It all started with a (mostly) joking comment from Chat Noir, blurted out in a moment of frustration.
"I hate it when that happens," he had grumbled after Ladybug knocked him free from the akuma's control. "Stupid, stupid mind-control akumas. Tell Hawkmoth that if he's going to insist on akumas like that, he's gonna have to pay for my therapy after this is all over!" he hollered after the akuma, who was clearly hopping mad about no longer having a superhero under his control. "A superhero salary doesn't exactly pay enough for it!"
He had been kidding, at least mostly. Kidding or not, though, the complaint was out there.
The moment had been picked up by the Ladyblog, of course, just as part of the bigger fight. But it wasn't long before it absolutely exploded over the internet.
Sure, maybe in comic books it was implied that superheroes always worked for free. But was that really fair? After all, Ladybug and Chat Noir were providing a service to the city. They were taking the time out of their normal lives to save Paris and put things back to rights, and they were doing it often. They had to come out whenever Hawkmoth sent out an akuma, not just when they had a spare bit of time that they could use to fight crime. Just like policemen and firefighters, they were putting themselves in danger by fighting on the front line. And if they were in jobs, or were in school- well, having to duck out regularly had to be affecting them, and not in a positive way.
If they had jobs, they could very well be on the edge of losing them because of all of the times they went missing. Even if they were self-employed- well, then they would still be losing out on some serious work time and having to work late into the night instead. And if they were in school...
Then they would be in danger of falling behind and need help to keep on top of their schoolwork. Tutors and online courses both cost money.
And on top of all of that, there was superhero merchandise being made using their colors and images, clothes and dolls and souvenirs and toys. Surely they should be getting a cut of the profit from that.
With only a few exceptions, Paris was soon in agreement: their superheroes needed to be earning a salary.
Marinette wasn't quite certain what to think of it all.
"Tikki, what do I say if the mayor decides to give us a salary?" she implored, slumping back in her chair. "I mean, even if it would be possible to safely get the money, I just don't know."
Part of her wanted to do the noble thing and say no to a salary. After all, she was Ladybug because she wanted to help! Plus, would public perception of them change if they were technically city employees? The mayor might think that he had the power to call them up on command, which would really stink.
But- well, Marinette was a teenager, and no sane teenager would turn down money, particularly when it was money for work that she had done. Even though she wasn't exactly struggling- she got an allowance, plus money from babysitting Manon and of course commission money, and besides she was a teenager and not an adult with a million living expenses- having more money in her account for fabric or design classes or her future career wasn't a bad thing.
"Well, Plagg and I could certainly set things up so that all of the money you get would be funneled through us and our magic," Tikki told her. "And we would be careful about not matching up the amounts or making them regular! There's ways that we can do it without attracting attention."
Marinette nodded. That was one question answered, but the other?
"As for if you should take the money..." Tikki considered that. "I mean, there's a lot to consider. But I'd like to point out that you don't know how long you'll be fighting Hawkmoth, or if there'll be any other threats after he's gone to deal with. That could interfere with you having a regular job. And if the akuma attacks keep disrupting your school day and you need to hire a tutor to help you keep up but you don't want your parents knowing, having the extra money could help. Or if you decide to sign up for an online school so that you can look up lessons that you missed in class, you could pay for that! But people might have strong opinions about superheroes taking money, too."
"That's a lot of positives and only one negative," Marinette pointed out. "I mean, it could be annoying to listen to people judging, but unless they're in the majority..."
Either way, it was going to be disheartening to hear people judging her for taking the money. But as long as they weren't in her face or spreading lies about her and Chat Noir now not being motivated to take down Hawkmoth because that would mean an end to the money or something ridiculous like that, she could probably ignore it. Maybe she could make some donations with the money she was getting to dispel those rumors.
Honestly, she'd probably do that anyway. There were so many organizations and people in need in Paris, and if Marinette was earning money then of course she would want to support them.
Of course, that all depended on if the officials even offered the salary in the first place, which was honestly looking really likely. It looked like public opinion was strongly in their favor, and the mayor was seriously easily waived by public opinion most of the time. And anything to do with the superheroes- well, it was publicity gold.
And in the end, it only took a week of deliberations- entirely about how much Ladybug and Chat Noir should be making, and puzzling out how much of the profit from sales of their merchandise they should be getting on top of their salary- before the announcement went out that the superheroes would be offered payment. A day after that, Ladybug and Chat Noir accepted their salary and gave the city's head payroll officer the information their kwamis had given them for the kwami bank accounts, so that they could get their paychecks without risking their secret identities.
"I didn't expect things to blow up like this when I said that, about not earning enough for therapy," Chat Noir admitted after they had left. He had seemed put-together and confident when they were in the office- which Ladybug had appreciated, because the sums that were being discussed were absolutely intimidating and having Chat Noir being so confident next to her helped her not get flustered. "I mean, yeah, down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if I get nightmares about fighting all the time and need to get help with that, but- well, I don't think I'd be able to, not unless I sign up as Chat Noir instead of my civilian self. And I don't know if I would necessarily want to do that, in case too much civilian stuff comes out."
Ladybug winced. Yeah, that was a real concern. And- well, she didn't ever admit it to anyone other than Tikki, but she sometimes had nightmares about the fights, too. And Chat Noir was right- a therapist could probably help.
But the identity concerns...
It was more than likely that some personal information would come out if they were talking to any sort of therapist, and that was dangerous. Maybe the chance of their therapists stumbling on their identities was low, but she still couldn't risk it.
Maybe they could go out of Paris to find someone, using the Horse to jump. Then their therapist would be even less likely to make the connection between Ladybug and Marinette, and with the distance from Paris, having the superheroes in their office might be less exciting than it would be for someone who saw the superheroes on a daily basis. But even that wouldn't really be a possibility until Hawkmoth was gone, when they actually got some semblance of free time back.
"I can't deny that the money could be helpful, though," Chat Noir added after a moment. "I mean, depending on how long the conflict drags on, or if we need anything that Tikki and Plagg can't provide to help us, or- well, when I get old enough to move out of my father's place, I want to. There's way too many people who think that they can just barge into my room without warning and poke around, and- well, it's not safe."
Ladybug glanced over at her partner again. He looked like he was her age- in fact, they had shared enough information inadvertently that she was positive that they were probably a year apart at most- which meant that he was facing years of people disregarding his privacy and potentially discovering his secret. "That's ages away, though."
"I know. I can't do much about it right now, though, besides just paying attention to where I'm detransforming." Chat Noir sighed. "I guess the money can't really help with that, not right now."
"Yeah. And that's not great." Ladybug tapped a rhythm against her leg, trying to come up with a solution and finding none. She just didn't have enough information about the situation to find places where they could do something. "I mean, the most I can come up with is a camera that you could connect to and move around to see if anyone is in there before going back in. And you could see if anyone is coming around and poking around that you don't know about. But- well, the problem is that cameras can be hard to hide, and if your father finds out and decides to review footage..."
"It could backfire on me, really fast." Chat Noir glanced around, then back at her. "Yeah, I know. I guess- well, for now, I won't change anything. Maybe something will come up in the future."
"Yeah, I'm not going to be changing much either, I think. But it's nice to have that money there in case I need it." It made her feel a little weird, honestly- after over a year of volunteer superheroing, accepting money for that was just strange- but maybe eventually, it would sink in that she was doing a job and deserved pay for it.
Chat Noir nodded. "Just in case. And, well- if we don't use it, it'll be a good start for my retirement account!"
Ladybug laughed at that, the awkwardness and concerns that she had had earlier flying away in an instant. "Teenagers with retirement accounts. Who would have thought?"
"Well, you can never be too prepared, right?"
Ladybug giggled again, imaging the looks on her parents' places if she sat down for dinner and started asking questions about retirement accounts and for their advice in setting one up. Maybe it wouldn't be completely out of left field- after all, unlike most of her classmates, Marinette did earn money with commissions, and enough that she would not be spending it all- but it was also a strange thing for a teenager to ask about.
Well. At least it wasn't a bad problem to have.
A week later, Ladybug and Chat Noir officially received their first paychecks, with back payments pending. And by that time, the two of them had figured out where those payments were going.
Most of the money, of course, would be held in the kwami bank accounts until it could be trickled into their civilian bank accounts. How much, exactly, could be deposited without being noticed was still being decided- Ladybug could definitely get away with more than Chat Noir, though she figured that varying amounts and not at regular intervals would stick out less than regular payments. They were still trying to figure out how they might get retirement accounts going- even as much as they joked, it wasn't exactly a bad idea.
And then part of the money would go to charity. It was just a nice thing to do, after all, and since they had spare money- well, it would just be a good idea to help out a little bit more. They didn't want to make too big of a deal out of their donations, since it was very possible that people would judge where they were donating, how much they were donating, how often they were making their donations, and how their donations did or didn't change over time. There would no doubt be people petitioning the superheroes to support their favorite charities, which- well, maybe it would be a good way to learn about new causes, but it sounded like more stress than it would be worth. Besides, Ladybug and Chat Noir were private citizens behind the mask, and they deserved to have some privacy about their finances.
All they needed to tell the public was that they were donating anonymously and wouldn't be disclosing the places or amounts for those reasons. It was a simple answer, and should satisfy most of the population. There would no doubt be a few naysayers- there almost always were a few people who just had to be difficult- but it was a reasonable answer.
Thankfully, the person who had interviewed Ladybug and Chat Noir about what they were going to do with their first paychecks- a kind man from a mid-sized newspaper, who had earned the spot of first interview entirely because he hadn't been pushy about asking- had thought that their reasoning was plenty sound. They were hardly going to be millionaires, and so expecting them to donate large amounts on a regular (and frequent) basis was completely ridiculous. Keeping things private- well, that meant that people who were out of touch wouldn't be moaning about donations that they were perceiving as too small.
Just because Ladybug and Chat Noir were famous didn't mean that they were rich.
Marinette hummed quietly to herself as she skimmed the article that the reporter they had talked to had written. While the interview itself had taken place several days prior, the article had just been released that morning to coincide with both their first payment and the start of the month. It was very nicely written, and framed their reasoning in an even more clear and articulate light than they had managed themselves. She didn't doubt that it would get noticed soon, and then the speculation about whether or not Ladybug and Chat Noir would donate some of their earnings would be put to rest for once and for all-
"Wait, Ladybug and Chat Noir aren't donating any of their salary? That's so unlike them!"
-or maybe not.
"I was surprised too, they just completely brushed me off when I suggested that they donate part of their salaries," Lila told her audience as they swept into the room as a- well, as a flock, really, that was the only way to describe it. "It's what I would do if I was a superhero, of course, so I thought that they would feel the same! It's such a let-down, I really thought that they were better than that..."
"I would say that maybe it's because they've donated so much of their time to the city already, but I know I heard something at some point about backpayments to cover their time from the start," Alya commented, her eyebrows furrowed. "So that's not really donated time anymore, is it?"
"Maybe they have bills to pay," Rose piped up, clearly ever-hopeful. "And they need to get caught up with that first, of course. That would make sense!"
Of course, Lila was shaking her head as she headed up to her seat, with the rest of the group following not far behind to keep listening. "They're too young for bills. I met up with them again this morning and was trying to talk some sense into them because really, they could just do small donations, even a little bit helps- I would know, I've seen how far money can stretch and help in a charity! But even now that they have the money in their hands, they just want to keep it."
There were murmurs of disappointment all around the group gathered around Lila at that. Even though donations clearly weren't mandatory- well, they thought that the superheroes should be better role models than that! If they didn't have bills to pay, surely...
"And it's not like they're not getting enough to have both spending money and do a little charity," Lila said, shaking her head sadly. "Plenty of spending money, even! And I pointed that out, but they got really upset with me. I'd hate for our friendship to be destroyed over this really, but it's just- I feel like I don't know them at all now!"
Frankly, Marinette had heard enough. She wasn't going to let her reputation as Ladybug- or Chat Noir's reputation- get slandered by Lila's nonsense.
"Funny thing," Marinette commented in the most deadpan, disinterested voice that she could muster, not even taking her eyes off of her tablet as she talked. "You say that you met up with the superheroes this morning and they weren't interested in doing donations, and yet there's an article in La Trib this morning about an interview they did with the superheroes days ago that say otherwise. It says that donating was in their plan from the start."
The group in the back of the room went quiet.
"Marinette is correct," Markov commented after a moment, breaking the silence. "The article was posted one hour ago, though the paper copy presumably went out earlier. The superheroes stated that they have been looking at charities since they first heard that they might be getting money for their superhero work, as they wish to continue to help Paris. Their donations will be anonymous and private to protect their privacy and to prevent unwanted commentary on their choices."
Marinette glanced back. All eyes were slowly turning from Markov to Lila.
"There is also a video of the interview linked on the online version of the article," Markov added. "And the metadata confirms that it was filmed several days ago."
Several of the eyes pointed towards Lila were getting narrowed and suspicious.
"Oh, that- that's lovely!" Lila exclaimed, somewhat belatedly pressing her hand over her heart. "Maybe they were just trying to wind me up to tease me, then! And I misread the situation and took them seriously. Or they were trying to give me a pleasant surprise! It happens, sometimes- I'm not always great at catching sarcasm-"
This time, not everyone looked entirely convinced.
Smiling to herself, Marinette looked back at her tablet, closing out of the article and opening up their reading for Literature so that she could review it- or, well, finish reading it, because an akuma had interrupted her the previous night and it had been too late to pick it up again once the fight was over. If she hurried, she might be able to finish it before Ms. Bustier called for a start to class, and then she wouldn't get in trouble again for not doing her homework.
Honestly, if Lila's track record was anything to go by, she would probably wriggle her way out of the lie by the afternoon and the whole incident would be forgotten. But maybe this time would end up different- after all, Marinette had never seen that doubt before- and Lila's tower of lies would finally come toppling down. It was long overdue, really, but Marinette wasn't going to hold her breath.
If it happened...well, if their superhero salary was like a surprise cake, then a Lila downfall would be the cherry on top.
a/n: These kids work too hard to NOT get some sort of compensation. Beside, they will DEFINITELY need some form of therapy (plus a spa day or twenty, and some massage to deal with aches and pains from battles, and some facials to deal with the stress) and that can get expensive. #letthemtreatthemselves
...yeah, this is 100% a (brief) return (a throwback?) to my old meandering, semi-pointless/plotless one-shot roots. Whoops.
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and is therefore complete! And as always, comments make my day! :)