Bound to You
The topic of today's lesson is ancient Egypt. Their teacher has set up the projector to play an old documentary about pyramids, but with the lights dimmed most of the students have already turned their attention away from the screen.
"Hey. Nathaniel's staring at you," Alya whispers, nudging Marinette with an elbow.
"What?" Marinette glances up from her binder—her notes have already dissolved into rough sketches of dresses and shoes—and turns to check behind her. The moment her eyes fall on the red-haired boy, their gazes connect. Even in the dark room, she can see a blush on Nathaniel's cheeks as he hunches back over his sketchpad.
"Well?" Alya asks as Marinette sits forward again. "You're not interested?"
"I don't know. We've never really had a full conversation."
Alya pokes Marinette's arm with her pencil. "So start one."
The teacher clears her throat in warning, so the conversation is dropped. But Alya's advice rattles in the back of Marinette's head for the rest of the school day. So start one. Easy enough—if only she could string a single sentence together once her nerves set in.
After the bell rings to dismiss class, Marinette sets off for home. Her parent's bakery is only a few blocks away, located on the corner of main street.
She's about halfway there when she hears something make a ripping noise. A second later, all of her books are spilling out of her backpack and onto the sidewalk.
"Ah!" Marinette bends down to grab her things. "What the—"
"Need some help?"
The voice is much closer than she expects it. She whirls—directly into the boy kneeling behind her, connecting her forehead right into his chin. He flinches, almost falling over, but manages to regain his balance.
"Sorry!" Marinette hurries. "I'm so sorry, I didn't see… you…"
The person in question is a boy around her age, blond, green-eyed, and undeniably handsome. He's leaned over, holding out one of her pens that must have rolled away in the spill.
"You were going to lose this," he says, proffering the pen.
"Thanks." Marinette snatches it back and adds it to the pile of school supplies she's gathering off the ground. "I don't know what happened. My bag just sort of… burst…"
"Happens all the time," he says easily, half-smiling. It's not a bad half-smile.
The stand up together, and Marinette realizes how tall his is—at least a foot taller than her. She readjusts her grasp on her books. "Thanks again for the help."
He doesn't reply right away, eyes lingering on her. An odd expression crosses his face—something crossed between interest and annoyance. "You're pretty clumsy, you know."
What? The random insult takes her off guard. "I'll, uh, try to be more careful."
"Try to," he replies, and then slips right past her, walking off. Marinette stares after him, still flustered, until he turns the corner and disappears.
When Marinette gets home, books bundled in her hands, her mother is behind the bakery counter. "What happened to your bag, dear?"
"It broke at the seam," Marinette replies, accepting a forehead kiss from Sabine as she makes her way behind the counter. "Easy fix. I'll stitch it back up tonight."
"Alright," Sabine says. "But kitchen duty first. Your father bit off more than he can chew this time, baking all the pastries for the Governor's Ball."
At that moment, a string of metallic clangs echo from the kitchen. Sabine and Marinette both jump.
"It's fine!" Tom's voice shouts. "Everything's fine!"
Sabine winces. "Please give him a hand, honey?"
Marinette stashes her things on the shelf under the register, and dashes into the kitchen to help her father pipe cream into two-hundred éclairs.
A few hours later, covered in powdered sugar and butter and custard, her father bids her off. "I can take it from here," he insists. "You need to finish your homework. Thank you, sweetheart."
Marinette grabs her torn backpack from where she left it under the register. She turns it inside out and examines the breaks in the string. She'd stitched this bag herself, and sewn the seam three times over to keep it strong. Perhaps the problem is the string. She decides to make a quick run to the store for better thread—maybe nylon or rayon.
When she heads out onto main street, the sun has already begun to disappear behind the Paris skyline, and a slight breeze is blowing, rustling Marinette's bangs. It's not very late, but the streets are strangely devoid of commuters and tourists.
She turns the corner, and then pauses. The entire block has gone dark, every streetlight burned out. Weird, she thinks.
There's still enough early-evening light to see, so she plunges forward. The air is chilly, and with every step Marinette thinks it might be getting even more frigid.
Marinette spins, searching for the source of the noise, but she's completely alone. She exhales, scolding herself for being so easily startled. She's been down this road hundreds of times.
She turns the next corner, and it's impossibly darker than the last. All the streetlamps are out—there must be some sort of electricity problem. With the last glow of the sunset rapidly disappearing, Marinette wonders if she'd better turn back for home.
She leaps, twisting toward the noise, and this time she catches something disappearing behind the corner. Something tall and dark, the shadow of a person.
Marinette's pulse starts to speed, but she swallows down the rising fear. There's a café around the next block where she can go inside and wait a little while. She turns forward again and sets off at a brisk pace.
As she passes the next streetlamp, the bulb suddenly flickers back to life. She jumps, squinting at the flood of artificial light. It creates a dim yellow circle on the sidewalk, but the glow keeps flickering and fading. Marinette glances into the light and realizes it's because something's moving around inside the lantern between the glass and the bulb. Wings fluttering—it's some sort of butterfly, or more likely a moth, judging from the dark color of the wings.
"How did you get in there, little butterfly?" Marinette asks herself. She moves closer, trying to get a better look. There must be a latch to open the glass. She lifts a had to find it.
"Don't touch it!"
The voice comes from nowhere, loud and urgent. She drops her hand and spins around.
Except, when she turns, she is not in Paris anymore.
It's unexplainable: the sidewalk has turned to sand that seeps around her sneakers. The apartments and shops have dissolved into empty space that stretches on for miles. The Paris skyline has turned to pure, open sky, alight with a million stars.
Marinette stands still, gaping. She has to be sick. She must have passed out. There's no way—absolutely no way—this is really happening.
She checks all directions, but there's nothing but open desert.
This isn't real. It can't be.
"No, it is not real. It is only a memory."
Marinette's heartbeat takes off in a sprint. The voice isn't coming from any direction in particular, but it sounds so close. Almost like the words are being whispered right into her ears.
Not real. Not real.
"A… a memory?" Marinette dares to ask aloud. "I don't remember this. I've never been here before."
"Not your memory, but mine. A memory of many centuries past."
The sand swirls around Marinette's feet, scraping at her legs and getting in her shoes. It feels so real. All of this. More realistic than any dream she's ever had.
"Who are you? Where am I?"
"I was gifted many names," comes the reply. The voice is soft and feminine, almost serene as it speaks. "I will tell you what they have called me. I was once named Hathor, and Fortuna, and Astrild. I was once called mother, and then daughter, and then diety."
"I… I don't…" Marinette tries to swallow, but the desert heat and her fear have made her throat go dry. "I don't understand. What do you want?"
"I vowed I would not take another vessel, but now I must. Please understand."
"A… what?" Marinette chokes, shielding her eyes with her palms as the wind picks up, blowing grains of sand across her cheeks.
"Do not let him find us. Promise me. You mustn't let him find us."
"Us? I…" The words get lost on her tongue. Spots begin to form in the corners of her vision.
Don't faint! Not now! she pleads with herself, even as she feels her legs start to buckle.
"Promise," the voice invokes one more time, and then turns into a distant echo, blown away in the wind.
Black circles dance across her vision. She blinks to get rid of them.
And just like that, as she flutters her eyes, the desert vanishes. As suddenly as it had appeared, the vision is gone. She's back on the Paris street, between rows of townhouses and shops, standing beneath the glow of a lone streetlamp.
"I said run!"
Someone's standing in front of her, back turned to her, arms held wide in a protective stance. He's tall and blond and familiar.
"Didn't you hear me?" He turns his head to give her a disbelieving glare. It's the boy from before—the one who returned her pen. "Run!"
Marinette hears his command, but it's like her legs are made of led, and she can't find the power to move. All she can feel is the wild pounding of her heart, pinning her to the floor.
Something shifts in the shadows ahead of them. It seems to materialize like fog, and then melt back into the darkness.
"It's an akuma," the blond warns. "Get ready."
The shadow lunges, quick as a dart, swirling toward them in a cloud of smoke.
Wham. The blond pulls out a stick, a long metal bar—she doesn't see from where—and smashes it down in front the creature. The motion creates a gust of wind that repels the creature backwards.
"Can you purify it?" he asks Marinette.
She stares blankly at the boy. "Huh?" It's the only sound she feels capable of making.
"It's cursed," he barks, as he twists his stick in a fast circle to block another attack from the creature. "You have to use a charm to free it!"
For a second, the creature catches the light of the streetlamp, and Marinette can make out what it is—the fluttering of black wings, like a butterfly's, surrounded by an aura of mist and shadows.
The creature falls back, melding into the shadows again. She's lost sight of it, but Marinette can still sense something watching them, waiting to strike.
The boy grits his teeth, adjusting his stance so his stick is held out defensively in front of them. "I'm not going to be able to hold it off much longer like this."
Marinette narrows her eyes, trying to find the creature in the darkness. It looked so small—how dangerous can it be? Something moves in the corner of her vision. She trains her eyes on it, and slowly, almost like a veil being lifted from her eyes, Marinette begins to see the creature for what it really is.
A human—or the shadow of one. It's six-feet tall and pure, inky black. No wonder she couldn't see it at first; it's almost translucent, blending seamlessly into the shade. And the thing she'd thought was a butterfly… It sits inside of his chest, wings fluttering like a rapidly beating heart. He drifts closer, staring at them with an empty, featureless face.
"Purify it!" the boy shouts at Marinette again, and this time when he looks at her, his green eyes are glowing. They're almost neon green, the pupils black and slitted like a cat's. "You have to purify it, or it won't stop!"
He brings his stick down again, striking the human shadow in its gut. The stick passes right through it's gut, cutting it in half. But it only takes a moment for the two halves to drift back together, reforming their human shape.
"I don't know how!" she shouts back, pushing out the words from her frozen lips.
"Tell it you release it from evil! Free it from the curse it's under!"
"What? I can't—"
"Just say the words!"
Marinette gasps for breath, stumbling backwards as the shadows swirl around them, looking for a way past the boy. It's not after him, Marinette realizes. It's her it wants.
"I… I release you from evil. I free you from your curse."
"Keep going," the blond orders, holding out his stick in front of them.
"I r-release you from evil. I free you from your curse. I… I release you from evil. I free you from your curse."
The creature makes a noise, almost a hiss. It crumbles back as if repelled by some force, but recovers quickly, and races towards Marinette again.
The blond lunges to intercept it, but he's too late. His metal stick slips right through it's shoulders as it continues its path straight toward Marinette.
"I release you from evil! I release you! I RELEASE YOU!"
It's only centimeters away from her when there's a swoosh of air directly in front of Marinette's face. The blond's brought his stick down right through the shadow's chest, striking its heart—that little butterfly that fluttered inside it—squashing it like a bug on the sidewalk.
Instantly, the rest of the shadow falls apart, dissolving in wisps like steam and fading into the night. The only thing left behind is the crushed, black butterfly on the sidewalk.
"You're free," the boy says, staring down at the insect. As if in response, it dissipates into white dust and blows away into the wind.
Marinette's legs give out, and she falls into her knees, panting for breath.
The boy lifts his stick and it retracts, folding back into a small bar of metal that he stashes inside his jacket pocket. "It's gone," he says, turning around to face her.
He stretches his hand out to help her stand up, but Marinette doesn't take it. His eyes are back to their normal shade of green. It would be easy to think she only imagined his glowing cat eyes, if it weren't for the entire scene she'd just witnessed.
"What… what was that thing?" she dares to ask.
She notices he's breathing hard too from the exertion. "An akuma.."
"An akuma?" Marinette repeats. "That thing was alive. It turned into a man or something." A horrifying realization crosses her mind. "Did you just kill a person?"
"It's a spell," the blond replies calmly. "Akumas can only be created with magic." He pauses to take another deep breath. "Dark magic."
This is too much. Spells, Curses, Deities. None of this is supposed to be real.
A noise escapes her—something crossed between a laugh and a sob. It's followed by another hysterical giggle, and then a flood of laughter is bursting from her mouth.
The boy lifts his brows, looking at her like she's gone crazy. Which might be the case. Here she is, sitting on the sidewalk, having a good laugh after they'd both nearly been killed.
"What's so funny?" he asks slowly.
"This…" Marinette struggles to get her giggles under control. "All this nonsense. Akumas and magic and creepy glowing cat eyes. I fell asleep on top of my history textbook! That's what happened, right?"
"Not quite," he says, frowning at her, and offers his hand again. "Will you get up off the floor?"
Marinette takes his hand and lets him pull her to her feet. His palm is warm under hers, and it makes her realize how chilled to the bone she is. When he lets go, she wraps her arms around her chest.
"You're shivering," he points out.
She can't tell if she's shaking from the temperature or the shock. "It wasn't this cold when I left."
"It's not cold out," he replies. "You just came face-to-face with an omen of evil. It drains the warmth right out of you."
Either way, he slips off his button-down shirt—he's wearing a black tee beneath it—and proffers it to her. Normally she's never accept such an offer from a boy she just met, especially a boy she doesn't trust, but she's too overwhelmed and cold to care, so she takes the shirt. It's radiating with his warmth when she slips it over her shoulders.
"Come on," he says, "you need something hot to drink."
Marinette's not sure what she's doing. She should be running home, or calling for the police. Not sitting in a café with a strange boy she's not entirely convinced is human. But here she is, sitting in a booth in the back of the restaurant, a mug of hot chocolate steaming between her fingers, gawking at the blond boy who just might have saved her life.
At least she had the decency to remove his shirt from her shoulders. She'd folded it neatly and handed it back, whispering a tiny thanks. He still hasn't put it back on. In fact, he looks a little flushed.
"Are you…" She glances from side to side, making sure no one's listening to their hushed conversation. She leans closer and whispers. "Are you… human?"
He snorts into his soda.
"What's so funny?" she demands. "I saw what you did. I saw your… eyes. They were glowing."
He leans an elbow on the table and beds toward her conspiratorially. "Yeah, I'm human. Well, as human as you at least."
She doesn't appreciate his teasing tone, or his nonsensical replies, or that amused glint in his eyes. But he's the only one capable of providing the answers she so desperately needs. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Wow," he sighs. "You're not just pretending? You really don't know anything?"
She stays silent, knuckles going white around the handle of her mug, lips pressed tight into a straight line.
"Alright," the boy says, setting down his drink. "That thing that attacked us was an akuma. It's a kind of curse. A seriously evil one. They're created to possess people and steal their will."
Marinette nearly drops her mug. But she doesn't want him to see how freaked out she is and stop talking, so she puts all of her effort into keeping her expression blank.
"Why would an akuma be after me?"
He runs a hand through his perfectly-styled hair, and the strands fall right back into place. "They like to go after people who radiate strong auras. You know, like emotions. Pain, despair, fury. They're attracted to strong emotional energy."
"That doesn't explain why it was after me," she presses.
His blond brows wrinkle. "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this right now. I can tell it's upsetting you."
"Of course it's upsetting me," Marinette hisses. "I don't care. What aren't you telling me?"
He doesn't answer for a long moment. She holds his gaze, studying his face, as if she can will the truth out of him with a stare.
"Don't lie to me," she murmurs, trying to be intimidating. The words feel heavy and powerful on her tongue.
The boy blinks at her, face twisting into an almost pained expression. And then the words came tumbling out of his mouth all at once. "You're radiating so much magic, I knew it the second I saw you. You're a vessel."
Vessel. She remembers hearing that word before. It's what that voice said to her in the desert, in that bizarre hallucination she'd had back in the street. She'd nearly forgotten about that—how could she have forgotten?
"I vowed I would not take another vessel, but now I must. Please understand."
Her stomach twists when she remembers that soft, ominous voice. It makes her feel nauseous.
"Do not let him find us. Promise me. You mustn't let him find us."
Marinette's eyes widen. Who is "he?"
There's only one boy she's met tonight who's out of the ordinary, and here she is, sitting in a café with him over a drink. She's such an idiot.
"I have to go. Right now."
The boy blinks his eyes rapidly, like he's coming out of a trace. "Wha… wait, what?"
She slides out of the booth without another word, walking towards the door as fast as she can without being suspicious to the other diners.
"Wait, just hold on a second!" he calls after her, getting up too and racing for the door.
"Sir!" A waitress steps between them, blocking his path. "You haven't paid."
Marinette uses the distraction to escape, pushing the door open and rushing onto the street. She turns towards main street and starts sprinting home.
It doesn't take long for the boy to exit the café and start running after her. "Hold on! Where are you going?" he calls. He's much faster than her and already gaining. "Wait! It's not safe! Marinette!"
She never told him her name. How does he know her name?
"Just leave me alone!" she shouts back, and keeps sprinting forward.
And just like that, she hears his footsteps come to a halt behind her. She chances a glance over her shoulder, and he's standing still on the sidewalk, confused and dismayed, staring after her as she turns the corner and disappears from his sight.
I am soooo curious what you think of this! Thanks for all the encouragement.