Chapters 1 and 2 are rewritten - really, I just added more. The later days of the week filled up with story and I felt like Monday and Tuesday got short shrift. I wanted more of Alya, Nino, and Tikki in this story, too!
"All right, class, time to focus!" Miss Bustier called out and clapped her hands. Marinette's blue bell eyes snapped back from the rain drops gliding down the window panes as she gave her favorite teacher her full attention. "We'll be finishing up our section on French poetry this week, with a presentation due next Monday. You'll each be assigned a partner and a poem."
Several hands shot up and a clamor started among the students, "I want Juleka!" "Put me with Kim!" "Can I partner with Max?"
Miss Bustier raised her hands for silence. "I already drew random partners."
A disappointed, "Awww…" was heard from several voices.
"I want you to prepare two interpretations of your assigned poem, and then present them in a debate style together. These handouts will give you further instructions. All right, first pair: Mylene and Nino." Mylene smiled as Nino turned and gave her a thumbs-up. "Second pair: Alya and Chloe."
"WHAT?" Alya screeched, but Marinette grabbed her best friend's arm before she could jump out of her seat.
"Alya!" she whispered, pulling the reluctant girl back down to the bench. "It's not worth getting in trouble over. You know Sabrina's going to do her work anyway." The auburn-haired aspiring journalist acknowledged that fact with a nod, but her brow remained creased with a frown. Chloe looked daggers at the pair over her shoulder.
"I cannot believe this is happening to me," Alya whispered through gritted teeth. She muttered to herself, folding her arms over her chest and slouching down petulantly in her seat as Miss Bustier continued.
"Third pair: Alix and Sabrina." Alix shrugged when Sabrina looked nervously in her direction. "Fourth pair: Ivan and Nathaniel."
"Dude, sounds good," Ivan confirmed.
"You're already a poet - or at least a lyricist," Nathaniel agreed.
"Fifth pair: Juleka and Max."
"Juleka, give me your schedule for the week after class, and we'll plan it out," Max whispered to the violet-haired girl, who nodded agreement.
"Sixth pair: Marinette and Adrien."
Marinette's ears turned red the moment Ms. Bustier's words hit them. Adrien turned and smiled up at her. She felt her goofiest grin pasted uncontrollably across her face. Chloe's tight frown seemed to make her mouth disappear, and she sat hunched with her arms crossed. "Hmph!" was all she managed in front of Miss Bustier. Alya punched Marinette in the arm and Marinette schooled her features back to neutral as their teacher continued.
"And last but not least: Rose and Kim." Kim reached out to fist bump little Rose, who lifted her tiny fist with a giggle and bumped back.
"Here are your handouts. Use the techniques we've been learning for poetry appreciation and analysis. I don't have to remind you: read your poems more than once, over a few days - you have a whole week, after all. Let the beauty of your poem sink in and really try to put yourself in the poet's place."
Chloe raised her hand as the bell rang and the other students gathered their bags to leave, "Miss Bustier, I don't think I should be forced to work with someone who is openly hostile and antagonistic toward me."
"Me… hostile toward you?!" Alya spluttered, coming forward from her seat with Marinette at her side. The two enemies stood in front of the red-haired teacher's desk, glaring at each other. "May I remind you of the time you got me suspended-"
"Ladies," Miss Bustier interjected, "my decision is final. This report is to be presented as a debate, after all. It's fine if it's a little spirited. Alya, I know you can do this." Alya met her teacher's kind gaze, then nodded, her defiance melting away. "Chloe, you aren't always going to work with people you like. It's a fact of life. Use this opportunity to practice… diplomacy and grace under pressure. As the mayor's daughter, I'm sure you have plenty of experience with that." Chloe preened under Miss Bustier's praise. Marinette was astonished at her clever teacher's own diplomatic ability. She suppressed a smile as they let Chloe saunter out ahead of them, Sabrina trailing along after her.
"Ugh," Alya groaned, sliding onto a bench outside the classroom. "Best of all worlds would be if Chloe doesn't even show up to work with me and Sabrina."
"Seems fairly likely, in my experience," Marinette agreed. She sighed. "What am I going to do, Alya?! I can't believe I'm paired with Adrien of all people!"
"Uh-uh, girl, for once I can't spare you any sympathy. Major pity party right here. Besides, remember how well you two got along when your uncle was in town? You can at least talk to him now, right? And this project is clearly going to take all of us some extra time out of class. Are you telling me you're not excited about a few study dates with Mr. Hottie?" Alya threw a conspiratorial arm around her best friend and gave her a hug.
"No, you're right. I am excited! French poetry isn't my best subject, though."
"The poems are short. This project shouldn't be too hard. Just pace yourself, like Miss Bustier said." Alya gave her arm an affectionate shake. Marinette nodded.
"Hey, Marinette, do you have a minute?" Marinette whipped her head up suddenly at Adrien's familiar voice.
"Me? Yeah, sure! What's up?"
"I have to talk to you about this project," Adrien sighed and the girls scooted down to give him room on the bench. He joined them and set his satchel to one side. "I'm really busy this week. My dad has a bunch of stuff going on with some photo shoots, plus fencing and my other lessons… I don't know when I can meet up with you." He ran his hand through his hair and let it drop to one leg in frustration.
"Oh. I understand. I guess I can work on both sides by myself-"
"No, no, no, that's not what I mean. I wouldn't let you do the report by yourself. I just can't meet until Saturday morning. Are you free then? Can we make that work? I promise I'll do some reading and research on my own during the week so I'm prepared." Adrien's green eyes held concern as he looked at Marinette. She smiled reassuringly.
"Adrien, don't worry. It's cool. We can work separately until Saturday, then put it all together. Let's say nine o'clock, here at the school library. Hey, before you go, though?" Adrien reached for his bag, but put it back down and gave her his attention. "Am I supposed to choose one of these interpretations that Miss Bustier put in our handout, or do we prepare both sides together?"
Adrien looked closely at his handout and reflected a moment. "Hmm. She doesn't really say. I think we'd be better off as a team, don't you? She said a debate-style presentation, but here at the end, she tells us to try to find a reconciliation or synthesis of the two opinions on the poem's meaning. That would be easier if we understand both sides, right?"
Marinette nodded. "Okay then, sounds fine to me. Fair warning, I'm not great at this poetry stuff."
"Ha, don't worry, nobody is," he grinned, then waved goodbye and strode away, slinging his bag over one shoulder.
"I'm going to knock this out early, then have tons of time to polish what I've written before I meet Adrien on Saturday," declared Marinette, one fist clenched as she and Alya walked through the front doors of the school.
"That's the spirit!" Alya agreed cheerfully. She'd mostly recovered from the disappointment of being partnered with Chloe. The two girls quickened their pace as a few drops of rain ghosted through the air to land on their heads and arms. The bell over the door jingled as they entered the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie and Marinette's parents looked up with welcoming smiles.
"How was school, Sweetie?" asked Marinette's father from behind the day-old display case, where he was arranging leftover breakfast items.
"Fine, Papa! How are things here?" Marinette stood on tiptoe to give her tall father a kiss. As the two girls passed through the narrow space between the pastry cases to the back of the bakery, Marinette gave her mother a peck on the cheek.
"A good day," Sabine Cheng confirmed. "Ah, Marinette, don't forget it's spring cleaning week. I left a list of chores for you on the kitchen counter."
Marinette's lips came down in a pout. "But Maman, Alya and I have some stuff we were going to work on! Can it wait?"
"Finish the list before bedtime. Between then and now, you can arrange your time how you like." Her mother answered with a smile, but Marinette could hear the steel in her voice. Marinette had a sudden idea.
"But… I have a report to work on," she said in a small voice, exaggerating the pout and looking up at her mother through thick eyelashes. At Sabine's expression, she knew it was a lost cause. She'd learned this look from her mother, after all.
"Finish the list before bedtime," replied her mother firmly. Marinette nodded and the girls left the bakery to walk up the back staircase. Her head bowed, Marinette missed the amused expression on her father's face.
"Thanks for handling that one, Honey," he said to his wife. "God knows, she's so much like you I can't say no to anything. Especially when she puts on her Sabine face." He crossed the bakery floor to sweep his tiny wife into his arms and she giggled, bringing a hand to her mouth.
"You give me too much credit. That look has passed through my family in an unbroken line for at least four generations. I used to try it on my mom, too." Sabine reached up and curled a finger in Tom's mustache, causing him to quirk an eyebrow down at her. "Now, there's an irresistible look," she chuckled and he leaned in to kiss her. They pulled back at the sound of tiny feet stamping down the stairs. The back door of the bakery swung open.
"Looking for snacks, dear?" Tom asked, never taking his eyes away from Sabine.
"Ye-es," Marinette responded, eyeing her parents. "Shouldn't you two be working?" Tom grinned down at his wife and gave her one more loud smack on the lips, then released her back to the spot behind the cash register.
"Your commentary is not required, little one," he admonished as he lifted out several cookies and sweet items with tongs and set them in a paper box. He handed the bundle to his daughter with a bow and a flourish, making his two favorite ladies giggle.
"Oookay, Papa. Thanks." Marinette took off for her room again and didn't stop until she reached her balcony. She found Alya lounging in her chair, checking something on her phone. "Ummm… Alya?" Marinette pointed up at the sky as she looked at her friend.
"Hmmm?" Alya tried to tear her eyes away from her screen, but didn't quite make it.
"Do you like your phone?" Marinette asked. The cryptic remark got her best friend's attention.
"'Cause it's about to get drenched. Come inside," Marinette smiled at Alya's sheepish grin as she followed her back down into her room. Marinette secured the skylight just as the first real drops of rain began to patter down on the roof. The two friends settled comfortably on Marinette's bed, enjoying the pretty show of water splashing on the skylight with the box of treats between them.
Marinette leaned forward, excited to rehash the school day with her bestie. "So, did you see Juleka's new-" she was interrupted by a loud buzz from Alya's phone. Alya grabbed it immediately, unable to stop herself, and looked down at the notification, the light from the screen reflecting off of her glasses. Marinette sighed. She was used to being phubbed by Alya, but usually her friend could manage to wait until Marinette finished her sentence. Alya gasped and Marinette's irritation was immediately forgotten as the other girl turned the screen outward.
"Mari-nette! Look what came up in my news-feed!" she sing-songed and bounced up and down on the comforter. Marinette grabbed her hand to try and steady the phone.
"Gabriel Agreste Releases Summer Season Sketchbook?!" she shrieked as she read the headline. "We have to check this out!" The pair dove down Marinette's ladder to her computer desk and pulled up the Agreste brand website on her favorites list. In moments, they were flipping through a gorgeous gallery of images and sketches, annotated in a handwriting-style font with further ideas and fabric suggestions. There were designs for men, women, boys and girls. She could see that the drawings of the young men strongly resembled Adrien. "They're so beautiful," she said in wonder. Alya chuckled and placed her hands on her best friend's shoulders.
"Girl, you're hilarious. Everything Gabriel Agreste designs is the best thing ever, to you. You want to walk over and congratulate him?" She laughed some more as Marinette turned toward her, the color draining from her face. "I'm kidding! I'm kidding."
"Of course you are," Marinette said with a small laugh. "Duh," she told herself under her breath. Not that Gabriel Agreste would ever value the opinion of a high-school fan that idolized him. Now that she knew his son a little, she'd thought that maybe their spheres might be a bit less distant, but his absence from anything to do with Adrien's school actually made Mr. Agreste seem more unreachable.
Alya stood on the fourth stair and rummaged around Marinette's loft until she retrieved the box of cookies, bringing it down to rest on the computer desk. Marinette rolled to the side to allow Alya to bring the chaise around so they could flip through the designs as they munched. Alya only half-watched the screen, her grin growing wider and wider as Marinette grew more engrossed.
"You've got that look in your eye. Inspiration's hitting, isn't it?" she asked, snatching another cookie and crunching down on it.
"Yeah," breathed Marinette. She reached for her design sketch pad and a stray pencil and pressed the graphite into a fresh sheet of paper with neat strokes. She glanced up at the screen and flipped back a couple of pages to a tailored mens' shirt that had caught her eye.
Alya shook her head with a chuckle. "I've lost you. We'll hang out tomorrow, Marinette." She stood and stretched, her plaid shirt lifting away from her torso. "I'm tired anyway. Hey, girl," when Marinette didn't respond, she leaned over and shook her friend on the shoulder.
"Oh! Sorry, what did you say? Are you leaving already?" Marinette blinked up at the bespectacled girl standing over her and straightened up in her seat. "I'm sorry, Alya, stay - I can do this later." Alya waved her hands at the bluenette.
"No, don't put your paper away. It's fine, girl! I just wanted to remind you - don't forget you have chores to do downstairs."
"Ooh, thank you. I'd forgotten already." Marinette stood and gave her friend a hug, then opened the trapdoor for her and waved her out. Dropping the small, square door back into place, she reseated herself at the computer and continued drawing until dinner time, her report and handout completely forgotten.
After dinner, Marinette picked up her list of chores and sighed. Her mother kept a clean house, so there wasn't all that much to do, but Marinette was already regretting her inclination to let her imagination run wild for the last few hours. 1) Wash the curtains. She sighed again and dragged a kitchen chair to the windows, then stood on it to reach up to the curtain rod.
"Let me help you with that," Tom offered, pausing his video game and standing up from the couch.
"Thanks, Papa," she responded as the first rod came down easily in his strong grip. She shucked the curtains off, balling them up as he brought down the remaining rods for her. Glancing out the window, it felt a little odd and exposing to have their curtains down in the evening, but Marinette hadn't yet changed into pajamas or anything, so she supposed it was no problem if someone saw in from the dark streets outside. "How come you don't have any chores to do?"
"I did!" he responded in mock defense. "I just did them all before dinner." He helped her stack the curtain rods to one side, then sat back down in the comfortable living room. Marinette carried the light bundle to the small washing machine tucked away in the flat's laundry cabinet. The curtains weren't heavy, but they were bulky. She divided the pile into two loads and got the first one started. Okay, next chore. 2) Remove expired items from the fridge - recycle the containers! Hmmm, that should be easy. Marinette yanked open the fridge, and sure enough, the door was full of glass and plastic jars, some of which hadn't moved in ages. She lifted each one to check sell-by dates and expirations and placed the rejects on the kitchen counter. She squeezed or spooned out the contents of the jars, then washed them in the sink.
"Oh, thank you, dear!" her mother said as she breezed past and dropped a kiss on her teen's head. "I never have time to wash the old jars out, but I hate to toss them when they could be recycled."
"No problem, Maman," replied Marinette, rinsing the last of the suds from her waterlogged fingers and holding up a sparkling clean jelly jar. She loaded the clean jars into the recycle bin, except for one that was perfect for holding her errant button collection. Just then, she heard the clothes washer end its cycle, so she moved her curtain load to the dryer and started the second one.
Last chore. 3) Sweep and mop the stairs. Marinette looked at the list in dismay. Her mom had definitely left the worst for last! She didn't mind the sweeping so much, but mopping stairs was a serious pain. She never could decide whether starting at the bottom or the top was worse. "Maman, really?" she griped under her breath, but she knew it was no use taking it up with the authority. She'd waste time arguing and still have to do it.
Marinette grabbed the broom and dustpan from their tiny closet and got to work at the top of the stairs, draping her black jacket over the banister gently. She blasted old dirt and particles down ahead of her as fast as she could, reasoning that if she cut her sweeping time in half, the whole chore might not seem as bad. She was right, she thought as her breathing and heart rate increased and a few endorphins worked their way through her system.
Noting their relative isolation on the staircase, TIkki finally poked her head out of Marinette's jacket where she'd been hiding since dinner. She floated down to nestle in the spot between her chosen's left pigtail and her neck.
"Hi, Tikki. This is the last chore." Marinette said between puffs of heavy breath. "I wish Miraculous Ladybug worked on dirty old staircases!" Marinette punctuated her sentence with quick thrusts of the broom.
"Maybe if you think of it as character building, it won't seem so bad," Tikki mused. Marinette almost thought the kwami might be mocking her, but she decided she didn't actually want to know, so she said nothing. "Well," Tikki continued, "I'm here to keep you company at least. Do you want to talk about anything?"
"Ooh, did you see those new designs earlier? I didn't know if you were watching while Alya was in the room." Marinette reached the bottom of the stairs and looked at the dustpan, then shrugged and opened the backdoor to sweep her pile of dirt outside. There hadn't been any trash on the stairs, after all. She sent the dirt across the sidewalk into the gutter. Finished with part the first! On to mopping.
"Yes, I saw them. You were really inspired, I could tell! I love having such a creative thinker for my chosen." Marinette stopped at the unexpected compliment and reached up to pull Tikki from her neck.
"Thank you, Tikki. I love having you with me, as well!" she gave her kwami a kiss on the head, touched by her regard. She replaced the broom and dustpan and relieved the tiny closet of the mop and bucket. "This part is the worst," she grumbled to Tikki, grateful that the little kwami didn't chide her for being bratty. She elected to try going up the stairs this time, so that no water could slosh back down over her feet. Plus, it would put her nearer her room, so she wouldn't be stuck downstairs waiting for the mop water to dry.
Tikki stayed out of sight in the stairwell while Marinette filled the mop pail in the kitchen sink. With a bucket of fresh soapy suds, she bent to the work, imagining herself as Ladybug and this chore just one more akuma in her way. In less than half an hour, the staircase sparkled, and a sweaty, tired Marinette swiped her hand across her brow at the top of the bakery's staircase.
"Way to go, Marinette!" Tikki cheered, bobbing up and down happily.
"Glad that's over with," Marinette agreed, panting slightly with the effort. Giggling, she leaned over the banister and lifted her leg, straddling the narrow rail. "Going down!" she laughed, coming back to the second floor. The landing was already dry. She pushed her torso up and off the rail and hopped neatly onto the floor. "All done, Maman! I just need to wait for the stairs to dry and I'll dump the mop water."
"I appreciate it, dear. Your dryer load buzzed, so I put the rest of the curtains in and ran it for you."
"Thank you!" Marinette gathered up the first dry bundle and her father helped her set the curtains back up. Sabine followed them into the living room and curled into Tom's side.
"Now, doesn't that look nice," she complimented, obviously pleased about her tidy home. Marinette smiled. She had the best - and cutest - mom and dad in all of Paris. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she grabbed it, startled. Her eyebrows climbed into her hair as she looked at the screen, her parents watching curiously.
"Um, Alya sent me something. She... wants me to watch it on a bigger screen. I'll come back down when the dryer load is done!" Marinette skedaddled up the stairs to her room, Tikki tucked close to her side.
"What is it, Marinette?" asked Tikki when the trap door was firmly shut.
"Akuma attack. We need to head over to Le Grand Paris and see what the fuss is all about. Tikki, spots on!" With that, Ladybug scaled her loft and leapt out of her room to stand below threatening thunderclouds. Rain hissed down intermittently as she swung out into the wet, cool air to save Paris once again.
Monday evening found Ladybug and Chat Noir perched on a damp rooftop, watching as another of Hawkmoth's victims shook off the last of their akuma-induced confusion and headed back home.
"When will Hawkmoth ever give up?" Ladybug asked, more to herself than her cat-suited companion.
"Who knows?" Chat Noir answered. He shook his head and a fine spray of rainwater pelted Ladybug's arm.
"Thanks for that, Chat Noir. Should I get you a towel?" she squinted up at the gray clouds that had been covering Paris for a week.
"No need," Chat Noir replied, flicking away droplets from his arm. "This kitty's waterproof. I'll be fine."
Ladybug sighed. "This rain is just… unrelenting. If it keeps up, the Seine is going to overflow its banks."
"I don't know, I think it's kind of romantic. Fighting crime in the rain, two people alone against the world… "
"Not exactly the world. Just Hawkmoth."
"What made you think of the Seine?"
"Oh, nothing. Something I was reading."
"Well, you make a good point. We should be ready - remember last summer, when the river flooded the Louvre and they had to move all the paintings? It might be good to be on hand to help."
"Ah, so you appreciate fine art, huh?"
"I appreciate all kinds of things, not the least of which is ladybugs," he said, leaning in close to Ladybug's shoulder.
"How about you appreciate my space?" she replied, pressing a playful finger to his nose and leaning away. Her miraculous beeped at that moment. "Time's up, Chat. Catch you next time. Bug out!" she let loose her yo-yo and swung away from the rooftop into the dull, gray evening twilight.