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if i had a wish (i'd wish for more of this)

Chapter Text

“I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

William Ernest Henley

le 27 mai, 2002

Summer comes quickly this season, the warm winds from the south inspiring the trees and flowers to burst from the ground in rapid colour, and it’s today that Tom Dupain and Sabine Dupain-Cheng bring their daughter to the Oracle of Versailles for her prophecy.

Whether perched on mountains or carved in sunken valleys, the temples of the Oracle had long spread across the world since the times of antiquity. The marble pillars and gleaming arches of the original Delphic temple in Greece still stood as strong and majestic as the day it was erected so many centuries ago and as the people discovered new lands and conquered new seas, the prophetic magic only continued to grow and spread; currently, forty nine temples dotted the earth’s most powerful ley lines, a sacrament to just how important the prophecies were to the people who followed the Oracle. After all, it was widely known that the head priestess, the sybilline seer known as the Pythia, was rarely wrong in her predictions, her divinity unmatched beyond measure. Each and every temple employed a Pythia to give advice and prophecies to those who sought them, and the centuries upon centuries of devotion and proof spoke to the true magnitude of her power.

The drive out of Paris isn’t a long one, and Alain from across the road had happily loaned them his car for their first trip to the Oracle since the birth of their daughter. They’d left their cozy apartment just as the first rays of the sun had peeked over the horizon, hoping to beat the rush hour traffic and the equally busy lines at the temple itself, knowing it would be packed on a beautiful day like today. Sabine checks their sleeping daughter regularly in the rear view mirror and smiles to herself, her feet tapping to the rhythm of the song on the radio.

Tom parks the car in the busy lot and lifts the parking brake into gear, his shoulders sagging in relief now that they had finally arrived. He’d been holding onto the wheel with a white knuckled focus for the duration of the trip, his widened eyes glued to the road with his daughter’s safety at the forefront of his mind. He didn’t drive very often but Sabine had encouraged him to be brave for his daughter, especially on a such a special day; the Temple of the Oracle was open and taking visitors and everything else could wait.

Sabine exits the car and carefully unfastens their newborn from her carseat, the baby’s bright blue eyes blinking rapidly in the bright morning sun. Sabine lifts her and hugs her close to her chest as Tom hoists the stroller out from the boot of the car and unfolds it, setting it down onto the gravel covered ground. It’s a mundane task but it’s one they’re quickly acclimatising to now that their baby has finally arrived, her chubby cheeks already ruddy in the sun. Sabine helps strap her into the stroller, pulls the awning over her daughter’s head and readies for the pilgrimage ahead.

The walk is long but pleasant, the Oracle of Versaille renowned across the world for being one of the most beautiful and ornate of the European temples, its majesty and detail rivalled only by those in Vienna and Rome. That being said, the French have long proclaimed themselves as having the one with the largest of gardens, the extensive grounds richly decorated with statues, fountains and water parterres that could only contend with the beauty of the temple itself, the labyrinths of hedges and flowers breathtaking and vast.

Tom and Sabine pass the time talking, their chatter both lively and nervous as they weave through the groomed pathways towards the temple. There’s already a queue near the main doorway and Sabine is suddenly thankful that newborns are always granted priority access to see the Pythia, the rules of preference doled out by the lesser priestesses who arrange the order of visitation later down the line. Eagerly, they aim for the newborn queue and pass many others who lie in wait for their chance to speak with the Oracle or one of the Sibyl priestesses, their faces soothed by the spring wind in the hot sun.

Reaching up onto her toes, Sabine brushes some flour from Tom's shoulder as they pass into the shaded area, the air cool and humid in the shadows of the marble arches. As is custom, she slips her shoes off and leaves them by the threshold beyond the stairs and reminds her husband to do the same, holding him steady as he toes off his loafers and leaves them beside hers. Sabine had left the baby’s shoes behind in the car and tweaks her little toes between her thumb and forefinger as she bends down to check on her, endlessly enthralled with how small she is; Tom had already spent countless hours holding her simply in awe, her tiny body dwarfed by his enormous frame, his heart hammering in his chest at the wonder of it all.

It was custom for all new parents to bring their infants to see the Pythia as a means to guide them in their choices and expectations during their child’s formative years. The Oracle usually offered a glimpse into their health and happiness as well as their strengths and future personality, something that was always undoubtedly helpful when choosing schooling and activities for their young ones as they grew. If parents were especially favourable in the eyes of the Pythia, the priestess would divulge even more wonderful details about the infant and perhaps, even more rarely, would ask to hold the child.

It was very rare that the Pythia would divulge nothing at all, but it wasn’t necessarily unheard of. Children with no prophecy usually passed away before reaching childhood and some prophecies were simply too unpleasant for the Pythia to give, especially to parents who were in good favour with the balance of fate. On the other hand, there were many people who were not necessarily in good standing with the balance, having perhaps ignored or denied the power and presence of it. In these cases, it was up to the Pythia to decide whether or not she wanted to share anything in particular, sometimes neglecting to allow a glimpse into their child’s prophecy at all.

Having made the trip to see the Pythia several times already in their lives, Sabine knew to prepare for what could very well be a wait that could last for hours. Beneath the stroller, she’d packed an insulated bag of food, beverages and seat cushions to sit on if their stay was particularly long; kneeling, she reaches down and takes two bottles of water from the sack and hands the other to her husband, both content and anxious at the nearness of their journey’s end.

Sabine unscrews the lid of her bottle and brings the edge to her lips, watching her daughter closely. She’d been quiet for most of the trip, her heavy lidded eyes indicating that perhaps she had just woken and wished to fall back asleep. She begins rocking the stoller back and forth until Tom takes over, tucking his bottle into the side compartment of the stoller and following the same repetitive action until the baby closes her eyes yet again.

“Do you think she’ll suggest a name?” Tom asks, grabbing the bottle again and swallowing half of the contents in one go.

“She usually does,” Sabine replies, rising from where she’d been hunting for their sandwiches in the bottom compartment of the stroller, “She offered my mother three choices when she visited with me.”

Tom tips his head, “What were the other two?”

“I don’t remember,” Sabine replies, setting her husband’s sandwich on top of the stroller’s awning, “But they were Chinese in origin. My mother wanted something French.”

The couple eats their sandwiches in silence, content to watch the constant stream of people flooding in through the various entrances of the temple. Their line moves steadily forward, as does the line separated for the smaller children whose parents try and keep their little bundles of energy occupied with snacks and sticker books throughout the long wait ahead.

“I have a few ideas if she doesn’t suggest any,” Tom mentions offhand, wiping the mustard from his fingers with the back of a paper napkin, “Eugénie or Marguerite.”

“After your grandmothers?”

“I like Marie as well,” he shrugs after chewing the final bite of his sandwich, “It’s classic.”

“It is,” Sabine responds, wrapping the second half of her sandwich back up in the butcher paper she’d packed it in and tucking it back into the insulated bag, “Knowing the Pythia, she’s probably already keeping your ideas in mind.”

The queue continues forwards at a steady pace as Tom and Sabine finally enter the receiving chamber. There are a number of priestesses roaming the cavernous chamber, consulting the people and sorting them into smaller chambers based on the nature of their questions. Despite their matching dedication of the Oracle, the priestesses couldn't be more different in their design; dressed beautifully, the ladies of every ethnicity and culture speak in dulcet tones, their bodies draped in brightly coloured robes and swathed in ornate jewellery. Each and every woman working as a priestess was handpicked by the Pythia herself, her mark appearing on their skin at birth.

“A baby!” a priestess cries out, her vermillion robe flowing like a foxglove as she spins in glee and approaches, kneeling beside the stroller, “Such a beautiful girl, the Pythia will be pleased!”

“I hope so,” Sabine smiles as the eyes of people nearby turn in their direction. The sudden attention brings a blush to her cheeks and Tom places a hand on her shoulder, its weight warm and comforting against her skin.

“I know so!” the priestess replies, bobbing on the balls of her feet, “The Pythia foretold that we would have an exciting day. Do you sense it?”

The priestess’s eyes are piercing, their brightness a direct contrast to the depth of her skin in the diffused light streaming in from the skylights. Sabine swallows as the woman’s gaze goes right through her and the sensation would have been alarming if not for the gentleness of her smile, “It's an exciting day for us.”

The priestess relents, straightening her body and sweeping her hand across the top of the stroller, “Indeed. Now come, the inner sanctum awaits!”

The priestess in vermillion waves her arms and leads them through a series of pathways, the arching marble walls heavily adorned with exotic greenery. The vines of flowers bloom eagerly in the heat coming in from the light that pours in from the windows as the priestess glides across the floor, pausing only once to admire the vertical gardens and pluck a pink lily flower from its stem. She takes a deep breath and savours its scent before reaching downwards yet again, tucking the flower just behind the baby’s ear. Her eyes are wide and awake now and the priestess spends a moment playing with her tiny hand before turning and continuing their journey deeper into the temple.

“This is where I leave you,” the priestess says at last, pausing at the threshold of another enormous marble arch, “One of the priestesses will be out shortly to let you in. May the fates smile upon you.”

Watching as the priestess disappears down the hallway, Tom takes Sabine’s hand nervously and squeezes it for a moment before she shakes him off in favour of fussing over their daughter, re-adjusting her pink dress and brushing her hair from her eyes. She leaves the lily untouched and wishes she had remembered the camera that she'd left on the kitchen earlier this morning, forgotten in the rush to get downstairs before the sun had fully risen. They were used to their days starting off in the early hours, what with the modest bakery they’d opened together beneath their flat, but today had been so different that Sabine hadn’t even been able to keep her focus, too excited for what sort of prophecy the day would bring.

Sabine is just about to adjust her daughter’s outfit again for the umpteenth time when another priestess emerges from the doorway, her caramel skin swathed in folds of cerulean and gold. Her smile is wide and inviting as she leads them through the marble arch without a word, the pads of their feet the only sound as they walk down a brightly lit tunnel. Quickening their pace, they round a corner and Sabine can’t help but gasp as they enter the final chamber of the sanctum, the yawning cavern even more beautiful than the last time she remembers it, covered almost entirely in trees, flowers and moss.

“Welcome Tom and Sabine!” a voice greets them from behind a forest of orchid trees and laurel leaves, the scent of bergamot and mandarin perfuming the air. They follow the pebbled path around to the front of the altar when they finally spot her, already on her feet with her palms outstretched in greeting, “And a child! What a marvelous occasion!”

“Thank you,” Tom responds, beaming proudly as Sabine unstraps the baby from her carriage and lifts her into her arms, “We brought you a gift for honouring us with your guidance.”

The Pythia claps her hands together and laughs, her voice cheerful as it echoes against the high ceilings of the chamber. She sits back down upon her tripod and waits patiently as Tom fishes a box from beneath the stroller, the bangles on her wrist glittering in the morning sun; while a sacrifice or monetary donation was no longer required to receive counsel from the Oracle, it was still commonplace to offer her and her temple a gift of something or other, so long as the offering was meaningful and not given as a bribe.

“After our last visit, your suggestion to expand our horizons has lead to a huge success at our bakery,” Tom explains, taking a small pink box into his hands. He opens it and places it at the foot of the altar, “We’ve been able to make a name for ourselves as a renowned bakery with our macarons and we owe it all to you.”

The Pythia grins widely and dips her head, “The pleasure of knowing your bakery has seen success is the greatest gift you could offer me. The fates are smiling upon you.”

“Thank you,” Sabine breathes, her eyes glued to the Pythia as she rises from her tripod and brushes a lock of white hair from her eyes. 

“You’re welcome! Now come, let me see her.”

Adjusting her summer dress one last time, Sabine lowers her daughter onto the plush fabric pillow that lies on the receiving mat at the foot of the altar and steps back, watching anxiously as the Pythia waves her hands in a staccato rhythm, her eyes half closed and entranced. Tom pulls Sabine against his side as the priestess continues her ritual when she frowns suddenly, her eyes jolting open with both confusion and surprise.

“This is interesting,” the Pythia mutters, lost in thought as she makes her way down the stairs to the base of the altar. Sabine jerks instinctively and gasps as the priestess reaches down without warning and scoops the infant into her arms, gently brushing her bangs from her eyes, “How peculiar.”

“P-peculiar?”

The priestess returns to her tripod and perches upon it, the infant cradled carefully between her arms and thighs, “Her prophecy is...shrouded from me. I can see it, and my kin are all at once familiar with the source of its power, but…” the Pythia’s expression softens as the baby in her arms extends her tiny hand, “It is forbidden for me to share.”

The weight of the Pythia’s words are crushing, “You can't...you can't share her prophecy?”

“Please,” Tom's voice cracks as he steps forwards, releasing his grasp on his wife to press his palms together imploringly, “Tell us something, anything.”

The Pythia is silent for several moments, her thoughts and visions playing heavily on her conscious. She takes a deep breath and focuses her emotions, succeeding only marginally as Sabine brings her hands to her face, tears already streaming from her eyes as the significance of the Pythia’s words dawn upon her.

“She will live through her childhood,” the Pythia explains, reassuring Sabine as her quiet sobs continue to colour the tranquil silence of the temple, “But I could put both you and your daughter in great danger should I share the true nature if her history.”

“Is she...is there anything we can do?” Tom pleads, wrapping his arms around his wife and pulling her into her chest, “We have to protect her.”

The Pythia gently runs her fingers through the baby’s hair, smiling when her tiny hand wraps around her one of her outstretched fingers. Again, she hesitates and closes her eyes, the child’s future playing like a film in fast motion behind her eyelids.

“I will share what I can,” she concedes finally, cradling the child to her chest, “I cannot say much, so I will simply tell you this. Your daughter will be beautiful. She will be kind. She will be loved. But she will also face great adversaries, and will do so with the same kindness and ambition that lies within your hearts. While I cannot share the nature of her prophecy, I beseech you to support her in all that she does. You will be her ley line in this world, her source of energy and love as she faces untold forces that I cannot begin to describe nor comprehend,” the Pythia sighs, her breath ruffling the baby’s hair, “Your role will be to guide her and to teach her to be strong and just. You are her greatest allies in this world, and I trust her fate will be safe in your hands.”

Sabine takes a shaky breath and nods, her eyes shrouded in tears, “We can do that.”

“Good,” the Pythia gently grazes her painted nail along the baby’s cheek and descends the stairs of the altar yet again, pausing in front of her parents, “She will rise higher than even I can anticipate and as her parents, you should be proud of what your daughter will become, though I cannot tell you why,” the Pythia hands the baby over to Sabine, who shudders in both worry and wonder as the priestesses skin brushes her own, “Have you named her?”

Tom shakes his head as Sabine hugs her daughter close, “We wanted your advice.”

“Of course,” the Pythia smiles and returns to her altar, “Eugénie for her sweetness, Rose for kindness, Marinette for greatness.”

“Eugénie was my grandmother,” Tom remarks, his voice soft with awe as he turns to face his wife, her cheeks still tearstained and blotchy with emotion.

“I know,” the Pythia relaxes onto her tripod, her legs crossing before her, “It would make a beautiful choice.”

~

Later that evening, Sabine hefts the heavy laptop from its shelf and drops it onto the counter with a leaden thud, “Tom, are you finished with the phone? I need the internet.”

“One minute!” Tom replies from the bedroom, a loud thud emanating from beyond the doorway. As adept as her husband is at kneading bread and decorating cakes, Tom was never particularly adept at moving around in small spaces, “Okay!”

Plugging the landline into the dock on the side of the laptop, Sabine listens to the familiar dial up tones as she connects to the internet, her fingernails tapping a rhythmless tune against the touchpad. She’d been feeling nothing but anxiety since their pilgrimage to the Oracle, her every fear and doubt reappearing at the forefront of her mind each time she looked in her daughter's direction...what was going to happen to her? Why was she going to face adversaries and danger and untold forces?

“I can hear you worrying from over here,” Tom remarks, walking up beside her with a cup of tea. Sabine thanks him and takes the cup automatically, holding the hot porcelain between her palms, “You heard the Pythia, she said that she’d be okay.”

“But she’s going to be in danger,” Sabine insists, setting the tea aside without sipping it. She drags her finger across the touchpad and opens the browser, waiting patiently as the internet slowly plods towards the homepage, “She’s going to get hurt and there’s nothing we can do about it because we don’t know her prophecy!”

“She said nothing about getting hurt Sabine,” Tom replies, plucking a madeleine from the cake stand on the counter.

Sabine frowns, “But she implied it!”

Tom places his hands on her shoulders and begins kneading the knots there, the position giving him the privacy to drop his brave façade, “The Pythia also said that we would be proud of her. No matter what happens Sabine, we’ll be there for her no matter what.”

Sabine takes a deep, shuddering breath to try and gather her thoughts, “This is worse than I could have ever imagined.”

“I know,” Tom replies, his thumbs rubbing in gentle circles along her shoulder blades, “but even the Oracle can’t predict everything. Maybe things will turn out differently.”

Sabine sighs into his touch, her tense muscles already softening beneath his steady fingers, “Just once, I’d like to hear a straightforward prophecy.”

“You and everyone else on the planet,” Tom mutters, peering over his wife’s shoulder as she types the url of a baby name website she’d copied from a sticky note. The website pops up after several seconds of loading and Sabine drags the cursor up to the search engine, “Are you looking up the names?”

“I am,” Sabine replies, searching for Eugénie first, “It means ‘well born’.”

Tom nods appreciatively, “It’s my favourite so far.”

“Rose means...kind and sweet.”

“No,” Tom shakes his head, “My vote is still for Eugénie.”

“Hmm,” Sabine returns to the search engine, “What was the last one?”

“Marinette,” Tom replies, sweeping his palms over the muscles at the junction of her neck, “For greatness, apparently.”

“I’ve never heard of it,” Sabine mutters, tapping the name onto the keys, “It means....one who rises up.”

“That’s not bad,” Tom considers, tipping his head to the side, “But I still like Eugénie the best.”

“Let’s sleep on it,” Sabine suggests, closing the lid of the laptop and checking the time, “We’ll be dead on our feet if we don’t get to bed soon. I set the alarm for 03:00.”

“I’ve already got a few batches proofing as we speak.”

“Perfect,” Sabine smiles, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes, “Can you start the coffeemaker tomorrow morning while I’m getting my shower?”

“Of course,” Tom scoops her off the stool and sweeps her into his arms, walking across the floor and through the threshold to their bedroom, “Only the best for you.

~

le 13 septembre, 2002

It’s an unusually frigid afternoon in September when the Mercedes pulls into the parking lot of the Oracle of Versailles and slides to a stop on the slick gravel in front of the path’s entranceway. A woman steps out of the passenger side door and adjusts her rain jacket, pulling the hood over her head as the driver lifts a stroller from the boot. He unfolds it and sets it down for her, holding an umbrella over her head as she unbuckles the carseat from the seatbelt and hauls it up and onto the stroller.

“Tell Monsieur we’ve arrived,” the woman says, her tone clipped and serious as she clips the carseat to the stroller and pulls a plastic cover overtop. The man holding the umbrella nods and disappears back into the Mercedes, pulling away as the woman begins to push the stroller at a brisk pace through the gates and down the lane.

Pausing under the shelter of a large chestnut tree, the woman pauses in her hurried stride and peeks underneath the plastic to check on her charge. Bundled in a striped cashmere jumpsuit and a down-filled puffer jacket, the first and likely only male heir to the Agreste fashion empire slept soundly beneath a cotton blanket, likely lulled to sleep by the steady patter of rain on the plastic. He was admittedly quite cute, although not without his faults; personally, she had never known a more colicky baby, and Monsieur was less than impressed with the complications that followed his birth.

Adjusting the plastic once more over the stroller, the woman continues towards the temple as fast as she can manage, eager to get out of the rain. The cold snap had come out of nowhere and had been a hindrance to pretty much everyone at the Agreste empire and she wasn’t looking forward to readjusting the gardener's schedules again, nor changing the location of the spring line shoot from the outdoor bosquet to the indoor orangerie where the light would be tinted with yellow and less than perfect. Monsieur would have to spend extra money on editing the photos and she certainly wasn’t looking forward to being present when her particularly eccentric boss flipped his proverbial lid at the news.

The woman sighs in relief as the temple bobs into sight, now only a few minutes walk away. There’s no queue at the front which is no surprise given the atrocious weather pelting down on her raincoat and she blesses her lucky stars for her good fortune today, even if she has the schedule from hell sitting on her desk back at the office.

“Welcome to the Oracle of Versailles,” a priestess greets her as she passes through the giant marble archways marking the entrance of the temple. The woman nods in acknowledgement and slips her feet from her rain boots, continuing down the enormous archway barefoot towards the newborn queue. The entire place is nearly empty of people, the odd consultant seeking answers and refuge from the rain here and there, and the woman pushes the stroller all the way to the receiving chamber without encountering another soul.

“A baby!” a priestess cries, rousing a few of the others who had been lounging on a chaise. They leap to their feet and immediately rush over to see them, a priestess in chartreuse crêpe lifting the plastic rain shield in order to peek underneath. The woman helps the priestess lift it up and over so they can see the infant, his eyes blinking owlishly at the sudden change in view. The priestesses all coo in adoration and titter with excitement, complimenting him on his stylish bunting and coat.

“He’s gorgeous!” one of the other priestesses exclaims, gently taking his feet into his grasp and making him dance, “...but he’s not yours.”

The woman nods curtly, “His father and mother are too busy to attend.”

The priestesses frown and know better than to comment, “Well, the Pythia is looking forward to his visit. Please follow me.”

Nodding again, they make their way through the marble arches and walk down several pathways, the vertical gardens lining the walls sagging in the grey light from the windows. The shadows of the rain clouds make things difficult to see as the temple has no electricity, relying instead on the natural light during the day and candles during the evening hours. The entire guild of priestesses are required to light and replace the candles at 19:00 every evening, making for a beautiful sight.

Reaching the end of the hallway, the priestess that had been leading them turns and bows her head, “One of the other priestesses will be out shortly. May the fates smile upon you.”

“Thank you,” the woman replies, walking around the stroller without so much as looking in her direction. She unzips the infant’s coat and checks the temperature of his skin before rising, finding herself completely and utterly alone.

She waits for several minutes before another priestess guides her into the inner sanctum, the walls dark and winding and almost oppressive. There’s a foreboding feeling here, one that raises the hairs at the nape of her neck and sucks her energy away as she turns the corner, entering the enormous garden sanctuary.

“Nathalie Sancoeur,” a voice greets her as she approaches the altar, the Pythia coming into view between the forest of trees and leaves, “I take it Gabriel insisted he was too busy to come himself?”

Nathalie bristles at the Pythia’s haughty tone, “Monsieur is busy with the affairs of his business.”

“And his mother?” the Pythia responds, raising a perfectly sculpted brow, “Has she not recovered enough to accompany her only son?”

“Monsieur forbid it,” Nathalie unbuckles the infant from his carrier and gently places him on the pillow at the foot of the altar, “In his absence, he wishes to offer you a monetary donation.”

“I accept gifts that contain meaning,” the Pythia doesn’t take her eyes off Nathalie as she steps backwards, the latter avoiding the high priestesses piercing gaze, “He can keep his money. I’m far more interested in his son anyhow.”

Rising, the Pythia raises her arms and holds her palms upright, her lips moving soundlessly as she summons the magic of the ley lines through her connection with the soil beneath her feet. Her brows furrow as her worst fears are confirmed, the second half of the puzzle first laid out before her in May now lying at the foot of her altar, beautiful and pure and a complete and utter victim of the worst fate imaginable.

The Pythia releases a weary breath, “Tell Gabriel this. I cannot share his son’s prophecy, not to him and certainly not for any sum of money. He will live into his adolescence and he will be smart and handsome, but otherwise his destiny is shrouded from me.”

“Monsieur will not be pleased,” Nathalie responds quietly, frowning at the infant lying on the pillow, “He will demand answers.”

“Let him come,” the Pythia shrugs, sitting back down on her tripod, “I will not tell him any different. He is not in favour with the balance nor has he made any efforts to overcome his personal vendetta against me. As the highest priestess of this temple, I have every right to my decision.”

Nathalie sighs, “Will you at least give your blessing on a name?”

“That I can do,” the Pythia responds, “I take it he has already chosen a selection?”

“Alexandre and Adrien.”

“Both names of antique origin, both powerful men with powerful accomplishments to their name,” the Pythia taps her chin thoughtfully, “I prefer the second personally. It will be more suitable to his personality.”

Nathalie nods her head in acknowledgement, “I will pass your advice along.”

“Of course,” the Pythia crosses her legs and leans back, stretching her back, “Before you go, I have some council for you as well.”

Lifting her eyes, Nathalie feels a sense of cold water seep into her bones, “Yes?”

“Having ambition is one thing, but having too much can lead to a loss of self. It’s a heavy price to pay for anyone but you seem to be particularly determined to throw it all away, and for what? Love? A sense of duty? Even I’m finding it difficult to see why you rejected both Oscar de la Renta and Hermès to continue working for Gabriel Agreste.”

“Monsieur is a visionary,” Nathalie replies simply, bending down to scoop the infant from the pillow, “His designs are innovative and I plan on continuing my affiliation with his business for the foreseeable future.”

“If you’re sure,” the Pythia extends her brightly painted arm, watching as Nathalie fastens the final buckles around the tiny Agreste, “Please exit to your left, and may the fates be with you.”

 

Chapter Text

“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
Jean de La Fontaine

le 14 juin 2008

Adrien sits down on his bed with a huff and crosses his arms over his chest, his heart pounding loudly in his ears. His stomach is gurgling and there are tears in his eyes and he doesn't understand why no one will answer his very simple question!

Adrien is a smart boy. All the adults have told him so, so he can't figure out why Papa and Maman won't let him discuss his question at the dinner table. After all, he read about it in a book and Mme. Thierrault encourages him to talk about the things he reads in books, so what’s the problem? Wasn't discussing things good? He likes discussing things with Mme. Thierrault so he can practice for when he gets to speak to Papa. He doesn't see him very often and Adrien wants his discussions to be perfect so Papa will be happy.

Except now Mme. Thierrault is gone because Papa is very angry. After Adrien had asked his question, Papa had suddenly slammed his palms onto the dining table and demanded to see the textbook that Adrien had read that afternoon. He sent Mme. Thieurrault to find the page for him and when he saw it, Papa had said a lot of things to her that made her cry. She kept saying sorry but Papa didn't seem to hear her; he sent Mme. Thierrault away and Adrien knew he would never see her again.

Once Mme. Thierrault had gone, Papa had turned his attention back on him. Papa was so upset and Maman never said a word and Adrien had to stop listening to all the yelling and run away, too scared and confused and frightened by Papa in a way he had never felt before. All he had asked about was the Oracle…

Was it a swear word? Adrien lays down on his side and curls in on himself, hugging his arms to his chest. He's fairly certain that it isn't anything vulgar since it had been in one of his CP textbook and what he had read didn't seem very bad. There was a picture of a fancy building and beside it was a sentence about the Oracle, whatever that was. He'd read about prophecies which is a word he'd never seen before and he vows to look it up in his dictionary the next chance he gets.

Except right now he doesn't really feel like getting up at all. Papa is angry with him and he's so hungry… he hopes that Nathalie will sneak him something later.

He wishes Maman had spoken up. Maman is always kind to him when she's home because Maman is a model just like he is, and Maman is beautiful and polite like he is too. Maman taught him how to be polite and beautiful in front of people, especially in front of a mirror. They work on their angles together in the bathroom and in the hallways where the light is different and sometimes they make silly faces too just for fun. Maybe Maman was just trying to be polite by not interrupting Papa.

Adrien nods to himself, making eye contact with the teddy bear sitting on his bedside table. He reaches up and grabs it, hugging it tightly, “Right Doudou? Maman was just being polite.”

The teddy bear may not reply out loud but Adrien imagines he does so in his head and smiles against his fur when Doudou confirms his suspicions. It feels good to talk to someone who agrees with him, especially when he is sad and hungry. Most days, the adults just talk to him without ever asking what he thinks. He wonders if this is what happened to le Gorille? He never talks anymore...maybe it's because no one wanted to listen to him either.

Even his best friend doesn't listen to him very much. He doesn't get to see Chloë very often these days and she spends most of her time playing on her iPad or her mobile phone when they have a few hours together. Adrien isn't allowed to have one of those yet and he is too afraid to ask, although Nathalie lets him play Candy Crush on her tablet from time to time in the car if the traffic is bad. He loves it, even if he's not allowed to tell anyone about it, but that's why he has Doudou!

“What do you think I should do?” Adrien asks, releasing his teddy bear from his hug to bring him up to eye level. He nuzzles the bear and presses his face into the teddy’s soft fur, the scent of laundry detergent filling his nose.

Doudou tells him that he doesn't know but reminds him that he is a smart boy and he will be able to figure it out on his own. Adrien feels a swell of confidence at Doudou’s kind words and rolls onto his stomach, propping himself up with elbows, “I know!”

Doudou seems confused and Adrien smiles fondly, patting his less intelligent friend on the head, “Chloë will tell me anything. If I ask her, I'm sure she'll know the answer!”

The bear claps his paws together happily, applauding Adrien for his brilliant idea and Adrien can't help but beam in excitement, a plan coming together before his very eyes. This would be easy and maybe, maybe even tomorrow, he could get his answers.

~

le 15 juin 2008

“Adrichou!”

Adrien spins around just as a yellow and white blur careens towards him, wrapping around him at full speed like a cinch. He reels backwards and falls down against the cushions on the floor in his playroom, desperately trying to get his bearings.

“Chloë?” he sputters in surprise, lifting his head in time to spot her peeling herself off of him and opening her backpack, “I'm glad you could come!”

“Me too!” Chloe replies, taking her iPad and her mobile out of the main pocket, “Here, wanna play with my iPad?”

“Yeah!” Adrien nods vigorously, his dishevelled blond hair sticking up in every direction. Chloë hands it to him and he falls back onto the pillows, unlocking the screen, “Hey Chloë?”

“Yeah?” she replies absently, taking a selfie.

“How do you...look something up on here?”

Chloë makes a face, “Look something up? Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I have a question and no one will tell me the answer.”

“Well that's stupid,” Chloë purses his lips and takes another photo, “Why don't you just ask me? I know everything.”

“Okay,” Adrien replies, setting the iPad down beside him, “What’s an Oracle?”

Chloë looks over her screen at him, her eyebrows raised in confusion, “You don’t know what the Oracle is?”

“No…” Adrien trails off, “Should I?”

She breaks off into peals of laughter, falling backwards onto the padded floor, “You don’t know what the Oracle is?! Oh my god!”

Adrien can feel his face reddening, awkward shame pushing down on his shoulders. Hiding his face beneath his unruly bangs, he sits up and hugs his knees to his chest to wait until she’s finished making fun of him.

“How could you not know what the Oracle is?!” Chloë snorts, holding her sides as she giggles, “Are you stupid or something?”

“I don’t know,” Adrien mumbles, staring down into his lap. His stomach is still upset from being empty for so long last night, “Can you stop laughing please?”

“Oh Adrien,” Chloë brushes the tears from her eyes with a flourish and offers him a patronising look, “You’re so lucky to have me around, what would you do without me?”

Rocking forwards and backwards, Adrien tries to ignore the sick feeling, “I don’t know.”

“I know you don’t know, which is why I’m here!” Chloë sets her mobile down beside her and presses a hand to her chest, “I can tell you everything you want to know because I go to school. It’s where the smart people go to learn things, except not everyone is very smart there. Some of them are idiots.

“Yeah?” Adrien replies, still rocking on his haunches, “Do they teach you about the Oracle in school?”

“Of course,” Chloë rolls her eyes, “And a ton of other stuff but yeah, the Oracle is kind of a big deal. Like, a huge deal actually. Everyone goes to see the Oracle, especially Papa. He goes there all the time to make sure he’s doing good as Mayor.”

Adrien uncurls from his self embrace, his curiosity overtaking the uncomfortable feeling in his throat, “Really?”

“Yeah,” Chloë reclines against the pillows and continues, “See, if you have a question, you go to the Oracle and then the lady there, she’s called the Pythia, she tells you the answer. So like, for example, if I wanted to know about who I’m going to get married to, she’d be able to tell me.”

Adrien’s eyes grow wide, “She can tell you that?”

“Duh, I just told you she could. Try and keep up,” Chloë sighs and glances skywards, turning up her nose, “Anyway, she can tell you lots of other things too. Adults bring their babies and their kids there to answer questions about when you’re older and then when you’re sixteen, you can go there by yourself and ask your own questions.”

“Sixteen? Why then?”

“I don’t know,” Chloë shrugs, “That’s just the way it is, it’s the rules. So when you’re sixteen, the Pythia usually tells you a bunch of stuff, like where you should go to school when you’re older or who you should date and stuff like that. She’s really nice and helpful actually, I’ve met her a few times.”

“You’ve gone to the Oracle?” Adrien asks, his eyes wide with wonder.

“Of course I have, don’t be stupid,” Chloë scoffs, “All parents take their kids to see the Oracle, except for you apparently. Your Papa must be weird or something.”

Adrien bites his lip and tries to ignore the urge to bring his fingers to his mouth, “I...don’t know.”

“Well, it’s pretty weird that you haven’t been,” Chloë arches her brows and picks up her phone again, swiping her thumb against the screen, “You’re probably the only person in the world who hasn’t been.”

The pit inside Adrien’s stomach opens again and he pales, his fingers at once finding themselves between his lips, “Maybe.”

“Why don’t you just ask your Papa or Nathalie? I’m sure they’ll take you if you ask nicely, like I do when I ask Papa to get me things.”

“Papa got angry when I asked,” Adrien replies, chewing the pads of his fingers, “He yelled at me and I hid in my room.”

Chloë’s expression softens, “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Adrien wraps himself up into a ball again, tucking his chin between his chest and his knees, “He said that I’m not allowed to talk about it. He said I was bad and I should never say anything about it again.”

Chloë sets her phone on her knee and spins it absently, “That’s really weird. My Papa never gets angry.”

“Really?” Adrien asks, his fingers slipping out of his mouth so he could wrap them around his legs and draw his knees closer.

“I mean, Papa gets sad sometimes. The Oracle told him that Maman would go away but he’s happy now because he has me,” Chloë’s eyes seem unfocused as she stares down at the floor, “But he’s never angry, except at the unions. Papa hates the unions.”

“What’s a union?”

Chloë shrugs her shoulders, “I don’t know, but Papa says bad words when he talks about them. He doesn’t think I can hear him but I can.”

“Oh,” Adrien thinks about Chloë’s Papa and wonders what it would be like to live in La Grande Paris , “Your Papa is nice.”

“I know!” Chloë beams, her smile wide and proud, “He’s the best Papa in the world and he’s the Mayor! Hey, maybe next time we go to the Oracle I can bring you with me! Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Adrien’s head jerks up suddenly, his body shivering at the thought, “You can do that?”

“Of course! I can do anything!” Chloë pats his knee, “I’ll ask Papa when I get home. I’m sure he’d be happy to take you!”

“Okay,” Adrien begins to grin, his upset stomach forgotten, “That sounds awesome!”

“Right? Now come on, let’s take some selfies together. We can put dog ears on our heads and everything!”

“Really?” Adrien unfolds as Chloë scooches forwards and settles beside him, facing her mobile towards their faces and snapping a photo, “That is so cool!”

“We make the cutest couple,” Chloë boasts, changing the filter to hearts and lips, “When I go see the Oracle when I’m sixteen, I’m sure she’ll tell me that we’re gonna get married.”

Adrien’s eyes are locked onto the tiny pink graphics that float around the screen like butterflies and smiles, posing as Chloë takes another photo, “That’d be cool I guess.”

“Then you could come live at La Grande Paris with me!” Chloë changes the filter and wraps her arms around his neck, snapping a few more, “Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Adrien nods and sinks into her touch, “Yeah.”

~

“I’m home!”

Marinette drops her dolls and immediately flings herself over the couch and towards the door, running at full speed until she trips on the carpet runner and goes flying to her Papa’s arms. He laughs and scoops her up before she hits the ground, hoisting her into the air like an aeroplane.

“Marinette!” Tom bellows, bending his elbows and releasing Marinette into the air. She squeals in glee as he catches her and repeats the game again a few more times before hugging her to his chest, her legs wrapping around his abdomen comfortably, “Ma belle! Were you a good girl at school today?”

Marinette nods in earnest and wraps her fingers around the collar of her father’s shirt, “Yes Papa! I made you and Maman a picture!”

“You made us a picture?” Tom asks, gasping playfully, “No way.”

“Yes way!” Marinette giggles as Tom gently taps her on the nose, “I drew it myself!”

“My little girl? Draw something? Impossible!” he teases, letting her down onto the ground only to watch her scurry towards the fridge. Marinette skids across the floor on her socked feet and plucks the paper from the magnet, holding it up above her head.

“See Papa? That’s me and you and Maman. We’re having a picnic!”

“It’s beautiful Marinette,” he replies, taking the photo into his hands. Marinette hops from foot to foot with impatience, desperate to hear more, “I love the way you drew my shirt and trousers. Very colourful.”

“I wanted you to look handsome!” she explains, running over to the coffee table between the couches. She picks up a copy of Vogue and flips through the pages, finding the one she’d doggie-eared earlier, “See? You look like the man in the picture!”

Sabine chooses this moment to emerge from the bedroom, her eyes soft with fondness as she presses herself to Tom’s side. He wraps his arm around her shoulders instinctively and laughs as Marinette holds a Tom Ford advertisement up for him to see, “Oh yes, the resemblance is uncanny.”

Marinette drops the magazine back on the table with a thud and sits back down on the carpet with her dolls, content to restart whatever convoluted playstory she’d been narating earlier. Both Tom and Sabine were used to her wild ramblings and intervened occasionally to help guide her dolls towards responsible decisions as a way to teach her about what it means to be good.

“Well, how did it go?” Sabine asks, leading him over to the kitchen. Tom sits down on the nearest stool and lifts his elbows onto the cool countertop, resting his chin in his palms.

“I spoke to one of the Sibyl priestesses,” Tom explains, watching as Sabine puts the kettle on to boil, “The Pythia was too busy to see me, but the one I spoke to was really nice. We’ve seen her before.”

“Was it the one who wears the colourful headscarves?”

“That’s the one,” Tom replies, taking his phone out from inside his pocket, “I googled her on my way home, see? She’s here on the website.”

Sabine pauses what she’s doing to look at her husband’s screen, “Oh yes, I remember her. We saw her when we asked about the gender while I was pregnant with Marinette.”

“She remembered too!” Tom says, turning the phone over to face him, “Did you know the have bios up for each of the Sibyl priestesses now? The one I spoke to today is from Mozambique.”

“Interesting,” Sabine fetches two teacups from the cupboard, “So? What did she say?”

“Well,” Tom sets his phone down and laces his hands in front of him, “She thinks we should put a down payment on the building.”

“Really?” Sabine looks hopeful as she plucks the tin of tea from the shelf, “What else did she say?”

“She thinks that the property value will only increase,” Tom takes a deep breath, “and she said that the owner will be more than willing to cut a deal with us because we’ve rented for so long. With the whole block going up for sale, I have it on good authority that we’re the only ones who ever paid their rent on time.”

“Let’s do it then!” Sabine smiles, wrapping her fingers around her husband’s wrist, “Let’s take a chance. Can you imagine having our own real estate in Paris? And across from the Notre Dame de Paris no less.”

“It’s kind of daunting,” Tom replies but he too is smiling from ear to ear, “I’ll call the bank in the morning and see about the mortgage and maybe you can go down and see M. Patron about making the deal. He’s always liked you best.”

“That’s because he’s been sweet on me since we moved in twelve years ago.”

“Twelve years?” Tom shakes his head and smiles wistfully, “Has it really been that long?”

“It feels like only yesterday that you and I shared an ice cream from André’s,” Sabine sighs, walking around the counter and leaning into her husband’s side. Her heart is pounding with excitement at the thought of buying the bakery and if the priestess encouraged it, then it must be a sign of good things to come, “Do you remember that night?”

“It’s been burned into my memory,” Tom answers, wrapping his arm around her waist. He feels a tug on the pocket of his trousers and sees Marinette at his feet, her arms outstretched in a silent plea to join their hug. Tom laughs and scoops her up, setting her on his knee between him and Sabine and they squish her in their arms, her giggles music to their ears.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he laughs, planting a big kiss on the crown of his daughter’s head. She squeals and throws her head back, the picture of a child without a worry in the world.

If only her parents could relate.

~

Maneuvering carefully around a pile of LEGO, Nathalie doesn't have to look hard to find him; last year Adrien had insisted on having a tent put up in his room and he'd spent an inordinate amount of time hiding in it ever since.

“Adrien,” she calls, her toe tapping at the canvas entrance, “I need to talk to you.”

There's a rustle of fabric inside of the tent as Adrien unwraps himself from his blanket and crawls towards the front, “Am I in trouble?”

Nathalie frowns, “No, you're not in trouble. Come out please.”

Adrien unzips the tent from the inside and peeks his head out from behind the flaps, his blond mop falling in his eyes, “Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure,” Nathalie insists, pointing her finger at the homeschooling table over in the corner, “Come on, let’s go.”

Adrien nods for lack of another option and pushes himself to his feet, “What do you need to talk to me about?”

“Monsieur wants me explain why he was upset with you last night.”

“Oh,” Adrien hangs his head and stands beside the table, “Why isn’t Papa here?”

“Monsieur is busy,” Nathalie explains, sitting down on one of the child sized chairs. She gestures for him to do the same.

“Oh,” Adrien picks up one of the crayons he’d been using to colour a diagram of Europe and fiddles with it between his fingers, “Okay.”

Nathalie takes a deep breath and tries to steel herself for the upcoming onslaught of questions she knew he’d start asking the minute she finished her explanation. She’d been preparing for this conversation for a while if she was to be frank; there was no way Monsieur could have shielded him from the nature of the world forever, especially with Adrien’s increasing responsibilities as a child model for his father’s brand. Talking about the Oracle was as commonplace as talking about the weather and it was bound to come up at one of his many photoshoots sooner or later; she just wished Adrien had trusted her enough to come to her earlier instead of causing the mansion meltdown that he had, especially in front of Monsieur.

So, of course it’s up to her to fix everything. What else is new?

“Monsieur was upset that you mentioned the Oracle last night. It’s a forbidden subject in this house.”

Adrien doesn’t look up from where he’s been methodically peeling the wax wrapper from the shaft of the crayon, “How come?”

“The Oracle lied to Monsieur,” Nathalie explains, her voice keeping steady, “and Monsieur doesn’t like liars.”

“What did it lie about?”

Nathalie weighs her words carefully for a moment, hovering between the truth and another lie. The fact of the matter remains that Monsieur had been very specific in regards to what outcome he wanted this conversation to have and Nathalie has no choice but to deliver on his commands, “The Oracle said something very bad about Madame.”

Adrien’s head shoots upwards, his eyes wide and frightened, “Maman?! What did it say?!”

“She told Monsieur that she would disappear forever,” Nathalie fights the sick feeling in her stomach as Adrien’s eyes well up with tears, “The Oracle lied to Monsieur and that is why we don’t talk about it. Do you understand?”

Adrien takes a few gasping breaths and Nathalie leans over to pluck a box of tissues from the nearby shelf. Usually, it’s her job to keep his outbursts of emotion under wraps but she feels for him at this moment. Five years old and hearing that someone thinks your mother might disappear forever…needless to say, Nathalie is thankful for Adrien’s innocence for once.

After all, no matter how much Monsieur may deny it, the Oracle is never wrong.

Chapter Text

“Belief is a very peculiar thing: we tend to put more store in a belief we like than a fact we hate.”

Stephen Tobolowsky

le 18 novembre 2010

184 Unread Messages.

Nathalie buries her face in her hands and groans loudly, dropping her phone in her lap. As usual, leave it to Adrien Agreste and his big mouth to make her day difficult once again.

Taking a deep breath, Nathalie rolls out of bed and turns the television on in her penthouse flat, padding barefoot towards the washroom. It’s already tuned to the news station and there it is, blaring along the bottom of her screen like an animated billboard, juicy celebrity gossip fed like fodder to the masses.

Is Gabriel Agreste an hérétique? Sources confirm fashion designer denies power of the Oracle!

Another day, another mess for Nathalie to spend all morning trying to clean up. The cycle never ends...

...and speak of the devil.

Bzzz-bzzz-bzzz

“Nathalie Sancoeur speaking.”

“I need you at the office immediately.”

Nathalie barely resists the urge to sigh audibly, “Yes Monsieur.”

Click.

~

“Maman, what's an hérétique ?”

“Hmm?” Sabine looks up from where she's been updating the bakery’s financials on the family laptop, “Sorry ma belle, I'm working with numbers. What was that?”

Marinette doesn't peel her eyes off of her sketchbook, “I said, what's an hérétique ?”

Sabine’s eyebrows rise past her hairline as she presses the save button and turns around, “An hérétique ? Why do you ask?”

“One of the fashion designers I like is one.”

Sabine slips off the stool and approaches the couch that Marinette has been doodling in her sketchbook on since Sabine had walked her home from her l’école primaire , “Now, you can’t always believe everything you see and hear on TV”.

“I know,” Marinette continues to draw, her tongue peeking out from between her lips, “But still. What does it mean?”

“Well, it means you that don’t believe in the Oracle,” Sabine explains, turning down the volume on the television, “It isn’t something that’s very common.”

“How come?” Marinette uses her thumb to smudge the shading of the skirt on one of her designs, “Is it bad to not believe?”

“It depends,” Sabine sits down beside her daughter, “Everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe in. Some people believe and some people don’t. It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but sometimes people don’t like it when someone else doesn’t believe in the same thing they do.”

“Why?” Marinette puts her pencil down and turns to face her mother, her expression curious. Sabine takes her hands and runs her thumbs over her lead smudged fingers and palms.

“That’s just the way some people are. They think their way is the right way and they push their ways onto others.”

Marinette frowns, “That’s not very nice. People should be able to believe in whatever they want.”

“That’s a very kind thing to say Marinette. I agree with you.”

Marinette nods thoughtfully, “We believe in the Oracle right?”

“We do,” Sabine replies, tracing patterns against her daughter’s skin, “We visit from time to time and she helps us with our questions.”

“Have I ever been to see her?”

Sabine brushes Marinette’s bangs from her eyes and mentally tries to find an hour in their busy schedule to take her for a haircut, “Of course! All babies go to see the Oracle.”

“Really?” Marinette’s eyes widen, “What did she say about me?”

Sabine pulls her daughter into her chest and wraps her arms around her shoulders, her chin resting on the crown of her head to better hide her expression from her daughter’s prying eyes, “Wonderful things. She told me you would grow up to be beautiful and kind.”

Marinette waits for her mother to continue and wriggles out of her grasp when she doesn’t, “What else?”

“Well…”

“Sabrina said that the Oracle told her parents she would grow up to be a police officer just like her Papa,” Marinette begins, extending her fingers and ticking them off one by one to keep track of her story, “And Nino said that the Oracle told his parents that he would grow up to be a musician! He’s really good too, he’s learned to play all the instruments at school. And Max said that…”

Marinette continues to divulge the prophecies of her classmates animatedly, her voice pitching and cresting as she describes each and every detail her surprisingly sharp memory can come up with. Sabine sits back and watches as Marinette counts them on her hands, her friends who have their destinies laid out before them, whose parents have a guide with which to raise their children into the world. Worry gnaws at her stomach as Sabine tries to remember what she and Tom had settled on explaining to her once she’d asked, but they never expected she’d ask so soon.

“So what did the Oracle say?” Marinette scooches closer, shaking her mother from her reverie, “Am I gonna be a fashion designer? Or a seamstress? I’ve been working hard at both and I think I’m pretty good,” she taps her chin, “Oh, and I made a bracelet for Mylène yesterday and she said she really liked it so I think I’d be good at jewellery too.”

“I…”

“Or maybe the Oracle said that I’ll be a stylist! Or a fashion photographer! Or a website designer, since I helped you and Papa make one for the bakery!”

“It sounds like you already know what she said,” Sabine remarks quietly, her eyes glancing up towards the clock.

“Well, Papa always said I was a great artist so I just figured that’s what the Oracle said I would be when I grow up, but did she say anything else? Like what kind of artist I would be?”

Sabine swallows uncomfortably as her tongue works its way around the truth, “No, not exactly.”

“Well that sucks,” Marinette crosses her arms over her chest for a moment before releasing them with a huff to pick up her pencil, “But whatever, we’ll go visit her another time right?”

“S-sure,” Sabine replies, her mind reeling at the breakneck pace of their conversation, “Of course.”

“Chloë says she’s been to see the Oracle four times,” Marinette grumbles, rolling her eyes, “She said the Oracle told her she would be famous.”

Sabine has never been so grateful for a change of subject in her life, “Did she now?”

“Yeah,” Marinette chews on the end of her pencil for a moment, “But I think she might be lying. No one else in my class has gone to see the Oracle that many times.”

“It could be because of her father. Mayor Bourgeoise is a very big supporter of the Oracle.”

“Still. Even if she isn’t lying, she doesn't have to be so snobby about it,” Marinette purses her lips, “Chloë always acts like she’s better than everybody else.”

Sabine shrugs, “Maybe that’s what she believes.”

“Well, it’s not very nice. She’s mean to all of us, even our teacher!”

“That’s not very respectful,” Sabine shakes her head, already quite familiar with stories of Chloë’s shenanigans over the years, “But eventually she will see differently. If she doesn’t, she won’t be in good favour with the balance.”

“The balance?” Marinette blinks, “Like, the stuff we learn about in school?”

“Yes, but it’s more than just stuff that you learn about. The balance is very important,” Sabine leans back into the cushions and makes eye contact with her daughter, “If we want to be in favour with the balance of fate, we have to fill our life up with good deeds and kind actions. We have to be nice to one another and help each other out because if we don’t, or we lie, or we say mean things to hurt people, then we become unbalanced and that’s when bad things can happen.”

Marinette worries her lower lip between her teeth, “What if we do a bad thing by accident?”

“Then you’ll have to work three times as hard to make up for it,” Sabine explains, reaching out with her hand, “Sometimes it’s hard and everyone makes mistakes, so that’s why we visit the Oracle. When we need help or advice or just someone to talk to, the Pythia and her priestesses are always there to help us.”

“But what happens to people who don’t go and see the Oracle?”

“Well, they try their best to be kind all on their own. People don’t have to visit the Oracle to be in good favour. Some people live too far away or can’t afford to take time away from their work and their families,” Sabine runs the pads of her fingers along her daughter’s grass stained jeans, “The Oracle would never punish a person for not being able to come and visit. As long as they do their best to be good to themselves and to the people around them, they will be happily rewarded.”

“But what about people like Gabriel Agreste? The hérétiques ? What about them?”

“Gabriel Agreste?” Sabine raises her brows, “That was the designer, the one you saw on the news?” Marinette nods and Sabine hums consideringly, “Well, like I said before, everyone has the right to believe in what they want to believe and if Gabriel Agreste chooses not to believe, then that’s his choice.”

“But does that make him bad?”

“Of course not,” Sabine shakes her head, “He and every other hérétique in the world aren’t bad just because they don’t believe in the power of the Oracle. The only time someone is bad is when they do bad things, like stealing or lying or hurting others. Some people who believe in the Oracle do these things too, so it has nothing to do with who believes and who doesn’t.”

“So he’s not bad?”

“I don’t know,” Sabine shrugs, “I’ve never met him.”

“Oh,” Marinette stares down at her lap and frowns, “So how do you know who’s good and who’s bad?”

“Well, we have to look at how people treat others,” Sabine flounders for a moment as she tries to come up with the right metaphor, “So kindness is...well, it’s kind of like a boomerang, you know? Like the crooked stick you throw—”

“Maman, I know what a boomerang is.”

“Okay, okay, just checking,” Sabine can’t help but shake her head at her daughter’s haughty tone, “Anyway, the more kindness you send out, the more it gets returned, kind of like how a boomerang comes right back to you after you throw it. The people who are good are the ones who are the happiest because when we feel love and kindness towards others, it not only makes others feel loved and happy, but it helps us also to feel loved and happy too.”

Marinette eyes begin to sparkle, a smile stretching across her features, “Is that why you and Papa are so happy?”

“It is,” Sabine grins and Marinette launches herself into her mother’s arms, “And it’s why you’re so happy too.”

“I love you Maman,” Marinette murmurs into her mother’s chest, hugging her close, “I love you so much.”

“I love you too Marinette,” Sabine replies, kissing the crown of her head. Marinette is warm and soft against her, a comforting weight against her skin in a world of magic and uncertainty unlike anything she has ever known. Sabine’s path had always been clear until Marinette came into the world, but both she and Tom had done their best to follow the advice of the Pythia to a tee. Everyday they taught her the importance of kindness and love and Marinette was only growing stronger and more beautiful by the day; Marinette may have not been born with a prophecy, but at least they had tried to do something right.

~

le 19 novembre 2010

Nathalie is already seated in the back of the Mercedes when Adrien opens the door and throws himself into the backseat, shaking away the bitter chill.

“I though Papa was going to join us?” Adrien asks, his voice belying the neutral expression on his face as he shakes the rain off of his umbrella.

“He is otherwise occupied,” Nathalie replies, her tone clipped as her fingers move across the screen, typing furiously on what would be the hundredth reassurance email of the day to suppliers and buyers alike, “Your comments yesterday have made things difficult for all of us.”

Adrien shrinks immediately, his posture a reflection of the tongue lashing he’d received only a few hours prior, “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” Nathalie presses send and sets the iPad on her lap, turning in his direction, “But you need to understand that you can’t just say these things to people.”

“I didn’t know what it meant?” Adrien wrings his hands together, the pads of his fingers still wrinkled from when he’d given in and slipped them in his mouth as he’d hid in the washroom. It was a disgusting habit —he knew because everyone repeatedly told him— but he just couldn’t break the urge to chew on something when his feelings got the best of him. If anything, it felt good to hide away for a little while and do something he wasn’t supposed to, like a dirty little secret all his own.

“If it has something to do with the Oracle, or Monsieur’s beliefs on the matter, you are to never answer again,” Nathalie shakes her head, “Clients will always try to get information from you and you must never answer them if you don’t know the correct response.”

“I...” Adrien sighs and closes his eyes, “I know better now.”

“You do,” Nathalie picks up her iPad again, “I have drafted a document on how to respond to questions with regards to the Oracle. Once I’m finished, I will send it to you to study in case a situation such as this arises again.”

“Yes Nathalie.”

“I have also forwarded your modified schedule for next week. Monsieur requested that I book another appointment with Dr. Arthaud.”

Adrien throws his arms into the air and flops back against the leather seat with a pout, “But I told him the pimple is gone!”

“Monsieur doesn't want another,” Nathalie opens her messages again and begins to skim through the ones she'd missed in the breadth of their two minute conversation, “You have a shoot with M. Demarchelier on Wednesday and Monsieur wants your skin to be a reflection of his brand.”

“Clean lines, clean skin, got it,” Adrien grumbles and shifts in his seat, “So where am I going today?”

Nathalie already has his schedule committed to memory, “Second fitting, hair appointment, piano.”

“Hair appointment?”

“Monsieur wants your hair lightened for the summer line shoot on Wednesday.”

“Oh,” Adrien picks absently at the seams of his sneaker, “Makes sense I guess.”

Nathalie doesn't respond right away but she can tell there's something else lingering on his mind. She never pushes too hard when it comes to the youngest Agreste these days, especially since he's only started to develop a bit of a personality lately. She feels a little swell of pride at having being a key part of it; it had been her who had convinced Monsieur to let him leave the house to further his studies, after all.

“How did Maman’s appointment go yesterday?”

And there it is. Nathalie’s fingers falter for a moment, momentarily stumped by the question, “How did you know about that?”

“It was the last entry on the GPS screen,” Adrien explains quietly, fiddling with his fingers again, “Maman is the only one who visits Dr. Vicaut.”

Nathalie weighs her words carefully, the weight of a lie once again on her lips. She'd been trying to keep her ledger clear of the dishonesty that seemed to surround her everyday duties like a shroud but it was getting harder and harder as of late, “Madame did not share the results of her test with me.”

Adrien blinks, his green eyes wide and hopeful, “But did she seem happy?”

Nathalie turns away and gnaws on her tongue for a moment before speaking, “She...did not.”

Adrien turns to stare out the window, his precisely shaped brows furrowed into a frown, “Then I guess I won't be getting a little brother or sister after all.”

Nathalie isn't foolish enough to say otherwise, not when the mood in their estate had darkened so much over the past few years. Monsieur had nearly tapped into every available resource in order to try for a second child, one that Monsieur hoped would be able to continue the family name. For someone who claimed to not believe in the Oracle and the prophecies she gave, he had all but disregarded Adrien as the future heir of his fashion empire.

So, being the resourceful man that he is, Monsieur had turned the cherubic face of his prophecy-free son into the face of his brand. He made for a good model and inevitably a good media story should whatever happen to him actually happen; it was common for children without prophecies to die before reaching adulthood but Monsieur needed to do something with him, and modeling seemed to be it. It bothered both Nathalie and Madame to no end when Monsieur talked about Adrien as if he were just another model attached to his brand, as if on contract until his desirability, or in the case, his life ran out, but what could Nathalie say? What could anyone say in the face of the hurricane force that was Gabriel Agreste, ruthless and enigmatic and positively genius?

Nothing, quite frankly. It had taken her years to build her credibility with the man and she wasn't about to throw that all away just by talking out of turn. She made a six figure salary, she lived in a penthouse studio apartment in Trocodéro of all places, with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower just outside her window. She worked for a world famous fashion designer and all her suits and formal wear were created by the man himself free of charge, perfectly tailored just for her. With a bank account chock full of well earned cash and a closet stuffed with priceless originals, she had it made in the shade and had no desire to spoil it for a little boy with apparently no future.

Except…

The Pythia hadn't exactly said he didn't have a prophecy, had she?

It keeps her up at night sometimes, the knowledge that the details she had kept from Monsieur all those years ago had affected Adrien’s life in a negative way. She feels somewhat guilty knowing that it's partially her fault but then again, Adrien has never been her son. In fact, Gabriel has always had a way of treating others that is entirely unique to his character and Nathalie knows she's not responsible for his utter lack of commitment to fatherhood. She only hopes that her subtle guidance will help Adrien be a little bit better, a little bit brighter as he grows, stunted and wilted beneath his father's shadow cast upon their home.

An email appears in her inbox that interests her and she opens it, skimming its contents. After the surprising acquisition of an ancient Chinese peacock brooch last month, Monsieur had been steadily focused on a secret side project to learn more about its origins. The museum curator with whom she'd been corresponding with had carbon dated the material of the brooch back to the Zhou dynasty, which she was fairly sure Monsieur would be thrilled to hear about in the unique fashion only he possessed. Nathalie can envision him already, the only clue to his elation a cocked eyebrow and a slightly upturned lip as he thanks Nathalie for the news. She smirks ever so slightly and presses reply, typing up further questions for the curator.

Mme. Dubreil,

M. Agreste has the following questions in regards to the peacock brooch in your temporary possession.

  1. As per your previous assessments, what do you estimate the monetary value of the item to be?
  2. Have you made any progress in determining the meaning of the signature/Chinese character etched into the back of the brooch?

M.  Agreste has been fastidious in his research on the brooch and its origins. I have forwarded you a summary of his findings as well as copies of two ancient texts he found that reference the brooch in antiquity. You will notice a very interesting coincidence in regards to the origin of both texts. Is it possible that there are multiple peacock brooches? M. Agreste is quite curious to know how both Confucius and Herodotus were able to comment on the brooch despite neither region being in contact at the time.

M. Agreste looks forward to your reply.

Nathalie Sancoeur
Head Executive Assistant | Gabriel

Chapter Text

"You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

Ayn Rand

le 17 juillet 2015

Nathalie wears many hats, one of which is that of a travel agent. For years, Monsieur has only trusted her to make his various travel arrangements, being the paranoid man that he is; he claims that he's had poor experiences with other travel professionals sharing his location with paparazzi and the like in the past but Nathalie is fairly sure he just uses that excuse so he doesn't have to pay another person for something she's perfectly capable of doing herself.

Evidently, this is how Nathalie finds herself painstakingly planning an itinerary for a two week trip to Tibet. She would have spat her coffee all over her tablet at the very concept had she not been in on the scheme from the very beginning; Monsieur deigning to visit a third world nation? Preposterous. Except the revelations that had occured since procuring the peacock brooch four years ago had been...

Well, miraculous.

Since that's what they were called of course. With Mme. Dubreil’s help, they had managed to track the peacock brooch across history as it passed from hand to hand and continent to continent time and time again. From Locusta to Marie Antoinette, it was both rumoured and proven that this seemingly magical brooch had been far more important to the history of the world than any of them could have imagined at the start.

Their research had inevitably led them to a second brooch, this one far more subtle in its design in comparison to the bright blues and greens of the first. Nathalie still remembers the day Monsieur had come home with it in his possession, his normally stoic facial expression wracked with an excitement she can hardly even remember seeing on the man before that day. He'd called her into his office immediately and shut the doors behind them as he recounted his exchange with an elderly Chinese woman with unusual animation. Nathalie had been in charge of the wire transfer from one of his hidden offshore accounts and although she had the bank account number, she never did get the woman’s name.

From there, Mme. Dubreil, Monsieur and herself had been meeting regularly to determine the history of the purple brooch, which proved to be far more difficult than the peacock one due it its sophisticated, if slightly plain appearance. However, once the connection between the brooch and the butterfly motif had been made (and finding that out had been an adventure all its own), tracing its history became far less impossible and equally as fascinating. They'd even managed to associate it with both François Leclerc du Tremblay and Machiavelli, a fact that Monsieur found particularly fascinating; he'd become so smitten with the purple brooch that he’d taken to wearing it with his cravat on a daily basis and had even used its design as a source of inspiration for his 2013 spring line.

Eventually one thing had led to another. Monsieur called her in on her day off in the middle of the night back in the summer of 2014 to reveal what he had discovered, which turned out to change just about everything they thought was possible. Coming upon a PDF scan of an ancient scroll, Monsieur had learned that there weren't just two magical brooches at stake, but several magical pieces of jewellery that ranged from hair combs to earrings. They never did figure out the exact amount, but that particular piece of the puzzle wasn't what interested him.

As it turned out, not only did the scroll confirm what Gabriel had already figured out but it also revealed an even more intriguing aspect of their ever growing puzzle. The scroll, written in Sumerian and richly illustrated with seven ancient Chinese symbols, revealed a plethora of new information on the subject, including what could happen if a person wore multiple Miraculous on their person at the same time. Unfortunately, the butterfly and the peacock weren't compatible as matching pairs as they were both brooches; the style of the jewellery had to be different in order for the bearer to yield the rewards of the match.

Gabriel revealed all of this to Nathalie that night, extolling the details of the scroll with fervour. It turned out one of the matching pairs could grant the bearer the ultimate wish, something that had turned his hobby interest into a full blown obsession. In the scroll, he'd learned that not only did these magical pieces of jewellery continue to exist to this day, but the whereabouts of the majority of them could be found in a temple in Tibet, the location of which was described on the scroll in great detail. In his spare time, Gabriel had carved out the location through satellite images and insisted that Nathalie begin to organise a trip to Tibet to locate the rest of the Miraculous jewels immediately.

Opening another tab on her browser, Nathalie confirms the appointment with their Tibetan guide and copies the appropriate booking number into the spreadsheet she’d been using to keep track of all of their reservations. It would take them roughly four days to reach the temple by foot and another four to return, so Nathalie had to plan hotel stays, car rentals and the like accordingly so as to make their trip as comfortable as possible. Once she’s triple checked everything, she forwards the itinerary to the French embassy so they can monitor his whereabouts at all times and make sure that his safety is of the utmost importance throughout the trip.

At some indeterminate point, Monsieur had brought his wife in on his plans. Madame seemed particularly keen with the idea of being granted the ultimate wish, the result of which would most certainly lead to the long awaited addition to their family. In all honesty, Nathalie hasn’t seen Madame so excited in years, her sallow cheeks and pale skin from spending so much time in her bedroom suddenly blushing pink with the resurgence of hope that throbbed between her and her husband.

Adrien, as usual, was left in the dark.

Not literally of course, but figuratively. His parents would be gone during his 12th birthday, something neither of them had considered when giving Nathalie the dates for their trip. More often than not, it was Nathalie who took the responsibility to remind Monsieur of Adrien’s birthday on his calendar, but even then he tended to miss it as celebrations and holidays were ranked lowest priority on the program’s software. For the past few years, Nathalie had personally taken Adrien to various patisseries around town to pick out his own birthday treats on the sly and he would happily snack on them in the back of the Mercedes before returning home. It was their little secret, one that wasn’t shared with anyone else save Adrien’s seemingly mute bodyguard who still hadn’t spoken a word to her since being hired shortly before Adrien’s birth.

Nathalie calls the first class bureau of Air China to confirm their seats and submit Monsieur’s tailored list of demands during the nearly twenty hour flight, all of which is taken into account after a few well placed comments in regards to the sheer magnitude of influence their travellers possess in the eastern hemisphere. Gabriel’s right hand design aide was stationed at their Shanghai headquarters and he hired many budding fashion students from Donghua and Fudan, two of China’s top fashion schools. In an odd twist of whimsy, Gabriel even had Adrien studying Mandarin in case his modelling duties ever took him outside the country, something that Nathalie foresaw happening should the Agreste’s actually find success in Tibet. After all, with a new baby in the family, Monsieur would have to keep Adrien occupied and out of his hair somehow.

It bothers Nathalie sometimes, the fact that Adrien is often considered an afterthought to his father and mother. She knows her place of course, but it still niggles at the back of her mind that something about this is so so wrong.

...if only she’d told Gabriel the truth about Adrien’s prophecy.

It’s been a weight on her shoulders for nearly twelve years now, her transgression. She’s laid in bed and stared up at her ceiling a million times and wondered how Monsieur would have treated him if she had told him what actually happened, that the Pythia had explained that he had a prophecy but it was simply too dangerous to share. Would Monsieur have treated him like a son? Was Monsieur even capable of acting like a father? She’d only ever seen him consider Adrien with disdain and occasionally mild interest and Adrien learned quickly that there was no pleasing his father, no matter how hard he’d tried. Goodness knows she’d spent countless hours consoling him over that particular life lesson.

She wonders vaguely if and when the inbalance she’s caused with her omission will come back to haunt her. She wonders if it already has and her punishment is to continue to be the pseudo-surrogate mother for a boy with a dubious future until whatever danger lies ahead of him ultimately consumes him.

Something tells her she’ll soon find out.

~

le 7 septembre 2015

Adrien is in the renowned Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie with a credit card and a list of his favourite sweets when Nathalie receives a phone call from the French Embassy in Tibet. Her hands shake as the man on the other line relays the news, relays that the backpacks of both Monsieur and Madame and their guide have been found abandoned on a riverbank high up in the mountains with their passports still inside. He assures her that they’ve sent a search party out to try and find them and that all available resources are being assigned to the mission. Nathalie demands that he keeps her updated, hangs up the phone, and waits for Adrien’s return.

“This place is awesome,” Adrien extols breathlessly, plopping onto the backseat with three boxes in his lap, “I bought a vanilla and a raspberry Saint-Honoré for me and I bought a chocolate millefeuille for Mme. Doré because I know she likes them and I bought these for you Nathalie! There’s orange blossom and raspberry and pistachio ones...Trip Advisor says they have the best macarons in all of Paris and I would know, I looked them up on the way here to see if they were better than the Ladurée ones because I know you like them the best but I thought maybe you would like these better and…”

Nathalie blinks a few times and takes the proffered pink box, setting it down across her knees. She listens as Adrien prattles on, oblivious to her inner turmoil as she opens the box and takes a vanilla macaron between her numb fingers, lifting it to her lips. It smells heavenly and tastes even more so, the delicate flavour and texture of the meringue melting on her tongue like snowflakes on a ski hill in the Alps and it hits her like a hurricane all at once, the significance of the past few minutes, her situation now.

“...and literally, they had the biggest ispahan I’ve ever seen on their counter and they don’t just raspberry ones either, they had…”

Nathalie hears the engine roar to life as their driver accelerates by the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, her Gothic silhouette casting a heavy shadow across the road they’re driving down. Vaguely, she feels the gentle breezes of the air conditioning brush against her cheeks and forehead, smells the sugar on her fingers and the t-shirt of a boy who spent a little too much time running about in the sunshine earlier that morning. She takes another bite and tries to pay attention, tries to focus on something, anything but the sudden rush of uncertainty in her gut, writhing and thrashing against the bitter panic that’s threatening to take over. She takes a few steadying breaths and stares down at the box of macarons instead, counting them over and over again like a mantra until the blood stops rushing in her ears.

“...and the lady there was really nice and helped me choose all the flavours because I didn’t really know which ones to get you but she said that these ones are the most popular so I…”

Nathalie nods occasionally as Adrien continues to babble on about pastries and begins to make a mental checklist of all the things she’ll have to do when she gets back to the estate. She’ll have to call the lawyer to make sure Monsieur’s affairs are in order, after which she’ll have to remind him and his firm of the gag order in regards to their media involvement. Then she’ll have to call an emergency staff meeting and explain the situation, cut all forms of communication and boot up the wifi jammer so Adrien can’t access the internet. Nathalie figures she’ll have at least twenty four hours before the story leaks and shows up on social media so she’ll have to block his data as well, if only for a week or two. By that point, he’ll be wondering why his parents haven’t returned and Nathalie will be forced to explain…

...oh.

It dawns on Nathalie at that moment, the realisation hitting her skin like a dousing of freezing cold water. It’s the reason Monsieur had renounced his faith in the Oracle and refused to let his wife travel further than the border for modelling contracts except when he was with her…

Nathalie shoves another macaron in her mouth and opens the messaging app on her iPad, jabbing the ALL STAFF button with a manicured finger. The alert goes out immediately as the Mercedes pulls into the driveway and rolls to a stop by the door.

“Nathalie?”

His voice breaks her out of her reverie and she jerks her head around, staring wide eyed at the son of her potentially deceased boss, his lips and cheeks dusted with icing sugar.

“Yes Adrien?”

“Are you alright?” he asks, tipping his head to the left. He looks down at the half eaten box of macarons in her lap, “You haven’t said a word since you got back in the car...do you not like the pastries I got you?”

Nathalie shudders, if only slightly, “They’re delicious Adrien. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome!” he grins, his eyes lighting up immediately, “I’m going to go bring these to the kitchen staff to put in the fridge okay? Bye!”

He’s out of the car before she knows it, skipping up the stairs and through the front door of his lavish home with a wave and a smile at the staff member manning the front door and Nathalie can’t help but feel that crushing weight against her chest again, heavy and exhausting. How on earth is she going to be able manage all this? What would happen to her, her job, her life if Gabriel Agreste was gone?

Heaving a heavy sigh, Nathalie lets her head fall back against the headrest with a thunk.

~

“Mobile phones in the basket please,” Nathalie orders as the staff all file into the ballroom, settling themselves in a vague semi circle around Nathalie. Once all of the devices have been gathered up into the bread basket and set on the table in front of her, Nathalie laces her fingers together and begins.

“I received word from the French embassy in Tibet roughly an hour ago. Monsieur and Madame Agreste are missing.”

There’s a pregnant pause before a raucous hum of voices bubbles up from the twenty odd people standing in front of her, all showing different expressions of shock and concern. Nathalie gives them a few moments to react before raising her hand to regain their attention, “The Tibetan government has called in reinforcements and has sent out a large search party to look for them. The member I spoke to at the embassy assured me that it’s quite likely that Monsieur’s guide simply wandered off their initial path for weather related reasons.”

Nathalie waits for the information to sink in before continuing, “As you know, it is quite likely that this story will hit international media sooner rather than later. To prepare, I will be reinstalling the jammer on the estate’s Wifi and temporarily disengaging the televisions that are connected to the cable. You will need to sign into the hidden Wifi signal again in order to use your devices,” Nathalie squares her shoulders and faces the crowd, “It is imperative that Adrien does not hear anything about their temporary disappearance until their whereabouts are confirmed. Any questions?”

One of the maids raises her hand, “When will we know more?”

“The embassy will be calling me every four hours with updates,” Nathalie replies, “If I receive anything worth noting, I will call another staff meeting.”

“And what about Adrien?” Mme. Doré asks, the live-in tutor jittering nervously, “Surely he’ll get suspicious if we don’t let him go outside the estate for fencing practice.”

“We will need to come up with a list of excuses then,” Nathalie taps her fingernails against the side of her iPad, “I’ll leave it to you to draft a list so our stories all correspond if he decides to go looking for answers.”

“But Mme. Sancoeur...” Mme. Doré averts her eyes and wrings her hands together, “That’s lying.”

Nathalie takes a deep breath, “To protect Adrien. If we’re doing it for the right reasons, the balance will remain in our favour.”

There’s another heavy murmur from the crowd. Nathalie knows that her opinion isn’t exactly the most popular one but she knows her staff; if Adrien is involved, they’ll do whatever it takes to keep him as happy and sheltered as possible.

“We should have known this would happen…”

“...I knew the prophecy would come true!”

“That’s what Monsieur gets for rejecting the Oracle…”

“...don’t say such a thing, there are lives at stake!”

“And what about Madame? What will happen to Adrien if…”

“The Oracle did say that she would die, this is just the balance at work…”

“...and Adrien, he’ll be heartbroken! What will we…”

ENOUGH!

Nathalie pinches the bridge of her nose, “As a staff, we have a job to do and that hasn’t changed. Your directives are the same until you’re told otherwise. And as for all of you, keep your gossip to yourself in case Adrien can hear it. If he learns anything about what is happening in Tibet from any of you, you can guarantee that your position at the Agreste estate will be up for debate. Shielding him from the media will be challenging, but I expect you all to be up to the task. Do I make myself clear?”

Nathalie scans her audience with a shrewd expression before continuing, “Good. Now, remember your duties and get back to work.”

~

le 12 septembre 2015

Bzzz-bzzz-bzzz

Nathalie jerks awake and blindly rummages for the iPhone on her nightstand, wrenching the mobile free from its charger.

“Nathalie Sancoeur speaking.”

“We found him.”

Chapter Text

“Everything can change in an instant. Everything. And then there is only before and after.”

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

le 14 septembre 2015

The non-stop flight from Lhasa Gonngar International lands in Milan to avoid the inevitable media mayhem waiting for them at Charles du Gaulle and Nathalie is already standing on the tarmac, her team of private doctors waiting in earnest just behind. Covering her mouth with her iPad, Nathalie can’t help but gasp as Monsieur exits the small business jet covered in bandages, bruised and battered and looking just about as horrible as she’s ever seen him. She watches as the fashion mogul limps down the stairs with a grimace and he can’t quite open his left eye, his forehead and cheek too swollen and red from whatever hell he’d found himself in back in Tibet.

And from what he’d already told officials, it was.

Monsieur recounts the story once for his doctors as they guide him into the SUV and Nathalie’s known him long enough to see his tells, the twitch of his lips one of only a few signs that he’s lying through his teeth. She makes a few requisite notes as his medical team orders a series of x-rays and MRIs in Paris for the following day but otherwise she doesn’t say anything, too wrapped up in her own thoughts to really try and process anymore of what’s going on around her.

She sends the email that’s been sitting in her drafts folder for five days once Monsieur’s private jet begins taxiing down the runway.

M. Ledroit,

Please forward the letters testamentary and have your secretary book an appointment for the reading of the will. Mme. Agreste’s death certificate will be scanned and sent promptly upon my return to Paris.

Thank you,

Nathalie Sancoeur
Head Executive Assistant | Gabriel

~

“Marinette,” Sabine scolds, tapping her fork against the stem of her wineglass, “What have I told you about having your phone at the table?”

“But mamaaaan—”

“No buts Marinette,” her father chimes in, plucking the smartphone from his daughter’s fingers and holding it alof, “It’s the rules of the dinner table.”

Marinette heaves a sigh and slumps over her plate, “But I was just checking to see if the rumours were true.”

“Rumours about what?” Sabine asks, scraping a bit of butter on her toast, “The designer you haven’t stopped talking about?”

Marinette nods in earnest, “People are saying all sorts of things about him.”

“It’s best not to spread rumours,” Sabine sets her knife against her plate and passes the butter to her husband, “But it’s certainly turning into an interesting story.”

“Right?! I mean, what happened? How could you just lose your wife and your mountain guide like that? It’s not like they were climbing Mount Everest or anything, apparently they were just on a hike along the river.”

“I’m sure the truth will come out eventually,” Tom lifts the lid off the butter tray and slices off a generous knob, “It always does in the end.”

“Not necessarily,” Marinette jabs her fok into her salmon filet, “What about that Malaysian Airlines flight? Or...or aliens? What do we know about them?”

Sabine and Tom share a familiar glance before turning back to their daughter, “Marinette…”

“I just want to know what happened alright?” Marinette raises her palms up to the sky and drops them dramatically, “Is that too much to ask?”

“Eat your dinner before it gets cold,” Sabine shakes her head fondly, “And then you can go back to being Marinette Holmes.”

“Ugh,” Marinette rolls her eyes and shoves a forkful of fish into her mouth, “Fiiine .”

~

le 15 septembre 2015

Monsieur’s private butler greets them at the front door of the Agreste mansion and Nathalie leaves Monsieur to him, retreating instead to her office to work on the court proceedings already underway. She files the requisite paperwork and sends it off electronically as fast as she can, eager to just get the whole ordeal over with so she can get to bed.

“Mme. Sancoeur?”

She takes a deep breath to steady her irritation before peering over her computer screen at the man standing in the doorway, “Yes?”

“Monsieur has requested your presence.”

So much for getting that few hours of rest, “...tell him I’ll be there shortly.”

“Of course,” Monsieur’s personal butler hesitates, “He also wishes to know if you have alerted Adrien to his condition.”

Nathalie purses her lips, “I have not.”

The man nods in understanding, “I’ll let him know that you’re on your way.”

“Wait,” Nathalie pinches the bridge of her nose for a moment, “Gerald...did he seem concerned about him?”

“About Adrien?” Gerald reappears within the threshold, “Surprisingly yes, but I suppose he’s all he has left of Madame. Speaking of which, have you relieved Ophélie? I was hoping to get a chance to say goodbye.”

“She’s already gone,” Nathalie replies, feeling uncomfortable as Gerald’s face crumples, “There was no need for her to stay when there’s no one here for her to care for. I gave her a positive reference, if that makes you feel any better.”

“Not really,” Gerald sighs, “But what can you do? Anyway, Monsieur is expecting you. Try not to be long as he needs his rest.”

“I just have to send these files off and I’ll be right up.”

~

“Monsieur?”

Nathalie slowly opens the heavy oak door to Monsieur’s bedroom and peeks her head in past the frame, spotting him sitting on the chaise near the balcony. He’s facing out towards the cityscape and Nathalie makes her approach as noisy as possible so as not to startle him.

“Ah yes, good,” Monsieur turns his head as she sidesteps around the upholstered furniture, “Please sit.”

Nathalie’s thoughts freeze for a moment as she follows his instructions, perturbed by the seemingly pleasant tone in his voice, “You wished to speak to me?”

“Of course,” Monsieur shifts slightly in his seat, grimacing at the twinge in his ribcage, “I need to fill you in so you can help me find my wife.”

“Find your…” Nathalie’s eyes widen behind her glasses, “Wait...she’s not dead?”

Monsieur takes an uncomfortable, shallow breath, “Not exactly. The nature of her condition is...debatable.”

Debatable?!

“It’s complicated,” Gabriel placates her, turning his head so he can watch her with his good eye. Scuffed up and covered in bruises and scratches, the odd, swollen picture he paints puts her on edge, “Shall I start at the beginning?”

Slackjaw, Nathalie falls back against the backrest with a breathless thump, “Please .”

“Well,” Gabriel begins, lacing his fingers together in his lap, “if I learned one thing on my trip, it was that our world is more entrenched in magic than I could have ever imagined. It’s safe to say that I don’t really think any of us truly know the depth with which our universe is steeped with power and I’m not afraid to admit that I may have underestimated the forces I was dealing with and thus paid the ultimate price, a price I refuse to simply lay down and atone for.”

Gabriel stares back out towards the silhouette of his city contemplatively, “Our guide was knowledgeable and immediately recognised the coordinates of the temple we were travelling to since he had taken other groups to see the hidden temple before. He lead us on a, shall we say, tortuous hike through the forests and mountains but what did I have to lose? My wife and I had a mission, and neither of us were willing to turn back when our future was at stake.”

“He took us several kilometres off the trail on foot and paused at the edge of a riverbank where he described this ‘ magical doorway’. I was sceptical, as I have always been of magic, but I humoured him regardless and watched as he took off his backpack by the rocks, leapt into the water and disappeared beneath the surface of the water without so much as a splash! The river, as it turned out, was the doorway to this mysterious temple, hidden with ancient magic by the monks and dwellers that used to live there. At that point, we didn’t have much of a choice; reaching for each other, we jumped in after him and found ourselves suddenly at the base of a mountain, somehow completely dry.”

“As we approached the temple, our guide explained that it had been destroyed some one hundred and fifty years ago after an accident that had to do with the power of these Miraculous stones. You see, contrary to our earlier speculations, it turns out that the stones themselves are the part that holds the magic and the materials that hold the stone in place are only there as a means to make them more wearable for the bearer, but I digress. Anyway, because of the explosion, the pieces of Miraculous jewellery that had been kept there were scattered and the spirits who lived inside them were lost. Some of the more powerful Miraculous stones transported themselves away while the others laid in wait until the Guardian came back to collect them and return them to the safety of the vault.”

“Wait, hold on,” Nathalie recoils ever so slightly, her eyebrows rising passed her hairline, “The spirits? What are you talking about?”

“Ah yes, you haven’t met my little friend here,” Gabriel’s lips turn up with amusement as he reaches into the pocket of his silk dressing gown, revealing the butterfly brooch hiding within, “You two can make each other’s acquaintances in a moment, I’m not quite finished. So, our guide takes us up an ancient staircase carved into the mountain. The steps are steep and seemingly endless, but we eventually make it to a stone landing covered in smaller buildings, all of which lie in decay. Our guide explained that no one had lived there since the accident but a few knowledgeable people had come to visit to learn more about the Miraculous and their turbulent history.”

“Finally, we make it past the decrepit buildings and ascend the final stair towards the main temple. Much of the original structure was still standing and I must say, the architecture...it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was beautiful in its design, crisp and minimalistic and yet somehow indulgent at the same time... I plan on drawing as much as I’ve been able to commit to memory as soon as I can get my wrist out of this irritating bandage.”

Something in his tone of voice raises the hairs on the back of Nathalie’s neck as he continues, “Our guide takes us through a doorway and we continue to search for any indication of the whereabouts of the Miraculous for hours, reading and trying to decipher every mural and torn piece of parchment that we come upon. I’m over on the other side of the room when she finds it; she’s digging her fingers into the stone walls and twisting her wrists and suddenly there’s a trap door in the floor and I can’t even begin to describe the sense of euphoria we feel as we descend into this passage that takes us deeper into the mountain.”

“At the end of this passage is a soaring gallery with these incredible walls carved from volcanic stone. It’s remarkable really, considering the scale of this place, and at the end of it is a pedestal with a book resting on it. I was a boy once, I’ve seen what happens in these kinds of films when you take the prize from the platform but she won’t listen, even as I call out her name and god, what she lacks in restraint she makes up in beauty because the light hits her just so as she turns around, smiling jubilantly and suddenly the world is shaking, the walls are crumbling—”

Gabriel takes a harrowing breath and closes his eyes, “I took the book from her hands just as the ceiling came down on us and when I opened my eyes, I was back on the riverbank alone, dressed in a purple suit.”

Nathalie blinks several times in the silence, “Monsieur, are you sure you didn’t hit your hea—”

“—Nooroo, release!”

Her voice dies in her throat as the butterfly brooch in his palm glows a vibrant violet white, bathing the room in a blinding flash of colour, and when Nathalie drops her hands from her face and opens her eyes, she spots a tiny purple butterfly fluttering towards her.

“Hello!”

Nathalie scrambles back instinctively, nearly falling backwards in her chair, “What the hell?!”

“This little friend is the source of the brooch’s power,” Gabriel explains, smirking as Nathalie tries to extricate herself from her precarious position on the backrest of her chair, “He is the spirit that inhabits the gem and gives his bearer abilities.”

“I represent the power of generosity,” the little butterfly titters nervously, rubbing his palms together in front of him, “I grant my bearer the ability to give powers to others, like the power to fly or lift heavy things, or even the courage to ask someone out on a date!”

“You…” Nathalie struggles to regain dexterity over her tongue, “You give people powers?”

“In essence,” the butterfly shrugs, “I can influence their thoughts and speak with them no matter where they are telepathically, but only if they accept my gift. I can’t force anyone to take my power which is a good thing, because that would be morally wr—”

“Anyway,” Gabriel interrupts, “Nooroo was able to use his powers to help me escape the cave in, but even he is unsure as to what exactly happened.”

“I was dormant until my Master touched the book,” Nooroo flutters his wings, “After that I just, I acted instinctively and before I knew it, we were no longer in the temple. I can’t explain how it happened or what I did, but I’m sorry I couldn’t save her.”

“What matters is that you tried,” Gabriel shakes his head and rubs the little spirit on the head fondly, “And now you’re going to help me find a way to go back and save her.”

Nooroo blinks, “I am?”

“Of course!” Gabriel’s good eye sparkles in the ambient light spilling in from the streetlamps, his lips pulling back to reveal a set of perfect teeth, “Consider it repayment for not saving her the first time! My little friend, you'll soon realize that I always have a plan. All will be revealed shortly, but until then there are a myriad of other things that must be done first. You mentioned that I need butterflies in order to carry out my abilities?”

“Yes,” Nooroo nods, his eyes widening, “Only then can I turn them into akuma.”

“Then I will have to procure myself a veritable collection of them,” Gabriel muses, tenting the tips of his fingers before him, “Nathalie, contact someone at the Bois de Vincennes in the next few days. Tell them I wish to build a small conservatory of my own in the name of my late wife, whose favourite creature was the butterfly.”

“Yes Monsieur,” Nathalie replies automatically, her mind reeling. It doesn’t quite feel like she’s tethered to the earth somehow as she watches her employer and a talking butterfly continue to chatter, the smile on his lips in direct contrast to the gleam in his eye. He mentions a rebranding, making the butterfly his symbol as if it will enamour him even further with the tiny spirit already under the sway of his charm, “Can I...can I ask a few questions first?”

Gabriel turns his attentions back to her, “Of course, anything.”

“The mission to procure the other Miraculouses,” Nathalie begins, nearly faltering at the sickly sweet timbre dripping from her boss’s words, “Is it still on?”

“The parametres haven’t changed,” Gabriel brushes his thumb against the smooth surface of the brooch, “I still require the Ladybug and Black Cat stones to be able to make the ultimate wish and now the stakes are even higher. Nathalie, I’m going to bring my wife back one way or another and there’s no force on earth that’s going to be able to stop me.”

The heaviness of his disclosure, the pure unadulterated determination in his voice gives her goose pimples along her neck and arms, “And the book?”

“The book is the key to everything,” Gabriel explains, rubbing circles at the juncture of Nooroo’s wings with his fingers, “It holds priceless information to find what I need to bring her home to me. It’s imperative that we get started right away so once the press conferences and the media pomp and circumstance is over with, I’ll have you help me devise a list of items that need to be addressed.”

Nathalie nods and wonders for a moment if she’s lost her mind, “What about Adrien?”

It’s almost imperceptible, the way Gabriel falters for a moment, “Gerald told me that you’ve been keeping Adrien in the dark.”

“I have,” Nathalie swallows uncomfortably, “I believed it was the right decision at the time.”

“It was the perfect decision,” Gabriel brushes a lock of dishevelled blond hair from his forehead and Nathalie has never seen him took so unhinged, “There’s no need to get him all worked up, you know how he gets. I will speak to him in the morning when I’ve had proper time to repose myself.”

“I’ll input it into his schedule. What time do you want me to send him?”

“Shortly before noon,” Gabriel shifts his ministrations to the nape of Nooroo’s neck, “I will take it upon myself to explain his mother’s absence. You’ll probably have to cancel the rest of his afternoon appointments, I don’t want our clients to think I’m completely heartless.”

“Of course not,” Nathalie mumbles, watching as Nooroo closes his eyes in pleasure, “Is it alright if I come in a few hours later tomorrow morning? I don’t think I’ve slept since they sent your medical files from Lhasa.”

Gabriel contemplates for a moment before nodding, “A good night’s rest will do us both good I think. We have so much to work on during the next few months together, just the two of us.”

Nathalie closes her eyes and considers herself dismissed, standing up from her chair. She peeks back at him one last time before closing the door behind her and shivers, a whole body frisson that works its way up her skin all the way from her toes. It’s too much to contemplate at the moment, too much to compartmentalise and comprehend and as her driver takes her home, she can’t help but play the conversation with Gabriel over and over again like a record stuck on repeat.

Chapter Text

“See, madness, as you know, is like gravity: all it takes is a little push.”

Christopher Nolan

le 6 janvier, 2016

The plan, as it turned out, was far more complicated than she could have ever imagined.

The butterflies, the rebranding of the Gabriel logo, the press conferences and the legal ramifications were all things she could easily handle. She spends many sleepless nights working to make sure things are running as efficiently as possible and Nathalie isn’t surprised to see a boost in sales, especially after Gabriel’s tearful message hits the airwaves. It was surreal to watch as the filming team started recording, tears bursting unbidden from Gabriel’s eyes as he addressed his investors and buyers alike on a Facebook livestream that hit record views in a matter of seconds. It was beautiful, the way he could string along his story so perfectly before cutting the act once the director stopped the stream, his face falling back into its usual austere candor.

But the rest of the plan? That wasn’t quite as simple.

One of Nathalie’s first orders of business after the mourning period ended was to collect quotes from a series of architects to build a secret passageway to the attic of his mansion. She ended up choosing a young pair of architects from Portugal with an ambitious, almost villainous design that Gabriel took to instantly, and construction began within a few weeks.

The butterfly conservatory went up quickly in the main gardens and Nooroo spends most of his mornings enjoying the splendid array of flowers and trees while his master works tirelessly to come up with a series of plans, ones that would come into fruition once the passageway and the refurbishments to the attic were completed. The construction was on track but would still take another five months to complete barring any complications, and Nathalie had been reassured time and time again that all was well. Meanwhile, when Gabriel wasn’t obsessing over his virtual red-string crazy wall of ideas or the Miraculous book (which he still hadn’t been able to decipher with Mme. Dubreil), he was busy creating his ‘finest work’ as he so described it, his upcoming fashion line the first in a trilogy of clothing ‘inspired’ by his wife.

Unsurprisingly, the fashion world went positively wild when it premiered.

Gabriel Agreste was an incredibly rich man to begin with but even Nathalie was surprised as the earnings for Gabriel skyrocketed, their gains driven by global interest and public sympathy. Evidently, he used some of these unexpected funds to increase the budget for his attic redesign even further, adding bizarre details such as a security system and weaponry. It was perturbing to say the least but Nathalie knew better than to argue, relieved to continue working behind the scenes in a world that had suddenly gone from comfortable to crazy in a matter of months.

And crazy wasn’t even a apt enough descriptor, but Nathalie was too exhausted to think of a better one. She’d seen him in all of his transformed glory today, decked out in a suit of lavender and violet that had been jarring enough, except there was a facemask as well. It was ugly, to be quite honest, but again, Nathalie knew when to keep her opinions to herself. He’d walked around the partially renovated attic and demonstrated some of the objects and abilities he possessed, like the rapier hidden in the hollow shell of his cane. It had been both dramatic and daunting, the way he’d flaunted and fawned over his newfound powers like a particularly excitable child. Crawling between her sheets later that night, Nathalie vaguely wonders if he did hit his head in Tibet and these odd mood swings of his were the result of a concussion, or if he'd always been like this and she’d just never noticed.

~

le 12 juillet, 2016

The attic is finally finished and Nathalie is standing in as supervisor as the contractors finish installing the buttons embedded within the giant painting of Mme. Agreste is Gabriel’s office, her stomach flipping with nerves. Gabriel plans on akumatising his first person tonight and Mme. Dubreil has volunteered to be his guinea pig in exchange for giving her the powers of deduction. They both hope that she’ll be able to decipher the code within the Miraculous book with her super ability and Nooroo seems to be on board with the idea. As cute and innocent as the little butterfly spirit appears, the kwarmi had taken on some of his master’s penchant for histrionics.

Nathalie looks down and scrolls through her messages as the men work, spotting a text from Adrien’s tutor. She’s been so busy with Gabriel and the intricacies of the build that she’d pushed all of her former childminding responsibilities onto his tutor, leaving her much more time to focus on the business and the search for the Miraculous. This new arrangement suited her just fine; Adrien had been inconsolable for weeks after Gabriel had explained that his mother had gone missing in Tibet and his constant state of sorrow was exhausting to be around.

Ten months had passed and he was better now, although not entirely; his tutor kept him occupied as much as possible and Gerald made sure he was occupied constantly so as not to let him have any time to grieve. He’d been responsible for outfitting Adrien’s bedroom with everything a young teenager could possibly desire, including a vast collection of Japanese anime as well as a climbing wall, a foosball table and a computer setup that would make an IT specialist weep with jealousy. Adrien coped much better with all of the constant stimulation and fussed less when handed a schedule, seemingly relieved to have a continuous flow of distractions to keep himself from spending too much time alone in his own head.

Perrine Doré

Adrien wishes to submit another essay in regards to letting him attend collège in the autumn. Shall I deter him?

Nathalie Sancoeur

Just send it to the cloud again and I’ll file it with the others.

Perrine Doré

I will. Thank you.

 

Nathalie Sancoeur

Remind him that Monsieur is far too busy to read his essay in person. He didn’t take kindly to the last time Adrien went into his office without scheduling a meeting first.

Perrine Doré

Of course.

“We’re all finished here,” the contractor says, standing up from where he’d been crouching underneath the fuse box, “It should be good to go. Do you want me to test it?”

“Go ahead,” Nathalie responds, texting Gabriel, “Monsieur won’t be happy if he’s been disturbed for nothing.”

The man nods and jams his fingers into the triangles on the painting, pumping his fist as he disappears through a panel in the floor. Nathalie waits patiently as the contractor reappears a few minutes later, smiling victoriously, “It works perfectly! Monsieur Agreste should have no issues except for the annual checkups with the pneumonic lift here. It’s finicky, but it should work without issue as long as he’s not trying to transport more than 160kg at any given time.”

“I’ll pass that along,” Nathalie looks up from her iPad for a moment, “Thank you for your hard work and effort. M. Majordom will see you out.”

As if on cue, Gerald appears in the doorway and guides the contractor towards the front door, the quiet dulcet tones of his voice carrying across the marble floors and white walls. Nathalie waits in the office and listens for Gabriel's signature gait as he comes down the stairs and enters through the doorway, “I take it that construction is finally complete?”

Nathalie doesn't bother turning around, too busy typing memos to respond. She gestures with her chin towards the painting and watches from the corner of her eye as Gabriel approaches from her left and splays his hands against the gaudy portrait of his wife, the painting designed to mimic Gustav Klimt's The Woman in Gold . He moves the painting forwards to check that his hidden vault hasn’t been tampered with and swings it back into place, pinpointing the location of the buttons with his fingers.

“Has it been tested?”

“Yes.”

“And it works efficiently?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” Gabriel glances down at the floor, “I can hardly see the seam in the flooring. Marvelous.”

“I personally oversaw the installation. He replaced it three times before I deemed it acceptable.”

“I would expect no less,” Gabriel turns around and Nathalie keeps her face as neutral as possible as he approaches, “You have been detrimental to the success of this plan and I commend you for your time and efforts.”

That’s about as close as Gabriel ever gets to a compliment and Nathalie nods once in acknowledgement before getting back on track. She doesn’t like the look in his eye when he says these things to her, as if she doesn’t already know firsthand how manipulative he can be when he needs something. She hardly ever falls for it, although that can’t be said of her former self back in the early days of her employment; like everyone else he keeps around him, she’d fallen for his snake charmer smile before.

“Mme. Dubreil will be here in two hours,” Nathalie’s attentions turn back to her iPad and Gabriel sighs inaudibly from where he’s paused before her, “She wishes to know if you’d like her to bring anything.”

“The Sumerian scroll and the text she found the other day on Ladybug,” Gabriel turns his back to Nathalie and strides over to the painting, “We might as well have her look at everything while she has her powers.”

Nathalie begins typing up her response, “I’ll contact her immediately. Anything else?”

“Have you ensured that we won’t be interrupted?”

“Mademoiselle Bourgeoise will be arriving shortly to keep Adrien occupied and the staff have all been advised to keep away from the area.”

“Good. Has the table been set up in the attic?”

“It has.”

“And the camera?”

“Yes.”

“I’m looking forward to watching the footage afterwards,” Gabriel brushes his fingers along the tip of his chin, “To be able to witness these powers in person…”

She watches from beneath the rims of her glasses as a shiver visibly frissons up his spine, his lips stretching across his features in anticipation, “It will be Miraculous.”

~

Chloë adjusts the blanket around her shoulders and leans back against the cushions, idly watching another episode of Pretty Little Liars play across Adrien’s enormous screen. She chances a glance in his direction and smirks as he flops backwards, the latest twist in the plot sending him reeling.

“Liking it so far?”

Adrien blinks owlishly and turns towards Chloë, “Is this what school is really like?”

Chloë shrugs, “You'll just have to find out for yourself.”

Adrien presses the pause button on the remote and crosses his arms over his chest with a huff, “I don't think Nathalie realises that I can see what she does with my essays when she files them.”

“Let me guess,” Chloë fishes her nail file from her back pocket, “She puts them in with all the others?”

“Yup,” Adrien sighs, “No one takes me seriously here. I hate it.”

I take you seriously,” Chloë replies haughtily, rubbing the file against her thumb nail, “I even asked the Oracle about you when Papa and I went to visit yesterday.”

Of all of the forbidden topics in his house, this is the one he's always been the most interested in, “You did?”

Chloë scoffs, “Of course I did, I told you I would last time and Papa agreed to let me ask. He still doesn't agree with your father's way of doing things even though he’s still friends with him, but Papa is friends with a lot of people he hates so, you know, politics and whatever.”

“What did she say?” Adrien’s eyes widen in anticipation, shifting closer to Chloë.

“About you? Not much actually, but she was super excited when I brought you up. I mean, she knows how you’re doing because she knows everything but still, she wanted to hear how you were doing from me personally since she and I are such good friends.”

“Really?” Adrien’s eyebrows can't quite figure out where they want to settle on his forehead, his confusion overwhelmingly evident, “How does she know who I am?”

“She knows everyone, duh ,” Chloë rolls her eyes, “Anyway, I told her you were doing fine and I told her all about your father and she kind of, like, got frustrated I guess? Not at you though, she likes you.”

“But how does she like me if she's never met me?”

Chloë raises her nail file into the air and points it at him, “That’s what I said! And guess what? She said you went to visit the Oracle when you were a baby.”

Adrien stares at Chloë for a long moment before remembering to breathe, “...what?”

“I know right?” Chloë starts to smile conspiratorially, “Here's where it gets interesting. Did you know that Nathalie was the one who brought you there?”

Adrien doesn't know whether he's coming or going, his world narrowing and blurring before his eyes, “Nathalie brought me?”

“Mmhmm,” Chloë closes her eyes and nods sagely, “See, the Pythia wanted you to know that she believes in you and she knew I'd tell you because I love to gossip. It's like my superpower or something, I swear I'm that good at it. Anyway, I'd probably not mention anything to anyone if I were you since you're still trying to convince your father to let you come to school with me but still, talk about drama right? You and I like, totally belong in our own version of Pretty Little Liars because one, we're totally gorgeous together and two…”

Chloë continues to chatter but Adrien’s long tuned her out, his life cracked open wide. He's seen the Pythia? He has a prophecy? And Nathalie, Nathalie had been lying to him all along?

Later, they log back into Netflix and restart the episode but Adrien’s not nearly as wrapped up in the storyline as he was before. As usual, it turns out that his best friend was right after all; his life is just like a TV show. He watches the girls fight on screen and the connection they share is obvious. Like them, he’s pretty, he’s sheltered and he’s surrounded by liars.

~

Gabriel is already in the attic with Nooroo when Nathalie and Mme. Dubreil enter from the original door, their eyes drawn to the small collection of featureless white butterflies fluttering around the rose window. Nooroo is in the process of changing a black and cream swallowtail as they approach, filling the cavernous space with a wash of violet light before revealing the akuma perched in his palms and urging it to fly away.

“Are we ready to proceed?” Nathalie asks, walking around the tripod and pressing record on the camera resting upon it. Mme. Dubreil sets the various scrolls and parchments she’d brought from her office onto the table and walks in front of Gabriel, presenting her glasses to him.

“I am,” Gabriel nods politely at Nooroo and gestures for the butterfly spirit to approach, “Nooroo, transforme-moi!”

There’s another violent burst of light as Gabriel reappears in his ghastly purple suit, his features masked by the equally bizarre silver balaclava that reveals only his mouth and chin. Nathalie finds it nightmarish in its design and wonders how much of the style is of Gabriel’s making, a clear sign of his ever devolving interest in creating avant-garde fashion since his obsession with the Miraculous took over his mind.

“Come here little butterfly,” Gabriel croons, urging one of the akuma to land on his palm. The fluttering insect does so obediently and Gabriel covers it with his other hand, closing his eyes in concentration as he imbues it with his magic. A spattering of black and purple energy surrounds his clasped fingers as he releases the butterfly and it surges upwards, turning towards the awestruck Mme. Dubreil, “Fly to her my akuma, and give her the powers of deduction.”

The butterfly fuses with the outstretched glasses and a pink symbol immediately appears in front of Mme. Dubreil’s face, “Oh my goodness.”

“It is a peculiar feeling isn’t it,” Gabriel muses as a matching symbol appears in front of him as well, “I can feel your emotions, although not your thoughts.”

“And I can feel your emotions affecting mine,” Mme. Dubreil blinks a few times to try and clear her mind, “It’s as odd sensation but not a bad one. It’s almost comforting, in a sense.”

“Interesting,” Gabriel muses, fidgeting with the cane in his right hand, “Shall we proceed?”

“Certainly,” Mme. Dubreil closes her eyes and focuses on her goals, her wish for power. She can hear Gabriel’s voice in her mind, guiding and reassuring, asking for her permission to gift her with abilities. She acquiesces without thinking, his sway on her thoughts so powerful she can hardly resist even if she wanted to, and suddenly she's bursting from a bubble of energy with a new lease on life, a remarkable thirst for knowledge flowing through her veins.

“I am Le Détective !” Mme. Dubreil spins around, a cape of purple and brown flowing behind her in a gust of imaginary wind, “And I will decipher the meaning behind the symbols of the Miraculous Book even if my life depends on it!”

What follows is a marathon study session that spans for several hours, one that Nathalie painstakingly records with numb fingers as the two superpowered beings discuss the nature of the descriptions before them. Most of it is gibberish that she’ll understand better once she’s typed up the transcript of their findings, but one particular discovery has her blood rushing through her ears with a ferocity she didn't know was possible.

“According to this page, the person who holds the power of the Ladybug and the Black Cat Miraculous at the same time will obtain ultimate power,” Mme. Dubreil explains, running her superpowered finger along the parchment, “Once obtained, the bearer will be able to wish into existence anything he or she likes, but at a price.”

Gabriel tips his head to the side in vivid interest, “Does it explain what the price entails?”

“Give me a moment to double check the cypher,” Mme. Dubreil glances over at the Rosetta Stone they’d created back in the first hour that compared the symbols in the book with phonetic sounds of the alphabet, “Here. Price equates price, which can only mean that the price paid must be equal to the wish.”

Gabriel begins pacing aknew, “Which means that in order to bring back a life, I must be willing to take one in exchange.”

“Precisely,” Mme. Dubreil leans closer to the page, “These wishes are temperamental. They can go wrong easily, which is likely what caused the destruction of the temple in the first place.”

“It makes sense,” Nathalie chimes in, “It boils down to the balance, just as you predicted.”

“I knew the Miraculous had to do with the ley lines,” Mme. Dubreil curls her fingers into a fist and shakes it in victory, “I just never knew how until today. Monsieur, this power of yours is phenomenal!”

“I know,” Gabriel smirks, his excitement only growing, “The solution is simple enough. If I’m to bring back my wife, I must be willing to exchange someone who is her equal.”

“Her equal?” Nathalie raises a brow, “I suppose that would work, although marrying another woman this early might raise some eyebrows at the corporate office—”

“No no no,” Gabriel waves his hand dismissively, “That’s not what I mean. Isn’t it obvious?”

“Crystal,” Mme. Dubreil looks up from her work with a smirk, “It’s the perfect compromise, I don’t see how the exchange could possibly go wrong.”

Nathalie pinches the bridge of her nose, “May I remind you of the third person in the room, the one who doesn’t have superpowers?”

Gabriel and Mme. Dubreil roll their eyes in unison, “It’s blood. A blood relative must be sacrificed.”

“A blood…” Nathalie pales as the revelation dawns before her, “You don’t mean…”

“It makes perfect sense,” Mme. Dubreil comments, flipping the page and double checking the cypher, “He was born without a prophecy and this is why. He was destined to be the sacrifice all along.”

“I suppose the Oracle was right after all,” Gabriel mutters, turning back to the book, “My wife’s disappearance, my son’s passing, my own prophecy…”

Gabriel trails off and Nathalie follows him with her eyes, her nostrils flaring as the truth of the matter stands before her. A man wishing to kill his own son in exchange for regaining his wife…

“And if you wish to have another child, you’ll have to sacrifice one in exchange,” Mme. Dubreil continues, turning her face sidelong to meet Gabriel’s gaze, “The intricacies of that particular wish are a little less clear.”

“I’m sure a deal can be arranged,” Gabriel murmurs and Nathalie doesn’t miss the minute glance he sends her way. It sends shards of ice down her spine and her hands begin to shake freely, her rising blood pressure spiking in her veins. Her vision blanks out for a moment until she remembers to breathe again and she flexes every muscle in her body as a means to try and take back her control as every impulse inside of her screams to get away, to get out of this attic and run for her life. Her throat constricts, her eyes water as she forces her lungs to take in air and her heart is starting to skip beats inside her tightened chest like she’s being strangled with a noose and—

“Mme. Sancoeur?”

Nathalie jerks from her reverie and meets Mme. Dubreil’s glance form across the attic, “S-sorry. I thought I was going to sneeze.”

The museum curator smirks and nods, “I hate that feeling. Anyway, I asked if you’d be able to send me a copy of these two pages and you didn’t respond.”

“I think so,” she replies, swallowing uncomfortably around the sudden dryness in her mouth, “I’ll look into it when we’re finished here.”

“Good,” Gabriel points to one of the scrolls, “And we still don’t have any indication as to the location of the Ladybug Miraculous?”

“This book predates the explosion,” Mme. Dubreil points over to the textbook to her left, “However, there’s a passage from an unnamed Japanese scholar from the late 19th century that describes what was likely the Black Cat Miraculous as a palace assassin, so it’s likely that the Ladybug one was removed from the temple after the explosion too. Where it ended up after Japan is beyond me but, according to this, the Black Cat and the Ladybug Miraculous cannot function properly one without the other. Even if the earrings were dormant, they had to be somewhere in Japan at the time for the Black Cat’s powers to work as efficiently as described.”

“Which means that if we can flush one out, the other will surely follow.”

“Precisely. Mind you, that all depends on whether or not the Guardian is in possession of them.”

“I’ll have to do something quite drastic then.”

“I don’t need powers to know that you already have a few ideas up your sleeve,” Mme. Dubreil glances up from behind the rims of her akumatised glasses with a wink, her face splitting into a smile.

Gabriel smirks in kind, “You have no idea.”

Nathalie looks between the two of them and clears her throat, “How exactly are you going to get Nooroo to go along with this?”

“Nooroo?” Gabriel scoffs through a bark of laughter and the sharpness of his movements is all it takes to make her teeth chatter, a lightning bolt of honest to god fear striking her down, “He won’t have a choice. I am his master so long as the brooch is in my possession and what I say is what goes. I’m afraid my little, gullible friend will just have to go along with the ride.”

Frozen, all Nathalie can do is nod and wonder if he’s alluding to her too.

~

Gabriel’s driver drops her off at her apartment later that night and Nathalie checks her iWatch nervously for several moments before ultimately caving and calling an Uber. A small Honda hatchback pulls up to the curb within minutes and takes her to la Gare Montparnasse where she quickly slips her Metrocard through the gate and hops onto the first westbound train heading for la Gare de Versailles Chantiers as fast as her feet can take her.

Stepping off of the train, Nathalie flags down the only tram in the station and thanks the driver profusely as he opens his doors, letting her onto the last transport out to see the Oracle. She hasn’t visited the Pythia since Adrien’s birth and the thought of facing her again sends her heart plummeting to her knees, especially in the wake of the many warnings the seer had given her about what would come if she stayed with Gabriel, but she needs a voice of reason now more than ever, especially after today’s discoveries.

She’s the first one hurrying down the steps and onto the gravel walkway towards the temple, scurrying as fast as she can manage in her Louboutin kitten heels. She breathes a sigh of relief when she makes it up the stairs and shucks them off to the side, the cavernous hallway free of people for the most part; it’s fairly late at night and the entrance gates to the Oracle of Versaille would be closing in a matter of minutes.

Hurrying, she practically slides across the marble floors as she makes her way towards the receiving chamber, the parquet tiles cool against her nylon covered feet. She scurries in through the archway and immediately feels the knot in her stomach tighten as the two priestesses manning the doorway turn towards her, their expression completely devoid of emotion. She was expecting hard looks and equally harsh words but the reality of it is so much worse as the priestess on the left leads her down several candlelit passageways towards the Pythia’s chamber without so much as a word.

The priestess leaves her at the base of an enormous marble arch and disappears into the shadows, the flames from the candles painting ominous patterns against the fauna covered walls. It looks like they’re moving, the vines and succulents squirming and teeming like snakes in the long grass, slowly slithering their way towards her and Nathalie swallows the lump in her throat and tries to keep herself from fidgeting too much, desperate to keep her anxiety from rising up and crushing her from within—

“The Pythia will see you now.”

Nathalie jumps half a metre into the air at the sudden voice in her ear and spins around, startled as she nearly crashes onto the floor in surprise. She clutches her chest and tries to ease her panic but the priestess doesn’t look the slightest bit apologetic as Nathalie stumbles in her wake, following her into the enormous inner sanctum.

“Nathalie Sancoeur,” the Pythia’s unmistakable voice cuts through the din of crickets and cicadas as the two women walk around the corner, “I was starting to wonder whether you would finally show up.”

Glancing nervously around the scarcely lit chamber, Nathalie hugs her arms to her chest and follows the cobblestone path forwards, the urge to vomit clawing at her insides. She ducks beneath thick vines held up by bioluminescent trees and shrubs and it feels like the entire sanctum is working against her, forcing her to wobble and weave her way forwards as if trapped in a untamed jungle, lost in the unknown. Helpless, she follows the glowing fungi at her feet until she staggers around the bend towards the Pythia’s moss covered altar and Nathalie can’t even bear to look at her, already weighed down by the heat of her gaze.

“You’re looking a bit ill dear, is something bugging you?” the Pythia snickers into her silk charmeuse sleeve, reclining nonchalantly on her tripod.

Closing her eyes, Nathalie tries to catch her breath, “Really?”

“Sorry, I just made these jokes up on the fly ,” the Pythia smirks as she brushes her bangs from her eyes with a flourish, “So, Mme. Sancoeur, what would you like to know?”

Nathalie purses her lips and chances a glance up at the Oracle, “I don’t know what to do.”

“I’m afraid the option to run is long gone, if that’s what you were hoping to hear,” the Pythia taps her manicured nails along the golden armrest of her tripod, “Quitting won’t solve your problems. You’re far too deeply involved, and he’ll come for you.”

She’d already known that in her heart of hearts, but hearing it from the lips of the Oracle herself...Nathalie doesn’t bother trying to fight the tremors that course down her spine, “What am I supposed to do then? Just sit back and do nothing?”

“Evidently,” the Pythia shrugs, “Gabriel never would have been able to do any of this without you. You might as well just relax and enjoy the fruits of your own labour.”

Nathalie’s lips curl in revulsion, “How can he...how can he just expect me to go along with this?”

“You’ve gone along with everything else he’s done,” the Pythia leans over and raises her palm to the sky as if she were holding the answers in her hand, “He has no reason to believe that you won’t go along with this.”

“But that’s only because he hasn’t done anything illegal before!”

The Pythia raises a perfectly sculpted brow, “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

“I know that,” Nathalie tries to refrain from pulling her hair and fails miserably, her tresses tangling like spider webs between her fingers, “But I was curious. I wanted to know more about the Miraculous!”

“And you won’t be the last,” the Pythia murmurs, “But that doesn’t change anything. The pieces are already in motion.”

“But he’s insane! He’s actually going to kill Adrien!”

The Pythia regards her for a long moment, “He has to find the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses first.”

“He will!” Nathalie raises her hands and drops them dramatically, “Gabriel Agreste always gets what he wants and if I don’t help him, he’ll replace me and find someone that will!”

“You seem to know your role in this already, so what’s the use asking me for advice?”

“Ah!” Nathalie draws her fingers into fists and screws her eyes shut in frustration, “Are you always this unhelpful?”

“Tut tut,” the Pythia taps the side of her nose, “For someone who seems to be in a great deal of trouble, you could be a little more polite.”

“It’s not...it’s…” Nathalie’s heart is pounding so loudly that she can barely focus, “Look, I get it okay? I helped cause this and I don’t know how to fix it. This is me...” Nathalie clasps her hands together in front of her chest, “This is me asking for help. Please. I know I haven’t listened in the past but I...I swear I will this time. Just please help me figure this out.”

“Well, that’s a start I suppose,” the Pythia tips her head to the side and the similarity between her and Gabriel is startling, “But you’ve got a ways to go.”

“A ways to go?” Nathalie takes a shuddering breath, “What do you mean?”

“You’re so off balanced even I’m having trouble looking at you,” the Pythia replies, sweeping her arms in front of her. The olive charmeuse dress she wears cascades down her shoulders as she pushes herself to her feet, the supple fabric glinting a slightly brighter shade of green in the ambient light from the bioluminescent trees and fungi, “You'll have to work hard to redeem yourself if you want even the slightest of preference with the balance.”

Nathalie knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth, “How?”

The Pythia’s glance is calculating, “By fixing this the only way you can.”

“And that is…?”

“By continuing to be Gabriel’s right hand woman,” the seer raises an eyebrow as Nathalie’s expression changes from horror to disbelief, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, as they say.”

“You can’t honestly expect me to...to...”

“Unfortunately, I tend to have a hard time foreseeing what will happen when there’s a Miraculous involved,” the Pythia explains, “We both draw our power from the ley lines, but there’s so much more to it than that. While my power lies strictly with the balance that flows through the ley lines, the Miraculous draw their abilities from a single aspect of the universe itself. We’re magnets, in a sense, in that we repulse each other; my visions are veiled when they’re in play.”

“Which is why I need you,” the Pythia draws closer, descending the steps of her altar towards Nathalie, “You’ll be my eyes and ears once Gabriel discovers just what he’s capable of creating with Nooroo at his disposal. You’ll report to me regularly and right the wrongs you’ve created first hand. It will be dangerous and it won’t be easy. Gabriel has never been so paranoid but he trusts you intrinsically; he truly believes that you will continue to follow him blindly as you have all these years without question.”

“What if he catches me?” Nathalie takes a hesitant step backwards,  “And how am I supposed to report to you when he has me working seven days a week?”

“I have a mobile phone you know,” the Pythia fishes a small tablet from a pocket sewn imperceptibly in her robe, “It is the 21st century after all.”

Nathalie blinks several times, the reality of the situation dawning on her with a ferocity that triggers her nausea anew, “You want me to call you?”

“At least twice a week,” the Pythia unlocks her mobile and begins typing, “You should get my text right about now.”

A quiet ding resounds from inside Nathalie’s purse and she glances at it forlornly, dread and fear boiling up inside her.

“I want to know where Gabriel is, what’s he doing and how Adrien is faring in the wake of all of this,” the Pythia pauses in her stride to stand in front of her, “Speaking of which, Adrien has recently discovered something rather unpleasant about his upbringing, so he may be a little glacial towards you for the next couple weeks. You’ll have to work twice as hard to get the intel that I require.”

“He’s discovered something?”

“And I have no intention of telling you what it is,” the Pythia rolls her shoulders and smiles wryly, “I never said I’d make things easy for you. The road to redemption is hard fought, as they say, and yours is a long one.”

Nathalie exhales audibly, her shoulders slouching forwards, “Anything else?”

“Protect Adrien,” the Pythia’s expression hardens inexplicably, “And protect yourself. Now off you go, I have one more visitor to attend to. Please exit to your left, and may the fates be with you.”

Nathalie nods and begins trudging away, her limbs leaden with an all consuming fatigue that seeps right into her bones. She glances back only once over her shoulder as the Pythia opens her arms towards an aged man of Asian descent, her heart sinking into her toes.

“Master Fu! What a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you…”

Chapter Text

“Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.”

Brodi Ashton

le 1 septembre, 2016

Marinette rolls over on the first day of school and groans spectacularly, stretching her arms above her head on her mattress. Those wonderful mornings of sleeping in and basking in the lazy days of summer are finally finished...not that she’d been lazy by any means. Her parents had kept her busy in the bakery mixing buttercream and filling piping bags until she could ice cupcakes with her eyes closed; she’d even redesigned the bakery’s logo and added an online ordering system onto the website over the past two months.

But now?

“Marinette! Your alarm's been going off for fifteen minutes, you're going to be late for your first day back at school!”

Marinette bolts upright and gawks at the time, “Coming Maman!”

A few minutes later and she’s scrambling down the stairs, somehow dressed and ready to go for her first day of 3ème. It’s a miraculous feat unto itself, the way she manages to look somewhat presentable so quickly, but she’s had years of practice when it comes to waking up way too late for school. Goodness knows she’s always been a heavy sleeper and a night owl to boot; mornings have never been her thing.

That, and she’s dreading the moment when she walks across the road to her collège only to find Chloe in her class again. Stressed out and frustrated and everything in between, Marinette spills half the contents of her breakfast onto the floor and watches it fly everywhere, forever the clumsy, awkward girl from the bakery.

Some things never change.

That is, until she saves a man and her life changes forever.

~

Nathalie is livid .

“Your father is already aware of your transgressions,” she hisses, leading Adrien back into the Mercedes from the sidewalk. She doesn’t know how he managed to sneak past the estate’s security guards and make it six blocks down the road to Collège Françoise Dupont before someone finally noticed, but his tutor is going to get an absolute earful when she gets back to the mansion.

Adrien buries his face into his hands, “Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else?”

“You are not normal,” Nathalie pinches the bridge of her nose between her fingers and tries to ignore the urge to throw something, “You’re Adrien Agreste.”

“I didn’t ask to be Adrien Agreste,” Adrien snaps in frustration, his tone of voice uncharacteristically acidic, “I didn’t ask for any of this.”

Nathalie knows the feeling well, “I’m aware of that, but this doesn’t change the reality of the situation.”

“You didn’t even give him any of the essays I wrote!”

“That’s because he’s already made up his mind about it!” Nathalie raises her voice, “He is adamant that you continue your education at home!”

Adrien throws his hands into the air, “It’s not fair! I don’t get to do anything!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nathalie scrambles to get control over the situation, her composure slipping through her fingers, “You’re incredibly blessed with opportunities most children your age couldn’t even begin to dream about.”

“Yeah?” Adrien’s lips curl into a snarl, his arms crossing over his chest, “What fourteen year old has never gone to a movie theatre? Or a Starbucks? Or on a walk with his friends?”

“Adrien, you need to—”

“No! I don’t care!” Adrien voice is growing hoarse, his cheeks burning, “I don’t care about being special, I just want to be normal!”

Nathalie is about to argue back when her mobile buzzes, the screen lighting up with an incoming message. She glances at it for several moments before pressing the sleep button and shoving it back into her pocket, the number both dreaded and familiar given how often she’s had to call it over the past few months.

“Who was that?” Adrien grouses, his arms still folded tightly across his chest. Nathalie grinds her teeth for a moment before crossing her legs and settling back onto the leather seat, the text she’d just received from the Pythia echoing in her mind.

“No one.”

~

Nathalie sighs as Adrien bolts from the dining room later that afternoon after his argument with his father and glances up at the clock, idly counting down the minutes until she can go home and drink the bottle of wine resting on her kitchen countertop. She’s been spending a good part of her paycheck on alcohol lately, not that she’s all that surprised; the last few months playing double agent have been the least pleasant of her life.

“He is being incredibly difficult today,” Gabriel muses, adjusting the glasses on his nose. He turns and faces Nathalie, his head tilted slightly to the side, “Perhaps it’s time to curb his television and video game consumption. These are clearly learned behaviours.”

“I’ll make a note of it,” Nathalie mutters, scrolling through her iPad, “That being said, it might not be a terrible idea for him to get out of the house.”

Gabriel doesn’t miss a beat, “He leaves for his fencing lessons and photo shoots. What more could I possibly accommodate?”

“Have you considered what his reaction will be when your akuma begin attacking the city?”

“I have taken everything into consideration,” he replies contemptuously, his tone practically dripping with it. Nathalie briefly fantasises about slapping that look off his face for the pure joy of it.

“He’ll come looking for you,” Nathalie insists, the weight of the Pythia’s orders weighing heavy on her shoulders, “Because he loves you. He’ll want to know you’re safe and when he can’t find you, he’ll panic.”

Gabriel waves his hand dismissively, “He’ll be with his bodyguard the whole time, I’ve already made arrangements.”

“And you know as well as I do how stubborn he can be,” Nathalie squares her shoulders, “He’ll figure it out eventually and then what? How do you suppose he’ll react then?”

Nathalie watches as his facial expression shifts momentarily, his haughty sneer dissolving into something decidedly more contemplative. Finally, after several seconds of uncharacteristic silence, Gabriel shifts his weight and turns around, pausing at the threshold of the door to glance back at her sidelong.

“Please block out the following hour. I will be in the attic if you need me.”

~

One minute she’s flying across the rooftops of Paris, and the next she’s wrapped up in her yoyo’s wire, helplessly tangled like a forkful of spaghetti with a boy dressed in a catsuit. He’s cracking jokes and she just wants this day to be over with, her cheeks burning with barely veiled embarrassment as she tries desperately to keep some semblance of her cool. She feels like an idiot, dressed in a bright red suit with spots all over it, skin tight and more revealing than anything she’s ever worn out in public in her life. She’s worn bathing suits more demure than this for goodness sakes, and that’s saying something.

“Where are you going?” she asks, watching as he brushes himself off with a wink and a grin. He grabs the baton holstered to the small of his back and extends it, looking over to where a building has crumbled to dust in the distance.

“To save Paris of course,” he offers his hand and she wants to take it, her heart hammering in her chest as she follows the lines of his fingers up to the curve of his smile, “Come on!”

It takes her a moment, but she does.

~

She stumbles back into her room after all is said and done and detransforms immediately, her regular clothes somehow magically restored. The little creature with the squeaky voice lands in her palms and insists on eating cookies and Marinette feels like she’s flying and falling at the same time, her blood still thrumming with more adrenaline than she’s ever felt in her life. There’s something else underneath it though, a tug at her stomach that almost feels like nausea, and she vaguely wonders if she overdid it with all the hairpin turns and free falling flips through the boulevards of Paris.

“I did it, Tikki!” Marinette eventually finds her breath, watching the shaky iPhone video that someone captured of their battle on the screen of her computer, “I really did it!”

You see?” Tikki finishes the last few crumbs of the shortbread she’d been given, fluttering upwards towards Marinette in excitement, “I told you that you were up to it!”

Marinette feels a smile creep onto her lips as the footage pauses on her face and it almost feels surreal, the look of confidence and determination somewhat foreign on her features. Sure, she’s proud of her design abilities and her sewing skills but this? Being a superhero? Brave and powerful? Strong and fearless? Proud and brazen?

It was...well, it was a little miraculous.

“Marinette, dinner is ready!”

Turning to face the trapdoor in the floor, Marinette offers the little sprite at her desk a grateful smile and heads downstairs to eat.

~

“See?” Marinette buries her face in her hand on her chaise after dinner and groans, “Didn’t you see what’s all over the TV?! I told you I’m not cut out for this!”

“Stay calm Marinette,” Tikki responds, raising her little paws into the air helplessly, “It was only your first time, everyone makes mistakes.”

“Mistakes?!” Marinette tugs on her ponytails, teetering on hysterics, “This wasn’t just a little mistake Tikki, there are lives at stake!”

Tikki floats closer, “Come on, let’s go back and capture the akuma together and this time we’ll do it right!”

Marinette continues to pace across the floor of her bedroom, her anxiety ramping up with every step, “This is all my fault Tikki, I told you I can’t do this! I’m clumsy, I’m awkward…” Marinette’s expression crumbles, “I create disasters wherever I go! I’ll only make things worse for you, for everyone.”

“Marinette—”

“No,” Marinette wraps her arms around herself, the painful pit in her stomach only growing, “Chat Noir will be better off without me. I quit.”

Tikki’s eyes widen, her lips parting with a gasp, “You can’t Marinette! Only you can capture the akuma and save the city. Only you can restore all the damage that was caused!”

“Chat Noir can’t capture the akuma?” Marinette pauses in her stride, her heart sinking in her chest, “Then find another Ladybug, I can’t do this.”

“No Marine—”

“I’m sorry Tikki,” Marinette plucks the earrings from her ears and watches as Tikki disappears in front of her eyes, sucked into the jewels now sitting in her palms. Resigned, she puts them back into the box and slides them back into her drawer, “I’m so sorry…”

~

le 2 septembre, 2016

Marinette’s school bag feels heavy with the weight of her earrings as she slips into her seat beside her newest friend and has said friend’s phone promptly shoved in her face. She’s playing her very own footage of Ladybug on repeat and Alya is positively thrilled at the number of hits her video has gotten, raving about it endlessly while they wait for class to start. Marinette feels her heart swell at the praise and knows Alya would make the perfect replacement for her lackluster attempt at heroics, her confidence and tenacity evident in everything she does.

Marinette spends the next few minutes talking with friends and her blood is boiling by the time the warning bell rings, Chloe’s constant ability to hurt others weighing heavily on her mind. Those things she just said to Ivan? How anyone could possibly put up with her nastiness is beyond her comprehension, which only puzzles her further when a blond haired, green eyed boy walks into their classroom and puts gum on her seat. It all makes sense in a matter of seconds; of course he’s Chloe’s best friend, a daddy’s boy, a rich kid with a poor sense of humour. She glares at him in revulsion as she sits down in her seat with a huff, her eyes drilling holes in the back of his head. How dare the son of her favourite designer be such a dick!

“I’ve known Chloe since I was a kid,” she hears him tell Nino and Marinette tunes him out immediately, scrolling through her phone with an air of disgust. It all makes sense now; these two special snowflakes cut from the same expensive cashmere cloth were made for each other. Mean people like him and Chloe never deserve second chances, let alone first ones, and Marinette has no intention of giving him the opportunity to try.

Now if only she could get rid of the sense of dread in her heart.

~

“ALYA!” Marinette leaps over a bench and goes running after her friend, watching in horror as one of the stone creatures reaches for her new friend’s throat. She feels entirely useless, helpless to watch as Chat Noir gets Alya out of the way only to get captured himself, wriggling in the monster’s iron grip like a black catfish out of water. Stumbling towards them, a million different thoughts go surging through her mind before she settles on the only solution she can think of, Alya’s and Chat’s cries for help echoing in her ears.

Dropping her bag, Marinette gets onto her knees and fishes through her belongings, finding the box near the bottom. She flicks it open with her thumb and drops the earrings in her palms, “Tikki, I think I need to be Ladybug!”

“I knew you would come around!” Tikki appears with a flourish, her little body materialising in a burst of sparkles, “Are you ready?”

Marinette grimaces as she slips the jewels into her ears, “I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready, but I don’t have a choice! Alya’s in danger and I can’t just sit here and watch.”

“You can do this Marinette!” Tikki swoops in closer and taps her on the nose with affection, “I believe in you!”

She closes her eyes and nods, pulling her hand into a fist. She forces herself to focus, to draw in all that nervous energy the same way she draws a thread through a bobbin, bound and determined to do the very best that she can. The nervous ache in her stomach melts away leaving only the sound of her heartbeat in her ears, familiar and comforting as she takes a deep, wavering breath. She can do this, she can do this, she can…

“Tikki! Spots on!”

Chapter Text

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.”

Walter Elliot

le 2 septembre, 2016

Her legs are shaking and her knees are threatening to collapse beneath her body weight but somehow she's still able to walk towards this giant mass of black and purple butterflies that calls itself Le Papillon with her head held high because nothing , absolutely nothing brings out the attitude in Marinette like a bully.

So she sasses him like it's her business, and she's had plenty of practice dealing with bullies as of late. How dare he blame Ladybug and Chat Noir for what’s going on, as if they are the ones responsible for destroying Paris? Yeah right!

Something in the back of her mind tells her to capture all the butterflies and purify them so she tosses her yoyo at the ominous cloud without questioning it, destroying the man behind the mask systematically with every swipe of her string. He screams and hollers and she doesn't have a single care to give because this?

This is how bullies should be treated.

The battle continues and it's only by some miracle that her and Chat Noir manage to save Ivan and Mylène without maiming either of them in the process. She releases her Lucky Charm and the city is restored, the citizens healed and everything somehow returns to normal.

(Whatever that is.)

Anyway, if Marinette had thought that Alya was thrilled before, she’d clearly underestimated her capacity for excitement because her new friend was positively vibrating with energy as they walked back to school together after meeting up near the corner. All of her classmates had dispersed after Chloe and Mylène were taken by Ivan but most of the students were beginning to trickle back into the courtyard, gesticulating wildly at the insanity they’d just witnessed. Marinette can hear them talking, Ladybug this, Chat Noir that; it was borderline surreal.

“Girl, I am so going to figure out who's under that mask and nothing can stop me!”

Marinette makes a face and puts her hand on Alya’s shoulder, giving it a light squeeze, “Yeah? Good luck with that.”

“Hey!” Alya waves her off, pausing in front of her, “This is the age of social media! A superhero can’t hide their face forever.”

“I'm sure Ladybug has a pretty good reason for not sharing her identity with the world,” Marinette insists, stepping around her and heading upstairs.

“So? Someone's going to figure it out eventually, and I'd rather it be me. At least I could help her out!” Alya pulls her fingers into a fist and looks up towards the sky with determination, “Once I get my exclusive interview, I'll have thousands of followers on my blog which means I'll have thousands of eyes and ears on the streets of Paris!”

“That's a great idea Alya,” Marinette responds vaguely, hopping up onto the landing, “Just try to stay safe, alright?”

“No risk, no reward!” Alya punches her fist into the air, “I'll get this scoop no matter what it takes!”

Marinette exhales softly and pulls the door to their classroom open, knowing a lost battle when she sees one. She makes a mental note to keep an eye out for her when Le Papillon strikes again, which she hopes isn't for a little while yet. She knows what Chloë is like though; when someone gets her at her own game, she sulks for a while but she's usually back to her old tricks within a few days and Marinette is sure that Le Papillon will be no different.

Adrien says hello as he walks back into class and slinks down into his seat at the hard look Marinette gives him. If today had taught her anything, it's that standing up for yourself and for others is the best remedy to a bully’s nasty techniques and she says as much to Alya, nudging her in the ribs. Her friend takes her advice to heart and stands up to Chloë’s nastiness and the look on her face is all the reward Marinette could ever need; Alya and Marinette high five each other hard enough to make their hands sting and they exchange numbers, filming Snapchat stories until Mme. Bustier finally makes it back into the room.

~

Nathalie breathes a sigh of relief as the Mercedes pulls away from the curb and slumps back into her seat, a weight suddenly lifted from her shoulders. She’s got enough things to worry about, what with Monsieur’s bizarre reaction to today’s defeat and the rehauling of Adrien’s schedule as per his demands, so having Adrien blissfully away at school is a blessing. Enjoying the silence, she’s already sending emails and moving appointments around when she remembers the phone call she has to make and sighs, flicking through her contacts and tapping one of the her most frequent.

“Mme. Sandoeur! Give me a moment, would you? I have an unexpected visitor .”

Nathalie raises a brow but doesn’t argue, “Of course.”

“..........I told you they were the right………………….....when have I ever been wrong Master…………………..they’re the same age, the same…………………..go ahead and see, they’ll be……………….a little rain won’t kill you, you’re only one hundred and seventy……”

Frowning, Nathalie pulls her ear away from the speaker and eyes it warily, unsure of what exactly she’s been eavesdropping on. The Pythia could rival Monsieur with her penchant for eccentricity but some of the things this woman has said to her and to others have been positively bizarre. One hundred and seventy?

“............and may the fates be with you! Ah, Nathalie, are you still there?”

“I am,” Nathalie replies, glancing idly at the blank screen embedded in the back of the driver’s seat, “I managed to convince Monsieur to let Adrien go to school.”

“Perfect! I knew you could do it. What did you tell him?”

Nathalie traces the glass edges of the windows with her gaze, “I appealed to his grandiosity.”

The Pythia laughs, “Always a safe choice with Gabriel. What was the clincher?”

“I convinced him that having Adrien out of the house would give him the opportunity to use him as a tool for extra publicity.”

“Extra publicity?”

“The only way to persuade Monsieur do anything is to convince him that he’ll get something out of it,” Nathalie responds flatly, “If Adrien, a widely recognised celebrity, is occasionally involved in the akuma attacks, there’s a high chance he’ll be featured more prominently on the news, thereby keeping the Gabriel brand constantly fixed in the media’s eye. Monsieur found this to be an enticing advertisement opportunity that he simply couldn’t refuse.”

“I…” the Pythia trails off and Nathalie can practically hear the cogs turning in the seer’s mind over the speaker, “I can’t believe that worked.”

“I’ve become an expert at validation,” Nathalie picks at an errant seam along the leather armrest, “I’ve had years of practice.”

“Well, so long as he has no intention of putting Adrien directly in harm's way…”

Nathalie takes a deep breath and pushes the bangs from her eyes, “I doubt it, considering his endgame.”

“Not all harm is physical.”

“That’s the only harm that matters to him.”

The Pythia sighs loudly, her breath crackling across the connection, “Keep me informed. If he plans on attacking the school again, I want to know about it.”

“I will.”

Nathalie taps the red button on the bottom of her screen and lets her head fall back against the headrest, already exhausted despite the morning hour. She envisions the bottles and bottles of wine waiting for her on the wooden rack she’d bought online recently and vaguely wonders what Georges Duboeuf she should crack open tonight.

~

It's pouring rain, which isn’t necessarily unusual for Paris as the humid days of summer draw to a close, but it still makes the short walk home a soggy one nonetheless. Marinette glances towards her home on the other side of the road and takes a deep breath to prepare herself for the deluge of cold water, pausing only when she senses someone coming up beside her.

“Hey.”

Marinette averts her eyes, the significantly taller boy greeting her as he passes. He falters at the top of the stone steps and turns around, his umbrella shielding him from the rain that falls impassively from the skies.

“I…” Adrien takes a staggering breath, “I just wanted you to know that I wasn’t putting gum on your seat yesterday, I swear I was just trying to take it off. I’ve never...I’ve never been to school or had friends before and...this all a bit new to me.”

Marinette finally looks his way, the honesty in his voice almost baffling. Her lips part as she considers him and something in her chest clenches, the feeling not altogether uncomfortable but new and raw nonetheless. He seems to be grappling with something himself as he hesitates, his arm finally stretching out to offer her his umbrella.

She’s about to insist that he keep it when a rumble of thunder startles from overhead and her body is suddenly acting unbidden, snatching the base of the umbrella from his fingers without so much as a second thought. Her heart is pounding and she's back in that Ladybug suit all over again, falling and flying at the same time because clearly the concrete has collapsed from beneath her toes and—

“Oof!”

His laughter echoes in her ears as she lifts the edge of the collapsed umbrella and peeks out from beneath it, embarrassed and smiling all the while. It is pretty funny and he does has a lovely smile, one that brightens his eyes and adds colour to his cheeks. She can feel the electricity in the air, the kind that makes the hairs on her arms stand just a little straighter as he waves and walks towards the expensive car parked against the curb and she’s stuttering a goodbye, her tongue tied hopelessly in a Gordian knot of emotions she can’t begin to describe.

“Why am I stuttering?” she asks no one in particular, pressing a hand to her chest as Tikki appears and hovers by her shoulder. The tiny sprite giggles and whispers something cryptic in her ear but Marinette’s too busy watching the silver Sedan take off down the boulevard, entranced as it disappears into the throes of traffic and the greyness of the waning light.

~

The first few days of school are always a bit of an adjustment and this year is no different, except instead of studying arithmetic and le subjonctif in French class, Marinette spent her morning fighting rock monsters and trying not to die in the process. It feels like it all happened weeks ago instead of mere hours, her brain still processing the myriad of craziness that had taken place...superheroes and supervillains? Staring blankly at the seam of the trapdoor in her ceiling, Marinette lies in bed and continues to scream internally, her muscles pulled taut and her pupils blown wide.

She was a superhero today.

Distantly, she can hear the gentle drone from the television downstairs, the one that her parents refuse to turn off because it won’t stop showing footage of Ladybug and Chat Noir chasing stone people and destroying landmarks. The media is going insane and every social media trend is about her, about him, about the magical terrorist that laid wake to the city. She can still see his face in her mind’s eye, the man who calls himself Le Papillon effectively waging war on the people of Paris. According to the headlines, he’s no different from the other people who were responsible for the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, and she’s supposed to stop this guy? This guy who has no qualms about turning innocent people into monsters? Who has the power to convince his victims to hurt others just because?

Marinette rolls over onto her side and hugs a stuffed kitten to her chest, curling her knees up beneath her blankets. Tikki had explained her role in all of this in great detail, the need for discretion and secrecy. She couldn’t reveal any hints about herself when dressed as her alter-ego, not even to Chat Noir! She couldn’t tell her parents, her best friends, her superhero partner...how was she supposed to do this without telling anyone?

How was she supposed to do this alone?

There’s no way she can sleep right now, not with the way her heart is beating in her chest like the bassline of a Jagged Stone anthem, loud and blaring in her ears with enough force to make her chest tighten and shudder. Ladybug, Le Papillon, seeing Alya almost flattened...it feels like someone is sitting on her ribcage and squishing the breath out of her, like she's drowning beneath the weight of it. Chat Noir had saved Alya in the knick of time but still...what if he had been too late? What if she had forgotten the earrings at home? The possibilities are endless and suddenly her hands are trembling, her vision blurring from the tears in her eyes and she’s trying, she’s trying to breathe but all that’s coming out are sharp and shallow gasps that scrabble for air. Her room is spinning like a kaleidoscope in the lamplight, brights and darks all mixing together until she’s seeing nothing but stars.

She opens her eyes and immediately heaves for air, the bedsheets pooling around her knees. The television has been turned off and there’s no light coming in from the cracks of her doorway, no soft sounds from her parent’s conversations. She rolls onto her back and briefly wonders if this had all been a really bad dream when she spots the kwarmi of creation peeking at her from the makeshift bed she’d fashioned out of a shoebox earlier that evening. The tiny creature looks incredibly worried and Marinette knows she must look a mess, what with the way her hair has slathered itself to her sweaty forehead. She rubs at her eyes with her tingling fingers and feels her exhaustion hit her like a tidal wave, furious and unrelenting and there’s not much she can do but succumb to it and hope that this whole Le Papillon business doesn’t become a regular thing.

~

le 28 septembre 2016

Boy, was she ever wrong.

Tossing her yoyo and wrapping it around the akumatised ballerina like a cowboy’s lasso, Ladybug reels in Le Papillon’s latest victim and shouts for help somewhere in Chat Noir’s general direction. Appearing with a flourish and barrel rolling over her head from behind, Chat extends his baton while airborne and bats the akumatized dancer’s comb out of her hair and into his waiting palm, crushing it between his gloved fingers. The ornate hair barrette disintegrates into crumbs and the akuma pops out in response, its black and purple wings a stark contrast to the bleached white walls of the dance studio they had found themselves in during the chase. Ladybug calls her yoyo back and launches it at the tiny butterfly in the centre of room, the motion almost automatic as she purifies and releases the creature back into the air.

And it should feel automatic, she thinks, holstering her yoyo on her hip as Chat Noir helps the victim to her feet; after all, it’s been the sixth akuma this week.

And it’s only Tuesday.

“Do you ever get that weird deja vu feeling when we're doing this?” Chat Noir mutters as they hop out of one of the studio’s open windows and land on the roof of a neighbouring building. Ladybug just shakes her head fondly and slumps against the nearest chimney with a sigh, her shoulders aching.

“Do you think ladybugs hibernate? Because I could totally go for that right about now.”

“Right?” Chat Noir sinks onto his haunches beside her, “This one was bad, don’t get me wrong, but the akuma from last night was brutal.”

“It was this morning actually,” Ladybug flops over and lays on her back, the roof tiles digging into her skin, “I think I’m a pretty good person, but I’ve never wanted to beat someone up so bad in my life.”

“Le Papillon?” Chat Noir snorts, little huffs of laughter coming from where he’s curling up into a sleepy ball, “I’m right there with you.”

“I want to punch him,” Ladybug continues, turning her head to glance his way, “right in the nose.”

“Ladies first,” Chat Noir rolls onto his side, yawning spectacularly, “I want to just...slap him.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. And then just beat him repeatedly with my baton.”

“Yesss,” Ladybug nods emphatically, “Beat him for every hour he’s kept up awake this week.”

“That’s a lot of beating, you’ll have to join in.”

“With pleasure,” Ladybug tries to pump her fist and watches as it falls lifelessly onto Chat Noir’s shoulder instead, “I’m like, a beating machine.”

“Mmm,” Chat Noir tries and fails to stifle another yawn, “I love watching you beat people up.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m like, basically a beating connoisseur.”

She rolls her eyes and briefly considers smacking him, “That’s only because I’ve had to beat you up like...three times already.”

“That’s what make being possessed so worthwhile,” Chat purrs, wriggling his eyebrows.

Ladybug snorts, “Now you’re not making any sense.”

“That’s because I’m tirreeed,” Chat whines, batting his eyelashes and pouting spectacularly, “Superheroing is haarrrd.”

Ladybug closes her eyes and sighs loudly, “Right? I still don't think I'm cut out for this.”

“Nuh uh,” she feels Chat Noir shift beside her, “There will be no hero shaming tonight. I've said it once, I've said it a million times, you're the best superhero ever. Beautiful, intelligent, beautiful, kickass, clever, have I mentioned beautiful yet? Because, lemme tell you something about my Lady, she is absolutely—”

“Enough!” Ladybug bats him away with her arms and rolls onto her stomach as he squirms out of her reach, “That's enough from you for one night, I've got to get home.”

“You wound me m’lady,” Chat presses his palm to his chest in mock agony, “I was about to declare my undying affections, but noooo , she doesn’t want to hear it meow-t, my poems of love, my songs of affection, my—”

“And that's my cue,” Ladybug groans as she pulls herself to her feet, rolling her eyes at his familiar antics, “You and your terrible cat puns have a good night's sleep alright?”

“I'll try,” Chat replies with a grin, mirroring her movements, “Let's hope Le Papillon will give us at least a few hours?”

“I'll bet...five hours.”

“Six.”

Ladybug crosses her arms across her chest, “What are we betting on?”

“Loser buys next time we swing by Chez Nico after midnight.”

“Deal,” Ladybug smirks, extending her fist. He bumps it and they both head in different directions shortly after, a smile on her face despite the bone deep exhaustion and the growing sense of...whatever it was in her chest whenever they parted ways. She'd come a long way since those first few nights though, and although the weight of the world on her shoulders never lessened, it was easier to bear with a friend by her side.

Chapter Text

“Mankind; he said, have never, as I think, at all understood the power of Love.

Aristophanes

le 20 octobre, 2016

Adrien flops back onto his mattress and clutches a Ladybug plushie to his chest, grinning wildly up at the ceiling. He rolls around onto his stomach and brackets his cheeks with his palms, the two metre tall poster of Ladybug plastered to the wall over his headboard looming over top of him like an Amazonian princess, strong and gorgeous and everything he could possibly dream of.

“Beautiful,” he sighs, his smile never leaving his cheeks as he takes in her soft skin, the curve of her lips. He makes eye contact with her likeness for a moment before fishing a magazine out from underneath his pillow and staring at it, flipping through the pages and pages of photos of the love of his life. He counts the freckles that dapple her cheeks, cheeks he’s seen up close and in person; last night she’d laid beside him on someone’s rooftop, sprawled out in exhaustion on an outdoor chaise after their latest battle with an akuma shortly after midnight, and he’d admired them like constellations in the night sky. He’s never felt so fantastic when he’s around her, his heart on fire by her presence alone and the only thing he can do to keep the emptiness in his chest at bay when he’s not fighting by her side is to keep her in his thoughts constantly.

Somewhere from the other side of the room, the kwarmi of destruction groans.

There’s a spread in the latest edition of Le Parisien that features both of them on the cover page, modelling in their usual poses. They’d agreed to do it as long as they scheduled the photoshoot on a certain day, that certain day being the day of Mayor Bourgeoise’s Annual Autumn Spectacular. Neither one of them wished to endure the hours upon hours of being in the spotlight and the staff at Le Parisien seemed like they were more than happy to accommodate their superhero’s bizarre requests.

That, and Ladybug seemed to dislike Chloë almost as much as she hated Le Papillon. Adrien always tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, especially since Chloë was completely obsessed with Ladybug. In fact, Adrien was fairly sure she put his obsession to shame.

All of the attention from the citizens made Ladybug uncomfortable, which ruled out any of the models or actors living in Paris. He runs the pad of his finger down the magazine’s cover and mentally narrows down his list of possible candidates for her civilian identity, smiling sadly; he knows how important it is for her to keep her identity a secret and he respects that but still…

He sighs and closes his eyes, reliving the way her eyes had sparkled when she’d talked about her latest scheme on how to draw out Le Papillon. She’s the most beautiful person on the planet and she makes his soul positively soar every time he sees her; his favourite movies and animes didn’t do it justice...love is the most splendid, most beautiful thing in the world!

He’s read a million stories about what love is, what it feels like physically and emotionally. He’s researched it, gobbled down every article about how love can change your perspective of the world. He can feel it changing him everytime he sees her, changing his soul into something that feels like nothing he’s ever felt before. He feels like a whole new person around her, giddy and filled with joy and other emotions he’s honestly forgotten how to feel, his rose coloured glasses tinting his world in hues of pride and happiness whenever he thinks about her, how far she’s come, how heroic and courageous she is as Ladybug. She was doubting herself just a month ago and now she’s kicking ass and taking names, a true and honest picture of what being a superhero is all about.

Clutching the magazine, Adrien totters over to his couch and swoons.

It’s time to do something about the raging crush he has for her, he decides with a smile. It was time to plan a date, just her and him somewhere, somewhere with a beautiful view that’s out of the spotlight where she would be comfortable. Snatching his mobile off the coffee table, he starts jotting down notes and ideas in his memo app that are inspired by all of the romantic comedies he’s been fawning over lately and glances over at the magazine cover ever so often, determined to make this the best date of all time.

~

le 14 novembre, 2016

Six.

Six of her classmates have been akumatised so far.

Chloe, Alya, Nino, Rose, Mylène and Ivan, not to mention a slew of other random citizens targeted simply because they happened to be having a rough moment. Le Papillon had been so ruthless in his constant attacks that Marinette hasn’t had a spare moment to think, let alone hang out with friends or spend time with her family. She’d been trying to plan a date with Adrien, sew a hat for Gabriel Agreste’s fashion contest and design a disc cover for Jagged Stone’s newest album and how was she supposed to do any of this if she had no freaking free time !

Clenching her hands into fists, Marinette tries to keep her frustrations at bay as she runs after an akumatised Alix.

The battle is certainly not one of her run of the mill encounters. At one point there’s two Ladybugs running around and it doesn’t occur to Marinette that Alix is literally absorbing the lives of her classmates with a single touch until Chat Noir appears out of nowhere to shield her from her akumatised classmate’s powers, her friend and partner fading like a cloud of fog in her arms.

What happens next is a bit of a mystery to Marinette but she gets the gist of it as she pieces the events of the afternoon back together once she’s laying in bed. Chat’s self sacrifice had done something to her, like flicking a switch inside her brain. She’d gone after Alix ruthlessly, her calm and cool superhero facade shattered by the way her heart had stuttered to a stop inside her ribcage, painful and serrated and like nothing she’d ever felt before. Looking back, her reaction had been kind of frightening and Tikki wasn’t answering her questions, which almost always meant that it was something very bad.

The feeling had gone away when he was restored, the pain and dread replaced by a sudden sense of absolute relief. It had felt like a cool glass of water on a warm day, soothing and spreading through her chest like a balm and it worried her immensely, the sensation so obscure. Did it have to do with the fact that the Black Cat and the Ladybug Miraculous were connected? That’s what Master Fu had explained when she’d met with him a few weeks ago.

She tries to organise her thoughts and finds herself altogether lost.

It’s crossed her mind more than once that the source for her answers lies just beyond the city’s limits, only a quick train ride away. The Pythia would be able to help her understand but Tikki had warned her that she couldn’t share her identity with anyone, not even her family or her best friend. Would visiting the Pythia as Ladybug be breaking that promise? Wouldn’t the Pythia already know her identity since she could see and predict everything anyway?

Marinette takes a deep breath and rolls onto her side, glancing forlornly at the alarm clock at her bedside. She’d have to be awake in a few hours and mulling over this wasn’t doing her any good. Sighing, she resolves to ask Alya about visiting the Pythia in the morning and wills herself to sleep.

~

le 15 november, 2016

“There she goes again…”

Marinette sets her backpack down on the front steps of her collège and frowns as Alya grumbles and rolls her eyes. She follows her best friend’s gaze over to where Chloë is bragging to a small group of girls from the class below them, Sabrina nodding enthusiastically to everything the classroom bully says and Marinette can’t quite hear what they’re talking about but Alya obviously can judging by the look of utter disdain maring her features.

“What’s she talking about now?”

Alya throws her a sidelong glance and sits back against the steps with a loud exhale, “Apparently she went to see the Oracle again. Like, how many times does that girl need to go visit? Seriously.”

Marinette watches Chloë contemplatively before turning back to Alya, “How many times have you been?”

“To the Oracle?” Alya raises a brow, “Only once, just like most people. Some parents take their kids back when they’re eight or nine but these days, what’s the point? She can’t tell us anything important until we turn sixteen.”

“Sixteen?” Marinette asks, clearly confused by the subject. Maybe she should have spent more time paying attention in social studies instead of drawing doodles of Adrien in the margins of her journal…

“Are you talking about the Oracle?” Rose appears from behind them, dragging Juleka along beside her. Rose sits down beside Alya and plants her elbows on her knees, cupping her cheeks in her palms, “I can’t wait to go back in two years!”

“Me too,” Alya’s expression turns conspiratorial, “See, the Oracle considers sixteen the age of consent, and that’s when you can go visit her all by yourself.”

“Ohhh,” Marinette nods, some of what Mme. Bustier had explained in class coming back to her, “And that’s when she can tell you what you should do when you grow up and stuff right?”

“And who you’re going to marry!” Rose shimmies with excitement, her toes tapping against the concrete steps, “She can tell you what their name is and who they look like and where they’re living so we can go find them!”

“Pretty much,” Alya shrugs, “And she’ll tell you other stuff too, like if you’re going to have kids or if you should go to university or go travelling.”

“Ooo!” Rose claps her hands together, “Sometimes she’ll even tell you if you have a soulmate!”

“A soulmate?”

“Soulmates don’t exist,” Juleka mumbles and Rose gently tugs on her arm.

“Yes they do! They’re just really rare!” Rose’s fidgeting increases in tempo, “There was Romeo and Juliet, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Bella and Edward—”

“Those are all fictional characters Rose.”

“So?” Rose crosses her arms across her chest, “All fictional characters are based on people in real life you know.”

Alya shakes her head, “If you want to know who your soulmate is, you’re better off visiting André’s ice cream stand.”

Juleka cracks a small smile, “I went there with my brother once.”

“That’s how my Papa proposed to Maman,” Marinette remembers the story of her parent’s engagement fondly, “What kind of flavour did he give you Juleka?”

“Strawberry and vanilla bean,” Juleka murmurs, picking at the threads of her ripped jeans. Marinette watches as Alya’s jaw drops briefly and mentally reminds herself to ask Alya what was going through her mind once they’re alone.

Rose sighs dreamily, “I bet that if I went to see André, he’d give me caramel ice cream with green apple ripples.”

“Are you still hung up over Prince Ali?” Alya asks, her eyebrows raising beyond the frames of her glasses. Rose simply bats her lashes with a smile and stares off into the distance.

“We’ve been messaging back and forth since he went back to his kingdom,” Rose laces her fingers together and bring them up to her cheek, “Sometimes we even FaceTime!”

“Wow,” Marinette wrinkles her nose, remembering that particular akuma fiasco without even the slightest inkling of fondness. She  hates how so many of her classmates have been akumatised lately; it seems the only ones who haven’t been targeted yet were Kim, Max, Adrien and herself.

“Aaanyway, the bell is going to be ringing soon,” Alya pushes herself to her feet, nudging Marinette along with her, “Maybe we should all go to André’s together one day.”

“He’s hard to find,” Juleka follows suit, swinging her backpack up over her shoulder.

“It’ll be an adventure then!” Alya beams, patting the taller girl on the shoulder, “Come on, let’s head to science early so we can sit as far away from Chloë as possible.”

~

le 18 décembre, 2016

“It’s me.”

“Well, if it isn't my favourite double agent!”

Nathalie frowns instinctively at the Pythia’s bright and cheery tone through her earpiece as she jogs under an awning and ducks inside the first coffee shop she sees, “I only have a few minutes alone so I have to be quick.”

“Go on then. How's Adrien doing at school?”

“Fine, no thanks to me,” Nathalie mutters in response, eyeing the ten person long queue, “Convincing Monsieur to keep him there is arduous, but I manage.”

“The fact that you suggested that he include Adrien occasionally in his attacks just for the media coverage was...surprisingly clever, I must admit.”

Nathalie shrugs and glances down at her iWatch, “Monsieur can hardly pass up the opportunity to make the headlines.”

“A true narcissist,” Nathalie can practically hear her eyes roll over the connection, “But that’s not why you called me.”

“No,” she admits, steeling herself, “But I...I need to know something.”

“Yes?”

“The reason why you can’t see Adrien,” Nathalie closes her eyes for a moment and pictures the open window in her mind’s eye, the iPod poised above his piano playing Poulenc’s Novelette in C Major, No. 1 over and over again on repeat, “Is it the same reason you can’t see Monsieur?”

The Pythia is quiet for a long time, long enough that Nathalie wonders if she’s lost the connection, “What exactly are you implying?”

“He goes missing from his room when he thinks no one will notice,” Nathalie continues, her suspicions already bolstered by the Pythia’s avoidance of the question, “He’s constantly exhausted and he’s literally obsessed with Ladybug.”

“Most boys are,” the Pythia replies, her voice carefully casual, “She’s the biggest celebrity in all of France.”

“It doesn’t explain why he’s always tired all of the sudden.”

“He’s finally allowed to go to school,” the Pythia insists, “He’s making friends, he was allowed to walk around the block the other day with Nino, of course things aere bound to change. He’s finally learning what it’s like to be normal.”

Nathalie sighs in resignation and knows that her window of opportunity to find answers has passed, “If Monsieur finds out…”

“Finds out what?” the Pythia’s voice takes on a harsher tone, “That he’s tired? Happy? That he’s finally forming a personality? Because I need you to understand that that’s the only thing he should be finding out about.”

The threat in her tone is evident and Nathalie tries to swallow the sudden nervousness clawing at her throat, “U-understood.”

“Good. Now, tell me about Gabriel’s latest plan because that pigeon thing? What was he thinking...”

~

Adrien glances up at the clock for the umpteenth time that afternoon as one of the make-up artists assigned to the commercial shoot adjusts the foundation on his cheek and reapplies the highlighter to his nose and cheeks. They’ve been at this for hours and he’s exhausted, having run up those stupid CGI steps at least a hundred times but apparently he doesn’t look radiant enough, he doesn’t look carefree enough and his leaps into the foam pit at the end don’t look dreamy enough and—

“ACTION!”

Schooling his features, Adrien starts running across the room with the biggest grin on his face he can muster and launches himself up the stairs, his lips parting to show off his perfect teeth and here it is, the final step and he points his ankles and arches his back, the perfect picture of radiant and carefree and dreamy or so help that director behind the camera because all he wants to do is go back to bed and sleep already—

“CUT!”

Adrien somersaults into the foam pit and takes his sweet time climbing out of it, his limbs positively aching. He’d been practicing his gaming skills more than usual in preparation for a video game tournament until Max had been akumatised last night and that particular fight had been exhausting, not to mention having to attend the tournament right after. He’s running on one, maybe two hours of sleep? He doesn’t know anything right now except that he’s going to cry if they make him run across the sound stage again.

“Adrien! Come here!”

He’s rolled onto the foam padding by this point, lying flat on his back and there’s no force, not even the director’s heavily accented screaming that can convince him to move. He closes his eyes and blearily opens them only when the employees start crowding him, wondering why their actor isn’t responding to the director’s orders and Adrien really doesn’t care anymore.

He just wants to go to bed.

“Adrien!”

There’s no mistaking the sound of Nathalie’s Louboutins against the concrete flooring and Adrien turns his head to the side long enough to get a good look at the patent red bottomed leather before she’s crouching down and peering at him over the frames of her glasses. Her hair is askew, slightly wet from the rain and the expression in her eyes is not the one he’d been expecting considering his current position sprawled out on the floor.

“That’s enough,” she says, giving him a once over before standing back up again, “Not you Adrien, you’re done. Get him into wardrobe, I’m taking him home immediately. Monsieur Directeur! A word.”

The Gorilla is scooping him up out of nowhere and he’s dressed in his normal clothes and in the Mercedes before he knows it, his cheek plastered against the rain splattered window pane. Keeping his eyes open is proving to be an insurmountable task as Nathalie taps furiously away on her device beside him, the constant thud of her fingertips blending in with the sound of the rain. He can hear it though, the way Nathalie is positively radiating anxiety and Adrien has half a mind to ask her why except she’s a liar and has been doing everything she can to keep him away from his father for the past month.

Now, not that he’s ever spent much time with his father anyway, but he’d had three appointments set up to discuss Christmas celebrations with him and she’d somehow managed to cancel all of them. He’s feeling incredibly bitter about it since it would be their first Christmas without Maman and he wanted to at least do something about it ; last year, they hadn’t bothered observing the holiday at all.

Adrien already feels the sadness creeping in, the memories of Christmases past darkened by the memory of a woman who had quite literally disappeared without a trace. He hadn’t even been able to say a proper goodbye before she’d left due to the fact that he’d been preparing for a fencing competition; he’d begged Papa to let him go to the airport but the man had never replied to his emailed plea.

“The Christmas tree I ordered should be arriving today.”

Adrien blinks and peels himself off the glass, turning his head towards the source of the voice, “I’ve also arranged to have the decorations taken out of storage.”

Adrien eyes her consideringly, “Who’s going to decorate?”

“I have the same company coming in,” Nathalie replies, exiting a few apps on her iPad before setting the device down in order to face him, “But I’ve managed to book you off for all of Christmas Eve so you can spend it decorating the tree.”

“Really?” Adrien leans forwards, slightly taken aback. Since when did he get scheduled time off?

“I’ve also booked two hour increments throughout your week for you to spend recharging as it has come to my attention that you haven’t been getting enough time to sleep,” Nathalie schools her features, careful not to say too much, “You can use the free time as you like, although taking a nap may be a recommended course of action until you’re able to adjust to your...new responsibilities.”

Adrien’s eyes open marginally and hopes to the heavens that Nathalie hasn’t caught on to his gig as Chat Noir, “Th-thank you.”

“Your father isn’t yet aware of these changes,” Nathalie turns back to her iPad and starts typing again, “He so rarely analyses your schedule that he probably won’t notice at all. I would suggest not bringing it to his attention.”

“Of course,” Adrien ducks his head, hating the way her words seem to pierce him. He knows it’s the truth but it still hurts to hear it out loud.

“Adrien,” Nathalie pauses, hesitating as she attempts to grapple with her words, “There’s...something important you need to know.”

His heart begins to pound in his chest, “What is it?”

“Incoming call from: Gabriel Agreste.”

Nathalie groans inwardly and can’t bring herself to look at Adrien’s crushed expression as she hits accept, “Sancoeur speaking, how may I help you?”

Chapter Text

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

Ernest Hemingway

le 22 décembre, 2016

Please tell me you’ve found an excuse to get out of Mayor Bourgeoise’s New Years Eve Party?”

Ladybug flops back against the wooden benches of the Hermès Rooftop Garden, exhausted after another seemingly endless patrol. M. Damocles had been at it again and then there had been the bus full of Croatian tourists that had lost its brakes, not to mention the jewellery thief that ransacked the Louis Vuitton flagship store earlier that afternoon. Did they stop the kidnappers yesterday or today? Scratching his head, Chat can’t tell one day from the next anymore, his whole world turning grey unless she was around.

Ladybug, his lighthouse in the ever present darkness, his reason for waking up in the mornings and falling asleep at night. She was his sun, his moon, his stars in the sky, his partner and friend and the love of his life—

“Chat?”

“Sorry,” Chat shakes himself out of his reverie, staring at his lady with wide eyes, “I haven’t come up with anything yet.”

“How am I supposed to explain this to my parents?” Ladybug scrubs her face with her gloved palms, likely just as tired as he feels, “Or my best friend? How am I supposed to explain why I can’t hang out with them like I do every year?”

Chat nods sympathetically and drops down on the opposite bench. According to Nathalie’s schedule, he’s supposed to be attending the party with his father as Adrien so he’s just as much at a loss as to how to get out of this too, “Well...we could just show up for a half hour and make an appearance.”

“But what if he ropes us into a speech or something again?”

“You’re Ladybug,” Chat rolls onto his side so he can watch her expression in the waning sunlight, “You can talk him out of it.”

“I guess,” she replies, mirroring his movements to face him, “What time do you want to arrive?”

“23:00?” he props his head up on his elbow, “That way we can show our faces and say hello and then you can get home in time for the fireworks. Your parents won’t even know you’re gone.”

“You don’t know my family,” Ladybug shakes her head fondly, “They’ll be wondering where I am if I’m gone longer than five minutes.”

“Really?” Chat tips his head to the side, “They actually notice?”

Ladybug blinks, “Of course. Don’t yours?”

“Umm…” Chat stares past her ear for a moment, “...not really? Maybe?”

“You mean to tell me that your family hasn’t caught on?” Ladybug waves her free arm in exasperation, “You’re lucky! I’ve been grounded twice now for letting my grades drop. It sucks.”

“Yeah…” Chat trails off, feeling a little ill at ease, “My family isn’t...always around.”

Ladybug’s expression softens, “I’m sorry. I have a couple friends from school like that too. One of them has a really strict Papa that he never gets to see and my other friend, she has a really busy Maman.”

Chat shrugs, his classmate Juleka coming to mind, “It’s not so bad really. It makes being Chat Noir a lot easier.”

Ladybug nods emphatically, “So do you want to meet up beforehand? Or just show up seperately?”

Chat’s heart stammers in his chest at the thought of making a grand entrance with his Lady, “Sure! We can uh, why don’t we meet across the road?”

“Alright...” Ladybug rolls onto her belly and narrows her eyes in suspicion, “You not planning anything ridiculous again are you?”

“No…” Chat swallows uncomfortably, “I just want someone to hide behind when we get mobbed by Mayor Bourgeoise.”

“Aww, is the big brave Chat Noir a fraidy cat?”

“His hugs are so painful,” Chat grimaces, remembering the last impromptu chiropractic adjustment the humongous man had given him, “He’s much more gentle with you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ladybug laughs, shaking her head fondly, “I’ll be your knight in shining armour.”

Chat blinks slowly, working his kitten eyes to the best of his ability. He’d been practicing in the mirror as he worked on his angles, willing his vertical pupils to widen just like Plagg’s did whenever the little god wanted something good, “I’m yours M’Lady.”

Ladybug’s lips part ever so slightly, “How do you do that?”

“Do what?” Chat asks innocently, batting his lashes.

“That thing with your eyes,” Ladybug sits up and it takes all of his effort to track her movement, “It’s like you’re trying to be cute or something.”

Chat drops the act immediately, his gloved hand coming to his chest affronted, “Trying to be cute? M’Lady, I am insulted!”

“Seriously?” Ladybug rolls her eyes and stands up, walking over to where Chat is still sprawled out on the wooden planks of the garden bench, “You could use a lesson or two on how to be cute Chaton. Google Adrien Agreste, he’s got the look down pat.”

Chat’s expression drops, “Adrien Agreste?”

“You know, the supermodel?” Ladybug appraises him like he’s grown a second head, “His face is plastered all over Paris.”

“Uh…” Chat swallows the lump in his throat, “That guy? Uh...yeah, yeah I know him.”

“You know him?!”

“I know of him,” Chat amends, sweat beading on his brow despite the coolness of the season, “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are up close?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Ladybug crosses her arms, towering over him, “I’ve been around you long enough to know when you’re lying and you know how much I—”

“—hate liars, yes I know,” Chat finishes her sentence, gawking up at the love of his life, “But I’m not lying, I’m just...uh, a little jealous that you think Adrien Agreste has nicer eyes that I do.”

Ladybug purses her lips, “You have cat eyes Chaton.”

“So?”

“His are normal?” Ladybug shrugs, a blush spreading across her cheeks beneath her mask, “They’re green and they...they’re just really nice alright? No need to get offended.”

Chat can’t help the uncomfortable feeling of rejection that washes over him despite the fact that she’s literally talking about the same person , “Maybe you should go to the New Years Eve Party with him then, if you like him so much. He’ll probably be there.”

“Why have you been so sulky lately?” Ladybug’s mask stretches upwards, her expression both riled and perturbed, “What’s going on with you?”

“It’s nothing,” Chat pushes himself off the bench and walks passed her, one foot already on the railing, “I’ll see you next time okay?”

He tosses himself off the roof before hearing her reply and enjoys the sensation of the freefall for a moment, extending his baton at the very last second. He lands a lot harder than he should, but that’s what the suit is for; he can stand to be a little reckless, right?

~

le 24 décembre, 2016

“He only even thinks about himself!” Adrien flings an ornament against the wall and relishes in the sound it makes, “I just want this stupid day to be over with! I hate Christmas Plagg, transforme-moi!”

He’s out the window before his companion can so much as argue, his suit blessedly impervious to the bitter winter chill. In a rare meteorological event, it was actually snowing in Paris which made things even worse because everything was picturesque and beautiful and everything Chat wasn’t at that moment, frustration and self-loathing thrumming through his veins.

He lands on the eaves of a nearby apartment building and peeks inside the windows, watching as the various families within eat dinner and celebrate together. It makes Chat sick with irritation and longing; why can’t he have any of these things? Why can’t he have family dinners again? At least he’d actually been permitted to listen at the table and talk now and then when his mother was around but nowadays, there was no one to talk to because his father never actually showed up for dinner, preferring instead to eat in his office. So why did he still have to eat at the dining table? Why did he have to go through the motions of a formal family affair when he didn’t even have a family?!

Christmas just made things even worse. Slashing at a string of Christmas lights, Chat berates himself for actually thinking that his father would acknowledge Christmas and have dinner with him, as if that would ever happen. His father is selfish! He’s not the only one who misses her, who feel like shutting himself away from the world and just...he doesn’t even know. He can hardly remember those months after his mother’s death but he can still recall the crushing feeling, like being unable to crawl out of bed in the morning. He’d never really gotten over it, that hole inside him never quite healing over. It helped talking about it, but who was there to hear him out?

Chloe listened sometimes but, like Plagg, she only did so when it suited her. He’s mentioned a thing or two to Nino but his best friend always looks so scandalised by his father’s behaviour that it makes him uncomfortable and Alya, for all of her positive traits, could be a bit of a gossip when it came to a juicy story. As for his other friends, Marinette and Ivan rarely spoke to him, Kim hadn’t quite gotten over the fact that he’d beaten him at every sport in Phys Ed and Max and Juleka were nice, but seemed just as meek and quiet as he was. He wouldn’t dare speak to his teachers or counsellors about it in case it got back to his father, so he was between a rock and a hard place when it came to trying to express the hollow feeling he carried around everywhere he went.

He wishes he could talk about it to Ladybug.

He’s tried mind you, but she has this rule, this rule about anonymity that he hadn’t necessarily agreed on but respected nonetheless. If anything, the rule just made him feel more lonely; he couldn’t share a single aspect of his life with anyone except the public and repressed sides of him and he can feel the anger building, the swell of emotion growing in the pit of his stomach like a cramp. It hurts and he just wants something else to hurt and feel what he’s feeling, like something terrible is happening inside his chest.

His lips are pulled back into a snarl, his boots crunching the snow beneath his feet in the most satisfying of ways, loud and angry and he just stomps harder, the shock to his limbs both jarring and grounding. Sometimes pain is good, so long as it’s not the bad kind, or at least that’s what he keeps telling himself. The hours of running around Paris until he’s tired enough to sleep, the hours posing for the camera, the hours smiling like it’s the easiest thing in the world...it’s a normal pain now, and one he could easily keep tolerating if it meant he stayed busy and distracted and not alone.

There it is, he thinks as he sinks into a crouch and approaches the giant Christmas tree in the square, his right hand glowing black and green. It would be so nice to just destroy it, you know? To watch it crumble into dust between his fingers, black and pointless. There would be no Christmas spirit here, no happy faces, no singing or joy. Just sadness and grief and anguish and pain

“Adrien?”

She’s standing at the top of the stairs, beckoning him closer and he’s running full tilt, tripping up the stairs and into his mother’s arms, relishing in the sound of her laugh against his skin—

“NO!”

Chat cries out and spins away from the tree, stumbling away as panic begins to swallow him whole. He lashes out at the closest thing to him and an image of his face disintegrates like ashes against the snow, the poetic irony not entirely lost on him. Whimpering, he wobbles to his knees and wraps his arms around his chest as if he were clutching his Doudou like he did when he was little... Sometimes he remembers just how much he misses that teddy bear, the way he’d listened to him every day, his button eyes always shining; if only his Papa hadn’t had thrown him out years ago.

There are tears on his mask when his transformation drops unexpectedly, his kwarmi hardly conscious in his palms. I did this, I did this to him and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so…

The next few moments are a blur as Adrien burrows desperately through his bag, searching for something, anything to give Plagg that would help after his stupidstupidstupid lapse of judgement. Why does he do these things? Why does he only cause chaos when all he wants is help?

There isn’t any food in his bag but there’s a bundle wrapped in Christmas paper and he rips it open quickly, finding a woolen hat and a note tucked within. He shoves Plagg between the fleece and smiles as he recognises the handwriting on the scrap of paper, his quiet friend Marinette’s best wishes warming him despite the brutal chill.

“Come on Plagg, let’s find you something to eat…” Adrien trails off, looking up towards the skies. The bells of Notre-Dame de Paris are tolling dimly, their music carrying on the winter wind, “Do you hear that Plagg? It’s Christmas.”

Plagg cracks open his eyes and wonders if it’s too early to make a New Year’s resolution, his role as his holder’s keeper now evidently clear, “Merry Christmas Adrien.”

~

Amazed, Adrien pinches himself through the fabric of his jeans and stares disbelievingly at the party happening around him. There were people in his house, people who he actually knew and was allowed to talk to and there was talking! People were talking and laughing and singing and having fun! In his dining room! In his house!

Two hours ago, he’d been shivering in a sleigh with a man dressed as Santa Claus.

And hour ago, he’d been fighting that very same man.

And now?

Nino cracks a joke from his right and the whole table erupts into laughter, the foreign sound filling the cavernous room as Alya’s younger siblings leap onto Santa’s lap. Marinette is sitting across from him and is actually speaking to him, which is just as amazing as the hat he’d given her and he says as much to her as he passes the platter of canapés over to M. Lahiffe. She stammers something in response but it’s drowned out by M. Bourgeoise’s booming laugh and Adrien just smiles and shoves his fork into the slice of cake in front of him, unworried and feeling happier than he has in weeks.

“This is so good! ” Adrien gushes around a forkful of the fraisier that the Dupain-Cheng’s had brought from their bakery, his eyes blown wide, “How can I buy like, a hundred of these?”

Tom laughs from across the table and slides another piece of strawberry and almond génoise cake onto Adrien’s plate, “You’re welcome to a slice anytime you stop by the bakery.”

Adrien stares down at the second ( second!!!) slice of cake and feels his jaw drop, “Really?”

“Of course!” Tom takes his wife’s hand and gives it a gentle squeeze, “We always have a slice or two left over at the end of the day.”

Sabine gently nudges her daughter with her elbow and Marinette seems to shake out of her trance, “Yeah! It’s uh, it’s...you can s-stop by anytime!”

“Thank you!” Adrien replies, shoveling another enormous helping of cake into his mouth. He’s only ever been allowed sweets on his birthday!

“You’re welcome,” Sabine’s smile is the warmest thing he’s seen all day and Adrien can’t help but beam, the memory of his own mother’s smile popping back up in his mind. It hurts a little less as Nino sneaks a strawberry from his plate and Adrien fights for it back with his fork, giggling like children when Juleka joins in and snatches it from them both, popping it into her mouth. Suddenly it’s a free for all and there’s strawberries and raspberries and slices of pear being thieved all over the place, the cries of betrayal and laughter filling the air, and Adrien?

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

~

le 31 décembre, 2016

“Marinette?”

“Gimme a second!”

Marinette skids around the corner of the bakery’s counter and switches the fermé sign around, flicking the outdoor lights off and locking the door from within. They didn’t close early very often but it was a holiday after all and her family was preparing for their annual feast of celebratory foods piled high within the Dupain-Cheng’s cozy home.

It would be just the three of them again, which meant one less person that she had to lie to. Alya was supposed to come over but her Maman had been called in to supervise Mayor Bourgeoise’s party since the caterer in charge had been akumatised the night before and wasn’t feeling very well. That certainly hadn’t been the most pleasant of fights; Le Traiteur had thrown more knives at her and Chat than she felt comfortable with, especially when Chat kept throwing himself in the line of fire.

“Will you stop that?!” she’d screeched, hauling him aside behind an upturned banquet table.

Chat had just shrugged his shoulders, “It’s what I’m here for.”

“No,” Ladybug growled, shoving her finger in his face so hard it practically went up his nose, “Your job is to help me get that toque off her head!”

“By any means necessary,” Chat insisted, wriggling away from her wrath, “And that means protecting you!”

“And what if one of those knives gets you in the face?!” her voice rose in volume, anger and frustration bursting from her seams, “Your suit won’t protect that!”

This will be fine,” he gestured towards his face with a wild wave of his finger, “So don't worry about it and let’s go! We have an akuma to catch!”

“No!” Ladybug grasped him by the shoulders before he could fully stand, pulling him back to her level, “This isn’t going to work unless we work together. I’ll draw her fire and you use cataclysme on her toque from behind.”

“Or, how about I draw her fire and you use your yoyo to capture the toque?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do!” Ladybug groaned in frustration, trying to shake him into submission, “But you kept getting knives thrown at you!”

“I’ll be more careful this time, I promise.”

“Ughhh,” Ladybug knew a lost fight when she saw one, “I wish you wouldn’t just throw yourself face first into danger all the time.”

Chat crossed his arms over his chest, “Oh, you mean like when you jumped into a dinosaur’s mouth at the zoo?”

Ladybug felt the heat creep up past her neck and colour her cheeks, “That was one time.”

“Yeah? I can think of at least twenty more times,” Chat pinched the bridge of his nose, “Look, we could argue about this all day but can we please go save Paris now?”

“Fine,” Ladybug hated that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever he looked at her like that; they didn’t argue very often, but Chat had been acting strangely all month, “I’ll take point, you go right.”

“As you wish!”

Marinette shakes the memory from her thoughts and fumbles up the stairs, pressing her palm to her chest with a wince. She really needed to talk to him properly and ask why he’d been so wound up lately, but how? They couldn’t share anything about their civilian lives with each other, let alone anyone else. Was it fair to ask if he was alright when he wouldn’t even be able to tell her why if he wasn’t?

Glancing down at the mobile in her hand, she checks the time and takes a deep breath before wandering into the living room of her family’s flat. She still had hours to spend with her Maman and Papa before she’d have to meet him across the street from La Grande Paris and she planned on making the most of it.

“There you are! I was starting to think you got lost down there.”

Marinette rolls her eyes as she steps into the small kitchen beside her father, “I was barely gone for two minutes Papa.”

“Two minutes too long!” Tom sweeps her into a hug and spins her once around the small space, “You’ve been so busy lately, it’s about time we spend some quality family time together!”

Marinette closes her eyes and giggles, squirming in his embrace until she’s able to free one of her arms, “Papaaa, let me go!”

“Nope,” Tom continues his attack, pirouetting into the living room, “I’m never letting you go ever again.”

Sabine sighs from where she’s been tirelessly pleating crescent shaped dumplings for the last forty five minutes, “I’m going to need you both over here in a minute to help me finish dinner.”

“Fiiiine,” Tom whines, setting his giggling daughter back onto the ground, “Your mother, always trying to spoil our fun.”

They settle into a rhythm after that, preparing dinner, joking and making fun of each other. Marinette dusts her Papa with rice flour at one point and gets a faceful of raspberry coulis for her troubles; Sabine just looks on in amused exasperation and wonders what she did to deserve these two in her life.

And speaking of which…

“The Oracle’s New Years Address is on!”

Marinette and her family take the food off the burners and rush into the living room, their eyes glued to the television. Tom grabs the remote from the coffee table and presses his thumb on the volume until her voice can be heard loud and clear.

“...and to all the citizens of France, my sisters and I would like to wish you a wonderful end to your year! It has certainly been a tumultuous one, but the strength of my people amazes me to no bounds. I may be able to foresee many things, but I did not expect you to come together as you have, in strength and in solidarity of those who have been victimized by the terrorist Le Papillon.”

“As the final minutes of the year fade away into the past, I think of Paris and how her powerful identity has shone through over the past four months in the face of these appalling attacks. I keep those who have been hurt in my thoughts and I celebrate those of you who have risen above their hate. A few days after the first attack in September, I had the privilege of meeting with some of those affected. I describe these encounters as being a privilege simply because the citizens I met were an example all of us could follow, showing true resilience and bravery in the face of fear and uncertainty.”

The Pythia brushes her silver hair across her shoulder, the bangles on her wrist glittering in the television lights, “Citizens of France, of Paris, I implore you to be strong and vigilant with your emotions and offer patience and kindness when interacting with your friends and peers. Together, we can overcome any obstacle this cowardly man throws at us! By simply helping a friend in need or donating your time to a charity, you can fill your life with reason and joy and help others reap the rewards of your generosity. Be generous and keep the people you love in your thoughts always. Even in times of trouble, they will always be by your side.”

“Today we celebrate the end of the year, which itself is sometimes described as a time of change. I encourage you to seize this moment and become the best versions of yourselves you can be. Open your arms and your hearts to those in need and celebrate the prosperity of this nation! Aux armes les citoyens! , but not with the cries of battle or the spirit of war. Arm yourselves with love and kindness and we shall be free of this nuisance for good!”

“Whatever your own experiences this year going forwards, wherever and however you are watching me now, I want to wish you a balanced and wonderful year ahead! May the fates be with you!”

The Pythia waves from her tripod and bows her head once before the feed cuts and the station resumes their regular programming, the news anchors already reacting to the Oracle’s inspiring address. Marinette is scooped into a hug before she can so much as turn around, her father’s burly arms squeezing both her and Sabine to his chest.

“I love you,” Tom plants a kiss on the crown of his wife’s head and does the same to Marinette, “I am the luckiest man in the world.”

“I love you too Papa,” Marinette smiles into his chest and simply lets the moment of warmth wash over her.

Life is good.

~

“I promise I’ll be home right away, I just want to give Alya her gift in person!” Marinette explains, holding a wrapped empty box in her palms. Sabine smiles and nods, slipping Marinette’s ear muffs onto her head.

“I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold,” Sabine replies, brushing some non existent dirt off the shoulder of her winter coat, “Are you sure it can’t wait?”

Marinette hates this part, “Sorry Maman, I’ll be as fast as I can.”

“Of course, just be safe.”

“I’m only going across the road, I’m meeting her at the school.”

“At 22:45?”

“It was...don’t worry Maman, I’ll be quick. I gotta go!”

Sabine watches Marinette disappear down the stairs and gently closes the apartment door behind her, wringing her fingers nervously, “Do you ever wonder if we should just tell her?”

“Tell her what?” Tom replies, scrubbing the skillet with a bristled brush over the sink.

“That we...you know,” Sabine gestures, waving her hand thoughtlessly, “That we know .”

“I don’t think we’re supposed to know,” Tom sets the brush down and picks up the dish towel, turning towards his wife, “She might put even more pressure on herself than she already does.”

“But we could help her,” Sabine insists, leaning against the counter, “We could help keep her safe.”

“I don’t think Ladybug needs any help in that department,” Tom puts the skillet back into the kitchen cabinet and turns around, cupping Sabine’s hands in his own, “We just need to keep supporting her in every way we can, even if that means pretending we actually believe her excuses.”

Sabine sighs, “Where do you think she’s off to tonight?”

“I don’t think we’ll have to wait long to find out,” Tom bends down to her level and presses a kiss to her forehead, “Come on, you sit on the couch and I’ll put the kettle on.”

“Merci mon chéri.”

“Je ferais tout pour toi.”

Chapter Text

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

Phaedrus

le 31 décembre, 2016

Bursting through the front door onto the cobblestone sidewalk, Marinette runs around the corner of the bakery and hides in the nearest alleyway, pulling open the clasp of her purse to find the kwarmi hiding within.

“Are you ready Marinette?” Tikki emerges with a flourish, brushing cookie crumbs from the fur on her chest.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Marinette pulls a face and tries not to think about the mauling she’ll probably receive from Chloë when she gets to Mayor Bourgeoise’s New Years Eve party.

“You’ll have Chat Noir by your side the entire time,” Tikki floats upwards and nuzzles her cheek, “It will be fun!”

“Easy for you to say,” Marinette feels her lips curl upwards ever so slightly, her kwarmi’s ever present optimism contagious, “You’re not the one getting hugged by Chloë!”

Tikki giggles, “Come on Marinette, you’re going to be late!”

“Fiiinnne,” she complains, but there’s a smile on her lips, “Tikki, transforme-moi!”

There’s a flurry of light as her transformation takes shape and when Ladybug opens her eyes, she immediately realises something is off. It only takes her a second to glance down and see why, the skirt cape wrapped around her waist flowing gently in the winter wind that blows in from the streets beyond. She blinks several times to try and sort her thoughts, confused and ultimately speechless at the sudden alteration to her superhero suit. Since when could Tikki change the design? Sure, she’d been sketching her own Ladybug inspired ideas in her margins lately but those were all far fetched designs, drawn purely for fun. Had Tikki see some of her art? Was she offended? Oh god, does she think that the suit isn’t good enough and is trying to change it—

There’s a sudden rush of relief that floods her system that isn’t her own and Marinette has to take a deep breath to calm herself, her heart stammering inside her chest. It’s the most bizarre sensation but she takes comfort in it, knowing that it had come from Tikki and that she wasn’t offended at all. Four months in and Marinette still wasn't quite used to having a second conscious in her mind, lovely and supportive but omnipresent nonetheless.

“Is this for the party?” she asks no one in particular, swirling her hips back and forth as the fabric catches the ambient light from streets, shiny and just as eye catching as the suit itself. She likes it actually; the skirt isn't particularly obtrusive to her movement and it flows well as she launches her yoyo and heads to the other side of the Seine. She knows she's seen this design before and wonders if Tikki saw it when she'd sat down to lunch with Abeera the other afternoon; she'd been wearing something similar over her trousers, the chiffon fabric matching perfectly with the hijab on her head.

It doesn't take her long to spot Chat Noir’s familiar silhouette against the brightness emanating from the windows of La Grande Paris, his black shadow both comforting and bold. She’s never liked these formal affairs but he seems to always take them in stride, an expert in every sense of the word. He could talk his way out of a paper bag when the moment was right and Ladybug wonders where he learned to be so professional in the spotlight, especially when he was really just a giant nerd once they were alone.

“Happy New Years Eve!” she greets him, landing softly at his side. He turns and grins widely, taking in her obvious change of attire.

“M’Lady…” he reaches out instinctively, his claws brushing against the sweeping red fabric, “You look pawsitively ravishing this evening.”

Ladybug rolls her eyes, “I see my kwarmi wasn't the only one who got creative.”

“Oh, these things?” Chat tucks his hands in at the small of his back and flicks them outwards, showing off the tailcoat added to the design, “Plagg thought he was being funny.”

“Well at least we'll look the part,” Ladybug responds, rubbing her arms nervously as she peers over the rooftop at the red carpet crowd below, “Let's get this over with.”

Leaping off the ledge, Ladybug’s yoyo catches one of the flagpoles with ease and she slowly lowers herself, her skirt billowing all around her. Chat follows suit and lands in a crouch beside her, the flashes of the paparazzi camera nearly blinding.

Chat extends his elbow, “Shall we?”

Ladybug hesitates, knowing that #LadyNoir will once again be plastered across the tabloids if she does, but the screams are getting louder, “Just this once.”

She rests her hand on the crook of his elbow and they quickly hurry inside only to be accosted by the Mayor himself, his booming laugh clearly heard above the sounds of clinking glasses and merry voices.

“Ladybug and Chat Noir! What an honour!”

“Here we go,” Chat murmurs under his breath, shimmying behind Ladybug ever so slightly. Ladybug purses her lips as he cowers like a kitten and steps forwards out of his grasp to greet the Mayor.

“Happy New Years Eve Mayor Bourgeoise,” Ladybug stands still as he bends down to air kiss her cheeks in greeting. Satisfied, the mayor stands back up and gently places his hands on her upper arms, his entire face lit up in glee.

“And to you! Thank you for accepting my invitation, I’m so happy you’re here!” Mayor Bourgeoise replies earnestly, clapping Chat Noir on the back hard enough to make him trip into Ladybug’s shoulder, “Please make yourselves at home! There are waiters bringing around drinks and hors d’oeuvres for everyone!”

Ladybug and Chat nod in thanks as the Mayor is whisked away by another diplomat, leaving them in a flurry of excited invitees from the upper class desperate to see their cities prolific heroes. Ladybug hates this part but now that Mayor Bourgeoise is busy manhandling someone else, Chat is able to find it within himself to take on the deluge of fans.

“It’s a pleasure to see every single one of you tonight!” he announces, taking her arm in his again and dragging her through the crowd, “And truly, we’d like to stay and chat but Ladybug and I have had a busy evening saving Paris and we both could use a snack.”

The crowd agrees with a laugh and scatters immediately but hangs around on the outskirts nonetheless, following them like a cloud across the room. The distance gives her the space she needs and she releases the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding, the shyness that comes from being the centre of attention still an obstacle she hadn’t yet overcome.

“I don’t think they’re serving anything other than champagne,” Chat mutters beneath his breath, leading her over to the edge of the room, “Have you ever had champagne before?”

“Once or twice,” Ladybug replies, thinking back to tiny glass her Maman had given her when her parents had paid off the mortgage last year, “Have you?”

Chat nods and snatches two off the platter of the nearest waiter, “Here. You don’t have to drink it, but it will give you something to focus on if you get stuck in a weird conversation.”

Ladybug blinks, “That’s...good advice actually. Thanks Chat.”

“This isn’t my first fancy party,” Chat shrugs, bringing the champagne to his lips, “But I’ve always lived to tell the tail .”

“Ugh,” Ladybug shakes her head and sets off into the crowd to bump shoulders with Paris’ elite. Steeling herself, she decides to at least try and have a good time talking to a few of the decent people she’s met over her last few months as Ladybug.

Ten minutes of casual conversation pass and she’s still thankfully free from Chloë’s perfectly manicured grasp, having carefully hidden herself from where the insufferable girl had been drinking champagne and bragging from the upper balcony all evening. She imagines it's probably because she’s with Adrien; he’d mentioned to Nino and Alya that he was going with his father and would inevitably become Chloë’s plus one whether he liked it or not.

“Does M’Lady need another glass of champagne?” Chat sides up to her as she graciously leaves another conversation, slipping the now empty glass out of her fingers. She’d been thirsty but she doesn’t feel any different from how she’d felt before and wonders if the suit has anything to do with it, “I’m good, but thanks for offering.”

“As M’Lady commands,” he bows with a flourish, reaching out to take her hand, “Would you care to dance?”

Ladybug rolls her eyes, “Not a chance kitty. Go bark up someone else's tree.”

“I’m a cat,” Chat retorts, mock offended, “Cats do not bark .”

“Same difference,” Ladybug raises her arms and waves him away, “Shoo.”

“Nope,” Chat takes one of her outstretched hands and brings it to his lips, kissing the top, “You’re my plus one.”

“No, you’re my plus one,” Ladybug snatches her hand back and crosses her arms defiantly, “Stop it, you're making a scene.”

Chat glances around them before straightening up, “You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry. Are you having fun?”

“Not really,” Ladybug grimaces and leans against one of the grandiose support columns, “I’ve kind of been stargazing mostly. I’m pretty sure that’s Dany Boon over there.”

Chat nods without looking and taps his claws against the half empty champagne flute in his hands, “Yup. And Jean Paul Gaultier is over there to with, uh, Gabriel Agres—”

“Jean Paul Gaultier and Gabriel Agreste?” Ladybug’s jaw drops as she whips her head around to see, “Where? Where are they?”

“Um…” Chat hesitates as he takes in her reaction, “Over by the ice sculpture?”

“Oh my god, I can’t believe I am in the same room as them!”

Chat’s brows disappear into his hairline, “I take it you’re into fashion?”

“Oh my god, oh my god, do you think...do you think I could go over there?” Ladybug can hardly tear her eyes away from the two imposing names in haute couture chatting idly over hors d’oeuvres several metres away, “Oh my god no, I can’t, I can’t, they’d think I look ridiculous, I...oh my god.”

“Would you like me to go over there with you?”

“Nooo, noooo,” Ladybug is practically vibrating, “Those are only two of the best designers in Paris. Well, I mean there are tons of great designers in Paris but here? In the same room? What do you think they’re talking about?”

Chat shugs, “Clothes probably? Or parfum.”

“Parfum? Oooo…” Ladybug bobs up and down on the balls of her feet, “Do you think there are more designers here? Or models? Or singers? Do you think Jagged Stone is here?”

“I think he’s still on tour,” Chat replies, slipping his baton from its holster. His gloved thumb slides along the touchscreen as he types, the results of his search popping up instantly, “Yup. He’s in the UK.”

“Hey Chat, is that—”

“Huh?” Chat follows Ladybug’s wide eyed gaze before turning back to face her, “Oh, the Oracle? Yeah, she’s always invited to special events like this. She doesn’t always attend them, but I’ve seen her here a few times before.”

Ladybug is about to respond when the implications of his words hits her, “Wait, you’ve seen her here before?”

“I…” Chat’s pupils suddenly contract behind his mask and he turns away swiftly, snatching another canapé off a waiter’s silver platter, “I uh...I meant, I’ve seen her here on Instagram. Don’t you follow the Mayor?”

Ladybug chews her lip before ultimately letting the comment slide, “No, but I guess I should. I’ve never seen her before in real life, except when I was a baby.”

“Yeah,” Chat glances down at his claws and wipes some crème fraiche from the corner of his mouth, “My fa...family doesn’t believe in the Oracle so I’m not even allowed to talk about her.”

“Really?” Ladybug tips her head to the side and returns a wave from a passing fan before turning back to him, “I’ve only ever met one other hérétique before.”

“Well, I’m not an hérétique ,” Chat responds sharply, his voice surprisingly low for once, “I don’t know what I think since I was never given a chance to make up my own opinion.”

Ladybug doesn’t know what to say to that so she turns instead to face the Pythia once again, both curious and stunned. The older woman is casually reclining on one of the curved banquette surrounded by her three Sybelline priestesses and their four female bodyguards and altogether, they make for an intimidating sight. Ladybug can’t help but gawk as the Pythia grins and sips a glass of champagne as her three sisters laugh around her, their voices chiming high above the din as if supernaturally augmented and—

The sound is sucked out of the room.

Ladybug has never felt such a sensation, the muscles of her face falling slack as the eyes of the Pythia lock onto her own. It feels like something has her by the waist, her feet shuffling impulsively towards her and he moves beside her, synchronized and caught within the same siren call, enchanted by the colour of her eyes, the subtle movement of her lips as she chants below her breath and the incandescence of her hair that glimmers like strands of pure diamonds—

The sound returns with a rush.

And suddenly, Chat Noir and Ladybug stand before the most powerful woman in France.

“Good evening,” the Pythia’s lips part into an inviting smile, her eyes sparkling with a joke thinly veiled. Ladybug and Chat share an awestruck glance between them before turning back towards her, their eyes and ears still adjusting to the sudden flood of stimulus around them, “I love the alterations to your suits. Did you know that many of my sisters have been experimenting with outfits inspired by your likeness since the Cat and Ladybug Miraculous returned to France?”

Ladybug looks down at her skirt and blushes profusely at the high praise. Internationally, the sisters of the French Oracle were famous for their superior weaving skills, their fabrics renowned across Europe and, more recently, North America. The sisters of Versailles created all of their own elaborate gowns and robes, designing the most lavish and intricate of them all for the Pythia herself. To be gifted with a swathe of handmade, expertly crafted silk or lace from the Oracle was an honour only held by Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy in recent years and Ladybug dreamed of being the first designer in the 21st century to receive such an honourary distinction.

“Thank you,” Ladybug replies and it sounds more like a wheeze in her ears than anything. Beaming, the Pythia just laughs and sets her glass of champagne down on the table.

“I wanted to thank you personally for keeping our city safe,” the Pythia slips the stem of her flute between her fingers and swirls it against the satin tablecloth, “If there is anything I can do to help you, please feel free to visit me in Versailles. I would be more than happy to assist you in anyway possible.”

Chat opens his mouth and closes it, gaping like a fish, “R-really?”

“Of course,” the Pythia turns to him, her eyes gouging into his, “There is nothing I wouldn’t offer to help keep my people safe.”

“But…” Ladybug’s brows furrow beneath her mask, “I thought we weren’t allowed to visit you until we were sixteen?”

“My child…” the Pythia leans ever so slightly towards them, her bright eyes glimmering once more, “So far as I’m aware, the Ladybug and Cat Miraculous are thousands upon thousands of years old, are they not?”

“Uh…” Chat looks just as confused as Ladybug feels, “They are?”

“They are indeed,” the Pythia shares a private smile with the nearest of the Sybelline seers at her side, “Like the two of you, I was destined to take on this magical role and I share the memories of every Pythia that came before me as a result, so I thought it would be fascinating to share that the Ladybug and Cat Miraculous have lived in France twice before.”

Ladybug steps closer, drawn like a magnet, “Really? When?”

The Pythia taps her nose for a moment, “The 15th century and...the 17th century I believe?”

The Sybelline seer nods her head, the beads of pearls weaved into her pleated black hair gleaming in the light of the chandeliers above, “According to our research, the Ladybug and Chat Noir of the 17th century were skilled in the art of duelling.”

“Of course, not much is remembered about the pair before that,” the Pythia adds, bringing the rim of her glass to her red lacquered lips, “Like all things, memories begin to fade after time. It’s why we keep an extensive library at the Oracle, to keep track of all of the magical things that take place in our country. I’ve even started writing a book about the two of you.”

“You have?” Chat tips his head to the side, blinking wide. Ladybug has never seen him quite so astonished, but she supposes it makes sense considering what he’d said before about his family. Even Chloë has never been personally invited to see the Oracle...has anyone ever received an invitation to see the Oracle before? And from the Pythia herself no less....

“Oh yes, and I’d be delighted to know more about you should you ever stop by. We have so much to discuss,” the Pythia stands and Ladybug finally gets a good look at her bespoke a-line gown of green tulle and chiffon, the experty draped fabric painstakingly adorned with orchid embellishments. She towers over them with a smile that immediately makes her feel at ease, her very presence emanating trust, “Now, as much as I would love to continue this conversation, André looks like he may explode if he has to wait for your attentions any longer.”

Chat and Ladybug spin around simultaneously and spot Mayor Bourgeoise practically itching with the desire to be summoned, “Off you run, but please consider my invitation and may the fates be with you both.”

~

“Are you headed home now?”

“I am,” Ladybug plucks a chouquette from a passing waiter and takes a small bite, “I don’t want to miss the countdown with my family.”

“Of course,” Chat replies, looking a little disappointed, “Well, if you want a New Years kiss, you know who to call.”

“In your dreams Chaton,” Ladybug responds with a smirk, “Have a good night!”

“You too Buginette,” he waves as she runs through the front doors and into the night, “Happy New Years.”

~

“Dix! Neuf! Huit!”

Marinette counts down with her family, thankful when they didn’t question her as to why she took so long. They’re sitting on Marinette’s balcony, their flags and noise makers in hand to the sound of the radio, watching over the Seine.

“Sept! Six! Cinq!”

She can see the people on the streets and neighbouring balconies as they arrive in droves, eager to watch the sky light up with colours and sound, illuminating the night.

“Quatre! Trois! Deux!”

The tension is ramping up and Marinette is so excited she can hardly keep still, jumping up and down and screaming.

“Un! Zero! Bonne année Paris!”

Marinette blows on her noise maker and watches in wonder as small groups of people launch fireworks from their rooftops, bright and wild and kind of dangerous. She and her parents exchange des bises and grin madly as the people of Paris dance and sing in celebration, their singing voices mingling with the crack of fireworks and the excited hollering of people all around. Couples everywhere are cheek to cheek, dancing and mingling with the crowds as families hoist their little ones into the air to get a better view of the show happening up above them. Sabine exclaims from behind as a barrage of closette clusters burst into the air in the same colours of the French flag and Tom hugs them both close, a wide grin plastered on his face.

“Bonne année ma belle,” he murmurs to his wife, closing the gap between them. Smiling, Sabine rises onto her toes and meets him halfway, kissing him gently on the lips. Marinette gives them an odd look, but even that can’t quite dampen her spirits; after all, her family is together, her family is happy and nothing could change that tonight.

Not even Le Papillon.

Chapter Text

“The biggest challenge in working together is simply listening.”

Michael Scott

le 9 janvier, 2017

Le Papillon has been...well, surprisingly quiet as of late.

There had only been two akuma attacks in since the day before New Years Eve and both of them had been far too easy to defeat, which only added to Ladybug’s rising anxiety. Chat had joked that the villain was just losing his touch but they both knew better than to believe it; Le Papillon simply wasn’t the type to let sleeping dogs lie.

In her civilian life, Marinette rejoiced in the extra free time. She had sleepovers with her best friends and made dinner with her family. She aced the last three tests in maths and science and even upped her role as class president, taking on the speech competition and earning second place. She’d stuttered a little bit when she’d spotted Adrien smiling in the crowd so she understands why she didn’t win, but she still thought that her impassioned argument for new classroom technology had been more persuasive than Guillaume’s speech on homework.

On the other hand, her life as Ladybug was quite literally a mess. She and Chat patrolled regularly just waiting for the other shoe to drop, their anticipation leaving them on pins and needles around each other, their conversation painfully stilted. It was as if a line had been crossed on New Years Eve but she couldn't quite be sure what it was, nor could she take back whatever had happened.

But it had to stop now.

“Do you want to grab some food?” Ladybug asks, having finally built up the courage to break the ice, “Remember Arthur and Thibault?”

Chat visibly slouches in relief, “From the Italian food truck?”

“That's the one,” Ladybug lands on the nearest rooftop and holsters her yoyo, “I saw them back in la Bastille and they owe us a focaccia each. Are you up for it?”

Chat pats his abdomen, “Are you kidding me? I'm starving.”

“You're always starving.”

“Am not,” Chat sticks out his tongue, heedless to Ladybug’s roll of the eyes as they turn north.

“Are too.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“Will you cat off my case?”

“Ugh!”

And thus the tension was broken.

For now.

~

Sprawled on top of l’Opéra Bastille , Chat let his legs droop over the ledge of the modern glass facade and tries not to wolf down his mozzarella and tomato smothered flatbread all in one go. He'd last eaten at...noon? Maybe? HIs father had missed dinner as always so Nathalie had sent his food to his room and he'd been so preoccupied with Full Metal Alchemist and his biology homework that he had forgotten to eat.

“So…” Chat begins, swallowing uncomfortably around the giant bite he'd taken, “What's new?”

Ladybug plucks a piece of tomato from the top and pops it in her mouth, “Not much. This quiet has been nice.”

“Agreed,” Chat nods, desperate for another bite of focaccia, “I've finally caught up on my homework.”

“Me too! And my parents are finally off my back,” Ladybug shakes her head with a smile, “I even aced a maths test yesterday.”

“Congratulations!” Chat offers his free hand up to Ladybug and she grins, bumping fists.

“Thanks! It's feels so weird to be a normal teenager again.”

Chat lips curl wistfully; he's never known what being a normal teenager feels like and he knows he never will, especially considering his responsibilities as a model. He’s constantly being followed and photographed and screamed at by fans...he can only imagine what will happen when that new parfum commercial drops.

“Yeah...it’s been okay I guess,” Chat gives into his temptations and takes another bite, “I’ve still been really busy.”

“That’s too bad,” Ladybug replies and Chat just shrugs, staring at the ground beyond his boots. He’d been stupid busy lately thanks to the production of his father’s Mariposa line of haute-couture fashion; scaly textures and bright fabrics were in, judging by the amount of pastel alligator leather he’s been dressed in as of late, not to mention all of the flowers. He’s had more flora and fauna weaved into his hair than he can count and getting it all out without making a mess of his makeup is a task he’s begun to loathe almost as much as he loathes feathers!

He brushes his bangs from his forehead instinctively and shoves another inhumanely large bite past his teeth, his mood darkening. Thinking about modelling makes him think about Nathalie and that whole relationship had taken a turn for the bizarre, especially once she’d come clean with him.

She’d brought up how she had to tell him something three times now but it was only last week that she’d gotten the chance to do it uninterrupted. She didn't say anything that he didn't already know from Chloë; Nathalie finally admitted that he'd been brought to the Pythia when he was a baby and Adrien had stayed stone faced throughout it all, bitter and unhappy. Why did it take over fourteen years for Nathalie to tell the truth to him, especially after all the lies she’d told him, and what other secrets did she have?

He'd asked as much and she turned redder than the streak in her hair, clearly taken aback by the question, and then she told him something interesting although it was clear that she didn't want to say it at all.

“The Pythia foretold your mother's absence when she was pregnant with you and Monsieur refused to believe her. He said some...unpleasant things to her and they haven’t gotten along since.”

Like a strike of lightning, the nature of the situation all clanged together in his head, the motive finally obvious. This was just another ‘Karl Lagerfeld Incident’; Papa had said something terrible and, as usual, he was much too proud to apologise.

Adrien nodded as the implications dawned on him, “So this has nothing to do with me.”

Nathalie still looked like she was about to either vomit or burst, “It's Monsieur who is responsible for his actions, not you.”

“Well that's good then,” Adrien had turned back to his piano, “But why are you telling me this now?”

Nathalie was already halfway out the door but his enhanced hearing caught her words regardless, whispered harshly under her breath, “Because I don't have a choice.”

Needless to say, Adrien had decided that he had a rendezvous to make in the near future to figure things out once and for all.

“You’ve been kind of off lately,” Ladybug breaks through his thoughts, watching him from the corner of her eye, “I was wondering if you wanted to talk about it?”

Chat wants nothing more, “I would if I could but…”

“Superhero identities, I know,” Ladybug shimmies closer, the gesture completely at odds with the distance she usually gave him, “But if you need someone to talk to, I’m here if you need me.”

“Thanks…” Chat trails off but her offer sounds empty in his ears. Of course he can’t actually tell her anything, considering his struggles. He can only imagine what she’d say and how she’d talk to him if he told her what he really feels like most days when he’s all alone in his room, staring blankly at the picture of his Maman on his desktop computer. He had enough of a mind to know that the things running through his thoughts weren’t always very positive but there wasn’t much stopping them regardless; talking about them probably wouldn’t help anyway.

“You’re welcome,” Ladybug places her hand on his shoulder, “How’s the focaccia?”

“Really good,” he responds, suddenly losing his appetite, “Yours?”

“Good.”

A long silence stretches out between them.

~

le 15 janvier, 2017

His father has locked himself in his office with the weird museum curator again and Nathalie has gone back to her apartment for the evening. Chat had tracked the Mercedes all the way to her studio penthouse near le Champ de Mars before eventually turning tail and heading back towards la Gare Montparnasse where he hoped to catch a train at least part way towards Versailles , hitching a ride on the back of Metro train as he had so many times before.

He'd been mulling over it for weeks, the possibility of visiting the Pythia on his own. He had so many questions to ask and he was desperate for answers, desperate for her to give some meaning to his life. Only yesterday, his father had mentioned to Nathalie that his role with the company was temporary...what did that even mean? What was he planning? And why did Nathalie send him to his room when she realised he had overheard?

He'd settled on the decision that evening and surprisingly, Plagg had actually been supportive. It was weird really, having the tiny god agree with him for once, but he’d been surprisingly kind to him as of late. Adrien wasn’t sure what inspired the softer side of Plagg to rear its head now and then, but it made him feel better when things were getting a little too overwhelming for him to handle on his own.

He’s poised upon one of the line switches when movement catches his eye from the left, a silhouette zooming passed him in the moonlight. He panics for a moment before making the sudden connection; it was Ladybug and she was…

Merde!

He was about to miss his train!

Leaping blindly, Chat lands on the roof of the Metro train and scrabbles for purchase on the steel rooftop, catching his claws against the screws in the welded metal. Turning around, he scampers down towards the end of the train and settles against the sheltered doorway on the final car, holding on carefully for the rest of the twenty five minute journey.

~

Marinette lands deftly on the last train heading south east towards Versailles and tucks herself in between the first and second cars, unwilling to draw attention to herself by taking the train the normal way. It’s the quickest way to get across the city in a pinch and both she and Chat had found that out early on, having fought quite a few akuma together in the outer arrondissements. Leaping and vaulting through the air was one thing, but doing it for several kilometres across rooftops and parks became exhausting after a while.

The train slows several times to take on new passengers and Ladybug retreats into the shadows every time, careful to avoid being seen. She had so many questions that she wanted answers to, especially when it comes to Le Papillon. She’d been mulling over her suspicions for the past few days and she wanted to ask the Pythia if she was correct, especially after the Volpina akuma last week. The connection was obvious; after all, why would Gabriel Agreste have a book about the Miraculous if he wasn’t planning on using it for something nefarious? The book belonged in the protection of Master Fu but she hadn’t had a choice when it came down to it...getting Adrien back into school was the only option she had.

Peeking in through the windows, Ladybug spots La Gare de Versailles on the overhead screens and prepares to disembark, loosening her grip on the bars keeping the trains connected. She unholsters her yoyo and sets off with a swing once they’ve slowed down enough and disappears into the trees that surround the enormous estate, perching on top of an upper branch. She watches as the Oracle’s final visitors for the night enter the train in droves, eager to get home to their families for the evening and she follows the path from the Oracle with her eyes towards the enormous Chateaû looming in the distance.

The train speeds off in the opposite direction and Ladybug takes it as her cue to start her journey through the sprawling gardens, filled with labyrinths and fountains and other water features. Most are closed down for the winter season but their beauty stands out nonetheless, the sprinkle of snow falling from the skies alighting their silhouettes in the moonlight.

She’s halfway down the path when she hears something behind her, a sound that’s just a little too hot on her heels for comfort and she scampers over to the shadows and scans the scenery carefully, cursing her inability to see in the dark. She feels a little more vulnerable than she’d like without her partner by her side, her weaknesses buffered by his strengths and vise-versa...maybe she should have asked him to join her tonight but then she hadn’t really been planning on coming at all until earlier this evening. Still, she could have texted him and let him know she was coming just in case he wanted to tag along—

“Ladybug?!”

Ladybug snatches her yoyo from her waist instinctively and throws it, catching the person behind her before she even has a chance to breathe. She yanks the cord back and suddenly finds Chat Noir tied up like a trussed chicken, landing with a thud at her feet.

“Chat Noir?!” Ladybug immediately calls her string back and bends down, setting her hand gently on his shoulders, “Are you okay?!”

“Mmph,” Chat lifts his face off the trail and spits out a few pebbles out of his mouth, “Newer bedder, bleh.”

“Geez Chat,” Ladybug quickly scans the area for bystanders before turning back to him, “You startled me! What are you doing out here so late at night? Are you following me?”

Chat Noir pushes himself off the ground and sits back on his haunches, intent on wiping the stone dust from his tongue and lips, “I could say the same about you.”

“What?”

“I saw you go by just as I was getting on the train,” Chat replies, brushing himself off and getting to his feet, “Were you following me?”

Ladybug frowns, “Following you? I thought you were following me!”

“Nope,” Chat Noir runs his claws through his bangs and watches as more pebbles rain down in front of him, “Next time, can you at least look behind you before attacking me with your yoyo?”

Ladybug crosses her arms across her chest, “You could have been an attacker.”

“Well I was trying to be loud but my boots,” he stomps them for good measure but they hardly make a sound, “are really quiet! They never used to be like this.”

“If only your suit could do something about your puns,” Ladybug turns on her heel and continues towards the temple in distance, “Come on, it’s getting late and we might as well go together.”

Chat scurries to catch up and she breaks into a sprint, egging him on across the expansive landscape. He takes on the challenge eagerly and barrels forwards, using all four limbs to make up for the way she seems to defy the laws of gravity, her strides just a little too long and a little too light for someone her size. She continues to sass him over her shoulder and he continues to nip at her heels, laughing all the while; it’s the first time they’ve ever raced each other without rooftops in the way.

Panting, they skid to a stop at the bottom of the stairs and stare up in unison at the main passageway, lit from beneath by giant cauldrons of amber fire. Three enormous Grecian columns loom above them, their inscriptions hewn from the marble of antiquity, deep and enduring.

Know Thyself · Nothing Overmuch · Surety, Then Ruin          

“The Sayings of the Seven Sages,” Chat Noir murmurs beside her, his lips parting in awe, “I remember reading about them in school.”

“Seven?” Ladybug squints her eyes, “I only see three.”

“That’s because there are only three here,” Chat turns towards her, his eyes glowing iridescent, “The Pythia who originally built the temple chose these three as a warning.”

“A warning? A warning for what?”

Chat turns back to the columns, “I don’t know. There was an akuma attack that day and I didn’t make it back for the rest of the lesson.”

“Ah,” Ladybug nods, knowing the feeling all too well, “Well, we better get inside.”

Après vous M’Lady,” Chat bows and gestures towards the temple’s entrance, “I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold.”

Ladybug grabs his outstretched hand and drags him behind her, Come on Catsonova, let’s go.

Entering the threshold, the first thing they come across are the empty, salt stained plastic trays dedicated to the winter boots and shoes of the temple’s visitors, “We have to take our shoes off?”

“That’s what the sign says,” Ladybug replies, glancing down at her feet, “But I don’t think that’s going to be an option.”

“Mine don’t come off either,” Chat adds, balancing on one foot to brush the dirt and pebbles from his sole, “I tried once just to find out. Even the mask doesn’t come off.”

Ladybug sits down on the nearby bench and wipes the soles of her feet as well, “I know. Remember Lady Wifi? She actually tried to peel my mask off while we were fighting.”

“She was one of our very first,” Chat chuckles, offering his hand, “How many akuma do you think we’ve taken down since then?”

Ladybug takes hold and thanks him as he hauls her back onto her feet, “Check the LadyBlog, I think she has a list going.”

“Yeah? I’ll have to go on later and find out,” Chat leads the way down the dimly candlelit corridor, their voices echoing against the marble walls, “I haven’t been on it in a few days since it’s been so quiet. The girl who runs it, Alya, she must be furious.”

“I’m sure she is,” Ladybug agrees and tries not to dwell over how much her usually enthusiastic friend had been complaining her ear off. It was starting to get annoying, especially since Alya kept trying to change the subject everytime they were chatting about something else, but she supposes this is just the balance getting back at her since all she talked about lately was asking Adrien out on a date.

“Do you think the Pythia meant what she said when she invited us to come over anytime?” Chat asks quietly, breaking her out of her thoughts, “This place is completely deserted.”

Ladybug stomach pangs nervously, “Wouldn’t she have seen us coming?”

“That’s true,” Chat glances upwards at the vaulted ceilings, “It’s just weird with no one being here. It feels kind of...creepy I guess.”

Ladybug picks up the pace every so slightly, “I think it’s because of all the shadows.”

“It’s probably a lot nicer during the day.”

“Probably. Hey, is that a doorway over there?”

Chat focuses on the end of the hallway, “Yup. Looks like the candles lead into there.”

“I wish I could see in the dark,” Ladybug complains, nudging Chat with her elbow.

“Hmmf,” Chat crosses his arms over his chest and throws her a pointed glare, “I distinctly remember you calling my eyes ugly the other day.”

Ladybug raises a brow, “First of all, that was weeks ago, and secondly, I didn’t call them ugly.”

“Yeah you did. You said they were,” Chat lifts his hands to make guillemets with his fingers and pitches his voice upwards, “ cat eyes .”

“That’s because they are!” Ladybug sighs in annoyance, “They’re cat eyes! I was just stating the obvious.”

“You said Adrien Agreste’s eyes were nicer than mine.”

“Is that why you’re being so prickly? Because I said that I liked Adrien Agreste’s eyes better than yours?”

“No, and I haven’t been prickly . I’m just...we both have the same eye colour!”

“So? He has normal, human eyes.”

“I have normal, human eyes when I’m not Chat Noir too you know,” he grumbles, slouching his shoulders.

“I would hope so,” Ladybug grimaces as they enter a cavernous rectangular chamber. They continue following the candles down the first passage off the enormous room, bickering all the while, “That would be really weird to have cat eyes all the time.”

“I think it would be kind of cool actually. I can see a lot more colour and detail than I can normally.”

“But you’d have cat eyes Chat, you’d probably have a hard time making friends.”

“You think people would bully me for having cat eyes?”

Ladybug blinks, his voice sounding far more vulnerable than it had a moment ago, “I’m...I think so. People get bullied all the time for being different.”

“I guess...” Chat comes to a dead stop in the hallway, “Have you ever been bullied?”

Ladybug turns around to face him and contemplates her answer for a moment, “I have. There’s this girl who’s been tormenting me for years.”

Chat looks positively affronted, “Why?”

She just shrugs, “For being different. I’m half Chinese and my...well, I can’t go into detail but she’s a horrible person. She bullies everyone.”

“Geez, I hate this girl already,” Chat resumes his trek down the passage beside her, “Anything I can do?”

“Nope,” Ladybug taps her mask with the tip of her finger, “Superhero disguises, remember?”

“Oh yeah…” Chat trails off and narrows his eyes passed her shoulder, “We’re about to go through another doorway.”

“How big is this place?”

“Huge. There’s a hundred people who live here.”

“The sisters of the Oracle?” Ladybug tries to keep her eyes peeled but it’s becoming more and more difficult, what with the way the walls are completely covered in moss and leaves, “I think there’s more than a hundred of them.”

“No, I looked it up the other day while I was at school,” Chat gently tugs Ladybug towards the doorway, “There’s a hundred, including the Pythia.”

Ladybug shimmies closer as they pass through an enormous arch, “Are you working on a project?”

“No,” Chat leads her along the even darker tunnel, “If I want to learn about the Oracle, I have to do it at school. My family monitors my search history.”

“What?!” Ladybug’s shout of revulsion echoes throughout, “That’s an invasion of privacy!”

Chat shrugs, “You learn to get used to it. My friends have been helping me catch up.”

“Well that’s good, I guess,” Ladybug sneers in the dark, “Still, it doesn’t seem fair that you have to sneak around just to learn something.”

“It’s just the way it is,” Chat crouches down in his stance and tips his head, “We’re coming up to a huge cave.”

“This must be it,” Ladybug takes his arm instinctively and follows him into the enormous space, it’s yawning walls crawling with trees, moss and flowers of every shape and colour. Thick vines frame a glowing pathway of stones that lead around the the right and they follow it silently, engrossed by the bioluminescent fungi and fauna that illuminate the cavern in an almost alien way, both enchantingly beautiful and unsettlingly foreign at the same time. Ladybug has never seen anything like it and Chat mirrors her awe, his lips parted as his wide eyes soak in the world around him.

“Welcome Ladybug et Chat Noir!”

The two heroes stutter to a stop at the sudden voice breaking though the song of the cicadas and Chat Noir is the first one to recover, leading them towards an intricately woven forest of orchid trees and laurel leaves. They follow the glowing toadstools along the pebbled path until they come across an empty altar alight with lilies that undulate as if underwater. Ladybug extracts herself from Chat’s grasp and approaches the pedestal before turning around and shrugging her shoulders.

“Maybe she didn’t see us coming after all,” Ladybug turns back around and joins Chat in the glimmering fairy ring, glancing towards the door, “Do you think maybe we should have called fir—”

“I'm so glad you could finally make it!”

Startled, Ladybug and Chat Noir spin in unison only to find the Pythia standing on the pedestal where no one had been only seconds before, “I had my sisters leave the candles on as I had a feeling you two would be coming.”

Chat is the first to catch his breath, his heart hammering in his chest, “You...you did?”

“Well, I had my suspicions,” the Pythia beckons for them to come closer, “Despite popular opinion, I’m not completely all knowing. I knew Chat Noir would be making my acquaintance this evening but you, my dear Ladybug, are quite the pleasant surprise.”

Ladybug doesn’t question the way Chat’s body seems to be shifting closer and closer, his hands shaking ever so slightly, “It was a...spur of the moment decision I guess, but you said you could help us.”

“I certainly can to an extent,” the Pythia sweeps up the stairs and spins around, reclining in her tripod, “That's the thing with magic sometimes. In our case, the magic of the ley lines and that of the Miraculous repel each other more often than not, meaning that I cannot always foresee your lives. However, that doesn't mean that I cannot glean what I can from the holes your lives leave in the tapestry of things. And history, or course. One learns so much from the mistakes of others.”

Ladybug takes a moment to try and absorb the implications of her words and turns to Chat who looks just about as dumbfounded as she feels.

“Now, I sense both of you have a question you would like to ask me that you don't want to say in front of the other but, given that you’re both here, we may as well get your concerns out in the open. Yes Ladybug, I do know the identity of Le Papillon and no, I cannot tell you who he is.”

Chat opens his mouth to protest but Ladybug gets there first, “You know who he is?!”

“I do.”

“Then why won’t you tell us?!” Chat takes a wary step forwards, his body language belying the assertiveness in his voice. Cautious, Ladybug places her hand on his forearm instinctively and reins him back in to her side, “We need to know so we can defeat him!”

“You're not ready to know, plain and simple,” the Pythia tips her head to the side, watching the pair closely, “If I revealed his identity to you now, both of you would go running headfirst into his lair without a second thought and be easily defeated. You have not yet learned the true extent of your powers, individually or together.”

“The true extent of our powers?”

“Surely, it must have crossed your minds,” the Pythia adjusts the sleeves of her robe, revealing the barest hint of something glowing beneath the fabric, “Ladybug has many more abilities than her Lucky Charm, and the same goes for Cataclysme. Those are just the basics; the other powers will reveal themselves over necessity and time.”

Chat glances down at his ring and wriggles his fingers, “I always wondered if there was more to me than just destroying things.”

“My sisters and I have been researching your powers relentlessly,” she continues eagerly, leaning forwards, “Your kwarmi can unlock these powers if the situation arises, but only if you're mentally and physically prepared to wield them. Some of your abilities can be used in tandem and as a compliment to the other, but only once a proper connection has been made.”

“What kinds of powers?”

“Spoilers,” the Pythia taps the side of her nose with a knowing smile, “But many have to do with your suits and how they can change based on your environments. Imagine being able to breathe underwater or being able to fly.”

“Really?” Ladybug glances down at her suit and lets her imagination wander for a moment. Was Tikki holding out on her? Were her Ladybug costume sketches with wings less of a fantasy than she’d imagined?

The Pythia nods her head, “Oh yes. From what we’ve gleaned from the stories and legends, you two make quite the fantastic pair, which brings me to my next point.”

The Pythia stands and walks towards them, pausing on the final stair, “Le Papillon is distracted at the moment, and will continue to be so for another couple weeks. His akuma will be few and far between so use this time wisely with each other. Train, spar, determine each other's strengths and weaknesses and learn how to adapt to them as your current strategy will only work for so long. Chat Noir cannot always sacrifice himself and Ladybug cannot always save the day alone. If you plan on  defeating Le Papillon, you must learn to work as one unit and communicate openly and with that, I can help. My sanctuary is open to you and if I am not available, my sisters will always be nearby. Since my omniscience abilities are limited when the two of you are near, I ask that you simply send me a text.”

“A text?”

The Pythia rolls her eyes, “Why does everyone assume I don’t have a mobile phone?”

Ladybug and Chat Noir exchange glances, “Uhh…”

“It matters not,” she rests her hands on both their shoulders, an unprecedented touch, “What matters is that the two of you work together to try and improve yourselves. Only then will you be ready, and only then will I help you bring Le Papillon to justice.”

“But—”

“No buts,” the Pythia wags her finger with a smirk, “Run along now, it’s late and there are no trains left to catch. Think of this as your first task in learning how to work together without an akuma.”

Ladybug frowns at Chat before turning her attentions back to the Pythia, “But we already know how to work together.”

“Then getting home should be easy!” the Pythia clasps her hands before her, “Please exit to your left and may the fates be with you!”

Biting her tongue, Ladybug pulls a face but turns around regardless and sulks out of the cavern, her shoulders hunching towards the door. Chat grimaces apologetically over his shoulder at the Pythia before turning to follow behind his partner, her silhouette already disappearing in the distance.

“Oh, and Chat Noir, about your question,” the Pythia plucks a red rose from her menagerie of flowers along the paths and brings the blossom to her nose with a flourish, forcing him to stop in his tracks, “The red string of fate, although quaint, does not actually exist beyond the fantasies you love to lose yourself in. That, of course, doesn’t mean the concept of soulmates isn’t true.”

Chapter Text

“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it...”
Nicholas Sparks

le 14 février, 2017

The love letter writing is not going well.

Adrien scrunches up the thirteenth piece of paper and tosses it over his shoulder into the quickly filling rubbish bin behind him, sighing in exasperation. He saw her all the time since they’d starred training together, so why was this so hard? I mean, wasn't she his soulmate? The Pythia practically said so...kind of. Frowning, Adrien glances towards his poster of Ladybug for inspiration and hugs his Ladybug plushie to his chest, feeling more helpless than he has in weeks.

“What could I possibly say to make you fall in love with me?” Adrien leans forwards onto his desk and looks into the doll’s blue button eyes, “I’ve been trying to woo you for weeks!”

“Torturing yourself again?” Plagg appears before his eyes, the little god having phased through the desk, “Face it kid, she’s just not that into you.”

“Really Plagg?” Adrien grouses, glaring from behind his bangs.

“It’s not my fault all you obsess with these days is romance ,” Plagg shivers in disgust, his pupils sharpening, “I think I’d rather eat lettuce than have to watch Love Actually again.”

“Whatever,” Adrien grumbles, pointedly looking back towards his doll, “If only I could find the right way to confess how much I love her…”

“Love her?” Plagg lands on his desk with a harrumph, “How can you be in love with Ladybug when you don’t even know who she really is?”

Adrien heaves a sigh, “You don’t know the first thing about love.”

“Oh yes I do,” Plagg replies, his fangs glinting in the sun as he snatches a wedge of camembert off the nearest plate, “I love roquefort, I love reblochon and I love camembert!”

Adrien shakes his head and walks over to the windows, smacking his head against the pane in frustration, “Why is this so hard?”

Plagg follows him and mocks him for something else but Adrien has already tuned him out, his train of thought suddenly coming back to life. Surely there wouldn’t be an akuma on Valentine’s Day of all days...but if there was?”

“I don’t even need to write a poem,” he straightens with the revelation, staring out at the skyline of Paris with determination, “Not when I can tell her to her face how much I love her.”

“Gross,” Plagg grimaces, “Now I’ve lost my appetite!”

“You deserved it.”

~

She...kissed him.

She kissed him.

She kissed him.

She. Kissed. Him.

(They kissed!!!)

They kissed.

Marinette buries her hands in her bangs and pulls them with a groan. Whyyyyyy…

When she’d thought about her first kiss, she’d imagined it with Adrien. She’d imagined them kissing on an afternoon picnic under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or holding hands on the Pont des Arts , or sharing gelato on the steps of their collège. She’d imagined the way his hands would come up to cup her cheeks and how she’d wrap her arms around his neck and pull him closer, their lips coming together so perfectly that time would stand still. She’d imagined every last detail of it, the softness of his lips and the scratch of his fingernails against her jacket when he took her by the waist, and she’d imagined telling their future children about how their first kiss was with each other, childhood sweethearts together forever.

So much for being Lady Luck!

Well, at least there was one positive aspect to come out of all of this. He didn’t seem to remember the kiss, which was an absolute blessing in disguise. She can only imagine how he’d lord that over her, especially considering how much of a flirt he’d been lately. It was making their Pythia-ordoned training sessions almost painful some days until she could sufficiently exhaust him and they could actually talk like normal human beings.

That being said, she’d been working diligently, slowly cracking away at his fortress of walls. They couldn’t share anything personal, sure, but she could still be his friend and his ally. After all, her friends at school said so themselves; she was great at helping others and making sure that every voice felt heard and understood no matter the situation. She applied those skills on her friendship with Chat and from what she’d gathered, Chat didn’t have many friends he could talk to whenever he wanted to because he was so busy. Apparently, his family was very strict and kept him occupied at all times, except when he was at school and he loved school almost as much as he loved being Chat Noir because it was the only place he could talk freely with friends his age.

Over time, they had most certainly become the best of friends.

(It didn’t mean she was happy that they kissed.)

Marinette’s thoughts cycle back to Adrien and the unsigned letter she'd sent him that afternoon. He’d probably received a slew of fanmail from all of his millions of fans and followers so she's sure that her construction paper heart won’t stand out in the piles upon piles of Valentine's he’d probably received and that was probably a good thing. Her poem hadn't been very good anyway; what she needed was a date, a proper date to prover herself, and she knew the girls in her class would be more than willing to help organise the date of her dreams with Adrien.

It was settled. Marinette would ask them all at lunch tomorrow to help her with Operation: Adrien and Marinette Go On a Date. It would be perfect. It would be flawless.

It would in no way be a distraction from the butterflies buzzing in her chest ever since her lips touched his.

~

le 6 mars, 2017

Nathalie doesn’t question him when he asks to stay home from school to sleep for a few more hours that morning and if he’d had half a mind, he would have noticed how the dots had connected in her head, the cookie crumbs finally leading to the conclusion she'd suspected all along. The purring, the absences, the odd green gleam in his eyes whenever he was angry…

Chat Noir had been on the television last night with Natalie Chamack and Ladybug and his tells, his gestures, his honest to goodness food preferences had made it so obvious that Nathalie couldn't believe the smartest, most persuasive man on the planet hadn't caught on to him. Gabriel had certainly mentioned his suspicions in passing, but he also had a short list of several other enigmatic young men in Paris who could be Chat Noir. He'd been slowly working up to testing his suspicions with all of them, and Nathalie knew it would only be a matter of time before Gabriel's razor sharp focus turned on Adrien.

It occurs to Nathalie that Gabriel's complete lack of interest in his son could actually become a blessing in disguise.

Silently, Nathalie sneaks into Adrien’s room a half hour later and regards him closely, the bags beneath his eyes, the definition in the muscles of his forearm that he's slung across his duvet in his sleep. He's not purring yet but he will, given how many times she's peeked in on him at night only to hear the sound vibrating like a small engine across his enormous bedroom. She's already seen some of the physical changes in Gabriel, the steel grey eyes that used to be blue, the borderline creepy sensitivity to movement, and she wonders how much Adrien has physically changed unbeknownst to everyone.

Frowning, Nathalie follows the lines of arm towards the silver band of supernatural jewelry wrapped around his finger, thrumming with the same almost imperceptible energy that resounds from the brooch hidden beneath Gabriel’s cravat. She wonders, not for the first time, what it must feel like to wield that energy, to hold the power of the Miraculous in her hands. There’s the peacock brooch of course, but Gabriel had been discussing the idea of giving it to Mme. Dubreil if things kept getting out of hand with Ladybug and Chat Noir and they certainly were. The two heroes had brought down Nadja Chamack’s akumatisatized form from last night just before dawn and her boss was in a stormy mood as a result, stomping about his office and prattling on about designs and threatening to fire various personnel. All in a normal day at the office, she supposes.

Except…

“Kwarmi?” Nathalie swallows uncomfortably and keeps her voice as low as possible, her eyes shifting back and forth across the room, “I...I know you’re here.”

Silence.

“He doesn’t know about you yet,” Nathalie continues, looking back over her shoulder towards the door, “But he suspects Adrien may be Chat Noir. You need to make sure he doesn't find you.”

She takes another wary breath, “He’s planning to test Adrien at some point just to make sure. He’s been trying to akumatise Adrien’s bodyguard for some time so...just be careful. Please.”

Feeling a little silly, Nathalie spins on her heel and leaves the room just as silently as she came.

~

le 18 avril, 2017

Valentine’s Day had ultimately been the clincher; Le Papillon’s attacks had increased in volume and ferocity and as loathe as she was to admit it, Marinette was finding it all to be a little more challenging than she expected. After her suspicions had been dashed with Gabriel Agreste’s akumatisation, Marinette was at a loss on how to proceed and go forward, especially with the stakes being higher than ever.

First there had been the akuma at Chloe’s party that had pitted Chat against her. That had certainly been one of her harder battles, especially now that she was so well versed in Chat’s particular strengths. She was able to wrangle him eventually but it had been taxing on them both, especially since he didn’t seem to remember it until the mobile phone footage hit the LadyBlog the next day. He’d been incredibly apologetic the next time they saw each other, but what was the point of apologizing? It was Le Papillon that was doing this to them, to their friends, to the citizens of Paris…

They needed to be more careful.

Then there was the disastrous almost date that had turned into an akuma fight with a giant baby. The Parisian media was really starting to question the sanity of their resident terrorist now that he was targeting even those who couldn’t offer consent and it was worrisome to say the least, especially when he went and akumatised a robot as well. Le Papillon was becoming reckless and more dangerous than ever and both Chat and Ladybug were starting to worry for what was to come.

More of their friends and acquaintances seemed to become targets, Adrien especially. Marinette had never been so worried in her life than when the fencing champion had gone after him and nearly shish-kabobed him with her épée several times over, chasing him across the whole of Paris. She’d managed to hide him effectively but still...if it hadn’t been for Chat Noir, she was sure that Kagami would have found him and…

Marinette shivers and looks back down at her biology homework with a grimace.

Adrien had sprained his ankle that day, all because she couldn’t save him in time. He’d limped around in pain because she was too slow to get him out of harm's way and even though the Miraculous cure had healed him, she still feels immensely guilty about it. It’s been a week already since Kagami’s akumatisation and she still senses that clench in her gut everytime she sees him run across the floor during phys-ed or vault over a desk when the akuma alarm starts to ring—

“Marinette, dinner’s ready!”

“Coming Maman!”

Marinette pushes her chair back from her desk and snatches her purse off her chaise, wordlessly inviting Tikki inside as she opens the trapdoor of her bedroom and scurries down the stairs towards the counter. She skids to a halt and plops down on the stool with a wobble, snatching her utensils and digging in without so much as a word.

“Marinette?”

“Yesh?”

“Are you…” Marinette peeks up from her dinner and notices her parents staring at her, “Are you in a hurry for some reason?”

“What?” Marinette gulps and nearly chokes on a piece of chicken she’d hardly chewed, “Me? I uh, I’m just hungry!”

Sabine and Tom share a glance, “Well, could you at least try and enjoy your food? It’s not often we have a family dinner anymore.”

“Yes Maman,” Marinette slumps, chastised for the meantime. He Maman was speaking the truth, as much as she was loathe to admit it; with her responsibilities as Ladybug taking up most of her free time, she hardly got to spend any quality time with her family, let alone eat dinner with them. They used to watch television together and have movie nights and picnic afternoons…

“Are you going out with friends later this evening?”

Marinette jerks, her mother’s voice breaking her from her nostalgia, “I...yeah. We’re going to get ice cream at Andre’s.”

“Oh!” her parents cry in unison, clapping their hands together, “Soulmate Ice Cream! That was where your Papa asked me—”

Marinette shovels another forkful of rice into her mouth, having heard this story a million times before, “To marry him”

“He rid the ring in a scoop of vanilla ice cream…”

“And you almost swallowed it too!” Tom interjects, wrapping his arm around his wife’s shoulders

Sabine sighs into his touch, “They say that couples who share an ice cream from André's will stay in love forever.”

“He’s got the magic touch, that’s for sure,” Tom plants a kiss against the crown of Sabine’s hair, “By the way, Marinette, who are you getting ice cream with?”

“Uh…” Marinette’s stomach clenches at the thought, “Just with some friends. We’re going to try and use his new app to find him.”

“He is quite hard to locate sometimes,” Sabine muses, extricating herself from her husband’s arms so as to keep eating her dinner, “It took us a few times to track him down. I’m sure you and your friends will have no trouble now that you have social media to help.”

Marinette scrapes the last of her food from her plate and rests her utensils on top, pushing herself away from the counter, “He was parked on the Pont des Arts last Tuesday so we’re going to try there first.”

“Have fun then,” Sabine stares down at her still full plate and sighs quietly, sharing another quick glance with her husband. He simply shrugs and turns back to Marinette.

“This group of friends doesn’t happen to include Adrien, does it?”

Marinette freezes in her stride and gulps, her face turning an awful shade of beet red, “Oops, I gotta go! I don’t want to be late, see you later!”

The door slams behind her and Sabine’s shoulders slump, her lips turning downwards, “I wish she wasn’t in such a hurry to get out of the house all the time.”

“We’re doing our best,” Tom replies, replacing his arm around her shoulder and pulling her close, “She’s a teenager now. Of course she’s going to want her space.”

“But we hardly see her anymore,” Sabine gripes, “I think I see her more on the news than I do in real life!”

“I know, I know,” Tom consoles her, rubbing circles with his thumb against her skin, “But there’s not much we can do about it. We just have to be patient and hope that everything will turn out alright in the end.”

~

“Well that was a disaster.”

Marinette catches the tail end of Tikki’s grimace in the reflection of her computer screen and slumps forwards onto her desk, “I ruined the night for everyone!”

“You just...overreacted a little bit, that’s all,” Tikki replies, zipping beside her bearer’s ear, “It’s nothing an apology won’t fix.”

“Ugh…” Marinette buries her face into her palms, “I’m so embarrassed.”

“It’s alright Marinette.”

“No it isn’t,” she groans, “I’m supposed to be a good person Tikki. I’m Ladybug!”

“Everyone makes mistakes.”

“Not me,” Marinette murmurs, dropping her hands and leaning back into her chair to stare at the ceiling, “I’m our class president and I just completely embarrassed myself and everyone around me! And why? Because Adrien didn’t show up? We’re not even going out together!”

“Marinette—”

“Ivan and Mylène are dating, Nino and Alya are dating...what was I even doing there?!”

“He’s your friend Marinette,” Tikki settles on her shoulder, “Maybe he’s not interested in a relationship right now.”

Marinette sighs loudly, “You’re probably right.”

“I usually am,” Tikki concurs, tapping at the hem of her shirt, “But that doesn’t mean that he has to stay your friend forever. You just need to keep being yourself and show him how wonderful you are.”

“And when has that ever helped me?” Marinette heaves herself off of her desk chair and throws herself face first onto her chaise, “All I do is stutter whenever I talk to him.”

“Not lately,” Tikki follows her across the room, “I think you’ve been doing quite well!”

Marinette shrugs, “I guess I have been getting better.”

“You have! Remember how well you did at Chloë’s party?”

“If by well you mean I spilt macarons all over the place,” Marinette bites back, shaking her head, “But I guess I did get to dance with Adrien.”

“See?” Tikki smiles brightly, “Not everything is bad. You still have a chance with Adrien, even if your ice cream date didn’t go your way today. Sometimes things don’t always work out all the time and that’s okay.”

Marinette rolls onto her side and stares at a seam in the floor, “I guess I should start thinking about ways to apologise to everyone.”

“I think that’s a great start,” Tikki agrees, buzzing in circles as Marinette sits up and climbs up the stairs towards the trapdoor of her balcony, “I think you need to write a letter to André as well.”

“Yeah,” Marinette pushes the door upwards and takes a deep breath of air, “But I need some time to think about what I want to say first.”

Tikki nods and slips back inside as Marinette walks towards the wrought iron railings and glances out along the silhouette of the Parisian cityscape, the perfect picture of a postcard. The lights shimmer against the bloated banks of the Seine, the recent springtime rain having had an effect of the flow of the river throughout the city. She thinks about the weather for a moment before cupping her cheek in her palm, deep in thought.

“Hello.”

Marinette nearly jumps out of her skin, “Chat Noir?!”

“Sorry,” he apologises, hanging back for a moment before springing forward and landing on the railing beside her, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s...it’s fine,” Marinette replies, clutching her chest as her heart threatens to burst from her ribs, “You just startled me.”

“I can leave if you want, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“No no, it’s okay, but what are you doing here? Don’t you have superhero stuff to do?”

“I...I don’t really feel like being a superhero today,” he mutters, bracing his elbow on his knee and slumping forwards, “I don’t feel like doing anything at all really.”

“Oh?”

“Do you mind if I hang out here for a few moments?” Chat asks, relaxing a little as Marinette shakes her head, “It’s Marinette right?”

“I—yeah, we’ve uh, we’ve bumped into each other a bunch of times,” Marinette stammers, taking a small step back, “One time a boy in my class was akumatised and he fell in love with me.”

“I remember that,” Chat smiles wryly, “He could create things with his notebook.”

“That’s the one,” Marinette says, “I’m not very lucky in the love department.”

“Me neither,” Chat responds, raking his claws through his hair, “I had a romantic evening planned for Ladybug but she never showed up.”

“...a romantic evening?”

“Yeah,” Chat shrugs, “I’ve been trying to find the guts to tell her that I love her and I thought…”

Marinette’s eyes bulge wide, “You love Ladybug?!”

Chat nods his head and keeps his eyes trained on the horizon, “Since the day I met her. She’s...she’s amazing. Brave and strong and powerful and...my best friend. Well, at least I consider her my best friend. I don’t know if she even considers me as anything more than a partner most days.”

Marinette swallows uncomfortably, “Wh—why’s that?”

“She doesn’t trust me,” he says simply, swinging his free leg in the breeze coming off the Seine, “which is understandable I guess. We can’t share anything about ourselves because it could put us in danger but...yeah, I guess I shouldn’t be telling you this either.”

“Probably not,” Marinette shifts awkwardly, “So what was the romantic surprise?”

“It doesn’t really matter since she never actually showed up.”

“Oh,” Marinette grimaces, “I guess we could both use a little cheering up tonight.”

Chat finally turns to face her, “You have a broken heart too?”

“Yeah,” Marinette hugs her arms to her chest, “There’s a boy I like in my class and...we were supposed to do something together but he couldn’t make it.”

Chat slips off the railing with a twist of his hips and holds out his hand to Marinette with a smile, “Would you like to come with me?”

“Where?” Marinette stares at his hand in shock for a moment before looking back up into his eyes.

“Well, someone ought to enjoy my romantic surprise,” Chat raises his offered palm towards her, “Maybe it will make you feel better.”

“I…”

“Just close your eyes and hold on tight, okay?”

Marinette hesitates for a moment before ultimately giving in by grabbing his hand and clenching her eyes closed as her balcony disappears beneath her feet. The freefall, the rush of gravity is so different in his arms then what she’s used to and it only makes her cling on tighter as he soars above the rooftops, weightless and utterly free. It's so Chat, the way he flings himself needlessly off of the eaves, flipping and spinning through the air like a ribbon in the wind—

“We’re here.”

Marinette opens her eyes and takes in the candlelit panorama around her, “Wow! This is beautiful!”

“It is, isn’t it?” Chat responds, idly adjusting one of the candle holders, “I wish Ladybug had been able to see it.”

“Oh…” Marinette trails off, shuffling her foot unconsciously, “I'm so sorry.”

“It's not your fault,” Chat sighs, leaning up against the railing, “She told me she might make it but she didn't promise. I had my fingers crossed but…”

“Bad luck?”

Chat turns his head and offers her an honest to goodness smile, “You could say that. My power kind of revolves around being unlucky.”

“I know uh,” Marinette flounders, “I mean I uh...I read it when I looked it up!”

“You’ve looked me up?”

Marinette fights the blush rising in her cheeks and turns her back to him, “I was curious, that's all.”

“Well, even though bad luck is my specialty,” Chat harrumphs, “I was hoping she would come.”

“Maybe she had a really good reason for not being able to come?” Marinette leans against the railings beside him, “Maybe she had a problem to solve or homework to do.”

“Maybe,” Chat concedes, “But it was my only night off all week and I just…I just wish she would see me, you know? I'm devoted, I'm loyal. I work so hard to be her equal and no matter what, she'll always be better than me and I support that because she's Ladybug! She purifies the city and saves the citizens and makes all of the big decisions and I wouldn't have it any other way but...I wish she would trust me more? Is that too much to ask?”

Marinette feels the pit of her stomach drop like a stone, “You don’t think she trusts you?”

“Well why would she?” Chat scrapes his claw against the iron and the sound is enough to make her shiver, “She’s the real hero. I’m...I’m just the sidekick.”

“No you aren’t,” Marinette replies vehemently, grabbing his elbow with enough force to spin him around to face her, “You’re just as much a hero as Ladybug!”

Chat’s lip twitches ever so slightly, “You're only saying that to make me feel better.”

“No I’m not,” Marinette furrows her brows and straightens her stance, “Ladybug wouldn’t be able to do this without y—LOOK OUT!”

Marinette hauls Chat down by the elbows, narrowly dodging a flying scoop of ice cream that had been aimed at their heads. Chat rolls and swings her out of the way, shielding her behind him with his staff raised, “What the hell is that?!”

“MARINETTE!” bellows the monster cropping up over the rooftop, “You’ve insulted me! You’ve humiliated me and now I will take your love away!”

Chat glances between the two of them and tightens his grasp on her waist, “Is that another akuma who’s in love with you?

“No, that’s André the ice cream maker!”

“Geez,” Chat scoops Marinette into his arms and leaps towards the closest rooftop, narrowly avoiding a volley of mint chocolate chip, “What happened?”

“It’s a long story,” she responds, clinging on for dear life as he hauls the two of them out of the way towards the bakery. They land with a soft thump on the floorboards of her balcony and Chat urges her to go inside to hide away from the akuma in the hopes that he can lead the monster away.

“Wait!”

Marinette grabs hold of Chat’s tail before she can stop herself, “I just wanted to say thank you for taking me to your date with Ladybug tonight. It was...it was really thoughtful.”

Chat’s smile warms at the compliment, “It was the least I could do. Stay safe Marinette.”

~

Marinette sighs for the umpteeth time.

“Do you think he meant it?” she asks Tikki, not for the first time; the tiny god had long given up on trying to force her bearer into bed, the latter far too enamoured by the single red rose sitting inside a vase on the table by her chaise.

“He wouldn’t be the first,” Tikki responds, having already sensed the thrum of the balance between them, “It’s happened more than once.”

“What has?” Marinette keeps her eyes trained on the rose, “Chat Noir falling in love with Ladybug?”

Tikki rests on her shoulder, “Yes. My Miraculous is bonded with his, so it’s only natural that the two of you feel some of that bond as well.”

“That kind of feels like cheating,” Marinette frowns, slumping forwards, “Like he’s being forced to fall in love with me. How is that fair?”

“Oh no,” Tikki flutters up between her and the rose, blocking her view, “It’s not like that at all! Master Fu had to consult the Oracle before he picked the two of you to become weilders.”

“So...the Pythia picked the two of us? Why?”

“Because you were both born to be Ladybug and Chat Noir,” Tikki responds emphatically, “She would have known the second she laid eyes on you two that you would grow up to be the greatest superheroes Paris has ever seen!”

Marinette pales, “Does that mean...oh my god, does that mean my parents know I’m Ladybug? Did she tell them?!”

“I don’t think she would have been allowed to tell them.”

“But...isn’t that lying?”

“Not necessarily,” Tikki shakes her head, “Like everyone bound by the magic of the ley lines, the Pythia isn’t allowed to lie because it would upset the balance but sometimes exceptions can be made. Telling your parents about your future would have put both them and you in danger, so no, I don’t think she would have lied. If anything, she simply would have told them nothing at all.”

“Nothing at all? What does that mean?”

“She wouldn’t have revealed your prophecy.”

“No prophecy? But doesn’t that mean…”

“Children born without prophecies don’t usually make it past their sixteenth birthdays,” Tikki confirms her fears, “But that isn’t always the case when a Miraculous is involved, or any other magic for that matter.”

Marinette’s skin takes on an awful shade of white, “So my parents think I’m going to die?”

“I don’t know,” Tikki nuzzles tightly against her bearer’s neck, “Did you want to ask them?”

“I…”

When she’d asked about her prophecy in the past, her parents had always responded with different variations of the same story and Marinette had never questioned them. They said that she would grow up to be an artist and that she would grow up to be kind, but they’d never elaborated beyond that, which was more vague than the prophecies given to her other friends, but it had never bothered her and she’d never thought to second guess it.

Now though…

“I think it’s best that I keep this to myself,” Marinette brings her knees up to her chin and hugs them tightly, “I don’t want my parents to worry about me anymore than they already do.”

“I’m sorry Marinette,” Tikki brushes the bangs from her bearer’s eyes and settles on her shoulder again, “I wish I could be more helpful.”

“It’s alright,” Marinette releases her grip on her knees and lets her feet fall forwards, “I think it’s time to go and visit the Pythia again.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Tikki flutters over to the rose, “This really is a very beautiful gift. I wonder where he got it from.”

Marinette lifts herself off her chaise and brings her nose to the bloom, heedless of the swelling amber energy that pumps through the venation of the petals and leaves. She breathes in its scent and lets the aroma wash over her, the delicate notes of bergamot and violet flooding her senses. She closes her eyes and takes another deep breath and it feels like she’s flying and falling at the same time, lost in the beautiful feeling of teetering on the unknown.

“I’ve never smelled anything like it,” she murmurs, finally opening her eyes. Smiling, she takes the vase into her palms and brings it up to her bed platform, setting it down gently onto the bedside cabinet. She stares at it for a while before finally turning off her bedroom light and still, the faint glow of the thick ruby petals keeps her captivated beyond the twilight hours, her thoughts endlessly revolving around him .

Chapter Text

“Do not imagine that the good you intend will balance the evil you perform.”

Norman MacDonald

le 20 avril, 2017

“Hello André.”

“Ma belle Marinette!” André spins around with an enormous smile and Marinette doesn’t think she can feel any worse than she does already as she holds her handwritten apology between her sweating palms, “Can I offer you an ice cream today?”

“I would like some but I...I need to apologise first.”

“Apologise?” André’s bark of laughter seems to lighten the air around him, “There’s no need! Sometimes our hearts lead us in the wrong direction, but our love always guides us back home.”

Marinette ducks her head and prepares herself to recite the apology she'd been practicing all day out loud, “Still, I need to tell you how sorry I am for acting so childish the other day. It was rude of me to say those things to you and hurt your feelings and for that I am very very sorry”

“Apology accepted!” André reaches for the scoop on the counter and lifts it triumphantly, “Two scoops of Paris’ greatest ice cream coming right up!”

Marinette smiles in relief as André slides open the doors of the freezers in his cart, “I have just the combination for you! Peach like his lips and mint like eyes! And…” André reaches behind him with a wink, “Two medallions of dark chocolate on top!”

Marinette takes the proffered cone and stares, her heart bubbling up in her throat, “Merci André but...what are the chocolates for?”

“I’ll let you decide,” André grins and lowers his tone, his eyes sparkling as he leans towards her, “André is and always has been an expert matchmaker and I always know a couple in love when I see one.”

“Whaaa?!” Marinette gasps as she glances down at the chocolate medallions propped up like ears from the top of the mint scoop, “No! No, no, you’re...you must be mistaken!”

“Ah ah ah,” he chides, tapping the side of his nose, “André never shares his secrets, but finding soulmates has always been my specialty! Edith et Marcel, Jane et Serge, Brigitte et Roger, and now Chat Noir and Ladybug herself! What a privilege!”

“Really?” Marinette glances in shock between him and her ice cream, “That's...wait a second, Edith Piaf was...oh my god, André? How old are you?!

The matchmaker smirks knowingly, “Enjoy your ice cream before it melts Marinette! À bientôt!

~

“Please Nathalie?” Adrien presses his hands together pleadingly, “My father refused to let me go the other day and André is literally right there!”

Nathalie purses her lips, “Do not say a word to Monsieur.”

“Yes!” Adrien pumps his fist, throws the door of the Mercedes open wide and leaps out onto the sidewalks, bounding up the stairs three at a time with all the energy of a fourteen year old boy with sweets on his mind; he’d been dying to try this famous magic ice cream for weeks now and his moment had finally arrived!

“Welcome Adrien!” André greets the teen as he skids to a stop in front of the ice cream cart, a smile plastered on his face, “How can I help you today?”

Adrien can’t help but bounce up and down on the balls of his feet, “Is it true that your ice cream is magical?”

André leans over conspiratorially, “What do you think?”

“I think you just have to believe!” Adrien gushes, clapping his hands together. This is his chance to prove his theory, his moment to finally see if what the Pythia had hinted about was true! After all, she’d been the one to give him the rose for Ladybug just a few days ago when he’d come to ask her some questions. He’d been able to get some advice about his father and his newest modelling gig, but he never would have thought that she would have been able to help him win over Ladybug’s affections as well! She’d even suggested that he go visit André to check and see if Ladybug was the one for him!

“Right you are, mon garçon!” André belly laughs, fishing his scoop from the warmed water, “Strawberry and chocolate chip as a base, I believe. What a bold flavour for a bold lady! Ah, a scoop of blackberry for her hair and...blueberry! The perfect colour to compliment her eyes!”

Adrien can hardly help the smile splitting his face in two, “Thank you André! It’s perfect!”

“Of course it is! There is love in your eyes and a very lucky woman on your mind. André can see it clear as day! This love is true!”

Adrien digs his spoon into the blueberry and brings it to his lips, “Do you think we might be soulmates?”

“Soulmates just so happen to be my specialty,” André cannot believe the irony as he peers down the length of the bridge, spotting the blueberry crown of her head peeking over the steps only a few scant metres away, “In that, André is unmatched!”

“Wow…” Adrien trails off in awe as he takes another bite, “Thank you so much!”

“Anything for a couple in love!” André bows as Adrien turns and begins to walk away with a wave, “Enjoy!”

~

“I’m sorry, say that again?”

“Water from the sacred spring at the Kashima Shrine in Japan, about a decilitre.”

Nathalie pinches the bridge of her nose and shakes her head, “I don’t suppose they sell that on Amazon?”

“I’ll have you send some my way at your earliest convenience,” the Pythia insists over the phone and Nathalie can practically see the older woman waving her hands about, “I know the melted snow from the mountain of Jubilation was a bit much but I promise, it is entirely necessary.”

“As long as you’re paying for it,” Nathalie grouses, focusing instead on the bottle of Beaujolais waiting for her at home, “Anything else? Eye of newt maybe?”

“Oh, you are funny sometimes,” the Pythia teases, “I trust Adrien is enjoying his ice cream?”

Nathalie looks to her right through the backseat window, “He’s just coming back now.”

“Then I’ll leave you to it. May the fates be with you!”

Nathalie takes a weary breath and ends the call as Adrien opens the door and slides into his seat, “This is so good!”

“What did he give you?” Nathalie asks, unable to help herself. The Pythia had insisted that she let him visit André’s cart and she can’t figure out why for the life of her.

“Strawberry and chocolate, blackberry and blueberry,” Adrien replies proudly, finishing the last bite of the uppermost scoop, “It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“It’s an...interesting mix of flavours, that’s for sure,” Nathalie instinctively leans away from the melting cream, “Certainly not to my tastes.”

“I thought you liked fruit flavours,” Adrien eyes her curiously, “That’s what you always get at Marinette’s patisserie.”

Nathalie curls her lip, “I like fruit flavours just fine so long as they’re not mixed with chocolate.”

“Oh…” Adrien trails off before looking back down at his scoop, “Have you ever gotten ice cream from André?”

“Once,” Nathalie responds before she can stop herself, her lips betraying her, “A very long time ago.”

“And were you with someone?”

Nathalie sets her iPad down beside her and wonders why on earth she’s telling him all this, “I was. But again, it was a long time ago.”

“Huh…” Adrien tips his head to the side, “What did he give you?”

“Pistachio for her eyes,” Nathalie smiles wistfully as the Mercedes speeds through traffic, “And raspberry for her lips.”

“You have a girlfriend?!”

She doesn’t need to look at him to see that his jaw is hanging off its hinges, “I did once, but we drifted apart...the work always comes first.”

“I’m sorry,” Adrien responds quietly, shuffling his feet against the rubber mats.

Nathalie shrugs, “Life doesn’t always turn out like the movies Adrien. You’d do your best to learn that.”

“I know, but still…” he smiles down at the cone that quite obviously represents the very heroine whose face has been plastered on the billboard across the street for them, “It’s a nice thought though, isn’t it? Having a soulmate?”

Nathalie doesn’t respond for a long time, “Soulmates are for fairy tales, not real life. Now, hurry up and finish that before your father finds out.”

Adrien nods obediently and begins shovelling the ice cream into his mouth in earnest. It’s messy and uncouth but it gets the job done and that in itself more or less encapsulates what these last few years at Gabriel have been all about. Her whole purpose in life has revolved around operating under the radar and accomplishing secret tasks as quickly and as quietly as possible, whether for the Pythia or for Monsieur and quite frankly, she’s getting a little tired of it but...what other choice does she have?

“All finished!” Adrien smiles triumphantly and drops the spoon into the bowl, “Time to get rid of the evidence.”

And if that hadn’t become the story of her life, she doesn’t know what has.

~

le 2 mai, 2017

It’s time.

She'd been putting this off for months now solely due to the intensity of the attacks hitting Paris lately, not to mention the uptick in regular crime. Lately, Paris had turned into a city she hardly recognised anymore, marred by fear and opportunism in the face of the increasing violence spurred on by their resident maniac and it sucked , for lack of a better word. His attacks were getting stronger, the effects so much worse; it was draining Tikki more and more after every Lucky Charm and Marinette was worried that things would only continue to escalate.

She needed help fast .

Even with Rena Rouge at their side, Ladybug and Chat Noir were struggling to keep up and who could blame them? M. Damoclès almost had their Miraculouses in his grasp! It was only Marinette’s borderline obsessive tendency to overplan that saved them in the end and it still almost hadn’t been enough. And the akumatisation of Mme. Bustier? Hands down, that had been one of the most dangerous fights of their lives. Imagine if the infection had spread farther than the city borders? Or if Le Papillon had lost control again and it mutated into something worse? What if Chloë hadn’t sacrificed herself to keep Chat from infecting her? And what if she had gotten kissed? What then?

Shivering in the unseasonably frigid breezes gusting in from the north, Marinette hops onto the final westbound train of the evening as she had all those months ago and holds on for the twenty five minute ride to the Oracle of Versailles. She needs answers from the Pythia without having to beat around the bush with Chat Noir in tow, especially since Master Fu still wants her to keep him in the dark. She has no idea why there’s such a need for secrecy between the two of them but what could she argue? He was the Guardian after all.

The train slows to a stop and she’s off in an instant, launching herself through the gardens and forests of the lavish estate. There’s no time to admire the view or the fountains or mazes, no time to look upon the three pillars gouged from the marble of antiquity warning the visitors that passed through the threshold. Ladybug’s plan is quick and simple; get to the answers she needs as fast and as efficiently as possible, so it shouldn't have surprised her as much as it had when she spots three sisters of the Oracle already waiting for her in the receiving chamber, chittering excitedly as she enters the room. The sister in the middle clasps her hands together and brings them up to her cheek, her smile bubbling with glee.

“Ladybug!” she exclaims, skipping towards her, “It's such a pleasure to see you!”

“Thanks?” Ladybug replies nervously, staring up in awe at the woman. She looks exactly like an Amazonian woman out of a Grecian myth would look, long legs and strong shoulders swathed in navy jacquard silk, and her sisters flank her sides as they continue to coo over their flabbergasted hero, “I'm uh...I'm here to see the Oracle.”

“We know!” the sister on the left nods eagerly, “So we asked if we could show you one of our designs and she said yes!!!”

The sisters squeal in unison and Ladybug can only stand and stare in confusion as the sister on the right fishes through the sack hanging from her shoulder, “We made this for you!”

“Will you put it on for us?! Please?!” the Amazonian jumps up and down as the sister on the right holds up a generous swath of red fabric, “We designed and weaved it ourselves!”

Ladybug’s eyes begin to widen with awe as the implications of their words finally dawn on her, “You made this? For me ?”

“Yes!!!” the sister holding the fabric is behind her in a flash, slipping the neckline over her head and pinning the printed satin around her body as the other two fiddle with the hems and the sleeves. There's a flurry of chatter in a language she doesn't understand and then they're suddenly standing before her, squealing and shaking with fervour.

“Doesn't she looks adorable?!”

“She should totally wear this to the Dionysia Festival!”

“Yes! Oh! But she wouldn't be able to wear her suit underneath though.”

“What about her secret identity?”

“Don’t be silly! Everyone wears a mask at the festival!”

“Oh my fates, we could make the mask!”

“Yes!!! It would go perfectly with the theme of the festival!”

“What a splendid idea!”

The sisters turn around and immediately bow their heads as the Pythia approaches from the unlit arches, her crimson silk and lace robe trailing spectacularly behind her, “My Oracle! Do you approve of our design?”

The Pythia walks around Ladybug, eyeing the perfectly tailored fabric appreciatively, “The craftsmanship is nothing short of perfection. You three have done a remarkable job with the pattern on the satin as well.”

“Thank you so much!” the Amazonian bows her head again and steps forwards, “We spent weeks experimenting with new techniques to add texture to the spots. You'll notice we wove both Chinese and Ancient Greek influences throughout the design.”

“I do see that,” the Pythia offers Ladybug a wink before turning back to the three sisters, “A worthy dress of a worthy hero. So what say you Ladybug? Would you like to be my honoured guest at the Dionysia?”

Ladybug loses control of her tongue for a long moment, her knees quite literally quaking to the beat of her heart. The Pythia's honoured guest?! In a dress literally fabricated by the Sisters of the Oracle of Versailles?! The fabric alone has only been given to a few celebrated designers like Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy, but to have a dress made by them too?!

Oh mon Dieu!!!

“Yes!” Ladybug can hardly contain her excitement, “Yes! Yes!”

“Wonderful! I'll arrange everything, all you'll need to do is show up,” the Pythia turns back to the sisters, “My Sisters, please see to it that the dress is absolutely perfect and the mask covers her face enough to hide her identity. Please choose her accessories accordingly; she is, after all, my prefered guest and I trust you will pick nothing but the best.”

“Of course Sister,” the sisters bow in unison again and approach Ladybug once more, removing the dress with careful practice, “We will do our very best to please you.”

“And I have the utmost faith that you will,” she replies with a long stare as the three sisters bow one more time before disappearing through another doorway, “Now Ladybug, we have much to talk about. Follow me.”

Ladybug nods wordlessly, her brain still fizzing at the prospect of going to the Dionysia with the Pythia, “I sense you have many questions to ask me, especially in the wake of the rising threat to our city. I will try to answer as many as I can.”

Ladybug manages to squeak in response as the Pythia leads her through the hallways towards her sanctuary, “Tell me Ladybug, have you ever been to the Dionysia performances at Le Grand Palais ?”

Still starstruck, Ladybug simply shakes her head as the Pythia continues, “It is one of my favourite festivals. The sheer magnitude of dramatic talent in this city continues to astound me every year.”

“Y-yeah?”

The Pythia sends a smirk her way, “Of course, the masks make everything more interesting as you cannot directly identify the actor behind the mask. Every year we have a few Hollywood actors sneak onto the scène to perform anonymously. Did you know Marion Cotilland starred in the winning play last year? Her performance was absolutely astounding.”

“Wow…” Ladybug still can’t believe her ears, “Do you think there will be celebrities there this year?”

“Without a doubt,” the Pythia confirms, turning into the main cavern, “It’s become quite trendy for film actors to audition for these coveted roles. I know exactly who’s coming and although I’ve been sworn to secrecy, I can tell you quite openly that all three plays will feature famous players.”

“Why don’t they just perform for their own Oracles?” Ladybug asks as she takes in the hugeness of the Pythia’s sanctuary yet again, brushing her gloved fingers against some ferns, “Or is there something special about our performances here?”

The Pythia taps her chin thoughtfully, “Think of it this way. A model can walk in fashion weeks all over the world but which week is the most prestigious, the most popular, the most sought after above all?”

“Paris?”

“Precisely. Molière, Dumas, Voltaire, Hugo, Sartre,” the Pythia lists them off with her fingers, “Our plays have been renowned worldwide for centuries so it’s only natural that the greatest actors of our generation would want to perform here. The Sibylline Sisters and I enjoy judging the competition every year.”

“What plays will be performed?”

“Again, I cannot say,” the Pythia responds, walking passed her tripod to the pathways beyond, “But there will be two tragedies and one comedy as usual. I think you will like the one tragedy very much.”

“I will?” Ladybug turns her head to the side, “Why’s that?”

“Well, actors aren’t the only players on the stage during these performances,” the Pythia explains, “And there was a need for an Eros and a Psyche for a particular scene in which the actors refer to the original soulmates of antiquity. Since they’re not speaking roles, the playwright sought two teenagers with very beautiful bodies to play the characters.”

“Okay…” Ladybug’s brows begin to furrow, “I’m not following.”

“Well, I just so happen to have it on good authority that the one and only Adrien Agreste has been cast to play Eros.”

“What?!”

The Pythia sniggers as Ladybug gasps and promptly trips over her toes, stumbling into a bush of pink peonies with a sudden screech. She manages to emerge from the blossoms a few seconds later with her face on fire and she tries to make her lips function but...Adrien? On stage? Possibly shirtless? Steam practically pours from her ears, “I’m fine!”

“I can hardly tell the difference between your skin and your mask,” the Pythia chuckles as Ladybug clambers to her feet, “I’m sure he will be just as thrilled to see Ladybug in the audience as you are to see him. Adrien does have quite the crush on you.”

“He does?!”

“Oh yes,” the Pythia brushes a few errant petals from Ladybug’s hair and continues walking, “But do try and be a little more careful. All of the plants and insects that live in my sanctuary are imbued with the magic of the ley lines. Each flower here is given a specific purpose, like the rose Chat Noir gifted to you.”

Ladybug shrinks in embarrassment and scurries down the path towards where the Pythia had paused in front of a blooming rosebush along the pathway, “They're really beautiful. I’m sorry I squished some.”

“Apology accepted,” the Pythia brushes her hand against a rose and smudges the pollen between her fingers, “Pink for desire, yellow for appreciation, white for sympathy...the red rose was his idea. He wished to give you something that would help prove his dedication to you. He's worried you don't think of him as anything other than a convenience, but you already knew this.”

“Chat and I are best friends,” Ladybug bends down onto her haunches carefully and inhales the heady scent of the blooms, “I try and tell him all the time, but I don't think he’s actually listening.”

“That's not uncommon for someone like him,” the Pythia mirrors her movements, settling in a squat beside her, “In some cases, there are those of us who are so bereft of love that they don't actually recognise what it is.”

Ladybug blinks and turns her head, eyeing the Pythia warily, “What do you mean?”

“Spoilers,” she taps the tip of her nose and glances back towards the roses, “But try and give him the benefit of the doubt Ladybug. He’s doing the best he can with the limited information he has.”

Ladybug straightens and crosses her arms over her chest, “Why can’t he know what’s going on?”

The Pythia visibly grimaces, “This part is a bit tricky, so bear with me. Master Fu and I have it on good authority that Le Papillon suspects Chat Noir’s civilian identity, which is why we have to keep him in the dark until proven otherwise.”

Ladybug’s eyes grow wide,“Oh no!”

“He hasn’t suspected you yet thankfully,” the Pythia makes a show of wiping her brow in relief, “Which is astounding given how often you’ve been in the spotlight wearing the exact same hairstyle and facial features as Ladybug. You do realise that you can change your appearance during your transformation right?”

“Tikki explained it to me the other day…” Ladybug thinks back to the disastrous afternoon that had been Laura Rossignol’s music video audition, “But I don’t really see the point of changing it now.”

“Well, just keep it in mind,” the Pythia straightens and resumes her walk along the path, “Regardless, Le Papillon is only going to turn a blind eye for so long before he catches onto Chat Noir’s identity and when he does...well, I have a plan.”

Ladybug hurries to keep up, “You do?”

“It’s very simple really,” the Pythia explains, “He has a laundry list of fair skinned, blond haired boys on his radar and he plans to attack several of them in succession so you have to make sure that you defeat them with Chat Noir at your side.”

“But that’s what we always do,” Ladybug throws her a funny look, “We always beat him in the end.”

“Not necessarily. You were almost defeated a few weeks ago by l’Hibou, but I have a plan for that too. In fact, I’m actually in the process of devising a way to recreate some of the powers of the Miraculous from years past. Master Fu has been trying to develop concoctions to help you and Chat Noir defeat Le Papillon for good.”

Ladybug’s eyes grow wide, “Really? How long will it take?”

“We've almost collected all of the ingredients necessary, but it will take some time and testing before you can implement them against Le Papillon,” the Pythia explains, turning the corner. Ladybug gasps as she spots the creek beyond the moss covered banks, the water there glowing with the same bright amber as the rose still sitting on her bed side table, fresh as the day it was picked, “I’ve managed to grow many of the ingredients here in my sanctuary but some...some are found much farther away.”

“Oh…” Ladybug walks closer to the creek and peers down at her reflection in the water, “Why is it glowing?”

“Because it does,” the Pythia joins her at the riverbank, “Nowhere is there life without water and here, our waters are sweet with the  sacred powers of the ley lines.”

Ladybug can’t help but ask, “What would happen if you drank it?”

“Well, all of the plants and insects here feed from the river,” the Pythia bends and dips the pad of her finger passed the surface of the lake, balancing a drop on her outstretched finger, “The sisters drink from it as well, but only in small doses. There are those who have gone mad from consuming too much, so moderation is practiced accordingly.”

The Pythia presents her finger to Ladybug, “Would you like a taste?”

“I…” Ladybug has done a lot of strange things over the past nine months of her life as a superhero but this? This was certainly topping the list, “What?”

“The last civilian to taste the sweet waters of the Oracle was Napoléon Bonaparte,” the Pythia stares intently, her eyes boring into Ladybug’s own, “Do you think that was just dumb luck that he became one of the greatest commanders in all of history? I offer you this simply as a gift of luck to help us defeat Le Papillon as quickly and as painlessly as possible before he overtakes the city.”

Ladybug gulps nervously, “Will it hurt?”

“A drop?” the Pythia laughs through her nose, “Nonsense. You won’t feel a thing.”

A voice at the back of her mind is begging her not to take it but something else is calling to her like a siren’s song, her feet shuffling ever closer as she loses herself in the Oracle’s eyes, “O...okay.”

“Come closer and drink,” the Pythia plucks the petal from a tulip blossom and slides the drop from her finger onto the bloom, “Let it rest on your tongue for a moment and savour the taste.”

She hands the petal to Ladybug and she brings it up to her lips, their gazes never breaking. Flavours of honey and nectar burst like fireworks across her tongue and all Ladybug can do is gasp as every nerve in her body begins to tingle all at once, “It’s an odd feeling isn’t it?”

Ladybug can only nod, “Some go so far as to call these waters ambrosia, or the nectar of the gods. They say that the gods of Mount Olympus feasted on ambrosia to maintain their infinite reign across the centuries, their palace high and impenetrable. Once reserved only for the divine, the waters of the ley lines feed our powers and keep us connected both mentally and spiritually to our sisters, an extra link between us to help us see the future and help those in need.”

“You and I are one and the same Ladybug,” the Pythia’s eyes are glowing now, the light of the ley lines flowing through her veins, “We want to save others and make this world a better place and together we can restore the balance, but we must first put down Le Papillon. He’s the reason my power is waning and the reason why so much hatred and negativity exists in this city.”

“Your power?” Ladybug feels her knees weaken as the Pythia’s stare intensifies, “How?”

“Le Papillon is in a position of great importance, both in and out of the mask,” the Pythia’s lips curl into a snarl, “He chooses not to believe in the power of the Oracle and his influence is spreading like a cancer, diminishing both yours and my hold on the city. The balance is out of control and it weeps into the soil, wild and untamable and Le Papillon just feeds on this chaos, this negativity plaguing our city. He’s getting stronger and closer to his goals and I’m afraid we won’t be able to stop it.”

“What can I do?”

“I already have a plan in place,” the Pythia takes a weary breath, “But it will require your utmost cooperation. I have players in the game who are relaying his every move to me and I’m tracking his actions so when he’s close, I’ll need you to bring Chat Noir to me immediately.”

“Chat Noir? But —”

“Trust me,” the Pythia’s tone leaves no room for argument, “It’s the only way we can destroy Le Papillon for good.”

“Destroy him?” Ladybug takes a wary step backwards, “Do you mean—”

“It’s the only way to restore the balance,” the Pythia presses a hand to her chest and bows her head, “There is no redemption for this man, no way out. His prophecy stated so from the start, his guilt in all of this. There isn’t a kind bone in his body.”

“But surely there has to be another way,” Ladybug pleads, shaking her head, “That’s what jails are for. Once we have his Miraculous, he won’t be able to do anything!”

“No!” the Pythia rises, her presence filling the enormous chamber, “He has taken on too much of the Miraculous power within himself. Haven’t you noticed?”

Ladybug cowers beneath the intensity of the Pythia’s gaze, “N-no-noticed what?”

“As Ladybug, you can perform a myriad of amazing triumphs. You can float through the air with ease, you can avoid being hit by attacks, you run faster, you climb higher. You grow stronger with each and every transformation as the power of the Miraculous flows through you, changes you! But haven’t you seen those changes in your civilian self as well?”

Ladybug blinks for several moments, frozen in place, “I…”

“Marinette is braver, Marinette is stronger, fiercer, more powerful in nearly every way! Everyone around you has noticed how you’ve evolved into this incredible force of nature, this natural leader that takes on problems in a way she never has before and while you may still be clumsy, you always manage to land on your feet unscathed or in the lap of your crush Adrien. And the hat competition, the Jagged Stone CD cover competition, the music video...did you think it was just a coincidence that you’ve suddenly become the luckiest girl in the world?”

“The same thing is happening with Chat Noir and Le Papillon and it’s why Master Fu won’t allow the others to hold onto the Miraculous stones like you do. Take Chat Noir, probably the unluckiest person on the planet, barring the physical changes he’s going through. He can see better, smell better, hear better; he purrs in his sleep and he doesn’t know it and Le Papillon, his ability to persuade others is growing more powerful with each and every second,” the Pythia wrings her fingers together, “He’s managed to convince investors who would have never given him a second glance to join his cause. His campaigns, his ability to suck people in and buy his product—”

“Investors?” Ladybug’s mind is racing, her heart stammering in her chest, “He’s a businessman?”

“And a famous one at that,” the Pythia takes a sharp intake of breath, “I still cannot reveal his identity but I fear that I will have to soon. If he manages to convince his son of his cause…”

The Pythia shakes her head as if to help loosen her thoughts, “What I mean to say is that no matter what we do, Le Papillon will find a way to convince others to do his bidding even in his civilian form. If we try to jail him, he will escape and wreak havoc on the world. There’s no other option but to put him down.”

Ladybug feels the energy in the room swell and she can’t help but slouch beneath the heavy weight of her words, “But I’m...I’m Ladybug. I’m supposed to protect people, not hurt them, even if they deserve it.”

“I’m not asking you to hurt him,” the Pythia’s gaze is steely, her posture rigid, “I’m asking you to bring Chat Noir to me when the time is right. He’ll be the most vulnerable given the nature of his powers and he will be safe in the refuge of the Oracle. Le Papillon will not dare to enter here.”

“What do you need him for?”

“Trust me Ladybug. I can’t explain everything now but rest assured, I will be the one to stop Le Papillon. I will be the one who will deal with what should have been done since the very beginning.”

“What...what do you mean?”

The Pythia sags against the stone outcroppings at the bank of the river, “For me, it seems that the more people I meet and hear and help, the bigger I realise the world actually is. It’s like the more I become aware, the more I’m forced to open my eyes and see just what we’ve deigned to become. There are so many more problems in the world and in the ley lines that I have yet to learn and to understand and...maybe that’s alright. Maybe that’s my destiny in all of this, my place cemented in the universe. As a wise scholar of my ancestors once said, perhaps true understanding comes from realising just how little I understand and how far I have yet to go.”

“But this is what happens when mistakes are made and when the will of the ley lines are not heeded. Destruction and chaos reign and now we have to stop it. We have to undo the wrong that was committed and do what’s right for our people! Will you help me Ladybug? Will you help stop the chaos and bring balance back to the world?”

Her eyes are glowing again and Ladybug gazes upwards as the nearly incomprehensible hum that pulses through every living thing in the cavern increases in tempo, the earth beneath her feet and the air around her swelling like a wave about to crest against the shore. Eyes widening, Ladybug feels her chest begin to constrict and her breathing quicken and there’s nothing she can do but nod under the weight of the power around her, the magic climbing to a fever pitch.

“Thank you Ladybug. We will make a great team together,” the Pythia says, breaking the invisible tethers of power with a smile as Ladybug falls forwards into her waiting arms, warm and inviting and wonderfully kind. The Pythia cards her fingers through Ladybug’s hair and whispers words of encouragement in her ear, the scent of lavender and chamomile wafting from her blood red gown and Ladybug suddenly feels more comfortable than she ever has in her life as she melts into the older woman’s touch, soothed and comforted by the arms around her shoulder holding her, a sanctuary against the world.

“Everything will be alright,” the Pythia whispers into the crown of her hair, tracing the spots of her suit absently with a fingernail, “Together we will save everyone. Together we will save the world.”

Chapter Text

“There's no love like the first.”
Nicholas Sparks

le 6 mai, 2017

Understandably, both Marinette and Tikki had been a little bit apprehensive in regards to her discussion with the Oracle. What did it all mean? And what was really going on between Le Papillon and the Pythia? There had to be more to their story...and that ambrosia, that magical water from the glowing river that had coated her mouth like a spoonful of honey...was it really going to give her an extra boost of luck? Was it really going to help her capture Le Papillon once and for all?

Only a few days after her meeting with the Pythia, Syren had completely flooded the city of Paris and yet somehow, Marinette had been able to help Master Fu and guess the secret ingredient. She hardly even had to think about it; like magic, the solution for the Tear of Joy had just appeared on the tip of her tongue! Together with Chat Noir at her side, Ladybug had transformed into her brand new upgraded supersuit and defeated Syren easily, returning the city back to normal in no time flat which was easier said than done most days. On top of that, she had even been able to convince Master Fu to bring Chat in on the whole situation with the Miraculouses and the lore behind them! If anything, it would help restore his faith in her, especially since their trust in one another had been on thin ice ever since Rena Rouge appeared on the scene.

So now they were sitting together on the vacant rooftop patio of a closed down restaurant with some post battle takeaway, the owners of the place having given up the establishment for a better, more safer area of the city. The posh arrondissements of Paris were hotspots for akuma activity lately and Bistro L’Arrivage , along with many others, had fled for higher ground. For the most part, the pair enjoyed taking advantage of the swanky private decks and verandahs, choosing to train there as frequently as their busy lives could manage.

“That was...brutal.”

Ladybug rolls her eyes at Chat over the edge of her Chez Nico’s crêpe, “ Please don’t remind me.”

“But actually, like, I literally want to throw Le Papillon down a garbage chute so bad right now,” Chat grumbles, glaring at the slice of mushroom sticking out of the top of his crêpe, “What the ever loving fuck?”

“Language Chaton,” Ladybug chides playfully, poking him in the knee, “But I don’t disagree with you.”

“I just...I just need a break, you know? Like when he went off the radar back in January,” Chat heaves a sigh and Ladybug doesn’t miss the way his eyelids seem to hang with exhaustion, “That was awesome. I need that again.”

“Or we could just defeat him once and for all,” Ladybug fiddles with the aluminium foil around her crêpe, “That would be even better.”

Chat takes another big bite, “Yup. That would be good too.”

A long pause stretches out between them and Ladybug can’t help but zone out for a bit, their silence punctuated by the sounds of traffic and the crinkle of wrapping, “He’s really been trying to find your civilian identity lately hein ?”

“No kidding,” Chat replies, rubbing at the back of his neck nervously, “The last seven akuma have all looked like me.”

“Right? And yet he hasn’t come after me yet…” Ladybug shifts in her plastic patio chair and sighs loudly, “I wonder why.”

“Well, you are Lady Luck,” Chat shrugs, “And I’m kinda Mr. Bad Luck incarnate.”

“Not true.”

“Uh, who’s the one who's always getting possessed? Sacrificed? Thrown halfway across of Paris? Look, it’s only a matter of time before Le Papillon finally gets it right.”

“Don’t say that,” Ladybug grimaces, “Just keep thinking happy thoughts so you don’t give him the opportunity to akumatise you.”

“Easier said than done,” Chat responds quietly, glancing down at his lap, “I try to be as positive as I can but...it’s hard sometimes.”

Ladybug nods and brushes a few crumbs off her chest; with the attacks ramping up and her assignments at school only getting harder and harder, she really isn’t surprised that Chat is feeling just as stressed out as she is. Fidgeting quietly, Ladybug waits a few moments before changing the subject, hoping to dissolve the palpable tension in the air.

“Are you still um…” Ladybug hesitates, “Are you still researching the Oracle?”

“All the time,” Chat replies emphatically, setting his crêpe in his lap for a moment, “It's so fascinating, I literally don't know how I didn't know about any of this before.”

“Yeah?” Ladybug can't help but smile cautiously at Chat’s enthusiasm, “Did she...did she ever have any favourite people?”

Chat tips his head to the side, his actions so clearly catlike now that the Pythia has pointed it out, “Favourites? I don't know about favourites, but she's always worked alongside important people like Louis XIV and Napoléon, to name a few.”

“Napoléon?” Ladybug tries to feign disbelief, “Really?”

“According to what I’ve read,” Chat plucks a piece of aubergine from the folds of his crêpe and pops it into his mouth, “She helped fund his regime.”

“Why?” Ladybug asks, turning to face him properly.

Chat shrugs, “Who knows? No one really has the authority to question her, no matter where she is in the world. Whatever the Pythia says is law unless the three Sibylline Sisters choose to demote her from the head of the Oracle, but I don’t know if that’s ever actually happened.”

“Really? That seems weird that no one has ever tried to overthrow the Pythia before.”

“Well, maybe they have? I don't know, there’s a chance they’ve done it and history just doesn’t know about it,” Chat continues, waving his crêpe around as he speaks, “From what I’ve read, they have their own ways of dealing with things. They have their special laws and rules and stuff...so even if the Pythia was kicked out of the Oracle, we’d probably never hear about it.”

“Why not? Wouldn’t someone notice if there was a new Pythia?”

“That’s what I thought but apparently not,” Chat chews thoughtfully, “I don’t really know to be honest. It feels like everytime I read something about her, I just end up with more questions.”

“That’s...that makes no sense,” Ladybug shakes her head, “There must be some magic involved or something. Do all Pythia look the same?”

“I don’t think so,” Chat muses, drumming his claws against the plastic table, “There are forty nine different Oracles all over the world so they probably all look different.”

“I guess…” Ladybug still can’t quite make sense of it, “But what happens when she dies? Do they just find a new Pythia?”

“What if she doesn’t die at all?” Chat suggests, shrugging his shoulders, “I know it seems far fetched but she seems a lot older than she looks. I mean, look at Master Fu! He’s almost two hundred years old!”

“I didn’t think of that,” Ladybug sets her crêpe down on the table and begins to drum her fingers as well, “Do you think magic can really make you immortal?”

“I don’t know about immortal,” Chat mirrors her movements, “I’m sure Master Fu can be hurt when he’s in his civilian form just like you and I, but he’s probably just as powered up as we are when he’s transformed.”

“And the Pythia, she’s powered up all the time.”

“Pretty much,” Chat agrees with a nod, “From what I’ve seen of her, I think she’s way older than she seems.”

“Me too, but just how old? A hundred? A thousand?”

“She mentioned having a brother once.”

Ladybug’s attention returns to him a breakneck speed, “A brother?!”

“And he’s still alive in Paris somewhere,” Chat gestures around them, “So either she’s not as old as we think she is, or there’s more magic in this city than we even realised.”

~

le 10 mai, 2017

“A word, Mme. Sancoeur.”

Nathalie looks up at the inscrutable face of none other than Gabriel Agreste and wonders briefly if he’s already put two and two together, “Yes Monsieur?”

He gestures for her to stand and she follows him towards the portrait of his wife hanging on the back wall of his office, gaudy and golden against the otherwise spartan interior design, “I have a request for you.”

Nathalie blinks impassively and waits for Gabriel to continue, “I need you to reschedule Adrien’s appointments and lessons as I will be akumatising the bodyguard later on this afternoon.”

“Yes Monsieur,” Nathalie taps the power button on the iPad and opens the scheduling app within a matter of seconds, “Anything else?”

“Hmm,” Gabriel’s tone of voice is odd enough to warrant a second glance, “Just make sure you’re not in the vehicle with them.”

Nathalie hates the way his eyes seem to stare right through her, “I have no intention of leaving the office.”

“Good,” Gabriel unfolds his wrists from where they’ve been resting at the small of his back, “And one more thing.”

“Yes?”

“The ticket to the Dionysia Festival. Please respond to the RSVP with a yes.”

Nathalie nods, “And your plus one?”

Gabriel’s twitch of the lips turns her heart to ice, “You.”

~

There's a moment there where time simply stops.

She's watching in horror as Adrien dives from the edge of the Montparnasse Tower and she’s got to save him, she’s got to catch him right now because he’s free falling down the side of a skyscraper and plunging to his death and all she can do is writhe fruitlessly in the akuma’s grasp, helpless and trapped and helpless and trapped and nononononononono!

“ADRIEN!!!” she screams at the top of her lungs but the akuma’s giant fist is relentless and even Ladybug’s enhanced strength isn’t enough to get her the wriggle room she needs to escape and save him, “CHAT NOIR, HELP!!!”

Then suddenly...

There’s no time to think, no time to look a gift horse (gorilla?) in the mouth because she’s running as fast as she can, running with every ounce of energy inside her body just to dive off the ledge and down the façade of windows because she has to, she has to get him before he hits the ground and she launches her yoyo, throws it as hard as she can and—

“GOTCHA!”

Ladybug catches him around the waist and yanks just hard enough to slow his fall, allowing her to pull him up and into the relative safety of her arms. She wraps her free hand around his waist and finally finally looks at him, his rosy cheeks and windswept hair like nothing she’s ever seen before, mussed and wild and enraptured in her gaze. His lips are parted, his eyes blown wide and practically glowing with adrenaline and she can’t help but surrender to that feeling again, that raw, blistering rush of blood and nerves that starts in her toes and spreads through her body. She’s only felt it a few times before but it never gets any less scary, less exhilarating, less addicting as they slowly descend to the ground into a mass of fans and spectators, chanting Adrien’s and Ladybug’s name in celebration.

“I knew I could count on you Ladybug,” Adrien breathes, and the way he says her name sounds like a prayer.

“I’m just glad you’re safe,” she replies, a little breathless herself, and brushes her bangs back nervously, “You...you were really brave.”

“Thank you,” he ducks his head and she starts at his slight intake of breath, “Oh! Your earrings are flashing. Does that mean you have to go?”

The spell is broken as her Miraculous begins to beep in her ears, “I do, but don't worry. Chat Noir will be here soon to take care of the akuma and keep you safe.”

There's a loud roar from above them and Ladybug grabs Adrien instinctively, shielding him with her body as the enormous monster lands on the concrete, cracking it everywhere. Once the dust settles enough for her to see, the fanatic teenage stranger that had been following Adrien earlier sides up to them and begs to help out.

“I need you to find a safe place to hide okay?” Ladybug urges the superfan as she slips the motorcycle helmet over Adrien’s head, “Can you do that for me?”

“Sure!”

“Awesome,” she turns to Adrien again and wraps her arm around his waist, dizzy with the feeling of having his breath brush against her cheek, “Ready Adrien?”

“Let's get out of here,” he urges her and Ladybug doesn't hesitate, soaring upwards into the refuge of the cityscape around them. His grasp is strong around her shoulders, the scent of his shampoo and detergent filling her senses as they swoop to and fro between lamp posts and balconies and Ladybug revels in every moment as he's pressed against her side.

She finds a fairly secluded rooftop and sets him down gently, the memory of his sprained ankle from the akuma attack a few weeks ago still fresh in his mind, “I think you lost him Ladybug.”

She glances around quickly, “You're right! Now, do you have any idea what his cursed object might be?”

“Um…” Adrien pulls off his helmet and scratches at the back of his head nervously, “You’re about to transform back so you should probably just leave me here and I promise I’ll stay hidden until Chat Noir shows up.”

Ladybug promptly puts his helmet back on his head, “No way. What if the akuma comes and finds you?”

“He’s my bodyguard,” Adrien responds, slipping the helmet back off, “He won’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that,” Ladybug’s heart is racing as she firmly replaces the helmet, the action completely instinctive, “But I have an idea, hold on!”

Cradling him to her chest, Ladybug scoops him back up into her arms and leaps down to the road below, pausing beneath the glow of the Metro sign, “What’s the plan M’L—err, Ladybug?”

Ladybug quickly releases him, “I need you to stay here and lead your bodyguard over here. Then, Chat Noir will be able to use his powers to destroy the road and trap the akuma between the destroyed road and the station beneath us.”

Adrien blinks for a moment and Ladybug loves the way his eyes seem to sparkle as he puts it all together, “That’s a great plan Ladybug!”

“Thank you,” she turns her head away, a victim to the furious blush rising in her cheeks, “Stay here okay? I have to call Chat Noir and tell him the plan.”

“But…” Adrien gulps audibly, “What if he doesn’t show up?”

Ladybug simple shakes her head fondly, “He will. I trust him with my life.”

“W—with your life?”

“Absolutely,” she assures him and her knees weaken at the softness of his features as he smiles, “But I have to go. He’ll be here soon okay? Stay safe.”

Running down the stars into the relative anonymity of the Métro station below, Ladybug drops her transformation and hopes the fates are still in her favour.

~

“Yoohoo!”

There’s an incredible crash above her head and Ladybug just manages to get out of the way in time for Gorizilla’s enormous legs to come kicking down onto the Métro tracks. Ladybug waves away the dust with a cough and snatches at the yoyo buzzing at her hip, opening the clasp as fast as she can manage, “Chat?”

“This is Chat Noir Delivery Service,” comes the familiar voice of her partner on the other line, “Did you happen to order a giant monster, M’Lady?”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Ladybug grins, the familiar rush of fondness for her partner bubbling up in her chest, “I knew I could count on you Chaton! Where’s Adrien, is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Chat replies, “I’ve got him right here.”

Purrfect ,” Ladybug is positively elated and basks in his laughing reaction to her pun over the line, “I'll be right up!”

“I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to search your pockets!” she snaps her yoyo shut and leaps towards the gorilla akuma with a skip in her step, snatching the lucky charm from the akumatised bodyguard’s pocket, "Je te délivré du mal!”

She captures the akuma within her yoyo and frees it just as quickly, releasing it into the air with the usual flourish. It flies away and dissolves into dust as they all do, floating away in the breeze as she releases her magic cure to reverse the physical damage wrecked upon Paris. Basking in the job well done, Ladybug takes three steps at a time away up the stairs from the platform and joins Chat Noir on the boulevard, her eyes peeled for Adrien.

“Adrien’s fine,” Chat Noir interjects before she can so much as call for him, “He did great, see?”

Ladybug spots him standing down the street and she waves and blushes as the boy of her dreams waves back, “Yeah...he must have been pretty scared.”

“Nah,” Chat Noir shakes his head, “He was pretty brave I think. Here, why don’t you get back to what you were doing and I’ll bring Adrien back home? It’s the least I can do for being so late.”

“But I should check up on him—”

“Go Ladybug,” Chat urges her, waving with his gloved fingers, “I’m sure his father is probably wondering where he is.”

“I…” Ladybug wants to go over there so bad but Chat does have a point, “Okay fine, you win, but can you tell him that I’m gonna drop by later tonight to make sure he’s okay?”

“Sure, but…” Chat’s mask suddenly rises beyond the fringe of his bangs, “Is this...do you usually go and check up on people after an attack?”

Ladybug’s voice catches in her throat for a moment, her blush returning with full force, “I...uh...no? I mean, yes? I mean...just go get him home safely alright?”

“As you wish M’Lady,” Chat gives her another odd look, “Wait...does he get special treatment because you like his eyes so much?”

“JUST GO OKAY!”

“Alright alright,” Chat Noir raises his hands in defeat, “See you soon Ladybug!”

A plus!

~

It's not late by his standards, having been used to going to bed long beyond midnight these days, but it's still well into the twilight hours by the time she shows up at his window, gently knocking on the pane. Adrien looks up from his iPad and feels his heart nearly burst out of his chest with excitement, leaping over his couch and coffee table with all the finesse of Chat Noir before landing before her and unfastening the latch.

“Hey,” he greets with a quiver, praying that she didn’t hear the way his voice just cracked.

“Hey,” she responds with a small smile, “Can I...can I come in?”

Adrien nearly trips over himself, “Of course! I mean, yes come in. Um...make yourself at home?”

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay after the akuma attack,” Ladybug explains as she slips to the floor in front of him and Adrien tries desperately to tamper the burning blush spreading all the way down to his toes, “You were really brave today.”

“I was?” Adrien’s voice cracks loudly and there’s no hiding it this time, “Th-thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she replies as Adrien forces himself to look at her again without melting from embarrassment, “I um...I better go. I don’t want to keep you awake on a school night.”

Adrien freezes as she begins to climb back up towards the open window, “Wait!”

Ladybug pauses and he’s standing beside her before he can stop himself, his fingers brushing against her shoulder and she’s like a magnet, the hot to his cold, the light to his darkness and he’s leaning in and she’s leaning too until there’s hardly a centimetre between them, “Adrien?”

He swallows the lump in his throat and gazes into her widened eyes, “W-when will I see you again?”

“On the news I guess,” she leans back ever so slightly, “Why?”

“I...I was hoping we could see each other again...you know,” he quavers as the blush darkens beneath her mask, “...without an akuma around.”

“Oh,” she breathes in sharply, her lips forming a perfect circle and Adrien just wants to taste them, “I heard you’ll be dancing at the Dionysia.”

It’s Adrien’s turn to be taken aback, “You did?”

“The Pythia told me,” she looks away and fidgets her arms nervously, “She’s invited me as her honoured guest.”

“She...wait, why did she tell you I’d be there?”

“She...well...” Ladybug still won’t turn his way, “I um...I think you’re very handsome.”

Adrien doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “You...you do?!”

She nods, smiling at the way his voice pitches uncontrollably, and Adrien’s knees threaten to quit on him, “I...I didn’t know you could dance.”

“Uh…” Adrien’s brain is short circuiting, “Yeah?”

She’s laughing at him now and Adrien’s world is starting to spin, “So you’re more than just a pretty face?”

“Pretty?” he takes a step back as she steps forwards, “You think I’m pretty?”

“Mmhmm,” Ladybug glances up at him beneath the forest of her lashes, “So I’m looking forward to seeing you dance, even if you will be wearing a mask.”

“Th-thanks.”

Her smile never leaves her face as she spins around and heads back towards the window, “I really have to go now. I’ll see you soon okay?”

Adrien scampers to catch up with her, “Be safe out there!”

“I will, thank you,” Ladybug hesitates on the window’s ledge, “Sleep well.”

“You too Ladybug,” he swoons as she leaps away and he can’t help but clutch his chest and revel in the way his heart clenches in that familiar way it always does everytime he sees her, rushing and all consumingly addictive. He staggers over to his bed and collapses onto his mattress, an elated smile stretching across his features…

...maybe the Pythia’s lucky ambrosia water really was working after all!

Chapter Text

“Outside the dawn is breaking / but inside in the dark I'm aching to be free / the show must go on.”

Freddie Mercury

le 16 mai, 2017

“Ma belle!”

Startled, Marinette pops up from where she’s been half buried in the bakery’s pantry cupboards, “Oui Maman?”

“Um…” Sabine pokes her head in through the pass and gives her daughter an odd look, “Didn’t you say you were going to the Dionysia parade with Alya in an hour?”

Marinette nods, “Yeah...so?”

“That was an hour ago.”

“WHAT?!?!?”

In a feat of strength and speed usually reserved for akuma attacks, Marinette is flying out of the pantry and running up the stairs in all of her flour spackled glory in a heartbeat. She catches a glance of her reflection once she skids into the family bathroom and nearly screams in horror at the sight; the Pythia is picking her up from the alleyway in less than fifteen minutes and she looks like this?! Of course, being a serial oversleeper, Marinette is used to working under pressure and with Tikki already adjusting the faucet of the clawfoot tub, the teenage hero quickly throws off her work clothes and pulls the plastic curtain across without a second glance for the fastest shower of her life.

“Time?” she asks, scrubbing the flour from her arms and shoulders under the spray.

“Twelve minutes!” Tikki responds, hoisting the towel from the bar and dropping it onto the shower mat, “I'll go get your clothes!”

“Okay!” Marinette responds, squeezing out a dollop of shampoo onto her palm. She mashes it into her hair and hopes she's gotten all of the flour out by the time she rinses it and she doesn't even bother with the conditioner; if she wants to get picked up on time, she’s going to have to cut some corners.

Tikki phases through the ceiling carrying a cloth bag and drops it on the floor just as Marinette hops out of the shower, “Is this skirt and top okay?”

“It's perfect,” Marinette’s voice is muffled by the towel ruffling through her hair, “Should I just leave my hair wet?”

“I would,” Tikki holds up the strap of her bra and passes it to her, “I don't think you have time to dry it.”

“Yeah...” Marinette takes one look at herself in the fogged up mirror and grimaces, “Maybe they’ll style it for me?”

“I think so,” the little kwarmi shrugs, “The Dionysia festivals I've been to before have always been very fancy.”

“Everyone is dressed to the nines you mean,” Marinette throws the straps of her bra over her shoulders and reaches for her shirt as Tikki fastens the clasp, “They have entire editions of Vogue dedicated to the fashion at the festivals around the world every year.”

“I know, I’ve seen the stacks of them in your bedroom,” Tikki fishes her skirt from the bag and holds it up for her, “Are you excited though? There will be lots of celebrities there.”

“I’m more nervous than anything,” Marinette slips her legs through the waistband and reaches for her hairbrush, “The New Years Eve party was intense but...the Dionysia? That’s a whole new level of crazy. There will be A-listers everywhere!”

Tikki giggles, “Maybe you’ll even get to meet a few.”

“Oh, I hope so!” Marinette tugs the last of the knots from her hair, “Have you been to many Dionysia festivals before?”

“Yes, but in different parts of the world,” Tikki explains, gathering up the empty bag and hanging it on the door, “My most recent one was in Cairo several years ago. I had a short mission with a young Egyptian actress...rubbing shoulders with Omar Shariff at the festival was the highlight of her evening!”

“Wow…” Marinette makes eye contact with her kwarmi through the mirror, “Why were you in Cairo?”

“The snake Miraculous went rogue and Master Fu sent me to collect it,” Tikki responds, handing her weilder a pair of hair elastics, “After the explosion in Tibet, many of the Miraculous stones used their energies to transport themselves to safety all over the world.”

“Do Miraculous go rogue often?”

“At least once or twice century,” Tikki urges her out the bathroom door and back into the living space, “It's not so bad when it's one of the lesser celestial stones...it's always the elemental Miraculous that cause the most trouble.”

“And the Butterfly Miraculous is an elemental right?”

“It is,” Tikki flutters over to where Marinette’s purse is resting on the counter and settles inside, “Which is why Master Fu had to release more than one of us to restore the balance.”

“And was Chat Noir with you in Egypt?”

“Master Fu didn't think we needed him,” Tikki continues as Marinette shoves a bundle of sugar cookies in her purse along beside her, “And we were only together for a few months so our powers of creation didn’t tip the balance too much. My Ladybug, she loved mystery stories and was happy to help even if it was only temporary. Together, we made the perfect detective team.”

“Really? That sounds exciting!” Marinette opens the apartment door and begins running down the steps towards the bakery, “So what happened?”

“Well, once Master Fu determined that someone in show business had the Miraculous, he paired me with an up-and-coming actress named Faten and together, we flushed out the producer who had been using the Snake’s power of hypnosis to make actors and directors do his bidding.”

Marinette hushes Tikki as she pops her head into the bakery, “I’m leaving now Maman!”

“Have fun!” Sabine replies with a wave and Marinette closes the door behind her, setting off in a sprint down the boulevard.

“So how did you end up finding it?”

“Well, Snake wielders tend to hide behind the scenes which made our investigation quite difficult,” Tikki explains, “And the only way to find Chaarm’s wielder was to get him out in the open which we eventually managed to do. See, like the other celestial stones, the Snake Miraculous only has two abilities, an offensive and a defensive power, and once he used his venom attack, we were able to use the clues he left behind to track him down.”

“Wow!” Marinette turns the corner just as a black Porsche pulls up to the curb, “I love it when you tell me stories about other Ladybugs Tikki, they’re always so dramatic!”

“I’ve had many exciting adventures over the last millenia,” Tikki grins at her from her purse as the doors of the luxury vehicle open towards her, “But now it’s time for your Dionysian adventure to begin! Hop in Marinette, let’s go!”

~

Adrien adjusts his hair for the umpteenth time and glances at himself in the mirror only to look away again, brushing the invisible lint from his perforated knee length leotards. The theatrical mask he’s wearing is custom fit to his nose and cheeks but it still doesn't feel right, not like the soft fabric of his mask as Chat Noir; without the belt and the suit, he feels exposed and nervous, his entire chest and torso completely bare for the whole audience to see.

He's not a prude by any means but the intimacy, the idea of actually performing in front of all of these people...it scares him in a way a swimsuit photoshoot never has. He wishes his father hadn't signed him up for this and even though he'd tried to argue against it, Papa hadn't even been willing to listen. Adrien had considered something rash like when he'd escaped his bedroom so he could go and see Maman’s film but his punishment had been so severe that it wasn’t even worth it; after they’d watched the movie together, his father had grounded him until further notice.

Not that he and Plagg had minded of course. All of the time locked in his bedroom had led to more time as Chat Noir and now that he had Master Fu as his foreign language teacher, Adrien felt more empowered than ever before as his alter ego. Finally, he had new powers, new expectations and a new lease on superheroing that he'd only ever dreamed about before!

Too bad he couldn't don his Chat Noir mask for this.

“Adrien?”

He walks over to the partition and pulls the curtain aside, revealing Nathalie dressed in the same couture Gabriel dress she'd dropped him off in. Asymmetrical and embellished with cut-out detailing along the décolletage and thighs, the black leather dress couldn't have better complimented the patent Louboutin Pigalle stilettos on her feet; he's never seen her look quite as imposing as she does today, like a dark supervillain in her own right.

“Yvette would like to speak to you and Mackenzie before the show,” Nathalie announces, giving him a quick once over, “The first act begins in ten minutes.”

“Okay,” Adrien nods and follows Nathalie back inside as she enters his dressing room, “Has Father arrived yet?”

“He has not,” Nathalie replies, fishing her black lace mask from her handbag, “I would not have put it past him to forget.”

Adrien sighs and sits down on the small stool in the corner, “Me neither.”

“If it's any consolation, I saw Ladybug enter with the Pythia and the Sibylline Sisters a few minutes ago.”

“Really?” Adrien’s heart starts to pound even faster, “What did she look like?”

“Beautiful,” Nathalie can't help but speak the truth, “She's dressed in one of their designs.”

“Wow....” he trails off, already imagining what she must look like. Is she wearing chiffon? Silk? Is the neckline sweetheart or bateau? And the colour? It would have to be red and black, how else would anyone recognise her?

“Indeed,” Nathalie straightens her mask on her nose and straightens, “Come. The choreographer is waiting for you.”

Always the dutiful son, Adrien ducks his head and follows her out the door.

~

The flash of the paparazzi.

The screams from fans at the top of their lungs.

The people, the lights, the crowds, the screaming

“Follow me Ladybug,” the Sibylline Sister at her elbow whispers in her ear, her dark skin practically glowing against the aubergine colour of her custom off-the-shoulder French tulle gown, “The first of three performances begins in a moment. Stay close.”

Together, they’re inside Le Grand Palais in a matter of seconds, flanked on both sides by the all female security detail that follows the Pythia and the Sibylline Sisters whenever they leave the Oracle, and for that Marinette is grateful. They draw curious glances but they thankfully keep the people away as Marinette and the Senegalese seer make their way through the threshold and into the cavernous hallway hand in hand.

“My other Sisters will be joining us soon,” she says quietly, plucking a crystal champagne flute from a passing waiter, “The Pythia had one more prediction to make before she left.”

“It must have been important,” Marinette replies, tightening her grasp on the Sister’s heavily adorned fingers.

The sister nods, “Very important. Le Papillon is on the move.”

Marinette gulps and follows quickly as the Sister leads her further into the quickly filling room. Layers and layers of sheer fabric flutter around her shoulders as she moves, the gossamer folds of red and black structured and airy in its design. The dress, expertly crafted by the weavers of the Oracle, shimmers spectacularly beneath the fairy lights hanging from the rafters of the Le Grand Palais , gorgeous and flowing and beyond even her wildest dreams. The hem brushes her ankles as she walks, weightless as she draws the gazes of the celebrities and socialites around her, their eyes wide and astonished beneath the designer fabrics of their masks at the sight of Ladybug, heroine of Paris, dressed in such an elaborate couture design.

There are mirrored panels along the receiving room and Marinette indulges herself, taking in her appearance in the reflection. She marvels at the translucent mesh panels that soften the lines of her body, the extensive embroidery that gleams like liquid onyx across her chest and abdomen, the patterns not unlike flowering vines growing in perfect circles to replicate her spots. She revels in the way the godet skirt hides her slippers, the soft nude leather a perfect match to her skin and the perfect addition should she have to run if trouble arises.

Even behind her mask, she looks beautiful.

“You most certainly do,” the voice of the Pythia spurs Marinette to turn around sharply, her red lacquered lips parting in surprise. In front of her, the statuesque older woman looks more extraordinary than Marinette has ever seen her, dressed in a creamy nude, A-line silhouette. The delicate sheer fabric draped over her body and shoulders is covered in intricate beaded embroidery that rains from the bodice down onto the gentle pleats of the tulle floor length skirt, the entirety of the dress embellished with appliqués of champagne and chocolate diamonds. The Pythia shifts in the light and Marinette’s jaw nearly drops off her cheeks as she takes in the sparkle of the delicately beaded tulle cape that sweeps behind her, the diamond studded cathedral length train like nothing she’s ever seen before.

“Good evening Sister,” the Pythia greets Marinette’s Sibylline chaperone and the Sister dips her head, squeezing Marinette’s hand gently, “I see that I arrived just in time for the seating to take place.”

“My Oracle, your punctuality is revered,” the Sister replies, “It’s almost as if you have some sort of special power.”

The other two Sibylline Sisters to the Pythia’s left begin to snicker, “What a silly idea!”

The Pythia smirks and sends Marinette a look of fond exasperation, “Hush now or we’ll be late. I couldn’t have the three of you ruin my record of perfect timing.”

“Of course not,” the Sister beside Marinette agrees with a grin, lightly tugging her hand, “Come, you have a seat of honour beside the Judge’s Table.”

“I do?” Marinette squeeks, still speechless as the goings on around her. There celebrities, the fashion, the fact that she’s making small talk with the Pythia of all people—

“Absolutely,” she bends down low and adjusts Marinette’s curls around her cheeks, “I hope you enjoy the plays. Some of them can be a bit...heavy, shall we say, but the third is always the most fun.”

Marinette swallows and follows along beside her into the theatre, “The first two plays are tragedies right?”

“Someone has been doing her research,” the Seer replies with a wink, “And the third is a comedy. I think you will enjoy it a lot. There will be many funny actors playing roles in today’s production.”

“Wow,” Marinette takes in the enormous room filled with plush chairs and glances up at the stage before them, “Why were these three plays chosen?”

“There is a board of experts who vote and decide over the course of the year,” the Seer explains, “The playwright submits their piece and the voting begins. Once ten pieces are selected, the board gives each playwright three months to bring the piece to life and then the show is performed in front of the selection committee. At that point, the committee chooses the three finalists and the final decision is left to us tonight.”

“That seems like a lot of work,” Marinette remarks as they near their seats at the front of the hall.

The Sister shrugs, “The prize is well worth the expense. A million euro and the accolades of the Pythia are nothing to balk at and oftentimes that playwright will be sought after all over the world. Occasionally, the plays are turned into Oscar nominated films in their own right. In fact, last year’s winner has gone on to create tonight’s second tragedy!”

“That’s amazing!” Marinette spots model Estelle Chen in an orange mask speaking with fashion designer Sylvie Millstein and blinks in disbelief, “I wonder if they will win again.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” the Seer taps the side of her nose playfully and Marinette sits on her appointed chair, “Now, I’ll be just over here at the Judge’s Table. If you need anything, simply close your eyes and call my name in your head.”

Marinette frowns, “Your name?”

“I wasn’t named Sister when I was born you know,” the Seer jokes, crouching so that she is at eye level with Marinette, “Names have incredible power. Yours hides your identity and mine keeps me safe from those who would use my name through enchantments as a means to hurt me.”

Marinette nods in understanding and the Sister smiles, “I need you to close your eyes and listen very closely. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” Marinette’s voice wavers nervously as the Sister cups her cheeks in her palms and presses her forehead to hers. Marinette focuses on the pressure against her skin, the softness of the Senegalese woman’s palms, the gently gust of breathe against her chin…

‘Fatou.’

Marinette’s eyes fly open, ‘Whaa?!?!?”

“Shh!” Fatou presses a manicured finger to her lips, “You must not speak it aloud!”

“But you just spoke in my head!!!”

“And does Tikki not do the same to you?” Fatou smiles fondly, rubbing small circles against Marinette’s cheek with her thumb, “I am here for you when you need me.”

Marinette’s mind is still reeling, “When I need you? Fa...I mean uh…”

“Sister.”

“S-sister,” Marinette stammers, “Am I going to need you?”

“I hope not, but the world is watching,” Fatou brushes Marinette’s bangs from her eyes one last time, “And the show is about to begin. Sit tight little one, and may the fates be with you.”

~

The first spectacle is avant-garde in its construction, peppered with snippets of stories and dances describing an overlying story that doesn't quite make sense until it does. Marinette is no Molière but she's read enough fiction and watched enough Netflix to grasp the general gist of it, the tragedy and the chaos of losing someone close to you, but her mind promptly falls off the rails when the lights shift and two figures appear, one dressed only in leotards and the other dressed in a nude gossamer slip.

The orchestra hums to life and Marinette immediately recognises the way he moves, the way his body curves and extends itself, all long lines and tanned skin, liquid gold and languid with every lunge. Adrien has always been a natural athlete and it shows now, the way he lifts his partner above his head and holds her there just so, pivoting once as he sets her onto one of the cushions lining the stage and continues moving around her, the perfect Eros to her Psyche. It’s immediately obvious that she’s the professional; Adrien is used more as a prop than anything but it doesn’t take away from their story, their intricate dance heavy with strength moves on his part and complicated footwork on hers. She’s agile, incredible and fiercely dominant in her stride and Marinette has a hard time keeping her eyes focused on Adrien when his partner demands the stage so skillfully, her pirouettes and contractions, her pas de bourrées spinning like silk across the floor. The love between the two characters is fierce and compelling as the crux of the scene unfolds, the tragic moment when Psyche removes Eros’ mask and all is lost between them. Gasping, her lips part as Adrien exits the stage, leaving Psyche all alone to dance and move in a way Marinette can’t even fathom, percussive and detached and heart wrenching as the female dancer spirals downwards, desperate for her love to return.

There’s a sustained note carried out by a cello as Psyche finally collapses to the ground, her curiosity having been her curse. She’s opened the forbidden box from her journey to Hades and the lights fade as the diminished chord eventually ceases to be amongst the silence of the giant building, the haunting sound reverbing within the rafters. Marinette holds her breath, desperate for a conclusion to the story; Psyche can’t just die...can she? Where are the gods to revive her and bring her back to the love of her life, her Eros? There has to be a happy ending, there has to be…

The following scene takes place as if the one before it hadn’t happened, as if the story of Psyche’s death didn’t just rip her heart from her chest. The nonchalance of it all proves what she’d already come to realise was the morale of this story all along; no matter your intentions, your actions have consequences and sometimes there are no big redemptive moments, no divine interventions.

Sometimes happy endings simply don’t exist.

~

Adrien peels his mask off the moment he exits the stage and smiles gratefully as the choreographer sings his praises, rushing into his changeroom as fast as he can. He can hardly keep it together, his knees practically quivering, his feet and fingers numb with adrenaline and all he can do hold onto the silver ring that grounds him and will his heartbeat to cooperate.

That was scary.

He’s walked in shows and saved Paris more times than he can count but that? Dancing half naked in front of all those people? He can’t even dance for goodness sakes, his only saving grace being four years of ballet when he was little and the natural grace of being attached to the Cat Miraculous for so long. Both Master Fu and the Pythia had confirmed what he already knew only a little while ago, his reflexes and senses heightened even in his civilian form, and while Adrien can thank his lucky stars for that, he still feels a little embarrassed and humiliated for being forced into this whole affair.

“I never want to do that again.”

Plagg pops up from where he’d been burrowed in Adrien’s civilian clothes and blinks slowly, “What else is new?”

Adrien shoots him a sideways glance, “I officially hate dancing.”

“You officially hate everything your father makes you do,” Plagg responds with a yawn, rubbing his whiskers between his paws, “Like I said, what else is new?”

“It’s not my fault,” Adrien slumps in his chair and snatches his shirt out from under Plagg, “I’m so sick of being told what to do all the time. Why can’t I just do what I want?”

Plagg glowers at the sudden upheaval of his little nest and lands on Adrien’s knees with a harrumph, “Beats me kid. You humans and your rules.”

“Not all of us are tiny gods with magic powers,” Adrien pouts back, tugging his shirt over his head, “Why can’t I be Chat Noir all the time?”

“Nu uh, no way,” Plagg disappears back into his clothing, “I hate transforming.”

Adrien sighs, “I can’t transform now anyway, they need me for the curtain call.”

“Good,” Plagg appears beneath one of his socks, “Then can we go get some cheese?”

Adrien tunes him out, “I didn’t even get to see Ladybug while I was out there, I was so nervous.”

Plagg rolls his eyes, “Here we go…”

“I bet you she looked amazing,” Adrien cups his cheeks in his palms and leans his elbow against the vanity, glancing at his reflection in the mirror, “I can’t believe the Pythia chose Ladybug as her honoured guest! And she even got to wear a dress made in the Oracle...she must be so excited. Do you know that she loves fashion? Like, loves fashion. One time a few months ago, she came to one of our training sessions and showed me these pages she’d ripped out of a magazine of Chat Noir inspired designs and she was so excited! She told me she was going to try making some herself but she never brought it up again so I wonder if she did or not…”

Plagg’s eye rolling and Adrien’s gushing aside, neither of them noticed the package being slipped under the door.

Chapter Text

“The true nature of evil is that it is so very casual.”
James St. James

le 16 mai, 2017

After a quick intermission of champagne and canapés with Fatou at her side, the audience is asked to return to the seating area for the second tragedy to begin. Marinette is finally beginning to feel at ease with all of the wealth and fame surrounding her, having spent most of the break snacking and guessing the celebrities beneath the odd, if sometimes zany couture masks. So far, she and Fatou had managed to unmask both Natalie Portman and Lea Michele, to name a few.

“This tragedy is a little less morose I think,” Fatou explains, retracing their steps from earlier back towards their seats, “As I said before, I think you will enjoy the story of this one more.”

“I hope so,” Marinette agrees, spotting Romain Duris from across the way, “The one we just sat through was...kind of depressing honestly.”

“I have to agree with you,” Fatou smirks, “But sometimes these plays are less about enjoyment and more about reminding ourselves of what life is really all about.”

Marinette makes a face, “Is that what that was?”

“More or less,” Fatou shrugs her shoulders with a smile, “There was a lot of complex imagery to dig through.”

“I didn’t even know what was going on half the time,” Marinette rubs her temples, her brain hurting just thinking about it, “Nevermind the ending. That went right over my head.”

“Well, if it helps, the message was about living in the moment, seizing the good times and keeping your loved ones close to your heart,” Fatou raises her arms animatedly, her floor length violet sleeves billowing around her as she walks, “We must love to the fullest because all of it could come crashing down in an instant. We must listen to our hearts and never hold anything back because this day, this very moment, could be our last.”

Marinette raises her brows, “You got all that from the play? All I got was a headache.”

Fatou begins to snicker, “I’ve watched so many of these plays that I can practically predict the underlying metaphrs before they even begin, which we try not to do beforehand for fairness’ sake. Love and loss happen to be the most common themes these days, and it’s no wonder. Look at the city we live in! Love and loss is practically our motto.”

“I guess…” Marinette still doesn’t quite see it, but she’s never been a huge fan of drama class at school anyway, “Looks like the next show is about to begin.”

Fatou leads her to her seat, “Sit tight and remember, I’m just a thought away.”

“Thank you,” Marinette smiles up at the Sibylline Sister, “This has been really amazing.”

“The Pythia will be glad to hear it,” Fatou responds with a huge grin and retreats to the Judge’s Table just as the lights draw low and the second show begins.

~

They’re halfway through the play and Marinette is infinitely more invested in this one than she was with the previous performance. The piece, titled Domicile , revolves around several different families living in the same apartment building in Paris and all of them seem to be entangled in each other’s lives in one way or another, some of which have questionable intentions. Sitting on the edge of her seat, Marinette can hardly stand the suspense and mystery surrounding the mysterious disappearance of Jean’s maman as the set changes and the next scene begins.

Music begins to spill from the orchestra pit as seven year old Jean crawls up onto his papa’s lap and points upwards through the glass ceiling of Le Grand Palais towards the stars, “Papa, do you think Maman is up there?”

“In the sky?” Abréham follows his son’s gaze and shakes his head fondly, “The Gods are only a story, mon fils .”

“I didn’t mean the heavens Papa,” Jean turns back to his father, “I meant the stars!”

Abréham raises a brow, “I...I don’t think so. Now come, it’s time for bed.”

“But Papa....”

“Come on, up you get,” Abréham crosses his arms across his chest and tries not to roll his eyes as Jean flops down onto his side and begins to whinge, “Which bedtime story would you like me to read tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Jean sulks, “I want to stay outside.”

Abréham heaves the sigh of every single parent and glances skywards, “If I tell you a story here, will you promise to go to bed right after?”

Jean shrieks with a wriggle, “Yes! Please Papa, tell me a story!”

“Alright alright,” Abréham gives in, motioning for his son to scooch over so he can join him on the bench, “I don’t know many stories, but my büyükanne used to tell my brothers and I this one as a boy when we couldn’t sleep. It’s a story about how humans were made.”

“Humans? What’s that?”

“It’s a person,” Abréham points to his son’s chest, “Just like you and me.”

“Oh,” Jean frowns, “But Akein says that we used to be monkeys.”

“And Akein has said many things, but not all stories are the same,” Abréham replies, “And in this story, the first people who lived here looked very different than what they look like now.”

“What did they look like Papa?”

“Well,” Abréham taps his chin thoughtfully, “Imagine if you and I were stuck together back to back.”

“Like this?” Jean leaps upwards and tugs his father’s hand with all his might, “Get up Papa!”

Abréham indulges him and stands, hoisting his son up onto the now empty bench, “Okay, now turn around and press your back to me. That’s it, see? This is what the first humans looked like.”

Jean begins to giggle, “Papa!”

“I’m serious!” Abréham turns around and sits back down, bringing Jean with him onto his lap, “They had four hands and four feet and one great big head with two faces!”

“Noo!” Jean howls and Abréham quickly shushes him, wary of the other families in the neighbouring apartments.

“Hush! Don’t you want to hear the rest of the story?” Abréham waits as his son eventually settles back down, “Alright, so millions of years ago, there were humans who could talk and laugh just like us, and to move they had to cartwheel around with all of their arms and legs like a great big wheel rolling down the hill. These humans were strong and fast and happy together, and they loved to roll around their village with the people and the animals that lived there, but one day, the Gods started to get worried. They lived in a great big palace up on a great big mountain where they could watch every human and every star in the universe, and they began to wonder if these humans were just a little too strong and and a little too fast and a little too happy to be a good thing. Even Zeus, the greatest of the Gods, was afraid that the humans would try and roll up the mountain where the Gods lived and try and break in, so one day Zeus decided that he would do something terrible; he would split the humans in half.”

Jean’s pales, “But wouldn’t that hurt?”

“It did,” Abréham tightens his grasp around his son, “But Zeus didn’t care. He was mad and thought that the humans needed to be punished for being so strong and fast and happy.”

“But isn’t it good to be happy?”

“Of course, but sometimes people who are sad don’t want others to be happy. Sometimes they want people to be just as sad as them.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jean scrunches his face in confusion, “Why would anyone do that?”

“I don’t know the answer but it happens more often than you think,” Abréham rocks his son to and fro ever so slightly, “Anyway, Zeus decided to split all of the humans into two so that they only had two arms and two legs and one face to call their own. The humans, desperate to grow into one person again, found their other halves and hugged each other as tightly as they could, and as the Gods celebrated, the humans became so sad that they soon forgot to eat and drink because they didn't want to be apart even for a second, too sad to step away from the other half of their soul.”

“Soon, the other Gods began to take pity on the humans and they wondered how Zeus could be so cruel, so all of the Gods came together to come up with a plan. Together, they would recreate the humans in their image, just the way that we know them now. Apollo gave them music and medicine, Athena gave them war and wisdom, and Hera gave them the greatest gift of all: the ability to create a family in a way that would bring two bodies together as one.”

“And that’s how the humans became happy again, but that feeling, that desire to find the other half of our soul is still in our brains, even if it isn’t as strong as it used to be,” Abréham brushes his fingers through his son’s hair and glances back up at the stars, “That’s what Maman was to me. She was my other half, my soulmate.”

Jean buries his face into Abréham shoulder, “Does everyone have a soulmate Papa?”

“I’d like to think so…” he trails off, his eyes unfocused towards the crowd of spectators, “I hope there’s someone out there for you.”

“As long as it’s not Isobel,” Jean pulls away from his father and makes a face, “She’s always trying to kiss me.”

“Is she now,” Abréham’s laugh begins to rumble across the stage, “I’ll tell you what, you’ll know your soulmate exactly when you see them.”

Jean’s eyes widen, “Really?”

“Really,” Abréham readjusts the boy, sliding him over to his other knee, “When I met your Maman, I knew right then and there that she was the one for me. Everytime I shut my eyes at night, I always dreamed of her.”

“I miss Maman,” Jean begins to fiddle with the collar of his father’s shirt and Abréham can’t help but pull him tightly against his chest.

“I do too mon fils . I do t—”

BOOM!

Marinette feels the building shake around her as an ear-shattering thunderclap resounds from behind the curtain, dust and smoke rising like a cloud above the stage. Everyone is dropping to the floor, the screams and cries of the panicked patrons around her filling her ears as Marinette reaches for Tikki beneath the gauzy fabric of her dress, her thoughts racing.

‘FATOU!’

The lights flicker and Fatou is beside her in an instant, pulling her closer towards the Judge’s Table where the Pythia and the other Sisters sit behind the tipped table, shielded from whatever had caused the explosion.

“Is everyone okay?” Marinette asks immediately, glancing around as Tikki floats at her side, “Give me a second to transform and I’ll get you all out of here.”

“That won’t be necessary,” the Pythia replies, peeking up over the upturned table towards the stage, “There were no casualties or injuries. It was simply a smoke bomb designed only as a diversion.”

Marinette’s lips part in confusion, “But—”

“Ladybug, you will head out with me. The citizens of Paris will want an answer as to which villain caused the attack,” the Pythia turns towards the Sisters beside her, “The three of you know your role. Hurry, and don’t disappoint me.”

“You have our word,” the Sister in white replies, standing up and glancing from side to side. Much of the audience has already fled the area in the aftermath away from the clouds of acrid smoke filling the air, “Le Papillon is on his way.”

“Le Papillon?”

“Come,” the Pythia takes Marinette by the hand and urges her towards the exit, “We need to get out of here quickly. If all goes according to plan, he should be stuck several kilometres away.”

“According to plan?” Marinette’s mind is desperately racing to keep up, “What’s going on?!”

“Le Papillon believes he has discovered Chat Noir’s civilian identity today,” the Pythia rounds the corner and joins the flood of celebrities desperate to get outside, “I staged a diversion so I could get to him before Le Papillon could capture him.”

Marinette feels terror begin to flood through her, “ You caused the bomb?”

“I had no other choice,” the Pythia explains, “This way, the police will keep their focus on shutting down the city, making it very hard for Le Papillon to try and find when I have hidden his supposed Chat Noir. Le Papillon’s powers have evolved in ways I had not anticipated, but he has yet to grow a pair of wings.”

“But who does he think Chat Noir is?”

“Adrien,” the Pythia reveals, her voice low, “He’s on his way to Versailles as we speak.”

“And is that where we’re going?” Marinette’s blood turns to ice as she fights to stay close to the Pythia in amidst the panicking crowds, “To the Oracle?”

The Pythia shakes her head, “Not yet. First we must make an appearance to the media and then I will bring you to him.”

Marinette coughs as the smoke continues to thicken, “And then what?”

“And then the showdown begins,” the Pythia draws herself to her full height, her skin glowing amber almost imperceptibly in the din, “You must keep Adrien safe from Le Papillon’s clutches until I can draw him out and weaken his powers. I trust you.”

Marinette nods and takes a deep breath, using the edge of her sleeve to wipe away the tears in her eyes from the smoke all around her. Her knees shudder as the severity of the situation dawns on her but her mind is suddenly somewhere else, somewhere it usually only goes when she’s staring at her reflection, red bodysuit, spots and all.

She’s Marinette and she prides herself on being able to help others.

She’s Ladybug and she was chosen to do the same.

Marinette squares her shoulders and steps out into the brightness of the late afternoon chaos, her mind already made up. She walks towards the authorities with a new conviction in her heart and mentally draws on all the kindness she’d been blessed with her entire life, now and always. She thinks of her mother and father, of what they’ve given her, of what her life would be like without them. She thinks of her friendship with Alya and Nino and Adrien and wonders what life would be like without them too. She feels that pain in her heart and takes strength from it, knowing the power that comes from devoting oneself to love. She rises by lifting others and she takes that feeling and presses it to her heart, wrapping her fingers tightly into a fist and bringing it to her chest.

“I promise I will keep you safe,” she whispers and draws on that intense feeling in her chest that only Adrien and, oddly enough, Chat Noir can spark inside of her. It seems silly, but she wonders if he can feel it too.

~

“Monsieur!”

Nathalie spots him standing in the threshold of the theatre’s wings and she hurries over to him in a panic, the heel tips of her Louboutins clacking against the floor, “It’s been twenty minutes and we still can’t find him Monsieur, he seems to have been taken—”

“And I have people looking for him. I’ll have his location soon enough.”

Gabriel’s tone is musing, thoughtful, but even she can feel that controlled sense of unbridled fury building inside him like a tidal wave, so distinctive in his sharp movements, his jilted strides. He begins to pace around the room speaking in the same oddly measured voice, low and menacing to anyone that knows him, “There have simply been too many mistakes. I have been careless, but I know better now. I have been enlightened.”

He stops walking and finally turns to her, “I have thought long and hard about this Nathalie...do you know why I have called you here?”

“No, but please, let me go try and find Adrien.”

Gabriel waves his hand dismissively, “Adrien will return to me as he always does with his tail between his legs, begging for forgiveness. His absence is distracting, but he will come back on his own accord soon enough. He’ll hate watching the people he loves pay for his transgressions and he’ll be willing to do anything to stop it. He’ll come to me, of that I have no doubt.”

“But he’s been kidnapped Monsieur, surely you’ll at least let me—”

“I’ve left instructions with the staff,” Gabriel leers, “They will find his location eventually. I have eyes in even the darkest of places, but it’s you that I have been most eager to see.”

Gabriel closes the space between them, “Nathalie, you have always been my most valuable asset. You’re obedient, succinct. I’ve always appreciated these qualities of course; your work at Gabriel will be remembered fondly.”

“But Monsieur, I—”

“Enough!” Gabriel shouts and Nathalie freezes, catching the sharp glint of steel grey in his eyes as he slinks closer, “It is with the utmost regret that I must relieve you of your responsibilities.”

Nathalie does not speak.

“How long have you known exactly?” Gabriel begins to circle her, loosening his cufflinks and rolling up his shirtsleeves, “How long have you known that my son was Chat Noir?”

“Gabriel,” Nathalie tries to step away but there’s no exit, no escape as his long legs block her path, “I didn’t know, I didn’t—”

“Such lies , Nathalie,” Gabriel snarls and there’s no mistaking the anger and contempt in his voice as he crowds her space, backing her against the wall only to bracket her head against the concrete with his forearms, “You’ve known all along haven’t you?”

“No,” Nathalie can’t repress the helpless shudder that ripples through her body, her hands shaking uncontrollably as she smudges her sweaty foundation into her hairline, “Just a few weeks is all, just a few—”

“LIAR!” he strikes her across the cheek and it stings like hell, the pain blooming across her skin like wildfire and her head is spinning, ratcheting backwards as he grasps her by the neck and lifts her off her feet with nigh inhuman strength, strangling her against the wall.

“I need you to know that I regret this,” Gabriel states impassively, staring up at her as his grip tightens against her throat and she swears she can see the stars, the brilliant night sky from the balcony of her childhood home in Nice, “You were the perfect servant to me. You would have done well to remember that before you chose the wrong side.”

She gasps desperately, piercingly, and he’s saying something else but all she feels is herself slipping, her leaden fingers clawing uselessly at his wrists, disconnected, grasping but there’s nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing ...

Chapter Text

“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

le 16 mai, 2017

Confused and covered in dust, Adrien finds himself flanked by an all female security detail in the back of a stretch limousine, his questions decidedly unanswered. He hasn't chewed on his fingers in years, the nervous habit that he’d been repeatedly chastised for having been literally slapped out of him, but the pads of his fingers are wrinkled and wet now, bright red from being gnawed on by his teeth. Frustrated, he can't stop his leg from bouncing up and down, his stomach cartwheeling to the beat of his pounding heart as he fidgets aimlessly, frightened and nervous beyond his wildest beliefs…

Le Papillon has finally figured him out.

Like he'd said to Ladybug, it was only a matter of time before the supervillain hunted him down. He was world famous for goodness sakes, his face was splattered all over Paris; that stupid music video certainly would have clinched it, but all it would have taken is a little bit of photoshop to alter one of his many fashion ads and voilà! One Chat Noir, coming right up!

When the explosion had gone off, Adrien hadn't known whether he was coming or going. The only thing he knew was that someone had stuffed a breathing mask over his nose and he was being carried quite roughly away from his dressing room away from the blast and between the coughing and the wriggling, he was out of the emergency doors and into the back of a limousine filled with bodyguards in a matter of seconds.

“What's going on?!” he'd asked, ripping the breathing mask off of his nose and immediately crouching in defense, “Where are you taking me?!”

“We're the Oracle's Guard,” one of the women replied tersely, “You're being brought to the Oracle until further notice.”

“But why?!” Adrien shouted, glancing around for a way out as they tore out of the parking lot, “What's happening?!”

“Le Papillon has discovered your civilian identity,” the same guard explained, “The Pythia is responsible for your safety now.”

“But—”

“We will answer no further questions at this time.”

Adrien knows an order when he hears one and promptly shuts up, having been well and truly commanded his entire life. He hates it and it makes that rebellious streak he hides behind his civilian mask flare in earnest, but he tampers it for the meantime, too jumpy with the panic of being caught bubbling in his veins. There's nothing he can do while locked in a limousine screaming down the highway at illegal speeds, hellbent on getting to Versailles as fast as possible and all he can do is bide his time and pray to the fates that Ladybug hasn’t been figured out as well.

~

“It worked!”

“Quick, get her a fan or something, she’s sweating!”

“And the necklace off, quickly!”

She clenches her eyes shut and grits her teeth together as a wave of nausea slams into her, desperate to try and fend off the disorientation. There are people speaking quickly, urgently, but she can hardly focus on their words, too lost in the dull thud of her pulse slamming in her ears and throat, the pain paralysing, burning, fire .

“That’s it, get her legs up on that box.”

“Is this big enough?”

“Should be. We need to get the blood flowing back to her brain.”

She’s being jostled, her Louboutins gently removed from her soles. Her whole body aches .

“Should we get her some water?”

“I don’t think she’ll be able to drink anything now, let alone talk.”

“Good thing we got the ambrosia down her throat when we did.”

“He certainly did a number on her neck, look at the bruises.”

“Thank the fates that Salomé foresaw Gabriel pulling something like this and sent us to her.”

“Shh! She’s waking up, don’t say her name out loud!”

Nathalie squeezes her eyes shut against the onslaught of sounds and words, hating the way they rattle in her ears.

“Do you think it’s safe to bring her back to Versailles now?”

“Most of the Guard went with Adrien—”

Nathalie’s eyes burst open, her heart suddenly thudding like a cannon inside her chest, “...aaahhhd…”

“Shh!” the voices urge and Nathalie can hardly see, the lights streaming down from the ceiling burning and bright, “Don’t speak! You’re hurt!”

She clamps her eyelids shut and brings her leaden hands up to her throat, cupping the rough, mottled skin there. It feels like she’s swallowed boiling water and peroxide at the same time and if she could think straight for half a second, she’d peel herself off the ground and figure out what the fuck is going on—

“Adrien’s fine if that’s what you were wondering,” the woman on her right says, the thumb rubbing circles against her skin reassuring, “The Pythia had him brought back to the Oracle for safekeeping. Gabriel figured out Adrien’s identity and the Pythia’s trying to come up with a solution before letting Chat Noir and Ladybug loose on him.”

“She and Ladybug have gone to see the Guardian to let him know the identity of the Fox Miraculous,” another voice explains softly as a pair of hands scoop her up from the floor and push her into a semi-seated position, “They’re going to need all the help they can get if they’re going to bring Gabriel down.”

“Thankfully the Pythia also suspected he would come after you,” the woman holding her up against her chest explains, her voice whisper quiet in her ear, “We couldn’t interfere until Gabriel thought you were... you know , which is why we brought a vial of ambrosia with us just in case.”

Nathalie manages to open her eyes long enough to get her bearings. Where was she? And what were the three Sibylline Sisters doing, let alone talking about?

“I don’t think she remembers what happened,” the woman who’d been chaperoning Ladybug replies, her aubergine dress now sullied from where she’d been kneeling on the floor, “Nathalie, blink twice if you can understand me?”

She does as she’s told and forces her eyes to focus on the dark woman’s lacquered lips, “Perfect, you're doing great Nathalie. Now tell me, do you remember what happened to you? Blink once for no.”

Nathalie holds her breath for a moment. What had happened? She’d been....something happened to Adrien? And then...it all seems to dwindle into darkness from there.

“Okay Nathalie,” the Sister nods her head as Nathalie blinks her eyes only once, “Do you remember coming to the Dionysia festival?”

Two blinks.

“And Adrien’s performance?”

Nathalie’s brows furrow and her lips part momentarily, the exhale of breath almost too much to bear.

“Like I said, Adrien’s okay,” the Sister responds, correctly interpreting Nathalie’s confusion, “But when the Pythia realised that Gabriel had found out Adrien’s identity and was coming for him, she had to stage a diversion to get Adrien to safety before Gabriel could capture him.”

A diversion? Nathalie wracks her memories and comes up short. She blinks once.

“That’s understandable. Most people lose some of their memories when they black out like this. They probably won’t come back anytime soon, which is why we’re here to fill in the holes. Are you with me so far?”

Two blinks.

“Perfect. Anyway, Gabriel called you and told you to meet him immediately backstage. When you arrived, the two of you exchanged words and...well, Gabriel proceeded to strangle you.”

Nathalie stares.

“You were only out for a few minutes,” the other Sister in dark red assures her, fiddling idly with an empty vial, “Now we're just waiting for a ride back to the Oracle. We’ll be able to treat your injuries better there.”

Nathalie’s pulse hammers in her chest as she looks upwards at two pairs of guilty expressions and tries to get up on her own, failing fantastically as her arms and thighs quiver from being...well, dead she supposes. The Sisters come to her aid immediately, grappling at her arms and body to help her stand, “You’ll feel so much better once we get you to Versailles. We have all sorts of cures for this sort of thing, and the Pythia requires your help for one last task.”

Nathalie bristles and tries to shake them off, furious and frustrated and everything in between, her thoughts scattered and scrambled. This whole debacle has already cost her her life and she’s in no hurry to risk it again but her legs don’t quite feel like their attached to her abdomen and they crumble as she tries to proudly stride away, her throat throbbing to the erratic tune of her heartbeat—

“Trust me, you’ll like this task,” the Sister behind her assures, lowering her onto the nearest chair, “Once we get back to the Oracle, she’ll tell you exactly what she means but in the meantime, rest assured that you’ll be getting your revenge.”

“Not often we get to do that,” the Sister in purple rubs her palms together and wiggles her brows, “Our role as Sibylline Sisters is to give prophecies only, so we rarely get to actually meddle in the affairs of citizens. We want to, but it’s usually forbidden; you can’t imagine how many bad marriages or bad business deals we’ve seen happen with no power to stop it. Even the Pythia can’t intervene very often, but since the Miraculouses are at stake, all bets are off.”

“And you know Gabriel’s mansion better than anyone,” the other Sister explains, “We’re going to take this fight to him so when he inevitably has a tantrum and destroys it, no one gets hurt.”

“Thankfully, Gabriel sent all of his staff away,” the one in white continues, “When we looked through Gerald’s perspective, he noticed how aggravated Gabriel was beginning to act and he recommended that the staff give him space. The butler was the last one to leave but he’s nervous...I think most of them are starting to see Gabriel for what he truly has become.”

The Sister in red checks her mobile and sighs in relief, “The limo will be out back in two minutes and the police have agreed to let us leave the scene so there shouldn’t be too much traffic on the roads. We’ll be able to get you the medicine you need within a half hour’s time.”

Nathalie blinks and tries to stay focused on the words rushing over her. She wants to sleep more than anything, the anger that had been flowing through her veins just a moment ago depleting all of her energy. She resists the urge to sag like an empty sack as the Sisters gently ease her out of the emergency exit and into the limo, but her resolve all but evaporates as they pull out of the driveway and hold her head in their laps, whispering words like spells and magic…

Her world slowly fades to darkness after that.

~

“I didn’t realise Alya was at her aunt’s,” Marinette hangs her head as their limousine speeds through the intersection closest to Master Fu’s apartment, hell bent on driving to the Oracle as fast as possible, “We really could have used her help.”

“It’s regrettable,” the Pythia agrees, setting her hand on Marinette’s knee softly, “But the fates have spoken. Rena Rouge was never meant to be in this fight I suppose, although she certainly would have been able to push the odds in our favour.”

Marinette nods, “I guess it’s just up to Chat Noir and I now?”

“On the forefront, yes,” the Pythia smiles reassuringly, “The Sisters and I will be working behind the scenes to unravel his plan. Your job is simply to keep his focus on the two of you so we can infiltrate his lair.”

“But what if he takes our Miraculous?”

“If everything goes to plan, he won’t,” the Pythia responds, “But if something does go wrong and your Miraculouses are taken from you, I have a backup plan for that too. I’ve been planning this man’s demise for a long time.”

“Us to,” Marinette rubs the edge of her mask, “Do you want me to transform when we get to the Oracle?”

“Your kwarmi needs to keep her strength, so transform only when it’s absolutely necessary. As for your identity, no one will be the wiser so long as you stay in your Dionysia robes and keep your mask on.”

“And will Adrien be there too?”

“Of course,” the Pythia checks her mobile phone quickly before dropping it back into her purse, “He’s just arrived, so he’s in good hands until we get there. I’m tasking you to keep an eye on him.”

“Me?” Marinette looks up into the Pythia’s eyes, “But shouldn’t I be helping plan the attack with you?”

“I can think of no better person to keep Adrien company,” the Pythia insists and Marinette immediately falls under her lull, “He’s scared and confused and needs a familiar face more than anything right now.”

Marinette takes a deep breath and draws on that resolve again, focusing on Adrien in her mind’s eye; Le Papillon or no, she needs to make sure Adrien is safe most of all, “Okay. But if you need me, you’ll come for me right?”

“Absolutely,” the Pythia assures her and there’s no lie in her eyes, “I planned on joining you for a midnight snack anyway. I have a few more things to explain to you before we move forwards.”

“In front of Adrien?” Marinette’s brows furrow with confusion, “But isn’t that—”

“He’s just as much a part of this mess as you are,” she interrupts, holding up a palm, “Le Papillon wants to capture him and if that means having Adrien listen in on our conversation, then all the better. The better informed he is, the better off he will be in the long run should he end up falling into the wrong hands.”

“I won’t let that happen,” Marinette tightens her fingers into a fist, “He’ll be safe so long as he’s with me.”

“That’s what I thought,” the Pythia smiles and squeezes the hand resting on Marinette’s knee again, “And we’ll be there in just a few minutes. Your kwarmi eats cookies, yes?”

Marnette nods, “She likes sugar ones best.”

“I’ll have the chef deliver a batch up to the altars,” the Pythia begins tapping her fingers against the touch screen and Marinette finds herself lulled by the ebb and flow of her words, the lights of Paris streaming by, the road noise in her ears. It’s the calm before the storm, she realises, and Marinette takes care to enjoy the moment before the real fight begins.

Chapter Text

“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the first place.”
Douglas Adams

le 17 mai, 2017

It’s just past midnight by the time the Pythia’s limousine pulls up at a hidden entrance and drops the two of them off within a massive courtyard, its walls and columns richly decorated in swathes of translucent fabric and hanging vines. Marinette soaks in the almost otherworldly terrace before being ushered inside the cavernous entryway by the Oracle’s Guard and guided to the left by the Pythia herself.

“Adrien’s waiting for you by the altar in the main chamber,” she explains, placing her hands on Marinette’s shoulders and facing her squarely, “I’ll be right behind you in a few minutes and whatever you do, do not let Adrien out of your sight, even for a second. Do you understand?”

Marinette nods and adjusts her mask over her nose before breaking off into a sprint down the long corridors. She follows the candlelight and eventually finds herself flanked by another Sister who joins her stride, “It’s good to have you here Ladybug. Adrien has been very anxious.”

Marinette licks her lips. It silently floors her to think that she could be trusted so much, “Take me to him.”

“Of course, I’ll lead the way.”

Marinette eventually comes across a receiving chamber she’s familiar with and tears down the hallway, the tang of humid earth and fragrant flowers filling her nose as she enters the enormous cavern, “Adrien?”

Her voice echoes throughout the massive cave and she sighs in relief when his familiar head of hair pops up from behind a bioluminescent shrub. She scampers over only to find him sitting cross legged on a woven blanket at the base of the altar, looking a little lost but ultimately relieved to see a familiar face, ‘Ladybug! What are you doing here?”

For a perfect instant, the glow of the softly swaying fauna waxes overhead, illuminating the clearing by the altar from the Delphian shadows of twilight. The soft pink lighting momentarily places his features into sharp contrast, the curve of his ear trailing down the line of his jaw, the angle of his nose and his parted lips highlighted as his green eyes widen in the din, and for one exquisite moment, all of the breath vanishes from her lungs, “Ladybug?”

As quickly as it came, the surge of energy wanes and Ladybug shakes the cobwebs from her thoughts, rushing closer and sitting down across from him, their knees just barely touching, “I’m here to protect you. Le Papillon is after you, he thinks you’re Chat Noir!”

Adrien gulps audibly, “Er...yeah. I heard.”

“Well, he’s not going to get to you so long as you’re at the Oracle,” Marinette assures him, clenching her fingers into a fist, “The Pythia is pretty sure he’s gone back to his lair but we want to be careful just in case.”

“But won’t he just send an akuma after me?” Adrien asks, still not quite looking her in the eyes.

“That’s why I’m here,” Marinette can’t quite tell if he’s nervous or just frightened, “And hopefully Chat Noir gets here at some point too. I left him a message on Snapchat since I’m not transformed but he’s not answering”

Adrien opens his mouth to reply only to freeze suddenly, his pupils narrowing to pinpricks. Marinette hears it a moment later, the rustle of bushes and the clack of smaller pebbles against stone and Marinette is immediately on her feet in front of him, her arms spread defensively, “Who’s there?!”

“Just me,” the Pythia greets them both, appearing from behind a jade tree with a wicker basket hanging from her elbow, “I don’t have to be an Oracle to know that you’re both starving. I’ve brought you something to eat.”

Marinette’s stomach seems to growl on command and she shares a sheepish smile with Adrien as she sits back down, this time beside him, “Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome,” the Pythia folds her legs and sits down at their level, her aura of majesty at odds with the casualness of her position in front of them, “Much of our food is grown and prepared here in Versailles. The Lesser Sisters work the fields and the kitchens during the day when they aren’t studying or preparing the rooms for service.”

Adrien fishes a baguette from the wicker basket and immediately rips off the end, “I’m starving, so thank you. I haven’t eaten since...last night I think?”

“What?” Marinette immediately bristles, “Why not?”

“I was nervous?” Adrien shirks away from the intensity in her eyes and rounds his shoulders, “It was kind of...well, scary to dance in front of a crowd when I don’t even know how to dance very well.”

Marinette presses a hand across her chest indignantly, “Are you kidding me? You were amazing! It was my favourite part of the show!”

Adrien immediately looks away, ducking his head, “Th-thanks?”

“I was so impressed,” Marinette assures him emphatically, releasing her arm only to wave it about for emphasis, “I’m pretty sure everyone in the room was completely blown away by your dancing abilities, plus you had a mask on! If I hadn’t known it was you, I would have thought you were a professional dancer!”

“It wasn’t that good,” Adrien argues.

“Yes it was,” Marinette presses, shifting just a little closer despite herself, “You looked like you belonged up there and I’m sure your partner would agree with me.”

Adrien practically whines, his eyes wide with disbelief, “Yeah?”

Marinette grins victoriously, “Yeah.”

“I have to agree with the young heroine,” the Pythia bites into an apple and leans back, bracketing her weight with her free arm behind her, “I thought your performance was spectacular.”

If Adrien wasn’t blushing before, he certainly was now, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the Pythia chews at length, watching the two closely, “What did you think of the second performance Ladybug?”

“Well I only got to see half of it,” Marinette replies, a little defensively, “Was the smoke bomb really necessary?”

The Pythia shrugs, “Paris sits on the edge of a knife. An akuma can’t shut down roads and force the police to put up barricades, but the threat of a terrorist attack can. I needed to slow Le Papillon’s approach without making the reasons for it obvious.”

“Still,” Marinette purses her lips, “A little warning would have been nice.”

“Hey, you weren’t the one who was kidnapped out of your room,” Adrien interjects, looking equally put out at the sudden change in conversation, “Or covered in dust, or had your eardrums blown.”

“Your penchant for exaggerations knows no bounds,” the Pythia remarks dryly, “You’re in perfectly good health. I would not let any harm come to you otherwise.”

Adrien takes a particularly large bite of the baguette and chews on it, sulking all the while. Stunned, Marinette can’t recall a single time she’s ever seen Adrien slump, “Um, can I have a piece of that?”

“Of course,” he rips off the other end of the stick and hands it to her with a small smile, quickly returning back to his sulk; having never seen Adrien act anything other than perfect, Marinette doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

“You didn’t answer my question,” the Pythia shakes her from her thoughts, “How did you like the second performance?”

“The one about the apartment building? I liked it,” Marinette considers, looking down at the hunk of bread resting in her palms, “That story though...the one about people being ripped in half? That was a little weird.”

“The first humans had to make sense of things somehow,” the Pythia smirks, a small laugh passing through her lips, “They perceived the things they didn’t understand as magic and sought to explain it with folktales and songs and stories as outlandish as their beliefs. We are ultimately wired to believe in a higher power, to exist in a vestigial state where fantasies can explain everything, but the real explanation of how soulmates work is far more simpler than that and as Pythia, it’s one of my duties to help others find their other halves. Only about thirty percent of the world’s population actually has any sort of soulmate connection, and a vast majority of them are twins or multiples, which is something I personally have experience with.”

“You’re a twin?” Adrien straightens, suddenly far too invested to slump any longer.

“My brother,” the Pythia clarifies, “You've met him several times before. André was born with the same abilities as I was, but only a woman can become a Sister of the Oracle.”

“André…” Marinette trails off, rubbing the pads of her fingers along the edge of her mask, “Wait, you mean André ? The ice cream man?”

“The one and only,” the Pythia nods her head in approval, “He's always been the sentimentalist of the two of us. I've never been very good at picking soulmates so when I have a hunch, I send them to him.”

“So that's how he does it,” Adrien remarks, staring off into space. Marinette remembers her own ice cream fondly and wonders what his must have looked like.

“They call Paris the ‘City of Love’ for a reason and my brother is single handedly responsible for its reputation. Quite frankly, it's remarkable how many people in this city belong to each other, visitors and citizens alike. André seems to think it has something to do with the correlation of the ley lines in this region and I really haven't the authority to doubt him; he's the soulmate expert after all.”

“So you can’t actually tell who has a soulmate?”

“As I said, I have hunches,” the Pythia says simply, shrugging her shoulders, “There are different degrees of soulmates and the lower the degree, the more difficult they are to recognise. For example, there are platonic soulmates, familial soulmates, romantic soulmates, even polyamorous soulmates, but some connections are stronger than others, which is what keeps the fates in balance. There's no special magic, you see, that keeps the power of the ley lines flowing; it's the magnetism of the human connection that keeps the balance in check.”

“I have to admit, I find matchmaking quite fascinating, probably because it’s one of the only abilities I seem to lack,” the Pythia shakes her head, “And one of the things that I've researched frequently in my studies is the existence of pure soulmate connections. As I’ve already said, there's a continuum when it comes to soul compatibility; to put it into layman's terms, most connections rank about a three to five out of ten in terms of their magnetic power. This is more than enough for a connection to form and take hold, but it's nowhere near as consuming as a seven or an eight which is extremely rare; André has only ever met a few of those and he's sent them right to me for a demonstration of their powers. Somehow, these pairs are able to sense each others presence, feel each others emotions, even communicate nonverbally through what’s been described to me as a mental “bond”. Pairs like these move as one, act as one, even think like one...but what would happen if there was a pair who's connection was so powerful that it ranked as a ten?”

The Pythia spins her apple between her fingers, “It's captivating to think about, as I've said, mostly because of the impossibility. André has been trying to find a pair like this for decades and we've always come up short, that is, until recently.”

“Really?” Adrien’s jaw hangs unhinged and Marinette can see the half chewed bread in his mouth, “You found one?”

“We did,” the Pythia sets the fruit down and reaches for a buttered brioche, “And the effects have been remarkable. I’ve been studying them closely to see how they react and adapt to the changes happening to the ley lines. Le Papillon has been doing his very best to wreak havoc on the balance but somehow, the presence of these two have managed to keep Paris from falling into chaos.”

“How?”

“Well, at first I wasn’t sure. Their initial meeting was strained at best, with one abjectly hating the other, but soulmates have always inspired strong reactions in their other halves, as it were, and this meeting was no different. They hardly rated a three on the scale of soul compatibility but that soon changed and oddly, they were up to a five within just a few months. It’s only continued to evolve from there, even despite the fact that their love is complicated, unrequited and yet decidedly not. It’s difficult to describe.”

Marinette finds herself just as sucked in by the story as she is of Adrien’s gobsmacked reactions, the latter hanging on the Pythia’s every word, “Unrequited? But they're soulmates!”

“Tragic, isn't it?” the Pythia polishes off the last of her brioche and rubs the butter off her fingers with the edge of the blanket, “But nothing worth having is ever easy, as they say, and there's only so much meddling I can do to get these two together. Honestly, it's exhausting watching them dance around each other. Will they? Won't they? If they would just give into their desires, the possibilities would be…well, miraculous.”

“Anyway, I must get going,” the Pythia stands abruptly and both Marinette and Adrien watch her with twin expressions of awe, “The Sibylline Sisters have just arrived with one of my favourite assets and I'm afraid that she's in rougher shape than I'd hoped.”

“Will you come back?” Marinette asks, leaning towards her like a moth drawn to a flame.

“I'll do my best,” she replies, straightening to her true height with practiced ease, “But in the meantime, stay put and don’t let Adrien out for your sights. A Sister will be by with bedrolls shortly so that you can get some sleep. Rest well and may the fates be with you.”

Hold on.

A sleepover?

With Adrien?

Blinking in unison, both Marinette and Adrien watch as the Pythia turns and walks back the way she came, wide eyed with matching twin spots of pink spreading across their cheekbones. They sit perfectly immobile for an uncomfortably long time without meeting each other’s gazes, during which Marinette distracts herself by contemplating what Chat Noir would have said had he been by her side. Would he have wiggled his eyebrows and made a funny joke? Attempted to woo her into making things romantic? Marinette briefly considers trying to make a joke of her own but the words seem to be lodged in her throat, her tongue refusing to cooperate.

“Well, I guess it’s just you and me then.”

Marinette nods, her eyes still glued to the open wicker basket of fruits and bread in front of her, “Yeah. I guess it is.”

She sees him move out of the corner of her eyes, a slight shift of his body as he straightens one of his knees, “That was quite the story hmm?”

Marinette nods again and tries to will away the fervent blush still colouring her skin. It had been fascinating while she had been listening, but now? With the boy of her dreams sitting beside her, asking questions about love? Even with the mask covering her features, Marinette has never felt so exposed.

Swallowing her nerves, she answers his question with one of her own, “W-what do you think about soulmates?”

“Well, Nathalie once told me that my parents were soulmates,” he says after a moment, shifting in his seat, “They were...I think they were made for each other, like the Pythia said. It was like they could read each other's minds, you know? It was kind of cool, watching it as a kid, the way they would finish each other’s sentences. And did you know she was a movie star? Directors used to beg her to come to Hollywood but she wouldn't leave my father no matter what. ‘My heart is in Paris,’ she'd always say...and I know she was talking about my father but sometimes...sometimes I used to pretend she was talking about me too.”

Discomfort settles like a shroud around her shoulders, “Did you ever find out what happened to her?”

“No, but I think my father knows more than he's letting on,” he replies, again fixing her with an inscrutable gaze, “And Nathalie too. I think the whole house knows but they won't tell me anything. I don’t think they realise I’m tougher than I look. I can take it, whatever happened. I’ve tried to look it up online but the media knows just as much as I do.”

Marinette tries not to let her distaste for Gabriel Agreste bleed through her superhero guise, but it's hard to watch him suffer, “I'm sorry. That doesn't seem fair to keep that a secret from you.”

“Says the superhero,” Adrien laughs through his nose, his tone almost self deprecating, “It must be hard, keeping your identity a secret.”

“It's not easy,” Marinette responds quietly, “Lying to my parents all the time is the worst part.”

“And lying to your partner.”

Marinette doubletakes, “What?”

“Well, you haven't told Chat Noir your identity, have you?” Adrien remarks, staring quite intently.

“I'm not allowed to,” Marinette blurts defensively, hoping to try and steer the conversation out of dangerous territory, “It's hard to explain.”

“But doesn't he like you?” Adrien insists, leaning even closer, “Maybe the two of you are the soulmates the Pythia was talking about.”

Marinette frowns, momentarily floundering with uncertainty at the pleading, almost desperate expression on his face, “M-maybe? I hadn't really thought about it.”

It's Adrien’s turn to doubletake, “Really?”

“I...I don’t really think of him that way.”

His eyes grow wide as a thick and heavy silence falls between them, “You don’t?”

Suddenly, Marinette can’t help but hold her breath, the air suddenly too thick to breath. She turns away and starts tapping her hand against the side of her leg to try and suppress the burning need to stretch her legs and run, the earnest look in his eyes almost overwhelming. I can’t let my feelings get in the way , she reminds herself, but her resolve seems to dwindle with every passing heartbeat, “It's...it's complicated.”

“And what about me?”

Marinette nearly swallows her tongue, “What?!”

“We could go on a date,” Adrien suggests and Marinette’s mouth goes dry at the intense, hungry look in his eyes. For a second, she’s reminded of that moment from just an hour before when the bioluminescent glow had lit Adrien’s features in a way that had inexplicably conspired to steal her breath away, “If you don’t want to date Chat Noir, maybe you’d like to go out on a date with me.”

“That’s...that’s really kind of you to offer,” she assures him, feeling decidedly uncomfortable and self-conscious, as if the love of her life hadn’t just asked her out on a date, “But that would mean putting you in danger.”

“It could be our little secret,” Adrien insists, his eyes growing wide and hopeful, “No one would have to know except the two of us.”

“I’m…” Marinette pauses, floundering for a bit, “I could never tell you my identity. Dating as Ladybug...it wouldn’t be fair to you.”

“But we could make it work,” he refutes instantly, his expression slightly on edge, “We could do anything we like if we wanted to, I know we could.”

Marinette regards him for a long moment. Adrien is beautiful, physically, mentally; everything about him is good. He’s good at academics and good at sports and music and friendship and group projects and modelling and...the list is endless. Even chewing with his mouth open, Marinette hadn’t been completely disgusted; if anything, it made him as human as all of the sneaky camera photos she’d taken of him at school suggested, laughing and smiling and snacking on sandwiches and pastries when he thought no one was looking. He’s gorgeous and polite and perfect in every way but…

She could never live up to that.

“I’m sorry,” she says and her heart aches at the way Adrien’s hopeful expression crumples in her wake, “But we can’t ever be together. Not like that.”

He opens his mouth to retort but she cuts him off, “No matter how careful we are, there will always be a chance that our secret could be discovered and once someone finds out, you and everyone you love could face the consequences. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that one wrong move could put you in danger.”

“I...I understand,” he finally replies, tired and quiet rather than angry, “I guess it was stupid of me to even ask.”

“No no no,” she lets out a relieved breath as some of the tension rolls out of her shoulders, “It’s not stupid at all. I like you and I think you’re an amazing model and a kind person and if the circumstances were different I’d...I’d love to go out on a date with you.”

“Really?” Adrien asks, sounding genuinely confused, “You would?”

“Of course!” she exclaims, mollified to see his body slip into a more comfortable stance, “I really like you Adrien. I just can’t risk it.”

“I get it…” Adrien trails off and Marinette follows his gaze curiously, his stare suddenly detached and distant. His fingers are flexing rhythmically against his thigh, his eyes tight with tension and Marinette swallows uncomfortably, hating the way his body starts to slump again, “I should probably call my father and let him know I’m safe but I left my mobile at Le Grand Palais .”

Marinette seizes the distraction and looks around her for her handbag, “I think I must have left mine in the limousine.”

“Shoot,” Adrien frowns and looks around him, “This place is so old that they probably don’t even have a landline.”

“Maybe we could go look?”

“Okay,” he pushes himself to his feet, “Where should we start?”

“Why don’t we go back into the main room and see if we can find a dorm or something,” Marinette suggests and Adrien nods, their feet kicking up soft clouds of sand and stone dust as they walk, steady and even, side by side. They reach the main hallway and Marinette turns away from Adrien for a minute to peek into the first room she sees, looking around as best she can in the dim candlelight, “There’s nothing in here—”

Oh no.

Oh no.

“Adrien?! ADRIEN?! Merde! Tikki, transforme-moi!”

Panicking, Ladybug pelts out the door and doesn't stop running until she safely checked behind every column and receiving chamber around her for his silhouette, only to come up painfully, hopelessly short. She’s gasping for air, her pulse pounding and her head swimming as she leans against the cold stone wall, desperately trying to get a grip on her own composure. How did he disappear so quickly? She only looked away for a minute! Her hands are shaking as she lifts them to her chest, wincing at the pain which pulses through it. It nearly paralyses her with fear, the idea that he could already be captured, trapped in Le Papillon’s grasp like a bargaining chip and it would be her fault, her fault... he’d have to know by now that Adrien has always been her soft spot; she’d nearly given up her Miraculous when Lila’s akumatized form had threatened to drop him off the Eiffel Tower, not to mention the near brush with death when he’d throw himself off the roof. And now that he’d disappeared into thin air…

Le Papillon must have akumatised someone on the inside.

Flailing her arms around her face, Ladybug tries to even out her heartbeat, sucking in deep breaths of air as she bites her lip at the pain in her chest and her head that keeps growing even more pronounced. Her eyes slip closed as she recalls the look of sadness on his face when she’d mentioned they could never be together, not in the way they both desired...

Is this what happens when you try and defy the fates?

She thinks back to the time she tried to give her Miraculous away all those months ago and recognises it as the same awful sensation, except this time the intensity is tenfold. She was always destined to be Ladybug, that was no question, but this? This unrelenting pull between two people who could set her skin on fire with a single touch…

‘FATOU!’

She holds still for a seemingly endless stretch of time and immediately starts to second guess herself, her heart hammering inside her chest against the rising swell of panic. Maybe calling her name in her head doesn’t work if she’s too far away from the Sibylline Sister and oh my gods the Pythia is going to be so so so mad at her for letting Adrien out of her sight, even if it was just for a few seconds—

‘I’m in the medical wing. Turn right, a Sister will meet you at the end of the corridor.’

At the sound of Fatou’s voice in her head, Ladybug breaks into a full sprint and nearly barrels into a Sister waiting for her at the intersection of the hallway, skidding around her just in time. The Sister’s expression is serious as she joins Ladybug in her mad dash that weaves them through the various chambers of the Oracle for what feels like hours, a stone and marble labyrinth of clairvoyant antiquity. At then end of the final hall is a spiral staircase that seems to disappear into the shadowed ceiling and the Sister leads the way up with Ladybug fast on her heels, bursting through the doors at the top of the climb into a cavernous candlelit atrium.

“Ladybug!” Fatou exclaims, rising to her feet from where she’d been sitting on a cot, “Where’s Adrien?”

“We were looking for a phone so he could call his father and tell him he was safe,” Ladybug’s voice wobbles, her chest tightening around her lungs in panic, “And then he disappeared! I looked everywhere but...I’m so sorry!”

Tears begin to spill from her eyes unbidden, the ruse of Ladybug finally collapsing beneath the weight of the day as she grasps onto the nearest thing for support and begins to shake, her whole body trembling with half stifled sobs. Fatou is by her side in an instant, physically dragging her over to the nearest chair and sitting her down as the wave of emotions inevitably overcomes her, her defenses all but shattering as she gasps for breath.

“It’s alright,” Fatou whispers quietly beside her, but the alarmed tone of her voice belies the calming effect, her dread coming sure and staid, “We’ll find Adrien, he can’t have gotten far.”

“I’m sorry,” Ladybug hiccups, tears falling in earnest now, wetting her mask. She stares at the floor through sodden eyelashes and tries to get a hold of herself, “I’m so so sorry—”

“.....aaaahhhhd...”

Ladybug startles at the inhuman sound and rubs the wetness from her eyes as Fatou gets up and nearly phases through the curtain at the end of the room, “Shhhh...Nathalie, you can’t speak yet.”

“Nathalie?” Ladybug exclaims, wiping the tracks of tears from her cheeks. The distraction is enough to force her to her feet and get a grip on herself, stumbling over quickly in an attempt to dissolve the space between them. Stepping around the curtain, Ladybug freezes and slaps her hands across her lips as she spots Adrien’s governess, her neck battered and bruised and looking worse than she’s ever seen her, “Oh my gods, what happened?!”

“She was strangled,” Fatou explains, dabbing her mottled skin with a golden rag.

“But by who?! Is she okay?!”

“She will be if she tries to stop talking,” the Sister in white appears from behind an alcove with a small jar in her palms, setting it on the nearest bedside table. She sends Nathalie her a fond look of exasperation but Ladybug hardly notices, her eyes locked on the civilian woman’s greyish skin and flushed, clammy features, “And it was Le Papillon. Nathalie has been helping us spy on him for some time.”

“Except that’s not why he strangled her,” Fatou supplies, “Turns out, he attacked her because he realised she had figured out Chat Noir’s identity.”

Ladybug’s eyes shift from person to person, her mind reeling as the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, “You...you know who Le Papillon is?”

“We all do,” Fatou pinches the bridge of her nose and turns to face the Sister in white solemnly, “Salomé wasn’t wrong when she said this was all going to go to hell in a handbasket.”

“Don’t say her name out loud!”

“Does it matter anymore?” Fatou snaps back, glaring at the Sister in white, “I’m sick of this code of secrecy she’s had us under since Le Papillon hit the scene. Things never used to be this way.”

“She had her reasons, you know that.”

“And what does it matter now Quynh?” Fatou throws her hands in the air in frustration, “Because none of this matters anymore! If Adrien has been taken from under our very noses, it means one of our Sisters have been akumatised! No one is safe!”

“But Ladybug should be able to find him,” Quynh replies, wringing her hands together while nervously staring between the other three of them in the room.

“Not without backup,” Fatou hisses, pulling herself to her full height, “This is an elemental Miraculous we’re talking about, they don’t fool around. It’s going to take all of us, Salomé included, to clean up this mess that should have been dealt with years ago.”

“You know we couldn’t have interfered—”

“The Pythia should have stopped him where she had the chance back when he was still young,” the Sister in red appears soundlessly from behind Ladybug, startling her as she sets the bowl in her hands down on a shelf, “And now we’re the ones stuck cleaning up her mess. Remind me, why are we always the collateral damage here?”

“This isn’t just Salomé’s fault,” Quynh shrinks, holding her palms up in defense, “We knew this was going to happen sooner or later, it’s in our job description to keep the balance of the fates in alignment and that’s just what we’ll have to do now more than ever.”

“Which is why it’s time you learned the truth,” Fatou finally turns her attention back to Ladybug, grimacing as she glances over at Nathalie’s panicked, widened eyes.

“You were right all along Ladybug,” Fatou’s eyes soften, “Le Papillon is Gabriel Agreste.”

Ladybug feels the numbness creep up her spine, her blood turning to ice in her veins, “Oh gods.”

“It gets worse,” Fatou drags her hand across her face, “Because Chat Noir is his son.”

Chapter Text

“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
Kahlil Gibran

le 17 mai, 2017

First comes the daze.

Marinette hates the part when her brain stops processing what she’s seeing and hearing, the words being spoken falling flatly on deaf ears. There’s only static and noise as the same two sentences keep repeating themselves over and over again in her head like they’re being blared from a loudspeaker, thick and awful and ringing in her ears. She feels like she’s underwater, muffled and struggling to breath, the air too heavy, her lungs too sodden to speak and everything is an indistinguishable jumble of colours and flavours and wrongness as she tries to breathe, tries to assure them that she’s alright but she can’t, not with the way her throat scrapes, sharp and shallow against the air.

Gabriel Agreste is Le Papillon.

Her fingers are numb, her feet lost in the jumble, her stomach leaden and cold and her mouth has grown dry, her tongue tasteless, salty and earthy and there’s no smell, no sight, nothing but the realisation that this is it. There’s no backing out, no retreating to gather their forces, no second chances; she’s drowning and flying at the same time and she’s hit with that same urge to run as fast as she can until the lights of Paris are nothing but stars in the distance, buried beneath her blankets and duvets so she can be a kid again.

Adrien Agreste is Chat Noir.

She shivers and there are whispers in her ears but she can hardly hear them, the soft brush carding through her hair like the wisps of a spirit, the kiss of the ley lines and the caress of fingertips on her cheeks and brow bones wraithlike on her skin. There’s the rush of air in her diaphragm and they exhale together, a shared breath of life as she sways on her feet, palms rushing to her rescue, cupping her elbow and the base of her skull just as her knees give out and she staggers, gasping, sliding down the wall until she’s folded neatly, dropping her head between her knees. Fatou is there, her voice a balm, her kiss against her forehead solace against the bitter chill that threatens to freeze her to the marrow except there’s heat now, the press of skin and palms and fingers tangled in her curls, soft and warm and familiar.

She opens her eyes.

“There you are ma belle ,” Fatou is smiling in front of her, gently bringing their foreheads together, “I thought I lost you for a moment.”

You did, Marinette thinks, focusing on the rise and fall of Fatou’s chest as the older woman pulls her into a hug. The pressure, the feeling of being encompassed and squeezed is exactly what she needs in this moment as she melts into her embrace, yielding like putty, unresisting, relieved. The numbness slowly ebbs, springs tendrils encroaching onto winter’s chill, and the night’s black turns to dawn, a morning glory against the unrelenting dark.

“Come, little one. You need rest.”

And she does, she thinks, burying her face into the crook of Fatou’s shoulder.

She’s out like a light before she knows it.

~

When she wakes next, it’s to the rumble of a car’s engine and the vibration of wheels against the concrete of the highway, her head gently resting in someone’s lap. She knows it’s Fatou’s hand against her hair by the soft breaths of foreign languages spilling softly through their mental connection, spells of Ancient Greek settling in her thoughts and soothing her feelings, keeping the onset of panic at bay as she opens her eyes and stretches her toes, her Dionysia robes draped around her body once again. She spots Tikki munching cookies on her hip, chatting quietly with the French-Vietnamese Sister still dressed in white.

“Is that how you came to Paris?” the tiny god asks and Quynh nods her head, her eyes foggy.

“It was. We stayed in Saigon for as long as we could but eventually we knew we wouldn’t be able to endure any longer. We fled to Angkor Wat and together with the Sisters fleeing from the Khmer Rouge, our entire sect ended up in Australia for a few years before the Pythia in Sydney sent me here.”

Tikki nods thoughtfully, “I had a bọ rùa in the 18th century from Saigon. You’d never find her name in the history books but she was incredibly influential for her time. And her con mèo? Definitely one of Plagg’s finer choices.”

“Our libraries were destroyed in the war but I think I know which historical couple you’re referring to,” Quynh smirks and covers her lips with her fingertips, “Stories of their passionate love surpassed even my expectations!”

“Soulmates have always inspired strong reactions within their other halves,” the Pythia’s voice adds from somewhere to her right, “Enemies or lovers, elemental Miraculous bearers have the most fiery relationships.”

Tikki’s giggles fill the cabin, “You don’t need to tell me! I was the grandmother of twelve children!”

Marinette fades in and out for a few minutes before being jostled back to reality, Fatou’s voice a little louder in her thoughts, ‘Wake up little one. It’s time.’

She takes a deep breath and opens her eyes again, “Mmmmm…”

“There we go,” the Pythia’s voice delights, “Welcome back Ladybug.”

Marinette rolls over and slowly sits up, the grogginess in her mind quickly abating, “What did I miss?”

“Nothing at all,” Fatou draws lazy circles against the bare skin of her arms and Marinette leans instinctively into her grasp, “Tikki was just sharing stories about former heroes.”

Marinette nods, “Did she tell you about the Aztec Ladybug? I love that one.”

“She did!” Quynh rubs the kwarmi’s belly fondly, the little god happily perched in her palm, “I wish she had time to tell us more but we’re nearly there.”

The mood inside the limousine sombers immediately, “We’ll be pulling into Gabriel’s drive shortly.”

“What do you need me to do?” Marinette squares her shoulders and glances over towards Nathalie’s sleeping form, her head gently cradled in the third Sibylline Sister’s lap.

“I need you to focus,” Fatou says quietly, her thumbs gently digging into the muscles of her shoulder blades, ‘Listen to the balance. Can you hear me?’

‘Yes?’

‘Good,’ Fatou closes her eyes and Marinette mirrors her movements instinctively, her thoughts narrowing on the sensation of Fatou’s hands on her skin, ‘As Ladybug, you and Chat Noir share a connection similar to the one we share together. If you reach far enough, you should be able to sense it.’

Marinette tries to clear her mind and finds nothing but Fatou’s presence buzzing in her ears, ‘I don’t know what I’m looking for.’

‘That’s okay,’ Fatou keeps her voice soft and steady, ‘I want you to picture his voice in your head, the way he smiles, the way he tells you jokes that make you laugh. Focus on that feeling and find him.’

Screwing her eyes shut, Marinette thinks about the last time they fought together, the fistbumps and the hugs they’ve shared. She thinks about the way she stares at the back of his head sometimes while they’re sitting at the top of Notre Dame de Paris, just lazing around in the humid breezes wafting off the Seine telling silly puns to each other under the evening sun. She thinks about the way he calls her M’Lady and the way she calls him Chaton, the way she scratches his chin and the way he purrs and rubs his head against random objects like the silly cat that he is, all long limbs and puns and a thousand watt smiles that could light up a galaxy. She loves it when he laughs, that real, proper laugh, the kind that come out of nowhere and builds from his chest to his fingertips, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. It’s infectious and she can’t help but join in with him until they’re both shaking, their abdomen’s aching from a story that they’ll cherish for a lifetime in a world build just for them, Ladybug and Chat Noir, yin and yang.

Like a inkblot on paper, he blooms hot and furious in her mind, dark and desperate, scared and alone. Holding her breath, she reaches out, the fingers of her focus grasping like wisps of smoke until she digs even deeper, forcing them to crystallize and hold on like she never has before.

She opens her eyes and she’s never felt a moment so resolute in her life, “I found him.”

“And he’s with Gabriel?”

She can taste his fear on her tongue, “He has to be.”

“Then your role will be to distract him,” the Pythia states simply, “I may not be able to foresee his actions, but I know he’s too proud to hide and lay in wait. He’s waiting for you to show up and save Adrien, of that I am absolutely certain. He’ll be in his atelier, and in the meantime, Nathalie will show us into his lair for the perfect ambush.”

Marinette nods warily, “What if I can’t hold him off?”

“Then we’re onto Plan Z,” the Pythia’s gaze hardens, “And it’ll be up to the fates to decide which player will win the roll of the die.”

~

She bursts through the door to the sounds of broken glass and Ladybug already knows she’s too late.

The shadows of early dawn stretch across the stark marble slabs at the base of the staircase, throwing the entire foyer in austere, stark relief. Ladybug follows the curvature of the landing and takes in the shredded portrait of a father and son, the frayed tatters of painted canvas blowing gently in the gust of wind that sneaks in through the open door behind her and she spins on her heel, following the noise.

Ladybug darts into Gabriel’s atelier and quickly hides behind one of the upturned tables as something comes flying at her face, missing her by mere millimetres. The room is a mess, ripped apart and ruined and Marinette stares in horror as Le Papillon’s shadow lurches towards her on the opposite wall, his boots like thunderclaps against the tiles.

“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Le Papillon’s syrupy voice rings out, the near silence punctuated by the telltale sounds of someone struggling to get the gag out of their mouth, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Ladybug takes a chance and peeks out from around the table, spotting Adrien bound up with a rag shoved between his teeth, “Let him go Le Papillon! Your time is up!”

“Hardly,” Le Papillon’s shadow pauses in its movement, “I already have the Black Cat Miraculous in my posession. Once I akumatised one of the sisters at the Oracle and had him brought here, he was surprisingly simple to beat, all things considered. Without you by his side, I hardly had to do a thing.”

Ladybug grits her teeth and vows right then and there to end this, “You won’t win this fight.”

“Forgive me, but I already have.”

There’s a rush of sound and movement and Ladybug is up and halfway across the atelier in an instant, launching her yoyo at her assailant with all of the ferocity she can muster. Le Papillon just barely dodges her attack and hauls Adrien up by the back of his collar in retaliation, unsheathing his cane to reveal a rapier and pressing the tip to Adrien’s neck.

“NO!”

“Ah ah ah,” Le Papillon smirks and Ladybug freezes in her stride, her eyes glancing back in forth in between Adrien’s tear stained face and Le Papillon’s grin, “One wrong move and your beloved Chat Noir is dead.”

“You wouldn’t,” Ladybug spits, teeth barred and hackles raised, “You won’t do this to him.”

“That all depends on you,” he responds conversationally, pressing the tip of his rapier just hard enough to dimple his skin, “Give me your Miraculous and I will set him free.”

“You’re lying,” Ladybug begins to circle him and Le Papillon moves with her, wheeling Adrien between them as he grapples at the villain’s arms with his fingertips, desperate to pull the blade away.

“I’m growing tired,” Le Papillon singsongs, his tone mocking, “This is your final warning Ladybug. Give me the earrings, or this floor will soon become as red as your suit.”

Marinette fights the nausea crawling up her throat and squares her shoulders, her eyes flitting around the room for something, anything, to give her the upper edge, “No.”

“That’s a shame really,” Le Papillon shifts the rapier ever so slightly and Ladybug clamps her hands over her mouth as Adrien releases a muffled yell and writhes like ragdoll in his clutches, fruitlessly struggling to escape, “He is so very perfect. Flawless even, if the lighting is right. Such a shame to let it go to waste.”

Le Papillon’s smile is ruthless.

“STOP!”

It dawns on her now, staring into the face of a man with no morals, no compassion, no soul; there’s no way she’s going to win this alone, not without Chat Noir at her side.

Her distraction laid for the Pythia, she knows there’s no stopping him now. Left without any other option, Ladybug knows what she has to do.

It’s up to the fates now.

“Fine, you win,” Ladybug succumbs to the swell of defeat and promptly pulls out her earrings one by one, squeezing her eyes shut as her transformation crumbles, leaving her back in her robes, her silk mask still stretched across her skin. Le Papillon’s grin grows wider as Marinette tosses the twin jewels across the room, away from Adrien who crumbles to the ground, his hands clasping his throat, shaking and raw. Stricken, Marinette runs over to him immediately and rips a piece off her gossamer gown to help tamper the bleeding from the small puncture on his neck.

“Are you alright?” she asks, whisper quiet and she’s never seen him look quite this terrified as he glances up at her through his sodden lashes, “Did he hurt you anywhere else?”

“He took my ring,” Adrien gasps, and although Marinette had already accepted the impossible identity of her partner, it still shakes the earth beneath her feet to hear him say it.

“Ladybug,” Le Papillon’s voice croons from somewhere behind her and suddenly she’s being yanked back by the collar of her robes, “It’s truly been fun, really, it has, but I have a mission to finish as you well know, and I have one last objective to complete.”

Her hauls her up the stairs towards his standing desk and uses the same rope he’d tied Adrien with to bind her hands together around the leg of the table and despite her added strength and speed from being tethered to the Ladybug Miraculous for so long, she’s still no match for his powers at full strength, “When a person holds the power of the Ladybug and the Black Cat Miraculous at the same time, they obtain ultimate power. I can wish for anything my heart desires, but I must sacrifice something in return.”

“Many years ago, my wife and I suffered a person loss,” Le Papillon explains as Marinette tests her bonds, yanking fruitlessly at her wrists, “My wife and I wished to have another child, one who would actually be able to carry on the family name. You see, success in this venture was imperative as our first son, our only son, was born without a prophecy.”

“In our search for options we came upon a solution. We would seek out the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous and wish an heir into existence. We already had two other Miraculous in our possession, surely it wouldn’t be that difficult to find them, but the loss of my wife certainly threw a wrench into all of my carefully laid plans,” Gabriel shrugs almost jovially, “I cannot father an heir without someone to bear him and that’s when I learned a very important rule in regards to the combined power of the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculous. The price paid must be of equal value to the wish granted which means that in order to bring back a life, I must be willing to take one in exchange. Luckily, the perfect sacrifice was growing right under my nose.”

Le Papillon turns his back to Ladybug and saunters over to Adrien, nudging the trussed boy with the toe of his boot. Adrien looks up at him, his eyes wide, his skin flushed with shock and fear and Ladybug can see the subtle shake that racks through him, the same electric, sharp bolt of energy that rockets up her spine. It splinters at the base of her skull through their connection and paralyses her, paralyses them both as Adrien stares into her eyes for a brief moment, and time stands still.

‘I’m sorry.’

“Come my pretty akuma,” Le Papillon croons, holding out his palm for one of the bright white butterflies that had been skittering around the room, “I have one last task for you.”

“Please,” Marinette begs but her pleas fall on deaf ears as he cups his hand over the butterfly and infuses it with dark magic, sucking the positivity from the balance hanging in the air around them, “Please don’t do this.”

“Elemental Miraculous have many powers,” Gabriel says, the smile tearing at his lips almost rabid, “But my particular Miraculous was never meant to be used on the foreground of battle. Changing the nature of my abilities is something that’s taken years to alter and perfect and although I never got the wings I wanted, I did manage to procure myself a rapier. That being said, I wouldn’t stand a chance against the two of you together in hand to hand combat. It simply isn’t in my nature, so I had to adapt.”

The akuma perches on his gloved finger and flutters its wings in anticipation, “It just so happens that butterflies are amazingly adaptable creatures. They transform and remodel themselves to suit the needs of their environment and I strove to do the same, as always, in the way I know best. This akuma, when given the proper instruction, can do just as much damage that my rapier can, with none of the mess! It’s remarkable really, what I’ve been able to get away with. A painless, efficient, simple death. No blood, no evidence. The perfect way to begin my journey to ultimate power, I think.”

Marinette sees where this is going and begins to jerk in earnest, her shoes slipping uselessly against the tile as she tries to scrabble towards him, “STOP! STOP IT!”

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” Gabriel flicks his finger and watches it impassively as it flutters towards his son, “Akuma, time to show this world what I was truly meant to be.”

Already crumpled, Marinette can hardly hear Adrien’s cry over the sounds of her shrieks as the little butterfly disappears into his chest and flies out the other end like a warm knife through butter, and Adrien’s eyes lock again with hers for one endless moment, wide and scared and searching, the perfect bright green. His lips part, a sharp intake, hoarse as the air is sucked from his lungs and he topples, the moment broken, sprawling face first onto the tile.

Le Papillon drops his transformation and discards the butterfly brooch, tossing it like a piece of rubbish passed the doors of his atelier and out into the lobby, “If it’s any consolation, he had no idea Le Papillon was me.”

“NO!” Marinette wails through gritted teeth, gnashing and furious and frightened all at once, “You’re a MONSTER!”

“Perhaps. You see, patience and persistence can be taught, but ambition? You either have it or you don't,” Gabriel steps over the body of his son and walks casually over to the gaudy portrait of his wife, jamming his fingers into the golden canvas with a flourish, “I’ll be back to deal with you later Ladybug. Perhaps I may even bring you up to enjoy the show.”

And with one last piercing gaze, Gabriel slips into the floor unbidden, leaving Marinette bound and utterly alone.

~

It takes her many long, aching moments before she can finally look at him.

“He finally won,” Marinette speaks and the sound of her own voice scares her, the hollowness in her chest constricting with grief, “Y-your father…did he...did he tell you? He tried to kill Nathalie but she’s still alive, somehow. The Sisters managed to save her…”

Marinette shudders and lets her eyes track slowly up the long line of his throat, his familiar jaw, his pale lips slightly parted.

She never seen him so still .

“The Pythia has to stop him now,” Marinette takes another wobbling breath, “He has to go down no matter what, even if we can't be the ones to do it.”

Her bound fingers curl into fists, her watery stare resolute as waves of grief and anger begin to swell inside her throat, “I can't believe...it wasn't supposed to be this way, no one was supposed to get hurt! And now Gabriel, your father!, is going to get away with it and he’s going to get away with hurting you and whatever else he plans on doing to Paris once he combines the Miraculouses together and—”

“I should have seen it,” she accuses, cutting herself off as guilt boils like acid in the pit of her stomach, “Gods, what kind of Ladybug am I? I knew something bad was going to happen but I was so wrapped up in my own stupid world that I didn’t even care to think about my own partner! I didn’t even think about what was happening to Chat Noir this whole time because I was so busy obsessing over you!”

Tears stain her cheeks as she folds, resting her forehead on her trapped wrists, “I thought I could do this alone, you know? I thought...I thought that I could defeat him all by myself but now...now I can't even imagine trying to do this without you. You...you took that from me and...we're, we were at team and...”

“I'm so sorry,” she shakes her head, her outstretched fingers trembling and desperate to feel the heat of his skin from beneath his suit, the soft touch of leather, the breathy laugh in her ears, “It wasn't supposed to...you weren't supposed to…”

Another raw sob escapes her lips she tries to clamber for control but she's helpless, helpless for the rise and fall of his chest, the steady heartbeat thrumming beneath the pale expanse of his throat, “You were my best friend...it wasn't...you weren't...it was supposed to be Adrien except you are Adrien and you were there for me all along and I rejected you everytime and—”

She chokes at the foreign sensation again, the one that feels like she's flying and falling at the same time, the sensation triggered only by him except now it feels like she's lost in space without a tether, cold and absent and entirely alone, “I always thought we would be best friends forever, even after this whole mess was over, just the two of us, Ladybug and Chat Noir. We'd reveal our identities and you'd be a funny boy from a different arrondissement and we'd go to each other's weddings and be godparents to each other's kids, but I never, I never thought…”

“But it was you all along wasn't it?” she whispers, her lashes heavy with tears, “You were always more than a friend to me, even if I didn't want to admit it, and I didn't, because I was so busy obsessing over the other you that I didn't see you for what you really are. I always meant to try harder, to try and support you when you were sad but it's so hard sometimes when all I can think about is my own stupid problems.”

“My parents taught me to be kind and caring towards others, especially to people who need it most, and I failed you,” she confesses quietly, her arms sagging in their bindings with despair. Her head bows low, teardrops staining the gauzy fabric of her Ladybug dress, “I should have been there for you and I’m sorry. I'm sorry I'm too late.”

“Ladybug!”

Marinette jerks so hard she nearly smashes her head against the bottom of the standing desk, her eyes still blurry with tears. She bends her neck down to her bound hands and wipes her eyes only to immediately scrabble as far away as she can given her confines, her heart leaping in her throat.

“Who are you?!” she rasps, her voice hardly recognisable from crying for so long, “Get away from me, get away from him!”

“Ladybug, it’s fine, it’s me,” the woman raises her palms and Marinette’ hackles rise, her purple pantsuit only slightly altered from the one one worn by her enemy, “It’s me, Nathalie.”

Marinette reels, “What?!”

“The Pythia told me I had one last task and this was it,” she gestures to herself, Le Papillon’s costume perfectly tailored to her body, “This is what I was supposed to do.”

Marinette doesn’t budge, “Then go help the Pythia, what are you waiting for? Go stop him!”

“She’s the one who sent me back down here,” Nathalie bends down and brushes Adrien’s bangs from his eyes, pressing the back of her hand to his forehead, “She said he killed him but…”

“I watched it happen,” Marinette bares her teeth, anger beginning to swell again in the wake of her grief, “He killed Adrien!”

“How?” Nathalie cards her fingers through his hair, “He doesn’t look like he has a mark on him.”

“He sent an akuma straight through his heart,” she hisses, her hands trembling, “I hate him.”

“You’re not the only one,” Nathalie looks up at her through her purple mask, “Which is why we’re going to stop him. The Butterfly Miraculous was created to turn people into heroes, not villains, and I now I know what I have to do.”

Nathalie opens her palm and closes her eyes, summoning an akuma to rest on her fingers, “Will you, Ladybug, become Ladybug again and defeat Gabriel?”

Marinette gapes, “You’re going to...you’re going to akumatise me?”

“You’ll have full control,” Nathalie assures her, her free hand hovering over the silvery butterfly, “I’ll send the akuma to your necklace. He’ll never suspect it if it’s under your suit.”

“And I’ll have Ladybug’s powers again?” Marinette is still incredibly suspicious, “You won’t be able to affect me at all?”

“I have no intention of corrupting you,” Nathalie’s voice hardens, “I want this son of a bitch brought to justice just as much as you do. You saw what he did to me, what he’s done to Adrien…”

Nathalie trails off and Marinette weighs her options...does she have any other choice?

“Do it,” Marinette finally decides, her voice whisper quiet, “Give me the power of Ladybug.”

Nathalie takes a deep breath and closes her palms, “Butterfly, draw your strength from the power of the ley lines and give Ladybug the power to defeat Gabriel once and for all.”

She opens her hands and Marinette steels herself as the bright lilac butterfly flutters towards her, so unlike the black and violet akuma she usually encounters. Her heart is pounding as it nears her throat, hovering as if asking for permission and with the slightest nod of her head, the butterfly disappears into the red teardrop stone Tikki had given her on her birthday and Marinette’s world turns upside down in an instant.

Chapter Text

“Do you desire to be wholly one, always day and night to be in one another's company? For if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one.”
Aristophanes

le 17 mai, 2017

Infused with the power of the akuma, Ladybug’s footsteps eventually disappear down the corridor and Nathalie drops her transformation immediately, succumbing to the ebb and flow of magic and monsters and coming back from the dead. She crumples to her knees and flops down onto her haunches, the breath pushed from her lungs as she struggles to get both her balance and her bearings. She's hardly able to keep herself from laying down outright as Nooroo flutters onto the crown of Adrien’s head, burrowing himself in his tresses.

“Did you know?” she croaks and her voice is so much worse now that the kwarmi’s powers aren’t flowing through her veins.

“About Adrien?” he asks quietly, shaking subtly, “Or about you?”

“Both,” she whispers, brushing her fingertips against Adrien’s shoulders, drawing circles on his back like she did when he was little and frightened of the thunder that rained from the skies.

“I always knew about Adrien,” Nooroo explains, twirling his hair idly between his paws, “There’s no power more distinctive than that of the Black Cat Miraculous. Anyone with a penchant for magic would have been able to smell him coming from kilometres away...the only reason Gabriel didn’t is because he doesn’t listen to anyone but himself. The ley lines only speak to those who are willing to hear them, and Gabriel has never listened to a single word of common sense since acquiring me.”

“As for you, I was never quite sure what team you were playing for,” Nooroo takes a deep breath and sinks further into Adrien’s hair, “I still haven’t decided, to be honest.”

Nathalie frowns, “I literally died protecting Adrien.”

“You died because you got caught,” Nooroo refutes, eyeing her closely, “Not once have you acted without keeping your own wellbeing as your first priority. You let all of this happen.”

“I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” Nathalie argues, rubbing a hand across her neck in an effort to ease some of the throbbing there, “But if I had acted any differently, I would have been fired.”

“Sometimes doing the right thing is worth suffering for.”

“And you don’t think I have?” Nathalie hisses and immediately regrets it, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes, “Everything I’ve done is to try and redeem myself, to prove that I’m not just some heartless, subservient assistant to Gabriel.”

She takes a long suffering breath and struggles to keep the pressure behind her eyes at bay as she gently, painstakingly rolls Adrien onto his back and grimaces as her tears begin to fall in earnest, speckling his cotton t-shirt in darker drops of blue, “I’ve been taking care of him all his life and when I found out he was Chat Noir I did everything, everything in my power to make sure no one noticed the cheese or the purring or the fingernails. I blamed his bunting on an ear infection just so no one would question why he’d randomly rub his head on things. I told the staff he was going through a yoga phase so they wouldn’t question all of the bizarre positions he’d fold himself into.”

“You’re right,” she whispers, her voice finally giving out under the strain of her tears, “I started out only worrying about me, but in the end...it was for him.”

There’s silence for a long time, the stretch punctuated only by the soft hiccups of her sobs as she lets it all go, the emotion, the pain, the stress of the days behind her and the consequences of the days ahead. Everything she’d done to protect him had ultimately been in vain and she was helpless to change it, helpless to do anything but hold him and hope it hadn’t hurt him as much as it was hurting her now.

“Then I suppose it’s time to share something with you.”

Nathalie inclines her head but doesn’t speak, utterly spent. She watches Nooroo’s wings brush against Adrien’s nose and throat before resting on his abdomen, the kwarmi’s eyes open and expectant, “What do you see?”

Nathalie searches his face for a long moment and she wonders if her eyes are playing tricks on her, the subtle rise and fall of Nooroo’s wings an illusion simply created by her own imagination or the air currents from the central air.

“Well?”

Oh!

Nathalie’s hands are on him in an instant, her index finger pressed urgently to the vein on his neck and yes yes yes there it is, there’s a pulse and it’s slow and sluggish and absolutely perfect in every single way because he’s alive he’s alive he’s alive!

“How?” she croaks, immediately leaping into action. She pulls him on his side and brushes his bangs from his forehead, scampering over to the small fridge in the corner to fetch a bottle of Perrier from its depths. She snags a scrap piece of cashmere from her desk on the way back and douses it with the water, rubbing his face and skin with it in an attempt to try and rouse him, “She said he was dead!”

“And he should be,” Nooroo agrees, “But whatever pure magic is flowing through his veins now is the same magic that’s flowing through yours.”

Nathalie takes several moments to piece it all together, “He must have been given the same ambrosia that I was.”

“That would do it,” the little kwarmi says, drifting near the tip of Adrien’s nose, “I’ve never seen it myself, but I know the stuff is tapped specifically for the Oracles. Drinking it brings life and luck to anyone that consumes it...and apparently it can be used to save lives too.”

“I need more,” she gasps, racking her brain for solutions. The house shakes with a resounding boom and Nathalie shields her eyes as bits of plaster rain down from the ceiling; there would be no asking the Sisters for help if the battle had already begun.

“I don’t think we have time for that,” Nooroo flits upwards, hovering in front of her at eye level, “Transform and turn him into Chat Noir. That should boost him up with enough energy to at least regain consciousness.”

“Are you sure?” Nathalie mouths, her voice almost completely spent. Nooroo nods and turns slowly in place.

“It’s our only option. Do it.”

Nathalie closes her eyes and focuses her thoughts, “Nooroo, transforme-moi .”

She lets the rush of energy take over her body for the second time in less than an hour and it’s both addictive and disconcerting as she feels everything around her rearrange as if her very atoms were changing, her hair growing longer and wilder, her perfect eyesight from childhood restored. She feels the constant thrum of Nooroo in the back of her mind as she calls upon an akuma with her voice again, the pain dulled by the power inside her, and she brings it to her lips, concentrating closely.

“Give him the powers of Chat Noir,” she whispers, imbuing the butterfly with the powers of the balance around her, “Make him alive and whole again so he can fight with Ladybug side by side.”

She releases the akuma and holds her breath as it hovers near his pocket, beating its wings for several moments. Nathalie urges it forwards and the akuma eventually concedes, disappearing through the fabric of his jeans and blessing whatever trinket he had in there, blasting him with bright violet magic. When the light fades and Nathalie opens her eyes again, Adrien’s prone body is wrapped in black leather and she lets out a sigh of relief as his diaphragm expands once, twice, three times the way it should, deep and slow as if he were asleep.

She bends and places her hand on his shoulder, “Adrien?”

With a spasm so sudden it knocks her backwards, Chat seizes and gasps desperately, hungrily as his hands claw against the marble, his eyes blown wide. He writhes violently, his back arching as his body desperately tries and resumes its functions all at once, his lungs frantically scrabbling for air.

“You’re alright, you’re okay,” Nathalie tries to comfort him but he’s looking at her like she’s the source of his nightmares and it dawns on her that she probably is, Le Papillon in all of his glory. Conceding, she quickly drops her transformation once more and collapses against the floor like a ragdoll as Nooroo’s energy leaves her body but Chat already halfway across the atelier before he gets his bearing and takes a proper good look at her, sprawled and exhausted, her eyes pleading.

“Nathalie,” he breathes and she smiles the first proper smile she’s had in what feels like decades, “What...what’s going on?”

She tries to talk but there’s no voice left and the world is starting to spin on its axis, the floor teetering curiously to the left beneath her thighs, and Chat is beside her in an instant, catching her just as her head is about to hit the floor, “Nathalie? Nathalie, what happened to you?”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head in his grasp, “Le Papillon.”

“He did this to you?” Chat’s voice sounds furious as his growl rattles in her ears, “Where is he?”

Nathalie bends her arm at the elbow, pointing up towards the ceiling.

“The attic? Isn’t that...isn’t that my father’s private office that no one is allowed to go in?”

She nods.

Chat’s grasp stiffens around her, “Oh.”

Nathalie opens her eyes at the hardness of his tone and she can’t quite help her sharp intake of breath as she drinks him in, his eyes glowing a sickly radioactive green against the shadows of dawn. He looks more disappointed than anything and Nathalie can’t help but sense the way his shoulders seem to slump forwards, the realisation more sickening than shocking.

“All this time...” Chat shakes his head and bares his teeth, his tongue flicking against the tip of his newly acquired fangs, “I never thought...”

“Adrien,” she whispers as he tugs her into a sitting position, “She needs you.”

“Ladybug?”

She nods, “Go.”

“What’s the fastest way up?”

Nathalie motions towards the painting and Chat scoops her up in an instant, holding her upright as she jams her fingers into the buttons. He watches carefully in awe as she presses the last one and Chat spins around as the floor opens up just a metre away, “This will take me there?”

She nods again and Chat sets her down in his father’s high back leather chair quickly before jogging over to the platform, “I’ll be back soon alright? Don’t move.”

“Stay safe,” she whispers as he slowly begins his descent and Nathalie finally succumbs to her body’s desires, closing her eyes.

~

Ladybug finds the door to the attic easily enough, the hidden entrance having already been pried open by the Sisters who went in before her. It's dark inside but there are bright lightning flashes of violet and amber flaring from within and she sneaks in quickly, keeping to the shadows. She can hardly make out the scene before her through the haze and the flares of energy, bolts of colour flying every which way. She darts from column to column and blinks repeatedly, but the constant flashes are ruining her vision and she rubs her eyes, resigning to simply listen closely to the fight around her until the after images seared into her retinas fade away.

“AAAAAGGGHHH!!!”

Gabriel’s scream of rage shakes the entire building and Ladybug can hear the four sisters chanting in unison over the din, rhythmic and low against the cracks of power flying overhead. The lights flicker to reveal Gabriel, or at least what's left of him; twice the size and bursting at the seams with crackles of amber fire flowing beneath transparent violet skin, Gabriel Agreste is hardly recognisable. Looking more like a genie than a human, Ladybug doesn’t mistake his lack of humanity for the divine; this is a man who has willingly killed others for his own gains and she knows he wouldn’t hesitate to wipe her out if the opportunity presented itself.

There's a half formed shadow beside him, the silhouette of a woman drifting aimlessly in the violent swirls of energy that encase him, shielding him from the skeletal cage that keeps him trapped in his spot. It's shaped like the kind of cake cloche her maman would place over a freshly frosted cake to keep the flies away and Ladybug quickly realises that it's of the Sisters’ making, a gilded enclosure to keep Gabriel from lashing out anymore than he already is.

Blinded yet again, Ladybug ducks in behind a pillar and reaches out for Fatou in her mind, ‘ What’s going on?’

‘He’s having the world’s most dangerous tantrum, that's what,’ comes Fatou’s reply and Ladybug can practically sense the irritation in her thoughts, ‘His wish isn’t working and he’s flying off the handle.’

The lights flicker to reveal Fatou and Quynh only a few feet from her side, ‘Why isn’t it working?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine,’ she says, her dress billowing around her bare feet as she harnesses the power of the ley lines beneath her, ‘But with the way he’s drawing energy from the nexus, it won’t be long before he overpowers the four of us.’

Ladybug nods, ‘Time for a distraction?’

‘Be my guest. There’s not much else we can do to contain him any longer.’

“Lucky Charm!”

The bright burst of pink plunges the room into alternating shades of colors and light and there's no hiding now as Ladybug catches a pair of spotted sunglasses and races towards the source of their problems, her ears ringing with his howl of outrage.

“Gabriel!” she growls, throwing her yoyo at his face with every ounce of pent up rage she can muster. The shot hardly glances his cheek and she flicks her wrist with a frown, calling her weapon back, “Long time no see!”

“NO!” he bellows, his white teeth bared as the light around him peaks, sending another surge of shockwaves through the building, “YOU CANNOT STOP ME!”

“Can we just skip this whole bit?” Ladybug catches herself on both hands and flips back onto her feet with a low snarl, “The whole supervillain monologue? Been there, done that.”

Gabriel hisses and takes a threatening step forwards, “HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? I TOOK EVERYTHING FROM YOU!”

“Hardly,” Ladybug informs him tightly, narrowing her eyes, “You may have taken my Miraculous and my partner from me, but you’ll never succeed. Not this time, not ever.”

“YOU’RE TOO LATE,” Gabriel draws to his full height, black and violet power swirling around him, “I ALREADY HAVE WHAT I NEED TO BRING MY WIFE BACK!”

“Doesn’t look that way,” Ladybug folds her arms over her chest and cocks a hip, trying to put on a brave face, “Aren’t you missing a piece of the puzzle?”

“IMPOSSIBLE,” he gnashes his teeth and swats his hand, tossing a burst of amber energy in her direction. She ducks and rolls easily, landing in a crouch, “I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING RIGHT!”

“You sure about that?” she snarks, dodging another volley of attacks, “Last time I checked, killing your own son wasn’t at the top of the list of right things to do.”

Gabriel begins to recite his incantation again and Ladybug takes the moment of reprieve to fall back and regroup with the Pythia, “There’s no way I’m going to be able to get close enough! He's too strong!”

“I know,” she grits back, wiping the sweat off her brow with a weary breath, “But if he keeps trying the incantation, he’ll eventually tire.”

“But how long will that take? We’re going to get tired too!” Ladybug can’t seem to find another solution besides another Lucky Charm and with an internal scream of frustration, she says as much to the Pythia.

“Hold out for just a little while longer,” The Pythia’s feet begin to form cracks in the concrete, her veins glowing a faint amber through her skin, “The balance just made another upswing, this time in our direction.”

“It what?”

“As Le Papillon, Gabriel drew all of the positive energy out of the balance to create his akuma and as Ladybug, you restored it with your Cure. Well, the same thing goes for the power of his wish. The universe must be in balance for his power to work.”

Ladybug frowns and begins spinning her yoyo in earnest as Gabriel curses loudly at yet another failed attempt to bring his wife back, “I’m not following.”

“His wish isn’t working because the fates are out of balance!” she cries out, sending another surge of power in his direction, “His every action carries an equal and opposite reaction and Adrien’s death didn’t bring back Émilie’s life, which means something is still out of balance and we need to make sure it stays that way. Without balance, Gabriel’s ultimate power is inherently useless!”

“What does that even mean?” Ladybug stands in front of the Pythia and uses her yoyo’s string to shield them from a barrage of energy sent their way.

“Either Gabriel misunderstood the spell,” she grimaces under the weight of the magic around her, “Or Adrien is still alive.”

“What?” Ladybug reels, her eyes immediately turning back towards the door, “But that’s—”

“Not impossible,” the Pythia shakes her head, “I gave him the same failsafe as I gave you.”

There’s way too much happening all at once and between Gabriel’s bellowing and the columns of power flying at them from all directions, Ladybug is hardly able to form her thoughts, much less say them outloud.

“The ambrosia,” the Pythia explains, taking a few steps forwards as Gabriel’s cloud of fury suddenly wanes, “It doesn’t just bring good fortune, as you assumed. It brings prosperity sure, but it also brings longevity to anyone who drinks it and I needed to make sure that if things went south, like they did today, that Gabriel wouldn’t just be able to snuff you out without a fight.”

“WHAT?”

“I know, I know,” the Pythia shakes her head slightly, waving her off, “I couldn’t tell you at the time, but it means there’s a chance that Adrien is still alive downstairs. Nathalie should have figured it out by now and transformed him.”

Should have?!” If Ladybug wasn’t already feeling furious, she was certainly feeling it now, “She should have figured it out? I swear to the gods, if something’s happened to him because of you—”

“This was the only way this was going to work!”

“No!” Ladybug states abruptly, crossing her arms across her chest, “If you had just been honest with us all along—”

“It was the only way—”

“NO!” Ladybug reiterates, her voice brimming with both fury and frustration, “This was NOT the only way! You should have just told all of us what was happening from the start!”

“Perhaps…” the Pythia’s voice is nothing if not anguished.

“Ladybug?”

‘Chat?!’

Turning her back to the Pythia, to Gabriel, to everything, Ladybug leaves it all behind and runs to him, wrapping her arms around him and gasping when he sinks into her, his lungs rattling in his chest. She buries her nose against his throat and runs her hands through his hair, desperate to make sure what she’s seeing and feeling is real and alive and in front of her and beside her and all around her, the heat coming off his body a blessing she’d never fully appreciated before. His breath is ragged and thin and laboured in her ears and Ladybug can hardly stand to pull back away from him, her gloved fingers painting promises on his cheeks as she holds him between her palms and soaks him in, his skin like ivory in the anemic light flooding in through the butterfly rose window, “I thought…I thought you were...”

No words are necessary as he pulls her back into their embrace, the brush of air against her skin more welcome than she could have ever imagined, “I’m so sorry Ladybug.”

“You’re—” she cuts herself off with a huff and only draws him closer, desperate to erase every millimeter of space between them, “You’re not the one who would be sorry. It’s him who should be sorry and he is going to pay for what he did to you.”

“Mmm,” Chat buries his nose in her dusty hair and breathes, “Remember that one time we talked about combining our powers?”

Ladybug keeps one eye on the supervillain tantrum happening before her and doesn’t move, “We're not really Ladybug and Chat Noir right now, you know that right?”

“What option do we have left?” Chat slowly extracts himself from her arms and pulls away just enough to make eye contact, “The Butterfly Miraculous was supposed to be used to make heroes Ladybug. So let's be heroes.”

“Are you sure?” she asks, tightening her grasp on him, “You don't look so good right now.”

“It kind of feels like I've been hit by a truck,” Chat admits, leaning even further onto Ladybug’s shoulders, “But it's now or never. What do we have left to lose?”

Marinette stops moving and considers the question, her eyes unfocused. Was that even a question? She had everything to lose! She had her mother and father, who were probably worried sick about her, her friends and the rest of her family, her future fashion career, her life, her future. She had the person (her soulmate!) in front of her, clinging onto her for dear life, his eyes wide and imploring, desperate and yearning and gods , how was she supposed to go through with this? What if it didn’t work? What if the power of Ladybug and Chat Noir together drove them crazy, like Gabriel? What if combining her Cure and his Catalysme brought the house down on top of their heads, or even worse, destroyed them both?! How could she be responsible for losing so much, for holding the weight of the world on top of her shoulders?

She blinks once up at him through the veil of tears brimming at the corners of her eyes and he’s wiping them away in a heartbeat, her chest bursting with that same yearning, that intrinsic understanding of his every smile and shrug, that pure, unadulterated familiarity she feels whenever they fight side by side. It was him all along who could turn her mood in an instant, who could anticipate her every movement on instinct, who could sense her overloaded mind and put her at ease. It registers then, the intrinsic hum that’s called to her whenever he’s near, just begging to be turned up to the highest volume and she’s always been the one with her fingers on the controller…

Gabriel is still raging by the time Ladybug finds her resolve and rises up onto her tiptoes, cupping his face between her palms as both promise and a warning, “We can do this. Just hold my hand and follow my lead alright?”

“Always,” Chat’s eyes finally begin to glow against the darkness and Ladybug can feel the pull already, the power of destruction only fuelling her own powers of creation, the ebb and flow of the balance drawing them closer. Tikki always warned her about what would happen if the Ladybug and Chat Noir Miraculous were combined and fell into the wrong hands, but she never explained what would happen if they tried to combine themselves...

“YOU’LL NEVER STOP ME!” Gabriel shrieks, stomping as the outline of a woman dissipates into the sphere of his power like smoke in the wind, “I’LL DESTROY YOU! I’LL DESTROY ALL OF YOU!”

Chat turns and presses his lips to the crown of her head before facing forwards again, squaring his shoulders, side by side, hand in hand. Holding her Lucky Charm between her fingers, they raise their arms together and make eye contact one last time, “Ready?”

“For you?” Chat smiles and offers her the briefest of winks, “I’m ready for anything.”

“Miraculous Ladybug!” “Cataclysme!”

There’s a sudden silence as the sound is sucked out of the room like a vacuum and it’s enough to stop even Gabriel in his tracks, two familiar forms standing as one, melting into one another as the concentrated powers of red and black twist around them like the beginnings of a tornado touching land, the foundation lifting at their feet. It stings like hell and it takes what feels like hours to finally open her eyes again against the raging winds that threaten to push her over and he squeezes her hand, her anchor, her lighthouse in this storm of raw energy. She feels it swell and lilt as he opens his eyes as well, his lips parting as if to ask a question but he doesn’t have to say it, doesn’t need to voice his words because she already knows the answer.

‘What should we wish for?’

She loves the look of recognition on his face as he hears her voice cut through his thoughts, the sensation warm and golden and she knows now with bone deep certainty that this is how it’s supposed to be, they both do, the endless feedback loop of cycling through each other’s minds only heightening the sensation. He presses his forehead to hers and she can’t quite tell where her body stops and his begins but he feels like a balm and Ladybug thinks she could stay like this forever, wrapped in a cocoon of energy of their own making, shielded from the world.

‘If I could have a wish,’ he breathes through her thoughts and she soaks it in, all honey and sunshine and heartbreak and glass, ‘I’d wish for more of this.’

‘Me too,’ she thinks and revels in the tingle that runs up and down her spine as they wish together, his soul brushing against hers like bursts of sherbet lemon candies on her tongue, ‘Me too.’

The wish now granted, the last thing she sees is the green of his eyes.

The last thing she feels is his lips against hers.

~

She wakes slowly, inexplicably, lost in a haze of pinks and golds. It’s warm and soft here, wherever she is and her eyes open in thin slits of sky blue, drifting from left to right as she takes in the world from behind the forest of her lashes. There’s light streaming in from the glass walls all around her and there are voices calling her name and kisses on her brow and cheeks and Marinette luxuriates in it all, opening her parched lips in a hoarse, wobbly greeting as joy erupts in her chest.

“Marinette!” Sabine exclaims, brushing her bangs back from her forehead and Marinette blinks to clear her vision, her eyes growing wide.

“Maman?”

“And Papa,” Tom booms from the other side of the bed she’s laying in and it’s not her bed but her Papa is here nonetheless, scooping her up like she’s nothing into his arms, nearly lifting her right off the mattress, “ Ma belle Marinette!

“Be careful!” her maman admonishes and Tom gently sets her back down, “She just woke up!”

“And there she is,” the Pythia appears from behind a curtain partition and Marinette’s brain scrambles to draw the strings of everything together, “Our hero of the hour. How are you feeling?”

Marinette looks from left to right and spots Fatou peeking in from the other side, a huge grin plastered to her face, “Fine, I think.”

“Good!” the Pythia breathes a sigh of relief, “We weren’t sure how either of you would react after the stunt you pulled.”

“The stunt we pulled…” Marinette’s brows furrow before it dawns on her and she’s up on her feet in an instant, her hands tugging on her ear lobes, “The Miraculous! Chat! My parents! Oh my gods, no, no! You can’t know! You’re not supposed to know!!!”

Calme-toi ma belle ,” Tom’s hands are on her shoulders and Sabine is at her side in an instant, her maman’s voice guiding her back down onto the bed, “We’ve known for a while.”

“You did?!”

“Of course we did,” Sabine confirms, patting the mattress beside her, “It’s a long story, one for another time I think.”

“You’re…” Marinette’s arms scramble around her face before settling around her forehead, “You’re not mad?”

“Mad?” Tom’s bark of laughter booms through the atrium infirmary, the same one she’d been in when she’d discovered Nathalie and the whole world went to hell, “We’re not mad mon chou . If anything, we are proud of you!”

Overwhelmed, tears begin to prickle at the corner of her eyes, “You are?”

“Marinette…” Sabine’s voice is full of emotion as she drags her into another hug and Tom hauls them both into his burly arms, sitting on the mattress beside them, “We’ve always been so proud of you.”

She begins to cry in earnest now, her fingers grasping onto Sabine’s shirt as her father presses kisses into the crown of her hair and she closes her eyes, the release slow and cathartic and everything she needed. They stay like that for an indeterminate amount of time and Marinette feels like she could stay like this, wrapped up in their embrace until her feelings are purged from her lungs and she feels looser, easier as they pull apart slowly, as if reluctant to ever let go.

“Where’s Adrien?” Marinette asks finally, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, “Is he okay?”

She knows the answer to the second question already, his lemon honey presence humming somewhere in the corner of her thoughts, the sensation both alien and comforting, as if he’d always been a budding flower finally in bloom. The Pythia tips her head and Fatou offers her hand, “Right beside you. Here.”

Marinette takes her hand and lets her lead her the scant few steps around the curtain to Adrien’s still sleeping form tucked in beneath the sheets. There’s a small black creature laying upside down on his forehead, paws raised and half buried beneath his blond curls and Marinette’s heart immediately lightens at the sight, her lips curling into a smile of relief.

“He’s completely fine,” Fatou explains, straightening a small wrinkle in the cotton sheet covering him, “He just needs a little more time to recover.”

She clasps her hands together and brings them to her chest as Tikki unburrows herself from where she’d been buried beneath her shirt with a yawn. Smiling down at her kwarmi, Marinette relaxes against Fatou’s side and takes another deep breath before asking the question that had been settling in her mind.

“What happened with our wish? And Gabriel?”

“Gabriel lost his powers,” the Pythia explains simply, walking in from behind them and stopping at Adrien’s bedside, “Whatever you wished for brought the fates back into balance.”

“There weren't any side effects?” Marinette asks, honestly confused.

“Not that we’ve been able to detect,” Fatou replies with a small shrug, “Everything went back to what it was before Gabriel came across the Butterfly Miraculous. The fates are back in balance as if nothing ever happened.”

The weight lifted off her shoulders, Marinette asks one more question.

“Where’s Nathalie?”

The Pythia exchanges a sideways glance with Fatou, her lips curling into a smirk, “She had some unfinished business to attend to.”

~

Emboldened and furious, Gabriel stomps his feet on the floor of his lair and roars with fury, slamming his trapped fists against the walls with all of the force of someone who’d lost everything but refused to admit it. He’s already planning, already seething with the vengeance he’d seek once Mme. Dubreil returned to relieve him of his confines with a knife from the kitchens, the Pythia having tied him to a sconce. The museum curator was taking far too long and he needed to get to the Peacock Miraculous now before anyone else did so he could finally, finally finish the job he’d started years ago.

How could he have made such a stupid error?

It was so unlike him, but he knew better now. His love for his wife had blinded him and reduced him to a foolish imbecile. This time there would be no mistakes, no distractions to lead him astray; this time, when he captured his son and his little monster of a girlfriend, he would wish himself godlike powers and sacrifice them all.

“Dubreil!” he yells, his voice echoing off of the walls of the expansive and empty space, having been left there to rot by those infuriatingly meddlesome Sisters only hours ago. Exhausted, he’d woken only when Mme. Dubreil had found him strung up like a trussed chicken and she’d run off to fetch the knife downstairs…

...but that had been ten minutes ago.

There’s the familiar sound of hydraulic pumps as the passageway from his office to the attic engages and Gabriel breathes a small sigh of relief, desperate to be free of his confines once and for all. He wouldn’t be hiding under the mask of Gabriel Fashion anymore after this, not anymore.

“It’s about time,” he snarls as the platform rises and stops at its final destination, settling into the floor with a hiss. It’s too dark to see who it is but there’s only two other people who know the location to the passageways control systems and with Nathalie dead, that only leaves one option, “Well? Get over here and untie me. I have hundreds of tasks to accomplish in a very short time and I need—”

The lights of the attic turn on suddenly and Gabriel shields his eyes instinctively, snarling at the pain in his head, “What the hell Dubreil?!”

There’s no answer and when Gabriel forcibly focuses on the space in front of him where she should be standing, his stomach drops in the most unfamiliar of ways.

There’s...no one there.

Gabriel’s nostrils flare as panic begins to take over, his knuckles whitening as he grips the rope around his wrists even tighter. He could still escape this place and find Ladybug, squashing her like a beetle beneath the sole of his shoes. All he needs is one of his employees to come up and find him, or access to the tech panel of the side of the attic, or—

The attic plunges into darkness yet again.

Gabriel takes a wary step backwards. There’s someone up here with him but there’s no sound, no movement around him and his unusually keen eyes are failing him in the dim, “Show yourself!”

“Find him, she said,” a low voice rasps from the depths of the shadows and Gabriel immediately shirks backwards as the sound echoes around the room, ricocheting and leaving him wondering where the hell they were hiding.

“Show him the courtesy he showed you, she said.”

The glowing mask of the butterfly appears to his left, illuminating a pair of hauntingly violet eyes, “Teach him what it truly means to play amongst the gods.”

Something whips by his ear and Gabriel begins to truly feel the tendrils of fear clawing at his chest, his back pressing against the walls of his lair, “I didn’t take you for a coward Oracle!”

The mask disappears into the shadows and Gabriel shudders as goosepimples break out along his skin, “Ensure that he understands the consequences of breaking the balance.”

The voice comes from just behind his ear and he whips around with a shout, stumbling backwards. He scrambles back upright and desperately looks around him, finally spotting the seemingly hovering mask just a few feet away, “WHO ARE YOU?!”

Outside, the clouds clear and the room is immediately flooded with light through the rose window, his enemy walking into view. She’s dressed in a simple pantsuit of purple and silver, tailored perfectly to the lines of her body and hardly embellished, the complete opposite of his own outlandish design. He snarls as she steps closer, her purple heels clacking against the stone floor of the room, “I was given a simple task nearly a year ago. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and that’s exactly what I did.”

The woman pauses in her approach and appraises him once, “How the mighty have fallen.”

“I’ll ask only once more,” Gabriel growls, his voice betraying his pure, unadulterated rage at being so belittled, “Who are you? How did you get up here?”

“I watched you all this time and reported back to her,” she continues, circling him like a predator, “If you so much as scratched your nose, I told her about it. I had a debt to pay, you see, and now my balance has nearly been restored.”

Gabriel slams his fists against his confines, “ANSWER ME!”

The woman doesn’t even flinch in her stride and Gabriel screams, so used to being heeded, “Today, you demonstrated an ability I didn’t know the Butterfly Miraculous possessed. It would certainly be easy to use it on you now, but that would simply be too easy.”

Gabriel feels his chest begin to constrict, vicious in his defeat, “You will not touch me! Don’t you know who I am?!”

“Your ability to persuade others only works when the Butterfly Miraculous is in your possession,” the woman responds, pausing in her stride to grin widely towards him, “Gabriel, your words are worthless to me now.”

Walking into a beam of sunlight, Gabriel recognises her immediately, “No...I...I thought…”

“Of course, I considered leaving you here to rot,” Nathalie continues with a small laugh as his jaw drops in realisation, “But the smell would eventually enter the duct systems and...well, I’ll spare you the details, but no. I won’t do that either. Your punishment needs to last a good, long while and I found just the solution,” she leans forwards conspiringly, “You see, once relaxed, butterflies look beautiful pinned to a mounting board…”

Chapter Text

“And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment.”
Aristophanes

le 21 mai, 2017

He doesn’t treat her any differently at school, but she supposes he wouldn’t have anyway: it’s not like he knows who she is.

He still blooms brightly in her mind every time he walks through the doorway of their classroom though, his expressions a little more muted than usual, but brilliant nonetheless. Adrien been sleeping over at Nino’s house for the past few nights so Nathalie can get the paperwork together to have him stay at her place for the meantime; in case of his death or disappearance, Gabriel had left all of his belongings to Nathalie and one of the items listed had been him.

Adrien.

A “belonging”.

She bristles at the thought and Adrien intrinsically shudders, likely feeling the aftereffects of her fury through their connection, and Marinette immediately backs off. Turning off her emotions is nigh impossible when he’s around but she does try and put a tamper on them unless she’s happy; if she's laughing or joking, she’ll open her thoughts and delight in the way his smile stretches across his face unbidden, a feedback loop of joy and pleasure that gives her enough peace of mind to know that he’ll be okay once all is said and done.

He takes his seat in front of her and Marinette can hardly resist the urge to tangle her fingers in his hair like she'd been craving since she'd seen him last, still fast asleep some five hours after she'd woken up, this time with Nathalie by his side.

“Ladybug.”

“Nathalie.”

They stare at each other for a few moments but Nathalie is the first to break, “The Pythia says he'll be alright.”

“The Pythia says a lot of things,” Ladybug walks over to Adrien’s bedside and sits near his hip, weaving his fingers through her own, “But this time I think she's actually telling the truth.”

Nathalie clears her throat and winces, brushing her fingers along the column of her throat, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, to be honest.”

“I think we can both agree that the truth is the right place to start,” Ladybug brushes her free hand through his hair and smiles at the hum that starts up like a small engine in his chest, “Does he always sound like this?”

“Every night,” Nathalie replies, a small smile of her own teasing her lips, “I told the staff it was a sound machine.”

Ladybug snickers, “And they believed you?”

“It does sound pretty ridiculous,” Nathalie laughs through her nose and leans against the backrest, her shoulders relaxing, “But if you think this is bad, you should see some of the other things he does.”

“It can’t be any worse than some of the things I’ve found myself doing.”

“Do you rub your head against random objects?”

“Nooo,” Ladybug bursts into laughter, “I though he only did that as Chat!”

“It’s ridiculous, really. The purring, the bunting, the fingernails that he has to cut nearly every other day, not to mention the eye teeth. His dentist was a little unsure about that particular development.”

“His eye teeth?”

“They’re sharp,” Nathalie explains matter-of-factly, “Apparently, he’s growing fangs.”

Ladybug blinks, a little bewildered, “Okay, he’s got me there.”

“You don’t seem to be too affected,” Nathalie observes, still drawing the pads of her fingers against her skin, slick from whatever balm the Sisters had rubbed upon it.

“Well, I haven't sprouted a second set of arms if that's what you were wondering,” Ladybug scooches closer to his head and adds her second hand to his mess of curls, delighting in the way his purr seems to double in volume, “Gods, this is fun.”

“I don’t know how he sleeps through it.”

“It’s like having a pet tiger.”

“Pretty much,” Nathalie eyes unfocus for a moment, “I suppose I’ll have to buy earplugs once he comes to live with me.”

That takes her by surprise, “He’s coming to live with you?”

“He will eventually,” she responds quietly, “Gabriel drove away any of his remaining family. I’m all he has left.”

“He has me,” Ladybug looks her way, making eye contact, “And he has his friends to help him through.”

“I suppose I’ll have to give you my address then,” Nathalie slips her mobile from her pocket and hands it to her, “It’s on the lock screen. I’m apartment hunting at the moment, so we won’t be there for long. I’ll need to find a place where he can have his own bedroom.”

Ladybug takes the mobile and uses her yoyo to take a photo of the screen before handing it back, “You don’t mind if I visit from time to time?”

“Not at all,” Nathalie tucks it back into her pocket, “Just...use your discretion. I don’t want to be a grandmother.”

What?!

Nathalie begins to snicker in earnest, “I was a teenager once.”

“I’m fifteen!” Ladybug stammers, her cheeks suddenly matching the fabric of her suit, “We don’t—I don’t—that’s—I would never!”

“I’m not questioning your virtues,” Nathalie raises her palms in surrender but her eyes are glittering with mirth, “And I wasn’t sure how old you were. But now I have to know, are you going to tell him?”

“Tell him what?” Ladybug counters, still reeling.

“Your identity. It’s clear you’re not ready to reveal yourself to me, but you should probably let him know. After all, you know about his.”

“Soon,” she replies, a little evasively, “But not yet.”

“Says the hero who just lectured me on being honest with him.”

“This is a little different,” Ladybug maintains, turning away, “He’s Adrien Agreste. I’m...not quite at his level.”

“No one is,” Nathalie counters, crossing her arms over her chest, “But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to know.”

“I’ll think about it,” Ladybug agrees after a moment, inclining her head, “But I think he has enough on his plate for the meantime.”

Ladybug reluctantly draws her fingers from his hair and stands up, brushing invisible wrinkles from her suit, “Tell him I was here, okay?”

“I will, but only if you promise to tell him who you are.”

Ladybug purses her lips, “Only if you promise to tell him the truth about you and Gabriel.”

“Deal,” Nathalie holds out her hands and Ladybug regards it for a long time, “Shake on it?”

She hesitates, fixing Nathalie with a glare before ultimately grabbing her hand, “Fine.”

“Then we have an agreement,” Nathalie nods with a self satisfied smirk, “I’d say goodbye, but I’m sure I’ll see you on my balcony soon enough.”

Ladybug releases her grasp and wonders what she’s gotten herself into, “A plus.”

“Marinette?”

She starts violently out of her reverie, “What? What’d I miss?”

Alya rams her elbow into her ribs, “Girl, you need to get it together! I’ve been trying to get your attention for days .”

Marinette bats Alya away with self deprecating grimace, “Sorry! I’ve just been a little distracted.”

“You’re telling me,” Alya wags her finger in Marinette’s face, “What’s been going on with you lately? I come back to Paris from visiting family and it's like you’re like a whole different person!”

“Maybe I am,” Marinette shrugs and it feels like the right thing to say as she leans forwards, watching as Adrien turns sideways and snickers at one of Nino’s jokes. She feels his laughter bubble through their connection and she can’t help but grin as well, the sensation contagious.

“Maybe I am.”

~

When Ladybug lands on Nathalie's balcony that evening, she has every intention of keeping her secret identity alive for the meantime, but when he looks up from where he's been furiously typing on his laptop in the kitchen and smiles, dopey and lopsided, and the rush of his giddy excitement and joy slams into her like a tidal wave, she knows her resolve is about to crack.

“Ladybug!”

Tearing full speed across the hardwood floors with all the grace of a fledgling kitten, Adrien flings open the patio doors and launches himself at her in only a matter of seconds. Bracing herself, she catches him easily and barely sways as he ends up bridal style in her arms, gazing up at her like his moon and stars.

“Hey Chaton,” she greets him, a little bewildered by the sudden weight, “H-how are you?”

“Better than I thought?” he suddenly seems to realise the position he’s thrown himself into and promptly rolls out of her grasp, fidgeting with the sleeves of his sweater, “It's been...kind of weird I guess, especially since the media doesn’t really know about it yet.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really?” he flounders and Ladybug can't really blame him, “Nathalie and I have been talking though. I’ve...I’ve learned a lot.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he rubs the back of his neck and sighs, “I think it'll be awhile before it all sinks in.”

“Well, I'm here if you need someone to talk to,” she says and she means every word of it, sending some of that confident feeling through her thoughts to him. He perks up instantly, his eyes widening, and Ladybug knows what he's about to say before he says it; it’s an odd sensation, having someone else’s emotions hum tunes in her head, but it’s a feeling she doesn’t think she’ll have that hard of a time adjusting to.

“I've been able to sense you all day,” he taps his temple with an outstretched finger, “Actually, I've been able to sense you ever since we did the thing .”

Ladybug raises an incredulous brow, “ The thing?

“You know, the thing where we combined Miraculouses without actually combining Miraculouses and saved the world?”

“Ah, that thing,” she nods consideringly, smirking a little, “That was...that was pretty cool.”

“I know right?!” Adrien draws his fists together and brings them to his chest, excitement coming off of him in waves, “It was awesome, like a scene out of a movie!”

Ladybug begins to chuckle, “Well, we could always go into the movie business if this superhero stuff falls through.”

“We’d be famous!”

“You’re already famous,” she reminds him, walking over to the lone recliner on the balcony and sitting on it.

“Adrien Agreste is famous,” he responds and there’s a layer of acidity in his voice that she wasn’t quite expecting, “But Chat Noir? He’s more of a local celebrity.”

“Not really,” Ladybug argues, “We’re kind of a big deal internationally. I mean, we’re all over the news all the time and people visit Paris just to spot us on the rooftops. There are people making fanfiction and comic books and merchandise of us...seriously, don’t you go on the internet? There’s even an anime!”

“Ooh, I love that one,” Adrien plops down beside her and brushes her shoulder as he scooches back to lean against the backrest, “Did you know they made a sequel?”

“I did not,” Ladybug replies, “I forget how much of a weeb you are sometimes.”

“I’m not a weeb,” Adrien presses a hand to his chest, jokingly affronted, “I just really like anime.”

“You have five bookcases full of anime DVDs in your bedroom.”

“So? You have obsessions too!”

“I do not.”

“Side effects of this super cool thing we share?” he taps his temple again with a lopsided grin, “I can tell when you’re lying.”

She sticks her lower lip out and pouts and it only makes Adrien laugh more, “I have passions.”

“Obsessions, you mean.”

“Passions.”

“Obsessions.”

“Passions.”

“Obsessions.”

“Pas you know what? Fine. I have obsessions. I’m obsessed with fashion.”

Adrien narrows his eyes, “There’s something else you’re not telling me.”

He leans into her space and Ladybug begins to redden, her number one obsession taped all over her walls coming to mind. Don’t think about Adrien, don’t think about Adrien...she swallows thickly and tries to turn her thoughts off but it’s hard when he’s suddenly a hair’s breadth away, their faces only centimetres apart, their noses nearly brushing.

How did he get so close?

“Oh!” he cries, the proverbial lightbulb over his head flashing brightly, “I’ve got it!”

Ladybug reels and scoots away, sliding off the tail end of the recliner onto the decking with a thump.

“It’s me, isn’t it?” Adrien’s jaw drops as her face all but confirms it, “It’s me! It’s why you always talked about how much you liked my eyes!”

“It’s—it’s not—”

“You’re a fan! I knew it!” he pumps his fist in the air and Ladybug wishes the balcony would fall apart just to give her something to do, “Speaking of which, now that most of our cards are on the table, we can date now! Remember? You said we could only go on a date if I was out of danger! Well guess what? No more danger!”

Mouth gaping like a fish, Ladybug stammers for several moments before covering her face with her palms and groaning spectacularly, her blush spilling up past her ears and stretching down to her toes.

“Well? What do you say?”

She squeaks for an indeterminate amount of time and when she finally gathers the nerves to open her eyes, he’s right there, hovering before her nose again with that telltale toothy smirk of his, her goofy superhero partner masquerading as her celebrity crush.

It’s something she doesn’t think she’ll get used to anytime soon.

..... .”

“Hmm?” Adrien purrs and gods , how does he do that? “You’ll have to speak up Bugaboo, I can’t hear you.”

She bats him away and tries to gather her sense of dignity but there’s literally none of it left, her pride having melted straight through the cracks in the floorboards, “I’ll...I’ll think about it.”

“YES!” he falls back onto the recliner and kicks his limbs up into the air and it’s so Chat, the abject silliness, the total absence of proper decency and she’d be mistaken if she didn’t think it was the cutest thing she’s ever seen, “Best news ever!”

“You’re such a dork.”

“And you’re the best!” he counters back, folding upwards in record time and offering her the best smoulder he can muster, which only makes her blush harder, “What do you say M’Lady? Why don’t we go on a date right now?”

“What?” Ladybug’s eyebrows pop past her mask, “A date? Right now?”

“I know of just the place!” he leaps off the recliner and hold up a finger, “I’ll be right back, I have to grab Plagg.”

He leaves her blinking, reeling in the whirlwind of energy and excitement he drops in his wake. He’s wild and giddy and Ladybug wonders how she didn’t see this side of Adrien before. Was the absence of his father all he needed to let go of the tethers that kept him so...repressed? Is that what he was? Quiet, repressed Adrien? Because for someone who’s father just turned out to be Le Papillon, Adrien had never seemed more alive.

There’s a flash of green light from inside the apartment and Chat is back outside in an instant, “He’s going to kill me when I get out of the suit, but it’s totally gonna be worth it.”

Ladybug tips her head in confusion, immediately more at ease now that he’s in the form she’s more familiar with, “What’d you do?”

“Plagg likes to spread his whole body all over my laptop,” Chat demonstrates, stretching his limbs out like a starfish, “And he was still dead asleep when I called him into the ring.”

“Ooooh,” Ladybug grimaces, shaking her head, “What kind of flowers would you like at your funeral?”

Chat barks with laughter, “I’ve always liked roses.”

“Consider it done,” she says as he approaches her, holding out his hand, “Wait, were you actually being serious about going on a date?”

“When have I ever let you down?”

She’s about to make a snarky comeback when her words suddenly die on her tongue, the look in his eyes sucking the breath from her lungs. She can feel his hope and his honesty, his longing and his faith in her, and she watches her resolve nearly crumble to dust before her eyes.

“Come on, he’ll only be there for a little while longer.”

Ladybug swallows and tries to drag her eyes away from his but she’s drawn in like a magnet, awash in his gaze, “Who will?”

“André!” Chat exclaims, snatching her hand and tugging her to her feet, “Twitter spotted him on Le Pont des Arts an hour ago. We can still grab some ice cream if we hurry!”

She’s bewildered but ultimately can’t even try to deny him, “Okay?”

“Wooo!” he tightens his grip on her hand and extends his baton passed the railings of the balcony, out onto the park beyond, “Let’s go!”

They’re across the arrondissement in a matter of minutes and André’s familiar silhouette greets them with a jovial wave as they land in matching crouches at the mouth of the bridge, straightening in perfect tandem with a smile. They’re both a little out of breath, their madcap race over rooftops and chimneys having winded them and Chat’s cheeks are flushed with effort as he grabs her hand again and all but skips over to André’s ice cream stand, “ Salut André!

Félicitations vous deux! ” André emerges from behind the counter and scoops them both into a hug, lifting them straight off the cobbles, “You have defeated le villain and saved all of Paris!”

“Thank you!” Ladybug squeaks, her arms pinned to her sides.

“You’re welcome!” he sets them down gently and waltzes back over to the stand, “Free ice cream for my favourite heroes are certainly in order!”

“You’re too kind André,” Chat replies, ducking his head in gratitude.

“C'est un plaisir et un privilège,” André grins with a wave of his scoop, “Now, give me a moment. I mustn't mess this up! After all, you two are the strongest pair of soulmates I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!”

Ladybug and Chat Noir share a glance, “We are?”

“Well yes,” André’s smile falters for a moment, “Didn’t my sister tell you? You two are the only reason the ley lines stayed in balance for as long as they did, what with Le Papillon sucking the positivity from the world like the leech that he is every other moment. You were meant to bring him to justice since the start.”

“How?”

“Well, like every other belief system on the planet, Taoism sought to make some sort of sense of the power of the ley lines and their solution was the Taijitu, or the yin yang symbol. The Ancient Chinese seers created the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses to represent the positivity and the negativity of the world, forming a perfect balance,” André explains, tapping his chin thoughtfully, “The two of you were born to be Ladybug and Chat Noir and were therefore already soulmates to begin with.”

“That doesn’t explain how we kept the balance...well, balanced,” Chat frowns.

“To be honest, I don’t know either,” André shrugs with a smile, “Salomé is more of the expert on that, but what I can tell you is that whatever you two pulled the other night single handedly saved the balance from falling into total chaos, and not just here! Le Papillon’s negativity was spreading like an oil slick all throughout Europe. It’s why Salomé was as desperate as she was to try and find a solution as fast as possible.”

“That still doesn’t excuse all the lying,” Ladybug crosses her arms across her chest, “Which reminds me, I need to go over to the Oracle soon and give her another piece of my mind.”

“You won’t find her there,” André instructs, grimacing a little, “She’s on her way to China and she’s left Versailles to the Sibyl from Sénégal.”

“Fatou?”

“That’s the one!” André raises his scoop and jerks it like he’s just tapped a bell, “I always liked her. Did you know she’s the reigning expert on telepathy in Europe? One touch of her hand and she can talk to you from a million miles away.”

“I can believe it,” Ladybug brushes her bangs from her forehead, the shadow of Fatou’s gentle touch still lingering on her skin, “But what’s the Pythia doing in China?”

“She’s on retreat to do some research. Salomé has always been an avid scholar and there’s a series of tomes she needs to look through personally that are only housed in the Forbidden City. Now, without further ado, it’s time for your ice creams! Hmm…”

Ladybug still feels a little uncertain about it all as André jovially packs a bowl with ice creams of different colours and flavours, “How long will she be away?”

“Days? Months? I never really know,” André stares pensively at his ice creams, “Time doesn’t really mean much to Salomé if there’s learning to be had. Ah, here we go.”

André scoops one last ice cream onto the top and garnishes it with a cherry, “Et voilà! Vanilla bean and dark chocolate ripple for le chat noir and raspberry lime for la coccinelle . And as for the third scoop? Call it a little divine intervention.”

Ladybug wraps her fingers around the proffered cup and holds it in front of her, sharing another look with Chat, “What is it?”

“Taste! Taste it!” André gestures wildly, almost giddy as Chat and Ladybug pluck their spoons from the opposite sides of the bowl and dig in. Chat is the first to bring the light pink ice cream on top passed his lips and Ladybug watches his expression change to one of delight, “Do you like it? It's a special concoction of mine.”

Ladybug takes an experimental lick, “Is it rose? It tastes like rose.”

“Yes! And not just any kind of rose either,” André reaches into the freezer and pulls out the pint sized container, “This is a special concoction I only share with the most special of people! Would you like to know my secret?”

Both Ladybug and Chat nod in unison.

André lowers his voice to a whisper, “The secret ingredient is the enchanted rose from the Oracle.”

Chat blinks, “Like the one I gave Ladybug?”

“Precisely!” André claps his hands, “The enchanted roses never die! Like your love, it will live forever all thanks to the ambrosia it drinks from the earth.”

“There's ambrosia in this?” Ladybug purses her lips. It still hasn't quite been explained to her exactly what the mystery liquid does beyond preserving life.

“Oh yes. A spoonful a day will keep the doctor away! Only Oracles are allowed to consume the stuff but Salomé has always made an exception and sneaks a dozen roses to me every chance she gets.”

“Why?”

“Well, isn't it obvious? I'm 146 years old, how else do you think I stay young?”

~

Paris is quiet.

There are no disruptions beyond the sounds of engines and music floating up from the streets, no akuma or chaos to break the quiet peacefulness that’s coated the city like a balm. The sky is alight with the full moon at their backs as Ladybug and Chat Noir finish their ice cream silently, staring blankly out into the cityscape before them.

Chat, as always, is the first to break the calm.

“Do you think the ambrosia will make us live longer?”

It's a question that's been rattling around her head as well, “I think that no matter what, we're going to live lives that are far from normal. Just look at Master Fu.”

“He's older than André,” Chat agrees, setting his spoon in the now empty bowl, “Magic is weird.”

“Understatement of the century,” Ladybug sets the cup down and lays back on the rooftop to stare at the sky, “Nathalie said you have some pretty weird side effects.”

Chat presses his palm to his chest, flamboyantly affronted, “She what?!

“She told me about the purring,” Ladybug snickers as Chat’s face turns a vibrant shade of fuschia, “And the head bunting and the fangs. I think it's pretty hilarious.”

Chat alternates between stammering and swearing before finally collapsing beside her on the roof, his face in his hands, “Noooooooooo.”

“Oh yes,” Ladybug scooches closer, goading him all the while, “Turns out you’re just a silly kitten after all.”

“Well I can't be the only one affected,” he sulks, peeking at her between his fingers, “What's your dumb, humiliating side effect? Or am I just the unlucky one who got them all?”

Ladybug settles back against the roof, “I have tons of new freckles. There's a few on my face but most of them are on my body.”

“And that's it?” Chat drops his hands and rolls over to face her, “Seriously? That's all you have?”

“Hush,” she bats at his shoulder, “You didn't let me finish. I'm ambidextrous now, which I never used to be. I can write and brush my teeth and sew with both hands without even realising it. And I have a really green thumb. I can pretty much grow anything.”

“And these are bad how?”

“They're not. I am the lucky one after all,” Ladybug shugs nonchalantly, but she can already tell that he’s going to call her bluff.

“You’re lying to me again,” he pouts, narrowing his eyes, “There’s something...something embarrassing. I can feel it!”

“Fine,” Ladybug releases a long suffering sigh, “I like meat. A lot. It turns out ladybugs are carnivores.”

Chat looks disappointed, “That’s not so bad.”

“My papa appreciates it!” she laughs through her nose and turns so that she’s facing him as well, “He could eat meat every day if Maman let him.”

“Do your parents know you’re Ladybug?”

Stunned by the question, Ladybug lowers her eyes and stares blankly at one of the zippers on his pockets “Yeah. The Pythia called them after the...thing we did. Apparently they knew all along.”

“Really? They figured it out?” Chat’s shock flows through their connection, “But I guess that makes sense. Nathalie knew about me too.”

“So much for keeping secrets,” Ladybug shrugs and finally brings her eyes back up to his, her heart thudding in her chest, “I hate secrets. Too many of them have gotten us into trouble.”

“And now there’s only one left,” Chat’s gaze intensifies and Marinette is once again frozen in place, “Yours.”

“Are you sure?” she means to ask but it comes out as a warble and Chat immediately reaches out, tangling their fingers together like they’d been doing it for years.

“Yes,” he says and there’s so much conviction, so much god-honest trust and hope in his voice that she’s practically drenched in it, “Please Ladybug.”

“I…” she hesitates and she’s sure he’s going to send her his disappointment through their bond but all she feels is longing and understanding and it kills her, her blood singing with the sensation of him flooding through her heart, “Are you sure you want to know?”

“Of course!” he exclaims, his fingers tighten in their hold, “You’re my soulmate. I don’t think I could ever stop loving you.”

She swallows the lump in her throat, her pulse stuttering to a halt as Chat, as Adrien , just drops the L word on her like it’s just another casual conversation about the weather. How can he love so openly, so freely when he's gone through so much, when he hardly even knows her at all?

“Of course I know who you are,” Chat waves his hand and Ladybug knows for a fact that she didn’t say anything out loud, “You’re Ladybug, my partner, my best friend, my soulmate. We’ve spent more time together this year that I have with anyone else my whole life! So of course I know who you are.”

Ladybug blinks several times before taking a deep breath, ‘Can you hear me?’

“Obviously,” Chat looks at her like she’s grown a second head, “You’re—”

‘Marinette Dupain-Cheng.’

Chat blinks.

‘What?’

Ladybug blinks.

“What?”

“Did you just—”

“—how can you hear me—”

“—tell me you’re—”

“—in your head?—”

“—Marinette Dupain-Cheng?”

Ladybug gasps and slaps her hands over her mouth, ‘I didn’t think you could hear?!’

‘Putain de merde,’ Chat’s eyes are practically bulging out of his skull, “What the hell is going on?!”

“I don’t know?!” Ladybug’s muffled voice hits another decibel level from behind her palms, “How can you hear me?!”

“How did I not see you?” Chat’s arms start flailing and he’s sitting up before she knows it, “You’ve been behind me the whole time?!”

“You can hear every stupid embarrassing thing I think in my head?!”

Chat freezes, “Can you hear me?”

“No?” Ladybug’s eyes begin to rove in concentration, “Wait, give me your hand.”

“My hand?”

“We were holding hands before, gimme.”

‘Hello?’

‘Merde.’

‘It’s only when we touch.’

‘But we’re not even touching!’

“Can you not yell in my head?”

‘Sorry. I mean, we have our suits on.’

Ladybug lets go of his hand and flops back down onto the rooftop, staring wide-eyed at the night sky, “I’m not ready for this.”

“Are our lives even real?” Chat mirrors her movements and turns his head her way, soaking in her silhouette against the wash of Parisian moonlight, “Are you really Marinette Dupain-Cheng?”

Ladybug closes her eyes and nods, waiting for the other shoe to drop. She’s just Marinette after all, a clumsy and stuttering mess whenever she's not behind the mask of her suit. How is she going to face him now that he knows? Would she ever be able to stop acting like an idiot every time he turns her way or says hello or asks a ques—

‘Stop that.’

They're bumping shoulder, she realises with a horrified jolt.

‘I know we may not be best friends as school but no matter what, you’re the biggest and best part of my life. You’re Ladybug with or without the mask and I can’t imagine my life without you.’

Ladybug’s head turns in slow motion, her blue eyes impossibly wide, ‘Chat?’

‘Yes M’Lady?’

‘This is really weird.’

‘I know,’ he chuckles and she can feel his disbelief through their connection, ‘But this could actually be really useful.’

Ladybug falters, ‘Useful? How?’

‘Sharing test answers,’ he replies with a shug and a small, hesitant smile, ‘Talking during battles so the bad guys don’t know what we’re doing...what if one of us has a sore throat? Then we can just talk to each other like this without being in pain.’

“I…” Ladybug is entirely lost for words, “How are you being so calm about this?”

Chat presses his forehead to her shoulder and Ladybug inhales the scent of his shampoo, closing her eyes, “Because I have to be? My father is Le Papillon. We’re superheroes. I’m growing fangs.”

Snickering despite herself, Ladybug rests her temple against the crown of his head and stares back out into the night sky, forcing her panic and fear down to a brief hum. His presence is soothing, oddly so, but she supposes it’s always been this way. She’s never left a battle in a bad mood when he’s been by her side and the moments they’ve had, the memories they’ve shared together…

Maybe this isn’t so bad after all and she says as much, smiling at the muffled murmur of agreement against her shoulder.

They stay like this for an indeterminate amount of time, laying there side by side beneath the moonlight. He somehow manages to get himself wrapped around her and she can’t even pretend to be annoyed with it, especially once he begins to purr like the kitten he is, lanky and wild. It’s a funny feeling but she kind of likes it and that only seems to encourage him, her enjoyment echoing through their bond in a way that makes her feel giddy and relaxed. Her anxiety seems to ebb away and is replaced by a sense of contentment, of the feeling that perhaps not all is wrong in the world after all.

Bunting her nose against the top of his head, Chat looks up at her with shining, bright green eyes that speak volumes; there’s not much need for words between them now, “It’s getting late. Do you want to go home?”

“Sure,” he replies, making no real effort to move, “I'm surprised Plagg’s let me stay transformed this long.”

“Does Nathalie know how much cheese he eats?”

“She's the one who's been ordering it this whole time,” Chat explains with a yawn, “I don't know where I'd be without her.”

Ladybug nods in understanding, the visual of Nathalie’s cheese drawer in the tiny European style refrigerator bleeding through his thoughts, “I know how you feel.”

Exhaling, Ladybug glances over at him and marvels at how they’ve managed to only draw each other closer without any real effort at all. How did they always do that? She feels like a magnet and well, it makes sense now that she thinks about it. Yin and yang, positive and negative, light and dark...

“Marinette?”

That’s enough to jerk her out of her reverie, her real name on his lips, on Adrien’s lips, like music to her ears, “Yeah?”

“Are you okay with all this?”

He gestures between the two of them and Ladybug swallows the lump in her throat at the rekindled nervousness fluttering in her stomach, “I don’t know?”

“Me neither,” he swoops in and presses a kiss to her cheek before hauling her up to her feet, “And that’s okay. We can wait.”

Ladybug ducks her head for a moment to break the intensity of his gaze, his features thrown into stark contrast in the moonlight. Chat Noir, as Ladybug had concluded shortly after they first became tangled up in each other, was always gorgeous, but that didn’t change her opinion that he was also an audaciously shameless flirt. He was boastful and tended to be loud and obnoxious and over the top nearly constantly and at the beginning of their relationship, Ladybug felt more out of her comfort zone than she’d ever felt in her life.

But now?

The situation couldn’t be more different.

Adrien was attractive too (just look at his Instagram for the goodness sake) but it was Chat’s actions, his effortless devotion, his ability to roll with the punches and still be miraculously, unequivocally kind that did her in long before she realised he was the model behind the mask. His limitless capacity for empathy, a touch here, a helpful hand to an akuma victim there, and his honesty, gods, his honesty . There’s no deceit where Chat Noir is concerned; he speaks his mind without restraint and Ladybug has nothing but respect for him.

But this ache…

His fierce affection, his open heart, his kind eyes. She struggles to comprehend it in the flurry of all that’s happened and she longs for it in all of this mess, her mind reeling and when he reaches down and tips her chin up, flashing her that Chat Noir grin that’s not so much casanova as it is honest to goodness real and good , Ladybug, Marinette, whoever she is right now, can’t restrain herself any longer.

So she does what she thinks she’s supposed to and doesn’t fight it. And why should she? It feels good, and the spark of shock in his eyes and elation in his thoughts is all she needs as she moves forwards with her whole body and kisses him.

Chat’s arms tighten around her in an instant as their lips brush once, twice between shaking breaths and suddenly she’s fixed her mouth over his properly, pressing insistently because those sounds he’s making, the emotions he’s feeling...how could she not feel confident while he’s practically melting around her?

“I think I love you.”

The words burst from her mouth unbidden and Chat’s reaction is instantaneous, his gloved fingers suddenly wrapping around her middle with a burst of joy so contagious she can practically feel it in her bones. He presses another kiss to her lips that nearly sets her skin on fire and she can feel every emotion behind it, every addictive rush of happiness and energy and pure unadulterated bliss he’s feeling as she snakes her hands around his neck and pulls him as close as she possibly can. She feels like she’s drowning in him as his tongue brushes hers, the sensation all-consuming as he does it again and again until she relents, exploring her just like she’s exploring him, his boundless warmth only drawing her nearer.  

They kiss until they’re both giddy with it, their feelings bleeding together until Ladybug doesn’t know where she ends and he begins. It’s oddly comforting to share a conscious, every touch and sensation caught in a feedback loop that only eggs them on in the best way and Ladybug is tingling, effervescent, floating on air at the tight feeling in her chest that’s just begging to break free.

“I love you too, for the record,” Chat says against her lips, his mind laughing and Ladybug can’t help but join in, wrapped up in his embrace like she belongs there and she does, she thinks.

This is my prophecy.

This is where I belong.

~

le 6 juin, 2017

Of course, Gabriel Agreste did not simply have a mental breakdown and disappear to Tibet, like the rags and newspapers suggested to the masses for the first few weeks after the fashion mogul’s disappearance. Things were decidedly different now that Nathalie Sancoeur, CEO of Gabriel Fashion, was running the ship, the butterfly brooch now safely pinned above her breast pocket as a sign of solidarity for the missing designer. She and Nooroo weren’t exactly friends by any means, but the Pythia had somehow convinced the Guardian to let her keep him for a little while in case anything went sideways again.

It was a cryptic statement, to be certain. With Gabriel well and truly dealt with, Nathalie’s hackles naturally rose; what danger could possibly come to Paris now?

She mulls on the topic as she walks into the Agreste mansion for the last time, the last of the furniture either cleaned or put into storage now that the property had been sold to an overseas buyer for over €40 million. She’d had the attic sealed thoroughly and the secret passages dismantled and destroyed; the only thing left to deal with was the vault.

“Would you be willing to assist?” Nathalie nudged the little lump in her breast pocket and Nooroo pops out slowly, eyeing her with the same distrustful glare she’d been getting quite used to over the past few weeks. He phases through the solid steel of the vault and Nathalie waits patiently for it to open, glancing down at her iWatch quickly to make sure she’s still on task before her next meeting. She hears the whirr of the mechanisms turns and the creak as the airtight door opens with a pop, light flooding into the small but well kept space.

She knows something is wrong immediately.

Nooroo has always been pale but his face is particularly devoid of colour now, “Nooroo, what’s wrong?”

The kwarmi blinks owlishly, “Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

Nathalie brushes past him and peers inside, taking stock of the belongings within. The Miraculous book is there, the scrolls, the pamphlet, the picture, the Miraculous....

The Miraculous.

“Where’s the Peacock Miraculous?” Nathalie asks, her voice taking on a hysterical edge. She yanks each object out one by one and it still isn’t there, the bright blue and green brooch somehow invisible to her because it has to be here, it has to—

“Who had access to the safe?” Nathalie practically begs, turning to Nooroo, “Who could have taken it?”

“No one had the password but him!” the kwarmi shrieks, circling himself in despair, “Even you didn’t know!”

Putain ,” Nathalie bends down onto her haunches and tries to focus, “What about Dubreuil?”

“She didn’t have it either!” Nooroo screeches, diving down to her level, “And when would she have gotten the time? The Pythia grabbed her the second she went into the atelier!”

“So where is it then?!”

“I don’t know!”

“We need to find it!”

“I know!”

Merde alors ,” Nathalie digs her fingers into her coif and tugs her hair in frustration, “What are the odds that Gabriel hid it?”

“Impossible,” Nooroo flops down onto the marble in front of her, “I was with him every moment of the day. He hasn’t been in his safe in weeks.”

“Well, if it wasn’t him, than who was it?!”

There’s a horrifying beat, one that strikes a similar chord in Nooroo as they both catch each other’s stare, their eyes widening in tandem. There’s no way, there’s no way...

Gabriel’s safe may have been impenetrable, but there was only one seer in the country who had both the power to predict the numbers he’d chosen and a mysterious bone to pick with him a mile wide to boot.

“The Pythia!”