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I can still hear Serenity's call

Chapter Text

“Don’t!” Chloe cried, her hand outstretched towards the giant, blue box of cargo she’d hauled onto the Miraculous. Twisting dials on the box to open it despite Chloe’s protests, Marinette watched her coldly.

This woman had risked Marinette’s crew. This woman had gotten Luka shot. This woman had demanded that Marinette run from the feds in exchange for Luka’s life. Oh, sure, Chloe had patched Luka up just fine and dandy once Marinette had given in, but his life had been threatened.

Marinette was mighty pissed.

The lawman wouldn’t even be on this ship without Chloe and her stupid box. Heedless of the terrified look in Chloe’s eyes, Marinette pulled a release lever. Lights flashed as four hydraulic latches twisted automatically at the corners. The top came up with a whoosh, fog from dry ice pouring out over the metal sides onto the floor of Marinette’s ship.

Focused on Chloe, Marinette only dimly registered Alya, Nino, and Kagami entering the room; ignoring Kagami’s shock, Marinette turned to Chloe and snarled. “Well, let’s see what a woman like you would kill for.”

“No!” Chloe screamed, reaching out for Marinette. Kim wrapped his arms around her chest, wrestling her into a position flush against him and away from Marinette, so she was thankfully free to do as she willed with the box. “Don’t!”

Marinette raised her booted foot and kicked off the top of the box. It flew off, clattering to the floor as the smoke cleared from over what was inside.

Marinette stepped forward to see what, exactly, Chloe risked Luka’s life for. But whatever Marinette was expecting, it wasn’t this.

Curled inside was a naked, unconscious, blond man. The box was clearly a cryo-chamber of some sort, perfectly confirmed to his shapely body; a sleek, metallic womb.

Marinette looked at the man. At Chloe. At the man.

Marinette grunted. “Huh.”

***
Marinette’s problems only grew from that day.

She couldn’t keep her eyes off of Adrien, Chloe’s brother, the most beautiful man Marinette had ever seen. Every time he approached her, heat flooded Marinette’s cheeks and tightened her chest.

He was weird, Marinette knew; he’d stop and stare off into space or rock in the corner or repeat himself, and she never knew when he’d drop everything and start acting that way. He was weird and unpredictable, and she didn’t like him.

She didn’t. Marinette made a promise to herself that her head wouldn’t turn just because of a pretty face.

But then she saw him dancing alone in the hold.

Adrien started out with easy movements, bending his knees playfully, his feet pointed outward. He transferred his weight from one foot to the other, darting about like a fawn looking for a spring to bathe in. Marinette thought he looked childish and scattered; almost like he didn’t have control over himself at all.

Desire coiled in her belly, tightening it uncomfortably, but then shame washed over her head. I shouldn’t be ogling him. Marinette bit her lip, not yet hard enough to draw blood, but close enough. He’s not exactly all there.

She almost dismissed him.

Then he leapt, his powerful legs spread completely, his arms lifted in a position of prayer. He seemed to pause at the height of the jump before descending and landing on his toes, supporting his body on one leg with the other one extended straight behind him.

His eyes, though, were what caught Marinette’s breath in her throat.

Those were not the eyes of a child. Those were the eyes of a man, one who had seen terrible things and maybe done even worse things to other people.

The following movements were supple, graceful, and deadly. Adrien was no longer a fawn; he was a mature creature, less a deer and more a monster hidden deep in the forest.

Adrien met her eyes. Marinette shuddered and turned away, her heart fluttering in her chest. What? she thought, her breathing stuttering. She couldn’t get enough air. Who is he? Why does he have this effect on me?

Suddenly, Adrien was right beside her, making her jump. He seized her arm, holding her in place. “Two by two,” he whispered, his hot breath fanning over her ear. “Hands of blue.”

Marinette sucked a breath over clenched teeth. “Let go of me. Now.” She slapped his hand away, and he stepped back, confusion evident in his eyes. “The hell are you on about, boy?”

“Won’t stop,” Adrien said, sinking down onto his bottom on the hold, clutching his head. “Won’t ever stop. They’ll just keep coming until they get back what you took.”

Marinette stared him down, wondering if she should just pull her gun out and put the wounded animal out of his misery. “What did they do to you?”

“Two by two. Hands of blue.” Adrien hugged himself, rocking, his eyes glazed over. “Two by two. Hands of blue. Two by two...”

Marinette left him.

***

A belly dancer in a skimpy outfit primarily made of jewels and scarves shook her hips by Marinette’s table. Marinette paid her no mind, focused instead on beating Kim and Alya in Chinese checkers.

Alya sat beside Marinette, watching her and Kim square off in the middle of the bar and ignoring the conversations around them. Kim moved a piece and sat back with the smuggest grin Marinette had ever seen on his stupid face.

“Your move,” he said to Marinette, lacing his fingers behind his head.

Marinette frowned down at the board. Kim was a surprisingly-astute player of the game; despite his not having two brain cells to rub together in terms of tact, he knew battle strategy.

That was why Marinette kept him around: he was hired muscle, not public relations. That was Kagami’s job as the Companion.

Marinette scooted her marble closer to the middle.

Alya raised her brows. “That’s a bold move.”

Marinette smirked, feeling as smug as Kim looked. “I live on the edge.” She took a swallow of her drink as Alya moved her own pieces, jumping two of Marinette’s and one of Kim’s to move her marble all the way up to the top points of one of the triangles.

Kim scoffed, raising a brow at Marinette, who shrugged. “Nice work.”

Marinette surveyed the board and resisted the urge to rub the back of her neck. She wasn’t embarrassed--she was never embarrassed, and whoever said she was deserved a quiet grave on an outer moon--but she was…

“I’d given some thought to movin’ off the edge--not an ideal location--thinkin’ a place in the middle.”

A man stood at the bar, holding up a dirty glass of a frothing blue liquid. “Toast! Toast!” The bar patrons ignored him, continuing their discussions in loud, raucous voices. “Quiet! Shut up!”

Marinette raised a brow, wondering what all the fuss was about.

The man was large, bald, and off his tits. “I’m, uh, I got words. I’m sayin’ this is an a’spicious day.”

Auspicious? Marinette thought, frowning at the idiot who’d interrupted their game. That’s a big word for a man like you.

“We all know what day it is,” the man slurred, swinging his drink around. Some of the liquid sloshed over the side of the glass, landing on the wooden floor, where it hissed and started eating into the wood.

Kim leaned closer to Marinette. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. “Suspicious… What day is it?”

“A glorious day, for all the proud members of the allied planets,” the drunk shouted, giving Marinette a headache. “Unification day!” He pumped his fist for emphasis.

Marinette’s heart stuttered painfully in her chest. She closed her eyes, reliving old battles, then drew a shaky breath through her nose. So many people had died for their independence that had never come. Opening her eyes, she glanced at Alya, and then looked back at the drunk.

He swayed on his feet. “The end of the scumbag independents, the dawn of a new galaxy!”

Rough cheers burst from the crowd. Marinette had had enough. She started to stand.

Alya cocked her head to the side, worry etching lines into her face. “Captain?”

As Marinette left the table, she called over her shoulder apologetically to Alya, “I just feel the need for another drink.”

She heard Kim say behind her, “What month is it?”

Idiot. Marinette’s shoulders sagged. Here I am, all torn up and sad and angry, and he doesn’t even know.

Marinette strode to the bar, deliberately standing next to the drunk. She leaned forward to get the bartender’s attention and ordered another drink. “Ching zie lie ee bay Ng-Ka-Pei?”

Old Earth Chinese was the language of the planets; everyone spoke it. The language was one of trade.

The drunk tapped Marinette on the shoulder, his grin missing a few teeth. “Hey, you gonna drink t’the Alliance wi’ me?” Marinette didn’t bother turning to him. “Six years today, the Alliance sent the browncoats running, pissing their pants.”

The drunk goggled at Marinette for a moment, and then narrowed his eyes. “Y’know, your coat is kinda a brownish color.”

Got you. Marinette shrugged. “It was on sale.”

She downed her drink, deliberately not bothering to toast.

“You didn’t toast?” The drunk furrowed his bald brow, which was starting to break out in sweat. “Y’know, I’m thinkin’ you one of them independents.”

Marinette finally turned to him, smelling his putrid breath and wrinkling her nose. “And I’m thinkin’ you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling. So why don’t we just ignore each other, ‘til we go away?”

Marinette turned away from the drunk and faced the bar, gripping her drink tightly in one hand. She was ready to smash the glass right into his eyes. People like this made her so incredibly angry.

Alya crept up to the bar behind the drunk, catching Marinette’s eyes.

“The Independents were a bunch of cowardly, inbred pisspots.” The drunk’s spittle flew all over Marinette’s coat, pissing her off further. “Shoulda been killed off of every world spinnin’.”

Marinette set her drink down, stone-faced. She turned to the drunk.

She let an edge of anger leak into her voice, commanding his attention. “Say that to my face.”

The pair stood and stared each other down, getting into each other’s space. Marinette was smaller than he was in every way, but she held her ground.

The drunk slurred his speech slowly, carefully enunciating every word and punctuating it with spit. “I said, you’re a coward, and a pisspot. Now what are you gonna do about it?”

Marinette smiled, her voice chipper. “Nothin’. I just wanted you to face me so she could get behind ya.”

The drunk turned, and his face met Alya’s fist. He sank to the floor in a heap of wasted flesh, every inch of him a useless pile of dung.

Marinette grinned at Alya. Alya would always have her back. “Drunks are so cute.”

The rest of the bar’s patrons started standing slowly, looking mighty pissed.

“Oh, juh jen sh guh kwai luh duh jean jan,” Marinette cursed. This was her plan. Wasn’t it?

Alya’s gaze flicked to Kim. “Kim...”

Kim had rested his feet on the table, looking relaxed. “Hey, I didn’t fight in no war.” He gave them an ingratiating grin, irritating Marinette. She’d been counting on him, and now he betrayed her? “Best of luck, though.” He took a drink.

“Fine.” Marinette cracked her knuckles. If she only had Alya at her side to face down a whole bar of people, it sure was reminiscent of the battle of Miraculous six years ago. “Let’s do this.”

***

Marinette did not expect to be thrown through the window in their bar fight. One moment she was punching the smarminess out of a drunk’s mouth; the next she was being hurled through the hologram that served as the bar’s window. It shifted as she flew through it, bringing her communicator to her lips.

“Nino,” she said, panting as she hailed the Miraculous’ pilot. “We’ve got some local color happening. Your grand entrance would not go amiss.”

Marinette sat back on her elbows, watching Alya shove two men around as if they were cardboard cutouts. As soon as Alya glanced at her with a raised brow, Marinette leapt to her feet and joined the fray, kicking and punching and generally raising a ruckus.

Eventually, Marinette began to tire. She’d been hitting people for what felt like ages, but man, it felt good to get some of that aggression out. But being smaller than the men, she and Alya were quickly being overwhelmed.

Marinette spat blood from a chipped tooth. Her lips would be swollen later. “Is Kim even awake?”

Just as Marinette asked the question, Kim came out of the building fighting, pushing a few more men around by his barstool. He threw punches with his free hand, elbowing one in the solar plexus and making him gasp.

Alya headbutted someone, and Marinette slammed her knuckles into someone else’s nose. Then Marinette looked behind her, down. Way down. She’d been pushed up against a cliff. “Woah, woah… haha!”

Marinette held her hands up, smiling at the men. “There’s just an acre of you fellas.” She glanced over to Alya, who was panting, her fists held high. “This is why we lost, you know. Superior numbers.”

Alya’s tone was as dry as dust, making Marinette chuckle. “Thanks for the re-enactment, sir.”

The bald drunk who’d originally made the first toast exited the bar, his big gun in hand pointing at Marinette. The two men flanking him also drew their guns.

“Hey,” Kim said, raising his hands. “Them ain’t kosherized rules.”

Marinette, inexplicably, wasn’t worried despite the drunk advancing on her. He towered over her, breathing into her face. “I’m thinkin’ somebody needs to put you down, dog.” He bared his yellow teeth at her, his lip cracked and bleeding. “What do you think?”

Marinette smiled through her bruises. “I’m thinkin’ we’ll rise again.”

A whir of noise and dust from behind her blew Marinette’s hair up, raising goosebumps on her arms and legs. Miraculous floated behind them, and Nino’s voice blared over the loudspeaker.

“Every man there go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon.”

The men shifted on their feet nervously, gulping. One of them turned away to go back inside, and then another, and then another. Finally, the man who’d made the original toast lowered his gun. He spat blood on the ground and left Marinette, who waved.

Nino extended a ramp down from the spaceship. Nino, Alya, and Kim boarded.

Kim was cackling, throwing his head back. “Stupid yokels can’t even tell a transport ship ain’t got no guns on it.” He laughed again. “Blow a new crater in this moon.”

Once more he laughed, and Marinette managed a smile despite the ache in her jaw.

***

“Hey, hey, hey,” Marinette caught Luka saying as she stepped through the doorway to the dining room of the Miraculous. “It’s quite alright, Adrien.”

Adrien? Marinette raised a brow at the pair seated close together at the table. What is he doing up here with Luka?

Adrien had his bare back to her--bare because he rarely enjoyed wearing shirts; they were too scratchy, apparently, but Marinette never complained about the view--so she couldn’t see what he was doing. Curious, she strode around to his front, only to see Luka carefully looping rainbow-colored yarn between Adrien’s fingers.

The blond had the most fixed look of concentration on his face; Marinette couldn’t help but think his wrinkled nose was cute despite her confusion about what they were doing. Flummoxed, Marinette watched Luka guide Adrien’s hands into a different position, letting him pick up his right hand’s near string with the backs of his left hand’s fingers.

“There we go!” Luka let Adrien go and clapped his own hands. “Try it now!”

Adrien drew his hands backwards and pulled the string taut, and Luka cheered. “You did it! You made a cat’s cradle!”

Marinette furrowed her brow, wondering what, exactly, the fuss was about--it was just a string, wasn’t it?--but then Adrien smiled. In that beautiful curve of his lips and twinkling eyes was a childlike wonder she hadn’t expected from a grown man.

“Thank you,” he whispered to Luka, seemingly having not noticed Marinette at all. “Thank you so much.”

Marinette’s heart thrust its way into her throat. She felt like a voyeur, someone intruding on a private moment that wasn’t meant to be watched.

Marinette didn’t mean to interrupt Adrien and Luka’s game. But interrupt it, she did, and doing so taught her something about Adrien: underneath his weird, creepy-but-beautiful exterior, he was gentle, shy, and desperate for scraps of affection.

The thought that she could be the one to give him that affection struck her without her permission. She practically recoiled, but she couldn’t take her eyes off of Adrien as he radiated happiness.

Oh, Marinette thought in horror, watching Adrien gently slip the cat’s cradle onto Luka’s hands. Oh, no.

She’d developed a crush.

***

Chloe’s eyes flicked from player to player as they passed a ball between them down below her walkway in the Miraculous’s hold. Adrien was rapt, his eyes lighting up while watching the game, and Chloe was grateful his attention was diverted from whatever tortured him.

Alya slammed the ball into a hoop held up by chains, apparently scoring according to the cheers, though Chloe couldn’t make heads nor tails of the game’s scoring system. Shepherd Fu waved his hands, being blocked by Kim, and Marinette, Nino, and Luka jostled for the ball.

Chloe wasn’t sure what she felt about the crew of the Miraculous. She absolutely did not trust Marinette; the woman was psychotic, but seemed to treat her crew fairly.

Chloe just hoped Marinette considered her and Adrien part of that crew. Kim absolutely wanted the pair of them shunted off to some outer planet where immunization packages were hard to come by, and the only reason they hadn’t been shoved out the airlock was because Marinette had stood up for them.

Chloe didn’t know why Marinette had done that. Chloe didn’t trust her as far as she could throw her.

“Yeah!” Kim shouted, towering over Luka, hands gripping the ball. “Too tall, too tall!”

Nino jumped across the way, being guarded by Alya, his wife. “Kim!”

Kim passed the ball to Nino. “Little man!”

Chloe smiled as the players all tried to get their hands on the ball. The crew were good people, sure, but they survived by doing illegal things: stealing medicine from Alliance cargo ships, smuggling,

“Yes!”

Fu snatched the ball out of the air, surprisingly agile for an old man, and Kim leapt towards him. “Come on, old man! Haha!”

Kagami crossed over to Chloe on the walkway, hips swaying and subtle jewelry twinkling in the bright lights of the hold. “Hello,” Chloe said.

Kagami crouched down next to Chloe. “Who’s winning?”

Back on the game floor, Luka climbed onto Kim’s shoulders, holding the ball. Kim ran towards the hoop and Luka shoved the ball through.

“I can’t tell,” Chloe answered honestly. “They don’t seem to be playing by any civilized rules that I know.”

“Well.” Kagami shook her head, her black hair shining. “We’re pretty far from civilization.” Her amber gaze flicked over to Adrien. “How’s your brother?”

Chloe glanced over to him. He was wearing a joyous smile on his face, looking for all the world like he’d never been hurt in his life. “He’s good. Better.” Chloe let loose a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “He has his days. And he still won’t talk about what it was that they did to him at the academy.”

Chloe had smuggled Adrien out of the government facility their parents had put him in because he was gifted, recognizing in a coded letter Adrien had sent her that his teachers were hurting him. She couldn’t know for sure, but she had a hunch that they’d tortured him there; he came back a changed man, childish and scared, with moments of darkness that scared even her.

Kagami gripped the railing of the walkway. “Perhaps he’s not sure himself.”

“He dreams about it. I know that much. Nightmares.” Chloe sighed, rubbing her forehead. She didn’t know what she could do for Adrien. She had to fix him, somehow--she was a doctor, and that’s what doctors did: fixed people. “And now, on the run, on this ship, I don’t know if I’ll be able to help him here, and I need to help him.”

“Chloe, you are.” Kagami placed a soft, gentle hand on her arm. “Leaving your whole world behind. It’s incredibly selfless.”

“Yeah.” Chloe snorted. She certainly didn’t see it that way. “I selflessly turned both of us into wanted fugitives.”

Kagami sighed, withdrawing her hand. “Well, we’re all running from something, I suppose.”

Chloe couldn’t help but agree.

***

Adrien never spoke in a way that made sense to Marinette.

“They say the snow on the roof was too heavy,” he’d told her once, when Fu had neglected to gel his hair down. “They say the ceiling will cave in. His brains are in terrible danger.”

One day, while watching him dance in the hold again without the creepy “hands of blue” crap, Marinette was trying, and trying hard, not to be amused. His nonsense words weren’t funny to her, darn it--she was a good person and did not laugh at people who weren’t all there.

“Cold is with the monkey’s ears and toes.” Adrien gracefully extended one arm over his head, arching his back and puffing out his bare chest. “Travel trips taken away go home.”

Marinette sporfled, hiding her smile behind her lips. She’d pulled up a chair, and had been whittling, but a hunk of a man was much more interesting than a hunk of wood. “What about friends? What are they?”

Adrien beamed at her, his gorgeous, green eyes glittering in a way she could only describe as effervescent. “Friends are baskets and hats.” Adrien lifted one leg and pointed at her with his toes. “Wishes are hopping and trees are west.”

“Now I know you’re messing with me.” Marinette pocketed her whittling knife, set her wood aside, and stood. She crossed to Adrien, hands in her pockets and laughter on her lips. “You’re quite the dancer. I like watching you dance.”

Adrien looped his leg around the small of her back, pulling her flush against him and causing heat to bloom in her cheeks. He had absolutely no concept of personal space; even though he towered over her slight form, he craned his neck down to speak close to her face. She could taste mint on his breath, and she liked that. “Brushing liked to tutu’s dark direction.”

Marinette knew that if she wanted to, she could shove him over and away from her, given that he was standing on one leg and had the other wrapped around her hips. His body was like a fine knife, sharp and perfectly-balanced, with a strong center.

Marinette would be lying if she didn’t enjoy the physical contact. It had been a long time since a man had excited her.

If only his brain were as honed…

Embarrassed for being attracted to someone so broken, Marinette looked anywhere but at his face, and got an eyeful of pectoral muscle. But, absolutely stunning her, Adrien took her chin in a gentle grip and lifted her eyes to his. His gaze bored into her soul; not for the first time, she felt totally bare in front of him, as naked as a newborn babe.

“Food is sitting while the weather is flying.”

Marinette blinked and the spell was broken. “Does that mean you’re hungry?”

Adrien licked his lips, drawing her attention there. He looked so kissable in that moment, she had to consciously restrain herself.

“Yes, please,” he said. Marinette started to pull away to get him something to eat, but he held her fast, his leg tightening on her hips. “Chat Noir is hungry.”

“Who’s Chat Noir?”

Adrien’s eyes filled with a strange light. He slowly turned his head away, his plump lips slightly parted and his expression open and shuttered at the same time.

“Me.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t care if it’s got sunsets twenty-four hours a day,” Alya was saying as Marinette strode into the kitchenette of the Miraculous, surrounded by the entire crew minus Fu. “I ain’t setting foot on that planet.”

Marinette frowned. The Miraculous was quickly approaching Ariel, a Core planet crawling with Alliance, in order to drop off Kagami for her annual physical examination for her Companion work, or whatever. Everyone but Alya--the sensible one Marinette could always count on--wanted to go planetside to go “have fun,” as if they couldn’t do that on the ship.

But again, Ariel was crawling with Feds. They were all going to get themselves killed, Marinette just knew it.

“No one is setting foot on that fancy rock,” Marinette declared, crossing to the cabinet to pick up a bowl for breakfast. “I don’t want anyone leaving the ship. Come to think of it, I don’t want anyone looking out the windows or talking loud.”

She scooped some green mush from a pot on the stove into her bowl. “We’re here to drop off Kagami, that’s it.”

Kim, as always, was the complainer. He started assembling his gun. “What’s the point of coming to the Core if I can’t even step off the boat?”

“You could have got off with Shepherd Fu at the Bathgate Abbey.” Marinette took a bite of her mush and grimaced. Whoever was on cooking duty that day royally sucked. “Could have been meditating on the wonders of your rock garden by now.”

Kim scoffed, cleaning his barrel. “Well, it beats just sitting.”

Nino sounded incredulous. “It is just sitting.”

Kim dragged his tongue across his knife, which Adrien seemed to find fascinating, Marinette noticed. She hoped Kim wouldn’t rub off on Adrien. That would be awful.

Luka, sitting next to Kagami and moving his own Mahjong piece onto the board, smiled at her. “So how long you gonna be planetside?”

Kagami smiled back, her long fingers fluttering over the tiles. “Shouldn’t be more than a day or two.”

Nino sat down at the dining room table next to Alya. “Big stop just to renew your license to companion. Can I use companion as a verb?”

Marinette laughed. So did Kagami. “It’s Guild law. All Companions are required to undergo a physical examination once a year.”

Kim hocked a lougie and spat on his gun. Chloe’s head whipped up from her bowl of mush and she wrinkled her nose at him in disgust. “Could you not do that while we’re… ever?”

Marinette leaned on the doorframe to the kitchen, woofing down her bowl. She was half-watching the conversation between Chloe and Kim, but she was more focused on Luka and Kagami’s Mahjong game.

Kim spat on his gun, looking straight at Chloe. She stared at him, seemingly appalled, then looked away and started rising from the table.

Nino grinned at Kagami. “So, two days in a hospital? That’s awful.” Marinette smiled, knowing where Nino was going. “Don’t you just hate doctors?”

The doctor on the ship, Chloe, narrowed her eyes at Nino, making Marinette laugh. “Hey.”

“I mean,” Nino said, holding up his hands. “Present company excluded.”

Chloe huffed and sat. Marinette choked down more mush and went to refill her bowl. The food sucked, but she definitely needed the calories.

“Let’s not be excluding people.” Kim smirked at Chloe. “That’d be rude.”

Reentering the dining room from the kitchen, Marinette saw Adrien walk straight up to Kim; the blond held a huge knife in his hands. Adrien, what--! She saw a flash of reflected light on Kim’s face just before Adrien slashed him across the chest with the knife.

Kim cried out in pain. “Son of a--gah!”

“What the--” Nino cried, and Alya restrained him.

Luka and Kagami jumped up from the game table. Marinette dropped her bowl, hearing it clatter and spatter on the floor, to prepare to tackle Adrien. She didn’t want to have to shoot a member of her crew--either one of them--but Adrien was clearly dangerous with a knife in hand.

Kim acted first. His face contorted with anger and he backhanded Adrien across the face. Adrien fell to the deck, the knife knocked out of his hand.

Marinette stepped on the knife, dragging it back behind her with her toes. She stooped to pick it up, tucking the blade into her belt.

Chloe ran to her brother’s side, and Marinette was grateful he had someone attending to him. “Adrien! No!”

Luka’s hands went to his face. “Oh, my goodness!”

Kagami remained as calm as ever, though she did look a little pale. Marinette knew she didn’t see much blood in her day-to-day life, but knew she herself couldn’t worry about Kagami right now: Marinette had bigger tilapia to fry. “He’s bleeding.”

Alya crossed to Kim and assessed the wound. “That’s deep.”

Good old Alya, Marinette thought, relieved to have at least one sensible crew member.

Luka looked green around the gills. Marinette wondered if he was going to faint. “Are you okay?” he asked Kim, who was quietly upset.

Marinette didn’t have time for pale Companions or green mechanics. She glanced down to Chloe, who was helping Adrien sit up. He was bleeding from the mouth.

Chloe looped an arm around his broad shoulders. “Adrien?”

Kim, too, looked pale to Marinette. She couldn’t very well have three crew members fainting; there was already a bloody mess on the floor from Kim and someone was on mop duty that day.

Adrien seemed surprised by the fuss to Marinette’s eyes. He seemed genuinely confused as he looked at Kim’s wound. “He looks better in red.”

Marinette glanced between Adrien, who seemed entirely too bewildered for her tastes, and Kim, who seethed with anger.

Ugh.

***

Ten minutes after Adrien had sliced Kim open, Marinette stood with folded arms in the Miraculous’ infirmary as Chloe stitched the angry man up. He reclined on a gurney, bare-chested, gasping in pain as Chloe’s needle punctured his skin in small, rhythmic motions.

“Stupid freak’s completely off his axle,” Kim was saying between gasps.

“I’m sorry about this.” Chloe ducked. “I don’t know what--”

“Shut up, I ain’t talking to you.” Kim focused on Marinette, who raised a stoic brow. She’d prefer not to give a wrathful Kim the time of day; who knew what he would do to the rest of Marinette’s crew when he was like this. “He’s gotta go. Both of them’s gotta go. Ariel’s as good a place as any to leave ‘em. Might even pick us up a reward for our trouble.”

Starting to get mighty annoyed herself, Marinette curled her lip back from her teeth. She had to show Kim she meant business. “No one’s getting left.”

“He belongs in a bughouse.” Kim gasped once more as Chloe stabbed him with the point of the needle. “You don’t pitch him off this boat right now, I swear to you--”

“What?” Marinette dropped her voice, the whisper coming out low and gravelly. She wasn’t about to let Kim threaten her crew. Even though he was a member himself, Adrien was practically defenseless. “What are you swearing, Kim?”

Kim set his jaw. A muscle in his forehead twitched, disgusting Marinette. “They don’t get gone, you better start locking up your room at night. Next time little brother gets in a murdering mood, might be you he comes calling on. Maybe Luka. Or Kagami.”

Kim pointed at Marinette, who tilted her chin back to avoid being touched. “You let them stay, we’re gonna find out.”

Marinette leaned in very close to Kim, speaking to Chloe. “Finish your work, doctor.” Chloe turned away, and Marinette started breathing threats at Kim. “This is my boat. They’re part of my crew. No one’s getting left.” She snarled, caging him in with her arms on the gurney. “Best you get used to that.”

She released him, and watched as he swallowed visibly. Kim rose from the gurney, pushing his bloody shirt at Chloe, who clutched it to her chest. “You owe me a shirt.”

Kim beat a hasty retreat, and Marinette strode to Chloe. “Adrien is to stay confined to his room, at all times, no exceptions.” Chloe nodded unhappily. “Take him to the kitchen, the infirmary, whatever, you ask me first, understand?”

“I do.”

Marinette folded her arms, demanding Chloe’s attention with her hard gaze. “When I took you and your brother in, the deal was you keep him in check. You can’t hold up your end, we’re going to have to revisit the deal.”

Chloe nodded and looked down. Marinette was unsure if Chloe would be able to hold up her end of the deal. But when it came to the safety of Marinette’s crew… Marinette knew she might have to make the hard choice of shoving someone out an airlock.

She’d cross that bridge when she’d come to it.

Right now, though, Marinette couldn’t stand looking at Chloe. She was blond, just like her brother. Marinette had to ask the question. She must, for the safety of her crew.

She didn’t want to.

“He’s getting worse, isn’t he?”

Chloe’s upended Marinette’s world with a single, breathy word. “Yes.”

***

All things considered, Kim thought the doctor's idea was terrible.

Sneak into an Alliance-run hospital and steal thousands of credits of medicine? Nab morgue worker's uniforms and fix up an ambulance ship? Stop Chloe and her creepy brother's hearts and wheel them straight in as "dead" bodies?

Kim liked the potential payoff to this plan, but there were too many holes in it…

Holes that allowed him to get his reward by selling off the annoying siblings.

Oh.

Kim pushed Chloe's casket into the hospital's morgue, sweat streaming down his neck and back in torrential sheets. Marinette doesn't suspect anything, right? Kim thought, his fingers clenching and unclenching on the casket. Then he sat on a gurney, letting Marinette do her thing. As soon as she leaves with Alya, I can call Agent Rossi.

He wasn’t nervous. Your mom was nervous.

Marinette opened Adrien’s casket, and with Kim’s help, moved the young man to a gurney in the morgue next to one of those fiddly-looking silver drawers. Alya helped Marinette move Chloe, and then Marinette injected both of them with a syringe in their left arms.

Kim twiddled his thumbs, clearly not nervous about his plan to call the Feds as soon as Marinette left.

“That should bring them out of it in a few minutes,” Marinette said, referring to Adrien and Chloe. “Once they’re up, get them to the imaging suite. Let Chloe do her thing and haul it back to the rendezvous. Fifty minutes.”

Marinette and Alya left with the empty caskets without another word. Kim watched them go, wringing his hands. “Got it,” he said to the empty air. “I’ll just sit right here.”

A few minutes. I’ve got time. I’ve got time. Kim sighed, stood, and left the room. He went to a terminal and swiped a card he’d pulled out of his pocket, pressing the screen to reveal the Telefonix logo. A woman with sausage hair in an Alliance uniform appeared on the screen.

“Ni hao,” she said, a wicked smirk twisting her lips.

“I’m in.” Kim’s chest shuddered. He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t.

Sausage Hair was all business. “Do you have the fugitives?”

“You got my reward?”

“Yes,” she said, tilting her head. “Just like we talked about.”

Kim grinned. This was easy as cake. “Then I’ve got your fugitives.”

***

Two minutes after Sausage Hair had hung up, Kim walked with a spring in his step back into the morgue. He looked into an empty holding drawer, wondering what dead sap would fill that next.

Then Adrien spoke, scaring the devil out of him. “Copper for a kiss.”

 

Kim spun, nerves in his brain screaming at him to abort the mission. “Holy--! What did you say?”

Adrien furrowed his brow, looking confused. Chloe began to cough convulsively, thrashing.

Oh. Oh, no. If she dies, I won’t get my reward, Kim thought. “What’s the matter with you?”

Chloe sounded like she was coughing up a shoe. “Nothing. Just the after effects of the drugs.” Another few coughs, and she spoke again. “I’ll be fine. Just give me a second.”

Kim frowned. “Well, your sister seems okay.”

Over Chloe’s coughing, Kim heard retching and splashing; he wrinkled his nose at the kid puking his guts out.

Kim shoved a doctor’s uniform at Chloe, her disguise to transfer Adrien to the imaging suite. Chloe was going to look into his head to see what the heck was wrong with him, or something; Kim didn’t care. “You’ve got to get dressed. We’ve got to move.”

After a stressful trip through the hospital, where Chloe stopped to help a patient who was gonna die for whatever reason, Kim stomped into the neuroimaging room, roughly pushing Adrien in a wheelchair. The room was huge and empty with a machine in the center, the function of which was not apparent to Kim but remained vaguely threatening. As soon as Adrien and Chloe were inside, Kim shut the doors behind them.

“Ready?” Chloe asked Adrien, who nodded apprehensively.

Kim took up residence by the door, wishing he had Vera, his massive gun. She’d bring him comfort for sure.

Adrien laid on the gurney as Chloe turned on the machine. A hologram of Adrien’s brain hovered above him, and the computer informed Kim that it was downloading data. Chloe stood by Adrien’s head, taking the holographic image between her fingers as if it were a picture and studying the changing angles.

“They opened up his skull.” Chloe raised her brows, and Kim crossed over to her to see if he could make heads or tails of the image. “That’s a scalpel scar. They… they opened up his skull and they cut into his brain.”

That bothered Kim. He wouldn’t want anyone messing with his own head; a little brother being messed with was a terrible prospect. “Why?”

“The only reason to make an incision in someone’s brain is to… lobotomize them. To go in and remove damaged tissue. Why…” Chloe took a deep breath. “... anyone would cut into a healthy brain is… They did it over and over…” She studied the scan, her hands trembling. “They stripped his amygdala.”

Kim had never heard of that word. It meant nothing to him--Adrien meant nothing to him--but he might as well ask. “His what?”

Chloe furrowed her brow. “You know, ah, you know how you get scared or worried or nervous, but you don’t want to be scared or worried or nervous, so you push it to the back of your mind? You try not to think about it.”

Kim rubbed his temples. This was too much for him.

Chloe, seemingly not noticing his annoyance, continued talking about stuff that made no sense. “Your amygdala is what lets you do that. It’s like a filter in your brain that keeps your feelings in check.”

Kim reached toward the image of Adrien’s brain. Chloe stayed Kim’s hand, but he angrily jerked out of Chloe’s grip.

Chloe swallowed, looking like she was made of spun sugar. “He feels everything; he can’t not.”

Kim glanced around. He was going to miss his chance to hand over the fugitives to the Feds if they didn’t leave right bloomin’ now. “Well, that’s fascinating; let’s get moving.”

Chloe looked appalled. “We still have twenty minutes.”

“Oh.” Kim shook his head, scrambling to do damage control. “Plan changed while you were out. We’re meeting out the back way in five.”

Adrien’s brain hovered eerily above his head; phantom words scrolled out beside the image. Chloe took her eyes off of Kim, which was a mistake. “Well,” she said, “I… I could use another couple of minutes. I-I’m sure if we get in touch with Captain Reynolds--”

Adrien opened his eyes and Chloe, having cut herself off, walked towards the computer.

Kim fidgeted, his nerves making his temper flare. “Captain gave his orders; we play it by the book.”

Adrien shrieked, ripping anger down Kim’s spine. He slapped a hand over Adrien’s mouth, but Chloe shut down the machine, grabbed the information, and crossed to Adrien. Kim was aghast as Chloe pushed his hand out of the way and gently cradled Adrien’s face.

“Adrien, Adrien, shh, shh, it’s okay,” Chloe murmured, kissing his eyelids. “It’s okay.”

“Get him in the chair,” Kim snapped, irritation stringing him out like a man’s guts on the deck. “Let’s go.”

Chloe continued trying to comfort Adrien, but his face crumpled, fear screaming from his eyes.

“No, no, no,” Adrien said, clinging to the lapels of Chloe’s white doctor’s coat. “They come out of the black. They come when you call.”

Kim almost felt guilty for giving the siblings up, but the weirdness that was Adrien Agreste was enough for Kim to realize he was doing the right thing by getting rid of them.

Then Adrien started crying.

“Adrien, it’s okay.” Chloe rubbed fat tears away from his cheeks with her thumbs. “It’s over. We’re leaving.”

Kim almost said something, anything to calm Adrien down, but then the kid opened his dumb, creepy mouth and nonsense came out. “Your toes are in the sand.”

Kim couldn’t stand this. “And your head’s up your--”

“Hey!” Chloe shouted, turning to Kim with anger reddening her face. “Back off.”

Kim pointed at Chloe’s nose. “You just make sure he keeps his mouth shut. Don’t need him screeching when we’re trying to make a quiet getaway.”

Kim turned on his heel, opening the door while Chloe got Adrien up. Minutes later, as Chloe pushed a subdued Adrien in the wheelchair again, Kim tried to hurry them along, sweat beading on his upper lip.

All he had to do was get rid of them, get his reward, and get out. A whole lotta getting, but Kim was good at getting what he deserved.

“You should have let me know when the plan changed,” Chloe hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

Kim pursed his lips. He didn’t have time to deal with an annoyed girl as fragile as glass. “I told you when you needed to know,” he said. “What are you griping about? You got what you came for.”

Kim herded Chloe and Adrien into a deserted hallway, the contact point between Kim and Sausage Hair’s men. Kim walked ahead of Adrien and Chloe, ready to drop them off any time now, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, but then Adrien started whining again.

“No, no, I can’t go back.” Adrien flailed in the chair, trying to climb out of it, only to be held down by Chloe. “I don’t wanna go back.”

Kim rolled his eyes and opened a door at the end of the hall. He heard Chloe mumbling useless comfort words, thinking he should tell Adrien to shut his fool mouth. But that wouldn’t help at all, and Kim knew it.

One more door. One more door, and he was out, out of the hospital, out of debt, and out of Marinette’s crew forever. He’d have enough money to go set himself up on a Core planet of his own.

Kim opened the door to the rear exit of the hospital and was immediately blinded by flashlights on guns.

“Federal Marshals! Don’t move!” Someone shouted. Blinking away the wriggling spots in his eyes, Kim zeroed in on the person who spoke, only to see Sausage Hair. “Chloe and Adrien Agreste, by the authority of the Union of Allied Planets, you are hereby bound by law.”

Agents swarmed the pair, jerking Adrien to his feet and handcuffing Chloe’s hands behind her back. Sausage Hair’s ugly lips twisted into the smuggest smile Kim had ever seen. “Take them to Processing.”

One of Sausage Hair’s minions cuffed Adrien, and then another moved to Kim, handcuffing him, too. Kim was stunned to be bound, but he realized that was a smart move on the part of Sausage Hair: if Kim was “arrested,” too, that meant he could keep his cover.

And get his reward.

After Chloe and Adrien were led away, Kim whispered to Sausage Hair, “So, you gonna take me away for questioning now? How you wanna play it?”

Sausage Hair raised a sculpted brow. “You’re under arrest for aiding and abetting Federal fugitives. Better get a lawyer.”

A cold pit opened up in Kim’s stomach. Coldness that swiftly turned to hot anger. “You’re kidding, right? What about my money?”

Sausage Hair smirked again. “You mean my money? For apprehending the three fugitives? I expect I’ll be getting it soon.”

Red flooded Kim’s vision. He lunged for Sausage Hair, but one of her minions shot him in the chest with a salt gun. Pain ricocheted through Kim’s cracked sternum, radiating out through his rib cage and spreading from there to the rest of his extremities. Angry tears stung his eyes, and try as he might to stay awake and kill someone, he just…

He just couldn’t.

Chapter Text

When Kim woke up from the gunshot to the chest on Ariel, he was seated next to a worried Chloe and a stoic Adrien in what looked like a Federal Processing room. It was swarmed with armed agents. Chloe leaned over to him and started whispering, though Kim didn’t care a whit for her opinion.

“If those officers hadn’t been armed, I think you’d have had a chance.”

Kim blinked, his mind still muzzy. What? He furrowed his brow, thoroughly confused. She thinks I tried to… rescue them?

“A guy shoves me, I shove him.” Kim’s lip curled back from his teeth. “Not like I was trying to mount a rescue.”

“Still,” Chloe said, looking like she wanted to pat Kim on the back, “I appreciate you trying.”

Kim couldn’t stand it. The guilt had wormed its way into his belly and was eating him alive from the inside. “You know what I’d appreciate?” he snapped, causing Chloe to flinch. “You stop flapping that pretty mouth at me. I’m trying to figure a way out of here; can’t do it with you yammering.”

Adrien, as always, did not take the hint. “They took Christmas away.”

Kim glanced over to him, brows raised and confusion running rampant through his brain. “What now?”

Adrien began rocking. “Came downstairs for the shiny presents. They took the tree and stockings. Nothing left but the coal.”

Kim had been bending uncomfortably for a while now because of these siblings, and now he was at his breaking point. He turned to Chloe and shouted, “Will you shut him up?!”

Adrien fixed his green eyes on Kim and gave him the creepiest smile ever. “Don’t look in the closet, either. It’s greedy. It’s not in the spirit of the holiday.”

Kim rolled his eyes. “You shut up, right now, or so help me, I will shut you up.”

***

Waiting with their payload just outside the hospital, where their getaway ambulance rested, Marinette paced. Kim was late, and nothing good ever came from Kim being late. She turned to Alya, tempted to wring her hands--or wring Kim’s neck. “Time?”

Alya didn’t even bother checking her watch. Alya always knew what time it was; she had some kind of weird sixth sense. “Ten minutes past rendezvous.”

“Something’s happened.” That was the only logical conclusion Marinette could draw. She didn’t want to draw that conclusion, didn’t like it--heck, she hated it--but that was the only thing she could think of. Now, what, exactly, had happened was more puzzling.

Nino raised his comm to his lips. “Luka, are you linked?”

“Uh…” Luka’s voice crackled over the radio, and Marinette started to get mad at Kim. Real mad. So mad she could spit. “I am now. What do you need?”

Nino glanced at Marinette, who at this point was mighty pissed. “Find out if there’s any kind of security alert in the hospital.”

Luka sounded like he was punching keys. “Hang on.”

Alya stood in an at-ease position, her hands folded behind her back. “Could be they’re just late.”

“Not this late.” Marinette gritted her teeth. If Kim had endangered Chloe and Adrien… “Kim would have sent up a flag.”

Luka’s voice meandered over the radio from the bridge of the Miraculous. Nino held the comm out so Marinette and Alya could hear. “Nothing from hospital security, nothing on the local pipeline, either.” Luka sighed, and Marinette could picture him tilting his head. “Although I am getting some weird chatter from the official two-six-two. Sounds like…”

Luka gave a pregnant pause. Marinette was on tenterhooks. She shouldn’t take her anger out on Luka, but she wanted him to hurry up.

Finally, he spoke. “They’re talking about ducks.”

“Code,” Alya said. That’s all she had to say.

“Feds got ‘em.” Marinette immediately turned to Nino and started barking out orders. If the Alliance had nabbed Adrien, she’d have to work fast. “Have Luka bring up a hospital schematic on the Cortex. Find me a way into that security substation.”

Alya handed Marinette a communicator and she placed the earpiece into her ear.

Nino chose that moment to object, foolishly, wasting time. “Wait a minute,” he said, raising his hands. “You don’t even know for sure if they’re in there.”

Marinette bit back a snarl. She shouldn’t take her anger out on Nino either. “Gonna find out.” She tested her comm. “Check.”

Alya, faithful, dependable Alya, nodded. “Coming in clear.” She handed Marinette a gun and strapped another gun to her ankle.

Nino looked incredulous. “So you’re just going to walk in through the front door?”

“No.” Marinette chuckled. Nino could be ridiculous sometimes. “You’re going to find me a way around back.”

***

Kim was a trapped rat, a sitting duck, some other wounded animal clawing for escape. He had no idea what to do. All he wanted to do was kill Sausage Hair.

Lo and behold, she showed herself. “Get up.”

Adrien and Kim stood up, but Chloe remained seated. Sausage Hair pushed Kim back down, which made him grit his teeth. What now?

Chloe didn’t sound scared, which Kim thought was odd. “What’s going to happen to us?”

Sausage Hair pulled at Chloe’s jacket. “I said, get up.” Chloe shrugged her off and stood on her own, thrusting her face into Sausage Hair’s.

“Agent Rossi, I’m certain you’re working under a superior who is keeping close tabs on this case.” Chloe set her jaw, looking like someone who was gonna get shot to Kim. “I’m certain of that because important people don’t do field work. I’m also quite certain your superior wants me and my brother alive.”

Sausage Hair looked like she was blowing steam from her nostrils. It was almost funny, but Kim wasn’t laughing.

“Now,” Chloe said. “I’m not going to move from this spot until one of two things happens. You answer my very simple question; or you shoot me.”

Kim nearly barked out a laugh at that. He couldn’t help it; this scrap of a woman bossing a Fed around?

Sausage Hair clenched her fists and said, very precisely, “We are transferring you into a holding area until you can be retrieved.”

“Retrieved?” Chloe asked, furrowing her brow. “By whom?”

Kim caught Adrien giving a keening whine through clenched teeth. Kim was this-close to smacking the kid. If only Kim’s hands weren’t cuffed behind his back.

“People who want you alive. People not me.” Sausage Hair gestured to her minions. “Take them.”

As Sausage Hair left, two of the minions took the three of them to a holding cell, leading Kim in first. Kim knew that this would be the only time he had to strike. He thrust his elbow out, smacking the guard in the face. He kicked the second guard in the stomach and pinned the first guard to the wall with his shoulder.

Chloe finally acted; she did the same to the second guard, but soon fell to the ground because she was a useless woman. Kim knocked the first guard to the ground and cracked his skull with a sickening crunch.

Kim rolled away, whipping his bound hands under his legs. His hands were still bound, but they were now in front of him rather than behind. He climbed on top of the first guard and started throttling him. Take it, dog! Take it!

Adrien started crying, letting loose choked-off sobs, but Kim couldn’t pay attention to the loser right then: the first guard managed to roll over until he was on top of Kim. Crap!

The guard started punching Kim, and pain bloomed in his nose, which spurted blood. Kim struggled to regain the top position and managed to do it, hauling the first guard to his feet. Kim glanced over at Chloe and saw that she’d pinned the second guard down with a knee in his stomach.

Good for her, Kim thought. Now…

***

Marinette’s fake smile was easy, happy, and likely to split her face. She walked down a crowded hall of the hospital in her morgue worker outfit beside Alya, wondering where things had gone wrong.

“Uh, Nino?” Marinette called into her comm. “We need a little direction here.”

Nino’s voice crackled in her ear. “Working on it. Luka, what do you got?”

Luka sounded tense in Marinette’s ears. “Hang a left when you reach cyro. You’ll see a door.”

Marinette and Alya did as they were told and rushed towards the door. “Okay,” Nino said. “Go through that door and down to green level.”

Marinette and Alya rushed down the stairwell Nino had indicated. Marinette was, once again, mighty annoyed. “This is exactly what I didn’t want,” she growled as she took step after step. “I wanted simple. I wanted in-and-out. I wanted easy money.”

Alya looked at her askance. “Things always get a little more complicated, don’t they, sir?”

“Just once,” Marinette spat, “I’d like things to go according to plan.”

“Uh, guys,” Nino whispered, sounding alarmed. “You might want to hurry.”

“Oh.” Marinette raised her brows. “Is there a problem?”

She bit back on her “another.”

Nino swallowed audibly. “I think that reinforcements just arrived.”

***

Kim and the first guard were still grappling, but he wrapped his hands around the man’s head and jerked it to the side, snapping his neck. Glancing back at Chloe showed she was appalled, again, but the second guard was out for the count, too, Kim noticed. Kim staggered to the dead guard and took the handcuff keys; unlocking himself, then Chloe, then Adrien.

Chloe picked up the second guard’s gun and handed it to Kim, which he took with as much gratitude that he could muster up, which was none at all. Chloe grabbed Adrien and left the cell, starting to head to the left.

Nope. Kim headed to the right.

“What are you doing?” Chloe cried.

Double nope. “Going out the way we came in.”

Chloe gasped, bringing her hands to her face. “There are at least four armed Feds out there.”

“Six,” Kim corrected, spoiling for a fight. He was gonna shoot some Alliance hirelings if it was the death of himself. “I know.”

Chloe was having none of his self-sacrificial tendencies. She pointed to the left. “We run.”

Adrien glanced between them, eyes wide like a baby deer whose mother was about to die. Kim ignored him. “You got no idea where that goes.”

“We’ll find our way,” Chloe insisted, placing a hand over her heart.

“I ain’t chancing that.” Kim cocked his gun. “I can handle the Feds.”

Adrien shook his head, his eyes vacant. “Doesn’t matter. They’re here.”

***

Agent Lila Rossi knew a good thing when she saw it. She was ready to collect her reward for nabbing the three fugitives. If she could have taken the entire crew of that vagabond Miraculous, she would have earned much more, but she’d take what she could get.

And now she was sitting at the Processing Room desk, facing the men her superiors had sent to collect the three and pay her. The two men were both lean, their cheekbones sharp and prominent and their hands covered by tight, bright blue gloves. The rest of their outfits were garish and colorful, and Lila knew very well that they were not Alliance, but thought themselves above it.

“Gentlemen,” Lila said, waving a hand for them to sit down, which they did not. “That was prompt. We’re almost finished here. The prisoners will be out in a minute. Let me get the paperwork for you.”

She motioned to a guard, commanding him with a mere gesture. “Bobby, bring that here.”

The Blue Gloves didn’t say anything. Lila continued. “Not that it will mean much.” She took the paperwork from Bobby, who returned to his post. “The man and the woman were tightlipped; the blond was just spewing gibberish. We got it all down.”

Blue Glove #1 looked concerned. “You spoke to the prisoners?”

“Well, yeah.” Lila shrugged. “Had to process ‘em.” Why was this a big deal? Lila didn’t know. She struggled to do damage control. “There was no interrogation, if that’s what you mean.” Blue Glove #2 leaned forward. “Didn’t do your job for you.”

“Did your men also speak with them?” Blue Glove #2 reached into his pocket--the skintight suit had pockets?--and pulled out something that looked like a pen. He elongated it with a snap to reveal a glowing blue cylinder that extended from either side of his fist, a high-pitched hum emanating from it.

What is that? Lila wondered. She was curious more than anything, but also irritated; when were these Blue Gloves going to give her her money? “My men spoke with the prisoners as much as they had to.”

The high-pitched humming sound crowded out everything in Lila’s ears. Pain struck her head, radiating down her body, and her eyes burned. She felt a trickle of something warm down her lip and brought a hand to her nose. Pulling her fingers away, she saw a small amount of blood, alarming her. I have a nosebleed? I’ll have to take care of that.

That stupid humming sound grew more and more intense, and the Blue Gloves stood there, smiling genially. Can they not hear it?

The cuticles on Lila’s fingers leaked blood. Lila’s mouth filled with it; she choked and gagged on the coppery tang, her heart hammering against her breastbone and panic kicking her in the belly. Terror struck her heart, making her gasp.

What? Lila thought, her distress spiking higher and higher. Am I dying?

Vision blackening and her instincts screaming at her to run, Lila collapsed.

***

Outside the holding cell, Kim heard distant screams and whipped his head up. Something was going on behind them, and he had absolutely no desire to figure out what. Latent terror filled his mouth as bile and his heart rate was thready.

“What is that?” he asked anyway, only to have Adrien whimper uselessly at him.

“Two by two.” Adrien’s hands fluttered around his face like caged birds with nowhere to go. “Gloves of blue. Two by two.” Kim glanced at him, feeling uneasy. Kid was talking nonsense again, and Kim didn’t have time for that, but it was… creepy. “Gloves… blue… two.”

Then Adrien bolted down the hallway, sobbing. Chloe darted after him. Kim glanced up the stairwell for a moment. This is my chance to escape.

But he couldn’t just leave them. They might lead the Feds right to me. Groaning, he followed.

Once Kim caught up to Adrien, he saw him push open a heavy metal door, running across an empty room. “Where’s he going?” Kim asked Chloe, thoroughly confused.

Chloe answered out of the corner of her mouth. “There must be some sort of exit this way.”

 

Kim scoffed. Kid was going to get them all killed. “I don’t see no exit.”

They ended up in an empty room, and Kim pulled Chloe aside. “I got no intention to run around like a rat in a maze ‘til we’re dead. Now, we’re going back.”

Someone shrieked in the distance. Kim looked back, gasped, and dashed after Adrien and Chloe, who’d taken off running down a stairwell. Oh, man, Kim thought, his hands shaking on his gun. What is that?

“Almost there.” Adrien panted, clearly not used to the exertion. He scampered down the stairwell. “Almost there.” He reached the bottom, Kim and Chloe close behind. “Almost there.”

Adrien stopped in front of a blue door and Kim almost ran into him but managed to stop just in time. “There.”

Hope filled Kim’s belly until he tried the door. Locked. “Stand back.”

Chloe pulled Adrien back, doing what she was told for once. “C’mere.”

Kim raised his gun and shot the lock, rather unsatisfyingly. “High-tech Alliance stuff.” He used the gun butt to beat at the lock, sweat running down his back in rivulets. Fear curdled his belly, turning sour behind his teeth. He felt someone breathing down the back of his neck, someone much more dangerous than a mere Fed.

Kim threw himself at the door but nothing worked. He kept beating on it and beating on it and beating on it--but then a sudden blast blew through the lock. Chloe shielded Adrien from shrapnel and Kim moved back, training his gun on the door.

Someone kicked the door open, and there, looming in Kim’s vision, were Marinette and Alya. He gasped. Relief flooded his brain; he’d almost gotten away with getting rid of the siblings--and surely Marinette would have something to say about that if she found out--but he’d never been so happy to see his captain.

She beckoned with a tilt of her head, and Kim followed.

***

Marinette rode in the back of their getaway ambulance, staring at Adrien, who was being sheltered by Chloe. He looked rattled, and the more like a wounded animal he seemed, the more angry Marinette got.

She didn’t even bother to look at Kim. Her picture of how the Feds had latched onto their trail and captured Adrien, Chloe, and Kim was fuzzy, but she had mighty suspicions of how it went down.

She couldn’t figure out what Kim was doing out by the back exit. Kim had absolutely no business being anywhere but out at the front. And the plan would have worked… Had Kim not betrayed her.

Marinette’s anger reached a boiling point. She clenched and unclenched her fists on her lap. Kim had threatened her crew. She had to deal with him--and quickly.

The ambulance pulled into the bay of the Miraculous. Marinette climbed out of the ambulance and stalked to the cockpit window, where Nino was waiting in the driver’s seat.

She frowned down at Nino. “Tell me we weren’t followed.”

Nino shook his head, relieving Marinette. “Nothing in our rearview the whole way back.”

“All right.” Marinette patted the top of the ambulance, urgency pounding at the back of her brain. “Take us out of the world as quick as you can.”

Nino eased his way out of the ambulance. “We’ll be out of atmo in five minutes.”

Marinette glanced around the bay, watching everyone else exit the ambulance and mill around, with Luka going over towards Chloe. Finally, Marinette spotted Kagami standing nearby the walkway.

 

“Hey.” Marinette waved at Kagami, the pounding in her head subsiding to a dull roar. “How was your thing?”

“As advertised.” Kagami’s tone was as dry as dust. “Lots of needles and cold exam tables.” She hesitated, which floored Marinette. Kagami never hesitated. “I heard you had some excitement.”

“Oh, nothing much.” Marinette waved a hand. “Lots of running around. A little gunplay.” She crossed towards Kim and Luka. “A couple of needles.”

“Next time we come to the Core,” Kim started, causing Marinette’s irritation to explode in the form of a tight smile, “I’m staying with the preacher.”

Marinette slapped Kim on the shoulder. “Oh, you hadn’t come, you wouldn’t be getting your big payday.”

Kim looked a little confused. Good.

Chloe and Adrien crossed to Marinette, both looking a little worse for wear. “So…” Marinette pulled Luka into a back-to-front hug, bringing a chuckle to his lips. She’d almost lost two of her crew today, and she was feeling sentimental as she talked to Chloe. Luka leaned into the touch. “Did you get what you needed?”

“I think I did.” Chloe sighed, a smile coming to her lips. “I have all the information I downloaded off the imager, I just have to go over it and then… Ah, I’m hopeful.”

She turned her attention to Adrien, who beamed at her. Marinette’s breath caught in her throat; Adrien was, as always, gorgeous when he smiled.

And she’d almost lost him.

Luka blinked at Kim. “What happened to your face?”

Kim stared at her like a dog that had been kicked and was trying to figure out why. Marinette knew why; she just didn’t want to believe it.

Luka motioned to his eyebrow - ow. Kim reached a hand halfway to the cut on his face before shrugging.

“Oh, uh,” he said tonelessly. “Nothing.”

“He was amazing,” Chloe gushed, making Marinette sick. “I can’t even begin to tell you.” Chloe slapped Kim’s shoulder, and he looked quite a bit sicker than Marinette. “We wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for him.” Chloe’s eyes shone with sincerity. “Thank you.”

“Well, hey,” Kim said, smiling uneasily. “You’re part of my crew.”

Marinette eased into a soft smile, hiding her burning rage beneath. “I think I might cry.” Chloe and Luka laughed. “All right, Kim, help me with the cargo. Everyone, make yourself useful, you’ve got jobs to do; go do ‘em.”

Everyone else walked away, leaving Marinette and Kim alone by the ambulance. She picked up a big wrench, the better to hit him with, my dear.

Kim opened a casket. “This’s gotta be our best take ever.”

“Well.” Marinette tapped the wrench against her other hand. “Doc had a good notion. The girl’s got a decent criminal mind.”

Kim grunted as he moved some cargo out of the way and walked towards Marinette. “So,” he said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. “What’re you buying with your cut?”

The gall of him, Marinette thought. The unmitigated gall. He was talking to her as if he’d never betrayed her, as if he wasn’t the one who’d called the Feds and nearly doomed them all.

As if he was the one who hadn’t hurt Adrien.

Marinette swung her wench, striking Kim hard in the face. Kim, caught completely by surprise, fell to the floor unconscious. Marinette glared down at Kim, dropping the wrench she was holding onto the deck with a clatter.

She was quietly upset.

***

Kim woke up with a pounding in his skull on the floor of the cargo bay of the Miraculous. He spotted a radio on the floor beside him.

He next spotted a door with a small, diamond-shaped window closing him in and locking him out of the rest of the ship as it lifted into the sky. He scrambled to his feet, realizing he only had a few feet between him and the exterior bay door.

“Hey!” Kim slammed up against the window, desperate to get anyone’s attention. “What are you doing?”

He saw a finger tap on the window then point down to the radio. Kim picked the radio up. The radio crackled to life in Kim’s hand. “The job’s done,” Marinette said. “Figured it was time for a little chat.”

Kim pounded on the door controls to no avail and glanced back through the tiny window that led to safety only to see a stone-faced Marinette with her hand hovering over the button that opened the exterior bay door.

No, don’t! Kim thought desperately, his eyes widening when Marinette slammed the button. The doors began creaking open, exposing him to the upper atmosphere of the planet, Ariel. The noise of the engine, the sunshine, and the wind--the wind!--flooded the tiny room.

“Seems to me,” Marinette said into her radio, startling Kim back into looking at her, “we had a solid plan. Smooth, you might say. But what I can’t figure out is what you were doing ‘round the back exit.”

Marinette leaned against the door, and Kim quickly spoke into his radio, intending on begging her to let him in before he got sucked out into space. But what came out of his mouth instead were excuses and lies. “What? I couldn’t go out the front; I had to improvise,” he said. “Open the door.”

Marinette’s words dropped into the space like a cow thrown from a spaceship’s exterior bay doors in atmo, left to plummet to the ground helplessly like he would be.

“You called the feds.”

“What?” Kim screamed into his radio. “I got pinched!”

Marinette’s eyes flashed with anger. “Which is what happens when you call the feds.”

Kim clung to the door, his heart hammering in his throat and making it hard to speak. He was seconds away from full-blown panic. “No. I would never do that, my hand to God, may He strike me down as I’m standing here.”

“Well, you won’t be standing there long.” Marinette’s heart was made of flint and steel. Kim knew that, but never before had she made him fear for his life. And he believed her, too--Marinette never did anything without a reason, and she carried out her threats.

That was one thing he admired about her when he wasn’t on the receiving end.

“The minute we break atmo,” she continued, gesturing to the opening bay door, “you’ll be a lot thinner once you get sucked out that hole.”

The door alarm sounded, a clarion call that drummed in Kim’s blood. “Oh, come on, Marinette.”

The rush of wind in his ears almost made him cry. He could barely hear the Miraculous’ AI announcing that the ship was leaving atmo in two minutes.

Two minutes. Two minutes and he was a dead man.

Tears struck his eyes. “That ain’t no way for a man to die.”

“Secure cargo bay door at once,” the Miraculous’ AI intoned flatly.

“You wanna kill me, shoot me,” Kim said, a last-ditch effort to appeal to Marintte’s twisted sense of honor. “Just let me in.”

Marinette cocked her head to the side. Kim thought uncharitably that she looked like a curious bird of prey. The image gave him chills. “You know,” she said, “I hear tell they used to keelhaul traitors back in the day.” She shrugged. “I don’t have a keel to haul you on, so…”

“Oh.” A cold pit opened up in Kim’s stomach. Nausea punched him in the throat. His hands shook around the radio; he wasn’t going to be able to hold on to the bay much longer, and the wind kept tugging at his clothes… “Okay. I’m sorry, all right?”

“Sorry for what, Kim?” Marinette stared him in the face. Kim’s gaze flicked away. “I thought you’d never do such a thing?”

Bile filled Kim’s mouth. “The money was too good. I got stupid.” He had to admit to her what he’d done; maybe then she would take pity on him. “I’m sorry, okay? Be reasonable. What’re you taking this so personal for? It ain’t like I ratted you out to the Feds.”

Marinette’s stony gaze turned wrathful. Her voice cracked and trembled, and her face reddened with anger. “Oh, but you did. You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me. But since that’s a concept you can’t seem to wrap your head around, then you got no place here.”

Marinette shoved her finger against the window. “You did it to me, Kim. And that’s a fact.”

Marinette turned on her heel to walk away, the radio hanging uselessly in her right hand. Kim glanced over his shoulder, his eyes filling with tears that the wind whipped away before he could let them fall.

For once in his life, Kim felt… well, he didn’t know what he felt. Guilt? Remorse? Acceptance of his fate? He was certainly depressed.

He swallowed hard, licking his chapped lips. “What’re you gonna tell the others?”

Marinette stopped and raised her radio to her mouth. Her back was to him, but Kim could tell from the set of her shoulders that she was still quietly pissed. “About what?”

“About why I’m dead.”

Marinette lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug, tossing away Kim’s very life in an off-hand comment. “I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Make something up.” Kim sniffled, though it wasn’t a ploy for her attention or pity; this was a soft, genuine sniffle he hoped she didn’t overhear. He was so weak. “Don’t tell ‘em what I did.”

Marinette spun slowly to face him. She stood still for a moment, looking at him.

Kim felt stripped bare. In that assessing gaze was no judgment or pain or desire; it was simply a look, something undecipherable. He had no idea what Marinette wanted or what she was going to do.

But he was resigned to his fate: she flicked her eyes away and he realized he’d lost. She wasn’t going to save him. His betrayal had been too great.

Kim didn’t know what to say. He’d never felt more vulnerable. He was like a raw, exposed nerve being poked at with a syringe and then sliced down the middle with a scalpel.

Kim closed his eyes. He couldn’t bear looking at his killer anymore. But he also couldn’t think of her as his murderer, either--he deserved this.

Ten seconds. Ten seconds and he was a dead man.

Kim heard the bay doors start to close. He opened his eyes, staring in shock at Marinette, who rested her hand on the button. She stalked towards the window, her jaw set and her bottom teeth poking out from her lower lip.

“The next time you decide to stab me in the back,” she hissed, tilting her face up to look him in the eyes, “have the guts to do it to my face.”

Kim shuddered. He’d never seen her so angry. She’d saved his life, but at what cost? Was he still a part of her crew?

Marinette left the radio on the window and walked calmly up the stairs, radiating quiet fury. Kim watched her leave, still in disbelief that she’d chosen to save him.

Kim started trembling and he couldn’t stop. He shook from head to toe, nearly throwing up.

It was a calculated risk, saving him. But Marinette knew what she was doing: Kim would never stab her in the back again. Next time he’d betray her, she would be facing him and she would be armed.

Staring where she’d left him, Kim realized something: she’d shut the bay doors, but he was still trapped in the cargo bay.

“Can I come in?”

***

Having studied the scans of Adrien’s brain, Chloe had high hopes that the combination of medications that she’d planned to administer to him would help him feel better. She entered their room holding a syringe and smiling, her heart light.

Adrien was seated on his bunk, drawing Russian nesting dolls.

“Hi.” Adrien glanced up at Chloe’s greeting. “What are you doing?”

Adrien gestured to the picture and lowered his eyes to it. His expressions were always readable to Chloe, and this time, he seemed calmer than she’d ever seen him since… the Academy. “Drawing.”

Chloe sat beside him, indulging in watching him draw for a few moments. He was extremely skilled, just like he was in everything he attempted. Adrien was a flawless performer; that’s why he was chosen and wanted to go to the Academy.

Chloe just hadn’t known she’d be sending her brother in to be hurt, over and over and over again. “That’s really good.”

Adrien looked askance at the syringe. Fear licked at his eyes. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, I, ah,” Chloe started, tempted to rub the back of her neck, a habit she’d picked up from him. “I brought some medicine. Do you remember why we went to the hospital?”

Adrien sat up more fully, his eyes now filled with resignation. “Time to go to sleep again.”

The syringe felt so heavy in Chloe’s hand. She reached down and took Adrien’s fingers, stroking the backs of his knuckles.

“No, xiǎo dìdì,” Chloe whispered affectionately, full of hope. “It’s time to wake up.”

Chapter Text

Indistinct voices all whispered at once to Adrien. They said nothing and everything, and if he could only get a bead on them, they’d reveal the secrets of the universe. He was so close and yet so far, straining his ears to hear and remember, remember, remember...

Then, abruptly, they sharpened into one voice, a man Adrien didn’t recognize: “We’re all just floating.”

Adrien’s eyes popped open, his chest heaving with poorly-repressed emotion. Tears rolled down his heated face, and he could barely breathe, his fingernails digging into his bare breastbone. Shirts were scratchy distractions; the cotton would make him bleed if he let it.

He didn’t intend to let it.

Easing off his bed, Adrien slid open the metal door to his bunk, hearing indistinct whispering again, even though this time he thought he was awake.

He never could tell if he was awake or dreaming these days. He knew he used to be able to tell, and if that wasn’t the most frustrating thing ever--he didn’t know what else could be as frustrating. Everything was fuzzy: his vision was fuzzy, seeing the metal corridors of a ship he’d begun to consider home; his tongue was fuzzy, resting in his mouth like a poisonous snake and tasting just as bad; and his brain was fuzzy, lacking the mental acuity--

Mental acuity? He used to know what those words meant.

Didn’t he?

Padding down Miraculous’ hall in bare feet, seeking out those voices, Adrien noticed everything smelled of cherries. Sometimes things smelled sharp, like ozone and thunderstorms; today, the metal corridors oozed floral scents.

That meant… someone was happy.

Adrien strained his ears again. Luka was giggling. “You couldn’t possibly have--”

“No,” Adrien’s sister interrupted. “I wish I was lying… I just…”

Adrien prowled down the corridor towards the common area, his steps as light and as graceful as a crane looking for crawdads in a lazy river. Wasn’t he a crane? Sometimes he thought he was a crane.

Sometimes he thought he was a crawdad.

But he was never the river; rivers were too broad, too all-encompassing--Adrien would go crazy if he were a river, stretched from bank to bank with all the bends and rocks and land and--

“You know, we’d all just made surgeon.” Chloe’s voice interrupted his thoughts just like she’d interrupted Luka earlier. Adrien craned--ha!--his neck around the corner, peeking into the common room. Luka and Chloe were seated on a couch, with Luka’s feet in Chloe’s lap.

Adrien wasn’t the only person--was he a person or a crane? He could never tell--who’d decided to go barefoot today.

Barefoot, adjective, Adrien found his mind reciting at him. "Without shoes and stockings," Old English bærfot; see bare (adjective) + foot (noun). Similar compounds in other Germanic languages.

And then Adrien’s brain took a turn, giving him an opinion that he was relieved to find was harmless. Barefoot. What a funny word.

“That was it,” Chloe said, tickling Luka’s toes. Adrien could feel the gentle stroking on his own feet. He’d long stopped questioning being able to feel phantom touches; they were just a part of him now. Did they used to be a part of him? He couldn’t remember. “We were the elite. The world was ours, you know?”

Luka’s gentle smile warmed Adrien’s heart. Not literally; his heart was 97.7 degrees, as was the rest of his body. But Luka’s amusement washed over Adrien, so much so that he bathed in the feeling. “So, so you had to be naked?” Luka said, and Adrien beamed. He’d never heard this story.

“Naked. Yes. And, uh, on top of the statue of Hippocrates.” Adrien’s face heated when Chloe’s did; he saw her blush and his chest grew tight with embarrassment, like he knew hers was. Well, he didn’t know.

Conjecture. That was a funny word, too. Hypothesis. Another funny word. Scientific method. The funniest words of all.

Luka laughed, tickling Adrien’s belly, and Chloe continued. “Can you just picture me?”

“What, naked?” Luka teased goodnaturedly, and Adrien felt Chloe’s sheepish grin splitting his own face. Sweet maraschino cherries wrinkled Adrien’s nose. “Oh, well, hmm. Let’s see. I’m gonna have to conjure up a… Yeah, that’s--that’s gonna be difficult.”

Luka laughed again, nudging Chloe in the jaw with her bare foot. Adrien turned his head as Chloe did, but also felt the smooth skin of her face on his own foot.

Luka’s eagerness to hear the rest of the story almost made Adrien pant. “So the Feds come?”

“Mm-mm. There were no Feds.” Chloe’s smile turned coy, and Adrien knew what she was going to say before she said it. He mouthed the words, not wanting to break up the cute rendezvous. His sister deserved to be happy. “Until I started singing.”

Luka burst into delighted laughter, building happiness behind Adrien’s breastbone. Chloe joined in, and the combination of both of them giggling and in good moods buoyed Adrien; he could fly, he could fly, he could fly. He felt his feet lifting off the floor even though he knew they remained firmly planted on the metal floor.

The floor was cold but Chloe’s lap was warm; that’s how he knew he was rooted to the spot.

Chloe struggled to regain her prim composure, which made Adrien sad despite her amusement coursing through his veins. “This--This is not--”

Luka leaned forward, and Adrien thought that Chloe’s lips looked rather kissable at that moment. What? No. Desire stabbed his belly. That’s not my thought. “What did you sing?”

“This is not funny.” Chloe was insistent on this point, but Adrien knew she was lying. Despite her and his embarrassment, she thought the story was hilarious and was so happy to tell someone about it, even if that person was just a mechanic on a vagabond airship.

Chloe’s opinion made Adrien sad. He liked Luka. The man was sweet to him, and understanding, and played a mean game of jacks, though Luka had been uncomfortable with him ever since Adrien had defended him from three brutes with guns. Adrien had picked up a gun and shot them all with his eyes closed--at least, that’s what he thought happened.

The world stank of garbage that day.

Chloe was trying to be modest. Adrien thought it didn’t suit her. “This… this is a morality tale about the evils of sake.”

Chloe and Luka snickered to each other, but then suddenly stopped, noticing Adrien eavesdropping. His heart slammed in his throat as the scent on the wind suddenly shifted, smelling of blood.

Chloe’s voice finally matched her mood: harsh and angry. “I would be there right now.”

Tears pricked Adrien’s eyes. He shrank back until he heard them cackling again. “I mean, it was…” Chloe gasped for air through her laughter. “It was… it was either that or the national anthem. I… reports vary.”

Adrien covered his mouth with a shaking hand. Was Chloe’s anger real? He knew she was disappointed in him for taking her away from his elite world of spun sugar and shattered glass. She belonged there, clean, holding a scalpel in a hospital and cutting into people and not with him, trapped on a hunk of metal hurtling through the cosmos.

Did his brain do a thing? Was there an Event? All he could feel was joy emanating from the patchwork couch.

And the joy, blended with the anger at him, turned his stomach sour.

When he felt Luka smiling, Adrien turned to leave. “And you didn’t remember any of this?”

Chloe’s voice rang in Adrien’s ears--or was it his head?--as he walked up the stairs. “I remember talking the Feds out of telling my father. Or--Or paying the Feds not to tell my father. I get fuzzy on the aspects.”

As he meandered towards the kitchen, Adrien caressed the walls of the metal ship as he walked. They sang to him stories--all the walls were old and recycled, having been melted down from other things. This wall had been a statue. This wall had been a lawnmower.

This wall had been a prison bar.

Adrien ripped his hand away from that one; that wall didn’t sing but sobbed.

“So like, never?” Kim’s voice filtered into Adrien’s ears, and he could both hear and feel the incredulity. He felt a towel tucked into the belt he wasn’t wearing before he saw Kim standing at the stove, grilling something.

Incredulity was a funny word, too. It almost rhymes with insalubrity, the process of being insalubrious: grotty, shambly, unhealthy.

Shepherd Fu answered, and his amusement smelled different than Kim’s. Fu smelled like mint and strawberries; Kim smelled like wet dog. The combination was enough to nauseate Adrien.

“Well, no,” Fu said.

“Not ever never?” Kim sounded nonplussed; Adrien felt that was true. Kim was often bewildered. His brain would be tiny if brains worked like that. For now, his brain was 1,345 grams and mostly made of water and thin connections.

Easily squishable, brains. Adrien wondered how one would feel under his fingernails.

Adrien crept into the dining room, not wishing to be seen or heard. He knew from Kim’s very first word that the man was talking about sex; Kim’s mind was almost always on sex or money.

Fu was infinitely patient; Adrien knew Fu’s patience had an end but the Shepherd apparently hadn’t reached it yet. His congeniality, never wanting to rock the boat unless absolutely necessary, bled through Adrien’s unease, setting him to rights. “Some orders allow Shepherds to marry, but I follow a narrower path.”

“But, I mean, you still got the urge.” Kim always, always, always pushed limits. Fu felt--and so Adrien felt--that Kim had absolutely no sense of finesse. “They don’t… cut it off, or nothin’?”

Adrien nearly laughed, but that would give the game away.

“Mm, no, I’m more or less intact.” Fu shrugged, and Adrien’s shoulders moved. “I just…” Fu entered the dining room; Adrien knew he was going to sit at the table, so Adrien snuck into the kitchen area to avoid being seen. “... direct my energy elsewhere.”

“You mean like masturbating?” Kim’s brows rose. So did Adrien’s.

Fu’s scoff quietly left Adrien’s mouth; he felt the puff of air on his lips without moving them. “I hope you’re not thinking of taking orders yourself.”

Kim snickered, and the corners of Adrien’s lips quirked up. “Oh, yeah, that’ll be the day.”

Conversation suddenly stopped; all the air was sucked from Adrien’s lungs. The sound left the room, and Kim’s face loomed in Adrien’s blackening vision.

“I got stupid.” Kim’s words dropped into the space like two ton rocks into a small, still pond. Fear filled Adrien’s mouth; he gagged. “The money was too good.”

Adrien started. He slowly turned to Fu, who was looking away from her and emanating an aura so deadly, Adrien shivered.

“I don’t give half a hump if you’re innocent or not,” Fu snarled. Then time snapped back into place like a rubberband; Adrien felt Fu’s smile on his own mouth, directed at Kim. “So where does that put you?”

Fear curdled Adrien’s belly. His steps trudged from the room as he backed out towards the other door. Being a dancer, Adrien possessed the ability to control exactly how much sound he made with his feet, and he knew he made no sound now.

Adrien could still see them talking in his mind’s eye. Kim was laughing, looking at Fu; Fu was laughing, looking at Kim. Kim was still cooking food, and Fu was in the process of eating. Adrien felt the food slide down his own clogged throat and approved of the taste.

“It ain’t impossible! Saint Kim, it’s got a ring to it.”

Fu grinned, and Adrien, walking in the corridor, felt his lips pull back from his teeth. “I’m just trying to remember how many miracles you’ve performed.”

Kim stirred his meat; Adrien felt his hand move in a circle without his permission. “I once hit a guy in the neck from 500 yards with a bent scope. Don’t that count upstairs?”

“Oh,” Fu said, chuckling, “it’ll be taken into consideration.”

“You made that sound kinda ominous.”

Adrien exited the kitchen area and passed into the corridor leading to the bridge. From a short distance, he could see Nino seated on the pilot’s chair, Alya in his lap. They were fully clothed but entwined, Alya stroking the back of Nino’s head as he pressed his lips to her throat.

Adrien sucked a breath over his teeth. He felt the delicious, wet pressure on his neck and the gentle carding of fingers through his hair. Alya and Nino’s passion for each other swamped his senses; desire flared to life in his blood, and he ran his fingers down his chest and belly in an effort to avoid being swept away by the emotion.

These feelings were confusing, but it wasn’t like he’d never felt them before; he felt what Marinette felt whenever she looked at him. He didn’t know if he liked her or if he liked her liking him, but he thought he liked her. She was protective of him and all her crew, and that was good.

Alya groaned, tugging on Nino’s hair; Adrien felt a sharp pull at the base of his skull that excited him more than he cared to admit. The scents of sweat and skin and gunsmoke filled his nose. Grounding himself with his own physical touch wasn’t working. Heat burning his cheeks and chest and belly, Adrien retreated, leaving Nino and Alya their privacy.

The indistinct whispers were back. Anger screamed from the catwalks; Adrien avoided getting drawn into the fight between Marinette and Kagami but couldn’t quite avoid being bowled over by their irritation.

Adrien entered the cargo bay, moving as if he were fleeing, which he figured he was but couldn’t be certain. He’d certainly intended to flee. Didn’t he?

Whispers filled his brain. Crowded, crowded, crowded.

Silence descended as a branch under his bare foot cracked. He took a step back, finding himself in the cargo bay, which was covered in dead leaves and branches. He bent, staring down curiously at the branch he’d stepped on.

Not understanding why, Adrien picked up the branch. His lips moved. “It’s just an object. It doesn’t mean what you think.”

Time snapped.

The cargo bay was no longer covered in dead leaves.

Luka and Chloe were standing at a distance, their hands raised. Kagami was watching from the catwalks. Fu was gentle, Kim was annoyed, and Marinette glared straight ahead--at him, making Adrien shrink.

No one was whispering anymore. Everyone was shouting, their voices jumbling together. Adrien was nearly knocked off his feet by the tidal wave of emotions. The stenches of cat urine and vomit--and, strangely--the sea stung Adrien’s nose.

“Adrien,” Chloe cajoled, her disappointed voice worming its way into his brain and living there rent-free. “You know that’s not to be touched...”

“Stop yelling at him,” Kagami snapped. Adrien gripped his branch, stunned by the amount of rage he felt washing over him from above. Rage that was not directed at him, mind, but still hard to swallow. “That’s only going to make it worse.”

Fu stepped forward, his heart beating in Adrien’s throat. “Adrien, sweetheart--”

“I’m very sure you want nothing to do with that.” Marinette was, as ever, implacable. She was angry, angry, angry, and she wanted to protect her crew and protect him and protect herself--Why would she be protective? Where was the threat? Adrien didn’t know. “Put it down.”

Adrien swallowed his growing panic. “Luka?”

Luka backed away, his fear slamming into Adrien’s head like a physical blow.

Adrien’s branch suddenly felt cold and heavy in his hand. Cold and heavy and right. Why would a branch feel right? He glanced down to see that he was holding a large, shiny gun.

Adrien felt like he was born to hold guns.

His mother’s voice filtered in through the pandemonium. Oh, as usual, dear.

“What were you thinking?” Chloe waved her hands around her face, her distress tying Adrien’s stomach in knots. “How did you get a hold of that?”

“Don’t yell at him,” Kagami called down from the catwalk, her fingers clenched around the cold railing. Adrien felt the gun in his hand and the railing in the other.

Adrien’s lips were always moving. He mouthed words that the others spoke. But this time, his own voice came from his mouth. “It was in my hand.”

Wasn’t the gun in his hand? Wasn’t that obvious? Chloe could be so dense.

“I’m not mad,” Marinette lied. “Just let me…” She stepped towards him, and Adrien couldn’t shy away even as much as he wanted to. He was as solid as a river rock being tossed about; rivers were fluid and expansive, but the rock, the rock was small and hard and self-contained.

Adrien wished he was self-contained.

Marinette stepped up to him and closed her hand around the gun, gently extricating his fingers from it. “Thank you,” she said, removing the clip from the gun. Everyone’s relief slammed into Adrien, nearly knocking him off his feet. “Fully loaded, safety off. This here’s a recipe for unpleasantness.”

She turned to Chloe. “Does he understand that?”

Adrien felt a flare of irritation, but he couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from until he realized the feeling was his own hurt. “He understands.” Adrien’s response to Marinette was a desperate plea: don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me. “He doesn’t comprehend,”

“Well, I’m glad we’ve made that distinction.” Marinette raised her hand to his cheek, but let her fingers drop before she touched him. Her disappointment curled her fingers into a fist at her side. “No touching guns. Okay?”

That was one thing Adrien could agree on. “No touching.”

Stop yelling… Adrien thought, wondering if that was his thought or Kagami’s. ... at him.

Kagami’s, Adrien realized. A cacophony of voices abruptly buffeted Adrien’s head like a tornado ripping through a cornfield.

I just want to protect my crew.

He’s loopier than a loon in a crazy lake.

He’s going to get us all killed.

How did he get a gun?

Stop yelling at him, stop yelling at him, stop yelling at him…

Adrien’s brain scattered his selfness all around the cargo bay, leaving him stripped bare. He turned on his heel to flee the cargo bay and the thoughts that plagued him.

Chloe’s sadness pierced the haze he was in. “Adrien…”

He couldn’t help but scream back at her over her shoulder as he bolted away. “It’s getting very, very crowded!”

Chapter Text

As Adrien fled the cargo bay after scaring the ever-living life out of Marinette by picking up one of Kim’s guns, she turned to Chloe, accusations bursting from her lips. “Thought he was on the mend.”

“Uh, his…” Chloe backed up, almost hiding behind Luka. Marinette swallowed her irritation and gave Chloe a tight smile that seemed to loosen her lips. “His medications are erratic. There’s--there’s not one that her system can’t eventually break down, and--”

“When I want a lot of medical jargon,” Marinette said, the empty gun in her hands warmed from Adrien’s fingers, “I’ll talk to a doctor.”

Chloe blinked at her. “You are talking to a doctor.”

Marinette furrowed her brow, perplexed as to why Chloe was arguing. “Yeah, okay.” She tucked the gun in her belt and the clip in her pocket, unnerved to be touching something Adrien had no idea he’d been holding. “My point is could’ve been you he might have shot just then. The doctor, as you just made note of. And who, exactly, could fix you? Not nobody. We’re in deep space, corner of No and Where.”

Marinette stepped towards Chloe, poking a finger into the other woman’s chest. “You take extra care with him, ‘cause we’re very much alone out here.”

Chloe nodded stiffly, her eyes laced with pain. Pain but not confusion.

Good, Marinette thought, and went to seek out Kim to return his gun to him.

***

Marinette’s thighs burned as she climbed the stairs to the bridge, talking over her shoulder at Kim. “Those lockers are sealed. Only way he can get in there is if he knows the combination.”

“I don’t leave my guns around, Marinette.” Kim’s plaintive tone hitched Marinette’s shoulders around her ears. She was so annoyed with Kim; Adrien could have shot someone, and she blamed Kim for, yes, leaving his gun around. “And I don’t leave ‘em loaded.”

“Well, somehow he got his hands on your hardware.” Marinette paused on the stairs, gripping the railing. She fixed her gaze on Kim, intent on burning a hole into his brain. “Now, supposing he took up something with hull-piercing bullets?”

Kim huffed, irritating Marinette further. She was always on edge these days, she’d noticed with displeasure. “Bullets are soft lead, Marinette. Even Vera could…” He hesitated, which Marinette noted with a raised brow. “... barely breach the hull. She’s the best I got. Anyhow…”

Kim ran a hand through his greasy hair. The thought of being touched by those hands after they’d just touched hair grease shot bile into Marinette’s mouth. Then he opened his. “Let’s move this conversation in a not-Kim’s-fault direction? I didn’t make him crazy.” Kim shrugged. “I didn’t even want him on the ship.”

Rage curled Marinette’s lip back from her teeth, which clacked against each other as she shut her stiff jaw. Marinette glanced up the stairs to see Nino and Alya on the bridge, then leaned close to Kim and said, with quiet menace, “Is that the direction you want this conversation to go in?”

Kim paled. His lower lip quivered and he hugged himself. “Just don’t wanna take a lashing for something I ain’t the cause of.”

Marinette smelled Kim’s sweat, the least-appealing odor she’d ever smelled. Nothing like Adrien’s. Sickened, she turned away from him and climbed the stairs to the bridge.

Stars and space gas loomed in her vision.

Alya glanced up at Marinette’s approach, leaning on the center console of the ship. “Where’s Adrien at now?”

Marinette nodded at Alya, the one sensible coworker. “In his room, which I’m thinking we bolt from the outside from now on.”

Nino, seated in the pilot’s chair, decided to interject his opinion. “That’s a little extreme, isn’t it?”

Kim sounded incredulous. “Anybody remember him comin’ at me with a butcher knife?”

Nino waved his hands. “Wacky fun.”

“You wanna go, little man?” Kim stomped over to Nino and leaned over him threateningly. Marinette was about to intervene, protective of Nino, but he was completely flippant in his response.

“Only if it’s someplace with candlelight.”

Kim’s face twisted into a bizarre blend of wrathful and sulky, but before Marinette could tell him to calm his tits, he backed off.

“Sir, I know Adrien’s unpredictable,” Alya said, her arms folded and her chin tilted high, “but I don’t think he’d harm anyone.”

“Butcher’s knife!”

Shut up, Kim.

“Anyone we can’t spare.” Alya rolled her eyes, bringing a smile to Marinette’s face. A lot of people thought Alya was robotic, even inhuman, but little peeks into her personality like this were what made Marinette happiest. She knew Alya, knew her well, and if the rest of the crew--sans Nino--would only get to know her as well… “I mean, as far as we know, the boy’s never picked up a gun before.”

Luka padded in from the stairs. “That ain’t so.”

“Luka?” Marinette turned to him, cocking her head to the side. Luka had all of her attention; if he knew something about Adrien that Marinette didn’t, Luka deserved to be heard out at the very least. “You got something to say?”

***

Apparently Luka wanted to talk to Marinette’s entire crew. Whatever he had to say was apparently super important for all of them to know, which only served to make Marinette nervous. They gathered in the kitchen area.

Chloe, Kim, Alya, and Nino sat at the dining room table, while Marinette, Luka, Fu, and Kagami chose to stand. Well, lean--Marinette leaned against the cut out in the wall, her arms folded and her hands tucked into her armpits. She already had chills, and Luka hadn’t spoken since he left the bridge.

“Okay, Luka.” Marientte shifted on her feet. “Why don’t you speak your piece?”

Luka shuddered, hugging himself. He cast a guilty look towards Marinette, and her attention sharpened on him. Did Adrien hurt him? Was that why Luka hadn’t wanted to tell?

Did Adrien hurt one of Marinette’s precious crew?

The pregnant silence thundered until Luka broke it with a still, small voice. “It was when the Captain and Nino got took by Niska.”

Marinette shuddered, her chest collapsing and her world narrowing down to electrodes applied to her ribs. Marinette and Nino had endured Niska’s torture, suffering electric shocks for hours.

Rubbing her chest, Marinette could almost feel the spider-like machine that Niska had attached to her sternum, digging in under her skin and stretching it out, wriggling underneath. She lifted her hand to her reattached ear, wincing at the phantom pain. Niska had cut that off, too.

Marinette had died. Niska had brought her back only to hurt her again.

She looked to Nino. He looked as pale as Marinette felt. She’d had to think fast and constantly enrage him in order to keep him alive. She’d be surprised if he didn’t still think she was insane. Alya rubbed Nino’s shoulder, and he leaned into the touch.

Marinette stopped fingering her ear, concentrating on the present moment. “Ain’t like to forget that anytime soon.”

“Well.” Luka gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “We all went in. Me, too… I didn’t make much account of myself, I’m afraid.”

Marinette was apparently leading this conversation, so she was quick to reassure Luka. “I got no problem with the notion of you not killing nobody, Luka.”

“What’s this got to do with Adrien?” Chloe wrung her hands against the table. “He wasn’t even in that fight.”

“Well, no, he was. I got pinned down and there were three guys, and I couldn’t...” Luka’s lower lip trembled, and Marintte’s heart went out to him. Relieving trauma was never fun.

Luka’s eyes filled with a sharpness that Marinette didn’t like to see in him. She realized that not only was he afraid, he was also fierce, as if he had something to prove, as if Marinette wouldn’t believe him.

“And then Adrien comes up. He looks out, sees ‘em all.” Luka’s brow puckered. “And they was spread out, you know, had some cover? He… He didn’t only looked for a second, and took my gun, closed his eyes…”

Marinette waited for baited breath and a sick feeling in her stomach for Luka to finish. What he said was not at all what she expected.

“... Killed ‘em.”

Chloe sounded as incredulous as Marinette felt. “He shot them?”

Luka’s eyes flicked to Chloe and away, harboring guilt. Marinette wondered what he had to feel guilty about. “All three. Dead in an instant. With his eyes still closed.”

“Well, that’s a load of crap.” Kim thrust a finger at Luka, who shied away. Marinette raised a brow at Kim, quietly growing pissed despite him just saying aloud what she was sure they were all thinking. “You saw it wrong.”

Luka shook his head. “Not a jot. And it weren’t auto-fire… or luck. He just…” Luka’s eyes turned to Marinette, filled with pleading. “He just did the math.”

Marinette was at a loss. Thankfully, Alya stepped in. “You understand how that sounds?”

“What?” Kim threw his hands in the air. “He killed ‘em with mathematics. What else could it have been?”

“You couldn’t have done it, Kim.” Steel straightened Luka’s spine, steel which Marinette was grateful for. “Nor you, Cap’n. Nobody can shoot like that that’s a person.”

“So Adrien’s not a person,” Chloe snapped, and Luka wilted. Marinette let loose a low growl under her breath. She’d have to deal with Chloe later.

Tears filled Luka’s eyes, tugging at Marinette’s heartstrings. Luka was always the most sensitive of her crew. “Oh, please don’t be mad.”

Chloe reached out and gripped an orange from the fruit bowl on the table. If Marinette didn’t know better, she’d think Chloe was going to peel and eat it, but she simply squeezed it like a stress ball. “I just want to understand what you’re saying, here. I thought Adrien was your friend.”

“He is. But Chloe, the way he--” Luka cut himself off, his shaky hand coming up to scrub his eyes with the heel. “Right after, he looked at me, and…”

Marinette started walking towards Luka, wanting to offer him some comfort, but he shook his head slightly. Marinette stopped, willing to let him compose himself.

“... he smiled, like nothin’ was wrong. Like we were playin’.” Luka’s chest shuddered. “Scared me.”

Fu stroked his beard. “Could be he saved your life, Luka.”

Luka raised his hands. “Oh, I’m all aware of that. And I’m not saying--”

“He probably didn’t even know what was going on.” Chloe squeezed her orange, sounding to Marinette like she was desperate to keep her brother out of harm’s way. Good old Chloe. “You know, th-thought it was a game.”

Kim, of course, always had to ruin everything. “Later on you can explain to me how that’s a comfort. Might have to use some of that ‘math’ we’ve been hearin’ about.”

Marinette clapped her hands together once to get the crew’s attention. She glared at each of them, holding their gazes for a brief three seconds each so they would all know she meant business.

“What we got here to deal with is the larger issue,” she started, setting her jaw in inward worry masked by outward irritation. “And that larger issue is we got someone on board this ship might be a danger to us. Ain’t a question of whether we like him.”

They all knew which “him” she referred to. Marinette knew they knew. Now that their attention was on her, Marinette aimed to keep it, enunciating her words slowly and carefully to ensure her crew understood her.

“Some of us have grown attached to Adrien.” Marinette absolutely counted herself in that number, though she didn’t want to let the crew how much. Being attached t him was clearly dangerous. “Luka, I know you have or you would’ve spoken up sooner. Which, by the by, you should have.”

 

Marinette knew she had to be honest with her crew. They no doubt suspected that she was in love--in love? Was she in love? She packed that away to examine later, when she wasn’t holding everyone else’s gaze. So she threw them a bone. “I find Adrien pleasant enough myself.” There. That should be enough.

Marinette moistened her lips with her tongue. Her throat was parched, and she wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like talking to her crew was hard, was it? She knew what she had to say.

“But he does have an oddness to him. And I ain’t just talking about his proficiency with firearms.” Marinette had been suspicious of Adrien since the beginning, wondering why a complication like him had been dropped into her lap. But… But this suspicion was new, based on new information. “Boy knows things. Things he shouldn’t. Things he couldn’t.”

“Wha--” Kim began, but cut himself off, his eyes bulging and nearly rolling in their sockets. “Are you--are you sayin’ he’s a witch?”

“Yes, Kim.” If it weren’t for Nino’s trademark deadpan tone, Marinette would think he was serious. “He’s a witch. He’s had congress with the beast.”

Kim blinked, furrowing his brow. Marinette thought she’d heard every stupid thing he’d ever said, but Kim had a knack for surprising her. “He’s in Congress?”

“How did your brain even learn human speech?” Nino placed his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand, peering at Kim. “I’m just so curious.”

“This isn’t a joking matter,” Kagami snapped, relieving Marinette. Good old Kagami, always keeping them on track, Marinette thought. “This is about our lives, and Adrien’s.”

“Thank you,” Marinette said, tipping her head towards the Companion.

“He’s deeply intuitive.” Chloe stared at her hands, her eyes glassy. If Marinette didn’t know any better, she’d think Chloe was about to cry. “It’s true that sometimes…”

“I don’t think he’s intuitive, Doctor.” Marinette folded her arms. Now to lay the bombshell… “I think he’s a reader.”

Alya slowly turned her head to Marinette. Alya wore a look Marinette knew well: processing, processing, processing…

"Psychic?" Alya asked, and there it was. Marinette's suspicion laid bare.

She could hardly believe it herself, so when Alya brought it up, Marinette’s mind rebelled. And she couldn’t blame Nino for his reaction, either.

“Is that even remotely possible?”

“You tell me.” Marinette turned to Chloe, who was wringing her hands in front of her. “You been studying what they’ve done to her.”

The statement was not a question, though Chloe certainly answered it like one.

“Well, they’ve, uh… They definitely altered the way he reacts to things.” Chloe gulped, shrinking under Marinette’s stare. “Even the way he perceives. But I’m not…”

“Psychic, though?” Nino sounded to Marinette’s ears like he was about to fall out of his seat. “That sounds like something out of science fiction.”

Alya patted his shoulder. “We live in a space ship, dear.”

Nino blinked. “So?”

“Whoa, back up a second.” Kim held his hands in front of him, making Marinette think he was preparing to lunge somewhere. “Are you saying he really reads minds?”

“Or near enough.” Marinette tucked her hands into her armpits. She had to ask a question she didn’t want to ask, so she shifted on her feet. “Am I alone thinking along these lines?”

Weirdly enough, Shepherd Fu jumped to her defense. “No.”

“Well…” Kim slammed the table with a closed fist, making Marinette jump. “I don’t like the idea of someone hearin’ what I’m thinkin’.”

Kagami scoffed, drawing Marinette’s attention to her. “No one likes the idea of hearing what you’re thinking.”

Fu stroked his beard. “The Alliance could have any number of uses for a psychic.”

“A psychic,” Alya said softly, making Marinette strain her ears to hear. “Or an assassin.”

“He’s just a kid.” Chloe gnawed on her lower lip. Marinette winced; that looked painful. “And he just wants to be a kid.”

Marinette frowned. That was logic that would get them all killed. “Wish it were that simple.”

“Yeah, and if wishes were horses, we’d all be eatin’ steak,” Kim said, making absolutely no sense to Marinette. He wanted to eat horses? “What do we plan to do about this?”

Marinette sighed in exasperation. “Well, that’s just the question.”

Chloe was quick to defend her brother, which Marinette would usually appreciate, but not now. “I don’t think he’d ever hurt any of us.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Marinette tilted her head at Chloe, thinking that this conversation needed to wrap up. “I ain’t gonna make a decision on anything ‘till I’ve thought on it a while. It’s late. Let’s get some rest.”

The crew scattered, and Marinette returned to her bunk. She stripped and laid down, resting her arm on her forehead. “Adrien… What are you?”

***

As soon as Marinette dismissed them from their conversation about Adrien, Luka chased down Chloe. “Chloe?”

Chloe sounded so bitter, Luka choked. “I have to go check on my assassin.”

“Oh, please don’t be mad.” Luka hopped from foot to foot. If Chloe was angry with him… he didn’t know what he’d do. “I had to say something.”

“I’m not mad at you,” Chloe whispered, and Luka’s chest nearly caved in out of relief. “I just, uh… He loves this ship. I think it’s more home to him than any place he’s been.”

Luka peered at her from under his lashes and stepped closer to her. “What about you?”

He didn’t want to ask that question; the likelihood of receiving a “wrong” answer would be high. But he had to know: would Chloe ever embrace the Miraculous as her home, like Luka so clearly had?

Miraculous was dear to him. She was an amazing ship; built tough and able to run forever if you replaced the capacitor once in a while. Luka loved her, more than he’d ever loved any woman--until Chloe came along.

“I…” Chloe’s hesitance wasn’t doing Luka any favors. Then she said the words that just crushed him. “I thought the hospital was home. I was really making a difference there… and embarrassingly large stacks of money, and…. I could’ve… I would be there right now if he hadn’t--”

Chloe cut herself off, glancing over her shoulder, as if checking to see if her brother was behind her, when Luka knew very well Adrien was in his room before them.

Chloe inched closer and closer to Luka, and he found himself leaning into her space.
She swallowed hard and finished her sentence with another one. “I-If they had just left him alone.”

Luka reached out but let his hand drop before he touched her. “Is it so bad here?”

He was trying real hard for some kind of declaration. Chloe didn’t appear to be giving in, but they were almost on top of each other at this point; Luka could smell the protein packs from dinner on her breath. She licked her plump, wet lips, inviting his eyes to fixate there as she spoke.

“I don’t even know if the Captain will let us--”

“No!” Luka pushed himself closer to her, so her heaving chest just barely brushed his, exciting him more than he cared to admit. “I mean… isn’t there anything about this place you’re glad of?”

Luka knew he looked as hopeful as a kicked dog would be to their master. Chloe, to her credit, looked like she was trying hard not to hurt him. She lifted his hand to his hair, and he prepared to lean into the touch…

But then Fu came around the corner and passed between them, breaking the spell Luka was under.

“Good night, you two,” Fu said, ambling off as if he were blissfully unaware of the previous tension.

When Chloe stepped back, Luka mentally cursed him out in three languages. Chloe shifted on her feet. “I, uh…”

Luka crossed his arm over his ribs and gripped his other elbow. “Don’t, yeah, I…”

Chloe bowed her head slightly and dismissed him, cutting off Luka’s ability to breathe. “Good night.”

“Don’t let the space bugs bite!” Luka said without actually hearing himself speak, as he was too busy bolting off in the opposite direction as Chloe. Luka’s stomach dropped when he realized what words had exited his mouth so cheerfully. “Space bugs?”

Chapter Text

"This was kind of a dangerous job," Marinette argued, trying to give Mingo and Fanty their cut of the take--minus hazard pay. The Maidenhead bar on Beaumonde, an Outer Rim planet because of course it was, was lit in pools and smelled heavily of spiced smoke and alcohol.

Mingo and Fanty were twins with identical faces of ugly. They even dressed in the same stupid outfits to try to fool people, but Marinette could always tell them apart.

"They're all dangerous." Mingo was on Marinette's list as being the more wheedling of the two. He was trying to squeeze more money out of her, as always, and Marinette wasn't having it. "That's why we hire other people to do them."

"Your end is detail work. Recon." Marinette slammed her fist on the wooden table, startling Kim, who sat beside her, watching some ridiculous soap opera on the CV. "Either you didn't know there were Reavers on the area, or you did. Either way you let us down something fierce."

Kim nudged Marinette, drawing her attention to him. He pointed out Adrien, who looked to be wandering around the bar in a sort of daze. Shiny, Marinette thought, wondering if Adrien was vaguely listening in on her deal with the twins. Maybe he'll learn something.

Fanty drummed his fingers on the table, ratcheting up Marinette's impatience even further. He always did that when he was about to try to make some inane point. "What were doing now, the both of us, is watching your mouth move while we think about how unhappy we are."

"We never negotiate after the fact, Mari." Mingo pursed his ugly lips. "Danger is, after all, your business."

"Reavers ain't business, double spineless," Kim snapped, folding his arms.

"Your dog is barking, Marinette." Fanty smirked, almost making Marinette lose her cool.

Almost. She reigned herself in, realizing that if she or Kim blew up, the deal would go sour right quick.

Kim answered for her. "Should oughta watch me bite."

Marinette raised a hand. "We're all right here, Kim." She drew a breath through her nose, centering herself, and turned back to the brothers. "Look at it from our point of view."

"We never do that." Mingo squinted at Marinette, looking at her as if she was stupid. That was annoying. "Nobody who ever made a living on the rim ever did that. We settle as agreed, or you two become unidentifiable remains."

They ain't getting my point.

Marinette spoke very slowly, as if explaining to a 5-year-old why he couldn't touch the 1,300 credit porcelain vase in the China shop.

"We," Marinette said, enunciating every word, "were set on by Reavers."

Fanty waved a hand, dismissing Marinette's everything and pissing her off. "You know that doesn't concern us."

"No, what should concern you is the fact that we're here and they ain't." Marinette curled her fingers into a tight fist under the table. "You know who's less frightening than Reavers? Everybody."

Kim cackled at something on the CV screen. Marinette glanced over her shoulder to see some goofy cartoon animals and anime-style girls all transforming to insane fantasy figures, singing, "Fruity bars! Make a man out of a mouse, make you bust out your blouse…"

Marinette rolled her eyes and turned back to Mingo and Fanty, trying to figure out how to shoot them both with one bullet so she didn't have to waste the soft lead. "Okay, here's what we're going to do--"

Marinette was interrupted by a ruckus elsewhere in the bar: a bone snapped, someone cried out, and a glass shattered. Whipping her head up so fast she pulled a muscle in her neck, Marinette glanced around for the source of the commotion.

Adrien?

Marinette watched in frozen horror as Adrien slammed his foot into one man's face, then whipped it back into the other's, knocking them both unconscious. People were turning, just registering that this boy kicked a table into the back of a card player even as he swept a bottle off it behind him. The bottle struck a man square in the face, a man Adrien never even looked at.

"Adrien…" Marinette murmured under her breath, too stunned to do more than watch the people around her rise, flee, or push forward.

Moving as quick as a snake, Adrien bolted to the card table, taking out a group of four with perfectly precise high kicks. As one man stood, Adrien kicked his chair around and into his shins, his neck slamming down on the back as Adrien vaulted over him, tilting Marinette's world on her axis.

Two men came at Adrien from either side, one whipping out a knife and thrusting it forward towards his belly, building up a scream in Marinette's throat. But Adrien moved too quickly to be stabbed; he did a perfect split onto the ground and grabbed the man's wrist above Adrien's own head, using the knife-wielder's momentum to make him stab the second man.

As she watched Adrien break a woman's arm, Marinette was abruptly reminded that she had checked her gun at the bar earlier and was thus unarmed and unprotected. Blood spurted from the attacker's ribs and a shriek erupted from his throat, galvanizing Marinette's legs into action.

She fought the rising tide of people to get back to the bar, ignoring her panic as she turned her back on Adrien, something her instincts screamed at her to never do.

Where is it? Where is it? Marinette dove behind the bar and desperately pawed through the box of weapons to try and find her own. Behind her, she heard the sounds of Kim screaming, a plate breaking, and a gun going off.

Spotting her own pistol, Marinette seized it, clicked the safety off and sprung up from behind the bar, gun pointed out at--

Adrien.

The gun in his hand was right under her nose. For a heartbreaking moment, a single held breath, she saw his finger twitch on the trigger.

"Eta Kooram Nah Smech!" Chloe yelled, running up to the entrance of the bar. Adrien dropped to the floor like a sack of bricks, gun spilling from his hand, fast asleep.

Marinette trembled only slightly. What she had seen in Adrien's eyes… that was a killer's instinct. He'd been focused, honed, as if he himself were a weapon.

Marinette glanced around the bar. She and Chloe were the only ones standing.

Marinette drew a shaky breath, dizzy from the rush of oxygen she'd denied herself. "I think maybe we ought to leave."

***

Marinette snapped the lock shut with a resounding click, chaining Adrien’s arms together behind his back. He lay on his side in his bunk, breathing evenly much to her relief.

He’d gone absolutely wild in that bar, and she had no idea why. He could have shot her.

He’d wanted to shoot her. His eyes had been dangerous.

But he hadn’t, and Marinette didn’t know why.

What are you? she wondered, brushing his sweaty bangs off his forehead. Aside from a pain in my behind?

She stood from his bed, exiting his bunk and keying the palm reader outside the door to “locked.” Making her way to the dining room in a daze, Marinette found the whole group waiting for her--sans Nino, whom she assumed was piloting the ship away from Beaumonde.

Chloe shot up from the table, her eyes red-rimmed and crazy. “May I see him?”

Marinette’s lip curled back from her clenched teeth. Chloe had put Marinette’s crew in danger, again, and Marinette had just about had it with the snotty doc. “He’s still napping just now. And I believe you’ve got some storytelling to do.”

Nino entered from the bridge, throwing a cocky salute to Marinette. “We’re out of atmo, plotted for Haven. No one following as of yet.”

Marinette nodded to him, acknowledging the statement and mentally telling him he’d done good, when Luka spoke up. “We gonna park at Dresden’s?”

“‘Till we know the landscape a little better, yeah,” Marinette said, crossing to the cut out window looking into the kitchen and leaning on the wall, arms folded tightly across her chest. “You can help with that, Doc, but telling us what is up with your brother. What happened in there?”

Nino sat down at the table, positively giddy. “Start with the part where Kim gets knocked out by a 120-pound boy. ‘Cause I don’t think that’s ever gettin’ old.”

Kim snarled, leaning forward and placing his hands on the table in front of Nino, who appeared completely unthreatened. “Keep talking, little man; I long to damage you.”

Fu stroked his chin, speaking in that soft, gentle way of his that Marinette found aggravating. “Do we know if anyone was killed?”

"It's likely." Saying that angered Marinette all over again, so she rounded on Chloe. "I knew he meant to kill me 'fore the doc put him to sleep, which how exactly does that work again?"

"Trigger." Everyone was silent while Chloe spoke. "The people who helped me break Adrien out--"

"The Resistance," Fu interrupted, causing Marinette to clench her jaw. She could have been counted as a member of the Resistance once upon a time, back when she and Alya had held off an entire platoon for three days, just the two of them.

Back when Marinette had been a browncoat idiot.

Chloe gulped and nodded, looking mighty frail for a woman who held power over a killing machine like Adrien. "The Resistance warned me that Adrien and the other subjects were being embedded with mnemonic triggers."

Chloe swallowed hard, wringing her hands, as she was apt to do when she was agitatin'. "They taught me how to make him sleep in case… something happened."

Marinette had no idea what 'mnemonic' meant, so she was glad when Luka said, "Not sure I get it."

Chloe rubbed her temples. "A phrase that's encoded in his brain that makes him fall asleep. If I speak the words, 'Eta--'"

"Well, don't say it!" Kim snapped, slamming his fist on the table.

Alya slanted a look at him, moving for the first time since Marinette had walked into the room to stand by Nino. “It only works on Adrien, Kim.”

“Oh.” Kim pulled back, sticking his hands in his pockets sheepishly, a look that Marinette thought suited the tomfool of a man. “Well, now I know that.”

Something about what Chloe said was buggin’ Marinette. She didn’t know what it was, exactly--and then it dawned on her, knocking the wind out of her lungs. “In case something happened.”

Chloe twisted in her seat to look at Marinette, who glared down at her. “What?”

“What you said.” Marinette’s fingers rested on her gun; she didn’t know why fingering her weapon made her comfortable in that moment, but the reflex was instinctive. “I’d like you to elaborate on ‘something.’ What other triggers does this boy have?”

Chloe squirmed in her seat, which Marinette took as a bad sign. “I don’t know all of them…”

Marinette raised a brow, trying to keep from clenching her fists without much success. “Would one of them happen to be ‘Kill everybody in the room’?”

Chloe waited even longer than usual to answer, driving Marinette up the wall. “Yes.”

“Eight months.” So help her, Marinette was going to gut Chloe herself. “Eight months you had him on my boat knowing full well he might go completely ape at the wrong word and you never said a thing--”

“I brought him out here so they couldn’t trigger him; I don’t even know how they--”

“My ship. My crew!” Marinette stepped forward into Chloe’s space, thrusting her finger under her nose. “You had a time-bomb living with us!”

Chloe shrank against the chair, gripping the back of it as if it could save her from Marinette’s wrath.

“What if he went off in the middle of dinner, or in bunk with Luka?” Marinette sneered at the Chloe, her hand alighting on the handle of her gun. “Did that give you a moment’s pause--”

“I thought he was out of their reach!” Chloe threw her hands in the air, nearly smacking Marinette in the nose.

Marinette refused to draw back. She wasn’t done.

As always, Alya was the voice of reason, though Marinette wasn’t of a mind to listen. “Do we have any idea what triggered him?”

Marinette rounded on Alya, her anger flooding her face and chest with uncomfortable heat. Her heart was racing; she’d better not kill the doc ‘cause she might need her later, but oh! How Marinette wanted to.

“I don’t know,” Marinette growled, side-eyeing Chloe. “I was in the deal with Mingo.”

“He was watching the CV.” Kim speaking up surprised Marinette, making her start. “That advert was on, for them fruity oat bars. They got that song, it’s powerful catchy so I recall…”

Fu nodded too sage for Marinette’s liking. “A message through the Cortex.”

“A subliminal,” Alya added, seeming to understand where Marinette did not.

Kim shook his head, drawing Marinette’s attention. “Words gettin’ awfully long here…”

“We don’t have time for you to play catch up, Kim,” Marinette snapped, and then immediately turned to Alya, whispering, “What’s that mean?”

Alya, to her credit, did not smile, which would have enraged Marinette even further. “Something hidden in the picture or the audio. Something you see but don’t know you see.”

Fu tapped his chin. “Which means the Alliance is still looking for Adrien.”

“Wrong.” Marinette shoved her gun into its holster, wondering how it ended up in her hand. “It means they already have.”

“No way his little dance of death went unreported,” Alya agreed. “Or his connection to us.”

Marinette suddenly felt the uncomfortable sensation of someone breathing down her neck. She’d been under the boot heel of the Alliance for so long, running from them and trying to carve out a tiny piece of space for herself, that she didn’t know any other way of living.

“Storm clouds,” Marinette whispered. “Sky’s gettin’ dark.”

“Well, can I, in the grand tradition of bein’ me,” Kim started grandly, spreading his arms, “suggest we kick ‘em off this boat at long last?”

Marinette considered that. She wasn’t too keen on leaving Adrien stranded--he needed help--but she also wasn’t too keen on being shot in the middle of the night. And she definitely wasn’t keen on Chloe riding along with her, having not told Marinette about the threat Adrien posed to her crew for eight solid months.

Luka, shifting on his seat, broke the awkward silence. “Isn’t anybody gonna say something mean about Kim?”

Kim looked smug as all get out. “Guess they’re finally seeing the sense of things.”

“I don’t know how much my vote counts--” Fu started, to which Marinette thought viciously, not at all. “--but I’m not interested in abandoning this boy.”

“That’s ‘cause you didn’t get your goolies near tore off by him!” Kim exploded, adjusting himself in public, which grossed Marinette out. “For all I know, I been rendered incompetent!”

Now Alya did smile. “That’s impotent.”

And of course Nino had to put his two credits in. “Either’s good for me…”

Marinette ignored the three of them as they began to bicker--well, not the three of them, mostly Kim and Nino, with Alya playing referee. Approaching Chloe, Marinette gripped her arm and leaned in close. “You did say you wanted to get off the ship. And I can’t think of a single reason to keep you on.”

Chloe’s jaw dropped momentarily. She closed it slowly, her teeth clicking together. “May I see him?”

I’m going to kill you one day, Marinette thought, alarmed at the fierceness of it.

Marinette released Chloe and stepped aside, allowing her to stand. Keeping her eyes fixed on Chloe’s back as she entered the locker containing the chained-up Adrien, Marinette shook her head rapidly, trying to clear it of nasty thoughts.

Kim sidled over to Marinette, murmuring quietly, “He goes off again, we’re gonna have to put a bullet in him.”

Marinette turned to Kim. Coming from him, the suggestion was anathema. For all that Marinette hated Chloe for endangering her crew, she didn’t hate Adrien. Quite the opposite, though she couldn’t quite acknowledge her crush as anything more than that. “It’s crossed my mind.”

Nino’s eyes bulged. “Can I make a suggestion that doesn’t involve violence or is this the wrong crowd?”

Alya gave him a disapproving look Marinette approved of. “Honey…”

“I think we should find out what’s really going on out there.” Nino spread his hands, sucking in all of Marinette’s attention. If there was another way, a way to protect her crew and save Adrien… “I think we should talk to Mr. Universe.”

Chapter Text

Beyond a sparkling ion cloud rested a barren, metallic satellite moon, the home of Mr. Universe, a weird, sorta-sweet, mousy little man who had his grubby fingers in every digital feed in the known galaxies.

As the Miraculous neared the moon, thrusters lessening their exhaust and Nino and Alya gathered on the bridge around her, Marinette watched the viewscreen in the dash flicker to life.

Mr. Universe was, as always, a filthy and rumpled young man surrounded by screens, computers, feeds--machinery that looked both ultra-modern and long-neglected. All the screens glowed with different images--the sprawling industrial complex was a media-verse.

The dominant color in his world was black, and though he stays in his little space, the room itself is vast, overlooking bigger machines long since fallen into disuse. The most striking elements Marinette saw were Mr Universe himself and the robotic, mannequin-like "Lovebot" that was perched immobile on his cot.

Over-caffeinated and sleep-deprived, Mr. Universe turned to the camera facing the Miraculous' screen to rattle off his usual, nonsensical greeting.

“Nino! Oh, my stars and garters, look at you!”

Nino smiled a little, raising his hand in greeting. “Been a while. How are things at the center of the world?”

Mr. Universe’s eyes bugged out a little. “No, no, it’s insane in here. I’m so close to--there’s no words. I have… I’m listening in… I have to tell you about the media, what they’re having the most fun--what’s the clock on me having sex with your wife?”

Nino’s smile disappeared so fast, Marinette thought his lips might get whiplash. “We’re down to never and counting.”

Alya suppressed a giggle that Marinette caught because she knew her so well.

“Alya, you know you can do better. But I have a commitment to my lovebot, it was a civil ceremony--look at this!” Mr. Universe held up a sheaf of papers, and Marinette wondered where he’d gotten so much of such a rare resource. “My brain did this--five pages on the life of Peter Abelard--in my sleep!”

Marinette opened her mouth to interrupt, but Mr. Universe was on a royal tear. “Completely asleep and composed the whole thing! It’s gibberish! Meaningless!” Marinette had no doubts about that. “But I feel a breakthrough is near.”

Mr. Universe pointed out a word on the top page. “I typed ‘Spoonalard,’ which--something is trying to get through.” He sat up ramrod straight, seeming terrified for his life, a look Marinette had seen often. “Oh, my goodness! You’re in terrible danger!”

Marinette stepped forward, eager to know what he knew. “How’s that?”

“Or you’re just saying ‘hi.’” Mr. Universe waved his hands around and settled again. “But I figured, you guys, probably horrible danger. Am I close?”

Marinette tilted her head, rubbing the back of her neck sheepishly. “That’s kinda what we’re trying to figure.”

“Can you throw us some playback?” Nino asked, raising his brows in what seemed like an unassuming manner, but what Marinette knew was a calculated move.

Mr. Universe nodded rapidly. “All things are known to me, feed feed feeding, name your poison.”

“It’s pretty local,” Nino continued, spreading his hands. “The atoll plaza on Beaumonde, security feed from the Maidenhead, some ten hours back…”

Mr. Universe furrowed his brow. “Security feeds aren’t broadcast.”

Alya spoke then, her calm voice doing wonders to soothe Marinette’s ruffled feathers. “We’re wondering if it might have been. Headed somewhere central.”

“Take a little time,” Mr. Universe conceded, giving Marinette a hope she dared not name, “but if it’s anywhere on the Cortex, I can get in, I can play.”

Marinette turned to Alya, asking quietly, “The advert. The subominable… or, thing…”

Alya’s lips pinched in a way that Marinette knew as her hiding her mirth again. “How about the news-flow from that area. Around the same time…”

Mr. Universe began typing off-screen. “What are you looking for there?”

“Fruity oat bars,” Alya said.

“Oh! Hey! Make a man of a mouse!” Mr. Universe sang the jingle that Marinette had thought was absurd and was now even more so. “I’m always trying to get those delivered.”

He slid his chair to a bank of screens and started punching in information. “Beaumonde, eventime, broadline advert, food or food substitutes--no one’s mentioned Lenore’s hair! She had it cut special…”

Marinette, worried his attention might be slipping, turned to Alya with a pleading look, but Mr. Universe had already glanced over his shoulder at his lovebot.

“These people, they’re rubes, they haven’t the finer graces…”

Marinette whispered to Alya under her breath. “Say something about hair.”

“The hair looks very good,” Alya deadpanned. “And fluffy. Did you go to a salon--”

“Got it.” Mr. Universe watched the annoying commercial on one screen and a stream of code on the other. “Oh, yeah. There’s definitely something underneath this.”

He scratched at his greasy head. “Bunged if I know what. This is… I think this is Alliance cryptage, highest security, this, whoa. Take me a week just to--how do you know about this?”

Nino grinned again, which Marinette thought was inappropriate given their circumstances, but Nino was Nino. “Long story.”

Mr. Universe shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “I’m gonna stand by that earlier, ‘horrible danger’ theory. How can we help?”

“Just keep an eye out,” Alya murmured, leaning towards the screen. “Anything comes up about us, give us a wave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Mr. Universe pulled off the sloppiest salute Marinette had ever seen in her life. “Whoa! Okay, that’s military, yeah, MilCom runs that pattern, very fine…”

His eyes, full of sudden excitement, darted to Marinette and her crew. “Did you guys steal a weapon?”

***

Chloe dragged his warm, damp cloth down Adrien’s face, removing the last vestiges of the fight: blood. Adrien hadn’t spoken since Chloe had started, but now…

“They’re all afraid of me.”

Chloe started, her hand jerking on the cloth. “I’m sorry..”

“They should be. What I will show them… Oh, no…” Adrien started tearing up, breathing fast through his mouth and absolutely wrecking Chloe’s heart.

She ran her hands through his hair. “It’s okay, it’s okay…”

“Show me off like a dog, old men covered in blood, it never touched them but they’re drowning in it… so much loss…” Adrien buried his face in his hands. “I d on’t know what I’m saying. I never know what I’m saying…”

“You remembered something.” It was the only logical conclusion Chloe could come to. “When you were triggered. I think maybe it brought something up.”

Adrien looked like he was having his teeth jerked out with pliers. “Hawkmoth.”

“Hawkmoth.”

Adrien laughed bitterly, the sound rattling Chloe’s composure. “Ask him. He’ll show you all.”

“Show us what?” Chloe put the cloth down and took Adrien’s shoulders, but he was already looking away. “Who is Hawkmoth?” She hesitated, worried she’d sound stupid. “Am I… talking to Hawkmoth right now?”

Adrien shot her a look of deep displeasure, wrinkling his nose. It was the same look Chloe had seen when she’d accidentally broken one of his toys as children. “I’m not a multiple, Dumbo.”

“No. Right.” Chloe released his shoulders, wanting nothing more than to draw him into a hug but refraining while he was still coherent. “But who, what is--”

“I haven’t been informed.” Adrien gripped Chloe’s hand, begging urgently, “Don’t make me sleep again.”

Chloe made a promise she knew she couldn’t keep. Marinette was too unreasonable. “I won’t.”

“Put a bullet to me. Bullet in the brain pan, squish.”

Horrified, Chloe felt her jaw drop without her permission. “Don’t say that. Not ever. We’ll get through this.”

Adrien reached out and touched her face affectionately. She leaned into the touch. “Things are going to get much, much worse.”

“Well, the Captain hasn’t tossed in the airlock, so I’d say we’re--”

“For her, too.” Adrien’s eyes filled with a dangerous light that rocked Chloe to her core. She hadn’t known he was a killer. “Everyone gets tested.”

“Adrien.” Chloe raised a shaking hand to her mouth. “What will Hawkmoth show us?”

Adrien thought about the question for a mind-rattling moment. “Death.”

“Whose death?”

Adrien began laughing. Quietly at first, then louder, then almost uncontrollably, screaming in her face, “Everybody’s!”

Chapter Text

Three days after they’d told him about Hawkmoth, Mr. Universe gave them a wave. Marinette crowded around the bridge’s viewscreen with Nino and Alya, anticipation beating around in her brain.

“You’re not going to like this,” he began, and Marinette’s stomach sank into the floor. “Hawkmoth is--MilCom never--it took three whole days of caffeine to break this, and poof, now all my java juice is gone. Do you know how hard it is to get that delivered here?”

“We’ll send you a gift package,” Marinette promised, wondering where they were going to get java juice at the end of the known universe. “What is Hawkmoth?”

“Who!” Mr. Universe began laughing, his eyes bulging in their sockets. “Who is Hawkmoth! He's quite the man; I bet he never had a love bot. Civil ceremony, you know.”

Marinette clenched her fists off screen until Alya gently touched one. Sighing, Marinette furrowed her brow. “Who is he? What’s his connection to--”

“Marinette.” Alya shook her head. “Don’t mention him by name.”

She could only be speaking of Adrien, Marinette deduced, realizing how wise the advice was. She nodded.

“Hawkmoth is a piece of love in your face that bathes people in regret.” Mr. Universe, as always, made no sense. “He’s the head of a unique little program.”

Now, there, that sounded like something interesting. Marinette leaned forward. “What little program?”

“Assassins.” Mr. Universe held up a finger and winked. “Assassins. They’re called Akumas. And Chat Noir, his best one, is missing.”

Marinette thought back to the way Adrien had pulled her close to him, coiling his leg around her hips while balanced completely on the other foot.

“Who’s Chat Noir?” she’d asked, wrapped up in his leg and pressed flush against his body.

His plump lips had slightly parted and his expression had been open and shuttered at the same time. “Me.”

Never before had a single word struck so much fear into Marinette’s heart. Adrien was an assassin? It made sense.

Abruptly, she knew she’d never let Adrien fall into Hawkmoth’s hands again. “Who is Hawkmoth?” she growled through clenched, painful teeth. “Who do I have to kill?”

Mr. Universe’s eyes danced on the screen. “Gabriel Agreste.”

Nino gasped. “Adrien and Chloe’s father?

Even Marinette didn’t know that. Apparently Nino had done some talking with Chloe. That was interesting but irrelevant at the moment.

She only had one more question for Mr. Universe. “Where is he?”

“Oh, yeah, Hawkmoth exists in like… Central’s haven.” There was only one place that could be, though Marinette dreaded the word falling from Mr. Universe’s lips. “Ariel.”

Marinette slammed her fist on the dash. “Ariel is crawling with Alliance.”

Alya cocked her head at Marinette, seeming curious about her reaction. “Then we’ll make him come to us.”

“Sure, that’ll be easy,” Mr. Universe drawled, appearing more coherent than he’d been in a while, much to Marinette’s relief. “You don’t have anything he wants.”

“Yes.” Marinette’s heart plummeted through her feet. She licked her lips, feeling nausea burn at the back of her throat. “We do.”

***

Adrien felt by turns full of affection and full of fear about Marinette. She held his life in her delicate hands, and would just as soon toss him out the airlock than kiss him.

Did he want her to kiss him?

Adrien didn’t know. He didn’t know anything about anything anymore; when he was a child he baked mud pies and his brain was roughly that consistency now. Full of dirt and dejection.

Was dejection a word? Adrien had a faint memory of that being true, but he’d always known he couldn’t trust his memories.

All he could do was trust the people around him. And Marinette, rough-edged though she was, had always been honest.

“Do you understand the plan?” she asked, jerking his attention back to the present moment, her beautiful, bluebell eyes full of what seemed like worry but could also be a sign of constipation. Adrien didn’t know, but the distress he felt blasted in his direction made him dizzy. “I don’t want to put you at risk, Adrien, but if it’s the key to luring out Hawkmoth…”

“My father.” Adrien knew the man’s eyes. They hovered around in Adrien’s subconscious, appearing in his nightmares so often, he was stunned he hadn’t connected Gabriel Agreste to Hawkmoth, the man who had trained him.

Marinette’s pretty, plump lips twisted, and her sudden anger--a red feeling--came over Adrien in waves, almost overwhelming him. He staggered, taking a few steps towards Marinette’s left across the hold’s floor.

“Are you all right?” Her concern blunted her sharp edges so he was no longer cut. She gripped his arm, holding him upright, which he tried to smile about but couldn’t quite remember how. “Should I get the doc, or--”

“No.” Adrien was so sick of needles. Chloe had promised she wouldn’t put him to sleep, but Chloe had lied. “The pots and pans of my brain are just a blizzard today.”

Marinette furrowed her brow, her confusion evident in every thought she sent his way. “Does that mean you don’t understand the plan?”

Dangle him out like a carrot for a man arrogant enough to come fetch him himself? No, Adrien thought he understood the plan perfectly. “I make a broadcast. Moving pictures with whetted sound.”

“That’s right.” Marinette still hadn’t let go of his arm, which Adrien thought was just dandy. Was he a dandy?

Kiss me. Adrien didn’t know whose thought that was. He wanted it to be Marinette’s. Adrien, please…

Adrien's breath hitched, breathing in her breaths. He knew she wanted him as much as he wanted her, but never before had the yearning been so crystal clear. Her feelings for him had never been vague--Marinette was always honest--but it had taken Adrien a little while to sort through whether he actually wanted her or was just experiencing her own emotions about him.

Desire burned inside of him, a raging fire roaring to life that her close proximity stoked. He found his was chest tight, and all he wanted to do was to graph her curves, work out the quadratic equation of her jaw, draw his fingers along her lines with absolute values and therefore positive slopes.

Math had always made sense to Adrien. Math didn't lie, and neither did Marinette.

When she raised her hand to stroke his cheek, she moved slowly, telegraphing her every move even though Adrien could ‘see’ her moves before she made them. It was like watching someone move in stereo, with the actual moves appearing as an after-effect.

An aftertaste of Marinette, Adrien thought, wondering what the real Marinette tasted like. He found himself drawn closer to her, leaning into the feather-light touches on his cheek.

His nose was so close to her, Adrien could breathe in her scents. Cloves. She smelled of cloves and salt.

“We lure him to the meeting place,” Adrien continued, wishing he could just broadcast his thoughts into her just like she was doing to him. Fondness, tender fondness, tickled his senses and suffused him in warmth. His cheeks burned, though he didn’t know why he had the good sense to be embarrassed. “And then kill him.”

“Yes.” Marinette’s emotions were by turns knife-like, stabbing into Adrien’s brain, and cocooning, wrapping him up in a love so compassionate, he could cry.

He really could.

In fact, he was crying now, tears sliding down his cheeks without his drive or permission.

“Adrien?” Marinette cupped both his cheeks, tugging him down to her level. “Are you okay? Does the plan upset you? We don’t have to--”

“Kiss me?” Adrien found himself begging, the words out of his mouth before he could control his lips. “Please.”

Adrien didn’t know if he’d like kissing Marinette. But the desire had built up inside him for so long, he didn’t know if he could hold back.

Marinette’s surprise slammed into him--followed by her mouth, which crashed into his immediately, stealing his air. She clawed at the back of his head, jerking his face down to her height, her frantic lips darting against his in a way that showed him she would rather devour him.

As Adrien kissed her back, he felt not only his lips moving on hers, but her lips moving on his. Again he thought of a stereo effect, but the staggering waves of desire wafting off of her like a pungent perfume nearly overwhelmed him.

Having no idea how to kiss, Adrien gladly allowed her to take the reins, parting his lips for her questing tongue and letting loose a moan that would have embarrassed him had he been paying attention to anything but her, her, her.

Even as her hands pulled on his hair, a sensation he felt from both his own roots and the pads of her fingers, Adrien cupped the back of her head, threading his fingers through her inky black tresses. Marinette felt thrilled by this change; apparently people playing with her hair was her weakness, and it hadn’t happened for oh! Too long.

Greedy as she was, Marinette took and took and took, and Adrien gave and gave and gave. He licked her palate, feeling his own tongue plundering her mouth. She closed her teeth around his lip and nibbled, trailing kisses across his jawline and down to his neck.

Deluged with her passion, Adrien’s chest heaved against hers; breathing had become difficult even after she’d left his mouth. He wanted to be buried by her love. Inundated. Saturated. He wanted to wrap himself around this woman and never let her go.

Yes, Adrien decided. He liked kissing Marinette indeed.

Chapter Text

Waiting for Gabriel's response was maddening. Marinette had just about had enough farting around when he sent the Miraculous a wave, letting them know he was in their end of the galaxy.

"Adrien," Hawkmoth said, wearing a purple suit and a gray headcap that Marinette thought was ugly as sin.

Adrien flinched at the word, stepping backwards until he ran into Marinette behind him. She grasped his hand in moral support, and he gave her a faint squeeze back that she deemed good enough.

For now.

"Stop these ridiculous shenanigans and come home at once." Hawkmoth raised his cane and slammed the end against the metallic surface he was standing on. From the looks of it, he was riding a warship. Hawkmoth's expression softened. "Your mother is worried."

Oh, Marinette was going to kill him.

"Mother?" Adrien whispered, his grip on her hand painfully tight. "She's worried?"

Marinette lunged in front of Adrien, pushing her behind her with a firm hand splayed out on his chest. She wanted as much distance between him and his father as possible.

"Come and get him," she snarled viciously, making Adrien jump behind her. "We'll see you on Beaumonde in 15 hours. Just outside the Maidenhead."

"Be reasonable--" Hawkmoth started, but Marinette slammed her hand on the console, cutting off the feed.

Marinette whirled around to face Adrien, finding him ashen-faced and trembling. Lower lip quivering, his eyes quickly welled with tears.

"None of that, now," Marinette murmured, kissing the corner of his mouth. When his tears started rolling down his cheeks, she caught them on the backs of her fingers and impatiently flicked them away. "You're okay. You'll be okay."

Adrien nodded, his hands finding hers again. "Put a bullet in his brain pan. Squish."

Alya cleared her throat behind the pair, distracting Marinette long enough for Adrien to shy away, wrapping his arms around himself in a protective, hugging gesture.

“Hate to interrupt,” Nino said, joining her with a pinched, pained expression, “but 14 hours? Are you insane? We’re not even near Beaumonde--”

“If I’m right,” Marinette snarled, not irritated at Nino directly but testy because Adrien seemed so very fragile, “Gabriel can’t get from Ariel to Beaumonde in 3 days and 15 hours. Unless he has some sort of ship technology I’ve never heard of, we’ll have an hour or so to set up an ambush.”

“An hour?” A small smile perched on Alya’s lips, showing her support. Marinette was so relieved, she could cry, but she refused on principle alone. “That’s likely not enough but we’ll make do, sir.”

Nino continued to object to the admittedly-ridiculous plan, angering Marinette further. “Fourteen hours. You really expect our ship to beat Gabriel’s warships and make it to Beaumonde in 14 hours?”

In response, Marinette jammed her fingers down on the dash, opening coms to Luka in the engine. “Luka. I want you to make the ship sing. Pur our thrusters on full; pull out all the stops. We need this baby to burn.”

“If you do this,” Nino growled in a low voice, “you risk burning the ship’s engine completely out. The Miraculous will be completely dead in the water.”

Marinette gave her pilot a cool, appraising look. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

Adrien, whom Marinette had completely forgotten about until then, let loose a piteous whine through clenched teeth. When Marinette turned to check on him, he was biting down on his knuckles and looked to be drawing blood.

Acting on impulse, she dashed over to him, tearing his hand out of his mouth and shushing him with sweet nothings. “You’re fine, you’re okay, you’ll be okay, I’m here with you…”

His eyes were wild and teary, darting between the three of them as if he couldn’t decide who would hit him first. Marinette clutched his cheeks and tugged him down to her level until he focused on her. “M-Marinette…”

“Listen. You’ll get through this in one piece.” Marinette had never promised anything more strongly in her entire life, and she knew that she was bound by oath to keep him safe. “We’ll kill your mean ol’ dad and then go on a tour of the universe, okay?”

Adrien swallowed hard, nodding in her tight grip. “Okay.”

Marinette kissed the corner of his mouth again, smearing droplets of blood from his fingers onto her own lips. “So my love, please don’t give up.”

***

Marinette threaded her fingers through Adrien’s impossibly-soft, impossibly-blond locks, watching the serene expression on his face as he slept with her head in his lap.

After demanding that Luka and Nino get the ship to Beaumonde in eleven hours, Marinette had dragged a distraught Adrien down to the med bay to patch up his fingers. Then she’d made him lie down on the living room’s couch, petting him until he fell asleep.

She’d never admit that stroking his hair, his skin, his face was more for her than for him. Adrien grounded her, kept her sane when all the problems of this universe threatened to consume her.

Her hands trembled on his temples, her thoughts wandering. Gabriel was a huge unknown, and Marinette hated that. She didn’t know whether he’d come with a whole host of assassins at his beck and call or an army. She had no idea whether they’d succeed, but they had to. She’d promised, and Marinette never went back on a promise.

She hated him for what he’d done to Adrien. What he continued to do to Adrien.

Heart thudding painfully in her chest, Marinette swallowed to moisten a dry throat. She couldn’t quite breathe; the more she thought about Gabriel, the harder focusing on his son was. Her vision swam red, and though she felt the tears rolling down her cheeks, she couldn’t see where they landed.

Before she knew it, Marinette was hyperventilating, lightheaded, with nausea burning at the back of her parched throat. She couldn’t see, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe…

“Marinette.” Adrien’s voice steadied the storm in Marinette’s heart. Her vision abruptly cleared, her gaze landing on Adrien’s concerned face. “Why are you so angry all the time?”

The question startled her into loosening the knot in her chest. She drew a deep breath, her first in hours, and opened her mouth to give Adrien the answer he sought.

“I don’t know,” came out instead.

Wait! Marinette clung to any sense of normalcy she could, but she felt her fingers slipping on the edge of the cliff of sanity. That wasn’t what I wanted to say!

“You wanna know what I think?”

In the back of her mind, Marinette wondered at Adrien’s sudden clarity. She knew intellectually that she shouldn’t waste this moment, and that she shouldn’t hope for more, but she was too focused on his piercing green eyes boring into hers.

Marinette licked her cracked lips, tasting blood. “What?”

“It’s the tortoise’s shell, ugly and hard, that protects its lifelong journey.” Adrien poked her in the nose, causing her to wrinkle it, on the precipice of a sneeze. “And you’re sometimes naked.”

Marinette frowned down at him, trying to puzzle that out but not liking any conclusions she came to. “Are you saying I’m stupid?”

“Not at all.” Adrien tried to sit up, but she gently pushed him back down onto her lap. He settled and cupped her cheeks instead, his massive hands warm and soft. “Nuts are hard to crack. And you’re a nut.”

Marinette tugged on his hair affectionately, somewhat getting where he was going but not above teasing him. “And now you’re calling me crazy.”

Adrien expanded his cheeks like a pufferfish. “A shell isn’t just a case for the turtle where they store themselves when they need a nap. It is part of their skeletal system.”

The way Adrien spoke fascinated Marinette; she would never take for granted a moment like this, when he was calm and rational, if a little weird. “Even the turtle’s ribcage is fused to the shell. So are the spine and spinal cord.”

“Why are you telling me about turtle ribs?”

Adrien smoothed his thumb from her chin to her lips, effectively silencing her. “The plastron can be said to serve a similar function to that of inscriptional ribs in crocodiles and the sternum and clavicles in other four-limbed vertebrates.”

That made no sense to Marinette. Too many million-credit words.

“The ribcage of the turtle is connected to the shell. The shoulder blades also connect to the shell. All the limbs of the turtle connect to the shell.”

Marinette huffed against his thumb, but stilled when he ran it across her lower lip, tugging it down a bit. He sat up, straddling her hips and pushing her back into the couch, knocking the breath out of her but thrilling her with his possessiveness, too. “Turtles can’t exist without their shells. And sometimes you’re naked.”

“Okay, I’m lost.” Marinette wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her chest against his abdomen as he crouched above her on the couch, staring at her with smouldering eyes.

Her heart pounded against his washboard stomach, her quickened breaths making her chest slightly heave. “First I’m a turtle. Then I’m a nut. Now I’m a turtle again with a shell, but sometimes without, and I’m naked then? And I can’t exist without my shell but I do anyway?”

Adrien craned his neck, gently tilting her face up to give him better access to her lips. “You’re angry all the time,” he murmured against them, reminding her how the conversation had started, “because you hate being vulnerable.”

Now she felt naked. Adrien had stripped her bare with a single statement, even though she couldn’t understand the convoluted analogy at first. She panted against his mouth, tasting his bloody breaths.

They were all going to die. That was what she was scared of. She was putting her crew in danger on a fool’s errand.

But they couldn’t stop now. She’d promised.

“Kiss me.” Marinette had thought she was above begging. Apparently not. “Please.”

***

The eleventh hour had come.

After leaving Adrien to prepare himself, Marinette had retreated to her bunk to steady her quaking nerves herself.

She didn’t want to offer Adrien a weapon. She’d seen what he could do without one and hoped he would be fine on his own.

Surveying her stash of guns, Marinette slipped two of her knives into her boots in a practiced movement that soothed her soul. Comforted, she tucked her trusty revolver, the one that had been on tour with her ever since she’d found the Miraculous, into the holster hanging comfortably at her hip.

The ammo belt was next. She slipped the belt over her head and shoulder and loaded it with cartridges with smooth, practiced movements that made breathing much, much easier.

Last, Marinette paused before selecting her backup gun. She had several to choose from: sawed-off shotguns, pistols, sniper rifles… But that particular shotgun was special.

Plucking the gun up from its case, she checked to see if it was unloaded. It was, much to her relief; she didn’t want to meet the person who would be loading her guns right under her nose for funsies.

Closing the gun, she turned it upside down and held it by the muzzles with the heel of the stock resting on the floor. Looking right down the barrels with her left eye, she saw the toe to the left upside down--which meant this gun was cast on and meant for a left-handed shooter.

A little cast on made the gun softer shooting, as heretical as that sounded. The cast on also drastically increased face slap. No free lunch, Marinette thought wryly.

She loaded the gun, and then equipped her special holster so she could conceal-carry the shotgun in her right pantleg. As long as she didn’t sit down, Marinette figured she’d be okay and not shoot her knee out.

There was no point in fooling around the gun before she had to, so she slid the shotty into the holster.

The last step in her preparations was to address her crew. Marinette steeled herself, and opened the comms to gather them all on the bridge.

***

“Here we are.” Standing against the dash in an at-ease position, Marinette faced her crew head on, knowing very well that she may never see some of them after this moment. “Death’s door.”

She licked her cracked lips, again tasting blood. She’d have to fix that, if she lived. “But I'll tell you right now. We’re all going to go out there, shoot up the place, and come right back to the ship whole and unbeaten.”

Luka, who would stay behind, stared at the floor. “Y’all come back now, y’hear?”

Each of the crew--Kim, Chloe, Adrien, Luka, Kagami, Fu, Nino, her trusty Alya--all of them wore grim, despairing expressions. Marinette couldn’t have that.

“We will.” Marinette clenched her fist in front of her, a show of bravado for her family. “We will.”

Nino, as decked out with weaponry as she was--as they all were--shifted on his feet, anxiety radiating from him in waves. “How do you know?”

“We’re not gonna die. We can’t die. You know why?” With each word, Marinette’s voice grew quieter and quieter, and more and more gravelly. “Because we are so… very… pretty.”

Marinette gave him a fierce, crooked smile. “We are just too pretty for God to let us die.”