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Four Heroes’ Days on, Alya had started to get into a rhythm. And that... that was something that wasn’t quite right.

The memorial service was always the same—speeches about the same events, giving thanks to two children who would never get to hear it; rock songs written in honor of two people who had deserved so much more than a statue, so much more than a memorial, so much more than empty graves with only their aliases to mark them. The older she got, the more she came to realize that they were someone’s children, that for all their incredible feats, they’d been no older than her when they were cut down, and one day two sets of parents had come home to find their children never would again. That deserved more than rote speeches. More than the same platitudes, year after year. But of course, that was all they could give.

Alya still hadn’t gotten used to the thought of them being gone. Every flash of red still made her look up, like they were just outside of her vision, like they were still there, waiting for her to see them, waiting to come back. Like any second they’d come out of hiding and announce that they weren’t dead, that it was all a trick, that everything was fine and that two people who Alya had come to consider friends (thanks to the exclusives they kept shooting her way, and the easy camaraderie they seemed to have with her) hadn’t been obliterated in a warehouse explosion.

It had been five years since the magic had left Paris, five years since those miraculous days when anything had seemed possible, and without them the world was just... grayer. But even now, five years on, something in Alya kept hoping, even when the rest of her knew they were never coming back.

The mood of this day HAD been noticeably different, and it wasn’t hard to tell why. The paparazzi had all been waiting on tenterhooks for Adrien Agreste, notoriously dour and reclusive ever since his father vanished, a man who was barely ever seen in public and even then almost never seen smiling... and yet, today, the man had been positively beaming when he stepped out of his limo, his laugh coming easy and clear for the first time since she’d seen him in high school, and likely the first time in most of these reporters’ memories. There did been a ripple in the crowd, a gasp of shock, but when Alya had seen who had left the limo behind him, everything made sense: love was a funny thing, after all. Even if she hadn’t really found anyone after Nino left, she still remembered what that felt like. Of course those two had found each other; she always knew they would’ve. “Good on you, girl,” she whispered, watching how they looked at each other. Anyone else would’ve thought it was just a CEO and his assistant, but she could see them like they were in high school all over again, and she knew.

It was during Chloé’s farewell speech, after the sun went down, that the world went completely nuts. “We owe a tremendous debt to them, a debt that can never be repaid—” she was saying, when Alya caught a flash of red, just in the corner of her vision, one that she forced herself to ignore—they’re gone, Alya, they’re gone and they’re not coming back—and then suddenly, the sound of an unspooling wire.

And an impossible figure, an impossible woman, executing a three-point landing in the center of the stage.

The entire crowd snapped into silence. Chloé cut off mid-speech, staring at the red-clad woman before her, a silence barely broken by the black leather blur which landed in a roll, then, with a swagger and a smirk, seized the microphone.

”Helloooooooo Paris!” Chat Noir cried.

Whatever hushed exclamations of surprise had thrilled across the crowd at Ladybug’s appearance just... stopped. No murmurs, no questions, no “is this real?” No one moved. No one coughed. No one even blinked as the superhero’s pronouncement rolled across the crowd.

Ladybug stood and leaned onto her partner’s shoulder—their height difference had increased in the years since they’d last been seen, but she could still reach him. “I think you overdid it, Chaton,” she giggled, just loud enough that the microphone was able to pick it up, just loud enough for the silent crowd to hear every word.

”Doodlebug,” Chat replied, apparently uncaring that he was still broadcasting to the entire park “I spent five years thinking you were dead. Can’t I just be happy?”

Ladybug smiled and put a finger to his lips. “I never could resist those kitten eyes,” she purred.

They were interrupted by the sound of Mayor Bourgeois clearing her throat. “Are you...” she began, and Alya could see that she was trying not to choke on tears. “You’re alive?”

Ladybug grinned and snapped the microphone from her partner, raised it to her lips. “Hell yes we are.”

And the crowd ERUPTED into screaming cheers.

Alya was on her feet but she didn’t remember standing up. She was halfway to Ladybug but she didn’t remember starting to run. She smashed into her idol, her hero, her friend and wrapped her arms around her, pulling her into a crushing hug. “Please be real, please be real, please be real,” she whispered. Sobbed.

And Ladybug’s arms around her shoulders. Hugging her back. “We’re real,” she whispered back.

Alya began to cry.

The party had lasted until three in the morning, only finally grinding to a halt once Ladybug had declared that she and her partner needed to sleep (which Alya was fairly certain was a bald-faced lie, but whatever). The news, however, had spread to all of Paris: Ladybug and Chat Noir were alive. The mourners in the park weren’t the only ones partying that night.

So it was very little surprise when Alya found herself walking through a ghostly, sleepy Paris at seven in the morning, far from view of a single living soul.

The city had basically shut down for the day once the news broke. The only people in Paris who could’ve slept the night before were those who were asleep BEFORE the heroes returned, especially after Chloé had declared a citywide holiday in a delighted panic (which she didn’t actually have the authority to do, but that didn’t stop everyone from taking it anyway). Everyone was sleeping now, probably, or with their families, but Alya couldn’t sleep. Not today. Not yet.

She wasn’t sure why her wanderings had brought her to the Hotel Bourgeois. Maybe she just needed to talk to Marinette; she figured this is where her old friend would be, in Adrien’s room, since they looked like they were having trouble keeping their hands off each other and Adrien couldn’t exactly disappear for a night. She wondered if they were asleep by now, as she rode up the familiar elevator that she hadn’t seen the inside of since she stopped living with her parents.

The door to the penthouse suite loomed large and familiar, the way it had been when she was a child, and something about it gave her pause. Going through that door had always seemed daunting, and she suddenly realized through her exhaustion that maybe invading her friends’ privacy wasn’t the greatest idea. She sat against the wall, sliding down until she reached the floor. “What am I thinking?” she whispered. She took her phone from her purse and opened her contacts list, staring at the page she’d left open for almost a year now, Nino’s laughing pre-university face staring back at her. One tap and she’d hear his voice again. One tap to find out if he’d moved on, if he still wanted to see her, if he still felt about her the way she did about him. She couldn’t tap.

“I must say, Doodlebug,” Adrien’s voice came through the door—But was it Adrien’s voice? Doodlebug—that was what Chat had called Ladybug earlier this evening. A new nickname. Not Bugaboo; something about the way he said it was different, and Adrien had picked it up at the same time? “You’re even more beautiful now than you were this morning.” 

Marinette giggled. ”Quit it, Chaton, or else I might just marry you.”

”Is that a promise?”

The phone dropped from Alya’s hands and flopped into her lap.

“Absolutely,” Marinette—no, Ladybug—no, Marinette said, her voice still muffled by the door but just clear enough for Alya to suddenly and finally notice the similarities between the voices of her best friend and her idol. “After five years of thinking you were dead? I am NEVER letting you go again.” She giggled again. “Though to be fair, you’re the one wearing a ring.”

How had she missed this? Ladybug and Chat Noir had been active for years, years she’d spent obsessively tracking their lives and their movements, and all that time they’d been sitting right next to her.

It was a small consolation when she realized that, up until tonight, they must not have known either.

She picked up her phone again and opened the texting app, scrolling to Marinette’s conversation—the last thing they’d talked about had been two days ago, something banal about a new bar that had opened a few blocks from Alya’s station that Marinette had wanted to try. It seemed so strange to look at now.

I think you owe me an exclusive, LB, Alya sent. (Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me! ;))

She stood and walked back to the elevator, barely managing to hear Marinette’s hushed “Oh, shit.”

The phone was still in her hand, one thing left to do. She opened the contacts, once again coming face-to-face with the amber eyes of Nino Lahiffe.

The elevator doors closed, and she smiled and pressed Call.