Before she says anything, Alya wants to point out, just to be entirely transparent, that she’s a journalist. She doesn’t do nonsensical things like become inarticulate or pace frantically in circles around the park fountain or moan “Why don’t we just surrender to Hawkmoth and let the sweet release of death wash over us” into the sky. Which is what Nino’s evidently decided is a productive use of time.
No, Alya’s a woman of action. She’s a goddamn intrepid reporter. And she’s not going to be distracted by the tiny fact that her best girl is cheating with Chat Noir on sunshine boy. Who is cheating on her best girl with Ladybug. Who Alya has an entire blog dedicated to and a career riding on. Because Alya, unlike some people, knows when to stay cool and collected, even when she’s on exactly zero hours of sleep, and her best friends are cheating on each other with superheroes, she’s going to have to kill one or both or maybe all four of them – oh my god, oh my god.
“Oh my god,” Alya says.
Nino’s eyes have a haunted look in them. His hat is on backwards. Nino hates people who wear their hats backwards. This must be what hell looks like.
“Dude.” He’s on his thirty-second circle around the fountain. “Dude, you look like you’re spiraling. Please don’t spiral. I kinda need you here. You’re the man with the plan.”
The man with the plan? Alya blinks.
That’s right. She is. She’s Alya Césaire, and she’s the man with the goddamn plan.
Something clicks into place.
She grasps Nino’s shoulders, and he stops his incessant pacing, thank god. “Nino.” His eyes are still a bit all over the place, so she shakes him, just a little. “Nino.”
“I am Nino,” Nino says.
“Nino, I want you to swear on your life, no wait – on Adrien’s life, that what you just told me is true.”
See, Alya knows Marinette, and Marinette is generous, thoughtful and an absolute disaster of a human being (like Alya says, Adrien’s perfect for the girl). And Nino’s asking Alya to believe that this beautiful ball of kindness personified is having a sordid affair with one of Paris’s superheroes. And sure, Alya asked the same of Nino not even a day ago, but if anyone else had come barreling down her front door, cry-laughing hysterically about cats and princesses and Marinette cheating, Alya would have had them slathered with peanut butter and thrown to her merciless, peanut-butter-loving sisters.
But Nino? He was the guy who stayed with her through a kissing zombie apocalypse, and god, what a world she lives in that things like “kissing zombie apocalypse” are an average Tuesday. He had gotten akumatized because Adrien Agreste deserves better, the most righteous cause there is. He sends her stupid little videos of ridiculously tiny dogs fighting over a sock in the middle of the night, when they’re both supposed to be sleeping, and wakes her up in the morning with endless strings of rooster emoticons.
Alya would trust Nino with her life.
And if he’s asking her to believe in him and his story, no matter how much she’d rather simply destroy anyone who wronged Marinette ever and wipe her hands clean of the whole mess, then goddamnit, Alya’ll stand with him. To hell and back.
“Tell me again, Nino,” she says, feeling weirdly like she’s asking a soldier to pledge undying loyalty to their country, “to my face, that you swear beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Marinette, our Marinette, was flirting with Chat Noir.”
Nino buries his face in his hands. “He called her princess. She told him he was hers.”
Well, Nino didn’t exactly say it to her face, really, but let it not be said that Alya can’t at least recognize the signs of someone who just had their world collapse all around them. God knows half of her just wants to slide to the ground and maybe shriek into her phone for the next five to ten business days.
But she can’t. Because that’s what Nino’s doing. And she loves the dork, so she’ll have to make do with what she does best.
Violently following leads with absolutely no regard to her own personal safety.
“Alright, Nino.” Hell, Alya can almost hear the heroic music swelling around her. It really takes a goddamn hero to maintain her cool in such a stressful situation. “Here’s the plan. We’re right around the corner from Marinette’s bakery. We’re going to march right in there and–”
“She’ll give us a rational explanation for everything that clears both of our bros’ characters?” Nino interrupts. His eyes are full of hope, what an adorable fool.
“March right in there, order some petit fours–” Plotting makes Alya hungry, don’t judge her. Also, she’s been awake since forever; she deserves some goddamn tiny cakes. “–then sneak up to Marinette’s room and steal her diary.”
“Don’t worry about it, Nino, my plan is foolproof.”
“Yes, but I’m scared that your plan ends with burglary.”
Alya’s already moving. She can hear hurried footsteps behind her as Nino tries to slow her momentum via frantic waving and pesky logic. A fruitless endeavor. You can’t stop a tank or a toddler, and you can’t stop an Alya who has her eye on the prize. The prize being the ability to finally rest because wow, she has definitely not slept in the past thirty-six hours.
“Pft, it’s not burglary if you know the person, Nino.”
“Uh, no – no, it’s definitely burglary – Alya, no.”
“No looking back, Nino, only forwards!” Her arm shoots up, mostly in determination but probably also partially from sleep deprivation. Alya can’t really feel her limbs. Eh, she’s sure it’s no big deal.
“Wait, dude, we should definitely look back – dude, listen, all that’s going through my head right now is one endless scream, but I really think I was onto something earlier that makes sense and doesn’t involve cheating in any way–”
Nino’s expression is a bit wild and doesn’t change even when she pauses abruptly and brackets his face with her palms, squishing his cheeks together and sending his glasses askew. Huh, he looks so cute like this. Like a Nino-burger.
“There’s no time for thinking,” Alya proclaims. Damn, it’s a good thing they have her around to get to the bottom of things. She’s so on this one. “Only time for truth, justice, and the American way.”
“Alya, we’re French.”
Details, details. She turns, his head still firmly in hand. “Let’s go!”
See, several things go wrong with Alya’s plan almost instantly. And no, don’t judge her, because none of it has to do with burglary or attempted burglary or any other potentially illegal activity.
Because Marinette’s at the counter when they walk in, and she’s got that look in her eyes that Alya recognizes – the “Adrien didn’t hang the sun because he is the sun” look – and she’s staring down at her hands as she fiddles with a little golden bell.
A strangely familiar bell. Really familiar. Huh, where has Alya seen –
That’s Chat Noir’s bell.
Nino chokes on nothing from where he’s standing next to her.
Well, it’s one thing to hear it secondhand, another thing to see cold hard proof in front of your very eyes. The world goes a bit foggy in front of her. Alya hopes it’s a sign that reality is collapsing, or – at the very least – that the alien who trapped her in this simulation has realized they’ve made it too obvious that she’s in a simulation.
At the sound of Nino’s impending breakdown, Marinette glances up. She straightens, almost smiles, then her eyes shoot back down to the bell in her hand, and she actually – Alya’s not kidding – physically throws the thing across the room. It pings off against the window proclaiming new macaroon flavors and ricochets back to smack Marinette in the head. She goes down with a thump before immediately shooting back upwards. Her grin’s turned somewhat manic, and the look in her eyes makes Alya think that the girl’s seriously considering murdering the two of them.
“Hi, pastries!” Marinette yells, slamming her hands on the counter. “I mean, pastry friends – ack, bakery, friend, hello.”
She pauses and sinks back beneath the cash register. Silence hangs in the air like a particularly ugly haircut. Like, you don’t want to acknowledge it, but boy oh boy, is its presence going to pervade your life for the next three weeks. She’s gone for a good five seconds. Neither Alya nor Nino moves. In fact, Alya doesn’t think Nino’s breathing.
Then, all at once, Marinette reappears, face scrunched up in determination. Her cheeks are red. Red like Adrien was when Ladybug kissed him back in that alley. Red, presumably, like Marinette herself was when Chat Noir dramatically bowed and called her princess.
Red like guilt.
“I am Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” Marinette says. “This is a bakery. We sell bakery things. Isn’t the weather nice?”
All three of them turn to look out the window. Dark storm clouds are gathering near the tip of the Eiffel Tower, which means it’s either going to rain, or an akuma’s planning to destroy another national monument again. It’s a toss-up, really.
“We have to go,” Alya says. She’s the absolute picture of calm, it’s honestly goddamn impressive. The Mona Lisa herself is quaking. All Alya has to do is grab Nino and smoothly exit–
“Day bye good,” Nino blurts.
She grabs him anyways, does an awkward half-wave that effectively destroys any composure she might have had, and bodily shoves the two of them out of the store.
They’re both out of breath by the time the Dupain-Cheng bakery’s out of sight.
“Oh my god,” Alya gasps. There’s a buzzing in her head that could either be confusion or her logical processing skills collapsing. She has no idea. The emotional wires in her brain seem permanently crossed. “Oh my god, Nino.”
Nino’s half-collapsed on himself and, amazingly, looks worse than she feels. His hat’s in his hands, and he’s bending it in half, unbending, and bending it again.
The random alley wall is probably covered in germs, but damn if it isn’t wonderfully cool against her burning hot skin. “Do you know what this means we have to do?” she says.
He nods solemnly. “Change our names, move to America, and man New York hot dog carts until we die.”
“What? No.” That’s Nino’s get-out-of-the-country plan? Well, at least she knows now who not to come to when she murders someone. “We have to break up our friends before they find out that they’re both cheating on each other with other people!”
Nino looks doubtful. “Are we sure they’re cheating though, dude? There could be a million other explanations.”
He throws up his hands. “Don’t ask me to think right now! My brain’s doing damage control, and the diagnostic results are not good, man. Not good.”
He has his face smushed into his hat, like if he tries hard enough he can hide his entire body in the thing. Damn, he’s taking this even harder than her. Alya pats his back sympathetically.
“It’s okay, girl. All we have to do is completely violate your boy’s privacy, both emotionally and physically.” She’s going for soothing, but it doesn’t seem to help much because Nino immediately stiffens under her touch.
“I’d really rather Adrien not file a restraining order against me.”
“Pft, if he hasn’t filed one against Chloé yet, then you could probably steal his diary and still get away with it.”
“We are not stealing anyone’s diary!”
Of course, the storm clouds by the Eiffel Tower turn out to be akuma-generated, so of course, Alya finds herself on top of a nearby roof, phone in hand.
Damn, she definitely did not consider what running the Ladyblog would be like now that she knows both of Paris’s superheroes are homewreckers in, amazingly, the same couple. However! She does have the power of habit on her side, so she gets the footage anyways and only almost dies the normal amount of times.
She’s scrolling through some utterly badass action shots, torn between guilt and reporter’s glee, when Ladybug and Chat Noir land on the roof of the building just across from her.
Now, in any other situation, Alya would be leaping to her feet, flinging herself across open air to the other roof, and spouting a billion questions off the tip of her tongue.
See, Nadja, like a fool, bet that she’d be the first to know if Ladybug and Chat Noir started dating. And like, what does Nadja have on Alya, other than an entire news crew, a helicopter, and funding from the city? Alya has grit, the amazing ability to always be within five minutes of Ladybug showing up, and the younger demographic. Really, who watches television anymore – her live streams are where it’s at.
So yeah, normally, she’d be all over any private interactions between Ladybug and Chat Noir.
But now? Well, now Alya knows for sure that the two superheroes aren’t dating. She’s technically got the biggest scoop of her career – hell, Ladybug and Chat Noir’s secret romantic trysts with civilians would light up every media outlet on this side of the country, but damn if Alya won’t always put friendship first. And sure, it’s pretty hard to give either of her friends the benefit of the doubt right about now, but let it not be said that Alya Césaire isn’t good at denial. So no, she won’t throw herself at the two superheroes, not tonight.
She ducks under the side of the roof and raises her camera.
Maybe she’ll just film a little bit more. Really, she already knows Ladybug and Chat Noir’s secret. It’s not like things can get any worse.
Of course, the very second Alya’s fool enough to think that, on the far edge of the other roof, Ladybug grabs Chat Noir by his (very bell-less) collar, throws him against the parapet, and crushes their lips together. Chat Noir’s arms come up to wrap around her neck.
Alya slowly lowers her camera.
She reaches for her glasses, plucks them from her face, and wipes the lenses against her flannel. She replaces her glasses.
Reality remains cruel and unchanged.
She allows herself a moment to thank a merciless god that she isn’t live streaming and – once she makes sure Ladybug and Chat Noir have swung back into the heat of battle – screams into her lap until even the pigeons are unnerved.
Oh, lord, everything is so much worse than Alya could have ever imagined.