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Hold Me By Both Hands

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Hawkmoth?” Adrien’s eyes bulge at the sight of the supervillain in the book right before him, sketched on the ancient page with the utmost of care. “What’s this monster doing in a book about superheroes?”

“About…what?” Plagg abandons his Camembert hunt to zip back out of Gabriel’s safe, which he and Adrien had just broken into after spying Gabriel hiding something behind a portrait of Emilie in his atelier. And that something is this book that’s got Plagg looking like he’s been hit over the head by a baseball bat.

“You said a second ago that you’ve seen this book before,” Adrien says. “Is it important?”

“Is it – is it important?” Plagg facepalms. “You know what you’re holding, kid? Pure gold! Something that’s been lost for over a century!” He squints down at the book, as though he’s wrestling with himself.

Okay, what the hell is going on right now?

“I know he said never to take you back,” Plagg mutters. “But he’d change his tune if he knew.” He looks Adrien straight in the eye and, more serious than Adrien’s ever seen him before, says, “There’s someone you gotta meet. He’s been looking for that book for ages.”

Adrien blinks and flips the page to reveal a new hero clad in deep blue, holding a large fan spread wide like a peacock’s tail. “What’s so special about this book? It’s just got pictures of Miraculous heroes. Is there more information or something?”

“You don’t even know, kid,” Plagg says. “That book’s got all the secrets about us. In the wrong hands – wait.” He looks from the peacock hero back at the safe, then back at the book, then darts to the safe and pokes a little brooch in the shape of a peacock’s tail. “Adrien, you gotta take this too.”

“The brooch? But why –”

“Just take it, alright?” Plagg shouts. “But don’t touch it!”

Adrien jumps and, on autopilot, does as he’s told, grabbing a tissue out of his pocket to scoop the brooch into his bag. “Sorry –”

“No, no, I’m sorry.” Plagg slumps in mid-air. “This is just – this is huge, Adrien. That’s the Peacock Miraculous and it was lost when the Butterfly was. And there’s something weird about it. Something damaged. Can’t tell if Duusu’s off too, so just don’t summon her.”

Like some sort of terrible jigsaw puzzle, the pieces start to click together in Adrien’s mind. “Are you saying that –”

The sound of footsteps causes his heart to leap into his throat. With a gasp, he shoves the book into his bag too and closes the safe and painting of Emilie. And not a moment too soon; as soon as he’s darted away from the painting, Nathalie and his bodyguard enter the room.

“Adrien? You’re going to be late,” Nathalie says. Adrien laughs, fumbles out an excuse about looking for his homework, then follows them outside, with the bag slung over his shoulder practically scorching a hole in his side.


Lila. Lila. Lila, Lila, Lila.

That’s the only name on everyone’s lips when Marinette enters the school with Alya that morning, half an hour early for once in her life. Seriously, are they being visited by royalty? Lila knows Prince Ali, Jagged Stone, Steven Spielberg…

“And Ladybug!” Alya thrusts her phone at Marinette to reveal a video on the Ladyblog with this new girl in the thumbnail. “She’s besties with Ladybug and she gave me an exclusive interview!”

“Uh…Alya, I don’t think that’s true…” Marinette says slowly. How is she going to point this out without incriminating herself as Ladybug? She can’t exactly just up and say that she’s never met this Lila Rossi before.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Alya says. “She’s got the most amazing life!”

“But she’s new, right?” Marinette says. “How could she be best friends with Ladybug if she’s new?”

“Ladybug saved her life once.” Alya nudges Marinette with a smirk. “You’d know that if you watched more than two videos on my blog.”

“Ladybug’s saved half of Paris,” Marinette points out. “Lila’s not the only person she’s saved.” She hasn’t even saved Lila before. “If anyone was going to be her best friend, I’d think it’d be someone like you, right? You’re the one she gave that interview to. She wouldn’t even think of agreeing to that interview when I asked until I mentioned that you’d be the one interviewing her. She’s only saved Lila once, but she’s talked to you loads of times.”

“Oh – well, I mean, you’ve got a point there.” Alya practically swells before Marinette’s eyes.

“And even if Lila was Ladybug’s best friend, don’t you think it’s a little irresponsible that she’s bragging about it?” When Marinette’s on a roll, she’s on a damn roll. “What if Hawkmoth sees that interview? If Lila’s telling the truth, he could totally use her against Ladybug!”

The blood drains from Alya’s face. “Shit. Shit. I didn’t even think – shit, I gotta take it down!” She fumbles to unlock her phone and navigate to the Ladyblog, where she swiftly deletes the video with a sigh. “All those views…”

“I’d say the life of a civilian is more important than views, right?” Marinette silently vows to drop by Alya’s place sometime and give her the best damn interview ever to make up for this.

“True…” Alya frowns over at the brunette who’s surrounded by people who are hanging off her every word. Ah. Lila Rossi in the flesh. “You know…it is kinda unbelievable that she knows all those people. Jagged Stone, sure. Prince Ali…well, her mother is a diplomat. But all the Hollywood directors? Do diplomats even talk to directors?”

“Who knows?” Marinette says. She frowns and looks over her shoulder. “Where’s Adrien? He’s usually here way before now.”

“Someone’s a stalker!” Alya sings teasingly, linking arms with Marinette as they walk straight past Lila and her captive audience. On their way, she snags Nino’s arm and hauls him away from Lila.

“Who? Me? Stalker! No way! I’m just concerned! For a friend!” Marinette babbles through flaming cheeks. Can the ground just, like, swallow her right now?

“Dude!” Nino complains. “Lila was just about to tell me about the time she met –”

“Use your brain, you big lug,” Alya says, lacing their fingers together. “You really think one person knows every single director? Especially a diplomat’s kid?”

“If she was the daughter of an actress or director then sure.” Marinette gratefully seizes the change of subject with both hands. “And she also said she was Ladybug’s best friend, but she’s the new kid. Ladybug doesn’t go around being besties with everyone she saves, does she? Otherwise, she’d be besties with Alya or –” She shudders. “Chloé.”

“Aww.” Nino’s shoulders slump. “I thought I was finally gonna meet Spielberg…”

Something black flashes out of the corner of Marinette’s eye. When she whips her head around to get a better look, her eyes widen at the sight of a familiar dark superhero leaping across the rooftops away from the school. Why is Chat Noir out? Is there an akuma somewhere? What kind of akuma could be so insidious that no one else knows about it yet?

“I – uh – bathroom!” Marinette blurts out, yanking her arm away from Alya’s. “That hot chocolate I had for breakfast went right through me!” She bolts before Alya or Nino can call her out on her bullshit excuse and ducks into the first empty classroom she stumbles across.

“Akuma?” Tikki says as soon as she zooms out of Marinette’s purse.

“Why else would Chat Noir be out?” Marinette says. “I have to go and see what’s wrong. Tikki, spots on!”

As soon as she’s outside the school and out on the rooftops, she opens her yo-yo and calls Chat Noir. He picks up on the third ring, greeting her with his usual flirtatious grin.

“Well, milady, I wasn’t expecting someone so stunning to call an alley cat like me,” he says.

“You’re just lucky that I take pity on mangy alley cats,” Ladybug shoots back with an answering smile. “Is everything alright, kitty? Is there an akuma or something?”

“No, there’s no akuma. Actually…” Chat Noir’s grin vanishes. “There’s something important I have to show you. Like, my-kwami-freaked-out important. Can we meet on the school roof?”

“Lucky for you, I’m nearby.” Ladybug angles her yo-yo screen to show him the school behind her. “What exactly do you have to show me?”

“You’ll find out in a few minutes,” Chat Noir says. He pastes his flirty grin back on his face and blows her a kiss. “It’s a date, bugaboo!”

“That cat,” Ladybug sighs when he hangs up. Shaking her head, she jumps back to the school rooftop and sits down to wait for Chat Noir, crossing her legs neatly. Man, what she wouldn’t give to be able to install apps on her yo-yo for times like this. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long before she spots him bounding towards her with something rectangular tucked under his arm.

“Please, please, no need to stand on occasion,” Chat Noir says when he lands on the rooftop and Ladybug jumps to her feet.

“Silly kitty,” Ladybug says. “What’s so important that your kwami freaked out?”

In response, Chat Noir holds out the rectangular thing he’d been carrying. It’s…a book. An extremely old-looking book, sure, but still a book. When she flips it open to a picture of a Chinese woman in ladybug-patterned clothing, however, she immediately understands just why Chat Noir’s kwami might have freaked out.

“Plagg said that it’s full of secrets about us,” Chat Noir says as an open-mouthed Ladybug thumbs through the pages of strange writing and animal-themed superheroes. Is that a dragon? “And he said there’s someone who needs to see it. I was on my way there when you called.”

“This is incredible!” Ladybug says in a hushed voice. She gasps when she turns the page and is greeted with a man dressed in purple, with a silvery mask covering his head. “Hawkmoth?”

“That’s what I said!” Chat Noir’s literally bouncing on the balls of his feet. “That’s why akumas are butterflies. Hawkmoth’s using the Butterfly Miraculous for evil!”

“I would’ve thought that was obvious, silly kitty.”

“But there’s more. Give me a second.” Chat Noir ducks behind one of the massive metal HVAC fans, so Ladybug dutifully turns her back to allow him to detransform. When he emerges as Chat Noir once more, he’s holding something small in his hands, resting on a little white tissue.

“A peacock brooch?” Ladybug frowns down at the little blue and green peacock tail. But then she gasps and flips through the book until she comes across a hero dressed in deep, vivid blue. “Is that a Miraculous?”

“A damaged one,” Chat Noir says. “Plagg sensed that there was something wrong with it. He told me not to touch it in case there was something wrong with the kwami too. But yeah! It was lost when the Butterfly one was as well!”

“Where on earth did you find this?” Ladybug closes the book and hands it back to Chat Noir. “Do you know what this means? If the Peacock was lost with the Butterfly –”

“– then whoever had it could be Hawkmoth?” Chat Noir grimaces. “Yeah. I know.”

“Who had these? Where did you get them?”

“Adrien Agreste.”

Adrien? Ladybug’s heart screeches to a halt in her chest. No! Adrien can’t be Hawkmoth! He’s such a sweet, amazing person – but he’s never around when akumas attack – but he can’t be –

“No way can Adrien be Hawkmoth!” she snaps. Chat Noir blinks at her.

“I didn’t think that,” he says in an odd voice. He grins. “But I’m sure he appreciates your defence, milady. No, Adrien went snooping in his father’s office and found these in a safe. He gave them to me when he looked through the book and realised what it was about.”

Phew. Thank god. Ladybug’s heart resumes its normal rhythm. “Does that mean that Adrien’s father could be Hawkmoth?” she says.

“That’s what I’m thinking. I don’t want it to be true, for his sake, but…” Chat Noir shrugs. “I’ve gotta get these to whoever Plagg was talking about before school starts. Care to join me for a morning stroll, milady?”

Ladybug smirks when Chat Noir bows and holds his hand out. She takes it, then twists his wrist gently when he tries to kiss the back of her hand.

“The only reason you’ll be taking the lead on this one is because your kwami told you where to go, kitty,” she teases, taking the Peacock Miraculous and tucking it into her yo-yo for safekeeping. “Otherwise, you’d be joining me.”

“I’d follow you anywhere, bugaboo,” Chat Noir sighs. Ladybug just smiles and flicks the side of his head.

“Focus, Chat. Where did Plagg say to go?”

With a destination now in mind, Ladybug bounds through Paris after Chat Noir, towards an arrondissement that looks to be full of small, old shops. When they land in front of a familiar building, Ladybug can't help but gasp at the words “Fu’s Massage Parlour” written in fading letters above the door.

“Milady?” Chat Noir says.

“I’ve been here before!” Ladybug says. “My kwami brought me here when – wait…no way…”

“Ladybug?” Chat Noir says. But Ladybug’s already pushing the door open, so he just shrugs and follows her. She’ll explain in due time. She always does. There’s another door inside, a little further down, and Ladybug knocks on that one and waits a moment before pushing it open.

“Hello, Ladybug and Chat Noir,” says an old man with a ring of grey hair and a grey moustache and goatee, along with a bright red Hawaiian shirt and brown pants, who’s sitting cross-legged on the floor inside the room. Judging by the acupuncture poster above a large phonograph, along with the letters that are on the small tapestries on the wall and the elegant screen in the corner – which Chat Noir can just understand if he stops and focuses – this man is most likely Chinese. He’s familiar – so familiar – why can’t Chat Noir figure out where he’s seen this man before?

“You’re the healer that cured Tikki when she was sick!” Ladybug gasps. “Back when Rose was akumatised!”

“Wait, so that’s why you were late to the battle?” Chat Noir says. Ladybug nods.

“I’m guessing you’re not really a vet, then?” she says to the man.

“Wait.” Chat Noir grins at Ladybug teasingly. “You brought a tiny flying ladybug thing to someone she said could heal her and you didn’t stop and think –”

“If you finish that sentence, I’ll throw you out that window,” Ladybug threatens, but the corner of her mouth twitches faintly. Chat Noir wisely shuts up and raises his hands in surrender.

“And your first day of school wasn’t a chance meeting either,” the old man says, watching their banter with an amused sparkle in his eyes. “For either of you.”

Ladybug and Chat Noir gasp at the same time.

“You’re the man I helped when you fell over!” Chat Noir exclaims.

“And the man I helped across the road!” Ladybug adds. “Those were tests?”

The man smiles and nods. “Ladybug, you’re always ready to help others, even if you are inconvenienced in return. And Chat Noir, you’re always willing to put others before yourself. Though I do wish I could have further tested you to be absolutely certain, I knew that day that you would make a fantastic team.”

“Okay, but who are you?” Ladybug says.

“What Ladybug said,” Chat Noir says. In response, the man stands up and leads the two of them over to the massive phonograph on a chest of drawers at the back of the room, where he opens the tiny plate engraved with Chinese letters by pressing the eyes of the two dragons on either side of it and then punching a code in with the buttons that are revealed. Before their eyes, the top of the phonograph rotates and springs open to reveal a large octagonal box made of dark wood, with scarlet patterns on the top exactly like the ones on the box that had come with Chat Noir’s ring.

“Master Fu is the last known member of the Order of the Guardians!” says a small green flying thing that’s darted out of the horn of the phonograph. Ladybug and Chat Noir instinctively jump back. “They’ve cared for the Miraculouses for millennia!”

It’s a turtle. A flying turtle. The small green thing is a turtle kwami! His yellow eyes are piercing, like they can see straight through the mask on Chat Noir’s face, not that Chat Noir would be surprised if this kwami knew their identities as Master Fu does.

“I’m Wayzz, Master Fu’s kwami,” the turtle kwami continues. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ladybug and Chat Noir.”

“Uh…you too!” Ladybug says with a nervous little laugh. Purely by instinct, Chat Noir offers her his hand, but although she smiles and rolls her eyes and bats it away, she does step closer to him. Hey, he’ll call it a win either way.

“We Guardians are responsible for protecting and distributing the Miraculouses, for the good of all humanity,” Master Fu says, opening the box to reveal a rainbow ring of five slots from orange to purple around a yin and yang symbol. The orange slot contains a necklace with a fox tail, while the yellow slot holds a golden hair comb with a bee on it; every other slot is empty. “We are chosen in childhood and trained for many years especially for this mission. When we were much, much younger, we –” He sighs. “I made a mistake. The Guardians’ Temple was destroyed, all because of me! Two Miraculouses were lost that day: the Butterfly and the Peacock. Also gone forever was the ancient spellbook.”

“You mean this thing?” Chat Noir holds out the book under his arm, and Master Fu takes it and starts to page through it. “You can read it? All it’s got are a bunch of weird symbols and pictures of superheroes.”

“They’re not weird to a Guardian,” Master Fu says, closing the Miraculous Box and returning it to the phonograph. “Back in the day, I was never given the opportunity to even have a look at it. But I’ve been taught enough to be able to partially decipher the code. These pages are the only source of information about the Miraculouses in the world. Obviously, this book is invaluable.”

“Chat Noir also found this.” Ladybug retrieves the Peacock Miraculous from her yo-yo and holds it out. Master Fu’s touch is light, almost reverent, as he accepts the brooch and cradles it in its protective tissue bed.

“Plagg said it’s damaged, but I don’t know how,” Chat Noir says. “All he said was that I shouldn’t touch it in case the kwami was damaged as well.”

“Not much can damage a Miraculous. A rogue Cataclysm, perhaps,” Master Fu sighs, gently resting the brooch on the chest of drawers. “Not easily fixed, but certainly doable. I would need the help of Tikki to reverse the damage.”

Chat Noir swallows and rests his free hand over his active ring. Master Fu notices the gesture, of course.

“So long as you’re careful, there shouldn’t be a problem,” he says. “I’m confident that I chose well for the holders of the Ladybug and Black Cat.”

“Why us?” Ladybug says. “Why not a pair of adults? We’re just teenagers…”

“Which means that you aren’t as set in your ways as adults are,” Master Fu says. “I wanted a pair who were flexible and still learning about the world. A pair who still possessed the idealism needed to step up and become heroes. Adults are capable, yes, but many are cynical and focused on their own lives.” He sighs. “The trade-off, of course, is that Hawkmoth possesses greater raw power. We don’t know why, but adults aren’t held to the same limitations when wielding a Miraculous as a child or teenager. But with the bond that you two possess, I know you can defeat Hawkmoth.”

“Of course we can!” Chat Noir nudges Ladybug. “Bugaboo and I are just too ameowzing to let a grumpy old butterfly man beat us.”

“Chat!” Ladybug complains, though she does let a giggle slip. But Master Fu pops the atmosphere with his next words.

“I've always believed that whoever possessed this spellbook must also have the Peacock…and the Butterfly.”

“So, you were right.” Ladybug gives Chat Noir a sad little pout that makes his heart jitter in his chest, and what he wouldn’t do to wipe that look off her face so that she could smile forever. “Adrien’s dad could be Hawkmoth!”

“Adrien’s father?” Master Fu says.

“Adrien Agreste.” Chat Noir’s mouth curves in a bitter line. “He’s the one who gave me the spellbook and Peacock Miraculous. Said he found them in his father’s hidden safe.”

Master Fu gives him a piercing look that, just like Wayzz’s gaze, bypasses the mask entirely. “I see. We could very well be close to Hawkmoth’s identity…”

“We should investigate,” Ladybug says. “You know, to make sure we’re not accusing someone without proof. We wouldn’t want to put Adrien through that if it turns out his father’s innocent.”

She’s so considerate! So caring! Is it any wonder that Chat Noir loves her? “And of course, I’ll be right there with you, bugaboo,” he says, and she smiles at him in response with that breathtaking smile of hers.

“You must be very careful,” Master Fu warns. “Both of you. If you succeed, you may well find yourselves face to face with Hawkmoth.”

“We promise we’ll be super careful,” Ladybug says. She gasps and starts scrambling for the door. “Oh, no! I’m gonna be late to school! And I was early today!”

“Allow me to escort you back, milady,” Chat Noir says when she trips over and faceplants. With a groan, she accepts his helping hand up, and they say their goodbyes to Master Fu and Wayzz before heading back to school.

But when they get there, they discover that no one’s out looking for them after all. They may be late but since there’s a tall man with lilac skin in the courtyard, surrounded by screaming students, no one really seems to have a single thought to spare for two tardy students.

Chapter Text

“You will call me the Collector!” the lilac-skinned man shouts. He’s got red butterfly-shaped glasses, a hideous black one-piece suit that melds into heeled boots, a deep white collar, and white gloves; although he’s not the worst-looking akuma Hawkmoth’s ever made – Reflekta and Bubbler immediately spring to mind – he’s certainly quite the eyesore.

“Someone woke up on the wrong side of a catnap,” Chat Noir quips, making Ladybug roll her eyes. Collector’s teeth bare in a snarl when they jump down into the courtyard, yo-yo and baton at the ready.

“Where is Adrien?” Collector demands. “He took my book of inspiration, so I’ll make him my new muse!”

Chat Noir chokes on air, and Ladybug frowns at him. What’s his problem?

“Fa – Mr Agreste?” Chat Noir says in a strangled voice.

“I am not Gabriel Agreste!” Collector swings the open notebook in his hand at Chat Noir, who yelps and leaps out of the way before it can touch him. Instead, the pages land on one of the columns supporting the walkway above, and the column vanishes in the blink of an eye. Over Collector’s shoulder, Ladybug watches the column reappear in ink on the page that had touched it. “Before I immortalise you, allow me to seize your Miraculouses for Hawkmoth!”

“Don’t let him touch you!” she cries to Chat Noir. “The akuma must be in his notebook!”

“A grown man touching teenagers?” Chat Noir says. He throws his baton to knock Collector off-course, saving the petrified teenage boy that had been directly in the firing line. “The cops might have something to say about that.”

“Chat, focus!” Ladybug throws her yo-yo in an attempt to grab the notebook, but Collector rolls away and then throws his book at her like a boomerang. Chat Noir jumps in front of her to deflect it with his staff.

“You won’t escape me!” Collector shouts as they leap up to the walkways around the courtyard. As he follows them, he captures student after student that gets in his way, though thankfully, none of them are from Ms Bustier’s class. Not that Ladybug doesn’t value each civilian equally, but there’s just something heartbreakingly difficult as having to watch people get attacked by an akuma and then go to class with those same people an hour later.

“What do we do, milady?” Chat Noir says, jumping around column after column on the walkway rails to escape the Collector. The Collector is unfazed, simply capturing each column in his book, advancing on Chat Noir in an unstoppable wall of butterfly-possessed fury. “If we touch the book, we’ll disappear!”

Okay, now’s the time to bring out the big guns. “Lucky Charm!” Ladybug says and is given a laptop charger cord in response.

“You don’t need that to charge the spark between us!” Chat Noir says. He yelps and ducks Collector’s next attack, but the notebook catches him on his belt and vanishes it into thin air. “Think of something fast, bugaboo!”

“Less talking, more dodging!” Ladybug replies. Her head whips around as she furiously scans the courtyard for some way – any way – to defeat Collector with the spotted laptop charger currently slung over her shoulder. Her eyes land on the railing that Chat Noir is balancing on, then Chat Noir, then Collector, then the laptop cord. “Of course! Chat, get ready!”

Chat Noir salutes and leaps away, forcing Collector to capture the brick wall behind him. This exposes the classroom of hiding students, who scream and start tripping over each other as they scramble to get away before they’re sucked into Collector’s notebook. This is their chance!

“Hee-yah!” Ladybug detaches the shorter end of the charger from the adapter and swings the longer cord like a lasso as she charges at Collector. He whirls around with a maniacal grin, notebook ready to throw, but Ladybug throws first; the laptop cord snakes around his wrist, allowing Chat Noir to duck in and tie it in a rough knot to prevent it from slipping off. Then Chat Noir kicks Collector straight in the chest, sending him staggering backwards and over the railing with a cry. But Ladybug still has hold of the other end of the cord, and she’s able to loop the adaptor around the walkway railing to leave Collector dangling in mid-air by his notebook hand, unable to do anything except scream in unbridled rage.

“Cataclysm!” Chat Noir leans over the railing and swipes his sparking gloved hand across Collector’s notebook. The notebook collapses into dust and sprinkles Collector’s lilac face, freeing the akuma for Ladybug to purify.

“No more evildoing for you, little akuma!” Ladybug throws her yo-yo to catch the sickly dark butterfly. In the background, Chat Noir is reeling Collector back in to retrieve the Lucky Charm. “Time to de-evilise! Gotcha!” She releases the purified akuma with her signature, “Bye-bye, little butterfly!”

“Here you are, milady.” Chat Noir hands Ladybug the long end of the charger. She fits the two cords together, then throws the whole charger into the air.

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

Once the healing ladybugs have done their job, Collector melts away in oozing purple-black to leave behind a kneeling Gabriel Agreste.

“Pound – uh…” Ladybug’s left with her fist outstretched as Chat Noir, rather than bumping it, heads straight for Gabriel, who’s blinking and staring around rather dazedly.

“Are you okay Fa – uh, sir?” Chat Noir’s voice is…odd. What’s going on with him today?

“Chat Noir, Ladybug, what happened to me?” Gabriel says as Chat Noir helps him to his feet.

“You were akumatised by Hawkmoth,” Chat Noir says. “But don’t worry, it’s over now!”

Gabriel’s shoulders slump, and he reaches out and clasps both Ladybug and Chat Noir by the shoulder. “Thank you. Thank you, both of you. Did you keep my son safe?”

“Neither of us saw him,” Ladybug says. She takes a peek over the railing but there’s no familiar blond mop of hair. Whether she’s disappointed about that or not, she can’t actually tell. “He must be safe. If you’d captured him, he would’ve reappeared down there.”

“Ladybug’s right,” Chat Noir says. “Adrien must have found a place to hide.”

“Good.” Gabriel turns to Ladybug and grabs her by the shoulders. “Nothing must happen to my son. He’s…all I have left after his mother…”

“I understand, sir.” Ladybug carefully removes Gabriel’s hands with a smile. “Don’t worry, nothing will happen to Adrien as long as we’re here!”

“And milady doesn’t break her promises,” Chat Noir adds, nudging Ladybug, who rolls her eyes but can’t help the smile that escapes at her partner’s antics.

“If you don’t mind me asking…why were you so mad at Adrien?” Ladybug says. For a moment, Gabriel says nothing.

“He took my book of inspiration,” he finally says. His eyes zero in on Ladybug’s earrings, then slide to Chat Noir’s ring. “And an old brooch of mine. I’ve always been fascinated with the Miraculouses and their origins. They were Emilie’s gift to me on our last trip overseas before she…”

“I’m sure he didn’t know,” Chat Noir says in a slightly choked voice. Okay, seriously, what the hell is going on? “He was probably just a curious teenager. We all go snooping.”

“It’s true,” Ladybug says. “I know that Adrien wouldn’t have taken the book and brooch if he’d known their significance.”

“You’re probably right.” Before Gabriel can say anything more, Ladybug’s earrings beep in sync with Chat Noir’s rings, and something flashes across his face for a fraction of a millisecond, so quick that Ladybug’s left wondering if she’s just imagining things. “You should hurry before you transform back.”

“Are you sure we can’t give you a lift back?” Chat Noir says. Gabriel gives him a tight-lipped smile.

“Thank you for the generous offer, but I’ll be fine. We wouldn’t want you two to detransform and have your identities revealed to Hawkmoth. Who knows what he could do with that information…”

“Uh, right!” Ladybug tosses her yo-yo to catch on the school roof. “Bug out!” She lands on the roof and leaps down behind a wall just in time; her earrings give one last beep and then pink sparkles wash over her, taking away her spotted suit and replacing it with her usual clothes.

“Mmm!” Tikki lights up with Marinette holds out a macaron for her.

“Maybe Mr Agreste isn’t Hawkmoth, then,” Marinette sighs. “If he was akumatised…can Hawkmoth akumatise himself?”

Tikki shrugs with bulging cheeks. “Akumas are weird,” she says once she’s swallowed her mouthful of sweet treat. “So are amoks – the things that the Peacock creates. They can linger even when the holder is detransformed, since they’re fuelled by external emotions, but…it’s dangerous to do that. If the Butterfly holder akumatises themselves, they’ve got no control over the akuma, since they can’t akumatise themselves when they’re transformed. They risk getting lost in their own dark emotions and going insane, with no way to undo it. So, yes, Hawkmoth could akumatise himself, but…only someone who truly had nothing to lose would risk it, I’d say. And Nooroo would have warned Hawkmoth of this.”

Marinette sighs. “So, Mr Agreste could be Hawkmoth, but he doesn’t have nothing to lose, does he? He’s got Adrien, he’s got his company…”

“And we don’t know what happened to the Peacock and Butterfly after they were lost,” Tikki says. “It’s entirely possible that they were separated, since we were just assuming that they were found together. And if Adrien’s mother gave Mr Agreste the brooch and the book, she may have just been a Miraculous enthusiast as well. And, well…”

“Tikki?” Marinette says when Tikki doesn’t say anything after a moment. Tikki sighs.

“Maybe it’s a good idea that you haven’t found Hawkmoth yet,” she says quietly. “He’s a very strong foe and you’ve only been Ladybug for a little while. We don’t know just how long he’s had the Butterfly for, or how much experience he has with it or Miraculouses in general.”

“You don’t think we’re ready to face Hawkmoth? But what about all the people he’s hurting?”

“They’ll be even more hurt if you try and take on Hawkmoth when you’re not ready and he gets your Miraculous. The best thing you can do for now is to train and grow stronger, Marinette, and now you’ve got Master Fu’s guidance to help you and Chat Noir. We can still watch Mr Agreste until we’re entirely sure he’s not Hawkmoth, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to go jumping into any confrontations, at least until you’re more experienced.”

“True…oh, Tikki, I really do hope Adrien’s father isn’t Hawkmoth. I can’t imagine what that would do to him! He’s already so tortured and alone!”

“Maybe you should give him a comforting cuddle,” Tikki says with a sly little grin. Marinette squeaks.

“No! I couldn’t – not that it would be bad, it wouldn’t, it’d be a dream come true, but I’d be a mess around him and then he’d think I’m creepy and we’d never go out for fruit smoothies and get married and have two children – no, I said three, didn’t I? – and a hamster and –”

“Marinette!” Tikki gently hits Marinette’s cheek. “You’re getting ahead of yourself again!”

Marinette groans and leans back against the brick wall. “I’m a disaster, Tikki! Every time I think I can talk to him, it’s like I take three steps backward!”

“Maybe you should take three steps backward in time before you’re late for class,” Tikki says. Marinette shrieks and nearly kisses the ground in her mad dash to break into a sprint.

“You’re right! I’m so, so late!”


“These modern inventions really are quite incredible,” Master Fu says as he snaps photo after photo of each page of the spellbook.

“Thank you for this,” Chat Noir says. “I know how important the spellbook is to you but…it means so much to Mr Agreste.”

“We didn’t think he’d get akumatised over it…” Ladybug adds. “And we can’t let him take it out on his son! Adrien will be home from school soon!”

Wow, Ladybug really cares about Adrien. Even though it makes Chat Noir’s stomach erupt in butterflies, there’s also an undertone of bitterness to it. Adrien, Adrien, Adrien. But no one likes him as Chat Noir, especially the one person whose love he’d give anything for.

Wait. No. That’s not fair. Ladybug doesn’t owe him her love. And they’re good friends, right? Shouldn’t that be enough?

“Are you sure this will be enough to appease him?” Wayzz says. “You know that we can’t give back the Peacock Miraculous.”

“It’ll have to be,” Chat Noir sighs. Master Fu takes one last photo and then closes the book and hands it back to Chat Noir. “Thanks. I’ll take it straight to Adrien.”

“I hope his father isn’t too angry,” Ladybug says.

Ha. Aren’t ladybugs supposed to be good luck? When Adrien walks into his bedroom after school and spots Gabriel and Nathalie with matching grim faces, he immediately knows that his days are numbered.

“Sit.”

Adrien swallows and slides into his computer seat. Is this about the book and the brooch? Oh, he’s in so much trouble.

“Show him,” Gabriel says. In response, Nathalie holds up her tablet to display a crystal-clear picture of Adrien in front of the secret safe with the spellbook open in his hands. Swiping through the rest of them paints a very vivid masterpiece of guilt: Adrien wrapping the Peacock brooch in tissue, Adrien putting it in his bag, Adrien also stuffing the book in there, Adrien closing the safe…

“Father –”

“Why did you take the book and the brooch?” Gabriel demands. There’s none of the hint of softness that had been present hours earlier.

“I – I just wanted to know what you were hiding behind the portrait of Mother that was so important. You…never told me about those things. I was intending to give them back to you, I swear! And I’ve got the book!” He pulls the book out of his schoolbag and holds it out. Gabriel examines it with none of the emotion that Adrien would expect of an item that apparently has such sentimental value, then takes the book and hands it to Nathalie.

“And the brooch?” Gabriel says. Adrien’s heart skips a beat. Well, shit. Looks like the book wasn’t enough to appease his father.

“I…” Adrien looks at the floor, both to avoid letting any hint of his intended deception slip and so that he doesn’t have to see the tangible disappointment in Gabriel’s eyes. “I lost it. I’m sorry, Father!”

“You won’t be returning to school. You’ll be home-schooled again with Nathalie.”

Adrien’s head whips up. “But Father –!”

But Gabriel and Nathalie are already closing the door behind them. Adrien remains frozen in his seat, trying desperately to process what had just happened, because he’s lost his chance at school, to be a real teenager, and what about his friends – Nino, Marinette, Alya, Chloe, the rest of his classmates – he’ll never see them again – this isn’t fair, he was just trying to do the right thing –

What’s the point of being a superhero if he just suffers for it?

Chapter Text

Chloé Bourgeois’ shrill sobbing isn’t a sound that Marinette wants to hear normally, let alone on a morning where she’s not only running late but is also running on four hours of sleep. But sure enough, when she bursts into the classroom, she’s greeted with the sight and sound of Chloé sprawled dramatically on the wooden stairs in the corner of the room, wailing loudly enough to give Marinette permanent hearing damage. Next to her, Sabrina’s holding her hand comfortingly, while the new girl Lila pats her on the back.

“This is a terrible tragedy!” Chloé howls. Marinette just blinks.

“What’s up with her?” she says. Chloé’s next words chill her to her core.

“Adrien’s never coming back to school! Ever!”

“There, there,” Lila coos, rubbing her back.

“His dad grounded him,” Kim says.

“For life!” Max adds, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“Something about losing this bit of jewellery that was super important to his dad,” Nino finishes. “He took a book as well, but he gave that back.”

Then what had been the point of Gabriel’s words to her and Chat Noir yesterday? Is he really this angry at Adrien? Or has his stint as the Collector spooked him into locking his son up again?

“Well, I won’t stand for it!” Marinette stamps her foot. “We’re going to fight this!”

“How?” Juleka says. “You know what his dad’s like.”

“Yeah!” Rose says. “We’ll probably never see him again!”

“No way!” Marinette says. “Adrien’s my friend!” Desired boyfriend, but let’s not get into that. “And I’m not going to just stand by! We have to speak out!”

“Yes!” Alya’s eyes light up. “We’ll protest for Adrien until his dad gives in!”

Now that they’ve landed on some semblance of a plan, the rest of the class seems to be full of newfound energy as they chime in their agreement and support.

“What a great idea, Marinette!” Lila says with a wide smile. Almost too wide if one squints, but maybe that’s just how she smiles. “We should make banners!”

“Ooh! You could raise awareness, Lila!” Mylène says. “You know Jagged Stone! He’s here in Paris!”

Lila sighs and shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Mylène, but he’s just so awfully busy! I wouldn’t dream of disturbing him. And no one else I know would be able to make it with such short notice.”

Marinette raises an eyebrow at Alya, who rolls her eyes, while the rest of the class sans Nino eats up Lila’s words. Why is Lila lying so much? It’s not like she needs to make up a tonne of lies to get them to be friends with her. Even Adrien, at least, since Chloé is just…Chloé.

The school day seems to creep past with the speed of a snail. It’s like being perpetually stuck in quicksand, even when Marinette’s designing banners demanding Adrien’s return at lunchtime with her classmates, and by the time the final bell rings and class lets out, she’s not sure whether the nausea is from relief that it’s finally time or panic that it’s finally time.

“Everyone ready?” Alya says when they’re all standing outside the school gates, minus Chloé and Sabrina, since Chloé’s decided that “peasant protesting is beneath her” and Sabrina just does whatever Chloé says. Nathaniel and Alix have all the banners gathered in their arms, while Rose is passing around little cupcakes to sustain them until dinnertime.

“Thank you! You’re so sweet!” Lila says. Rose beams and offers her an extra cupcake before moving on to Ivan.

“Let’s do this!” Nino punches the air. “No one messes with my bro and gets away with it!”

The rest of the class cheers and then they’re off, marching down the streets with sheer steel in their steps, parting the passers-by like they’re Moses parting the Red Sea on their mission of justice. Somehow, Marinette’s ended up in front to lead them, with Alya and Nino on either side of her, and she’s not quite sure how she ended up in the leadership role, but she won’t complain. Justice for Adrien! That’s what this is about!

“Right!” she says when they’re outside the gates of the Agreste mansion. “Everyone ready?”

“Yeah!” her classmates chorus. Squaring her shoulders, Marinette strides over to the intercom and presses the button to buzz it. A creepy robotic eyeball bursts out of a hidden compartment until it’s right in her face and although she gulps and would really like to back away right now, she can’t. She’s rallied everyone together and this was her idea. Adrien needs her help!

“We’re Adrien’s classmates,” she declares. “And it’s totally unfair that he’s not allowed to come back to school because of one mistake! So, we’re going to stand right here and protest until you let him come back!”

“Yeah!” everyone else echoes. For a moment, Marinette’s left holding her breath, her stomach rolling unpleasantly as she awaits the response of whoever’s on the other end of the camera. But then it retracts back into its compartment and they’re left in total silence.

“Right.” Alya cracks her knuckles and snatches a banner from Alix. “Sing it loud and proud, guys!”

“Let Adrien come back!” Nino chants.

“Let Adrien come back!” Ivan picks up the chant, and the rest of the class follows suit.

“Justice for Adrien!” Lila calls, thrusting her banner above her head.

After about half an hour of protesting, the front doors of the mansion finally open. Marinette gasps. Have they gotten through to Gabriel Agreste? Is he coming to surrender and allow Adrien to return to school?

No. It’s his assistant Nathalie who emerges, and she doesn’t look happy.

“Are you gonna let Adrien come back to school?” Nino says as soon as Nathalie’s reached the closed gates.

“That’s not my call to make.” Nathalie’s voice is impassive; not angry but not pleased either. “But Mr Agreste will call the police if you don’t leave at once. You’re being disruptive and he’s not pleased.”

“Uh, yeah,” Alya says. “That’s the point of a protest.”

“If your intention is to convince Mr Agreste to allow Adrien to return, this is entirely the wrong course of action. Leave.” Then she turns on her heel and heads back for the mansion, leaving a bunch of dejected teens in her wake.

“I’m sorry, guys,” Marinette sighs, lowering her banner. “That was a waste of an afternoon.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Nathaniel smiles at her. “You proved how far you’re willing to go for us, Marinette. Electing you as class rep was the right call.”

“And even if Adrien doesn’t come back, at least we proved that we’ve got his back,” Kim says.

“I can see why the class elected you as their representative,” Lila says with her signature slightly too-wide smile.

“I think the only way he’ll allow Adrien to come back is if whatever jewellery Adrien took is returned,” Max says. “But without talking to Adrien, the chances of finding that piece of jewellery are –”

“Of course!” Marinette gasps. “I know what to do! Go home, guys, I’ll have Adrien back by tomorrow!”

“Where are you going?” Alya calls as Marinette takes off running down the street in the direction of Master Fu’s place. Marinette just waves back at her. No time to chat when she’s on a mission!


“Kid?”

Adrien ignores Plagg. His focus is on the scene outside his window, where the mansion gates are closing behind Nathalie as she returns to the massive building, while his classmates slink off on the other side of the gates. They’d done that…for him? Does he really mean that much to them that they’d risk the wrath of his father to demand his return?

And yet, despite the way this knowledge fills his insides with warm fuzz, it’s tempered by the knowledge that they’d failed. That he’s not going back to school. That he’ll probably never see them again, because as if his father would let him hang out with them and their “bad influence”.

“Look on the bright side!” Plagg says as Adrien watches Marinette bolt in the opposite direction as her classmates. She’s always been odd, but she’s one of his dearest friends and he doesn’t know what he’d do without her, or Nino, or even Alya. “Your father could've found out about me! It's a good thing we kwamis can never be filmed or photographed. Ah, those photographers have no idea what they're missing!”

“What bright side?” Adrien says. “Even Chat Noir can’t help me now. Sure, I could sneak out a few times, but Father would eventually get suspicious since I’m grounded forever.”

“Your classmates came in to bat for you.” Plagg seems to recognise that this is a time to be serious rather than light-hearted.

“Yeah, and I appreciate that. I really do. But what good did it do? I’m not going back. I’ll never see them again, Plagg…my only friends…”

“I thought Chloé was your friend?”

Adrien shrugs. “She is. But it’s not the same. And she wasn’t even down there with them, so I don’t know what to think anymore.” With a sigh, he heads over to his foosball table and begins to idly fiddle with it, vividly aware of how sad it is to have a foosball table in his room – to have everything in his room – and no one to do this stuff with.

“This is bullshit.” Adrien whacks the ball one more time and then crosses the room to his expensive white couch to flop down on it face-first. “It’s not fair! I did the right thing! Why –”

A tap on his window cuts off his wallowing. When he raises his head and looks over his shoulder with a frown, the sight of a familiar spotted hero hanging outside his window by her yo-yo makes his heart leap into his throat and shiver violently.

“Ladybug!” In his haste to get the window open for her, Adrien faceplants off the couch and resorts to awkwardly scrambling over while trying not to take another nosedive. When he opens the window, he’s greeted with a silvery giggle and holy shit, he would legitimately do anything for that giggle. He’d cross oceans, climb mountains –

“Can I come in?” Ladybug’s voice pierces through Adrien’s lovestruck haze.

“Oh – yes, of course!” He jumps aside to let her slip through the window and land with a graceful thump. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m not happy to see you! I’m always happy – ugh –”

Ladybug laughs again and the way her large, angular bluebell eyes sparkle is enough to fill Adrien’s insides with warm cotton wool. How has he never seen those eyes in his normal life before? He’d remember eyes as striking and beautiful as hers!

“Your eyes are gorgeous,” he blurts out. Ladybug’s face darkens to the same red as her suit.

“Mank you – thank you!” she babbles. “That’s really nice of you!”

“I’m just telling the truth,” Adrien says with a little, awkward shrug. “They’re such a gorgeous blue –”

“Oh.” Ladybug’s glowing face dims. “Um…they’re not really blue. I mean, they are now, you know, since I’m transformed and all and my kwami’s eyes are blue, but…they’re actually grey.”

“Oh!” Adrien could kick himself. “Like how Chat Noir has green cat eyes?”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Um…sorry. I just…wow, I must seem really shallow. But I know I’d like your grey eyes as much as I like your blue eyes. They’re only pretty because they’re yours.”

And there’s Ladybug’s blush again. “Th-Thanks,” she stammers. “Um, I heard about what happened because you gave Chat Noir the book and the Peacock brooch.”

“Oh – uh, yeah.” Adrien tries to aim for a cool shrug, but he probably comes across as a colossal dork instead. “Were they important?”

“Very!” Ladybug says. “I wanted to thank you for what you did. There’s super valuable information in that book! And the brooch…” She leans in to whisper. “It was a Miraculous!”

“A – Miraculous?” God, it’s so hard to act like he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. “My father had a real Miraculous?”

“Yeah! Chat Noir and I think he’s an eccentric Miraculous enthusiast. But it’s damaged. It was really good that you gave those to us, Adrien.” Ladybug bites her lip and fiddles with one of her silky black pigtails. “I just wish you didn’t have to suffer for doing the right thing.”

“So long as it helped you, Ladybug, I’ll take any punishment in the world,” Adrien’s mouth says without his permission. Oh, god. He’s such a fucking sap. But it seems that Ladybug doesn’t mind, because she laughs and her cheeks flush pink.

“But it’s not right,” she says. “So…I have a way to help you.” She swipes her yo-yo open and pulls out something small, wrapped in the tissue that Adrien had used to pick up the real Peacock Miraculous.

“Is that – no, Ladybug, you can’t!” Adrien pushes the object – the Peacock brooch – back towards Ladybug. “You’re more important!”

“Don’t be silly! Of course I’m not!” Ladybug says. “And that’s not the real Peacock Miraculous. It’s a fake brooch.”

“A fake?” Adrien unwraps the tissue and is greeted with an exact replica of the Peacock brooch that he’d taken from Gabriel’s safe. “Whoa…it’s incredible! Where did you get it?”

“Just someone I know. It doesn’t matter,” Ladybug says. “So long as your father doesn’t touch it – and he shouldn’t, since the real one was damaged, and he won’t want to risk anything – then he shouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

“I – I can’t thank you enough.” Adrien runs his fingers over the fake brooch, blinking rapidly to quell the stinging in his eyes. Ladybug went to these lengths for him? “Now I can go back to school! You don’t know how much this means to me!”

“Actually, I kind of do,” Ladybug says. “Your classmate Marinette was the one to tell me what was going on. She asked if there was anything I could do to help you.”

“Marinette?” It had been Marinette who’d gotten Ladybug to intervene for him? God, what an amazing friend she is, even if she acts like she can’t stand his presence whenever he’s near her. “If my father doesn’t let me go back to school, can you thank her for me? And tell her that she’s an awesome friend?”

“I – uh – sure!” Ladybug’s cheeks flush as scarlet as her suit. “I that do – I can do that!”

“Thank you so much!” Adrien wraps the fake brooch up again and clutches it like a lifeline. “I have to go give this to my father right now! I’ll tell him that I found it in my bag or something.”

“Good luck!” Ladybug leans in, then turns even redder and backs away towards the window. “See you to – I mean, I hope your classmates see you tomorrow!” Then she’s gone, swinging away from the mansion, and Adrien stares after her wistfully until she’s nothing more than a red speck in the distance.

“Well, loverboy,” Plagg smirks when he emerges from his hiding place behind the television. “Shouldn’t you take that brooch to daddy dearest?”

“She’s amazing, Plagg,” Adrien sighs. Plagg just gags in response.

Chapter Text

“So, like, are you ever gonna tell me what your great plan was to get Adrien back to school?” Alya says as Marinette peers around the corner and out the school gates once more. Nothing. No familiar black car. What if her plan had failed and Gabriel won’t let Adrien come back to school? What a disaster! She’ll never see Adrien again!

“Hi, guys! What’s up?” someone chirps from behind them. Marinette yelps and nearly jumps out of her skin.

“Lila! You scared me!” she says shrilly. Lila gasps and covers her mouth.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!”

“It’s all good,” Alya says. She grins and nudges Marinette. “Mari here’s just worried that Adrien won’t be back.”

“He seems so nice. I’m just so disappointed that I didn’t get to meet him!” Lila pouts and twirls one of the fox tails of hair framing her olive face.

“He’s amazing! Brilliant! Beautiful! Wait, did I say that bit out loud?” Marinette groans and covers her face. “I’m hopeless!”

“Aww.” Lila pats Marinette on the back. “It’s so cute that you’re crushing on him! Does he know that you like him?”

“No!” Marinette almost shrieks.

“He’s probably the only person in the school who doesn’t know,” Alya says. God, if she keeps smirking like that, Marinette’s gonna –

“Look! Isn’t that him?” Lila points at a black car that’s pulling up to the kerb. Marinette gasps, then squeals and bounces on the spot.

“He’s back! It worked!” she cries.

“Hey, everyone! Adrien’s back!” Alya bellows over her shoulder into the courtyard. The rest of their classmates immediately drop what they’re doing and bolt over to greet Adrien, who’s heading up the stairs to the school and whose face has utterly lit up at the sight of his cheering classmates. God, is there any sight more perfect than Adrien Agreste?

“Dude!” Nino pushes past everyone and yanks Adrien into a bro hug, complete with back-slapping and all. “You’re back!”

“Adrikins!” Chloé yanks Nino away from Adrien by the back of his shirt so that she can throw her arms around Adrien and plant a loud kiss on his cheek. Marinette gags, which makes Lila giggle.

One by one, everyone else gets to welcome Adrien back to school. Kim tries to do a ‘secret handshake’ with Adrien, while Mylène hugs Adrien so tightly that she accidentally pins his arms to his sides, and Rose and Juleka peck a cheek each, thankfully nothing like Chloé’s kisses. By the time Marinette can see Adrien again, the only people he hasn’t spoken to are her, Alya, and Lila.

“Nice to see you back,” Alya says, crossing her arms. “It hasn’t been the same without you, man.”

“Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that different without me,” Adrien says.

“Believe me,” Alya says, “it really was.” She’s not looking at Marinette, but Marinette damn well knows that Alya’s directing a massive mental smirk straight at her.

“Oh, Adrien!” Lila latches onto Adrien’s arm with her signature too-wide smile. “You’re back! I’m so glad our protest worked!”

“Yeah.” Adrien gently tugs his arm free of Lila’s grip and beams around at his classmates. “Thanks, guys. I saw the protest from my window. It…it means a lot that you’d all do that for me.”

“Oh, it was nothing!” Although she doesn’t try to latch on again, Lila runs her hand down Adrien’s arm. Marinette resists the urge to growl. No! Bad Marinette! Don’t be jealous! Just because she’s all over Adrien –

“Whoa, no, that’s just wrong,” Alix says. Marinette blinks. Wait, what did she miss?

“Yeah, I’m with Alix,” Nino says. “Sorry, Lila, but Marinette’s the one who deserves the most credit. She’s the one who got us all fired up. And she took charge when we got to your place.”

“Yeah! Marinette was awesome!” Nathaniel says. Chloé just gags. Oh, did Lila try and take credit for the protest or something? Man, Marinette really needs to learn how to focus when Adrien’s around.

“You really organised it, Marinette?” Adrien’s grass green eyes are crinkled as he smiles at Marinette and shit, shit, no, her heart’s going to utterly fail, it’s not fair, why is he so cute

“Damn right she did,” Alya says. “I mean, it was all of us, but we couldn’t have done it without our class rep. And then she came up with some plan to get your father to let you back, even though she hasn’t told her bestie yet –”

Before Marinette knows what’s happening, her vision has gone dark; Adrien’s wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a tight hug, and the smell of pure Adrien invades her nostrils, and he’s so warm against her, and please, let Marinette die now, if there was ever a time to die then it would be now, in this moment of perfection…

“Thank you, Marinette,” Adrien says into her hair. Marinette just squeaks. “You’re an awesome friend.”

Normally, the dreaded f-word would deflate Marinette quicker than a popped balloon. But when Adrien lets her go and gives her that Adrien Agreste smile, it’s pretty hard for Marinette to feel anything but sheer, mind-melting bliss.

“Aww! That’s so cute!” Lila says when the bell rings, snapping Marinette out of her daze, and Adrien’s moved out of earshot.

“Lila, why did you try and take credit for Marinette’s idea?” Alya says. “Why’d you tell Adrien that you were the brains behind everything, but you let Marinette take charge?”

Oh. That’s what she’d said. What’s the deal with this girl? Marinette just can’t get a proper read on her.

“Me? Steal Marinette’s thunder? I didn’t – oh, I’m so sorry if that’s the impression you got!” Lila casts her eyes down at the ground. “I suppose…well, he’s Adrien Agreste, and I was so keen to impress him…I’m sorry, Marinette! Say you’ll forgive me!”

“Uh…sure,” Marinette says. “But you don’t need to do something like that! Adrien’s super easy to talk to! He’d love to be friends with you!”

“Uh huh,” Lila laughs, linking arms with Marinette and leads her into the school, leaving Alya running to catch up. “That’s why you can barely say a word to him, huh?”

“Th-That’s different!” Marinette stammers through hot cheeks. “It’s not because he’s Adrien Agreste! It’s because he’s…Adrien.”

“Girl, you’ve got it bad,” Alya teases, threading her arm through Marinette’s other arm. “You should –”

But whatever Alya had been about to suggest, Marinette will never know. A miniature earthquake knocks the three girls to the ground, Marinette toppling onto Lila while Alya ends up sprawled over the two of them.

“What was that?” Lila gasps. As if in response, there’s the sound of someone shrieking. When Alya rolls off them and tugs Marinette and Lila to their feet, Marinette catches sight of a giant boy with bright green skin and black hair a few streets away, looming over the buildings with an ugly snarl on his giant, childish face.

“Really? Hawkmoth akumatised a kid?” Alya says. “Well, I s’pose after Puppeteer, that’s nothing new. Least it’s not a baby or something. That would be a nightmare.”

“I’ll go and warn the others!” Marinette says. “Alya, find a place to hide with Lila!”

“Are you kidding?” Alya crows. “This is prime footage! Come on, Lila, let me give you a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ladyblog!”

Well, Alya’s at least forgotten about the whole lying thing as she gleefully drags a wide-eyed Lila with her. With a sigh, Marinette hightails it into the school, weaving through screaming students bunched together in their panic until she manages to duck into the girls’ bathroom.

“I would’ve thought Hawkmoth would wait more than a day before his next akuma,” Marinette says. Tikki just shrugs. “Tikki, spots on!”

As Ladybug, she’s cheered by the clustered students as she pushes her way through them until she’s out in the courtyard and can swing off towards the akuma. Chat Noir isn’t here yet, so Ladybug takes a flying leap off one rooftop and lands on the one that the akuma is approaching, ready to analyse just how this akuma works.

“Someone needs to take a chill pill,” she quips when the akuma’s milky white eyes land on her. He snarls and tries to swat her with his giant hand, but she gracefully jumps out of the way and lands on the chimney of the adjacent rooftop. Unfortunately for the one she’d been on, its building caves in when the akuma’s hand smashes through it. Oops. Thank god for Miraculous Ladybug.

“I’m Green Giant!” the akuma boy bellows. “Come here so I can take your Miraculous for Hawkmoth, Ladybug!” He once again tries to capture Ladybug but this time, when she dodges, he snatches her out of the air with his free hand and draws her in. Ladybug groans when his fingers tighten around her, starting to crush her bones, but no matter how hard she tries, she just can’t get any wiggle room within his grip.

“Tut, tut, tut.”

Ladybug’s head whips around, and she can’t help the grin that breaks free when she catches sight of Chat Noir with his staff extended.

“Don’t you know that that’s not how you touch a lady?” Chat Noir says. “Especially not my lady. Let her go!”

“No! Give me your Miraculous!” Green Giant shouts. Chat Noir sighs and shrugs.

“Well, I tried.” Then he hefts his staff like a baseball bat and swings so that it cracks across Green Giant’s knuckles. Green Giant howls and reflexively releases Ladybug, who’s swiftly caught bridal-style by Chat Noir before she can save herself with her yo-yo.

“Good thing I’m a gentlecat, huh, milady?” Chat Noir says as he sprints across the rooftops.

“Just put me down, kitty.”

“Alright, alright.” Chat Noir sets her on her feet. “Any idea where the akuma could be?”

“Not yet. I haven’t seen anything that stands out to me.” Ladybug frowns at Green Giant, who’s still throwing a mini tantrum as he advances on them, squishing cars and road and people alike on his way. Bile rises in Ladybug’s throat at the sound of the screams of Green Giant’s victims – that is, the ones who are still alive.

“Don’t worry, you’ll unbreak them,” Chat Noir says when Ladybug is silent for a little too long.

“Chat!” Ladybug shoves him. “How could you say that?”

“Sorry, sorry!” Chat Noir holds his hands up. “Just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Well, don’t! How could Hawkmoth do this? And for what? Our Miraculouses? I can fix these people, but I can’t erase memories!”

“I know,” Chat Noir says quietly. “I’m sorry, Ladybug. I just…if I don’t joke about it, all the people I let get hurt will drive me mad.”

Ladybug sighs. “I get it, Chat. Just…focus, yeah? The quicker we take down Green Giant, the quicker we can save all these people.”

“But how?” Chat Noir grabs Ladybug’s hand and bounds to the next rooftop before Green Giant can get to them. “We don’t know where his akuma is. And if we get too close, we’ll end up as superhero jelly.”

“Hmm.” Ladybug frowns at Green Giant, who’s just put his foot through a multi-storey building. The screams of those inside pierce her concentration but she tries her best to ignore them; if she can’t figure this out, there’ll be far more casualties. Green Giant’s wearing a shredded blue shirt and a torn pair of grey pants but no jewellery, so it can’t be a bracelet or a ring or something. Where and what could it be?

“Need some help?” Chat Noir says.

“Of course. Lucky Charm!” A tiny sewing pin falls into Ladybug’s hands. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Well, you look simply feline when you’re deep in thought,” Chat Noir says. “A purrfect meowsterpiece.”

“Chat! I’m trying to think!” Ladybug says. Okay, there’s no visible way of using a pin to defeat him – shit, he’s coming right for them, out of the way they leap – grab some civilians too, spare them the horror of being crushed by Green Giant, deposit them on a safe street –

“Look out!” Something tackles Ladybug to the rough ground, out of the way of Green Giant’s outstretched hand just before it can grab her. That something is Chat Noir, who grins down at her and waggles his eyebrows.

“Fancy seeing you here, milady,” he says.

“Get off me! We have to defeat Green Giant!”

“I always love it when we’re like this –”

Chat!” Ladybug shoves Chat Noir off and then kicks him away from her, just in time to save him from Green Giant’s foot. But that leaves her in the firing line to throw her hands up and catch Green Giant’s foot to stop him from squashing her.

“Ladybug!” comes Chat Noir’s dim cry through the blood rushing in Ladybug’s ears, pooling in her head, building and building with the pressure, ready to explode at any moment –

“Give me your Miraculous or I’ll squash the bug!” Green Giant says.

“Don’t you dare, Chat!” Ladybug forces out. The pressure of Green Giant’s foot increases, and she lets out a pained cry and pours even more strength into keeping it off her. How is she supposed to get out of this? Maybe Chat Noir can topple Green Giant…or maybe…

“Let her go!” Chat Noir says. Green Giant wobbles, like he’s going to lose his balance, so Ladybug leaps into action before he can crush her and jabs the pin into the sole of his foot as hard as she possibly can. Green Goblin screams and hops away, falling on his back with flailing arms as Ladybug jumps to her feet and stretches her protesting muscles with a groan.

“Quick! While he’s down!” Ladybug says. She and Chat Noir take advantage of Green Giant’s shrieking inability to push his humongous body back up to comb all over him for a possible akumatised object. Eww. If this really is a kid, Ladybug thanks whoever’s out there that he isn’t…kid-sized. That would be the only thing that could make this situation worse than it currently is.

“Got it!” Chat Noir holds up a comic book with a picture of the Hulk on the front. “Wow, the kid really wanted to be green. Cataclysm!”

Once the akuma’s released from the pile of dust, Ladybug captures and purifies it. Then she throws the little sewing needle into the air and says, “Miraculous Ladybug!” and the ladybugs swarm around Paris, fixing all the damage that Green Giant has wrought and healing those who had been injured or killed. The deep-set ache in Ladybug’s muscles from holding Green Giant off her also fades, and she sighs contentedly and stretches once again. Last of all, Green Giant melts away in a mass of purple-black, leaving behind a little kid with dark hair who can’t be more than six or seven.

“You were akumatised,” Ladybug says, kneeling to rest a hand on the dazed kid’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

“Y-Yeah,” the kid mumbles.

“What got your pants in a twist, anyway?” Chat Noir says. Ladybug glowers at him. She still hasn’t forgiven him for messing around in the fight like that, and they’ll be having Very Serious words after she’s comforted the kid.

“They were making fun of me,” the kid scowls. “Because I’m short. I’m sick of being short!”

“There’s nothing wrong with being short,” Ladybug says with what she hopes is a comforting smile. “And those people are jerks with nothing better to do if they’re going to make fun of you for it.”

“What bugaboo said,” Chat Noir says. “Do you need me to give him a lift anywhere?”

“I’ll be fine,” the kid says. “I’m a big boy. I know how to get back to school. And you’re going to turn back, aren’t you?”

“You’re very right,” Ladybug says. She presses the kid’s comic book into his hands, then turns and glares at Chat Noir. “And as for you, you need to stop losing focus at the worst times!”

“I thought you liked my dashing wit!” Chat Noir says.

“Yeah, when we’re not in the middle of fighting an akuma!” Ladybug says. “Time and place, kitty, and trying to stop a villain from crushing the city isn’t it. We need to focus or next time, one of us could actually get crushed!”

Chat Noir’s fake ears droop. “You’re right. I’m sorry, milady.”

At that, Ladybug smiles and nudges him. “Chin up, kitty cat. You’d better get going before you transform back and we all have to see what you really look like.”

“Oh, please, milady,” Chat says, his grin back once more. “It would be a dream come true for you to see my face under the mask.”

“More like a nightmare,” Ladybug retorts. Chat Noir just sticks his tongue out at her. “Very dashing, Chat.”

“Shouldn’t you be getting back to your best friend?” he teases. “You know, Lila or something?”

“Lila?” Ladybug says. “I never met her before her first day of school. And why would I openly be friends with a civilian behind the mask?” She gently raps him on the head just as her earrings beep. “Use that brain, kitty. Bug out!”

Chapter Text

“Nino, Sabrina, and Kim,” Ms Bustier calls.

What?” Chloé snaps. “Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! Everyone knows that Sabrina and I always work together!”

“Well, I thought that it could be fun to assign you group members for this exercise that you might not ordinarily work with,” Ms Bustier says. “Our next group will be Adrien –”

Marinette crosses her fingers.

“– Lila, and Marinette.”

Yes! Finally, Marinette’s put in a group with Adrien! Even the fact that their third member is Lila, who’s shown a definite interest in Adrien, isn’t enough to taint her sheer elation.

“And that leaves Juleka, Max, and Chloé,” Ms Bustier says. “Now, I’ll assign you all your English exercises, and the first group to successfully complete all of them will get a little sweet treat!”

Everyone immediately starts shuffling around to form their groups. Since they’re only sitting a desk apart, Marinette and Adrien wait for Lila to come down to them from the back.

“I’m so happy that I’m working with you two!” Lila says, sliding into Nino’s vacated seat. Drat, why didn’t Marinette think to take that seat first? “And it’s so great to finally talk to you for real, Adrien! I haven’t gotten the chance to introduce myself since last week. I’m Lila!”

“Nice to officially meet you!” Adrien shakes Lila’s hand, then turns to Marinette. “The bench is wide enough for all three of us, Marinette. Why don’t you come sit down here? It’ll be easier to work together that way.”

“What a great idea!” Lila rests her hand on Adrien’s arm. “You’re so considerate, Adrien!”

Adrien’s inviting Marinette to sit with him? And Lila, sure, but with him? Marinette practically floats down to his table, where he shuffles over so that she can slip onto the end of the bench and he’s sandwiched between her and Lila. Oh. Gosh. She’s touching his arm. His warm skin! This is a dream come true!

“Exercise first what?” she babbles. “I mean – what’s our first exercise?”

Adrien pulls his worksheet towards him. “We have to translate these sentences into English.”

“Oh, this’ll be easy!” Lila says. “I studied English at Harvard when we were in America! Of course, they don’t accept children, but one of the professors just took such a liking to me that he simply had to teach me!”

Marinette’s eye twitches. Again with the lies! What’s this girl’s problem? At least Adrien looks just as disbelieving, if only politer about it.

“How about you do this first set of exercises, then?” Adrien says. “Marinette and I can work on translating these English sentences into French in the meantime.”

“Oh!” Lila’s eyes widen. “I’m so sorry, I really would, but I sprained my wrist the other day! You know, when Alya took me to watch the fight against Green Giant! I can’t write in case I make it worse…I’m ever so grateful that I was partnered with you, Adrien!”

“But your wrist was fine just before! And Miraculous Ladybug fixes everything!” Marinette says. No way is Lila getting her claws into Adrien! That niceness last week really had been an act!

“I…didn’t want to ask for help,” Lila sighs, drooping. “I was afraid to inconvenience anyone. But since we have to do these worksheets together, I thought…no, it’s okay. I understand if I’m being too troublesome.”

“That’s not what I said at all!” Marinette resists the urge to slam her forehead into the table.

“Um –” Adrien tries to say.

“In fact, it might be better if I just work by myself,” Lila continues. “You and Adrien seem like such good friends…I’d hate to come between you –”

“I didn’t say that!” Marinette says. “You don’t have to work by yourself!”

“I’m sure Marinette’s just concerned for you and wants to make sure she’s got the information right,” Adrien says with a pacifying smile.

“Oh!” Lila beams. “That’s so considerate of you, Marinette! Would you mind filling out my worksheet for me? Only if you’re okay with it, of course!”

What can Marinette do? If she says yes, Lila wins. But if she says no, she looks like a raging bitch in front of Adrien! Eventually deciding that it’s better in the long run to give Lila this little victory, Marinette pastes on her sweetest smile and pulls Lila’s worksheet towards her.

“I think this sentence says, “I would like to buy a pair of blue pants”,” Adrien says, frowning down at his sheet. “But my professional lessons are in Mandarin, not English, so I’m pretty useless here.”

“You’re not useless!” Marinette says immediately. “You’re pretty – uh, good at anything you put your mind to!”

“Marinette’s right,” Lila says, shifting so that she’s snuggling into Adrien’s side. He automatically leans away and straight into Marinette, whose heart spontaneously combusts in her chest. “Someone as smart as you couldn’t possibly be useless!”

“Um…thanks,” Adrien says. “Marinette, what do you think the next sentence is?”

“Your eyes are forest green,” Marinette sighs. Her insides chill when she realises what she’d just said. “I – ah, I mean – your dress is green!”

“Hey, that’s right!” Adrien writes out the sentence in his gorgeous handwriting. “Good job, Marinette!”

“Yank thou – um, thank you!”

“Marinette is right, though,” Lila says, resting her chin on her ‘un-sprained’ hand. “Your eyes really are such a gorgeous shade of green.”

“Thanks.” Adrien once again shifts away from Lila. “I think this third sentence is –”

“And your hair is so golden!” Lila continues. “Oro come il sole!”

The nerve of this bitch! Can’t she see that Adrien’s clearly uncomfortable with her touching him? And Marinette was here first, so how dare Lila just barge in and –

Marinette freezes. What is she thinking? Why on earth is she treating Adrien like some possession that she’s entitled to? Is she really that…fixated on him? The realisation is like icy water straight to her insides. She’s fighting over a boy! And sure, Lila’s totally a liar, but it’s not like that’s the only reason why Marinette dislikes her…

“Marinette?” Adrien says. Marinette blinks and looks up from her worksheet, where she’s been absently doodling her signature flowers on the side of the paper. “Are you alright?”

“I hope I didn’t upset you in some way!” Lila seems to feel the need to add.

“You honestly didn’t,” Marinette says with a weak smile. “I just…got lost in thought, I guess. English has never been my best subject.”

“Well, it’s lucky that you’ve got me working with you, isn’t it?” Lila says brightly.

“What’s this next sentence, then?” Adrien says with a friendly enough smile. “Marinette and I have each translated one, so it’s your turn.”

“Oh…gosh, I wish I could help, but I think my dyslexia is flaring up!” Lila says. “I’m so sorry, you must think I’m such an awful burden –”

“Not at all!” Marinette says, resisting the urge to slam her head against a brick wall. Or at least the desk. “You’ve been in class for a week and you haven’t told anyone? How have you been coping? Surely you must need help? As the class representative, it’s my duty to take care of these kinds of things!”

“Oh – I wouldn’t want to impose…” Lila says. “But if there was someone who could help me…” She bats her eyelids at Adrien. “Someone really smart…”

“Of course!” Adrien says. Lila’s face lights up, while Marinette tries – and fails – to squash the mild nausea in her gut because no, she’s not a bad person and she won’t sink to the level of some possessive, entitled weirdo! “Max is super smart, so I’m sure he’d help you if you asked!”

Lila’s face falls quicker than a superhero on the Eiffel Tower. “Oh – yes, I suppose, but I don’t know him very well and I wouldn’t want to –”

“Oh, Max is so approachable!” Adrien says. “He wouldn’t mind at all! I’d offer to help you but between my fencing and my Mandarin lessons and everything else, I don’t think I’d have the time. You deserve better than an unreliable tutor.”

Ha. Okay, so Marinette’s trying her best to not be jealous, but it really is satisfying to see the way Lila’s face twists as she tries to suppress her displeasure.

“I appreciate your concern, Adrien,” Lila says with a smile that, to her credit, is pretty well-faked. “I just might ask Max at lunch.”

“Great!” Adrien says, then smooths out his worksheet. “Quick, let’s get these done! I haven’t had sweets in –”

“Finished!” Max slams his worksheet down. How the heck his group finished first, especially with Chloé refusing to lift a finger, is beyond Marinette. All she knows is that the look of disappointment on Adrien’s face simply cannot be allowed to exist. Purely by instinct, she rummages in her purse for one of the cookies that she keeps for Tikki.

“Here!” she says, presenting it to Adrien as Ms Bustier awards Max, Juleka, and Chloé their little wrapped chocolates. “We may not have won, but you still get a sweet treat!”

Adrien’s smile is as bright as the sun when he accepts the cookie. “Thank you, Marinette! Freshly baked?”

“This morning!” Marinette says. Adrien immediately bites into the cookie and moans, and Marinette’s forced to look away to prevent him from seeing her undoubtedly scarlet face.

Man, she’s got some serious thinking to do when she gets home.


“You’ve been doing that for half an hour now,” Tikki says as Marinette just lies face-down on her bed, face making a permanent imprint in her pillow. “What’s got you so upset?”

Marinette doesn’t answer at first. It’s odd; she’d thought she’d be a hysterical mess, shrieking and pacing and tearing her hair out as she tries to sort out everything currently battering her brain. Instead, she’s deathly silent, just trying to suffocate herself in her pillow to escape her own mind.

“Nothing…” Marinette rolls onto her side so that she can speak actual words instead of pillow-muffled mumbles. “I’m just completely re-evaluating my life.”

“Is this about class today?” Tikki says. “Lila did seem very –”

“No, it’s not about Lila,” Marinette says. “It’s about me. Seeing how I was acting around Adrien because of Lila…it just made me realise how fixated I can be. I just…” She blinks rapidly to dispel the stinging in her eyes, though she’s unsuccessful. “I feel like so much of what I do is because of Adrien. I entered that game tournament because he did, even if I won fair and square and I genuinely enjoyed it – I always ‘happen’ to be around when he’s doing his photoshoots – Tikki, what normal girl does all this? I even stole his phone because of an embarrassing voicemail!”

“And you only deleted the voicemail,” Tikki says. “You didn’t snoop. It wasn’t right to take his phone in the first place, but a true stalker would have gone through everything to get all the information they could about him! You were scared of being embarrassed, not trying to creep on him.”

“I still took his phone,” Marinette says. “Do I even really like him? Or am I just so wrapped up in this crush I’ve got on him that I don’t even know?”

“Well, what do you know about him?” Tikki says, and oh boy, getting Marinette to talk about Adrien is most definitely a sure-fire way to get her to not shut up.

“I know how much it meant to him to think that the scarf I knitted was from his father,” she says. “I know when it’s Adrien the model smiling and when it’s Adrien Agreste smiling. I know that he likes video games and he feels so lonely because he misses his mother and his father treats him like – like – gah, I can’t even think of the word! I know how much he hates all the public attention he gets and how everyone throws themselves all over him. I’ve seen how uncomfortable he gets when girls cling to him!”

“Does that sound like a stalker?” Tikki says when Marinette pauses for breath. “Or does that sound like someone who cares deeply for their friend, who they happen to have a crush on?”

“But you don’t get it! I was so possessive over him today! Lila was touching him and sure, I was annoyed that he was uncomfortable, because I’m so sick of people grabbing him and treating him like he’s a toy or something, but I was also jealous! I literally thought that she had no right because I was here first! I called her a bitch in my head!”

“Mhm,” Tikki says. “And clearly you’re not a bad person, or you wouldn’t be agonising over this right now.”

Marinette just blinks at her.

“I’m thousands of years old,” Tikki says. “I’ve seen a lot of creepy and bad people, and you’re neither of them! You’re just a normal teenage girl who happens to get enthusiastic about her crush and hates it when people put their hands all over him. If you were really a stalker, you’d have taken credit for that scarf to gain his attention. You wouldn’t have let Manon be in that photoshoot with him. You would have gone through his phone when you had it. You wouldn’t have tried to step down and let Max play in the tournament. You’d constantly be touching him and invading his personal space like Chloé and Lila do. You wouldn’t have gotten the whole class involved in a protest so that he could come back to school! You’ve made mistakes, yes, but you’ve realised that you were wrong, and you tried to better yourself! That’s what makes you a good person, Marinette.”

Marinette can’t help but smile at her tiny friend. “Thanks, Tikki. How do you do that?”

“I’m an ancient, wise being,” Tikki says playfully.

“You got the ancient part right,” Marinette teases. Tikki pokes her tiny tongue out.

“So, what do you plan on doing about your crush?” Tikki says.

“Well, I can’t just forget about my feelings,” Marinette says. “I wish it was that easy.”

“Who says you have to forget about them?” Tikki says. “Chat Noir has feelings for Ladybug –”

“So he claims.”

“– and he never stumbles over his words with you.”

“He’s Chat Noir,” Marinette says. “He’s not awkward, clumsy, hot-mess Marinette.”

“Stop that right now!” Tikki’s azure eyes blaze as she rests her tiny hands on her tiny hips. “Stop putting yourself down, Marinette! Ladybug is smart, confident, talented, brave, and always driven to do the right thing. And you are Ladybug, therefore you’re all of those things too!”

“Only behind the mask.”

“You were chosen to be Ladybug because you’re all of those things,” Tikki says. “Your mask makes it easier for you to openly display those qualities, but you have them even as Marinette. You certainly weren’t behind Ladybug’s mask when you proved yourself to Master Fu.”

“All I did was help him across the road.” Why is Marinette fighting against Tikki’s words so much? Maybe it’s because every time she tries to be confident about herself, she’s smacked back down, whether by Chloé or something else. “Are you saying that he would’ve given you to any old person who helped someone across the road?”

“You didn’t just help him across the road,” Tikki says. “You put your life in danger when no one else would. You saw how everyone froze and stood there! And you sacrificed the macarons your father made when it would have been easy to worry about your own problems and how you were negatively impacted. Master Fu told me all about it when he was informing me of who my holder would be. He saw that you had the potential to be Ladybug, and you proved it when you saved Alya and defeated Stoneheart! Yes, he might have given the earrings to anyone who helped him, but you’re that someone who helped him when it would’ve been easier to look the other way. You’re that one who jumped into action rather than panic, which is essential in a superhero. And you’re the one who’s made Ladybug into who she is. Every Ladybug I’ve ever had is different because it’s the holder who makes the hero, not the other way around.”

Something warm blossoms in Marinette’s chest, and she smiles and draws Tikki in for a hug. “Thank you, Tikki. You do always know what to say.”

“I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t the truth,” Tikki says. “You’re smart, confident, talented, brave, and you always do the right thing because that’s who Marinette Dupain-Cheng is!”

“You’re right!” Marinette says. “I’m Marinette! I can do anything if I put my mind to it!”

“Including talking to Adrien normally!” Tikki says. Marinette promptly wilts.

“Y-Yeah…”

“Remember everything you just told me about Adrien. You don’t act anything like his other fans, and you don’t hang off him like Chloé and Lila do,” Tikki says. “You know things about the true Adrien that only his family and friends really know. I personally don’t think you put him on a pedestal. You’re a teen girl with a crush and when your crush is famous, there’s bound to be at least some influence from his public image. Especially when you’re around other teen girls who are fans.”

Marinette’s eyes sting with tears she tries to hold back, because Tikki is the one of the best things that’s ever happened to her and she doesn’t know what she’d do without her wise little friend. “Thanks, Tikki. But…how do I do this? I can’t just flip a switch! What if I never stop acting like a goof and he never notices me and he falls in love with someone else and –”

“Marinette!” Tikki says loudly, stopping Marinette in her tracks. “Adrien’s your friend. And you don’t have much of a chance with him if you can’t even talk to him, do you? Even if you did become his girlfriend, how could you date someone you can barely talk to?”

“You’re right,” Marinette mumbles. “I should just accept the fact that I’ve got no chance with him.”

“Is it really that important to be his girlfriend?” Tikki says. “Is romance really that much more important than friendship? You and Chat Noir trust each other with your lives and you’re not a couple. And of all the Ladybugs I’ve served, many of them never even kissed their Black Cat, but they still had a friendship as close as the relationship between the ones who did marry each other. Friendship is just as beautiful as romance.”

“I never even thought of it that way,” Marinette says, blinking at her kwami friend. Tikki’s totally right! Alya is easily one of the closest people in her life and there’s nothing romantic between them. Marinette would do anything for Alya. Would that relationship really lose its importance if she ever got together with someone? Would that someone really become more important than Alya purely because of the romance?

“Of course you didn’t, silly,” Tikki says with a small grin. “Humans are so obsessed with romance that I’m not surprised you’d see it as the most important thing ever.”

“Maybe being friends with Adrien isn’t such a bad thing,” Marinette says firmly, although whether she’s trying to convince herself or Tikki, she’s got no idea. “I’ve got more of a chance of having a close relationship with him if I’m his friend rather than stammering and sneaking around to watch him and “conveniently” run into him. And if we do ever get together, at least I can say that it’s built on friendship.”

“Exactly,” Tikki agrees. “You don’t have to stress over trying to get rid of your crush. Just focus on interacting normally with him instead of trying to ask him out, because you always seem to be able to string together more than two words when you’ve forgotten about asking him out. So, how are you going to do this? You enjoyed playing video games with Adrien, didn’t you? Maybe invite him over again!”

“Maybe,” Marinette says, although she’s not sure she’s ready for Adrien to see her true competitive side yet. She hadn’t gone too hard on him last time, since they’d had to work together as a team for the tournament, but there’s a reason her papa teasingly calls her a little princess when she plays multiplayer games and it’s not because of beauty or daintiness.

Her eyes land on the pictures of Adrien plastered across her wall near her computer, and she sighs and heaves herself out of bed. Tikki beams and whizzes over to her as she’s removing the pictures of model Adrien from her wall carefully so that they’re not damaged. Although she probably won’t be putting them back up, it doesn’t hurt to keep them in case she needs them as a reference when she’s designing. And really, Adrien makes the best designing reference.

Okay. Enough, Marinette!

“I’m proud of you, Marinette,” Tikki says as Marinette stashes the pictures away. “It’s super admirable that you can recognise what you need to improve on and how to work on it! That’s exactly what makes you such a great Ladybug.”

“Thanks, Tikki,” Marinette says with a wistful smile at her stack of Adrien modelling pictures. The only photos of Adrien left on her wall are those where he’s either with friends or smiling for a dorky photo: selfies from their phones, silly pictures shared between them and Alya and Nino, even the fun ones that the whole class (minus Chloé and Sabrina) had done together after Juleka had been akumatised. There’s a sense of rightness settling inside her as she examines the photos on her wall that show the real Adrien, happy with his friends, rather than Adrien the model that the world gets to see. In that moment, she knows she’s made the correct choice.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe I forgot it was tonight!” Ladybug bemoans as she races across Paris to the TV studio, where hopefully she won’t be too late for Nadja’s interview. “Of course it would be tonight! Why else would Nadja have asked me to babysit Manon?”

Of course, Tikki doesn’t answer. She can’t, seeing as she’s currently powering the earrings that are letting Ladybug swing through Paris like a black-spotted Spider-Man with boobs. Not that that’s a weird thought or anything. Ladybug groans out loud. Why does her brain do this?

She has two options when she reaches the TV studio. She could walk inside like a normal person…or she could make a grand entrance like the kwami-powered, spandex-wearing superhero she is. Naturally, she picks the latter, and kicks the studio doors open before using her yo-yo to swing herself to her seat with a proper ten out of ten landing…which, of course, ends with her losing her balance and stumbling backwards into the couch that Chat Noir is currently occupying. Thankfully, she manages to salvage it by rushing to sit upright and crossing her legs, grinning as though she hadn’t just pulled a Marinette when she’s supposed to be Ladybug.

“I thought you’d decided to stand me up, milady,” Chat Noir teases, leaning back with one arm on the back of the couch like some kind of cool cat. Ladybug briefly imagines what it would look like if Adrien was in his place but has to stop before she spontaneously combusts from the thought of Adrien leaning on the couch like Chat Noir is doing.

What a way to go, though.

“And let the audience down?” Ladybug chirps, praying that her inner anguish isn’t obvious outwardly. “Never! I’m sorry I’m so late, Nadja.”

I wish Adrien really was Chat Noir, she thinks grumpily. Then we would actually like each other –

She breaks off that line of thought before it goes too far. The more she thinks about it, the harder it is to cool her feelings for Adrien, and the more stress this will cause her. And the more stressed she gets, the more her brain short-circuits and she starts stammering and fumbling everything.

“Good evening!” Nadja says into the camera, and Ladybug’s heart leaps into her throat when she realises that they’re on air and she probably looks like she’s a million miles away. “I’m Nadja Chamack and this is Face to Face! For our first edition, I welcome the beloved guardians of Paris: Ladybug and Chat Noir. Hello!”

Ladybug and Chat Noir wave at the camera when it turns to them. A bead of sweat rolls down Ladybug’s neck. This is way more stressful than she’d thought! She needs to guard every word carefully, make sure that nothing that’s said is potentially revealing, because there’s no way she’ll be able to look Tikki in the eye if she breaks her word to her kwami and reveals secrets that shouldn’t be revealed. At least when she’s fighting an akuma, she doesn’t have to worry about the akuma trying to pry into every tiny detail about her life. Maybe Tikki had been right about this.

They get the “welcome and thank you for being here slash having us” pleasantries out of the way, with Ladybug having to suppress a giggle when Chat Noir is a colossal dork and takes a bow for his fans. They may be less numerous than Ladybug’s, but they do exist, and they can count Marinette among them, not that she can really say that right now.

“It’s obvious you two are very close!” Nadja says after a little Ladybug and Chat Noir banter. Once again, Ladybug’s cursing her crush on Adrien because Chat Noir’s flirting, as dorky as it is, is actually kind of sweet and endearing. Maybe she can imagine Adrien as Chat Noir so hard that her crush transfers and everything can be ten times easier, since she knows for sure that Chat Noir’s into her. Probably too much to ask, though. Not even Ladybug can be that lucky.

“People know you, but they don’t really know you,” Nadja continues, unaware of Ladybug’s internal battle. “We see you saving Paris, but we don’t know anything else about you!”

“We won’t be keeping anything from you, Nadja,” Chat Noir says.

“Well, we have to keep a few secrets, including our identities, of course!” Ladybug corrects. Just their luck, Hawkmoth might be watching this, waiting to latch on to any morsel of information they give.

“Absolutely!” Nadja agrees eagerly after a glance at her wristband. “How about we start off with a few questions from your biggest fans?”

What follows is…interesting. Chloé spends her call puffing herself up and throwing her weight around, Alya treads on Nadja’s toes by asking for an interview for the Ladyblog, and Manon accidentally lands Marinette in hot water on live TV by letting slip that Marinette’s not there. While Ladybug’s still freaking out and trying not to blurt out something embarrassing on air, Nadja quickly ends the fan call segment and things get even more interesting. Embarrassing and infuriating might be better words. Yep, this is why Ladybug only ever does interviews for Alya if she can help it.

“Ladybug, Chat Noir,” the reporter says. “So, a lot of fans think of you as a couple of superheroes. But also, and I quote unquote, “as a couple”, period.”

Ladybug’s heart instantly starts to race again. Oh, no. This would be easier to deal with if she could be certain that Chat Noir wasn’t going to jump in headfirst and revel in those rumours. She loves her partner – she really does – but sometimes, he just has no sense of boundaries whatsoever.

“What?” she bursts out. Nadja doesn’t notice her panic.

“Can you confirm that you’re dating, here, tonight?” Nadja presses on, and annoyance immediately starts to set Ladybug’s jaw. Why do fans want to stick their noses so far into celebrities’ lives? Why is there no such thing as privacy? Haven’t she and Chat Noir earned that much at least? It’s not like they’re movie stars or anything; with them, personal questions could literally be the difference between life or death. Her heart starts to break even more for Adrien. If this is how she feels after a brief intrusion, how must he feel every single day of his life?

“I – I’m very sorry, Nadja, but we’re superheroes,” Ladybug says firmly, waving her hands as if to ward off the intrusive question. “We’re not here to answer such personal questions.”

“Meow! My Ladybug’s grown claws!” Chat Noir teases. Ladybug wishes she could snap that this isn’t the time, but they’re on live TV and she doesn’t want to do anything to threaten their united front.

She tries to defuse the situation by turning the subject to the safety of Paris, but Nadja won’t be deterred. Instead, she ploughs on by showing a picture of Ladybug kissing Chat Noir – to save him when he was under Dark Cupid’s influence, why else would she kiss him? – and Chat Noir’s shock only seems to egg Nadja on.

Ladybug wants to cry when Nadja shows more pictures of them that could be construed as romantically intimate, except for the fact that they were simply having fun as friends or saving Paris at those times. How is this fair? What right do these journalists have to pry into their lives just for views? And Chat Noir doesn’t help when, instead of shutting down the rumour mill, he actively encourages it by expressing a wish that they’ll be together someday. Doesn’t that cat see what’s wrong here?

“That’s enough!” Ladybug finally bursts out, shaky and at her wit’s end and a second away from having a meltdown unbefitting of a superhero after Nadja’s pressure to admit something false as the truth. The studio lights around her are so bright, her heart’s hammering in her chest, she can just imagine the whole of Paris in that studio, gawking at them, treating them like little dancing monkeys, and she needs to get out of there or she’s going to scream and cry. “This interview is so over!”

She drags a protesting Chat Noir out, though thankfully he’s on her side when she shuts down Nadja’s protests about the show not being over. It’s not until they’re on top of a tall building near the studio that Ladybug can finally relax, the panicked adrenaline in her system still ramping everything up to eleven but not as bad as when she was trapped in that situation. Though Chat Noir still doesn’t understand what’s got her so distressed, as evident by his flippant remark about the price of stardom.

“We’re not stars! We’re superheroes!” Ladybug snaps, tugging at her pigtails. “And I couldn’t – I can’t – I thought you back my had!”

“Uh…had your back?” Chat Noir says. Ladybug lets out a scream of frustration and slumps down on the roof, stomping her foot as though this can relieve the pressure building up inside her. “Are – are you alright, milady?”

“No!” Ladybug wails. She takes a deep breath to try and calm down. “You’re supposed to be on my side, Chat!”

“Of course I am!” Chat Noir sits down next to her. “What made you think –”

“When people start asking about our personal life like that, you’re supposed to help me shut them down!” Ladybug says, blinking rapidly to try and hold back the tears threatening to fall. The last thing she needs is to start crying like a baby in front of her partner. “Not only is that none of their business, but it’s not right! We’re not together!”

“I thought you didn’t mind my flirting,” Chat Noir says.

“I don’t! But there’s a time and a place, and that’s not when a reporter’s trying to push us into a fake confession just for views!” Ladybug shivers and hugs her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth so she doesn’t start stomping her foot again because she needs to let out this steam somehow and rocking has less potential for harm than stomping. “That was hugely disrespectful to both of us, Chat. And…and you crossed my boundaries by encouraging her. That’s not cool.”

“I didn’t realise,” Chat says quietly. He shuffles closer to her, wrapping an arm around her only when she nods her permission. “I’m sorry, milady. I didn’t realise how uncomfortable you were. Are you okay?” he adds in alarm, and Ladybug dimly realises that her cheeks are warmly wet.

“I feel like the worst person ever,” she says thickly, wiping her face dry, and her magic suit isn’t even damp from cleaning her face. “There’s a boy at my school – Adrien Agreste, you have to know him, right?”

“Can’t exactly miss him,” Chat Noir mutters.

“You can’t tell anyone but…I’ve got the biggest crush on him, kitty. I had pictures of him up and I knew his schedule and everything, like some stalker! Okay, so I’ve got all my friends’ pictures and schedules up too, but it’s kind of hard to focus on that when I literally stole Adrien’s phone to delete an embarrassing voicemail so he wouldn’t think I was a loser, and it doesn’t help that my autism means I can really fixate on what I’m interested in if I don’t keep my hyperfixations and special interests in check –”

“Hey. Hey. Breathe, Ladybug.” Chat Noir grabs her hand with his free one and squeezes. Dimly, Ladybug comes to the realisation that she’s not breathing – her chest is burning – she squeezes Chat Noir’s hand back and forces herself to suck in massive gulps of air, then crosses her legs like she does when meditating with her mother on weekends. Even if she can’t push herself into that headspace with close to a meltdown she is now, the familiar action is just calming enough to loosen the iron band around her chest.

Just breathe. In…out…in…out…

“You know, I don’t think he’d mind having you as a stalker, milady,” Chat Noir adds. Ladybug glares at him, so he grins sheepishly and holds his hands up. “Sorry. Just trying to cheer you up a bit. Bad timing.”

“I mean, I love the real him, of course,” Ladybug says. Although her voice is shaky and high, at least she can actually word right now. Chat Noir’s presence is doing wonders, despite his annoying lack of timing when it comes to jokes. “I know an Adrien model smile from the real thing, and I’d like to think I know a little bit about the real Adrien. But I didn’t even realise how sick he must be of always being in the spotlight and having fans who claim that they know the real Adrien when they don’t! And I could still be one of them!”

“Milady –”

“Now I know how he must feel,” Ladybug says miserably. “Those prying questions…trying to dig up our personal lives for a scoop…I never realised until now how hard it must be for him. And I just feel even worse because I was one of those people feeding into it!”

“It doesn’t sound like it to me,” Chat Noir says after a moment. “I mean, from what you’ve said, you never rushed after him like some rabid fangirl.”

I can’t even talk to him without messing my words up, Ladybug thinks darkly.

“It sounds to me like you really do like him,” Chat Noir continues, squeezing her with the arm he’s got around her. “And I don’t think he’d blame you for getting that tangled up with perfect Adrien Agreste.” There’s an odd note of bitterness in Chat Noir’s voice when he says those words. “I mean, being that famous, he’d be forced to project that perfect image, right?”

“But that’s why it’s so confusing.” Ladybug wipes her nose, grimacing at how unheroic she must look right now. She takes a deep breath and chooses her next words carefully. “I don’t think he’s the one putting out that image and pretending like model Adrien and real Adrien are two different people. I interact with him enough to know that he’s so…genuine. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. I think it’s the public that latches on to what they’re given and blow that up into perfect prince Adrien, like how people do with YouTubers and other celebrities like that, you know? And I’d like to think I at least know a bit about him – especially because I didn’t even know him before I met him, so I wasn’t blinded by that image – but…when people around you are so enthusiastic about the image they create, it kind of…”

“Rubs off on you?” Chat Noir says quietly.

“Exactly,” she agrees. “I mean, we put out a united front as Ladybug and Chat Noir – and we are friends and partners – but we don’t actively go around building an image. We just do our thing and the public decides how they see us, like in that interview. I just…never realised exactly how Adrien must feel until now. And now I love him even more, even though I’m trying to just see him as a friend because then I won’t be such a mess! At least if we’re friends, I won’t have to stress about getting worried over who else likes him and whether he thinks I’m being weird and…my kwami told me that friendship is just as important as romance. I think she’s right.”

“I know he’d love to have you as a friend, milady. Who wouldn’t? And I think he’d be happy to know you’re thinking all of this,” Chat Noir says. When Ladybug looks up at him, she can’t for the life of her figure out why he’s got such an odd look on his face. “He’s the sunshine prince of Paris. I’m sure the fact that you and his friends don’t buy into that and don’t chase him all over the place makes him happier than you could ever imagine.”

Ladybug blinks and opens her mouth to reply to that, only to be interrupted by one of the big TVs near them flickering to display an image of a redheaded woman with electronic blue skin and clothing, who introduces herself as Prime Queen. Her face looks more like a projection of a vaguely human face than an actual face itself.

“Nadja?” she and Chat Noir exclaim. This is not good. This is so not good. How could she have known that Nadja would get so upset over that interview? A small part of Ladybug can’t help but think that this is Nadja’s fault, that she shouldn’t have pushed and disrespected them just for some scoop, before guilt floods into her stomach at the thought. How can she even think that? She shouldn’t have been so rude to Nadja. Would it have hurt to play along? It’s not like Paris knows anything about them, and she and Chat Noir do look pretty close – but she hates liars, there’s no way she could just play along with one –

“Milady, it’s not your fault.” Chat Noir, as observant as he is dorky, seems to immediately notice the path that Ladybug’s thoughts are taking, and he grabs her hand again and squeezes it. “You were right. She should’ve respected us. I just got so caught up in fame that’s different to my –”

“Tonight, Ladybug and Chat Noir disappointed all their loyal fans by refusing to admit their love for each other!” Prime Queen continues, cutting off Chat Noir. Although she’s grateful that he’d been stopped from revealing potentially identifying information, Ladybug can’t help but admit that her curiosity is piqued. “I’ve prepared some trials to see just how far they’re willing to go to keep the truth hidden from us!”

When Prime Queen ends up jumping through her screens to kidnap Chloé and hijack a subway, everything just got real is Ladybug’s only thought. At least she’s got Chat Noir by her side, who she now feels even closer to after their conversation from just before. There’s no one else she’d rather jump through a screen with to save a spoiled brat than Chat Noir.


“Can you believe it?” Adrien sighs, falling back onto his bed as he releases his transformation. His body feels so light that he’s practically floating on clouds, despite his leaden limbs from his battle with Prime Queen just before. “Ladybug has a crush on me, Plagg!”

“That’s nice,” Plagg says. “You know what’s even nicer?” He zooms for his mini fridge full of Camembert with a whoop.

“Plagg, you don’t get it!” Adrien insists. “I love Ladybug and Ladybug loves me! She wants to be my friend! She’s crushing on me!”

“Oh, I do get it,” Plagg says. “You had a nice talk with her about how the public turns you into some perfect prince and all you can take away from that talk is that she likes you.”

“I never said that wasn’t important,” Adrien retorts.

“I never said you didn’t think it was important,” Plagg shrugs, downing a wedge of Camembert in one gulp. “But I’d think you’d be happier that someone’s realising that the image the public projects of you as some flawless sunshine child is a load of processed cheese.”

“Processed cheese?” Adrien blinks.

“Yeah! Those disgusting packaged slices don’t even deserve to be honoured with the name of cheese. They’re edible plastic!”

“What the heck are you saying, Plagg?”

Plagg abandons his Camembert and floats up to look Adrien dead in the eye. The fact that Plagg is leaving his cheese for a talk is so drastic that Adrien can’t help but give the little cat kwami his undivided attention.

“I get it, kid,” Plagg says. “You’re in love with Ladybug. And I don’t think you’re just infatuated or building up a perfect image of her or something. I think it’s real and I think you know her as Ladybug better than anyone else. But how good are your chances of wooing her as Chat Noir when she’s interested in Adrien?”

“I just have to nudge her into liking Chat Noir,” Adrien insists.

“No,” Plagg says. “She won’t be open to your advances as Chat Noir. Not unless she knows that Adrien and Chat Noir are the same person, and you can’t reveal your identity, especially not for something as selfish as that.”

“What’s the point of this?” Adrien says.

“The point,” Plagg says testily, no doubt wanting to go back to his cheese rather than be stuck lecturing some lovesick teenager, “is that you need to focus on what you do have. What don’t you have? A romantic relationship with Ladybug. A father who actually spends more than five minutes a month with you. What do you have? Friends who like you as Adrien. Friends who you used to sneak out to see even though your father never let you go. A superhero partner who thinks you’re awesome, and you’ve got a special friendship with her that no one else does. You two are like cheese and crackers. Quit acting like romance is the most important thing and focus on the friends you have. She’s already getting it when she says that friendship with you is just as important as being with you.” Plagg scowls. “Man, Tikki’s always the annoyingly responsible one. Makes me look bad just because I don’t like giving these silly speeches.”

“You’re saying I should just…give up on her?” Adrien says. Plagg lets out a cry of frustration.

“Where did I say that? You’re treating a relationship with Ladybug as way more important than the friendships you do have as both Adrien and Chat Noir, when friendship is just as important as romance! You humans have a weird habit of acting like one form of love is better than the other. Keep your crush on Ladybug but stop acting like romance is the most important thing. Be happy being her friend. All Ladybugs and Chat Noirs are destined to be close. It’s part of that yin and yang balancing poetic schtick. So even if you never get married, she’ll be your best friend for life. And you should be happy with that. No matter what, she’s always going to be someone you can count on, and you’ll always be the same for her.”

Silence falls on the room after Plagg’s speech. Adrien just blinks, trying to process not only his words but also the knowledge that Plagg isn’t just a bottomless stomach. But then, that makes sense. Plagg is the literal god of destruction and he’s been around for thousands of years, so of course he’s going to have a serious side.

“You were picked to be Chat Noir because you can be brave and selfless and put others before yourself,” Plagg concludes. “Don’t act like a spoiled brat and prove Master Fu wrong.”

“Wow. I never knew you could actually be wise and –”

“You gotta get me more of this Camembert!” Plagg says loudly, zooming back to his cheese. “This is divine.”

Adrien lets Plagg go back to devouring his cheese, instead rolling onto his side and sighing. “I know that I don’t know too much about Ladybug but…I know more about her than anyone else does. I know she’s feisty and confident and independent. She’s so sure of herself, like how she stood up to Hawkmoth when we were taking on Stoneheart! That’s why I love her so much. She always manages to get us out of sticky situations and save the day.”

“This is why you should love Camembert,” Plagg says. Adrien’s not sure if the kwami had completely ignored everything he’d said or if he’s just blocking out the ‘sap’. “Camembert’s so much less complicated.”

Goodnight, Plagg.”

Chapter Text

“But I don’t understand!” Adrien protests. “I already practiced my piano enough yesterday after school!”

“Your father has decided that you would benefit from extra practice,” Nathalie says in her usual monotone. “He’s displeased with your progress.”

“This isn’t fair!” Adrien clenches his fists. “He never had a problem with my playing until two weeks ago!”

Nathalie says nothing, leaving Adrien to come to the realisation of what exactly is going on.

“Ever since I gave the brooch back to him,” he says. “He’s still punishing me for that?”

“The agreement was that you could return to school,” Nathalie says. “But your father feels that your priorities are…not aligned with his.”

“But I was going to see Nino today! Nathalie, please, I haven’t seen my friends in weeks!”

“You see them at school.”

“That’s not the same and you know it!”

But arguing with Nathalie is like arguing with a brick wall, and Adrien’s pretty sure that he’d used up his quota of “get his own way” when he’d convinced Gabriel and Nathalie to let him go to school in the first place. So, rather than spend the next hour wasting his breath, he stomps off to his room and unlocks his phone to bring up his recording of the song that Gabriel’s been having him practice.

“Ah, nothing like a nice night with my only love!” Plagg sighs when Adrien sets the phone on his piano. “Camembert!”

“I don’t think so,” Adrien says. “You were right about sneaking out the other night. I’ll be damned if I miss out on seeing my friends just because Father’s still mad at me. Plagg, claws out!”

Once he’s transformed, Chat Noir double checks that his recording is playing perfectly before cracking his window open and leaping out. But there’s a fatal flaw in his plan: where is he meant to go? Nino’s expecting Adrien, not Chat Noir, and he’ll know that Adrien’s been trapped when Adrien doesn’t show up. And although he loves his classmates, is he really close enough to impose on any of them as his superhero alter ego?

He’s so lost in thought as he bounds through Paris, with the cool morning air streaming through his messy hair, that he doesn’t realise where he’s ended up until a familiar smell of warm cookies reaches his nostrils. Oh. When did he arrive at the Dupain-Cheng bakery? Maybe Marinette won’t mind comforting a stray cat. He could certainly do with more cookies after the one she’d given him in class the other day.

The smell of cookies is coming from the top of the building and invokes an automatic reaction: cat smells Dupain-Cheng cookies, cat must acquire Dupain-Cheng cookies, no matter the cost. The source of the smell happens to be one Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who’s sitting cross-legged in a chair on her rooftop balcony in a soft red cardigan, a white shirt, and a pair of pale pink pyjama pants. The cookies that have drawn Chat Noir in like a hooked fish are on a small glass table, piled haphazardly on a plate to be selected at random intervals by Marinette while she writes something in her semi-circle diary. His classmate looks so peaceful like this, not at all the flustered mess that she turns into whenever he’s around as Adrien, that Chat Noir can’t help but stare from the brick wall rising up behind Marinette’s balcony, where he’s perched.

“I can talk to him with the mask!” she mumbles. “Should I just pretend I’ve got the damn thing on every time I see him?”

Oh. Does Marinette like someone? Chat Noir probably shouldn’t be listening in like this. Not only does she think she’s alone, but she also doesn’t know that her friend is behind the mask of the stray cat currently eavesdropping like an awkward child. At least, he’s pretty sure she’s his friend. Sometimes, he wonders if she’d truly forgiven him after the gum incident, what with how weird she acts around him.

“Games! He likes video games!” Marinette scribbles something down, then groans. “Stupid, stupid! I already know this! Him and those damn green –” Having thrown her head back in exasperation while grabbing a cookie, she catches sight of Chat Noir when her eyes are on their way back down to the diary. For a moment, neither of them say anything, too busy playing a silent game of chicken to see who’ll freak out first. Chat Noir decides to take the initiative.

“Hey, princess,” he says, pasting on his signature Chat Noir smirk. “Sounds like you’re in a bit of a pickle.”

“Were you spying on me?” Marinette slams her diary shut with wide eyes. Chat Noir hastens to shake his head.

“No, no! I just smelled the delicious smell of Dupain-Cheng cookies with my kitty nose and like a helpless stray, I was compelled to investigate. I didn’t hear anything before whatever you were saying about a mask.”

“Nothing important. Just forget what you heard.” Marinette tilts her head and nods at her cookies. “You said you were sniffing out some cookies?”

“Oh, you are an angel!” Chat Noir leaps down to Marinette’s balcony and lets himself fall into her other balcony seat, shooting Marinette finger guns as he does so. She looks thoroughly unimpressed, so he hastens to grab a cookie and bite into it. He can’t help the moan that escapes him when the warm, gooey chocolate chips melt across his tongue, and Marinette looks away with pink cheeks. “Cat got your tongue, Marinette?”

“Uh – it’s nothing.” Marinette shakes her head, making her dark pigtails swing around her face. “You just…reminded me of someone.”

“That someone wouldn’t happen to be this mystery boy, would he?” Chat Noir says. Marinette’s cheeks flush darker. Ah. Bingo. And Chat Noir’s pretty sure he’s got an idea of who this boy is.

“No!” she says too quickly.

“Aww, you can talk to me, Mari!” Chat Noir wiggles his eyebrows. “Would this mystery boy perhaps be associated with the colour green?”

Now Marinette’s cheeks are fire-truck red. “N-No! No way! Shut up! I’ll push you off this balcony!”

Chat Noir leans in to commence the kill. “If you’re really crushing on Max, I can totally work something out for my favourite civilian –”

“Max?” Marinette blinks, then stares for a moment, then bursts into laughter so raucous that she slides down her seat with tears streaming down her face as she clutches her belly. Okay. Not exactly the reaction that Chat Noir had been anticipating.

“I take it I’m wrong?” he finally says. He doesn’t get an answer until Marinette’s pulled herself back up in her seat and wiped her damp cheeks, hiccupping as her laughter dies down.

Max? What gave you that idea?” she says.

“You mentioned that this mystery boy likes video games. And he wears green.”

“And that’s why you don’t eavesdrop!” Marinette waggles her finger. “Naughty kitty! Me and Max? He’s a cool friend but that’s all! And haven’t you seen the way he looks at Kim?”

“He, uh…what?” Huh. Maybe Chat Noir should pay a little more attention to his classmates.

“No, the mystery boy is not Max,” Marinette says, her shoulders still shaking with the last of her laughter. “He’s none of your business. Why are you even here? There’s no akuma around, is there?”

“No, nothing like that,” Chat Noir says. “Can’t a stray cat just visit his favourite civilian?”

Marinette raises an eyebrow, so he caves.

“Oh, fine. Things got…tense at home, so I bounced for a bit. I smelled Dupain-Cheng cookies when I was jumping around like the cool cat I am.”

“Aww, kitty.” Marinette’s grey eyes crinkle. “You know you can come here anytime, right?”

“Such a noble and kind princess, taking pity on a mangy alley cat,” Chat Noir pretends to sniffle. Marinette just rolls her eyes and throws a cookie at him, and she only nails him in the face because he hadn’t been expecting it. Yep. That’s it. Totally not because his cat-like reflexes had failed him.

“I’m serious, though,” Marinette says. “I know you don’t know me very well, but I’m always open to lend an ear. And a cookie. Maybe a macaron next time.”

“Careful, princess,” Chat Noir grins. “If you feed the animals, they’ll keep coming back.”

“I think it’s a bit too late for that,” Marinette says dryly, pointing at the cookie crumbs on his face.

“And I’m serious, though.” Chat Noir shuffles in his seat so that he can cross his legs and actually sit like a dysfunctional human being for once. “I appreciate the offer. You seem like a cool girl, Marinette. And I’ve heard nothing but good things about you.” He actually knows her, not that he can just up and say that unless he wants to give her a major identity clue.

“Who’ve you been talking to behind my back?” Marinette says with a mock-glare.

“Oh, this person and that person,” Chat Noir says airily. “No one you should worry your pretty little head about.”

“Patronise me again and I will throw you off the balcony,” Marinette says, jabbing her pen at him. Chat Noir just grins.

“Ah, but cats always land on their feet,” he says.

“We could test that for science,” Marinette says innocently. Chat Noir snorts and holds his hands up.

“Okay, okay,” he says. “Whatever you say, my princess.”

“My princess?” Marinette raises an eyebrow. “Careful. Your lady will think you’re cheating on her.”

“I would never!” Chat Noir slumps dramatically and clasps his chest. “Ladybug’s the only one for me!”

“Dork,” Marinette giggles. Her laughter is like aural sunshine, only outmatched by the beautiful laugh that belongs to Ladybug, and although Chat Noir’s probably overstayed his welcome, being able to forget his suffocating life for just a little while with a dear friend is probably the best gift that Marinette’s ever given him. Minus the cookies, of course.

“Well, I hate to deprive you of my dashing good looks, but this cat should be getting home before he’s found out and loses a life,” Chat Noir sighs, jumping to his feet and stretching.

“What a shame,” Marinette deadpans. “Whatever will I do without you?”

“I know.” Chat Noir nods solemnly. “Your life is ever so grey without me. But fear not, princess, I shall return for more cookies!”

“Take your time,” Marinette says. She opens her diary and then raises an eyebrow at him. “Well?”

“Rude,” Chat Noir sniffs. “See if I come back now.”

“Oh, you will. I fed you, remember?”

“Very true. Very true.” Chat Noir shoots her finger guns for the second time that morning and then hauls himself onto her balcony railing. “Goodbye for now, princess!” He leaps away before Marinette can let loose with another scathing remark, and although every jump and step brings him closer to his gilded cage, it doesn’t seem as cold and lonely after his talk with Marinette. It’s nice to know that he’s got a friend when in the mask because, as much as he loves Ladybug, he doesn’t exactly have a reliable way of calling her up. Although Marinette is just as sassy as his lady so really, he couldn’t have made a better friend as Chat Noir. If only she could talk to Adrien that way.


“Sorry I couldn’t make it,” Adrien’s saying to Nino as Marinette and Alya take their seats behind the boys. “My father tightened my schedule and he didn’t even have the decency to tell me himself. He made Nathalie tell me.”

“Dude, that’s rough,” Nino grimaces. “Why’s he being so uncool?”

“He’s still mad about when I stole the book and the brooch. He says my “priorities are not aligned with his”.”

“What?” Marinette bursts out. Adrien and Nino jump, and she flushes and looks down when Adrien looks right at her. “S-Sorry. I didn’t mean to overhear. I just…that’s rubbish!”

“I know, right?” Adrien says. “I pointed out that you guys protested, but Nathalie said that was just to let me go back to school. I don’t get my father sometimes…he says I’m precious to him, then he goes and locks me up again!”

How does Adrien know that Gabriel had said that to Ladybug and Chat Noir about him? Huh. Gabriel must have had a heartfelt chat with him after being the Collector, which just makes this even more bullshit.

“And I can’t even get angry or I’ll probably get turned into Bubbler again,” Nino grumbles.

“I’d turn into Lady Wifi if it’d let me kick your dad’s butt,” Alya says.

“I don’t know what my akuma name would be,” Marinette says. “Probably something like Princess Justice. What?” she adds when Alya raises an eyebrow. “Akuma names aren’t my forte. I’m a fashion designer, not a supervillain.”

“You don’t need to get angry for me,” Adrien says, smiling around at the three of them. Butterflies erupt in Marinette’s stomach when that smile passes over her. “Really. I appreciate you three just letting me vent.”

“Well, that’s what we’re here for!” Marinette babbles, pointedly ignoring Alya’s smirk from next to her. Adrien’s smile just widens like a solar flare, melting Marinette from the inside out.

“Thanks, Marinette,” he says. He opens his mouth to say something else, but Ms Bustier calls for their attention at that moment, so he’s forced to turn back to the front and end the conversation there.

But try as she might, Marinette just can’t seem to pay attention. This is so unfair! Why shouldn’t Adrien get to hang out with his friends just because he made a mistake? One that he’d fixed? Gabriel has the book and the (fake) brooch, so there’s no need to take it out on Adrien anymore! Again, Marinette wonders if being the Collector had spooked him, but that’s still no excuse! Alya’s father hadn’t locked her up just because he’d been akumatised into Animan that one time, and Alya’s doing just fine!

Actually, she’s got a nasty habit of running into danger for the Ladyblog and she’d been kidnapped by Prime Queen after Ladybug and Chat Noir had saved Chloé, but that’s beside the point!

The next morning, Marinette ensures that she wakes up early enough to put her plan into action. The bakery’s already open, of course, but Marinette’s always allowed to grab whatever she wants from the freshly-baked pastries, so long as she doesn’t go overboard and take a whole batch or something. Perks of being a baker’s daughter. Ha. Take that, Chloé.

“What are you doing?” Tikki says as Marinette sets an empty pastry box down on the counter.

“Adrien was so upset yesterday because of his father cracking down on his schedule!” Marinette says. She grabs a warm croissant with the utmost of care so that her klutz curse doesn’t come into play, then places it into the box. “I want to do something nice for him!”

“That’s so sweet of you, Marinette!” Tikki says. “Oooh, what about those new pistachio macarons?”

“Right!” Marinette snatches up a couple of green macarons and adds them to the box. “They’re such a gorgeous green!” Just like his eyes…

Once she’s packed the box full of goodies, Marinette shuts it and picks it up with such care that it might as well be a priceless treasure, and then she’s off to school to deliver her gift, early for once in her life.

“Oooh! Marinette, you are a gem!” Alya says when Marinette finds her in the courtyard. She makes grabby hands. “Gimme!”

“Hey!” Marinette holds the pastry box out of reach. “No touchy! They’re not for you!”

“Hmph,” Alya huffs. “I see how it is. You’ll give fresh pastries to Adrien but not to me.”

“Your father’s not being a complete tool,” Marinette says. Alya grimaces.

“Okay, point. But girl, if he doesn’t marry you after this, I’m gonna marry you myself just to rub it in his face that I’ll get yummy treats every day.”

“I may be bi, but I do have standards,” Marinette drawls.

“Excuse me? You wish you could do better than moi.” Alya gestures to herself.

“Hey, girls!” says a voice from behind Marinette and Alya. Marinette shrieks and jumps away from Adrien, her heart ready to yeet itself out through her throat, while Alya just rolls her eyes and kisses Nino hello. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you, Marinette!”

“You didn’t! You just…surprised me!” Marinette takes a deep breath and thrusts the box at Adrien before she can chicken out. “Here! Freshly baked this morning!”

“Aww, seriously?” Nino whines as a wide-eyed Adrien takes the box and opens it to inhale the delicious scent of warm pastries. “Why don’t I get freshly baked stuff?”

“Because we’re going to talk over there,” Alya says, grabbing Nino’s hand and dragging him off. Marinette’s not sure whether to kill Alya or thank her on bent knee for leaving her alone with Adrien.

“You were so upset yesterday because of your dad!” Marinette says. “So, I thought you might appreciate some sweet treats!”

“Marinette, you are an angel,” Adrien says, and Marinette only just manages to fight back the silly giggle that tries to escape her, both that Adrien called her an angel and because Chat Noir had said the exact same thing on the weekend. Is the way to a boy’s heart really through his stomach?

“I’m glad you like it!” she says. “It’s so not cool of your father to punish you for a mistake that you fixed.”

“I know but…what can I do? I can’t exactly go up to him and tell him that he can’t control my life anymore,” Adrien says.

“Why not?” Marinette says.

“Because I never see him for more than five minutes a month,” Adrien says, and Marinette can’t help the snort that escapes her at that.

“I feel so bad for laughing,” she says as her shoulders shake with suppressed laughter.

“Don’t,” Adrien says with a cheeky smile. “I wouldn’t have made that joke if I wasn’t okay with you laughing at it.”

“But it’s so sad! That’s why I feel bad for laughing!”

“Well, if I didn’t joke about it, I’d just cry all the time,” Adrien says. “Humour’s how I cope. If I had an alter ego, I’d channel all the jokes I can’t make as me into him.”

“Ugh, like Chat Noir,” Marinette says. “His damn puns, I swear –”

“Hey! Chat Noir’s not that bad!”

“He is! He came to visit me on the weekend because he smelled cookies and I nearly threw him off the balcony! His puns are awful!”

“Don’t you mean –”

“Don’t you dare say it –”

“– clawful?”

“That’s it.” Marinette grabs for the pastry box. “I’m confiscating these until you learn to behave.”

“Nuh uh,” Adrien says and holds the box high above Marinette’s head. “I’m taller than you, so I win.”

“You’re an arse, is what you are,” Marinette mumbles. But Adrien swiftly earns her forgiveness when he offers her one of the pistachio macarons and they bite into their green treats together.

“Honestly, I’m really grateful for this, Marinette,” Adrien says. “Not just because it was a really nice thing to do, but because I’ve always been afraid that…we weren’t really friends?”

“What?” Marinette’s heart sinks into her stomach. No wonder Adrien’s never seemed to show any interest in her, if he hasn’t even considered them friends! “What gave you that idea?”

“Just the way you’ve always been weird around me. I guess I was scared that you never really liked me or forgave me for the gum thing, and you were just putting up with me. But this conversation was really cool. You’re really cool.”

Oh. Oh. Maybe Tikki had been on to something after all when it comes to not being able to talk to Adrien. “Trust me, I’ve always liked you,” she says. “As a friend! Yeah! We’re friends!”

“Oh, thank god.” Adrien’s shoulders slump. “I didn’t know what to do about it. Confrontation’s never been my strong suit.”

“Trust me, you don’t have to worry about that at all,” Marinette says. “I was weird because…I’m weird! Not because I don’t like you! Because I don’t! Dislike you, that is! I do like you!” She groans and facepalms. “I’m a disaster, is what I am.”

“Well, so long as I get amazing treats out of it, you can be as much of a disaster as you want,” Adrien says. Then he winks.

Dear lord. This boy is not making it easy to interact with him normally. What the hell did she do to deserve this?

Chapter Text

“I never thought I’d be glad that you go to school,” Plagg comments once Adrien’s car drives off. “Blech, your father was in a mood.”

“And I still didn’t even get to see him,” Adrien says, rolling his eyes. “I just got a five-minute disapproving stare over tablet during breakfast.”

“You know, they say that talking to yourself is the first sign of madness,” says a cheerful voice from behind him. Adrien jumps and staggers back, only to flush when he sees that it’s just a laughing Marinette, with Alya and Nino behind her.

“Payback’s a bitch, huh?” Alya says. She fist-bumps Marinette. “Don’t mess with my girl, Agreste.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean to scare her last week!” Adrien says as they head into the courtyard. His brain lights up like a Pavlovian firework when Marinette hands over his daily paper bag of pastries; he hasn’t gotten a box since that first day, but he sure as hell isn’t going to complain when it’s free treats from a brilliant bakery. Today’s lucky dip is a chocolate croissant and a cheese bun, and he surreptitiously breaks off a chunk of the bun to save for Plagg, even though the little gremlin will no doubt complain that it’s not Camembert.

“You were saying that your dad couldn’t even show up to be disapproving, right?” Nino says. “Dude, that’s rough.”

“At least my dad tells me when I’ve fucked up in person,” Alya says, threading her fingers with Nino’s. “But then again, your dad is really extra.”

“Of course he’s extra,” Marinette says. “Have you seen what he wears? I’d get blacklisted from the fashion industry if I tried to get away with that.”

Adrien can’t help but burst out laughing at that. God, what a miracle that Marinette hasn’t actually hated him all this time, because now that she’s started to come out of her shell around him, she’s a super cool friend to have. And that’s not even counting the time he’d visited her as Chat Noir. It would be nice to know why she’d been so weird for the past year, though.

“Adrien! Hi!” Lila stops next to him, beaming. Okay, whoa, she’s way too close, and Adrien’s sure she’s nice enough despite the lies – really, as if she’s Ladybug’s best friend, his lady isn’t irresponsible enough to be friends with someone who’d broadcast it everywhere – but there’s just…something about her. Something he can’t quite put his finger on. Maybe he’s just uncomfortable because she loves to touch him in every way possible whenever she’s around him.

“Hey, Lila!” Marinette smiles, but something about it rings false. Does she also know that Lila tends to not be truthful? “How was your weekend?”

“Oh, I was supposed to have lunch with Clara Nightingale, but she had to cancel at the last moment,” Lila sighs. “She was so bummed, though!”

“But Clara’s not even in Europe right now,” Alya says with a furrowed brow.

“Yeah, dude,” Nino says. “Last I heard, she was over in California. In America.”

“She was going to fly me over in her private jet!” Lila says. “I guess she’s just too busy with her upcoming album.”

Marinette, Alya, and Nino don’t look fooled at all. How does everyone else believe these lies? But they’re not really hurting anyone, so Adrien sees no point in starting a fuss. The only person who could get hurt by these lies are her, once people see through them and decide not to associate with her.

“Do you want some of this croissant?” Adrien holds the pastry out to Lila. “It’s freshly baked from Marinette’s bakery!”

“I’m still salty that he’s the only one you give pastries to,” Alya grumbles. “It’s not like I’m your best friend or anything.”

“It’s not like Adrien’s being neglected by his father or anything,” Marinette retorts. Alya groans.

“Touché. And fuck your logic.”

“That’s so sweet of you to offer!” Lila says, shooting Marinette and Alya a weird glance out of the corner of her eye. Then she leans in and, without taking it from Adrien, takes a large bite out of the end of the croissant that he had been eating and lets out an appreciative hum. “This is delicious! Your parents are so talented, Marinette!”

“Um, thank you!” Marinette says.

“Anyway,” Lila says, running her hand down Adrien’s arm. He instinctively leans away, but she follows him. “I was wondering if you wanted to get ice cream with me after school, Adrien?”

Shit. Is she asking him out on a date? Or just an outing as friends? What does he do? If he assumes it’s a date and it’s not, she’ll get offended. But if he assumes it’s not a date and it is, he’ll be leading her on and letting her think that he’s interested in her, when he’s really not. Besides, the thought of being alone with Lila is…worrying, especially if this is how she touches him around other people. Time for a convenient excuse.

“Sorry, but I really can’t,” he ends up saying. Lila steps back and stares at him with wide, glossy eyes.

“Oh, I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable!” she says.

“My father just –”

“I understand. It’s okay. I shouldn’t have assumed – I’m awful – I understand if you don’t want to –”

“Uh, what?” Alix says from behind Lila, with Kim and Max beside her. “It’s nothing against you, Lila.”

“Yes, Adrien’s father is incredibly strict,” Max says. “There’s a ninety-nine-point nine percent chance that Mr Agreste wouldn’t allow Adrien to get ice cream with you.”

“Oh.” Lila’s shoulders slump. “I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions. I had no idea that your father was so strict!”

“Weren’t you protesting with us?” Kim says.

“Oh – yes, but I assumed his father was just angry,” Lila says. “I didn’t realise he was like that all the time! I’m so sorry, Adrien!”

“It’s fine,” Adrien says. Lila smiles at him and walks off. “Thanks, guys. I didn’t know what to do.”

“If you don’t want her to touch you, why don’t you just tell her that?” Alix says. “I mean, Chloé’s Chloé, but Lila would stop if you told her.”

“It’s alright,” Adrien says. “It’s not like I’m not used to it. People touch you all the time as a model.”

“Still doesn’t make it okay,” Kim says and flexes his arms. “You wouldn’t believe how many people wanna touch all this.”

“Absolutely no one,” Alix deadpans and Kim sticks his tongue out at her. Next to Kim, Max’s eyes flick away, and Adrien’s forcibly reminded of Marinette’s words to him as Chat Noir the other day about Max and Kim.

“Kim’s right,” Marinette says. “Just because you’re a model, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to tell people not to touch you! It’s your body!”

Adrien can’t help the smile that breaks free at his friends’ words. “Thanks, guys,” he says. “I just don’t know if I’ll be able to ask other people not to touch me.”

“That makes sense,” Max says. “Due to your father’s strict nature and refusal to consider your wishes, along with your modelling, the chance of his influence leading to your inability to vocalise what you want when you’re uncomfortable and therefore developing the unfortunate habit of putting up with your discomfort to make it pass faster is –”

“Alright, alright, come on,” Alix says, grabbing Max by the arm.

“But I haven’t finished my analysis!” Max protests as Alix leads him away. Kim snorts and follows.

“You know maths makes my brain hurt,” he’s saying as he leaves. Adrien, Marinette, Alya, and Nino are left in silence.

“Well,” Alya eventually says. “Trust Max to call you out like that.”

“I don’t think he realised that he might be making Adrien uncomfortable?” Marinette says. “I know I sometimes don’t think –”

“Actually, he didn’t,” Adrien says absently. “I think he’s got a point. I just don’t know what I’m going to do about it yet.”

“Yeah, not like I’ve been telling you that crap for months, dude,” Nino says dryly. “But sure, listen to the nerd with maths on his side.”

“No!” Marinette and Alya cry when a smirk spreads across Adrien’s face.

“Don’t fuck with me!” Adrien says. Marinette and Alya groan and grab Nino to make a run for it, so he chases after them, ignoring the people around them that are staring. “I have the power of God and Anime on my side!”

“Stay away!” Alya calls over her shoulder. “Keep your vines away from us, meme freak!”


“Fancy seeing you here, milady,” Chat Noir says when he lands on the rooftop behind Ladybug, who turns and greets him with a smile. “How did you know I liked afternoon strolls?”

“Just a lucky guess,” Ladybug says. “I’ve got a little after-school class to attend.”

“What a coincidence! So do I!” Chat Noir says. “In that case, allow me to escort you there.”

“I think you’ll find that I’ll be escorting you,” Ladybug teases and then jumps off again.

“Hey! No fair!” Chat Noir cries as he races after her. It’s a tight race to get to Master Fu’s, but Ladybug just edges out a victory and lands in front of the parlour a split second before Chat Noir, though he’s not too upset to have come second when Ladybug gives him a kiss on the cheek as a consolation prize and holds the parlour door open for him.

“Hello, Ladybug and Chat Noir,” Master Fu smiles when they enter the main room.

“Hi, Master!” Ladybug says.

“So, why are we here?” Chat Noir says. He sinks to the floor with Ladybug when Master Fu indicates that they should sit.

“I’m very proud of the partnership that you two have formed,” Master Fu says. “And of the progress that you have made as Ladybug and Chat Noir.” He pats the Miracle Box between them and adds, “I thought that it was time to teach you about the Miraculouses. You’ve certainly earned the right.”

“Looks like you were right about the afternoon class, milady,” Chat Noir says, and Ladybug giggles. This time, when Master Fu opens the box to reveal the colourful ring around the yin and yang symbol, more compartments spring open down the sides of the box in a descending spiral. Chat Noir’s eyes widen. Whoa! How many more Miraculouses are there?

“Aren’t they based on the Chinese zodiac?” Chat Noir says once he’s taken in the Rooster, Snake, Pig, and Dragon and noticed a certain pattern. Master Fu nods.

“This is the Chinese Miraculous set. There are other sets of Miraculouses with other bases, such as the Aztecan Miraculouses of life and death, but this is the only surviving box after my mistake,” he says. Huh. Must have been a real big mistake if these are the only Miraculouses left. But Chat Noir’s pretty sure that this isn’t the right time to ask about that.

“And…are they based on Wu Xing?” Ladybug says, pointing out the Fox, Bee, Turtle, Peacock, and Butterfly slots. “The Five Phases? Five elements?”

“Correct, Ladybug,” Master Fu says.

“My bugaboo is so smart!” Chat Noir says. Ladybug’s cheeks pinken.

“My mum’s Chinese,” she says, and Chat Noir files that bit of information away in his mental safe of Ladybug Facts. “I don’t know any dialects or anything, but…she did tell me a little bit about Taoism.”

“Each Miraculous corresponds to an element, with three tiers of power,” Master Fu says. “I won’t teach you about the zodiacs today, but I do want to talk about the elementals.”

“The Miraculouses don’t necessarily represent an element,” Wayzz chimes in. “There’s no “fire Miraculous” or “water Miraculous”. It’s more that they correspond with an element that represents their concepts. For example, I correspond with the element of earth!”

“Because earth is stable, right?’ Ladybug says. “And you’re a pretty wise and solid kwami.”

Wayzz beams at her words and nods. “Yes! I embody protection and defence, so my powers reflect that. The Butterfly corresponds with water because of the fluid nature of akumatisation.”

“How is akumatisation a good thing, though?” Chat Noir says. Master Fu doesn’t answer, instead tilting his head at them like he expects them to figure it out for themselves. To be fair, as a teacher, he probably is expecting that.

“No Miraculous is necessarily good or bad, right?” Ladybug says. “I mean, you’d think Chat Noir would be the bad guy, but his Cataclysm is invaluable when saving Paris. And I can think of so many ways someone could use mine for evil.”

“Then…if you had someone who was upset…” Chat Noir says slowly. “Someone who felt helpless…they could become an akuma, right? That’s what Hawkmoth does. But instead of making them supervillains…they could be superheroes?”

“Correct, both of you,” Master Fu says with a wide smile. “The Butterfly creates champions to fight alongside themselves and their allies. It doesn’t necessarily rely on emotion, though, as Duusu the Peacock kwami is the kwami of emotion. Rather, the Butterfly draws on injustice and the desire to right it, and it metamorphoses its target with the power to fix that injustice. Hence, Nooroo is the kwami of transition and metamorphosis, just as a caterpillar transitions into a butterfly, and just as water can transition between physical states.”

“And every akuma we’ve faced has felt wronged!” Ladybug gasps. “Ivan when he was bullied by Chloé!”

“Nino when he couldn’t throw m – Adrien a party!” Chat Noir says.

“Alya when Chloé got her suspended!”

“Alix when her watch was broken!”

“Mr Agreste when his book and brooch were taken!” the two of them chorus together. Ladybug’s bluebell eyes are glittering like she’s discovered the secrets of the universe, and Chat Noir would be utterly captivated if he wasn’t certain that he looked the same way. A small part of his brain laments that he can’t see her eyes in their true shade of grey, to know just how much prettier she could possibly be.

“Indeed,” Master Fu says. “The positivity or negativity of the emotion doesn’t matter. Someone could feel the righteous desire to do good and right wrongs and they would be just as able to be akumatised. I suspect that Hawkmoth targets those with negative emotions because it is easier to take advantage of them, to convince them to help him with the promise of getting to right the wrong that left them in their situation while their judgement is clouded. And injustice is very subjective to the person. What could be just to one person could be unjust to another.”

“That would explain the…odder akumas,” Ladybug says.

“It’s okay, you can say Mr Pigeon and Animan,” Chat Noir says, making Ladybug snort.

“And unlike the Peacock, which can amokise itself with no ill consequences, the Butterfly holder should not akumatise themselves,” Master Fu says. “The Peacock’s amoks are external, whereas the Butterfly’s akumas create internal change within the target themselves, and so a transformed Butterfly cannot affect themselves with an akuma. And akumatising themselves when not transformed, without the safety net of the holder’s control over the akuma, can potentially have harmful effects on their psyche. Only a truly desperate holder would akumatise themselves.”

“What kind of effects?” Ladybug says quietly. She bites her lip and shoots Chat Noir a look, clearly remembering back to their suspicions of Gabriel Agreste…but he wouldn’t akumatise himself! He can’t be that desperate, right?

“Impossible to say for sure, since there are almost limitless ways to akumatise someone. It could affect their grip on the world around them. It could affect their morality and how far they’re willing to go to achieve their goals. It could leave them with twisted flashbacks, or distort how they see their friends and family, or many more options that I couldn’t even begin to delve into. It depends on how they akumatised themselves.”

“Well, it can’t be Fa – Gabriel Agreste, then, right?” Chat Noir says almost desperately, like he’s pleading with himself. “He must have something to lose. Like his son?”

“That’s what I said to Tikki when I asked her,” Ladybug says. Chat Noir’s heart leaps at the reminder that Ladybug cares so deeply for him, even if it is his civilian self that she’s crushing on. In a way, it’s painful to know that she’s crushing on him but also not on him; it’s not like he’s had the chance to ask her out as Adrien, and he doesn’t know her civilian identity, so he can’t try and build a friendship and maybe eventually a relationship there.

“Can we keep going, Master?” he says to pull himself out of his swirling thoughts.

Master Fu nods and points at the Bee comb. “The Bee corresponds with the element of fire,” he says. “It’s a very passionate Miraculous and represents subjection and rejuvenation, just as the bee stings those it deems a threat in order to protect its hive and pollinates the land around it. Bees also represent growth, so Pollen’s ideal holder is someone who has much potential for growth to be coaxed out of them, to learn when to sting for the greater good and how to remain warm while not burning out of control.”

“Well, I wouldn’t make a good Bee, then,” Chat Noir jokes weakly. “Bugaboo sets my heart on fire.”

“Oh my god,” Ladybug mutters and shoves him. But her lips are twitching, and his heart is a little lighter, so he counts his joke as pretty effective.

“The Fox corresponds with the element of wood,” Master Fu says with a fond little smile at their antics. “Trixx pushes his holders to grow and adapt and change, just as wood branches out. The Fox represents illusion and manipulation, so its primary power of Mirage allows its holder to stay back and work from the shadows, involving themselves when necessary.”

“So, it shouldn’t go to someone aggressive?” Chat Noir says.

“It can,” Master Fu says. “So long as that person recognises the value of working from afar and withdrawing when needed. There are personalities that would not at all fit a certain Miraculous, but no Miraculous has only one type of person who would be compatible with it.”

“I may represent protection, but I’ve had some very aggressive holders before,” Wayzz chimes in. “And Pollen has had quite subdued and quiet holders that mirror herself, despite representing a Miraculous of passion. Some of Nooroo’s holders have been so empathetic that they were driven to help right all the injustices they could, while others were able to completely detach themselves from their target’s emotions and create champions for their cause with no emotional investment themselves.”

“But isn’t the Peacock about emotion? Ladybug says. “You just said that the Butterfly relies on emotion around injustice.”

“The Peacock and Butterfly are similar, yes,” Master Fu says. “They can both sense the emotions of those around them. But while the Butterfly uses its champions’ emotions as a catalyst of sorts to persuade them to come to the holder’s aid, the Peacock is emotion. Its primary power is amokisation, allowing it to summon a sentimonster based on the emotion of its target. It requires a soulful holder; someone who can truly delve into the depths of emotion and understand its complexity.”

“So…an akuma is based on what the holder wants, but an amok is based on what the target needs?” Ladybug says. Master Fu beams.

“Yes,” he says. “Subtle differences, but still differences nonetheless. The Peacock corresponds to the element of metal, so it is a very introspective Miraculous. The wrong emotion for your purpose can have…vastly different results than desired.”

“Sounds like there’s a bit of history behind that?” Ladybug says. Master Fu nods but doesn’t say anything, so she doesn’t push and neither does Chat Noir, not that it would be their place to do so anyway.

“All of the Wu Xing Miraculouses have a secondary power, and the Ladybug and Black Cat have quite a few more powers,” he says. “But it’s up to your kwamis to decide if you are ready to learn and understand them. Especially Black Plague.”

“The last time Plagg taught his holder Black Plague was in 1338, although the date of 1347 is far more widely known,” Wayzz says. It takes a moment for the significance of that date to hit Chat Noir, but his stomach suddenly churns when he grasps it.

“Oh,” he says weakly. Next to him, Ladybug has paled as she too realises. “That makes me feel good about myself.”

“Black Plague can be extremely useful in the right hands, under strict control,” Master Fu says. “That Black Cat wielder was…not the right hands. But Plagg has refused to teach it since, understandably.”

“And that’s the counterpart to my Miraculous Ladybug?” Ladybug says, and Master Fu nods.

“This is all so cool,” Chat Noir says. “And mind-screwy. I think my head’s going to explode.” But he’d totally take this over normal school any day. Especially because he gets to learn with his lady!

Actually, no, he probably shouldn’t jinx the whole normal school thing. Normal school, he enjoys; it’s just the stuff that all normal kids learn that can be a drag. Especially when he’s learning about Miraculouses right now!

“Should we discuss the Ladybug and Black Cat another day?” an amused Master Fu says.

“Yes, please,” Ladybug says faintly. “I think I need to take notes.”

“I can always tutor you, milady,” Chat Noir grins.

“Sure, kitty,” Ladybug drawls. “I’ll give you my notes, so you know what to teach me.”

“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Chat Noir says loudly, ignoring Ladybug’s giggle as he jumps to his feet, even though the sound fills his insides with warmth. “Thanks for the lesson, Master.”

“Thanks, Master!” Ladybug says. Master Fu smiles at both of them.

“Good luck, Ladybug and Chat Noir,” he says. “I don’t think I could have picked a better duo.”

Chapter Text

After a gruelling afternoon of dealing with an akuma that turned its victims into puffs of sentient pink smoke – not devastating, but certainly annoying – Marinette’s about ready to thank whoever’s out there that it’s the weekend and pass out until her mother comes to wake her for dinner. But just minutes after she faceplants on her bed with a groan, when she’s drifting off into the sandman’s realm, there’s a knock on her hatch door.

“Huh?” She looks up, blinking blearily, but there’s nothing there. Huh. Maybe a bird had divebombed into it or something. But before she can bury her face in her pillow again, there’s another knock. Definitely not a bird. What the hell could be knocking on her hatch door, then? The answer turns out to be a stray cat with drooping ears, who’s perched himself on one of her chairs when she sticks her head out to investigate.

“Hey, Marinette.” Chat Noir grins but it’s hollow. “Remember how you said I could drop by anytime? You mind if I take you up on that offer?”

“Yes! I mean – no, I don’t mind! Come on down!” Marinette ducks back into her room to let Chat Noir slip inside and close the hatch after himself. He shuffles to the end of her bed and then just sits there, cross-legged, trying to smile but only managing to look anything but happy.

“Shoes off inside.” Marinette blearily blurts out the first thing that comes to her mind.

“I would, princess, but the boots don’t exactly come off,” Chat Noir shrugs. Then he winces. “Sorry. You look like death warmed over. You were trying to sleep, right?”

“I’ll be fine.” Marinette immediately betrays herself by letting out an enormous yawn.

“I can go –”

“Don’t even think about it.” Marinette waggles a finger at him. “That offer is redeemable at all times. No exceptions. Even if I’m not here, you’re more than welcome to come in and curl up like a kitten, so long as you don’t go through my stuff. And just don’t tell my mum about the shoes thing.”

Chat Noir just stares at her with glistening eyes. Shit. Did she say something wrong? Before she can ask what she’d done, her vision is cut off by the dark leather of Chat Noir’s suit as he hauls her in for a tight hug.

“Thanks, Marinette,” he says into her hair. “Just…thanks. That means a lot.”

“Breathing also means a lot,” Marinette says into his shoulder, her voice muffled, so he lets her go and shuffles back. “Anything in particular you want to do?”

“Not really?” Chat Noir says. “I’m happy to follow the lead of my princess.”

“You know, I don’t know why I never told you to stop calling me that,” Marinette says. “And it’s too late now, isn’t it?”

This time, Chat Noir’s smirk is genuine. “Damn right, princess.”

They lapse into a comfortable silence, sitting on the bed together, until Marinette figures that she’s never going to get to sleep now and it would be a little creepy to try and sleep with a guy in magic black leather and spandex in her room.

“I might as well keep working on one of my designs,” she says. “Unless there’s something you want to do…?”

“Nah, I’m happy to chill here,” Chat Noir says. “Actually…I never really get to chill. There’s always something to do in my room. And my life.”

“Eww.” Marinette wrinkles her nose. “That must suck. There’s nothing better than just…doing nothing sometimes. Okay, if you’re sure.” She slides down the ladder to the floor, then pads over to her desk to grab her sketchbook and pencil so that she can sketch in her bed. It’s just a hunch, but she strongly suspects that Chat Noir doesn’t want to be alone right now, even if they’re still in the same room.

Once she starts sketching, she loses herself in her own world of colours and patterns and fabrics, drawing something and then erasing it and then testing out something else and nodding in satisfaction when that something else meshes and flows. When she blinks and looks up to give herself a little break, the first thing she sees is Chat Noir just…staring at her.

“Is something wrong?” she says. “Are you hungry? I can go get you some food. Or if you want to do something –”

“No, no,” Chat Noir says. “I’m fine. It’s just…relaxing to watch you. You’re mesmerising when you’re designing.” He mutters something else that could be, “Unlike Father,” but it’s so quiet and his lips don’t even move, so Marinette just brushes it off as her imagination.

“O-Oh.” Her cheeks grow warm. “Thanks? I don’t usually get in the zone like that when others are around. I’m so…hyperaware of them.”

“Well, I’m honoured, princess,” Chat Noir says with his toothy grin. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve just relaxed like this.”

“Good,” Marinette says. “Between superheroing and whatever it must be like when it’s tense at home, you deserve the break.”

“Oh, superheroing isn’t stressful at all,” Chat Noir scoffs. Marinette raises an eyebrow.

“Maybe not for you. You’re not the brains, after all.”

“I know you’re trying to offend me but you’re right.” Chat Noir shoots her finger guns. “Ladybug is the brains. I’m just the cunning, ultra-charming Chat Noir.”

Marinette can’t help but snort, though she manages to disguise it as a rather loud cough that has Chat Noir narrowing his eyes at her.

“Got something to say, Marinette?” he says.

“No, no.” This time, Marinette can’t hold back her laughter. “So long as you’re happy with the clown suit, who am I to judge?”

“Excuse me? The clown suit?” Chat Noir jabs a finger at her. “I sure wasn’t a clown when I was saving you from Evillustrator.”

“Mhm.”

“Will you just take me seriously already?”

“Why? You already admitted that Ladybug’s the brains.”

Chat Noir glares at her, though not with any heat, and then his bottom lip sticks out and he honest to god pouts. That’s when Marinette loses it and doubles over with laughter at the sight of her sulking kitty, pouting like a little kid.

“It’s not funny,” he says sullenly.

“Are you sure about that?” Marinette wipes the tears from her eyes, careful not to get her sketchbook pages damp.

“Hmph. Fine. I see how it is. I bet you’re just a Ladybug fangirl and she’s drafted you to make fun of me!”

Oh, if only he knew the truth. “Actually, I’m much more of a Chat Noir girl,” Marinette says, and Chat Noir’s cat eyes widen.

“What? No, no, I was kidding. You should totally be a Ladybug girl.”

“Too late,” Marinette sings. “I’ve been a Chat Noir girl from the start.”

“But why?” Chat Noir tilts his head. “Ladybug’s so cool. She’s gorgeous. She purrifies –”

“Chat, I swear to god –”

“– the akumas and fixes everything with her cure. All of Paris loves her. Why don’t you?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t love her,” Marinette says. “But she wouldn’t be half the hero she is without her Chat Noir there to have her back. And I’d think exactly the same thing if the roles were reversed. I guess you could say I’m a Lady Noir girl – and no, not the ship, so don’t get any ideas.”

There’s something akin to awe in Chat Noir’s eyes. Has…no one ever told him that he’s just as important? Sure, he may not take things seriously and leave the weight on Ladybug’s shoulders, but Marinette’s a hundred percent not lying when she says that she wouldn’t be able to do it without him.

“And why exactly do you think Ladybug wouldn’t be able to do it without me? Bugaboo is so ingenious that she can manage even when I’m brainwashed.”

“Sure, she can hold her own when it comes to the fighting,” Marinette says. “But what about everything else? What about the moments when there aren’t akumas and you two are on patrol? Remember that picture that Alya got of you two the other day? Where you two were goofing around on the rooftops? You really think Ladybug could handle all this alone without someone by her side to shoulder the emotional weight? I mean, sure, you could focus a bit more on the akumas instead of clowning around –”

Chat Noir sticks his tongue out at her.

“– but you’re there for her in a way that no one else is. You’re her partner, Chat, and she needs you. Maybe she even appreciates your goofiness when she’s not in the middle of trying to take down an akuma. I know that facing destructive akumas like Green Giant or brainwashing akumas like Princess Fragrance couldn’t have been easy, especially with the weight of fixing everything on her shoulders. But don’t you dare think that you’re not valuable, kitty cat. Ladybug loves you, even if it’s not romantic. I’ve seen the way she looks at you in pics and videos.”

Chat Noir doesn’t say anything after Marinette’s speech, leaving Marinette to squirm under his bright green eyes as he stares at her with a slightly agape mouth. Then he’s leaning over and grabbing her in a hug, squeezing her just like Adrien had done the other day, murmuring, “Thanks, Marinette,” into her hair while she pats his back awkwardly.

“Alright, alright, you’re getting fur all over me,” Marinette says, slightly breathless with how tightly Chat Noir’s hugging her. With one last squeeze, Chat Noir pulls away and pouts at her again.

“Excuse you, princess, but I happen to be very well-groomed,” he says, and Marinette snorts. “I totally am. You’d eat your words if you knew who I was under the mask.”

“Aww, but what a pity, you can’t tell me!” Marinette says with a sweet smile. “So, I guess I won’t have to eat my words, as delicious as they are.”

“Sugary sweet just like the little baker’s princess, huh?” Chat Noir says. Marinette reaches out and flicks his bell, her smile widening when he yelps and scowls ay her.

“Damn right, kitty. I’m sugar and spice and everything nice.”

Chat Noir doesn’t say anything in response to that, instead choosing to stare right at Marinette with his intense green cat stare. When he’s quiet for too long, Marinette opens her mouth to ask what’s up, but he gets in first.

“Thanks, Marinette,” he says. “Really. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

“I think I do,” Marinette says, but Chat Noir shakes his head.

“You really don’t. At home…I can’t tell you, you know, for identity reasons, but just knowing that I’ve got an escape…I mean, Chat Noir’s always been an escape, but running around alone in black leather only helps so much.”

“I can imagine,” Marinette says softly. Sure, putting on red spandex and swinging around Paris is a fantastic way to just get away when she needs it, but it still doesn’t fully help with her mad, swirling thoughts. Not like Chat Noir does. “Well, if you really want to keep yourself occupied, how about helping me with my Physics homework?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be one of the smartest kids in that class?” Chat Noir says with a suspicious little squint.

“Well, yes…but I could use a little help brushing up on a few things,” Marinette says. “That is, if you don’t mind.”

Chat Noir raising an eyebrow informs Marinette that she’s very much not fooling him as to the true purpose of asking him to help: to keep his mind occupied. But considering that it’s just as much for his benefit as it is for hers, he apparently chooses not to call out her horribly flimsy excuse.

“Sure thing, princess,” he says. “Grab your stuff and this dashing cat will help as best as he can.”

“That’s it, my grades are gonna drop,” Marinette says as she slides down the ladder to fetch her homework, stumbling on the last rung.

“Wow,” Chat Noir says. “Okay. Tell me how you really feel. Weren’t you the one asking me for help?”

“Only because I took pity on a poor stray,” Marinette says. As soon as she’s back up on her bed, Chat Noir shoves her backwards and plants a black-gloved hand on her chest.

“Say you’re sorry for hurting my poor feelings,” Chat Noir says with his roguish smile.

“Um…no.”

In response, Chat Noir’s hand applies more pressure, but not anywhere near enough to even begin to cause pain. It’s firm, albeit loose enough that Marinette could probably wiggle out if she really wanted to, but the playful light in Chat Noir’s eyes leaves her pinned to the bed far more effectively than his hand.

“And here I thought you were a pure princess,” Chat Noir says with a tone of exaggerated lament.

“Lucky me,” Marinette deadpans. When Chat Noir’s hand shifts ever so slightly, her brain makes itself very aware of the fact that the only thing separating his hand from her skin is a thin shirt and a black leather glove that seems to be radiating heat against the white material of her shirt. And yes, she doesn’t like Chat Noir as anything more than a friend…but try having a cute guy in black leather pin any teenage girl to her bed and expect her not to grow warm and fuzzy. She’s just going to choose to not acknowledge the fact that her crush on Adrien has been violently shoved to the backburner in this very moment, since she’s not too sure she wants to explore the implications of that.

“Oh.” With pink cheeks, Chat Noir releases Marinette, allowing her to push herself up and hastily fix her messy pigtails. “Uh – Physics! Right! Help you!”

“Very eloquent,” Marinette says, willing her racing heart to slow down already. Chat Noir gives her another roguish, lopsided grin.

“That’s me, princess. Eloquent as hell.”

“Sure,” Marinette drawls, then opens her notebook and flips to the worksheet of questions. “Now, how about you put that big brain of yours to good use?”

Chat Noir bows his head mockingly. “As you wish.”

“Oh my god, you did not just do what I think you did.”

Chapter Text

“And just where are you going?” comes an unwelcome voice as Adrien’s about to head through the front doors. He winces and turns to confront his father, who’s standing on the staircase as he always does when talking to Adrien.

“To get ice cream with my friends, Father,” he says. “You said I could.”

Next to Gabriel, Nathalie clears her throat. “You did, sir,” she says. “Adrien explicitly asked me to find a time when he had no obligations, and you gave your permission when I passed along his request.”

“Hmm.” Gabriel surveys Adrien with cold eyes. They’re grey, just like Marinette’s, but they couldn’t be any more different; while Gabriel’s are chilly and devoid of life, Marinette’s are like warm fire, blazing with the spirit and passion that’s present in everything she does. “How is your piano coming along?”

“I’ve mastered the piece you’ve had me play.”

“Chinese?”

“I got every single exercise right in my last lesson.”

“Fencing?”

“I’m still the best in the class. You can ask Mr D’Argencourt.”

Gabriel continues to stare at Adrien unblinkingly. Adrien holds his head high, willing himself not to gulp or shuffle or show any sign of weakness that his father can latch onto and turn against him.

“Be back by seven o’clock,” Gabriel finally says, and Adrien has to squash down the urge to shriek and start dancing a jig on the spot. “Not one minute later, or this will be your last outing.”

“Thank you, Father!” Adrien blurts out. “Um, what if there’s an akuma attack and I can’t get home?”

Something unidentifiable flickers across Gabriel’s face for a nanosecond. Then his face is smooth and blank as ever and he’s replying, “Then I expect you to hide appropriately and return home as soon as Ladybug and Chat Noir have defeated the akuma. I’m not unreasonable.”

Adrien’s sorely tempted to snort at that but considering that his father’s given him free reign for the evening, that’s probably the quickest way to get himself locked up in his room again. Instead, he smiles and nods and follows the Gorilla out to the limo so that he can meet his friends at the Trocadéro. Marinette, Alya, Nino, Ivan, Mylène, and Lila are already there when he arrives, and their faces light up in unison at the sight of his limo pulling up to the kerb.

“Adrien! Dude!” Nino gives him a bro hug once he makes it over to his friends.

“I’m surprised your dad let you out,” Alya says dryly.

“So am I,” Adrien says. “But I’m not gonna complain. Um, Lila, can you please not hang off me?” he adds when Lila tries to latch onto his arm.

“Oh! I’m sorry that you’re uncomfortable!” Lila says. “We’re just very physical in Italy. It’s how we show affection among friends.” She looks like she’s going to try and grab his arm again but thankfully, the looming presence of the Gorilla behind Adrien dissuades her, and so she settles for standing as close to him as she can without the Gorilla scowling at her. It’s still too close, but at least Adrien can breathe.

“We’ve got an escort?” Marinette says.

“Yeah,” Adrien says, “We can’t drive to find André, so he has to tag along. Is that…okay?”

“Sure!” Marinette smiles and waves at the Gorilla, but his face is as impassive as it always is. “So, guys, where’s André today?”

“The deal with André and his ice-cream cart is that you never know where he's gonna be!” Nino says, already tapping away on his phone. “You gotta follow his clues to find out where he's gonna set up!”

“The first time Mylène and I wanted André's ice-cream, it took us three hours to find his cart!” Ivan says and wraps an arm around Mylène with a laugh. “Do you remember?”

“Yeah!” Mylène chuckles in response.

“Hey! Someone posted a photo!” Nino cries. “He’s on his way to the Pont des Arts!”

“Let’s go!” Mylène grabs Ivan’s hand and takes off. Lila looks like she’s going to make a grab for Adrien again, so he turns to Marinette and hauls the surprised girl onto his back before she can react.

“Last one there’s a rotten akuma!” Adrien says and breaks into a sprint, carrying Marinette with him and leaving Nino, Alya, and the Gorilla to bring Lila. Okay, so maybe this is a little mean…but honestly, Adrien’s asked Lila not to touch him and he’s repeatedly made his discomfort obvious, so he doesn’t feel as bad as he thought he would for leaving her behind. Marinette’s giggling in his ear is just further proof that he’d made the right choice, especially because she’s got her arms and legs wrapped tightly around him to secure herself without constricting him and feeling him up, as Lila might have done. “Is this okay, Marinette? Sorry I didn’t ask you first –”

“Don’t apologise!” Marinette rests her chin on his shoulder, her hot breath ghosting across his skin as she continues to laugh, and he has to fight back the sudden shiver that threatens to break free and ravage his body. Huh? “I’m glad you’re having fun, Adrien.”

Being Chat Noir must be paying off, because Adrien’s surprised to find that he’s not tired in the least from carrying Marinette as they near the Pont des Arts bridge, where a fat, jovial man is singing in front of an ice cream cart. Ivan and Mylène are waiting, and the way they raise their eyebrows as Adrien draws level with them and sets Marinette back on her feet is…odd. Why are they looking at him like that?

“How sweet of you, Adrien,” Alya pants when she, Nino, Lila, and the Gorilla finally arrive just moments later. Lila looks very disgruntled, probably from being left behind, although Adrien can’t help but wonder if the way she’d directed her look at Marinette for a split second is just his imagination.

“It was a spur of the moment decision, honestly,” Adrien says, shooting a glance at Marinette. Her cheeks are flushed pink and for a brief moment, Adrien’s mind is drawn back to his visit last week, when he’d pinned her underneath him as Chat Noir. And okay, that had been a joke, but…why can’t he stop thinking about it, and why does he just want to touch Marinette every chance he gets?

“My name is André! André Glacier, the sweetheart matchmaker!” André sings nearby, ringing the bell on his cart. “With one scoop or two, I'll find love for you with magical ice cream flavours! My name is André! André Glacier, the sweetheart matchmaker! With one scoop or two, I'll find love for you with magical ice cream flavours!”

“Let’s go!” Alya claps her hands. “I wonder what flavours he’ll give us, Nino!”

Ivan and Mylène are the first to reach the cart, and André’s face lights up when he sees them.

“Striking young Ivan and dear sweet Mylène!” he cries as he starts to scoop up an ice cream for them. “Chocolate, praline, and white nougat for you! A special concoction to keep your love true!”

“I wonder what I’ll get,” Adrien whispers to Marinette as Alya and Nino approach for their ice cream.

“Ah, these two, I’ve never seen!” André says. “This is your first time here with me?”

“Yeah!” Nino and Alya laugh, taking each other’s hands.

“Probably candy cane, for your father’s tie,” Marinette says, and Adrien devolves into a coughing fit from the sudden bubble of laughter that shoots up into his throat. “Oh my gosh! Are you okay, Adrien?”

“He’s choking!” Lila gasps. “I know the Heimlich manoeuvre, but my wrist is –”

“I’m fine,” Adrien forces out, wiping his eyes. Even the Gorilla’s lips are twitching now that he’s sure that Adrien isn’t in danger. “I just – sorry, that was just hilarious.” How has he never realised just how funny Marinette is? It’s truly a delight to be around her now that she’s so open around him and can string together more than two words. If not for Ladybug, he might have liked Marinette –

Whoa. Wait. Where the hell did that thought come from? Marinette’s a very good friend and that’s all.

“Adrien next!” Alya says and pushes Adrien towards André, who beams.

“Ah, hello to you!” he says and twirls his scooper. “Let us see what André can do!” He starts to form the ice cream of Adrien’s heart in front of Adrien’s eyes, singing, “Strawberry chocolate chip, with blackberry for her hair and vanilla blueberry for her sweet stare!”

Ladybug? Is his ice cream Ladybug? Adrien’s heart races as André hands him the ice cream. The colours certainly match…but what does the vanilla mean? Does that stand for her grey eyes in her civilian form? If only he knew who she could be…

“And you, pretty young miss!” André says to Marinette as she draws level with Adrien. “I have the perfect ice cream to give you bliss! Lemon for his hair, peach pink like his lips, and mint for his eyes! Eat this, my dear, and your love will materialise!”

“O-Oh!” Marinette’s cheeks flush to the colour of Adrien’s strawberry ice cream as she takes the ice cream. “Um…thanks!”

“I wonder who that could be,” Alya drawls, and Marinette’s cheeks darken. Adrien blinks. Marinette’s in love with someone? Who could it be? Someone with blond hair and green eyes –

Wait. Is she…in love with Chat Noir? The blackberry ice cream in Adrien’s mouth nearly trickles out when his jaw drops, so he’s forced to turn away momentarily to swallow the ice cream and avoid turning into a mess in front of his friends. She had mentioned liking someone who plays video games and is associated with the colour green, and Chat Noir has green eyes…but how did she know he likes video games?

“Oh, Marinette, that’s so sweet!” Lila simpers. “I can’t believe your ice cream is Adrien!” She gasps and covers her mouth, while Marinette lets out a high-pitched sound and Alya, Nino, Ivan, and Mylène freeze. “Oh no! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to let that slip!”

“Wait,” says Adrien around his suddenly-swollen tongue. Oh. Oh. “Marinette has a crush on me?”

The ice cream tumbles out of Marinette’s hands and splatters on the ground, causing André to gasp. But before he can even attempt to make an ashen-faced Marinette another one, she lets out what sounds horrifically like a sob and turns to hightail it out of there.

“What the hell, Lila?” Alya hisses. “Why’d you have to go and do that to her?”

“I’m so, so sorry!” Lila wails, although Adrien can’t shake the nagging feeling that she’d deliberately let that slip. “I didn’t think – oh my gosh – I hurt Marinette! I hurt my friend! I’m such an awful person!”

“No, you’re not!” Mylène rushes to comfort Lila. “It was a mistake!”

“I’m gonna go after her,” Adrien says hoarsely. But Alya shakes her head and throws an arm out to stop him before he can move.

“You’re the last person she’ll want to see,” Alya says. “Just…trust me. Let her deal with it. I’ll go and let her cry it out on me in a bit.”

A drop of vanilla ice cream with a vein of blueberry drips onto Adrien’s hand, and he swallows and hands his ice cream back to André. “Thanks, but I think I lost my appetite,” he says.

“But –!”

Adrien shakes his head and takes off in the opposite direction to Marinette before André can try and convince him to stay, the Gorilla following immediately. Once he’s reached the bottom of the bridge stairs, he sighs and lets his shoulders slump.

“I think I want to go home,” he mumbles. The Gorilla nods and heads back for the Trocadéro where the limo is parked, and Adrien follows, lost in his swirling thoughts.

The sun’s nearly set by the time they get back to the mansion. For once in his life, Adrien’s grateful that his father’s nowhere to be seen, because it means that he’s able to make a quick escape to his room without being stopped and subjected to a thousand questions.

“Lila said that deliberately, didn’t she?” is the first thing out of Adrien’s mouth as soon as his bedroom door is shut.

“What do you think, loverboy?” Plagg drawls, wriggling his way free from inside Adrien’s shirt. “Every other person managed to avoid “accidentally” letting it slip.”

“But why? Why would she do that?” Adrien starts to pace, to try and sort out the chaos in his head. “She had to know that Marinette would be upset!”

“Maybe that’s what she was aiming for?” Plagg says with an eyeroll.

“She’s never been mean before, though. A shifty liar, yeah, but she hasn’t been outright nasty. Maybe it was a mistake?”

“Kid. Not everyone’s got a tragic backstory. Some people are just rotten.”

Adrien sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “I have to talk to Marinette. I have to make sure she’s alright. And I don’t want her to get akumatised because of it.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re the person she really wants to see right now.”

“Not Adrien, sure. Plagg, claws out!”

“Oh, come ooooon –!”

The best thing about being a dark superhero is that Chat Noir’s pretty much invisible as he bounds through Paris at night, so no one’s staring at him and pointing and speculating if there could be an akuma. When he makes it to the Dupain-Cheng bakery, his stomach starts to churn at the sight of a dark-haired figure leaning on the balcony railing with her head bowed, and for a moment, he just sits on his rooftop and stares and wonders why all he wants to do is squeeze her and never let her go. But then Marinette’s shoulders spasm, and Chat Noir’s in motion before he can even think about it, leaping over to perch on the railing next to her.

“Chat Noir!” Marinette jumps back with a hand over her heart. “You scared the hell out of me!”

“Sorry, princess.” Chat Noir attempts to smile, but all he can manage is a small twitch of his lips. Marinette immediately picks up on this.

“What’s wrong?” she says.

“Nothing.”

“Uh huh.”

“No, really, nothing’s wrong with me. I, uh…heard about what happened.”

“Oh.” Marinette crosses her arms and looks away. “Did my friends ask you to come and play therapist?”

“Your friends don’t even know I’m here,” Chat Noir says. “Well, most of them. Actually…Adrien asked if I could come and make sure you’re okay. He figured you wouldn’t exactly want to see him right now.”

“Wow, and I thought he was oblivious,” Marinette mumbles. But she turns back to face Chat Noir and unfolds her arms, and Chat Noir’s heart lurches at the sight of her cheeks glistening in the orange Parisian streetlamps. Did he really cause her that much pain? How had he never noticed before? The stammering, the nervousness around him…

“He is,” Chat Noir says with a little shrug. “He didn’t realise that till Alya told him. Uh, that’s what he said to me.”

Marinette snorts. But she gestures for him to jump down next to her, so that’s a good sign at least.

“I thought I was finally getting around my c-crush on him,” she says, hunching over the railing and using the balls of her feet to rock herself. “Ti – uh, a friend told me to focus on being his friend, to forget about asking him out, because that’s when I’d turn into a mess around him. And it was working! I still l-liked him, but I could actually talk to him. And then – then Lila said that, and the look on his face, and I just – it was like every nightmare I’ve ever had about being turned down, because I forgot that he didn’t actually know that I was crushing on him.”

“He doesn’t hate you for it,” Chat Noir says. “He’s flattered. Really. Or he wouldn’t have asked me to talk to you. So, um…what made your friend tell you that? If you don’t mind me asking?”

“I just realised a few things.” Marinette’s mouth twists in a way that doesn’t suit her at all, and Chat Noir would Cataclysm whoever she asked him to just to avoid seeing that distorted smile ever again. “Like when we got grouped with Lila for a class exercise and I got so competitive with her for Adrien’s attention. I didn’t like the person I was becoming just to get him to notice me. I realised that I was better off with him being a friend I could talk to instead of…you know, someone I couldn’t even function around. But I’m so glad I’m his friend. I still love how sweet and nice he is.”

“Sweet and nice. Sounds…generic.”

“Don’t be rude, kitty.” Marinette grabs the black-gloved hand resting on the metal railing. “I know everyone thinks he’s just some perfect little angel, but I know that he’s a sweet person! I know that when he really smiles, not his bland model smile, his eyes light up and his whole face smiles, not just his mouth! I know that he’s a lovely person when he could have turned out to be a mean jerk like Chloé – heck, I assumed that about him at first and I thought he was the one to put gum on my seat, until I realised that he’s everything Chloé isn’t! I know that he’s lonely and appreciates genuine friendship and heartfelt gestures over fake social status stuff, which is why I didn’t say anything when he thought the blue scarf I knitted for him was from his father, because I knew how much it meant to him to think it was from his dad!”

Chat Noir freezes, staring at Marinette with wide eyes and an open mouth. Is that really what Marinette thinks of him? Is that really how she sees him? And the scarf – the scarf that she’d knitted, it had been her, but she’d let him think it was from Gabriel just to make him happy, when any other person would have made sure he knew it was them? Dear lord. How has he never noticed just how amazing Marinette Dupain-Cheng is before now?

You made that scarf?” is the first thing he says when he finally finds his voice again. Marinette squints at him.

“You’ve seen it?” she says. “Wait…do I –” She cuts herself off, no doubt to refrain from asking if she knows him. Oh, if only she knew.

“You do,” Chat Noir shrugs. “But that doesn’t matter. I…” He pauses for a second to gather his thoughts and recall what Ladybug had said about him on the night of their interview, when she’d confessed her own feelings for Adrien. “I know Adrien, okay? Really well. And he hates it when people say they’re in love with him, because they’re not. They’re in love with…the bits of information they’ve got that they blow up in their own minds as some perfect image of him. They’re the people at school and around Paris who chase him and scream for him to marry them and give them his babies.” He gives Marinette an odd grin and adds, “Sounds like you’re a great friend of his, though, if you like him for who he is rather than for what he can give you.”

“Yeah. And I’m happy being his friend. At least now I can talk to him without stammering like an idiot.”

“That sounds absolutely adorable, purrincess,” Chat Noir teases. Marinette whines and leans over to punch him on the shoulder.

“Don’t make fun of me!” she says. “That’s the last time I talk to you!”

“Okay, okay, sorry!” Chat Noir says, holding his hands up in surrender. “For what it’s worth, I think he loves having such a cute friend like you.”

“Chat!” Marinette scowls, and she’s so adorable right now that Chat Noir can’t even. His mind traitorously reminds him of the bed thing, but he shoves that aside because he’s not going to think about that. “I – you can’t just say something like that!”

“I can if it’s true,” Chat Noir smirks. He takes her hand and kisses the back of it, and Marinette’s face looks like it heats up by about a thousand degrees. Ah, so his dashing cat charms are finally getting to her. The implications of how irrationally happy he is about that thought are something that he’s very firmly going to suppress, just like his emotions around his father.

“I – thanks for listening to me,” she finally says. “You didn’t have to let me dump on you.”

“Sometimes, it’s good to let other people help you,” Chat Noir says and nudges her. “And you helped me a lot, princess, not just tonight but every other time you’ve let me hang out here. You’ve helped me realise some stuff I needed to hear. And you’ve graced me with your ameowzing compurrny when I was feline down.”

“One more pun and I’ll push you off this balcony,” Marinette threatens, though she’s also grinning. Good. Sure, Chat Noir’s a serial punner, but he only tends to chain them like that when he’s trying to lift someone’s spirits, and it looks like he’s succeeded with Marinette.

“Don’t you know that cats always land on their feet?” he says.

“Science is all about experimentation, right?”

“Then you should fall with me. It wouldn’t be fair to just make a super handsome superhero fall off a balcony.”

“But I’m not a cat,” Marinette says with a triumphant jab of her finger. Chat Noir pretends to clasp at his heart.

“The princess has defeated me!” he cries, and his heart soars when that wrenches a giggle out of Marinette. A few moments later, he holds his arms out, waiting until she leans in before wrapping them around her, squashing her in a tight hug. She melts into the embrace and hugs him back, and her smell of strawberries and vanilla invades his nostrils, involuntarily relaxing his whole body like he’s been rolling in catnip. “You know…Adrien’s actually told me about you before.”

“He has?” Marinette moans into his chest. “He’s probably told you all about what a weird loser I am –”

“Actually, quite the opposite,” Chat Noir says. “Didn’t you listen to me, princess? And if he did say that, I’d kick his butt for you. No, he’s told me that you’re…sweet. That you’re always there with a smile and a hug and some homemade pastries when he’s having a hard time at home. That you’re so brave that you stand up to Chloé when no one else will. That…you’re one of his dearest friends, and he really appreciates you, even if he didn’t have feelings for you in return.”

“Oh,” is all Marinette can say faintly as she pulls away just enough to be able to see his face. Her grey eyes are dark in the glow of the streetlights, piercing but soft, and for the briefest of moments, she reminds Chat Noir so much of someone, but the thought slips away before he can latch onto it. “Um…yeah, he did tell me that he valued me as a friend.”

“Then stop doubting yourself,” Chat Noir says. “He wouldn’t say something like that if he didn’t mean it.”

“You’re right. It’s just…I guess I needed to hear it from someone else to confirm it. I hate my brain.”

“Well, I happen to like it. And the girl it belongs to.”

“Oh, stop it, you mangy flirt,” Marinette says, swatting his chest. He breaks the hug so that they can lean against her balcony side-by-side, though he keeps his arm around her. “Thanks, Chat. I think I needed that.”

“Anytime, princess.” Chat Noir squeezes her. “At least I can report to Adrien that my mission was a success.”

“Yeah, that’s the only reason you came,” Marinette drawls. “I think –” The balcony rumbles before she can finish her sentence.

“Look out!” Chat Noir grabs Marinette in a bear hug and yanks her away from the railing at the sight of the gigantic freaking ice cream snowman that’s stomping through the streets. The snowman slowly turns its head to look at them, raising its hand to aim right at their huddle, but just as Chat Noir’s preparing his baton to deflect an incoming attack, the snowman lowers its hand and thumps away.

Huh. Okay, then.

“Lila!” the snowman calls. “The breaker of hearts! Glaciator will turn you into a work of art!”

“André?” Marinette gasps. Suddenly realising how tightly he’s holding her to him, Chat Noir clears his throat and drops his arms.

“The sweethearts ice cream maker? He isn’t looking too sweet right now,” he quips.

“I don’t think he’s very happy with Lila either,” Marinette says. “You’d better go protect her, kitty cat.”

“It’s like you don’t want me here,” Chat Noir sniffs. Marinette rolls her eyes.

“You think I want to imagine you taking Lila for a moonlit stroll through Paris? Just go do your job.”

“So long as you hide in your room and don’t come out till he’s beaten.”

Marinette salutes and heads for her trapdoor. But before Chat Noir can bound off, she grabs his tail.

“Chat Noir?” she says. “Thanks for cheering me up. It means more than you think.”

“Well, after all the times you’ve let me impawse on you, it was the least I could do,” Chat Noir says. Marinette’s face falls flat at his pun.

“Get out of here,” she deadpans. Chat Noir grins cheekily and leaps off after Glaciator to find Ladybug and protect Lila, and a part of him wishes that it was Marinette he got to take for a moonlit stroll instead of Lila. Because Marinette’s his friend. And because he’s mad at Lila. That’s exactly it. Man, he’s so in-tune with his feelings. Him, oblivious? No way.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, best friend.”

Oops. Well, one can only escape from Alya Césaire’s determination for so long.

“Hi, Alya!” Marinette pastes a wide smile on her face. But she’s not fooling either of them.

So.” Alya loops her arm through Marinette’s, locking Marinette in place as they head into the school courtyard. Guess there’s no escape from this interrogation. “You’ll talk to Chat Noir but not to your best friend?”

“Huh? How did you –”

“Adrien called me last night. He ran into Chat Noir and asked him to check on you,” Alya says. Marinette bites back a growl. Adrien, that snitch. “But, you know, when your bestie gets there, you’re just too distraught to talk to her.”

“I…don’t know. I guess because you were there, but Chat wasn’t, so it was easier to talk to him about it. And after all the times he’s visited –”

“Wait. Hold the fuck up. Excuse me?” Alya skids to a halt. Marinette just grins sheepishly. Oops. “Since when has one of Paris’ superheroes been visiting you? Multiple times? And you didn’t even tell me, the Ladyblogger?”

“Because it would’ve ended up all across Paris, Miss Ladyblogger,” Marinette says dryly.

“Excuse me! As if!” Alya says. But she deflates when Marinette raises an eyebrow. “…Okay, yeah. I’ll give you that one. Anyway, Marinette, details. Now.”

Marinette sighs, but there’s no wriggling out of an interrogation with Alya the journalist unless either a) there’s an akuma attack, or b) she’s literally dying on the spot. So, she resigns herself to telling Alya all about her realisation after the group work with Adrien and Lila, her attempts to navigate being Adrien’s friend while dealing with her crush on him, Chat Noir’s occasional visits, and then what had happened last night. By the end of her tale, Alya’s eyes are as wide as golf balls.

“This is major!” she says. “Why didn’t you call me for all this Adrien stuff? I mean, sure, I love that you got to use a superhero as a diary, but I’m your best friend!”

“I’m sorry,” Marinette says. “I guess…well, after all the effort you put into getting me and Adrien together, I didn’t want to…let you down.”

“Excuse me?” Alya huffs. “Let me down? I was putting all that effort in to make you happy, girl, not because I got off on it or anything. You think I’d have been upset if you’d said you didn’t want to chase after him anymore? I’m with you no matter what, Marinette.”

Marinette smiles down at the ground before directing that smile at Alya. “Thanks, Al. I just…my head’s been a bit of a mess and I wanted to sort it out first, so I knew what I was exploding about.”

“That, I can accept,” Alya says. “But “not wanting to let me down”. Honestly, Mari, if I’ve sat through every single attempt to ask Adrien out and they didn’t let me down, I’m not sure what you think letting me down would involve.”

“True,” Marinette says just as they draw level with Adrien and Nino, who are sitting cross-legged on the ground next to one of the courtyard walls. She and Alya flop down next to them, and while Alya immediately snuggles into Nino’s side, Adrien waits until Marinette nods before he rests his head in her lap. Her stomach does a flip-flop, but she’s not in danger of melting into a puddle, and if Adrien’s choosing to act like everything’s normal between them and he hadn’t learned of her massive crush last night, well, Marinette’s not going to complain one bit.

“I can’t decide whether that’s the cutest or most sickening thing I’ve ever seen,” Alya says, then leans up to kiss Nino. Marinette raises an eyebrow.

“You were saying?” she drawls as she starts to rake her fingers through Adrien’s hair. Adrien makes an odd laugh-cough sound that has Alya narrowing her eyes at him, but that sound quickly morphs into a long purr when Marinette scratches a certain spot behind his ear.

“Did you just purr, dude?” Nino says.

“No!” Adrien bolts upright with pink cheeks. “Nope!”

“Uh huh,” Alya smirks. “Sure you didn’t. Speaking of purring –”

“I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Adrien says.

“– Mari, since you’ve got a new pet superhero,” Alya continues as though Adrien hadn’t spoken, “will we be expecting kittens anytime soon?”

“W-What?” Marinette splutters. For some reason, Adrien also reacts to Alya’s question by flushing a deep red and gaping like a fish. “Alya!”

“What?” Alya grins rather devilishly. “I mean, since you’re not going after Adrien anymore –uh, I mean –”

“It’s okay, I know,” Adrien says. Marinette makes an odd squeaking sound because how does he know that? “Uh – Chat Noir told me that she just wants to be friends. Because I asked if Marinette was okay last night after Glaciator attacked or if she was upset with me. I just wanted to be sure? Sorry if I overstepped…”

“I hate each and every single one of you,” Marinette says, wondering if it’s possible to boil her brain in her skull. “Except Nino. I’m adopting him.”

“If it means I get to live in the bakery, I got no problems with that, dude,” Nino says dreamily.

“I didn’t cross a line, did I?” Alya says, the teasing smile vanishing like smoke. “If I went too far –”

“No. No. It’s fine. I’m fine,” Marinette says. “If Adrien knows and he doesn’t care, tease away. But I’m still adopting Nino.”

“Like hell,” Alya says. “I got him first.”

“You can adopt me if you give me more head scratches?” Adrien says with a pout that might have made Marinette spontaneously combust before today, but now only fills her with pleasant warmth. He knows. He knows about her crush. And he doesn’t hate her! He still wants to be her friend! He’s even lying back down in her lap!

“So long as she gets to put a collar on you,” Alya says with her evil grin back in place. “Maybe she can even custom-make it Chat Noir style.”

“Alya!” Marinette whines, once again carding Adrien’s hair through her fingers as she leans against the cool brick wall behind her.

“What?” Alya says as she pulls out her phone and flicks through her notifications. She grimaces. “Ugh. That annoying Alternative News blogger’s trying to smear me again just because I’m willing to go out and get the footage. You know, instead of pinching off other sites and then whining that the quality’s always shit.”

“Hi, guys!” A beaming Lila bounds over to them. “Mind if I join you?”

Marinette, Adrien, and Nino exchange looks, while Alya’s so invested in her drama that she doesn’t even seem to have noticed Lila’s presence. Lila’s smile fades.

“I’m so, so sorry, Marinette,” she says. “I never meant to hurt you! I’ve never had many friends and I just wanted to tease you like friends do and, well, I guess I forgot that Adrien was right there. Do say you’ll forgive me!”

Marinette wants to say no. She really does. But that’ll only make her look like the bad guy at this point, so she just shrugs. Lila beams and throws herself down next to Marinette and pulls Adrien’s legs into her lap while he closes his eyes. Marinette wonders if she’s imagining the slight stiffness to Adrien when Lila’s got hold of his legs.

“That’s so cute!” Lila says when she realises what Marinette’s doing. She nudges Marinette and sidles even closer so that their arms are touching. Marinette’s about to slide away and cite personal space, but Adrien beats her to it when Lila leans over to try and stroke his hair too.

“No!” He hisses like a cat and curls himself around Marinette, cracking one green eye open to look at Lila. “Only Marinette.”

“Oh gosh, I’m sorry!” Lila says. “I shouldn’t have assumed! I just saw how happy you looked, and like I said, we’re very touchy in Italy –” Before she can finish her self-deprecating apology, she jumps up. “Never mind! See you in class, guys!”

“Is it just me, or does she make it all about her when she’s apologising?” Alya’s finally detached herself from her phone, just in time to catch the tail end of the drama.

“You noticed it too, babe?” Nino says. “Felt like she was trying to make Marinette feel bad.”

“I just don’t get her,” Marinette says. “She’s nice enough but…am I the only one feeling like there’s more to her than she lets on?”

“Definitely not.” Adrien pushes himself up and stretches with a groan. His shirt rides up and exposes a sliver of belly and even though Marinette’s trying to focus on being his friend rather than eating his face, she can’t help but look away with flaming cheeks. “She could just be scared of opening up. Or there could be more, because I don’t think last night was an accident. But I don’t think we can judge her until we know more about her.”

The four of them sit in silence for another minute or so, until Alya and Nino start to once again lean in closer.

“Okay, that’s our cue,” Adrien says. He jumps to his feet and offers Marinette his hand to help her up. “Wanna go for a walk and give them some alone time?”

“Yeah, go with him, Mari,” Alya says. “Both of you can go far away and get bent.”

Marinette sticks her tongue out at Alya, then follows Adrien just in time to avoid seeing the kiss that she knows is happening. The two of them escape to the courtyard’s staircase and huddle together on one of the steps, leaving enough room for people to get around them when heading up or down, and the feeling of Adrien’s arm pressed against her is probably going to make her spontaneously combust on the spot. But at the same time, why is there this tiny, nagging feeling that she’s somehow betraying Chat Noir by drinking in the physical contact with Adrien?

“Hey…sorry about yesterday.” Adrien finally shatters the silence that’s surrounding them like a bubble to keep out the chatter of the other students.

“Why are you sorry?” Marinette says. “Lila’s the one who ruined it, not you. I’m just glad to know you don’t hate me for my c-crush.” She gulps around the lump in her throat because there, she’s finally dropped the c-word to his face, and she ends up wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans.

“Wait, what?” Adrien says. “No way I’d hate you for the way you feel! I’m just glad to know why you were always so weird around me. Look…do you want to hang out this weekend? For real, since last night got interrupted? I’ve got a photoshoot on Saturday but I’m free on Sunday.”

“What if your father doesn’t let you?” Marinette says. “It must’ve been a pain to get out last night.”

“I’ll sneak out if I have to,” Adrien says immediately. “A certain friend told me that I need to stop walking on eggshells just to avoid upsetting my father because I’ve been worried about him since he became the Collector. My friend made me see that my freedom is worth more than letting my father dictate everything just because I’m worried that I’ll upset him. Part of it is keeping my head down so things don’t get worse but…that’s a reason and not an excuse, and just because I ignore what’s there won’t make it go away.”

“Your friend sounds wise,” Marinette says.

“He can be,” Adrien says with another little smirk that leaves Marinette feeling as though there’s an inside joke she’s missing. “When he’s not being a brat about everything.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were still talking about Chat Noir,” Marinette teases, giggling when Adrien rolls his eyes at her and crosses his arms.

“He can be mature and wise,” Adrien says with an honest to god pout. “But the way he gets to be so free when he’s jumping through Paris is…inspiring. He helped me see that Father’s always going to control my life no matter what I do and that I’ve got good friends who are worth sneaking out for. I guess he helped me realise what I do have rather than what I don’t have.”

“Wow,” Marinette says, at a loss for words. There’s still so much she doesn’t know about her partner and while it’s partly her fault for insisting they not talk to each other about their private lives, she’s also certain that this is the best option for now. She already cares so much about him, so if his civilian identity was someone like, say, Nino or Adrien, she’d probably spend all battle worried sick about him and maybe even slip up in the heat of the moment. “I never knew Chat Noir had that side to him.”

“Not too many people do,” Adrien says. “So…do you want to hang out on Sunday? We don’t even have to go out anywhere if you don’t want to. I…really like your house. It was so cosy and warm when we trained for that gaming tournament.”

Marinette’s cheeks heat up at the fact that Adrien had literally just said to her face that her home is awesome. “I – sure! I’d show you fashion design but of course you know all about that, since you’re a model and all.”

“We’ll think of something. I’m just super happy that you actually like me and want to hang out with me.” Adrien looks like he’s made of pure sunshine, so brilliantly bright that he melts Marinette into goo on the spot. “Hold on…you could come to the photoshoot on Saturday! It’s really boring, so only if you want, but you did design that hat that Father liked and you did just say that you’re into fashion design, so it might be something that interests you.”

“Really?” Marinette tries to process the fact that she’s got an actual invitation to be there with his knowledge instead of awkwardly skulking around to look like she’s not watching. She tries not to wince at how…cringey she was. Tikki would totally scold her for thinking that and say that she’s just a teenage girl making mistakes and figuring things out but…still. “You’d actually want me there?”

“Of course,” Adrien says. “It might be nice to have a friend along. I can text you the details. So long as it doesn’t cause schedule conflict, Nathalie won’t care. I can –”

“Ugh, move!” Chloé shoves past Marinette, despite having plenty of room to climb the stairs, even with Sabrina right behind her. Marinette yelps and would’ve plummeted face-first if not for Adrien rushing to grab her and pull her back.

“Thanks,” Marinette says breathlessly.

“No pawblem,” Adrien grins, and she groans. “I guess I just have cat-like reflexes.”

“Well, at least you know your place, Dupain-Cheng. Beneath me.” Chloé scoffs. Her whole face changes when she turns to Adrien, and she bats her eyelashes and coos, “Hi, Adrikins! When you get tired of hanging out with this baker’s daughter, come and find me, okay?”

“God, she makes me so mad,” Marinette growls once Chloé and Sabrina are gone. “I don’t even know why she still gets to me! It’s so – so old!”

“I’m sorry,” Adrien says. “I should’ve said something. I know I said I’d try and stand up to people but…the thought of telling Chloé off scares me.”

“You’ve done it before,” Marinette says. “Remember when my uncle was akumatised?”

“Yeah. I know. But that’s…different.” Adrien sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “If I push her too hard, she could decide I’m more trouble than I’m worth. And I know I’ve got you and Nino and Alya but…I just…”

“The thought of anyone leaving you is terrifying because it feels like you weren’t good enough?” Marinette says softly. Adrien just grimaces and shrugs, so she holds her hand out and lets him make the move to take it and lace their fingers together. “I get it. I don’t like it, but I do get where you’re coming from. Um…how did you and Chloé even end up friends? And how are you both so different? You’re both rich and…well, you know, you both live with your dads, but you’re so nice and she’s so…”

“It’s…not really my place to say.” Adrien scratches the back of his neck.

“Oh! Then you don’t have to tell me!” Marinette babbles. “Really, I’m just poking my nose in –”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Adrien says with a small laugh. “I can tell you how we ended up friends. I just can’t tell you anything about Chloé’s mother unless she says I can. It’s not for me to say. All I can say is…I only lost my mother recently, so she was around for most of my life.”

“I get that,” Marinette says. All anyone knows is that Chloé’s mother is world-famous fashion critic Audrey Bourgeois – a fact that Chloé loves to parade around when she feels that being the mayor’s daughter isn’t enough of an advantage – but no one knows why Audrey doesn’t live in Paris with her husband and daughter.

“Father was actually found by Audrey Bourgeois when he first started designing. She helped him make a name for himself. And…she was my mother’s friend. That’s why Chloé’s my childhood friend: our parents knew each other since before we were born. And I know she’s not the nicest person but…she was all I had for so long. I don’t want to lose all those years where she was the only friend I was allowed to have because my parents didn’t want me out in the real world.”

“True friends call each other out when they’re wrong,” Marinette says. “Alya always tells me if I mess up. If Chloé hates you because you make her take responsibility for her actions, then she’s not really your friend. Sometimes…the right thing is the hard thing, and you just have to do it, even if that means losing those years of friendship. And I’m not saying that because I don’t like Chloé,” she hastens to add. “Part of why I love Alya so much is because she doesn’t sugar-coat things, so I know I can trust her to help me be a better person.”

“Yeah…” Adrien says.

“It’s not just that Chloé’s not a nice person. I’ve met a few people who weren’t nice but were also good people. She’s a bully, Adrien. She made my life so miserable for four years before now. I didn’t have any friends before Alya because Chloé made sure of that. I’m not telling you this because I want you to stop being her friend. I’m telling you this because you’re the only person she’ll listen to.”

“Well…I’ll try. I just haven’t stood up to anyone since my father was akumatised. I don’t want to make him more upset than usual. I’m still not sure he’s forgiven me for borrowing his book and brooch.”

“Feels like you can’t ever make him happy,” Marinette mutters, then she gasps. “Did I say that out loud? Crap, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to badmouth your dad in front of you –”

“Hey, no, don’t apologise!” Adrien squeezes her hand. “I appreciate knowing that you care. Just don’t say it in front of him, okay?”

“I make no promises,” Marinette says, trying to calm down her racing heart because holy shit, she’d just badmouthed her fashion idol in front of his son! “There’s a quote by Majestia that Alya told me on our first day of school that’s stuck with me: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing”. What it actually means is that I can’t seem to keep my big mouth shut when I need to.”

“Well, Ladybug can’t either, but everyone loves her for it,” Adrien says. “Although probably only Ladybug could get away with saying that to Father’s face, so I’d probably not do that unless you were secretly her or something.”

Marinette swallows. Oh, if only Adrien knew.

“Which is partly why I was in love with her, you know?” Adrien says, and that makes Marinette’s breath freeze in her lungs. “She’s just so…strong and independent but she’s also kind and gentle. You can tell she loves Paris and her job and she’s not just doing it because she has to or for the attention. I just love how she cares.”

“O-Oh,” Marinette forces out. “You were in love with her?”

“I still love her,” Adrien says. “I don’t think those feelings will ever fully go away. But I’m trying not to be in love with her anymore, so I can be a good friend without focusing on trying to make out with her – uh, if she ever wants that…you know, if that makes sense?”

“Yeah. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That, um…pretty much sums up how I feel about you.”

Adrien smiles and nudges her. “I’m flattered. You’re a great girl, Marinette. Whoever you end up with is gonna be so lucky to have you. So long as they can get through me first.”

“Oh, ha, ha.” Marinette rolls her eyes. “I don’t need you to defend my honour. Chat Noir would probably get in first.”

“He would, wouldn’t he?” Adrien says thoughtfully. Before Marinette can reply to that, the school bell rings, and both she and Adrien reflexively jump to their feet and laugh at the same time.

“Oh – right – we should get to class,” Adrien says.

“Yeah!” Marinette says. “For once, I’m not late!” She falls in step with Adrien and they dash down the stairs to their classroom’s corridor, laughing and weaving around the gaggle of students also swarming inside.

Chapter Text

“Which one should I wear to the photoshoot?” Marinette holds up two tops she’s designed but has never gotten the chance to wear. One of them is a loose, pale pink T-shirt with small black feathers embroidered across the stomach, while the other is a scarlet top that leaves one shoulder bare, paired with a black skirt. Alya’s face scrunches as she surveys both outfits, circling around Marinette to examine her as well.

“What would you wear with the pink top?” Alya says. “Because I’m kind of digging that one. It’s cute and sweet without making you look childish, and it doesn’t make you look like you want everyone to stop and take notice of you. Which isn’t a bad thing,” she says with a smirk, “but you don’t want to upstage the model, do you?”

Marinette pokes her tongue out as she carefully drapes her clothes over her chaise lounge, then heads for her closet to find something to wear with the pink top. “Well, I’d really love to wear those shorts I bought last summer, but it’s not warm enough.”

“Why not?” Alya says. “Just wear leggings. Then you can wear those beige boots you like.”

“They’re cream, not beige,” Marinette says, grabbing the pale blue denim shorts and a pair of black tights. She returns to Alya, who’s holding up the pink top, and she hums as she looks over the outfit as a whole. “I like it.”

“And I bet a certain someone will like it too,” Alya says, nudging Marinette. Marinette just rolls her eyes.

“Maybe that would’ve worked before, Alya,” she says. “But not anymore!”

“Aww, shame,” Alya says. “It was fun in a best friend kind of way.”

“Oh, go make out with Nino,” Marinette says. Alya gives an exaggerated gasp and clasps her hands over her heart.

“The pain! The betrayal!” she cries, collapsing back onto Marinette’s chaise lounge. “I am undone!”

“Darn right you are,” Marinette says. Alya rolls her eyes.

“Just hurry up and get dressed,” she says. “The photoshoot starts in an hour and you only got out of bed half an hour ago.”

Marinette sticks her tongue out again, but she obeys Alya’s instructions and quickly changes while Alya turns her back and changes as well. Although they wouldn’t be spending that Saturday hanging out like they normally do, Alya had still agreed to sleep over on Friday night, which Marinette is grateful for because she no doubt would have slept in and started panicking and tripping without Alya there to keep her on track.  Once she’s dressed, she pulls her hair up in a bun and, for good measure, sticks a pencil through it, both for the aesthetic and in case she needs a spare pencil while at the shoot. She grabs her usual shoes, her design sketchbook, and her purse, surreptitiously making sure that Tikki’s safe inside her purse, and heads downstairs with Alya.

After breakfast, they slip their shoes back on and dart out of the bakery with a quick goodbye to Marinette’s parents to head to the park, where Adrien’s photoshoot is taking place. The crew is setting up their equipment when the girls arrive and Marinette falters, her heart rate starting to pick up as she’s bombarded with memories of all the times she’s tried to sneak around and watch Adrien’s photoshoots. What if she starts being awkward? What if she stares too hard at him and looks creepy and gives off the wrong message by looking like she’s obsessed with him when she really is over her crush –

“Marinette.” Alya gently shakes Marinette’s shoulder. Marinette jumps about a metre in the air with a small shriek. “You got this, girl. He invited you, remember? He knows you’ll be there, and he wants you there.”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Marinette lets out a small, anxious laugh and runs a hand through her fringe to push the hair out of her eyes. “You’re right. I just –”

“Marinette!” From within the crowd of people setting up for the shoot, Adrien emerges as if out of nowhere. She’s assaulted by his warm scent as he gives her a quick hug. “You came!”

“Of course she did,” Alya smirks. “Miss Fashion Designer here wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Marinette rolls her eyes at Alya, whose smirk widens.

“Nathalie’s got a seat for you close enough to give you a good view but not too close that you’ll be in the way,” Adrien says. “I’m surprised she actually agreed to it.”

“Well, that’s my cue to leave,” Alya says when Adrien gestures back at the crew, who have nearly finished setting everything up. “I promised the little devils I’d treat them to a girly day today. Face masks and mani-pedis and all.” She backs away to wink and shoot finger guns, then turns and walks off normally.

“Is it okay if I sketch?” Marinette says, holding up her notebook as Adrien leads her to her seat. “I don’t want to look like I’m spying or anything –”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that,” Adrien laughs. “If this was a bigger, more important shoot like that then you wouldn’t have been allowed to come. I’m just modelling for a magazine interview.”

“That’s good to know,” Marinette says. “How embarrassing would it be if I got kicked out?”

“Not nearly as embarrassing as it’d be to be one of those overenthusiastic fans who get chased off,” Adrien says. “I don’t mind them, but the whole crew gets annoyed when they get in the way. Then everyone’s in a bad mood.”

Marinette forces herself to laugh through the icy water that douses her insides. She’s becoming more and more convinced that refusing to focus on her crush is the best thing that could have happened to her. Would she still be one of those overenthusiastic fans? She was never really starstruck by Adrien the model – one thing she’s certain of is that her crush was genuine and on Adrien her friend – but even she can admit that the giddiness and desire to be close to him resulted in some…rather enthusiastic actions.

“Here.” Adrien’s voice cuts through Marinette’s whirlwind of thoughts. She blinks and shakes her head, realising that Adrien’s stopped next to a black folding chair and is gesturing to it. “You’ll be able to see everything, but you won’t be in the way.” He leans in and, rather conspiratorially, whispers, “Just don’t cross Vincent. He can be a real monster when he’s trying to make everything go smoothly.”

Marinette giggles. Over Adrien’s shoulder, she catches sight of the photographer barking out orders to the crew finishing the set-up, and she wonders just how much of Adrien’s words are an exaggeration.

“Adrien.” Nathalie’s standing next to them in the blink of an eye, seemingly out of nowhere. “You need to go and get ready now or the shoot will run late.”

“Okay, Nathalie,” Adrien says. He smiles at Marinette. “Have fun! Well, as much fun as you can have sitting there and watching me make faces at a camera.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be amused,” Marinette teases. Adrien laughs and heads for the makeshift changing room, leaving Marinette alone with Nathalie.

“Adrien’s happiness is the only reason I allowed you to accompany him, Miss Dupain-Cheng,” Nathalie says. “But if you prove to be a distraction, I won’t hesitate to have you removed.”

“Of course, ma’am!” Marinette hastens to say. She holds up her sketchbook. “I’ll just be doing some drawing. Adrien thought I might get some inspiration here, so that’s why he asked me to come.”

“Hmm.” Nathalie looks down at Marinette over her glasses. “Yes, I remember. You designed the winning hat in Mr Agreste’s contest. And you clearly have at least passing knowledge of fashion design, since you discredited Miss Bourgeois when she plagiarised your design.”

Something in Nathalie’s voice rubs Marinette the wrong way. She draws herself up tall and says, “If you’re implying that I’m using Adrien for his connections, you’ve got the wrong idea entirely, ma’am. Adrien invited me along as a friend, since no one else is interested in fashion like I am. I proved during the contest that I’m good at designing, and Mr Agreste didn’t know who I was then.”

Nathalie’s expression doesn’t change at all. Marinette just stays silent and waits for Nathalie to make the next move. Honestly, she’s not even sure of what else to say; it feels like one wrong move will give Nathalie the justification she seems to be looking for to cement a negative judgement of Marinette, although Marinette can’t possibly begin to discern her motive. Maybe she’s just protective of Adrien in her own…cold way.

“Make sure you stay in your seat,” Nathalie finally says. “If you need something to eat or drink, the refreshments table is there. Do try to stay out of the crew’s way.”

“Okay,” Marinette says, then figures that there’s no harm in trying to at least put Nathalie in a semi-good mood. “Thank you for letting me be here, ma’am. I know that you’ve just got Adrien’s best interests at heart.”

Nathalie doesn’t say anything to that, but she doesn’t look annoyed or any blanker, so Marinette figures that she didn’t make a bad move. After a moment, Nathalie walks off, and Marinette sinks down in her seat and opens up her sketchbook. Hmm. Maybe she’ll design a skirt to go with this top. She’s only just branched out into designing clothes from only designing accessories, so she’s not as skilled yet, but she rather likes how this shirt has turned out.

“There he is!” announces an Italian-accented voice. Marinette looks up to see Adrien heading for the fountain, dressed in a white button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows and black pants; it’s simple but very dashing, and Marinette’s stomach flip-flops so hard that she almost flails herself out of her chair and she has to settle for stimming by kicking her feet to keep herself focused on her sketchbook. Hmm. She could design something with a black and white base, with a splash of colour to bring it all together. Maybe a dress. Should the motif be feathers, like on her top? She could possibly make some sort of dichotomous theme out of that with the black and white.

The next time she looks up, still idly kicking her feet to maintain her focus, Adrien’s got a wide smile pasted on his face as he poses for Vincent. When he meets her gaze, his smile softens into something more genuine and his eyes crinkle.

“That’s it!” Vincent declares, frantically snapping away. “The joy! The passion! The love in those eyes for Mamma’s spaghetti!”

Marinette’s cheeks warm slightly and she looks back down at her sketchbook. Vincent must be living on a different planet, because there’s no way any of that had been present in Adrien’s eyes just then.

The sound of screaming jolts her out of her thoughts. Her head darts up, only to see a huge, amorphous blob oozing its way towards the photoshoot. Whatever happens to be in its path – object or person – is sucked into its purple-black, jelly-like body instantly upon contact. Literally the only distinguishable features it possesses is a pair of eyeballs squished into its…uh, ‘face’ at the top of the blob, along with a thin line that has to be a mouth of some sort.

“What kind of an akuma is that?” Marinette exclaims. Her heart leaps into her throat when she sees that not only is it headed straight for the photoshoot, but it’s also on a course right for Adrien!


It was supposed to be a normal photoshoot. Just a usual Saturday! But now there’s an akuma – a blob – really, what is it? – heading straight for Adrien, although it might just be aiming for the photoshoot in general.

“Go! Run!” he shouts at Vincent and the rest of the crew, who are frozen in place as the blob approaches. His voice seems to snap them out of their trance, and they scream and start bolting in all directions like a pack of jumpy rabbits.

“Adrien, we have to go.” Nathalie’s by his side in a heartbeat with Gorilla, who reaches out to grab Adrien by the arm.

“But Marinette!” Adrien’s head whips around, trying to find where his friend is. She wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t invited her – she’s his responsibility – and if the akuma gets her –

“Your safety is our priority,” Nathalie says with a calmness that doesn’t suit the situation at all.

“Marinette’s should be too! She’s my friend!”

“She’ll be fine. Ladybug and Chat Noir will appear and defeat the akuma and save everyone.”

“Then why are you nagging me to get out of the way, if it’ll all be fine?”

But they’ve been arguing for too long, and the akuma is now only scant metres away. Adrien tears his arm away from Gorilla and shouts, “Marinette!” Before he can react, he’s being picked up by bulging arms and quite literally thrown across the grass, resulting in him rolling and coughing to a stop a short distance away from the akuma. His saviour turns out to be Gorilla, who is consumed by the akuma with Nathalie only seconds after sacrificing himself to buy Adrien a little more time and distance.

“No!” Adrien reaches out towards the akuma, as though this will be enough to save Nathalie and Gorilla; as though he’s Chat Noir, with Cataclysm at the ready, about to turn the akuma into dust. His shout has drawn its attention, and it turns to look at him with its beady eyes before oozing in his direction.

“Hey!” shouts a beautifully familiar voice. Behind the giant blob is Marinette, with her feet planted wide and her hands clenched in fists by her side. Her face is red, although Adrien can’t tell whether this is from anger or breathlessness, and a few strands have pulled loose from her bun to fall over her fringe and into her face. “Get away from him!”

“Marinette, what the heck are you doing?” Adrien says. His heart starts hammering in his chest when the blob’s eyes literally pop into the back of its head to stare at Marinette, who’s nothing less than an immoveable force under the akuma’s scrutiny. “Run!”

“You run, Adrien! I’ll be fine.” Marinette jabs a finger at the akuma. “Now, you listen to me! Don’t you touch him – don’t you even look at him – and if you hurt him, I’ll find Hawkmoth and I’ll march straight over there and take his Miraculous myself! No one hurts my friends!”

Dead. Adrien has to be dead, because that’s the only explanation for why his heart has utterly flatlined in his chest and refused to beat any longer. Either that or it’s beating so fast that it feels like it’s not beating at all. Looking at Marinette is like looking through a pink haze, where the sunlight has caught around her edges and illuminates her like some sort of angel sent from Heaven. She’s…glowing. Radiant. How has he never noticed before?

“Adrien, get out of here!” Marinette’s musical voice pierces the fog in his mind. He shakes his head and refocuses on her just in time to see her pick up a branch and toss it at the akuma, who consumes it as soon as it touches the purple-black jelly. “Hide until Ladybug and Chat Noir take care of this thing!”

Adrien automatically obeys and clambers to his feet. He’ll do anything Marinette wants with that voice. “What about you?” he manages to croak.

“I’ll be fine.” Marinette tosses a rock at the blob as it begins to advance on her. “I can take care of myself. Just go!”

Adrien wants to argue, but the feeling of something small shifting in his jacket stops him in his tracks. Plagg! That’s right! He may not be able to do anything now, but if he can get away, he can transform. He can whisk Marinette out of harm’s way and make sure that the akuma never even lays eyes on her again. So, he obeys Marinette and bolts towards the nearest clump of trees so that he can transform, looking over his shoulder to see Marinette nimbly leaping away from the akuma in an erratic pattern while it tries to match her and consume her.

“Plagg, we have to get Marinette out of there!” Adrien says when Plagg wriggles his way out of the pocket he’s been snoozing in. Just saying Marinette’s name makes Adrien shiver and his insides turn to goo, just like whenever he sees Ladybug.

“About time,” Plagg comments with an odd smirk. Adrien can’t possibly begin to figure out what that’s supposed to mean.

“Huh?” he says.

“Oh, never mind. Just hurry up and transform so you can save your girlfriend and I can get back to sleeping.”

“My – Plagg, she’s not – she’s my friend!”

“Uh huh.”

“Claws out!”

Chapter Text

Once the green light from his transformation has washed away, Chat Noir extends his baton and takes a flying leap out of the copse of trees to where Marinette is still narrowly evading the akuma and hurling random objects at it. More hair has fallen out of her bun, her denim shorts and pink shirt are splattered with dirt, her narrowed grey eyes are blazing, and Chat Noir’s never seen a more beautiful thing in his life. He could quite happily die right now after having witnessed such a heavenly sight.

Marinette’s luck runs out just before Chat Noir reaches her. She stumbles on a stone and crashes to the ground with a yelp, with the akuma looming over her and ready to swallow her whole. And Chat Noir will be damned if he lets that happen.

“Hope you don’t mind if I swoop in, princess,” he says as he lands next to her and scoops her up in his arms. With a smug glance at the akuma, he bounds away and covers the distance to the merry-go-round in just a few seconds. The blob starts to follow, but it’s a slow wall of death compared to an agile superhero and so there’s plenty of time for Chat Noir to make sure that Marinette’s safe.

“Chat Noir?” Marinette says when he deposits her on her feet. “Where’s Ladybug?”

“I’m sure milady’s not too far away.” Chat Noir takes her hand and bows to kiss the back of it. “You just need to worry about getting as far away from that thing as possible. I don’t know whether you’re super brave or just have no self-preservation instincts, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Marinette deadpans. “You saw all that?”

“Nah. Adrien told me that you held it off to give him time to get away.”

“He’s safe?”

The concern in Marinette’s eyes makes Chat Noir’s stomach writhe and dance. What the heck is going on? “Yep. Safe as can be. I dropped him plenty far enough from the akuma. Which is exactly where you need to be, princess.”

Somehow, there are still civilians who haven’t yet realised that there’s a blob akuma trying to eat everything. Screams from the other side of the park make Chat Noir curse and whip around.

“Go,” Marinette says when he looks back at her, biting his lip. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Chat Noir says. Marinette gives him a small smile.

“I’ll go find somewhere safe,” she says. “But your duty’s to Paris, not one civilian.”

What if you’re my favourite civilian? is what Chat Noir’s tempted to say. But Marinette’s right: he can’t prioritise her above his job. So, rather than whisk Marinette away to where no one will find her like he wants to do, he winks at her and leaps back towards the akuma.

“Well, someone’s had one too many croissants,” he quips when he lands between it and the civilians it’s advancing on. The people gasp and make a beeline in the other direction. “I mean, I know that anything Dupain-Cheng is the cat’s meow, but really.”

“Chat, stop playing with the akuma,” says a voice from behind him. For a split second, it sounds like Marinette’s come back to scold him, but then bright scarlet moves into his vision next to him and he’s joined by the love of his life.

Except –

Except that the leap of his heart is subdued. The mere sight of his lady is still enough to make him smile, but she just…doesn’t look nearly as radiant as Marinette.

“Would you prefer I play with you instead, milady?” he teases. In response, she smirks at him and reaches out to flick his bell.

“How about we play together?” she says, cracking her knuckles. “You can be my player two.”

“But of course, bugaboo.”

The akuma’s surprisingly easy to take down. Ladybug’s Lucky Charm gives her a scuba mask and oxygen tank, which she has Chat Noir use to invade the blob by letting it consume him. It’s sticky and dark and he needs the flashlight in his baton to see and – yeah, Chat Noir’s going to need a long bath after this, and he’d really rather not consider the implications of needing this oxygen tank to breathe when the blob’s other victims have nothing of the sort. Thank god for Miraculous Ladybug.

Once he’s at the blob’s heart, Chat Noir finds the akumatised object: a little sewn doll with a missing arm and a head half-full of stringy hair. Does that mean that this akuma is a child, just like Green Giant? What the heck would lead to a kid turning into a giant blob? Green Giant at least had been understandable. Shaking his head and grimacing at how the viscous jelly oozes through his hair, Chat Noir grabs the doll and makes a hasty retreat before the blob can figure out what he’s up to.

In all fairness, the akumatised kid seems pretty smart, because it realises what’s going on as soon as Chat Noir breaches its jelly-like walls. And Chat Noir really isn’t that smart at all, since he lets the oxygen mouthpiece fall from his mouth before even realising what’s going on.

“Chat Noir!” Ladybug cries as the blob starts to suck him back in. Chat Noir makes a split-second decision.

“Cataclysm!” The doll in his hand crumbles to dust, releasing the black butterfly, and Chat Noir takes one big gulp of air and shoves the scuba set out for Ladybug before his face is consumed. Now it’s just up to Ladybug to purify the akuma and cast her Miraculous Ladybug before he suffocates, and he’s got the utmost faith in his lady. Sure enough, it only takes a few moments before Chat Noir’s sprawled on the grass, blinking in the bright sunlight as the swarm of ladybugs make everything again.

“You silly kitty!” Ladybug kneels next to Chat Noir and throws her arms around his neck. “Do you know how worried I was when it pulled you back in?”

Strawberries and vanilla. Chat Noir just hugs back and buries his face in Ladybug’s dark pigtails. When they separate, they pound it and then Ladybug helps Chat Noir to his feet.

“Are you okay to take care of her?” Ladybug says when her earrings beep. Chat Noir turns to the akuma victim, who happens to be a chubby girl of around seven or eight years old.

“I’ve probably got a couple more minutes than you,” he says. “Go on, milady.”

Ladybug nods gratefully and yo-yos away. Chat Noir carefully approaches the girl, hands up so as not to spook her, and kneels with her to be on eye level with her.

“What’s your name?” he says.

“Julie,” the girl mumbles. She doesn’t jump when Chat Noir gently places a hand on her shoulder.

“Why were you akumatised, Julie?” he says. Julie just shakes her head, her curly black ponytail swinging from side to side, and she snatches the doll from him when he picks it up and offers it to her, now with its arm back and a full head of thick hair. He grimaces when his ring beeps and flashes.

“Do you want me to try?”

Chat Noir’s heart leaps into his throat when Marinette draws level with him, smiling kindly at Julie. It’s all he can do to use his last functioning brain cell to nod and scurry off to transform back, then emerge from the trees while Plagg feasts in his pocket.

“…so upset?” Marinette’s saying as Adrien returns. She’s sitting cross-legged on the grass with Julie, whose hair is loose from its ponytail, and she’s parted the curly dark sheets and is working on plaiting one side with dandelions that she picks from the ground around her. Careful not to make a sound, Adrien kneels down next to Marinette, transfixed by the sight.

“Jeanne Thomas,” Julie mumbles. “She said I was fat and ugly. Then she took my doll and broke it.”

Marinette hums a little tune as she continues to work on Julie’s hair. “Can I tell you something, Julie?” Marinette says. “I think you’re beautiful.”

“Liar,” Julie sniffles.

“I’m not lying,” Marinette says. “Do you know why? Because I don’t like lying. Lying is bad. When I say you’re beautiful, I mean it.” She ties off the first plait and then starts to work on the other side. “Your hair is gorgeous and curly and soft. Your eyes are dark as chocolate. And all this chub just means there’s more to love!”

Julie giggles weakly when Marinette pokes her belly. Adrien’s still as a statue, unable to take his eyes off Marinette and her angelic radiance. In the background, he’s dimly aware of the crew setting everything back up to finish the photoshoot, and if Nathalie or Gorilla come to try and pull him away from this heavenly vision then it’ll be over his dead body.

“Girls like Jeanne are mean because it makes them feel good,” Marinette says. “It makes them feel like they’re better than you. I’ve been bullied by a girl just like Jeanne. You just have to try and not give these people any attention, because they only do it to feel better about themselves.”

“Mummy always tells me to ignore her,” Julie says, wringing her doll between her hands. “But I can’t. I just – I just want to punch her!”

“I know. I can’t ignore Chloé either and I’ve wanted to hit her loads of times, but I haven’t because I’m a better person than that. You don’t have to be mean back to Jeanne, especially if you tell yourself that she’s lying about you being ugly. Because she is lying. You’re adorable just the way you are.”

As soon as Julie’s second plait is done, she turns and jumps on Marinette, squeezing her tight. Marinette smiles and hugs her back, and Adrien’s pretty sure that a choir of angels is singing right now to commemorate just how beautiful his friend is.

“Julie!” A woman who looks just like Julie except skinnier and with a heart-shaped face is sprinting across the park, dark curls flying behind her. Julie’s face lights up and she bounces to her feet.

“Mummy!” Julie runs to meet the woman, who snatches her up and hugs her as tight as only a mother can, babbling into her daughter’s ear.

“I was so worried! You were akumatised – right in front of me – I couldn’t do anything –”

“I’m sorry, Mummy.”

“Oh, don’t be sorry, baby girl.” A pang of something twists Adrien’s gut when the woman tucks a stray curl behind Julie’s ear and kisses her forehead before turning to him and Marinette. “What happened?”

“Ladybug and Chat Noir saved the day, ma’am,” Marinette says, standing up and brushing down her outfit, now clean after the Ladybug cure. “Chat Noir tried to comfort her, but she was too upset.”

“Marinette made my hair pretty, Mummy!” Julie says. The woman smiles and runs a hand over the daisies in Julie’s hair.

“She sure did, baby girl.”

“And she said I’m pretty!”

“Because you are! Come on, let’s go home and I’ll make you a hot chocolate with all the marshmallows you want.”

Julie cheers and squirms until her mother puts her down. The woman’s eyes soften, and she mouths, “thank you” at Marinette, then leads her daughter away. Marinette turns her smile on Adrien.

“I’m glad you got away,” she says as Adrien tries not to float off the ground into the stratosphere. “I don’t even know what came over me. I – I just saw you in trouble and I got so mad.”

“You’re actually an angel,” Adrien’s mouth says without his permission. Marinette’s cheeks heat up to probably the same temperature that his do.

“Th-Thanks,” she says. “But it was really nothing special. Anyone else would have done it.”

“No, they wouldn’t have,” Adrien insists. Why can’t Marinette see how radiant she is? “You’re always so quick to jump and help people when they need it. You’re so brave and selfless, just like Ladybug. You’re like…an everyday Ladybug!”

Marinette’s face turns as scarlet as Ladybug’s suit.

“Adrien.” Nathalie steps between him and Marinette before Marinette can reply. “The crew’s ready to start again. We’re already an hour behind. Your seat is exactly where it was before,” she says to Marinette.

“O-Okay!” Marinette shoots Adrien a quick smile. “Good luck! Hopefully, it’s not ruined by another akuma.”

Adrien watches her walk off and sit down and pull her sketchbook out of her purse, unable to take his eyes off the way she taps her bottom lip with her pencil as she thinks.

“Adrien?” Nathalie says as she guides him back towards the set. “The photoshoot.”

“Angels really do exist,” Adrien sighs, letting Nathalie steer him without a fight. Nathalie stares at him for a long moment.

“I’m not paid nearly enough for this,” she mutters.

Chapter Text

“Ugh, do they seriously think I’m going to get my hands dirty cooking like some maid?” Chloé scoffs loudly as Marinette’s father demonstrates how to make the perfect ganache. “If I want a croissant, I just make my butler get it for me.”

“He’s not making croissants, Chloé!” Rose says as Adrien shoots Chloé a quick look out of the corner of his eye, debating whether to tell her to pipe down or avoid making a scene. “Those are macarons!”

“It’s all done with a flick of the wrist!” Tom says, still stirring the ganache. “But you mustn’t go too fast or you might splash yourself!”

“And soil my Chanel pants?” Chloé complains. “Who’s he kidding?”

Tom holds out the mixing bowl to demonstrate the emulsion, and Adrien has two choices: he can do the right thing and tell Chloé to shut up, or he can lean in to see the emulsion and ignore her, letting her grow even worse. Marinette’s words from last week come swimming to the forefront of his mind.

I’m telling you this because you’re the only person she’ll listen to.”

But just before Adrien can gather himself enough to tell Chloé to stop it, he catches sight of Marinette leaning in to see the bowl with sparkling grey eyes and his confidence ruptures like a pin in a balloon. He can’t call Chloé out now. If he does, he could ruin this whole thing for Marinette, when she looks so happy to have her father here to show them how to bake. And ever since the photoshoot, ruining anything for Marinette is the absolute last thing that Adrien will ever do.

Later, he decides. Next time Chloé’s mean, I’ll call her out. She can’t do too much harm beyond a few nasty comments anyway, right?

Decision made, he leans in with Nino to view the bowl until Tom takes it back and asks Marinette to go and put it in the fridge in the cafeteria and Lila volunteers to accompany her. But why does he feel like there’s a stone in the pit of his stomach?

His question is answered when the fire alarm goes off moments after Marinette leaves the room and Miss Bustier leads them out of the class in an orderly fashion. When they’re gathered in the courtyard and Principal Damocles is grilling them to find the one who called the fire department with a false alarm, Adrien can’t properly focus. All he can think about is how he’d once again turned a blind eye and pretended that everything was fine to avoid getting involved. But Marinette had been right: ignoring Chloé’s antics hadn’t made them disappear.

In fact, when Chloé smugly points the finger at Marinette and declares that she must be guilty because she was absent from the classroom when the alarm went off, Adrien starts to wonder if his inaction had just made the situation even worse.

“Uh, excuse me, sir, but it couldn’t possibly be Marinette,” he pipes up, raising his hand and hoping that he at least doesn’t outwardly look like he’s a mess internally. “Why would she disrupt her own father’s cooking class?”

Marinette’s look of gratitude tells him that he’d done the right thing by standing up for her, especially when Alya chimes in to add that Marinette didn’t have her phone when she left the classroom and Lila adds that she’d been with Marinette the whole time and can confirm that Marinette definitely hadn’t done it. But he can’t help feeling that it’s too little too late and that there’s still going to be backlash from this situation.

Part of him wishes that Marinette had never given him that talk. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so…guilty right now, like he’s had a hand in this purely by not using his power to rein Chloé in. But part of him knows that Marinette had been right to give him that talk, and that he really does need to stand up and speak out, especially when he’s the only one with the power to do so. Ignoring Chloé in class certainly hasn’t made this go away, after all.

“Well, we all know it can’t be me,” Chloé says in that tone of voice that all but says that she is the culprit but good luck proving it.

“I’m not gonna let her get away with this!” Marinette hisses. “I’ve gotta tell –”

“Hang on, Marinette.” Adrien rests a hand on her shoulder so that he can better whisper in her ear without anyone but Alya overhearing. “We don’t know for sure it was her.” He means to tell her not to make a scene when she’s got no proof, to let him talk to Chloé first and try to right this wrong, but Alya jumps to agree with him and add something about not stooping to her level before he can get the words out.

“Fine,” says Mr Damocles. “Since no one is owning up, the whole school will be punished!”

Adrien’s stomach drops, while everyone around him gasps and protests. This is so unfair! Why is he being punished for something he hasn’t done?

Selfish, selfish, chides a nasty little voice in his head. You had your chance to put a stop to Chloé’s antics in class. This is punishment for your inaction.

“What?” Chloé bursts out behind Adrien, her shrill voice smothering the voice in his head. “I’m not so sure my father will react so kindly to me being punished without any proof!”

Adrien’s heart skips a beat. Despite the overwhelming knowledge that Chloé won’t actually do so, he can’t help but hope that she’s going to shut the principal down all the way and get them all out of this punishment. But apparently, she doesn’t see the hypocrisy in weaselling her way out of punishment without proof while letting the rest of them suffer for something there’s no proof of them doing, as she smiles rather smugly and tucks her phone away after Principal Damocles declares that she is the only one exempt from punishment.

She didn’t even try to bail you out either, says the nasty voice. She threw you to the wolves with everyone else. Is she really that great a friend? All she does is hang off you and smother you, no matter how much you ask her to stop.

Adrien’s lost in his thoughts as he shuffles off with the crowd to collect cleaning supplies for their punishment. There’s so much he could have done. He could have spoken out, pointed out that Chloé’s logic should apply to them all and no one should be punished until the culprit is found. As much as he loathes using the Agreste name, he could have used it in this instance to cow Mr Damocles into submission just as Chloé does with her father’s name. Chloé might get away with exempting herself from punishment, but she probably wouldn’t be able to do much about no one being punished. Demanding that she be exempt from punishment is an easier injustice to ignore than demanding that everyone be punished after the punishment is lifted from everyone, as that just makes her look plain vengeful. And she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it without pitting her father against Adrien’s when she knows very well that if she does that, she alienates Adrien, which is another reason why he never does it.

Is she really your friend? is the question replaying on a loop in Adrien’s mind as he scrubs the window while Chloé lounges nearby on her phone, surveying the courtyard of working students. She’d just let her “Adrikins” take the fall for something he hadn’t even done; something that she’d done. In fact, this isn’t even the first time she’s done this. Adrien distinctly remembers his very first day of school, when Chloé had stuck gum on Marinette’s seat and let him take the fall for it and be branded “Chloé’s friend”. If he hadn’t gotten lucky enough to get Marinette to believe the truth, he would’ve ended up with her hating him, and the thought of sweet Marinette hating him is enough to make his stomach roll.

Now he understands why no one wants to be branded with that label; this is a side of Chloé Bourgeois that makes him sick, a side that he’s been trying to ignore all year for fear of losing his first and, for the longest time, only friend.

“If Chloé hates you because you make her take responsibility for her actions, then she’s not really your friend. Sometimes…the right thing is the hard thing, and you just have to do it, even if that means losing those years of friendship.”

He looks over at Chloé, who’s bullying Rose by calling her Cinderella – yes, bullying, because that’s the only word to accurately describe just how gleeful she looks at picking on Rose – and then looks down at his own hands. Does he really want to be friends with someone who’s so disgustingly nasty? Does he really want to associate himself with that behaviour by virtue of inaction?

“What do you have? Friends who like you as Adrien. Friends who you used to sneak out to see even though your father never let you go,” Plagg’s voice says in his head. He realises that while he’s terrified of losing Chloé and ending up friendless, being alone is no longer a possibility. He’s been at this school for months now, and not only is he friendly with all his classmates, but he’s also got friends. Real friends that he’s made himself! He’s got Nino, who feels like more of a best friend than Chloé’s been all year. He’s got Alya, who’s hilarious and fun to hang out with, even if they’re not as good friends as he is with Nino.

And he’s got Marinette. Marinette, who’d not only made him a scarf by hand with her own time and materials but had also let him think it was from his father purely because she’d known how much that would mean to him. Marinette, who had staged a protest and then gone and tracked down Ladybug just so that he could go back to school, knowing how much school meant to him. Not only that, but she’d risked her own future fashion career by making a negative impact on such an influential fashion designer with her protest and defying him in such a way.

The sound of Rose crying snaps Adrien out of his mental mess, and he looks over to see Chloé smirking widely and lazing back on the bench while Rose shuffles off with her broom, wiping her eyes.

“There’s a quote by Majestia that Alya told me on our first day of school that’s stuck with me: “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing”,” says Marinette’s voice.

“You were picked to be Chat Noir because you can be brave and selfless and put others before yourself. Don’t act like a spoiled brat and prove Master Fu wrong,” Plagg’s voice adds.

Scowling, Adrien storms over to Chloé with clenched fists. Oblivious to his fury, she squeals, “Adrikins!” and throws her arms around him, crushing him while he tries to dislodge her. He’s once again reminded of Nino and Marinette and Alya, who never touch him without his permission or hang off him, and his heart swells for them as he finally tugs Chloé off him and sets her on her feet at arm’s length.

“Tell me, was it you, Chloé?” he says in a hushed voice, not wanting anyone else to overhear. Just because he’s finally calling Chloé out doesn’t mean that he needs to make this a public spectacle, which feels like an appropriate compromise until he’s more comfortable with publicly standing up against injustice and wrongdoing.

“Of course it was me who called the fire department,” Chloé brags, crossing her arms, no trace of remorse anywhere on her body. “So what?”

“And it doesn’t bother you that everyone’s being punished because of you?” Adrien says in one last-ditch attempt to get Chloé to display some semblance of humanity.

“No,” Chloé says immediately. “Why would it? They all seem to enjoy getting dirty making cookies. How’s it any different getting dirty cleaning floors? They should be thanking me, if anything.”

Adrien takes a deep breath so that he doesn’t end up going off at her. What he’s about to do is going to hurt enough, so there’s no point in making it more painful than it needs to be. “Chloé,” he sighs, facepalming. “How long have you and I been friends?”

“Since we were adorable little tots, Adrikins!” Chloé coos. Her kissy face makes him nearly take a step back out of fear that she’s going to jump at him and try to actually kiss him.

“Well,” he says, shaking his head, heart hammering at the terror of taking action rather than ignoring it like he’s done in the past. “Sorry, Chloé, but I can’t be friends with someone who treats other people like this. You’ve gotta be nice to people.”

“N-Nice?” Chloé squeaks, the word sounding foreign coming from her mouth. She looks around at the courtyard, and everyone glares back at her in response.

“Yes,” Adrien says firmly. He has to stick to this. He can’t just retract it when she turns on the waterworks, because Marinette’s right: he’s the only one with the power to make her learn and change. “It’s not that hard.”

He turns and walks off, back to the window he should be cleaning, leaving Chloé to process the fact that they’re no longer friends. But it’s not just out of respect for her feelings. It’s also because if he looks back and sees her devastated face, he doesn’t trust himself not to cave and give her one more chance.


Marinette must have fallen through a wormhole into another dimension. Maybe Hawkmoth had created an akuma with the power to send people across time and space. That’s quite possibly the only reason for Chloé to not only have thrown a party for everyone with seemingly no agenda whatsoever, but to also have invited Marinette.

Or maybe the latest akuma is mind-controlling Chloé? Reversed her personality? Something? Anything?

“Adrikins!” squeals the voice from every one of Marinette’s nightmares. Chloé comes dashing through the crowd of people milling in the ballroom of Le Grand Paris to throw herself onto Adrien and kiss his cheeks, and Marinette grits her teeth and forces herself not to say anything because why do people keep touching Adrien without his permission?

“Hey, it’s okay!” Lila whispers as Chloé brags to Adrien about being nice, which is a story that Marinette’s very interested to hear. “You know Adrien’s not into her at all! You can relax.” She nudges Marinette teasingly.

“I’m not jealous!” Marinette argues, resisting the urge to tear her hair out in frustration. She’s not! She’s mad that Chloé can’t see how uncomfortable she makes Adrien! Why does everyone have to reduce her to some silly, lovesick, jealous girl just because of a crush?

Her mood swiftly improves, though, when Rose rushes over to kiss Chloé on the cheeks and thank her for the invitation, followed by Kim and Max. But then the universe plays possibly the worst joke ever on Marinette by having a dazed Chloé walk off and nearly slam into Marinette, then freeze as she comes to the same conclusion as Marinette: that she also needs to kiss Marinette’s cheeks in greeting. And not only is this bad enough, but literally everyone in the whole room has paused what they’re doing to watch the two archrivals be forced to play nice with each other.

Marinette’s totally not going to do it. As Chloé leans in, she’s tempted to shriek and back away while warding a cross and chanting an exorcism. But she feels Tikki shift in her purse, no doubt wanting to get a closer look at what’s going on, and she realises that she needs to suck it up and just do it. She’s Ladybug! She can handle two seconds of a polite greeting! She just needs to pretend she’s wearing the mask and she’s not Marinette right now, because Ladybug can’t snap and tell Chloé to buzz off. If Chloé can be nice then so can she.

Two seconds and then it’s over, and Marinette and Chloé are staggering away and coughing and spluttering to erase all traces of the friendly greeting. Alya cackles and says, “I should have gotten it on video!” and while Marinette’s not too happy that her best friend is teasing her about this like it’s a great big joke that she’d had to play nice with her bully, she also gets that Alya isn’t trying to be malicious or anything.

“You don’t need to rub it in,” is what she ends up saying, playing along with Alya’s teasing.

Soon enough, the party’s in full swing, but Marinette can’t find it in herself to enjoy it. There has to be some ulterior motive to this, because Chloé Bourgeois doesn’t just play nice for fun. Marinette finally has her answer when, a short distance away, Chloé tears into Mylène but then visibly collects herself and nods at the shorter girl before walking off. Marinette doesn’t miss how she shoots a glance at Adrien, who’s also sitting there with Nathaniel, before she leaves.

“This whole BFF thing is just one big charade!” Marinette scowls to Alya and Lila. Why can’t anyone else see past it? Maybe they’re just giving her the benefit of the doubt, while Marinette’s too blinded by her dislike of Chloé when she’s normally the first one to extend the olive branch to people. “She’s just doing it to get close to Adrien!”

“But you didn’t want to come to this party until you knew Adrien would be here too,” Lila points out, smoothing down her short tangerine dress. “Remember when we were modelling your designs for you and we got the invites?”

Normally, Marinette would just let a comment like that slide. But she’s already annoyed by how Chloé’s got everyone hooked by her fake niceness act to blatantly suck up to Adrien, and she’s absolutely sick of how Lila’s just dismissing her as jealously lovesick rather than someone who’s fed up with her archrival’s bullshit, especially when Lila was the one to out her crush to Adrien in the first place.

“Please don’t compare me to Chloé,” Marinette snaps, crossing her arms. “That’s not fair, Lila. I might have my moments, but I’m never constantly mean and rude like she is. I never bully people like she does!”

“Whoa!” Lila holds her hands up. “I’m so sorry if I upset you! I…well, I was just saying that you also didn’t want to play nice until Adrien was involved –”

“Um, I wouldn’t go there –” Alya says.

“And why would I have wanted to come to Chloé’s party unless the only person she’s nice to was coming too?” Marinette says. “Why can’t I ever be upset about something without people insisting that it’s because of Adrien, like I’m some stupid, jealous teenage girl? I know I went too far sometimes, but – but – just don’t! How is me coming to a party because my friend is also going the same as Chloé only not being a bully because of him?”

She’s breathing hard after her outburst, light-headed, while Alya and Lila stare at her in wide-eyed shock.

“Marinette –” Lila says, her eyes starting to glisten. Marinette’s stomach drops. Nope, no way, if she’s made someone cry then she can’t do this –

“I need some fresh air,” Marinette blurts out, stumbling away from Alya and Lila towards the hotel doors. This is exactly why she never stands up for herself. Standing her ground leads to disappointing other people, and how can she be a nice person if she disappoints others? But at the same time, she just couldn’t stand there and continue to be labelled a silly, lovesick girl.

“You did the right thing, Marinette,” Tikki says, zooming out of Marinette’s purse when they’re alone in a nearby alleyway and Marinette can sink to the ground with her back against the wall.

“Did I?” Marinette says, blinking rapidly so that she doesn’t burst into tears. The last thing she needs is for Chloé to see that she’s been crying; Chloé won’t ever let that go, as nice as she’s claiming to be now. “Did you see Lila’s face? I – she – upset her made, Tikki! What if – what if – gah – I am Chloé just like?”

“Marinette, listen to me.” Tikki hovers in front of Marinette’s face, and Marinette forces herself to focus on the kwami’s lilting voice rather than the panic bubbling in her chest and stomach. “You weren’t mean to Lila. You just stood up for yourself.”

“But I made her upset!”

“You didn’t say what you said to upset her. You said what you said to stand up for yourself. People are always going to be upset when you show them that they’re wrong, because they don’t like that feeling. No one walks around thinking that they’re wrong. But I know Lila will realise that she’s wrong and she won’t hate you.”

“What if she is still upset, though?”

“Then that’s her problem.” Tikki nuzzles against Marinette’s cheek. “You weren’t wrong in setting your boundaries, and you weren’t mean about it.”

Marinette takes a deep breath, then smiles and hugs Tikki. “Thanks, Tikki. You’re always there for me when I need you.”

“Of course I am, silly,” Tikki giggles. “You’re my friend. I’m – Marinette, look out!”

Marinette’s head whips around and her stomach drops when she catches sight of the purple-black butterfly circling above her head. She shrieks and leaps to her feet, backing away down the alley and looking for something – anything – she can use to protect herself.

“Calm down, Marinette!” Tikki urges, swooping to her side. “The akuma can’t get you if you’re not upset!”

But it’s too late. Before Marinette can put a lid on her emotions, the butterfly darts towards her head, and she’s only able to turn her head just enough that it sinks into a hair ribbon rather than an earring. Immediately, her feelings of terror and distress and raw anger explode, surging through her like lava, filling her with the need for justice, to make this right.

“Miroir, I am Hawkmoth,” says a smooth voice in Marinette’s head. “Your friend calls you a mirror image of the girl who bullies you? Well, I’m giving you the power to show everyone their own mirror images and make them reflect a little on themselves. All I ask for in return is –”

“No.” The word is weak and broken, but it still escapes Marinette.

“Pardon?” Hawkmoth says. The emotions intensify and it’s so tempting to just give in, to let Hawkmoth empower her so that she can get vengeance and right the injustice of being treated like a boy-obsessed teen girl…but that’s not right. She doesn’t need vengeance. She doesn’t…

“I said no.” Marinette takes deep breaths, fighting back against the tsunami of emotions rolling through her. “I don’t want your power.”

“Nonsense. You want justice, to right the wrong that was done to you. I can feel it.” Hawkmoth brushes off her denial as easily as Lila had brushed off her feelings, which amplifies the negative emotions but not in a way that’s likely to make Marinette to agree to his power. “In return for this power, Miroir, I ask for –”

“I’m upset about people dismissing me and not listening to me and you do the same thing to me?” Marinette snaps. She clenches her fists, as though this alone can help her fight off Hawkmoth’s influence. “Just because I feel like that doesn’t mean it’s right to act on it! I said no, Hawkmoth! Leave me alone!”

The dizzying surge of negative emotions suddenly dies down. Marinette slumps against the brick wall, taking huge gulps of air to try and steady her whirling head and trembling hands as the realisation that she’d been two seconds from being akumatised crashes down on her.

“Way to go, Marinette!” Tikki crashes into her face to hug her. “You fought Hawkmoth off! You’re amazing!”

“I am?” Marinette lets a smile spread across her face. “I am! I didn’t get akumatised!” Her smile fades slightly. “I was just…he didn’t even listen to me when I said no! And it felt just like when Alya kept reducing my feelings to a crush back when I was in love with Adrien, and like what Lila did before, and I got even angrier but at him.”

“You’re so strong!” Tikki says, then gives Marinette a sly little grin. “And you definitely made Hawkmoth upset by standing up to him.”

Marinette bursts into loud laughter, sliding down to the ground for the second time. Tikki’s joke has banished any lingering negative emotions, instead filling her with giddy relief, and she’s about ready to brush herself off and go find Alya but she gasps as she’s standing up.

“Tikki, do you really think the akuma’s just gone back to Hawkmoth?” she says. “What if it’s looking for someone else to akumatise?”

“It’s possible,” Tikki says. “The akuma may not have even been here for you specifically. All these people in the same place as Chloé and she’s trying to be nice? Hawkmoth might have sent that akuma pre-emptively in case Chloé snaps and upsets someone.”

“I’m not surprised,” Marinette snorts. “If Chloé’s just doing this to impress Adrien and not because she wants to be nice, she’s bound to break eventually. Should I transform in case the akuma finds someone else? Or should I wait?”

“I’m not sure,” Tikki says. “Ladybug’s presence could keep everyone calm, but it could also make them panic at the thought of an akuma being nearby –”

A scream suddenly reaches Marinette’s ears from inside the hotel. She and Tikki exchange a look.

“I guess the akuma already found someone else?” Tikki says.

“I don’t even want to know what Chloé’s done now,” Marinette says. “Tikki, spots on!”

Chapter Text

Once the magic of the transformation fades, Ladybug bursts into the hotel, only to see Kim throw Chloé in the air. Acting on pure instinct, Ladybug throws her yo-yo to catch Chloé’s ankle and tug her into the ball pit rather than letting her splat on the hard floor.

“About time!” Chloé snaps once she’s surfaced. “What took you so long?”

Ah, there’s the Chloé they all know. Kim seems to be sharing Ladybug’s thoughts because he charges at Chloé, only to trip over a silver baton and crash head-first into the ball pit. Ladybug notices a small black teddy bear lose its grip on his ankle and slam into one of the rich red walls.

“That’s a very slippery dance floor,” Chat Noir quips, expertly twirling his baton. In any other case, Ladybug would have chuckled, but when the bear starts making a run for the crowd of people nearby and they start to scream, she knows this isn’t the time.

“Move aside! All of you!” she demands, sprinting for the bear while spinning her yo-yo. Chat Noir’s hot on her heels. The screaming civilians scatter like smoke, but the distraction is enough time for the bear to vanish, and Ladybug has no clue where it’s gone until Max jumps onto a table and attempts to throw a chair at her.

It’s like a game of musical bears. From Max, the bear goes to Alya, then to Ivan when Alya fails to subdue Ladybug. Chat Noir breaks the table Ivan is about to crush them with, but they lose sight of the bear again…until Chat Noir grabs Ladybug’s wrist.

“Oh no!” Ladybug gasps when she catches sight of Chat Noir’s unnaturally poisonous-green eyes. Once again, her partner has been brainwashed against her, and she doesn’t want to have to fight her partner again, but she also can’t just keep dodging every time he makes a grab for her earrings.

“Chat Noir! It’s me! Stop it!” she cries, dancing out of his way with her wrist still held captive. But appealing to his suppressed consciousness when he’s brainwashed has never worked before, so of course it doesn’t work now.

“Cataclysm!” The familiar word, dripping with contempt, reaches Ladybug’s ears when she’s finally got Chat Noir in an armlock. He whips his arm back around, grabbing for her Miraculous, and she’s two seconds from finding out what happens when Cataclysm touches a person when she receives help from the most unlikely source.

“Paws off, kitty!” Chloé grabs Chat Noir’s tail and yanks him away from Ladybug, sending him stumbling and crashing into a couch and wasting his Cataclysm when he accidentally touches it.

“Thank you,” Ladybug says, figuring that she may as well offer positive reinforcement as the side of her that Chloé respects. Maybe it’ll help her stay nice.

“Hey, I was really nice just then!” Chloé says, looking positively delighted as she addresses the whole room. “Did you see? No?”

In response, everyone in the room collapses.

“You all suck,” Chloé says sulkily, crossing her arms with a pout. Okay, this has gone on long enough. At a loss for what to do now, Ladybug turns to her last resort and summons her Lucky Charm, which turns out to be…a fork. Sometimes, she feels like Tikki’s just messing with her.

Chat Noir jumps to his feet and launches himself at Ladybug, who squeaks and hightails up the spiral staircase with him hot on her heels. She needs a plan, she needs a plan, what’s she supposed to do with this fork –

She doesn’t start forming a plan until she’s hiding on the top of the entrance to the rooftop so that Chat Noir doesn’t see her. Only then does she manage to cobble something together after spotting a poolside umbrella, the boot of Chat Noir’s that the bear is clinging to, and her fork.

“Okay,” she says to herself, then leaps into action. Unfortunately for her, Chat Noir anticipates her yo-yo throw and easily deflects it with his baton, resulting in a brief bout of hand-to-hand combat until she can grab the bear’s string and tie it to the fork. She throws the fork at the umbrella so that it lodges in one of the spokes, then spots Chloé hiding from the action under the umbrella, and the final part of her plan falls into place. “Chloé, would you be so kind?”

She keeps Chat Noir occupied until Chloé salutes and twirls the pole of the umbrella like a carousel, beheading the bear and rendering its influence on Chat Noir useless. She can see the exact moment when Chat Noir comes back to himself, as the poisonous green of his eyes fades back to the normal paler green that she knows so well and the force trying to ram the baton into her head while she holds it off fades.

“Ladybug?” Chat Noir blinks and looks around, no doubt wondering why he’s on the rooftop. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing,” Ladybug teases. “Just saving your skin with the help of our new little sidekick.”

Chloé preens and flips her ponytail. Suddenly, there’s a high-pitched sound that can only be described as the sound of a tiny voice screaming threats, coming from the miniature person kicking Chat Noir’s boot.

“Watch your step, Chat Noir,” Ladybug grins. Chat Noir grins back and grabs the tiny person, leaving Ladybug free to break the bear’s string so that she can release and purify the akuma. After she releases the Miraculous Ladybug, the miniature person grows into a full-sized butler that Chat Noir suddenly staggers to hold, while the evil little bear reverts to a golden bear with a black-striped white belly like Chloé’s top. Ladybug picks the bear up and holds it out to Chloé. “Thank you for helping me out there. That was…really nice of you.”

While it’s painful to say, those words do the trick; Chloé preens again and says, “I know, wasn’t it?” But the moment doesn’t last, as Chloé starts to swell and brag about how she’d saved the day and how she’s better than the superheroes when her butler confesses that he doesn’t remember anything. Ladybug just sighs and shakes her head. It’s egotistical, but it’s better than nastiness.

“Hey, milady?” Chat Noir says as their Miraculouses beep. “Can I have a word?”

“It’ll have to be quick,” Ladybug says. Chat Noir holds his hands up.

“Just a minute or two, I swear. Just haven’t had a chance before now,” he says. Once they’re out of earshot of Chloé and her butler, Ladybug turns to Chat Noir and waits. For a moment, he bites his bottom lip, as though trying to figure out exactly what to say. Then, before she can gently hurry him along, he says, “I have to ask you something. And I need you to be completely honest with me.”

“Kitty? What’s wrong?” Ladybug tilts her head.

“Do you love me?”

Ladybug blinks. “I – what? Of course! You’re my partner, Chat. You’re one of my best friends.”

“No, I mean…” Chat Noir runs a hand through his hair. “Are you in love with me?”

“I – I –”

“Be honest with me,” Chat Noir blurts out. “I’ve just been wondering. I’ve never actually told you that I was in love with you.”

“You…are?” Ladybug says softly. “Oh. I just thought you were a flirty tomcat.”

Chat Noir laughs uncomfortably and looks away. “Only with you, milady. And Marinette, but that’s just our dynamic. I just have to know. I talked to Marinette the other night and she mentioned trying to move away from her crush and focus on being friends – and I know we’re friends, we’re best friends, but I just…guess I need the clarification. If you’re not in love with me, I can try and put those feelings aside like Marinette is with her crush.”

Ladybug ignores the beeping of her earrings again. “I had no idea,” she says. “I thought that was just our dynamic.”

“It still can be!” Chat Noir hastens to say. “If you like it, bugaboo, I can keep doing it. I guess I just wanna know if I’ve got a chance with you or, well…if you’re still in love with Adrien.”

“Honestly?” Ladybug says. “If I didn’t meet Adrien first…I think I might have fallen for you. But I did meet him first, and I can’t just turn those feelings off.”

“I’m not asking you to.” Chat Noir reaches out and only takes Ladybug’s hand when she nods. He rubs his thumb over the back of her hand and adds, “I just needed to know for sure. Closure, I guess. Now I can –”

“Move on?” Ladybug says when Chat Noir cuts himself off. “Is there another girl, Chat?”

Chat Noir shrugs. “That doesn’t matter. At least now I can flirt with you without hoping it’ll lead to something more or trying to push anything on you,” he says. “Which I probably shouldn’t have been thinking in the first place but…”

“Thank you, Chat,” Ladybug says with a small smile. “I appreciate the consideration. And thank you for being open with me. I’m actually kind of flattered, if I’m honest.” She’s about to ask just why Chat Noir had even been in love with her in the first place, but their Miraculouses beep urgently and she jumps away from Chat Noir. “Oops, gotta go! Bug out!”


Okay. So. It seems that positive reinforcement when Chloé’s nice is a thing, because she’s gone and done the unthinkable and invited Marinette’s father to give them a baking demonstration at the party. Marinette’s not sure whether she wants to grudgingly thank Chloé or tie her up and search for an akuma. Instead, she hovers at the end of the baking table to overhear Chloé and Adrien, who are abstaining from the baking along with Chloé’s butler.

“That was a really great idea, inviting Marinette’s dad,” Adrien says. Chloé positively glows.

“I know! This way, no one can be mad at me for calling the fire department!” she says. Marinette closes her eyes and counts to three under her breath. There’s no point in making a scene about it now, especially when Chloé’s invited her father to make up for the interrupted baking demonstration. She’s just going to have to let this one go. “I’m really nice now! Did you notice, Adrikins? Even Ladybug said so! Didn’t she, Jean-Pascal?”

Marinette’s certain that’s not the butler’s real name, but that doesn’t seem to faze the man.

“I’m proud of you, Chloé,” Adrien says with a wide smile, resting a hand on her shoulder. Marinette takes a deep breath. Positive reinforcement. Praise Chloé for being nice or she won’t see any reason to be nice otherwise. “I think you’ve proven that you’re capable of making an effort to be nicer to everyone!”

“Oh, Adrikins!” Chloé sighs. “So, we’ll always be best friends forever? Pinky swear?”

“Pinky swear. So long as you’re nice.” Adrien does the pinky swear with Chloé and they approach the baking tables together.

“That’s…okay, I guess,” Chloé says when she surveys Kim’s macarons with a slightly disgusted look on her face. “It’s totally the most awful shade of pink, but it doesn’t look too horrible.” She moves on to Mylène’s, picking up a macaron gingerly and scraping some icing off with a spoon. “Too much icing. You don’t want to kill people. But it looks baked okay, at least.”

They’re not nasty comments exactly, but they’re not nice either. Still, Marinette supposes that it’s a start for someone so used to being nasty as Chloé is. Her comments are now more along the line of harsh criticism rather than outright insults…at least, until she reaches Marinette’s macarons.

“Wow, for a baker’s daughter, you sure have no actual talent,” Chloé scoffs, pushing Marinette’s near-perfect macarons away. “I mean, I can think of something nice to say about everyone else, but you? Hopeless, utterly hopeless.”

Marinette clenches her fists as Chloé tears into her, struggling not to bite and start a massive fight. She glances at Adrien out of the corner of her eye, only to find his face darkening with each comment Chloé makes.

“That’s enough, Chloé,” he snaps. Chloé blinks and her words screech to a halt. “You were just nice to Kim and Mylène, so why can’t you be nice to Marinette?”

“Well, that’s asking a bit much,” Chloé scoffs. “They’re Kim and Mylène, not Dupain-Cheng.”

“Marinette’s super sweet,” Adrien says, crossing his arms. “And if you can’t be nice to everyone then we can’t be friends. Apologise to Marinette.”

Marinette’s even more certain that she’s in an alternate dimension. Adrien’s standing up for her? Against Chloé? Had he really taken her talk to heart?

“But Adrikins –”

Now.”

Chloé turns to Marinette with blazing eyes and clenched teeth. Marinette tries not to look too smug on the outside, although she’s not sure how well she succeeds because this is Chloé and Marinette’s only human.

“I can’t,” Chloé says pleadingly, stomping her foot. “I’ll be nice to anyone else, Adrikins, please, but I can’t be nice to her, especially when she’s so mean to me!”

Adrien sighs and shakes his head. “Then we can’t be friends anymore. You can’t just be nice to people selectively, and Marinette didn’t even say anything to you there. I’ve never seen her be mean to you if you weren’t mean first. And I can’t be friends with someone who lets me take the blame for something I didn’t do. Twice. I was going to forgive you for that, but I can’t if you can’t be nice to everyone.”

“Adrikins, wait!” Chloé runs after Adrien as he stalks off, leaving Marinette frozen to the spot, blinking. She pinches her forearm and yelps, but nothing changes. She’s not dreaming. What the heck is even happening?

“Omg,” says a voice from behind her. Marinette jumps, but calms down when she sees that it’s only Alya. “Did Adrien really just stand up to Chloé? For you?”

“Yeah,” Marinette says. She blinks when Alya sighs.

“I’m sorry, Marinette,” she says. “I never meant to make you out to be this silly girl with a crush and invalidate your feelings. I didn’t realise it hurt you so much.”

“And I’m sorry too!” Whoa, where did Lila come from? “I thought that it was my duty as your friend to point out when you were blinded by him, which obviously wasn’t the case. You were right to not want to come to Chloé’s party unless there was someone who could keep her in line.”

“At least I know I’ve got friends who’ll keep my head screwed on straight,” Marinette teases. Lila’s apologised and sounds sincere, and Alya apologised even though she didn’t even need to do so, so that’s good enough for her. Now she’s debating to herself about whether she should tell them about her near-akumatisation as Miroir, since Alya would get wildly enthusiastic that Marinette had fought off an akuma, but Lila would probably blame herself for it. “But you’ll never get me anywhere on time. That’s a lost cause.”

“Oh, girl, don’t you challenge me or I’ll actually do it,” Alya cackles, slinging an arm around Marinette. Marinette’s suddenly blindsided by how radiant Alya is, but it’s not in the same way that she’s been blindsided by Adrien; it’s more like an epiphany that her best friend is gorgeous but with nothing actually coming of it except for that realisation.

“But seriously, you’re trying to move on from Adrien?” Lila grabs Marinette’s other arm, her olive eyes wide and gleaming. “You have to tell us everything!”

“Okay, okay,” Marinette laughs. “Just let me grab these macarons and I’ll tell you.”

Chapter Text

After all the excitement at the photoshoot and then Chloé’s party, the next week and a half of school is thankfully quiet, with the most exciting thing being Chloé glowering at Marinette whenever Adrien’s not looking because he still won’t talk to her. Although to be fair, that gets old after a few days anyway.

It’s not until one Thursday afternoon that things with Chloé come to a head. Marinette’s just finished in the bathroom and is about to head to the cafeteria to meet up with Alya, Adrien, and Nino, when the bathroom door slams open. She jumps back, eyes darting to the stalls behind her as a quick exit with their windows if it’s an akuma coming into the bathroom right now.

“Dupain-Cheng.” Chloé advances on Marinette, backing her into the bathroom wall. It’s only now that she’s close to Chloé that Marinette can see just how…imperfect the blonde is. Chloé’s makeup and clothes and hair are still impeccable, but this close to her? The way her bottom lip quivers and her eyes are ever so slightly red are very apparent.

“What is it, Chloé?” Marinette sighs. “If you're going to tear into me, it’s gotten old –”

“Teach me how to be nice.”

Marinette blinks. For a moment, her mouth can’t find the appropriate words in her brain for this situation, and she wonders if she’s stuck in some dream. Her shock must be plastered clean across her face, because Chloé huffs and crosses her arms.

“Trust me, the last thing I want is to be asking you for help,” Chloé snaps. “But Adrien won’t even say one word to me anymore unless it’s asking if I’ve learned how to be nice. And since it’s your fault that I lost my best friend, you can help me get him back.”

My fault?” Marinette says incredulously. “What did I do? You’re the one who’s been picking on me and everyone else for years! I didn’t make Adrien do that to you! And if you really want him to be your friend again, you need to stop blaming everyone else for your rotten attitude!”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” Chloé jabs a finger at Marinette. “You have this – this stupid moral compass where you know how to be good and nice and whatever!”

“Well, do you want to be nice for Adrien? Or for yourself?” Marinette says. “If you want to be nice just to get Adrien to be your friend again, you’re not going to stay nice. You’re not going to want to stay nice. And I’m not going to put the effort into helping you unless I know that you’ll be nice even after you get what you want. Not after you spent years bullying all of us, Chloé.”

“I never had a reason to be nice before,” Chloé says. “Being nice lets people walk all over you.”

“Nice doesn’t mean being a pushover,” Marinette counters. “You can be nice and still stand up for yourself. That’s something I’m learning.”

“Whatever. Look, are you going to help me or not? I want my best friend back.”

Marinette sighs. Is she really doing this? Yeah, she is. Doing this might help Chloé become a better person and stop bullying everyone.

“On one condition,” she says. “You actually try. I don’t want anything from you except a promise that you’re going to try and be a better person and not just pretend to be to get what you want. And I’m not going to hold your hand and tell you what to do every step of the way.”

“Yes, yes, whatever.” Chloé waves a hand. “You can come to the hotel after school and start teaching me. I’m not going to waste my precious lunch time.” She turns and struts out of the bathroom, leaving Marinette to try and process what had just happened and wonder if someone had tried to divide by zero and shattered the universe as they know it.

She debates all day about telling her friends about the confrontation in the bathroom, but eventually decides to stay quiet for now. Not only does she not want to give anyone false hope, but she also recognises that the trust Chloé has reluctantly shoved on her is tentative and breaking it could ruin what little chance there is of helping Chloé to be a better person.

When she gets to the hotel after school, she’s stopped by the same doorman as when she’d tried to get in during Prince Ali’s visit to rescue Tikki. He clearly remembers her from that time, if his unimpressed eyebrow-raise is any indication.

“I swear, I’m telling the truth,” Marinette insists. “Chloé’s expecting me.”

“Just as she was expecting her friend last time?” the doorman drawls. Marinette huffs.

“Just ask her!” she says. “You don’t even have to leave. Just get someone else to ask her and she’ll tell you.”

The doorman’s silent for a few moments, no doubt weighing up whether she’s bluffing or genuinely wants him to alert Chloé of her presence. His fear of upsetting Chloé seems to win out, as he reaches into his pocket to pull out a small phone. After a minute of Marinette fidgeting with her fingers and wondering if Chloé’s just playing a huge joke, because it would be like her, the doorman clears his throat and steps aside.

“Go right on up, Miss Dupain-Cheng, and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it,” he says in a far friendlier tone. Marinette just smiles and slips through the massive double doors behind him, then heads for the elevator and takes it to the top floor. Once she’s standing outside Chloé’s bedroom door, it takes a good minute of nibbling her lip and taking deep breaths to steel herself before she’s finally able to knock.

“Ugh, finally. I swear, it’s so hard to find competent staff these days,” Chloé scoffs when she opens the door. She stands aside to let Marinette in, and Marinette has to school her features into surprise and act like she hasn’t seen this room plenty of times as Ladybug. Or, to be more accurate, this massive entrance chamber of Chloé’s whole suite.

“It’s…big,” Marinette finally says.

“This? Big?” Chloé says. “Oh, right. I forgot that you’re just a baker’s daughter.”

“You know, I can just walk right back out if you’re not serious about learning to be nicer,” Marinette says. “And I can’t think of anyone else who’d agree to help you.”

“Right, like you’re not just doing this to suck up to Adrikins.”

“Funnily enough, some people do things because it feels good to be nice and helpful. And if you think the only thing I’m getting out of this is impressing Adrien, you’ve clearly forgotten the past few years before he even came along.” Marinette crosses her arms. “I’m actually being pretty selfish in doing this, you know. My life will be a whole lot better without you being mean all the time. And so will everyone else’s.”

“So, Dupain-Cheng’s got bite.” Chloé smirks and leads Marinette through the right door and into her sitting room, where a tray of snacks such as cut fruit and sushi rests on the glass table. Chloé settles herself on one of the chairs and waits until Marinette hesitantly sits down in an adjoining seat before speaking again. “Alright, chop, chop. How do I be nice?”

“First, you figure out why you want to be nice,” Marinette says. “Because if it’s just to make Adrien happy, I’m walking straight out of here. You have to have a reason for yourself or you’ll never stay nice.”

“Then why are you nice?”

“Because it makes me feel good. I like seeing people happy because of something nice that I’ve said or done.”

“Boring,” Chloé sings. Marinette resists the urge to roll her eyes.

“Well, if you’re nice then people will like you,” she says through gritted teeth, wondering why she even agreed to do this. “And if people like you then they’ll treat you better. Which means they’ll want to do more things for you.”

“Wait, so I can actually get something out of being nice?” Chloé says. Marinette considers rushing out to Chloé’s balcony and throwing herself over the railing.

“Not that you should want to be nice for selfish reasons, but yes,” she says. “And then once it becomes habit, you’ll find that you like being nice –”

“Don’t worry about that part,” Chloé says. “Let’s focus on the part where being nice gets me stuff.”

“It’s not as simple as saying a few nice things,” Marinette says. “You have to keep showing that you mean it, or people will see that you’re being fake. I suggest you start treating Sabrina nicer.”

“What do you mean? Sabrina loves me!”

“You treat her like a servant!” Marinette strongly considers throwing the piece of pineapple in her hand at Chloé – it’ll blend in nicely with the other girl’s hair and jacket – but she forces herself to not lose her cool. “You make her do your homework, steal for you, whatever else you say!”

“I give her gifts all the time! I gave her an old dress of mine just the other day!”

Breathe, Marinette. Breathe. Don’t beat up the annoying blonde. “Just because you give Sabrina your old things doesn’t mean that you’re being nice to her,” she says. “Try thanking her for doing your homework. Ask her opinion on things and don’t think that she agrees just because she rushes to back you up. Treat her like an actual person.”

“Okay, sure, whatever. Is that all I have to do? Sabrina’s coming over to do my homework for me right about now and I don’t want her seeing us associating like this.”

Marinette forces a smile and says, “Oh, there’s a lot more to being nice, Chloé. A lot more. But that’s for you to figure out, not for me to coddle you over. And I’ve got some homework for you to do without Sabrina’s help.”

“Wait, there’s homework?” Chloé whines. “I didn’t know you’d be making this like school!”

“Your homework is to think of a nice thing to say about every single person in our class.” Marinette ignores Chloé’s complaining, for her own sanity. “Then you’re going to go up to each person and say it tomorrow. I really don’t care if you can’t bring yourself to do it for me, but I want you to do it for everyone else. And no, it can’t be a backhanded compliment,” she says before Chloé can even open her mouth. “It has to be something genuinely nice.”

“But what if there’s nothing nice to say?” Chloé says. “What if their outfit and their hair and everything is ugly?”

“Think of something!” Marinette throws her hands up. “Offer them advice if you absolutely have to, just in a helpful way! If you want to be nice then you need to practice, and you need to make others believe that you’re trying.”

“This is all such hard work,” Chloé sighs, sprawling dramatically in her chair.

“Which is something you need a lot of practice at,” Marinette deadpans.

“Oh, whatever. Get out of here, Dupain-Cheng. And you’re not to come back unless I ask you to.”

“Believe me, it’s not like I’d want to come unless I had to.”

There’s a twisted sense of curiosity about Marinette when she races to school the next day as to what exactly Chloé’s going to say, or if she’s even done the homework in the first place. Everyone else is already in the classroom by the time a breathless Marinette tumbles through the door, although no one spares her a second glance, no doubt used to her being late all the time by now.

“Girl, I think there’s an akuma or something,” Alya comments when Marinette sits down.

“Akuma? Where?” Marinette bolts upright, ready to make her excuses and rush off to transform. In front of her, she notices that Adrien’s back is stiff as a rod, although she doesn’t pay it much mind when she’s already scanning for the threat.

“Chloé.” Alya points at Chloé, who’s sitting in her usual seat with crossed arms and a scowl. “She said that she thought Rose’s dress was sickeningly cute in a princess-y kind of way. Then she said that Nathaniel could at least draw more than basic shapes. She’s being…kind of nice again.”

Marinette fights to keep the smile off her face. Maybe Chloé really was genuine about wanting to change and be nice. As if reading her mind, Chloé looks over her shoulder at Marinette and curls her lip, although there’s nowhere near the usual amount of malice present in her sneer. When Marinette smiles at her, she sniffs and looks back at the front, ponytail whipping around.

“Thank…you…for doing my homework, Sabrina,” Chloé says loudly. Her voice carries across the classroom, although this is probably just because everyone’s gone dead silent to stare at her. Sabrina looks like she’s questioning reality.

“Um…it’s no problem, Chloé?” the redhead says slowly. “You know you don’t have to thank me for it.”

“Well, I thought it would be…nice. To show that I…appreciate you. You’re…a good friend.”

“What the heck is going on?” Marinette hears Alix mutter from the other side of the classroom. “Did an akuma zap her or something?”

“Oh, thank you, Chloé!” Sabrina throws her arms around Chloé, who stiffens and puts on a pained smile.

“You’re wrinkling my jacket!” the blonde says. Sabrina immediately lets go.

“Sorry!”

“It looks like Chloé can be nice if she wants,” Marinette says loudly. Chloé turns to shoot her a death glare but when Marinette just nods down at Adrien, Chloé’s glare immediately morphs into a big smile.

“Of course I can, Dupain-Cheng!” Chloé says. “You see, Adrikins?”

“I’m proud of you, Chloé,” Adrien says, leaning forward to rest his weight on his forearms. “I hope you keep it up so that we can be friends again.”

Chloé’s smile turns rather forced. “…Sure, Adrikins. Of course.”

Marinette just sits back in her seat to survey her handiwork rather smugly. If she was a meaner person then she’d probably take a lot more joy in the power she has over Chloé…but she’s not like Chloé, so she just keeps her less than savoury thoughts to herself and waits for Ms Bustier to arrive and start the lesson.

Chapter Text

Die already!” Alya growls, furiously mashing the buttons on her controller.

“No can do, babe!” Nino mashes just as hard, trying desperately to keep up with his girlfriend. But she’s on the warpath and is out for blood, so there’s absolutely no chance of him getting any ground on her, and he’s soon utterly crushed by Alya, who whoops and punches the air.

“I never knew that Alya was so ruthless at Ultimate Mecha Strike III,” Adrien comments, his voice slightly warped by the phone speakers. Marinette just laughs.

“Why do you think I never play against her?” she says, turning her phone so that she can see Adrien’s face while still letting him see the gameplay. “She’s terrifying.”

“And I can never beat Marinette!” Alya snarls, already loading a rematch with Nino, who looks like he’d rather be akumatised thrice over than go up against her again.

“That’s because she’s super talented!” Adrien says. Marinette beams at the compliment, idly marvelling at how she can smile now at something said by Adrien that would’ve turned her into a hot, gooey mess only weeks ago. And it’s not like he doesn’t still make her insides shiver, but the more she focuses on being friendly without the looming pressure of asking him out, the softer those shivers become. Part of her misses the hot intensity of her feelings for him, but really, would she be interacting with him in this way if she was still a disaster around him? She’s become better friends with him over the past few weeks than she had in all the months of crushing so hard on him that she could barely talk to him. Hell, she’s even stroking his hair consistently now.

Who knows? Maybe those feelings will bear fruit someday. But as it is, Tikki had been totally right; she’s far closer to Adrien as friends than when she’d been stressing over asking him out. And if something does happen between the, at least she’s got a solid foundation of friendship to build on.

“I wish you could have come,” she sighs. “It’s not really a sleepover if you’re not actually sleeping over.”

“Father was pretty firm,” Adrien says, his smile fading. “And I didn’t want to push it. There’s a line between teenage rebellion and being outright disrespectful.”

“It’s probably wise to pick your battles,” Marinette agrees. “But still. Now Nino has to sleep on the floor alone because Mum and Dad are on the whole “no boys and girls together!” thing.” She makes a face and Adrien laughs.

“Can’t we talk about this?” Nino pleads. Alya just gives the most terrifying laugh that Marinette’s ever heard and proceeds to crush Nino, who drops his remote and throws his hands up.

“I think that’s the end of that,” Marinette says, her lips twitching at how Alya immediately loses her scary competitiveness and tries to cajole Nino into hugging her when he’s looking at her as though she’s an akuma. “Maybe we should do something that you can actually do with us.”

“I don’t mind watching,” Adrien says. “I mean, I wish I was there, but this is better than just sitting in silence.” He smiles at Marinette. “And at least I get to talk to you.”

Marinette grins back, wondering why his face suddenly morphs into a look of horror.

“Uh – and Alya and Nino – when they’re not playing their game – not that it’s not nice talking to you –”

A voice in the background on Adrien’s end halts his rambling in its tracks. He grimaces and drops his phone on his pillow, giving Marinette a wonderful view of his high bedroom ceiling as his footsteps cross over to his door.

“Adrien, your father has requested that you practice your current piece –”

“But I’ve already done my piano practice today!”

“Yes, but your father is dissatisfied with your progress. He feels that you should practice the piece a little more until you reach his standards.”

“Seriously? He won’t let me go to my friend’s sleepover and now he’s not even letting me be there by phone?”

“If it was up to me, I would be perfectly happy for you to continue talking to your friends. But it’s not up to me.”

Marinette desperately wants to jump in and say something but doing so will only make things worse for Adrien. Plus, he probably doesn’t even realise that he’s got an audience of not just Marinette but also Nino and Alya, whose bickering has ceased so that they can listen in too.

“You know what? No.”

“Adrien –”

“All I ever do is practice my piano and fencing and Chinese and model for him! And he can’t even let me hang out with my friends for one night!”

“Adrien, this is so unlike you –”

“What, like going to school was unlike me?”

“Those were exceptional circumstances –”

“Leave me alone.”

“But –”

“I don’t care what Father says! Tell him that it was all me and you tried your best. Just…leave me alone for the rest of the night.”

“Adrien –”

Leave me alone!”

There’s silence for a few moments. Marinette bites her lip and exchanges a glance with Alya and Nino, who look just as worried as she does.

“I’ll tell your father that you’re coming down with something and feel too unwell,” Nathalie finally says.

“Thank you, Nathalie!”

“But be warned, he will expect more effort in the next few nights to make up for this.”

“I don’t care. Really. Just…thank you.”

There’s the sound of the door closing, followed by footsteps that gradually grow louder. Marinette has a brief bout of motion sickness when the phone is picked up, making the screen blur and move wildly until it refocuses on Adrien’s miserable face.

“You okay, dude?” Nino says. Adrien smiles, but it’s a weak effort.

“Sorry you guys had to hear that. Guess I didn’t hang up like I thought.”

“What Nino said,” Marinette says when she notices how pale Adrien is. “Are you okay?”

“Honestly? I think I’m about two seconds from a panic attack. I can’t remember the last time I’ve put my foot down like that.”

“Well, are you sure you can’t make it over here?” Alya says, while Marinette’s stomach lurches. “You shouldn’t have to be stuck there with a borderline panic attack just ‘cause your dad’s on a power trip.”

“I wish I could. But there’s no way out without my father seeing except through my window, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the jump.”

Marinette briefly entertains the idea of turning into Ladybug and rescuing Adrien, but she has to force herself to think clearly. There’s no way she could explain how Ladybug found out about this so fast, not to mention that there’s no way she could explain her extended absence to Alya and Nino. Hell, she already pushes that enough during akuma attacks, and at least those are a convenient excuse. Her powerlessness right now makes her clench her fists. What good is she as Ladybug if she can’t help those who need it?

“Anyway,” Adrien says, pasting a grin on his face, “I’ll be fine so long as I can talk to you guys.”

“Do you at least know how to focus on your breathing?” Marinette says. “Five seconds in, hold for three, out for seven. Do it now, while we’re here.”

Adrien immediately obeys, sucking in a deep breath while Marinette counts to five, holding it, then releasing it while she counts to seven. After a minute or so, Adrien closes his eyes and sags.

“Thanks, Mari,” he mumbles. Marinette smiles at him.

“Any time!”

“I think I’ll be okay now if I keep my mind off it. What should we do next?”

“Anything but truth or dare,” Nino shudders. “Marinette and Alya get ruthless when they gang up on you.”

Marinette and Alya laugh together. The mood’s slowly starting to creep back to where it was before, but Marinette still can’t help but wish that there was more she could do for her friend than leaving him in his prison-like house and only having him over via phone call.

The next day, Adrien’s not at school, although Marinette’s not totally worried because he’d texted her beforehand to say that he’s being made to stay home due to Nathalie’s excuse of him coming down with something. Still, though, she can’t help but worry a little and that, mixed with her feelings of powerlessness, leaves her distracted all day. Especially since he’d also said that his phone was probably being taken for the day while he had lessons at home, so he hasn’t messaged her since his initial text and is therefore most likely unreachable.

“Marinette.” Ms Bustier’s voice snaps Marinette out of her haze. Marinette jumps and meets Ms Bustier’s eyes guiltily. “Please pay attention to the lesson.”

“Sorry!” Marinette says. Ms Bustier’s face softens.

“Are you feeling unwell? Do you need to be excused from class?”

“I…actually, now that you mention it, I do feel a bit sick.” It’s not like Marinette’s lying; her stomach really is rolling, and she hasn’t been able to concentrate all morning. Ms Bustier just can’t possibly know that it’s from anxiety over her friend rather than an actual illness.

“Alya, could you take Marinette to the nurse?” Ms Bustier says. “Marinette, if you still feel unwell after having a rest then please go home.”

“I’ll take her, Ms Bustier,” Chloé declares. The class goes dead silent. Ms Bustier is the first to recover.

“Thank you, Chloé, that’s very nice of you,” she says.

“I know,” Chloé says rather smugly. “I’m being super nice now. Come on, Dupain-Cheng.”

Although Marinette doesn’t trust Chloé at all, she can’t really say no when she’s the one showing Chloé how to be nice. So, rather than kick up a fuss, she swallows her words, packs up her things, and follows Chloé out of the classroom.

“What’s the deal, Chloé?” Marinette says when they’re walking down the corridor, Chloé strutting ahead of her. “If it was anyone other than me…”

“Because you’ve been a mess all day and Adrikins isn’t in class,” Chloé says. “I put it together. Something happened to him and you know what, and since he’s not answering my texts…”

“He probably doesn’t have his phone,” Marinette says. She explains what had happened the previous night, all the while wondering why she’s confiding in Chloé like they’re friends or something, and Chloé doesn’t look anywhere near happy by the end of her explanation.

“Cute,” Chloé drawls. “You’ve worried yourself sick over your friend. At least it’s not something super serious like I thought.”

“Nothing super serious? How can you say that?”

“Because his father’s like this all the time. It’s not like I’m happy, but at least I know it’s not something like having a broken leg or me needing to destroy whoever hurt him or something.”

Marinette totally doesn’t buy that. “Rubbish! After you let Adrien take the fall for what you did twice, pretending like you care is a total new low for you, Chloé. You don’t care about him at all, do you, you just see him as some trophy –”

Chloé’s hand shoots out to grab Marinette’s wrist and yank her down the next corridor and into the girl’s bathroom. “Don’t you even dare go there, Dupain-Cheng,” Chloé hisses, squeezing Marinette’s wrist as the door slams shut behind them. “I’m trying to be nice so that my best friend will talk to me again, so don’t you even think of implying that he’s just a shiny thing to me. I just…didn’t realise how special he was until he stopped talking to me for good. I didn’t realise that I was treating him like shit as well as all you peasants since, you know, that’s my default.”

An awkward silence falls over them. Chloé clears her throat and lets go of Marinette, then deliberately wipes her hand on her jacket. Marinette stares at Chloé with a tilted head.

“Are you really in love with him?” she says. Chloé just sniffs and looks away. “You can tell me, Chloé. I’m the last person who’d go telling everyone your private information.”

“You hate me, Dupain-Cheng,” Chloé snaps. “I hate you. Forgive me if I don’t believe that.”

“I don’t hate you,” Marinette says. “Not since you asked me for help. I’ve actually been…impressed at how you’re really trying to be nice. I don’t like you, but I don’t hate you. And even if I did hate you, I wouldn’t go spreading around anything that you tell me in private.”

Chloé stares at her for a long moment, then sighs. “You’re, like, the one person I can actually believe wouldn’t do that to me,” she mutters. “Stupid, goodie-two-shoes Marinette Dupain-Cheng. No, I’m not in love with Adrien, okay? He’s like my brother. But I don’t want anyone else to get near him.”

“Why? If you’re really that close, you can’t possibly believe that he’d abandon you for someone else, right?”

He did!” Chloé clenches her fists and stomps her foot. “He left me for – for you! And that Ladyblogger and weird DJ!”

“Only because you were being mean and he knew that he had the power to push you to become a nicer person,” Marinette counters.

“Exactly! Now I’m stuck turning myself into some fake, nice, smiley person that I’m not just to get my friend back!”

Marinette’s face softens as she regards Chloé, who snarls and looks away, crossing her arms. “Then don’t do it for Adrien,” Marinette says. “That’s what I’ve been telling you. Find a reason why you want to be nice.”

“I don’t have a reason! Don’t you get it? Why should I want to be nice when I can get everything I want anyway?”

“You didn’t end up being class president. You’re always getting kidnapped by akumas with a vendetta. No one apart from Sabrina and Adrien likes you, and Sabrina’s more of a servant than a friend. Those are three good reasons.”

“Whatever, miss perfect know-it-all. Come on, we’re supposed to be at the nurse’s office.”

As Chloé storms for the door, Marinette scrambles for one last line of reasoning as to why Chloé should keep being nice. Finally, as Chloé’s pushing the door open, Marinette blurts out, “What about Ladybug?”

Chloé freezes. “What about her?”

“You’re her number one fan, right? Well…why not do it so you can be the kind of person Ladybug would love to have as her number one fan?”

“Are you implying that she doesn’t see me or want me as her number one fan?” Chloé arches an eyebrow as she turns, letting the door slam shut again. Marinette gulps. Now she has to be careful with how she navigates this, or she’ll end up either outing herself or offending Chloé into hating Ladybug again.

“I never said that,” Marinette says slowly. “Look, if you truly can’t do it for yourself, do it to become a person that Ladybug would be proud of. I know I try every day to strive to be the kind of person that Ladybug would approve of. And once you’re in the habit of being nice, who knows? Maybe you’ll find that you really do enjoy having people like you and want to do nice things for you because they like you and not because they fear you.”

“Hmph.” Chloé crosses her arms. “Well, she did totally praise me for being nice and helpful at my party. Whatever. Come on, Dupain-Cheng. You’re supposed to be sick.”

“You could start being nicer by calling me by my first name,” Marinette says as she follows Chloé out of the bathroom. Chloé snorts.

“Over my dead body, Dupain-Cheng.”

Chapter Text

There’s a soft tapping on Marinette’s hatch door as she’s just finishing off the last of the homework that Alya had dropped off after school. She frowns and looks up from her desk. Is that Chat Noir? Or just a stray stick dropping on her balcony? When the tapping sounds again, Marinette has her answer, and she sets her homework aside with a sigh, then climbs up the ladder to her bed and slowly reaches up to push the hatch open.

“Chat Noir?” she says when a familiar face appears in the hatch entrance, the illumination of Marinette’s room reflecting off the person’s skin and golden hair, contrasting starkly with the night sky outside. Chat Noir grins, but it’s nowhere near as cocky as usual.

“Hey, princess,” he says. “Just thought I’d drop by while I was out on the town. It’s been a wild night, y’know. Parties, dancing, making out…”

“Only in your dreams,” Marinette teases, rolling her eyes. Chat Noir rolls his eyes back.

“Okay, yeah, it sucks. So did my day, to be honest. Got any room in there for a stray?”

How can Marinette resist those green eyes? With a smile, she shuffles aside on her bed and says, “Well, I suppose I do need a good deed for the week.”

“How kind of you,” Chat Noir deadpans. He slips through the opening with all the grace of a real cat, landing lightly on her bed and leaping off as she pulls the hatch shut. “Pretend I just took my boots off.”

Marinette rolls her eyes at the shoes comment. “You said you talk to Adrien, right?” she says as Chat Noir makes himself comfortable on the chaise lounge. “Did you get to talk to him today? The only time he messaged me was to tell me that he’s alright, but…I’m worried about him. His father’s been getting stricter and stricter lately.”

For a split second, Chat Noir looks at Marinette as though she’s some kind of angel, although the look is so fleeting that she’d probably just imagined it. Then he shrugs and says, “He’s okay. As well as he can be with his father breathing down his neck. But trust me, he wouldn’t want you to worry about him.”

“I can’t help it. He’s a really good friend. And it’s finally sinking in that he’s not “just” a friend and that being friends isn’t, like, second place to being with him.”

“He must be a really good friend, if you jump in front of an akuma for him,” Chat Noir says. Marinette sits down on the chaise lounge with him, hugging her knees to her chest, so he shuffles over to give her more room and curls up in a very cat-like manner.

“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Marinette says, undoing her pigtails. She might have started changing up her hairstyle every now and then, but pigtails are still a comforting constant for her. And her autistic brain loves comforting constants. “I saw Adrien in danger, and I just…wow. All I could think was that I didn’t want him to get hurt.”

“You still shouldn’t put yourself in danger like that. You’re my favourite civilian.”

“Aww, I’m honoured that the great Chat Noir likes me,” Marinette teases. Chat Noir gives her a sly grin.

“You should be, princess. We both know I’m the prettier superhero.”

“I thought that was Ladybug.”

“That’s what she wants you to think.” Chat Noir winks. “But between you and me, I’m a real cat-ch.”

Marinette groans and gently kicks him. “You can get out of here if you start making puns. Although I would wonder if an akuma had gotten you if you didn’t make your puns. I’m already questioning the universe because Chloé’s trying to be nice?”

“She is?” Chat Noir says. “I heard about the whole fire department thing, and Adrien told me that he’s not her friend anymore.”

“Yeah, she cornered me in the bathroom and demanded that I help her learn how to be nice. But I don’t think she can be until she figures out why she wants to be nice beyond just getting Adrien back as a friend. I’ve been there when it comes to doing stuff to impress a boy.”

“You think she will find a reason?” Chat Noir says in an odd voice. Marinette shrugs.

“I sure hope so. Is it selfish for me to feel this way? Because if Chloé’s nice, she’s not making my life hell.”

“It’s not selfish if you think of everyone else who’ll also be spared,” Chat Noir says with a wink. Marinette’s lips twitch at that.

“Okay, yeah, you’ve got a point. I told her that she should try and be someone that Ladybug’s proud of, so I hope that’s a good enough starting point. Speaking of…did you end up telling Ladybug that you’re in love with her?”

Chat Noir’s smile melts into a serious look. He sits up, runs a hand through his hair, then sighs, “Yeah, after we defeated Despair Bear. She doesn’t feel the same way.”

“Aww. I’m sorry, kitty.” Marinette shuffles along the seat and sits so that her legs are tucked under her and she’s leaning against Chat in a casual kind of hug. She’s keenly aware that she’s Ladybug and she’s the one who rejected him, but Marinette’s not supposed to know that. And it would be very insensitive of Marinette to not follow up with her friend.

“Don’t be. I’m actually kind of glad that I know for sure, to be honest. I mean, she already told me she was in love with someone else but having her outright confirm that there wasn’t a chance for us…it’s helping me sort my feelings out.”

“You’re not in love with her anymore?” Marinette’s stomach twists, although she can’t possibly figure out why. This is a good thing, after all; now Chat Noir’s not stuck with unrequited feelings.

“I think I always will love her. But it’s like what you said about Adrien, isn’t it? About how being friends shouldn’t be a consolation prize?”

Marinette lets out a small laugh. “Here’s to close friendships. Want to watch something together? I can go and get snacks from downstairs.”

“Dupain-Cheng pastries?” Chat Noir practically has stars in his eyes. “Like I’d ever say no, princess.”

When Marinette comes back with a small box of chocolate croissants and macarons, Chat Noir’s already got a show lined up on her computer. She drags the chaise lounge across the room and squints at the screen, then groans and says, “Really, Chat? An anime?”

“It’s a good one!” Chat Noir says rather defensively. “So long as you don’t go too deep into the fanbase.”

“Okay, okay.” Marinette sits down next to him. “Yuri!!! On Ice? What’s it about?”

“Ice skating. Trust me, Marinette, you’ll love it.”

“I suppose I’ll have to trust your judgement.”

Marinette’s pleasantly surprised to find that Chat Noir’s right and she does end up really enjoying the show. She nearly cries at just how relatable Yuuri’s anxiety is – it’s like someone shoved her into the show, to be quite honest – and she’s so invested in his and Viktor’s relationship that when they finally share their ice kiss, she ends up squealing and clinging to Chat Noir’s arm. He just grins and leans into her touch.

Marinette tries to stay awake for the whole show, since it’s only got a few more episodes. But it’s late and she’s fairly tired after the sleepover from last night, so it’s inevitable that she ends up slipping away to the sandman soon after Viktor and Yuuri’s unofficial proposal. She’s lulled to sleep by the scent and warmth of her partner, like the world’s most comfortable blanket, and there’s a soft rumbling to soothe her as she drifts but she doesn’t have the energy to open her mouth and ask if he’s purring.

Huh. Maybe Adrien picked up the purring from him, because it’s just like having Adrien as her pillow as she drifts off.


This is both the best and worst situation that Chat Noir’s ever been in. Best because Marinette is asleep against him, but worst because Marinette is asleep against him. How exactly is he supposed to function when he’s got an angel asleep beside him, using him as a pillow?

Okay, so she’s not pursuing Adrien anymore, but still.

Unfortunately, he has to cut this short. He may have managed to sneak out for a few hours after “going to bed”, but he’s got no doubt that Nathalie will come and check on him at some point to make sure he’s “feeling better”. And the last thing he needs is for her to find an empty bed.

Marinette stirring and snuggling into his side, her loose hair draping over his chest and releasing the smell of strawberries, is almost enough to break his resolve. Almost. But if he selfishly grabs for a few more minutes of this, he won’t be able to come back at later dates due to heavier surveillance, so it’s really for the best that he leaves now.

Carefully, he reaches out to close the internet tab but leaves her browser up on Pinterest so that he doesn’t feel like he’s snooping; god knows how he would’ve felt if someone had found all his Ladybug pictures a few weeks ago. He scoops Marinette up bridal style and carries her to bed, although it’s a bit of a struggle to get up the ladder while not dropping her or waking her up. She’s still wearing her usual outfit rather than her pyjamas, but Chat Noir doesn’t even want to go near the implication of changing her into her pyjamas with a ten-foot pole, so he carefully tucks her into bed, jumps back down to turn off her bedroom lights, and then streaks out through the hatch and into the night before his head can explode at the thought of helping Marinette change.

“You make me sick,” is the first thing Plagg whines when Adrien’s at home and detransformed, then changing into his own pyjamas. “First Ladybug, then Marinette. You’re so disgustingly gooey.”

“I can’t help it, Plagg!” Adrien grabs their class photos off his desk and flops on his bed. His heart flutters wildly upon seeing Marinette’s smiling face in each one, and he sighs and smiles dreamily at them. “How did I never notice her like this before? She’s so – so sweet, and caring, and passionate –”

“Blech!” Plagg darts for his fridge of Camembert. “You’re horrible! You shoulda been one of Tikki’s, not mine!”

“What do I do, though?” Adrien’s face falls. “She doesn’t want to be with me anymore. And I’m happy being her friend, but…I feel like I’m going to melt every time she touches me!”

“Gross! I don’t need to hear this!”

“What – not like that!” Blood rushes to Adrien’s cheeks at Plagg’s implication. “Fine, you’re no help at all. I’ll just have to figure out for myself how to not die every time I’m around her.”

Plagg rolls his eyes and stuffs a wedge of cheese in his mouth. “You’re fifteen,” he deadpans. “You only just realised you liked her the other day. You’re literally like any other teenager.”

“I know that,” Adrien says rather sulkily. “But that doesn’t make it any easier.”

“Too bad, buttercup. Suck it up and deal with it. You wanted to be a real teenager? Now you get to be a real teenager. Not all sunshine and rainbows, huh?”

“Just eat your cheese,” Adrien scowls. Plagg cackles and returns to his feast, so Adrien turns away from him and looks back at the photos. Marinette once again brings a soft smile to his face. He’ll have to turn into Chat Noir and visit her again soon, and not for any creepy reasons like perving on her in her room or deceiving her with another identity. If Adrien can’t hang out with his friends as much as he’d like, well, there’s no reason why Chat Noir shouldn’t be able to do so.

Chapter Text

“Master?” Ladybug’s saying as Chat Noir enters the room for their weekly meeting. Master Fu hums and nods for her to continue. “Why don’t we ever…no, don’t worry, it’s silly.”

“There’s no such thing as a silly question, Ladybug,” Master Fu says.

“I was just wondering…” Ladybug trails her fingers over the Fox necklace in the open Miracle Box between them, then the Bee comb. “Why don’t we hand out more Miraculouses?”

“I was wondering the same thing,” Chat Noir says. Ladybug smiles at him when he crosses over to sit down next to her. “We’re not the only ones learning how our Miraculouses work. And there’ve been a few times where we could’ve done with a bit of help, especially when I’m the one hit by the akumas.”

“If the Lucky Charm indicates that you need the help of an ally, I’m willing to allow you to choose one,” Master Fu says. “But I already took an enormous risk by putting two Miraculouses into circulation, especially the two that Hawkmoth is after. More Miraculouses in the world gives Hawkmoth more chances.”

“Well, Chat and I haven’t lost ours,” Ladybug says. “And we’ve had some close calls because we had to figure things out as we went. If we do eventually need an ally, wouldn’t it be a good thing to have one who’s already got experience?”

“Ladybug’s right,” Chat Noir says. “If we throw someone into battle with us for the first time, it’d make it easier for Hawkmoth to get their Miraculous.”

“We don’t even have to let them keep the Miraculous like we do,” Ladybug says when it looks like Master Fu is wavering. “We could give it to them when we need them and then take it back after each battle. Or each time we train them.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Ladybug and I are an unstoppable team,” Chat Noir says with a grin at Ladybug, who smiles and nudges him in return. “But we’ve got timers and we seem to have less experience than Hawkmoth. It couldn’t hurt to train up a few people in case we need help every now or then. Or in case Hawkmoth does something big.”

“Hmm…” Master Fu strokes his grey beard. “Both of you raise excellent points. I’m just wary after the last time I made a mistake…”

“You’ve mentioned that mistake before, but what was it?” Ladybug says. Master Fu looks her and Chat Noir straight in the eye, and Chat Noir swallows at the ancient heaviness behind Master Fu’s eyes.

“The destruction of the Guardians’ temple and the loss of every Miraculous except the ones I have here,” he says. Ladybug and Chat Noir blink.

“Oh…” Ladybug says softly.

“Master,” Wayzz says. “If I may?”

“Of course you may,” Master Fu says. “You know you’re always welcome to speak, Wayzz.”

“I think that Ladybug and Chat Noir are correct,” Wayzz says. “There will come a time when they need help, and it would be best to have prepared themselves for that eventuality. You know that they wouldn’t hand out a Miraculous to anyone they didn’t trust with their lives. And…you can’t keep allowing one mistake to haunt you to this degree, Master. It was over a century ago, and you’ve seen and learned so much since then.”

“We’ve proven that it wasn’t a mistake to trust us with these Miraculouses,” Ladybug says.

“Now, let us prove that you can trust us with others as well,” Chat Noir adds.

For a long while, Master Fu simply stares down at the Miraculous Box, his face completely unreadable to Chat Noir. It feels like an eternity before Master Fu looks back up at them and smiles.

“You’re right,” he says. “You’ve proven that you can both be trusted with the two most important Miraculouses, and it would be foolish to throw a new hero into a battle with a stronger Hawkmoth. Pick a Miraculous and an ally you can trust, and I will allow you to introduce them tonight, should they accept. They may also keep their Miraculous, as the holder’s bond with their kwami is vital for ensuring they are as attuned to their powers as possible, but the responsibility to retrieve the Miraculous if the need arises rests entirely on the two of you. If this ally works out, I will eventually entrust the other two within this tier to you.”

“I think we should pick the Fox and give it to Alya Césaire,” Ladybug says immediately.

“That…was quick,” Chat Noir says. “Any reason why?”

“Oh!” Ladybug’s cheeks pinken. “I’m sorry, Chat. I should’ve asked you.”

“No, no, I don’t mind. You’re the one with the killer instincts, milady. I’m just curious.”

“Well…” Ladybug chews her lip. “Alya’s the Ladyblogger, right? She’s already familiar with our job. And she loves us, so I know she’d never betray us. Also…maybe she’ll have a new appreciation for our secret identities if she’s got one of her own?”

“Makes sense,” Chat Noir says. “But why the Fox? Alya’s a pretty forceful person…from what I’ve seen.”

“Trixx is a crafty kwami,” Ladybug says. “I think he would be a good influence on Alya and help balance out that forcefulness. And the Fox corresponds to wood, right? That push to grow and hang back to get the facts first could be just what Alya needs, especially after why she was akumatised into Lady Wifi.”

“Huh. I never thought about that,” Chat Noir says. “Well, milady, I’m totally on board.”

“Excellent.” Master Fu removes the Fox necklace from its slot and carefully places it in a tiny box, just like the one that Chat Noir’s ring had come in. “Good luck, both of you.”

“Well, even if it flops, it’s better than being at home after the day I’ve had,” Chat Noir says.

“Poor kitty,” Ladybug coos and reaches out to scratch Chat Noir’s head behind his fake ears, making a loud purr rumble in his chest.

“Have you been talking to Marinette?” he complains. “Because it’s so not fair that you know my weak spots too.”

Ladybug giggles and scratches particularly hard and Chat Noir nearly lets out a mrow in response. Jesus Christ. If he ever actually does that in front of his lady, someone please end him.

“She seems happier when I see her now,” Ladybug says. “I take it that’s your doing?”

“Well, of course,” Chat Noir brags. “My charms are irresistible. I’m quite the cat-ch.”

“God help me,” Ladybug mutters. Although he’s sure that she’s just teasing him, Chat Noir can’t help but wonder…

“Is that…okay with you?” he says slowly. “Being close friends with a civilian? I still remember how you were when Lila said you were besties…”

“Of course it’s okay with me,” Ladybug says. “Lila was trying to use me to boost her own status and act like we were openly friends. You seem to genuinely like this Marinette girl and I know you wouldn’t do anything to endanger her and she wouldn’t spread the word just to make herself look good. And from what I’ve heard about your life, you could do with a good friend.”

“Aww, no one will ever replace you, milady,” Chat Noir teases, flopping across her lap. She rolls her eyes but thankfully continues to pet him, while Master Fu watches with a twinkle in his eyes. “But honestly…I’m happy you approve, Ladybug. Marinette’s really special.”

There’s something odd in Ladybug’s smile but, for the life of him, Chat Noir can’t possibly figure out what it could be. “I’m glad, kitty. She definitely sounds special.” With a sigh, she pushes his head off her lap and climbs to her feet in one graceful motion, then pulls him up. “Come on, Chat. We’ve got a baby superhero to meet. Thank you, Master!”

“But petting!” Chat Noir whines, though he still follows her out of the parlour.

“Behave yourself and I’ll give you all the petting you want later,” Ladybug says as they leap through Paris towards Alya’s house.

“Hmph. I’ll just go to Marinette for pets.”

“You do that, kitty.”

When they land on Alya’s balcony, she’s thoroughly engrossed in whatever she’s doing on her computer; probably some Ladyblog stuff. But Alya’s always had a sixth sense for superheroes, and as soon as their feet graze the balcony, her head whips up and her eyes start to glimmer at the sight that greets her.

“Ladybug! Chat Noir!” she cries when she bursts out onto her balcony. “What’s wrong? Is there an akuma? Do you need my help?”

“Not now, but we’ll need you in the future,” Chat Noir says cryptically. Ladybug rolls her eyes.

“Ignore him,” she says. “Mind if we kidnap you for an hour or two? This could change your life.”

“Um, yes!” Alya dances from foot to foot. “You can kidnap me anytime! And getting to help you guys? What’s going on?”

“How about we snatch this fair maiden first?” Chat Noir says, and Alya gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look and pointedly holds her arms out to Ladybug, who smirks and scoops her up. Then they’re off, bounding through Paris towards the Eiffel Tower, and Alya lets out a shriek of laughter and whoops as the wind whips through her hair and blows her curls all over the place. Once they’ve finally landed on the tip, safe from the view of Paris, Ladybug sets Alya down and laughs when Alya tries in vain to tame her windswept hair.

“So,” Alya says when she’s finally given up on fixing her wild curls. “What’s up, you guys? Do you need me to do something on the Ladyblog?”

“If this works out, you can’t breathe a word of it anywhere near the Ladyblog,” Ladybug says. “You can’t tell anyone. Not the Ladyblog, not even your friends or family.”

Alya’s eyes widen. “Whoa. That’s heavy. What is it?”

“Stop scaring her, bugaboo,” Chat Noir grins. “Like she’s gonna say no.”

“I’m just making sure she understands the responsibility that this entails!” Ladybug says.

“Okay, not that I’m not up for some Ladynoir banter,” Alya says, “but it might help if you guys actually tell me what’s going on.”

Ladybug sticks her tongue out at Chat Noir, then swipes the top of her yo-yo to open it up so that she can reach into the pool of bright light and extract the little Miraculous box. “Alya Césaire,” she says, holding the box out to a wide-eyed Alya, while Chat Noir silently sulks at the fact that his baton can’t do that, even though his suit has pockets when Ladybug’s doesn’t. “Here is the Miraculous of the Fox, which grants the power of illusion. Should you choose to accept, you will use it for the greater good whenever we need your help, then return it to us when the mission is complete.”

Chat Noir shoots her an odd look. Hadn’t Master Fu said that Alya could keep the Fox? Oh well, Ladybug’s always got a plan for everything, so he just has to assume that this is another plan of hers. And if she’s come up with it on the spot, he can’t very well ask her without tipping off Alya.

“No way,” Alya breathes. “For real? Me, a superhero?”

“Of course,” Chat Noir says. “Ladybug and I both thought you’d be a natural fit.”

“But your identity must remain a secret,” Ladybug says. “If we hear that you’ve told anyone then we won’t be able to give the Miraculous back to you. Unless the circumstances were unavoidable, of course. Accidents happen.”

“Of course not!” Alya says, once again bouncing from foot to foot. “I mean – of course! I won’t tell a soul!”

“Then welcome to the team, Ladyblogger,” Chat Noir grins as Ladybug indicates that Alya can take the little box. “Tonight’s just an orientation, but we’re gonna try and give you a few training nights so you’re not shoved into the thick of things like we were.”

“I will actually have both your babies for this,” Alya blurts out.

“I think that’s scientifically impossible with two uteruses, but sure,” Ladybug says with an amused little grin. Alya rolls her eyes, then snaps open the box and gasps and shields her eyes from the bright orange light that pours out of it.

“What is that thing?” Alya gasps. When the light fades to reveal a little orange fox kwami with mischievous violet eyes, her own eyes practically bulge out of her head.

“I’m not a thing!” Trixx says. “My name is Trixx and I’m your kwami!”

“Mind. Blown.” Alya feverishly examines Trixx from all angles. “You’re what gives Ladybug and Chat Noir their superpowers, right?”

“Not bad,” Trixx remarks to Ladybug and Chat Noir.

“She’s an expert,” Ladybug says.

“That’s one word for it,” Chat Noir says. Alya shoots him a very dirty look.

“So, what do you say?” Ladybug says. “You ready to become a superhero?”

“Do you even need to ask?” Alya shoots back.

“Then you just need to say one thing,” Trixx says. “Trixx, let’s pounce!”

“Trixx, let’s pounce!” Alya is enveloped in the same orange light that had introduced Trixx, and when it fades to reveal her fox outfit, she squeals and twists and turns to look at every little bit of it. She’s wearing a baggy, cropped orange jacket with a white chest, open over a tight, white-torsoed orange suit with a high black collar, along with white-palmed black gloves that look like they rise underneath her jacket sleeves. Her orange suit stops at her knees, meeting her orange-mottled black boots with orange fox paw prints on the white soles. Her black collar tapers into a sharp point where the fox tail of her active Miraculous rests, and there’s a wide strip of material wrapped around her waist that falls behind her in a black-outlined orange and white fox tail. Topping off her outfit are fake black-tipped orange fox ears with white insides, a mask that’s orange on the top half and white on the bottom half, a long flute strung across her back, and white-tipped hair that’s pulled back into a bushy ponytail. The more Chat Noir stares, the more he realises that it’s not just a ponytail; each thick bunch of curls forms a fox tail, with nine in total, giving her ponytail the illusion of extra volume.

“You know, milady,” Chat Noir says, “you’d better ask your kwami about a suit change, ‘cause Alya looks pretty damn cool.”

“And just what is wrong with my suit?” Ladybug huffs, crossing her arms. Chat Noir raises his hands.

“Nothing, nothing! You know I’ve got a thing for spots.” He winks. “I just don’t know you’d go for such a…plain suit if you were given the chance of a lifetime to be a superhero.”

“My suit is practical, thank you very much!” Ladybug says.

“So’s mine. But I’ve got a bell.”

“Yeah, because you’re a whipped kitten!”

“Ooh, burn,” Alya cackles, her head swivelling from Ladybug to Chat Noir to follow the argument.

“Her suit’s practical but still cool!” Chat Noir points at Alya.

“Hey, whoa, keep me outta your lover’s spat.”

“I’ll so take that Miraculous back off you and give it to Chloé Bourgeois if you call it a lover’s spat again,” Ladybug mutters.

“Hey! Low blow!” Alya clasps her heart dramatically.

“Shouldn’t we be introducing Alya to the nightlife?” Chat Noir says with his usual smirk. Ladybug pinches the bridge of her nose.

“Just…pick a superhero name and jump off the Tower already,” she sighs. Alya squeals and jumps again.

“A name! I get to pick a superhero name!”

“Yep, so make it count, ‘cause you’ll be stuck with it, foxy,” Chat Noir says.

“Call me foxy again and I’ll claw your eyes out,” Alya says. “Hmm. My name’s…Rena Rouge! Yeah! Rena Rouge!”

“Not bad,” Ladybug says. “Okay, now jump off the Tower.”

“…You were serious about that?” Rena Rouge says. Ladybug smiles sweetly.

“Of course. You want to be a superhero, right? Go!”

“I’ll accompany you, foxy,” Chat Noir winks, then jumps off the Eiffel Tower before Rena Rouge can follow through with her threat of gouging his eyes out. But at least it gives her sufficient motivation to forget the fact that she’s jumping hundreds of metres down to the ground, since she growls and hurls herself after him seconds later, catching herself with the metal beams and sliding down the Tower directly when necessary to slow herself with the friction, then launching herself back off.

It’s so not fair. Why can’t Rena Rouge hurtle through Paris or get whacked off a pole-tightrope on her first day like he and Ladybug had? Damn foxes being a damn natural at this.

“Oh my god,” Rena Rouge gasps when her feet hit the concrete ground seconds after Chat Noir lands, with Ladybug bringing up the rear. “I just jumped down the Eiffel Tower!”

“And you doubted my instincts, kitty,” Ladybug says with a smirk.

“Please, milady, you insult me if you think I ever doubt you,” Chat Noir says.

“This is so cool! I can’t wait till my first battle!” Rena Rouge then grimaces. “I mean, not that I want someone to get akumatised – ugh, you guys know what I mean!”

“Yes, yes, you’re just an overexcited douche rather than an insensitive douche,” Chat Noir says. Rena Rouge sticks her tongue out at him.

“I hate to cut this short, but we didn’t exactly tell Alya’s parents that we were kidnapping her,” Ladybug says. “This’ll have to be a brief orientation. But next time will totally be longer.”

“I will commit every second of this to permanent memory,” Rena Rouge whispers with starry eyes.

“One last thing before we end our little soirée,” Chat Noir says. “Try using your power.”

“My power? Oh, right! Like Ladybug has Lucky Charm and you have Cataclysm!”

“Yep,” Ladybug says. “Yours is Mirage. As many illusions as you want for five minutes, no matter how big or small. It should be easy enough to make and hold the illusions –”

“– but it’ll take pawractice to make it look purrfect,” Chat Noir says. Both Ladybug and Rena Rouge glare at him.

“Feel like being my new partner?” Ladybug says.

“Damn right I do,” Rena Rouge says.

“Hmph,” Chat Noir says. “As if you could live without my ameowzing puns. But it does seem a bit unfair that Rena’s gotta work on perfecting her illusions when the others get straightforward powers – make a shelter, stinging others…”

“And that’s why it takes a clever mind and a fast learner,” Ladybug says. “And we know Alya’s both.”

“Sorry, Chat Noir, but you’re just gonna have to shove off and let me make out with Ladybug,” Rena Rouge says. “She called me clever and a fast learner!”

“Don’t go getting a big head or anything,” Chat Noir says sourly.

“Besides, imagine the chaos of having unlimited illusions everywhere without a timer once you’re more experienced,” Ladybug says. “You wouldn’t know what’s real or what’s not. The Fox is suited to hanging back and annoying the enemy, remember?”

“Hanging back? That doesn’t sound like me at all,” Rena Rouge says.

“Which is why we picked you for the Fox,” Ladybug says. “It’s not always about what power you’re best suited to, but what that power can teach you. I get the feeling that you’ll benefit from learning how to be a true Fox, especially since you wanna be a professional journalist someday. Hang back, gather information, confuse your opponent, then get out of there. Even if you prefer to be in the thick of things, it’s all about learning how to use your wits under stress. He did say that aggressive foxes were a thing, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, if I remember correctly,” Chat Noir says.

“Actually…that does sound pretty cool,” Rena Rouge admits. “Especially the part where I can create literally any illusion I want. Okay, I’m in. How do I use my power?”

“Just picture the illusion you want to create, play your flute, then say, “Mirage”,” Chat Noir says. “First illusion will start your timer, then you’ve got five minutes to either use that one illusion or make more.”

“But the more you have, the harder it is to focus on them,” Ladybug says. “Which is where experience comes in.”

“Right, right. I think I’ve got it.” Rena Rouge’s brow furrows, then she unslings her flute and raises it to her lips to play a short tune. “Mirage!” She flings the orange orb at the end of her flute and when it hits the ground in front of her, a small group of people appear in a flash of orange light.

Wait. Why is Chat Noir looking at himself? Well, not technically himself, but his civilian self. Adrien. And Marinette, and Nino, and a few other people who he assumes are Rena Rouge’s parents and sisters. Except that they’re slightly fuzzy around the edges and very obviously not real.

“Guess what, guys!” Rena Rouge crows. “I’m a superhero! I’m Rena Rouge! Me, Alya!”

“Oh my gosh, really?” Illusion Marinette bounces on the spot. “That’s so, so cool, Alya!”

“We all know how much you love superheroes, especially Ladybug!” illusion Adrien says.

“I’m so proud of you, babe!” illusion Nino says.

“Our daughter, a hero!” illusion Mrs Césaire says, and illusion Mr Césaire beams and hugs her.

“Super Alya! Super Alya!” the illusion twins chant.

“Not bad, sis,” illusion big sister says. Rena Rouge’s necklace beeps and loses a tail segment, so she sighs and reaches out to touch illusion Nino, and the group of people disappear in another flash of light and the faint sound of flute music.

“Rena?” Ladybug says softly when Rena Rouge says nothing for a few moments. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Rena Rouge turns to face them, and Chat Noir’s stomach lurches at the sight of her glossy eyes. “I just…had to tell them somehow. At least I’ll have that memory with me.”

“You know we’d love nothing more than for you to be able to tell your friends and family, right?” Ladybug says. “But all it would take is one brainwashing or mind-reading akuma…”

“Not even Ladybug and I know who each other are,” Chat Noir says. He slips an arm around Rena Rouge, and she smiles and leans into his embrace. “Considering how many hits I take for her, that’s probably a good thing.”

“You’re gonna give me a heart attack one of these days,” Ladybug mutters as she joins the embrace, sandwiching Rena Rouge between herself and Chat Noir. They stand there in silence, squished together, ignoring Rena Rouge’s Miraculous when it beeps again.

“You know,” Rena Rouge eventually says. “I never would’ve put this on the Ladyblog, even without you guys asking me. I don’t care about the world knowing who I am. I just want my close friends and my family to be proud of me…”

Alya considers Adrien to be one of her close friends? Chat Noir can’t help but squeeze Rena Rouge tighter after that, not that she’ll know why.

“I think they already know just how miraculous you are, even without superpowers,” Ladybug says.

“God, I’m such a fucking sap,” Rena Rouge mutters, squirming until Ladybug and Chat Noir release her. “Alright, alright, break it up. I should get back before my family comes to check on me and thinks an akuma stole me or something. How do I detransform?’

“I think it’s “let’s rest”,” Chat Noir says.

“Let’s rest.” Rena Rouge’s costume vanishes in a whirl of orange sparkles, leaving Alya standing in her place with Trixx floating above her head. Alya looks up at Trixx, bites her lip, then ever so slowly reaches up to unfasten the necklace, as though she’s prolonging the inevitable.

“Thank you, Alya,” Ladybug says as she accepts the Fox Miraculous from Alya and returns it to its box. “For proving that we could trust you.”

“It was super tempting to keep it, not gonna lie,” Alya says. “But you wouldn’t give it back if I did, right? And I’d be an idiot to make an enemy of Ladybug and Chat Noir. I figure if I get to be a hero sometimes, at least it’s better than never.”

Ladybug smiles widely. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” she says and holds the box back out to Alya, whose eyes bulge. “I wanted to make sure that we could trust you enough to relinquish your powers when asked. Good job passing our test, Alya.”

“You mean your test,” Chat Noir says. “I had no idea what you were doing. But hey, bugaboo always has a plan.”

“Stop calling me bugaboo,” Ladybug says, though her lips twitch.

“Are you…serious?” Alya breathes. “This isn’t another test to see if I’m gonna be greedy and snatch it or something?”

“No,” Ladybug says. “You’ve earned it, Alya. We offered to take it back each time, but Mas – the person who gave us our Miraculouses said that the bond between holder and kwami is vital. You do know, though, that Chat Noir and I are entirely responsible for you.”

“So, you’d better not seriously mess up, yeah?” Chat Noir says. “But no pressure or anything.”

“Yeah, no pressure,” Alya says sarcastically, taking the Fox Miraculous back out and clasping it around her neck again, then tucking it under her shirt. Trixx reappears in a flash of orange light and gives Alya a rather shark-like grin. Or should that be a fox-like grin? “I can’t wait till the next akuma fight!”

“Actually, we don’t want you out there just yet,” Ladybug says. She holds up a hand before Alya can protest. “Hawkmoth doesn’t know for sure that there are other Miraculouses in Paris. The minute we reveal you, we lose that element of surprise.”

“We gotta be sure that you’re not gonna get downed in two seconds before we let you out there,” Chat Noir says. “You saw how bugaboo got flattened on our first day.”

“Excuse me?” Ladybug huffs. “Mr ‘Oops-I-didn’t-listen-to-my-kwami-and-used-Cataclysm-like-an-idiot’ wants to imply that he was the better one of us?”

“I’m with Ladybug. At least she used her Lucky Charm right.” Alya sticks her tongue out at Chat Noir while dancing from foot to foot, while Trixx watches with an amused gleam in his eyes and Chat Noir pouts at her. “And that makes sense, about making sure I’m prepared. Even if I’m literally about to wet myself both out of excitement and to see if this is just a dream.”

“Please don’t,” Chat Noir says. “Or Ladybug will have to Lucky Charm a –”

“You’d better not finish that sentence, Chat Noir, or I won’t pet you for a month,” Ladybug says. Alya coughs rather suspiciously behind her hand at that. “Thanks for understanding, Alya. I know it must be super tempting to rush out there and get in the action.”

“Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head,” Alya says. “I’m totally cool to be your secret weapon. And it will be secret ‘cause this isn’t going anywhere near the Ladyblog. At least, not until my first battle. Just promise me that I get to break this scoop, right? And I get to Peter Parker this shit and throw people off our trails?”

“Of course,” Ladybug and Chat Noir say together, and Alya beams.

“Damn right. Now, take me back home before you guys are reported for kidnapping and end up on the run to prove your innocence.”

“A shame, really, that we can’t keep you,” Chat Noir deadpans as Ladybug scoops Alya up. Alya smiles sweetly at him.

“Damn right, furball.”

Chapter Text

“She’s coming!” Alix hisses to everyone. Immediately, Adrien and his classmates, dressed in their best casual party clothes, scramble to assemble under the Joyeux anniversaire Marinette! banner. Adrien brushes down his pale green button-up shirt and black pants, then adjusts the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and ruffles his hair, making sure he looks his absolute best and pointedly ignoring Nino’s smirk.

He’s just in time for Alya to lead a blindfolded Marinette over to them, and his heart does a backflip at the sight of Marinette in a pretty off-the-shoulder pink dress with a chunky black and white belt, her black hair in a loose side plait. He’s about ninety-nine percent sure that Plagg would be snickering like a little shit right about now if they weren’t around other people.

Okay, so visiting Marinette a few nights a week for the past two months may not have been the smartest idea. Sure, they’ve both have grown to anticipate the visits, but it hasn’t exactly done wonders for his crush on her. If anything, he’s only fallen for her even harder after seeing how competitive she can get over video games, and how she sticks her tongue out when she’s concentrating on her sewing, and how her smell of strawberries comes from the shampoo and conditioner she uses; a fact he’d learned after she had a quick shower during one of his visits. The vanilla must come from living around bakers, then, unless she’s got vanilla-scented soap or body wash – and nope, that’s an avenue he does not want his brain to go down, not when he’s a teenage boy catching up from years of being sheltered –

“Happy birthday, Marinette!” everyone around him choruses. Adrien blinks and yanks himself out of his head just in time to see Marinette’s wide-eyed look of delight as she takes in the party that they’ve set up for her, thankfully not seeming to notice that Adrien had been a little too preoccupied to remember to join the collective happy birthday.

“Thank you, thank you!” Marinette bounces on the spot. Before his brain even knows what he’s doing, Adrien’s feet move without his permission and he’s pulling Marinette into a hug, trying not to bury his face in her hair like a creep to get a stronger whiff of strawberries.

“Happy birthday,” he says when he lets her go. Marinette’s answering smile is brighter than the sun.

“Thank you!” she says.

“Presents!” Kim bounds over to the pile of presents like a little kid on Christmas. “Open presents first!”

“Or we could actually party for a few minutes,” Alix drawls.

“Presents! Presents!” Rose follows Kim’s example, while Juleka just shakes her head and smiles at her girlfriend.

“Then we can party!” Max says. “Opening presents first will heighten the excitement and lead to more enjoyment throughout the rest of the party!”

“Yay! Presents!” little Manon cries.

“How can we deny such a cutie?” Lila says and ruffles Manon’s hair, making her giggle.

“Okay, okay! Presents!” Alya announces. Everyone cheers and crowds around the pile of gifts, ready to wade through and find their presents for Marinette until Ivan acts as a buffer and hands out everyone’s presents to prevent them from being tossed around and squished. “Let’s see…Mylène, you first!”

Beaming, Mylène gives her gift to Marinette, and Marinette gasps and hugs Mylène tightly when she unwraps a book, although Adrien can’t quite make out the cover.

“Thanks, Mylène!” Marinette says.

“Adrien next!” Alya says, and Adrien jumps and smile when Marinette looks at him. Before he can give his present, however, something yellow pushes through the crowd.

“How about me next?” Chloé says as Sabrina stops just behind her. No one says anything. “Wow. Hi to you all too.”

“What are you doing here?” Nathaniel says. Chloé rolls her eyes.

“I’m nice, remember? Obviously, I’ve got a present for Dupain-Cheng, even if I wasn’t invited to this…uh, lovely little party.” She thrusts a small yellow gift at Marinette, who looks just as taken aback as everyone else but quickly recovers. Adrien can’t help the small stab of annoyance at being upstaged by Chloé, but he shoves it down with the reminder that Chloé is being nice like he’d wanted.

“Thank you, Chloé!” Marinette says. Chloé rolls her eyes again.

“Sure, sure. Just open it already. I’ve got places to be.”

Chloé’s present is a small gold bottle of perfume; Joy, to be precise. Adrien raises an eyebrow. Sure, Chloé’s a princess who doesn’t do ordinary, but he hadn’t expected her to spend that much money on her archrival. Then again, they’ve been far less hostile to each other lately, so maybe that’s changing.

“I’ve never worn perfume before,” Marinette notes, examining the bottle from all angles.

“Of course you haven’t,” Chloé says. “And there’s no way I’m allowing your introduction to perfume to be some cheap, common stuff. Ugh, get off me!” she cries when Marinette hugs her. Adrien can’t help but grin at the sight. Maybe Chloé really is changing for the better! But he can’t be her friend again until he’s absolutely certain that she’s genuine; not until he’s sure that he’s not the only reason she’s being nice.

“Here’s my present!” Sabrina holds out a thin purple box, which contains a pack of good quality sketching pencils. Her reaction to Marinette’s hug is much more enthusiastic, smiling until Chloé pulls her away.

“Okay, okay, fun’s over. Come on, Sabrina.” Chloé grimaces and says, “Happy…birthday…Dupain-Cheng.”

Before Marinette can reply, the sound of singing shatters the air, and everyone whirls around to see a green-skinned woman with vivid red hair and a witchy black catsuit descending on a broomstick-shaped flying motorcycle, accompanied by a faceless woman with dark hair and angel wings. Adrien’s stomach sinks; judging from her clothes, the angel woman can only be Sabine Cheng, and one look at Marinette’s horrified face confirms his guess.

“La Befana comes at night on her shaky broom in flight! She gives candy to those who are dandy!” The witch woman – Befana – jumps off her motorcycle at the end of her song and approaches Marinette, parting the students around her like water.

“Nonna?” Marinette gasps.

“You lied to your nonna, Marinetta,” Befana tuts. Adrien’s rooted to the spot, torn between jumping in to protect Marinette and running off to transform. However, when Befana shoots a ray of red light from her gun and only hits Mylène due to Marinette ducking out of the way, Adrien’s able to force himself into action. He’ll be able to protect Marinette and their classmates far better as Chat Noir than as himself, so he sprints off to hide behind a tree, looking over his shoulder to make sure that he won’t get zapped into a crumbly black statue like Mylène.

“We didn’t even get in on the buffet!” Plagg complains when he zooms out of the pocket of Adrien’s pants.

“Party’s over, my friend. Plagg, claws out!”

“It’s rude to leave while Befana’s still speaking to you!” Befana points her gun at Marinette, who’s trapped between her and the fairy Sabine, but Chat Noir lands on one of the speakers and knocks the akuma’s aim off with his baton.

“Hey, I never knew grandmas could be so nasty,” he quips when Befana looks at him. She tuts and aims at him.

“You would look wonderful in white, my pretty kitty.”

Chat Noir jumps out of the way, but only barely misses being turned into a fairy like Sabine. “Eh, not convinced. I’m much more into black – makes my eyes stand out, don’t you think?” He resists the urge to wink at Marinette, which turns out to be a life-saving move as it allows him to dodge Befana’s subsequent shots and leap up behind a nearby chimney without being distracted.

“Take care of this pesky pussycat!” Befana orders Sabine.

Great. As much as Chat Noir would love to protect Marinette, he can’t exactly do that when her corrupted mother is on his tail, tackling him down to the pavement.

“Chat Noir!” she calls. The distress in her voice makes Chat Noir’s stomach churn.

“Stay put, I’ll be right there!” he calls, dodging Sabine again. Her next attack catches him in his worry for Marinette, sending him flying into a tree. “Uh, soon!”

The worst bit about being a superhero, he decides, is when he’s unable to do his job and help people. In the background, he’s very much aware of Alya, Kim, and Lila being turned to coal and Rose into a fairy, but he can’t exactly do much to save his classmates while he’s fending off Sabine. Finally, he catches a break and kicks Sabine away into a tree, then leaps over to Marinette’s hiding place.

“Sorry I kept you waiting. We need to find you a better hiding place. Shall we?” He winks and holds out his hand, pulling Marinette to his side when she takes it, although he can’t for the life of him figure out why her face is so red when he slips an arm around her waist to secure her.

“You’re really calling Dupain-Cheng a spoilt brat?” Chloé’s scoff reaches Chat Noir’s ears. “Lavillant might be an airy-fairy princess, but she was actually right for once. Dupain-Cheng’s so disgustingly nice that she makes me want to hurl.”

Huh. Now that, Chat Noir hadn’t expected from Chloé. Chloé gets a faceful of fairy ray for her trouble and floats up next to Rose, but Chat Noir can’t help but feel that she would think it totally worth it. Anything to sass a supervillain, even in Marinette’s defence, and especially because Chloé didn’t even cause this one. Really, as selfish and cowardly as she can be, Chloé also seems to have no sense of self-preservation when it comes to the chance to diss an akuma. Probably because Ladybug always ends up saving her in the end.

Speaking of Ladybug, where is she? Never mind. First things first: get Marinette out of here and away from Befana, then focus on where Ladybug could be. With the help of his baton, Chat Noir rises back up to the rooftops with Marinette, then smoothly swings her into a bridal carry as he retracts his baton.

“Marinetta is getting away with the kitty! Catch them!” comes Befana’s cry. There’s no sound of flapping wings growing louder, so something must have happened to Befana’s fairies, but Chat Noir resists the urge to look over his shoulder in case he stumbles and dooms both himself and Marinette.

“You must be a real cool girl if your friends are protecting you like that,” he says as he dashes across the rooftops in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. If there’s any good hiding place around here, it’s there. “Not that I didn’t know that already. So, why’s your grandma flipping out, princess?”

“I think she wanted me to spend more time with her,” Marinette says, her mouth drooping. Thankfully, Chat Noir arrives within baton-leaping distance to the Eiffel Tower at that moment, so he can focus on swinging through a gap in the metal rather than on Marinette’s sad face.

“Don’t worry,” he says when he sets her down on the viewing deck. “I promise to get your real grandma back safe.” He bounds over to the railing and hops up on it, then stops and turns back to her. “Oh, I almost forgot. Happy birthday, Marinette. Sorry I didn’t get to swing by and give you anything.”

“You got me a tour with a view!” Marinette gestures out towards Paris with a grin. “What more could I ask for?”

Chat Noir grins back and salutes, then jumps off the railing and leaps through Paris to find Befana. Not that he needs to look for very long; it only takes a few minutes before he hears her singing, and another moment before he catches sight of her turning an annoyed driver into coal.

“La Befana comes at night on her shaky broom in flight!” the akuma sings. “She gives candy to those who are dandy, and only gives coal to brats with no soul!”

Rolling his eyes, Chat Noir extends his staff across Befana’s path so that she crashes into it and goes hurtling through the air, needing Rose and Sabine to catch her before she crashes into the ground.

“Chat Noir comes in to…unexpectedly…” Chat Noir blinks and pauses mid-song. “Uh, how do you make that rhyme?”

He’s answered by a red blur landing next to him and singing in a melodic voice, “Fighting evil with his lady!”

“Of course!” Chat Noir grins at Ladybug. “Not bad, bugaboo!”

A purple mask appears over Befana’s face and Chat Noir tenses, wondering what Hawkmoth’s saying to her.

“You didn’t say the magic word!” she scolds. Chat Noir blinks and exchanges a look with Ladybug. “Much better, Hawkmoth. Now!” Befana points at Chat Noir. “You little thief! Where have you hidden Marinetta?”

Chat Noir shrugs. “I forgetta.”

Ladybug snickers at his joke. “Watch out or you’ll be getting a time-out of your own!” she says to Befana, swinging her yo-yo. Befana just scoffs.

“Take care of these little villains,” she orders. While her fairies attack Ladybug and Chat Noir, she races in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, and Chat Noir’s heart rises into his throat.

“We can’t let her get to the Eiffel Tower! That’s where I hid her granddaughter!” he cries.

“Wait, no, she’s –!” Ladybug shakes her head and bounds after Chat Noir. He can’t help but wonder what she was going to say, but the worry for Marinette that curdles his stomach wins out and he just focuses on getting to the Eiffel Tower and Marinette before Befana does.

Chat Noir wishes he could say that he’s surprised when Ladybug’s Lucky Charm gives her a tuba after they've tied the fairies up in the Tower elevator, but he honestly can’t; not when they’ve had far weirder. With a nifty use of Cataclysm to disintegrate a fire hydrant and the tuba to send the water gushing in Befana’s direction, they manage to trick Befana into turning herself to coal when she tries to shoot the water as it touches her gun.

Miraculous Ladybug sets everything to rights, though, and Ladybug is soon swinging off with a, “Tell Marinette happy birthday from me!” called back at Chat Noir. He waves at her, then turns to Marinette’s grandmother, who’s still looking rather dazed after shedding her Befana skin.

“Are you okay, Mrs Dupain?” he says.

“Oh, please, it’s just Gina,” Mrs Dupain – Gina – says. “Where’s my Marinetta? What happened?”

“I’ll go find Marinette now and she’ll be able to tell you everything that happened,” Chat Noir says. His ring beeps. “Are you okay to get back to the park by yourself? I’m going to transform back soon.”

Gina turns and spots her motorcycle, and she nods and strides over to it. “Thank you for protecting Marinetta, pretty kitty,” she says, pulling her helmet on.

“Of course.” Chat Noir preens at the “pretty kitty” comment. “You’ve got a real special granddaughter.”

Gina beams. “I know.”

Once Gina’s speeding off, Chat Noir leaps up the Eiffel Tower until he’s on the viewing deck. “Marinette? Where’d you go?”

“I’m here!” says a voice from behind him. Chat Noir turns and can’t help but grin at the sight of Marinette unharmed, smiling at him. “Ladybug helped me hide somewhere safer. Thanks for saving Nonna.”

Chat Noir bows and kisses Marinette’s hand. “My pleasure, princess. Now, let’s get you back to the park. You wouldn’t want to miss out on your own birthday, would you?”

Marinette giggles and lets him pick her up. He’s admittedly a little selfish as they head back to the park, taking a scenic route, but she doesn’t seem to mind. It does mean that he has to leave the moment he deposits Marinette back at her party, though, and he doesn’t get to tell her that Ladybug said happy birthday; but hey, Ladybug probably already told her when relocating her. Once he’s detransformed, he rushes out to join the others and makes up a story about getting hit by Befana in his hiding place.

“Of course you’d be hiding,” Chloé scoffs. “It’s not like you were in the action like moi. Ladybug would be so proud that I stood up to that tacky akuma.”

“She sure would!” Marinette says. “Chloé…do you and Sabrina want to stay for the party? None of us would mind.”

Her classmates immediately school their faces into totally neutral expressions.

“Oh, no, of course we don’t mind,” Alya says with what looks like a painful smile.

“Yeah, you’re totally welcome,” Alix says through gritted teeth. Chloé smirks around at them, no doubt able to tell that it’s causing them great pain to pretend that they don’t mind her being there.

“Well, I suppose I can cancel my hair appointment this time,” Chloé says. “I’ll stay, Dupain-Cheng. It’ll be…nice.” Her face twists.

“Yay!” Sabrina claps her hands.

“Oh! We never finished opening presents!” Lila says. “I think –”

“Adrien, give her yours!” Rose cries before Lila can finish her sentence.

“Yeah!” Manon squeals. How she avoided Befana, Adrien has no idea; the kid probably has superpowers of her own, for all he knows. Everyone crowds around Adrien, and Rose hands Adrien the small blue box that had been dropped in the Befana crossfire, which he holds out to Marinette. Her eyes widen when she unwraps it and finds a small yellow and green charm bracelet inside.

“I always carry the lucky charm you gave me with me wherever I go, and I think it works pretty well.” Adrien’s stomach does a flip-flop at the smile that spreads across Marinette’s face. “I figured it was my turn to make one for you.”

“It’s gorgeous!” Marinette tucks it into her purse, taking extra care to make sure it’s secure. Then she pulls Adrien into a hug, and he gulps and tries not to spontaneously combust on the spot. “Thank you, Adrien!”

“No Marinette – I mean – no problem,” he stammers. Over Marinette’s head, he catches sight of both Alya and Nino smirking, and he rolls his eyes at them. For the tiniest fraction of a second, Lila looks downright murderous, but then she’s grinning and winking at him and, well, what else can he do but brush it off as a trick of the light? Why Lila would even look so angry in the first place, he’s got no idea.

“Hey, stop hogging her!” Alix complains. “We’ve still got presents to give to her too, Agreste!”

With a laugh, Marinette releases Adrien and turns to Alix. All Adrien can think is that he’s so screwed.

Later that night, once the party’s over and everyone’s cleaned up the park and headed home, Adrien transforms into Chat Noir again and bounds across Paris to a familiar balcony. Marinette’s sitting on one of the seats on her balcony, a light on overheard to illuminate her sketchbook as she makes good use of her new pencils from Sabrina. She’s still wearing her party dress, but she’s put on a white fluffy cardigan due to the slight chill, and she’s so radiant in the soft yellow glow that Chat Noir can’t help but smile at the sight. She looks up when he lands on the balcony railing, then gives him a smile in return.

“Hey, Chat,” she says. “Thanks for saving me today.”

“But of course, princess.” Chat Noir gives an exaggerated bow. “I’m your knight in shining leather, after all.”

Marinette snorts, then gestures to the second chair, which Chat Noir spins around so that he can straddle it in reverse and lean his chin on the back. “I didn’t know that you made a habit of checking up on people after akuma attacks.”

“I’ve been visiting you for the past few months, Marinette,” Chat Noir says. “And you said I could drop by anytime. I’d say you’re a lot more than just “people”.”

Marinette’s cheeks flush dark, and she bites her lip and ducks her head. Chat Noir’s insides flutter at the sight.

“I got you a birthday present,” he blurts out. He reaches into one of his suit pockets and pulls out a small black box, then presents it to Marinette.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Marinette protests, but she still accepts the box and snaps it open. She lets out a small gasp when she sees the contents, and it takes every ounce of Chat Noir’s willpower to not preen when she lifts out the silver bracelet as delicately as if she was holding a newborn child.

“It’s not much,” he says quickly. “And it’s not handmade or anything like the scarf you made for m – for Adrien. But I saw it and I…thought you’d like it, especially because you can add more charms to it later…but if it’s not your style, I can –”

“How about you shush and put it on for me?” Marinette says, holding out the bracelet. A little silver cat’s paw dangles from the chain, inlaid with tiny green gems; really, how could Chat Noir not have gotten it for her? She rolls up the sleeve of her white cardigan, allowing him to lean forward and drape the chain around her wrist, and it takes a few tries of fumbling with the clasp, but he finally gets it secured. Marinette holds up her wrist to examine the bracelet from all angles, the smile back on her face.

“I’m guessing you like it?” Chat Noir shifts in his seat. He’s really not good at this whole birthday present thing, after a lifetime of being sheltered and only ever attending parties thrown by Chloé and maybe a few other rich kids. Shopping relatively inexpensively had been the biggest struggle of his life, only because giving Marinette something worth a fortune would’ve no doubt handed her a big clue as to his identity. Blond hair, green eyes, super rich? Yeah, who else could that be?

“No, I hate it,” Marinette says sarcastically. “I generally make a habit of wearing things I hate.”

“Fine,” Chat Noir sniffs. “I guess I’ll just have to take it back. Good thing I kept the receipt.”

Marinette rolls her eyes. “Thank you, Chat. It’s beautiful.”

“Just like you.” Chat Noir’s blood turns to ice. Did he really just say that? Out loud? To Marinette? The gobsmacked look on Marinette’s face confirms that yes, he really did say that out loud. “Damn it. I – uh – didn’t mean to say that?”

The corner of Marinette’s mouth turns upward. “Don’t worry, kitty, I’m an expert in no brain to mouth filter. The things I used to say to Adrien make me want to curl up and die when I think about them now. Um…thank you, by the way.”

Chat Noir groans and hangs his head. Fine. He’s messed this up, so he might as well go the whole mile and lay his cards on the table for Marinette. She deserves to know the truth, in case she’s not exactly okay with a dorky guy in leather having a massive crush on her.

“What’s wrong?” Marinette says. “Was it something I said?”

“More like something I said.” Chat Noir looks back up at Marinette, then rests his chin on the palm of his hand and attempts to look as casual as possible. “So. I…might…like you? A lot? Just so you know. So…I meant what I said just then. I just…didn’t mean to say it out loud.”

Marinette’s cheeks once again darken in the soft yellow light. “Chat Noir –”

“You don’t have to say anything,” Chat Noir says quickly. “Seriously. I just…thought I should tell you before I make a bigger idiot of myself than I just did, so you don’t sit there thinking “gee, he’s acting so weird, does he secretly hate me or something?” And no, I definitely didn’t get that from cheesy rom-coms, so you can just shut it –”

“Oh my god, you’re such a dork,” Marinette says. “Look, Chat…I think I like you? I’m not entirely sure yet. After the whole Adrien thing, my feelings have been a bit…gosh, all over the place. I still love him, even if I’m not stumbling over myself anymore, but I also love you and I can’t figure out what that even is yet, so then I worry that it’s a rebound thing or whatever, and oh my god, my life is such a mess –”

“Join the club,” Chat Noir laughs, cutting off her rambling. It’s as though a freight train has been lifted off his shoulders, telling Marinette how he feels and knowing that she has strong feelings in return, even if she doesn’t necessarily return his romantic ones. “You don’t have to stress, princess. Seriously, take all the time you need. It’s just a relief to know that you’re not going to utterly reject me.”

“Now why would I do that?” Marinette reaches out and ruffles his hair. “That would be animal cruelty. I couldn’t possibly abuse a stray cat like you.”

“Ha, ha. You know…” Chat Noir pauses, searching for the right words. “In a way, I’m kind of grateful that Ladybug rejected me. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to be with her – she’s an amazing girl, I’ve always thought that since she literally fell for me –”

Marinette lets out a rather unladylike snort.

“– but, well…being rejected and getting lectured by my kwami about not taking her friendship for granted was just what I needed.”

“I’m actually kind of grateful that I’ve stopped trying so hard to be with Adrien too,” Marinette says. “Especially after he learned about my crush. We’re such good friends now, and I know I wouldn’t have done any of this stuff with him before because I would’ve been too busy choking on my own words to say one thing to him. And even if we do end up together in the future, we’ve got that solid foundation…you know?”

“Yeah, I think I get what you’re saying,” Chat Noir says. He looks up at the half moon in the night sky, then sighs and swings himself out of his seat. “I should get going. I’ll get the third degree if they find that I’m not in bed.” He makes a face. “Early morning commitments and all that.”

“Gross.” Marinette wrinkles her nose. “Sounds like Adrien. He’s got another photoshoot on tomorrow morning. I wish I could go and make it less of a drag for him, but my parents actually think that school comes first.”

“Lucky girl,” Chat Noir deadpans, forcing his laughter under lock and key so that he doesn’t have to fumble for an excuse as to why Adrien having early morning commitments too is so funny. He reaches out to take Marinette’s hand and kisses the back of it. “Happy birthday, Marinette. And seriously, no pressure about the feelings thing. I’m happy to wait, even if you decide that you don’t feel the same way.”

Marinette tilts her head and smiles. “Go to bed, kitty. I should sleep too. Although I’ll probably still end up late for school.” She stands up and approaches him. Before Chat Noir can even process what’s going on, she cups his right cheek and stands on her tiptoes to kiss his left cheek. “Thanks again for today.”

She opens her hatch and drops down onto her bed, then closes it after one last wave and smile. Chat Noir’s left standing on the balcony, blinking again and again as his brain buffers and then reboots itself.

“Holy –” He touches his cheek, then heads for the balcony railing and leaps home in a daze. Even when he’s in bed and drifting off, his fingers remain glued to his cheek, where he can still feel the ghost of Marinette’s lips brushing his skin.

He is so, so screwed. And judging by Plagg’s regular bouts of snickers, the little shit knows it too.

Chapter Text

At this point, Marinette could pick out the sound of Chat Noir landing on her balcony from the other side of a tornado, so she’s already poking her head out of the hatch before he’s even got a chance to knock.

“Are you really that keen for my ameowzing purresence?” Chat Noir grins. Marinette scolds him with a stern look for his pun before popping back down into her room so that Chat Noir can slip through to join her.

“Next time you make a horrible pun, I’m locking my door,” she says when she’s flopped on her chaise and Chat Noir’s dropping off her bed.

“Ah, but that will never happen,” Chat Noir says. “You see, princess, my puns are literary gold. I’ll never make a horrible one.”

“Some of us would beg to differ,” Marinette mumbles.

“Why are you so meeeean? If I wanted snarky insults, I’d go and see Ladybug.”

Ha. If only he knew. “I’m not the one who begged for scraps on a teenage girl’s balcony,” Marinette says. Chat Noir maturely pokes his tongue out and throws himself on the chaise next to her, and the warmth radiating from his dark leather suit is enough to set off a swarm of ladybugs in Marinette’s stomach. Whyyyyy?

“Marinette?” Black-gloved fingers snap in front of her face, jolting her out of her haze. “Everything okay up there?”

“Y-Yeah. Fine I am!”

Chat Noir’s cheeks pinken as he seems to realise that he’s essentially cuddling into her. “Sorry! Must be awkward – I know you’re still sorting yourself out –”

“Oh, don’t be such a martyr,” Marinette says and pulls him back down into her side so that she can run her fingers through his hair and turn him into purring putty. “Just because I’m not ready for a relationship doesn’t mean that I don’t want my kitty cuddles.”

“You’ve been blabbing to Ladybug,” Chat Noir says, letting out a particularly loud purr when Marinette scratches behind his fake ears. “I thought I could trust you, princess. Now she knows my weaknesses!”

“Tragic,” Marinette deadpans. After twirling a lock of golden hair around her finger, she says, “So…how’s that girl you saved today?”

“I didn’t know you cared about akuma victims,” Chat Noir says, then winces. “Not that I don’t think you care – stop melting my brain!”

Marinette snorts. “No, I get what you mean. I just…feel partly responsible for this one. If I hadn’t panicked and judged wrongly –”

“I’m sure Kagami understands,” Chat Noir says. Ah, Kagami. That’s her name. “Adrien would’ve talked to her, right? He would’ve made sure she understood that you didn’t mean to throw the decision.”

“I still could’ve abstained,” Marinette says.

“Yeah, and then it could’ve taken another two hours,” Chat Noir says. “From what I hear, Adrien and Kagami were pretty evenly matched when it comes to fencing. And I’m sure Kagami would’ve eventually come to terms with your decision without getting turned into Riposte if she was literally anywhere but Paris. It’s on Hawkmoth, not you, Marinette.”

Marinette smiles and snuggles further against Chat Noir, relishing how she’s not only allowed to cuddle with her crush, but she also knows that her crush is requited and that things will only change when she’s ready. It’s such a far cry from crushing afar and panicking over so much as seeing him on TV. “Thanks, kitty. You always know what to say.”

“Of course I do,” Chat Noir says, preening and purring when Marinette’s fingers slip under his chin and her fingernails rake across his skin. “I’m just –”

“Chat, no.”

“– purrmazing like that.”

“No. Bad kitty.” Marinette jabs his chest. “You can’t change puns up like that.”

“So, I can pun?’

Marinette purses her lips. “I’ll allow it, to spare Ladybug from having to endure them all.”

“Yes!”


“Are you sure about this?” Kagami Tsurugi whispers as Adrien ducks behind a wall and drags her with him. “Won’t we get in trouble?”

“It’s not our fault that Mr D’Argencourt was sick and didn’t think to tell us before class,” Adrien says. “So long as we’re back at Françoise Dupont by the time fencing class usually ends, no one will know.”

“Your bodyguard will,” Kagami says. She peeks around the corner, then darts back after a moment. “He’s been following us since we snuck out.”

“We’re not really trying to escape him,” Adrien says. “He’s just playing along. So long as he knows where I am and he can keep an eye on me, he lets me get away with a lot.”

“But…why? He must not be a very efficient bodyguard.”

“Because he’d get in trouble every time I snuck away if he didn’t,” Adrien says. “And…I think he knows this is the only freedom I get. He’s always been on my side.”

“Oh,” Kagami says softly. “That must be nice.”

Adrien frowns at her. “You don’t have a bodyguard? What about your driver?”

“We don’t have a driver. Our car is self-driving and responds to Mother’s voice, since she can’t drive herself.”

“Huh.” Adrien takes a moment to thank the heavens for Gorilla. God knows what he’d do if he was stuck with a self-driving car that wouldn’t be programmed with a shred of compassion. “Come on! While he’s not looking!”

Kagami lets out a giggle as Adrien grabs her hand and bolts down the street, weaving between the bustling Parisians who are thankfully so wrapped up in their own lives that they don’t notice who he is. Wow. Is that the first time Kagami’s laughed? It’s so…weird being able to empathise with someone, to actually know what it’s like to be in their situation rather than just sympathising from afar. And she’s so…radiant when she laughs like that, just like when Marinette laughs.

“We should go and see Marinette!” Adrien says when they skid to a halt against the front of a bakery, panting. “You said you wanted to get to know her, right?”

“Are you sure she’ll be okay with us just stopping in?” Kagami says. “Shouldn’t we call her first?”

“It’ll be a surprise!” The image of Marinette’s beaming face swims before Adrien’s eyes, tying his stomach in knots, and he desperately tries to push that picture away before his face starts flaming and Kagami realises that he’s hopelessly crushing on one of his best friends. Too late; Kagami’s narrowed her eyes at him before he’s able to banish the thought of Marinette.

“You like her,” Kagami says.

“Of course!” Adrien tries to sound more confident than he really is. “I love – she’s a girl – I mean, she’s one of my closest friends!”

Kagami rolls her eyes. “Don’t insult my intelligence, Adrien. You have romantic feelings for Marinette. Otherwise, your face wouldn’t be as red as my family car.”

Adrien groans and lets his shoulders slump. “Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t want to be with me.”

“So, you’re just going to pine from afar and never tell her?” Kagami says.

“Trust me, she’s said to my face that she wants to focus on being friends first. Especially after someone outed her crush to me in front of her.”

Kagami winces. “Ouch. My sympathies. Why don’t you try and move on, then?”

“Because…” How does Adrien explain this mess of a situation without incriminating himself as Chat Noir or making up a lie that could get back to her? “Part of me doesn’t want to. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Adrien –”

Kagami.”

Kagami sighs. “Fine. I’ll drop it. I just think –”

“Oh my god!” someone shrieks. “It’s Adrien Agreste!”

“Shit, gotta go!” Adrien grabs Kagami’s wrist and takes off once more.

“Is life always this interesting for you?” Kagami says as they round the corner and nearly collide with a middle-aged man. They shout apologies back at him over their shoulders.

“Interesting? This is just a normal day!” Adrien says. “At least you’ve only got the crushing weight of parental expectations without getting mobbed on the streets!”

“That’s…true. Is it that obvious that my mother’s like that?”

“Considering your speech to me before you were akumatised? Kinda, yeah.”

Turning another corner takes them to the Pont des Arts bridge. Great. How the hell are they supposed to hide in such an open space? Still, Adrien and Kagami leap down to the concrete bank of the Seine, with only a few people on that level, and duck under the bridge, and Adrien sends up a feverish prayer that their pursuers don’t think to look down here.

“Where’d he go?” someone cries from above them.

“Come back, Adrien! Have my babies!”

“Maybe he went down there!”

Adrien’s heart leaps into his dry mouth. But just before he can suggest to Kagami that they keep running or even just jump into the Seine –

“It’s him! It’s Adrien!” The speaker is one of the people down at the edge of the Seine, who’s looking right at Adrien and Kagami as he speaks. Adrien’s about to start planning a slow, painful demise for this arse, but the guy looks up over his shoulder and adds, “He just doubled back!”

“Oh my god!”

“Quick, before we lose him!”

The adrenaline still coursing through Adrien’s body as the sounds of his pursuers grow fainter is probably the only thing keeping him upright at this point. Next to him, Kagami looks far less stressed than he feels; although to be fair, she hadn’t been the target of those people.

“Thank you,” Kagami says to the boy when Adrien says nothing.

“Y-Yeah. Thanks,” Adrien adds shakily. “I know I should be used to it, but it’s still terrifying.”

The boy snickers behind his hand. Adrien idly notes that his nails are painted deep black and his dark hair is dip-dyed teal and that Gabriel would have an aneurysm if Adrien ever painted his nails and dyed his hair like that. He’s the antithesis of everything that Gabriel holds dear. Dear lord, this boy is just perfect.

“I could feel your fear before you even jumped down here,” the boy says. “And you shouldn’t have to be used to it. Chasing anyone through the city and shouting for them to have babies with you is way over the line.”

“Thank god someone else thinks that,” Adrien mutters. “Uh…I’m Adrien Agreste. Not that you don’t know that – great, now I sound up myself –”

The boy snorts. His teal eyes, alight with amusement, draw Adrien in like a magnet, scrambling his brain and leaving his mind momentarily blank. “That’s okay. You’re just socially awkward.” He strums a note on his guitar, something both off and yet perfect, something that punches Adrien in the chest and leaves him momentarily fumbling for breath.

“H-How did you do that?” Adrien finally forces out when he’s able to speak. The boy smiles.

“I can hear people’s heart songs,” he says. “Yours sounds delightfully perfect but if you stop to listen to it, there are little flaws.” The boy strums a few more notes that are both the same and yet so different to what he’d played before, in a way that Adrien can’t even begin to articulate. “Small imperfections. Ones that you wouldn’t see on the surface.”

“Holy –”

“That, and Juleka also talks a lot about her classmates to me,” the boy says with a small smirk. Adrien blinks.

“Juleka? You know Juleka?”

“Of course I do. She’s my little sister.” The boy holds out a hand. “Luka Couffaine. Glad our first meeting could be so memorable.”

“I didn’t know Juleka had a brother,” is all Adrien can say. Luka’s hand is warm as he shakes it, warm and tingly, and it’s like the sun has gone behind a cloud when Adrien finally has to let go.

“I’m not surprised,” Luka says. “She’s pretty quiet until you push a guitar into her hands. And you are?”

Kagami immediately straightens and bows slightly. “Kagami Tsurugi,” she says, shaking his hand. “I’m a friend of Adrien’s, though I don’t attend Françoise Dupont.”

“We have fencing classes together,” Adrien says. “Which is where we technically should be but hey, it’s not our fault our teacher didn’t tell us he was sick.”

“I’m never sneaking out with you again,” Kagami says. “The last thing I need is for your fans to think that I’m your girlfriend. They’d tear me to shreds.”

Adrien winces. “Sorry, by the way. I didn’t think about that when I was rushing to be a rebellious teenager.”

“I don’t see why you should apologise,” Kagami says. “You didn’t ask for your fans to behave like that. But we should probably start making our way back so we’re not late.”

“Thanks again for saving our butts,” Adrien says to Luka.

“My pleasure. Any friend of Juleka’s is a friend of mine.”

Warmth pools in Adrien’s gut. “Friends? Really?”

“Of course, if you want,” Luka smiles. “And I promise I’ll never ask you to have my babies.”

Kagami makes a strange sound between a choked snort and a strangled laugh. Adrien flips her off with a sunny smile.

“I appreciate that,” he says, pulling out his phone so he can exchange numbers with Luka. “I’m too young to be a father.”

“Glad to see that you’re so responsible about it,” Luka says as he punches his number into Adrien’s phone. Adrien does the same with Luka’s phone and although he’s tempted to add Kagami’s number too, there’s no point in risking the wrath of Tomoe Tsurugi; it had been enough of a battle to get himself added to Kagami’s phone, and Tomoe wholeheartedly approves of him. “Your future wife will be lucky to have you.”

“Or husband,” Adrien blurts out. Why did he say that? It’s not like he’s ever really shown an interest in boys before, and he’s in love with Marinette…but the way Luka isn’t even fazed by that and instead just smiles is making Adrien question a lot of things about himself right now.

“Or husband,” Luka agrees. “But you won’t have either if you don’t get back in time.”

“He’s right.” Kagami grabs Adrien’s hand. “Come on, Adrien!”

“Thank you!” Adrien calls over his shoulder as Kagami tugs him towards the stone stairs leading back up to the street. Luka just waves back, still smiling, for a moment even brighter than the sun in the sky behind him.

Well, shit.

Chapter Text

“Wait, really?” Marinette’s mouth droops. “But he promised you could come to the concert!”

“I know he did,” Adrien’s voice says rather bitterly through the phone. “Apparently, I’m not good enough for him.”

“That’s rubbish!” If Marinette’s hands weren’t occupied with her phone and a cardboard box, she’d either be crossing her arms firmly or tugging on the hair that she’s left loose around her face today. “You’re a better pianist than half the people our age put together!”

“To be fair, I’d probably be better if I’d stop playing recordings to pretend I’m practicing while I actually go see – uh, go and do other things.”

Marinette snorts. “You sure you can’t sneak out? Put your foot down? It just won’t be the same without you here.”

“I would if I could. I’m sure Gorilla would cover for me if I asked, but there’s no getting past Nathalie. And she wouldn’t cover for me this time. She saw how annoyed Father was at my performance. Even if I could sneak out through my window, he’d know where I went, so there’d be no point. I wouldn’t want him to ruin your concert.”

“I’m sorry, Adrien. I know how much you were looking forward to it.”

“Yeah, well…I’d better go practice. Maybe if I’m up to his standards, he’ll let me come near the end. Better than nothing, right? And I was really looking forward to seeing Luka.”

“Luka? Who?”

“Juleka’s brother.”

Marinette blinks. “Juleka has a brother?”

“That was my reaction too,” Adrien says. “But he saved me and Kagami when we snuck out of fencing the other day and nearly got mobbed.”

“I’m not sure why they think chasing you down and demanding you marry them will make you want to do that,” Marinette snorts. “Anyway, good luck with your piano. I know you’ll smash it!”

“Don’t tempt me,” Adrien jokes. “Have fun, Marinette.”

“I will.”

The line goes dead a moment later. Marinette sighs and pockets her phone.

“Cap’n Anarka speakin’ to ya!” announces a rough woman’s voice. Marinette whirls around to see Juleka’s mother standing next to Rose with her hands on her hips, making Rose jump while adjusting the microphone stand with her sudden appearance. “So, how’s it comin’ along, me young pirates? Ready to celebrate the –”

Marinette gulps when Anarka’s blue eyes narrow at her. The older woman adjusts her red glasses before striding straight over to Marinette.

“Whatcha up to there, lady?” she says, snatching the box from Marinette. When Marinette explains that she’s cleaning the houseboat for the concert, Anarka laughs long and loud and then starts scattering the contents of the box everywhere on deck. “We never pick up in this house! Didn’t me daughter tell ya? We love the lived-in look! We have no rules on the Liberty! Out of chaos comes creation! Messiness is life!”

Huh. Maybe that’s why Marinette’s a hot artistic mess. With a smile, she heads with Alya and Nino into the steering room for a few minutes of quiet while Rose, Juleka, Mylène, and Ivan continue their loud preparations outside.

“Dude, don’t tell me Adrien’s dad put him on lockdown again,” Nino complains while Marinette rifles through a box on a shelf. She grimaces when a layer of dust billows out and coats her pink wrap-around top, white T-shirt, and blue jeans

“Afraid so,” she says, frowning as she pulls out a strange metal statue of a hand with its index and pinky fingers out. Nino groans.

“Bummer. I was lookin’ forward to hanging out with him for once.”

“We all were,” Alya says. “Man, and I thought my older sister was overprotective.” She takes the statue from Marinette, squints at it, then dumps it on the compass. “Wow, that’s creepy. I see where Juleka gets it from.”

“Juleka’s not creepy!” Marinette says. “She’s just…quietly punk.” When she reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, her bracelet gleams in the sunlight, and her eyes are irresistibly drawn to it as it brings back the vivid memory of Chat Noir and his confession to her on her birthday over two weeks ago. She hadn’t been lying when she’d said that she’s got strong feelings for him, but she also hadn’t been lying when she’d said that she’s not completely sure of their nature yet, although she’d be deceiving herself if she insisted that they were definitely not romantic.

And yet…she can’t get Chat Noir’s confession out of her head. The thought of him is enough to send tingles down her skin and butterflies through her stomach, but what if this is just a rebound thing? The only downside about romance built on friendship is that if the romance goes sour, what if the friendship does too? And she’ll be damned if she loses Chat Noir’s friendship, especially after all the nights they’ve spent together being utter dorks.

And none of this would have happened if not for André. She never would’ve had that conversation with Chat Noir when he came to comfort her. He never would’ve tried to start moving on from Ladybug and fallen for her instead. Heck, he probably wouldn’t even have been as cool as he was on her birthday.

What if…André’s ice cream hadn’t been referring to Adrien, but rather to Chat Noir? After all, Chat Noir’s lips are also peach pink – not that she’s been thinking about them, ha, not at all – and his hair and eyes are also gold and mint green. In that case, is André’s ice cream really magical? Had he really been predicting her soulmate?

“Oh, ho ho, sailors!” Anarka once again appears out of nowhere, this time to snatch the statue off the compass as Marinette and Alya jump and clutch their chests. “Never put a metal object next to a compass! Ya hear, lass? Metal attracts the needle just like a magnet, which is why ya can’t get ‘em anywhere near each other.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s a deep literary metaphor in there somewhere,” Alya says sarcastically. Marinette and Nino conceal their laughter behind their hands.

“We’re ready, captain!” Rose salutes from the foot of the stairs, Juleka just behind her. Marinette can’t help but smile at what a cute couple they make. “Uh…but Luka’s missing!”

Anarka squints at Marinette. “Marinette, right? Since you’re free from yer cleanin’ duties, could ya go and tell Luka that we’re waitin’ for him to start rehearsals?”

“Of course!” Marinette says, then frowns. “But, uh…where is he?”

“In his cabin, of course!”

It’s a treacherous journey through the living room of the houseboat, what with the various musical items and other items scattered all over the floor. But there’s something comforting and warm about the mess; something that invites you to come in and revel in it. Marinette shrieks and jumps when she slips through a doorway and comes face-to-face with a boy sitting cross-legged on a bed, his eyes closed and his hands resting on his knees. Between his thumbs and index fingers are two black guitar picks, which make a lot more sense when Marinette catches sight of the black guitar next to him.

She jumps again when she realises that he’s opened his eyes and is staring straight at her with a smile. His eyes are the same shade of blue as his mother’s, also matching the teal tips of his black hair, and he’s wearing ripped black jeans and a short-sleeved blue jacket over a white Jagged Stone shirt.

Holy crap. He’s gorgeous.

“Hey!” Marinette blurts out. “My name’s Mama – Ma-Ma-Marinette!” Oh god, she’s stammering again. Why is this her life? She takes a deep breath to compose herself and pushes on. “Your mum sent me down here. The groove – ah, the group’s waiting for you.”

“Hello, Ma-Ma-Marinette,” the boy – Luka – says in a cool voice, then snickers behind his hand. Marinette’s heart drops. Great. He’s gorgeous, but he’s also a jerk. This is really Juleka’s brother? Her feelings must be painted across her face, because Luka’s smile vanishes, and he adds, “Sorry. I tend to make more sense with this.”

He pats the bed next to him. Marinette accepts the invitation, while he slings his guitar around his neck and then strums a few chords.

“That’s strange.” Luka frowns at her. “It seems you have something like this in your heart.” He plays a short tune, rising and falling in pitch, somehow exactly matching the utter chaos that’s currently got Marinette’s heart in a vice grip. She closes her eyes and rests a hand on her heart, losing herself in the sweet melody, and it takes a moment for her brain to register that Luka’s stopped playing.

“How do you do that?” she says in awe. Luka smiles at her when she opens her eyes.

“Music is often simpler than words,” is all he says. Marinette hums and jumps up to get a closer look at the pick collection underneath his Jagged Stone poster. Her eyes are drawn to a pick with Jagged Stone’s face, which she grabs so that she can get a closer look.

“You like Jagged Stone?” she says.

“He’s my favourite singer.” Luka slides off the bed to stand next to her.

“Mine too!”

Luka’s smile widens, and he looks at the pick in her hand. “You can have it if you like. I’ve got plenty.”

“Thanks!”

“I think I’d better go and join the… “groove” you said,” Luka says, rolling his eyes with a smirk. Marinette whines and facepalms.

“Did I really –? Oh no! At least Adrien wasn’t here to see that. He’d never let me live it down, the dork.”

“Adrien?” Luka tilts his head. “You know him?”

“Yeah, he’s one of my best friends. You’re the guy who saved him from being mobbed, right?”

Luka nods. “He wasn’t ready for a child just yet.”

“Uh…what?”

“An inside joke. One of his fans was screaming for him to have her babies.”

Marinette shudders. “Ick. I can’t believe I used to be like that.”

“That’s not the impression I get.” Luka plays a few oxymoronic notes, somehow both chaotic and gentle. “You have a passionate heart. You just struggle with your chaotic brain. You’re not the kind of person to behave like that.”

“Seriously, how do you do that?” Marinette complains as blood rushes to pool in her cheeks and stomach.

“Just like I told Adrien, I can hear people’s heart songs,” Luka says. Whoa. Seriously? That’s…how is that possible? “And just like I told Adrien, I talk to Juleka. You’re a funny girl, Marinette.”

With that, Luka heads out of the room, leaving Marinette scrambling to catch up so that she’s not left all alone with her whirling thoughts because nope, nope, this is not happening. Although what happens only minutes later is enough to push all thoughts of Luka from her mind, when Anarka is reprimanded by Roger Raincomprix for pretty much blowing the sound barrier with Kitty Section and their instruments. Apparently, Hawkmoth doesn’t take a day off, because Marinette can’t even enjoy a music festival with her friends without him being a bastard and akumatising someone. Before anyone can so much as blink, Anarka has became the pirate Captain Hardrock, with a sentient ship totally under her control that chains up Marinette and her friends when they try to reason with Captain Hardrock and point out that maybe Roger had a point about the volume.

“Ow!” Rose cries when her head knocks against the wood. Groaning, Marinette struggles to sit up, pushing back against Luka to as a counterweight; thankfully, he catches on and adds his force to the equation to help them sit up. Around them, the other bound pairs are doing the same.

“Well,” Alya says when they’ve all rolled to a stop in the ship’s hold. “That was fun. Now what?”

“I guess we wait for Ladybug and Chat Noir?” Nino says. Marinette’s eyes dart down to her purse, not that that’ll do much good since she can’t very well transform in front of a bunch of people, especially someone she’s only just met. Luckily, Tikki’s skills extend beyond magical transformations, as she’s able to zip out of the purse and phase through the padlock securing the chains around Marinette and Luka.

“Wow!” Luka exclaims when their chains fall away. “How’d you do that?”

Marinette freezes and fumbles for an explanation. She dips her hand into her purse to make sure that Tikki’s back inside, and her fingers close around the pick that Luka had given her. Perfect! “Uh…with this!” she says, showing him the pick. Luka smiles as he climbs to his feet.

“You’re a real magician, Marinette,” he says, helping her up. Marinette scoffs.

“Oh, it was nothing! Just – you know –” Her face grows warm under Luka’s awestruck gaze.

“Ahem.” Alya clears her throat. “When you’re quite ready?”

But before Marinette and Luka can work on freeing the others, Captain Hardrock comes stomping down the stairs. With a hasty apology, Marinette and Luka sprint through the door behind them and secure it shut with Luka’s guitar, and while this isn’t enough to keep Captain Hardrock out, it buys them enough time to get the window open. Luka immediately pushes Marinette towards the bed and points at the slim but long drawer built into the base. Catching on, she races over and shuts herself inside, and not a moment too soon.

“Run, Marinette! Quick!” Luka calls when the door smashes open. Marinette’s heart leaps into her throat at Luka’s pained cry when Captain Hardrock’s chains capture him again, but his sacrifice works; Captain Hardrock storms out of the room a moment later, clearly under the impression that Marinette had escaped through the window, dragging Luka with her judging by the scraping sound that accompanies her.

“Phew! That was close!” Tikki says when Marinette pushes the drawer back open and clambers out.

“I have to save my friends!” Marinette clenches her fists. “Tikki, spots on!”

Chat Noir’s already arrived when Ladybug finally manages to sneak up to the deck. Although the battle against Captain Hardrock and the Liberty is fairly straightforward as far as akuma fights go, it’s made far more difficult by the fact that Ladybug’s got a constant chanting of don’t flirt with the cat in her head to keep her on track because if Ladybug is one thing, it’s not a hypocrite. She can’t exactly flirt with Chat Noir after lecturing him about inappropriate timing in the wake of Green Giant, especially since he doesn’t even know that it’s her civilian form that he’s caught feelings for and vice versa.

With the help of the metal clasp of her Lucky Charm chain and Chat Noir, they chain Captain Hardrock to the ship’s compass and, just like when Alya had put the statue on top of it, the compass goes haywire around the clasp. This time, though, the entire ship is affected by the compass going out of control, and they manage to steer the ship up one of the slopes on the bank of the Seine and crash-land on a patch of grass. With the ship out of commission and the prisoners in the hull no longer in danger, it’s a simple matter for Chat Noir to Cataclysm the compass and disintegrate the ship, freeing the akuma for Ladybug to purify.

Pity, though, that Chat Noir has to book it as soon as Captain Hardrock turns back into Anarka. Ladybug wouldn’t have minded a bit of post-battle banter with him, along with asking what was up with him earlier. But really, it’s probably for the best for her headspace, considering that she’s only ninety-nine percent sure that she wants to be with him and it’s that one percent that’s shrieking inside her skull that she’s going to mess everything up.

“You okay, girl?” Alya says when Ladybug’s detransformed and re-joined everyone as Marinette.

“Uh huh,” Marinette mumbles. Alya raises an eyebrow but she thankfully doesn’t push the issue.

An hour or so later, while Kitty Section is still rehearsing for the music festival, they’re pleasantly surprised by a familiar face boarding the houseboat, waving and beaming at everyone.

“Adrien! Hi!” Marinette bounces on the spot and waves. Adrien’s face lights up and he waves back, then immediately trips and sends a long, thin black case flying, and Marinette can’t help the flutters inside her and the giggle that escapes her at what a dork he is.

“Adrien!” Nino runs over to help Adrien sit up. “You okay, bro?”

“Nah, it’s all good, I –” Adrien pauses rubbing his head to open the case he’d knocked over, revealing a keyboard inside. “Whoa, an original ZX20.4? I love the sound of this instrument!”

“Aww, that old thing?” Anarka scoffs. “No one knows how to play it.”

“I know how to play it,” Adrien says.

“Great.” Luka holds out a hand to help Adrien to his feet. “Welcome to the band, Adrien.”

Adrien beams. “Really? Thanks, Luka!”

Luka and Adrien still haven’t let go of the other’s hand. An odd look passes between them, making Marinette squint, until Adrien catches sight of her and quickly lets go of Luka’s hand.

“Looks like I could make it after all!” Adrien says to her. Marinette grins and gives him a thumbs-up.

“Your dad caved in?” she says. Adrien shrugs.

“Yeah. I think I impressed him enough.”

“Can’t wait to see how you impress us, then,” Luka says. Adrien jumps, his cheeks pinkening, and Marinette raises her eyebrows and bites her lip when Luka smiles and winks at him as well as her.

Well. One thing’s for sure: the future’s going to be very, very interesting.

Chapter Text

“No way,” Nino says.

“It must be the apocalypse,” Alya adds.

“Your father gave you a whole weekend off?” Marinette finishes. Honestly, their shock would probably be sad if Adrien wasn’t on cloud nine right now.

“He did!” Adrien says. “According to Nathalie, he thought I deserved a free weekend “to give my brain a break so that I’m refreshed for my busy week”. Which makes you wonder why he never did this before, but sure.”

“That’s it,” Alya declares. “We’re storming your home. Your dad’s probably been akumatised again.”

“That just makes this sadder, dude!” Nino says. “Implying that his old man has to be akumatised to be nice to him!”

“Let’s just enjoy the moment now and call Ladybug and Chat Noir on Monday,” Marinette says. Her mischievous grin settles in Adrien’s gut, warm and fluttery like a swarm of ladybugs, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he would utterly screw things up for himself as Chat Noir and because of the whole non-consensual thing, he’d sweep her into a kiss right now.

“You’ve got a free weekend?” says someone from behind them, who turns out to be Lila when Adrien spins around to see who it is. “That’s awesome, Adrien!”

“Yeah –” Adrien jumps when Lila grabs his arm and rests her head on his shoulder. What is it with people and touching him like he’s a piece of meat? “Um – can you – I mean –”

“Yes?” Lila flutters her eyelashes with a coy smile.

“He wants you to stop touching him,” Marinette says bluntly.

“Does he really?” Lila says. “I’m sure Adrien would use his words if I was making him uncomfortable.”

But Adrien can’t use his words, unused to feeling like his body is his and that he can ask people to stay outside his personal space bubble, and he’s starting to suspect that Lila knows this. There’s just…something about her eyes. After years of surviving in the public sphere, with people looking to cut throats and make deals everywhere they turn, it’s become somewhat of a sixth sense for Adrien to know when there’s more to people than meets the eye. And although Lila’s given off signs before, they’ve never been quite so blatant until now.

“So, since you’ve got a free weekend,” Lila says, running her fingers down his arm. He shivers, but she seems to interpret that as a signal to keep going, because she leans right in so that their faces are barely inches apart. “Maybe we could get dinner together? I know this great little Italian place and the owners just adore me. Italian food with an Italian girl, mio sole.”

Adrien swallows around the lump in his throat. So, Lila is interested in him. And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with her. She’s just…not Marinette. “Uh –” he croaks, trying to wriggle out of her iron grip. “I just –” A hand appears on Lila’s shoulder and tries to push her away from Adrien.

“Can you back up and give him room?” Marinette says.

“I think my arm’s falling asleep,” Adrien says, but Lila doesn’t loosen her grip. If anything, she seems to tighten it.

“Dude, just tell her,” Nino says.

“What do you say, Adrien?” Lila says, shifting so that she’s a barrier between him and Marinette. “Does Saturday night at six work for you?”

“Lila, you’re making him uncomfortable!” Marinette snaps. Although he can’t see her, the protective heat in her voice seems to fill Adrien’s body and surge through him as hot courage.

“Marinette’s right,” he says, trying to tug his arm free of Lila’s grip. “Sorry, Lila, but you’re really making me uncomfortable. And I can’t go out with you because…I love someone else. I’d just be leading you on, and you’re too good for someone to do that to you.”

Lila’s jaw drops. For a moment, staring into her olive eyes is like looking directly into the depths of Hell, making Adrien shiver like someone had just dropped a bucket of icy water straight on his head. Then his cheek’s on fire as Lila pushes him away and slaps him straight across the face.

“Eww! How dare you try to do that to me?” she shrieks, loud enough that everyone in the courtyard turns to stare at the mess unfolding before them. “What kind of a girl do you take me for, Agreste?” She tosses her hair and storms off, straight over to a group of girls from Ms Mendeleiev’s class, who immediately rush to console her as she covers her face.

“Well,” Alya says. “That happened.”

Adrien gulps and whips around to avoid the looks from half the girls in the courtyard and the whispers starting to fly around. This can’t be happening. He wouldn’t – he’d never – what if Lila – she can’t –

“Hey.” Warm hands grab his and squeeze. His vision narrows until all he can see are bluebell eyes, lit with the same protective fire that had been in their owner’s voice just before. “It’s okay, Adrien. Just breathe.”

“What if she goes further with this?” Adrien croaks. “I would never – you know – but they don’t – my father would be furious –”

“She won’t go further than a few nasty rumours,” Marinette says firmly. When Adrien’s vision hazes out to show more than just her eyes, he sees that she’s looking over her shoulder at Lila with a wrinkled nose. “She knows you’ve got us to back you up, so I highly doubt that she’d take that risk. Especially since no one ever believes legitimate victims when they come forward.”

“I mean, she’s got this funky hypnosis over everyone, but Mari’s right, dude,” Nino says. “She’s got more to lose than to gain. Being queen bee in the school’s way different to wrapping the adults around her finger.”

“Not to mention that it would be a slap in the face to girls who’ve actually had this shit happen to them,” Alya snorts. “Actually, not even just girls. Anyone.”

“You think she cares about that?” Marinette says. Alya rolls her eyes.

“Oh, yeah, my mistake.”

The last of the adrenaline drains out of Adrien, leaving him numb as fatigue overtakes every muscle in his body. “Thanks, guys,” he forces out. “I don’t know what I’d do without you three.”

“Duh,” Nino says. “That’s what we’re there for, dude.”

The bell rings shortly after that, so they head to class, deliberately not looking at anyone as they do so. Marinette, Alya, and Nino even form a shield of sorts around Adrien, marching beside and in front of him and warding off people with glares until they reach Ms Bustier’s classroom. Honestly, what did Adrien do to deserve them?

But even they can’t protect him in the classroom. Although not everyone looks like they believe Lila, a few do, and that’s still more than enough to cause panic to stir in his gut again and leave nausea simmering away.

“What you did was disgusting, Lila,” Marinette says loudly, crossing her arms.

“M-Me?” Lila clasps her hands to her chest with wide eyes. “Marinette, how can you say that? I thought girls were supposed to stick together!”

“Oh, don’t you dare go using other girls who’ve actually been assaulted,” Alya growls. “That’s low, especially when they’re not believed for something that actually happened to them.”

“We were right there. We heard and saw everything,” Marinette adds. Nino stays silent, which is probably a wise move considering the subject matter and how Lila’s made it a Girl Problem. “You were the one making Adrien uncomfortable. You grabbed his arm and wouldn’t let go. And you were the one who started lying when he turned you down.”

“You what?” Chloé says shrilly. “How dare you? My Adrikins would never treat anyone like that! He’s so sickly sweet that he probably felt worse than you when he rejected you.”

“Thanks, Chlo,” Adrien says quietly. Chloé shoots him a small smile, with none of her usual smugness or nastiness, and tosses her ponytail. The message in her eyes is crystal clear: even if they’re not technically friends right now, she’s always got his back.

“His actual words were, “I love someone else. I’d just be leading you on, and you’re too good for someone to do that to you”,” Alya says. “He was upfront and said that he wasn’t interested.” She jabs a finger at Lila. “You don’t get to go around and try to smear his reputation as some – some sort of petty revenge because the guy you like isn’t into you. I want to be a journalist, remember? You know the damage you could do with your bullshit? Not even to Adrien, but to everyone else who’s actually had this shit happen to them. You’ll be the example people pull out when they say, “but people make this up!” even though, like, only a few accusations are fake. And we sure as hell aren’t gonna let that happen.”

Alya and Marinette cross their arms with twin glares, daring anyone else to speak up and refute them. But no one does. In fact, the few people supporting Lila seem to shift away, like they’re realising the true ramifications of Alya’s words.

“I understand why you’d defend Adrien,” Lila says. “I mean, if I was crushing on him, I’d feel obligated to –”

“Except for the part where Alya’s my girlfriend and she’s never liked Adrien that way before, yet she stood up for him too,” Nino says. “Quit trying to jab at Marinette for her crush, dude. And even if she was still after Adrien, she’s not wrong.”

Why do teachers have the worst timing? Just before Adrien can say something, to try and say that his friends are right, Ms Bustier arrives and calls the class to order. Her brow is furrowed as she no doubt senses the tension in the air, but she’s never been one for facing conflict head-on, so she doesn’t actually say anything about it as everyone heads for their seats.

“Thanks, guys,” Adrien murmurs as Ms Bustier starts to write on the board.

“Hey, what are friends for?” Alya says.


“Marinette! Hey!”

Adrien freezes and ducks around the corner just as Marinette exits the girls’ bathroom. Because that voice that had called her name? His. Except that the Adrien Agreste running to catch up with her from the direction of Ms Bustier’s classroom is not him.

Great. An akuma. If not for the fact that the fake Adrien’s already caught up with Marinette and this is his best chance to see what this akuma does, Adrien would be out there to desperately save Marinette from whoever this akuma is. But oh, it’s so tempting. Leaving Marinette to the akuma’s mercy makes every cell in his body scream in protest to protect her.

“Adrien? I thought you were waiting in the courtyard?” Marinette says.

“Oh, I know. But I just had to tell you this and it couldn’t wait!”

Adrien whips out his phone and starts recording as the fake Adrien presses Marinette up against the wall with both arms on either side of her head. Her danger senses are clearly pinging, because she starts trying to duck out underneath his arms.

“You really think I was okay with your crush?” fake Adrien drawls. “That I didn’t know? How could you not tell that the only reason I put up with it was because Alya would’ve kicked my butt?”

“Y-You’re not Adrien,” Marinette hisses. “Adrien would never be this cruel.”

“I’m not Adrien. Right,” the akuma drawls. With shaky hands, Adrien turns his phone towards himself to show his undoubtedly nauseous face, then turns it back to recording the fake Adrien with Marinette. There. Now no one can doubt that it’s not him.

“You’re so annoying,” the akuma continues. “I swear, your voice makes me want to claw my ears out. And your goodie-two-shoes princess behaviour? Ugh, no one’s that nice.”

Marinette says nothing. Although she’s glaring at the fake Adrien, it’s clear to anyone who knows her that his words really are hitting a nerve deep inside her. It takes every scrap of willpower that Adrien has to not rush out there and punch his doppelganger in the face, only because he still doesn’t know what this akuma’s powers are, such as whether they’re just a perfect copy like Copycat or whether there’s something more to them.

Huh. Ladybug must really be rubbing off on him.

“I don’t know who you are, but you’re not Adrien,” Marinette says. “If Adrien did have a problem with me, he wouldn’t be this cruel if he told me. You have to be an akuma!”

The akuma snorts. Then he leans in and tries to kiss Marinette, but she growls and shoves him in the chest, although he doesn’t budge. Okay. Enough is enough. Adrien ends his recording and quickly sends it to Alya so that she knows what’s up.

“Hey!” he cries and dashes out to rip the fake Adrien away. Both Marinette and fake Adrien’s eyes widen.

“I knew it!” Marinette kicks the fake Adrien away and this time, she succeeds in making him move. “You creep! Who the hell are you?”

“You’re supposed to be in the courtyard!” fake Adrien says.

“Well, I recorded you. Everyone will know that you’re just an akuma!” Adrien says triumphantly. Fake Adrien raises an eyebrow.

“Really?” he says. Before either Adrien or Marinette can react, fake Adrien yanks open a supply closet and throws Marinette inside by her upper arm. And of course Adrien plays right into the akuma’s trap by brainlessly charging to save Marinette and getting shoved inside as well.

“Nice try,” fake Adrien says. In the blink of an eye, he melts and shifts into a perfect copy of Marinette, whose evil grin is something Adrien hopes he never sees on the real Marinette’s face because that thing could legitimately end the world. “But hey, maybe perfect princess Marinette is exactly who people will listen to…” She starts to tear up and sniffle. “W-When I say just how I was b-brutally attacked b-by Adrien!” The door slams shut, swallowing Adrien and Marinette in darkness.

Chapter Text

“Hey!” Adrien shoves himself against the door, but fake Marinette must have done something to the doorknob, because the door doesn’t budge. “Why did we just stand here like idiots?”

“Because neither of us were expecting him to turn into me?” Marinette’s voice says. Adrien groans.

“I sent the recording to Alya, so at least she should realise that something’s up,” he says. He quickly whips out his phone to shoot her another message that the fake Adrien is now a fake Marinette. “That akuma’s not very smart, though. He – she – they didn’t even take our phones.”

Marinette snorts. The light from Adrien’s phone illuminates her face, displaying the anger written across her features, and for a moment, she looks so much like Ladybug with that righteous fury that Adrien’s heart skips a beat.

“I think the akuma’s Lila,” Marinette says. “The way that person acted as you, and what she said she’d do while looking like me…she must have been akumatised!”

“Great.” Adrien thumps his head against the door. “So, we’ve got a furious, shapeshifting Lila on the loose, and the only two people who know for sure are stuck in here. Even if Alya gets my message, there’s no telling what’ll happen.”

Something shifts against him. For a moment, he wonders if it’s Marinette (pleasenohe’salovesickteenboypleasedon’tletitbeher), but then the thing starts to zip down his chest under his shirt, and he realises that it’s Plagg. Of course! Plagg can get the door open!

“Well, hopefully Ladybug and Chat Noir will be along soon,” Adrien says, praying that Marinette doesn’t somehow notice Plagg as he escapes the bottom of Adrien’s shirt. “Especially if Alya manages to alert them with what I sent her.”

“Yeah. Hopefully.”

With a click, the closet door suddenly swings outward, bathing Adrien and Marinette in the bright hallway light. Success! Adrien so owes Plagg a kilo of Camembert for this. Even if a traitorous part of his brain wouldn’t have minded being locked up with Marinette a little while longer.

“Wow,” Marinette says. “She can’t even lock us up right. I’m gonna see if I can find Ladybug so she knows what’s going on!”

As soon as she’s gone, Adrien ducks back into the closet and pulls the door shut. “Great job, Plagg,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah,” Plagg drawls. “I’ll name my price after you take down that wannabe akuma.”

“Plagg, claws out!”

Thankfully, Ladybug must have also gotten wind of the akuma, because as Chat Noir barrels around the corner, he nearly collides with a flash of red. As it is, he still trips and faceplants in his attempt to avoid crashing into Ladybug.

“Elegant,” Ladybug drawls, helping him to his feet.

“Guess I must have just fallen for you, milady,” Chat Noir says. Ladybug rolls her eyes as usual, but her cheeks also turn pink.

“Do you know if the akuma’s changed forms yet?” she says. “Marinette ran into me and said it took her form.”

“I know as much as you do,” Chat Noir says. “And I think the akuma is –”

“Lila Rossi. Marinette told me.”

“Is…Marinette safe?”

For some reason, Ladybug’s smile is oddly tender. “She is. I told her to hide and not to worry because you and I would make sure that everyone knew it wasn’t her or Adrien doing this stuff. Speaking of, is Adrien –?”

“Yeah, he’s fine. He’s also hiding.”

Ladybug unslings her yo-yo from around her waist. “Then let’s take down this akuma.”

When they burst out into the courtyard, there’s no sign of fake Marinette. But considering that there are a few people in tears and Chloé is cradling her arm to her chest, it’s clear that the akuma’s already wreaked havoc and vanished.

“Ladybug!” Chloé throws herself at Ladybug, who yelps and just fails to move out of the way in time to avoid Chloé’s strangling hug. “You’re here! That awful Dupain-Cheng just attacked me!”

“I told you, it’s not really her!” Alya says. “I’ve got video proof from Adrien that it’s a shapeshifter akuma!”

“It is,” Ladybug says. “And we’re pretty sure the akuma is Lila. She locked the real Marinette and Adrien in a supply closet so they couldn’t out her.”

“She could be anyone,” Chat Noir says dramatically. Ladybug rolls her eyes.

“Chat, is this really a time for jokes?”

“Sorry, milady. Just thought I’d lighten – look out!”

Just as Chloé’s fingers brush over Ladybug’s earrings, Ladybug ducks out of the way and kicks Chloé to the ground. Chloé growls and bolts away into a crowd of people before either Ladybug or Chat Noir can recover their wits and grab her.

“Okay, there really is a shapeshifting akuma,” Alix says loudly. “Ladybug’s the only person Chloé wouldn’t try and backstab.”

“Wow, thanks.” Chloé pushes her way through the people on the opposite side of the courtyard, wincing every time she jostles her arm. Well, great. How didn’t they notice that the fake Chloé wasn’t acting like her arm was sore? “Of course that’s an akuma. As if Dupain-Cheng would push me like that. And where is Sabrina? She told me that Ladybug was looking for me!”

“Um…thanks for the statement of faith?” Ladybug says. “On Marinette’s behalf!”

Chloé shoots her a weird look. “Well, I am trying to be nicer,” she says. “And even if I wasn’t, it’s clear to anyone with a brain cell that that wasn’t Dupain-Cheng. Really, if Lila wants to ruin her reputation, she has to try a lot harder.”

“How do we take her down, milady?” Chat Noir says. “She could be anyone! And if we lose sight of her for a second, she’ll just shapeshift again.”

“It’s too early to use my Charm. But maybe…” Ladybug turns to the courtyard. “All of you! You have to keep track of each other! Come up with questions that only the real person would know the answer to. Chat and I have to go and get help.”

Chat Noir’s got a strong hunch that he knows what this help is. And judging by the way Ladybug winks at Alya as she and Chat Noir sprint away, his hunch is likely correct. Sure enough, after a minute or so of hanging out in the empty corridor, an orange figure skids around the corner and screeches to a halt before them.

“I’m here!” Rena Rouge announces. “And ready to take down this akuma! I’ll teach her to mess with my friends!”

“How did you get your powers?” Ladybug says shortly. Rena Rouge frowns at her for only a moment before her face clears.

“Kwami called Trixx. From my necklace Miraculous. And I offered to have your babies before you made me jump off the Eiffel Tower.”

Ladybug visibly relaxes. “Sorry about that. Just had to make sure.”

“Well, what was my first Mirage?” Rena Rouge says.

“Your friends and family saying how proud they were of you,” Ladybug says.

“Marinette, Nino, m – Adrien, your parents, and your sisters,” Chat Noir adds. Rena Rouge nods.

“I knew it wasn’t Marinette even without Adrien sending me those messages,” she says. “Marinette’s never like that, not even with Chloé. Ugh, of course Lila would get akumatised because someone called her out.”

“That’s on her,” Ladybug says. “Not us. Our job is to take her down. And we’ll need Mirage to draw her out.”

“Well, I’m the girl for the job.” Rena Rouge bounces on the balls of her feet. “Also, I think the akuma’s in her earring. I noticed that Adrien was wearing one when I watched the video, and the fake Marinette was wearing it too. I thought it was weird that the fake Marinette didn’t have her usual earrings.”

“Of course!” Ladybug says. “Good job, Rena Rouge!”

Rena Rouge preens under the praise. “What’s the plan, Ladybug?”

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug catches a ladybug-patterned fire extinguisher. “Uh…okay.”

“You’re gonna put out the fire of my heart?” Chat Noir grins. Just like before, Ladybug’s cheeks pinken and she rolls her eyes.

“Hush, kitty. I’ve got a plan.”


If anyone had told Alya that she would be a superhero and get to fight alongside her idols, she would have wondered if they were having a fever dream or playing a cruel prank on her. But no. She gets to be Rena Rouge and sprint down the school halls with Ladybug and Chat Noir, with a flute strapped to her back and her fox-like senses on high alert!

“You think she’s out there?” Rena Rouge says when the three of them are huddled behind the door leading to the courtyard. There are still students grouped out there, no doubt trying to keep themselves safe by sticking together, and they’d probably have better luck finding Hawkmoth himself than finding someone with one earring. Especially since that person will also be gunning for their Miraculouses.

“I’d be surprised if she wasn’t,” Ladybug says. “Where else could she blend in and ambush us?”

“Do your thing, Rena Rouge,” Chat Noir winks. Rena Rouge rolls her eyes, then unslings her flute and raises it to her lips, picturing her illusion clearly in her mind.

“Mirage!” she whispers after playing a short tune. In a flash of orange, there are Ladybug and Chat Noir doppelgangers standing before them. The illusions are a little fuzzy around the edges, sure, but so long as no one gets too close, these illusions should be enough to draw Lila out of cover. Chat Noir then uses his staff to slam the door open just as illusion Ladybug and illusion Chat Noir burst out into the courtyard.

“We’re back!” Rena Rouge says through illusion Ladybug. Ugh. Hopefully, there comes a point where she can just imagine what she wants her illusions to say, but she can’t exactly maintain her focus on the illusions while also making up a script for them mentally. “What’s new?”

“What’s new?” Ladybug mouths to Rena Rouge, who just shrugs. While everyone’s attention is focused on the illusions, the real Chat Noir takes the Lucky Charm, then slips through the door and sidles around the edge of the courtyard to get into position.

“Ladybug!” Chloé dives at illusion Ladybug, who sidesteps just in time. Trust Chloé to nearly accidentally derail their whole plan.

“No one’s seen her,” Mylène says. “At least, I don’t think we have.”

“What help did you get?” Kim says.

“That’s not important,” illusion Ladybug says. “What’s important is that we find Lila before she can get our Miraculouses.”

“It sucks that we can’t tell who she is,” illusion Chat Noir sighs. “She could sneak right up on us and we’d have no idea.”

“Laying it on a bit thick, aren’t you?” Ladybug murmurs teasingly. Rena Rouge sticks her tongue out just as her necklace beeps and loses a tail segment. Shit. Lila had better hurry up and show up or else their plan is a bust.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll find her!” Sabrina says, rushing over to the illusions. “You always win!”

“That’s because we’re the good guys,” illusion Chat Noir preens. Rena Rouge and Ladybug fight back their snorts because the real Chat Noir must be rolling his eyes right about now, even though Rena Rouge is pretty sure she has him spot-on.

“You are!” Sabrina says. “You’ve saved so many of us before. You’re our heroes!”

“Sabrina, what are you doing?” Chloé snaps. But Sabrina ignores her and instead tries to grab illusion Chat Noir’s ring hand…but he vanishes in a burst of orange light and faint flute music.

“What?” Sabrina gasps as illusion Ladybug also ripples out of existence. “What is this?”

Now it’s Chat Noir’s time to shine. Except, rather than spraying ‘Sabrina’ with the fire extinguisher like Ladybug might have done, he simply swings it at her head and downs her with a wet crunch.

“…Good thing my Miraculous Ladybug will fix everything,” Ladybug says slowly.

“That was brutal,” Rena Rouge winces as she wills the Ladybug illusion to also fade.

“Cataclysm!” Chat Noir leans down and brushes ‘Sabrina’s’ hair aside with his free hand, then taps something on her ear with his sparking hand. Sure enough, a black butterfly flutters free and rises above everyone’s heads. Well, that’s Ladybug’s cue to go and purify it.

“This,” Rena Rouge says as Ladybug casts her Miraculous Ladybug to fix everything, “has been the best day ever.” She figures that she’ll just stay where she is, even though her existence has kind of been outed by her illusions, but Ladybug turns and gestures for her to come on out.

“This is Rena Rouge, our newest superhero,” Ladybug says as everyone gasps and starts to whisper at Rena Rouge’s appearance. Okay, it probably was a smart move to secure Ladybug’s vote of confidence in front of everyone, in case they think she’s an akuma or a Hawkmoth ally in the future or something. Especially since her power deals with illusion and deception.

“Sup.” Rena Rouge shoots everyone the finger guns. Ladybug rolls her eyes, but Chat Noir grins at her.

“I – what am I doing here?” In Sabrina’s place is Lila, who’s blinking and staring around at her audience dazedly. The real Sabrina is back by Chloé’s side; she’d probably been knocked out and stashed away somewhere or something like that.

“You were akumatised,” Chloé says, “Duh.”

“Chloé.” Ladybug shoots her a disapproving look.

“What?” Chloé says. “Even an idiot would know that.”

“I – I was?” Lila covers her face. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry! I hope I didn’t hurt anyone!”

Rena Rouge’s necklace beeps in sync with Ladybug’s earrings and Chat Noir’s ring. “Gotta go!” Rena Rouge says quickly and races away. She just manages to burst into the girls’ bathroom before her transformation washes away in orange light and Trixx flies out of the necklace.

“Not bad for your first mission,” Trixx says as Alya fishes around in her bag for her little pouch of blueberries. His eyes light up when she hands him a few before stashing the rest away.

“Really?” Alya says. “I mean, I would’ve preferred that my illusions weren’t found out, because now Hawkmoth will know about me…”

Trixx shrugs. “Can’t be helped. You just have to roll with the punches. Adaptability is the hallmark of a great Fox, little kit.”

“Stop calling me that,” Alya huffs. Trixx just smirks with gleaming violet eyes. “How can you even know what happened? Can you, like, see what’s going on or something?”

“We can see through your eyes when you’re transformed,” Trixx says. “So, we know as much as you do.”

“Like a melding of person and kwami?” Alya says. Trixx nods. “So cool! Oh, crap, gotta get back!”

Trixx darts into Alya’s bag as she sprints out of the bathroom and back to the courtyard to catch the tail end of Lila’s akumatisation. It’s just a pity that she can’t find a way to record herself for the Ladyblog, although to be fair, she can claim that the Ladyblog is centred on the main duo. But it still sucks. Especially if someone else gets the idea to create a blog for Rena Rouge.

“I’m so, so sorry, Adrien!” Lila’s saying when Alya edges into the courtyard and tries to blend into the crowd as though she’s always been there. She pauses by Marinette’s side, who’s standing next to Adrien with Nino as Lila spins her spiel. Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh of Alya, but Lila still won’t actually look at any of them. She hasn’t done so since being de-akumatised.

“You couldn’t help what you did when you were akumatised,” Adrien says.

“Not just that,” Lila says. “How I reacted when you turned me down. You were totally within your rights to do that. I guess…well, I just had a really vivid flashback of another boy in Italy, and for a moment, I saw you as him. Then I was scared to admit my mistake because, you know, people would think I’m a liar, and then Marinette and Alya started to scold me and I felt like I was in too deep…”

Oh, she’s good. The tale she’s spinning has visibly captivated the entire courtyard, minus Alya Marinette, Adrien, Nino, Chloé, and Sabrina, and there are even a few glares being shot Alya and Marinette’s way. Even if there had been a boy in Italy, it’s just…so obvious that Lila’s laying everything on thick.

To be fair, you did believe her until Marinette called out her lies to you, says a nasty little voice in her head. Alya pointedly ignores it.

“Really, it’s okay,” Adrien says. “I’m sorry that you were hurt, Lila. But my heart belongs to someone else. It wouldn’t be fair of me to string you along and let you think you had a chance.”

All around the courtyard, people furiously start to whisper, no doubt trying to convince themselves and others that Adrien’s talking about them. Alya thankfully manages to resist the very strong urge to roll her eyes.

“I understand completely,” Lila says, finally looking up. There’s no trace of tears or other form of distress but, to be very fair to her, some people just aren’t outwardly expressive. But Alya still doesn’t trust her. “And thank you for being honest, Adrien. You’re a decent guy. Whoever’s captured your heart is a very lucky person. Friends?” She holds out her hand.

“Friends.” Adrien shakes her hand. As if by divine intervention, the bell for the end of lunch rings at that moment, breaking up the courtyard crowd as everyone starts to head to class. Lila smiles sweetly at Adrien, then at his friends, before turning and walking off.

“I don’t trust her,” Marinette says immediately. “Did you hear how she said that? She totally threw me and Alya under the bus.”

“Thank god you noticed that too,” Alya says.

“You really wanna be friends with her, dude?” Nino says.

“I know there’s something shifty about her,” Adrien says. “All this…the way she just smiled at us…it feels like she was sending me a message. Like she’s showing me that she can mess with me and my friends just like that. What?” he says when Alya, Marinette, and Nino stare at him. “You don’t survive as Gabriel Agreste’s son without picking up a nose for social politics. But it’s not like I could just outright reject her after that public apology.”

“True, true,” Alya says. “You would’ve been skinned alive. Well, pretty boy, good thing you got us to steer you right.”

“Thank god,” Adrien says dryly.

Chapter Text

Okay. So. Marinette has a crush on Chat Noir. That’s clear as day.

The problem is Luka Couffaine. Specifically, how Marinette’s insides flutter and tingle whenever she’s around him. Which totally isn’t fair. Aren’t you supposed to be in love with one person and be with them and only them?

To be fair, Marinette isn’t actually with Chat Noir. And yeah, there’s plenty of infidelity in the world, when someone decides that another person is hot and yes please, I’ll have some of that.

But that’s the problem here. It’s not just that Luka’s attractive. It’s that smile of his that’s so soft, like he’s reading your very soul when he looks at you. It’s how he looks so at peace when he’s sitting there, strumming on his guitar before Kitty Section’s rehearsals (that Marinette has definitely attended only because she’s friends with Rose and Juleka and Ivan, thank you very much). It’s how he never has a harsh word about Juleka, even when he’s doing his brotherly duty and teasing her, and how she immediately looks to him every time she’s starting to stress, such as when her guitar string had snapped and one of Ivan’s drumsticks had fallen overboard.

No. Marinette can’t be in love with two people at once. That’s rubbish, and it’s needlessly complicated, and Chat Noir was here first, so he’s her first choice.

But what if…

“Marinette?” someone says. Marinette shrieks and nearly stumbles over the side of the boat as she’s yanked out of her own little world of patterns and colours and Kitty Section-inspired designs.

“Hi! Yes!” she yelps. Luka smiles apologetically.

“Sorry I scared you. Adrien’s here, and it looks like he’s brought his friend.”

“Wait, Adrien’s dad let him out?” Marinette says. But sure enough, Adrien is boarding the Couffaine houseboat along with the girl from fencing – Kagami, Chat Noir had said her name was. Marinette can’t help but smile when, after leaping off the plank to the deck of the boat, Adrien holds out his hand and helps Kagami step down. What a gentleman. Does he like Kagami? They’d be really cute together.

“Hey, guys!” Adrien waves.

“Adrien! Hi!” Rose rushes over to throw her arms around him for a quick hug. “Your father let you come!”

“Surprisingly, yeah,” Adrien says. “I’ve learned not to question it.”

“Which is probably what he’s relying on, but sure,” Juleka mutters.

“My mother only allowed me to come because I said I was strengthening my relationship with Adrien,” Kagami says. “I’m just surprised she approves of him.”

“Probably a rich parent thing,” Adrien says. Kagami snorts.

“Probably.”

An awkward silence falls on the boat as everyone sneaks looks at Kagami, who just stares right back evenly. It’s understandable, since she’s a newcomer and none of them know her, but in Marinette’s case, it also just might have something to do with how she’d panicked and ruled in Adrien’s favour back at fencing tryouts. Does Kagami hate her for it? Or had Adrien talked to her about it?

“Um – hi!” Marinette decides that she might as well take the first step. “I’m Marinette!”

“Adrien’s friend, right?” Kagami says coolly. Marinette’s cheeks flush, although she can’t decide whether it’s because Kagami most definitely dislikes her or because the way this cute girl is narrowing her eyes at Marinette is doing something to Marinette’s insides. Something that she most definitely doesn’t want to think about right now.

“I’m sorry,” Marinette says. “I should have abstained from that ruling. I just…well, I’m new to fencing, and I went along because Adrien asked if I wanted to try out, so I don’t actually know a whole lot about it. I just panicked when I got shoved into refereeing. I wasn’t trying to cheat or favour Adrien…”

For a moment, Kagami says nothing. But just as Marinette’s contemplating throwing herself off the boat to escape that steely stare, something in Kagami’s eyes softens, and she gives an awkward attempt at a smile that’s all teeth.

“Apology accepted,” Kagami says. “And I apologise for suspecting you of favouritism. It seems that we both misunderstood each other. My name is Kagami.”

With that, the atmosphere shifts and settles as everyone seems to let out a breath that no one knew they were holding. Luka gestures towards the disassembled keyboard.

“You’re welcome to set that up and practice with us, bandmate,” he says.

“Really?” Adrien’s eyes light up. “I’m part of Kitty Section? I can never make it to rehearsals consistently…”

“Of course,” Juleka says. “You’re our honorary member.”

Being the only other person on the houseboat who doesn’t play an instrument, Kagami seems to naturally gravitate towards where Marinette is sitting cross-legged near the cockpit, safely away from the side of the boat, sketchbook once again open. As Kagami sits next to her, Marinette offers her a small smile and Kagami hesitantly smiles back. Then Marinette’s eyes are inevitably drawn to Luka, who’s just strummed a sweet chord, and he catches her gaze and winks at her, and she’s forced to stare down at her notebook so that she doesn’t spontaneously combust on the spot.

No. No. This can’t be happening. Marinette has a crush on Chat Noir. That’s clear as day. So, why must her insides flutter and tingle at the way Luka smiles and winks, charming and mellow with no effort or annoying flair at all?

To be fair, Marinette isn’t actually with Chat Noir. And yeah, there’s plenty of infidelity in the world, when someone decides that another person is hot and yes please, I’ll have some of that.  But Marinette can’t love two people at once. That’s rubbish, and it’s needlessly complicated, and Chat Noir was here first, so he’s her first choice, especially since she’d only met Luka the other day.

“You like him.”

Marinette’s brain screeches to a halt when Kagami speaks.

“Huh? What?” she blurts out.

“Luka. You like him. You should go and ask him out.”

“But I can’t!”

“Why not? You clearly have feelings for him. And hesitation costs you the prize.”

“No, no, it’s…” Marinette bites her lip. “You’re okay with me just…exploding on you? My brain’s a mess right now.”

Kagami gives another of her weird, toothy smiles, like someone who’s seen a human smile and then tried to replicate it. It’s a little unnerving but again, maybe that’s just what Kagami’s like. And if her upbringing is anything like Adrien’s, what with his comment about rich parents, she might also have had limited social contact.

“I’ve heard that friends “explode” on each other,” Kagami says. “And crushes aside, I would like to be your friend. Adrien talks a lot about you.”

“He does?”

“It’s the only reason I accepted your apology. Adrien assured me that you would never have meant to rig that ruling.”

“Oh.” Marinette looks down at her sketchbook, realising that she’s been twirling her pencil in her fingers absently. “Well…yeah, I think I might…well, I just met Luka a few weeks ago, but I fell for Adrien the day after we met, so I don’t think that matters. But I…I like someone else.”

“Adrien, right?” Kagami says. Marinette lets out a small laugh.

“A little bit still, yeah, but that’s in the realm of once upon a time,” she says. “And the things I did because of that crush…I’m not proud of them. I stole his phone once just to delete an embarrassing voicemail. He doesn’t know that, by the way, and he never will.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Kagami says with twitching lips. “Who is this other person that you like?”

“Chat Noir. And the thing is…he likes me too. He accidentally confessed when he gave me this bracelet for my birthday –” Marinette holds up her wrist to show Kagami the gleaming silver, “– and I ended up telling him that I liked him too, but I wanted a bit longer to sort out my head. You know, to make sure I’m committed to being with Chat.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Kagami says. “Chat Noir is a certainty. Luka’s a possibility.”

“But how can I be with Chat when I might be starting to like Luka as well?” Marinette says. “I’d never cheat on him, but – gah! You’re supposed to be in love with one person at a time!”

“That’s rubbish,” Kagami says. “You can be in love with many people. It’s who you choose that matters. My mother’s always told me that love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.”

“What do you mean, love’s not a feeling?” Marinette says. “I’m pretty sure I know what love feels like!”

Kagami sighs and twists the ring on her right hand. It’s got some sort of symbol on it, but Marinette can’t make it out from here and she doesn’t want to stare and come across as rude.

“Let me think,” Kagami mumbles. “Okay. You’re right that love is a feeling. But love – true love – it’s a choice. It’s a commitment that you make to someone. What happens years later when that spark for your partner fades? You can either choose to stay with them with that comfortable love or you can leave them and find someone else to chase that spark again. If you truly love someone, you’ll wake up every day and consciously choose them instead of constantly pursuing that spark of infatuation. Of course, that’s assuming that you haven’t just drifted apart and it would be more beneficial to end the relationship, but that’s another thing entirely.”

Huh. That’s…a way of looking at love that Marinette’s never even thought about. And Kagami’s got a point. All those people who go out and cheat and ruin their relationships just because the spark for their partner is gone…sure, Marinette knows that that’s a choice, but she’s never actually thought of love as being a choice either.

“Your mother sounds really wise,” Marinette finally says. This time, Kagami’s smile is small but soft.

“She is,” Kagami says. “She rightly expects a lot of me, for me to uphold the Tsurugi family name. But she’s a very wise woman.”

Marinette wants to point out that being like Gabriel Agreste and having super high expectations of your kid isn’t a good thing, but she manages to swallow the words down just in time. She doesn’t actually know what Kagami’s home life is like, and it’s not like they’re best friends after one conversation. Huh. For once, she’s got some semblance of a brain filter.

“So…you’re saying I have to choose one of them and keep choosing them?” Marinette says.

“You don’t have to make your choice right now,” Kagami says. “There’s no sense in making a hasty decision. But I do warn you, if you take too long to decide, you might lose the boy you choose to someone else. That’s why I never hesitate.”

“I wish I could just date two people at once,” Marinette groans.

“Then why don’t you?” Kagami says.

“Wh-What?” Blood rushes to Marinette’s cheeks. “I couldn’t – I don’t – huh?”

“Your astonishment is cute,” Kagami laughs. “It’s called polyamory. A girl I had a crush on back in Japan told me that she was polyamorous. She said that so long as you’re completely open with your partners, there’s no reason why multiple relationships can’t work.”

“A girl? You’re gay?”

“I rarely develop romantic feelings but when I do, their gender doesn’t matter. And I’m asexual. But my mother doesn’t know, because I’m not sure whether her reaction would be positive or negative. And it will stay that way.”

“Of course!” Marinette hastens to say. “I wouldn’t dream of telling her. Thanks for trusting me enough to tell me. But, uh…asexual? I don’t know anything.”

“Of course not, if you haven’t had any reason to suspect that you’re not straight,” Kagami says. “I’ve only known for a year or so, after I realised that I liked Rin, but I didn’t want to do anything physical with her. The thought of it…didn’t repulse me, but it didn’t excite or interest me either. I wasn’t drawn to her in that way at all. That’s when I realised that I was asexual, and I’m not attracted to anyone in that way.”

“Are they more accepting in Japan than in France?” Marinette says. Kagami shrugs.

“Some accept it, some don’t, just like here. It’s just considered more private there than here.”

“Oh.” Marinette falls silent and finds herself staring at Adrien. But he’s too busy with his keyboard, in the middle of Kitty Section’s current song, so he doesn’t notice her gaze. “How do you know if you’re polyamorous?”

“Well, I can’t tell you if you are,” Kagami says. “All I can tell you is what Rin told me when I was wondering the same thing myself. Look at how you reacted to the thought of dating Luka and Chat at the same time. Did you hasten to deny it because it truly didn’t appeal to you? Or because you’re so used to thinking of a romantic relationship as being between only two people?”

Marinette immediately opens her mouth to reply, but nothing comes out. Kagami’s lips twitch, as if she’s saying, see? Not as easy as you thought, huh?

“That was awesome!” Rose trills, her voice forcibly yanking Marinette out of her muddled thoughts. “We should celebrate!”

“Lunch!” Marinette blurts out. “Takeout! By the Seine!” God, why is she such a disaster again? Hadn’t she been through this song and dance before with Adrien?

“Perfect!” Juleka says as Ivan and Mylène nod. “A picnic! I’ll go grab a blanket!”

“Great idea, Marinette,” Luka says. His smile both chills and boils Marinette’s insides, just like when Chat Noir makes a ridiculous joke.

“Yeah! Marinette’s full of good ideas!” a pink-faced Adrien says, and his cheeks flush darker when Luka turns to smile at him.

“I’ve never been on a picnic before,” Kagami says. “It’ll be a good learning experience.”

“Same,” Adrien says. “Sheltered rich kids, right?”

Kagami snorts. “Right.”


Plagg, the little shit, can just shut the hell up.

This is a nightmare. Adrien’s in love with Marinette. Her kindness, that creative spark simmering in her, the way her dark hair glistens in the sunlight, how her eyes sparkle like grey fire when she’s enthusing about something…

Except now, there’s another contender. Someone whose dark hair also shines under the sun, who also has bright eyes that burn brilliantly when lost in passion, who also exudes the energy of soft and sweet but will happily kick your arse if need be.

Just like Marinette, Luka Couffaine’s creative soul shines brighter than the sun. Just like Marinette, Luka makes Adrien’s insides tingle and burn with as little as a smile. And yet, with as many similarities as he shares with Marinette, Luka is also nothing like her. Where Marinette is a hurricane, forceful and mesmerising and drawing people into her tempest of passion, Luka is a tsunami, appearing perfectly serene and soft on the surface with that stormy soul underneath, until it’s too late to realise that you’re about to be swallowed. And Adrien hadn’t realised until now, until there was no chance of escape. Not only this, but after their adventure that had resulted in meeting Luka, Kagami’s also starting to creep up on him like a thunderstorm, visible and foreboding on the horizon but not quite close enough to warrant action. At least, not until it’s too late to act, just like Luka’s tsunami but almost deadlier since she’s not yet registering in his brain as anything more than one of his closest friends underneath all the carefully deliberate suppression.

And Plagg takes every possible moment to remind Adrien of this, as if Adrien could ever forget it. When the group waits outside a little Lebanese takeout place for Rose and Juleka to grab their food, Plagg rhythmically scrapes his tiny claws along Adrien’s chest from inside the shirt pocket where he’s hiding. While Marinette and Kagami set up the picnic blanket on the banks of the river once they’ve found the perfect little concrete platform down a flight of stairs, Plagg pokes his head out and gives Adrien a shit-eating grin that makes Adrien scowl and poke the little kwami back down. And when Luka passes him a manakish za’atar and their fingers brush as Adrien takes the little spiced pizza, Plagg snickers so loudly that a red-faced Adrien has to pass that sound off as his rumbling stomach, even if not everyone looks like they believe him.

“Your band is really good,” Kagami says as she scoops up a spoonful of tabbouleh from the massive container in the middle of the blanket. “How long have you been together?”

“A few months now?” Juleka says. “Rose, Ivan, and I had to work on a particle physics project together.”

“Yeah!” Rose says. “And we figured out that we all loved music, so we decided to form a band!”

“Lucky,” Marinette says, wrinkling her nose. “I had to work with Chloé and Sabrina. Adrien hogged our friends.”

“Have you tried standing up to Ms Mendeleiev?” Adrien says. “I’d rather face Hawkmoth than her.”

Anyone who knows Ms Mendeleiev snorts, which happens to be all of them except Kagami.

“Fine,” Marinette says. “I guess I’ll forgive you.”

“How generous of you, Ma-Ma-Marinette,” Luka says dryly. Marinette makes a strange sound that’s somewhere between a yelp and a strangled gasp.

“I’m gonna elbow-drop your dad if he doesn’t let you come out more often,” Ivan says.

“Ivan!” Mylène chides, although she’s concealing a grin behind her hand, so no one really takes her seriously.

“I appreciate the offer,” Adrien says. “But elbow-dropping my father will probably make him lock me up again.”

“Then we’ll find Ladybug and Chat Noir and stage a grand rescue,” Luka says. If it wasn’t for the fact that Luka’s vow had pretty much set Adrien’s insides on fire, Adrien might have been more concerned about the fact that Chat Noir can’t really stage a grand rescue of himself. As it is, he can literally feel Plagg’s mirth in the atmosphere, and he doesn’t need to hear Plagg to know that the little shit is laughing his butt off.

“And Rena Rouge,” Marinette says with a mysterious little smile.

“Yes! Rena Rouge!” Rose flails and nearly knocks Juleka’s falafel out of her hand. “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe there’s a new hero!”

“Who do you think she is?” Mylène says.

“She’ll tell us when she’s ready,” Kagami says. “So will Ladybug and Chat Noir. If Hawkmoth found out who they were, he could target them and their families. They may not even be able to be heroes anymore.”

“Thank you!” Marinette gestures wildly at Kagami. “Someone finally understands the importance of secret identities!”

“Hey! I get it too!” Adrien says.

“Okay, Adrien,” Marinette and Kagami coo together. Adrien scowls and crosses his arms as everyone else laughs, but his insides are doing a little happy jig because having a picnic with friends who tease him is just so…normal.

Chapter Text

“That was a rough one today,” Ladybug says when she, Chat Noir, and Rena Rouge are sprawled in a circle on a rooftop after their post-akuma evening catch-up, on their backs with their heads up against each other.

“Yeah,” Rena Rouge says. “A kissing zombie? And here I thought Chloé was trying to be better rather than ruining birthday gifts and getting our teacher akumatised. She went to Marinette’s party, for god’s sake, and she hates Marinette.”

“Maybe she just relapsed?” Chat Noir says. “I know it can be hard to move past stuff that’s so…well, force of habit. And she’s had a bit of a rough family life.”

“That’s still no excuse,” Ladybug says. “A friend of mine has also had a rough family life and he’s one of the sweetest people I know. But…maybe Chloé does need support. Not coddling, but just enough support to keep her on the right track.”

“Maybe Adrien?” Chat Noir says. “I’ve heard they were good friends.”

“Especially not Adrien,” Rena Rouge says immediately.

“From what I’ve heard, he broke off their friendship to force her to change,” Ladybug agrees. “If he gives her an inch, she could take a mile and then decide not to change at all.”

“He’d essentially be rewarding her for bad behaviour,” Rena Rouge says.

“I know, I know…” Chat Noir sighs. “Just…I see a lot of myself in her, is all. My home life is rough too. I think the last time my father looked in my direction was, uh…huh. Actually, I can’t remember.”

“That’s sad,” Rena Rouge says. “Ladybug, can we adopt him? Pretty please?”

“Not that I wouldn’t be bi cat mothers with you if given the chance, but I think people would notice,” Ladybug says with a little laugh.

“Oh, please let me be adopted by gorgeous bi mums who could kick my arse,” Chat Noir pleads.

“I’m technically pan but seconded,” Rena Rouge says immediately. “Motion passed. Sucks to be Nino, but he knows that Ladybug’s at the top of my freebie list.”

“Freebie list?” Chat Noir says.

“You’ve never heard of a freebie list?” Ladybug says.

“Oh, you poor, sheltered child,” Rena Rouge says. “The heart of every healthy relationship is honesty, respect, and sex with celebrities.”

“If you just quoted Friends at me, I will actually take your Miraculous back and give it to someone else,” Ladybug says.

“Do that and you’ll drop to number two on my freebie list.”

“I think I can live with that.”

“It’d be nice if someone would tell me what a freebie list is,” Chat Noir says.

“It’s a list of five celebrities that you’re allowed to sleep with if you, for some reason, managed to have the chance,” Ladybug says. “And it’s not considered cheating – they’re “freebies”.”

“…That’s a thing?”

“Probably not,” Rena Rouge says cheerfully. “It’s probably just a joke. But Nino’s agreed that I’m perfectly fine to do Ladybug so long as he gets to do Chat Noir.”

Chat Noir splutters, and Ladybug’s forced to cover her mouth to muffle the giggles that suddenly wrack her body, although that doesn’t help since Chat Noir and Rena Rouge can probably still feel her laughter through where their heads are all in contact.

“Who’s at the top of your list, guys?” Rena Rouge says. “Come on, I shared mine and Nino’s with you, so you have to do the same!”

“I didn’t agree to this!” Ladybug says.

“Does Ladybug count as a celebrity?” Chat Noir says in a slightly high-pitched voice.

“Nope,” Rena Rouge says. “You guys don’t count for each other. Come on, out with it!”

“Oh, fine,” Ladybug huffs. “The celebrity at the top of my list is…Clara Nightingale. She was my bi awakening.”

“Oooh, really?” Rena Rouge says. “Can’t say you’ve got bad taste! Who’s yours, alley cat?”

“I don’t know!” Chat Noir says. “I haven’t exactly given this much thought!”

“Fine, fine,” Rena Rouge says. “Like the merciful fox I am, I’ll let you think about it. But I do expect an answer next time.”

“How generous of you,” Chat Noir says dryly. No one says anything after that, instead basking in the silence of the Parisian night, with the sounds of the city almost a backdrop to their little superhero bubble on the rooftop.

“Sorry I got caught by the zombies as Alya, by the way,” Rena Rouge eventually says. “Wish I could’ve gotten away to transform.”

“Hey, don’t beat yourself up,” Chat Noir says. “I got smooched as well.”

“Yeah, sacrificing yourself for Ladybug so she could beat on Zombizou,” Rena Rouge grumbles. “Not ‘cause you were careless.”

“It’s only your second akuma as Rena, and you weren’t even transformed,” Ladybug says. “Chat and I made so many mistakes when we first started.”

“Speak fur yourself,” Chat Noir says. “I’m purrfect.”

Ladybug and Rena Rouge groan at the night sky.

“Don’t make me pull out all the embarrassing stories I’ve got of you from when we were rookies,” Ladybug says. “Like that time when we were facing El Mago and you –”

“Okay, okay!” Chat Noir hastens to say. “You’ve made your point, milady, brutal as you are.”

Rena Rouge snickers. “God, I still can’t believe I actually get to hear your banter like this.”

“It’s really not that great,” Ladybug says. “When you’ve heard one cat pun, you’ve heard them all.”

“Meowch,” Chat Noir says. “You wound me, bugaboo.”

“Tragic,” Ladybug deadpans. There’s a sigh and then Rena Rouge’s presence disappears as she pushes herself to sit up. A moment later, the soft sound of flute music fills the night air.

“A serenade? So I can woo my lady?” Chat Noir says. “You shouldn’t have!”

“You wish,” Ladybug says, even though her traitorous heart skips a beat at the thought of Chat Noir wooing her. Not that he knows she’s Marinette, so she can’t exactly come out and say that oops, she’s changed her mind, she’d very much like for him to pursue her. Or purrsue, as he’d say.

Goddammit, now he’s even got her punning.

For a few moments, there’s silence while Ladybug and Chat Noir listen to Rena Rouge’s song, which is just so tantalisingly familiar – what is it? When the realisation hits Ladybug, she bolts upright and turns to narrow her eyes at Rena Rouge.

“Are you playing the Mario theme song?” Ladybug says. Rena Rouge smiles as innocently as she can while still playing her flute.

“Oh my god,” Chat Noir cackles as he shoots up too. “Ladybug, you can’t call me a dork anymore. I’ve never played Mario on my baton before!”

“I’m sure you would if you could,” Ladybug mutters.

Rena Rouge plays a little longer before lowering her flute and allowing the last few notes to fade into the night air. Then she groans and pushes herself to her feet.

“As fun as it’s been hanging out with you two,” she says, “I gotta get back home before I have to start bribing Nora for looking after Ella and Etta.”

“If you ever can’t make it to a battle or a patrol, don’t force yourself,” Ladybug says as Chat Noir stands up and offers her his hand, and she accepts it with warm cheeks. “Your support’s really appreciated, but we know you’ve got responsibilities of your own.”

“And you two don’t?” Rena Rouge says.

“Of course we do,” Chat Noir says, then winks. “But not everyone can be as ameowzing as me and my lady.”

“What he means is that Paris has always been our responsibility,” Ladybug says, elbowing him for his pun. “Not that we don’t appreciate your help.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Rena Rouge says. “I’m the wing-woman for Ladynoir.”

“Stop calling us that!” Ladybug huffs, while Chat Noir shoots Rena Rouge a shit-eating grin. Rena Rouge smirks and salutes back.

“You know, we should totally have a group chat or something,” she says. “In case we need to get in touch for this kind of thing, since we can’t call each other when we’re not transformed.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure giving out our numbers or getting a second phone is a recipe for disaster,” Ladybug says. Rena Rouge rolls her eyes.

“Who do you take me for, LB?” she says. “I was thinking of a group chat app where you can sign up with an email or something. Just make up an email specifically for that, no phone number required.”

“It would make things easier,” Chat Noir says. “Like if we need to tell Rena to stay out of the fight or join in, rather than trying to signal her and praying that others don’t see like when Lila was akumatised. And especially if one of us is stuck as a civilian, so we’re not cussing our partner in our head.”

“Yeah, I had a few explosive thoughts when you were late to Riposte,” Ladybug admits.

“I knew you’d bow to my superior intellect,” Chat Noir says with a smug grin.

“Is he like this every time he’s right about something?” Rena Rouge says with a raised eyebrow.

“Yep,” Ladybug says. “Why do you think I never let him be right?”

“This is bullying, and I won’t stand for it,” Chat Noir huffs. In response, Ladybug leans over to flick his bell and then desperately prays that he can’t see the way her cheeks undoubtedly flush as they grow warm.

“I’ll work on getting it set up, okay, guys?” Rena Rouge says. “Just make up a burner email and give them to me next time and I’ll work my magic.” She squeals and claps her hands. “I get to be in a group chat with Ladybug! Oh, I’ve got so many memes to share!”

“This isn’t for fun,” Ladybug says, although she does have to admit that the thought of being able to chat with Chat Noir and Rena Rouge as Ladybug while outside the mask is quite appealing. And if it means cutting down on miscommunications, well, it couldn’t hurt to try it.

“Sure, sure,” Rena Rouge says. “Peace out, guys!” Then she’s bounding over to the next rooftop and racing through Paris, the orange of her suit soon melding with the orange of the streetlights.

“We should get going as well,” Ladybug says.

“Wait…Ladybug?” Chat Noir says in a small voice before Ladybug can throw her yo-yo. When she turns, it’s to the uncharacteristic sight of Chat Noir with his fake ears flat on his head and his eyes trained on the rooftop beneath their feet.

“Kitty? What’s wrong?” Ladybug reties her yo-yo and places a hand on Chat Noir’s shoulder.

“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. I just…if you don’t have to be anywhere…do you think we could talk?”

“Of course!” Ladybug says and immediately pulls Chat Noir to sit back down with her. “You know I’m always here to listen, Chat. You’re my partner and my best friend.”

Chat Noir’s attempt at a smile is wobbly, but it’s still a smile. “You know that girl? Marinette? The one I’m friends with?”

“Did something happen with her?” Ladybug says as her heart jolts in her chest. Had she somehow upset Chat Noir? What could she have done?

“No, no,” Chat Noir says. “It’s just…I know you said it was okay for us to be friends. But…I want more, Ladybug. I think – no, I know I’m in love with her.”

“Does she know?” Ladybug prays that Chat Noir doesn’t notice the strange lilt in her voice. Thankfully, he seems to miss it.

“Yeah,” he says. “We’ve told each other. And I said I’d wait for her to be okay with it, but that’s not why I’m stressing.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Why are you asking me that?” Chat Noir says. “You’re the one who’s all about secret identities!” He winces. “Shit. Sorry, that came out really rude –”

“No, no, I get what you meant,” Ladybug says quickly. “You’re fine, Chat. Why do you think I’d have a problem?”

“Because being friends with her is one thing,” Chat Noir says. “But being with her? What if that’s crossing the line, since she’s a civilian and I’m a superhero?”

Ladybug sighs. She looks down at the rooftop for a moment, gathering her thoughts, before she once more meets Chat Noir’s gaze. “I think so long as you’re careful, it’ll work,” she says. “Sure, it means that you can’t just whisk her from her balcony and take her for a stroll through Paris, but…Hawkmoth’s taken so much from us, you know? He’s taken our innocence. He’s taken our normal lives. And I don’t regret being Ladybug for a single second, but…we can’t let Hawkmoth make us afraid to live our lives. That means that he’s winning.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but I almost wish she wanted to be with my civilian self,” Chat Noir says. “Just for the simplicity, you know? But she loves Chat Noir, so I couldn’t just go up to her as a civilian because our identities have to remain a secret.”

“It’s tough,” Ladybug agrees. God, what would Chat Noir think if he knew he was talking to Marinette right now? “But I don’t think you should have to sacrifice your happiness. That’s…something I’ve been learning.”

“Does that mean we can finally tell each other who we are?” Chat Noir says with an innocent little smile. God help Ladybug, she’s so weak for that smile.

“Keep dreaming, kitty,” she says and nudges him. “It’s not time for you to take the clown suit off just yet.”

Chat Noir huffs at her clown comment. “There’s also…” He falls silent and bites his lip. “There’s also another person. A boy. And I like him as well. But I love Marinette, and I want to be with her, but I don’t want to mess with her –”

“I think this is a conversation you should have with Marinette,” Ladybug says quickly. Chat Noir has the same problem as her? Jesus, what even is this world? “But for the record, it’s totally okay to have feelings for more than one person.”

“Really?” Chat Noir’s eyes are wide. “I’m not…cheating on Marinette by liking this other boy too?”

“I had a good talk with a new friend the other day,” Ladybug says. “She told me about polyamory – you know, being with more than one person at a time. I’m not saying that’s what you should or shouldn’t do…more just letting you know that you don’t have to kill yourself over trying to pick one person. That talk was a weight off my shoulders, let me tell you. And even if you’re not polyamorous, it’s still valid to have feelings for more than one person, so long as you’re honest and open.”

“Wait, you’re in love with two people as well?” Chat Noir stuffs his fist into his mouth to muffle his laughter, though he utterly fails and is rewarded with a glare and twitching lips from Ladybug. “My god, we really are soulmates, bugaboo.”

“Oh, shut up,” Ladybug says. “Just be completely open and honest with Marinette and you’ll be fine, whatever you decide. That’s what this friend told me. And…I kind of get where she’s coming from? It’s not so much my partner being with someone else that upsets me when I think about cheating, more the sneaking and lying and breach of trust.”

“You should start charging for this,” Chat Noir grins. “People would kill to come and get advice from Ladybug.”

Go, kitty.” Ladybug points out at the sea of lights that makes up Paris at nighttime.

“I see how it is,” Chat Noir declares as he jumps to his feet and helps her up. But then he sobers. “Thanks, Ladybug. Knowing that you’ve got my back like this…”

“Of course,” Ladybug grins. “What are partners for?”

Chat Noir grins back at her. “I think I’ll talk to Marinette and pick just her for now and see how we go. If I end up really liking this other boy then we can talk again, but…I just want to keep things simple.”

“That’s probably best,” Ladybug agrees, blatantly ignoring the way her heart flutters and leaps at the knowledge that Chat Noir’s choosing her and is going to talk to her soon. “One relationship is enough work, especially a new one. Good luck with Marinette!”

“Thanks, LB!” Chat Noir calls after her as she tosses her yo-yo and swings away. Ladybug waves back over her shoulder.

Her route home takes her past Le Grand Paris, its windows lit up against the darkness, but there’s also a light shining on a balcony that illuminates a yellow figure on a white seat who’s staring down at their hands. Ladybug pauses on the edge of the roof she’s standing on, ready to leap off again, and she realises that the yellow figure is…Chloé.

God help me, but…

Chapter Text

Instead of continuing home, Ladybug swings over to the hotel and yo-yos herself up the side of the building until she’s on the railing of Chloé’s balcony. It’s kind of funny how reminiscent this is of Chat Noir’s visit to her before Glaciator struck, to be honest; maybe Chloé needs this open ear just as much as Marinette had needed Chat Noir’s that time.

“Ladybug! You came to visit me!” Chloé leaps off her seat and is next to Ladybug faster than a heartbeat, throwing her arms around Ladybug’s neck. Ladybug yelps and would have fallen off the balcony if not for Chloé yanking her over to the white seats. “Well, I mean, of course you came to visit me. Why wouldn’t you?”

“I was on my way home and I saw you.” Ladybug’s already heavily regretting this decision as Chloé shoves her down into a seat and then sits down and drags her own seat so close that their legs are touching. “I…thought you might want to talk about today.”

For a split second, Chloé’s smile vanishes. But then it’s back, though with a rather plastic quality to it.

“Why?” Chloé says. “You kicked that akuma’s butt just like you always do. With help from moi and my heart-wrenching sacrifice, of course.”

“Chloé, you can drop the bravado,” Ladybug says. “I know you’ve been trying to be nicer. Why did you ruin Marinette’s gift?”

Chloé snorts loudly. “Perfect princess Dupain-Cheng? She thinks she’s just oh so good. And how dare Sabrina just tell the class about my mother like that! Dupain-Cheng had it coming.”

Ladybug bites down on her tongue so hard that she’s left with a faint metallic taste. “I hardly think that Marinette’s intention was to make you look bad,” she says dryly. “Especially since she’s been helping you become nicer.”

“Forget it.” Chloé slouches back in her seat and crosses her arms, blinking rapidly. Is she…about to cry? Chloé Bourgeois, crying? “I’ll never be nice. Why even bother trying?”

“Because you can’t keep lashing out, Chloé,” Ladybug says. “I know there’s probably history with your mum, and I’m not going to insist that you talk to me about it, but…other people have hard lives as well and they don’t turn it on everyone else.”

“Yeah? Well, none of them are me,” Chloé snaps. “I’ve got everything I want. Daddy gives me everything. I’ve got a devoted best friend. And it’s never enough. It’s never enough.” She hunches over and covers her face with her hands. “I don’t even know what more I want. How the fuck am I supposed to give others what they want? Why should I even care?”

“I think you just want someone to understand you,” Ladybug says softly. None of this excuses Chloé’s bullying and entitlement, sure, but…it’s hard not to feel something for her. “I just don’t understand how you and Adrien could have turned out so different when you’ve got such similar upbringings.”

“Well, Adrikins has always been the perfect prince,” Chloé snorts while dabbing at her eyes with her jacket sleeve, smearing mascara all over the yellow material. “And our upbringings weren’t that similar, apart from the rich and famous and shitty parent thing.”

“Are you sure?” Ladybug says. “Adrien once told me that his mother only disappeared recently. But he must have been sheltered for years, right? His mother –”

“– was an amazing woman,” Chloé says. “Auntie Emilie…okay, so she was way overprotective, but she loved her kid. There. That’s your answer. Adrien’s mother gave half a fuck about him.”

“I’m sorry.” Ladybug reaches over and rests a hand on Chloé’s. Chloé gasps but she doesn’t pull away or give any other indication of discomfort. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a parent like that. But that’s not an excuse, Chloé.”

“I just want her to love me!” Chloé stomps her foot. “I tell myself I don’t care and then I see her and it’s like there’s a switch that just flips. She’s my mother, but she treats me like – like I’m a nobody! Like I mean nothing to her even though she’s the one who gave birth to me, so you’d think there’d be some affection!”

“I get that.” How long has Chloé been bottling this up? “But how do you think everyone else feels when you take those feelings and push them on the people around you?”

“You think I don’t know that?” Chloé says. “It makes me feel…good. Like they can have half a goddamn clue how I feel.”

“Chloé, you’ve contributed to more akumas than anyone I know,” Ladybug says gently. “It makes our job harder. I was so proud when I saw you give that birthday present to Marinette and then stood up to Befana for her.”

“You were at Dupain-Cheng’s party?” Chloé’s eyes bulge. “And you didn’t say hi to me?”

“I didn’t really have time to talk to anyone,” Ladybug says, choosing not to point out that she tries not to talk to Chloé more than necessary. “Look, I’m not going to coddle you, because you have to be the one to put the hard work in. But I do see your effort, Chloé. I do see how you try. Consider this your official encouragement.”

“Encouragement for what?” Chloé says. “To paste on a smile and turn all princess nice and sugary sweet…to turn into someone I’m not? I can’t be nice. I’m not nice. Props to Dupain-Cheng for trying, but she failed.”

“Hmm.” Ladybug chews her lip, struggling to find the words that Chloé needs to hear. “You don’t have to be sugary sweet. There’s nothing wrong with being blunt and snarky. But you don’t have to be hurtful as well. You could just as easily turn that bluntness into helpful honesty and that snark into banter. And people will see that you’re trying. I’m sure of it.”

“Wait, so I can be a raging bitch and still be a good person?” Chloé says. “Because that’s probably at least achievable within my lifetime.”

“Well, probably not a raging bitch,” Ladybug says. “But you don’t have to be sugary sweet. Just…work on being less nasty. It’s as simple as not being mean. Don’t say the mean thing you were going to say. Instead, turn it into a snarky half-compliment if you can. Baby steps. But you have to consistently try.”

“Okay, cool, so where do I start?” Chloé says. She groans when Ladybug raises an eyebrow. “Seriously? I have to apologise to Dupain-Cheng? You know I’m not gonna mean it, right?”

“It’s still good practice,” Ladybug says. “The more you do it, the more natural it’ll become. And I’m sure Marinette will recognise that you’re trying.”

“I hate apologising,” Chloé mutters. “But ugh, fine, I guess. Just don’t expect me to be nice about it.”

“I don’t think anyone expects you to be nice about it,” Ladybug says. “You just have to be good and genuine.”

“Okay, fine,” Chloé says. “I’ll turn myself into the jerk with a heart of gold trope.”

“I didn’t think you knew what a trope was.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Chloé says, though there’s a light in her eyes that hadn’t been there a minute ago. “I’m not a dumb blonde. I’m just a lesbian disaster.”

“Huh,” Ladybug says. “I didn’t know you were gay, Chloé.”

“Yeah, no one does. But you’re Ladybug. If there’s one person who won’t judge, it’s you.”

“Of course I wouldn’t.”

“Wait!” Chloé cries when Ladybug slides off her seat and unslings her yo-yo. “Where are you going?”

“I really need to get home,” Ladybug says. “School tomorrow, remember?”

“Ugh, fine,” Chloé says. “But come back whenever you want! You know I’d never turn you away, Ladybug!”

Maybe not Ladybug, but definitely Ladybug’s true identity. “I’ll keep that in mind,” Ladybug says. With a wave, she leaps off Chloé’s balcony and swings over the rooftops to the next street.


“Everything okay, Alya?” Marinette says when she tumbles into her seat the next morning and finds Alya staring off into the distance in a daze.

“Hm? Yeah! Fine!” Alya says quickly with a strange grin on her face. “Just a dream I had!”

Uh huh. Sure. A dream. God, how Marinette wishes she could smirk without letting on that she knows exactly what’s got Alya on cloud nine.

“Did someone, like, slip something in her cereal?” Nino says, twisting around to stare. Adrien follows suit, and his cheeks pinken for some reason when he smiles at Marinette.

“I have no idea,” Marinette says. “But she was fine yesterday, so I haven’t ruled it out.”

“Maybe she got to make out with Ladybug,” Adrien grins.

“God, I wish,” Alya sighs.

“You really think she’d be here if she did, dude?” Nino says. “She’d be at home screaming at me over the phone.”

“Nino, we’re adopting cats when we get married,” Alya says. Stars rush to fill Nino’s eyes at the m-word.

“At this point, I’m wondering why they don’t just sit together permanently,” Adrien says.

“Because they’d spend more time making out than doing schoolwork and we’re the only reason that doesn’t happen?” Marinette says. Adrien snorts.

“Where’s Ms B?” Alix complains from the other side of the classroom. “Is she, like, shaken up about yesterday?”

“You could possibly be a little more sensitive about it,” Nathaniel calls over. Alix flips him off with a cheerful smile.

“Um – about yesterday.” Everyone whips around to stare at the front, where Chloé’s standing in front of Ms Bustier’s desk with a grimace. “Thank…you all for sacrificing yourselves to save me. I know it was for Ladybug and not for me, but I’m still…grateful.” She looks at Sabrina and adds, “And I’d like to…apologise for using you as a shield from Zombizou’s kiss. You’re my best friend and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Nobody says anything. They’re probably all thinking the same thing: has Chloé been akumatised? Her next words don’t help that conspiracy theory.

“And I’m also…s-sorry for ruining your gift, Dupain-Cheng,” Chloé forces out. “I’m sorry for lashing out like that because of my own issues. I should have apologised to you yesterday, not to Ms Bustier. It was just easier to say sorry to her instead of you.”

Huh. Chloé really had taken Ladybug’s words to heart. It’s the reminder that she’s Ladybug and she’s the one who’d nudged Chloé to do this that makes Marinette smile at her.

“Apology accepted, Chloé,” Marinette says. “I’m glad you’re still trying to be a better person. I know there’s good in everyone deep down.”

“Yeah, you don’t have to be smug about it,” Chloé snaps. Then she visibly takes a deep breath and clenches her fists. “I mean…thank you.” She rushes to sit down, not saying a thing when Sabrina starts pelting her with questions.

“Wow, Alya really is out of it.” Nino waves his hand in front of Alya’s face, but nothing shatters her goofy grin. “Chloé was just semi-human and nothing from Al.”

“Her love for Ladybug is just that strong,” Marinette grins.

“Ladybug? Where?” Alya blurts out. Nino reaches over to pat her hand.

“Nowhere, babe,” he says. “Just go back to your fantasies.”

“You’re a better man than me, bro,” Kim says.

“Oh, please,” Juleka scoffs. “Everyone has Ladybug on their freebie list.”

“No one has Chat Noir?” Adrien says as Marinette’s cheeks start to heat up at the knowledge that her entire class would apparently let her do them.

“You know I do, bro,” Nino says. Adrien’s eyes turn just as starry as Alya’s.

Bro.”

“Same here,” Marinette says. “Ladybug’s cool and all, but she wouldn’t be half the hero she is without Chat Noir.” Plus, having herself on her freebie list would just be…weird.

“I’m going to pretend that you didn’t just imply that Chat Noir can compare to Ladybug, for the sake of my redemption arc,” Chloé says loudly.

“Oh, I’d much prefer Chat Noir,” Lila says. Marinette resists the urge to roll her eyes at the sound of Lila’s voice. “Marinette was so right when she said that Ladybug would be nothing without him.”

“I didn’t say she’d be nothing.” No way is she letting Lila twist her words. “Just that she wouldn’t have a chance of saving Paris like she does without Chat Noir there to have her back. It’s a two-person job and even if she’s the only one who can fix Paris, she couldn’t cope without Chat Noir’s support. They’re a team.”

“Angels do exist,” Adrien murmurs, still starry-eyed.

“Aww, someone has a crush on Chat Noir,” Alix teases.

“What? No! Ridiculous that’s – don’t be silly!” Marinette babbles. The classroom goes so quiet that a mouse could fart and be heard clear as day.

“Oh my god, you do,” Alya says. Great, why can’t she be in a disaster pan daze when Marinette actually needs her to be in one? “And you didn’t even tell me?”

“I’ve had a lot on my mind!” Marinette says.

“This is so romantic!” Rose squeals. “He’s your knight in shining leather!”

Rose!” Marinette wails. Evil, the lot of them, and she’s so not talking to her classmates ever again.

“What happened to your massive crush on Adrien?” Ivan says. Adrien throws his hands in the air.

“Could everyone else see it?” he cries.

“Yes,” choruses the entire class minus Lila and Chloé.

“Sorry, dude, you’re just dense as hell,” Nino says.

“Don’t make me revoke our bro-marriage,” Adrien threatens, and Nino’s eyes widen.

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

“It’s still there,” Marinette says in answer to Ivan’s question while Adrien and Nino hash out their little bro-fight. “Adrien was my first real crush and I think there’ll always be something there, but…it’s manageable now, you know?”

“This is the most disgusting sap I’ve ever heard,” Chloé says but without any malice in her voice, which is about as close to supportive as Chloé Bourgeois will probably ever get.

“Honestly, same,” Adrien says. When had he sorted out his bro issues with Nino? “I’ll always love Ladybug, and she’ll probably always be on this “freebie list” that everyone keeps talking about, but now…well, I think I realised it’d never happen.”

“Raise your hand if you’re in any way surprised to hear that Adrien was crushing on Ladybug,” Nathaniel says. If Adrien hadn’t told her so that one morning, Marinette would have been the only person in the class to raise her hand.

“I mean, you’re Adrien Agreste, so she probably would’ve tapped that,” Alix says.

Alix!” Marinette and Adrien splutter. Alix shrugs.

“What? I’m just telling the truth. Literally everyone here’s been into Ladybug at some point. Nathaniel still draws gooey comics about Super Nathan and Ladybug.”

“Alix, I swear to god, I will stab you in the neck with this pencil,” Nathaniel says.

“Bring it on, tomato head,” Alix grins.

“Aren’t you aroace, though?” Mylène says.

“So?” Alix says. “She’s Ladybug. And I’m not totally aro when it comes to girls.”

“Yeah, which means all you bitches have to get in line behind me,” Chloé says.

“How about you go fuck yourself, Bourgeois?” Alix calls back down at her.

“Eat my entire arse, Kubdel.”

“Yeah, I’m sure this is exactly what we meant by being a good person,” Marinette jokes, seizing the change in subject with both hands like a lifeline so that she doesn’t have to keep hearing about how her classmates would do her alter ego.

“I’m becoming a better person, not turning into a saint, Dupain-Cheng.”

The classroom banter is interrupted by Ms Bustier finally entering the classroom, twenty minutes late. Everyone immediately shuts up and directs their attention to the front, no doubt remembering the events of yesterday after her akumatisation into Zombizou.

“Apologies for my tardiness, class,” Ms Bustier says with her usual smile, although there’s something a little strained about it if one looks too closely.

“Are you okay, Ms Bustier?” Max says. Marinette honestly resents him a little for having been able to largely avoid the classroom drama that had gone on just moments before with whatever device he was tinkering with.

“I’m fantastic, Max!” Ms Bustier beams. “What would make you think otherwise?”

Everyone looks around at each other, seeming to come to an unspoken agreement.

“That’s it,” Mylène says.

“Self-care time!” Rose says.

“Yay, meditation!” Kim adds as they all swarm around Ms Bustier. Even Chloé and Sabrina join them.

“You just want to fall asleep and not get in trouble for it,” Max scoffs. He visibly gulps when Kim sticks his tongue out and elbows him.

“Oh – class – I don’t –”

“You’ve done so much for us, Ms Bustier,” Lila says. “Even me, and I’ve only been here for a few months. Let us take care of you for a bit!”

Ms Bustier’s eyes fill with tears when she takes in her swarmed students. “You’re the best class I could have ever asked for,” she says shakily.

“You’re the best teacher we could’ve asked for,” Marinette says. Ms Bustier’s smile dims a little.

“That’s not quite true,” she says. “I was unfair to you yesterday, Marinette. I put the responsibility of being the better person on the one harmed instead of the one doing the harm, and I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if you had been akumatised because of me.”

“Wait, that akuma was for Marinette?” Juleka gasps. “But Marinette never gets akumatised!”

“And you took it for her?” Nino says. “Dude, you really are the best!”

“Thanks for your apology, Ms Bustier,” Marinette says. Honestly, having someone actually stop and take a minute to see just why she had been so frustrated shouldn’t be such a surprise, but that’s probably what happens after years of her bully bribing and pushing everyone around while the adults look the other way. “And Nino’s right: you really are the best teacher! If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have apologised just now.”

Ms Bustier’s smile this time as she wipes her eyes is one hundred percent genuine. “Thank you, Marinette. That means a lot.”

“I mean, I suppose I can arrange a spa session for you this weekend as a late birthday gift,” Chloé says, tapping away on her phone. “Even teachers need breaks too, I guess.”

“That’s…very nice of you, Chloé,” Ms Bustier says with a proud little smile. Chloé shrugs.

“What can I say? I’m the new Mother Teresa.”

“You do know that Mother Teresa provided subpar care to her patients, managed her charity funds rather suspiciously, and forced her colonialism on her patients to make them convert to Catholicism, right?” Max says.

“Hey, I guess Chloé’s just got really good self-awareness,” Alix grins. Chloé rolls her eyes.

“I repeat: eat my arse, Kubdel.”

“Make me, Bourgeois.”

“If this turns out to be the new Adrienette of the class, I swear to god,” Alya mutters.

“Wait, the new what?” Marinette and Adrien exclaim.

Chapter Text

“Hey, princess.”

Marinette’s heart skips a beat when she turns to find Chat Noir perched on the railing of her balcony just like back before Glaciator had attacked, all those months ago. This time, though, he’s got a goofy, nervous grin rather than looking heartbrokenly glum, and he’s clutching a single red tulip rather than the rose he’d had that time.

“You, uh…you look amazing,” he says, his cheeks visibly darkening in the orange glow of nighttime Paris. Marinette can’t suppress the grin that breaks free as she instinctively smooths down her strapless dress, with a black feathery pattern across the chest and down one side, while the base of the dress is white.

“Thanks,” she says. “It was a rough sketch at the photoshoot that Adrien invited me to and, well…it kinda grew from there.”

“You’re awesome,” Chat Noir says immediately, then clears his throat. “You really got dressed up just for little old me?”

“As if,” Marinette scoffs as blood starts to rush to her cheeks. “I just felt like wearing something different. For our hangout tonight. That we always have.”

Chat Noir’s smirk only increases the desire to shove the damn cat off her balcony and listen to him yowl all the way down to the ground, but Marinette just manages to resist the temptation. She’s a superhero, after all, and superheroes shouldn’t stoop to such pettiness…even if it would be very satisfying.

“So…” Chat Noir holds out the tulip in his hand. “I heard through the grapevine that a certain Miss Dupain-Cheng had a crush on me?”

“You can’t believe everything you hear,” Marinette says, although her hot cheeks as she accepts the tulip undercuts the cool-headed aura she’s trying to project. Oh, well. May as well get used to the fact that Marinette Dupain-Cheng is destined to always be a disaster.

“Well, then.” Chat Noir’s grin widens. “I suppose I shouldn’t tell you how simply stunning you are, if you won’t believe what you hear.”

“Now, wait just a minute! I didn’t mean – you mischievous cat!”

Chat Noir snickers, then leaps off the railing and stops just in front of Marinette. With one hand, he laces their fingers together, while he reaches up to tuck a lock of loose, dark hair behind her ear with his other hand.

“Not that I don’t love the pigtails, princess,” he says softly, “and you’re gorgeous with any hairstyle, but you’re beautiful with your hair down. I’ve never seen it before.”

Marinette bites her lip and ducks her head to hide her flaming cheeks, although if the heat in her forehead’s any indication, her entire face is probably just as red. “Thanks,” she finally manages to say. “It’s just more convenient to keep it in pigtails. Easier to keep out of the way, you know? And I like how they feel. I’m glad you like it down. So, um…what did you want to do tonight?”

“I was thinking of taking you out. On a date.” Chat Noir gives a strangled little cough and adds, “You know, if you’re into it. Not trying to force you or anything –”

“Heaven help me, but okay,” Marinette says. Chat Noir’s face lights up and goddammit, he does not have the right to look that – that – adorable!

“Really?” he says. “Well, I know I can’t take you out and give you the first date you deserve. You know, dashing leather superhero and all that. I’d be too busy fighting off the hordes of fangirls trying to steal my heart.”

“Right,” Marinette deadpans. “We wouldn’t want you to get mobbed by adoring fans.”

“I’m glad you understand,” Chat Noir grins. “So…I had another idea, if you’re willing to allow this dashing cat to escort you?”

“So long as that dashing cat doesn’t drop me, I think that’s doable,” Marinette says. In response to that, Chat Noir turns so that she can slide her arms around his neck and hoist herself onto his back, wrapping her legs around his waist to secure herself.

“Ready, princess?” Chat Noir says. Marinette rests her chin on his shoulder and hums an affirmation, and then the wind’s whistling through her ears and streaming her hair out behind her as Chat Noir takes a running leap off her balcony and lands on the next rooftop over.

Wow. It’s so…different, leaping over the rooftops as a civilian instead of behind a red spandex suit. It’s hardly the first time she’s been carried through Paris by Chat Noir but, well…it is the first time she’s been able to just enjoy it rather than focusing on the akuma or trying to cheer Chat Noir up.

“The Eiffel Tower?” Marinette says when Chat Noir arrives at the base of said Tower and starts climbing up nimbly like, well…a cat.

“The Eiffel Tower that no one ever gets to see,” Chat Noir corrects. “Well, except for me and Ladybug. And Rena Rouge. Just…sorry, Marinette, I can find somewhere else –”

“No!” Marinette squeezes her arms around his neck. “It’s perfect. I just wasn’t expecting it. I’ve never been up here before…” Well, she’s technically not lying. Ladybug has, but Marinette hasn’t.

“Trust me, it’s a view to die for, princess.”

At the very tip of the Eiffel Tower, a picnic blanket has been spread across the cool metal, held down at the corners by little candles that one might buy from a home living store; not super cheap, but also not expensive and fancy. A vase of red tulips rests at the centre and it’s surrounded by a few cushions and a platter of chocolate-dipped strawberries. All in all, it’s nothing too fancy, but Marinette’s heart still tries to batter itself free of her ribcage in response to the sight. Chat Noir’s done this for her?

“I know it’s not much,” Chat Noir says when he sets her down and then turns around to gauge her reaction. “But you’ve never really struck me as someone who’d want something over the top. And I wasn’t even sure if you’d say yes, so I didn’t want to go too far and then –”

“You’re right, kitty cat,” Marinette says. “I’ve helped my parents cater for events at Le Grand Paris before, when they needed an extra pair of hands. It’s all…too much. But this?” Marinette approaches the blanket and sinks down onto a red cushion. “This is perfect. I love it, Chat.”

Chat Noir’s shoulders visibly slump in relief as he sits down on a green cushion next to her. “I’m glad. I’ve never been on a date before, and everything I know comes from TV shows.”

“I bet you watch anime, you dork,” Marinette says. Chat Noir pouts in response. “Oh my god, you do. Nerd.”

“Hey!” Chat Noir crosses his arms. “I’ll leave you up here.”

“That’s no way to treat a lady.”

“Hmph. Fine, you win this round.”

Marinette grins. Then she shivers and wishes that she’d thought to bring a jacket, but she hadn’t exactly thought that the date would be taking place at the top of the freaking Eiffel Tower, to be fair.

“Here.” Chat Noir holds out another blanket, this one softer than the picnic blanket and made of blue fleece. “I figured it was better to be overprepared than underprepared.”

“You really did think of everything,” Marinette says as she wraps the blanket around her shoulders. She falls silent and drinks in everything before her, and all she can do is shake her head and say, “Wow. No one’s ever…I mean, Evillustrator doesn’t count because he was an akuma and he could just draw anything into existence. I love it.”

“Of course,” Chat Noir says. “You’re my princess. Only the best for someone like you.”

Marinette giggles and leans to rest her head on Chat Noir’s shoulder. For a moment, the only sounds in the night air between them are the wind this high up and the bustle of Paris below. but it feels as though these sounds are muffled; like Marinette and Chat Noir are in their own world up here, in a bubble away from Hawkmoth and their daily lives.

“This is why I love being Chat Noir,” Chat Noir finally says. “I mean, I love getting to be a superhero and kick akuma butt with milady…but just getting to let loose like this and do whatever I want. Be with whoever I want. My father would probably pitch a fit if I had a relationship as me with someone he didn’t approve of.”

“You think he wouldn’t approve of me?” Marinette says. She’s not exactly sure how she feels about that; is it a good thing that she’s someone that Chat Noir’s father wouldn’t like? Or is the thought of someone not liking her, even someone like his father, responsible for the mild churning in her gut?

“I don’t actually know,” Chat Noir says. “Nothing identity-revealing, but I know you’ve impressed him once. But at the same time…it’s hard to know what goes through his head, and I’m his son. And, like…I don’t care if he approves or not, but it’d make my life easier if he did. So, in a way, it’s kinda more freeing to be Chat Noir.”

“That’s fair enough,” Marinette says. “My parents would probably adopt you.”

“As much as I love the sound of that, it’d have unfortunate implications for us,” Chat Noir says. Marinette laughs.

“Okay, yeah, I didn’t think about that. I know stepsiblings aren’t technically related…but still.”

Chat Noir chuckles. After a moment, he stretches and yawns, and one of his arms ‘casually’ lands around Marinette’s waist.

“Oh my god, you dork,” she says, but that doesn’t stop her from snuggling into his side even further.

“Am I really a dork if it works?” Chat Noir says. When Marinette chances a peek up, he’s got a rather smug smile plastered across his face.

“Bad kitty.”

Chat Noir lets out a growl, a little thing that rumbles in his chest, and nuzzles against her cheek like an actual cat. “You shouldn’t be mean to me, princess. I could leave you up here.”

“Oh, no,” Marinette drawls, like she couldn’t just get herself down and leave him wondering if she’s a witch. “What a tragedy. You’d leave your princess trapped upon a tower?”

Chat Noir snorts. “I didn’t even think about that.” He suddenly jumps and hastens to grab the strawberries, and Marinette yelps and nearly topples over when her support unexpectedly vanishes. “D’you want a strawberry? Are you hungry? I don’t even know if you’ve eaten or if –”

Chat.” Marinette unfolds one end of the blanket wrapped around her and throws it around Chat Noir’s shoulders, reeling him back into the cocoon of warmth. “What’s wrong?”

“Wrong? Nothing! Nothing’s wrong!” Chat Noir babbles. Marinette just raises an eyebrow, and it only takes a moment for his fake ears to flatten against his head. “I’m just…it’s my first date, alright? And it’s yours too, yeah? I guess I just want it to be perfect, and I don’t wanna screw it up by forgetting to offer you food or making a wrong move or –”

“The only way you could screw this up is if you left me up here.” Marinette threads her fingers with his, stroking the warm black spandex under her thumb. “I love it, Chat. I love the thought that went into this. You don’t have to be so terrified of making a wrong move that you end up twisting yourself into knots.” She laughs and adds, “Kind of like how I was with Adrien. N-Not that you want to hear about him, because bringing up other crushes on a first date is a total wrong move, and ugh, I’m suck a jerk –”

“What happened to not overthinking things?” Chat Noir says. Marinette groans and shoves him with her shoulder.

“Jerk,” she mumbles. Chat Noir gives her a shit-eating grin.

“Yeah, but I’m your jerk,” he says. His grin widens when blood rushes to Marinette’s cheeks, staining them with warmth. “Why, princess, I didn’t know you were the possessive type.”

“Shut up!”

Chat Noir just cackles but then sobers after a moment. “Hey, uh…there’s something we should talk about.”

“What?” Marinette’s gut starts to churn. Has she messed up? Is Chat Noir about to say thanks for the date, it’s been nice, he’ll call? When people say “we need to talk”, there’s only a one percent chance that it’s something good.

“Hey? Marinette? Did I do something wrong?” Chat Noir says after Marinette’s silent for too long.

“Is it a bad thing?” Marinette manages to say. “Like, “thanks for the date, maybe next time” kind of thing?”

“What? No, no, no!” Chat Noir babbles with wide eyes. “I – well, I don’t think it’s bad, but it’s nothing like that!”

“Oh.” Marinette lets her shoulders sag. “Sorry for overreacting. I just hear those words and I start thinking of the worst possible outcome. I love having anxiety.”

“Ah. Anxiety.” Chat Noir wrinkles his nose. “Sorry, Marinette, I didn’t realise. I won’t start off with those words again. But no, this isn’t bad. It’s just…something I need to get off my chest.”

Marinette tilts her head. “Yeah?”

“So, um, I get it if you decide this is all too messed up and you don’t wanna get tangled in it. But I, uh…I have feelings for someone else. Too, that is. And I’m picking you, because I want to be with you and I know that this is more than just a crush, while I don’t know about the other person, but I didn’t want you to go into this and not know because I feel like that’d be lying –”

“Chat. Hey. Breathe.” Marinette’s about two seconds from passing out in relief. That’s what he wanted to talk to her about? And she’d still freaked out, even though she’d known it had to be coming at some point! God, what a mess she is. “It’s okay.”

“It…is?”

“Yeah.” Marinette starts scratching behind his fake ears, and he lets out a loud purr. “You must be sure enough about me to be on the top of the Eiffel Tower with me right now. And I know you wouldn’t cheat, even if you’re potentially polyamorous. That’s just…not you. And that’s not what polyamory’s about in the first place.”

Chat Noir melts against her and buries his nose in the crook of her neck. Marinette shivers violently at the warm breath that ghosts across her bare skin, and she leans into him before she realises what she’s doing.

“Just keep me in the loop, yeah?” Marinette says. “The whole anxiety thing and all. I tend to jump to the worst conclusion. I remember once, I accidentally broke Mum’s favourite vase and I made up a whole plan to run away from France and live with Nonna and become a motorcyclist nomad. I even started packing my bags and everything, until Mum – stop laughing!”

“I can’t help it!” Chat Noir chokes, wiping his eyes. “I just – oh my god, Marinette, you’re amazing.”

“Try telling that to my eleven-year-old self,” Marinette huffs. But she can’t be too annoyed, not when Chat Noir’s laughing, so she just sighs and keeps scratching his scalp, relishing the purrs that burst out of him even as he claps a hand over his mouth.

“Strawberries!” Chat Noir fumbles to grab a particularly large strawberry and brandishes it with a proud little smirk. “I was almost sorry to dip this one. It looked like a butt. See, here’s the crack and everything!”

“Oh my god, you’re so immature,” Marinette says, but she can’t hold back the laughter that bubbles out of her at his antics. The silence that falls between them as they share the plate of strawberries is natural, comfortable, and it’s something that Marinette is infinitely grateful for, because there’s nothing worse than being stuck in awkward silence with someone until you both lie and promise that you’ll call each other but never do. The kind of silence she’d found herself in with Adrien, if she wasn’t stuttering so badly that even she couldn’t understand herself. And even if she’d never ended up falling for Chat Noir, moving her focus away from Adrien is probably the best thing she’s ever done for herself, because now she can string more than two words together around him and they’re actually friends.

“Hey, Marinette?” Chat Noir finally breaks the silence. Thankfully, Marinette manages not to jump or have a mini heart attack this time. “I, uh…”

Oh. Great. Has Marinette been too quiet? Is this the part where Chat Noir says thanks for a lovely evening and he’ll call and all that generic let-down stuff? It shouldn’t sting this much, except that he’s her partner and she’ll have to interact with him on a professional basis, but how is she supposed to do that when –

“– rinette? Did I do something wrong?”

“Huh?” Marinette blinks and shakes her head. “Sorry. I was kind of catastrophising in my head again. What did you say?”

Chat Noir snorts. “I was going to ask if I could kiss you, but if that’s enough to make you start planning to run away and become a motorcycle nomad…”

“You dork. You don’t have to ask to kiss me.”

“I kind of do,” Chat Noir says. “I mean, I know Ladybug likes my flirting when we’re not in the middle of a battle, but…I still kind of want to be sure. You know, so I don’t hurt you like I hurt her that time we fought Glaciator. You two are the most important girls in my life.”

Is this a dream? How is Marinette the most important girl to him twice over without him even realising it? “I – um – wow,” is all she can say. Chat Noir winces.

“Too heavy?”

“No. No. Just…wow.”

“Well, it’s true.” Chat Noir squeezes her with the arm that’s around her. “You’re the sun! The moon! The light of –”

“Drama queen.”

Chat Noir gasps and clasps a hand over his heart. “You wound me! While I’m singing your praises!”

Marinette rolls her eyes. “Didn’t you want to kiss me or something?”

“Not after you so cruelly broke my heart,” Chat Noir huffs.

“Oh, come here, you cry-baby.” Marinette shifts around so that she’s facing Chat Noir, then squeezes his hand. Chat Noir’s eyes are wide as they dart from Marinette’s eyes to her mouth, and his lips are slightly parted, and he so resembles a spooked kitten that all Marinette can do is lean in and press her mouth to his. Chat Noir freezes and gasps against her lips, and then he seems to spring to life and kiss back with a soft sound, lifting his free hand to cup her cheek.

It’s far from the first time Marinette has kissed Chat Noir, even if she had been wearing a spotted suit and he’s got no memory of it. But a kiss of necessity and a kiss of mutuality? They’re leagues apart, and although Marinette will always do whatever it takes to save and protect her kitty, a part of her can’t help but wish that this had been her first kiss with Chat Noir, because this? This is magical.

“Wow,” Marinette sighs when they finally pull apart to gulp in the cool night air. “That was – wow.”

“I always knew my kissing skills were mind-blowing,” Chat Noir says. Marinette rolls her eyes.

“Alright, that was the first and last time I’m kissing you.”

“What? No! C’mon, princess!”

“Nope. Too late. You blew it.”

“Marineeeette!”

Chapter Text

“– rinette! Marinette!”

“Hmm?” Marinette is forcibly yanked out of her thoughts by Alya’s snapping fingers in front of her face.

“Finally!” Alya says. “You didn’t hear a word of my rant about Mr Alternative News blogger. Man, wherever you were just now, you gotta take me there too.”

“I wasn’t anywhere. I was just…thinking.” About her date with Chat Noir. But Alya doesn’t need to know that.

“Mhm. If you say so.”

“It looked like you were halfway across the solar system!” Lila says. Why she’s here, Marinette has no clue, but either Rose or Juleka or Alix or Mylène had invited her along to their Saturday hangout at the Louvre, and it’s not like Marinette and Alya can refuse to include her without getting labelled raging bitches.

“I really am fine,” Marinette says. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately.”

“Like your crush on Chat Noir,” Alix teases. Marinette’s cheeks start to boil.

“What? No!” Had someone seen them on their date? No, of course not, the girls already know she’s crushing on Chat Noir.

“That’s so cute!” Rose says.

“If you two get together, tell me!” Mylène says with a mischievous smile. “I want to be sure I win a bet against Ivan, since our Adrienette one was a bust.”

“Mylène! You cheater!” Juleka says. Mylène’s cheeks pinken.

“What?” she says. “I just…have inside information.”

“I hate you all,” Marinette mutters. “And even if I did get together with him – which is not happening –” Lies, but necessary. “– why would I tell anyone? He’s a superhero. I’m a civilian. Hawkmoth would love that.”

“True, true.” Alya raises her hand, like she’s going to clutch at her chest, but then aborts that movement and lowers her hand. Marinette resists the urge to smirk, since she’s not supposed to know that Alya is Rena Rouge and wearing the Miraculous under her shirt.

“You and Chat Noir would make the cutest couple!” Lila coos. “It sucks that I wasn’t here for the Adrienette hype!”

“Does everyone call us that?” Marinette throws her hands in the air. “What are we, fictional characters?”

Before anyone can reply, Rose and Juleka scream. The reason for this becomes apparent when they try to jump away from each other but can’t due to literally being attached at the hip, with Rose’s pink dress melting into Juleka’s black one.

“What the –?” Marinette leaps away from them, immediately scanning her surroundings for any sign of the perpetrator. “Akuma!”

“Where?” Lila immediately leaps behind Alya.

“Alya Césaire!” An orange blur soars off a building and lands in front of Alya. “You think the Ladyblogger can compete with Faux News?”

“Faux – wait, Lars?” Alya’s eyes bulge. “Lars Vos? The Alternative News dipshit?”

The orange man – Faux News – snarls at Alya. He’s…a fox. Or, to be more accurate, a guy in a fox costume, just like Rena Rouge. Unlike Rena Rouge, however, his orange suit is skin-tight, with a white torso and white down his inner upper arms and thighs. He also has short, chunky black gloves and boots, an orange and white bushy tail that looks like it sprouts out of the back of his suit, thick black rings around his grey eyes, and short fox ears poking out of his pale blond hair. Also unlike a Fox superhero is the lack of flute on his back and, instead of a Miraculous around his neck, there’s a little black cravat like a high collar. It’s like someone had tried to create a Fox wielder but left out just enough that it feels…wrong.

“You think you’re the best just because your little blog’s so popular?” Faux News growls.

“Uh, no,” Alya says. “I think I’m the best because unlike you, I actually get my own footage. I don’t jack it from someone else and then whine that it’s shitty quality.”

“At least I don’t harass people for the fun of it!” Faux News says.

“Harass you? How? All I did was leave a comment asking you to shut the fuck up and stop taking jabs at me for actually doing my job! And at least I post the truth!”

“What the heck did you do to Rose and Juleka?” Marinette demands. Oh, how she wishes she could get away to transform, but she’s right next to Alya and Faux News will most definitely notice her trying to slip away.

“I guess they’re just such good soulmates that they’re joined at the hip,” Faux News shrugs.

“You’re twisting reality!” Lila gasps. “Faux News! Alternative News!”

Faux News’ grin is more like a shark’s than a fox’s. “Exactly. Whatever I say is true! And I think that little girls such as yourself should be seen and not heard.”

Lila opens her mouth to say something else…but no sound escapes her. Her eyes widen and she once again tries to speak but again, she can’t. While Faux News is distracted by Lila’s predicament, Marinette grabs Alya by the hand and hightails it the hell out of there before he can remember that they exist.

“Marinette!” Alya tries to yank herself free. “You can’t – I need to –”

“Césaire!” Faux News bellows. Marinette ducks into the first store she encounters.

“Go and hide!” she hisses to Alya. “I’ll go and see if I can find Ladybug and Chat Noir!”

“But what if he gets you?” Alya says, grabbing her upper arms.

“It’s not me he’s after,” Marinette says. “I’ll be fine! Just go and hide!”

Alya bites her lip and her eyes flick down to her own chest for a split second. Then she nods and pushes Marinette away before weaving through the racks of clothes in the direction of the changing rooms. Reassured that her best friend is now able to transform and is therefore safe from Faux News’ hunt for Alya Césaire, Marinette barrels out of the store and down an alleyway to transform.

“Tikki, spots on!”


“Chat Noir! Down here!”

At the sound of his name, Chat Noir automatically leaps off the rooftop to the street below. Ladybug’s waving at him from inside a store, and he takes a quick look around before sprinting inside.

“What the hell kind of an akuma is this?” Chat Noir says as Ladybug shuts the door behind him and beckons him further into the store, away from the windows. “Some guy was barking up a tree! Literally! And a woman tried to talk my ear off about how climate change wasn’t real!”

Ladybug snorts. “His name’s Faux News and he can warp reality. He attached R – uh, two girls at the hip because they were “soulmates” and he took another’s voice because “little girls should be seen and not heard”.”

Chat Noir wrinkles his nose. Ick. One of those people.

“It’s my fault.” Rena Rouge emerges from one of the changing rooms. “He’s this Alternative News blogger who I told off for not telling the truth.”

“And for taking cheap shots at you,” Ladybug says.

“Yeah but –”

“Hey. We talked about this when I found you in here, remember? You’re not responsible for his akumatisation. Hawkmoth is. And if he hadn’t been targeting you and your blog, you wouldn’t have attacked him.”

“I still might have,” Rena Rouge says. “If he reckons he’s a “real journalist”, he can’t go around telling lies. I mean, saying that you hate cats? All we need is for one person to grab that lie and blow it up, especially because he had no sources!”

“I don’t think that’s the point right now,” Chat Noir says. “How powerful is Faux News? Can he just take our Miraculouses with his powers by making it the truth?”

Ladybug purses her lips. “I’m not sure. And I’m kind of hesitant about finding out. But we can’t just sit in here forever.”

“He might not be able to just will them to him like that,” Rena Rouge says. “Otherwise, Hawkmoth would’ve made an akuma like that ages ago. Every akuma you’ve faced with control over something has had to brainwash you, but they still didn’t figure out who you were or get you to reveal yourselves. Like Dark Cupid, remember? He totally could’ve made Chat Noir take the ring off. But he didn’t.”

“Hmm,” Ladybug says. “You know…I think you’re on to something. Wait here.” She ducks into the changing room and there’s a bright flash of pink light as she detransforms. Chat Noir and Rena Rouge exchange awkward grins as Ladybug talks to her kwami in a hushed voice, both very much aware that all they’d have to do is slam the door open to see who’s behind the red and black spotted mask, and then Ladybug’s once again transformed and is pulling the stall door open.

“Tikki says that part of the Miraculous magic means that we can’t compel each other to give them up,” Ladybug says. “If we get immobilised or brainwashed into standing still or whatever and they physically take them off us, sure. But an akuma can’t force us to take them off ourselves or to reveal our identities if we’re transformed. The only one of us who could directly affect a Miraculous is Chat Noir with his Cataclysm, but then it’d take my Miraculous Ladybug to fix it. And Tikki says that the Butterfly can akumatise a Miraculous, but it still can’t make that person reveal themselves unless they want to. Hawkmoth’s kwami must have told him all this because Rena Rouge is right: he would’ve made an akuma like this one ages ago if that worked.”

“That also means that you can’t just Lucky Charm Hawkmoth’s Miraculous straight off him,” Rena Rouge says. “Aww, man. But that’s a relief, knowing that Faux News can’t make us give our Miraculouses to him.”

“And we also can’t be exposed through, say, mind-reading akumas,” Ladybug says. “Although there’s nothing stopping a brainwashing akuma from forcing us to physically out ourselves by, you know, outright saying who everyone else is or ordering all Miraculous holders to come to them, which is why I’m so insistent that Chat Noir and I don’t reveal our identities. It would be bad if Hawkmoth learned who Rena Rouge was, yeah, but figuring out me or Chat Noir would be a disaster.”

“My life would be over if Hawkmoth knew who I was.” Chat Noir closes his fingers around his ring, as though this is enough to shield it from Hawkmoth’s greed. “Now that I’ve had this taste of freedom…”

“Well, Hawkmoth won’t figure out who any of us are,” Ladybug says firmly. She rests a hand on his shoulder and squeezes, and soft warmth seems to radiate from her hand through Chat Noir’s suit. “Anyway, come on. We have to stop Faux News!”

To find Faux News, all they have to do is follow the trail of sheer chaos throughout the city, from a group of floating men shouting about defying the laws of gravity, to a child who’s screaming and running away from a life-size, nightmarish teddy bear.

“This is sick,” Ladybug growls once Chat Noir’s torn the bear apart with his claws and Rena Rouge is comforting the little girl. “He can make anything a reality and he does that?”

“I told you he was an arse,” Rena Rouge says. She pats the girl on the head and directs her to hide in the nearest building, then turns to Ladybug and Chat Noir with her arms crossed. “I just didn’t know he was this much of one.”

“Ladybug! Chat Noir! Over here!”

Chat Noir whirls around, raising his staff. The speaker is a middle-aged man who’s got his phone trained on them and a wicked gleam in his eye.

“That’s it!” the man says. “Only the best footage for Faux News!”

“Uh, excuse me?” Rena Rouge says. “Faux – uh, Alternative News is shit. Everyone knows the Ladyblog –”

“Ladyblog? What’s the Ladyblog?” the man says. Rena Rouge’s eyes widen.

“No,” she breathes. She yanks her flute off her back and swipes to extend a little screen out of the end, just like with Chat Noir’s baton. “Are you fucking kidding me? That son of a bitch – all that work –”

“What happened?” Ladybug says. A fuming Rena Rouge thrusts her flute out at them to show her search results for the Ladyblog…which is nothing. Well, there’s technically one result, but when Chat Noir taps it, it brings up an extremely poor-quality webpage with one pixelated, clearly amateur video. In contrast, when Rena Rouge takes her flute back to search for Faux News and shows Ladybug and Chat Noir again, they’re taken to a crisp, professional webpage with scores of posts and videos and comments.

“That – he stole my work!” Rena Rouge’s eyes fill with tears. Thankfully, the man nearby doesn’t hear, or it would be bye-bye Rena Rouge and her secret identity. “All that effort – I’ve put so much work in – and he just – he just spoke a few fancy words and now I’m the amateur knock-off! He even stole my superhero look!”

“Hey.” Ladybug grabs Rena Rouge by the biceps and squeezes gently. “We’ll take care of it, okay? We’ll defeat Faux News and the Ladyblog will go back to normal.”

“What milady said,” Chat Noir agrees. “Like we’re gonna let some ugly Rena knock-off win. Hawkmoth deserves our Miraculouses if we lose to this guy.”

Rena Rouge snorts and wipes her eyes, even though her mask conceals any traces of tears. “Thanks, guys. I just…god, I can’t stand people who steal others’ work.”

“You hear that?” Chat Noir calls at the recording man. “Faux News is going down like the fake he is!”

The man’s jovial smile darkens into a horrific scowl. Before any of them can react, he’s scurrying off down the street and around the corner.

“Well,” Ladybug says. “I can’t say that was the smartest move, but at least now we can find Faux News, assuming that guy’s gone to tattle. Let’s go!”

Faux News does turn out to be in the next street over, with the tattletale man next to him and at least a hundred other people who don’t seem to be affected just yet. Of course, ‘don’t seem to be’ isn’t the same as ‘aren’t’, as they demonstrate moments later by turning around and staring straight at the superheroes like one many-headed, many-limbed being.

“Don’t worry!” Chat Noir puffs himself up. Time to show Faux News who’s boss! “We’ll save you –”

“It’s them! The criminals!” A woman points at Ladybug, Chat Noir, and Rena Rouge. “They’re trying to destroy the mighty Faux News and Hawkmoth!”

“Ah,” Rena Rouge says. “When we figured out that he could bend reality, we should have suspected he’d do this.”

“Go and spread the word, my loyal fans!” Faux News announces, and half of the crowd around him starts to scatter in all directions. “I bestow the gift of gospel upon you all!”

“Gospel?” Chat Noir scoffs. “This guy’s pretty up himself.”

“Uh, yeah,” Rena Rouge says. “It’s not like I just told you that before.”

Ladybug frowns. “He’s making them go and twist reality to make others believe that we’re the bad guys? Does that mean that he can only directly affect his surroundings, and he has to imbue his minions with the power to twist the truth for others?”

“What about the Ladyblog thing, then?” Rena Rouge says.

“With a phone or something connected to the internet, it’d technically be in his surroundings,” Ladybug says slowly. “We have to keep him occupied to limit the damage!”

“That’s something we can definitely do, milady,” Chat Noir grins, then hefts his baton and shakes it to its full length. “Hey, Rena, wanna legally beat the shit out of this guy and not get in any trouble for it?”

“Chat!” Ladybug protests, but even she doesn’t say anything when Rena Rouge’s eyes start to gleam rather terrifyingly.

“For truth and justice!” Rena Rouge bellows and charges at Faux News, flute ready to strike. She’s met with a wall of brainwashed bystanders forming a shield around Faux News, but this doesn’t curb her enthusiasm one bit.

“Hey, that should be our catchphrase!” Chat Noir says. Ladybug rolls her eyes while simultaneously taking out two minions at once with a flick of her yo-yo.

“We are not having a catchphrase, you silly cat!” she says.

“Aww but why not?” Chat Noir throws his staff at a minion creeping up on Ladybug, then deftly dodges one behind him, kicks her to the ground by her back, and rolls under another minion’s outstretched arms to retrieve his weapon.

“There’s too many of them!” Ladybug says. “And Rena’s too angry to focus on a proper Mirage!”

“You no-good fake!” Rena Rouge shrieks in the background, inadvertently confirming Ladybug’s assessment. “Stop hiding behind your little fans and face me like a proper fox!”

“Rena, take a chill pill!” Chat Noir calls. Naturally, he’s ignored. “Okay, uh, maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let her take this one?”

“We should’ve made her sit it out,” Ladybug agrees while elbowing a young man in the solar plexus and dropping him like a sack of bricks. “Too personal. I think I’ll have to…Lucky Charm!” A little red and black candle falls into her hands.

“We’re gonna throw him a party?” Chat Noir says as he ducks to let two minions slam into each other in their haste to grab him.

“No…I can’t see what to use it for…” Ladybug frowns and turns on the spot, while Chat Noir covers her from the advancing minions and Rena Rouge continues to wreak havoc in her attempt to get to Faux News.

“Maybe you can smoke signal for help,” Chat Noir jokes. Ladybug’s eyes widen.

“Of course! I mean, it’s not ideal…I’d prefer not to throw them into a battle with no training…but we need a shield!”

“Rock, paper, scissors to see who goes?” Chat Noir says. Ladybug shakes her head.

“Not necessary. I trust you to pick the right ally. I need to stay here and keep Faux News from getting away and turning all of Paris against us…and keep an eye on Rena Rouge. It wouldn’t be a problem if she wasn’t so angry at this guy.”

Chat Noir winces when Rena Rouge bashes someone across the head with her flute. “Totally with you there, milady. I’ll be back. Try not to miss me too much!”

“Finally, a break from you!” Ladybug calls at him as he bounds away. He flips her off over his shoulder with a cheerful little smirk, then leaps up to a rooftop and turns his sights in the direction of Master Fu’s place.

Chapter Text

“Adrien Agreste, pick an ally you can trust to fight alongside you.” Master Fu opens the lid of the Miracle Box and pushes it towards a kneeling Adrien as all the compartments slide open. “Choose wisely; you and Ladybug will be responsible for your choice, to train them and hold them accountable. If your ally proves to be untrustworthy or otherwise unfit, you must retrieve the Miraculous from them.”

“Of course, Master,” Adrien says immediately. “But, um…we, uh…Ladybug and I need a shield. We need the Turtle.”

Master Fu’s smile freezes in place. Adrien swallows and looks down at his hands. Great. Ladybug’s trusting him with this, and he’s already screwed it up, and what if Master Fu decides that he’s asking too much, that he’s too impertinent, that he can’t be trusted, even Plagg’s weight on his shoulder can’t drag him back from this –

“Adrien,” Master Fu says. Adrien’s head whips up. The old man is…smiling warmly now? “I’m not disappointed or upset with you. Merely surprised. I just…didn’t think Wayzz would be needed so soon.”

“You’ve always known that the time would come, Master,” Wayzz says. “You’re much too old to be Jade Turtle anymore, and you have the other kwamis to advise you in my stead.”

“Jade Turtle?” Adrien’s tongue darts out to moisten his lips, although it does nothing for the dryness in his mouth. “That was your superhero name?”

Master Fu nods. “But I’m nearly two hundred years old. Wayzz is right…as usual. My role as Guardian comes before my own desires.” He smiles up at Wayzz and holds out a hand for Wayzz to nuzzle against. “Farewell, old friend. Best of luck with your new holder.”

“I’ll never forget you, Wang Fu,” Wayzz says. Master Fu gives an odd little laugh.

“Yes. I’m sure you won’t.”

Adrien frowns. Is there…something he’s missing? “Um…inside joke?”

“You could say that,” Plagg shrugs. Master Fu and Wayzz give him twin severe looks.

“You and Ladybug will know when the time is right,” Master Fu says. “For now…” He takes a deep breath, then squares his shoulders and slides his green bracelet off, and Wayzz vanishes in a flash of green light. “Do you have someone in mind, Adrien?”

Adrien frowns, while Master Fu prepares the Turtle Miraculous in a little hexagonal box. Who can he pick to be the Turtle hero? He needs someone strong-willed but not reckless; protective without being too self-sacrificing like he is with Ladybug; smart but not set in their ways, willing to go with the flow and adjust as needed…god, why can’t Ladybug be here, her instincts are always spot-on, because who the heck does Adrien know well enough to entrust with a –

Of course! Adrien gasps and snatches the box from Master Fu. “I know just the right person, Master! And I’m sure Ladybug will approve! Plagg, claws out!”

Thankfully, his choice for the Turtle at least has a brain and is hiding out at home in his room with the doors barricaded. Even when Chat Noir raps on the window, Nino just shoots him a suspicious look and makes no move to slide off the bed.

“Of al the times to grow a brain cell,” Chat Noir mutters, then swings his baton. The window shatters inward, spraying shards of glass all over Nino’s floor. Oops.

“Dude!” Nino says. Chat Noir grins sheepishly.

“Oh, well, Ladybug’ll fix everything anyway,” he says with a shrug. “Uh, why didn’t you let me in, though?”

“Are you messing with me?” Nino points at the broken window. “People are doing crazy shit out there and you think I’m gonna just let in the first Chat Noir I see?”

Chat Noir rolls his eyes. “Oh, relax. Faux News can only warp reality.”

“Exactly! What if he manages to make another one of you? Or Ladybug?”

Chat Noir blinks. “I, uh…didn’t think of that. But it’s the real me, not some Lila shapeshifting situation or something. And we need your help, Nino.”

Nino raises an eyebrow. Great. This is exactly why Chat Noir prefers to handle this before an akuma starts wreaking havoc and making everyone paranoid.

“Wanna be the next Rena Rouge?” Chat Noir says. “Only, y’know, not a Fox?”

“I – what?” Nino splutters.

“Yeah! We need a Turtle hero and I got to pick!” Chat Noir bounces on the balls of his feet. “What d’you say? You don’t have to say yes if you don’t want to, but you’re perfect for the Turtle because you’re protective of your friends and you’re probably the only one that’s not a total disaster, and I saw you with Alya when Zombizou attacked –”

“You been spying on us or something, dude?” Nino says, but his mouth is twitching. “Okay, okay, you got me. Especially if it’ll help me protect Alya when she’s on her rabid Ladyblog filming frenzies.”

“No one can know, though,” Chat Noir says as he fishes in one of his suit pockets for the little Miraculous box. “Not even Alya or your other friends.”

“Duh. First rule of superheroes, dude.”

“And Ladybug and I are responsible for you. So, if you screw us over –”

Nino actually looks hurt as Chat Noir hands the box over. “You think I’d do that to you?”

“No, no!” Chat Noir says quickly and holds his hands up in surrender. “Why do you think I picked you? I’m just making sure you know the fine print before you sign away your soul.”

“…What?”

“I was joking. About the soul bit. Look, we’d normally try and ease you in like we did with Rena, but there is an akuma messing everything up down there…”

“Right, right.” Nino snaps the box open, then hisses and jerks a hand up to shield his eyes from the bright green light that greets him. When it fades to reveal the little hexagonal bracelet inside, Wayzz is floating in mid-air, bright yellow eyes surveying Nino rather curiously.

“Whoa, dude!” Nino gasps when he uncovers his eyes and starts trying to look at Wayzz from all directions.

“Hello!” Wayzz says. “My name is Wayzz.”

“Hey, little guy, what are you, a genie like in those fairy tales?” Nino babbles. Chat Noir can’t fight back the smirk that spreads across his face, and even Wayzz has an amused little smile.

“I am a kwami,” Wayzz says. “I can’t grant wishes, but I can give you superpowers!”

“Just one thing,” Chat Noir says. Hey, if it worked for Alya, it should work for Nino too. “Once we kick Faux News’ butt, you have to give it back. Can we trust you?”

Wayzz shoots Chat Noir an odd look, while Nino squares his shoulders and nods.

“You bet, dude!” he says and slips the bracelet on.

“Then all you have to say is, “Wayzz, shell on”,” Wayzz says. Nino grins.

“Wayzz, shell on!” Nino’s enveloped in vivid green light as he transforms.

“Nice look,” Chat Noir says when the light fades. “Although Ladybug will probably just get pissy if either of us bring it up.”

“Really? Why?” Nino says. He slides his shield around to his arm from his back, and a wide grin splits his face. “Awesome!”

“I…may have called her outfit plain when Rena Rouge joined us,” Chat Noir says. Nino winces.

Bro.”

“I know, I know. I’m surprised I’m still alive.” A low rumble outside Nino’s broken window reminds Chat Noir that there’s still an annoying akuma wreaking havoc and they should probably get back and help Ladybug and Rena Rouge ASAP, especially with Rena Rouge’s current emotional state. “Come on, turtle boy! You can think of a name on the way.”


“Come on, Chat Noir!” Ladybug mutters as she dodges a punch from an old lady. Thank god that Rena Rouge had snapped out of it and actually become a functional teammate, because there was no way Ladybug had been about to disappear and recharge when Rena Rouge had been a wild animal.

“They just keep coming!” Rena Rouge says. She yelps and uses her flute to whack away an incoming brick before it can bash her in the head, then leaps away from a web shot from a cosplayer-turned-actual-Spider-Man and lands next to Ladybug. “How are we s’posed to get to Faux News? And why doesn’t he come and fight us himself?”

“Why should he?” Ladybug says. “All he has to do is wait for us to wear ourselves out.”

“No need to have a cow, Ladybug!” Faux News calls over the din. There’s the sound of overlapping mooing, followed by a whole herd of cows charging straight at Ladybug and Rena Rouge. But there’s no way to dodge the cows; not with their backs literally to the wall and minions spread all around them. All they can do is swing their weapons in front of them and hide behind the whirring of the yo-yo, Ladybug praying that the cows don’t hurt them too much because then it’s all over, Faux News and Hawkmoth will win –

“Shellter!” A green dome encases Ladybug and Rena Rouge just before the cows can reach them, and they stare with wide eyes and open mouths as the cows bounce off the dome and crash into the minions scattered around, knocking everyone over like the world’s most twisted game of bowling.

“What the f –”

“About time!” Ladybug says before Rena Rouge can finish her sentence. When she whirls around, she’s greeted by Chat Noir’s shit-eating grin and the new Turtle hero, who’s holding his shield above his head to maintain the Shellter. The Turtle hero has a dark green suit with a light green hexagon tessellation on his chest, dark shoulder, elbow, and knee pads, short green boots, a hood with orange and yellow turtle eyes on either side, and a round green shield that he’s holding above his head to maintain the glimmering green dome. Under his hood, Ladybug makes out dark eyes behind orange goggles, but she can’t for the life of her think of who this could be. Who would Chat Noir know well enough to entrust with a Miraculous?

“Sorry for the delay, milady,” Chat Noir says. “Turtle boy here was just being paranoid, and I had to, uh…enter by less than savoury means.”

“You broke my freaking window!” the Turtle hero says. Chat Noir shrugs.

“And I told you, Ladybug will fix it. Which she couldn’t have done if she’d been trampled by cows. Nice to see you’ve calmed down, Foxy.”

Rena Rouge makes a very rude hand gesture in response. “So, what’s your name, Turtle boy?” she says, her eyes gleaming as she looks him up and down. “Pity the Ladyblogger’s not around. She’d get a kick out of this.”

“Carapace,” the Turtle hero says after a moment. “Call me Carapace. And eyes off, man, I’ve got a girlfriend.”

“Wait, you think I was interested in you?” Rena Rouge scoffs. “I’ve got a boyfriend of my own, thank you very much. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Nice to meet you, Carapace,” Ladybug says loudly before he can retort and they end up squabbling when there’s an akuma to defeat. “We need to come up with a plan before your Shellter runs out. That gives us about five minutes. Four minutes,” she amends when Carapace’s bracelet beeps.

“Hiding in your shell, Ladybug?” Faux News cries. “Like the cowardly insect you are!”

“Lucky Charm!” This time, Ladybug’s given a handkerchief. “Uh, okay? What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Better figure it out soon, dude,” Carapace says. “I’m at about three and a half minutes.”

“Wish you could just shut that son of a bitch up for once,” Rena Rouge mutters. Ladybug gasps.

“Of course!” Thanks to Rena Rouge’s joke, Ladybug is able to quickly cobble together a plan to get through the minions and reach Faux News. “Rena, when Carapace drops the shield, I need your most disruptive illusions. Things that’ll keep the minions occupied.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Rena Rouge salutes.

“Chat, the akuma’s most likely in his cravat,” Ladybug says. “It’s the only thing that really stands out. I’ll need you to Cataclysm it when you’re close enough.”

“Anything for you, milady,” Chat Noir grins. Ladybug takes a moment to direct every shred of energy inside her towards not blushing at her boyfriend’s words, since a) he doesn’t know that she’s his girlfriend, and b) she’s ragged on him enough for getting distracted in the middle of a fight.

“Carapace,” she says, praying that she’d managed to avoid looking noticeably flustered. “You’ll have to clear us a path to Faux News.”

“How?” Carapace says. Ladybug smirks.

“You’ve never seen a biohazard bubble before?” she says. Carapace’s eyes gleam rather evilly behind his goggles, just like Rena Rouge’s had at the prospect of bashing Faux News. “And I’ll take out Faux News. He seems to have to talk to be able to warp reality how he wants, so I’ll put a stop to that.”

With their roles sorted, the four of them take a moment to make sure that they’re ready. Then, with a war cry, Rena Rouge and Chat Noir slam themselves against the sides of the bubble to send all four of them hurtling through the crowd of minions, who are bowled out of the way like pins as the green dome crashes through them and rolls to a stop next to Faux News.

“What the hell?” Faux News exclaims as Carapace’s Shellter flickers out of existence. His cry drowns out the sound of Rena Rouge’s flute, and so neither Faux News nor any of his minions are expecting the explosions and fireworks that erupt out of nowhere, keeping the minions’ attention firmly focused away from the heroes.

“Get ready, Chat!” Ladybug says as Faux News opens his mouth. Before he can speak, Carapace leaps in and bashes him around the head with the shield, making Faux News stagger and choke on what he had been about to say. This is exactly the opportunity that Ladybug needs; she ducks under Carapace’s arm, throws her yo-yo to pin Faux News’ arms to his sides, then stuffs the handkerchief into his mouth.

“L’dyb’g! Dr’p d’d!” Faux News tries to say, but the makeshift gag muffles his words to the point of incoherence.

“Cataclysm!” Now it’s Chat Noir’s turn to jump in, running his sparking hand over the cravat around Faux News’ neck to disintegrate it and free the evil butterfly corrupting it.

“Good job, everyone!” Ladybug says and quickly captures and purifies the akuma. Then she forces Faux News’ jaw open to tug the handkerchief out, grimacing at its dampness even though she’s got magic spandex protecting her from touching it, and throws it into the air to summon her Miraculous Ladybug and set everything to rights once more.

“Awesome, dude!” Carapace says, bouncing on the spot. Ladybug waits until Rena Rouge makes it over to them before holding out her fist for the four-way, “Pound it!”

The groaning from the blond man sprawled on the ground draws their attention. Rena Rouge looks particularly smug as he pushes himself to his feet and squints at them.

“I – was I akumatised?” he says.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Ladybug says. “I know it can be –”

“C’mere!” The man – Lars Vos, Rena Rouge had called him – tries to throw an arm around Ladybug while fumbling for his phone. “A selfie with Ladybug! This’ll show that Ladyblogger brat that I’m not just an amateur!”

“Brat? Brat?” Rena Rouge clenches her fists and would’ve stormed right on up to Lars if Chat Noir hadn’t caught her. “You’re the plagiarising son of a –”

Rena,” Ladybug says sharply. Rena Rouge falls silent, glowering at Lars. “Sorry, Lars, but I won’t be taking a selfie with you. And neither will Chat Noir.”

“What?” Lars’ face darkens. “Why not? It’s fair game!”

“Okay, for one, we’re not bits of meat,” Chat Noir says. “And two, we hang with the Ladyblogger because she’s earned it. She puts in the hard work to capture footage and run her blog.”

“Exactly,” Ladybug says. “I’m not saying that we’ll never give you a photo or an interview, but we won’t be rewarding you for plagiarism and smearing Alya.”

“Uh, guys?” Carapace says, holding up his beeping bracelet.

“I’ll be along in a second,” Ladybug says. “I just need to have a quick word with Rena. Bug out!” She throws her yo-yo to swing over a nearby building and land on the other side, with Rena Rouge following close behind, leaping with the agility of the animal that she embodies.

“Let’s rest,” Rena Rouge mumbles when they’re safely behind a car, and she turns back into Alya in a flash of orange light, staring down at her feet. “You’ll want the necklace back, won’t you?”

“Huh?” Ladybug says. “What – why would I take your Miraculous?”

“Because I messed up big-time.” Alya still hasn’t looked up from the ground. “I made everything worse. I let my anger get in the way. And if you can’t trust me to –”

“Stop!” Ladybug holds up a hand, and Alya’s mouth clacks shut. “I’m not taking the Miraculous, Alya.”

“You’re not?” Alya’s head whips up, revealing the newfound shine in her hazel eyes.

“You don’t lose it for making a mistake, little kit,” Trixx says from Alya’s shoulder.

“Trixx is right,” Ladybug says. “Both Chat Noir and I trust you with our lives, and we’ve made plenty of mistakes between us. It’d be hypocritical to take your Miraculous from you. But it can’t happen again.”

“You’re a Fox, not a Bee,” Trixx says with a little sniff. “Leave the angry buzzing to Pollen’s chosens.”

“I’m sorry,” Alya sighs. “I was just…so angry. All that work – and he had to go and steal it – and then he didn’t even learn from being akumatised!”

“You’ve got every right to be angry,” Ladybug says, resting a hand on Alya’s shoulder. “But you can’t let it overwhelm you in battle. Chat Noir and I need to be able to trust that you’ve got our backs, and we can’t do that when you’re charging in angrily.”

Alya nods and stares back at the ground, blinking rapidly. Her head jerks back up at Ladybug’s next words.

“And I owe you an apology of my own.”

“What? Why? You didn’t do anything wrong!” Alya babbles.

“I should’ve realised that the battle was too personal,” Ladybug says. “This is a battle you should’ve sat out, Alya, and I’m sorry that I didn’t recognise that from the start.”

“Well, it’s not like you could’ve told me,” Alya says. “And wasn’t it safer for me to be Rena, anyway? So he couldn’t find me?”

“Yes, but we shouldn’t have let you get involved,” Ladybug says. “I’ll talk to Chat. We might implement a rule that you’re not allowed to get directly involved if we feel it’s too personal, unless we desperately need your help. One mistake could’ve leaked your secret identity or compromised your ability to be part of the team.”

“Understood, Ladybug,” Alya says with a frantic nod. “That makes sense. Oh!” She pulls out her phone and starts tapping. “I’ve finally got the group chat up –”

“We’ll sort that out tonight on patrol,” Ladybug says when her earrings beep. “I have to go and meet Carapace before Chat Noir transforms back as well.”

“Jerk,” Alya mutters. Ladybug rolls her eyes.

Try and get along with him, yeah?” she says. “We’re a team, which means you have to have his back and he has to have yours.”

“Ugh, fine,” Alya says. “I’m gonna go and find the girls. And Marinette! I don’t know where she hid! See you tonight!”

Once Alya’s gone, Ladybug swings out from behind the car in the direction that Chat Noir and Carapace had gone. When she touches down in an alleyway next to Chat Noir, her eyes widen at the boy with the unmistakeable blue T-shirt and red cap.

Nino?” she bursts out, then shakes her head. “I might’ve known.”

“Uh…hey, dudette,” Nino says with an awkward wave. “I get that I was a quick pick, so if you’ve got someone better for the Turtle –”

“Wait, what?” Ladybug says with a small smile. “I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect. You’re protective and loyal and a grounding presence among your friends.”

“That’s what I said!” Chat Noir looks like the cat that got the cream. Damn kitty and his damn adorable face and no, focus!

“You picked perfectly, Chat,” Ladybug says, and Chat Noir preens and runs a hand through his messy blond hair. “We’re meeting at the Eiffel Tower tonight at eight, Nino.”

“Wait, we are?” Nino jabs a finger at Chat Noir. “He told me I had to give it back after the battle!”

“Oh, you did the test?” Ladybug says to Chat Noir, who grins and shrugs.

“Yep. And he gave it back before I even had to ask. I was just gonna give it to him when you turned up.”

“Asking you to give the Miraculous back was a final test to see if we could trust you to keep your word,” Ladybug says to a slowly-blinking Nino. “Plenty of people would love to be a superhero, but giving their powers back and trusting us to pick them again, knowing that we could pick someone else? Chat and I tested Rena Rouge like this as well.”

“Wait, so –?” A wide grin splits Nino’s face when Chat Noir offers the bracelet, and he whoops and fist-bumps Wayzz when the little turtle kwami reappears. “Dude!”

“Welcome to the team, Carapace,” Ladybug smiles.

“I was wondering what you were doing when you told Nino that he would have to return my Miraculous,” Wayzz says once he’s settled against Nino’s neck, cushioned by the headphones hanging there. “Very wise, Ladybug.”

“And Chat Noir,” Ladybug says. “I didn’t even think to test Nino.”

“Um, I’m about two minutes from changing back, so…” Chat Noir holds up his beeping ring.

“Oh! Right!” Ladybug shakes her head. “And Rena’s finally finished tinkering with the team chat, so make up a burner email address and give it to her tonight so she can add you. It’ll let us get in touch outside the masks.”

“Ugh, Rena,” Nino groans. “Flirting with a taken turtle!”

Ladybug and Chat Noir try as hard as possible to fight back their grins. They almost succeed. Almost.

“To be fair, she has no idea who you are,” Ladybug says when Nino squints at her.

“And she didn’t seem like she was flirting,” Chat Noir adds. “She’s just…way into superheroes. She about died when we let her be Rena Rouge.”

“It’s probably just a misunderstanding,” Ladybug finishes. “And we can clear that up tonight. Bug out!”

Chapter Text

“It’s not funny!” Ladybug snaps. Chat Noir just continues to sag against the metal tip at the top of the Eiffel Tower and clutch at his sides. How can he not? The irony of this!

“It’s – it’s hilarious!” he chokes. “Rena and Carapace hate each other but they’re dating!”

“Alright, maybe the dramatic irony is a little funny,” Ladybug concedes after a moment. Yes! Score! “But they have to be able to work together, Chat! I’m planning on having them patrol together, so they can trust each other as partners like we do.”

“Oh, they already trust each other,” Chat Noir says with a devious little grin. He yowls when Ladybug reaches out and flicks his bell into his chin in response. “Hey! Hands off the bell!”

“Why do I put up with you?” Ladybug mumbles. Months ago, a comment like that might have hit Chat deep down, feeding into insecurities, adding to the dark voices telling him that he’s not enough. But between Ladybug’s grounding presence by his side and his friends and the hurricane that is Marinette, her comment just bounces right off and instead makes his grin wider.

“Because I’m irrepawceable,” he says. Ladybug rolls her eyes to high heaven.

“That one wasn’t even good enough to be mediocre,” she says. “If you need to stretch that far, just don’t make the pun.”

“I see how it is,” Chat Noir huffs and flops down to rest his head in Ladybug’s lap. She rolls her eyes again but still starts scratching behind his fake ears, and if he closes his eyes, it’s almost like it’s Marinette scratching him instead.

“How are things with Marinette?” Ladybug says after a moment. “You seem happier lately.”

Chat Noir sighs and purrs, because inviting him to talk about his girlfriend is pretty much the best way to put him straight on cloud nine. “She’s perfect, milady,” he says. “She’s always got cookies for me and cheese buns for Plagg, and she’s so smart and creative, and I could just sit and watch her design for hours because she gets so into it and her tongue does this little blep and just – aaaah, she’s an angel.”

“Always the romantic,” Ladybug says fondly, though there’s an odd little crack in her voice that Chat Noir can’t even begin to decipher. When she digs her fingers into his scalp, he doesn’t want to begin to decipher it.

“She’s even okay with me liking another person at the same time,” Chat Noir says. “So long as I’m open with her about my feelings. And I looked up polyamory the other day and…well, it said that you can’t just jump into a relationship with another person unless you and the first person can stand on your own.”

“That makes sense,” Ladybug says. “One relationship is enough effort. I think it’s a good idea that you and Marinette are focusing on yourselves for now.” She twirls a lock of hair around her fingers, and Chat Noir lets out a particularly loud purr at that. “I’m glad you’re happy, kitty cat. I don’t feel so bad now about telling you that, well…I’ve got a boyfriend.”

Chat Noir’s eyes fly open and he jolts upright. “Really? And you’re only telling me now? I clawght we were purrtners, mewlady.”

“We won’t be if you keep up those awful puns,” Ladybug deadpans. Then she sighs and squares her shoulders. “And…yeah. I can’t tell you who he is – identity reasons and all, since I’m dating him outside the mask – but…he’s so sweet. A little shit at times, yeah, but he’s really thoughtful and I secretly love his sense of humour. Not that he’d let me live it down if I told him that.”

“Aah, milady has her first boyfriend,” Chat Noir says and nudges her. “I hope he knows that he’ll have to answer to me if he hurts you.”

“Trust me, I think he’ll be more afraid of me than you,” Ladybug says. Chat Noir sniffs.

“Fine. Be like that. Even though you’re totally right and you’re scary when you’re pissed. I’d hate to be the guy who hurt Ladybug.”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem at all,” Ladybug says with a knowing little smile. Is there an inside joke that he’s missing? “And it’s not like he knows I’m Ladybug. I’m dating him as civilian me, not superhero me.”

“I still stand by my statement,” Chat Noir says. “With or without the mask, only someone as deluded as Hawkmoth would mess with you.”

“Aww, isn’t this cute,” coos a voice. Chat Noir jerks in surprise as Rena Rouge leaps down from the very tip of the Tower and lands in a crouch, her mouth pulled in a teasing little smirk and her eyes glittering behind her orange and white mask.

“You know it’s rude to eavesdrop on private conversations, right?” Ladybug says, raising an eyebrow. Rena Rouge shrugs.

“Maybe you shouldn’t discuss it in the middle of Paris, then.”

“Who’s gonna be up here except annoying, eavesdropping foxes?” Chat Noir says. Rena Rouge rolls her eyes.

“Alright, touché. When’s Shellhead getting here?”

Carapace is right here.” A dark green shape leaps up to the tiny platform from below, where he’d obviously been scaling the Tower. “No need to be such a bitch, dude.”

“Me, a bitch?” Rena Rouge snorts. “That’s rich.”

“Can we not?” Chat Noir says. “Just sit down and try to get along or Ladybug’ll make you wear the getting-along shirt.”

“Rena wasn’t flirting,” Ladybug says with twitching lips as Rena Rouge and Carapace obediently sit. “She’s just a superhero enthusiast. I’d think Carapace could appreciate that enthusiasm, judging by his friends, especially one in particular. And Carapace was just being loyal, and Rena should admire his dedication to his girlfriend. Done? Done. We’re a team, and I refuse to have you two at each other’s throats because of a misunderstanding.”

“Now, kiss and make up,” Chat Noir grins. Ladybug elbows him in response. Okay, okay, but how could he help that, knowing who Rena Rouge and Carapace are?

“I’d phrase it a different way,” Ladybug says. “Apologise, both of you. My god, when did I turn into the mum friend?”

“Sorry for being a dick,” Carapace finally says, crossing his arms.

“Sorry for getting all bitchy at you,” Rena Rouge says, scowling down at her feet. Ladybug smiles and claps her hands.

“See? All better!” she coos, rather like a preschool teacher. Chat Noir bites down on his lip to keep his laughter at that one way down. “Now, I had a good talk with Rena after the battle, and I think it would be a good idea to implement a rule about personal ties with akumas.”

Chat Noir immediately sees where this is going. “Agreed,” he says. “No fighting an akuma if it’s too personal.”

“But what if it’s a family member?” Rena Rouge says. “I realised about two minutes after Ladybug left me. If I have to sit that one out because it’s too personal, won’t Carapace figure out who I am? And the other way around?”

“Yeah, why did Faux News set Rena Rouge off like that?” Carapace says. Ladybug swears under her breath.

“How unladylike, milady,” Chat Noir grins. Ladybug once again elbows him. Okay, it would probably be a good idea to move himself away from elbowing reach, but that would involve sitting away from his lady, and then he won’t get that affection that he so desperately craves in his very soul.

Honestly, fuck Gabriel Agreste. It’s getting to that point, even if there’s still a twinge of have to be the dutiful son, he’ll be proud if I try hard enough lingering.

“That’s a good point,” Ladybug says.

“About the Faux News thing, it’s because he was plagiarising m – uh, the Ladyblogger,” Rena Rouge says. “And I hate it when people steal other people’s work, especially because Alya puts a shit tonne of work into that thing and she didn’t deserve that. Guess I just…got overly invested.”

There’s newfound respect in Carapace’s eyes as he stares at Rena Rouge, no doubt at her staunch defence of his girlfriend, who unknowingly happens to be her. Dear god, Chat Noir’s going to puke up rainbows in a minute.

“But I think I’ll be okay, Ladybug,” Rena Rouge says. “Dick News caught me by surprise. And if you guys can’t just step back when shit gets personal, it shouldn’t be fair to expect us to back off too.”

“Yeah, it’s called teamwork,” Carapace drawls. Rena Rouge flips him off and mutters something about turtle soup in its own shell.

“Productive team meeting,” Chat Noir grins before Carapace can clock Rena Rouge around the head with his shield. “What’s next on the agenda?”

“Oh!” Rena Rouge jabs a finger at Carapace. “The group chat! Emails, guys, and Shellhead needs to shut his eyes because I have to detransform to get my phone.”

While Carapace dutifully slaps a hand over his goggles, Rena Rouge transforms back into Alya, and Trixx settles in Alya’s bag to munch on a berry, Ladybug fishes a strip of paper out of her yo-yo to hand over. Chat Noir rummages in one of his suit pockets until he finds his burner email address, and Carapace doesn’t even need to look at any kind of note to be able to rattle it off to Alya. Her tongue pokes out of her mouth as she works her magic, although it’s nowhere near as cute as when Marinette bleps, but everything about Marinette is so much cuter than anyone else, so there might just be a bit of bias there –

“– done!” Alya’s voice snaps Chat Noir out of his Marinette daze. “We can’t exactly test it up here, so it’ll have to wait till we’re home, but the invite links I emailed should work once you’ve made your accounts. If not…well, I’ll beat my phone till they do. Trixx, let’s pounce.”

Carapace doesn’t uncover his eyes until Rena Rouge tells him that it’s okay to do so, and there’s a glimmer of respect in her eyes at this action that hadn’t been present before. But she still looks like she wants to shove her flute through his throat, so all’s still right in the world. At least they should trust each other enough to be efficient teammates. Hopefully.

“So, like, any more heroes gonna be joining us?” Carapace says. “Or is it just gonna be us four?”

Chat Noir exchanges a look with Ladybug as they have one of their silent conversations, possible only because of the bond they’ve forged over the past year thanks to Hawkdouche. It’s probably not a good idea to mention the zodiacs; even if Hawkmoth has an inkling that they exist, there’s no sense in giving two newbies too much information. Especially since they’re probably not even going to give out any of the zodiacs unless they absolutely have to do so.

“There are five Miraculouses in your tier,” Ladybug finally says. “Fox, Bee, Turtle, Peacock, and Butterfly. The Peacock and Butterfly were lost ages ago, so they’re not viable. But yes, we’re keeping our eye out for a suitable Bee holder.”

Well, she’s not technically lying. The Peacock was lost ages ago, and it’s not a viable option because it’s still broken and because Gabriel will know that Adrien had been lying about the fake brooch.

“Ladybug and I are in the top tier,” Chat Noir says. “We’re the balance of the universe.” He shoots a grin at Ladybug, who just rolls her eyes.

“We should wrap this up,” Ladybug says. “I, uh…may have some important homework to do that’s due tomorrow.”

“Naughty, milady,” Chat Noir teases. “Leaving your homework to the last minute.”

“If you wanted me to shove you off the Tower, all you had to do was ask,” Ladybug says with a sweet smile. Rena Rouge snorts into her hand.

“As much as this Ladynoir banter is killing me, Ladybug’s got a point,” she says. “I have babysitting responsibilities. Ugh. Damn siblings, existing when I could be spending time with Ladybug.”

“Wow, that sounds like something my girlfriend would say,” Carapace snickers. Chat Noir rolls his eyes at Ladybug when Rena Rouge and Carapace aren’t looking, and Ladybug bites down on her lip to muffle her laughter.

“Check your emails!” is Rena Rouge’s parting comment as she pushes herself to her feet, then starts to bound down the Eiffel Tower. Carapace salutes at Ladybug and Chat Noir and follows her.

“Well,” Chat Noir says as he stands. “That was a fun little get-together. Allow a mangy alley cat to escort you home, milady?”

“Nice try,” Ladybug says, though she does let him help her up. “You won’t get my identity that easily.”

“Fine,” Chat Noir huffs. “I see how it is. You can walk home yourself, then.”

“Fine with me.” Ladybug boops him on the nose, then takes off swinging, calling over her shoulder, “Last one to the school’s a rotten akuma!”

“Hey!” Chat Noir whines and leaps after her. “No fair! You cheater!”

Chapter Text

[9:23 pm] Chat Noir has joined miraculass.

Chat Noir: heh

Chat Noir: nice chat name

Chat Noir: didn’t know you had it in you foxy

Rena Rouge: i’ll actually ban you

Chat Noir: :(

Chat Noir: say sike rn

Rena Rouge: don’t test me

[9:28 pm] Carapace has joined miraculass.

Rena Rouge: hey shellhead

Carapace: would’ve thought we’d be more mature

Carapace: yk since we’re superheroes n all

Rena Rouge: hey

Rena Rouge: if i didn’t do it

Rena Rouge: chat would’ve

Chat Noir: you wound me

Chat Noir: but you’re right

Chat Noir: just don’t tell lb or she’ll have my arse

Rena Rouge: you know she can just scroll up when she joins right

Chat Noir: FUCK

[9:52 pm] Ladybug has joined miraculass.

Ladybug: very mature, whoever named the chat

Rena Rouge: skdhfsojsaljfs;dlsa;ldjwjkhdfladybug

Rena Rouge: sorry autocorrect

Carapace: a likely excuse

Rena Rouge: it was chat

Chat Noir: le what

Chat Noir: i've been framed

Chat Noir: scroll up lb

Ladybug: both Chat and Rena are banned

Rena Rouge: >:|

Chat Noir: noooooo

Carapace: is it too late to give back the miraculous?

Rena Rouge: hey

Chat Noir: :(

Ladybug: yes, it is

Ladybug: you can’t leave me with the furries

Chat Noir: i’m not a furry :|

Rena Rouge: i resemble that remark

Carapace: you kinda r dude

Carapace: you literally run around in a black leather catsuit

Chat Noir: you come into my house

[9:59 pm] Carapace set Chat Noir’s name to furry noir.

furry noir: >:|

Rena Rouge: PFFT

[10:00 pm] Carapace set Rena Rouge’s name to what does the fox say.

furry noir: PFFT

what does the fox say: JFC

what does the fox say: i will find you

what does the fox say: and i will shove my flute

Ladybug: PERFECT

furry noir: i think you mean

Ladybug: don’t you dare

furry noir: purrfect

Ladybug: >:|

furry noir: 0:)

what does the fox say: oh come on now i can’t even finish my threat

what does the fox say: just wait till i name you shellhead

[10:01 pm] Carapace set their name to mess w turt u get hurt.

what does the fox say: istg

furry noir: bro

furry noir: i think i love you

mess w turt u get hurt: ew no

mess w turt u get hurt: ladybug save me from the furry

Ladybug: I’ll tell on you

furry noir: lol

furry noir: you think you scare me

Ladybug: no

Ladybug: but you-know-who does

furry noir: D:

what does the fox say: !!!!!

what does the fox say: wHO

Ladybug: inside joke

Ladybug: nvm

what does the fox say: :(

furry noir: omg

furry noir: ladybug you’re bi right

Ladybug: uh, yeah

what does the fox say: we had that freebie convo remember

mess w turt u get hurt: wait what

[10:04 pm] furry noir set Ladybug’s name to ladyBIrd.

ladyBIrd: I swear to god

ladyBIrd: thanks, now my kwami won’t stop laughing

furry noir: :)

ladyBIrd: this is so unfair

ladyBIrd: she’s supposed to be on my side

furry noir: at least yours sides w you sometimes

what does the fox say: and i thought trixx could be a little shit

mess w turt u get hurt: man i’m glad wayzz is chill

furry noir: :(

ladyBIrd: nope, I can’t do this

ladyBIrd: I can’t handle that name popping up every time I get a notification

[10:07 pm] ladyBIrd set furry noir’s name to catitude.

catitude: :D

what does the fox say: k cool i’ll keep this ancient relic name

ladyBIrd: only from like 2013, it’s not that old

mess w turt u get hurt: man i feel old when i remember those days

what does the fox say: stfu

what does the fox say: you named me you don’t get to regret

chat noir: don’t regretti the spaghetti

[10:20 pm]

catitude: guys?

[10:32 pm]

catitude: i see how it is

[10:35 pm] direct messages

Ladybug: hey

Ladybug: you know we’re not actually mad at your joke, right?

Chat Noir: yeah ik

Chat Noir: i’ll get yelled at if you’re actually mad

Ladybug: :(

Ladybug: no, you won’t

Ladybug: just a stern talking-to

Ladybug: unless you sacrifice yourself for me or something

Chat Noir: oof

Chat Noir: you’re still mad bout zombizou?

Ladybug: and Dark Cupid

Ladybug: and Timebreaker

Ladybug: I mean, I know I’m the only one who can purify akumas

Ladybug: but jfc

Chat Noir: sorry

Chat Noir: i just

Chat Noir: it’s not like i’m trying to play the hero yk?

Chat Noir: it’s just like

Chat Noir: i don’t want to get zombified or dusted or whatevs

Chat Noir: and it’s not like chivalry or whatever protect the lady bullshit

Chat Noir: i just know that you’re the only one who can fix everything

Chat Noir: and you’ll bring me back

Ladybug: yeah but

Ladybug: it doesn’t make watching you get killed or brainwashed any easier

Ladybug: and I can’t exactly see a therapist or something

Ladybug: because secret identities and all that

Chat Noir: :(

Chat Noir: i wanna say i promise not to throw myself in front of you

Chat Noir: but i can’t promise that

Ladybug: I know

Ladybug: I just

Ladybug: I can’t talk to anyone about it

Ladybug: except for you

Ladybug: and one of these days, everything’s going to get to me

Ladybug: and I’m just going to explode

Ladybug: fuck, I’m only 15

Chat Noir: oof

Chat Noir: same

Chat Noir: about the age thing

Chat Noir: and about the can’t tell anyone else thing

Chat Noir: my father’s kind of a dick so

Ladybug: :(

Chat Noir: but all i want is his approval

Chat Noir: like fuck do i have to scrape out my soul and turn myself into a robot to make him happy

Chat Noir: sorry

Chat Noir: didn’t mean to explode

Ladybug: don’t apologise

Ladybug: seriously

Ladybug: we’re in this together

Chat Noir: <3

Ladybug: <3

Chat Noir: why milady are you flirting with me

Chat Noir: whatever would marinette say

Ladybug: buzz off

Chat Noir: wrong miraculous :)

Ladybug: I’ll ask Rena to ban you

Chat Noir: actually

Chat Noir: should we ask her to give us mod power instead of her

Chat Noir: yk cause we’re the ogs

Ladybug: well, I don’t think Rena would abuse her power

Ladybug: and she is the tech whiz out of us

Ladybug: maybe just get her to give us mod power too

Chat Noir: tru tru

Chat Noir: i should go to bed

Chat Noir: but like

Chat Noir: i get to talk to you

Chat Noir: whenever I want

Ladybug: <3

Ladybug: go to bed, kitty

Ladybug: you can talk to me whenever you want, so I’ll still be here when you wake up

Chat Noir: k

Chat Noir: night bugaboo <3

Ladybug: night, kitty <3

[9:02 am] miraculass

ladyBIrd: oh, by the way

ladyBIrd: rules

ladyBIrd: don’t say anything that could give identities away

catitude: duh

ladyBIrd: and don’t abuse pings

what does the fox say: omg thank god

what does the fox say: i legit left a chat cause someone kept @ing us

what does the fox say: all the time

mess w turt u get hurt: so like only for emerg?

ladyBIrd: yep

ladyBIrd: or if you really need to get our attention

catitude: btw rena

catitude: knight us

what does the fox say: wut

ladyBIrd: he means

ladyBIrd: please give me and Chat mod powers

what does the fox say: k

what does the fox say: can i still be mod

ladyBIrd: sure, you’re the one who knows how to work this

what does the fox say: fuck yeah

mess w turt u get hurt: hello darkness my old friend

what does the fox say: suck it shellhead >:)

mess w turt u get hurt: you wanna go furry?

ladyBIrd: thank god it’s Saturday

ladyBIrd: I’m still in bed

what does the fox say: lmfao

what does the fox say: sounds like my bff

what does the fox say: she’s always late

ladyBIrd: >:|

catitude: i know who you’re talking about

catitude: and may i just say

catitude: bitch

what does the fox say: <3

mess w turt u get hurt: cool

mess w turt u get hurt: not like i’m here or anythin

ladyBIrd: I hope you’re nicer to your best friend than Rena is to hers

what does the fox say: hey

mess w turt u get hurt: fuckin duh

catitude: :)

mess w turt u get hurt: :)?

catitude: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

what does the fox say: ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

ladyBIrd: Donkey!

what does the fox say: jkasdosdcpdskcsklandkjehfu

mess w turt u get hurt: omg

catitude: marry me milady

ladyBIrd: ew, no thanks

catitude: :(

catitude: how could this happen to me

catitude: i made my mistakes

what does the fox say: can i just say

what does the fox say: being in a gc with lb and cn

what does the fox say: is the only thing i’ve wanted from life

mess w turt u get hurt: i thought you said you had a bf

what does the fox say: eh

what does the fox say: he’ll get over it

mess w turt u get hurt: i mean

mess w turt u get hurt: tbf my gf would live thru me if she knew

what does the fox say: i love the sound of her

mess w turt u get hurt: !!!!!

mess w turt u get hurt: wait till i tell her what a superhero said

mess w turt u get hurt: rip to her

catitude: is this the sound of getting along i hear? :D

what does the fox say: hell no

mess w turt u get hurt: hell no

what does the fox say: scuse me mr copycat

catitude: that brings back memories

mess w turt u get hurt: uh obvs i was typing before you

what does the fox say: think you need to get your eyes checked shellhead

ladyBIrd: ANYWAY

ladyBIrd: you know you can’t tell her about this, right?

mess w turt u get hurt: :|

mess w turt u get hurt: ugh forgot

mess w turt u get hurt: anyway rena you’re annoying but you’re ok

what does the fox say: yea you’re mildly tolerable too

catitude: aww :D

what does the fox say: stfu

[10:35 am] miraculass

ladyBIrd: @everyone akuma

what does the fox say: no shit really

mess w turt u get hurt: guess max wasn’t lying bout markov having feelings :/

catitude: i’m just about to transform

catitude: cu on the flipside

ladyBIrd: same

what does the fox say: can we help

ladyBIrd: yes please

ladyBIrd: I’ve never seen a non-human akuma before

what does the fox say: i’m surprised chloe even tried to help

what does the fox say: like told ms m that she was being ridiculous

what does the fox say: then went after marinette to mr d’s office to help get markov back

mess w turt u get hurt: maybe she’s really changing

mess w turt u get hurt: ugh my gf keeps texting someone but she still noticed me trying to get away

what does the fox say: rip

what does the fox say: my bf is trying to ditch me

what does the fox say: i mean k i need to get away to transform

what does the fox say: but he’s being sus

what does the fox say: nvm i ducked into bathroom

what does the fox say: let him keep his secrets

mess w turt u get hurt: just got away from gf gonna turn now

what does the fox say: same with bf

ladyBIrd: just hurry and transform before Mendeleiev falls

ladyBIrd: also this is killing me

what does the fox say: ????

ladyBIrd: nvm

ladyBIrd: inside joke

what does the fox say: >:|

[12:03 pm] miraculass

ladyBIrd: good job, guys

mess w turt u get hurt: poor max

what does the fox say: i’m glad he turned markov back on

catitude: same

catitude: but uh

catitude: we’re gonna be late back to class if we don’t hurry

what does the fox say: SHIT

[6:48 pm] miraculass

ladyBIrd: so

ladyBIrd: interesting fact

what does the fox say: ?????

ladyBIrd: we talked to the guy who gave our Miraculouses

ladyBIrd: he said that HM wants them because the Ladybug and Black Cat combined lets you make a wish

catitude: like

catitude: any wish

catitude: whatev you want

mess w turt u get hurt: shit

what does the fox say: ugh so he’s after ultimate power

what does the fox say: typical

what does the fox say: can’t even be an interesting villain

mess w turt u get hurt: but like

mess w turt u get hurt: why don’t we use them and wish

ladyBIrd: yeah, I asked that

ladyBIrd: wishing has a price

what does the fox say: duh

mess w turt u get hurt: i’m gonna choose to ignore you bc serious business

catitude: yeah so if hawkass like wishes to bring someone back to life or something

catitude: someone else just as important gets dusted

ladyBIrd: equal exchange

ladyBIrd: and the universe shifts to accommodate that change

mess w turt u get hurt: oof

what does the fox say: shit

ladyBIrd: yeah

ladyBIrd: cause Chat and I are balance and all

ladyBIrd: hence why ours have that power

what does the fox say: but he’ll never get them

what does the fox say: cause like

what does the fox say: he’s not even a good bad guy

mess w turt u get hurt: rena has a point

mess w turt u get hurt: just same shit over again

what does the fox say: he never like makes an akuma to track miracs

what does the fox say: or make a stealth akuma to follow and see you turn back

mess w turt u get hurt: yeah he just makes weird akumas n prays they win

catitude: f for hawkmoth’s intelligence

ladyBIrd: let us be thankful he’s not that competent

[1:19 pm] miraculass

what does the fox say: oh btw

what does the fox say: happy 1 month anniv of this chat

catitude: you called?

what does the fox say: -_-

mess w turt u get hurt: shit has it been a month

ladyBIrd: and a month since you joined the team, Carapace!

mess w turt u get hurt: !!!!

mess w turt u get hurt: didn’t even realise

ladyBIrd: you and Rena were excellent choices

catitude: yeah you guys are pawsome heroes

what does the fox say: lasjddksfjsalkdsalfhjdksjsdladybugthankmarryme

what does the fox say: also stfu chat

catitude: :(

catitude: no one loves this poor cat

ladyBIrd: mhm

catitude: :(

mess w turt u get hurt: i’m here for u bro

catitude: bro

mess w turt u get hurt: bro

what does the fox say: welp

what does the fox say: f for shellhead’s gf

mess w turt u get hurt: hey you’d do lb so f for your bf

what does the fox say: i mean

catitude: called tf out lol

what does the fox say: banned

catitude: can’t

catitude: i’m irresistpawble

ladyBIrd: i’m telling on you

catitude: mmm whatcha say :(

what does the fox say: k srsly who is this person

ladyBIrd: nvm

what does the fox say: fine

what does the fox say: keep your secrets

[11:19 am] miraculass

ladyBIrd: SHITSHITSHITSHIT

ladyBIrd: ADRIEN NO

what does the fox say: chloe’s mum??? srsly???

ladyBIrd: @catitude where are you???

ladyBIrd: @catitude @catitude @catitude @catitude @catitude

ladyBIrd: I CAN’T TAKE ON STYLE QUEEN MYSELF

what does the fox say: lb

what does the fox say: hold on

[11:22 am] direct messages

Rena Rouge: hey

Rena Rouge: lb

Rena Rouge: maybe he’s not here yet

Ladybug: or maybe he got glittered!

Rena Rouge: well you don’t have to take on sq yourself

Rena Rouge: i’m here

Rena Rouge: so is carapace

Ladybug: nope

Ladybug: he got glittered too

Rena Rouge: oof

Rena Rouge: huh what are the chances of all 4 of us being here

Ladybug: i gotta transform

Ladybug: i thought chloe was doing better

Ladybug: she tried to help Marinette with Markov last week

Ladybug: but she’s sucking up to Style Queen

Rena Rouge: she could be playing sq

Rena Rouge: she’s got a boner for you remember

Ladybug: ew, no

Ladybug: just

Ladybug: transform

Rena Rouge: k

Rena Rouge: she’s gonna pay for hitting nino

Rena Rouge: and chat

Rena Rouge: and shellhead i guess

[12:04 pm] direct messages

Rena Rouge: WAS THAT CHAT’S KWAMI

Ladybug: yep

Ladybug: Plagg

Ladybug: don’t worry, first time meeting him for me too

Rena Rouge: i can’t believe he just

Rena Rouge: STAY AWAY FROM THE LADYBUG

Rena Rouge: that was adorable

Rena Rouge: and then i got glittered

Rena Rouge: still salty i missed the mass cataclysm

Ladybug: well, you were right about Chloe

Rena Rouge: yeah

Rena Rouge: getting glittered to save us from sq

Ladybug: I kind of feel sorry for her

Ladybug: realising that your mother won’t love you and doesn’t think you’re exceptional

Ladybug: it’s not an excuse but

Ladybug: I did talk to her a few months ago and she said it was like a switch being flipped

Rena Rouge: maybe u could talk to her again then

Rena Rouge: like

Rena Rouge: we don’t owe her anything

Rena Rouge: but if she stops being a bitch then our lives are better

Ladybug: true

Ladybug: she got Marinette to help her be better, you know

Rena Rouge: ew

Rena Rouge: why would mari do that after all the bullying

Ladybug: probably to make her life and everyone else’s lives easier

Rena Rouge: true

Ladybug: OH SHIT

Rena Rouge: um???

Rena Rouge: why does chloe have the bee??? and calling herself queen bee???

Ladybug: I DROPPED IT

Ladybug: I couldn’t think of anyone on such short notice but my Lucky Charm said so

Ladybug: I was gonna become Ladybee

Rena Rouge: wait you can use two???

Ladybug: yeah but it can be too much to handle

Ladybug: we needed to immobilise Style Queen

Ladybug: and I freaking DROPPED IT

Ladybug: I’m DEAD

Rena Rouge: well

Rena Rouge: that was a heck of a mental breakdown

Ladybug: I have to go after Chloe but my family won’t let me out of their sight :|

Rena Rouge: i’ll go

Rena Rouge: wait

Rena Rouge: where exactly are you??

Ladybug: secret identities >:|

Rena Rouge: right sorry

Rena Rouge: i just

Rena Rouge: force of habit

Rena Rouge: not that i ever would’ve exposed you

Ladybug: I know

Ladybug: I trust you

Rena Rouge: lsdkfpsdjcjsahfdsfjhnfdkjlkofkgimgay

Ladybug: Rena

Rena Rouge: right going

[1:37 pm] miraculass

mess w turt u get hurt: um

mess w turt u get hurt: so

mess w turt u get hurt: that happened

what does the fox say: fuckin chloe

ladyBIrd: I’m not judging her

ladyBIrd: like, her mother’s totally awful

ladyBIrd: but jfc I kind of wish I’d gotten another punch in

what does the fox say: still no excuse

catitude: yeah but the way her mum fucked her up on live tv

catitude: i kinda feel bad for her

ladyBIrd: at least she gave the Miraculous back

what does the fox say: fuckin hawkdick

what does the fox say: i could be helping my bff make a life changing choice

what does the fox say: but no i had to bust my arse on another akuma

mess w turt u get hurt: ugh why doesn’t hawkdick have a timer like us

ladyBIrd: because he’s an adult

ladyBIrd: apparently, adults don’t have the limits we do

mess w turt u get hurt: gdi

catitude: looks like no bee for now then

ladyBIrd: btw, Plagg told me details about all the anime you watch

catitude: FUCK

what does the fox say: EXPOSED

Chapter Text

“This is a disaster!” Ladybug cries. “Chat Noir! Carapace!”

“Hey. Ladybug.” Rena Rouge grabs Ladybug by the shoulders, not painfully but firmly enough to stop her in her tracks. “You and I can take down Malediktator, yeah?”

“It’s not Malediktator I’m worried about.” Ladybug takes a deep breath and rattles the abacus Lucky Charm rhythmically, the repetitive stim helping her calm down and think clearly. Now is not the time for panic. “It’s Chat and Carapace. They think they’re a cat and a turtle! Malediktator could take their Miraculouses!”

“Hey, you’re not allowed to lose your shit right now,” Rena Rouge says. “You’ll figure it out. You’re Ladybug.”

“Oh, my darling, where’s Chloé?” Audrey Bourgeois simpers on the ground, stroking Chat Noir’s hair while Carapace curls in a ball next to her. Ladybug bites down the furious rush of wrong that curdles her gut at the sight of a bad guy petting Chat Noir like that. Even if Audrey’s been brainwashed, she sure as hell isn’t a good guy in her normal mind. “She’s always wanted a turtle!”

“I’ll find our princess just as soon as Ladybug and Rena Rouge are under my control!” Malediktator says.

“Huh, I would’ve thought Chloé would be all over this,” Rena Rouge says. “After the way she stormed out and said she was leaving with her mother. You know, it probably wasn’t such a great idea for Marinette to get them to bond over being nasty…”

“I know,” Ladybug winces. Okay, so that hadn’t been her finest hour, especially after all the effort she’s put into helping Chloé find the right track…but hey, desperation to help someone can be a nasty thing. “But the fact that Chloé’s hiding…maybe that shows that she’s realising this isn’t right.”

“Okay, so, like, what are you gonna use that for?” Rena Rouge points at the abacus.

“We need the Bee and I know what to do,” Ladybug says. “I need you to keep an eye on Malediktator till I get back, so I can take you to help me with Chloé. I need your Mirage.”

“Chloé?” Rena Rouge splutters. “But everyone knows she’s Queen Bee!”

“I know. She won’t be Queen Bee, trust me. I just need you to make sure we can trust her.”

“Okay, okay,” Rena Rouge says. “Just call me when you need me. Now, go!”

Ladybug salutes and takes off through the city to Master Fu’s place. She lands in a nearby alleyway just as her transformation wears off, then tucks Tikki into her purse to refuel and walks the rest of the way as Marinette.

“Master!” she cries as she barrels into the room. “Malediktator has turned Chat Noir and Carapace into a cat and a turtle!”

Master Fu’s eyes widen. “Maybe you shouldn’t have left them, then?”

“I’ve got Rena Rouge keeping an eye on them,” Marinette says. “And the Lucky Charm led me here. I need the Bee, but…there’s also another Miraculous I want to hand out after the battle. Then I’ll be happy with our team for now.”

Master Fu nods and goes to retrieve the Miracle Box. As soon as it’s flipped open, Marinette grabs the Bee comb and the Dragon choker, and Master Fu fetches little boxes for her to slip them into.

“Good luck, Marinette,” Master Fu says. “To you and your team.”

“Thank you, Master,” Marinette says. “Tikki, spots on!”

Once she’s outside and on a rooftop, she swipes open her yo-yo and calls Rena Rouge. Thankfully, it only takes a few seconds for her teammate to answer.

“You got what you need?” Rena Rouge says.

“Yeah,” Ladybug says. “Where’s Malediktator?”

“Back at the hotel, looking for Chloé. I think she’s hiding on the roof, ‘cause he hasn’t found her yet.”

“Perfect. Stay right there, out of sight. And when I say the words, “You can come out now,” I need you to make an illusion of Marinette.”

“Huh? Marinette? Why?”

“Just trust me!” Ladybug says. “If you’re listening, you’ll know what to make her say. But I need to make sure that my instincts are right.”

Chloé’s not on the rooftop when Ladybug finally makes it to Le Grand Paris. However, she does make out Rena Rouge’s distinctive orange behind a bush, thankfully out of sight unless approaching from the angle that Ladybug had, and just as Ladybug is about to head over and make sure that she remembers the plan, the door to the rooftop bursts open. A flash of yellow streaks out, and Chloé Bourgeois ends up firmly on her royal rear when trying to skid to a halt in time to avoid a collision with Ladybug.

“Are you okay?” Ladybug says, helping Chloé to her feet.

“Ladybug!” Chloé throws her arms around Ladybug. “You’re going to help me, right?”

“I'm fine with helping you, Chloé,” Ladybug says. “But first, I need you to tell me what happened.” She needs Chloé to pass this test. “Why is your father – I mean, Malediktator, so mad?”

“It’s because of my super lame classmates,” Chloé scoffs. “They all hate me. They humiliated me in class today and –”

“Maybe they’re not entirely to blame?” Ladybug says.

“Ugh. Fine, it wasn’t totally their fault,” Chloé scoffs. “Sure, they’re utterly mean to me sometimes, but Daddy got mad all by himself.”

“All by himself?” Ladybug raises an eyebrow. Chloé gulps and fidgets.

“Yeah, because…there was something he couldn’t do…”

Ladybug sighs and reaches out to rest a hand on Chloé’s shoulder. “Chloé, it’s me. Ladybug. You don’t have to put on this tough act around me, remember? You can trust me. What really happened?”

“I – I –” Chloé swallows and takes a shaky breath. Ladybug smiles and nods in encouragement, and that’s all Chloé needs to let the floodgates slam open. “It – It was me. I hurt my daddy's feelings. Because I want to leave Paris forever!”

“Because of what happened in school with the video?” Ladybug says, and Chloé blanches. “I’m sure your classmates didn’t mean to be so harsh –”

“Oh, it’s not them,” Chloé sniffles. “Actually, I don’t even care about any of them, except Sabrina. It’s because I have no reason to be here – nobody likes me, my only friend is Sabrina and I know I treat her like shit, Adrien’s still not my friend, I can’t do anything – I’m…the only thing I am good at is screwing everything up. And I caused this mess, and I’m sorry, Ladybug, I’m sorry.”

“That’s not true,” Ladybug says. Chloé snorts.

“It's easy for you to say that. You're Ladybug, a superhero.”

“You think I’ve always been Ladybug?” Ladybug says. “You think all of my achievements have been behind this mask? I happened to be in the right place at the right time. The costumes don’t make us anything; all they do is give us powers and enhance what’s already there. We don’t need our powers to be heroes. I’ve seen how hard you’re trying and how far you’ve come.”

“It’s still not enough.” A sob wracks Chloé’s body, and she hunches over as though trying to contain it. “My classmates have given up on me. Even Marinette Dupain-Cheng told my mother how nasty I am. Was she just trying to sabotage me? Ugh, I bet she was –”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Ladybug says. Then she raises her voice and calls, “You can come out now!”

Chloé frowns and wipes her eyes. A few seconds pass, then Marinette emerges from behind the bush where Rena Rouge is hiding. Huh. Rena Rouge is really getting the hang of this; the Marinette illusion looks totally realistic, with only a slight fuzz around the edges, although that’s probably only because Ladybug knows what to look for.

“Dupain-Cheng?” Chloé exclaims.

“Ladybug brought me here,” illusion Marinette says. “I heard everything. And I’m sorry for what I said to your mother.”

“Why would you say that?” Chloé stomps her foot. “You say I have to be a good person, then you turn around and tell her what a bitch I am!”

Illusion Marinette’s mouth droops. “I saw how much it meant to you, getting your mother’s approval. I just…I guess I wanted to help, but I went about it entirely wrong. I’m sorry, Chloé, I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You don’t need the approval of someone like that,” Ladybug says. “Remember our talk months ago? You’ve got support if you want it, Chloé, but you have to make the effort to not slip back into those behaviours.”

“I’m trying!” Chloé says.

“I know,” Ladybug says. “Is there something you want to say to Marinette?”

“Do I have to?” Chloé whines.

“Yes,” Ladybug says. “I’m grateful that you apologised to me, but I’m not the one who deserves that apology. It’s easy to say sorry to someone you like. It’s not so easy to say it to someone you dislike.”

Chloé’s mouth works silently for a few moments. Then, to Ladybug’s delight, she squares her shoulders, turns to illusion Marinette stiffly, and says, “I’m…sorry, Dup – Marinette. For everything I’ve done. I’m s-sorry for accusing you of sabotage. And…thank you for helping me try and become a better person. I…accept your apology.”

Illusion Marinette beams. “I accept yours too, Chloé,” she says. “Ladybug’s right, you know. You’ve been trying hard.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Chloé says. “Get off my roof.” But there’s no venom in her voice, so that’s pretty much a declaration of gratitude from her.

“Alright, alright, enough with the sap.” Rena Rouge emerges from behind the bush. Ladybug’s eyes bulge, and she’s just about to ask Rena Rouge what the hell she’s doing, but Rena Rouge grabs illusion Marinette around the waist before Ladybug can speak. “I’ll get Marinette to safety, then meet back up to take down Malediktator.”

How can Rena Rouge touch ‘Marinette’? Unless…oh. Smart. No one else can know secret identities, so having ‘Marinette’ around to see Chloé transform…

“Thank you for apologising to Marinette,” Ladybug says once illusion Rena Rouge has jumped off the roof with illusion Marinette. “And for thanking her. I know it can’t have been easy.”

“Whatever,” Chloé scoffs. “Only ‘cause you asked, Ladybug.”

“I know it’s a tough lesson to learn, but you have to learn it,” Ladybug says. “The people you’ve bullied aren’t obligated to forgive you. You should continue to grow whether they forgive you or not; to become a better person because it’s the right thing to do.”

“But I can’t be nice. And I know you told me I just have to be good, but no one’ll believe that I’m trying if I’m not sickly sweet! They’ll just shake their heads and be like, “well, there she goes again”.”

“And like I said before, you don’t have to be nice,” Ladybug says. “There are ways that you can make yourself a better person without sacrificing who you are. You can speak your mind without being mean, you know. Tell others what you think but also tell them what you’d do. Give them another perspective. Not everyone will appreciate or ask for it, but it’s at least better than just outright saying mean things. You can turn a negative comment into a snarky comment. You can direct your negativity towards evil and doing the right thing while you figure out how to become genuinely good. You can use your attitude for good rather than evil.”

“I mean…” Chloé takes a deep breath. “I guess if I can’t be nice, I can at least be…good. But how? I don’t exactly have a moral compass like Dupain-bloody-Cheng.”

“Maybe you should see someone?” Ladybug says. “A professional? I know Marinette’s been helping you, but she and I can’t be solely responsible for guiding you. Look, do you promise to keep trying your best? To work each day to become a better person and to reach out for help if you need it, rather than pushing people away?”

“I –” Chloé swallows and nods. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, if I could apologise to Marinette Dupain-Cheng…”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear.” Ladybug swipes open her yo-yo to fish out the little box and holds it out to Chloé, whose eyes bulge at the sight. “Chloé Bourgeois, you’ve proven that you’re willing to put in the effort to grow and change, even when you’re knocked down. Although you can’t be Queen Bee ever again since your identity is known, I entrust you with the Bee Miraculous so that you can choose a new name and costume, and this will push you to keep taking steps to improve yourself. You will use it for the greater good.”

Chloé just blinks and stares. When Ladybug nods, she reaches out and takes the box almost reverently, then snaps it open. Blinding gold light bursts out, making Chloé gasp and shield her eyes, and when she’s uncovered her face, she lights up at the sight of the little yellow kwami floating in front of her.

“Pollen!” she cries.

“Hello, my queen!” Pollen says.

“Once the mission’s complete, you must return the Miraculous to me,” Ladybug says. “Can I trust you, Chloé?”

“Of course!” A beaming Chloé snatches the comb to slide into her hair. “I won’t let you down, Ladybug! I’ll prove that I can be a better person!”

“On both sides of the mask?” Ladybug says. Chloé nods feverishly.

“Yes, yes, of course! Pollen, buzz on!”

Chloé’s new Bee outfit turns out to be a short dress with a tight yellow torso in a sweetheart neckline, with translucent blue hexagons over her upper chest, outlined in black fuzz. On the back of each palm is a black bee head with yellow details, creating the illusion of her yellow fingers emerging from underneath the bee, and the black rises to her elbows to form gloves with yellow fuzzy trim. She also has black tights with a yellow line on the outside of her thighs, knee-high yellow-soled black boots with yellow fuzz around the tops, sharp black lines tapering down her stomach that are reminiscent of her old suit, matching yellow lines on her thighs, a floaty yellow skirt with black fuzzy trim and black lines around the hem, and her trompo slung around her hips. Topping off her outfit are black streaks through her blonde hair that’s now loose around her shoulders, two small black antennae sticking out of her hair, and a black-outlined yellow mask with black over the bridge of her nose and little jagged black bee stingers under each eye.

“I’ve dreamed of doing this for so long!” Chloé bounces on the spot, her blue eyes shining behind her mask. “With you, Ladybug!”

“Focus,” Ladybug chides gently. “You, Rena Rouge, and I have to work as a team if we’re going to take down Malediktator.”

“Yes, yes, don’t worry!” Chloé says. “I swear I won’t screw up this time! Call me…” She runs a hand over her new fuzz. “Honeybee!”

“Right. Stay focused, Honeybee.”

“I will, I promise!”

Chapter Text

“By the power vested in me, I declare you all my slaves!”

“Well,” Rena Rouge says as the golden bubble that Malediktator is creating starts to expand above his head to terrifying proportions. “We’re screwed if that pops.”

“What’s the plan, Ladybug?” Honeybee says, unslinging her trompo. “I can –”

“No, no, don’t go charging in.” Ladybug throws a hand out to stop Honeybee in her tracks. “This’d be so much easier with Chat Noir and Carapace. I’ll have to…Lucky Charm!” A massive machine gun falls into her hands, and Rena Rouge and Honeybee’s eyes bulge.

“Well, that’s an effective Lucky Charm!” Honeybee splutters. Ladybug just snorts, detaches the laser pointer, then tosses the gun away.

“No way I’d use something like that,” she scoffs.

“Are you sure?” Rena Rouge and Honeybee say in unison, eyeing the discarded gun longingly.

“Yep,” Ladybug says. “Honeybee just needs to take the sting out of Malediktator. Rena, we’ll need you on standby to make sure that Honeybee’s secret identity is safe and that no one suspects who she is.”

Honeybee grins and flips her trompo around her fingers with the string. “Venom!” she says once she’s holding the trompo, and it starts to throb like a beating heart.

“You know, part of me wants to be annoyed that all I ever get to do is hang back and trick people,” Rena Rouge says. “Then I remember how fun it is to mess with them when they don’t know who I am. And how screwed this team would be without me.”

“Just keep telling yourself that, hon,” Honeybee tuts.

“We all know what we’re doing?” Ladybug says before they can start arguing. Rena Rouge and Honeybee nod. “Alright. Let’s go!”

While Rena Rouge ducks away to hide and Honeybee starts to edge around, Ladybug aims the laser pointer at the rooftop with Malediktator and his guards. Just as predicted, Chat Noir lets out a mew at the sight and starts to chase after the laser, and Ladybug can’t help but grin as she guides him around to knock over all the guards like bowling pins.

“What?” Malediktator gasps. Honeybee takes this as her cue to swing out with her pulsating trompo outstretched and jab it into his chest. He lets out a choked cry and freezes in place like a statue, allowing Honeybee to grab the sash and throw it to Ladybug to tear it in half. Ladybug captures and purifies the akuma, then throws the laser into the air.

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

The healing ladybugs deposit everyone back on the ground, and then Malediktator melts away to reveal André Bourgeois once everything’s fixed. Chat Noir and Carapace blink and shake their heads as Malediktator’s brainwashing fades away.

“Dude,” Carapace groans. “What are we doing here?”

“Missing the amazing Ladybug and Honeybee saving the city,” Ladybug grins and holds her fist out to Honeybee, whose eyes light up.

“Pound it!” she cries with Ladybug.

“I really can’t be Queen Bee again, huh?” Chloé emerges from a nearby alleyway with a wistful look on her face as she takes in the sight of Honeybee. For a moment, Ladybug has no clue what’s going on, until she looks around for the missing Rena Rouge and then remembers her instructions to her teammate.

“Sorry, Chloé,” she says, keenly aware of André and Audrey Bourgeois watching from nearby. “But Paris knows your secret identity. I can’t allow you to be Queen Bee again for the safety of you and your family.”

‘Chloé’s’ mouth droops. “I understand, Ladybug. And…I’m sorry about the mess I caused.”

Honeybee shifts on the spot at her illusion self’s words. Ladybug smiles and says, “Apology accepted, Chloé. Thank you for being brave enough to own up to your mistakes.”

“Want me to take her back to the school?” ‘Rena Rouge’ leaps down to land next to ‘Chloé’, in a mimicry of the same trick that had been pulled with the illusion Marinette earlier. “I didn’t have to use my power, so I’m not gonna time out.”

“That’d be awesome, Rena,” Ladybug says. “Thanks. Chat and I will stay here and brief with Honeybee.”

‘Rena Rouge’ scoops ‘Chloé’ up and bounds away, while André and Audrey start to bicker – or, to be more accurate, Audrey starts to tear into André while he cowers.

“Thanks for trusting me to help, Ladybug,” Honeybee says once Carapace has also leapt away. “Here, I’ll duck into this alleyway and take the Miraculous off –”

“No need,” Ladybug says. “You passed the test…Chloé.” She says Chloé’s name in a whisper that only Honeybee and Chat Noir can hear.

“The what?” Honeybee’ eyes bulge, while Chat Noir blinks and turns to look at where ‘Rena Rouge’ had disappeared with ‘Chloé’. After a moment, his face clears at the realisation.

“We test all our newbies to see if they’ll give it back when we ask,” he says. “And I’m guessing milady tested you more to make sure we could trust you with a Miraculous again.”

“Welcome to the team, Honeybee,” Ladybug smiles. “But Chat and I are responsible for you, so if you blow this second chance –”

“I won’t! I won’t!” Honeybee practically leaps ten feet in the air. “Thank you, Ladybug, thank you! See you next time!”

“Huh,” Chat Noir comments as Honeybee jumps away. “She doesn’t make a half-bad hero.”

“Pollen will be a good influence,” Ladybug says, then grimaces when her earrings beep. “Well, that’s my cue. I gotta recharge and hand out the Dragon. I think that’ll be our team for the time being, until Master Fu’s comfortable with handing out more zodiacs than just the Dragon. I know we’ve already pushed it, giving out all the working Wu Xing ones.”

“Good idea,” Chat Noir says. “Message me who gets it tonight, okay?”

“Of course, kitty,” Ladybug says. “Oh, can you drop by Chloé’s and get an email address from her so we can add her to the group chat?”

Chat Noir bows and says, “It would be my purrleasure, milady.” He takes off before Ladybug can scold him, leaving her to sigh loudly and duck into the nearest alleyway to detransform and refuel Tikki. Then she’s once again swinging through Paris, towards the small Tsurugi mansion with a sleek red car parked in front of it; although she’s never actually been to Kagami’s house, she certainly knows where it is, at least, thanks to Adrien. But she doesn’t know which room is Kagami’s, so she’s forced to take a quick peek inside each window until she finally stumbles across Kagami sitting at a desk, clearly deep in her homework. Kagami looks up at the tap on her window, and her eyes widen when she catches sight of the superhero dangling outside.

“Ladybug? Is everything alright?” Kagami says after rushing over to open the window. Ladybug slips inside and stares around at the room, marvelling at how it’s just so…Kagami. The walls and massive king bed are a deep red colour, the carpet is soft and black, the desk is made of rich, dark wood, and there are several decorations such as a Japanese flag on one wall, a few fencing trophies on a dark wooden shelf, and some photos pinned to the wall above her desk. A closer look reveals to Ladybug that these photos are of her – well, Marinette – and Adrien, cut from photoshoots and magazine articles, such as the article that had covered Marinette’s hat at the Agreste fashion show.

Oh. Wow. Kagami must really care about them…

“I know it’s not ideal, only having staged photos of them,” Kagami says as she draws level with Ladybug. “But they’re my friends, so I figure the circumstances behind the photos don’t matter.”

“Maybe you could take photos with them?” Ladybug says.

“I suppose…”

“From what I hear, you’re a very direct person. Why hesitate now?”

“It’s just…” Kagami sighs and looks away. “I’ve never had friends before. I don’t know what’s appropriate and when it’s appropriate. If I make a wrong move, how do I know I won’t lose them? Unlike fencing, I don’t get to come back for a rematch. And unlike fencing…I don’t know how to navigate this.”

“Oh.” Ladybug reaches out to rest a hand on Kagami’s arm. “Can I tell you something? I’m inexperienced when it comes to friends as well.”

“Impossible. You’re Ladybug. You’re sweet and charismatic. Me? I’m just an awkward autistic girl who only knows how to stab people.”

“You’re autistic?” Ladybug gasps. “So am I!”

“What?” Kagami’s head whips around to stare at Ladybug. “You – but you’re –”

“An awkward mess outside the mask,” Ladybug says and squeezes Kagami’s arm. “I mix my words up all the time. I melt down and flip out whenever I’m really stressed or losing control of the situation. I have to plan out what I’m going to say before I talk to people about important stuff, otherwise I turn into a blabbering mess. I have to bounce or fidget or do anything to stim because I can’t sit still. I’m clumsy. I’m obsessed with fas – uh, my special interests. I can never seem to be where I should be because I just can’t manage myself, even before I became Ladybug.”

Oh.” Kagami tilts her head and ever so slowly reaches out to pat Ladybug on the shoulder stiffly. “You get it. I have to script my conversations as well. And…well, I don’t have meltdowns and I’m very organised, but…mostly because Mother would be extremely disappointed in me.”

“Yeah. Masking,” Ladybug says. “It’s kind of ironic, you know. I’m wearing a mask as Ladybug, but it’s the one time when I’m not masking at all. Like, I have to be the saviour of Paris, the role model for everyone…but I can also just be freely autistic because, well, who can tell me to stop fidgeting? And my main responsibility is fighting the akumas, which I don’t need to plan for in advance or work into a schedule.”

“Wow…” Kagami’s soft smile is genuine. “I can’t believe it. You really get it.”

“Yeah,” Ladybug says. “So, trust me when I say that asking your friends for photos isn’t a wrong move. And if you do mess up, you have to trust that they’ll call you out for it. That’s what friends do. But they won’t leave you because of a mistake.”

“Thank you, Ladybug,” Kagami says. “Just…thank you.” Then she squares her shoulders and slips back into business mode and says, “But why are you here? I doubt that you visited me just to give me advice.”

“You’re right,” Ladybug says. She swipes open her yo-yo and pulls out a little box. Kagami’s eyes widen and her mouth falls open. “We were hoping that you’d join the team and fight alongside us.”

“M-Me? I mean, it’s an honour to be offered the chance to fight alongside you, but why me?”

“Because you’re strong and terrifying with a sword,” Ladybug says. “But you also crave freedom, just like Chat. You’re kind and loyal and helpful and always do your best to do the right thing, even if you struggle to properly interact with people. And those are the qualities that make a hero. So, Kagami Tsurugi, if you’re willing, here is the Miraculous of the Dragon, which will grant you the power over the elements of the storm. You will use it for the greater good, to protect Paris and have your teammates’ backs.”

For a moment, Kagami just stares at the box. But before Ladybug can start to panic, Kagami nods and takes it and snaps it open, then gasps and shuts her eyes against the brilliant red light that pours out of it.

“Greetings, young lady, and good day to you!” says the little red dragon kwami that materialises in front of Kagami. “Fear not! I am Longg, the Dragon kwami.”

“You’re a what?” Kagami says after a moment.

“A kwa-mi,” Longg says. “Allow me to tell you about the many feats a magic being like myself will help you accomplish once the magic words have been spoken!”

“She’s more of a direct learner, Longg,” Ladybug says as Kagami slips on the beaded choker.

“Ah,” Longg says. “A woman of action. Very well, then. All you must say is, “Longg, bring the storm” and you will –”

“Longg, bring the storm!” Kagami says, and Longg is sucked into the choker in a blur as red light envelops her. Kagami’s superhero outfit turns out to be a tight, scaly, dark red suit with black shoulders and upper arms, both of them made of black scaly armour with golden trim spiralling along and down to her elbow-length red gloves with golden trim. Two gold-accented black dragons coil around her legs, with their tails fading into boots and their heads meeting and intertwining around her stomach, and a gold and red dragon’s tail flows out of the back of her suit. A circle divided into swirling thirds sits on her chest, with a little elemental symbol in each third, and she has short red dragon horns with gold and black accents sticking out of her windswept black hair, and a red mask with gold and black lightning bolts extending from the bottom. Her eyes, previously light brown, have turned to dark brown with gold sclerae.

Okay. Bad Ladybug. Stop staring. Stop it.

“I love the armour,” Ladybug says, and Kagami runs a hand over the scales on her shoulder.

“I know that the suits are magic, but I always feel safer when I’ve at least got a little armour on,” Kagami says.

“What should I call you?”

“Hmm…Ryuuko. My name is Ryuuko.”

“Well, Ryuuko…” Ladybug crosses over to the open window and smiles back at Ryuuko. “Let’s go for a little evening stroll.”


[10:46 pm] Honeybee has joined miraculass.

catitude: welcome to hell

catitude: i mean

catitude: nice work today thanks for saving us

[10:47 pm] Ryuuko has joined miraculass.

Ryuuko: Hello

ladyBIrd: hey

catitude: sup

Honeybee: ew who named this chat

mess w turt u get hurt: rena

what does the fox say: hey

what does the fox say: it’s a great name

ladyBIrd: …it grows on you

Honeybee: KNFLKDSMNZBXCKCLKSDHFOA;SLD

Honeybee: LADYBUG HI

what does the fox say: pfft

what does the fox say: gtfo with your keysmashing i was here first

Honeybee: fuck off

what does the fox say: wow rude

[10:49 pm] what does the fox say set Honeybee’s name to honeybeetch.

honeybeetch: omg

honeybeetch: i hate you

ladyBIrd: I think it’s kind of funny

honeybeetch: asdfghjkl of course

honeybeetch: it’s perfect

what does the fox say: lol desperate

honeybeetch: the only reason i’m not gonna fuckin deck you

honeybeetch: is bc i’ll lose my miraculous

honeybeetch: that and pollen will give me the look of disapproval

catitude: don’t you mean

mess w turt u get hurt: nO DONT

catitude: beecause?

Ryuuko: I’d like to leave, thanks

honeybeetch: where are u

honeybeetch: i’ve got venom ready n everything

catitude: :)

ladyBIrd: Chat, you’re grounded

catitude: :(

honeybeetch: wait

honeybeetch: laDYBUG IS BI

honeybeetch: AJSDHLDSKJ

what does the fox say: don’t even think about it

what does the fox say: i was here first and i have dibs

honeybeetch: actually fite me

honeybeetch: you think your illusions will do shit when i sting you

ladyBIrd: I’ve got a boyfriend, so

ladyBIrd: and there’s a girl above both of you on my list

what does the fox say: :(

honeybeetch: :(

catitude: :)

mess w turt u get hurt: istg i don’t understand why chat reacts half the time

catitude: 0:)

[10:53 pm] catitude has set Ryuuko’s name to airhead

airhead: Are you asking for death?

airhead: Because I have a sword and I’m intimately familiar with how to wield it

honeybeetch: omg i hate everyone here

honeybeetch: except lb of course

[10:56 pm] direct messages

Chat Noir: so

Chat Noir: ryuuko?

Ladybug: Kagami

Chat Noir: omg yes i love

Chat Noir: but i gotta ask

Chat Noir: why give Chloe another chance?

Chat Noir: not that i want her to fail

Ladybug: she’s proven she really does want to change

Ladybug: she even apologised to Marinette and everything

Ladybug: granted, it was an illusion by Rena

Ladybug: but she still passed the test

Chat Noir: i mean

Chat Noir: i’m glad you gave her this chance

Chat Noir: i guess i just don’t want her to let us down again

Chat Noir: especially with the miraculous

Ladybug: the Bee will be perfect for her

Ladybug: I know it

Chat Noir: true

Chat Noir: bee works best with someone with potential for growth

Chat Noir: sting for the greater good and remain warm without burning out of control and all that

Ladybug: ok, how do you remember that?

Ladybug: that was months ago

Chat Noir: i have a near-purrfect memory

Ladybug: does your autocorrect recognise all your puns?

Chat Noir: actually

Chat Noir: yeah

Chat Noir: don’t @ me

Ladybug: :)

Chat Noir: :(

Chat Noir: wait does that mean rena knows honeybee

Ladybug: it was unavoidable

Ladybug: I needed her Mirage

Chat Noir: oof

Chat Noir: thank god she doesn’t know our ids

Ladybug: haha, yeah

Ladybug: I’m gonna DM Honeybee before I sleep

Ladybug: night, kitty <3

Chat Noir: night bugaboo <3

[11:02 pm] direct messages

Ladybug: Hi, Honeybee

Honeybee: ASKJFDSL;KGLDKFG

Honeybee: HI LADYBUG

Ladybug: you don’t have to freak out

Ladybug: it’s just me

Honeybee: yeah but

Honeybee: i’m in a gc

Honeybee: with LADYBUG

Honeybee: and i’m a SUPERHERO

Honeybee: pollen’s trying to take my phone help

Ladybug: lol

Honeybee: so like

Honeybee: not that i’m ungrateful

Honeybee: but why me

Honeybee: why not marinette

Honeybee: she was right there

Honeybee: and she didn’t mess up and out herself to paris

Ladybug: for one, she told me she’s got a pretty busy schedule

Ladybug: for another

Ladybug: I guess I just remembered our conversation about your mother

Ladybug: and I knew there was potential there if I just teased it out

Ladybug: because you really have been trying, even if you slip up

Honeybee: i just

Honeybee: it’s easier to push ppl away

Honeybee: i have to tell my mother to fuck off tmrw and

Honeybee: i’m kinda losing my shit rn so

Ladybug: you can do it, Chloe

Ladybug: she’s a toxic influence

Ladybug: and she’s stunting your potential for growth

Honeybee: ik ik

Honeybee: pollen said it’s like pruning the weeds to let the flowers bloom?

Ladybug: yep

Ladybug: kwamis are pretty wise

Ladybug: Pollen will help and support you

Ladybug: and you’ve got the group chat

Ladybug: you’re not alone, Chloe

Honeybee: <3

Ladybug: <3

Honeybee: ASLKFHSDLK

Chapter Text

“Yes! Yes! Look this way!” the photographer cries, snapping photo after photo of Adrien down in the Trocadéro Square. Adrien. Handsome, rich, perfect Adrien, who’s going to be Lila’s whether he knows it or not.

Ugh. Lila deserves an award for sucking up to his friends for this long, especially since they still seem quietly suspicious of her. Not suspicious enough to exclude her or call her out, which is a good sign, but…after so many years of honing her craft, Lila can sniff out bullshit and falseness like she’s got a sixth sense for it. And Adrien’s friends are most definitely at least a little fake around her.

Especially Marinette Dupain-Cheng. Ugh, that perfect brat. When will Adrien get the hint that she’s not into him and stop chasing after her like a lovesick puppy? And to add insult to injury, he doesn’t even do anything to try and win her over. It’s like he’s content to be in the friendzone forever. Honestly, if he wasn’t rich and influential and good-looking, Lila wouldn’t even bother.

Finally, the photoshoot is done, and Adrien’s heading for the stairs up to where Lila’s sitting on the low stone railing, watching from above. She lets her lips curve into a small smile. Perfect. Now she’ll get Adrien all to herself, with no friends around to run interference and foil her plans –

“Lollipop!” a deep voice howls. Lila almost falls off the railing when a purple-black mass on the stairs below her starts to grow, shooting up, forming a gigantic baby in a purple onesie, with poisonous green eyes.

“A baby? Really?” Lila scoffs. “No wonder Hawkmoth hasn’t won yet.”

In the chaos caused by the baby akuma, Lila almost loses sight of Adrien as he ducks and weaves through the crowd. But Lila’s not letting her prey get away that easily. She follows him, heading down the stairs but melting into the panicking mess so that he doesn’t see her, and her brow furrows when he ducks behind one of the sides of the Trocadéro, out of sight of his bodyguard and the panicking crowd. What the hell is he doing?

“…just about to take a cheese break!” a scratchy voice is whining when Lila flattens herself against the perpendicular side of the Trocadéro.

“Aww, don’t be such a baby, Plagg!” Adrien says. Lila chances a peek around the corner. What. The. Heck. “Besides, the quicker this is wrapped up, the quicker we can go and see Marinette and you can get your cheese buns!”

“Ugh, don’t pretend you care about me,” says the little floating black cat. “You just wanna go make out with your girlfriend.”

What?

“Plagg, claws out!” a red-faced Adrien says. He’s enveloped in a flash of bright green light, which fades to reveal…Chat Noir. The leather-clad superhero unslings his baton and takes off running after the akuma, leaving a wide-eyed Lila to sort through everything she’s just learned.

So. Adrien is Chat Noir. And Marinette is his girlfriend. Well, Chat Noir’s girlfriend technically, which explains why Adrien hasn’t been fussed about pursuing Marinette as himself. Although it’s rather satisfying to be right about what a snake Marinette truly is, snatching Adrien from Lila even without knowing, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Chasing Adrien won’t work, and Lila isn’t silly enough to think that she can get away with slipping little rumours about cheating here and there. Not when Marinette’s always been suspicious of her.

She can’t blackmail Adrien into dating her under threat of exposing him, either. That kind of thing never works out, and the last thing she wants to do is establish herself as an enemy of not only Adrien but the superheroes of Paris. If she messes with Chat Noir, there’s no doubt in her mind that she’ll also have to deal with Ladybug, Rena Rouge, Carapace, and Honeybee. No, to get Adrien, he has to willingly fall into her arms, or at least have no idea that she’s pulling the strings. And to do that?

Well, she’ll have to destroy his girlfriend, won’t she?


“Excellent job on the test yesterday, class!” Ms Bustier says when the bell rings for the end of class. “But before you all go…Marinette, could you bring your schoolbag to me, please?”

The confusion on Marinette’s face as she takes her bag to the front is a delight for Lila to behold. Sure, this plan might be a little extreme, but even if it doesn’t work, it’ll still give her extremely valuable information as to how far she can push to ruin Marinette. If she goes too hard, after all, people will grow suspicious, especially because Marinette is sickeningly beloved by all of them and Lila’s previous efforts to ever so subtly undermine Marinette have gone less than stellar.

“Today, someone placed an anonymous note in my mailbox, claiming that you’d stolen the test answers,” Ms Bustier says. She reaches into Marinette’s bag and pulls out the sheet of paper, and everyone else gasps. Lila hopes that hers isn’t too exaggerated. “And it looks like the anonymous person was right about the answers being in your bag!”

“But that’s not true!” Marinette bursts out. “Someone must have planted that paper!”

“And why would Marinette keep the answers?” Alya says loudly. “If it was me, I’d have thrown them away as soon as the test was done.”

“Besides, Marinette doesn’t need to cheat to get good marks,” Adrien adds. “She always does really well on tests.”

“This is so terribly unlike you, Marinette!” Lila says. “What could be going on?”

“Lila’s right,” Max says. “The chances of Marinette cheating are less than –”

Ms Bustier holds up a hand, and the class falls silent. The teacher’s eyes scan the whole classroom, lingering on each face, and Lila makes sure to school her features into complete innocence and bewilderment when Ms Bustier looks at her.

“What’s beyond me,” Ms Bustier says, “is why this anonymous person didn’t come forward until today. Why didn’t this person out Marinette before the test was taken? Plus, the answers were on my desk yesterday after the test, and I clearly saw Marinette walk past with Alya. So, however this paper ended up in her bag, it’s highly unlikely that it was her. Marinette, you can sit down.”

Marinette’s shoulders slump in relief as she takes her bag back to her seat. Ms Bustier’s eyes are hard as they once again sweep around the room, as though hoping to make the culprit squirm and give themselves away. But Lila’s been playing this game for far too long, and there’s no way she’ll be outed by some softie teacher.

“I strongly urge the culprit to come forward,” Ms Bustier says. “Whether it was a prank gone wrong or a deliberate, malicious attempt to get your class representative in trouble, your punishment will be far less severe if you own up now. However, if I have to take it further…”

Pfft. Let her. Lila knows what she’s doing. No fingerprints on the paper and no witnesses who definitively saw her swipe it. The only way Lila would be caught is if she came out and said it. At least now she knows that she can’t tarnish Marinette’s goodie two shoes reputation…but maybe she can sow the seeds against someone else and have a little fun.

“I’m so sorry, I don’t mean to be accusing,” Lila says. “But isn’t there already a person in this class with a motive? Someone with a grudge against Marinette?”

“If you’re talking about me –” Chloé starts, just as predicted.

“Chloé,” Marinette says with a significant look. Chloé huffs and falls silent. Interesting. Is Chloé now cosying up to perfect princess Marinette? “I know it wasn’t Chloé. For one, she was out of the room before Alya and I left. And for another, she’s been putting in a real good effort to change. I know she wouldn’t mess up like this.”

“Your faith in me is touching,” Chloé drawls, though her pink cheeks and the way her eyes soften ever so slightly takes any sting out of her words.

“Oh.” Lila looks down at her desk, making sure to look as small and pathetic as possible. “I’m sorry, Marinette. I guess I just wanted to get to the bottom of who was framing you…”

“It’s okay,” Marinette says. Ha. Sucker. “But throwing around accusations won’t help. I learned after Rogercop that you can’t just accuse people without proof.”

Thank you,” Chloé huffs.

“This matter will be taken further,” Ms Bustier says. “And when we find the guilty party, their punishment will be more severe for not coming forward in the first place. Class dismissed.”

Okay, so it looks like it’ll be harder than Lila thought to take down Marinette. But no matter. If destroying her reputation won’t work, then destroying Marinette herself will have to suffice, and it will be oh so satisfying for Lila to watch Marinette crumble before her. Even if she’ll have to prune some of his more…undesirable parts, like his fursona and knack for puns, Adrien Agreste will be hers. One way or another.

Chapter Text

“Don’t forget to hand in your homework!” Ms Bustier says. Everyone dutifully rummages around in their bags, but Marinette’s heart freezes in her chest when her fingers don’t land on her paper despite feeling every inch of her bag.

“What! No!” she cries, feverishly tearing through her bag. “I know I put it in here!”

“You forgot your homework?” Alya says. “Girl –”

“No, I didn’t forget it! I know I didn’t!” Marinette says. “I distinctly remember putting it in my bag!”

“Marinette, where’s your homework?” Ms Bustier says, having noticed the commotion.

“I didn’t forget it, I swear!” Marinette says. “I know I’m a mess, but I know I had it this morning!”

But as she looks around the classroom, it’s clear that no one believes her. No one apart from Adrien and maybe even Chloé, that is. Even Alya looks a little sceptical.

“It’s not the first time you’ve forgotten to hand in your homework, Marinette,” Lila says with a sympathetic tut. “Are you having trouble with your class representative duties?”

“Lila has a good point,” Ms Bustier says. “It’s not very responsible of a class representative to constantly forget their homework. Maybe we should –”

“Oops,” Chloé says loudly. Everyone’s heads swivel to her, where she’s holding her bag open in plain view, while Sabrina shifts and makes a sound like crinkling paper. “Sabrina and I didn’t have time to finish our homework, Ms Bustier. We should totally have another day to finish it.”

“I – well –” says a flustered Ms Bustier. “I don’t think –”

“– that my daddy would want to hear about this?” Chloé tilts her head. “Yeah, I really don’t think he’d appreciate hearing that I’m being punished for not getting to finish my homework instead of being given an extra night to do it. He sent me here expecting me to get a quality education, you know.”

Well. It’s not entirely good of Chloé to threaten Ms Bustier with her influence like this but…Marinette had mentioned directing her attitude towards good, hadn’t she? And it’s not like Chloé’s trying to hurt anyone, unlike every other time she’s pulled the “Daddy” card. Baby steps.

“I suppose when you put it that way…” Ms Bustier says.

“Excellent,” Chloé says. “Marinette, you’re coming over tonight and we’re doing it together. I’ll make sure she hands it in tomorrow.”

“Um…thanks?” Marinette says. It’s not that she’s ungrateful for what Chloé’s doing. She’s just…not used to Chloé being a force of chaotic good rather than chaotic evil.

“That’s, um…very good of you, Chloé,” Ms Bustier says. Chloé smirks and flips her ponytail, and her disguised Bee comb glints in the sunlight.

“I know.”

Marinette ends up zoning out for the rest of class, until the bell rings for lunch. To her surprise, she, Alya, Adrien, and Nino are joined by Chloé and Sabrina on their way out, and even Nathaniel and Alix tag along.

“Thanks for what you did back there,” Marinette says. “But I know I put my homework in my bag!”

“Yeah, you’ve said it enough times,” Chloé says. “But do you really think anyone’s gonna believe you? You’re an airhead, remember?”

“Touching,” Alya drawls. Chloé rolls her eyes.

“Don’t worry, Marinette, I’ll help you get it done!” Sabrina says. “Now that Chloé’s doing her own homework and I’m tutoring her, I can help you as well!”

“I just don’t get it,” Marinette says. “It’s not even the homework. Everything’s been going wrong for like a week now.”

“You know, you’ve got a point,” Adrien says. “Like the time that bucket nearly fell on your head in the locker room.”

“Or the time you tripped in the courtyard even with Alya holding your arm,” Nino says.

“Or the time you sat in that bucket of paint in art club,” Nathaniel says.

“And it so wasn’t there at first!” Alix says.

“Or the time your pen exploded!” Sabrina says. “It’s like you’re cursed!”

“Or like someone’s sabotaging her,” Chloé says. “Duh.”

“But who?” Alya says as they reach the stairs leading down to the courtyard. “The only person who hated her enough to do something like this was you. No offence.”

Chloé shrugs. “It’s true. Not that I ever went this far. So, you must’ve really pissed someone off.”

“I just wish I knew who!” Marinette says. “I can’t think of any – wah!”

One moment, she’s walking down the stairs. The next, something slams into her from behind and she’s flat on her face on the concrete, with sharp pain zinging through her left arm every time she so much as breathes, while the world swims around her. There’s a flash of gold and green that focuses into a mop of messy blond hair and striking green eyes, crinkled as they loom over her, and they flash when something touches her arm and she screams as the agony shoots up her arm and jabs her brain.

“– careful –”

“– who shoved me –”

“– pushed me into her –”

“– don’t touch her!”

“– call an ambulance!”

“– is it broken –”

Akuma!”

There’s screaming all around her. Someone helps her up, careful not to touch her arm, and she’s led away from the chaos by an iron grip, and she follows because what else can she do? The world’s still fuzzy all around her.

“Oh, dear,” the person tuts. There’s a flash of red and brown. “Poor little Marinette. You’ve really hurt yourself, haven’t you?”

Marinette lets out a weak groan.

“Not to worry,” the person says. “I’ll make sure you’re safe and sound. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you, right? How would our dear hero Chat Noir focus?”

“Lila!” calls a familiar voice. Gold and green. Chat Noir? “I’ll get Marinette somewhere safe. You should hide!”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all, Adrien!” says the red and brown person. Lila? “I know how much you care for Marinette –”

“That’s why I’ll get her somewhere safe.” This new touch is softer, gentler, not like a vice trapping her and leading her around. “Go and hide, Lila.”

“But –”

“Go!”

Marinette finds herself spacing out as she’s led in another direction, and she’s not sure how much time passes before she’s guided to sit down in…a classroom, right? That’s what her hazy brain is telling her. Adrien squeezes her non-injured hand and says, “Stay here, alright? Ladybug and Chat Noir will take care of the akuma and then we can get help for your arm.”

“K,” Marinette slurs. Then Adrien’s gone, and a small red figure is floating in front of her face. Tikki!

“Marinette!” Tikki says. “You have to transform!”

“Hurts,” Marinette whimpers.

“I know but transforming will help you deal with the pain!” Tikki says. “It won’t be healed or painless, but you’ll be able to think clearly.”

“T-Tikki…spots on…”

The searing pain in her arm dulls once the pink light around her fades. Although it still burns to move her arm even a fraction, the pain isn’t so bad that Ladybug can’t focus on what needs to be done. And right now, what needs to be done is defeating this akuma.

“This is gonna be hell,” she mumbles when she staggers out of the classroom and her arm throbs in time with each step. Why can’t the transformation take all the pain away? This sucks. And her Miraculous Ladybug won’t even fix it, since it’s not due to an akuma attack. What the hell had she tripped on? Then again, she doesn’t need to trip on anything to go down like a bowling pin, what with her clumsiness.

“Milady!” Chat Noir skids to a halt next to her. His brow furrows when he takes in how she’s trying desperately to avoid moving her left arm. “Are you okay?”

“Fine, kitty,” Ladybug says with a forced grin. “Just a minor injury. I can still kick this akuma’s butt!”

“Are you sure? It looks painful.”

“I’ll be fine. I just tripped and landed wrong. But Ladybug can’t take a break, so let’s go!”

A fresh wave of pain washes over Ladybug as she takes off running, and an involuntary gasp escapes her before she can hold it back. Chat Noir’s immediately by her side, guiding her to the nearest classroom despite her protests.

“What are you doing? They need Ladybug! They need me!” she says when Chat Noir shuts the door.

“I know, bugaboo,” he says. “They need Lucky Charm and they need the cure. But I can’t watch you kill yourself trying to do this. Do you trust me?”

“What? Of course I do! What kind of question is that?” Ladybug says. Chat Noir stops in front of her, and his green cat eyes are so serious, devoid of their usual playful spark, that she’s rendered unable to say another word.

“Close your eyes,” Chat Noir says. “And trust me.”

“Chat –”

“Just trust me! Please. I can’t stand seeing you in this much pain.”

Ladybug chews her lip, then reluctantly closes her eyes. After a moment, she hears, “Claws in” and there’s a bright flash of light behind her eyelids.

“Chat!”

“Just detransform, Ladybug. I know what I’m doing.”

“I don’t – I just –” This is ridiculous! They have to get out there and face the akuma! “Spots off!” she blurts out, and the pain in her arm doubles as her transformation fades, and she would have fallen over and blacked out if not for Chat Noir guiding her to sit down, fumbling with his free hand since he’s no doubt got his eyes closed as well.

“Hey, Sugarcube,” says a scratchy voice that Marinette had heard only once before, when she’d been cornered on the Eiffel Tower with Rena Rouge.

“This isn’t the time for cute nicknames, Plagg!” Tikki says. “Ad – Chat Noir, what’s going on?”

“There’s no way Ladybug can fight like this,” Chat Noir says. “But we need her powers. So…” A warm hand feels around on the desk until it finds hers, and then a small, cool object is slapped into her palm. A moment later, Chat Noir’s hands scrabble at her head until they find her ears.

“Are you crazy?” Marinette bursts out, groaning when her head spins despite her eyes being closed. “We can’t just swap Miraculouses! Do you have any idea how to use mine? We could be handing them to Hawkmoth on a silver platter!”

“We’re definitely doing that if you go out and fight like that,” Chat Noir says. Having finally unpinned her earrings, his hands withdraw, and he’s silent for a moment. “I’m the cunning, ultra-charming Chat Noir, remember? Now you get to wear the clown costume for the day and take it easy.”

“Chat –”

“Hey. We’re a team, bugaboo. We have each other’s backs. If you need me to do the heavy lifting this time, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

“I agree with Chat Noir,” Tikki says.

“Tikki!” Marinette protests.

“You’re hurt! There’s no way you’ll be able to fight nearly as well as you normally do!”

“Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you too much,” Chat Noir says. Marinette rolls her eyes behind her eyelids, even if he can’t see it. “Look, I know there’s no way I can get you to stay out of the fight. You’re Ladybug, and you’re stubborn and go for whatever you want, and that’s why I fell for you in the first place. I know I’ll feel better if you’re in my costume and you’ve got my job, and I know Rena and Carapace and Honeybee would feel the same.”

As much as Marinette loathes to admit it, Chat Noir’s right. Wielding the earrings in her current state would pretty much be gift-wrapping them for Hawkmoth…not to mention that there would be an increased risk of someone realising that her arm’s hurt and putting two and two together. If she’s wielding the Black Cat and she’s not the focus, she just might be able to get away with this.

“Fine,” she sighs. “I don’t like it but you’re right. What would I do without you?”

“Crash and burn, milady,” Chat Noir says. “What do I say to transform?”

“Spots on!” Tikki says.

“And claws out for moi,” Plagg says.

“Wait,” Marinette says. “Tell Ryuuko not to show up. I don’t think we’ll need her for this fight, and we want to keep Hawkmoth’s attention away from the zodiacs for as long as possible. I mostly picked her to be sure that we’d have an even team but there’s no point in revealing her until we absolutely have to.”

“Right.” There’s the sound of shuffling as Chat Noir turns around so he can open his eyes, followed by the tapping of him typing out a quick message on his phone. “Alright. Tikki, spots on!”

“Plagg, claws out!”

Marinette opens her eyes at the same time as Chat Noir. For a moment, they say nothing, just drinking in each other’s changed appearances. Chat Noir’s Ladybug suit is armoured without being overly bulky, red with black spots down his chest, stomach, inner thighs, shoulders, and forearms, and black down his upper arms, sides, and the outside of his legs, to his ladybug-patterned boots. The ladybug pattern on his forearms tapers into a sharp point over the back of his hands, giving way to black gloves, and his golden hair is just as ruffled as when he’s Chat Noir. But the most striking feature is the eyes behind his ladybug mask, just as bright, oceanic blue as when she’s Ladybug. She’s seen her eyes in pictures but…never in person like this.

“Wow…” Marinette pushes herself to her feet and takes a step forward, against her will, and reaches up with her uninjured hand to brush her fingers against Chat Noir’s cheek. “Is that really what my eyes look like when I’m transformed…?”

Chat Noir swallows, but he doesn’t back away and ask what she’s doing like she’s expecting. Instead, he cracks a grin and says, “Well, you look simply ameowzing in my suit, milady Noire.”

Lady Noire. Hmm. She can work with that. “You pull off spots pretty well yourself, Mister Bug,” she says. Chat Noir – Misterbug – groans.

“I am not going by that name,” he says.

“Too late,” Lady Noire sing-songs. “Come on, we’ve got an akuma to catch! Ready to step into the spotlight?”

Misterbug unslings his yo-yo and gives it an experimental twirl. Lady Noire fights to conceal a grin when he nearly hits himself in the head and is forced to dodge it with a yelp.

“So long as you’re ready to be the clown, milady,” he replies, then bows and gestures to the door. “After you.”

Chapter Text

His lady. Marinette. His lady is Marinette. How had Misterbug never seen it before? The same pigtails, dark as night; the same angular eyes that shine with a determined ferocity that’s always struck him as familiar, even if he’d never quite figured out why. Even though those eyes are now the cat-like green of his when he’s Chat Noir and her black hair falls down her back in a loose braid, she’s still recognisably Ladybug. And she looks utterly incredible in her suit: a cropped, long-sleeved black qipao top with bright green lining and two small slits up both sides at the bottom, over what looks like black gloves and a tight black suit with thin green lines down her sides and outer thighs. She’s also got a thin black belt with a green paw print on one side around her waist, along with knee-high black boots with green trim around the top and soles that appear to be green with black paw pads if Misterbug looks closely as they run.

Marinette Dupain-Cheng is stunning, no matter what guise she’s in. How did he get so lucky as to fall for the same girl twice? All his feelings for Ladybug, died down to background noise since being with Marinette, are rushing back to him in full force, filling his veins with jittery little ladybugs instead of blood and warming him better than any expensive heating system ever could.

Of course, it’s not a hundred percent certain. But honestly, who else could it be? Marinette trips down the stairs and hurts her left arm (although he’s got doubts about that being an accident, after her recent run of bad luck), and Ladybug’s left arm is hurt so badly that she can’t be Ladybug? And every single time Marinette’s been around, Ladybug hasn’t been, and vice versa? The way she’s been odd every time he’s brought up Marinette? How she was conveniently out on a secret mission when Evillustrator was targeting Marinette? No; now that Misterbug’s mind has connected the two girls, there’s no way he can see Marinette and Ladybug as two different people.

But what’s he supposed to do? He can’t just up and tell her. She’d flip out if she knew. And…maybe he’s just a bit scared. Maybe, after Marinette’s confession about the ways in which she used to pursue Adrien, there’s that fear that she’ll not want to be with Chat Noir if she learns that they’re the same people, especially since she’s confided in him without the knowledge that he’s the boy she was talking about. And considering that Marinette is one of Misterbug’s best friends and he’d kill everyone in the room and then himself if anything happened to her, there’s no way in hell he’s going to do anything to risk losing her.

“Um, excuse me, what the hell?” says a familiar voice, cutting through Misterbug’s thoughts. He and Lady Noire have finally made it outside, where there are vines and tendrils covering almost every inch of the place, plunging the courtyard into the quiet, breath-holding atmosphere of the heart of a forest. What the hell is this akuma annoyed about?

“Oh, hi, Honeybee!” Lady Noire says. “Chat and I decided to try switching our Miraculouses for a bit, to get accustomed to each other’s powers.”

“We – did! Yeah!” Misterbug says. “Misterbug and Lady Noire, at your service!”

Honeybee wrinkles her nose. “Eww. Ladybug looks way better in spots than as a mangy alley cat.”

“Luckily for her, she doesn’t have to give a fuck about what you think!” Rena Rouge says brightly as she lands beside Honeybee, while Carapace skids to a halt next to Lady Noire. Honeybee flips Rena Rouge off in response.

“Guys, focus!” Lady Noire easily slips into her role as the team leader. Another sign that Misterbug had missed! Marinette is class president; she’s a natural leader! “What are we up against?”

“A hacked-off gardener, I think?” Rena Rouge says. “Called himself Tangleweed before he ran and got his plants to try and strangle the hell out of us.”

“How do we find him, then?” Misterbug says. “With all these plants, he could be anywhere.”

“Just follow the leafy green road, dude,” Carapace says. Huh. Now that Misterbug looks closer, the vines and other plants do seem to be trailing from a common source outside what he assumes is the school gates, not that he can make sense of what’s up and down in this place.

“Well,” Misterbug says, “everything will be just vine once – ow!”

“Leave the puns to the clown, bugaboy,” Lady Noire says with a charming little smile, retracting her baton after bopping him over the head with it.

“Okay, I take it back,” Honeybee blurts out. “Lady Noire is just as hot as Ladybug, and feel free to stomp my head into the ground whenever you want. I’ll totally thank you for it.”

Lady Noire snorts at that. “I’ll remember your offer. But let’s take down Tangleweed before I go stomping on heads.”

Following the road of plants leads them out of the school and into the streets of Paris, which have also been overrun and choked just like the courtyard. Once they’re out of the school, however, following the plants is unnecessary to find Tangleweed. Unless Misterbug’s sorely mistaken, the massive flower bud on the tip of the Eiffel Tower is most certainly the location of this akuma.

“If this is another Horrificator pod person thing, he better not be slimy,” Honeybee says with another nose wrinkle. “Ick.”

“I’d comment on that, but I’m afraid Lady Noire would hit me next,” Rena Rouge says dryly.

“Damn right,” Lady Noire says with a shit-eating grin. Fantastic. Is Plagg’s bastard energy rubbing off on her? “Well, bugaboy, what’s the plan?”

Misterbug blinks when his teammates turn to stare at him expectantly. “M-Me?” he stammers. “Aren’t you the brains, milady?”

“Sure, when I’m Ladybug,” Lady Noire says, twisting the tip of her boot on the ground coyly. Misterbug’s heart nearly gives out at the sight because this is his gorgeous girlfriend Marinette he’s talking to. “Come on, milord, I’m sure you can think of something.”

“I’m gonna be sick,” Rena Rouge mutters.

“Payback’s a bitch,” Lady Noire grins.

“Well, you don’t have to watch me make out with my boyfriend! And ew, Ladybug watches me lock lips. I’m gonna make myself sick now.”

“Guys, focus!” Misterbug whines. Lady Noire falls silent, though her green cat eyes continue to glitter with mischief. “D’you think we can get to Tangleweed ourselves? Or should I Charm it?”

“Not this early,” Lady Noire says. “At least get closer and gather information. The Lucky Charm doesn’t just give you what you want. You have to make do with what you get and figure out how to win the battle!”

“May I just repeat,” Honeybee says, “please crush me into the ground.”

“Come on!” Lady Noire spins her baton. “Let’s go yank some weeds!”

“Hey, that’s my line!” Misterbug complains as he leaps after her, followed by Rena Rouge, Carapace, and Honeybee. It’s easy enough to make it to the Tower; the problems start when they try to scale it and a thick root appears out of nowhere and literally slaps Honeybee out of the air.

“Ah,” Misterbug says. “Yes. Because this was going to be easy, just for me.”

“You know, putting on this suit is probably the best thing I’ve ever done,” Lady Noire says cheerfully and bats a massive tendril of grass away from Rena Rouge with her good arm, wincing as she does so.

“Stop being a bastard and help me figure this out!”

“Fine, fine. Let’s try a distraction! Rena, Honey, keep him occupied. Misterbug, Carapace, and I will try and sneak around.”

“I grow gayer every time you call me Honey,” Honeybee says, then spins her trompo and leaps out onto a massive pink flower. “Hey! Planthead!”

“Look at Honeybee in her natural habitat!” Rena Rouge grins, stabbing a tendril with her flute. Honeybee shoots her a death glare.

“Come on!” Misterbug says. He, Lady Noire, and Carapace take off up the Tower, although Lady Noire noticeably winces every time she’s forced to put weight on her injured arm. Oh. Shit. Misterbug had forgotten about that!

“I’m fine,” Lady Noire huffs when she catches him staring. “Seriously.”

“Forgive me if I don’t believe that,” Misterbug says. “Look, you can stay on the ground and –”

“Like hell! I can still fight, bugaboy!”

“Uh, am I missing something, dudes?” Carapace says.

“I just don’t want you to hurt yourself even more!” Misterbug says.

“I don’t need you to coddle me! I can – ah!”

Tangleweed seems to have finally clued in that he’s getting a surprise visit from the rear. A vine lashes out and Lady Noire’s forced to dodge with the reflexes of, well…a cat. But she’s unprepared for the follow-up attack, especially as she hisses and cradles her arm to her chest, and she’s knocked off the beam that she’s clutching, hurtling towards the ground with a shrill scream as her staff clatters just out of reach.

“I got her!” Carapace says and dives after her before Misterbug can devolve into a panic attack at the sight of his lady plummeting off the Eiffel Tower. “Shellter!”

No. Focus! She can take care of herself. That’s why you love her. Focus, Misterbug!

Right. New plan. He drops to scoop up Lady Noire’s baton from the stray beam and then continues scaling the Tower, until he’s at the tip and right next to the massive pink flower bud. This close, it looks like it’s pulsating…wait, no, it is. Ew. Good thing Honeybee’s not up here or she’d be pitching a fit.

“Right,” Misterbug says, and takes advantage of Lady Noire not having her baton to add, “Time to nip this in the bud!” He shakes the baton to lengthen it, then jabs at the bud with a bellow…only to be grabbed by the ankles by a vine and hoisted into the air.

“Misterbug!” Lady Noire cries from on the ground as another tendril starts snaking towards his ears. “Use your Lucky Charm!”

Right! “Lucky Charm!” Warm power rushes through Misterbug as he bends up to toss his yo-yo, so unlike the cold energy of Cataclysm, and he’s so preoccupied with this warmth that he almost misses the summoned item that floats back towards him. It’s – “A feather? What am I supposed to do with this?”

Before he can start to think of a plan, though, there’s a low groaning sound that splits the air. The tendril around his ankles loosens, almost as though in shock, and he drops off the creaking, leaning Tower like a stone and is forced to whip his yo-yo off and toss it back at one of the beams to arrest his fall.

“Well? What did it give you?” Lady Noire says once he’s on the ground and can see the reason for his release: the bottom of the toppled Tower is corroded, just like whenever he uses his Cataclysm as Chat Noir. In response to her question, Misterbug holds out his hand to reveal the feather.

“I don’t know what to do with it!” he says. “I mean, I thought of tickling it, but you’d do something totally different! It can’t be that easy!”

Lady Noire hums and looks back at the collapsed Tower. “Well, I’d come up with some convoluted plan, but you’re a simple, straightforward guy,” she says. “Maybe it is that easy. But you can’t just get up there and tickle the akuma without coming up with a plan, which is the whole point of the Lucky Charm.”

“And we have to do it fast, dude,” Carapace says. “I’m gonna change back in a few minutes. And so’ll Lady Noire.”

“Well, the obvious thing would be to have Rena keep it occupied with Mirage while I tickle the flower and Honeybee paralyses Tangleweed,” Misterbug says slowly. “But it can’t be that simple…right?”

“Why not?” Lady Noire says with a small grin. “It’s still a plan. Carapace and I can help Rena Rouge keep him busy until our timers run out. Nice thinking, milord.”

“Alright, let’s freakin’ do this.” Rena Rouge twirls her flute and raises it to her lips to play a little tune. “Mirage!”

Birds. Her illusion is birds. Hundreds of them, flapping around Tangleweed’s vines and vanishing in orange light when the vines touch them, but they seem to do the trick of keeping his attention focused away from the superheroes, as his vines start to lash out at them.

“Let’s go!” Misterbug takes off running for the fallen Eiffel Tower with Honeybee, ducking and weaving through vines and flowers and leaves, batting them away when they react to his presence and try to grab him once again.

“Ew,” Honeybee grimaces when she and Misterbug finally make it to the pulsating pink bud. “Gross.”

“That’s what I said,” Misterbug says. “You ready?”

Honeybee steels herself and nods. “Venom!” she says and catches her throbbing trompo. Then she wrinkles her nose. “Ugh. I’m never gonna be able to look at my weapon the same way again.”

“Get ready to pollinate this plant,” Misterbug grins. Honeybee gives him such a venomous look that he’s surprised he doesn’t drop dead on the spot. “Fine, fine, I’ll lay off the jokes.”

“Just tickle the damn thing already!” Honeybee says. Sticking out his tongue – because okay, Adrien’s technically not yet friends with Chloe again and she doesn’t know he’s Misterbug slash Chat Noir, but it’s so much fun to mess with her – he steps up to the bud and starts to tickle it with the little red feather. The bud quivers, then shivers, then thrashes wildly and falls open to reveal the green-skinned man inside. Honeybee’s on the case straight away, jabbing her trompo into Tangleweed’s arm to freeze him on the spot.

“Nice,” Misterbug says. “Where d’you think the akuma is?”

Honeybee raises an eyebrow. “Probably the shears he’s very obviously holding in his left hand?” she says. Misterbug squints at Tangleweed. Oh. Right. That…would make sense. Biting down on a scathing retort, he grabs the shears and snaps them over his knee to release the evil purple and black butterfly.

“Don’t forget to capture the akuma!” Lady Noire calls over from the base of the ruined Eiffel Tower.

“Hey, I’ve always wanted to do this!” Misterbug swipes open his yo-yo and tosses it at the akuma, capturing it and reeling it back in. “No more evildoing for you, little akuma! Time to de-evilise!”

“You are a massive dork and I hate that I’m in your presence,” Honeybee says. Misterbug grins at her as he releases the now-white butterfly.

“Bye-bye, little butterfly!”

“Nope. Ladybug does it better. Don’t even try.”

“You could be just a little more encouraging, you know,” Misterbug says.

“That would imply that I approve of you being a gigantic loser.”

“Hmph. Don’t be such a hater.” Misterbug throws the feather into the air before Honeybee can retort, and when he calls, “Miraculous Misterbug!” the ladybug swarm surges around Paris, restoring the Eiffel Tower and other damaged buildings and vanishing any trace of Tangleweed’s plants.

“Did you seriously just –?”

“Hey, you told me not to try and be like Ladybug,” Misterbug grins. Honeybee’s eye twitches.

“Not bad for your first time as Ladybug, milord,” Lady Noire says as she bounds over with Rena Rouge and Carapace. She holds out her good fist, and Misterbug, Rena Rouge, Carapace, and Honeybee follow suit and the five of them cry, “Pound it!”


[8:33 pm] miraculass

ladyBIrd: nice job today, guys

what does the fox say: wait why is your name still that

what does the fox say: you’re lady noire now right

ladyBIrd: only temp

catitude: yeah we thought it’d be good to try each other’s powers

catitude: in case we ever have to swap and realise we’re fucked bc we don’t know how to use the other

mess w turt u get hurt: makes sense

honeybeetch: just pls hurry up and switch back

honeybeetch: i can’t stand to see ladybug like this

honeybeetch: i mean

honeybeetch: she’s hot but i can’t handle misterbug

honeybeetch: he’s a giant loser

catitude: :(

mess w turt u get hurt: omg chloe????

honeybeetch: !!!!!!!

ladyBIrd: caRAPACE NO

honeybeetch: FUCK IVE BEEN EXPOSED

what does the fox say: welp

catitude: f

airhead: Plot twist

airhead: Did I get that saying right?

mess w turt u get hurt: SRY

mess w turt u get hurt: i just

mess w turt u get hurt: the timing of honeybee esp after queen bee

mess w turt u get hurt: and how she’s a bitch here but like

mess w turt u get hurt: not nasty

mess w turt u get hurt: and chloe’s been better since mal

mess w turt u get hurt: even said congrats to marinette n adrien at school that day

mess w turt u get hurt: idk how chloe and honey were together after mal but prob rena

honeybeetch: only ladybug can call me honey shellhead

mess w turt u get hurt: only rena can call me shellhead fuzzhead

what does the fox say: aww i didn’t know we were at that stage in our relationship

mess w turt u get hurt: stfu don’t make a big deal of it or anythin

what does the fox say: 0:)

catitude: dw honey we’re not taking the miraculous

honeybeetch: good bc like fuck i’ll give it

ladyBIrd: Honeybee

honeybeetch: ugh fine

honeybeetch: only for u lb

honeybeetch: but thanks for not taking it

ladyBIrd: just

ladyBIrd: stop figuring each other out

catitude: pls

catitude: idk who milady is

catitude: now i feel sad :(

ladyBIrd: ugh

ladyBIrd: you’re a dork

catitude: eat me ;)

honeybeetch: ew get your kink away from me

airhead: Is it too late to give back my Miraculous?

ladyBIrd: yes

catitude: yes

mess w turt u get hurt: yes

what does the fox say: yes

honeybeetch: yes

honeybeetch: anyway later losers

honeybeetch: late night massage calling my name

airhead: My mother will be expecting me

honeybeetch: mine won’t

honeybeetch: not since i told her to gtfo back to new york

honeybeetch: don’t think she wants to talk to me for the next century

what does the fox say: yeah i should start on my homework

mess w turt u get hurt: SHIT FORGOT STUDY DATE WITH GF

what does the fox say: loooool

catitude: f

catitude: let’s take this to dms milady

ladyBIrd: such a gentleman

[8:39 pm] direct messages

Chat Noir: so um

Chat Noir: how’s the arm

Ladybug: sore as hell

Ladybug: freakin broke it

Chat Noir: oof

Ladybug: yep

Ladybug: prob gonna be out of commission for a few weeks

Ladybug: least the cure fixed any damage I did to it when I was transformed

Chat Noir: just treat plagg well

Ladybug: same with Tikki

Ladybug: I miss her already

Chat Noir: same with plagg

Chat Noir: even if he’s a gremlin

Ladybug: he told me to tell you he’s super offended

Chat Noir: let him be

Ladybug: um

Ladybug: ty

Ladybug: for having my back like that

Ladybug: don’t know how I would’ve managed with my arm

Chat Noir: of course bugaboo

Chat Noir: we’re a team

Ladybug: <3

Chat Noir: <3

Chat Noir: hate that i can’t go and see mari

Chat Noir: even if she’s out of the hospital she prob needs rest time

Ladybug: Chat

Ladybug: you’re her boyfriend

Ladybug: why the heck wouldn’t she want to see you

Chat Noir: i mean

Chat Noir: true

Chat Noir: i’m gonna go see her now

Ladybug: good

Ladybug: I’ll have fun with this homework

Chat Noir: ew

Ladybug: yep

Ladybug: thank god it wasn’t my right arm


“It’s really nice of you to do this, Adrien!” Tikki says as Adrien double checks his schoolbag the next morning to make sure that he’s got everything.

“Well, why wouldn’t I give Marinette a lift to school?” he says. “Someone’s got it in for her. They broke her arm! I mean, it was an “accident” that someone tripped and caused a domino effect just as Marinette happened to be on the stairs but come on. I’m going to stick by her and be her ‘lucky charm’.”

“Mhm.” Tikki’s mouth droops. “She doesn’t deserve what’s been happening to her. Uh, from what I’ve seen of her…”

“You don’t have to pretend.” After a night of tossing and turning, Adrien’s realised that this is the right thing to do. He can’t just sit back and pretend that he doesn’t know, especially since he’s got Ladybug’s kwami for the time being. “I know Marinette is Ladybug.”

“Eep!” Tikki claps her little paws over her mouth. “I didn’t mean to –”

“No, no, it wasn’t anything you said!” Adrien hurries to say. “I figured it out yesterday. Ladybug just happening to have the same injury as Marinette? And then everything clicked.”

Tikki sighs and lowers her arms. “I’m just surprised that none of the others figured it out,” she says. “You are one of the least observant lot we’ve had.”

“Hey,” Adrien protests, though he can’t find it in himself to take offence at something that true.

“When are you going to tell her that you know?”

“I don’t know. I want to but…I’m afraid, Tikki.”

“Adrien –”

“She likes me, right? Adrien? Even though she’s choosing to focus on Chat Noir?”

Tikki slowly nods.

“I know I’m just being silly but, like…part of me is terrified that she won’t want me anymore if she knows I’m Chat Noir. What if she decides that she likes Chat Noir better than Adrien and she wishes I’d never told her? That she’ll lose interest because it’s been me all this time and – and I’ll lose her.”

“That won’t happen, Adrien,” Tikki says firmly. “Marinette most definitely will still want you even if she knows you’re Chat Noir.”

“But –”

“Adrien, I’m her kwami. Trust me when I say that she won’t be disappointed at all. Knowing you’re Adrien would probably make her happier because then her heart won’t belong to two different boys when they’re the same person.”

“Right. Right. Just…give me some time? I still have to wrap my head around the fact that I fell for the same girl twice. Of course she’s Marinette! Who else is as brave and funny and gorgeous as Ladybug?”

Tikki giggles. “How about telling her when you give me back? That should give you enough time to sort yourself out.”

“This isn’t fair,” Adrien complains. “I got stuck with the gremlin kwami. Of course Marinette would get the sugary sweet one.”

Tikki laughs again. But at the sound of footsteps outside Adrien’s bedroom, she dives into the pocket of his green hoodie, just in time to avoid being seen as Nathalie opens the door.

“If you’re insistent on giving this Marinette girl a ride to school, you have to leave now, Adrien,” Nathalie says.

“Right.” Adrien grabs his bag and follows her. “Thanks, Nathalie.”

Chapter Text

“This is weird,” Marinette says after beating Misterbug at yet another game of Ultimate Mecha Strike III. Even though her arm’s still in a cast, she utterly rules at this game, to the point where Misterbug’s pretty sure that she must somehow be cheating. “It’s been like three weeks and I’m still not used to seeing you in spots.”

Welp. This is the perfect time. Misterbug’s been putting it off for weeks but Tikki’s right; he can’t just not tell Marinette that he knows she’s Ladybug.

“I get that,” Misterbug says. “Must be like making out with yourself, huh?”

Marinette’s cheeks pale ever so slightly. “H-Huh?” she stammers. “I don’t get the joke.”

“Marinette breaks her arm, then Ladybug can’t fight properly?” Misterbug says. He gives her a soft smile. “I know it’s you, bugaboo. Kitten.”

A high-pitched noise escapes Marinette, as though she’s a kettle that’s been put on to boil. Before Misterbug can try and reassure her, to at least get her to stop making that sound and attracting every dog within the city limits, Marinette grabs the cushion from her chaise lounge and starts to scream into it.

“Well,” drawls a familiar voice. Misterbug can’t help the wide smile that spreads across his face at the sight of Plagg emerging from on top of Marinette’s bed. “Good job, kid, you broke her.”

“Plagg!” Misterbug holds out his hand to let Plagg land on it. When he scratches Plagg under the chin, the little cat kwami purrs and practically melts into a puddle of black goo.

“Oh my god.” A wide-eyed Marinette is watching the exchange, the cushion clutched against her chest, ready for her to scream again. “You – I don’t – oh my god.”

“That’s my line,” Misterbug teases. “I can’t believe I fell for the same girl twice. I – ow!” he yelps when Marinette punches him with her good hand.

“Why didn’t you tell me, you – you jerk?” she bursts out. “Weeks! You’ve been pretending for weeks! I would’ve loved to know that my boyfriend knew my secret identity!”

“Hey! Easy!” Misterbug catches her hand and squeezes. “I’m sorry. I just…I was scared you wouldn’t be interested in me if you knew who I was. I can’t say why – identity reasons – but…you’re amazing, Mari, and –”

“Wait, what?” Marinette’s brow furrows. “I mean, you’re an idiot if you think I wouldn’t be interested in you unless you were, like, Chloé Bourgeois or Lila Rossi or something, but why would that stop you from telling me? I still don’t know who you are.”

“Oh. Uh…” Misterbug scratches the back of his neck with his free hand. “I guess I was psyching myself for an identity reveal. I didn’t want to leave you in the dark when I knew who you were.”

“Well, one of our identities should stay a secret, at least,” Marinette says. “But I can tell you right now, if you think I’ll run away from whoever’s under the mask, you’ve got another thing coming. Would you have run if you’d found out I was Marinette back when you liked Ladybug?”

“What? No!” Misterbug says. “You’re Ladybug. Ladybug’s you. I would’ve thought myself super lucky because even back then, I knew you were an amazing person. I freaked out when I thought Chloé was Ladybug when Lady Wifi unmasked her because…I can’t be into Chloé. I’ve never seen her like that.”

“Gag me,” Plagg mutters, but he’s ignored.

“Then there’s your answer,” Marinette says. She leans in and gives him a quick kiss. “Trust me, if you’re nothing like Chloé used to be, I don’t think I’ll be very disappointed.”

“Right. Tikki said I wouldn’t be.”

“Tikki’s very wise,” Marinette says with twitching lips. “You should listen to her.”

“I hear a certain princess is very wise as well,” Misterbug says, and Marinette giggles and rests her head on his shoulder. “But I really do think it would be a good idea to tell you who I am.”

“What? But if Hawkmoth finds out –”

“Hey.” Misterbug squeezes her gently. “I’m the one who takes hits normally, remember? And I know who you are. It’s way less dangerous for you to know who I am. And if we know each other’s identities, we can coordinate as civilians. We can cover for each other. We can…we can be a team in and out of the mask, milady. I feel like I’ve got…more power over you by knowing, if that makes sense, and I don’t wanna feel like that. We’re equals. We’re partners. Purrtners, if you will.”

Marinette’s quiet for a long, long time. Just as Misterbug’s about to start babbling an apology, to say that he’s not pushing her and he won’t reveal himself if she really doesn’t want him to, Marinette takes a deep breath and pushes herself upright.

“Okay,” she whispers and squeezes her eyes shut. “Okay. You’re right. I trust you, lovebug. If you’re sure…”

“I’ve never been surer of anything, kitten.” Misterbug takes Marinette’s hands, then says, “Tikki…spots off.” His transformation drops in a flash of pink light, and Marinette sucks in a reflexive gasp of air.

“Marinette!” Tikki nuzzles against Marinette’s cheek. Giggling, Marinette releases one of Adrien’s hands to reach up and cuddle Tikki, and…wow. She’s never been more beautiful.

“Tikki!”

“Ugh, gag me,” Plagg groans. “Just open your eyes already.”

Marinette lets out an explosive breath, then nods and opens her eyes. Adrien can see the exact moment that she fully processes who’s sitting across from her by tracking the journey mapped across her entire face: shock, disbelief, a split second of panic, then sheer, unmistakeable joy.

“Oh my god!” She slaps her hands over her mouth and rocks back and forth. “My god! It’s – how did I never – Adrien – I’ve been fighting Hawkmoth with – I’ve been making out with Adrien!”

“What d’you think, Sugarcube?” Plagg says. “Most hilarious reveal so far or what?”

“Plagg, you’re a jerk,” Tikki huffs. “…But yes, this is one of the funniest.”

“You know what’s really funny?” Adrien says as Marinette’s shoulders begin to shake. “You kept turning me down for me. And I let you go for you.”

“We’re both a bunch of idiots!” Marinette sags against Adrien’s chest, laughing so hard that tears stream down her cheeks.

“I know, right?” Adrien grins. “We could’ve been dating months ago.”

But Marinette shakes her head at that. “No,” she hiccups when she’s finally wrestled her hysterical laughter under control. “That’s one thing I don’t regret. We weren’t ready months ago.”

“Well, we’re ready now,” Adrien says. “And now that we know each other…holy shit, now I can hold you and kiss you whenever I see you. I don’t have to wait till I’m transformed.”

Marinette’s cheeks stain a dark pink colour. “W-Well…if Adrien Agreste wanted to ask Marinette Dupain-Cheng to be his girlfriend…I don’t think she’d say no.”

“But what about a certain alley cat?” Adrien gasps dramatically. “His heart would be shattered!”

Marinette snorts and shoulders him. “I think that alley cat could learn to share.”

“Hmm. You just might be right.” Adrien jolts when an idea occurs to him. “Hey, wanna make it official right now?”

Marinette squints suspiciously at him as he fumbles to pull his phone out. Before she can protest, he’s slinging an arm around her and holding out the phone, then kissing her cheek as he pushes the camera button. Thankfully, she seems to catch on just in time, as she’s giggling with her eyes closed in the picture when Adrien pulls away.

“Are you okay with this?” he says once he’s brought up Instagram. “I don’t wanna post if you don’t want me to. I’m not sure how my fans will react.”

“You know what?” Marinette throws her good arm in the air. “Do it. It’s either this or we make out in public at school tomorrow, and I’d rather save my eardrums from Alya.”

Adrien snorts. He types out casual sat afternoon gaming w my princess xx as a caption, tags marinettedesigned, then presses post, and it only takes literal seconds before notifications start pouring in by the scores.

“My god,” Marinette says over his shoulder as the notifications explode to the point where Adrien’s forced to silence his phone. “What must it be like to have a normal life?”

“I dunno,” Adrien says. “You tell me.” He twists to kiss Marinette, and she squeaks and nearly falls off the chaise.

“That’s cheating!” she complains. Before Adrien can make a witty response to that, Marinette’s phone starts to ring, and she groans as she grabs it to answer it. “Great. That’ll be Alya.”

Pardon the fuck me?” shrieks Alya’s voice when Marinette presses answer, so loud that Adrien can hear even without the phone being on speaker. “Do you mind telling your best friend why she had to find out that you’re Adrien Agreste’s princess from Instagram? Like a common fangirl?”

“Uh, because it literally just happened two minutes ago?” Marinette says. Adrien settles back against her as she tries to soothe Alya’s wounded pride, and his eyes slip shut against his control because…lying here with Marinette is just so peaceful.


She must be dreaming, because there’s no way Marinette Dupain-Cheng is lucky enough in any universe to have two boys she loves be one and the same. But no, when she arrives at school the next morning and Adrien’s face lights up when he catches sight of her, she’s forced to concede that this is very much real.

“Marinette!” he calls, attracting the attention of everyone around him. Marinette speeds up into a run, her loose hair streaming behind her, because her boyfriend – her kitty, her lovebug – is waiting for her, and he’s so radiant, and it’s like she’s running on a cloud to get to him and sinking into sunlight when his arms are finally around her.

“You only saw me yesterday!” Marinette says into his shoulder. Around them are the sounds of people either cooing or loudly sobbing, but Marinette can’t bring herself to care about anyone else except the person holding her.

“Exactly,” Adrien says. “It’s been way too long.”

“Such a flatterer, my sunshine.

“My sunshine? I like that one. Better than when Lila calls me mio sole.”

“Oh, hush, you silly sunshine prince.”

“Gag me,” mutters a familiar voice from behind them. Alya’s regarding them with crossed arms and a raised eyebrow, while Nino grins and shoots Adrien a thumbs-up from behind his girlfriend. “You’re gonna be that sickeningly sweet couple, aren’t you?”

“You’re just still bitter that you had to find out on Instagram,” Marinette teases. Alya rolls her eyes, but her lips do twitch, so she can’t truly be annoyed at Marinette and Adrien.

“Dude, how’d your old man take it?” Nino says as they head into the schoolyard. Marinette’s heart jolts.

“Oh! Right! You have to have told him, right?”

“Actually, he didn’t say much,” Adrien says. “He just gave me this look and said that so long as Marinette didn’t distract me from my obligations and we didn’t do anything to cause a scandal or make him look bad, he couldn’t care less who I dated. Although he did remember Marinette as the winner of his contest and the one who impressed Audrey Bourgeois, so you really made an impression on him, princess.”

Princess. Marinette giggles and rests her head against Adrien’s arm. She’s never going to get used to that, is she?

“Oh, hi, Chloé,” Alya says when a familiar face steps into their path. Chloé takes in Marinette and Adrien, then grimaces.

“Congratulations,” she forces out. “I’m happy for you, Adrien.”

Adrien’s face lights up. “Thanks, Chloé,” he says, and he lets go of Marinette to throw his arms around Chloé. After a moment, Chloé melts into his hug and pats his back, and Marinette had thought that she’d feel even a smidge of jealousy…but how can she, when the look on Chloé’s face is so genuinely blissful? After a moment, Chloé clears her throat and steps back.

“Just – you better not hurt him, Marinette, or I’ll destroy you,” a flustered Chloé says. “You’ll wish you’d never heard of him in your life.”

“Of course, Chloé,” Marinette says, rather than shooting back with snark like she would at any other time. “And thank you for being okay with us. It feels good to have the blessing of Adrien’s first friend.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Chloé scoffs. “You’re just lucky his best friend approves of you. I’m gonna go find Sabrina now so I don’t have to watch you two be disgusting.” She turns and struts off with her nose in the air, and Marinette exchanges a little grin with Adrien when she catches sight of a little yellow head poking out of Chloé’s purse. One look at Adrien’s matching grin confirms that he’s also seen Pollen.

“Oh my gosh, you two are together?” Lila seemingly appears out of nowhere, causing Marinette to jump. From her hazy memories of the day she’d broken her arm, she vaguely recalls a red and brown figure leading her away and saying something about Chat Noir, and although she can’t remember for sure if it’s Lila, it’s still enough to leave her just wary enough around the other girl.

“Um, yeah!” Adrien kisses Marinette on the top of the head. “Just yesterday, actually.”

Really.” Lila beams, but there’s something…off in her eyes for the tiniest fraction of a second. It’s something that’s happened a few times now, but Lila’s been nothing but friendly despite her compulsive lying, so Marinette’s not sure if she can really trust what she sees. “That’s so amazing, guys! But I thought you weren’t into him anymore, Marinette?”

“I never said I wasn’t into him,” Marinette says. “I just put my crush aside to focus on being his friend.”

“And that’s when I realised I loved my angel,” Adrien says. Marinette groans and buries her flaming face in Adrien’s chest.

“Stop being such a sap, sunshine,” she mumbles.

“Aww,” Alya coos. Although Marinette can’t see her, the wicked smile on Alya’s face is audible.

“Well, you definitely deserve each other!” Lila says. “Oh, I have to go and call Paige Turner, the famous author! This would be the perfect inspiration for a book!”

“She’s totally lying,” Marinette grumbles when Lila’s gone.

“Yeah, but sooner or later, she’ll shoot herself in the foot,” Adrien says. “Jagged Stone, Clara Nightingale, Paige Turner…one day.”

“Alright, enough about that,” Alya says with an unnerving smile. “It’s interrogation time, you two!”

Chapter Text

This. Is. Not. Fair.

“Good job, Marinette,” Luka says. His hand is warm on her shoulder under her side braid, soft and encouraging as she strums chord after chord on his guitar, and she must totally suck at it but Luka’s looking at her like she’s the most talented guitarist in the world and this is not fair!

“Adrien? Kagami?” Alya gasps from over on the soft blue couch. Marinette beams when she catches sight of her friend and her boyfriend, Adrien with their fencing bags slung over his shoulders and Kagami with a white cardigan rolled to her elbows, a red button-down shirt, and sleek black slacks. Marinette’s never seen Kagami without a skirt before, and the way the slacks cling to her legs is gorgeous, why doesn’t Kagami wear them more often –

Marinette freezes. Shit. This can’t be happening. No, no, she’s already got Adrien slash Chat Noir as her boyfriend and she’s losing her mind over Luka, this can’t happen, it can’t happen

In all honesty, it’s not like the feelings are new. But considering the clusterfuck that her life has turned into, is it any wonder that Marinette’s been trying desperately to ignore them?

“Hi, Adrien!” Lila beams and waves and makes to jump up and greet him, but one look from Kagami keeps her rooted right where she is. “What are you doing here?”

“We’re officially at fencing practice right now,” Adrien says with a mischievous little grin. “But oh no, Kagami, isn’t this the wrong address?”

“Oh dear, I think you’re right!” Kagami says and then she and Adrien dissolve into fits of laughter, and Marinette focuses very pointedly on anything but how cute Kagami is when she laughs like that.

“It’s a good thing Adrien’s found someone he can get out of the house with at last,” Luka says, and his voice sends shivers down Marinette’s spine, and why is she like this?

“Your hair is…beautiful in that style, Marinette,” Kagami says. Marinette’s insides are flooded with warmth like she’s been dunked in a hot bath without a chance to steel herself.

“I – uh – you thank! Thank you!” Marinette babbles. She takes a deep breath. No. She’s not doing this again. “Yours is beautiful too! It’s nice and shiny and really silky – not that I’d know unless I touched it – which I won’t, that would be just creepy –”

Kagami tilts her head, while Alya, Mylène, and Alix smirk in the background. Marinette resists the extremely strong urge to flip them off and give them that petty victory.

“I don’t see how if you asked for permission,” Kagami says.

“It’s not – I don’t –” Marinette groans. “Just ignore me. I’m a mess.”

“Do I intimidate you?” Kagami says. “I apologise if I do. I know I can come across as…standoffish. And I don’t always know what’s appropriate, so please tell me if I cross a line.”

“No, no!” Marinette waves her hands so frantically that she nearly yeets Luka’s guitar halfway across the boat. “Me intimidate? Don’t you – I mean – you don’t!” With another groan, she covers her face with her hands.

“Are you okay, Marinette?” Luka says, and that’s the tipping point, because there’s no way Marinette can handle his smooth voice in conjunction with Kagami being adorably…Kagami.

“Bathroom!” Marinette blurts out, shoving the guitar at Luka and nearly tripping and breaking her neck in her haste to get away from the situation. Once she’s barricaded herself inside, she drops her face into her hands with a groan, wincing when her healing arm twinges.

“You okay, kiddo?” A warm little presence nuzzles against Marinette’s hand. Marinette groans and uncovers her face.

“I’m a mess, Plagg,” she sighs. “I like three people at once! How is that possible? How is that fair to Adrien? I mean, I know that liking people doesn’t make me a cheater, and it’s normal…”

“Uh, hello?” Plagg says. “Polyamory? Honestly, am I the voice of reason around here?”

“That’s about the one certainty in my life right now,” Marinette mutters. Plagg smirks.

“Kid, listen,” he says. “It’s perfectly normal to like more than one person. It’s perfectly normal to be with more than one person. I remember one of Tikki’s bugs ended up in a relationship with four people.”

Four?” Marinette splutters.

“Yep,” Plagg says. “And his partners were dating others as well. You’re not a mess.”

“It’s just…” Marinette sighs and rubs at her eyes. “Part of me wants to be with Luka and Kagami too. But part of me thinks that means I’m unhappy with Adrien, even though I really am happy!”

“How secure in your relationship with my kitten are you?” Plagg says.

“Super secure!” Marinette says. “I don’t feel like adding another person or two would be to fix any problems, if that’s what you mean.”

“Then there’s your answer,” Plagg says. “Hold on, lemme channel my inner Tikki.” He clears his throat and adopts a high-pitched voice that leaves Marinette giggling. “Only you know what you truly want, Marinette! I can give you all the advice in the world, but I can’t know what’s really in your heart.”

Before Marinette can reply, her phone pings, and her eyes widen at the notification from Adrien that reads @everyone akuma at the couffaine houseboat calls herself desperada. Oh, no! Who’s been akumatised? Has Luka finally succumbed to Hawkmoth’s influence like Juleka and Anarka had? Or have one of them been akumatised for a second time?

“Plagg, claws out!” she cries desperately, as though slapping on the mask will solve her crisis.


“Where are you running to, wannabe?” Desperada grins at Luka and Adrien, blocking their way off the houseboat. Adrien gulps and takes an instinctive step back towards Luka, who grabs his arms as though trying to protect him. Something hot explodes in Adrien’s gut at the touch.

“Stop this, Vivica, you’re giving rock ‘n’ roll a bad name!” Jagged Stone cries. “Just ‘cause I tried to get Nanarchy and the blueberry kid to play with me –”

Desperada immediately shoots a cloud of yellow gas at him with the trombone-gun in her hand, and he vanishes in a puff of smoke. With her jet-black hair in a low ponytail, a face that’s chalk-white with black skull makeup and music notes across her cheek, a black and gold rock ‘n’ roll pantsuit, and a star-shaped guitar case slung across her back, Desperada bears a striking resemblance to someone who might be seen on Day of the Dead, and Adrien can’t help but fleetingly wonder if she has Mexican heritage.

“Nice instrument,” quips a blessedly familiar voice. Rena Rouge twirls her flute around her fingers from where she’s perched on top of the houseboat’s cockpit. “Bet I can play better than you.”

“Don’t make bets with akumas, Rena!” Lady Noire lands next to Rena Rouge. “I thought we taught you better than that.”

“Two against one?” Desperada smirks. She tosses her trombone-gun, causing it to vanish in golden smoke, and instead summons an axe-like guitar. “Unlike your duet, I prefer to solo!”

“Come on!” Luka grabs Adrien by the wrist and tugs him away from the fight. Adrien barely manages to resist, because he needs to transform but he can’t just ditch Luka, especially not since Kagami got dusted trying to protect them, and his heart is racing, and what the hell even is his life –

“We’ll be safe here.” Luka pulls Adrien behind a massive chunk of stone, where they can safely watch the fight between Lady Noire, Rena Rouge, and Desperada. The problem is that if they get hit, they don’t get brainwashed or frozen or otherwise potentially useful for a convoluted Lucky Charm plan; they totally vanish, no do-overs. And considering Desperada’s speed and ferocity, she’s one pissed akuma.

Adrien’s so lost in his thoughts that he doesn’t even notice Luka’s absence until the sound of Luka’s guitar reaches his ears. Luka’s out in the open, strumming on his guitar to distract Desperada, and shit, he’s an easy target, Desperada’s going to get him and Adrien can’t just stand by and let that happen –

“Tikki, spots on!” As Misterbug, he dives out of cover and manages to tackle Luka out of the way just in time.

“Thanks,” Luka pants. In the background, Ladybug’s busy wrapping her yo-yo around the bridge to make it cave in on itself and buy them some time against Desperada. “Where’s Adrien?”

“Safe,” Misterbug says. Heat floods his cheeks when he realises that he’s still got his arms wrapped around Luka’s waist, and he clears his throat and jumps to his feet, helping Luka up. “Don’t worry about him.”

“About time!” Rena Rouge says to Misterbug, then she turns to shout at Lady Noire, “That won’t keep Desperada down for long!”

But Marinette’s always got a plan, whether she’s Ladybug or Lady Noire. This plan happens to involve hiding out in the sewers, which Misterbug is less than enthusiastic about, although if it gets Luka out of Desperada’s sights then he’ll suck it up and deal with it.

“You shouldn’t put yourself in harm’s way like that, Luka!” Lady Noire scolds once they’ve finally skidded to a halt. Then her face softens and she adds, “But…thank you. I appreciate it.”

“I think we need a bit of luck,” Misterbug says. He tosses his yo-yo into the air and calls, “Lucky Charm!” and a ladybug-patterned saddle falls into his hands. “I think I would’ve preferred a lucky horseshoe.”

Lady Noire rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, hold your goddamn horses,” Rena Rouge says into her flute. Misterbug shoots Lady Noire a sideways smirk at that. “Just keep her busy, okay? Lady Noire’s plotting.”

“Was that Carapace and Honeybee?” Lady Noire says when Rena Rouge hangs up.

“Yep. They’re wondering where the hell we are.”

“Well, if they can distract Desperada for long enough, we can come up with a plan,” Lady Noire says. “Luka, you find a place to hide.”

Thanks to their teammates keeping Desperada busy, Misterbug, Lady Noire, and Rena Rouge are easily able to sneak out of the sewer without her catching sight of them. But Lady Noire’s stomach plummets at the sight of Desperada gleefully catching Carapace and Honeybee in a puff of golden smoke.

“They bought us the time we needed, milady,” Misterbug says when Lady Noire just stares out at Desperada silently for a moment. “We’ll take down Desperada and save them.”

“I know…” Lady Noire sighs. “I just…feel responsible, is all. Everyone looks up to me as the team leader, yet I sent them to get dusted for us. What kind of a leader am I?”

“The best one.” Misterbug grabs her by the shoulders and looks her straight in the eye, and the urge to lean in and kiss him is so overwhelming that Lady Noire stumbles forward ever so slightly. “You didn’t send them off to be sacrificed. They just got caught doing their job. And you’re the only one who can fix everything, kitten, so don’t feel guilty when we take the fall for you. We know you’ll always save us.”

“That’s the kind of pressure that’ll make me lose it one of these days,” Lady Noire says with a weak laugh.

“I might not know just how hard it is to be a super Ladybug, since you’re still the one calling the shots, but I’ve always got your back,” Misterbug says with a wink. “You and me against the world.”

Lady Noire nods and squares her shoulders and smiles. Her bugaboy always knows just what to say! “Thank you, lovebug,” she says.

“What he said, minus all the gooey stuff,” Rena Rouge says. “Got a plan?”

Misterbug and Lady Noire exchange looks, then grin and nod. “Always,” they chorus.


“Great job out there today!” Marinette says when Misterbug deposits her next to the Couffaine houseboat after their battle, where Rena Rouge had distracted Desperada while Lady Noire had Cataclysmed the guitar case containing the akuma. Not that she needed him to bring her back, but when she’d detransformed and almost immediately run into him, well, who is she to refuse a ride from her superhero boyfriend?

“You were watching?” Misterbug preens. Marinette rolls her eyes and slaps him on the arm.

“Don’t be an idiot, lovebug.”

“Well, so long as the akumas don’t get you, my princess is always more than welcome to watch her knight defend her honour,” Misterbug says with a smug little grin. This time, Marinette tries to push him into the Seine, but he’s protected by layers of magical spandex and creative power and so he doesn’t budge an inch. “You’ll have to try harder than that, kitten.”

“Oh, shut up,” Marinette mutters, then stands on her tiptoes to give him a quick kiss goodbye before he has to disappear and detransform. With a low purr left over from being Chat Noir, Misterbug slides his hands to her waist and pulls her closer, deepening the kiss, and his earrings beep a warning and then –

“Oh my god!” someone shrieks. Marinette yelps and jumps away from Misterbug, but it’s too late to convince a wide-eyed Alya, who’s obviously returning from detransforming, that they’d been doing anything but kissing. “You – Marinette – oh my god!”

“What?” Rose comes rushing out from below deck, followed by Juleka and Lila and then everyone else. Marinette turns to enlist Misterbug’s help, to get him to make up an excuse since he must be used to doing so to protect his identity, but he looks like a deer caught in the headlights of her friends and…yeah, he’s not gonna be any help.

“Marinette – and Misterbug! Chat Noir!” Alya squeals. She fumbles in her pocket. “I gotta –”

“No!” Marinette bounds forward and grabs Alya’s wrist to prevent her from grabbing her phone. “I’ll explain! Just – don’t put it on the Ladyblog! Please!”

“The Ladyblog? Why the hell would I do that?” Alya wrenches her hand free of Marinette’s grip. “Someone’s gotta tell Adrien that his girlfriend’s been cheating on him! Really, Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I thought I knew my bestie better.”

“How could you do that to poor Adrien?” Lila cries, clutching at her heart.

“Oh, Adrien knows,” Misterbug says. “And he’s super okay with it.”

What?” Alya’s eyes bulge.

“Have you seen Adrien?” Kagami says.

“No,” Misterbug says. “But Desperada didn’t get him, so he’ll probably be back soon. I didn’t hide him very far.” His earrings beep again, so he offers a quick salute and bounds off.

So,” Alix says. “Got something you wanna share, Marinette?”

Marinette gulps. But there’s no getting out of this, not after getting caught in front of so many witnesses, so she squares her shoulders and follows her friends down into the houseboat, where she’s pushed down onto the couch and surrounded by the interrogation squad.

“Hi! Hi!” Adrien comes skidding down the stairs, then pauses and frowns at the sight before him. “Um…what’s going on?”

“Marinette has some explaining to do, doesn’t she?” Lila says, tilting her head at Marinette.

“Or we could respect her relationship with Adrien and let them sort it out themselves?” Kagami says. Marinette shoots her a grateful look.

“Well, we’ve already seen it,” Mylène points out.

“Seen what?” Adrien says. Marinette sighs.

“Fine, fine,” she says. “I mean, it’s not that I don’t trust any of you, but we kind of did want to keep it as lowkey as possible so that Hawkmoth couldn’t be a dick about it.”

“So, it’s true?” Rose bounces on the spot. “You’re really dating Chat Noir – uh, Misterbug? As well as Adrien?”

“Oh, is that what this is about?” Adrien says. He winks at Marinette and grins when her eye twitches with the effort of not scowling back at him in front of everyone. “Of course I know about it, guys. We’re in a polyamorous love fest.”

“I’m gonna pass out,” Alya murmurs.

“And Lady Noire’s okay with that?” Lila says, looking vaguely constipated.

“Well, yeah,” Marinette says. “Misterbug told me that she said something about not letting Hawkmoth rule over their daily lives and win that way. To be fair, this one was my fault – I could’ve kissed him literally anywhere else, but I forgot that we were in public…”

“So…” Alya says with a mischievous grin. “Is he a good kisser?”

Alya!” Marinette whines, while Adrien flushes a deep red in the background. Ha. Payback’s a bitch, Adrien Agreste.

“What?” Alya says. “My bestie’s been dating a superhero in secret as well as her own boyfriend and you think I’m not gonna squeeze her for details?”

“Am I the only one who doesn’t understand the point of forcing your friends to reveal personal information like this?” Kagami says.

“I’m with Kagami,” Luka says.

Thank you,” Marinette says. “You’re my favourite people right now.”

“Fine, fine, we’ll drop it,” Alya says.

“Thank god,” Alix says. “This romance shit makes me sick.”

Later that night, Marinette snuggles against Adrien on her chaise, sketching a rough plan for some Kitty Section-themed jackets. The band’s not that big yet, but they’ve certainly got the talent, and Marinette wants to get in for them before anyone else has the chance, especially because they’re her friends.

“I can’t believe we got busted today,” Adrien grumbles.

“To be fair, making out in broad daylight will probably do that,” Marinette says. “I just can’t believe we got busted in front of Luka and Kagami.”

“I know what you mean,” Adrien grumbles. Then they both freeze.

“Why does it matter that we got caught in front of Luka and Kagami?” they say together. “Um – you go first – no, I’ll go first – gah!”

They lapse into an awkward silence, both trying to gauge each other and figure out when the other will speak. Just before Marinette can open her mouth, Adrien gets in first.

“I, uh…” He scratches the back of his head. “You know I really like you, right, Marinette?”

“Y-Yeah,” Marinette says, trying not to dissolve into a puddle of goo because damn her, she’s a romantic at heart. “But…you like another person as well, don’t you? You mentioned it on our date.”

“Right, yeah. I remember.”

“I’ve, uh…got the same problem. I’ve got a major crush on Luka. And, um…Kagami. And it’s getting to me, because I’m pretty sure I’m polyamorous and Tikki says that it’s perfectly normal and it doesn’t mean I like you any less, but I’ve been freaking out because what if you don’t approve, especially of Luka and Kagami, and I don’t want to break up with you or make you choose or anything, but I also don’t want you to think I’ll go and cheat and –”

“Marinette!” Adrien wraps his arms around her from behind and squeezes. “Oh my god. I can’t believe you like Luka and Kagami.”

“Is that a problem? I mean, I chose you first, so I’ll always –”

Mari.” Adrien presses a kiss to the back of her head, and Marinette shivers and melts against him. “No. It’s not a problem. It’s just hilarious because, well…Luka was the other person I liked when I brought it up on our date. And I think I’ve been falling for Kagami too, for a while now.”

Blink. Blink. That’s all Marinette can do before she doubles over in peals of laughter, her sketchbook slipping from between her fingers onto the floor and her pencil rolling away.

“Are you serious?” she chokes. “We both – we both like other people too – and they’re the same people – oh my gosh –”

“We really are soulmates, princess,” Adrien says, mirroring what he’d said to Ladybug all those months ago as he gently undoes her braid to let her hair fan loosely over his chest. “So, uh, when did you realise?”

“Oh. Luka was easy – I got so flustered around him when we first met, and it just went from there.” Marinette wipes her eyes as her laughter dies off into hiccups. “And I realised recently that I’ve kind of got a massive crush on Kagami too.”

“So, what d’you wanna do about it?” Adrien says. “Talk to them and see where they stand?”

“Oh my god, no, I have to talk to them?” Marinette groans and covers her face with her hands. “And I was a total disaster around them today! They were just both so cute and I got so flustered and I ran off and – how does anyone even like me when I’m such a mess?”

“Because you’re an adorable mess,” Adrien says, twirling her hair around his fingers. “Why do you think I call you my angel? You’re so gorgeous and way out of my reach but you can also destroy anyone who crosses you, just like an angel. And I kind of like having nicknames between our civilian selves that don’t relate to our alter-egos.”

Marinette’s cheeks flood with hot blood. Is that really how Adrien sees her? Out of his reach? No way. He’s so far out of her league!

“Also, if you think I’m a functional bi, you’ve got another thing coming,” Adrien adds.

“We’ll both be disaster bis together,” Marinette giggles, then twists to press a quick kiss to his lips. “So, what now? Do we both pull Luka and Kagami aside and talk to them?”

“Well, you’ve got more of a chance with them than me,” Adrien says. “We could probably get away with the polyamory thing with you, but me? Adrien Agreste? My father would blow a gasket. And I can’t date them as Chat because someone’ll eventually put two and two together when I’m never around at the same time as Adrien.”

“Okay, so that’s a no for the time being,” Marinette says.

“What? No! Just because I can’t yet –”

“We both like the same people, my sunshine.” Marinette laces her fingers with his and lifts his hand to kiss his gleaming silver ring. “It’s not like I like someone else that you’re not into and it’s not fair for me to go ahead when you’ll have to sit back and watch us be happy together. That’d hurt you, and I’d never want to hurt you, Adrien.”

“I think…” Adrien sighs. “I do want to date Luka and Kagami as well. And I’m willing to come out as bi and polyam, especially if it helps anyone who looks up to me. Just…not yet. I need a bit of time.”

“Take all the time in the world, lovebug,” Marinette says softly. After a few moments of silence, Adrien groans.

“As much as I’d love to stay, princess, this dashing knight had better get going before his absence is realised,” he says.

“Can’t you stay?” Marinette whines. “Wouldn’t you rather be here than at home?”

“Of course, darling kitten,” Adrien says. Marinette slaps him on the arm for the darling comment. “But if I don’t get home, Father will get angry. And then I can’t come in the future. A small sacrifice for now.”

“Ugh, fine.” Marinette pushes herself up with a groan, then turns to pull Adrien to his feet. He grins and bends down to peck her on the lips.

“Until next time, kitten,” he says. Then, before she can react, he’s transformed into Misterbug and is slithering out onto the balcony, and the room feels just that little bit emptier like it always does when he leaves.

Chapter Text

“So,” Master Fu says after their afternoon lesson. “I trust the kwami swap has been enlightening?”

“It really has,” Misterbug says. “Now I get the stress that milady’s always dealing with.”

“And I get that bugaboy here really doesn’t have it that easy,” Lady Noire says. “I never really appreciated all the times he took hits for me until I had to do it for him. Not that I approve of it!” she adds, wagging her finger at Misterbug, who just grins back at her.

“I must admit, it was a good idea to temporarily switch your Miraculouses,” Master Fu says. “Even though it was out of necessity, it allowed you to better understand each other’s powers, in case you need to switch again in the future. And this understanding will even help you in your usual roles.”

“That’s a fair point,” Misterbug says. “So, uh, milady…should we switch back now? How’s your arm?”

Lady Noire flexes her left arm with only a faint grimace. “Good enough. The clown costume’s not bad but…I do miss Tikki and my Lucky Charm.”

“And I miss seeing you in spots,” Misterbug grins. When Lady Noire gives him a flat look, he adds, “And I guess I miss Plagg too.”

“Just shut your eyes, lovebug,” Lady Noire says. Misterbug obeys, and then he and Lady Noire detransform together and start fumbling to take off their Miraculouses.

“Let me!” A little warm thing brushes against Adrien’s cheek and then the remaining silver stud slips out of his ear. He holds out the other earring for Tikki to take. “Goodbye, A – Misterbug!”

“Bye, Tikki,” Adrien says. “It was really cool to be with you for the past few weeks.”

Tikki giggles. A moment later, the sound of Marinette laughing and cooing reaches Adrien’s ears but before he can lose himself in that sound, something small is dropped into his palm and then a soft, purring thing nuzzles against his cheek.

“Plagg!” Adrien slips his ring on and then hugs Plagg against him. “It’s good to have you back.”

“You’re more important to me than her cheese pastries,” Plagg says, which is pretty much a declaration of eternal love from the sourpuss kwami.

“Tikki, spots on!” Marinette says. Adrien gives Plagg one last hug.

“Plagg, claws out!” he says. When he opens his eyes after transforming, he’s greeted by the sight of a softly smiling Ladybug, with her Lady Noire outfit adapted to her Ladybug look; her cropped qipao top is still black but with red lining now, her suit and gloves are red with black spots, her belt is gone but her yo-yo is strung around her waist in its place, and her dark hair is back in its signature pigtails with long red ribbons. The only thing that remains the same is her knee-high black boots, minus the green trim of Lady Noire and with red soles instead of green.

“Kitty?” Ladybug waves a hand in front of his face. “Anyone home?”

“Y-Yeah,” Chat Noir blurts out. “Um! Miraculous! You’re miraculous!”

Ladybug just snorts and reaches out to ruffle his hair.

“I have some news for you two,” Master Fu says. “I’ve finally concluded that to repair the Peacock, the dormant sentimonster that is leeching off its energy must be destroyed. Therefore, I must return to Tibet and find the sentimonster, then use the Peacock to retrieve the amok.”

“But the Peacock’s damaged!” Ladybug says in alarm. “Won’t it hurt you?”

“After one use? Not irreparably,” Master Fu says. “The alternative would be to take the Ladybug and purify the amok, but since the sentimonster is…well, a Miraculous devourer, that would not be a wise idea. I will use the Horse Miraculous to travel to Tibet, then to open a portal when I return so that Ladybug can use her cure to fix the damage caused by the sentimonster.”

“What exactly is it?” Chat Noir says. Master Fu clears his throat and looks away.

“A story for another day. I just felt that I should give you ample warning. I plan to leave tomorrow.”

“Well…good luck, Master,” Ladybug says and bends down to hug their elderly mentor. “If anyone can fix their devastating mistake of decades ago, it’s you.”

Chat Noir snorts behind his hand.

“Thank you, Ladybug,” Master Fu says with twitching lips. “I appreciate your faith in me.”


“You’re distracted.”

“Huh? No!” Chat Noir nearly trips off the rooftop. Ryuuko gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look, sharply angled by the night lights of Paris around and below them.

“You’ve been spaced out all patrol,” she says. “Which means you’re thinking about something else. I have eyes, you know.”

“I’m fine,” Chat Noir says, but if he can’t even convince himself then there’s no way in hell that he’ll be able to convince Ryuuko, especially with her sharp-eyed observance. “Really. I’ve just…got a problem I’m trying to deal with.”

“Then go and deal with it,” Ryuuko says. “We’ve been patrolling for an hour and nothing’s happened. And if there’s an akuma attack, everyone will know about it.”

“But –”

“Just go! I can’t stand to see you sulking like this.”

“Fine, okay,” Chat Noir grumbles. “What are you, my therapist?”

Ryuuko just raises an eyebrow. Chat Noir snorts, then bounds away before she can scold him again, because it seems like giving her the safety of a mask brings out the spark in her majorly.

What a mess. Ever since the Desperada thing, all he’s been able to think about is Luka. And thank god for Marinette’s patience and her own crush on Luka, because otherwise she’d probably have kicked him to the kerb ages ago.

Then again, if he doesn’t get this sorted right now, she just might. Not because of the crush, but because the longer he leaves it, the more it’s going to fester.

Luka’s out on the deck of the houseboat when Chat Noir gets there and perches on the concrete wall next to the boat. The sweet notes from Luka’s guitar drift through the night air and surround Chat Noir like the warmest blanket on the coldest winter night and for a moment, he’s tempted to leave, to not rock the boat and find another way to sort it out, but then Luka looks up as if he psychically knows that Chat Noir’s there.

“Hey, Chat,” Luka says with a soft smile that punches Chat Noir right in the gut. “There’s no akuma, is there?”

“Uh, n-no,” Chat Noir croaks. His tongue darts out to moisten his dry lips but it’s no use. Not when Luka’s looking at him like…that. “I, uh…actually just wanted to talk.”

“Hm.” Luka sets his guitar down and then crosses the plank from the boat to the concrete bank. Chat Noir jumps down to meet him, and they end up sitting on the edge of the river, dangling their legs over the pitch-black water speckled with orange lights. A tsunami. That’s what Luka is. Even now, he’s not setting Chat Noir’s insides on fire like Marinette does, but all he has to do is smile and Chat Noir’s just…drowning, helpless to resist against the quiet force.

“Are you okay?” Luka says. “I didn’t think that superheroes made a habit of visiting random civilians.”

“Oh, that’s what got me into this mess in the first place,” Chat Noir says, scratching the back of his neck. “You’d think I’d have learned. But I just can’t stay away from pretty people.” His eyes widen. “Shit –”

“Does Marinette know you’re here?” Luka says with a small frown. “I know she’s dating you as well as Adrien.”

“She doesn’t know about this specific visit,” Chat Noir says. “It was kind of spur-of-the-moment. But she knows I’ve been meaning to come and talk to you. She knows about, uh…you know. This. And I’m not actually dating Adrien. Marinette’s just dating both of us.”

“Huh.” The suspicion fades from Luka’s face. “I’m polyamorous too, you know.”

Chat Noir blinks. “J-Just like that? You just – Christ, and it took us ages to wrap our heads around it.”

Luka laughs. It’s quiet, gentle, like a warm hug, and Chat Noir would quite happily lean into it and never let go if he could.

“But, um.” Chat Noir looks down at the rippling river, trying to figure out exactly how to put his tumultuous thoughts into understandable words. “I, uh…can I talk? Without any interruptions? It was hard enough confessing to Marinette and Ladybug, and Marinette was my first partner and they’re girls. I don’t know how my father would react if he knew.”

“Of course,” Luka says. “You have my undivided attention.”

“Okay. Thanks. Um…” Chat Noir starts fiddling with the black ring on his finger, rocking ever so slightly on the spot. “So…yeah, I like you. And someone else too. But the problem is, you’re not like Marinette and Ladybug. They know me as Chat Noir. You’ve only spoken to Chat Noir a few times. So, that’s one problem, because I don’t know how you or this other person feel there. And if you did like my civilian self, well, I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet. Not just the father thing but, you know…mixing my identities. Attracting way more attention than when I’m like this. I don’t want to have to lie to three people with two identities, but you’re really cute and the way you play music and just…and Marinette likes you and this other person as well, but she won’t do anything about those crushes while I don’t, because she’s all noble and, “I don’t want to hurt you being happy with them when you can’t” and honestly, I don’t deserve her and I don’t know why she even likes me in the first place, and…ugh, I’m such a mess.”

Luka thankfully says nothing as Chat Noir groans and covers his face and tries to process the verbal flood that had just gushed out of his mouth.

“For the record, I do happen to like you,” Luka finally says. “Both in and out of the mask…Adrien.”

Chat Noir freezes. His mouth works, opening and closing, trying to find the words that just won’t come, while Luka just sits there with a small smile.

“H-How?” Chat Noir finally says hoarsely.

“Your heart song,” Luka says. “It’s the same as Adrien’s. Just…louder, less restrained, you know? I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.”

“Whoa…you’re amazing…”

“And I saw you jump out of our hiding place as Misterbug when I was distracting Desperada,” Luka adds with a little smirk. “It just confirmed my suspicions. If you’d really taken Adrien somewhere safe, you wouldn’t have emerged from the exact same place he was originally hiding.”

“Great,” Chat Noir groans. “Ladybug’s going to kill me.”

“I can keep a secret,” Luka says. “But yes, that does mean that I like you, Chat Noir. I like seeing you like this. You’re not…more yourself or any less Adrien, but you’re freer, if that makes sense? And it’s amazing.”

Heat floods to Chat Noir’s face, and he lets out a little, embarrassing mewl and looks back down at the Seine. How the heck is he supposed to deal with this? His other crush likes him back, knows him, and honestly, taking a dip in the river below is looking more and more like an appealing option right now, even though he’s not exactly sure why he wants to escape when this is going…perfectly.

“Sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable,” Luka says when Chat Noir still says nothing. Chat Noir shakes his head.

“Don’t. Don’t apologise for that,” he murmurs. “I just…wasn’t prepared for it to go well. I think I’m still in the “anticipate rejection” mindset.”

“Maybe you should go home, then,” Luka says. “Work past that mindset. There’s no rush.” He slides his hand over, ever so cautiously, and rests it on a black-gloved hand, and Chat Noir’s brain spontaneously combusts and melts out of his ears at the contact. It’s just like when Marinette and Kagami touch him but also nothing like those touches, and how is it possible to love multiple people like this, similar but different?

“That’s probably a good idea,” he finally manages to say. “I think my head’s going to explode.”

Luka digs his nails into Chat Noir’s hand, then takes his hand away entirely and gracefully climbs to his feet. Chat Noir can’t help but flush when Luka holds out a hand to help him up, like he’s a damsel or something, but where other boys less secure in their masculinity might have felt degraded, it just makes him feel so loved and cared for.

“Goodnight, Chat Noir.” Luka leans in and brushes a kiss against Chat Noir’s cheek, then whispers, “Goodnight, Adrien,” and backs away with a soft smile, and Chat Noir’s about two seconds from throwing himself headfirst into the river because how is he supposed to handle this?

“Uh – guh –”

“And for the record?” Luka says. “I happen to like Marinette too. She’s an extraordinary girl. I’d be honoured to date both of you if you decide that’s what you want.” With that, he heads back for the houseboat, leaving a black cat disaster behind to try and recover at least a few brain cells before leaving to sort through everything that had just happened.


[11:01 pm] direct messages

Chat Noir: milady?

[11:23 pm] direct messages

Chat Noir: nvm

Ladybug: huhyesimhere

Ladybug: sorry, fell asleep

Chat Noir: oh

Chat Noir: don’t worry about it then

Chat Noir: go to sleep princess

Ladybug: nononoooo

Ladybug: I’m awake now

Ladybug: how was patrol?

Chat Noir: uh well

Chat Noir: pretty distracted

Chat Noir: ryu told me to basically fuck off and deal with myself

Ladybug: oh no :(

Ladybug: what’s wrong?

Chat Noir: i may

Chat Noir: have

Chat Noir: confessed to luka

Ladybug: !!!!!!!

Ladybug: HOW DID IT GO

Chat Noir: um

Chat Noir: good news or bad news?

Ladybug: shit

Ladybug: did he reject you???

Ladybug: bad news first

Chat Noir: he knows my identity

Ladybug: hOW

Ladybug: YOU CAN’T TELL

Chat Noir: I DIDN’T

Chat Noir: he heard my heart song

Chat Noir: said it was the same as my civilian one

Ladybug: shit

Ladybug: he probably knows who I am too then

Chat Noir: you’re not mad?

Ladybug: I want to be

Ladybug: but it’s not your fault

Ladybug: you didn’t let it slip or give some really obvious hint

Ladybug: and I mean

Ladybug: you figured me out from a hurt arm, so

Ladybug: what’s the good news?

Chat Noir: he uh

Chat Noir: likes me

Chat Noir: and wants to date me

Ladybug: !!!!!!!

Ladybug: THAT’S GREAT

Chat Noir: and you

Chat Noir: he’s polyam too

Chat Noir: “i happen to like marinette too. she’s an extraordinary girl”

Chat Noir: his exact words when i said you liked him

Chat Noir: …………

Chat Noir: milady?

Chat Noir: ladybug?

Chat Noir: marinette?

Ladybug: ASDFLSKDFJ

Chat Noir: ah

Chat Noir: well we’re not together yet or anything

Chat Noir: he said to sort my head out first

Chat Noir: and i wanted to talk to you anyway

Ladybug: thanks

Ladybug: tikki’s laughing at me :(

Chat Noir: least she’s not like plagg

Chat Noir: he just loudly shrieks about camembert whenev i try to talk to him about “mushy stuff”

Ladybug: -_-

Chat Noir: you know what this means though

Ladybug: what?

Chat Noir: you have to talk to kagami :)

Chat Noir: ladybug? you there?

Ladybug: Hi, Chat Noir! It’s Tikki!

Chat Noir: oh hey tikki

Chat Noir: i didn’t kill her did i?

Ladybug: No! She’s just screaming into her pillow right now.

Chat Noir: ah

Chat Noir: i’ll leave you to it

Chat Noir: night tikki

Chat Noir: night bugaboo <3


“i happen to like marinette too. she’s an extraordinary girl”

“you have to talk to kagami :)”

Those are the words that have been replaying in Marinette’s mind since her conversation with Chat Noir last night, to the point where Alya’s given up on trying to get through to her and has instead been taking proper notes for later sharing like the amazing friend she is. Although those notes will come with a price, so Marinette’s not entirely sure just how angelic Alya truly is.

She has to do this. If Chat could confess to his crush for both himself and her, she can confess to her third crush. It’s not that hard. No way is she letting Chat Noir best her.

But it’s Kagami. Luka’s so chill but Kagami…how is Marinette supposed to know if Kagami likes her or not? Or even wants to date her? What if Kagami’s interested in Adrien but not Marinette? Of course Marinette wouldn’t stand in the way of Adrien and Kagami dating but even considering the rejection…

“You should talk to her after fencing practice today,” Tikki says at lunchtime, when Marinette’s fled for the bathroom to have two minutes of peace from the sensory overload that’s clashing with her frying brain.

“Are you crazy?” Marinette hisses. “Talk to her? No!”

“If Chat Noir could talk to Luka, you can talk to Kagami,” Tikki says.

“But –!”

“No buts, Marinette!” Tikki hovers in front of Marinette’s face with crossed arms and a scowl. “You have to talk to her, or you’ll be stuck in this awkward limbo forever! Remember when you were crushing on Adrien? Do you really want that to happen again?”

“But…what if she says no?” Marinette sags over the bathroom sink. “She could utterly reject me! That’s why I didn’t ask Adrien out!”

“That’s just a part of life,” Tikki says. “Everyone gets rejected at some point. But you can’t sit back and let that fear control you! What if Kagami does like you but you don’t take that chance?”

“I…I know…”

Still, that anxiety gnaws away at her gut all day, until school’s over and fencing practice for Adrien is about to start and okay, Marinette can just go along and watch him, no big deal. She’ll be there and if the right moment pops up to talk to Kagami? So be it.

The fact that she might purposely dodge that right moment is something that Marinette deliberately ignores.

“Hey, Marinette!”

“Wah!” Marinette squawks and nearly falls off her seat. Adrien’s standing in front of her with a bright smile, his fencing helmet clutched under his arm, and he’s accompanied by Kagami, who’s grimacing as she tries to fix her short hair after a sweaty session of fencing. Yeah. Sweaty. Dear lord, how had Marinette ever thought she was straight before Clara Nightingale came along?

“I thought you came to watch us fence,” Adrien teases. “But you were off in another world entirely.”

“Adrien,” Kagami chides. “Don’t make fun of Marinette.”

“Um! Yeah! Just thought in deep – uh, deep in thought!” Marinette babbles. Adrien gives her a knowing little smirk.

“Marinette, how about you talk to Kagami for a bit?” Adrien says. “I need to freshen up before I get changed.”

No. No. That devil. Marinette is most definitely going to strangle her damn boyfriend for daring to do this to her.

“So…” Kagami says rather awkwardly. “How has everything been?”

“Um! Great!” Marinette says quickly. Kagami gives her an awkward smile that’s all teeth.

“That’s fantastic.”

They sit in awkward silence for a few moments, until Kagami shakes her head and turns to Marinette.

“Enough with the small talk,” she says. “Adrien told me that you’ve got something important to talk to me about.”

Marinette’s insides freeze over. Okay, Adrien’s definitely getting it when Marinette gets her hands on him, and then she’s damn well going to throw him off the Eiffel Tower next time he’s transformed!

“Did I…do something wrong?” Kagami says when Marinette is silent for a tad too long. “I apologise if I did. I’d just like to know so that I can fix –”

“No! No, you didn’t do anything wrong!” Marinette says. “I’m just thinking of the best way to murder Adrien for plotting this, is all.”

“Plotting what?”

“Getting me to talk to you.”

Kagami tilts her head with a frown. “I don’t understand. We’re friends, aren’t we? Why would Adrien have to plot to get you to have a conversation with me?”

“Ugh. Okay, so I’m gonna be a total disaster about this…” Marinette looks down at her clasped hands, where she’s idly digging her nails into her fingers, and she takes a deep breath. “I, um…remember that conversation we had on the boat? About liking two people at the same time?”

“Chat Noir and Luka, right?” Kagami says. “And then you made your choice in both Adrien and Chat Noir. I’m happy for you, Marinette.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing,” Marinette says. “Adrien likes Luka. And so do I. And Luka likes us both.”

“And you’re stressed over the possibility of having three relationships?” Kagami says. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“I’m not stressing over two – uh, three relationships.” Marinette swallows, although this does nothing to alleviate the dryness of her throat, and then she forces out, “I’m stressing over…four.”

“Four? Adrien, Chat Noir, Luka, and…oh.”

“Yeah,” Marinette says with a hysterical little laugh. “It’s not like I intended it, but…you know.”

“You like me romantically. And Adrien, Chat Noir, and Luka.”

“…Yeah.”

“Hm.” A small smile crosses Kagami’s lips. “Thank you for telling me. Even if Adrien did tell me before our fencing practice when he told me of his feelings for me.”

“He what?” Marinette shrieks. “You knew – and you just – you made me –”

“Confess for yourself? Yes. I wanted you to have the courage to tell me. And I have to admit…I like you and Adrien too, Marinette.”

“Oh. Oh.” Something jittery explodes deep in Marinette’s core. “Oh my god. Do you! You do! Wow. Sorry, I’m just a mess.”

“Don’t apologise,” Kagami says. “But I’m not sure this is the right time.”

This time, the shivers that wrack Marinette’s body are of an entirely different nature. “O-Oh. I, um – it’s okay – I wasn’t even expecting you to like me back –”

“You misunderstand me.” Kagami reaches over to take one of Marinette’s hands with her white-gloved one, and it takes every bit of Marinette’s willpower to not jerk away as warmth pools in her hand and shoots down to her belly. “I do want a relationship with you, Marinette. Very much. And with Adrien. But I want to be sure that you, Adrien, and Chat Noir are properly secure in your relationship before you pursue more.”

“What do you mean? We’ve all agreed that it’s okay.”

“Have you discussed boundaries? What you’ll do if one of you does end up having a moment of jealousy? Whether you’ll be okay with pursuing relationships with more people than just me and Luka, and whether Ladybug and Chat Noir will be okay with the change in relationship dynamic?”

“Oh…I didn’t even think about that…”

Kagami smiles again. “What you have with Adrien and Chat Noir really is special. I’d love to have something like that, and I’m sure Luka would too, but you have to be certain that what’s already there is secure and you’re all completely on the same page. Otherwise, none of the relationships will work.”

“Wow. Thanks, Kagami. That makes sense.” Cautiously, Marinette squeezes Kagami’s hand, and she can’t hold back the giggle that escapes when Kagami squeezes it back. “How are you so wise?”

Kagami shrugs. “I guess I had to grow up fast. I’ve always been mature for my age. That’s one reason why I’ve never really had any friends. It’s…hard to relate to other children when you find it easier to talk to adults instead.”

“Well, now you’ve got me and Adrien and all our friends,” Marinette declares. Kagami smiles and ducks her head, her cheeks flushing pink. “And I’ll talk to Adrien and Chat tomorrow and tell them what you said.”

“Good. Because Adrien and I found an amazing little Japanese restaurant the other week, and I can’t wait to take you there.”

And that’s the story of why Marinette is a deceased mess when Adrien finally returns and finds her slumped against Kagami with a face as red as a tomato, while Kagami smiles and pats her on the hand.

“She’ll be fine,” Kagami says. “She just needs a few moments.”

Marinette just groans loudly in response to that.

Chapter Text

“Who’s meeting us here?” Nino says as he, Marinette, and Alya make it to the Place de la Concorde to watch the fireworks, with Alya only being released after Nino defeated her overprotective older sister Nora in an arm wrestle (which Marinette may or may not have rigged), and Adrien and Kagami aren’t even with them in person because strict parents and all that. Ugh.

“I know Luka, Juleka, and Rose are,” Marinette says, and a shiver runs down her spine as it always does when she thinks about Luka for more than a nanosecond. “Chloé and Sabrina might.”

“I still can’t believe we’re friends with Chloé,” Alya says and makes a face. “Well…not-enemies. Frenemies.”

“Neutral parties?” Marinette says. Alya snaps her fingers and finger-guns Marinette.

“That’s the one.”

“I think she really has changed for the better,” Adrien says through Alya’s tablet. “Even if she slips up, I think she hit that point of no return.”

“Hi, guys!” Rose cries and waves from near the base of the Ferris wheel, and Marinette, Alya, and Nino rush over to join her. Juleka’s next to her, their fingers laced, while Chloé and Sabrina stand close enough to be part of the group but far enough to make a statement. And next to Juleka is…

“Hey, Marinette,” Luka says. His smile is like sitting next to the bakery ovens during winter, and it takes every little shred of Marinette’s willpower to force out a hello without stammering or otherwise looking like a weirdo.

“I wish we could be there,” Kagami says from the other half of the tablet screen once they’ve all paid for their tickets and have organised themselves in two compartments; Marinette, Alya, Nino, and Luka are in one, while Rose, Juleka, Chloé, and Sabrina occupy the next one down.

“Well, this is the next best thing, right?” Marinette says and angles the tablet so that Adrien and Kagami can see the fireworks erupting in the evening sky. “At least you get to see them.”

“That’s true,” Kagami says as Marinette turns the tablet back towards her.

“Beautiful,” Adrien sighs. He shakes his head. “The fireworks! They’re so beautiful!”

“Well, duh,” Alya smirks, while Marinette bites her lip and looks down. “What else would you have been talking about?”

Adrien’s cheeks darken. “Shut up.” Then his eyes widen. “Marinette, behind you! I saw something go by!”

“So did I.” Kagami leans forward with narrowed eyes. “What was it? A bird?”

“I don’t see anything,” Luka says, looking over his shoulder. “It could’ve –”

The ground starts to rumble before Luka can finish his sentence, and the Ferris wheel screeches to a halt. Nino yelps and throws his arms around Alya.

“Dude, please don’t tell me we’re gonna be stuck up here!” he whines.

“I thought you said you were going to protect us,” Alya teases. And speaking of protecting, as Marinette stands up and peers out the window of the Ferris wheel pod, Luka slides up behind her and plants his hands on the glass on either side of her head, as though shielding her back. Heat erupts in her cheeks, and she rests her forehead on the glass, as though this’ll cool her face down.

“Over there!” she gasps at the sight of the black and yellow spider-like being hanging off the middle of the Ferris wheel, spraying webs from its mouth to gum up the wheel. “A supervillain!”

“Uh, maybe you shouldn’t film it, Alya?” Nino says as Alya gleefully records the akuma on her phone. “You don’t wanna attract it to us when we’re up this high!”

And when they can’t transform. Shit. Marinette can’t transform! On the tablet screen, the pictures of Adrien and Kagami vanish as they either hang up or lose signal.

“A new scoop for the Ladyblog!” Alya’s bouncing on the spot. “The heroes will be here any minute!”

How is Alya so ecstatic? She’s Rena Rouge! She can’t show up if she’s stuck up here!

“Well, well,” the akuma cackles when it’s hanging outside their cabin. Up close, Marinette can see that it’s most definitely a spider akuma, with extra arms and everything. “There you are, fly-weights!”

Oh. “Nora?” Marinette, Alya, and Nino gasp. The akuma gives a twisted little grin, her dead white eyes standing out against her dark face and bright suit.

“Nora’s not here to protect you anymore. I am Anansi, super spider!” Then she grabs their Ferris wheel pod and leaps down to the ground to slam it on the concrete.

“All those arms are convenient, but you destroyed my scratching post!” says a blessedly familiar voice.

“Don’t mock the akuma when she’s got hostages!” Ryuuko says. Chat Noir just grins and tilts his head like an adorable little kitten, and between that, Ryuuko’s eyes darting around to take in their environment on her first akuma mission, and Luka’s arms around her as he helps her out of their pod, Marinette about melts on the spot.

“Lizard breath’s right, kitty cat,” Anansi grins. “How about we play a game of fetch?” She darts at Chat Noir and Ryuuko, dodges Chat Noir’s baton, grabs Ryuuko around the wrists with two of her hands, then throws Ryuuko into the Ferris wheel so hard that it creaks and rolls loose from its webbing. “Go get it!”

“No!” Chat Noir bounds after the Ferris wheel and Ryuuko. Just as Alya and Nino climb out of the pod, Anansi lands next to them with a thud.

“Now that you can’t cheat anymore, cappie,” Anansi says and grabs Nino in a reverse bear hug, “show us just how you plan to protect my dear sister with your muscles of friendship!”

“Hey! Let him go!” Marinette dives for a struggling Nino, but Anansi yanks him out of her reach.

“You wanna eat dirt, baguette?” Anansi swats Marinette across the stomach, sending her flying clean off the top of the pod.

“Marinette!” Before Marinette’s head can crack on the hard ground, she’s enveloped by warm darkness that smells of sea spray, and then she’s rolling and gasping but not hurting, and what’s going on? She gets her answer when she finally comes to a halt and pushes herself up rather woozily.

“Luka!” she cries. Underneath her is Luka, out cold with blood trickling down his face and abrasions all down his right arm, undoubtedly from cushioning her fall. With a gasp, she carefully reaches out and brushes Luka’s hair aside to reveal the gash that’s heavily oozing blood. “No!”

“Marinette!” Chat Noir lands next to her, and there’s a sharp intake of breath from him when he sees Luka’s state. “Luka! Is he –?”

“I think he’s just unconscious…” Marinette grits her teeth against the white-hot rage that’s bubbling deep in her gut, because how dare Hawkmoth hurt someone she loves like this? “But there’s so much blood! Is he even breathing?”

“Head injuries bleed a lot,” Tikki says from inside Marinette’s purse. “He’ll be fine, Marinette!”

“Tikki, I don’t think he’s breathing! Did the fall – did he crack his head that hard –”

“Marinette! If you transform, you can take care of Anansi and heal Luka!”

“Tikki’s right.” Chat Noir grabs Marinette’s hand and squeezes. “We can’t let this distract us, princess. If we let Hawkmoth take advantage of the people we love, he wins.”

Marinette takes a deep breath, then nods and squares her shoulders and pushes herself to her feet while swiping her sleeve across her face. “You’re right. We have to –”

“Can you step on it, you mangy alley cat?” Honeybee lands next to them. “Guitar boy’ll be fine once Ladybug’s here. Just shove him somewhere safe and come help!”

“Can you take them both?” Chat Noir says. “I have to go back up the others. Who else made it?”

“No one. We’re it,” Honeybee says. “Ryuuko’s trying to save the Ladyblogger and DJ Tupac all by herself so, like, maybe you should hurry the hell up before Spider-Wasp gets her Miraculous.”

“Right. Right.” Chat Noir stands up and twirls his baton. “Make sure they’re safe, Honeybee.”

“When did I turn into a goddamn taxi service?” Honeybee grumbles as she grabs Luka and slings him over her shoulder, then does the same with Marinette. Marinette’s expecting Honeybee to just dump Luka when she bounds into an alleyway a few streets over, but she’s almost gentle as she sets Luka down next to Marinette.

“Honeybee!” Marinette says before Honeybee can disappear. Honeybee looks over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “Thank you. You’re a great hero.”

“Of course I am,” Honeybee scoffs, but her cheeks are pink and there’s a softness in her blue eyes that Marinette’s never seen before. “Just keep guitar boy safe, okay? That mangy cat cares about him and I’ll flip my shit if I have to carry Chat Noir’s dead weight against Spider-Wasp. Ugh, and I was actually having a good time before I transformed. I so owe Spider-Wasp a sting up the –”

A crash from a few streets away cuts off Honeybee before she can finish her sentence. Shaking her head, she leaps away.

“Hawkmoth’s gonna pay for this,” Marinette growls, brushing strands of teal-tipped hair away from Luka’s forehead and away from the gash. She’s tempted to check for breathing or a pulse – oh, how tempting it is – but what if she doesn’t like the answer she gets? If Miraculous Ladybug will fix it anyway…well, maybe it’s better that she doesn’t know. Injuries fade, but memories don’t.

“Just keep a clear head, Marinette,” Tikki says. “If you let yourself get clouded by Luka getting hurt, Hawkmoth will win. It’s one of the reasons why secret identities are a thing!”

“I know. I promise I won’t let this knock me down, Tikki. Luka didn’t sacrifice himself for me to let Hawkmoth win.”

Tikki darts up and nuzzles against Marinette’s cheek. “Good. You know what to say!”

“Tikki, spots on!”

Although only half the team is there, the fight against Anansi is quick enough with a well-timed Wind Dragon from Ryuuko to keep her distracted, allowing Honeybee to Venom her and Chat Noir to destroy the helmet containing her akuma. After they’ve pounded it and then scattered to detransform, Ladybug makes a beeline for the alleyway where Luka had been left and she detransforms around the corner so that he doesn’t see her.

“Luka!” she cries when she rounds the corner and finds him blinking slowly and pushing himself to his feet. “If you ever do that again, I’ll – I’ll –”

“It’s okay, Marinette,” Luka says with a soft smile. “Ladybug always fixes everything.”

“That’s not the point!” Marinette stamps her foot. “I – I care about you, you jerk! Ladybug might fix everything, but she doesn’t – she doesn’t take away the memories…”

“Hey.” Luka’s warm arms slip around Marinette as she sniffles, and she buries her face in his shirt, cursing the inevitable draining of adrenaline that turns her into an emotional mess half the time after akuma battles. “I’m sorry that you had to see that. But I’m not sorry for what I did. You’re extraordinary, Marinette. As clear as a music note, as sincere as a melody…you’re the song that’s been playing inside my head since the day we met. How could I not save you?” One of his hands slides between them to rest on her chest, above her heart. “You and Adrien have the most unique songs in your hearts. I’d do anything for you. For both of you.”

“That’s not a good thing,” Marinette says thickly. “There’s such a thing as being too selfless.”

“Perhaps.” Luka’s other hand starts to stroke Marinette’s hair, and she sniffles again and leans into the touch like a girl dying of thirst. “But we all have our flaws. I’d prefer to be too selfless than not selfless enough. And I get the feeling that you have that problem as well.”

“Yeah. I guess,” Marinette says and closes her eyes so that she can nestle even further into Luka’s embrace. “But still. You’re a jerk.”

“You’re still here, so I’m happy to be a jerk,” Luka says. When Marinette pulls away to squint up at him, she’s greeted with a teasing little smile, so she huffs and slaps him on the shoulder.

“I’m calling Adrien and Kagami,” she says, fumbling around in her purse for her phone. “We need to talk before I explode. And you can give up the act, Luka. I know you know who Adrien is.”

Luka shrugs with a small smile. “If you insist…Ladybug,” he says. Marinette’s heart jolts in her chest at the sound of someone other than Adrien calling her civilian self by her superhero name. “Tell them to meet us at the houseboat, then. Juleka was planning on staying at Rose’s after the fireworks, and Mum’s gone for the night. No one should be able to listen in.”

“S-Sounds like you want to lure us there and murder us in the dead of night!” Marinette jokes weakly.

“Now, why would I do that to such cute people?” Luka replies with a wink, and Marinette just whines and flushes because dammit, why does he have to be so adorable?

With the text sent, the two of them emerge from the alleyway and set off for the Couffaine houseboat. They’re walking close enough that Marinette can reassure herself that he’s very much alive, but far apart enough that no one will mistake them for a couple. Not that Marinette would mind, but maybe after the inevitable talk rather than before.

When they reach the houseboat, Chat Noir and Kagami are already waiting for them. There’s a tiny shred of jealousy that curdles in Marinette’s gut when Chat Noir heads straight for Luka and throws his arms around the taller boy, but she squashes that jealousy down like it’s an annoying akuma. No. This is not the time for jealousy, especially not when they’re about to have this long-needed conversation between the four of them. She’s not going to lose Chat Noir just because he chooses to show affection to Luka first, especially after what had happened that evening.

“You never did have that conversation with him, did you?” Kagami says, jolting Marinette out of her own mind.

“I never got the chance. Today was so busy because we were at Alya’s for the day, then Anansi happened…is it really that obvious?”

“The way you looked when Chat Noir went for Luka, even though Chat Noir isn’t pursuing a relationship with him. It was only for a split second, but I still saw it.”

“I know I shouldn’t be jealous. And I told myself that it was silly because it’s not like I mean anything less to Chat just because of another guy. But…”

“Feelings are irrational,” Kagami says with a small smile. “I know. I get jealous seeing you and Adrien together sometimes.”

“Does it ever go away?” Marinette says softly. “I don’t want to feel like this every time Chat hugs Luka, or Luka hugs Chat.”

“It’s natural to be jealous when you’ve spent so long believing that relationships can only be between two people,” Kagami says. “But so long as you’re open and don’t bottle it up, it’s easily handled.”

“Some more sage advice from Rin?” Marinette grins. Kagami laughs.

“Yes. I do miss her sometimes, but I’m glad I moved to Paris. I have more friends here. Friends I’m actually allowed to spend time with.”

“Your mother didn’t approve of Rin?”

“Not rich or influential enough. I don’t think Mother cares about who my friends are so long as they’re successful. I’m still afraid to tell her that I like girls, though…”

“You think your mother would approve of Marinette and Luka?” Chat Noir says. Marinette nearly jumps out of her skin when she realises that Chat Noir and Luka have been watching and listening for a while, although she couldn’t say exactly when they’d started eavesdropping. Hopefully, it was after the jealousy thing.

“Marinette? She just might,” Kagami says. “After all, Marinette won Mr Agreste’s design competition and her hat caught the eye of Audrey Bourgeois. Not to mention that she’s designed for Jagged Stone before. Mother might see that budding potential as good enough. But Luka? I’m not entirely sure, not unless he was to make a name for himself in the music industry.”

“I plan on it,” Luka says with that adorable smile where one side of his mouth curls up. Marinette about dies on the spot at the sight. It’s so different to Chat Noir’s toothy grins and Kagami’s barely-there smiles that creep up on her, yet it makes her insides explode in exactly the same way.

“But you know what?” Kagami says. “I find that I don’t really care who Mother approves of. I’ll always strive to be a daughter she can be proud of but, well…she can’t really say who I can and can’t be friends with, can she?”

“That’s the spirit,” Chat Noir says cheerfully. “Besides, you’re not dating Luka or anything, so…”

The dreaded d-word wipes the smiles off everyone’s faces. Clearing his throat, Luka steps onto the plank connecting the houseboat to the concrete bank and holds out his hand to escort Marinette across. Chat Noir does the same for Kagami and for a moment, it’s so similar to when Adrien had helped Kagami across on the day Marinette had first met her that Marinette’s forced to blink and shake her head to dispel the image.

“Drinks? Snacks?” Luka says once they’re all down in the living area and he’s flicked on the lights.

“I feel like you’re stalling,” Kagami says. Luka shrugs.

“Kind of. We all know how we feel about each other, but we’ve never actually talked about it.”

Chat Noir sighs and throws himself onto the couch. Marinette’s oh so tempted to sit in his lap or snuggle up to him, but she feels like that wouldn’t be fair to Luka and Kagami with the conversation they’re about to have, so she instead just sits next to him. Kagami takes the spot next to her and Luka ends up next to Chat Noir, sandwiching him and Marinette.

“So,” Marinette says. “Who, uh, wants to go first?”

“How brave of you, princess,” Chat Noir says dryly. “Fine, I suppose your knight in shining leather will have to take the plunge.”

“Never call yourself that again,” Marinette, Kagami, and Luka say in unison. Chat Noir pouts.

“I’ll go first, if only to never hear that name ever again,” Kagami adds.

“Alright, but can I do something first?” Chat Noir says. “Luka already figured it out, so it’s not fair that you don’t know. Marinette and I, uh…aren’t in a polyamorous relationship.”

“What?” Kagami’s brow furrows. “But she’s with Adrien, and she was caught kissing you.”

“Yeah. About that…” Chat Noir scratches the back of his head.

“Are you sure, kitty?” Marinette says.

“Yeah. Kagami can’t be the only one who doesn’t know. Claws in.”

Kagami’s jaw drops at the sight of Chat Noir transforming back into Adrien. “Oh,” she says faintly. “Oh. Um…okay. Yes. That makes sense. That’s why you and Chat Noir are never seen at the same time. And if you’re not all in a polyamorous relationship but you were kissing Marinette…”

“Y-Yeah,” Marinette says with a nervous little grin as Kagami leans in and brushes aside a lock of hair to reveal one black earring. “I kind of forgot that I wasn’t transformed when I was kissing him.”

Wow.” Kagami sags back against the couch. “I think I need a minute to process this. How did Luka already know?”

“Their heart songs,” Luka says. “Slight differences when they’re transformed, but overall the same.”

There’s silence for a minute or so, to give Kagami time to process everything she’s just learned. Finally, she shakes her head.

“Okay, I think I’ve caught up with my brain,” she declares. “We should talk about where we each stand before I pass out from information overload. I’ve made my feelings for Marinette and Adrien clear. I also told Marinette that she needs to talk to Chat – Adrien – about what boundaries they want to set, how they’ll deal with jealousy when it arises, whether they’ll be open to each other dating others beyond us, but she obviously didn’t get a chance to talk to him until now.”

“You could’ve just DM’ed me,” Adrien says.

“Yeah, but it felt like a conversation to have in person, you know?” Marinette says. “And, uh…it’s not like I was in any hurry to have that conversation. Okay, so I may have been putting it off a little…”

Adrien snorts. “Well, I’m only the jealous type when I can’t have something or someone,” he says. “So long as I’ve got you, angel, and I don’t lose any time with you, I don’t mind who you date.”

“Still sounds like something you might want to work on,” Marinette says. “The whole “jealous if I can’t get what I want”.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s just…not easy, y’know? You know I’m not exactly wanting for anything in my normal life. And since my father’s a colossal jerk…”

“Oof.” Marinette laces their fingers together. “Affection-starved and not used to not getting something.”

“Maybe you could see a therapist,” Luka says. “Or someone who could help?”

“I’m not messed up in the head!” Adrien says automatically.

“That’s debatable,” Marinette mutters, earning herself a pinch that makes her squeal. “But seriously, you don’t have to be messed up to see a therapist. They’re just someone you can talk to who don’t know you personally, so they’re like a third party. My mum used to see one when I was a child, although I don’t remember why.”

“As if my father would let me,” Adrien says. “I, well…being Chat Noir’s my escape. And it’s freeing, yeah, ‘cause I get to let loose, but in a way…I kinda resent it? I just…want to be able to be open and affectionate as me as well as Chat Noir.”

“You know I love you with or without the mask, right, kitty?” Marinette says softly. “Your civilian and hero selves aren’t separate people.”

“Marinette’s right,” Luka says. “You’re the same person no matter what. Chat Noir is just one instrument in your soul’s band.”

“Having more freedom to let loose behind a mask doesn’t make you a completely different person when you’re wearing it,” Kagami finishes. “It doesn’t mean that you’re “your true self” as Chat Noir; you’re just putting on a different face for the situation, just as everyone else does. And you know exactly where I’m coming from when I say this.”

“Thanks, guys,” Adrien says with a soft smile. It’s so raw that Marinette can’t help but lean into his side and rest her cheek on his shoulder, offering him that little bit more comfort. “You next, princess.”

“Okay, okay, I guess I can’t run away forever,” Marinette says. “I don’t exactly know what boundaries we’d set off the top of my head. Maybe we could just go with the usual “open communication” and that sort of thing and figure out the rest as we go?”

“Sounds good to me,” Adrien says.

“The jealousy thing? I think the only thing I can do about that is to just keep forcing myself to unlearn it. Like…” Marinette sighs and looks down at her fidgeting hands. “Rationally, I know there’s nothing to worry about. I know you’re not going to leave me for someone else. I just…guess I’ve spent so long fantasising about meeting the perfect person and having three kids and a hamster with them that I’m still not used to the idea of having multiple people and balancing that.”

“If you need time to sort that out, Kagami and I would be more than willing,” Luka says. “If the original melody is off, any additional ones would just muddle it even further.”

“No. No. I want to be with you and Kagami as well,” Marinette says. “I guess…well, just slap me around the head if I ever start being overly jealous.”

“We wouldn’t harm you for it,” Kagami says. After a moment, she blinks slowly. “Oh. It was a saying.”

“Yeah,” Marinette says with a small laugh. “Luka?”

“I’ve made my feelings clear as well,” Luka says. “I’d love to date both you and Adrien. But I understand if the relationship between you two takes priority –”

“Whoa, whoa, no,” Adrien says. “There’s no priority. You’re all equally important to me.”

“What he said,” Marinette says. “Adrien’s not more important just because I was with him first. We’re not gonna just shove you and Kagami aside when things get rough, Luka. That’s why we wanna be sure we’ve figured this out before we go jumping in.”

The smile that spreads across Luka’s face is wide and warm, like sinking into a hot bath. If Marinette was sitting next to him, she’d almost certainly have melted into him, and it feels like Adrien would be doing the same thing if he wasn’t currently snuggling into her.

“Well, I’m not usually a jealous person,” Luka says. “So long as something’s not being flaunted, I guess. And I don’t really mind if you both date anyone else, so long as there’s no sneaking around.”

“Sounds like there’s a bit of history there,” Marinette says carefully when a scowl flickers across Luka’s face at that last comment.

“Let’s just say there’s a reason Mum’s single and we’ve got her last name. The less said, the better.”

“Oh.” Adrien reaches across to take Luka’s hand. “Sorry.”

“It’s cool. We just don’t think about him. That’s way more energy than he deserves.”

“My father died several years ago,” Kagami says. “Is Marinette the only one of us with a normal family life?”

Kagami’s joke successfully breaks the ice, as Adrien and Luka snort and Marinette rolls her eyes.

“I’d offer to have my dad adopt you three, but since you’re all my partners, I feel like that’d be a bit weird,” she drawls. Then she blinks and giggles. “My partners. Wow, that’s such a rush to say.”

“I know what you mean,” Kagami says and shifts so that she’s resting against Marinette with her cheek tucked against Marinette’s arm. “I felt light and fluttery when you said that.”

“Just give us a steady supply of treats and we’ll call it even,” Adrien says.

“Bad kitty.” Luka playfully swats Adrien around the head, causing him to hiss. “No begging for treats. Even if they’re Dupain-Cheng treats.”

“I thought bringing you three treats would be a given,” Marinette says. She rearranges herself so that she’s lying across Adrien’s lap, with her legs in Kagami’s lap and her head against Luka’s thigh. Luka immediately starts stroking her hair, while Kagami drapes an arm over her legs, and both Luka and Kagami lean against Adrien’s sides. She can’t help but let out a soft purr and curse Plagg, that damn kwami, because he hadn’t warned her that she’d be left with faint Black Cat side-effects from her few weeks as Lady Noire!

“So, uh,” Adrien says. “How do we do dates? I don’t think it should be all four of us all the time, especially because Kagami and Luka aren’t dating in this dynamic.”

“And I think we’d all appreciate being alone with one or both partners every so often,” Luka adds. “It’d give us a chance to work on our individual relationships. You know, so we’re not just known as Lukadrigaminette the four-way package deal.”

“That’s a mouthful,” Marinette says. Luka chuckles.

“I know. Some days, we might want Adrienette. Or Lukadrien. Or Kagaminette. Or even Lukadrienette or Adrigaminette.”

“What are you, a fanboy?”

Luka just shrugs. “Blame Juleka,” is all he says, while Adrien shakes with laughter against Marinette. “She’s a closet nerd, so neither of us are any strangers to shipping.”

“Plus, it might be a good idea to not be open about your relationships with us until you know how you want to announce it,” Kagami says. “The last thing you need is to end up in the tabloids with accusations of infidelity.”

“How about we do all that annoying thinking stuff later?” Marinette grumbles. “Just shut up and cuddle, all three of you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Adrien, Luka, and Kagami reply immediately.

Chapter Text

“Two different dates!” Tikki chirps as Marinette carefully slides the last bobby pin into her hair to hold her bun. “First this one, then the group one later this week! You’re a lucky girl, Marinette!”

“Yeah. Lucky.” Marinette leans closer to her mirror so that she can touch up her makeup.

“You’re…not excited?”

“Of course I am!” The thought of seeing Kagami soon is sending shivers down her spine, and it takes every scrap of willpower she has to keep her arm steady as she finishes off her mascara. Just a touch of lip gloss and then she’ll be done; she’s never been huge on caking on makeup, mostly because the feel of it on her skin is a constant, irritating presence that sends her spiralling into sensory overload. “I think I’m too excited. And having “oh my god, you slut” feelings.”

“Marinette!” Tikki gasps. “You’re not – no! And even if you were, how is that a bad thing so long as you’re not hurting anyone else?”

“I know!” Marinette screws the lid back on her lip gloss. “I don’t shame people. If they’re into that, they’re into that. I just…guess I’m still struggling with the “happily ever after with one person” thing? And I’m not ashamed but…you know…people would have a field day if they knew I was dating three people at once.”

“What does it matter what other people think?” Tikki says. “They have no say in your love life.”

“I know…” Marinette sighs as she undresses. The outfit she’s picked is a floaty, cropped pink blouse and a white skater skirt with her signature flowers around the hem, and all she can think as she slips into it is what if Kagami doesn’t like it? What if it’s too childish? Adrien and Luka are so laidback, but Kagami? She’s so…formal. She’s never objected to Marinette’s casual outfit, but this is a date. What exactly is Kagami going to wear?

“Here!” Tikki darts over to do the button at the nape of Marinette’s neck after a few moments of Marinette struggling to contort her arms to degrees that not even a god-powered superhero can manage. Nice to know that for all the power of the Ladybug Miraculous, it can’t allow Marinette to do up her own back buttons.

“Thanks, Tikki. Now I get to sit around and catastrophise until Kagami gets here.”

“What on earth could you be catastrophising about after Kagami told you to your face that she likes you?” says a bewildered Tikki.

“You know me, Tikki! I can freak out about anything!” Marinette’s shoulders slump. “I just…it’s Adrien all over again, in a way. I keep wondering if I’m good enough for someone like her, just like I freaked out about Adrien dancing with Chloé when Nino was akumatised.”

“Oh, Marinette.” Tikki zooms up to nuzzle against Marinette’s cheek. “You don’t give yourself nearly enough credit. You’re creative and clever and if Kagami didn’t think you were good enough, why would she have asked you out? If you weren’t good enough, why are three people interested in you?”

“Yeah but Luka and Adrien are…Luka and Adrien. And at least I’ve met Adrien’s father, so I at least impressed him with my hat beforehand. But Kagami’s mother? What if she decides that I’m not good enough for Kagami? Of course Adrien would be! He’s the cute, rich boy!”

“There’s not much she can do about it,” Tikki says. “Kagami’s a teenager. If her mother pushes too far, she’s bound to push right back. Remember how she lied about being at fencing with Adrien to visit Luka’s houseboat when Desperada attacked? Sure, Ms Tsurugi could forbid Kagami from being with you, but that’s not going to stop Kagami.”

“I know…which again brings me back to the “what if she decides I’m not worth it” thing. I know she doesn’t think that but…”

“But it’s hard to pull yourself out of that spiral.” Tikki presses a tiny kiss to Marinette’s cheek. “All you can do is tell her how you feel directly, Marinette. Then she can tell you what you need to hear.”

“Marinette! You’ve got a visitor!” Sabine calls from downstairs. Marinette yelps and fumbles for her purse, then grabs a pair of black flats, because her and heels are a match made in hell and she’ll probably end up breaking not only her neck but Kagami’s as well. She makes sure that Tikki’s safely in her purse before bolting downstairs as fast as safely possible, where Kagami’s waiting stiffly in the living room, and…wow. Just…wow.

“Kagami…” is all she can say. Sticking to her usual red and black theme, Kagami’s wearing a long-sleeved scarlet wrap top tied over what looks like a knee-length black dress, holding a pair of black shoes with a slight heel and a red clutch purse that looks brand new, as though purchased only because a fencing bag wouldn’t match her outfit. Topping off her outfit is the Dragon choker around her neck, blending in with Kagami’s palette so well that Marinette wouldn’t have even picked it as a Miraculous if she hadn’t known beforehand.

“Hello, Marinette,” Kagami says with an awkward smile. “You look very beautiful.”

“I – um – you thank – thanks, you too!” Marinette babbles. This is so unfair. How did she get three pretty people to like her?

“You’re sure about this, Marinette?” Sabine says, reaching out until Marinette crosses over and takes her hands, while Tom slides a thick arm around both of them. “When you told us that you’ve been dating Adrien…oh, we were so happy, because you’ve loved him for ages! But Luka and Kagami too? You’re sure this isn’t an experiment?”

Mum!”

“We have to ask!” Tom holds his hands up. “Sabine and I don’t care how many people you date if it makes you happy, cupcake. We just want you to be sure.”

“I’m sure.” Marinette slips one hand free so that she can lean over and interlace her fingers with Kagami’s. Kagami’s cheeks flush and she looks down at the floor with a soft smile. “Trust me, I’ve torn my hair out over this for months now, and we’ve all talked about it and made sure we’re all on the same page. I like Adrien and Luka and Kagami, and I don’t want to have to choose one when we can all be happy together.”

Sabine smiles and rests her forehead against Marinette’s for a moment, just like she used to do when Marinette was a child. The familiarity of the action leaves Marinette breathless for a moment, transported back to the days when things were so…simple. When she wasn’t in love or putting on a magical spotted mask to fight a butterfly supervillain.

“So long as you’re sure, qiānjīn,” Sabine says. “You know your father and I will support you no matter what.”

“Even if that involves moving to New York and letting people make fun of our English,” Tom adds. Sabine rolls her eyes and elbows him.

“Just get going,” Sabine says, letting go of Marinette’s hand. “Before your father pulls out the baby photos.”

“Great idea!” Tom claps his hands. “Where did I put them?”

Nope!” Marinette yanks Kagami along. “Gotta go, bye, be back by ten!”

Kagami’s red car is waiting outside, and after she and Kagami slip their shoes on before stepping outside, it’s a mind-screw for Marinette when she peers inside as Kagami holds the back door open for her and she finds that there’s…no driver. What?

“Ah,” says a voice. Marinette almost jumps out of her skin upon noticing the woman sitting in the backseat, dressed in a loose, long-sleeved white blouse tucked into red pants, with dark shades covering her eyes. “You must be Miss Dupain-Cheng.”

“Um – hi!” Marinette waves, then gulps and lowers her hand when she realises that the woman can’t exactly see her action. “Yeah, that’s me! Marinette Dupain-Cheng!”

“Just be yourself,” Kagami whispers against the nape of Marinette’s neck as Marinette ducks into the car. “Treat her as you would any adult.”

“Tatsue, to the Scarlet Dragon restaurant,” Tomoe Tsurugi says once Kagami has shut the door after her and she and Marinette are buckled in.

“Very well, Ms Tsurugi,” says a robotic voice, and the car takes off smoothly from the sidewalk.

“Whoa,” Marinette breathes. “That’s so cool.” She shakes her head and offers her hand to Tomoe. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms Tsurugi.”

Tomoe’s grip is firm, self-assured without being overwhelmingly tight, and although the handshake only lasts for a moment, Marinette’s left very sure that this isn’t a woman she wants to cross.

“And what do you believe makes you worthy of my daughter, heir of the Tsurugi family?” Tomoe says. Marinette gulps.

“I, um…” she stammers. Kagami takes her hand and squeezes, injecting her with just enough courage to keep talking. “I’ve designed glasses and an album cover for Jagged Stone…Gabriel Agreste and Audrey Bourgeois approved of my hat design…”

Tomoe clicks her tongue. “You talk with uncertainty. You speak of your achievements without letting them speak for you. What makes you worthy of Kagami?”

Marinette squares her shoulders. Tomoe wants a good brag? Well, she’s going to get it. “I don’t care about Kagami’s name,” she says. “Just like I don’t care about Adrien’s name, even though his backing could jumpstart my career. My uncle is a famous Chinese chef and I’ve made connections of my own merit. I’m creative enough to get out of sticky situations and I always keep my promises no matter the pressure, unless I physically can’t. I speak up when someone needs to raise their voice because all that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. And I promise you that even though Kagami can protect and speak for herself, I’ll always do everything in my power to protect her and stand up for her against evil, whether it’s an akuma or another person. I promise that even though I’m dating two other people as well and Kagami’s also dating one of them, I’ll never make your daughter feel left out or like she’s an afterthought. She’s just as important to me as my other two partners.”

Once she’s finished her speech, Marinette lets herself sag against the scarlet car seat, taking in gulps of air to try and balance the way her head’s starting to spin. Kagami’s firm grip is an anchor against the impassive face of Tomoe Tsurugi as she assesses Marinette, seeming to be able to peer straight into Marinette’s core despite being unable to physically see her. Then Tomoe gives the barest hint of a smile, and Marinette melts even further into the seat.

“Good,” Tomoe says. “Anyone can list what they’ve done, but not everyone can speak of who they are.”

“So…you approve of me?” Marinette says.

“I didn’t say that. It takes a lot to earn my approval, Miss Dupain-Cheng. But you don’t have my disapproval.”

“Um…thanks?”

The car ride to the restaurant is silent after that. Thankfully, before Marinette can begin to fear that Tomoe will join them inside and watch over Kagami on their date, Kagami bows and says goodbye to her mother and then shuts the car door.

“That was probably the scariest moment of my life,” Marinette laughs weakly as she and Kagami enter the restaurant. “I felt like she was going to eat me alive.”

“You did brilliantly, Marinette,” Kagami says. “You were confident and spoke highly of yourself without boasting. Mother will definitely like you eventually.”

“Eventually?”

“Don’t worry. It took her a bit to warm to Adrien, and that’s with our parents being friends. It’s nothing that you did.”

Once they’re seated, Marinette’s tempted to grab a menu and pull the old nervous trick of hiding behind it to spend the whole date deciding what she wants to order. But no, after her speech in the car to Tomoe, she’s not going to just back down and give in to her anxiety now.

“I’m surprised she let you out in the first place,” Marinette says.

“So am I,” Kagami says. “But I think she feels that a romantic relationship is different enough from friendship. Her only condition was that she meet you and judge you herself. I’m just glad she didn’t care that I’m attracted to girls.”

“That was super brave of you, Kagami.” Marinette dares to reach across the table and link their fingers, and Kagami once more blushes and looks down with a small smile. Then she clears her throat and looks back at her menu.

“I’ll get the kamo nanban,” she says. “It’s my favourite dish. My comfort food, you could say.”

“Yeah, why try something new and risk not liking it when you can stick to what you know you like?” Marinette grins. Kagami nods rather vigorously and accidentally kicks Marinette’s leg under the table.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Kagami jerks back as though she’d been burned. “My apologies, Marinette.”

“Hey!” Marinette grabs Kagami’s hand again and smiles in what she hopes is a reassuring manner. “Don’t apologise. Never apologise for stimming, Kagami. You don’t have to mask around me.”

A rare, wide smile spreads across Kagami’s face. “Thank you, Marinette. I’ve never been given permission to, um…stim. I always get scolded for not being a proper young lady and I guess I just…forgot that I don’t have to pretend around my friends.”

Marinette smiles back at Kagami, then returns to figuring out what she wants to eat. “I’ll get the beef teriyaki,” she says after a moment, since it’s probably the only Japanese dish she’s ever eaten apart from instant ramen, which she’s pretty sure doesn’t count. “And I’ll just get a lemonade to drink.”

“So will I. Mother never lets me have sugary drinks like that.” There’s a small gleam in Kagami’s eyes as she adds, “I’m being a rebellious teenager and drinking lemonade.”

“That’s just sad,” Marinette giggles.

Once the waiter has arrived and taken their orders, the girls lapse into a comfortable silence. Kagami’s now freely playing footsies with Marinette under the table and rocking ever so slightly in her seat, a blissful little smile on her face, and the sight of her relaxed and open like this is so radiant that for a moment, Marinette can’t even remember her own name.

“You’re beautiful,” Marinette’s mouth says without permission. Now Kagami’s cheeks are as red as her top.

“Thank you, Marinette,” Kagami says and squeezes Marinette’s hand. “Not just for the compliment. Thank you for this date. I know we’ve all been open about our feelings but…there was still a part of me that was scared that I’d be the “spare” partner. You and Luka are similar but different, whereas I sometimes feel like I could be interchanged with Adrien, since we’re so incredibly similar. And Luka and Adrien were always options for you from the time you met them.”

“No! Never!” Marinette says immediately. “You’re not a female Adrien. You’re also similar but different, Kagami. And just because I fell for Luka and Adrien when I met them doesn’t mean that you’re any less important. I guess it was…well, easy to fall for them. But that doesn’t make you any lesser than them.”

“I know that rationally. It was just…hard to convince myself. For such a logical person, I can be quite irrational.”

“Yeah, it’s called being human,” Marinette says. “I meant what I said to your mother, Kagami. You’re just as important to me as Adrien and Luka, and I promise I’ll never leave you out or put my relationships with Adrien and Luka above ours. And I give you permission to slap me if I mess up.”

Kagami giggles. Has Marinette ever heard her giggle before? Laugh, yes, but never giggle. It suits her.

“I don’t think a slap will be necessary,” Kagami says. “But don’t worry, I will make my displeasure very obvious.”

“Good,” Marinette says. “You know what they say about “normal” people: they can’t communicate to save their lives.”

That one makes Kagami laugh so hard that she slumps in her seat and attracts odd looks from the middle-aged blonde couple sitting a few tables over. Whether it was the actual words or the air quotes, Marinette has no idea. All she knows is that she’s going to spend every moment of her life from now on trying to tease out this gorgeous laugh from Kagami whenever she can, and she’ll damn well die trying if it comes to that.

Chapter Text

[7:02 pm] Luka <3

Adrien: so

Adrien: mari and kagami are on their date

Adrien: wanna chat?

Luka: that better not have been a pun

Adrien: :)

Adrien: no but srsly

Adrien: i’m gonna do it

Luka: ???

Adrien: i’m gonna come out

Adrien: and my dad can suck it

Luka: not sure whether i like being a reason for you to stick it to him

Adrien: nah you’re not

Adrien: more like a convenient excuse

Adrien: but like

Adrien: fuck if i gotta be the agreste poster boy then let me be out

Luka: for what it’s worth, i’m proud of you

Adrien: aww you know how to make a cat blush

Luka: you’re going to have so many people looking up to you

Luka: speaking from experience

Adrien: if i gotta be a role model then at least it’s for this

Luka: are you going to talk to marinette and kagami about it first?

Adrien: ofc

Adrien: just let them enjoy their date first lol

Adrien: wonder how they’re going

Luka: well, we haven’t seen any akumas yet, so i’m assuming it’s going well

Adrien: lmao

Adrien: so like uh

Adrien: wanna help me figure out wtf to say in the vid?

Luka: it’d be my pleasure


“Nathalie?” Adrien says at dinner two nights later. “Could I speak to Father for five minutes?”

“He’s very busy,” Nathalie says automatically. “If you have a message for him –”

“I know he’s too busy to see me most days. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”

Nathalie raises an eyebrow. “Just how important can it be that you would disturb him?”

With a sigh, Adrien beckons her over, then unlocks his phone and taps into the video he’d sweated over all afternoon thanks to his last-minute Chinese cancellation. “I’m going to go ahead and say something no matter what,” he says. “But I want to make sure that it’s not going to “besmirch” the Agreste name or whatever Father says. I promised him I wouldn’t do that if I got to be with Marinette.”

After Adrien presses play, his face appears on the small phone screen, grinning rather nervously.

“Hey, everyone,” video Adrien says, scratching the back of his neck. “So, you’ve all been really great about my relationship with Marinette, and I couldn’t be more thankful. She’s just…amazing. The light of my life. But there’s something else that’s been going on behind the scenes, and I wanted to be honest and upfront with you guys. You all deserve that much.

“I’m just gonna come right out and say this first part. I’m…bi. Bisexual. As in, I don’t just like girls. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for months now, and my amazing princess has been my anchor while I’ve been figuring it out. She’s bi too, you know? And yes, she told me to say that, otherwise I wouldn’t breathe a word.

“A lot of people seem to think that being bi makes you, uh…promiscuous. That you want to jump every person you see. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. If a straight guy can be attracted to other girls and still choose his girlfriend, I can be attracted to other people and still be faithful to my Marinette. Attraction, not actions – and yes, I did come up with that, so feel free to use it.” Video Adrien shoots a finger-gun at the camera.

“But there’s another aspect of both me and Marinette that we’ve spent months wrestling over, and I like to think that us being so open about it with each other is what made our relationship so strong. We’re both polyamorous. We both love more than one person and want to be with that boy and girl, and we do plan on taking a group pic and being totally open about it with you guys to avoid any rumours, although we do ask that you respect our privacy and don’t bombard us with negativity or requests to “join” us.

“And I just wanna be clear: I’m not bi because I’m polyam, and I’m not polyam because I’m bi. You know, the whole promiscuous bi stereotype I mentioned before. Being polyam doesn’t mean I’m open to every single person who asks me out. It just means that having a relationship with multiple people who I’m attracted to feels…right. You know, how most people might be attracted to someone else but feel wrong if they choose to date that person as well as their partner. It’s the opposite for me and Marinette. We’ve both got so much love to give and we don’t feel right being constrained by this expectation that we can only date each other. There’s nothing wrong with monogamy or polyamory, and we’re just asking people to be respectful of us.

“So, um…yeah. That’s it. Thanks for listening, guys. And thanks for being respectful. I figured that if I could help just one person by coming out, this would be worth it, because I know I would’ve killed for someone to look up to and help me figure myself out. Uh, bye!”

The video ends with another finger-gun. Adrien swallows and tries not to shift in his seat as Nathalie regards him silently with her usual impassive face. It’s always impossible to read just what his father’s assistant is thinking, even after years of knowing her.

“I see no problem with the video,” Nathalie finally says. “But I’d refrain from posting it until I show your father and get his approval. Just send it to me and I’ll show him.”

“Right – thanks, Nathalie!”

Surprisingly, Adrien’s father must be in a good mood today, because Nathalie returns to summon Adrien as soon as he’s finished eating. There’s a knot in Adrien’s stomach as he knocks on the door of Gabriel’s atelier and pushes it open as soon as he’s instructed to do so, and he can only pray that he doesn’t throw up right in front of Gabriel, because that’s possibly the fastest way to shoot himself in the foot right now.

“So…” Adrien says. Gabriel holds a hand up, his cold grey eyes piercing Adrien’s very core, unsettling Adrien’s soul and leaving him to direct his willpower into not fidgeting with his ring.

“That was quite the interesting video that Nathalie showed me,” Gabriel finally says. Adrien swallows and wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans.

“Y-Yeah…”

“I can’t help but feel that it’s a little…greedy of you, Adrien. You have Miss Dupain-Cheng, after all.”

Adrien’s fingers twitch with the effort it takes to not clench them into fists. “I’m not greedy for liking more than one person, Father,” he says as evenly as he can manage.

“Well, if Miss Dupain-Cheng has this many…ah, shortcomings –”

“What? You think I want to be with Luka and Kagami as well to – to make up for Marinette’s flaws?” Now Adrien does clench his fists, and he’s pretty sure his set jaw is visibly rigid. “That’s not how polyamory works, Father. I’ve done my research! You think this is something I’d just jump into –”

“Watch your tone,” Gabriel says sharply. “Perhaps your girlfriend has been a negative influence after all. I may have to –”

“No,” Adrien hisses. Gabriel’s eyebrows fly to his hairline.

“No?” he repeats, as though it’s a word he’s never heard in his life. Adrien’s heart starts to race.

“I said no. You’re not taking Marinette away from me, Father. You’re not taking…the best thing that’s happened to me. And you’re not taking the others either. I didn’t come to ask for your permission. I came to compromise with you and let you approve of what I say in the video.”

“I’m not sure I like your attitude, young man. In fact, allowing you to attend school in the first place may have been my biggest error.”

Adrien can’t stop his jaw from dropping. What. The. Hell. Is Gabriel really that much of a control freak that he’d wish that Adrien had never found happiness just to maintain a modicum of control?

“You can withdraw me from school, but you can’t stop me from seeing my friends, Father,” Adrien snaps. His head’s spinning ever so slightly, and there’s a growl starting to rumble in his chest, and is he Adrien right now or Chat Noir? Adrien. He’s Adrien. Otherwise, Gabriel wouldn’t be looking at him like…that. “I’ll sneak out. I’ll always find a way to sneak out. I do fencing and Chinese and modelling to make you happy, because it’s a fair trade for letting me have a life with normal friends and normal school. But if you take away what makes me happy, I’ll take away any bit of control you have over me.”

“You are a child! You do whatever I say! I am your father!” Gabriel slams his palm on his desk. Adrien reflexively flinches, but then a tiny paw is digging into his ribs from inside his shirt, and it’s just grounding enough to stop him from babbling apologies and fleeing the room. He can do this. He can stand his ground. For Marinette and Luka and Kagami. For himself. All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing…even if he's about two seconds from falling to the floor unable to breathe in sheer panic.

“You’d really prefer that your own son has no happiness in his life just so you can keep controlling him like a puppet?” he says breathlessly. Gabriel visibly reacts, reeling back as though he’d been slapped, and he looks like he’s going to say something for a moment before looking down at his desk and shaking his head.

“Everything I’ve done has been for you, Adrien Agreste,” Gabriel says, his hand rising to clutch at his tie for a split second. His voice is so soft that it’s barely audible, so Adrien can’t quite make out whether there’s any danger in it. “All I’ve ever wanted is to keep you safe. To not lose you like I lost…”

Adrien’s shoulders slump. “You can’t shelter me forever, Father,” he says, forcing himself to imagine Marinette and Kagami and Luka’s voices alternating counting his breaths so that he doesn’t pass out. “I’ll be an adult in a few years and then I can leave, and I’ve still got no idea how to function like a normal person. Normal people don’t have my life. They’re not world-famous and modelling and studying Mandarin and fencing. And if you had your way…I’d never leave. I’d never have any idea how to leave. And I’d…I’d resent you for it.”

Gabriel is silent for such a long time that Adrien absently wonders if he’ll pass out anyway before his father speaks again, because the room is suddenly claustrophobic and hot and closing in on him, despite his controlled breathing.

“I see,” Gabriel eventually says. “If that’s how you really feel…”

Adrien braces himself for the inevitable crackdown for daring to speak his mind.

“…then I will allow you to also date this boy and girl,” Gabriel finishes. Adrien blinks, then blinks again to make sure that he’d heard right, because what? “So long as all of you behave properly and do not besmirch the Agreste name. The same conditions from when I allowed you to date Miss Dupain-Cheng still apply.”

“R-Really?” is all Adrien can say. Gabriel nods.

“I’ll also lessen your obligations on one weekday and one weekend day so that you may spend proper time with your partners,” he says. “In return, you will fully apply yourself to your studies and your extracurricular activities. You will not complain when I ask you to do something. You will let me know when you are going out and where you will be going. If your grades slip or your activities suffer, I will rescind my permission. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes!” Adrien blurts out, not even caring that he’s effectively agreeing to sit down and do as he’s told, because this is the most freedom he’s ever been given by his father! “Yes – thank you, Father! Thank you so much!”

For a nanosecond, there’s a ghost of a smile on Gabriel’s face. But it’s gone so fast that Adrien’s left wondering if his brain is playing tricks on him.

“I must admit, I may have become a little…overprotective after I was akumatised,” Gabriel says. “But unfortunately, you are right. I can’t shelter you forever. Before you go, tell me the people in whom you and Miss Dupain-Cheng are both interested.”

“The girl is Kagami,” Adrien says. “Ms Tsurugi knows. Marinette met her the other day. And the boy…his name’s Luka. Luka Couffaine. He’s…amazing, Father. He’s just as amazing as Marinette and Kagami, but in a totally different way.”

“Hmm.” Gabriel pulls his tablet back towards him. “Goodnight, Adrien.”

“Goodnight, Father,” Adrien replies, recognising a clear dismissal when he sees one. Well, now it’s time to head back to his room, scream into his pillow for a good minute, throw said pillow at Plagg when the little shit makes fun of him, then call Marinette and Luka and Kagami to yell at them for good measure.


“I have prior obligations,” Kagami sighs over FaceTime while Adrien and Luka are waiting for Marinette to finish getting ready for their date. “And besides, I had a date with Marinette last night. It’s fair that you both have one without me.”

“Kagami, we’re a quad,” Adrien says. “Why would we have weird arbitrary rules like that? I know we agreed to have different dates but not like that.”

“Exactly,” says a voice from behind Adrien. When he turns and is greeted by the sight of Marinette in a floaty blue sundress with her hair in a loose bun, his brain immediately short-circuits and all he can do is make garbled sounds that in no way resemble words in any language on Earth. A quick glance next to him informs him that Luka is in very much the same state.

“Nice work, Marinette,” Kagami says with twitching lips. “You broke them.”

“Oh, just you wait,” Marinette grins. “Next time, I’ll break you too. Wait, don’t distract me when I’m scolding you! No one’s more important than anyone else in this, Kagami. I told you that the other night.”

“We’re all in this together,” Adrien sings while his brain reboots. Marinette and Luka groan.

“I don’t understand,” Kagami says.

“If you reference that again, you won’t get any cuddles for a week,” Marinette says.

“I’ll put on my kitten eyes,” Adrien shoots back.

“What, the ones that make you look like a constipated whale?” Plagg says from inside Marinette’s purse, where he’s taken to hanging out with Tikki whenever Marinette and Adrien are in the same place. That one makes Marinette, Luka, and Kagami burst out laughing, while Adrien scowls at Marinette’s purse and Tikki can be heard scolding Plagg.

“Thank you for helping to soothe my irrationality,” Kagami says once the laughter’s died down. “I appreciate all of you. But I wasn’t lying when I said that I had prior obligations. Mother wants to test my fencing skills, to see how I’m progressing.”

“Ew.” Marinette wrinkles her nose. “Have fun. We’ll think of you while we’re drinking ice cold lemonade.”

“Thanks,” Kagami deadpans. Then she looks over her shoulder. “I have to go. Enjoy your date and tell me everything about it tonight.”

“Bye, Kagami!” the other three chorus before Kagami’s face disappears from Adrien’s phone screen.

“C’mon, let’s hurry up and get to the park!” Adrien whines, jumping up and tugging on Luka’s arm. “Then I can get sandwiched between two pretty people on a picnic blanket!”

“Really?” Marinette says. “You’re going to make a bread pun?”

“Hey, when the opportunity rises.”

“And just who says you’ll be the one in the middle?” Luka teases. Butterflies erupt in Adrien’s stomach when Luka slings an arm around him, then reaches out to ensnare a pink-faced Marinette and draw her to his other side. “I’m the tallest.”

“But I’m a cat,” Adrien argues. “You’re supposed to use me as a pillow.”

“Oh my god,” Marinette mutters. Luka grins and then, rather than arguing back, he simply dips his head and captures Adrien’s mouth in a sweet little kiss, and Adrien’s brain promptly liquefies and starts to trickle out of his ears.

“You were saying?” Luka says.

“I – no – must – stay strong,” Adrien babbles.

I’ll be in the freaking middle!” Marinette says. “I’m the girl and the team leader, so there!”

“Ah, but we’re partners, bugaboo,” Adrien manages to fire back.

“And I’m not even part of the team,” Luka adds with a smirk. Marinette rolls her eyes.

“I’ll lie across both of you and you can cuddle each other!” she says, throwing her hands into the air. “How’s that?”

Adrien and Luka exchange grins. “Fine with us,” they chorus. Marinette sighs.

“What did I get myself into?” she says.

Chapter Text

Although Marinette and Juleka are friends, they’ve really only ever hung out in the context of girl squad stuff or Kitty Section business. That’s why, when Juleka arrives early on the windy Saturday designated Girl Hangout Time and suggests that the two of them eat and chat while they wait for the rest of the group to show up, it takes Marinette a few moments to regain her wits and accept the surprise lunch invitation.

“I wish I’d worn the denim skirt,” Juleka grumbles as she pins her purple plaid skirt down, then realises that she can’t open the bakery doors at the same time, especially with her ponytail blowing in her face. Marinette just laughs and pushes the doors open.

“At least you’re wearing leggings,” she says. Juleka snorts.

“Yeah. Last thing I need is some creepy guy trying to get a peek.”

While Juleka heads on up to the living room, Marinette ducks into the bakery kitchen to grab a plate and a few croissants and other pastries baked yesterday that are either going to end up as Dupain-Cheng leftovers or donated goods or rubbish. Then she follows Juleka upstairs with her prize, and Juleka’s eyes light up at the sight of the plate of goodies.

“Admit it,” Marinette says with a teasing grin. “You just wanted free treats.”

“Well, I won’t say no…” Juleka says and snags a moon cake. “But I actually wanted to talk to you.”

“About what?” Marinette says, sitting on the couch next to Juleka.

“About you and Adrien and my brother.”

Oh.” Marinette sags. “I’m sorry. Did you have to find out through Instagram?”

“No, no,” Juleka says. “He told me before Adrien posted that picture of you three and Kagami. I just…look, I don’t really know anything about polyamory even though I looked it up, and I guess…I guess I just want to be sure that my brother’s not gonna get hurt from this.”

“We’d never hurt your brother!”

“I know, I know. I trust you. It’s just…hard to process, with how long you’ve been chasing after Adrien. And you’re with Chat Noir and Kagami, even if the Chat Noir thing’s being kept under wraps. I don’t know how your dynamic works, and I’m not gonna pry when it’s not my business. You’re my friend, but Luka’s my brother, and I guess I just want to say…don’t break his heart, Marinette. Luka’s always been so empathetic, and he always wears his heart on his sleeve, even if he’s a chill guy. I know he could handle a normal break-up, but this dynamic he’s in? I don’t want to see him get hurt by multiple people.”

“Juleka.” Marinette reaches over to take Juleka’s hand and squeeze. “I promise I’ll never knowingly hurt Luka. We’re gonna try our best to be open about stuff and not keep secrets and tiptoe around each other.”

Juleka gives a soft smile at that, then leans in to pull Marinette into a hug. “Thanks, Marinette,” she says. “You’re a good person. And a good friend. I still haven’t forgotten what you did for me after I was akumatised. You broke my class photo curse.”

Marinette just smiles and pats Juleka on the back before pulling away. “It really wasn’t any trouble, Juleka. Someone had to stand up to Chloé.”

“Well, it means a lot to me,” Juleka says. “So, um…thanks.”

“Girls! Are we doing this or what?” Alya’s voice hollers up the stairs. Marinette squeals and nearly upends the plate of pastries, and it’s only Juleka’s lightning reflexes in catching the plate that prevent a crumby catastrophe from occurring on the living room floor.

“Damn my parents for telling them we were up here,” Marinette exhales, resting a hand over her heart. “That scared the crap out of me.”

The two of them join Alya, Rose, Mylène, Alix, Kagami, and Lila downstairs and then the group heads out to track down André’s ice cream cart based on the photo of a yellowish stone column that’s been posted. As they walk, Lila fills the silence by regaling them with tales of the time she’d supposedly met Bianca Torta, leaving Marinette, Alya, and Kagami to roll their eyes at each other as Lila talks.

“…and she said that I simply had to join her show!” Lila says. “She said that I had the most potential she’d ever seen! That Italian blood in us, you know. But of course, since my mother’s a diplomat and we travel a lot, I just couldn’t commit myself to a reality show. And I didn’t think it would be fair to the other contestants, since baking is their passion, not mine.”

“Maybe you and Marinette could bake together one day!” Rose says. Marinette, who’s using her hand to mouth along with Lila’s story while Alya and Kagami giggle behind their hands, hastens to school her features into the epitome of innocence before Rose, Juleka, Mylène, Alix, or Lila can see.

“Yes, maybe!” Lila says and links arms with Marinette. “I daresay we could teach each other a few tricks! If it’s okay, of course, I wouldn’t want to overstep my boundaries and accidentally insult your parents’ bakery…”

“Oh, of course not!” Marinette chirps. “It’d be a great bonding experience! I’d love to learn from someone with as much potential as you!”

There’s no way this baking day’s actually going to happen. Not unless Lila miraculously becomes a master pâtissier overnight. But even though this might make Marinette a wee bit of a petty person, it’s just so satisfying to see how far Lila’s willing to go to preserve her lies, like how she’s beaming with her mouth right now, but her eyes are anything but amused.

Honestly, how do people fall for these tales?

“Of course, Marinette,” Lila says sweetly. “Anything for a friend.”

“As fascinating as your story is,” Kagami says, “does anyone have any idea of where André could be? That’s why we’re walking around Paris, isn’t it?”

Thank god for Kagami, Marinette thinks, slipping her hand into Kagami’s and lacing their fingers, while the other girls immediately turn from Lila’s Torta story to trying to figure out André’s hint. For a split second, Lila’s face is nothing but sourness, but then her sweet smile is back and she’s joining Alix, Mylène, Rose, and Juleka to try and decipher the hint.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t so funny watching her try and keep her stories straight, I’d have called her out ages ago,” Alya mutters to Marinette and Kagami.

“I do feel bad for letting her lie to our friends like this…” Marinette says. “I hate liars.”

“But there’s no point in making yourself look like the bad guy when her lies aren’t currently hurting anyone,” Kagami says. “I mean, the most that would happen are some broken hearts, but she hasn’t actively gone out of her way to harm anyone, has she? Apart from what she did to Adrien, but she’s apologised for that, so no one would want to hear anything against her. You’d just be shooting yourself in the foot by bringing that up.”

“Then again,” Marinette sighs, “if she does move on to the big stuff, good luck trying to break her influence when she’s got her claws in so deep. Maybe we should’ve called her out before now…”

“Of course!” Mylène says. “The Trocadéro! Come on, before we lose him!”

The eight of them take off running down the busy Parisian street, towards the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro before they can lose André. Thankfully, his cart is stationed right in the middle of the square when they reach the top of the stairs and pause to pant and gasp for breath.

“C’mon!” Alya’s the first one to start bounding down the stairs, closely followed by Marinette, Kagami, Alix, and then the rest of the girls. André’s eyes light up when he catches sight of them.

“Ah, girls!” he cries and spreads his arms wide. “Bonjour and bienvenue! What can André get for you?”

“Hi, André!” the girls chorus. Rose and Juleka grab each other’s hands and bounce on the spot, and André’s eyes light up at the sight and begins to assemble their ice creams.

“Ah, a love so sweet I could cry! Squid ink, lavender, and strawberry to try!” He hands the ice cream to Rose, who giggles and accepts it while snuggling into Juleka’s side.

“Squid ink?” Juleka says, raising her eyebrows at the scoop of black ice cream.

“It doesn’t sound like it, but it’s surprisingly tasty,” Kagami says. “I tried it when Mother and I visited South Korea a few years ago.”

“I love trying new things!” Rose trills. She scoops out a little of the squid ink and holds it out for Juleka to taste, and Juleka lets out a small hum after cleaning the spoon of ice cream.

“Actually…you’re right,” Juleka admits. “That’s pretty good. It’s sweeter than I thought it would be.”

“Also, that feeding each other thing is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, but I might actually be sick,” Alix says.

“Oh, do not pretend that your heart has no one!” André says. “André can see someone who will bring you much fun!”

“Really,” Alix scoffs. “Good luck with that.”

André’s eyes just twinkle as he starts to assemble Alix’s ice cream. “A stinger she has and a lot of zest, so André gives you honey for a queen hard to impress! Bubble-gum for her eyes of the sky as well, and bitter dark chocolate with a trace of caramel! Do not worry, my dear, for you two will transcend physical love when at last you realise!”

“Who the hell?” Alix blinks as she accepts the yellow, blue, and dark brown ice cream. “Okay, uh, thanks for realising that I’m gay and ace, but you’ve gotta be kidding me if you think I’m crushing on anyone.”

“How about you go fuck yourself, Bourgeois?”

“Eat my entire arse, Kubdel.”

Marinette bites down on her lip to prevent her laughter from bubbling out at the realisation of just who Alix’s mystery girl could be. She shoots a look at Alya and pretends to toss her hair, and Alya’s eyes widen to the size of saucers when she too realises the implication of Alix’s ice cream.

“What’s so funny, you two?” Alix says, grumpily shoving some chocolate-caramel ice cream into her mouth.

“Nothing!” Marinette and Alya sing. Alix just raises an eyebrow but thankfully doesn’t push it.

“How about –”

“Marinette and Kagami next!” Mylène pushes Marinette and Kagami forward, unintentionally cutting off Lila. André’s eyes twinkle at the sight.

“Ah, two young ladies with so much love on display!” he says. “But André will stick to the flavours of you sweet girls for today!”

“That’s okay, André,” Marinette says with a smile. “I’m just glad you can see all four of us!”

André beams and starts to scoop out a couples’ ice cream for her and Kagami. “Blackberry for their hair and cinnamon for their sweet but spicy stares! Topped off with delicious dragonfruit for the raw passion that they suit!”

“Wow, you two look scrumptious,” Alya grins as Marinette accepts the ice cream. Marinette rolls her eyes but before she can shoot Alya a snarky response, Kagami silences her rather effectively with a little spoon of bright pink dragonfruit ice cream.

“Oh no, it stained your mouth,” Kagami grins, then leans in and presses her lips to Marinette’s, her tongue darting out to swipe across Marinette’s mouth in pursuit of the sweet dragonfruit stain. Marinette’s pretty sure that her face is the colour of that ice cream when Kagami pulls away, judging by the heat that’s flooded her cheeks.

“Okay, I was wrong,” Alix says. “Rose and Juleka aren’t the most sickeningly sweet couple. You two are.”

“Aww, but now I feel left out,” quips a voice from behind Marinette and Kagami. Their faces light up when they whirl around and find Adrien behind them, his green eyes twinkling as he zeroes in on the ice cream that Marinette’s clutching.

“Adrien!” Marinette carefully hands the ice cream to Kagami so that she can grab Adrien’s hands and stand on her tiptoes to kiss him. Around them, the girls all aww at the sight, except for Lila and Kagami.

“This is a girls’ day, Agreste,” Kagami says dryly when Adrien and Marinette separate, but she still hands the ice cream back to Marinette so that she can kiss Adrien as well. “You can make out with us any other time.”

“Yeah!” Alya crosses her arms. “Get out of here, Adrien!”

“I just came for some ice cream!” Adrien says, holding his hands up. “I didn’t know you girls would be here!”

“Well, take your ice cream far, far away,” Juleka says. “Maybe go share it with Luka.”

“Oooh,” the other girls coo as Adrien’s cheeks pinken.

“But of course, young man!” André sings and starts to make an ice cream for Adrien. “Mint for your gaze and blackberry for both you and the boy who brings happiness for days! And vanilla with raspberry swirl for the girls so dear to your heart! Eat this, young man, and your love will never fall apart!”

“Wow, that’s really what our four-way ice cream looks like?” Marinette giggles as Adrien takes the green, purplish, and white-and-red ice cream.

“Red, white, and green?” Lila laughs, tilting her head and smiling coyly while sidling up next to Adrien. “Those are the Italian colours! Maybe your ice cream’s telling you something, Adrien!”

“Italian colours?” Adrien squints at his ice cream. “No, I don’t think so. I can tell who’s represented by each ice cream flavour.”

“Adrien explicitly stated in his video that our relationship is not open to requests to join,” Kagami says icily. “Perhaps you should respect that. If any of us want to pursue a relationship with another person, we’ll sit down and talk about it together, and none of us have discussed you as a possibility. But then again, if you can’t respect that boundary…”

“Kagami!” Rose gasps as Lila begins to cry. Really, though, one close look at Lila shows that her cheeks aren’t even damp from how much she’s sobbing, so Marinette’s not entirely sure what’s going on here. “You don’t have to be so mean to Lila for making a joke!”

“I wasn’t being mean,” Kagami says. “I was reinforcing our boundaries, which is critical for any relationship, especially a polyamorous one. Adrien outright said that he didn’t want people to request to join our polycule, yet Lila disrespected that boundary. Even monogamous relationships can’t work without respect.”

“Kagami’s right,” Adrien says, scratching the back of his neck. “I mean, jokes are fine, but…Lila did ask me out a few months ago, so I can’t be sure if it’s a joke or if she’s really trying to ask to join. I’m sorry, but none of us are looking for any more relationships at the moment. Um, right? Sorry, Marinette, I didn’t mean to speak for you –”

“No, you’re right,” Marinette says.

“It’s okay,” Lila sniffles and wipes her eyes. “I understand. I’m sorry for overstepping my boundaries. I just won’t try to joke with my friends anymore.”

Marinette resists the overwhelming urge to roll her eyes as Juleka, Rose, Mylène, and Alix rush to comfort Lila.

“I guess it’s just due to my autism,” Lila sighs. “I’ve never known what’s inappropriate. Please, do forgive me if I make any of you uncomfortable…”

Marinette’s eye twitches, and the only reason she doesn’t go off on a tirade is due to Adrien grabbing her hand and squeezing. Noticing that Kagami’s in much the same state, Marinette repeats this gesture with her to ground her.

How dare Lila? Lies about knowing celebrities? Sure, whatever. But lying about something like this? Doesn’t she know how many hoops Marinette’s had to jump through just to have her autism officially recognised after knowing she was autistic for months? How Marinette still struggles with getting support because she’s “normal enough”? And yet…here Lila is, just whipping it out like it’s a tragic backstory, and they can’t just say that she’s lying about this because then they’re shitting on self-diagnosed people –

“Autism isn’t an excuse,” Marinette says coldly. “If I accidentally make someone uncomfortable, I apologise and promise to try and not to do it again. We don’t get to act like we shouldn’t be held accountable for our actions.”

“Marinette’s right,” Kagami says. “Consider this a lesson from fellow autistics. Yes, we might struggle to realise when something’s inappropriate, but we don’t cry and act like we should be excused from being held accountable. It’s an explanation, not an excuse.”

“You two have autism as well?” Lila gasps. Marinette’s eye once more twitches, this time at the “have autism” phrasing. “I thought you would have my back, then! That there would be solidarity between us!”

“That’s not how this works!” Marinette would’ve thrown her hands in the air if they hadn’t been occupied. “That’s not how any of this works!”

“If anything, we’re best-suited to calling you out, instead of someone who doesn’t have first-hand understanding and doesn’t know what it’s like to be autistic,” Kagami says. “Now you know that it’s inappropriate to joke about joining our relationship. The correct course of action is to apologise and then not do it again, not to centre yourself because you were called out.”

“And you’re a liar,” Alya just has to say. Lila gasps.

“What? But I don’t – how could you – I thought you liked me!”

“You lied to me about being Ladybug’s best friend,” Alya says. “Like, come on, why would Ladybug be friends with someone who only just got to Paris? And why would she be friends with a random civilian when she’s a superhero? She knows that could paint a target on their backs for Hawkmoth.”

“Wow, Alya, just because Ladybug didn’t call you her best friend,” Alix scoffs.

“You think that’s what this is about?” Alya stamps her foot. “I happily recorded that interview, so why would I be jealous if I thought it was true? She’s lying!”

“We thought you were just nervous at first,” Marinette says. Okay, so she’d rather stay out of this, but if Alya’s insisting on jumping in and having this confrontation, there’s no way she’s going to leave her best friend in the lurch. “That you just wanted to fit in. But every time someone looks like they’re going to call you out, you pretend to cry so that people will side with you!”

“Like when you were akumatised,” Adrien says. “I let that go because I didn’t want to cause a fuss. But there was no “boy from Italy”. You were upset at being turned down, so you tried to make me look like a predator and then took it back just to show me that you could. You could’ve ruined my life, Lila, just because I said no!”

“You guys have issues,” Mylène says with wide eyes.

“For you, young miss!” André thrusts an ice cream at Alya. “Coconut, banana, and a hint of passionfruit, for the love between your young man and you!”

But even André’s desperate attempt to salvage the mood is fruitless. The standoff between both sides continues, with Marinette, Alya, and Kagami on one side and Juleka, Rose, Mylène, and Alix on the other, while Adrien is stick in the middle and resembling a deer caught in headlights. The standoff only ends when a low voice chuckles, “Of course, Hawkmoth,” and everyone whips around to catch Lila being enveloped in purple-black bubbles.

“Akuma!” Mylène gasps. Marinette, Kagami, and Adrien start to back away, to try and escape and transform, but they’re unable to get away before Lila’s transformation finishes and she’s pinning them to the spot with blood red eyes.

“I am Sanguisuga,” Lila hisses. It’s really not hard to guess her theme, judging by the bluish pallor to her skin, her jet-black hair, the fangs protruding from her upper lip, the short red and black cape, and the gothic black dress with long, lacy sleeves and a layered skirt that’s short at the front and falls to her ankles at the back, revealing spiky black boots and blue-tinged legs.

“Not fair,” Juleka says. “Why does Lila get the cool vampire akuma theme and I get some hideous bubble-gum dress?”

“No, Lila!” Rose says. “You don’t need Hawkmoth! We can sort this out together!”

“Oh, Rose,” Sanguisuga tuts. “Sweet little Rose, always so bright and cheerful. I wonder how much energy you have to give me!”

Before anyone can react, Sanguisuga’s hand has whipped out to grab Rose around the wrist. The black bracelet that Sanguisuga’s wearing starts to glow purple, and Rose gasps and collapses as she too glows purple, held up only by the vice-like grip that Sanguisuga has on her wrist.

“Rose! No!” Juleka grabs Rose and yanks her away from Sanguisuga, but the damage is done, and a bluish, hollow-faced Rose won’t wake up from her moaning, fitful slumber. Mylène shrieks and jumps away with Alix, but the bystanders watching what’s going on are frozen. Before any of them can react, Sanguisuga’s also drained another three people of energy and they topple to the ground like Rose. This kicks the other bystanders into action and makes them scream and start to flee.

“Thanks for your energy, everyone,” Sanguisuga grins, licking her lips. “Now you can – just where are you three going?” She jabs a finger at Marinette, Kagami, and Adrien. “None of you are leaving! And where is that insufferable Ladyblogger?”

“Look, I get it, you’re annoyed.” Rena Rouge leaps down from a tree and lands in front of Sanguisuga with crossed arms. “But taking it out on them just ‘cause you were rejected –”

“Oh, no, it’s so much more than that.” Sanguisuga’s scarlet eyes gleam. “I wonder if Marinette and Kagami know about Adrien’s secret.”

“Secret?” Marinette says, praying to every deity above that Sanguisuga’s not implying what she thinks. “What do you mean?”

“So, you don’t know!” Sanguisuga says. “Well, Adrien, why don’t you tell your friends your little secret, then?”

“I – what secret?” A chalk-white Adrien tries to laugh it off, but he’s not fooling anyone. Sanguisuga’s crimson lips curve into a wicked smile.

“That’s okay,” she says. “I’ll help you out, Adrien. Or should I say…Chat Noir?”

Chapter Text

For a moment, no one dares to speak, lest they shatter the glass-like atmosphere between them. That is, until Adrien tries to laugh, but ends up sounding like he’s crying in pain.

“M-Me? Chat Noir? What the hell are you talking about?” he says.  Sanguisuga rolls her eyes.

“Don’t lie to me, Adrien!” she snaps, grabbing his wrist and yanking his hand up so that his silver ring gleams in the sunlight. Alix, Juleka, Mylène, and Rena Rouge gasp, and the others in the square who have paused to watch the drama unfold gasp and start to whisper. “I saw you during your photoshoot here, when Gigantitan attacked! I saw your little cat demon thing – Plagg, you called him?”

Marinette’s nearly sick on the spot. Okay, so anyone can claim that anyone’s a superhero, but the only way Sanguisuga would know about kwamis, especially Plagg’s name, is if she really had seen him. That nausea only grows stronger when a purple butterfly mask appears over Sanguisuga’s face.

“Yes, Hawkmoth, I’m a hundred percent sure,” she says. She pulls Adrien’s hand closer to her face, ignoring his grunts and attempts to struggle free. Meanwhile, Kagami squeezes Marinette’s hand and starts to pull her away from the scene, so that they can hide and transform. “See? I was just waiting until the right time to – oh, of course, Hawkmoth.” The purple mask fades from Sanguisuga’s face. “Why would I hurt Chat Noir when I can take the girls that he holds so dear?”

“Plagg, claws out!” Adrien blurts out, and he transforms into Chat Noir in a flash of green light and rips himself out of Sanguisuga’s grip. “Marinette! Kagami! Look out!”

But Sanguisuga’s faster than him, and she’s launched herself into the air and landed in front of Marinette and Kagami, then slung them over her shoulders, all before Chat Noir can take more than a few steps.

“Ah, good, you got everything,” Sanguisuga says to the people recording the goings-on around them as she floats back into the air. “If I can’t have Adrien, I’ll destroy everything that he holds dear! First his secret identity, now his girls!”

“Don’t worry about us!” Kagami says, struggling furiously to try and throw Sanguisuga off-balance, but it’s kind of hard to make her lose her balance when she’s levitating and endowed with superpowers from an evil butterfly.

“Go find Ladybug!” Marinette adds in a desperate attempt to throw any suspicion off her secret identity. She tries to knee Sanguisuga in the torso, but Sanguisuga simply drapes Marinette further over her shoulder and holds her by the thighs rather than around the waist, denying Marinette any leverage.

“And after his girls, his boy!” Sanguisuga finishes. Over Sanguisuga’s shoulder as she turns to soar to the Eiffel Tower, Marinette sees Juleka’s eyes widen as she mouths something that looks like, “Not Luka!” A moment later, Sanguisuga lands on the tip of the Eiffel Tower and dumps Marinette and Kagami unceremoniously onto their butts, eliciting twin winded exhales.

“Sit tight, girls,” Sanguisuga says with a wink. “I’ve just got to grab one more person before that pesky pussy cat can get there first.” Then she’s off, zooming across the skies of Paris in the direction of the Couffaine houseboat, while Marinette gulps and huddles closer to Kagami because this platform is really not the biggest and she’s got no super suit to protect her from a fall like this.

“Shouldn’t we transform?” Kagami says, slipping an arm around Marinette’s waist. Marinette shakes her head and points at all the people standing around and recording.

“The last thing we need is to out our secret identities as well,” she says. She groans and covers her face with her hands. “Oh, this is a disaster! No one’s supposed to know! And now all of Paris knows Adrien’s identity! How did Lila even see him transforming? We’re always so careful!”

“The Trocadéro is a large area,” Kagami says. “If Lila was blending in to the panicking crowd, it would’ve been fairly easy for her to see him transform while staying hidden. Especially if she was actively stalking him.”

Marinette groans again and uncovers her face, only to rest her head sideways on Kagami’s shoulder. “I should send out an alert in case any of the team somehow doesn’t know what’s going on. What do you think her powers are? She drained people of energy, but why?”

“Probably to make herself stronger,” Kagami says. She pulls out her phone and types something, then nods. “Sanguisuga means leech, or bloodsucker, in Italian. I’m assuming she leeches the energy off people. Maybe that’s how she can fly.”

“Great,” Marinette says and types out a quick alert in the group chat. “This’ll be a fun akuma to deal with.”

“Don’t worry, girls!” Rena Rouge calls from the base of the Tower. “I’m coming to – gah!”

“Well, then,” Marinette says as Rose tackles Rena Rouge, with a horde of vampire zombies running towards the Trocadéro to no doubt help Rose out. “Rena Rouge, more are coming!”

“Oh, come on!” Rena Rouge bats Rose across the face with her flute. “Where the hell are the others?”

“Maybe I should’ve given out the Horse,” Marinette mutters.

“If it comes down to it, I’ll transform and get us down,” Kagami says. “You can find another Ryuuko, but there can’t be another Ladybug.”

“I don’t want another Ryuuko,” Marinette says. “The others will come through. You’ll see.”

Her faith is severely tested when Sanguisuga proves to be the victor of the race to get to Luka and returns to dump him next to Marinette and Kagami. Although Carapace and Honeybee have arrived to back up Rena Rouge, they’ve got their hands full with the zompires, as Marinette has christened them, and so they’re not exactly up for a rescue mission quite yet.

“Don’t hurt them!” Chat Noir lands in front of Sanguisuga with his hands up. “Why can’t you just accept that I’m not into you?”

“Because you’re mine, Adrien Agreste,” Sanguisuga hisses. “I always get what I want. Even trying to destroy your precious girlfriend didn’t work! I broke her arm and you two were still so sickeningly sweet that I wanted to throw up!”

You!” Marinette’s eyes bulge. “You made me fall down the stairs! And you were trying to lead me away when Tangleweed attacked! I thought I was just hallucinating!”

Sanguisuga snorts. “Whatever. Give me your Miraculous, Chat Noir, or I’ll drain the people you hold dearest. And it won’t just be a zombie drain like with the others. No, that would be too easy. I’ll squeeze every last drop out of them until they’re nothing but a skeleton.”

“Don’t you dare!” Chat Noir dives at Sanguisuga with his baton poised to crack across her skull, but she giggles and swoops out of the way. Thankfully, with her attention on Chat Noir, she doesn’t seem to be focused on Marinette, Kagami, and Luka anymore, although that’s not really a comforting thought when Marinette and Kagami still can’t transform because of the damn cameras on the ground!

“Pst!”

Marinette whirls around, slapping a hand over her mouth to muffle her squeal when she realises that it’s…a mouse hero? Not just a mouse hero, but two, crouched on the other side of the Tower tip, looking to be a few inches shorter than Marinette? The mouse hero who’d spoken peeks at Chat Noir and Sanguisuga, then bites her lip and groans.

“I can only take two of you,” she says. “Any more clones and I’ll be too small to carry you! But I don’t want to leave any of you! Oh, I’m an awful hero!”

“Who even are you?” Marinette says.

“Oh!” The mouse hero shakes her head, her multitude of blonde braids swishing around. “Petite Souris. Chat Noir asked me to help out for at least this battle, because he thought they’d need a surprise element to take down Sanguisuga.”

“Well, looks like he was right,” Luka says. “You can take Marinette and Kagami and get them out of here.”

“We’re not leaving you!” Marinette and Kagami say immediately. Luka shrugs.

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Hey!” Sanguisuga kicks Chat Noir away, then dives at the Petite Souris clones, who squeak and duck around the metal tip to avoid the vampire’s touch. “Get away from them, you little – hey! Get off me!”

Luka just snarls and tightens his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist. “Take Marinette and Kagami! Now!” he barks at Petite Souris, whose clones are both frozen on the spot. His shout is enough to jolt each clone to grab Marinette and Kagami and start bounding down the Tower, and the last, horrifying thing Marinette sees over Petite Souris’s shoulder is Sanguisuga throwing Luka off her, then grabbing him by the throat and glowing purple as she drains his life force.

Luka!” she shrieks.

“He’ll be fine once Ladybug gets here!” says the Petite Souris carrying her. Both mouse clones leap down onto a viewing platform and deposit Marinette and Kagami, then spring back together in a flash of light and grow to full height. Now that she’s not in imminent danger, Marinette’s able to get a good look at Petite Souris before she vanishes: she’s wearing a long-sleeved grey dress with a high white collar, a white torso, short pink gloves, grey tights with white inner thighs, and thigh-high pink boots with white soles. Her mask is a grey mouse head over the top half of her face and her weapon appears to be the pink jump rope tied around her waist, falling behind her like a mouse’s tail. Petite Souris jumps when her necklace beeps.

“I have to go recharge and jump back in, so stay here! Both of you!” she says.

“Thank you, Souris,” Kagami says. “You’re an amazing hero.”

Petite Souris flushes pink, then scurries into the elevator, no doubt to detransform and refuel by the time she reaches the bottom.

“Luka…” Marinette’s voice hitches. “And Chat Noir…” She takes a deep breath and clenches her fists. “I have to focus! I can’t do anything about Chat Noir’s identity being revealed, but I can save Luka and expose Lila!”

“Exactly.” Kagami takes Marinette’s hands and squeezes. “Stay focused, Marinette. The sooner we defeat Sanguisuga, the sooner we can save Luka. Longg, bring the storm!”

“You know what to say, Marinette!” Tikki says from inside Marinette’s purse as Kagami transforms into Ryuuko in a flash of red light. Marinette squares her shoulders and nods.

“Tikki, spots on!”

“Ladybug!” Honeybee shouts when Ladybug swings out with Ryuuko and lands on the ground, in the middle of the zompire swarm. “It’s about damn time! These minions are getting utterly ridiculous!”

“Wow, for a moment, you sounded like someone who drives me up the wall,” Alix drawls as she smashes a zompire in the face with a metal bar. Next to her, Juleka looks like a horror monster from Ladybug’s worst nightmares as she slams and kicks any zompire unfortunate enough to end up within her reach, a feral snarl stretched across her face.

“Fuck you, I’m a beelight to be around,” Honeybee says, then she lets out a wail. “Look what you’ve done to me, Adri – Chat! I’m punning now!”

“Sorry, Honeybee, I couldn’t help being held up,” Ladybug says sarcastically.

“You okay, dude?” Carapace says. “I mean, learning your partner’s Adrien…shit, now I know why he picked me…”

“Do secret identities apparently not mean anything anymore?” Rena Rouge says and whacks a zompire that’s about to tackle Carapace. “Watch your back, Shellhead! Where the heck is Petite Souris?”

“Recharging because she saved Marinette and Kagami,” Ryuuko says shortly before Carapace can retort.

“Oh. Thank god,” Rena Rouge says. “So, chief, what’s the plan?”

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug catches an ice cream scooper and blinks owlishly at it. “Um, what am I supposed to do with this?”

As if in response to her question, Chat Noir crashes to the ground right next to her, groaning. A cackling Sanguisuga floats down to land and meet the team of heroes, her skirts and cape billowing around her, and if Ladybug’s being honest, she’s a little hacked off that Lila gets such a cool akuma theme when she’s such an awful person.

“What now?” Sanguisuga says. “Your mangy partner is nothing more than a greedy rich kid who can’t make up his mind between a boy and two girls, when he couldn’t even add me too. And you can’t hide Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Kagami Tsurugi from me forever. Once I’ve got the Miraculouses for Hawkmoth, he’s promised me Adrien!”

“Like hell,” Chat Noir groans into the concrete. Ladybug sighs and stoops to pull him to his feet, just as Petite Souris dives at Sanguisuga from behind.

“Souris, no!” Ladybug cries. But it’s too late; Sanguisuga smoothly turns and grabs Petite Souris by the wrist, then slams her into the ground and starts to drain the life force from her. Petite Souris gasps and tries to fight back, but her struggles weaken with every passing second.

“I don’t think so!” Alix’s metal bar goes soaring through the air and smashes into Sanguisuga’s head, forcing her to release Petite Souris as she shrieks and staggers backwards.

“Get up!” Honeybee stomps over to Petite Souris and scoops her up bridal style, then sets her back on her feet. Petite Souris just groans and sags against Honeybee. “Ugh, newbees!”

“You dare attack me?” Sanguisuga howls and dives at Alix. But Honeybee is there in a flash to shield Alix and Juleka with her trompo, still clutching Petite Souris to her side.

“Don’t touch the annoying skater girl,” Honeybee hisses. “Or the annoying goth girl too, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Juleka deadpans, her eyes still blazing as she glares at Sanguisuga.

“Alix, Juleka, get Souris out of here!” Ladybug says. “Carapace, give us some breathing room!”

As soon as Honeybee has relinquished Petite Souris to Alix and Juleka so that they can drag her back towards the Eiffel Tower and away from Sanguisuga and the zompires, Carapace summons his Shellter and encases the heroes, protecting them from Sanguisuga.

“Really?” Sanguisuga drawls. “Ladybug’s going to transform back soon. All I have to do is wait till Shellhead times out as well and then you’re all mine.”

“Hey, only I can call him Shellhead, you Cullen freak!” Rena Rouge growls.

“If they don’t start making out after this battle, I swear to god,” Honeybee mutters. Meanwhile, Ladybug gnaws on her bottom lip as she tries to figure out how the hell to use her Lucky Charm. Her eyes land on the ice cream scooper, her teammates, a nearby column of the Trocadéro, then Sanguisuga, and she suddenly realises exactly what they need to do.

“Rena, make as much smoke as you can,” Ladybug says. “Enough to keep Sanguisuga off-balance and stop her and her minions from getting a clear hit on any of us. Ryuuko, we have to get her over near the Trocadéro so Chat can use his Cataclysm. Honeybee, sting her when the time’s right. Go!”

Carapace drops his Shellter just as Rena Rouge summons her Mirage, filling the square with thick orange smoke and providing cover for Ladybug and her teammates to scatter. Ladybug and Ryuuko end up near the Trocadéro, waiting for the moment when Sanguisuga comes after them.

“Enough!” Sanguisuga floats above the smoke, a hideous snarl twisting her cyanic face. “Just give me your Miraculouses and save yourselves this trouble! I’ll win in the end!”

“Then come and get them!” Ladybug calls, waving the scooper above her head. Sanguisuga shrieks and dives after her, shooting purple beam after purple beam from her bracelet, but Ladybug just uses the metal scooper to catch each beam and flick them back at Sanguisuga to blind her, even if she’s not affected by her own energy-draining power.

“Water Dragon!” Ryuuko hefts her sword and summons her water power as a glimmering whip in her free hand. While Ladybug keeps Sanguisuga off-balance, Ryuuko flicks her water whip and catches Sanguisuga across the face, slapping her right out of the air and into one of the Trocadéro columns, where gravity peels her off the stone and sends her crashing to the ground.

“Cataclysm!” Chat Noir rakes his claws across the column and sends it crumbling on top of Sanguisuga, pinning her to the ground from the waist-down. But her hands are still free and she’s full of energy from the people she’s drained, so she’s slowly pulling herself free of the wreckage while aiming straight at Ladybug with a twisted growl. Before she can fire –

“Venom!” Honeybee kneels and pokes Sanguisuga directly on the neck with her pulsating trompo. “Ha. Looks like the vampire was the one bitten this time.”

“I’ll give you a five out of ten for that,” Chat Noir says. Honeybee sniffs and tosses her hair.

“Fuck you, Adrichat. My jokes are impeccabeele.”

“Okay, what’s with the puns? You’ve never done them before.”

“I can’t let my best friend out-dork me, thank you very much.”

Ladybug groans and facepalms. “Thanks, Chat, you’ve created a monster. Just break the akuma already.” Then she can fix everything and get Luka back and they can sort out what to do about Chat Noir’s identity and put this whole thing behind them and go for ice cream and cuddles –

“Ladybug!” Ryuuko elbows her gently. Ladybug blinks and shakes her head to snap herself out of her thoughts and capture the akuma. Once it’s purified, she throws the scooper into the air with trembling fingers.

“Miraculous Ladybug!”

The healing ladybugs swarm around the Trocadéro, fixing every single zompire and the damage caused by the battle and returning Alix, Juleka, and Petite Souris from their hiding place, then heading for the tip of the Eiffel Tower, and Ladybug lets out a choked half-laugh because that means that Luka’s been fixed. He’s okay!

“Huh?” Lila blinks and stares around from where she’s kneeling on the ground. “Where am I? Oh no! Was I akumatised again?” She starts to fake-cry, and Ladybug resists the near-irresistible urge to roll her eyes to high heaven.

“Don’t cry, Lila!” A recovered Rose rushes to help Lila up. “No one can help being akumatised!”

That much is true. But Lila had most definitely been pulling her shit even before she was akumatised, and Ladybug doesn’t intend to let her get away with any of it.

“I’m so sorry,” Lila sniffles. “I was just…I guess I was a little jealous, and Hawkmoth took advantage of me, and I feel so dirty –”

“Save the sob story,” Ladybug says shortly. “Marinette told Ryuuko and I that you admitted to breaking her arm that time when Tangleweed attacked. You certainly weren’t akumatised when you did that. You weren’t akumatised when you pulled off that power play against Adrien when he first rejected you. And you weren’t akumatised when you told those lies about being my friend and everything else.”

“I – but – how dare you!” Lila gasps. “I thought we were – well, we’re certainly not friends now! How could you hold what I said as an akuma against me? You don’t know that I wasn’t lying! And you weren’t in any hurry to denounce me before now; if I really was lying, why wouldn’t you speak up about it? Huh?”

“Because you were relatively harmless before now.” Ladybug’s earrings beep, but she ignores them. “Just telling celebrity lies to make yourself look good, and I don’t concern myself with teenage girl matters. But you’ve crossed a line, Lila Rossi. You put innocent civilians in direct danger simply because the boy you like stuck to his boundaries. Adrien’s reputation could have been permanently smeared and his father could have punished him for something he never did.”

“I told him, I had a traumatic flashback to an abusive boy in Italy!”

“Marinette could have died from that fall if she’d landed wrong – you’re lucky she only broke her arm.”

“I – I bumped into someone and accidentally caused that chain effect! I just didn’t say anything because I knew people would blame me and hate me, just like now, and I didn’t want –”

“Long story short?” Ladybug takes a step towards Lila and tilts her head with her frostiest glare. “Stay away from Adrien and Marinette. Stay away from Luka and Kagami. I really don’t care if others still want to be your friend after this, but you’ll leave those four and their friends alone. Understand?”

“Ladybug, I –”

Understand?’

Lila swallows and clenches her fists, her olive eyes blazing with sheer hatred for a second before she looks down and starts fake-sniffling. Honestly, Ladybug can’t give half a damn if Lila loathes her.

“I understand,” Lila says. “I’m sorry for being such an inconvenience. I understand that you don’t want to associate with me anymore.”

Ladybug just raises an eyebrow. With a sniff, Lila tosses her hair and storms off, leaving Rose, Juleka, and Alix blinking as they try to process the confrontation that had just happened. Even Petite Souris looks floored, though Ladybug can’t fathom why. Do they believe her? Hopefully not. But Lila does know what strings to pull, and no one wants to believe that someone’s evil – especially not a teenage girl – so Ladybug doesn’t even know anymore. And right now, with Chat Noir’s identity and post-battle exhaustion to deal with as the adrenaline drains out of her, she honestly can’t even care.

“Good job, everyone,” Ladybug says quietly. “Tonight, eight o’clock, at the Eiffel Tower. We need to talk this out.”

Honeybee clears her throat and raises her hand. “Um,” she says. “I’m sure I could arrange an empty suite at Da – uh, at Mayor Bourgeois’ hotel. Just for us superheroes and stuff, so we’ve got a safe place to meet and chill. He’d make sure that it was off-limits to everyone else and that Hawkdick wouldn’t know about it, if he said it was for m – uh, his daughter.”

“You’re not fooling anyone, Chloé,” Alix mutters, too quiet for the other bystanders to hear. Honeybee immediately flips her off.

“That’s really considerate of you, Honeybee,” Ladybug says. “You’ve come a long way.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Honeybee says. “Just go away and detransform, alright? We can still meet at the Tower and go from there.” Before she leaves, she makes a beeline for Chat Noir and throws her arms around him, then kisses his cheek. “You’ll be okay, Adrichat?”

Chat Noir nods and squeezes Honeybee’ biceps. “Yeah. Thanks, Chlo. See you tonight.”

“Um,” Petite Souris pipes up, clutching at her pendant. “My Miraculous? I have to give it back?”

“No,” Chat Noir says, bouncing on the balls of his feet, no doubt anxious to go and check on Luka. “You passed the test, we trust you to give it back, so on. Just meet us here tonight.”

“Even though I totally messed up?”

“You did well for your first akuma,” Ladybug says firmly. “Especially one as chaotic and strong as Sanguisuga. You got two civilians out of harm’s way and allowed Chat Noir to focus on the battle.”

Petite Souris’s brown eyes light up. “Oh! Okay!” she says. With that, she and Honeybee take off in parallel paths, while Rena Rouge and Carapace split from each other and head in opposite directions. Ladybug, Chat Noir, and Ryuuko head for the Eiffel Tower to detransform under cover.

“Oh my god.” Adrien collapses against Marinette and clings to her like she’s a buoy in the middle of the ocean. “They know, Mari, they know. What am I gonna do now? I can’t stop being Chat Noir. I can’t. Please, you can’t let him take it from me –”

“Hey. Hey. Just breathe.” Marinette strokes Adrien’s back softly, soothingly, trying to ground him against the panic attack she can feel wracking his body, turning his breaths hoarse and shallow. “We won’t, okay? We’ll get through this. We won’t let him take your ring. We won’t let Hawkmoth target your father.”

“This is a Ladybug and Chat Noir matter. I’m going to go and check on Luka,” Kagami whispers. Marinette shoots her a thumbs-up and nods, then guides Adrien down so that they’re sitting on the cool concrete against one of the thick Tower legs. Tikki and Plagg dart out and snuggle between Adrien and Marinette once they’ve made sure that the coast is clear.

“You’re not gonna lose me, kid,” Plagg says. “I’ll damn well fight if Fu tries to take me.”

“I agree,” Tikki says. “It’s not ideal that Hawkmoth knows your secret identity, but you and Marinette have developed a unique bond since your first day as partners. Trying to replace you would throw off that dynamic and could impair Marinette in turn. Even if he did give the ring to Luka or Kagami, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Hawkmoth to assume that one of them was the new Black Cat because of their relationships with you and Marinette.”

“And he can’t take my Miraculous either,” Marinette says. “Bringing in a new Ladybug and Chat Noir while Hawkmoth’s growing stronger…as Chloé would say, that’s ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous!”

Adrien forces out a weak laugh at that. “Still not up to us,” he rasps. “If Fu says –”

“Screw him,” Plagg says. “We’re the ancient cosmic beings, not him. I choose to stay with you.”

“Maybe we should just go and see him before you start panicking too much,” Tikki says. “We can work out a solution together, alright? But I’m with Plagg: I refuse to let him be taken away from you. Understand?”

Adrien snorts at that, but he still reaches up to stroke Tikki and Plagg with two fingers. “I understand. Thanks, guys. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Now we just have to figure out how to get you to Master Fu’s place without people swarming you,” Marinette jokes.

“Why, princess, it’s as though you doubt my cat-like skills.”

“You’re such a dork, Adrien!”

Chapter Text

Although the plan is to go and visit Master Fu and discuss their next move, a wrench in the form of Adrien’s sleek car pulling up at the Eiffel Tower and honking is thrown into that plan.

“You sure?” Marinette says when Adrien heaves a deep sigh at the sight. “You can transform, you know, and they can’t exactly do anything about it.”

“No, I should go,” Adrien says. “I’ll just be delaying the inevitable. But trust me, Father won’t be stopping me from Chat Noir. That’s one thing I will put my foot down on.”

Marinette smiles and pushes herself on her tiptoes to press a quick kiss to Adrien’s lips. “Good luck,” she says and squeezes his hand. “Text as soon as you’re free, okay? I’ll probably gather the team now instead of waiting until tonight. That reminds me, who’s Petite Souris?”

“Mylène,” Adrien says. “I was…well, I was desperate once I knew that Sanguisuga would get to Luka first. I just kind of knew that the Rat would be helpful. And she was the first one I found. Is that…okay?”

“Of course it is, silly kitty.” Marinette kisses Adrien on the cheek. “Don’t doubt your instincts. Mine haven’t been wrong yet and neither have yours.”

Adrien smiles and looks down at the ground with pink cheeks. “She suits it, doesn’t she?” he says. “I don’t think Alix or Juleka would’ve pulled it off as well as she did.”

“A hundred percent,” Marinette says. “Can you text her and tell her to meet at the hotel, since she knows you’re Chat Noir?”

“Of course. That’s my bugaboo.” His cheeks still dusted with pink, Adrien squeezes her hand, then turns to head for his car, ever so slowly letting go of her hand so that they’re left joined by their pinkies before he inevitably has to fully release her. Once his car has driven off, Marinette lets out a deep sigh and pulls out her phone.

[1:56 pm] miraculass

ladyBIrd: @everyone nvm about tonight, meet at hotel asap, I’m heading there now so I’ll meet Honeybee on the roof

honeybeetch: asdfghjkl ok lb

what does the fox say: kk

mess w turt u get hurt: how’s adrien?

ladyBIrd: facing the music with his dad

mess w turt u get hurt: :|

airhead: I’ll be there soon and I’m bringing Luka

what does the fox say: wait why does luka get to sit in on superhero business

ladyBIrd: I’ll explain everything

honeybeetch: lb hurry the fuck up and get here

what does the fox say: smooth

honeybeetch: fuck off

Marinette can’t help the snort that escapes her at Rena Rouge and Honeybee’s banter as she shoves her phone back into her purse, then takes extra care to make sure that no one can see her behind the Eiffel Tower leg.

“You ready?” she whispers. Tikki darts out and nods.

“All recharged, Marinette!”

“Tikki, spots on!”


“Adrien.”

Adrien gulps. If Gabriel’s waiting on the staircase rather than hiding away in his atelier, this conversation is not going to go well.

“H-Hello, Father,” he forces out. Gabriel dismisses Nathalie with a nod, then descends the staircase and pauses directly in front of Adrien. The gleam in his eyes as he takes Adrien’s hand and examines the ring leaves an unsettled pit in Adrien’s stomach. Gabriel’s probably just a Miraculous enthusiast, right? Hence why he’d had the Peacock? But there’s just something…unnerving about his face right now. Something almost greedy and…triumphant?

“All this time…” Gabriel murmurs.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, Father,” Adrien says. “I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone –”

“Oh, I know. We all have our, ahem…little secrets. And I think it’s time I shared mine with you, in light of this new information. Come with me. I have a task for you…son.”

Okay, so Adrien had expected his father to act weird because of the news that he’s Chat Noir. But there’s weird and there’s leading him into the atelier and pausing before the painting of his mother with an odd smile.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Gabriel says. “You look so much like her. Perhaps that’s why it’s been so hard to look at you. To see Emilie in you every time you’re around…”

“Perhaps that’s why it’s been so hard to look at you.” The words are like a slap in the face, leaving Adrien reeling back with an audible gasp that Gabriel seems to ignore. Plagg darts out and nuzzles against Adrien’s cheek to comfort him.

“It all makes sense. You’re never around when akumas attack. Adrien was never in danger because he had magic to protect him.” The hungry gleam in Gabriel’s eyes as he watches Plagg unblinkingly sends sick shivers down Adrien’s spine. He can’t shake the feeling that something’s going to happen, something massive, and it involves Gabriel, and…is Gabriel really Hawkmoth like they’d suspected all those months ago? It’s a thought he’s shelved for his own sanity, especially after Gabriel had been akumatised, but with the way Gabriel’s acting right now…

“F-Father?” Adrien croaks. “What’s going on?”

For a moment, Gabriel says nothing. Then he sighs and reaches out to press several spots of Emilie’s dress simultaneously, and the ground beneath them starts to descend so rapidly that Adrien yelps and instinctively clings to Gabriel’s arm. For some reason, Gabriel doesn’t even react and shake Adrien off like he normally would.

Okay. Another point for the “Gabriel is Hawkmoth” theory. Who the hell has an elevator installed in their atelier?

Oh. Shit. Gabriel could be Hawkmoth. And the Black Cat Miraculous is literally right next to him. Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Adrien pushes Plagg back into his shirt with the hand containing his Miraculous, wiggling his fingers until Plagg finally gets the message and the ring starts to slip off Adrien’s finger. If it comes down to it, so long as Plagg can get away with the ring and warn the others, that’s all that matters to Adrien right now.

“Come,” Gabriel says once the elevator grinds to a halt before a metal catwalk in a dark room. As he and Adrien cross the catwalk, lights begin to slam on, bathing the room in artificial fluorescence and revealing it to be full of greenery, with an odd, cylindrical object in the middle of the patch of grass.

“Father –”

“You must understand.” Gabriel stops next to the cylindrical thing and grabs Adrien by the shoulders. There’s so much tension in his hands that Adrien can’t help but wonder if he’s two seconds from snapping like a taut string and shaking the life out of his own son. “Everything I’ve done has been for you.”

“F-Father…are you Hawkmoth?” Adrien whispers. A corner of Gabriel’s mouth twitches.

“I never intended to hurt you,” Gabriel says. “One of my mortal enemies, my own son…well, there’s definitely a sense of poetry in that, is there not?”

The nausea bubbling inside Adrien threatens to rise into his throat at the confirmation; the confirmation that his father is the magical terrorist who’s been traumatising Paris all this time. No. No. It can’t be! Having that suspicion all the way back when he’d found the book and the brooch is nothing compared to having the confirmation before his eyes. But how can he warn the others?

“…the Butterfly’s akumas create internal change within the target themselves, and so a transformed Butterfly cannot affect themselves with an akuma.” Master Fu’s words from months ago come swimming to the forefront of Adrien’s mind. “And akumatising themselves when not transformed, without the safety net of the holder’s control over the akuma, can potentially have harmful effects on their psyche. Only a truly desperate holder would akumatise themselves.”

Is Gabriel really that desperate that his own son isn’t enough to stop him from going to these lengths? And just how much of this is Gabriel? How much has he been warped from akumatising himself into the Collector? Judging from the Collector’s single-minded drive to capture and collect everything around him, does that mean that Gabriel’s just gotten so much more obsessive about achieving his goal? If so, how dangerous is he to Adrien right now, and is he seeing Adrien…or Chat Noir?

“You’re a monster!” Adrien bursts out. “You’ve been terrorising Paris all this time, and for what? Ultimate power? A wish that comes with a price?”

“You don’t understand!” Gabriel shouts. Adrien takes a reflexive step back, then freezes when a small purple thing comes zooming out of Gabriel’s jacket and rests on Adrien’s shoulder. A…kwami with butterfly wings? Is this Nooroo?

“Master, you’re scaring your son!” Nooroo says in a little, high voice. “I’m sorry, Adrien. I never wanted to be part of any of this.”

Gabriel visibly takes a deep breath. “Very well. I’ll explain. And then you’ll see, Adrien, why you should help me in my goal.”

“I’ll never help –”

But the cylinder starts to whir and the top of it slides open before Adrien can finish his sentence, to reveal – to reveal – no

Mother?” Adrien claps a hand over his mouth to hold back the bile that rises at the sight of Emilie Agreste inside the cylinder – the coffin – with her eyes closed, dressed in a sleek white suit, looking as though she’s just sleeping rather than – rather than –

“She’s not dead,” Gabriel says as Adrien sinks to his knees and rocks back and forth, trying desperately to cope with the sudden influx of emotions coursing through him at the knowledge that his mother isn’t dead, she’s been here all this time, underneath his feet! “Merely damaged by the Peacock Miraculous. You ask why I want the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses? I want to fix the damage done to her, to bring your mother back for you!”

“Did Nooroo tell you there’s a price to pay?” Plagg comes darting out of Adrien’s shirt and hovers in front of Gabriel, thankfully without the ring. “You really wanna mess with the universe, Gabriel Agreste?”

“I know…sacrifice myself –”

“– don’t get to pick who –”

The whole exchange is distorted, like Adrien’s underwater, but it still somewhat registers in his frying brain. Desperate, he fumbles in his pocket for something, anything to ground him, and his fingers close around something bumpy, something that turns out to be a little charm when he pulls it out – Marinette’s lucky charm! Of course! His lucky charm from his lady!

“– universe could take Adrien, but you don’t seem to give enough of a shit about him –”

“– you dare –”

Adrien can’t breathe – why is the light so bright, why is his mother there, taunting him, just out of reach, little butterfly thing in front of him, mouthing something, but he can’t hear, he can’t hear, he can’t breathe, purple light, why did butterfly thing disappear –

“– universe would shift to accommodate – not just as simple as swapping a life for a life –”

Enough!” Adrien clutches at his hair, yanking, gasping, struggling to draw in oxygen as black spots dance at the edge of his vision. “Why? Why? Why? Just leave me alone!”

“Adrien. Son. Look at me.”

Purely on autopilot, Adrien’s body obeys and when he looks up, his father is no longer there. No, now it’s a man with a silvery head mask, dressed in a purple suit – it’s Hawkmoth, his mortal enemy, his father

“You can help me,” Hawkmoth says in a voice that sounds a million miles away. “Join me, son, and help me take Ladybug’s Miraculous. Then you’ll have your mother back. Isn’t that what you want?”

Hawkmoth’s words are smooth, honeyed, sticking to Adrien, trying to draw him into their trap. But…no. He’s a hero. He can’t betray his lady, his Marinette, all his friends, the world, just to bring back someone who he’s already started to move on from, because yeah, it hurts to think of Emilie, but he’s been making progress, he’s moving on

“No,” Adrien gasps around the iron band constricting his chest. “I can’t. I won’t.”

“Don’t be selfish!” Hawkmoth hisses. “You want your mother back! I’m doing this for you!”

Not like this!”

Hawkmoth sighs and flips open the top of his cane. “Then I have no choice.”

“Adrien, look out!” Plagg cries as an evil, dark butterfly emerges from the cane and makes a beeline for Adrien. He gasps and shuffles back, trying desperately to avoid it, because he can’t give in, he can’t betray everyone, but there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to run, why can’t he get away from this?

“Plagg! Please!” Adrien’s voice cracks as the akuma darts at his lucky charm, and he’s suddenly filled with despair, betrayal, he’s drowning in it, he wants to cry and scream and do something, anything, to fix this, to right this wrong that’s been done against him, he just wants it all to go away, he can’t cope –

“Be strong, kid!” says a voice through the fog as something brushes against his side.

No!” Hawkmoth bellows, both far away and deep in Adrien’s mind, so deep that he can’t get away no matter how much he gasps and cries and tugs at his hair. “Fine. It matters not. You can just get the ring back for me.”

“No,” Adrien chokes. It’s clear in that moment that he’s not going to be able to hold out, not in his current state of mind, but if he can just hold on, he can give Plagg a chance to get away and then the ring will be safe from Hawkmoth.

Yes.” The word reverberates through Adrien’s mind, compelling him to obey. “Phantom, you will obey me. I grant you the power to possess others, to control them and bend them to your will. Once you bring me the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses, you’ll have your mother back. Your family will be whole again. Do we have a deal?”

“N-No!”

“Yes!”

No!”

Yes!”

“Stopitstopitstopit – get out of my head –”

Obey me!”

The direct order from his father slams into him both physically and mentally, unbalancing him, and that brief lapse in resistance is just what Hawkmoth needs, and cold, sickly power washes over Adrien, enveloping him, pushing him down into the abyss until everything is dark and he knows nothing…

Devoid of spirit, Phantom rises to his feet. The purple man in front of him grins, and he knows he should hate this man – Hawkmoth – but he just can’t muster up any feelings of hatred. He’s blank, floating in apathy, and it’s actually kind of blissful in a way, to not have to care about anything except what Hawkmoth tells him to do.

“Good boy, Phantom,” Hawkmoth purrs. “You’ll listen to your father, won’t you? Tell me: who is Ladybug? Who are the other Miraculous holders?”

Opening his mouth to follow that order is like a bucket of cold water falling on Phantom; he gasps and staggers back, then fumbles for the pitch-black bracelet around his ghostly white wrist to get this evil butterfly away, far away, and if he can get it to Ladybug – to Marinette – because he can’t betray his teammates, he can’t, if he has a smidgen of resistance then let it be for this –

“Enough!” Hawkmoth says, and Phantom sinks back beneath the waves of apathy, swaying on the spot as he awaits his next order, his resistance thoroughly squashed. “No matter. Phantom, you will simply take me to the other Miraculouses yourself.”

They’ll all be together at the Eiffel Tower, but that won’t be until tonight. And the thought of betraying Ladybug causes the faintest stirrings of some kind of feeling deep in Phantom’s core, so he steers himself as far away from it as possible so that he doesn’t have to leave this blissful apathy.

But if Hawkmoth wants Miraculouses, well, Phantom knows exactly where to go to get them.

Chapter Text

As Ladybug swings through Paris after Adrien’s departure, people stop and point and whisper after her, but she can’t find it in her to give half a damn about what they’re saying. Honestly, being Marinette would be way preferable to being Ladybug right now, because then at least she could go undetected in the crowd and not have to deal with the fallout of Adrien’s revealed identity nearly as much as she does now, because there’s no way that’s not what at least half the people down there are talking about.

God, what is she even going to do if Adrien does lose his Miraculous? Sure, she can work with another partner to get the job done, but…they won’t be Chat Noir. They won’t have that nearly-unspoken bond that she and Chat Noir have built. They won’t have the experience, they weren’t there on that first day when she was at her most inexperienced and her lowest, but she’s being selfish by continuing down this train of thought, she needs to do what’s right for Paris –

“Uh, Ladybug?” Chloé’s tapping her foot with crossed arms in front of Ladybug. Huh. Ladybug’s on the roof of Le Grand Paris. When had she arrived at the hotel? “Are you gonna stand there all day, or should I just go and announce your presence to Hawkmoth?”

“Sorry.” Ladybug shakes her head. “Just…got a lot on my mind.”

Chloé’s face softens. “Whatever. Just c’mon, already. Souris, Ryuuko, and Luka are already here.”

When Chloé had mentioned a superhero suite, Ladybug had been picturing a spacious hotel room; nothing too big, but certainly big enough for a team of six – now seven – superheroes. What she hadn’t been expecting, however, is a massive spread of three rooms to rival Chloé’s imperial suite, and her mouth falls open when Chloé holds the door open for her and she gets her first glimpse.

“I know, right?” Chloé says smugly. “Daddy nearly fell over himself to arrange it when I said that I came with a request from the superheroes themselves. It doesn’t have much yet, but I can get whatever movies we want and a mini fridge and microwave in case we want snacks or need to refuel our kwamis, and there’s only one bed but I plan on getting more –”

“Chloé. Honey,” Ladybug interrupts with a wan smile. “It’s perfect. Thank you for being so considerate.”

“Oh, of course.” Chloé tosses her ponytail. “Anyway, I’m gonna go back up there to wait for the fox and turtle.”

“Thanks, Chloé.”

Once Chloé shuts the suite door behind her, Ladybug turns to head into the right room, assuming the layout is the same as Chloé’s suite. Sure enough, she finds Ryuuko, Luka, and Petite Souris waiting on massive white couches, with platters of food on the table for them to snack on.

“Ma – Ladybug!” Luka’s eyes light up when she enters the room.

“You,” Ladybug growls, “are an idiot and I’m going to kill you.”

Luka’s face falls. “I don’t regret a thing,” he says. “I’d do it ten times over if it meant keeping you all safe.”

“Logically, it was the smart move,” Ryuuko says. “But I agree with Ladybug. I just might end up throttling you for it.”

“I don’t understand anything that’s going on right now, and I’m afraid to ask,” Petite Souris says, looking between each of them while blinking slowly.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Ladybug says. Ryuuko and Luka’s eyes widen.

“Are you sure?” Ryuuko says.

“I’m positive,” Ladybug says. “Hawkmoth knows who Chat Noir is now. We need to be able to fully work together as a team, in and out of the masks.”

Chloé returns at that moment with Rena Rouge and Carapace, who look like they’ve been bashed around the head as they take in the suite. Chloé just snorts and sits next to Petite Souris, whose jaw drops along with Luka’s at the sight of Pollen poking her head out of her cardigan.

“What?” Chloé snaps. “I know I fucked up as Queen Bee, but I’ve been a damn good Honeybee.”

“Hey, no one’s saying you’re not,” Ladybug says. “Calm down, Chloé. I just don’t think they were expecting you to be Honeybee because of how we made sure to throw everyone off the trail.”

“Oh. Right.”

“It doesn’t feel right without Adrien here,” Rena Rouge says after a few seconds of silence. Ladybug sighs and pulls her legs up so that she can hug her knees.

“I know. I hope his father doesn’t grill him too much. But there’s no way we’re replacing him, no matter how angry Mr Agreste gets.”

“Y’know, I never hated anyone except Hawkmoth before,” Carapace says. “But I kinda feel like that about Lila now for all the shit she’s done.”

“Don’t hate her,” Luka says. “That’s energy you could be directing elsewhere.”

“Luka’s right,” Ryuuko says. “Pour that energy into Adrien instead of Lila.”

“Um,” Ladybug says. “So, uh…I guess I should tell you all that I’m not in a four-way love square, but I am dating Adrien. Chat. Both.”

“Say, what?” Rena Rouge squints at Ladybug. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Because I’m tired of keeping secrets.” Ladybug clenches her fists. “Hawkmoth already knows who Chat Noir is, and part of the Miraculous magic means that akumas can’t read our minds or make us say who we are. The only thing they can do is take our Miraculouses themselves or brainwash us into physically coming to them as a Miraculous holder.”

“We’re revealing our identities?” Chloé says. “I mean, your identities, since everyone already knows who I am. Thanks, Shellhead.”

“Hey, that’s my nickname for him,” Rena Rouge complains. Chloé flips her off in response.

“Ryuuko and Luka already know who both of us are,” Ladybug says. “And Chat and I know every one of you. So, back to why I just mentioned the whole relationship mess.” Ladybug takes a deep breath and laces her fingers. This is it. No going back. But she’d trust every single teammate with her life – even Petite Souris, after today – and if knowing each other will strengthen their bonds? “We need to be able to fully trust each other, in and out of the mask. We’re a team. We’ve got the group chat to coordinate, but some of us know an identity or two, so our dynamic is rather…imbalanced if you ask me. And since Hawkmoth knows who Chat is, he could target Chat to find out our identities. It can’t possibly be any more dangerous for all of us to know each other if the pay-off is a stronger bond between all of us. Unlike Hawkmoth and his akumas, we can rely on each other.”

“Dude, if you’re trying to convince us, I don’t think you need to,” Carapace says. Ladybug’s lips twitch.

“I just want a promise from all of you,” she says. “Today, I was nearly distracted to the point of uselessness because someone I care about – Luka – was hurt by Sanguisuga. And ever since Chat and I found out each other’s identities, it’s become so much harder to watch him take hits for me. I want you all to promise that you’ll see each other as teammates first and friends second. Don’t just ignore your teammates and not care, obviously, but don’t let yourselves get distracted and take unnecessary hits. One of the reasons to keep our identities secret is so that if, say, two of us were best friends or dating, we wouldn’t let our emotions get the better of us in the middle of a fight.”

“Of course,” Ryuuko says. “And besides, your cure fixes everything.”

Ladybug lets out a shaky laugh. “Thanks for the vote of confidence. But even if I’m not around to fix things –”

“Ridiculous,” Chloé scoffs. “Ladybug always wins. You just have to accept that if it comes down to it, we have to take the hits for you so you can fix everything. It’s not us being ridiculously noble or whatever. It’s literally just common sense.”

“Apart from Adrien,” Rena Rouge snorts. “God, now I get why he was crushing so hard on Ladybug. But hey, I haven’t been ridiculously noble, have I?”

“No,” Ladybug says. “You’ve done a good job of prioritising the mission since Faux News.”

“I promise,” Petite Souris says. Rena Rouge and Carapace chime in their agreement, so Ladybug cracks a weak smile while still fiddling with her fingers.

“So, uh, who wants to go first?” she says.

“Ooh, me!” Rena Rouge bounces on the spot with gleaming eyes. “If I have to keep it a secret any longer, I’m gonna explode. Let’s rest.” In a flash of orange light, Alya’s sitting in her spot with Trixx drifting down to sit on her shoulder. The way Carapace’s eyes pretty much bulge out of his head behind his goggles is so comical that Ladybug almost ends up in hysterical giggles. Almost. If she didn’t have to be professional about this…

“I – uh – guh –” Carapace splutters.

Eww!” Chloé leans away from Alya. “I’ve been bonding with Césaire?”

“You think it wasn’t a slap in the face knowing you were Honeybee?” Alya says with a raised eyebrow. “Especially since I had to help you by throwing everyone off after Malediktator?”

“Blueberries!” Trixx zooms at the plate of fruit and dives into the berries. Chloé wrinkles her nose when he shovels one into his mouth.

“At least my kwami is dignified,” Chloé says. Pollen laughs and slips out of Chloé’s jacket to hover in mid-air.

“Indeed, my queen,” she says.

“Shell off,” Carapace manages to force out. An ashen-faced Alya chokes and nearly falls off the couch when Nino appears next to her in Carapace’s place.

Nino?” she shrieks. “My superhero rival – my boyfriend?”

“I hated your guts!” Nino jabs a finger at her. “I thought you were flirting with me!”

“I wasn’t! I thought you were a dick! We hated each other because we loved each other?”

“Wait, you love me?” Nino’s eyes fill with stars. Alya groans and facepalms.

“Yes, you idiot! I even started to like Carapace, like some sort of superhero cliché, but noooo, I had to be loyal to my boyfriend because I’m not polyamorous! And it turns out that he was my love-hate rival!”

“DJ Tupac? Of course!” Chloé throws her hands up in the air. “And let me guess, dragon girl’s secretly Marinette or something?”

Ryuuko snorts. “Wrong red superhero with black hair. Open skies.”

The first person who seems to put all the puzzle pieces together upon seeing Kagami is Alya. Her eyes nearly pop out of her head, and she opens and closes her mouth like a goldfish, and then she shakily points from Ladybug to Kagami and then Luka.

“You – all of you – dating – and all of us – ohmygodmybestieisLadybugI’mgonnafuckingdie –”

“Please don’t,” Ladybug laughs, while Nino, Chloé, and Petite Souris splutter and have their own freak-outs at the realisation of her identity. “I’d hate to have to replace you. Spots off.”

“Finally!” Kagami bounds over to Marinette’s couch so that she can wrap her arms around Marinette’s waist and rest her head in Marinette’s lap, while Longg floats up to join his fellow kwamis. Luka’s only seconds behind, dropping down next to Marinette and drawing her into a side embrace.

“Hello!” Tikki settles on Marinette’s head and waves. “I’m Tikki, Ladybug’s kwami! Pleased to finally meet you all!”

“That’s the toy I gave Prince Ali! I looked up to Marinette Dupain-Cheng?” Chloé shrieks. “All that bullying and then sucking up – oh my god, this is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous –”

“Look at it this way, Chloé,” Marinette says. “How else did I know how your progress was going? Why else would I have picked you for the Bee?”

“I – I mean, sure, if you look at it that way –”

“Get calm!” Petite Souris blurts out and turns into Mylène in a flash of pale pink light.

Mylène?” Alya exclaims. “Wait, since when are you a superhero, girl?”

“Since today.” Mylène holds her head high despite how her whole body is trembling. On her knee, the little rat kwami – Mullo, Marinette believes his name is – shoots her an approving look. “I understand if I wasn’t your first choice, Ladybug. Chat Noir said that I was the first one he could find –”

“That doesn’t make you a bad choice,” Marinette says firmly. “You did very well today. You saved me and Kagami, and you tried to take on Sanguisuga even though you were scared. You were super brave. Maybe Petite Souris can help you be brave as Mylène too.”

“Ugh, no wonder you were all “triumph of evil is good people doing nothing” and whatever,” Chloé says.

“Actually, that was thanks to me,” Alya says. “Ladybug’s best friend. Who I said I’d do on my freebie list. Oh my god.”

“Guys, the reveal was to make us stronger, not make us argue over little stuff,” Marinette says before Alya can start freaking out at the realisation that her celebrity crush is her best friend.

“We’ve been reactive for way too long,” Kagami says. “Hawkmoth now knows Chat Noir’s identity. We need to proactively try and find him before he can cause more harm.”

“Honestly, part of the reason why we’ve been so reactive is that Tikki didn’t think we were ready,” Marinette admits. “Who knows how long he’s been a Butterfly wielder? But with this team, I know we can take a more proactive stance.”

“We should start coming up with some ideas now, then,” Luka says. “You can fill Adrien in through the group chat tonight.”

“Good idea!” Mylène rummages around in her bag for a notebook and pen. “We can write our ideas down in here. I’m always prepared for when Ivan thinks of song lyrics and doesn’t have anything to write them down with!”

“So.” Marinette cards her fingers through Kagami’s hair; such a normal action as opposed to the conversation they’re about to have. “Any ideas?”

But before anyone can toss a suggestion into the air, a tiny black thing comes barrelling through the open window of the superhero suite and skids to a halt above the table of food.

Wait. It’s not a thing. It’s…Plagg? With the ring around him?

“Plagg?” Marinette gasps. “What are you doing here? Where’s Adrien?”

“I’m sorry!” Plagg says with wild green eyes. “I’m sorry, Marinette, I tried to stop it, but I –”

“Plagg, slow down!” Tikki zooms up to Plagg and grabs his tiny paws, and she’s joined by Trixx, Wayzz, Pollen, Longg, and Mullo. “Was Adrien compromised? Tell us what happened.”

Plagg nods shakily. “So, Pigtails, remember when you and Adrien thought his dad could be Hawkmoth?”

Marinette claps a hand to her mouth to keep down the bile that threatens to rise into her throat. “Mr Agreste is Hawkmoth?” she whispers. “But – Adrien’s there! With him! And I just let him go! Plagg, what happened to Adrien?”

“His mother’s alive,” Plagg rasps. “Creepy dude’s been keeping her in some life support thing in the basement. That’s why he wants the Miraculouses: he wants to wish her back.”

“Wait, what?” Mylène says, while Chloé pales to the colour of chalk.

“A-Auntie Emilie?” she whispers.

“Combining the Ladybug and Black Cat Miraculouses lets you make one wish,” Tikki says. “But doesn’t he know that he has to pay a price of equal value? What if he has to sacrifice Adrien?”

“Doesn’t even matter right now.” Plagg covers his face with his hands and groans. “I shouldn’t have left! I shouldn’t have ditched my kitten like that! Now he’s Phantom and –”

“Wait. Phantom?” Luka leans forward so suddenly that Marinette nearly topples sideways. One look at his face is enough to make Marinette shiver, because Luka Couffaine isn’t a boy who gets angry easily, but his expression right now is terrifying enough to make her want to hand over her earrings just to erase it from existence. “Adrien was akumatised?”

Chloé lets out a loud gasp, while everyone else looks to be turning various shades of green. “Adrikins! How could his father do that to him?”

“He tried to resist,” Plagg says miserably. “My poor kitten tried so hard. But between finding out his dad’s Hawkmoth and his mum’s alive…he managed to resist enough to not tell Hawkie who you guys are, though.”

“So…is Phantom going to come after us, even if he didn’t reveal who we are?” Kagami says, pushing herself up so that she can reach over and grab Marinette and Luka’s hands. “He knows our identities.”

“Not yet.” Plagg shakes his head viciously. “As far as he knows, you guys aren’t meeting till tonight. But…he’s gonna take Hawkmoth to get other Miraculouses.”

Marinette shrieks and tries to jump to her feet so quickly that her arms are forced to windmill so that she doesn’t fall flat on her face. “Master Fu! He knows where to find Master Fu!”

“Master who?” Chloé says.

“Master Fu!” Wayzz’s yellow eyes are wide with horror. “The Guardian of the Miraculouses! My previous holder!”

“Guys!” Marinette takes a deep breath and starts mildly flapping her hands to give her a physical anchor to focus on. “Okay. Make sure you stick together. We don’t know how strong Phantom is or what his powers are, especially if Hawkmoth is with him. I have to get to Master Fu before Phantom does.”

“Possession and bending others to his will,” Plagg says quietly. “He’s literally a ghost. A shade of himself.”

Marinette winces. “Great. God, I hope Adrien doesn’t remember any of this when we save him…”

“Bits and pieces.” Chloé’s shoulders slump. “They’re not really concrete memories. They’re like little flashes that come when there’s a reminder.”

“We’ll come with you,” Kagami says, then holds up a hand before Marinette can protest. “You shouldn’t go alone in case Phantom and Hawkmoth are there. We can help take down Hawkmoth, and I can at least buy us some time to get away if we need to retreat.”

“So can I, with Mirage,” Alya chimes in.

“Kagami’s right,” Tikki says. “Master Fu would much rather you bring back-up, even if it means other people knowing where he is. And if Hawkmoth finds him, it won’t really matter much, will it?”

“You’re right,” Marinette sighs. “Okay. Plagg, where’s the akuma, do you know?”

“The charm you gave him back during the game tournament.” Plagg’s ears droop. “It’s around his wrist. That’s all I saw before I got the heck outta there.”

“Everyone get that?” Marinette says, and her teammates nod. “Don’t take unnecessary risks. We’ve got each other’s backs, but don’t lose focus, or Hawkmoth could get away with Adrien and the Miracle Box. Speaking of…Luka, if you’re willing, could you –?”

Plagg’s already swooping down to Luka before Marinette can finish speaking. Luka nods and holds out his hand so that Plagg can rest on his palm and deposit the ring.

“Of course, Marinette,” he says, slipping the ring onto his finger.

“Right. Let’s do this!” Marinette says. “Tikki, spots on!”

“Plagg, claws out!”

“Trixx, let’s pounce!”

“Pollen, buzz on!”

“Wayzz, shell on!”

“Longg, bring the storm!”

“Mullo, get squeaky!”

In a burst of rainbow light, seven superheroes take the place of seven teenagers. Luka’s Black Cat outfit is him to a tee: just a green-lined black leather jacket with a green paw print on the back of the jacket and his black fingerless gloves, over a high-collared black top, torn black pants with bright green visible beneath the rips, black combat boots, a studded black belt that falls into a tail behind him, green cat eyes behind a plain black mask, and green-lined black cat ears sticking out of his hair, which is now tipped in bright green. He reaches back to unclip his baton from the small of his back and nods, his mouth set in a stormy line.

“Just call me Noir,” he says. “Doesn’t feel right to come up with a name and everything when I’m not the real Black Cat. And Hawkmoth will probably guess who I am anyway.”

With a terrifying light in her eyes, Honeybee cracks her knuckles and growls, “That son of a bitch is gonna pay for what he’s done to my Adrikins.”

“Sorry, Honeybee, but you’ll have to get in line,” Ryuuko says, unsheathing her sword. The zing that results is sharp and deadly, honing Ladybug’s focus to the mission before her because with no Chat Noir, it’s up to her to step up and be the sole leader. As amazing as Noir is, he’s not Chat Noir.

“Everyone ready?” she says. Her teammates nod, so she takes a deep breath. “Then let’s go and kick butterfly butt.”

Chapter Text

As they bound through Paris, Ladybug prays to the heavens that Hawkmoth and Phantom haven’t yet found Master Fu, so that she can warn him and make sure he’s safe. But unfortunately, for the avatar of luck, she seems to be pretty damn unlucky when it counts.

“No,” she moans when they land in front of Master Fu’s place and are greeted with the sight of the door hanging off its hinges. “They got here first. Of course they did!”

“Hey.” Noir grabs her hand and squeezes. The leather is warm and familiar, but…he’s still not Chat. “We’ll stop them, alright? We’ll save Master Fu and Adrien.”

“If Hawkmoth thinks he’s gonna get away with doing this to my bro, he’s got another thing coming,” Carapace says. The dangerous fury on his face is a look that Ladybug hopes to never again see from Nino Lahiffe, lest she have nightmares for the rest of her life.

“I’ll go first,” she says. “Noir, cover me. Everyone else, be ready to act.”

Unslinging her yo-yo, Ladybug sidles into the massage parlour with Noir at her side, his baton ready to strike any potential threat. The entrance of the building is empty and eerie, and it takes every scrap of willpower to not jump every time she or Noir takes a breath and fills the silence with the whoosh of air. But as they approach the main room of the parlour, the sound of voices wafts out from behind the ajar door, and Ladybug immediately halts and holds her hand up to stop Noir.

“…only a matter of time,” says a chillingly familiar voice. Ladybug suppresses the urge to shiver at Hawkmoth’s deep, lulling tones that have convinced so many in Paris to accept his devil deals. “The others will soon arrive to save the great Guardian and then all the Miraculouses will be mine. Especially the Ladybug and Black Cat. Imagine my surprise when my chosen wielder attempted to use the Peacock and discovered that it was a fake! And then I find it here, repaired in your Miracle Box, and I realise that my son being one of my mortal enemies explains a lot!”

There’s a thump, followed by a low groan from Master Fu. Gritting her teeth, Ladybug digs her fingers into her spandex-covered forearms to prevent herself from bursting in there and ruining everything, but it’s not enough to stop the rush of hot hatred that surges through her. Not only is Hawkmoth willing to hurt his own son, but he’s also perfectly fine with beating up an old man!

“You are overconfident, Hawkmoth,” Master Fu says with a pained chuckle. “You think you can really defeat Ladybug and Chat Noir? Perhaps if you’d had the assistance of the Peacock –”

“Your eyesight must be failing you, old man. Chat Noir is here, serving me as my akuma. Without him, Ladybug stands no chance. And I can just grab the Peacock now and give it to my chosen wielder. You must be going senile if you think I didn’t bring backup.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure. The bond between a Ladybug and Black Cat can overcome more than you think.”

Ladybug squeals when arms clamp around her from behind, and she immediately starts to struggle against the iron-tight grip around her. Who’d grabbed her? Is it Phantom? No, the arms that are hauling her into the room are…leather-clad. Noir? What is he doing?

“Ah, Ladybug, right on time.” A triumphant smile spreads across Hawkmoth’s face. On the floor behind him is Master Fu, with the contents of the Miracle Box scattered around him…but no one else? Where’s Phantom? “Excellent work, my son.”

“Noir! What are you doing?” Ladybug cranes her neck to look up at Noir, and her stomach drops in horror upon seeing that his green cat eyes are now pure white and blank. Oh. Oh no. Plagg had warned them – he’d said that Phantom had the power of possession – why hadn’t she thought of that, she’s an idiot, and now she’s handed Hawkmoth their Miraculouses on a silver platter –

“As you can see, old man,” Hawkmoth says, his eyes glittering, “your precious bond is nowhere near enough to stop my son from obeying his father.”

“You’re a disgusting excuse for a parent,” Ladybug spits. She tries to wriggle out of Noir’s grip, but Phantom seems to have retained all his memories of her fighting style, because he doesn’t give her any opening at all. “How dare you? How dare you torment and akumatise Adrien and still call him your son?”

“I wouldn’t have needed to do so if you had given me your Miraculouses!” The gleam in Hawkmoth’s eyes is so unsettling that Ladybug’s stomach lurches, because just how far has Gabriel Agreste fallen in his mad pursuit to heal his wife? How much had his time as the Collector, without the safety net of the Butterfly, affected him? “Adrien won’t remember a thing. Once I have your Miraculouses, I can make my wish and he’ll forget that he was ever Chat Noir in the first place!”

“That’s not how it works!” Ladybug says. “What if Adrien is the one you sacrifice? You can’t control the price you pay for making the wish!”

“I’ll sacrifice myself! So long as Adrien has his mother back, nothing else matters!”

“And then what? You’ll leave him without a father? The universe will shift to accommodate your wish, Gabriel Agreste! How do you know that there won’t be another Hawkmoth? That Adrien’s mother won’t take on the mantle to bring you back? You can’t tamper with the cycle of the universe!”

“Enough!” Hawkmoth jabs his cane at Ladybug with a snarl. “You’re a child! You know nothing of love or pain!”

“I know enough to know that Adrien would be traumatised if he was aware of what you were doing.” Ladybug’s voice cracks with the tears she’s trying to hold back, because no way in hell is she going to show weakness in front of this pile of trash. “Was it worth it, Gabriel Agreste? Was it worth torturing him by showing him his mother? By tormenting him until he was vulnerable enough for you to akumatise? Even if you do make your wish, can you really live with yourself, knowing what you did to your own –”

White-hot pain explodes across Ladybug’s face, and she reflexively lets out a cry and tries to reach up to cradle her throbbing, burning cheek before remembering that she’s currently being held captive by both her partners in one.

Silence!” Hawkmoth’s hand, inches from Ladybug’s face, trembles madly. “You – you dare stand there and judge me, when you have no idea –”

A flash of green cuts Hawkmoth off, sending him reeling backwards with a gurgle. At the same time, there’s a crack behind Ladybug, and Noir staggers and his grip loosens just enough for her to wriggle free and whip her yo-yo from around her waist.

“Nice hit, Carapace,” she pants, hopping backwards to join her teammates. Carapace once more gives his terrifying smile.

“Most satisfying thing I’ve done in my life, dudette,” he says.

“Alright, everyone.” Ladybug narrows her eyes at Hawkmoth. “Take him down. And try not to hurt Noir or Adrien.”

“Cataclysm.” Phantom cradles his sparking hand with a twisted smile. It’s such an Adrien smile, such a Chat Noir smile, even though it’s on Luka’s face and corrupted, and for a moment, Ladybug can’t breathe. But then Phantom’s diving at her and she’s forced to duck out of the way, grab him by the arm, and slam him into the floor, then force his sparking hand against a nearby chest of drawers to nullify his Cataclysm. A moment later, Phantom sags underneath her.

“L-Ladybug?” he rasps. Ladybug’s stomach jolts when he looks over his shoulder and she’s met with hazy, confused green eyes instead of Phantom’s pure white.

“Phantom’s on the move!” she says, hauling Noir to his feet. “Noir, you’ll have to disappear soon to refuel –” She jumps back and whirls her yo-yo in front of her to fend off Hawkmoth’s sudden attack, while Noir ducks out of the room to detransform and refuel so that he can jump back in.

“Water Dragon.” Ryuuko cracks the water whip in her free hand and catches Rena Rouge, Carapace, Petite Souris, and Honeybee’s heads, smothering them with water while they choke and claw at their faces in an attempt to breathe. Shit. Well, at least they know where Phantom is now, though there’s not much she can do when she’s currently preoccupied with Hawkmoth.

“Yes, my son!” Hawkmoth crows, ducking a surprise attack from Noir, who’s back from refuelling. “Seize their Miraculouses!”

“Adrien! Kitty! You have to fight it!” Ladybug cries. She smoothly ducks a sweeping blow from Hawkmoth, then throws her yo-yo to try and pin him, but he’s quick to jump out of the way and crack Noir across the knuckles. Noir hisses and instinctively drops his baton, which Hawkmoth scoops up and aims right at him.

“I’m not Adrien,” Ryuuko – Phantom – says dully, devoid of life, of spirit. “I’m Phantom. Hand over your Miraculouses.”

Petite Souris is the first to collapse in an unconscious heap and Honeybee soon follows. Desperate to avoid Rena Rouge and Carapace sharing the same fate, Ladybug turns and wraps her yo-yo around Phantom’s whip arm and jerks, shattering the water whip and freeing Rena Rouge and Carapace, who stagger and gasp in massive gulps of air. Then Ladybug’s turning back to Hawkmoth just in time to catch his double-staff attack and leap away with Noir. Out of the corner of her eye, there’s a dark thing against one of the walls, but when Ladybug backflips out of the way of another attack and the mass is gone, she dismisses it as her imagination, no doubt from the adrenaline surging through her system.

“We’ll never win like this!” Ladybug says. She deflects Hawkmoth’s next blow, then is forced to throw herself to the ground when Phantom’s Thunder Dragon comes arcing at her and instead slams into the wall, blowing it to pieces and exposing them to the street outside. “Not when Phantom can take us over one by one and force us on a timer!”

She’s proven correct when, out of the corner of her eye, she catches sight of Carapace trying to slam his shield into Rena Rouge, who yelps and ducks out of the way, while a dazed-looking Ryuuko attempts to awaken Honeybee. Then Rena Rouge’s eyes flash white and she’s summoning her Mirage to blind Carapace and then batting him around the head with her flute, before her eyes are once more normal and Ryuuko is diving at her, sword outstretched, only to catch on Carapace’s Shellter.

“Give up now!” Hawkmoth says with wild eyes. “You’ll never win, Ladybug! You’re only prolonging the inevitable! Phantom is my perfect akuma and you’ll never defeat him!”

“Perhaps not as he is,” says Master Fu’s voice. Ladybug whirls around as she dodges Hawkmoth’s next attack, and her eyes widen at the sight of her old mentor dressed in brown armour with baggy brown pants, a gold monkey-shaped mask, a golden circlet around his balding head, and a staff in his hands that Ladybug believes is called a Ruyi Jingu Bang, if she remembers her mother’s tales correctly. “But I think my team just needs a little assistance from Hóu. Uproar!”

“Uh, what?” mumbles a groggy Honeybee as Hóu catches the little black cat plushie that falls into his hand and starts angling around to search for Phantom. “Ridiculous, utterly…”

“Oh, get up, already!” Ryuuko yanks Honeybee to her feet. “Are you a superhero or not?”

“You try getting half-drowned,” Honeybee slurs. Then she straightens up with white eyes and tackles Ryuuko to the floor, calling upon Venom and jabbing her trompo at Ryuuko but instead catching Rena Rouge’s ankle when Ryuuko bats her hand away fast as lightning. Then Ryuuko jolts and kicks Honeybee off her and into the wall.

“Chat! Adrien!” Ladybug cries as Phantom stands and jerks her head around to take in Ladybug with a twisted smile marring Kagami Tsurugi’s face. “Please, you have to fight it!”

“I told you, I’m not Chat or Adrien.” Phantom jabs her sword at Ladybug, who yelps and bats it away with her yo-yo. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches Hawkmoth trying to angle around and come at her from behind, but Noir’s covering her back in an instant to allow her to focus on Phantom.

“Yes, you are.” Ladybug ducks an attack from Phantom, then tugs on Noir’s wrist to get him to duck so that she can lash out backwards and catch Hawkmoth by surprise, forcing him to relinquish the baton so that Noir can reclaim his weapon. “You’ll always be Adrien to me. You’ll always be my silly kitty.”

“That’s nice of you to say, Marinette,” Phantom says. Behind Ladybug, Hawkmoth sucks in a deep breath and Ladybug mutters a curse. Now they have to take Hawkmoth down or else…or else her identity will be known, and Hawkmoth will be free to target her friends and family all he wants!

“I’m not being nice. I’m just stating the truth,” Ladybug says, spinning her yo-yo to prepare for Phantom’s next attack. “I love you, kitty, no matter who you are. And I know you don’t really want to fight me. You could’ve floored me by now if you did. I know it. I know you.”

Phantom remains rooted to the spot, staring at Ladybug with wide, haunted milky eyes. She sucks in a deep breath, then starts to lower her sword, when –

No!” Hawkmoth bellows while jabbing at Noir, who leaps aside and tugs Ladybug out of the way too. “Attack her, my son! Take her Miraculous! Obey your father!”

Phantom shudders and shakes her head. “I – I can’t hurt my lady –”

“Fight him, Adrien!” Ladybug re-slings her yo-yo and rushes over to grab Phantom’s hands. “You don’t want to hurt me. You don’t want to hurt any of us. Your heart is massive, kitty. You’ve got so much love right in here.” She reaches up to rest a hand over Phantom’s heart, while choked gasps roll from between Phantom’s lips. “Hawkmoth – Gabriel Agreste – he won’t get away with this. I know you’d never choose to work with him.”

“I – I can’t –”

With a soft smile, Ladybug cups Phantom’s face and rests her forehead against Phantom’s, just like her mother always does with her. “I love you, Adrien,” Ladybug murmurs against Phantom’s mouth. “I love you, Chat Noir. Luka and Kagami and I love all of you, my sunshine. Please…”

Phantom shudders and sags against Ladybug, and Hóu is by their side in an instant, pressing the black cat plushie to Phantom’s back. Phantom gasps and slumps forward, nearly toppling Ladybug with her weight, and a pale figure staggers back from her, a disco ball hanging from his wrist.

“What in the world?” Hawkmoth says as Ladybug jumps away while supporting a dazed Ryuuko. Noir tries to take advantage of his distraction to attack, but Hawkmoth parries with lightning reflexes.

“Adrien?” Noir gasps after dodging an attack from Hawkmoth. Bile rises in Ladybug’s throat when she gets a good look at the pale figure and realises that it’s…Adrien. It’s literally Adrien, except with chalk-white skin, hair as white as snow, white clothes, and lifeless ivory eyes; the only colour on him is the silvery, flashing disco ball around his wrist. He looks…dead, like a ghost; a phantom of his former self. Oh, her poor kitty!

“Ladybug!” Hóu lashes out with his Ruyi Bang and shatters the disco ball into pieces, releasing the evil black butterfly from within the shards. With a snarl, Ladybug snatches the akuma with her yo-yo, while Ryuuko steps away with her eyes flickering between Adrien and Hawkmoth.

“No!” Hawkmoth bellows. “My perfect akuma!”

“I told you that you could never hope to overcome the bond between Ladybug and Chat Noir,” says Hóu with a triumphant smile.

“Time to de-evilise, Adrien!” Ladybug cries, releasing the white butterfly. A purple-black mass encases Phantom and melts away to leave a fully-coloured Adrien, who blinks owlishly and stares at the mess around him.

“What am I doing here?” he says slowly. His eyes widen when he registers exactly where he is and who he’s with. “Master? Why am I here? Hawkmoth? That’s – you’re my father – did you akumatise me –”

“Adrichat!” Honeybee grabs a hyperventilating Adrien by the arms and sinks to the ground with him. “Talk to me. Five things you can see. Now!”

“No matter,” Hawkmoth snarls, edging towards the collapsed wall. “I have plenty more akumas, and emotions are running quite high today. I’ll simply – gah!”

Ladybug blinks and readies her yo-yo when Hawkmoth staggers back and clutches at his throat. He’s seemingly being strangled by an invisible force…except that no, it’s not an invisible force. It’s tiny mouse people with their pink jump ropes wrapped around his throat, using the leverage of their feet planted against his nape to cut off his airway.

Souris?” Ladybug bursts out. Wait…hadn’t Petite Souris been knocked out by Phantom? Maybe she’d only just regained consciousness. Or maybe she’d hung back, waiting for the right moment to strike, like a mouse in the shadows.

“Take it, Ladybug!” one of the Petite Souris clones cries. “His Miraculous!”

Right. Miraculous first! With a growl, Ladybug closes her fingers around the spiky purple brooch at Hawkmoth’s collar and yanks, dislodging it from his suit jacket. In a flash of purple light, Hawkmoth is replaced with Gabriel Agreste, who sinks to his knees once the Petite Souris clones release him and leap down to the ground to meld back together into one girl.

“Adrien –”

“Don’t,” Ladybug snarls and throws her yo-yo to practically crack Gabriel’s ribs with how tightly she binds him. “You don’t have the right to speak to Adrien. You don’t deserve to even look at him.”

“Everything I did was for him!”

“No,” an ashen-faced Adrien hisses from where he’s being smothered by Honeybee, Rena Rouge, Carapace, and Ryuuko. “Everything you did was for you. Don’t try and pretend that you were doing it for me. I’d made my peace with Mother’s disappearance, even if it still hurt.”

“I was going to fix all of this! You wouldn’t remember a thing!” Gabriel’s eyes glitter madly. Ryuuko just snorts and shakes her head in disgust.

“But you would remember everything,” she says. “And clearly, you would be able to live with the memory of torturing your own son, or you wouldn’t have dreamed of going this far in the first place.”

“You can’t akumatise yourself,” Adrien whispers. “Not without the safety net from the Butterfly to protect your mind. Nooroo should have told you. Nooroo would have told you! But you never listen to anyone other than yourself!”

“Can anyone take him to the police?” Ladybug says before Gabriel can speak again and send Adrien spiralling even further. “Or have all of you used up your powers?”

“I think you’re the only one who hasn’t,” Noir says. His arms wrap around her from behind and she stiffens, but he doesn’t squeeze like he had when he was Phantom; his touch is light and grounding and honestly, exactly what she needs right now. “Will your Miraculous Ladybug start your timer?”

“Yes,” says a detransformed Master Fu, with the little monkey kwami Xuppu hovering by his side. “But it might be more appropriate for both Ladybug and Chat Noir to take Hawkmoth, as they are the original two heroes of Paris, and Plagg needs to refuel.”

“Right.” Ladybug ducks out of Noir’s embrace to unwind her yo-yo from around Gabriel, only to snatch Noir’s baton out of his hand and smash Gabriel around the head with it, just like Chat Noir had smacked Lila with the fire extinguisher all those months ago. Gabriel topples over like a sack of potatoes, out cold, but she still bashes him once more for good measure. Definitely not for personal satisfaction. Nope, she’s Ladybug, and Ladybug doesn’t do that.

“No fair,” Noir complains. “I wanted to do that.”

“Get in line, guitar boy,” Honeybee snaps.

“Miraculous Ladybug!” Ladybug throws her yo-yo into the air to release the healing ladybug swarm, which repairs the front of Master Fu’s parlour and all the damage that had been done during the battle. Thankfully, Gabriel remains unconscious and unmoving. Huh. Even Tikki can be petty when she wants to be. “Spots off.”

The others release their transformations as well. Luka crosses over to kneel next to Adrien, offering the silver ring, and Adrien lets out a wordless cry when Plagg zips over and nuzzles against his cheek. Marinette can’t help but smile at the sight, even if her eyes prickle as well as she throws herself down next to Adrien and wraps her arms around him so tightly that she doesn’t think she’ll ever let go. Adrien’s arm immediately snakes around her waist and pulls her even closer, and Marinette’s heart starts to physically break when she realises that Adrien’s arm is trembling uncontrollably but he’s not crying. He probably hasn’t cried in…gosh, how long?

“I can’t believe it’s over,” Mylène says, staring at Gabriel as though he’s a poisonous snake that’ll strike at any minute. “We defeated Hawkmoth!”

“You were amazing, Mylène,” Marinette says, and Mylène squeaks and ducks her head, red-faced. “We literally couldn’t have done it without you catching Hawkmoth off-balance like that. He was getting ready to hightail it out of here.”

“I’m afraid it’s not over just yet.”

Marinette and everyone else turn to face Master Fu with wide eyes. Grimly, he holds up the Miracle Box.

“Hawkmoth’s ally must have taken advantage of the chaos to sneak inside while our attention was elsewhere. The Peacock and the Tiger are missing.”