"Oh my god, you guys, you'll never guess what my mom did for me!" Lila announced as she arrived at the picnic just a little bit on the late side and, other than her phone and a hastily-made Thermos of tea, completely empty-handed. If anyone asked, she would just claim that she had meant to make something, but she had overslept and not been able to start early enough to pull off what she had intended. "It was so sweet of her!"
Heads turned her way, and several of the other girls stepped closer like they were being drawn by a string. Rose was the first to speak up.
"What did she do, Lila?"
"She brought my old phone to a specialist so they could recover some of my old photos off of it- it got destroyed during one of my mission trips to South America and I lost all sorts of data!" Lila practically wilted at the 'memory'. "Thankfully my contacts were backed up in the cloud, but I lost all of my photos! All of those memories, gone! I thought that there was no way to get them back!"
Rose gasped in excitement. "But she got them recovered! That's so great!"
"Some were lost for good- most of them, actually. But I got some back and now they're on my phone and on the cloud, just in case." Lila glanced around. "I don't know if- would anyone like to see them, maybe?"
Rose nodded at once, practically teleporting to Lila's side in her eagerness to see. Alya wasn't far behind, and then Mylène and Nino came behind her. Lila beamed, pulling out her phone and swiping to open up her photos. She had stuck in some landscape photos that she had snagged online to mix it up so that not all of her photos were shots of her and famous people, but obviously the celeb shots were the star of the show.
"Oh, that's Prince Ali!" Rose said happily, half-hanging over Lila's arm to see the phone screen better. "You two definitely look close!"
"Yes, well, we've worked with each other several times," Lila told her. "So of course we're close! I took this picture maybe a year and a half ago? I was at his castle for two weeks while discussing all of the different types of charity work we were doing and ideas for going forward. It was lovely there, really. The beds were so comfortable, and the food was amazing!"
There was a chorus of 'that's so cool!'s and 'you're so lucky!'s. Lila beamed, happy with the attention, and dove into her prepared story, tying in a few of the few of stories that she had told before. More of their classmates gathered around, trying to get a glimpse of her phone. Lila held it up to show the photos off as she went, ever-thoughtful. One story turned into two, then ten, then a dozen as she flipped through the photos. It was a lot- normally she just did one story at a time, peppering them in where they were relevant- but she had been too sick to come up with many stories recently and of course the photos provided a perfect opportunity do a bit of talking.
(Maybe it was a bit too much talking, considering that she was still recovering from her illness and her throat was already sore and she was still feeling a bit faint every so often, but she was on a roll and needed to press her advantage while she had it. These photos were gold, and she needed to milk them for all they were worth.)
"Oh, those shots of you and Ladybug are great!" Alya exclaimed once Lila swiped to the first of the Ladybug pictures. Even though it was just a Ladybug look-alike, Lila had found herself gritting her teeth as she forced herself to cozy up to the sentimonster's side. She hadn't given in to the urge to punch the sentimonster in the face, just as a bit of stress relief, but that had less to do with being nice and more to do with her being worried that she was going to lose control of the sentimonster and have it turn on her. "Those must have been pretty recent, right? Were they on your old phone, too?"
"Ah- no, those were just from yesterday afternoon," Lila fibbed quickly, trying not to cringe. She probably should have held off of putting the Ladybug pictures on her phone- those would always be relevant, she could show them off some other time if she ever hit a lull in attention- but it was too late for that now. Maybe she could get a couple more posters and do another sentimonster session before Hawkmoth took the Miraculous back so that she would have more photo evidence in the future. "She was out on a run and saw me when I was on a walk to try to brainstorm ideas to help the global anti-pollution initiative with Prince Ali. Since we're friends, she decided to drop down and say hi! It was so nice of her."
"She must have been keeping a low profile," Alya commented, leaning in closer. "I didn't get any reports of superhero spottings yesterday, but I know they've been out before without people noticing! Did she help come up with any ideas?"
"No, she wanted to get going again before she got noticed and mobbed," Lila told her. "Which is understandable! She said she would think it over and get back to me if she came up with anything."
Alya nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense. I'm sure she'll come up with something, though! Considering how creative she is with Lucky Charms, I bet that she'll think up something cool."
Lila tried not to let her smile get too strained as she faked her enthusiasm. "Yeah! I mean, if it's anything too out there, it might be hard to get people on board, but some out of the box ideas might just be what the world needs!"
"Would you mind sharing those photos on the Ladyblog?" Alya asked eagerly. "I always love adding good pictures of the superheroes, and those are fantastic."
Trying not to smile too obviously, Lila nodded. "Of course! That's fine." Honestly, the more people who saw it, the better. That way, if Ladybug decided to be a brat again and tried to call Lila out, it would be far easier for Lila to claim that they had had a falling out and Ladybug was being an asshole about it and for that to actually be believed. "I'll send the photos to you right away, actually, before I forget."
Alya grinned, whipping out her phone eagerly. "Great! Lemme just- ah, I should probably think of an actual article or something to go along with the photos, huh? Uh- maybe something about how Ladybug isn't just saving the world from evil, but also from pollution? Obviously I'd say that you're the one doing most of the pollution work," she added hastily to Lila. "Or two superheroines- one saving the world from supervillains, the other saving the world from pollution? I like that better! And then I'll just mention the crossover, her helping you come up with ideas and you helping her behind the scenes with akuma attacks sometimes!"
Lila nodded, attaching the photos to an email and sending it off to Alya. "That sounds good! And if you want any more details, just ask!"
"I will, trust me!"
Ten minutes later, Lila's audience started getting restless, clearly done with story time. She wrapped up quickly, claiming that she didn't want to take up everyone's time and monopolize the attention and promising to show off the remainder of the photos at school. Some people stuck around to ask a few questions, but others wandered off. Lila wasn't bothered. After all, the stories would get around eventually.
Eventually, Lila got to step away to peruse the picnic table. She didn't pick anything up since she still wasn't feeling 100% after her earlier dizzy spell, and getting nauseous and barfing would bring her a sort of attention that she didn't want, but it was a nice break from remembering all of her stories and playing her part.
The food spread looked pretty good- though Lila wrinkled her nose at an array of baked goods that had clearly come from Marinette's family's bakery- and she made a note of a few things that she wanted to try later, when she felt better. With one more glance around, Lila stepped away from the table and back towards the rest of her classmates. As she did, she nearly bumped into Marinette. The other girl's eyes narrowed at her but she didn't say anything, opting to simply walk past Lila instead.
Well. That wouldn't do.
"You missed out on seeing my pictures earlier," Lila said, raising her voice just enough that Marinette wouldn't be able to miss it. "Which is a pity, really. There were some really nice ones that my mom recovered off of my old phone. If you wanted, I could still show you a couple."
Marinette snorted. "So you've taken up Photoshop as a hobby, I take it?" she asked dryly. "And I think I'll pass on looking at the photos. If I wanted to see something that wasn't real, I'd go watch an action hero movie. That would at least be enjoyable."
Lila sniffed. "You're just so certain that they're doctored. Do you know how jealous that makes you sound? It's not a very attractive look on you at all."
"Puh-leeze. There was a photo of me and Jagged Stone on the cover of Metal Lord not even a year ago, and I've got actual selfies of me and Clara Nightingale on my phone from when she was doing her music video. I don't need Photoshop." Marinette rolled her eyes, stepping further away from Lila. "Some of us actually have the connections that you pretend to have. If anyone is jealous, it's you."
With that, she turned and left, heading across the park to join Alya and Nino and Adrien. Alya was still hunched over her phone- no doubt hastily getting a rough draft of her article done- but the others were just chatting and relaxing. The fact that Adrien was still clearly on Marinette's side was really annoying, but soon enough he wouldn't be. Not once Lila took some video of the senti-Marinette being a brat. Because it would take video to persuade him, she knew that. Photos wouldn't be enough, not when he was already suspicious of her. She would probably have to wait a week or so to actually show anyone the video, space things out to make them more believable-
Lila's breath caught in her throat as another dizzy spell washed over her. All of a sudden, she wasn't so positive that it was a good idea to come out today. She had just been recovering from a decently long sickness, and then she got up super early and had been pushing herself all day. Yeah, it had been nice to show off her photos right away, but maybe it would have been smarter to wait until Monday. Lila could have ridden out her dizzy spells at home, both the major ones and the smaller ones that had been plaguing her while she showed off her photos.
...maybe she could just sit down and she would be fine?
"Lila! Over here!" Rose called, almost as though she was reading Lila's mind. She waved and patted the bench next to her. "Max was about to start telling us about the changes he made to his game!"
Lila nearly groaned at the thought. Listening to Max meant listening to stats and graphics and coding nonsense that she really couldn't care less about. She avoided it when she could. But it also meant that she wouldn't have to talk, and if she tuned out and missed something and got asked about it, she could just claim that she had gotten lost on all of the technical details.
So really, it was practically perfect.
"What kinds of changes?" Lila asked, walking over and sitting on the fee bit of bench. "New villains?"
Max nodded, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "That is some of it, yes. Having an ever-expanding cast of characters keeps it interesting and a challenge for those who have already played a lot and know how to defeat their opponents. There were some complaints that there were then too many rounds between the start and the boss villain, so I now have an option for people to select the number of akumas that they want to battle and which akumas they get is randomized. I also have added difficulty levels, for those wanting to deviate from the standard game. After examining the akuma stats, I have identified some that are more or less challenging than average and so the non-normal difficulty selections have a more limited pool of opponents to choose from. I also added Mayura to the game. I considered putting in Pavona, too, but..."
"She could be the boss villain for easy mode," Rose suggested. "Since she's not as good of a fighter as Hawkmoth!"
Max considered that, nodding absently. "Yes, I could see that. I have different coding for different fight levels already, so I could use the one I developed for the lowest akumas."
"The lowest akumas?" Lila asked, incredulous. "She- surely she's better than the lowest akumas, right? When she was out, she wasn't exactly just getting tossed to the side."
There was a long pause. Lila blinked, looking around.
Surely everyone could admit that Pavona wasn't completely useless on the battlefield, right? They had eyes, even if they were ridiculously biased towards the superheroes. There had been times when Pavona had been more than holding her own.
(Well. Times when she hadn't been failing spectacularly, at least, and mostly because the heroes were outnumbered, but she was choosing to ignore that.)
"I mean, I guess she's a better fighter than that giant baby," Alix offered after a long moment. "Not that that's hard, exactly. But as far as game context goes, it doesn't really make sense for the final boss to be as easy or easier than the akumas that came before it."
Max nodded, jotting that down. "That's a good point! I might make her a slight bit more of a threat than she actually is in real life, just for the game's sake. Though she does have the sentimonster thing going for her- maybe I can keep her fight level the same, but just have a couple different sentimonsters that she'll get paired with. That'll be the bit making the boss battle harder."
"That was a good point about how Pavona shouldn't be easier than the akumas in the game, Lila!" Rose chirped, beaming at her. "That'll definitely help improve the game!"
"Yeah, no problem," Lila managed, hoping that she didn't sound like she was talking through gritted teeth. She steadied herself against the table as her vision blurred out again for a moment, her mind going dizzy with it. "I'm always happy to help!"
"I think the problem that I'm facing then is coding so that Pavona and the sentimonster work together," Max said, tapping his pencil against the spine of his notebook. "And the same for the challenge mode, I think. It would have Hawkmoth and Mayura as the final boss, and they would work together. For that, some of the later levels could have randomized akuma-sentimonster pairings!"
"Ooh, good idea!"
Lila tuned out as the conversation wandered off into more details of the game, improvements that could be made to the akuma powers to make them more flexible and not so fixed. Max eventually wandered off into a discussion- or a monologue, really, even while checked out Lila couldn't help but note that no one else was contributing much anything to the discussion- about coding specifics, and Lila tried not to sigh.
Boring. Boring, boring, boring.
Even after sitting and relaxing for nearly half an hour, Lila still had absolutely no appetite. In fact, the mere thought of eating much anything was making her feel a bit ill, which was a bit concerning.
And yet she found herself staring down at a full plate of food in her lap.
To her own credit, she had tried to get out of eating anything, claiming that she had woken up late and eaten breakfast late and therefore didn't have an appetite, and besides her mom hadn't remembered to buy the things she needed to make something to bring and she would feel bad about taking food when she hadn't brought any. But her classmates had insisted that it was fine, that no one blamed her for not being able to bring anything, and that really, couldn't she eat just a little? So Lila had been pretty much forced to relent and load up her plate.
Maybe she could have let on that she had a bit of lingering nausea from her illness, but she had (for once) not wanted any more attention on her. She had been completely in charge of the narrative earlier, keeping the focus and gossip on what she wanted her classmates to pay attention to, and having the talk about her turn from her celebrity connections to her mysterious illness would be not exactly ideal. An illness could push the focus on her proof to the backs of their minds, easily forgotten about given some time, and she was not about to let a little cold do that.
Lila was made of stronger stuff than that, she knew she was. After all, she was a supervillain. Things weren't going to be easy.
But it was still frustrating that the challenge was coming from something as everyday as a stupid cold.
(She should have just left it at I ate breakfast late and so I'm not very hungry and then maybe she could have gotten away with just taking a little fruit and nothing else. The comment about not having brought anything, in retrospect, made the breakfast thing sound like a flimsy excuse for not eating.)
Hopefully she would feel better again soon. It was just so stupid that she had been feeling so great, and then all of a sudden, she was feeling worse than she had before. Sure, she had been able to milk her cold for all it was worth as far as homework went, but much longer and the teachers wouldn't turn a blind eye to that anymore. And sure, she had gotten out of actually doing anything in gym while she was sick, but she could do that just as easily with a claim that her arthritis was acting up or that she had rolled her ankle the previous day.
(There was also the issue of what she could possibly do if someone brought concerns to their teachers and they insisted on calling Lila's mom. She couldn't let that happen, or else all of her hard work would be for nothing.
Maybe she could spread the lie that her mom was already on top of it and taking her in to the doctor's office for a checkup. If the teachers knew that Mrs. Rossi was already aware of Lila's health problem, then perhaps they would be less inclined to reach out as well.)
"Aren't you hungry, Lila?" Rose asked anxiously, and Lila startled out of her thoughts. She had been staring at her plate without eating anything for too long, clearly. "You've just been pushing your food around and not eating anything."
"Ah, well, I did have a late breakfast," Lila managed, doing her best to make her excuses sound confident, even as another wave of dizziness passed over her. Was it just her imagination, or were they getting more frequent? "I must have eaten more than I thought then, so I'm not very hungry yet. I- maybe I'll just set my plate away to eat later. I just couldn't resist taking some food, it all looked so good."
"Oh, okay," Rose agreed after a moment's pause. "It's too bad we don't have a heating lamp or something to keep the food warm and fresh for you! Some of it won't be as good cold."
Lila flashed her a smile. "Thanks for the concern, but I'm sure it will still be good! And if not- well, the next time we have a picnic, I'll be sure to wake up earlier or not eat as much breakfast."
"We'll have to do this again soon, then!"
Lila smiled and nodded. "That sounds fun! It'll be a good way to keep up with everyone over the summer- well, at least if I'm still in the country and not traveling. I don't know what my mom's plans are yet."
Everyone nodded, letting out little murmurs of understanding.
"Hopefully you'll get to go some cool places!" Mylène piped up. "I mean, I hope you'll be around for part of the summer so that you can go on all of the group activities like picnics and pool trips, but I know how important it is for you to get to travel and meet people who can help out with your charities and environmental work and everything!"
Lila forced another smile in the direction where- well, she could mostly see Mylène between the spots that had momentarily taken over her vision. She blinked, and her vision cleared. "Yeah, it would be nice to get to hang out and be a normal kid for a bit, but I also want to see some of my friends from other places in person again! I've been keeping in touch by email and video call, of course, but it's just not the same."
"The downside to traveling," Mylène agreed. "I've made friends while traveling before- average people, not princes and whatnot- but I never end up staying in touch with them for that long once I leave. Our emails just end up tapering off."
Several of the others nodded in agreement. Lila almost did, too- after all, she always let communications with her former classmates taper off and end after a few months after she had to move or switch schools- before she caught herself.
Right. No talking about her real life experiences, or else people would start picking up on the inconsistencies and the ways that Lila's real life didn't line up with the other stories that she had told.
The conversation slowly turned to the kinds of friendships other people had made while on vacation with their families and how long they kept communicating once they had left, and Lila tuned it out in favor of trying to force down a few bites of food. There were a couple things that weren't overly sweet or spicy that didn't make her stomach want to completely turn itself inside out, so Lila nibbled on them while she pretended to listen to her classmates blather on about completely non-impressive people who they had met.
"Lila, if you aren't hungry yet, you don't have to eat," Rose said suddenly, cutting herself off mid-sentence. She glanced over at the picnic table, then perked up. "Hey, the container I brought my salad in is empty! You could just put your food in that and bring it home to eat later if you wanted!"
"That's so kind of you, Rose!" Lila managed. Ugh, forcing herself to eat anything had clearly been a bad choice. She had thought that she would be able to handle a few bites, but she was feeling more nauseous than ever. She didn't want to let that on, though. She wouldn't. She couldn't distract from her own stories and photos by being ill. "That sounds like a great idea. I don't want the food I took to have to go to waste. I-" she cut herself off as her stomach rolled again.
Maybe talking right now wasn't the best idea.
"Let's go get it, then!" Rose chirped, popping up out of her seat. "And you can grab anything you want to eat later from the table, too, while we're doing that. I know no one's going to mind if you take stuff to go!"
Lila pushed herself to her feet to follow Rose, doing her best to act as though everything was normal as she swung her legs over the bench and started walking. Her vision had almost completely fuzzed out as soon as she got up, but she couldn't let that stop her. It would clear up soon enough, after all. It always had before.
She took one step, then another, then a third, forcing them even and casual. On the fourth, Lila felt herself wobble, suddenly both dizzy and weak.
And on the fifth step, everything went black.
a/n: I'm so sorry for the wait! I don't even have a decent excuse... NaNo started, and I got distracted with writing instead of posting, I guess.
As always, comments make my day! :)