Hey, welcome to my newest new story! (Yes, I promise I'll finish Causation Not Correlation soon, I'm writing the final chapters now but I need to write them all before posting any to make sure the plot hangs together right, and I keep getting stuck on the climactic battle. It'll happen, I promise.)

This story is a follow on from Sydney Airport. It'll work as a standalone if you don't want to go back and read the other one, though of course I love it when people read and review any of my stories! If you start this one first there's a couple of things you'll want to know, but I'll mention those next chapter when they become important. In the meantime, enjoy Marinette applying to ESMOD.

Two years earlier...

Rene Anssorsen looked over the top of the file he was holding at the student in front of him. Potential student. He tried not to sigh. The young woman was obviously very anxious, as much as she was trying to hide it, and also very excited. An excitement which he was about to crush.

He hated this part of the job.

"Ms. Dupain-Cheng", he said, "The panel looked through your portfolio and spent a bit of time discussing it. I have three things to say to you about it. One of them you will like, one of them you will not like, and one of them remains to be seen." And will tell me a lot about your character when you hear it, but I'd better not say that now, he thought to himself. You're nervous enough.

Marinette stopped her fingers from fiddling with each other, her ever-present pencil absent in an attempt to look professional. And like ESMOD's newest fashion design student. She'd made interview stage! Alya had told her she would, but she hadn't believed it. Her portfolio couldn't be good enough. She knew it. She was going to lose all hope of entering fashion design and end up on the streets and... a tiny bump from her bag reminded her to focus. On the now, not the maybe.

"The first thing", Rene said carefully, "is that you are an excellent draftsperson." He tapped the portfolio cover. "The drawings in here are well constructed, the composition is good, you have a good eye for when to include information and when is enough. Your figure drawing is well-practiced and better than many 18 year olds, and your expression of drapery and texture shows great potential." He watched the sunlight appear on the young woman's face.

"Unfortunately", he continued, "there's the second thing. Which is that the designs you've drafted so beautifully are... pedestrian. Unexceptional, largely unimaginative. They look like the hopes and dreams of a thirteen-year-old who learnt about the world from children's movies."

He paused, leaning a hand on the portfolio. "Here at ESMOD we can teach you to draw. But we cannot teach you to see, to love, to create, we can only give you opportunities to get better at bringing what is inside your mind out into the real world. If there is nothing in your mind, we cannot help that."

Marinette was struck dumb. She'd spent weeks trying to pull the portfolio together between akuma attacks and their final-year-homework. She knew she'd filled it out with a bit of fluff just to get enough quantity, but all of it was bad? She had no idea how to respond. She brought her tongue back under control, and then said "Oui, m'sr. What was the third thing?"

Rene flipped open her portfolio to a page he'd marked, one with yet another princess dress.

"Ms Dupain-Cheng, ordinarily your portfolio would be such that you wouldn't even be granted an interview. I argued to give you one only because of this." He tapped the page.

Marinette leaned forward. "You like this dress, M'sr?" There was hope in her voice.

"No, I don't", Rene sighed. "It's derivative, boring and if you made it from cheap tulle and sold it by the dozen off the rack at Disneyworld's gift shop it would be more than the design deserves. I'm looking at the glove."

Marinette blushed. "That was just a silly idea, m'sr. I was going to erase it from the page but I thought that would look bad in the portfolio". And I didn't have time to redraw anything, she thought to herself.

"Which is why ESMOD is not accepting you as a student", Rene said. "The panel are agreed on that."

"Then why did you call me in for an interview?"

Rene smiled. You could hear the emotion in her voice, but she still managed to sound confident enough to ask questions. To challenge. He'd been right, he thought.

"Because I wanted to know if you had more like this in you", he said. "This glove transforms at the wearer's intent, becoming an extendable claw grip. I can see that the mechanics aren't fully fleshed out, but you've put enough detail in it that I can see where the parts would go. And that it should work." He reached beside him, behind his desk, and pulled up a set of wooden pieces. "I asked a friend at the Artifactory to laser cut these from wood, based on that off-hand scribble that you were going to erase from the page." He laid the gears and rods in front of her, in order, and spun one. The rods moved and a tiny claw opened. "I asked you in for an interview because I wanted to meet the person who could see this nearly fully-formed and yet thought so little of it it was nothing but a forgotten scrawl in a margin."

Marinette looked at him in surprise. "But, it's nothing! Anyone can do that."

Rene laughed. "No, anyone can't. YOU can." He grinned at her. "You handed in a portfolio of designs that anyone could do, and ignored what made you unique. So", he said, holding her eyes, "I have a suggestion for you, and I'd like you to listen to it even if you don't take it."

He sat back in his chair. "Ms. Dupain-Cheng, ESMOD cannot accept your application as it stands. I recommend to you on behalf of the panel that you go out and get some life experience, spend some time in the real world." He smiled. "I personally would like you to consider reapplying, perhaps when you are 21 and old enough to enter on the mature-age program. But not before", he fixed her eyes with his, "you've spent some time finding what it is in you that is exceptional, and learned to value it." He closed the portfolio and pushed it towards her, knocking the wooden pieces into her lap. "Take those too. By the way, if what I see in you is in any way correct, consider theatre design as an alternative career path. They are always needing people who have what you do, and it's rare to find them." He nodded at her and she ducked her head, Chinese style, ending the interview.

Marinette left Rene's office with a straight back and a steady step, at least for the two metres Rene could see from his desk. He smiled again. The girl definitely had character and strength. He really hoped she did reapply. Once she opened her mind a bit, got a handle on who she was and stopped listening to whichever friends had no doubt told her how wonderful that garbage of a portfolio was, she would be one of the best designers in Paris. He'd lay money on it.