Having the Miracle Box just sitting around in her room was stressful.
Sure, Master Fu had left her the gramophone that he had hidden the box in when he was the Guardian, but it just didn't fit with her room. It stuck out like a sore thumb, very obviously not belonging to her. Add in the fact that Chat Noir and Hawkmoth had both seen it and knew that it was associated with the Miraculous, and only a crazy person would keep using it to hide the Miracle Box.
Despite the amount of pressure she had pushing on her from all sides, Marinette was not a crazy person. Yet, at least.
"So I know that I can't use the gramophone, but that doesn't solve the problem of what I can use," Marinette told Tikki, absentmindedly doodling on a piece of paper as she tried to brainstorm. Both gramophone and Miracle Box were hidden in her storage bench at the moment, but they couldn't stay there. "It needs to be hidden, and it needs to not stick out at all. Which, well..."
Master Fu's things don't qualify went unsaid.
"Well, you should make sure that it's locked away," Tikki told her. "And that it won't be possible for you to accidentally leave it unlocked. And then make sure that no one can accidentally stumble on it. And keep in mind that you babysit pretty often, so..."
Marinette shook her head. In her first night as Guardian, she hadn't been able to sleep at all (something that Tikki still didn't know, because she hadn't wanted to worry her kwami) and had spent the time brainstorming some initial changes that she would have to make so that she could handle her new duties without getting overwhelmed. One of the first things to come up was the fact that both Alya's sisters and Nino's brother didn't know the definition of privacy or not prying, and she was going to have all sorts of herbs and other ingredients for potions in her room. There really wasn't any way to stop babysitting Manon without questions, but Manon also wasn't over that often and it was usually during the day, when she could go to the park. "I told Nino and Alya that I can't babysit their siblings anymore, I'm just too busy. Manon will still be over sometimes, but I can make sure that we stay downstairs."
"Still, keep in mind that you have friends over pretty often," Tikki added. "So the point remains."
Marinette nodded, glancing back towards her storage bench. It did have a lock on it (which was a new addition, honestly), but it wasn't the kind that would re-lock automatically if she was in a hurry. Her friends wouldn't dig in it- or they didn't normally, at least- so theywouldn't notice if it was locked, but because of the whole not-auto-relocking thing, she would probably spend a not insignificant amount of time during fights worrying if she had remembered to re-lock it afterwards, and that would be a distraction. Especially if an akuma showed up near the bakery or worse, entered her room.
That bench had been thrown around more than once during akuma fights. If she forgot to re-lock it one day and that happened and the gramophone tumbled out, that was her secret identity spoiled. And that could not happen.
Maybe she could have a locked box for the Miracle Box inside of the locked storage bench, and then just move the emptied gramophone to storage? Then if she forgot to re-lock one of the two locks, it wouldn't matter so much. That meant that she would have to build a custom box for the Miracle Box to go in, but it wasn't as though she hadn't done that before, with her diary box-
Marinette froze. That was it! She could build a booby trap into the storage bench, to make sure that the Miracle Box would be kept safe. Or maybe it would be smarter (and easier) to build the trap into the smaller custom box that she was going to put together to hold the Miracle Box, which would then go inside of the bench. There would be less chance of someone (probably Manon) getting caught and hurt by a booby trap if it was behind not one but two sets of locks, and then she could build it into the box itself instead of adding it on later. Add on the fact that she would have to create some way to disarm the booby trap (preferably before she opened the box), plus the fact that it would be better to not have any visible alterations to her storage bench, and that made the custom box idea even more favorable.
Almost automatically, Marinette flipped her doodle-filled paper over and started sketching. The box she was going to make would have to be large enough to hold the Miracle Box, but fit closely enough that the Miracle Box wouldn't rattle around. Too tight, and she would have trouble putting it in and getting it out. She could use thick foam to line the inside, with grooves so that her fingers wouldn't have any trouble getting around the box to pull it out. It would be square, because- well, that was a fairly standard, non-descript shape. And maybe there would be a double lock on the box, too- the first one would open to a top compartment, which would just have some papers in it, maybe. The papers would hide the false bottom- well, as much as they could when the false bottom made up most of the box- and also throw off anyone who shook the box in hopes of getting a clue of what was inside. Then the lock inside would lead to the actual Miracle Box.
Now, for the outside of the box...what should it look like? She could go for the same sort of look as her diary box, young and fun and done to the best of her ability. Marinette could also try to go for something similar to the gramophone, with decorations and hidden buttons, but- well, that seemed like a lot of work, eating up a lot of time that she already didn't have to spare, and it would stand out. If someone found out that she was Ladybug, then if they stumbled across a box like that it would catch their attention at once.
And really, the same thing would apply if she went for a style like her diary box. It would be large enough and nice enough to draw someone's attention, and if there was something off about it- if it was oddly heavy or something- then that would be pretty suspicious.
Which left the option of making a box that looked sloppy, like something she might have made as a child or as a trial run when learning how to make boxes, but that was actually very solid. It would make sense to have it tucked away if it was an earlier project that hadn't turned out well, and if it looked flimsy- well, it wouldn't be something that most people would expect to be holding magical jewelry. Marinette actually had a couple boxes that she had decorated as a kid still sitting around, and- well, maybe they weren't the nicest things to look at, but they did a good enough job of holding beads and thread and whatever other art supplies Marinette needed organized.
And of course, they were also a good reminder to actually put things away once she was done with them, because Marinette wasn't exactly interested in having her earlier projects sitting out. So having the box that she was planning tucked away hopefully wouldn't raise any flags if anyone ever stumbled on it.
Smiling, Marinette considered the drawing she had just made. It was just an initial sketch, of course, and she would probably end up making some changes to it before it actually got made, but she was liking the idea more and more. Maybe making it would take up a good chunk of her already-limited free time for a bit, but that was just the price of being Guardian.
At least she had some practice making trap boxes. Sure, this one would be a step up, but it was hardly going to be going to be completely unfamiliar territory.
The box project had somehow rocketed from being a modified diary box to something much more in only a couple short days.
Marinette had pulled out a whole bunch of the kwamis to bounce the idea off of them and see if they could see any flaws in her plan, and they had very quickly brought up the point that Hawkmoth had a sword and might just try to cut his way through the booby-trapped box, bypassing the locks and whatever trap she came up with altogether. It wasn't like she was just dealing with Chloe and Sabrina again. Hawkmoth was a bigger bad, and had more tools at his disposal.
Even if he didn't have a sword, he would probably be able to get through. Marinette had seen her yo-yo's string cut through solid metal before, and Chat Noir had been able to smash a lot of things with his baton that- well, that would normally take a machine to crush like that. She had been pretty let down at that- what, did she just have to rely on doing a good job of hiding the box?- until the kwamis pointed out that Master Fu's gramophone box had been reinforced, using metal that had been enchanted by the Guardians. At first, Marinette had groaned, since she hadn't gotten that sort of training, but then she remembered one very important detail, one that somehow she had overlooked for too long.
With Feast defeated and the contents of its stomach returned to their previous places in the exact state that they had been in when the sentimonster consumed them, the Temple of the Guardians was back. The Order was back. Maybe she didn't have Master Fu as a mentor and a resource anymore, but she was hardly alone. And maybe they spoke different languages, but surely magic could help them somehow.
And that was how Marinette found herself locked in her room (to keep nosy parents and surprise friend visitors alike out) while she transformed in front of a white sheet that she had hung from her wall, hiding any identifying details. She had reached out to the temple beforehand, messaging them on her yo-yo several times before she finally got through to someone and managed to set up a video-chat time. Now, she was just nervously waiting for the Guardian that had agreed to chat with her to call.
Hopefully they would be willing to help. Hopefully they wouldn't think that she was too young and immature to hold the title of Guardian. Hopefully they wouldn't say that she had to give up her role and someone else- someone trained- would take her place.
The kwamis didn't think that it was likely. Master Fu had approved of her, she was doing a great job, and the Guardians were hardly about to relocate to Paris to take over the fight, particularly considering that there was a pretty significant language barrier.
And then her yo-yo rang. Ladybug scrambled for a second, swiping her accept call button as quickly as she could. The screen display crackled for a moment, then settled to reveal a man who- well, who was clearly transformed with a Miraculous, but his outfit was styled after a monk's robes, at least from what she could see. It wasn't the kind of outfit that would be good for fighting in, but she supposed that if they were simply studying the Miraculous and their powers, it didn't really matter if there were dangling things that could snag or be grabbed.
"Hi!" Ladybug said right away, flashing what she hoped was a confident smile. "Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me! It's very much appreciated."
There was a pause on the other end of the line, and the Guardian tilted his head, considering his- well, the screen on whatever weapon he got with his transformation. Then he started talking- or, rather, his lips started moving, but there was no sound.
For a long moment, Ladybug nearly panicked- was there something wrong with the connection?- and then the audio started coming through, slightly stilted and mechanical as the kwami magic translated his words, albeit with a small lag.
"Yes, hello! It is nice to hear from you, Ladybug. I am the Guardian Master Norbu. We have heard that there is some sort of Miraculous disturbance in Paris and that you are now a Junior Guardian. We would like to offer our assistance in any way we can. Can you give us a summary of what is going on there?"
"Of course!" Ladybug said at once, her mind already whirring as she tried to figure out how to best tell Master Norbu about what was going on. "So, Hawkmoth- a Butterfly user- started attacking Paris over a year ago. We usually get an akuma once every two or three days, though there have been some times when we get several attacks in a row. We've also had one time when Hawkmoth somehow gave himself a power-up and send out hundreds of akumas at the same time. He didn't attack for a week after that, so I assume that that took a lot out of him. We've also had a Peacock user attacking. She didn't come out until his big attack, and then only came out occasionally. Master Fu thought that the Miraculous might be corrupted..." She trailed off as the Guardian held up a hand, clearly wanting to say something.
"So there are two supervillains now... how many superheroes?"
"There's two of us on full-time," Ladybug said after a pause, making sure that Master Norbu was done talking before starting to speak again. "Chat Noir and I. We have temporary superheroes that we sometimes pull in when we need a boost. Or we used to, but Hawkmoth managed to find out the identities of almost all of them with an akuma. I'm working on finding new teammates, but it's not easy."
"Yes, I can imagine that it would be difficult to quickly assess who would and would not be reliable enough to trust with a Miraculous," Master Norbu agreed. "Here, we have years to pick out kids suitable for training, and then we can decide between those kids who is worthy of holding a Miraculous and joining our ranks. It is still hard to find people, and we have dozens of us and plenty of time to look around for candidates that meet our standards."
Ladybug tried not to cringe at that and ask what their standards were. Her "standards" really just consisted of people that she knew, who she knew would return their Miraculous when asked and who she could trust to fight alongside her. And even those standards hadn't always been met- Chloe wasn't someone she trusted at all, even before she went all dark-side, but she had just needed another teammate who knew how to use their Miraculous already.
"Anyway, I interrupted," Master Norbu apologized. "Do continue."
Quickly, Ladybug summarized the rest of their situation- the frequency of the sentimonster attacks on top of the akuma attacks, the reemergence of Feast and its defeat, and Master Fu's downfall. That brought them to where they were now, with her the Paris Guardian despite her fairly basic training.
"To tell you the truth, it sounds like Wang Fu managed to pass on the majority of what he had learned before the temples fell," Master Norbu told her once she was finished. "There are somethings, like translations, that take years to learn how to do with any sort of reliable accuracy and speed. And then of course repetition and practice will help things stick better than rushed lessons."
"Right." Marinette worried her lip, then decided to dive into the reason she called. She didn't know how long she would be left uninterrupted, so it would be best for her to dive right into the problem that she needed help with. "So the reason I reached out to you is because I'm currently trying to ensure the safety of the Miracle Box. It's being stored in my room, hidden in a storage bench. I wanted to make a box that could hold it, but- well, let me show you the picture I drew. I'd want the box to be locked and have two compartments, a top bit that'll just have papers or something, and then bottom that opens to where the Miracle Box would be. And then the top would have a spring, like this box." She set aside the drawing and held up her diary box. "If I reach in and pick up the diary, like so-"
The box snapped shut over her wrist. Ladybug waved it at the Guardian, then pulled out her key to get the box off.
"I can see where you are going with that," Master Norbu said, smiling. "It looks like quite the design. My concerns with it would be if it would hold up to a Miraculous weapon, and whether someone who got trapped in it would simply be able to wrench their hand out when it snapped shut. It might be an inconvenience, but unless the trap is going to do some damage..."
"The kwamis thought that the Order might be able to make some sort of enchanted metal to go in the box to keep Hawkmoth from simply slicing it open," Ladybug told him. "It's the reason I reached out, actually. That's not something that I would know how to make, but it sounds like it would be a pretty good solution."
"We can do that. You would need to either cut and shape the pieces yourself or give us exact measurements, but it is a straightforward enough process to put on the enchantment, if you know what you're doing. And we certainly do." Master Norbu smiled at her. "It's a good plan. Do you have any further ideas about perhaps upgrading the trap hidden in the box's upper portion?"
Ladybug leaned forward, leaning her chin against her palm and her elbow against her knee, thinking it over. At first, she wasn't coming up with anything, but then her mind drifted to the sort of things she had wished on Hawkmoth in her darkest, most frustrated moments, times when she was tired and angry and tired of dealing with Hawkmoth's nonsense.
And that provided a whole slew of ideas.
"I'm thinking maybe something like a bear trap," Ladybug said slowly, taking her chin off of her hand and reaching for a notebook. "One of those ones with the teeth. Except..." She tugged her phone over to her lap, googling bear traps. "They're not supposed to break legs, just hold them. So it might be a tougher hold than my trap box, but not damaging."
"Eh, some sharpening and a few enchantments will take care of that," Master Norbu decided, nodding his head sharply. "I have a few things in mind, actually. Though you would have to come up with some sort of release mechanism to make sure that you do not get caught in the trap."
Ladybug nodded. She had a few ideas already, modifications of her diary snap box's mechanism. She could try some of those and puzzle out something that would be safe for her using just wood before transferring it into metal form. "I can do that. I came up with the mechanism for my diary box, so I know how the basic version of the spring works and how I can maybe modify it. I'll start working on some prototypes right away."
"And we will get to work on the metal for you to use," Master Norbu assured her. He glanced back and off to the side. "And I think that is my cue to go, unless there is something else that you wanted to discuss right away?"
"That's all for now," Marinette assured him. "Thank you so much!"
"It is nothing. We are happy to help. Take care, Ladybug."
With that, the call ended. Ladybug let out a long breath- oh, wow, she had still been jittery through that entire call- and closed her yoyo, releasing her transformation. As the last sparkles faded, she turned around and started taking down the sheet she had hung as backdrop before she could forget.
Tikki zipped around her eagerly. "So? How did it go? Did they agree to help? Did they have any suggestions?"
"It went well," Marinette told her, smiling as she pulled the last corner loose and the sheet fluttered down into her arms. "And yes to both of your questions. Master Norbu agreed to make the enchanted metal right away. And he did suggest that I modify the booby trap, actually- now, it's gonna have knives."
Tikki could only blink, taken aback. "Good god."
It was all too easy to swing by a hardware store across the city after a weekend akuma attack ended there. Marinette picked her way through the store, familiar enough with the layout that it didn't take long at all for her to figure out what she needed for both her box and for her prototype spring trap.
There were a lot of gears and wires and screws that were going to be involved, and she was going to have to look at her lock mechanisms to see how she could ensure that it would all tie together and never fail on her. But she had gotten a lot of things to play with so that she could hopefully have something to report the next time that she checked in with Master Norbu.
And then it was time to start the trial-and-error process of making the snap mechanism.
It was difficult.
There were moving parts everywhere, it seemed, and connections that had to be just so. Pieces for the different components kept getting tangled up, wires and gears snarling and coming to a stop before they could do what they were meant to.
"Maybe you should break the trap down to its separate parts," Tikki suggested. "There's the lock, the connection between the lock and the spring, and then the spring for the trap."
"And the extra thing that I wanted to put in, to lock the bear trap in place when it closes, and how that would tie into the lock release," Marinette added. "Which will have to be cast in the enchanted metal. Everything that will be exposed from the top will be. But as long as I have the pieces, in theory we'd be able to cast them? I'd assume so, at least. I don't really have any experience with metalworking." She tipped her head to the side, considering the mess of gears in front of her. "Breaking it down into those steps makes sense, though. Then I can figure out exactly where things are going wrong."
Marinette considered the pieces sprawled out in front of her. After a moment, she pushed the majority of the mess to the side, pulling her faux-trap (made of wood, because that was easy enough to throw together) in front of her. That was the main part and the most important, so everything here had to be solid and perfect. If it wasn't, then any of her intended safety measures elsewhere would be useless. Like this, it was easier to see her pieces and how they fit together. All of a sudden, the path forward became obvious and Marinette flung herself into her work again, test-fitting gears and putting them in place. An improved spring mechanism came together in a flash, closely followed by the piece that would lock the trap shut, making it completely resistant to being pried open. Then there had to be a connection between that and the actual lock so that it could be disarmed when she unlocked the box properly, even if the unlocking happened after the trap shut.
It was a pity that she wouldn't be able to show anyone else her work, really. All of the moving parts- the majority of which had to be positioned so that they could be hidden- were an absolute beast to wrestle with and would definitely be worth some extra credit if she could show Madam Mendeleev. But that wasn't the point of the trap, and she had to make sure that she didn't do anything to make anyone suspicious about what she was up to.
Even if she could really use the extra credit in Math since an akuma attack had meant that she hadn't been able to study for the latest test properly.
"Don't forget to take breaks," Tikki cautioned as Marinette added a small piece that- when the box was unlocked and the trap was disarmed- would flip from showing the red side to the green side, just in case. She knew how much of a rush she tended to be in when she had to come get more Miraculous during akuma attacks, so the additional warning- or reassurance, whichever- about whether things were disarmed or not would be much appreciated, even with all of the other failsafes in place. "And don't forget your homework! I know you want to have a prototype ready ASAP, but you can't neglect your civilian responsibilities."
"No worries there, I'm all caught up," Marinette assured her. "I worked ahead on my homework while I was waiting for the Guardians to get back to me, and then I've been getting little stuff like readings done between classes." It was normally time that she would spend chatting with Alya and her other friends and classmates, but between the fact that she needed to not be letting herself get overwhelmed thanks to schoolwork piling up because of akuma attacks and the fact that Lila seemed to spend the time between classes holding court, it wasn't exactly a tough choice. She reached over, tapping the small calendar that sat on her desk. It was a new addition, but a useful one. "And I can see when I have things due, so they won't sneak up on me like they did before. I've learned!"
Tikki perked up. "Oh, right! I knew that. You're doing a good job, Marinette!"
"I try." Marinette flashed a smile at her kwami, then turned back to her work. "Now, to attach all of this to the lock..."
The making of the actual box came next, after Marinette was satisfied with her mock-up of the trap and how well it worked. A few small details had needed to be ironed out before she declared that step complete- it was absolutely critical that nothing could get jolted out of place if the box got knocked around, both so that the trap wouldn't stay armed by accident and so that the entire lock wouldn't jam up at some critical moment and refuse to disarm and open- and so Marinette's demo rig had undergone several rounds of rigorous shaking, knocking around, testing, and fixing.
But now it was absolutely rock solid and she could get to the next part. Making the box would be easy enough- a friend of her dad's owned plenty of woodworking tools, and he was willing to let her use them under his supervision, or, if the tool was deemed too dangerous for her skill level, he would listen to what she wanted and then do the work for her. All she had to do was have all of her plans ready, and then she could reach out and probably have that part done and over with in an afternoon. It would be easy-peasy. She had the time.
Or at least she would if she could persuade the Guardians that really, now was not the time for them to try to do long-distance learning to continue her training. Apparently they had held a meeting after her call to Master Norbu and were concerned about a Guardian in an active battle zone having had such limited training. Obviously it wouldn't be practical for her to move and join them, but they could send assignments. And they had sent assignments, with the clear expectation that she would complete them as soon as possible. And the number of assignments kept increasing, faster than Marinette could ever hope to finish them. There were readings and spells and potions and ingredients to learn the properties of and details about side powers that different Miraculous had, ones that became more available as users got more advanced but only in certain conditions...
It was all interesting information, and useful, but it was a lot, and it seemed like the Order was expecting her to read through and study everything right away. So Ladybug had to bring it up when Master Norbu called to check in with her.
"Okay, I can see where this information might come in handy and obviously it's a good idea to have a solid base to work off of and more information means more tools for me to use, but I don't have time to add extra lessons on top of everything else and still do the box, and I think that's a priority," Ladybug told the older Guardian. She had only managed to finish one of the 'assignments' that had been sent, and just looking at the others piling up was exhausting. Exhausting and stressful and anxiety-inducing. She didn't want to appear ungrateful, or as though she didn't appreciate the Order's efforts to get her better trained, or like she wasn't taking her role seriously, but hadn't she already given up enough of her free time and her life to the Miraculous? Was she going to be expected to devote her every waking hour- at least those not spent in school- to the Miraculous, too? "And if I try to get all of it done, I'm going to end up all stressed out, and that's not safe with the Butterfly on the loose."
Master Norbu considered that, stroking his beard thoughtfully. "Yes, I can understand that. Trying to learn while stressed is less than ideal for retaining information, too. Would there be a time where you could do the lessons without overstretching yourself? Some are quite important. For example..." He glanced off to the side, picking up a stack of paper and flipping through it before landing on a particular page. "The potions are quite important, I would say. Particularly the one I picked out for you to practice. It is a healing potion, and would come in handy if you or Chat Noir got injured outside of the suit. Or if something went wrong with the trap and it ended up mangling your hand. It is a difficult potion, but I know you have made other ones before and that one would be particularly useful."
"Oh, I hadn't even seen that assignment yet." It felt terrible to admit, but the assignments had been piling up so much that it had been stressing her out more and more to even look at them. "I agree, though. That would be one to prioritize for sure."
"I can mark ones to prioritize," Master Norbu told her. "Ones that would be of immediate use and properly relevant to you. In our excitement over having a new Guardian to train, I believe that several of us temporarily forgot that you are in the middle of a battle zone and might not have the time for all of the regular training."
"That would be great." Ladybug let out a long breath, not sure if she was feeling more stressed or less. One or two lessons she could probably manage as long as the Order didn't expect them to be done right away, but if things were marked priority then maybe they would expect that she get them done quickly. "As for the others... I do have holidays from school. Summer holiday in particular would be the best for getting Miraculous lessons done. They're not coming up super soon, but I won't have to deal with other homework then."
"That will have to do," Master Norbu decided. "We do not want to add stress to your plate. No, I know that we want her to learn everything!" he called to someone off-screen. "But we cannot ignore Ladybug's other responsibilities, which are many in number, or her mental health. We will focus on the practical and the helpful, and those can be done when you have the time to spare. The Miracle Box's safety should come first, you are correct, as should your stability. Let us know if you have all of the ingredients you need for the potion. If not, we can arrange to get them to you when we have the metal ready for your box. Speaking of which- I am assuming that we are still waiting on exact measurements?"
Ladybug nodded. "Yeah. The guy who's helping me with the tools for the box might have more suggestions and that could affect some of the measurements. Probably not, since the measurements inside have to stay the same to hold the Zodiac Box, but just in case."
"Remember to account for the thickness of the metal inside," Master Norbu reminded her. "I would hate for you to get the box near completion and then have to redo all of it because of an oversight like that."
"Of course." She had been sure to ask them for the thickness of the metal for that exact purpose, and given herself a little extra wriggle room just in case. It wasn't much- and it would easily be accounted for by a little bit of extra foam- but it would make sure that her entire project wasn't destroyed by metal that wasn't quite the right thickness or a cut that was a few millimeters off.
"Good." Master Norbu looked pleased. "I'm glad that you're taking everything into consideration. Will you have the wood pieces finished soon? We have all of the metal enchanted and ready to cut and mold as soon as we get the word."
"Definitely," Ladybug assured him. "I was going to reach out to the guy I know who has power tools today. I just had to do this call first, and then I can see when he'll be available to help me with picking out the wood and using the tools."
Master Norbu's eyebrows rose. "Well! I do not want to keep you, then. I hope to hear from you soon, Ladybug."
The wood pieces were cut, and all of the enchanted metal had been Portaled from Tibet to Paris. The metal sheets were just like Ladybug had requested, the gears cast perfectly- and even with a few extras, should one or two tumble off of Marinette's desk and get lost- and the bear trap parts all made and sharpened beyond belief.
Marinette shook out her hand with a wince as she glanced towards the finished knifelike blades of the trap. Her finger had just brushed against one of the sharpened teeth earlier as she was laying out the pieces, and it had cut her- not badly, but enough to hurt. Thankfully she had pre-made the healing potion and had been able to vanish the cut away to nothing but a memory in no time, but it was obvious that she was going to have to be very, very careful.
Thankfully, the Order had also made a leather guard to go over the teeth, just to make it a little safer to handle while she assembled everything. Otherwise, Marinette really wouldn't know how she was going to handle it well enough to make sure that everything was securely attached into place. Even with the guard on, she was going to have to be careful.
The inner box went together first, and then the metal layer on the outside. The shoddy-looking outer layer was put on top of that, hiding the metal altogether. That change in the design had been suggested by her father's friend, actually, and had been both so that the metal would be hidden and secret and to make it easier for her to put the box together.
It took a little bit to get the cuts for the keyholes all lined up, and then those- both the regular lock, and the 'mistake' lock for the trap- were inserted before the last screws were bolted into place on the box, holding the outer layer together firmly. Then, very carefully, Marinette started fitting the gears and connections together for the spring and the trap.
Thankfully she had told her parents that she had a Very Serious Project that she had to work on (for school, she had claimed) and that they were not to interrupt her, and if any of her friends came over unexpectedly to hang out, she wasn't available and they couldn't come up. The only thing that could possibly interrupt her now was an akuma.
"Does it feel good to have this be the final product?" Tikki asked as Marinette slotted another gear into place. "Knowing that once this is done, you're going to get to use it and not have to worry about it anymore?"
"I worry that I'll mess something up on this and that would be bad, but that's why I went to the dump and got all of that scrap wood." Marinette nodded over to the partially-hidden pile of wood- mostly old table and chair legs that she had collected. There was a lot of it, but that- and the fact that it would have been hard to explain to literally anyone- was the reason why she had used the Horse to go to the dump in the first place to get the scrap wood. "But yeah, it's going to be nice to see everything come together and not have that project hanging over my head."
Tikki smiled, then tilted her head to the side, considering the box. "I thought it would look- well, messier. I thought you said that you wanted it to look like a beginner's project."
"Yeah, but too messy, and it'll be pretty obvious that I was doing it on purpose. You'll see." Marinette checked her prototype again to make sure that she was doing everything right, then picked up the next piece. "It's a balancing act. That, and I didn't want to have to deal with splinters, which would have been the most obvious sign of a beginner project."
"Ooh, yeah, that wouldn't be any fun!"
"And it would have looked pretty odd, if my parents saw it," Marinette added. She frowned at the piece in her hand, then swapped it out for a different one, just a little smaller. "They know that Dad's friend does all of the cutting and helps with the sanding. Even if this was one of my earliest projects, they would know something was up if the pieces weren't cut right. Besides, splinters are fairly easy to fix- a regular square of sandpaper could probably help a lot, and even if I was younger and just doing the project for fun, I would do that much at least."
All of the gears and other pieces were together by lunch, when Marinette took a short break to actually eat something. As soon as she was done and her dishes were cleaned up, she returned upstairs to finish up the structure of the box itself and put the last bits of the trap together.
And then it was time to make the box look like a beginner's project.
"See, I have this putty that will go over the screws and hide them," Marinette told Tikki as she worked, carefully hiding each screw under a smoothed layer of putty. She would have to sand it down later, but that wasn't a big deal at all. "And then I have these really terrible nails that I'm going to be putting in. They probably won't all go in completely straight, and it'll look like they're the only thing holding the box together. Add in the fact that the outer layer of wood is really thin and cheap-looking 'cause it's plywood, and it'll look like I don't know what I'm doing."
"And the reason why the trap lock is crooked is because it's supposed to look like a mistake, right?"
"Exactly." It had hurt her inside just a little to deliberately put the lock in crooked- upside down and crooked, no less- but she wanted it to look like she had done a practice run with the lock on a bit of scrap plywood and then had to use the piece in her box. That way, she didn't have to worry about hiding the lock to disarm the bear trap somehow. Marinette finished the screw she was on, then flipped the box over in her hands, looking for any screws that she missed. "We're getting close, Tikki."
Tikki cheered, zipping around in a circle. "Great! And then the Miracle Box will be safe, and we don't have to worry about Hawkmoth enslaving any more kwamis!"
"Exactly." Marinette finished hiding the last exposed screw and sat back, examining her work. "Now that just has to dry before I can sand it and put any varnish on. While we wait- Tikki, can you pass me the nails?"
The box was done, and it was glorious.
Maybe it didn't look that way from the outside, with the uneven nails and obvious plywood visible under the splodgy, uneven varnish. But the bear trap inside was absolutely perfect- Marinette had spent a lot of time testing it, poking the box with her scrap wood both when the trap was set and when it was disarmed to make sure that everything was working right- and unless someone knew what they were looking for, they weren't very likely to notice the signs that the box wasn't quite what it appeared to be. The lock to the box itself re-locked automatically when it was closed, and the lock for the trap had to be re-locked before the key would come out, which ensured that she would remember to re-set it before she took off again.
The Order was duly impressed when she showed the box off over video call. Master Norbu had been joined by several other Guardians and they had watched as Ladybug showed off the box and the damage that it caused when she didn't disarm the trap before opening it.
"That is quite well engineered," Master Lhami told Ladybug as she finished demonstrating and explaining how disarming the trap ensured that it wouldn't go off, even if the box got knocked around a bit. "I know Master Norbu mentioned that you are interested in clothing design, but clearly engineering would not be much of a stretch, either."
Ladybug ducked her head, hoping that she wasn't turning red. "Thank you. It- it was a challenging project, but I'm happy with the result."
"As you should be. I do not think that many people would have been able to come up with something like that, particularly if they had as many other things demanding their attention as you have had." Master Norbu smiled at her. "I cannot remember if I passed on the message, but our metalworkers were quite pleased with how exact and detailed your instructions for the pieces were. They appreciated not having to go back and forth to hammer out details."
Ladybug smiled wider. "I'm glad to hear that. They did a very good job. All of the pieces were perfect."
"It is a pity that the genius in the trap had to be hidden behind cheap wood and a poor-looking exterior, but I can understand the decision behind it," another one of the Guardians- not one that Ladybug was familiar with- chimed in. "Most people would not bother going after the locks on a box that looks like a beginner's project, and that is the important thing."
There were murmurs of agreement at that and nods all around.
"I know that a box like that would likely be the last place I would look if I were in a villain's shoes," Master Norbu added in. "Though I would still hide it well, which I know that you've already discussed doing." He smiled at her. "As far as first impressions go, Miss Ladybug, I think it's fair to say that you have exceeded our expectations."
"Thank you," Ladybug managed. Her cheeks felt like they were on fire. "I couldn't have done it without your help."
The call finished with a few more exchanges of pleasantries and a few suggestions of what she might find most helpful to look at next in her assignments. Ladybug ended the call with a smile and a wave, then hung up and released her transformation. Tikki flitted free, zipping eagerly around Marinette.
"Did they like it?"
"They loved it," Marinette assured her kwami. "They really liked my demonstration with the last of the chair legs, too. I think it really helped assure them that the Miraculous are safe and that I'm taking my role as Guardian seriously."
Tikki sniffed. "If anyone thought that you weren't taking it seriously, I would question their judgement! You've been very focused." She zipped around to perch on Marinette's desk, still beaming. "And now you're all done with that project! What are you doing next? Maybe you can take a small break from Guardian stuff and sew that dress you were talking about! I know you have the fabric, I can find the design-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Marinette laughed. "I'm not quite done yet." She picked up the box from its spot on her desk, heading over to her storage bench and opening it. Pushing aside the pile of presents inside, she tucked the box at the very bottom and covered it back up before closing the bench. That got locked, too. "The box is done and hidden, but I still have to clean up. There's a reason why I didn't put the Horse miraculous away earlier. If mom and dad see all of the splintered table and chair legs, they're going to have questions."
"Ooh, and questions aren't a good thing!" Tikki agreed, zipping forward to help. She started gathering up splinters, tossing them into the trash. "I'll help clean up. Then we can have a fun break before diving into the Guardian stuff again!"
Marinette smiled. "Now that sounds like a plan."
a/n: Chapter one... of two! Yep, you read that right, it's not a one-shot :D
...more like two one-shots and it made far more sense to stick them in the same story for the sake of being at least a little concise, but details, details.
As always, comments make my day! :)