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Optimistic Nihilism

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“They have so much potential,” Tikki said softly.

Plagg nodded, his eyes on her. She stared down into the valley below. The Nile was in its recession, and the humans were busily preparing for the coming flood, softening the soil with their plows of bronze, burning bright in the desert sun.

“Look at that,” Tikki said, gesturing. “Just two or three generations ago, all of those things were stone. Now they’ve got these new tricks. And not that long before that, they were still wandering around, going after wild animals and plants.”

“They’re creating things,” Plagg murmured, staring at her.

“Exactly!” She turned to him, lilac eyes brimming with light. “And who knows where they’ll stop? Will they ever stop?”

Yes, Plagg thought, but didn’t say.

“Are they building to something?” Tikki went on, “or just building for the sake of it? What makes them so unique among the animals? There’s so much , Plagg!”

Plagg nodded, his eyes caught like flies in the web of her gaze. Then she turned away from him to look back down into the delta.

This time Plagg followed her gaze, his eyes lingering on the humans’ nearly-hairless, dark skin; the softness of their flesh, even rugged as these workers were. They’re so fragile, he thought. Like little sparks, dying before they even hit the ground.

“Longg says they’re even experimenting with magic, near the Yellow River,” Tikki said. “Oh, Plagg, can you imagine it? They might even find a way to communicate with us!”

Plagg grinned. “You should probably be our am bug ssador, then,” he giggled. “I might cause a diplomatic cat astrophe!”

Tikki smacked him upside the head—affectionately. Then she stilled, looking at him. “I think…” she hesitated. “I think I might want to go east,” she said. “See what those human magi are up to. Maybe even help.”

“Well, I’ll stay away,” Plagg joked. “Don’t want to cause any magical accidents. With your luck, they might pull something off!”

Tikki didn’t laugh. Her mouth curved downward in an uncharacteristically unhappy expression. “That’s not what I…” she trailed off with a sigh, turning away.

Plagg blinked. “Oh? What were you going to say?”

She glanced back at him with those big, deep eyes. “I was going to ask if you wanted to come with me?” she said hesitantly.

It wasn’t as though Plagg hadn’t known he loved Tikki. Of course he had. It was endemic to his nature. As light was part of the very concept of ‘sun,’ and as heat was part of the idea of ‘fire,’ so loving Tikki was a part of the notion of ‘Plagg.’ But the look she gave him then, even with that knowledge, hit him like a bolt of lightning.

Deep down, some part of him was certain this would end badly. Everything did, when he got involved. That was the idea. He was Tikki’s oppositional force. The whole point was to bring things down. But that didn’t mean he was looking forward to seeing those beautiful eyes darken with grief.

But she knew all of that as well as he did; and still she asked him to come with her.

“I’ll follow you anywhere,” he said, and hoped she would one day forgive him.


 

Tikki met his eyes as her human knelt over the frail form of Plagg’s. Her eyes were sad, but they still glimmered from within. “He’s not going to make it, is he?” she asked, her voice low enough that the men below her couldn’t hear.

Plagg gazed down at Enkidu’s limp body, his pale face. “No,” he said, just as quietly. “No, he isn’t. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Tikki consoled.

It was, though. From the moment he had bonded with Plagg, Gilgamesh had damaged everything he touched, whether he loved it or loathed it. Enkidu, with Tikki’s blessed presence to bolster him, had almost seemed immune; for years he had stayed at Gilgamesh’s side. But in the end…

The entropy of a closed system can only ever increase, Plagg thought, over 4,000 years before the words ‘second law of thermodynamics’ ever came into writing.

“It’ll be okay, Plagg,” Tikki whispered, her tiny hand reaching out to touch his.

He smiled at her, and hoped it didn’t look as strained as it felt. “Yeah,” he said, the lie catching in his throat.

“It will,” Tikki insisted, and Plagg could practically feel the heat of her optimism, burning away at his being. “I’ll go back into the Miraculous, but I’ll be back out before you know it. And it’ll go better next time.”

Plagg met her eyes, and couldn’t resist. The hope kindled in him despite himself. “Yeah,” he said weakly. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

She smiled, and it was like watching the sun rise.

Tikki was gone when Plagg woke up the next morning. Enkidu had died during the night.


 

“The Trojans have our people on the ropes, Achilles,” Patroclus said quietly. Tikki hovered mutely over his shoulder, her eyes flickering from the seated man on the floor of the tent, to Plagg, lounging in Achilles’ hair.

Achilles snorted. “Tell them to complain to Agamemnon,” he grunted. “I’m done with this.”

“Agamemnon’s… yeah.” Patroclus laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “I get it, man, I do. But… well, people are dying. People we care about. I’m not saying you should be friends with Agamemnon, but…”

Achilles sighed. “It’s more than that, Patroclus,” he said quietly, shaking his head.

Plagg was dislodged and fell off, yowling. “What was that for?” he asked his wielder.

Achilles met his eyes, then looked back up at Patroclus and Tikki. “I’m bad luck,” he said quietly. “Yes, I’m powerful. But the Curse of Ailuros… it’s closing in on me. I can practically feeling it wrapping around my neck.”

Patroclus’ face fell. “Achilles…” he sighed. “Tikki and I can counteract that. I’m sure of it.”

Plagg looked over at Tikki. She met his eyes, and the determination there made him look away again.

Achilles glanced up at Plagg. “What do you think, old friend?” he asked.

Plagg shrugged. “Tikki is good luck,” he acknowledged. “But she’s no guarantee. Nor am I, of course. It’s a risk either way.” He looked down at Achilles. “If you want to fight, fight. But only if you want to. Don’t get dragged into something just out of a sense of duty. That’s what got us into this mess from the beginning. You don’t owe Agamemnon and Menelaus anything anymore.”

Achilles took a deep breath. “All right. I have an idea.” He turned to Patroclus. “Take my armor,” he said. “Go to my men, and get any who volunteer. I don’t want to fight—and I’m worried that, even if I did, it would do more harm than good, with the curse. But it’s not right for me to deprive you and the men of the chance to help the cause. So… go. Lead them, if you will.”

Patroclus frowned slightly, then sighed and allowed his face to break into a smile. “All right, Achilles,” he said, holding out his hand. Achilles grasped it firmly. “Have it your way. I’ll be back as soon as the fighting’s done for the day.”

Patroclus never came back.


 

“The battle goes well,” the king observed, looking down on the city below.

“For now,” agreed Plagg’s bearer. “She will surely emerge soon.”

“And that,” said Nebuchadnezzar, “is why I have you, Black Lion.”

Jerusalem burned below. Plagg, mute within the ring his bearer wore, found himself wishing that he wasn’t a god himself so that he could have someone to pray to. Please , he would beg, please let Tikki be safe.

But he was, and she wasn’t. The girl in red emerged suddenly from the battlefield below, clambering up the sheer quarries of the large hill. The Black Lion saw her as soon as Plagg did. He flexed the claws he had stolen from Plagg. “Here she comes.”

“Go,” Nebuchadnezzar said, dark satisfaction in his voice. “Seal our victory.”

The Black Lion and the Red Scarab met in battle for the last time. Neither emerged alive.


 

“Claws in!” Lancelot panted, and Plagg emerged from the ring, looking concernedly at his bearer. Lancelot didn’t even glance his way. He staggered back, almost tripping over Morded’s body, falling to his knees beside Arthur where the king sat back against the trunk of a tree.

Arthur looked up at him. Their eyes met. “Wings fall,” said Arthur, in a raspy, wet voice, and as the violet plate vanished, to be replaced by ordinary chain, Nooroo emerged from the pendant at his throat. “Where—” Arthur began, but was cut off by a hacking cough. His lips were stained with red.

“Guinevere is still fighting,” Lancelot said softly. “She was unhurt, last I saw her.”

“Good,” Arthur grunted, his face twisted into a wince. “Never wanted… She deserved…”

“I know. She knows, too.” Lancelot rotated his frame, groaning in pain and grasping at the hole in his belly, as he sat back against the tree beside his former king. He looked up at Plagg. “It’s over, then?” he asked, nodding over at Morded’s corpse. “The Fox Miraculous…”

“The Guardians will take it from here,” Nooroo assured Lancelot softly. “You can rest. You can both rest.”

Arthur sighed. The sound rattled in his throat. “I’m not ready… to go,” he said quietly. “There was… so much more.” He looked up at Nooroo, a desperate light in his eyes. “We had so much more to give!”

“Humans always do,” said Plagg quietly.

Footsteps crunched over the dead leaves behind him. He turned, and in a flash of red, Guinevere emerged from the brush. Her eyes widened as she saw the scene before her. “Tikki, spots off!” Even before the red armored gown had fully faded she was rushing to the two men’s side. “No, no, no,” she whispered, her hands reaching out to them.

Lancelot took one, Arthur took the other. Plagg withdrew to Tikki’s side where she hovered over the scene. Her violet eyes were shining with tears which fell like shooting stars, leaving no mark when they fell to earth.

She met his eyes. “We’re too late, aren’t we?” she asked. Her voice, normally warmer than a hearth and twice as bright, was subdued.

Plagg just nodded as Nooroo joined them. The humans were murmuring to each other below, but that was their moment. The Kwami, for the moment, were occupied with their own.

Tikki rubbed at her eyes with her little hands. “It didn’t have to be this way,” she mumbled. “If they had just… just talked , just figured this all out like sensible people…”

“I should have tried harder to talk Lancelot out of it all,” Plagg muttered. “If the dumb kid hadn’t been so… so hardheaded about this…”

“He was in love,” Nooroo said quietly. “I should have talked Arthur out of pursuing Guinevere the moment I realized she was Tikki’s. I knew that, once Plagg’s wielder showed up… well. I never imagined it’d be this bad, though.”

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” muttered Tikki. “Stupid humans and their stupid anger. Can’t they just accept beautiful things, even if they aren’t theirs?”

Plagg reached out to her. He held her as she cried. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“It’s not your fault,” she said.

As Lancelot died and Plagg felt himself fading away, he had a moment to be grateful. At least this time, Tikki’s bearer would survive his.


 

The cracking of the muskets and the screams of men and horses resounded through the air as Le Chat Noir ducked behind a tree. Bark stripped from the edges of the wood as bullets blasted into the wood, but Le Chat managed to contort himself enough that he was, for the most part, out of the line of fire.

“Come on, Coccinelle,” he muttered to himself. “Where the hell are you?”

Barely had the words emerged from his lips before the telltale zip of Tikki’s yo-yo rang out. A yelp emerged from the Prussian lines as a man was struck by it. A blur of red flashed past Le Chat as La Coccinelle leapt into action. Bullets flew past her, missing her sometimes by millimeters, but her luck held. Le Chat’s mouth twisted into a wild grin, and he leapt into action behind her.

Claws raked through the barrels of guns, the cloth of uniforms, the flesh of the Prussian and German soldiers. Le Chat Noir laughed as he leapt between them, gleefully drinking in their screams of “Katzendämon!”

The Prussian line was routed, and the two Miraculous holders were left in the empty clearing, breathing heavily. La Coccinelle held out her hand to Le Chat, turning to him with a smile on her face.

He grinned back, reached out to her. He took her hand.

He fell. As the air left his lungs in a hacking cough, blood stained his lips. His hands came up to feel the twin holes in the front of his leather coat. One was in his stomach, about three centimeters left of his navel. The other was a centimeter to the right of his sternum.

“Plagg,” he rasped. “Claws in.”

Plagg emerged, staring down at his human. His vision seemed blurry—the only thing he could see clearly was his boy’s face.

“Pierre!” La Coccinelle screamed and fell to her knees beside the boy.

Pierre grinned up at her. His teeth were red. “Sorry, Georgette,” he murmured weakly. “Looks like I’m not going to be able to buy you that little house in the countryside.”

“No, no, no,” she whispered, shaking her head frantically. “No, mon chaton , you can’t…” She stared up at the sky, screaming, “Lucky Charm!”

In her hands appeared a bandage. She reached out, tried to wrap it around Pierre’s torso, but he gently reached out to stop her. “Georgette, it’s no use,” he said gently. “The balls have buried themselves in my lung and liver, and at least one of my major arteries has been punctured.” His face was already paling, and the white shirt he wore was being dyed red. “If I could get to the world’s greatest surgeon in the next fifteen minutes, I might have a chance of survival. I can’t. A bandage will do no good.”

“No,” she whispered, the bandage falling from limp hands. She cupped his face. “No, Pierre, you mustn’t… I need you here…”

His hand trembled as it reached out to touch her cheek. “Let me see your face, Georgette,” he murmured. “Without the mask. Please.”

She swallowed. “Tikki, spots off.”

The red and black mask fell away as Tikki emerged from her earrings. She reached toward Plagg, gently scratching at the short fur behind his ears. He looked at her mutely, then back down at his dying boy.

“I’m sorry, Georgette,” Pierre mumbled, his words slurring slightly. “Promise me—promise you’ll carry on. Protect France. Stop Bismarck.”

“I promise,” she whispered. “I promise, mon chaton .”

He smiled at her. “Thank you,” he whispered.

She leaned down and kissed him. His eyes fluttered closed against her. When she pulled away, Plagg almost expected to be pulled back into the ring immediately, but Pierre’s eyes opened again. They sought his own. “Plagg,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry.” The words escaped Plagg without his conscious input.

Pierre’s lips twitched up again. “You may be…” he muttered, “the worst thing that ever happened to me, little Kwami.”

Plagg went cold.

“But still,” Pierre continued. “I am… glad we met.”

Plagg swallowed. “Me too, Pierre,” he said thickly.

Pierre looked back at Georgette, his eyes hazy. “Goodbye,” he whispered. He did not move again, and in a moment, Plagg was gone.


 

“You may now kiss the bride.”

The room erupted into applause as, at long last, Marinette leapt into Adrien’s arms. Tikki was giggling excitedly, rocking back and forth from her seat in the rafters of the church beside Plagg. “I can’t believe it’s finally happening!” she exclaimed brightly. “Our little ones, all grown up!”

“Yeah,” Plagg said, tearing his eyes away from the ceremony below and taking a nibble of his wheel of Camembert. “Good for them. Want some cheese?”

Tikki looked over at him. Her brow furrowed. “Where’s your appetite gone?” she asked, nodding at the tiny bites he had taken out of his cheese.

“Don’t tell Adrien,” he muttered. “I’ll never hear the end of it.” He took another bite, looking anywhere but at Tikki, or their wielders below.

Tikki touched his arm. “Plagg. What’s wrong?”

He swallowed his cheese. “Nothing. Adrien’s going to be insufferable , though.”

“Aww, he’s just gotten married! Be happy for him!”

Plagg rolled his eyes. “He’ll be so saccharine ,” he complained. “I know Marinette’s always like that, you’re used to it. How, I don’t know.”

She pushed him, laughing as he took another bite of cheese. “Oh, stop it,” she said, giggling. “I know you love them too.”

Plagg put down his cheese. Something must have shown on his face, because Tikki’s laughter died.

“What’s wrong, Plagg?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled, trying to smile at her. “I just don’t like parties as much as you, you know that.”

“It’s more than that,” she protested. “I know you, Plagg. What is it?”

He looked away from her deep eyes, biting his lip between two fangs. “I just…” He sighed. “It won’t last.”

There was silence between them. Below, the cheering continued.

He looked back at Tikki. Her eyes were inscrutable. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be,” she said gently.

“Not just for being a downer,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken on a Miraculous. I can’t… I can’t bring myself to care anymore. Everything ends. Everything always ends .” He looked at her desperately, searching for understanding. “They’re always building,” he said. “They’re always searching for something, some goal, some meaning, some purpose . But they always die, and the world spins on. They never find it. I don’t think there’s anything to find. They’re trying to catch the horizon, to chase the setting sun. It’s all… it’s all so pointless , Tikki.”

Her eyes were too dark, too deep. He looked away, feeling ashamed. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

Tikki’s hand touched his cheek and pulled his head around to face her. She was smiling sadly, her gorgeous eyes glimmering. “I know,” she said quietly. “They live so quickly. They’re gone in the blink of an eye. In two generations, no one remembers who they were. In five, no one remembers anything they did. There’s no point to any of it. I know.”

Plagg’s breath caught. Bright, optimistic Tikki? Had he managed to destroy her , too?

She turned his head again, making him look down at the children below. Adrien was laughing as he showered the giggling Marinette with kisses, his blond hair already falling out of its immaculate shape as the girl ran her hands through it, becoming something more reminiscent of the hero who leapt among the rooftops of Paris at night. “Look at them,” Tikki whispered. “Look at how happy they are. Look at their smiles, their eyes.”

“I see them,” Plagg said.

“Those two,” Tikki said, “Have, maybe, 70 years of life left. 3,640 weeks. Give or take. Probably take, statistically.”

Plagg gulped.

“Do they look like they care?”

Plagg looked. They didn’t.

“They’re happy,” Tikki said gently. “Right now, in this moment, they’re two young adults, in love and enjoying it. They’re not thinking about the billions of years before they were born or the billions that’ll come after they die. They’re not thinking about how small that little space in between is. Their lives aren’t short to them, do you see? Because to them, that’s all there is. For all they know, the universe begins when they’re born and ends when they die. For all they know, it’s all there for them.”

“But it’s not true,” Plagg said.

“No, it’s not,” Tikki agreed. “The universe is bigger than they can imagine. It doesn’t care about them. It doesn’t even really care about us . But why should that matter?” She pulled him back so that he was looking at her again. “Just because the universe has no meaning,” she said, “doesn’t mean that Marinette’s universe has no meaning. Or that Adrien’s universe has no meaning. It just means that they get to decide what that meaning is. And so do we. Our lives are longer, but the question’s the same, Plagg.”

He stared into her eyes. He felt like he was falling in.

“I know what the meaning of Tikki’s universe is,” she said, smiling. “I may not be able to put it into words, but I know it’s there. And seeing Marinette and Adrien, happy like this? Seeing the good times—and the bad, yeah—with all our bearers? That’s a big part of it. What about you? What’s the meaning of Plagg’s universe?”

He gazed deep into her eyes. He felt warmth seeping back in. “I don’t know if I can put it into words,” he echoed her.

“That’s okay!” she said, her smile widening. “Just as long as it’s there.”

He smiled back, and it was sincere. He glanced down at Adrien, who was dancing with Marinette now, her long dress flowing around them like a cloud. “It is,” he said, and felt as if a weight was rising from his chest.

Tikki took his hand in hers. “Good,” she said, leaning her head against his. “Because seeing you smile? That’s a part of mine, too.”

The two kwami sat together on the rafters, watching their two humans enjoy the moment. And, for the first time in a long while, Plagg was able to do the same.