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it's been you the whole time.

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Ladybug looked to the blood dripping down Chat Noir’s chin. There’s something different about this akuma, something in the violence it possesses. Turning away from the scene, she winced at what she’s sure was bruising near her ribcage. This was getting out of hand. They needed help. They need… a second chance.

“Chat Noir! I know this akuma’s intense, but please keep it distracted while I go grab Viperion!”

Chat Noir, usually quick to be distracted by his leading lady, kept his eyes focused on the creature ahead of them. He wiped the blood from his chin. “You got it, Bug, but hurry. I’m not sure how long I can toy around with this one.”

“Of course. Thanks, Chat!” She fled the scene as she heard his trademark taunting behind her.

Okay, quick stop by my place to grab the snake miraculous, then I’ll stop by the fight one more time to check on Chat before heading to the boat. She landed on her balcony, hurried to where she keeps the miraculous box hidden beneath heaps of scratch fabric in her closet, then rushed back to the fight, but the two were nowhere to be found. Swinging up onto the roof of the tallest building nearby, she spots the brawl heading towards the houseboat.

“Okay, not sure if he did that on purpose or not, but at least that’ll get Viperion on the scene faster,” she thought out loud before taking off once more.

She can’t reach the boat without being in the line of sight of the akuma. Sighing, she hid the extra miraculous away and prepared to take part in the fight once more, hoping to deal a little damage then snake her way onto the boat, but it seems the akuma had other plans.

“Ah, there you are, Ladybug! I was wondering where you cowered off to!” The akuma, something reptilian with iridescent purple-gray scales, smiled at her. Yellow eyes alight with something sinister, it ran its tongue across its leathery lips, stopping on the canine tooth poking out from its mouth. “Let’s have a little more fun before you slip away again.” Its razor sharp tongue shot out from its mouth, knocking her yoyo from her hand and leaving a nasty laceration along her wrist.

“My lady!” Chat Noir yelled, running towards her, but he was stopped short as the akuma used its powerful tail to knock him off course. He crashed into the bushes of the park below, and without skipping a beat, the akuma used the momentum from that hit to swing around and knock Ladybug out with its tail as well. As she went flying, the akuma heard the buzzing of Hawkmoth’s voice in its ear and scoffed.

“They’re knocked out, moth. I’m gonna enjoy myself a little bit longer before I do your dirty work.” It walked away from the scene, bloodthirsty and eager to terrorize the rest of the city.

————

Luka lounged on his bed, casually strumming out the same melody that follows him day and night. I wonder what she’s doing today… maybe I could ask Juleka to invite her over. But I’d never hear the end of it if I did that… Luka’s guitar screeched as a loud crash on deck interrupted his thoughts and his strum pattern.

He ran upstairs to investigate, stopping stunned in his tracks when he saw Ladybug crumpled on the ground next to his amps. She looked bad. Cuts showing through her suit, scratches on her face, and while he couldn’t tell for sure, he knew she had to have some pretty bad bruising along the right side of her body.

“Ladybug!” He ran towards her as she groaned in response. “What happened?”

Her earrings beeped. “Take me downstairs before someone sees me transform,” she mumbled. He obliged, carrying her bridal style and setting her gently on his bed.

Despite the pain, she managed a small smile. “Actually, this is exactly where I needed to be.” She held the snake miraculous up weakly. “Viperion, we need you in today’s battle. Be very careful. As you can see, this akuma is extremely dangerous.”

He took the box from her, apprehension clear in his movements. “But what about you, Ladybug? Are you going to be okay?”

Her earrings beeped again. “Once my Kwami and I have some time to recharge, we’ll be back in action. You wouldn’t happen to have any cookies, would you? My Kwami needs them.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, we have some in the kitchen. Hold on, I’ll got get some.” He ran to the kitchen, picking up a few cookies, a bottle of water, and some painkillers for the hero. Heading back to his room, he saw a flash of pink light spilling out of the doorway. He stood outside and called into the room. “Um, Ladybug? Should I leave the cookies out here?”

He heard her voice. Small. Hesitant. “No, it’s okay; you can bring them in here. I can’t exactly move right now, plus I… I trust you, Luka.”

Cautiously, he stepped inside and nearly dropped everything when he saw the girl laying in his bed. There was his melody, Marinette, covered in purple and red, eyes closed in pain. He rushed over to her, placing the cookies and other things on the bed before his trembling hands threatened to spill them all over the floor. “Marinette, I…”

Her hand reached up to his before his vision had a chance to turn white hot. “Careful now,” she said, “one akuma is more than enough for me today.”

He took a deep breath in, holding it a few moments before letting it out. “You’re right, Marinette, sorry. I just can’t believe it’s been you this whole time, risking your life every day for this city.” His hand caressed her cheek, and she leaned into his touch. “What kind of person puts that sort of responsibility on a teenager? I mean, look at you! You don’t deserve to be here, in this condition, right now.” He felt anger creeping in once again and focused instead on the touch of the girl in front of him, letting her music keep him calm. “I’m so sorry, Marinette.”

She looked away. “On days like this, I am too. I wonder why it had to be me, why it had to be Chat. Hawkmoth, he’s a grown man. Chat and I, we’re just kids. Why do we have to fight against him?” She choked on that last question, then steeled her nerves. “But there’s no use wondering about all that. It doesn’t change anything. The best I can do is just keep going forward, I guess.”

Just then, Tikki zipped out from under her and began nuzzling her cheek. “I am so sorry, Marinette, but we’ll get through this.” She turned towards Luka. “Thank you for taking care of her, both Ladybug and Marinette.” He simply nodded in response. “Now, I heard you brought cookies? The akuma is still out terrorizing the city, and I’m pretty sure Chat Noir got knocked out as well. We need to get back on the scene as soon as we can.”

That knocked Luka out of his stupor. “What? No! Marinette’s in no condition to fight.” Despite his outrage, he handed the cookies to Tikki and the water and painkillers to Marinette.

She smiled at him, grateful to be thought of. “Thanks Luka, but it’s okay. The suit will minimize the damage, and once I use the miraculous cure, this will all go away. This may be worse than usual, but it’s definitely not the first time I’ve had to fight like this.”

He nodded dumbly. “Right. Of course. You’ve done this plenty of times, putting your life at risk and fighting through the pain. Just normal stuff for a 14-year-old.”

Marinette’s eyes widened at the bitterness in his voice. “Luka…”

“I’m sorry, it’s just… hard to wrap my head around. It’s hard seeing the girl you care for hurting like this, realizing she does it all the time.”

Her cheeks reddened at the statement, and she had to physically shake her head to clear her thoughts. “I know, it’s a lot to take in.” She let out a little chuckle. “I actually tried to pass the miraculous off to someone else after I butchered the first battle, but listen.” She slowly picked herself up off the bed, calling on Tikki to transform her. As Ladybug, she cradled Luka’s face and left a soft kiss on his cheek. “Let’s talk about this after the battle, when we actually have the time to think on these things. For now, Paris needs its superheroes.” Wincing, she made her way to the door. “See you on the battlefield, Luka.” And with that, she took off.

Luka stared in her direction for a few moments before bringing his eyes back to the box waiting on the bed in front of him. “Right. Paris needs its heroes.” He slipped the snake miraculous on, smiling at the little god that appeared before him.

“Nice to sssee you again, Luka.”

“Nice to see you too, Sass.” The smile faded. “This akuma seems pretty serious. Let’s do our best for Mar, uh, Ladybug out there.”

Sass shot him a knowing smile. “Ah, ssso I take it ssshe told you.”

“Not exactly. I mean, yeah, but the situation didn’t give her many options.”

“Regardlessss, it’sss good to sssee the Guardian relying on sssomeone other than Tikki.”

“What? Guardian? What does that mean, Sass?”

For the first time that Luka could recall, the little snake was visibly nervous. “My missstake, I should have kept that to myssself. Let’sss get going.”

Despite the questions running rampant in his mind, Luka didn’t want to waste any more time. “Okay. Sass, scales slither.”

—————

Though the battle only took about four resets, they were a pretty gruesome four resets that Viperion wished he hadn’t seen, especially with the new knowledge of Ladybug’s identity. Regardless, he breathed a deep sigh of relief when the miraculous cure washed over the city. He smiled as the two heroes, now fully recovered, did their signature fist-bump. They turned to him, Chat Noir slapping him on the back while Ladybug watched in amusement.

“Great job, snake! We finished off that akuma in no time thanks to you!”

“I wouldn’t say no time, but you’re welcome. I’m always happy to help you guys out.”

Chat Noir’s grin fell, and he coughed a little. “Uh, right, sorry. I always forget that you see a different battle than we do. I, uh, hope it wasn’t too bad.”

Viperion put a hand on Chat’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it.” He hummed, and Chat followed his gaze to the confused civilian sitting on the sidewalk a few feet away.

“Oh, right! Don’t worry Ladybug, I’ll take care of them; you take care of the snake miraculous, Miss Guardian.”

Ladybug snorted. “Thanks Chat.” She looked at Viperion, who seemed to be lost in thought.

There’s that word again, Guardian. Sass said it earlier, and Chat Noir called her that just now. I wonder what that’s all about.

He was stirred from his thoughts by a red-and-black hand stretched out before him. “Ready to go, Viperion?”

He took her hand. “I’m always ready for you, Bug.”

Where he expected a blush, he instead found a snort. “What?”

“Oh nothing, you just sounded an awful lot like Chat when you said that.”

Viperion chuckled. “Huh, I guess I did. I’m probably going to start saying a lot of things like him now, aren’t I? Oh well.” He kissed the hand he was still holding. “I guess it can’t be helped.”

And there, there was that sweet blush he was looking for earlier. “Careful, or I’m going to have to start putting you in your place, too.”

“Go ahead, I wouldn’t mind.” He smirked at her, and his chuckles turned to full-blown laughter as she huffed and dragged him off.

--------

He thought they were headed back to the houseboat, but he found himself in Marinette’s room, noticing a lot more pink and a lot less photos covering the walls. He decided to save that information for another day.

Ladybug sat on her bed and patted the space next to her. Viperion smirked, remembering when he first did the same. He took the seat, and in a flash of light, Marinette and Luka sat staring at one another.

“So…”

“So…”

“You must have a lot of questions, Luka,” Tikki chimed in, saving the awkward teenagers, “but first you must promise to keep this information secret, even after Hawkmoth’s capture. Any information in regards to the miraculous must only be revealed at Marinette’s discretion.”

“Of course, Tikki. I already hate how much danger she’s put in on a daily basis; I would never want to add to that.”

“That’s sweet of you, but it’s much more than that. As the Guardian of the Miraculous, Marinette has the final say on everything. Who gets a miraculous, what information is known to the public, what she chooses to share with the miraculous holders, and what she wants to do with anyone who breaches her trust on any of those things.”

Luka’s hands twitched while Marinette swatted Tikki away. “Oh, stop that, you’re making me sound scary.” She looked at Luka knowingly. “Go ahead and ask; I know you have a lot on your mind.”

“What does it mean to be Guardian?”

“It means I have to look over this set of miraculous and make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.”

“And make sure you don’t place them into the wrong hands,” Tikki grumbled.

“What was that?”

For the second time, Marinette swatted her Kwami away. “She’s upset at the last Guardian for choosing two teenagers to fight a super villain based off of a brief interaction.”

“And for leaving one of those teenagers in charge of such a heavy responsibility before she could even begin her training!” Tikki added on with a huff.

“What? Why would they do that? What happened, Marinette?”

“Um, remember that time you saw me by the park, and I… couldn’t really keep it together?”

He placed a hand over hers. “You don’t have to keep anything up when you’re around me, Marinette. You can let yourself feel whatever you want.”

The three jumped when a hiss entered the conversation. “Yesss, I believe that isss why she’sss trusssting you with thisss information now.”

Marinette nodded in agreement. “That was the day this all happened. On top of… other problems at school and with friends, I accidentally led Hawkmoth straight to the old guardian. Because of that, he had to give up his position and pass it onto me. I really screwed up that day.” Marinette kept her eyes to the ground, solemn. “I really wasn’t ready for the responsibility, and I especially didn’t feel ready after the mess I caused.”

She looked up at Luka and smiled. “But I think I’m doing a pretty good job so far, and things might even get a little easier now that I have someone to talk about all this with. Well, another human; I kinda feel like I’m going crazy talking to all these little Kwami sometimes.” She gave a sheepish grin to Tikki and Sass. “No offense, guys.”

“None taken.”

“Yeah, we know there are a lot of human things that we don’t really understand and aren’t much help with.” Tikki shrugged.

Luka sat stunned, processing everything he just heard. “That’s… a lot. For anyone.” Suddenly, he wrapped Marinette up in a hug. “I can’t believe you’ve been dealing with all that alone, Marinette. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, Luka. You didn’t know.” Despite her reassurance, she had to choke the words out. “It’s nice that you do now, though.”

He pulled back. “Does… does Chat Noir know?”

She frowned. “No. It’s too dangerous. I mean, now that I’m the Guardian, I’ve thought about revealing our identities to each other, but…” Luka waited for her to gather her thoughts. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great partner, but sometimes…”

“The boy doesssn’t quite think thingsss through.”

“He’s a bit impulsive,” Tikki supplied. “And I’m sure it’s due to his home life, but he doesn’t always take his duties seriously. Sometimes I wonder what made Master Fu choose him in the first place.” Marinette shot Tikki a scandalized look. “What? I know you’ve thought that before, too, especially with the knight-in-shining-armor treatment he gives you.”

“What kinda knight can’t take no for an answer,” she grumbled in response.

As silly as the whole exchange was to watch, Luka’s frown grew deeper the more they talked. “He doesn’t sound like hero material at all, Marinette, and you already have enough to deal with. You ever think about, I don’t know, switching him out with someone else? Can you do that?”

“Yeah, I’ve given that some thought before, too. I’m trying to give him a little more time, thought. We’ve already been through so much, and I’d hate to take this away from him now. Why? Are you volunteering?” She giggled at the way he vehemently shook his head.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do whatever you need, but I don’t think I’m very suited to the job.”

“No, I agree. You’re perfect for the snake miraculous; I wouldn’t switch you out unless we really needed it. But I do have a backup in mind for the cat if it ever comes down to it.”

Luka’s face grew hot at the compliment, and the two kwamis took this as their cue to leave, giggling at the boy’s flustered expression on the way out. “That’s good that you have a plan. So, I guess that means that you, uh…”

Marinette blinked her big blue eyes at him, curious.

“So you and Chat Noir aren’t together, then?”

Marinette tried not to laugh too hard at that one. “No, we aren’t, as much as he and the rest of Paris like to pretend we are. I’ve got my eye on someone else.” She sighed. “He knows it, too, yet he never gives up.”

“Oh wow, that actually really sucks Marinette, I’m sorry.” He stared at her, dumbfounded, as she began laughing again.

“I’m not too worried about it, actually. Like I said, I’ve got my eyes on someone else, and I’m feeling pretty hopeful about it.”

“Oh.” Luka tried not to show his disappointment. “Things going well with Adrien, then?”

Marinette smiled devilishly. “Oh yes, things are great; our friendship has never been better. Once I got over my crush on him, I was actually able to have real conversations with him. Now he’s my go-to Ultimate Mecha Strike partner. Well, when his dad lets him out of the house, that is.”

“Ah, that’s great to hear.” He smiled, genuinely happy for the two. “So if not him, then who’s the lucky guy?”

Marinette scooted closer to him. “I think you know him, actually. He’s a pretty talented musician on the local music scene. Big sweetheart, but kinda dangerous; he knows all my secrets.” She was practically on his lap at this point.

Luka swallowed hard. “Oh, really? He doesn’t sound familiar, but I’ll keep my eye out for him. He seems like trouble.” He grabbed Marinette’s hand where it was reaching for his shoulder. “Um, as much fun as this is…”

Marinette immediately scooted away from him, mind already lightyears away. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry Luka. I shouldn’t have assumed anything; I don’t know what came over me, I—“

He stopped her once more. “Marinette, it’s fine. Breathe, please.” She took a deep breath with him, released. “What I was gonna say is, as much fun as this is, I need to hear you say the words. You know how I feel; I’m not the best with words, but I make that much clear. I need you to tell me how you feel, plain as day. I may be good at heart songs, but this isn’t something I’m willing to leave up to my own intuition.”

“Oh, Luka…” Marinette brought her hand up to his cheek. “I like you. A lot. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure out, but it’s always been you. You’ve always showed up for me, not just when Adrien didn’t, but when nobody else did. You’ve always heard me, Luka, and I didn’t realize that the comfort I feel around you is what this is supposed to feel like. No nerves, no loss for words. I can just be myself around you, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Well, now I want you, too. I want to be yours. If you still want me, that is…”

Luka couldn’t contain the stupid grin from blooming on his face. “I like you too, Marinette. A lot. So, will you—“ he couldn’t even finish the question before her lips were on his.

“Yes,” she answered when they came up for air. “Yes, of course, Luka.”

Luka knew he’d have to retune her melody when he got home, but for once, he thought, the music could wait.