Marinette winces as her knees crack when she drops to grand plié. She can hear Chloé's snickering, even if it's only in Chloé's head because Chloé always snickers when someone's joints crack. And that feeling of everyone looking at you when your joints crack? Marinette can do without.

It's only been two days since the start of this summer incentive, and Marinette is sort of regretting coming. Just a little bit.

It's an incredible opportunity, with incredible dancers and incredible teachers. It's a way to network, although she'd rather just not think about that. It's a way to build a career. It's a way to build a name for herself. It's a way to build experience. It's a way to massively improve.

But at the same time, she misses home. She misses her small little studio with smudged mirrors and tap shoe marks on the walls. She misses how only one speaker worked most of the time. She misses stretching in her room and practicing turns in the living room while Maman cooked and Papa baked downstairs. She misses Alya hitting repeat on the music automatically, not looking up from whatever article she was working on at the time.

It's only been two days, and Marinette is homesick.

She knows when she adjusts she'll love it here. She'll love the people and the studio and the lessons and even the technique classes. But right now… Right now, her shoes feel wrong and she feels like she's being examined under a microscope.

When Chloé shoves her out of the way to go across the floor in Adrien's group, Marinette just sighs and hides herself in the back.

—«·»—

Marinette smiles as Alya's face appears on her screen.

"MARI!" Alya shouts, hugging her computer.

Marinette laughs and wraps her arms around her laptop. "Alya! I miss you."

"Miss you too." Alya sits down and wipes her eyes under her glasses. "It's been two days, how are we going to last most of the summer?"

Marinette shakes her head. "I have no idea." She almost hasn't made two days, there is no imaginable way that she'll make it all summer.

"You soaking?" Alya asks, flipping through a battered journal.

Marinette kicks her feet in the bucket they're in a few times so Alya can hear the splashing. "What else did you expect?" Her feet haven't hurt this much since she first started pointe.

Alya shrugs. "You forgetting to take care of yourself? Don't you dare say that never happens. What's your poison today?"

"The usual, warm water and baking soda." If Marinette's going to spend all summer dancing, she needs to keep her feet in the best condition possible. Whether that's through soaking or massaging or literally not putting weight on her feet for most of the evening. The amount of research her and Alya did about foot and pointe shoe care before Marinette left was actually incredible. "Today was mostly technique, and we didso many relevés," she complains. "My calves are dying."

Alya rolls her eyes. "Says the girl who once spent every second she was standing doing relevés."

"That was different!" Marinette protests. "First of all, I was in flats, not going en pointe. Second, I was eight. And dreaming of dancing en pointe."

"And look where all those relevés got you," Alya says fondly. "Just keep doing relevés, Mari. It'll take you places."

Marinette laughs. "I'm glad you believe in the power of relevés."

"Someone has to." Alya types rapidly for a moment. "How are the people there? Do they stand up to the standard I've set, because you're with them all summer and painfully deprived of me."

Marinette rolls her eyes. "Wow, Alya."

"I know. I'm great. Now the people," Alya says pointedly.

Marinette sighs. "I… I mean, they all seem really nice, I just…don't really know any of them yet. We haven't really had any down time."

"Anyone stand out to you?"

"Yes," she grumbles. "Chloé."

Alya raises her eyebrows. "Whoa, okay, that doesn't sound like a good stand out."

Marinette sighs again. "When I said they all seem really nice, I was not including Chloé as part of 'all.'"

Alya shoves her journals aside. "Okay, spill."

"There's not much to spill," Marinette admits. "She just…hates my guts. I mean, her father is the mayor, Alya. The mayor of Paris. I don't even know what I did to her, she just hates me!"

"She's probably jealous because you're ten times better than her at everything," Alya says smugly.

"You've never seen her dance," Marinette points out. "I guess she's sort of mean to everyone, she just seems to focus it more in my direction than anyone else's." She drops her chin on her hand. "Maybe it's because a majority of the kids here are rich and that's how they got in. And I'm just… I'm just lucky. I'm good, but I'm not that good. Not good enough to deser—"

"If you finish that sentence I'm marching down there and kicking your butt," Alya interrupts. "You are good enough, Marinette. Do I need to remind you that you won a scholarship to this?"

"I know that! And I know I'm good it's just—" Marinette drops her head on the table. "It doesn't really feel like it, Alya. These people… They practice for hours and hours and take private lessons and have really really nice shoes—"

"The quality of your shoes means nothing. If you can dance in them, that's all that matters. Isn't that what you said when I tried to loan you money to buy nicer stage ready ones?"

Marinette laughs into her arm. "I said that because I didn't want you giving me money."

"Your shoes may not be some fancy name brand and maybe they aren't custom made, but they work just as well as any other pointe shoes. Fight me on this, Marinette. I'll win. While I'm at it, I'll fight this Chloé girl too."

"Don't do that." Marinette lifts her head and brings herself back into her webcam's view. "Her father could destroy you. Which is why I'm currently not fighting her."

Alya rolls her eyes. "So what her dad's the mayor of Paris? I will fight the entire world for you, Marinette. Don't you forget it."

"I'm having a hard time."

"Good. And don't doubt how good you are. You're going to make it in the dance world. You're at a ballet incentive all summer, girl, you're going places."

"So are all these other people," Marinette reminds Alya. "Lots of people put this much work into dance."

"None of them are you." Alya crosses her arms. "None of them are Marinette Dupain-Cheng, prima ballerina, costume designer, and supreme cupcake maker."

Marinette smiles. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. You should be glad I let you go there and leave me cupcake-less all summer. Now come on, there's got to be at least one other person who really stood out to you in a good way."

She bites her lip and sits back in her seat. "Well…"

Alya's eyes go wide. "Don't you dare leave me hanging!"

Marinette laughs. "You already know him."

Alya's eyes somehow go wider. "No way."

Marinette nods. "Uh huh."

"No way! Adrien Agreste is there?! Oh my god!"

Marinette grins widely and nods before remembering what actually happened. She buries her face in her hands. "Yeah. I totally walked into him on the first day. Didn't see him there, just walked in and BAM! Face full of Adrien's chest."

Alya squeals. "Oh my god, what is he like? Have you talked? Exchanged numbers? Exchanged spit?"

Marinette makes a face. "Ew, stop calling it that. And no. He seems really sweet and nice and oh my god he's even more handsome in person. The only conversation we've had is me stuttering awfully while trying to apologize and him smiling and saying he should've been looking where he was going and his leaps…" She drags her hands down her face. "Alya, being in the same room with him all day killed me."

"You also get to see him in tights," Alya says, wiggling her eyebrows.

Marinette covers her eyes. "Please, Alya! Besides! The boys wear sweats and shorts during rehearsals, just like we do over our tights. Can you not?"

Alya laughs. "Okay, okay, sorry. So your celebrity crush is there, and it's killing you."

"The only thing that was keeping me from being completely infatuated before was the fact that for all I knew, he could have been the biggest jerk on the face of the planet. But no, he's got a heart of gold. He puts up with Chloé in such a polite manner— although they're childhood friends, so I guess that's fair."

"Now you have three goals this summer," Alya says. "1) Become the best ballerina in the universe. 2) Put Chloé in her place. Fight her. Either with incredible dancing or actual fists. 3) Win over Adrien Agreste."

Marinette shakes her head. "No way. None of that's going to happen, don't even joke about it."

Alya glares. "If you dream it, you can do it. And I'm not joking. This summer is for you to kick butt and get the guy."

"Can we aim for just…talking to said guy before actually getting him?" Marinette asks.

Alya smiles. "There's my girl. Now I promise to text you later, but I've got a shift at the bakery in ten minutes, so I have to go."

Marinette glances at the time. "Good timing, my roommates should be back in a few minutes."

"Ooh, you didn't mention roommates." Alya links her fingers and rests her chin on them. "Tell me everything."

Marinette rolls her eyes. "Don't you have work?"

"Names, just the names," Alya pleads. "Let me stalk them on the internet."

Marinette groans. "Okay fine. I've got three roommates, Aurore Beauréal, who…seems nice enough. We haven't really talked. And… ChloéandherfriendSabrina." She watches Alya with large eyes.

Alya narrows her eyes. "Say that last part again? Slower?"

Marinette sighs. "Chloé and her friend Sabrina are my other roommates."

Alya scowls. "Really?!"

Marinette runs a hand through her hair. "Don't you have to get to the bakery? I know my parents like you but they also like you to be on time for work."

"Watch your back, Mari," Alya warns. "And your stuff. Like, lock it up or something. I know nothing about this girl, and I know I don't want her in the room with you. She's going to try to smother you in your sleep or something, I can feel it."

"She wouldn't," Marinette insists. "Now get to work!"

Alya huffs. "Fine. Be careful, please."

"I will be. It's a ballet camp, not Hogwarts or something. There's no basilisk in the pipes or evil teacher trying to kill me. It's just some girl who doesn't like me."

"Do you want me to run through all the times Draco caused problems for Harry? Because I can and will."

Marinette smiles. "Goodbye, Alya. Have fun at work," she says, hanging up the call. She dries off her feet and dumps out the water, putting the bucket away as the door unlocks.

Aurore, who Chloé had dragged along shopping to 'test her' as she had said to Sabrina before they left, collapses face down on her bed. Chloé enters next, tossing her shoes in Sabrina's general direction and announcing that she'll be using the bathroom for the time being. Sabrina stumbles in with her arms full of bags and boxes, catching Chloé's thrown shoes in one of the bags on her arm.

"Here, let me help," Marinette says, grabbing the top few boxes.

Sabrina gives her a thankful smile and carries them to the closet. They stack up the boxes and bags and close the door before the tower can fall over.

Marinette's whole being aches. She isn't used to this much ballet. This much dance, yes, but not ballet specifically, and not this much technique. She misses her jazz and contemporary classes. Oh, what she wouldn't give for musical theater. Or even tap. You either love or hate tap and Marinette has always leaned towards the latter. But to be able to buffalo turn and pull back her way across a floor instead of doing countless assemblés...

She plugs her headphones into her phone and plays a dance mix Alya made her. Not ballet music, not any specific dance music, just music you can dance to. She sits down on her bed with her sketchbook and doodles costume ideas as she nods her head to the beat.

Her mind wanders to the showcase they'll be doing at the end of the summer. One of the best parts of this program specifically is the showcase. It makes this program unique and special and a better opportunity than most. There'll be industry people there and talent scouts and people from ballet companies. They'll do group dances and selective solos and a few partner dances. And this is it, this is Marinette's chance to start getting noticed. Her first real chance to get into the dance world.

She hums along to her music as she draws the swoop of a skirt. Alya's right. This is her dream, and she's going to prove to Chloé that she belongs here.