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Fake Smiles Always Match

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Chloe can't bring herself to pick up the magical hair comb she'd found in her bag a month ago. Ladybug and Chat Noir are exhausted – there had been three akuma attacks in the last four days – and she knows they need her help, but she still hasn't opened the drawer she'd shoved the comb into a week ago. 

Pollen keeps giving her these looks whenever she glances over at her desk - and why the kwami is still hanging around is anyone's guess, honestly. Chloe was certain she'd vanish like she appeared when she yanked the comb out - but she hasn't said anything, much to Chloe's relief. She doesn't need to hear how it wasn't her fault, or how she just needs to keep moving forward, or how the miraculous users are supposed to be heroes, not cowards (not that Pollen would ever say that; that particular fun thought comes directly from a version of Ladybug her apparently overactive imagination cooked up in a nightmare a few nights ago.) 

But the looks are there, and Chloe catches them every time she glances over at her desk because she misses her wings or feels awful leaving Chat Noir and Ladybug on their own. During the last few days before vacation, she had Sabrina and school and exams to distract her, but it's summer now, and with summer comes the absolute boredom of having nothing to do for two months. Chloe had been looking forward to summer this year - more time to spend practicing and patrolling, more time to spend with the other heroes - but now it's just another boring summer

She knows she has the power (or comb, anyway) to change that. But she can't. She might be bored, but at least the people of Paris are safe from her if Queen Bee stays hidden. 

She might be spending her summer stuck in her room in self-inflicted exile, but Nath is spending his summer waking up from unending nightmares - and it's entirely her fault. She won't let anyone else get hurt. 

"I know you don't want to hear it," Adrien starts, and Marinette swivels in her chair to level a stern look at him. He isn't fazed. "but if we'd asked Queenie to tell us who she was, we could go talk to her." 

Marinette huffs out a sigh. "It wasn't like she tried to offer her identity up." 

"Sure, but it wasn't like we even suggested it was an option either." Adrien shrugs, hopping off of her loft to walk over and lean on Marinette's desk. "Come on, Mari, you have to admit things have been easier since we found each other out." 

"I've admitted that several times." Marinette kicks him lightly. "But Queen Bee is different - we don't know her. She'd only been part of the team for three weeks when she vanished. And it's not like we can swear to do better next time, since there's no way Master Fu is giving us another partner when we lost one." 

"Temporarily," Adrien insists. "We'll get her back." 

Marinette sighs. "Look, I know you want to find her and try and convince her to come back, and of course I want her to come back too, but we can't push her." 

Adrien frowns. 

Marinette sighs. "Remember our first fight? Stoneheart?" she asks, slumping back in her chair. 

Adrien nods. "Yeah, of course." 

"I completely messed up. And yeah, I know it was our first fight, but Ivan wouldn't have been akumatized twice if I'd just remembered to purify the akuma the first time," Marinette says, fiddling with her hands a little. 

"Yeah, but it worked out in the end - no one was hurt," Adrien leans over, but she wheels her chair backwards, out of his reach. 

"I gave up my earrings," she says. "I took them off, Tikki disappeared, I was going to give them to Alya. I did give them to Alya." 

Adrien blinks. 

"I felt completely useless, and I knew Alya would be a much better Ladybug than I was. If she hadn't run out of the classroom after Stoneheart and left her bag behind, Alya would be Ladybug right now." 

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Adrien asks, standing up. 

Marinette shrugs. "I don't know - it's in the past, it doesn't really matter now. The point is that I get what Queen Bee's going through. And if someone had tried to convince me to put back on my earrings, I don't think I would have. I had to make that choice. She needs to decide to come back, we can't try to force her. I talked to Master Fu - she hasn't given up her miraculous, only taken it off. That's a good sign." 

Adrien sighs. "Yeah... I just wish there was something we could do." 

Marinette reaches over and squeezes his hand, and they stand there in silence for a moment until that silence is breached by a shout of, "Mari, you here?" 

Adrien jumps and Marinette jerks her hand back, gesturing wildly for the bathroom as footsteps start ascending the stairs. Adrien dives towards it, pulling the door shut behind him just as Alya pokes her head in. 

"Hey, thought I heard you up here." She grins, letting herself the rest of the way in. "So, where's cat-boy hiding this time?" 

Marinette flushes. "I have no idea what you're talking about." 

"Of course you don't, just like you had no idea what I was talking about the last six times I came over and he was hiding in the bathroom, or on the roof, or the one time he was just straight-up asleep in your bed." Alya smirks. 

Marinette's flush gets even deeper. "What brings you by?" She asks, trying to change the subject. 

Alya just gives her a look, but lets the subject drop for now despite a glance over at the shut bathroom door. "Just wondering if you'd talked to Nath since school let out?" 

Marinette frowns and shakes her head – because technically, no, Marinette hadn't. "Have you?" 

"Ran into him yesterday." Alya flops backwards onto Marinette's chaise. "He didn't look so great." 

"I mean... he has been through a lot." Marinette says, curling her legs up underneath herself and swallowing. "Did he talk about it at all?" 

Alya shakes her head. "No. We aren't exactly close." She pauses. "Hey, he likes you. Maybe he'll talk to you." 

He won't, Marinette doesn't say. Ladybug tried. Instead, she settles for, "Maybe." 

She pretends she doesn't hear the telltale sound of someone slipping out of the bathroom window as she leans back in her chair to listen to Alya's subject change. 

Chloe knows it's a terrible idea for her to be here. She and Nath were never exactly friends (an understatement, honestly, since Chloe had gone as far as to cause his akumatization the year before) and while Nath and Queen Bee were friendly, he had no idea they were one and the same, for good reason. 

But she can't exactly come here as Queen Bee, since she refuses to go near the hair comb. So here she is, standing outside his apartment building as Chloe, pretending to be on some kind of walk ("Oh, I just want fresh air," she'd said as she left, like that was a thing Chloe Bourgeois ever wanted.) and wondering how she can accidentally run into him to make sure he's okay. 

She's scanning her eyes up the building's side – man, it was a lot easier to come visit Nath when she could just fly up to his window – and her eyes fall on Chat Noir hanging from one of the railings, talking to Nath like they're best friends. 

She ducks into a side alley before either of them sees her, trying to still her heart. 

She hasn't seen Chat since she put away the hair comb, besides on TV and the Ladyblog. What if he recognizes her? Sure, she has no idea who he and Ladybug are, and according to Chat, the only one who does know his secret identity is his girlfriend – and considering the face Ladybug made when he said that, she guesses it wasn't something they agreed on. 

Before she messed everything up, she was okay being Queen Bee as long as no one knew she was also Chloe. Chloe wasn't a hero, Chloe wasn't even a nice person. Chloe had caused more akumatizations than anyone in the city, and while, yeah, the number had dropped significantly since she got her hair comb – the hair comb, not hers – the point still stood that Chloe was not hero material. 

Hell, she'd proven it as Queen Bee. 

Swiping at her eyes – she is not crying in the alleyway outside of Nathaniel's apartment – Chloe tightens her grip on her purse and turns around to walk back the way she came. 

She's barely back at the hotel for ten minutes when her father finds her, leading over yet another woman that Chloe doesn't recognize and never expects to see again. Groaning internally, she glances over at her father to see he's talking, and – oh.  

"I wanted to introduce you, dear –  this is my daughter, Chloe." 

Right, she missed the woman's name. Oh well – not like she's ever going to see her again after tonight. She plasters the fakest smile she can manage on her face. (She and the woman match, she thinks – fake smiles always do.) "Pleasure to meet you." 

"You as well, Chloe – your father's told me all about you." The woman says, shaking her hand. 

I doubt that, Chloe doesn't say. Instead she just smiles, takes her hand back from the woman's grip, and heads towards the elevators. "Have a good night, then." 

"Won't you join us for dinner, sweetheart? I was hoping you two would get to know each other," her father calls after her. 

Chloe freezes halfway there, digging through her head for an excuse – hanging out with a friend, too much homework, anything – but the fact is, she's spent most every day since summer started in her room, and she has nothing. Sabrina's out of town, it's summer and she never does her homework anyway, and she's not a superhero anymore. 

So she doesn't have a choice. She glances back over her shoulder and nods. "Sure, dad – just let me go change." 

She spots the fake smile on the girlfriend's face fall, and if nothing else, that gives her a little satisfaction as she rushes for the elevator to get out of the lobby as soon as possible. 

Dinner (if it can even be called that when no one actually ate anything) is exactly the train wreck that Chloe expects. By the time they get back to the hotel, the woman has gone off somewhere, her dad is mad, and Chloe's slamming the door to her room and wanting to get out. Her eyes fall on her desk again, but she tears them away – no.  

It doesn’t matter if she feels like burning the entire hotel down, she can't. 

"Chloe," Pollen says in a stern voice, flying up out of her purse to level a tiny arm in her direction.  

"It's not happening, Pollen," Chloe grumbles, throwing her purse down on the bed now that she knows the kwami isn't in it and flopping down next to it. 

"It won't hurt to just go flying," Pollen urges. "You don't want to be Queen Bee, fine, don't be Queen Bee. But you need to get out, and flying always calms you down." 

She's not wrong. Chloe growls, rolling onto her side, away from the desk and the kwami, but Pollen flies around to land right in front of her face.  

"Chloe, you're being stubborn." Pollen insists, crossing her arms. 

"I thought that was why you liked me," Chloe grumbles. 

Pollen sighs. "It's your choice – you can stay here and be angry all night and not sleep at all or you can go flying for a few minutes and feel better." With that, she huffs and flies off to land in the cushiony bed Chloe had put together for her in a basket on her desk. 

Chloe swallows. Pollen's right. Flying has always helped her clear her head and calm down, and it's dark out, so as long as she stays up high enough, no one should see her... 

She rolls onto her other side and catches the hopeful look Pollen shoots her from inside her basket. 

She only hesitates a moment later before she gives in. 

Marinette isn't sure she sees what she thinks she sees at first, but nope - there's no denying that flash of wings, Queen Bee's out and about for the first time in over a week. She's so eager to get on her roof and shout for her missing partner that Marinette forgets she's currently Marinette until she's already called for her. 

Queen Bee stops short, looking over her shoulder at Marinette with a surprised expression, and almost bolts, but Marinette quickly shouts again. "I just want to talk, please!" She might not be Ladybug right now, but she can't pass up a chance to talk to Queen Bee – who knows when she'll appear again. 

She hesitates, but a moment later, lands on Marinette's roof with a grimace. "No one was supposed to see me." 

Marinette frowns. "Sorry, I won't keep you long." 

Queenie huffs. "Not like I can't leave whenever I want." 

"If you want to, of course you can," Marinette says, but please don't

Queen Bee gives her a strange look. "Alright, I'll bite. What do you want?" 

Glancing around – Chat was planning to come back later, and Alya always seems to be hanging around hoping to get a shot of Chat showing up to see her - Marinette steps back from the trap door and gestures inside. "Unless you want someone to notice you?" 

Queenie growls, but hops inside, flapping her wings to land smoothly on the ground next to Marinette's loft as Marinette climbs in after her and shuts the window firmly behind her. 

"Enough pink, Dupain-Cheng?" Queen Bee asks, looking around. 

Marinette flushes. "I like pink," she mumbles, sitting down so her legs are hanging off of her loft. 

Queen Bee snorts. "Obviously." After a moment of silence, she glances over. "So, what do you want?" 

"To talk. I don't know the details, but Chat told me about the fight," Marinette starts, carefully. 

"Then you know that the whole thing is my fault," Queen Bee mumbles. 

"You made a mistake. If you think Ladybug and Chat have never made a mistake then you think way too highly of them." Marinette snorts. "Did Chat ever tell you how we met? He let an akuma step on him." 

Queen Bee swallows. "Neither of them hurt civilians." 

"Ivan was akumatized twice because of Ladybug," Marinette offers, swallowing around the lump forming in her throat. 

"Yeah, well, been there, done that." Queen Bee grumbles, but doesn't elaborate. 

"Nath doesn't blame you." Marinette insists, her last resort. She doesn't know what she can say to convince Queen Bee – and considering she was the one telling Chat earlier that day that they can't force her, she isn't really sure what she thought this conversation would do. 

"Considering there's literally no one else to blame, he really should." Queen Bee growls out. "I don't know what I was thinking, coming in here." She makes towards the door. 

"Wait, please!" Marinette blurts. "I won't talk about it any more, just... stay for dinner?" 

"I'm sorry?" Queen Bee freezes. "If you think I'm ditching the mask in front of Chat's girlfriend, you're insane." 

"You don't have to, honestly," Marinette insists. Please don't. "Chat was hanging out here long before we started dating. I'll call and ask him not to come by tonight - I was fending for myself for dinner anyway. Stay, let's order something and not talk about what happened." 

Queen Bee gives her a confused look. "Why?

"Because you look like you could use a friend," Marinette answers honestly. "And a night where you don't have to think about what happened." 

She hesitates. "You won't bring it up again?" 

"Promise." Marinette nods. 

Queen Bee is silent for a moment before she finally speaks. "Fine. But we're ordering from the good place around the corner and watching Project Runway and you're not complaining about it." 

Marinette smiles, "Sounds perfect," and pulls out her phone to text Chat and call in the food. 
 

Chapter Text

The last thing Nath registers before the pain suddenly lights up his veins is screaming. Not only his – sure, he's screaming, but it's white noise now– but Queen Bee's terrified shrieks.

He wakes up from his dreams with lightning in his veins and her scream in his head, wishing he could apologize for being dumb, for getting too close, for not listening.

But she's gone. She hasn't been seen since that fight, and there's no way to locate her. She's just vanished.

Finding Chat Noir and Ladybug is easy - they keep showing up and checking on him like he's still in some sort of danger. The cure worked, they know that, and yet they keep showing up. But not her. Never her.

Running a hand through his hair and groaning softly - doesn't look like he's getting back to sleep - Nath heads down the hall and into the bathroom to try and make himself look at least vaguely alive.

*

"You actually saw her?" Chat greets, hopping down off of the roof above Marinette's balcony to land next to her. To her credit, she doesn't flinch (this time.)

"I got her to come in and have dinner with me," Marinette corrects. "As long as I didn't talk about what happened."

"Sheesh. All these tries at finding her and she approaches Marinette." Chat mumbles.

"I mean, she didn't approach me, I basically forced myself on her," Marinette clarifies. "But she seemed to relax after a little while... She seems really stressed and I don't know how to help her. It isn't like she left a contact number with Marinette and she isn't exactly answering Ladybug or Chat's messages."

"I mean, if you want to try messaging her, you can tell her I gave you her number," Chat said. "As long as she hasn't thrown the burner phone away or anything."

"Maybe..." Marinette sighs. "I told her she's welcome literally whenever, but I don't know if she'll come back. I guess I can try it."

"Won't hurt, right?" Chat asks.

Marinette frowns. "I mean, it could keep her from coming back here – if I really get her angry." Shaking her head, she knocks her shoulder lightly into his. "What are you doing here, didn't you say you had a thing today?"

"My thing isn't for another two hours, so I figured I'd stop by and say hi," Chat grins at her, and she rolls her eyes. "Also, it's across the street and I convinced Nathalie to let me hang out with my friend before meeting her there."

"Does she think you're here?" Marinette asks. "Because if so, Adrien should probably go knock on the door downstairs."

"Nah, she thinks I'm at Nino's," Chat answers.

Marinette pauses, "Isn't Nino out of town with his parents for the next two weeks?"

Chat just shoots her a grin. "Nathalie doesn't need to know that."

Marinette shakes her head. "I'm not covering for you when you get caught," she warns, which is a complete lie – she'd cover for him in a heartbeat, and he knows.

Chat leans in and kisses her in response.

Marinette smiles into it and pulls back a moment later. "Come on, let's get you inside before someone notices you're up here."

*

She waits until Chat leaves before she pulls out her phone and transfers Queen Bee's burner phone number over. She stares at the empty text message box for almost five minutes before finally typing something up and sending it.

hi, it's marinette - hope you don't mind I asked chat for your number. i had fun yesterday, thank you for coming by :)  you're welcome any time you'd like.

After a pause, she quickly sends a second text.

chat and I have movie nights on fridays if you wanted to join in - just come by if you're interested.

 With that sent, Marinette puts her phone back in her pocket and heads to the kitchen to get something to eat and get her mind off of things.

*

Chloe wakes up slowly. The sun is still high in the sky, which means there's still plenty of day left that she doesn't want to deal with, and she considers rolling over and burying her head under her blankets again, but she doesn't. Forcing herself to sit up, she rubs at her eyes and runs a hand through her tangled hair.

"About time you got up," Pollen chides her, flying out of the basket on her dresser. "I'm huuungry!"

"Sorry Pollen," Chloe mumbles, pulling herself out of bed and letting Pollen land on her shoulder on her way into the kitchenette to find the kwami something to eat. Once Pollen is settled, she walks back towards her bed to check her phone.

Nothing, of course. She isn't sure what she expected.

She's about to head towards the bathroom to take a shower when she notices the notification light on the other phone – the burner phone that Chat had handed her when she'd first gotten her Miraculous – is lit up.

She almost ignores it. Ladybug and Chat both texted and tried calling her after she'd quit, trying to convince her to come back, but she hadn't answered either of them and eventually they'd stopped. The phone hasn't lit up since.

Until today, apparently. Frowning, she picks it up and unlocks it, reading the message from the unknown number. Dupain-Cheng. Scoffing, she rolls her eyes and locks the phone again, tossing it down onto her bed, before heading into the bathroom to take a shower.

She manages about four minutes alone with her thoughts in the shower before she's thinking about the text messages again. It's better than thinking about what she did to Nath, and—nope. Not going there, not right now.

Last night had been the first time she hadn't thought about it. It was still there, of course, hiding in the back of her mind – it probably always would be. But last night was the first night since it happened that it hadn't consumed her thoughts.

And Dupain-Cheng had been fine, or whatever. She hadn't pushed at all when Chloe'd said she didn't want to talk about it. Chat Noir obviously sees something in her, not that Chloe will ever understand what.

"I saw your phone, are you gonna go?" Pollen's voice suddenly cuts through her thoughts, and Chloe jumps, almost slipping.

"Pollen!" She snaps at the kwami. "What have I told you about privacy?"

Pollen rolls her little eyes. "Oh please," she mumbles, but phases back out through the shower curtain so she's hidden on the other side. "Better?"

"Much," Chloe grumbles, shutting off the water and grabbing her towel, making sure she's wrapped up in it before she steps out of the shower. Pollen is sitting on the sink, clearly unamused.

"Well?" Pollen asks. "Are you going to go?"

"Of course I'm not going," Chloe rolls her eyes, walking out to her closet to find something to wear.

"What?" Pollen startles. "Why not?"

"Because Dupain-Cheng didn't invite Chloe, she invited Queen Bee – who I am not." Chloe turns on her heel to face the kwami. "Last night was a fluke – I shouldn't be transforming, anyway."

Pollen crosses her arms. "If you aren't going to use your powers to help other people, the least you can do is use them to help yourself - you're driving yourself crazy all boxed up in here."

"Sabrina will be back in a few weeks." Chloe shrugs.

"And until then?" Pollen asks. "Chloe, you can't do this to yourself."

Chloe ignores her, turning back to her closet and pulling out a sundress, quickly stepping back over to the bathroom and shutting the door in Pollen's face. It won't stop her, of course, but it makes Chloe feel better.

*

A cell phone ring cuts through Nath's concentration, a jagged line crossing the tablet on the desk in front of him. Quickly tapping to undo the bad line, he rolls away from his desk, grabbing his phone off the bedside table where he'd left it that morning and sliding to answer the call. "Hello?"

"Hey, Nath," Mylène's voice filters through the line. "Are you busy?"

Nath glances over at the sketch he'd been working on. He's ready to say yes, but Mylène seems to sense his hesitation and continues. "Ivan and I were going to go to the Louvre, and we know you'd mentioned you wanted to go see that new temporary exhibit they have this summer..."

Well, Mylène sure knows how to get her way. "I don't want to interrupt your date," he tries.

"Nonsense, we'd be happy to have you along!"

Nath frowns. "I was sort of working on something..."

"We can wait a little bit! How about we'll meet you outside your apartment in an hour?"

 For such a shy girl, Mylène sure can be forceful when it comes to her friends. Nath sighs. "Alright."

"Great! See you in an hour!" Mylène says, hanging up. Nath sighs again, putting his phone back down and turning back to his tablet.

*

Adrien leaves his shoot as the sun is setting and is about to head straight for the bakery when he remembers that Marinette had told him explicitly that she was working that evening. And while hanging out while she's working sounds great to him, she'd made it pretty clear that she needs to actually work while she’s on shift.

Unfortunately.

He pulls his phone out to text her – he really doesn't want to go home right now – when he spots a text from Sabrina.

Hey adrien, it's sabrina! I'm sorry to ask you this, but I was wondering if you knew if chloe was okay? We talked on the phone earlier and she sounded really off. I'm worried about her, but I'm out of town so I can't check on her. It's probably nothing, but you know as well as I do how she can be...

He'd assumed Chloe was hanging out with Sabrina all summer, but if Sabrina's out of town... well, he can go to the hotel, check on her to make sure she's okay and avoid having to go home right away. Besides, he hasn't seen Chloe since school let out. Mind made up, he heads straight there, passing the front desk with a wave when he reaches the hotel and heading straight up in the elevator.

Adrien knocks on Chloe's door when he reaches it, shifting a little in place while he waits. Should he have called first? He probably should have called first, but he's here now and if Sabrina's text is any indication, Chloe needs the company...

His thoughts are cut off by the door opening, Chloe blinking when she spots him. "Adrien?" she asks, startled.

"Hey, Chlo." Adrien waves.

Chloe steps back to let him in. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard Sabrina was on vacation, and I know how your dad can be, so I figured I'd come by and see how you're doing," Adrien answers, smiling.

"Any excuse to get out of your house?" Chloe teases.

"Sure, but you're also my friend." Adrien shrugs, and Chloe smiles.

"It's actually really cool you're here," she says. "I figured your dad was keeping you busy all summer."

"Yeah, Père had me on a long shoot today," Adrien groans softly. "But I get the rest of today and tomorrow off in exchange, so that was nice of him."

"A day off?" Chloe asks. "Did you check to see if he was sick or something?" She teases lightly.

Adrien laughs, and Chloe grins, leading him over to the couch so they can sit.

It's a few minutes into their conversation that Adrien speaks up. "Hey, are you okay?"

Chloe startles. "Huh? Yeah, of course – where did that come from?"

Adrien shrugs. "Something just seems... off. You know you can talk to me, right?"

"Of course," Chloe promises. "Really, though, I'm fine."

Adrien isn't convinced, but he drops the subject anyway, changing the topic. Chloe, though, seems quieter after that. He's about to try and push her to talk – she's too stubborn, won't talk until almost forced – when his burner phone buzzes in his pocket. Freezing, he pulls out his real phone, looking for a message from Mari... nothing.

"What's up?" Chloe frowns.

"It's Nathalie," Adrien lies, shoving his phone away.

Chloe frowns. "So much for having the night off..."

"I'm just gonna call her," Adrien says. "Can I duck outside?"

Chloe nods. "If you need to go--"

Adrien shakes his head. "Let me just see what she needs first." He smiles. "Be right back." He ducks into the hall, pulling the burner phone out to check the messages.

akuma has hostages downtown, need backup

Adrien curses, quickly calling her.

"Hey," she greets.

"How many hostages?" Adrien asks, leaning against the wall. "I'm with Chloe."

There's a pause and background noise before Ladybug answers, "About twenty – Nath and Mylène are in there and I had to drag Ivan away already."

Adrien curses softly. "Okay. I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Sorry, kitty," Ladybug says, and Adrien hears a crash from her side of the line.

"It's okay, I'll make it up to Chloe. Text Queenie if you think we'll need backup – it involves Nath, so she might help," Adrien suggests.

"Good idea. See you soon." Ladybug hangs up and Adrien squeezes his eyes shut for a moment, steeling himself, before shoving the burner phone away and pushing open Chloe's door.

*

Chloe stares at the message on her burner phone. She almost didn't check it, but it had buzzed and Adrien was out in the hallway, so she risked a peek, and...

qb, we could really use your help – akuma has hostages and nath is one of them. at the louvre.

Nath. Nath is in danger from another akuma because apparently he's incapable of staying safe.

Why is it always Nath?

"Chloe?"

Chloe jumps, clutching the burner phone in her hand. "Hey, sorry. What did Nathalie say?"

"That she needs me home," Adrien sighs. "Turns out it's urgent."

"Go," Chloe urges, hoping she doesn't sound too eager. "I'm fine, really."

Adrien hesitates.

"Adrien, seriously," Chloe insists. "We can hang out later."

Adrien sighs, nodding. "Alright – I'll see you later, then – okay?"

Chloe forces a smile, nodding and waving him out. The door is barely shut behind him before she's up and running to her dresses to find the hair comb.

"Chloe?" Pollen yawns sleepily, rising out of her nest of blankets just as Chloe finds the hair comb. "Are you transforming?"

Chloe hesitates. "Nath is in trouble."

Pollen nudges her. "Then you should help him."

With a shaking hand, Chloe pins the hair comb into her hair. "Right."

"You'll be fine, Chloe," Pollen promises.

"I hope you're right, Pollen," Chloe mumbles.

Chapter Text

Queen Bee flies to the Louvre faster than she's flown in a long time, thoughts focused on saving Nath and pointedly not on the fact that he's in trouble again. She lands on a rooftop a little away from the museum to see Chat Noir and Ladybug fighting what seems to be three clones of one akuma. 

Great. It can replicate itself. Well, if the akuma is distracted by Chat and LB, then... maybe she can get past him to the hostages? Flying around, dipping behind rooftops and chimneys to stay hidden, Queen Bee slips into the Louvre entrance, flying immediately down the stairs. 

The museum is empty - most of the patrons have fled, save the ones trapped - but she can hear soft voices coming from the left. She flies in that direction carefully and quietly, feet inches above the ground to keep herself silent. 

She ducks behind an art installation when she spots people. Behind the doorway a few feet ahead are the twenty or so hostages, sitting on the floor, huddled together, including a very familiar mop of red hair. Nath. 

And in the way, guarding the doorway, is at least one copy of an akuma that can multiply at will. Great. This’ll go fine. 

Steeling herself and curling her hands into fists, she jumps out, flying forward. The akuma copy doesn’t react to her appearance, giving her a chance to swoop in and sock him in the jaw. 

The distracted akuma is knocked aside by the blow and he sits him slowly, rubbing his jaw. 

“Didn’t anyone ever teach you it’s not nice to kidnap people?” she chides, landing smoothly on the ground and walking towards him, arms crossed. 

The akuma smirks. “And here everyone was saying you gave up on Paris! Shame, you really should.” 

Queenie doesn’t flinch – but just barely. “Let’s just get this over with.” She cracks her knuckles, stepping forward and spreading her wings behind her. 

* 

Chat spots Ladybug diving behind an overturned car, holding a spotted item in her hands that he can't quite make out. Knocking one of the akuma copies aside, he dashes over, vaulting behind the car as well and landing beside her. His eyes fall on the item she's staring at, and he blinks. "A frying pan?" 

"I don't know!" Ladybug snaps, before taking a breath. "Sorry, I – what the heck do I do with a frying pan?" 

"Rapunzel smash?" Chat offers helpfully. 

Ladybug sighs. "I think you're mixing up your pop culture references again." She sighs. "Any sign of Queenie?" 

Chat frowns and shakes his head. 

Ladybug bites her lip. "Alright, it's just us, then. We need to get back out there." She glances back at the frying pan. 

"You'll figure it out," Chat assures her, following her gaze. "And quickly, hopefully, since you've got less than five minutes. Shout if you get an idea." 

Ladybug nods, and the two of them whirl back around the car in opposite directions, heading towards the three akuma copies with a frying pan and no plan at all. 

Chat Noir rounds on the copies as Ladybug sends her yo-yo out to wrap around the main akuma and pull him towards her, separating them. 

"You tried that already," the akuma chides. "You can't hold me."  

His necklace starts to glow and he separates again, leaving Ladybug staring down two copies instead of one. She curses under her breath, calling her yo-yo back and diving away from a blast from one of them. She's seconds away from just throwing the frying pan at them and hoping for the best when suddenly the akuma and his copies stop in place. 

Chat Noir skids to a stop, blinking and glancing at Ladybug, who stands up cautiously, stepping towards the frozen akuma. She reaches out to grab his necklace, but the akuma dissolves, disappearing along with his three copies. 

"What just happened?" Chat runs over to her, thrown for a loop. "Were they all copies? Where's the real one?" 

Ladybug glances at the unused frying pan in her hands for a second, processing, and stiffens as she realizes. "The hostages!" 

Chat curses. "He didn't leave a copy with them, he stayed there himself," he realizes, as Ladybug's earrings beep. “I’ve got them, go recharge!” 

Ladybug swallows and nods, running off as Chat takes off for the Louvre entrance. 

* 

Queen Bee vs. one akuma clone had felt fair. Queen Bee vs. two akuma clones had felt less fair. Queen Bee vs. three of them was annoying. 

Queen Bee vs four copies of the same akuma is just unnecessary.  

She jumps up so she’s hovering above the four akuma copies and thinks through her options. Her only area-of-effect attack is something she cannot use right now – not with the hostages so close, and she— 

Her thoughts are cut off by a shout of, “Cataclysm!” Black energy shoots down the hallway, collapsing the floor underneath the akuma and his clones and causing them all to crash to the floor below. 

“Y’alright, Queenie?” Chat asks, hopping along the edges of the non-collapsed floor to reach her. 

She lets out a breath and nods carefully. “Thanks.” 

He winks with a grin. “Can you fly the hostages out of here? LB just went to recharge, she’ll be here soon.” 

Queen Bee swivels so she can see the hostages, trapped now that Chat has destroyed the floor, and barely nods in agreement before Chat’s jumping down after the akuma. 

“Okay,” Queenie says, taking a deep breath. “Let’s get you all out of here.” 

* 

Ladybug runs into the Louvre what feels like ages later and skids to a stop when Mylène runs out of a side hall. 

“Mylène!” she shouts, her classmate pausing to turn. “Are you okay? The other hostages – Nathaniel?” 

“We’re all fine,” Mylène promises. “Queen Bee got us out but then she flew off with Nath.” 

Queenie is – was – here, she just went for the hostages. She took Nath? Shaking that thought away – she’d deal with it later – she nods. “Thanks. Get to safety, Ivan’s waiting for you.” 

Mylène smiles at that and resumes hurrying for the exit as Ladybug races further into the Louvre. 

Queenie’s nowhere to be found, but Ladybug follows the trail of destruction – the floor, Chat, really? – to her boyfriend just as his ring beeps out a two minute warning. 

“M’lady,” he greets, breathing heavily. 

She smiles fondly. “My turn – go recharge.” 

He winks at her, “Back in a flash,” and dashes off towards a different room as Ladybug rounds on the tiring akuma. 

“So, ready to give up yet?” she asks with a smirk, hands on her hips. 

* 

Queen Bee lands smoothly on a rooftop a black away from the Louvre and lets go of Nath, taking a step away from him. 

“Thanks for the save,” he offers awkwardly. 

Queen Bee bites her lip, hands tight at her sides. “That’s all you have to say, really?” 

Nath blinks, “What?” 

“You keep putting yourself in danger!” she snaps at him, taking a shaky breath to try and calm down. 

“Excuse me?” Nath turns on her. “It’s not like I seek out danger, but it seems like being in danger is the only way for me to see you, since you’re avoiding me,” Nath snaps back at her. 

Queenie flinches, and Nath swallows, sighing.  

“Sorry, I… I didn’t mean that,” he runs a hand through his hair. “I just wanted to apologize to you.” 

Queen Bee’s eyes widen at that. “Apologize? What the hell could you possible think you need to apologize for?” 

“For not listening—” Nath starts, but Queen Bee cuts him off. 

“Nathaniel, you’re not even a little at fault here. didn’t check that you were safe. I ran in head first and you suffered for it.” 

“You trusted me to get myself to safety, and I didn’t listen, QB—” 

“I killed you!” Queen Bee snaps, and Nath falters. “Nath, you were dead. I hit you with my stupid electricity attack and your heart stopped.” 

“It doesn’t—” Nath tries. 

“Don’t you dare,” Queen Bee cuts him off. “I don’t care that the cure fixed it and brought you back to life, you’re going to live with his forever because of me. I don’t deserve to be a hero, I couldn’t even keep my idiot friend alive.” 

With that, Queen Bee whirls around and flies away, leaving Nath on the rooftop, reeling. 

* 

Ladybug calls her second lucky charm of the day when Chat Noir returns from recharging, and the now-familiar and still-useless frying pan lands in her hands. 

"I think I need to have a chat with Tikki about this," Ladybug says, glancing over at Chat as he smacks one of the akuma clones in the head with his baton and it vanishes, only to split from the main akuma again a moment later. 

Frowning to herself, she glances back at the frying pan before gripping it tightly in one hand. "Well, Rapunzel smash, I guess," she mumbles, rushing forward and smacking the akuma she thinks is the actual one on the head. 

He stumbles, crashing into the ground as the copies stutter and vanish. 

"Huh." Ladybug mumbles when the akuma doesn't move, unconscious. "Did that just work?" 

"Did you just... smack him with the frying pan?" Chat asks, staring. 

"It was your idea." Ladybug reminds him. 

"I was joking!" Chat insists, diving forward as the akuma starts to stir and snatching the necklace from around his neck, shattering it in one hand. "I can't believe that actually worked." 

"I don't know what else Tikki expected me to do with a frying pan." Ladybug sighed as she captures the butterfly and purifies it, sending off the cure and fixing the mostly-destroyed Louvre. 

"Well, hey – after a battle that annoying, I'll take it." Chat grins at her. "Ready to go?" 

Ladybug's earrings beep out a two-minute warning in response, and his grin turns determined. "Let's get you out of here before people start coming back in." 

* 

They manage to make it out of the Louvre and to the relative privacy of a nearby alleyway before Ladybug's transformation falls, Chat catching Marinette as Marinette catches Tikki. 

“Thanks,” she pants, leaning against him and opening her purse for the kwami to help herself to the cookie feast inside. 

Chat nods, smiling fondly at her. “So, did you run into Queen Bee earlier?” 

“No, but I ran into Mylene,” Marinette says, shifting so she isn’t leaning on him and stretching out her sore shoulders. “She said Queenie got all the hostages out but then took Nath.” 

“Took Nath?” Chat blinks. 

Marinette shrugs helplessly. “Maybe they’re finally talking.” 

 “Maybe…” Chat frowns. “Well, I’ve got a little while left before I need to recharge again, want a ride home?” he teases. 

Marinette smiles. “Sure, thanks.” She climbs up onto his back with familiar ease, holding on tight as he launches himself into the air with his baton. 

They’re passing a nearby roof when they spot a flash of familiar red and see Nath, alone and stuck on a rooftop, peering over the edge like he's trying to figure out a way down. 

“Wait, Chat—” Mari says, pointing, and Chat detours, landing smoothly. Mari slides off his back and hurries over to her classmate. “Nath?” 

He startles, turning and frowning when he sees them. “Oh - hey Marinette, Chat Noir.” 

“What are you doing up here?” Chat asks, frowning. “Mylène said she saw you with Queen Bee.” 

“Yeah.” Nath sighs. “She sort of left me here. I think I upset her.” 

Marinette glances at Chat. “Can you help him down?” 

“Yeah, of course.” Chat offers a hand and Nath hesitates before nodding and taking it. A minute later, all three of them are back on the street. 

“Thanks,” Nath says, shoving his hands in his pockets. 

Marinette smiles. “Come on, let’s go talk.” She nudges him lightly. “Chat, mind if I meet you back at my house later?” 

Chat smiles and shakes his head, giving her a kiss on the cheek before vaulting away. 

Nath watches him go, before shaking his head and beginning to walk, Marinette at his side. “I don’t know how you two manage it – when I first starting running into QB, I thought about you and Chat and figured, well, okay, maybe this can work. And yeah, it did for a while, but…” 

“It’s hard,” Marinette admits. “Chat and I got lucky – he quickly became like family to me and my parents but I almost messed up everything and lost him.” 

Nath frowns and glances over, but Marinette shakes her head. “It’s in the past and I’d rather not talk about it, but it was a very different situation. We got lucky,” she repeats. “But Queen Bee… I don’t know her that well, but she seems like a very complicated and private person.” 

Nath nods. “She’s blaming herself for an accident that was my fault.” 

“Her attack hitting you?” Marinette guesses. When Nath looks over, surprised, she offers a sympathetic smile. “Chat told me. He was worried about both of you.” 

Nath sighs and nods. “I tried to apologize and she blew up at me about how it wasn’t my fault.” 

“I mean… it wasn’t.” Marinette says, stopping to turn to him. “You know that, right?” 

“It wasn’t her fault either—” Nath says, but Marinette cuts him off. 

“No, you’re right. It was just a bad situation. Yes, you could have been more careful, and yes, she could have been more cautious, but neither of you is at fault.” 

Nath hesitates. “You weren’t even there.” 

“You’re right,” Marinette mumbles. “I wasn’t.” 

They walk in silence for a minute, before Nath speaks up. “I’m just worried she’ll do something rash.” 

Marinette quirks a smile at that. “You mean like stop being a hero almost entirely? She already did that.” 

“Yeah…” Nath sighs. 

“Chat and LB will find her and make sure she’s okay,” Marinette promises, pushing back thoughts about how well that worked last time. “But Nath?” 

Nath glances at her. 

“You have to forgive yourself. Just like she needs to forgive herself.” Marinette reaches over and squeezes his shoulder. 

Nath pauses, but nods. “Yeah. Thanks, Mari.” 

Marinette smiles. “Any time. You know where I live, you have my number. Just call if you want to talk.” 

Nath manages a small smile at that. “Alright, thanks. I’ll do that.” 

* 

Queen Bee has been on Marinette’s balcony for almost an hour, pacing and sitting and crying and practically pulling her hair out, when the girl finally gets home and hears her. She peeks out, startled. 

“Queenie?” Marinette asks carefully. “What happened? Are you okay?” 

Queen Bee shudders. “I need to – I’m… I’m giving up my miraculous.” 

“What?” Marinette’s eyes widen and she scrambles up onto the balcony. “No, you can’t, Queen Bee—” 

“I don’t deserve it, I’m not a hero.” Queen Bee says, reaching up towards her hair comb, hands shaking. “I should have given it up weeks ago, but I’m a coward, and—” 

“Queen Bee.” Marinette takes her hand and squeezes it, pulling it away from the miraculous in her hair. “Come inside. Let’s talk about this.” 

Queen Bee lets Marinette lead her inside, sitting down on the edge of her chaise and playing with her gloves. 

“Why so suddenly?” Marinette finally asks her, sitting down in her desk chair and pulling it closer to the chaise. 

“It’s not sudden,” Queen Bee admits. “I’ve been thinking about it since I took it off the first time.” 

“So, why now?” Marinette asks. “Paris needs you, Queenie.” 

Why now? Why not a month ago, or before then? Why now? 

So she can’t change her mind again. 

“It doesn’t matter,” Queen Bee says, reaching up. “If I give it to you, can you pass it on to Chat Noir?” 

“Queenie, wait, if you take it off, you’ll—” 

She cuts Marinette off. “I know. I don’t care.” She yanks the comb out of her hair and shuts her eyes as yellow light flashes and Chloe is left sitting on Marinette’s chaise, holding a hair comb and a very tired Pollen. 

“Chloe?” Pollen asks, realizing what’s happening. “Chloe, no, please – you do deserve this. I picked you!” 

“You picked wrong, Pollen.” Chloe hands the comb to a staring, silent Marinette. “Just give it to Chat, okay?” When Marinette makes no move to take it, Chloe drops it in the girl’s lap, ignoring Pollen’s protests and wincing as they fall silent and the kwami vanishes. 

Marinette picks it up carefully, finally speaking. “Chloe, she’s right. This is yours.” 

“It stopped being mine the second Nath’s heart stopped beating,” Chloe says, standing up and brushing off her pants. “Thanks, Dupain-Cheng,” she mumbles, before climbing down the stairs out of Marinette’s room and leaving her miraculous behind. 

She makes it to the street beside the bakery before she starts shaking, leaning against the wall and wiping away tears with one hand as she pulls out her phone with her other hand to call her driver for a ride home. Her thumb hovers over the call button but she doesn’t press it, eyes flying up as a flickering white and purple butterfly crosses her vision for just a split second.  

No. 

No, no, she’s already been akumatised, she’s a— 

No, she isn’t. She doesn’t have a miraculous, she just gave it up, she— 

Her world floods with purple, and Chloe is gone.