Disclaimer: I do not own miraculous ladybug or any of the characters. In this AU, Marinette's mother is gravely ill, and she does not have the ladybug miraculous. Both she and Adrian are 18, and in their last year of high school. Everything else you'll just have to find out as the story goes on :) First fanfiction. Comments and critiques welcome.

Countless things have been said about nighttime in Paris. Romantic. Even alone on her balcony Marinette feels something wistful in the air. A certain romance from the moon, perhaps, or the thousands of shimmering lights signaling the movement and activity of people bustling around the city. Busy. That's another valid one, she ponders, leaning against the railing. Though tonight the busyness only serves to make her own corner of the night cozy by comparison.

She languidly registers the passing sound of police sirens in the distance. Dangerous. The word comes to mind uninvited, unwelcome. That can't be right, she thinks. At least up here. Nothing can bother me up here. Late at night, in solitude, it's her little escape. Too little, she thinks wearily. Maybe nighttime is dangerous because you want too much of it. Unbidden, the phrases, "Burning the candle at both ends" and "Burning the midnight oil" make rounds through her head. No, not burning. She frowns slightly. This time is restorative. Soothing. Time to simply think and be. Though as much as she tries, it never fully prepares her for another day. But, to be fair, she reasoned with herself, how could anything prepare you for another day of watching your mom inch closer to death? She winces and scolds herself mentally. I must be tired. Daytime Marinette would have never said the forbidden word. Er, rather, thought it. Still. Shouldn't think about it. No more death. Darn! Thought it again. She closes her eyes and tries to clear her head.

Her reverie is broken by a fluttery, sweeping noise traversing her balcony. She blinks. Did another bird fly into her window? She hopes not. She doesn't have enough time, or empty shoeboxes, for another bird funeral. She turns around to investigate, seeing a patch of red shifting erratically on the corner floor of her balcony. She takes a few steps forward gingerly. Oh, she sighs. Her pose relaxes. It's just another piece of litter getting tossed around in the wind. Looks a bit thicker than the standard fare of fliers and plastic bags, though. Curious, she bends over and picks it up. Her fingers slide over the glossy, blood red pamphlet. On the cover in bold script it reads:

If there are answers, will you discover them?

If you have wishes, will you chase them?

If you have potential, will you find it within yourself?

Cultivate power beyond imagining.

Manifest your will.

On our own, we are blind.

Enlightened, empowered, we become Miraculous.

Brought to you by The Creators of the Miraculous

Bewildered, she tries to put together of what she's seeing. If this is an advertisement, it doesn't make any sense. There isn't even any contact information here. No real information at all, really. Just…she trails off. There's a promise. A whisper of something. She gets goosebumps beneath her pajamas, suddenly cold from the wind. She hugs herself slightly. On the back, details of a seminar hosted at an address she doesn't recognize dated last week. Silly Mari, she chides herself. It's just a scam. Some conman talking big trying to swindle desperate people out of money. Even so, her mind takes to picturing it. Having knowledge, control, power. When she was younger she may have wanted those things for the sake of it. But now…she closes her eyes again.

She allows herself to slip into familiar fantasies. She's at her mother's bedside, not sad this time because she's done it! The cure is in her hand, a glowing pink vial. Who knew she would've been the one to discover it. Under her nose the whole time, a recipe in an old, forgotten family journal…or…she's kneeling in a cathedral. Surrounded by the smell of candles and the low hum of hymns. She is praying, then begging. She makes a deal. Anything, anything for her mother. She comes home distraught, and as she kisses her mother's forehead for the last time. A single tear rolls from her cheek onto her mother's closed eyelids. But, they open! Sabine jumps out of bed and they hug, singing praises and hallelujahs. Or—her favorite one—she's special. Magical, even. She finds out one day soon, it doesn't matter how. She saves her family. All families. A hero! Singlehandedly she heals her mother and all of Paris. With her thoughts. With a spell. With anything-

Marinette shakes her head as if trying to dislodge the childish thoughts. She's had similar hopes before. It can only end in more disappointment. Her gaze unconsciously shifts in the direction of the bakery as she recalls the early days of her mother's illness.

In the beginning it had been a challenge. A mountain to summit. Her family would pull together and conquer this sickness no matter the odds. Ever the optimist, Marinette had believed with all her heart the situation would be temporary. Fixable. Such was her attitude when her mom's uncle arrived from China.

Wang Cheng was to assist in cooking meals and keeping the bedridden Sabine company while her husband ran the bakery and her daughter attended high school. However, Wang aspired to much more. He hoped to succeed where Western medicine had failed. He would heal his niece with his knowledge of Zhōngyī, traditional Chinese medicine. A few days after his arrival he shared his ambitions with Tom and Marinette. Tom had his reservations, but would ultimately respect his wife's wishes in regards to treatment. In contrast, the blunette latched onto his ideas with fervor. She began doing anything she could to help-spending evenings mixing herbal decoctions, sneaking away from school lunch to pick up dried seahorse or ginseng root from the market, even reading books about qi and acupuncture in class.

Marinette grit her teeth against the memories as they bubbled up.

"So..." Alya drawled as she peered over her best friend's shoulder. "You're into reading now. Do tell! What could be more interesting than hearing Ms. Mendeleiev third lecture on thermodynamics?"

"Oh. That's-" Marinette paused and stumbled a bit to explain her sudden interest in a rather obscure subject. "It's actually...you see my great-uncle is visiting. From China. For...a visit. He's been tutoring me in local folk medicines."

"Huh. Good for you, girl. Getting in touch with your roots." Alya looked at her with slightly appraising eyes and then took on a conspiratorial tone: "But, word to the wise, you should quit reading during lecture before Ms. Mendeleiev gives you detention."

"Oh!" Marinette straightened and giggled nervously as she took note of the teacher's accusatory stare in her direction. She snapped her book shut and hid it away just as the bell began to ring. "Well, I've got to go. Bakery business. It's, uh, urgent." Alya watched her hurriedly pack her things and rush to the doorway. "Goodbye, Alya. Bye Nino." She blushed slightly and nodded towards them. "You-you too Adrien. Have a good bye. I mean a good day. I mean-"

"We get it girl," Alya smiled knowingly at her friend. "Good luck with that urgent bakery business. See ya!"

Marinette darted out of the classroom. She clutched her backpack against her chest and sped out of the school, sickened by herself and unable to face her classmates. She had never been a good liar. She had never wanted to be. But now she was lying to her best friend. It wasn't really lying, she reasoned. She was only withholding something. She didn't want her friends to know about her mother's sickness because it's only temporary. She didn't want to make a big deal out of it. Didn't want to become the object of people's pity. And deep down, didn't want to acknowledge the graveness of the illness by sharing the details with others. So, Marinette left her friends in the dark. She didn't imagine she'd have to keep up the act for long. Just until her mom got better. Won't be long now, she thought to herself, and it'll be like none of this ever happened. The thought comforted her. But it didn't stop the feeling of guilt from pooling in her stomach.

She took deep, calming breaths as she walked home. By the time she crossed through the bakery doors she had started to feel like herself again. This sense of normality lasted for all of five minutes before she saw packed suitcases resting against the wall next to the counter. Next to them, a very tired looking man.

"Uncle Wang, what is this? What's happening?" Marinette questioned, tone still light. Maybe the bags were someone else's. A customer's, perhaps. But his eyes said it all.

"Marinette...I failed. All my methods all my treatments-nothing. Worse than nothing. Sabine-" he started, looking down at his shoes, "She's getting worse." He eventually turned his gaze up to the young woman's face, taking in her shell-shocked expression. "There's nothing more I can do. Maybe nothing more anyone can do. I'm leaving."

There were a thousand things Marinette wish she had said in that instant. How could you give up so quickly? How could you leave us in our time of need? Are you so ashamed of your own inability you'd abandon your family? But instead she silently watched as he somberly collected his things and walked out. Her feet were glued to the floor as she numbly stared at the now empty doorway. One month. One measly month was all he could give before running away. She shook her head, aghast. There would be no running away for her. This was her life now. Her mother... wasn't getting better. The reality of it struck her hard, bringing her to her knees as sobs began to escape her. There's nothing more I can do. Maybe nothing more anyone can do. His words echoed in her mind. She could feel all her hope slipping from her, as tangible as her tears as they flooded down her face.

Marinette wasn't sure how long she had spent in that state, but her eyes were swollen and her legs nearly asleep when she heard the door chime, alerting a new presence in the bakery. It was her father that walked in. Tom's face was etched with grief, even so he didn't hesitate to rush over to console her. He put a large hand on her shoulder and helped her up, pulling her into a hug.

"Where's mom?" Marinette pulled away and questioned timidly, afraid of the answers. "How is she?"

"The hospital," Tom replied, and rushed to finish the thought at his daughter's worried gasp, "And she's fine. Relatively speaking, of course. There was a flare up of her symptoms. The doctors are monitoring her just to be safe. She'll be back soon."

She's okay. Thank God. And back soon. But will we be ready for her return? Marinette reflected in silence. It was just the two of them now. She still had a year before graduating and her dad still had the bakery.

"Dad…what are we going to do?"

"What we must, sweetie. Whatever we have to, we'll do."

The next couple months they did just that, making necessary sacrifices to give Sabine the care she needed. Tom spent all his time either working or being her nurse. Marinette still went to school—her parents insisted that she finish no matter what—but her free time was quickly taken over by hours in the bakery and household duties. In the end she had no time left over for herself. Or her friends. Lying to them and ignoring them, I'm an awful friend, she admonished herself. She still spent time with Alya at school, but the redhead was quick to pick up on her shoddily explained change in behavior and priorities. Even so, the bluenette refused to risk injuring her best friend further by revealing her deception. A problem for later, she had sighed.

The memories fade, leaving her even more drained than before. Her balcony feels less of an escape now. No longer does she have any desire to just think and be. She walks inside and collapses into her bed, finally letting sleep take her.

The next morning Marinette woke feeling refreshed. Her attitude borderline giddy as she walks to school. A passerby might think she just got good news, or mistake her for a morning person. Nothing like that, she smiled. Alya would laugh herself to tears if anyone called her friend of all people a "morning person". No, Marinette's dreamy demeanor is only caused by one thing, rather, a person: Adrien Agreste. Or in this case, a dream about him. She can't recall much about the contents of the dream, only feelings. Wonderful feelings. Him, and her. Close. Physically and emotionally. She saw her own affections reflected in his eyes as they sat together in a field of swaying grass. The young woman may as well have been floating to school on a cartoon cloud of hearts. Unfortunately, despite how she feels she is not in fact floating, and her feet catch, tripping her on the threshold of the door into the school. She lands with a "oof" and quickly picks herself up, looking around to see if anyone saw her. If he saw her. She blushes in embarrassment, dusting herself off and stepping out of the entryway. She meets the eyes of Alya, standing adjacent to their lockers. Marinette grins sheepishly and walks, carefully, towards her friend.

"For your sake, I'll pretend I didn't see that," Alya greets, smirking, one hand on her hip. "And lucky for you, Adrien and Chloe didn't see it either. Neither's here yet. But before we forget about the whole thing—you're here early?! And acting like a space cadet?" The redhead raises her eyebrows, still smiling. "C'mon, dish, girl!" she urges emphatically.

Marinette giggles a bit at her own expense, holding her hands together behind her back. "Nothing's happened. Just…a dream is all. A good dream."

"Ahh. Now Mari, this wasn't any sort of…inappropriate dream, is it? About a certain blonde classmate?" Alya grins and strokes her chin mischievously.

"N-No! It wasn't—we just held hands! And—and talked!"

Alya laughed and explains, "I believe you. I'm just teasing. We can stop talking about it if you want." She notes her friend's blushing face nodding vigorously in response. "Haha, alright. If you say so. But while we're still talking dreams…" Alya pauses for a moment, suddenly animated with passion. "Girl, I did it! I found the story that's going to take me to the top and gotten an 'in'! No other journalist has even scratched the surface yet, it's perfect!" The other girl quickly caught the redhead's contagious excitement and brought Alya in for a hug.

"That's awesome, Alya. I'm so proud! What is it? What's the story?"

"A cult," Alya whispers excitedly, "The Cult of the Miraculous. They call themselves 'Creators' or something but it doesn't matter." Marinette's happy expression freezes. "They're new in Paris, maybe new to everywhere, but the founder wields crazy influence. Thing is, no one knows anything about it. Nothing except the phooey they spout at their occasional open seminars. No one even knows where their headquarters is, besides their members," Alya grins energetically, voice turning confident even while hushed. "Except me!" Marinette's eyes broaden as she takes in all the information. The pamphlet from last night…written by a cult? A secretive cult. With an influential leader. She gulps. What has Alya gotten herself into?

"Isn't that dangerous? And how did you even find this place if it's so secret? Oh…don't tell me, please, you didn't…did you stalk someone again?!" She looks to her friend, who's biting her lip and now holding her hands in the air in a faux surrender.

"Only a little. All good scoops are a bit dangerous. It's not stalking, it's researching. And a little bit of 'coincidental' following." Alya winks. "It's nothing you haven't done to Adrien."

Flustered, Marinette hurriedly considers which terrible thing to address first, and eventually asks, exasperated, "So what's your plan? You're just going to waltz into their secret lair, uninvited, and ask nicely for answers?"

"I'm glad you asked. I happen to have an a-maz-ing plan. Trust me, girl, I've done my homework about these people. They get new members by 'scouting' them at those public seminars I mentioned. It happens rarely, from what I've heard, but I managed to catch them in the act. After their boring seminar got over with, they pulled some guy from the audience. Him and a rep from the organization spent over an hour in a blocked off room talking about who knows what. Then, finally, I saw them leave in a car with tinted windows. I trailed them. It took hours, they were obviously trying to throw people off their scent. But I was just too good," she brags slightly, blatantly proud of her accomplishment. "They ended up at a night club, some place called—"

"Wait, all that to find a nightclub? What if they're just going out for drinks?"

"Listen, Mari. I know my stuff. The place was obviously a front. As I was saying," Alya looks pointedly at her, giving her a playful scowl, "The nightclub is called La Plume du Paon.* We go there, we find the least drunk person in attendance, and tell them we know everything. They respect ambition, cunning. Sniffing them out means I've given them proof of it. Not to mention, we have the edge. If we threaten to reveal their hidden base, they'll have no choice to let us in."

"Or they'll have no choice but to kill us! Wait…us?"

"You're coming with me, of course!" Alya smiles brightly, then pouts a bit, exclaiming, "We haven't hung out in forever. Honestly, when was the last time we saw each other outside of school?" Marinette looks away, left hand clutching her elbow. Noticing the guilt oozing from her companion, Alya began again a bit more gently. "This is the perfect opportunity to have a girl's night out. Even if we don't find the Creators of the Miraculous, we'll be in a nightclub. You've been looking a bit stressed lately. I'm concerned. This way we can unwind, let loose. Have an adventure together!" Marinette's expression is still unsure. Deciding to pull out the big guns, Alya drawls, "If you truly believe they're that dangerous…are you really going to let me go alone?"

Thoroughly cornered by Alya's argument, Marinette sighed, "Of course not. I'll go. Who else is going to keep you from doing something crazy? But that doesn't mean I'm happy about it."

"Yes! Oh, this is going to be so good. You won't regret it. I'll pick you up at 5. Wear something cute." The bell rings, alerting them to the beginning of classes. Over her shoulder, Alya reminds, "Don't forget: 5, tonight. Be ready!" Then she strides off towards her first class, leaving a dazed Marinette in her wake.

A/N: This story will occasionally deal with things such as spirituality, alternative medicine, western medicine, religion, cults (obviously :P), and other possibly sensitive topics. The reality portrayed in this AU is not meant to express my opinions or belittle anyone's beliefs. For the sake of the plot, the story assumes the only real mystical things are relating to Miraculouses. Also I know basically nothing about Chinese folk medicine so sorry if I butchered it!

*La Plume du Paon = The Peacock's Feather