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Isolation Queen

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Marinette hummed to herself as she added details to an outfit she was designing. Pastel striped leg warmers with mismatched earmuffs and mittens made the perfect accessories for pale blue and white peacoat lined with faux fur, along with warm black leggings. It was the last of four outfits she designed, and soon they would join the four seasonal themed superheroes that Nathaniel had drawn earlier.

She had been grouped with Nathaniel for a creative assignment where they had to play to their strengths. While she did fantasize about working with Adrien, she definitely couldn't complain about being assigned to work with Nathaniel on an art project. The two of them ended up with the idea of a collage that combined fashion designs and superhero concepts, themed around the four seasons.

As she finished colouring the last lace hem, she set her pencils down and exhaled with relief that her part of the assignment was done. All that was left was to stick all the sketches to the poster board along with other decorations and details. But needing a break, she left the sketches neatly stacked on the living room table as she went down to the bakery to see how Nathaniel was doing with his own personal project.

Nathaniel was standing diligently by the stand mixer, adding the measured amount of sugar a teaspoon at a time into the egg whites as they whipped up into meringue. From what he was told, this was one of the most crucial steps to make perfect macarons. And these had to be perfect. He turned off the mixer and lifted the beaters, observing the egg whites as they stood up, but folded over slightly. Was that stiff enough? He didn't have a lot of experience with baking. Thankfully, Marinette was here to help, and after washing her hands at the sink she came over to check his work.

"Yup, nice stiff peaks. Perfect." Marinette took the bowl out of the mixer and turned it upside down over her head, with nothing dropping out. She chuckled when she saw Nathaniel's look of panic.
"Relax, I've done this thousands of times. Have you sifted the dry ingredients?"

Nathaniel nodded and reached over for another bowl, starting to add the dry mix to the meringue with some vanilla.
"I can't thank you enough for this, Marinette. Yesterday I just couldn't get them to work. I know I'm being really fussy, but I just need them to be perfect for him."

"Oh, I understand completely! You want them to be as good as they can be, because you're giving them to someone special." Marinette briefly looked away as she thought back to all the times she made gifts for Adrien and how much effort she put into them. And then how often she ended up either not giving them to him or forgetting to sign her name.  

"Heh, it's a little ironic now that I think about it." Nathaniel chuckled a little as he folded the ingredients together.

"What, because you had a crush on me?" She teased, resting her hands on her hips.

"For the record, I still think you're beautiful and sweet," he rolled his eyes as she giggled, trying to focus on folding the ingredients together.
"But it is funny, isn't it? Back then I couldn't even drum up the courage to talk to you. And now I'm calling you to help me make a gift for my boyf-"

The world seemed to stop for a second. The mixture on Nathaniel's spatula slowly slid off into the rest of the batter as he just stared straight ahead, realising the word he paused on.

"Boyfriend," he finished. Then a smile came to his face as he said it again, "my boyfriend. That... doesn't feel wrong at all. I'm going to have a boyfriend. I'm going to have a boyfriend! Marc is going to be my boyfriend!"
Neither of them could contain their excited, giddy laughter as they continued making the macarons; folding the mixture and piping out rounds on a baking sheet. They left the macarons to form a skin as they went back upstairs to put the finishing touches on their project.

The TV was on in the background as they worked, and Nadja had just finished a news report of Mayor Bourgeois going on a diplomatic trip to Italy. Then for entertainment news, she crossed to the new intern working for TVi News, Mireille Caquet. Marinette and Nathaniel glanced over at the TV as Mireille started to report on an upcoming music festival.

"Huh. I didn't know Mireille started working as an intern," Nathaniel set his scissors aside as he watched the broadcast.

"She has been getting busier; I haven't seen her around school after classes. I guess this is why."

"With so many talented musicians attending, who knows who will win the Battle of the Bands and earn the coveted prize; an opportunity to open for Jagged Stone's next concert. Live at Place de la Concorde, I'm Mireille Caquet. Back to you Nadja."

Mireille held her smile for a few seconds until the director said they were off air. She breathed a sigh of relief, slumping her shoulders from her previous stiff posture.

"Great work, Mireille," the director gave her a pat on the shoulder while looking over a clipboard.
"Keep this up and I think there'll be a new face for Kidz+ News. Now you'd better get some rest. There'll be a live cross tomorrow for the Monday morning news, and I'm sure you'll want to wrap before school."

"O-Of course. See you tomorrow."

She handed back her microphone and earpiece and watched as the crew packed up into a van and drove back to the studio, leaving her alone in the public square. It felt so quiet and empty now that she was by herself, with only some pigeons for company.

It was only a few blocks, but it was the loneliest walk home. Everywhere she looked, she saw friends together having fun. On the other side of the street, Kim was animatedly telling some sort of story to Max, who was laughing while Markov just hovered around looking confused. In the park, Rose and Mylene were sitting under a tree weaving crowns out of flowers. Through the window of the bakery, she saw Marinette and Nathaniel laughing about something as they put trays in the oven. Mireille sighed again, taking out her phone and looking through her contacts. Her thumb hovered over Aurore's name for a moment, before she decided against it and put her phone away. She shouldn't bother her right now...

Monday arrived. The big day. The day when Nathaniel planned to confess his feelings. He looked at the box of macarons he prepared again, still hoping they were perfect enough. He closed the lid and tied the bow again, tucking it safely into his bag.

"Okay, Nathaniel. Stick with the plan," Nathaniel psyched himself up.
"Today's just like any other day. Until school is over. Then you're going to take Marc on the perfect date and tell him how you feel." He grabbed his sketchbook as he left his room, adjusted his hair in the hallway mirror and said goodbye to his mother as he passed the living room. She got up from the couch to give him a kiss on the forehead, wishing him a good day before going back to watching the morning news.

Nathaniel arrived at school earlier than usual. His plan was to pleasantly surprise Marc, so he had to do his best to pretend that it was just a normal day. Drinking his normal coffee, going to his normal class, giving Marc his normal 'Good morning' with a wave as they passed in the hallways. He could see Marc looking at him expectantly, and he almost abandoned his plan entirely when he saw the disappointment in his eyes. Stick with the plan, he thought. It'll all be worth it.

The morning bell rang and the school day started, but it wasn't until almost an hour later when Mireille finally made it to Françoise Dupont, running for the door of the science lab to make the most of the fifteen minutes left. There were so many promotions and cutaways they had to shoot at Jardin des Tuileries, and by the time she could leave she knew she would miss a lot of her first class. She was in such a rush to leave that she accidentally took the microphone with her.

The door made a loud squeaking sound as she pushed it open, and Mireille cringed as everyone turned to look at her.
"I-I'm sorry, Ms Mendeleiev," she quickly apologised, "but the director said we had to keep doing more shots and..."

"Just take a seat, Mireille. Your director telephoned earlier to explain. But you missed a mock test, so you'll have to stay in during morning recess to catch up."
Ms Mendeleiev pointed to a stack of papers on her desk and returned to writing notes on the blackboard. Mireille took a blank test and moved to sit at her table next to Aurore.

She did her best to concentrate on answering the test questions as the class continued to hold a discussion around her. They were talking about crystallisation; shapes and lattices, chemical colours and natural formations, the relation between speed and size...

"Can anyone tell me a practical example of temperature affecting the formation of crystals?" Ms Mendeleiev quizzed. Aurore was the first one with her hand up.

"Ice cream," she answered, listening to some confused reactions before continuing. "Ice cream needs to be frozen quickly, or it grows big ice crystals and becomes less smooth."
Jean immediately suggested that everyone should get ice cream together that afternoon. Mireille looked up with a smile for a second, before remembering she had another news bulletin to do at that time. Between her intern work and keeping up with school, she would never have time to join them. She sighed as her face lowered down to the test paper again.

Hawk Moth stood in his darkened lair, which lightened as the pupil of his window opened. White butterflies began to flutter around him, all tools for him to use in his quest for the Ladybug and Cat Miraculous.

"A girl who's ambition has left her all alone. Such sad, lonely despair. The perfect candidate."
He paused as a butterfly landed in his hands. He closed his other over it and focused evil energy into it.
"Fly away, my little akuma, and evilise her!"

Ms Mendeleiev quickly returned order to the class by assigning written reports, and then the class was dismissed for recess. As everyone left, Aurore wished Mireille the best with the mock test, and then she was left alone again in the classroom. Her mind was far from the questions on the page; she was thinking back to the last time she had the chance to have fun with her friends. It felt like so long ago. She reached for the microphone she had hastily stuffed into her bag outside the school gates. Being the TVi intern was a heavily coveted position, and it would open so many doors for her in the future. So it was worth all this sacrifice... Right?

She clutched the microphone close to her chest. Maybe it would work as a substitute for a friend at that moment. And strangely, it did connect her with someone. In the worst way possible.

"Isolation Queen, I am Hawk Moth. Everyone has abandoned you, even those you call friends. I'm giving you the power to reign over an entire kingdom of subjects, who will be devoted only to you! In return, all I ask are Ladybug and Chat Noir's Miraculous."

Mireille stood up from her desk, holding the akumatised microphone aloft. She had hoped that it would give her some comfort. Instead, it gave her power.

"We will do our best, Sir Hawkmoth. We will never be alone again."

Marc was fiddling with his nails as he sat curled up under the stairs. It had been a long time since he had used this space; sometimes he hid under here when he felt overwhelmed or anxious. And today was an anxious day. He stopped himself from picking further at the black polish by gripping the cords of his hoodie, tightening the hood around his face as he let out a groan.

"Mind if I join you?"
Marc yelped and pulled his hood up to see who was talking to him, seeing Adrien leaning with his hand on the stairs and smiling down at him.

"A-Adrien! Uh, are you sure? It's a bit dusty down here."

"Eh, a little dust never bothered me," he insisted, and Marc shuffled over a bit so Adrien could sit next to him.
"It looks like something's bothering you though."

"Is it that obvious?" Marc slumped forward again, this time fiddling with the laces of his boots.

"Well, I know that you only come down here when you feel overwhelmed or anxious." He leaned back on his hands, watching Marc still fidgeting. Definitely anxious. Maybe a joke would ease some tension.
"Is Marinette planning another birthday disguise?"

"Probably. Although if it's a disguise, I definitely shouldn't know about it."

"Wait... is it your-"

"P-please don't!" Marc quickly cut him off before he could announce it out loud, turning and waving both hands in front of him.
"I... don't like to make a big deal out of it. It always becomes a fiasco."

Adrien nodded and mimed zipping his lips as Marc continued.

"This year I was hoping for just a quiet birthday, but Marinette's been planning something, I know it. She's been posting about some secret project on her Instagram, and whenever we talk she's prying into what kind of flavours I like or what I would really like for a present. She's also been talking a lot with Nathaniel, and he's been avoiding me all day too." Marc sighed and rested his hands in his lap, where he started tugging at his gloves.

"Well, I can tell you that Marinette's been talking to Nathaniel because they've been grouped together on an art project. And if Marinette was planning a surprise, I think we would all know by now," he chuckled a little, remembering hearing about some of her other plans going off the rails.
"Besides, you know her. She would never do anything that would hurt you, especially not a loud surprise party."

"I guess that's true." Marc straightened his back from his slumped position, still unable to keep his hands still.

"That's not the only thing, is it?"

Marc shook his head and turned to look at Adrien.
"I don't know if I want to say it. It's... It's just Nathaniel is- I..." Marc paused to stop rambling and took a deep breath.
"I-I really like Nathaniel."

"You have a crush on him?"

"No, it's more than that." Marc looked down at his hands, clasping them together in front of him.
"It's... stronger. It's like I feel this connection to him that makes me feel... safe. Whenever I'm with him all the problems in the world don't seem as big, because I'm not facing them alone. I can always trust he'll be there for me, no matter what."

"Sounds like you're in love." Adrien recognised that feeling; it was the same one whenever he was with Ladybug. Marc's cheeks lit up as he tightened his hood around his face again.

"I've been wanting to say it for weeks now. But how can I tell him that? It'll make things so awkward between us when we're working together. He probably doesn't even feel that way about me; whenever we write scenes it's always about how much Mightillustrator likes Ladybug." Marc sighed again as he hugged his knees into his chest.
"And I'm not Ladybug. I'm just a guy he makes a comic with."

"Marc..." Adrien reached a hand up to rest on his shoulder.
"I've confessed my feelings to someone who didn't return them."

"You did?" Marc turned his head as Adrien nodded.
"What happened?"

"We're still great friends. We do things together all the time," He chuckled, knowing that those things included saving Paris on a daily basis.
"When you love someone that much, it just means you care about them and want them to be happy. That's nothing to be ashamed of. And I'd be flattered if someone confessed to me, even if I didn't feel the same way."

Marc slowly sat back a little, relaxing a little of the tension he was visibly holding all through his body. Adrien leaned in a little and lowered his voice.

"Besides, I can tell Nathaniel really likes you too. He's always saying how great your stories are, and talking about things that the two of you do together. He even doodles you in his notebook."

"Really?" Marc blushed a little from the idea of Nathaniel thinking about him so much. Adrien nodded and they both chuckled a little.

"Thanks, Adrien."

But then they heard screams coming from nearby, and they both peeked out from the stairs to see what was going on. Students were backing away from the school's entrance, where Mr Damocles and Ms Mendeleiev were standing in front of the doors. Both of them looked downcast and sullen, their eyes had become lifeless and dull, and they both had icy blue tiaras on their heads.

"By order of the queen, you will not escape."

They monotonously spoke in at the same time, and bowed as villainous laughter filled the school. Someone jumped down from the roof, landing in front of the two subdued teachers. She adjusted her hair and walked towards the students, the clicking of her heels echoing through the dread filled school.

The villain was wearing a pale blue ballgown with a high neckline and a cyan bolero over the top, both adorned with tiara shaped accents. The dress was cinched at her waist with a shimmering blue sash tied in a large bow at her back. The gown was hemmed higher at the front, showing her long white boots with wedge heels and gold insignias on the toes, and she wore white shoulder length gloves with the same gold accents on the backs of the wrists. Her face was pale, apart from a butterfly shaped blue mark around her emerald green eyes. Her stark white hair was styled in a sleek bob haircut, adorned with an icy blue crown. She carried a tall golden sceptre in her right hand. A gilded cube was set at the top, with a clear round jewel set upon it held by a spherical golden mesh.

"Students of Françoise Dupont," she addressed the crowd as people continued to cower away from her.
"We are here today to end the longsuffering solitude hoist upon ourselves." She held the sceptre in front of her, pointing it at one of the students as it started charging up with a bright light. A beam of light fired from the sceptre, striking the boy as he tried to run and causing him to fall to his knees.

"Our subjects need only be loyal to us. We will do away with unnecessary allegiances," Isolation Queen explained as phantasmal chains appeared around the boy. As the chains broke one by one, the boy's eyes faded just like the teachers, until he was left completely alone and broken.

Isolation Queen walked in front of the boy, tapping her sceptre on his shoulder and causing an icy tiara to form on his head. He stood up and bowed before the queen, then stepped aside as she turned to the students again.

"No longer shall we be left abandoned, forsaken and alone. From this day, all of Paris will respect the rule of Isolation Queen."

She started firing her sceptre at the students again, breaking their relationships and earning new soldiers. Some students that tried to flee were caught by Isolation Queen's vassals and held in place for the queen to blast them with her sceptre. Mylène saw Rose just barely avoiding a blast and quickly stepped forward to try and stop the queen.

"Please! If you're lonely then I'll be your friend! Just stop hurting everyone!"

"We are pleased to accept your friendship, so long as you let go of your others." Isolation Queen blasted her next, causing her chains to start breaking too. But one of them just rattled around and refused to shatter.

"Mylène! No!" Ivan pushed his way through the crowds, showing that the chain was connected to him. He tried to help her up, and she reached for the chain that signified their bond. Ivan instinctively held it too, and the chain shone with a golden light. Mylène stopped losing the colour in her eyes and the two of them shared a smile for a moment. Then Ivan's face fell as Isolation Queen struck him down with her sceptre's beam as well.

"Nobody in our court has a need for other devotions. They need only be loyal to us." With both of them struck down, the chain between them crumbled and they soon rose with the ice tiaras, in servitude of the queen.

With the only exit to the school blocked, students began to hide to escape from Isolation Queen. Ms Bustier shepherded as many students as she could into the teacher's lounge, while others tried hiding in their lockers or the bathrooms. Marc was curled up in the supply closet of Room 33, trying his hardest not to make any noise amongst the paint bottles and piles of card stock.

He heard the door opening. Marc covered his mouth hoping that Isolation Queen wouldn't find him here. He couldn't bear the thought of losing his bond with Nathaniel, even if it was temporary. And if a bond as strong as Ivan and Mylène's could break, then nobody was safe. It was deafeningly silent.

Then Marc's phone beeped and he cringed as he fumbled to silence it, knowing the tone was audible through the doors. He could hear footsteps now, and he tried to curl up even smaller in the corner. He clenched his eyes shut as the closet creaked open.


The boy looked up to see Nathaniel at the door, holding his phone in his other hand. Marc crawled out of the space and into Nathaniel's waiting arms. He breathed a sigh of relief and rested his head against Nathaniel's shoulder.

"I'm here, Marc. We'll get through this." He reached up to lower Marc's hood and gently ran his fingers through his hair.

Their attention was suddenly drawn away to something happening outside, as someone was suddenly thrown against the frosted windows. The silhouette comically slid down with a squeaking sound, revealing its cat ears.

Marc and Nathaniel opened the door just a crack to look outside, seeing Ladybug and Chat Noir fighting their way through the army of controlled students. Chat Noir hopped back up and jumped to the side as Ivan lunged at him, and he quickly extended his staff to knock the crown of ice from his head. Without it, Ivan immediately fell to his knees and didn't move. As soon as Chat Noir jumped back down to the courtyard to continue fighting, Nathaniel dared to exit the room to try and help him up, quickly followed by Marc.

"Ivan, you're free, aren't you? Come on, get up." Marc placed a hand on his shoulder, then recoiled it in surprise. He was cold to the touch, and frost had already formed on the palm of his glove.

"Why..." he responded flatly. "I'm all alone. Nobody cares." Ivan closed his eyes, with his breath fogging up as his whole body started to turn to ice. No matter what they tried, they couldn't snap him out of it. Down in the courtyard, other students were turning to ice without the servitude tiaras. Isolation Queen tapped a couple of the kneeling students and created new tiaras on their heads. They immediately thawed out and stood up in her service again.

"She can bring them back?" Chat Noir protested, looking at the other victims they had disarmed, all ready to be revived against them.
"So she has an endless army on her side, I see."

"Not the time, kitty," Ladybug huffed, throwing her yo-yo to destroy more of the tiaras. "But it is time for this. Lucky Charm!"

Ladybug caught a comic book in her hands, wondering how this was meant to help them fight through Isolation Queen's soldiers. But they had to evade the newly restored soldiers charging at her before she could figure it out. The two heroes jumped onto the second floor balcony as the queen's soldiers climbed the stairs after them.
As they continued freeing the students from the control of the tiaras, a controlled Alya was knocked over the balcony as she started to freeze.

"No!" Ladybug quickly jumped onto the railing and caught her with her yo-yo, stopping her from shattering just inches from the ground. Then she realised she had left herself completely open to attack. Isolation Queen pointed up at her with her sceptre.

"Look out!" Chat Noir jumped down and rushed at Isolation Queen to stop her. "Catac-"

Ladybug watched in horror as her partner was struck by the blast of light. The chains connecting Chat Noir to others started to break, including the one connecting him to Ladybug. She carefully lowered Alya's frozen body to the ground and jumped down to keep their bond together.

"Bugaboo... It's so.... cold..." he spoke languidly, reaching to hold the connection between them. His green eyes were losing colour fast, turning a lifeless grey.

"No, no no no. Hang in there, Chat. I'm right here." She held onto the chain, watching it shine and keep itself together. She smiled as the effect seemed to stop, but then she saw Isolation Queen charging up another attack. Without thinking, she slung her yo-yo up to the ceiling and pulled herself up, hoping the chain would bring Chat with her.

Instead, it just shattered. She couldn't describe the hurt she felt as she saw the look in his eyes; like he had just been betrayed by the one person he had left. Isolation Queen walked up next to him and looked up at Ladybug, surrounded by the tiara-adorned soldiers.

"Oh, look how you've hurt your partner," She used the end of her sceptre to lift Chat Noir's chin, just to taunt her with his absolutely shattered expression.
"But you can end this now, Ladybug. All you need is to give us your Miraculous. And we will welcome both of you to our court."

Ladybug glared and ignored her, looking down at her partner.
"Don't worry, I'll be back for you," she said to herself, before making a tactical retreat from the school. Isolation Queen watched smugly as Hawkmoth started communicating with her.

"Excellent work, Isolation Queen. Now, seize Chat Noir's Miraculous!"

"In good time, Sir Hawkmoth. After all, Ladybug will return. And we feel like this scoundrel's talents could be put to good use." Mylène brought her one of the tiaras that had been knocked to the ground earlier, and she placed it between Chat Noir's ears.
"Your lady has abandoned you. But we are kind enough to allow this stray into our company." Isolation Queen smirked as Chat Noir rose, then bowed to her.

"At your service, my queen."

Ladybug landed through the roof of Marinette's skylight and closed it, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. She buried her face in her hands as she remembered how Chat Noir looked when the chain between them broke, then shook her head to resume her train of thought.

The lucky charm! She pulled out the comic and started reading it, finding that it looked very familiar somehow, even though she was sure she had never seen it before. The cover was a picture of Ladybug facing Chat Noir, with a figure sitting on a throne in the background. She opened it somewhere in the middle, and saw Ladybug fighting with the possessed students alongside Chat Noir.

"This just happened... how is there a comic about this already?" She frowned as she flipped ahead to the end of the comic, wondering if she could see the villain's weakness. But all she saw was Chat Noir now under the possession of Isolation Queen's tiara, along with a 'To be continued' panel. Well, at least his Miraculous was safe. She closed the comic again, trying to make sense of it. And that's when she saw it.

The exclamation point.

It wasn't telling her what to do, it was telling her she needed help.

Some time had passed since Ladybug fled, and Isolation Queen ordered all the students and teachers to construct a throne for her in the courtyard using books and benches and chairs from the open classrooms. She laughed as she watched them working, and left the school with her controlled teacher and principal to find more conscripts for her kingdom.

Marc watched through the cracked art room door and gave a silent thumbs up to Nathaniel. He nodded and put a blanket over Ivan's body; they had pushed him into the art room to keep him safe.

As they prepared to leave, Nathaniel made sure he still had his bag on him. Even if the day had taken a few turns for the worse, at least he could brighten Marc's day with the gift he made. And this plan of his should definitely get them out of here.

Nathaniel and Marc left Room 33 wearing fake tiaras that looked almost identical to the ice ones on the other students; Nathaniel had taken Ivan's tiara and used the plastic resin in the art room to create the replicas. As long as nobody looked them in the eye, they would be fine.

Both of them joined the rest of the students gathering materials to help build the throne to blend in, with Marc keeping his hood up to help stay concealed. He dragged the chair from the principal's office to use on the throne. As Marc set it down, he noticed there were fewer people around, and he dared to sneak towards the doors.

"Where are you going?" asked the flat voice of Nino.

"I'm... going to inform the queen of our progress," he spoke without turning around, still trying to make it to the doors. As he reached for the handle, Nino grabbed his wrist, and Marc quickly pulled away, keeping his eyes on the ground.

"There's no need to disturb Her Majesty. We should continue building the throne like she asked," Nino stepped forward to block the doors, followed by Alya and Mylène. Marc kept his head down, doing what he could to prevent anyone seeing he wasn't actually under the queen's control.

"Maybe we could get more materials from outside. I'm sure Her Majesty would be delighted to find flowers from the park adorning her throne."

"Her Majesty gave us orders not to leave the school until the throne was finished," Alya stated flatly, narrowing her eyes at Marc.

Nathaniel saw the students surrounding Marc and rushed at the entrance, hoping to provide enough of a distraction for Marc to escape. But before he even got close to them, he was grabbed from behind and thrown to the ground, with the plastic tiara clattering beside him.

"You thought you could fool us, did you?" taunted Chat Noir, who was kneeling over Nathaniel and pinning his right hand behind his back. He picked up the imitation and huffed as he snapped it in his fingers.
"If you wanted one of those, I'm sure her Majesty would be happy to give you one when she returns."

Nathaniel struggled to free himself as he looked across at Marc. The three students were distracted by his little gambit, but Marc was still surrounded. He quickly tried to look around and form a plan.

[Chat Noir's tail]

[The unfinished throne]


Not wasting a second, Nathaniel fiddled around with his free left hand while pretending to call out to someone on the roof.
"Ladybug, help!"

Chat Noir took the bait and leaped up on the throne to look for her. But partway through his jump he got caught on his tail, which was tied around a chair leg. Nathaniel rolled out of the way as the entire throne started collapsing, to the horror of all the students watching. Nathaniel quickly got up and snatched Chat Noir's staff from behind him.

"Marc!" he called as he threw the weapon to him. Marc caught the staff and extended it in front of him as Alya, Nino and Mylène turned back to him.

"I'm sorry!" Marc pushed the staff horizontally in front of him, knocking the three of them down. Marc and Nathaniel made a mad dash for the doors as all the other controlled students started pursuing them. Nathaniel was stopped when Nino reached up to grab his satchel. He struggled for a moment to pull it free, but when Alya joined him he resigned himself to let it go, ducking out of the strap and letting his bag drop to the ground.

As they made it outside, Nathaniel watched as the mob of students chasing them crushed his bag underfoot. He winced as he heard the box inside smashing, and released an aggravated grunt as he slammed the doors. Marc extended Chat Noir's staff to barricade the exit and leaned against it for a moment to rest, pocketing the fake crown. He looked over at Nathaniel, who was looking down at the ground with both hands on the doors.


"It's gone... I worked for days on a gift for you. I was meant to give it to you today for your birthday. I had this whole day planned out for you... And now everything is going wrong and..." Nathaniel stopped babbling when Marc took one of his hands and held it.

"Nath, we still have our bond. That means more to me than any gift." Marc offered Nathaniel a smile, and he smiled back at him for a brief moment.

"And what do we have here?!" They turned to see Isolation Queen with Ms Mendeleiev and Mr Damocles, along with a handful of enslaved Parisians behind them.
"A couple of foolish knaves who think they can abandon my kingdom? We won't let you escape that easily!" She started charging up her sceptre to unleash a blast.

Nathaniel grabbed Marc's hand and jumped off the side of the stairs onto the grass. They ducked to avoid the blast, then quickly took off, with Isolation Queen ordering her army to capture them.

Marinette looked down at the Miraculous she had chosen to save Chat Noir.
"Lucky Charms never lie..." she reassured herself, as Tikki emerged from her purse.

"You're not doubting yourself, are you Marinette?"

"No. This is the right decision, even if it bends a few rules. I'm just thinking about the last time this happened."

"You mean on Heroes Day? It all worked out in the end. Trust yourself, Marinette."

She nodded and transformed again.
"Tikki, Spots On!"

Marc and Nathaniel stood back to back as they stared down the soldiers surrounding them on all sides. Isolation Queen's influence was spreading faster than they had realised. They were trapped in the middle of an intersection, with the queen's subjects blocking off all four roads around them. Nathaniel was looking around desperately for any sort of escape.

"Up here!"

A red and black spotted yo-yo was lowered between them. They both grabbed the string with one hand, and held onto the other as Ladybug pulled them out of their predicament onto a roof.

Marc took a second to catch his breath as they watched Isolation Queen's soldiers leaving. Ladybug motioned for them to follow her behind a couple of stone chimneys.

"I'm glad I found you guys. I know I'm not supposed to reveal your secrets, but this is an emergency." Ladybug paused as she took out two Miracle boxes, and held them up to the boys.
"Phoenix, Oviseer, I need your help."

"You're Phoenix?!"
"You're Oviseer?!"

They both exclaimed in unison, staring at each other in silence for a beat, then Nathaniel quickly took his Miraculous.

"We can do this later. Right now, Ladybug needs us." Nathaniel put the ring on his thumb. The rooster kwami appeared from the Miraculous and hovered in front of him.
"Good to see you again, Orikko."

"You too, Nathaniel!" Orikko chirped.

Marc also took the hair clips and put them on, releasing the goat kwami who floated up in front of him.
"You're right. Let's go save our friends! Are you ready, Ziggy?"

"Ready to go, Marc!"

The two boys gave each other confident smiles, then looked at their kwamis.

"Orikko! Rise and shine!"
"Ziggy! Fleece on!"

The streets of Paris were starting to empty themselves as Isolation Queen continued to isolate people and assimilate them into her kingdom. Ladybug, Phoenix and Oviseer watched from a roof as she addressed all of her subjects from the front steps of the school, with Chat Noir standing faithfully by her side. Ivan was nowhere to be seen, so he was still safely hidden in the art room. Ms Bustier was also not present, so some students should still be safe with her in the teacher's lounge. But there were still at least a hundred people wearing the ice tiaras standing in formation.

"There's no way we can take on an army this big. We'll have to find a way to get to Isolation Queen and get her akuma," Ladybug pondered. The situation felt all too familiar to her, and even worse she had fewer allies on her side this time. She did her best to focus on analysing her options; the akuma was most likely in her sceptre.

"An army is strong, but difficult to transport quickly. So we just need to pick the right place to fight them." Phoenix slid back a panel on the back of one of his claws, scrolling around a map of Paris. After a moment of consideration, he looked up from the panel with a smirk.
"We might not even need to fight them all."

"You have a plan, Phoenix?" He nodded to Oviseer and quickly laid out his idea. After some collaboration between the three of them, they split up to prepare.

Ladybug ran over the rooftops, heading for her objective. The akuma alarm hadn't been activated yet, so she needed to get a message out to keep people safe. She slung her yo-yo around a lightpost to vault across a street to the next block of buildings. As she prepared for the next swing, she saw someone fighting back some of the queen's soldiers with a parasol. She immediately altered her path, swooping down through the altercation and picking up the girl.

Aurore briefly registered that Ladybug had rescued her, but she still couldn't help but yelp with alarm as she was carried to safety. She held on for dear life until they came to a stop outside the TVi station.

"Are you alright?" Ladybug helped her to her feet.

"Yes, but my friend..." Aurore took a couple of shaky breaths before she continued, "It's Mireille. She became Isolation Queen. I... It's all my fault. I didn't know how lonely she was. Why didn't she tell me anything?"

"Some people are good at hiding their feelings. Maybe she didn't want to bother you, or she was too overwhelmed."

"Ladybug, is there anything I can do? I have to fix this. I have to save her!"

Ladybug remembered her part of the plan. She was going to televise a message to protect the other Parisians, while luring Isolation Queen to the studio.

"Think you can make an emergency broadcast for me?"

Chat Noir was marching down the street in Paris, using his staff like a baton. With it, he set the pace for the rest of the queen's army. Their faces were eerily stoic as they marched in perfect time, striding row after row. Behind them, the queen was riding in a rickshaw pulled by several of her subjects. Her face displayed a look of smug satisfaction as others on the side of the road knelt before her, trapped in their frozen forms. Her kingdom was gaining a foothold, and soon she would be the undisputed ruler of Paris. But her smile faltered upon hearing a familiar voice nearby.

"Breaking news, akumatised villain Isolation Queen is attacking Paris." Isolation Queen turned to watch a nearby screen, seeing Aurore making a live report with a headset microphone on her ear.
"With her power to break people apart, the villain has already toppled Collège Françoise Dupont. Ladybug is urging everyone in Paris to seek shelter with loved ones. Live from TVi Studios, I'm Aurore Beauréal."

Isolation Queen growled at the scene, but as the message ended, she caught a glimpse of a red figure entering the camera view.

"That was Ladybug. On a live broadcast. We know where she is now. Chat Noir, lead us to the TVi Studio!"

At her command, Chat Noir pointed his staff to the right and turned, leading the army to their destination.

Once they arrived, the crowds parted so the queen's carriage could be brought to the front, where Chat Noir helped her down. Isolation Queen walked right through security and entered the elevator with Chat Noir and three of her soldiers. Phoenix watched from afar as the elevator doors closed and quickly sent a message using his talon before quickly getting into position in an alleyway.

Before the rest of the army could start filing into the building, there was a screech of tires from around the corner. A police car and a couple of police vans drove up to the entrance and positioned themselves around the doors. Officers climbed out of the vans and lined up in front of the vehicles with riot shields, while Officer Roger got out of his car with a megaphone.
"This is an illegal congregation," he announced to the army in front of him. "Disperse and return home immediately!"

Phoenix and Oviseer ran up on either side and hopped over the vehicles as the police officers came out to enforce the blockade they made.

"Cheers, Officer Raincomprix!" Phoenix called, giving him a salute as they rushed inside. Part one of the plan was a success; after being delayed by the small entrance and elevators, almost all of the army was trapped outside the building by the police. The few soldiers that had made it inside were quickly neutralised between Phoenix' claws and Oviseer's crook. Once the lobby was clear, they jumped up onto the glass bridge over the reception desk and started ascending the stairs to the broadcasting studio.

Partway up, Phoenix stopped and turned to his partner.
"Oviseer. I... I never got to thank you for saving me before." He reached down and held his grey gloved hands in his own. Oviseer looked stunned for a moment.
"Back at the convention... I lost myself, and you came to help me. You helped me realise what was important to me... even after what I did to you."

Oviseer quickly shook his head and climbed up another step, bringing them closer.
"Ah... Well, I should thank you for saving me back at the museum. You said you would come back for me, and you did. And you were super awesome coming up with those plans to save everyone."

The two heroes just stood on the stairs for a second, with Oviseer looking up into Phoenix' eyes. They were still processing that they had both been chosen to be heroes, and that they had both been saved by the other prior to today. Phoenix slowly pulled Oviseer closer, running a hand through his hair.
"...Sorry this isn't a quiet birthday."
They chuckled a little before hugging each other and quickly rushing to continue with their plan.

There was a loud crash as the doors to the broadcasting area slammed open, and Isolation Queen strode in with Chat Noir and her soldiers. Inside, Aurore was waiting with a stack of papers in her hand.
"You're here, Mireille."

"We are Isolation Queen," she retorted, pointing her sceptre towards her. "You thought you could escape from my kingdom?"

"Mireille, if you wanted company then you just needed to ask. Why didn't you call me?"

"We had earned the coveted intern position. Do you remember the weather girl competition? You became akumatised from our victory. You would not have cared for us." Isolation Queen gripped her sceptre as the argument continued.

"Yes, I was jealous of you before." Aurore nodded, removing the headset from her ear. "But that was before you gave me a chance to work with you on the program. And then I learned that being the weather girl didn't mean as much to me as the chance to work together with you."

Isolation Queen slammed her sceptre on the ground to brace it as she charged up a bond-breaking laser. Aurore just continued to stand where she was, resting her hands by her side.
"You don't have to do that, Mireille. I'm already your friend"

She unleashed her blast, but Aurore suddenly rose up into the lighting rig above the news set, leaving a flurry of papers in her wake. Then the lights shut off. The queen and her entourage fumbled around in the dark for a moment before the doors opened behind them.

Ladybug and Oviseer stood in the doorway, weapons at the ready as the lights came back on. Aurore was running for safety behind them, disappearing around a corner.

"That's an awful way to treat a friend, isn't it?" Ladybug spun her yo-yo in front of her to shield her from any potential blasts.

"Yeah, I think a hug is much nicer if you ask me," Oviseer added, spinning his crook in his hands.

"Ladybug. And... whomever you are... Guards, seize them!" Isolation Queen demanded.

Ladybug and Oviseer nodded to each other before quickly backing out of the studio and taking different paths through the corridors with the queen's guards in hot pursuit.

Chat Noir and the guards split up to try and catch them, weaving through the hallways as Ladybug and Oviseer continued to evade them. Chat Noir turned a corner, and saw the wool cloaked hero facing him from down the corridor.

"You know this isn't who you are," Oviseer challenged him, raising his crook towards him. Chat Noir just growled and readied his staff.
"Are you really going to let a villain break the bond you have with her?"

"I don't have any bonds. I only need to serve my queen." Chat Noir started charging down the hallway. Oviseer threw off his cloak and similarly broke into a run. Their weapons collided in the middle of an intersection, and after a few blows they both jumped back.

"Why don't I believe you then?" Oviseer watched as Chat Noir changed the grip on his staff, and similarly adjusted his hold on his crook to block the incoming reverse strike. He made a quick jab with the base of his crook to try and dislodge the tiara, but Chat Noir sprang back off his hands and landed ready to strike again.

"I will capture you for my queen." He stared at Oviseer with his dead eyes. Oviseer held a defensive stance and blocked as Chat Noir unleashed a barrage of attacks that forced him backwards.
"And once you are in her service, then we will all live happily under her rule."

"Sorry, but I have friends who are counting on me not to do that." Oviseer blocked an overhead strike and deflected Chat Noir to the side, then pushed his staff out horizontally to knock him backwards against a wall. Chat Noir placed his hands on the crook and pushed back against him.

Suddenly, Oviseer winked and did a somersault over Chat Noir. His grey boots landed on the wall behind Chat Noir and he kicked off, sending them towards the door of a dressing room. Chat Noir tumbled inside, while Oviseer's crook allowed him to catch himself on the door frame. He swiftly locked the door and closed it behind him.

Oviseer took a second to catch his breath. He only had a second before the door suddenly turned black and crumbled away as a result of Cataclysm. But this was exactly what Phoenix was waiting for. He quickly emerged from one of the closets behind Chat Noir and restrained his arms.
"Oviseer, now!"

He reached over and grabbed the crown off Chat Noir's head, smashing it on the ground.
"Guidance!" He raised his crook as the golden strings flew out and formed into a blanket. He passed it to Phoenix, who quickly wrapped Chat Noir in it as he started to freeze. He watched nervously as frost started forming on the tips of his ears. The success of his plan hinged on whether Oviseer could get to him.

Oviseer knelt down next to Chat Noir to start speaking to him, adjusting the blanket around his shoulders.
"Chat Noir, you can be our friend. And Ladybug's too. You're not alone."

"Why? Our bond was broken. She doesn't mean anything to me." Even in his monotone, there was a point where you would swear his voice cracked.
"I even told her I loved her, but she doesn't feel the same. She doesn't care about me."

"You know that's not true. Your bond is special. You're partners; you trust one another completely." Oviseer couldn't help but look across at Phoenix as he spoke.
"And even if she doesn't feel the same, you still love her, right? You'd want the best for her, because that's how much you care about her."
Phoenix was a bit thrown from hearing Oviseer's words, but returned his focus to Chat Noir. The frost around him gradually dissipated and he let the golden blanket drop as he stood up again.

"You're right. I'm not giving up on her. Our bond is unbreakable, no matter what that queen thinks." He turned to smile at Oviseer, showing emotion in his face again despite his eyes remaining grey. Oviseer clapped his hands together with delight and Phoenix pumped his fist.

"Good to have you back, Chat Noir. Energise!" Phoenix called, summoning the painted egg into his hands. He tossed it to Chat Noir and placed an arm around his shoulders as he quickly led them from the room.
"Now quickly, there's just one final step in our plan."

There was a crash inside one of the offices as Ladybug leaped out the door amidst a flurry of papers. She quickly slammed it shut behind her, then used her yo-yo to pull the janitor's trolley over so she could prop the door shut with a broom. She looked inside through the window on the door, seeing the three guards tied up with electrical cords and packing tape. She quickly hurried back to the broadcasting room, pausing right before she entered.

"Okay, all that's left is Isolation Queen," she confirmed to herself. "I'd better be prepared. Lucky Charm!"

She tossed her yo-yo into the air and summoned a small rectangular object. As she caught it it slipped a little, and she realised it smelled slightly floral.

"Soap? Huh, I guess it's time to clean up."

She quickly looked around to make sure nobody heard her making that pun before kicking open the doors.

The room was seemingly empty, with no sign of Isolation Queen. Ladybug kept her yo-yo spinning as she slowly crept forward, keeping an eye out for where she might be. As she stepped onto the set area she heard her sceptre charging up behind her, and she looked back. Nothing. Then she looked up to the viewing balcony and deflected the oncoming blast with her yo-yo. The power of the attack destroyed the windows entirely, with broken glass and steel bars shattering and clattering to the floor.

"Give up, Isolation Queen. You're all alone now, we've defeated all your soldiers," Ladybug challenged.

"No! We will never surrender to you!" Isolation Queen jumped through the broken window and violently swung her sceptre at her. Ladybug dodged backwards as the floor cracked from the impact.
"You will pay for taking away our kingdom! Taking away our friends!"

"They're not your friends if you have to force them. It's time for you to abdicate your throne!"

Ladybug threw her yo-yo around the sceptre and tried to pull it away, but Isolation Queen held on and leaped over Ladybug, kicking off the back wall and swinging her weapon at her again. She charged another blast, forcing Ladybug to evade the beams of light as she regained her footing. Ladybug was swinging through the lighting rig when one of the doors opened again.

"My queen. I have captured the other miscreant."

Chat Noir entered the room with a tiara between his cat ears. He was restraining Oviseer's arms behind his back with one hand, while the other held his crook. As he approached her on the studio platform he dropped the crook in front of him. Ladybug quickly looked towards the side door to make sure this was part of the plan.

[a hand poking through the door giving her a thumbs up]

[the bar of soap]

[Isolation Queen's heels]

"Excellent work, my knight. Now, Ladybug, you get to watch as I add another of your friends to my kingdom." She sneered as her sceptre charged up a blast to break Oviseer's relationships.

Her smile dropped when Chat Noir let out a small chuckle.

He kicked Oviseer's crook towards her, forcing her to abandon her charge and swat the weapon to the side. Chat Noir took the fake plastic crown off as Oviseer revealed he wasn't being restrained, and was merely hiding Chat Noir's staff in his hands. He jumped into the air so Chat Noir could grab his legs and spin him around, before throwing him towards Isolation Queen.

The staff collided hard with the sceptre, and Oviseer kept the momentum up as he launched into a string of attacks. He ducked under one of Isolation Queen's counter swings and used the staff to vault himself upwards into a double footed kick. Isolation Queen jumped backwards, but suddenly lost her balance as she stepped on something hard and slippery. One of her heels was embedded in a red and black bar of soap, and she couldn't stop herself falling backwards. As she did, she saw someone with an orange feathered mask jump over her and wink. He grabbed the sceptre from her hands and threw it forward as he landed.

"Chat Noir!"


The sceptre rusted over and fell apart, releasing the akuma inside. Ladybug jumped down from the lighting rig and drew her finger in a line over her yo-yo, opening it up like a ladybug to reveal the purifying light inside.

"No more evil-doing for you, little akuma. Time to de-evilize!" She caught the purple butterfly with a swing of her yo-yo, and released it, bidding it a respectful 'Bye-bye, little butterfly!'
"Miraculous Ladybug!"

The swarm of ladybugs swirled around Chat Noir, and when they dispersed his eyes and returned to their lively green. The ladybugs then cleaned up the mess in the studio and freed the people locked in the office. Back at the school, Ivan flailed about confused before taking the blanket off his head and wondering why he was in the art room. The army being held back by the police all returned to normal and looked up at the screen displaying the inside of the studio, where four heroes were facing each other with their fist extended to meet in the middle.

"Pound it!"

Hawk Moth gripped his cane in his fist with a snarl.
"Someday soon, Ladybug, my kingdom will rise. And you will be the one left isolated. Someday soon," he glowered as the window closed, darkening the room to blackness.

Mireille sat up slowly, looking around. The last thing she remembered was taking a test, and now... she was in the studio? With Ladybug and Chat Noir and... two other heroes.

"Mireille!" She turned to the door to see Aurore run over to her, quickly helping her to her feet.
"Mireille, are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"Aurore. What... what happened?"

"Ah, you're here early. Excellent!" They turned to see one of the directors entering the room. He was so focused on reading over a clipboard that he didn't notice the four superheroes.
"You'd better get ready, it's almost time."

"Almost time? For what?" Mireille looked to Aurore for an explanation, and she just smiled at her.

"Don't be bemused. It's just the news."

The two girls giggled, and Aurore waved as she started to leave the studio.

"Wait," Mireille reached to grab her hand, looking down at the microphone in her hand before nodding resolutely.
"Could you wait for me outside?"
Aurore nodded as Mireille went over to the director and handed back the microphone.

It was now mid-afternoon. Mr Damocles opted to dismiss the school early because of the akumatisation, even though by the time everyone made it back it was almost time to leave anyway. Several students from Ms Mendeleiev's class were meeting at Andre's cart for ice cream, which was in Champ de Mars today.

"Hey guys, look who's here!" Aurore walked over to the group, with her arm around Mireille.

"H-hi, everyone. Um... sorry about being akumatised."

Everyone looked surprised, since they expected her to still be at the studio. And then she surprised them even more.

"I... I gave up the internship. It was taking too much of my time. I'm still a part time presenter and weather girl for Kidz+, but now I can put more time into other things, like hanging out with you guys again."
Aurore walked over with a couple of custom ice creams for them, and everyone cheered as they started catching Mireille up on everything she missed.

Up on a rooftop overlooking the Seine, Chat Noir was sitting down, leaning back on his hands. He had just completed his patrols for the afternoon and was singing a little song while waiting for his partner to come and take over.

"Little kitty on a roof, all alone without his-"

His song was interrupted by Ladybug landing next to him and recoiling her yo-yo.

"Ah, there you are m'lady. It's a beautiful view, isn't it?"

"It's one of my favourite things about Paris." Ladybug sat down next to him and prepared to roll her eyes.

"Yeah. The Seine is pretty nice too."

There it was. She shook her head with a laugh.

"But I mean it. You're my favourite thing about Paris." He turned his head back to the view of the river, lit up amber by the setting sun.
"You're always looking out for me. Even when it feels like we're up against the world, I know I can count on you to have my back. You'll always be my dream girl, bugaboo. Even if you don't feel the same way."

He turned to face her, giving her a sincere smile.
"What I'm trying to say is... I love you, and I'll always love you. Because being here with you makes me the happiest cat in all of Paris."

Ladybug was always surprised by Chat Noir's sensitive side. She watched him sit up straight with his hands in his lap.

"Well, it's time for your patrols. I think I'll stay and enjoy the view some more."

Chat Noir closed his eyes and sighed. Then he jolted a little as Ladybug shuffled closer to him.

"I think I'll stay too."

"Huh? But what about-"

"They can wait." Ladybug rested her head on his shoulder. "I couldn't imagine doing all this without you."

"Well, what do you think?" Nathaniel asked as he held his hands in his pockets. He had taken Marc to Parc Monceau, and the two were having a placid stroll by a pond of lillies. Marc was hugging his arms around him from enduring all the events that happened earlier that day, but he did have a relaxed smile on his face.
"I was hoping to bring you here for your birthday, because it's so quiet."

"You know me so well," Marc sighed, looking back at the column ruins they passed before. "I like it. It's peaceful here. I don't know why I was so worried; of course you'd organise a perfect day for me."

Nathaniel scratched the back of his neck with a little blush, which made Marc giggle a little.

"Sorry about your gift."

"It's alright..."

"No, you worked so hard on it; I could see it in your eyes, and you never had the chance to give it to me."

"Well, you're half right."
Nathaniel stopped when they were on a little white bridge over the water. He reached into his satchel, pausing for dramatic effect before taking out the gift box.
"Ivan found it. I guess it must have been fixed up too. Happy Birthday, Marc."

Marc was speechless as he was handed the present. He immediately untied the black ribbon, then lifted the red cover.

Inside the box were seven pristine white macarons, scented with sweet vanilla and filled with a rich coffee ganache. Six of them had rainbows painted on them with food colouring, and they were arranged around the outside to form a ring around the final macaron. This last one was painted with an image of Reverser, done in the style of the comic they made. It even had the exclamation point signature on it.

Nathaniel watched Marc opening his present with several knots in his stomach.
"Marinette helped me make these. I... wanted to make something as unique and beautiful as you are, Marc..."
There was silence as Marc slowly closed the box. He just stared ahead, seemingly frozen on the spot. Nathaniel could hear his heart pounding in his ears and wondered if time had actually stopped for him, but then he saw tears starting to form in Marc's eyes.

He had to quickly put the box down on the side of the bridge next to them so he wouldn't drop them as he started bawling. As he tried to dry his eyes on his sleeves, he felt Nathaniel reaching out to hold his shoulders.

"Nath... Nath, I... I'm sorry. I'm just... so happy," Marc looked up with a tearstained smile; his heart was beating so fast.

"Marc..." Nathaniel said softly as he gently wiped away his tears. "When I'm with you, it... it gives me this confidence from somewhere; confidence that helps me create amazing things like our comic. Even when it feels like the world is against me, I know I can face it when I have you with me."
He paused as his mind caught up with his mouth, and he wondered how he managed to put together exactly what he was feeling without his brain working. But he still had the most important words to say, and he didn't want to wait any longer to say them.
"Marc, I... I love you."

"I love you too." It was barely a whisper from him, but Marc was able to say it. He finally said those three words he had been meaning to say. He couldn't help but say them again as he lifted his hands to rest on Nathaniel's shoulders.
"I love you, Nathaniel."
The setting sun poked through the trees, shimmering on the new tears trailing down Marc's cheeks. The space between them became smaller and smaller as their faces came closer together. As their lips met for the very first time, they closed their eyes into their first kiss.

It was... clumsy.

They both tried to tilt their heads like they saw in movies, but ended up turning the same way. And when they both realised it, they tilted their heads the other way at the same time and squashed their noses together. Marc lifted his hand up to run through Nathaniel's hair, but it collided with Nathaniel's hand as he was about to do the same to Marc. It was when one of them exhaled and made a raspberry sound through their nose that they both had to break apart, bursting into giggles.

"That was our first kiss?" Nathaniel said between chuckles. Marc just continued to laugh, tears of joy still streaming from his eyes. Nathaniel wiped away his tears again, then held both of Marc's hands in his own.
"We'll just have to keep practising until we get it right."

"Do we need to practise? It already felt perfect to me." Marc released one of his hands to gently brush back Nathaniel's hair.
"But I wouldn't mind trying again."

Both of them just smiled, gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Nathaniel rested his hands on Marc's waist, pulling him in closer as Marc wrapped his arms around Nathaniel's shoulders. They kept their eyes on one another right until their lips met again. Marc was right, it did feel perfect. No matter how awkward or clumsy or inexperienced, it was perfect.

Marc couldn't imagine a better birthday.