A bright light shone over Marinette’s bed, but that wasn’t what woke her up. Even though the girl turned off her alarm and decided to ignore it, her phone kept making incessant noises. Marinette pulled her sheets over her head, trying to drown it out.
It didn’t work.
With a loud groan, the girl threw the sheet to the side, grabbing the cursed brick.
“What’s making so much…noise…” she trailed off, jaw hanging. A hundred and thirty-seven messages! From who?!
She immediately pressed the texting application, and saw tons of messages from unsaved phone numbers. Strangers. She scrolled down, looking at the previews of them.
Hey, I dont care wut ppl r saying…
You don’t deserve wat’s happeni…
Could you tell Chat Noir to visit…
You two are together, aren’t you?
I ain’t believing ur stupid attenti…
Hey, if anyone’s sending you ba…
“Maman!” Marinette ran down to the kitchen, where Sabine had just placed a plate of croissants on the counter.
“What is it, dear?” she asked, startled. Marinette shoved the phone to her face.
“I don’t know any of these people!” she practically yelled in her panic, quickly biting into her lip apologetically. After a quick scolding look at her daughter, Sabine took the phone in her hands to look it over. Marinette started fiddling with her fingers.
“Have you given your number to anyone recently?” Sabine asked, to which Marinette shook her head. The woman sighed before handing the phone back. “We’ll get you a new one when you get off class today.”
“Why is this happening?” Marinette pleaded miserably.
“We’ll figure it out, sweetie, I promise.” Sabine stroke her daughter’s bangs and gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. “For now, get ready for school. Okay?”
“Okay…” Although there was a slight sense of panic still lingering, her mother’s warmth helped her regain enough composure to think clearly. Calmer now, she climbed back up to her room, where Tikki was waiting on the desk, munching on a chocolate cookie.
“Wha’ ‘appen’?” she asked with a mouthful of the sweet snack. Marinette went ahead to tell her, giving the phone to her little friend.
“Now my parents are gonna have to change my number. This is ridiculous! How did this even happen?” The designer was pacing around the room at this point, flailing her arms.
“Any idea who it could have been?” Tikki questioned, looking through the different numbers that contacted her charge, her cookie left forgotten to the side.
“It could have been anyone! A friend, a classmate, a client, someone who I don’t know who happened to have stumbled on my number, somewhere.” Marinette let out a loud breath. “This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?”
“Mmm,” Tikki hummed. Marinette’s brows furrowed when she realized the kwami was distracted, her blue eyes squinting at the phone screen. Before she asked, though, Tikki spoke. “There’s a number that sent several messages. And they’re pretty positive, too.”
The girl snatched her phone to read the supposed positive messages. They started at six forty-five. And they were… nice.
Hey. Nice to meet you. Sort of. I just wanted to say you’re pretty brave and cool.
Hey, me again. I saw some people comment that they were going to tell you mean things, so I wanted to tell you to not listen to them. They’re just jealous.
Hey. I must be getting annoying, but the others are probably more annoying. Please don’t listen to them. They’re jerks. I think you’re amazing.
The messages continued in the same manner, telling her to not listen to the others and complimenting her on both her personality and looks. Marinette couldn’t help but smile. There was something about the messages that seemed very familiar.
They reminded her of Chat, when he was not in his pun-loving self. When he wasn’t being so extra. Could it be? She wondered. This person was the only one to keep texting her, so… maybe. The thought was enough to replace her anger with fondness, and motivating her to start getting ready for school.
After finishing up and eating breakfast, Marinette prepared to exit through the bakery. She knew that no matter which exit she decided to take, there would still be reporters, so may as well take the shorter route. Taking a deep breath, she swung the door open and shot right through the horde of reporters standing outside.
Luckily, the traffic light was red, so Marinette was able to sprint across the street and run up the school entrance stairs, skipping a few steps in the process. Reaching the large door, she threw herself in, like she had just reached home base in a baseball game, skidding across the floor. The move earned her a few odd stares from nearby students, but thankfully no comments. Except for one.
“Now that’s what I call an entrance.”
Marinette raised her head and was met by a pair of orange Gabriel high top shoes. She could feel her face becoming hot as her eyes traveled up to meet Adrien’s amused expression.
“Need a hand?” he chuckled, extending his hand towards her. Marinette gulped. Well, at least he found it funny, she miserably tried to comfort herself, accepting his help. “Sorry I didn’t help you this morning, but after yesterday… well, I didn’t wanna make it worse.”
“N-no, it’s fine,” Marinette assured him, dusting off her clothes. “That wasn’t your fault.”
Just then, her phone rang out. It had already made the notification sound several times since she got out of the bakery, but the run had distracted her from them. She was about to ignore it, but another message arrived, which prompted a growl from the girl.
“What’s up?” Adrien tilted his head.
“Somehow, the whole world has my stupid number, and now I’m getting texts like crazy,” she said as she scrambled to get the phone out of her pocket.
“Oh yeah, I noticed it this morning,” the model pointed out. Marinette stopped tapping on her phone to stare at the boy. So he elaborated: “Someone posted it on the Ladyblog forums. I tried to comment, but when I pressed ‘send’, it said the post no longer existed and the forums were closed. I think it’s safe to assume Alya was not happy about it.”
Marinette growled again.
“Good to know the source. Any chance you know who it was?”
“No, sorry,” Adrien responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “Most posters are anonymous or have a username.”
“Greeeaaat,” Marinette groaned. There went her plans on finding the culprit. She looked back at her phone and noticed the most recent message was from the positive person. The possible Chat? She wondered. Without thinking it twice, she tapped on the text.
Hey, again. Just want to wish you a good day in school. Hope people don’t bother you too much.
A smile tugged at her lips once again. She bit her lip, hesitating for a moment, but ultimately deciding on tapping on the response box.
Hi stranger. Thank you for all the positive messages. They have made this morning easier. I don’t know you, but—
“I thought you were irritated with the texts.”
Marinette squeaked and flailed an arm, accidentally hitting Adrien on the face. Who had moved to stand behind her.
“S-sorry, I—” but she stopped, registering something as he rubbed his nose. “Were you reading my text?”
The reaction was instantaneous. The model stiffened, his cheeks turned a rosy color, and his hand went up to the nape of his neck.
“I-I didn’t mean too,” he said quickly, almost mushing the words together. “Sorry, you just looked to happy…”
Marinette blinked. “Huh?”
Adrien cleared his throat and straightened his posture. “Not everyone giving you a hard time?”
“Oh, no,” Marinette shook her head. “There’s this one person who’s actually been pretty cool. They keep telling me a lot of nice things, and… I don’t know… Adrien?” She asked suddenly. Adrien hummed in response. “Can I trust you?”
He smiled. “With your life.”
Marinette returned the gesture and finally voiced what had been in her mind the entire morning: “I think this person might be Chat Noir.”
There was a pause. Adrien arched an eyebrow.
“This person keeps calling me stuff like amazing, brave, stuff that Chat Noir has actually called me. It reminds me of how he is when it’s just me, when he’s not trying to impress anybody.”
“I don’t think it’s him,” the model blurted out, narrowing his spring green eyes.
“You don’t know him like I do,” Marinette defended.
“Don’t you think Chat Noir would think it was a bad idea contacting you in his civilian self?”
“Well, Chat has a tendency of being reckless. Not that I can speak much better about myself lately, though.”
“Even so, that seems like pushing it. Wouldn’t he be more… discreet?”
“What could be more discreet that an anonymous text to a number that was released to the public?”
Adrien opened his mouth, but after a moment of hesitation, he closed it. His brows furrowed, something processing in his mind.
“You actually have a point,” he whispered, so low that Marinette almost didn’t catch it. She beamed internally, basking in her small victory.
“Perhaps you should learn to give my chaton a little more credit, Agreste.”
It took her a whole second for the question to properly register. MY CHATON?! Why did I just say that to Adrien?! And why did I call him Agreste?!
“N-not like that!” she hastily tried to correct. “It’s just a stupid nickname, he’s not actually mine. He’s my friend, t-that’s it. I-it’s a joke, but he’s not mine, mine. I-I don’t even know why I said that. We can’t even see each other because of our mess.” What are you talking about?! “N-not like I see you, heh.”
“Actually, father told me not to be seen with you.” Marinette halted her antics to stare at the blond. She expected him to look at least a little upset, but he actually seemed beyond amused.
“Oh,” she uttered. “I…I guess that makes sense. Your father is not one for scandals…”
“Yeah. But don’t worry Prin-uh Mari,” Adrien spoke with a chipper tone, despite the little rain cloud Marinette suddenly felt on top of her. “I’ll still help you through this whole thing and make sure you get off unscathed from this.”
The storm going on in the girl’s heart reached its eye, and a bewildered look took over her face.
“W-wait, I-I thought your father doesn’t want you hanging out with me.”
“Correction,” Adrien placed his hands on his back in mock innocence and leaned towards her. “He said he didn’t want me to be seen with you. Since he was talking about the tabloids at the time, I assume he simply meant in front of them.” He finished his sentence with a mischievous grin Marinette had never seen on the golden boy. He looked so…proud.
It was annoying.
“Since when are you such a rebel,” she crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow.
“Pfft, please,” Adrien shrugged. “I’ve always been a rebel. How do you think I traverse Paris without my bodyguard? This ca-uh-guy is no saint.”
Without meaning to, Marinette groaned. There was something about his current attitude that was so… so… exasperating. It reminded her so much of—
Her train of thought was cut short when she noticed the blond’s expression slightly shift to a warm smile.
“What?” she frowned. Adrien shook his head.
“You’ve just never been like this with me,” he spoke softly. Marinette squinted.
“What do you—”
The two turned to the source of the call, only to see Alya running their way.
“Girl, please tell me your phone hasn’t been bombarded with strangers,” she pleaded, slapping both her hands on the designer’s shoulders.
“Sorry, no such luck,” Marinette grimaced.
“I’m sorry,” the redhead sighed. “I tried to delete it as soon as I saw it, but it was too late. I spent all morning looking through the forums, but—”
The first bell of the day rang, signaling that it was almost time for class. The sound made Alya remember her surroundings and realize Adrien was standing there with them.
“Hey Adrien,” she waved. “Mind if I borrow Marinette for a little bit?”
“Sure, we gotta get to class anyway,” he reasoned as he adjusted his bag. “See you in class, Marinette.”
With one last wave, he headed off to class. Marinette awkwardly waved back, the strangeness of their conversation finally sinking. Did I just have a normal conversation with Adrien?
“Well, see you too,” Alya mumbled. It was then that it dawned on Marinette that Adrien barely acknowledged the presence of her best friend. But the thoughts were cut short as Alya started speaking louder know. “This is becoming a nightmare. I can’t believe somebody actually used my own blog against you!”
“Any idea who it was?” Marinette pleaded to her best friend, as they started walking towards their classroom.
“Not yet,” Alya responded. “But I will find out. Trust me.” The redhead shook a fist in the air. “Ooohhh, and when I do, whoever it was, I’m gonna kick their butt so hard, they’re gonna need a spaceship to get back on Earth.”
Despite the designer’s distress at the moment, the comment managed to get a giggle out of her. Sometimes she forgot how protective her best friend could get when it came to her.
“Anyway,” Alya continued after composing herself. “I got you an interview for an evening talk-show. You think you’re ready?”
Marinette nodded. “I’m ready. I wanna get this over with as soon as possible. ‘Cause it’s seriously getting ridiculous at this point!”
“I know!” Alya nodded vigorously, arms crossed. “Can you believe people have started stopping me in the streets to ask about you?” She changed her voice in mock of random citizens. “Is she with Chat Noir? What does he see in her? Can she contact me to Chat Noir? She’s a nobody! She’s so lucky! Uuuggghhh!”
Marinette winced at the image going through her head. She had almost forgotten the toll that it was probably taking on the reporter, too. And Adrien. And her parents. Uuuggghhh, why did I have to be so stupid?!
“Hey!” Alya broke Marinette out of her self-deprecating internal freak out. “Don’t do that. Don’t beat yourself up. And don’t tell me you weren’t, ‘cause I’d know that face anywhere.” The redhead placed an arm around the bluenette’s shoulders. “Remember: I chose to help you, knowing full well you’re prone to disaster. I knew what I was getting myself into.”
Alya gave her friend a soft, encouraging smile, accompanied by a light squeeze. Marinette returned the gesture.
“Thanks, Alya. So, when and where is the interview?”
“Tomorrow, at the TVi studio building.”
“Wait,” Marinette raised a palm, “you mean in the same building Chat and I messed up?”
“The one and only,” Alya nodded.
Marinette groaned. She had been hoping to avoid the building as much as possible, leave it for last. But from the looks of it, her best friend thought the exact opposite.
“They were the first ones to respond,” Alya responded, as if she could read minds. “Plus, don’t you think it’s kinda poetic?”
“Or a bad omen,” Marinette sighed.
“Chill, girl,” Alya wrapped an arm around the pig-tailed girl as they headed to class. “I’ll coach you tonight, and you’ll do great.”
“Tonight?!” Marinette choked. Tonight it was her turn to patrol. “I-I got stuff to work on. Maybe tomorrow at lunch?”
“Hmm,” Alya pondered. “Fine, but at least practice a little tonight?”
“Great. So,” the redhead’s tone turned to a teasing one, “you and Adrien seem closer lately.”
“Whatta you mean?” Marinette frowned, bewildered.
“Well, first he rescued you from a bunch of reporters, then he went nuts looking for you after yesterday’s akuma attacked, then he defended you against Chloé, his childhood friend, and this morning, I find you guys actually talking,” the redhead concluded.
Marinette’s eyes became round. With all that had been going on in the last few days, she hadn’t noticed Adrien’s sudden closeness with her. It wasn’t like before, where he simply tried to form short, random conversations. He seemed to be deliberately looking for her. Sure, it could easily be attributed to Chat’s slip up about her crush… But what does that mean? Does… Does it mean that he likes me?
Her heart started drumming hard on her chest, but not exactly how she expected it. It didn’t feel right. It felt like it was partly dread making it run. Why would she feel dread? Isn’t this what I’ve wanted this whole time?
“Maybe Chat Noir did you a favor, after all,” Alya continued, patting Marinette’s shoulder. “Maybe Adrien hearing that you like him was the push he needed.”
“I guess,” the blue-haired girl whispered.
“Girl, are you okay?” Marinette raised her gaze to meet Alya’s hazel one. She shook her head and nodded to her best friend, assuring her that everything was great. While the reporter looked unconvinced, she was nice enough not to question as they entered the classroom.
Why do I feel like this? She thought. I should be happy. There’s a chance Adrien is finally seeing me as more than just a friend. So why am I not happy? Why do I feel dread? Am I just scared? It could be… Yeah, that has to be it. I’m scared, which is a very normal reaction. Yeah… that has to be it.
Yet something still felt wrong about her statement. It felt both familiar and alien to her. But as they sat on their desk, Marinette dismissed the thoughts. She already had enough on her plate. She didn’t need to add ‘boy trouble’ into it.
Classes went by as usual. Thankfully, most classmates seemed to have gotten the questions out of their system, making Marinette glad, for once, that she accepted answering them. Of course, things still weren’t exactly the same: someone had still released her phone number for the whole Internet to see.
Although midday arrived pretty quickly for Marinette, what came next, made the next hour feel like an eternity.
The second Mrs. Mendelev left the classroom, everyone started picking up their bags to follow suite. But none managed to even get near the door before Alya ran head first to it and shut it. Everyone stared. Kim and Alix, the only ones who had gotten up already, stopped on their tracks. Alya squinted menacingly.
“No one leaves this room, yet.” Her hazel eyes shifted from classmate to classmate, watching each one carefully. “Alix, Kim, get back to your seats.”
The two didn’t need to be told twice. They weren’t exactly scared of the redhead, but from experience, they knew that when the reporter set her mind to something, it was best to stay out of her way.
“I need to use the ladies room,” Chloé demanded from her desk.
“Your makeup session can wait,” Alya narrowed her gaze to the blonde. Chloé scoffed and crossed her arms, but said no more. Alya took a deep breath.
“I,” she started walking to the front of the classroom, “wanna know who was it.” Her fists landed on her hips.
Everyone stared. Some shifted uncomfortably, confused. Kim and Max exchanged looks. Chloé’s nails started tapping her desk, while her head rested on her other palm. Slowly, Rose lifted her hand in the air.
“Who did what?” she pipped up.
“Who put Marinette’s phone number on the Ladyblog forums?” Alya cleared up. A few made noises of understanding, while others groaned in annoyance.
“Oh, this I wanna know,” Alix muttered, punching a fist to her open hand.
“Who cares?” Chloé said loudly. “It’s not like Marinette minds the attention.”
“We’re not getting into this again, Chlo,” Adrien quickly intervened. The spoiled girl scoffed again, but did not retaliate. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea either, considering the entire class ended up yelling at her last time.
“Seriously guys,” Alya drew the attention back to her. “I know for a fact not many have Marinette’s number, and most of them are in this class, and we need to start ruling out people. Anybody who has her number, raise your hand.”
Without missing a beat, almost the entire class raised their hands. All except Adrien, Chloé and… wait…
“What are you doing,” Chloé silently hissed at Sabrina, pulling her arm down. Marinette’s eyes narrowed at the exchange.
Alya seemed to have noticed too, because she stepped up to the girls’ desk, crossing her arms.
“Sabrina,” she said carefully, “do you have Marinette’s phone number?”
“N-no!” she squeaked. “I-I don’t have it. N-never have.”
“That’s a lie!” Marinette suddenly burst, standing up from her chair. Her classmates stared at her in surprise, but she didn’t care. Her vision had turned red. She knew. Oh, she knew. What was more, it wouldn’t be the first time the two girls did something of the likes.
She stomped down to their desk and slammed her hands on it. Alya had even stepped back to allow her the space. Marinette glared down at the blonde and the ginger.
“I know for a fact Sabrina has my phone number, ‘cause she called me a gazillion times when we had to do a project together,” she explained, her bluebells shifting between the two as she spoke. Then, she narrowed them to Chloé. “And we both know she often ends up doing your dirty work…” They glared at each other for a moment, the blonde doing so daringly. Daring Marinette to say it. And said it, she did: “It was you, wasn’t it?”
Chloé gasped dramatically, a hand on her chest.
“How dare you, Marinette Dupain-Cheng!”
“Oh, cut the theatrics!” Marinette snapped. “If there’s anything I’ve learned from you, is that you’re capable of anything. So just admit it.”
There was a moments pause, where the entire class held its breath. It was already pretty common for the two girls to butt heads often, but this was a whole new level. None, not even Alya, had ever seen Marinette so furious.
At last, Chloé huffed.
“So what? It’s not like you mind the attention. I did you a favor.”
“I KNEW IT!” Marinette bellowed, just as she grabbed the blonde from her yellow jacket. “You little—”
“Marinette, that’s enough!” someone grabbed her shoulders from behind, but she didn’t budge. Her bluebells glared daggers into Chloé’s electric blue eyes. For once, Chloé actually looked scared of the small designer.
“You have any idea what I’ve been through this week?!” she continued yelling. “I’ve been publicly humiliated, all my commissions are on halt because of this mess and I almost lost a friend. Why do you always have to go out of your way to make my life even worse?!”
“Mari, stop!” someone else grabbed her by the arm, while the other person slipped his hand around her waist. Together, the two people succeeded in pulling her away from the Mayor’s daughter.
“LET ME GO!”
The second scream came from the very back of the classroom. From the one that the students had learned to ignore, because they didn’t trust her. The other person who had not raised her hand when asked if they had Marinette’s phone number. Lila was standing up on her desk, using it as a stage, glaring at the scene in the front of the classroom.
“Just, stop it!” she repeated. Lila dropped down to the floor and stalked her way to the front. “You shouldn’t waste your time with her. She’s just a bully. She doesn’t deserve your attention.”
“Excuse me,” Chloé drawled to the Italian girl. “Nobody asked for your opinion.”
“I don’t need to be asked to defend someone from a bully looking to humiliate someone else.”
Marinette felt a pang in her heart. She knew exactly the source of her words: Lila knew what it was like to be humiliated by Ladybug. She slumped back to whoever was holding her by the waist, and the person grabbing her arm let go and stepped forward. Alya was now standing in front of her.
“She doesn’t need your help,” she growled. Marinette could only imagine she was still miffed about the girl lying on the Ladyblog. Lila looked the side, and was about to turn away.
“Wait!” Marinette blurted out. The redhead whirled to her in surprise, while Lila looked back at the pig-tailed designer. She took a deep breath. “You’re right.”
“She’s what?!” Alya and the guy holding her said in unison. Marinette felt her head finally clear, and was at last curious about the arm holding her in place. A hand wearing a silver ring.
“You think so?”
“Marinette,” Adrien warned to her ear, his breath making her body shudder and her heart skip a beat. Why did it feel so familiar?
She cleared her throat to respond.
“Look, I know everyone has every reason to mistrust her—”
“That’s an understatement.” Nino crossed his arms, glaring and the exchange student.
“She lied about Prince Ali,” Rose pipped up once again from the back. Looking around the classroom, Marinette realized Alix and Kim had stood up again.
“I say we kick Chloé’s butt. And Lila’s too, for good measure.” There was a murmur of agreement amongst the students, cut off by yet another scoff from the spoiled blonde on the front.
“Papa would get all of you suspended before you can even blink. At least Adrien still has my side, unlike you lot.”
“Chloé, I pulled Marinette away from you because I don’t want her to get suspended,” he corrected her. The girl’s expression deflated. “What you did was awful, and I don’t condone it.”
“Then you and I were doing for the same thing,” Lila spoke softly to the boy.
“I’m not gonna do anything!” Marinette interjected the conversation. “Goal achieved. Would you let me go, Adrien?”
It seemed the model had not realized he’d been holding her this entire time, for his cheeks became the reddest Marinette had ever seen. He quietly apologized and slipped his hand away.
It was probably the cutest she’d ever seen him. Yet… Why don’t I feel more nervous? Am I getting used to him? She shook her head, driving the thoughts away, just as she straightened her clothes.
“Come on, Alya,” Marinette implored, getting both hers and Alya’s backpacks from their desk. “We got work to do.” With a quick glance at Chloé, Lila and Adrien, she turned on her heels and yanked the door open. She didn’t even wait for her friend.
There was just too much in her mind. She was still angry at Chloé, but decided it would be best to not let those emotions take over. The last thing she needed was to become an akuma herself. She was also conflicted about Lila’s defense. Part of her felt like she didn’t deserve it, after how harsh she was to her as Ladybug. But another part of her saw it as a chance. Maybe she could redeem herself, and make sure Lila never lied again.
But above all, Marinette was confused about Adrien. She was still in love with him, she was sure. But there was something off today that she couldn’t quite place. Something both comfortable and alarming. She felt more herself with him, able to keep words coherent. Which was alarming in itself, because: since when? The question had been in the back of her mind since that morning, as much as she tried to keep it out. And she still had no answer for it.
Alya finally caught up to her, asking Marinette if she preferred sneaking to her home instead of the bakery, to avoid all the reporters. Marinette was grateful for her friend not asking any questions about what had just happened, instead offering her calm and serenity. As they both agreed, they headed off to Alya’s apartment for lunch.
It was Thursday evening, and saying Marinette was nervous was an understatement.
Marinette, Alya and Sabine arrived about thirty minutes early to the TVi studio. At first, the pig-tailed girl felt a little embarrassed about having her mom with her, but after seeing how she defended her honor a few times, she felt relief. It gave her a sense of security.
Once at the studio, they had time to familiarize themselves with some of the crew members, and as a plus, they got to see how the host treated his guests. So far, he seemed like a decent guy. But so was Nadja with her, until recently.
After a few minutes, they separated, Alya to speak with a few other crew members and Sabine to call Tom, updating him on everything in the studio. Meanwhile, Marinette stayed close to the stage, focused on the interviews happening before hers.
“Everything’s gonna be okay,” a tiny voice came from her purse. “You can do this, Marinette. You’re ready.”
Marinette smiled. “Thanks Tikki.” She took a deep breath, and started talking more to herself than to her kwami. “I can do this. It’s a piece of cake. I’m ready for this. It could be worse. It can’t get any worse.”
“Hey, Princess,” a cheerful voice purred behind her.
Marinette screamed, raising her arms and a leg defensively. A move that earned her a snort from the stray. Who was not supposed to be there. Again.
“Chat!” she reprimanded, taking a quick glance at her now-closed purse once her initial shock ceased. “What are you doing here?!”
“Nice to see you too,” he retorted with a smirk, hands behind his back. “Looks like we’ve been tricked again,” he leaned towards her. “We really need to work on our communication skills.”
This can’t be happening!
“Hey, don’t worry,” a clawed hand warmed her shoulder. Wait… Did I say that out loud? “We got this.”
She looked up to his beaming face, and a sense of security rushed through her. Well, he was her partner after all. Marinette returned the gesture and gave him a determined nod. The move relaxed the cat, but almost immediately, the same hand went up to the back of his neck.
“Uh, while we’re on the subject of tricking, you should probably tell that Adrien guy when you have interviews, too,” he said, nervously. Marinette’s brows furrowed, and Chat quickly continued. “I-I mean because, uh—if, um, they trick me like this, they could do the same to him, and—uh—I-I’m sure you don’t want that happening. Right?”
The moment the words registered, she stopped questioning his strange stammering and a sudden panic overtook her thoughts. A gasp escaped her lips, hands going up to her hair.
“They’re gonna drag Adrien into this!” she burst, teeth clenching. “They’re gonna be all over him! Oh no, and they’re gonna make him so uncomfortable! He’ll never, ever, ever, ever speak to me again!”
“Hey, hey, don’t worry,” Chat reached out for her wrists and slowly brought them down. “Everything’ll be fine. And I’m sure there’s no way Adrien could think any less of you. I know I wouldn’t.”
The simple gesture was enough to calm her nerves, and just as another smile was tugging at her lips, a loud clearing of someone’s throat popped the bubble Marinette hadn’t noticed the two of them had created between themselves. She hadn’t even noticed when Chat’s hands had slid down to hers.
The two quickly let go, turning to Alya. Marinette gave a nervous laugh, scratching the back of her head sheepishly. Next to her, Chat awkwardly waved.
“What are you doing here, cat-boy?” Alya reprimanded, fists on her hips.
And there he went again, with his hand on the back of his neck. A move that just got cuter each time he did it. Wait, cute? What do you mean cute? Marinette berated herself.
He’s cute when he does that. Can’t deny it, a voice in the back of her mind responded.
Yeah, if by cute you mean silly and ridiculous, yeah he’s cute, she tried to reasoned. But it brought no comfort. In fact, it brought the exact opposite. This wasn’t exactly news; she had admitted his good looks just a couple of days ago. Why did it feel different then?
“Marinette, you’re up in like five minutes. You can’t go on TV looking flushed,” Alya interrupted her thoughts. Marinette had been so engrossed in her inner confusion, she didn’t register the conversation Chat Noir and Alya had been having. A palm slapped to her cheek.
“Flushed?!” Unlike last time, she could actually feel heat on her round cheeks. Where the hell is this coming from?!
“Relax, girl,” Alya waved a hand dismissively. “You guys will do fine. Just need to go over a few things first.”
The redhead started reminding them of their last conversation about interviews, and Marinette used to opportunity to shoo away whatever those thoughts were earlier.
Sabine looked from afar towards the three teens. She had to admit it was a bit amusing seeing their exaggerated antics for the simplest things. More so, she could already see the closeness between her daughter and a pretty handsome boy. Honestly, she was a little disappointed that it wasn’t Adrien, but this kid treated her with such warmth and respect, she couldn’t help but like him, and hope for him joining the family someday. If he could.
She looked around to see if anyone was aware that a superhero had just walked into studio, when a flash of fuchsia hair caught her attention. There, amongst the crew members was Nadja, holding a microphone, looking for something. Until her brown eyes locked on Sabine’s grey ones.
Sabine huffed and turned away.
“Sabine!” Nadja called. The short woman turned her scowl to the reporter. She could tell the look cut through the reporter like a knife, sending cold chills down her spine. Nevertheless, she took a step forward and whispered: “Please…”
“What could you possibly want with my family now?” Sabine said coldly. “Do you want an autograph? Do you want my daughters baby pictures?”
“Sabine, I just wanted to apologize for what happened,” she spoke. Despite trying to keep a determined tone, there was a low shakiness to it. “But you have to understand that it’s my job.”
“Don’t give me that,” Sabine hissed. “Marinette is not some job. She’s my daughter, your daughter’s babysitter. You took advantage of our friendship and exploited a minor. Do you have no shame? Whatever happened to that young woman who swore would never sell her soul to corporate media?”
“You don’t understand,” Nadja almost pleaded, losing her composure. “It’s my job!”
“She’s my daughter!” Sabine retorted. “Thanks to you, she’s been through so much. She may be strong, but this is not something a normal fifteen-year-old should be dealing with!”
“I could’ve lost my job, you have to understand I have a little girl to feed,” the reporter continued trying to justify herself.
“Either way, you lost a babysitter,” Sabine scowled. Nadja took a step back.
The small woman took a deep breath. “Nadja, you’re no longer welcomed in our home, and I will no longer allow Marinette watch over Manon,” she declared. “I am so disappointed in you,” Sabine whispered sadly and walked away towards her daughter, leaving a defeated looking Nadja.
As much as she loved her old friend, Nadja had crossed a line, and she wasn’t willing to forgive so easily.
Marinette tried her best to hide every time she shifted uncomfortably. She was too conscious about the fact that everyone, both the crowd and the cameras, could see every one of her movements.
But she had to get through it, one way or another.
I’m Ladybug, dammit, she repeated for the hundredth time already. I can do this.
“We go live in three, two…” the man behind the camera raised an index finger to signal the one, and then pointed to the host. The crowd started applauding as one of the cameras panned around the studio, and other two moved around the front of the stage, focused on the tanned man behind the desk.
“Welcome back to The Evening Show with Kudret, and we’ve reached our segment of the special interview of the night. Now, I’m sure most of you have dreamed of being saved by one of Paris’ own heroes, Ladybug and Chat Noir. But what are the odds of one of you saving them instead? For one civilian, the answer is two! Ladies and gentleman, give it up for The Girl who saved Chat Noir, Marinette Dupain-Cheng, accompanied by none other than superhero Chat Noir!”
A sign lit up with ‘applause’ written on it, and the crowd released the excitement they had been holding for a few minutes already. Marinette tried to make her smile as genuine as possible, but her mind kept travelling back to her amazement in all this. It boggled her how scripted the show was, despite being live. On the armchair next to her, Chat Noir enthusiastically waved. Pfft, leave it to him to show off.
“So tell me Marinette,” the man continued as the clapping died down. “How does it feel to be known as a hero?”
What an ironic question, Marinette thought, fighting back a laugh.
“I wouldn’t call myself a hero, Kudret,” she responded flawlessly, channeling her inner Ladybug. “I only happened to be at the right place, at the right time.”
“And Chat Noir, did you ever think you’d be saved by a civilian?”
Chat Noir blinked. It seemed that he had been distracted by something, so Marinette widened her eyes a little, in warning.
“Oh, well,” he shook his head, “I believe any civilian has the ability to be a hero. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s very dangerous. Best leave it to the professionals.” He pointed a thumb to himself, and Marinette resisted the urge to groan. Rule number one: know when to stay quiet.
“So, I must ask: rumors have been going around that you two know each other more than mere acquaintances; how true is that?”
The designer could feel a sliver of panic rise up her throat. She took a deep breath. Rule number two: control the stammering.
“We actually don’t know each other that well,” she responded, once again almost effortlessly. “It’s just very easy to interact with someone who has a mask and you think you’re not gonna see again.”
The first two minutes were actually pretty pleasant. Kudret was polite enough to ask proper questions. Most of them could be responded with either the truth or the story the two teens cooked up with Alya. But alas, it was not to last.
“So a few things came out on your interview in FMi last Monday, where Chat Noir mentioned that you like someone called Adrien, and from what our sources have gathered, you are classmates with none other than fashion icon Gabriel Agreste’s son, Adrien Agreste. Is he the boy Chat Noir was talking about?”
Moment of truth. Let’s see if I can pull this off.
“You know,” Marinette started, appearing amused. “This is all just one big misunderstanding. And I think I know how it happened.”
And she started telling the lie they had come up with, about Chat mistaking her love to the Gabriel brand. The words came out so smoothly, she almost believed it herself. Which she took as a good sign of her acting.
“That conversation makes so much sense now,” Chat feigned surprise. Not that the crowd knew that. “I was wondering why you kept talking about his clothes. I thought you just liked his sense of style. Should’ve recognized that star-struck look after seeing your reaction the first time you met me.”
Unexpected to Marinette, Chat Noir wiggled his eyebrows. The hand holding on to her purse tightened, as she fought back a groan. She strained a smile.
Rule number three: no bantering.
“Yeah,” she said through clenched teeth. “I was pretty star-struck the first time we met. Just like any other person.”
“You should have seen her, all excited because she was gonna work with ‘the great Chat Noir’,” Chat started flexing his arms, much like he did in their first meeting. Marinette’s other hand flew to the strap of her purse, holding it tightly. He’s never gonna let me live it down, is he?
“Well, how often does a hero ask for your help, right?” she laughed nervously.
“Wait, hang on a second, when did you two actually meet for the first time?” Kudret intervened, his brown eyes sparkling with enthusiasm the moment he noticed he may actually get exclusive information.
“We met long before Entangler,” Chat started. “I believe the owner of the Ladyblog mentioned it in her article about the first time she rescued me.”
“That’s right,” and Marinette went on to tell the television host the story of The Evillustrator. Or at least the civilian version, where she wasn’t Ladybug.
“And does this boy still like you?” Kudret pushed this time. And it was a question that had never occurred to her. Did he? She never asked Nathaniel. She had thought it would be easier for him if she just pretended she didn’t know. Less awkward.
“I-I don’t know,” she confessed. What else am I supposed to say?!
“Let’s not get off topic here,” Chat suddenly cut in, rescuing her from what was about to be another disastrous moment with the press. “The real story here is how Marinette is a total fangirl.” Scratch that. “I mean, seriously, seeing her swoon about her idols, including me,” he added with another wiggle of his brows, “it’s probably the side of her I’ve seen the most.”
I swear to God, I’m gonna—No, Marinette mentally tried to calm herself. I can’t do that. It’ll only make it worse. Just follow his stupid lead.
“I guess I overreact often,” she said, doing her best to keep a neutral tone.
“Oh, I think we all know that already,” Kudret laughed. “Well, we need to take a short break, but stay tuned for more on The Evening Show with Kudret.”
The applause sign was lit up once again and a camera panned away from them.
“Cut!” the man behind the nearest camera yelled. A murmur rose up in the crowd, while Kudret turned to the interviewees.
“Thank you so much for your time,” he extended a hand to the two of them. “You did great. You have no idea how good this was for the ratings.”
“It was our pleasure,” Chat responded, shaking the man’s palm. “Unfortunately, we need to be on our way now.”
“Of course. I wish you two the best of luck.” The man winked, making Marinette almost choke with her own saliva.
“Oookay, good night,” she said with a tremor in her voice, scurrying off the stage to the back rooms, closely followed by Chat. When they reached and emptier area in the back rooms, near a clothes rack, they stopped.
“That went well,” he grinned, despite Marinette’s unamused look.
“Yeah, for you,” she mussed.
“Come on, you gotta admit looking star-struck helps dissuade suspicion.”
“At the cost of my dignity?” Marinette crossed her arms. Chat’s grin turned into a sheepish one.
Marinette sighed. “Let’s just say that I had to fight every fiber in my being to stop myself from blurting out that you like Ladybug just to embarrass you.”
Chat Noir was taken aback, but then smirked. He opened his mouth to say something, but whatever it was, it was drowned by something else.
“Is it true?!”
The two teens jumped at the sudden outburst from an unknown voice, turning to see a man holding a camera, jumping from behind the rack with the colorful outfits. Marinette and Chat Noir stared wide eyed at the man, frozen.
“Chat Noir, are you really into Ladybug?”
This cannot be happening! A million thoughts ran through the girl’s head. A million emotions crossed her face in less than a second. But the top one was definitely anger. Anger with such imprudent people. Anger at the way her life had turned upside down. Anger at the lack of privacy. Anger at not being able to have one stupid conversation with a very dear friend.
“OH, COME ON!” she bellowed suddenly, making Chat take a step back and stare at her. It just occurred to her she hadn’t shown her temper in front of him as Marinette, but at the moment, she didn’t care. This is ridiculous!
The man, though, didn’t seem bothered by her outburst. In fact, he looked… delighted. Like his day (or his paycheck) had just been made.
“Does she know?” he prodded, ignoring their glares.
Marinette growled loudly. She was about to grab the guy from his shirt, much like she did the previous day with Chloé, but Chat grabbed her arm before she could.
“We just finished an interview with you people. What more do you want!” he growled dangerously.
“But is it true?” the man ignored Chat’s comments.
“LEAVE HER ALONE!”
The three of them jumped and turned towards the voice. Standing close to one of the entrances to the room, there was a woman, completely clad in black, and what looked like a rectangle over her eyes, similar to the effect used on television to censor people’s faces. Her short hair and full lips were a bright shade of green.
“You will no longer hurt Marinette,” she pointed at the paparazzi with what looked like a news microphone, with a picture of a purple butterfly on the carton decorating it.
“Get behind me!” Chat Noir instructed, stepping in front of Marinette. For the paparazzi, though, it was too late. The woman had shot a green beam from her microphone that hit him directly in the face.
“I can’t see anything!” the man said, but his voice was not the same. He sounded like he had a voice modulator. When he turned to them, both teens jumped, for his face was distorted by pixels. Not horrifying, but… weird.
“You are now censured,” the woman said as she swiftly walked towards them.
“Is that your name? Mrs. Censor?” Chat Noir mocked, hands steady on his weapon.
“No,” she stopped, standing tall before them. “I’m Damage Control, and I’m here to fix what we destroyed.”
“Marinette,” she extended her microphone to Chat Noir, “I will fix your reputation, even if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Why would you care about—” but Marinette cut herself off, as the gears clicked in her head. “Nadja Chamack?”
“Don’t be bemused, sweetie,” she said with a dark tone. “It’s just the news.”
Just then, she waved the microphone and shot another green beam, this time towards Chat Noir. Luckily, his cat reflexes didn’t fail him, as he deflected it with his staff just in time. She shot him several more times, forcing them to keep stepping back, outside of the room. They were back at the large area with all the lights, cables and other recording equipment. Which worked as a disadvantage for Chat.
In his attempt to keep moving backwards without looking, he tripped on one of the cables, making him miss a shot and getting hit on his hand. The move made him drop the baton.
“Stop!” Marinette stepped between them, with her arms extended. “If you want to hurt him, you’re gonna have to go through me.”
Damage Control sighed. “Mari, Mari, Mari,” she lamented, pacing around while she fiddled with the bottom of the microphone. “I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but,” she stopped to glare at the girl, “so be it.”
Before the two teens realized what was happening, the akuma pulled a cable from the bottom of the microphone and tossed it around Marinette. The designer became paralyzed, with her arms stuck to her sides. Immediately, Damage Control threw the other end over a beam on the ceiling and pulled the girl up, her feet dangling in the air.
She was stuck.