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“Adrien?”

Miss Bustier didn’t even look up when she called his name, pale lashes fixated on her attendance sheet. But after a moment of silence, she glanced up at the empty seat in the first row of the classroom.

Marinette sat right behind it, and she squirmed in her seat as the teacher looked right past her.

“Adrien Agreste …?”

“He’s not coming today,” Nino said helpfully, and Miss Bustier nodded, marking it down on the sheet.

“How many times does that make this week?” Alya whispered into Marinette’s ear, and her best friend shrugged, like she hadn’t even noticed.

(She wished she didn’t notice.)

Because this was the second time this week. The fifth time this month. From a student who had missed class occasionally, sure, but it was always for a photoshoot or some other good reason, and would take tests early to compensate. Adrien Agreste was a star pupil and an all around good person.

Or so she had thought.

Marinette pushed her pencil with the tip of her nail, watching it roll across the desk and back to her with a detached sort of glumness. Mostly, she was trying not to stare at Adrien’s empty seat.

Because, despite the fact she had sworn off any and all feelings for Adrien Agreste, obsessive behavior was a tricky thing to quit. She counted every absence, noticed every facial expression and weird comment. Not that he talked to her. It was like he knew the moment she stopped trusting him, because he hadn’t spoken a word to her or Alya since. Nino and Alya kept wanting to talk to her about it, but Marinette didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what to say.

Because worse than Adrien’s behavior was the fact that she hadn’t seen Chat Noir since that night. Not once.

No one had.

Which was why Adrien’s absences were so frustrating, because now she couldn’t corner him, shake him by the shoulders and demand answers. How did he know Chat Noir? What did he do to him? Was it related to why he asked her if she had seen him outside the bakery?

She had joked about Chat to him, she had been elated that he had even spoken to her, and he had turned around and - in some way - hurt her partner. Hurt one of her best friends. And she was an idiot, fooled by a pretty face and a high profile family.

And now Chat Noir had gone missing in action. Or … maybe action wasn't the right word. The break from Akuma attacks was still ongoing - so maybe he wasn't missing. Just laying in wait. Not risking a transformation for pointless bakery visits anymore.

To assume the best - that he was absolutely fine, and in no danger from the Agrestes or anyone else - was also to assume the worse. Because that meant he simply didn't want to see her - Marinette - anymore. In addition to him avoiding Ladybug. And she had no idea how to process that.

But it was still infinitely better than the alternative.

But if Adrien had hurt him - if he had kept him from being Chat Noir - Marinette would … She would …

Well, she didn't know what she'd do. But it'd be bad.

She groaned, and dropped her head against her desk and sulked until class ended.

“Hey,” Alya said, tapping her back to get her attention. “Do you want to see a movie or something this afternoon? My treat. You need some cheering up.”

Marinette didn’t remove her head from the desk, but lifted her hand from the desk and waved her fingers. “I have to help at the bakery. Maybe some other time.”

“Figured,” Alya said, sighing. “You know, if you ever want to talk …”

“Nothing happened,” Marinette said, not bothering to put any conviction in it.

“Right,” said Alya. “... I know. But I’m always here.”

“I know,” Marinette mumbled. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Alya said, squeezing her shoulder, and she heard the sound of her chair scraping against the floor and her footsteps as she left.

Marinette stayed, alone in the classroom, the only sound the rain hitting the windows. She felt Tikki stirring in her purse, and she lifted her head up and unlatched it. Tikki flew up in front of her face, giant blue eyes deflated with concern.

“It’s been two weeks, Tikki,” Marinette said, feeling exhausted just saying it. “He straight up … disappeared. We don’t even know if he’s alive!” She moaned, dropping her face to her hands. “I should have just told him I was Ladybug that night, even if he didn’t want to-”

“It’s good you didn’t! ” Tikki cut her off. “You weren’t thinking clearly. What if he’s in trouble, or someone found out his identity? You could have gotten in trouble, too. Or something … else could have happened.”

“You told me when we met that I could lose my powers if I told someone who I was, or use my abilities selfishly. But how - how likely is that? Would it have happened--”

Tikki gave her a tiny shrug. “It’s not worth the risk, is it? Look, Chat Noir just wants to make sure you and your secret identity is safe. I’m sure that’s what was he was thinking, he only wants the best for you-”

“I know,” said Marinette. “Which is why he’s always getting hit by evil arrows or erased from the space-time continuum, or disappearing for weeks on end. And why I’m always left on my own, feeling … useless.”

“You’re not useless. You’re anything but!” Tikki protested.

Marinette peeled her fingers apart to look at the kwami, who continued with renewed energy. “You always save him, Marinette! I’m sure you will again, and it’ll work out fine.”

“Maybe,” said Marinette, quiet, and then she shook her head. “No. I’m sure you’re right. There’s gotta be a way to fix this.”

“Who knows,” Tikki said, sing-song. “Maybe it’ll be  another kiss?”

“Tikki!”

“Ha,” Tikki laughed, gloating. “You’re smiling again!”

Marinette touched her mouth, and felt her own smile falter.

There must have been a way to fix this.

But Marinette was fairly certain it wasn't going to be as easy as a kiss.


“So Nino practically scaled the Agreste Mansion today and nearly got a restraining order courtesy of that assistant lady, but! He did manage to get an “answer” for all these absences.”

Marinette sighed into the phone - nestled between her shoulder and cheek - while she painted her toenails. “Do we have to talk about this?”

There was a pause on the other end. “Marinette,” Alya said, speaking slowly. “In the past year that Adrien Agreste has been attending our school, I can’t remember a day where you didn’t bring him up in a conversation. Now you don’t even want to talk about him disappearing and being quiet and sulky all the time and pretending we don’t exist?”

Marinette dipped to get a better angle for her pinkie toe, and her towel slipped down her brow. She scowled, adjusting it. “I’m just … it’s not really any of our business.”

“What? Marinette, just a few weeks ago you spent twenty minutes talking about the fact he started wearing his ring on a chain around his neck and ‘what does it mean!?’ Obsessing over Adrien Agreste isn’t just your hobby, it’s a full time job. It’s in your blood! Who are you and what have you done with Marinette?”

Marinette screwed her eyes shut and sighed. “Maybe I’m just over that. Over the obsessing. Over… him.”

There was a long period of silence, and Marinette put down the nail polish so she could check the call hadn’t dropped.

“... Um, Alya?”

“... Really?”

“What?” Marinette said, defensive.

“It’s just …” Alya trailed off. “Never mind. Forget I said anything.”

What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Alya said, in her most annoying it-is-certainly-NOT-nothing voice. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“But-”

“Night!”

Marinette closed her eyes and groaned when she heard the click on the other end, and tried to focus all of her nervous energy on keeping her polka dots even.


Marinette woke to a BOOM like the world had just exploded.

Her first groggy thought was fireworks? But it was November. So why would… what was - god, she was so tired. She sat in bed for a few minutes, her mind buzzing with confusion but her body refused to move into action, as the seconds ticked by like nothing had happened. She decided she had dreamt it.

She must have fallen asleep again, despite it all, because the next thing she could remember was being awoken by silence. The eerie sound of every piece of technology in her home shutting off all at once - every buzz, every hum, every beep.

And then complete darkness.

Marinette jumped out of bed, stumbling to her window in the pitch blackness, and stared, slack jawed, into nothing. The entire city of Paris had gone dark.

“Tikki,” she whispered, right as another firework had gone off, trailing behind a man in black like rocket exhaust. He flew across the sky in a flight of oddity that could only mean one thing - an akuma.

Her transformation gave off it’s own light, a dazzling pink light show performance, and she tried to memorize the quickest path out of her room before it went off again. She succeeded, except for when she smacked her face into the ladder that led to her balcony. So much for Ladybug’s effortless grace.

She crawled up onto the roof, resisting the urge to drop to her knees and crawl on all fours, illumination coming only from the occasional firework racing across the sky, accompanied by another BOOM and manic laughter.

It had been so long since she had done this, she realized. Since this had happened at all - it was a month since the last attack, and it had almost made her forget what it felt like. What it meant.

It was a freezing November night, and maybe - if this had been some other time, a month earlier - she would be groaning and wanting to crawl right back in bed.

But it was a Akuma attack, at long, long last.

And she might - no, she would see Chat Noir again.

The thought sparked through her, setting her nerves alight, making her heart pound and her cheeks burn despite the cold. She jumped through the city, using her yoyo’s light as she went, towards the source, with a hellbent determination. She would see him again. She would, she would, she would. He was there. He had to be. He had never missed an attack, and whatever this thing was, it wouldn’t keep him from saving the day.

That was just who he was.

She kept that thought close as she ran down the streets, a mad smile on her face, until she finally ran right into the path of Fireworker.

“Where’s the cat?” the man said, more genuinely confused than taunting.

“Probably running late,” she said, speaking through a confident, toothy grin. He’s fine. He’s coming. He’ll be here any minute.”

Fireworker gave her a look, and then shrugged and flickered, emerging the world back into darkness.

She hoped Chat and his night vision were coming sooner rather than later.


 Her confidence burned bright through the first hour, waned in the second, and was left a sputtering, defiant spark in the third.

Even as she broke Fireworker’s sparkler beneath her foot she was hoping Chat Noir would run out from a corner, acting surprised that she had handled it all on her own.

But he never did.

Her call of “Miraculous Ladybug” sounded tiny and pathetic in her own ears, and the usual rush that came with the ability was absent.

She swallowed as the lights of Paris slowly came back to life, like the city was letting out a huge breath. This was usually her favorite part, but all she felt was … cold.

She waited with the akuma victim until the police came to take him home, and then she slipped out, walking back on foot as her transformation gave out. Her pajamas were thin and she was freezing, but at least she’d be home soon. She had never seen the streets to Paris so quiet and empty.

“Marinette?” Tikki asked, and Marinette clenched her teeth and pretended she didn’t hear it. She wasn’t in the mood to chat.

She turned another corner and was startled to find herself at the back end of the Agreste Mansion. There was one light on, coming from a huge window. She stared up, and for a section, she thought she saw…

She blinked, and the light was off, but the image of someone standing in the window burned in her mind.


Marinette had a headache, a runny nose, and a vendetta the size of Jupiter the following morning.

She had felt so sick waking up this morning, only a couple hours after she had bid the butterfly adieu. (Seriously, why did so many of these attacks have to take place in the middle of the night?). Her father had tried to convince her to stay home, but she wasn’t having it. Marinette needed answers, and she wasn’t going to get them from staying in bed all day. Even if she did feel like she had been ran over.

She slinked into class a couple minutes late, unnoticed, and walked right past Adrien, back from his leave of absence, staring a hole into the surface of his desk. A part of her wanted to slam her textbooks down right in front of him, to yell and get his attention and shake him by the shoulders until he told her everything he knew about Chat Noir. Instead she slipped into her seat and pulled her knees up, curling herself into a tight knot, almost shaking. She was so mad. She couldn’t even remember being this angry at anyone that wasn’t Chloe.

So she settled with glaring a hole into the back of his head all morning.

“Hey,” Nino whispered to Adrien, at their first break. “Welcome back. Everything okay?”

“So,” Alya said a second later, turning to Marinette. “Did you see the Akuma Attack last night? With the loud noises and the blackout? It was wicked!”

“Yeah,” Marinette said, distracted, straining to hear Adrien’s response.

“I’m still under house arrest,” Adrien mumbled, and Nino made a pained face.

“Okay, now I know something’s wrong, because you never miss the opportunity to make an arrest/Agreste pun.”

“-- I crawled up on the roof with a few flashlights and watched the - Marinette, are you even listening to me?”

Marinette blinked. “Hmm? Oh, yeah. Yeah. Go on.”

“And they’re mad at you for that?” Nino asked, and Marinette groaned quietly, realizing she had missed something Adrien said.

He spoke up again, voice even quieter. “They won’t let me out of the house. It’s worse than it’s ever been - they’re even guarding my door at night…”

Alya sighed, and Marinette realized she had ignored her again. Oops. “Fine,” Alya said. “Nino, Adrien, did you see anything from the Akuma attack last night?”

They turned, and Marinette saw how exhausted Adrien looked. He still wouldn’t look either of them in the eye.

“The - what ? Oh, man, did I miss it?” Nino groaned. Adrien just shook his head silently.

“How did you miss it? It was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“I sleep like the dead, Alya, and I was up until two-”

“Did you notice that Chat Noir wasn’t there?” Marinette said, quickly, and Alya’s eyes widened.

“What? No! I didn’t hear Cataclysm or any puns when it got closer to my house, but I just … are you serious?”

Marinette fidgeted at the sudden change in attention - Alya had even pulled out her phone to take notes - and then shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed like it took longer than usual, and I didn’t hear him either…”

“Yeah,” Alya said, nodding deeply. “It was by your place for the end of it, wasn’t it? Oh man, I need to research this more!”

Nino pulled down on his face. “That’s … that’s super scary, dude. Do you think something’s happened to him?”

Adrien just stared at the floor.

“Maybe he just slept through it,” Alya suggested, raising an eyebrow. “Like a certain someone.”

“Hey--”

“I don’t think so,” Marinette said. “I think something did happen to happen. There’s no reason why he just wouldn’t show up. It must be that something - or someone - is keeping him away.”

Adrien flinched, and she felt a flicker of triumph. So she did have a lead.

“Alright,” said Ms. Mendeleiev, walking into the classroom. “Settle down, settle down-- oh, be quiet!

Chloe and Sabrina ran in, right on cue. Chloe hesitated for a moment at Adrien’s desk, meeting his eye.

“You should be in your seat when class starts, Miss Bourgeois!”

Chloe startled, and then put her hands on her hips. “It’s not even started yet, you’re just--”

Mendeleiev narrowed her eyes, and Chloe grumbled and returned to her seat. Mendeleev was one of the only teachers who actually followed through on giving Chloe detentions - even if she was in danger of being fired every time she did.

It was the best thing about her.

… Everything else? Less great.

Chemistry was far from her favorite subject, and they weren’t even doing a lab that day - just lecture, lecture, lecture. Marinette stared into the back of Adrien’s head, wishing she could stare right through and see every one of his thoughts. What did he know? How was his family involved with all of this? Did he know where Chat Noir was?


The class dragged on, until Nathanael, as always, managed to irritate Mendeleiev in some way. Poor boy, Marinette thought, watching as their teacher walked to the back of the classroom and lectured him for doodling in his notes, or whatever crime it was today, and she took the momentary distraction as an opportunity.

“Nino,” she whispered, making sure she caught Adrien’s attention as well. “Isn’t it horrible that Chat Noir is missing? Don’t you think we should do something about it?”

“I mean … what could we do?” Nino whispered back, glancing over his shoulder. “We’re not superheroes.”

“Yeah,” Marinette said, “but we could investigate suspicious characters. Maybe… ” she stumbled. “Uh, maybe like people the akuma victim works with?”

Wowww,” Alya said. “I’ve never seen you get so interested with something involving those two. I’m proud.”

Marinette fidgeted. “Adrien, you have a lot of connections, you could probably find something.”

Adrien said nothing.

“I don’t think so,” Nino said. “His dad’s been weirder than usual lately.”

Marinette bit her lip. “Why’s that, Adrien? You have any idea what’s going on? Right when Chat Noir disappeared too. Wow, maybe the two are re-”

Something hit Marinette in the ear, and Marinette swerved around to see Chloe glaring at her.

“Oh my God, Marinette,” Chloe stage whispered, her sharp, high voice cutting right through her thoughts. “Leave him alone and shut up. We’re in class, remember? You’re not supposed to talk!”

Marinette tensed, shoulders up nearly to her ears. “Kettle, meet pot? And this isn’t any of your business--”

Chloe scowled. “Adrien’s my friend, I’m not going to just sit here and listen as you go off on him for some freaky deaky Marinette reason-”

Adrien’s mouth was a thin line. “Chloe, it’s not worth--”

“It is! She’s being a--”

Marinette growled. “I’m being a what, Chloe? A jerk? A bully? Because you'd know all about that--”

“Ugh, shut up.”

“You three!” They all spun around, as Mendeleiev walked down the steps towards them, spinning to face their tables. Her face was red and scrunched up like she was holding in a scream. “Out. Get out of my classroom.”

“But--” Marinette and Chloe spoke at the same time, their voices creating a needling whine.

Out!”

They scampered out, and Marinette tried to ignore Alya’s facial expression and insistent pointing at her phone. Her entire body felt hot. She never got in trouble with teachers. Stupid Chloe. Stupid Adrien.

“Uch,” Chloe said, the sound crawling out of her throat like she was trying to cough something up. “This blows. I’m going to fix my make up. Tell her I have my dad on the phone if Mendeleiev freaks. Okay, Adrien?”

“Chloe,” Adrien said, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I’m not sitting around to deal with her if she has another one of her freak outs,” Chloe said, pointing a thumb at Marinette. “See you in a bit. Good luck,” she added, voice sickly sweet, and Marinette wanted to scream.

They stood against the classroom wall, looking at anything but each other, and Marinette could hear the sound of Chloe’s flats trailing through the hallway and then down the stairs. And then nothing.

It was quiet enough that she could still hear every word Mendeleiev was saying in her lecture. Marinette wondered if she took notes that it would win her back some teacher’s pet points. Probably not.

She still feeling sick, so she slid down against the classroom wall until she was sitting, knees up and arms folded on top of them.

Adrien started to sit next to her, and she hopped right back up and crossed the hall to stand at the other end. He stared at her like she had smacked him across the face.

“Guess that confirms it,” he muttered.

“Confirms what?” she snapped.

He looked startled, like he didn’t realize he had spoken out loud. “Nothing,” he said, finally, and Marinette scoffed, sitting against the wall opposite the classroom.

While she sat and waited, her obsessive imagination spun a million tales. The Agreste’s had figured out Chat’s secret identity and were blackmailing him, or they were going to make him the new face of the Gabriel Agreste Fashion Line against his will, or they had him locked up in the basement of their huge mansion, or …

“... Does Ladybug even need Chat Noir?”

Marinette’s head jolted up, and she narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about? She does. One fight where she got lucky doesn’t mean anything. She almost lost her miraculous eight times last night. … Apparently.”

His mouth tightened. “Is it worth the risk if he loses his, though?”

Marinette stood, her brow creased. “Where’s this coming from?”

He took a step back. “I just …” he exhaled, slowly. “Never mind.” He sat down, and she spent the next few minutes glaring at his reflection on the floor.

“Do you really need to fight every battle?” he asked, looking at her over his knees.

“Who’s going to stand up for people if I don’t?” She exhaled slowly. “Funny actually, because you used to. You used to - we used to…” she trailed off, and looked at him.

He was wearing makeup, she realized. Not that that was super uncommon, but … she tilted her head, saw the foundation expertly covering under his eyes. She could only spot the minute difference between the color of this make up compared to his natural skin tone because she had spent so many hours studying his face. She had been so dumb. So, so, so dumb.

“You used to care,” she said, at last. “About Mylene. And others. Why defend Chloe when she’s a awful and hurts people?”

“I can't pick the people I care about. I don't… I don't have a lot of "people", in general.”

Marinette scoffed. “You have Nino. And everyone in our class likes you. You could have had… Whatever. Just … whatever.”

The conversation died again, returning them to awkward, tense silence.

Chloe strolled back into the hall, and groaned in dismay. “She still hasn’t let us back in? God. Well, I’m glad Marinette hasn’t clawed your eyes out yet. You okay, Adrien?”

Marinette glowered, and stood up again.

“I’m fine,” Adrien muttered.

“I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” she said. “I mean, I have to put up with this all the time from her, but I thought you’d be safe, at least...”

“Mm,” he mumbled, studying a spot on his knees.

“You know,” Chloe said, leaning over him, her hands on her hips. Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “It's so weird because she's been in love with you for, like, a year.”

Marinette’s heart jolted to a stop.

“Chloe,” she started, but her mouth was so dry she could barely hear herself.

Chloe continued whispering, clearly not caring if she could hear or not. “I mean - could you tell? Did you know? She was so obvious.”

Adrien glanced at Marinette, his lips trying to form a word but unable to.

“Did you?” Chloe urged, and then nudged him. “Huh?”

“I--” his eyes were still on Marinette, and she wanted to scream. “... Yeah,” he said, swallowing.

Marinette’s skin burned.

“Ha,” Chloe said, grinning. “I thought so. Everyone knew it, it was so pathetic-”

“Chloe,” she said, her voice flat. “Shut the hell up.”

The blonde’s expression turned into a smirk. “Is that why you’re so mad? Did he reject you? Wah, poor freaky Marinette, can’t get--”

And then the next thing she knew she had grabbed Chloe’s arm - enough to hurt, yeah, but not enough for her to start screaming like she had been shot--

And that, of course, was when Ms. Mendeleiev walked out the door.


 Marinette honestly didn't know what was worse - getting her first detention ever, or the fact she was going to have to spend a Saturday afternoon with Chloe.

Her parents had clearly gotten the phone call while she was still at school, because they were standing right at the front door when she walked in.

“You got into a fight!?” Her mother exclaimed immediately, shaking her head. “Marinette, this is - this is so unlike you!”

“It wasn’t a fight,” Marinette mumbled. She had grabbed Chloe. She had screamed. And okay, yeah, Chloe’s arm was a little bruised, but it wasn’t Marinette’s fault that Chloe had the skin of a peach.

Her mother shook her head. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.”

Her father seemed to have his disappointed speech prepared. “Your mother and I - we get calls every time you defend a student, did you know that? And we are proud - immensely proud. And we knew you had a problem with that Bourgeois girl, but … a fight over a boy?”

Marinette stared at the ground, trying her hardest to keep her cool.

“Look,” her mother said. “I know you really, really like that Adrien boy, but--”

Marinette couldn’t stand another second of it - couldn’t stand to hear his stupid name. She shoved past her parents and ran up the stairs, ignoring their shocked looks and how easily she could push her father away even when she wasn’t transformed.

She hopped up through the trap door, chest heaving, and didn’t even realize she was crying until she curled into a little ball on her bed.

She didn’t know how much time had passed - or how loudly she had been crying - until the trapdoor creaked open, a hand pushing a note inside.

You don’t have to come down to dinner if you’re not feeling better. Leftovers will be in the fridge. We love you.

PS: You’re still grounded.

She picked up the note and groaned, falling onto her sofa. She was done crying and was angry with herself for doing it in the first place. It was tears of frustration, of being treated unfairly, of …

Of missing Chat.

“Marinette,” Tikki said, sounding gentle but stern. “You know what you did today was a reaaaally bad idea, right?”

Marinette groaned, her headache so bad she didn’t even want to open her eyes. “I know. I don’t know what came over me.”

“Hormones?” Tikki suggested, and Marinette glared at her.

“Sorry,” she said, quickly. “I’ve been working with teenage girls for thousands of years. That’s usually the answer.”

Marinette rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know what to do. He clearly knows something.”

“I agree,” she said, nodding her giant head. “There’s what Chat Noir said, and his weird comments today … Your interrogation skills need work, though.”

“You taught me how to be a superhero,” Marinette said. “Not a Bond villain.” The words brought back a memory - of threatening Chat with a shark tank. She exhaled. “I miss him, Tikki. And I don’t think I can do this flying-solo thing for very long…”

“Don't worry, Marinette. I’m sure we’ll find him before the next attack--”

There was loud BANG from outside, and Tikki cut herself off mid sentence as they both turned towards the street.

MARINETTE DUPAIN-CHENG!” cried a familiar voice from outside her window, booming and whiny. “Come out, come out, wherever you are, freak!”

Marinette stood at her window and stared as a girl clad in a yellow and black ensemble flew towards her house, a swarm of people in similar (but less avant-garde) outfits right behind her.

“... Or not,” said Tikki.


 “Bye bye, little butterfly,” Marinette said, voice flat, and watched it float off and then returned her gaze to Chloe from her perch on top of a building.

She only had a couple minutes to use Miraculous Ladybug before her transformation timed out, but, well, she could probably enjoy the image of Chloe with her feet trapped in wet cement for a little longer. Her outfit was ridiculous, too. She hoped Alya got good footage of it.

Though that wouldn’t be difficult. This fight had gone one for … four hours? And Chloe had an earring between her fingers before Marinette had managed to kick her and get away. She wasn’t going to last much longer like this, she needed … She needed to get Chat back.

She exhaled slowly, her need for petty revenge gone. “Miraculous -”

A car stopped, and she dropped to a crouch, watching as Adrien burst out of his black car and ran - faster than she thought he could run, actually - right towards them. He stopped as soon as he spotted Chloe, standing stock still a few feet away from Marinette’s hiding spot. She flattened herself, hiding, a hand protectively over her Miraculous.

But he hadn’t notice her - just took another shaky step towards his friend. “Chloe,” he whispered, sounding ... broken. “He took … he used Chloe.”

He ran a hand through his hair, and let out a slow breath. Marinette’s fingers curled tighter around her ear, and she felt a curious tightness in her chest.

Miraculous Ladybug,” Marinette whispered, and waited until he had taken a dazed but cured Chloe back into the car before jumping down.

“Maybe he’s not…” Tikki murmured, and Marinette bit her lip.

“I know. But there were those comments he made, and … I trust Chat,” she said, finally. “I … I can figure it out when I get him back.”

Tikki looked at her, blue eyes ancient and unfathomable, and then nodded.


 

THE LADYBLOG

 

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Posted by Alya Cesaire at 5:56 am

 

Hello hello hello! It’s 5am as a write this and I haven’t slept a wink, but it’s WORTH it for you guys!

 

Long time no blog, huh? Well, if you didn’t already see from the videos I uploaded last night, our Ladybug hiatus is OVER! She’s back to saving Paris again, after an attack late Tuesday night and then another one Wednesday afternoon. And of course, she’s as cool as ever.

Here’s the weird thing though: Chat Noir is missing. Yeah, that’s right, put up your missing cat posters, because he was nowhere to be seen yesterday, and according to one of my sources, was MIA from Tuesday’s events as well! No word on what’s happened, or where he’s been ... but I hope for all of our sake’s he’s just taking a cat nap!

 

As a result of losing her feline friend, Ladybug’s fight went on for a record breaking four hours yesterday! Ladybug seemed to be in low spirits yesterday as she battled a bee themed akuma alone. Her sticky honey attacks and ability to make civilians into her own swarm of Honeybees made her quite the enemy, especially for someone who was down a teammate! No official word on what activated the attack, though I did hear a certain mayor’s daughter got a detention yesterday … but that’s neither here nor there!

 

Hope our superheroes get reunited soon, or the shippers are gonna have a heart attack, ha ha.

If you have any tips, of course, send them right to the Ladyblog!

#BringBackChatNoir2015 !

 


 The next morning at school, everyone was talking about it. Chloe had come to school incognito - big white sunglasses, and a scarf around her hair, like she was some American movie star avoiding paparazzi. The metaphor wasn’t too far off. Even the teachers seemed to be gossiping. But what people were most intrigued about had little to do with Chloe Bourgeois. The entire world had caught on that Ladybug was missing a partner, and everybody had their own personal take.

“I heard he was kidnapped--”

“Kicked off the team!”

“Became evil--”

“Turned invisible!”

Alya, ever devoted to her line of duty, was talking to everyone to get their personal take. Marinette hoped that she might find some real lead among the rumors and gossip.

She was doing her own investigation, in the meanwhile.

“Hey, Nino, is Adrien around?”

He shook his head. “He’s trying to make up for the days he missed at the beginning of the week, so he’s in the library. He wouldn’t mind talking to you, though! Not at all. Actually, you should definitely initiate a conversation with him cuz--”

She frowned. “Um. Cool. Actually, I wanted to ask - do you know what his opinion is on Ladybug and Chat Noir? Or his father’s?”

Nino snorted. “Me and Adrien’s pop don’t exactly get along. And by that I mean he’s literally threatened to give me a restraining order. So I have no idea if he secretly has a Ladybug shrine in his giant walking closet. As for Adrien …” He trailed off, lost in thought. “He seems to like them? I don’t know. Mostly Ladybug I think. No surprise. Chat’s kinda a ... well. He's awesome and tough but like, the whole perfect hair and romantic shtick? Pretty hard for us normal dudes to live up to those standards.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “So … he supports Ladybug?”

“Far as I can tell. Again, the subject doesn’t come up much.”

Marinette’s frown deepened. So, what? Could Adrien want to get Chat out of the way to replace him as Ladybug’s partner? … No. That was a far stretch, even for her. Adrien wasn’t the evil mastermind behind this. But his father still could be.

“Hey, y’know what I think happened to Chat? Remember how in The Incredibles, when the bad guy is bringing everyone to the island to off them…”

After getting a very thorough recap of the Pixar film, Marinette managed to slip away right before break ended, so she could check the library. She slipped through the stacks, until she heard a murmur of a familiar voice.

“--I know, I know, but they searched my room, and won’t let me out without a chaperone, and it’s so…” Adrien groaned. “All that matters is that the ring is--”

Marinette rounded the corner of the shelf, and saw Adrien speaking to … no one.

She stared, blinking at him.

He grimaced, and then ran off in the other direction.


She went to bed stupidly early that night - at eight pm. Her parents were convinced she was sick. Not really that far off. All of the gossip and rumors about horrible things happening to Chat were making her feel queasy and anxious and useless--

She had a stress nightmare about paperclips, and woke up, sweating, a few hours later. Her phone said it was still only eleven, and she got up to go to the bathroom. After, she paused at her window, seeing movement outside. Someone walking outside, wearing all black. It wasn’t exactly unusual, but she hesitated a moment, watching them walk past. She shook her head, turned away -

And then did a double take.

She pressed her face against the window as a person in black clothes  leaped across the street, flying up towards the alley and touching down in a three point landing like a movie superhero.

Black clothes.

With a cat eared silhouette.

Her heart pounded and her ears rang as she tugged her jacket on and opened up the trapdoor.

Marinette completely forgot to be quiet until she had already flew down the stairs, and only stopped when she heard Tikki’s voice, a pleading whisper.

“Marinette, be careful,” she begged, zipping along behind her. “You're grounded, remember?” Gingerly, Marinette crossed the first floor and was only a few steps away from the bakery’s door when she heard a knock.

A knock.

It was real, she wasn’t dreaming, he was…

She surged towards it as Tikki darted behind the couch. He was back, he was back, he was -

She pulled the door open, careful not to make too much noise. Her face hurt, she was smiling so hard.

And there he was, grinning like the Cheshire cat, the ears standing out against the streetlight behind him.

He was ...

… He was not Chat Noir.

Marinette head swam as she took in the stranger before her. Because, obviously, he was Chat Noir. The confidence, the black, the cat ears ... Her gaze fell to the ring on his finger, looking the same as it always did, but everything else

This Chat Noir wore a comfortable hoodie, the hood pulled up with big cat ears on it. His mask was the same, but beneath it his eyes were a witchy yellow gold, and his skin was a warm brown. He had massive headphones around his neck - decorated with the same green paw print as his ring - and fingerless gloves. The bell around his neck was smaller, serving as a zipper pull, and he wore black jeans and lace up boots.

It was far, far too perfectly made to just be a fan costume - she could see from how the material subtly shimmered it was made from the same indestructible material as her suit. But how…

He was still smiling at her, though her own grin had long since fallen off her face.

“Who are you?” she said, taking a step back.

“Chat Noir. Obviously,” he said, beaming. “Look, look, I’ve even got the baton, it’s sick.

“But how-” she pressed her fingers against her lower lip. “Are you an akuma? Like the Copycat? Because if this some kind of--”

“No!” He said, quickly. “I’m real!” He took a deep breath. “Cata-- actually. No. That’s probably a bad idea. But I promise. It’s … c’mon, Marinette, don’t you recognize me?”

She stared blankly. “... No?”

The smile fell off his face. “Are you serious? We’ve known each other since we were eleven. Our first conversation was about snails? ... Still no?”

“I …” she frowned. “I’ve only met one Chat Noir. And … you are not him.”

“Well, duh,” he said, but not unkindly. “It’s me. Your classmate? Your friend? Nino.”

Wait, what?

Marinette clutched the doorframe to keep herself from falling over.

“What? ” But then it - she looked closer, and saw the familiarity in the golden eyes. And the headphones, that was-- of course. “Nino, how did you … since when have you…?”

“I don’t know!” he said, sounding confused and giddy all at once. “When I went to my locker at the end of the day I just saw this - this weird black box in my locker. And when I opened it, it had this --” he flashed her the ring, “and this little cat dude who told me I was the new Chat Noir.”

“The new - but what happened to the old one?”

Nino deflated. “I don’t know. The cat dude - Plagg - wouldn’t tell me. He just told me to come here. Said that you and Chat were friends, so I thought maybe you knew something…”

Marinette swallowed and shook her head. “No, no I - I haven’t seen him in weeks. The last time we talked he was in some sort of trouble, and I when I saw you, I thought - I, hoped ...” she bit down on her lip, frustrated at the threat of tears. “I thought that he had come back."

“Hey,” he said, softly, grabbing her hand. “Hey, don’t … Don’t cry, Marinette, it’s …” he winced. “Euugh, I feel so useless when people cry! Um. It’s gonna be okay, doesn’t this mean he’s fine? If he handed his Miraculous off to me, then…”

Marinette swallowed. “Yeah, you’re… You’re right. Yeah.” The more she spoke, the better she felt - she could feel the pieces fitting into place in her head. She started talking faster, more eagerly. “You found the Miraculous after class today. So that means he has to be at the school, right? Who knows your locker combination?”

“Oh, right!” he said. “Easy. Adrien. … And Alya. And most of the teachers, and Mylene’s dad. Max too. And Ivan, and Alix. Oh, and Rose, she leaves me snacks sometimes, she’s awesome.”

Marinette stared. “... So, the entire school.”

Nino at least had the decency to look sheepish. “... Pretty much, yeah.”

Marinette ran her hands down her face. “Maybe I should - maybe I should just talk to your kwami. See what he knows.”

Nino frowned. “Wait, how did you know that word?”

Marinette flinched, Tikki’s words of warning echoing in her head. Don’t let anyone know who you are - under any circumstances!

“Um,” Marinette said. “Chat and I were… close?”

Nino raised his eyebrows, eyes wide, and Marinette scowled. “Not like that, it’s just … I can’t explain right now. Can I just … talk this out first with him?”

Nino shrugged. “Fine with me.” And - like it was no big deal at all - he tugged off the ring.

Marinette watched, amazed, as the transformation faded, green light passing over and returning Nino to his usual self.

“Aw,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “I was hoping the 20/20 vision would stick. Anyway, here we are…”

Plagg darted out from the ring in a swirl of black and green magic, forming into a … absolutely adorable cat … thing. With him, the blackness left the ring, leaving it a sterile white. Marinette tilted her head, taking in the kwami’s giant green eyes and itty bitty fangs.

The kwami blinked at her, looking bored.

“Plagg,” Nino said, handing the kwami his ring. “Marinette. Marinette, Plagg.”

“Yo.”

Marinette gestured for the two of them to come in, and gently closed the door behind them. “My parents are still asleep, so … keep quiet. Actually, Nino, would you … would you mind staying in the kitchen for a bit? So Plagg and I … I need to ...” She looked at Plagg, lost for an excuse.

“Nino, the grownups are talking,” he said dismissively, his voice lower than she’d expect it to be.

Marinette flashed an apologetic smile. “You’re free to any pastries on the counter, they’re fair game.”

“Get me some cheese pastries,” Plagg said.

Nino frowned. “I thought you only--”

Get me some.”

“You might want to reconsider your sass levels before you start demanding things,” Nino muttered, and then slipped into the kitchen. “Good luck, Marinette,” he added, poking his head through the doorway.

Marinette watched until she heard the fridge open, and then let out a big breath. “Um, Tikki? You can come out now.”

Tikki zipped out from behind the couch, her tiny arms crossed.

“Plagg,” she said, eyes narrow slits.

“Tikki,” he said. “You’re looking … red.”

“So,” Marinette said, exhaling slowly. “I can’t - I won’t say it, but I’m…”

“Ladybug?” Plagg said. “Duh.”

She and Tikki both let out a squeak of alarm. Marinette spoke up first, her heart pounding. “You - you two knew? But I -- how long?”

Plagg shrugged. “Not until that ‘secret for a secret’ thing. He figured it out soon after. Well, I’m assuming he did. I did. ‘Course, he might still be in denial.”

“Chat? Is he okay? Where is he?”

“I …” Plagg hesitated. “... Can’t tell.”

Marinette took a step towards the kwami, her mouth a thin line. “What do you mean, you can’t tell? If you abandoned him while he was in trouble, I swear to God-”

Plagg put his tiny paws up, eyes wide. “Whoa. Whoa. Look. He’s alive. He’s … been better. He … realized that this, uh, evil mastermind, what’s his face-- Hawkmoth? Was starting to catch on to him, so he made the decision that it would be safer for both of us - for all of us - if I stayed with someone else for a while. Lay it low. Eat some cheese. And I can’t tell you anything more than that. Or he’d have a fit.”

Tikki frowned. “He doesn’t want her to know who he is?”

“He thinks it would keep her safer,” Plagg answered. “Dumb kid. Sweet, but … dumb.”

Marinette frowned. “I thought Chat Noir wouldn’t lose his powers if he told people about who he was.” Plagg was giving her a look, and she pulled back. “... Because his powers aren’t altruistically motivated like mine?”

Plagg’s eyes narrowed, and then he glared at - to Marinette's numb shock - Tikki. “What did you tell her?” he said, voice flat.

Tikki shot back, ducking behind Marinette’s head. “I… I don’t know what you mean,” she said, voice bubbly as ever.

Marinette glanced between the two of them, her brow creased. “I risk losing my powers if I tell someone who I am,” she said, slowly. “That’s how it works for Ladybugs, isn’t it? That … telling people who you are is too selfish?”

Plagg eyes narrowed.  “Tikki.”

“I had every reason to do it,” Tikki said, voice suddenly tight, defensive. “It was for the best, you know what happens when we let them go all willy-nilly--”

“Tikki,” Marinette said, her voice sounding small and childish to her own ears. “What did you do?”

The kwami looked away. “I may have … told you a teeny weensy, itty-bitty fib.”

Plagg snorted. “Uh huh. Get used to it, kid. She’s always been a stickler for the secret identity thing, and she lies a lot--

“I do not,” said Tikki, stamping her foot in the air. “And, and if I do, it’s for the greater good. It really was for the best, Marinette, trust me-”

Marinette could only gawk at her in horror. Tikki sighed and switched her attention back to Plagg. “You know I’m right. Unless you think we should have another incident like Austria in 1914--”

“Oh, so that was my fault?” Plagg scoffed.

“If you had kept your charge in line instead of getting distracted by food it would have never happened--”

“What’s going on?” Marinette asked, her voice small, but the kwamis continued arguing like they didn’t hear her.

“How was supposed to know that would happen? And you weren't any help back then either!”

“It's not my job to help you!”

“And maybe if you didn’t let them go out every night all willy nilly,” Tikki continued, “we would never be in this situation--”

“If you let her tell him who she was he would have trusted her enough to talk to her in the first place, so it’s all your fault-”

My fault? You little--”

“Wait, are we talking about Chat now?” Marinette said, struggling to keep up.

“Yes,” Plagg snapped, without looking at her. “And maybe if you were a little nicer to him as Ladybug this wouldn’t have ever happened--”

“Hey!” Tikki said. “Hey! That’s not her fault! I never know where you find these boys, why should she go waltz off with some cat off the streets--”

My wards are fine, if you had any idea what this kid went through just to keep your oblivious charge safe--”

“Oh, so my charge is oblivious, but yours is perfect, even if he nearly got himself caught and couldn’t last a year as--”

“Don’t blame Chat,” Marinette cut in, but Plagg was already speaking over her like he didn’t even remember she was there.

“--It's your fault for being a lying know it all--”

“I lied because I had to--”

"Fine! Then it’s her fault--”

“No it isn’t, and if you took some responsibility for once in your life--!”

“Stop,” Marinette said, and then raised her voice to be heard over the squabbling. “Stop! Look, just - calm down, and we can sort this out--”

The kwamis both stared at her, with those giant, unblinking eyes, and suddenly, without any warning, switched to an alien language, full of chirps and trilling letters.

Marinette took a step back, eyes wide.

“Um,” said Nino, stepping carefully into the living room. “Is everything okay? Whoa, where did the red one come from?”

“Yeah, so, about that,” Marinette said, her voice flat. “I’m Ladybug.” The words weren’t as relieving as she expected them to be. She couldn’t to tear her eyes away as Plagg and Tikki turned into blurs of red and black, flying around each other and screeching.

“Oh,” said Nino. “Huh. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.” They stood quietly, left with not much else left to say. His gaze dropped to their feet. “Nice polkadots.”

She wiggled her toes. “Thanks.”

Meanwhile, Tikki and Plagg had reached a pitch that could only be heard by dogs.

Marinette hadn’t put a lot of thought into the fact that Tikki was, essentially, an alien. (A God? A something.) It was so easy just to think of her as a cute little plush fairy come to life. But she was a millennia old creature who had experiences and grudges. Really old grudges.

She didn’t know when she was supposed to break this up. When they started hurting each other? Could they even be hurt? If Chat Noir and Ladybug were indestructible while transformed, what did that make these two?

She was still debating when she was supposed to intervene when her answered was formed by the sound of gentle footsteps.

Someone was walking down the stairs.

Heart pounding, Marinette slipped into fight or flight mode. She grabbed Nino by the back of his hoodie and shoved him behind the couch, praying Plagg and Tikki would know to get out of the way on her own. In the last few seconds she had she tried, with difficulty, to compose herself into someone who looked sleepy and bored instead of panicked and confused and very much wide awake.

“Marinette?” Her dad said, ducking his head down. “Everything alright?” She watched Plagg and Tikki dive behind the staircase.

“Just, um,” she said, around a wide grin. “Getting a snack?”

“...Oh. Okay. Don’t eat too much,” he said, and then shook his head. “You didn’t have the TV on, did you? I thought I..”

“Oh, I, uh… yeah, actually, my phone’s volume was up and I accidentally clicked this weird bird video.” She gave him a wide, slightly panicked grin.

“Ahhh,” he said. “I thought I was going crazy! Night, sweetheart.”

“Night,” she whispered, and held her breath until he had disappeared back up the stairs.

Tikki noticed Nino, her eyes widening and dived back behind the stairs, and Marinette exhaled.

“He walked out while you two were … Squeaking. He knows.”

“You told him? But Marinette…” Tikki’s expression was adorably, heartbreakingly betrayed. Marinette didn't care.

“No. No more secrets. If Plagg’s right that's what got us until this whole mess. So… Please. Tell me who Chat is, so we can help him.”

Plagg hesitated, and then shook his head. “I can't. I swore. I’d get trapped in that ring for a hundred years if I broke that promise. Cross my heart.”

Marinette frowned, leaning towards him.“That’s … inconvenient. I’d ask Tikki to confirm that, but seeing as she might just lie to me anyway...”

Tikki pouted. “It wasn't like that, Marinette. But… I don't know. His magic works differently than mine. It's chaos, black magic --”

“Oh, whatever, like your magic is so pure--” Plagg started, and Marinette held up a hand.

“No. No. You two are not doing this again. No more bickering or I’ll lock you both in my diary box.”

“She’ll do it,” Nino said, nodding seriously. “Marinette’s got a wicked vengeance streak.”

Marinette shot him a look, and he shrugged. “What? It was a compliment.”

“Whatever. Look, you said Chat is in trouble. You can't tell us who he is, but… Is he still in danger? Even with the Miraculous in safe hands?”

Plagg waited for a long time before nodding, face uncharacteristically grim.

“That's it, then,” said Marinette. “We - the four of us - help him. We save him.”

“That's not our objective,” Tikki protested. “You're supposed to stop the Akuma attacks.”

“I agree, surprisingly,” Plagg said, and Marinette opened her mouth to protest, but he spoke up again before she could. “Look. You defeat this Hawkmoth guy, and you’ll… You’ll get Chat Noir out of his trouble. I promise.”

Marinette exhaled shakily. “Okay. Deal.”

Tikki did not look happy. But Marinette still couldn’t find herself to care. A year - a year of keeping that secret with her life, just to find out it was some attempt to keep her in line? So Tikki didn’t trust her, fine. She wouldn’t trust her either.

“Sooo,” Plagg said. “If we’re going to go directly for Hawkmoth … our first order of business is gonna have to be training the new recruit.”

They all turned to look at Nino, staring at them like a deer in headlights.

“... What?”

Chapter Text

Marinette was starting to forget what a good night’s sleep felt like.

She had kicked out Nino and Plagg around 4am, when all their planning starting going in circles and her words felt gummy in her mouth. She hadn’t spoken a word to Tikki all morning. The more she thought about it, the more furious she was with the Kwami. She knew, of course, it was not actually all Tikki’s fault. But it felt better to blame it on someone … especially as she wasn’t really entirely sure she could still blame Adrien.

She squished her hands against her cheeks, thinking. Could he really be involved in this, if he was that distraught about Chloe being transformed? But Chat said -

“Hi,” said a voice, very, very quietly, and Marinette’s head jolted up.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

“... Hello,” said Marinette.

This was the first time Adrien had approached her in nearly a month, and he was trying to look at anything but her.

“Are you …” He rubbed the back of his neck, engaging in a very intense staring contest with the ceiling. “Are you okay? You look tired.”

“Yeah,” said Marinette, slowly. “I stayed up pretty late last night.”

“Homework?” he asked, and Marinette remembered a similar conversation from the beginning of the month. She had not been doing her homework that night either. She had been wondering why on earth Chat Noir had shown up at her bakery. Ha. Ironic.

“Mm,” she said, still unable to figure out why he was talking to her.

He exhaled slowly. “Marinette, I just wanted to … I feel like we should, talk, about … the other day.”

Marinette straightened, feeling like the hair on the back of her neck was standing straight up. Their conversation about Chat Noir was only two days ago - but it felt like a lifetime. Was this it, then? Was he going to let it all spill?

“... I’m sorry,” he said, like the guilt was eating him alive.

She opened her mouth to say something, but he beat her to it. “... About Chloe,” he said, briefly meeting her eye.

"Chloe?” Marinette echoed, feeling totally lost.

“... What she said about you, um, liking me. And the fact I already knew.”

Marinette felt herself deflate. Great. Great. Just when she thought she might be getting somewhere …

Adrien took her expression as something else, because he cringed, flushing. “Sorry, that sounded bad. I just didn't want you to feel …”

“It's fine,” she said, waving a hand. “I'm over it.” And had better things to do. She stared at him, waiting for him to walk away.

He didn't.

“I just wanted you to know that…” he stared down. “That I never wanted to hurt you. Or, um, embarrass you.”

“You didn’t,” she said. “So. It’s fine.”

“Okay,” he said. “Right. Um. Bye.”

“Bye,” Marinette said, frowning, and felt even more confused than she had before.


 “I texted you “I’m outside”, ten minutes ago." Marinette crossed her arms, watching as Nino slipped down the fire escape of his apartment. 

“Hey,” Nino said, voice low. “My family is like, hella suspicious by nature and it takes a while to convince them that I’m sleeping.”

"It’s nearly three am,” Marinette said, frowning.

“I stay up late,” he retorted back, and she watched as he stumbled ungracefully down the second flight.

“Do you need help?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Ha ha. How was detention?”

Marinette crossed her arms, shivering and more than ready to transform.

“Detention was fine,” Marinette said, keeping her voice low so they wouldn’t wake up his family or neighbors. “Chloe was god awful.”

“You know,” Nino said, skipping the last couple steps to jump down off the side. “She’s okay sometimes, when Adrien can get her to calm down--”

“Uch,” Marinette said. “That was the worst part. She kept going off at me whenever Mendeleiev walked out to say that I owed Adrien an apology because he was really upset or whatever.”

“Wait,” Nino said, as they walked away. “Hold up. You’re fighting with Adrien?”

"No,” Marinette snapped, automatically. And then she saw Plagg peeking out from the hood of Nino’s coat and remembered that Nino was the one person she didn’t - and shouldn’t - hide this from.

“Well … okay, yeah, kinda? Look, the last time I saw Chat Noir he told me to never trust the Agrestes--”

Nino froze. “What?”

“It was-- it was terrifying, he was so scared and upset and -- I can’t do much for him right now, but I can make sure that they get what they deserve. Or … whatever. I’m still not exactly sure what they did, but Adrien keeps making weird comments…”

Nino opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. “Adrien is - isn’t - he’s not … he wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“Would his father?” Marinette retorted, and Nino grimaced.

“Maybe,” he amended. “But Adrien wouldn’t ever do something bad just because his father wanted to.”

“Do you know that?” Marinette said. “Like, dead certain, cross your heart know that?”

Nino didn’t answer.

They continued the rest of the way to the Eiffel Tower in silence (save for Plagg whining about the cold), and ducked around the teetering drunk tourists to find a secluded corner.

Nino tugged on his gloves.“How are we gonna get up there? Isn't it closed for the night?”

“For civilians, maybe,” she said, and then opened her purse.

She and Tikki hadn’t spoken in days. The kwami looked at her with surprisingly hard eyes, but transformed her with no protest.

“Ah, sick,” Nino said, grinning. “Nice pink sparkles.”

“They’re red,” Marinette muttered, hands on her hips. She could feel the warmth of her transformation surging through her, but she knew before long the cold would kick back in. At least she couldn’t actually freeze to death. 

She felt uncomfortable in a way she wasn't used to - disconnected from Tikki. Usually they were a single unit, fully fused and functioning. But tonight, she could feel Tikki - like pushing against a heavy door in the dark or finding a pebble in her shoe.

But it was fine. The only important thing tonight was getting Nino a head start.

Nino unzipped his jacket, letting Plagg fly out, and shivered. The Kwami responded in kind, his ears drooping.

“Can’t we do this practice not in the dead of the night?”

“I had detention all day,” Marinette said. “Besides, we don’t need people spying on us.”

"So we’re going to the biggest landmark in all of Paris?” Plagg said, skeptically.

“It’s the only place I could think of for his first lesson. C’mon, hop to it.”

Plagg shot her another look, and then shrugged and swirled into Nino’s ring. Nino was right, there was a lot of sparkles.

“That claw pose is interesting,” Marinette said, raising an eyebrow.

“Hey, ssh,” Nino said. “Not my idea.”

“C’mere,” she said, and grabbed him by the waist. “Up we go.”

“Oooh,” he said. “Is this cuddlier than you usually get with Chat Noirs?”

“No! I mean, yes. I mean … shut up.”

“Because,” Nino counted, undaunted as she hooked her yoyo at the top and brought them up. “I have always wondered…”

“Nope. Not having this conversation.”

“I mean, besides the flirting in costume,  there’s that whole him showing up to your house thing at night--”

Nooooope,” Marinette said.

“And the rumor mill said you were totally over Adrien…”

“No-- hey. Hey, wait, how did you know that if you didn’t I know I was mad at him? What rumor mill?”

Nino grinned nervously under his mask, golden eyes trying for innocent. “Did I say rumor mill? I meant intuition. Definitely intuition.”

She groaned. “It was Alya, wasn’t it? Don’t listen to anything she says. Ever.” And then paused. “I am, though. Over him. Mostly because he's evil.”

“He's not evil.”

Marinette landed on the ledge she had aimed for, and let go of Nino. “Whether he is or isn't, I’m not interested in talking about him. We have more important things to focus on. Understood?”

Nino stretched, arms reaching up high above his head and then behind his back, fingers locking together. “Loud and clear, boss.”

She put her hands on her hips, watching as he dropped and stretched out his legs.

“What?” Nino said, catching her eye. “I don’t wanna pull a muscle.”

“I don’t think we can pull a muscle. We’re indestructible when transformed. Well … mostly. I haven’t tried to take a bullet to the head, or anything, but…”

Nino head turned to face her. “Does that mean you’ve taken a bullet to somewhere else?

“No comment,” Marinette said, and she couldn’t decide if Nino’s expression was more horrified or impressed. The mask made it hard to tell.

“So,” Nino said, bouncing back up to a standing position. “What’s the first lesson?”

Marinette walked to the ledge with him, and he stared out into the city, with all of it’s lights and hustle and bustle. It reminded her of how much she still loved this part - especially in the drafty emptiness of the tower, with no other people to be scene.

“The first lesson,” she said, taking a couple steps back while Nino still stared in awe. “Is that cats always land on their feet.”

And then she put her foot on the small of his back and kicked as hard as she could.

Nino tumbled like a rag doll, screaming with his arms pinwheeling. She leaned over the edge, a hand cupped over her mouth.

“Use your head, Chat Noir!”

Nino screamed louder.

She watched him drop another ten feet. Twenty feet. Thirty feet…

“Use your head!” She yelled again, louder. “Also, the baton!?”

Nino flailed, remembering the staff at his waist, and fumbled to release it. It unlocked and expanded, creating a bar between two supports, and he flipped and spun like a gymnast.

Glad to see she hasn’t just accidentally tested if a Miraculous kept you from going splat, Marinette zipped down to join him, hearing his hysterical laughter as she approached.

“Oh my god,” he said. “Oh my god. I hate you. I mean, that was the most fun I've ever had, but I hate you.”


They met up every night for the next few days. Marinette had given up on the concept of a good night’s sleep. Nino, at least had experience with all-nighters and seemed to have no problem functioning perfectly well at school after 4 hours of sleep.

Marinette had started drinking coffee just to stay conscious. Oh well. It wasn't like she was getting any taller anyway. Nino was a great partner - he was hilarious, loyal, and surprisingly focused - way more than Chat with his puns and flirting, at least.

It didn’t take very long for the first test.

She was eating lunch at the island her in her kitchen when her phone went off - an incoming call from Nino.

“Hello?” she said, nestling it between her shoulder and ear.

“Akuma. Between Rue Beauberg and Rue des Archives. It’s like, some kind of bug? I’m biking there now.” He sounded equal parts excited and terrified.

“Got it,” Marinette said, blinking in amazement about how fast this new system of communication was. “Be there in a few.”

She hung up the phone, and then spun in her chair to face her mother. “I’m, um -- I forgot to study for a test in my next class! So I’m going to back to school early. Bye!”

Her mother blinked at her barely touched plate. “But--”

“Bye! Love you! Bye!” she grabbed her bag (and Tikki) and sprinted out the door.

“Tikki, transform me,” she said, without any greeting.

Tikki frowned. “Aren’t you a little worried about Nino’s first big test?”

“No,” Marinette said, sharply, even as the thought slipped through her brain like a cold ice cube down her back. “Transform me.”

“Fine,” Tikki sighed, and in a moment Marinette was swinging through Paris again.

She reached and Rue Des Archives and landed on the empty street hands up as her feet hit the ground. She was going to hit the ground running - and go straight towards what she thought was a giant praying mantis - when she felt a tug on her arm.

“N-- Chat Noir,” she said, spinning to face him. “You ready?”

“What? Yeah. Yeah, of course. Super ready. Super pumped.” He shot her a very fake smile.

Her gaze dropped to his boots, one toe tapping nervously on the ground.

“Chill,” she said, taking his hood in both hands and tugging it up over his head. “You’ll be fine.”

“Right,” he said, nodding. “Yeah. Yeah. I know that.” His hand moved towards his oversized headphones, and Marinette frowned, noticing a previously unseen teeny tiny switch.

“What’s that?”

He grinned - a genuine one, this time, and flipped the switch with his thumbnail. Music started blasting.

“Did your old partner have his own accompanying soundtrack, boss?” he asked, and Marinette covered her hand with her mouth and laughed.

“Oh my god,” she said. “C’mon. Stop wasting time.”

He laughed, and ran straight towards the bug, positive energy blooming around him.


 The battle ended in the early evening as the sun had started to set. Both Chat Noir and Ladybug was sopping wet, and Nino’s grin had long since disappeared.

Marinette stared at the wall of reporters, children, and enthusiastic fans with increasing dismay. Everyone was talking, but she couldn’t register a word. Nino looked shell shocked, stunned. Poor kid. There was a barrage of questions, none of them either of them bothered to answer.

“Hi, excuse me, Chat Noir?” Alya said, elbowing her way through the crush of reporters and civilians. Her phone was out. Of course.

"Y-yeah?" Nino said, attention finally caught. He was avoiding her eye, posture defensive.

Alya looked immensely pleased. "So you are, in fact, Chat Noir? A replacement? A new hire? Would you like to comment on you taking this position? Where's the old one gone?"

“Um,” said Nino, shooting a look at Marinette that said help me.

“Sorry, folks,” Marinette said, putting on her bossiest class president voice. “We’ve got to go, no more questions today!”

Which, of course, started another loud, rapid fire round.

Marinette rolled her eyes, grabbed Nino by the waist, and hooked her yoyo on the nearest building. 


THE LADYBLOG

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Posted by Alya Cesaire at 5:01pm

BREAKING NEWS -- THERE’S A NEW CHAT NOIR IN TOWN !?!

Okay, so, I got left class today a little early because I heard there was another attack (I know, I know, but my friends had already bailed so why bother staying??) So your darling reporter went on the scene, and GUESS WHAT SHE SAW??

Ladybug was out being her typical badass self, and I was at first pleasantly surprised to see her accompanied by her feline companion again. But it WASN’T our beloved blond -- no, it was a new guy!!  He’s the real deal - I got footage of him using Cataclysm on a bridge -- but he’s definitely not the one we know and love! Is this replacement temporary or permanent? Is the old Chat Noir missing or fired? I tried to interview the new superteam, but they denied all press - even me. :(

Probably has something to do with a… well, slightly embarrassing display today that had them getting their butts kicked all over the place … yikes! Hopefully this Chat Noir gets a hold of his nine lives soon!


 “This is bad,” Marinette said, looking at the blog. “Ohhh God, this is bad.”

“Oh, come on, Marinette,” Tikki said, not unkindly. “Were you expecting people not to notice Chat Noir wasn’t white anymore?”

“No,” Marinette said, glaring at her. “But… I was hoping we’d have a little more time before …” she groaned. “Ugh! I know Nino will get the hang of it soon, but…”

“We don’t have time,” Tikki agreed. “That’s why we try to handpick people we know will get the hang of it as soon as possible. Good hearts and peak physical condition....”

Marinette had seen Nino gotten out of breath running the track at school. She wondered if her Chat had actually had a plan, or seen Nino throw away someone else’s litter and figured that was good enough.

She groaned again. He had been so enthusiastic, before it had all gone south. She wondered if he had lost his confidence for good.

Tikki looked like she wanted to say something else, and then instead shut her mouth and burrowed into one of Marinette’s pillows.

Marinette looked at her phone again, and then tapped her contacts.

“Hey, Nino,” she said. “I just wanted to see if…”

“I don’t think I can do any training today,” Nino said, sounding miserable. “I’m a mess, and I totally ruined the mission today, and everyone on the internet is--”

“Hey,” Marinette said. “Hey. You did not mess up. You did not screw up anywhere near as bad as I did my first time through-”

“I dropped my baton into the Seine.”

“And we got it back!” Marinette said quickly. “Don’t interrupt me. Look. I did worse. And then I got a lot better. Chat was -- I had someone to encourage me. And now I’m going to be that person for you, okay? And I wasn’t even calling about training. I just wanted to know if you wanted to hang out.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Also, never read the comments on the internet. That’s the first rule of… anything.”

“I thought the first rule of superhero club was not to talk about superhero club.”

“Nino.”

“Right,” he said, quickly. “I’ll see you in fifteen.”


 Once Nino had entered the bakery’s kitchen, Plagg flew right out of his jacket pocket, nose twitching.

“Hi, Plagg,” Marinette said. “You want to talk to Tikki?”

“Nope,” Plagg said, cheerfully. “You have any cheese pastries? Uh, please?”

“I do,” she said. “Lemme get one for you.”

She walked to the front of the bakery - where the display case was - and caught Nino and Plagg’s conversation behind her.

“Since when did you get manners?”

“I respect Marinette,” said Plagg, seriously.

“Which means you’ve realized she won’t take your bullying like me and the Old Chat did.”

“I respect Marinette,” Plagg repeated.

Marinette laughed, and handed Plagg a pastry bigger than his head. “You’re sure you don’t want to talk to Tikki?”

“I would rather die,” Plagg said, sing song, and zipped off into a corner to enjoy his snack. Marinette blinked. Well, there was someone who was even less pleased with Tikki than she was. 

“So,” Nino said, hands deep in his pockets as he wandered around the kitchen. “What are we doing?”

“Making molten chocolate cakes,” Marinette said, tying her apron on and tossing Nino one.

His eyes widened. “That sounds … hard.”

“No, it’s a really easy American recipe I found online,” Marinette said. “I’m a terrible baker, but I make these when my parents are busy and I want a sugar fix. It’s super simple.”

“I will ruin it,” Nino warned her. “Leave me to spoon licking and dish washing, trust me.”

Marinette shook her head. “Trust me. You’ll do fine.”

Nino hesitated another moment, and then tied the apron around his waist. “Okay,” he said. “What’s first?”

Marinette had him coat two ramekins with cocoa powder and butter as she used a double boiler to melt the chocolate and butter together. She could feel the stress of the day fade away as she concentrated on stirring. She may not have been the master baker her father was, but she did still love to bake - especially for other people.

“So...” Nino said, voice carrying across the kitchen.

“We don’t have to talk about Ladybug stuff,” she said, quickly. “If you don’t want to.”

“I don’t really feel like talking about Chem homework,” Nino said, smiling. “It’s okay. I suck. I’ve accepted it.”

“You don’t suck,” Marinette said, her wooden spoon halting in the chocolate-butter mixture. “You’re trying your best, and you’ve already learned a ton…”

“I’m still the weak link here,” Nino said. He put the ramekins down, and Marinette immediately handed him an egg.

“Separate this,” she said. “And that’s not even a fair comparison. I’ve been doing this for a year.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Nino said. “The old Chat Noir clearly wanted me to take care of Paris - and you - and if I can’t even do tha--oops.”

Marinette took the double boiler off the stove and looked at Nino’s eggs, runny yellow bleeding into his egg whites. “You want another one?”

“No, don’t waste food. I can fix it,” he said, grabbing a spoon. “... I did warn you I sucked at this, though.” He dumped the rest of the yolk into the other bowl and worked on removing the bit of yolk from the egg whites. “Did you see how the bad guy today started going singularly after me? The guy - our Big Bad -”

“Hawkmoth,” Marinette provided.

“He must already know that I’m struggling. That it’d be easier to get my Miraculous first. And if that happens, I’ve failed everyone--

“It’s not going to happen,” she said. “I promise. And you’re not useless. I mean, you’ve got an advantage over me and Chat.”

“And what would that be?” Nino said, frowning.

“You’ve worked with Hawkmoth before,” she said, softly.

Nino looked at her, eyes wide, and she realized he had never thought about it until that moment. It has definitely taken her a while to realize. She wondered if Chat had known.

She wondered, again, how well Chat knew his successor.

“What was that like?” Marinette asked, quietly. “Being akuma … tized, or whatever.”

“Akumatized? You really never came up with a better name than akumatized?”

"Shut up. It was better than Chat’s ‘evilized’.”

Nino laughed. “I don’t know. I only remember bits and pieces. Feeling like I could take on the world. The look on Adrien’s face when he realized he was getting a party. Being so mad at his dad that I could think of nothing else.”

Marinette froze. “His dad?”

“Yeah. Wait, did you not know? Ol’ Gabe doesn’t like Adrien actually having fun, so he banned him from birthday parties and told him he could never see me again when I tried to argue his case.”

Marinette chewed on her lip as she heaped tablespoons of sugar into the bowl of yolk. “I didn’t know that,” she said, at last. “… Don’t you think it’s funny? That Adrien’s father was the one who made you so upset that you caught Hawkmoth’s attention?”

“Funny haha, or funny-weird?”

“Funny weird.”

Nino adjusted his glasses.  “... And?”

“And it…” she cut herself off, her eyes wide. “Maybe Hawkmoth is Gabriel.” As she said the words out loud, they seemed to make a horrible kind of sense.

Until Nino scoffed.

“What? You think he would have told me off just so he could make me into a bubble blowing monster?”

“Chat said--”

Nino made a face. “Chat made one comment about a family, one member of which I am absolutely certain is a good person. A comment you’re putting way too much weight into.”

“I know he was telling the truth!”

“Maybe he believed it was true, Adrien’s a good kid!” Nino protested. “Maybe it was some other Agrestes, or … I don’t know. But Adrien’s would never do anything to intentionally hurt someone. Ever.”

Marinette met his eye, expression hard. “But can you the say the same thing about his father?”

Nino went quiet.

“I’m just … speculating,” Marinette said, feeling defensive. “But if Gabriel is Hawkmoth, maybe Adrien … Maybe Adrien just wants to help his dad.”

“You’re jumping to conclusions awfully fast,” Nino said.

“Maybe if I jumped to conclusions earlier,” she said, voice steely. “We wouldn’t be wondering why Chat Noir is missing.”

Marinette beat the egg whites, suddenly sullen and quiet. Nino settled into the kitchen stool, silent. She felt like she was supposed to apologize.

She didn’t want to apologize.

Sure, okay, maybe she only came up with the idea of Hawkmoth being Gabriel because of what Chat said, but that didn’t mean she was wrong. It made sense, didn’t it?

She had spent weeks trying to figure out this mystery. Weeks. And Chat on his end had thrown into the towel - had decided it was such a lost cause that he was calling in a replacement. But Marinette refused to take that as a solution. And if it met accusing people on shaky grounds, so what? At least she tried.

She pushed up the speed on the beater until the sound of the whirling blades drowned out her thoughts. Nino started laughing, and she switched it off.

“It sounds like a possessed robot,” he said. “With like, super fast spinning ninja blades.”

She turned around to look at him, ready to keep being mad, and then immediately lost her resolve as soon as she made eye contact.

“A ninja robot?” she repeated, skeptically.

“Yes, a ninja robot. Robots can have careers. And aspirations.”

“Sure,” she said, dumping the chocolate mixture into the bowl of egg whites. She handed Nino the bowl and wooden spoon. “Stir, please.”

He obliged, still sitting on the stool. “Look,” he said, after a few moments of concentrated silence. “We should start investigating Gabriel. You have a point there. But… Adrien’s innocent. Trust me.”

Marinette just pursed her mouth, not saying a word.


 They sat on stools, watching the window of the oven with fascination as the tops of their cakes slowly rose.

“You said I had an advantage over you because I had been akumatized,” Nino said, snapping them out of their stupor. “So… you’ve never been targeted been targeted?”

“I don’t think we can be.

Nino looked at her, startled.

“That’s what Tikki told me, at least. So god knows if it's true. ” They both glanced at their respective kwamis, who had spend the entire evening pretending the other didn’t exist. “But apparently Possessing a miraculous makes you immune. We could be having the worst day on earth and … nothing.”

“So we’re like … invisible to him?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

“Huh,” said Nino, but he didn’t elaborate.

“You think Hawkmoth might recognize you?”

“No,” Nino said. “He’s probably as oblivious as all of classmates are. You get special attention, though. I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me.”

“It’s a magic defense thing,” Marinette protested, like she hadn’t made that up that second. It probably was something like that, though. Her phone buzzed, and they both jumped. Marinette scooted her stool back from the oven door and Nino followed suit, watching from an overly safe distance as she pulled on her pink polka dot oven mitts.

She plopped the ramekins down on a towel on the counter, and Nino stared with wide eyes.

"That’s it?”

“That’s it. Give it a minute so you don’t burn yourself, but they’re supposed to be eaten hot.”

“Ohh,” Nino said. “That's amazing. I mean, I always eat stuff straight out of the oven anyway, but…”

Marinette smiled, and then her eyes widened. “Oh wait, first let me get the powdered--”

She faltered, staggering under the sudden weight of memories - goofing around with Chat Noir in this very kitchen, getting powdered sugar up her nose, his face when he brushed it off her cheek … “Sugar,” she finished, weakly, and then hopped up the step stool before Nino could notice the expression on her face. She plucked the bag and hand crank off  the shelf, ignoring the ache in her heart.

She liked Nino. She was so grateful he was here, that she still had someone on her side.

But she just wished ...

She shook her head, dismissing the thought.

Moping would get her nowhere.

She dusted the cakes, and then got tiny spoons from the drawer, ignoring the memories that came with those too.

Nino dug into his cake as soon as she handed him the spoon.

“Oh my god,” he said, closing his eyes with pure bliss. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t even think I was capable of making anything edible.”

Marinette blinked, surprised, and then grinned. “See? You’re not a failure.”

Nino looked up at her, chocolate around his mouth. “Aha,” he said, pointing the spoon at her. “So it was all a metaphor. A delicious metaphor.”

Marinette held up her hands. “What can I say?”


 Marinette was right, in that Nino did get better with every fight.

She watched with pride as he picked up in speed and grace, as his problem solving skills kicked in and they became more and more in sync. He had also mastered the tricky art of detransforming during a battle to recharge - although Marinette realized it was much easier to do when you didn't have to hide your secret identity from your partner. Nino gained confidence by the day and had a hellbent determination that everything would turn out okay - a quality Marinette desperately needed. And he was fun - he sang Queen songs during training and made jokes and speculated about the upcoming Star Wars film. He brought a joy back to being Ladybug that Marinette feared she had lost forever.

But Nino was also correct in his guess that Hawkmoth would target him as a weakness. Every fight from there on was focused on him. It was like Marinette wasn’t even there, and it pissed her off. It made her work twice as hard, act twice as tough, play twice as dirty. She refused to give Hawkmoth another advantage.

Because that was the other thing that she had realized.

Adrien Agreste had started showing up to every fight.

Marinette had first noticed him in the fight with the Carpenter, watching from the bridge above them. He was dressed beautifully in a dark blue pea coat and gloves, and held his phone close to his mouth.

Seeing him was enough to make her startle, even after all this time, and as she stumbled mid run his eyes suddenly met hers. The moment rung in the air, and then he spoke into his phone and ran off the bridge.

Less than a minute later, the Carpenter came barreling towards her, and she had more important things to think about.

The second time, the fight had been inside their school, and she and Nino had managed to get all of their classmates out of the line of fire (Literally. Marinette was not sad to see Chloe’s brand new purse torched, truth to be told.). Alya had put up a fight, but they had all eventually been escorted outside, to wait until the all clear.

All was well, until they ran out of the danger zone and  straight into Adrien, recording video from inside a classroom.

Marinette’s mouth fell open, and she stared, slaw jawed and furious. “What are you-- why are you!? -- get out!

Nino slipped past her, all apologetic smiles. “What my partner meant to say is that you’re not safe here.”

“Oh,” Adrien said, his features slipping into the image of perfect innocence. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh no, dude, it’s cool,” Nino said, ignoring Marinette glowering at him. He poked his head out the door. “It looks like it’s safe if you run out now.”

“Thank you so much,” Adrien said, playing his part of grateful fan to perfection. He ran over to the door, and then stopped. “I’m sorry if I upset you … Ladybug.”

“You’re fine,” she said, unable to keep the edge out of her voice.

 She saw a flicker of genuine hurt for a second, and then he was gone.


By the third time, Marinette had reached her limit.

“Adrien is part of this,” she said, pointing a finger in Nino’s face. “There’s no other explanation.

“I don’t think that’s --”

“I was hiding from the Piemaker,” she said. “He hadn’t seen me in hours. Suddenly, Mr. Perfect Boy crashes into me - on his phone, again - and runs right along, and then I get found not even a minute later? It doesn’t make sense, Nino, it doesn’t make sense.”

“You’re yelling,” Nino said, wincing.

I am not yelling!” Marinette screamed.

A dozen people whipped their heads around to look at her, and Marinette suddenly became aware how ridiculous she must look, with her face flushed with anger and winter pompom hat nearly toppling off her head with all her angry trembling.

Marinette sucked in a huge breath and counted to ten, forcing herself to calm down as she exhaled slowly. Not for Adrien’s sake - but because she was starting to gather a crowd of curious onlookers. She started walking to her house, and Nino quickly followed.

“... I still think he’s up to something,” she said, at last, once no one else was in earshot.

“Marinette, come on…”

“Hawkmoth is probably Gabriel, and Adrien is his spy.”

“We have no evidence for it. And how many times do I have to vouch for my best friend?”

“You haven’t even hung out with him in the last month,” Marinette pointed out, crossing her arms.

“That’s because I’m busy with this, not because he’s evil.”

“Uggghhh,” Marinette groaned. “You’re all brainwashed. I know what I’ve seen. And it’s weird how he’s always around. He’s even started wearing all dark colors. Like Anakin.

“Don’t try to win me over with Star Wars references,” Nino said, sternly.

“Not to mention--”

“Look, boss,” Nino said, softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know we haven’t been able to find any hard evidence on Gabriel, but I don’t know if Adrien being around counts.”

“It could,” she said. “Can you just do me the favor of considering it?”

Nino looked at her for a long moment, and then closed his eyes and nodded. “Yeah. I will.”

“Thank you,” she said. “And I get it. He’s our classmate. I don’t want it to be true as much as you do.”

Nino had a funny look on his face. “Somehow, I doubt that.”


 “I can’t believe,” Nino grumbled, midway through a training session one night, “that as soon as I feel like I’m getting the hang of this, I have to leave.”

“It’s only for two weeks,” Marinette reassured him. “You’ll be back from Réunion in no time.”

Nino mouth twisted from beneath his mask. “But what if there’s more attacks?”

“I can handle it,” Marinette said flippantly. “Besides, Hawkmoth avoided attacking around Christmas last year. It’ll be fine.”

At least, she hoped it would be.

She pulled her knees up, resting her chin on top of them. At least Adrien never showed up during a patrol. Sometimes, she wished she did. At least trying to figure out what he was doing gave her some sort of purpose. Gabriel Agreste was a hard man to trace. Marinette couldn’t even find out where his design studio was. She was starting to suspect that any secret lair would be in the Agreste mansion, and she had a fat chance of getting there any time soon.

Maybe she’d sneak around during Christmas, when the Agrestes would inevitably be away.

“Like in the first Harry Potter,” she murmured, and Nino turned to look at her, frowning.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she said, quickly. “Thinking out loud.”

He tilted his head. “Maybe you’ll figure out the whole mystery without me. Get your loverboy back on your own.”

“Lover--” Marinette sputtered, hands curling into fists. “Chat Noir is not - and was not - my loverboy, ever.”

“Boss,” Nino said, gently. “C’mon. You’re always talking about your good memories of him, you’re single-handedly obsessed with getting him back. And look, I’m cute, but I’m not that --”

“I am going to shove you off this building, I swear.”

“--plus, you’ve got a thing for blonds…”

“I do not!”

“Do too. Look, why can’t you just admit you like him? What’s the harm in that?”

Because he’s not here, Marinette thought. Because she couldn’t accept that she fell for him only after he completely abandoned her.

Because even after everything, Adrien looked dreamy in dark colors, and Marinette could never trust herself to like someone again.

She was very unhappy with herself, for a very large number of reasons.

“Why are you so eager?” Marinette said, crossing her arms.

“Because suppressing your feelings is mad unhealthy,” Nino said. “Also, because I always thought Ladybug and Chat Noir were destined for each other. Like Superman and Wonder Woman.”

Marinette made a face.  “Wonder Woman? What about Lois Lane?”

“She can never truly understand what he’s gone through,” Nino said, looking up at the night sky with a hand over his heart.

“Woww,” Marinette said. “One thing I will say about the old Chat Noir is he wasn't as big of a nerd as you.”

“I know for a fact that isn’t true.”

“Uh huh, sure. How would you feel if this was aimed at you?” She grabbed his baton from his belt and pointed it at him like a microphone. “Are you trying to keep Lois Lane for yourself?”

“What?”

“I saw Alya chatting you up for an “exclusive interview”--”

“Oh, shut up--”

“Ooh, not so funny now that the shoe’s on the other foot, huh?”

Nino grabbed his hood and yanked it over his face. “Ha ha, I get it. I will never speak to you about lover boy again. Can we talk about something else?”

Marinette relented, smiling. “Is Plagg going with you to Réunion?”

“Oh, yeah,” Nino said. “He said he’s in desperate need of a vacation. Lazy cat.”

“I’m sure you’ll both have a great time,” Marinette said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “And Tikki and I will be fine.”


 Marinette was feeling horribly under the weather before the last day of classes was even over.

Thankfully, nothing in her exams that day were particularly tricky, because as soon as they were over she called her mother to pick her up as she didn’t think she would be able to make the ten minute walk home from school.

But she wasn’t worried about her health. She had chicken soup and antibiotics and incredibly doting parents.

She was concerned about Tikki’s.

She and Tikki still barely spoke, but she knew, instantly, something was wrong when she let Tikki out from her purse. Her head was slumping like a balloon losing helium, and she could barely hover her way onto Marinette’s bed.

“Are you okay?” Marinette asked, brushing her knuckle against Tikki’s forehead. It was like touching a hot stove.

“I musta caught something,” Tikki said, and then groaned, a bizarrely old sounding noise.

“From where?” Marinette said, baffled.

“Plagg,” Tikki moaned, sniffling. “He catches everything but never gets sick. Typhoid Mary.”

There was something horrific about a cute little big eyed fairy saying the word typhoid.

"We’ll just get a lot of sleep,” Marinette said, already yawning. “It’s break, so we have nothing to do anyway.”

“You’re right,” Tikki said, yawning as well. “We’ll be better in no time.”

They fell asleep next to each other for the first time in a month, Tikki curled into a tiny ball on her pillow.

They woke up six  hours later - a few minutes past midnight - to a familiar sound of chaos.

Marinette opened her eyes with difficulty, feeling snotty and crusty all over. Ugh. She glanced out her window and saw what looked like a giant red bird flying across the city’s skyline.

Great.

“An Akuma,” Marinette said, turning over to Tikki’s side of her pillow. “Uuuuugh. Tikki, wake up.”

Tikki sat up and looked at her, and Marinette reeled back.

“Jesus,” Marinette swore.

Tikki’s eyes - including the whites of her eyes - were slowly changing color. Blue, to pink, to red, to green ... It reminded Marinette of the snake in The Jungle Book. It was also terrifying.

“Are you okay?” Marinette asked, scooting back slightly.

“ 'm fine,” Tikki said, voice slurring. “Lesgo.”

“Are you sure?” Marinette felt like she was up to it - she felt much better after her ridiculously long nap - but Tikki … Tikki didn’t look so good.

“난 괜찮아,” said Tikki.

What?" Marinette said.

Her antennae hung in front of her face limply. Tikki smacked her lips, and tried again.

“I‘m fine,” Tikki repeated. “Save the world!”

“Okay,” Marinette said, swallowing with difficulty against her sore throat. Yeah. Yeah, it’d be fine. This wouldn’t take long. “Tikki, transform me!”


 Marinette’s head was spinning the minute the transformation began. She could feel Tikki’s presence, same as always - but there was no wall keeping her from the kwami’s entire being anymore. She could feel thousands of years of history, hundreds of languages, dozens of young girls just like her.

 

        It was putting on wet socks. Except the socks were wet with lava.

 

        Mistake.

 

She had managed to get outside, at least. It was snowing, and thankfully that was helping with her fever. And somehow, she  managed to find the bird (she could not care less about whatever it called itself, she just needed to be back in bed as soon as possible).

Ohhhh God, what a mistake.


“Lucky charm,” she shouted, at last, praying to God it wouldn’t be something too difficult, something that wouldn't take her tired brain too much energy to process.

Into her hands dropped a harpoon gun.

Well, that would work.


 She had gotten the bird down with a lucky shot. She had broken the anklet, and watched a confused girl be guided away by her parents, a blanket wrapped over her shoulders.

Marinette couldn’t remember when that had happened. A few minutes ago? Ten? Twenty?

How long had she been out here? Had she already caught the Akuma?

Marinette sat down hard on her butt, suddenly too tired to stand. The clarity that she had briefly had come and gone. Now she just wanted to sleep. But she was forgetting something important. What was important?

Well, it couldn’t be that important...

She slumped against the snow, curling into herself. Just a little nap, she thought. Just an itty bitty…

“Ladybug!”

She heard a boy’s voice, and the sound of boots crunching against the snow. And then the harpoon gun was back in her hands.

“You just have to say “Miraculous Ladybug,” the boy said, against her ear. “That’s it.”

Nino? No, it couldn’t be Nino…

“Miraculous…” she mumbled, and there was his voice again, breath tickling the shell of her ear.

“Miraculous Ladybug,” the voice said, and then they said it together, louder, as his hands grasped her forearms, helping her launch the weapon into the air.

She slumped with relief as she saw the waves of ladybugs flying around them, and then her savior pushed away from her so suddenly her head spun. She turned as quickly as she was able so she could get a good look at him.

He was wearing all black, and retreating from her like he was about to make a run for it. He had pulled up his black scarf, hiding his face so only his eyes were visible, but those eyes ...

“Chat,” she whispered “Is that you?”

The boy hesitated for a millisecond, and then his hands landed on his hips, posture as cocky as she remembered. “Paws-viously.”

“You’re back,” she breathed, and then tried to stand. Her feet fell out from under her, but Chat smoothly caught her before she face-planted.

It was definitely him.

“Come on,” he said. “We should get you home.”

She went limp like a ragdoll as he scooped her into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her face against his chest, her forehead brushing his neck.

"Whoa. You’re really feverish,” he said, surprised. “I didn’t even know we even could get sick while transformed.”

“You can if your kwami is also horrifically ill,” said Marinette, very content to not have to walk. “And did you not see me falling over that whole fight? What, did you think I was drunk?”

"Only you,” said Chat, “would make fun of me as I rescued you.”

He didn’t sound upset, though.

“You’re not rescuing me,” she said, nestling close against him. She wasn’t actually entirely sure she wasn’t dreaming, actually.

“You’re not going to remember any of this, are you?” he asked.

“Uhhhhhhh ...” Marinette trilled, as her head pounded and resonated with all of Tikki’s memories, in an ever twisting kaleidoscope pattern. “Probs not.”

“Thank God,” he muttered, and then shifted to get a more secure hold on her.

“My house is this way,” she said, pointing wildly in some direction.

“Uh huh. Do you want a bath in the Seine, my Lady?” Chat said, turning in the opposite direction.

Marinette laughed. “I missed that.” She did. And buginette, even if she always got mad at him for saying it. Princess, too. Though she couldn’t exactly mention that one as Ladybug. “I missed you,” she added, like it needed to be said.

“You must be super out of it if you’re being this nice to me.”

“You’ve been missing for over a month,” she said. “And this is probably a dream. I’m allowed to be nice.”

She could feel him sigh, feel his chest rise and fall. “I missed you too, Ladybug.”

She glanced down, and saw that she was now dressed in her pajamas, Tikki sleeping on her chest. She had transformed back, and Chat Noir hadn’t noticed or given any sort of reaction. … Yes, this was definitely a dream.

Confirming her suspicions, they had ended up at the front door of her house. Marinette squeezed her eyes shut and willed them inside, but it didn’t seem to work that way. She had always been bad at lucid dreaming.

Chat looked at the door, and then groaned.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a key, would you?”

“I would happen,” she said. “It’s under the welcome mat.”

He looked at the mat, and then looked at his arms, preoccupied with carrying her.

“Hmm,” Marinette said, like he had said something. “Just dip me and I’ll grab the key.”

“That doesn’t sound like --”

Marinette was already shifting, tucking Tikki into her shirt’s breast pocket and reaching for the mat. Chat swore and adjusted his hold on her, bending his knees so she could have an easier reach.

“Gotcha!” she said, grinning. Chat brought her back up, and she extended her hand in a fist bump. “We did it! Bien Joue!”

Chat looked down at her, eyebrow raised.

"Don’t leave me hanging,” she said, and then remembered his hands were still occupied. “Oh. Right.”

She unlocked the door and turned the knob, and Chat pushed against it to let them inside. He made a beeline for the living room couch, putting her down as gently as he could and then sitting on the floor in a heap, back against the sofa, his chest heaving.

“Are you okay?” she said, surprised. “I’ve never seen you get so winded, the suit normally…”

But he wasn’t wearing the suit, was he? Or the ring. It was safe and sound with Plagg and Nino. Or was it? She couldn’t follow dream logic.

“I’m fine. I'm great,” he said, and she could hear him starting to get his breath back. “I don’t know how I’m going to lift you through your room’s trapdoor, though…”

“That’s cool,” Marinette said, yawning. “I’ll just sleep … here.”

Chat looked at her, and she had realized his scarf had slipped, exposing more of his face.

She frowned.

He yanked up the scarf as soon as she noticed. “Ladybug?”

"Nothing,” she said, shaking away the cobwebs of recognition. “Never mind. How have you been, Chat?”

He gave her a half smile. “Awful.”

She put a hand to his cheek. “Really?”

“Really,” he said. He hesitated, and then leaned into her palm. “Chat Noir’s current lifestyle is not a lot of fun.”

“Then come back,” she said.

“You have a new partner. You two are doing great.”

“No, we’re not. I’m not. I miss you.” Her heart ached with the truth of it. “You’re one of my best friends, Chat. Just … come back. Please.”

He sighed then, a long, world-weary sound like he had just placed the Earth on his back. “You don’t even need me.”

“Yes, I do. I don’t trust anyone more than you. You can put things right again. Just take back your Miraculous and come home.”

Chat grimaced beneath his scarf. “It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

“Then uncomplicate it,” she said, tugging down the edge of his scarf and leaning in.

“M-Ladybug--!!” Chat said - no, nearly yelped.

“You’re not going to get sick,” she said, almost reprimanding. Their faces were still very close together, despite his attempts to push himself back against the couch. “It’s just a dream. Come on, you’ve been trying to kiss me for--”

“You are very confused,” he said, palm against her shoulder, actually pushing her back a fraction, “and very very sick. I don’t think you, uh, actually want to do this?”

“Nino’s convinced I’m in love with you,” Marinette said, keeping her eyes shut. “Maybe he’s right.”

Chat didn’t say anything, so she cracked an eye open and glanced at him, red faced with his head in his hands. He was … laughing.

“What?” she said, defensive.

“No,” he said, “nothing, that would just be … the ultimate, horrific irony. You don’t love me, Ladybug.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I do,” Chat said, and he sound very, very sad.

Marinette leaned forward again, but this time she settled for nestling against his chest. He was stiff and awkward for a moment, and then his arms wrapped around her, and she could feel the rich fabric of his coat. Marinette could faintly hear his heartbeat. What a strange dream.

Some time later - difficult to place, in the haze of sleep - Marinette vaguely registered Chat kissing her forehead, his lips a shock of cold against her burning skin. He might have said something, but when she asked him to repeat it, he was already gone.


 She stirred as familiar strong arms lifted her from the couch, her father’s voice drifting through her sleepy thoughts. “How did you even end up down here, sweetheart?”


Marinette and Tikki woke up next to each other for the first time in a month, Tikki curled into a tiny ball on her pillow.

“Tikki,” Marinette mumbled, her head aching. “Tikki, wake up.”

The kwami stirred, and then let out a sneeze so ginormous Marinette was positive the entire neighborhood heard.

“Tikki, did we ...” Marinette groaned against a fresh wave of pain in her head. “Did we fight an Akuma last night?”

“Whaaat?” Tikki said, blinking her eyelids one by one - no longer changing color, thank God.

Marinette felt her head spin. “Never mind,” she said, and was asleep again in another minute.

Chapter Text

Marinette spent the first week of break sneezing, sleeping, and - if she was really lucky - vomiting.

She had never been so sick in her life. She spent most of Christmas day unconscious, waking to a plate of leftovers or sugar cookies and a new assortment of pills and cough syrup every few hours. Her parents didn’t even bother with her presents until a few days later - after they had a doctor come in to do an in house visit. Marinette didn’t even know doctors did those anymore.

The doctor had pronounced it a bizarrely violent cold, but Marinette knew better. Whatever Kwami illness Tikki had, Marinette had caught, and now they were both suffering through it. That first week passed in a haze of dreams and reality, mixing in and intermingling until she could no longer tell the difference. Her fever finally broke three days after Christmas, and at last she replied back to Alya’s missed calls, texts, and emails with a fervent assurance she was not dead.

Alya had reported back to Nino, and he had used all his allotted time on his relatives’ “horrifically slow” family computer messaging her on Facebook, making sure she was okay. It was a very sweet gesture.

Plagg had refused to acknowledge the possibility that he had made the two of them sick, but had wished Marinette and Tikki a “get well soon”, which, as Tikki and Nino informed her, was an incredibly generous gesture coming from him.

As December came to an end, Marinette tried to piece together the days she had lost. There had been an Akuma attack that night, based on a blurry flip phone video Marinette found online. But as for her rescuer …

Why - and how - would Chat Noir just magically reappear to drag her half conscious body back home and then disappear again?

And why wouldn’t he kiss her back?

That little factoid was something she spent an unhealthy amount of time agonizing over. Because if it was just a dream, it was a dream where she tried very hard to kiss Chat Noir.

She couldn’t bare the thought of telling Nino he was right.

What was it? Absence making the heart grow fonder? Her subconscious thinking that if she loved Chat back, he’d return?

It wasn’t like she hadn’t thought about it before - that maybe, maybe, if Adrien was out of the picture, than she and Chat …

Of course, none of it mattered when she had still hadn’t seen him in months. Most likely.

Maybe.

So, instead of agonizing over what ifs, Marinette binged.

Her room didn’t have a tv, so she had her dad set up her computer on a little table at the end of her bed, just above her feet. She had learned how to use the mouse with her toes, so she didn’t even have to sit up. She had a good system going.

She had already finished marathoning all of Projet Fashion, and has resorted to watching the original American show, Project Runway, with subtitles.

“Ugh,” said Tikki. “I can’t believe Santino is still here after that horrible ice skating outfit.”

“Santino,” Marinette said, eating her twentieth Christmas cookie that morning, “is hilarious.”

Nearly dying from Death Blargh was the first thing they shared together in months - something that was bringing them back together.

Or maybe it was Santino Rice’s Tim Gunn impression. Either one.

Marinette handed Tikki a thumbprint cookie the size of her head. “But don’t worry,” she said. “There’s no way he’s making it to fashion week.”

  They sat there, watching the designers scramble set to upbeat score that would never leave either of their heads ever again. Marinette heard Tikki take a deep breath.

“Marinette?”

Marinette paused the TV immediately, recognizing her partner’s serious tone. “Yeah?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “For lying to you. I never wanted to hurt you, it’s just--” she sighed. “It was always easier, with the girls, to tell them what I think they needed to hear. I never even - i didn’t consider it ever backfiring. You think because you’ve lived a thousand years you know every possibility...”

“Oh yeah,” Marinette said. “I know exactly how that feels.”

Tikki laughed. “Sorry. I just mean… I wasn’t fair to you. I was treating you like a human instead of a person.”

Marinette frowned.

“Oh,” Tikki said. “My bad, French doesn’t really have a word for the… oh, it doesn’t matter! I’m gonna trust you from now on. With everything.”

Marinette leaned back. “Honestly, I don’t need everything. Just that little glimpse into your brain was terrifying. I … I get it, now. You had a lot of responsibility and I didn’t really respect that. I’m not angry at you anymore.”

Tikki leaned against her cheek, and Marinette closed her eyes, smiling.

Suddenly, Tikki sneezed, and Marinette recoiled. “Please do not sneeze on my face,” Marinette said, faking outrage, and Tikki giggled, sniffling.

Marinette’s trapdoor creaked, and Tikki darted under the pile of pillows Marinette used to prop herself up in bed.

“You need to get out the house eventually, Marinette,” her mother said, sitting on her bed, a motherly hand on her knee.

Marinette gave her the most pathetic look she could imagine. “But, mama, I’m still sick--”

Her mother’s hand darted to her daughter’s forehead, quick as a whip. “You’re fine. It’ll be fun.”

Marinette sat up, sensing defeat. She looked at her mother - her expression a mix of eagerness and … guilt?

Their daughter’s brow furrowed. “You just want to go out with your friends!”

“And you should see some friends too!” her dad said quickly, popping his head through the trapdoor.

Marinette looked at her parents - her loyal, doting parents who would do anything for her - and then looked at her computer.

Her sweet, faithful computer.

She could already hear Tikki’s lecture - gently reminding her that her parents had barely left the house since Marinette fell ill, that they had waited on her on hand and foot for nearly two weeks and deserved a break. Even if neither of Marinette’s best friends were in town, maybe she’d run into a classmate. It could be fun.

“Okay,” she said, finally, mouth dry. “Let me put on my coat.”


 Her mother was beautifully dressed - she always looked gorgeous on New Years - and her father had abandoned his apron and t-shirt for a collared shirt and dress shoes. Marinette, on the other hand, looked like a penguin. Her parents had insisted she dress warmly - very, very warmly - so she came out of the house waddling under her layers. Whatever, she thought. It wasn’t like she had anyone to dress up for.

Her parents’ family friends were lovely - and thankfully not critical of her lack of fancy attire. Marinette withstood inquiries about her health and grades as they sipped champagne and she guzzled water. She started to crack around the half an hour mark, though, when the subject switched to “where’s your boyfriend?”

The answer, if any, was ‘disappeared on me after telling me to blame his sudden death on the Agrestes. Which was not exactly polite conversation.

Before she started launching into Hawkmoth conspiracy theories out of a desperation for a subject change, she pushed her seat back from the table.  

“I’m going to walk around,” she said, forcing a cheery smile on her face. “You guys go talk about grown up things. Call me if you need me!”

Her dad started to protest, but her mother put her hand on his arm, and that was it. Marinette slipped into the mass of people, walking quickly to get out of range of her parents. After being cooped up with them for two weeks, she needed some space.

Marinette exhaled, scanning the crowds. Someone she knew had to be here, right? She would even take Sabrina. She just needed somebody - anybody - she could talk to. She shut her eyes and gave the universe a silent plea, like wishing on a coin before throwing it in the fountain.

She opened her eyes and spun around, hopeful, and immediately spotted a head of meticulously styled blond hair.

Are you serious right now?

She turned back around, trying to play it casual, but --

“Marinette!”

Marinette swore, and wondered if she should just play dead. Like, drop to the ground. She might get trampled … but it’d be worth it.

She dared a glance backwards, and saw Adrien barreling towards her - slipping and elbowing through the crowd, his apologies alternating in English and French.

“Marinette,” he called, slightly out of breath. He looked beautiful - his pea coat was open, revealing a perfectly tailored outfit that had to be promotion for his father’s line. She added a few more curses in her head, before forcing a neutral expression on her face.

“How are you?” he said, the words coming out rapid fire. “Are you feeling better?”

She frowned, and he blushed.

“Nino told me you were feeling sick,” he said.

Ah, Marinette thought. She felt a sudden flash of anger at Nino for discussing her health with Adrien, and then felt dumb and irrational for it. “I’m much better.”

“That’s a-- that’s good,” he said awkwardly, sounding like he had lost all nerve. Every bit of energy seemed to have suddenly dispersed, leaving him staring at their shoes.

Marinette realized, with dread, that she’d have to carry the conversation forward herself. “Nice to … see you. Are you here with anyone?” she added, hopefully.

He turned, and pointed to a ginormous man, visible above most of the crowd. His bodyguard. And behind him, she could see the top of a woman’s head - that must have been Nathalie, his father’s assistant.

“Oh,” said Marinette.

“Nino’s in Réunion - but you know that already - and Chloe’s doing a special event with her dad, so…” He put his hands in his pockets, shifting his coat. “I just wanted to … say hi.”

“Well … hi,” she said, adjusting her scarf.

Adrien tried a smile, and then seemed to think better of it.

Marinette had half a mind to ask him why he had marched up to her if he had nothing of importance to say, but was realizing allowing her temper to control her mouth got her nowhere, especially with him. But if Adrien wanted her company, fine. She’d make the most of it.

“I heard a rumor,” Marinette said, slowly, and Adrien’s face immediately became guarded.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, “and I--”

“Is your father the one working against Ladybug and Chat Noir?” Marinette asked bluntly, and even though she was the one who said it, she was surprised by the shock on Adrien’s face.

His mouth opened and closed as he struggled for an answer, and then at last he said, “I don’t know why you think I would - or could - answer that.”

Marinette pressed her fingertips against her lower lip. “Alya said you’ve been around Ladybug’s fights a lot.” Alya had, in fact, said no such thing, but… “Which is making people starting to wonder what your involvement is in this whole thing.”

“If I knew anything about that,” he said, slowly, “I obviously wouldn’t tell you.”

“The Chat Noir that disappeared was-- is my friend. If you have any idea what could have happened to him, you should tell me. Just … if you know anything…” She could feel her voice breaking, and swallowed hard to sturdy it. “Do the right thing, Adrien.” As she was speaking, she could hear the countdown begin around them - too loud for either of them to speak. They stood there, awkward and tense, as the people around them grew more lively and excited. A man crashed into Marinette, forcing her to stumble a few steps closer to Adrien.

They were only a few inches apart now, and she saw his lips form her name, though the crowd was far too loud for her to hear him.

Happy New Year!”

People were exchanging friendly kisses on the cheek, or warm, passionate kisses between lovers.

In the middle of it all, the swarming crowds and cheers and lips pressed close together - were Adrien and Marinette - very much not kissing.

Adrien’s expression was carefully blank. “I have nothing to tell you, and even if I did, I wouldn’t.”

“So that’s the way this is going to be,” she said, feeling her voice tremble again.

“I guess so,” said Adrien, and he finally broke eye contact.

She stood in front of him a few moments longer, studying his fair features. He was so beautiful, and so …

Sad.

She didn’t know how long this would have gone on, as his bodyguard took a hold of his coat’s sleeve, a silent question, and Adrien raised his gaze from staring at the ground.

“Happy New Year, Marinette,” said Adrien.

“Happy New Year, Adrien.”

She turned on her heel and walked through the crowd of celebrating Parisians and tourists, and refused to look back.


“So,” Alya said, not five minutes into the first day back from break. “I see you have a new best friend now.”

Marinette looked at her, tongue already heavy with apologies. “I really really wanted to catch up with you over break, but then I got sick, and--”

“Save your groveling,” Alya said, snapping her hand in a “stop talking” motion. “It’s fine. My closest friends have decided they prefer each other’s friendship, leaving me tragically alone. It’s the sad but inevitable fate of any reporter dedicated to her art. I’ll just throw myself into full time upkeep of the Ladyblog, until it consumes me and I die tragically young but incredibly accomplished.”

“You have been getting awfully good hits lately,” Marinette said, still trying to save face.

“Because I have the best photos of the new Chat Noir. Suck it, ChatRoom ,” Alya said, sticking her tongue out in the general direction of Korea.

“Aren’t they mostly just trying to argue which one is better?”

“Yeah, though most of them are loyal to OG Noir. Not for any logical reasons, mind you. They’re running a “best butt” poll right now.”

Marinette stared, slack-jaw, and Alya nodded grimly. “I know. Anyway,” Alya continued. “I know you probably want more than blogging advice. What’s up with you?”

“How do you always do that?” Marinette asked, dropping her head onto Alya’s shoulder. “See right through me?”

“Because I’m your best friend,” she said.

“You just said I replaced you.”

“Yeah, until I defeat Nino in combat to regain my rightful place. Stop changing the subject. Spill.”

“Right,” Marinette said. “Uh. You know, just ... a random thought in my head, out of nowhere, that I came up with - I was wondering … Do you think … would knowing who Ladybug is … Would that ruin anything for you?”

Alya frowned. “What?”

“Like, if it had been Chloe. Wouldn’t that change things?”

“Dunno,” said Alya. “I tried to convince myself that if it was Chloe, her Queen Bee personality was all a front to distract people from the truth. I was very optimistic.”

“But what if Ladybug was a genuinely awful person?”

Alya frowned. “You think she is?”

“No,” said Marinette. “But …”

“In my magical, ideal world,” said Alya, “I figure out who Ladybug is and we have like, a four hour conversation about secret identities and gender politics. Then we become best friends and get ice cream weekly.”

Marinette smiled. “You’d replace me?”

“Don’t start, hypocrite,” Alya said, “and I’m not done. I mean, being friends with Ladybug would be amazing. But that’s not really what I need. Mostly, I just want the satisfaction of solving it.”

Marinette rested her chin in her hands. “Ladybug doesn’t want that solved, though.”

“Well,” Alya said, matter of factly. “Sucks to suck. I’m solving it anyway.”

“Well,” Marinette said, trying to sound casual. “You could always focus on the Chat Noir mystery?”

“What, do you really think Ladybug doesn’t know where Blondie went? I just assumed they got in a fight. I mean, I hope he’s okay. He was always really nice to me.”

“Have you got a good interview with the new one yet?”

“Not really, Ladybug’s not really into press stuff anymore,” she said, dramatically pressing  a hand against her forehead. “He is cute, though.”

Marinette stared.

“What’s the big creepy grin for?” Alya said, frowning. “Hey. No. Shut up. I’ve been nice enough to not bring up you being in love with OG Chat Noir--”

“What!?"

“Nino told me,” Alya said, unashamedly, and Marinette dropped her head to her desk and groaned.


It was a windy Saturday when the Candle Maker made his stand against Paris.

Marinette and Nino had assembled without even having to tell the other - Marinette had pulled out her phone to call him when she had spotted him running in from the other direction. She stopped, and then laughed as he spotted her, pointing at his phone screen with her contact page pulled up.

They had grown more and more in sync the past couple weeks. Not only between the two of them - but now Marinette and Tikki were back to normal, and she and her kwami partner had started to actually get along with Plagg. Well, Marinette had. She suspected there was too much history between Tikki and Plagg for them to ever stop bickering completely. Too many wars, too many people long dead. And apparently Tikki and Plagg had spent the last century arguing who owed who lunch. She knew that the two of them would always care about each other, but that did not apparently translate to “playing nice”.

They darted behind a building and transformed, running towards the scene of the crime. Marinette felt like the akuma attacks had been unfairly skewed towards fire, as of recent. She wondered if it meant anything.

They had split up at some point during the fight - not something Marinette usually would do, but she trusted Nino to hold his own. He was doing exemplary - using his baton like a baseball bat to whack the Candlemaker’s fireballs right back at him. Marinette had told him to get the enemy into a nearby fountain, and then she’d strike with Lucky Charm from above. She was crouched on the ledge of an apartment’s patio that overlooked the fountain, about thirty feet up.

But she was … distracted.

She knew Adrien had to be here somewhere. Snooping. Lurking. Reporting back his father. She was no longer doubtful about it, she was convinced. Even Nino admitted his behavior on New Year’s Eve was suspicious, which was all Marinette needed to damn him. What would she do? Could she ransom him to Hawkmoth? … Was she even morally capable of a ransom?

Being devious was difficult.

A splash startled her out of her thoughts, and she called out Lucky Charm, a dumbbell falling into her hands. She struggled with the weight, and looked back down at the fountain. She saw a black figure struggling in the water, and she realized, heart in her throat, that the Candlemaker was holding Nino under the water.

Horror made her entire body cold.

No one had ever played dirty before. No one had ever put their lives in danger like that, and while they were tough, maybe even immortal -

Cats weren’t exactly great with water.

Her heart slammed against her chest as she looked around, looking for the signs, looking for the pieces of the puzzle she’d need -

A ragged gasp came from below, and she looked as Nino’s head came up, water everywhere, as he coughed and clutched at his chest, his clothes soaking wet, glasses askew. And the Candlemaker -

The Candlemaker triumphantly held Nino’s ring between his thumb and forefinger.

Marinette didn’t even think, she just threw, the dumbbell slamming into the fountain’s center statue and pinning down her enemy. She leaped down, ignoring the Candlemaker and looking for that ring, the damn ring, where the hell did it--

“It rolled over there,” Nino said, still coughing out huge mouthfuls of water, and she nodded, following the direction he pointed in.

The ring, now a stark white, was rolling down the cobblestones, Plagg flying after it, just a breath behind. The ring kept going until it hit someone’s shoe - shiny black. Expensive, Italian.

She looked up, and saw Gabriel Agreste standing in front of her, looking as smug as a king.

Marinette’s mouth hung open as he calmly stooped and picked the ring, expression calm.

“Excellent,” he murmured.

Plagg flew up, tiny paws grabbing for the ring, but Gabriel didn’t even blink - just plucked him right out of the air. His thumb pressed against the Kwami’s back just so, and suddenly he was gone, a swirl of black that darted back into the ring.

That taken care of, Gabriel looked at her and smiled.

“Your move, Lady.”

Marinette had no idea how long she would have stood there, frozen in terror -  if she would have just stood there as Gabriel closed in on her and took her earrings with the same effortless grace that he had taken care of Plagg with - if Nino’s voice hadn’t jolted her back to reality.

“Ladybug! The bracelet--” she heard the sound of something shattering against the cobblestones. “You just need to…”

Gabriel snorted. “Please. What does it matter that you’ve defeated this Akuma when you’ve already lost two partners?”

Marinette face crumpled. Her hands were up, over her mouth as Gabriel stepped closer, and closer, and --

Marinette swung back and punched him right in the nose. His glasses cracked beneath her fist, and she ran like hell.

She ran towards Nino - accepting the pieces of bracelet and butterfly he dropped into her hands - and yelled out Miraculous Ladybug as she cleansed it, not even bothering to look back. Nino was unsteady on his feet but running with her, and she only had a few minutes to go, go, go , and she could hear Gabriel’s confident steps behind her, oh God, all he’d have to do was wait out her transformation--

“Over here!”

Nino spun at the sound of the voice, and exhaled with relief. He started running in that direction, and Marinette hesitated until Nino’s hand wrapped around her wrist like a vice, dragging her behind him.

It didn’t take her long to realize who exactly they were following, and Marinette could feel her blood boiling.

But she didn’t exactly have time to stop and demand answers.

Adrien Agreste led them out of the park, through an alley, up a ladder and over a rooftop, before finally - finally - leading them into a small private garden, overrun with weeds.

Nino dropped to his knees, breaths ragged.

Adrien looked like he had just gone on a nice pleasant jog in gym class.

“Where are we?” Marinette said, her tone curt, as she debated if she’d need to take flight again.

“A garden Chloe and I used to play in when we were little. This mansion’s been abandoned for years. He won’t find us.”

Marinette took in the overgrown grass, the rust on the garden shack, the moss on the stone statue in the fountain. Another fountain. She wanted to break it into tiny little pieces.

She made the decision to stay - for now - and opened her mouth to speak her mind.

Nino beat her to it.

“Oh my god,” he said, still breathing heavy. “I’m so, sorry, I’m so, so, so sorry…”

She turned to him, sympathy cutting through her fury, but he wasn’t looking at her. He was sitting on his haunches, looking up miserably at Adrien.

“Adrien, I’m so sorry, I didn’t - I know how much you were depending on me and I feel, I feel so horrible--”

“Nino,” Adrien said softly, helping him to his feet, squeezing his hand as he did so. “It’s okay. You did wonderfully. It’s not your fault.”

Nino shook his head violently “No, dude, I ruined everything--

“What the hell,” Marinette said, voice flat, “is going on?”

The boys were silent.

She put on her most authoritative Ladybug voice. “If you two don’t explain why we just followed Hawkmoth’s son halfway across Paris in ten seconds--”

“Marinette,” Adrien said, and that word chilled her almost as much as the ones that followed. “I’m Chat Noir.”

Marinette stumbled back, collapsing into a garden chair, her heart pounding so hard she was surprised she could even hear them speaking.

“I didn’t know,” Nino blurted out, immediately. “I mean. I know now, obviously, but he never -- he never told me. I told you the truth, the ring just … showed up in my locker. And I just kinda… knew. I didn’t want to tell you because you were so angry at him and every time I tried to hint at it… and you had no idea.”

Marinette’s head was ringing as the words sunk it. No idea, Nino said, and it echoed over and over in her mind.

But that wasn’t exactly the case, was it?

How could she not have known, on some subconscious level? After he had acted so strangely on New Years? After his best friend just happened to be the one who took over for Chat Noir? After his disappearances in school were so perfectly timed with Chat Noir’s disappearance in her life?

After the first time that she had seen Adrien in class, with those same brilliantly green eyes …

“I’m sorry,” Nino muttered, but it wasn’t him that she wanted an apology from.

Her transformation released, and she felt Tikki whizz by her ear and land with a soft thump on her shoulder. She barely noticed.

“You owe me an explanation,” Marinette said, her voice even, folding into herself on the chair. “I don’t … I don’t even know who Chat Noir is right now.”

Adrien ran a hand through his hair, and nodded.

“Just… Give me a second.”

She watched as he paced and strummed his fingers against the side of his legs.

Nino sat down heavily on the overgrown grass, still dripping water from the fountain and finally, Adrien spoke.

“Two months ago I walked into my father’s study and heard him consulting with a kwami about his plans to stop Ladybug and Chat Noir. At the time, I … I didn’t know he was involved.” He swallowed. “I didn’t even know he knew he had heard of them. I spent about a week trying desperately to solve it all on my own with a minimal amount of collateral damage. It wasn’t until…” he looked at Marinette, expression miserable. “It wasn’t until you tried to tell me who Ladybug was that I realized that was impossible.”

Marinette fist clenched, nails biting into the flesh of her palm.

Chat separated himself from you, and … made sure you’d never want speak to Adrien ever again.” He looked at her and then his gaze dropped back to the grass. “My father came back from a business trip paranoid with suspicion and with a hellbent determination to end things. He knew something - he started having me under careful watch at every hour, made it impossible for me to sneak outside. But it wasn’t until he used Chloe as a weapon that I realized he suspected exactly who I was.” He exhaled, shakily. “I guess he was hoping he could manipulate me into giving up the Miraculous of my own accord. … So I decided to eliminate the possibility.”

Nino tugged his soaking wet hood over his head, looking like a drowned cat but twice as miserable. “If you had told me--”

“I didn’t want to burden you with anything more,” Adrien said, quickly. “Also … I was hoping that you wouldn’t actually put two and two together.”

Nino gave a half smile. “Dude, you were the only straight A student that missed class twice a week. Wasn’t exactly a mystery.”

Adrien smiled back at him, but it slipped off his face in a moment, as he looked back at Marinette. He opened his mouth, closed it - and then repeated the process over again.

Marinette herself was searching for words - like dipping her hand into a tide pool and checking to see what settled into her palm.

“And you realized I was Ladybug …” Marinette said finally, fists flat against her thighs.

“When you tried to tell me yourself,” Adrien said, softly.

“And you didn’t --” she found herself laughing. “You didn’t think, at any point, that I deserved to know this? Oh, no. Keep Marinette in the dark. Run around with your schemes and secret plans and drag Nino into this mess in your place ... but you never once thought I deserved to know?”

Adrien’s face went pale, and she felt a cold knot of pride at her own cruelty. Good. She hoped he felt ashamed.

“I didn’t want you getting hurt,” he said. “And I-- I thought if I told you, about ... about my father, you’d never trust me again.”

Marinette laughed again. “Right. And you’re so trustworthy now, after spending the last few weeks feeding hints to your papa over the phone.”

Adrien’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t want to. I was trying to stop his plans from the inside every change I got, trying to stop him--”

“You didn’t try hard enough,” Marinette spat, standing up. “Or do you consider Nino almost drowning and getting his Miraculous stolen a success?”

“That was my fault,” protested Nino.

“No it wasn’t, ” Marinette snapped, fuming. “This would have never happened if he hadn’t saddled you with his responsibilities - that you never even asked for.

“What would you have had me done, Marinette?” Adrien said, his voice breaking on her name.

Marinette ran her hands through her hair, frustrated. “I don’t -- I don’t know, Chat. Maybe telling me? Maybe just letting me take care of your father as soon as you found out?”

“I was --” he swallowed, chest heaving. “I was terrified I’d lose him and then I’d … I’d lose you, too.”

“Guess what, Adrien?” Marinette said, tone mocking. “You have lost me. And you’ll lose your monster of a father too, if I - if I  can even stop him now he’s got two Miraculous!” She let out a small scream of frustration, spinning in a circle. “You’ve lost everything because you were too much of a coward to tell the truth!”

“You said you trusted me,” Adrien said, voice soft. Broken. “During winter break.”

The memory of that dream - of that night - hit her like a slap in the face, and she actually reeled back from the sensation of it. She swallowed, steadying herself. “That’s when I thought Chat Noir was a hero,” she said, voice growing louder with every word. “That’s when I thought Chat Noir might be dead, because you dropped off the face of the earth.”

“I didn’t know what to do,” Adrien said, voice barely above a whisper.

Marinette turned away from him. “Not a good enough excuse.”

“I’ll get the Miraculous back,” he said. “I will. You don’t… you don’t have to ever speak to me again, but I will fix this. I promise. I’ll make it right again. Please. I know you said you don’t know Chat Noir is, but Adrien Agreste is --”

Marinette scoffed, expression icy. “I don’t even know what you are.”

She calmly walked to the wall they had climbed down on their way in, and clambered out, without saying a word.


 Tikki didn’t even attempt to talk to her about it, which Marinette appreciated.

She couldn’t say the same for Nino, who called her twice an hour for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening until he finally gave up. She felt like she should be angry with him, but she found that the crime of not telling he suspected Adrien was Chat Noir felt minuscule compared to what Adrien had done. Like all the rage in her heart had already been used up.

But she still wasn’t interested in hearing him defend him.

She was truly alone now. No partner would show up on her doorstep tonight. Getting the Miraculous back was up to her. And she couldn’t afford hold anything back.

After a quiet dinner, Marinette climbed up to her bed and opened one of her textbooks, trying to distract herself with an assignment. When that got her nowhere, she opened another.

And another.

After lying in bed for forty five minutes with not a single word written, she gave up.

“We should figure out what we’re going to do about this,” Marinette said, sighing and falling back onto her bed. “Like. On a scale of one to ten, how much trouble are we in?”

Tikki considered this. “A five?”

Marinette blinked.. “I… can’t tell if that’s bad or not.”

“Well,” Tikki said, flying over to sit on her chest. “As disasters go, it’s relatively a small one. I mean, if Adrien can get the ring back…”

Marinette’s mouth flattened into a thin line. “I’m not going to rely on him for anything.”

Not anymore, she thought. Never again.

Tikki placed her giant head in her tiny hands. “Maybe you were--”

Marinette cut her off. “Don’t say ‘too hard on him’.”

Tikki pursed her mouth with a tiny shake of her head. “I wouldn’t. I just … I hope Plagg’s okay.”

Marinette’s heart sunk. She had been so caught up in her own thoughts she hadn’t even thought of him, now Hawk Moth’s - Gabriel’s - prisoner. “Me too.”

“He always did pick the troublemakers,” Tikki murmured.

Marinette turned away then, unable to look at the uncharacteristically solemn look on Tikki’s face. She curled up in bed, feeling the events of the afternoon catching up with her. Adrien and Chat Noir were the same person.

She had spent so long idolizing Adrien.

And then two months loathing him.

Marinette sighed, and turned in her bed. Her eyes fell on her chaise lounge, covered in clothes and a blanket. A memory surfaced, unwanted, of Chat’s pretend therapy session, of a one-sided pillow fight.

Too many memories.

She pushed herself to the edge of her bed and stretched to turn off the light.

She breathed, slowly, and tried to forget the look on his face from that afternoon.

I don’t even know what you are.

Tikki’s breathing was small and even, and Marinette could feel the hot faced shame of incoming tears - but they never came.

And there she lay, curled up and fully clothed, until she fell asleep.


 She woke far too early the next morning, unsure of why, until she saw the notifications - several missed calls and a dozen texts and Facebook messages - all from Alya.

Alya: are you up?

Alya: Marinette

Alya: I don’t know what to do

Alya: please. come on

Alya: jesus. Ok. I’m just gonna post it

Alya: please call me when you see this

Alya: just check the Ladyblog first


 THE LADYBLOG

 

Tuesday, January 16th, 2016

Posted by Alya Cesaire at 3:45am

 

I don’t even know if I should post this. But I got the email twenty minutes ago, and the boy there … He’s a classmate of mine.

 

Ladybug, Chat Noir. If you’re reading this … please. Please help.

 

[link]


 The video starts suddenly, on a masked man in a dark room.

“Ladybug,” Hawkmoth says, pleasantly, like he was inviting her for tea. “I trust that this will get to you. I understand our encounter was cut short yesterday. A shame. I would have liked to keep this simple. Pleasant. Unfortunately, someone you and I both know didn’t feel the same way.”

The camera is picked up off it’s perch, and then moved so you can see a figure in a chair, his head hanging low. His arms and legs are tied, but he doesn’t seem badly injured.

Physically, at least.

“I’m keeping company with a friend of yours,” he said. “Adrien?”

The boy lifts his head.

It’s too dark to see if he’s been hurt.

But he looks at the camera with dead eyes.

“I’m sure you’ll know where to find us,” says his father, again like he was asking her over for tea.

Adrien’s gaze drops to the floor.

“Be quick,” says Hawkmoth. “For his sake.”

 


“He wouldn’t hurt his son,” Tikki said, before the video even stopped. Her hands were over her mouth, and she kept shaking her head in horror. “He wouldn’t.” There was a beat. “... Would he?”

There were sitting on her bed, huddled together, the only light coming from Marinette’s phone screen.

“I don’t know,” Marinette said, truthfully. “I don’t … I never knew him well.” It might have been a bluff - the man had been manipulating and scheming behind the scenes for the last year.

But if Adrien had gotten caught trying to take back the Miraculous … That couldn’t have ended well.

Tikki darted around in the area, and stopped short like she could read Marinette’s thoughts. “You don’t think it’s a trap, do you? That he and Adrien are working together?”

Marinette thought back to the garden the day before. If Adrien had wanted her Miraculous, he would have had no difficulty getting it.

“No,” she said, softly. “No. I don’t think so.”

Her phone rang, another call from Nino.

This time, she picked up before the second ring.

“Did you--”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I never thought he was capable of that,” Nino said, his voice cracking. “God, Marinette, I would have never let him go home…”

“I know,” she said, miserably. Every word from yesterday felt so unnecessarily callous now. Every atom of her being buzzed with the need to fix this, to make this right. “I’m leaving now.”

“I’m already on my way,” he said. “I’ll be outside your door in a couple minutes.”

“Nino,” Marinette said, shaking her head, even if he couldn’t see it. “You can’t. You don’t have a Miraculous, you’d be in --”

“Would losing your Miraculous stop you ?” Nino asked.

She went quiet. No , she thought. Nothing would.

“I’ll see you soon,” she told him.


 The three of them - Nino, Marinette, and Tikki - all agreed “you know where to find us” must have meant the Agreste mansion. It was a bitterly cold morning, and the sun had yet to rise. Marinette had considered calling Alya, but stopped herself before she pressed the call button. She hoped she was getting some sleep. She couldn't have had any easy night.

There were people walking around - there were always people walking around Paris - but they took care to avoid them. They were sure the police would be curious about two students creeping through private residential areas hours before school started.

No attempt at planning even got off the ground.

“Maybe we should just …” Nino sighed. “Give him--”

“We can’t,” Tikki pleaded. “If he has both Miraculous he will be capable of bending time and space. You think Plagg and I are Gods? We would be ants in comparison. Even if his intentions were pure, even if he meant no ill, he could destroy this entire city by accident.

Marinette exhaled very, very slowly, feeling terror trembling throughout her entire frame. She was shaking, and not just from the cold. “So what can he do with just his Miraculous and the ring?”

“Not much,” Tikki said. “Those two don’t combine, not the same way Plagg and mine do.”

Nino looked at her, a silent question on his face.

“I would never suggested abandoning them,” Tikki said, softly. “Not Plagg or Adrien.” Tikki sucked in a huge breath. “I don’t remember a lot about the purple Miraculous, but … it’s not as strong as the ring or the earrings. And it requires a champion - someone he’s picked to do his bidding - to even do anything. So we should be fine.” She nodded, as if to reassure herself.

“So we’re doing this,” Marinette said, standing in front of the huge gate.

“Yes!” Tikki chirped, with a confidence Marinette didn’t feel.

Nino just shut his eyes. She wondered if he was praying. Or just trying to wake up from a bad dream.

“Tikki,” Marinette said. “Transform me.”

While she transformed, Nino buzzed in the intercom. The gate swung open before he even said a word, and the two of them walked in on stiff legs.

The front grounds of the mansion were quiet, eerie in the early morning. They walked in a tight huddle, faces turned towards each other so they could speak quietly.

“He must have dismissed the staff for the day,” Nino said, softly.

Marinette wondered if that included Nathalie and Adrien’s bodyguard. She wondered if they had ever been dismissed before.

She was tense, her yoyo in hand and ready for a sneak attack, but she knew one would never come. Gabriel had every intention of making this quick, for Marinette just to hand it over without a fight. She didn’t know what she was going to do, but she would fight. She just hoped…

“If it comes down to it, just make sure Adrien gets out of here,” she whispered to Nino. “Have him stay with you until everything is safe.”

“Marinette..”

“Look,” she said, trying to make herself sound as confident as possible. “I’ve fought three different Akumas on my own. I never thought I could do that before. So … I can do this.”

Nino nodded. “Okay.”

The door opened for them easily, and they entered the grand foyer. The door shut behind them, with a heavy click.

Gabriel was at the top of the stairs, dressed as Hawkmoth. Adrien stood next to him, not injured, thank God.

Marinette’s hand grasped the handle behind her - locked.

“I do remember telling you to hurry,” Gabriel said, raising an eyebrow, but as soon as Marinette saw Adrien she felt half her fear melt away. Gabriel’s eyes drifted from her to Nino.

“Ah,” he said, clarity igniting behind his glasses. “It is you. I wasn’t sure, yesterday. I had hoped my son had better taste in a replacement.”

Adrien said nothing.

“Though I suppose that worked out for the best. This is the first place we met, isn’t it, boy? How appropriate.”

Nino glared at him. “Shut up.”

Gabriel only smiled. “I suppose we didn’t come here to chat. Let’s finish this, shall we? Hand them over, Lady.”

Marinette steeled herself, and gathered every inch of anger and used it to keep herself standing, to keep herself from shaking. “What will you do? Will you hurt him?”

Gabriel’s mouth was a thin line beneath his mouth. “Is that something you’re willing to risk?”

“He doesn’t have a bruise on him,” Marinette said, with a certainty she didn’t feel. “Would you hurt your family to accomplish your goal?”

“The two are mutually exclusive,” Gabriel said. “You’re wasting your time.”

“Père,” Adrien said. “Tell them what you want.”

“Be quiet, boy.”

“He wants to bring my mother back from the dead,” Adrien said, his tone flat, strangely mocking. Like he was in disbelief he was even saying it. “That’s what this was all for.”

Marinette’s jaw dropped, and she forced it shut. She could feel Tikki’s similar shock in the back of her mind - and a cold assurance that his goal was possible.

But not the way he wanted.

Tikki gave a gentle knock on her mind’s door, and Marinette let her in - and felt a rush of assurance and understanding.

“You’re never going to accomplish your desire,” Marinette said, in a voice that wasn’t entirely her own. “What you want is impossible. Nooroo will tell you the same thing. Give back the Miraculous, Gabriel.”

Gabriel snorted. “You do not have the advantage, girl.”

“Then try to take it from me,” Marinette said, with a ferocity that was all hers. “Unless you’re afraid of getting punched again. You don’t have a weapon. You have nothing without a champion.”

Gabriel looked at Nino - surefooted, expression steady and mad as hell. Someone who he had already used. Beside him was Marinette, blocked off by her Miraculous. He had no one to take advantage of.

All Marinette had to do was get close. Beat him unconscious, if she had to. She took a step towards the stairs, and Gabriel flinched, edging backwards.

And then the man’s gaze fell to Adrien.

“No, no, wait,” Adrien choked out, taking a step back. “Père, please--”

“It’s for this family,” Gabriel said softly, walking towards him. “Everything I’ve done, everything I do is for this family.”

“You can’t,” Adrien said, voice cracking. “It’s impossible - you know this is insane--”

Gabriel’s hand moved, a black butterfly appearing out of thin air between his fingers, and then Marinette suddenly understood. “I never noticed how strongly you feel,” he said, his voice gentle, fatherly. “A lightning storm. Waiting to strike.”

No, ” Adrien cried out, dropping to his knees, but the butterfly fluttered to him nonetheless, pressing against the skin on his finger where his Miraculous used to rest.

Marinette’s mouth was dry as she stood, frozen in place, watching a dark cloud folding over Adrien. The air inside the foyer crackled and hissed, and Nino grabbed her wrist, fingers digging in like claws to her suit’s skin. They watched, unable to breathe, as the cloud formed and breathed as Adrien stood, stretching.

The creature that emerged was facsimile of someone they knew. Before them stood Chat Noir, now dressed entirely in white.

Marinette could feel his anger filling the room, like a storm approaching in the air.

“Chat Blanc,” said Gabriel’s, voice heavy and even. He did not sound proud or haughty; just calm. He stood in front of his creation, examining him. “Take her Miraculous.”

Marinette’s pulse was erratic, her body cold and sweaty, her head swimming, but she would not move. She would not leave him. Not this time.

Chat Blanc took his time to respond to his father, stretching his legs, bouncing on his toes. He then turned to Gabriel, and gave him a wide smile.

“I’d rather not,” said Chat Blanc, his voice mocking, and his hand landed on the banister and it cracked , crumbling to nothing like that.

Gabriel blinked, uncomprehending, and stepped back towards the stairs, his eyes not leaving Chat Blanc’s. His hands were out in front of him, defensive.

“What are you - what are you doing? You are my champion. You obey me.”

“I obey what my own desire is,” Chat said. “And that’s having your miserable existence erased from this world.”

Nino gripped Marinette’s wrist tighter. Her mouth had gone dry.

He dropped his hand to the stairs, and they crumbled beneath Gabriel’s feet, and he fell, rolling under the rubble, his head hitting what remained of the railing with a loud crack. His transformation released, and a purple Kwami lay on his chest, unconscious or stunned. The floor trembled at Marinette’s feet, but she remained standing, unable to move.

Marinette felt a horrible sense of understanding, and saw that his Miraculous - white in color - had not lose a single claw mark from his attacks.

Chat Blanc jumped from the top of the steps to the ground floor, landing right in front of Nino and Marinette. She flinched, and he bowed.

“My Lady?” Chat asked pleasantly. “Would you mind letting me borrow your Miraculous? I’d like to erase this miserable man from the universe. Make sure no one remembers his name or his legacy.”

“No,” Marinette said, shaking her head, numbly. “No, this isn’t you--”

“I thought,” Chat said, tilting his head. “You didn’t know what I was?”

Marinette’s lips parted, and she felt Nino’s fingers loosen slightly around her wrist, a silent question.

She gave him the slightest of nods.

Chat watched them with unveiled disappointment. “Fine,” he said, bored. “Cataclysm will do.”

He took slow steps towards his fallen father, taking his time. And then Nino came up from behind him and whapped him in the back of the head with a piece of broken banister.

“Sorry, dude,” Nino whispered as Chat fell back, and he grabbed Gabriel off the floor in a fireman’s hold, hoisting him over his shoulder.

Marinette had already taken off in a run, looking for an exit. Nino was behind her, slow under the man’s weight but still going.

“How long do you think that bought us?” Marinette asked, trying every door as she darted across the parlor.

“A few minutes if we’re lucky,” Nino grunted, and then they both heard the sound of Chat groaning as he came to. “... Which of course, we’re not.”

“Door on your left,” Gabriel muttered, and Marinette didn’t hesitate, just thrust it open as soon as her hand grasped the handle.

“Switch,” she said, as Nino came by her, and she took Gabriel. They ran out into the gardens, grass wet with dew and the beginnings of an overcast morning starting to rise overhead.

“Why are you saving me?” Gabriel said, sounding quite uncomfortable over Marinette’s shoulder.

Nino scoffed. “Because we’re not gonna let Adrien go down a path he can't come back from. Not for you, dude. You're a dick.”

Gabriel had no response to that.

“What now--” Marinette started, but then the heard the foundations of the mansion creak. Gabriel began to say something, but Nino cut him off.

“Ssh,” Nino hissed, holding up a hand, and they all froze. Marinette was glad for her super strength. Otherwise she would have just found a dark corner to drop Gabriel in.

“How long until you can walk?” Marinette asked Gabriel, as they made the quickest exit they could out of the grounds.

“I don’t think I--”

“Too bad,” Nino said, a few steps behind them. “Chat Blanc at 6 o’clock!”

Marinette swore and dropped Gabriel on the ground, trying to tap into the part of her brain that could put impossible solutions together without activating Lucky Charm.

“Take him,” Marinette said, and Nino groaned but obeyed, lifting Gabriel back over his shoulder.

Chat Blanc was not Chat Noir. He was not Adrien Agreste.

He was another creature entirely, and he wasn’t bothering with running.

“You know I’m in the right,” he called, twirling his tail with one hand. “C’mon. Hand him over. Allow me my justice. I know you don’t want to hurt me.”

“And I know you don’t want to kill your dad, ” Marinette said. “This isn’t you.”

“Isn’t it?” Chat said, cracking a shoulder. “It’s great, having my power back. Tenfold, actually. It’s helping me see things a lot clearer. None of this would have happened if he hadn’t ruined everything. No one would have been hurt. I’m just fixing things. Putting them back to right. My own Miraculous Ladybug.

“Adrien,” Marinette breathed, and Chat’s beautiful face turned into a grimace.

Don’t,” he snarled.

She took a step back involuntarily, and Chat’s expression immediately softened.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t--” he said, sounding so much like Adrien, and then she shook his head hard. His hand slammed against the wall of the mansion, and Marinette’s eyes widened in horror as black seeped from his glove across the walls, and the house simply fell apart.

“Goodbye, prison,” murmured Chat. The pieces fell around him but never on him, break apart in chunks of planks and furniture. Clothes from Gabriel’s studio drifted down, crumbling into black nothingness before they could reach the ground. It fell so heavily that the ground shook, like a contained earthquake. He watched the destruction with pride.

All Marinette could do was stare numbly.

“You and Adrien’s dad go,” Nino said, straightening his shoulders. “I’ll try to talk to him.”

“That’s… not a good plan.”

“No duh,” Nino said. “But what else can we do?”

She nodded, feeling an overwhelming surge of gratitude for her current partner. “Try to find him without him seeing you. I’ll come back as soon as I can.” She paused, wetting her lips. “I don’t think … I don’t think he’ll hurt either of us.”

Nino nodded, and ran straight towards where they last saw Chat, without an ounce of fear.

And then she was alone with Gabriel.

Marinette ran her hands through her bangs, thoroughly overwhelmed and at a complete loss as to what she should say to the man. She glanced at Gabriel - who was staring at his feet, apparently wanting no part of this rescue plan, and remembered something.

“Gabriel,” she said. “Hand me the ring.”

“I don’t have it,” he said.

“Yes, you do. We don’t have time for this. Give me the Miraculous.”

He hesitated, and then fished it out from his breast pocket. “This is ironic,” he murmured, but she ignored him.

“You could put that on yourself, you know,” he said, as he dropped it into her palm. “Instead of trying to get that foolhardy boy to be useful.” It took her a second to realize he meant Nino.

“I’d rather not chance it,” she said, thinking of Tikki’s warning. “Besides, I’ve got a plan,” she lied.

Gabriel’s expression was wry, and she grit her teeth, knowing she couldn’t waste much more time.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, and then, “hide.”

She didn’t even look back to check if her message was received, just focused on catching up with Nino as soon as humanly possible. He was ducked behind a hedge, his neck craning around. He caught her gaze and his eyes widened - especially when she revealed the ring in her hand.

Silent as the grave, she reeled her arm back far, and chucked the Miraculous in his direction.

Nino jumped remarkably high in the air, catching the ring with both hands. He slipped it on, and she felt an immediate sense of relief seeing Plagg again. They transformed without another word needing to be said, and Marinette watched as he took the baton from his belt on one smooth action.

“Alright, Agreste,” he called out. “Let’s dance.”

Leave it to Nino to use goofy one liners during a unbelievably dire situation.

Marinette exhaled, and then returned to the rubble that used to be the Agreste grounds, searching for Gabriel. She couldn’t call his name - she was worried that Chat might hear - so she was stepping around the ruins like it was a bizarre game of hide and seek.

As she slowly tip toed past a concrete bench fallen onto its side, she felt a hand wrap around her ankle. She barely choked down a scream.

Gabriel was curled up within the bench, and - she begrudgingly had to admit - was very well hidden.

“Could you have done that in a - in a non horror movie kinda way?” She hissed, crouching down to his level.

“I don’t have a lot of mobility,” Gabriel said, dry as ever. “Forgive me.”

Marinette ignored this - as she ignored most of the words Gabriel had hissed at her and Nino - and saw Nino bolting across the grounds, running to meet Chat Blanc.

“Okay,” Marinette whispered, as if checking off a mental checklist. “That should buy us a lot of time. Now you need to get somewhere to hide.”

Gabriel shook his head. “Let me talk to my son--”

What was left of Marinette’s patience was wearing thin. “You tried that. He didn’t want to listen. Let’s get you out of here.”

And before he could protest, she hoisted him up without difficulty, staying low to the ground. She didn’t talk while she slipped through the street, and she avoided any curious civilians. Noise from the destruction and the fight had begun to rouse people from sleep. She crossed a street to see Alya, phone out and dressed in a coat and pajamas, running straight toward the Agreste mansion. She didn’t even notice her.

Marinette turned her face away and groaned. Alya.

They traveled silently towards the school. Right out front a collection of cars were stopped in the middle of the street, traffic at a complete stand still.

“Here,” she said, depositing him back on his feet. “Hide here. Or drive away. I don’t care. Just stay out of the way.”

“This is my fault,” Gabriel said.

“Yes, it is,” Marinette agreed. “Not the point. How do we stop him?”

“Your Miraculous is the only way,” he said. “Although ...”

“Although?”

“... He didn’t have an item. Even now he doesn’t have a ring, it just fell on his hand..”

Marinette swore, running her hands through her hair. “So what do I break?”

“His finger, perhaps,” Gabriel said, dryly.

She stared.

“That was a joke. Do not break my son’s finger.”

“Oh, don’t give me a lecture about hurting your son,” Marinette spat.

“It’s something you have experience with,” Gabriel said coldly. “He told me the whole thing this morning, you know. All the sad little details. Even how you mysteriously disappeared that night with the Hummingbird.”

Marinette rubbed her thumb against her lip, refusing to take the bait. “And yet you still thought you were in the right.”

“Family is more important than anything,” he said, hand resting on his damaged ankle. “He may have picked you - and that boy - but family is permanent. Forever. No choice.”

Marinette scoffed. “I agree. He never chose to love you. I don’t understand how anyone would.”

“Save your preaching,” Gabriel said. “Focus on rescuing my son. You do that, and I’ll happy to take all of your verbal beatings.”

Marinette gritted her teeth, and then nodded - a reluctant, temporary truce.

“Stay here,” she commanded, standing in the middle of the street. “Miraculous Ladybug can do a lot of things, but I’ve never actually seen it undo someone’s death. I don’t want to test that.”

“Godspeed,” Gabriel said, voice oozing sarcasm, and Marinette did not blame Chat for his rage, not one bit.


 THE LADYBLOG

 

Tuesday, January 16th, 2016

Posted by Alya Cesaire at 6:58 AM

 

On the road update. Sorry for any typos, autocorrect is ducking awful.

 

So, uh, yeah, if you haven’t seen yet: this is NUTS, people. I think - I think the old Chat Noir is back? And they’re fighting each other?? I haven’t seen ladybug at all this morning, so i don’t - I don’t know what the hell is going on. The police are trying to evacuate people - the destruction has gotten really bad, the Chat in white has some kinda unlimited cataclysm - but I won’t budge until they literally drag me out.

 

Or my phone dies.

 

PS: If anyone is thinking of coming out here, bring me a coffee. And if any of my teachers are reading this, I am deathly ill in bed and can’t attend school today. Cough.

 


The sound of her yoyo ringing nearly made Marinette jump out of her skin. She dropped from the building, and picked it up as soon as her feet hit solid ground.

“Nino! Nino, is everything okay? What’s happening? Is he--”

“He’s fine,” Nino said, and the video flickered on, the view shaky as Nino ran. “I mean. I think. He got in a good shot to my wrist and then scampered off when I tried to get my baton back. You know, if I didn't love the dude to death I would be really peeved right now.”

“He’s not trying to hurt anyone besides Gabriel?”

Nino grimaced. “Kinda. I mean, it’s more that he … doesn’t care. He’s cataclysmed half the street by now. I don’t even have anywhere to ru--” Nino suddenly cut himself off and swore as the video’s feed jumbled. The baton had fell, and then rolled, showing her only a shot of the feet.

“Nino!?” She stopped mid run, cupping the yoyo with both hands, turning it as if she could somehow get a better look. A moment later, a gloved hand picked up the baton.

“I’m fine!” he yelped. “Just … tripped over some half destroyed street. See. That is how he’ll kill someone.”

“Nino.”

“I use humor as coping mechanism,” Nino muttered defensively. “Leave me alone. Ohhh, wait. There he is.”

Marinette’s heart seemed to be a few steps behind her, she felt it jolt and slam back into her chest.

“Where are you?”

“The Louvre. Get here soon.” And with that, he hung up.

She shut her yoyo immediately and hooked it onto a building, swinging without having to look first. Paris was in confused chaos - everywhere she had gone, people had shouted questions and she didn’t even know where to begin. All she could focus on was going forward, on keeping Gabriel alive and Chat … human. Just focusing on the plan.

The plan she still did not have.


 He was only twenty, thirty feet away. Stealth was not Marinette’s strength - it was always Chat’s virtue. She realized twenty minutes into the hunt that he knew she was following him, and was deliberately slipping away and refusing to confront her. It pissed her off, actually. She just needed to - well, at this point, her plan consisted of “hit him until he went unconscious and then just spam Miraculous Ladybug until he went back to normal”.

She was not good at this sort of thing. She was no good without him on her side - because she had to face it now, that he had never truly left her side. Until now.

She was pressed under an awning, watching Chat walk casually, surveying his damage. Nino was below them on the streets, recovering. She was pretty sure he and Plagg had used Cataclysm at least three times that morning  - she didn’t know how they could stand it, but nothing was stopping them.

But Chat was bored with Nino, and refusing to even look at her, and this was probably going to be Marinette’s best shot. She watched Nino spin on his heel, and she sucked in a deep breath, eyeing a place she could hook her yoyo (hopefully) unnoticed. She just had to time this right, and--

“Adrien,” boomed a voice, and both Marinette and Chat looked up.

“Oh, you idiot,” Marinette muttered, as Gabriel hovered upwards, guised as Hawkmoth and flanked by butterflies.

“Adrien, be sensible--” Gabriel urged, and Chat just cracked his neck and grinned.

Marinette swore with the worst words she knew as Chat dove towards him, hand extended and leaking black magic. Gabriel dodged and Chat hit the building behind him, clinging in deep with his claws, like a beast of hell. Marinette watched, mouth dry, as they circled each other and Chat cornered him, bit by bit, getting lower and lower, as Gabriel begged for his son to listen.

But it was way, way, way too late.

Whatever magic was keeping Gabriel afloat broke, and he dropped to the street, crying out as he fell onto his already hurt foot. Marinette yoyo’d down - no longer with any concern for stealth - and fell into a crowd of concerned, terrified civilians.

“Go,” she said. “Go!”

She couldn’t afford a look back to see if any of them obeyed, she could only push forward to get towards Gabriel and Chat, hoping Nino was faster, hoping that --

“Citizens of Paris,” came Gabriel’s voice, booming again. “I know you’re scared. I know you’re -- you’re terrified of this mysterious creature fighting your beloved Ladybug. I urge you to come to my aid --”

Marinette couldn’t even get a word out before the people swarmed forward, eyes hard and determined.

“-- do not hurt him,” came Gabriel’s voice, and it cut off.

Marinette couldn’t see, couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. Hundreds were shoving past her, diving towards Chat, and she couldn’t do a thing. She couldn’t even reach them.

“Tikki,” she squeaked, feeling a tight fist around her heart, claustrophobic and suffocated. “Tikki, what do we--”

The sharp pangs of anxiety piercing her heart faded, warmth spreading through her limbs. Marinette felt her body push itself up over the crowd, landing on someone’s shoulder and leaping up onto an accompanying wall, clutching a brick for balance. She felt, for a moment, the sensation of someone else's body, of a smaller build, of flipping and turning on the balance bars and laughing with girls a little younger than she was on bright blue mats. Fascinated, but too busy to think it over, Marinette dismissed the muscle memory Tikki had given her and surveyed the mass as she used her yoyo to swing higher.

Chat was retreating - rapidly ascending a tall building’s ladder as the people of Paris shoved him away from his father, forming a protective cocoon.

While he was up there, blocked by the masses serving as Gabriel’s human shield, he couldn’t get to his father - but he was a ticking time bomb. She couldn’t leave him alone, and she couldn’t just let it happen. She was going to have to heal everyone - and then Chat.

She went deep down - reached as far down into the part of her that was Tikki as she could, and pulled. She lifted up every Ladybug that came before her, all of those healing cleanses and let it course through her. She couldn’t think, couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe - just felt like she was being pulled in every direction all at once. She was no longer Marinette, not quite Tikki, but an experience - a title. She was off the ground now, the magic buzzing through her, the swarms of ladybugs pouring out to surround the civilians Gabriel had dragged into his game. She was an entire world, a population, a force to be reckoned with.

And then she fell.

She dropped to the ground, hard, bones aching and pajamas thin against the cold ground. Around her, everyone else was coming to, dazed, not even noticing her. Which was good. Because she wasn’t sure if she could move.

Tikki was curled against her arm, and Marinette turned her head to her.  “Tikki, are you…”

“I’m fine,” she whispered. “Just … tired.”

“Do you have -- just a bit more, so we can heal-”

Tikki shook her head.

Marinette swallowed.

“Marinette!” Nino’s voiced yelled, and she lifted her head, watching him weave through the crowd, looking through the confused faces.

“Down here,” she called, and he ran to her.

“Are you okay? I saw you use Miraculous Ladybug and then just drop--”

“I’m okay,” she said. “Just help me up.”

He helped her to her feet - nothing was broken, she was just tired and numb -

“Where’s Plagg?”

“Resting,” he said. “The amount of transformations and Cataclysms wore him out. Adrien’s dad is over here, c’mon--”

Tikki let out an exhausted huff as Nino grabbed Marinette by the hand and pulled her through the crowd, to where -

Marinette couldn’t breathe.

“It’s not as bad it looks,” Gabriel said, annoyed with her horror. Or her pity.

“He cataclysm’d his ankle,” Nino said, in a very small voice. “Back at the house. And it’s spreading.”

A blackness was covering Gabriel’s ankle, and moving very slowly upward. It looked magic. It looked … diseased.

“I think it was an accident,” Gabriel said, voice strained. “I’m not sure he even realized what he did, seeing as he was still doggedly pursuing me. Accidentally killed by my own son. What joy. Or maybe he knows, and he’s just enjoying me dying slowly.”

“He doesn’t want to kill you,” Nino said, kneeling down. “And you’re not gonna die. Just.. rest, okay?”

The blackness - the corruption - was going to kill him. Maybe not now - maybe not even tonight, but …

Miraculous Ladybug would heal it - but Tikki was deeply unconscious, her breathing faint and uneven. So that was that.

Marinette took out her earrings and placed them next to Gabriel, placing Tikki’s sleeping body next to them.

“There you go,” she muttered, to his indifferent sleeping face, and then stood, joints aching. Nino was too busy checking Gabriel’s ankle to notice as Marinette slipped away, and she blended into the dazed crowd without another word.


He was waiting for her when she cleared the last rung of the ladder and pulled herself up onto the lip of the roof.

“That took awhile,” he said. “You okay?”

“Better than your dad,” Marinette said. “You nearly killed him, you know.”

Chat Blanc didn’t say anything. He took her in, green eyes careful. Wary.

“Where’s your Miraculous?” Chat said, head tilting.

“Down there,” she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. “Go get it, if you want. But you’ll have to get past me, first.”

“You can’t fight me, Ladybug.”

“I’m not Ladybug,” she said. “And I’m not here to fight you.”

She walked forward, focusing on each step at a time, her expression calm. As she grew closer Chat’s expression grew wary, and he took a step back.

“I do know what you are,” she said. “You’re a boy who had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and when he came to a horrible decision, he chose not to decide.”

“So now you know Adrien.”

“Yes. And I know you didn’t want to hurt your father.”

Chat raised an eyebrow.

Marinette pressed her lips together. “Okay. You did. And I don’t blame you for that. I mean, so do i. But he’s -- he’s in bad shape, and I know that’s not what you really want.”

“You’re very confident about this. I’ve always loved your optimism, Marinette, but honestly, I’m just going to push past you and finish him off. Probably pick up the Miraculouses while I’m there. I like the idea of wiping him from existence. Leave no trace.”

“I don’t think you’re going to.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because you didn’t want to leave him. And that let you to throw away everything else. And you wish you didn’t, because it would have been easier, and God knows he’s not deserving of this, but -- Adrien, that’s not you.”

“I didn’t choose him,” Chat said, in a strangely flat. “I didn’t have a choice. And if I had, I would have chosen you.”

Marinette shook her head. “You shouldn’t have had to make a choice at all. You shouldn’t had to have dealt with any of this. I’m sorry for -- I’m sorry for not noticing. I’m sorry for making you feel like you had to keep this secret.”

Chat grimaced in pain, like she had slapped him, and shook his head violently. “No, no, it’s not your fault, none of this was ever your fault - it’s my fault for being a coward, and for having a m-monster of a father --”

“Maybe he’s a monster,” Marinette said. “But it’s not your fault for being his son. It’s not your fault that you wanted to protect him.”

He had sunk to his knees now, clutching his head. “This is all m-my fault, if I had j-j-just noticed sooner--”

Marinette kneeled beside him, her voice soft. “You don’t have to apologize for loving your father, Adrien.”

He looked up at her, tears caught between his pale lashes. “He hurt Chloe. He hurt Nino. He hurt you .”

“And that’s not your fault,” she said, and she took him into her arms. “It never was.”

She felt his body stiffen, and then it cracked like ice - he was melting into her embrace, face buried into her shoulder, tears soaking into her shirt. She didn’t know how long they sat there - or when he had transformed back to normal, still in his clothes from the day before. They sat like that as the sun rose, huddled together in the winter morning cold. It was so nice, just to have him by her side again.

And to finally get to apologize.

“I’ve been such an ass to you,” she muttered into his shoulder, groaning. “For months.

“And I don’t blame you,” Adrien said, pulling back to violently shake his head. I put you into an awful situation --”

“I shouldn’t have snapped at you, yesterday. You can’t understand how horrible I felt when I thought - when I saw that video and remembered the last words I said to you--”

Adrien looked at her, with those green eyes she always distantly recognized. “Marinette,” he said. “I could never stop thinking of you as the most amazing, heroic person I’ve ever met.”

Marinette sucked in a sharp breath, finding it as difficult to keep his gaze as it had been when she had first fallen head over heels for him. Instead of speaking, she reached for his face. She wiped a tear from his cheek with her thumb, like when he had brushed powdered sugar off her face, what felt like a million years before.

She withdrew her hand, holding her breath, and Adrien just looked at her, tilting his head.

“I hope you’re not going to lick that,” he said, at last, and then they both burst out laughing.

She was shoving his shoulders with her hands, trying to stifle her laughter - (“I mean, I’m kinda into it--” “Stop!” “Though it is a little concerning--” “Stop!”) and then suddenly their faces were much closer, and she was having difficulty breathing again.

It was not the perfect time, she knew that.

But it wasn’t the wrong time, either.

She broke the minuscule gap between them, and suddenly she was kissing Chat Noir - kissing Adrien Agreste -- a boy she had managed to fall for twice.

It was simple - there was no time for big sweeping, knee shaking kisses, no time for anything other than an assurance that she was here, that she was here for him, that she loved - that she loved him, she did, she did she did she did -

It was aching, and it was soft, and she couldn’t tell which one of them was crying, or maybe it was both of them, but it was -

It was like something in her heart had finally healed over.

A wolf whistle interrupted them, and they broke apart, turning to see Nino climbing up the latter and attempting to clap with one hand.

“About time,” he said, grinning.

They both stared at him, wide eyed and red faced, and he waved a hand.

“Well, I noticed Marinette had poofed, and then a little while after Gabriel went back to normal - no more black ankle of death.  So I figured something was up.” He reached into his hoodie scooping something out carefully.

Plagg yawned, and then shot into the air. “Where is he? Where’s--”

“War’s over, dude,” Nino said, warmly, using his hand to push Plagg in the air so he could see Adrien. Plagg darted towards him, Nino close behind as Adrien jumped to his feet.

Adrien tackled his best friend in a hug. Nino laughed, squeezing tight.

“I knew it would work out, dude. I always knew you were going to do the right thing.”

“I didn’t,” Adrien said, exhaling. “So thank you.”

Nino turned to Marinette, also standing, and gave her an equally massive hug. He released her, and gestured at her with both arms. “And let us not forget our lord and saviour, the Wonder Woman of the hour…”

Marinette laughed, shaking her head. “Stop it.”

“I’m with Nino on this one,” Adrien said, very seriously. “I think you should be knighted.”

“Shut up,” she said, shoving him. “I would have spent the past three months crying in my room if it wasn’t for you, Nino.”

“You both saved me,” Adrien said. “Thank you.”

“Anytime, dude. Except maybe not at five am next time. I’m, like, ready to pass out on this roof. Oh, wait, first --”

He reached out into his other hoodie pocket, and pulled out Tikki and the earrings. Marinette blinked at him, and realized he was possessing two magical items that, put together, could literally bend the whims of time and space to his will. And he didn't even care.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she said. “You’re amazing.”

Tikki flew straight to Marinette, nuzzling her cheek. “Never ever ever ever do that again,” Tikki sniffed, and then flew over to Adrien.

“You,” she said, “you darling, sweet boy. Thank you so much. For what you did for us, what you did for Marinette..”

“It’s an honor to finally meet you,” Adrien said, smiling warmly.

Tikki grinned, and dropped onto Marinette’s shoulder with an exhausted little oof, and Marinette bent her head to kiss her forehead.

They all jumped at the sound of feet on the rungs of the latter, but relaxed when Alya’s head emerged, hair a mess and face smudged with dirt, but completely, one hundred percent, safe and sound.

Marinette felt relief rush through her, and Adrien squeeze her hand. She was so relieved, in fact, that she could only beam at her best friend as she half walked, half ran to her friends, without realizing exactly what Alya was walking in on.

She watched, not comprehending, as Alya took in the scene - as Alya’s eyes widened and mouth dropped open.

As Alya looked at Plagg and Tikki, the ring Nino was holding and the earrings in Marinette’s hand, and then up at her friends.

“What,” she said, flatly, “the fuck.”

There was silence.

“Oh,” said Adrien, very softly.

Marinette squirmed, fighting an instinctive urge to pluck Tikki out of the air and shove her into the nearest available hiding place on her person.

“In my defense,” Nino said, immediately, before Alya could get in another word. “I’ve only been Chat Noir for two months, okay, so… so you should be, like, the least mad at me.”

“Chat--!?” Alya choked out, and ohhh, okay, that was when all it clicked for her.

Nino realized his mistake immediately. “Uh,” he said, speechless, and that was the last word anyone got out before Alya began a truly impressive rant/lecture/guilt fest that went on for about ten minutes straight.

“I can not believe,” she said, at last, downing the dregs of a mocha as they sat, Kwamis hidden and shock blankets draped over their shoulders by kind but confused policemen. “All three of you hid this from me. All three of you.”

“Again, I’m the newbie--” Nino started, and Alya turned to him.

“No,” she said. “No, Adrien is the one who gets spared from my wrath. You - I kissed Chat Noir-you, and you didn’t tell me--!!”

“You what!? ” Marinette and Adrien said in one voice in pure, unanimous joy, and Nino was hiding in his hoodie. It was chaos as their words all tripped over each other's, everyone trying to interrupt each other and lay the blame on someone else. Nino was making a very valiant attempt to distract from his own kiss story with the one he walked in one earlier - and it almost distracted all of them from what was going on in front of them.

Almost.

They all went quiet as they watched Gabriel escorted towards a police car, watched as he searched the crowd to look for someone.

He found his son through the crowd and they stared, without a word, as the handcuffs were locked and the rights were read. Hands behind his back, all Gabriel could do was nod. Adrien nodded back, swallowing hard. Nino and Marinette took each of Adrien’s hands. Plagg was curled up in his breast pocket, pressed to his heart. Alya had a hand gripped tight on his shoulder, and they sat like that as they watched the police car drive away.

There were there for him, and they would be there every moment onwards, and Marinette would make sure Adrien Agreste knew that every day for the rest of her life.

She would not be letting him go.

Never again.


 

EPILOGUE

 

The first few days back at school were weird. Adrien, of course, had a legitimate reason for an absence, and Alya, mad genius that she was, had been able to make up some dramatic sad story of trauma and support that allowed her, Marinette, and Nino to skip as well. They spent the time working on getting their stories straight and identical, and making Alya promise that not a word was going on her blog.

(Marinette, stupidly, had thought this part was going to be easy, until Alya would make some sort of comment like “Oh my god, the Chatroom admin thinks that Adrien was behind the whole thing and his dad was set up, can’t I just, like, comment anonymously--?” and then they’d all just reiterate, again: NO!)

People noticed, of course. It was in the news: not that they were superheroes, obviously, but that Gabriel Agreste had been the one behind Paris’s attacks, in the hopes of bringing back his dead wife, and had entered a mental hospital - at least for the time being.

So the rumor mill had been explosive, and Marinette had been worried sick about how Adrien would deflect it. She found out soon enough: if the whispering got too much, if he got too tense, then he would wrap his arms around her tight, or kiss her quick on the mouth and laugh out loud at her stunned expression, and then the whispering changed real fast.

Marinette didn’t mind.

She had been very, very, very wary when Chloe walked up to her that first day they had all returned.

But all Chloe was press her lips together in a thin line, and ask, “You’re making him happy, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Marinette said, simply.

“Then that’s it,” she said, and turned on her heel.

“Chloe,” she said, softly. “Thank you.”

Chloe rolled her eyes.

“For what?”

“Keeping him grounded,” she said, softly. “Being his friend. When I couldn’t.”

Chloe’s expression softened - just a little bit. “Of course,” she said, and then, because it was Chloe Bourgeois, she tossed her hair and added a “freak.” before walking away. (Adrien, later, insisted this was particular comment was said with affection. Marinette wasn’t sure.)

Chat Noir and Ladybug were laying low, for a multitude of reasons. First off, there was, obviously, no immediate supernatural threat to Paris, and they figured the police could handle petty theft for a while. Secondly, Marinette wasn’t even sure who should be running shots anymore, especially as Alya kept hinting it was only fair if she got to borrow the earrings for a while.

Third, the world didn’t …

It didn’t exactly know how to handle Chat Noir.

They had done an excellent job hiding Adrien’s exact involvement in the situation. Alya had held her camera steady as Adrien explained Hawkmoth’s “ransom” of him was all a bluff to catch Ladybug and Chat Noir. Marinette stood by, making worried crescent moon indents into her palms as she tried to discern how much of his own story Adrien believed.

But there was no hiding the obvious: the blonde and charming Chat Noir Paris had known for a year had “turned” on them, and there was no way to stop the rumors and debates and madcap conspiracy theories.

Nino was frustrated. Alya was irritated. Marinette was furious.

But Adrien was perfectly calm.

“I don’t blame them,” he told her, as he calmly wrenched her phone out of her hands before she could make another Youtube comment she’d regret. “They don’t know how to feel. They don’t know what was fake, and what was real, and what was selfish and what was misunderstood.” He exhaled slowly. “People are complicated.”

She knew she wasn’t just talking about himself.

That first week they spent hours trying to compose that first letter to his dad - Marinette tried very hard to give him privacy, but he refused. “You said you’re not leaving me again,” he’d remind her. “I’m holding you to that.”

They’d lie on her bed, Plagg and Tikki bickering quietly in a corner, and work through draft after draft for hours, until her parents came up with a tray of hot chocolate and cookies and they’d take a break, eyes bleary and hands stained with ink.

(On more than one occasion Adrien passed out on her bed or chaise lounge, still fully dressed and clutching a pen, and her parents would just bring an extra blanket, no questions asked. She wasn’t sure if it was out of pity for his situation, or because Adrien was such a gold star model of good behavior that sometimes even she forgot this was the boy who had hid outside the bakery for free snacks.)

Not all days were good ones. That was to be expected. Adrien was still trying to remember who he was, and while Marinette had hoped that finally mailing in the letter would get a load off his chest, he was still lost. When he had got a call from Nathalie saying a response had arrived in the mail, he had kissed Marinette on the forehead, apologized for having to leave, and disappeared for the rest of the day.

She was fine with that; she knew he needed his space, and even on those off days following that where he disappeared he still sent her a goodnight text and or some meme he had saved off Facebook. Marinette couldn’t begin to understand what he was going through - but she would be there, always. She was not leaving him to handle things alone. Never again.

When the weather started to get warm, and Adrien’s living situation had finally settled (Nathalie was his legal guardian, but he would be living at Nino’s for the time being - it was more of a home than the mansion was.), they had all met at Alya’s for the unveiling of her most recent Ladyblog.

Marinette and Adrien sat on the couch, flanked by Alya’s baby sisters. Nino was in the kitchen, talking to Alya’s parents.

“Alya has been so busy with blog stuff she hasn’t even had time to think about the Nino-thing,” Marinette said in a whisper, well aware of how nosy Alya’s siblings were. “You think Nino realizes that?”

They both leaned to get a better view of the kitchen, Adrien’s chin pressed against the top of Marinette’s head. They could practically see the sweat dropping of Nino’s forehead as Alya’s mother asked an inaudible question.

“... Yep,” said Adrien. They watched a few moments more, and Marinette could feel Adrien trying not to laugh above her, which in turn, made her want to laugh, and in seconds they were a giggling mess.

“What are they talking about?” said Ella, as Etta asked “Why are you laughing?”

“Nothing,” Marinette said, diplomatic and loyal and knowing Alya would kill her if she breathed a word of it to the twins. She and Adrien righted themselves, and the girls watched them with a steady gaze that was only a little creepy.

“Are you two in love?”

“Uh,” said Marinette.

“Obviously,” Adrien answered, and then laughed again when Marinette went red as a tomato.

The girls ran off, giggling to themselves, and Adrien and Marinette settled back in. Shortly after, Nino returned from the kitchen, looking only slightly mortified. Before they could interrogate, Alya stuck her head out from the staircase.

“Drumroll please,” she requested, and the three obliged as she walked down the stairs, branding her laptop like a crown on a velvet pillow.

“This is my finest masterpiece,” Alya said. “I just want you to all soak it all in. Prepare for greatness.”

Nino closed his eyes and tilted his head back.

“Good,” Alya said. “Good! Follow his example.”

Marinette shrugged. “I’m basking. Just less dramatically.”

“Psst,” Adrien said, right into Marinette’s ear. “I want you ask me something.”

“This better not be a pun,” she said, rolling her eyes. Adrien stared at her, wide eyed, pure innocence, like he was offended at the mere suggestion.

“Hey, Marinette," he said, bumping her shoulder with his. "Do you remember when you said you didn’t know what I was?”

Marinette cringed. “Oh, god, Adrien, I’m so --”

He shook his head. “No, no, I’ve got a point - just. Ask me what I am.”

Marinette sighed - still squirming with guilt, and then gave him an even look. “That’s what you want?”

“That’s what I want,” he said, nodding.

So Marinette pressed her lips, turned to look at her boyfriend, and prepared for a terrible pun. “What are you?”

“Happy,” said Adrien, like the answer surprised him a little, and Marinette could only stare at him. Awed.

Alya’s mouth dropped open, like, oh, and she held up a hand. “Hold on. Five more minutes, I promise, then --”

“Alya,” Nino groaned, and Alya just held up both hands and bolted back up stairs, two at a time.

“Five minutes!” She barked down, and then, again, “Promise!”

Marinette rolled her eyes good naturedly, and nestled her head into Adrien’s shoulder, perfectly content to wait.


Excerpt From “The Ladybug”. Published by Alya Cesaire, February 2016:

(continued from page 3)

And we may never know exactly what went on that night, or why it happened, or if we’ll even see Ladybug and Chat Noir again. Perhaps you’ll see her from the window of a train, or catch a glimpse of familiar green eyes at a cafe. In this reporter’s humble opinion, it doesn’t matter who these superheroes and villains are - or even which is which.

I don’t know if Chat Noir hero or villain, or if he’ll ever fight crime again.

There’s only one word for someone dragging themselves through hell and back to protect the ones they care about, and somehow, despite the scars, despite the hurt, despite the fact that they know it will also come with great sadness can say, truly, deeply, that they’re happy:

Miraculous.