Ladybug felt Kaalki’s light wash over her, the kwami emerging and flying a small distance away. They were up on one of the rooftops in New York, overlooking an interview that was happening on the street.
Kaalki hummed in interest, taking the time to see the tall buildings. “What a grand city.” Then, her gaze dropped down and she squinted, adding with distaste, “Quite crowded though.”
“There’s an interview going on right now. That’s why. One of their supervillains was just taken down,” Ladybug explained, placing her foot up on the edge of the building and peering down to look at the crowd.
“And, what precisely are we here for?” Kaalki asked, hovering near Ladybug’s face to follow her gaze.
“Not what, but who. We’re here to see Eagle,” Ladybug answered, pointing at the eagle-themed superheroine being interviewed. The crowd was enthusiastically cheering at just about every answer Eagle was giving, and Ladybug couldn’t help smiling at the fact that the person she gave the miraculous to was still doing well.
As the interview came to an end, Eagle’s eyes shifted from the interviewer to Ladybug, who had made sure to be where the red-and-black of her suit would stand out; she wasn’t exactly the definition of “stealthy,” and it worked to her advantage in this case.
Eagle jumped up to the nearest rooftop, then waited for the crowd to disperse before leaping over to where Ladybug was. “Hey, Ladybug! What are you doing here?” Her brows creased in seriousness, and she held her fists up like she was raring for a fight. “Did Hawk Moth come back to New York?”
Ladybug waved dismissively. “No, no, it’s nothing like—”
“Pardon me,” Kaalki said, making sure she was loud enough to be heard. She puffed her chest out haughtily and gestured to herself with a hoof. “I’m Kaalki, the kwami of migration. Pleased to meet you,” she said, her tone forced as to imply that she didn’t appreciate being ignored.
“Uh… hi,” Eagle greeted flatly, then looked to Ladybug for an explanation.
“Sorry about her. She was my ride.” Grabbing Eagle’s wrist and leading her to the center of the rooftop, where they were less likely to be seen from the streets, she explained, “Anyway, I came here because I was hoping that I could get your help.”
Eagle leaned to the side, curious. “My help? What for?”
“Well…” Ladybug hesitated. “This is going to sound like a weird request, but…”
Eagle crossed her arms in thought, still seemingly absorbing the explanation. “You want me to use Liberation on you? To get rid of your—”
“—romantic attachments,” Ladybug cut in stiffly, the word ‘crush’ and 'love’ sounding extremely un-Ladybug-like. She blushed in embarrassment and looked away, bringing a hand up to partly hide her face. “Listen, I know you probably don’t get this sort of thing. It’s already awkward to talk about it while I’m Ladybug, but—”
“No, I get it,” Eagle assured, though her expression was neutral.
Ladybug looked at her in surprise. “You do?”
With a slight roll of her eyes, Eagle replied, “Okay, so I don’t get all the love stuff exactly, but Uncanny Valley has her own thing for me to deal with. She always wants to help people; she can’t help it. Besides, Liiri says that there’s always something stopping people from reaching their full potential. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good, and it’s my job to figure out what it is.” She glanced Ladybug up and down, as if to gauge something. “You really think it’s that bad?”
Ladybug responded with a wince, bad memories already starting to surface.
“Alright, wow,” Eagle said, hands raised as she took a step back, the reaction having already convinced her while she herself clearly wanted no details about it. “Are you ready then? You know this is only going to last five minutes, right?”
“Wait—” Ladybug blinked in surprise. “You’re really going to help me?”
“Yeah?” Eagle replied. Half-offended, she asked, “Did you really think I wouldn’t?”
“No! Sorry!” Ladybug rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. “You’d be… surprised, by how bad this stuff usually goes for me.”
For a moment, Eagle looked tempted to ask, but shook off the thought just as quickly. Placing her fists to her chest, her gaze went firm, showing that she was ready.
Ladybug stood in place, almost nervous at the prospect of doing this. She was essentially taking out a piece of herself, but it was the only way to test it; the only way to know for sure.
“Liberation!” Eagle called out, spreading her arms as a single light burst out of her.
Ladybug flinched, her fighting instinct kicking in, but she held firm and let the light touch her. For a moment, she was frozen, able to sense Eagle’s presence in her mind and even hear her voice. Eagle’s voice was calm, but tempting, offering the freedom so desperately desired.
“Ladybug, your love has taken over your life. I release you from it!”
Marinette quickly stashed the glasses in her purse as she checked her phone’s timer. She had four minutes and forty-five seconds to do this, and she took a steady breath before stepping out of the alley she’d been hiding in.
As she raced across the street, the fencing students were just filing out out of Françoise Dupont. The moment she saw Kagami and Adrien leaving, she raised a hand, raising her voice so she’d be heard. “Hey, Adrien!”
Adrien and Kagami stopped and glanced her way. Adrien turned to Kagami, saying something and briefly tilting his head in Marinette’s direction. Kagami nodded at him in response, and they separated, Kagami heading in one direction and Adrien heading in Marinette’s.
At first, Marinette was nervous, her worst case scenario being that Liberation had truly failed or worn off when she de-transformed, or that her feelings were somehow so strong or messed up that even Liberation somehow couldn’t help her.
Yet, as Adrien approached, she found that she wasn’t shaky at all. Her heart wasn’t pounding either. She didn’t even feel the slightest bit of awe from his presence.
She was normal. She was okay.
“Hey, Marinette,” Adrien greeted with a smile. “Did you need something?”
It took her a moment to answer, still stunned that it’d worked and she’d truly been freed of her crush, even if it was for five minutes. “Oh. No, actually, just…” She reached into her purse and pulled out her phone, checking the time, then kept it at her side as she asked genuinely, “How was fencing?”
Adrien looked briefly caught off guard, though whether he was surprised at her acting differently or just the question was anyone’s guess. He then brightened, replying excitedly, “It was great! I got paired up with Kagami again, and you know how Mr. D'Argencourt is with fencing, so he…”
The conversation continued as nothing but casual from there, and Marinette almost felt silly at how amazed she was by such a simple thing. It was actually like she was Adrien’s friend; like they were on the same page and she could actually hold a conversation with him. He looked and talked the same way he always did, yet she was perfectly fine. Students passed by and maybe tossed them a brief glance, but completely ignored them otherwise because she wasn’t acting “weird.”
At worst, she was grinning just a little wider out of the pleasant surprise of the whole thing.
When she’d first thought to “liberate” herself of her feelings for Adrien, she was certain she’d be disappointed by it. She honestly thought that she would see Adrien and miss the heart fluttering, the weak knees, and the sheer dreaminess he used to radiate.
But she was wrong. With her crush gone, she could see herself from an outside perspective and reflect without fretting over the things she would’ve otherwise. Where she thought there’d be disappointment, there was relief that she could actually breathe and not turn into a mess around him. Her mind wasn’t clouded with thoughts, and her eyes could drift wherever she wanted without some brainless thought intruding and warning her that she might miss Adrien blinking if she looked away.
She’d needed this. It was nice; more than nice even. Is this how it could be all the time if she truly moved on from him? No more mocking, no more jealousy, no more “crazy Marinette”? It’d be like a celebrity crush that she grew out of; an embarrassing memory of the past and nothing more.
More importantly, she would remember this. She would remember this feeling; the sanity of not being in love with Adrien, or not feeling whatever that emotion was actually called. To say the word “love” seemed so… wrong.
Still mid-discussion with Adrien, Marinette’s phone suddenly beeped with a warning message. She turned it in her hand, seeing that she’d properly set the timer earlier to warn her when there was a minute and half left of Liberation.
Adrien leaned over to look at the screen, but jumped when a loud honking noise abruptly sounded off from behind him. Marinette tried not to snicker, but it was difficult; seeing someone else be the jumpy one was quite the experience, and she’d have to remember that too.
Adrien looked over his shoulder at his limo waiting for him, then glanced back at her apologetically. “Sorry, I gotta go. Can we talk later?”
“Oh, sure! Definitely!” Marinette stashed her phone back in her purse, then waved to him. “See you tomorrow!”
“Bye, Marinette!” Adrien exclaimed, waving as he rushed off. “It was fun talking to you!”
Marinette pursed her lips, trying to contain herself as she watched Adrien get into the limo and ride off down the street. She waited until it was out of earshot, then let herself start squealing, even hopping around and doing a twirl for effect.
“M-marinette?!” Tikki called, concerned. “Did it wear off? There’s still time—”
“I’m gonna delete all my Adrien pictures!” Marinette exclaimed. “And take down that disaster of a wallpaper!”
“W-wHA—!!” Tikki gaped. “Marinette, when your feelings come back—”
“That’s future Marinette’s problem! This feels great!” Marinette cheered, having to suppress her excitement just so she could talk. Raising one hand dramatically, she placed the other to her chest, saying to no one in particular, “Oh, what’s that? Me, crushing on Adrien? Ew, no way! We’re just friends!”
She laughed triumphantly, a bounce in her step that made it seem almost like she were jogging. She crossed the street, reaching for the bakery door’s handle and practically singing to herself, “Just friends~ We’re just friends~ Me and Ad~ri~en are just good—”
She paused as she opened the door, seeing a familiar mix of blue and black standing at the counter and talking to her parents. At the chime of the bell, all three looked over at her, Luka’s smile welcoming and his lips partially coated in white from what seemed to be a powdered donut.
“Hey, Marinette,” he greeted. “We were just talking about you.”
“Oh, he’s such a sweetheart,” Sabine cooed. “He came all the way here just to see you.”
Luka blushed a light shade of pink at the obvious teasing, Tom jumping in to exclaim, “And he really thought he had to pay us for sweets! I told him, you’re friends with our daughter, you better not put a single coin on that counter, young man!”
The three had a laugh together; clearly, they’d been getting along before she came in.
Yet, Marinette’s smile fell from her face, a mental 'oh’ echoing in her mind.
She hadn’t even considered Luka when she’d thought of taking away her crush on Adrien, but it made sense; Eagle had said love, and Marinette wasn’t foolish enough to think that she hadn’t felt anything romantic for Luka. It only made sense that her crush on him would go too.
But it wasn’t the same. The relief didn’t follow the lack of feeling. With Luka, there’d always be a little leap in her heart, then a wave of calm washing over her, but neither were there and she couldn’t help feeling disappointed.
Luka’s smile disappeared as he noticed her expression. He approached, concern written all over his features. “Marinette?”
They were friends at that very moment; that was all the feeling she had on the matter, but she wanted what she’d had before. She remembered his confession at the TV station and yearned for the warmth in her cheeks when he stared at her and told her how much he loved her with words that were entirely his own; words that told her that he loved her as herself and filled her with a confidence she seldom had outside of being Ladybug.
Everything clicked. Her crush on Adrien represented stress, anxiety, and losing herself, but her crush on Luka represented peace, happiness, and being herself.
She missed how she felt about Luka. She didn’t miss how she felt about Adrien.
That was all the answer she needed.
Almost on cue, her phone beeped again, this time to signal that Liberation was over. Marinette took in a shaky breath as she felt pleasantly familiar emotions rush through her again, and she welcomed them back like she would an old friend.
Luka’s blue eyes gained vibrance and allure, his lips being coated in powdered sugar suddenly became incredibly cute, and she could think of him as no less than the most handsome boy in the world.
“…Sorry,” she said breathlessly, waving a hand to assure him that she was alright. “Let’s just say I went through a lot of emotions today. I’m happy to see you, really!”
Luka’s smile came back, filling her with its warmth. “I’m glad,” he said in relief. Then, taking a glance at her purse, which was still letting out a muffled, melodic beeping noise, he asked, “Sorry, do you have to be somewhere?”
“Hm? Oh, no, not really.” She took out her phone to shut off the timer, then flashed him the screen before closing the app and storing the phone back in her purse. That done, she paused to consider things, then dared a glance back at him. “Hey… can we walk for a while?”
He blinked, mildly surprised, but nodded. “Sure. Did—” He froze, apparently only now realizing that he had powdered sugar on his lips. He swished his tongue around to lick it off, then started over with, “Did you want to talk about something?”
Smiling almost smugly in response, she felt confident enough to offer him her arm, as if he were a damsel she was leading around. She’d never seen his eyes widen quite so much before, but he also didn’t protest, happily taking hold of her arm.
Knowing that her parents would just be giving their looks of approval if she glanced back, she stepped out of the bakery and led Luka towards the park.
“So, it took a little longer than I hoped, but… do you remember when you were talking about me getting clarity?”