Chat Noir looked up into the expectant faces around him.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” he asked.
“We’d like to invite you to dinner, for Chinese New Year,” Sabine Dupain-Cheng said with a smile.
“As the guest of honor,” Tom added with a grin.
“Please, say you can come, Kitty,” Marinette asked, mirroring her mother’s smile.
“The guest of honor?” he squeaked.
The nodding heads caught him a little off guard. Chat didn’t know why he was so surprised. He’d been asked to dinners, family game nights, and movie nights with the Dupain-Chengs for years now, but this seemed to be a little more-- well more important than just dinner with his favorite family.
“Um, when is it?”
“Tuesday, February 2nd,” Marinette quickly answered. “I know you have classes Monday morning, but you don’t have them on Tuesday and really it’s the Reunion Dinner on New Year’s Eve we want you to attend so you won’t have to miss any classes.”
Chat brought out his staff to check his schedule. “I don’t have anything on the second,” he said to the waiting family. He tapped a few buttons, “Aaaaand ... now it’s blocked out so I won’t be called away for anything other than an akuma.”
“Yay!” Marinette cheered as she threw her arms around him to give him a hug.
Sabine was seated on his other side and she put an arm around his shoulders in a hug as well. It was only a second later that Tom joined in to make it a proper family hug.
“Okay, now that the guest of honor has been secured,” Sabine said as the family broke their hug, “we need to finalize the rest of the plans."
"I think that we should make the decorations at this week's family game night," Marinette said.
"Agreed," Sabine said while both Tom and Chat nodded their assent.
"Mom will be coming by next week," Tom commented. "I know she'd love to help put them up."
"Gina's going to be in town?" Chat asked eagerly. "I can’t wait to see her again. She has the best stories.”
“She really does get herself into some crazy problems,” Marinette giggled.
“Just like someone else I’ve met,” Chat said as he looked directly into Marinette’s eyes.
"Yes, I married into a troop of troublemakers,” Sabine said. Her deadpan expression familiar from the one her daughter often used in his presence.
Tom gasped and clutched a hand to his heart. “My love, do you include me with these troublesome trouble makers?” he asked with a pained expression. The smile that peeked out from under his mustache betrayed the humor he found in his wife’s declaration.
Sabine smiled at him. “You’re quite literally the biggest troublemaker of all,” she watched as her husband grinned down at her. “But Chat’s a growing boy,” she patted his arm, “so he might give you a run for your money.”
It was Chat’s turn to swoon in mock affront. “How can you think that I could possibly surpass the master?” He fell against Marinette, squishing her against the couch arm.
“Get off me you dramatic furball,” Marinette giggled as she pushed Chat upright. Every time she got him almost sitting up, he’d go boneless and slump back against the young woman.
The room was filled with chuckles and giggles. Eventually Marinette gave up and slumped against the arm of the couch.
“Fine,” she sighed as she wrapped her arms around the couch, “I guess I live here now.”
Chat immediately sat up in his seat, the innocent expression on his face fooling no one.
“Well,” Tom said, “That just leaves the food,"
“Don’t worry about that,” Sabine said with a smile. “Uncle Wang is coming back to celebrate the new year with us. Between the two of us we’ll come up with a menu that everyone can help with and enjoy.”
“Cheng Shifu is coming all the way from Shanghai,” the awe in Chat’s voice was almost palpable, “Just for this?”
“How else can we have authentic Marinette Soup?” Sabine asked with one brow raised.
He shrugged. “You got me there.”
“Point of order,” Tom broke in, “there’s one change to the menu we’ll have to make.” He looked over at Marinette. “Grandpa Rolland insists that he’s in charge of the desserts.”
“Really?” Marinette’s brow scrunched up. “Why?”
“Really, sweetheart,” Tom smiled over at her. He stretched an arm across the two seated between him and Marinette to grasp her hand. “He says he still has years of celebrations to make up for due to missing so many during his time of stubbornness .”
She shook her head at her grandpa’s antics, but it was Tom’s soft smile at his daughter that made Chat’s breath hitch. Tom had often thanked his daughter for bringing his fractured family back together after a manner, and Chat wished he’d ever seen his own father with that look of pride and love when speaking to him. He shook his head and moved his gaze back to the man he’d long considered more his father than the one he shared a last name with.
Tom added, “Besides he says that if left to us, we’d do something untraditional and ruin the good luck for the rest of the year.”
The family all laughed together.
“All right,” Sabine said as their laughter died out, “I declare this meeting adjourned.”
“Let’s eat!” Marinette called as she quickly popped to her feet. “The chicken is smelling divine and I think I finally got those potatoes figured out.”
Chat followed her to the kitchen, it was his turn to set the table after all. He wasn’t expecting her strong, nimble arms to be thrown around his waist as he was pulling cutlery from the drawer.
“What’s with the sneak attack, Princess?”
“I’m so glad you’re going to be here for New Year, Chat,” she said with her face cuddling into his back. “Thanks for saying you’ll be here,” she whispered.
Chat stilled for only a moment before taking a deep breath.
“You know I’ll do anything within my power for yooouuUR FAMILY,” he quickly corrected.
She broke away to tend to the oven saying, “Oh, I know you would, but this is important to me and I’m just so glad that you can be there.”
Chat’s brows came together in puzzlement.
“Why is this so important for you Maribelle?”
His small smile quickly dropped from his face when he saw the look on Marinette’s face.
“Well, when everything went into lockdown and we couldn’t go see our family and friends--” she paused for a deep breath, “-it was just a really rough year.”
“You can say that again,” Chat agreed as he got down plates.
“And I’m just so lucky-” her breath hitched, “-lucky that my family came through it so well.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “My friends Adrien and Nino lost family members to COVID. Most of my classmates know at least one or two people in their families that caught it. Not to mention how scary it was when Alya was so sick from it.”
Chat swallowed the lump in his throat.
“Yeah, that was a really tough year,” he rasped.
“And then this year we’ve all had to keep putting so many things on hold while everyone was getting vaccinated and waiting for the numbers to go down,” Marinette continued her explanation as they moved from the kitchen to the table. “So we haven’t been able to celebrate any holidays with all our family for a long, long time. And I just want to be able to have some good food and have a fun time with my family,” she said as she hastily put the baking dish down with a thud.
Chat nodded his head.
“Now I’m doubly honored that you’d want to invite me over.” He grinned fully at her. “I’ll do my best to act like a true VIP.”
Marinette just smiled at him and poked him none too gently in the ribs.
“You’d better, mister!”
Chat started giggling as he evaded the tickling fingers while finishing his task. Marinette didn’t make it easy, but by the end both young people were laughing, the table was set, and Marinette’s dinner was beautifully on display.
The next month was a whirlwind of preparation.
He had fun with the family making cut-outs of tigers (the zodiac animal of the new year) and ladybugs (for luck) from red paper to hang in the windows of both the bakery and the apartment. And he’d been able to show off his calligraphy skills as he painted the golden character for Fu to be hung up as decorations around the shop on red squares of paper. He thought that maybe it was his own thoughts about missing Master Fu that made Marinette seem sad when he and Sabine had started making them, but she smiled at him so brilliantly that he decided it was just his imagination.
After Gina helped to decorate the shop, Chat was surprised and delighted to find the door guardians on either side of the bakery’s entrance were stylized versions of himself and his Lady in traditional Chinese armor. He’d made sure to take a picture of it and post about it on his official Chat Noir Instagram- "Looks like Ladybug and I will be guarding yet another great establishment getting ready for Chinese New Year."
All month long Sabine had been torturing Chat with possible menu items. She’d describe a luscious soy glazed chicken with ginger and scallion sauce, then consider braised pork belly as a better choice. It seemed like her final decisions were made by whichever dish made him drool more! She’d started doing dinner almost every night as she worked to test and tweak family recipes with available Parisian ingredients. Chat may have visited for dinner a lot more often than usual throughout the month of January, but really no one could blame him when Sabine's cooking was the draw.
Often after dinner he’d follow Marinette back to her room to help her with the “top secret” surprise she was making for her family members. For her mom and grandma Gina she was making qipaos with hand embroidered decorations. For her dad, grandpa, and uncle she made Tang suits all from beautiful silk brocade sporting tigers in gold or silver. Chat was more than happy to help hold pins, find scissors, and occasionally lend a claw to act as a seam ripper.
Finally Tuesday afternoon arrived. Chat made sure his roommates knew he’d be out until the following day and then hurried to transform into the special guest for the Dupain-Cheng’s Chinese New Year celebration.
“Chūn jiē kuài lè,” Marinette greeted a slightly stunned Chat Noir on her balcony.
It took only a moment for Chat to respond with, “Gong xǐ fā cái.”
He made sure to do a respectful bow to the young woman in front of him. He’d been temporarily surprised by the fuzzy, pink panther ears perched on her head. One ear had an ornate hair stick with a series of delicate pink blossoms with a ladybug on one petal and golden charms next to it.
Marinette returned the bow, then pulled him into a hug.
“Come on Kitty, we’re waiting on you to start the real fun.”
She tugged on his hand as she pulled him to the lower floor of the apartment.
Chat had another moment where he was a bit speechless as he took in the slightly strange scene before him, everyone in the room was wearing their own specialized pair of cat ears. Eventually he was able to greet everyone in the kitchen with a proper “Happy New Year!”
The living room had been rearranged so that a long dining table could be placed in the middle. That’s where Gina sat with a mountain of vegetables spread out next to her. Sabine was at a counter mincing pork and Shifu Wang was cleaning a large fish in the kitchen. The comforting aroma of steaming rice wove through the room giving the kitchen the warm, familiar feeling of home.
At the kitchen counter Sabine’s calico cat ears had a hair ornament with cherry blossoms and, surprisingly, her mech from Ultimate Mecha Strike III.
“Good to see you could make it so early in the day,” she said as she wiped her hands on the kitchen towel next to her. She hurried over to Chat giving him a hug and two quick cheek kisses.
He returned the hug then stepped back for enough room to bow and show her the respect he felt she deserved.
“That was well done Chat,” Sabine said and handed both him and Marinette a red envelope before hurrying back to her station at the kitchen.
He looked over at Marinette, “But I don’t need-” he was cut off by a hand clapped across his mouth.
“What are you doing?” Marinette stage whispered loud enough for the rest of the room to hear. “You want everyone to have a better year than last year don’t you?”
“Then take the envelope, Chat,” there was a touch of quiet menace in her voice. “Besides,” she grinned up at him, “I gave them a limit on how much they could put in the envelopes.”
“That you did my fairy,” Gina greeted them with a laugh while sporting over the top caracal ears with their long, black tufts at the tips. Her hair ornament was of orange blossoms and a tiny figure sporting fairy wings. “But you didn’t say how many envelopes we could give.” She gave both of them three envelopes. “Three is a lucky number, and I want this year full of luck for everyone.”
Marinette hugged her grandmother tightly. The hug might have been considered a little long to anyone that didn’t know how Gina had been stuck in Italy caring for family friends during all of 2020. Chat had noticed Marinette made sure to hold her grandma a little tighter and a little longer than she had when she was younger.
“Thanks nonna,” she said.
Chat bowed again. “Thank you Madam Dupain for such an auspicious gift.”
“Don’t you go breaking out the fancy talk, Bello mio,” she said with a wink. “You know I prefer if all of my fairy’s very good friends call me Gina.”
Chat laughed while Marinette winced. Gina returned to a cutting board at the dinning table where she was cleaning what looked like a tiny hill of ginger root.
The last person in the kitchen area was of course Marinette’s great uncle, the internationally famous chef, Wang Cheng.
Chat stared at the cat ears on his head. The dull, tawny brown ears by themselves wouldn’t have given him a clue about what the feline inspiration was if it weren’t for the lion mane that followed the curve of the head band. Perched between the ears was a chef’s toque. It seemed to fit the man perfectly.
Chat greeted him with a low bow and, “Gōng hè xīn xǐ.”
“Xīn chūn zhì xǐ,” the man returned with a slight bow. He also held out what appeared to be a small stack of red envelopes. “Share these between the two of you then go check on Tom and Rolland. They’re probably up to something sneaky.”
“Uncle Wang-” Marinette began to protest. The look on her face enough to make both Sabine and Gina smirk. She was cut off by a black-clad hand across her mouth.
“We want everyone to have more luck this year than last, don’t we?” Chat asked with a grin even as Marinette struggled away from his hand.
“There’s luck and then there’s this!” she held up the stack of envelopes.
“Don’t question, just take the envelopes. Isn’t that what you told me?” He waggled his eyebrows at her.
She glared at him.
“How dare you use my own words against me?” she hissed. She pouted at his grin. “Fine, but we are splitting these evenly.”
“Whatever you say Princess.” He gave her a quick wink as looked around the room. “Where are Tom and Grandpa Rolland?”
“They’re in the bakery kitchen, dear,” Sabine called as she stopped to add more meat to the mince. “You’ve heard about too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the broth?” She grinned at him. “Imagine what too many bakers in a single kitchen does?”
“I’m sure it would drive me to tiers ,” Chat replied.
Marinette groaned, but she couldn’t hide her smile.
Chef Chang broke out into a laugh and said something that only Sabine seemed to understand. She’d had the good grace to explain the pun that her uncle had just used.
“It seems that both in China and France a good food pun never goes to waist ,” he said, patting his stomach.
Gina and Sabine laughed and Wang gave a deep chuckle. Only Marinette seemed to be looking at him with a little malice.
“Don’t fold a grudge Mari,” Chat said as he put an arm around her shoulders to move them toward the door down to the bakery. “You know it makes my dreams crumb true when you roll your eyes at my puns.”
“Chat do you remember who my father is?” she asked as they descended the stairs. “There’s no bakery pun you can come up with that I haven’t heard about a million times.”
They had just stepped through the doorway to the bakery kitchen when they were caught up in a bone-crushing hug.
“I thought I heard the slice of the party !” a voice boomed from over their heads.
Chat looked up into the smiling face of Papa Tom.
“Those are some pretty fancy tiger ears you’re sporting,” he said.
“You’re right about that, little cub. They were specially made for me by my very own cupcake,” he said as he put the two down. He took them off so he could point to something. “She’s put all your favorite treats on here, too. Though they aren’t made out of food.” He pointed to the stack of macarons and the quiche tarts along with a couple of chocolate croissants. “But she put the cupcake on top for me.”
“Papa, I put all the treats you are most famous for,” Marinette said while squinting at the man. “I can’t help it if Chat seems to like everything you make.”
Chat grinned at the man. “I can’t deny it. Everything he makes is just the zest !”
“Son if you’re done teasing my granddaughter, could you come over here and lend me a paw?” Rolland’s head popped out from the steam wafting from the burner in front of him. “The nian gao needs to come out of the steamer and get into the fridge now if it’s going to be able to cool enough for dessert tonight, but the fa gao batter needs another stir before that can proceed.”
Chat was surprised to see Grandpa Rolland embracing something from a culture other than Gaul, but he had to chuckle to himself. It seemed that while he’d try to make something that reflected Sabine and Marinette’s Chinese heritage, he still insisted that the old ways were better than the new ways.
Chat hurried forward before Tom could even move.
“Please allow me to lend a pan-d ,” he said as he reached for the large bowl.
Rolland nodded to the bowl and the whisk sitting next to it.
“Just give it a good stir and make sure you get all the way to the bottom,” he said as he lifted a tray out of the bakery’s industrial sized steamer.
“We’ll get the molds ready,” Marinette volunteered.
She and Tom quickly had a dozen thin porcelain cups oiled and arranged in another steam tray.
Rolland came back from the walk in refrigerator to look over everyone’s work. With a nod of approval he made to top up the water in the steamer. Chat took the bowl over to the prepared dishes and Tom ladled the pink batter into the delicate containers.
“If you don’t mind telling me,” Chat said to Marinette while they watched Tom and his father get the fa gao into the steamer, “what kind of cat is Grandpa Rolland?”
Marinette smiled up at Chat, “I thought I might stump you with that one. He’s a Pallas cat!”
“You cat to be kitten me,” Chat chortled. “Why would you make your grandpa an aggressive ball of sass? He’s one of the sweetest men I’ve ever seen.” He nudged her arm with his elbow. “Especially for you.”
He noticed the man in question hunch into himself.
“I chose that for him,” her cheeks turned a bit red, “because it let me fit the peel and the baguette onto the headband the easiest.”
Tom’s laugh rang out as he patted his dad on the back.
“You hear that dad?” he was smiling at his daughter. “She chose your particular cat because you’d have the most a-peel !”
They all laughed together.
“Marinette? Chat?” Sabine’s voice carried down the staircase. “Can one of you help us get lunch ready?”
“I can go!” Chat quickly volunteered.
“Do you want me to come, too?” Marinette asked, though she was already heading toward the sink where dishes were waiting for washing.
“Nah, stay and enjoy some time with these guys.”
Chat bounded up the stairs two at a time to join the others in the kitchen.
“After you wash your claws come sit by me, tesoro,” Gina called. “Sabine says you know the exact right way to chop these up for her stir fry.”
“He’s the perfect sous-chef,” Sabine said with a grin.
“Thank you, Māmā Sabine,” Chat said quietly as he passed her to the kitchen sink.
“And a very humble hero,” Uncle Wang said from where he stood in front of a large pot on the stove. “When I was akumatized he could have been very prideful for besting me, but he was kind and encouraged me to enter the competition again.”
“You are too kind Shifu Cheng,” Chat said as he sank into the chair next to Gina. He quickly picked up the onion and placed it on the cutting board waiting in front of him. “You deserved to let the world see what you can do when Chloe isn’t sabotaging you.”
“And even now you prove my point,” the man said with a smug smile.
Gina reached next to her and patted his hand.
“Face it, micetto bello,” she gave him a wink, “you are the Chat’s meow !”
Chat broke out into a loud guffaw followed closely by the rest of the people in the room.
“It’s my duty to serve, but knowing it’s for such wonderful people makes it a pleasure.”
After that, the conversation flowed as the food was chopped, diced, grated, or smashed as needed. Soon the fragrance of ginger, garlic, and scallion was wafting from the sizzling wok Sabine was tending, while other savory smells came from the pots and pans her uncle was stirring next to her.
“Chat will you go call the others to lunch?” Sabine asked.
He bowed deeply and hurried from the room.
“Just in time, m’boy,” Tom said when Chat appeared next to him. “We’re about to see if the fa gao has bloomed with good luck.”
“Come look,” Marinette gestured for him to come next to him where she was next to her grandpa. “The belief is that if it cracks or smiles that we’ll have lots of prosperity, and if there are many cracks like flower petals that we’ll have a year full of hope.”
Chat looked at the lid of the steamer as Rolland gripped it.
“I’m crossing my fingers for lots of flowers,” he said eagerly.
With a grand flourish Grandpa Rolland lifted the lid. A short intake of breath was followed by cheers and clapping.
“A beautiful bouquet of flowers!” Chat exclaimed.
“Dad I’ll admit it now,” Tom said as he beamed at his father, “I was worried this would fall flat , but you’ve really risen to the occasion.”
“I admit I was a little worried, too,” he said as he grinned over at Marinette, “but when all is bread and done , I’ll be there whenever you knead me.”
Marinette just grinned at them.
“Ha, ha, ha. You are both terribly punny men,” she shook her head at their antics, but her eyes were dancing with mirth.
“I hate to bake this up , but māmā sent me to tell you that lunch is ready,” Chat told the group.
“That woman has perfect timing, as usual,” Rolland said. “Son,” he said as he gestured with his head to Tom, “would you take these up while I make sure everything is turned off?”
“We can do that,” Chat said, beginning to check the various dials and knobs around the room.
“Yeah, Chat’s helped us close up on more than one night,” Marinette assured her grandpa. She gave his cheek a little peck. “Thanks for everything, Baba.”
“Let’s hurry,” Chat said as he watched the two men make their way to the stairs. “It smells like heaven up there.”
Marinette giggled as she darted her gaze over the ovens and stove. “You’re not wrong,” she agreed as she turned a dial off.
In less time than it takes to tell, they were back in the family’s temporary dining room tucking into the delicious stir fry, pot stickers, pickled daikon, beef with peppers, fried tofu puffs with their intense dipping sauce, and steamed ginger pork, as well as sampling the Marinette soup.
After lunch, Chat helped with the dishes before being pulled aside to make lion’s head meatballs with Sabine and Marinette. The meatballs were the size and shape of a softball, and Chat was stunned to find that they were due a four hour braise after they had cooked them!
The mountains of raw ingredients were slowly but surely reduced to a veritable feast for the evening. Not to mention the small snacks produced that were ubiquitous and somehow always seemed to be appearing next to Chat.
Before this day he hadn’t realized what a serious streak of showing love through food ran through both the Cheng and the Dupain families. But now, he was a first-hand witness to the almost competitive drive they had in making sure that everyone got to eat.
There were the endless taste-tests that the entire family seemed to find necessary, even Chat’s palate was appealed to to weigh in with an opinion. Dishes of roasted peanuts and pumpkin seeds, as well as salted pistachios were always close to hand. Bowls full of beautiful orange mandarins, ripe peaches, and juicy pomegranates were on offer when decidedly lighter fare was needed. Gina had no trouble placing a few pieces of peanut candy she’d discovered on her trip to Shanghai in everyone's hands. Rolland watched closely as everyone bit into the fa gao and passed around ox tongues, another pastry he’d learned just for this celebration. Marinette seemed to find a way to share persimmon cakes and fried dough twists. Chat wasn’t sure he’d even make it to dinner with how much snacking they were all doing.
As evening approached, they reached that time in any feast where the food just needs time to cook. They could all join in on other activities with someone giving a quick look over every once in a while, instead of intense devotion.
A look through the family game closet had them choosing two easy games that could be played with three to four players. They’d play through the games then switch places. The only rule they had to follow was the Marinette and Chat weren’t allowed on the same team.
“Trust us,” Sabine said with a grin. “It’s for the best if those two are playing opposite each other rather than with each other.”
“Yeah,” Tom added. “At least that way there’s a chance you might not only play, but win.”
To ensure there were no Chat-et-Nette team ups, the two were placed on opposite ends of the table and in different games. Occasionally game play was held up by one person or another going to check on things, but the game time ended with everyone having won at least once.
After the games were movies!
Marinette insisted that both her mom and Uncle Wang choose their favorite Chinese movie for everyone to watch. The couch had been pushed to the side to make room for the table, but since there wasn’t anyone downstairs to complain, they simply pushed the table to one side and angled the couch so that anyone seated on it could view the screen. Rolland and Gina took the inside (farthest from the kitchen), and next to them were Sabine, then Tom, and Uncle Wang sat nearest to the kitchen as he insisted. Chat and Marinette sat on a pile of pillows on the floor resting up against Sabine and Tom’s legs.
Uncle Wang’s choice, “Springtime in a Small Town,” was a heart wrenching and beautiful story shot in black and white. Sabine’s however was a much different matter. “New Dragon Gate Inn” was full of fast-paced martial arts, sword fighting, and lots of action. Marinette loved the costumes, and Chat loved the black comedy. After watching those two movies, Tom demanded that they put on “We’re Going to Eat You.”
“But Papa, you hate horror movies,” Marinette protested.
“That I do,” Tom said with a solemn nod.
“And this has a lot of, uh,” she swallowed hastily, “cannibals.”
There was no mistaking how Tom’s face paled.
“Yes, but we have to watch that one,” he persisted.
“You don’t seem to really want to watch it and I know Marinette doesn’t really care for scary movies,” Chat interjected. “What’s so important about this one?”
Tom took a deep breath then beamed at Sabine. “This was the movie we saw on our first date,” he admitted. Sabine smiled back at him. “We’d met in a food prep class and then found ourselves in a film appreciation class the next semester.”
“When the professor assigned us to go watch a foreign language film and then report back, I asked him if he’d like to go see a Cantonese movie with me. And he said yes,” Sabine told her shocked daughter.
Marinette looked back at her father, dumbfounded.
“Why?” she demanded in a strangled voice, “Why would you go see this, or stay, once you knew it was a horror movie?”
Tom smiled down at her as he pulled the arm he’d had around Sabine’s shoulders a little tighter.
“Because when the pretty girl you’ve been crushing on asks you to go see a movie with her you go,” he replied. Then he looked over at Chat, “And if that means you spend most of the movie clinging to her with your face hidden in her shoulder, it’s so much the better.” He threw a wink in the direction of the two young adults on the floor while everyone else laughed.
“I guess we have to watch it now,” Marinette said, though everyone could hear how reluctant she was to put it on.
“Don’t worry, Marinette,” Chat said as he placed a hand on her shoulder, “I promise to protect you from any cannibals.”
She slumped back against the pillows with a huff.
“You’d better,” she replied.
They all watched the movie. It wasn’t as gory as some of the movies Chat had watched in the past, and it included some really fun and amusing fight scenes as well. When the movie was over, Rolland was asleep on Gina’s shoulder, Uncle Wang was in the kitchen, and Tom and Marinette were nestled firmly into the sides of Sabine and Chat respectively.
“It’s nearly time!” Uncle Wang announced as he came back from the kitchen area.
Everyone hurried to push the couch once again out of the way and get the table back into the center of the room. There was a flurry of activity to get the table set. Plates, bowls, and spoons had to compete with soup tureens, the clay pot filled with shanghai-style braised pork belly, plates of spring rolls, the vegetarian Buddha’s delight stir fry, a steamer tray of Chinese pearl meatballs with sticky rice, taro cake, sour plum duck, a dish Sabine called long life noodles, and, of course, the whole steamed fish that Chef Wang had been preparing when Chat first appeared all made their way to the table.
Chat hadn’t noticed anything amiss, but when the table was nearly finished and groaning under the weight of the feast, Marinette grabbed his arm and said that he needed to help her with one more thing.
She dragged him up to her room and made sure the door was closed.
“One last thing before dinner,” she said with a bright smile.
“What’s that Princess?”
“Gotta change into our new clothes so we can start the new year off right,” she said as if this was the most obvious thing in the world.
Chat gestured to himself.
“I wish you would have told me. This is pretty much the only suit I have,” he commented with a small smirk.
“Not any more,” she sing-songed as she pulled a package wrapped in red paper with golden ribbons from her desk. “Happy new Year, Chat!”
He stared at the present she’d placed gently in his hands then looked up at Marinette.
“You made a New Year’s Top Secret Surprise-” he still seemed to be processing “-for me?”
Marinette smirked and shook her head. “Yes, you silly kitty. Now open it up. I want to see if you like it.”
“Like it? I love it!” he declared as he pulled the package to his chest.
“You haven’t even seen it,” she laughed as she pulled his hands from his chest. “You’ll wrinkle it if you keep doing that.” She held onto his hands and grinned up into his face. “Open the present, Chat.”
Very carefully he pulled on the golden ribbon and gently unfolded the red wrapping paper.
Marinette couldn’t tell when the tears started, but she quickly wiped them from his cheeks.
“Chat are you alright? Do you not like the color? I can make you something else-”
Her rambling was cut short by the fierce hug from Chat.
“This is by far one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me,” he said near her ear as he held tightly to her. “Thank you.”
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” she said as she held on to him just as tight.
There was a moment of silence then a couple sniffs broke through the moment.
Chat relaxed a bit of his grip on the girl, but still held fast.
“I mean it,” his voice was thick with tears. “Thank you for the gift, but more importantly- Thank you for asking me to be here, for allowing me to share something so important to your family, thanks for the food, and the stories, and just-- just everything.”
Marinette tried to convey through her hold just how important Chat was to them.
“Thank you for joining us,” she breathed.
Chat pulled back and she let him go. They both had to grab a tissue for Marinette’s desk. The noise of blowing noses soon broke the solemnity of the situation.
“But seriously, Chat,” Marinette said. “Do you like the color?”
“I love it!” Chat said as he held up the grass green Tang jacket with the silver tigers on it. “It totally goes with my outfit.”
“I made you pants to go with it when you get to detransform,” she said with a little smile. “I’m hoping you’ll want to wear it more than just tonight.”
“Oh you bet I will,” Chat said with a grin.
“Okay, now get behind the changing screen and don’t come out until I say it’s okay,” Marinette said as she pushed the hero toward the corner of the room.
“Um, okay,” he said looking at her with a puzzled expression. “But why? I just have to put the jacket on and I can do that out here.”
Marinette’s face flushed pink. “Because everyone else is changing right now and all the rooms are occupied,” she looked up at him and blushed a bit harder, “and I still have to get dressed, too.”
“Oh,” he mumbled before adding, “ oooOOoohhhhhhhh! ” His face suddenly matched hers. “I’ll, uh, just go behind here then. Yup.” He ducked behind the screen.
He tried to block out the sounds of fabric moving, sliding, the zip of what had to be Marinette’s jeans, but right now his enhanced hearing was not helpful, or rather too helpful.
He started humming to himself and quickly donned the beautiful silk jacket. It had a nice weight to it and he couldn’t wait to get home where he’d be able to feel the fabric and not just admire it with his eyes. The details and work she’d put into this jacket alone nearly made him start tearing up again. She’d even used the pankou knots he’d said he thought were the most charming.
“You can come out now, Chat,” she called as he heard her move toward the other side of the room.
She was sitting at her vanity, touching up her makeup when he finally felt safe enough to emerge.
She stood up to face him and he was stunned. There was Marinette in a dusky pink qipao. He looked over the dress noting the delicate peonies embroidered in golden thread that spilled over the dress as if she was covered in an expensive bouquet, and couldn’t help but smile.
“You look beautiful, Mari.”
“You look pretty handsome, too” she replied with a wide smile.
“Are you ready for some food?” he asked. “Surprisingly, even though we’ve been eating all day, I feel like I’m starving.”
She laughed at that.
“Yes, I’m ready to go,” she said as she picked up her hair decoration. She’d pulled the top part of her hair into a bun and let the rest of her hair hang freely. “Just let me-” she placed the decoration so that the charms cascaded down one temple. “Okay let’s go.”
“Don’t you need your panther ears?” he asked as he picked them up.
“Oh not right now. Thank you though,” she took them and put them back on her vanity. “I’ll be sure to wear them next time you come.”
Chat smiled, but he was able to admit he was a little bit disappointed. It had been fun to have everyone wearing cat ears and punning with him.
He wasn’t prepared for the veritable rainbow gathered near the table.
“Sabine,” Chat gasped as he picked up her hand, “You look stunning in that red. I think you even surpass Ladybug.” He bowed over her hand, but didn’t kiss her knuckles. Tom already looked very much the tiger in his orange Tang jacket. He’d hate to have an akumatized Tiger ruining their dinner.
“Thank you, Chat,” Sabine said as he patted his cheek with her free hand. “You look pretty handsome in this green, too.”
Chat stepped back and twirled around holding out his arms to best show off his jacket.
“Didn’t Marinette do a fantastic job?” he said as he beamed at her. “She’s such a fabulous seamstress.”
Tom clapped him on the shoulder. “That she is.” He steered Chat to a chair. “Come, sit over here, son. It’s the place of honor.”
He looked around to see the clothes the others were wearing. He’d helped in their construction, but seeing them actually being worn was a different experience all together. He could see why Marinette enjoyed the hours she put in to making them.
Grandpa Rolland’s yellow was the perfect contrast to Grandma Gina’s bright purple and Uncle Wang’s bold blue seemed to round out the rainbow perfectly. The clothes and hair ornaments were bright and cheerful and served to raise everyone’s spirits.
Chat was only slightly disappointed that the fun cat ears were not showing up for the dinner. However, this was a more formal occasion and should probably be treated more seriously.
Tom stood at the head of the table as everyone sat down.
“Welcome everyone to our Reunion dinner,” he beamed at the faces around the table. “It’s been a long time since we could gather in person.”
“Hear, hear!” Rolland called as he lifted his cup of wine and took a quick sip.
“And now I ask everyone to prepare to honor the cat of the hour.”
With those words everyone brought out a pair of black cat ears and put them on each other’s head.
“Chat could you please help me?” Marinette asked as she handed her ears to him. “It’s kind of hard to put them on without a mirror.”
He took the headband and carefully avoided her hair ornament as he put the ears on. As they pulled back from each other, everyone around the table also wore black cat ears.
“Now you really look like one of the family,” Sabine said with a bright smile. Tom nodded as he addressed them again.
“As we gather together to send out the year of the Ox and bring in the year of the Tiger let’s raise a glass to our very own, very special feline.” He raised a cup toward Chat. “To Chat Noir, the protector of Paris and a family member to us all!”
Everyone raised their cups of jiao wine in the direction of Chat before calling out, “Gàn bēi!”
Chat drank the toast with the others, smiling at the sight of his family with their matching ears.
Marinette put a slice of taro cake on his plate from one side while Uncle Wang served him the giant lion’s head meatball soup from the other. Grandpa Rolland toasted him again as he caught his eye and Grandma Gina winked as she added a spring roll to his plate from across the table. Tom’s voice boomed out with a pun while Sabine joined in the laughter.
Chat took in a deep breath, and as the scents filled him with warmth, he could only grin at the faces around him. He was well and truly home.
He couldn’t help but feel that this was going to be a very good year.