Adrien sighed. “You don’t have to be gentle with me, you know,” he said. Instinct told him to reach out, to caress Marinette’s face. His wife’s face. He had a wife. He ignored that instinct, keeping his hands down. Didn’t want to confuse her, even if he’d never been so certain of anything in his life.
Marinette looked at him like he was going to break, so much older than he’d expected her to be—but then, so was he. “Adrien,” she breathed, and oh, it was like a prayer, the way she said his name, “when you woke up, you thought we were still in middle school.”
It had been quite a shock, of course—one moment, he’d been sliding into bed, worrying about homework and his father’s approval and getting enough sleep… and then he’d woken up fifteen years later in a hospital bed next to a wife who he could only remember as the girl who’d sat behind him in class. Head trauma, the doctors had said. They couldn’t tell him the cause, though, and Marinette was keeping it secret.
“Yeah,” Adrien said. “And… those memories aren’t coming back yet. But memories or not, I’m still your husband.” He twined his fingers into hers. “So… help me get to know you.”
She stared at him, her eyes blue pools of adoration, and he thought again how lucky he was. “Are you sure?” she murmured.
He breathed in and smiled. “When I went to sleep last night, the only person I had was me,” he said. “I woke up this morning with a wife who adores me, a group of friends who apparently ran into a burning building to save me, and a daughter who I can only hope is as beautiful as her mother.” Tears began to collect beneath his eyes as he looked at her. “When I went to sleep, I never imagined I could ever be this loved. So yes.” He nodded. “I’m sure.”
Of course, there was the one question that had been riding in his mind since he’d discovered the wonderful new world he’d awoken to.
He still had the ring. He was still Chat Noir.
So what had happened to Ladybug?
“Madame Tsurugi, it’s family only, you can’t go in there—”
“Can it,” said a familiar voice from just behind the hospital room door. “That’s my brother in there, so get out of my way.”
Adrien glanced at Marinette in confusion. Brother? What exactly had he missed?
Then the door slammed open, and Chloé Bourgeois stormed through it, clutching an expensive leather bag against her side. “Mari!” she exclaimed in delight. “Adrikins! I came as soon as I heard. How are you two?”
Adrien gaped. “Chloé?” he said. “You look... different.”
“What, the crew cut?” she said, running her hand through her hair astonishingly short hair. “Gami thinks it’s sexy.”
“Gami?” Adrien said. “Wait, like, Kagami Tsurugi?”
Chloé grinned. “What, do I have another wife I would be talking about?”
Marinette shot to her feet and grabbed Chloé by the shoulders. “He’s got memory loss, Chlo,” she said. “Slow down a little?”
Chloé’s face morphed from excitement to abject terror. “How... how much did he lose?” she whispered.
“Second year of collége,” he said. “I’m glad you finally came out, though. How’d that happen?”
Chloé stared at him, then heaved a breath of relief and sat down on the edge of Adrien’s bed. “Daddy’s second wedding, three glasses of whiskey, and Sabrina Raincomprix,” she said, without missing a beat. Chloé as usual—cool and unflappable. Some things didn’t change. “That relationship... ended poorly for both of us.” She turned to Marinette. “Donations have been pouring in thanks to Nino’s radio show. I knew you didn’t need them, so I’ve been sending them through the Foundation.”
Marinette wrapped her arms around Chloé’s shoulders. “Thank you, Chloé,” she said. “And thank you for holding down the fort.”
“Hey, running your business is my job anyway,” Chloé replied, leaning into Marinette’s hug. “If we go down, we go down together.”
Adrien watched them both, quiet, wondering. The two girls had always been... rivals, if not enemies, back before his memory loss. Now they were chatting like sisters? What had changed?
Coming out of the closet really had been good for her, he realized. She seemed... far more comfortable in her skin than he’d ever seen her before.
“I can drive you home as soon as he’s discharged,” Chloé said. “If that’s okay with you?”
Marinette glanced at Adrien, a silent question in her eyes, and he nodded before he’d even realized he understood her. She turned back to Chloé. “That would be lovely,” she said softly. “Thank you.”
Marinette was barely holding herself together, he suddenly realized. There was a tightness to her, a sense of ineffable loss, and his very presence was causing her stress. “Mari,” he said, “when’s the last time you slept?”
Marinette looked at him, swallowed. “I, uh... it’s been a while.”
Chloé’s mouth twisted, and she reached into her bag. “Screw that,” she said. “I’m calling Melanie to look after Emma, you can stay at my place tonight. It’s closer.”
Adrien was waving at Marinette before she even turned to look at him. “You need to take care of yourself, Mari,” he said. “I’ll still be here tomorrow morning. Besides, I’ll have a little time to catch up on some of the things I missed.”
She smiled at him, and he could see how he had fallen for her—his heart wrenched to see it, beating out of his chest toward her, to get closer to her. She was so soft, and so lovely, and so... full of love. He wanted to make sure he could give her back as much as she gave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Mon Minou,” she whispered, flicking him under the nose.
Oh. She knew. He must’ve told her.
He grinned back at her, his most Chatlike smile. “Until tomorrow, Princess,” he returned.
Her smile went from soft to brilliant, and oh, god, it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
It had always been dangerous for Adrien to be left alone with his thoughts, especially since his mother died—even ten minutes on his own was enough for the depression to start rearing up. He may have grown out of that in the intervening years, but those years were lost to him now, and with the room empty and the night creeping in through his window, he felt darker thoughts pressing at the corners of his mind, all the little anxieties from the life he left behind, and all the bigger ones from the life he’d suddenly arrived into. Without anyone to spill those little anxieties to, he knew, they’d start pinballing around his head, until even trivial problems with obvious solutions would seem to become insurmountable.
Which was why he was extremely glad when his pillow began to move.
”Ugh, you’re finally up!” a croaking voice groaned as Plagg wiggled out from beneath the pillows. “The cheese in this place is terrible.”
”Good to see you too, you little gremlin,” Adrien said, raising a finger to scratch his Kwami beneath the chin. “Nice to see you haven’t changed.”
”And why should I?” Plagg said, crossing his arms in indignation. “I’m a god. The world should change for me.” Then, after a moment, he shot down to Adrien’s chin and began to nuzzle. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
Adrien smiled. “Oh, were you worried about me?”
Plagg floated away and sat cat-style on his sternum, beginning to groom himself. “Don’t tell Tikki,” he said in between licks. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
”Your secret’s safe with me,” Adrien said, drawing an x over his heart with his finger. “How’ve you been?”
”Terrible,” Plagg grumbled. “This stupid kid I know tried to catch a falling building and ended up in the hospital.”
Adrien straightened against his bed frame. “What... happened, exactly?”
”Apartment fire,” Plagg said. “You used your Cataclysm to get into the building, and you were carrying some kids out when you detransformed and got hit by a falling beam. Carapace barely got there in time to get you out.”
Plagg smirked. “You wouldn’t believe it, but you’ve moved up since collége,” he said. “You’ve got a team now.”
”And...” Adrien’s breath caught in his throat. “And Ladybug?”
Plagg grinned. “She’s team leader,” he said. “You expected anything different?”
Adrien smiled back. “No,” he said. “No I did not.” He settled back into bed. “Anything else I need to know?”
Plagg waved noncomittally. “Well, you teach physics at your old high school,” he said. “Started a charitable foundation in your mom’s name. You passed ownership of your company to Marinette and Chloé, wanted nothing to do with it when you came of age.”
“Why isn’t father running it?”
Plagg coughed. “Um...” he said. “Your father... left the country.”
Adrien’s mouth twisted. “Same as Mom?”
Plagg shook his head. “No, I mean your Dad actually fled the country.”
”Seriously?” Adrien narrowed his eyes. “What did he do?”
”Nothing particularly important,” Plagg said. “I’m sure you’re dying to stretch your legs.”
Adrien shook his head. “Oh, you have no idea,” he said. “Am I good to go?”
Plagg grimaced. “Your glasses broke in the fire, so I can’t put them into the mask,” he said. “You might be a bit nearsighted.”
”I wear—nevermind.” Adrien held up his fist, ring out. “Plagg, claws out!”
Even 15 years on, Paris never changed.
Chat was grateful that his muscle memory hadn’t been affected by his memory loss, as moving in this new, larger, muscular body was as different an experience as his old scrawny one as he could imagine. The baby fat seemed to have melted off him in the intervening years, replaced by lean, powerful muscles that carried him twice as far as he’d ever leaped before. His feet, mercifully, found every stone, every shingle, every brick with perfect accuracy, and he soared across the sky of the City of Lights, king of the sky and king of the cats, watching Paris spread out below him as familiar as it had ever been, yet as new as his own hands. It was a shame he didn’t have his glasses—he wished he could see more of it.
Where he was going, he had no idea. It didn’t matter. No father, no limits: he was free. Adrien Agreste was FREE.
He skated to a stop in a shower of gravel, feeling his momentum bleed off into the rooftop below, the reared his head back and HOWLED his jubilation, punctuating it with two short, satisfied yelps.
”Whoa, dude,” said a figure that Chat had assumed was an air vent, one rooftop over. “You’re gonna wake half the city at this rate.”
Chat shrieked in surprise, snatching his baton and extending it into quarterstaff mode. Meanwhile, the figure leaped towards him from the other roof, rolling into its landing and coming up with his palms held outward. “Hey! Whoa! Chill!” he said. “Bro, it’s me!”
Up close, this was very clearly a person, even if he did look like a ninja turtle. He was dressed all in green with armored tan plates across his chest and a green shell strapped to his back, yellow goggles, and a green hood. “Who are you?” Chat said, wary.
”It’s Carapace, bro!” the man said. “I saved you from the fire?”
Chat’s baton didn’t waver. “Forgive me,” he said. “But this wouldn’t be the first time a member of the team was impersonated by an Akuma.”
Carapace tilted his head. “Good point,” he said. “Wayzz, would you mind...?” His hood and goggles shimmered green, then he reached up to push the hood back and raised the goggles to his forehead.
Chat’s eyes widened. “Nino?” he breathed.
Nino nodded with a grin.
”Nino!” Chat cried, tackle-hugging his friend, lifting him by the waist and spinning him around. “Holy crap!”
”Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Nino laughed. “Dude, you were never this touchy in Collége!”
Chat placed Nino back in the ground and shrugged. “What can I say? Chat Noir has no boundaries.”
”Including doctor’s orders, apparently,” Nino said, poking Chat in the chest. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”
”Stir-crazy happens.” Chat smiled. “Come on, you’ve gotta catch me up!”
”I’ve got my own radio show now,” Nino said. They were sitting side-by-side on a nearby rooftop, one that had a little bit more of a slope to its roof so they could sit more comfortably. Nino has put his goggles back on, but left the hood down, so it was hard for Chat to think of him as Carapace.
”Radio’s still a thing?” Chat said. “I thought this was the future.”
Nino smirked. “Oh, ha ha, jackass,” he said. “It’s broadcast as a podcast. And I still get the occasional DJ gig thrown my way.”
”You still with Alya?”
Nino shook his head. “No, I’m back with Alya,” he grinned. “We sort of broke up during Lycée and fell out of contact when we went to university. And then I started dating Rena Rouge...” He smiled wistfully. “Well, you can imagine how shocked we were when the masks came off.”
Chat shook his head. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said. “You’re saying... Rena Rouge was ALYA?”
Nino nodded, his lips pursed into a soft smile. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Big time.”
”Crap in a basket,” Chat said, putting his head between his knees. “Was the entire team just made up of people I already know?”
”Man, I forgot how inventive you used to be about swearing,” Nino said. “And yeah, pretty much.”
”Wow.” Chat stared at the street below. “So... that’s an odd sensation.”
”Tell me about it,” Nino replied. Then he clapped his friend on the back. “Enough about me, though! You’ve gotta have some questions about your own life.”
Chat laughed. “No kidding,” he said. “Like... Marinette? Man, I don’t think I’d ever have seen that coming.”
Nino stared at him, then whistled. “Damn, bro,” he said. “You really did lose a LOT of memory.”
Chat raised an eyebrow.
Nino shrugged. “In all the time I’ve known you,” he said, “I think there was only like a year and a half of that when you weren’t planning out how you were going to propose to her. Seriously, you started shopping for a ring during our first year of Lycée.”
Chat felt his eyes bug out. “Wow,” he whispered. “I... really did love her, didn’t I.”
”Never seen a better argument for the existence of soulmates,” Nino said, leaning back and staring up at the stars.
Chat—no, Adrien now, Chat didn’t have these kinds of problems, these weird personal ties—felt a lump rise in his throat. The Adrien who had once been had loved Marinette, sure, but he didn’t now. And as far as he could remember, he never had.
He was still the same fifteen-year-old, hopelessly in love with Ladybug, even if the years had passed him by, even if thirty-year-old him had moved on and started a life of his own. And this new life... it was so much better than his old one, so much better than everything he could’ve ever dreamed of. Did he really have a right to ask for more?
Could he be happy in a world where he’d gotten almost everything he’d ever wanted?
It was killing her, the way she was keeping her distance from him. They sat in the back of the limo, across from each other, studiously avoiding each other’s eyes like the schoolchildren he still remembered them as being—and yet he could see it in her posture, in her hands, in the way she kept leaning towards him and then suddenly pulling back. Marinette wanted to be near him, to be next to him, but she couldn’t even figure out what to say.
He couldn’t blame her. He had no idea either.
Two nights ago, she’d been Marinette, the shy firecracker who sat behind him in class and could turn from passionate speeches to an inability to string a sentence together in under five seconds. Now, here was Marinette, face of a fashion empire—people didn’t even have to say her last name to know who she was. It was like sitting across from Beyoncé.
They drove past another billboard with her signature across it, and Adrien finally broke. He had to fill the silence. Had to say something.
”What are we telling Emma?”
Marinette practically melted as soon as the word “we” passed through his lips. She’d been expecting distance, he realized as the tension left her muscles, and Marinette the Queen of Paris became Marinette, Class President and his second-best friend. “Nathalie suggested we shield her,” she said. “Keep it secret.”
Adrien bit his lip. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” he said.
“Neither am I,” Marinette said, her back loosening into her chair. “She’s too smart for it anyway. She’s got your intuition and my eye for detail, she’ll figure it out too quickly.” She sighed. “But... at the same time...”
”We don’t want her to feel like I don’t love her anymore,” Adrien said, staring out the window.
Marinette looked at him in surprise. “Oh,” she said. “Guess you CAN still read my mind.”
Adrien said nothing. Because what was there to say?
They sat for a moment in silence, avoiding each other’s eyes, before Adrien finally spoke. “What about a half-truth?” he said. “Tell her I forgot things, but not how much.”
Marinette nodded. “She’ll be able to make sense of that,” she said. “I think... I think that works.”
Adrien nodded. “Does she know about...?” he said, raising the hand with his Miraculous on it.
Marinette fingered her earrings—the same simple black studs she’d worn in school, he realized, which was a bit of a surprise. “No, not yet,” she said. “We were going to tell her when she got old enough so that we didn’t have to worry about her spilling the secret.”
Adrien nodded again. “Makes... makes sense.” He breathed in, centering himself. “Is there anything I call her? Pet names?”
Marinette smiled, and there was that twinkle in her eyes again, the spark that stole the breath from his lungs and made him want to do nothing more than steal the air from hers with their mouths entwined. “You call her Emmie. Kitten when you’re in a great mood.”
The car slowed, then stopped, and the driver slid open the divider. “We’re here, Mrs. Agreste,” she said.
Marinette smoothed her pants, taking a deep breath to steady herself. “You ready?” she said.
Adrien swallowed, his fingers twitching, drumming on his legs. “Is it okay if I say no?”
Marinette looked at him, moved as if to hug him, then pulled back. “Yes,” she whispered, rubbing her eye with the base of her palm. “Yes, it’s okay.”
They waited there for a moment in silence. Then Adrien pursed his lips, nodded, and reached for the door.
He stepped out into the sunshine of the courtyard of his old mansion, squinting up into the glare at a house that had changed so little, and yet seemed so much warmer than it once had. He wondered what had possessed him to keep it instead of selling it off at the first opportunity, using the money to buy his wife a place with fewer bad memories trapped in the walls.
Then, feet. Small ones.
”Daddy!” the little girl shrieked with glee as she streaked towards him, her denim overalls going scritch-swoosh-scritch-swoosh with every step. She launched herself into his arms, and he found himself finally cuddling a head of raven hair for the first time since he woke up. “I missed you!”
”I...” His voice broke, and he clutched her to his chest, pressing her into the space she’d just scooped out of his lungs, filling a hole he hadn’t even known he had. “I missed you too, Kitkat,” he sobbed.
“Adrien! Come downstairs!”
”I can’t, sweetie!” Adrien called back. “There’s a sleeping kitty on my lap!”
Emma, curled up on her father’s lap, giggled briefly before remembering that she was pretending to be asleep. She stopped abruptly and attempted to fake a snore, in the way that children who have only heard snoring from cartoons do—that is to say, completely unconvincingly.
Adrien smiled and ran his hand through his daughter’s raven hair. If he was wearing the suit right now, he knew, he’d be purring.
”Nathalie’s here to see you!” Marinette called. “I’m sending her up!”
Adrien was confused, for a moment—Nathalie had been his father’s assistant, and he’d fled the country. Whatever loyalty she’d had to the man should have either taken her with him, or dissolved as soon as he’d left. What was she doing here?
His confusion vanished as Nathalie walked through the threshold of Emma’s room—his old room, as it happened—and, for what was hardly the first time, realized that he had no idea how much had changed.
Nathalie’s hair had gone gray, for starters, though she still kept the red streak in the front, what had once been the only sign of life on an otherwise emotionless exterior. Now, though, it accentuated what was there instead of distracting from what wasn’t—there was more energy, more life, more love in his old caretaker’s face than he could ever remember having seen before.
Middle-school Adrien had never been particularly good at sussing our interpersonal relationships, so it must have been some remnants of 30-year-old Adrien who realized that the look on Nathalie’s face was not that of an assistant looking at her employer: rather, a grandmother, watching her son play with his daughter.
Adrien swallowed, trying to keep tears from his eyes.
”It’s good to see you out of bed, Adrien,” Nathalie said, the sides of her eyes crinkling in delight. (She had laugh lines. Laugh lines!) “We were all worried about you.”
“You mean you were, Gam-ma!” Emma piped up, unfolding herself from Adrien’s lap and rolling onto the floor. She lay faceup, staring at Nathalie. “You love us so much!”
”Yes I do!” Nathalie responded, bending down to scoop Emma up into her arms. “How’s our little terror today?”
“I caught an Akuma in the garden!” Emma proclaimed. Then her lip turned down into a pout. “Melanie made me let it go though. She said it had to go south.”
”Melanie is very smart,” Nathalie said, flicking Emma’s nose. Then she turned to Adrien. “How are you feeling?”
Adrien chuckled. “Loved, Nathalie,” he said. “I’m feeling loved.”
Emma gasped. “You called Gam-ma by her name!” she cried. “You’re supposed to call her Mama!”
Adrien’s eyes widened, and his gaze shot to Nathalie, who smiled beatifically and reached out to tickle Emma in the tummy. “Stepmother, sweetie,” she said, looking at Emma (though it was directed at Adrien). “They call Lao Lao Mama, remember?”
Adrien stood and placed a hand on Nathalie’s shoulder. She was so different from the distant woman he remembered. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me calling you Mom,” he said.
Nathalie’s smile was soft. “Of course,” she murmured. Then she turned to Emma. “I think it’s naptime, don’t you, dear?”
”No!” Emma yelped. “No naps!”
”Come on, it’s time for bed,” Nathalie said. “I’ll read you your favorite boooook.”
Emma gasped. “Princess Fox?” she asked.
“Make sure to do the turtle voice,” Marinette said as she walked through the door. She’d changed into pink jeans and a white blouse—almost exactly the same outfit she’d worn so often in collége, Adrien noticed. “She absolutely loves that.” She kissed her daughter on the head. “Sleep well, Emma,” she whispered. “I love you.”
Emma giggled. “I love you too Maman!” she said.
Marinette held out her hand to her husband. “Walk with me?” she asked.
Adrien captured her hand within his own and brought her soft knuckles to his lips. “Of course, Princess,” he murmured.
Marinette laughed, the same way sunshine fell through a clear window: brightly and full of warmth. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go to the garden.”
The house was warmer than he’d ever remembered it being. Under his father, it had been cold, unforgiving, unwelcoming, but now he could see little touches of Marinette everywhere, little things that made a house into a home. The garden was much the same; it had been austere, functional, and now it was a riot of colors, the straight concrete path replaced with winding stones.
Marinette walked next to him, brightly and expectantly, her hands clasped behind her back and swaying with every step, accentuating the butt wiggle he’d always found so difficult to tear his eyes from. “It’s good to have you home,” she said. “I’ve missed you.”
Adrien laughed. “It’s good to be home,” he said. “It’s a lot better than it used to be—I can see your hand everywhere.”
Marinette grinned. “You kidding me, Kitty?” she said. “This was all you.” She sidled up to him and leaned forward, her eyes cast upwards flirtatiously. “You said you couldn’t have your Princess live in a dead house.”
”Mm, I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I,” Adrien murmured, gripping her side and pulling her closer. He leaned in to kiss her. “Only the best castle for—”
Marinette’s watch rang.
Both of them leaped backwards, as if the sound had yanked them apart, and Adrien suddenly realized how little he’d thought about what he’d been about to do. It had been pure instinct: he almost hadn’t noticed that it was new to him.
Marinette raised her wrist, and her watch projected a holographic screen into the air—but she closed it before Adrien could see, swearing as she did so. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I have to take this,” she said, raising onto her tiptoes and kissing him on the cheek. “Take care of Emma for me?”
”Of course,” he said. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
”Thanks, Minou!” she yelled as she bolted away.
Adrien sat down on a stone bench, staring at nothing in particular. Everything about his life was still so surreal, but he could feel himself getting used to it. Feeling happy.
His watch beeped.
He raised it to see two messages. One was from Kagami, saying please tell Chloé to grow her hair out again, it look terrible short; the other, however, was what caught his attention.
Alya to Miraculous Group Chat: boggans at zoo all hands on deck
Adrien smiled, looking down at the silver ring on his hand. Time to go meet his team.
“I don’t get it,” Queen Bee said as she flung the top outward, bopping the bear on the nose mid-roar and leaving it very confused. “I thought this is what she wanted!”
”Did she tell you that?” Rena replied, swinging her flute like a baseball bat and smacking a cluster of black fey creatures out of the air. “Or did you hear something she said and just assume?”
Bee backflipped over the bear, lofting the bag of berries she’d snatched from the nearby kiosk. The bear spun, following the berries. “She said she finds short hair sexy!” she said. “How was I supposed to know she—”
”You could have asked,” Rena said. She hook-kicked another Boggan into the ground, her flute to her lips, projecting an illusory mouse to call the attention of the Crowned Eagle her dad had been so proud of Before it fled the zoo grounds entirely. “See, this is why we didn’t work out—you think you know what everyone wants better than they do, and all your favors come off condescending.”
”Is this about that internship?” Bee said as she pirouetted around the bear, slamming the lock to its enclosure back into place. “How many times do I have to apologize for...”
She trailed off, her head following something moving down the path.
”Queenie?” Rena said. “What are you...?” Then she caught sight of what Bee was watching, and her breath caught. “It that—?”
”Yep,” Bee said, nodding.
Rena’s eyes widened. “I forgot to take him off the group chat.”
Rena swallowed. “She’s going to kill us.”
Bee grimaced. “Most definitely.”
Ryujin swung her blade with a growl, flames fanning outward. The emus cautiously stepped backward. “When’s Rossi getting here?” she said. “I wanna punch something that actually deserves it.”
”Is this about the hair?” Viperion said. He leaped forward and corkscrewed in midair, landing on the other side of the ornery birds to flank them, and lifted his harp. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”
”It’s not just the hair!” Ryujin said, flipping the sword in her hand and smacking a bird on the rump with the pommel. “She always does this. Never asks about anything first!”
“I’m not sure taking that out on a delusional supervillain is the healthiest way to deal with your anger,” Viperion responded. He played a single chord on his harp, and the birds all froze and turned, transfixed. “Attagirls,” he said. “Just keep looking at me.”
”Villain? Me?” came an ethereal voice as a woman in a blue cloak precipitated out of the air behind Ryujin. “Everybody in Paris knows I’m the city’s greatest hero.”
Viperion and Ryujin froze, and the emus, freed of the Snake Charmer’s spell, bolted. “You had to say her name,” Viperion hissed.
He could see the thoughts behind Kagami’s eyes—would she be able to turn and strike before Lila hit her with a spell? “Easy, scales,” he whispered. “Don’t.” Kagami may have had the best reaction times of any of them, but he knew she’d be dead before her sword hit flesh.
Rossi smiled. “Not too late to change sides, Couffaine,” she said. “You want to be a rock star? I can do that. Want to be more loved than even the Cat? Done. I can do any. Thing. You. Want.” She pressed her crystal wand against the back of Ryujin’s neck, and Viperion could see the Dragon-bearer stiffen. “You just need to—”
”Speaking of the cat,” Luka interrupted, “look right.”
”Hmm?” Rossi said, turning her head slightly—and suddenly, from her left, a flying, yowling tackle from a very confused lioness.
“Cat Pride!” Chat Noir yelled as his ferocious mount pounced onto the sorceress, waving his baton like an American cowboy with a ten-gallon hat.
Lila hit the ground with a shriek, exploding into a puff of blue smoke that dissipated in seconds.
”Wow,” Chat said, dismounting as the lioness padded to a confused halt. “I... really hope that was the bad guy, because I have no idea who any of you are.”
Ryujin spun and wrapped her arms around his shoulder. “Nice timing, furball,” she said with a grin.
In case anyone is wondering: no, Lila (Enchantress) is NOT an Akuma. She got her wand independently of Hawkmoth in a manner that is VERY nasty.
“We’re going to have to tell Kurtzberg she got away,” Ryujin growled. “Again.”
”We’re the ones who got away,” Viperion retorted. “Or did you forget what she did to the Sorcerer?”
Chat followed them, his baton held across his shoulders, listening in to their argument. He still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, except that they’d assured him that the person he’d tackled was A) The bad guy, B) Lila Rossi, and C) most definitely not an Akuma. Apparently Hawkmoth hadn’t been a problem for years now—in fact, on the rare occasion that an Akuma showed up, it was usually to help them, not hurt them. Though neither of the reptile-wielders had been able to explain why—“super-secret main team info,” Viperion had said. Both of them, it turned out, were reservists, called in when he’d gone out of commission.
Idly, he swiped a few Boggans out of the air, musing that, despite their bat-like features, the little black creatures bore a surprising resemblance to Plagg.
Viperion played a complicated, cascading series of notes on his lyre, sounding for all the world like he’d been born to play the instrument, and the lion docilely padded back into its enclosure. It yawned and stretched out in the sunlight, then promptly began to snore.
”I think that’s the last of the big predators,” Viperion said.
”Good,” Ryujin replied, pointing up. “Because it looks like Ladybug needs backup.”
Chat followed her finger to see a swarm of the black faeries descend on the reptile house like a cloud of locusts, and his stomach immediately clenched in terror. Somewhere deep in his brain, 15-year-old instincts fired, screaming I HAVE TO PROTECT HER.
”Chat!” Viperion yelled, but it was too late—he’d already bolted out of the snake’s reach, blindly rushing toward his Lady.
He barreled through the door of the reptile house shoulder-first, smashing it down and charging blindly into the middle of the swarm. He spun his staff, clearing himself a path, and saw:
Enchantress, flicking her crystal wand like a conductor’s baton and firing blast after blast of white hot energy towards the room’s other two occupants.
Carapace, shield up, rolling to catch each blast on its reinforced surface.
And Ladybug, on the ground, dragging her leg behind her as she tried to crawl away from the other two.
Chat didn’t even think. He was halfway across the floor in a second, scooping her up and diving through the fire exit, her head cradled protectively in his arms. He pelted away from the reptile house, precious cargo held against his chest, when—
He did. Immediately.
”Gah,” she said, rolling out of his arms and bracing herself against his shoulder. She shook out her ankle. “Hate paralysis spells.”
He took a moment to refamiliarize himself with his partner. She’d grown up—not much in height, but the intervening years seem to have forged the baby fat into pure muscle and determination. Gone were the girlish pigtails, replaced with a single dark ponytail, and her uniform looked thicker, more armored, with black sections on her stomach and biceps, which were just... wow. Those bluer than blue eyes, though, were exactly the same—as was the fire within them.
Right now, that fire was directed at him in a withering glare. “What the hell, Chat?” she snapped. “You’re supposed to be out of the field until you’ve recovered.”
He smirked. “You really expect me to stay down just because of a little brain damage?”
She opened her mouth, then thought better of it, reached up and squeezed her sinuses. “I am going to murder Plagg,” she muttered. “I don’t care how immortal he is, I will find a way.”
”Are you okay?”
She smiled at him, and oh, his heart, it still beat the same at the sight. “Of course I am, Chaton,” she said, spiking his blood with the sound of his nickname from her lips. “Thanks for the save.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
His heart stopped. For a second—a second—Chat Noir sank into her, into everything he’d ever wanted, into the love he’d been chasing since the day he first put on the ring and crashed into her over the streets of Paris.
But then he heard his daughter’s laugh. Saw the garden in the back of his house, the one he’d made for—for her. For Marinette. For his wife.
He saw Marinette, saw her shy, understanding smile, her confidence and her love, and his heart calmed, and he knew what he had to do. The decision that had been haunting him since he woke up in that hospital bed was far easier than he ever would have believed. It ripped his heart in half, but he reached out... and he pushed Ladybug away.
She blinked. “Chaton?” she murmured, confused. And worried.
”I’m sorry, Ladybug,” he whispered back, resolute. “I’m married.”
She narrowed her eyes, then they widened again, and her face lit up with the most brilliant smile—it shot right to his chest, right through him. “Mon Dieu,” she snickered. “Two whole weeks and not one of us thought to ask.”
”Ask? Ask what?” Chat said—before he was interrupted by the sound of the wall of the reptile house collapsing behind him, and the unfortunate sound of Lila Rossi’s triumphant voice as Ryujin landed on the ground at his feet.