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Just One Bite

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Being a prince had to be the worst thing in the world. He was constantly guarded, constantly watched, constantly told he couldn’t act like other boys acted because he was going to be king one day, and therefore he was held to a higher standard of decorum and expectations. No Adrien, princes do not use their magic in such a way; no Adrien, princes do not make such unseemly faces; no Adrien, princes cannot leave the safety of the palace grounds to go gallivanting off on some senselessly dangerous adventure. Apparently, what princes did was serve as a pretty decoration, just like everything else in the palace. The prince was supposed to be just as interesting as the molding on the doorways, or something equally as trivial. He didn’t matter unless families wanted to garner favor in some way. As of recently it was women being thrown at his feet left, right, and center.

Adrien didn't care much for being confined, but as big as the palace was it was still nothing more than a cage. It was a beautiful cage, and it had so much luxury and things to entertain one an outsider would hardly call it a prison. But it was. Adrien wasn't allowed to go outside of the garden walls, he was watched constantly. Friends came to him he never went to them.

“If you hate it that much just say something my friend,” Nino said as he was visiting one time, “Surely they'll understand.”

“And who am I supposed to tell Nino?” Adrien asked, “My Father? He's so busy running the High Court he barely has time for anyone. My mom, well, I don't think she really understands. Women are raised differently here…”

“What about the Gorilla?” Nino questioned, “Or-”

“Believe me, I think they find themselves to blame for how much I want out already. And they're completely loyal to my father, if I told them they'd tell him and we'd be right back at square one.”

“Well…” Nino drawled thoughtfully, “What about rebelling? If you can't tell them you feel stifled, why not show them?”

“Sometimes I wonder if your family is really nobility,” Adrien remarked, “because you seem to move around a lot and no one seems to judge your for doing it?”

“Wayzz managed to convince my folks the necessity of my being allowed to move freely. And it's hard to argue with a tiny god, no matter how tiny he is.”

Every centennial festival, when the moon and the sun of their world would meet, the royal family's would gather to pay tribute to the seven major gods once thought to have formed their realm. Vira, Moros, Dusa, Daros, Gurdis, Illus, and Reina were their principal deities, and as the legends had stated, if a Fae appealed to them or sought their guidance they sent down a part of themselves in the forme of a Kwami. Wayzz had been handed down to Nino from a wise old hermit named Wang Fu after the old man felt it time he passed on to the next journey.

“I suppose that's nice, isn't it?” Adrien replied, “To have someone willing to bat for your wellbeing your parents will listen to?”

“Look,” Nino cut in before the story went where it inevitably always went, “This Lughnasadh Luka and I were planning on going to the mortal world, you should join us.”

“The mortal world, why?” Adrien asked.

“Because it's interesting,” Nino replied, “Humans don't have magic, so they make things to compensate, it's incredible really. Not to mention, it would really piss off his majesty if his heir were to disappear on the night of an important celebration.”

“It would, wouldn't it?” Adrien asked speculatively. He immediately shook his head. Oh no, no, no, no. He couldn’t seriously be contemplating it could he?

“I think you should go for it,” a new voice chimed in. it was Plagg, the Kwami of Chaos and a small segment of Moros given flesh… metaphorically speaking at least. Kwami had powers beyond the normal magical being, so it was impossible to tell if they had physical presence or not.

“Naturally you would,” Adrien rolled his eyes. For whatever reason, Moros had decided the Crown Prince of the Fae needed a little destruction to break the monotony of his day to day life. His counterpart Tikki, derivative of Vira, hadn’t been seen in eons. Adrien often asked Plagg if he was lonely, Plagg never gave him a straight answer and that made Adrien wondered if that’s had been the answer to Vira’s caveat that all-powerful Fae couldn’t do something as outright lie.

“Come on,” Plagg cajoled, “It’ll be good for you to actually do something rebellious for once in your life.”

“Hey!” Adrien smarted, “I’ve rebelled.”

“Changing the interior decor of the palace doesn’t count as rebelling,” Plagg and Nino deadpanned. Adrien didn’t have a second piece of evidence to back up his argument.

Wayzz took that moment to offer a word of advice, “Allow me to be the first to say that I do believe rules are often put in place for a reason, and when it is a good reason they should be adhered to. However, when a rule is unfair the power behind it is often unwilling to listen. And when a rule is unfair and its power is unwilling to listen, rebellion may be the only way to get one’s point across.”

“What windbag over there is saying,” Plagg cut in, “Is that you should definitely do it,”

“I don’t know…” Adrien hesitated.

“Come on,” Nino offered one last temptation, “Don’t you want to know what freedom tastes like?”

And he was had, Adrien was swayed. The blonde nodded decisively, “Alright,” Adrien agreed, “I’m in, I’ll do it.”

Nino let out a whoop, “Finally!”

“Such a pity,” another new voice, this one female and politely detached in all possible ways, cut in, “That this alleged misadventure of yours takes place the night of the Harvest Ball, an event you both are expected to be in attendance for.”

It was Nathalie. His father’s right hand and close advisor ever since Adrien could remember. And according to the stories, several centuries before. She had always been there, though her origins at this point were known only to herself, his father, and the oldest Fae. But for one reason or another, no one would speak a word of it, and unlike all other lineages that could be traced through the census books, Nathalie was a singular entity unto herself. No relatives, living or since deceased, no familial estate, nothing. As though she’d just… appeared one day, tailor made and ready to serve his father. Which she did with great skill and efficiency. The only concrete evidence she was not a servant crafted out of magic itself was the fact that she was in possession of a Kawmi. And not just any Kwami, Dusa’s Kwami, Duusu. Duusu, who’s pair was Nooroo, the Kwami that belonged to his father. Duusu, who by all rights should have belonged to Emilie, Adrien’s mother.

What’s more, Duusu, spoken of in legends to be particularly chatty, remained mostly silent, always floating by Nathalie’s side in a manner that could be considered by some to be listless. Those someones, would be called fools. Duusu was silent because Nathalie had perhaps taught the Kwami a new trick, it wasn’t about making a statement with one's presence to reveal their nature, it was about blending in and getting them to forget all about you. Because when people forgot their let down their guard, and that was when their true nature was revealed.

Nathalie had her arms folded and an expecant expression. Having practically raised both boys from childhood they instantly fell into contrition.

“Sorry Nathalie,” Adrien mumbled even as Nino tried to protest, “But Nathalie-”

“No buts,” Nathalie held up a hand, “You’re both lucky I don’t report what I overheard to his majesty. I could have you banned for life for being a bad influence on his son Nino; and believe me, you’re already on thin ice as it is in that regard, especially where his majesty is concerned.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Nino hung his head.

“Good,” she brushed off her impeccable clothes, “Now, I assume you will be assuming your formes come time for the Ball?”

“Yes Nathalie,” the boys intoned.

“And there is to be no overt mischief making whatsoever?” a fine brow raised.

“No, Nathalie,”

She nodded curtly, “Very well then. Carry on with your conversation, though I would prefer it go in a less… troublesome route.”

“Of course Nathalie,” Wayzz floated over to assure her, “Plagg and I will keep our charges in check.”

Nathalie stared hard at the kwami, “See to it you do. Don’t think the ways a Kwami can be forcibly ripped from their holder have so quickly been forgotten.”

Wayzz and Plagged gulped as Nathalie turned on her heel and left, Duusu floating benignly after her. The Kwami returned to their holders and settled on their shoulders.

“Nathalie is scary,” Nino remarked, after a moment of tense silence.

“Tell me about it,” Adrien let out a breath of laughter, trying for humor, “Wonder if she's actually a descendant of a dragon,”

“She very well could be,” Nino remarked, “Anyways, Luka and I are going to try and sneak out at some point during the celebration. I'll open a portal in the back foyer, you're more than welcome to join us.”

“Why does Luka go to the human world? I never understood why he goes if he’s so loyal to Lady Kagami.”

“You didn't know?” Nino asked, “His sister Juleka lives in the human world with her wife Rose, they like to visit their mother Anarka’s grave.”

“Anarka?” Adrien had never heard that the Vampire King's once favorite human was Luka’s mother.

As a matter of fact, Adrien had never even understood why the Tsurugi family had employed a male human in their care. They were notorious for being the most matriarchal of all ancient Fae families. Luka didn't like to talk about his past, or the circumstances which had brought him to where he was now. He just liked to live in the moment, what had happened had happened and didn’t need to be dwelt on. Of course, being one of the few males in the Tsurugi household, even as a servant, meant he was mostly for… decoration, and had very little in the way of function, aside from guarding Lady Kagami from public dishonor and staying by her side. The few times he wasn’t, he was often found playing music too beautiful for words. Adrien knew he had been brought in as a servant, and a rare kind of one at that, but that was about it.

“Yeah, I only found out the last time he met Juleka,” Nino replied, “It’s kind of a sensitive subject with him, I wouldn’t ask if I were you.”

“But you’re not, so you did.”

“I also made a blood oath not to tell anyone,”

“Well, you can’t be lying about that, so I have to believe you.”

“Sometimes you’re far too trusting, even for a Fae, Adrien.”

MLB

The Harvest Ball was in full swing. The moon was high in the sky and a swiftly chilling wind blew through the open windows of the palace. Adrien and the rest of the royal family had already made their grand entrance, praising the gods for the bountiful harvest of yet another year. The wine flowed like water and people could be found everywhere. Dancing, talking, chasing each other about in a drunken fervor Adrien never quite understood. Fruits, common and exotic were found on tables already laden, overburdened even, with food. The aromas were intoxicating, the sounds a welcome cacophony. His mother and father were holding a more relaxed form of court, sitting in their thrones as people clamored for their attention. Adrien had had a brief glimpse of Nino before the latter had disappeared into the throng of the crowd. One might have thought that he would have been easier to spot, given how he was dressed. Those lucky enough to be in possession of a Kwami would assume their formes in tribute to the gods through the use of a specially crafted jewel. Adrien had assumed the forme of Chat Noir, and Nino was Carapace. Even in the sea of masks that was the Harvest Ball one might have thought a man dressed in all green would have stuck out a little more.

As usual though, the glamor of all the people in a usually empty space quickly lost its appeal, now more than ever as Adrien was beginning to be recognized as an age where his fancy might very well dictate the next queen. And if his interest could be captured, then a betrothal could surely be secured. And so, females and even males willing to do anything to improve their family’s social position constantly threw themselves at him. They often thought they were being subtle, but for a race well versed in the art of subterfuge and deception, these attempts all came across as painfully opaque and awkward. The worst offenders had had yet to find him, so for now he was safe.

Adrien took refuge against one of the walls, watching the festivities. He still had time, Nino had informed him that with Nathalie being in the know they would have to push back their plans by a few hours, not leaving until well after midnight. At the chiming of thirteen, Adrien would slip out to meet them. In the meantime, he could take comfort in the spectacle of color the swirling gowns made across the dance floor. Or enjoy making up stories to match the body language of the participants he was too far away to hear. Ah, and there it was. Father was conversing with Nathalie, and asking for her hand. Traditionally, if the King had been blessed with a matched Kwami, he and his match would share the first dance in reverence to the blessings of the gods. Gabriel flouted this tradition each and every year by dancing with his wife and Adrien’s mother, Emilie, first. And then, some hours later -likely when he was drunk enough to forget the very rigid dynamic of his and Nathalie’s relationship from what Adrien was able to surmise- he would ask for her hand and they would take to the floor. Often, this dance was something intricate and complicated, and had Adrien not known about the depth of his father’s devotion to his queen, intensely intimate in a manner that squicked the crown prince out to think of too deeply.

The two took to the floor, and there was a swirl of purple and blue. They were close, so close that sometimes if one stopped paying attention, it was not two people of blue and purple on the floor but instead one single violet being. Dips and high kicks and the swirl of Nathalie’s gown as she was spun about, either on her feet or in Gabriel’s arms. They were a perfect pair when it came to dance, obsessed with technical perfection. Nathalie had been his partner and Gabriel his tutor when Adrien had been learning to dance properly. But the formal dances, assumed by their formes, covered with their masks, there was far more open emotion there than ever conveyed in those private lessons. But it was the kind that was evident only because both parties were trying so desperately to shove it to the side. It had been said that assuming the forme of one’s Kwami too often would lead to absorbing some of their tendencies, and since Daros and Dusa -and therefore Nooroo and Duusu- were a bonded pair, and Gabriel and Nathalie had been doing this for longer than Adrien was around to remember, perhaps the emotion Adrien could only identify as longing was more due to that rather than their own emotions. Because to be quite honest, Adrien wasn’t certain Nathalie had emotions. And though his Father had certainly demonstrated otherwise, those emotions were reserved solely for Emilie and Adrien himself. To everyone else, Gabriel was as cold and callous as any Fae was with a human.

“Oh Prince Adrien,” he heard a female voice purr, breaking his focus from the scene on the dancefloor he saw a woman coming towards him.

And not just any woman, Lady Lila Rossi, dressed as she always did in a style as to mimic the forme of the god Illus and their Kwami Trixx. She often boasted that the Rossi family had held onto the Kwami for generations. And because Fae could not lie, this was undoubtedly true. However, she would never confirm nor deny the presence of the Kwami in her own possession, skillfully avoiding the subject. Though she often called this outfit of hers the forme of Volpina, and rumors ran rampant about both Elf and Kitsune blood being a part of the Rossi family line, spoken about in hushed whispers. Though they boasted of being Fae, there was no telling how pure-blooded of Fae the Rossis were, and thus, no way of telling if the limitation of lying was as much a burden for her as it was for everyone else.

“A welcome harvest to you, Lady Lila,” he greeted benignly, inclining his head at her.

“Isn’t it just though?” she said in a manner that evoked both a girlish giggle and a romantic sigh all at once. She practically swooned against the wall space next to him, masterfully maneuvering her body so as to rest her head on his shoulder, “I always adore seeing the Fall Harvest dances, especially when there are those with formes who take to the floor. Like you and I for example, don’t you think it would be a wonderful matchup? The black cat of destruction and the fox of illusion?”

“Surely you remember that the other half to destruction is creation, not illusion. Illusion and destruction are comrades in arms, and excellent partners for things like military campaigns. But for long term partnership?” Adrien shook his head, “I’m not so sure. For eons the legends have spoken about Vira and Moros, and their derivatives being bound together, a perfect match.”

“I’ve looked into those old legends,” Lila smoothly interjected, “And a very reliable source informed me that the bonds we speak of aren’t so inflexible as we’ve been led to believe your highness,” she batted her jade eyes enticingly, gripping at his arm and positioning it between her breasts in a suggestive manner, “Additionally, if a Kwami’s bonded partner has not been heard from in so long, and no one appears who is able to gain their trust, then it’s perfectly alright for a person with a non-bonded Kwami to become their partner. Or even, one without a Kwami at all…” her tone was equally as suggestive as her actions and Adrien knew immediately he was referring to the fact that Adrien’s own father was married to someone without a Kwami. But that situation was different, because Gabriel had married Emilie before receiving Nooroo. Not the other way round.

“I see; well that’s very interesting Lady Lila,” Adrien replied, quickly extricating his arm from her grip, “And something to think about, really, but I just remembered I’m famished. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to grab some food-”

“I’ll accompany you,” Lila offered, eagerly following.

“Oh no,” Adrien halted her, “I couldn’t ask you to do that. I’m more than capable of fetching food for myself. You stay here, and I should be back momentarily.”

He left her standing against the wall and headed to one of the food-laden tables. From the selection, he picked one of the best delicacies the Fae world had to offer, the Jewel Fruit. To describe it in mundane mortal terms, it had the soft outer complexion of a ripe and luscious peach, including the slight fuzz. But on the inside, there were bejeweled ruby seeds which matched the skin’s color, and were more in line with a common pomegranate. It was Adrien’s favorite product of Harvest time. But just as he was about to take a bite, another voice called for his attention.

“Adrikins!” stowing the fruit in his pocket he barely had time to brace himself as a lady clothed in black and yellow launched herself into his arms.

It was Lady Chloe Bourgeois. Another noble he’d known since childhood. The only problem with her was that she was a noble who knew of the privilege she’d been born into and relished in it. Adrien suspected part of the reason was because her mother was distant and cold even by Fae standards, actively putting her offspring down and forgetting her name every time she got, and to make up for this Andre spoiled Chloe to no end, using his connections to get her whatever would stop her perfect little tears, even when they became more fake than real. Chloe was a good friend, and not a bad person deep down, but her upbringing had soured the person she was and turned her into the one she’d now become. It was a welcome relief when she’d been granted Pollen, because the Kwami served her with the attention she craved while not kowtowing to any of Chloe’s usual antics. The one thing Pollen had had yet to fix though, was Chloe’s perceived entitlement to Adrien himself. She did love him, of that Adrien was certain, but he was also certain Chloe was conflating love for a friend and love of an object one possessed with genuine romantic love. That, and marrying the crown prince was likely the only way to finally get her mother’s approval. That was what Adrien thought anyway, but he wasn’t quite adept enough to confirm or deny his suspicions, and much like Lila in regards to Trixx, Chloe would always find a way to turn the conversation in another direction if directly asked about it.

“Oh Adrikins, have you missed me?” she was in the forme of Queen Bee, a manifestation of rule; firm but benevolent. And that was hopefully what she would turn into with proper guidance from Pollen.

“With every crystal I’ve tossed your way yet,” Adrien teased back, “Though in all honesty Chloe, yes, I have. With all the preparations for becoming King Father had been putting me through, I barely leave my room anymore.”

Chloe scoffed, “You really need to get out more. Oh, I know, why don’t I see if Daddy can arrange a tea party at our winter palace for you? It’ll be just the change of scenery you need!”

“That’s a lovely thought Chloe, but you know how Father is.”

She pouted exaggeratedly, but nodded, “Yes, I know. I wish my father were the king. He’d take care of that stupid house arrest you’re under in no time.”

“If your father was the king I doubt I’d be dealing with this issue at all. But I appreciate the sentiment.”

“Oh, I know, how about we go dancing? That ought to lighten your mood, right?”

While Adrien tried to think of an appropriate excuse, Lila had either apparently gotten tired of waiting for him or noticed Chloe with him. She stalked over and in her most saccharinely sweet tone asked, “Adrien, weren’t you getting some refreshments? Didn’t you tell me you would be back in a moment?”

“I…” Adrien hesitated as he looked between the two women who were now glaring daggers at one another, “I might have said something like that, but I can’t say that I remember.”

Just when he thought a verbal sparring match was about to break out, a savior swooped in to aid him. “Prince Adrien,” Kagami Tsurugi approached the trio, “I find myself in need of air, would you accompany me and Luka on a walk throughout the gardens?”

“I would love to Lady Kagami,” he replied, gratefully taking the out, “If you ladies would excuse me,” he nodded to them both and offered his arm to Kagami. They wandered out into the gardens -Luka trailing an acceptable distance behind- enjoying the crispening night air and talking about nothing.

The two were good acquaintances, with a good deal of common interests. Kagami was not at all the traditional lady, but then again the house of Tsurugi wasn’t the traditional Fae household. Kagami provided a welcome relief from the confused amorous attentions of Chloe. But sometimes Adrien felt all she did was reflect the people around her to best suit her needs and put her in the most advantageous positions. Adrien respected her, and thought her incredibly lovely, but he didn’t know what else to make of her.

“I hear tale that your father wants you to start thinking about selecting a bride,” Kagami dropped the bombshell casually, as if she thought nothing of it. And she probably didn’t, she was blunt and matter-of-fact. She didn’t seem to notice or care about how people reacted if she felt something needed to be said.

“Did you now?” Adrien dropped his arm from hers and strode a few paces away, leaning against a garden wall to absentmindedly watch a playful fountain put on a show, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.

“Perhaps it’s just the first you’ve heard of it and listened,” Kagami offered as she came to stand beside him, “I know you like to tune out your father or his servant at times.”

“It’s hard to pay attention when it’s usually the same routine over and over again,” Adrien admitted, “But I’m curious to know why that news is of any interest to you.”

“Naturally the bride you select will have to be of good background and breeding, well-mannered, respectful, polite. There are a lot of expectations to live up to when faced with such a decision.”

“Are you offering?”

“That depends, are you asking?”

“Not with any seriousness Kagami,” Adrien replied, “It isn’t that I haven’t contemplated the choices, and out of all of them you are by far the best one. You’re a good match, but I just don’t feel a spark.”

“A spark?” she repeated as she tilted her head at him, “Of what?”

“Anything,” Adrien replied. “I want love, I want passion, I want things that I don’t think you can give me.”

“Adrien,” Kagami sighed, “You and I both know that royal marriages aren’t about any of those things. They’re meant to build stability. The things you want are the precise foundation of instability. And who knows, maybe after we get married those things will come.”

“Kagami,” Adrien parried, “If we don’t feel it now, how would a marriage change anything at all?”

“I-” she wanted to parry, or rebut, but she couldn’t and they both knew that.

The quiet of the late evening surrounded them. It was so much responsibility, and Adrien had never had anything but the expectations of others to live up to. Big expectations nonetheless. For just once, he wanted to taste freedom, just for a night. But, he wouldn’t even get that, he was certain. The black cat of destruction also came along with bad luck. Adrien was certain he’d be caught on his way to the portal. And yet again, another chance gone. Maybe it would just be easier if he accepted his fate now. It would certainly save a lot of heartbreak and hassle, that was for sure.

“Maybe you’re right,” Adrien admitted quietly, “At the very least, we would have respect, and an equal footing. A more stable match is hard pressed to be found.”

“So what do you want to do?” Kagami asked.

“Talk with your mother,” Adrien decided, “See about having her make arrangements with my father. We’ll talk more if he approves of the match.”

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t,” Kagami pointed out.

“There’s no reason he wouldn’t,” Adrien agreed.

In the distance, they heard the knelling of the bell. Thirteen strikes it was building to. Kagami curtsied for him,

“I should go,” she murmured, “Mother doesn’t like it if I stay out too late.”

“Have Luka escort you to your carriage,” Adrien instructed, “Or I can have a crystal conjured for you.”

“No need,” Kagami dismissed the notion. With a curl of her wrist a glasslike orb appeared in her hand, “I can do it myself. We’ll talk again soon Adrien, of that I’m certain.”

“Until then, goodnight Lady Kagami.”

“Goodnight, Prince Adrien,” with a drop and a small crash and the swirling of stardust, she was gone.

Luka had already cleared out when Adrien recovered. Quickly, so he could make certain he was seen before slipping off again, Adrien returned to the ballroom. Exchanging brief pleasantries with those still sober enough to give them (sober being an incredibly relative term) Adrien made his way through the winding crowd, intent on heading to the back parlor. But once he was in the hallway, he was stopped yet again.

“I thought you agreed no overt mischief making,” Nathalie, in the forme of Mayura, stood with her arms crossed. The pallid blue skin and pinkish purple eyes were incredibly unnerving to an already frazzled Adrien.

“Please Nathalie,” Adrien responded, “Don’t startle me like that.”

“Did you not agree to be subtle if you were going to misbehave?”

“I-” her words finally caught up with him, “Pardon?”

She tutted with a clicking tongue as she shook her head at him. After a few moments of this, she grabbed his wrist and said, “Come with me,” all the while dragging him off without a choice in the matter at all.

She brought him to the back parlor. Exactly where Nino had said the portal would be. Though, while opening portals on festival nights was significantly easier than others, it still remaining open with no one else in sight was something that took Adrien by surprise.

“Nathalie?” he questioned, “I don’t understand-”

“You don’t need to,” Nathalie informed him, “And you don’t need to ask questions either. As a matter of fact, don’t. Just take the opportunity and run with it.”

“But, why?”

“Well,” Nathalie gave a thin, wan smile, “It is Lughnasadh after all. And besides, I feel like you won’t be able to effectively rule the world if you don’t get out an see it. But, since you can’t do that, this is the next best alternative.”

Adrien was speechless, “I- thank you Nathalie.”

“You’re lucky you’re both Fae and the Crown Prince, or else I would be seriously abusing those words you just said,” Nathalie raised a brow at him, “Go, have fun, be back before sunrise here.”

“How will I know?”

“Believe me,” Nathalie said, “So long as you leave before sunrise over there, you won’t have any problems at all. All that night air tired you out, right?”

“What?”

“I said,” she repeated a bit louder for more emphasis, “All that night air tired you out, didn’t it?”

Oh ,” Adrien nodded, “I suppose it did, yes.”

“And if anyone were to ask me, I could say you would reasonably have retired to your room, yes?”

“I would say that sounds incredibly reasonable, yes,” Adrien nodded again, “Yes I think I might just head to my room, if my father asks you can tell him that.”

Nathalie nodded, “Good,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Now go, and have fun.”

“I appreciate you so much Nathalie,” Adrien, emboldened by the promise of freedom within his grasp, surged forward and hugged her, something he had not done since he was a small child, “You really are the best.”

He disappeared through the rift in dimensions and Nathalie watched him go before making it closed and sealed itself properly. With no one else around she released the forme and watched Duusu spiral out of the brooch that helped created it.

“What do you think Duusu?” Nathalie asked her one constant and closest companion, “Am I doing the right thing? Or,” she looked down at her pale right hand, the palm of which had a deep and ceremonial looking scar embedded into it. Unconsciously, her left hand rose to trace it like one might a touchstone or centering talisman, “Have I just set history up to repeat itself again?”

Duusu was silent a moment, “I don’t know,” she finally replied, “I truly don’t know.”

Chapter Text

“Alya,” Marinette laughed, “I told you I can’t go to some festival in the middle of the woods with you tonight. I have work to do, this project for my fashion class isn’t going to hem itself.”

“Oh come on Marinette!” Alya cajoled, “The guy I’ve been seeing really wants me to go, but I won’t know anyone else there! Please?” Alya put her hands together in a pleading gesture, “He promised he’d bring some friends of his too.”

“And why would you think that would convince me?”

“Because he’s exceptionally good looking and his friends are too?”

“And how do you know this?”

“Believe me girl, Carapace looks like a model, and he says he’s the normal looking one of his friends. Imagine what his friends must look like,”

“He could always be lying,”

“No, he’s not the type to lie. And believe me, I’ve pried. He doesn’t always like to answer straight, but ask him anything enough times and he’ll give you an answer.”

Marinette paused, that was a weird little quirk, and it reminded her of stories her grandmother used to tell her, “How many times?” she asked, trying to make her tone sound as casual as possible.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” Alya replied, “I think it’s usually like… three?”

Again, something about that detail set off warning bells in her head. Warning bells Marinette shook off even as she continued to try and dissuade her friend from dragging her into this, “Anyways…” Marinette continued, “Don’t you think this guy is just a little sketchy? I mean, it’s been like three months since you’ve met him in person and he still insists on you calling him by his stupid username from… wait, what app did you meet him on again?”

Alya paused, “I- y’know, it’s funny, I don’t really remember. It wasn’t long before we traded phone numbers, and we’ve been plain texting ever since.”

“But you don’t think it’s weird he doesn’t want to tell you his name?”

“I mean, I’m still Rena to him too,”

“Wait, you’ve met this guy in person, multiple times, and you still haven’t told each other your names?” Marinette tilted her head at her friend, “Are you sure you’re dating this guy Alya?”

“I mean, we’ve done things that people who date do,” Alya offered, “But I haven’t… exactly… asked him.”

“Why not?”

“Because if I have to ask I might get an answer I don’t like!” Alya protested, “I really, really like him Mari. I don’t want to jinx it by asking him too soon. We barely meet, and we’re still getting to know each other. He’s got some weird cultural thing about his name, he’s told me. His family is supposed to be relatively important, and he wants to make sure I like him for him, and not for what his family supposedly has to offer.”

“But he has social media,” Marinette pointed out, “And he posts pictures. Like, all the time, right? Can’t you reverse search for a match? You’re Alya Cesaire, reporter extraordinaire.”

“Well…” Alya fidgeted, “I did try that.”

“And?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“I know, I was weirded out by it at first too. Like, who has no presence outside their social media accounts? There’s bound to be birth records, taxes, something right? Well, he told me that money has ways of making people disappear.”

“He was threatening you?”

“No, he meant that his family is likely wealthy enough to strike their names from public records.  They apparently really value their privacy. Carapace is… the rebel of his family I guess.”

“I still don't get why you need me to come with you.”

“I want you to go out and have some fun for once,” Alya replied, “ever since Natha-”

“Please,” Marinette stopped her, “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“Look Mari, relationships fall apart all the time. I just don’t want you to grieve about it when you could be out there living your life the way you should be. Ever since the break up, which was partly your idea by the way, you’ve just shut yourself up in your room, only coming out when you want to get assignments done.”

“And what do you suggest I do Alya?” Marinette countered, “Talk to strangers on the internet in the hopes of finding my one true love? I’m more interested in getting to know someone as a friend before I look at them romantically, and look at how that turned out the last time!”

“You mistook good friendship for romantic feelings Marinette,” Alya folded her arms at her friend, “It happens to the best of us. You think I haven’t wondered if I’m secretly in love with you?”

“Have you?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Alya smirked, “Unfortunately, I’m far too sober for that. I heard there were going to be some out of this world drinks at the gathering tonight, you wouldn’t wanna come with and find out would you?”

“Will you stop talking about it if I agree to go with you?” Marinette asked, setting aside her stitching for the sake of facing her friend head on.

“You’re the best!” Alya declared as she rose from her seat and began dashing out the door, “Make sure you wear something extra cute tonight girl, I was serious when I said that Carapace, the supposedly normal looking one of his friends, looks like a model.”

Marinette laughed Alya’s declarations off. But the moment the redhead was gone, she returned to her bookshelf, searching for a particular volume. It was old, with a faded cover, and worn. And it wasn’t technically a book at all, but rather a journal full of handwritten stories her grandmother had collected throughout her life. It was something she’d shared with Marinette’s father, and something Gina had passed down to her grandchild when the latter was very young. As a small girl, Marinette had eaten the stories of fairies and princes and princess of magical realms up. But Gina had included more stories than Disney had, and didn’t sugar-coat them the way the conglomerate did. Fairies were not simply helpful entities there to guard the hidden princess from the one bad apple of their kind. No, Fairies could be both benevolent or malevolent, but they were rarely kind in the way most people foolishly believed they are. And no matter how kind a Fairy might appear at first, they were incredibly easy to insult, infamously quick to anger, and very vicious when they did lash out. A gift from a Fairy was not something to be refused outright, but neither could it be accepted because it always came with its own repercussions. All this and more Marinette remembered as she flipped through the pages. But before she could reach the end, she remembered she had to get ready. A pity, because the last few pages contained what would probably have been the most useful information to her, never to eat or drink anything a Fairy sets before you. As it was though, Marinette rushed to get ready, and completely forgot about eating as she raced to meet up with her friend.

They met at a cafe by the edge of town, where Carapace had said he would accompany them to the festival. Alya was dressed in the manner of a fox, all oranges and whites and blacks. Marinette had chosen the simple red and black color scheme. Alya raised a brow and smirked when she saw Marinette’s outfit.

“Do I know my best friend?” she asked as she held up a red mask with black polka dots, “Or do I know my best friend?”

“A mask?” Marinette asked, even as she took it, “Why a mask?”

“Carapace said the festival we’re going to is a masquerade. Casual sure, but masks are non-optional. Your ladybug is a famous last minute Marinette special, and I figured you’d get distracted.”

“And if I hadn’t?”

“But you did,” Alya pointed out, “And that’s what’s important. Come on now, put it on,” she retrieved a fox themed mask of her own and secured it around her face, “Carapace is going to be here any minute.”

Just a moment after that Marinette and Alya saw a man clad head to toe in green walk their way. Rather than a mask, in the traditional sense, he wore goggles coupled with a baggy hood. The effect was the same, but Marinette couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. She expected something a little more put together from some supposedly rich person. The costume was good, but the mask was supposed to be the focal point and it felt like he'd just… given up? It was a good design functionally, maybe her expectations had just been different.

“Good evening my plucky little fox,” Carapace greeted.

“Flirty turtle,” Alya quipped, gently flicking at his nose with her index finger. The man growled playfully, grasping her lightly about the curve of her waist.

Marinette, feeling incredibly like a third wheel uncomfortably cleared her throat, “Ahem,”

Carapace looked over at her, “Oh, I didn't realize you were bringing a friend with you Rena,”

“You really thought I'd let you drag me off to parts unknown without a friend to share in the chaos?” Alya raised a brow, “Tut, tut my darling.”

“Yes well,” Carapace cleared his throat, “It's nice to meet you, Rena’s friend. May I have your name?” He extended his hand out to her.

Marinette paused. Something about this didn't seem right to her, but before she could respond, Alya beat her to it.

“Ladybug and I go way back,”

“Ladybug huh,” Carapace remarked, “That's your name?”

“Just as much as I'm sure Carapace is yours,” Marinette replied, folding her arms and saucily raising a brow, “I'll trade you for it, my name for yours.”

“Hmm,” Carapace hummed like he was actually considering it, “A tempting offer Ladygirl, but I'm afraid I'll keep my secrets and let you keep yours.”

“Sounds like a deal,” Marinette finally took his hand, “So, where are you taking us?”

“Out to the woods,” Carapace replied, “Where else would you celebrate a harvest?”

“Really?” yeah, that didn’t sound suspicious at all. Let’s just take two girls in masks out to the middle of the woods. Good thing Alya had convinced her to come along, or else Marinette would have worried about her friend all night. As it was, she sent a discreet text to her parents, stating she was a little worried and that if she wasn’t home by the next morning to notify the police. Then, she captured a picture of Carapace’s outfit, plus a selfie the girls had taken while they were waiting and sent those off too.

“My dears,” he gave a gallant bow, “Our chariot awaits us,”

MLB

The limo took them to the outskirts of a forest. The sun was setting, hanging low in the sky and its fading light was glowing like a dim ember on the horizon. To be quite honest the glade itself looked empty, and silent. What on earth had Alya gotten them into? Where was this supposed celebration? And more importantly, why would you not only celebrate harvest, but celebrate it in the woods?

“Ladybug, Rena,” Carapace offered them a hand out of the vehicle. Marinette ignored it, but Alya did not. Marinette liked Carapace, he was nice enough, and charming, and he made her friend deliriously happy. But the problem was, was that even though she liked them, something in the pit of her stomach told her she couldn’t trust him. And so, every action, every word out of his mouth was taken in with a scrutinizing eye and ear.

Marinette stood watching the far-off trees. She pretended that if she only listened hard enough, she could imagine the music that drifted faintly overhead, whispering along the leaves with the wind. Carapace and Alya were too busy flirting to really pay attention to her. Marinette was frustrated, she decided to take the opportunity and sneak away for a closer look. Did she have any idea where in the woods they would be led? No, but having a minimal layout was better than not if something were to go wrong.

The closer she got to the tree line, the more ominous and foreboding the woods became. Unbidden, those stories of her grandmother’s sprung forth in her mind,

““ Beware the woods my darling girl,” said the mother to her babe, “for in them lies all sorts of dangers that want for you to stay. Yet you must tell them no my dear, but say it with a smile. And they in turn will ask you why, and say to rest a while. But never rest within these woods, for danger shimmers bright, with pointed fangs and gilded wings and eyes of glacial light,”

Another voice, one deeper, and more melodious than her own, continued, “ ”For I have seen these creatures dear, and know they’re not to try. They’ll use such wicked words and works to bind you to their side. If you are caught and asked to dance, you surely must decline, for else they’ll take you off with them, when on the wind they ride.”

Marinette looked around, spooked but seeing no one. She sensed no malice from the surrounding trees, but a sense of patience and apprehension, as if the voice were waiting on something, or someone. And she remembered, “ “And if they do it’s pity true, your chance at freedom falls, they’ll take you to their world below with gleaming wondrous halls. They’ll set you there before their king and my child do beware. For he has eyes of darkness with sunlight in his hair

As fair as any angel, in heav’n or has fallen. And he will ask your name my dear, of which he should be calling. But do not hand it there to him, else he should own your soul. And keep you down below with him, from here to evermore”

Marinette waited, but the voice would not complete the verse. So she took it upon herself, remembering the gravity with which her own grandmother had spoken them to her, “ So spake the mother to her child, with eyes so far away, for she was now remembering, that same mistake she’d made before. Of falling for the Fairy King, and his child of which she’d borne .”

“I didn’t think anyone remembered that story,” the voice, now attached to a man dressed like a black cat, with luminous green eyes set within his mask said to her.

Marinette was shocked, it seemed as though he’d simply materialized out of the trees. But surely, that was impossible, wasn’t it? Nothing is impossible for the Fae , her grandmother’s voice reminded her. Still a little stunned, her voice came out hushed and almost hoarse as she replied, “I didn’t think anyone remembered it either.”

“And whence do you come from, my little sprite?” he asked, looking casual, but almost predatory as he used his considerable advantage in height to brace himself against the tree she was standing nearest to, effectively boxing her in with his own frame.

“What should that matter to you?” she quipped in response, folding her hands behind her own back, hovering near where she kept a small canister of dust she kept on her person in case of emergencies similar to this.

“Forgive me for my impertinence,” he told her, almost immediately cowed, “I just… you resemble someone I am… familiar with. Someone who has not been seen in eons, so to see you like this, it merely startled me.”

“Eons?”

“A figure of speech,” he quickly amended, “A mythological figure I am… familiar with. But, she has been all but forgotten by time it seems. I didn’t think anyone else would know her, and you do not, it seems.”

“I apologize for the confusion then,” Marinette said, more because it was the polite thing to do than for any actual remorse she might have held.

“No, no, I simply misjudged, between your outfit and the poem… I,” he sighed, “I’m not making a very good first impression, am I?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s terrible ,” Marinette allowed, “But I have seen better ones,”

“Very well,” the man said, “Allow me if I may to ask, why are you wandering through the woods all by your lonesome? Especially when speaking tales of the Fae?”

“Oh, the poem,” Marinette gave a sheepish grin, “My grandmother used to tell me stories of… well, she always called the the Good People,”

“A wise decision, that,” he interjected.

“Mm,” Marinette hummed, “Anyways, I just… something about the woods reminded me of…” she trailed off again and looked into the distance, mind suddenly cloudy and forgetting what it was she wanted to say.

“I see,” the stranger said as though he understood all the same, “But as to my original question,”

“Oh right, walking in the woods,” Marinette shook her head, “I was, getting the lay of the land, so to speak.”

“And why, praytell, would you need to do that?”

“Always better in case of an emergency,” she deflected, ducking under his arm and taking a few steps away, “You never know what lurks in the woods, right?”

“Something you’re afraid of?” he smirked at her, “Me, perhaps?”

Marinette scoffed, “As if, you’re not a threat you overgrown alley cat.”

“Feisty,” somehow, he’d made his voice rumble like a cat purring, “I have to say Princess, I like it.”

“And what about you, huh?” Marinette countered, “What are you doing out here in the woods?”

“Celebrating the harvest,” he answered without hesitation, “What else?”

“I… you knew about that?”

“Princess please,” he managed to pull off a sound that was a laugh and a sigh all at the same time, “Why else would I be here?”

“I don’t know,” Marinette felt herself fluster a little bit, “I mean, you’re dressed like a black cat-”

“And you’re a giant Ladybug,” he pointed out.

“And you’re wandering around in the woods, coming out of nowhere, what was I supposed to think?”

“I suppose that’s fair, fair enough at any rate. Who did you come here with anyways?” the cat asked.

“My friend and her beau,” Marinette had to suppress a scoff, “Oh no, they’re probably looking for me! I didn’t mean to wander off for so long!”

“Easy my lady, easy,” his hands went out to her shoulders and steadied her from her impending freak out, “I can take you to the clearing, surely they’ll be there.”

“I’d rather head back to the car and wait for them there,”

“Maybe I know your friends, what are their names?”

“As if I would tell you that, one of them goes by Carapace, and that’s the only person I think you would know, since you’re just as weird as he is.”

“Weird my lady?” he made a show of putting a hand to his heart, “You wound me,”

Marinette couldn’t suppress her laughter, try as she might have behind her hand.

“Come on Miss Ladybug,” he slung an arm around her shoulder, leading her back the way she had come, “As it just so happens, Carapace happens to be an old friend of mine. I know where his car is, I can take you there.”

“How generous of you, Monseigneur Chaton,” she teased, “But I don’t recall telling you that was my name,”

“Nor I you,” he rebounded, “But tonight is about secrets is it not? Let’s see if you’re so willing to keep yours by the end of the night,”

The black cat led her back to the edge of the forest, where the couple looked worried. Carapace was attempting to calm Alya down as she frantically operated her phone. Marinette felt a sudden buzzing in her pocket, her own device was suddenly blowing up with text messages, missed phone calls. Any attempt Alya could have made to contact her was now coming through loud and clear. Chat Noir was laughing at the sudden onslaught of notifications. Marinette meanwhile decided to reassure her friend that she was indeed alright.

“A- Rena,” she called, quickly correcting herself before she said her friend’s name out loud.

Alya immediately looked up from her phone, “Mari-!” she called out before she could help herself, “There you are, I’ve been trying to get ahold of you for the past half hour!”

“Half hour?” Marinette repeated dumbly, it only felt like she’d been gone for ten minutes, “I, I’m sorry, I just wanted to do a bit of exploring, and I didn’t realize there wouldn’t be any signal.”

“Well,” Alya pouted, but Carapace came to Marinette’s aid,

“Hey, Rena, it’s alright. I can see she doesn’t exactly trust me, and I don’t blame her. She doesn’t know a thing about me. And taking the two of you to the middle of the woods,” he scratched the back of his head sheepishly, “It wouldn’t look good in the middle of the day, so I can only imagine how it looks right now. I don’t blame her for running off, and hey; at least Chat found her.”

“Chat?” Alya finally turned her gaze on the embodiment of a shadow standing just off to the side of her friend, “Who’s that?”

“Chat Noir,” he indicated the man, “He’s an old friend,” Carapace assured her, “Totally trustworthy, I’d bet my life on that.”

“Would you now,” Alya mused.

“He’s really not that bad A-Rena,” Marinette found herself coming to the stranger’s aid, “He found me while I was lost in the woods and brought me back here. I mean, sure, he gave me a bit of a fright, but he didn’t mean to.”

Alya stared hard at her from behind the mask for a long, indeterminate moment. At last, she relented with a sigh, “Alright, if you trust him, then I will. For one night, anyways.” she gave the feline man a stern look and linked her arm back through her date’s, “Alright gentlemen, lead the way.”

The way to the gathering was growing a bit more treacherous in the waning twilight. The shadows loomed large and long, like pools of ebony spilling across the ground. One false step and you would sink into the abyss, never to be seen again. Alya clung tight to Carapace’s arm, meanwhile Chat offered his arm so that his own companion could take or leave it at her leisure. To be quite honest, Marinette’s unease grew more and more the deeper into the woods they were led. There was no welcoming glow of firelight which she assumed would let them know when they had arrived. The sounds of the night were growing louder and louder. But so was the sound of silence, stifled only by the frantic beating of her heart. Something was wrong, she could feel it in her bones. Marinette recalled how she had thought she was alone when she began reciting her grandmother’s rhyme. But she hadn’t been alone. Chat had been watching her. She had that same feeling now. Something was lurking within the shadows, waiting to snatch her and eat her whole. She had the uncanny feeling she was an unblemished offering being led to the sacrificial altar.

“Here we are,” Carapace said, breaking the silence and spooking Ladybug dearly. She jumped, but managed to refrain from the squeak of terror that tried to claw its way past her throat. She was, however, ready to voice her resignations, she didn’t see anything that would indicate a celebration here. But with Chat’s gentle, non pressuring hand at her back she let herself be led in, never thinking to look down and spot the circular edge of fungi lining the ground she walked through.

Instantly she was nearly blinded by light. What had looked like an empty clearing in the darkness was now fully lit with splendor. People were gathered in masks, making merry and eating, drinking, talking, dancing. A warm fire glowed at the center of it all. But how? How had they managed to disguise it.

“Impressed princess?” Chat whispered in her ear.

“It’s… It’s…” she struggled to gather her thoughts.

“Beautiful?” Chat offered as Carapace and Rena wandered off to make merry of their own.

“Impossible,” she breathed, “How… how did they manage… I mean, the fire, and-”

“Shh,” Chat placed a clawed finger gently against her lips. Her eyes flickered to his, which glowed acid green in the dim light. He had never looked more inhuman than he did in this moment. And yet, there was something compelling about that. Once he saw what she assumed was a spellbound expression, he smirked a little and added in a whisper, “It’s magic.”

It was a teasing comment, meant to be lighthearted and wry. But something about it seemed to be confirmation to her unspoken question. And yet, it all seemed to make perfect sense, it was magic, wasn’t it? Marinette didn’t know how she felt about that knowledge though.

“Shall we princess?”

“I think I prefer the term, My Lady, for this evening,” she shot back even as she took his proffered hand.

“As My Lady commands,” he bowed dramatically and made a show of placing a kiss on the hand she’d given him. Marinette had to stifle her laughter, was he really this much of a goofball? So distracted by his antics was she that she didn’t notice how the eyes of the others gathered turned on them. They knew who he was, but not her. But clearly, she must have been someone of great importance if the Crown Prince himself was subjugating to her.

They mingled here and there, trading conversations of many differing and unrelated topics as they took in the festivities around them. Where Ladybug was skeptical, Chat Noir was like a wide-eyed child.

“You seem so excited,” she remarked as they stood over to the side, watching Rena and Carapace dance together, “Is this your first time at one of these?”

“My first time at one like this,” Chat admitted, “This is going to sound silly but… I don’t, I don’t exactly… get out much,”

“Really?” that was news to her.

“My parents, well, they love me but they expect a lot from me. If it weren’t for Na-” he paused a moment, “A close person to them, I wouldn’t have been able to come here at all.”

“Why not?”

“Well…” he began, “I may have accidentally left another party to come to this one.”

“You ditched your parents’ party for one in the woods?”

“I go to that party every year, believe me, I can be gone the rest of the night and not miss much,” Chat assured her, “And what about you My Lady? Come to things like this often?”

“Parties in the middle of the woods,” she snorted, “Ah, no. Can’t say that I do.”

“So what do you do then?” Marinette was certain that if it were any other man, the line would have come off as perfunctory. A way to achieve their own ends which had nothing to do with pleasantries. But Chat, he sounded so sincere, so what could it hurt?

“I… work, mostly,” she admitted.

“Work?” he cocked his head to the side inquisitively, “On what?”

“Homework, my own personal projects, that sort of thing,” Ladybug quickly replied, “I mean, A- ah, Rena has been dying to get me to leave my room and be social again, but-” she paused, “But I don’t think you want to hear about that,”

“Social, again?” he repeated, “Why did you stop? You seem like you enjoy being surrounded by people.”

“I do,” she replied quickly, “Or, at least I did. Something happened somewhat recently which has made me just want to…” she shrugged, “I don’t know, take some time for myself. Sure, my social life has tanked, but you wouldn’t believe how many new outfits I have.”

“New outfits, forgive me if I’m wrong, but don’t you need to go outside to acquire new clothes?”

“Not with a credit card and the power of the internet,” Ladybug quipped, “But that isn’t what I’ve been doing. I’ve been… making clothes.”

“Making clothes?”

“Fashion designing is something I’ve always been passionate about,” she shrugged again, “I know it’s a difficult business to break into, but my parents support me choosing my own path. I’m lucky,”

“I’d have to agree with that,” Chat agreed, “I know a… bit about fashion, the technical side of things,” Gabriel’s way of relaxing was creating clothing out of magic, and convincing his mother to wear the designs. Because of him, court fashions changed every couple of months. But as to the technical aspects of creation, that he had no clue about. Everything in his world was made with the aid of magic, “Could you tell me why you like it?”

Ladybug launchd into a spiel about how it was an ever changing and evolving business, and the fun she had with the challenge of working with different types of fabrics and the ways they could be taken apart, put back together, and still make something completely different than what they’d once been before. She liked watching her friends’ faces light up when she was able to convey how much they meant to her with something they could proudly wear. She liked the compliments she got when she walked out wearing her own creations. It was a world Adrien couldn’t quite understand, but adored the enthusiasm and animation speaking about it at such length brought to her.

Eventually though, she seemed to realize she was rambling, and he wasn’t listening quite as attentively as he had earlier, “Oh, but I could go on forever. And I’m sure it’s boring to listen to someone else talk about their silly dreams,”

“But they’re not silly,” he told her, serious and in earnest, “I like your dreams,”

Marinette had never been more thankful she was wearing a mask. Between it and the dim firelight, the blush she felt blooming on her cheeks was hopefully not nearly as visible as it would have been otherwise, “I,” she stumbled a moment, “I’ve never heard anyone say that but my parents before,”

“Oh,”

“No, no, I liked it,” she felt her blush deepen as she added, “It was nice.”

“It’s no trouble,” Chat replied. There was a warm silence between the two of them. And then a decision from hours ago came back to haunt her. Marinette’s stomach growled, loudly. Chat burst out laughing even as a look of embarrassed panic washed over her, “Hungry?” he teased.

“A little,” she admitted, “I was so frazzled about this evening earlier, I completely forgot to eat something.”

It was then Adrien remembered the prize he still had in his pocket, “Ah, well,” he said, his turn now to be sheepish, “I have something you could eat.”

Though there was plenty of wine and other spirits to be had here, food was severely lacking. And Marinette was hungry enough to eat anything.

“Really?” her eyes were hopeful at the prospect of any sort of food she could use to cease the aching yawn that had opened in her belly.

“Here,” he offered her a fruit unlike any she had ever seen before. But she was too hungry to examine that notion any closer other than to ask,

“What is it?”

“We call it a Jewel Fruit,” Chat explained, “Here, I’ll share with you,” his clawed fingers sunk into the soft surface of the treat, ripping it apart until it showed its innards, hundreds of tiny seeds, ruby red in color.

“Wow,” Marinette’s mouth watered as the scent of the freshly opened offering hit her, “That looks good,”

“It is,” Chat promised, “And it’s yours,” but as she reached for it, he pulled it away, “If you can give me something in return first.”

“And what would that be?” so hungry was she that her impatience was taking control over her caution. She didn’t want to quibble, she wanted to eat.

“Your name,”

It was only due to the grace of whatever stars lay above and her grandmother’s multiple repetitions of this exact scenario that kept her from making an even graver mistake, “You can’t have my name,” she said, automatically as it was now second nature to her, “But I will tell you if you will not use it for ill.”

“Never,” Chat promised, “You have my word.”

She had his word, and somehow that carried far more weight in her heart than it otherwise might have. She took a deep breath, “Marinette,” she replied, “My name is Marinette. Might I ask after yours, since we’re exchanging pleasantries now?”

He hesitated a moment. But relented, “If I might extract the same promise out of you, of course.”

“I would never do ill with another’s name,” too many years of schooling with bullies had taught her the dangers of such a seemingly simple act as holding another’s name for ill.

“Alright,” he nodded, “My name is Adrien. Come Marinette,” he handed her a half of the fruit and brought his own up in a semblance of a toast, “To our new friendship.”

“To new friends, and old promises,” she agreed. They linked their arms together, but Marinette hesitated, how exactly was she supposed to eat this thing?

“Just bite into it,” Adrien advised, “Like this,” the fruit juices bloomed against his mouth, staining it. He looked like he’d tasted blood, and yet it didn’t detract her hunger in the slightest.

Marinette followed suit. It was delicious, indescribably so. Just one bite had her feeling like she could eat ten of them and not get sick. So sweet and light against her tongue, like nothing on earth she had ever tasted before. And yet, beneath that airiness, there was something… else. Something… darker , and almost… this was silly, but Marinette thought she could taste the concept of forbidden on her tongue. This, whatever this Jewel Fruit was, it was something not meant for her. Flight response kicking in immediately she backed up a few paces. Words came and went, jumblings themselves together as they went along. Marinette struggled for coherence,

“Strange,” she panted, feeling dizzy, “It tastes, strange.”

And then, it felt as though she’d been removed from her body completely and was observing the events as they happened from some third party’s perspective. She felt herself stumbling back, felt the growing fog rising higher and higher within her brain, clouding her until she saw nothing but mist before her eyes. Onlookers watched with expressions a mixture of pity, concern, and mild amusement. And then, their visages swam in and out of focus. Dancing, everything was dancing; dancing before her eyes, swaying beneath her feet. Then suddenly, silence, as she tumbled headlong into the dark abyss of dreams.

And all it had taken was just one bite.