a/n: This was written post-Startrain and pre-finale (and pre-Chat Blanc, too), so while I'm aware it can't be canon now...well, fanfiction is all about exploring possibilities, right?
Marinette was starting to struggle.
Most of the time, she liked being Ladybug. Sure, there were things that she could do without- having her life interrupted because of akuma attacks and having to scramble to make up work and try to explain to her parents and teachers and friends why she hadn't been where she was supposed to be was a huge pain for sure- but Marinette had to acknowledge that her life had improved since becoming Ladybug. She was more confident now, braver, more comfortable with herself and with grabbing opportunities as they came. Marinette had noticed herself becoming a lot more athletic since becoming Ladybug, too, and that was plenty appreciated, too.
But Ladybug came with a lot of responsibilities and a lot of pressure. There was the pressure to save the day during every akuma attack, ramped up even more when Chat Noir was taken out or was late to a battle. She had to be a superhero, and a public figure, and a role model. There were interviews and public events that she was expected to do, and it was important to seem put-together and on top of things at all times, not letting on any weaknesses. Ladybug had to not let on any personal information and do her best to debunk or mislead anyone who got too close to the truth. She had to not lose her temper during interviews- it didn't reflect well on her- and do her best to not upset anyone during the interviews. Civilians always expected her and Chat Noir to save them even when they completely failed to evacuate an area just because they wanted to see the akuma and the superheroes, even though both of them had mentioned multiple times during interviews that the continued presence of civilians was both distracting and dangerous.
And being Ladybug also meant that Marinette could not, under any circumstances, get akumatized.
Which- well, it didn't sound like getting akumatized would be pleasant, so it wasn't as though Marinette would want to get akumatized, even if she weren't Ladybug. The gap in akumatized people's memories, the guilt, the confusion- none of it sounded like fun. But people got akumatized because they had been able to react to something. They were allowed to feel upset, to feel mad, to feel betrayed or embarrassed or disappointed. Sure, it would be better to be able to feel without being turned into a raging monster- and most of the time people could, Hawkmoth didn't go for every upset person in Paris- but Marinette couldn't risk it herself. She had to push her emotions down, lock them away, and keep going, as though everything was just fine, even when it wasn't.
Forcing her emotions away was starting to get really, really old. It was also getting harder and harder to do with every passing day, and there had been some close calls recently. Some really close calls. And they had been justified, but she was Ladybug, and unlike everyone else in the city, Ladybug could not get herself akumatized without dire consequences.
So naturally, Marinette sought out Master Fu for advice, taking the trek across the city to his new apartment.
"I see," Master Fu murmured thoughtfully once Marinette had told him everything, doing her best to battle down her frustration as she recounted the number of times that she had had to force her emotions away so that she wouldn't be a potential target for akumatization. "Controlling one's emotions is an important skill and one that some people could certainly stand to improve on, but emotions are human and it is not healthy to never allow yourself to feel. Bottling it all up will only result in explosive results later, but while you're in the city, it would be too dangerous to let yourself give in to emotion."
Marinette nodded, pushing down her frustration even more. She knew this already and while it was nice to get reassured that getting upset wasn't a character fault and it wasn't a good idea to always be repressing, she wanted ideas.
Support was helpful, but she needed a solution.
"So what should I do, take a train out of Paris every time I get really upset about something so I can yell at some trees?" Marinette asked despite herself, the sarcastic edge slipping in despite herself. "That doesn't seem very practical."
Thankfully, Master Fu didn't appear upset, instead giving her a small smile. "No, not very. But you have just given me an idea." Pushing himself to his feet, Master Fu headed over to his gramophone and opened it, pulling out the Miraculous Box. "I would recommend a multipronged approached, actually. First of all, identify the source of discontent and address it so that it cannot continue to cause you harm. What about the situation is upsetting you? Otherwise, all other solutions will only help momentarily."
Marinette nodded, but she couldn't help but be a bit doubtful about that. She had been trying to address the whole Lila problem, but it hadn't done anything but backfire on her. No one would listen to her when she called out the really obvious discrepancies in Lila's stories, Alya only called her jealous, and Lila upped her (not-very-subtle) assault on Marinette's character. And sitting back- well, at this point it wasn't really an option, because Lila was the kind of person to take advantage of any opening or weakness and run with it.
"I recognize that that can be hard and in the heat of the moment, it can be almost impossible to come up with a solution," Master Fu continued. He lifted up the box and carried it over to Marinette, setting it down on the floor before sitting back down on his pillow and pressing the buttons to open the Miraculous Box. "So I would like to propose an idea that incorporates your suggestion. Perhaps taking a train wouldn't be practical, given the amount of time that it would take for you to get safely out of Hawkmoth's range, but something a bit more instantaneous might be more fitting."
Marinette gasped in realization as her mentor reached for one particular drawer. "The Horse Miraculous! Of course! I can just make a portal out to the countryside to vent, then come back when it's safe. But..." She frowned, determined to not let herself get carried away too soon. "I would still have to get away from wherever I was and come over here, and I don't know how practical that would be, either."
Master Fu smiled at her, removing the Horse Miraculous from its drawer. "You misunderstand me, Marinette. I have let you borrow the Horse before in case you needed it, and I am letting you borrow it again. All you will need to do is find a private place in which you can use Voyage and know where you want to go. That, and ensure that you have enough food to recharge Kaalki prior to vanishing off to the countryside. It would not do for Ladybug to get stuck in the countryside, several hours away from Paris."
Marinette let herself feel the first tendrils of hope. With that new information... "This could help during battles, too! I always worry about Hawkmoth trying to track me back to your apartment when I have to come get more Miraculous, but if I have Kaalki- I can just make a portal and hop through!"
Her mentor looked impressed. "I had not thought of that, but you are most correct! Having you holding on to the Horse will be exceedingly helpful in a variety of ways, then."
"I'll just have to be really, really careful with my bag now," Marinette added, a small frown flashing across her face. "I've had a lock on it ever since Lila decided to plant an answer key for a test in it- same with my locker- but I don't want to accidentally leave my bag open one day and have her try to steal the Miraculous." The thought of Lila with a Miraculous, and in particular one that would give her unhindered access to any locations she could think of, was terrifying. "Maybe a combination box would work, so I don't have to carry a key."
"It is unfortunate that your classroom isn't secure enough for the Miraculous to be fine in your bag, but perhaps the extra security measures are for the better," Master Fu agreed. "You don't want anyone to see the Miraculous box by accident and put two and two together. And it would be easier than ever for someone to do, with the Ladyblogger's post about the Miraculous crest."
Marinette winced at that. Somehow- even though Alya had managed to make the connection between the designs on a variety of different historical objects, even though Alya prided herself on being super up-to-date on all things Miraculous- Alya had not managed to figure out the connection between her Ladyblog post exposé and the akumatized sentimonster that had appeared less than 24 hours later, destroying the rock sculpture that had only just appeared at the Louvre.
Or maybe she had figured out the connection and had just refrained from telling Marinette, considering how much pushback she had gotten from Marinette about the whole trying to figure out Ladybug's identity thing.
(Marinette didn't believe for a second that Alya had actually stopped trying to figure Ladybug's identity out. Maybe she wasn't being as public about it anymore, but Alya was definitely still super-curious and not so easily dissuaded. Next time Rena Rouge came out, Ladybug was going to have to drop some seriously misleading "accidental clues" about her identity.)
"I do not blame you," Master Fu assured Marinette. He pressed the box with the Horse Miraculous in it into Marinette's hand. "Keep it safe, but do not be afraid to use it whenever you feel the need. You need to be able to get your feelings out- to actually be able to express your feelings when you become upset- and this should help. And Tikki, make sure that Marinette actually uses the Miraculous," Master Fu added to her kwami. "We want to encourage healthy expression of emotions, we just want to ensure that it's done safely."
Tikki nodded, ducking her head. "Of course, Master Fu."
"Come to me if you need anything more," Master Fu told Marinette as she tucked the Miraculous carefully away in her bag, locking it after the box was safely inside. "And one more thing- be sure to have your Akuma Alerts on whenever you leave the city. Tikki may be able to provide you with something for your cell phone so that no matter where you go, you'll still be able to get service."
"Of course, Master."
"Good." Master Fu smiled at her. "I hope it helps, Marinette."
"I'm sure it will," Marinette assured him. She was already feeling more relaxed, knowing that she could leave the city for a bit instead of having to repress her emotions all the time. "Thank you."
It only took three days before Marinette had to use the Horse Miraculous for the first time. Chloe's birthday had come and gone over the weekend, it seemed, and her mother had gone back to New York only a couple days prior. Because Chloe was Chloe, she was determined to take it out on her classmates. And in particular, Marinette.
Marinette was very, very glad that she now had locks on both her school bag and her locker. Maybe she had to deal with snide comments from Lila and exasperated looks from Alya, but there was very little doubt in her mind that, had Chloe been able to get at her things, something would have been destroyed.
As it was, Chloe had been trying to push Marinette around and get a rise out of her, and Marinette had pushed right back. And then once again, Ms. Bustier pulled Marinette, not Chloe, out of the classroom to talk to her.
And once again, Marinette's frustration was rising. Giving Chloe good role models wasn't helping, and it never would. Chloe had had examples of how to behave properly for years, with other classmates and teachers and her butler and the other hotel staff, but she simply didn't want to. Why would she, when she got rewarded for being the city's biggest brat? And why should the teachers be expecting Marinette to be that role model for Chloe, when Chloe had bullied Marinette for years? Why did they want her to just lie down and take the abuse, as though that would make things better?
So for once, Marinette didn't censor herself. She didn't bite back her thoughts, pushing them down and away like she usually did. The only way that Chloe was going to stop bullying was if an adult actually stood up to her for once, instead of trying to smooth everything over.
And then, before Ms. Bustier could try to argue or reason with her, Marinette turned and stalked off to the bathrooms. Maybe this wasn't a great time to take a trip out to the countryside- after all, Marinette had already missed a fair bit of class thanks to akuma attacks- but akumas didn't care about when it would be a convenient time for them to show up. She was upset now, and so she would have to miss one more class.
"Really, Chloe just needs to be sent out of Paris!" Tikki exclaimed, sticking her head out of Marinette's bag as she dashed for the bathroom. "She keeps doing stuff like this and upsetting people, and everyone is too worried about upsetting her to do anything about it!"
"You don't have to tell me that," Marinette said grimly, heading into the girl's bathroom and making sure it was empty with a quick glance before dashing for a stall, hands already fumbling for the lock on her bag. "Unfortunately, I don't think that Chloe's father would go for that idea. Kaalki, let's gallop! Voyage!"
Marinette had done her research beforehand and had picked out several possible places in France that she could go for her out-of-Paris relaxation. Her criteria were rather simple, really, and all in the name of safety, comfort, and maximum benefits.
Marinette's retreats had to be somewhere out of the way, where no one could see the portal or see her come through it and then detransform. They had to be somewhere with decent weather, so that she wouldn't spend the entire time shivering and then end up returning to Paris too soon. And to be most effective, they had to be somewhere where Marinette could relax, meaning no noisy industrial sites or mining areas or train stations nearby.
Thankfully, the Horse's power didn't have limits on distance. That meant that Marinette could completely bypass the urban sprawl around Paris to get to green countryside and soaring mountains. So she did.
And once she popped through the portal and it snapped shut behind her, Marinette let loose with a frustrated yell that echoed off of the trees, letting out all of the anger and annoyance and why won't the teachers do ANYTHING? that had built up.
It was a lot. And as soon as it was out, Marinette practically slumped to the ground, her throat already a little sore. There had been a lot of pressure built up, and getting it out...
She hadn't realized how wound up she had been. Weeks and weeks and months of repressed emotions and suppressed reactions and trying to walk the thin line between not causing unnecessary conflict while also trying to stand up against injustice.
Trying, of course, being the operative word. It was hard for her to actually have any sort of lasting impact when the teachers and principal and sometimes even her other classmates were so focused on smoothing things over that they completely undermined her.
It. Was. Maddening.
So what if Chloe got upset and got akumatized? How was that any worse than letting Chloe upset others, over and over again? She had caused more akumas than Marinette cared to count, and pretty much every last one of them had been because Chloe had deliberately upset the person. Accidental akumatizations from Chloe- if any existed- were far and few between, and the deliberate ones had just gotten more frequent after Queen Bee started showing up.
Ladybug had allowed Chloe to keep using her Miraculous in the hopes that having to deal with some akumas would make the bully think twice about being cruel to others. Instead, she seemed to think that if she made enough akumas, she would get to come out more often.
Maybe it would be a pain to have to find and train in another person, but things had gotten to the point where she didn't want her superhero team at all associated with Chloe. Marinette didn't want Paris thinking that she was excusing Chloe's behavior, and frankly, having to fight alongside her longtime bully could be emotionally exhausting sometimes.
"That was quite the scream!" Tikki commented as Marinette released her transformation, letting both kwamis out into the cool forest air. "Has it helped?"
"I feel better, yeah," Marinette admitted, settling herself a bit more comfortably on the ground. There was still a rock digging into her leg. "But yelling at the trees doesn't solve anything. I mean, it felt good to be able to actually do, but it's not going to change Ms. Bustier's mind about actually punishing Chloe when she misbehaves." She scowled, nails digging into her hands as the reminder of the injustice came back. "All she's going to do is tell me to do better! Aren't I already trying enough? Doesn't anyone else in the class have any responsibility, or is it all magically supposed to fall on me?"
"It does seem rather unfair," Tikki agreed, but it fell on deaf ears. Marinette was continuing her rant, now on her feet and pacing.
So Tikki sat back and waited, absentmindedly weaving herself and Kaalki flower crowns to wear. There were plenty of options to choose from in the field, and it was so relaxing but also allowed Tikki to keep an eye on her Chosen, who seemed content to rant to the trees about everything she had been keeping trapped inside so that she wouldn't get akumatized.
It was a lot. Next to Tikki, Kaalki listened, apparently enthralled by the gossip.
"Your teachers do not seem to be interested in creating an environment that would reduce the number of akumas created," Kaalki commented when Marinette slowed, apparently running out of things to say. "Which is unusual, considering that akuma battles can be quite disruptive and dangerous. One would think that the possibility of being akumatized would be extra incentive to really crack down on bullying." She snorted, tossing her mane. "Bullying is not fabulous."
"Tell that to Chloe." Marinette let out a long sigh, scowling at the sky as she fiercely wiped away a stray tear that had started making its way down her cheek. "She seems to think that every time she makes someone cry, it's an achievement. That it's something to laugh about."
Tikki exchanged a look with Kaalki. She was a little shaken, really. Marinette had been upset before, but she had never been allowed to let herself really feel that emotion all that deeply before, not while Tikki had known her. The closest she had seen was during their close calls with akumas, but that- it wasn't anywhere near the level of distress and frustration that Marinette was at now.
"And Master Fu said that I should 'identify the source of the distress and address it', but it's not like I haven't tried!" Marinette continued, another tear streaking down her cheek. "I've pushed back against Chloe, but then I don't get any adult support when she retaliates! Instead, if the adults do anything, it's to scold me for not 'being the bigger person' and 'leading by example'! What else am I supposed to do? It's not like not fighting back will make it any better!"
"The teachers need to improve," Tikki agreed. "You've said before that they seem to favor Chloe, and I can see where you're coming from with that now. Ms. Bustier is so focused on helping Chloe that she's lost sight of all of her other students."
Marinette nodded. The tears were falling freely now, and while Tikki would normally be alarmed, they were well out of Hawkmoth's range and she remembered once hearing Nooroo talking about how therapeutic and relieving it could be to have a good cry. "Unless whatever problem there is is being caused by someone other than Chloe, and even then she just does the dumb hug-and-make-up approach."
"If she tries to do that with you and Lila, I hope you do the same thing that you did today," Tikki told Marinette. She had seen Lila over the past few weeks, and Tikki wouldn't deny that she was a bit alarmed. If Lila got close to Marinette, she would no doubt whisper threats or try to plant something on Marinette to get her in trouble. "Just tell her no and walk away. I know it's hard to stand up to adults, especially ones who are supposed to be protecting you, but if Ms. Bustier gets pushback from her best student, maybe she'll be forced to reflect on if those techniques are actually accomplishing what she wants them to."
"I don't want to have to! I just want to go to school, learn, and hang out with my friends, not have to- to wage a battle every time I leave the house!" Marinette's voice was turning more and more upset. "Why can't I get that? Why do I have to be always fighting in my civilian form, too? Aren't akumas enough?"
Tikki couldn't answer that. It was awful and unfair and the burden for keeping Chloe and Lila under control shouldn't fall on Marinette as much as it did, but she didn't want to say anything and give Marinette false hope.
Hopefully things would change soon and for the better, but why would they? Marinette had pushed back and complained before, abet not to the same extent, and only had been ignored or told that she had to do better. Maybe her going missing for- well, however long it would be- would shake Ms. Bustier enough to take Marinette's complaints seriously, but Tikki wasn't going to count on it. Not when nothing had changed when Chloe had gotten probably half of the class akumatized before.
An hour had passed by the time Marinette had gotten her emotions out and calmed down again enough for her to feel safe returning to Paris. That meant that school had let out for lunch by that time, so Marinette just portal-ed herself into a closet in the library before heading straight home.
She was met by a disapproving mom at the bakery's front counter. Apparently Ms. Bustier had called the bakery to report Marinette for talking back and then vanishing for an hour. In her newly relaxed state, though, Marinette was able to clearly tell her mom what had happened- what Chloe had done, what Marinette had said, Ms. Bustier's response, and Marinette's response to that and her decision to take some time to herself to calm down so that she wouldn't get akumatized.
(She didn't tell her mom that she had magically left the city, though. That would have been hard to explain.)
Needless to say, Mrs. Cheng was still ticked, but this time her ire was aimed at Ms. Bustier.
"If you can tell your dad to send someone out to man the counter for ten minutes, I think I'd like to call your teacher back and have some words with her," Mrs. Cheng told Marinette, her jaw tense. "I understand it must be intimidating to have the mayor's daughter in her class, but that's no excuse to not at least try to correct Chloe's behavior and to punish others instead. I had no idea that it had gotten so bad, but if that's the response that Chloe gets from the teachers when she acts up, it's shouldn't be a surprise that she's gotten worse." She huffed. "And it's not like her father is the president. Mayors hardly have that much power over the school system."
"Has your mom gone over to the school to talk to them before?" Tikki asked as Marinette practically skipped up the stairs to make her lunch. "It sounded like she really meant business."
Marinette shook her head. "No. I think they figured that the teachers must be giving out punishments behind the scenes, instead of interrupting class. After all, when they were growing up, their teachers would punish the bullies and support the bullied, not- not the other way around."
"And now they're really realizing what's truly going on," Tikki finished. She landed on the counter, watching Marinette as she started pulling out the ingredients for a toasted sandwich. "And I... Marinette, I've come to the realization that I have behaved somewhat poorly myself recently."
Marinette nearly banged her head on the counter door in her rush to straighten up and stare at Tikki. "I- what are you talking about, Tikki? You haven't behaved badly at all."
Tikki shook her head. "But I have! It's been rare for the stakes to be so high, like they are now. Most times when we're battling an opponent, it's perfectly fine for my wielders to get angry or upset or frustrated- and they should! It's frustrating to have to set aside your normal life to deal with threats! People argue and get upset! My Chosens tend to be like you, where they're big advocates for justice and what's right, and it's frustrating and upsetting when something isn't fair or just and you can't do anything about it!" Tikki took a deep breath before pressing on. "And this time, it's not safe to do that, not with Nooroo's powers on the other side. Nooroo has only been taken once before, and that was only for a short while."
There was a pause as Tikki composed her thoughts, and then she pressed on before Marinette could interrupt. What she had to say was important, after all, and she didn't want it to go left unsaid.
"I worry- no, I know- that I have gone too far with my focus on that danger. It's important, sure, but Ladybug is not an emotionless robot. You have trials and troubles of your own, and they are valid. You shouldn't feel like Marinette's troubles are less important than Ladybug's, and I- I think I was pushing it to that point. Looking back, there have been far too many times when you were upset about something perfectly understandable and valid, and instead I focused entirely on you needing to put those emotions aside because Ladybug can't get akumatized. Which is still true, but I could have been more understanding in my approach."
"I understand-" Marinette started, but Tikki held up a paw. This wasn't the time for Marinette to be endlessly forgiving, brushing transgressions from small to large under the rug with a gracious smile. Some things had to faced, and this was one of them.
"It is easier now, of course, with the option to escape and emote as much as is needed, to get upset and face that. But I- I have lived for eons. I know that it's not healthy to let emotions stay bottled up, and yet that's what I was encouraging! Maybe you wouldn't have been able to have the kind of breakdown that you did today, but I could have been more proactive about thinking up other solutions! And I don't want you to argue with me about that," Tikki added, because she knew Marinette and she knew Marinette would. "It's just- my promise to you is that from now on, I will do my best to do better. I will do better. Ladybug is important, but I can't let myself lose sight of Marinette in the process."
Clearly having Mrs. Cheng give a piece of her mind to the school had had an impact. Marinette didn't know what her mom had said to her teacher, but Ms. Bustier had stopped cutting Marinette off entirely when she was standing up to Chloe (and Lila, too, which was interesting), instead cutting off the fight when the other person was trying to argue back. There were no more remember-you-need-to-set-an-example looks, either, which was a relief.
Still, it was early yet, and her teachers' behavior wasn't the only thing that could make Marinette upset.
Marinette's second trip out to the countryside happened about a week after the first one, and had been more of a precaution than removing herself from any actual danger. Alya had been gushing about one of Lila's most recent lies and then had gotten annoyed at Marinette's refusal to eat lunch at school so that she could "get to know" Lila better so that she "could stop being jealous". It was something that happened so often that all Marinette really felt at that was annoyance, but, well, it was their lunch hour and it was nice to be able to sit in a meadow of flowers over a gorgeous mountain lake and freely express her frustrations with Alya's Lila obsession to Tikki and Kaalki.
Besides, the amazing view was really calming and inspiring, and Marinette returned to Paris a whole lot more relaxed and refreshed than she had left it.
"Okay, so normally I would frown upon unnecessary use of a Miraculous, but I think I might need to reassess my definition of unnecessary," Tikki admitted as Marinette packed her backpack for afternoon classes. "I feel a lot better after having that break, and I can tell that you do, too. I'm not saying that we should hop out to the countryside every day, but I don't think anyone will really mind it if you don't just use it for emergencies."
"We'll call it general mental health improvements," Marinette said with a giggle. "And I don't think Kaalki will complain- she was playing in the flowers as much as you were!"
Tikki giggled as well, looking far more like the cheerful, positive kwami that Marinette had gotten to know at the start of their time together than she had been recently. "A break is really nice. And you have the akuma alerts on your phone, so we can get back to Paris in a moment if we're needed."
Marinette tried not to look too amused. Clearly Tikki had really liked getting out of Paris. She wasn't going to complain, though, because it was really, really nice to be able to get away from things for a bit and not have to always be monitoring herself and her emotions. Away from Hawkmoth's akumas, Marinette could get frustrated and yell and actually face her emotions and come away stronger for it.
She hadn't come up with any long-term solutions, not yet. Marinette had tried the obvious- calling out Lila's lies, trying to bring the obvious contradictions and falsehoods to Alya's attention, straight-up questioning if Alya had done any verification of facts- and none of them had worked. But she was still trying.
Trips three and four- well, they were pretty similar to trip number two, where Marinette could have moved past her feelings but had appreciated the ability to actually grumble and vent first and besides, it was easy enough to grab her lunch and vanish off to the mountains or a forest for an hour to eat. Trip five was mostly just because Marinette had an entire Saturday where she didn't have anywhere that she needed to be, because the girl squad was hanging out with Lila, and it was so much easier to get her homework done without distractions when she was hanging out in a field instead of sitting at her desk, surrounded by projects and books and magazines that she had yet to read.
Trip six for much the same reason was interrupted by an akuma that had Marinette rushing to return to Paris, and trip seven was really just an extension of the sixth trip because she had forgotten to gather up all of her school things in her hurry to get back to Paris.
"Your energy has improved," Master Fu commented when Marinette headed over to his apartment for a lesson. He was smiling as he ushered her in. "Has having the Horse Miraculous helped, then?"
"Very much, Master Fu," Marinette assured him. She ducked her head, finally feeling a bit sheepish for the first time. Since Tikki and Kaalki had both been fine with and had even encouraged hopping out of the city to relax in the countryside, even when Marinette wasn't actually all that upset, she had maybe taken advantage of the Horse's powers a bit. While Marinette had certainly felt better ever since she had started escaping Paris and relaxing under the trees, surrounded by birdsong, it probably wasn't quite what the old Guardian had had in mind when he gave her the Horse Miraculous to use. "It's nice to be able to get out of the city and be able to actually face my emotions instead of shoving them away."
"And we've found that just relaxing out in the countryside helps out a lot, too," Tikki added, floating out of Marinette's purse and looking as sheepish as Marinette felt. "Even if, uh, nothing in particular happened. Or if it was just something small."
Master Fu considered them and Marinette watched him, suddenly anxious. Was she going to get scolded for misusing a Miraculous? She doubted that he would take the Horse Miraculous away from her, since it was so important that she not get akumatized and that was their best way to prevent that right now, but it was very possible that she would have to seriously cut back on the number of trips she took outside of the city. But what if he did decide that she hadn't been responsible enough with the second Miraculous and took it away and-
"I don't see any problem with that," Master Fu said at last. "There are parts of me, of course, that disagree. After all, I had the instruction to never use the Miraculous for anything except things like battle and healing drilled into me during my time at the temple and, well, what happened there only drove the message in deeper. But there are many ways to consider health, both mental and physical, and if leaving the city to do your homework in the countryside helps ease your burden and clear your mind... well, Kaalki doesn't mind, or she would have said something. And I assume that you would have told me if she had said something."
"Kaalki likes it," Tikki assured him hastily. "She's been encouraging it, even! We've been researching different places, because she so likes exploring- not outside of France, because we don't want weird charges coming up on Marinette's phone bill, but cool places in France that are away from people enough that no one will see the portal."
Marinette just nodded, relieved. She had been so, so worried that he would think that she was abusing her powers, but if Master Fu thought that her less-than-necessary trips out of Paris were okay, then...well, Marinette wasn't going to question it too much. They had been making her feel better for sure, and the landscapes that she was seeing...
Well, Paris was inspiring, there was no doubt about that. The gardens and skylines and architecture and history and shops and general fashion were all a huge source of inspiration for Marinette, but they could only go so far. Streams and meadows and forests and waterfalls and mountains...
It was a new environment, really, a break from Marinette's normal, and now she was itching to create a tank top or a dress that would flow like her new favorite little stream. And maybe traditional florals weren't exactly Marinette's thing, but flower-inspired embroidery or watercolor patterning could be.
"So I would continue as you are," Master Fu told Marinette. "Obviously the most ideal situation would be for you to not need to leave Paris in order to not become akumatized, but if eliminating the source of your stress is proving too difficult or you simply find that you relax better outside of Paris, then that is understandable."
Marinette nodded, exchanging an excited look with Tikki. Now that they had their permission, she wouldn't feel vaguely guilty anymore every time that she used Voyage when she didn't need to. If Master Fu thought that it was okay and even healthy for her to leave the city regularly, then that was all the permission she needed.
And just like that, the burden on her shoulders eased a little bit more.
Plagg could tell that Ladybug's mood had improved dramatically over the past couple of weeks, despite things at school not really changing that much, as far as he could tell. Once he talked to Tikki, the reason became obvious.
Letting Ladybug hop outside of the city using Voyage to let off a bit of steam? Genius. And it sounded like Ladybug was using the Horse just for fun, too, just to relax, which... well, she deserved it. Also, it was about time Tikki let up on her insufferable gotta-be-all-about-duty, no-fun-allowed attitude.
But that wasn't the point or even a concern at the moment, because his kid's father had pushed too much, demanded too much, and then was far too cold to Adrien over a very small mistake. That had gotten Adrien frustrated and overwhelmed and upset, and now he was in serious danger of getting akumatized.
Ladybug couldn't get herself akumatized, because then there would be no one to purify the akuma. She was crazy tactical on top of that, and even Master Fu pulling in all of their backups probably wouldn't be able to match her sheer brainpower and creativity when it came to fighting and setting traps. And if she couldn't get her Miraculous safely sent off with Tikki before the akuma took over, then there was the possibility that Hawkmoth might get the Ladybug Miraculous. That was bad.
But Adrien- Chat Noir- getting akumatized would be bad, too. Ladybug relied on her partner a lot, even if Adrien sometimes didn't realize it, and she had never fought him properly. Whenever he was being controlled by an akuma's powers, his fighting was a bit held back. It was muted. There was still him somewhere in there, subconsciously holding back just enough that Ladybug could get that opening she needed. If he was akumatized...
That subconscious hold-back would be overridden. On top of that, Adrien's guilt at getting akumatized...
He already felt bad enough when he couldn't make an akuma attack because he legitimately had no way to get away from his civilian duties, or when he got hit by an akuma's powers and couldn't be there fighting by Ladybug's side. Plagg didn't even want to think about how bad Adrien would feel if he got akumatized.
Which meant that right now, Adrien either needed to be calmed down really fast or removed from the situation entirely before an akuma could find him. Plagg didn't want to take over Tikki's previous role as Kwami of Repressing Emotions, which meant that he needed to go for the second option. Which meant that they needed Ladybug to use the Hose's portal to get Chat Noir out of Paris, ASAP.
So Plagg focused all of his energy and attention inwards for a minute, sending an urgent message to Tikki to have her and her horse-ed up Chosen come to the Eiffel Tower ASAP and to Voyage Chat Noir off to the countryside immediately. As soon as the message went through and Tikki sent back an affirmation, Plagg spun back around on Plagg.
"Up, up, transform and get to the Eiffel Tower now," Plagg demanded, tapping Adrien's shoulder. If they didn't move and Hawkmoth wasn't out of town, he had no doubt that they would be seeing a purple butterfly soon enough. "C'mon kid, up."
Adrien rolled over from where he was lying face-down on his bed and regarded Plagg. "Is there an akuma?"
"No, but you gotta get out of Paris before any butterflies come after you and Ladybug's got the Horse. C'mon, she's on her way, let's go!"
Thankfully, Adrien didn't protest any further. He transformed and ran for the Eiffel Tower, just barely landing on one of the upper beams when he was tackled from the side, off of the tower and through a portal. He and Ladybug landed in a bit of a tangle in a meadow bordering a forest, and for once Chat Noir didn't get distracted by their position, rolling off of Ladybug at once and making a dash for the trees. Once he was in a ways, he detransformed.
"You can go hang out with Ladybug," Adrien told Plagg once the kwami spiraled free. His voice sounded a bit choked. "I just- I need a moment to myself."
"Of course." Plagg hesitated a moment, then zipped back out towards the light. Horse-bug was still in the middle, her back against a large, rounded boulder. She had already pulled out a notebook and was working on homework, it looked like, or at least she was trying to. The concerned looks that she kept sending the trees probably made it a bit difficult to actually get any work done.
"'Sup, Horsefly!" Plagg said cheerfully, zipping around the rock and perching on Ladybug's shoulder. She startled but, to her credit, didn't immediately start screaming or scramble away. "Whatcha up to?"
Ladybug's glare was positively poisonous. "Horsefly?"
"Yeah! 'Cause you've got the Horse Miraculous, and flies are bugs, right? And normally you're Ladybug, so..."
Her expression went flat. "I'm setting Tikki on you. And you're not getting any cheese bread. Ever."
Plagg blinked, then promptly went backpedaling. "It was just a joke! It's not like I've been calling you that regularly or anything, ha-ha, that would be dumb, I definitely wouldn't do that. And that name wouldn't fit anyway, you're very refined and elegant and everything and horseflies aren't at all, so, uh, yeah! Just a joke, don't set Tikki on me, please don't withhold the cheese bread, you're fantastic!"
Ladybug did Not Look Impressed. Plagg...supposed that he couldn't blame her. Before he could make another stab at smoothing things over- he didn't want to lose his access to Marinette's cheese bread before he could even get it- a rather feral scream ripped out of the woods. The two of them startled, whipping around to stare at the trees. After a moment, though, Ladybug let out a snort of laughter.
"I did exactly the same thing when I first came out here," she admitted, settling back against the rock and releasing the Horse portion of her transformation. Classy glasses perched on top of her nose, and she pushed them up onto the top of her head. "Just screamed and screamed until I went hoarse to let all of the stress out. It builds up so, so much, more than I realized. And then once I could just scream my head off..."
Humans had strange stress relief mechanisms, Plagg decided, but he supposed Ladybug's reasoning made some sort of sense. He had seen Adrien scream into his pillow a couple of times to blow off a little steam before, and this was, well, a lot of steam.
"I can see why you pick spots that aren't near any hiking trails or roads," Plagg commented as another muffled scream made its way through the trees. It didn't sound scared or in pain, though, so he figured that Adrien was still doing fine. Physically, at least. "I think you might alarm some people with the screaming. I'm surprised that my kid isn't trying to muffle it, actually, he's usually the sort to suffer in silence when people who aren't me are there." The I was worried that he would be worried about you judging him went unsaid.
Plagg knew that Ladybug wouldn't judge Chat Noir, of course. They were partners and Ladybug could sympathize with too many expectations and scream-inducing stress, obviously, since she had the Horse Miraculous for this exact reason. But Adrien tended to hold his cards close to his chest even with his friends, which, considering his father, wasn't really a surprise. Plagg had seen Mr. Agreste shut down his son's feelings too often to really feel any surprise when Adrien put on his poker face even in front of his friends, opting for the path of least resistance instead of pushing back in any way.
"I could tell that he was upset," Ladybug said after a pause, her voice quiet. "I mean, he was practically screaming it with every line of his body. And...there was an akuma headed for him, when he was on the Eiffel Tower. I got it and purified it before it could make contact and so that it wouldn't fly off and get someone else when we vanished, but that- it was just way too close."
That was too close. Maybe Plagg could get his kid to join Ladybug on her more regular excursions to the countryside to get some relaxation and regular tree-screaming in. That wouldn't solve the problem of Adrien just having an awful father, but it might buy them enough breathing room to be able to not attract an akuma the next time that Gabriel Agreste was an awful person.
Or maybe he should say the next time that Gabriel Agreste was an outstandingly awful person. After all, the elder Agreste's baseline state of being seemed to be awful.
"It wasn't a great day," Plagg admitted. "And I'm not going to over-share, 'cause my kid would get mad at me and I don't want him to start hiding his emotions from me, too, but he would probably benefit from getting out of Paris every so often, too." He snorted, derisive. "If his handlers allow any time in his schedule, that is."
Ladybug looked troubled at that, which probably meant that Plagg had said too much in his annoyance with Adrien's father. Hopefully she wouldn't poke at that too much, at least not when Chat Noir was around.
"I have a friend who always seems to have things scheduled," Ladybug said, and Plagg tried not to react because, uh, that was his kid. Ladybug was getting a little too close to the truth for comfort. "Even when he has a gap in his schedule, whenever he tries to fit in something with us, his father schedules something for him instead. I'm honestly amazed that he's not been akumatized over that, because it has to be upsetting."
"Uh-huh," Plagg said, because what else could he say? Then his ears perked, pointing towards the woods. The screaming had stopped, which probably meant that Adrien had gotten the anger out of his system and had moved on to sadness, which also meant that Plagg should go check in on him and help Adrien work through his feelings. Which admittedly wasn't exactly his strong point, so... "Say, how has Tikki been recently? Still trying to get you to see everyone else's point of view, or...?"
Thankfully, Ladybug shook her head. "We've come to an understanding that there's a time and place for that, and it's not when I'm upset about something. We still talk about other people's points of view, of course, because understanding where people are coming from can help create long-term solutions, but it's not an excuse for their behavior and doesn't invalidate my feelings."
"Fantastic. Can you detransform, then, so Tikki and I can go talk with my kid?" Plagg asked hopefully. "I'm not very good at the talking stuff, really, and playing comic relief only goes so far."
"Of course!" Ladybug detransformed in a flash of pink sparkles, then settled back against the rock. "Take your time. I'm not needed anywhere, and I want my kitty feeling his best. It's really helped me to come out here, and it would be great if Chat Noir gets to have that, too. "
"Thank you, Ladybug!" Plagg told her, grabbing Tikki's paw and tugging her along towards the forest. "You're fantastic!"
Hopefully he and Tikki could help Adrien work through some of his frustrations and misery. Plagg hated to see his Chosens upset, and Plagg didn't want to see Adrien akumatized, either. It would be best, of course, if Gabriel Agreste just vanished off of the face of the earth with Hawkmoth not far behind him, but barring that happening, Plagg would have to content himself with just getting Adrien happy and in a healthier place mentally. The improvement that Ladybug had made recently was incredible, and if both superheroes were doing better, Plagg suspected that that would result in exponentially happier superheroes.
After all, a happy, rested, relaxed superhero was a focused superhero, and a focused superhero meant that their partner wouldn't be forced to pick up the slack in order to keep fighting, and that meant a less stressed partner and a stronger partnership. On top of that, if the superheroes were spending more time together outside of battles in a relaxed environment, then maybe they would be clear-headed enough to come up with plans for taking down Hawkmoth for good.
Maybe Plagg still didn't understand the whole screaming at the trees thing, but, well, if that could get Paris' superheroes back to their old, relatively relaxed and not-at-risk selves, then he wouldn't question it.
a/n: I SO wanted to write a bonus crack scene where Lila was going on and on about Achu and Prince Ali and Marinette just. like. shoved her through a portal to Achu to give her a scare, but that would have practically needed an entire other story of set-up to go with it, so I didn't.
...that concept might have to show up in some other story later on, though. No promises.
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete. And as always, reviews make my day! :)