See, the thing is, Alya really doesn’t think she should be judged for this.
Anyone else in her position would do the same. Sure, she could just not sprint full force into an alley, wildly waving her camera in hopes of getting an interview from Ladybug, but intrepid reporters don’t shy away from tiny things like bodyguards or dark alleys or the dawning prospect of their imminent demise. And hell if Alya isn’t the best damn intrepid reporter Paris has ever seen. Nadja can go suck it.
Damn it. No. Alya doesn’t mean that. Nino always says that post-battle adrenaline makes her competitiveness shoot up to eleven.
It had been your run-of-the-mill akuma, really, flying around the city screaming about how no one could understand their glorious vision and covering buildings with offensively unattractive globs of paint. She thinks the victim might have been a stressed-out art major or something equally convenient. Alya really wasn’t paying attention at the time because she was gleefully recording, and holy shit, holy shit, Ladybug and Chat Noir are looking at me, I’m going to get so many views.
Okay, so she now realizes that they were actually screaming for her to move because a dollop of paint the size of a house was about to fall on her head. But could anyone really judge her for it? She even got a lecture from Ladybug about it afterwards, something about Chat Noir needing to save his Cataclysm for emergencies, not using it to rescue civilians who should really value their own self-preservation more, blah blah blah. Alya hadn’t paid much attention because wow. Ladybug was talking! To her!
Of course, in her utter delight at being the sole focus of Ladybug’s attention, Alya had completely forgotten to ask her for an exclusive interview. The last one that Marinette somehow set up for her had been an absolute splash – Alya had gotten video credit from major news networks every night for a week. And sure, she’ll admit it, all that success has definitely gone to her head, and maybe she shouldn’t be running after superheroes into alleys like some crazed stalker, but blah, the people need to know, blah.
Also, just think of the hits.
Nino always asks her how the hell her phone never seems to run out of battery or memory. And yes, with the amount of footage she records on a daily basis, that would be a concern. For a freaking amateur, maybe. Alya’s phone automatically sends videos to the Cloud, her case is virtually indestructible, and she has a backup battery in her pocket, a backup battery for her backup battery in her other pocket, and an absolute emergency “Hawkmoth has finally revealed himself, final boss time” battery tucked in her shoe.
God, it’s like Nino thinks this is a game.
Nino would definitely disapprove of Alya following Ladybug into an alley. He’d probably say that it was creepy or something equally ridiculous. Good thing the lovable dork ran away with the rest of Paris, those fools, when the akuma attacked. She’ll definitely be getting an angry stream of text messages tonight though. Hell, he’s probably already flooding her phone with messages. She wouldn’t know. She always turns off notifications when there’s an akuma. He worries too much, really. What could possible go wrong?
She’s rounding the corner behind the building, a hundred different questions already on the tip of her tongue (see, the key to this reporter thing was using quantity to get quality), when a flash of bright blond hair catches her eye.
Huh, isn’t that a surprise. According to Nino, Adrien usually up and disappears whenever there’s an akuma. God, he and Marinette really are perfect for each other. Alya still has no idea what miraculous act of nature finally pushed them together, but she’s so glad it did. There was a while back there where they started acting incredibly weird around each other, and she had been genuinely concerned that one (or both) of them would blush themselves to death before it got anywhere. Thankfully, it passed, and now they just spend their days giggling and being stupidly cute around one another.
Alya grins as she watches Adrien interact with an unimpressed Ladybug. He’s rubbing the back of his neck, looking sheepish. Ha, Alya bets that he’s also getting one hell of a lecture. Wait until Nino hears that his boy doesn’t have nearly as much self-preservation as he gave him credit for–
What the hell is this?
She stumbles back around the corner and presses herself up against the wall. Her heart is suddenly banging heavily against her chest, like it’s decided it’s had enough of Alya’s shit and is planning on declaring independence from her body. Ladybug and Adrien don’t seem to notice her, thank god.
Ladybug and Adrien. Ladybug and Adrien.
Alya shakes her head vigorously.
Wow, she must’ve been more tired than she thought after three consecutive nights of replacing sleep with the occasional twenty-minute nap. She’s clearly starting to hallucinate. Taking a deep breath, she peeks around the corner again, just to confirm her temporary lapse in sanity, and stifles a scream.
Yup. Nope. They’re definitely kissing. This is happening. Adrien Agreste, who has a girlfriend, who just so happens to be Alya’s best friend, is definitely in some sketchy Parisian alley locking lips with one of the city’s superheroes.
This is fine. This is okay.
Alya doesn’t so much tell Nino what happened as she does physically project all her jumbled-up feelings directly into his soul.
“Whoa,” Nino says, looking like he’s somewhere between confusion and a full-on existential crisis. “Whoa.”
She agrees. It’s a lot, really. She still doesn’t completely believe she wasn’t hallucinating, despite the accidental video evidence she got on her phone. Argh, damn her intrepid reporter skills. Maybe the next akuma will have a memory-erasing ability, and she can cleanse her brain of the horrible image of Adrien Agreste, sunshine child, golden boy and all around wonderful person, cheating on her best friend, oh my god, Alya is going to kill him.
“Whoa!” Nino must’ve seen the sudden murderous outrage blossom all over her face because he raises his hands rather quickly and comically in alarm. “Let’s chill out for a sec here, dude. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for all of this–”
Alya whips up her phone and turns the screen to him. The video is paused on the damning sight of Ladybug dipping Adrien Goddamn Agreste in the textbook equivalent of a fairy tale kiss. It would have been sickeningly cute if that wasn’t Adrien Goddamn Agreste, Marinette Dupain-Cheng’s boyfriend.
Alya refuses to find any chill. If there was ever a time for righteous indignation, this is it. Nino winces a bit at the sight of the video.
“Okay, I admit that’s, like, kind of alarming. But dude.” God, his face is so earnest, so naive. She doesn’t blame him. Nino hadn’t seen the horrendous sight for himself. What she wouldn’t give for that kind of innocence again. “Dude, we shouldn’t automatically assume the worst of our bro, especially since he’s our bro. We haven’t even heard his side of the story, yet. For all we know, he and Marinette have, like, an open relationship with superheroes–” Alya raises an eyebrow. “–which yeah, I guess is pretty unlikely, but we don’t know that for sure. Getting to the bottom of the story, though, isn’t that your thing?”
Damnit, Alya hates it when Nino makes sense. That is her thing. That’s her entire thing. She’s Alya Césaire, reporter extraordinaire. It’s her solemn duty as Marinette’s best friend to figure out what the hell is going on here. She grabs Nino’s shoulders.
“You’re so right, Nino, and I need your help.” Nino’s eyes widen a bit, like he’s just realizing what he’s unleashed. Good. “You’re going to go to Adrien, and ask him subtly if he’s dating anyone other than Marinette.”
“Me? But – But why not you?”
“Because I don’t trust myself to be able to look at him without unleashing all my internal screaming, and trust me, girl, there’s a lot of it.”
Nino looks resigned before perking back up. “Alright, I’ll do it. But only to clear my bro’s name. I know Adrien, and he cheats on a lot of things. Video games, rock-paper-scissors, the stupid model diet his stupid dad puts him on, but he would never cheat on Marinette. I know it.”
Alya sighs. None of this feels right to her either, but what else could they do except try their best to get to the bottom of this? She’ll be damned before she lets anyone hurt Marinette, sunshine boy or not.
“For his sake, Nino, you better be right.”
Nino talks to his bro and gets an eyeful of Marichat.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Listen, Nino really needs to get this off his chest: Adrien Agreste seriously, seriously stresses him out.
Just, on a general existential level.
Like, first there’s his dad, who is somehow the absolute worst person in the city, save for maybe Hawkmoth or something, but that dude’s an actual supervillain, so he shouldn’t really count. It’s just pretty damn astounding, considering Adrien is without a doubt the nicest guy Nino has ever met. And Nino’s not talking about that perfect, kill-you-with-politeness demeanor that his boy projects in public. Oh, no, Nino has long become disillusioned by that façade.
He’s seen Adrien cackle maniacally while demolishing him at video games. He’s watched with abject horror as Adrien chose to lick each of his cookies individually instead of sharing before stuffing them all in his mouth. Hell, Nino’s even seen him make the most horrible jokes known to man, these ridiculous and painful puns that no one should be subjected to, and then laugh at them. Laugh! At his own damn jokes! Jokes bad enough that Nino’s pretty sure they could be weaponized if a crazy enough sociopath found the motive to do so.
The point is, despite all that – or maybe because of all that – Adrien is still the most genuine, sparkly, deceptively athletic person Nino knows. Who also stresses him out on a daily basis.
Look, it’s not like Adrien does it on purpose. The dude’s just so busy, with fencing and Chinese and modeling and piano and extra tutoring sessions and actual homework, and he’s so clearly going to burn out one of these days – not to mention his dad, who majorly sucks, and Adrien’s worrying tendency to be the target of akumas. Like, Nino’s pretty sure he heard some rumor that Adrien jumped off a skyscraper a few months ago. Could he maybe not? Dealing with Alya’s lack of self-preservation is already a full-time job, Nino can’t handle much more.
And this? This is the most stressed he’s ever been. There’s no way Adrien, the same Adrien who spent the weeks before he started dating Marinette blushing every time she looked at him, would voluntarily cheat on her.
“Nino, I want to die,” Adrien had said to him during the awkward pre-courtship weeks, head buried in his hands. “She’s so cute, I think I’m going to cry.”
Nino remembers having to physically restrain himself from cackling. Irony was awesome. “Just be yourself, dude.”
“Shut up, you’re awful.”
“It’s just Marinette, man! She’s not going to eat you or anything.”
Adrien’s head had shot up at his words, looking indignant. Of course, on him, indignation was only about as intimidating as an especially upset kitten. “You don’t understand, Nino! It’s not just Marinette, she’s–”
Adrien must have realized how ridiculous he sounded because he stopped talking after that.
It was a pretty painful few weeks, watching the two dance around each other. Alya had begged Nino to put her out of her misery more than once, like he wasn’t already considering walking straight into the Seine himself. Eventually, though, Marinette and Adrien seemed to finally find their groove, and they’ve been tight ever since.
What Nino’s saying is, he’ll accept that Adrien was possessed or that it was an evil clone before accepting that his boy’s a cheater. And cheating with Ladybug, no less.
He finds Adrien on the steps of the school the next morning, scribbling into his notebook and looking contemplative.
“Hey, dude, what’re you writing?”
Adrien glances up. Oh crap, Nino knows that expression – that’s the “I spent my entire childhood in a mansion with Chloé Bourgeois as my only friend, and all my knowledge of romance comes from movies, TV shows, and novels, so now I’m going to announce to you a plan for wooing Marinette that no real human being would attempt in real life, but I’m going to say it so earnestly that you’ll have to go along with it because I’m Adrien Agreste, and I have large green eyes that I use for nefarious purposes” expression.
Now, under normal circumstances, Nino would be looking for the closest escape. He loves his bro, he really does, but some of his ideas of romance are a bit, well, much. Nino’s thinking of the time he got roped into holding a boombox (he still doesn’t know where Adrien got the thing) in front of the Dupain-Cheng bakery at nine in the evening because Adrien insisted he absolutely needed to serenade Marinette for their one month anniversary.
So many people stared. So many had cameras. Nino can’t remember much of it because he had been preoccupied with trying to melt into the ground, but he thinks Marinette appreciated it. If she could even hear Adrien at all, that is, because wow, that boy’s voice does not carry.
See, Nino, unlike his friends, has an incredible sense of self-preservation (Horrificator doesn’t count – there’s a difference between actively seeking out danger and taking advantage of an awesome situation for the good of the class and the public, and Nino had really wanted to win that contest, goddamnit). So usually, when Adrien gets the “Marinette means everything to me and I’m going to show it” look in his eyes, Nino hightails it in the opposite direction.
But in light of everything, and boy does Nino mean everything, he couldn’t possibly be happier. What better way to show Alya that Adrien loves and treasures Marinette than an over-the-top declaration of affection that’s probably going trend on Twitter and force Nino to hide his face in public for the next six to eight weeks?
“I’m writing a poem,” Adrien sighs dreamily.
Geez, had it not been for Adrien and Marinette, Nino really could have gone his whole life without knowing that people could actually sigh dreamily in real life. Sometimes Nino mourns that lost reality.
“Sounds cool, dude. For Marinette?”
Adrien blushes instead of answering. “I tried to write it way back before we started dating, but it never turned out right.” He hugs the notebook to his chest. Like, actually hugs it to his chest. It’s offensively endearing. “I’m really hoping that now I know her better, I can do it justice.”
“Cool.” A poem, thank god. Relief spreads over Nino in waves. A poem is innocent and good, nothing bad can possibly come from a poem. “Can I see what you have so far?”
Adrien rubs his neck. “It’s not very good, but sure, I’d like a second opinion.”
Adrien’s handwriting is pretty atrocious on a good day, and trying to read it is almost like deciphering faded hieroglyphics during a sandstorm – though Marinette never seems to have any trouble. Huh, must be love. Nino’s just so ecstatic to move away from all this Ladybug nonsense that he’s genuinely excited about reading sappy romantic poetry.
God, has he fallen so far?
Your hair is dark as night, your pretty bluebell eyes,
I used to wonder who you were beneath that strong disguise.
Aw, it is kinda cute. He compliments her hair and eyes and–
Hold on. Hold on.
“Strong disguise?” Nino’s voice comes out strangled. He hopes Adrien doesn’t notice. Ha, it’s probably all good – it’s probably just poetry, and man, poetry’s just full of those pesky metaphors, Nino’s just overreacting because it’s been a stressful eighteen hours, and he didn’t really sleep last night–
Adrien lunges for the notebook. “Nothing!” His eyes are wide, almost frenzied. “Nothing, it’s nothing.”
Something inside Nino’s head dissolves and whooshes out through his ears. He thinks it’s his grip on reality. Nino wants to bemoan its loss, but he can’t quite get his face parts to work right.
“Is that poem for Marinette?” His mouth moves without permission. At this point, the only thing holding his limbs up is the knowledge that Alya’s counting on him to unearth the truth. Nino doesn’t want to unearth the truth. Nino’s happy to never unearth the truth. Nino’s maybe having an existential crisis at seven in the morning in front of the school.
“No!” Adrien yells and, unbelievably, actually throws his bag at Nino’s face, like he’s fending off an intruder. “I mean yes. I mean no! I have to go!”
Nino watches him sprint towards the front doors, tripping over every other step. Huh.
When the bells sound five minutes later signaling an akuma attack, he feels almost relieved.
Not because of the akuma, god no – as far as akumas go, this one’s pretty pathetic. The librarian apparently finally had enough of kids whispering in the school library and started taking people’s voices, Little Mermaid-style. At first, it seemed like a problem because Ladybug and Chat Noir needed to shout their attacks for them to work, like video game characters, but they quickly figured out that the akuma couldn’t stand damaging books. Last Nino heard, the two superheroes were throwing neoclassical romance novels at it and were doing just fine.
Nino, on the other hand, is most certainly not doing fine. He caught a glimpse of Ladybug earlier and felt like crying. Strong disguise. Sure, it could have been a metaphor, but that can’t explain how Adrien had reacted, all flailing limbs and panicked eyes. There’s only one possible explanation, really.
Nope. No. Nino can’t even think it.
The intercom above him in the empty classroom suddenly crackles, and Principal Damocles’s voice announces that though the akuma has been vanquished, school will be letting out for the day, so the faculty could rewrite library policies.
Nino wonders if Hawkmoth ever realizes the weird backwards way his akumas can help people out sometimes. Like, Alix would have never gotten their watch back if they hadn’t been akumatized, and Alya’s transformation into Lady Wi-Fi was what got her out of a suspension.
It sucks that Hawkmoth can’t fix this whole ordeal. Not that Nino would ever want Adrien to be akumatized, hell no – Nino would find a way to become a superhero and kill Hawkmoth himself before he lets that happen. But Nino is very stressed. And he still has Adrien’s bag from when Adrien literally threw it at him earlier. Which means Nino’s going to have to face him again.
Or… he could just drop it off at Adrien’s house and not have to interact with his bro at all.
God, Nino’s so pathetic. That’s it. He can’t go on like this. He’s going to face Adrien and lay out all the facts on the table and get over this whole misunderstanding and maybe punch Adrien if necessary.
Yeah, okay, maybe not punch Adrien. Just the idea of it makes Nino kinda nauseous.
He’s ducking into the library, glancing around for that telltale blond hair, when he sees Marinette standing in the far corner, half-hidden by bookshelves. Oh, good, she must know where Adrien is. Back in freshman year, he’d ask the question casually, and she’d pop up like a jack-in-the-box and recite his schedule verbatim. It’s nice to see how far his friends have come–
Nino blinks at the sudden sight of blond hair.
That’s not good, that’s not good at all. How the hell can he talk to Adrien about Marinette with Marinette right there?
“Don’t start with me, kitty,” Marinette is saying sternly, her voice suddenly a lot closer, and Nino flattens himself against a bookshelf on instinct.
Geez, what is he doing? Hiding from his best friends like some sort of escaped criminal.
Nino dares a glance around the corner.
Oh, thank god.
Nino’s being pathetic, he can admit it, but it’d be a lie to say he’s not relieved. He has to talk to both Marinette and Adrien eventually, but not now. Not like this. Holding his breath, Nino waits for Marinette and Chat Noir to pass his hiding spot. Yes, he knows it’s ridiculous, but how can he possibly explain why he’s hiding from them in the first place if they see him?
Instead of walking by, though, they seem to stop on the other side of his bookshelf. It’s just Nino’s luck, really. He’s been having a real bad time lately.
Through the cracks between the books, he sees Marinette put her hands on her hips. Her face is scrunched up, like she’s aiming for disapproval or amusement but can’t quite reach either. “Not here, Chat.”
“But it’d be a crime to not let you know how pawsitively radiant you are, princess.” Chat Noir winks.
Look, up until that point, Nino really believed that he was all surprised out. Like, the mayor of Paris could have up and announced an approaching zombie plague, and he’d shrug and go “so what?” Because Adrien was apparently cheating on Marinette with Ladybug, and nothing meant anything anymore.
But now? But now.
Chat Noir sweeps into a dramatic bow and presses a tender kiss to the back of Marinette’s hand. She giggles and, when he pulls away, reaches up to tap the bell sitting snugly at the base of his neck. Both of their cheeks are red.
“Come on, kitty.” Her expression is so soft, so gentle. “You’re being silly.”
“But you love me!”
“Of course I love you,” Marinette smiles. “You’re mine.”
Nino has to bite into his own arm to keep from wailing. When he’s sure the two of them are gone, he lets himself slowly slide to the ground.
So here’s what Nino knows: Marinette and Adrien are the happiest couple he’s ever seen. They’ve danced around each other for years before finally getting together in a happily ever after sweet enough for the storybooks. They’d do anything for each other.
Here’s what Nino also knows: Adrien kissed Ladybug. Marinette told Chat Noir she loves him.
Nino sucks in a breath. Alright now, he is not going to overreact. Sure, so his world is crashing down around him, and reality doesn’t exist anymore. Up is right, and right is left. That’s cool. He’s sure this kind of thing happens all the time. He can cope. He can live with this.
Nino stands. Adrien’s bag slips from his fingers.
No, he can’t.
He’s telling Alya.
Sorry, Nino. :D
I had to change up Adrien's poem a bit for the post-reveal, but I always thought it was adorable, so of course it has to irrevocably affect the story.
Alya and Nino cement the fact that the couple that panics together, stays together.
Also, Ladynoir. Ladynoir happens.
In this chapter, I exhaust all possible synonyms for "freak out."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
Whew, Alya now knows about all four sides of the love square. Will she figure it out? Will she?? Not unless she gets some goddamn sleep.