Going back to school with a broken leg- well, it was pretty intimidating.
After all, their classrooms at school were divided between two levels. There was a lot of bustle and unintentional pushing as students moved between rooms when they were switching classes, and some of the doors- like the bathroom doors- weren't exactly going to be easy to push open with crutches. Then there was the worry of Chloe trying to take advantage of Marinette's hindrance to try to do something to her. Getting to her seat, slipping away unnoticed if an akuma attacked, being able to do any quality focusing when she was on her pain meds...
Well, she would have to take the day as it came. And as it turned out, it wasn't so bad after all.
Mr. Damocles pointed out a fairly hidden elevator that she could use. Kim and Ivan offered their services to piggyback-carry Marinette up and down the stairs at school if she didn't want to bother with finding the elevator between classes. As soon as he heard what was going on, Adrien offered the same thing, clearly eager to be of help. Everyone had heard what Lila had done and was horrified about ever doubting Marinette, so everything there was back to normal. Alya had even made a post on the Ladyblog apologizing for posting Lila's lies and calling her out for Marinette's injury, so all of Paris- or at least everyone who followed Alya's blog- knew how terrible of a person Lila was.
And Hawkmoth didn't attack until after school, which meant that Marinette didn't have to bother with slipping away. She could follow the fight from the comfort of her temporary bedroom, surrounded by pillows and blankets.
"Okay, I've managed to get into the city's video feeds," Vipera commented, watching her screen. All she had needed to get the screen on the lyre was to want it, and then she had noticed a little button to push. It expanded across the middle of the instrument, large enough for her to easily follow. "And it should hop from feed to feed, whatever will get me the best view."
"Fantastic!" Coccinelle told her. "I think we've got the hang of this right now, it seems a very standard-issue akuma. We've seen far worse."
Vipera nodded. She had to agree. As far as first akumas for her mom to face, this was a pretty good one to start on. It would involve a bit of fighting, but there had been far more complicated and difficult akumas before.
For the most part, she was going to stay out of things. If she talked too much, that was just one more thing for Coccinelle to keep track of. If they needed help or if she spotted an opening or a trap, then she would speak up. And of course, if she needed to use Second Chance, then she would tell them what they needed to do instead.
The fight raged on, and Vipera followed it carefully. She needed to be hugely on top of things to be able to figure out when to activate Second Chance, if it was needed. It would be harder to do now, when she wasn't physically at the fight, so lapses in concentration were not allowed.
(Oddly enough, Vipera liked that. It was a challenge, something that kept her mind on the top of its game. It wasn't the usual physical challenge, maybe, but the mental challenge...)
It wasn't long at all before the akuma fight wrapped up, with only a few helpful suggestion from Vipera. The two superheroes on the scene fled before reporters could get close and ask any questions, and Vipera sat back with a hum, considering that.
On one hand, holding off could be a good thing. The less information Hawkmoth got, the better. The longer they could hold off making any statements- well, then Hawkmoth would be kept in the dark.
On the other hand- well, Hawkmoth had eyes. He could see that Coccinelle was different than Ladybug. He wouldn't know what that meant, maybe, but he might try to send out more akumas until he got the answers that he wanted.
Vipera leaned forward, tapping her chin in thought. More akumas would definitely not be a good thing, so they would want to discourage that somehow. Even though Coccinelle had put on a good show with the first akuma and her martial arts training had shown through, inexperience was inexperience and Hawkmoth would try to take advantage of that with a difficult akuma that would put a strain on all of them. So if they could make the battles harder for Hawkmoth and his akumas...
Well, there had been some times where Vipera thought that maybe she could activate Second Chance and shorten the fight a bit. It would have required a bit more coordination- maybe Chat Noir should have an earpiece in, too, so she could talk directly to him- but that was a possibility, something that they could explore to maybe make Hawkmoth step back and reconsider sending out more akumas.
"Almost back!" Coccinelle said in Vipera's ear. "I'm going to use your balcony. That seems the safest. I'll mix it up in the future so that I don't get tracked back."
"That seems like a good idea," Vipera agreed. She waited for a confirmation that her mom was back, then detransformed. A check of the clock revealed that she was due for pain meds, and so she took one before maneuvering to sit at her desk, wincing when her cast bumped into the desk's side and sent a spike of pain up her leg.
Superheroes had to keep up with their homework, after all. Since she was going to keep being involved in the battles, even with her broken leg, that meant that she had to keep on top of her assignments and not spend too much time loitering around.
Planning for future battles would have to wait. For now, Marinette had homework to do.
Four days in, and Paris was apparently worried about their missing superhero, even with Chat Noir's announcement about Coccinelle just being a short-term temporary replacement while Ladybug got some much-needed rest. They had seen temporary heroes before, of course, but rarely without both of the other superheroes- and never without Ladybug.
It took everything in Marinette not to laugh, really. She wasn't missing from the fights, not really. There had been three battles so far, and she had been overseeing all of them, watching, waiting for a sign that she needed to step in.
Vipera had used Second Chance exactly once, and that was to warn Coccinelle and Chat Noir about a sentimonster rearing its head. She seemed to have a sixth sense about when it would be a good idea to activate her power, even if there was nothing that was obviously off yet. And nothing had gone seriously wrong in that instance, but Coccinelle and Chat Noir were able to respond and take out the sentimonster without a problem before it even got a chance to get going and interfere with their battle with the akuma.
Marinette had spent a lot of time talking with Sass to figure out how to get full use of her powers, tapping in to that sixth sense and being able to manipulate the fight more effectively. While her parents could deal with her mom being gone for fights- they had enough seasoned staff in the back kitchens of the bakery that her dad could cover the counter for a while- it was better not to have to be short-staffed for long. If she could shorten fights with her use of the Snake, then Marinette wanted to do that.
For now, though, things were going well.
"Chat Noir and I sometimes did patrols, back when we were starting out," Marinette told her mom as they worked on dinner together. Marinette could sit at a tall chair at the counter and chop veggies, facing her mom as they worked. "We haven't done that a lot recently, because we've been so busy with school and it's hard to keep up with everything sometimes, but it was fun to hang out." She made a face. "Except when we were just patrolling to keep Mr. Damocles from hurting himself. That was just frustrating, because it was every. single. day."
"Chat Noir has suggested that we do some patrols over the weekend," Mrs. Cheng told her. "Or, rather, run some loops around the city so that I can get some practice in with your yo-yo. I thought it was a good idea, because that's definitely an area that I'm struggling with. And then he's suggested some fighting practice, too, just to make sure that I'm on the top of my game."
"I think it's a really good idea!" Tikki piped up. "Since Chat Noir is used to a certain level of fighting ability at his back, and he might automatically do something that doesn't work as well when he doesn't have Ladybug next to him. The two of you have been fighting alongside each other for so long, you can practically read each other's minds, it seems. Coccinelle might be temporary, but she'll be doing enough fights that it's important to have some of that teamwork and training there."
Mrs. Cheng nodded as she dumped a cutting board of chopped veggies into her frying pan. "Exactly! And Chat Noir seems like such a nice boy, so it'll be nice to get to know him better," she added. "I want to know the boy that my daughter's been spending so much time with!"
"Maman!" Marinette complained, immediately embarrassed. "We're just friends, you know that!"
Her mom laughed, giving the sizzling veggies a stir. "I know, but I like knowing your friends, too! And you can't deny that Ladybug and Chat Noir seem quite close," she added with an impish smile. "I mean, I think all of Paris saw those photos of you two kissing-"
Marinette yelped. Loudly. Tikki was giggling, the little traitor. "It was because he got hit by Dark Cupid and I was trying to break him out from under the spell, because that's what works in fairy tales!" She pouted at her still-giggling mom. "And it did work, because he snapped out of it, so there!"
"Of course, dear," Mrs. Cheng said. There was still an amused edge to her voice, not entirely convinced, but Marinette wasn't going to keep on arguing. It wouldn't get her much anywhere, after all.
"I do worry about him, though," Mrs. Cheng added after a minute of silence. "Besides just the hero thing. He said that he was homeschooled for most of his life-"
Marinette was pretty sure that her jaw had hit the floor. "Mama! He's- you're not supposed to talk about civilian lives! It's too dangerous, we could find out each other's identities before the kwamis say it's okay!"
"I've not given away anything that would give me away, Marinette," Mrs. Cheng told her. "Which- well, would be where you go to school and the bakery, really. Anything else I would think wouldn't be specific enough to give anything away. There's two million people in Paris, Marinette. The chances of you two knowing each other enough that me saying anything else would result in a reveal surely can't be that high-"
"Chat Noir has had brunch with us, Mama!" Marinette protested. "He knows civilian-me! It's not like I've never interacted with him on this side of the mask before!"
Her mom considered that. "Oh. Hmm."
Instead of promising that they would never talk about their civilian lives again, Mrs. Cheng smiled. "Speaking of that brunch- what was that all about, dear? Your dad was under the impression that you had confessed your love for Chat Noir!"
...Marinette had admittedly temporarily forgotten about that bit.
"He spotted me on my balcony pretty much right after I detransformed," Marinette hastened to explain, before her mom could get any more ideas. "And wanted to know why I was there. So I had to distract him, and come up with a reasonable explanation for why I was there-"
"Because 'I live here' wasn't good enough?"
Marinette froze. She...hadn't thought of that. "Oh. But it was late, and I was really, really tired!" she added on hastily when both her mom and Tikki started to giggle. "So I just blurted the first thing that came to mind and it doesn't mean anything I just thought that playing fangirl was a good idea!"
"I suppose we should stop teasing her before she explodes," Mrs. Cheng told Tikki, amusement lacing through her words. "I feel like Chat Noir might be upset if she did, since he's already looking forward to her return so much."
"Anyway, as I was saying before- just because Chat Noir knows you doesn't mean that you know him, Marinette- he's been homeschooled, and I get the impression that he's not had great adult role models in his life," Mrs. Cheng continued over Marinette's spluttered objections. "He's been asking me about things that have happened with his friends that he hasn't understood, since he hasn't had many good friends growing up and learned pretty much everything about social interactions from anime, of all things. So I think having more time to properly discuss things and have some adult guidance during our training sessions will be good for him. Akuma battles aren't the most ideal for giving a good dose of parental advice."
Seriously, Marinette couldn't believe her ears. Her mom had apparently decided to mother her partner. What was next, inviting him over for dinner?
...she wasn't going to suggest that. Her parents would probably decide that they should all transform and go out to eat together, or maybe have a picnic in the park.
"I think Chat Noir will benefit from it," Tikki agreed happily. "And clearly he knows that something is off with some of his social interactions if he's asking about them. Really, it's a compliment, Marinette!" Tikki added when Marinette looked dubious. "He's decided that whoever raised you must have given good advice, because he sees you as well-adjusted."
Marinette gave a short nod. Maybe Tikki had a point, but- well, she was still adjusting to the idea of Chat Noir telling her mom more about his personal life, because maybe there were two million people in Paris, but how many people were close enough to their area of Paris to be able to respond to akuma attacks in the same window of time that Chat Noir did? And out of those people, how many of them were teenaged boys?
(Blond teenaged boys who had been homeschooled for at least part of their life. That- that was getting uncomfortably specific.)
(Maybe there were more of them than Marinette thought. Maybe Chat Noir wasn't actually blond. Maybe she shouldn't think about it too much.)
"Anyway, I think I'll be spending a little more time transformed than initially planned," Mrs. Cheng finished, giving her pan on the stove a little shake before checking to see how cooked the vegetables were getting. "Just to take advantage of the ability to dole out a bit more parental advice. And to train, of course. We want to have the best possible chance of getting the Ladybug Miraculous back to you safe and sound!"
"Of course, Maman," Marinette agreed. She paused, considering, then looked over at her mom again. "Do you want to hear about some of our past akuma battles? I mean, I know all of Paris sees news coverage of most of the fights anyway, but..."
Mrs. Cheng beamed at her. "Would I like to hear about the battles from Ladybug herself, who was in the thick of things? Of course!"
Marinette beamed, her mind racing to come up with a good fight to start with. "Well, a couple months ago..."
"Marinette, dear, wake up."
Marinette groaned at the voice disturbing her sleep, automatically trying to roll over to bury her face in her pillow before the blanket rolls that she had set up to keep herself from disturbing her leg too much stopped her. Another tap at her shoulder made her frown again, and then her eyes slowly fluttered open to see her mom standing next to her bed, carrying a flashlight in one hand. She frowned.
"Mom? What's going on?"
"There's an akuma attack and I need to borrow the earrings," Mrs. Cheng told her as she helped Marinette sit upright. "You don't have to stay up for this one, Chat Noir and I will be careful."
"No, I want to help," Marinette insisted, the fog already clearing away from her brain as adrenaline rushed through her system. She pulled out the earrings, passing them to her mom before digging in her dresser drawer for the Snake's bracelet. Aside from Tikki's healing abilities being stronger when she was with Marinette instead of with her mom, this was why she always took back the Ladybug overnight, so that Coccinelle wouldn't sneak off without the Snake's backup. "So both you and Chat Noir should have your earpieces in, okay?"
"If you insist, dear. But remember, if you get tired, just let us know and go back to bed. Rest will help your body heal faster, and I know you've been tired." Mrs. Cheng slid the earrings into her own ears before smiling at her daughter. "We'll be safe, I promise."
With that, she went out the door. Marinette looked to Sass.
"I think that you're ready," Sass agreed. "You're tuned in enough to the fights to be able to really use Second Chance to its full extent. And a late-night fight...I don't doubt that both Coccinelle and Chat Noir would welcome the opportunity to have a much-shortened fight and go back to bed."
Marinette nodded. Still, the idea of using Second Chance so many times in a row- well, it was a little worrying. But she had been practicing, she hadn't just been thrown into the deep end during a battle, so in theory things shouldn't be too bad. "Okay. Sass, transform me!"
Green light filled the room, and Vipera settled her lyre on her lap with the screen pulled out. She could already get feed of the akuma near the Kidz+ TV station, even though the other superheroes hadn't gotten there yet, which meant that she got an early look at the akuma's powers.
An early look at the akuma's powers, plus a good view of which way the akuma was facing, what the corrupted object was, and how much attention the akuma was paying to its surroundings at any given moment.
"Okay, I have a visual on the akuma," Vipera said into her earpiece, noticing the icons at the top of the screen that told her that both Coccinelle and Chat Noir were out and both had their earpieces in, so both would be able to hear her. "And I want to try something new tonight with Second Chance, to direct the battle from here. I'll know what the akuma is planning on doing before it does it, and we can have the shortest fight ever." She paused and rethought that statement. "Well, aside from the battles with Mr. Pigeon and Mr. Rat. I don't think that those take more than a couple minutes now."
Chat Noir snorted in amusement at that last bit. Her mom was unconvinced.
"I don't think that two in the morning is the best time to be trying new strategies, dear," she told Vipera. "Perhaps we could try it during the day sometime?"
"Sass said that tonight would be perfect," Vipera told her teammates. "Because I'm tuned in enough to the sort of sixth sense I was telling you about and familiar with all of the uses of the Snake's powers. It should shorten up the fight."
"I'm all for trying it," Chat Noir said at once. "If you think it'll work, then I bet it will. Worst-case scenario, it doesn't go nearly as well as you think it will and you need to re-power and we have to fight like we normally do, without the Snake's back-up. Just don't- don't use Second Chance too many times, like Aspek did."
"I don't plan on it," Vipera told him, because she didn't. Adrien hadn't been nearly as tuned in to the Snake's powers as she was now, and he hadn't had the preparations she had had, either. "And I'll be careful, promise. So for this to work, you have to listen to me and do what I say, or else there'll be no point."
"Okay!" Chat Noir agreed at once. "You know you can be my puppeteer any time you want, my Lady."
Coccinelle sighed, like she was going to say something about that, then decided not to. "I'll go along with it as well. Just let us know if the plan changes."
Vipera nodded. Obviously. "Of course! So, how close to the Kidz+ building are you?"
"One block," Chat Noir reported. "And I can see Coccinelle, she's coming at my two o'clock."
"Okay," Vipera said, her mind already whirring as she watched the akuma onscreen. "The akuma is near the TV station and moving north, but not very fast. The butterfly is in his belt, I think. Watch out for the wand, he's using it to turn people into statues. I don't see a sentimonster yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if one shows up. It would be easiest to do an ambush attack from behind, but make sure that you wait for an opening. He likes swinging around periodically."
Vipera nodded, eyes intent on the screen and occasionally swapping out for other cameras to track her mom and Chat Noir as they drew closer and to scan the rooftops for any signs of a sentimonster or the supervillains. There was no sign of them yet, but there had been a delay in the superheroes' response.
"Dropping in in three, two, one-" Chat Noir murmured in her ear, and Vipera set the time.
There was no going back now.
The next- well, it was four and a half minutes for the superheroes, but closer to an hour for Vipera- were tense as Vipera followed the fight from all angles, resetting often and directing the superheroes' almost every move. It was a mental exercise as she had to remember all of the previous instructions that she had given plus a new one or two on top, in the correct order and with the right timing.
She wasn't Ladybug for nothing, though, and years of childhood games where she and her parents played the add-on story-telling game came in handy. There were maybe two times when she had nearly flubbed up the order of her commands, but she hadn't and so Coccinelle and Chat Noir had been able to wrap up the fight in practically no time.
"That was fantastic, Vipera!" Chat Noir said breathlessly as the akuma fluttered away. "Great job! I hope you didn't have to cycle too many times!"
"I kept it under control," Vipera said, because really, all things considered, she had. She glanced at her Miraculous. "I'm going to detransform soon. Be careful going home, in case Hawkmoth decided to come out."
"Got it, my Lady!" Chat Noir said cheerfully. Seconds later, Vipera's Miraculous beeped one more time and the transformation released. She grinned at Sass, exchanging a fist bump.
That had been amazing.
"You'd make a good full-time Snake," Sass said appreciatively as Marinette wriggled back down into a lying position. Her mom probably wasn't going to bother returning the earrings now, since it was only going to be a few hours until it was time to get up, so she might as well go to sleep. "Not everyone figures out how to- well, how to weaponize Second Chance like that. Though that's what makes you a great Ladybug as well, because you can turn anything into a tool to get an advantage."
Marinette grinned, pink staining her cheeks. "Thanks."
"It's only the truth." Sass yawned, floating over to her dresser and inhaling the snack that she had left out for him there. "You did really well tonight, and you'll only get better with practice. But for now- you've been up longer than your partners. It's time to rest. Good-night, Marinette."
Marinette smiled back, reaching over to flick off the light. "Good night, Sass."
a/n: And an update! Meant to post this earlier in the week, but I ran over a dead deer in the road with my VERY low-clearance car a couple days ago and so had to spend more time (and money) than I would have liked at a car repair place to get my undercarriage cover (I think that's what it's called) temporarily fixed and then replaced. Deer and I are not on speaking terms at the moment.
As always, comments make my day! :)