Adrien had to admit that his girlfriend was doing a great job at not giving away her excitement as their class piled onto the bus, a quiet buzz running from person to person as their classmates tried to figure out where the mystery location for their field trip would be. Marinette was patiently listening to Alya's wild and completely inaccurate guesses as they boarded, a neutral look on her face. Adrien was having a hard time containing his (somewhat vindictive, honestly) excitement himself, and had to keep himself out of the conversation for fear of spoiling the surprise.
He could only hope that the drive to the embassy wouldn't take long.
Alya and Nino slid into one seat, with Lila settling on the seat across the aisle from them. Madam Mendeleev settled herself directly behind Lila- Adrien wouldn't be surprised if she was doing so to ensure that Lila wouldn't try to make a break for it- and he and Marinette sat behind Nino and Alya, close enough to pay attention to their conversation and to not look suspiciously disinterested.
And, as a bonus, they would get to see Lila's face when they arrived at the embassy.
"I'm impressed that Madam Mendeleev actually managed to keep this secret," Adrien murmured in Marinette's ear as they got settled. "Like, surely there were parents who wanted to know where we were going. The only reason our parents didn't say anything was because we already knew what was going on."
"Well, people know that she's not going to arrange anything too crazy." Marinette smiled up at him, curling into his side. Her charm bracelet peeked out from under her jacket sleeve, glinting in the winter sunlight. "So that probably helped. And there might have been some parents told, on the condition that they not spoil the surprise."
"Mm, good point." Adrien pressed a kiss to her hair, conscious of Lila scowling as she eyed them from her seat. While she was clearly trying to hide it, Lila was super sour about Adrien being clearly taken now, so she couldn't try to claim that they were close to dating, or dating in secret, or-
Well, he didn't know what else she would try to claim, really, but ever since he and Marinette started dating- or, rather, ever since they first claimed that they were dating- Lila had been eying them with increasingly irritated expressions. Clearly she had had something in mind and their relationship had derailed it. He would have thought that his father being outed as Hawkmoth would have been even more of a deterrent- after all, who wanted to be at all associated with a supervillain, no matter how indirectly?- but it seemed that his fame as a model probably overruled that association.
With the last of the two troisième classes loaded into the bus, the doors closed and the bus started off. Adrien settled down in his seat, content to more or less tune out the rest of the bus in favor of watching Marinette's expressions as she listened to Alya and Nino. She had been doing an admirable job of not being annoyed with the two of them for the attitude that they had given Ladybug in the final battle, he thought, though it probably helped that they hadn't seen Alya and Nino much over the break.
Besides, Lila was a much more deserving target. Even disregarding everything that she had pulled during the school year, they still hadn't been able to go for the rest of the winter break without hearing about her and her latest lies.
After Christmas had fully passed and a large part of the dust had settled from both the final battle and the news of who Hawkmoth and the Purple Lady/Mayura had been, most of Paris was happy to give all of the credit to Ladybug and Chat Noir, with a side bit of thanks to their temporary superhero teammates. But Lila had stepped forward several days before school started up again (after she had "returned" from her visit with Swedish royalty) to brag about how the Ladyblog post that she had inspired had been a major motivating factor in the superheroes deciding to take the Purple Lady down when they did, garnering a decent amount of media attention. It had been both insulting and annoying, and meant that now Ladybug and Chat Noir had to do a media release explaining exactly what had really happened sooner rather than later unless they wanted to hear news outlets singing Lila's praises.
They had been planning on doing that anyway, of course, so that they could go out without reporters shouting questions at them, but both he and Ladybug had hoped to hold off on what was sure to be a long media appearance until after they had finished all of the mentally grueling visits to the prison to see Nathalie and Mr. Agreste to try to purge all of the effects from the Heart curse from them. But now they had to move it up to be as soon as possible.
Even though he wasn't really listening, Adrien knew right away when Lila joined the conversation again, because Marinette's largely neutral expression had immediately turned annoyed. Adrien tuned in at once, just in time to hear Lila offer to help Alya and Nino (and, obviously Adrien and Marinette too, because she was so nice) study for their Foreign Relations unit- if she had any time to spare, because getting details for getting a new charity project set up for widowed women in South Africa was so much work, of course, and everything had to be just perfect for the UN to add in their financial support, and of course she was going to be missing school with her family's trip to Hollywood the following week, so that was just another strain on her schedule...
Adrien squeezed Marinette's shoulder as Alya and Rose immediately started offering their help, falling over themselves in their offers only for Lila to demurely turn them down, assuring them that if she had a less rushed deadline for her charity work in the future, she could teach them the ropes then but right now she didn't have the time to teach anyone. Alya and Rose nodded in understanding, eager as ever.
It was infuriating, but Lila's lies would come out soon enough, and then they would never have to see any of their friends manipulated by her again.
Only minutes later, the bus turned a corner and trundled towards the somewhat imposing building that made up the Italian embassy. Adrien's gaze slid over to Lila, who hadn't noticed where they were yet. She was still bragging about her supposed project when the bus pulled over and started slowing down, and it wasn't until the bus came to a full stop that she looked up, past Nino and Alya and towards their destination.
Adrien had the deep satisfaction of watching Lila's words slowly die mid-sentence as the blood drained from her face. Next to him, Marinette buried her face in his shoulder to muffle a snicker.
"We've arrived!" Madam Mendeleev announced, standing up. "Class, since we're doing a Foreign Relations unit at the moment, I thought that it would be prudent to start it off with a visit an embassy. This, of course, is the Italian Embassy."
There were gasps of delight as that sunk in, and then all eyes turned to Lila, who- well, she had recovered admirably, Adrien had to admit. She managed a small smile and faux-humble shrug before turning her attention back to Madam Mendeleev.
If Adrien looked closely, he could see the strain in her smile.
"I expect all of you to be on your best behavior," Madam Mendeleev continued, her voice sharp. "We're lucky enough to be getting a presentation from a couple embassy members. We'll be going into their largest conference room and waiting there for our first presenter to arrive. While you're waiting, I want you to come up with questions to ask. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Madam Mendeleev."
"Great. Ms. Bustier, if you could lead the way…?"
Adrien and Marinette were among the last of the students to get off the bus and head for the building, with Madam Mendeleev bringing up the rear. In front of them, they could already hear Lila telling their classmates in faux-disappointment that no, her mom hadn't said anything about doing a presentation for a field trip and it was no surprise either, she was very busy with important meetings and coming up with international agreements and all that, plus getting things set up for their upcoming trip, and they would probably just be meeting with some lesser officials, staff members for the ambassadors instead of the ambassadors themselves.
The smirk that flashed across Marinette's face at that was too attractive to be allowed, really. It screamed confidence and absolute triumph.
It was really a pity that she hid it so fast.
"On a scale of one to ten, how likely is it that we'll actually learn much anything today?" Marinette murmured in Adrien's ear, rolling up on her toes so that no one else would overhear. "I mean, if things start coming out…"
"I get the impression that we'll get a short presentation first before Mrs. Rossi shows up, so- well, still not much, but not nothing, either." Adrien couldn't see Madam Mendeleev planning a field trip like this without planning for them to get at least a little bit of learning in. "I'm impressed that you-know-who is still keeping the act up. Lying until the end, I guess."
Marinette grinned and then started humming some ominous music under her breath, which just got Adrien snickering. In his pocket, he felt Plagg perk up and add in to the tune, quiet and slightly out of tune but loud enough for both him and Marinette to hear.
Adrien nearly choked on his laughter before struggling to put a straight face back on. After all, Madam Mendeleev expected them to be on their best behavior, and that probably didn't include bursting out into loud laughter in the middle of the embassy.
They went up a floor, and then were ushered into a large room with tiered rows of seats. Adrien's desire to sit close and get a great seat to see and hear the presentation warred with his want to actually be able to see Lila's downfall without craning his neck or being obvious about it, and it was only Marinette's tugging that made the decision for him. That, and the fact that Lila had settled herself fairly close to the front- two rows back, so she wouldn't be quite front and center, but close enough that it wouldn't seem strange; it also allowed for the maximum number of people to cluster around her, which of course was Lila's favorite thing- meant that they didn't have to sit that far back to see her.
"So, questions," Marinette said, pulling out a notebook. She glanced over at Adrien, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "Common misperceptions people have about the job? It might be a good way to prompt the, ah…"
"Oh, good thought." Adrien watched as she wrote that down. "Uh- okay, I'm coming up blank. Pretty much everything I can think of would get covered by that question."
Marinette made a face. "Yeah. And the thing is, that's all I can come up with. And it's such a common question, honestly. I know someone else is going to come up with that."
Adrien couldn't help the wry grin that slid onto his face. "Yeah, well, once it's asked, it's not like we're going to stay on topic long after that, are we?"
It wasn't long before the first presenter came in, welcoming the classes and giving them a quick history of the embassy and the relationship between France and Italy. In her seat, Lila was clearly relaxing, though Adrien couldn't help but notice that she was taking a lot of notes.
Clearly someone wasn't nearly as familiar with things around the embassy as she pretended to be.
"And now it's time for our main presentation," their presenter finished, smiling at the group. "Someone that at least one of you is familiar with- Ambassador Rossi!"
Next to him, Marinette muffled a snicker as Lila startled, eyes going wide and cheeks paling. Adrien ducked his own head to hide his amusement. Oh, it was starting.
Mrs. Rossi breezed into the room with a smile, surveying the students. Adrien hastily composed himself, just in time to see Mrs. Rossi glance from him to Lila with a confused look on her face. It was almost as though she expected him to be sitting next to her daughter or something.
…what had Lila done this time?
"Good morning, everyone," Mrs. Rossi started after an awkward pause. "I'm an ambassador here at the Italian embassy. I just started here relatively recently, after previously working in Croatia and, prior to that, Belgium. I thought that I might start my presentation today by covering what ambassadors do and don't do, and common misperceptions about the job!"
Marinette crossed out her question, then shot an amused glance at Adrien. Her expression clearly read oh, she's doing all the work for us! and honestly, Adrien couldn't agree more.
Across the room, Lila's expression was tightening and her eyes were flicking around, clearly already anticipating how this was going to go. She had surrounded herself, though, and was clearly trapped in the room. There was no easy path out, and she was going to have to watch everything fall apart around her.
….it was possible that Adrien was getting ahead of himself and seeing things that weren't there. He would be feeling trapped right now if he were in Lila's shoes, but she was probably trying to come up with ways to steer the conversation so that all of her lies would just slip under the table unnoticed. It wouldn't work, of course- not with Madam Mendeleev already suspicious, the two of them there to poke the whole thing along, and a whole host of overly enthusiastic Lila fans- er, their classmates- there in the room, ready to gush over Lila's supposed adventures.
(Fans, classmates. Same thing, really.)
"An ambassador is a diplomat who represents a country- in my case, Italy- stationed in the capital of a foreign country, in order to represent their home country," Mrs. Rossi started, smiling at them. "The person selected for the job requires approval from both the home and foreign government before they get fully appointed. Once appointed, we undertake a number of duties."
Adrien nodded absently. They had already covered this in class yesterday, and he had paid attention then, knowing that they would be going to the embassy and the information would likely come up on a test later.
"For one, the embassy strives to help visitors from our country when they're traveling abroad," Mrs. Rossi continued. "Sometimes people run into trouble with their passport, or they have a brush with the law and need our help to sort things out. That's usually smaller stuff, not particularly difficult to do. Then there's the big stuff- working to establish trade and peace between our countries. That's more fiddly work, and it's sometimes very delicate. Everyone of course wants an agreement that favors their own country, and it's a fine line between holding your ground to get what you want for your country and giving enough so that negotiations don't break down. I'll talk more about that later, with some recent examples," Mrs. Rossi added. "I'm sure it sounds quite boring to you, but it is very important."
Right behind Lila, Rose was pretty much wriggling in her seat, no doubt dying to ask about the other part of the diplomat's job, the part where they met famous people and made charities and- well, whatever else Lila had been telling them. Adrien felt a little bad about how crushed she in particular would be- after all, Rose had really been wanting to learn how to actually get involved with charities and how to start her own, a selfless goal- but Marinette had tried to tell her friends previously, she really had. They just hadn't listened.
"And as for misperceptions… well, there are a lot of them," Mrs. Rossi told them with a little laugh. "One misperception is that we travel a lot. Obviously I live abroad, as does Lila, but once we move to a country, we generally stay there. With the exception of visits back home to visit extended family, of course."
Looks of confusion were starting to take over the section around Lila, who had gone stiff. Her hands were fisted on the desk.
"And- well, we're pretty normal people," Mrs. Rossi added with a laugh. "People think that we have a really glamorous job, but it's really not, at least not in the way people tend to imagine. We meet with other political figures, we meet with lost and panicked citizens of our own country, we meet with other diplomats."
There were more and more frowns all around. Lila had gone really pale now, her knuckles turning white under her skin.
"But you do meet some famous people, right?" Rose wanted to know, raising her hand. "I mean, Lila has told us about all the people she's met! Jagged Stone and Ladybug and Mr. Spielberg and Prince Ali and-"
Mrs. Rossi frowned, her eyes going to her very pale daughter. "I'm sorry, what?"
"And you were traveling for months right after Lila came to Paris, she was Skyping us from all over the world!"
"She told us that she was in talks with Prince Ali to work on a charity together!"
Lila looked like she wished that she could vanish. Her jaw had opened and closed a few times, but clearly she couldn't come up with anything to say.
Mrs. Rossi was looking thoroughly confused. "We- no, we've not left Paris for more than a weekend at a time. Lila, you told me that the school was closed due to ongoing akuma attacks!"
There were gasps all around the room. Ms. Bustier looked horrified. Jaws were hanging open. Adrien spotted Alya and Nino glancing back at him and Marinette, confusion and realization on their faces.
He had to wonder how soon any traces of Lila would vanish from the Ladyblog. He wouldn't be surprised if things would be cleaned up before they even left the embassy.
All around the room, people were blurting out things that Lila had told them, lie after lie after lie. Mrs. Rossi looked overwhelmed, and then her eyes narrowed at her daughter. The teachers rushed to the front of the room to try to get things under control, and Adrien exchanged a triumphant smile with Marinette.
Lila wasn't going to get away with her lies, not this time. And hopefully now that the truth was out, things would be able to go back to normal soon.
And after everything that they had had going on recently, they really needed normal.
Several weeks later
Chat Noir brought up the tail end of the group of superheroes as they headed through the hallways of the prison, taking the now-familiar path back towards Nathalie's cell. The group had been cheerful earlier as they gathered near the jail, then as they headed to the jail for their eighth of who-knew-how-many-visits- Ladybug in particular still had a cheerful spring in her step after a particularly good day at school, and not even their upcoming task had been able to put a damper on that- but now that they were actually in the jail, a feeling of seriousness had fallen over the group, just as it had during their other visits.
Working on Nathalie's cure always required a fair bit of concentration, which was part of the reason why the mood was somber, but going past all of the other prisoners was never pleasant, either. Chat Noir didn't know about the others, of course, but he always found himself wondering what people were in for. He didn't want to ask- he might be sheltered and a bit socially oblivious, but that just seemed like not the greatest idea in the world- but he wondered, all the same.
The others referred, of course, to the other superheroes- Ladybug, of course, plus Queen Bee and Paon. Then Jade Turtle was there instead of Carapace, and Kagami had been tapped to play the part of the Fox instead of Alya for these trips to the jail.
After all, the first of their visits to the jail had been before Lila's (rather spectacular) downfall and Marinette and Alya were still working on repairing their friendship even now, several weeks later. Ladybug had been irritated with Alya (and Nino) for their behavior towards the end of their time as superheroes, so of course it made sense to tap their other bonus teammate to step into the Fox's boots.
(In Chat Noir's opinion, there was another reason why the change was a good thing. Kagami was a private person, one who wouldn't be tempted to tell anyone about what she saw in the prison. While he wanted to believe that Alya would resist the urge to publish anything as a 'scoop', he- he couldn't be positive. And that sounded awful and felt awful to say, but he just couldn't know. Sometimes it seemed like Alya had lost her filter.)
The final member of their group was actually one of the prison's social workers, a woman who was a friend of his mom's. She had been given the Butterfly Miraculous for the duration of Mr. Agreste and Nathalie's treatments so that she could monitor their emotional moods and the changes as they went through the spells and potions that would reverse the effects of Heart and impartially report that to the courts as evidence for sentencing. Only a select few people knew about her identity, since she was keeping her Miraculous in between their visits and they didn't want anyone going after her to try to steal the power for themselves.
They had literally just defeated Paris' supervillains a month ago, they didn't need to have another one pop up right away, especially when they needed all of the upper Miraculous to cure Nathalie.
"Ms. Sancoeur has shown some improvement since you were last here," Mariposa told them once they had moved past the occupied cells and were passing some closed rooms. "She still has a way to go and she's been more disoriented, but there is some emotion there now. Not much, mind, but it's better than the void that was there before." She shuddered, a disturbed look on her face. "Anything is."
Chat Noir could feel Plagg's answering shudder in his mind. Mariposa had told them before what it felt like to be near a heartless person with Nooroo's powers, and how wrong it felt. She could tell when the emotions were fully returned again which, combined with Jade Turtle's spells, had helped them realize when Mr. Agreste was fully recovered.
As unnerving as it was to work with Nathalie… well, it had been worse with his father, at least in Chat Noir's opinion. Watching him come fully back to himself- well, it hadn't taken long, since he hadn't done anywhere near as much damage to himself as Nathalie had done to herself, but there was just some unsettling difference that Adrien wasn't quite able to put his finger on. Mr. Agreste wasn't exactly cuddly now- he never had been- but there was something there that had changed.
(He was still stiff and aloof, though. He had thanked the superheroes for their time and effort, only showing any real emotion to Paon because, well, he knew she was his wife. Adrien hadn't seen his father since the arrest so he didn't know how his father's treatment of civilian him would change at all, and, well…would he really know? His father could put on an act and pretend to care more than he actually did.)
"It's good that she's improving," Paon said, a small smile on her face. "After seeing her those first few times… well, I was worried. Nathalie had so much potential when I met her, and for all of that to be gone…"
"Heart is very complicated to heal," Jade Turtle reminded all of them. "The damage isn't as straightforward as it is with Body, and Ladybug, Chat Noir, you remember how long that took to heal."
Ladybug made a slight face. "To be fair, part of that was that we were having trouble getting the potion ingredients that we needed for that final awakening spell. If we had had those earlier, that would have shaved off some time."
Jade Turtle smiled. "Very true." He glanced back at them. "I would expect that today, we would see a larger response. The potions have had plenty of time to build up in Ms. Sancoeur's system, and we introduced a new one since our last visit. Mariposa, are the potions still going well?"
Mariposa nodded. "We're still slipping them in her food and drink. And we've been ensuring that even if she suspects that there's anything in there, she won't be able to get rid of the food in any way, not without us knowing."
"Good, good. Ah, and here we are!"
"Time for the fun part," Queen Bee said with a sigh. "Hopefully she won't try to attack us again."
There was a general murmur of agreement as Mariposa opened the cell door, glancing inside before leading the way in. Chat Noir followed Ladybug in, lining up with the others along the padded wall before glancing across the room to where Nathalie sat, expressionless as she regarded them from her place on her bench. She wasn't restrained this week, which was a good sign, and for the first time Chat Noir wasn't sensing malice hanging heavy in the air.
It was improvement, for sure. And hopefully after today, Nathalie would actually start having emotions again.
"All right, let's get set up," Jade Turtle told them. "Paon, if you could get the candles, and Queen Bee, you've done the herbs before-"
Queen Bee was already heading across the room. "On it."
Jade Turtle smiled at that. "Fantastic. Now, while the rest of us wait…"
Marinette was very glad to get home after they finished up at the jail. She was exhausted, and she just wanted to flop on the couch and rest.
The spells- there had been more than usual, and they had repeated the spells more than they ever had before because Nathalie had just kept responding to them- had absolutely drained the entire group, but they still had to head back to the center of the city, get Queen Bee and Kitsune back to their homes, retrieve their Miraculous, return them to Master Fu's massage parlor, and then finally- finally!- return to the bakery. By the time they got back, the bakery had closed for the day and the elder Dupain-Chengs had already moved upstairs and gotten dinner ready, enough for them and Marinette and the two Agrestes.
It had become a tradition of theirs, ever since they told her parents that they were Ladybug and Chat Noir. Once they were done with their work at the jail, they would head back to her family's place and have dinner together. Then Mrs. Agreste would retire to the guest room, and Adrien would crash on Marinette's chaise lounge.
It was a good arrangement. The mansion's staff got a much-needed day off, Mrs. Agreste and Marinette's parents got to know each other better, they could actually talk about what they had done and seen and felt at the jail, and- well, it was just comfortable. It had taken a couple weeks for Mr. Dupain and Mrs. Cheng to fully become used to the idea of Marinette and Adrien being Ladybug and Chat Noir, but the dinners helped them get adjusted.
It helped, Marinette thought, to have Mrs. Agreste there. She was a permanent adult superhero, someone who could watch out for the two of them when they had to go do superhero business. She was also someone who could work alongside Marinette for her Guardian training, each of them having an area of focus so that they weren't overwhelmed by trying to learn everything before- well, in case anything happened to Master Fu.
Mrs. Agreste could focus on learning spells- she had an aptitude for them, after all- and Marinette could focus on potions, and then they could teach each other later on, when they had more time.
It was really, really great to not have the pressure of being the singular person in Guardian training. On top of that, it was nice to have time to hang out with Mrs. Agreste and get to know her more while Adrien was at basketball or fencing or- well, any of his assorted activities. Alya had teased her about "getting to know the in-laws already" when Marinette had mentioned the amount of time that she had spent with Adrien's mom (though not what they were doing, of course) but Marinette didn't dare repeat that to anyone else.
Adrien would be fine with it, she was willing to bet. Her kitty was just as heads-over-heels for her as she was for him, and talk of the future wouldn't freak him out. Their parents, though, even though they all knew about them being Ladybug and Chat Noir now….
Well, it was better not to freak their parents out by getting too serious, too fast.
"You guys look happy," Mrs. Cheng commented as the three of them filed into the room. "Did you make a lot of progress today?"
"Yeah," Adrien said happily, tugging Marinette over to the couch so that they could sit and relax together. Healing spells took a lot out of them every time, and this time, they had done an extra round of spellwork. "Nathalie actually seemed human again by the time we left. I mean, she still wasn't back to normal, but when I looked in her eyes there was actually something there."
"Mariposa said that Nathalie doesn't feel entirely like an empty void anymore," Mrs. Agreste chimed in, settling down on the other couch. She held herself regally, but Marinette could tell that she was just as exhausted as she and Adrien were. "Which is progress. A few more sessions, and she'll be back to normal." She sighed, the exhaustion peeking through the cracks a bit more. "Well, mentally back to- to whatever normal she had before she started using Heart. I'm not sure how that'll line up with what I remember for her."
Marinette made a face. She knew that it was hard for Mrs. Agreste to come back and find that so many things had changed while she was in a coma. Her husband was in jail, their family secretary and friend was also in jail, her old friend Madam Tsurugi had backed away from doing the right thing by helping bring the terror on the city to the end because she was worried about her family's reputation… it had to be really, really rough.
All things considered, Marinette was really impressed at how well Mrs. Agreste seemed to be re-adjusting to being awake. She had been keeping her hours at part-time at Gabriel to ease back into the work, but that was to be expected- things had changed during her absence and she was still recovering her strength, after all, and she was working on rebuilding her personal life as well as starting up Guardian training in her free time. It was a lot even then, but Mrs. Agreste seemed to be handling it so far.
"That's great news!" Mrs. Cheng exclaimed. "I know how you've talked about how unnerving she was to be around before, so for her to feel human again, that's a big step."
"It really is," Marinette agreed, smiling as Adrien flopped over into her lap, nestling his head down until he was comfortable. "Add that in with how good school was earlier, and today's been pretty great."
"Oh? What happened today at school?"
As Marinette told them, with Adrien chiming in every so often, she couldn't help but smile. It was so nice to be able to tell her parents everything about her day again, something that she hadn't been able to do for over a year. There were no more secrets coming between them, no misunderstandings and confusion just because she had to keep her double life secret. It was all out there, and they understood everything that she had had going on.
If someone had told Marinette a few months ago that she would be sitting here now with Adrien as her boyfriend, with his mom recovered and his father and Nathalie in jail and with her parents knowing their secret- and with Lila expelled from the school and Chloe actually making an effort to not be horrible anymore- she wouldn't have believed them. It sounded too far-fetched, too unbelievable, too good to be true. But it was true. It had taken a lot of work for them to get where they were and it hadn't been easy, but it was definitely worth it.
She really was the luckiest Ladybug of them all.
a/n: And it's finally done! The evil (both supervillain and super-liar) is defeated, the relevant parents are in the loop, and former supervillains are on the mend.
As always, comments make my day! :)