It started with one photo and a tweet on a random teenager's social media account.
The picture was of Gabriel Agreste sitting on a park bench. He sat upright with perfectly pristine clothes and looked straight ahead, and this would be fine and normal, if it hadn't been for the fact that he was sitting not too far away from a teenage girl. The exotic looking young girl sat on the opposite end of the bench and also looked straight ahead. One could be almost convinced that they were two strangers who happened to share a bench if it hadn't been the obvious fact that Gabriel Agreste was pushing a file between the two of them.
And for the fact that the young girl was Lila Rossi.
Who Gabriel Agreste had recently declared to be his newest muse a few weeks back.
So there was something wrong about the picture that niggled at people which the random teenager captured perfectly in their tweet. Is it just me or is there something shady about this picture? #ShadyGabrielAgreste.
This might have been lost amongst the millions of different posts and tweets and other doings on the various social media sites if it hadn't been for the fact it happened again.
The second time round Lila Rossi was still sitting on a bench but there was a dark car parked behind her with the window rolled down to reveal Gabriel Agreste sitting in the back, looking straight ahead but clearly speaking from the corner of his mouth.
This is weird, right? The tweet read. #SuperWeird&ShadyGabrielAgreste.
It then happened again and again and again and again until it hastily snowballed into a complete conspiracy discussed on blogs and via the comments on each tweet and picture. It was, of course, immediately picked up on by Nadja Chamack.
Nadja was never one to ignore a scoop and instantly arranged an interview with one, Lila Rossi.
And Lila Rossi was never one to let an opportunity to be in the spotlight go.
All of Paris looked on in morbid horror as Lila Rossi gave a performance of a lifetime (though only the Agreste family and Marinette Dupain-Cheng thought so) as she tearfully confessed to Nadja's soft coaxing that yes, Gabriel Agreste had sexually harassed her into modelling for him.
She weaved an intricate tale of how Gabriel Agreste had noticed her when she was visiting his son at the Agreste Mansion (which was mostly true) and had invited her back to make a proposal for her to work for him (an actual genuine grain of truth though only Gabriel and Nathalie knew this). She insinuated that Gabriel threatened to prevent her from seeing her best friend Adrien if she didn't accept the job (Adrien wanted to throw up at the added details of their so called epic friendship that bordered onto blossoming romance. Plagg actually gagged throughout as he patted his kid's back comfortingly) and not wanting to lose her one true friend in Paris, she had agreed. Since then Gabriel Agreste had been hounding her and offering suspicious modelling gigs that included underwear shoots. Lila spoke of being scared of walking to school alone now because Gabriel Agreste might appear to pressure her into something she was too young, too innocent, and most certainly did not want to do.
(No one missed the sexual implications as Lila blew her nose noisily into her handkerchief. A shudder of revulsion rippled throughout the city.)
"He's just been very hard to say no to," Lila finished with the aplomb of an Oscar-winning actress, "if it wasn't for the amazing observation skills of the people of Paris I might have given in. I must thank you all for rescuing me from becoming a victim like those poor women under Harvey Weinstein!"
And just like that, the city exploded.
Citizens and reporters alike camped outside of the Agreste mansion screaming obscenities and questions alike as Gabriel ignored them both (much to his fury having the eyes of the city upon him made it so much more difficult to take advantage of the heightened emotions and Akumatise the population. It was this very moment Gabriel Agreste decided Lila Rossi was a dead weight that needed to be cut off.). The police stormed in to obtain that much needed arrest warrant and by the following afternoon Gabriel had been escorted into the police station for questioning.
The traumatic sight of his father being forced into the back seat of a police car while a trail of protesters, cameramen, and lawyers followed had been the last straw for Adrien.
He had put up a lot from Lila for the sake of upholding the peace and in return she had destroyed his father's reputation. Enough was enough and Adrien was not going to hide in his bedroom (which he had so far upon the orders of his father and Nathalie) any longer!
Adrien transformed into Chat Noir in order to sneak out of his bedroom and to reach the school unnoticed by the press (who undoubtedly would have chased him through the streets if they saw him as Adrien) and transformed back when he was safely hidden under the stairs in his school. He then marched up, slammed the door open, and instantly felt sick to see all of his classmates crowding round a tearful Lila Rossi.
Only Marinette and Chloe ignored Lila as she embellished her tragically untrue tale with new details such as Gabriel putting his hand on her thigh and massaging her shoulder while comparing her to his long lost wife (it took all of Adrien's restraint and etiquette lessons to not punch Lila in the face right there and then). The rest of his classmates all looked horrified and sympathetic as Alya rubbed soothing circles on Lila's back and Rose clutched Lila's free hand.
"How dare you?!" Adrien breathed out disgusted. "How dare you lie about something like that! My father gave you a job and this is how you repay him?!"
"Oh hell no!" Alya exploded as she shoved Lila behind her. "Don't you dare victim blame my girl, Adrien Agreste!"
The other girls – Sabrina, Rose, Juleka, Alix, and Mylene as Marinette remained sat at her desk with her head studiously bent over her sketchbook and Chloe perched on the teachers desk looking bored as she filed her nails – all stood by Alya forming a shield of human bodies between Adrien and Lila.
"Victim?!" Adrien spluttered indignantly. "Lila Rossi is many things but a victim is definitely not one of them!"
"Dude!" Nino cried out appalled.
His whole class looked equally disgusted as they muttered in disgruntlement amongst themselves or murmured comforting reassurances to Lila who gasped melodramatically and squeezed out a couple of her trademarked crocodile tears. Adrien suddenly felt so very alone in this wave of dislike being sent to him.
Nino, however, appeared to remember that he was actually Adrien's friend as his face softened a touch and he pushed past the girls to put a hand on Adrien's shoulder. "Look dude, maybe you should go home," Nino said kindly, "I know this is your dad and you don't want to think he would do anything bad but that doesn't make Lila a liar and you being here is rubbing salt in her wounds."
"She's lying Nino!" Adrien said pleadingly. "That's what she does. She's been lying this whole time, just ask Marinette."
"Dude," Nino looked pained, "just go home. Don't make this worse for yourself."
But Adrien was desperate. His father was the only family he had left and Lila was trying to destroy him. Did she not realise that this could lead to a prison sentence for his father and then where would Adrien go? London to his aunt? He barely knew her. He didn't know why his father and Lila were meeting up like this (a horrible sinking gut feeling told him it was to spy on him. His father wasn't a sexual predator but that didn't mean he wasn't a controlling parent) but he knew his father was innocent and this would be hurting him on so many levels.
"Marinette!" Adrien cried out. "Tell them that Lila is lying!"
For the first time Marinette looked up and Adrien instantly regretted it as he met her cool, passive, gaze. There was no sign of the compassionate girl he adored so much. "I don't see why it matters," Marinette said calmly, "after all lying doesn't hurt anyone."
Adrien swelled up indignantly at that.
How dare she say lying doesn't hurt anyone?! It was clearly hurting him! It was hurting his father! This would damaged their company which could lead to hundreds of redundancies and therefore hurt hundreds of different families. Who in their right mind would say that lying doesn't hurt -
Adrien's mouth slammed shut as he realised that Marinette was only parroting his own words back to him.
Was this how she felt all those months ago?
That her feelings didn't matter to anyone else as no one listened to her or comforted her or did anything to defend her.
He felt scummy.
The bell rang but Adrien barely heard it as he fought back the urge to vomit right there and then from the sheer self-disgust he felt. Had he been a better friend to Marinette when Lila first turned up would his father even be in this situation right now? His thoughts spiralled madly as he thought back to the day Marinette almost got expelled. He was so lucky that she was so much stronger than anyone else he knew or he could have been fighting an Akumatised version of his dearest friend instead of the fake Ladybug that day. As much as it hurt to think of the poor magically created Ladybug who could have had a real life, it was nothing compared to the despair of hitting Marinette.
Yet he could have prevented it all if he had just backed Marinette up when she needed it most against Lila.
He stood there horrified with himself as his whole class brushed past to leave the classroom. Only Marinette remained as her passive expression crumpled into the sympathetic pained expression he knew so well. Here he was feeling like crap as he realised what a shitty friend he had been and Marinette was feeling sorry for him and his situation like the good friend she had always been.
"Oh Marinette," he whispered, "I'm so sorry. I should have never said lying doesn't hurt."
"No you shouldn't have," Marinette agreed softly, "but I'm sorry too. I was being petty and spiteful back then when you really needed me to back you up."
"I deserved it," Adrien mumbled.
"No you don't!" Marinette burst out. "You deserve a friend. What's happening to you is really horrible and you needed someone to hug you not berate you!"
"It's not too late," Adrien said feeling the smallest bit of hope for the first time all day, "you can still hug me."
She did so without the slightest bit of hesitation that usually lingered in all of Marinette's actions around him. She stood up and smoothly strode towards him and before he knew it he was folded into the warmest, most comforting, hug he has had in years. He breathed in her scent of cookies and flowers mingled together and relaxed against her small, soft, shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, "I'm so sorry I didn't expose her when I had the chance."
"I'm sorry too," Marinette replied, "I should have done more or something different. If I made them really listen to me sooner then maybe your dad wouldn't be in the mess right now."
Adrien pulled away at that. "Oh Marinette!" He said despairingly. "What am I going to do?"
"I hate to say this," Marinette bit her lip nervously, "I really, really, hate that I'm going to say this but, well, you see...nothing. You do nothing."
Adrien felt a spike of rage at having his own advice being thrown in his face once more. "If this is you still being petty," he choked out angrily, "then I really would like you to st-"
"No! No! It's not that!" Marinette interrupted hastily. "It's just that your dad is being questioned by the police, right?"
"Yes!" Adrien hissed.
"And he's got this whole team of lawyers at this disposal who undoubtedly will be able to prove his innocence," Marinette carried on quickly, "so by the end of this afternoon I'm sure your dad will be home and the truth will come out and Lila will be exposed for all of Paris to see. So there's nothing you can do because it's going to all come out on it's own now."
Adrien slumped as he realised that Marinette was right.
His father won't be charged with anything and he would, of course, issue a public statement that would expose Lila for the despicable person she was. There was literally nothing Adrien could do but wait it out.
God, that just made him feel even more useless than he ever felt before.
"You were right," Marinette smiled encouragingly, "Lila finally lied herself into a corner she can't get out of. She's going to be tangled in her own web."
"I suppose," Adrien smiled back weakly, "but I wish I could do something. I hate the fact that's she's still getting away with it right now."
"School is over now," Marinette said quietly, "you can always come back to mine and play some Ultimate Mecha Strike III until your dad gets out. It's not helpful but it'll keep you distracted and busy for a while."
Adrien's felt his smile get stronger at that. "I'd like that," he said, "but first can I have another hug?"
"You can have all the hugs you like!" Marinette blurted out as her cheeks flushed bright pink. "You don't have to ask!"
(Marinette will later regret this as Adrien takes to surprise hugging her every time he sees her in the future. Her poor heart could barely take all the contact as her blood hastily rushed to her head and she almost passes out multiple times. But that's another story.)
Gabriel was interviewed by Roger Raincomprix.
He suspected that this was something to do with Andre Bourgeois. After all it would look terrible if Andre himself intervened on Gabriel's behalf (his poll ratings would plummet even lower if that was possible) but to have a highest uniformed constable with personal connections to Gabriel (their children were in the same class after all) interview Gabriel instead of a detective inspector who specialised in sexual abuse crimes?
Well, it just left a gaping loophole for Gabriel's lawyer to get the case chucked out of court and the charges dropped before anyone could ask if Gabriel was pleading guilty or not guilty.
Gabriel tried to not smirk as he saw one of his lawyers make that very note beside him.
Not that this will ever go to court.
Lila Rossi thought she was ever so clever with her tearful act on live TV but she clearly forgot the most important lesson of all; never bite the hand that feeds you. Gabriel had no problem throwing Lila under the bus so to speak when she had done everything he had asked. After all you don't become successful in a cut-throat industry like fashion without being ruthless. Now that she had attempted to ruin his reputation though? Well that just meant he got extra enjoyment in inflicting those final blows to the upstart brat.
He bided his time well as he patiently went through the annoying little questions that lead up to the actual interrogation. He made sure that he replied calmly and politely and gave Roger no opening to suspect Gabriel was anything but a typical successful businessman.
Roger placed the first picture that got Gabriel in this mess down on the table between them.
"Can you explain this image to me?" Roger asked pointedly.
Inwardly, Gabriel cursed his need for melodramatics.
He honestly had no need to make those clandestine meetings with Lila Rossi. After all a pair of burner mobile phones would have worked just as effectively, in fact, more so as no one would ever have noticed them if they communicated from afar. But the part of him that thoroughly enjoyed monologuing as a cliched Bond Villain had taken great joy at the shady inconspicuous meetings.
It was like he was part of a spy film or something.
Clearly in the future he should listen to Nathalie and do the sensible thing instead of the fun thing. He couldn't afford to have all eyes watching him if he was going to achieve his goals and revive Emilie.
Outwardly, Gabriel just sighed heavily. "I was investigating Miss Rossi," he said softly.
Roger raised a cynical eyebrow at that. "Investigating her?" he repeated sceptically.
"Officer Raincomprix," Gabriel said calmly, "I am sure you are aware from your daughter that I can be a overprotective and rather overbearing parent."
Roger laughed a little sheepishly as he glanced nervously at the tape recorder.
He knew how awkward this situation could be for him too.
"Like me, you are a man of influence and power," Gabriel said flatteringly, "and I am certain you too fear the worst for your child. After all it only takes one criminal to think of using our precious children against us."
Roger's expression softened at that.
He did so very much love his daughter after all. He understood on a level most parents did not of the real dangers their children could face because of who their parents were.
"So as a precaution I have a private investigator perform background checks on all of Adrien's classmates," Gabriel elaborated, "one can never be too overcautious after all."
And boy, was there many potential dangers in that class.
What with the more often out of work actor father of Mylene Haprele who could one day be desperate for a big pay out or the anarchist mother of Juleka Couffaine who might decide to protest against the fashion industry. And then, of course, there's the fact that he has been inside those children's heads and most of them were selfish little psychopaths the moment they felt slighted.
He has been tempted more than once to hastily pull Adrien out of that melting pot of disaster.
"I see," Roger said understandingly, "and what exactly does that have to do with Lila Rossi?"
"See for yourself," Gabriel clicked his fingers.
One of this lawyers that stood in the back suddenly leaned forwards and placed Lila Rossi's background check onto the table on his behalf. It was a massive tome of records, newspaper cut-outs, and personal testimonies of Lila's victims scattered across Europe. It was a hair raising experience to read and more than once had Gabriel questioned his judgement in allying himself with such a mentally unbalanced person.
His desperation though had always won out.
"Good God!" Roger choked out as he read the file.
"I am sure you can understand why I would keep such a close eye on a dangerous person such as Lila Rossi?"
"My God, Gabriel," Roger breathed out, "why on earth did you let this girl get any closer to your boy?"
"I had reason to believe that Miss Rossi was working for Hawk Moth."
Roger paled dramatically at that. "And you didn't tell the police?!" He shouted disbelievingly at that.
Gabriel wished he could snort at that.
After a particular debacle in Adrien's class that led to this very man's Akumatisation, why would anyone in Paris trust their local police?
Instead, Gabriel worked hard to maintain his polite, passive, facade.
"I wished to obtain damning evidence so her conviction would happen swiftly," Gabriel explained calmly, "I couldn't risk the chance of her having the opportunity to retaliate. So I tried to lull her into a false sense of security with the job offer and announcement of her being my new muse. As they say, keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer."
The thought of Lila Rossi in her ghastly orange ensemble being a muse to Gabriel made him want to vomit. How anyone believed that an eyesore like that colour-blind brat could be an inspiration to an artistic genius like himself baffled Gabriel utterly.
"What made you think that Lila Rossi was collaborating with a known terrorist?" Roger asked firmly.
"Lila Rossi is in your daughter's class as well I believe," Gabriel said, "has she told you about Miss Rossi's visit to Achu?"
"Yes," Roger blinked, "apparently she's good friends with Prince Ali."
The flat disbelief was blatant in Roger's voice. He had read the file, he now knew that Lila Rossi has never been in the same country as Prince Ali let alone had spoken to him or had the opportunity to befriend him.
"Indeed," Gabriel said dryly. He clicked his fingers again and another lawyer pulled out photos of Lila Rossi de-transforming from an Akuma attack. The digital dates firmly branded on each right corner of the photo. Gabriel had Nathalie take them as insurance and was ever grateful for them now. "As you can see from these photos however she was Akumatised during that horrific mass Akumatisation on Heroes Day...when she was supposed to be in Achu."
"And?!" Roger demanded. "We were all Akumatised that day Gabriel."
"Look at her Akuma form," Gabriel replied smoothly, "she looks like Rena Rouge, doesn't she? However she was, in fact, Volpina. I remember her clearly from her first Akumatisation she tried to dangle my son at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It was fortunately an illusion, her Akuma form had the power to create them much like Rena Rouge."
"She created the illusion of Ladybug killing Chat Noir!" Roger realised utterly horrified. "She's the reason why we were all Akumatised"
"Indeed," Gabriel said, "and my investigators were able to capture this picture as well."
Another click of the fingers and another photo of Lila Rossi eagerly snatching an Akumatised butterfly for her own benefit.
"I have reason to believe that Lila Rossi's accusation against me last night was an attempt to discredit me before I could make these public," Gabriel said. His face a mask of grave sorrow as he met Roger's sickened gaze head on. "I don't know what tipped her off that I had been investigating her. It might be because my staff were able beginning to make complaints against her."
The lawyer beside him pulled out all the testimonies of his photographers, make-up artists, and lighting technicians all of whom had made complaints about Lila's attitude, her behaviour, her antics, and most gut wrenching of all, her own sexual harassment on Adrien.
He had been planning to terminate her contract in the most humiliating manner possible the moment she achieved his goal of Akumatising Marinette Dupain-Cheng.
(Oh how she would have made a marvellous Akuma with all that talent, resourcefulness, and creativity. His obsession of getting the best Akuma to finally take down Ladybug and Chat Noir had shamefully trumped his natural paranoid parenting instincts. It was something he undoubtedly knew Emile would slap him for once he saved her.)
Now however he gleefully placed this at the hands of Roger Raincomprix as part of a much bigger punishment.
"I hope you can understand that I wish to press charges against Lila Rossi," Gabriel said smoothly, "not only for slander but for her own sexual harassment against my son."
And just like that, as if Gabriel had clicked his fingers once more, all charges against Gabriel Agreste were miraculously dropped.
It took a little time and paperwork but by that very evening Gabriel was on his way home enjoying Andre and Roger's public statements clearing Gabriel Agreste and condemning Lila Rossi as a terrorist. The police rushed off to arrest Lila Rossi has the protesters raced over to the Italian Embassy to scream at them instead of Gabriel's home.
"It's because of people like Lila Rossi that the true victims of sexual abuse are treated with injustice and disbelief!" One protester spat out to Nadja Chamack (who had also instantly issued a retraction and apology before covering the newest scoop). "That rotten apple has set the female rights movement back years!"
Gabriel smirked as he entered his home feeling triumphant.
The city was more than ripe for another mass Akumatisation as he could practically taste the utter hatred, fury, and hurt that Lila Rossi had caused. However the moment he stepped into the foyer he was almost ambushed by a tearful looking Adrien and all his plans fell wayward as his parental instincts took over for the first time in so long, and he pulled his son into a comforting embrace.
Instead of committing any evildoings, Gabriel spent the evening reassuring Adrien that none of this was his fault (it was Gabriel's after all. He allowed that little viper too much wiggle room to make such atrocious accusations) and actually sharing a bonding moment as they ate supper together and watched Andre's second public statement of the evening announcing Lila Rossi's deportation back to Italy as a family with Nathalie.
They had then spent the following evening together as Adrien cheerfully described how all of his classmates (rightfully) grovelled Adrien and Marinette for their forgiveness. Gabriel was pleased to hear that while Adrien was taking the mature route of forgiveness, he wasn't taking the gullible one of forgetting how quickly these so called friends had abandoned him.
(Alya and Nino in particular were in agony when they realised that Adrien and Marinette were now keeping them firmly at arm's lengths in the months to come.)
Gabriel was then declared a national hero and within days a public ceremony was held where he was gifted with a medal by Ladybug herself.
Gabriel resisted the urge to pluck her earrings off as she leaned in to attach the medal on his blazer. After all it was pointless without Chat Noir and the sight of Adrien standing by his side beaming with pride was worth so much more than achieving his goal.
(Today that is. After all Tomorrow was a brand new day.)
"Thank you so much, Mr Agreste," Ladybug smiled radiantly as she shook his hand, "you're a true hero of Paris."
Honestly, it took all of Gabriel's self-control and restraint to not laugh in Ladybug's face right there and then.
Oh, the irony!