Marinette went undefeated, although a caffeine-high Adrien was dangerous competition. Distraction ended up being his Achilles heel: as soon as he would get ahead, a speck of dust would float by and entirely capture his attention. He’d be across the room in seconds, chasing that elusive particle, game abandoned.
“You need to concentrate,” Mari would complain, grabbing him by the belt of his pants to drag him back. Then, she would realize what she was doing, trip over her feet in a flustered mess, and they would both end up in a heap on the floor.
“Aren’t you going to play?” Felix had asked Nino and Alya at one point.
Alya, tearing up with laughter at the expense of her friends, had responded: “No, no. We’re having too much fun just watching those two.”
When the time came for Marinette and Adrien to crash, they did so spectacularly. They passed out within minutes of each other, and lay sprawled at the foot of the television, Mari using the blonde’s arm as a pillow.
“Aw, the show’s over,” Alya whined. And then, her eyes lighting up again: “Picture time!”
Nino retrieved the game controllers. “Wanna go, Detective?”
“It is four in the morning,” Felix replied, his face flat and uninterested.
Brigitte elbowed him. “Hey, isn’t it your job to encourage kids to stay in at night and not go out drinking? Shouldn’t you be supporting this whole video game thing?”
Felix grumbled. “It’s my job to make sure kids stay in their own homes and go to bed on time.”
“Okay, Santa Claus,” Nino chuckled. “So. Wanna play?”
“Did... someone say Santa Claws?” Adrien mumbled in his sleep, arching his fingers through the air dramatically before letting his arm fall back down over Marinette’s waist. Alya squealed in delight, crouching over her friends and snapping more incriminating photos.
Felix sighed as Nino handed him a controller. “Right. So, I actually don’t know how to play this kind of thing.”
The boy stared, dumbfounded for a moment, before regaining his composure. “Okay... first of all, you’re holding the controller upside-down—wait, wait. You mean you’ve never played a video game before?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be a genius or something?” Nino sputtered.
“Yeah, I’m a genius because I never let things like this turn my brain to mush!”
“Oooh, ouch. Well, Felix, my man, let’s see if my mush brain can kick your excessively sheltered ass!”
“Excessively—what?! Why, you...!”
They went at it. Video-gaming, it turned out, was surprisingly simple, once Felix figured out the rules and sorted out the buttons. He got the game-play down easily with his sponge-like brain, and, after the first few rounds, had Nino beat.
Then, his alarm clock rang.
Felix dropped his controller. It was that time already? Sure enough, sunlight was peeking through at the very corners of the windows. Alya was fast asleep, her head resting on Marinette’s stomach, and Nino was inching over to his girlfriend, mumbling about how Felix was too smart, no fun. Hugging Alya’s lower leg to his face, the brunette boy lapsed into obnoxious snoring.
Brigitte gathered up the blankets from Felix’s bed and set to draping them over the four sleeping teenagers.
“Go on to work,” she told her fiance. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”
Right. Brigitte was off work today.
The exhaustion caught up to him all at once.
“I am never allowing this, ever again,” Felix whined.
Marinette - Brigitte
“Are you sure it’s okay to leave them like that?”
“Come on, Nino, they’ll be fine.”
“But what if Marinette has a heart attack?”
“Then... Adrien can give her mouth-to-mouth. Come on, we’re going to miss the bus.”
A door slammed.
Marinette heard the hushed voices vaguely as she stirred awake. Her pillow felt strange; it was comfortable, as if it was made to fit just so where her neck met her head, but it was also very hard. Not very pillow-like. And it was moving. Besides an odd thrumming, rushing sensation, Mari’s pillow was rising and falling rhythmically, accented by a low purr.
“Silly Kitty,” Mari giggled, eyes still closed. She fished her hand around, feeling the threads of a harsh, woven carpet as she searched for her phone. After several prolonged seconds of not finding it, she decided it was time to open her eyes.
Odd. She was definitely not in her bedroom; that was not her ceiling. Double odd: when she turned her head there was a—
“AAAHH!!!” Marinette Dupain-Cheng screamed and leapt to her feet, taking on a full, Ladybug-style fighting stance. She screamed again.
Brigitte, who had been dozing off on Felix’s bed, jerked awake and joined in the cacophony:
“AAAHH WHAT, WHAT IS WRONG—?! ...Oh, good morning, Marinette.”
The poor girl was beside herself, pale as the white flowers on her shirt, pointing down at Adrien Agreste with questioning, wide eyes. He hadn’t been disturbed in the least when she jumped away from him, nor did her squealing break through his peaceful slumber. The sleeping model only rolled onto his side, one hand searching futilely for his cuddle-bug.
“Ladybug...,” he mumbled.
Marinette screamed again.
Brigitte was standing by now, fighting back her amusement in order to bring some consolation to the younger girl. It was a lost cause, and soon, her laughter was breaking through as she tried to speak.
“Hey, Mari, it’s okay. Do you remember? You came here with all your friends last night and you were playing video games, and then you fell asleep. It happens. No big deal.”
The confused girl stuttered: “I—I, oh my gosh, Adrien—”
“That’s right, Mari, words. Use words.”
“Words. Phew, okay, calming down. But—did-you-see-Adrien-Agreste-and-his-bicep-was-my-pillow?!”
“Yeah, Ladybug likes my bicep. Wait—my bicep was a what?” Adrien said groggily, sitting up. And then, some dark terror dawned on his face, and he too was screaming.
“Whoa, whoa, what is it, Sunshine?” Brigitte rushed to the boy’s side, glad it was two hours past noon, because otherwise, the neighbors might have called the cops already.
“My arm. I can’t feel my arm. Where is it—there it is. Look! I can’t feel it.” Adrien held his left arm up for the two girls to see, flopping it around in demonstration.
Again, Brigitte was fighting laughter. “Your arm is fine, Adrien. You just lost circulation. Marinette was sleeping on it.”
Instead of showing relief, Adrien went two shades paler. “Marinette was.... She was....” And he directed his gaze, aghast, to his black-haired friend. “I’m so sorry!” he burst out. “I’ll take full responsibility!”
Marinette sat back down beside him. “No, no, Adrien, it’s not your fault I like your bicep—I mean, it’s my fault you’re nice to sleep on—I mean! Sure, you can marry me if you want—I MEAN!”
The poor girl might have gone on like that all day, if Adrien’s stomach hadn’t chosen that moment to announce to the world just how it felt about being empty. The blonde boy blushed as the noise filled the room, silencing Marinette, and he glanced sheepishly at Brigitte.
Brigitte sighed. Felix was right: these kids were hopeless. What with Adrien’s innocent kitten-eyes, begging for food, and Marinette’s frazzled bed-hair and flushed cheeks—she just couldn’t leave them alone. Felix had better be careful, Brigitte realized. If he didn’t hurry up and give her babies, she was going to go ahead and adopt these two cute little muffins.
Meanwhile, Felix was at work on the streets of Paris, cornering a criminal at the end of an alleyway. He tackled the guy, and slapped handcuffs over his wrists, ready to get this job done.
“YOU’RE UNDER AGRESTE!” he shouted. “I—I mean, ARREST. You’re under arrest.”
...Damn it, Adrien.
Nathaniel sighed as he made his way home that evening after school. It had been another day without Chloe. She had seemed so alive yesterday—so thrilled by her new abilities—he had thought maybe she would have recovered enough from whatever had been bothering her to come back to school. Perhaps he’d just have to wait until the next akuma attack to see her.
He’d drawn five more sketches of her during class. In fact, she was all over his notebook. Resplendent in her Queen Bee disguise, she stood as confident and heroic as Ladybug.
A strange sound made Nathaniel stop short. Someone was whimpering—or choking—around the corner, down a damp and puddled alleyway.
This was the red-head’s dilemma: usually, if he saw someone in distress, he would want to help, but he was always keenly aware that he couldn’t do much for them. He was weak, easily excitable, and tended to panic in serious situations. Most of the time, whoever he was trying to rescue would end up having to rescue him. Nathaniel had to learn over the years not to rush into anything; the best thing he could do would be to call for help.
This time, he forgot all of that and rushed in anyways.
It was like nothing he had seen before: a man, in the standard uniform of a waiter, huddled against the wall of the alleyway, head buried in his arms as he sobbed. He didn’t seem to be hurt, and no one was attacking him; but a strange girl stood, eerily silent, gazing down at the trembling man. In the dim light of the setting sun, the alcove should have been cast in shadows, but a golden light was shimmering forth from the unsettling girl, gathering in intensity at the tip of her staff.
Nathaniel guessed right away that this was the work of an akuma. The girl was yellow from head to toe, with black stripes threading through her pulled-back hair and accenting her suit. Large, round sunglasses covered her eyes, giving her a bug-like, expressionless stare. She reminded him of someone, in her shape and stance, but he couldn’t put his finger on who.
The shining girl tipped her staff towards the man, and golden particles gathered around him, filling the air with an electric buzzing sound. The waiter’s grief seemed to deepen, and he rocked where he sat, grabbing fistfuls of his own hair.
“That’s right,” she urged, in a carefully controlled voice. “Think about how hurt you were. How dare they fire you. You have been wronged by the world. Take that feeling—take that anger, and nurture it.”
“STOP!” Nathaniel cried, surprising himself.
The villainess turned on him with a biting glare.
“I mean... stop? P-please?” the boy stuttered, amending his tone. He started to back away. It really would have been best to call for help. Maybe it wasn’t too late to back out—
The yellow-clad girl glided over to Nathaniel faster than he could take his next breath. She was inches from his face, staff at the ready. His heart stirred into a galloping beat, like a rabbit’s. Behind her dark sunglasses, he could see pained, baby-blue eyes.
“You...,” she hissed. “You want to feel my power too?”
His mouth moved, and his throat made noises, but he could not form words.
She leaned in, fingers closing around his collar. With the heels that were built in to her suit, she was just tall enough to glare down her familiar, upturned nose at him. The girl’s lips came close enough to brush Nathaniel’s ear, and he knew he was on the verge of fainting.
“Stay away from me if you don’t want to get hurt,” she warned in a low voice.
A familiar voice... a mournful voice... and, to Nathaniel, the most beautiful voice in the world.
“Ch-Chloe,” he breathed.
She flinched back, as if she had been slapped, and pushed him away. “How did you...?”
The boy’s brain was still trying to make sense of all this, and nonsense came out of his mouth: “You’re yellow. I mean, you—what happened to Queen Bee? Chloe, I—I look at you all the time. I mean, no, that’s not what I mean. But you are beautiful, s-so I draw you, and not anything weird or inappropriate I just—”
Nathaniel cut himself off, trying to catch his breath and knowing he sounded like an idiot.
Chloe was still backing away. “You need to stay away from me. It’s not safe.... I’m working for Hawkmoth—I-I don’t want to hurt you.” She sounded close to tears.
“What?! Hawkmoth? Chloe wait—” Nathaniel reached for her, but she slapped his hand away.
“I’m not Chloe anymore!” she snapped. “I’m Style Queen.”
The artist didn’t back down. “Wait, Chloe, you don’t have to do this! Ladybug can help you!”
“No she CAN’T!” Style Queen shrieked, and her staff came around, releasing a gold mist that hit Nathaniel full in the face.
He sat down heavily, confused at first. And then he felt it: something was tugging at his darkest emotions, inflating them and bringing them to the surface. Loneliness, betrayal, fear—they bubbled up and pushed at his boundaries. A single tear slid down his cheek.
After several moments of silence and sniffles, Style Queen cautiously approached the red-head once more. She seemed to have calmed down, shocked from her outburst when she struck her friend.
“You... where is your anger?” the blonde girl asked, sounding truly puzzled.
Nathaniel only clutched his chest, feeling more tears welling up and hoping this wouldn’t escalate into another asthma attack. “I’m not angry,” he blurted. “I... I like you, and I don’t know why you’re hurting so much.”
Style Queen took this in, staring down at her classmate and letting her own anger blossom. Like an incoming tide, she let the bitterness rush over any flustered elation that might have been provoked by the boy’s confession.
“You fool,” she spat. “You think you know Chloe Bourgeois? Believe me, you would not feel that way if you truly knew her. And anyways, she does not exist anymore. I have been reborn, and I do not have time to babysit crybabies with useless emotions.”
She bent down at the waist, bringing her face close. “Take my advice, shrimp: mind your own business.”
A shiver ran up Nathaniel’s spine, but he could still see the pain in her eyes, so he was far from giving up. When Style Queen turned back to the woeful waiter, the boy flung himself at her, enfolding her in his arms—anything to stop her.
Style Queen was stunned for a moment. She hadn’t expected Tomato Head to be so bold. But, as soon as she regained her bearings, she wrenched his arms away and threw him, with surprising strength, at the opposite wall.
Nathaniel connected painfully with the bricks and landed face-first in a puddle. Sputtering and shaken, he rushed at the villainess again.
“Chloe, please, don’t hurt that man. I know you don’t want to—”
She threw him again.
Nathaniel knew when to give up. He knew his limits. In fact, he tended to back out of things long before they became too difficult. But this was different. Something was driving him forward, again and again, begging his friend—his crush—to come to her senses. Why she would be working for Hawkmoth, he couldn’t fathom. Even more distressing—why she had given up her Miraculous—there was no telling. But he did know that she was in pain, and that she was intent on causing pain.
Of course, Chloe was Chloe: she had spent the majority of her life doing just that, hurting and being hurt. But Nathaniel knew better than what was on the surface. He had fallen in love with her this past year as he watched the girl underneath shine through. The girl underneath was frightened, lonely, and desperately in need of love.
Now, he fought for that girl. Again and again, he grabbed for her, struggling to hold her back. Style Queen was too strong, too fast, and tossed him aside easily time after time. He got back up each time, and tried again.
When, finally, Nathaniel’s attempts to stand failed, he lay soaked and bruised, battling his constricting chest and narrowing vision.
The villainess stood over the boy, trembling. “Don’t make me hurt you again,” she pleaded, in a quiet voice. Then, fishing in her pocket, she withdrew a folded paper and dropped it in the mud by his outstretched hands.
Nathaniel hiccoughed, trying to work up the strength to say something—anything to stop her. But he knew it was futile. He could only stare at the torn page as it sunk in the mud; his eyes followed the familiar lines of his own sketch, and he knew that if he unfolded it, he would see a brightly smiling Chloe.
It seemed so far-fetched now, he thought bitterly. Chloe, who had taken on the persona of Style Queen, was crouching over the distressed waiter, stirring up whatever negative emotions she could find. For whatever reason she was doing this, she seemed so lost.
With a shaking hand, Nathaniel took his torn sketch into his fingers and drew it close as consciousness left him. This time, he wouldn’t back down. He wouldn’t run away, or give up, or call for help like a coward. He could save Chloe’s smile—he could make her happiness a reality.
Hours later, he stumbled home, aching and covered in dirt.
Nathaniel found his grandfather in the living room, surrounded by darkness and flickering candles. The elderly man sat with legs folded on a floor cushion, a small cup of tea poised delicately at his lips. He had been conversing with his long-time friend, a tiny, turtle-like creature who sat beside him on his own miniature floor pillow.
The red-haired boy glanced around the room, locating the ornate wooden box that contained his family’s legacy. He looked back at the stooped figure of his grandfather, striking an odd image with his bright Hawaiian shirt amongst the traditional Chinese surroundings.
There was no more time for hesitating: if he wanted to help Chloe, Nathaniel had to do this.
So, taking in a deep breath, the boy spoke into the silence:
“Grandfather,” he said. “I’m ready to wield a Miraculous.”