Stand Alone

It wasn't unusual for Marinette to wake up rather violently, shrieking and yelling about how she was going to be late, so when she just slowly opened her eyes and shut off her alarm calmly, it struck her tired Kwami as strange. Then the girl stretched as she sat up, put her legs over the edge of the bed and frowned.

"Marinette?" Tikki asked through a yawn. "Are you alright?"

A pause.

"I... think I'm still dreaming, Tikki."

It was Tikki's turn to frown and she woke up quickly after hearing that. "What do you mean?"

"I'm seeing my old room, Tikki. The one in my parent's bakery."

The kwami's frown turned to an expression of worry. "This is your parent's bakery, Marinette. Just like it was yesterday. Are you feeling alright?"

She saw her charge stiffen and look over at her before glancing around the room again. Then she looked down at her hands and her eyes widened. When she spoke next, she spoke slowly, almost painfully, as if she really didn't want to know, "Tikki... how old am I?"

Alright this was starting to get worrying. "Fifteen."

A surprised squeak.

"What's wrong, Marinette?"

"Oh, nothing," the girl said breathlessly. "It's just that last night, when I went to sleep, I was 19."

Tikki returned her charge's squeak of surprise. "What?!"

xXx

The fact that Marinette had somehow made it to school on time was unusual, but otherwise she looked about as skittish as normal so Alya decided to do what she did every morning and offer support to her friend. Maybe she could help calm the girl down today? She doubted it, but she had to try.

"Hey there, girl," she said with a grin as she walked up to her friend, who jumped in surprise.

Alya frowned. It wasn't unusual for Marinette to be high-strung, but she rarely jumped like that "Are you alright, Marinette?"

Her friend just stared at her for several seconds before choking out, "Alya?" The reporter's worried frown deepened. She didn't know why, but she practically saw the stars in Marinette's eyes as the girl's expression changed and she cooed out, "Oh, you're so adorable!"

Alya blinked and raised an eyebrow. That was strange even for her friend. "Um, thank you, but seriously, what's up, girl?"

Thankfully, the dark-haired girl seemed to come back to reality and rubbed the back of her head. "I just had a really... strange dream last night."

Alya blinked, then felt her face stretch in a familiar, mischievous grin. "About a certain blond model?"

Instead of blushing and stuttering like Alya expected, Marinette just continued to stare blankly at her.

Alya frowned. "You know... Adrien?"

Marinette's eyes widened and she rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. "Oh, yeah. Adrien. Right. Can't forget him. Ever." She said that last part like it was a given... which, really, it was.

Alya's frown deepened. That reaction was better but still off.

"Actually, no. I had a dream that I was from the future and I woke up in this body and had to run around like I did four or five years ago."

A slight pause. "That would suck. I'd hate to be 9 or 10 again. No wonder you're jumpy."

"Y-yeah."

"Well, did you finish your homework? Or did you stay up late with a design again?" Alya asked.

Marinette urked which really said everything right there.

The reporter sighed. "Come on, girl. I'll get you as caught up as I can before class."

"Thanks, Alya. You're the best."

"And don't you forget it."

xXx

The morning just got weirder from there.

Firstly, Marinette didn't seem to get distracted at all, and managed to catch onto the homework pretty fast. There wouldn't be enough time to finish the assignment, but she would probably at least have something to turn in. Thankfully, Mme. Bustier accepted partial work. But Marinette just seemed more... organized? No, confident? Yeah. Like she'd done this a billion times before and this was easy.

Then Adrien walked in and waved at them and Marinette didn't even stutter. Alya did miss Marinette's wink, but she didn't miss Adrien's reaction to it as he stumbled and looked over at her, shocked. Alya did turn to her friend to see an almost mischievous smile there instead of the usual blush.

Then Mme. Bustier started class.

Still, things didn't get really strange until lunch, when there was enough of a break for the kids to interact and Chloe somehow got a hold of Marinette's notes.

"Oh, what do we have here? Is that Chat Noir?" She snorted. Surprised, Alya leaned over and saw that there were, indeed, doodles of Chat Noir all over the margins of her notes. Well... that was new. She'd seen Marinette doodling, but had thought it would be Adrien or some design, like normal. "He's such a loser. Not nearly good enough to be Ladybug's partner."

"Not a loser," Marinette replied, completely deadpan. That also worried Alya because Marinette never reacted this... chill towards Chloe. "He's way hotter than Ladybug anyway."

She got several reactions from the class, half of agreement, half of disagreement. Alya was pretty firmly in the latter group, but she didn't want to voice her opinion aloud and support Chloe of all people.

"Huh, you two losers are made for each other," Chloe said, tossing Marinette's notes into the air. To Alya's surprise, Marinette's hands struck out, lightning fast, and was able to catch most of them.

"Still not a loser, but you're right," Marinette said, suddenly glancing down at Adrien with that mischievous expression. "I'd say we're pretty purr-fect for each other."

She could swear she heard Adrien choke. He definitely coughed. Was there something going on here that she didn't know about?

Chloe just snorted and walked away. "Coming, Adrikins?"

"Um... I'm... having lunch with Nino today," Adrien mumbled. Chloe just scowled before turning and stalking out of the room, Sabrina on her heels. The rest of the room was silent except for Marinette calmly packing up her things. Then she stood and looked around. The whole class stared at her.

"What?" she asked.

"You just don't normally act that way towards Chloe," Max stated slowly.

Marinette just snorted. "Oh, her targeting me is more or less Chloe speak for 'I see you as a threat and must tear you down.' It's actually quite the compliment once you look a little deeper. In a twisted, Chloe kind of way. So, Alya, lunch?"

A very stunned Alya managed to follow her best friend out the door.

xXx

They came back to an akuma attack. Naturally. Marinette ran off to hide while Alya took off after the supervillain. She couldn't have been more excited. She'd needed a new scoop for the Ladyblog and this was the perfect opportunity. Chat Noir got there first, followed very closely by Ladybug... and that's when things got really weird.

It took a few moments for her to realize that her favorite crime fighting duo seemed to be flirting. And not just Chat Noir! Oh, this might break Mari's heart if she really had fallen for Paris' black cat, but Alya's ship was just setting sails and it looked like a strong wind would keep that one going.

The Ladynoir forums were going to explode after she uploaded this. It was especially hilarious how Chat kept stumbling when she'd return a cheesy pickup-line with one of her own, or stroke his chin suggestively in passing or wink at him. It was almost detrimental to the fight, but so entertaining Alya couldn't care.

The Akuma, a water-based one who got tired of getting splashed by puddles, was quickly taken care of without either hero having to use their special powers, and then the rebuilding ladybugs filled the air, fixing damage and drying everyone off.

Then Alya could swear that Ladybug was about to kiss Chat Noir before she shook her head, rubbed the back of her neck apologetically and bounded off, leaving a poor, stunned cat in her wake. Alya couldn't help but feel for him.

xXx

They returned to school only to find that it was, sadly, still open. Paris really had gotten too used to these attacks. Alya vowed, for about the hundredth time, that once she found Hawk Moth, she'd introduce her fist to his face. At high speed. Preferably with a miraculous' strength behind it if possible. Marinette just patted her back in fond sympathy as they trudged inside. Some things didn't change at least.

Just as they got to the top of the inner stairs, a commotion near the classroom caught their attention. And, of course, it would be Chloe bullying some random person who had likely just passed by. She was going on about her designer shoes and how said person didn't even have enough money to buy one of them and how their whole family was going to be in the poor house once she called her father.

And then strangeness struck again. Well, it wasn't that strange to see Marinette marching forward determinedly, righteous fury written all over her face as she muttered something that sounded like, 'I forgot just how much of a pain she used to be,' which made absolutely no sense at all whatsoever. Chloe's always been a pain as far as Alya knew.

Before she stepped too far away, though, she turned to Alya. "Record this, will you?"

It took her a few moments and several blinks before she nodded and withdrew her phone.

"Subtle, if you can."

"Who do you think I am?" Alya asked.

Marinette shot her a fond smile before turning and walking up to Chloe.

"What did he do?" Marinette asked.

Chloe took one look at her and scoffed. "This imbecile wasn't watching where he was going and he got dirt all over my designer shoes!"

"Look, I'm really sorry!" the boy said again, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

Marinette leaned down and looked at Chloe's shoe. "I don't see anything."

"Are you blind! It's right there!"

"That's a speck of lint, Chloe. And why are you wearing your designer shoes to school if they can get damaged so easily?"

"How dare you!" the blond responded, practically shouting in Marinette's face. "The entire school's against me!"

"Look, I know there isn't a lot there, but if it bothers you that much I'll clean them for you if you just let this all go," Marinette said calmly.

"What?! No! I want new ones to replace the ones he mangled!"

At that, Chloe put her foot up and Alya zoomed in on them. "Nope," she said to the camera, "I'm not seeing anything either."

"That's it! I'm calling my father!" the blond said, pulling her phone out.

"The Mayor of Paris?" Marinette asked.

"Of course, the Mayor of Paris! Who do you think I am?"

"Now you're both going to get it," Sabrina said from the side.

Marinette glanced at Alya and gestured for her to cut the camera off.

"Send that to me, will you Alya... oh, and everyone else you can. Including the mayor."

Alya blinked and shrugged before cutting it off and sending it. It would take a couple of minutes, but they had some pretty decent wireless here.

Chloe, apparently, hadn't been paying attention. She'd already called her father and was complaining, rather loudly.

Then, to Alya's utter shock, Marinette took the phone right out of the girl's hand.

"Hey! Give that back!"

"Hello, M. Mayor. This is Marinette Dupain-Cheng," she said as she danced out of the way of Chloe's grasping hands. "You're going to be getting a video of your daughter and her interactions here at school. We've already sent said video to contacts both inside and outside the country. It will likely be up within ten minutes. Instagram, facebook, youtube... It will show a completely unreasonable spoiled brat trying to bully other kids. And with you being her father, well, questions would arise. I wonder what that will do to your ratings. You are coming up for reelection soon, correct?

"Now we can try and stop it, if you actually treat the students here and your daughter fairly. We're not asking for special attention," she actually did a one-handed back bend and walk-over to avoid one of Chloe's swipes while she continued talking. Alya was beginning to wonder why she wasn't still recording this. "But how about you tell your daughter that, like everyone else, if she wants to wear her designer shoes to school, it's very likely they'll get dirty, but it's her choice and her problem. I think we'd all be rather happy with that.

"Oh, you should be getting it now. I suppose you can decide for yourself. Thank you, M. Mayor!"

With that, she happily hung up and tossed the phone back to Chloe.

"How dare you?!" she screeched again. "My daddy is going to..." she faded off as she glanced at her phone and the text message that had just appeared on it. Then her mouth dropped open.

"Hey, Alya, tell everyone you just sent the video to that we'd really appreciate it if they didn't actually put it up...yet."

Actually, Alya had just canceled those that were left and still sending, but those that had already gone through, she quickly typed a text to. "Already done, girl," Alya returned with a smile.

"Now, Chloe, we're not going to put up with your crap anymore. If you want to flaunt your wealth and pretend that it is all the power you need, then that's your choice. I, for one, would be more than willing to be a friend if you can get it through your head that we're people and actually have a lot of say as to whether your father will remain as Mayor or not. It's kind of funny, but people tend to react better when you're nice and caring anyway."

With that, she glanced over her shoulder at Alya. "Come on. Class is about to start."

Alya caught up with Marinette, breezing by a stunned Chloe and an unsure Sabrina. The boy who had been Chloe's initial target looked between Marinette and a still shocked blonde before he turned and raced away down the hall.

As they walked inside the classroom, Alya turned to her friend.

"That was... awesome, Marinette."

The girl sent her a weak smile... which made Alya frown. "What's wrong?"

"I don't like doing that," she finally said. "It may be the only language that Chloe and her father speak, but it's easy to let something like that get to my head and start using it for my own gain instead of helping others and demanding fair treatment. And if I don't, I might give someone else the idea to try it instead. It's just... not something I prefer."

"Like you'd ever do that," Alya dismissed.

The look Marinette shot her wasn't one Alya had ever seen on her face before. Something somewhere between pity, fear and regret. "I'm human, Alya. I get tempted just like everybody else. So the more I avoid that method, the less temptation there is, and the better off everyone will be.

"Besides, Chloe's not that bad when it comes down to the wire. She threatens and bully's people because it gives her a sense of control, which implies that she doesn't have a whole lot in her personal life. She doesn't show kindness because she was taught the lie that kind equals weak. And yet, despite that, if she was chosen to save Paris, I'd bet my father's bakery that she'd come through."

There were so many things in there to question and comment that, for once, Alya didn't really know where to start.

How did Marinette know any of that? How could she say that about her self? How could she trust in Chloe like that after everything? She sounded so old and wise and... well, very unlike the usual Marinette who always had her heart in the right place but actually had a hard time keeping her cool nine times out of ten.

"What happened to you?" she finally heard herself ask.

Marinette's smile turned just a touch wry. "I grew up, Alya. Hopefully, I'll be back to normal tomorrow."

"I dunno, I think I like this new Marinette."

"But you'd still love me if I went back to how I used to be."

Alya snorted. "Of course I would. You are my best friend."

When Chloe did come in, she sat in her seat, pouting the entire classroom.

xXx

When Marinette left Chloe and Sabrina standing in the upper hall of the classroom, her first thought was that her usual plan had been foiled and so she needed to fall back to plan B, which was to call her mother and complain to her...

But did she really want to deal with her mother? For something like this? No, no she really didn't.

"Ch-chloe?" Sabrina said unsurely. "Are you okay?"

Chloe ignored her, but twirled around to give that Dupain-Cheng brat a verbal beating like none other, uncaring if she put her stupid video up online after all. Who would care... besides her father? Eh, he could find them all and take them down. It wouldn't be a big deal. He was just being cautious.

The two girls had stopped just inside the classroom, and Chloe could hear their voices. She was about to open her mouth when she heard something promising.

"... More I avoid that method, the less temptation there is, and the better off everyone will be."

Oh, there might be something to listening in. Marinette wanted to play at the blackmail game, huh? Well, she'd be entering the big leagues. This meant war.

"Besides, Chloe's not that bad when it comes down to the wire."

Wait... what?

"She threatens and bully's people because it gives her a sense of control, which implies that she doesn't have a whole lot in her personal life."

Part of Chloe couldn't help but be utterly shocked at that. Part of her tried to deny it all, like she usually did, and part of her wondered if she was really that transparent. It scared her and she felt her fists clench at her sides.

"She doesn't show kindness because she was taught the lie that kind equals weak." That wasn't a lie! Oh, she was so going to give that girl what was coming to her!

"And yet, despite that, if she was chosen to save Paris, I'd bet my father's bakery that she'd come through."

And for a third time, Chloe stopped short out of sheer surprise. Part of her couldn't help but think, "Of course I would!" and another part of her couldn't really believe that. That same part couldn't believe that Marinette Dupain-Cheng, of all people, thought so... highly of her (even though she and everyone else should).

At that point, she didn't really know what to think.

In the end, she decided to concede this once. But if that slip of a girl thought that her little video would stop Chloe from ruling the school, she'd find out just how wrong she was.

Then she ordered Sabrina to never bring it up again.

xXx

Marinette flopped back down onto her bed with a tired sigh.

"Being fifteen again is exhausting, Tikki. How did I ever make it through the first time around?"

Tikki giggled.

Then Marinette turned her head and met her Kwami's gaze. "How did you put up with it all?"

"Marinette, that's what teachers do. And I've taught hundreds of girls. After a while, you learn to find the joy in the little things. Every time your student learns something and every time they make a right choice... it makes anything negative worth it."

The girl just looked at Tikki for several moments before she smiled. "You Kwami really are amazing, aren't you."

Tikki giggled. "We try."

xXx

Marinette went to sleep that night worried about having to relive the rest of her College and all of her Lycee years. It turned out, she didn't have to worry as the next morning, Marinette woke up shrieking and yelling about being late. When Tikki questioned her, she seemed to remember the day before being two days ago by the Kwamii's reckoning. Like she'd just completely skipped the day.

Still, on the way to school, Tikki couldn't help but smile. She'd always known Marinette would be amazing, but if she ended up being the calm, collected and incredible girl that she'd caught a glimpse of yesterday, then she couldn't be more proud. And she couldn't wait to watch her little Ladybug grow.

xXx

AN: Sorry I've been away so long, guys. I still have a couple of ideas to work on for this, but I don't have any time lately and my muses have kind of dried up. :/ Still going to try and get stuff out for you, though!