A jolt of ice ran through Marinette’s body as she transferred to Lyoko. It was always worse when they were sent to the Ice Sector, even though in the virtual world there wasn’t any temperature. Max told them a million times that it was all psychosomatic. The pain they felt, however, was real. The danger they faced was always real, even if sometimes she still felt like she was in a VR game.
There was no stranger sensation than being loaded in a different universe. The chill trickled down her spine as she manifested a few feet in the air. As soon as landed, she was swiftly knocked off her feet.
Her ribs cried out as they were crushed by the black leather-clad figure on top of her. He gave her a bear hug so tight that she wheezed, “ Chat, please! Air! ”
He released her and flashed a sheepish grin. Reluctantly, he stood and helped her up. His tail swished around happily, and she couldn’t help but return the infectious smile.
A blush dusted his cheeks. “Sorry. It’s just- what’s it been? Weeks, now? I’m happy to see you, bugaboo! All I do all day is wander around Kadic, waiting for X.A.N.A to attack and for a chance to see you."
“Weeks? More like a week, kitty. It’s a good thing, isn’t it? When X.A.N.A calms down, we can catch a break,” Ladybug replied. She paused thoughtfully before adding, “But I know what you mean. I missed you too.”
Chat Noir beamed. When he reared up to pounce on his partner again, a voice back on Earth interrupted him.
“Sorry to break up the reunion, but you guys do remember there’s a possessed gym teacher terrorizing the school right now, right?”
Ladybug sobered up and put her game face on. She popped open her yo-yo and checked the coordinates of the activated tower. “You’re right, Max. Are there any updates from Rena or Carapace?”
Max sighed. “Last I heard, Carpace’s civilian self was trapped in the cafeteria with a bunch of students. Rena was on her way but her call suddenly cut out. I think she ran into our good old pal, Jim.”
“Jeez, I hope he doesn’t make her do any burpees.” Chat kept up her pace as they sprinted through the Ice Sector. He easily bounded over icy obstacles and jumped from platform to platform. Ladybug ran beside him. She wanted to use her yo-yo to swing and move faster, but the Forest Sector was the only place she could do it that way.
“It looks like X.A.N.A is ready for us, guys. Two Hornets at 3 o’clock!” Max chimed.
Ladybug sensed their presence before she heard or saw them. The threat signaled a thousand little alarms in her head and she felt goosebumps tackle the skin under her suit.
Chat readied his baton and she took a defensive stance. “Will he ever learn to mind his own bzz-ness?”
It took every fiber in her being not to roll her eyes. They took the enemies down easily. Chat launched his baton at one’s weak spot like a javelin, while Ladybug used her lucky charm to produce a polka-dotted crossbow and arrows. She missed the first shot, but nailed a hornet in the next round.
They continued down the path without even breaking a sweat. Well, technically they couldn’t sweat in Lyoko either but Chat constantly reminded Max that those little details were “boring.”
She hadn’t noticed Chat was trying to get her attention. She slowed down a bit and looked at him expectantly. The gears were turning in his head; he was carefully selecting his next words.
“Do you think… you would be able to recognize me outside of Lyoko?”
She snorted, but it was followed by a grin. “I don’t know, I’ve never seen someone with an outfit like yours at Kadic before.”
“Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. And even though my style is a little different, I promise I’m just as dashing, ” he said, puffing out his chest. “But... you’re right! What if I was dressed like this?”
Blue eyes just blinked back at him. “...What?”
“Halloween! The school dance! What if we dress up as in our Lyoko costumes? Then, we can finally meet!”
The thought was enticing, but made her nervous. The childlike hope and anticipation on her partner’s face was hellishly effective. If she shut him down, she knew he would be crushed. She wanted to say yes without a second thought but-
“-but I know what you’re thinking. It is dangerous, yes, but not as dangerous as revealing our identities in Lyoko. As long as we’re careful, X.A.N.A won’t figure out anything,” Chat said, cutting off her thoughts. He batted his eyelashes. “Purr-ty please?”
“...Okay. But I’ll just let you know that I was already working on a costume this year and this means my actual blood, sweat, and tears are going to waste."
Chat perked up, shamelessly not looking guilty about her first costume at all. She had to admit, the idea was making her kind of giddy too. She had always been curious about the person behind the mask. The same went for Rena and Carapace, but she had been fighting X.A.N.A with Chat since day one. He would constantly ask to meet her in real life, but for safety sake she turned him down. This way they could all spend some time together without the threat of monsters and whatever horrifying antics X.A.N.A was up to. Speaking of-
"We have a problem,” Max said. Chat started to skid to a halt but Ladybug grabbed him by the arm and pulled him along, sprinting faster than before. Their friend continued. “I think Jim shut off the vents to the cafeteria. Carapace and everyone inside are running out of air! Rena hasn’t called me back either, and I have a bad feeling about it. You should be coming up on the tower on your left!”
It was sitting atop a tall ice plateau. The unmistakable red glow surrounding the outside stood out against the everlasting dark sky. Rolling around the tower were two Megatanks, waiting patiently for the superheroes.
“Will you guys be able to handle this on your own?”
Ladybug and Chat shared a knowing look.
“What do you say? Let's declaw X.A N.A, just like old times?” Chat said, throwing in a wink.
Ladybug rolled her eyes playfully and jumped into action. “Just like old times.”
“Wait, so you’re not going tonight either?!”
Marinette shook her head, but then remembered Alya couldn’t see her through the phone. She faked a cough. “No, I don’t think I’m feeling up to it. Besides, I never finished my costume and Adrien won’t be there and-”
There was a gasp on the other line. “Nino just texted me that he’s under dorm lockdown because of Jim. God, this sucks! What are the chances Jagged Stone will ever come back to our school?”
"Maybe Chloe can convince her father to bring him back?" Marinette replied hopefully.
Her friend groaned. "Ugh, so we have to rely on the whims of Kadic's spoiled princess. That's some hot news for my blog," she said sarcastically. "Do you want me to check in on you later? Do you want some of my mom’s soup?"
"NO! Nope! I'll be fine!" Marinette stared at herself in the mirror in her Ladybug outfit, feeling guilty that she was outright lying to her best friend. It wasn't her greatest sewing job, but she was proud with what she produced on such short notice. It didn't feel the same as her Lyoko costume, but it was all in one piece, functional, and keeping her promise to Chat would make him explode with happiness, and that's what mattered to her.
She hung up and she rushed to finish getting ready. Her parents lived close to the school, but her constant tardiness was as habitual as brushing her teeth. It was easier for her to avoid Jim when she had to sneak out to deal with X.A.N.A attacks, because Rena and Carapace always had trouble living in the dorms. Chat once said breaking out of federal prison was easier than sneaking out past his father, but he didn’t go into further detail.
It was the perfect evening for Halloween. Neighborhood stoops held glowing jack-o-lanterns and a slightly chilly breeze tickled her pigtails. She was shaking. She was going to see Jagged Stone, live. She was walking the damn streets as Ladybug, which was weird as hell but kind of empowering. And most nerve-racking of all, she was going to meet her Lyoko friends in person. Wavering orange and red leaves on the trees were calm compared to the shivering girl.
Kadic was poppin’. Decorations were scattered about the school courtyard, and became more concentrated as she reached the gym. Groups of students lingered outside the gym, but inside the party was going on full-force. Purple and orange lights flashed, a smoke machine was going off in the corners, and rocking out on the huge stage up front was none other than Jagged Stone. He was dressed as a punk-rock pirate; like Captain Jack Sparrow got a 2011 Hot Topic makeover. Marinette tried not to squeal.
She realized that they hadn’t planned to meet anywhere specific, so she started wandering the room, taking in people’s costumes along the way. Some people were obviously recognizable, like Chloe in her decked-out Barbie costume. Sabrina trailed along behind her as a meek Ken. Other people, she wasn’t so sure about. She nervously adjusted her mask when someone barreled into her side.
“Bugaboo! It’s really you!”
The deja-vu hit her like a ton of bricks. He was the same as in Lyoko, but a hundred times more real. Same height, but his blonde mop of hair was accompanied by dozens of fly-aways that the virtual version didn’t allow. Same green eyes, but not cat eyes. The softness of his gaze startled her. His costume wasn’t as tight or incredibly shiny as she was used to, but it was clear he put a lot of effort into it. He was wearing a one piece like her, complete with his signature tail. His ears were clipped into his hair, his mask looked snug (thank god), and he had even attached claws to his gloves.
“No bell, kitty? How am I supposed to know you’re the real deal?” the teasing words slipped out of her mouth before she knew it. Even though the environment was vastly different, she quickly stepped into their routine.
She poked the empty space at the top of his collar and retracted her hand like he burned her. Yup, that was real skin alright. Warm, soft skin on his neck that was not at all like on Lyoko. He looked like he was itching to reach out and touch her as well, to solidify that this was actually happening.
He coughed, embarrassed. “I tried. Many times. But every time I went up to my father to ask for help on a cat costume- just, oof. He didn’t approve.”
She chuckled, all of her previous nerves washing away. “So you’re saying you’re a scaredy cat,” she replied.
“Pfft. Me? Never. My father is just impossible to communicate with.”
His words struck a sad string in her heart. “I’m surprised he let you come tonight, then.”
Chat let out a dejected sigh. “Well… technically, he didn’t.”
The pair whipped around to find Rena and Carapace in their DIY costumes. Marinette breathed in relief when she didn’t immediately see through to their civilian identities. Rena dove in for a quick group hug, which left a lingering familiar scent, but the spotted hero shut down that train of thought. She was determined to ignore her anxiety and have fun with everyone.
It was a blast. Marinette felt a little guilty because she was enjoying the party without Alya, Nino, or Adrien, but she loved having the chance to spend time with her virtual friends. Chat devoured a handfuls of candy at the snack table while Carapace and Rena danced. Ladybug scanned the room for Max, but she didn’t spot him anywhere. Thunder boomed outside and Jim and some teachers hurried to take the outdoor decorations inside. The sound of rain echoed off the high gym windows, but was mostly drowned out by Jagged.
“Care to dance?” Chat offered her a hand, his smirk all but devious.
“Sure. But I have to warn you that in real life, I have two left feet,” she admitted.
He laughed. “You? Clumsy?”
Her cheeks burned, the memory of her tripping onto Adrien’s lap the other day fresh in her mind. She couldn’t even find the words to stutter out, so she ran away without saying anything, as Chloe snickered at her from across the cafeteria. “Sometimes. Like… 98% of the time.”
“Hear meowt, my lady. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing on Earth that would make me not want to dance with-”
With a deafening click, the gym went black. People screamed as the sudden outage was followed by a particularly loud crack of thunder; it made it feel like the ground beneath them was about to crumble. Instinctively, Marinette reached out to her partner. She found his forearm and grasped tightly.
Principal Bourgeois's voice cut through the crowd's frantic murmuring. “Calm down, everyone! We’re working on turning on the backup generator. Please make your way outside in an orderly fashion.”
The doors opened and people began shuffling around; everyone’s collective phone flashlights created enough light to be able to move.
“Is it just me or do you have a feeling this is a little too convenient?” Marinette jumped at Chat’s voice so close to her ear. Just inches away, she felt his warm breath caress the back of her neck. “Do you think maybe X.A.N.A is involved?”
She shook her head to clear her mind. “Uh- I-I’m not sure. It might just be a bad storm.”
“Agh, what the hell?! What is this?”
Through the crowd, they saw Jim stumble back inside, soaked from head to toe. He pushed some kids back away from the door and stomped over to Bourgeois, his rain boots squeaking horrendously against the gym floor.
“It’s like a waterfall out there! I’ve never seen anything like this!” Jim exclaimed. Marinette looked over to Chat but he was searching for something on his phone.
“It looks like I still have service for now. Check this out.” He held out the phone and played a video for her.
“This is Nadja Chamack, coming to you with the most recent updates about this flash flood. Officials are advising people to get to high ground. As the water level rises, do not attempt to walk, swim, or drive through flood waters. Hundreds of residents are currently without power; be extremely cautious of fallen power lines. There are currently-”
Marinette paused the video; she saw all she needed to see. “Oh no.”
“X.A.N.A can’t… control the weather, right? I mean… how??” Chat frowned, his brow furrowing, contorting his homemade mask and giving her a glimpse of his eyebrows.
She whipped out her Ladybug phone (secret identities were so much more complicated than she would’ve thought) and dialed one of the four contacts it had. “The same way he possesses people, I guess. Will you go find Rena and Carapace? I’m going to check in with Max.”
Chat nodded and left. The seconds she spent waiting for him to answer turned her stomach sour. Since Max wasn’t at the school, he could’ve been in a world of danger. She agonized over the thought of her friend trapped in a car or his house. The same worries flashed in her head about Alya, Nino, and Adrien. She chewed on her lip. If this really was a X.A.N.A attack, there was only one way to save them.
“So it turns out X.A.N.A can control the weather,” Max deadpanned when he picked up.
Marinette let her shoulders relax a tiny bit. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just got to the factory. I’m sure you can tell, but it’s getting worse and worse out there by the second. Also… I think the factory is flooding.”
“Oh no. ”
“How fast can you get here? Are you guys all still together?”
Marinette searched for her friends through a sea of colorful costumes and accessories. “We’re in the gym. The power went out and it seems like Jim and the principal want to keep us in here.”
“I’ve located the activated tower. Find a way out and get here on the double. And be careful,” said Max, the sound of keys clicking in the background.
“Roger. You too, Max.”
Sneaking around Jim and into the locker rooms was easy enough. Chloe had coincidentally provided the perfect distraction by ranting about “saving all fifty-seven pairs of precious shoes” in her room. The scene caused enough commotion that her father and Jim got involved and the group of Lyoko warriors were able to slip away.
Climbing out of the locker room windows was more of a challenge, and the disaster waiting for them outside was catastrophic. It looked like their school was being swallowed up by a lake. It was only mid-calf deep, but the rain was ongoing full force. Carapace almost slipped on his way down, and it took a collective effort from Rena and Chat to keep him from crashing. Miraculously, everyone’s costumes were still in place. Marinette didn’t know how she would survive if someone lost a mask along the way.
“We need to go. Lock arms so nobody gets left behind.” Marinette had to shout over the sound of the storm and rushing water. She looped her arm through Chat’s and led the way toward the sewer entrance.
“I didn’t know X.A.N.A. was a god!” Rena said, as she maneuvered around a broken piece of a Halloween decoration.
Chat grinned. “I guess normal attacks were becoming too mainstream.”
Marinette ignored the pun and answered Rena. “He’s not! We can beat him and stop this before someone gets seriously hurt!”
Walking across Kadic’s campus to their usual sewer entrance was nearly impossible. If it wasn’t for the support of her friends, Marinette knew she would’ve been washed away. Walking through the water was like wading through the ocean. Unseen obstacles below the surface kept tripping them up and bruised their legs. Lightning flashed so close it temporarily blinded her. It was like X.A.N.A was directing the bolts at them.
“We’re almost there!”
There was a problem with the sewers. It immediately dawned on them that there was no way someone could fight the flood and lift the heavy manhole cover at the same time.
Chat stopped, pulling back on Marinette’s arm and letting Rena and Carapace knock into him. Thankfully, no one fell into the growing rapids. “Hold on just a sec! I’m getting a call from Max.”
“Your phone still works? What is that, a Nokia?” Carapace exclaimed.
Chat snorted in response. “Max! Yes, yes we’re on the way. We’re at the manhole but- what? ...It's flooded anyway? Shit! Okay. ...Okay, we'll figure it out, just be ready for us!”
“...Shit,” Rena echoed. Carapace rubbed her back soothingly with his free hand. "Shit!"
Chat's big green eyes caught Marinette's attention. " Water you thinking, bugaboo?"
He was drenched - hair stuck to his forehead, water dripped from the tip of his nose, and he was shivering from the cold. But he smiled at her, the same as he always did.
"How are you so calm right now?" she wondered aloud.
“Because I know you’re going to get us to Lyoko.” He tightened his grip on her, his gaze unwavering. She felt a little dizzy from his earnestness.
“But I don’t know how! I don’t have my lucky charm here. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” she cried, feeling helpless. She was good at putting on a brave face in front of X.A.N.A… on Lyoko. Without her yo-yo or strength or powers she felt panicked.
Chat unhooked his arm from hers and placed a hand against her cheek. Under the leather it was warm; the simple touch made her heart race and her throat go dry. All she could do was stare up at him while his smile grew. He looked at her lovingly (she honestly couldn’t describe it any other way) and said, “I trust you.”
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, opened them, and focused.
She pointed to the small building just a short distance away. “The garden shed has an inflatable raft. I remember helping Jim get it out to take to the pool. He wanted to teach us how to survive in case we were ever stranded in the middle of the ocean.”
“Wow. Kinda heavy for a swimming lesson,” Chat remarked.
“It shouldn’t be locked. C’mon, let’s go.”
Together, they yanked the door open. A rush of water went inside, making various tools and equipment wash away into the flood. The raft was hanging up on the wall, along with a pair of oars.
It was cramped and uncomfortable and awful to steer, but they moved twice as fast in the raft. They paddled through town and saw how X.A.N.A’s storm had begun a path of destruction on people’s cars and houses. When they came up on the factory, they saw that the river had risen so far that the bridge was starting to flood.
“We need to hurry,” Carapace said, trading with Rena to take a turn paddling.
The factory floor was wet, but the water level was only ankle deep. Marinette and the team almost shared a cry of relief when they reached the scanner room.
"I'm so glad you guys made it in one piece. Let’s get you to that tower,” Max stated over the intercom.
They stepped into their respective scanners and were sent to Lyoko. They felt more pressure than any other X.A.N.A attack to date; even more than when X.A.N.A trapped Chat in the boiler room and cranked up the thermostat past 100 degrees, or when he made two trains speed toward each other to result in an explosion. Today, they were being pushed to the limit. At any moment, someone could die in the flood and Max’s return to the past wouldn’t be able to bring them back.
Ladybug landed in the Forest Sector and almost fell flat on her face because she was too concerned about whether or not her parents were okay. Chat caught her.
“I guess you weren’t kidding about the two left feet thing earlier.”
“Thank you, Chat.”
They sped off like rabid wolves were chasing them, each second weighing on them like an invisible countdown. They were starting to get emotional, and sloppy. One misstep could send them plummeting to the digital sea toward a permanent death.
“Take a left at the next fork. You’re going to see three Krabs up ahead.”
They followed Max’s directions. Rena raced toward a Krab and used the momentum to leap on top of it. She stabbed her flute into X.A.N.A’s symbol and leapt away before the monster exploded. The other Krabs aimed their lasers at Ladybug and Carapace. She dodged while Carapace brought up his shield, which absorbed the projectiles.
“No no no no no no…” the fear in Max’s voice made Marinette startle.
“Max? What’s going on?!”
“...It’s flooding in here.” His voice had dropped to a low whisper, filled with dread. In the distance, Chat thrust his baton into a Krab. Max continued, "If the scanners or supercomputer short circuit, you're done for. I won't be able to bring you home or do a return to the past! We're done for."
Rena and Carapace looked at each other sadly. Chat violently shook his head.
The blonde was clearly upset. "Is X.A.N.A trying to kill himself then? If the supercomputer goes down what's he supposed to do?!"
"I don't know! I just shoot him a text and ask what his plan is. All I know is that you're getting closer to the tower. Don’t get devirtualized, because you might not be able to come back. Please, please hurry."
Ladybug activated her lucky charm. A baton, similar to Chat’s, appeared in her hands. She would’ve preferred something a little heavier considering the circumstances, but she knew that the charm was necessary to get her to the tower.
Carapace threw his shield at the last Krab. The tower was tucked away in a dense cluster of trees. Four fresh Krabs guarded the entrance. The team sprung into action, so in-sync that words weren’t necessary. Chat twirled his baton in defense while Rena crouched behind him to create an illusion. She played a short tune and two more Chat Noirs manifested. The trio pounced on a Krab, confusing it.
"Shellter! " A bright green dome surrounded Rena, Ladybug, and its castor, Carapace, keeping them safe from the barrage of lasers coming from the other three Krabs. He winced. “I’m not sure how long this will hold!”
One of the Krabs came forward and slammed a sharp leg onto the dome, causing it to ripple. Chat’s clones were taken out, but he snuck up from behind and dealt a killing blow to the enemy he was fighting.
“I have a plan.” Ladybug turned to Rena and Carapace. “Can you guys create a distraction?”
They nodded, hands entwined. The shelter crumbled and they jumped away from Ladybug, circling to the other side of the Krabs. Ladybug waved Chat over. He was starting to look more and more worried, bringing him down to the mental state of the rest of the group.
“My lady… I need to-”
She placed a finger on his lips. “I’m sorry, Chat. My plan is already in motion. When I give you the signal, use cataclysm, okay?”
“But... “ he trailed off. “Okay.”
The Krabs were successfully going after Rena and Carapace. Rena took a hit in the stomach and it crackled with painful electric energy. She clutched at it until the pain subsided but she didn’t fade away. Her partner jumped in front of her, protecting them the best he could with his shield.
“We need to group them together!” Ladybug instructed. Chat pounced at one, pushing it back toward the other Krabs. Rena and Carapace advanced on the other two. The group stood in a triangle, rounding up their enemies until they were in a cluster so tight they were knocking into each other. Using her yo-yo, Ladybug wrapped them together in a bunch. “Now, Chat!”
“Cataclysm!” With a fist full of angry black energy, Chat reached out to destroy the Krabs. Suddenly, his leg was hit was a laser; a Hornet flew out from its hiding place behind a tree. Chat reared back, losing his balance; his hand fell directly onto the ground, the deadly power destroying everything beneath their feet.
“Get back!” Ladybug yelled to Rena and Carapace, leaping over to Chat and catching him before he dropped into the digital sea. The heroes ran, the forest floor virtualizing right behind their heels. When the path of destruction stopped, they saw that a giant chasm stood between them and the tower. At least the Krabs were gone, but her yo-yo went with them.
Chat banged his head on a nearby tree. “So stupid…”
“I’m so stupid! I just killed us!” He flopped onto the ground, clutching his hair. “This… this is it. X.A.N.A finally won. Because of me. It’s just a matter of time before the supercomputer shuts down and that’s it.”
Ladybug crouched beside him, hand hovering in the air hesitantly to touch him or not. “It’s not your fault, Chat. None of us saw that Hornet.”
“I’m sorry. I let us down.” He looked up at her, devastated.
Her heart chewed on itself, sparking a pain in her chest. She grabbed him into a close hug. “You could never, kitty,” she replied softly.
He returned the hug, burying his face into the crook of her neck. If they could cry in Lyoko, he certainly would be. “I… I want to know who you are. This is our last chance. And while I’m still here, still standing… this is what I wish for.”
“Chat..” Pulling away from the hug, she stood up and something fell. Rolling away from her feet was her lucky charm. The baton. She stared at it for a long moment, feeling Chat’s eyes on her.
Chat stood as well, gently taking her hand in both of his. “My lady… please. Before it’s too late. I at least want you to know.”
Ladybug smiled sadly. “You know I want to say yes. I always do. Even from the beginning.” He gazed at her hopefully. She slipped her hand out of his hold and reached for the baton. “But not today, kitty.”
He looked hurt. “Why? Why not?”
She pushed the button on the baton and it grew so it was fifteen feet all. Rena and Carapace watched, confused as her partner in front of her. “Because, I’m going to deactivate that tower.”
“No! What are you-”
With a surge of confidence she leaned forward, placing a quick kiss on his cheek to cut him off. “Chat Noir, I promise that when we make it out of this alive, I’ll tell you who I am.”
“But what if you don’t make it?” His eyes screamed at her with emotion, pleading with her.
She shook her head. “Have I ever broken a promise to you before?”
She grinned. “Do you trust me?”
Baton pointed at the tower, Ladybug moved backward, internally psyching herself up. She didn’t have time to hesitate; she dashed forward. Every step felt like it was in slow motion. Max was saying something to them, but she wasn’t paying attention. She aimed the pole at a small broken piece of platform in between her and the tower. With momentum on her side, she pole vaulted, flying to her destination. She landed on solid ground, running into the tower and throwing the baton up into the air.
“Miraculous Ladybug!” The tower deactivated, and she could finally breathe again.
“Return to the past, now!”
She was still Ladybug. She was on her way to the dance again. It felt like she was floating as she made her way to the school. Everything was surreal. Bubbly trick-or-treaters, cartoonish spiders and witches on front lawns, her happy parents… all of it had almost been wiped away. She was dizzy. But happy? She was still surprised that she had pulled it off. Without really thinking about it, her feet carried her to the school gym.
When Chat Noir barreled into her side again, it was with extra gusto. She was knocked off her feet and pulled into a bone-crushing embrace. Without a care in the world about where they were or people’s stares, he peppered her face with kisses.
“You’re amazing! I can’t believe you did it! You looked like some kind of hot Olympic goddess!”
A giggle burse out of her. “Chat, stop! That tickles!”
“Okay, okay. Time to break it up you two.” Jim plucked Chat up by his collar, pulling him off Marinette. He struggled against the hold lightly. “Don’t make me give you a detention, Agreste.”
Marinette’s face went white. Chat’s was whiter.
“What?!” the boy spluttered. “H-how did you know it was me?”
Jim chuckled. “Are you kidding me? It’s obvious, kid! A new hairdo and a mask doesn’t hide anything. Now, please cool it with the PDA. Honestly, your dad scares me, and I don’t want to have to call him.”
Adrien gulped. “Got it. Sorry, sir.”
Marinette’s knees were weak, but she salvaged the last of her Ladybug courage to step toward the boy she loved. “I guess it’s my turn, huh, kitty?”
He took her hands and held them, smiling so big that warmth spread throughout her whole body.
She lowered her mask.