Chapter 1: Prologue: The Day Everything Changed
This is such a different exercise for me than I am used to, as I usually have a framework but I am posting as I write a solid draft and get it beta read. I've had a few lovely people (see above) who gave very generously of their time to help shape it into the current form. I decided to use it as an opportunity to also dip a toe into more mature territory.
I kind of went dark for much on October and November writing this little beastie, and I have been so anxious to share it with you all. I've really grown to love a few characters in particular; so much so that I am already brewing some sequel and follow up fics (mostly one-shots).
I really appreciate your thoughts and feedback.
Adrien groaned. The acrid smell of smoke burnt his nostrils as he struggled to get his eyes open. He wasn’t usually so tired even mid-battle.
He didn’t usually hurt so much.
His hand -- and it was a hand, with carefully manicured fingernails and not his familiar claws -- grasped onto the equally familiar jacket lapels.
Struggling to focus, Adrien’s fingers gripped the soft wool. He’d frowned at the familiar, expensive material, registering the higher quality feel to the fabric. It was not something he’d expect on someone rescuing people from a battle zone.
Fleetingly he’d wondered if it might be his father’s suit jacket, as he struggled to open his eyes. But that just wasn’t possible. Why would his father be out of the house, in the middle of a battle?
Dimly, Adrien registered the muffled din of sirens and voices echoing above his ear.
He panicked, trying to find Ladybug. He might be okay, but where had she gone?
Was she still back in the building?
Reaching out blindly, scrambling against the grip. “No.”
He whimpered as he was restrained. Something was wrong.
He should be stronger than this.
He shouldn’t be anywhere else but at her side.
It was some time later when he woke up in a hospital bed, sedated, disoriented, and wearing only a drafty hospital gown.
He felt naked enough with the nominal coverage from the hospital gown and the thin sheet for modesty, but the lack of his ring on his finger was entirely disconcerting.
“Excuse me?” He murmured, catching the attention of the nurse sent in to check his vitals. “Where did all my stuff go?”
“Standard procedure, I’m afraid.” The nurse smiled ruefully. “All of your personal effects, jewelry included, is stored away for safekeeping until you are ready to leave. It’s mostly to prevent theft since not everyone is awake all the time while they are here.”
He blinked. Was it even possible for someone else to take it off him? He didn’t think anyone would be able to take the ring off unless he had given it up willingly? There had been enough close calls that even Plagg had mentioned it once or twice.
“Is there any chance I can my ring back? It’s kind of a sentimental item, and I think it will help calm me down.”
The nurse smiled, tucking a small notepad into her pocket. “No promises, but I will go check, okay?”
It was scarcely fifteen minutes later that Nathalie -- a bit more out of sorts than usual -- had entered the room, carrying the dull silver ring. She had arched a brow upward, but otherwise had set it into his hand. “The nurses said you asked for this back?”
Adrien plastered a smile on his face, hoping she’d be a bit too distracted to notice, noticing the ring looked a bit more tarnished than usual. “Yeah. It kind of helps me calm down.”
She sighed, handing it over to him, the metal heavy and cool in his palm.
“How did you end up inside the Museum, anyways?”
He blanched. “The last thing I remember, there was an Akuma attack.”
“You darted out of the car several blocks away.” Nathalie pressed her lips together. “It took us some time to find you, and even then it was only after the hospital had identified you and tried to call your father.”
Adrien shook his head, raking his fingers through his hair, trying to assembled the scattered maze of memories in his own mind. “Sorry. I’m not really sure that I can remember all that much.”
He leaned back into the bed when Nathalie headed off, declaring the need to fill out even more paperwork for his stay.
Adrien wasted no time. As soon as the door clicked shut, he tried to call Plagg out to talk.
He frowned, sitting up as much as he could manage with the array of tubes in his hand. If Plagg wouldn’t come out, he could always try to force him to come back out after detransforming.
But it was no use. Plagg didn’t come out.
And he could shout all he liked, but it didn’t bring the Black leather suit and unrestrained propensity for puns.
Just a bunch of very concerned nurses.
He sighed, dropping his head back onto the pillow. This whole situation was troubling, and he was having the worst time trying to make sense of it.
When he had woken up on that morning, not a single thing seemed any different from any other.
Just barely after dawn, Nathalie knocked on his door. A summer storm plinked heavy, noisy droplets against his bay windows, bringing him to drowsy awareness mere minutes before her alarm had come.
Dutifully, he had gotten up and started the usual morning regimen. Plagg had been devouring every morsel of Camembert he could sink his tiny teeth into, as he perused the Ladyblog.
Not half an hour later, they were in the car on the way to a photoshoot when the sirens started to blare.
By the time Chat Noir had neared the scene, Ladybug was already waiting across the street from City Hall talking to an older Asian man on the roof.
“Are you ready?”
Ladybug looked...worried. More worried than he had ever seen her. “Do I really have a choice?” she answered.
He frowned, stroking fingers over his beard. “No. I am not sure that you do.”
Chat landed eyes, narrowed in concern. A civilian observer was unusual enough, but Ladybug had clearly been talking strategy. “What did I miss?”
“How much trouble we are in, I suppose.”
His eyes widened, meeting her blue ones.
“Hawkmoth is here.”
Adrien had dressed again, the nurses rushing him back into Nathalie’s care to be discharged.
He was dimly aware, nodding as they ran through a long list of discharge instructions. Following Nathalie dutifully to the car and back into the safe cage that was his room.
But luckily the internet would have updates from the battle.
He knew that they had fought. For hours it had seemed.
Ladybug had kept looking back at that civilian. Making sure he was safe.
They kept having to de-transform and re-energize.
If he had known it would be the last time he would see his Lady as Chat Noir, he would have fought harder. The last time he would hear Plagg’s voice, alternating between concern and chiding, he would have pushed himself to the brink
He would have given anything to have that all back.
Would have pushed himself harder. Right up to his very limit, until the smoke forced him out and away.
He was terrified that Ladybug had still been in the building, until the news reported -- almost a full day later -- that only one body had been recovered, that of an old man. He was saddened by the news, of course. He never wanted anyone to die because he couldn’t move fast enough.
It must have been the old man, the one he had seen with Ladybug
That guilt weighed on his conscience, as heavy as the permanently silver ring that remained heavy and lifeless on his knuckle.
No matter the transformation words or poses, no matter how many piles of Camembert.
He just hadn’t known that last blast would knock him out.
And when he woke up, untransformed and gasping in the smoke filled air, everything that had made his life so altered and amazing had been gone.
Except for one little thing.
Unfortunately, that took away all the rest of the people that made boring old Adrien Agreste feel special, too.
His shoulders fell as he dropped uselessly back into the desk chair.
If only he had known how everything would end, there was so much he would have changed.
So much more he would have done.
Chapter 2: Waking Up Is Hard to Do
Marinette grumbled as she dragged herself out of bed.
At least some things never changed, even after all these years.
She dragged a hand over her face, wincing as the blurry digits on the clock. Four am wake up calls for a Transatlantic flight were the worst.
Marinette wasn’t sure who she was missing more.
She missed so much.
Tikki sweetly giving words of encouragement as she’d tugged Marinette out bed a few extra minutes early.
Discussion sessions with Master Fu. He had lived for so long. Seen so, so much, had known so much that now would be lost to the ages. Had he lived she was sure that there was so much he could have taught her.
But he was gone now. Sacrificing himself when she hadn’t moved fast enough. When Hawkmoth had pressed his advantage and took a pot shot at Chat Noir.
And Chat Noir...the bruise had faded from where she’d pushed him out of the way and took the hit Hawkmoth had aimed at him, but the ache was still here.
That loss was still there. That guilt just gnawed at her. Every single doubt she’d ever had was magnified, and she didn’t have Tikki to talk her down.
It was incredible to have that much presence and near constant support in your life and then suddenly to lose it all.
But that wasn’t all she’d lost.
Alya was great and all, but she couldn’t really explain just who she had been. Who would believe it?
Alya grew a little depressed with her hero no longer there. It had splintered their friendship for a while, because the near constant reminders of what she’d had and lost were making her miserable...but what if they came back? When could she ever be sure it was safe to tell anyone who she is...she was.
Who she might still be.
Her fingers grazed over the earrings.
Even after all this time, she still didn’t look much older.
It was why she’d had to move away from Paris. Even once things had settled down to their previous dull roar, once most of their class had moved on and moved away.
It seems that possessing a miraculous and the joining of your life force to a kwami basically slows your growth so long as that connection is maintained.
She knew that Master Fu was quite a bit older, but even Tikki had always been vague on just how old he was.
What she did know was that at least a few of the Ladybugs and Chat Noir’s of the past perished. Or the guardian took their Miraculous back. When the threat passed, the miraculous mostly deactivated, shutting Plagg and Tikki into hibernation mode until another threat approached--not that they knew that. That was the realm of the guardian.
If things had played out differently, she might have learned more, might have understood better what needed to happen with these things eventually.
No one was expecting the Guardian to be killed that night.
In the wake of that big fire where so many went missing and so many questions were left unanswered.
With the Guardian gone and Tikki perpetually not answering her call, it fell to her to protect her now inactive miraculous for as long as she could.
But since she didn’t appear to be aging, maybe that was far longer than she had originally planned.
Once his term was up with his father, it seemed the most ideal time for Adrien to strike out on his own.
His father was still grieving, oddly depressed in the last few years. When Adrien said he wanted out, needed out to live his own life.
Adrien spent years doing research, long enough to know that he'd need to seek out opportunities in academia. He didn’t need tenure. He needed access...and information that was mostly lost except for in certain tightly held academic and wealthy circles. He could manage the first well enough although anonymity was difficult to come by.
When it became clear that the years were passing, but he wasn’t aging anywhere near as quickly as his classmates. He needed to do something.
He hated leaving Nino, Alya, and Marinette behind, but it wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter.
They wouldn’t understand and he couldn’t very well prove that he had been Chat Noir.
He couldn’t transform and because he was free to act so differently, he did.
He kept the friendships for years, and they were amazing. But he couldn’t allow anyone to get too close.
An internationally known model not aging? Well, that made for a rather big issue. Paparazzi were following him everywhere while he was outside of France. Make-up artists could only do so much, but they couldn’t travel with him all the time.
Adrien has to disappear from the scene, especially when some five years later, he very clearly is not changing.
That lead to him going in to teach a class half a world away.
Marinette had a lot more flexibility. She could pass for older for longer...until she couldn’t anymore.
Adrien had moved away, disappearing mostly off the map and then social media. She asked Nino for a while via Alya after their friends had married, until even Nino wasn’t getting much information.
Marinette had tried not to let it get her down, but she’d always felt this loss almost as acutely as she did of Tikki and Chat Noir. She was never really sure if it was just more of her own feelings or as an ever-present reminder of that point in her life.
But even out there as he must still be, Adrien grew to be the spectre in her life.
Haunting her dreams, her relationships.
Try as she might, nothing ever panned out for a long time.
Eventually, she met someone within the industry. He’d been a partner, who had helped grow her business. He’d been a friend with a quick wit that reminded her vaguely of Chat Noir. The blonde hair and winning smile had only reinforced that image in her mind.
And the fact that she looked youthfully vibrant in spite of the longer work hours that she kept hadn’t exactly been a deterrent.
There had even been talk of marriage. Of children.
But her own body had worked against her. She’d never been able to conceive.
She delayed the wedding for one year and then two as they tried and failed over and over again.
She didn’t need a big ceremony. She could have a dress altered at barely a moment’s notice. He’d had the rings ready for some time.
But the time lingered away with each failed attempt. She grew depressed and distant.
But she was so used to working at her speed, and he just had not been willing to keep waiting for her.
Marinette had done any number of things to get her online label off the ground, including working in a bakery in New York city, half a world away. She’d thrown herself into her work, working tirelessly to be able to afford her rent and create a pool of seed money to start up the company. Her evenings and breaks were mostly spent designing.
It took a while, but it worked. Giving her all the networking she’d needed to move her design house far out of the eye of others.
Little by little, design by design, she’d networked through her younger years until she had the funds and pull to create her designs and then gone functionally underground, designing until she had the means, the skills, and the networking to pull together her own label.
She worked for a while in NYC, designing, until it became clear that she must move away to avoid unwanted questions.
She buried herself in her work, bringing Lady Magique up to snuff to hit the Paris Runways.
She couldn’t come home as herself. That was too risky. But she could pose as one of the models. She’d created a whole set of masks. Played up on the theme.
Created a whole slew of costumes from the book she had brought to Master Fu all those years ago, when she’d first met him and understood his role as the Guardian.
The colors and forms were inspired by the images that had been burned into her subconscious.
But she had to be a a bit more practical than the warrior garb there. There were dresses to do battle on the church floor or the dance floor. There were boardroom warriors, with suits to take down even the mightiest mansplainer.
To draw on the innate confidence that being Ladybug had brought her all of those years ago.
She’d had variations on themes for all of the miraculous, but Ladybug was definitely her favorite.
And since she couldn’t pretend to be the creator, not without great risk of recognition, she learned from the girls how to walk the runways.
To her surprise when she’d donned that mask and walked out under the lights, strutting down the board had felt somewhat natural. Like coming home.
Once his classes had ended for the day, Adrien dropped his bag at his desk in the tiny office he’d shared to cover his office hours. His fellow TA, Xian was on his own way out for the day, but they had shared this space for long enough that he’d known the tiny sliver of his own history that he’d felt comfortable enough to share.
He’d been waiting for the invitation to use to faculty library for his research. He had spent years improving his knowledge of the written language and the past few months learning his way around the hard copy library system.
“Weren’t you in Paris when Ladybug and Chat Noir were running around?”
Adrien nodded. He’d always been deliberately vague about that point in his life, going so far as to use his mother’s maiden name in his more professional working life, making it easier to claim plausible deniability of his past as Adrien Agreste. If they thought he was a kid at the time, all the better. “Yeah. They were really big heroes before they disappeared entirely.”
Xian grinned shoving her phone into his face. “Well, they seem to be invading Paris.”
He’d blinked. Did he hear that wrong? His Mandarin was good, but wasn’t always perfect. Politely, he took the proffered phone, scrolling over the screen.
“You always seem a little homesick, so I thought you’d appreciate the news.”
His eyes caught on the Ladybug -- or a reasonable facsimile of her as his finger slowed the scrolling. Smiling, he looked up. “What is this?”
“I guess there is some big fashion show in Paris.” Xian grinned. “Something told me that considering all your research, you might find that fascinating.”
Adrien’s eyes drifted to his Calendar. Fashion Week had been pushed far to the back of his mind in recent years, but the long ingrained knowledge had never entirely faded. He handed the phone back, gratefully.
He’d have to pull it up again once his office hours had wrapped up.
He had grabbed take out, hiking to his apartment not long after his office hours had ended.
If he was going to take a trip down memory lane, he would do it on his own computer, where he could see the pictures more clearly.
Where he could fight the urge towards sadness and tears in the privacy of his own space without disruption. Up on his own computer setup. He’d expanded it over the years, scanning in what materials he could for cross referencing.
It just meant that the screens were top notch and he didn’t take up much space in his tiny apartment. The funds went longer when he stayed inconspicuous.
His father would find him again soon, and then he’d have no choice but to move to keep under the radar.
He plopped his food down in front of the computer, queuing up the pictures on the link Xian had sent him.
He’d plowed through the pictures. So much of it was familiar and tired. Simple re-hashes of pieces he had worn decades ago now.
He’d held off on looking at the Ladybug pictures until the end. He expected he’d to spend a bit of time succumbing to the wave of nostalgia, and might need a distraction once all was said and done.
With finality, he’d reached the final round of photos, there was one photo that captured his attention completely.
Dragging his thumb over his ring, he frowned at the designer’s name He hadn’t noticed it before.
He watched with fascination as the designs emphasized a few choice costume elements, ones that were far too familiar and detailed for all but the most diligent and observant reporters to have noticed. They were some surprisingly subtle ones too. The zippers of his suit, the mixed media used.
He’d even had to dig up a few old files of him in his suit more than a decade ago for comparison.
The work was complex and deft but appeared far more simple from far away. Stark and impressive -- powerful even -- simple and clean lines, outfits that were probably even fairly comfortable for the models.
He’d been fascinated and grinning at the Ladybug dresses and Chat Noir suits. Every single one of them in a mask that tugged at his heartstrings.
He hadn’t expected to see some of the others who had been in that book.
Not just Volpina. Colors of the bee, the peacock, the turtle.
His eyes narrowed, pulling back the image he’d almost passed over. There was something elusive about picture in particular that drew him in.
Before he even realized it, he had darted to the kitchen, cracked open one of the bottles of wine he’d been saving for a special occasion.
It wasn’t just the red-and-black-spotted suit dress that had pulled him in. It was the familiar silhouette, draped in an empire waist that tapered in over the models hips and then expanding out in a mermaid flare, a trail of fabric barely dusting across the floor behind her.
The look in her masked eyes.
The confidence, the spirit locked behind it.
He could have sworn it was her. Sworn it was Ladybug behind that mask.
Challenging him. Daring him to come back to Paris. To find her again.
But was that even possible?
If he had hardly aged in all that time, maybe--just maybe--she hadn’t either.
And if Ladybug had truly returned to Paris, there was nowhere else in the whole world that Chat Noir would rather be.
He hoped they could work together to find a way to awaken Plagg.
He just wanted to live his life as normally as he could...and if he could get another chance to be living that with LB?
Well, all the better.
That night, Adrien spent hours compiling lists and making travel arrangements.
Were it any other night, the wine would have knocked him straight to sleep. Were it any other night, he’d have gathered together lesson plans and then spent the rest of his remaining hour or two doing research. Barring that -- or a long drought of success in that vein -- he’d queue up an old favorite show or find a new video game to distract himself from the loneliness.
But the mix of nostalgia and hope was heady, shot with a familiar thread of adrenaline that urged him forward into the early morning hours.
Adrien made many academic contacts over the years; as it was the avenue he dove into to escape the spotlight. This meant he had a plan, tickets to Paris, and emails sent to the Director of a Museum in Paris by daylight.
When Adrien finally dragged himself into the office in the morning, Xian was actually super helpful. His mentor has a contact with the Louvre and could get him an introduction.
Even better, Xian was not terribly surprised that he actually felt a bit homesick and spent the odder hours reaching out to family and friends.
Adrien was trying not to give any outward sign he’s just about to leave for good, but it still possibly showed. If Ladybug was truly back, he might finish his work remotely -- if that was even allowed.
He sighed, resigned to leave it to his lawyer to iron out those details. He already fulfilled the terms of his original contract with the University, and he has an attorney on retainer to help him move without anyone trying to chase after him for any outstanding financial obligations. He left his University issued laptop and a flash drive with his last year’s lesson plans to wrap up the year for the first-year courses he instructed.
That had already been an issue once before and he had learned that lesson the hard way in trying to stay off his Father’s radar.
Adrien hoped rather than expected that the University would allow Xian to finish out the course, but that’s why he had left the materials in their shared office. Xian and his wife had just married the summer before and he had a sneaking suspicion an announcement had been in the offing. They both could use the extra bit of money from picking up the last few weeks.
It was barely a day later that Adrien -- proof of satisfied University contract in his e-mail -- was on a flight back to Paris. His own ticket had been reserved under one of the many assumed names he had created for plausible deniability, but he would still need to cross through customs on his own passport.
He gazed out into the cloudy skies, mulling over his next plans.
Xian’s contact would meet him early the next day, after he could at least check into the condo he’d rented under another pseudonym and grab a shower.
Adrien usually managed to sleep well enough on flights, but he was still practically vibrating with the excitement.
He’d had a moment of inspiration with Xian. Xian was vaguely aware of his pet project, looking for other Cat and Bug teams throughout history. There was something that brought him to China, but he hadn’t had much luck tracking it down.
There was evidence that someone had been there in History. Considering Alya’s run down on the Ladyblog all those years ago, it hadn’t come as a huge surprise that there were others out there. But the actual physical range geographically was impressive. There was not often the capability to travel so widely throughout history. Adrien had been more the little curious if the Miraculous had come from the east or if they started west and were diverted there briefly.
As best he could tell, they had gone off the radar for decades at a time, but he suspected the origins were far more Eastern first.
And if he could get to the source, then he might be able to figure out how to get his ring activated again.
When he had Plagg back, he could transform again. He wouldn’t be alone again.
If Ladybug was still out there, she could even come looking for him.
The sheer hope was what had driven him forward for years.
Jalil Kubdel loved his job.
Well, to be fair, he loved about 90% of his job. The research, digging into the greatest mysteries in history, having access to some of the rarest documents still extant on earth. That was the thrill that drove him in the earliest hours of the morning each day.
What he hated was that other 10%. Pandering to people had never been his strong suit. His own Father had excelled at this part of the job, understanding it as a necessary evil. But he had never been able to translate his own enthusiasm into the proper amount of patience.
When he had finally gotten one of the Assistant Director positions, he had been ecstatic.
Until he had to schmooze and grease elbows at one of the museum's Gala fundraisers. He could dress the part for certain. His Father had always pressed upon him the value of looking professional.
But acting the part had proven far more difficult.
He had been positively ecstatic when the Director had been benevolent enough to give him another chance after that debacle--until he found out he was expected to babysit some rich donor’s son on his own pet history project.
Jalil rolled his eyes. The last name was only vaguely familiar.
The man himself, appeared young and probably not long out of college if that, was also vaguely familiar.
Not that he could place it. Or that he even cared to.
The kid clearly would be a thorn in his side, but he’d have to make good to ensure he stayed in the Director’s good graces.
Sipping one of the coffee cups in her hand, Detective Kubdel strolled in through the museum entrance. More than one of the guards tipped a hat in her direction, but otherwise not a single one stood in her way even in spite of her uniform.
Perhaps she’d owed more of that to spending most of her spare hours growing up in the back halls of this very museum.
“Good Morning, Young Miss.”
She smiled conspiratorially at the old guard. “Morning, Pierre.” Were it any other guard that dared, she would be frustrated by the lack of acknowledgment of her title, but Pierre had been protecting these halls since she’d had barely been able to walk through them on her own.
He had lifted her up from more than one skinned knee himself and took her to the first aid station on those days where her father had been too preoccupied.
So, that was most of them.
Her eyes narrowed. Pierre aside, these halls had never really felt quite the same after her father had passed away. But Jalil was still here.
And her mother, travelling to visit relatives, had sent her on a mercy mission.
Alix smirked as they’d blocked her partner’s access. She didn’t often have cause to stop in mid-day with her partner on her heels, but he’d groused and grumbled with all the noisy grace he’d ever had. “C’mon! Are you really not going to wait for me?”
“Nope!” She’d grinned. “You can check with these lovely gentlemen on their false alarm last night.”
“They have no cause to block my access.”
She lifted a skeptical brow. “These hallways are for staff only.”
“You’re not staff either, Alix.”
“Of course not.” She re-adjusted the bag and cup in her hand. “I’m visiting family.”
“But your Dad--”
Her brows furrowed, quick to cut him off before she sent herself further down the unnecessary nostalgia trip. She still had a job to do today. “I just need to check on my brother, Kim. Last I checked, I didn’t need a badge to do that.”
“Sorry, Alix.” As she’d spun on her heel, stalking down the hallway, his voice softened. She’d needed that even less today.
Alix dropped the bag and coffee cup down on the desk without much ceremony.
His eyes widened, the bags under his eyes far more prominent than they were when she had seen him last. “Is that--?”
“From the shop near Mom’s.” Alix nodded, sipping from her own cup. “Yup.”
“You didn’t need to go to the trouble.”
She leaned against the desk. “Not according to Maman. And best I can tell, she’s not wrong.”
“Things just went sour at an event. I’m practically in the dog house right now and they’ve saddled me with this kid to babysit.”
Alix looked at the file, eyes widening for only a moment. “Why do you have a file on my old classmate?”
Jalil’s brows rose. Clearly the boy was a quite a bit older than he’d first appeared. “I’ve been assigned to collaborate with him as he’s working locally on a project for an overseas university?”
Alix blinked. “Last I’d heard, he’s been off the radar for years. What University was he at?”
Her fingers were already on the edges of the folder to seek out the answer for herself before he snagged it out of her hands. “I’m afraid that’s confidential. Museum standard non-disclosures and all that.”
Her eyes narrowed. “But he’ll be here?”
“In a few days, as I understand it.” Jalil confirmed, righting his glasses atop the bridge of his nose. “And then you can ask him any prying questions directly so he can shut you down.”
Alix just laughed. “Adrien Agreste was a total sweetheart. Half the girls in class were falling all over him for years and he was kind enough to each of them. Whether they’d deserved it or not. If he hasn’t changed all that much, I should be just fine.”
“Don’t worry, big Brother.” Alix grinned, patting a tiny hand on his shoulder and peering over it as his now opened file folder. “He’s also pretty clever himself. I don’t think you’ll be babysitting him all too much.”
“Alix!” He chided, snapping it shut again. “I mean it. We have non-disclosures for a reason. Donors expect their privacy.”
“Yeah,” she shot a saucy smirk back over her shoulder as she snagged her own coffee cup and headed to the door. “But I also know a few old friends who will flip out when they find out he’s back in town.”
He was out of his chair in an instant. His loudmouthed little sister getting him into further hot water with the Director. That was all he needed right now. “Did you not hear the words non-disclosure?”
She chirped, leaning back into the doorway before her giggle echoed through the adjacent halls. “Bye, Jalil!”
“Alix!” He’d grumbled. He knew a chase at this point was futile. He’d spent far too many years being outrun by her as a boy. Now he was far too used to his life behind the desk to hold a candle to her diligent fitness routine.
He just had to hope that Adrien Agreste was truly as kindhearted now as his sister thought he had been long ago.
Chapter 4: The Good Detective(s)
Alya had spent years gaining lots of experience in the conventional reporting setting, much preferring to write rather than facing the camera. Not that she wasn’t adept in front of it, but as it turned out writing was her strong suit. Besides, after giving birth to Zoe, some of the public had gotten rather catty about her weight gain.
She’d run into old friends from Lycee and College now and again, but it had been at least a few years since she had last seen Alix. Well before she was promoted to Detective at least. That was one section that was still very heavily an old boy’s club, harder for women to break into, but not impossible.
Alya had a story she’d been chasing clues on, one that Alix happened to be the lead detective on.
Which meant, she owed her favorite detective a little visit.
Alix dragged her fingers ruthlessly through her short pink locks as Alya left her office pursuing an unrelated case she was reporting.
She had decided that she would stick to the letter of the law, if not the exact spirit of it.
If anyone could figure out that something was up with her and chase it down with reckless abandon, it was Alya Cesaire.
She’d promised her brother she wouldn’t say a word. And she wouldn’t say or write it.
But there were plenty of other ways to convey these clues. Being a detective was a literal master class in reading and interpreting body language.
Besides, she still had Kim dogging her every step, which could be maddening on a good day.
How on earth did actual criminals keep all of this straight?
Within days, Adrien was given a temporary office in the museum just down the hall from Jalil and the pair naturally fell into an easy working rhythm.
Jalil, as Alix expected, was pleasantly surprised. Adrien could keep pace with most of his knowledge – and enthusiasm – for the work, which was far rarer. He was a guy who came from money and shared his love of history. That was a good recipe for a lifelong donor to foster.
And much to his surprise, Jalil had grown to enjoy the younger man’s company. For someone who had so obviously come from great wealth, he was surprisingly down to earth and kind.
It was so novel, not to mention so encouraging for his own career ambitions, that was been anxious to continue to build up the connection.
It had taken a few days, and more than a few take out dinners closeted in their shared research room, but Adrien had finally owned up to the scope of his post-graduate work: the known history of the Miraculous.
Adrien had owned that his own fascination had stemmed from the heroes’ brief time in the city, and having himself been rescued on more than one occasion and the means and the language skills, he’d set off to the far east in pursuit of details. He’d been aware of some ancient text that seemed to stem from the region, so he had been searching that area for other signs of Miraculous in literary and artistic past.
In the wake of his own time as The Pharaoh, he’d been similarly inclined to delve further into Ladybug’s time in ancient Egypt, though she had likely been known as Scarab at the time. He had managed to find that the Cat had also been active at the time – who his Akumatized alter ego also should have been carrying a grudge against, as Bast had been far more destructive than his most recent Parisian incarnation – not to mention female. Given his own extensive research on a myriad of Coptic texts, the lines of fact and fiction were likely so blurred that he might never manage to find a true answer.
Epiphany struck – as it so often did – in the middle of the night.
It had only taken a few days, and a surprisingly prescient dream to jar a certain long forgotten memory, but Jalil thought for sure that he had found his answer. In the wake of their final battle, Jalil’s father had started to collect everything he could get his hands on.
If the far past was so elusive and rife with potential misinterpretation, wasn’t the nearer past more likely to shed light on the mysteries of the Miraculous?
It had taken only two nights more of rummaging through the boxes his father had stashed away to locate the clippings and the carefully arranged notebook, detailing many pieces even the newspapers seemed to have overlooked.
Including the fact that the Paris police had a few interesting items in their possession that the museum would love to get their hands on to review. The police at the time had refused them, hesitant to leave the evidence of a possible arson, a homicide, and who only knew what else in the hands of civilians. Chain of custody was everything in building a case. But after all this time, surely the statute of limitations had expired.
His father had wanted to tell their story to the world. It was what any historian would be happy to do. He’d been gone for almost five years now, and this would be a proper exhibit, fitting for his legacy.
Surely even the public would want to celebrate the heroes who had never entirely left the public consciousness. The disappearance of both heroes and villain under such mysterious circumstances – ones which had only a single casualty – left a trail of conspiracy theories in its wake.
It had been almost twenty years since the heroes had started to defend Paris. Between his father’s notes, and Mr. Agreste’s own interest, they could pull together a solid homage that might draw in both local and international interest.
The girl who had run one of the most vocal, well-considered online presence in the Ladybug and Chat Noirs’ heyday had been in Alix’s class in school. Perhaps she might even be willing to come in and talk about her own theories or to write up some segments to revive a homage to her own effort at the time.
He hated to think or speak ill of the dead, but he knew all too well that his father had always been quick to dismiss what he had deemed as the flights of fancy of children.
By the next morning, Jalil approached the Director with his proposal for the memorial exhibit in hand. He’d spent hours on the paperwork, careful to emphasize the appeal to their donor and to the city.
As the Director’s eyed the proposal, a slow grin quirking his lips Jalil was hopeful. But he knew the old codger was notoriously reticent.
“Do you think it might be possible to recover the artifacts held in police storage?”
Jalil grinned, steepling his fingers to keep from pumping his own fist into the air in success. “I think I might know someone who would be able to help us out.”
Alix tipped her mug of coffee back over her lips, grumbling as she strode across the square, brown paper bag in hand.
The bag practically scalded her fingers, as the personal risk she was taking on was immense. Was her brother trying to get her fired?
Jalil owed her big time. She sighed, crumpling the brown paper beneath her fingers. There wasn’t much she could sneak out of the evidence library without notice. Certainly not the heavy tome that had clearly taken a good deal of fire damage.
Were this coming from anyone else – for any other reason less worthy – she would happily tell them to go hang.
There were protocol and procedures. These things usually took time and approval from very high up in the department.
Jalil insisted that the museum would go through all the proper channels, but if they wanted to honor their father’s memory on the anniversary of when it all began, then he’d need whatever she could bring to them as soon as possible to start their research.
He’d appealed to her guilt after all. When Papa’s health started to turn, she was undercover. She couldn’t very well get away, not until it was all too late. She had been devastated for months on end, barely able to function outside of work….and just managing to keep her caseload in hand.
“Can’t your brother take care of himself? He is a fully-grown adult after all.”’
“Kim—“ Alix started, barely staving off the urge to rub the bridge of her nose. Of course, Jalil was an adult. But he got himself so hyper-focused in whatever he was doing that he often didn’t come up for air. It was a problem that had only gotten worse without their father there to keep a watchful eye over him.
But at least right now, it fell to her to make sure Jalil was at least eating and sleeping. Her job could never really allow for much more, not with the uncertain nature of investigations.
And if she’d married and started a family, as Maman loved to keep harping at her ad nauseam, perhaps she might have stuck around to do the job herself, rather than travelling around taking care of their own far more aged relatives.
Honestly. Who had the time and energy for all of that?
Just the thought of trying to explain that all to her partner – again – sent the sharp lance of pain behind her eyes.
She sighed. “I’ll just be a few minutes. Honestly.”
Far better to distract him now, and save herself from the growing headache.
She tugged open the glass doors, as he shadowed her every step.
Kim was just worried, she knew. They had been competitive friends long enough to know that while he always loved to win (or to at least persist in trying at it), he was underneath it all surprisingly caring. He was the one who always had her back when it mattered most.
It wouldn’t do for him to get roped into this mess as well, not with so much potentially at stake.
Lê Chiến Kim scowled, his hands crossed over his chest as the museum guard stopped him again.
Alix was far too skittish.
And in twenty years of friendship, he could count on one hand the number of times this had happened. This wasn’t normal.
Something was up and she wasn’t talking to him.
He was her partner. He needed to know that her head was in the game enough to know when she had his back.
Something had set her off, and he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was.
He had learned long ago to trust his gut. His instincts for catching people in a lie had always been pretty good. (Except when they had blonde hair and killer, piercing blue eyes. He had to learn the hard way, but eventually he had learned.)
If she’d let him come into the back hallway to meet her brother, he might have some better clue of what was going on…and of how worried he ought to be.
His foot started tapping anxiously. He would get to the heart of the matter eventually. He just needed to put together the piece he had logically.
Unfortunately, logic had never been his strongest suit. It was why he and Alix worked well together. Her mind was adept at pulling the pieces together, and his instincts were sharper in those tense situations. She was more level headed and even keeled, where he was also quicker to act. They balanced each other out.
Luckily, he knew a guy who was logical to a fault.
Chapter 5: Hope For You Yet
Practically giddy with the veritable wealth of Miraculous information now at his fingertips, Adrien absently spun the chair back and forth under the desk in the research room he’d shared with Alix’s brother. It was well past the end of the normal working day, but he was so entranced with the materials that he hadn’t even stopped to eat.
Luckily, Jalil had been a bit more rational. He’d handed the museum curator a handful of Euros and his blessing to surprise him with whatever might be good.
He might never have travelled so far if he’d had any idea that all of this had been stored away in the Kubdel family attic for years. He could have looked in so many more avenues while abroad.
The materials Jalil had unearthed were very, very thorough. Clearly his father had spent much of the time while he’d been protecting the city, doing his homework on what exactly the Miraculous were.
Adrien shuddered to think how that information might have been used against them if one of their powers went rogue.
Not that Ladybug ever seemed to have much issue in keeping her powers under control.
Adrien chuckled, tapping the eraser against the notepad. Her temper? Well occasionally, that had been another story.
He closed the notebook, replacing the slim bookmark and rubbing his eyes. Stretching as he got up from the chair, he moved over to the box to inventory what else had been ferreted away. There were a few other items in a smaller paper bag that they hadn’t gone through.
He pulled back his hand in shock, as if it burned.
He frowned at his hand. It wasn’t burned. But the ring was warm.
Adrien emptied the bag in its entirety, spotting a green charm bracelet, a slightly charred book of stamps, and another slim and well-worn book.
He tested each in sequence, eyeing the bracelet cautiously.
That was the most alive the ring had felt in far too long.
Adrien carefully put everything back as he found it and sat back down with the book again.
This time he was on a very specific mission.
Jalil tried to not pump his fist as he’d waited for the take out. Alya Lahiffe (nee Cesaire), had confirmed she could come in tomorrow morning to start work on the project. It was always so troubling trying to find people after their names changed. He wasn’t sure what he might have done without Alix’s help.
Everything was coming together nicely.
Alya said she’d probably have her daughter in tow, unless she was able to coordinate with a babysitter, but that wasn’t a big deal. He could probably even have a private tour arranged.
If the child was even old enough to appreciate history.
Jalil nibbled the tips of his fingers. Alix had always been fidgeting as a child and it was always so distracting.
Hopefully, the Director would be willing to loan him a rather patient docent for the sake of the project.
Marinette sighed into her third cup of coffee for the morning, as she rolled her desk chair into place under her mahogany desk. Jet lag was never fun, but this trip had her far more exhausted than usual. It wasn’t often that she was double a trip for business and pleasure.
Her assistant had put a neatly filed stack of designs on her desk in varying stages of approval, but she could barely muster the energy to deal with that right now.
The guilt was killing her. It was only made worse by the fact that she didn’t allow herself extra time for attempting to visit with Alya or her extended family. She had only come back the time prior to bury one of the aged Great Aunts on her father’s side. This time it had been almost exclusively Lady Magique business, although she had just enough time to check in quickly with her mother near the airport. But as always, she avoided everyone else. All the high-grade makeup in the world didn’t feign the march of time up close and in person. People who knew her from so long ago would ask far too many questions.
And Alya’s observations had always been uncannily close to the mark.
Marinette’s fingers massaged the bridge of her nose, fending off the headache that came from long hours and poor sleep. She had felt bad enough leaving without having seen her oldest, dearest (civilian) friend. But the gnaw of guilt felt far more acute when she’d pulled up an email from Alya on her computer.
The Louvre itself had reached out, asking her assistance to run an exhibit marking 15 years since Ladybug and Chat Noir’s absence in Paris. Alya was clearly ecstatic. It was a dream come true to the budding reporter she had been, and the accomplished woman she’d become.
Marinette was so happy for her. No one else had worked harder at the time to speak with accuracy and diligence in reporting. For all that her headstrong friend ran headlong into danger, her heart was in the right place.
And when it ended – far too abruptly – no one else held nearly as strongly to their belief that Ladybug and Chat Noir had ended their run protecting Paris.
Even now, she wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. She had been thrown clear of the building and knocked out of her transformation. The police had assumed she was walking past and had the ambulance take her to the hospital to confirm she was alright.
And she was…eventually.
But nothing ever felt the same again. Not without Tikki. Not without Chat Noir.
And eventually, even Alya’s steadfast support had given way to her own time at university. To her own wedding to Nino. To Zoe, when she’d finally arrived.
Alya had always done so much for her all those years ago, in and out of her alter ego. It had been a huge undertaking and she had seen so much of it.
But now, Alya needed help. What she was being asked was far more than she could manage with both her own job and with Zoe.
She slumped onto the desk, her head dropping down onto her folded arms. Her own circumstances, being what they were, going back to help seemed so impossible.
How did she get to be just the worst friend?
Smacking her cheeks, she forced herself to sit up straight and pull her cellphone back out.
Alya deserved an answer. She might not be able to do so much from so far away, but she would absolutely help however she could.
Alya heels clacked across the back hallway. Her suit freshly pressed and dry cleaned, with every flattering line and angle one of Marinette’s personally tailored debut year Lady Magique suits could afford her to mask the imperfections that the years had wrought. Her makeup was refreshed in the mirror only minutes ago. And to be truthful, her hair game had never missed a beat in years, except for perhaps the year after Zoe arrived.
She wanted to look perfect. She wanted everything to be perfect.
This was the job she had waited decades to do.
Unfortunately, she could practically hear the eyeroll from the peanut gallery behind her. How did she know it was going to be like this today?
“Zoe,” Alya huffed, wheeling around to scowl down at her daughter. “I told you that you could stay home.”
Zoe arched a brow, her soft brown eyes the spitting image of her father’s. “Yes, you did. And then you also did that sighing thing you do when you really want me to come along. And Dad was trying hard not to show that he knew you’d be disappointed.” Her arms crossed over the far-dressier-than-normal sweater she’d forced herself into. “I figured this would be more painless.”
Alya shook her head, closing her eyes. She silently loathed her own mother’s amused smile, hearing the oft-repeated curse: “Just you wait, my dear. She’ll be just like you.”
Of course, she had been right. And she could never, ever get the satisfaction of knowing it. Alya’s eyes locked with Nino’s, their silent conversation a tune they had danced to with far too much practice.
Nino sighed, tapping Zoe on the sleeve. “C’mon, kiddo. Let’s go take that museum guard up on his tour offer.”
Alya smiled fondly as Zoe just rolled her eyes and followed her father’s footsteps.
She would take the wins where she could get them. And even with Zoe now nearly a teenager, she could never quite get over the image of Zoe as a little girl toddling around at Nino’s heels. The height difference wasn’t nearly as pronounced and Zoe was more inclined to mimic their own frustrations with uncanny genetic accuracy.
But Nino was still quite adept at picking up the pieces, even if he wasn’t lifting Zoe onto his shoulders anymore.
Not that it would stop her from admiring his shoulders. Or anything else that her gaze happened to linger on as it dipped lower.
But maybe not here, not with so many soon-to-be-colleagues milling about.
With a smirk, she’d turned to continue down the hallway to meet with Mr. Kubdel, firing off a quick text to ask her Maman if she could keep an eye on Zoe for the evening.
Much though he’d hated to admit it, Alya was right.
Nino sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. He hadn’t really wanted to call off today’s studio session, but there was no helping it. It was far easier for him to re-schedule the budding musical act by a few hours than for Alya to try to re-arrange her work schedule any more than necessary. They made ends meet, but there were months where funds were tight.
They both usually worked enough hours on different schedules during the summer to cover the time needed to stay with Zoe.
But both of their parents were still working and they weren’t left with too many other options for a longer term, affordable solution.
Hopefully, their babysitter situation would resolve soon as school hadn’t started back up yet.
And really, no one else knew better what a big part of her life the Ladyblog was. Not even Marinette. He’d been drafted early on, not long after that fateful day at the zoo. For a second pair of eyes, another camera.
An occasional bodyguard when Alya went running off at breakneck speed, not caring as much as she should for her own safety.
When the day came that Paris was shocked by Ladybug and Chat Noir’s sudden departure, Alya took it hard. Much harder than she was letting on, but then he wasn’t the only one noticing how much their friends weren’t coping either.
He’d been thinking about that time a lot, especially since Alya had gotten the request. He figured if he could remember some tiny detail from the time that would help her out, it would be worth the trip down memory lane, even if it had been a painful one.
Adrien had long fostered an absurdly powerful crush on Ladybug, especially for someone with his own crazy crowd of fangirls. The day her disappearance was announced, he had looked pale and ill. He’d been quiet and withdrawn, heading straight home from school without much more than a kind word or two.
Marinette also seemed to be suffering in silence. It left him to wonder on more than one evening exactly how much Marinette and Chat Noir had interacted. Marinette always seemed to downplay their interactions, but there wasn’t a civilian that Chat Noir had saved more.
And Alya had mentioned more than once how great the balcony view was from above Marinette’s bedroom. Not that it meant any sort of romantic entanglement, not with Marinette’s long-standing and painfully obvious crush on Adrien in the way, but it did beg the question how much she’d kept secret from Alya.
Had Marinette been keeping Chat Noir safe? Or keeping his secrets?
Nino shook his head, catching up to the guard who was looking at him with a moue of displeasure. He had been spacing out a little bit more than he’d intended.
But he really should have realized that Zoe was a little too quiet.
Chapter 6: With a Little Help From My Friends
Inventorying the last box of artifacts had kept him busy for hours. Adrien had heard the commotion, from the lone radio lingering near Jalil’s office.
Jalil had insisted that he was off for some very important meeting. He’d wanted to screen the individual first to make sure they could be trusted with this level of sensitive information.
He could only roll his eyes. Jalil was definitely in that quirky academic range. Get them going on their favorite topics and they could go on for hours. Ask to see their research and they want to see more paperwork than if you were trying to buy a new home.
(He had more than once over the years, and even that was much less nerve-wracking.)
Of course, perhaps that wasn’t entirely fair. Adrien mused, wincing as he swilled the too-cold dregs of his coffee.
All of his own academic entanglements were geared to one, very particular avenue of study, one that was guarded very jealously by a precious few. It was why he had gone to China in the first place. Why he’d travelled when he could to Tibet, to see the remains of an old husk of a temple.
When he’d looked up, it was quiet but a slight shadow had darkened the doorway, watching him from wide, chocolate brown eyes.
“Hello!” Adrien greeted, tilting his head. The girl was unsettlingly familiar, but he was having a bit of trouble placing the face. “Are you lost?”
“Not exactly.” She smirked. Her eyes widened, darting back to the noisy footfalls echoing in the halls.
The reaction struck a chord with that innate sense of danger Adrien had honed. It never truly went away, just lay dormant, buzzing under his skin. He was out of his seat and peering down the hallway.
“Zoe Lahiffe!” The words echoed up the corridor.
“Sir! Please don’t yell. We have several rooms along this hallways for private study.”
Lahiffe? His eyes widened, turning to hers marking the similarity to his old friend. He had met Nino’s daughter once, well before she could walk. Her name had been Zoe, hadn’t it? Adrien shook his head. Had it really been all that long?
She seemed less than surprised, blinking down the hall and shrinking back into the doorway to hide just the slightest bit.
Adrien heard the voices grow quieter, but ever closer. His brow furrowed as he watched the girl gripping the doorway, hiding just in his shadow.
But what was she doing back here?
Nino stormed the hallway. The guard was at his heels, hissed hushed reminders for him to compose himself. And he would. Just as soon as he’d found his wayward daughter.
And grounded her for a week.
He had spotted Zoe almost as soon as he had turned the corner, and couldn’t stifle the sigh of relief and the drop of his shoulders at the sight. She could be in trouble later. At least he knew she was safe and sound.
Besides, he could always threaten to have Alya punish her, and then she’d be in trouble for two weeks instead. (Aside from the fact that he’d probably also be in trouble for one of those weeks.)
But he hadn’t been expecting to also see a familiar face.
A little too familiar. Man, did models just not age?
“Nino.” Green eyes were bright even in the darker section of the hallway.
Reflexively, he reached up to smooth down his hair. Wait. How long ago had Adrien stopped modelling?
“Adrien!” His hand extended out, offering to shake it. Long ago, they had been on hugging terms, but it had been nearly a decade. “How have you been, dude? It’s been ages?”
“Doing research mostly. I just got into town a day or so ago and I’ve been working on a project almost every hour since.”
“Are you going to be in town for long?”
Adrien nodded. “I think so. For a while at least—“
“Pardon me, Mr. Agreste.” The guard interrupted, far more politely than he had for Nino in the middle of his desperate search.
“Jean-Paul, I can escort these two out after we talk.” Adrien smiled, flashing teeth as he had whenever he was turning on the extra charm. “I haven’t seen either in some years and I should be headed to lunch here shortly.”
The guard’s eyes narrowed briefly before nodding. “If you’d like. Just have them make sure to check out at the front desk when they leave.”
“We will.” Nino promised.
Zoe sighed, slumping back onto the chair. She had promised her father that she wasn’t about to stray. Not after he just had chased her through the museum.
But what did they expect? She’d literally been here like two months ago for school. The museum hadn’t changed that often, and the secrets hidden in the back hallways were always much more interesting.
Besides, she had found her parent’s old friend, recognizing him from her parent’s old wedding photos.
She couldn’t recall the last time Dad had been so chatty with someone other than family. His eyes lit up, like he was a big kindergartner.
She peered at the boxes sitting mostly empty on the desk in front of her and grumbled. If only what they were talking about wasn’t so boring.
Nino kept half an eye on Zoe as he and Adrien chatted. He could tell she was getting bored, which meant that they didn’t have much time.
She was old enough to know her own mind, young enough not to be entirely cooperative, and had decided opinions much like her mother. The combination was often trouble. In his wife, he’d found it endearing.
In his daughter, it inspired migraines.
“Are you staying at your old house?”
“No.” Adrien’s green eyes flashed, his arms crossing over his chest. “I kind of prefer to be on my own, you know? Père and I haven’t really talked all that much in years. I’m in the Hotel de Paris right now, but I’m looking for another, longer term solution until I figure out where I need to travel next.”
Nino nodded. Gabriel Agreste had never been on his favorite person list, so he wasn’t likely to disagree. “Okay. Would lunch somewhere nearby be good? Alya’s busy with a meeting—“
Adrien grinned, his eyes sliding over to where Zoe had stood up over the box. “It would be great to catch up with Alya, too, if you all have the time.”
“I think it can be arranged.”
Adrien looked distracted. “Zoe, you probably shouldn’t handle that box. We’re still figuring out what was contained in there.”
“Okay.” Zoe’s brows knit, her eye drawing closer for a better view. “But is it supposed to glow?”
“What?’ Adrien blanched, shooting up out of the seat and moving the few feet to peer into it as well.
Nino was up as well. If Adrien was moving that fast, there was something that had him worried. And if so, he wanted Zoe as far away from whatever it was as possible.
Zoe’s quick fingers had already darted into the box, pulling out the soft jade bracelet.
He had never seen jade glow before. “Zoe. Put it down.”
“But it’s not—“
“Zoe,” Nino commanded, his own fingers darting out to pull it from her if he had to. “Put it down.”
“Fine,” she huffed, letting it fall back into the box.
The glowing stone glanced against his wrist before dropping into the box.
A green flash of light washed through the office, half blinding him for a few seconds.
“Master?” pleaded the new voice. Nino blinked, tugging his glasses from his face and wiping his fingers over his eyes.
When his vision returned, all seemed normal – except for the tiny floating turtle hovering above the desk.
Nino’s eyes widened in shock.
“Where is Master Fu?” The small turtle repeated.
Zoe blinked, her eyes scanning the tiny animal for strings or circuitry. He could already see the wheels in her head spinning, wondering what was making it move.
“I’m not sure who you’re talking about.” Nino frowned. This was really weird. Things just didn’t move like this on their own. Not in decades at least, and even that was impossible. “Sorry.”
He hadn’t even noticed Adrien over by the door, shutting the door shut tight and throwing the lock, until the sound of the lock snicked into place.
“Master Fu is the Guardian.” The tiny turtle pressed. “And I’m afraid we need him now.”
Chapter 7: Wayzz Explains It All
Adrien’s eyes widened as he dropped back into the desk chair.
“You’re a Kwami,” he whispered reverently. It had been so long since he had seen Plagg; he had forgotten just how tiny they really appeared.
“Yes.” The tiny turtle looked decidedly less than impressed with the fact.
He frowned. Not that Plagg had ever been a good guide to go from. Right, then. “Then you’re looking for your Miraculous holder? I’m sorry, I didn’t ask for your name.”
The turtle bowed. “I am Wayzz, and yes, I am seeking my holder. I shouldn’t even be here if he is not around.”
Nino frowned, shooting a glare at his daughter. “It can pretty easy for someone to get lost around here. Maybe if you described what he looked like?”
Wayzz nodded. “Master Fu is a wise and older man, stooped slightly in deference to his age. He has a beard and is starting to lose a bit of his hair around the temples.”
That wasn’t necessarily all that unusual, Adrien grumbled mentally. An older, Asian man with a beard? He pressed his lips together. Well, it was a less frequent sight in Paris than in China. “Could you tell us what he was wearing?”
Wayzz grinned. “Master favors an red Hawaiian shirt with white blossoms. It is rather gaudy for someone who prefers to be so inconspicuous, I admit.”
Fingernails sought out his scalp, clawing through his memories. There had been an old man there that day that Ladybug and Plagg had disappeared; he remembered that much for sure. Was he wearing a shirt like that? Could that maybe who Wayzz was searching for? But it had been over a decade now?
Nino was watching him, clearly deferring to his own expertise here.
Zoe had held up a finger like a perch, giggling a little as Wayzz hovered down to rest on it. “Thank you, child.”
“This might be a weird question,” Adrien asked, lips pressed together. He had to try. “What year is it?”
Wayzz did not hesitate in his answer.
Adrien slammed his eyes shut, afraid they would betray him.
But Nino didn’t know to hold back. “I’m afraid it is much later than that, Wayzz.”
“Truly?” Wayzz blinked, clinging to Zoe’s finger. “But you seem to have not aged a day, Mr. Agreste.”
His eyes shot open at that. “You know who I am?”
“Of course,” Wayzz straightened. “I am the Kwami of the Guardian after all. Master Fu was the one who granted Ladybug and Chat Noir powers. Who else would know who they are?”
Nino’s eyes shot to him, suddenly suspicious.
Adrien sighed. If the Chat was out of the bag, there probably wouldn’t be a better time. “I’m afraid your Master might have perished when Ladybug and Chat Noir disappeared from Paris. Even Hawkmoth went silent after that day.”
Wayzz’s eyes grew misty. “A forced hibernation, perhaps?”
“It is possible.”
The kwami sighed, tiny head hanging woefully, Adrien’s eyes focused on his own still-lifeless ring. “Was he recovered, Adrien?”
“Only one old man was, and he was labelled a John Doe in the newspapers. I guess no one had good public records on him.”
Wayzz frowned. “If he put himself in harm’s way, rest assured it was necessary. My own memory is unclear, so it is very likely that he did something very reckless. I can only guess that he drew from my own powers, to force everyone into hibernation.”
“What is it?” Zoe urged, her other hand gently patting the back of him shell.
“If he did so, he would have expected everyone to recover quickly. Master Fu lived a life of service. Self-sacrifice was never really a far cry from that, but he was not the type to leave his duty unprotected.” His voice grew quieter. “I will have time to grieve later, once I know all is safe.”
“His duty?” Nino echoed.
“The other Miraculous.” Adrien’s eyes widened. He had known there had to be more after all. “where would they be?”
Wayzz’s tiny, green brow furrowed. “I’m afraid I cannot be sure.”
Nino crossed his arms over his chest, watching Adrien sneak surreptitious glances down into the satchel at his hip as the exited the museum. He had looked extremely nervous ferrying the bracelet out of the museum, but it seemed like Wayzz couldn’t come with them without it.
Adrien had taken just enough time to scrawl out a note to his research partner, telling him that he was off to a long lunch and might not be back until the next day.
Zoe scurried beside Adrien, guarding the tiny turtle and the bracelet that had made him appear.
Honestly, he was just lucky the turtle was more fascinating to her than whatever other trouble she would inevitably get herself into.
Adrien was far more businesslike than the kind boy and friend Nino remembered. But time would surely do that.
But if the little turtle dude was being honest – and it sounded far too likely – his best bud had been keeping major secrets back in the day.
Adrien was still being surprisingly tight lipped. Chat Noir? Well, Nino frowned. It really shouldn’t have been that much of a stretch. Adrien had the build for it. And the blonde hair for it.
And the puns.
Nino slapped his forehead. How on earth could he have forgotten about that? Adrien’s puns were the worst. Alya almost never recorded Chat Noir’s puns, but according to her and her handful of interactions with Ladybug, his puns were just awful.
Nino had wondered how the hell Adrien would have known about the one man lost in the shuffle of the madcap battle scene, but Wayzz had been quick to fill in the blanks.
He was glad that Zoe didn’t seem to notice or care about the direction of the conversation and instead was far more amused by the Kwami himself.
“I need to send Alya a message. She’ll be expecting us to meet her at the museum.”
Adrien grimaced. “Could you not mention that I am back in town just yet? And not to tell her about the new…pet…just yet either?”
“I guess.” Nino typed out a quick text to Alya, telling her they found an old friend and were headed off to lunch. “Any reason why?”
Adrien brows furrowed. “A lot of reasons, actually. And most of them are easier to explain to you all in person.”
Nino nodded. “That goes for you too, kiddo.”
“I got it.” Zoe grinned widely. Nino could practically hear her wheels turning, and mimicked her grin. She was overjoyed to share in a secret that she had over her mother.
She really was far too much like Alya for their own good.
Nino had just shrugged and sent the message along. It was only a shame that Marinette had just left town a little while before and that Alya couldn’t persuade her to take a longer vacation to help with the Ladybug and Chat Noir homage. She would have probably been ecstatic to see Adrien again.
And if she knew he was Chat Noir as well?
Then she probably would have returned to the endearingly awkward, flailing teenage girl she was when she had fallen hard for this friend. Despite the years, it had always shocked he and Alya both that their friends kept managing to miss each other.
Alya had always said they were perfect for each other.
Instead, life had somehow managed to be pretty unfair to them both.
Chapter 8: Men At Work
Grabbing sandwiches for lunch from a quick take away place just outside the tourist section, they headed back to the Lahiffe house to eat with as much privacy as they could.
Nino dug his keys out of his pocket, unlocking the door and holding it open to let Adrien and Zoe in behind him.
Zoe darted off to grab her laptop, while he had veered into the kitchen to grab drinks.
Adrien had already started to murmur quietly to Wayzz without him. He inclined an ear to hear as much as he could as he gathered the glasses and silverware.
“—so what do we really need to do then?”
Wayzz exhaled. “Between the last actions I recall Master Fu taking and the new information you have already provided, I believe Master Fu already had a new holder in mind. He would have expected any of his actions to have enabled a brief hibernation, until a new holder was found.”
“But when the police picked up everything and locked it away…” Adrien trailed off as Nino re-entered the room, placing everything onto the table.
“Then the hibernation would have drastically slowed your aging as well. It was simply a by-product of the spell, but it should never have lasted so long.”
“Your Master Fu must have planned for Ladybug to have recaptured his bracelet.”
“Yes,” Wayzz murmured. “I imagine so. Ladybug did meet with the Master on one occasion or two.”
Adrien’s eyes softened just at the mere mention of her name. “But I never even found a hint of her afterwards. It’s like she truly disappeared.”
Nino felt a twinge of guilt. Adrien’s absurd celebrity crush felt a bit more poignant now. He shook his head. Poor, Marinette. She really never had stood a chance.
Wayzz arched a brow. “Did she? She was just as human as you are. If no one else was recovered, she must have gone somewhere.”
Zoe popped in with her laptop. “Did you check the hospitals?”
Adrien pursed his lip, shaking his head. His fists clenched on the tabletop. “I didn’t really have access at the time. And I certainly couldn’t get help without my suit.”
“Hmm.” Zoe’s eyes gleamed. “I know hospitals are weird about protecting names…Mom always complains about that, but the police report must say how many people they reported as injured at least.”
“That’s my girl.” Nino smiled, ruffling her hair. Zoe dodged away grumbling, but the edges of her lips curled. “You have been listening to your Mother after all.”
“OMG. Don’t tell her. She’ll be awful about it.”
He chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Zoe had crashed on the couch, before Nino had scooped her up and carried her upstairs. She was still slight enough that he could just manage it, if only with a little extra grunt of effort.
Wayzz frowned, musing to himself softly, sipping tea from the tiniest cup Nino could find. “It’s odd. I believe that the holder should have been close. Master Fu would always have a contingency plan in place.”
“He felt that responsible?” Adrien asked.
“He was the last of the Guardians, a sect of monks of a sort who’d been fostered as children and groomed to protect the Miraculous against any threat. He had long since blamed himself for something that happened there, leaving him the only one left when he was no older than you when you donned the ears and tail.”
Adrien blanched. “That’s quite a long time. To be responsible for keeping them safe and hidden away for so long.”
Nino nodded. “He must have moved around, too, right. We don’t get that many monks around this area.”
Wayzz’s lips curved lightly. “Longer than you think, young ones. How old did he appear to you, Adrien?”
Adrien blinked, leaning back in his chair. “I can’t remember him all that well, but he looked perhaps like he was in his 60s.”
The kwami’s smile grew. “If memory serves, he was at least 188 when…”
Adrien and Nino looked at each other sadly as he trailed off. The words were unspoken, but no kid could have made it through all of that without some help. And Wayzz must have been the one beside him for a century or more.
What could that even be like? To lose a friend that close after being together for literal decades.
Nino patted the tiny turtle’s head. “Wayzz. What can we do to find his belongings?”
“You need to know what now? Alya stared at the phone incredulously. Nino took a whole day off of work, and now was some sort of amateur investigator?
“How to track down items from a home from a decade or so ago?” Nino cleared his throat. “I ran into a friend at lunch today and they were asking. I couldn’t think of anyone more capable of puzzling this one out, babe.”
She shook her head, barely suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. He was definitely buttering her up for something, but honestly, he did it so well. “You can’t just ask the owner?”
Nino’s silence spoke volumes.
Alya sighed. “I guess not. When did they pass away?”
“Probably about the same time. If I’m understanding right, it would have been maybe while we were still at François Dupont.
“That long, huh.” Her eyes drifted up towards the ceiling. “Well, I guess you could look into the paperwork avenue: wills, records of disposition of items, auctions of estates. That kind of thing could give you a lead to maybe find out where whatever it was you were looking for might have gone.”
Adrien gave him a thumb up, already tugging out his phone.
Nino looked at Adrien suspiciously at that. Just how much furtive research had he been doing over the years.
“I think that will help out a lot.”
“Great! I’m sorry I’m not home already. My meeting at the museum ran way long and I’m trying to make up a few hours first. “
“Not a problem, babe,” Nino assured. “Zoe and I kept busy.”
“I know.” Alya grumbled. “But I was kind of hoping for a date night, and this just kind of put a dent in those plans. I even texted Maman and everything.”
Nino grimaced, looking back and Wayzz still slumped and despondent and Adrien busy on his phone with the research.
“But soon,” she purred. “We haven’t had a night alone in so long.”
He felt that familiar old lump form in his throat…and tried desperately not to think about any lumps forming further south. “Yeah.” He agreed, his voice dropping a half octave. “Soon.”
As he dropped the phone back onto the charger, Nino wondered how quickly he could get the box returned to Wayzz so he and Alya could get the house back to themselves.
Chapter 9: Mission Improbable
By the time, Adrien had popped over from his hotel room the next morning, Zoe was playing with Wayzz on her phone. His yellow-green eyes were wide, surprisingly enchanted by all the features she’d set before him.
Adrien had a whole list of locations for them all to check out.
Nino mentioned that money was a bit tight, so he wasn’t sure how much he might be able to get away to help.
Adrien offered to help cover the normal bills. It was worth it to him to bring Plagg back.
Even just to get help run Nino’s studio in his absence.
This was that important to him. If there was a chance to bring Ladybug back -- he needed to take it. He couldn’t keep living like this. It felt like he’d been sleepwalking without her.
Nino was uncertain, maybe even a little prideful. Sure, Adrien had the money, but it wasn’t strictly necessary.
Wayzz chimed in at that. Master Fu always did insist that the Ladybug and Chat Noir miraculous holders were so often the literal yin and yang. They even could be thought to be soulmates. One was never out without the other, as they brought the appropriate amount of balance to each other, keeping each other on the right path.
If Adrien was so at a loss, it was equally as likely that his Ladybug was also at loose ends.
At this, Adrien was distraught. He’d been fighting so hard to get her back. He should have been fighting harder.
Ladybug always did.
Wayzz tried to bring them all to focus. “I believe if we can retrieve the Victrola, we should be able to regain enough latent power from the remaining Kwami that hadn’t been lost before that painful day to re-awaken Plagg.”
Adrien was pleased to hear it.
But he had nothing on Nino, who eyes light up.
“A Victrola? Seriously.”
“Yes. Master Fu had bought it many years ago and spent hours carving together the puzzle box pieces and mechanism that would keep them all safely tucked away.”
Zoe already had her coat on. “You all are so slow.”
They hadn’t had much luck at the first two locations on the far outskirts of the city. Zoe was already starting to nod off in the back of the car by the time they reached the second home.
When that one failed to check out, they decided to head back home before Alya would be worried. Nino had to jostle Wayzz awake from his newfound home on his daughter’s shoulder, lifting them both up and out of the car and up the flight of steps. Zoe would inevitably be up early, showing Wayzz the puzzle games she’d always preferred.
Adrien had immediately set up shop on the couch, searching for some better way to screen through the remaining 20 or so odd buyers. They’d popped back past his hotel on the way to grab his laptop, deciding that the Lahiffe home made for a much easier home base.
And if Nino needed to stop into the office, Adrien could also be here to keep an eye on Zoe and Wayzz. It was a win-win situation.
By the time Alya had returned home later that evening, Nino had already dug out a bottle of wine they had ferreted away for a nice evening.
Alya stepped out of her boots by the door, her feet aching as she no-so-delicately dropped herself back into the comfy couch cushions. Her toes, wiggled in the carpet beside the couch.
Nino brought her in the glass of wine, handing it off carefully before dropping heavily onto the couch himself.
Alya smirked at the sight. Zoe must have worn him out today.
Savoring the aroma as her mother always taught her she must, she’d dared a first sip of the precious bottle. “What are we celebrating?”
Nino’s tired smile turned boyish. “Remember when I mentioned I ran into an old friend today…”
“Uh huh,” Alya nodded, taking another careful sip.
“Well, he’s an old friend of yours, too. One you haven’t seen in a very long time.”
Alya frowned, mentally running through the possibilities. Most everyone from University had been in and out of the area pretty regularly, and nearly everyone from Lycee had returned home. All except… Her eyes widened. “Adrien?”
A blonde head peered around the corner of the kitchen at the mention of his name. “Hello, Alya.”
She grinned widely, stifling a happy squeal to keep from waking the likely cranky pre-teen upstairs. Her glass sloshed precariously, as she lowered it into Nino’s waiting hand. He knew her too well. “It’s been ages. How have you been?” Pushing herself off the couch, she stood up on tiptoes to hug Adrien, knocking him over slightly with the weight of her enthusiasm.
Adrien had always been a little bit of a lightweight, still lanky even after his model diet had been eliminated.
Time – at least – had been kind to his old friend, even if life hasn’t been.
“Better question: where have you been? I swear you’ve been out of contact for years.”
Adrien sighed. “I’ve been doing academic research in China. The internet isn’t always the easiest connection to maintain over there.”
Alya nodded. “We’ve missed seeing you, honestly. It seems like you’re the only one harder to find than Marinette.”
His brows rose. “How is she doing?”
Sighing, Alya dropped back down onto the couch. “Busy. I swear, she’s throwing herself into her work so hard it seems like she barely comes up for air.”
Nino sighed, snagging the bottle of wine to top off all three of their glasses.
“Did she get into fashion like she’d hoped?”
Alya swirled the red wine, coating the upper bit of the glass to let it breathe. “Runs her own house, too. Over in New York.”
His smile was sunny. “That’s good. She always did have a good eye.”
Alya snorted. “Can’t argue with that.” Her eyes drifted up to the ceiling to regain her own composure. She knew if she looked at Nino, she would lose it entirely. She didn’t dare look at Adrien. How he could manage to get through life so oblivious to Marinette’s feelings, she would never know. It would almost be impressive if it wasn’t so sad. She shook her head, more wistful this time. “Don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.”
Adrien quirked a half smile. “Probably not. To be honest, I haven’t had all that much interest in fashion since I left Paris.”
Nino cut in. “What is all that about anyways?”
Adrien leaned back against the couch on the other side of Nino. “Pere has been hounding me to re-join the brand on the business side.” His fingernail tapped the side of the glass absently. “But honestly, after spending all those years modelling, getting nearly every hour of my day scheduled down to the minute, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I’m old enough to be off the photographers lists and the day to day aspects of running the business itself just never held an appeal for me.”
Nino scowled. “He knows that?”
Her eyes narrowed. “And of course, he’s still pushing.”
Adrien’s eyes grew unfocused, mesmerized by the dark liquid in the glass. “It was part of the appeal of being so far away. I have enough private funds to live under his radar. Whenever he got a bit too close, I’d often have to move and try to cover my tracks.”
Nino drained the rest of his wine. “That’s ridiculous.”
“that’s Pere.” Adrien sighed, resigned. “When I’d craved his affection, he was always so distant. No matter what I did it was never enough. But when I finally needed the space and freedom to be on my own, then he’d wanted me to come back into the fold. To take a bigger position in the company and in his life? After the freedom…of university and all…it was a little too little, a little too late.”
Alya reached across Nino, clinking her glass softly against his. “Good for you. You deserve better than that.”
“You still could have told us.”
Adrien nodded. “But I was never really sure what communications I could trust. And I’d sometimes spent years networking to do the research I’d been doing.”
A subtle look passed between Adrien and Nino, one that Alya hadn’t missed, even in the lovely haze of drink and nostalgic company. There was more to the story there. She was certain of it.
And she was still a journalist. They wouldn’t be able to keep it from her for long.
Nino frowned, looking back at Alya. He hadn’t spent the past decade dating and married to her without knowing when she was going to get them both into trouble.
Her eyes narrowed. “You know, Adrien. You probably could still hack it as a model.”
Adrien chuckled at that. “Past the normal modeling age by a few years at least.”
“Yeah, but you don’t look it.”
“Thanks.” Adrien answered automatically, with a slight wince. Nino didn’t have to look back at Alya to know that she’d noticed it to.
Her statement only confirmed it. “I bet Marinette would love for you to come work with her.”
Adrien tilted the wine glass back over his lips. “That probably would be fun, but my life is mostly research now.”
“You could do that almost anywhere, right?” Alya scoffed. “Besides, she just did this Ladybug line for Fashion Week. The details she did were amazing.”
“She did?” Adrien sputtered at that, almost losing his hold on the glass. “What did you say her company name was again?”
Alya arched a brow, her curved lips telling him that Adrien was a goner.
If he wasn’t already.
“I didn’t.” She teased. “But she’s running Lady Magique.”
“I saw those,” Adrien murmured. “Honestly, they were amazing. I should have known that was Marinette’s work.”
Alya preened. “She’s amazing. When she first opened, she made me a Ladybug style suit and everything. Definitely my lucky interview suit.” It took only a minute for his words to catch. “Wait, hold up. I thought you said you ‘weren’t following fashion anymore’.”
His cheeks stained wine red. “I might have seen a bit of the Paris Fashion Week in stills anyways. Someone sent me a copy because they knew about my research.”
Alya blinked. “What are you researching, anyways?”
Nino set his glass down on the table. “Funny you should ask, babe. He’s been studying history. He might even be able to help with your project at the museum.”
“Really?” Alya beamed. “I’ll take every bit of help I can get. I’d love for the anniversary celebration to go off without a hitch. What were you studying?”
Adrien cleared his throat. “I had been studying history, but had a special interest project trying to track down the history of the Miraculous.”
“Really?” Both brows lifted, before Alya turned to grin at him. “Okay, Nino. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not Ladybug’s #1 fan after all.”
Adrien was still blushing.
Nino watched the pair of them, eyes darting back and forth between the pair of them is barely-restrained amusement. It was nice to have Alya’s sharp wit trained on someone else for a little while.
“I still really want to call Marinette.” Alya grinned. “She made this amazing Chat Noir outfit, too, but she didn’t run it in the show. I swear it looked exactly like the real thing. I’ve been telling her she should donate a few of the outfits – or make closer replicas – for the museum to display.” Her eyes turned speculatively towards Adrien. “But if we could get you to model it—“
Adrien blanched, as Nino collapsed in a coughing fit on the couch beside him. He didn’t dare look Alya in the eye. “Why should I model it?”
“Duh,” Alya rolled her eyes. He was sure of it from her tone. “Because we don’t know many other blonde-haired, green eyed guys that are probably skinny enough to pull off the costume.”
Adrien gulped. The Lahiffe house knowing was one thing, but without the Miraculous protecting him, far more people were bound to notice. “I…don’t know about that.”
Nino’s coughing fit, subsided into laughter. Traitor.
Alya had her arms crossed, looking at the two of the suspiciously.
Still wiping the tears from his eyes, Nino sat up, shooting a nervous glance up the stairs in the hopes that Zoe might have slept through his guffaws. “You might as well tell her. We’d never keep the secret from her for long.”
Adrien exhaled slowly. “I’m actually—“
“Holy cow.” Alya’s eyes widened, her knees veering up onto the couch as she bounced in her excitement. “You are him, aren’t you?”
He blinked. She did?
“You’re Chat Noir.”
He nodded. “Not that I can really prove it right now.”
“Ha! I knew it!” Alya muffled her scream behind her hand. “I’m calling Marinette.”
“Babe.” Nino’s hand rested on her arm.
“She’ll flip.” Alya was practically bouncing, grabbing her phone from the side table. “Can you imagine? She could actually get the real superhero to wear one of her creations?”
“You can’t, Alya.” Adrien sighed, hand raking through his hair. “Outside of this room, it isn’t safe to know.”
“So what you’re saying is,” Alya grinned, “that if she came back…”
Weary, Adrien nodded. Of course, he wanted to see Marinette, but it had always been a problem with anyone knowing his secret identity. Not that Plagg was even around to transform him. “I couldn’t really say no if she did.”
Alya cackled, entirely unrestrained as she danced over to her purse to grab her smartphone. “This is awesome!”
Wayzz had come downstairs to investigate the noise, rubbing his tiny, yellow green eyes. They didn’t glow nearly as much as Plagg’s always did, but it was enough to knock Alya off her balance and back onto the floor.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t nearly as fast at catching people these days.
Alya grunted as she hit the floor, rubbing her sore tailbone as she gaped into the air.
“What on earth is that?”
Nino was already on his feet, stooping down to help his wife up. “That is Wayzz. A sort of magical being that gives grants powers to a Miraculous holder like Chat Noir.”
She blinked, clutching onto Nino’s arm as he’d huddled around her. “But you’re a turtle?”
“Indeed.” Wayzz hummed in amusement. “The Cat and Ladybug Kwami are not the only Kwami by far.”
Alya blanched. “I guess it must be. I mean, Hawkmoth was a Miraculous holder, too, right?”
“Unfortunately, so.” The turtle Kwami nodded. “However, as luck would have it, I am the only Kwami able to sense the presence of the others. Everyone else is currently dormant.”
Adrien grimaced, bracing himself along the wall beside Nino and Alya. His voice a little more hushed. “So, if we needed to tell one more person…?”
Without Hawkmoth as a threat, we should not have to worry about Akuma attempting to threaten Paris or threaten your identity to the world at large.
Wayzz sighed heavily, but confirmed. “Yes. If Ms. Dupain-Cheng returned, she would be more than welcome to know. Master Fu said more than once she was someone Ladybug trusted.”
Alya looked hurt at that.
“And you as well, Madame Lahiffe. I’d imagine his only cause for concern with you was your blog.” Wayzz grinned. “Master Fu was slowly coming to appreciate the new technologies when he…” Wayzz trailed off. “Your information was often of extreme help in making sure we were both properly apprised of their activities and if we ever needed to step in.”
Alya grinned at that. “Well, not that Marinette would believe it if you can’t transform any more. I showed her a mock up, probably in that first year and she just scoffed at the idea.”
Adrien looked hurt. “She couldn’t believe I was Chat Noir?”
She smirked. “More like she couldn’t believe that Chat Noir could be you.”
“Oh.” Adrien puzzled. Was there really a difference.
Nino rolled his eyes. “Not everyone was treated to your particular brand of humor, dude.”
“And Marinette seemed to believe you could do no wrong,” Alya’s smirk was suspicious. “For some reason.”
“Really?” Adrien blinked. “I know we got off on the wrong foot, but even after I apologized for the misunderstanding, it took a while for her to warm up to me.”
Nino and Alya just turned to each other and laughed.
Wayzz coughed, not-so-subtly, attempting to be the adult in the room. A few extra thousand years could do that to someone. Besides, he had spotted an opportunity to drive their focus in the proper direction. “Mr. Agreste, perhaps it might be easier to explain to Miss Marinette if you were able to transform again?”
Adrien’s eyes widened. “Is that even possible?” He blinked. “I mean, yes. I absolutely want to. I’ve been trying to bring Plagg back for ages. That’s what got me so interested in history in the first place. “
“Possible,” Wayzz confirmed, with a terse nod. “Yes, it should be. Easy? Not necessarily.”
“Anything!” Adrien half-shouted, before remembering Zoe was supposed to be sleeping upstairs. “Whatever it takes to bring him back.”
“Good.” Wayzz smiled. “Because in order to do so, you’ll have to help persuade the new Guardian to take up his duties.”
Wayzz and Adrien both stared at him questioningly.
Nino blinked. “Wait. What?”
It had taken three days and ten locations, but with a little more careful vetting from Alya, they finally had located the Victrola.
Unfortunately, the present owner, a shrewd and sober older man who reminded him far too much of his own father, and was loath to part with it when he realized it had some additional value.
Adrien assured him it was purely sentimental. That he was an old tutor and that he had been on travel when the man had passed.
It wasn’t that far from the truth.
Nino’s eyes bugged out when Adrien handed over a substantial check, with far more zeroes than he would ever feel comfortable handing over in an instant.
A good deal less independently wealthy--but more hopeful by far--Adrien put the Victrola into his friend’s hands and they headed back to the car where Zoe and Wayzz were mostly keeping themselves out of trouble.
Chapter 10: Alya’s Plan
Alya grumbled as she’d headed down the stairs in the morning, re-adjusting the jacket buttons. She hadn’t really wanted to leave the house this morning, even though she’d gotten a few hours off from her normal schedule at the office.
Adrien had been in and out of the museum on a few occasions – just to keep up the usual appearance with Jalil -- but had spent much of his time “working remotely” at her own kitchen table, as he helped Nino try to work out his newfound powers.
She didn’t know how Adrien managed to get up so early each morning – and not look like he’d also spent the evening nursing almost as much wine as she had, and frankly it wasn’t fair.
The group had been day after day camped out at the table.
Jalil was a little testy. He had been easy enough to deal with on that first day, when both were excited about the prospect of the project. But actually working with him in close proximity on the details was frustrating. He was pretty controlling – not that she didn’t have her own ways of managing that sort of behavior.
She had given him her work email, but hadn’t felt nearly as comfortable leaving her cell number. Alya sighed, glad that she’d trusted her instincts.
But she couldn’t stay away for too long. She’d already used nearly every avenue outside of the museum to bring in outside help.
In the past week of his training, her normally so relaxed husband had approached the whole trial with such dedication, that it was downright adorable.
Nino had only just managed to transform the day before. Wayzz assured him that it was just the hibernation that had slowed the usual parts of the process.
Adrien had even snapped a picture last night and sent it to her by text.
Her eyes had bugged out at the hooded figure in forest green, who had their daughter hefted up on his shoulder. There was no doubt who the figure was, even if the photo hadn’t come from Adrien himself. The miraculous magic no longer had anything on her eyes.
And if she had asked Nino to transform again after Zoe had gone to bed and Adrien had wisely headed back to the hotel for evening, well, who could blame her.
She had always been partial to his hats. Just as she took great delight in removing them.
Alya sighed, snagging her purse from the hallway closet.
To be honest, she was a bit jealous. First Adrien and now Nino were both granted the most amazing magical powers to keep the world safe. She would have loved to have the chance, too, especially now that the threat that had lingered for so long had also been neutralized.
But there was still Zoe to think about. Keeping her safe would always be priority number one.
She ruffled her daughter's shoulder length hair affectionately. She was no less amused when Zoe had ducked away, that too-familiar pout she’d perfected in her toddler years pursing her lips. “Ugh. Maman!”
Zoe cuddled up to Pere’s one side, as he sat on a soft mat on the floor. Wayzz cheering encouragement from her other side.
There wasn’t much she could do to help her Père (and Uncle Adrien) except to be there, alternately sitting quietly and cheering him on. It was like an odd video game, like Père was levelling up little by little. And the curl of excitement in her belly with each new skill he’d found with Wayzz’s help had been almost like she’d figured it out on her own as well.
Pere had been doing so well. Even Wayzz said so.
It was taking a considerable amount of energy on her own part just to keep still. She had been sitting very quietly, until Maman had to go and ruin it by fussing with her hair.
The noise prompted a slight furrowing of Nino’s brows as he fought to keep his mental focus. His forehead wrinkling.
“Patience, Master Nino.”
His eyes flinched slightly, although he was otherwise motionless. “Just Nino, Wayzz.”
“So you keep insisting, ‘Just Nino’.” Wayzz arched a brow, allowing himself a rare treat of mischief.
Zoe snickered at that. Even Adrien could be heard chuckling from the kitchen.
Nino rolled his eyes. “Not going to lie. It is really hard being patient.”
“Ah,” Wayzz murmured. “But you are actually quite close. It even took Master Fu and I some years to work out the proper spells for activation. You’ve made great strides in mere days. The proper level of focus can be quite difficult to achieve, but I assure you that you are doing well.”
Nino frowned, his eyes darting over to the kitchen. His voice softened. “Yeah. But Adrien’s been waiting for years.”
“That he has.” Nodding sagely, Wayzz agreed. “But I know that he would wait a good deal more, if he needed. It is in his nature. But it is far better for you to ease into your powers. Master Fu was adept at meditation. We are lucky that you are naturally calm. Be at peace and focus on your breathing. The rest shall come.”
“Relax, my love.” Alya wrapped her arms about his shoulders. “Wayzz is right.”
“About what?” Nino asked, clearly doubtful.
With an audible gagging noise, Zoe rolled her eyes and darted over towards the kitchen with Wayzz. She didn’t want to watch, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to listen in. Who knows what kind of clue Maman might have to help Père unlock his powers.
“You know how much I’ve spent my life watching superheroes and analyzing every slight detail.” She circled him as he stood up to stare him in the eye, straightening his shirt collar. “There’s nothing more noble – and more thankless – than hard work. Chat Noir knew that. Adrien knows it.”
Adrien smiled softly in the kitchen, looking just as amused by the conversation he was pretending to not overhear. Zoe dared a peek around the kitchen door.
Maman was up on her toes, pressing a kiss to his furrowed brow. “You’re a hero just for trying. You know that, right?”
Pere was blushing, his hands on her shoulders. “Thanks, Babe.”
It was kind of sweet. But Père had to ruin it, but pulling Mama closer until their foreheads touched. His arm had curved around her back, a soft smile on his face.
When Père decided to press his lips to Maman’s, Zoe stuck her tongue out and hauled back into the relative safety of the kitchen. Of course, they had to go and make it gross.
Thank goodness Uncle Adrien was far more reasonable.
Adrien leaned against the kitchen counter, feeling every bit like the outsider.
He hadn’t wanted to let it become this way. In fact, he should have probably come clean to Nino and Alya much earlier. It would have made life so much easier – not to mention more pleasant – to have some level of home that he felt safe enough to come back to.
As it was, he was still tugging on the dark hoodie and sunglasses to get around Paris without being easily recognized. His instincts from his days as Chat Noir had served him well to evade any tails, but he no longer knew Paris as well as he had so long ago.
For the moment, he was trying to give Nino space.
So much of Nino’s powers seemed to have been derived from the meditation focused approach that Master Fu and Wayzz had devised, he wasn’t exactly helpful being underfoot.
Jalil was starting to get cranky that Adrien wasn’t around as much, because it was clear that his expertise appeared to be very helpful.
He knew that Alya was finding it a challenge to play dumb that he was Jalil’s other partner on this project. It was hard for her to be any less in the know considering how often he was already sitting at her breakfast table each morning.
It was taking some time to get Nino up to speed training-wise, but he hadn’t really expected otherwise. It was fascinating to watch his old friend becoming more and more adept by the day, especially after never really seeing the powers of the Turtle Kwami in action. Although it could be argued that he had long felt it’s effects.
He just hated that Nino was feeling so frustrated on his account.
As much as he’d wanted Plagg back, he’d wanted his friend not to be brought to a low point.
Nino was getting frustrated. It honestly wouldn’t be a big deal except that frustration was getting in the way to getting Adrien back on his feet. He’d always hated to see Adrien sad and suffering, and it just felt like he was letting his old friend down.
He sighed, fingers ghosting over where Alya had pressed her lips, the impression lingering.
Zoe had been very capable at keeping Wayzz in check. The tiny Kwami was surprisingly overbearing for being so small. It just figured that his own tiny terror would be able to keep his Kwami so off balance.
Alya had promised Adrien that she wouldn’t try to get Marinette over here until he was able to transform again. He knew better than to think she wouldn’t try to reach out to Marinette anyways, but he was reasonably sure she’d at least try to be circumspect.
And Adrien: all he wanted to do was to be able to prove it for sure first.
Adrien was so excited about the sheer prospect of getting his alter ego back, that neither of them really had the heart to tell him that Marinette would be ecstatic just to see him again.
Alya sighed, letting her head slide back against the cool window of the metro car, her mind mired in indecision.
Marinette had sworn up and down that she’d moved on. But she’d put relationship after relationship on hold for her career. Alya had heard it time and time again over the years, until Marinette had finally settled down for a while with a co-worker. Settled being the operative word, there. But even then, she wasn’t blissfully happy. Or at least even mostly happy.
Marinette’s truest joy had been designing, it was the only time she was smiling anymore in the few pictures that had surfaced on her social media pages.
Her engagement photos had looked somber in comparison.
She’d asked Alya to be her Matron of Honor. While she was pleased and honored personally, she couldn’t help but feel a little sad for her friend. Had Marinette really not been able to have anyone else who could be that close while she was so far away?
Lips pressed into a thin line, Alya sent a short text message.
“Honestly, Marinette. This project is going to be amazing. I just got a ton of footage from Nadja’s people to supplement the Ladyblog’s old content. I’m so sad you can’t be here to help.”
Marinette was typing for a while.
“I had a thought how I might help. Replica costumes?”
Alya squealed audibly on the Metro, before slapping her hand over her mouth.
“That would be perfect!”
“Should they be up for display? Or wearable?”
“Oh! Wearable definitely!”
Alya bit her lip to keep from cackling aloud. Adrien was going to flip for sure.
“I’d bet I can even talk the museum into getting a few volunteers to play the heroes.”
“That would be perfect.”
With a smirk, Alya dialed and pulled the phone to her lips. “Any chance you could get me your current measurements? Inquiring minds want to know.”
Marinette couldn’t put the phone down, even while out on the floor. Her assistant had tailed behind her diligently on the floor, ready and waiting to take notes. But her mind already bursting with the design details that she was eager to put to the page for her personal project.
It filled the void, where the pangs of guilt were feeling far too fresh. It felt like this always happened whenever she went home, but for some reason, this time it felt far more acute.
Maybe it was the fact that she couldn’t be there to support Alya properly. To this day, she still read every article her friend published. It helped her feel close, despite the self-imposed distance.
Nibbling her bottom lip, she’d paced, deliberating how to best proceed.
“Any chance you could find out their measurements. I expect that might take a few volunteers.”
Alya: “I know of a volunteer on staff who’d be perfect for Chat Noir, but finding a Ladybug or two might take a little longer.”
Marinette again was typing for a while. Her fingers lingered at her earlobe, fussing slightly with the earrings. She’d spent years, obsessed with recreating her outfit. The details, the feel, the way the fabric should move and give.
“I could always size it to one of my models and then re-create the pattern size appropriate when you can send some measures.”
Alya: “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Once you get them, we’ll get to work.”
Alya: “Awesome! Can’t wait!”
Her fingers danced across the screen, committed to the decision before she could second guess herself again.
“I might be able to come in to do fittings. I’ve been meaning to come back into town soon anyways.” She wanted to visit her father’s grave, to spend all the time she should with her mother.
She has something to tell Alya anyways.
But it might be easier if she could show her.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, he hadn’t made a bit of progress during the day. Wayzz had fretted, uncertain if he was pushing them both in a wrong direction. He was much more used to monks, and Nino, whilst calm, did not quite operate in that same way. Wayzz said that he would still be learning how best to help him.
But he was still taking it really hard. He felt like they were all counting on him, but he just couldn’t make all of the bits and pieces work in his mind.
It was like listening to music by rote for years and then being told he had to compose formally – on sheet music – all without a proper handle on music theory or on how to read the music from the page. He had an innate sense for some of the pieces, but some of the others just wouldn’t fit. He didn’t have the knowledge to shape some of the others into a bridge.
And for all that Wayzz was present and full of information, the tiny Kwami was often reserved and quiet, still grieving his former master.
Dinner had been quiet and Alya was late again. Adrien had even gotten dinner elsewhere, popping in to the museum briefly to calm down the string of anxious e-mails he’d gotten from Jalil on a few of the minor details of the pending exhibit.
Zoe had trudged up to her room disheartened, ready to read one of the books they’d grabbed from the library, when they’d stopped in.
It was a longshot to hope that there might be something there, but Zoe had been insistent that they try.
By the time, he’d gotten cleaned up and flopped into bed for the night, Nino felt bone-weary, barely even taking the time to bury himself beneath the covers.
He’d been half asleep when Alya had dropped into bed beside him, yawning.
She cuddled up to him, winding her arm around his shoulder and pressing her lips to the back of his neck.
Nino exhaled, turning beneath her arm to face her. His vision was blurred without the glasses, but even this close he could see the concern burning in her eyes.
Alya bit the inside of her cheek. “No luck?”
“Not today.” He sighed, deep brown eyes slipping closed. “Zoe was disappointed.”
“You are, too.” Her hand drifting onto his bicep, dragging her thumb over the corded muscle trying to soothe the tension that had built there.
Nino’s silence spoke volumes. They talked about his worries. His concerns that he wouldn’t be able to do enough. It all was as plain to her as if he had spoken the words aloud himself.
Alya shook her head, burying her face in the crook of his neck. Her lips drifting close to his ear, and the words began to flow, merest whispers in the night.
She reminded him what he’d done, as she’d been there by his side. Setting up his studio and watching it grow. Having Zoe and being there at her side as they both watched her grow.
Her fingers traced the stubble at his jaw, as his warm hand came up to rest on her arm.
She reminded him how devastating it had been that they hadn’t had much luck fertility-wise after Zoe. But how he’d stood by her side at every appointment. How he’d cried right beside her with every loss.
His eyes were locked on hers, and neither of them stayed dry.
She reminded him how their little girl grew to be amazing and bright, warm and caring. Not the least of which had come about because he had been an excellent, equal partner in being her father.
She reminded him how it wasn’t worth his self-doubt. How things that were worth the effort sometimes took time.
Alya lifted herself back off the pillows, pressing a kiss from his hairline down to his lips. His fingers were buried in her hair, lightly tucking it back behind her ears as she ducked down, her forehead lingering just above his.
Even if he couldn’t do a single thing more for Adrien, Marinette would come through with something to cheer him up. Marinette even mentioned a plan in homage to Chat Noir earlier today, one she came up with without any prodding.
So, even if his best efforts failed, things had to get better for both of their friends, soon.
Ardently, her lips pressed to his. Nino wasted not one moment, opening his mouth to her.
Alya could feel the moment that the pressure on him was off, as the tension fled from his shoulders and neck.
The curve of his smile, as he’d sucked her bottom lip, nipping it lightly before pressing a softer, soothing kiss in its wake.
Alya could feel and tension build in his arms in legs, fleeting notice before he’d flipped their positions. How his lips had curved as his hands grazed down to her shoulders, pushing the slim, cream silk straps off her shoulders, lips chasing the paths of fingers before descending lower still.
Nino’s muscles ached where’d held position above Alya, but his mind buzzed pleasantly. He’d run to the bathroom afterwards, but headed down to the kitchen. He was far more dehydrated than he’d realized.
He got up and went down to the kitchen while Alya still lay boneless in bed. As tired as she was, she’d stayed up for him.
Wayzz was awake, staring up into the moonlight, over the rim of a mostly cooled cup of tea.
“Can’t sleep?” Nino asked, lifting the glass to pour a pitcher of cool water.
Wayzz nodded. “You seem awfully relaxed.”
Nino was sure he blushed a bit, tipping the glass of water back to stave off the effect. “A little sleep can do that.”
“True.” Wayzz murmured. “I suppose I am far more inclined to try my former Master’s techniques. They were extremely effective for him. But perhaps another approach would be more effective for you.”
Tiny brows lifted. “I’d probably advise whatever you were just about. But just as a means to help you relax first. The Zen-like state is sometimes easier when the body is already nearing the sleep state.”
Nino chuckled. “I suppose I couldn’t argue with that sort of training regimen.”
“Would you care to try again?”
Nino shrugged. “And if it doesn’t work?”
“Then we make a fresh start of it again in the morning.”
Wayzz curled up in the palm of his hand, as he controlled his breathing. The Kwami’s reedy voice guiding Nino’s mind forward through the mental exercise of unlocking a small, black box.
Nino blinked as Wayzz laughed aloud, breaking him out of the vaguely trance-like state what must have been just a few minutes later. “Go rest, young man. I think you’ve earned it.”
Adrien’s eyes opened in the dark to the feeling of being watched.
Gleaming green pierced through the dark of night. “Finally!”
“Plagg?” Adrien shot up in bed. “Is that really you?”
The Kwami cackled. “Who else would it be?”
Rubbing his eyes, he threw off the covers, noting the time as some absurd hour of the early morning. He reached up, snagging Plagg out of the air and into his arms. “It’s been ages.”
“Of course, it has, kid.” Plagg groused, trying to wriggle free. But the darkness didn’t entirely mask the curve of his lips. “That’s why I’m starving.”
Plagg ate the Camembert every bit as greedily as he ever had. Adrien had stashed it away in pure hope that Nino might be successful, but he didn’t want to keep it at Nino’s house. He hadn’t wanted Nino to be feeling the additional pressure of his hopes, not while it was already very frustrating to him that he hadn’t been able to help him transform back already.
Adrien wasn’t sure how it had happened – or when – but he was endlessly grateful to see his Kwami again.
Plagg watched him curiously as he’d paced the room, not caring about the early hour. He’d fired off several text messages, but his cell phone notifications stayed blank. It wasn’t really a surprise, but there was only one reporter he could think of who deserved to get this scoop.
He stared out the window, into the too-quiet streets. It had been years in the making, and he wasn’t sure he could be patient for much longer.
This was his last, best hope to ever find her again.
The familiar ache settled into his muscles as he leapt from rooftop to rooftop, the cool, early fall air whisking through his hair. He was alert, weaving the way that he knew so well on foot and in the air.
Chat Noir stalked the rooftops again. It had taken fifteen years, but no one who had been alive at the time would fail to recognize the sight.
It was why he was happy that next to no one seemed to be out at three in the morning with him.
He tapped on the window, outside of their room.
Nino grumbled audibly, as he got out of bed. He pulled the blinds open. “Do you know what time it is?”
Chat Noir half bowed, as much as he could on the thin ledge. His grin gleaming in the early morning hours.
Chat winked. “You wouldn’t happen to know a reporter I could chat with, would you?”
Blinking, Nino dropped the blinds, lights and sound following in his wake.
Chat Noir chuckled, moving up to the rooftop to stay out of sight.
It only took ten minutes to wake up the rest of the house, and get Alya’s camera set up on their rooftop to snag an exclusive picture.
It probably hadn’t hurt that Chat Noir was far too practiced at posing.
Another 30 minutes and one mini-interview later and Alya was satisfied with the article she’d been drafting just for this purpose, firing it off to her editor.
In less than an hour, the article was posted online, featuring an image of Chat Noir against the orange streaked pre-dawn sky.
Half a world away, sat a certain Parisian ex-pat who had already been up far too late for her own good, hunched over her sewing machine in the long-empty office.
As the phone vibrated with the notification, she gaped as she noted the title of Alya’s article.
The Chat Returns.
So, this marks the first time I am even dipping a toe into doing any more mature work. I am staying pretty tame in this main work, but I do currently have some ideas brewing for follow up or other in-universe oneshots.
If you have any requests (including expanding out any sections), please feel free to let me know. ;)
Chapter 12: A Beacon of Hope
Overcome with a wave of emotions, Marinette fell out of the chair, tugging along with her the pair of black pants she’d just finished up sewing the leg of. The inseam was completed but she had not yet flipped right side out to check for any issues with the stitching.
Unrestrained tears streamed from her eyes. ‘Oh! Was it truly him?’
What if it wasn’t him? What if someone else inherited the Chat Miraculous? And somehow managed to get it activated after all this time.
Brows furrowed, Marinette brushed the welling tears from her eyes, standing up to run over to her computer. She needed to get a better look at that picture; the picture on mobile hardly did it justice.
She chuckled ruefully at the title. The Chat Returns.
She would know his form anywhere. She was sure of it. But in the half dark, without a clear view of his face?
She couldn’t be sure.
She skimmed the article. It was clear that Alya had posted it very early in the morning, getting the scoop before every other reporter in the city in the process. But it looked like this Chat must have really talked to Alya.
Chuckling, her finger skimmed over the title, suspecting his hand in it.
It was giving her hope, where she hadn’t dared to let herself in some time.
Her feet tapping on the floor, Marinette sat back in her chair, debating herself.
It was only 10:30 pm now. She had been working late, trying to make the costumes since Alya seemed to be so pleased with the idea. She had planned to produce and ship a few test costumes to Alya with guidance to have her send them to a proper tailor and check the sizing and note any adjustments. She could do the fixes herself when she arrived.
But maybe it was time to expedite the timetable.
The austere apartment that she had here never really felt like home. She lived at the office more often, throwing herself into her work. Travelling to see her parents when she’d wanted the feel of home. But without Chat Noir around, even home had started to feel empty.
Her fingers flew over the keyboard, finding the next available flight to Paris. The price tag no longer mattered.
If she grabbed the work bag still in her office that was still unpacked from her last flight, she could just barely make a 1 am flight and be in Paris by tomorrow night. She might not get in until early evening, but she could grab a quick shower and a fresh change of clothes to catch Alya in person.
And, if she was still very lucky, perhaps even the Chat himself.
It was only some hours later, safely through airport security and onboard the plane above the Atlantic that Marinette got a link to the article from Alya herself.
Biting her lip, she weighed her options, deciding it might be best to tell Alya she was inbound.
Maybe she could even catch a shower there and do a bit of laundry while she and Alya caught up. If not, she could always make hotel arrangements during her layover if the wi-fi signal continued to be unstable.
It was nearly seven in the morning but Alya’s phone had been buzzing endlessly for the past hour or so with messages of congratulations and offers for her to be interviewed on camera as well. The odds of her actually managing to fall back asleep was low. She dragged her hand over her face, figuring she might as well get up and be productive.
She muted the phone so Nino could sleep, before getting herself up out of bed to grab a shower and get ready to sit in front of the camera.
With a sigh, she realized she ought to reach of Jalil to get a more formal line on what, if anything, to say about the pending exhibit. She’d padded across the cold bathroom tiles for a minute before Marinette came to mind. In her haste and the early morning rush of getting the article up and getting Adrien safely back to his hotel, she’d never sent a copy on to Marinette. If she’d sent it then, it might be a more reasonable hour. Instead it now had to be the middle of the night for her, but she’d still freak out.
With a smirk, Alya sent her an email with the link and started the shower.
She could figure out how to deal with Jalil soon enough.
When Alya screamed, Nino and Zoe had come running.
“Maman?” The loud rapping on the door jolted her out of her now-stunned silence.
“Babe? Are you alright?”
“Yeah!” Alya clamped her hand over her mouth, re-shuffling the towel she’d been using to dry off. “Just give me a minute.”
There was no way Marinette should have answered that fast, especially not with the hour.
Instead she’d sent back four little words.
Marinette: I’m on my way.
Alya was still trying to puzzle out how this all was possible. When they’d texted the day before, Marinette hadn’t given the slightest indication she would be back so soon. She’d only just wrapped up the previous tour and couldn’t have slept in her own bed more than a night or two.
She hadn’t been any better prepared for the next message that came through.
Marinette: I need a pick up at the airport when I get in round 8:30 pm. Kind of wanted to chat with you if I could. But I can arrange for a cab if you’ve already got plans.
Alya bolted out the door, scrambling straight to her laptop.
“Babe?” Nino frowned, backing out of her way. He’d sent Zoe down to grab some cereal. “What’s going on?”
“Marinette is on her way here.”
“like right now?” He frowned. “Wasn’t she just in town?”
“Yep!” Alya confirmed, leaning heavily onto the bed. “And she’s on a plane right now.”
“I thought you said she was working on a project.”
“That’s what she told me.” Alya nodded, booting the laptop up and grabbing the robe from the foot of her bed where she’d discarded it. “I know she’s fast and all, but I don’t think she could make four costumes in six hours and then just hop on a plane.”
Nino chuckled. “She does manage to get a lot done when she’s focused.”
“Of course,” Alya muttered. “Finally! Okay, so if she was doing this…”
“What are you thinking here?” Nino crossed his arms, watching the flurry of activity. “That she saw the picture and got on the plane?”
Alya smirked. “That’s exactly what I think.”
Nino blinked. “I always knew Marinette was kind of close to Chat Noir. Well, really Adrien, I guess. But you really think she’d drop everything?”
“I’m trying to prove it, actually.” Alya tossed him her phone. “Do me a favor and ask her what airline we should pick her up from?”
Nino nodded, keying in her passcode and sent along the message while she pulled up the available flights.
Within a few minutes more, the pair were convinced. No other timeline really fit. Alya even let Nino scroll back through her previous day’s text log to see that Marinette hadn’t been planning to travel as of yesterday morning.
Nino flopped back on the bed, as Alya set about getting dressed. “You think she maybe had a thing for Chat Noir?”
Alya arched a brow, donning her bra. “You and I both know she had a major crush on Adrien.”
“But they’re one in the same.”
She nodded, hands on her hips. “You and I both know that. But Adrien has spent years pining after Ladybug, which means that poor girl is going to be walking into heartbreak.”
Nino sighed. “So we keep them apart.”
“I don’t think we have any choice, really.”
Adrien headed into the museum. It had been days since he’d been there last, but now he was ecstatic. He had not one but two Kwami to help uncover the secrets. Not to mention much better context from Wayzz to understand what might be safe enough to share with the public.
Plagg could hardly keep himself hidden away. Apparently, he’d had enough of sleep to last at least the rest of Adrien’s natural lifetime and kept peering out of the bag.
He passed Alix and Kim as he headed into Jalil’s office.
Alix was clearly irritated with Kim. “You don’t have to keep following me, you know?”
“Well!” Kim’s face went scarlet, the veins on his neck bulged as he clenched his jaw. “If you’d just tell me, I wouldn’t have to follow you.”
“Look.” Alix huffed, lowering her voice. “Jalil isn’t doing okay. He’s not eating, getting withdrawn. He hadn’t been handling things well since Père died.”
Kim grunted. “It’s not your job to take care of him.”
Alix wheeled on him in an instant. “You know I’m all he has here right now.”
Adrien blinked, backing away slightly. He really didn’t want to get involved in any couple’s spats.
Alya and Nino could always banter with the best of them, but Kim and Alix? They had always been ruthlessly competitive even when they all were kids. If their potential to be Akumatized had any indication, they had to be positively combustible.
Frankly, he had just gotten Plagg back in his life.
“I can keep an eye on him.”
“Would you?” Alix grinned, breathing a sigh of relief. She pulled a card out of her pocket and handed it to Adrien. “Look. If you have any issues with Jalil, could you call me?”
“Huh…” Adrien gaped at the card, his fingers catching on the embossing. “Detective?”
“Got a problem with that?”
Adrien grinned. “Not at all. If anyone could take on Paris’s criminals— “
Kim grinned proudly. “It would be the two of us.”
Alix—Detective Kubdel, Adrien corrected himself mentally—patted Kim’s arm patronizingly. “Sure, it is, Kim.”
Adrien coughed. “So, you both are partners?”
Alix snorted. “Who else do you think they trusted to keep this one in line?”
Kim narrowed his eyes, his arms crossing over his chest. “Wait. What did you think we were?”
“Oh.” Adrien’s eyes widened as he exaggeratedly checked his wrist—sans watch—for the time. He really didn’t want to die today. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was so late. Jalil will be looking for me. Let’s catch up again later.”
Kim watched Adrien scurry back down the hallway. “Did he think we were--?”
“Dating?” Alix scowled, hands on her hips shifting the line of her suit jacket out of place. “Yeah, probably.”
“Gross.” Kim chided, watching her reaction carefully. He still wasn’t entirely sure what was up with her lately. He had backtracked her actions through the museum even today, but he still hadn’t had much luck. Unfortunately, that meant he’d have to stay after – and figure out some excuse for him to do so that wouldn’t make her suspicious.
“Hah!” Alix sneered, her lips quirking in satisfaction as she stalked back towards the museum entrance. “This from the man who literally eats with his mouth open.”
“I had a cold.” He groused, right on her heels. “How else was I supposed to breathe?”
She snorted. “Clearly, you weren’t.”
Jalil was pleased. “Did you see?”
“The news?” Adrien asked, dropping his bag down beside the chair, carefully setting it down on the floor. “I did. Did you figure out how to incorporate them into the exhibit?”
“Madame Lahiffe had a number of ideas, thankfully.” Jalil grinned, sitting against his desk. “Interview with the returned hero for sure. She’s gotten ahold of some of the old battle footage from the news, including some clips that never made it to air.”
“Nice.” Adrien agreed, pleased that Alya had managed to appease Jalil at least. He’d needed the break from the brunt of his worries, and he definitely owed her now.
“Isn’t it?” Jalil preened. “And imagine, if Ladybug were to return as well.”
Adrien inhaled deeply. He’d spent half his lifetime imagining just that very thing. “That would be Miraculous.”
After wading back through the trial that was customs, Marinette picked up her bags inside baggage claim.
She still wasn’t entirely sure that she was ready to do this. But she didn’t know who else she could turn to. Who else she might be able to trust with this secret that had been ruling her life for so long.
What little sleep she had gotten on the plane left her prone to nightmares. What if it really wasn’t her Chat Noir? What if he had moved on, just like everyone else in her life?
She’d woken up, jarred and sober, but even more resolute. Even if she didn’t have Chat Noir at her side, she would do her darnedest to bring Tikki back. Clearly it was possible.
And this Chat Noir somehow held the secret in his claws.
She and Alya had grown apart, mostly because of the physical distance her lack of aging had required. But it was normal, too, as people sometimes do when career and kids and tempers and friends moving away all hit at once.
Alya never really seemed to blame her, but she never really understood why she had to.
But maybe it was time.
Alya had pulled her into a fierce hug where she met her on the curb. “I swear, Marinette.”
“Hmm?” She pulled back, far happier to see Alya in person than she’d had a right to be.
“What crazy overpriced product are you using?” Alya patted her face. “It’s been at least a decade since we saw each other last in person and you hardly look a day older.”
Marinette hefted her bag into the trunk, a rueful smile on her face. “I’ll save the beauty secrets for when we’re not in a public place.”
Alya lifted a brow. “Maybe we should go back to your hotel, then.”
Marinette had stared out the window, the weight of the exhaustion from her mad dash across the globe was finally catching up with her.
Alya was going to be mad. She was certain of it.
And she had every right to be.
“Because I am Ladybug.”
Alya gaped, if she hadn’t already been sitting down – at Marinette’s insistence – she might have fallen over.
Marinette tapped the earrings. “I don’t know if you remember these, but I’ve been wearing them almost as long as I’ve known you.”
Alya grimaced. Mostly she punched her in the shoulder because she’d missed hanging out with her best friend all these years. And because she missed all the signs of her own best friend being the superheroine she’d so admired.
But as frustrated as she was, she also understood why Marinette couldn’t say anything. Alya understood all too well the need for the secrecy, especially after her own failed attempt when she’d been turned into Lady Wifi.
The little mysteries had come together, the disappearances, how tired Marinette had been all the time. All of it had tied together seamlessly in her memories.
“I don’t get it?”
Marinette winced, looking up at her with veiled eyes. “Get what?”
Alya crossed her arms. “Why it makes perfect sense now. I might not remember everything, but no one was paying closer attention than I was. Even the timing makes sense, so why couldn’t I make sense of it then.”
Marinette sighed. “Well, that was probably thanks to Tikki…”
Alya arched a brow, leaning a bit closer to urge her friend on. “Tikki?”
“My Kwami,” Marinette confirmed, her fingers drifting absently up to her earlobes. “She was the being that gave me my powers. When I would transform, she would be pulled into my earrings.”
“But you can’t transform?”
“Not since that day…”
Alya nodded, her lips pressing into a thin line. She knew that Chat Noir, Hawkmoth, and everything else disappeared that day, and she never really understood why. It was really disheartening, doing so much for so long and then having it all abruptly end.
It had to be all that much worse for Marinette. To have had that freedom and power -- all to lose it so suddenly.
Blinking, she realized that Marinette had gone quiet, bracing against the dislike, against the anger that she’d clearly been expecting. That she clearly thought she deserved.
Alya sighed, softly punching her in the shoulder.
Stunned, blue eyes gazed up at her. “What?”
“I understand all that, girl.” Alya dropped her hand on Marinette’s shoulder. “To be honest, it makes a lot of sense, especially considering how often you ran off. But all that secrecy has meant that I’ve missed hanging out with my best friend all these years. After Nino, of course.”
Marinette’s shoulders fell, exhaling in obvious relief.
Alya hugged her. “When I think about everything that you’ve missed out on. How much I would have loved to have you here to be around Zoe for longer.”
Marinette frowned. “I know. But with Chat Noir gone, too…”
“You didn’t know where he had gone?” Alya blanched, trailing off. “I thought for sure…”
“I didn’t even know what had happened to me. I ended up at the hospital with a bunch of other injured people.” Marinette tugged her shorter locks behind her ear. “They must have thought I was just walking by. And honestly, I couldn’t remember the energy blast that knocked us all back. I was never even sure if it was an Akuma, or Hawkmoth, or the Guardian. I remember Hawkmoth was there himself, which itself was unusual.”
Alya blanched. “Woah.” Adrien had never mentioned any of that.
Marinette shook her head, slumping back in her chair. “It all just happened really fast, you know? I thought we had gotten the Akuma down, but then Hawkmoth seemed to be there, advancing on Chat Noir. I wasn’t even sure if I had gotten the Lucky Charm launched. With what little I could piece together after, there was too much that was uncertain.”
Alya nodded. “And then you couldn’t transform.”
“Yeah.” Marinette’s face fell. Her eyes were dull and lifeless, as her fingers lingered over the earrings. “The thing that gave me my powers, she’s been trapped in the earrings since that day.”
Frowning, Alya tapped her fingers on the chair arm, if she’d still had any lingering doubts from her own reporting instincts, Marinette’s words just dispelled them. “Chat Noir said the same thing, you know?”
“He did?” Marinette perked up, standing up from the chair to pace the small room. “So, it really is him?”
Alya smiled softly. “As best as I could tell, yes.”
Her friend looked near to tears, but joyful ones this time. “Puns and all?”
Alya leveled a deadpan stare. “That was basically my first clue.”
Marinette giggled, blowing a puff of air out of her cheeks as she let herself flop back onto the bed. “I’m glad. It was like losing my other best friend. One I could never really share with the rest of the world. And when he was gone, but I couldn’t even tell anyone I lost him.”
Alya set herself down on the bed beside her. “It’s a good thing he seems to be willing to patrol a bit then.”
“He didn’t reach out to you?”
Alya flinched. “Well, he did come to me for the exclusive…”
Stifling another yawn, Marinette smiled. “I told you that you did a lot for us. I know I never really forgot.”
“Neither did I.” Alya ruffled her hair, affectionately. “Coincidentally, you’re in luck, girl. Working on this project for…well for you, I guess.”
Marinette chuckled, her eyes half lidded but stayed as focused as she could.
“Anyways, I’ve run into a really good researcher who is familiar with the Miraculous himself.”
“Oh?” Marinette’s eyebrows rose, as she sat back up. “Did he help Chat Noir?”
Alya grinned, arms crossed in front of her chest. “Well…not exactly. But I really think you ought to meet him.”
“Tomorrow, though.” Alya stood, gathering her friend’s shoulder into a half hug. “You need to catch up on sleep.”
Marinette smirked. “Okay, Mom.”
“Just for that, you’re going to bed without supper, young lady.” Alya grinned, booping her on the nose. “You forget just how much Mom practice I’ve had.
Marinette snickered, toeing her shoes off her feet. “It’s really good to see you, Alya.”
Alya winked, pulling the door mostly closed behind her. “It’s good to see you, too.”
Chapter 13: Secrets and Lies
Ever since the museum earlier today, Kim was acting weird and standoffish, and it was really starting to freak her out.
Alix shoved her hands into her pockets, furrowing her brow. He had spent way too many days tailing her, trying to drag out her secrets.
She was too stubborn to budge for sure and tell him anything that might get either her or Jalil into trouble, but he was quite adept surreptitiously tailing a suspect.
Luckily for her, she knew every one of his tricks.
Alix popped off the metro at the different stop, walking with a purpose for the a few blocks path outside of the museum that she knew for a fact had poor camera coverage.
She risked only a moment to peer over her shoulder, to confirm he wasn’t behind her, before she veered into the museum.
It was only a matter of time before someone did inventory and found that the box she’d pulled was missing.
She needed to get all the items back in the box and into evidence holding before someone noticed.
Hopefully Jalil had enough time to do whatever research he needed to, so she could get it back tonight.
Nino sighed, as he dropped Zoe off to spent the day at the Zoo with her Grandfather. Her continued affinity for the Panthers had always been more than a little uncanny, all things considered.
He, Wayzz, and Adrien planned to spend the afternoon going through the box Master Fu protected to check on the other Kwami inside.
Nino was being careful to keep Alya out of the loop on this. She had more than enough to keep her busy with the homage project and with keeping Marinette occupied.
When she was curious, Alya tended to run at something full tilt until that curiosity was satisfied. It was that instinct that had her running headlong into danger after Ladybug and Chat Noir all those years ago. Time and Zoe had tempered that instinct somewhat as the stories she chased down involved a good deal less danger, but a good deal more running. And the only time Alya had to spare anymore was for sleep.
Everything was so quiet right now, barring the ever-growing likelihood that Adrien and Marinette ran into each other.
Alya hadn’t said where Marinette was staying, but that only made him even more suspicious.
Adrien had rather generously offered to help funding his leave for at least a little bit, while they worked to make sure everything was set to stay safe.
It was win-win all around.
Provided he could get his head around this new challenge before Alya got suspicious.
Adrien wiped the sweat of his brow, as he leaned over the stove. He had been around for long enough that he was comfortable in the Lahiffe kitchen. It was particularly helpful when Alya was away and Nino still had to go to pick Zoe up from her Grandfather. “So we need to do what now, Wayzz?
Wayzz tapped a tiny green claw to his chin. “There should be two miraculous in the box now: the Fox Kwami and the Bee Kwami. It is best if I can wake them up to check the connection. Nino is too new as a holder and my skills are rusty.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“Not immediately, anyways. But it would be good to check on them. They’ve spent a decade out of the hands of the guardian and Master Fu and I would often do protective spells and warding to ensure their safety while in hibernation.
“I’m worried enough about the two that have been missing.”
“Wait.” Adrien’s jaw hit the floor. “Two?”
Wayzz nodded pointing over to where the box rested open upon the table. “There are seven in total that the Guardian was responsible for. You know about the Cat, the Ladybug, the Turtle, and now the Bee, and the Fox. Hawkmoth himself was also holding the Butterfly miraculous. But lost long ago with the Butterfly was one other: the Peacock miraculous. Even when we do find the Ladybug miraculous, there are still two more to try to track down.” Wayzz sighed. “I am loathe to admit it, but Master Fu was poorly equipped to investigate in this day and age.”
Adrien dropped the spoon on the table. “So, Nino will be needed to act as the guardian—“
“For some time, yes.” Wayzz confirmed. “as much as I know you want Ladybug back, I assure you that my next priority is finding the Butterfly miraculous. According to Madame Alya, the Butterfly miraculous also went dark that day.”
“Meaning that Miraculous holder was probably just as confounded as you and Ladybug must have been.”
“The only thing that I find encouraging was that you were the only one who appears to have been investigating it.” Wayzz crossed his arms. “Though we were never sure who he was, Hawkmoth was nothing if not ruthless. Had he still possessed the broach, I suspect we would already be hearing from him.”
Kim’s fists tightened as he stood in front of evidence holding, uncertain whether he really wanted to step inside.
Usually, there was a certain euphoria in chasing down the rabbit hole. Sometimes it lead to darker paths and revelations, but there was always the light at the end of that tunnel, where you brought someone much needed justice…or at least some answers to the questions they sought.
But right now, he just felt cold lead weighing down his stomach.
Alix had headed home early, claiming a headache.
So, he didn’t have to worry about her finding him checking up on her again. He just had to worry about what he might find.
Kim left the evidence lock up, having reviewed the records book.
He didn’t like what he saw. Alix had been in once or twice with him, but there was one pull she had done a week ago that had yet to be fully returned. It was an older case that he knew wasn’t on their plate.
Clenching his jaw, he pulled the case number and hoped that his hunch wasn’t right.
By the time the evening came, Alya found them all huddled in her living room over a box.
Zoe had fallen asleep on the carpet with a pillow, her laptop screen still open. Nino had drifted off to sleep on the couch, and even Adrien had slumped over in one of their chairs. Wayzz had fallen asleep on Nino’s chest, rising and falling as he breathed.
Alya shook her head fondly. She’d come home a bit earlier than she expected, but she’d clearly missed a busy day here. Marinette was still adjusting to the time change, and they’d start to work together tomorrow.
She started to pick up the dishes at the table, carrying them over to the sink.
Completely missing the soft amber glow emanating from the box on the table.
Kim stood on the street outside Max’s office, uncertain exactly what he really wanted to do. He didn’t want to throw Alix under the bus, but it was clear her brother was taking advantage. It was putting her in a bad place professionally.
He had dealt with Jalil only once before, when Alix had gotten injured in the line. Outside of her room in the hospital, when a bullet had winged her, he resembled nothing of the sad sap Alix kept describing.
The museum had announced a homage exhibit just as the box of related evidence had gone missing from a dusty corner of the evidence room.
He scowled. In the past decade, Alix hadn’t put one toe out of line. She’d been reckless, just as much as he had, but it was always calculated and for the greater good.
This reeked of manipulation. And it was clear she was just too close to see it.
The soft sound of movement and running water from the kitchen startled Nino awake from a sound sleep.
Nino looks stunned as the faintly glowing haze increases around the fox miraculous as his wife approached the table.
“Be careful, Master.” Wayzz had an eye open, peering towards the kitchen. “Consider this carefully?”
Nino hissed. “Did you know?”
Wayzz shook his head. “I may have suspected an affinity, but I am not the one who chooses the holder.” Wayzz shrugged, channeling Master Fu’s typical vagueness. “The mysteries of the universe will all reveal themselves in good time.”
Nino scrubbed his hand over his face. “This is so bad.”
Between the rustling and the hissing, Adrien was also awake now, his hand ruffling the fur behind his Kwami’s ears. “Need a distraction?”
Plagg perked up with a grin. “Gladly.”
Nino stared over at Adrien. “Think you can lug Zoe upstairs to her room? I need to get the box out of there before she sees it.”
Alya was busy reheating her meal, when Adrien’s gluttonous Kwami shot into the kitchen, diving into the fridge to help himself.
Quickly, Nino stood up, steering her off to the kitchen to start to reheat dinner for her. “Sorry, Babe. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Not a problem.” She chuckled as he wiped the bit of drool that was still at the edge of his lip. “A busy day?”
“With Zoe?” He grinned, swooping up the box into his hands. “When is it not? Honestly, I’m not sure how you do it most of the time.”
Alya grinned, popping up on her tiptoes to give him a kiss. “I don’t think about it. I just do it.”
Nino backpedaled, the box jostling in his arm as he leaned against the counter.
Lifting her hands up, her fingernails raked through the softening stubble as she tugged him down to meet her in the middle.
He wasn’t sure how long he was focused on keeping her occupied so he didn’t lose his grip on the box, but he was rapidly losing his own grip on the counter. When she’d dropped her lips to that far-too-sensitive bit of his neck that never failed to make him groan, the box clattered back onto the counter, springing open.
Nino’s eyes slammed shut as he pressed his lips to her hairline, missing the soft flash of orange light.
But not the tandem cackling that rang out in the kitchen.
“Apparently, you didn’t need a distraction, my friend.” Plagg snickered.
Nino facepalmed, shaking his head. “You’re really not helping.”
Plagg’s grin widened, Camembert at the ready. “Was I supposed to?”
Alya’s eyes narrowed dangerously, staring up at her husband. “And what, pray tell, was he supposed to be distracting me from?”
“From me, of course.”
Blinking, Alya turned towards the new voice. “Ohhh!” She cooed, taking in the purple eyes and red fur coat. “Aren’t you just the sweetest thing?”
Plagg started snickering again.
The tiny fox glared up at him. “Quiet, you.”
Alya scratched at the scruff behind her ear and the little fox leaned in to the gesture. “Where did you come from, little one?”
Trixx giggled, nudging back at her hand. “I think the guardian might be able to explain.”
Nino sighed. “Wayzz. A little help here.”
Wayzz coughed. “I believe my previous Master believed you and your husband to be prime candidates as miraculous holders.”
Alya’s eyes goggled as the little fox came to settle in front of her, offering powers. Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she’d barely quashed the urge to squeal – loudly.
“Alya,” Nino hissed, his eyes darting up to Zoe’s room.
She slapped her hands in front of her face. “Yes, of course! I would love to have powers…” Before a frown marred her face. “But, I do have a daughter to think of…”
Trixx smirked. “Not to worry. We’re always a little bit further away from the action. It’s a perk when your powers are illusion and mind suggestion.” The fox kwami cuddled into her arms. “That’s why it is so important that I be in the right hands.”
Alya grinned. “That sounds amazing. But are you sure I’m the right person.”
Trixx smiled lazily, her eyes hooding as she glanced over to Wayzz. “Just the fact that you had reservations tells me that you are a good fit. Besides,” the Kwami nodded her ginger head around the table at the other Kwami who had come out of hiding, “you’re in good company.”
Adrien gaped at Trixx in Alya’s arms.
“Nino? I thought you were—?”
“Protecting the box?” He grumbled. “Apparently the universe has a mind of its own.”
Wayzz beamed. “A will all its own anyways. We just try to guide it in the right direction, Master.”
“So,” Alya crossed her arms. Trixx wound her way up to perch on Alya’s shoulder. “Does this mean you’ll let me into your secret meetings now?”
Adrien grimaced, worrying at her reaction. “Yeah,” he murmured, meekly.
Alya cackled for so loud and so long she had started to break into tears.
“Babe,” Nino stood up, concerned. “You alright?”
“Oh My God.” Tears pooled at her eyes as she brushed them away, a bright smile on her face. “I’m fantastic. Marinette is going to lose it though.”
Adrien frowned. He hadn’t seen Marinette in years, although he did wonder how far she’d gone in the industry he’d long since abandoned. “Why is that?”
Alya snorted, covering her mouth and clearing it to collect herself. She might be guarding another secret, but it really wasn’t hers to tell. But boy wouldn’t Adrien be surprised. Her eyes gleamed with mischief. “Years ago, during the height of the Ladyblog, I had a theory that you might be Chat Noir. She swore up and down that it was totally impossible. In fact, I’m pretty sure she probably owes me about 100 Euro.”
Plagg frowned. “Not that you’ll get to collect.”
Alya quirked a brow. “She can afford it, I’m sure. Her company just did a show in Paris.”
“Not what I meant,” Plagg hedged. With Tikki gone and Wayzz being obnoxiously vague as ever, someone had to be the voice of reason. “Surely you understand the need for secrecy.”
Alya rolled her eyes. “Of course, I do.”
Adrien sighed. “Wayzz, you said that your Master hadn’t intended for everything to hibernate for so long, right?”
“Yes,” Wayzz confirmed, “Master Fu had been prepared for many eventualities. It seems that Ladybug had been unable to locate the Guardian miraculous, his bracelet and hand it over.”
Nino looked on his Kwami in interest.
“Master Fu always chose to be vague, certain as he was that these things would always work themselves out.”
Adrien scowled. “They did…eventually.”
Wayzz frowned. “Something went wrong, although I cannot be sure what. Perhaps Ladybug might be able to shed some light on the matter if we could locate her.”
Alya’s brows lifted. “As to that, I might have an idea of where to find her. Or at least where to put the message out.”
Adrien’s attention was entirely on her. She grinned. For all that time, she’d been entirely right on so, so many things. If only Marinette hadn’t needed to keep her in the dark. She understood it, truly, but it didn’t mean it didn’t suck. She still couldn’t quite get over just how much her best friend had lost because everything went sideways. If she’d had any inkling of what either of their friends had been going through, she might have been able to help it along.
Guilt and feelings of inferiority danced in the back of her mind. Even as much as she had spotted, there was so much that she had missed. Some journalist she was. Even after all this time of doing it professionally, she felt woefully inadequate.
Nino seemed to notice her self-doubt, leaning in closer.
Alya sighed, picking up her phone.
“Marinette always somehow knew how to get ahold of Ladybug, right?”
Both of the boys nodded.
“So, we bring her here to hang out. She knows I’m working on the homage at the museum.”
“It’s a bit late,” Nino frowned, looking at, her uncertainty clear in his soft brown eyes.
She set her hand on his arm, her eyes begging him to understand, to trust her. “True. But she’s been sleeping most of the day away.”
Nino grabbed his keys. “I can head over there.”
Alya smirked. “You could, sure.” Her eyes veering over to Adrien’s. “Or we could see if a certain cat wants to come out and play.”
Trixx chuckled. “See? I knew I liked you.”
Adrien’s eyes widened. “You don’t think she’d mind?”
Nino shook his head.
“I promise that Marinette will be happy to see you again, even after so long. She’s even staying at the same hotel you are, Adrien.” Alya’s smile softened. “You could pick up whatever you need while you’re back there and just call Nino when you’re ready to head back.”
Adrien’s lips curved, his hand shooting out into a truly over-the-top pose as Plagg’s magic was absorbed in a flash of green light.
Nino and Alya gaped at each other, as Adrien popped the window ajar with his baton and hefted himself through.
“Guess I’ll be back in a bit.” His grin was stark against the dark night.
Alya shook her head as he left. “Serious superhero question, Trixx.”
Her Kwami’s dark brown brows rose.
“Do we also have to pose like that?”
Trixx snorted. But Wayzz was much faster to answer. “Not at all. Plagg’s holders have always been a little…much.”
Nino and Alya looked at each other and grinned, before Nino’s slipped.
“You’re sure Marinette will be alright?”
Alya nodded. “I think she’s a whole lot stronger than she looks.”
Chat Noir ran the rooftops. He wasn’t breaking any speed records, as it would take a little while to regain his footing. He was still trying to digest this bit of news from Alya.
Marinette really hadn’t believed he was Chat Noir? He shook his head, vaulting across an alleyway. In terms of the secrecy that had been required for so long, that was of course a good thing.
But he had always hoped that his friends could see some sort of possibility of him being Chat Noir.
So why didn’t Marinette?
It wasn’t like he hadn’t saved her before. In fact, she was probably one of the few civilians he had worked with more than once.
He’d even run into her more than once out on her balcony. She was even more open and sassy with him as Chat than she had ever been with him as Adrien. To be honest, he’d never really understood why.
He sighed, dropping onto the rooftop of the hotel. His sharp eyes spotted the camera – which clearly hadn’t been moved in the better part of a decade and picked a safe, blind corner to drop his transformation, before digging out his keycard.
Adrien was back in his hotel room grabbing a shower as Plagg scrambled for a quick Camembert fix.
The years might not have aged him, but the leather-like material was almost always warm, especially on warmer nights like these.
The warm water sluiced down his back and the bridge of his nose, calming the mild ache that he’d never had all those years ago.
Perversely, he found himself wanting to impress Marinette. She’d always been amazing, but it was her work that had been so eye-catching and nostalgic that it had brought him back to Paris.
To think that she’d continued to work and grow from that hat competition of his Pere’s all the way back in that first year, it was truly impressive.
He was the one who’d been the one stuck in the past, hoping and digging through every scrap of text he could find, to try to track down the girl who had stolen his heart.
Dodging every effort of his father’s, to track him down and drag his kicking and screaming like a wayward toddler, back into the draining life he’d been groomed for.
Plagg was wrong, he thought, swiping away the water that had slipped into his eyes.
He wasn’t a hopeless romantic.
He was just hopeless.
“I didn’t actually finish all the costumes, Alya.” Marinette tilted the cell phone between her head and neck, digging in her bag. “Just the one Chat Noir and one Ladybug.”
She bit her lip. It wasn’t really necessary to mention that the Ladybug one just so happened to fit her perfectly.
Alya chuckled. “I’m sure it will be fine. If you stop by now, you can drop it off while we catch up and then I can bring it into the museum with me in the morning.”
Marinette smiled. “It would be nice to relax. I’ve been cooped up in here all day.”
“I have a bottle of red with your name on it.”
“I can be there in maybe 20 minutes.” Marinette frowned. “That’s not too late is it?”
“No worries,” Alya chuckled. “Zoe’s already asleep, so as long as we’re not too rowdy.”
“I’ve got my bag together and can head down—“
“Woah!” Alya shouted, a loud chime sounding in the background.
“What was that?” Marinette flinched, hauling the bag up onto her shoulder.
“Sorry, someone turned the sound up on my laptop.” Alya grumbled, before she softly gasped. “Ohh! Guess who has just been spotted above the skies of Paris?”
The phone slipped from Marinette’s grasp, her eyes opening wide. Chat Noir?
“Sure is!” Alya crooned.
Marinette blinked, surprised she’d spoken aloud. “Umm…where is he?”
Alya paused, fingers clicking across the keyboard. “Looks like he’s not far from you.”
“Oh!” Marinette breathed.
She was at the window, pulling back the curtains to peer out, but the view left a bit to be desired. Grimacing, she’d snagged her keycard and darted out the door, into the elevator.
“Marinette?” Alya blinked. The signal had gone quiet. “Are you still there?”
Nino sighed, sinking down onto the couch beside her. “Any luck?”
Alya frowned down at the phone, confirming the signal had disconnected. She couldn’t even say how much she wanted to be a fly on the wall of the Hotel de Paris right now. Or, more likely, the roof. “Not as much as I’d like.”
Chat Noir looped back. As soon as he’d called Nino, he’d transformed and made a loop around the downtown area. It wouldn’t do to let Marinette know that Chat Noir was staying here too.
At least not until they had managed to recover the rest of the miraculous and put them in the safekeeping of the Guardian.
He’d spotted her, standing wide-eyed on the roof from far off, her lips parted in a gasp.
With a grin, he picked up speed, flipping himself onto the roof in a rather dramatic landing just beside the pool, faltering only the slightest bit in the landing before he dropped into a bow. “A princess on a balcony. This seems like a familiar sight.”
Laughter danced in her eyes, although she’d choked back the giggle before it passed her lips. Her hand drifted down to the bag at her hip. “I don’t know about familiar. It’s been a long time, Chat Noir.”
He snagged her hand to drop a kiss there, smirking up at her. Time had been uncommonly kind to her. “Too long in fact.”
Marinette swallowed the lump in her throat, her eyes going wide. “Where did you go?”
He frowned, hadn’t she always delighted in pushing him away? Well, if she wasn’t going to, he wasn’t about to drop her hand. His thumb dragged across the back of it. “Not far. Well, at least not at first.”
“You weren’t able to transform?”
Chat shook his head. “And without that, I couldn’t even prove my civilian identity.”
Confusion clouded those too-blue eyes. “But you got your powers back.”
“Not long ago, truly. And only after searching for them for some time.” He grimaced, realizing he might be giving too much away. “But, enough about me, Princess. What’s this I heard about you making a Chat Noir-themed costume that graced the Paris Chatwalks?”
Marinette smirked. “You would have only heard about that.” Blushing as she realized he was still holding her hand, she withdrew it.
He grinned, fascinated by the deep blush that had settled into her cheeks. “I saw it too, Princess.”
“Oh?” Marinette bounced on the balls of her feet, nervously. “Which one was your favorite?”
“The Ladybug one, for sure.”
She blinked, eyes widening just enough for his sharper night vision to detect it. “Silly me. I shouldn’t have been surprised.”
“It made me far more nostalgic for the powers I had feared were gone forever.” He smiled softly.
Marinette’s own smile was slight, her eyes moving out over the glittering night sky.
“Besides, the model you chose to use could have been a dead-ringer for my Lady.”
Marinette blanched, suddenly all too eager to change the subject. Her voice was far shakier than she’d liked, far more than she should have been. “I was actually about to head over and see Alya. It was nice to have given her that exclusive.”
Chat smiled. “She’s done quite a lot for me over the years. I’ve never really forgotten.”
She gripped the railing, her lips curving. “I’m sure she appreciated it.”
“She said as much.” His green eyes glowed, white teeth glimmering beneath the mask even in the dim light. He was even nearly as lanky as she last remembered. “But she happened to push me in the right direction more recently as well.”
She gaped at him. “In getting back your powers?”
Chat Noir nodded.
Marinette’s shivered, her legs wobbling beneath her. Were Alya’s contacts really all that good? “Do you think you could get me there?”
“To Alya’s?” He blinked. “Sure.”
“Oh, thank you!” Her arms had wrapped around his shoulders, hugging him tightly. “You don’t know how much that would mean to me, Chaton.”
Chat Noir swooped Marinette up, bridal style, her bag nestled atop her stomach in her own arms.
The wind whipped past his face and hair, but it was doing far, far too little to cool the heat that had had suffused his cheeks.
It was getting awfully hard to ignore how his heart had lurched when Marinette had called him Chaton. To how he had missed the feel of someone holding him in their arms.
That wasn’t really an endearment anyone else but Ladybug had thrown around.
Alya had to be right. Marinette must know how to track down Ladybug. She’d clearly talked to her. And Ladybug had trusted her to help all those years ago.
He forced himself to slow his speed, being extraordinarily careful with his old friend. The information she had was far too valuable, the works of art she’d created were too precious, and he was only just re-gaining his footing on the precarious rooftops.
Chat Noir set her down gently just inside the open window next to the Lahiffe kitchen. He was treating her as if she were made of glass, and not the superheroine forced into far-too-early retirement that she was. “One Princess, rescued from a tower.”
Marinette’s lips pressed together, her eyes locking on the door. If Alya’s contact knew anything, she would do whatever it took to get Tikki back. Hawkmoth might be gone, but she’d desperately missed soaring about the rooftops at Chat Noir’s side.
She smiled up at him. “Thank you. That was much easier than waiting for a taxi.”
His grin grew mischievous, as those magnetic eyes drew dangerously close. “Purrhaps I could be purrsuaded to stick around and wait for your return trip.”
Marinette snorted at string of puns, her finger lightly pressing back against his nose. “I wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“It’s really no trouble. I’m sure your friends would be happier to know you got back to your hotel safely.”
She shook her head. “I really have no idea how long I’ll be here visiting. It wouldn’t be fair to ask you to wait up, and even if I did, how could anyone even reach you?”
“Alya’s got a way to reach me.” He grinned, saluting her with two fingers to his brow and a wink. “The offer still stands.”
Chat Noir vaulted up over the house directly out of her line of sight. He didn’t intend to go far, but he was still fighting the blush after he snuck back into the upstairs Lahiffe bathroom window to de-transform.
It was sheer dumb luck that Zoe must have left it open and that he wouldn’t need to Cataclysm his way back inside and pretend he’d not-so-quietly been there as Adrien all along.
Adrien splashed a bit of water on his face, wondering how he was going to survive the encounter when he got back out into the kitchen.
Alya was far too clever not to pick up on the blush…and far too nosy to not ask why it was there.
Marinette eagerly hugged Nino before sitting down at the table in front of a glass of wine. Alya had her laptop all set up to show Marinette some of what she had been working on.
Belatedly, she noticed the fourth glass, currently sitting empty.
She had not been prepared to see those haunting green eyes meeting hers across the kitchen. “A—Adrien?”
“Hey, Marinette.” He smiled softly.
“Oh, my gosh!” She didn’t even realize she was gaping until Alya tapped her chin closed.
Maybe she was still a bit more tired than she thought. Hadn’t the years tempered her reaction to her crush. With sheer force of will, she’d gulped back all the panic that had haunted her teenage years, attempting to mask it behind a shaky, semi-professional smile. She practically had to force her hands to her sides to keep from windmilling awkwardly. “How are you?”
Alya sighed, taking another sip of her wine as she watched her friends awkwardly dance around each other. She subtly moved the glasses further from Marinette, wondering why she had to worry more about the bug knocking glassware off of tables, rather than the cat.
But she couldn’t quite supress the urge to smile broadly.
It was making her feel oddly nostalgic, but that nostalgia brought the familiar old frustration right along with it. It was bad enough that they were still a little awkward around one another, even after so long. But she had been so sure that Marinette would have widely spent the better part of the day resting. Only the heavy dark bags under Marinette’s blue eyes clearly indicated otherwise.
Marinette was still far too used to that same hyper focus mode, running herself into the ground and not paying attention to taking proper care of herself.
Maybe it was the actual motherly instincts in her now, but she was even more frustrated now than she was years ago.
Alya crossed her arms. She was pleased that Marinette and Adrien were at least chatting socially, but it was so formal and stilted, like they both hadn’t been friends for years. Even the normally congenial Adrien looked ill at ease.
Considering they were both long-time partners who literally risked life and limb for years only to put their lives on hold trying to find their way back to one another, Alya was just barely staving off the urge to scream.
Or smoosh their faces together.
“You know,” she leaned over to Nino, stage whispering. “It’s kind of unfair how young they both look.”
Adrien frowned at Alya, clearly wondering what she was about.
Nino nodded. “Kids will age you prematurely.”
Marinette was watching Adrien very carefully, even more focus trained on the way his face lacked any signs of aging.
His nails scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “It’s got to be all those years of eating like a model. I’ve never really been entirely able to break myself of the habits, even without the nutritionist chasing me down.”
Marinette nodded. “Why did you stop modelling?
“Honestly?” Adrien sighed, hands falling to his side. “Pere was running me into the ground. Modelling was never really something I wanted to do. Maman just got me started all those years ago and Pere decided it was convenient to groom me into the face of his brand. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t finally gotten to go to school with all of you when I did.”
“You just got tired?”
“Of varying things.” He nodded. “Not the least of which was the persistent interest. It wasn’t too bad until University.”
Alya smirked. “It could not have helped that you’ve not looked like you’ve hardly aged.”
“Of course not.” He grumbled. “Any perceived fault and the media will jump on it. No offense, Alya.”
Her grin only widened. “You’re not wrong.”
“But it wasn’t just the media, it was everyone involved in the whole production behind the scenes.” Adrien frowned. “The questions were endless and all for a role I had never really asked for in the first place. So, I moved into academia – half a world away, where next to no one would recognize me.”
Marinette’s eyes widened. “That…makes a lot of sense actually. Did you go to China?”
“Yeah. All that time learning the language paid off.” A soft smile crossed his lips. “Pere’s own investment working against him as he tried to locate me over the years. I got really good at noticing when anyone came looking. Unfortunately, it meant I’d have to drop off social media if any of his private investigators got too close.”
Marinette’s smile was sad, her fingers resting just above the table.
Alya shook her head. She knew for sure that all of this was landing so close to the mark for Marinette. It was only yesterday that Marinette told her how she had to leave for some very similar reasons.
So why wasn’t she making the connections? Ladybug had always excelled at that very thing.
Except when it came to Adrien. When it came to Chat Noir.
Alya frowned when she’d heard a noise, her eyes darting up above the refrigerator, where she knew more than one Kwami was hiding. But she didn’t notice a thing.
“Nino.” Her eyes lifted to the ceiling. “Did you hear that?”
Nino’s eyes met hers, brows furrowed. He shook his head. “Zoe?”
“Yeah.” She mouthed.
Nino was up, heading up the stairs.
“Sorry,” Alya whispered. “She’s been having nightmares lately.”
Adrien blanched clearly feeling guilty. “She has?”
“Yeah.” Alya bit her lip. She didn’t really want to worry either of them. Zoe’s nightmares had been more frequent since the Kwami had appeared, but she’d be lying if forcing her friends to get their respective acts together wasn’t a perk here. “Mind if I go up and check, too?”
“Of course not, Alya.” Marinette smiled widely, patting her hand. “We’re just fine here.”
Plagg grinned. Wayzz and Trixx were so involved in watching the proceeding that they hadn’t notice him slipping away to drop the book off the shelf.
He’d phased back and looked unconcerned with the noise while they both went upstairs to check on Zoe themselves.
They should have known better, Wayzz especially.
He’d spotted the faint glow on those earrings, almost the second the girl had walked in. And there was no way Wayzz didn’t know who Master Fu had chosen. Wayzz was simply being silent, while his kitten suffered.
Exactly what was the point of maintaining silence around a civilian when she was no civilian at all.
Tikki could yell at him later. After he made sure she was okay.
Adrien frowned as he watched Alya leave. “I hope she’s okay.”
Marinette smiled fondly, standing to refill her own glass from the bottle on the counter. “Yeah. I haven’t seen Zoe in a while, not since she was a toddler at least. I wonder what has her worried.”
Adrien winced, reasonably sure he might know the answer to that. Or at least be in part responsible.
“I’ll tell you what has me worried.”
Blue eyes blinked with concern, scanning the room for the voice. “Huh?”
“Plagg?” Adrien hissed quietly. What on earth was his Kwami doing? Weren’t they just talking earlier about keeping things secret from Marinette?
Plagg rushed in front of her face. “Why haven’t you been trying to bring her out?”
“Her?” Marinette gaped at the tiny black cat. “You mean--”
“Of course, I do.” Plagg grumbled.
“Oh!” She gasped. Her eyes widened even further as she glanced back to him in stunned wonder. “No way.”
He’d moved forward, as she paled, her legs growing wobbly. “Marinette? Are you alright?”
Her mind felt molasses-slow, addled by the weight of disbelief. Or at least the dissipating haze of miraculous magic and the little bit of wine she’d been sipping.
Stilling, Marinette sucked in a quick breath, forcing her brain to do as she had trained for so long. She assembled the pieces, making them all fit together in a way that made sense.
Here was a black, cat-like Kwami was hovering right here in front of her: in a house with two people she knew were not her partner. Their child. And only one other person, who just so happened to be the boy that she’d never really managed to get over.
“Of course, she’s fine, kid.” The tiny cat quipped. “Do you really think Ladybug would be anything else?”
Adrien stared at the cat Kwami, stunned realization finally hitting him at once.
A torrent of emotions washed over his face, his eyes never once left hers. “My Lady?”
Her mind had already come to terms with just who Adrien had to be.
It wasn’t until his lips parted into the sweetest smile she’d ever seen, that the full weight of the implications hit her.
How was this even real? How was it that she had managed to be so lucky? That the boy she had so loved and the friend she had long mourned as lost were one in the same.
Her fingers grazed one of the earrings with a soft smile of her own.
Adrien had placed a hand at her waist, steadying her.
His simple touch burned her with its honesty, warmth suffusing the whole of her with the familiarity. As if the last decade a been a blur. As if they both had never had to leave, to cope with their forced retirement on their own.
“Hello again, Chaton.”
Zoe was awake and asking for a glass of water, so he was headed back downstairs in a hurry to get her back to sleep so they could still hang out awhile longer.
Nino grimaced as they re-entered the kitchen for a glass, only to find his two old friends as they both jumped apart guiltily. They hadn’t been gone for more than a few minutes, right?
Alya, who was right behind him, cackled. “Oh, thank God!”
Plagg chuckled. “You can thank me later.”
Adrien wheeled on his Kwami, but his hand never left Marinette’s side. “Didn’t we have this whole discussion on not revealing though?”
“That was before you brought the one you were looking for here to the house. The glow from her earrings told me all I needed to know about how to find Tikki.” Plagg crossed his tiny arms. “Besides, how long have you wanted to know, kid? Your Lady?”
Nino’s eyes found the softly glowing earrings and the pieces slowly fit together. “Huh.”
While the news was surprising, it wasn’t exactly shocking. It explained a lot about Marinette’s persistent behavior all those years ago. And considering all he knew about Adrien’s struggles, he’d imagine that Marinette had been dealing with at least a few issues that hadn’t related to Adrien’s awful father.
Marinette’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Tikki’s not exactly going to be happy with you, though.”
Plagg grinned. “Give me an unhappy Tikki any day, over a whole decade and change without her.”
Marinette snickered, scratching behind his ears. “Do you think we’ll be able to wake her up soon?”
Plagg and Adrien looked over to Nino. “What do you think, oh Guardian?”
Nino grinned. “I think something can be arranged.”
After Alya ran the glass of water up to Zoe, she had dropped into her usual chair, cooing over the Ladybug costume Marinette had handed her.
Nino was with Wayzz in the kitchen, seeing if the pair of them could unleash another round of magic to get the Ladybug Kwami freed again.
She smirked at Marinette and Adrien sat side by side on the couch, hovering a half inch apart.
They were too cute. Marinette grinned madly as Adrien gushed, awestruck over the tiniest detail. “You remembered all of this?”
Her head bobbed. “I was a little hard, but I’d had notes from years back. I’d been intending to make…well, you a present for Christmas. Not that I had ever intended to mention that I made it myself. I’d assumed we were never anywhere close and that I could convince you to only wear it whenever you were just at home.”
His fingers traced over the detail on the shoulders. “Honestly, it even feels like the outfit itself.”
Alya brushed her own fingers over the honeycombed detailing. “Adrien’s right. You really did outdo yourself on these.”
Marinette blushed, leaning into the hand Adrien had placed on her shoulder as he pulled her in for a hug. “The Ladybug one isn’t so impressive considering I wore it all that time. I had plenty of time to plan it.”
Alya smirked. “So, does it fit your measurements?”
Pink cheeks puffed out as Marinette exhaled roughly. “I’ve been making it for a while.”
Adrien’s thumb dragged across her shoulder. “Since she disappeared.”
Marinette frowned, drawing up her legs onto the couch as she nodded. “Not long after anyways. I was kind of at loose ends, and it let me still feel close, even if I couldn’t tell Tikki was still there.”
Trixx darted back into the kitchen. “Not yet.”
Nino groaned, dropping his head onto the table. His glasses sat on the counter. He didn’t really need to see if he was focusing with his eyes closed.
Wayzz frowned slightly. He could hear the moue of disappointment in his tone. “You had such luck the other evening.”
He nodded, pinching the bridge of his nose. He sighed. He had only come downstairs for a glass of water after he and Alya--.
Blinking, his head jerked up, eyes wide. Was that it? “I might…have an idea.”
Nino sighed, walking into the living room. “I hate to call it a night, but you have to be up early in the morning, Babe.”
Alya narrowed her eyes, glaring over at him. “I think I can handle getting up early.”
Marinette sighed, stretching. “It’s no trouble. I can come back over here early tomorrow. I’ve taken off work for at least a few weeks anyways.”
Alya’s frown subsided slightly as she met Nino’s eyes.
He had stopped watching her, motioning to the now awkward pair on the couch. Adrien stood up, offering her a hand up.
Smirking, Nino went to grab his jacket from the closet. “Do you need a ride back over to the hotel?”
The slow breathless look shared between Adrien and Marinette was far too sweet. Adrien broke the silence, a languorous smile lifting his lips as he’d called out for Plagg.
Laughter danced in Marinette’s eyes as he’d posed, the black Kwami blurring into the ring on his hand.
“I think I can handle getting us both back over to the hotel. You both get some sleep.”
Marinette yelped softly as the now-transformed Chat Noir picked her up, shaking her head fondly as she waved back to Nino and Alya. “I can walk, you know.”
His grin was absurd and exaggerated. “I know.”
Marinette rolled her eyes, but resignedly dropped her head against his chest.
Chat’s smile softened as Alya had beat him over to open the door. “But this way is far more fun.”
Alya chuckled as Chat Noir’s baton extended, lifting them both up to the rooftops.
Nino cuddled around her shoulders, dropping his lips to the exposed bit of her neck just beside her shoulder.
“I’m really happy for them.” Her fingers chased up to rest upon his forearms as she watched them move out of sight.
She felt his lips smirk against her neck. “I know.”
Alya cleared her throat. “I’d be even happier if I could be sure they didn’t get mired in Marinette’s rambling. Or Adrien’s obliviousness.”
Nino snickered. “Both are definitely possible. But they need to be free to make those mistakes.”
Alya sighed, looking back at her husband over her shoulder. “I know. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to worry.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else.” Nino grinned, pressing his lips to her forehead. “But I might be persuaded to distract you.”
“Oh?” Her lips curved, turning around in his arms. “Well, now. That’s an intriguing prospect.”
Ah...the writing process. Thank goodness when people you've worked with are like..."didn't this thing happen?"
And you realize that you have like 10 documents and that somehow a key scene got totally omitted from the final version?
*facepalming hard while I add like 2000 words of fic* Turns out having that many documents is a bad idea. But please enjoy the now expanded reveal scene...and the schadenfraude. :P
Chapter 15: At Last
Chat Noir rushed across the rooftops. It certainly wasn’t his top speed. It probably wasn’t even as fast as he’d gotten them to Nino and Alya’s from the hotel rooftop.
No one should really have blamed him for taking the most scenic route back to the hotel, as slowly and as gently as he could manage.
But it was fast enough to enjoy the bit of the breeze in his hair, to marvel as Marinette – his Ladybug – cuddled into him.
And if he might have possibly purred as she’d tucked her ear against his chest, who would really blame him? He’d grinned down at the glimmer in her blue eyes, dancing the knife’s edge between amazement and amusement.
He hadn’t realized just how close she’d been all along, but he’d always treasured Marinette’s friendship. He’d always admired how she would stand up for others.
He’d always been endlessly thankful for the power and the freedom that his Miraculous had granted him. The near-constant companionship he’d had in Plagg.
Chat sighed, balancing them both atop Notre Dame, staring across at the old balcony where she had grown up. He re-settled her slight weight against him as they balanced atop the steep slope.
Were it not for the power of the Miraculous hiding them from one another, they might have had years together. Years right beside their friends, watching their young daughter grow up.
Perhaps, if they had been very lucky, even watching their own children grow.
Her fingers rested atop his, bracing her own feet against the roof as well. “Are you alright?”
“I am.” Chat Noir cleared the lump in his throat. His gloved hand turned, holding her hand as gently as he could manage. Soon enough, she would have her own Miraculous powers back, and they could scramble across the skies side by side. But for now, she deserved every bit of careful handling he could muster. “For the first time in a very long while.”
Her head pounding, Marinette squinted into the dim light. The darkened ceiling loomed above.
Wincing, she lifted her head off the pillow just enough to see the half-bright light filtered in between the blinds and beneath the heavy curtain. A window that was definitely on a different side than she’d been used to.
All of it was killing her eyes and the back of her head, she slammed her eyes shut. Wine hadn’t held much appeal in some time, and the few glasses that Alya had encouraged had hit her far harder than she'd expected.
It was only then that she noticed the weight on her arm. Forcing her eyes open, she spotted the all-too-familiar blonde head leaning against the pillow beside her.
It wasn’t like she hadn’t woken up in someone else’s bed before.
She raked her hand over her face, the other hand holding her covers in place. The last time – well the last time that happened -- had been a mistake.
Drawing up the covers, Marinette exhaled as she realized that other than her shoes she was still wearing nearly everything she had on last night.
Marinette felt very close to freaking out. Her pulse raced, her palms were clammy as if fifteen was truly only days ago and not decades. But considering the blonde snuggled up beside her, perhaps that shouldn’t have been so surprising.
She picked up her phone from the nightstand, adjusting the brightness down to something her aching eyes could tolerate. Clearly, Alya was already up and far too curious.
Alya: Did you have fun last night? ;)
Alya: I saw you didn’t head straight back to the hotel.
“Not sure.” Marinette typed, frowning. “I’m just waking up, honestly.”
Alya: Sorry. I should have figured you’d both be up and talking for hours, especially since there has been at least one snapshot of Chat Noir hauling around some mysterious lady across the rooftops of Paris. The timestamp was pretty late.
Alya texted a picture. Her own face was far too blurred for detail, but Chat had mostly stayed in the shadows.
Alya: LadyNoir was real, after all, huh? Is it too soon to point out just how right I have been for years?
Marinette snorted. “Yes. Much too soon. And too early.”
Alya: Too bad. You two are adorable.
Adrien cuddled up to her, sneaking an arm around her waist to pull her that much closer back to him.
Alya: Enjoy it. I know it has been all too long in coming.
She couldn’t help but smile as she relaxed back into his arms.
Alya: Oh, Nino said to tell you he and Wayzz were going to try again later this morning, after he could get Zoe over to Maman’s house.
Her eyes widened. As much as she wanted to stay here all day, she had to jump on every chance to bring Tikki back.
Marinette wiggled her way out of his arms to go to the bathroom.
“Don’t go.” Adrien grumbled softly, an adorable pout pursing his lips.
“I have to.” She grinned, tapping him on the nose. “But I’m not going far.”
His wheat-green eyes and messy mop of blonde hair peeked out from behind the covers, as his lips softened into a smile.
A rush of warmth chased straight down to her toes.
It made her register the chill even more, when she’d chucked off the covers, padding across the hardwood floor on tiptoes.
Adrien pouted as he watched her disappear behind the door.
Unreasonable and impractical though he knew it was, he hated the thought of her leaving his sight. He’d only just found her again, and he wanted nothing more than to just be at her side.
And Marinette…surprisingly, seemed to have no issue with that. Maybe it was because they had already been friends.
As Ladybug, she had been so quick to maintain a formal distance. She was untouchable, unshakable.
Proud and protective.
Stronger than nearly everyone else he knew. Stronger than him for sure.
But Marinette had fallen asleep far faster than he had.
It only reminded him how very human the girl who’d been hiding behind the mask truly was, and it only made him fall a little deeper under her spell.
He was hoping to stay up late, talking with her. To find out all she’d been up to. To tell her of his own travels through China, digging up whatever he could – futile though it had been in succeeding – in the hopes of finding her again. About how he’d tried for years to find her, about those darker moments when he’d felt that hope was lost. When he’d found a friend to help get him through it, only to have to leave.
When he’d tried to force himself to move on, to meet other women, only to be constantly comparing them to her.
The heavier thoughts preyed on his mind in those quieter moments, but having her there in his arms dispelled them as sure as any of her Lucky Charms ever could.
A decade was an unbearable time to be so lonely. And if he’d felt that way, he was reasonably sure she might have felt that way too.
But if she was dating someone, she wouldn’t have lingered in his arms. Marinette had always said that she hated liars.
Adrien sighed, lifting the phone from its cradle to order breakfast in. He was sure she’d probably want to go back to her own room to clean up and change at least.
But if he could, he would attempt persuade her to stay at least a little longer.
“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish here, Kim.” Max Kante steepled his fingers over his desk, watching his hulking friend pacing the length of his office.
Kim popped his fist against the doorway. Not enough to damage, just enough to let the pain register. To give him something else to focus on.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Max pulled the first aid kit from his desk, chucking it over. There was never a doubt in his mind that Kim wouldn’t catch it.
“You’re worried.” Max trained his eyes on the thin strand of blood where Kim must have hit unevenly against the wooden doorframe. At least it was solid wood. It wouldn’t do to have to charge Kim to get it replaced.
“Of course, I’m worried, Max. You know how stubborn Alix is.”
Max sighed. “I do remember that quite well. But her brother is likely no better.”
“I just need to know what my options are here.” Kim paused, dabbing his knuckles with the antibiotic cream. “Don’t you need to write this down?”
“I often find that it is better not to.” Max frowned, “Especially when I don’t know what it is you really want. Or need.”
“I want to keep Alix out of trouble.” Kim’s lips pressed into a thin line. “She’s my partner – and my friend. I know how much harder she’s had to work than most anyone else on the force. And I’ll be damned if I just let her lazy brother take that away because he had to cut corners.”
“Much better.” Max nodded. “I think we can work with that. What kind of risks is Alix under?”
“If someone finds out she took evidence out of the warehouse -- and out of the station -- without proper processing?” Kim shut his eyes. “There is at least a probationary hearing and a subsequent review board. Especially considering that none of this is actually police business.”
“I really wouldn’t want to initiate any legal avenues.” Max hedged, his hands behind his back as he stood up, searching for a book. “There would be too much risk of something drawing undue attention to her. But it seems like there should be some sort of regular records review.”
“Meaning what?” Kim frowned.
“At your precinct, right? There must be some sort of regular review that occurs. If you were able to dig and find those records missing, there must be some poor intern who is stuck doing inventory.”
Kim’s eyes widened. “That’s…possible, sure.”
“So,” Max dropped the book open to a specific page, finger tracing below the line, “you point that out to Alix.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want her to kill me.” Kim flinched. “I still need to be able to work with her each day.”
“Then Alix needs an anonymous message, pointing out the risks if the materials aren’t turned back in before anyone else should discover them missing.”
“She will fight for her career on her own.”
“I have no doubt of that.”
“Good,” Max grinned. “Because I’m going to need you to do some boring homework for me on your operating procedures.”
Kim groaned as he sat back in his chair. The only way he could possibly dodge her within the office without her growing suspicious, would be to go in when he was sure she wouldn’t be there.
Alix was always careful. As a police officer, she learned early on to take extra measures to have her phone number and address unlisted. She could never be entirely sure if someone she’d locked away might get it into their head to seek revenge. She had a doorman at her building. She’d kept her service weapon on her nightstand, close at hand.
So when an anonymous letter slid under the door of her apartment as she’d slept, she was – quite rationally – freaked out. She hadn’t even noticed it until after she’d come back from the kitchen with a bowl of cereal, to catch up on a show she’d been following.
Gritting her teeth and slipping on a pair of rubber gloves, she pried open the envelope methodically to reveal the message, she was no less unsettled.
An older style typewriter on a far-too-common paper stock, would make it all too challenging to track the source, not without help from the Police department.
But the text of the letter would make that entirely impossible. It noted the return of the evidence into holding, before a regular inspection was scheduled in two weeks. It wasn’t a threat: it was a warning.
She’d sprinted back to her room and dressed.
Jalil had been nothing but stubborn, but now she needed to hold his feet to the fire.
She knew very well that every single item that needed to be back in there. She even made a point to copy the scanned files and the hard copies of the inventory sheets.
Everything last scrap of paper had better be there, or Jalil would feel every bit of pain she could dish out.
Everything she’d ever worked for depended upon it.
Jalil had been in such a good mood. Alya Lahiffe had just come in and showed off the costumes for the exhibit. Everything was slowly coming together, and even his research for the exhibit text was near to completion.
He hadn’t been expecting the force of nature that was his little sister. Her temper was no surprise, but the force of it for such a simple request shocked him.
Alix’s slapped a sheet of paper on his desk and stood up to her most intimidating height. Arms crossed over her chest she scowled at him.
Jalil frowned. “What’s this?”
Her lips screwed up, brows furrowed. “If you don’t get me back that box – and I mean every scrap of paper – by the weekend, it’s very likely the end of my career.” Arms crossed over her chest she scowled at him. “All because you couldn’t be patient enough to wait for the usual process.”
Jalil gaped. He never would have pressed so hard if he knew that it meant so much was at stake.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he already started to move about the office to collect the materials. Adrien had done a full inventory earlier in the week; he hadn’t been present for the whole of it, but his erstwhile partner had been extremely competent. “If it was in the box before, it would be there when it left.
Alix pressed an inventory list into his hands. “It better be.”
Chapter 16: Keeping Up With the Kubdels
This title is why all the chapters have titles. I regret nothing.
From the moment his sister had left, he’d spent hours up-ending the whole of the office, tracking each discrete document. The usual lunch hour had passed as he searched tirelessly.
The lists she’d lent had been convenient. Nearly every document – except those he had been actively using for research – was back in its neatly labeled folder.
But the tangible evidence, that would be noticed much more readily. There was a slim jade bracelet missing. He hadn’t quite gotten through the whole of the list, but that was a concern.
Alix was sure to check what any common fool might be scanning for first. She’d spent way too long in her job, paying attention to how people were likely to behave to do otherwise.
Jalil dragged his fingers through his hair, as he slumped on the floor beside the desk. He was far too old to be crawling around under his desk, hoping to find something that slipped between the cracks.
It didn’t mean that he’d come up empty-handed. He’d found a dark oval jewel that must have come from another collection. It must have gotten dropped in the shuffle of the usual handling. He frowned, knowing he was usually far more careful with that sort of thing. He thrust it into his pocket to figure out where it ought to go later, after he’d gotten everything back to Alix.
But he still hadn’t found what he was looking for.
Had someone else been in this office?
When confronted, Pierre confirmed that there were others in his office several days ago -- and that Adrien Agreste had escorted them out.
Jalil scowled back at the empty hallway.
“Does this have something to do with Miss Alix?” The old guard even sounded concerned. “She looked quite worried when she left earlier.”
Jalil’s lips pressed into a thin line, his fingers tracing over the smooth surface. “She’ll be alright soon enough.”
Marinette was curled up on the couch in Adrien’s hotel suite, her head drooping onto his shoulder. His arm wrapped around her back, tugging her closer as a superhero movie played on the screen in front of them.
Her lips quirked as she half paid attention to the story. The story was absurd, but no weirder than what they both had been through.
To be honest, she was more focused on being cuddled up beside him, marveling that this day had ever come. All of it, oddly, felt familiar. Even the painting on the wall struck a chord with her, although her memory was failing to place it. It just left her with the strongest sense like she had come home, even though she'd definitely never spent a night in the hotel when she'd been younger.
After breakfast, they had spent hours – just talking – trying to understand as much about each other as they could. Even if time didn’t make either one of them appear much changed, life had very much changed for them both.
The food – and the conversation – was heavy, and neither one of them seemed inclined to move.
There just had been so much that could have gone wrong.
Her erstwhile fiancé. The years spent spent evading his father and keeping him from settling down properly and forgetting her forever. She wanted to hope that even if Tikki couldn’t come out herself, that she had still been granting her a little luck. Just enough to bring them both back to each other again.
At least in her own case, they had barely begun to scratch the surface of the past decade. But at least now, they had all the time in the world to play catch up.
Marinette gasped as her earrings began to warm slightly.
“What is it?” His golden brow arched, green eyes turned down to her.
A ghost of a frown crossed her lips as the earrings cooled again.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She murmured, smiling up at him. Her arm draped across his chest to hug him a little tighter. “Just thinking about how lucky we are.”
Jalil tried to confront Adrien by phone, but the infernal man refused to pick up or to respond to a text.
Nothing frustrated Jalil more than being lied to. Alix, for as much as she relished in being a thorn in his side while growing up, was nothing if not truthful. Perhaps she didn’t have a filter, but she always told you what you needed to hear.
But theft? In this business, it was purely unforgivable. Jalil’s hands balled into fists shoving his own neatly stacked pile of notes off his desk and onto the floor with a satisfying whump. His fists slammed against the desk, sending a few pieces from the box onto the floor as well.
Paling, Jalil scrambled to recover them. The last thing he needed was for something to have broken as well.
He hadn’t even realized he’d managed to knock the cross-shaped jewel from his pocket until he saw it, inky black against the pile of white papers.
Jalil picked it back up, fascinated as it grew warm in his hand.
Alya tapped her foot on the floor, puzzling over the next best lead to chase down. This story was going nowhere fast, and she was getting dangerously close to having to press for a new assignment to fill the space in the meantime.
She sighed as her cell lit up with the familiar call notification.
“Hey, stranger.” Her lips curved, voice dropping half an octave. “Haven’t heard from you in a while.”
Nino chuckled. “Wayzz and I are pretty sure that Marinette should be able to transform now. I just can’t reach either her or Adrien.”
Alya snorted. She hadn’t heard back from Marinette in hours now. “And why, my dear, do you suppose that might be?”
“I don’t think Adrien would be the type to push.” Nino mused. “Especially not after so long apart.”
Sighing, Alya pushed her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose to rest more comfortably. “That’s true. He was always the gentleman. And Marinette did have a fiancé – even if he was a tool who bailed on her when things got rough.”
Nino was silent. “Adrien himself had been really quiet, too.”
Slumping back in her chair, Alya grumbled. “So we set them up on a nice, little date. One of our favorite restaurants, maybe. Just to get them talking, so they both can finally move forward.”
“That would be great,” he agreed, “provided we could get one of them to answer their phones.”
She shook her head. “Or we try the older school approach.”
She smirked. “That’s where we bet which room they’re both hanging out in.”
Marinette sighed. The first meal that had wheeled up into Adrien’s suite had been lovely. They didn’t have to go anywhere, they could just lounge, cuddled together on the couch or the bed, finishing up a meal.
And it had been lovely to catch up, even if they had mostly been dodging all of the tougher topics for the moment. Her own doubts kept getting in the way, leaving her more than content to just enjoy these stolen moments.
If Alya were there right now, she’d truly never hear the end of it. It was still too new and far, far too precious to her. She didn’t dare put one foot wrong.
They would get there, but for the moment, her partner was unfailingly sweet.
She didn’t want to rush in and ruin things. Not after so long, not with so much baggage and doubt brimming just under the surface.
Even with all the miles apart, they both had strikingly similar taste in music and movies.
Although her own love of ridiculous, pun-filled comedies had come from a place of grief, from missing her ridiculously endearing partner.
They had fallen into the second absurd action adventure rom-com movie in a row, when Adrien had scoffed, donning Chat’s overbearing grin to assure her that he could come up with better lines on the fly.
Smirking, Marinette leaned into him, ruffling her fingers through his still-long locks. “Sure you could, Chaton.”
“You doubt me, my Lady?” Green eyes locking with hers, making her heart lurch.
Her fingers lingered at his scalp, neither one of them making the slightest move to pull away.
She bit her lip, battling to keep her breathing even. Her hand slipping to his shoulder. “I don’t doubt your bad sense of humor.”
He chuckled, drawing even closer. His eyes pleading her to move away if she had even the slightest doubt.
The loud bang on the door was jarring, sending them both jumping guiltily apart, like the children they had once been.
Marinette exhaled, leaning back into the couch as Adrien jumped up to get the door.
It came in handy when the breakfast was followed up with a complimentary lunch as well.
It seemed that Chloe – now running her Father’s hotel properties -- had just returned from business travel herself – and had sent up room service to Adrien’s room gratis, seeing his name on the hotel register.
Although it had been sweet of her to send Adrien up the meal, it was definitely like Chloe knew Marinette was in here too.
Her timing was just a little too perfect.
Marinette massaged the bridge of her nose, fending off a headache.
It was a good thing she’d saved up her eye rolling.
Adrien sighed, bringing another forkful of salad up to his mouth. He couldn’t believe they had come so painfully close to kissing.
Unless he had misread the whole interaction. And frankly, it was possible. He had spent more than half of his life wanting no one else more than he had wanted her.
Frowning, he set his fork down on the coffee table. He could tell something was wrong, something that she was avoiding and that he didn’t want to push. He was happy enough that Marinette wanted to stay close to him.
As much as he loved to run the rooftops with her as Ladybug, there was a very decided appeal in being cuddled up to her on the couch as they ate lunch.
Just lingering beside her, when she’d seemed so impossibly far, for so long, had left a soft smile on his face that would not be deterred.
But he couldn’t help but notice how she was watching him, a rueful smile on her lips as they both were half paying attention to the movie.
His own lips curved up, as he set his hand over hers.
The movie wasn’t that well written anyways.
Tapping her fingers on the desktop, Alya held the phone to her ear. “Marinette?”
“Yeah?” Marinette had coughed. “What’s up, Alya?”
Alya grinned as she heard the very distinct sound of Adrien’s chuckle in the background. “I just wanted to confirm the dinner plans with you. We were thinking about 6:30, but there’s still time to push it later if we need to.”
The conversation was muffled on the other end -- but only briefly. The speaker came on as Adrien’s voice carried over the line. “That should be okay with both of us.”
“Great!’ Alya smiled, spinning victoriously in her chair. “Oh, and Nino said you should try to get the miraculous to work. We’ve both been trying to call and text with no luck.”
Marinette shouted in the background. “Spots on!”
The silence followed was all the answer she needed.
Alya sighed. “I guess I’ll let Nino know he’s got to try again later. But we’ll see you both for dinner.”
Scowling out into the hallway, Jalil shuttered the whole of his office, locking the office door behind him. He tugged a key from the chain at his neck, clicking into a locked drawer to take the slim notebook out from his desk.
He had found every sheet of paper and every piece – save for one. He’d sent a whole batch of messages to Adrien without a single answer. For the moment, he had little more he could do but wait.
Which meant, he had more than enough time to puzzle out where this dark little stone had come from.
The fact that anything had gone missing was troubling. But the fact that something else was misplaced?
That left him outright anxious, whispering not-so-quiet doubts into his mind. He wondered who else on the staff might be angling to go through his research and undermine him.
He had barely even noticed when those doubts grew louder, the voice clearer. And quite a bit higher than his own. “They probably did take it, you know?”
A cool chill chased down the back of his neck. Nervously, he shut the book, palming the stone in his hand. “Who’s there?”
“You didn’t really think anyone would stay to help you, did you, Jalil?”
Jalil blinked, searching the room, but there was clearly no one there. His thumb rubbed across the smooth surface of the stone to calm himself.
“But I can help you get it back.” The voice whispered, guilelessly. “Your little sister wouldn’t have to suffer.”
“But who are you?”
The voice giggled, soft laughter tinkling merrily through the air. “A friend. If you let me be.”
Chapter 17: A Devil's Bargain
“With my help, you can get it back so easily. No need to wait for phone calls. No need to hope no one will steal your research.”
Jalil looked up at the clock, digits glowing green in the dim light. There was no doubt in his mind that the voice was right; there was no better option quite so sure to keep Alix safe. But the disembodied voice was giving him doubts of his own sanity. Was he getting too paranoid?
Jalil squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. “Why would you help me?”
The purple butterfly widened his eyes, trembling. “Why wouldn’t I help you? I have been trapped away in that jewel for years with the remnants of the last Akuma that wasn’t purified before the last battle ended. If not for you, I might have been in there for fifteen more, quite easily.” .
He blinked. That made a surprising amount of sense. “What would I have to do?”
“It’s very simple,” the deceptively sweet voice grew closer, hovering over his shoulder. “You simply need to say ‘Transform me’.”
His eyes widened, taking in the mesmerizing soft purple light in the haze. “You’re a miraculous.”
The tiny purple Kwami bowed. “You are correct.”
Jalil looked down at the stone in his hand, violet striking through the dark stone. But this wasn’t in the inventory list that Alix brought. It must have been something his Père had held onto.
Had Père even known what had been stashed away up in the attic?
“I am Noroo, Master.”
“Master?” Jalil blinked.
“Indeed.” Noroo bowed. “Provided you wish for my assistance with your trouble.”
“Is it really necessary?”
The soft purple eyes blinked. “Perhaps not. But I did not believe your sister could afford to wait. Was that not what you were whispering about earlier?”
Jalil grimaced, his fingers gripping the edge of his chair until the knuckles turned white. His mind was racing.
He felt as if he was being offered the devil’s bargain, but it was an offer he was truly in no position to refuse. But he refused to go into this mess blind.
“If you are here, are there any other Miraculous around, too?”
“I am only one of many, Master.” Noroo’s head bowed. “We each are bound to a jewel, imbued with the powers that contain us and connect us to our holders.”
Jaw clenched, Jalil asked the one question he was afraid he already knew the answer. “These other jewels…was one of them a jade turtle?”
Noroo’s lips turned. “Yes, of course.”
Alya finished out the article with hardly five minutes to spare before her deadline to her editor. But the carrot on the stick of seeing her awkward friends finally, awkwardly get together after the universe totally got in their way was extremely effective.
She’d been out the door as soon as she’d hit send, texting with Nino on the ride home on the Metro.
Nino: Zoe’s already had dinner. Going to run her over to my parent’s house.
Alya grinned. That darling man. As much as she’d loved to see him as a superhero, the dark green heavy armor covering his broad chest, it was the little bits of domestic consideration that actually had her swooning these days.
Alya: Sounds great. I need to shower before we head out.
She blinked as the messenger app showed Nino was clearly typing a lot. It took a few minutes, but he’d finally sent only three words.
Nino: Wait for me.
Quirking a brow, Alya busied herself with getting ready. She laid her outfit out on the dresser, her makeup set up. The reservations were confirmed.
She wasn’t sure what it was about all of his hero training that had gotten him to be quite so amourous lately, but she wasn’t about to complain.
Marinette and Adrien had parted just half an hour ago, albeit reluctantly, so each could have a bit of time and space to get ready. She’d grabbed a shower and laid out her clothes on the bed in front of her.
But she was already missing him. She knew she was being ridiculous, but right now she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Marinette frowned as she considered the possibilities.
She’d at least had the forethought to send out her clothes to be dry cleaned as most of her bag had yet to be washed from her last trip. Her best outfit, hands down, was the one she’d worn up on the catwalk.
And without a doubt, she loved it. It hugged her hips perfectly, leaving her just as comfortable and confident as Tikki had ever helped her become – even if she wasn’t exactly fit to tackle Akuma.
Adrien, on the other hand, presented some very interesting possibilities.
She nibbled at the inside of her cheek. Without the mask, it was a little on the nose. She wrinkled her nose, pulling her bag to pieces to see what she’d have the flexibility to switch out with such short notice. There definitely wasn’t enough time to run out to the store.
She was still switching out her options in front of the mirror when Alya called.
“Are we still on to meet up at 6:30?”
“That’s the plan,” Alya assured. “I’m just waiting for Nino to get back from dropping off Zoe. I think he was going to try to sit down with Wayzz again before we headed out, but I can’t really be sure.”
Marinette smiled. “Tell him I appreciate it. But it isn’t worth stressing out over. I’m just happy enough knowing that I can get her back fairly soon.”
Alya chuckled. “Are you sure you’re not just fine with waiting just so a certain overgrown kitten will whisk you across the rooftops in his arms?”
A rosy blush stained her cheeks as she fought to keep from voicing the very clear fact that he was anything but a kitten, but she wasn’t about to deny the other half. Belatedly, she snorted. “I’m not sure this outfit is the best for traipsing over the rooftops.”
“Well, I suppose this is your first formal date with him, isn’t it?” Alya voice softened. “Unless you wanted to count your day long movie marathon.”
“It’s the weirdest thing, Alya.” Marinette’s nose wrinkled. “Maybe it is because we were partners for so long, but it feels like it did when I was with Eric.”
Alya grew silent at that. “You mean that easier feeling?”
“Yeah,” Marinette confirmed. “If anything, this almost feels easier and more comfortable. Even just cuddled up on the couch, it was like he’d only move into the most comfortable positions.”
“Good,” Alya hummed. “For a second, I was a bit worried that you were feeling guilty.”
“Honestly, I am a little bit. He all but said that he hadn’t had much time or interest in dating other people, especially with the way he had to keep moving around to avoid his father.” She paced the small, open bit of space between the bed and the bathroom. “I did mention I had been engaged, and that it just hadn’t worked out. But the way his face fell when I said it nearly gutted me.”
Alya sighed. “It’s alright to feel a little guilty, you know. But I would bet that he was more worried that he might truly have lost you to someone else before he’d managed to find you again.”
She closed her eyes, leaning back against the wall. “I just shouldn’t have let it drag on as long as I did.”
“It wasn’t like you weren’t hearing the ‘You should settle down’ chorus.” Alya snorted. “You did the right thing for the time, Marinette. And you never really lied about your feelings to either of them.”
“Don’t thank me, lady.” Alya admonished. “Get yourself together and smooch that boy. Cuddling is well and good, but I half expected to hear something at least mildly scandalous.”
Marinette snorted without hesitation.
“Adrien has been half in love with you for just about as long as you’ve been in love with him.”
“Except that our masks always got in our way.”
“Of course they did,” Alya assured. “But you’re not fighting against them anymore.”
Nino grinned as he trudged back inside the house, tossing his keys on the counter.
Wayzz and Trixx were busy eating in the kitchen. Wayzz had wanted to keep close proximity to him, but at least Trixx seemed to be a little bit more aware of when privacy was a helpful thing. The fox Kwami was camped out at the table, with a tiny deck of cards keeping Wayzz busy with a few games of chance.
He strongly suspected that Trixx was using her powers to skew the odds in her favor. But considering that Wayzz was far quieter around her than he was around himself, Nino was wondering if the little turtle was nursing a tiny bit of a crush. He’d been smiling quietly, sipping the tiny thimble-full of tea as Trixx joyously scampered and danced around on the table after she lay down a winning hand.
Certain that both Kwami were otherwise occupied, he took the steps two at a time. He was a man on a mission.
Alya smirked as the door creaked open, setting her glasses down on the dresser. She had only just hung up the phone as he’d walked upstairs.
Stealthy her husband was not. Certainly not as his arms wrapped around her, his lips chasing a languorous trail of kisses up the pulse of her neck to the curve of her jaw. The light scrape of stubble grazing the softer skin in their wake.
Lifting herself up onto her toes to allow him easier access, Alya wasn’t sure what was prompting his sudden, very amorous behavior. But she wasn’t about to complain.
She was, however, more likely to get all the information out of the way so they could enjoy the stolen moment alone. “We have about an hour before we really need to get ready.”
“Not enough time,” Nino groaned against her lips.
She chuckled into his ear, tugging his glasses off his face as he lifted her up a little in his arms. “Not enough time for what? It isn’t like we’re not going to come back home after dinner.”
He sighed, curling up next to her on the bed as his fingers wound into her hair. “I just think Marinette would love to have her powers back sooner.”
“Wait.” Alya blinked, propping up her head to level him with a wary eye. “What does this have to do with Marinette’s powers?”
He dragged his hand over his face. “Promise not to get mad?”
“Why would I be mad?” Alya narrowed her eyes. “You just said you’re trying to get Marinette her powers back.”
“Right,” he murmured, his fingers tugging up her shirt to trace absent patterns on her half-exposed belly. “It’s just that the conventional meditation wasn’t working out so well.”
“Okay,” Alya nodded. “I remember you having some trouble the first day or two.”
His chocolate brown eyes locked with hers, meaningfully. “I struggled right up until your…pep talk.”
Her lips quirked, perversely proud as she pieced together the timeline. It was her personal brand of own magic that had proven far more effective at helping him relax to the more appropriate levels. “And then Chat Noir showed up for his exclusive not long after.”
The adorable darker blush that popped onto his cheeks never failed to be endearing. “Wayzz was a little bit…confounded by this technique style. And considering he’d been working with monks for a while, I think I’m going to let him be as ignorant of the details of the process as I can.”
“For a being so ancient, he’s adorably naïve.”
Nino shook his head. “And he can stay that way, honestly.”
Her grin widened, as she closed the distance between them resting her forehead to his. “So what I am hearing is that we have to make love for the sake of humanity."
He smiled softly, pressing his lips to her nose. "Yep."
She sighed dramatically. "Well, I suppose, if it is for the greater good."
"It most definitely is." Nino chuckled as his fingers made swift work of the buttons on her blouse. "So, you’re telling me you want me to make this a miraculous experience?"
Alya snorted. Her husband clearly had been spending too long with his old friend. Her grin turned a bit feral, as she moved to help him out of his pants. And what better way than to see them both distracted. "You bet your ass I do."
Adrien adjusted his tie as he got ready. His hair was neatly in place, and he’d chosen a classic black suit. His height hadn’t changed much over the years, so he still had some of the well-tailored suits from his past modelling life.
Plagg was in the other room, devouring the better part of the Camembert he had stashed away. Thankfully, that meant that he wasn’t going to get hassled for a bit as he fretted and fussed about his appearance. It might not mean much to his cantankerous old Kwami, but Marinette had spent years in the fashion industry and her taste had always been stellar.
He wanted everything to go perfectly.
It wasn’t every day that you got to date your first love. His only real love at that.
His shoulders slumped as he rushed out of the bathroom. He was an adult – in terms of sheer age even if he didn’t look it. When was Plagg ever going to acknowledge that.
Plagg must have turned on the TV while he’d been in the bathroom.
“Kid, we’ve got trouble.”
Marinette had finished with her eye makeup and was only just getting to her lips when someone started pounding on her door.
She frowned, grabbing the lip gloss first to apply a hasty coating as she rushed to the door.
“Adrien?” Her eyes widened at the sight of the familiar blonde through the peephole. He was a little breathless from a sprint. Quickly, she’d opened the door. “What’s the matter?”
“Have you seen the news--?”
Marinette blinked as she closed the door behind him. She had been a little occupied with getting ready. Frowning, she sped to the desk to pick up the remote control and bring up the local news.
“Officials are reporting a full electrical malfunction at the Museum. It has been about an hour since anyone has been able to communicate with anyone the inside of the museum, including a fair number of patrons.”
Her eyes darted over to him. Something about this was clearly off, or he wouldn’t have come rushing over.
It was only then that she’d noticed his jaw had dropped, but his eyes were not on the screen at all.
Blinking, she looked down at her outfit. Nothing looked out of place. “What’s going on?”
“It was you?” He beamed, a light blush coloring his cheeks.
“What was me?”
“Up on the Catwalk, I mean.” Adrien cleared his throat, as he closed the short distance between them. “I knew you were designing, but I didn’t think you were modelling, too.”
She blushed, her eyes flitting back over to the TV against the weight of his regard. “It was a fluke. My model was ill on the day of the show, and I knew just how close the measurements were to me. Besides, I knew I had masks for all the outfits, so I could avoid too much attention.”
“That’s what brought me back to Paris, you know.” When she’d dared to look back over at him, Adrien’s lips were parted, amazement leaving his wheat-grass eyes wide and dark. “I recognized that girl. That silhouette. And I couldn’t help but return.”
Marinette inhaled sharply, as his eyes scanned over every detail. His hands lingered on her arms, her shoulders, as he took in the piece.
“--The door auto-locks were on. Whatever has happened inside has also cut out access to the few remaining landlines—“
They both sighed, their eyes still locked on one another’s as the reality of the news cut in.
He shrugged. “I’m not sure what else it could be that would shut off only one building.”
“It’s possible that it might be some sort of criminal or a heist, I suppose.” Marinette frowned. “But not while people are still in the museum.”
“Yeah,” Adrien murmured. “That was odd. It just didn’t feel right to me, so I came running to find you.”
She smiled, offering her hand. “Want to go check it out?”
His grin was purely Chat Noir. It was a wonder to her that she might ever have thought otherwise. “I thought you’d never ask, my Lady.”
Chat Noir tried desperately not to blush as he’d raced across the rooftops, carrying Marinette in that Ladybug pantsuit. It was uncanny how close she’d gotten it to the real deal, playing with the texture of the jacket, the form fitting pants. The only real hint of difference had come from the heeled half boots on her feet and the lack of a mask to hide her face.
Not to even mention, the soft fall of her hair out of the pigtails that she’d worn as a girl. It had only been a few inches shorter than she must have kept it all those years ago. The wind sent it whipping behind them, her fingers quick to drop her firm hold around his shoulder to clear it from her eyes as he jumped from building to building.
It was proof enough that she’d missed their time together saving Paris just as much as he had, and she’d been about to wear it out with him on their date.
He frowned as she held her phone up to her body, an earpiece in place as she’d phoned Alya.
As lovely as it was, it wouldn’t keep her safe.
Alya sighed, as she grabbed her phone from the nightstand.
She might be able to ignore it vibrating once or twice, especially while very actively being distracted. Zoe was safe staying with her in-laws for a night of watching movies, so nothing should be an emergency.
But a third time?
She cuddled back into Nino, who wrapped his arm around her.
“What’s up, Marinette?”
“We’ve kind of got a situation here.”
Alya frowned as her eyes met Nino’s. There was a lot of background noise. “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” Marinette’s voice had grown a bit quiet. “We’re kind of hoping we are wrong, but there might be an Akuma over at the Museum.”
Alya shot up in the bed. “How would that even be possible?”
“We can’t be sure. But if Chat Noir has his powers back, it’s possible that Hawkmoth might have found some way to get his back as well.” Her sigh registered over the line. “Is Nino around? I was kind of hoping he might be able to try his incantation to get my powers back now.”
Alya laughed. She wasn’t entirely sure what else to do. “Oh my god. Was this what it was like for you?”
“What?” Chat Noir laughed over the speaker. “The constant interruptions?”
“Oh,” Marinette chuckled wearily. “All the time.”
Alya facepalmed. “My God. No wonder neither of you managed to make out with each other. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
Nino groaned, slipping out of the bed to put his pants on. “Let me go and get Wayzz.”
Chat Noir was studiously avoiding Marinette’s eyes. If it was as obvious to him that they’d only just managed to avoid some very private time between their friends, it had to be clear to her, too.
Considering he wanted nothing more than to have much the same with the woman in his arms, he was only just fighting off the warmth from taking over the whole of his face.
But this was his Lady, and he knew just how seriously she took on her role as Ladybug – outfit or no outfit.
He set her on the roof just outside the museum to knock a hole through the doors, scanning across the way for an easy entry point into the museum.
“No dice, Chaton.” She’d frowned. The police had already roped off a wide perimeter. “I need to be inside with you.”
“I really don’t want you to be in there with me without your suit.”
“Even without the suit, I still have my mind. Remember when we both fought Evilustrator?” She pressed her finger against his nose. “Besides, I’d have no way to communicate with you from here. If this is an Akuma, you might well need me to help figure out how to take it out.”
Time might have passed, but she had not lost one ounce of the drive to keep everyone safe. Her hands clenched in fists at her hips, daring him to contradict her – especially in that suit.
His tongue snuck out, sweeping across his lips as he weighed his options.
“Alright.” He pouted, picking her back up into his arms. “But you’ve got to promise to stay out of sight.”
Static crackled from the radio on the Akuma’s belt. The slightest of crackles sparkling in the near darkness.
Chat Noir had sprinted forward into the back half of the room, unhampered by the darkness. Luckily, the Akuma didn’t seem to be as well adjusted to it as he was.
Frowning, he could spot a few people, lying still on the floor.
He was tempted to stoop down and check for himself until he felt her arm on his. With all possible quiet, she’d beat him to it, looking up with the smile as she’d confirmed they were all okay.
He’d pressed his lips to her forehead, beseeching her silently to understand and get herself clear. It was only a matter of time until they’d lost the element of surprise.
It was only after Marinette moved to the wall to guide herself along in the darkness, that he dared to breathe. He didn’t like Marinette being so close without the protection of her suit. He’d always worried enough about her when he knew she was able to protect herself.
But he was already far too out of practice for his own comfort, and neither one of them could afford a single misstep.
Teeth clenched, Chat Noir gave the Akuma a very wide berth, slowly drawing closer. He was unsure if the Akuma’s powers might shut down his baton.
This appeared to be one of the elder Guards from the museum, if the bushy, white mustache on his face was any indication.
“Come down, Chat Noir. I’d just like to Chat.”
“That’s a shocking prospect.” He grinned. Trust one of the older men to know the true value of a well-timed pun. “But I can hear you well enough from up here.”
“Ah, but I cannot help the little Miss with you quite so far away?” The whirl of a baton parted the air with a softly repeating whirr. He could only just make out the dark object.
The Little Miss? He flinched, eyes darting over to where Marinette must have ducked behind an exhibit. He needed to stall for time. “And just how do you plan to help her?”
“By taking your Miraculous.”
“Well, that’s the trouble,” Chat Noir grinned. “I’m kind of attached to it.”
Marinette ducked around the edge of the wooden exhibit case. Chat Noir had been busy dodging and weaving around the prone patrons and the glass exhibits, punning all the while.
She swallowed a delirious chuckle. If she didn’t know any better, she’d swear he must have spent just as long researching puns as he had the history of the Miraculous.
But he had to be getting tired. He had already had to have Plagg recharge once, after they’d broken in through the rooftop door.
Biting her lip, she stared down at her fully dark cellphone. It must have shorted out of contact shortly after they both had come inside. Now there was no telling when – or if – Alya and Nino would arrive. And if they could figure out the route in they both took. Could either of them even fly? Or scramble along the rooftops?
She peeked back around. Not that she was able to hear much, but she was looking for any hints that might shed some light on Chat’s location. He was being strategically quiet, searching for a better access point to get the drop on the guard.
Marinette’s brows furrowed. She wasn’t fond of that approach, as it usually fell near the end of their favorite rotation. She didn’t want him to be doing that. Not without knowing how close the others were. Not without her own powers back in the mix.
She didn’t even notice when her earrings finally started to glow, until they drew the attention of the guard.
That was the only notice she’d had before Chat made a rolling dive towards her, the heat of the electric shock wave passing much too close to her face.
Chat Noir was addled, sprawling across the floor beside her. But had covered her from the effects of the blast. His baton had long since shorted out, but it had been thrown at the Guard in the heat of the moment.
The Akuma was still down, groaning on the floor himself.
Marinette was too busy hefting Chat Noir’s mostly limp form off her that she’d almost missed at the faded, high pitched whisper.
“No time to catch up right now, Tikki.” She smiled, as she dusted off her red spotted jacket. “I need your help again.”
Tikki nodded, blue eyes glowing slightly in the darkness.
Chat Noir’s glowing, green eyes widened as she transformed right before his eyes.
Beaming, she helped him up, fascinated by the rapid shift of emotions playing out in his too expressive cat-eyes.
Ladybug and Chat Noir fell into a very old dance, dodging and weaving their way around to spin the Akuma in confused circles. They fell into the familiar patterns quickly, although the rhythm was not without interruption.
The Old Guard Akuma sent a stanchion flying, knocking Chat Noir into Ladybug.
“Well,” his infectious grin was rife with mischief, as he was a few seconds slower than necessary to pull himself off her. “There are worse people to be sbuggled up with, My Lady.”
She’d snorted, pushing him upward.
When they both were back on their feet, he hovered right at her side, as if the passage of time and distance had never occurred.
Chat was watching her carefully in between fending off attacks. The Lucky Charm was out -- a blanket -- but she hadn’t spotted the connection yet.
And there was no telling if Alya and Nino could even get inside. They had to assume they were on their own.
For all that it had to be a little old man under the spell, the Akuma was very adept at knocking them around. He had been reticent to hit back until the rogue had gone after Marinette.
Then the gloves were off. But even he could only go for so long. He could feel Plagg wearing down far more quickly than he’d remembered.
“Ugh. I could do with a better knock absorber, here.” Chat Noir, even as he dusted himself off from a rather solid knock back into the Museum wall.
“Really, Chat?” Ladybug groaned at the puns. “Now?”
He chuckled darkly, flexing his claws to prepare for the next onslaught. “Battle time is the only time there ever was.”
She huffed, kicking his baton across the floor to him. “Would it kill you to be a little more serious when battles are happening?”
“I’ve been far too serious for far too long.” He stooped to pick it back up. “I might tease, but I am always serious where you are concerned, my Lady. You should know that by now.”
The Akuma’s baton sliced through the air between them. “If you two are about done flirting…”
Ladybug spluttered adorably, fighting off the urge to blush as red as her suit.
He’d smiled himself as he saw too clearly just how much she’d failed in that battle to hide it.
It had taken the police a little while to be convinced to break into the lower level, but Rena Rouge had eventually been successful at persuading them.
Carapace had been perversely proud of how quickly Alya and Trixx had been able to work together. Not the least of which was because he was reasonably sure that her visions had turned the tide, because his explanations had definitely not been inspiring help from the less than pleasant police lieutenant.
Once they had gotten safely inside, they stuck to the back walls, heading nonsensically towards the hiss of electricity and the solid thud of something colliding with walls.
He exhaled sharply. Running headlong into danger wasn’t anything new to Alya. She had been quick enough to do it when she was younger, where he had spent much of his time when they were younger having to mostly run the other way.
Having powers was a relief, but it wasn’t foolproof.
Ill at ease, he met her eyes with a growing sense of doubt as they floundered down the steps in the darkness.
It just gave voice to the growing chain of worries. As new to this as they both were, would they even be able to do enough to help?
Carapace hated that he wanted nothing more than to keep her far from the action, when he knew she wanted nothing more than to be in the thick of it. He adjusted his hood, trying to focus better on the darkening abyss in front of them. But he couldn’t help but worry. This was his first time truly in battle and he was terrified, afraid he might not be able to do enough to protect her. How would he be able function if something happened to her?
What would their kiddo do without her? Or God forbid without them both?
How would he live with himself if he didn’t do everything he could to keep them all safe?
She must have sensed his fear, because her hand reached out to clasp his.
He smiled down at her, bringing her hand up to his chest. Just having her his close was already having a calming effect on him.
By the time they both reached Chat Noir and Ladybug, he’d had enough presence of mind to silently beg for Wayzz his help, as he threw up his shield to block the oncoming attack.
She’d heard her husband groan before she saw his shield start to buckle under the pressure. “Get it together please. This is still too new for me to be sure I can cover you for long.”
With a long-suffering sigh, Rena tried to use the visions to distract, but she was still too new to her powers, and Nino’s shield wouldn’t really let her get close enough.
Ladybug turned back to her. “Can you do that again?”
“The vision thing.” Chat Noir whispered, his hands gripping his knees as he breathed heavily.
“If we can distract him and use Chat’s belt to knock the radio from his hand, I think I can clean this up.”
Rena Rouge nodded, closing her eyes. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Carapace, can you keep her safe?”
“You don’t even have to ask that.”
Chat nodded. “I just want to get us all through this. And My Lady will definitely be keeping me occupied.” Chat tossed his old friend a saucy wink.
Carapace just groaned, positioning himself in front of Alya as she focused her powers.
She had dropped the polka-dotted blanket on top of the Akuma’s head as the Rena’s vision set in.
Ladybug attempted to hit him with the yo-yo, but the shock still travelled back to her along the not just fabric string, zapping her slightly. She’d yelped.
Chat looked her way, nearly getting hit by the next shockwave himself. “You alright, My Lady?”
She frowned. It was clear his suit had absorbed the brunt of it, even if hers had not. “Keep on your toes, Chaton. I’ll be fine.”
Frowning, Chat let loose cataclysm, sending one of the larger exhibits into a pile of rubble they could safely hide behind.
In no time, Ladybug had Chat’s tail off, attached to his otherwise non-functional baton, to fish the radio out from the Akuma’s belt. Rena had ramped up the visions she was sending his way to keep him distracted while they worked.
Carapace stood at the ready, shielding them all through the last few stray bolts of electrical charge the old guard had sent flying.
Once the radio was on the ground, Chat hit it with the belt looped baton, smashing and cracking it into pieces as Ladybug captured and cleansed the Akuma.
Jalil scowled in the dark as the white butterfly returned to him.
This wouldn’t do.
Not at all.
But he had studied the mistakes of Hawkmoth in the past. And he wouldn’t be doomed to repeat them.
Chapter 18: We All Fly Home
Marinette gripped the yo-yo for dear life, silently cursing the minor changes that her center of gravity was having on the aerodynamics she had grown used to. This wasn’t exactly like riding a bicycle.
Alya and Nino had been exhausted and de-transformed inside the museum to catch a cab back to their parents to pick up Zoe.
She and Chat Noir headed back to the hotel, far more drained than they had been when they were technically younger. Their bodies were still in good shape, but certainly not in peak shape as they had been. They didn’t recover nearly as fast and were almost breathless.
Chat Noir had done admirably in fending off the Old Guard until she could get her powers. But there were far too many close calls, and he was already beating himself up about it.
Adrenaline was still spiking in her system, urged on by the fact that neither of them had long before they would de-transform. The distantly familiar chime, heralding the fact that the time was rapidly running out.
She wasn’t sure when he had stopped, but his eyes had locked on the Eiffel Tower. He took an odd turn, drawing far closer to the tower than the straight path to the hotel.
“You coming?” She shouted across the divide.
His eyes were locked on the ring, lips pressed into a thin line. “I’m not going to make it all the way back before I detransform.”
She switched direction, swinging onto the roof beside him. “I can carry you, you know.”
He nodded, watching her land with the softest expression that was far more Adrien than the Chat Noir of her memory. His voice dropped half an octave, as he replaced his baton in its holster. “You already have.”
Blinking, her hand drifted up to the base of her neck as she stood up from the landing. She walked the few feet between them, scouring her memory.
Chat Noir’s lips parted, watching her every move. But he didn’t say another word.
She didn’t really recall having much opportunity to save him, much less carry him in either form. There was a time or two for sure, where she’d had to do it, in the heat of the moment to evade a fast moving Akuma. Her hand dropped to her side. Was that what he meant?
Frowning slightly, she looked up at him from mere inches away, silently begging him to continue.
He didn’t disappoint. “Being Chat Noir saved me when I was growing up. If not for you truly standing up against Hawkmoth when we’d battled Stoneheart the second time, I don’t think my father would have ever let me keep going to Francois Dupont.”
His gloved hand turned her chin up just so, to meet those compelling, glowing green eyes. “You saved me from the loneliness, just like you saved me time and time again. And even after, when you seemed to be gone, I could only hope that you were still out there, looking for me as I still kept searching for you.”
Ladybug swallowed, her eyes growing wide. If not for the suit, she’d surely be a stammering, trembling mess, even after all these years.
But then he’d always been good at leaving her speechless.
Luckily, words hadn’t been necessary where leaning in towards him would do.
Chat didn’t waver, both of his hands on her cheeks, gently pulling her closer until lips met lips.
Ladybug’s eyes slid closed, desperate to convey all the passion and want barely kept beneath the surface.
As a low moan slipped past his lips, her gloved fingers slipped up his arms, raking into his hair.
Time seemed to have stopped, lost in a breathless series of kisses and nibbles, of whispered worship.
Neither one of them had more than the dimmest awareness when their transformations broke free -- one by one – their Kwami content for the moment to wait.
They were, after all, already dressed for their date.
Adrien hadn’t stopped smiling in hours. They sat up talking, catching up on where they had both gone with their lives.
Ladybug’s Kwami had graciously tugged Plagg over to his room, raiding it for all the Camembert he’d managed to stow away. But it was all worth it for the evening they’d had.
He could replenish it with interest in the morning. But for now, cuddled with her beneath the covers, he didn’t want to move a muscle.
His fingers slid into her hair, smoothing it back and out of her face as he pressed his lips to her hairline.
“What is this?” Marinette’s voice hitched, slightly gravelly.
He smirked, moving his lips down to press a lingering kiss on her adorable nose. “The only thing I’ve ever wanted.”
Smiling, she shook her head. “I mean: what are we?”
He drew back a few inches, gazing into her eyes to puzzle out whatever she might be thinking. “Whatever you want us to be, my Lady.”
She let her eyes slipped closed, shaking her head ruefully. “I want to be with you, Adrien. But we both have our own lives now.”
He sighed, drawing her closer into his arms. “If only if I hadn’t left Paris, we might have figured it all out much sooner.”
“You have your research and I have my company.” Marinette exhaled, sending a warm puff of breath into the hollow of his collarbone. “Plus, we have to help deal with Hawkmoth again.”
He frowned, rubbing his hand up and down her arm. “I didn’t really leave all that much behind. With as close as Père was on my heels, I never really managed to hold anything more than a brief relationship.”
Marinette grew quiet, swallowing heavily before she spoke. “You know I was engaged. For a little while, anyways. Not that it really worked out. And I kind of busied myself with work for a while after.”
He hugged her a little tighter. Neither Alya nor Nino had said a word about it, but it must have been rougher than she let on earlier. “Anything I tried, it never had held a candle. Not to you.”
“To a memory?” She sighed as she wiggled loose, nibbling on her bottom lip. “How do you know we’re both even the same people now?”
He smiled, leaning back to bump his nose to hers. “Isn’t that half the fun? Trying to figure that out?”
“You’re far too good.” Her blue eyes glistened, as she wound her arms tightly around him. “How did I ever get to be lucky enough to deserve you?
With an over the top wink, he tapped a finger to her earrings. “I might have some idea about that.”
Alix scowled out into the darkness from the driver’s seat.
She hadn’t relished in being called out of bed for the late-night patrol. But the prospect of being stuck in a patrol car alone with Kim for hours on end, held very little appeal.
He sighed, leaning back into the seat. “You can’t shut me out forever, you know.”
She glared over at him. The more she stopped to think about it, the more she was certain that he’s the reason why she might lose her job.
Who else would be close enough to notice? Who else would send a hard to track warning to her house, especially with the unlisted address?
“Don’t play dumb, Kim. We both know you’re not nearly as dense as you pretend to be.”
He nodded, and after a beat he’s offended. “Hey.”
Steeling her eyes, she pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. He’d gone one step too far.
“I did it to keep you out of trouble, you know.” Kim murmured, his eyes focused out the window.
Alix grimaced. “You should have come to me. Not to Max. If someone asks him, you know he will have to tell the truth.”
Kim rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I honestly wasn’t even thinking about it.”
She sighed, slamming her eyes shut. “This is why we are partners, Kim. We’re supposed to work stuff through together. But now I must wonder if I can really trust you.”
He wheeled around on her. “And what about you? Why did you let your brother push you around?”
“That’s my business, isn’t it?”
Her eyes narrowed, as her hands gripped the wheel more tightly.
“Not when you put yourself at risk.” He hissed. “Not when you put this partnership at risk.”
She glared at him. “Well. Assuming, I can get through all of this unscathed, that won’t be a problem for you anymore.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Alix shook her head in disbelief, opening her car door. “It means, I’ll be putting in for a transfer come Monday.”
Kim gaped after her as she walked away.
This wasn’t what he wanted when he’d approached Max.
She’d left him and the keys in the ignition. Was she really going to walk away from their partnership, their friendship for this?
He dragged his hand across his face. He had other partners, but no one else balanced each other well as he and Alix. And she was already used to all his bad habits...
Save for the one that had ruined everything.
He slid over into the driver’s seat and sped off, puzzling out how to help make this right.
Alya grinned at the veritable zoo around her kitchen table. Nino had swooped behind her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders as he waltzed into the kitchen to sneak another cookie.
Clearly, he’d also noticed the adorable and unnecessary amount of blushing banter across the Lahiffe table that morning.
Were it not for the meeting of the Kwami, and puzzling out to what to do with the Bee Miraculous they still held in reserve, she would have kicked Adrien and Marinette out to go be adorably gross elsewhere.
Zoe had already been sufficiently grossed out, and had scampered off to her room with a bowl of cereal to read for a while.
Jalil was getting desperate. He had taken to sleeping in the office, pulling the entire office apart in the desperate hope that he’d missed something. He sighed, shoving the makeshift cot under his desk.
He had even sent out an Akuma to try to track down another Miraculous after Noroo suggested it, and gotten to a fitful sleep not long after the Akuma left the museum premises quickly.
Nothing else had told him so certainly that the bracelet had been stolen. At least he had managed one fitful night of sleep as the Akuma did its work.
Last night’s battle had taught him many things, not the least of which was the fact that there were far more Miraculous than he had ever thought possible.
He absolutely needed the one miraculous back that was listed on the inventory list. But he was interested in the others, purely for the academic interest if nothing else.
He didn’t have nearly as much luck hiding from Alix. She had been calling him for hours reminding him that she needs it all by this evening. It had been enough that he had to put his cell phone on silent and he’d pulled his office phone off the hook.
It was still too early for the museum to be open to patrons, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hear the knock on the heavy metal side entrance.
He pulled up the security feed on his computer and didn’t bother to stifle his smirk.
He didn’t just want the miraculous in his hands to get his sister out of trouble.
He also wanted revenge on her partner who’d tried forced both of their hands.
And he might just be getting both.
Zoe Lahiffe had an amazingly cool head.
Of course, it was far easier to have that, considering she knew that the all of Paris’s heroes were on her side.
She had been so focused on her book that she hadn’t even noticed the dark butterfly that sped around the building and then tore back across the early morning sky.
But the hulking, dark figure with coal-dark wings that crashed in through her window, sending shards flying everywhere?
Well, it was hard not to at least gasp at that.
Not that she was able to do much more than that before she was bundled up and hauled out of her bedroom window.
Alya and Nino scrambled up the stairs at the first crash of glass.
The Kwami all phased up through the floor. But Plagg had been one of the first to move.
Adrien might have been quick to call him lazy, but he was cunning, saving his energy up until a situation like this.
He had gotten a glimpse of the Akuma, who very much resembled Dark Cupid, as he’d taken a flying leap out the window, the kid in tow.
Plagg gaped, swerving out the window behind the Akumatized beast. But he didn’t dare follow too closely behind. He had a role to play and that involved the adults scrambling up the staircase.
When he’d gotten back into the house, Alya had gone all mama bear, eyes burning with pure rage. Trixx didn’t even bother to fighting the pull of the transformation.
Plagg sighed. That wasn’t smart, but Trixx wasn’t ever really that into impulse control.
She took off like a bat out of hell, with Nino transforming and as close on her heels as he could.
His eyes met Tikki’s with a silent nod of approval as Marinette and Adrien lingered, checking for any hint of a struggle first.
Marinette had grabbed a pile of sweets and a bit of cheese, setting it on the desk so both Kwami could eat a bit of to fuel up.
Adrien frowned, his shoes crunching over the glass. “This is so not good.”
“If I know Alya, we don’t have long until we need to move. We can’t afford go in hot-headed.”
Marinette sighed. “Zoe will need us to be better.”
Adrien nodded. “Alya, too, even if she isn’t going to like it that much.” He turned to draw closer to his Kwami who had nearly swallowed the one hunk of the cheese, tucking the other bit in his pocket. “But we don’t have much time.”
Marinette grinned as Tikki buzzed up to her side. “Right, but we’re also both much faster in the skies.”
Zoe peered down the hall, sneaking a few stolen glances around the wall.
The Protector stood guard, speaking to an invisible voice. His posture was rigid, imposing in full midnight blue garb. His face was half obscured by the bars on the doors and the half mask that covered his face.
Frowning, Zoe tried to commit all she could to memory, just in case she had to explain it to a police officer later for a report.
Her knuckles turned white where she gripped the doorway. She was tempted to kick him in the shins and dart away, but she suspected she wouldn’t get far.
“Of course I won’t hurt her.” The deep voice boomed. “Who do you think I am?”
“A nuisance, that’s what.” The light burned purple around his dark, half masked face as he scowled. “But I cannot fault you for you other goal. We must get it back. Too much depends upon it.”
The Protector flinched, his eyes narrowing. “If we wait here…?”
“It will draw out what we both need.”
Scowling, he paced the office, black striped in purple stark against the white walls.
Much as he loathed the man, he wouldn’t let the Akumatized Kim hurt the child.
He has a reason for doing all of this. An Admirable one. He may be using Hawkmoth’s old bag of tricks, but he was better than that.
He would be lucky enough if his sister would forgive him as it was.
If she ever figured it out…and frankly that was all too possible.
Carapace scaled along walls, his shell out for defense.
Ladybug and Chat Noir would be not far behind them and their cooler heads would help. He was barely keeping himself together, wanting nothing more than to bash his shield against the Akuma and break his daughter free.
Rena Rouge didn’t like being pushed back and out of the way. Not with their quarry so close, but they had to be careful.
Her eyes flashed as she scowled at the Akuma, who started to advance on their position.
“Have you come to give up your Miraculous?” His voice boomed through the halls.
“Not a chance.” Steadying his stance, Carapace threw up his shield before them both.
Rena wasted no time, spiraling her anger into a vision directed at the Akuma. The darker force of it, rocked the Akuma back on his heels.
“Stay clear of the door, kiddo!”
“Got it,” Zoe shouted, her shadow disappearing from underneath the crack in the door.
“I wish no harm to the child.” The Akuma hissed, his hand grabbing his head to banish to pain. “I wish only for the Miraculous to protect what is mine.”
“You should have thought of that before you kidnapped that child.”
“The plan was not my own.”
“But it didn’t stop you from going along with it?” Rena sneered. “Did it?”
Carapace frowned as the Akuma flinched, the clear purple outline of a butterfly arching across his face, soft purple against the dark mask obscuring his eyes. “I am the Protector. How dare you question me?”
A barrage of arrows came back at them, but were deflected by the shield and the solid beams of light reflected from all sides. None of the arrows passed through.
“God,” Rena muttered, half-whispering in his ear. “Is that really?”
“A butterfly?” Carapace nodded. “It has to be. Which means he is back, too.”
Ladybug and Chat Noir looked at one another as they crashed – quite literally -- into the Police Headquarters. They needed to find Alya and Nino fast, before they did anything too drastic.
It wasn’t a place they had really been, even with as long as they had been chasing after Akuma so long ago.
There were places where people were understanding. But inside of the police station was not likely to be one of them, even at this late hour.
Especially not if Plagg was right. Kim was a police officer now. There was no telling how any of the other officers – especially those that might be too young to remember what the Akuma were really like – might react to them attacking one of their own.
Chat Noir sighed, cracking his knuckles as they both slipped around the corner to another deserted, half-dark hall.
And at least they had a chance to be recognizable.
Carapace and Rena Rouge had a head start – and a vendetta. But they would be getting Zoe back, no question about it. The longer it took to find them, the more worried he was going to be.
He could hear they were close, loud thumps echoing from a fair distance away, spurring him to run all that much harder.
Odds are, their friends weren’t in total control of their emotions, and as superheroes they owed it to the Akumatized to return them to themselves.
In the other case, neither Alya nor Nino would need to be reminded that while they were under Hawkmoth’s control, their emotions were being exploited.
He could tell, just by watching Ladybug that she was thinking much of the same. The same had to be happening to this Akuma.
“What Miraculous are you even talking about?” Rena grit out as they scrambled into the end of the hall.
That all too familiar purple butterfly mask fell over The Protector’s face, a dark look crossing his eyes as he knocked back Ladybug and Chat Noir’s advance. The bow and arrow nocked expertly in his hands.
“He said you would know which one had been stolen.”
Ladybug frowned, rolling back into a crouched position.
Chat was watching her from only a few feet away, his green eyes glowing with concern as they met hers and slipped over to their fledgling superhero friends. Nino spun the shield, re-setting the positioning before The Protector sent forward another blast.
They would have to be incredibly careful with Zoe so close. His position in this hall was definitely strategic.
It was odd that Hawkmoth wasn’t asking for their Miraculous. He had always been very, painfully specific about those demands. “Is this not Hawkmoth that we are dealing with?”
“The one who is behind these Akuma?” Chat shrugged. “If not, that’s a vaguely terrifying thought.”
Rena gripped Carapace’s arm.
It had been a harrowing exchange. Her visions were getting progressively less helpful as the time wore on, and The Protector was mulishly stubborn.
Ladybug was busy, trying to make sense of her Lucky Charm with Chat Noir on distraction duty.
But none of that had her as terrified as the sight of a familiar hand slipping past the door behind the Akuma.
Zoe broke herself out of the room, which begged several questions that Alya would definitely want answered later.
Carapace’s eyes widened as he spotted it, too. “Hell…”
He took off like a shot, far faster than his namesake. She wanted to do nothing more than to scream. He had little more than his own shield. Was he planning to use it to bash against the giant Akuma?
Was he trying to get himself killed?
She had hesitated – an instant too long – her eyes going wide before her legs registered the silent plea from her own mind.
But Chat had not. He was immediately at her husband’s back, shoving him out of the way of the of the largest brunt of the blow.
“Chat!” Ladybug had screamed.
And she felt that same pain in the instant as Carapace hit the wall. But he groaned as he slid down.
Ladybug grimaced, as the Protector chuckled.
She knew all too well how to play the villain’s hubris to best advantage. She had the Charm out, swooping down to grab Carapaces shell to throw as a distraction.
The Protector was on the floor, his badge in hand being crushed beneath her heel to dispel the dark butterfly.
Ladybug was still trying to catch the butterfly when a familiar face appeared at the end of the hall, taking in the heap of bodies, tugging a wide-eyed Zoe behind her.
Alix gaped, tucking a shock of pink hair behind her ear as she pushed the girl behind her. “What the hell is this?”
“An Akuma.” Ladybug confirmed, blinking in slow recognition. “Miss Kubdel?”
“It’s Detective now.” Alix grimaced, glaring at the Akuma as he prepared to unleash fire another wave of arrows from his prone position, but his bow dropping as soon as he’d spotted her. “And unless I miss my guess, that is my current partner.” She scowled. “That idiot. What on Earth did he do?”
Ladybug tossed her charm up in the air, watching Chat Noir all too closely. She exhaled deeply as he started to clearly – but laboriously – breath.
“Nothing that cannot be fixed.” Her hand still lingered over her heart as she towered over Alix. “But Detective, I fear that Hawkmoth has also returned.”
Kim woke up, shaking his head. He didn’t remember coming into the precinct.
He definitely recalled that Alix was mad at him. So why was she doing hovering over him, her hair framed in a halo of fluorescent light like some sort of angel?
Squinting, he tried to sit up. “Alix?”
“Settle down.” She pressed his shoulder to keep him stabilized on the ground.
He grunted, mentally adjusting that assessment back to Avenging Angel.
“Tell me, what do you remember?”
“Not much…at least not much after you left the car.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.” She exhaled. “Did you go anywhere else?”
He frowned. “I thought I was headed to the museum?”
Her arms crossed over her chest, settling into her usual interrogation mode. “To do what, exactly?”
“To talk to your brother,” Kim sighed, letting his still aching head, lean back into the wall. “It seemed like he was wasn’t willing to listen to you, so I thought I may as well try.”
“Do you remember talking to him?”
“No,” Kim grumbled, pulling himself to sit up. His eyes dared her to try to push back down again. “That’s where it all goes fuzzy.”
“Damn.” Alix’s eyes narrowed dangerously as she stood to full height, spinning on her heel.
She sighed, turning back towards him.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
Alix nodded. “We’ll talk about it later.”
Check out the amazing art by Tides-Miraculous for this chapter!
Chapter 20: The Reckoning
Zoe pulled a face, especially when her parents had de-transformed and Alya planted a kiss squarely onto Nino’s lips.
But her exaggerated gagging was little much.
“Ugh, gross. Please get a room. Preferably one without me in it.”
Alya’s hands were on her hips. Zoe's level of sass was just a bit too much. “That won’t be an issue, little lady. You are definitely staying at your grandparent’s house until all of this is settled.”
Eyes flashing, Alya dared her to finish. “No, buts. You literally just got kidnapped. I can’t trust that you will stay safe until this monster is taken care of.”
Zoe turned her puppy dog eyes to her father, who just shrugged. “Can’t say I disagree, kiddo. We’ll get your stuff packed tonight.”
Ladybug and Chat Noir watched them depart by taxi, before departing by the skies.
“So, my Lady,” Chat grinned, vaulting over the chimney that was coming in a little close. “Any theories? Who is this new Hawkmoth? What is he after?”
Her stained glass blue eyes turned to him before she came to a sudden halt. “You can’t keep doing that.”
Chat Noir backpedaled quickly. Clearly, he had missed something. “Doing what?”
“Putting yourself at risk to save everyone.” She paced the short span of the rooftop. “Honestly. You just keep doing that.”
“My Lady,” He smiled, not quite understanding where all of this was coming from or why she was so pointedly looking away from him. He set his hand on her shoulder. “Marinette, I have to.”
“You have to keep killing yourself?
Keep? He blinked. He hadn’t used his cataclysm – there wasn’t time before he’d had to move to save Nino – so she was the only one on the clock. And it would be no issue at all for him to carry her back to the hotel.”
“Seriously, Chaton.” Her blue eyes turned steely. “I just got you back into my life. So, why do you insist on tossing every one of your nine lives away so recklessly.”
He couldn’t help the smile at the half-hearted pun, leaning in, he pressed his lips to the bit of her forehead that peeked out from behind the mask. “I need to the be one to protect you, so you can save us all.”
“It doesn’t mean I need to see you dying.” She slammed her eyes shut. “God, when I saw Alix tonight, I couldn’t help but remember that first time…”
He shook his head. “What first time?”
“The first time I watched you die – actually blinking out of existence -- in my arms.”
He swallowed, pulling her a little closer into his arms. “You mean when Timebreaker—“
“When she was Akumatized, she used her powers, sapping everyone’s time or life force or what-have-you to go back in time to fix the past.”
His breathing grew ragged.
“I tried to tell you to be serious, that your life depended upon it.” Ladybug bit her lip, half rolling her eyes at the memory, “but instead you were just gone on the idea of two of me.”
His eyes softened, pupils widening as his claws lightly pricked at her scalp, softly combing into her pigtails. “I would have taken any second more with you that I could have gotten.”
They fell, into soft waves at her back in rush of pink light.
She leaned into his palm, her own hand reaching up to his shoulder, nearly pressing her lips to his. “But the clock always was against us. “
Marinette groaned, marking the mischief building in his eyes. “There isn’t time for this, Chaton.”
Alix had been worried. From the moment she’d seen Kim at the Police station, she was certain that something felt off. Even the stakeout turned up not so much as a hint of new activity.
And it left her asking why. Why did everything stop the moment she was actively paying attention? Why had Kim and Pierre been the only two to be Akumatized so far?
Why did it only happen when she had been in rather dire straits?
The answer was becoming far too clear, far too quickly.
And Jalil wasn’t picking up his phone. Setting her jaw, she slammed her car door shut. She had no choice but to literally corner him in his office.
“Akuma are running around Paris again?” Jalil scoffed, turning back around to his desk.
Her eyes narrowed.
“Seriously? I don’t know what on Earth you’re even talking about, Alix.”
He was studiously not meeting her eyes, focused on striking lines off a list on the notepad on his desk.
“I’ve been here in my office all weekend, searching every crack and crevice, and putting in calls to anyone and everyone who had been in here since you dropped the box off.”
He sighed, letting his eyes slide closed for a few seconds. “Nothing yet. But I haven’t given up. And I haven’t been home just yet.”
Alix frowned. “I didn’t want you to drive yourself to exhaustion, Jalil.”
His lips curved, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Don’t you worry, little sister. I haven’t given up hope that it will be in your hands again soon.”
His eyes glimmered as he watched her go. Their family always were some of the most formidable Akumatized opponents that Ladybug and Chat Noir had ever faced.
Besides, when you wanted something done right, it was always best to do it yourself.
Her smile matched his as she’d left his office.
It never reached her eyes – and she knew it all too well.
But if Jalil was going to lie to her face, she would lie right back to him.
It had to be him. Nothing else made sense. There was just too much coincidence.
Jalil had been trying to protect her, in his own, painfully misguided way.
Her hands dropped to her side, clenched into tight fists. It was bad enough if he lost something, or worse if someone stole it. It was rather disconcerting what shoddy level of security such a prestigious museum apparently had.
But it was clear to her that Jalil thought it was no longer in the office. He wouldn’t have appeared to be so calm otherwise.
Which meant that he had to have left the items alone for someone to have walked off with.
Alix grit her teeth, shaking her head as she stalked towards the door. She was the one who – stupidly -- had trusted him to keep them safe. To keep them hidden.
Dimly, she was aware of the eerily familiar, disembodied voice as it started to whisper into her mind.
The Warrior was building up speed. The roller blades on her feet looked all too much like boots, but she wielded them like a weapon, as a blue blur speeding around inside the museum. She knew every hall well, which sections could be jumped, which rails could support her weight.
Her suit was sleek, layered leather and metal that could match far too many of the exhibits. The bracers were far more practical than her old skating gear, especially given the risk of skating headlong into the closest exhibit. And the wicked serpent design etched into the leather and wound protective metal bands around her upper arms to guard against an attack from above.
It made her movements practically intuitive. She took patrons out, looping around them to incapacitate them in place before the they dropped, stone-like to the floor. She would need to borrow their power to even the playing field. And the rush of power into her veins felt all too familiar.
But it would do as she had hoped, bringing the Miraculous nearly into her grasp.
The battle dragged on, while at least the still-moving patrons had gathered safely onto the upper floors.
The Warrior’s ire was not irrational. It was steady and cold. Which only made her more dangerous.
The Warrior had looped all too close, barely missing Carapace on that last pass. He’d deflected her with the shield, but it had almost been far too late.
Rena’s eyes narrowed, tugging her flute out just in time to throw it on the floor. She’d spent far too long regretting her hesitation only hours before, and it made her daring.
All they needed was to literally trip her up.
She just needed to get close enough to drop the flute onto the floor before she noticed.
The Warrior had her ponytail in a vise, the strands slowly turning to heavy stone, slowly dropping Rena back to the floor.
Nino is stunned, his hand grabbing for her wrist before Chat pressed his baton in to bar the way.
The Warrior noticed and Rena’s transformation to stone had halted in a moment. “We can end this all – here and now.”
“What do you mean?” Chat Noir placed himself before both of his friends.
She held Alya tighter in her grasp, forcing their hands. “You each hand over your miraculous. To end this madness once and for all and bring order back to Paris so no one with power is needed to hold everything in balance.”
Ladybug’s eyes widened. “All of them?”
“How much has Paris truly been protected, Ladybug?” The Warrior chided. “You’ve been away for so long, and Paris has been quiet. But the moment you return, you drag this madness back with you.”
“If we hand it over, this will all end.”
“That’s exactly what I mean.” The Warrior had pulled out staves, spinning them into position. “If not, we will fight until each of you is down. I have nothing left to lose.”
“Unlike the others, I do not fight for something petty, some ephemeral feeling. I fight to protect the people of Paris.”
“And Hawkmoth?” Ladybug pressed
“I do not fear him.” The Warrior’s grin was menacing. “I only accepted these powers to see Justice done. To see that these Miraculous are removed from circulation, to keep everyone safe from the unending cycle of fear.”
Carapace stepped forward. “Why in the hell should we even trust you?”
The Warrior cackled. “I don’t expect you to trust me. Fairer to say that I trust you all to clean this mess up and return all of the chaos to order before we are done here.”
Ladybug and Chat Noir looked at each other, blinking. Rena struggled in her hold, which loosened just enough so she could stand on her own power, although weighed down by her half-transformed ponytail.
“But more to the point,” The Warrior steadied herself atop the steps, frowning. “I have been Akumatized before, decades ago. Well, that lingered with me watching my rage see to it to send my friends blinking out of existence. I didn’t remember it well myself after you set loose a Lucky Charm. But like every event of its kind, there were pictures and video. My brain was quick to fill in the gaps.”
Her jaw set as the heroes stood, gaping. “I spent a number of years, learning how to use my anger productively in my job. I never wanted to answer that call again. “
“Then why did you—“
“Let him change me?”
Rena nodded, lingering far closer than should be otherwise safe if she still feared her.
“Simple. I know what it is that he wants. And I know what he fears.” The Warrior set her jaw. “So I will convince him to give me his Miraculous first.”
“You’re not scared?” Chat Noir murmured.
“I live with the fear every day. I cannot allow myself to let it control me.” The Warrior smiled sadly. “The worst he could do is take my powers away, which I supposed might happen anyway. He cannot be all powerful all of the time. And if he so much as tried the slightest bit more, the whole of Paris Police force would come down on him.”
The Warrior grinned, slipping her chin strap free to tug the helmet from her head.
“My partner will see to that.”
Carapace was the first to speak up. “Can you give us some time?”
The Warrior was silent, the sharpness of her grin softening by the barest margin.
“Some of us need to say some goodbyes.” Ladybug added, her voice not much more than a whisper as her eyes darted to Chat. “We never got the chance years ago.”
Thankfully, the Warrior wasn’t immune to the plea.
“You have two hours and then you must return here to me. Or I will be coming to find you.”
“Don’t worry,” Chat Noir frowned, his hand on Ladybug’s shoulder. “The people here are incentive enough.”
The Warrior smiled at that. “I thought they might be.”
Ladybug and Chat Noir on the tower, taking a last run through Paris, encamped on the Eiffel Tower.
“This might be the last time we can be up here.”
She smiled, her lips pressed together tightly. “I mean, I guess we could come up again.”
“But it wouldn’t be the same.” His gloved hand reached for her. “I know.”
She exhaled, fighting the inclination to whimper pathetically. “I don’t know if I can give it all up, all over again. We just got everything back.”
“I know.” Chat nodded, his ears twitching. She bit her lip as her fingers drifted to them, stroking them. The rumbling purr that echoed from his chest as she dropped her head onto his shoulder was far more endearing than words could ever say.
And she’d only have these precious few moments to enjoy it.
His head bent down atop hers, bringing her gloved fingers up to his lips reverently. “I am not going anywhere, My Lady. But I am worried about Tikki and Plagg. What happens to them if we turn them over?”
She frowned. “I guess they would be hibernating. It’s not something that Tikki and I ever talked about.”
Her fingers drifted to her earrings. “What if that is really uncomfortable…or really lonely?”
“I’m not sure it can be that lonely. Not if they are all being kept together.” Chat Noir murmured. “Besides, this time, they shouldn’t be stuck inside. From what Wayzz had been saying, it seemed like Master Fu never meant the spell to last more than a few days. At least not until we could puzzle out some sort of means to take down Hawkmoth.”
Ladybug bit her lip. “But somehow he got separated from his Miraculous.”
“Thankfully.” Chat Noir whispered, winding his arm closer around her. “As bad as it was to be separated for so long, at least we got to find each other again. At least we got to see Plagg and Tikki again.”
She wiped the back of her hand over her eyes. They would have to go through with it, if there was no other way that would keep the city safe. Keep the world safe.
She knew that Tikki wouldn’t have it any other way.
But that didn’t make it hurt any less.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she steeled herself, willing the tears away for Tikki’s sake. She’d always wanted her to be brave and strong. Helping her to be the best version of herself that she could ever hope to be.
They could ask the Warrior to keep it somewhere it could never be found again. Where they could be certain it could never be used for some nefarious purpose.
They wouldn’t hand over their friends for anything less.
Chat broke into her silent reverie, bumping his shoulder gently into hers. “C’mon.”
Ladybug turned her red-rimmed eyes up to him. “Hmm?”
His own smile trembled slightly. “Let’s go visit the best bakery and the best fromagerie in Paris.”
Chapter 21: The Warrior
Hawkmoth paced his office inside the museum. The Warrior had severed their connection on her own.
It was just a matter of time before she’d come back for him.
He sighed, swinging his cane recklessly, as he weighed his options.
It had all been a calculated risk in choosing her in the first place.
It was the risk of re-Akumatizing someone who had spent years re-adjusting from the initial trauma, from the anger and self-doubt. From the parsing through every scrap of detail. Bridging the gap where the initial memory loss of being controlled hadn’t masked the frighteningly thorough media reporting from each single event so long ago.
Neither he nor his sister had never been sure what was a true memory and what came from the outside observers, but the terror had been no less acute.
He had been willing to assume the mantle. To play the villain to bring it all back.
But somehow, he had forgotten that she had to spend years building up careful walls to deal with her career. Managing anger against the old boys’ club sexist assertions, showing strength by proving herself to be just as strong and clever, time and time again.
He should have known if anyone could do it, it would be her.
She had been fighting all along.
Nino ran inside the house to grab his keys, letting Wayzz have a bit of tea to allow him to re-charge. They could only hope that the Warrior – their old classmate – would keep to her word. But they had to prepare for the worst.
Alya ran up to her laptop, searching out Alix’s contact information at the police station.
He glanced down at his watch. He wanted to take Wayzz to Zoe; she wouldn’t understand if she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.
“What is your hurry, Master Nino?”
He shook his head, ruefully. It seemed that Wayzz was never really going to kick that Master habit of his. “I was going to take you and Trixx over to Zoe. So you could say goodbye.”
“Goodbye?” Wayzz furrowed his tiny green brow. “But we won’t be going anywhere.”
Nino gaped, before dropping down into his seat thoroughly resigned. Was it possible that the Kwami weren’t aware of what all went on while they were lending their powers?
“The Akuma demanded that we turn over our Miraculous. Now there is a chance that it is all a ruse, of course—“
Wayzz smiled. “But that seems unlikely from the good detective after all. I was able to see.”
Nino gaped. “Then why do you think that you won’t be leaving?”
The Kwami smirked, hovering above the box to tap the lid.
“I do believe I told you that Master Fu was fond of contingency plans.”
It was hours later that Alix stood under her own power as she waited outside the museum. It was a rainy evening, but there was no way that she would fail in her duty.
Her partner had been standing by, keeping the police car warm and running as they neared the appointed time.
Alya had been appointed the designated courier of the Miraculous. She’d had plausible deniability as a reporter with inside access, and they all felt much more confident as soon as her stone ponytail holder had blinked out of existence.
She’d only risked e-mailing Alix with a lead that might interest her after that had happened. Alya beamed, feigning ignorance. “I was told to ask to see your part of the bargain first.”
Alix had smiled. She’d held up the small dark purple broach in good faith.
Nodding, Alya handed over a small bag containing a ring, a pair of earrings, a jade bracelet, and a necklace.
“All this trouble for so little.”
Alya nodded. “They asked if you could be sure that they would be locked away safely.”
Alix sighed, crossing her arms over her chest as she’d ducked under the awning to fend off the rain. “I can put a few extra measures in place. It will go somewhere well-guarded, but to be honest the best security is the complete disavowal of knowledge that it exists.” She shook her head. “It was too easy for me to get it out with my level of access, which means that another old friend will be helping to tighten the department’s procedures. My partner already set all of that into motion anyways.”
The tension fell from Alya’s shoulders. All of this was going far easier than she’d hoped.
Alix pressed her lips into a thin line. “I trust all of this will stay strictly off the record, Alya.”
She nodded, red hair bobbing in time. “Not an issue.”
Alix still looked a bit uncertain but pressed on. The bag was shuffled into her pocket, her hand lingering above it. “Can you tell them, thank you?”
Alya blinked. “Honestly, I’m not sure that I will ever see them again. Ladybug and Chat Noir were always very strict about keeping their identities secret.” Her face fell, a frown crossing her lips. “Without the masks, I am not sure that any of the them would be willing to come forward. Especially if someone took it into their heads to exact revenge…”
Alix smiled ruefully. “Trust me. I understand that concern all too well. But I hope you might hear from them again someday.”
Soon enough, the jewelry and the rest of the box of the case files was safely locked away in Evidence storage.
Ladybug and Chat Noir had disappeared just as mysteriously as they had re-appeared, and life in Paris had returned to normal -- for a few weeks at least.
Kim had asked Max to prod the department to fix their procedures. He already had a case in mind to demonstrate a dangerous precedence, making the financial incentive for the department to improve their processes in short order.
Including the addition of an alert system when case files had been requested.
Alix had added that now-infamous case number to her list of notifications and then tried to put it out of her mind. She had nearly forgotten all about it, until the e-mail appeared in her box that the box had been checked out for review earlier in the day.
Kim’s brows had lifted, meeting hers across their desks , before they both sprinted to evidence storage directly.
Only one thing was taken out of the box – one that hadn’t been on the original inventory list.
The little black broach that Jalil had been wearing when the Warrior came to settle the score.
It was only after Ladybug and Chat Noir had appeared again over the rooftops of Paris that Alix realized that the Miraculous they had given her must have been fake.
She had been livid that first day – silently stewing as she and Kim had realized that the broach had been taken. But since there were no other check outs for that box, she could also assume that she’d been duped.
If Kim suspected, he didn’t say a thing.
After a few days, Alix realized that she couldn’t be too mad, especially not if whoever it was that palmed the brooch had no idea what it was they held in their hands.
No one else was better equipped to take out an unknown, super-powered super villain. She’d just been lucky enough to have leverage over Jalil.
It seemed unlikely that they would be so lucky. But stranger things had happened.
She’d never been expecting to receive a wedding invitation at the precinct.
But Kim had flashed a matching invitation.
It seemed that a decade and change after they’d left Francois Dupont, Adrien Agreste and Marinette Dupain-Cheng had finally managed to communicate well enough to find themselves engaged.
Alix shrugged, rolling her eyes as Kim jokingly offered to be her plus one.
Perhaps there was hope for Paris after all. But until then, she’d keep watch.
Nino and Alya were carefully watching over Paris for any sign that the Butterfly miraculous had resurfaced.
And they were keeping a careful eye on Zoe…who needed every bit of supervision she could get right now.
Alya frowned, scrubbing a plate from the dinner Nino had prepared. She wasn’t sure who had taught her daughter to lock pick, but as soon as she found out, for sure there was going to be hell to pay.
They had renewed appreciation for Zoe’s teachers, considering just how much trouble she had gotten up to.
They both decided to make more of an effort for their date nights and for some time alone.
The benefit of a little added babysitting help had been all the extra encouragement they’d needed. It hadn’t hurt that Trixx could totally school Zoe in video games.
Nino was only reasonably decent in UMIII, and poor Wayzz had always been a little too slow on reaction time to be particularly effective at it.
But Wayzz had been happy enough watching the noisy screen at Trixx’s side.
Alya smirked. She had been suspecting the turtle Kwami had developed a little bit of a crush on Trixx, despite his overly serious demeanor.
Then again, Trixx had kept stealing all the stamps, hiding them in caches throughout the living room so he’d come and hang out.
Alya smirked. It didn’t hurt that Adrien and Marinette kept sending interesting ones on the postcards they sent back.
Long after the honeymoon had technically ended, Adrien and Marinette were still travelling the world
Nino and Alya had insisted upon it. They had drifted, from pristine beaches of their honeymoon to smaller villages filled with history, Adrien sought out hints for threads of research to pursue.
Tikki and Plagg got all the culinary benefits of the extended travel, finding a whole new avenue of sweets and cheeses to sate themselves.
And the ever-shifting travel brought a treasure trove of inspiration for Marinette, who was forever sending designs back to her studio where her assistants had taken over the day-to-day operations.
They headed, hand in hand, to the post office each afternoon to mail off a new batch of her designs and send the Lahiffe’s their normal post-card check-in, acutely aware of their own responsibilities.
But every night, Ladybug and Chat Noir raced the rooftops of the remote villages and the nearby forests, side by side. Reckless and free as they had been as children.
Then again, they did have an awful lot of years to make up for.
And that is it (for now anyways). ;) I hope you enjoyed it!
As I said at the beginning, I do have some ideas for follow ups or bits to be explored, especially if people are interested. And while I have my favorite characters, I'm always interested to hear who (or what) might have struck a chord with each of you.