps featured on many ensembles. Garishly embroidered dragons snaked across a man’s waistcoat. A model in a qipao inspired dress lounged across a large statue of the Buddha. Still others leaned artfully against black lacquer screens, surrounded by smoke, like they were visiting a particularly exclusive opium den.

The all wore dramatic makeup. Pale faces with crimson lips. Attention grabbing eyeshadow. Eyeliner with long winged tips, emphasizing an eye shape they couldn’t lay claim to.

Marinette couldn’t feel her hands beyond a numb tingling, though she knew them to be gripping the magazine tight enough to crinkle the pages. Her breathing was shallow, and the little oxygen she took in didn’t seem to be making it to her brain. Why else would she have such trouble processing the images before her? Why else would the title that spanned the first page make no sense?

[[Agreste rencontre l’Est]]

A warm hand gently grasped her forearm. Marinette registered it’s features with detachment; short fingernails, soft, brown. Alya. Her voice sounded as though it was trying to reach her from under water.

“Chèrie, are you okay?”

Marinette felt like she was gagging, unsure whether it was bile or words clogging her throat. She clenched her jaw tighter, throat working furiously to choke down her feelings so that she could speak rationally. The numbness in her tongue and lips faded abruptly, supplanted by a rush of heat to her cheeks.

“They’re all white, Alya. Every. Last. One.”

“Wait, what?”

“Even the designer! They tapped Gabriel Agreste for an editorial shoot on Lunar New Year!”

Alya pried the magazine from the other girl’s death grip, and furiously paged through the article. “They can’t possibly be serious, right? Like, they have no excuse to think this sort of thing is acceptable in this day and age.”

“It was never acceptable!”

“I know, hon, I’m just saying there’s no excuse for their ignorance.”

“It’s not like there aren’t well regarded Asian designers, or Asian models! Mᴏᴅᴇ should be begging one of them to do this sort of spread. Instead they went for this- this fetishistic nonsense!”

Marinette paused, chest heaving as she tried to find a way to articulate her fury. Before she could do so, an unfortunate soul with bad timing entered the classroom. If things had been different, if Marinette had simply been able to vent her frustration to Alya before the newcomer arrived, or if the newcomer hadn’t decided to question the tension in the room, things might not have developed as they did.

As it was, Adrien leaned over to Nino after taking his seat, and at a volume that wouldn’t have been audible had the class not been silently waiting for the eye of Hurricane Marinette to pass, whispered “Dude, what’s going on in here?”

No one in the room gasped when Marinette turned her attention to Adrien, though many wanted to; if they weren’t so relieved to not be in the biracial girl’s line of fire, more of the class would have felt sorry for the hapless blonde. Many winced at the screech of chair legs against linoleum as Marinette forcefully pushed herself up and away from her lab table. Alix did cower in her seat when the class president stalked past her desk, though she paid rapt attention to the drama that unfolded at the front of the classroom.

Adrien flinched back in surprise when a magazine was slapped down in front of him on the lab table. He looked up to see his typically sweet and shy classmate glaring down at him, angrier than he could ever remember seeing her. “Uh, what-?”

This is what’s going on in here, Adrien.” Marinette gestured to the slightly crinkled pages of Mᴏᴅᴇ. “This racist pile of crap that your father helped produce.”

Adrien glanced down quickly at the magazine, wary of taking his eyes off the angry girl in front of him. His eyes widened fractionally in recognition before he returned his focus to Marinette. “You’re upset over a fashion spread in Mᴏᴅᴇ? I don’t see what the big deal is; I mean, none of it is lewd or anything. I guess this collection isn’t my father’s best work…”

Focused as he was on Marinette, Adrien didn’t see Kim slap his hand to his forehead in exasperation, or Alya roll her eyes.

“Oh, it’s an awful collection; completely uninspired and cliché. But I wouldn’t be half so upset if an Asian designer had been behind a shoot supposedly inspired by an Asian holiday.”

Adrien cautiously re-read the text splashed across the glossy photo that proclaimed Gabriel fashions as ideal for ringing in Chinese New Year. “There probably weren’t any Chinese designers that were high profile enough.”

“Do you honestly believe the words coming out of your mouth? I can name three Chinese designers off the top of my head that have been members of Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. There are tons of other Chinese designers that participate in Paris Fashion Week. One of them, Ms Min, even puts out a collection every year in honor of Lunar New Year.

“The Met Gala, you know, the premier fashion event in the world? It was teeming with work from Chinese designers last year - four of whom were featured in the exhibit! Your father has never caused such a sensation as Guo Pei’s fox fur gown, and he sure as hell has never been featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gabriel doesn’t make art; if this is anything to go by, all he makes is racist garbage.”

Adrien bristled at the insult to his father, and stood up to glare down at Marinette. “It’s not like he could control who Mᴏᴅᴇ asked to do this spread. They chose the person they thought had the best collection for what they wanted to portray.”

She felt her anger burn hot, ready to be unleashed. This wasn’t a school official, or a customer, or the mayor’s child. The only power Adrien had over her was what she gave him, and Marinette would not choke down her rage, would not freeze the flames of her anger, as payment for Adrien’s affection.

“Gabriel Agreste could have easily turned them down if he had the decency to see that what Mᴏᴅᴇ was doing was wrong. Of course, that would require him to realize that his collection was racist trash, and that Mᴏᴅᴇ clearly wanted to portray racist trash.”

Marinette then leaned over the desk, turning the pages of the magazine with a violent zeal. The smack of her hand as it slapped each page down punctuated each word out of her mouth.

“How-”

SMACK

“Else-”

SLAP

“Can-”

SMACK

“You-”

SLAP

“Explain-”

SMACK

“This?”

She had finished on a photo of a young man gazing into a lotus pond, wearing a high collared button-up shirt, with a cobalt blue waistcoat and slacks, all embellished with lotus patterned embroidery. It was one of the more understated outfits, though the young man’s make up was as dramatic as that of all the other models. No amount of eyeliner, however, could hide the fact that he had blonde hair and green eyes.

“It wasn’t enough that they whitewashed my culture, was it? They also had to deck their white models in yellow face.” Marinette glared into the eyes that she usually made her swoon, but currently only made her disgusted. “What made you think that this was in any way okay? How can you claim to be my friend and do something like this?”

“He’s my father; I couldn’t just say no.”

“Your relationship to him is precisely why you were the only one who could say ‘no’.”

“You really have no clue about how wrong you are there,” Adrien responded bitterly. Marinette was too angry to notice the tone.

“I know that any other model or member of the production crew would have committed career suicide if they confronted him. Just as your father was in a position to turn down Mᴏᴅᴇ without consequences, you were in a position to call him out without ruining your future career.”

“You’re crazy if you think I wouldn’t have faced consequences, Marinette.”

“What, you’d be grounded? Lose your video game privileges? No sweets for a month? Do you really care more about some petty personal comforts than doing the right thing?”

“‘The right thing’? This isn’t some grand moral conflict. You’re overreacting.”

“Spoken like a truly privileged white man. Your father must be so proud.”

“Don’t act like such a martyr, Marinette. It's not like you're some oppressed minority - heck, your skin is even paler than mine.”

She laughed; harsh, cawing, and bitter. Utterly unlike Marinette’s usual sweet giggle. Intellectually, she’d known she viewed Adrien through the foggy lens of infatuation, but Marinette never imagined that he’d clear her vision so cruelly. She hadn’t thought that when she finally saw the faults of the kind boy with the umbrella that they would be so ugly. Marinette could only laugh at her naivety.

The fury that had carried her through the confrontation abruptly crystalized as her laughter cut off. Marinette glared at Adrien; her face blank, but her eyes diamond hard. Her voice was flat as she addressed her next words to Alya, though her gaze never wavered.

“You were right, Alya; white faves will always disappoint you in the end.”

With that, Marinette stormed out of the room, brushing past the class stragglers hovering by the doorway and ignoring the protests of the newly arrived teacher. She didn’t notice the way her pursed bumped against her hip of it’s own accord, or that Mᴏᴅᴇ was still clutched in one hand.

~*~

The tension in the classroom was palpable in the wake of Marinette’s exit. Ivan, Mylene, and Juleka were wide-eyed and still as statues near the door. The others were alternating between staring at the doorway and staring at Adrien, still standing where Marinette left him. The only sound to be heard was the echo of Mme. Mendeleiev’s footsteps, doubtless on her way to Damocles to report Marinette’s behavior.

Unsurprisingly, Chloé broke the silence. Her actual comment, however, was surprising.

“Wow, Adrien, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody screw up that badly with my own two eyes.”

Adrien whipped around to give the other blonde an annoyed look. Chloé appeared unmoved by this sign of disfavor from the boy she typically tried to impress. She gave an imperious toss of her hair, before smirking and pointedly turning her attention to her cellphone.

“Never thought I’d see the day when I agreed with Chloé,” someone muttered from the back of the room.

“Yeah,” murmured another, “Even if she is just happy that Adrien made Marinette not like him anymore.”

Adrien turned to find the culprit, and was met with a collection of stony faces. Before he could ask what they meant, Mme. Mendeleiev returned and ordered Adrien to his seat.

As the class settled in and pulled out their notes and textbooks, Adrien and Nino had a hushed conversation. “Man, what was that about?”

“Are you serious right now?” Nino’s whisper was incredulous.

“Obviously? Marinette was being kinda ridiculous.”

“Nah, man, I’d have done the same thing in her shoes.”

“Seriously? Why?”

“You fucked up, bro. You need to own up to it and fix your shit.”

“How am I the one who messed up? I was doing my job, she’s the one who pitched a fit.”

Nino turned in his seat to look Adrien dead in the eye, expression unusually serious. “We may be at school, dude, but it is not my job to educate you.”

Nino deliberately turned his attention to the teacher. Adrien was left to spend the class contemplating his friend’s words and the confrontation that preceded it. As the afternoon wore on, and Marinette failed to return, he comforted himself by thinking about how she had seemed to forcefully calm herself at the end of their argument.

~*~

Marinette had not calmed herself down, though she was trying. When she’d heard Mme. Mendeleiev yelling after her, she’d known that M. Damocles would soon hear of the incident, and that she wouldn’t be able to use any normal hiding spot to cool down before having to face the headmaster. With that in mind, she super heroine had forced her way through the maintenance door to the roof (an act that had provided a smidgen of catharsis when the door banged open), and paced along the ledge while resisting the urge to scream or hit something.

Lungs burning from exertion and stifled sobs, Marinette ripped apart her battered issue of Mᴏᴅᴇ, and threw the scraps off the roof. She felt no satisfaction as the paper fluttered delicately towards the ground. She suddenly wished she'd kept the magazine and set fire to it instead, and glared at the falling confetti as though she could ignite it by willpower alone.

Marinette felt all of her anger and disappointment drain out of her and swiftly be replaced with dread when she saw the black butterfly winging its way towards her. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might attract an Akuma in her agitation. Tikki had told her that the Miraculous offered a level of protection from possession that could only be surpassed in extreme conditions. Did this really count as such?

As the Akuma drew closer, Marinette briefly wondered - was it even worth trying to run away?

Without giving it much thought, Marinette removed her earrings, shoved them into her purse with Tikki, and hurled the purse off of the school roof. Maybe the Miraculous stones would have allowed Marinette to resist the Akuma (had she ever heard of anyone doing that?), but she couldn’t take that chance. Hopefully Tikki wasn’t hurt in the fall, and she could help Chat Noir put a stop to whatever became of Marinette.

Marinette pushed all thought of Tikki and the Miraculous to the farthest corner of her mind as the Akuma reached her. She felt more than saw the butterfly alight on the hair clip Uncle Cheng had sent her. Part of Marinette wanted to cry at the thought of the lovely flower pin being so defiled.

China Doll, a malevolent voice echoed in Marinette’s head, I am Papillon. I can give you the power to wreak vengeance on those who have disparaged your culture -

“‘China Doll’? What, were ‘Lotus Blossom’ and ‘Dragon Lady’ taken?” All of her earlier anger was back tenfold; she wouldn’t accept being demeaned by anyone, especially not a super villain. “Papillon, you’re as bad as all the others.”

Those ‘others’ do not offer you the power I do.

“You would only give me power as you see fit. I will not be limited by your pre-conceptions.”

Just who do you think you are, little girl?

She reached out with her thoughts as Ladybug so often did when activating a spell, and smiled when she felt the Akuma bend to her will. The transformation spread out from the hair clip, feeling like ten thousand pin pricks of static electricity, so unlike the comforting warmth of Tikki’s presence.

 

“Haven’t you heard, Papillon? It’s the year of the Monkey, and it looks like I’m the queen.”

Chapter Text

FRIDAY - Staffing Issues

 

When the end of day bell chimed, Adrien was more eager to leave than usual. As the afternoon had dragged on with no sign of Marinette, the atmosphere in the class room had become increasingly chilly. Adrien knew he had to smooth things over with Marinette quickly if he wanted to avoid increased hostilities from everyone else.

As soon as a teacher finished their lecture, Nino would jam on his headphones and ignore any attempt by Adrien to speak to him. He’d given up trying by the time he saw Nino leaving the locker room, headphones firmly in place, without so much as a glance in his direction. Alya had glared at him so fiercely that Adrien could feel her eyes on him the entire afternoon. Kim and Alix had made a point of alternating “accidentally” knocking into him, and sweet Rose had looked disappointed every time he caught her gaze. Even Chloé had avoided him, declaring an urgent hair appointment that forced her and Sabrina to rush from school when Adrien had tried to speak with her after class.

Adrien felt the strong urge to kick something. It made sense, he guessed, that everyone took Marinette’s side; they had all known her for longer than him, they clearly all admired and respected her. He was still just the new kid, and easily dismissed.

Stomping down the steps at the school entrance, Adrien realized the Gorilla hadn’t arrived yet. And no one here was willing to talk to him while he waited. The urge to kick something grew, and the green domed ad column by the curb seemed like a reasonable target.

With a slouch that his father would scowl over, Adrien stalked up to the column and kicked it’s metal base viciously. His sneaker left a prominent scuff mark on the paint, but that was more than matched by the pain that shot through his foot.

“Okay, that was not as cathartic as I thought it would be,” he muttered, resisting the urge to massage his foot.

“No kidding, kid,” Plagg piped up from within his school bag. “It’s not like you’re wearing steel-toed boots.”

“Are you going to start in on me too?”

Plagg poked his head out of the bag, and gestured to the posters that Adrien hadn’t bothered to notice. “I don’t need to; it looks like the rest of Paris is ready to do that for me.”

Adrien felt his breath catch. The perfume advertisement that adorned one side of the column had been defaced. He could read some of the characters that were scrawled over his image, but there was a helpful French translation below for those who didn’t know Chinese.

RACIST

 

~*~

 

Lila Rossi was not the type of girl to let an opportunity pass her by, especially when it came to social advancement. She hadn’t been at Françoise DuPont for long before she realized her initial assessment of the social hierarchy was faulty. Where she had originally thought that a relationship with Adrien Agreste would be a sure ticket to popularity, Lila quickly saw that a smoother path would be through the unassuming Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

The class president was wildly popular amongst her peers, without letting it make her arrogant, which Lila suspected was a large part of her appeal. Unfortunately, Marinette seemed almost wary of her; though she was never impolite, she maintained a civil distance from the Italian transfer student. While this behavior was not overt, the rest of the class seemed to subconsciously pick up on their cool relations, and had been similarly polite while never really embracing her.

Lila was determined to change that, and now seemed the perfect opportunity. After today’s fiasco, Lila could only feel relieved that her romantic designs on Adrien had been for naught, and some satisfaction that she might turn his faux pas to her personal advantage. She had joined the rest of the class in their disapproval of the blonde boy’s remarks, and fully intended to show Marinette her sympathy — nay, empathy — over the situation. Lila hoped that a display of solidarity would win over the kind class president, and subsequently the rest of their peers.

With that in mind, Lila set out from school, set on coming up with the perfect friendly overture. Not sweets — the girl’s parents were bakers, after all. Perhaps flowers? Marinette had seemed so pleased by that lovely hair clip…

Inspiration struck when the art nouveau flourishes of a newsstand at the end of the block caught her eye. This was doubtless where Alya had procured that ill-fated issue of Mᴏᴅᴇ, as it was the closest such stand to the school. Lila doubted that Marinette would hold on to the offending magazine. Perhaps she would give the other girl her copy of Mᴏᴅᴇ Iᴛᴀʟɪᴀ? Lila was fairly certain that it didn’t have anything overtly racist in it. Maybe Aunt Francesca would get Marinette a free subscription if Lila explained the situation to her. But then again, Marinette might not want anything to do with Meade Publications for a while…

Lila had jut decided to check the latest Vogue for racist content before getting it for Marinette, when she arrived at the newsstand an her fledgling plans were utterly derailed.

“What the hell— ?” She muttered in Italian.

The stand hadn't been destroyed. In fact, most of the merchandise was perfectly intact and displayed as normal, if one ignored what appeared to be charred confetti settling on every flat surface. The fashion section resembled a smile with a missing tooth; shining and lovely except for the prominent gap in what was usually Mᴏᴅᴇ’s place of honor.

The young clerk was staring at the scene in dismay, his short ponytail a mess from the way he anxiously tugged on his hair. As she sidled up to him, Lila could hear him muttering to himself “I am so fired.”

“Scuzi, but what happened here?”

Lila’s question seemed to snap the clerk out of his daze. “Some crazy girl came by and blew up my magazines!”

“Wha— how?!” Lila had no experience with explosions, but she didn’t think they were usually so… contained. “An akuma?”

“She didn’t dress like an akuma, but she was gone too quick for me to get a good look at her.”

Paris is far stranger than I anticipated, Lila mused as she re-thought her plans for the afternoon. 

 

~*~

 

Nino didn’t want to be mad at his best friend, okay? He knew that Adrien had been ruled by ignorance this afternoon, rather than malice. He knew that even if Adrien had objected to the photoshoot, he’d have been compelled to participate. He knew that a lot of how Adrien had acted was driven by his totally messed up relationship with his asshole father.

But.

But these things that Nino knew did not in any way excuse Adrien, only explained some of his actions. They didn’t make his participation in that photoshoot less wrong, and it certainly didn’t make Adrien’s treatment of Marinette less heinous.

What sort of best friend would Nino be if he just shrugged that off and let Adrien get away with it? What sort of friend would he be to Marinette, who he’d known since primary school? Nino wouldn’t be able to look his own reflection in the eye if he let this slide, much less either of his friends.

What was more, Nino felt like he’d been directly attacked in this situation, rather than a bystander caught in the crossfire. Sure, the photoshoot made a mockery of East Asian cultures, not Moroccan, and Adrien had dismissed Marinette, not him, but Nino felt like a casualty of this dispute just the same. Because Adrien had given no thought to how Marinette, or any East Asian person, would feel about that spread, and refused to acknowledge that he was in the wrong. How would he react when his father did a “North Africa” inspired collection? Would Adrien think it was okay to pose wth a hookah pipe, surrounded by faux harem girls? Would he realize how much such a thing would hurt Nino? Would it be enough to make Adrien stand up to his father?

Nino didn’t think that Adrien would have behaved any differently if it had been his best friend’s culture being insulted instead of Marinette’s, and that thought was like acid in his bloodstream.

Knowing Adrien as he did, Nino was pretty sure that the other boy would realize what he did wrong and repent. Eventually. And knowing himself, Nino knew he’d probably forgive Adrien, regardless of the quality of the apology. Eventually. But he’d avoid the blond boy for now, and wait until his temper cooled. Because Nino knew that Adrien was a fundamentally good person, and that he would learn from this and become better for it, and Nino didn’t want to do something in his anger that would destroy their friendship.

All the same, Nino was content to wallow in his loathing of Gabriel Agreste. That man had no excuse to hide behind, and was all the more loathsome for dragging his son down with him.

So he wasn’t surprised by the vindictive satisfaction he felt upon seeing that the huge Gabriel jewelry ad on the metro station wall had been shredded into ribbons. Nino gave a mental fist bump to the industrious vandal, and turned up the volume to his headphones. It was easier to ignore the occasional side glances from fellow commuters while bobbing his head to Riz MC.

 

~*~

 

“Shopping sure is a great stress reliever after a tough week, right Chloé?” Sabrina chirped as the stepped out of the Hermès boutique and back onto Rue Saint-Honoré.

Chloé nodded absently, fiddling with the silk scarf she’d just purchased. She liked the color, but now that she was outside she wished she’d bought a warmer cashmere one instead.

“It would be better if any of the major fashion houses had released a decent collection this season. Fall/winter was bland, and the spring/summer looks are practically uninspired.”

“Look at Gabriel,” gasped Sabrina.

Exactly! Drawing inspiration from the cultures is one thing, but orientalist is just gauche. Not to mention lazy,” Chloé ranted.

“No, Chloé,” Sabrina clutched the blonde’s arm and pointed across the street. “I mean look at Gabriel!”

A small shop half a block away, the flagship atelier of the Gabriel clothing brand, was in utter disarray. Clothing was strewn over the sidewalk and into the street. Something, Chloé couldn’t make out what, appeared to be spray painted across the storefront. As they watched, a sales clerk stepped outside, looking dazed.

“What in God’s name…?” Hardly bothering to check for traffic, Chloé crossed the street, dragging Sabrina in her wake. It wasn’t really Gabriel Agreste’s style to pull this sort of publicity stunt, but there was the slightest chance that this was advertisement for a sale, and Chloé would be damned if she let that sort of opportunity slip. Even if the collection was tacky and racist.

The closer they got, however, the more apparent it became that this was no advertisement ploy. The merchandise wasn’t merely tossed on the ground, it had been torn and defaced first. The graffitied window front proclaimed Gabriel Agreste to be a “thief” and a “colonizer” in at least two languages. The devastation was mirrored inside, with dismembered mannequins and broken display racks.

The sales associate who had stumbled outside was staring at the ruins of clothing littering the street with muted horror. As gauche as Gabriel’s latest collection was, Chloé knew it was still worth a fortune, and the clerk certainly knew it too. Gabriel Agreste would probably blacklist the man for this.

“My God, what happened?” Sabrina didn’t aim the question at anyone in particular, but it served to draw the clerk’s attention to them.

“She - this woman came in. She didn’t even seem angry until she started trashing things. When I tried to stop her, she pinned me and my co-workers down with the clothes racks. She was so strong…”

Chloé narrowed her eyes as the man rambled on, gesturing to the metal clothing rack that had been twisted and wrapped around the hapless employees. No ordinary vandal could manage such a thing. It wasn’t surprising that Gabriel Agreste had pissed someone off enough to trash his shop, but it left her wondering if it was a grudge against Gabriel particularly, or high fashion in general.

“ - Her makeup was crazy. Then she just vanished.”

“Vanished?” Sabrina prompted.

“Like a ninja; with smoke and everything.”

Chloé decided that she’d heard enough. “Sabrina, take some photos and send them to the Ladyblog; this is clearly the work of an akuma.”

As Sabrina whipped out her phone, Chloé revised her mental itinerary. She’d originally planned to shop the major fashion houses along Faubourg Saint-Honoré before heading down to Saint-Honoré proper to visit Colette and maybe get some new shoes at Tosca Blu. But if an akuma was targeting the fashion district - for whatever reason - Chloé did not want to get stuck in the middle. It was time to head back to the hotel for a spa day instead.

 

~*~

 

The late afternoon sun had painted the skyscrapers gold by the time Kim and Max exited La Défense metro station. The teens weaved through the steady stream of commuters leaving early for the weekend. They were separated by the crowd a few times, but easily spotted each other’s bright clothing amongst the muted business wear of those around them.

A disgruntled banker glared at the boys when Kim blithely cut past her to get through the doorway. Max studiously avoided the woman’s gaze as he followed in the bigger teen’s wake. He could feel her glare like pinpricks on his neck as they walked away. The tension in Max’s shoulders didn’t loosen until they’d escaped the austere shadow of the Grande Arche.

“Thanks again for coming with me, Kim.”

“No problem, bro. I wasn’t gonna leave you hanging. It’s not everyday that your uncle can get you into his lab at the university.” Kim didn’t really get why Max felt so uncomfortable going through the financial district - with his nerdy style, he ought to fit right in - but he’d help him out where he could. Kim didn’t think it was a big deal.

“I know you had wanted to go to the skate park with Alix before it closed today…”

“It’s not like it won’t be open tomorrow.”

“Still…”

“Listen, if it bugs you that much, you can pay me back by doing battle bots with me.”

Max gasped in mock outrage. “That’s barbaric, man! Battle bots are a total waste of robotic technology.”

Kim grinned and tossed an arm around Max’s shoulders. “Then I guess it’s not that big of a deal that I sacrificed my Friday to go with my best friend to visit his uncle’s super cool robotics lab.”

The shorter boy laughed and tried to shove Kim off of him. In response, the the athletic Kim pretended to swoon and demanded that Max carry him. Max crudely described the statistical likelihood of that happening, and was rewarded with a headlock.

Wrapped up in their own banter, neither boy paid attention to the occasional bemused glance from the office workers they passed. If any happened to catch Kim’s eye, the teenager would flash a deliberately carefree grin and keep Max’s focus diverted.

They would have made it to the university campus without incident if they hadn’t taken a route through the publishing district. The boys were a few blocks from their destination when a thundering crash shook the neighborhood. Outdoor marketing displays fell over in the ensuing tremors, and half a dozen car alarms went off at once. A billowing cloud of what was either dust or smoke could be seen past a nearby building.

Max and Kim huddled in the entranceway to a ground level shop until the shaking stopped. Covering his mouth with his shirtsleeve, Max turned to his friend.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, you?”

“Uh-huh. What was that? You don’t think - ?”

“Probably an akuma,” Kim assured him. “But let’s check it out.”

Before Max could protest, Kim was dashing in the direction of the dust cloud. With a sigh, the shorter boy followed, pulling out his cell phone as he ran. Someone had to remember to call the emergency crews in these situations, especially when so many of Max’s friends seemed intent on rushing towards danger.

What the boys found was not the scene of devastation they’d feared. The source of the noise and debris was a giant metal “M” that had crashed into the center of the road. It was surrounded by broken asphalt, with a spiderweb of cracks radiating outward in the ground. Above it all stood a girl in a dark yellow jacket.

A girl who was standing on a cloud.

While Kim began ushering civilians into the relative safety of a nearby building, Max dialed 1-1-2. “Hello? I’d like to report an akuma attack at the Meade Publishing building.”

 

~*~

 

Chat Noir had been checking out yet another vandalism site - this was the tenth newspaper stand, and he’d long since lost count of the defaced ad posters - when he caught sight of the dust plume in La Défense. Well, to be fair, the shopkeeper he’d been talking to had noticed it first. But that just made the man more understanding when Chat cut his investigation short and vaulted onto the closest rooftop.

Not for the first time, Chat Noir was intensely grateful for his ability to race across the Paris skyline. It would have taken a minimum of half-an-hour using any other method of transportation to get from his location in the 8th Arrondissement to La Défense on a Friday afternoon. With a superhero assist, however, he made it in less than half that time.

The dust had settled by the time he arrived, to Chat Noir’s relief. He was equipped with night vision, not dust vision, after all. Ladybug would have to be careful not to stir too much into the air with her yo-yo, though. Speaking of his partner, he saw no sign of the heroine yet. There was a police blockade set up, however, and one of the officers was waving him down.

“How may I be of assistance, Madame Officer?”

“Chat Noir, we have confirmed reports of an akuma attacking the Meade Publishing building.  According to witnesses, it damaged the building’s sign before going inside. We’ve been unable to confirm their activities since entering the building approximately ten minutes ago.”

“There’s been no word from anyone in the building?” The superhero frowned.

“The local cell booster tower was built into the sign, sir. Combine the damage with the number of calls overloading the system, and we’re lucky to have even received the initial call.”

“Has anyone seen -” The rest of Chat Noir’s questions were cut off by the crash of breaking glass. Several windows on the seventh level of the building shattered simultaneously. A figure appeared on the ledge, then stepped out of the building, and stood perfectly still. Seven stories above the ground.

“Ah, I believe that’s my cue, Madame Officer.”

With a quick goodbye salute, Chat scurried off to a nearby building in hopes of approaching the akuma with some degree of stealth. Ducking behind a ventilation unit, he pulled out his baton and put it into binocular mode. With any luck (ha!), he’d get some useful intel to share with Ladybug when she arrived.

The akuma appeared to be contemplating the remains of the “Meade” sign, like an artist considering the next stroke of their paintbrush. It gave Chat Noir the perfect opportunity to analyze her appearance.

She was, without a doubt, the most stylish akuma yet. From the tip of her cranberry red wedge boots to the chrysanthemum circlet on her head, the akuma looked like the walked on a runway instead of the magical clouds that formed around her feet.  She had no obvious weapons, though it was possible something was secreted away in the goldenrod yellow motorcycle jacket she wore. Her flowing lavender mini-dress and black leggings held less potential for hiding weapons, but the sash on the dress moved in a way that reminded Chat of his own tail. There were no glaringly out of place aspects of her outfit that might give a hint to the location of her possessed item; even the braids looped near her ears and her starkly painted face fed the impression of avant garde street fashion.

He peered at her face as best as he could, wondering if he’d recognize the person beneath the red, black, blue, and white makeup that covered her visage. There was something nigglingly familiar about her, but before Chat could pinpoint what it was, she turned her burning orange gaze on him. By the time he realized that the akuma was not merely looking towards his hiding spot, but looking at him, it was too late.

In the seconds it took Chat to recognize the danger he was in and returned his baton it’s weapon form, she was on him. He only just got his staff up in time to block a kick that could have broken his nose. The akuma rebounded with a graceful somersault and landed a few meters away in a defensive stance.

“You must be the one who’s been painting the town,” Chat shifted his stance so that his staff was held one-handed, and grinned at his opponent with all the bravado he could muster. “Sorry, but it’s time for your red letter day to end.”

The akuma merely tilted her head slightly, and looked at him blankly.

“Err, parlez-vous français?” Remembering the bi-lingual graffiti he’d seen earlier, Chat tried again. “Ní hâo?”

This time, the akuma rolled her eyes at him, and spoke a string of words that Chat could vaguely recognize as being related to Chinese, but were otherwise indecipherable.

“Uh, what?”

The akuma closed in on him, aiming a punch towards his kidneys. Chat stepped backwards and created just enough space between them to avoid the blow. Still within arms reach, he didn’t expect her to grab him and flip him over her shoulder.

The impact with the roof was jarring, but Chat quickly bounced to his feet. This akuma was no Timebreaker, but she was still fast. She was on him almost before he could find his footing.

“I said,” her voice was unnervingly sweet sounding for someone throwing punches at another’s head, “that there’s more to Chinese than Mandarin.”

Chat took a swipe at her with his staff, but she dropped below his swing.

“And just because I look different, doesn’t mean I don’t speak French.”

She smoothly transitioned into a leg sweep that he barely jumped over in time. Chat used the momentum from his dodge to backwards handspring away from the akuma. He moved his staff diagonally in front of himself to preemptively block any follow up blows.

The akuma sauntered towards him, the confidence in her steps reminding Chat of a model during fashion week, or even Ladybug herself. She looked like she’d already beaten him, and was just waiting for him to realize it. She reached behind one of her ears, as though to adjust her hair.

“You see, that’s part of the problem with people like you; you think knowing part of a thing makes you a master of the whole. You learned a little Mandarin, so you think you know all there is to know about the language and the culture.” She pulled out a pin from her hair and, as Chat watched, it transformed into a massive black staff, capped in gold. “You think playing with fencing gear makes you a master of that bo staff of yours.”

She set on Chat before he could reply, cracking the metal tip of her staff across the fingers of his right hand. Reflexively loosing his hold on his own weapon, Chat barely maneuvered it in time to block the next hit aimed at his ribs. Still gripping his staff with only his left hand, the superhero lunged at his opponent like an Olympic fencer. What worked in a sport with designated target areas and a narrow playing field doesn’t always translate to real world combat. So when Chat Noir’s lunge left his torso open to attack from his right, the akuma slammed her bo staff into his diaphragm, sending him flying off the edge of the roof.

Winded and in pain, Chat barely had the presence of mind to extend his own baton and dig it into the building to slow his descent. When he hit the asphalt, front first, what little breath he’d managed to get was knocked back out of him.  He was in no position to fight back when the akuma landed lightly next to his head.

“You know, I thought you’d give me more of a challenge, Chaton.” She grabbed him by the tail and started dragging him along the ground.

“Is this the part where you gloat and steal my Miraculous?”

She dropped him next to the twisted remnants of the Meade sign’s “M”. “Don’t be silly, Kitty. What use would I have for your Miraculous?”

“Won’t your boss by mad?”

“You’re mistaken if you think I’ll let someone as ignorant as Hawk Moth dictate my actions. And you’re trying to distract me until Ladybug arrives,” The akuma casually pulled the three meter tall mass of steel from the ground, and smiled knowingly at the still-prone Chat. “It won’t work.”

With one massive heave, she drove the damaged sign back into the ground, digging the legs of the “M” deep into the asphalt on either side of Chat’s body. The sharp center tip of the letter was aimed over the middle of his chest, lighly pressing into his sternum. The superhero was trapped by at least a ton of hardened steel. The akuma's smile was eerily familiar before she walked away.

“Bye-bye, pretty kitty.”

Chapter Text

FRIDAY - A Cloud-Walking Outlook

 

The dust was still settling from the destruction of the remainder of the Meade sign when Adrien stumbled back to the Meade Publishing building. The akuma had vanished from the area by the time he’d summoned his Cataclysm and escaped the debris pinning him. Adrien’s previous estimation of the akuma’s speed was further confirmed when he could find no sign of her before his transformation ran out. Dejectedly, he made his way back to the scene of the fight.

“What are you hoping to find here? I doubt the akuma is gonna come back to gloat.” Plagg grumbled from inside of Adrien’s winter coat.

“But Ladybug might show up, and I can give her a rundown of what happened.”

“What, as yourself? There’s plenty of other witnesses that could do that.”

As they got closer to the Meade building, and the curious onlookers surrounding it, Adrien made a show of adjusting his scarf over his face to block out the dust and took the chance to glare at Plagg. “No, I’m gonna do it as Chat Noir. They always keep snacks available for visitors at the MODE office, so you can recharge there while I see what other damage the akuma did.”

Plagg knew better than to pass up the opportunity for free, unquestioned-by-parental-figures-and-dieticians cheese, so he huddled into Adrien’s coat pocket while the boy snuck past security tape and arriving first-responders. As hectic as the street in front of the Meade building appeared, the lobby was quiet and seemingly normal. The elevator ride was similarly calm, but when the doors opened to the floor housing the Mᴏᴅᴇ offices, the chaos was immediately apparent.

The frosted glass wall with the Mᴏᴅᴇ logo that stood opposite the elevator was unrecognizable, covered as it was with graffiti. The Chinese characters were not ones Adrien was familiar with, but the French beneath it told the reader to get their own culture, but with far less polite language. The air was filled with a cacophony of ringing phones, distraught cries, and staff running around. As he approached the main reception desk, Adrien thought he could hear someone hyperventilating on the floor behind it.

“Hello?” When he didn’t get a response, Adrien peaked over the desk to see that the receptionist was indeed huddled on the floor, crying. Alarmed, the teen vaulted over the desk and crouched by her side. “Are you okay? Did the akuma hurt you?”

The receptionist’s designer dress was slightly creased from kneeling on the ground, but she didn’t have a hair out of place. Only her runny mascara and tear-reddened eyes hinted at whatever ordeal she’d endured. Adrien awkwardly patted her back and dug through his school bag for the handkerchief Nathalie insisted he keep in there. After a minute, the receptionist calmed down enough to speak.

“I’m okay. It’s okay.”

“Are you sure? You weren’t hurt?”

“No, I don’t think she actually hurt anyone. She just ruined everything!”

The receptionist looked on the verge of breaking down again, so Adrien cut in. “What do you mean ‘ruined everything’?”

“It’s all been destroyed!”

Alarmed, Adrien straightened up and looked at the large open office area past the reception desk. Though things looked, admittedly, much less organized than usual. There were file cabinets sitting open, papers piled haphazardly on desks, and what he could see of the wardrobe room appeared disheveled. But the open file cabinets were full, the computers were intact, the papers were piled on desks instead of scattered on the floor, and the clothing did not appear damaged.

The Mᴏᴅᴇ staff all appeared more stressed and harried than usual, and were running around, answering phones, and yelling orders to each other. But none of them appeared hurt, or even particularly ruffled.

“Uh, do you mean the office has been destroyed? Because it looks okay from here.”

The receptionist glared at him momentarily. “No, not the office; though the editor’s window was broken, and the wind made a mess in there. But that’s not it. The akuma wrecked our servers. The website is down, and all of our files from out last issue — all of the photos, articles, ads, and invoices related to them— are gone. It’s a disaster!”

Okay, Adrien could see how, from a business standpoint, that was pretty bad. But at least no one was hurt, right? When he posed this question to the receptionist, she burst into tears again.

“I told her where to go! I am so going to be fired!”

Well, Adrien reflected, that explained why she was so much more upset than the rest of the staff. He patiently ushered the weeping receptionist towards the break room, hoping that she wouldn’t notice Plagg gorging himself while Adrien fixed her a soothing cup of tea.

- - - -

Half-an-hour later, there was no sign of Ladybug, and no word on the akuma’s current location. Which was for the best, because once Eloise, the receptionist, recognized Adrien, she had called Nathalie and informed her of Adrien’s location. This was only slightly frustrating, because Eloise also insisted on feeding Adrien while he waited for Nathalie to arrive, and Plagg was able to sneak even more cheese into his school bag.

“Adrien?” Eloise peaked into the break room she had left the teenager in, “Mlle. Sancour is here, but she needs to talk to the editor before you leave. You can wait here or by the conference room where they’re meeting.”

Adrien gladly took the opportunity to look around the office and eavesdrop on the employees. As he followed Eloise to the conference room, he saw that most of the staff was still present, and no one seemed pleased by it. They passed the editor’s office, where a work crew was already installing a new window, and an assistant was attempting to organize the wind-blown mess.

“I don’t suppose any of you get akuma-based hazard pay? Or over-time?”

Eloise snorted in response. “I wish. The only reason I wasn’t fired today was because I recognized you and got Mlle. Sancour over here. Hopefully she’ll get us access to Gabriel’s backup photo files.”

“I’ll put in a good word for you, and so will Nathalie,” Adrien earnestly reassured the receptionist as she deposited him outside the glass door to the conference room.

Though he knew it was only a few minutes, Adrien felt like he waited outside by that door for an hour. He checked the Ladyblog for updates (none), and his Twitter feed for akuma sightings (way too many), and listened to the frustrated grumblings of the Mᴏᴅᴇ staff. In general, they were more upset that their Friday night plans were being disrupted than being subject to an akuma attack. Maybe they would be more upset if they also checked their social media and saw that the akuma was obscenely fast and seemed to be hitting all over the city.

“—We will keep you updated on the situation.” Nathalie’s tone brooked no further discussion as she slid the door beside Adrien open. The teen jumped to attention as his father’s assistant walked out of the conference room, and quickly fell into step behind her.

“Why did I have to hear from the Mᴏᴅᴇ secretary that you were stranded at their office, Adrien?”

“Errrr, my phone was dead? I came in here to charge it after I avoided that akuma.”

“Hn. Your father would be curious as to why you were in La Défense in the first place. He didn’t give you permission to spend time with your friends down here today.”

Adrien latched on to the excuse Nathalie had inadvertently given for his presence. “Please don’t tell him, Nathalie. We were just, uh, gonna check out something at the university, but I came here when I realized there was trouble.”

Nathalie didn’t seem impressed by his excuse, but didn’t call him out on it. They both bid a polite farewell to Eloise as they exited the office. Once in the elevator, Nathalie spoke up again.

“I won’t bother your father with this. He’s busy enough dealing with the havoc this akuma has caused.”

“It can’t be that bad. All you need to do is send over our copies of the photoshoot files, right?”

“It’s more than that. Perhaps fifteen minutes before Mᴏᴅᴇ called me, the akuma attacked Gabriel’s main offices, and our warehouse. The entire ‘…meets East’ collection has been destroyed.”

Adrien gaped at her. While he tried to wrap his head around the destruction of his father’s work, he did some mental calculations. If the akuma had attacked Gabriel headquarters fifteen minutes before Eloise had called Nathalie…

The akuma had somehow attacked Mᴏᴅᴇ and Gabriel simultaneously.

 

- - - -

 

Nathanael surveyed the Mardi Gras display in the art supplies store disdainfully. He’d never really cared about the holiday one way or the other before, but he was re-thinking that after what he’d seen with Marinette this week. Sure, it wasn’t like Mardi Gras was responsible for that awful photoshoot or Adrien being painfully ignorant, but it felt tied to it all the same.

This huge display of decorations, do-it-yourself mask kits, and plastic bead necklaces took pride of place in the store, but Nathanael saw nothing specifically for Chinese New Year anywhere. There was even a poster in the front window for the Mardi Gras parade, but nothing for the even larger parade that would be held one day before in the 13th arrondissement for New Year’s. It felt disappointingly typical to him, like the tiny corner of Hanukkah decorations that department stores would put out as an afterthought.

It reminded him that Marinette would have make-up work when she skipped class on Monday to celebrate New Year’s with her family. Just like he had to make up a test Mlle. Bustier had scheduled on Yom Kippur, and Nino had the same fight with M. D’Argencourt every year about participating in P.E. during Ramadan. But they would be released from school early on Tuesday in honor of a quasi-religious Catholic festival, because France’s commitment to secularism didn’t apply to Christianity.

No, Nathanael wasn’t bitter, why would anyone think that?

With one last sneer at a garishly dyed feather boa, Nath made his way to the paper crafts aisle. He had a vague notion of making silhouette cut outs or a block print featuring the Chinese zodiac, and giving it to Marinette. Maybe he’d bring it to the bakery on Sunday, so he could give it to her before New Year’s itself.

As he browsed through cardstock, handmade paper, patterned origami paper, Nathanael allowed himself to fantasize about bonding with Marinette over their experiences with holidays most of their friends ignored. When Nathanael brought her a thoughtful gift that celebrated her heritage, Marinette would see that at least he respected her culture. Maybe in return she would get her parents to feature hamantaschen at the bakery next month, or she would invite him over so they could bake them together.

Nathanael was admiring a sheet of gold foil paper, and debating whether to use it as a background or for the animal silhouettes, when there was a commotion towards the front of the store. The salespeople at the store were so used to odd patrons that little seemed to disrupt their cool, so hearing one of them shout was pretty unusual. Curiously, Nath poked his head out of the paper aisle, and observed the front of the store.

A figure wearing a fluttery lilac skirt with a long sash and goldenrod yellow leather jacket was strutting out of the front door, heedless to the salesperson chasing after them.

“Miss! You can’t just—!”

The door closing behind the salesperson cut off the rest of their sentence, but Nathanael could still watch the ensuing drama through the glass storefront. He caught a glimpse of the ornate makeup the jacket-clad individual wore as she briefly turned to appraise the store. Seemingly satisfied, she set off down the street, ignoring the salesperson that had followed them outside.

Unwilling to let the strangely dressed person go, for whatever reason, the salesperson reached out and grabbed the sash that trailed behind her. Nathanael expected the confrontation to escalate from there, and had pulled out his phone to record the incident. Instead, he nearly dropped his phone in shock when the jacket-clad woman erupted into a cloud of smoke.

He dashed towards the door, doing a brief double take when he saw that the Mardi Gras display had somehow been entirely replaced with one for Chinese New Year in the last ten minutes. When Nathanael pushed open the door, he saw that the parade posters now advertised the 13th arrondissement’s Chinese New Year parade. There was no sign of the strange woman outside of the store, only the salesperson, who was staring blankly at their hands. Instead of the woman’s sash, they held a single strand of long black hair.

 

- - - -

 

Place du Trocadéro was bustling on Friday evening, regardless of the wintry chill. Tourists wandered about, searching for the perfect vantage point for their Eiffel Tower selfie. Street vendors aggressively hawked their wares; loudly jangling masses of keychains and fanning out postcard books. The scent of roasted nuts wafted from the carts by the street corners. In short, it was a lively place to meet with friends for a night out.

This was certainly the case for Rose and Juleka, who met at their usual spot at the top of the steps leading to the Palais Chaillot.

“Oh, wow! Juleka, look at that!”

Rose pointed to the base of the stair, where a crowd was forming. At its center was what resembled a shaggy, brightly colored beast. The jingle of bells could be heard over the sounds of the audience as the creature moved rhythmically.

Rose started to move closer before pulling herself up short. “You don’t think it’s an akuma, do you?”

“Nah, I’ve seen something like that before. It’s a bunch of dancers in a costume. It’s some sort of Chinese New Year thing.”

“Let’s check it out!” Rose squealed happily as an idea struck her, “We can take a video to show Marinette! It might cheer her up to see other people appreciating her holiday.”

Juleka smiled fondly at the smaller girl, and followed her down the steps. The audience had swelled during their brief conversation, so the curious teenagers had to elbow their way closer. Rose apologized for every imagined shove, while Juleka kept her head down and barreled forward in hopes of being largely overlooked.

The dancing figure at the center of there crowd seemed to pause at their stumbling arrival. It’s enormous orange painted eyes drinking them in, and it’s unnerving grin appearing to grow. The innumerable tassels adorning it’s mane and body stilled, it’s jangling ornaments momentarily silenced.

When Rose tentatively pulled out her phone to begin filming, the creature sprung into action. Foreign sounding music began playing from speakers cleverly concealed in the creature’s head. The twin dancers hidden within moved in perfect sync wth one another. Their choreography grew steadily more acrobatic as the drums increased their tempo.

Enthralled as she was by the performance, Juleka still snuck in a quick Google search. With a grin, she grabbed Rose’s attention and showed the girl her phone. It displayed a photo of people in a similar costume, with a caption that read “The Lion Dance is traditionally performed during New Year’s celebrations to bring good fortune.

“Rad, huh?”

“Do you think it’ll bring Marinette good fortune if we only show her the video?”

“I don’t see how it would hurt. She needs all the good luck she can get.”

The girls grinned at each other and returned their attention to the dance. They were just in time to watch the spectacular finale to the current song, involving the performers climbing atop and flipping over one another. After one final flourish, the dancers stilled and basked in their audience’s applause.

As the audience quieted down, a strident voice with a Marseillais accent could be heard several feet to the girls’ left. The rapid rhythm of the tourist’s words seemed to almost emphasize their incivility.

“Now we have Orientals dancing in Trocadero Gardens. What’s next? Curry stands at the Arc de Triomphe, or a mosque on Mont St. Michele?”

The festive atmosphere evaporated, shock rippling through the crowd with every pronouncement. Rose turned to Juleka, wide-eyed and stunned by such callousness. Juleka frowned fiercely in the direction of the man from Marseille, but could think of nothing further to do.

The dancers turned from the audience section they had been bowing to, and faced the rude tourist. They cocked the lion’s head inquisitively to the side, the mask appearing startlingly alive and angry as it regarded the man. It moved towards him with slow deliberation, each step sending an echoing jingle over the crowd.

As with the earlier dance, they seemed to respond to a silent cue, and began to run at the man. Before any of the spectators could draw back in surprise, the lion leapt forward. At the apex of the jump, the painted orange eyes of the lion mask flashed a light bright enough to momentarily blind the onlookers.

When their vision cleared, they saw that the pair of dancers in their lion costume were gone. In their place stood a large, furred creature, whose eyes burned with an inner flame. It growled menacingly at the rude tourist, who scrambled backwards and promptly tripped over his own feet.

This jolted the crowd from their dazed stupor. A terrified shriek split the air, and suddenly everyone was attempting to escape the creature’s vicinity, shoving each other out of the way. Everyone except for the two collège students.

“Cool,” Juleka breathed, smile lighting up her face. She tore her attention from the monster when Rose grabbed onto her right arm.

“We can’t just stand here, Juleka! It might attack us next!”

The monster stepped deliberately towards it’s target, enormous claws scoring the ground as it moved. It’s tail, still a strip of purple silk that matched the vanished costume, swung lazily, like that of a cat about to pounce. Teeth the length of human fingers were fully displayed by the creature’s snarl.

It was not the sort of thing most teenagers were equipped to face. Of course, most teenagers didn’t live in a city under constant attack from super villains. Most teenagers hadn’t spent time as super villains either, though, so perhaps what happened next is not a great surprise.

The creature-that-was-once-a-Lion-Dance-troupe placed one of it’s massive paws on its’ victim’s neck. It leaned close, seeming to relish the man’s babbled pleas and apologies. Juleka

and Rose found themselves running without thought when they realized the monster was preparing to go for the kill.

Intending to divert the beast’s attention, the girls grabbed it’s strange sash-like tail, and pulled. The creature turned it’s head to look at them, surprise evident in it’s fiery gaze. Juleka and Rose had hardly a moment to rue their actions before the silken tail in their hands vanished into smoke, along with the beast it was attached to.

When the air cleared, all that remained of the confrontation were the gouges in the ground and two long, dark hairs next to the shell-shocked tourist.

“That was the wickedest thing we’ve ever done.” Juleka swayed on her feet as the reality of what just happened hit her.

Rose looked distinctly green as she replied, “Let’s leave the heroics to the superheroes next time, okay?”

Juleka hummed her agreement and pulled the smaller girl into a comforting embrace. The girls didn’t have long to soothe each other before the man from Marseille regained his senses and approached them.

“You saved my life, thank you.”

Juleka glared fiercely at the man from behind her fringe. “We didn’t do it for you.”

“Whoever was possessed by that akuma would be devastated if they were freed and found out that they really hurt someone. Even someone like you.” With that, Rose grabbed Juleka’s hand and walked off into the night.

 

- - - -

 

Chloé lost interest in finishing dinner when Daddy had to leave early to handle more complications from the akuma. From what she’d overheard of his phone call as he left, the Chinese ambassador was somehow involved now. That was new; Chloé couldn’t remember any other akuma attacks that inspired international intervention.

After a few minutes of pushing her half-eaten dinner around her plate, Chloé gave up on it. The food had no appeal now that Daddy had cancelled on her again. She trudged out of the dining room and up to the rooftop balcony, where she could mope without Jean-Luc worriedly hovering around her. As cold as it was, none of the hotel guests were likely to bother her up here either.

The cold was bracing, but Chloé welcomed it as she took a deep breath of the fresh night air. She moved towards the railing overlooking the Agreste mansion; it was her favorite place to brood over her parents, since it reminded her that at least they weren’t Gabriel Agreste. Except tonight her spot was occupied.

The akuma, and Chloé felt certain this was the akuma, sat crouched upon the bannister, facing the street. A pale skirt and long, dark sash fluttered behind her in the wind, colorless in the moonlight. Though her shoulders were hunched within her mustard yellow jacket, her head was tilted attentively, golden diadem glinting amidst dark hair.

Preferring to avoid an unnecessary akuma confrontation (she’s pretty sure she didn’t cause this one), Chloé attempted to retreat before the akuma noticed her. Before she’d taken more than one step back, it hit her: the akuma was in Chloé’s spot. The spot where she had a perfect view of the Agreste mansion. The akuma was staring out, but she wasn’t scanning the street for potential victims, as Chloé had initially thought.

The chill that ran down her spine had nothing to do with the weather.

As carefully and quietly as she could, Chloé edged around the akuma’s periphery. Once her profile was visible, Chloé traced the direction of the akuma's stare. She couldn’t bring herself to be surprised when she confirmed that the akuma was focused intently on the darkened expanse of windows where Adrien’s room was.

If asked, Chloé would not be able to say whether it was wild bravery or grim acceptance of the situation that moved her to speak. All she knew was that she had a chance to protect Adrien from a potentially dangerous akuma, and that she couldn’t ignore that. Chloé deliberately stepped within arm’s reach of the akuma, stomping as loudly as she could in her ballet flats.

“What do you want with Adrien Agreste?”

The akuma tore her attention away from her target and turned to the intruder, revealing a garishly painted face and bright orange eyes. She didn’t seem to regard Chloé as a threat, judging by her implacable expression. “I want him to see how wrong he is.”

Chloé thought of the vandalized billboards she’d seen, the angry accusations painted over Adrien’s visage. She thought back to the Gabriel boutique, and it’s employees, to the damage done in La Défense. What would this akuma do when confronting the human face of her ire?

“Listen, Adrikins can be an idiot, but he’s not a malicious idiot. He just doesn’t understand, doesn’t know any better.”

The akuma’s eyes were the glowing orange of molten glass as she replied. “I will make him understand. He will learn respect.”

“What, ‘and suffering will be his teacher’?” Chloé scoffed, drawing the akuma’s uncanny gaze back to her. “Spoiler alert, Fire Lord: that won’t work. I know how Adrien operates, and if you attack him directly, he’ll just see himself as a victim. He’ll get all self-righteous, and refuse to see that he ever did anything wrong.”

“So he’s a lost cause,” her eyes dimmed briefly. “Very well, if he will not learn, then there is no reason to be gentle with him.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Chloé grasped the akuma's sleeve, thinking quickly. “Just because attacking Adrien won’t teach him that he was being racist and wrong, doesn’t mean he’s some hopeless bigot! In fact, attacking Adrien won’t help your cause at all. There are much better targets than some teen model!”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Bigotry isn’t just personal, it’s institutional, right?” Chloé frantically thought back on the sensitivity training her father put her through after he heard her insulting Sifu Cheng. “So, go after institutions! Go after people with real power.”

“Institutions, huh? Who knew you’d be such an authority on the subject, Chloé?”

Chloé’s grip on the akuma's sleeve went slack with shock. She’d had her suspicions, but didn’t really believe they’d be confirmed. She’d always figured Adrien would be the cause, just not like this.

“Marinette…”

“Not quite.”

“Well, it’s not like you’ve been forthcoming with your name, Akumarinette.”

The akuma pulled away from Chloé’s limp hold, standing up on the railing with effortless balance. Her painted face was both frightening and regal as she looked down on the blonde. Clouds began to form around her feet, making Chloé shiver as the swirling vapor brushed her arms.

“As thanks for your advice, I’ll share my name with you; I am Sūn Queen.”

Watching her erstwhile schoolyard rival dash away across the Parisian skyline, Chloé numbly observed that nothing about Sūn Queen reminded her of Louis XIV. Count on Marinette to somehow klutz up her super villain theme.