I didn’t forget this time! Woo!
Okay, so here’s chapter 16 of Worthy Opponent. Thanks for waiting and I hope you like it!
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Worthy Opponent Chapter Sixteen
Time seemed slow for the teenagers. Viscous and languid as all they could do was stare in absolute horror.
For a fraction of a moment, miniscule seconds their world was still.
Allan covered his mouth, horrified. This couldn’t be happening. He knew their electrical team had the best safety record in their industry. There was no way this was an accident caused by anyone on the crew being careless. They had too many precautions.
Allegra’s muscles tensed. The need to move strong as she prepared to run and get medical help. The rig was about the fall on Marinette. Allegra was neither strong nor fast enough to get to Marinette in time and prevent her from being hit.
The rig was about to fall on Marinette. She would need help. A few weeks ago Allegra’s only concern would be that Marinette’s injury would delay production. Now she was beginning to like the other girl, or at least respect her. She’d wasted a lot of time disliking and mistrusting someone over what she overheard some rando say. Allegra had known Lila was a creep, it shouldn’t have been a stretch that she was a liar also.
Allegra whipped her body seeing everyone else expressing the same horror she did but one was missing. Huh. Where was Claude?
Luka hesitated. His body was frozen and he stared helplessly as the girl he cared for was about to be crushed. He needed to move, he wanted to move. His mind screamed at him to move, to act, to do something. Even then his body was still, a better impression of Lot's wife could not be found, his body was a useless salt statue watching disaster.
I’m about to watch her die and I can’t do anything to save her.
Felix didn’t freeze. Nor did he think about mobilizing for help. The medics on set were great but what could they do with broken bones? Or crushed muscles? No it would have been much better if Marinette didn’t get hurt at all. He could make that happen. Felix was right beside her, he was the only shot Marinette had. She was important to the movie and he’d never find a better Dupin he enjoyed working with as much as he did her. He enjoyed their banter; it was almost...friendly now.
All the blood went to his muscles as his heart sped up. The beat of his pulse loud in his ears, a stray thought that maybe he would get hurt instead flashed, but it was too late. Felix had moved. Time seemed to slow down but that was just his mind speeding up to find a solution. He was closest to her, he could reach her before the rig landed on her.
Felix raced over to her. She had just noticed the lighting fixture about to fall. Heard the creak of metal, saw the shadow move. It would crash on her and she tensed as if getting ready to run.
Marinette was going to start moving when an outside force collided with her. A flash of golden hair, the feel of hands locking against her. Gravity lost its place as she was airborne for just a moment.
Felix had lunged at Marinette, locking his arms around her tightly as they both went down, Felix using his own body to shield and cushion her fall, taking great care to hold onto her head so it wouldn't impact against the wooden floor. He had just cleared the lighting rig when it landed with a loud crash. The steel frame screeched as it bent and the glass tinkled as it splintered into shards of sharp and hot glass. A bit breathless from the impact, Felix made sure to turn Marinette away from the blast zone, his shoulder and hip impacting the most with his fall. He shielded Marinette with his body and winced as glass fragments embedded themselves into his exposed arm and right hand.
Damn it. He hadn’t been fast enough.
He heard some distant screaming but ignored it. He was vaguely aware that Marinette hadn’t moved yet as Allegra, Allen and Luka all crowded around him. They were all asking questions but their voices ran together and sounded as if they were underwater. He felt blood running down his arm, the ache on his side, and faintly wished he’d worn long sleeves that day.
Allen tapped him on the left shoulder. “Hey. Are you alright? We need to get you and Marinette to the first aid station.”
As if in answer, Claude came running back to them, trailed by two medical personnel. They could barely keep up with the tall boy and gave up trying to run in favor of a brisk walk.
“Felix?! What happened?”
“Doctor Uchiha, Doctor Winston,” he greeted them as if it were any other work day. “A lighting rig nearly fell on my co-star. You can see it in several pieces behind us. Also, I have glass in my arm, maybe my shoulder and back as well I'm not entirely sure. Marinette...has yet to speak. She might be in shock.” He was impressed at how calm and steady his voice was. He might panic a bit later.
Doctor Uchiha looked him over and said, “We’ll have to get that glass out of you, Felix. Come on. Can you walk all right?”
Felix nodded absently, not entirely sure if he actually could or not.
Doctor Winston cleared her throat. “Um, do you want to let Marinette go? I want to see if she was injured.”
Felix wanted to argue that of course she wasn’t because he’d shielded her with his own body. But he wasn’t in the mood to argue. To be honest, he’d forgotten he was holding her.
He lowered his arms and looked down at Marinette. She had curled in on herself, making her look even smaller than usual. Her pupils were fully dilated and she was staring up at him. At first he thought she was in awe because he’d saved her. Now he saw she was in shock. All of a sudden he felt strangely protective of her. He wanted her to be safe and felt angry at whoever had done her harm. It was similar to how he felt when Lila harassed Allen or when someone had been cruel to Claude for flubbing his lines and messing up a scene.
He was beginning to think of Marinette as his friend. The thought shook him almost as bad as the possibility of being hit by the lighting rig.
“Marinette, can you hear me? Marinette, do you remember what happened?” Doctor Winston tried to ask her questions but the girl just stared at her blankly.
“I don’t think she’s going to be able to answer any questions right now.” Luka gently pushed past everyone and took one of Marinette’s hands. His voice was gentle and soothing and Felix began to feel pacified along with her. “Marinette. It’s Luka. You’re safe. We’re going to take you to the first aid station and the doctor will look you over to make sure you’re alright. Trust me.”
Her pupils shrunk back to their usual size as she listened to her friend’s voice. She held her other hand out to Luka and he pulled her out of Felix’s arms and onto her feet before swinging her up into his arms. He looked at the doctors. “I’ll just carry her. It doesn’t look like she could walk right now and she knows she can trust me.”
Felix felt oddly bereft after Marinette was taken from him but decided it was just the adrenaline wearing off. He allowed Allen to pull him up so he could walk to the first aid station. His hip throbbed, and knee too. Damn he might end up half battered and bruised. Refusing to be seen more hurt than he was sure he appeared, Felix was bearing the dull pain, when a thought struck him.
"Mom will be back soon. Make sure you get to her first and let her know what happened, but gently; away from people.” He looked at the crowd that was already starting to gather.
“Someone clean as much as you can of this mess before my mom shows up. Now. Please.”
“We should probably leave it as is until the police have been called to investigate.” Someone piped up.
Damn, they were right. This was a possible crime scene. Felix just nodded. “Call the police then. Have security posted until they get here so no one else gets hurt.”
Meanwhile Lila was planting evidence and strolling far enough away from the “accident zone” so no one could say she was involved. Now all she needed was to be seen with a trustworthy and reliable alibi.
“So, are you ready to rehearse?”
She whirled around and looked into Gio’s smiling, handsome face.
“Gio! I’m so glad to see you!”
She genuinely was. Now she had her alibi and he was perfect. He was very popular around the set for being friendly to everyone and humble about his talent. It was almost quaint. Once they were the new power couple of the movie industry she would have to copy his attitude for interviews and when meeting fans. It endeared people to him. Gio was so good at appearing kind and modest it almost looked real.
Lila smiled and batted her lashes and as predicted he blushed. “Um...so? About rehearsal? We’re filming with Victor after lunch.”
“Oh! Yes! I always feel more comfortable when I rehearse a scene with you.” She reached out and laid a hand on his arm. “I think my acting improves every time I work with you.”
Good. Now he felt needed. Perfect. “Actually,” she bit her bottom lip and looked at him from under her lashes, “I need a favor.”
He raised his brows and looked interested. “As long as it's nothing illegal, immoral, or expensive,” he joked, “I’m in.”
She laughed too. When she was done with him, he’d be happy to do any of the three. “Well…” she pretended to hesitate, “I heard that we were shooting a ball scene because the school has this dance every year. Not even the murder of a professor can stop it.”
Gio gave her a sympathetic frown. “And let me guess, you don’t know how to waltz.”
Lila knew the main cast were having lessons today. Closed lessons, as Allegra had told her when she tried to invite herself. Damn, she never should have come onto that guy. It wrecked everything. She was sure the perfect and pure Marinette stepped out of line, or hid it when she did.
She looked down and tried to look embarrassed. “No. Sure, I can do a little modern hip hop but that sort of old fashioned dance? No.”
As predicted he smiled and reassured her. “I can teach you.”
She raised her head and gave him a look of surprise. “Really? You can?” She raised a hand to her mouth in feigned concern. “You don’t mind?”
He just laughed. “Not at all. In fact, we can practice a little after lunch.”
Lila clapped her hands and gave him a look of utter adoration. “You’re wonderful!”
He blushed and said, “I just need to ask Felix if it’s alright if we use his practice room when he and the others are done with it. He looked over her shoulder and announced, “Oh, look! There they are now. They must be done.”
She turned around and looked, trying to appear interested. The small group of main actors were talking about...something. She didn’t care. That tall blue haired boy looked at Marinette as if she was important to him and Felix looked...less hostile than normal.
She watched as the main group passed under the lights. Marinette forgot something and ran back for it. She slammed the door to the practice room harder than she needed to and chased after them.
God, she was so predictable. It was almost as if Lila had written a scene for her.
Lila whispered to Gio, “we should probably ask now before they’re busy again.”
“Sure,” he whispered back but she didn’t actually make a move to talk to them.
The lights swayed and the last cable snapped as predicted, falling directly on Marinette’s talented little head.
Lila tried to look shocked and concerned when Felix suddenly broke away from the group and rescued Marinette seconds before the lights fell and splintered.
“No!” she screamed involuntarily. Dammit! She survived again! That brat must have the most amazing luck in the world. Felix picked the worst possible time to play hero.
She didn’t see what happened next because suddenly Gio pulled her into his arms and turned her away from her failed “accident”.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he stroked her hair and spoke in soothing tones. “Marinette is going to be fine. We have a great medical staff. Everyone’s going to be fine. Just don’t look if it bothers you so much. Your friend is in great hands, I promise.”
Oh, that’s right. Gio still thought she and Marinette were friends. She decided to play along.
“I...I don’t think I feel like dancing now,” she fakely sobbed.
“Neither do I.” He pulled away and slung an arm around her shoulders. “I think you should have some herbal tea and a snack. You’ll feel better once you hear your friend is okay.”
“I-I’m sure I will.”
Luka stood just inside the medic station. His cheek was sore from Luka chewing on it as his nerves got the better of him. One medic was checking over Marinette while the other was bandaging Felix’s hand after seeing the extent of his injuries. Felix had a fair complexion like Adrien, but the bruising that was on his shoulder, hip, and ribs were blooming flowers. Glass was extracted from his back, his shoulder; he needed to get stitches on two of the larger cuts, his hand had many scrapes and needed bandages. Thanks to Felix's quick action besides the shock, Marinette was physically ok with some mild discomfort.
He could hear the low soothing voices of the medical professionals assuring their patients that they would be just fine. He took a deep cleansing breath and told himself they would be fine. His legs thought he was a liar and nearly collapsed out from under him before he made his way to a chair.
His adrenaline rush had worn off and he hid his head in his hands, trying not to cry. He couldn’t cry. Marinette could never see him as being less than strong. He had to be strong for her. Plus Amelie would be back from her mystery errand soon and would demand answers about her son’s and her lead actress’ accident. He would have to explain to her what happened since he was a witness. Mari and Felix looked to be in shock the last he saw them and probably didn’t know what happened themselves. He was known for being calm and level-headed so he was the best person to help Marinette get home. He doubted any filming would be done today.
He was sure he’d also have to update Amelie on her son’s condition after hearing what happened from Allen and the others. That was a conversation he wished he didn’t have to have but hopefully one of Felix’s friends could keep her calm.
It would be nice to have someone to lean on once in a while.
His mom was great and he loved her anarchic outlook on life. It just would be nice every now and then to have some stability. To come home and have a regular dinner and not the strange experimental meal his mom created on the fly.
That thought was disloyal and he was ashamed. He still couldn’t help thinking about it.
He was sure people like Marinette or Felix came home to predictable meals and long conversations about their day. Thoughtful discussions about music or philosophy. He imagined being older and having family meals with the Dupain-Chengs. They would insist he call them “Tom” and “Sabine” and ask him what kind of quiche he liked. Maybe they would tease their daughter about where they were going on their date to make her blush. Luka would intervene and say they were going to a concert at the Louvre or a movie. Then maybe one day it would be him and Marinette at their own house. She would teach him how to make coq au vin or ask him to taste her creme brulee.
He shook his head to clear it. That was jumping ahead a bit too much. He hadn’t even managed to ask her out yet. He was trying to wait and be patient until the movie was over because she had so much going on at the moment.
A face rose in his mind. Yes, she’d been in love with Adrien but judging the way she’d treated him when he and Kagami came to give them fencing lessons, that might be over. She seemed almost indifferent to his presence; there was no stuttering or blushing and she seemed happier to see Kagami than Adrien. There was a bit of personal drama between Felix and his cousin so it was probably just as well Adrien and his girlfriend left early.
Luka told himself not to get his hopes up. Just because Marinette had finally put her all-consuming crush behind her did not mean she was ready to date him, or even anyone. He knew she was fond of him but it was always possible she wasn’t interested in being any more than friends with him.
His mind shifted to Felix and he wanted to kick himself. He was too busy staring at Marinette as she twirled around in her pretend ballgown to notice the fraying wires or the swaying lights. Felix had risked his neck to save her. Luka was grateful to the other boy; he might not like Marinette but even he couldn’t let her die or get hurt. He’d even injured himself to rescue her, scooping her into his arms and shielding her with his body as they hit the ground. The blood Luka saw just proved the willingness the boy took; the lighting rig that had nearly crushed her. He had looked like a noble prince carrying the fair princess to safety.
Despite his best efforts he couldn’t help but feel jealous of his co-star. Luka prided himself on being aware of his surroundings and being perceptive. Today he’d been neither while someone else had been the hero to his...friend? Pure melody? He didn’t know. He hesitated until the danger had already passed.
It should have been me.
That was a selfish, jealous thing to think. He should be grateful, thanking Felix for saving Marinette, relieved neither of them were seriously harmed. Both would probably recover and be back to filming within a day or two.
Images began to flash in his mind. Felix might not have been fast enough and Marinette could have gotten crushed by the lighting rig. He might have slipped and fell and then both of them could have died. Perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten Marinette far enough away and glass shards could have blinded her. She could have bled to death. He would have lost her. He would have to tell her parents the most precious thing in their lives was gone.
He could feel the fear and alarm rising in him and stopped himself. If he didn’t control his emotions he could be akumatized again. That would just put Marinette and Felix at further risk and he would never allow that. His melody would never be put in harm’s way by him; neither directly or indirectly.
Luka was interrupted from his thoughts by the door to the medic’s office crashing open and Amelie Graham de Vanily burst inside, panting and as disheveled as he’d ever seen her.
She looked at Luka with wide, wild eyes. “They said my baby was nearly flattened by a lighting rig! Where is he?”
Seeing her so upset made it easy for him to swallow his own feelings and focus on someone else’s fear and suffering. He took her hands in his and gave her the most reassuring look he could muster.
“The lighting rig actually nearly fell on Marinette and he dove in to save her. Let me tell you what happened…”
Felix was going to be okay.
He watched as Doctor Uchiha gently removed glass fragments from his arm and barely flinched; the worst ones were already removed and stitched. His shirt was removed to get to those glass fragments. She then cleaned the wounds with antiseptic and bandaged them. After that she cleaned the blood off his arm and hand. Some even got on his ring. He’d be sure to take it off and dip it in some jewelry cleaner later.
Lucky they called him, as if what happened right now was based on luck and not the desperation of a man trying to prevent tragedy. Lucky! The fools! Felix moved before he noticed the glass stabbing him.
This had to be yet another Lila attempt to get Marinette injured or worse so she could take her place in the film. If the situation weren’t so serious he would have laughed. What a farce. 8ipylThat dangerous little brat thought she was good enough to star in a Graham Films production? She was barely suitable for a walk-on role. True, her acting was improving, but that was just because Gio was coaching her. He was a better actor than Felix had given him credit for. He would have to keep an eye on him and see if he were suitable for any other roles in the future.
“A few puncture wounds and some mild lacerations." Felix smiled as if the most natural thing to Doctor Uchiha who gave him a deadpan stare.
"Of course," Doctor Uchiha snarked at Felix, "I also suppose the stitches in your back and bruising on your knee, hip, ribs, and shoulder is nothing at all."
"Doctor you know I'm a delicate aristocratic boy," Felix lamented trying to inject a levity that the situation did not have at the moment. He needed Doctor Uchiha to downplay everything for when his mother came. "I bruise like a peach."
"Yes, yes; thankfully it didn't hit too deep." She gave him a reassuring smile. “Marinette didn’t get a scratch on her, thanks to you. She’s still in a bit of a shock, poor lamb. Make sure she takes today and tomorrow off as well. Don’t let Jennings drag her off to do some sewing.”
“Thank you, Doctor Uchiha,” he said with a smile. She smiled back.
“I’m going to go file an accident report; and get you a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication. You should probably stay here for now and rest.” Doctor Uchiha said and left.
He slumped as the doctor gave him some privacy to regain his composure. It wasn’t necessary because he was fine, really. He wasn’t even shaking. His stomach felt a bit queasy; he could have died or been permanently disabled. Not a good feeling. The dull ache on his side was throbbing and he wanted to just lie down on a bed of ice and wallow in pity for a bit. Where his mother couldn't see.
His anger surged and for a minute he wanted to strangle Lila until she turned purple. He wanted to blacklist her from appearing in so much as an insurance commercial in all of Europe. It wasn’t enough for her to try and kill Marinette, but she almost did him in...again. Not only that but she was causing delays in production, damaging equipment, and just might ruin the production of the last script his father ever wrote. For that last bit alone he should have her head on a pike. Are deaths permanent if caused by an akuma?
Felix stopped his train of thoughts and took a few deep breaths. He tried to focus his thoughts on positive things; his mother’s laugh, his father’s rare smiles, and having fun with his friends. Getting akumatized would just be embarrassing at this point.
Well, enough dwelling. The polite thing to do now would be to check on Marinette and see if she had snapped out of her shock. He was not just her co-star but her employer and a certain noblesse oblige was required.
There was a curtain between the cot he was laying on and the cot Marinette was no doubt on. He was about to open it when he hesitated. It would be more polite to call out first so she knew he was there and wasn’t startled. He called out, “Marinette? Can you hear me?”
Her voice was barely above a whisper and sounded shaky. He was relieved she responded but also a little annoyed. He risked his life to save hers and the first person she thinks of is Luka? He knew she wasn’t very fond of him but couldn’t help but feel slightly insulted. Still, he understood. Luka was her friend...or were they more? Well, he was probably a better match than Adrien. His cousin was an oblivious idiot who never paid attention to the attractive, creative girl. Luka noticed her, helped her relax, treated her with respect and just seemed to enjoy every minute he got to spend with her. He was tall, handsome and supposedly a good musician. He and Marinette looked good together.
He drew back the curtain and poked his head around the corner. “Do you need anything?
Felix sighed. “Besides Luka. I can ask someone to bring some water. It’s a bit early for tea.”
He stopped when he got a good look at her. She was sitting with a yellow shock blanket around her shoulders and staring off into the middle distance.
He stepped half a meter closer to her and waved his hand in front of her face to get her attention. She blinked several times and then focused her attention on him.
She barely seemed aware of him so he decided to try a little improv. “Really, Flick dearest, there are better ways to get my attention than nearly having us crushed to death. Shall I list them off? Or would you rather listen to it as a soliloquy?”
For a full minute she was completely quiet and he was afraid he’d cocked things up somehow. Then she rallied and responded with, “Don’t flatter yourself, you prancing show pony. Someone, or several someones clearly want us dead and are desperate enough that they’re getting reckless. The escape room and the Four by Four were bad enough, but attacking us on school grounds?” She snorted in disdain. “That’s not only reckless, it’s sloppy.”
“Well, I think you just might be right on this one rare occasion, my dear Felicity.” He crossed his arms and smiled down at her. He took the liberty of sitting on the bed, the two of them bumping shoulders and Felix muffled the hurt groan as she hit his injured shoulder.
She laughed and it was charming. “The great Barrington Holmes is admitting someone could be right besides his magnificent self? This is a novelty I’ll be sure to savor.”
They laughed together and the tension was broken. Marinette was beginning to act and look much more like herself and he felt oddly relieved. Quiet, passive Marinette was boring; he much preferred to see her in control of herself and lively, even when she was going for his throat.
She smiled up at him and it was as warm and genuine as the smiles she gave her friends. He’d never had one of these smiles aimed at him before. “Felix. Thank you so much.”
He raised a brow, unwilling to seem vulnerable in case she was setting him up for a prank. “For?”
Her smile vanished and she put one hand on her hip as she tilted her head slightly to the side. Her lips pursed and she said, “Playing dumb doesn’t really suit you.” Her expression softened again and said, “You saved my life, even risked yourself for me. You didn’t have to do that.”
Her sweetness was a little disconcerting and he took refuge in snark. “Of course I did. You’re playing a lead character and we’ve already shot one-third of the movie with you in it. It’d be a waste of time and money replacing you.”
Marinette didn’t bristle at his sarcasm, just sighed and looked disappointed. “I’m being sincere. Thank you. For saving my life and for bringing me out of my funk with your witty banter and stimulating conversation.” She chuckled and said, “it was pretty clever of you to use your character to reach me.”
“Improv seems almost standard between us now,” he replied.
They were quiet for a few minutes and he felt the tension begin to return. The medbay was quiet except for the doctors talking quietly in the distance, no doubt filling out their reports. He found himself talking just to fill the silence.
“This is the second time we’ve nearly died or been injured. If I didn’t know this was all planned I might feel paranoid. Or cursed. Or paranoid that I was cursed. I might write a Call of Cthulhu game based off of this, the premise would be a wonderful movie.”
She laughed. “Lila isn’t much for planning...most of the time. But she’s quick to turn a situation to her advantage. She picked a time when she knew Chloe would be gone and there would be no photographic evidence of her crimes.”
Felix grimaced. “Maybe we should consider having a backup photographer since Chloe can’t be everywhere. Even a mobile picture would be better than nothing. “
She nodded in agreement. “True. I know Allegra said something about a mole but do you think it would be a good idea to have a few more security guards? Maybe undercover so they’re not too obvious.” She thought quietly and then straightened. “Oh! And have those hidden cameras you bought installed. Just in case everything else fails.”
He smiled. “You, on the other hand, are very good at planning.” He laughed. “I’m glad you’re on my side.”
Marinette laid her hand on her chin and pretended to consider what he said. “For now. Besides, I feel more comfortable if I have multiple plans in case the first few fail.” She laughed at the look on his face. “Hey, don’t worry. I don’t plan on suddenly becoming your enemy after the movie wraps.” The look on her face turned sly and Felix knew it would be a mistake to have this girl as his enemy. He would prefer to keep her as an ally. Or maybe...friend?
He thought he might like having Marinette Dupain-Cheng as a friend. Yes, she was a talented asset and he enjoyed the fact she challenged him. It made working with her fun and he looked forward to every day he spent on set with her now. Her banter had the strange side effect of calming him down too. He wondered what his father would have thought of her.
“But to be honest,” his face turned serious. “I’m glad you’re not hurt and not just for the sake of the film. The world would be a poorer place without you.”
She grinned and he was starting to enjoy seeing her smile. “Huh. So we have to be in life-threatening peril for you to like me. Good to know.”
He relaxed and then realized he was enjoying himself. She wasn’t bantering with him in character, she was simply herself. She was making quips and sending gentle barbs his way. It reminded him of how his friends treated him.
Could Marinette be seeing him as a friend now? Did she want to be his friend? Did he want to be hers?
He thought about it and decided, yes. Yes, he wanted Marinette Dupain-Cheng to be his friend. All he had to do was keep her away from Adrien. He was unworthy of even talking to her and besides, he hated to share. He supposed Luka might be all right too, but he wasn’t sure about the other boy yet. Luka seemed the type who knew how others felt but kept his feelings to himself until he was ready. For all Felix knew Luka couldn’t stand him.
He smiled back at her. “When my mother comes back, tell her I slipped. I don’t want to scare her with what actually happened.”
She frowned, lost in thought and then remarked, “Nah, your mom would never believe that. Tell her I slipped and brought you down with me.”
It might have been the adrenaline or maybe Felix was also in shock but suddenly that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. He laughed and Marinette joined him.
They were both still laughing when they heard a commotion at the front of the first aid station and Amelie burst in with Luka trailing behind him.
“My poor, brave baby! Luka told me everything that happened! Are you alright? Did you need stitches? Marinette, were you hurt too?”
His mother’s hair was mussed and her clothes were as disheveled as he’d ever seen them. Her skin was pale and her eyes were huge with fright. She was shaking and her lower lip wobbled as if she were about to cry.
That was it. Felix could handle almost anything. Direct with his mother? He’d wanted to for years. Two near death experiences? Child’s play.
He froze because he couldn’t handle tears from his mom, never could. His beloved mother about to cry and looking at him as if she’d never see him again? That would just not do.
“Mom...Mom I’m so sorry if I scared you…” he started forward and embraced his mother. “I’m fine, just some scratches and I didn’t even need stitches,” he reassured her, lying through his teeth. She didn’t need to know every detail. She’d sleep better at night. “The doctors said I’d be back to filming in two days.
“It’s all my fault, Amelie!” Marinette rushed past Felix and put the shock blanket around her shoulders. “The lights were falling and I was so startled I couldn’t move and then Felix dove in and saved me.”
“Why don’t you have a seat?” Luka guided Amelie to a folding chair and the three teens began explaining everything that had happened slowly and carefully. Again.
Filming was canceled for the rest of the day for everyone, with the scheduled scenes to be shot the next day. There was a bit of grumbling at first at the loss of time and how this would add to expenses but when everyone heard about the accident they understood. The electrical team swore up and down they had checked and re-checked everything and the cords couldn’t have been frayed. Amelie soothed them by saying that while an investigation was required, she knew none of her crew would ever do anything to endanger anyone. Slightly mollified, the crew began to pack things up for the day after being reassured they would be paid for the full day.
The gang (minus Luka, who was telling Mylene and Ivan what happened) reconvened in Chloe’s dark room to talk about what had happened while it was still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Chloe very quickly went from surprised to shocked to downright outraged once everyone had told her what happened. “That fucking bitch?! She has no right going after Felix! She could have crippled him! No one gets to hurt Fefe but me! I have privileges!”
Everyone stared at her and there was an uncomfortable silence as Chloe awkwardly turned to Marinette. “And um, yeah. She almost killed or hurt you real bad too. Glad you’re not dead and stuff.”
“That’s...nice of you to say, Chloe,” Marinette wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “I’m glad you don’t want me dead.”
Chloe pretended to cough and said, “Well, you know, we have a past and I have issues that might be projection or whatever but I don’t want you to die or anything.”
There was another awkward silence as no one could think of a good follow up. Then Chloe asked, “So? Are you...good? Do you need us to take you home?”
Marinette tried not to let her mouth gape open as she replied. “I can take the Metro. I don’t want to put you out or anything.”
“Not at all,” Allen told her. “Actually, since we’re not going to be able to get any work done today, Chloe suggested we do something tourists usually do and check out Versailles.”
“I’ve seen pictures of the Hall of Mirrors online but I’ve never been,” Claude added. “I’m really looking forward to it!”
Allegra sighed. “My boyfriend. He’s always the humble and modest one.” She nudged him with her hip. “He can’t resist the chance to look at himself in the equivalent of three hundred mirrors.”
Claude squawked in protest and his friends laughed too.
Marinette laughed along with them. Not because it was funny, but because she recognized they were trying to pretend everything was normal to make everyone feel better. She thought it was very considerate of them.
She also thought it was very clever that they decided to spend the rest of the day in Versailles. The famous palace should be just out of Hawk Moth’s range so if anyone needed to vent about the “accident” or Lila, they could. She was especially worried about Amelie. Sure, the woman had held it together because she had an audience and a responsibility to her employees. Once she was in private it was very likely she’d have a meltdown and rightfully so. It had only been a year since her husband died and this was the second time in weeks her son had been in danger. It was normal for a mother to be worried and angry about her child’s safety. Unfortunately, she would probably be as dangerous an akuma as Weredad.
Felix was very glad they were taking his mother away to do something “fun”. She had nearly cried and although he knew it wasn’t his fault he still felt guilty.
Allen, ever the diplomat, continued the conversation. “I’ve heard the gardens are beautiful and the art and architecture are incredible. Some of the best the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had to offer.”
“I think we should keep a tighter rein on Lila,” Allegra spoke up and Claude frowned at her for ruining the mood. She gave him a look that said she understood but it needed to be said. “I know. I’m bringing down the room but it’s true. I’ll text our mole and see about having some undercover security personnel keep an eye on her.”
Felix nodded because he knew she had a good point. “Good idea. Yeah, she’s sloppy and impulsive but she could have had us this time. Or,” he paused as the thought occurred to him, “she could have missed us entirely and killed or injured someone else instead.”
Everyone was quiet as his words sunk in. Then Claude raised his arms and shouted, “Field Trip!”
He and Allen looked at each other and then began to chant, “Field Trip! Field Trip! Field Trip!” Allegra surrendered and joined them in the chant. Chloe and Felix just stared at them as if they’d gone insane.
Marinette understood. Claude was trying to keep everyone’s spirits up so they wouldn’t be akumatized. She decided to take her leave. “Well, I should be going. Thanks for the offer, but I’m fine taking the Metro. You guys have fun though!”
“We’ll take lots of pictures for you if they’ll let us,” Allegra offered. “I bet you could get a lot of inspiration from a place like that.”
It was another olive branch and Marinette decided to accept it. It showed the other girl was trying. “I’m sure I could. Thanks, Allegra.”
They both smiled, feeling relieved. It was a step in the right direction. “We’ll walk you out,” Allen volunteered.
The group made sure no one was nearby and walked towards the security desk at the entrance. Luka and Amelie were waiting for them.
The blue haired boy smiled in relief when he saw Marinette. “Hey there. I hope you don’t mind but Ivan and Mylene already went home together. But I’d be glad to walk you home.”
She grinned back. “That would be great.” She detached herself from the group and stood beside him. “I was just saying goodbye.” She looked at the others. “So, I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, all right?”
Felix was oddly disappointed. He’d wanted to ask her to go with him to “hang out” at his suite. They could chat or watch movies or whatever friends did together. He had decided he wanted to be friends with her. “What will you do with your copious free time?”
Marinette just shrugged. She ignored his sarcasm because she was used to it now and didn’t take it personally. “Sleep in. Help my parents. Maybe I’ll start designing some ball gowns. I have some ideas for me and Allegra but I wanted come up with something for Mylene and-”
“And Lila,” Chloe put in, sounding as if she’d tasted something sour.
“And Lila,” Marinette sighed. Most of the Extras gowns could be rented and Mme. Jennings was designing evening wear for the adults but Marinette had volunteered to design gowns and suits for some of the younger cast. Now she almost wished she hadn’t.
Amelie either didn't notice the tension in the group when Lila’s name was mentioned or she was too worried about her son to care. Either way she just said. “We’ll drop you off at the hotel on our way out of town. Are you sure you don’t want to go? Will you be alright by yourself? I believe Andre has a nurse on staff in case of emergencies. I could have her stop by…”
He rolled his eyes. “Mum,” he complained, “I’m sixteen and it’s only a few scratches.” He didn’t tell her about the blood. “I’ll be just fine on my own. I’ll have my mobile on me so we can keep in touch and call the nurse if I need her.”
She didn’t look quite reassured. “Well...if you say so, dearest.”
“I have some free time today,” Luka volunteered. He looked at Felix. “I can come with you and we can chill out and watch movies or something.”
Felix thought about it to be polite. Luka was an all right sort of guy but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be friends with him yet. “I appreciate the offer, but to be honest, all I want to do is sleep this afternoon.” To avoid offending the other boy he added, “Put your number into my mobile and I’ll text you if I change my mind.”
He handed the boy his phone, who put in his digits and handed it back.
Luka put his arm on Marinette’s shoulder. “We’re going to head out first. See you all on Thursday.”
“What are you going to tell your parents?” Claude asked Marinette.
She cringed because she hadn’t really thought about it. “I’ll tell them the truth. I’ll tell them there was an accident on set and everyone was sent home. I’ll just leave our names out of it.” She looked up at Amelie, feeling ashamed. “Is...that all right?”
Amelie just smiled and smoothed down Marinette’s bangs. “While I don’t approve of lying to one’s parents except in emergencies, I understand that sometimes a child can’t tell them the whole truth either. Otherwise they would never be able to sleep at night.”
She looked everyone in the eye as she said it and they felt a bit nervous, knowing she knew they hadn’t told her everything. She clapped her hands and said, “Now, let’s be off and put this morning behind us. Step lively, everyone!”
They dutifully followed her out the door like ducklings. Marinette and Luka split off from the group and waved their goodbyes. They all waved back and were on their way.
After persuading his mother that he would be fine on his own, really, Felix took a bath, changed clothes, and then settled in a chair with a book. He decided to re-read some Agatha Christie short stories so he could get a better grasp on the Poirot character. He wanted to understand Claude’s character better.
He had scarcely opened the book when a ball of light emerged from his ring and circled his head twice. It floated in front of him and coalesced into a creature. The animal had the golden body of a lion and the brown head and wings of a hawk or eagle. Its forepaws had been replaced with talons. It looked him over as he examined it. After a while it seemed content and then spoke. Its voice was prim, English, and fairly aristocratic.
“Well!” it said as it floated in mid-air, “I was beginning to think you would live your entire life without awakening me but you finally proved yourself by a worthy deed and the shedding of your noble blood.” It struck a pose and then gave him a courtly bow. “I am Griff, the Kwami of Valor and I am pleased to finally meet my new Chosen.”
Suddenly Felix was very glad he was sitting down because if he weren’t he would have fallen. He looked away, blinked, then looked back. The little...griffon? It said its name was “Griff” so it was a reasonable assumption that it was a griffon. His brain kept supplying facts so he was sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Griff sighed, feeling disappointed and underwhelmed. The boy had fine aristocratic features and intelligent eyes but kept staring at him as if he couldn’t comprehend what they were. They were trying to be patient; it was obvious no one had bothered to educate the child about his heritage. As usual, Griff would have to act as instructor.
They cleared their throat and began to speak. “What is your name, Scion of the House of Chapman?”
Felix just stared. “My name is Felix Graham de Vanily and I’m not a Chapman.” He thought for a second and added, “my father was.”
Griff didn’t fall out of air in surprise but they might have drooped a bit. “Not of House Chapman! How is that possible? I have served the House of Chapman for over two hundred years. Well, those of the blood who’ve proven to be worthy.”
That took Felix aback. He blinked at the little creature. “I saved Marinette from being crushed to death. Some broken glass caused me to bleed and some of it dripped onto my ring. Is that what woke you up?”
They nodded. “You are correct, young squire. Saving a young maiden, were you?” They chuckled. “Are you her suitor, or was this a random act of kindness?”
The boy shrugged. He didn’t want to discuss Marinette or anyone he knew with this thing. He decided to change the subject. “My father’s family didn’t approve of him joining the movie industry instead of joining the family business. Nor did they approve of him marrying a French woman. They never showed up for their wedding or my birth.” He’d hardly even met any of his father’s family nor did he care. Most of them seemed like garbage. “When my great-grandparents died they left my father this signet ring,” he held it up so Griff could see, “and a jewelry box I can’t even open.”
“Tch. Disgusting! My house was a noble house and to think they have diminished to this degree…” they shook their head sadly and ruffled their wing feathers. “To not have passed down the family tradition and just left the Heraldry Box with no instructions. Disgraceful.” They sighed and looked at Felix again. “What do you know about magic, child of House Graham de Vanily?”
Felix just shrugged again. “If you asked me that question a few months ago, I’d say it wasn’t real. Just tricks for fun.” Griff squawked but didn’t interrupt. “But the last time I was in Paris some lunatic with a butterfly motif magically possessed three girls to attack me. I was ‘saved’ if you can call it that,” he was still irritated about his encounter with the heroes, “by the wielders of the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculouses.”
Griff looked surprised, then saddened. “The mage who created the mother box was powerful yet naive. They truly thought their creations would never be used for evil because the Order would always be there to protect it.” They sighed. “My creator was a wise Druid. She enchanted the miraculous so that only the most noble would be worthy to wield us. She left them with House Carrick, a most aristocratic family. They later became the House of Chapman.” They sighed in disappointment. “I suppose they’re all gone now.” They looked Felix up and down and looked unimpressed but resigned. “Well, your blood awoke me, young squire. I expect House Graham de Vanily will have to do.”
“I am honored by your condescension, Griff,” he told them with a mock bow of his head. A tiny floating creature was criticizing his pedigree. His crap day had just taken a turn for the weird.
“Quite right, so you should.” They sniffed in disdain then settled on the arm on the chair. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve waited for a worthy Chosen?” They sighed when he didn’t respond. “Despite my diminutive appearance, I am, for all intents and purposes, a god.”
“Mhm hmm,” Felix responded. “I’ve never been one for church so I hope you don’t expect me to worship you.”
Griff’s eyes flashed and suddenly Felix found himself pinned to the back of the chair. His eyes filled with images of battles, a sword, and enemies falling before him. The images faded and he gaped at the tiny god.
Griff looked smug. “I am not as powerful as a world deity but I am not without competence. They sighed again. “I do not think I understand these modern times.” He gave Felix a haughty side-eye. “By all that is good and holy, do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting? Your great-great-great-great-grandmother woke me as soon as she inherited the ring.”
This little mythical beast was starting to get on his nerves. “Considering my father never mentioned you and I never met my grandparents, I’d say eighty years or more.”
The creature growled at him. “It was George Chapman, in the Great War,” they conceded. Their eyes lost focus as they began to remember. “Very brave, very noble. Not necessarily the brightest, but he had me to compensate. Together we survived the Battle of the Bulge and I brought him home alive. He had a beautiful war horse named Invincible. Once the war was over he became a stud horse. Good life. George lived a very long life but was a little nervous about letting in his family wield the others. He had a special safe made in his manor and left us to the next generation.” They shook their head and looked at Felix again. “Well, young ward? I suppose there are questions you wish to ask.” There was an expectant look on their face. “You might as well ask them now. I assume you do not live in this spacious suite alone.”
“Well, no, but my mom and my friends-” he broke off as what Griff had just said registered. “Wait a minute,” he looked at Griff with a lot more interest than he had before. “There’s more of you?”
The kwami was amused and made no effort to hide it. Felix was sure they were laughing at him. “Ah, finally. You attend me. I did say I came from the Heraldry Box, did I not? I am hardly to blame if you did not pay attention.”
The creature began to explain. “The kwami of Valor and their Chosen are the leaders of the Heraldry Box. Once my Chosen has awakened me then and only then can they choose Wielders for the other four. Even then,” he cautioned with a stern glare, “they will not obey anyone unworthy.”
“So, even if someone ‘evil’ got ahold of them,” Felix asked, “they wouldn’t work for anyone if they didn’t want to.”
“Precisely,” Griff chuckled and then said in a condescending tone, “I’m pleased you are smart enough that I don’t have to explain every little thing to you, young Squire.”
They flew around the room as if to find the box, then flew back to Felix. “Where is it?” They looked alarmed. “You didn’t leave it behind or sell it, did you?”
“Of course not!” Felix called out, insulted. “I keep it in the room safe, of course!” He paused and then asked, “but so what? There’s no way to unlock it. I’ve tried.”
Griff just laughed. “Oh, my silly little Squire.” He landed on Felix’s hand and tapped the signet ring with his talon. “You have the key right here.”
The “box”, as Griff called it, was metal, with fine copper and silver embroidery on top and no signs of rust or wear, even on the hinges. There was no lock or keyhole, just a strange circular hole in the front.
Felix picked it up to examine the hole more closely. Sure enough, there was a slight indentation inside that matched the crest on his signet ring. He looked at Griff for further instructions. “So I assume I take my ring off and put it in here?”
Griff nodded. “It’s very simple, young squire. Insert the ring and then turn it counterclockwise until you hear a click. Then the box will open.”
He did as instructed (although he was really getting tired of being called a “squire”). Sure enough, there was a click and the lid of the box or “casket”, as jewelry boxes were called back when the box was created, popped open.
The creature sat on his shoulder and together they peered into the box. There were four pieces of jewelry; a bracelet, a ring, a necklace and a decorative comb. Each had to be incredibly old, judging by the style of the box. Yet every single one of them looked to be in perfect condition. They could have been made yesterday.
Felix was a little reluctant to touch anything at first. “So...this jewelry holds little creatures like you? Will I wake them up if I touch them?”
“They are asleep,” Griff explained. “They will sleep until they are given to humans you have selected and they deem worthy. You needn’t worry, you will not awaken them simply by touching them.”
“Good to know,” he cleared his throat and reached inside the jewelry casket.
The bracelet was wrought in silver and depicted a kneeling maiden reaching out to a unicorn, surrounded by morning glory vines. The maiden’s eyes were sapphires and the unicorn’s were amethysts. There were moonstones and sunstones embedded in the clasp. It reminded him of Allegra. She could be a beautiful, graceful maiden, or she could be an assassin who’d stab you in an instant.
The second item he picked up was, by the weight of it, a solid gold comb. The teeth of the comb were a little thicker than a modern comb and closer together, perhaps to keep it tighter in the hair because the wearer might be on horseback or in carriage; neither were known to be a smooth ride. It was decorated with a hawk. Its wings were spread and its talons were curled, ready to attack, rend, and destroy prey. This could have been designed with Chloe in mind.
He put the comb down and picked up a necklace. The pendant looked Celtic, probably because it was created by a Druid. In the middle was a stag’s head with an impressive set of antlers. The antlers stretched across the pendant and eventually broke off and became runes. He wasn’t sure who would be better for this necklace, Claude or Allen. He knew the stag represented someone who would only fight when provoked. Allen hated violence but Claude was the goofy, easygoing type who was pretty scary when he was mad.
Felix laid it back down and picked up the last item. Oh. Oh this was it. This was...miraculous, was it...the miraculous for Allen. It was a gold and onyx ring studded with tiny diamonds. The crest was a lion on its rear legs, ready to attack or defend. That was Allen all over. He was calm and serene most of the time, not unlike a sleeping lion. Both kept their power under control. Both seemed harmless from a distance until someone attacked them or their pride and then they would counter with all the might and ferocity they had. Claude fit the stag better anyway; harmless and gentle unless he had to fight.
Well, that was settled. Everyone had their magical creature. He put the ring back into the box and closed the lid.
Griff sighed as he saw the other miraculous put away. “‘Tis a shame you never saw us at full strength, Squire Felix.” Together they returned the box back to the room safe and settled back into the chair. “There were ten of us back then, full of vim and vigor, ready to help the humans fight for honor and defense of their homeland.” They smiled as they reminisced and then the smile faded. “Ah, but not all of our Wielders or sometimes their spouses were as honorable as they should have been. My siblings were stolen or sold, as if we were common jewelry.” Griff snarled and Felix was very glad his kwami wasn’t the size of a mythical griffin. He reached over and laid what he hoped was a comforting hand on the beast.
It seemed to be helping because they leaned into his hand. “First was the Swan of Harmony, then the Owl of Prudence. A generation passed and then it was the Salmon of Wisdom. That was a dark day.” They sniffled and Felix automatically offered them his handkerchief. They dabbed at their eyes and continued. "We might have gotten them back but then the Raven of Providence was sold for gambling debts of all things. Ignominious. The Hedgehog of Cunning was the last straw and fortunately one of your ancestors hid the rest of us and kept us from harm.” They continued to cry and Felix pretended not to notice, even turning his head to give them the illusion of privacy.
“Perhaps...once this movie is done and we’re home, we could try looking for the others?” He didn’t know why he was offering but the creature was distraught and he really didn’t want to watch anyone else cry today. The novelty of having friends was wearing off on him and he wasn’t sure if he liked all this charity and compassion. He’d blame Marinette for being a terrible influence. Well, in a few months he’d never have to see her again unless he wanted to.
That thought didn’t cheer him as much as it had a week ago.
Griff didn’t immediately stop crying but their tears did slow down a bit. “Verily?”
Felix suddenly realized he’d have to be very careful what he said and promised this creature. “When and if I can, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my daily life.”
“Ah,” they nodded. “You have obligations to your family and your servants. I understand. It is good to hear noblesse oblige has survived into your modern day.”
“We call them employees now, but sure. My mother and father taught me that we have an obligation to those who work for us to treat them well.” Felix might have grown up in high society but he didn’t think of the people who worked for Graham Films as beneath him. The world at large was a different story.
“The true measure of a noble is how they treat their underlings,” Griff nodded sagely. They glanced in the direction of the room safe and then back at Felix. When they spoke again their tone was serious and had lost a bit of its arrogance. Just a bit.
“Squire Felix,” they began, “my siblings of the Heraldry Box are all themselves worthy of having their own Chosen. However, if I must,” they sounded as if it physically hurt them to say this, “I...would share you with them until you found them suitable squires. But!” They were quick to add, “‘Tis better for all if everyone has their own Wielder.”
Griff did not like to share. It was a sentiment Felix understood. He also didn’t like sharing the people who were important to him, even with others he cared for. He however was more flexible than a centuries-old tiny griffin.
He pretended to think just long enough to make Griff worry then said, “I think I have some candidates in mind. I’ll discuss the matter with them after breakfast and then introduce you to each other. For now, I just want to eat and relax.” He looked at the kwami and reluctantly asked, “Do you need to eat? What do you like to eat?”
The creature looked pleased to be asked. “Roast beef but I’ll take pheasant or grouse in a pinch.” They frowned. “If you summon them now I’m sure your servants could prepare a meal in an hour or two. I’ve been resting for centuries, suppose I can wait a scant few hours for a meal.”
Felix grinned, then took out his phone. “Oh, my dear new friend. Allow me to introduce you to the wonders of room service.”