A/N: Bonus Mom Squad chapter, as requested! I took the scene I had and expanded it a bit (okay, a lot).
Marlena Césaire was on a mission.
No, it wasn't a mission to catch Alya in the middle of slacking off on her responsibilities, like it had been the night before. Her daughter had been caught red-handed and given a very strict talking-to, though exact punishments were still being decided on. After all, Marlena and Otis didn't know exactly how long Alya had been getting away with her skipping (the younger kids were rather vague, though they let on that it had definitely been more than a couple months), and, well, they didn't exactly trust Alya to tell them.
So now, Marlena was headed for the Dupain-Cheng's family bakery in search of a more trustworthy source of information. Marinette would still be at school, of course, but perhaps her parents would be willing to take a message, or maybe they happened to know how long Marinette's babysitting had been going on.
Thankfully, she had timed her break perfectly with the bakery's afternoon lull, and Marinette's mom was sitting at the bakery's counter, reading a book. As Marlena entered, she looked up and smiled, tucking a bookmark between her pages and setting the book aside.
"Hi, Sabine," Marlena replied at once. She glanced around, making sure that there weren't any customers around. "Do you have a minute?"
Sabine nodded, not looking at all puzzled by the request. "I assume that this is about the whole babysitting thing?"
"Of course. I was quite surprised when Marinette mentioned it yesterday. It was pretty obvious that she didn't know that I wasn't aware of it."
Sabine managed a smile. "Yes, she was quite upset at lunch over the whole thing, which is when Tom and I learned about it. I just wished that she had mentioned it before, because she's been so overworked lately. We would have put a stop to it, at least on her end. She wasn't sure if she should admit the mistake to Alya. We told her not to."
"That's a good idea," Marlena agreed. "Alya was clearly really upset that she had been caught. Ridiculously so, considering that she was the one fully in the wrong, but she doesn't seem to see that yet. I would hate to see her blame Marinette for her punishment and have the two of them fall apart over this." She paused. "Am I correct in my assumption that Alya and Nino didn't pay Marinette for her time?"
Sabine sighed, nodding. "Yes, that's what Marinette said when we asked. And they kept springing the requests on her. Marinette hasn't had time to sit down and design like she normally does for ages now."
...well, that was another thing to talk about with Alya. Her daughter needed to recognize how she was affecting others. It was rude and selfish for her to be making requests of her friends that resulted in them not having any free time and Alya- who had plenty of free time to start with!- getting even more.
"If Marinette can come up with an approximate number of times that she's babysat Chris and the twins- or Chris or the twins, I don't know what arrangements they had- and for how long, that would be great," Marlena said instead. Alya's selfishness and apparent tunnel vision when she wanted something needed to be discussed directly with her daughter, not with Mrs. Cheng. "We'll pay Marinette back out of Alya's allowance, and Nino's family will be doing the same. Both of them were getting raised allowances for babysitting, so it's only fair."
Sabine smiled. "That sounds like a good solution."
"Yeah. Alya's not happy about it, but I'm not particularly happy with her at the moment." That was an understatement, honestly, but Marlena wasn't going to linger on it. Alya had gotten that message loud and clear the previous night, when she and Otis had set Alya's grounding for a minimum of a month, potentially extended out for however long Alya and Nino had kept the secret from their presents. That would mean a grounding of several months, far more than they had ever doled out for any punishment before, but if Alya actually showed remorse for what she had done and an understanding of how wrong it was to take advantage of her parents' trust in her and her friend's kindness- well, that could potentially be shortened a bit.
Time would tell. At the moment, Marlena was leaning towards a longer punishment.
"Has Marinette said anything else about it? How long things have been going on, how long she normally babysat per night...?"
"Oh, for months, but she didn't say anything exact. She did mention that Alya said that the idea came from her classmate Lila." There was distaste in the way she said that, Marlena noted, and that was interesting. "Marinette had questioned that, and from what she heard, Alya had been in contact with Lila and had been complaining about wanting more dates with Nino, and Lila was the one to make the suggestion that they give the kids to someone else and use that time for a date."
"The same Lila who I found telling tall tales to the kids when I got home, I assume," Marlena said, mentally thanking Otis for finding the seminars that he had signed Alya up for earlier in the day, focused on healthy relationships both romantic and platonic. At least one of them would be going with her to- well, the romantic one at the very least, to make sure that they were enforcing whatever behaviors the instructor was encouraging (and discouraging whatever the instructor deemed unhealthy, of course), and possibly the friendship one as well to make sure that Alya was actually paying attention. The taking advantage of Marinette... well, that was something they just couldn't not address. "The one cooking up some ridiculous tall tales that she claimed were perfectly true."
"Precisely." Sabine was frowning. "I need to ask Marinette more about that girl. I could tell there was more there that she wasn't telling us, but we didn't have enough time to fully delve in before Tom and I had to get back to the bakery."
Marlena sighed. "Alya thinks that Lila is a fabulous friend, but I've heard more than I ever want to about Lila's tall tales. That and the news that Lila was the one to encourage Alya to shove her babysitting off on Marinette...well, unless Lila's lied more, her mom works at the embassy. I've got a mind to go over there tomorrow during my break and have a word with Mrs. Rossi about what her daughter is up to."
"That sounds like an idea," Sabine agreed. "I wouldn't be surprised if she's being kept in the dark, too. Welcome to Tom and Sabine's!" she added to the customer who had just entered. "Are you looking for anything in particular?"
"Well, I'll let you go," Marlena said, stepping aside so that Sabine could help her customer. "You have my number, so let me know what Marinette says. And after hearing how stressed Marinette was- let me know how much more Marinette's rates are for emergency babysitting versus her normal rates. She deserves the money, for sure. And she'll be getting whatever Lila would have earned, because that girl certainly doesn't deserve it."
Sabine laughed. "All right. I'll try to have Marinette give me those numbers tonight and then I'll pass them on."
Marlena smiled, thanking Sabine one last time, and then she headed back out the door. She had to get back to work, and if she had any time to spare for a quick Google inquiry...
Well, one Mrs. Rossi would be getting a visit tomorrow afternoon.
At eight o'clock that night, Marlena got a text from Sabine Cheng.
Sabine: I'd like to come along with you tomorrow. That girl threatened my Marinette.
Marlena swung by the bakery the next afternoon to pick up Sabine. When she stuck her head inside, she found Sabine by the door and a rather unhappy-looking Tom behind the corner.
"Tom wanted to come along, too, but someone had to watch the counter," Sabine told her as they left. "He was quite angry about finding out everything that Lila has been doing and how much stress she's causing Marinette. Marinette has been trying to call out the lies but, well, Alya has apparently refused to listen and then Lila threatened her to try to get her to stay quiet."
"I'm not surprised about Alya," Marlena said with a sigh, leading the way over to the bus stop. "I wish I could say that I am, but I'm not. Otis and I talked to Alya more last night, and she accidentally let slip that when either she or Nino had babysitting to do and the other didn't, the one without anything would claim that they were going to another classmate's to study or work on a project and then the two of them would go on a date instead. So that's another deception. And all Alya could say was that it hadn't hurt anyone, so why was it such a big deal?"
"She's still not picking up on how much stress she was putting on Marinette," Sabine filled in, and Marlena nodded.
"That, or how big of a deal the lying is, or how dangerous it could have been to have Lila babysitting, or how making Marinette take care of three very rowdy kids at once could have turned out badly." On top of that, Marlena and Otis had looked through Alya's texts- not something they normally did or advocated doing, but the breach in trust rather warranted it- to see if there was anything else that she was hiding, and the texts that Alya had sent Marinette in response to finding out that Marinette couldn't make it... well, they were rather self-serving, less focused on Marinette's struggles and more on what Marinette could do for Alya. That was going to get addressed.
Sabine only nodded.
The bus came, and they got on. It wasn't a long ride to the Italian embassy, and then they were heading for Mrs. Rossi's office. Marlena had set up an appointment the previous day to ensure that Mrs. Rossi would be free when they came, and considering how busy the embassy was when they stepped in, it had been a good idea. It didn't take long to find the office they were looking for, and then they were waved in to meet a politely puzzled Mrs. Rossi.
"It's nice to meet you," Mrs. Rossi said politely as the door shut behind them. She glanced at a paper on her desk. "Uh, which one of you is Mrs. Marlena Césaire?"
"That's me," Marlena said at once, stepping forward to shake hands. "And this is Sabine Cheng. Our daughters are in the same class as Lila."
"Is- is this really the time to discuss the girls?" Mrs. Rossi asked, clearly more puzzled than ever. "I mean, I am at work right now, surely we could arrange to meet at another ti-"
"Your daughter has been threatening mine."
"And she's been feeding all sorts of lies to her classmates and persuading them to behave poorly," Marlena chimed in, though she wasn't entirely sure that Mrs. Rossi had caught that, she was so busy staring in shock at Sabine.
"Threatening- that doesn't sound like my daughter at all! She told me that people at school were very friendly and that she got along with all of them and-"
Marlena cut across before Sabine could say anything more. "Lila has been telling people that she's met all sorts of famous people and travels all over the world on a regular basis. According to Alya, she has also been claiming all sorts of ailments- arthritis, allergies, tinnitus that she supposedly got from saving Jagged Stone's kitten on an airplane runway-"
Mrs. Rossi had sunk back into her chair, eyes wide as Sabine picked up the list.
"She's gone on the Ladyblog as claiming that she was saved by Ladybug and now they're best friends. My daughter saw Lila deliberately knock over her classmate Adrien's book bag to steal an old book from him, which Lila later threw in the trash. If Marinette had not rescued the book and returned it, that would have resulted in Adrien getting pulled from the school by his father, which would have crushed the poor boy-"
"Adrien? Adrien Agreste?" Mrs. Rossi demanded. She didn't even wait for them to nod before barreling on. "Lila told me that he was her boyfriend! That they started dating- oh, months ago, back before the akuma attacks that shut down the school for so long!"
There was a long pause. Then-
"Uh, what do you mean, shut down the school?"
By the time Sabine and Marlena left, Mrs. Rossi had been brought up to speed on all that Lila had been up to and was on the phone with Mr. Damocles. Ms. Bustier was on her way to the office to join the call, so that they could discuss all of Lila's stories. She seemed quite stressed, but managed to wave to them on their way out.
"Well, I think that was rather successful," Marlena said cheerfully as they headed for the bus stop to ride back to the bakery. "We got apologies for Lila's behavior and from the sound of things, Lila will get rather thoroughly punished."
"And the principal is now aware of Lila's threats," Sabine chimed in. She was looking rather pleased as well. "So Marinette will finally get her justice. I can't believe that she didn't tell Tom and I before. I rather hope that Tom hasn't decided to leave the counter to one of his helpers and storm the school in our absence," she added with a small laugh. "He was ready to head straight over last night when Marinette told us, never mind that it was late and the school was closed! And it took both Marinette and I this morning to convince him not to tag along with her to school so that Lila wouldn't be able to threaten her again."
Marlena laughed. "I can just see him now, wedging himself between Marinette and Alya on their bench at school and acting like he's meant to be there. I'm sure Marinette is happy to know that you two are so firmly on her side, though. Even if Tom's reaction was perhaps a bit impulsive."
"I'm just concerned that she didn't come straight to us in the first place. Like, what did we say to make her think that she had to deal with it on her own? As much as I'd like to think that it's not something that we did but rather just her becoming more independent... well, I kind of doubt that that's the case." Sabine was frowning, concerned. "So Tom and I will be doing some reflection as well, I suspect. We certainly don't want to make Marinette hesitate to come to us with any problems she has."
"It is concerning that she was getting threats and hadn't said anything," Marlena agreed. She sighed. "All this drama. I don't remember my collège years being anywhere near as- as-"
"Dramatic? Stressful? Crazy?" Sabine offered, then gave a little laugh. "And Marinette is doing commissions for famous celebrities on top of everything else, which is- it's crazy. We're so proud of her, of course, but it's still not something we ever would have expected to happen."
Marlena smiled. She had heard about that and- well, it was truly impressive. What was strange about it, though, was how crazy Alya had gone over Lila's stories about hanging out with celebrities when Marinette was designing CD covers and posters and concert outfits for famous people. On top of that, Marlena had heard Jagged Stone referring to Marinette as his honorary niece more than once.
And somehow, Alya was impressed by Lila. At least those lies were going to be coming out today.
"Oh, before I forget," Marlena said suddenly, digging in her purse. She pulled out an envelope and passed it to Sabine, who peeked inside. "Checks from both our family and Nino's, to pay Marinette for her babysitting. We did time and a third because it rather sounded like the babysitting was getting forced on her when Marinette already had more than enough to do."
"They are very generous," Sabine commented, tucking both checks back into the envelope and placing it carefully in her purse. "Wow. We'll take Marinette to the bank to deposit them this weekend."
"Yes, well, I think Marinette rather earned them." Neither Alya nor Nino would getting their allowance for a while to pay for it and neither were thrilled about that, but it sounded as though Nino at least had gotten to acceptance stage by the night before. Alya was more stubborn, though, so it would probably take her longer to accept responsibility for her actions. Marlena sighed at the thought. Dealing with haughty, demanding customers was the worst, but dealing with a stubborn teenage girl was pretty far up there, too. "I'll just be glad when all of this is behind us."
Marlena returned home that evening after the dinner rush to find Alya in what could only be described as a mood as she spluttered out the events of what had apparently been a very interesting afternoon. Lila's mom had ended up going over to the school to meet up with their teachers and principal in person, and it had come out that Lila was lying and manipulating them for her own benefit. Alya was steaming because of the deception, but, well, still not for quite the right reasons.
"I can't believe I posted that bucket of lies on the Ladyblog!" she was fuming, a fierce scowl on her face. "There goes my reporter's credibility! And she- she was the one who told me to have Marinette babysit so that Nino and I could go on dates! This is all her fault!"
Marlena sighed. Clearly the concept of personal responsibility was still eluding Alya.
"She wanted me to like her, and so she made me think that it was a good idea and that it would be fine and- and-"
Nora snorted, glancing over the top of her textbook. "How very unfortunate that you lost the ability to, oh, fact-check things that went on your blog before posting them. And at the same time that you lost your critical thinking skills, too!"
Marlena sighed again, exchanging a look with Otis as he headed over to try to fend off a fight between their two older girls. She had hoped that they would have a peaceful evening, but it was looking like there wasn't much chance of that.
Across town, Sabine smiled as Marinette gushed about her day- Lila had been pulled out of their classroom mid-afternoon and hadn't come back. Rumors had buzzed around the classroom, unhampered by Mr. Haprele, who had stepped in to oversee the classroom while Ms. Bustier was out, and it wasn't until their last class that their teacher had returned and broke the news to them about Lila's lies. The news had been received with no small amount of shock by most of her classmates, and more than a few had apologized to Marinette for not believing her before.
Marinette herself had been called to the principal's office after school let out to give a statement about the threats that Lila had made towards her, and it sounded like the Italian girl wouldn't be returning to their school at all. In fact, it sounded like Mrs. Rossi was planning on sending Lila back to Italy to stay with her grandparents there as soon as possible, probably because Hawkmoth's presence in the city meant that there was an added note of danger to the whole situation- either Lila herself would get akumatized over being found out, or someone upset with her would. Removing her completely from the situation meant that Lila couldn't try to retaliate in any way, either by more lies or by accepting an akuma, and Marinette could finally relax.
Maybe nothing about the situation before had been ideal- Marinette's best friend taking advantage of her kindness and hiding information from her, the bullying, Marinette's absolute burn-out level kind of exhaustion- but Sabine personally thought that it had resolved itself rather nicely. There had been a lot of lessons learned, and now she and Tom would know to be on the lookout and ready to step in to investigate and offer a helping hand if Marinette started to struggle and get overwhelmed again, hopefully intervening before it got to be too much.
And with any luck, nothing like this would ever happen again.
a/n: The actual end now! I hope you enjoyed the bonus chapter ft. Marinette getting paid (a lot), more about Alya's punishment (to clarify, last chapter it was a one month minimum on the grounding and Alya knew that but wasn't even going to entertain the idea of her punishment being longer), and Lila's (offscreen) downfall.
I hope you enjoyed Mom Squad! As always, reviews make my day! :)