Marinette was tired.
She was tired of missing class and events to fight akumas, and tired of making excuses to cover her absences and then having to make up the work on her own later. She was tired of comforting people after Chloe bullied them and seeing absolutely no consequences for the school's biggest bully, again and again and again. And she was really, really tired of Lila. Of hearing her lies, of seeing her classmates sucked in to the increasingly ridiculous tales, of getting blown off by Alya whenever she tried pointing out contradicting things in Lila's stories and of having to decide whether or not hanging out with her friends outside of school was really worth tolerating Lila's company for even longer than usual.
There was nothing she could really do about the akumas besides just fight them, at least not at the moment. Marinette was planning on using her spring break to buckle down and do some serious brainstorming about how she and Chat Noir could track Hawkmoth down and end the battles for good, but the break was another couple weeks out yet. That just left her Chloe and Lila problems. Two bullies, but both carrying out their bullying in very different ways and making her life very, very difficult.
Weren't adults supposed to be the ones to deal like stuff like this? Why did she have to be the one to do all of the fighting against evil? That just wasn't- it wasn't fair. Marinette was supposed to be able to be a kid right now, and dealing with supervillains and bullies was taking that away from her. More than anything, Marinette wanted to be able to fully enjoy her days together with her friends without having to be on guard and alert all the time.
Sure, maybe she could just do her best to ignore some things. But allowing evil to fester wasn't the answer, either. Not when Lila had threatened Marinette and was clearly doing her best to trip up Ladybug, and both she and Chloe were causing (or being) regular akumas.
Trying to call Lila out straight wasn't going to work, Adrien had been right about that much. It was irritating to admit, but she had her claws in too deep and was too good at turning on the fake tears when anyone challenged anything she said. Marinette had to be crafty if she wanted to outfox Volpina. And as for Chloe...
Well, she was supposed to just be able to go to an adult and report the bullying and have it dealt with by people in charge, but the adults seemed to be unwilling to actually do anything, because of the Mayor. Which meant that the root of the problem was there, somewhere, but how was she meant to deal with it? She couldn't just go up and judo-kick the Mayor as Ladybug to solve the problem. Marinette wished that it was that easy.
Marinette mulled over the problem as she sat in class, waiting for their teacher to come in and start the day's lesson. There had to be other ways to call out a liar other than sitting in class and pointing out every contradiction and inaccuracy and straight-up lie that came out of Lila's mouth. She could text Penny and have Jagged Stone make some comment during his next interview, but that would just be a small bunch of lies disproved and Lila would no doubt make up some new story about why Jagged Stone was refuting her claims. Lila had done that when Adrien pointed out that Ladybug had already called her out, and it was just going to happen again with every other lie Marinette pointed out.
(In fact, it had happened with every last one of the lies that Marinette pointed out. Lila came up with a new story, every one less believable than the last, and yet...)
She could try to get Lila cornered in a lie that someone else in class- say, Alya- would know was a lie, like something about Rena Rouge, but if Lila picked up on the fact that Marinette was trying to get her to say something specific...
Well, she would wonder why Marinette suddenly cared about her opinion, for one thing. She would wonder why that topic. And it could be dangerous, too. Lila would wonder why both Marinette and Alya (and Nino, too) would know that whatever she said about Rena Rouge would be a lie. So that was out for sure. And if she went the route of trying to convince one or two people at a time, the chance that one of them would go to Lila and ask her about something and therefore give away Marinette's plan was too high. Lila would retaliate then for sure, and Marinette really didn't need yet another thing to deal with right now.
In fact, that strategy in general sounded like a lot of work, and that was the opposite of what Marinette needed right now and the opposite of what she was going for. No, what she needed was a one-shot thing that would take Lila out solidly and for good.
And the sooner she could think of something and implement it, the better.
Marinette spent Saturday morning getting all of her homework out of the way so that she could spend her afternoon in the park, relaxing and getting some sorely-needed inspiration for a new set of designs. A summer dress was slowly taking place in her design book, and it was truly a pity that it would probably never actually be created. She just didn't have enough time, nor enough money to buy the fabric for all of her projects now that she had to cut back on the babysitting. After far too many times when she had been watching after Manon and an akuma showed up, she had had to ask Madam Chamack to keep her as an emergency babysitter only instead of Manon's regular sitter.
It was just one more way that she was getting stretched too thin.
It was relaxing to sit in the park and just be able to glance around and enjoy the calm, Marinette reflected as she added one last line to her drawing before sitting back. She hadn't gotten to do that frequently enough recently, too caught up in needing to keep on top of her schoolwork and then making presents for her friends and getting tangled up in schemes to ask Adrien out (and that...yeah, those were exhausting, too. She was going to tell the girls that she needed a break from that, too, just for a bit), and she hadn't realized before how much she missed it. The background noises of kids running around and cars driving past and the muted conversation from pedestrians was calming-
"Jean-Paul just kicked me!"
...the sound of arguing children was less so.
Marinette sighed and opened her eyes in time to see another small child scowling at the first. "Tattle-tale! You always go running to my mommy!"
"Maybe so, but we don't kick others," Jean-Paul's mom scolded. "And you'll be getting in trouble for that. If you can't play nice with others in the park, we're going home."
Marinette watched as the crying child was hauled out of the park. The kicked child went running back to the group of kids playing with a ball nearby, a smile on his face as he did. He could play without fear of being pushed around now, and it showed.
And just like that, an idea hit Marinette like lightning.
That was it! She could tattle to Mrs. Rossi. Lila's mom would know the truth of who Lila had and hadn't met, and of course she would know where Lila had actually been during those months and months of when Lila had claimed that they were out of the country (and, as anyone with eyes could see, had Skyped them from in front of streets strangely devoid of pedestrians aka posters). She was probably oblivious to her daughter's actions, and honestly, it was time for that to come to an end.
(And now that Marinette thought about it, wasn't it likely that Mrs. Rossi was getting manipulated by Lila too? How else could Lila get away with skipping school for months?)
The main problem, Marinette decided, was that she didn't know Lila's mom. She couldn't just go to the embassy and expect to be let in and led straight to Mrs. Rossi. Besides, she didn't exactly want Lila to find out who had let her mom know about her lies, not with Hawkmoth still active and Lila getting akumatized every time she was even mildly inconvenienced. But maybe she could do some research online and figure out exactly where she needed to go before acting.
Newly re-energized, Marinette packed up and headed home, making a beeline to her room. As she settled down, her phone buzzed with a message from Alya, asking if she was positive that she couldn't make it to the class outing that afternoon. Adrien was going to be able to make it for once, and maybe she could ask him out then!
Marinette sighed and rolled her eyes. Yes, she was positive. Lila was going to be there, and if Adrien was there, too, Lila was going to be hanging all over him and Marinette wouldn't get a chance to even get close. And even if she got a couple minutes with him, she didn't want to risk stuttering her way through a conversation with him with Lila hovering nearby, ready to take advantage of any weakness that Marinette showed.
Besides, she had research to do.
By the time dinner rolled around, Marinette had made some good progress. While poking through the government webpages to find the embassy, she had found some other interesting pages, ones that she bookmarked to come back to later. She had also found Lila's mom's page and another page that confirmed that Mrs. Rossi had never left the country when Lila had said they would.
If she had thought to look for something like that before, Marinette might have just brought that to Ms. Bustier's attention and let things fall apart from there. But now that she had come up with the idea of emailing Lila's mom directly, she was going to follow through with it. That was guaranteed to have pretty swift and complete results, whereas just telling Ms. Bustier might not have as much of an effect.
(That was still being kept as a backup plan, though. Marinette added it to her dossier of bookmarks.)
"Are you emailing tonight, Marinette?"
Marinette shook her head as she headed for her trapdoor. "No, I'm not. The timing has to be right, and I've decided that I need to make sure that I have evidence to send to back up at least some of the things that I'm saying. Some recordings, maybe, or- or something."
She was going to take Lila down in a single go, and she was going to do it right.
Marinette's Week of Evidence-collecting started out strong. Lila was still coming up with at least one or two lies per day- well, or at least referencing old lies, Marinette didn't think that all of them were new but she was hardly wasting the energy on listening to and remembering everything that Lila said- and with Tikki's help, Marinette was getting recordings of almost all of them. While the audio was a bit muffled at times (Marinette edited it later, so that it was easier to hear), it was clearly Lila's voice.
Besides, her classmates kept saying 'tell us more, Lila!' or 'that's so cool, Lila!', so if there was any question with whose voice it was, that should lay those questions to rest.
On top of that, Marinette had noticed that Lila spent a lot of time hanging off of Adrien, clinging to him and even going so far as to press kisses to his cheek while he was trying to squirm away. She needed to get punished for that, too, so Marinette managed to take a couple videos on her phone of Lila thoroughly invading Adrien's space and him looking deeply uncomfortable to send to Lila's mom.
Mid-week, Marinette saw something that made her very, very glad that she was taking action.
Lila had asked to go to the bathroom midway through class, and then Marinette got sent to the principal's office on an errand. On the way back from the office, with a stack of permission notes in her hand, Marinette spotted two things down on the first floor.
One was an akuma, fluttering towards a classroom. The other was Lila, headed for the akuma, chasing after it with her eyes fixed on the purple butterfly.
Marinette's phone was in her hand and recording before she even fully registered it. And there, in full color, she saw Lila catch up to the akuma and catch it in her necklace, accepting Hawkmoth's power faster than anyone else Marinette had ever seen. In a burst of black bubbles, she transformed.
And that was quite enough video. Marinette ended the recording and saved it, then made a sprint for the nearest closet to transform before Lila's latest akuma form could get too far.
(The fight still made it to the street, but at least Volpina couldn't get into her normal habit of hiding and forcing the superheroes to search for her for hours on end.)
Thursday, Marinette collected her final bit of evidence. She wanted Lila to get in trouble for her threats, too, which meant that she had to record them. That meant provoking Lila into cornering her in the bathroom, which... well, that wasn't hard, either. All it took was subtly calling out a lie in class and Lila's hackles were raised.
And just like clockwork, it happened.
"You will regret trying to get people to stop believing me," Lila snarled that afternoon. Marinette had deliberately hung around in the library for a bit, letting people filter out of school before heading for the girls' bathrooms. "They're all twisted around my fingers, you can't snap them out of it. Just watch, soon all of your friends will ditch you to come join me."
"I'm just trying to keep them from getting hurt," Marinette shot back. "You're just using them and making them do your work for you. When they find out-"
"They'll never find out, not unless I've long since moved on and it doesn't matter anymore." Lila's smirk was absolutely infuriating, but Marinette was going to ignore it. "And all of the adults believe me, too. Who's going to tell poor busy Lila that she's not doing enough work on her group project when she's so busy helping Prince Ali come up with fundraiser ideas to raise money to help disabled kids in rural Africa?"
Marinette's gaze darkened. "You're deplorable. I'm never going to let your lies go uncontested."
Lila tossed her hair. "Blah, blah, blah. You're all talk. But if the thought of losing all of your friends isn't enough- if you don't stop trying to interfere, maybe the news stations would be interested in hearing all about the mouse droppings I found in a Dupain-Cheng Bakery pastry."
...oh, Marinette was so glad that she was recording right now. A threat to fake a health and safety issue like that was serious.
"Don't you dare try to bring my parents' business into this," Marinette said at once, just out of reflex. Lila smirked, heading for the bathroom door.
"What are you going to do to stop me, exactly? Just keep your mouth shut and we won't have any problems."
With that, she left. Marinette was practically shaking with rage. After a second, though, she took a deep breath, then another.
Lila might fancy herself some sort of grand manipulator, but right now she was dancing to Marinette's tune.
Friday noon, Marinette had her emails ready to go. One was sent to a certain embassy member, detailing all of Lila's claims and everything else that she had done and finishing with links for the school website as well as her teacher and the principal's emails and phone numbers. Several minutes after that, another email went out, this time to both a French government ethics committee and the Paris school board and reporting the Mayor of Paris for abusing his power and the principal of François-Dupont for failing to stand up to the mayor and failing to protect the rest of his students from a bully for years.
"Two birds, one stone," Marinette said contentedly as she pushed herself away from the computer, closing the window once she had confirmed that everything had sent. "I've just reported the facts, and now the chips can fall where they may. I don't have to deal with it anymore and I won't burn myself out dealing with bullies."
Tikki beamed. "That's so smart, Marinette! But..." She frowned, confused. "You didn't link that video of Lila going after the akuma!"
"No, I didn't," Marinette said cheerfully, pushing herself out of her chair and heading for the door. If she didn't hurry, she was going to be late for afternoon classes, and her attendance record really didn't need that. "I have other plans for that video. You'll see."
By the time Marinette got to school on Monday, everything had changed. Chloe was sitting quietly in her seat for once, all of the wind taken out of her sails after an investigation had been launched over the weekend against the mayor for abuse of power. Mayor Bourgeois had gone silent on his Twitter and refused to make an official statement. Primary investigations that had happened over the weekend- investigations that had started seriously quickly- had already turned up several witnesses who had been threatened or bribed into doing things for the mayor and his daughter, so his political career was looking less than promising going forward.
On top of that, the rumor in the hallways- courtesy of a student who had a parent on the school board- was that the principal and all of the teachers were being required to take a course on dealing with bullies. Everyone knew which bully they referring to, too, but why the school board was suddenly taking action was still a question.
(Marinette knew that already, thanks to the response that she had gotten to her email. She also happened to know that Board of Education representatives would be stopping in unannounced and on a fairly regular basis to observe the teachers and interview random students about how the teachers were dealing with bullies and other issues, so that they couldn't get away with making victims of bullying be the 'bigger person' instead of actually dealing with the bully again.)
And then Lila's mom marched her into homeroom, an irritated look on her face. Lila, who was trailing along behind her, looked a bit trapped.
In her seat, Marinette tapped a couple buttons on her tablet before turning her attention fully to the front. Ms. Bustier got up to talk to Mrs. Rossi at once, the two of them exchanging quiet words while the rest of the class looked on in confusion. Adrien came in, took one look at the scene in front, and then sent a puzzled look in Marinette's direction.
Marinette was quite enjoying the whole situation right now, to be honest. Even if Lila wasn't looking as thoroughly crushed as she had hoped, she was sure that Lila was seething inside.
"Class, Lila has a few things that she wants to share with the class this morning," Ms. Bustier said once the bell had rung. "Lila?"
Lila shuffled her feet, glancing at the floor. A sad look slid onto her face, and Marinette resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Clearly Lila was going to try to get enough sympathy from people to slither her way out of this situation, too.
It wasn't going to happen.
"I was really nervous about being the new girl in class when I arrived here in the middle of the school year," Lila started, glancing out from under her lashes. "And with so many people here having had such cool experiences and connections! So I... might have made some things up to try to fit in. I'm sorry for misleading people, I just- I wanted people to like me."
Marinette rolled her eyes as exclamations of "we would have liked you anyway, Lila!" and "That's okay, Lila!" rang out all over the room. How were all of her classmates so hooked by Lila? Was no one going to actually be upset about being misled and hoodwinked?
"And by some things, Lila means pretty much everything that she told you," Mrs. Rossi corrected, and Lila turned a devastated look to her. Apparently she hadn't expected her mom to chime in again. "She has not only not met a lot of celebrities- or any, really- or hung out with them or saved their cats or had songs written about her, but she does not have any illnesses, and we've only left the country for a weekend at a time since we arrived here, not for months, and we only went back to visit family in Italy. She has not been involved in any sort of charity work. And it was very wrong of her to claim that she was, particularly when she was using that as an excuse to get out of doing her schoolwork."
"I just wanted to fit in," Lila sniffled, wiping at her eyes. "And I was hoping that maybe I could do some of those things eventually, maybe, or-"
"Additionally, Lila owes an apology to Adrien for hanging all over him and forcing kisses on him when he clearly was not comfortable," Mrs. Rossi continued, and in front of Marinette, Adrien startled. "And for telling people that he was her boyfriend when that clearly was not the case."
Lila visibly wilted. It looked a little practiced. "I'm sorry, I'm bad with boundaries, I- I-"
"I- right," Adrien managed, glancing at Nino a little helplessly. Marinette had a moment to wonder if anyone had ever apologized for invading his space before- she was guessing no, and that was actually pretty sad- before Lila's mom spoke up again.
"Lila also will be apologizing to Marinette for threatening both her and her parents' business when she tried to call out the lies," Mrs. Rossi added, giving her daughter a nudge as the rest of the class gasped. Lila looked like she was being asked to swallow nails now, and judging by the surprise that had initially flashed across her face, her mom hadn't mentioned that bit of the email to Lila before.
Which meant that she hadn't had a response prepared, not that she could wriggle out of that revelation.
"Sorry," Lila spat out after a second. "What I did was wrong and I shouldn't have done it."
"And Marinette, do you accept Lila's apology?" Ms. Bustier asked cheerily, ignoring the now-stewing student next to her. Marinette straightened and glanced at Lila, then turned her attention back to Ms. Bustier.
"No, I don't accept her apology," Marinette said clearly, and she could hear the gasps at that, too. People had apparently thought that she would be kind and forgiving as always, but that wasn't going to happen this time. She wasn't going to back down. "Because clearly Lila isn't actually sorry for threatening me. She's just sorry that she got caught."
Ms. Bustier looked a little uncertain about how she was meant to proceed after that. Clearly she had expected that Marinette would accept the apology graciously and perhaps offer to show Lila how to properly behave or something of the sort.
And that was not happening. Marinette was not obligated to forgive her bullies. The teachers would learn that during their 'how to deal with bullies' course, and if they didn't? Well, the School Board would find out and require more training until the message got through.
"Well, we wanted to make sure that all of Lila's old classmates knew the truth," Mrs. Rossi said after a moment. "Lila will be switching schools, effective today, and her new teachers will be given a heads-up so that this doesn't happen again. Lila, say good-bye. We're leaving now."
Lila waved after a moment's pause, and as she and her mom turned to leave, she sent one final poisonous glare at Marinette. It promised retribution, but Marinette didn't falter at all. In fact, as she glanced down at her tablet and saw the response to the email that she had sent right before class, she smiled.
Lila might think that this was all of the punishment that she was going to get, but she couldn't be more wrong. After all, the police were apparently been very interested in the recording and videos that she had just sent them. Allegations that someone was working with Hawkmoth were taken very seriously, and the video of Lila grabbing an akuma that wasn't even going for her so that she could transform and the interview that Marinette had gotten with Chat Noir over the weekend where he had stated that Lila had faked injury to distract him and give an akuma easier access to Ladybug while not under the influence of any akuma were pretty damning evidence. And as for the diplomatic immunity that Lila got thanks to her mom…well, Marinette was pretty sure that if Ladybug made a quick visit to the embassy with the evidence over lunch today, the protection would get waived pretty fast. Collaborating with terrorists was not something that they would let slide.
If Lila had thought that she was in trouble before, it was nothing compared to what she was going to be facing now.
Content, Marinette turned back to her notebook. Two of her long-term problems had been solved over a single weekend with a couple well-placed emails, and it was such a weight off of her shoulders. On top of that, the video that she had taken of Lila accepting the akuma had reminded Marinette that while kwamis could not be caught on camera, the same could not be said for Hawkmoth's corrupted butterflies. And that had given her an idea to track down Hawkmoth and end the akuma battles for good.
Next weekend, the superheroes would be making a trip to the police station to meet with the chief and set up a secret array of cameras across the rooftops of Paris to hone in on where the corrupted butterflies were coming from. By the time summer rolled around, she and Chat Noir should know where Hawkmoth's lair was and be able to attack him, ending the fight for once and for all on their terms.
For the first time in what felt like a very long time, Marinette was feeling fully optimistic once more.
a/n: Ah, Marinette knocking Lila down a few pegs is always cathartic :) And Chloe's been taken down while she was at it. That's what happens when your power is based on either lies or illegal activities!
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, reviews make my day! :)