READ THIS CAREFULLY PLEASE: This whole ark is set in the Parisian suburbs, in the area commonly referred to as the 93 (Actually Seine-Saint-Denis). I want to remind you that this is a work of fiction, and that some events might be exaggerated for the sake of plot. Although the Cités do exist in Seine-Saint-Denis and /can/ be as dangerous as depicted below (cités are what you would call dormitory towns with public housing, and the first thing that comes to mind you hear "93"), the area is overall not as chaotic as I may have made it sound. There are a lot of universities there that people go to from all over the world, the Stadium of France is in Seine-Saint-Denis as well, and because the houses are too expensive in intra-muros Paris, a lot of people move to the suburbs where the houses are bigger and cheaper.
Outside of the gated cités, everything is relatively safe, so do not take my story as a perfect depiction of the 93.
I've been inspired by those, but instead of sending Marinette straight into such places, I preferred to create a sort of "imaginary" in-between.
This counts for the police as well.
Now that I pointed this out, you may read, and I hope you'll enjoy this chapter as much as I did :)
Abdel was the first to speak.
"Oh look, Mr. Tough Guy."
The man's eye twitched. His lips pursed, but the elbows he rested on the counter indicated that he wasn't stranger to that kind of provocation from the younger boy. "Isn't that the desperado who's supposed to be under my watch."
"I'm not under the watch of weaklings."
"Watch your words," the man growled, and for a second, Marinette's heart stopped at the thought of what was coming for little Abdel.
"Maybe Uncle Maâti will enjoy knowing that you steal his weed for your friends, Driss."
The man straightened his back and pushed away from the counter, dark eyes sending daggers as he closed the gap between him and his brother.
It happened in a blink and when the hit struck, Alya gasped.
Marinette had interfered between the two, shielding Abdel with her body just as he instinctively brought his arm up to protect his face.
The slap hurt, and she felt a sudden surge of heat in her cheek, stinging like no blush could ever make her feel. She had never been slapped before, and the impact threatened to make her spill tears she was suddenly determined not to show, even as her cheek felt like combusting, even as it pulsed and felt like exploding.
Driss was stunned, astounded as he simply stared at the petite girl he had hit, speechless for a second.
He had just hit a girl.
A girl who was staring at him with piercing blue eyes that shone with denied tears, a gaze that drilled into his and told him she didn't regret her action in the slightest.
Suddenly, he wanted to be far away from here.
"Marinette!" Her brunette friend exclaimed as she rushed to her. She stared at Driss and wrapped her arms protectively around the Marinette girl. The hazel eyes that met his burnt with such hatred that for a second, he almost thought he felt ashamed.
Maybe he was.
But she was young and the thought of taking lessons from a teenager flared his ego and drowned whatever shame he should've felt.
Which was exactly why he didn't apologise.
"This was between me, and my brother," he said. "She got the hit she deserved for interfering."
He shoved his stinging hands in his pockets, looking down at the two girls in an attempt to intimidate them. Expectedly, their gaze didn't diminish in intensity, but they didn't speak back.
Behind Marinette, Abdel and his friends seemed as speechless as him. He beckoned them to the door.
They all scrambled in a panic towards the door. All except for Abdel.
Abdel the Desperado who had no idea of danger. Who was staring at Driss with more shock than hatred, unsure whether to run or stay.
Finally, the boy made a choice and bolted to the backshop.
Who's the coward now , Driss thought.
"They're not coming," he said, refocusing his attention on the girls.
It was the Chinese girl who spoke first, the one he had hit. "Who?"
"The police. They never come for simple aggressions."
"But they said-" the brunette started.
It tore a snort from him. "Do people always mean what they say?"
The girls remained silent, and it wasn't hard for Driss to guess that they came from the privileged neighbourhoods, towards Paris probably. With a sigh, he moved back behind the counter and started to rummage through the mayhem of icecreams in the freezer.
"You should leave," he declared.
"We can't," Marinette retorted.
He stopped, pondering his options. He needed to find a way to make them leave the area.
He remembered them talking earlier about a purse, their navigo cards. His hand left the freezer to grab a few coins in his pocket and he unceremoniously slammed them on the counter.
"Now you can."
"I'm not running away with my tail between my legs and money in my pocket, Mr. Tough Guy."
He didn't answer. She went on.
"We're just asking for a plan of the area to help the police distract the Akuma. You don't need to deal with them."
"The cops don't come here," he said, tone final and laced with irritation.
"There's an Akuma attack," her friend protested.
"And so what?"
Marinette was puzzled. "What do you mean what?"
Driss stood up, throwing a small bag of ice at the ravenette. "Just because you come from the centre where the police comes for every single one of your problems doesn't mean it's the same everywhere." He leaned towards them, menacing. "Akuma? Say that to people who see Kalashnikovs and assault rifles like you see tourists down the Eiffel Tower. You know how much a bullet costs up here? 1 euro, sweetie. Gunfights are everyday business. Do you think the cops will make the difference between that and this?"
The Chinese girl held his gaze, frown growing deeper and deeper with each of his words, even as she winced from the bag she pressed against her cheek. "So you mean Chat Noir is fighting on his own?"
Driss scoffed. "Isn't his Lady coming to help him?"
Marinette blinked, visibly taken aback. Another explosion resonated outside, and somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice murmured that it was indeed no different than a grenade's. But she couldn't suppress the wave of worry that ran through her for her partner.
"Fine," she said. "If you're not going to help us, then we're going to handle this on our own. If 11 years-old are braver than you, maybe you should start reconsidering your values."
Without a single glance towards Driss, she put the bag of ice down on the counter, and grabbed Alya's wrist to exit the shop. She didn't see the stupefaction painted on his face, or the hurt, or the way he waited for them to go out to slowly sit and bury his face in his hands. Marinette didn't see any of that.
She didn't care.
"I can't believe he said that," Marinette fumed as she slammed the door shut behind her.
"He slapped you," Alya vociferated. "I can't believe he did that."
"Well, technically, he meant to slap his brother," Marinette corrected. "But it doesn't mean his action was any less wrong!"
Alya didn't answer. She knew she would've beaten him to a pulp, had she not been sure it would've been a waste of both her time and energy.
Instead of walking right back into the shop, she turned to Marinette, clear-cut as she spoke. "Show me your cheek."
The ravenette complied without a word, turning to face her friend as Alya thoroughly observed the pale skin of her cheek. Fortunately, it didn't leave a trace or grow bluer, and the journalist let out a sigh of relief.
"You just ran between that bastard and his brother," she grumbled.
"Instinct?" Marinette supplied, letting out a small laugh.
They didn't notice the small group of children who had bundled against the shop's wall waiting for the girls to notice their presence. At least not until Marinette took a step backwards and felt a leg against her calf.
She gasped, and abruptly turned. "You!"
The boy she had touched gave her a toothy smile. "We were waiting here for you, in case something happened!"
Alya, startled, put her hands on her hips. "Really?"
"Yes! We didn't want such cute girls to be hurt by Driss," the same boy went on.
"Now that's very brave of you," Marinette said, crouching to ruffle their short hair. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and she felt unable to stop it.
"We want to help you with Chat Noir," another boy declared.
Marinette was about to answer, when a now familiar voice interrupted her. She turned, and saw Abdel running towards them, something blue tightly held in front of him. He stopped in front of the two girls, out of breath, panting but finally revealing the bag of ice in his hands. He handed it to Marinette.
"Driss had to think I was gone," he rasped, hands on his knees. "But I ran to the house from the backdoor to get you this, m'am." He stopped, taking a deep breath, and finally tilted his head towards Marinette and Alya. He handed them a folded paper. "And this."
Alya raised an eyebrow, carefully taking the sheet from the boy's hands. When she unfolded it, a gasp escaped her lips and she swiftly turned towards Marinette.
"It's the plan."
The fashion designer's eyes widened and she looked back at the boy, adrenaline rushing down her veins again.
"You drew it for us?" She asked, aghast.
"Of course! We really want to help," Abdel replied, luminous.
Another explosion filled the silence, and Marinette felt her lips stretch into the widest of smiles when she turned towards Alya. "Do you think we can stitch a plan to save the cat from the bath?"
"Do you think we can't?"
'You shouldn't mind Driss,' Abdel said, checking the length of the string before cutting it with his pocket knife.
'I do mind him,' Alya retorted behind Marinette's shoulder. She was looking at the plan Marinette was carefully copying on a separate paper.
Abdel laughed. 'He's not very courageous. Actually, he's the biggest coward I've ever known. Violence is his way not to admit it.'
'What do you mean?' Marinette asked.
'Troubles terrify him. Cops, danger… He stays away from it. It's so natural for him to avoid sticking his head out that he forces his cowardness on other people. Most of the time, violence helps him convince.'
Marinette beckoned at her team to stay silent, peeking at the Akuma from the corner of the pathway.
The fog had gained in intensity, rolling on the ground like waves of smoke that swallowed everything on their way. Exactly the way Ilias, Abdel's right-hand man, had predicted. Marinette tightened her coat around herself, a faint cloud escaping her mouth when she breathed out.
'He didn't mean to hurt you.'
'That's not what he said," Marinette grunted.
There was a silence before Abdel's lips curled. 'Do people always mean what they say?'
"What is it, kitty? You're not fighting anymore?"
Marinette's eyes scanned the area, quick and calculating, rewinding the scheme she had memorised by heart. The plan was simple, but needed a precise execution.
The Akuma went on, unaware of her spying.
"Fleeing the danger, dodging the hits. How brave of you, Chat Noir. Are you waiting for Ladybug to save your whiskers?"
Agnès and Pierre had turned into one very same Akuma who now stood on top of one of the broken down slides.
They had turned into a genderless creature, slender, clad in a black and green suit that reminded Marinette of her own costume, though dot-less. Their face was hidden behind a huge yin and yang mask, circular like a road-sign, peculiar in the way it harboured the colours of Ladybug- red and black on the yang, and Chat Noir's- black and green on the yin. They held in their right hand a yoyo, identical to Ladybug's minus the fact it bore the same colours as their suit- Chat's colours. Parallel, the baton in their left hand was the exact same as Chat's, but in black and red. Two scarlet ribbons were loosely tied around their wrists.
The creature spoke again, and Marinette had to suppress a shudder at the strident sound of Agnès and Pierre's voices in unison.
"Give us your miraculous, Chat Noir."
"You're no fun, I thought we were playing chat perché," Chat snickered. "Sore losers, much?"
The yoyo flew, and Marinette felt the ground shake under her when it collided with it. She turned her head towards the little group of children behind her, searching for confirmation in their eyes.
They nodded, and her gaze met Alya's, vibrant with determination.
On the playground, Chat's voice resonated again. "For Ladybug fans, it's a shame you can't even use a yoyo correctly."
The baton stretched this time, hissing as it sliced the air, clinking as it collided with Chat's. The Akuma had jumped from their spot and was now engaging in a sort of sword fight with the leather-clad hero, movements quick, blind from rage. They were falling into Chat's trap.
Marinette nodded once towards the little group and it immediately dispersed. Swiftly, they reached their designated spots, helped by the growing fog that dissimulated them, running through the shortcuts they had indicated on the sketch. It wasn't long before the plan came into action.
"Ladybug is the best!" A child's voice exclaimed in the haze. "Do you think she's coming?"
The Akuma turned towards the sound, halted in their momentum.
Somewhere else, another voice called out. "Yasmine, Yasmine, let's play Ladybug and Chat Noir!"
"Chat Noir will get the Akuma!"
Slowly, the silent playground was filled with children's voices, and suddenly, the enemy didn't know where to look anymore.
Marinette raised an eyebrow at Alya. 'What?'
The brunette chuckled. 'Another history class you missed because of your toilet emergencies?'
'W-Well, I uhm… Have a sensitive stomach,' Marinette stammered.
'What's with the guerillas, Alya?' Abdel asked excitedly.
'Poke, provoke, withdraw.'
The little group stared at the journalist, confused pairs of eyes fixated on her. The sight tore a sigh from her, but it was expected and so she elaborated. 'We need small groups effectively and safely dispersed to confuse the enemy, make them incoherently mad and less focused. Make them easier to take down.'
"They're not heroes!" The Akuma vociferated. "They're selfish liars!"
"Lucky Charm!" Another child chimed.
The Akuma shot its yoyo towards the sound. It collided with something metallic, wrapped around it from the way the string stretched. When the creature tried to pull it back, something unexpected happened. They seemed to have trouble controlling their yoyo, as if they hadn't quite mastered. It took them a certain effort to yank it, until the creaking sound of twisted iron resonated and the jungle gym fell down, dissipating the fog for a second.
Marinette didn't move, didn't gasp, didn't scream.
She didn't shout a name, or ran into the line of fire.
Because she knew the kids weren't where the Akuma thought they were.
And everything was going according to plan.
Chat, on the other hand, ignored everything about the plan. Muscles tense, he darted towards the jungle gym, baton stretched to protect him and the "kid".
He froze when he was met with nothing to save.
Nothing aside from the soda can that poked out of one of the pipes.
'So, you really think this is going to work?'
Lucas fidgeted under Abdel's skeptical gaze, suddenly intimidated. He glanced at Marinette and Alya, seeking for encouragement.
'Yeah,' he managed when the girls smiled at him. 'A tin can telephone can do.'
'But don't you need to press the tin can against your ear to be heard?' Another boy commented.
Lucas' face dropped. He hadn't thought that through.
'Maybe we could find a way to amplify the sound that reaches the tin can,' Alya supplied.
'Or amplify the sound that comes out,' Marinette completed.
Chat stared at the cobbled can, top cut to allow the sound to resonate from it. The pieces of the puzzle were quickly falling into place. He turned towards the Akuma, and although the mask covered their face, he could easily guess that they were putting two and two together as well.
They growled, and Chat didn't see the hit until he felt it, their baton crashing against his ribcage with such strength that it sent him flying backwards. He gasped at the flash of pain that blinded him for a second, despite the fact his suit kept him from being bruised, and he landed on the other side of the playground, near the pathway Marinette had led them through earlier.
He groaned at the feeling of the gravel against the back of his head when he hit the ground.
"What are these?" The Akuma shouted. "You're trying to trick us, Chat Noir."
Chat shook his head, a thousand stars blurring his sight for a second as he sat up. Her turned his head, and his eyes widened when he recognised Marinette standing at the entrance of the pathway. She was pressing a finger against her lips, ushering him to stay silent, and he couldn't help but blink in stupefaction.
What is she doing there, he thought, astonishment giving way to frustration at the thought she hadn't listened to him.
Of course she hadn't.
He knew that.
Why he did? He couldn't really tell.
His attention was switched back towards the Akuma as they walked towards him, gravel crunching under their feet.
"You find it funny to distract us that way?"
Chat glanced at Marinette who nodded at him.
He quickly made a decision.
"Well," he declared. "It would've been too lonely otherwise."
The Akuma let out a strange sound, something like a scoff and they pointed their baton towards him like a wand. The red paw symbol illuminated, like a wave of power charging and he held his breath.
"I don't understand why there should be a difference between you and us," the creature said with its strange double-voice. "Everyone should be free to be a hero whenever they want. No one should look up at you."
They turned and the shot went towards the building. A myriad of red strings exploding like ribbons of light flew in the air, seeping in the building from all the entrances; windows, doors, cracks. Then, glows of red and green started to illuminate all the windows and Marinette stared, shocked at the scene unfolding in front of her.
This was not part of the plan.
Everything went silent, and no one moved. Aside from the Akuma who turned back towards Chat, still unaware of Marinette's presence.
"We're Deuce and we're what Paris needs the most," the creature spoke.
A flash of red appeared in the fog, fast, behind Deuce, and Marinette's eyes shifted on the figure. Her heart skipped a beat: was it Tikki?
She squinted, and the gasp that escaped her lips caught Alya's attention.
No, it wasn't Tikki.
Right there, in the corner of the playground stood… Ladybug.
A smirk stretched the hero's lips as she observed, crouched, Deuce. Beside Marinette, Alya inhaled sharply, and her fingers quickly found her phone, ready to film.
Ladybug was finally here.
... Except that she wasn't.
Because Marinette was still here.
She shot a glance towards Chat and knew that he had spotted the red-clad hero as well. In fact, Ladybug wasn't even looking at Deuce. She was looking at Chat, and he stared back at her, strangely speechless, hypnotised, numb.
He didn't show any sign of moving, or attempt to distract the Akuma the way he always did to let Ladybug attack from behind. Marinette wondered if he recognised the Ladybug as a fake. His eyes were wide, lips parted as if he had seen a ghost, and the expression on his face was undecipherable. Relief? Shock? Fear?
He didn't give Marinette the time to ponder on the true nature of it, because he quickly snapped from his trance and looked back at the enemy, lips slowly curving into the trademark smirk he always bore before mocking a foe.
Marinette's heart dropped into her stomach.
He thought it was the true Ladybug.
She opened her mouth to alert him just as he opened his.
Both were interrupted by a familiar voice.
"Ladybug, watch out!"
Marinette and Chat spotted the fake Chat Noir behind Ladybug at the same time.
One second too late.
Abdel had left his hiding spot and was rushing towards the fake Ladybug. One moment he was running, the other he was pulling her with him and rolling onto the mist that hovered above the ground.
They disappeared into the haze almost instantly and Marinette felt her heart stop.
He thought that the fake Chat Noir was going to attack Ladybug.
The fake Ladybug .
Marinette ran after him. "Abdel!"
Chat made a move to follow her, but suddenly, he was pinned on the ground by something- or someone. His eyes widened when he was met with his own.
A claw found its way to his chin and the fake Chat Noir smirked, forcing Chat to swallow the bitter taste of déjà-vu that filled his mouth at the memory of Copycat. He growled and kicked the copy aside.
"Marinette!" He shouted in the fog.
"I'm here!" Marinette answered, though nowhere to be seen or located. "Chat, they're all fake! And there are a lot of them!"
"I know! But stay where you are, I'm coming!"
"No, I need to find Abdel," she insisted, voice already stifled as she seemed to move away.
She didn't answer, and Chat let out a frustrated sigh. Worry immediately started coursing through his veins, and he ran a nervous tongue over his lips.
Where's Ladybug? he stewed as he let his eyes wander around him. They fell on a trio of Ladybugs, standing where the fog was the faintest, and he suppressed the urge to click his tongue. Oh right, she's everywhere.
The trio laughed, and he winced at the sound of their giggle. It wasn't right. It wasn't the right one.
One of them looked at him, and when he met her blue eyes, their familiarity struck him, but something just didn't quite click right.
The fog had grown colder, more consistent. It had settled on the playground like a vaporous veil, and Marinette couldn't make out more than blurred shadows around her.
"Abdel, are you here?" She asked for the fourth time, voice low so as to not attract the Akuma.
The boy didn't answer, and she felt a heavy feeling of worry settle in her stomach. Just what could have the copy done to him?
A shadow ran in front of her, and she froze. The figure stopped for a second, looking around, and she made out the fluorescent glim of his eyes in the smog. She stilled, didn't dare breathe until the pseudo-Chat moved away. Once she was relatively out of danger, she let out a sharp breath and continued walking.
The Akuma had visibly transformed the whole building, and considering the size of the construction, the number of minions they had gathered was consequent. Marinette and her friends were circled with countless Ladybugs and Chat Noirs whose sole purpose was to herd everyone towards Deuce.
She heard Chat call out for her from somewhere behind, and she bit her lip to keep herself from answering. She couldn't give away her position, or afford mistaking him for someone else. She had to find Abdel on her own.
Abdel who remained silent as the grave.
She hoped that nothing bad had happened to him, but the single thought made her walk faster. What if he had become a Chat Noir clone as well?
Deuce was silent, nowhere to be seen, and Marinette couldn't help but be wary of what the duo was concocting. She looked at her right, and the thought that she could easily run towards the building and get Tikki crossed her mind. It could be easy, indeed, and much more effective.
She moved forward, but suddenly, an arm grabbed her elbow. She froze and immediately twisted the owner's arm to immobilise them, hero instinct controlling every single one of her reflexes as she did so.
"Let me go," a familiar voice grunted.
Marinette's eyes widened. "Driss?"
"Who else?" The man replied, and the girl hurriedly released her grip.
"What are you doing here?" She whispered.
"My brother is in danger because of you. I forbid you to even ask me this."
She blushed, and thanked the fog somewhere for partly hiding her face. It was her fault Abdel had been in danger. She had willingly risked his safety.
Driss spoke again, breaking the settling silence. "Help me find him."
She looked up, and his voice sounded worried, sad… Scared. A tone she didn't expect from him.
He's not very courageous.
She didn't answer, and he cleared his throat. "Please I just-" He fell silent for a second, and she felt him fidget uncomfortably before he finally cleared his throat. "Nevermind. I'll find him on my own."
"Wait," Marinette exclaimed, snapping out of her first-hand surprise. "I'll help you. It's my responsibility too."
And just like this, they were walking, one next to the other, silent in the fog, with only the snicker of the clones in the distance. The grass under their feet stifled the noise of their movements, and the fog had a strange smell of smoke that Marinette didn't like.
She had a thousand questions for the man next to her, a thousand of topics to fill the silence that grew more and more uncomfortable with each passing second. But she never opened her mouth to talk. Discretion was key with the task at hand, and as long as they could find Abdel safe and sound, she didn't mind the silence. A small voice murmured in her head that she shouldn't help him, that it was a choice she was going to regret, but she brushed it off quickly.
Suddenly, she felt something heavy push her backwards and she gasped. She opened her eyes and saw her own blue eyes staring down at her, a smirk stretching her own features, hidden behind their dotted mask. Marinette opened her mouth, stared wide-eyed at her Ladybug clone. It was strange, it was identical to her, and yet not exactly her.
That was when she saw it.
The earrings' dots weren't the right pattern.
Instead of the usual five dots, there were only three vertical dots.
And it struck Marinette that Agnès and Pierre were recreating clones that were as twisted and inexact as their own theories.
A kick violently pushed the copy away and Marinette looked up, meeting Driss' dark gaze.
The Ladybug shrieked.
"How dare you?" The clone growled, and her voice was so identical to Marinette's that it took the ravenette aback for a second.
Driss reached out for Marinette, and pulled her up as soon as she put her hand in his. "Come."
They bolted away from the fake hero, Driss leading their blind race. He avoided bumps and bins he knew by heart and Marinette silently thanked her luck for sending him to her when he pulled her away from a bench. Another Ladybug copy appeared in front of them, and they took a sharp turn to avoid her.
Finally, they stopped behind the building and when Driss finally let go of her hand, Marinette glanced around, searching for any sign of doubles. They were in a sort of tiled hall, opened on the street, with dumpsters here and there, and leading to the inside of the building with a tightly closed iron door. Tags covered the blue walls over here too, dripping inscriptions blending with masterpieces of urban art and there was a distinct smell of rotten garbage too, which, mixed with that of the fog gave a result Marinette was sure she didn't like. She wrinkled her nose but didn't say further. After all, they were relatively safe here and she had seen worse in all the time she had been Ladybug.
The area was deserted, save for a squirrel and two stray cats. If there had been anyone, they had probably turned to clones already. She turned her gaze towards Driss, and let out a sigh.
"Thanks for the save," she heaved.
He didn't respond immediately, and Marinette wondered if he had heard her. She opened her mouth to speak again when he interrupted her.
"This sucks," he grumbled.
"I thought you had seen worse," Marinette couldn't help commenting. She bit her lip as soon as the words escaped her lips, immediately regretting her snap when he looked back at her.
If he was offended, he didn't show it. Instead, he glanced around, checking once again the safety of their hiding spot. He didn't speak, visibly scheming something from the way he suddenly seemed lost in the contemplation of a particularly dirty dumpster. After a while, he plunged his hand in his jacket pocket and took out a gun. Marinette inhaled.
Then, it happened.
A single scream.
Strident, terrified, and which could only belong to one person.
Marinette met Driss' gaze for a second before he scurried towards the source, instantly forgetting all the possible schemes he was making up. She didn't bother because her legs obeyed the same instinct and she followed him without a second thought. Her heart had stopped when the shriek had cut through the air, but now it was beating so fast she could hear it hammering against her ears.
They found Abdel halfway between the hall and the playground. He stared at them with incredibly huge, terrified brown eyes, and Marinette felt the blood freeze in her veins when she met the malicious glint of familiar fluorescent eyes.
The Chat Noir was holding the boy against him, right arm entrapping his neck to keep him from running away. A devilish grin split his face at the sight of the duo, as if he had been expecting them to come rushing, and the familiarity of the smirk unsettled Marinette. Next to her, Driss was paralysed, eyes wide in shock. He didn't seem to be planning on moving, too frozen, too out of it, and Marinette took a step forward in his place. The clone's forearm pressed harder against Abdel's throat.
"You might not want to come closer, no," he purred.
He raised his left hand- the real Chat was right-handed , and snapped his fingers. Her eyes widened when black particles gathered around the clone's gloved hand, spinning to form the pitch-black cloud of a Cataclysm. His smirk grew wider and he brought his hand closer to Abdel's face.
"Now you'll do me the favour to follow me, rig-"
His words trailed off when a can hit his cursed hand and disintegrated to his feet. When Marinette came running and punched him, his eyes went wide and he let go of Abdel for a second. Enough for the boy to escape his grip.
Marinette's foot then went flying and collided with his ribcage just as he tried to comprehend the turn of events. He fell to the ground with a thud and looked up at the girl above him.
"What were you saying about me not moving closer, kitty," she hummed, the smirk leaving the clone's face to settle on hers.
Suddenly, she felt something burning wrap around her wrist, tightening so quick it tore a gasp from her. She looked down and only had time to distinguish the wire that cut through her skin before the yoyo sent her flying backwards.
"Now, still trying to throw a wrench in our gears, brat?"
Marinette looked up and the distinct figure of Deuce appeared before her, landing soundlessly on the asphalt. They slightly moved their right hand and Marinette couldn't suppress a wince as the wire tightened around her wrist.
"Maybe you'll agree more once we transform you," their inhuman voice went on.
"How about no?"
Deuce turned their head, but they were too late to avoid the spinning baton that had been sent flying towards them. It hit their hand and the yoyo loosened its grip on Marinette just as it collided with the ground. She turned her head and felt a surge of gratefulness when her eyes met Chat's slender figure at the entrance of the alleyway, arm stretched to catch his weapon.
"This is between you and me, Deuce," he declared.
Deuce had no eyes, but Marinette could've sworn they squinted in disgust. With a single gesture, five clones came rushing, joined by the previous Chat Noir copy Marinette had taken down. Another movement, and they all jumped on Chat, pinning him to the ground.
"We'll play later, minou," the Akuma murmured before turning again towards Marinette, towering over her like a divine retribution. They raised their baton, and she rolled away just as it came crashing on the ground right where she had been lying seconds ago.
Swiftly, she got up and started racking her brain for a plan. Her eyes fell on Driss, who hadn't moved from his spot if not to collect his brother in his arms when Abdel had come running to him. His eyes were wide, and betrayed his desire to be somewhere else completely despite the fact his legs refused to obey. She glanced back at Deuce who was gathering their yoyo back from the ground, and felt her throat run dry.
A few feet from her, there were six clones waiting for the right moment to give free reign to their powers. In front of her stood a relatively incapacitated Driss and traumatised Abdel.
Chat couldn't help her.
Tikki wasn't here.
She was alone.
But the plan came to her like a raging wave, and she felt her lips curl mischievously.
"I'm afraid your playtime with me will be short, fakes," she threw, drawing the attention of the Akuma.
Marinette knew they were fuming from the way their hands tightened around their weapons. She ran away just as the yoyo violently hit the ground below her feet.
The alleyway was rather narrow, with a low brick wall on one side, and the building on the other. Although she had no use of the trees that looked onto the alleyway from behind the wall, the side of the building carried a few air conditioner fans that hung below the windows. They were tightly screwed to the wall, but Marinette had to make at least one of them fall.
"What now? You can't even get a civilian like me?" She teased, mimicking Chat's favourite strategy.
"You're not funny, little girl," the Akuma growled. "Too mindless."
"Say the ones who consider food tastes an actual argument to consolidate their wobbly theory," she retorted before running towards the clones.
The baton cut the air and landed on two clones who screamed in pain. Deuce brushed them off.
"You know what? The President probably likes salad too," she went on.
Another clone joined the first two.
Marinette set herself in the red of the freed copies, and Deuce was now right under the fan.
"What is it, Deuce," she said. "Still can't catch me? How about you send your clones after me?"
On cue, a Chat Noir jumped towards her, Cataclysm enveloping their two hands. But the Akuma's baton was quicker, and the clone went flying…
"It's between you and us."
… Right into the fan.
The wall behind the air conditioner disappeared in a patch of rust, and the white cubicle started dangling into the void, right above Deuce.
"DRISS, SHOOT INTO THE CABLES," Marinette shouted.
Miraculously, or thanks to her luck, Driss snapped out of his trance and, despite a second of hesitation, complied.
The fourth sealed the Akuma's fate and the air conditioner came crashing on Deuce in a cacophony of twisted iron and creaking wires. The hit wasn't enough to kill the Akuma, hopefully, but it knocked them out.
In the meantime, Chat had freed himself from the clones, and before Marinette realised what she had done, he grabbed her forearm and pulled her after him. He ran fast, heels quickly clicking against the ground at each of his steps. Taking a sharp turn, they entered the relatively safe haven of the court Marinette and Driss had been in moments ago and Chat stopped to observe the small yard. He located the iron door and, with an unceremonious swing of his baton, blew it open.
The building was silent inside, and warmer than the fog outside, which was a much welcome feeling against Marinette's frozen cheeks. Chat let go of Marinette's arm and, a clawed finger pressed against his lips, ushered her to stay silent as he checked the safety of the area. She didn't move, only watched him as he walked down the narrow corridor that led to the main hall, devoid of any doors and potential doubles that would come barging from apartments.
In the far end, Marinette could make out the now familiar tagged tiles and mould, and she felt her heart skip a beat at the thought that Tikki was a few floors above her head.
Chat came back, but a strange mix of relief and frustration was painted over his face. He pulled out his baton and with a quick swipe of his finger, the side of the stick slid to reveal a phone.
The way his nose wrinkled said a lot about the answer he got when he brought the device to his ear, but he still let out a discontented sigh and said to no one in particular:
"She's not picking up."
Despite herself, Marinette cleared her throat.
"Have faith in her, she'll come."
He stared at her with those emerald eyes of his, and she felt something bubble in her stomach without quite being able to pinpoint the feeling. A sort of puzzle piece she couldn't quite place.
There was some sort of unsettling broken hope in the pool of his gaze, glinting still, and suddenly his eyes felt a lot more familiar than they should've.
She spoke again before the blush spread through her cheeks. "In fact, I think you should go back to the Akuma. We left Driss and Abdel there and… I'm worried about them, Chat."
Her worry was genuine, and Chat seemed to notice the way her eyes were suddenly clouded with concern, because his eyelids dropped, and he opened his mouth to say something...
He snapped his jaw shut without a word.
"I promise I'll run straight to the grocery shop from here and not move anymore," she heard herself say.
Chat was weighing the pros and cons now, lips pursing as he focused his gaze on an imaginary stain on the wall. He was hesitating.
Marinette swallowed. She needed him to trust her, and leave her alone.
"Chat, you can't leave the battlefield to look after one civilian," she tried again. "Whatever happens, Ladybug's Lucky Charm will fix everything anyway, but you need to be there in order to help her."
He looked at his phone again, and Marinette felt like she was gaining ground.
"Besides, Ladybug needs you to be there, to tell her that there are clones everywhere. She's going to mistake you for a copy."
That seemed to finally convince him, and he looked back at her. He inhaled, but nodded after a moment.
"Promise me that you'll be careful, Marinette," he said, and his eyes held such true concern that Marinette felt herself nod back without realising.
He stood there for another full before finally leaving. He closed the door behind him, and the sound of his running steps on the asphalt was drowned behind the iron of the door.
For a second, Marinette couldn't move, eyes fixed on the iron door even after she couldn't hear him anymore. A strange vice-like feeling was clamping her heart, her throat felt tight, and she didn't know why.
At last, she let out a breath, turned, and bolted up the stairs.
Tikki, I'm coming.
I am screaming.
I received a whole bunch of fanart for the fic last week? Amazing comments? Incredible messages? And I am screaming so loud? You guys are /amazing/ and you clearly don't know how happy you're making me.
So special thanks to qookyquiche, green-nonsense and kuabia for drawing my story! I don't have the links over there but? I promise I'll add them later.
FANART MAKES ME JUST SO HAPPY AND STUTTERING AND SPEECHLESS AND I DON'T CARE IF YOU THINK YOUR WORK IS UGLY BECAUSE IT DEFINITELY NOT AND NEVER WILL.
Thank you to all of you who never stop supporting me, by commenting and reviewing every week with this incredible excitement of yours. They make me smile everytime I re-read and re-read them, because I do, endlessly. They're such an intense source of motivation and confidence, and I don't have words to explain how grateful I am.
A huge thanks to arouria for always beta-reading me in record time and helping me out in a way I just couldn't explain completely without taking at least half of this page. Thanks to Adrien (mrjapsgedudel on tumblr!) for helping me out when God knows I was struggling with physics.
-Winkwonks furiously- Yes you guessed it, Ladynoir is back on track for the next chapter and I /can't/ wait for it to be posted!
As always, stay awesome and enjoy the new poll :)
What did you think of Tikki-less Marinette?
PS: Chat perché (in case you squinted at the word) is your regular off-ground tag game, but pun obliged, I decided to use the French word.